Tag Archives: girls

UNDP and Religious Leaders Promote Women in Sport and Education in Afghanistan

Changing minds about girls playing sports in Afghanistan takes the support of religious leaders – and they are starting to get on board.

Mullahs trained by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Afghanistan are preaching about women’s rights and have conducted workshops on girls’ education, child marriage and violence against women that have reached thousands of people and are slowly changing attitudes.

“At first, the villagers were really annoying, telling me that a girl in sports clothes is against Islam and our culture,” says 18-year-old Masooma, who just wanted to go skiing. “They said, ‘Girls don’t have the right to ski – only boys can do sport. Girls are born to learn household chores, like cooking and cleaning.’”

UNDP Afghanistan trained more than 400 mullahs across the country to preach about women’s rights in Friday prayers. Abdul Rahman Redwani is one of the mullahs who started incorporating these issues into his sermons after the training. “Previously, local people didn’t let their girls learn how to read or write,” he recalls. “When girls went skiing the for first time, people gossiped that they were too westernized. But our Friday sermons helped change their minds.”

“Now a lot of girls and women come to watch us ski,” smiles Masooma, “which was not possible a few years back. This motivates me and encourages other girls to start skiing.”

Read the entire story here.

No, I’m not involved in this project. But I would love to read all I can about it, and support it however I can, because leveraging the cultural and religious beliefs can be a great strategy for encouraging women’s equality – something I learned in Afghanistan as well. Back in 2007, when I put together a workshop on to help my Afghan co-workers in Kabul feel more comfortable speaking in public, I did a lot of research, and learned that women speakers, teachers and leaders have always been important in Muslim society, including in Afghanistan. So I put this into my training, talking about the public speaking and leadership roles of Khadija, first wife of the Prophet, Aisha, the favored wife of Muhammad, and Muhammad’s daughters, as well as Rabia Balkhi, a poet of Afghanistan and Razia, a Muslim woman ruler of 13th-century India.

Read more about what I did in Afghanistan as a part of UNDP (and what I’ve done for the country since)

Virtue & reputation in the developing world

womantargetMy Facebook newsfeed is filled with posts from my male Afghan colleagues, talking about their travels, their work, their children, sharing photos, etc. But rare is the post from Afghan women I’ve worked with. And recently, I was reminded yet again of why that is.

In some countries, a woman’s reputation regarding her virtue is every bit as important as food and health care, in terms of prosperity, let alone survival. When you are a girl or a woman in Afghanistan, or many other countries, you can’t just shrug at insults regarding your morals or honor. You do not have that privilege. You have to care deeply about what neighbors and co-workers and, really, what anyone might say about your virtue. Damage to your reputation regarding your virginity, your marriage, your care for your children, your sexuality, how you dress, how you behave in social settings, and everything else that makes up one’s moral character can cost a woman a job, her family, her marriage – even her life.

I was gobsmacked to find out just how true this was when I lived in Afghanistan for six months back in 2007 – my Afghan female co-workers were immobilized at times by fear of gossip about their honor. But it’s not just in that country: I heard a few comments when I lived in Ukraine that made me realize that, to a degree, it can be true there as well.

I was reminded of all this per an article in the Washington Post regarding women in Afghanistan who are being virtually assaulted, their Facebook profiles duped to create a second, fake profile, their friends invited to “friend” that profile, and then come the fake posts boasting of drug use and illicit behavior, attributed to the person being targeted. The identity thieves steal the women’s photos and steal and repost personal information publicly. Or, the woman’s actual account is hacked, the password changed so that she can no longer control the account – and the same tactic used: fake posts boasting of illicit behavior, altered photos of the woman drinking alcohol, etc. “Respectable reputations are demolished with a few keystrokes.” In addition, a woman on Facebook in Afghanistan may end up with an inbox deluged with pornography and violent threats from aggressive suitors and alleged militants. It leaves the women terrified of even their own family members, as the article details.

In the article, an Internet cafe owner talks about his attempts to help the many young women who are devastated to find out their profile has been duped or hacked with such reputation-destroying information and frantic to get the information removed. Sadly, his reports to Facebook aren’t taken seriously. The article says, “He suspects that the threats are so culturally specific — a profile photo showing a woman’s face or a beer Photoshopped into a photo of a female gathering, for example — that they often go unnoticed by Facebook administrators reviewing flagged accounts. What may look like an innocent account in the United States can be full of menacing innuendo to Afghan eyes.”

But there’s another reason that keeps so many women in Afghanistan and other countries off of social media as well: the Tall Poppy Syndrome. People talking about an accomplishment can be seen as bragging, and many feel that tall flower has to be cut down to the same size as all the others. The phrase is particularly popular in Australia, though some people say it isn’t success that offends Australians but, rather, someone that acts superior. But in many places, a woman saying anything on social media, except for praising the deity of her religion, is seen as bragging – and she becomes a target for her “tall” reputation being cut down. If you don’t believe that, search for malala yousafzai criticized on Google.

