by Kate Mays
Looking at only the gender makeup of the Ugandan government, one could make the argument that Uganda is doing pretty well with gender equality. Women make up almost 35% of its current parliamentary members, and in 2011 the 9th Parliament elected its first female Speaker. Further, Uganda was ranked 28th in the 2012 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report for political empowerment (compared to a rather shoddy 55th place showing for the US. Of course, gender parity in government is only one of many metrics to judge how equally genders are treated within society.) And the gender parity in Uganda’s government representation right now exists primarily because of a gender quota, which was included in the 1995 Constitution, and stipulates that each district must elect a female representative (to date, there are 112 total).
I am not going to delve into the pros and cons of Uganda’s gender quota – that discussion would be divergent and has been done effectively elsewhere – but it is an important premise on which to evaluate the Ugandan government’s approach to gender equality. Namely, one that embraces gender mainstreaming principles, which gained a lot of momentum after the 1995 Beijing UN Conference on Gender and Development, and continue to be practiced and implemented by some governments, the United Nations, the World Bank, and other international organizations.
Uganda does not have a sterling history in terms of its treatment of women. In the economically dominant Bugandan culture, it is commonplace for women to kneel down before men as a respectful way of greeting them (men do not return the favor, neither to women nor other men). Patriarchy pervades Ugandan culture – this post from the WomanStats blog has a good description of the gender roles. In James Lull’s definition of culture, he emphasizes the “extreme repetitiveness of everyday behavior” as the foundation for culture: “Cultural redundancy produces and reproduces meanings which form the bases of coordinated social interaction.” While the act of a woman kneeling for a man in greeting might only seem like an odd, outdated cultural tradition, the societal manifestations of the patriarchal custom are more insidious. According to statistics from the Uganda Women’s Network, 60% of Ugandan women experience gender-based violence. While this has been the focus of some more-recent legislation, it will likely take more than a few laws to reverse the culture and improve on the kind of gender inequality highlighted in this figure.
However, even if the situation on the ground, culturally within the society, is still grim, embracing the language and principles of gender mainstreaming signals to the international community that the Ugandan government acknowledges that gender inequality is a problem that needs a solution, and shows that it is at least making strides to address it. (Uganda has a Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development; it also crafted a National Gender Policy in 2007). For all of gender quotas’ potential deficiencies and possible exploitation, it is, I would argue, a step, and one that signals a commitment to being open to take further steps.
In his piece on Cosmopolitan Constructivism, Cesar Villanueva Rivas notes that “that the ways in which [countries’] identities and intentions are constructed abroad count.” Gender mainstreaming, at the very least, signals an intention, and helps to foster an environment of promoting women’s empowerment. As a result, countries like Sweden, Norway, and the US have shared knowledge and resources with Uganda, through direct engagement with the government in helping to craft gender policy, as well as through Ugandan universities and the numerous NGOs in the region.
What does this mean for Uganda’s cultural diplomacy efforts around women? I would argue that there is a lot of potential for Uganda to stake a bigger global claim on some of the issues it has been working on domestically. Many countries in Africa have adopted gender quotas and are still struggling with similar obstacles to societal and cultural gender equality. Using the NGO infrastructure that already exists, Uganda could coordinate with women’s groups like the Pan-African Women’s Organisation and FEMNET (the African Women’s Development and Communication Network) to host a summit or forum on women in politics, with particular attention paid to leadership and advocacy. A similar program, the African Women Leaders Project, was held in 2008, but it was also run by outside organizations. Although a seemingly intangible detail, if such initiatives come from the African countries themselves it gives them a real power. Further, it would show that Uganda is not only open to accepting the “cosmopolitan” values of “tolerance, friendship, and respect,” but is also “internalizing” these values.
