WCW Blog

The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women.
Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women. Learn more about her>>

Year-End Reflections: 2016

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Year-End Reflections: 2016

2016 was an intense year. The Wall Street Journal’s Year in Review captured the feeling quite well with this headline: “The World Order in Flux.” It has felt that way not only in the geopolitical sphere, but also in the ecological sphere and the psychological sphere. It has been a year of wild ups and downs, surprises both good and bad, and looming unknowns. I don’t really think that this year was an exception, however; rather, I think it is reflective of an accelerating trend. I don’t expect 2017 to be any less eventful or easier on the soul. Rather, I think this year has – and next year also will – require everything we have to steer the world aright. But steer we must! There’s no letting go of the wheel or the reins!

The year was dominated by election politics, the plight of refugees, the horrors of war and the toll of extremism, increasing intolerance around the world, and accelerating climate change. Quieter but equally important stories were about the suffering of the economically strained as well as the destitute, the worsening crisis of addiction and the medical and mental health struggles behind it, and the erosion of women’s rights and freedoms in the U.S. and around the world. Quieter still has been the story of the erosion of the boundaries of truth and reality, especially (but not only) in the media, as evidenced by the way the polls let us down and also the fake news explosion, leading up to the selection by the Oxford Dictionary of “post-truth” as the word of the year…

We are in many respects losing touch with the foundations of a world we thought we knew, but apparently did not. My guess is that this process will continue, exposing the illogic of a flawed logic that has governed world affairs for a very long time – a logic that fails to put gender equality, social justice, and, more plainly, human wellbeing at the center of how we do things. The current scenario will plague us until we recalibrate accordingly.

The other night I was thinking about how many people feel immobilized by impending changes in the U.S. government. I thought to myself, “If I was president, what would I do?” Then I realized that that is a question we all need to ask ourselves. And then, rather than following that thought with “I’m not president, so those things will never happen,” we should follow it with “OK, now how can I work for those things anyway, even though I’m not president?” I was reminded of the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, the gay liberation movement, and other powerful social movements around the world, like the decolonial and independence movements of formerly colonized countries, the anti-apartheid movement, various labor movements, peace movements, land rights movements, and other human rights movements. These were all movements of people who worked for their agenda anyway, even though they were not president, not heads of state. They were not just partisan political movements, but they were cross-cutting movements by people of conscience for equality, social justice, and human wellbeing.

The bottom line is this: We can never forget that we ARE a super-power in our own right, if we choose to be. So, in 2017, let’s choose it!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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November 9th Reflections: Through Harriet Tubman’s Eyes

LMaparyan11.9November 9th Reflections: Through Harriet Tubman’s Eyes

We have a new President-Elect. For many of us, on either side of the aisle, it is not what we expected. My daughter cried when I told her, not just because she is a girl, but also because she is an immigrant. She is scared, and I, as her mother, had to reassure her that life will go on and that we will be okay even if there will be new challenges.

It occurred to me that this is the attitude that I must carry forward, not just at home, but in my work, life, and leadership. It is the attitude that many before me have maintained, against the face of obstacles and conditions as hard or harder than what I am facing now. Like Harriet Tubman, I must “follow the drinking gourd” and keep my sights on the North Star of my aspirations.

nov9blogThe biggest gift I can offer at this time is empathy – to those whose hopes were shattered, to those whose anger, pain, and frustration led us in this surprising direction, and to those who are just plain terrified right now, especially the little ones and the youth. Clearly, we are a country of different realities, and we need to find common ground. I remind myself of my own mantra, “All of us are sacred.” As Thich Nhat Hanh taught me, I breathe in, breathe out, and utilize the present moment as a place of refuge.

The second biggest gift I can give is my continued commitment to peace, amity, love, liberation, and the freedom borne of illumination, as well as the very concrete and achievable ideals of gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing. We can’t give up! Even with the rhythm of one step backward for every two steps forward, we are still making progress, we are still transforming our society and the world. We can’t use this moment to further polarize ourselves; rather, we must use it to dig more deeply within ourselves for places of connection. As we know, thanks to our relational-cultural theorists, is that connection is what causes us to thrive.

How can we work with what we have to achieve what we need to achieve and get to where we need to go? Our own ingenuity is being invoked, as is our ability to “make a way out of no way.” Because I’ve seen it done, I know we can do it. Let’s share our creativity and plentiful gifts as we figure this thing out together.

Onward! The North Star is still shining!!

Please feel free to share your reflections.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

 

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What’s Next: Coming Together

LayliVoteWhat’s Next: Coming Together

Since voting this morning, all I have been able to think about is the next four years. Without even knowing yet who is going to win, my mind has already jumped ahead. What do we want the next four years to be like? What can we do to make them be the way we want them to be? The negativity of the last 18 months has been excruciating, and I know it doesn’t represent the best of who we are. I want better for all of us!

Indeed, as executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, whose mission is to advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing, these concerns have been at the forefront of my thinking. How can we ensure that the times that lie ahead lead us closer to these ideals?

Today we plant the seeds of the next four years with our thoughts, emotions, and actions. It is more important today than ever that we consciously start thinking about what we’d like our nation and our culture to be like, that we work as hard as we can to generate the good feelings we know are best for ourselves, our families, our communities, and the country, and that we take actions immediately that move us in the right direction. We can start doing this even before the polls close, just as soon as we have cast our ballot – because these actions will be relevant no matter who wins.

What will you do to move our country in a positive direction, to heal the divide?

LayliVoteQuoteI’m starting with a post-election community unity block party in my neighborhood. I’m inviting the people I see every day – and a few I’ve yet to see, since I’m new to my neighborhood – to my home for an evening of fellowship and food with my family. I’ve let everyone know that it doesn’t matter how you voted, where you worship, whom you love, or where you come from – I just want us to come together in the spirit of friendship and community. My hope is that we will affirm each other as neighbors, discover through conversation the wonders of our diversity, and deepen our sense of connection, concern, and shared destiny. Maybe you can do something like this on the block where you live, too.

Over time, I am going to make a point to reach out to people whose political views differ from my own (even though I am non-partisan by choice, due to my Bahá’í faith, I do hold political views!) and find ways to connect, talk, and share – over lunch, in a joint endeavor, through our kids, in our places of worship or community service – in any way I can find.

To heal our nation in these times, I feel certain that enlarging the circle of people that we can call friends and enlarging the circle of people who know that we care about their wellbeing and happiness will help shift the tides. I believe that, if all of us did this – even with one or two people – we would heal this great divide in no time. Are you up to the challenge??

Let me know what you decide to do. Let’s not retreat into our enclaves of comfortable sameness. Let’s instead enlarge our sense of community and welcome new people in until our nation is one big circle – or many small overlapping circles – of inclusion. The leadership we need doesn’t just come from the White House – it comes from within our hearts.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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The New $20 Bill: A Victory for Women, or, Happy about Harriet!

rotator1 04202016The New $20 Bill: A Victory for Women, or, Happy about Harriet!

One of my favorite footnotes in the world appears at the bottom of the first page of the Combahee River Collective Statement in the first edition of Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology on page 272. It reads, “The Combahee River Collective was a Black feminist group in Boston whose name came from the guerrilla action conceptualized and led by Harriet Tubman on June 2, 1863, in the Port Royal region of South Carolina. This action freed more than 750 slaves and is the only military campaign in American history planned and led by a woman.” As a Southern Black woman now living in greater Boston, I have in my travels back and forth driven across the Combahee River many times, moved by the small highway sign that unceremoniously identifies this historically significant waterway. It has become a kind of sacred place to me, over which I always say a silent prayer when crossing. Whether on Interstate I-95 or Highway 17 (the older, smaller “blue route” that runs parallel, all the way up and down the East Coast), it is a prayer of gratitude to Harriet Tubman and all that she did for the liberation of human beings.

She was a tiny woman, a woman with a disability, and, of course, a Black woman--who also happened to be an almost superhumanly courageous person and a logistical/navigational genius. She commandeered the Underground Railroad, shotgun in hand (so that no one would run back to slavery). An abolitionist in word and deed, she led the Combahee River Raid. She eventually worked as a suffragist. And, in her old age, she founded an old folks home for indigent women, even though she herself died indigent in that very home. Race, class, gender--she covered it all. Her story is one of the archetypal stories of American culture. We are because she is, and because she is, therefore we are, to paraphrase my retired philosopher colleague, Ifeanyi Menkiti, and many other African cosmologists and epistemologists.

blogpullquoteTubman1aWhen the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced two years ago that it was planning to put a woman on the $10 bill, I voted for Harriet Tubman every chance I got. I was privileged to participate in an invitation-only phone call of women leaders with representatives from the Treasury Department, and I also voted online as an “ordinary citizen.” And I unapologetically urged my friends on social media to do the same. So, when the announcement arrived last week that Harriet Tubman would be the face of the new $20 bill, I was ecstatic. Victory!!! Who better to represent so many different marginalized U.S. populations, not to mention to embody, personify, and reify the black feminist theoretical innovation of intersectionality, emblazoned onto popular discourse by the very Combahee River Collective that so revered Tubman??

I have to hand it to Jack Lew, the U.S. Treasury Secretary who recognized that the time was right--indeed, overdue--to put a woman on a piece of high-circulation U.S. currency and to right some historical wrongs. In fact, not to stop with Harriet Tubman, Lew spearheaded a series of changes to the $20, $10, and $5 bills to reflect a more inclusive history of the U.S. Beyond the addition of Harriet Tubman to the $20 bill, a diverse group of suffragist women will be added to the back of the $10 bill: Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Like the women of the U.S. today, these women were ideologically and politically diverse, ranging from radical to reformatory in both rhetoric and method. Their history of interaction is complex, as texts such as Angela Y. Davis’s Women, Race and Class, and documentaries such as Ken Burns’ and Paul Barnes’ "Not for Ourselves Alone," reveal in captivating detail. Placing these women together on the back of the $20 bill suggests symbolically that we can work through our differences for good--a message badly needed right now in the U.S. It took 75 years--three generations of activism--to achieve the vote for women in America. No single woman did it alone, and women of diverse opinions each played a pivotal role, even when they disagreed on tactical and ideological points. This is a great inspiration for our times. And to add even more inspiration, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Marion Anderson, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt will be added to the back of the $5 bill to give life to the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln.

blogpullquoteTubman2aAdmittedly, if I had a private audience with Secretary Lew, I would suggest the inclusion of some notable Americans of Asian, Latin, Middle Eastern, Native American, and Pacific Islander descent in addition to the very welcome inclusion of African Americans on the new bills--and I might even suggest that he replace the image of slaveholder President Andrew Jackson (after whom my hometown, Jacksonville, Florida, is named, incidentally) with these diverse Americans, since he has (too) long had his day in the sun. I can only hope that this is the plan for the $50 and $100 bills!

I think it was a good decision to begin these momentous changes with the currency of everyday life. $20s, $10s, $5s--we look at these every day, and now these ordinary currencies will stimulate important social discourse. They might even stimulate the economy! #GenderPayGap, #SayHerName, #NotThere, #EverydaySexism, and #BlackLivesMatter are all having a heyday. All of these discussions should move a step forward now that we have racial and gender diversity on the money!

In sum, this was a great week for U.S. women, U.S. history, and maybe even the U.S. economy. Who won’t be excited to get and try out the new $20 bill? ATM machines, anyone?? Another milestone toward gender equality has been passed, another hurdle cleared. Although there is still a long way to go, I am thankful and glad, indeed, exuberant!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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The Right to Research: How Data Helps Women’s Human Rights around the World – The Case of West African Market Women

GBlog2The Right to Research: How Data Helps Women’s Human Rights around the World – The Case of West African Market Women

This past November, I had the opportunity to visit Ghana as a member of the international research advisory committee for a study on West African market women that was sponsored by the African Women’s Development Fund, Ford | West Africa, and the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund (full disclosure: I’m a member of the SMWF board). This sweeping study, in which over 500 women from four Anglophone countries--Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone--were interviewed, was the first ever to examine market women’s contributions to economic and social development in West Africa, particularly from the perspective of the market women themselves. Five researchers--a coordinating lead researcher, Dr. Comfort Lamptey, plus one researcher for each country--collected and analyzed the data, and we were convening in Ghana for a validation workshop to which national government officials, UN operatives, NGO leaders, funders, and market women leaders had been invited to discuss the results and formulate next steps.

