To End Violence, We Must Build #CitiesforWomen

In the fight to end violence against women and girls, no real progress can be made without considering the role of the urban environment. Dark streets, unprotected public toilets, parking lots and mass transit are breeding grounds for violence. A placard we saw at a protest against femicide in Latin America a few years ago sums it up: “Walking home, I want to feel free, not brave.”

Since last fall, women in the United States have been speaking up as never before on the subject of violence, harassment, and abuse – at home, at work, in daily life. If #TimesUp for gender-based, on-the-job abuse, #TimesUp too for cities that fail to consider the daily dangers faced by half of their community.

A Global Problem
  • 2014 Reuters survey of 16 major cities worldwide found that women in Latin American cities suffered the highest rates of harassment, with about 6 in 10 women experiencing physical harassment on public transport. Additionally, 64% of women in Mexico City said they’d been groped or physically harassed on public transport.
  • In a 2009 UN Women survey in Delhi, 95% of women said their mobility was limited by fear of harassment in public places.
  • In a Kenyan survey from Women’s Empowerment Link, more than half of the 381 women interviewed in 2017 said they’d experienced gender-based violence while using public transport.
  • According to the World Bank-led partnership, Sustainable Mobility For All, 53% of women in developed countries feel “unsafe” or “very unsafe” waiting on a railway platform after dark.

By 2030, more than 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. With women representing more than half the world’s population, cities need to improve their urban infrastructure to discourage harassment and abuse.

A great deal of danger could be eliminated with more inclusive city planning and the creation of infrastructure sensitive to the needs of women and girls – better street lighting and broader streets, fewer dead-end alleys, safer public toilets. Safer cities enable every individual to move through their day without fear and with unfettered access to social, economic, political, cultural, and educational opportunities.

Photo Credit: Sydney Rubin

We must all do whatever it takes to create cities where women and girls can lead healthy, prosperous, and fulfilling lives, in dignity and peace. It will take cooperation and commitment from government at every level, multi-lateral institutions of all kinds, and non-governmental groups such as WomenStrong International.

How WomenStrong Helps

Members of the WomenStrong Consortium are supporting women and girls in a number of effective ways as they seek to build lives free from violence.

  • With our partner DHAN Foundation in Madurai, India – a city with a population of 1.5 million – we have established a Micro-Justice Clinic to teach women their rights, arm them with the resources they need to fight injustice and stand up for themselves. These women, who also are members of micro-finance self-help groups, discover that economic empowerment gives them confidence and the ability to press local officials to address some of the root causes of gender-based violence, including unsafe infrastructure.
  • Women’s Health to Wealth (WHW) in Kumasi, Ghana – population well over 2 million – works with women who rent stalls in the Bantama Market and who had been pressing local officials for years to install lighting and pave market alleyways so they could safely transport their wares at dawn and dusk. With WomenStrong’s support, women working with WHW struck a bargain with a local official, agreeing to clean the market in exchange for the government paving and lighting the market. The paving was completed, but the lighting was not, so WHW continue to press the market manager. Their concerns have spurred construction of a new, safe, enclosed market structure where plenty of lighting is promised.
  • In the Manyatta slums of Kisumu, Kenya, Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP) has run a multi-year program on Positive Discipline in schools to help create environments where girls can learn, prosper and grow. Schools should be places of safety for young girls but are often places of harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and rape, by male students and even teachers. AVFP works with school administrators, teachers, parents, public officials and communities to help keep girls in school and flourishing in the face of the massive challenges of poverty.
  • WomenStrong Member H.O.P.E. in Borgne, Haiti – located in a commune with a population of under 100,000 – supports the work of local women who have formed a group to confront domestic violence, helping victims and filling the gap left by a lack of law enforcement. H.O.P.E. also runs clubs for adolescent girls, similar to those at the other WomenStrong sites, teaching girls their rights, building confidence, and providing safe spaces where girls can build friendships, gain mentors, and create a network of support.

