Monday, April 16, 2012

The Status of Women and Girls around the World

As mentioned on our Facebook page, I attended the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, CO last week. I attended a panel discussing the status of women and girls around the world and very much enjoyed it. The panelists each took a slightly different approach to their discussions.

Judith Morrison, Senior Advisor of the Gender & Diversity Division at the Inter-American Development Bank, provided many of the statistics from which the panel drew.

  • women make up about 40% of the global labor source and over 50% of college students around the world
  • 1/3 of developing countries have more women in school than boys
  • productivity in the world's GDP's (gross domestic products) could increase by 3-25% if barriers to women were eliminated
  • Approximately 4 million women and girls have "disappeared" through infanticide, gender selection, and other similar acts
Morrison then went on to talk about 2nd wave feminism and the personal as political. She chose to focus in on maternity and paternity leave following the birth of a child, specifically noting that the US has some of the worst of these policies in the world. She suggested that by not giving men paternity leave, we're setting up a system in which the sexes are set up as opposites. Women should stay home and men should work. Essentially, we reinforce traditional gender roles.

Morrison then reverted back to the economic aspect of empowering women. She asked, "How can we make sure excluded, marginalized women are included in development?"

On that note the second speaker, Judithe (Judy) Registre, an international development expert who established Women for Women International began her talk. Judy spoke about her work on gender issues over the past 15 years, noting that much of her work is done in difficult locations such as Sudan, Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan. She stated, "when we talk about gender, we often mean women." But, what she said next really brought home her point. She insisted that "the discussion around the status of women is in respect to men's privilege." Much of Judy's talk was about the experience of VAWG during war. She spoke about how her organization, Women for Women International works with women who are raped during war in an effort to reintegrate them into their communities. She said that the women often thank her and her organization, but have clearly stated, "If you really want to help us, you need to talk to our husbands, our pastors, etc. It's really nice that you want to help us, but we don't have a community to reintegrate back into." Considering this, Judy initiated the Men's Leadership Program (started in Nigeria). See THIS also if you're interested in the Men's Leadership Program. As the women suggested, this program is designed to address the head of the communities--the gate keepers for their cultures and societies. After it's success in Nigeria, this program expanded to Congo. 

One of the other significant things Judy said during her portion of the talk was that VAWG is not something caused by women. So, then, how can we address VAWG without addressing the role of boys and girls? How can we begin to change the dialogue and discussion?

The final speaker was Merle Lefkoff, President of Ars Publica, who has been a "Track Two" facilitator and mediator for more than 30 years in conflict zones around the world. Lefkoff reiterated some of the statistics and information mentioned by Morrison and Judy, stating that rape as a weapon in war is huge and historic. She stated, "What does it take for women to have the respect and status in the world so that men do not look at women as objects?" The way the women are looked at by the men that rape them.  She spent a large chunk of time focusing on technology and suggested that we're not spending enough time examining the role of technology in the status of women in the world. "What can give women more agency now (in the modern world) and not continue to be responded to as victims?" Unlike Morrison and Judy, Leftkoff suggested that the idea of economics and the link to women will not help restore women to the status that they once had (as necessary parts of the family and community).

I'll write more in the next few days. I'm sure this gives quite a bit to consider. So, what do you think? Does one view resonate more with you?

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