Market women--those everyday traders who sell foodstuffs and other necessities in local open markets--are a force to be reckoned with in their respective countries. Yet, their voices, concerns, and ideas have often been ignored because they are considered economically and socially marginal due to their location in the informal sector and the fact that many continue to live at subsistence level. Nevertheless, as our study showed, market women make up approximately 80 percent of the women working in the informal sector in their societies, and, without them, their countries couldn’t function. They are the ones responsible for moving crops and livestock from farm to market and for basic processing of foods most frequently used. Whether rice or corn, yam or cassava, plantains or peppers, pineapples or papayas, sugar cane or palm oil, greens or groundnuts, goat, chicken, or fish--they are the ones who bring it to market and sell. One thing we agreed on at this conference is that no longer should these women be referred to as “petty traders,” because there is nothing petty about what they do!

In fact, our study revealed that market women play a major role in human capital development in their respective nations because, after feeding their families, their major economic expense is paying school fees for their children--and often for the children of others, such as extended family members. In our study, there were market women paying school fees for up to 13 children; an average was four or five. Often, these women also generously take care of neglected or orphaned children in their communities, even on their subsistence-level budgets. Market women are committed to education, and many have put children not only through primary schGBlog1Layli Maparyan with the Delegation from Liberia.ool, but also secondary school and university. Some can claim heads of state, government ministers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, professors, and corporate executives among those they have educated. In fact, the head of Ford | West Africa expressed that he was in part inspired to fund this study because his own mother was a market woman. Even President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Africa’s first democratically elected woman head of state, after whom the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund is named, is the grand-daughter of a market woman. Almost everyone in West Africa--or anyone from West Africa, living in the diaspora--is related or connected to a market woman.

Although our study was able to identify the fact that market women contribute significantly to the gross domestic product (GDP) of their respective nations, further detailed study of their contributions to GDP by economists would be the next logical follow-up. Such data would provide leverage for convincing governments to earmark budgetary lines for market women. Market women have many needs, from infrastructural improvements to their markets (such as better stalls, improved storage and security, and improved water and sanitation), to financial literacy and business skills training (which will enable them to better engage formal sector institutions), to basic literacy programs (our study found that most market women have only completed primary school or less), to child care and early education schemes for their children, to family leave policies and maternal care provisions that will provide flexibility and support when they are pregnant or lactating. These are the needs that were identified by the market women themselves in our study. Although some foundations, multi- or bi-laterals, and NGOs address these needs quite valiantly, they would be most comprehensively and reliably addressed if governments became involved, creating relevant policies, contributing dedicated funds, and coordinating multi-sectoral efforts so that duplication is avoided. More detailed research about the economic impact of market women could show governments that investing in market women isn’t just the right thing to do for the women themselves, but it is also a profitable economic investment for each nation respectively, particularly as many struggle to move from low-income to middle-income economic designations.

In the study and from the floor, the market women expressed the need to strengthen their national blogpullquoteMarketWomenmarket women organizations, with a special focus on gender parity in leadership. Although women are, by far, the largest proportion of marketers and traders, often it is the few men who are afforded positions of leadership that allow them to engage with policymakers. The market women who participated in our study would like to see women’s voices rise to the top and for women’s leadership to be recognized with top-level posts. Additionally, they indicated that the time might be right for a West Africa-wide market women’s organization that allowed market women from different countries to network, share best practices, and shape policy that affects them. Many touted the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund as a good example of a multi-constituency organization that has raised the visibility of market women’s issues at the same time as it has brought different stakeholders together for a common cause, and they imagined this model growing from its roots in Liberia to other countries. Additionally, the pivotal roles of the African Women’s Development Fund, UN Women, and Ford, all of which have provided funding for market women’s issues and related actions, were lauded as model donors.

One extremely interesting and exciting development from the floor was the suggestion that market women should and would like to take more responsibility for data collection about themselves. Many market women expressed “research fatigue”--an exhaustion with “outsider” researchers who “come in, collect data on us, write books about us, don’t call us back, and don’t do anything to help us.” Fortunately, the whole purpose of the validation workshop was to present the findings to the market women, determine whether they rang true with market women, and engage in conversations about the way forward with market women as equal partners at the table with other stakeholders. At the workshop, all of us discussed ways that data and research could be maximized for the benefit of market women, including how to collect data in ways that avoid duplication and how to bring market women into the process as researchers. It is market women who know best what is important to their lives and their businesses, yet the ability of researchers from different sectors (academia, government, multilaterals, NGOs, CBOs, and funders) to converse together enriches the larger effort.

GBlog3Dr. Comfort Lamptey and Layli MaparyanMy own horse in this race has to do with making sure that women all over the world have equal access to good research that affects their lives. At the Wellesley Centers for Women, we have prioritized raising the banner of research in important conversations and working with women- and gender-focused research organizations around the world to increase capacity, where needed, and to partner as equals wherever possible. We have so much to learn from each other; but, more importantly, the world’s policymakers need more and better information about women’s lives that is informed by women themselves. Whether it is creating more opportunities for women to become researchers, or making sure there are enough women- and gender-focused research organization around the world, or making sure that data generated by and about women gets utilized in all the right places, or making sure that everyday people who aren’t researchers have the research literacy to interpret research findings critically, we believe that research is a human right and that access to data advances human rights. So, on this Human Rights Day, we are glad to be part of the cause!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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A Global View on the Research-and-Action Connection: Ending Gender-Based Violence in Ghana

orangeA Global View on the Research-and-Action Connection: Ending Gender-Based Violence in Ghana

“16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” is an annual campaign sponsored by UN Women to raise concern about violence against women and girls and to highlight efforts at its eradication around the world. It commences on November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and terminates on December 10th, Human Rights Day. It just so happens that I was in Ghana at the beginning of this year’s campaign. While my visit required me to sacrifice Thanksgiving with my family back in the States, I came home so grateful for everything I had learned and all of the people I had met that I really want to share some highlights, in the interest of the collective movement to end gender-based violence around the world, of which the Wellesley Centers for Women is a part.

IMG 6892 1WCW Council of Advisors member Abigail Burgesson and WCW Executive Director Layli Maparyan with Dorcas Coker-Appiah, Founder and Executive Director of the Gender Centre.My first visit was to the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre, a research-and-action institute in Accra founded and led by Cllr. Dorcas Coker-Appiah. The Gender Centre (as it is known) established itself by conducting Ghana’s first landscape study of violence against women in 1997. This study became the basis for Ghana’s first comprehensive domestic violence policy, authored in 2001 and signed in 2007. Prior to the passage of this law, rape was the only legally recognized form of violence against women, and the existing law denied that rape could take place between married persons. The new domestic violence law, by contrast, recognizes manifold types of domestic violence, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, economic abuse, emotional, verbal, or psychological abuse, and harassment, including sexual harassment. While the law denying marital rape had to be overturned separately, this too was accomplished, making Ghana’s Act 732 a model for gender-based violence policy across Africa, particularly in places where no such comprehensive domestic violence law exists.

The Gender Centre’s landscape study was accomplished with the help of partners across the country. While the Gender Centre developed the research protocol and trained the researchers, it relied on data collectors based at other NGOs and CBOs in different regions around the country to conduct the actual data collection. The research protocol incorporated data triangulation involving legal and policy research, focus groups, and individual interviews to ensure robustness and validity across means of collection. Once the study was completed, a coalition of institutional actors, supported by the African Women’s Development Fund, was convened to conduct public education and stakeholder sensitization about domestic violence in advance of writing and shepherding the policy through the legislative process. The end-result was the creation of buy-in across the country for the new domestic IMG 6917"16 Days of Activism" Event hosted by WiLDAF Ghanaviolence law. Once the law was passed, efforts were made to capacitize the judiciary system and buttress the police force, as well as to increase the capacity of the health system to deal with domestic violence cases. In fact, a Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) was created within the Ghana Police Service and training on domestic violence was mainstreamed into the police academy curriculum. Other social actors inside and outside government also rose to support the new law in ways relevant to their respective missions.

One such organization was WiLDAF Ghana, the Women in Law and Development in Africa Association. The day after visiting the Gender Centre, I was able to attend WiLDAF’s half-day “Learn and Share Event on Gender Based Violence,” which was part of Ghana’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence programming. This workshop brought together women lawyers and judges, women and men from the Ghana Police Sercie, representatives from various NGOs (including AWDF, Oxfam, and the Ark Foundation), a leading disability rights activist, members of the religious community, and a number of journalists from various media to discuss issues of coordination. Officers from the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection were also invited. The idea was that all of these groups needed to work together in an integrated fashion to insure the fullest implementation of the law and to reduce gender-based violence in Ghana. One premise was that meeting face-to-face and knowing each other in person would accelerate the process.

IMG 6919One conundrum that was discussed is the fact gender-based violence statistics have gone up in recent years in Ghana, begging the question of whether domestic violence really is on the rise or, alternately, whether the new law has merely increased reporting of incidents due to society-wide sensitization. Although both factors may be at play, there was general agreement that the law was a necessary intervention on an unacceptable situation--broad scale gender-based violence in Ghana. (Of course, lest anyone single Ghana out, the World Health Organization recently released figures that 1 out 3 women worldwide has survived one or more acts of gender-based violence--the global mean is 35 percent, with country-by-country prevalence rates ranging from 17-71 percent.) In fact, WiLDAF staged some public street theatre IMG 6921Street theatre performers who raised visibility about gender-based violence at a busy intersection during rush hour in Accra.that very morning to drive home this point, placing actors depicting bloody and bandaged brides and a groom at a busy intersection wearing placards that read “I did not bargain for this,” “I am your wife, not your punching bag,” “Real men don’t hit their wives,” and “Stop gender based violence” on their bodies. One way in which this demonstration reflected cultural particularities was the fact that the groom was dressed like an older man with gray hair, suggesting indirectly child marriage as a form of gender-based violence which also must end. After the street demonstration, the actors appeared at the workshop.

The following day, I had the pleasure of lunch with an interdisciplinary group of scholars from the Center for Gender Studies and Advocacy (CEGENSA) at the University of Ghana, Legon, led by sociologist Dr. Akosua Darkwah. Over lunch, we discussed the evolution of domestic violence shelters in Ghana and the struggles that many of them--and their inhabitants--face. There is still only one fully functioning domestic violence shelter in Ghana, which is run as a joint venture between the Ark Foundation and some private individuals. There is only one other shelter in the country, run by the state exclusively for children but not women. Exposure to sexual violence, especially incest, is a common reason for women (or girls) to come to the shelters. One common scenario is a girl who has been subjected to incest arriving at the shelter with her mother, who stays with her; another common scenario is an adolescent woman coming to the shelter by herself because she has been shut out by her family for levying claims of incest. In both cases, those who arrive tend to come and stay indefinitely, rather than staying or a period of time and then leaving. One reason is the lack of additional support services in Ghana; another reason is the extreme psychological and social difficulty of existing without family support in the Ghanaian context. For example, in a country where marriage is extremely important for social status and acceptability, people can’t marry without an extended family entourage. For women who have been ejected from their families, such family support disappears. IMG 6985Layli Maparyan with researchers from CEGENSA.Shelter staff will create family around those who come to live there, giving names, especially to babies who are born of incest, which provides them with new social identities as part of a family group. While the culture of shelters is still evolving in Ghana, particularly as the legal architecture that supports survivors of gender-based violence (e.g., restraining orders and their enforcement) continues to evolve simultaneously, these few anecdotes demonstrate the creative ways that those who care about and care for survivors are attempting to solve complex challenges. As my colleagues from CEGENSA noted, there is ripe room for research in this area--research that would help inform action.

