Archive for the ‘student post’ Category

Gender mainstreaming as an urban policy tool: Best practices from Vienna, Austria

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

By guest contributor Josh Doherty

Stephansplatz and Graben street, Vienna Austria. Photo via Marek Ślusarczyk

Stephansplatz and Graben street, Vienna Austria. Photo via Marek Ślusarczyk

As highlighted recently in an article in The Atlantic, the city of Vienna, Austria has been incorporating the concept of gender mainstreaming into its urban planning policy since the early 1990s. Over the last two decades, officials have been attempting to provide equal access to the city’s resources and ensure that laws, rules, and regulations benefit both men and women equally.

Some examples of specific measures that the city has taken include high quality lighting in parks and along streets and ensuring that the city’s budget is fairly distributed across the genders. The city provides more detail of its model on the local government’s website.

UN Habitat provides a summary of the 23-year history of Vienna’s gender-mainstreaming efforts that details how the city has shared its experiences with others in order to promote the use of gender mainstreaming in other cities. As cities across the U.S. struggle with managing budget constraints and attempt to revitalize fragile economies by attracting new residents and investment, could incorporating Vienna’s gender mainstreaming lessons help constituents and the bottom line?

Photo courtesy of Josh Doherty

Photo courtesy of Josh Doherty

 

Joshua Doherty is an M.A. candidate in International Affairs and J.D. candidate in the Elliott School of International Affairs and the George Washington University Law School.

Why it Matters: Entrepreneurship and challenges for women in Iran

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

By student contributor Asthaa Chaturvedi

Maryam Abolfazli at a Global Gender Program event about the prospects for women under Rouhani's presidency. Photo by Asthaa Chaturvedi.

Maryam Abolfazli (center) at a Global Gender Program event about the prospects for women under Rouhani’s presidency. Photo by Asthaa Chaturvedi.

Iran makes headlines weekly in the U.S., especially in the context of international security negotiations and constant speculation about President Rouhani’s political agenda. There are other stories however, and one of them is the evolving role of women in Iranian society. Recently I had the chance to talk to Maryam Abolfazli, Middle East and North Africa Director for the Eurasia Foundation, about one particular aspect of the road to empowerment for women in Iran for our interview series.

Some of the many programs she oversees as the MENA Director of Eurasia Foundation, include women’s entrepreneurship, and civic education, and family law operations with regional partners. In the context of Iran, there are many challenges for women who want to advance their careers and take part in the decision-making process in the private and public sectors. Our conversation focused on the Eurasia Foundation’s efforts to support women entrepreneurs in the country. “Women are forced to negotiate or compromise on self hood because of money, and rely on men because of money. The main way we have to tried to address that is to give them financial independence through work,” Abolfazli said.

She pointed to what she sees not as legal barriers but obstacles based on societal norms, which include an assumption of male superiority in the household and the notion that men should work before women do. The government has encouraged this narrative, she says. In the summer of 2012, a number of universities proposed a ban on women applying to study fields they were “not suited” for, particularly in the STEM arena.

Abolfazli says this is a rapidly changing phenomenon. Women are 60% of the student body. And there is a segment of the population that does not have the luxury of living by the hierarchal norms because of the necessity to work, especially in the private sector.

Women have trouble proving they are viable and capable business owners in the face of male-dominated industries, like banking, the buyers, and distributors, and they end up having to bring their husbands or fathers along with them. The Eurasia Foundation’s online education program by virtue of operating online only generally serves middle class Iranian women who want to start their own small business, providing them with focused technical advice and courses. Abolfazli says that the team has found that many of the women come from conservative or traditional backgrounds because of the way that the program is structured. They take time apart from their obligations and responsibilities to their families to learn how to execute their business ideas.

When I asked Abolfazli about how their program addresses the particular challenges for aspiring women entrepreneurs in the country, she said the program focuses on the technical education of implementing a business plan, but also provides encouragement and moral support.  “Either you navigate these waters however you can, or you get stuck,” she said.

They highlighted 100 successful women entrepreneurs in Iran, for example. In Abolfazli’s view the biggest agent of change when it comes to progress in women’s rights in Iran is not a particular group or government program. “I think the economic realities are leveling the playing field. Couples and families are negotiating more,” she said.

Abolfazli finds that the struggles and opportunities arising for women in Iran mirror the ones in the west have also experienced as more women entered the workforce. Moreover, the role of women and the leadership they take in transitioning democracies, or countries undergoing political shifts, impacts the nature of the overall growth in the region and international positioning. Finding an equal voice in and outside the home continues to be a challenge for women in Iran, but there are sectors that are experiencing change and finding support from within and outside the country.