In his piece, Rivas cites Alexander Wendt, who identifies three “degrees” of internalization, the third being “legitimacy,” which is “the most developed of these actions pursued by states, since it emerges from the state’s principles and convictions.” Wendt uses the framework of “friends” and “allies” to differentiate the modes with which countries interact; “friends” is a longer-term relationship in which countries “join a process of common understanding and societal exchanges, step by step.” Within this framework also emerges the idea of a “Self” and an “Other.” Wendt marks progress by how a state can “identify with other’s expectations, relating them as part of themselves.” In the third degree of internalization, “Self is not self-interested but rather it is interested in the Other.” In this case, I would say the “Other” is both Ugandan women as well as countries abroad. Uganda should act for women’s empowerment in recognition of what their “expectations” are for being treated equally, and internalize that goal of equality as one of its own.
The disparity in how women are treated in Ugandan society and how they’re treated in the government’s official gender policies is problematic because it sends a mixed message to other countries. Tolerance, friendship, and respect have to start at home, in order to be credibly projected to the rest of the world. Just as gender quotas project a positive image, it is important for Uganda’s reputation abroad that Ugandan women’s lives continue to improve.
The above post is from Take Five’s Student Perspective series. Kate Mays is studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University, looking at themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and writing on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and communication.
By Kate Mays
“When I was Secretary of State, I decided that women’s issues had to be central to American foreign policy. Not just because I am a feminist but because I believe that societies are better off when women are politically and economically empowered … So I think that it behooves us, those of us that live in various countries where we do have an economic and political voice, that we need to help other women, and I really dedicated myself to that, both at the UN and then as Secretary of State.”—former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in a December 2010 TED Talk
Since 2006, the World Economic Forum has published the Global Gender Gap Report because “clos[ing] global gender gaps [is] a key element of our mission to improve the state of the world.” The report finds that the more a country utilizes its female half of the population, the better off that country is. In recent years, the US has emphasized women’s rights as key foreign policy objective, including the creation in 2009 of an Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s issues.
John Worne, in his piece “Schools, Hospitals, or Cultural Relations?,” presents an International Relations positioning spectrum that ranges from “giving” (aid) to “fighting” (military action). Cultural relations spans the middle points on the spectrum: “helping, sharing and boasting” (access, influence, and messaging). Worne justifies spending on cultural relations because, “at its best, cultural relations means more ‘helping and sharing’, less ‘shouting and fighting’ and maybe one day a less urgent need to ‘give.’” Considering the correlation between women’s greater participation in society and that society’s prosperity, it makes sense for the US to focus some of its efforts and resources on bringing women to the table; eventually, hopefully, those women will reach out and do the same for others in their society.
A current initiative that strives to “help and share” is TechWomen, a US-based mentorship program that connects emerging female tech entrepreneurs from the Middle East and Africa with American women mentors who come mostly from Silicon Valley tech companies. These “Emerging Leaders” are paired with both professional and cultural mentors, to foster not only professional development opportunities but also to facilitate mutual understanding and cultural acclimation during their time in America. A public-private partnership, TechWomen is an initiative of the State Department and managed by the Institute of International Education.
Announced in April 2010, TechWomen piloted in Spring 2011, bringing over to the US 37 women from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the Palestinian territories, where they engaged in a five-week project-based mentorship that included professional networking as well as a concluding trip to DC for workshops. The program was enough of a success in 2011 that it not only continued in 2012 but also expanded to include women from Tunisia and Yemen. In 2013, it’s expanding even more to include women from Cameroon, Kenya, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. The Emerging Leaders are all women who have already begun careers in the tech industry; the idea is to develop them further to become real leaders in their field.
TechWomen is notable for its dual focus on empowering women through education, and focusing that education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. The initiative was developed in response to President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech, where he called for greater collaboration between the American and Muslim populations to address seven main issues. TechWomen hits on two: women’s rights and economic development and opportunity (through the development of science and technology).
