by GW Professor Aisling Swaine
This week, the UN Security Council hosted a “High-Level Review” to consider progress made towards meeting its commitment to overcome the historic exclusion of women and their concerns from its purview. The event marked fifteen years since the Security Council adopted a ground-breaking resolution, Resolution 1325 (2000), that for the first time, recognized and strived to advance the overlooked, but critical role women can play in global efforts towards conflict resolution and peacemaking.
In the UN Security Council on Tuesday, we heard from the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq. Their representative described how in the last decade, a century’s worth of progress on women’s rights has simply come to a halt as a result of the cycles of conflict there. These women provide life-saving aid to families trapped in areas that international organizations and the government itself cannot reach. This is in a context where they risk becoming one of the over 3000 women that they estimate to have been captured by ISIS.
As part of its review process, the Security Council commissioned an independent Global Study on the Implementation of Resolution 1325. Also launched by the UN this week, the study assesses progress over the past 15 years on securitizing the world in ways that equally reflect both men and women’s rights and concerns. The study points towards much progress. It also points towards much that remains to be done.
Global trends on the prevalence of armed conflict bear grim tidings. The current era is characterized by a-symmetrical conflicts, where factionalized and fragmented modes of warfare means that more and more civilians are deliberately targeted. In these conflicts for example, we see variant ways that women, men, girls and boys are forced into combatancy and subjected to a myriad of harms, the propensity for and impact of such experiences determined by gender roles and norms. Terrorism and counter-terrorism as strategy predominates, and new technologies, such as the use of drones, enable a remote controlled warfare that appears unapologetic of the collateral damage it causes to civilians.
by guest contributor Mikaela Romero
On Friday, March 27, the George Washington University (GW) hosted the 2015 Women’s Leadership Conference, an annual conference that brings together GW faculty, staff, students, and alumnae of GW and the Mount Vernon College to discuss topics of women’s leadership, and exchange stories and ideas for professional and personal growth. The title and central theme of this year’s conference was “Charting a New Course.” In this respect, guest speakers and participants zoned in on women’s capacity to brave unchartered waters and, by doing so, advancing their fields of work, improving the lives of others, and challenging harmful or restrictive gender-based norms in society.
The conference remained engaging throughout the day, with different presentation formats and group exercises. Keynote speaker and Mount Vernon College alumna Nazenin Ansari spoke about her role in the international community as an Iranian-born journalist, emphasizing the importance of “connecting through our hearts” and progressing forward with the common visions that this connection fosters. Break-out sessions catered to diverse interests, ranging from topics in entrepreneurship and financial finesse to self-care and self-representation. Cumulatively, the sessions taught that while success in society-level contexts such as business and the economy is certainly within women’s reach, it is crucial to also nourish individual physical, spiritual, and mental health to remain happy and strong in the long term.
by guest contributor Brian Keilson
A second international videoconference was held on February 19, as part of the on-going partnership between the Global Gender Program at the George Washington University and the Gender and Development Studies Department at Lahore College for Women’s University. In Washington, DC, participants face an early morning, beginning at 8am, while, in Lahore, the get-together means a late evening with the event starting 10 hours later.
Each side was pleased to welcome a special guest. At GW, in attendance was Elliott School alumna, Ms. Arifa Khalid Parvez, a member of the Pakistani National Assembly (equivalent to a U.S. Senator). At LCWU, we were honored by the presence of Vice Chancellor, Sabiha Mansoor.
The one-hour meeting began with presentations from faculty and students at LCWU addressing aspects of women’s empowerment in Pakistan,
Key points from the four presenters were:
- although higher education policies in Pakistan have promoted equal opportunity, there is still a significant gap between female graduates and employment, due to less opportunity because of religious or cultural biases toward different occupations.
- for many females, teaching is the culturally preferred occupation.
- however, there are females in every industry from politics to IT, to the army, judicial system and even taxi drivers.
- Pakistani women have attained success in many areas, including:
- Samira Baig- 1st Pakistani women and only 3rd Pakistani and youngest Muslim women to ascend Mt. Everest.
- Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy- won an Oscar Award for best documentary.