For more on Abolfazli’s take on women in Iran, see her latest article in the Huffington Post, and on why it matters listen to the clip below.

Why it matters: Shreyasi Jha on evaluating some of the biggest challenges in South Asia

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

By student contributor Asthaa Chaturvedi

Dr. Shreyasi Jha, Photo by Asthaa Chaturvedi

Dr. Shreyasi Jha, Photo by Asthaa Chaturvedi

We continue our Why it Matters series with another post from India. While I was in Delhi this summer I had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Shreyasi Jha, monitoring and evaluation specialist for UN Women South Asia. We discussed a wide range of topics – from how gender based violence is measured, to the politics of changing policy in India, to what she would suggest to students interested in specializing in gender and development.

Perhaps one of the most common forms of violence against women is abuse from intimate partners. Dr. Jha said, “This kind of violence is grossly underreported.” While UN Women is not working on evaluating this category specifically in India, understanding and measuring domestic violence is not impossible. Dr. Jha said that UN Women (along with UNDP, UNFPA, and UNV) is pushing to make violence by intimate partners a part of the post 2015-agenda (specifically, deciding what is next after the Millennium Development Goals).

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Why it matters: Sanjay Kumar on Indian women and the power of work

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

By student contributor Asthaa Chaturvedi

The ggc is pleased to re-post an article (a version of this post was also published on A Focusing Lens) by our student intern, Asthaa Chaturvedi, who is currently in New Delhi researching women’s perceptions of participating in SEWA. 

This post for the “Why it matters” series comes from India. For the past few weeks I have been researching the empowerment process of members of SEWA Delhi. The Self Employed Women’s Association helps women who work in the informal sector in India without protection from the government or any type of trade union. I had the chance to talk to Dr. Sanjay Kumar, SEWA Bharat’s director, to learn about his perspective on empowering women in a a country where laws exist to protect women from unequal treatment but are not implemented at the ground level effectively. SEWA began 40 years ago and has a current membership of almost one million women in India.

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A member of SEWA practices her embroidery work. Photo by Asthaa Chaturvedi

He said one of the first challenges is that “a woman might not even think of herself as a worker,” referring to millions of women who craft and make goods at home but receive no recognition and might not see their own work as legitimate. SEWA’s strategy to is to focus on organizing women and addressing their “life cycle needs” when it comes healthcare, education, and financial planning. This means leading the struggle to change laws to protect women workers, and helping them navigate local and official infrastructure so they can earn a living wage. (more…)

Why it matters: Women and development from Susannah Wellford Shakow’s perspective

Friday, March 8th, 2013

 By student contributor Asthaa Chaturvedi

Susannah Wellford Shakow

Susannah Wellford Shakow

Global Gender Current is proud to present its first post in a short interview series that aims to understand the perspective of leaders in the arena of women and development and ask the simple question of why working for equality and agency of women matters in this moment in the 21st century. Through short interviews and audio clips we hope to engage our readers and connect with folks who are in the process of learning about the multifaceted process of improving the wellbeing of women in the U.S. and around the world.

We’re beginning our series with the issue of women in politics. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, women hold just 20.4 percent of parliamentary seats around the world. Internationally and at home, there are disparities when it comes to the political involvement and leadership of women. Susannah Wellford Shakow, President and co-founder of Running Start, an organization that aims to support young women and girls as they think about running for political office in the U.S., has dedicated much of her career to this cause. Shakow also cofounded and led Women Under Forty Political Action Committee, the only PAC devoted to getting young women of all parties into office.

While Running Start’s initiatives are focused in the U.S., Shakow has conducted workshops in Israel, Kuwait, Russia,and Shri Lanka  and finds that regardless of the the audience, in rural villages or sophisticated boardrooms, women share the same concerns. The key is the same in developed and developing countries. Women need the confidence to be leaders themselves.

Shakow says she realized that women might not be on the same level playing field when she was a lawyer and questions started to arise about when she planned on having children. She decided that women could balance both a career and family, and do extraordinary things.

“I’ve found that biggest changes have been made in the business world. Businesses are starting to pay attention to women, because if they don’t, women will leave,” Shakow said when I asked her about where the biggest strides have been made. Running Start programs help young women from middle and high school practice the skills they need for leadership positions, meet women who can serve as role models, and understand the importance having a voice in the political process. Check out our audio clip below to hear Shakow’s perspective on why getting women into political office remains relevant in this day and age.

