Tag Archives: girls

Why Girls Want to Join the Boy Scouts

I am really torn about the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow girls into their programs.

I love the idea of Girl Scouts of the USA, and I have some very precious memories of my time as a Brownie and Junior Girl Scout, especially regarding a week-long summer day camp that made me hunger for outdoor activities, something I still enjoy to this day. The emphasis at so many international humanitarian agencies on girls’ empowerment shows why the agenda of the Girl Scouts is still so needed and so relevant all over the world. In addition, the Girl Scouts have long been inclusive, far more than the Boy Scouts: they haven’t required girls to say the God part of their pledge since the 1990s, they have allowed transgendered youth since pretty much the moment they realized there were such, and they have no prohibition against gay leaders or members, unlike the Boy Scouts until very recently.

The Boy Scouts are saying they are now allowing girls into their ranks so that they can pursue Eagle Scout status. But the Girl Scouts of the USA has the equivalent of Eagle Scout status. It’s called the Gold Award. Remember the teen girl who brought to light that New Hampshire still allowed child marriage and she was pushing for that to change? That was her Girl Scout Gold Award project. I would like to see that award get the same coverage and respect as Eagle Scout status. But the reality is that not only does the press rarely mention it, Girl Scout leaders rarely mention it to Girl Scouts. I’ve talked to many Girl Scout leaders about the Gold Award, and many have either never heard of it, don’t really know much about it, or aren’t convinced it’s all that important and something their girls really want to work towards.

When I returned to the USA after living abroad for eight years, I was determined to volunteer for the Girl Scouts. I didn’t want to be a leader, but I wanted to help somehow. Maybe I could be a chaperone on a camping trip! Maybe I could lead some hikes! Maybe I could help recruit more girls to join, and more volunteers to participate! Maybe I could help connect girls to activities about computers, science and the arts. I was so excited to help.

I signed up on the Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington web site in the Fall of 2009, within days of moving into my first home in Oregon. I was contacted promptly about the next and nearest service leader meeting, so I had immediate high hopes. I faithfully attended most of those meetings and any local events – and one in Salem – for more than a year. I immediately volunteered at that first meeting I attended to help with communications. Within two months, I felt the resentment from several of the leaders who didn’t like me, an “outsider”, and didn’t like being asked for information about events they were having: they wanted to just do word-of-mouth among other leaders they liked, and leave out those leaders they didn’t. Some wanted to fly below the “official” radar, which has strict requirements regarding reporting, especially about finances. The new service unit leader put together an amazing recruitment event, and we had one of the largest turnouts of new girls our area had had in years. Several troop leaders resented the success of the event and that we tried to follow the appropriate protocols in assigning new girls to troops. There was a holiday event held by one troop that I didn’t hear about until the night before – and I was told that it was “always done this way and everyone already knows about it.” I kept asking about camping, hiking and STEM-related activities, I offered to help girls get their computer-related badges…. but I slowly learned that a lot of Girl Scout troop leaders aren’t interested in those things – they just wanted to host pizza parties and mani-pedi parties for their daughters and their friends. (and please note: I love mani-pedis – they just aren’t why I joined Girl Scouts).

I also asked lots of questions of the state office about how and why certain decisions were made, why certain things weren’t communicated beyond a page on the web site or a printed brochure we may never see, why social media was so under-utilized, why we never got to do joint activities with the parallel Spanish-speaking troops formed in our area, etc. I rarely got replies to my emails. The communications manager for the state office finally called me at home as I was starting the second year of volunteering and said, per my questions, that she “couldn’t” work with me anymore. So I resigned my volunteer post.

In my year and a half in Girl Scouts, here’s what I also saw: the change the Girl Scouts leadership is pushing for, for more STEM-related activities, for more outdoor-related activities, and for more leadership-building activities, aren’t at all being embraced on the grassroots level. On my way back from a training from the state office in Portland, the leader I was riding with said she didn’t like what the national office was pushing for because it was “too socialist.” I was flabbergasted.

I shared some of these frustrations about trying to volunteer with Girl Scouts on my Facebook account this week, as well as being torn about the Boy Scouts decision. I wasn’t expecting the replies I got.

Here’s a comment from an Oregon friend:

I couldn’t agree more about GS leadership, at least around here. I even tried to be a leader so my girls could be in Girl Scouts, and I did not get good vibes or feel welcomed at all. I left. I refuse to be a part of such an organization.

