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.

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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Human Rights, Women’s Rights: Plodding Toward Progress

beijingHuman Rights, Women’s Rights: Plodding Toward Progress

This article, by Susan McGee Bailey, was originally published on the Girl W/ Pen blog on March 20, 2015.

“Fighting for women’s equality is an arduous but necessary process, ploddingly pursued by dedicated women and men who refuse to accept a lesser role for women in society.” Jean Hardisty (1945-2015)

March is Women’s History Month, but the history being made in the U.S. is far from uplifting. Women continue to be an easy batting ball for political impasses. We continue to struggle for basics readily available in most other developed nations: e.g. paid family and sick leave, adequate childcare, health and reproductive rights. As an antidote to setbacks in this country—where we seem to be in the two-steps-back phase of the old ‘three steps forward, two steps back’ adage—I’ve looked at reports released in conjunction with this month’s 59th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). There are some encouraging signs. But progress is slow, uneven; the struggle for women’s rights and equality is far from over. Nevertheless, celebrating positive accomplishments can provide motivation needed to keep us all plodding ahead, no matter how soggy the road. Jean Hardisty knew better than anyone how critical plodding along is. For all of us around the country—and in various corners of the world— who knew Jean as a beloved colleague, mentor and leader in the battle for human rights and justice, there is no better way to honor her life and her work than to keep on plodding.

blogpullquoteWomensRightsSo, some good news gleaned from reports on progress for women since the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing:

~ The global rate of maternal deaths in childbirth has dropped by over 40 percent;
~ Adolescent births have fallen by more than 30 percent;
~ Many countries have made significant gains in girls’ education, particularly at the primary school level;
~ And people everywhere are paying more attention to gender gaps in access and opportunities on everything from health services and education to leadership, employment and earnings.

Sadly, for almost every positive statement one can make, there is a ‘but’. And some ‘buts’ are so overwhelming it seems pointless to mention the positive. For example, awareness of violence against women has grown, but the violence itself has not lessened. One third of the world’s women have experienced physical or sexual violence. It is estimated that the number girls among trafficking victims has increased by more than ten percent in the past seven years.

The Beijing meetings two decades ago were electrifying. A total of 17,000 women and men from 189 countries attended the official Fourth United Nations Conference on Women. Another 30,000 took part in the parallel NGO Forum held outside the capital in Huairou. We returned to our homes around the globe committed to doing whatever we could, both individually and collectively, to implement the Beijing Platform for Action. Many of those unable to attend the meetings in China were eager partners. In country after country, women and men worked together to ensure the ‘full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.’

But the transformative promise of the Beijing Platform for Action has not yet been fulfilled. The Platform was a call for a change in focus from women to gender. A call for recognizing that the structure of society and relationships between women and men must be rethought if women are to be fully empowered as equal partners with men. The Platform affirmed that women’s rights are human rights, that gender equality benefits everyone. In retrospect these called for changes in thinking and action were exceedingly ambitious given the ten-year time frame originally stated. Even after 20 years we have not succeeded. But ambitious goals generate ambitious plans, and ambitious plans are required to sustain commitment, passion, and determined action.

As the Women’s Rights Caucus stated last week in response to the draft declaration from CSW: “At a time when urgent action is needed to fully realize gender equality, the human rights and empowerment of women and girls, we need renewed commitment, a heightened level of ambition, real resources, and accountability.” Some UN member states may not share this perspective. Nations that do must speak loudly. Within a few days over seven hundred and 50 organizations had signed the caucus statement. NGOs representing women from all parts of the world and all strata of society must push, and push hard to ensure that the spirit as well as the letter of the Beijing Platform is carried forward.

None of this work is easy. Much of it is unpopular in certain circles. But we have pushed and plodded our way this far. A 40 percent decline in maternal morbidity is a major step forward. The progress in access to primary education for girls is impressive. Many more huge steps await. We have done it before; we can do it again. And again, and again, and again!

Susan McGee Bailey, Ph.D. served as Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and a Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies and Education at Wellesley College for 25 years. She attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

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2014 Round-up

2014RoundupA 2014 Round-up

Below are links to two articles from good friends of the Wellesley Centers for Women—Susan McGee Bailey and Alex Sanger. Susan is the former, long-time executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW); Alex is chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the WCW Council of Advisors. In their respective blog articles, they share their perspectives on the year 2014.