How to represent women without women representatives in the U.S.?

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Guest student post by Marybeth Sullivan

Hillary Rodham Clinton came closer to winning the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States than any woman before her. She gained 1,896 delegates compared to Barack Obama’s 2,201 delegates, which sealed his nomination. In her concession speech Clinton proclaimed that Americans “can be so proud that, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories…unremarkable to think that a woman can be the President of the United States…and if we can blast fifty women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House.”[1] Despite this idealism, the numbers show that female political victories are still remarkable. Currently, women hold seventeen seats in the Senate and ninety seats in the House of Representatives, about seventeen percent of the total seats in Congress.[2] These figures place the United States poorly at number ninety-one in the proportion of women in National Parliaments worldwide. [3] The United States, therefore, ranks behind countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and China, countries highly criticized for their discrimination of women.[4]

The fact that women are underrepresented in elected politics is increasingly relevant today. At a time when the United States is fighting to maintain its credibility abroad, it loses legitimacy when nations whose governments the U.S. criticize, show more descriptive equality than our own. In addition, recent elections bring female candidates such as Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and Hillary Clinton into the spotlight. Despite their policy perspectives, many media outlets and American citizens focus on these candidates’ gender. The 2012 election brings ascribed women’s issues to the center of debate. Issues affecting women are highly contested, especially as Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney threatens to appoint Supreme Court Justices to overturn Roe v. Wade[5] and stop funding for Planned Parenthood.[6] Meanwhile he is unwilling to state his positions on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act[7] or the Violence Against Women Act.[8]

With this in mind, questions arise about women’s role in elected office. First, if women account for fifty percent of citizens in the United States, why do women only hold seventeen percent of the elected seats? Second, at a time when “women’s issues” seem contentious in the 2012 presidential race, why do few women seem concerned? Last, does the fact that so few women are in government truly matter?

I argue the United States needs to increase its representation of women in elected office. Apathetic constituencies, who are disenchanted with the U.S. political system, limit female candidates’ success. Women can increase representation effectively if they create a critical mass external to elected office. Once created, this external critical mass can apply pressures to the government. I argue this critical mass can be created by women in business. In this way, women’s voices may not be seen inside the Capitol, but they will be heard and represented.
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Focus on Migrant Women Workers in Southeast Asia

Friday, October 26th, 2012

By student contributor Delaney Allan, GGP Intern

On October 25, the Elliott School’s Global Gender Program hosted an international panel entitled Migrant Women Workers in Southeast Asia: Challenges, Programs, and Best Practices.  Melanne Verveer,  Ambassador-at-Large for  Global Women’s Issues in the  U.S. Department of State, delivered a powerful  keynote address.

Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer delivers her keynote address

She began by framing  the importance of migration, identifying the roles women in particular.  She offered some powerful statistics, documenting the feminization of migration:  Forty-nine percent of the world’s migrant populations and three quarters of the world’s refugee populations are women. Regionally, the countries of Southeast Asia supply a substantial amount of the global migrant labor force, but there is also substantial intra-regional migration, with Thailand and Malaysia identified as major recipients of migrant workers.

Ambassador Verveer emphasized the positive and negative effects that labor migration has on women. The economic opportunity provided by labor migration increases women’s confidence, economic independence, empowerment, and reduces inequality between men and women. Yet labor migration often increases women’s vulnerability, including discrimination and abuse, both  in transit and in the destination area. Jobs for migrant women are often found in sectors lacking government and community oversight, thus leaving open the possibility of women’s exploitation in the workplace. The additional income women receive by entering the migrant labor force  may come at a high price, and hopes for gender quality in the destination country are often “somewhat elusive.”
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Women’s political leadership in Cambodia, Vietnam and Timor-Leste

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Student post by Delaney Allan

2011 was a big year for women in politics. Over the past twelve months, the world has born witness to the election of the first female president of Kosovo, the first female prime ministers of Thailand and Jamaica, and the appointment of the first female president to the UN Human Rights Council. Advancements were also made in terms of changes in constitutions and laws. The implementation of new laws in countries such as Tunisia have brought about gender parities in constituent assembly elections; and, for the first time in Egypt, a woman ran for the highest political office. Although these achievements are notable, huge imbalances in gender representation remain in politics worldwide. The future of women in politics depends greatly on commitment at the state level to dedicate resources and legislation to the institutionalization and lawful promotion of women’s leadership and gender equality.