Another Oregon friend:

I loved being a Girl Scout. I hate the Portland office for Girl Scouts. A few years ago, my daughter wasn’t allowed to join the local troop at her school because they said it was full. Then I was told she could join another but after two months of playing phone games and weirdness, I gave up. Then my daughter told me another girl joined the “full” troop. Pissed me off.

And yet another Oregon friend:

This is exactly what I experienced with trying to get my daughters in. I tried to become a leader, but they didn’t seem to even want that. I don’t want my daughters in an organization that sends that type of message.

A comment from a friend in Iowa:

I am a part of an outdoor Girl Scout community, learning because I am a novice, and while I would love to build this side of our troop, my co-leader has slowly allowed all other activities to be more important for her daughter, and it’s tough to schedule anything. Our SU fall camp out, which is not roughing it at all, is coming up, and she was considering going late so her daughter could go to her volleyball game first. Seriously. My daughter is missing theater class for camp. One girl left the troop because she doesn’t like to get dirty. Only my daughter enjoyed drawing with charcoal recently, while the others were worried about getting dirty (but at least they tried!). I don’t know how you get girls to go out and rough it, or their parents to help make it a priority… I really like the girl led, girl empowerment focus of GS. We need that, we need a space for girls to build confidence in a safe space, outside the comparison to boys, or the sense that their being a girl is somehow an issue. That said, I feel like the GS structure leaves so much in the hands of the troop leader, and it’s not easy to combine your stuff with other troops. You really have to work at it. It sounds like the pack and troop aspect of Boy Scouts has the advantage in that respect, with combined resources. I’m in a great service unit, big and active, but even that is challenging to get people connected and to share resources. If it’s going to change, it has to from the inside. They are making effort to do it, and I appreciate that, but overall, I still do a lot of legwork myself, because the stuff council provides can be rather dry. And there are so many other things people are involved in, that I think it’s just not a priority for them to offer up their help and ideas, much less have their girls be more active. I don’t know if that’s the same with Boy Scouts or not. I do know that a lot of boys will try to get all their outdoor stuff done by like 7th or 8th grade,  because they also get very busy in upper grades.

A comment from a friend in Kentucky:

I tried to put my daughter in the first year she was eligible. They had scheduled their very first troop meeting for Thanksgiving break at school, which seemed really odd to me because so many people travel at the holidays. And we too were out of town. So I emailed and called several times about a follow-up meeting or an alternate meeting and never got a response from whomever that was that heads that up here. I gave up.

Not all of my Facebook friends had complaints. One of my Facebook friends in Texas, a guy, wrote:

I was a GSUSA adult leader of Girl Scouts for many years doing single interest groups in backpacking. Many were the nights when my girls ranging from 6th grade to junior college hit the trail with 50 pound packs, walked farther than nearby boys groups, made camp and ate and laughed and told stories without “benefit” of the outhouse sized trailers towed along by the boys, and fell to sleep with the sound of the wind across our pup tents, the hoot of owls and the thrumming of the boy scouts generator.

THAT is the experience I was looking for but never found here in Oregon.

How many other people are out there that tried to volunteer with the Girl Scouts but never got a callback, or were turned away because an insular group didn’t want their participation? How many girls are there that tried to join a troop and never got called back, or joined and found the troop didn’t provide any activities that matched their interests? How many girls left because they had no idea what the Gold Award is and how awesome it is to pursue it and attain it? How many other Girl Scout state office employees are dropping the ball on customer service and outreach?

Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, Girl Scouts of Greater IowaGirl Scouts of the USA – are you listening?

I bet girls that want to join the Boy Scouts will immediately get contacted about their interest. They will immediately connect with activities they want to do: archery, camping, hiking, canoeing, fishing, computers, and more. They will be reminded at every gathering that they are a part of something special, and their support of each other is as important as their individual interests. And the phone calls from their parents will be returned promptly by Boy Scout leadership.

I debated a lot writing this blog. I support the Girl Scouts of the USA – in principle. I am not at all a Girl Scout hater. I want the Girl Scouts to succeed as an organization. I tried to be a part of helping to make that happen. But, obviously, Girl Scouts has a problem. It has many problems. I hope it will address those problems.

Also see:

Innovation & tech need to work for women and girls too

In September, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) launched the Global Innovation Coalition for Change with partners from the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to encourage innovation and technology to work better for young women and girls around the world.