Women and girls at all our sites demonstrate every day that they have the determination, smarts and willingness to stand up for their right to be free from violence. It is now up to the rest of us to provide the support they deserve and need by building #CitiesforWomen.

Fight For Girls, Not Against Them

It feels like just yesterday I was huddled outside my school classroom with five other pigtailed girls, swapping cards or singing along to good old Gwen Stefani. (Shoutout to Gwen for being my fashion inspiration and role model for pretty much my entire childhood.)

Female friendships start off as innocent, symbiotic relationships. As little girls, we seemingly have no worries and – if your childhood was anything like mine – days are filled with endless dress-up parties, goofy sing-alongs and formidable-fort-building. But at what point do we blur the lines and turn these innocent relationships into carnivorous competitions?

Welcome to the world of female competitiveness, where beneath the sisterly front runs an undercurrent of tough rivalry.

I think one of the reasons some of us fight so hard for women’s empowerment among women is because of personal experience of competition and backlash from fellow women. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to be sucked in – especially for young women. You may not even realize it’s happening, as it begins very subtly throughout teenage years. Whether it’s someone degrading you in front of others, talking about you negatively behind your back, trying to delay your success in order to accelerate their own, or doing something to make you look bad on purpose – you are a victim. It’s like a competition you never signed up for and didn’t agree to take part in – but the good news is, you don’t have to be part of it.

RULE NUMBER ONE: Don’t let negativity take over your teenage years – I can’t stress this enough! There are far more important issues that need your valuable time and attention. People who want to succeed by seeing you fail just have selfish motives – it’s their problem – not yours. It’s easier said than done, but try to focus your attention on yourself rather than worry too much about what others are doing.

RULE NUMBER TWO: Whether or not you’ve ever been guilty of any of the above (most of us have, even if we weren’t aware of it at the time), it’s the responsibility of all women and girls to focus on empowering & uplifting each other. It’s such an important skill to be able to admit to our own mistakes and then actively try to change our behaviour. Don’t let pride prevent you from growing.

One question I’ve been thinking a lot about is whether we are actually competing with other women or, ultimately, with ourselves – with how we think of and perceive ourselves. For many of us, we look at other women and see a ‘better’, smarter or prettier version of ourselves. Do we even acknowledge the other woman as an individual? It’s like a mirror that reflects an inaccurate version of who we are, but we turn on the mirror itself because it’s easier than exploring the real insecurities behind the reflection we see. And so…

RULE NUMBER 3: You are enough. Don’t let anything or anyone make you believe otherwise. You don’t need recognition from others to believe it. You don’t need to pull other women down to believe it either. When we each focus on being the dominant force in our own universe, rather than invading other universes, we all win.

As women, we experience enough unfair competition, backlash and discrimination in our lives. We certainly should not experience it from fellow women, too. We are here to support, appreciate and encourage each other.

Our fight should be for, not against one another.

Time to Talk Numbers

Women play a key role in the reconstruction and development of a country’s infrastructure, in particular after a political or economic crisis, as well as during the aftermath of a natural disaster. In recent years, this has been most notably observed in post-genocide Rwanda, where women have a significant presence within the parliament and other legislative bodies.

Although the presence of women in decision making positions throughout the government is important, it is just as important for women to play a key role in the financial and daily operations of the household.  In a recent Foreign Committee Affairs Hearing entitled Beyond Micro-Finance: Empowering Women in the Developing World, the CEO of Women’s World Banking, an Associate Professor of Applied Economics and the Executive Director of Georgetown Women, Peace and Security discussed the importance of economic inclusion, national security and innovation.

It has been statistically shown that women have a higher tendency to invest in education, health and the general well being of their family and community members. As a result, providing economic independence, resources and education to the women in a community has the potential to lead to high levels of sustainability and prosperity.