In her latest piece on Girl w/ Pen, Susan writes, "Hanukkah, then Christmas next week, followed by the start of a new year—a time of hope and beginnings. Why doesn’t it feel that way? For the past several days I’ve been searching for the bright spots. The ones that can provide the energy we need in the midst of so much darkness. Not an easy task. Each day new horrors erupt: the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre and still no reasonable national gun control legislation; free passes for racial biases and deadly police brutality; the sickening slaughter of school children in Pakistan; ongoing revelations of rape in the US military and on university campuses. Negative news can so easily obliterate positive signs in the struggles for equal rights. But all around us there is tangible evidence of the many ways feminist work contributes to positive progress for everyone... You can read the full article online.

In his latest piece on Huffington Post, Alex writes, "Once again, we've had a year of ups and downs, a year of strong stands for women's rights and crushing defeats. Here's a quick run-down of some of the most memorable moments of 2014. Last month, the Chamber of Deputies in the Dominican Republic put forward a measure to reinforce—and strengthen—the country's existing ban on abortions in all circumstances. Thankfully, Dominican President Danilo Medina vetoed the measure, urging legislators in a letter to decriminalize abortions in cases where the woman's life is at risk or in cases of rape, incest, or fetus malformation. " You can read the full article online.

What do you think have been notable events or moments of the past year? Share with us!

The mission of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College is to advance gender equality, social justice, and human wellbeing through high quality research, theory, and action programs. Since 1974, work has generated changes in attitudes, practices, and public policy.

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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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Open Circle Training Goes to Uganda

uganda3Open Circle Training Goes to Uganda

Two Open Circle trainers from the Open Circle Program, Jen Dirga, MSW, and Sallie Dunning, Ed.M., traveled to Uganda in May 2014 to train teachers, youth, and parents from six rural primary schools and communities through the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation. The goal of the training was to improve the relationships between the students, teachers, and parents, and to improve academic performance.

After the training, the teachers noted in their evaluation forms that this is the first training on social and emotional learning they had ever attended.

Dirga and Dunning reflect on their experiences with Open Circle training in Uganda:

uganda1Jen Dirga

Our trainings in Amor Village were amazing. It was hard to imagine ways to transfer the practices and concepts of Open Circle to Eastern Uganda. Yet, the experience highlighted the transformative power of positive relationships. Throughout our trainings there was an openness to mutually learn from each other. This is a community impacted with overcrowded schools (200 students to 1 teacher with very few resources), extreme poverty, and pervasive illness – and they welcomed opportunities to transfer Open Circle concepts and practices to support their children.

Sallie Dunning and I went to Amor Village with a training design based on the goals identified by Beatrice Achieng Nas, BSC, a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) in the Fall of 2013. Beatrice set the stage for our learning through her community work that effectively supports education and social change within her village.

Our training focused on practices that both promote and support positive relationships. We also highlighted specific interpersonal and life skills.

I think Sallie and I both learned how universally transferable so many of these skills are and the impact that they can have in supporting an entire community.

 

uganda2Sallie Dunning

Living in this small rural community in Eastern Uganda for two weeks was a life-changing experience for me. Riddled with disease (75% of the population is HIV positive), and poverty, the people had an astounding capacity for joy and generosity. (Two families gave me a precious chicken as a sign of gratitude for just being there.) Though isolated from “civilization” (having no electricity, mail, or running water), and used to their own ways, they were surprisingly open to our ideas about cultivating positive relationships, speaking up for girls’ education, and solving problems. Teachers, who have class sizes between 100-200 students with no pencils, paper, books, or materials, enjoyed trying out new teaching practices that might empower their students. Parents became convinced that they were their children’s most important teacher (a new concept for them), and vowed to try to be better models. All of this was possible because of the innovating grass roots work done by Beatrice Achieng Nas, a leader of that village who did work here at WCW last year.

Open Circle is a leading provider of evidence-based curriculum and professional development for social and emotional learning (SEL) in Kindergarten through Grade 5 in the United States.