First, more about the GICC, then a short comment from me about it.

The coalition will focus on building market awareness of potential for innovations that meet the needs of women and will also identify the key industry-specific barriers that obstruct women’s and girls’ advancement in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. It will also work collaboratively to identify key actions that can help overcome these barriers through actions including sharing of good practices, developing capacity and investing in specific innovations through targeted support.

The background paper to the GICC launch, Making Innovation and Technology Work for Women , details the barriers that contribute towards creating and sustaining the gender gap in innovation and technology and actions by UN Women to address these barriers. Excerpts:

“Women face a multitude of barriers that results in the persistent and sometimes growing gender gaps. As a result, innovations are unlikely to be available on time and at scale to address the needs of women. Transformative results will require private and public sector partners to come together to address these barriers in an integrated manner. While the task looks daunting, being able to demonstrate progress in a given industry could have multiplier effects across other industries that will enable innovation and technology to break current trends and drive achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“The achievement of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably gender equality and women’s empowerment, requires transformative shifts, integrated approaches, and new solutions. Based on current trajectories, existing interventions will not suffice to achieve a Planet 50-50 by 2030. For example, it will be 95 years before there is parity in girls’ lower secondary education for the poorest 20%; it will be 50 years before there is gender parity in politics at the parliamentarian levels; and it will be 170 years before women worldwide will earn as much as men. Innovative approaches are central to delivering the SDGs for all.”

SDG 5 is “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The reality is that none of the SDGs can be reached unless this one is.

Global Innovation Coalition for Change representatives includes:

  • Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls: Meredith Walker, Founder; Maggie Chieffo, General Manager
  • BHP Billiton: Karen Wood, Chairman of the BHP Billiton Foundation; Athalie Williams, Chief People Officer
  • Businesspros and Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship South Africa: Antoinia Norman, CEO, Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship South Africa
  • CISCO: Charu Adesnik, Deputy Director, Cisco Foundation
  • Citi: Yolande Piazza, CEO, Citi FinTech; Corinne Lin, Head of Operations, Citi FinTech
  • DELL: Jackie Glenn, VP Global Diversity and Inclusion; Trisa Thompson, Senior Vice President & Chief Responsibility Officer, Corporate Social Responsibility at Dell Technologies
  • Ellevate Network: Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network
  • Ericsson: Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Senior Vice President, Chief Sustainability & Public Affairs Officer, and Head of Sustainability & Public Affairs; Paul Landers, Program Director Technology for Good
  • Facebook: Arielle Gross, Global Program Manager, Creative Shop
  • General Electric: Kelli Wells, Executive Director General Electric Foundation
  • HP Inc.: Nate Hurst, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer; Michele Malejki, Global Head of Strategic Programs, Sustainability & Social Innovation
  • Johnson & Johnson: Alice Lin Fabiano, Director, Global Community Impact; Carol Montandon, Head of Women’s Leadership Initiative
  • JPMorgan Chase: Ali Marano, Executive Director: Technology for Social Good, Diversity & Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase
  • LinkedIn: Nicole Isaac, Head of U.S Public Policy; Sue Duke, Senior Director of Public Policy – EMEA
  • MIT Solve: Hala Hanna, Director, SOLVE at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Alexandra Amouyel, Executive Director, Solve at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • NY Academy of Sciences: Lorraine Hariton, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships
  • Pax World Management: Joe Keefe, CEO, Pax World; Heather Smith, Lead Sustainability Research Analyst
  • PwC: Ben Zelinsky, PwC Partner Technology Consulting
  • SAP: Jennifer Morgan, Executive Board Member for Global Customer Operations; Sinead Kaiya, COO, Products and Innovation; Ann Rosenberg, Senior Vice President and Global Head of SAP Next-Gen; Shuchi Sharma, Global Lead for Gender Intelligence, SAP Diversity & Inclusion.
  • Sony: Shiro Kambe, Executive Vice President, Corporate Executive Officer Legal, Compliance, Communications, CSR, External Relations and Information Security & Privacy
  • South32: Patience Mpofu, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability
  • Statoil: Ana Prata Fonseca Nordang, Vice President, People and Organisation

It’s a good list, but I wish BPEACE was there. And I hope that this effort will continually listen to women themselves about what THEY want and what they need. I hope these partners won’t go into communities and institutions and say, “Here, we made this for you!” but, rather, “Hi, we need to hear your ideas, and then we want to know how to work with you to make them happen.”

