Women Leading Change in Transitioning Societies

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.

Why Women?

When Mohammed Yunus developed his model for microfinance in Bangladesh, he recognized the benefits of focusing financial empowerment and opportunity on women in the population that he was helping. I’m hoping to capture here and in subsequent posts some points of interest and fact on the ways that enabling women can significantly multiply the benefits of social entrepreneurship.

From http://www.opportunity.org/womens-opportunity-network/

Why Women?

  • Women represent 70% of those living on less than $2 a day.
  • Women suffer inequitably from the chronic effects of poor nutrition, insufficient healthcare and limited educational opportunity.
  • Women do 66% of the world’s work and receive only 10% of the pay.
  • Women spend 90% of their income on their families, while men typically spend only 35%.
  • Nearly 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and in 2012, women represent 70% of this number
  • Women who contribute to family finances have greater decision-making power, resulting in better nutrition, health and education for their children. When family needs are met, women are more likely to invest in their communities.
  • On average, women in developing countries walk 3.7 miles a day for water. (http://blockbuster.water.org/?p=355)
  • Women are owners of just one-hundredth of the world’s property, yet they make up the majority of farm laborers. (http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/social/meetings/egm10/documents/Nandal paper.pdf)
  • Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women.

Aadhaar: Unique ID Project in India


Tunni Rai: A life without identity

29 May 2012 Last updated at 19:22 ET


“A moving glimpse into what it means to live without official identity in India.”  –rdm

India’s identity divide

  • Only 58% of children born in India are registered at birth
  • Many families don’t know about the need for a birth certificate
  • More than a dozen other documents can be accepted as proof of identity
  • Lack of papers can hamper access to public services and banking
  • Unique identity (UID) scheme launched in 2010 is world’s biggest biometric ID project
  • 200 million Indians have already signed up, target is 400 million by the end of 2012

From Wikipedia:

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) (Hindi: भारतीय विशिष्ट पहचान प्राधिकरण), is an agency of the Government of India responsible for implementing the AADHAAR scheme, a unique identification project.

UID project is known as AADHAAR meaning ‘support’ or ‘foundation’, and its logo is a yellow sun with a fingerprint embedded in its centre.

Aadhaar Logo.svg

Aadhaar is a 12-digit unique number which the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) will issue for all residents in India. The number will be stored in a centralized database and linked to the basic demographics and biometric information – photograph, ten fingerprints and iris – of each individual.

Thoughts on Collaboration Between NGOs

For successful practical collaboration/cooperation/coordination for the lifecycle of an aid effort, you’ll need a well-considered overall structure that addresses all aspects of the planned and anticipated interaction. It would need to define who the stakeholders/partners are and how they will interact — which means defining an acceptable process for someone to lead the coordination without implying that they are leading the aid effort itself. It will also need to reflect the reality of the situation and clearly capture the roles and responsibilities of all involved for this effort specifically, being careful to acknowledge that this agreement doesn’t compromise any partner’s independence outside the defined scope of the agreement. It should also help each partner present the cooperation in a positive light to their respective constituencies — the moral high ground being the focus on the needs of the mission (while maintaining the integrity of each organization involved).
Actions mean so much more than words, and demonstrated willingness to forego total control for a greater result (and the prospect of follow-on collaborations) is a powerful selling point. Plus, the next time, it should be easier/faster to put such an agreement in place.

“Finding Solutions to Feed the World” @ SAIS

On May 9, Jim Borel of DuPont spoke at the JHU School for Advanced and International Studies (SAIS).  Among his points on the global food situation and efforts to address the issues were the following:

  • Malthus was wrong in his 1789 projections of linear growth of food resources vs. geometric growth of the population.  It’s time to accept that we can feed the world if we want to.
  • In developing countries, 1/3 of food produced is lost to waste between the farm and the market (due to lack of refrigeration, adequate storage, transportation infrastructure, etc.).  And in the ‘advanced’ world?  We also lose 1/3 of food to waste, but in our case it occurs between the market and the consumer.  Picture how much is thrown out by grocery stores and restaurants as well as individuals and families.
  • Hunger used to be hidden in remote regions [where it could also be ignored by the rest of the world — RDM].  70 million people died of starvation in the 20th century.  Now, with projections of 70% of the population living in urban areas, we will know when hunger strikes.  [My question is, won’t that also translate into greater anger in those affected?  That the world knows and still does nothing?]
  • Three areas we need to advance —
    1. To face unprecedented global challenges, we need local solutions.  85% of food never crosses an international border.
    2. Ensure science becomes local wisdom.
    3. Sustainability: Ensure crops get from farm to market.