Since its inception in 1987, Open Circle has reached over two million children and trained more than 13,000 educators. Open Circle is currently used in over 300 schools in more than 100 urban, suburban and rural communities across the United States. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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UN Commission Calls for Increased Efforts to Promote Gender Equality

UNFlagsUN Commission Calls for Increased Efforts to Promote Gender Equality

The following blog article was posted onHuffington Post, March 25, 2014 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

After two weeks of intense negotiations, the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women ended early Saturday morning with a strong call to prioritize gender equality and the human rights of women in order to achieve sustainable development.

The Commission was convened at the UN headquarters in New York to address the challenges and achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in improving the lives of women and girls in developing countries. While the MDGs resulted in a reduction of poverty in some respects, the goals furthest from being achieved are those focused on women and girls -- particularly on achieving gender equality and improving maternal health. With the MDGs set to expire in 2015, the Commission's outcome document will help shape priorities for the next global development framework.

The Commission specifically called for a stand-alone goal on gender equality, a move that was applauded by women's rights activists.

A stand-alone goal on gender equality signals that gender equality and women's rights are important in and of themselves, as well as a priority for governmental investment. It recognizes that sustainable and meaningful development must address the root causes of gender inequality, which deny women and girls an education, the right to make decisions about their bodies and childbearing, to decent employment -- and equal pay for equal work -- and to live free of violence.

blogpullquotePromoteGenderEqualityThe Commission also stated that the post-2015 development agenda must include gender-specific targets across other development goals, strategies, and objectives -- especially those related to education, health, economic justice, and the environment. It also called on governments to address the discriminatory social norms and practices that foster gender inequality, including early and forced marriage and other forms of violence against women and girls, and to strengthen accountability mechanisms for women's human rights.

The Agreed Conclusions reaffirmed the Cairo Programme of Action as well as the Beijing Platform of Action, which called for investments in "quality comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care" including emergency contraception, information and education, safe abortion where allowed by law, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Furthermore, the Conclusions called for the recognition of the human rights of women to "decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality... free from coercion, discrimination, and violence."

Member States also recognized that progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals -- which include eradicating poverty and expanding access to health services such as reproductive health -- has been held back due to persistent "unequal power relations between women and men," particularly discriminatory laws, social norms, and gender stereotypes.

The governments expressed concern that several critical issues related to gender equality were not adequately addressed by the MDGs, including violence against women and girls; harmful practices such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation; women's and adolescents' sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights; women's and girls' disproportionate share of unpaid work, particularly unpaid care work; the gender wage gap; women's equal access to and control of resources including land; women's inheritance rights; and women's full participation in decision-making at all levels.

The Commission called for measures to ensure universal access to primary education, especially for girls and vulnerable youth, as well as measures to strengthen the ability of women to participate in formal and informal labor sectors. The governments also called for efforts to ensure that women's rights and health obtain the prominence they deserve in the next global development framework.

Women's health and rights organizations applauded governments who stood up for the rights of all individuals to live free of violence, discrimination, and barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, particularly for girls. However, advocates expressed disappointment that a small minority of conservative governments spurred on by the Holy See--which holds special observer status at the UN -- held up negotiations by objecting to concepts as fundamental as gender and the human rights of women throughout the two weeks of negotiations.

In particular, advocates noted that, despite a 20-year legacy of UN prohibition of discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and increasingly on gender identity, government delegates gave in to pressure to exclude recognition of these violations in the final agreed conclusions. 

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

 

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Connections Are at the Core of Social Justice

12.10blogConnections Are at the Core of Social Justice

Empathy and mutual respect provide the underpinnings for societal trust and economic stability. Neuroscience confirms that we are hardwired to be in connection with one another; cultures that create an ethic of hyper-individualism put us at odds with our natural proclivity to relate and connect. As Einstein once said:

“A human being is part of a whole...but he experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Many of us live in cultures that pay lip service to “community” but in fact often function in a way that overstates individual competitive accomplishment and uses fear and shame to undermine the power of connection. Jean Baker Miller spoke of the corrosive effects of “condemned isolation,” the feeling of immobilization, isolation, self blame, being overwhelmed and hopeless. It has been said that “Isolation is the glue that holds oppression in place.” (Laing, K. 1998, Katalyst leadership workshop presented at In Pursuit of Parity: Teachers as Liberators, Boston, MA.) If dominant groups can isolate, shame, and silence the nondominant groups, they disempower them and can seize and retain more power for themselves, creating fear and inequality. The antidote to fear and immobilization is connection. Social justice is founded on mutual respect and growth fostering connection.

