Tag Archives: women

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)

Facebook use to organize Women’s Marches: lessons learned

womensmarchThe women’s marches on Saturday, January 21, 2017, may have been the largest single day of marches in US history. Somewhere between 3.3 million and 4.6 million marched in cities across the USA, according to political scientists from the Universities of Connecticut and Denver, who are compiling a mammoth spreadsheet listing turnouts, from the roughly half a million that demonstrated in Washington to the single protester who picketed Show Low, Arizona. There were also marches around the world.

Facebook was an essential tool in organizing women’s marches all over the USA. Most everyone I know personally who was a part of a march got their information from a Facebook group set up specifically for their city’s demonstration.

I joined two of the online groups, for Portland, Oregon and for Washington, DC, and it was fascinating to watch how the groups were used. Some things I learned observing the online organizing:

  1. March organizers realized that they needed a web site or public google doc associated with the group, because group discussions quickly became unwieldy – there needed to a place to find all of the essential information, without having to scroll through what seemed an endless stream of Facebook group messages. It also mean that people that were not on Facebook could access the basic information.
  2. Constant facilitation and moderation were essential. FAQs are great and absolutely necessary, but there will always be people that don’t read them and ask the same questions over and over. Also, a quick, even immediate, response to rumors and misinformation was essential, and it took more than just one post to counter such.
  3. Rumors and misinformation were posted *regularly*. There were people posting that march permits were denied, that the marches were canceled, that the starting point had changed, that bus parking was being denied, that mass transit was going to be canceled that day, and on and on. Not sure if it was people just thinking/wondering out loud (many posts began with “I heard from someone that…”), if it was individuals trying deliberately to disrupt, or if it was people part of an organized effort to disrupt.
  4. Constant updates, often several times a day, were essential, particularly in showing response to criticism and questions.
  5. Facebook created a written record of the behavior of organizers. If they made a misstep, it was there for all to see. If they did things right, it was there for all to see. It was forced transparency for organizers.
  6. Deletion of critical comments was often NOT a good strategy. In November, Portland, Oregon March group moderators began deleting comments, even entire threads of conversation, that they deemed as critical of the march, such as those by people that felt the march was too focused on the experiences of white women, and did not address the unique challenges and perspectives of other women. Many people didn’t just want inclusiveness; they wanted specific statements regarding the particular challenges of black women, Latino women, Asian women, and transgendered people. Deleting those criticisms made people angrier. At one point, major allies such as Planned Parenthood and the NAACP Portland chapter decided they wouldn’t participate. Constance Van Flandern, an artist and activist in Eugene who was the Oregon’s official liaison to the national Women’s March on Washington, said in this article, “These women were overwhelmed by people coming to their Facebook page and asking about issues of diversity. It was just delete, delete, delete.” So Van Flandern started a new Facebook group for the march and invited nine women who had been complaining to her about the lack of inclusion on the other page to join. The page quickly replaced what had been the official page, and the march was saved – in fact, at 100,000, it was the largest march in Portland’s history.
  7. These marches weren’t at the initiative of paid staff at large organizations; they were started at the grassroots level, and powered by independent, spontaneous volunteers, who took on high responsibility roles and recruited and managed other volunteers, mostly through Facebook. And by all accounts, they managed brilliantly – not perfectly, but show me an event managed perfectly by paid staff! I also think their organization and popularity caught a lot of traditional women-focused organizations off guard, and they had to play catch-up. Often, grassroots folks are far ahead of traditional groups in taking a stand – and I think this is going to happen more because Facebook makes it so easy for any group to start getting its message out.
  8. Facebook played a significant role in getting the word out about these marches. But the reason these marches were so well attended, far exceeding predictions in terms of crowd size all over the USA, including DC and Portland, wasn’t just because people knew about the marches. I hope people don’t start thinking all they need is a Facebook group to get lots of people to attend a march.

What lessons did you learn in watching Facebook be used as the primary organizing tool for the women’s marches? Share in the comments below.

January 30, 2017 update: New York Times article, The Alt-Majority: How Social Networks Empowered Mass Protests Against Trump.

vvbooklittle The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook, by Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document the best practices over the more than three decades virtual volunteering has been happening, in a comprehensive, detailed way, so that the collective knowledge can be used with the latest digital engagement initiatives to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference. It’s a tool primarily for organizations, but there’s also information for online volunteers themselves. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. Bonus points if you can find the sci fi/fan girl references in the book…

Also see:

Nonprofits can learn from motorcycle manufacturers? Yes!