The program has both short-term and long-term goals. In the immediate, of course, the goal is to bolster the mentees’ skills, by sharing tips and ideas, and building their confidence. A main theme in the stories shared on TechWomen’s blog speaks to the power of simply providing a common and supportive space in which these women would feel comfortable vocalizing their ideas. In the case of Evelyn Zoubi, the validation she received from her peers and mentor for her idea (eCloset.me, a website that digitizes wardrobes), was empowering and invigorating. For another Emerging Leader, Thekra, the most powerful workshop taught her to “speak the thoughts I have and not be afraid to take some risks.” These outcomes – confidence-building, creating a network of support and ideas – are mostly intangible, but are nonetheless important in creating a large, sustainable TechWomen network in the Middle East and Africa.
There are so far some real tangible outcomes to the program as well. The mentorship is project-based, so the mentees pick up practical skills and learn more about the tech field from mentors who are on the cutting-edge of the industry. They are also afforded opportunities to network with other leaders in the field to pitch their ideas. Evelyn’s pitch led to a connection with a US organization. Thekra’s idea, EduGirl – an NGO that would build a mentorship model to educate girls in neglected areas in Jordan – encompasses both the skills she learned through her mentorship, and touches on the longer-term goal for TechWomen, which is that the Emerging Leaders will go back to their countries and share their knowledge, to become mentors themselves for younger generations of women in STEM.
While the main focus of TechWomen is to expand opportunities and education, another major tool of cultural diplomacy is woven throughout the program: exchange. During their stay in the US, the Emerging Leaders have opportunities to visit schoolsto see the American education system in action. The program also encourages a two-way exchange. Once the 5-week program is complete, TechWomen mentor delegations travel to some of the mentees’ countries to “focus on: expanding networks of women in the technology sectors, creating and strengthening partnerships, and ensuring the sustainability of Mentor/Emerging Leader relationships.” (excerpted from the TechWomen website. In a video appeal for more TechWomen mentors, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasizes not only the benefits for the mentees, but the opportunity for growth and enrichment for the US mentors.
Hillary Clinton’s appeal for more mentors from American tech companies.
Speaking of the blog, the technical communication infrastructure around the TechWomen initiative seems to be an important piece of its sustainability: there is a robust website, an active presence on social media, and a blog that posts throughout the year. While US mentorship only occurs in the fall, and the delegations take a few trips after that, the conversation around TechWomen appears year-long, so that engagement remains fairly active.
To my mind, TechWomen has been a successful program because of its specificity in mission and audience. The ambitious vision of creating a professional network that can support the next generation of women leaders in technology in the Middle East and Africa (and continue to be self-perpetuating within the regions) is grounded in concrete efforts like the projects-based mentorship, professional development workshops, and networking opportunities. Hopefully the success of these kinds of initiatives will lead to others with larger targeted audiences – opening up educational opportunities for women who are not already on a career path. TechGirls is a promising initiative that reaches younger women to encourage careers in science and technology. Thekra’s EduGirl is a great example of the next step for this movement – an initiative that comes from within the region and reaches out to disadvantaged girls and women.
Kate Mays is a graduate student at the George Washington University.
The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication. The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions.
Those interested in using innovative methods to spread a message might take an interest in the Half the Sky Movement, an organization dedicated to promoting gender equality in developing nations. This November, Half the Sky will release a game on Facebook. What makes this game interesting – and potentially, will allow it to stand out on a platform usually dedicated to lighter fare – is the way that it links in-game behavior to real-world events. From the organization’s website:
“…Helping in-game does not only reward the players online. Players’ actions and virtual items are tied to micro-donations and matching donations from sponsors that extend to the real world: building schools, donating livestock to farmers or supporting new micro-saving programs. Beyond monetary contributions, players will be invited to share their good deeds with friends and “recruit” them, volunteer their time, organize groups, as well as engage in movies and narratives presented in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”
Half the Sky’s venture is the latest in a burgeoning trend in the games world – the use of “serious games,” or games designed for a primary purpose other than entertainment, to impact real world events. Watchers of the tech world may remember last year when a players of the game Foldit managed in three weeks to create a protein-cutting enzyme from an AIDS-like virus, a challenge that had stumped scientists in the field for more than a decade. The project, funded by DARPA, now seeks to develop a protein to help fight sepsis. In this way, scientists are hoping to employ every-day human intuitive and puzzle-solving abilities to resolve problems that typically require advanced degrees and the use of supercomputers.