blogpullquoteConnectionsAreCoreA model for human experience that emphasizes our separateness works against our sense of basic connection and belonging. It leads us to believe that we should function autonomously in situations where that is impossible. By placing unattainable standards of individualism on us, it leaves us vulnerable to feeling even more inadequate, ashamed, and stressed out. There is abundant data that social ties are decreasing in the U.S.; more and more people feel they can trust no one. (Putnam, R. 2000 Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.) And traditional psychology with its overemphasis on internal, individual problems contributes to our failure, at a societal level, to invest in social justice and social support programs. Rather than addressing the problems in a society that disempower us and perpetuate systems of injustice, we have tended to locate the problems in the individual. Martin Luther King once said, “compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The powerful then keep invisible the ways in which privilege and power differentials support their success.

Further, the myth of meritocracy does a great disservice to most people who do not enjoy privilege at birth. Purely personal effort and personal control are overstated as the reason for individual success. In western culture there is pathological preoccupation with “the self,” “self interest,” individual competition as the source of all success. Our privileged narratives celebrate lone heroes, winning, being dominant, being certain and in control. The need to be in connection, to be part of something larger--a community, nature, and a movement--is often seen as a sign of weakness.

We now know that inequality reduces empathy in a society and reduced empathy in turn contributes to inequality. Physical and emotional distance between the rich and the poor erodes empathy and mutuality. Trust, empathy, and social structures play critical roles in determining not just individual health and happiness but also how well regions and nations perform economically and socially. When empathy is sparse in a culture, the culture itself becomes less stable, less productive, less healthy, and less just. Typically under these conditions there are increases in wealth disparity, violence, and lack of respect for human lives.

A just society is founded on empathy, respect, mutual empowerment. Kindness and connection put the brakes on the chemistries of fear and threat. Practicing empathy and generosity is good for the collective and good for individuals. Our brains thrive when we practice empathy. In a culture of disconnection, discovering that we are hardwired to connect can serve as a source of hope. We currently live with the dilemma of neurobiologies that are wired to thrive in connection and a culture that tells us we must stand alone, that we are autonomous, self-sufficient, and thrive in competitive settings. This is a set up for social and personal failure.

Mutuality is based on respect, a growing capacity to speak our truths, and allowing others to have an impact on us. As Patricia Hill Collins noted, “a commitment to truth requires a politics of empathy; a commitment to truth requires a commitment to social justice.”(Collins, P.H. 1990 Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman). We need to bear witness to one another’s truths; we need to build communities where differences do not sustain stratifications but contribute to building bridges of respect and growth.

Neuroscience is now delivering data that shows us--without a doubt--that we are profoundly interdependent creatures. We have a responsibility for one another’s well-being and we need to foster social programs built on the real facts of our concern for one another and thus fulfill our intrinsic capacity for empathy and caring.

Judith V Jordan, Ph.D. is Director of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. A founding scholar and one of the creators of Relational-Cultural Theory, she has published extensively and is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

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Poverty and the Rural African Girl

BNasPovertyBlogSocial Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

Poverty and the Rural African Girl

When people have limited choices, have no secure directions to follow, and are held back by insurmountable barriers, they are bound to remain in a situation of stagnancy, including poverty. Poverty is experienced physically and spiritually. It is too often the plight of the rural African girl—generations of whom have lived with little food, no clean water in poor housing, the SocialJusticeDialogueBox New target of domestic violence and rape, forced into early marriage for the bride price, with little (if any) schooling, no sex education, and no basic supplies for daily care and health. Their dreams are limited by not knowing their potential--they have very few resources, mentors nor models to help them.

