Tag Archives: woman

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

Fearing your own colleagues in the field

Five years ago, I wouldn’t have posted on my blog a link to this article about a woman journalist’s harrowing first night on an assignment abroad, because I would have been worried about endangering my career as an aid worker. The subject of this article that makes senior management incredibly uncomfortable: when safety for your employees isn’t about strangers or terrorists or angry mobs but, rather, from colleagues. MUCH easier to hire people who won’t talk about it than to hire someone who might bring up the issue.

But I’m posting the link. It’s too important not too. I don’t know the woman who wrote this. I know nothing about what happened here other than what she has written. But I have heard this SAME story from so many female aid workers – and gay male aid workers trying to hide their sexual orientation from colleagues – with just the titles of the people involved changed. And I will note that the one time I was being made uncomfortable by a co-worker – in Afghanistan, and he was not an Afghan – I was told by a UN HR representative, “One of the things you need to be able to do when you go into the field is to expect this, and if you can’t handle it, maybe working in the field isn’t for you.” I am still haunted by those words, which mean: we accept this as a norm, we will do nothing to change our organizational culture among male professionals, it’s their nature, it’s just how it is, the onus for your safety is entirely on you if you want a career in this field.” It was surreal, after the conversation, to then write a report on our agency’s work to improve the status of women in Afghanistan.

And I will also note that I’ve been here in Ukraine just a week and it’s been lovely, my co-workers are wonderfully respectful and I feel incredibly safe and secure and comfortable respected amongst them. So much so that I have just shared a link on my blog I never would have even five years ago. And that SHOULD be the norm.

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

This was originally posted on my blog in October 2009

While I was in Afghanistan, I was notorious for kicking-back field reports that stated “the community was consulted” about this or that project, but that never said if the decision-making included any women. Sadly, the report writers often came back to me with a scowl and lots of excuses about why women weren’t included when “the community was consulted.”

When you work in humanitarian and development efforts, you must always be aware that talking to the official leadership of a community, a region, whatever, does not mean you are hearing about the needs of all citizens, such as minority populations or even majority populations — women. There are ways to seek out and include women in even socially-conservative areas so that they can be a part of decision-making.

A good example of this is an intervention in Egypt which used Egyptian women to reach other women regarding eye care, highlighted in a brief article by the Community Eye Health Journal. The successful strategy they employed was this:

  • The team undertaking the intervention held various meetings and presentations to establish a trusting relationship with local policy makers, local health authorities, local community leaders, local non-government organizations (NGOs), etc.
  • The team used this network to explain that women weren’t receiving eye care at the same rate as men, and that saving or restoring women’s sight benefits the whole family.
  • The team used this network to identify local women with previous experience in community development projects who could be trained to reach female community members in the intervention villages, as they would be able to enter homes and meet with women without coming into conflict with local cultural practices.
  • 42 women were trained over three days, and 30 were selected as “health visitors,”
  • The health visitors then visited 90 per cent of the population in the two intervention villages from March to December 2007.
  • During each visit, health visitors explained to women that saving or restoring their own sight would benefit the whole family. Each family received a variety of educational materials, including a calendar with illustrations relating to eye care and information on the importance of seeking eye care for the women in the household.

The result of training local women to do the outreach to other local women was a huge surge in the number of women receiving eye care as part of this intervention. And maybe something more: a change in the way the community viewed the value of its women? That wasn’t measured, unfortunately.

Of course, Egypt isn’t Afghanistan. Every country presents special challenges when it comes to reaching women regarding development interventions. But there’s always a way! Regardless of your role in humanitarian or development efforts, always make reaching women a priority.

What’s your advice?

See also:
Folklore, Rumors (or Rumours) and Urban Myths Interfering with Development and Aid/Relief Efforts, and Government Initiatives (and how these are overcome)
and
Building Staff Capacities to Communicate and Present (materials developed for Afghanistan).

Same thoughts as last year re International Women’s Day

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. Last year, I blogged about the history of the day, as well as why this day isn’t a day to give women flowers or take them to lunch – but, rather, to remember that women are denied access to education, health care, income generation and life choices at a staggering rate compared to men. I have the same thoughts this year.

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