One wonders whether the U.S. Government, which has been working to incorporate other modern innovations such as social media, would benefit from games as a communication tool. Tech@State, the State Department’s body dedicated to applying technology to U.S. diplomacy, has shown a level of interest. Last May the organization hosted a conference on serious games featuring a variety of NGOs who use the medium. Doubtless someone at State is contemplating that if games can be employed to combat disease and promote gender equality, they might be used to present the U.S. favorably abroad. If not, someone should be.
I believe that games can be of use to for public diplomacy, but only if State realizes that it will be held to the same standard as the rest of the industry. For games to impact a player, they must be engaging – people will turn off a boring game as quickly as they switch from a boring broadcast. To date, the State Department hasn’t generated much by the way of interesting content – it has contracted out companies to produce a few basic apps on topics like U.S. trivia, or oceans. I’ve played several of these. Suffice it to say that they are not explosions of creativity and entertainment.
Those interested might find find Jane McGonigal’s lectures at TED conferences to be worth watching. McGonigal is focused on motivating people to contribute to causes, and not necessarily PR, but she’s a source worth hearing on how games can move people to think and act differently. Start from 16:31 for examples of “serious gameplay” – fascinating stuff.
Searching online for details about the life of Dr. Marie Gadsden, a ground-breaking African-American internationalist who was my husband’s dear friend and mentor, we discovered intriguing threads linking her to a complex and deeply fascinating story: the story of African-American political and cultural engagement with newly independent Africa in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.
It is also a story, I would argue, about two-way, collaborative, non-assymetrical dialogue — with and without government support — of the kind that today is the elusive prescription for successful public diplomacy as described by scholars such as Jan Melisson, Rhonda Zaharna, Kathy Fitzpatrick, and others. (If you have another view on this, Take Five welcomes your contributions and insights.)
To return to the story: Marie Gadsden was one of the first African-Americans awarded a Fulbright fellowship, which in 1953 took her to Oxford University in the UK. There, chance put her with roommate Sarah Ntiro, a future icon of Ugandan women’s rights, a pairing that added impetus to Marie’s growing interest in strengthening U.S.- African ties.
1959 found Dr. Gadsden teaching English to government cabinet members and to English teachers in newly-independent Guinea, as a response to President Sékou Touré’s first request of the first U.S. Ambassador to that country. In 1960, Dorothy Height, who was president of the influential National Council of Negro Women and who would go on to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for her work in the Civil Rights movement, recalled joining in a women’s labor march with Marie Gadsden in the Guinean capital of Conakry.
Dr. Gadsden would likely have known of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s travel to Kenya and the UK, also in 1960. And a few years later, in 1966, Dr. Gadsden crossed paths with famed American poet Langston Hughes in Nairobi, most likely during his USIA-sponsored trip to Uganda and Ghana.
So what were these and many other African-American icons doing in Africa? The essential answer is that they were sharing ideas, and receiving them. Sharing expertise, and gaining inspiration.
They were seeking support from Africans for American civil rights – human rights — and working hard to mobilize American support for Africa’s political and economic development. Traveling for U.S. public diplomacy, and traveling as private citizens, and merging the two as true citizen diplomats.
And also pressing the State Department in Washington to include more African-Americans among the ranks of U.S. diplomats, and to focus more effectively on relations with emerging African nations.
We are by now familiar with the Jazz Ambassadors of that era, a much-lauded Cold War initiative of U.S. public diplomacy that projected American culture and society through jazz greats from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and Dave Brubeck.
But fewer likely focus on the deeply emotional and polarizing backdrop of the early U.S. Civil Rights era, which saw, for example, Louis Armstrong temporarily refusing to tour for the U.S. in protest at President Eisenhower’s early handling of the Little Rock, AK, desegregation crisis. Such tensions are the focus of historian Penny von Eschen’s absorbing book Satchmo Blows Up the World.