A typical day of a rural girl who does attend school starts with fetching water and going to the garden to work before walking miles to school. Most children will go hungry at school; there may be no chairs or even books. They walk home in the evening, after gathering wood and picking greens that they will cook over a fire for the family dinner. There is no light to study by, no beds on which to sleep. Older girls cannot afford sanitary supplies and they use rags and leaves instead, often skipping school when they menstruate. In rural Uganda, secondary and higher education for girls is impossible without outside assistance. There are numerous financial demands for families—food, soap, kerosene, clothing, and medication—education is not considered essential. Because of this, many adolescent girls are often married off as their parents cannot afford educating them beyond the free primary education in public schools. There is much illiteracy throughout the communities and the cycle of poverty continues generation after generation.

blogpullquoteRuralAfricanGirlI was fortunate, however, that my parents were not desperate for the bride price when I was a growing up. I could have been sold for a cow or a goat. Instead, at age 14, when I was feeling hopeless and working as a barmaid, a wonderful family in Kentucky (who knew one of my cousins from when they had done missionary work years earlier) enabled my return to school by paying my school fees for five years. I went on to earn my college degree before working with organizations that were striving to improve the lives of poor families in Africa.

I then turned my attention to Africa’s rural girl. I founded the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation because I wanted to directly involve, empower, and benefit rural communities in Eastern Uganda through education, mentorship, trainings, and advocacy. I wanted to develop partnerships for social, cultural, and economic development. I knew that secondary, tertiary, and vocational education could break the unending cycle of poverty. Girls who are educated can become role models for their siblings and communities. They can learn new ways of growing crops. They can understand how to keep their families healthy. They may develop new skills to bring income to their families.

Working with individuals and partners from around the world, the Foundation helps rural girls in Africa and others in their communities, to break out of poverty. We are supporting girls’ education by connecting them with sponsors and mentors from across the globe. We facilitate a letter exchange program between students from the rural schools and students from other corners of the world. We teach the parents, grandparents, and communities about the importance of education. We train parents in crop production, micro-financing, and making hand crafts. We also encourage our partners and volunteers from across the globe to not just support our work but to visit. Two years since our founding, we have hosted in rural Ugandan communities 16 volunteers from the United States, Australia, and Europe—last week, five visited from England. The visits are meaningful and wonderful learning experiences for everyone.

More girls need such support. We have been able to send 67 girls to secondary school—these are 67 less girls who have been married off at young ages. More than 1,600 have expressed interest in our program. While there is still so much to do, we know that in collaboration with the international community, our grassroots communities can help break cycles of poverty and create cycles of opportunity through education. I believe everybody has the potential to live a better life. Given the opportunity, education and motivation, anyone can become someone inspiring. Nobody is a nobody, everybody is somebody.

Beatrice Achieng Nas, BSC, a Community Solutions Program Fellow through the International Research & Exchanges Board, is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women for the fall 2013 semester. She worked previously with Build Africa Uganda before founding the Pearl Community Empowerment Foundation.

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While social justice is being overcome by educating people, it is good to be aware of the fact that deliberately certain wealthy o... Read More
Monday, 19 May 2014 07:27
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Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

SocialJusticeDialogueBox NewSocial Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty

Work at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) is undertaken with the goal to help inform change makers, amend attitudes, and to help shape a more just world for women, girls, their communities, and families. The interdisciplinary team of scholars, administrators, and advisors who ensure that WCW’s mission moves forward are informed by their own and others’ work, as well as their lived experiences. The Women Change Worlds blog allows us to share our expertise and perspectives, and for our community to engage with us. Responding to critical issues in the world and creating teachable moments, our Social Justice Dialogues can broaden all our perspectives.

Beginning next week and throughout October, I will share blog articles written by WCW scholars, focused on our current Social Justice Dialogue: Eradicating Poverty. I invite you to share in the Comments box links to one or two news stories, essays, or other resources that you believe may contribute to a productive dialogue on Eradicating Poverty.

blogpullquoteEradicatingPovertyThe link I will share today focuses on the United Nations Millennium Campaign. Started in 2002, this Campaign "supports and inspires people from around the world to take action in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The current eight goals form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. They have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world’s poorest." Goal One is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.

The UN lists the ambitious targets for this goal:

  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day
  • Achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people
  • Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

 

More information about this Millennium Development Goal is available online: www.un.org/millenniumgoals/poverty

We will share articles that address innovative and practical steps to help eradicate poverty written by some of our scholars throughout October. What articles, news stories, essays, or other resources do you think may contribute to a productive dialogue about Eradicating Poverty? Please share in the Comment box below.