I lift up the work of the Gender Centre, WiLDAF, and CEGENSA because, together, they demonstrate the research-and-action connection that is so near and dear to us here at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Researchers at the Gender Centre identified a crucial policy gap, designed and executed a comprehensive study to fill in that gap with blogpullquoteGenderViolencedata, convened a group of stakeholders to write new policy, and shepherded the draft policy through the national legislative process while simultaneously engaging in public education so that the government and the people were in it together. They needed to piece together support from many sources over many years to make this happen. Many others who also cared passionately about ending gender-based violence worked with them or supported this work. Now, as Ghana looks ahead the tenth anniversary of its landmark domestic violence legislation, the country can claim many accomplishments. These include the expansion of its judiciary system to address gender-based violence, a sensitized police force that includes a domestic violence unit, and the leadership of its Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Protection. It also includes increased awareness of groups with special vulnerabilities (such as people with disabilities), and the education and sensitization efforts of numerous NGOs like WiLDAF and academic institutes like CEGENSA. All of these actors are vigorously working together to make sure that the country as a whole is moving in the same direction--away from gender-based violence and towards peace and security for women. Other countries can learn from Ghana --and other countries can increase the link between research and action to end gender-based violence.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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A World AIDS Day Hero: Beatrice Achieng Nas

bachiengnasA World AIDS Day Hero: Beatrice Achieng Nas

December 1st is World AIDS Day. This year, I’d like to shine the light on someone whose work I really admire, someone who is dedicating her life to serving and lifting up many children and families who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. I’m talking about Beatrice Achieng Nas, founder-director of Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation (PCEF), and the Rural Girl Child Mentorship Project (RGCM). I first met Beatrice when she came to the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) from her native Uganda as an IREX Community Solutions Fellow (CSF). CSF fellows are selected to come to the United States from developing countries [WC] for showing exceptional promise as community leaders. In the U.S., they train with host institutions to increase their leadership and management experience so that they can carry it back to their home countries and power up their own initiatives. Before coming here, Beatrice had already been developing both PCEF and RGCM Uganda for a few years, but both could be considered fledgling initiatives at that time. While with us at WCW, she studied women’s NGO management, which included mentoring in the areas of communications, donor relations, and grant writing, as well as research basics, program evaluation, and social-emotional learning facilitation. I’m proud to say she also taught us a few things, especially about mobilizing people around a cause!

Back in Uganda, Beatrice runs an organization to empower academically talented girls from rural communities by helping them gain admittance to and stay in good secondary schools, many of which are far from home. Many of these girls are from families that have been affected by HIV/AIDS. In some cases, one or both parents have died from the disease. In other cases, siblings have died from the disease, leaving children to be cared for by other family members, even the by girls themselves. In all cases, they live in communities where far too many people have died from AIDS. In fact, Beatrice herself lost seven of nine siblings to HIV/AIDS, and she and her mother have been caring for all of her nieces and nephews ever since. When Beatrice was growing up, some missionaries from Kentucky came through her village and noticed her--they noticed that she was smart, industrious, kind, and capable. At the time, she was working as a village barmaid, bringing in the only income her family had. These missionaries decided then and there to pay for blogpullquoteAIDSDayBeatrice’s education. As a result, Beatrice made it all the way to Makerere University, the top university in Uganda and one of the leading universities in Africa, where she majored in information technology. Her college degree led to some good positions with, first, a bank, and later an international NGO, but after working in these places for a while, Beatrice realized she could do much more on her own. That’s when she founded PCEF and RGMC.

Beatrice’s work requires her to raise funds from donors from around the world in the form of sponsorships for her students and gifts to support the organization’s many community projects. One thing I really love about Beatrice’s model of change is the fact that she understands that, to help her girls, she must also help the families of her girls and strengthen the communities in which these families live. These families and communities need economic supports, educational supports, health supports, and more. Once the girls are in school, Beatrice engages the girls’ families in livelihood projects, such as agribusiness and craft-making, that generate revenue that is often lost when the girls leave the village for school in the city, helping the families rise above mere survival. She also provides safer sex education for her girls and other community members in their villages, providing free condoms whenever possible. She counsels families against early marriage of their daughters, because, even though the practice is illegal in Uganda, many girls--even academically talented girls--are married off before they can attend secondary school, often for the economic survival of their families. And she requires the families in her program to remain free of domestic violence while their girls are in her program. When families struggle with this, she provides counseling. Her memories of witnessing domestic violence in her own family growing up fuel her commitment to helping families in the communities she serves to see past domestic violence, whether in terms of intimate partner abuse, child abuse, or various forms of sexual abuse. To help reduce violence at the community level, Beatrice borrowed strategies that she learned from WCW’s own Open Circle program--strategies that teach recognizing and managing emotions, empathy, positive relationships, and problem solving--and shared them not only with the girls and their families, but also with the teachers and staff of the schools the girls attended. Many teachers, parents, and community members reported that they had never understood the impact of violence on their girls before this training, and many also expressed commitment to eliminate violence from their relationships--in the home and in school.

aidsribbonRecently, Beatrice updated us about her activities, which have grown to support the communities where she works in even broader ways. In addition to a library/community center in Amor Village, which was her project under IREX, she has now started a school complex in Tororo village that already includes a primary school and will grow to include a nursery school, a secondary school, and a vocational education center. Twenty-seven of the mentees who started with PCEF/RGCM at the beginning of secondary school are now pursuing university education. About half of them are studying to become teachers, but the others are pursing fields as diverse as accounting and finance, adult education, economics, motor mechanics, clinical medicine, nursing, human resource management, and wildlife management. Finally, Beatrice is mobilizing donors to purchase solar panels for the families in her network so that they can stop using kerosene lamps. She just thinks of everything!

The Wellesley Centers for Women was not the first to recognize the incredible talent and heart of Beatrice Achieng Nas. In fact, Beatrice had already been recognized as an emerging leader by World Pulse, who brought her to the U.S. to speak on the World Pulse Live Tour. At WCW, we were glad to contribute to Beatrice’s ongoing leadership development, and many of us have stayed connected with her since her time in our midst. In fact, one of our researchers visited Beatrice for a research tutorial as part of a larger East Africa tour, and thanks to additional IREX support, two members of our Open Circle team traveled to Uganda to help Beatrice with the social-emotional learning trainings. We can see that the chance to “walk part of the journey together” has enriched all of us on both sides. Beatrice has benefited from WCW’s research expertise and training projects, while WCW has benefited from Beatrice’s ability to translate our work into action on the ground. We are thankful for the gift of such mutually fulfilling social-change relationships and, on this World AIDS Day, we are grateful that our work, through Beatrice, has helped families and communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Maggie Tripp: Firebrand Feminist in a Peck & Peck Suit

MaggieTrippMaggie Tripp: Firebrand Feminist in a Peck & Peck Suit

Maggie Tripp (1921-2014) was a trailblazer with a special connection to the Wellesley Centers for Women. Known for her impeccable appearance in Peck & Peck suits (who remembers these??) when everyone else was dressed in jeans, she was an “improbable” feminist whose indomitable spirit and can-do attitude attracted her to the women’s movement early on and whose wise and witty speaking ability allowed her to become what the Long Island Newsday described as “the respected mouthpiece of the women’s movement.” In 1974, she published a forward-looking edited volume titled Woman in the Year 2000, with provocative chapters by authors ranging from Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, and Letty Cottin Pogrebin to Alvin Toffler. In 1988, she donated her extensive feminist book collection to the Wellesley Center for Research on Women (as we were then called), after it was rejected by her own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. Her donation established the Madelyn B. Tripp Library, an intimate reading room filled with both important classics and lesser-known volumes that were influential in their time.

Recently, we added a particularly special volume to the library: A Woman with a Mind of Her Own, subtitled The Delicious Adventures of Maggie, Who Lived by Her Own Rules as Daughter, Wife, Mother, Businesswoman, Professor, Author, Public Speaker…and True Feminist (Archway, 2015). This book, part memoir and part posthumous tribute, was written by Maggie’s husband, Alan R. Tripp – Maggie’s biggest fan and a “women’s movement man” in his own right. This delightful and illuminating book combines personal anecdotes about Maggie in each of these roles with excerpts from her writings and speeches, to provide not only a historical record of an important figure in the second-wave women’s movement but also food for thought today.

AlanTrippVideoOver the summer, Alan visited us here at the Wellesley Centers for Women, and here’s what he had to say about Maggie>>

 

If you look carefully through the New York Times Book Review this weekend, you might just find this new book. It is the perfect read for a train ride or the beach side (where I myself read it this summer), and its anecdotes are shareable even with young feminists (read: teenagers) of any gender. It’s the kind of book that even people who don’t call themselves feminists will relate to and enjoy, and yet seasoned feminists will learn something new, too. It’s a true feminist family affair!

Alan Tripp has described Maggie as both “blunt” and “charming” – a combination of attributes that helped her break down barriers and advance the women’s agenda in her time. As a young student at Barnard, she found the rules archaic and confining and took her complaints to the school’s famous dean, Virginia Gildersleeve. The dean challenged Maggie to “resign” if she didn’t like the rules, which Maggie did, choosing to continue her studies at Penn instead. There’s a wonderful story in the book about how, later, in 1968, Maggie moved to New York and stormed into the registrar’s office of the New School for Social Research asking to take courses “where the action is.” The registrar directed her to women’s studies, and the rest is history. From there Maggie became a women’s studies instructor, author, speaker, organizer, and general firebrand! I encourage you to learn more about the life of this colorful mover and shaker who is very dear to all of us at WCW!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Learn more about Maggie Tripp and Alan Tripp's new book at TrippyBooks.com today.

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The Power of Women’s Social Science Research in Social Justice Movements

march15blogThe Power of Women’s Social Science Research in Social Justice Movements

When most people think about how social change happens, the role of social science research probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, our histories of social change, social movement, and social justice have been shaped by social science research that provided crucial evidence to move things along. As head of the Wellesley Centers for Women, the nation’s oldest and largest academic women and gender focused research and action institute, now celebrating its 40th year, I’d like to talk about the role of social science research by women in advancing gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing by highlighting three studies by women that really made a difference.

In the late 1930s, Mamie Phipps Clark, a masters student in psychology at Howard University, began to wonder about the relationship between school context and racial self-concept in children. She devised a method of testing children’s racial self-concept using, first, black and white images of children and, later, black and white dolls. Using this method, she collected data from children in three kinds of schools--segregated schools (all black children, black teachers), semi-segregated schools (mostly black children, white teachers), and integrated schools (black and white children, white teachers)--in Arkansas and New York City. She found that, in general, black children in all three conditions were more likely to rate the white image or doll as “good” and the black image or doll as “bad”; however, these effects were most pronounced in the semi-segregated condition where all the children were black and all the teachers were white.

This research was later published with her husband Kenneth Bancroft Clark, also a psychologist, as a series of five papers between 1939-1947, during and after the time both were pursuing their Ph.D.s in psychology at Columbia University. These papers became a cornerstone of the famous “Social Science Statement”--a survey of research drafted by Kenneth Clark, Isidor Chein, and Stuart W. Cook, which made the case that segregation is bad for children--black and white. This statement was submitted as an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1952 and was ultimately cited in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954--proving that social science research really does make a difference in social change.

blogpullquoteWomeSocialScienceIn the mid-1970s, Stanford-based psychologist Sandra Lipsitz Bem began to wonder how she might measure the limiting effects of traditional sex roles. This question had been raised by the women’s liberation movement, as more and more women became aware of--and concerned about--things like the “glass ceiling” and gender wage gap, as well as parenting differentials at home. Bem devised the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI), a quantitative measure of traditional masculinity and femininity, which she published in 1974. Unlike previous sex role inventories, the BSRI allowed researchers to capture degrees of masculinity and femininity within the same person, rather than just rating an individual as either masculine or feminine. In addition, the BSRI introduced a new sex role category: androgyny. This category referred to people--male or female--who scored high in both masculinity and femininity. (People who scored low in both were referred to as “undifferentiated.”) Research based on the BSRI showed that women who scored high on androgyny showed levels of workplace success that were similar to men scoring high in masculinity, while women who scored high in femininity tended to experience more barriers to workplace success. Ironically, Bem was not tenured at Stanford despite many awards for her research, although Cornell subsequently rewarded her with a full professorship. Like Mamie Clark, Sandra Bem contributed to the outcome of landmark civil rights cases, this time in the area of employment. Bem testified as an expert witness in both the 1973 case against the Pittsburgh Press (ending the division of “help wanted” ads by sex) and the 1974 AT&T sex-discrimination settlement (ending many employment practices that discriminated against women). On a broader cultural level, Bem’s work also influenced how children are socialized about gender through books, toys, and television--in particular, widening the options presented to girls. In the long run, Sandra Bem’s research on sex roles helped establish the idea that gender is socially constructed and not merely inborn, expanding our society’s ideas about what it means to be a man or woman and opening up options along the full “spectrum of gender.”

