On June 5, 2012, I attended an excellent event at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on “Women Leading Change in Transitioning Societies” in partnership with Vital Voices Global Partnership and the Norwegian Embassy (info and complete video at http://www.usip.org/newsroom/multimedia/video-gallery/women-leading-change-in-transitioning-societies). Two panels of remarkable women, all recipients of Vital Voices’ Global Leadership Awards (http://vitalvoices.org/node/69), examined at a very personal level the challenges, risks and satisfactions of being female change leaders in some of the world’s most difficult times and places.
All of the women were impressive. Some particular points that impressed me at the time include the following:
- Alyse Nelson, President and CEO of Vital Voices, commented that “Women’s progress is global progress.” Lars Heine, Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the Royal Norwegian Embassy reinforced this point by stating that from Norway’s perspective, “Gender equity is a national interest, not a special interest.” [NOTE: Ref recent study showing that the best predictor of a nation’s stability is it’s violence against women (http://www.newsecuritybeat.org/2012/05/valerie-hudson-womens-well-being-is.html) –rdm].
- Samar Minallah Kahn, a documentary film maker in Pakistan, spoke of how she decided she needed to change from the written word to film in the local languages to show the rural and tribal people how to change deeply rooted cultural practices such as swara, in which a girl is given to one’s enemy as compensation for some wrong done to them. Many of her videos are on YouTube (search on ‘Samar Minallah’). She mentioned that women are often portrayed as victims in videos – we need to challenge that.
- Adimaimalaga Tafuna’I of Samoa provided a stark reminder of the need for cultural understanding and sensitivity as she recounted how people impressed with the microfinance model try to impose it as a solution in Samoa without recognizing that theirs is a non-cash society.
- Several women agreed that men need to be a part of the process. Samar makes a point of showing positive male behaviors in her films for both impact and as role models.
- Marianne Ibrahim, a civil society activist in Egypt, said of western governments that if they want to be friends with Arabs, they need to stop being friends with the leaders. Amira Yahyaoui, a blogger in Tunisia, said that we’re talking about human rights, not just women’s rights, and women are a part of that discussion. If you want to help, when meeting with government representatives, ask where the women are, ask to speak with them.