Dr. Agustiana speaks at the Elliott School of International Affairs on women's political leadership. January 26, 2012

The guest speaker for the Global Gender Forum at George Washington University this week was Endah Agustiana, an activist who has vast experience in women’s rights, equality, and leadership. She is the Gender Advisor for the Seeds of Life Program and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries/AusAID in Timor-Leste.

Dr. Agustiana addressed the promotion of women’s political leadership and equality currently taking place in Cambodia, Vietnam and Timor-Leste. These three countries have engendered constitution and law, established organisational structures and development strategies, and implemented gender responsive budgeting to promote women’s equality and leadership in politics.

Guaranteed women’s rights, gender equality laws (in Vietnam and Cambodia), affirmative action quotas, organizational structures such as gender centres, gender focal points (GFPs), the Gender Mainstreaming Action Group (GMAG), and the implementation of gender responsive budgeting (in Timor-Leste) have helped to increase women’s leadership in these three nations. The most impressive advance has been in Timor-Leste where just fewer than 30 percent of representatives in parliament are currently women. This number surpasses the percentage of women in the US senate (at 17 percent).

Dr. Agustiana emphasized that further changes are needed within the legal policy framework, including affirmative action against gender discrimination in a legal policy framework, political and institutional reform that enables equal opportunity for female leaderships, networking, capacity development, and an increase in the collection of and access to research and data for women nationwide.

Although the measures that have been taken so far have improved women’s leadership opportunities and participation in Timor-Leste, Cambodia and Vietnam, the percentage of women in leadership positions is still only about 30 percent. Women in these countries still face serious barriers to entry into political society. A key issue is policy evaporation — policies that are developed to promote women’s leadership and participation but are put into practice inefficiently and ineffectively. Women also encounter institutional barriers. Women find that political parties are hesitant to appoint new leaders, and when they do, they often prefer men. This preference is rooted in the cultural traditions of Southeast Asian countries. Traditionally, men were the leaders in Cambodia, Vietnam and Timor-Leste. This pattern is not likely to change quickly. Women also face security challenges such as intimidation and violence; sociocultural issues such as access to education, finances, and other essential resources; and stereotypical discrimination, where “women’s issues” are dismissed as women’s problems and not a statewide responsibility.

Dr. Agustiana reported that women’s rights are equally important to both the ruling parties and the opposition in these nations; this unity strengthens the front against discrimination and improves the future of legislative and constitutional changes promoting women’s rights, leadership and equality.

Dr. Agustiana gave a fascinating and eye-opening talk. Her experience and knowledge are inspiring. She argues that state and local governments are both important in promoting future political participation and leadership by women. As she commented, dedication to gender equality combined with continued determination by women will lead to a much brighter future.

Delaney Allan is a second year undergraduate student at the George Washington University. She is studying international affairs and economics in the Elliott School of International Affairs. She works as a volunteer research assistant for the Global Gender Program.

Women and the Arab Spring

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Student post by Lauren Farello

Summary of a hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs

On Wednesday, November 3, 2011, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Robert Casey spoke on two panels about women’s roles in the Arab Spring at a hearing held at the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The Senators began by providing a brief background on recent events throughout the Middle East and North Africa, citing both positive advancements and negative consequences. They noted that the reform movements in Egypt and Libya have been successful partly because of women’s participation in helping to facilitate change and by working to rebuild their countries.

The Honorable Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues

The first panel consisted of two witnesses, The Honorable Melanne Verveer, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues in the White House, and Dr. Tamara Wittes, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and Deputy Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions. Ambassador Verveer’s statements centered on the importance of women in new democracies, saying that women’s political and economic participation have tangible benefits to a country. She described how her recent travels to countries in the region have given her the opportunity to speak with Arab women and to learn how United States’ support for their participation has positively affected them (see Ambassador Verveer’s testimony). Wittes stressed the importance of having women fully participate in political change in the region. She mentioned three primary reasons for supporting women in the Arab Spring movements, from the United States’ perspective: stability in the Middle East, the importance of democracy, and youth’s role in changes in the Arab world (see Deputy Assistant Secretary Wittes’ testimony).

The second panel included Manal Omar, Director of Iraq, Iran, and North Africa Programs at the United States Institute of Peace, Mahnaz Afkhami, President of the Women’s Learning Partnership, and Dr. Sandra Bunn-Livingstone, President and CEO of Freedom³.