In the mid-2000s, two political scientists--Mala Htun of the University of New Mexico and Laurel Weldon of Purdue University--embarked on a quest to discover empirically what really makes a difference in ending violence against women at the societal level. Examining data from 70 countries collected over four decades, these researchers determined that a single factor makes the most difference: the existence of an autonomous feminist movement within a country. In their provocative 2012 article titled “The Civic Origins of Progressive Policy Change: Combating Violence against Women in Global Perspective, 1975-2005,” these authors showed that “feminist mobilization in civil society” is more strongly correlated with the creation of policies that combat violence against women than any other factor that they measured, including percentage of women in government, activity of leftist parties, or relative national wealth. To quote these authors, “autonomous [feminist] movements produce an enduring impact on VAW policy through the institutionalization of feminist ideas in international norms.” They further state that, “analysis of civil society in general--and of social movements in particular – is critical to understanding progressive policy change.” What this comprehensive study tells us is that, despite the hurdles and setbacks that large-scale social movements inevitably face, they are, in the end, what makes a difference in bringing us closer to equity, justice, and wellbeing. And, on a more granular level, all of the large and small organizations that exist to advance social change within such movements are absolutely essential to achieving the aims we dream of. Htun and Weldon dared to use “big data” to illuminate a reality that common sense alone could not have revealed.

We must thank these and many other women social scientists for the painstaking work of bringing hard evidence to bear on our diverse social change efforts in the U.S. and globally. Social scientists, especially women social scientists, have played a crucial yet unsung role in bringing us closer to our shared ideals of gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing. Let us celebrate them this Women’s History Month!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Black History Month Matters: A Personal Reflection

GrandmotherPhotoBlack History Month Matters: A Personal Reflection

When I was a girl, my grandmother Jannie had only two books in her house. One was the Bible, and the other was Carter G. Woodson’s The Negro in Our History. My grandmother was born in 1917 in a sleepy little town called Locust Grove, Georgia. Not far from there, her own grandmother, Phyllis, had been born into slavery and was about 12 when the Emancipation Proclamation set her free. Phyllis gave birth to Laura, my great-grandmother and namesake, and Laura, as the result of a quietly kept sexual assault during her time as a domestic worker in Locust Grove, gave birth to my grandmother, Jannie.

In the early 1930s, Locust Grove didn’t have a high school for Black students due to Jim Crow segregation, so my grandmother left Locust Grove with the proverbial “nickel in her pocket” to move in with her much older stepbrother and his wife in Atlanta. This allowed her to attend the famed Booker T. Washington High School, built in 1924 as the first high school for African American students in the state of Georgia. It was here that Carter G. Woodson’s groundbreaking 1922 text, The Negro in Our History, served as her high school history textbook. After graduating from high school, she kept it, and eventually, after her passing in 1987, it landed in my hands. It has served as one of my most treasured possessions ever since.

Carter G. Woodson is the father of BlaCarter G Woodson Stampck History Month, which began as Negro History Week in 1926. He was an erudite and meticulous scholar who obtained his B.Litt. from Berea College, his M.A. from the University of Chicago, and his doctorate from Harvard University at a time when the pursuit of higher education was extremely fraught for African Americans. Because he made it his mission to collect, compile, and distribute historical data about Black people in America, I like to call him “the original #BlackLivesMatter guy.” His self-declared dual mission was to make sure the African-Americans knew their history and to insure the place of Black history in mainstream U.S. history. This was long before Black history was considered relevant, even thinkable, by most white scholars and the white academy. In fact, he writes in the preface of The Negro in Our History that he penned the book for schoolteachers so that Black history could be taught in schools—and this, just in time for the opening of Washington High School.

Carter G. Woodson’s starting premise was that African American history did not begin with slavery, but rather began in the free and self-organized cultures of the African continent before slavery was even a consideration. So, the first chapter of his copiously illustrated book is titled “The Negro in Africa.” His ending premise was that Black History was central to the pursuit of equality and dignity for people of African descent in America. Hence, his concluding chapter is “The Negro and Social Justice.” In between, he talks about the glorious, creative, and noble actions and contributions of a wide array of African American men and Booker T Washington HSwomen. It enlivens my curiosity to imagine my grandmother Jannie as a young woman learning in school about her own history from Carter G. Woodson’s text, which, at that time was still relatively new, alongside anything else she might have been learning. It saddens me to reflect on the fact that my own post-desegregation high school education, AP History and all, offered no such in-depth overview of Black history, African American or African.

In 1915, Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, a professional organization for Black scholars. A year later, in 1916, he founded the Journal of Negro History, now known as the Journal of African American History—a journal in which I, coincidentally, have published. This year, the organization he founded, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (or ASALH), celebrates its 100th anniversary—in Atlanta, no less. The survival of this organization is a testament to the fact that scholars have played a huge role in the advancement of dignity and justice for people of African descent in the United States, and such Africana studies scholarship itself has often presented the evidence base for the work of social change.

blogpullquotePersonalReflectionAfter finishing high school, my grandmother Jannie, like many of her generation, worked as a domestic for many years. However, after spending time working in the home of a doctor, she was encouraged and went on to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), which took two more years of night school. From that point until her death, she worked as a private nurse to aging wealthy Atlantans. This enabled her to make a good, albeit humble, livelihood for herself and her two daughters, along with my great grandmother Laura, who lived with her and served as her primary source of childcare, particularly after her brief marriage to my grandfather, an older man who she found to be overbearing, ended. With this livelihood, she was able to put both her daughters through Spelman College, the nation’s leading African American women’s college, then and now. It stands as a point of pride to our whole family that, although she was unable to attend due to family responsibilities, Jannie herself was also at one time admitted to Spelman College.

When I was growing up, the message from my grandmother was unequivocal: Education, education, education. She singled me out early as the one on whom to be unrelenting with this message, and throughout her life, she went out of her way to contribute to my educational success—everything from the gift of a piano when I was in elementary school so that I would learn music to the gift of new clothes for college when I myself was admitted to Spelman College. Perhaps, most notably, she served as my source of childcare when I had my first child as a junior in colleGrandmothers Headstonege. Sadly, she didn’t live to see me attain my Ph.D., but, when she passed away, I was already pursuing my Masters degree, and, like her, I was also mother to a second child. Thus, when I inherited The Negro in Our History, it was more than a quaint artifact of an earlier era, and more than just a physical symbol of Black History Month. Rather, it was where Black history, women’s history, the pursuit of education, the pursuit of social justice, my own history, and my own destiny met.

Wherever I am in my life, when I need inspiration, sometimes I go to my shelf and pull out The Negro in Our History, and sometimes I go sit at my grandmother’s grave (where she is buried right next to her mother, my namesake, Laura, in Atlanta) and commune with her spirit, offering gratitude. These are not easy times we are living in, I tell her—but neither were mine, she tells me. I made progress, and so will you. Keep going. And through the thread of our connectedness, the long march continues.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College. Her scholar-activist work interweaves threads from the social sciences and the critical disciplines, incorporating basic and applied platforms around a common theme of integrating identities and communities in peaceable, ecologically sound, and self-actualizing ways.

 

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On King Day, Thinking about Social Movement

mlk-quoteOn King Day, Thinking about Social Movement

The past year has generated national and international soul searching on the theme of social movement. In the U.S., events as diverse as the multiple police shootings of unarmed Black men, the killings of police officers on patrol, domestic violence incidents involving professional athletes, and misogynistic serial killings of women, have left us wondering who we are as a nation. Around the world, events such as the mass kidnapping of African schoolgirls, the shootings of journalists in Europe, and the rise of religious extremist violence in general, have shocked and outraged us. Many people are wondering what forms of mobilization can be effective in today’s world. We scratch our heads over the fact that, while obvious progress has been made on many social justice fronts, new and worse hate-based acts of violence – indeed, new horrors – seem to crop up every day and everywhere. There is a tendency, quite natural and laudable, to reach back for familiar forms of social movement – such as protest – and to update them (for example, through social media). But is this enough and, more importantly, is it really effective? Is this really all we can do? In honor of the great visionary thinker and agent of social transformation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose legacy we celebrate today, I have a few thoughts.

I’d like to begin with a premise, perhaps controversial: We have no enemies. No matter how much we dislike or disagree with someone else’s point of view, we are still brothers and sisters. No matter how gravely someone crosses a line we would not cross or commits an act we see as unconscionable, we are still part of one human family. Admittedly, this is difficult. For starters, it is natural to recoil from things that offend our sensibilities, through whatever process of socialization we came to hold those sensibilities. Stated differently, we have to work to try to understand things that are outside our ken of acceptability. But, I argue, this work is worth it, because it makes possible the beginnings of dialogue – dialogue that can bring us together, ultimately transforming hearts and minds. Without the attempt to understand someone else’s point of view, dialogue never begins. Yet, once dialogue commences, transformative points of commonality can be discovered, leading to social change. Sometimes it is just the simple, everyday act of talking with someone that one might not otherwise talk to that launches the chain reaction of change.

blogpullquoteOnKingDayThe story of Xernona Clayton and Calvin Craig bears this out beautifully. Xernona Clayton was a civil rights activist who worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference alongside Dr. King, and, in 1967, she became the first Black woman in the Southeast to have her own television show, The Xernona Clayton Show. Around this same time, she was appointed by then Mayor of Atlanta, Ivan Allen, as community affairs director for the Model Cities program. There she met Calvin Craig, a heavy equipment operator who happened also to be the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and the chair of the Model Cities program in one of the five communities within her jurisdiction. “I don’t know how you’re all going to get along,” the Mayor told Clayton. She said, “I don’t run away from people.” At one of their meetings, Clayton daringly and only half-jokingly told Craig that, “Before this project is over, I’ll not only have you eating at my house, I’ll have you eating out of my hand!”

Over the course of a convivial relationship, they found common cause in their Christianity (both belonged to Baptist denominations) and a shared sense of humor. To everyone’s surprise, in 1968, shortly before Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Calvin Craig publicly announced that he was leaving the Klan because his views had changed. He credited his change of heart to his friendship with Xernona Clayton. Clayton was poised to introduce Craig to Martin Luther King, Jr., who, after some hesitancy, agreed to meet with the man, but fate would not have it, as King was assassinated just days later in Memphis. The night of King’s death, Craig came to King’s home to pay respects. Afraid or ashamed to approach the door, he stood in the yard until someone gave the message to Mrs. Coretta Scott King that Craig was there. She invited him in, but still Craig refused – perhaps his own way of showing respect for Dr. King.

Craig’s obituary reveals that, over time, he would again both join and denounce the Klan. However, an interview with his daughter, Gail Craig Myers, reveals the extent to which Calvin Craig was transformed by his friendship with Xernona Clayton. To quote Myers, speaking of Xernona Clayton, “[Y]ou healed my father and cleansed our family.” This is a strong statement of transformation – a testament to the power of friendship, and a testimony to the power of non-oppositional approaches to social justice and social change, and to the healing power of racial amity – America’s “other tradition” – as a framework for shifting race relations. It is also a testament to the power of everyday acts that change hearts and minds – a reminder that we cannot rely solely on politics and policy if we truly want enduring peace and justice.

So, on this King Day, I am asking you to consider with me the power of connection, the power of reaching out – beyond our comfort zones – to acknowledge one another’s full humanity and to try, in a new way, to build the world that we’d like to live in. I’m asking us to imagine activism without enemies – to never lose sight of the fact that, no matter how hard things get, we are all in this together. It is certainly an extension of Dr. King’s legacy, enlarging the “Beloved Community” to ultimately include all of us. I dare everyone of us to try it and see where we are this time next year!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College. Her scholar-activist work interweaves threads from the social sciences and the critical disciplines, incorporating basic and applied platforms around a common theme of integrating identities and communities in peaceable, ecologically sound, and self-actualizing ways.

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Brave New Girls -- a timely repost

MYPeacePrizePhotoBrave New Girls:

Let’s Celebrate U.N. International Day of the Girl by Supporting the Malala Yousafzais of Our World


This article was originally posted on October 11, 2012 on the Women Change Worlds blog. Today, Malala Yousafzai, was named a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has also been awarded the National Youth Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize, and the Simone de Beauvoir Prize.

