Women in the World Summit 2013

By staff contributor Cait O’Donnell

photo courtesy of the Women in the World Summit 2013
photo courtesy of the Women in the World Summit 2013

The Women in the World Summit 2013, hosted by Tina Brown, editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, took place on April 4-5 at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater. The summit featured a multitude of speakers and performers including Dr. Hawa Abdi, Melanne Verveer, Meryl Streep, and Hillary Clinton. In her address, Clinton asserted that the rights of women represent “the unfinished business of the 21st century” in the United States and globally. Panel topics ranged from eyewitness accounts of violence in Syria to success stories of Latinas in America to building women leaders.

One major thread was a call for girls’ education including for more schools for girls; for better educational programs, especially in STEM fields; and for engaging with men to change negative perspectives about the need for girls’ education.

A session of the summit called “The Next Generation of Malalas” featured Khalida Brohi, Humairi Bachal, and Sharmeen OBaid Chinoy.  Khalida Brohi, 24-year-old founder and director of the Sughar Women Program, works to end tribal violence against women in Pakistan. Humaira Bachal, founder and president of the Dream Foundation Trust, fights for the rights for girls’ education through the Dream Model Street School, which educates over 700 students. Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is an Academy Award and Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on human rights and women’s issues.  Her recent films include: Saving Face, Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret, and Pakistan’s Taliban Generation. Brohi, Bachal, and Obaid Chinoy spoke of their work to bring basic educational rights to girls in communities which believe that outside influences will make their daughters sexually promiscuous and morally corrupt. Continue reading “Women in the World Summit 2013”

Review of Violence against Women legislation

An open access article in Health Policy published in 2011 reviews key documents in the development of Violence against Women (VAW) policies and laws worldwide and points to particularly disadvantaged groups of women that need more consideration:

“In this study, the full texts of the legislation from 83 of the 115 countries identified initially were collected. In the case of countries in which it was possible to access more than one law, the law most recently in force was chosen. When the laws and their respective legal reforms were available, all these documents were analyzed together. Through analysis of the laws and documentation on VAW, this study has been able to identify the need to raise the profile of vulnerable women in the legislation on VAW. Higher priority should be given to these groups of women in the international recommendations made in key documents in order to overcome VAW using an equity approach. The different barriers that vulnerable women must face in order to gain access to VAW services should lead policy makers to consider the special needs of these women.”

Celebrating International Women’s Day in the Elliott School

by staff contributor Cait O’Donnell

For more on the day’s events, please see full videos and photos.

On the 101st celebration of International Women’s Day, the Global Gender Program of the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs partnered with several organizations to put on an all-day event comprising two distinguished speakers (opening and closing the event) and two panels. This event was co-sponsored by GW’s Global Gender Forum, GW’s Culture in Global Affairs Seminar Series, GW’s Distinguished Women in International Affairs Series, GW’s Security Policy Forum, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute North America (SIPRI North America), the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

Barbara Miller, Director of the Elliott School’s Global Gender Program, opened the day’s events by remarking on the importance of International Women’s Day as a time to recognize both the specific needs and challenges that women and girls face around the world as well as their distinct capabilities and strengths. Continuing threads throughout the day included the need for more and better gender-specific data during peace and conflict, the importance of more complex and nuanced approaches to research on victimization and empowerment, and the importance of ensuring more research and policy attention to gender dimensions of war, post-conflict peacekeeping, and women’s empowerment and livelihoods.

Louise Olsson gave the opening talk on the subject of U.N. Peace operations with special reference to her research on Timor Leste. Olsson is a researcher at Folke Bernadotte Academy in Sweden, where she is also a project leader for UNSCR 1325. She organized her presentation around three issues: quality peace, security equality, and the effect of U.N. Peace Operations. She pointed out the connections between the first two concepts, saying that “…peace does not automatically mean equal security. Different groups can receive different degrees of protection by way of how operations and conflict resolution processes are designed.”

The first, crucial step, however, is defining peace. Is peace defined as the lack of war, of conflict and residual violence, of all forms of physical violence, or of all forms of physical and structural violence? Such negative definitions render peace as content-less. Olsson challenged us to include equality and social justice in the definition of peace. The case of Denmark, which ranks high on the Global Peace Index yet is also at war with Afghanistan, exhibits that devising a more complete definition of peace is laden with complexity.

Post-conflict peace-making is not always beneficial to women’s rights: women’s rights and equality can be compromised or sold out during peace agreements. People involved in peace operations often avoid gender issues because they are considered “too cultural.” Olsson insisted, however, that there are common, reoccurring gender issues from Namibia to Afghanistan. Continue reading “Celebrating International Women’s Day in the Elliott School”

All children reading: Where are the girls?

Guest post by Joanna Laursen Brucker

Friday November 18, many of the key players in international educational development gathered in Washington DC to usher in the Grand Challenge for Development: All Children Reading. The multi-year initiative led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), World Vision and the Austrian Agency for International Development (AusAID) partnership is intended to draw attention to issues of childhood literacy internationally, working to provide solutions to getting the world’s over 67 million out-of-school children in school by committing over $20 million dollars towards innovation in the next several years.

