equal rights amendment, gender, gender gaps, women in politics, Women's rights

equal means equal – right?

It’s been a good month for equality in the United States. The country celebrated transgender rights and threw Caitlyn Jenner the nicest coming out party ever. SCOTUS handed down a landmark decision to make gay marriage legal in all 50 states. And there’s a woman running for president.

Granted, transgender rights still have a long way to go – check out John Oliver’s segment on the issue. He really exposes the ways in which we currently view transgender people – most of us seem confused, and the rest want to ask them about their privates. Legally, they still have an uphill battle with many States viewing transgender identity as a lifestyle choice. and they still face higher rates of poverty, suicide and violence than the general public.

The gay movement is celebrating marriage equality and everyone is changing their Facebook profile photo. however, a moving piece by Darnell Moore exposes the ways in which the LGBTQ+ movement has failed to include him ‘under the rainbow’. he writes: ‘the “movement” might care about my queerness, but it certainly does not value my blackness’. this sentiment is one that the gay movement will have to address very soon if it wishes to stay true to its cause.

Historically, the feminist and gay movement have not always gotten on well. Feminists see the inclusion of gay women’s issues as a distraction from issues faced by all women regardless of their sexual orientation, and gay women see the feminist majority as trying to erase their experiences and unique challenges. The PBS documentary ‘Makers: Women Who Made America‘ takes a good look at the cost of this struggle. The schism has been so great that to this day you’ll find countries like Ireland, where gays can get married but women can’t get a legal abortion.

But here’s the thing –

Equality is for everybody. discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual orientation is unjust and it should be illegal. How those two have managed to be separated in the eyes of the public and of legislators is a question for another day. But for now I think the time is right for the feminist movement to reclaim this space and leverage the current public support for equal rights to fight for what we deserve.

rosie era

and thankfully – I’m not alone in my convictions.

On June 23rd, Meryl Streep sent five hundred and thirty-five letters to each and every Member of Congress urging them to support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment stalled in 1982 as it was ratified by only 35 states, three states short of the 38 required to put it into the Constitution. The ERA has been introduced in Congress every year since, with little result. the ERA, together with much of the feminist movement, seemed stuck.

But the tide is turning. a new generation of feminists have taken up the call. a slew of girl’s empowerment campaigns have emerged, some led by civil society and some by large brands (#likeagirl, this girl can, Dove real beauty to name a few). they have both capitalized on the renewed feminist energy and also been instrumental in creating an added momentum. and with the wind of civil rights victories at our back, and a female presidential candidate with an outstanding record on advancing women’s rights at our lead, we might just make the ERA happen before I’m gray and old.

era

Jessica Neuwirth is the Founder and President of the ERA Coalition which is working to create a broad base of support for the ERA across America. ‘Equal Means Equal’ is a documentary produced by Patricia Arquette which takes a long hard look at the reality of women’s lives without the ERA and the personal cost to their freedom and civil liberties. Issues that have been getting more attention lately, from the pay gap and paid family leave, to domestic violence and trafficking, are all linked to the unequal treatment of women under the law and the continued discrimination they face in the United States in 2015.

I can only hope we have the courage to come together with the support of our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community, and demand an end to discrimination against women with a constitutional guarantee.

Standard
gender, gender gaps, girls rights, ICT4D, stereotyping, women in the labor force, Women's rights

Girls in ICT Day 2014!

To celebrate this year’s girls in ICT day, I’d like to focus on the intersection of adolescent girls (aged 10-19) and ICT4D. I recently gave a short presentation at Tulane University and you can find the presentation here.

There was quite a bit of interest in the ways in which mobile phone apps can inadvertently harm, rather than empower, girls and young women. I guess we have this notion that ‘access to tech = empowerment’. if only it were so simple! not to say that information communication technologies haven’t facilitated positive changes and will continue to do so. It’s just that treating them like some miracle cure is bound to end up in disappointment.

A while back I wrote about the ways in which mobile apps meant to protect women from violence can actually put them in harm’s way. essentially, understanding violence as ‘stranger danger’ is totally misleading, since most violence is committed by intimate partners and family members. The idea of a panic button that sends a signal to a family member if you’re harassed or attacked in the street sounds good. but it could all too easily be turned into a tool that allows for surveillance of young women, curtailing their freedom and mobility out of a misguided sense of ‘protection’. Certainly as a woman im much more interested in an app that will change attitudes, and allow me to dress and act in any way i see fit without garnering catcalls or even opening myself up to assault.

gender and girls rights

Another interesting topic that came up was control over ICTs. I made the point that so much of the technology we used is designed and engineered by men. the lack of female representation in the tech industries, and the poor number of young women studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) at secondary school and university levels, means women play a role as consumers of technology and little else. why is this the case? A slightly dated (but still wonderful) report from Cisco found the European girls (who, I’m sure we can all agree, are surrounded by technology all the time) tended to drop out of ICT studies around age 15.