This blog was originally written and published by me back in August 2010.

Jayne and her motorcycleIn the last week, I’ve attended two events by motorcycle manufacturers, and there was so much — SO MUCH — that nonprofits could learn from how these motorcycle events were handled.

One event was a women’s-only event by Harley Davidson. It’s called a Garage Party. I went to the one in Gladstone, Oregon. These events are held at dealerships all over the USA.

The other event was by Triumph in Canby, Oregon. They had about 20 motorcycles you could sign up to ride, on group rides every 30 minutes. The Triumph truck travels all over the USA to bring these events to cities all over.

What I learned from these events that’s applicable to nonprofits:

    1. There were notices in local newspapers about these events, but the Internet also played a huge role in marketing these events, specifically viral marketing. I found out about both events because different people posted the details to online communities I’m a part of. Two of our friends went because we posted about one of the events ourselves on an online group. Text-only messages are easy to forward, and were essential in getting the word out to so many people so quickly about these events. How likely are your volunteers, clients and financial supporters likely to forward your organization’s events via email to family and friends, or to put info about it on their Facebook or MySpace status updates? They are not going to do it for every event, but they will for the ones that feel special to them, that really speak to their heart or that they think others will find fun or especially interesting. Also, do you reach out to specific online communities to market an event? In fact, have you ever considered reaching out specifically to motorcycle communities as event attendees?
    2. Both events were very well attended. The Triumph event had the attendance organizers were hoping for but not really expecting, because of the economy and because of the somewhat remote location. The Harley event attendance in Gladstone far exceeded expectations. I think this excellent attendance at both events came not only from good marketing, but also, because of how people are thinking right now: with the beating we’re all taking in this economy, people are revisiting their priorities and lifestyles, and not just cutting back financially, but also thinking about how they are going to live. Riding a motorcycle is surprisingly affordable, not to mention the sense of control it gives you, a sense of control a lot of people feel they don’t have now in other aspects of their life. These events spoke to people’s hearts and, maybe, even their fears.How might volunteering at your organization or experiencing your organization’s program in an event give someone a sense of stability, control, escape or fun? Could you create a one-day volunteering or program event that could invite new people into your organization with the sole purpose of getting as many people into your organization as possible and getting them in one-on-one conversations with volunteers, particularly in a fun, shared activity?
    3. The garage party was focused on a specific group: women. Harley knows that, to sell motorcycles in this economy, it’s got to create more motorcycle riders. And one of the best target audiences is women. So they have created an event that could not be more female friendly: it’s staffed entirely by women (all male staff leave), because new women riders tend to be very self-conscious and self-deprecating, and there’s nothing like watching a woman smaller than you pick up an 800 pound bike (362.87 kilos) and then tell you, “YOU can do this.” There’s great food, short demonstration stations, gift bags, and free t-shirts with I am not a back rest on the back. What could have made the Garage event better? More hands-on activities, and more interactions with actual women riders (see next bullet). And a lesson for the Triumph demo rides: have at least one woman Triumph rider (even more would be better) out talking to the women at these events, whether they look like they ride their own or not, and recruit more women motorcyclists to attend these events by posting about them on local online communities for women motorcyclists.How could your nonprofit create an event that’s targeted at a specific under-represented group? Are there people who are intimidated to come to your events currently, who would need to be catered to specifically in order to attend? What could you do to make an event more welcoming to a specific group that is currently under-represented among your volunteers, clients or supporters?
    4. The Triumph event was staffed primarily by VOLUNTEERS. Yes, a for-profit company was using volunteers! Because they were “free”? Nope. It was for all the right reasons: Because an event attendee talking to a volunteer — someone who owns at least one of the motorcycles in the line up, and owned at least one other probably at some point, who can speak passionately about the product, who wants you to get to have the experience they have been having, and who won’t get any commission from a sale and doesn’t rely on this activity for their financial livelihood — is in such contrast to talking to a salesperson or paid staff person. The volunteers got to spend two days talking about something they love, a free t-shirt, supper each night, and the opportunity to ride any motorcycle not booked for a ride. The few paid staff there stayed in the background, there to fill in blanks and maybe, must maybe, to make a sale, but volunteers were the official spokespeople.Do you value your organization’s volunteers as unique, important spokespeople on behalf of your organization? Do you encourage them to talk and blog about their experience? Do you have a speaker’s bureau of volunteers available to go onsite and talk to a group about your organization? Do you give volunteers a role at all or most public events? And have you ever considered reaching out specifically to motorcycle communities to recruit volunteers?

A LOT to think about!

