By Kelly Lynn Ziemer
On Friday, March 8, 2013, the National Council of Women (NCW) hosted their parallel event “A Global Outcry: It Should Not Hurt to Be a Girl” for the United Nation’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women, a poignant topic given that March 8th was also International Women’s Day. The event was moderated by Leslie Wright, UN Convener for the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund (VGIF), and brought together seven panelists from around the world representing government and civil society to discuss problems, initiatives and progress of women’s organizations in different regions of the globe.
Lindy Blanchard, President and Co-Founder of 100X Development Foundation and keynote speaker, provided examples of how her organization is working with orphans and vulnerable children in 10 countries, including Moldova and Malawi, to increase education and vocational and social skills. Teresa Hintzke, President of Pan-Pacific and South-East Asia Women’s Association (PPSEAWA) International, focused on the harmful cultural beliefs that perpetuate inequality of women and girls, as girls are raised to be second-class citizens in the Pacific Islands. Gender and social standing take precedence in this culture as opposed to economic status; status is attained as one ages. With rapid economic change in the Pacific Islands, which has led to more unemployment and the loss of natural resources, sexual violence has become prevalent. Therefore, being young and female allows for no power in this culture. She recommended an increase in awareness and education to change the perception of girls’ and women’s capabilities in this region.
Awareness is also a goal of Dr. Ranjana Kumari’s organizations as Director of the Center for Social Research and President of Women Power Connect. These organizations are increasing education about a girl child’s right to be born in India, particularly among the upper socioeconomic classes where research has shown that these couples are more apt to abort female fetuses than lower socioeconomic status couples. Dr. Kumari also discussed child marriage, trafficking and a cultural mindset of inferiority of women. Although there is a legal ban on child marriages, she stated, “customs are so strong” that 50% of marriages are still occurring for women less than 18 years old. To combat trafficking, where 70% of trafficked children from Nepal, Burma, Pakistan and Bangladesh are pushed into prostitution, Dr. Kumari spoke of her organization’s campaign to raise awareness about trafficking and create a network of support services for survivors.
It became evident that the panelists were advocating for an increase of awareness about violence against women while taking into account local cultural beliefs. This was reiterated by Dr. Manjula O’Connor, Vice President of Australia India Society of Victoria. She has found success in the state of Victoria, Australia where she estimates that 10% of the 250,000 Indian population living in Australia has been reached thus far through community education and healthcare providers. Initial steps to address this community’s isolation and lack of assistance were to form a task force. In doing this, they were able to understand the needs of the community and determine key stakeholders. Dr. O’Connor credits their success to working with stakeholders in the community through theater, Bollywood dancing and faith-based organizations, such as Sikh temples, to tailor domestic violence campaigns to this population. It has also created more opportunity for this population to embrace the Australian government’s White Ribbon program, which engages men and boys to participate in the fight to end violence against women.
The role of government to push forth legislation and programs was echoed by several other panelists. Licenciada Eunice Loyda Mijangos, member of NCW of Guatemala, gave her own personal accounts of surviving psychological and physical abuse. She encouraged the audience that “there are laws to protect us”. However, Ms. Yakovleva, President of Ukranian NCW, stated that Ukraine has a lack of gender policy and a lack of women in government. Because of this, the country has become a hotbed for sex trafficking and Internet pornography. To contrast, Honorable Anita Kalinde is the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare for the Republic of Malawi. Given that there is a post in the government to address issues of gender is progressive and one that many countries need to adapt, like the United States. Ms. Kalinde discussed the country’s recent passing of the Gender Equality Law and the fact that the country has a female President. She believes these initiatives have furthered rights and services for women in the country including the implementation of one-stop shops to assist survivors with social affairs, courts, medical, police under one roof.
Though the panelists came from different countries with various cultures, it was clear that patriarchy is embedded in many of these cultures allowing violence against women to continue to occur. To address these cultural beliefs and adjust the mindset that violence against women is harmful not only to the individual but also a community and economy, an approach needs to be tailored to that culture. Awareness, education, legislation and more women in government were solutions offered by the panelists. To conclude her address, Lindy Blanchard emphasized, “Yes you can as a girl child go into education. Yes you can go into higher education. Yes you can become a mother, entrepreneur and President of your country.” Through their work to end violence against women, the panelists are passing along the same message as Ms. Blanchard.