I’ll bet that when the Taliban decided to fire their guns at 14-year old Malala Yousafzai, it didn’t occur to them that they might be making her the cause celebre of the U.N. International Day of the Girl, which is October 11th. Although the Taliban might argue otherwise, Malala is everything a girl should be – intelligent, inquisitive, bold, brave, and a concerned, aware world citizen. She embodies and dares to live up to that oft-repeated maxim, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What does it say about us when the global war on women – the ages-old attempt to keep women down through violence, silencing, discrimination, and worse – stoops down to attack young girls who haven’t even yet reached womanhood? I say “us,” because, on some level, we are all accountable for the collective consciousness that excuses violence against women in its many shapeshifting forms. No country, no population, is immune. Whenever something like this happens – something terrible and obvious, like the attack on Malala Yousafzai – all of us should stop in our tracks and ask ourselves, what am I doing that keeps the tacit acceptance of violence against women – and now girls – alive in the world…and how can I change that??

Malala Yousaufzai has been fighting for girls’ education in Pakistan.  Girls all over the world deserve education, and even though some challenging impediments have been identified by researchers and others, there is no excuse in this day and age for girls to be kept from schooling. None. The U.N. has made girls education a tenet (in Targets 2 and 3, to be specific) of its Millennium Development Goals – and in case you were wondering, we only have three more years, until 2015, before we are expected to achieve them. Malala Yousafzai is in a position to challenge the rest of us as women’s activist Audre Lorde famously did when she wrote, “I’m doing my work … are you doing yours??”

What are we doing to help Malala Yousafzai’s dream – and MDGs 2 and 3 – to become a reality? Not only in Pakistan, but everywhere, all over the world, including the United States, many girls still languish, along with their male peers, in indecently substandard schools and where staggering rates of sexual harassment and violence negatively impact social-emotional development and learning. The issue of a right to education doesn’t just apply to developing nations – it applies, too, in the developed world where different subpopulations often have differential access to a good education. We must look outward and inward as we reflect on these questions.

Girl activists like Malala are becoming more common and more visible in their efforts to create that “another world” that’s so famously “possible” – a world in which they would like to live, a world that will not only welcome their talents, their full participation, and their leadership, but also a world that will keep them safe and healthy, upholding their dignity and equality. In the United States, for example, I think of girls like Mary Pat Hector who, at age 10, founded Youth in Action USA (she’s now 14, like Malala) to fight violence in her community and communities nationwide. Her organization, which now boasts chapters in seven U.S. states, encourages children to get involved in change through volunteerism, peace rallies, and community advocacy trainings. I also think of girls like Hannah Salwen who, also at age 14, authored The Power of Half as a way to generate social-change
blogpullquoteBraveNewGirlscapital. It was witnessing homelessness in her city that inspired her to figure out how she and her family could make a real difference, and her “power of half” principle has since become a movement.

Malala, Mary Pat, Hannah, and so many more… These are girls who can’t wait – who are taking the bull of the global conditions they care about by the horns – perhaps because they don’t trust us to do it for them, or perhaps because they are simply aware of their own power and genius. Whatever the case may be, we must support them and help them build the brave new world that they would like to grow up in, because the world they envision is not just a world that will be good for them, it’s a world that will be better for everyone.

The U.N. International Day of the Girl is our opportunity not only to celebrate girls, but also to listen to them, lift them up, and ask them what they need from us to do more of the good that they are doing. I could have spent this column railing against the Taliban and the outrage of their violent attack, but how much better to highlight the work of Malala Yousafzai and girls like her. Let’s celebrate the International Day of the Girl by joining them and supporting them in their audacious, courageous work to change the world!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

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dorothycooke202
I have utmost respect for girl activists just as Malala. I also truly believe, that we will be seeing more and more amazing people... Read More
Tuesday, 21 October 2014 21:31
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In Memory of Maya Angelou

mayaangelouIn Memory of Maya Angelou

Today we lost a Phenomenal Woman writ large and a national treasure, Dr. Maya Angelou, at the age of 86. Last year on April 4, 2013, we cross-posted a birthday tribute to her extraordinary life here on Women Change Worlds and at the blog page of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights Voices of our Community Blog. In honor of her passing, and in honor of phenomenal women everywhere, we are re-posting this blog again today.

 

Happy Birthday Maya Angelou!

We may remember today many ways, but one of the happiest has to be by wishing an ebullient “Happy Birthday!” to one of America’s living national treasures: Dr. Maya Angelou, who was born on this day, as Marguerite Ann Johnson, in 1928.  In the 85 years since then, she has graced our nation and the world with wisdom, vivacity, courage, and splendor as the very embodiment of the figure she made famous in her poem, “Phenomenal Woman.”  On a day that encourages us to reflect on civil and human rights with the widest possible scope, we can use this occasion to look closely at the many ways that Dr. Angelou has blazed paths, opened doors, and enlarged life and living for the rest of us.

Dr. Angelou is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, first published in 1969, which tells the story of her tumultuous childhood and its overcoming, and then again for her riveting recitation of the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, or as the first poet to be invited to a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost appeared at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.  Yet, these anchors of public awareness only punctuate a life of irrepressible self-invention that has enlarged our sense of what human beings are capable of and what human liberation might actually look like.  Challenging early circumstances in Dr. Angelou’s life – family violence, family mobility, economic insecurity, sexual abuse – only served to refine and lay bare her genius and expose us to her gifts – artistic, political, literary, and spiritual. 

This Phenomenal Woman was the first African American woman to author a screenplay: Georgia, Georgia, the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture: Down in the Delta, the first major Black writer to author a fourth (then a fifth and sixth) autobiography (giving W.E.B. DuBois, who famously authored three, a run for his money and his historical legacy), and even the first African American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.  Yet, this litany of firsts obscures a deeper contribution to women’s empowerment and the global legacy of civil and human rights for people of African descent.

blogpullquoteMemoryofMayaAngelouAs an integral creative spirit within the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Angelou’s works of autobiography then poetry helped lay the foundation for Black women’s literature and literary studies, as well as Black feminist and womanist activism today.  By laying bare her story, she made it possible to talk publicly and politically about many women’s issues that we now address through organized social movements – rape, incest, child sexual abuse, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence.  Through the acknowledgement of lesbianism in her writings as well as her public friendship with Black gay writer and activist James Baldwin, she helped shift America’s ability to envision and enact civil rights advances for the LGBTQ community.  And the time she spent in Ghana during the early 1960s (where she met W.E.B. DuBois and made friends with Malcolm X, among others), helped Americans of all colors draw connections between the civil rights and Black Power movements in the U.S. and the decolonial independence and Pan-African movements of Africa and the diaspora. 

By communicating through the arts, Dr. Angelou has always brought a much-needed dimension of heart and soul to our political efforts and aspirations.  Her life-as-career has been recognized for its universal value to others in her appointment as the lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, as well as through numerous awards and recognitions. The long arc of her contributions to civil and human rights, which reaches back to her early employment with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reached a tragic pitch with the assassination of her friend and colleague Dr. Martin Luther King on her 40th birthday in 1968, and proceeds forward to the recent formation of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest School of Medicine, is now part of the fabric of our history.

At 85, Dr. Maya Angelou is a living legend and cultural treasure. Her courage in the service of freedom and justice has left its unmistakable mark on our world. As she once stated, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

On this day, as an act of honor and celebration, I encourage everyone to seek out and share a book, poem, film, song, or speech by Dr. Maya Angelou – but not to stop there.  To truly honor her life, we must look around and witness the many “caged birds who still sing” – and then find a way to help open doors to freedom.  We can look to organizations like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which has become a convener of change conversations and a facilitator of change actions, or to organizations like the Wellesley Centers for Women, that works to move the needle of change by supporting social change efforts through social scientific research, theory, and action.  But we can also start right where we are, as Dr. Angelou did so many times herself, and ask ourselves, “What can I do, right here, right now?”  There are so many ways to get involved, and, like Dr. Angelou, to live a life that makes a difference.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

 

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A Different Kind of Resolution

2014ResolutionsA Different Kind of Resolution

This time of year, many people are thinking about their New Year’s resolutions. More often than not, these resolutions revolve around things we’d like to change in ourselves or our lives. But what about the things we’d like to change about our world--the things that are bigger than ourselves and our own individual lives? This year, I’m advocating for a different kind of resolution--a resolution to connect ourselves to “the change we’d like to see in the world” through direct action in areas we have the power to influence. I’m convinced that, if enough of us did this, we would turbo-charge not only efforts towards social justice but also human well-being on a vast scale. Are you ready to see where you can plug in??

Those of us who work at social change organizations, like us here at the Wellesley Centers for Women, perhaps have it easiest because our very livelihood depends on doing work that makes a difference in the world. Yet, even those of us who work in this arena need to recommit periodically--to our ideals and principles, to our social change goals, to the targets for change that we have set and to which we hold ourselves accountable. At WCW, we are using a strategic planning process to help us do this, which requires us both organizationally and individually to look at our work--which includes research, theory, and action programs--and its social change impact. Even those of us who have chosen social justice or human wellbeing as our lifework must periodically review, refresh, and reinvigorate.

blogpullquoteDifferentResolutionJust because we don’t all work for social change organizations, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t major ways we can make each a difference. What do you care about? What change would you like to see in the world? As great and necessary as organizations are in the social change equation, they are not the end-all and be-all. Individuals and small groups, even when they are working for change outside formal organizations, can make a monumental difference in outcomes for many through partnering, advocacy, endorsement, and financial support. As Margaret Mead once famously quipped, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Yet, the “power of one” is something to be reckoned with, too. We can look to history for inspiration. I would tell my students, for example, about an African-American “house slave” named Milla Granson who held a “midnight school” in her cabin each night to teach 12 fellow slaves how to read; once they learned, she took in 12 more--and did so for decades, until scores “forged their passes to freedom.” Can we imagine this kind of educational activism today? Just last week, I learned the story of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who, during the Holocaust, without orders, wrote and distributed transit visas, sometimes working in collaboration with his wife for 18 hours per day, even overnight, to produce them. Today, scholars estimated that he saved about 6,000 Jews and that anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 people are alive today because of the action he took. Both Milla Granson’s and Chiune Sugihara’s actions show us that there’s always something we can do, right from where we happen to be standing. So what are we waiting for?

All of us have some kind of expertise, passion, or resources that we can contribute to increasing social justice and human well-being in the world. It just takes a different kind of resolution. What will you resolve to do in 2014??

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies at Wellesley College.

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Reflections on the March on Washington, Part II

LMEEOBBblogPart II: Social Scientific Perspectives on Making Change in America

Yesterday, in my reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, I blogged about how the issue of pursuing change can be viewed through a social science lens--not just through a political or philosophical lens. The social scientific approach is to gather data and marshal evidence in ways that demonstrate why change would be beneficial or what kinds of actions help us get there. Today, I focus on some social science-related insights resulting from my own reflections on the March, indeed, on the whole civil rights movement and today’s human rights movements, with reference to the work we are doing here at the Wellesley Centers for Women.

Here are just a few of the social-science based social change insights that come out of our work here at the Centers:

  • The importance of education in remaking America into the nation of our dreams, and the importance of the quality of life in early childhood as a foundation for educational and later success.

 

In America, we agree that education is the gateway to success. Yet we also know that children must come to school ready to learn – physically, emotionally, and academically. We know that quality childcare helps children become ready for the classroom; that healthy eating and physical activity contribute to children’s mental and social readiness at all stages of development, and that early language learning is key. What we are also learning is that, when education includes social-emotional learning and social justice components, children and youth do better in school. Therefore, making sure that all children are ready to learn, that there are family, school, and community supports for this, and that our approaches to education are holistic are keys to social change in the direction of Dr. King’s dream and, indeed, so many of our dreams for an America characterized by equality and economic success, justice and jobs.

  • The significance of mental health not only as an article of social justice but also as a bellwether of our success in its creation.

 

Whether we are getting it from news reports or simply by looking around in our schools, workplaces, and communities, we see a mental health crisis in America. blogpullquoteMakingChangeDepression is more epidemic than the common cold, and we hear more and more about such issues as bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide. On the one hand, we have begun to recognize a connection between mental ibellness and certain forms of violence – and while mental illness certainly doesn’t explain all forms of violence in America, it raises our level of concern about why people experience mental illness and whether we are doing enough about it. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act will make mental health treatment and care available to more Americans.