Also see:

United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS)

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

papers on cyberactivism by women in Iran & Azerbaijan

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

If you ignore women in Afghanistan, development efforts there will fail

Empower women, empower a nation

The Wrong Way to Celebrate International Women’s Day

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

If you ignore women in Afghanistan, development efforts there will fail

I just read yet another list of the absolutely MOST important, key things that MUST be addressed for Afghanistan to become stable and peaceful. And, once again, negotiating with the Taliban is there, but improving the condition of women in Afghanistan, improving their access to education, healthcare and revenue-generation, is not.

Let’s be real: if a peace process or development strategy in Afghanistan does not make addressing women’s issues CENTRAL to its plan, does not make such a TOP priority, it will fail.

It. Will. Fail.

Addressing the condition of women in Afghanistan is not an afterthought, it’s not a supplement, it’s not just something nice to do after the “more critical” things have been addressed. Rather, it is imperative, it is fundamental, for any success in the country, and it must be baked into strategies. Equal rights for women is enshrined in the Afghan constitution. The Internet is rife with examples of how to leverage Islamic theology to promote the full participation of women in society. Humanitarian agencies hold the purse strings. In short: there is NO excuse for ignoring the condition of 50% of the population of Afghanistan.

I’m not alone in feeling this way:

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: The risk of denying women a voice in determining Afghanistan‟s future, a report from OxFam

Afghanistan women: Give us a seat at the peace table

United Nations Calls for Women’s Role in Peace Process

I’ve said all this before:

When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children (United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990). When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man (Phil Borges, with a foreword by Madeleine Albright, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World [New York: Rizzoli, 2007], 13.). Empowering women in places in Afghanistan — giving them safe, easy access to primary and secondary education, to vocational training and to basic health services — improves the lives of everyone in the country. And, in addition, giving women a voice in defining and evaluating development goals is the ONLY way to ensure development activities meet the needs of women and children.

I rarely see Afghan women on TV news reports – and don’t tell me the reporters can’t find them. I rarely hear women mentioned in news analysis on network TV, in newspapers, in political debates about Afghanistan, in US Government briefings… That’s like not mentioning black Africans or apartheid when discussing South Africa in the 1980s. If the 50% of the population in Afghanistan being oppressed, tortured, killed, denied even basic human rights, were an ethnic group or a religious group, the outrage would be oh-so-loud and constant. But women? Suddenly oppression is a cultural thing we have to respect and not interfere with and just stand back and hope things evolve “organically” and “naturally.”

Balderdash. Bunkum. Nonsense.

Whether you are an aid worker or a policy maker, you have to be committed to women’s involvement in Afghanistan, no matter what the focus of your work is, whether it’s engineering or conflict resolution or arms agreements or WHATEVER. If you don’t, your work will FAIL. Your policies will FAIL. I’ve made many a male aid worker colleague angry for kicking back a field report that never mentioned women… Whether it’s a water and sanitation project, an infrastructure project, a weapons return program, an agricultural project, a governance project, whatever, it must talk about women. If your talk is going to be about how they aren’t involved at all, so be it. But you can’t pretend their non-involvement is normal, appropriate, and something your work cannot address.

Harumph.

Also see:

Empower women, empower a nation

The Wrong Way to Celebrate International Women’s Day

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

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

papers on cyberactivism by women in Iran & Azerbaijan

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

USAID / VISP invitation for concept papers on volunteer engagement

Via a tweet from a USAID office, I found out about an invitation for concept papers from non-governmental and voluntary service organizations for assistance awards “that achieve development impact in USAID focus areas through the inclusion of volunteers.”

The official announcement via grants.gov regarding this invitation is really hard to understand, even if English is your first language. For a better understanding, go to the grant announcement site and click on the “related documents” tab, and download either the zip file or each of the four files (two PDFs, a Microsoft Excel document and a Microsoft Word document) separately. The PDF file VISP APS 2017.pdf, the annual program statement (APS) for this invitation for concept papers, is MUCH more understandable, and I’ve used that paper to write this summary. And I’ve written this summary because I really, really want some of the great NGOs I know working to support volunteer engagement in a variety of countries all over the world to consider submitting a concept paper.