So the heady era when a young America embraced post-WWII globalism (a zeitgeist intensified by visionary and inspiring initiatives of the Kennedy era such as the Peace Corps and rapid expansion of U.S. development assistance), was a stirring but also conflicted period for many African-Americans who saw the African quest for post-colonial independence as a mirror and metaphor for the horrifically daunting struggle for civil rights at home. In December 1960, Ebony magazine celebrated Africa’s emerging states as both the realization of a dream as well as a somewhat precarious, must-not-fail experiment that demanded the material and spiritual support of African-Americans as well as the official support of the United States.
Dr. Gadsden’s story, like those of many other African-American leaders whose threads were woven into it, brings that era to vivid life. The all-too-brief details that follow are offered as an introductory sample, a tantalizing glimpse, in the hope that you will follow our own footsteps in discovering the rich history of African-American and African public diplomacy in the early Civil Rights era.
Dorothy Height’s memoir Open Wide the Freedom Gates (2009), and especially her Chapter 14, “Citizen of the World,” highlights the immediate and compelling political relevance of Height’s own international experience and that of other Civil Rights leaders.
In 1960, Height traveled for several months in Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, and Guinea to study the training needs of women’s organizations. (It was on this trip that she met Marie Gadsden, then with the small and shrinking U.S. Embassy delegation in Conakry.) Meetings with grassroots women who had never before thought about their problems and goals in gender terms; being hosted by a new cabinet minister in Accra, and Nigeria’s new chief barrister in Lagos; gaining insights into the debilitating legacy of colonialism — all are vividly described.
On her return, Height helped form a senior policy advocacy group, the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa (ANLCA), together with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Roy Wilkins, and other top Civil Rights leaders. A remarkable coalition of African-American religious, civil rights, fraternal, sorority, business, professional, educational, labor and social organizations supported ANLCA, including the American Committee on Africa, the Phelps-Stokes Fund, and even organizations whose primary commitment was clearly to grassroots Civil Rights organizing in the U.S. such as the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
Height recalls that Chief Simeon Olaosebikan Adebo, newly arrived in New York as Nigeria’s ambassador to the UN, invited ANLCA leaders “to discuss how Africans felt about U.S. policy. …He wanted black Americans to think more precisely about how the U.S. was relating [not just to South Africa but] to other parts of the continent too. He urged us to be aware of policies that affected the utilization of raw materials throughout southern and central Africa… Above all, he wanted us to know how U.S. policy played into these complicated issues.”
Meanwhile, American poet Langston Hughes had spent much of the 1950′s putting together a highly ambitious anthology of African and diaspora writing, published in 1960 as An African Treasury. Daniel Won-gu Kim, in his excellent, insightful piece, We, Too, Rise with You: Recovering Langston Hughes’s African (Re)Turn 1954-1960 in An African Treasury, the Chicago Defender, and Black Orpheus (2007), describes how Hughes began the project in 1954, correponding with hundreds of writers and sifting and weighing thousands of potential contributions, many of them handwritten and “accompanied by letters … expressing their gratitude and admiration of Hughes as an elder black writer. “
Notes Kim, “the friendship and comradeship of this new generation of African writers could not have had a more meaningful influence on [Hughes]. … The anthology served as a kind of crash course, bringing him up to speed in the dizzying but inspiring pace of change in his ancestral homeland, feeding his own drive to rediscover–via African liberation–his role as a cultural fighter for the liberation of his people in the U.S.”
In 1962, on the heels of the anthology’s publication, Hughes made two trips to Africa sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) — his first since he was an impressionable young man working on a tramp steamer in the 1920′s. In June-July of ’62, Langston Hughes’ itinerary included a major conference of writers at Makerere University College in Kampala, Uganda, and the dedication of a new United States Information Service (USIS) Center and Library in Ghana.