Researchers and clinicians alike are coming up with innovative treatments and prevention strategies. One example involves accessible, Internet-based interventions for families with a depressed member. Another example is using the “neurobiology of connection” to understand and address an array of troubling phenomena, from drug abuse to bullying, that may have mental health consequences or correlates.

A social change-oriented, systems approach to research on mental health helps us to evaluate how individuals and families are affected by social conditions – everything from economic strain to violence in their communities to discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, age, or ability. For example, we now know that trauma-informed strategies help us to promote school success in children from the most vulnerable families. And learning how hard it is for low-wage women to utilize family leave policies or access higher education helps us to improve both policies and strategies. It also helps us to understand how we can create optimal conditions for human development and social justice simultaneously. Research helps us understand that mental health itself is a social justice issue.

  • The centrality of gender equality to all forms of social progress--educational, economic, social, cultural, and legal.

When girls feel like school isn’t designed with their needs in mind or STEM education pushes them to the side, they disengage. Yet, when girls are given equal opportunities in sports, they thrive – demonstrating that gender equality policies such as Title IX make a difference. Research can also help us make subtle but important distinctions in social policy. For example, bullying discourse often glosses over school-based forms of gender-based violence, leaving girls in the cold. Armed with the information provided by gender-sensitive research, policy-makers can and do make policy more effectively.

At the Wellesley Centers for Women, we not only conduct primary and secondary research, but we also maintain a close relationship between research and program development, recognizing that evaluation research is a critical component in the social change equation. Social change-oriented research institutes and centers, whether they focus on women and gender or something else, are an under-celebrated link in the chain of effective social change. In fact, research and researchers can be and are often social change catalysts. This is what I am celebrating today!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Reflections on the March on Washington

Reflects on the March on Washington:

Social Scientific Perspectives on Making Change in AmericaBlogMarchCrowd

Yesterday I attended the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington with two members of the WCW staff. We had been in Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings--indeed, we had just met with a liaison to the White House Council on Women and Girls earlier that morning--and we wanted to be a part of this history. The fact that my own mother had been a civil rights activist in the early 1960s was part of my inspiration to attend this event and share in the national moment on reflection on how far we had or hadn’t come in terms of meeting the deeply enshrined American ideals of equality and justice.

WCWHSWHCWGDuring the flight home, as I reviewed the day’s remarks by three U.S. Presidents-- Carter, Clinton, and Obama--vis-à-vis the poignantly articulated and enduring dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., I began to think about a social science perspective on progress towards our shared civil and human rights goals. Of course there are political and philosophical ways to think about achieving equality and justice, but how does the achievement of these ends look through lenses of psychology, sociology, education, or economics, for example?

The work we do at WCW is geared towards social change, yet our methods revolve around empirical social science research. Research not only informs action here, but it also allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of action using evidence. As I mentioned in one of our D.C. meetings, WCW is a kind of “evidence factory”--we are in the business of generating the kind of evidence that shapes effective policy and sound action programs. And it is no accident that, these days, everybody from activists and advocacy groups to philanthropists and Federal funders are seeking evidence that the actions they engage or invest in actually make a difference. Social-change oriented research organizations like WCW are key players in this equation.

Tomorrow, I will post a blog that takes a deeper look at some of the ways that social science research--including work by WCW scholars--informs social justice questions. Over time, I’d like to enlarge this dialogue about the role of research in social change, and I hope you’ll join me by adding your comments and reposting our blogs on your social media channels. By staying in conversation and creating a buzz, together we move the needle on the issues we all care about!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

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Happy Birthday Maya Angelou!

mayaangelouHappy Birthday Maya Angelou!

This blog was originally published on the National Center for Civil and Human Rights Voices of our Community Blog.

We may remember today many ways, but one of the happiest has to be by wishing an ebullient “Happy Birthday!” to one of America’s living national treasures: Dr. Maya Angelou, who was born on this day, as Marguerite Ann Johnson, in 1928.  In the 85 years since then, she has graced our nation and the world with wisdom, vivacity, courage, and splendor as the very embodiment of the figure she made famous in her poem, “Phenomenal Woman.”  On a day that encourages us to reflect on civil and human rights with the widest possible scope, we can use this occasion to look closely at the many ways that Dr. Angelou has blazed paths, opened doors, and enlarged life and living for the rest of us.

Dr. Angelou is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, first published in 1969, which tells the story of her tumultuous childhood and its overcoming, and then again for her riveting recitation of the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, or as the first poet to be invited to a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost appeared at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.  Yet, these anchors of public awareness only punctuate a life of irrepressible self-invention that has enlarged our sense of what human beings are capable of and what human liberation might actually look like.  Challenging early circumstances in Dr. Angelou’s life – family violence, family mobility, economic insecurity, sexual abuse – only served to refine and lay bare her genius and expose us to her gifts – artistic, political, literary, and spiritual. 

This Phenomenal Woman was the first African American woman to author a screenplay: Georgia, Georgia, the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture: Down in the Delta, the first major Black writer to author a fourth (then a fifth and sixth) autobiography (giving W.E.B. DuBois, who famously authored three, a run for his money and his historical legacy), and even the first African American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.  Yet, this litany of firsts obscures a deeper contribution to women’s empowerment and the global legacy of civil and human rights for people of African descent.

blogpullquoteBirthdayMayaAngelou
As an integral creative spirit within the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Angelou’s works of autobiography then poetry helped lay the foundation for Black women’s literature and literary studies, as well as Black feminist and womanist activism today.  By laying bare her story, she made it possible to talk publicly and politically about many women’s issues that we now address through organized social movements – rape, incest, child sexual abuse, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence.  Through the acknowledgement of lesbianism in her writings as well as her public friendship with Black gay writer and activist James Baldwin, she helped shift America’s ability to envision and enact civil rights advances for the LGBTQ community.  And the time she spent in Ghana during the early 1960s (where she met W.E.B. DuBois and made friends with Malcolm X, among others), helped Americans of all colors draw connections between the civil rights and Black Power movements in the U.S. and the decolonial independence and Pan-African movements of Africa and the diaspora. 

By communicating through the arts, Dr. Angelou has always brought a much-needed dimension of heart and soul to our political efforts and aspirations.  Her life-as-career has been recognized for its universal value to others in her appointment as the lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, as well as through numerous awards and recognitions. The long arc of her contributions to civil and human rights, which reaches back to her early employment with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reached a tragic pitch with the assassination of her friend and colleague Dr. Martin Luther King on her 40th birthday in 1968, and proceeds forward to the recent formation of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest School of Medicine, is now part of the fabric of our history.

At 85, Dr. Maya Angelou is a living legend and cultural treasure. Her courage in the service of freedom and justice has left its unmistakable mark on our world. As she once stated, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

On this day, as an act of honor and celebration, I encourage everyone to seek out and share a book, poem, film, song, or speech by Dr. Maya Angelou – but not to stop there.  To truly honor her life, we must look around and witness the many “caged birds who still sing” – and then find a way to help open doors to freedom.  We can look to organizations like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which has become a convener of change conversations and a facilitator of change actions, or to organizations like the Wellesley Centers for Women, that works to move the needle of change by supporting social change efforts through social scientific research, theory, and action.  But we can also start right where we are, as Dr. Angelou did so many times herself, and ask ourselves, “What can I do, right here, right now?”  There are so many ways to get involved, and, like Dr. Angelou, to live a life that makes a difference.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

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Lean In to Social Change

lean-inLean In to Social Change

One of the things I like best about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, is something she says on page 9. Addressing the debate about whether the key to increasing women’s access to power lies in removing “internal barriers” or “institutional barriers,” she writes, “Both sides are right. So rather than engage in philosophical arguments over which comes first, let’s agree to wage battles on both fronts. They are equally important.” I couldn’t agree more.

As the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, a social-change oriented women-and-gender research and action institute that works on both sides of the coin--systemic factors and individual factors--when it comes to issues of gender equality and women’s and girls’ wellbeing, I know--and WCW has known collectively for nearly 40 years--that these issues exist both because of what society has set up as unfair parameters and because of how individual people think. And these thoughts include women’s thoughts about themselves, what Sandberg refers to as “internal barriers.”

We all know women who do lean in and succeed, and we know many others who have been leaning in but haven't been able to secure a space at the table. We know that it's not just a matter of will and desire, but the opportunities as well as our perseverance. This is why leaning in for social change-–indeed, for full social equality--is so important.

Sandberg shows real insight when she points out that “personal choices are not always as personal as they appear” and notes that “we are all influenced by social conventions, peer pressure, and familial expectations.” She is rightly acknowledging, as much research has shown before her, that our thinking is often constrained by the social context as well as “demand characteristics” in the environment that overdetermine our tendencies to think (or feel) one way or another. And much of this is unconscious.

The role of research is to bring our unconscious tendencies to light, so that all of us can contribute to the individual and societal self-corrections that add up to social change. I applaud Sheryl Sandberg for incorporating so much research into her book (a full 33 pages of footnotes, to be exact), particularly highlighting the blogpullquoteLeanInSocialChangelife-changing impact of our own Peggy McIntosh’s theoretical insights on her own understanding of how women feel like a fraud, mentioning the Wellesley Centers for Women and Wellesley College by name, mentioning the NICHD Study of Early Child Care on which two of our senior researchers worked, and working closely with sociologist Marianne Cooper at our sister organization, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford, to provide much of the statistical data that supports her arguments.

A cornerstone of Sandberg’s social change recommendations center around increasing women’s access to power and women’s leadership in arenas of power. In perhaps what is the book’s most famous recommendation (and the source of its title), she states, “I believe that if more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities for all.” Her concern with women’s leadership is the book’s animating anxiety, as evidenced in her statement, “We have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we are failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.” I actually like Sandberg’s recommendation for women to “lean in to leadership” as a way of advancing gender equality and eradicating sexism, but I would like to expand her notion of what this means by pushing her (and all of us) to consider leaning in on multiple fronts simultaneously.

What I mean is this: In addition to leaning in to end sexism, we need to lean in to end racism that holds women of color back, lean in to end heterosexism that holds LGBT women back, lean in to end xenophobia that holds immigrant women and women of different nationalities and religions back, lean in to ending able-ism that holds women with disabilities back, lean in to ending ageism that holds “women of a certain age” back, and lean in to ending classism which holds women of low socio-economic status as well as women strapped by global poverty back. And we also need to lean in for all of the men and transgender people who are disadvantaged by these same systems. Leaning in is intersectional! And there’s room for everyone to lean in somewhere.

There’s also one more comment I’d like to make about the notion of leadership. Sandberg echoes and applauds the comments of recent Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee, who stated decisively that what we need to make a difference on all these issues is “more women in power.” We tend to think of power as being at the pinnacle of a hierarchy, whether that hierarchy is governmental, corporate, professional, or even among celebrities. But, as feminist theorist Audre Lorde has pointed out, there are two kinds of power--“power over” and “power with.”

“Power over” reproduces the very hierarchies and their inevitable violence that we are trying to escape, whereas “power with” is invitational and transformative, linking agents of change together in service of a common idea or aspiration. In fact, it resonates with the definition of success that Sheryl Sandberg attributes to Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, namely, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

While I will not deny that, within our current world system, having more women in “traditional” positions of power is a good thing, we need to give more credence and visibility to women--and men and transpeople--who are leaders in the “power with” vein. In fact, we need to educate our children, one and all, about how to lead using “power with.” A recent study by political scientists Mala Htun and S. Laurel Weldon drives this point home even further: In a study of 70 countries over a 30-year span, these authors found that advancement in policies to end violence against women were explained by the presence of active, autonomous feminist movements and organizations ("power with") and not the presence of female leaders ("power over") per se. And they further found "that autonomous movements produce an enduring impact on VAW policy through the institutionalization of feminist ideas in international norms."

I am thankful for all the attention that Sandberg gave to the importance of men sharing household and family duties with women as well as being accountable for the pro-women policies they create in the workplace as well as in law and policy. She rightly points out that, “Any coalition of support must also include men, many of whom care about gender inequality as much as women do.” It is worth noting that many of these men are the sons and grandsons of the proverbial “feminists from the 60s and 70s,” highlighting a generational change in attitudes, an often overlooked achievement of the second-wave feminist movement, or “women’s lib.” This article by Kunal Modi, “Man Up on Family and Workplace Issues,” which she cites, is a worthwhile read. Sandberg also applauds lesbian and gay couples for the level of equity they demonstrate with regard to sharing household duties, suggesting that heterosexual couples and families could learn a thing or two from their LGBT counterparts.