Children reading under bednet in Kenya, 2009. Flickr/Vestergaard Frandsen

Each Grand Challenge identifies one development problem, which has not been solved using traditional approaches to development. By shining a spotlight on the issue, the hope is to engage new ideas, actors and innovation to move towards a solution. This Grand Challenge identifies the problem as:

  • Today, over 67 million children do not have access to school and millions of children leave school without being able to read.
  • 793 million adults cannot read this sentence.
  • As a result, the futures of millions of people and the economic outlooks for scores of countries are in jeopardy.

Among the speakers at the launch, it was Gene Sperling, Director of the National Economic Council, who alone drew real attention to the issue of girls’ education. Internationally, attainment of basic literacy is a problem; however, of those 67 million children out of school more than half are girls. When one digs deeper into the numbers, it becomes even bleaker as retention, matriculation and graduation rates for girls fall far behind boys on an international level. As of 2007, only 53 of 171 countries had achieved gender parity in primary and secondary education. It is further estimated that at least 113 countries will fail to reach the Millennium Development Goals on gender equality in education.

Yet, futures of millions of people and the economic outlooks of scores of countries need not be in jeopardy. Female education is one of, if not the most, important indicator and influential force behind future child development, child literacy and child health. Women with a basic education are more likely to delay childbearing and have fewer, healthier children. Additionally, women with basic education can contribute to the world developing around them as healthier, active and even economically productive citizens.

Therefore, I would propose adding this positively phrased statistic to the problem defined above. Let’s start to solve the problem in defining it:

  • A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of 5.
  • A woman with post-primary education is 5 times more likely to be education on the perils of HIV/AIDS than an illiterate woman.
  • In Africa’s poorest states, 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved if their mothers had at least a secondary education.

Girls education must be an integral part of the Grand Challenge.

Joanna Laursen Brucker currently researches for the Global Gender Initiative and consults for the Millenium Cities Initiative and Hands On Greater DC Cares. Previously, Joanna worked in Kosovo as Educational Coordinator directing the Learning Center Network: a series of 4 community-based educational centers for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian women and youth. She also worked as a public high school teacher in the Czech Republic. Joanna holds an Ed.M. from Harvard Graduate School of Education in International Educational Policy B.A. from the George Washington University in Anthropology.

Women in the Arab Gulf states: Pioneers for equality?

The April 2011 issue of Human Resource Development International contains four articles devoted to women, empowerment and human resource development in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Beverly Dawn Metcalfe, senior lecturer in the Center for Organizations and Development at the University of Manchester, wrote the guest editorial piece and one of the articles.

Source: Change.org
Video still: Saudi woman driving in defiance of a ban. Source: Change.org, via New York Times blog Motherlode.
In her editorial, she states that her aim is to “promote transformative scholarship that addresses the centrality of women, work, empowerment and development in Arab Gulf states.”

She points out that Human Resource Development (HRD) has overlooked gender concerns. She notes that the articles in the issue of HRDI on women in the Gulf region describe the challenges the women there face, highlight positive gains made and critique outsiders’ assumptions.

Intersecting themes shaping women’s identity are globalization, women’s movements, Islamic feminism, institutional development and governance.

In her article, “Women, Empowerment and Development in Arab Gulf States: A Critical Appraisal of Governance, Culture and National Human Resource Development (HRD) Frameworks,” Metcalfe makes a case for inserting gender into the discipline of HRD. She considers national HRD planning in the context first of several Gulf states and provides gender statistics on them in comparison to the U.K. and the U.S.: women holding seats in parliament, women in minister positions, labor force participation and more. Women in the Gulf states are severely disadvantaged in all these measures.

Moreover, surveys reveal that both men and women see the man as the family provider and protector of the wife. The author then compares Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. None of these countries has a dedicated women’s ministry. But beyond this shared feature, variations across the three countries appear in women’s organizations and possibilities for women’s leadership training. Metcalfe points out that a key area will be finding ways for women to balance family and work responsibilities.
Continue reading “Women in the Arab Gulf states: Pioneers for equality?”

Rising India, declining daughters

Down and down it goes — the ratio of girls to boys in India, especially (and still) in northwestern India.

save girl child
Credit: Flickr/Bron.
While the preliminary results of the 2011 Census of India provide some good news, especially about women’s literacy rates, they show clearly the decline in the Child Sex Ratio (CSR), or number of girls per boys aged zero to six years.

Since the late 1800s, British colonizers began collecting census data, and they noted a scarcity of females to males in the population of northwestern India. Social science research starting in the late 1970s, pointed to a cultural complex of severe patriarchy in that region, which includes strong preference for sons and marked disfavor toward daughters.

Outright female infanticide was practiced, as well as indirect infanticide through conscious or unconscious neglect. Female infants were breastfed less often, they were not taken to a clinic if they fell ill and they were generally not warmly welcomed and nurtured. I document all of this in my book, The Endangered Sex: Neglect of Female Children in Rural North India, which turns 30 years old this year.

I wrote, then, that if there was ever a way to determine the sex of one’s offspring, it would have a large market in India. I was right, more than I had ever imagined I would be. I so wish I had not been right.

India is a great and wonderful country. It is now a “rising power.” But it has a major problem with social inequality. And I say this with deep humility, since my home country isn’t doing too well on the social equality front either.

But India’s gender inequality — starting with the base, root issue of who gets to live, who gets to try to have a life worth living — is extreme. It’s right up there with China. Or, let’s say, down there with China.
Continue reading “Rising India, declining daughters”