The “M’bari Writers Conference” opened in Kampala with about 45 writers, editors, scholars and journalists from nine African countries, the U.S., UK, and Caribbean — including rising literary stars such as Chinua Achebe, future Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka, Ezekiel Mphahlele, Bloke Modisane, and Cyprian Ekwensi. Langston Hughes already knew and admired many of these writers from his work on the anthology, and had also engaged in correspondence with the brilliant South African writer Bessie Head and others. His speech at the new USIS library in Ghana clearly drew inspiration from his experience at the Kampala conference: “[As] America comes to Africa, as through these library shelves, to offer an exchange of knowledge … [so] Black Africa today is sending rejuvenating currents of liberty over all the earth reaching even as far as Little Rock, Birmingham and Jackson, Mississippi.”
A modern awareness of this interweaving of literature, politics, culture, nationalism, and human rights echoes through “Langston Hughes in Paradise,” Amanda Leigh Lichtenstein’s beautiful and inspirational 2011 essay in Contrary. Lichtenstein, while teaching Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son” (with its famous line “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”) to students from the State University of Zanzibar, perceives this poem’s message of nationalism through the response it generates in her students.
Finally, there is the fascinating 1960 episode in which then-NAACP lawyer and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall served as an advisor to Kenyan nationalists during negotiations on a new constitution for Kenya, at the time a British colony. The story, outlined in Mary Dudziak’s Working toward Democracy: Thurgood Marshall and the Constitution of Kenya, describes an invitation to Marshall from Tom Mboya, a young nationalist leader from Kenya (who was assassinated a few years later, in 1967.) Marshall traveled first to Kenya, and then to London, while his offers of assistance were debated by both Kenyans and British. Interestingly, Marshall’s most substantial contribution to the Kenyan constitution was to strengthen protection for property rights, de facto those of land-owning white Kenyans. Dudziak’s insights into the nuances and apparent contradictions of Thurgood Marshall’s work on, and later views on, the Kenyan constitution are well worth a read.
In February 1960, Marshall quickly wrapped up his involvement and returned to the U.S. earlier than anticipated “after four African-American freshmen at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College held a sit-in at the segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. The simple protest soon expanded into a widespread sit-in movement,” and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund set out to defend the students immediately. ”The sit-ins posed a set of legal and practical dilemmas for civil rights lawyers,” among them the problem — felt strongly by Marshall in particular, echoing his property-rights concerns about the Kenyan constitution — that the students had violated “facially valid trespass laws, not facially vulnerable segregation laws.”
Meanwhile, Thurgood Marshall maintained ties with his Kenya colleagues, and his work on the draft Kenyan Bill of Rights continued to be influential. Marshall developed a deep affection for Jomo Kenyatta after his release in 1961. He traveled to Kenya on a U.S. State Department sponsored trip in July 1963, and was an honored guest of Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta at Kenya’s independence ceremonies in December 1963.
Marie Gadsden herself, after more than a decade with the Peace Corps, went on to become a pioneer in connecting America’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) with international development training and exchange programs funded by USAID, USIA, and the State Department. Her work on this effort through the Phelps-Stokes Fund and later through NAFEO brought her a level of respect in Washington that led to her being named the first African-American board chair of Oxfam-America, among many other recognitions.
Throughout her life, she maintained a deep commitment to developing America and developing Africa, to engaging young Americans and young Africans in service, both at home and abroad. She seamlessly worked for the U.S. Government, for private organizations, and to advance her own deeply held personal vision.
Hers was a life of public diplomacy.
It’s been “all Public Diplomacy all the time” this week at George Washington University, with many exciting events surrounding the IPDGC’s Hip Hop Diplomacy: Connecting Through Culture conference on Tuesday afternoon, 3/27. (Note: here’s the conference final program; check the IPDGC website soon for the full conference video.)
First, we are delighted to see that conference keynote speaker Tara Sonenshine, currently Executive Vice President at the U.S. Institute of Peace, has just been confirmed by the Senate as the new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Ms. Sonenshine spoke passionately at the IPDGC conference about the importance of addressing challenges to women. She emphasized the power of individuals, and the role of cultural exchange in inspiring individuals to action. She described public diplomacy as a key “inclusionary” strategy that can help put women together with powerful institutions of government and business. Getting women into such loci of power “is a national security issue for us, and for everyone,” Ms. Sonenshine noted.