Update: Here’s me on a Triumph Scrambler at the aforementioned event back in 2011. And here’s me on the motorcycle I have now (a Kawasaki KLR 650), wearing the t-shirt I got from that Harley event I talk about above (“I am not a backrest”).

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

This is a blog post I made on 31 August 2009, on my first, now long-gone blog host. Just finally managed to find it at archive.org

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

Back in August 2003, I had the pleasure of co-hosting an online discussion at TechSoup regarding Gender and the Digital Divide. It was a discussion regarding the barriers that keep women and girls away from computer and Internet-related classes and community technology centers (telecenters, Internet cafes, etc.). One of the things that came up in this discussion back then was that the barriers for women and girls to tech access are even more pronounced in developing countries, where family-obligations and cultural practices keep large numbers of women from ever stepping foot into a community technology center, telecenter, Internet cafe, etc., whether nonprofit or privately-run.

I was reminded yet again of this recently while corresponding with an Afghan female colleague: her employer has blocks on hundreds of web sites, including several she needs for her own career and skills development. But using an Internet cafe is not an option for her, and thousands of other women in Kabul like her, because:

    • her family would never allow her to go to such a place without a mahram (a male relative she could not marry, such as a brother, uncle, or father, acting as a safety and social escort), and most men aren’t willing to devote a few hours a week to accompany a female relative to an Internet cafe.
  • given the atmosphere of many public Internet sites — the posters in the wall, what’s being looked at on some of the computer screens by male patrons, men coming and going — it’s not an option for her to use a public Internet site even with a mahram.

My friend — and thousands of other women in Kabul — need a place that’s either devoted only to women Internet users, or, a public site that has women-only hours. I have yet to find either using Web searches and posts to various online communities.

But it’s not just in Kabul. Cultural practices keep women out of public Internet sites in communities all over the world.

I appreciate so much that I have the freedom where I live to walk into any public place with Internet access, and not have to worry about any social or legal ramifications as a result. But I also have to acknowledge that not every woman on Earth does have this freedom and, until they do, community technology centers run by nonprofits and Internet cafes run for-profit need to think about their accommodations for women and girls.

Public Internet access points in Kabul, elsewhere in Afghanistan, or in other developing countries, can encourage more women to use their services by:

    • creating women-only hours at a time that is appealing to women, or creating a women-only space with its own supervised entrance/exit and its own bathroom
    • providing women-only classes
    • staffing women-only hours, women-only spaces or women-only classes by women volunteers or women paid staff members, and with just one or two male staff members (if any) closely supervised and never, ever alone with any woman (staff or customer)
    • providing childcare for women using the site (it’s okay to charge a nominal fee for this)
  • a computer user space free of any images that might be deemed offensive to a conservative culture

How else can community technology centers, telecenters, Internet cafes, etc. in conservative areas be more accommodating of women and girls? Let’s hear from you.

— end of original blog —

This blog lead to the creation of this web page, Women’s Access to Public Internet Centers in Transitional and Developing Countries, which I’ve just updated.

Also see

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

Virtue & reputation in the developing world

Judgment & reputation online – and off

Internet access / digital literacy in Havana, Cuba

I went to Havana, Cuba in February. It’s been a life-long dream, and I’m so glad that I had the resources and professional profile to go at last – and before the country undergoes the anticipated massive changes that will come with normalization of relations with the USA – I hope to get to go again to see what those changes lead to.

A shock for me on my trip was that, other than just before the airport departure gates, I never saw an Internet public access center. I had heard they had them, at least for youth, but I didn’t see any. For instance, the Wikipedia.org español entry for Internet en Cuba says:

En 2009 el gobierno permitió el libre acceso a Internet en las oficinas de correos y el pasado año 2013 se abrieron 118 salas de navegación en todo el país, que se unen a los más de 600 joven clubs de computación y electrónica que funcionan en la Isla.

My translation: In 2009 the government allowed free access to the Internet in post offices and in 2013, 118 Internet access rooms or centers were opened throughout the country, used by more than 600 young computer and electronic clubs that operate on the island .

What I did see, more often at night, were groups of people tightly huddled together on steps and walls outside of hotels, phone and computer stores, and the offices of the Cuba Internet provider, with their laptops and smart phones, all looking at screens, some talking on Skype.