Donna Tambascio is the Deputy Director for Communications and External Relations at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. WCW has nongovernmental organization (NGO) status at the United Nations which facilitates our participation in this international work. We are committed to continuing and deepening our research and policy-focused programs in order to better understand and offer solutions to the challenges facing women and girls.

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The Time Is Now for Women and Girls

AfricanMotherDaughterThe Time Is Now for Women and Girls

This article was originally published May 10, 2013 on Huffington Post by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

What do a collapsing sweatshop in Bangladesh, the denial of a lifesaving abortion to a young woman in El Salvador and the kidnapping, rape and torture of three women in Cleveland have in common?

They exemplify the fact that women are not just second-class citizens, but not considered citizens at all.

Right now, we have the chance to change this reality by creating a wise, strategic and human-centered development agenda centered on women and girls. After months of work, civil society, private sector and government heavyweights will gather in New York this week to chart their vision for the future of global development. As members of a high-level panel tasked with advising the United Nations Secretary General on key areas of investment, leaders like Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and UK Prime Minister David Cameron will have the difficult task of balancing a number of competing and important global priorities like education, employment, water, and health at the group's final meeting.

At the top of their list should be the health and rights of women and girls.

blogpullquoteTimeIsNowWe have waited too long! In 1994, governments agreed to an ambitious Programme of Action to achieve gender equality, eliminate violence against women, and ensure access to basic sexual and reproductive health services. Since that time, this landmark agreement has been reaffirmed, even providing the roadmap for the creation of the Millennium Development Goals that aimed to reduce poverty and ensure universal access to reproductive health.

Yet despite the many promises and commitments signed throughout the years, women's human rights and health remain a distant dream for many. Today, one in three women around the world will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Today, more than 200 million women want--but are unable to access--basic contraceptive services. Today, the largest-ever generation of adolescent and young women are increasingly at risk of HIV infection, many times lacking information on how to protect themselves and the power to negotiate condom use with their partners.

We know--as generations before have professed--that we cannot achieve sustainable development, that we cannot build healthy and empowered communities and nations when we continue to deny half the world's population their basic human rights and fundamental freedom.

This week, as the panel finalizes its recommendations for Secretary Ban Ki-moon, we call on panel members to prioritize:

  • Universal access to quality and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion
  • Universal access to quality education for women and girls, including comprehensive sexuality education
  • The elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls
  • The guarantee of women's rights, gender equality and women's empowerment, including their right to live free of discrimination and participate freely in political, economic, environmental and social decision-making spheres
  • The development of mechanisms within the new global development paradigm that hold governments accountable to clear, time-bound commitments.

 

As the world gears up to enshrine a new set of global development goals and agreements, it's time for us to keep our promise to women and girls. We have an unparalleled opportunity to secure a sustainable world of justice, choice and well-being for all people, and without a doubt, we need healthy, empowered women and girls to ensure that our planet can continue to care for us all.

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

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On International Women’s Day: How Do We Get Girls in School Safely?

Global Partnership for EducationOn International Women’s Day: How Do We Get Girls in School Safely?

This blog post originally appeared in the Education for All Blog of the Global Partnership for Education; by Nora Fyles, Head of the UNGEI Secretariat

Earlier this year, I read an interview with a secondary school girl about her experiences commuting to school in rural Uganda. Her message has stayed with me, as an example of the “everyday” reality of violence in girls’ lives.

Interviewer: What is the biggest problem or difficulty that you have in your life right now?

Student: The biggest problem--is these men who disturb us--begging for sex when walking to school.

Around the world today, International Women’s Day, attention is focused on the issue of violence against women and girls, the theme of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. For millions of girls worldwide, violence is more than the “topic of the day,” it is part of their everyday reality. Girls face violence and discrimination due to their sex and age, in many contexts, including on the way to school, in the school yard, and in the classroom.