In summary:

This Annual Program Statement (APS), entitled Volunteers for International Security and Prosperity (VISP), is “a mechanism through which USAID will maximize development impact and efficient resource use by mobilizing the creative capacity of volunteers globally.” Under the APS, USAID intends to support a variety of creative approaches towards the design and implementation of activities addressing USAID Operating Units’ (OU) development objectives. This APS is meant to offer USAID OUs (Mission, Bureau, or Independent Office) “an easy-to-use mechanism to facilitate access to volunteers across any sector,” while also upholding U.S. foreign policy objectives of promoting national security, advancing American values, and supporting global prosperity and self- reliance. If I’m reading the paper correctly, the paper means both local, in-country volunteers and highly-skilled U.S. volunteers that are deployed under VISP, which is also sometimes called the Volunteers for Prosperity program.

Concept papers should support a process through which organizations can work with USAID to achieve economic, human, environmental and/or humanitarian development impact via:

  1. Increasing the number of volunteer-sponsoring organizations collaborating with the Agency;
  2. Increasing the number of development sectors using volunteers;
  3. Increasing the quality of services provided by volunteers supporting Agency objectives; and,
  4. Increasing the understanding within the Agency of the positive role volunteers play in supporting Agency objectives.

Buried in the ASP is a note that says the proposed approach outlined in the concept paper should show how the activities will integrate issues of gender equality and female empowerment.

Note: This is NOT a Request for Applications or a Request for Proposals. “Based on those Concept Papers, USAID OUs will determine whether to co-create an activity or set of activities with any applicant and then request a full application.” In fact, if you are thinking of submitting a concept paper, you should FIRST research the priorities, objectives, and strategies of the OU from which you would like support for your concept – and the OU can be a USAID mission, a regional bureau, or an independent office – and then you should reach out to that OU and get their approval prior to submitting a concept paper.

“USAID welcomes concept papers from any type of organization that has the capability to carry out international development programs utilizing volunteers. While not an exhaustive list and provided for illustrative purposes only, the following types of organizations are encouraged to participate: U.S. and non-U.S. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), faith-based organizations, foundations, cooperatives, international organizations, U.S. and non-U.S. colleges and universities, civic groups, regional organizations, U.S. and non-U.S. private businesses, and business/trade associations. USAID encourages applications from potential new partners. All applicants must be legally recognized organizational entities under applicable law. An individual cannot apply.”

Please note that I am not a representative of USAID and I know no more about this initiative than what I’ve read in the support materials and I may very well have interpreted this entire thing incorrectly.

That said, here is my opinion on this:

  • If you are an NGO that serves as a volunteer center in a country with a USAID OU, and that volunteer center not only helps recruit volunteers and match them to NGOs and community groups, but also involves volunteers themselves in the delivery of their services, you should consider submitting a concept paper.
  • If you are an international nonprofit or NGO that recruits and involves a significant number of volunteers in the delivery of whatever services your agency provides, you should consider submitting a concept paper.
  • You should not invent an activity at your organization or initiative only for this concept paper invitation. Build on something you have already talked about or are already doing, something you would want to do even if this invitation for concept papers had not been announced.

Please do NOT take the blog you are reading now as your only guidance for submitting a concept paper; please read all of the materials at the official announcement via grants.gov carefully, and after that, write up a very rough draft of what you might like to do. Then, as noted above, research the priorities, objectives, and strategies of the OU from which you would like support for your concept, and then reach out to that OU and meet with them, talk to them, and get their approval FIRST, prior to submitting a concept paper.

And don’t rush. Concept papers are being accepted until 29 August, 2018 – a year from now. That means you have plenty of time to do the reading and research you need to do, and have the conversations you need to do, to prepare a great concept paper.

Good luck – and let me know if you submit a concept paper, just because I’m curious and would like to know.

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

In the world in which we all live, most people have to be online, regularly:

  • There is essential government and business information that can be accessed only online, or can be accessed most cheaply and easily online.
  • There is breaking news that can affect a person’s life or livelihood and, therefore, needs to be learned as close to real-time as possible – and that could happen only online.
  • There is information related to our work that is most quickly, easily accessed online.

And “online” includes using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

However, in many religiously-conservative communities around the world, women take a huge risk by being online, specifically in using social media. I explore this in a blog I wrote called virtue & reputation in the developing world. Because of threats to their reputation and safety, many women in religiously-conservative countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan have given up on having a virtual identity at all – I personally know two such women, both professionals. 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 to access information essential for their work and life.