This photo is in the daytime, obviously, outside the Habana Libre hotel.:

In lieu of an Internet cafe in Cuba

Internet access here at this hotel, or any other, is not free – they had to pay for this access, just as we did for an hour or two at the same place, but we got to sit in an air-conditioned lobby, even though we weren’t staying at that hotel – they didn’t. I have a feeling this situation is going to change rapidly and community technology centers, and better in-home Internet

I have a feeling this situation is going to change rapidly and community technology centers, and better in-home Internet. My casa particular host will be so happy – she has to beg her guests to never, ever send her any attachments to email to her – she just doesn’t have the bandwidth.

Which reminds me: the Community Technology Network, based in San Francisco, California, USA, is leading a delegation to Cuba in April. “This will be a unique opportunity to observe Cuba at a pivotal point in time as its government, NGOs, and social institutions work together to close their digital divide.” More info about the trip here – it includes information on organizations working towards digital empowerment in Cuba.

I picked up some UN materials at their booth at the Havana book festival – didn’t find any UN staff members to talk to (they may have been there, but the crowds and chaos were overwhelming). The UN info has details on several topics I’m heavily interested in, like public health and women’s empowerment in Cuba, but nothing on digital literacy efforts the UN might be undertaking. I’ll be watching the United Nations Online Volunteering Service closely, hoping that opportunities to support Cuban organizations will start to become plentiful. In addition, I’ll be doing these searches periodically to see what comes up: Brecha Digital e Inclusión Social Cuba, Software Libre Cuba, Internet Tecnología Cubapenetración a la red Cuba, red social and tech ayuda Cuba.

Some resources I’ve found as a result so far:

And one more thing, off-topic for the digital divide, but it’s a cause near and dear to my heart: I did a lot of research once I was back in the states to find an NGO working to help the situation for dogs and cats in Cuba, because the situation for them is heart-breaking. I found The Aniplant Project, Inc. (TAP), a nonprofit in the USA dedicated to the protection of animals, and its primary activity is to support Aniplant (Asociación Cubana para la Protección de Animales y Plantas) of Havana Cuba. Aniplant is not part of the Cuban government and receives no financial help from that government, but it is the only animal protection organization permitted to function in Cuba. Aniplant’s HQ is in Havana, but it provides services throughout most parts of Cuba. In 2014 Aniplant sterilized over 5,000 dogs and cats in its traveling weekend clinics which move throughout the country. I’ve made a small donation to TAP in support of dogs and cats in Cuba, and I so, so hope you will do the same, and like their Facebook page, to stay up-to-date on their work.

Additions later on the day of this blog’s publication:

In conjunction with the June 2015 seminar on “Socialist Renewal and the Crisis of Capitalism” at the University of Havana, Peter Miller developed a 2-page community technology proposal that was the conclusion to his presentation there , an effort to develop an alternative rootsofhope-type technology assistance demo or project in collaboration with, even under the guidance of, officially recognized Cuban institutions and nongovernmental organizations. “It seemed pretty obvious to me that, no matter what one’s politics, that’s the collegial way to begin in the spirit of rapproachment that we share.”

Che Guevara and ICT4D in Cuba,” a December 17th anniversary summary of follow-up research, brought to my attention by this blog by Peter Miller. This draft consists of four or five parts, beginning with its titled introductory section, slightly revised and formatted as a short paper submission for the June 3-6 ICTD conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan (ictd2016.info). Miller says, “This brief summary of Che Guevara’s little-known contribution to the field provides a frame of reference for looking more closely at some more recent and current examples of ICT4D in Cuba — collaborative projects and studies involving inter-university ICT capacity building and Open Source, and problematic U.S.-based governmental and nonprofit “’community development’ technology efforts involving USAID and the Alan Gross and ZunZuneo fiascos, and Roots of Hope and the Hackathon for Cuba.”

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:

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).

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)

Volunteer Engagement the Roller Derby Way

logoSunday, I did an intensive, advanced training (as opposed to an introductory/basic training) for representatives from the roller derby leagues in Portland (the Rose City Rollers) and Seattle (Rat City Rollers) regarding volunteer management. These leagues involve several hundred volunteers – and have done so, quite effectively, for a few years now. Volunteers don’t just help at games; women’s roller derby has a particular focus on empowering women and girls, and most meets include fundraising components for a charity, which means volunteers are engaged in a huge range of activities.

But the rapid growth of these leagues – which shows no signs of abating – means that they don’t always have the procedures and policies in place to handle volunteer management challenges as they arise, or even how to identify issues long before they become bigger problems for the organizations. I hope that my training helped them to be able to access the resources they need to deal with specialized volunteer recruitment, board recruitment, volunteer conflict, keeping volunteers motivated, tracking volunteer information and contributions, and anticipate and address issues regarding volunteer engagement long before such becomes a program killer.