For all these reasons, many women in Afghanistan and other countries have given up on having a virtual identity at all – I personally know of two such women. This greatly hinders their ability to connect with potential colleagues abroad that could help them in their work, to build up a professional reputation beyond the walls of their office or beyond the staff of the organization, and build a career.

Of course, it hasn’t always been so easy in the Western world for a woman to shrug off gossip. In Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813, the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, warns her father that the consequences of her sister Lydia’s reputation as a flirt affects “our importance, our respectability in the world”, noting that when a girl is perceived as being a flirt, it is the girl’s family members that pay the price: “Oh! my dear father, can you suppose it possible that they will not be censured and despised wherever they are known, and that their sisters will not be often involved in the disgrace?” 200 years later, no girl in the USA has to have that scene explained to her, even in our world of celebrity sex tapes and leaked nude photos and wardrobe malfunctions. Many women worldwide, even in “the West,” still fear loss of reputation through gossip, even if the consequences aren’t nearly as dire as in other countries.

By contrast, I now live in a privileged world where I can choose to shrug at personal insults thrown my way regarding my virtue, my moral behavior, etc. I know who I am, that I strive for integrity in my professional world and in personal matters, I know that the people I love and respect in my life know my true character and morals, and for me, that’s all that matters. If someone calls me a whore, I can simply roll my eyes and say, “Please call me Her Royal Highness and Whore, as it is my correct title,” and then I can go on about my day.

I’m from the Bible belt, and I’ve lived all over the USA, and I find that “but what will people think?!” is a mentality that still very much exists back home. I’m not sure when exactly I shed that mentality, but I do remember the first time I heard a story that says there was a man who constantly harassed and insulted the Buddha, but the Buddha never seemed fazed by it. When someone asked why he didn’t take offense to the insults, he replied, “If someone gives you a gift and you refuse to accept it, the gift stays with the giver.” I remember thinking: that’s what I want to strive for. Though, full disclosure: insults about my looks, my age, my weight, etc., still feel like punches in my gut, anc criticism of my work, and my approach to work, can sting. But insults about my virtue? Have at it – I don’t care.

So we, in the West, do understand, to a degree, the perils of gossip regarding moral behavior for our sisters in other countries. But what’s to be done? We certainly need to pressure social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to better respond to complaints of duping and hacking. But should we also encourage a new way of thinking: “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”? I’m not sure it’s possible to become unoffendable – but could an entire culture be taught, deliberately, to become less so? Would that be a part of women’s empowerment, of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly #5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls?

Regardless, it should serve as a caution to humanitarian and development workers wanting NGOs and government agencies to engage more on social media; you need to provide guidance for the women who would be expected to manage online activities on how to stay safe and protect their personal reputations.

January 4, 2016 update: See this post on TechSoup that summarizes an article about the risks taken by women in Pakistan, particularly female students, who use social media, and highlights the work of Nighat Dad, a lawyer in Pakistan who works to help women stay safe online.

Also see:

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

Found this via Zunia: one of my favorite leads for publications and studies about issues relating to women’s empowerment in development countries and under-served areas:

Doubling Digital Opportunities: Enhancing the Inclusion of Women & Girls In the Information Society

This Report studies the role that ICTs and the Internet can play in advancing gender equality agendas, including equal access to new technologies by women and girls. It examines the central question of how access to the Internet and ICTs can help redress some of the inequalities women and girls face in their everyday lives, and whether inequalities in access to the Internet, and the types of content available online, are in fact reinforcing social attitudes towards women. Issues in fact extend far beyond basic access, including the availability of relevant content and the participation of women in public policy-making processes. The Report explores measures of inequality in access to ICTs, the importance of ICTs in educating and shaping the aspirations and hopes of the next generation of women and girls, and the implications of lack of access to ICTs by girls and women.

Also see: Women’s Access to Public Internet Centers in Transitional and Developing Countries (my resource)

Women & the Digital Divide: still a reality?

Nine years ago, TechSoup hosted a series of week-long online events regarding the digital divide, and I had the honor of co-hosting the thread regarding gender – specifically, barriers to women and girls from using computer and Internet tech, including access to public Internet spaces. Long after the event was over, people kept posting to the thread here and there. The last posts were in February 2011.

This event was quite transformative for me. It lead to this: Women’s Access to Public Internet Access, a resource I developed through research & experience (and continue to update) to support the development of women-only Internet centers/technology centers/etc., or women-only hours at such public Internet access points, in developing and transitional countries.

I would love to revisit the topic: visit this re-introduction to the thread and reply there with your thoughts:

What’s changed since this discussion took place?

What hasn’t changed?

Do you see any barriers to women and girls regarding use of computers, the Internet and related tools, in your country or anywhere else and, if so, what are they?

Or do you think the divide is bridged?