After her remarks, a terrific panel took the conference floor to talk about their international public diplomacy experience sharing sports, music, and journalism skills with young women (and men) around the world. U.S. Soccer star Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak joined award-winning hip hop and R&B artist Toni Blackman, directors of the youth media training organization GlobalGirl Media (Therese Steiner and Tumi Mosadi), rising Moroccan hip hop star Soultana, and top Zimbabwean women’s basketball coach Belia Zibowa.
Listening to this amazing panel, I recalled last week’s article by Dr. Philip Seib, reflecting on a recent cultural diplomacy conference in the U.K. Seib wrote, “Still needing to be better defined … is the state’s role vis-à-vis the cultural community and the individual artist in the course of these diplomatic ventures.” And in fact our conference was an unusual opportunity to hear vivid descriptions and powerful insights from these artists / experts, right alongside the essential policy overview provided by Ambassador Adam Ereli, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, and a valuable presentation on private sector support for international youth sports outreach from GWU professor Lisa Delpy Neirotti (rounded out by some thoughts of my own on the interrelationship of media and cultural exchange in public diplomacy.)
Meanwhile, all week IPDGC made the most of the DC presence of two of the conference’s international participants. Tumi Mosadi, who coordinates GlobalGirl Media’s project in Soweto, is today joining a field trip of Washington DC high school students to NBC studios as part of the Prime Movers Media journalism training program sponsored by GWU’s School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA). Yesterday, Ms. Mosadi had the opportunity to shadow SMPA alum Coleen King at MSNBC’s Chris Matthews news program, and she met with SMPA alum Jayne Orenstein at the Washington Post on Wednesday to talk video-journalism.
Also on Wednesday, Tumi and GlobalGirl Media President Therese Steiner screened a powerful GGM documentary film on the impact of HIV/AIDS on young women in Soweto at GWU’s Department of Global Health (School of Public Health), as well as at State Department’s Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator. IPDGC sends a big thank you to all our GWU colleagues for these collaborations.
And IPDGC provided night life as well: Moroccan hip hopper Soultanaperformed her work – including hit single Sawt Nssa (Voice of Women) – to lively audiences at DC venues Marrakesh Lounge and 19th Bar. (Just as a reminder of the power of international exchanges to connect and build, it was Kendra Salois, former U.S. Fulbright Student in Morocco and current Ph.D. candidate at U. Cal Berkeley, who connected the IPDGC team – not normally famed as music impresarios – with the performance organizers. Our thanks go to Kendra and to Darby Hickey for making the performances possible.)
“I get more respect now,” she says. “Before people in the village wouldn’t talk to me but they do now.”
~Jamirun Nesa on owning a business (BBC News, October 2002)
Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), especially mobile phones, can have a huge impacton the business opportunities available to women in developing countries by providing access to markets, conserving time, connecting women with other business owners and fostering empowerment.
A common business opportunity is to sell goods that are either grown or handmade; however, many of the poor, especially women, have restricted access to markets because of time constraints, lack of transportation and safety concerns, among other factors. A cell phone easily addresses all of these issues. Without leaving their homes, women can call to check prices, find buyers for their products or place orders.
Additionally, even if women want to start businesses, they are typically responsible for the bulk of household activities and childcare, which is time consuming. In this respect, the efficiency and time saved by using a cell phone is invaluable. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, recently released a report focusing on how connectivity can create entrepreneurial opportunities for women in India. One of the profiled entrepreneurs, Sunita, runs a silkworm breeding business. She not only uses her cell phone for market access, but also to remotely activate a water pump for her silkworm shed – saving her the 3-4 km walk to turn it on and off.
Another benefit of ICTs which is raised in ICRW’s report is that women can connect with other entrepreneurs. Social norms, distance and time constraints that would usually prevent these groups from forming are eased by cell phone ownership. As a result, many women form self-help groups with other entrepreneurs to establish business connections, stimulate creativity, identify best practices, answer questions and serve as a general support network.