But with a staff made up of paid employees and volunteers, most of whom have NO training in working with volunteers, these leagues have done a remarkable job of engaging volunteers already.

What are people at these roller derby organizations doing that many traditional organizations that involve volunteers are not?

  • They have organizational-wide commitments to volunteers being satisfied with their experiences. Supporting and honoring volunteers is EVERYONE’S job. It never dawned on them that this should be just one person’s job at an organization, or that an employee could refuse to work with volunteers.
  • All staff work with volunteers. ALL STAFF. That means all staff — every paid person and all volunteers — create assignments for volunteers and/or work with volunteers. That means, even though there were just two organizations represented at this training, I wasn’t speaking to just two people: the designated volunteer coordinators. Instead, I was also talking to paid staff, volunteer staff, players, event volunteers, committee chairs, skating officials and on and on.
  • It never dawned on them to value volunteers purely by an hourly monetary amount, and some of them were actually offended by the idea. They acknowledge that it’s sometimes necessary for a grant application, but otherwise, they have much better reasons for saying they involve volunteers, and why volunteers are necessary to the organization.
  • They use every Internet tool and software tool they can find to work with and support volunteers – the value of such is obvious to them, with no need for a virtual volunteering workshop to convince them (as is with most traditional organizations).
  • Volunteers go to the same meetings as employees, and take leadership roles in coordinating events, reaching out to sponsors, selling merchandise, and representing the organization. You can’t tell who is or isn’t a volunteer just by a person’s title!
  • They didn’t blink over the phrase, “If a task can be done by a human, it can be done by a volunteer.” When I use that statement in a training for traditional organizations, there is often an uproar (which is why I use it – how I love stirring things up!). The Roller Derby reps reaction: “yes, and?”
  • They don’t look for ways to thank volunteers with regards to mugs and pins, or posters that say things like, “Volunteers are our angels!” They know what their volunteers want: real, sincere appreciation that permeates the organization, that doesn’t happen just on a volunteer appreciation luncheon that, at many other organizations, the board nor the Executive Director would even bother attending.
  • While they want to be great at handling conflict among staff, including volunteers, they completely accept that conflict and criticisms happen and have no fear of such (most orgs I work with want to know how to prevent all conflict and criticism).
  • They embrace the idea of most volunteers joining up because they want to have fun. They don’t think that’s a bad idea for volunteering.
  • They have an organization that welcomes people of all ages and all walks of life, and these organizations could probably lead their own workshop on how to creating a welcoming environment for teen volunteers, LGBT volunteers, low-income volunteers, homeless volunteers, volunteers with disabilities and various other groups that are under-represented at so many other organizations. It’s a workshop I would LOVE to attend!
  • Not once did I ever hear, “Oh, we’re not allowed to do that.” I hear that at least twice during presentations to other organizations. Not that these organizations don’t know and follow rules, like how to screen and supervise volunteers that will work with teens – but when it comes to ideas about new ways to work with volunteers, they never come from a place of fear.
  • They laughed heartily at my story of a certain online discussion group for volunteer managers in the USA that shall remain nameless having constant discussions about where to find examples of forms and policies (“Don’t they know how to use Google?”) or how to ban volunteers that have tattoos (I can’t repeat what was said re: this).

I got this gig because I did a presentation earlier this year for the Northwest Oregon Volunteer Administrators Association (NOVAA) on trends in volunteer engagement. NOVAA serves the greater Portland metropolitan area, including Vancouver, Washington. Afterwards, a woman came up, handed me a card, lauded me for my presentation and said, “You are soooo roller derby.”

As I learned from attending two match nights, roller derby players leave everything on the track during a game, and I left everything in that conference room for this training on Sunday; I have never been more exhausted after a training, so determined was I to win these folks over and point them to the resources they need to be even more successful at engaging with volunteers. And one of my favorite comments afterwards was this:

“Srsly, this was awesome. I have a very low tolerance for BS facilitated meetings about hypothetical nonsense. This was none of that.”

Almost made me want to cry… a high compliment, indeed.

If you are putting together a volunteer management conference, listen up: I’m happy to train, and I really hope you will invite me to do so. But invite someone from a roller derby league too – I recommend the Portland league in particular, of course. Because it’s long overdue for these conferences to get a shake up. And I think roller derby may be just the org to do it!

I have seen the future of volunteer engagement and IT’S ROLLER DERBY.

Here’s a photo on Facebook that sums up just what an amazing experience matches can be, btw.