There is no doubt that gender-based violence is a major and critical barrier threatening the education of girls in many countries of the world, with far reaching consequences: poor performance, irregular attendance, dropout, truancy and low self-esteem not to mention physical harm and pregnancy. In a consultation jointly hosted by UNGEIUNICEF and the Ethiopia Ministry of Education, participants reported on issues faced by girls. One country representative reported that, “Girls at secondary education levels increasingly face sexual violence including forced marriage, abduction and sexual exploitation, taking advantage of the fact that girls have limited financial and material means.”

Surprisingly, given the impact of violence, school-related gender-based violence is often unremarked upon and taken for granted. Thus, one of the biggest challenges is to recognize that social norms prevent girls from attending school in a safe environment, and to place girls’ education within the broader discourse of women’s rights.

Focus on Girls in GPE’s Strategic Plan

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has drawn up a Strategic Plan for 2012-2015 which provides an opening for dialogue and action by focusing on girls’ access to and achievement through school, including schools as safe spaces for girls. The GPE Plan identifies five thematic priorities, including one relating to girls, which states: “All girls in GPE endorsed countries successfully complete primary school and go to secondary school in a safe, supportive learning environment.

For UNGEI, this is a transformative statement which:

  1. Recommits the Partnership to an agenda of equity and rights;
  2. Defines quality education as a safe and supportive environment for learning, and recognizes the potential (and the reality) of the opposite: violence, including gender-based violence; and
  3. Puts forward a new vision of education that includes adolescent girls and their social context.

GPE proposes a holistic approach, with a focus on gender responsive education sector plans, strategies to ensure school safety and supportive learning for girls, including female teachers, the collection of evidence and sharing of good practice, and the tracking of enrolment, progress and learning of primary and lower secondary girls.

It is this country-led and holistic approach to ensure that schools are safe and supportive spaces that will allow girls to become advocates for their own rights.

Plan International Report: Education Reduces Violence against Women

We know that education can serve a protective role for girls and young women by making them aware of and confident to exercise their rights. A recent report by Plan International indicates that women who are educated to secondary level or higher are less likely than their non-educated or primary-educated counterparts to experience violence, and men who are educated to secondary level or higher are less likely than their non-educated or primary-educated counterparts to perpetuate violence.

Education can be empowering, providing space for girls to speak on their own and with their own voices, now and in the future. Preventing and eliminating violence against girls in and around schools is an effective strategy in advancing the status of women in society. UNGEI is pleased to join GPE in celebrating International Women’s Day. Our partnership is ensuring that all girls successfully complete primary school and go to secondary school in a safe, supportive learning environment.

 

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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.

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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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Caution, White Knight

whiteknightCaution, White Knight

Half the Sky is a two-part documentary film that aired on PBS stations beginning October 1 and 2, 2012. The film’s themes are 1) the ubiquitous violence against women that is perpetrated throughout the world, especially during and in the aftermath of war, and 2) the efforts made by courageous women- many of whom have experienced violence personally, to overcome this oppression. The film features U.S. women with celebrity status – Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan among others – to draw attention to these themes. The inspiration for the film was a book with the same title, co-authored by the husband-and-wife team of New York Times correspondents Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and began with their efforts to explain the “disappearance” of thousands of girl babies every year in China, where traditionally boys are favored.

As a lifelong researcher in the area of the concerns of women in poverty I think this film has great value in drawing the viewing public’s attention to the oppression of women worldwide. However, as a social scientist and activist I have serious concerns about the ethics of making of this film, especially in the case of the two girl rape victims in Sierra Leone; Kristof’s so-called “encounter” with a three-year old girl rape victim and his interview with a 13-year old girl raped by her uncle. Both girls experienced traumatic events likely to leave profound and long-lasting effects on their lives. They are, as all trauma-informed literature states, vulnerable to being re-traumatized in any situation where there is a male and they feel insecure, and their experiences are complicated by cultural norms and deference to locally influential men. It was insensitive at best to have a white adult male taking the lead in talking one-on-one with these girls. Further, the lack of privacy -- showing the girls’ faces and broadcasting their undisguised voices -- likely endangered the girls and their families, if not immediately then at some point in the future. There are many ways in which the film’s message could have been equally well transmitted but with more consideration shown for the victims.

I recommend these readings to help shed light on the complex issues we should consider in aiding women and advancing their security:

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

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