- women are truly agents of change in Pakistan from politics to philanthropy
- there are more women in government in Pakistan than in Sri Lanka, Iran and India
- there is a separate government ministry for women and there are many prohibitions against discrimination including in the country’s constitution
- these protections, however, are not enforced evenly throughout the country
Associate Professor of Anthropology Manduhai Buyandelger has been awarded the James A. (1945) and Ruth Levitan Prize in the Humanities, a $25,000 research grant that will support her ethnographic study of parliamentary elections in Mongolia, with specific emphasis on the experience of female candidates.
In announcing the award, Deborah K. Fitzgerald, the Kenan Sahin Dean of MIT’s School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, remarked that there were “many excellent proposals” for this year’s Levitan, the School’s top annual prize for research. “It is a real tribute to your depth of intelligence and experience … that the committee chose [this project] as the winner,” Fitzgerald wrote in congratulating Buyandelger.
A project on Mongolian women and political power
“The Levitan Prize is going to transform my life,” Buyandelger says, “because I’ll be able to finish this project” — a book highlighting the “unconventional and creative strategies” women politicians in Mongolia have employed to meet the challenges of the postsocialist era, and the ways in which women’s early electoral failures in Mongolia helped spawn a women’s movement there.
“During socialism, the state promoted top-down strategies to equalize the sexes,” Buyandelger says. “With the collapse of the state, women were left on their own … and their marginalization at the top levels of politics became even more stark.”
Although women rarely secured election during Mongolia’s early democratic years — women’s representation in the national parliament never exceeded 8 percent until 2012 — Buyandelger finds that this failure helped spur the launch of a wide range of small nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that advocated for women’s rights.
“The individual fruits of these little NGOs in the end contributed to building a new culture and awareness about gender issues,” Buyandelger says. While the Mongolian NGOs did not always explicitly work together, “in the end they collectively transformed the perception of the populace regarding women in politics,” she says. “They also leveraged the government to designate an agency to attend to gender issues.”
Travel to Mongolia
The Levitan Prize will enable Buyandelger to travel to Mongolia to finish the research for her forthcoming book, “One Thousand Steps to Parliament: Elections, Women’s Participation, and Gendered Transformation in Postsocialist Mongolia.” It will be the second book for Buyandelger, who is the only anthropologist in the United States focused on Mongolia. Her first book, “Tragic Spirits: Shamanism, Memory, and Gender in Contemporary Mongolia,” was released by the University of Chicago Press in November 2013.
“Buyandelger explores how individuals and groups interpret, resist, and accommodate these drastic socioeconomic transformations, by both reviving traditional cultural practices and creating new ones,” says Professor Susan Silbey, who heads the Anthropology Section. “In ‘Tragic Spirits’ [she documents] the revival of shamanism in the transformation from Soviet communism to liberal capitalist subjects.”
A documentary film on Parliamentarian Burmaa Radnaa
Buyandelger says she also plans to use the Levitan Prize to complete a related documentary film, “Intellect-ful Women,” centered on the experiences of Burmaa Radnaa, a Mongolian politician she shadowed during the 2008 campaign. The film should provide a wholly novel perspective on the election process. “There are very few studies of women politicians in anthropology,” says Buyandelger, who was afforded rare access to top parliamentary politics while shadowing Radnaa on a daily basis.
After Radnaa lost the 2008 election, she took her case to court alleging ballot fraud — and won. And, although the court did not award her a seat, the publicity surrounding the case helped earn both her and her party a fair shot at election in 2012. As a result, Radnaa is now serving as a member of parliament.
“The film concentrates on Burmaa’s extraordinary analytical skills and mercurial but nuanced ways of thinking and solving problems,” Buyandelger wrote in her Levitan Prize application. “Against the commercialized elections and party politics where networks and money pave much of the road to parliamentary seats, Burmaa won a seat with limited resources but with much thinking. Her electoral strategies are embedded, primarily, in her intellect.”
The Levitan Prize prize was established through a gift from the late James A. Levitan, a 1945 MIT graduate in chemistry, who was also a member of the MIT Corporation and of counsel at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom of New York City. The prize, first awarded in 1990, supports innovative and creative scholarship in the humanities by faculty members in the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.
