Archive for the ‘student post’ Category

DC event recap: Global Security and Gender–Lessons from Sweden’s Foreign Policy

Monday, February 2nd, 2015


Global Security and Gender: Lessons from Sweden’s Foreign Policy

by Student Contributor Hannah Stambaugh

Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, has announced that Sweden will be the world’s first country to pursue a feminist foreign policy. On January 28th, Minister Wallström spoke about Sweden’s groundbreaking new policy agenda at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), an event co-sponsored by the Swedish Embassy in DC. In her keynote address, Wallström emphasized that Sweden would be actively integrating gender into “all aspects of foreign policy.”

Margot Wallström, a leading member of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, has served as Sweden’s Minister of Foreign Affairs since 2014. Amongst her notable past positions, she has served as Minister of Culture and Minister of Social Affairs, has served as a member of Parliament, and has served as Special Representative to the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence and Conflict. Throughout her career, she has championed women’s rights and wider human rights.

An Wednesday’s event, Wallström outlined the “what” and the “how” of a feminist foreign policy. A feminist agenda is not just a women’s agenda, “it is a wider human rights and security agenda,” she asserted.

A feminist foreign policy has three major goals: women’s rights, representation and resources. She maintains that women’s rights must be central to every level of a foreign policy agenda rather than treated as a separate issue. Sweden will be working multilaterally and bilaterally to ensure that gender is incorporated into all facets of foreign policy decision-making. Sweden will promote increased women’s representation in governments and in peace-building processes, both domestically and globally. Wallström emphasized the critical role of women’s unique voices in negotiations and mediations. One way of promoting this goal is through increased support of women’s organizations working towards peace and reconciliation in conflict and post-conflict zones. Finally, Sweden will channel greater resources towards domestic and global gender equality initiatives.

Though Sweden is hailed as one of the world’s champions of gender equality and women’s empowerment, Wallström emphasized that the country still has substantial room for domestic growth.

Priority will be given to these five interdependent pillars of a feminist foreign policy:

  1. Increasing the role of women in rule of law and human rights,
  2. Combating gender-based violence and sexual violence, particularly in conflict and post-conflict zones,
  3. Promoting sexual health and reproductive rights (one of Sweden’s domestic strengths),
  4. Promoting the economic development of women, particularly labor rights and equal access to social services and legal rights, and
  5. Integrating women’s issues into the environmental area and the fight against climate change.

Following Wallström’s address, a distinguished panel expanded the scope of the discussion to include the role of the United States. Ambassador Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for the bureau of African affairs, moderated the panel. Discussants were Catherine Russell, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Donald Steinberg, president and CEO of an international nonprofit called World Learning and a champion of pushing minority rights into the USAID agenda, and Minister Wallström. Two of the main topics discussed were the US’s role in promoting global gender equality and discussants’ views on best practices in achieving gender equality aims.

Ambassador Russell expressed her excitement about working with Sweden to integrate gender into foreign policy and outlined some of the United States’ major goals. These goals include increasing women’s representation in peacebuilding work, increasing women’s representation in global and domestic politics, and convincing skeptical foreign leaders why women’s representation matters.

Minister Wallström’s feminist policy agenda has been met with ridicule in many parts of the world, including Sweden. Nevertheless, she remains resolute in the importance of incorporating gender concerns and women’s unique voices into all levels of foreign and domestic policy. Flying in the face of critics who claim a feminist agenda is an intangible goal, Wallström has already taken several concrete steps to initiate substantial reform in Sweden’s foreign policy in her first year as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She has instituted an overrule of all ministries to ensure that capacity for the new feminist agenda is met, she has taken steps to engage civil society, and she has appointed an Ambassador-at-Large for women’s issues, making Sweden one of three countries (including the United States) with this position. Minister Wallström is confident in Sweden’s ability to create substantive reform and to lessen the stigma around the word “feminism.”

Event Recap: Designing Global Measures for Women’s Economic Empowerment

Monday, November 17th, 2014

By student contributor Laura Kilburylinda scott

Many benefits are expected to ensue from programs for women. Professor Linda Scott from the University of Oxford addressed the challenges she has observed in trying to design programs and measurements for women’s empowerment at the “Designing Global Measures for Women’s Economic Empowerment” hosted by The World Bank Group Gender Team and SME Finance Forum. Professor Scott has been involved in many impressive efforts to create and evaluate support systems for female entrepreneurs. These experiences have given her a distinguished perspective on the state of affairs in women’s entrepreneurship support.

In her discussion, Professor Scott discussed the challenges of measuring the actual results of programs focused on women’s empowerment. For Scott, thinking critically about women’s entrepreneurship in developing and developed countries holds positive implications for family wellbeing, community viability, and national prosperity. Facilitating women’s entrepreneurship is a tactic for economic development as it produces a “ripple effect” that manifests in a greater trajectory than just focusing on men’s incomes. Scott supports this statement by pointing out that in the community, women invest their earnings in children and the community itself, which then produces a greater and more significant change. Scott also focused on private sector efforts, which includes her work building the measurement system for Walmart’s Empowering Women Together program.

Walmart’s Empowering Women Together holds the intention to assist women entrepreneurs at an early stage in their career development by facilitating a point of entry and access to a broader base of consumers, which is the “Walmart shopper.” The program is still small, in terms of the number of entrepreneurs it is connection and engagement with, but it is working within thirteen countries on four continents, so it has upward mobility potential thus far. These small companies constructed by women entrepreneurs involve a wide range of industries and products, such as jewelry and fashion. Many of the companies are social enterprises that are organized to benefit at-risk employee populations, such as refugees and recovering drug addicts. All these aspects make the system unique as Professor Scott highlights that no one else has attempted to capture the design measures that will work to assess impact and diagnose problems for women-owned businesses in any industry, any place, for any group of women.

Professor Scott’s discussion focused on the need for more attention to be focused upon the restrictions attributable to gender in the planning, management, and evaluation of interventions and particularly the need to recognize national differences in the constraints on women. She touched on the tendency of those who pursue this agenda,  to treat women’s entrepreneurship as if it were any regular business venture without taking the time to properly consider the concrete limits that gender norms put on women’s ability to build an enterprise. As Scott pointed out, anyone that wants to make a difference in empowering women must learn to look through a “gender lens”. The primary limits she highlighted were: biased financial systems, restrictive property rights, limits on mobility, and, most significant, the threat of violence.

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).


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.


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.

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.”

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.