Archive for the ‘student post’ Category

Melinda Gates: Smart Women, Smart Power

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

It’s Good to be Uncomfortable

by student contributor Laura Kilbury


Melinda GatesOn May 20, The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) welcomed Melinda Gates to the center’s ongoing discussion series, “Smart Women, Smart Power”. CSIS started this program on December 8, 2014 as an initiative to intensify the voices of leading women in the realms of foreign policy, national security, and international business.

Melinda Gates appeared on stage for a 90-minute interview Tuesday May 20, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as part of the CSIS-Fortune, “Smart Women Smart Power” series. Gates revealed steps the Gates Foundation, of which she is Co-Chair of, is currently taking to realign its vast resources to make investment in women and girls a top priority. “We are making strides for women and girls, but not on a global scale,” she said.

While Melinda Gates working in tandem with the Gates Foundation is making major strides for women in countries around the world, it is necessary to look at the strides Gates has made in the United States as a woman in technology.

Melinda French Gates grew up in Dallas—one of four children—with a homemaker mother who regretted never going to college and an aerospace engineer father. Gates’ father was progressive for the time. Her father valued having women on his teams, saying that his team “did better” when women were playing an integral part. She joined a computer science club at her Catholic girls school. “I love logic,” she says. “Computer science to me was like a puzzle. I like the logic of it and working your way through.”

In the discussion Gates talked about how computer science has a way of making one feel “uncomfortable”. However, she quickly said, “It’s good to be uncomfortable”.

Her parents, determined to send all four kids away to college, ran a real estate company on the side so they could afford tuition. Melinda and her sister were assigned to keep the books on their Apple 3 computer and painted the company’s rental properties on weekends. “I learned the flows of money, profit and loss. I knew what my parents bought [the homes] for and hoped to get,” she recalled. When she attended Duke, she added an MBA to her computer science and economics degrees—and made a speedy climb up the Microsoft ladder for nine years.

Gates was originally tracked for a job at IBM, but a recruiter steered her elsewhere. “I had a standing offer with IBM in Dallas,” Gates recalled. “I had turned down all the other companies except one.” That company was Microsoft.

Gates says the IBM hiring manager “stopped me dead in my tracks and asked, ‘Do you want my advice? IBM has a fantastic career track, but you have to go up each ladder of the chain.” Microsoft, said the recruiter, is a young, rapidly growing company with the promise of faster advancement for women.

She took the Microsoft MSFT-1.10% job—and history was made. and now—a quarter century later—she is co-steering a $42.3 billion foundation widely recognized as a game-changer in global poverty.

That effort will include a renewed effort to disperse contraception, though the foundation will not fund abortion. “I believe in and use contraceptives,” said the devout Catholic, who called family planning “vital in developing countries.”

In the wide-ranging conversation, Gates defended genetically-modified crops—increasingly the target of protests here and in Europe—as critical to eradicating hunger in poor countries. She also criticized the anti-vaccine movement and offered this positive bit of news: “We are getting very close in polio eradication. This would be an amazing success in global health.”

Melinda Gates took her first trip to Africa when she became engaged to Bill Gates. The journey was meant to be a fun and adventurous safari with other couples, but ended up offering inspiration and a life lesson.

“We loved the animals and the savannah, but you couldn’t help but ask questions—like why whole towns were shut down,” she says. In a Maasai cooking tent, the group bonded with villagers so well that one young man asked: “Can you come back in a few weeks? We are going to have a cutting ceremony for my sister.”

“We were all devastated” by the reference to genital mutilation, Gates says. “It made me realize I knew nothing about that culture. It started Bill and me on a series of learning journeys and questions.”

Now, though, she plans to double down on the poverty-eradicating bet they made 15 years ago. They argue that over the next 15 years, the lives of people in poor countries will improve more than at any other time in history. “When I look at Africa, I don’t just see the destitute stories,” Melinda Gates says. “I focus on the ingenuity and change of the communities.”

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.


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.


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.”