Omar described the situation in Libya and the importance of Islam in the Arab Spring. She attributed the lack of women’s participation in Libyan political leadership to the various prevailing — and at times, conflicting — ideas about women in positions of authority. She offered recommendations to the Senate about policies to assist the women of the Arab Spring: encouraging the Libyan Transitional Council (LTC) to implement a quota system to help foster female politicians (and making sure the LTC follows through on their promises) and helping countries such as Libya support women who are female heads of households.

From left: Professor Sandra Bunn-Livingstone, Ms. Mahnaz Afkhami, Ms. Manal Omar

Afkhami works with an organization that focuses on assisting transitioning democracies. She focused on the importance of United States support for women in these countries. Her testimony conveyed that United States support for women’s rights would help support international norms for women’s rights.

Bunn-Livingstone focused on the most oppressed people in the Arab Spring as being women, the poor, and in Egypt, in particular, Christians. She urged the United States to support the women in the Middle East and North Africa by holding national leaders accountable for support for women. She condemned the LTC leaders’ recent discussion about repealing the anti-polygamy laws current in existence in Libya. (see prepared testimony).

A general consensus of the hearing was the notion that women’s rights are human rights and that women who are integrated into society can help a country grow economically and become more successful where women’s roles are limited.

Questions to the panelists involved religion and the role it plays in the lives of Arab women. Panelists responded by affirming the importance of Islam and also noting that many women leaders in the region use the Qu’ran to support their aspirations for equality.

The resounding message from the hearing is that women’s political participation in the transitioning countries of the Arab world is essential for the establishment of stable democracies. As Senator Boxer said: “women are the key to success” in the Middle East and North Africa.

Lauren Farello is a second year undergraduate student at the George Washington University. She is studying International Affairs and minoring in Spanish and Women’s Studies. She has been a student volunteer for the Global Gender Initative since September 2011.

Cargo: from shock to action

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Student post by Katy Stewart

Over 17,500 women are trafficked into the United States every year. Around the world, the number is more like 27 million.

The film, Cargo, is a fictionalized story of Natasha, a young Russian woman who is smuggled into the U.S. She is driven to New York City by Sayid, an Egyptian transporter. Her story portrays the harrowing journey taken by millions of women around the world when they are sold into sex trafficking rings.

Many GW students, faculty, and professionals from the Washington, DC area gained a glimpse into this dark reality when they viewed the anti-sex trafficking film Cargo on September 26. The event was a pre-screening sponsored by the Elliott School’s Global Gender Initiative in collaboration with FAIR Fund.

from left: Chris Cooper and Andrea Powell. Photo courtesy of Xenia Grubstein, Persona Films, Inc

As a student at GW, I’ve tried to imagine those numbers. What if the entire GW undergraduate student population (around 10,000), the entire graduate school population (around 7,000), the faculty and the administration were all trafficked? That’s a lot of people. A lot of faces I recognize. Not nameless statistics. My friends, my teachers, my dean, my university president.

Many of the scenes in Cargo were difficult to watch. Yet it’s vital that we do watch. It’s vital that we are witness to the inequalities around us. Raising awareness of the extent of sex trafficking was a major objective of the film. I think it’s safe to say that everyone left with more knowledge about this inhumane trade.

After the film ended, Chris Cooper, an executive producer of the film, and Andrea Powell, Founder and CEO of FAIR Fund, were available for discussion with the audience. During the question and answer period, questions were raised about preconceived notions of prostitution and sex trafficking in the mainstream U.S. Powell recounted the conversation she had with a Washington, D.C. cop that ended when he said, “well, there are girls who are victims and there are child prostitutes.”  Uncovering how this man, and many others, interpret the difference between those two categories is an essential step in stopping trafficking.

Both Cargo and the panel discussion reinforce how we all need to work to redefine our notions of sex trafficking and prostitution. Moreover, like Andrea Powell and FAIR Fund, we need to move beyond shock and awe at the statistics and the stories to get involved to stop the problem.

The premier of Cargo will be on October 21 in New York City. To learn more about this event or to donate on behalf of Cargo, visit here.

For another GW student perspective: see comment here by Peggy Briton, an MIPP student at the Elliott School.

Katy Stewart is a third year undergraduate student at the George Washington University. She is studying International Affairs and Global Public Health, and minoring in public health. She works as an assistant for the Global Gender Initiative and the Culture in Global Affairs Research and Policy Program.