The reasons:

  • lack of support  from role models
  • persistent stereotyped views that the sector is better suited to men
  • a lack of understanding about what ICT jobs entail
  • how easy or difficult they find the subject
  • girls don’t see ICT roles offering them chances to travel, to help others or to work independently.

the report concludes that from a business perspective this is a loss of talent. from a feminist perspective this is proof that socialization processes and entrenched forms of discrimination are keeping girls from ‘choosing’ to follow a techie career. and maybe if more women were involved in this field we would have better safety apps?

yes we can

This issue is a core part of what ‘girls in ICT’ day is about – encouraging girls to choose careers in tech. In the words of the 2014 flyer:

“The ICT sector remains a growing sector for employment and a key economic factor underpinning both national and international development in both developed and  developing countries. Many countries and regions are predicting a shortage of qualified staff with math, science, engineering and computing skills to meet the growing demand. At the same time, many companies are looking to increase the number of women in the sector. This means that highly qualified women in technical fields have significant opportunities available to them in both developed and developing countries. The need for qualified professionals in developing countries worldwide should come as no surprise, considering the rate of ICT growth in developing countries.Why don’t we try to reach even more girls and young women on International Girls in ICT Day 2014?”

there are numerous initiatives that are working to change the stereotypes around IT careers and encourage girls to pursue STEM studies. I’m optimistic about prospects, and believe more women are already making their mark. Certainly if Sheryl Sandberg’s latest book ‘Lean In’ and the foundation she opened to encourage girls to realize their potential are any indication, women are busily carving out a space at the top.

 

Keshet Bachan

 

Standard
gender, gender gaps, women in politics, Women's rights

progress at last?

There are very few reports on the state of women in the world that manage to generate interest from more than just us gender geeks. The World Economic Forum‘s annual Gender Gap Report is one of them. It provides solid analysis of reliable data, and cleverly packages this in a framework that makes perfect sense and manages to be useful at the same time. The 2013 edition is being launched today and as the WEF was kind enough to send me an advanced copy, I have had time to comb through the report and here are my insights. 

For those who are unfamiliar, the Gap Report is predicated on the assumption that gender equality progress can be measured through the narrowing of gaps between men and women in certain areas, including the economy, education, health and political participation. Meaning, if female literacy goes up, the levels of gender equality go up. Within each of these categories we find the usual suspects, like primary, secondary and tertiary enrollment rates, life expectancy and female seats in parliament. These stats are widely cited when discussing low income countries (as they form MDG targets), but since the Gap Report is global, we get to scrutinize medium and high income countries which is a nice change.

The Gap Report pulls these together to create a rating system that uncovers difference between countries and progress made over time. For instance, country A will score highly on political participation if women hold half of the seats in parliament, but might get a low score in education as there are more males than females in tertiary education. The report takes into consideration only the outcome of these measures, rather than inputs that may vary between high income and low income countries. So you might expect the UK to do really well as it has a lot more money to spend on education than Lesotho, but in terms of the gaps between boys and girls in educational attainment in absolute terms, Lesotho is doing better than the UK. The final ranking takes into account all four indexes and churns out a total rank.

look they made this lovely interactive widget too.

Unsurprisingly, the Nordic countries have jealously kept the top 4 places in the Gap Report rankings to themselves for the past 6 years. A newcomer to the top five this year is the Philippines, who’s up from number eight last year. A closer look reveals that Philippines has made some progress on closing the gap between men and women in terms of political participation and holding decision making positions. New Zealand, now at number seven, has slipped down a place due to a decrease in wage equality and Switzerland moved up a spot due to improvements in women’s estimated earned income. Nicaragua, remains the only Latin American country in the top 10 and made huge progress between 2011 and 2012, jumping from the 27th to the 9th place, mainly due to increases in women’s political and economic participation rates. Another newcomer to the 2013 report is Lao PDR, which ranks 60 overall (not bad!), but interestingly rates quite highly in terms of women’s economic participation.

images

Countries that have done really well over the past year include Bangladesh, which currently ranks at 75, a rise of 10 places. This is mainly due to a significant narrowing of the gender gap in education and an increase of women in the political sphere. Countries that continue to do badly include Israel, my home country, which has slipped 20 places in the past six years. oy vey.

According to the 2013 report, looking at the rankings of the past six years reveals that: ‘the 136 countries covered in the Report, representing over 90% of the world’s population, have closed almost 96% of the gap in health outcomes between women and men and almost 93% of the gap in educational attainment. However, the gap between women and men on economic participation and political empowerment remains wide: only 60% of the economic outcomes gap and only 21% of the political outcomes gap have been closed”.

To my mind, what is really striking about the Gap Report rankings is the correlation between countries with economic prosperity and higher levels of gender equality. And considering the audience of this report, which really aims to engage the businesses and corporate executives in an issue that is still firmly viewed as a ‘third sector’ issue, it really serves its purpose well.

The Gap Report’s ability to provide a global ranking system that scores countries according to progress towards gender equality is very interesting, but it fails to provide the reader with an understanding of how these processes have occurred and whether there is any connection between closing gender gaps and reducing gender inequality. The report doesn’t set out to do these things and the disclaimer on the first page makes this very clear. But I for one would like to perhaps see a spin off publication that delves deeper into a number of countries that have made significant progress in their rankings, and look at whether this correlates with other human development and women’s rights indicators. Otherwise it all seems like a pointless exercise.

I’m unclear as to whether women’s political participation, i.e. holding more seats in parliament, has actually translated into policy decisions that have benefited women? and anyone who knows anything about education figures will gleefully inform you that enrollment data is a terrible indicator because it is collected usually once a year on the first day of school and provides no indication of whether the pupil then actually attends school. Not to mention the fact that it doesn’t give you a clue as to whether this enrolled pupil who may or may not be attending school regularly, is actually learning anything at all.

That said, the attempt to provide a global index on gender equality that appeals to people other than those who think UN document serial numbers are cool,  is a blessed endeavor and i do encourage the WEF to continue their good work!

Keshet Bachan

Standard