There are some ways for women to develop an online profile on social media, including Facebook, that allows them to access essential information, to post information and to network with professionals in their field of expertise, but still protect identities online. Here are some guidelines:

Choose a first and last name you will use online only
These should be names that are different from your real names. However, also try to create a name that isn’t a real name for someone else. You can also use just an initial for your first name – one letter.

Create an email address for your anonymous profile
Gmail is a good choice. Use something that in no way involves your real name. Associate this with social media accounts, rather than your work or university email address.

Be vague online about your employer or university
On any social media site, such as Facebook, do not say the full, real name of your employer or the university where you currently attend. Identify yourself more vaguely, such as:

  • employee of an Afghan government ministry
  • assistant at a Egyptian dental office
  • nurse at a hospital in Kuwait
  • student at a university in Kabul

Be careful who you friend on Facebook.
Talk to people face-to-face that you trust and that know your real name if you want to friend them on Facebook, if you can, and tell them why it is so important that they keep your identity a secret if you link on social media. If you have an argument with that person, will he or she reveal your true identity online? You must friend only people who you can trust who know your real name, and those people need to understand that they must NOT tell others who you are online or make comments that would reveal who you are. When in doubt, don’t friend local people at all and just focus on international colleagues who fully understand your situation or do not know you offline at all.

Do not share photos of yourself where your face can be seen
You can share photos of yourself on social media where your identity cannot be determined. For instance, if you were standing with your back to the camera, and not wearing distinctive clothing. Or a photo of just your hands.

Do not share photos of family or friends
This could make it easier for people to figure out who you are.

Have a physical address that isn’t your home or workplace
Sometimes, to register on a particular web site, you must provide a physical address of either your home or work place. Pick a public place as the address you will use: a public library or a book store are good choices. Those places may end up getting paper mail addressed to your fake identity, and that’s okay: there is no way for this to be traced back to you and it won’t be mail you want. Never use your actual home, work place or university address for your anonymous profile.

Post status updates that do not indicate your identity
You can share memes and news stories (always verify them first and ensure they are true), write status updates about the weather, write your opinion of current affairs, or offer advice related to your country or your profession. But don’t write specifics, such as “I just attended a great class on the state of water and sanitation in Luxor”, as that’s too specific and could be used by someone who reads it to figure out who you are.

Be careful when commenting on the Facebook status updates of friends
If one of your colleagues posts a status update, and you comment that “I look forward to talking to you about this at the staff meeting on Monday at 4”, one of their other friends who is NOT your online friend may figure out who you are. Instead, you could say, “I look forward to talking to you about this soon.”

Never use this anonymous account from work
The risk is too great of someone seeing your screen, or your walking away from your desktop and someone using the “back” button to scroll through the screens you have visited and find that you forgot to log out of Facebook – they will be able to see your anonymous profile as a result.

Be careful about posting in online discussion groups
There are online discussion groups regarding topics related to your work. By all means, join such a forum and read the posts. But be careful about posting, including replying to others. When you post, you reveal your IP address. This will NOT reveal your name, your home address, your age, etc. But your IP address may reveal where you work IF you are accessing the group from your workplace’s Internet connection and if that connection is configured a certain way.

Practice denying your online activities
People are going to ask you if you are on Facebook or Twitter. Practice saying no. Also practice your response to someone who says, “Is so-and-so on Facebook really you?”

If someone you do not know starts messaging your fake account, be careful about engaging with them. If they are asking “Who are you?” or “Why did you say that?”, ignore them. If they are asking how you know a shared friend, ignore them. If they become insulting, block them. If they say they are a reporter and they saw your post somewhere and would like to interview you, ask them what newspaper or TV station they work for, ask for their full name, and then look up that organization online and call them and ask if that person works there. In other words, make absolutely sure it’s a REAL journalist that is asking you questions!

If anyone threatens you online, screen capture those messages and save them. If anyone threatens you online with physical harm in any way and you believe that person could figure out who you are, it may be best for you to block them and delete your account. Your safety is always paramount and you should do what you need to do to stay safe.

