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.