It’s clear that women have an important role to play in the reconstruction and developement of infrastructure and socio-economic institutions, and these are critical towards creating greater stability and eventual prosperity within a country. Selly Kerim, an economist and research engineer, points out the importance of health, education and employment among individuals from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

Why is it important to focus on human stories when we discuss economic, political and social global issues? Can’t we simply rely on statistics and analysis to provide accurate measurements? After hearing Selly explain one of her many projects in the sparsely populated country of Mauritania, I was intrigued by the level of passion in her voice as well as her clear explanation of the intertwining roles of human development and economics. She is a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellow, holds a PHD in finance and development economics and has a sincere passion for empowering women and children through education. Selly explained why she decided to create the first academic survey of governance and living conditions in Mauritania, and for a brief moment economics made complete sense to me.

I decided to follow up on my interest in the sphere of economics and watch the Council on Foreign Relations Women & Foreign Policy Facebook discussion on Inclusive Economies. Rachel Vogelstein, Director of CFR’s Women and Foreign Policy Program and Jeni Klugman, a development economist, discussed the report entitled Building Inclusive Economies. They highlight some of the major benefits of the full participation of women within economies as well as various indicators which influence this such as employment, pay range, types of work, education as well as cultural, religious and legal barriers.

Women not only shape the economy. Women are economists with a unique ear for the human voice and a mind to measure what matters.

The Importance of Educating Girls

Blog post by Lisa Öhman, intern at Flickaplattformen

This text is based on my final thesis for my bachelor in Development Studies. My thesis is a discourse analysis of texts collected from governmental development agencies, analysing their call on the importance of girls’ education.

During the past decades, gender and education have become central elements in debates about development aid. Today, almost all international development organizations have included a gender perspective in their work. The reason why education for girls and gender equality have become such central parts of development aid can be traced to the many direct effects it has on economic growth and human welfare. It is often argued in development discourses that educating girls and women is an investment that is worthwhile. This view of girls’ education as a tool for development is often described as instrumentalism.

This instrumentalist view on girls’ education has received criticism. The central argument against it is that girls’ education is only seen as being of importance due to its effect on development. I argue that the instrumental theory is flawed, because if it would be proven that it is instead women’s oppression and lack of education that would lead to economic growth,  the logic of the instrumental theory would then lead to actions taken against girls’ education. It is therefore worthwhile to consider the moral aspects of instrumentalism.

In my view the discourse on gender equality is an important part of creating equality. The way a problem is formulated affects the actual solution to the problem. We can therefore not only focus on what practically is being done for girls’ education but also why it is presented as an issue in need of a solution. We must also critically scrutinise solutions that are presented in public and academic discourses. If we constantly argue for gender equality and women’s presence in the public sphere in instrumentalist terms and argue that it is important because of what effects it can have, real gender equality will not be reached, as women’s presence only becomes valued when it has a positive effect on others.

By using instrumentalist arguments, women are continuously being told what to do by others than themselves. Instead of being controlled by a patriarchal society where they are told that they should become wives and mothers they are instead being told by development advocates that they should become a part of the economy and strive for employment in specific sectors. We need to focus more on strengthening girls and giving them autonomy to decide what they want to do with their lives instead of telling them how to act. Instrumental arguments creates the image that women’s education is only important when it has a positive effect on development, and education is thus of no use if girls do not use it for something that has an economic or human welfare effect.

In my thesis I found that the most dominant view of the importance of girls’ education was the instrumental one. I wanted to focus on the discourse on girls’ education because it is often viewed as the solution for developing countries that will change everything. One cannot argue with the fact that girls’ education can have a lot of positive effects, but it is also of relevance to analyse why these effects are the main focus of organizations that invest in girls’ education. I believe that the main focus when claiming that girls should be educated should be the rights of the girls themselves – instead of the effect their education can have on their family, community and country’s economic development.

Cover image: Hungerprojektet

Potato Salad or Global Public Health: Invest in Something that Matters

I sat with Derek Fetzer, Co-Founder and Team Leader of Caring Crowd in a quaint café in the Johnson & Johnson headquarters during their Global Citizen Summit. He told me about the significance of this new crowdfunding platform and the various ways young leaders in the health sector can become involved.