There’s no doubt that Sheryl Sandberg’s new bestseller Lean In has generated considerable buzz and controversy. The issues she addresses are front and center in many people’s lives. Although her perspective is heavily race-d and class-ed, she acknowledges this with fairness. Having now read the book cover to cover, I find myself wishing that fewer people would spend so much time searching for the flaws in her perspective and more people would take up her challenge to “work together toward equality.” From my perspective, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is a real clarion call for those of us who are working on issues that will improve women’s lives--professional and otherwise--to join forces, be more systematic and strategic about our change work, and to align efforts. Equipped with a both/and perspective that acknowledges both societal and individual impediments to gender equality and women’s empowerment, I would love to see more of us just lean in to social change.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Is A Global Consensus Emerging on Women’s Issues?

LMNGODELIs A Global Consensus Emerging on Women’s Issues?

As we hurtle towards the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, some of which have more or less been met and others of which remain very far from target, there seems, at least based on the most recent United Nations on the Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW a/k/a CSW57) meetings, to be something of an emerging global consensus about women’s issues.

First, there is now a nagging sense that eradicating violence against women and girls (VAWG) is “the missing MDG.” In fact, Michelle Bachelet, the Director of UN Women, stated this forcefully in her opening remarks at the 57th UN CSW last Monday. “Ending violence against women is the missing MDG that must be included in any new development framework. We need a stand-alone goal on gender equality with gender mainstreamed across all other goals.” Bachelet’s statement also indicates a growing international consensus around women’s empowerment and gender issues more generally.

The fact that the authors of the MDGs didn’t think to include ending VAWG as a global development objective both highlights glaring flaws in the process that produced the MDGs in the first place and sets the stage for greater inclusiveness and attention to women’s issues, especially the eradication of VAWG, in the probable “next” global development model, currently being referred to as the post-2015 development agenda or framework. This emerging framework was the subject of a UN CSW parallel session called “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: What’s at Stake for the World’s Women?” This session was sponsored by the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition, self-billed as “a coalition of feminist, women’s rights, women’s development, grassroots and social justice organizations working to challenge and reframe the global development agenda.” The panelists noted that the MDGs were created through a process that was less than consultative and that women came late or not at all to the conversation. In contrast, the post-MDG process is proving to be highly and purposefully consultative – perhaps too consultative, as some have only half-jokingly suggested – and there is a sense that women and women’s issues must be prominent and interwoven in terms of both process and content.

Second, it has become clear that eradicating VAWG specifically and gender equality more generally are preconditions of success for virtually all other planks of global development. Feminists, take a bow, because intersectionality-–the concept that both social identities (such as sex, race, and class) and social oppressions (such as sexism, racism, and classism) are interlocking, co-constitutive, and co-relative – was all abuzz in these discussions. It is fair to say that no one at this conference would argue that the next development model can proceed without fundamentally acknowledging the intersecting nature of all social inequalities and articulating the principle of gender equality as a necessary premise of all global development. My sense was that, all lingering controversies aside, maybe we’ve actually reached global tipping point with regard to recognizing the principle of women’s equality and the principle of the unacceptability of violence against women and girls. But, of course, principles alone do not a reality make.

At the meeting, there has been well-articulated recognition that not only are all women’s issues intersectionally interconnected with all other development goals, but also that, because of intersectionality, development models must disaggregate the experiences of different groups of women (and men, indeed, people of all genders) with regard to the various development goals. UN-level, country-level, and NGO-level speakers acknowledged at this meeting that global targets and even country-level targets are insufficient because they often fail to capture the very different experiences of diverse populations within a country. On a more blogpullquoteGlobalConsensusEmergingpragmatic level, it was pointed out that the statistical apparatus which will make disaggregation of data possible on global or country-level indicators remains to be designed or put into place.

For example, with regard to MDG 3, which aims to eliminate gender disparity in primary education, urban and rural girls or girls from different socio-economic statuses or racial or religious backgrounds within a country often achieve educational parity at different rates and face different constraints in the achievement of access to primary education. With regard to MDG 5, which involves reducing maternal mortality and increasing access to reproductive health resources for women, similar differences among women evince but are not currently well captured in the indicator data. Thus, speakers have argued, development goals must have quantitative (“this many”) as well as qualitative (“this well”) targets to address the real needs of sustainable human development. It is pertinent to note, however, that NGOs play a crucial role in the provision of the needed data that show these kinds of differences--both quantitative and qualitative--and helping to define the meaning and causality of the differences in outcomes. Women’s research centers, take heed!

Thus, there was evidence during my week at CSW57 that a global consensus on women’s issues is emerging. It is fair to say that we have perhaps reached the global tipping point with regard to the acknowledgment that violence against women and girls is unacceptable and must be eradicated. Additionally, we have perhaps achieved global consensus about the value, although maybe not the particulars, of women’s empowerment, at least at the level of state actors. There are of course, cautions. This consensus does not imply that nations, cultures, and subcultures are in agreement about what women’s empowerment means or looks like, or about the frameworks to use when creating rationales for eradicating VAWG. Stark religious differences have been in evidence at CSW57 as they have been at virtually all UN meetings pertaining to women and gender, and lines of conflict and contestation still run deep. Similarly, regional differences have been in evidence, particularly, for example, between the countries of the European Union and some Middle Eastern nations. I also observed interesting differences between countries with high populations of recognized indigenous people (in Latin America or the Pacific Islands, for example), and nations whose populations are more uniformly non-indigenous in self-characterization.

One test of this consensus will come at the end of the week when the participants in CSW57 do or don’t come up with a list of agreed conclusions. In the history of the UN CSW, according to one knowledgeable scholar I met at the meetings, only once has a meeting ended without a list of agreed conclusions--and that was last year. Michelle Bachelet herself acknowledged the possibility that language will have to be “toned down” to make a set of agreed conclusions possible from this meeting. So, stay tuned as we follow this CSW57 journey!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

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Missive from the 57th UN CSW

layli at UNMissive from the 57th UN CSW

It’s International Women’s Day, and I’ve spent the last week attending the annual meetings of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – for the first time. As a starry-eyed youngster who used to collect pennies for UNICEF every Halloween when other kids were collecting candy, I always dreamt of being involved with the U.N. in some way. Now, here I am, representing the Wellesley Centers for Women in its capacity as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) with consultative status at the CSW under the banner of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It has been an eye-opening experience – one filled with a mix of awe and inspiration, counterbalanced by a healthy dose of critical reality checks.

 

My week began at the opening session of this 57th CSW, which was presided over by Her Excellency Madame Marjon V. Kamara, Ambassador of Liberia to the United Nations and Chair of the CSW, newly re-elected for a second term. The priority theme of this year’s meetings is “Elimination and Prevention All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls.” During the opening session, high-level statements were offered by a representative for the Chair of ECOSOC, who acknowledged that gender-based violence must be eliminated completely, and the Deputy Secretary-General of the U.N., who argued with some passion that ending violence against women is a matter of life and death and that we must channel our outrage into action. The highlight of the session was a speech by Michelle Bachelet, Head of UN Women and former president of Chile, who informed us that the 57th CSW, with its many country representatives as well as over 6,000 registered NGOs, was the largest-ever convening on the topic of ending violence against women and girls (VAWG). As such, she indicated, it represents an historic opportunity to take responsibility for ending violence against women and girls. Although I enjoyed these august speeches from the glamorous environs of the overflow room, having arrived a day too late to garner a coveted ticket to the U.N. General Assembly Hall, their messages stuck with me and set the stage for the rest of the week.

The 57th CSW continues for another week, but today – International Women’s Day – is my last day here. On this day, there are festive celebrations and commemorations that will break up the grind of the regular daily meetings, which cycle between three-hour long sessions of 10-minute country reports, day-long in-and-out “informal” conversations (where the real work of negotiation gets done), “official” CSW side events, and “unofficial” NGO parallel events. As I prepare to depart, I find myself reflective with regard to the events of the week. Three themes in particular are holding my attention: First, is a global consensus finally emerging around issues related to women and girls, particularly with regard to ending violence against women and girls and more generally with regard to the theme of gender equality? Second, what will the post-2015 global development agenda look like? Although ending VAWG is the official theme of the 57th CSW, there has been a great deal of discussion around what will happen after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015 – and this theme will serve as the centerpiece of the next two CSW meetings, in 2014 and 2015. Third, what role do civil society organizations (CSOs) – particularly those, like ours, that are feminist, womanist, or woman- or girl-centered – play in advancing women’s and girls’ issues, at the U.N. and beyond? A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review suggests that, with regard to some issues (such as ending VAWG), the role is indeed great. This gives us – as people who work at, stand with, or support WCW, a CSO with a longstanding reputation for high-quality research, innovative theory, and influential action programs – even greater impetus for all we do.

All next week, I will continue blogging about these themes as I track the progress of the CSW to its final conclusion on Friday, March 15th. My trip to the CSW – a first, but certainly not the last – has been productive and illuminating. Yet, it has also introduced me firsthand to the “realpolitik” of advancing justice and wellbeing for women and girls around the world. Since such change is WCW’s reason for being, I look forward to dialoguing about the issues.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

Recent comment in this post
Delise Dickard
Great post. Last year was my first year to attend the UNCSW event. This year I'm going back and helping to host a parallel event... Read More
Saturday, 01 March 2014 19:03
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Ending Violence – A New Year’s Challenge

endviolenceEnding Violence – A New Year’s Challenge

I can’t remember a time when our holiday season was more marred by violence than the one that just passed. Not only did the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shootings take place just days before Christmas (and in the middle of Hanukkah) in Newtown, CT, but there were also at least three other mass shootings in December (Happy Valley, OR, Frankstown Township, PA, and Webster, NY) – two of them seemingly “copycat” affairs. As if this weren’t enough, there were also mass shootings in October (Brookfield, WI), September (Minneapolis), August (Oak Creek, WI, and College Station, TX), July (Aurora, CO), May (Seattle, WA), April (Oakland, CA, and Tulsa, OK), March (Pittsburgh, PA), and February (Norcross, GA, and Chardon, OH) – making 2012 one of the most violent years on record for this kind of horror in the U.S.

In fact, the whole thing became personal for me three days after the Sandy Hook shooting when Sean Louis Callahan – the mate of one of my dear former students and a new policeman only four months into the career of his dreams – was fatally shot in the head and neck after responding to a domestic violence call in a hotel in Clayton County, GA. The perpetrator, who was also fatally shot in that incident, was a previously convicted felon. That a loved one of somebody I care about had to go down to stop such a potential tragedy only fuels my fire for doing something about the normalization of violence that pervades our society.

These mass shootings – as horrific as they are – are just the tip of an iceberg of normalized violence that is taken to extremes when mental health concerns, gun control issues, unresolved social oppressions, gender issues, and even economic insecurity are added to the mix. Taken together, these things are “always already” a powder keg waiting to blow up. Often these things are normalized in ways that keep us from seeing them unless we really look hard.

Over the holiday break, for example, I had a chance to visit Disney World with my family. Primed by recent events, never before had I noticed the degree to which guns are embedded as entertainment everywhere from Frontierland to Tomorrowland. As much as I love Disney World as a fun getaway for multiple generations, I found myself irked by these seemingly “harmless” portrayals of “guns as good” to kids. I also observed the still tremendous amount of normalized sexism presented as entertainment in a theme park that, on one level, appears to valorize women and girls through its emphasis on princesses. Listening to the “Carousel of Progress” – which features a father figure from different historical blogpullquoteEndingViolenceeras cracking jokes at the expense of his wife and daughter, among other things – for probably the fifth or tenth time in my life, I thought, “When is Disney ever going to progress to gender equality (or racial equality, for that matter)?” As someone who grew up in Florida, I love Disney World, and my point is simply some of the sources of violence in our society are “hidden in plain sight.”

