On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court decided 6 to 3 that women (and others who can become pregnant) no longer had control of their bodies and their reproductive decisions.
March 8 is International Women’s Day.
More than a day to celebrate women, it is a day to consider what actions still need to be taken for all women to achieve equity with men so that women can live the lives of their own choosing.
Watch these videos to learn more about the societal changes that are needed to improve the lives of women.
Join millions around the world celebrating the power of education to change the world.
The Positive Deviance Initiative defines Positive Deviance as an approach that realizes “…that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.”
This methodology has been used by the Initiative in a wide variety of contexts. One of the first initiatives involved improving child nutrition in Viet Nam. Researchers to villages with high levels of child malnutrition found that not all children were malnourished. They studied the mothers with healthy children to see what these “positive deviants” were doing differently and then asked those women to teach the other women. Malnutrition was reduced.
Another action involved altering cultural perceptions towards female genital mutilation in Egypt and other countries. When women and men listened to stories of local women who had not been ‘cut’, were not promiscuous, and were able to marry, attitudes began to change. Change was further propelled by women who told their stories of how ‘cutting’ had ruined their lives.
A major problem in culture of honor societies, such as those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is the negative attitude of men towards women. Misogyny is rampant and fierce. How can positive deviance tackle this problem? Fortunately, we have an important example of positive deviance in Ziauddin Yousafzai.
Although raised in a very traditional family in a small community in Pakistan, Yousafzai valued education so much he decided to become an educator and open schools for both boys and girls. His first child was a daughter. Instead of ignoring her, he made sure she knew she was valued and that she received a quality education. Thanks to this positive deviant father, Malala has become a voice heard world-wide making the case for educating all girls everywhere.
Positive deviance is dangerous in regions controlled by the Taliban and like-minded men. What can we do to find and support positive deviants?
We need to support and protect girls so that they can achieve their desire for an education.
I recently finished reading two books by very different individuals who have a common goal: educating all the children in the world (especially girls, who are more likely to be deprived of an education). The books are I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and The Promise of a Pencil by Adam Braun.
Malala was born into a very poor family in the Swat Valley of Pakistan while Adam was born into an upper-middle-class family in Connecticut. Their lives could hardly have begun in more different circumstances, but both realized an important truth: individuals can have a powerful impact. They didn’t need to wait for the world to change; they decided to act.
Malala, encouraged by her father (who, with much difficulty and privation, opened a school in the Swat Valley), became the voice for girls’ education in Pakistan. Adam initially followed a conventional path by becoming a consultant at Bain, although it was never a comfortable fit: he was left feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Malala and her father defied death threats to continue her education and that of other girls. They realized that educated girls could improve their own and their families’ lives and that nothing should prevent that education.
Adam, an adventurous traveler, discovered how desperately education was needed throughout the impoverished regions of the world. He wanted to create a foundation to build schools in those regions, but his parents and co-workers felt that leaving his job at Bain was too big a risk to take.
When the Taliban shot Malala, it was truly a shot heard ’round the world. Malala’s voice, which primarily had been heard in Pakistan, has now become the international voice championing girls’ education. With the aid of Shiza Shahid, Malala has an organization to raise awareness of the importance of girls’ education.
After several months of a sabbatical from Bain during which he focused on laying the groundwork for his education foundation, Adam realized that he couldn’t return to Bain. He plunged fully into his organization: Pencils of Promise.
Here are two individuals who come from very different backgrounds, but who have common goals. They want to live in ways that make a positive difference in the world by making sure that all children (but especially girls) receive an education.
As Malala states in her book, reflecting on being shot, everyone will die. What matters is how you live.
December 10, 2012 was the International Human Rights Day, a day that we remind ourselves that far too many individuals still lack basic human rights. There are 27 million men, women, and children laboring in slavery. Girls are too frequently denied an education and forced into early marriage when, instead, girls could be powerful forces of economic and political change.
International Human Rights will not be achieved until women have the same opportunities and rights as men; until we have gender equity. Women’s Rights are Human Rights.
One day each year to remind ourselves that everyone deserves human rights is not often enough. But it is a beginning.
On October 11, 2012, we will celebrate the 1st International Day of the Girl. This past week (10/1/12 and 10/2/12), PBS aired a two-night, four-hour documentary entitled “Half the Sky” which highlighted the work being done to help girls in several different countries. This help includes escaping sex slavery, dealing with rape, obtaining an education, and improving healthcare. As stated on the Half the Sky Movement website, their goal is “Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” If you missed “Half the Sky” on PBS, you can view it online until October 8 (Part 1) and October 9 (Part 2).
Women and girls form 50% of the world’s population. Ignoring their needs imperils the future of us all. One of the biggest issues for girls is being forced into marriage when they are still children. This ends their education, increases the probability that they and their children will be and will remain in poverty, and also exacerbates healthcare issues. President Bill Clinton has called child marriage a form of slavery. Another website that gets to the heart of the issue on why education for girls matters is The Girl Effect.
I hope that you will celebrate the International Day of the Girl by making sure that the girls in your lives have the full range of education and opportunities that they need to become successful women.