And it’s worth noting that I posted about this thread to the Digital Inclusion Network (formerly the Digital Divide Network), and got a reply off-list from Girl Geek Dinners Bologna. They have launched a project called Smart Women, which “aims to contribute to the dissemination of digital culture in Italy.” It is a kind of road show that will cross Italy within a week, talking about women’s access to digital tools and spaces. From the web site (my translation along with Google translate – hope I got it right):

“Because in Italy we often talk about digital, but women are often excluded from the discussion… We want to talk about digital culture and opportunities with Italian and foreign women, because we believe that cultural exchange leads to the growth and stimulation of new initiatives. A the same time we want to enhance the excellence of local resources, triggering a call to action aimed at involving women in each city. We will leave from Bologna, where we will be guests of Smart City Forum Exhibition, from here we will stop in Florence, Rome, Naples and Cosenza.”

Digital divide, women, Italy and food? So sorry I don’t live in Europe anymore….

Mothers/women facing dire times worldwide

Mother’s Day is Sunday here in the USA, so here’s some stories that have gotten my attention recently about the condition of women and girls in various places:

    • The average height of very poor women in some developing countries has shrunk in recent decades, according to a new study by Harvard researchers. “Height is a reliable indicator of childhood nutrition, disease and poverty. Average heights have declined among women in 14 African countries, the study found, and stagnated in 21 more in Africa and South America. That suggests, the authors said, that poor women born in the last two decades, especially in Africa, are worse off than their mothers or grandmothers born after World War II.” More in this article by The New York Times.
    • “Women cry when they have girls”: Despite economic growth, Indian families let its girls die. A deep-rooted cultural preference for sons remains in India. Even the government has accepted that it has failed to save millions of little girls. “Whatever measures that have been put in over the last 40 years have not had any impact,” India’s Home Secretary G.K. Pillai said last month.
    • Jamie Henry, 24, is enrolled at South Texas College, has two children and gets by on government assistance and a $540 disability check her husband, a veteran of the Marines and National Guard, receives every month. “I have a 7-year-old boy and a 4-month-old girl, and I probably would have had 10 kids in between that if I didn’t come here and get my (contraceptive) shot,” Henry said Tuesday morning as she waited for her appointment at Planned Parenthood’s McAllen clinic. Henry, who gave birth to a baby girl four months ago and does not want any more children in the near future, is the type of woman Planned Parenthood Association of Hidalgo County is fighting to protect from an onslaught of legislative attempts to cut basic family planning services at the state and federal level. Here’s the story from Texas, as well as breakdowns of numbers from Minnesota and New Jersey that explain just how devestating to women – including mothers and mothers-to-be – cuts to Planned Parenthood will be.

Also see: Empowering Women Everywhere – Essential to Development Success, a list of research and articles that confirm that empowering women is essential to development success and highlight the very particular challenges to women’s access to education, health care, safety and economic prosperity.

Tags: moms, women, woman, wives, wife, gender, female, value, worth, funding, MDGs

Girls Are More Likely to Support Charities Using Social Media

A survey commissioned by World Vision, a Christian international relief and development group, says that girls in the USA are more likely than boys in the USA to “friend”, “like” or “follow” causes they believe in on social media (41 percent vs. 27 percent) and that girls are more likely than boys to say they’ve become more aware of the needs of others as a result of their use of social media (51 percent vs. 38 percent). The study also found high overall levels of social media use: Four out of five USA teenagers surveyed said they used social networks like Facebook.

The study was conducted online in January by Harris Interactive among more than 500 youth ages 13 to 17 years old.

According to the survey, nearly 1 in 4 teens (23%) say they volunteer during their free time. How easy would it be to make that percentage even greater? Consider the answers to these questions:

How strongly do you agree or disagree
with each of the following statements?
Summary of Strongly/ Somewhat Agree (Net)
It is more important than ever to help others who are less fortunate. 90%
I wish I could do more to help those in need. 88%
It is important to support charitable causes or organizations symbolically even if you can’t do so financially. 86%
I have become more aware of the needs of others as a result of the current economic climate. 79%
My family has been negatively affected by the current economic climate. 73%
The benefits of using social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) outweigh the risks. 66%
I have become more aware of the needs of others as a result of my use of social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter). 44%

When you see just how strongly these young people in this study felt about charity, social responsibility and volunteering – something you can see echoed per the questions from teens on YahooAnswers Community Service – you have to wonder why many nonprofits are doing such a lousy job of reaching out to teens and pre-teens as volunteers and participants! If your organization isn’t getting youth involvement at the numbers you want, or should be, it’s time to look at how your organization is using social media.

World Vision sponsored the study to coincide with its annual 30 Hour Famine, scheduled for February 25-26, in which teenagers fast for 30 hours to raise money for global poverty. The event, which raised $10.4-million dollars last year, has set a goal of $11-million for 2011. World Vision expects 200,000 participants.

Advice for nonprofits, NGOs, charities, civil society, government agencies and others looking to use the Internet to mobilize young people as volunteers and program participants:

Nonprofit Organizations and Online Social Networking: Advice and Commentary

Evaluating Online Activities: Online Action Should Create & Support Offline Action

What nonprofit & government agencies “get” FaceBook?