Recent cases of gender-based violence, as well as the gendered dimension of recent episodes of violence that seemingly had little to do with gender, remind me that we can never look at violence in isolation. The shooting of 14-year-old girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, which I blogged about previously, was an attempt to suppress through violence women’s advancement to gender equality. The recent fatal gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi, India, is an example of sexual aggression, which affects many women all over the world on a daily basis – from the epidemic war rapes of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to commercial sexual exploitation and rape of women, girls, and boys all over the United States and elsewhere. The 40 million “missing girls” in China reflect a more systemic form of violence that comes from societal bias against women and girls.

We must also look, however, at the ways in which masculine socialization normalizes and even encourages aggression – which, in its most extreme cases (when combined with mental illness, economic marginalization, racial/ethnic/religious hatred, or misogyny, for instance) becomes violence, often horrific violence. Media depictions of gun violence, for example, whether in movies, music, or video games, feed into this masculine socialization by linking guns with “cool” – not just for U.S. men and boys, but for men and boys across the globe. If we stop short of examining these connections because we don’t want to face what we might have to change, we are shooting ourselves in the foot (or worse).

Obviously, violence isn’t just a U.S. thing. Anyone who has been able to sit through the constant stream of gruesome news reports from Syria, for example, has felt gut-level anguish over the seemingly interminable civil conflict there, particularly the wounds – many of them fatal – to innocent children. Violent civil conflicts and other insurgencies are now generating death and devastation in numerous parts of the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Mali to Burma, Afghanistan, northwest Pakistan, Iraq, Mexico, and Colombia. The autumn flare-up of hostilities in the Israel/Palestine region and renewed violence in Egypt added to the somberness of this year’s holiday season. As we stand by from the safe distance created by our TV and computer screens, even this kind of violence has become dangerously normalized and numbing. Often, we are paralyzed into believing that there is nothing we can do.

I write this today because I beg to differ. I truly believe that violence can be eradicated, and that we have the power to make it happen. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” With this New Year, let us resolve to even explore the possibility of ending violence in our world – of truly creating a peaceful and nurturant global society – and to commit to taking the small (and big) steps that will lead us in this direction.

Please join me in 2013, if you care about these issues, by making three commitments:
1) I commit to the belief that we can eradicate violence,
2) I commit to engaging in honest and sophisticated discussions about the causes of violence as well as earnest searches for ways to reduce and eliminate violence, and
3) I commit to taking whatever personal and professional steps I can take to make ending violence a reality, and to work with and support others at home and globally who are doing the same.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Milarepa, a one-time murderer who eventually became a Buddhist sage: “In the beginning, nothing comes. In the middle, nothing stays. At the end, nothing goes.” In our efforts to end violence in our world – in our nations, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and in ourselves – let us commit to a beginning, a middle, and an end, knowing that if we are patient and persistent and creative and compassionate, we will get there.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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The Next Four Years: Electing Ourselves as Agents of Change

votebuttonThe Next Four Years: Electing Ourselves as Agents of Change

Now that we’ve had a day to reflect on the U.S. presidential election results, it’s time to get back to the business of changing the world for women and girls, their families, and communities. We have the election to thank for bringing to light a growing gender gap in terms of the kinds of issues women and men are concerned about, and we would do well to study this more deeply. During the campaign season, “women’s issues” included not only the right to abortion, reproductive freedom and justice, and access to contraception, but also jobs, pay equity, education, health care, violence against women, and even, sadly, rape. And I can’t begin to name all the issues that didn’t even make it to the table of discussion. We were reminded, yet again, that we still have much work to do to make our nation – not to mention the world–a place that is safe and welcoming for women and girls, a place that respects and cultivates women’s and girls’ capabilities, and a place that acknowledges the reality that women’s issues are everybody’s issues.

As much as we may be energized, inspired, stunned, angered, or even fatigued by the election of our nation’s leaders, I think we should never lose sight of the reality that “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” And there is so much we can and should do of our own initiative, regardless of what government is or isn’t doing to make our dreams of social change a reality. Presidencies are complicated, and we can’t always rely on political leaders to realize our visions the way we might like. We must step into our own potential as the initiators and inaugurators, stewards and sustainers, of the change we wish to see in the world. I am blogpullquoteElectingOurselvesgenuinely thankful, on behalf of all of those who came before in many generations, to establish this diverse nation and secure the rights of people of all genders and backgrounds to vote, for those who did exercise that right on Election Day. At the same time, I hope we recognize the need to elect ourselves as agents of change. Now, it is time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work–perhaps with even greater exuberance.

I invite you to share with us, in response to this blog, your highest hopes for women and girls, their families and communities, during the next four years. Have you chosen an issue to advocate for or work on? What do you care most about right now? How can we best work together to increase our power to make a difference? And, very importantly, have you asked any of the young women and girls around you what they think? Let’s start a conversation!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

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Brave New Girls

DayOfGirlBrave New Girls:

Let’s Celebrate U.N. International Day of the Girl by Supporting the Malala Yousafzais of Our World

I’ll bet that when the Taliban decided to fire their guns at 14-year old Malala Yousafzai, it didn’t occur to them that they might be making her the cause celebre of the U.N. International Day of the Girl, which is today – October 11th. Although the Taliban might argue otherwise, Malala is everything a girl should be – intelligent, inquisitive, bold, brave, and a concerned, aware world citizen. She embodies and dares to live up to that oft-repeated maxim, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What does it say about us when the global war on women – the ages-old attempt to keep women down through violence, silencing, discrimination, and worse – stoops down to attack young girls who haven’t even yet reached womanhood? I say “us,” because, on some level, we are all accountable for the collective consciousness that excuses violence against women in its many shapeshifting forms. No country, no population, is immune. Whenever something like this happens – something terrible and obvious, like the attack on Malala Yousafzai – all of us should stop in our tracks and ask ourselves, what am I doing that keeps the tacit acceptance of violence against women – and now girls – alive in the world…and how can I change that??

Malala Yousaufzai has been fighting for girls’ education in Pakistan.  Girls all over the world deserve education, and even though some challenging impediments have been identified by researchers and others, there is no excuse in this day and age for girls to be kept from schooling. None. The U.N. has made girls education a tenet (in Targets 2 and 3, to be specific) of its Millennium Development Goals – and in case you were wondering, we only have three more years, until 2015, before we are expected to achieve them. Malala Yousafzai is in a position to challenge the rest of us as women’s activist Audre Lorde famously did when she wrote, “I’m doing my work … are you doing yours??”

What are we doing to help Malala Yousafzai’s dream – and MDGs 2 and 3 – to become a reality? Not only in Pakistan, but everywhere, all over the world, including the United States, many girls still languish, along with their male peers, in indecently substandard schools and where staggering rates of sexual harassment and violence negatively impact social-emotional development and learning. The issue of a right to education doesn’t just apply to developing nations – it applies, too, in the developed world where different subpopulations often have differential access to a good education. We must look outward and inward as we reflect on these questions.

Girl activists like Malala are becoming more common and more visible in their efforts to create that “another world” that’s so famously “possible” – a world in which they would like to live, a world that will not only welcome their talents, their full participation, and their leadership, but also a world that will keep them safe and healthy, upholding their dignity and equality. In the United States, for example, I think of girls like Mary Pat Hector who, at age 10, founded Youth in Action USA (she’s now 14, like Malala) to fight violence in her community and communities nationwide. Her organization, which now boasts chapters in seven U.S. states, encourages children to get involved in change through volunteerism, peace rallies, and community advocacy trainings. I also think of girls like Hannah Salwen who, also at age 14, authored The Power of Half as a way to generate social-change
blogpullquoteBraveGirlscapital. It was witnessing homelessness in her city that inspired her to figure out how she and her family could make a real difference, and her “power of half” principle has since become a movement.

Malala, Mary Pat, Hannah, and so many more… These are girls who can’t wait – who are taking the bull of the global conditions they care about by the horns – perhaps because they don’t trust us to do it for them, or perhaps because they are simply aware of their own power and genius. Whatever the case may be, we must support them and help them build the brave new world that they would like to grow up in, because the world they envision is not just a world that will be good for them, it’s a world that will be better for everyone.

The U.N. International Day of the Girl is our opportunity not only to celebrate girls, but also to listen to them, lift them up, and ask them what they need from us to do more of the good that they are doing. I could have spent this column railing against the Taliban and the outrage of their violent attack, but how much better to highlight the work of Malala Yousafzai and girls like her. Let’s celebrate the International Day of the Girl by joining them and supporting them in their audacious, courageous work to change the world!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Welcome to the Women Change Worlds Blog!

Women Change Worlds

"A world that's good for women is good for everyone."

Welcome to Women Change Worlds, the new Director’s Desk blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women. At WCW, also known as the Centers, we do research, theory, and action that promotes justice and wellbeing for women and girls, their families and communities – and we’ve been doing it since 1974. This year, 2012, marks our official entry into the blogosphere, where our goal is to speak up and shape conversations – national and global, regional and local – that impact our core constituencies and the multiple contexts in which their lives unfold.

Here at WCW, our motto is “A world that’s good for women is good for everyone.” But what exactly does “a world that’s good for women” look like? The truth of the matter is, there are worlds within worlds, and a world that’s good for women acknowledges women’s similarities as well as women’s differences. This includes obvious and widely acknowledged differences – such as race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, education level, income, social class, sexual orientation, gender expression, (dis)ability status, and age – but also less visible or less widely-acknowledged differences such as health status (physical or mental), experience with violence, rural/urban location, political attitudes, and even worldview. This “worlds with an s” approach acknowledges that not all women have the same perspectives or the same needs, yet, at the same time, all women deserve a life of decency, dignity, education, equity, power, health, and wealth.

As I state in my Director’s Message on the WCW website, today’s world has been shaped over multiple generations by feminist and womanist critical theory and social activism, yet many women and girls still do not enjoy full equality, freedom of expression, or even the provision of basic needs and rights. What gives?? What remains to be done?? What do we need to do to steer the world in the direction of that world that is not only “good for women” but is also “good for everyone”? These are the kinds of questions that this blog will tackle.

Since I took the helm of WCW in July, the popular media has debated such provocative issues as whether women really can or can’t have it all, whether there is or isn’t such a thing as "legitimate rape,” whether a nearly all-male panel of Congressional representatives is actually qualified to make decisions of national scope about birth control, what to do when a woman who testifies in favor of contraception is characterized with a misogynistic epithet in the national media, whether men are “in decline,” whether women are becoming the richer sex, whether father-daughter dances and mother-son ballgames are or aren’t discriminatory, and whether opportunity really is the route to overcoming oppression for women and girls worldwide. Just before I got here, we were having national and global conversations about issues such as whether the Arab Spring actually benefitted women, whether Title IX is still relevant, and even whether there are enough women writing op-eds. Now, as we hurtle towards a presidential election, we are talking about – although not loudly enough, in my opinion – whether and how women voters and women’s issues matter in this presidential election year. While I was chomping at the bit to blog on all these topics as I settled into my new position, my point is simply that the stream of women’s issues that matter – or issues that matter to women – is swift-moving and never-ending. Any moment can be the right moment to jump in.

In the worlds of scholarship and scientific research, not to mention the worlds of theory and program development, knowledge production can crawl at a snail’s pace. And rightly so, given the necessarily deliberate and systematic nature of such work: turning over every stone, ruling out every alternative explanation, testing every theory, and piloting then evaluating every program. Yet, with age and expertise comes authority and responsibility. Our researchers, scholars, theorists, and practitioners have invested years, careers, and at times even lifetimes into this work on behalf of women and girls, their families and communities. With nearly four decades of expertise at our collective disposal, those of us at WCW have a lot to say about the issues of the day. Women Change Worlds is our new platform.

While blog posts can never replace peer-reviewed journals and books, the immediacy of blogging plays in indispensible role in public discourse. From my perspective, blogging serves as a platform for bringing diverse constituencies into conversation and as a staging ground for organizing action. Blogging also serves as a needed bridge between the academic and the everyday. Blogging helps break through the walls that have kept the ivory tower isolated from everybody else and the silos that have kept thinkers of different disciplines from talking with each other. Blogging facilitates what I like to call “the politics of invitation” – a “build it and they will come” route to “another world is possible” – inviting us to engage towards change differently than the more adversarial “politics of struggle.” Thus, it is in this spirit that I hope you will join the conversation at Women Change Worlds, so that together we can make that world that is good for women, girls, and for everyone.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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WCW Blog