We ignore women, their needs, their rights, their abilities, at the peril of our future. Their issues are not ‘women’s issues’, they are humanity’s issues. The attempts to marginalize and/or ignore women may well be major factors in why the world is in such trouble economically and politically. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in her recent TED talk points out that women are marginalized in financing: they get micro-loans rather than entrepreneurial loans. Granted, a micro-loan is better than no loan, but her point is that when a woman creates a business it is viewed as less important and less economically valuable than when a man creates one. Treating women as ‘less than’ negatively affects all aspects of not only their lives, but their children’s lives, and, although the men generally do not recognize it, the lives of men, too. Simple reasoning makes this obvious: women make up half of humanity; or, as in the Chinese proverb that provided the title for Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book Half the Sky, “Women hold up half the sky.”
As I write this, it is reported in the news that an Afghani women was strangled by her mother-in-law because she gave birth to a third daughter and not a son. Her husband also appears to have been involved in her murder. Sons are valued so much more than daughters that failure to give birth to one can lead to a woman’s death. A woman can destroy her family’s honor by being raped. The ‘solution’ is for her to marry her rapist, or to be put to death. Being jailed for being raped actually protects the woman from abuse and/or death. The girl’s hymen is no longer intact, so she no longer has value and has thus dishonored her family. As Kristof and WuDunn state, “The paradox of honor killings is that societies with the most rigid moral codes end up sanctioning behavior that is supremely immoral: murder.” (p. 82)
Young girls are ‘sold’ into marriages where they become virtual slaves. Choosing your own boyfriend can result in your death. These examples all involve Afghanis, but any culture that does not value woman equally with men will find ways to demean, mistreat, and abuse women. For instance, a judge in Canada (and he is not alone in this, as similar views have been expressed by judges in the United States) gave a mild (no jail time) sentence to a rapist because he, the judge, felt the woman had asked for it. These actions are done to keep women in their place, a place that is well below that of men.
Kristof and WuDunn have written a moving book highlighting the many, many ways women suffer from oppression throughout the world. But they have also written about the women who have fought back against oppression and who are making better lives for themselves and other women. For this to happen, the women must see themselves as valuable and as equal to men. Education is the key. Cultures that oppress women seek to deny girls access to education. But cultures can change. This is something that is too often ignored. Simply because it has ‘always’ been done this way does not mean that it always will be done that way. Holding back girls and women results in holding back the future. Clinging to the culture of the past not only marginalizes women, but marginalizes that culture in an interconnected and globalized world. Cultures can and do change. Education is the first, vital step.
Education gives girls knowledge and with knowledge they begin to realize that they should have a voice in their lives; a say in what happens to them. With knowledge comes the power to fight back against injustice. The first girls and women in their communities to come to this realization are very courageous. They frequently must endure great abuse and hardship. But they and their stories, as told by Kristof and WuDunn, serve as examples to other women and girls that change is possible, and change begins to happen.
Enmeshed with education are the healthcare needs of girls and women. Girls who do manage to attend grade school often disappear from school when they begin to menstruate because the schools lack the facilities the girls need during their period. A husband and brother in India realized just obtaining pads for menstruating girls and women was a problem, so he set out to solve this. Girls are also often forced into marriage at that time, which also ends their education. They need a way to manage their menstrual cycle and to obtain birth control so that they can continue their education. Denying birth control to girls and women because of religious reasons (as has been done with US foreign aid) in effect denies them a future of their own choice.
When a large percentage of women in a particular country are educated and enfranchised, their political power is harder to ignore. Issues that had been ignored, such as public health and children’s health, move to the political mainstream. When women become the majority in the government, massive cultural change is certain. In 1994, Rwanda was the scene of a bloody genocide. When peace was restored, a new government decreed that women had to hold at least 30% of the seats in all legislative bodies. Women now hold 56% of the seats in Parliament. Rwandan culture has changed dramatically. Rwanda is leap-frogging into the 21st century because the country realized that women are as valuable as men.
China has a long history of valuing sons more than daughters, so much so that with the one child policy and elective abortion, the country now has an unbalanced male/female ratio. However, the government now realizes that a better policy is to educate girls and women. When women are well-educated, they want to use their skills in the workplace. This delays marriage and child-bearing while also improving the economy. Parents now realize that daughters can be just as valuable as sons. A win-win for China: slowed population growth along with rapid growth in gross domestic product. India also sees the value of educating women. Bunker Roy created the Barefoot College which educates the poor to become technicians and engineers, among other occupations. According to Roy, men are untrainable. Instead, the Barefoot College trains grandmothers.
In the 21st century, women in all cultures must be equal participants in all aspects of life and business if we are to deal with the challenges the world will face. Corporations are discovering that those boards of directors with a higher percentage of women are significantly more profitable than those with the lowest number of women on their boards.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide should be read by anyone who cares about the future. The tales the authors have collected in their journeys around the world are moving, enlightening, and uplifting. While oppression is common and severe, it is possible for change to occur. The book concludes with a plan of action and a long list of things that the reader can do to contribute to the change that must occur. The website (linked to above) also provides opportunities for action. “Women are half the sky.” We cannot succeed in the 21st century without equality for all women and men.
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