By guest contributor Josh Doherty
In her new book, Gender & Justice: Why Women in the Judiciary Really Matter, Sally J. Kenney proposes that scholars and policy-makers reject the rationale that women should be represented in greater numbers on the bench because they, as women, will render decisions that are different from their male counterparts. Rather, Kenney advocates increasing the number of women judges, and in particular women serving on higher courts, for two reasons: (1) increasing the representational legitimacy of the courts and (2) pursuing equal citizenship rights for women by remedying discriminatory judicial nomination and hiring practices. In making her case, Kenney regularly reminds the reader that gender is a social process, a “social relationship based on perceived differences and symbolizing power,” and not just a “euphemism” for women. (16). She, however, also highlights the utility of using binary male/female distinctions as a means for identifying gendered discrimination (such as highlighting situations in which women are under-represented or “herded into the lower-status corners of the legal and judicial professions”). (24-25). Throughout her book, Kenney strongly supports her assertions (referencing over 900 endnotes), and presents a highly persuasive argument.
After laying out her argument briefly in Chapter 1, Kenney dismantles the widely asserted but weakly supported rationale that female judges decide cases differently from their male peers, and as such render different judgments. She asserts instead that these essentialist differences are not based on a judge’s sex, but rather on a judge’s adoption of feminist ideas and life experiences, regardless of whether that judge is a male or female. Kenney then uses the experience of Rosalie Wahl, the first woman appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court, to discuss the importance that a symbolic appointment and an emotional connection between the nominee, the women’s movement, and the greater public have with respect to galvanizing and maintaining a diverse judiciary. In Chapter 4, Kenney explains the three key ingredients for successfully implementing a policy of gender diversity in the judiciary by using the appointment of federal judges under Jimmy Carter’s presidency as an example. These ingredients are: (1) political discourse identifying gender equality as a goal, (2) motivated internal actors in positions of power, and (3) a strong feminist movement to exert external pressure on the administration.
Kenney then jumps the Atlantic to discuss the unique set of circumstances in Britain that culminated in the appointment Lady Hale to the House of Lords, namely focusing on the changes to the power of the gatekeeper and reform of the judicial selection process that the feminist movement in the United Kingdom was able to foment. Staying in Europe, Kenney uses the example of the European Court of Justice as an institution that serves as a strong exemplar of a judiciary that would do well to re-imagine “representation” beyond nationality and include a “gender theory of a representative judiciary.” Returning to the United States, Kenney identifies five forms of backlash that female judges face (discrimination during the selection process; direct hostility by colleagues once appointed; lawyers’ challenges of female judge’s authority through, e.g., calls for recusal; charges of misconduct and electoral challenges; and the replacement of female with male judges following a token appointment), using the story of Rose Bird in California as an example. In her conclusion, Kenney reiterates that essentialist differences should not be relied upon, and that instead advocates for greater female representation on the bench should focus on democratic legitimacy of the judiciary through gender-representative judiciaries, and equal citizenship as embodied by non-discriminatory hiring practices.
Kenney’s work is an exceptionally thorough, well-researched and coherent guide to advocates and policy-makers on why and how to pursue a more gender-diverse judiciary. The tangential (and fairly lengthy) discussion in her concluding chapter addressing gender discrimination in juries seemed a bit out of the blue and not particularly helpful in addressing the specific problem of a paucity of female judges (other than the fact that it is another area of the judicial system from which women were excluded) and could perhaps have been excluded. However, it does present a related issue that has, at least to some extent in the United States, been remedied. Additionally, Kenney’s work could perhaps have been improved with a more geographically diverse series of examples (she primarily focused on the United States, and to a much lesser extent the United Kingdom and the European Court of Justice). I, and perhaps others, would be interested in learning more about how certain other judicial systems have been more successful at realizing a gender-balanced judiciary, and to what extent judiciaries in developing countries are embracing gender-representative judicial systems. In fairness to Kenney, however, her principle familiarity is with the American judicial system, which has been extensively studied and documented, providing a much richer base upon which to conduct the type of critical research Kenney undertook with this work. With Gender & Justice, Kenney makes an important contribution to scholarly understanding of the importance of and challenges to increasing the number of females in the judiciary.
Joshua Doherty is a M.A. candidate in International Affairs in the Elliott School of International Affairs and a J.D. candidate in the George Washington University Law School.
By guest contributor Josh Doherty
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?
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.