Why am I not recommending that a person contact the company that operates the platform or social media site to report harassment, or to contact local police department? That is certainly an option if you live in a country that has rule of law. However, if you live in a developing country or a country that has laws that censor Internet access, such reporting could actually put you in danger. Even so, hold on to your screen captures of threatening messages and share them with a person you trust if you feel they represent a real threat to you or your family.

Also see:

Orange Day: UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign

The United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign, managed by UN Women, has proclaimed every 25th of the month as “Orange Day” – a day to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls. Orange Day calls upon activists, governments and UN partners to mobilize people and highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls, not only once a year, on 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women), but every month.

Orange Day 2017 action themes so far:

February: Violence Against Women and Girls and Women’s Economic Empowerment

March: Violence against Women and Girls with Disabilities

April: Violence against indigenous women and girls

May: Mobilizing resources to end violence against women and girls

June: Violence against women and girl refugees

July’s theme was Cyber violence against women. The official statement from UNiTe notes: “Although children have long been exposed to violence and exploitation, ICTs have changed the scale, form, impact and opportunity for the abuse of children everywhere. While both girls and boys are vulnerable to the different risks and harms related to the misuse of ICTs, girls have been disproportionately victimized in sexual abuse and exploitation through the production and distribution of child sexual abuse materials. In 2013, 81 per cent of child sexual abuse materials depicted girls. Girls are also particularly vulnerable to being groomed online for sexual encounters and sometimes exploited through live streaming of their sexual abuse. Many children are experiencing widespread victimization through online bullying, harassment, and intimidation, where girls are particularly targeted due to gender norms and power dynamics. Gender discrimination, lack of confidence, difficulty with language, poverty, and cultural factors can adversely affect girls and lead to their heightened vulnerability to these crimes and victimization.” SDG 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is focused on Gender Equality, and places women’s access to technological empowerment as one of the core indicators for progress. “To achieve this goal, we must make sure that the internet will be a safe and more secure place that allows all women and girls to fulfill their potential as valued members of society and live a life free from violence.”

UNiTE has curated several resources related to such:

  • The Broadband Commission Working Group on Digital Gender Divide recently published a set of recommendations that specifically addresses threats aimed both at promoting better understanding and awareness of the ways in which women experience threats, and ensuring that stakeholders help to make the Internet and its use safer for women (page 32). Proposed actions include researching and understanding threats, increasing awareness of threats and how they can be addressed or reduced, developing safety applications and services and strengthening protection measures and reporting procedures.
  • The “Perils and Possibilities: Growing up Online” report, recently published by UNICEF, provides a glimpse into young people’s opinions and perspectives on the risks they face coming of age in a digital world.UNICEF is collaborating with companies, governments and civil society to promote children’s rights related to the Internet and associated technologies. Take a look at their online depository of new business tools and guidance on child online protection which among others includes useful resources, learning materials, and tools for companies.
  • UNICEF is collaborating with companies, governments and civil society to promote children’s rights related to the Internet and associated technologies. Take a look at UNICEF’s online depository of new business tools and guidance on child online protection which among others includes useful resources, learning materials, and tools for companies.
  • The Guidelines for Child Online Protection, prepared by ITU, outline best practices and key recommendations for different interest groups, including policy makers, industry, children, as well as parents, guardians, and educators. More resources on Child Online Protection from ITU’s database.
  • INHOPE is an active and collaborative global network of Hotlines, dealing with illegal online content and committed to stamping out child sexual abuse from the Internet. The network offers a way of anonymously reporting Internet material including child sexual abuse material they suspect to be illegal.
  • Launched in January, HeartMob is a project of Hollaback!, a non-profit organization powered by a global network of local activists who are dedicated to ending harassment in public spaces. The platform provides real-time support to individuals experiencing online harassment and empowers bystanders to act.

It’s also worth reading Women’s Rights Online, a report from 2015 from the Web Foundation that shows that the dramatic spread of mobile phones is not enough to get women online, or to achieve empowerment of women through technology. The study, based on a survey of thousands of poor urban men and women across nine developing countries, found that while nearly all women and men own a mobile phone, women are still nearly 50% less likely to access the Internet than men in the same communities, with Internet use reported by just 37% of women surveyed (vs 59% of men). Once online, women are 30-50% less likely than men to use the Internet to increase their income or participate in public life. The report says young people are most likely to have suffered harassment online, with over six in 10 women and men aged 18 – 24 saying they had suffered online abuse. The Web Foundation was established by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee

Also see:

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….