After explaining the purpose of Caring Crowd, he pointed out that Johnson & Johnson is genuinely invested as a sponsor and truly values the needs and wellbeing of those they serve. During his thirty second shark-tank-style pitch, he – the multimillion dollar investor – explained to me why I should donate to a Caring Crowd project. Among some of those reasons were:

  • We are sponsored by Johnson & Johnson
  • Health workers are passionate about their involvement
  • The sole focus is global public health
  •  All projects are registered 501 © 3

The projects on the Caring Crowd platform highlight the power of people working together to ensure the wellbeing of others. In his interview he talked about the easy process for individuals to apply as well as the role of a digital presence and accountability. He shared his thoughts on the typical idea of infectious diseases as interconnected but also mentioned the limited attention to health and well being as a point of interconnectivity. A couple of years ago, a Kickstarter project for making potato salad raised over $50,000 – just imagine what we could achieve, if people would be as willing and eager to invest in public health as they were in a side dish. Consider this:

In some parts of the world it only takes $100 to treat tuberculosis for 6 months.

Derek Fetzer finds a never-ending wealth of inspiration from the patients and people benefiting from the Caring Crowd platform. An inspirational platform and an inspiring leader.

Girls’ Globe was sponsored by Johnson & Johnson to provide coverage during the Global Citizen 2016 Festival and to share the stories of the Young Leaders who are participating in the activities in New York. 

Featured image: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Herd Boys in Lesotho

Young Thabo left school at nine years of age to tend sheep, goats and cattle in the treacherous mountain passes of Lesotho, in southern Africa. Despite his young age, he lived in complete isolation for months at a time, with only the company of the herd and two dogs. Thabo made the journey back to his family twice a year in the winter, so the animals could be checked, counted, and kept warm for a brief period.

Thabo’s interactions with people were strained – he was accustomed to hitting and yelling at stubborn animals to express his displeasure and get results.

If hitting and yelling worked with his herd, why not with people?

In the solitude of the mountains, Thabo’s word was law. There was no one to ask permission from and no one to guide him about what was right and wrong. In a world where aggression was a survival tactic, he knew no other way. Sexual violence, rape, and physical abuse were acceptable. Thabo believed that it was his right as a man to take what he wanted from a woman. In the herd, there was no such thing as consent.

Although Thabo’s story is startling, it is the reality for countless boys in Lesotho. For most rural families, their animal stock is their only means of providing for themselves. They cannot afford to lose their herds to thieves and stock theft is an all too common problem. Thus, they send their boys up into the mountains, away from thieving hands, to keep watch over the herds day and night. Some herd boys must even watch the herds of several families.

Without any education or guidance, the herd boys become awkward social pariahs, which only increases their feelings of isolation and loneliness.

 

Thabo is 17 now, and is, by his own admission, a much different person. He recently completed Help Lesotho’s six month “Herd Boy Training Program” that provides much-needed support and education for the herd boys. Topics include healthy relationships, preventing HIV transmission, reproductive health, gender equity, preventing sexual and domestic violence, the effects of drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, self-esteem, and role modelling. For Thabo, and many herd boys like him, being part of the program made him feel connected to society:

“All the issues that were being discussed are the issues that affect us as human beings. Whereas in other meetings, we felt like objects. We felt like objects because the only important things in those meetings were the animals that we are taking care of, not us.”

His coping mechanisms no longer include hitting and yelling. He understands that women deserve the same respect he does. He recognizes gender equity doesn’t imply that men are inferior. He feels a sense of self-worth. He knows that he is intrinsically valuable as a person, not just as an animal guardian.

But perhaps the most astounding thing about Thabo is that despite the hardships he has faced and the abandonment he has experienced, he now believes that he can make a difference in his community. He feels compelled to share what he has learned, particularly about gender-based violence and HIV transmission, with other herd boys. Thabo now proudly acts as an ambassador for change in the very community that shunned him.

At 17 years of age, he has turned his life around.