Finally, the phones themselves can become a business. In places where cell phones or landlines are scarce, individuals who have a mobile can sell minutes – a modern phone booth. As an example, the Grameen Foundation established a program to give small loans to poor women to start this type of business.
Overall, by allowing women to access markets and making tasks less time-consuming, cell phones lower or eliminate some of the barriers to starting and operating a business. In turn, owning a business leaves many women feeling incredibly empowered. Women entrepreneurs can challenge social norms, gain respect from their family and community, improve their individual confidence and set examples for future generations.
From a policy perspective, programs that focus on increasing women’s access to ICTs are a relatively inexpensive way to address many problems that women entrepreneurs face in the developing world.
On an individual level, you can donate old phones to organizations that reuse or recycle them to provide phones to developing countries. Some organizations, such as Hope Phones, will even accept broken phones and pay for shipping.
It’s March 8 — International Women’s Day — and a great occasion to introduce two remarkable women who will travel to Washington DC later this month to speak at George Washington University.
Tumi Mosadi, not yet 30, directs GlobalGirl Media in Johannesburg, South Africa, teaching social media and video-journalism skills to high school girls who are struggling against stacked odds: poverty, disease, violence. Through Tumi’s dedication, these girls find their voices. They learn to tell their own stories, and the stories of those around them. When South Africa hosted the 2010 soccer World Cup, Tumi helped the girls talk about what this remarkable event meant for them as citizens of South Africa, even if soccer is not traditionally a girls’ game there. Since 2011, Tumi has helped the girls find their voices to talk about HIV and AIDS.
Soultana, at 25, is a Moroccan rap star, still a rarity in that North African country. With fellow members of the trio “Tigresse Flow” she won several national music awards in Morocco, including the prize for best emerging talent at the prestigious annual Mawazine festival. Last year, Soultana released a solo music video: “Sawt Nssa” or “The Voice of Women.”
Soultana raps about poverty, double standards, and exploitation. She sings “The woman’s voice is what I’m calling / The girl’s voice that is lost in my country / The voice of those who want to talk, who want to say: a voice of all women who want a sign.”
So what do these remarkable women have in common? And what brings them together at GWU later this month?
What Tumi and Soultana share is their embrace of cross-cultural dialogue and international partnerships — and specifically their participation in programs that are part of United States cultural diplomacy.
Global Girl Media works to give girls a journalist’s voice, with programs in Los Angeles, South Africa and elsewhere. U.S. Embassy public diplomacy grants help send American volunteer mentors/trainers to South Africa. At the U.S. Consulate in Johannesburg, I saw clearly the thirst for such programs and opportunities, and their potential for great impact. But Tumi herself can speak from the inside, can talk about what she’s learned as a trainer and mentor about effectiveness, and about the changes she has seen in the lives of the participating girls.
Half a continent away, Soultana came to know several young U.S. Fulbright researchers who were studying hip hop culture in Morocco, and helped guide them through Casablanca’s complex cultural scene. Last year, she visited the U.S. via the International Visitors Leadership Program, adding on an artists’ residency and New York festival performance. At the U.S. Embassy in Morocco, I saw first-hand the emerging power of young aspirations and voices in that country, which, just as in the U.S., are so often expressed through music. But Soultana herself can speak about how it feels to be a young, pioneering woman expressing the concerns of a generation. And her prior experience in America will help her to tell us these things in our own language of cultural understanding.
The best news is that both of these remarkable individuals will be featured speakers at “Hip Hop Diplomacy: Connecting Through Culture,“ a conference the IPDGC will host on March 27, from 2:00 – 5:00 pm at the Elliott School of International Relations. Click on the link for details, and to RSVP. We hope to see you there!
In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center has released an interesting report, “Reflections on Women in the Arab Spring.” The report consists of short commentaries from women who were key participants and observers of the various protests that have swept the MENA region over the last year.
Many of those contributing to the report are pessimistic about the future for women in many of these societies, and a mood of bitterness and even betrayal underlies a lot of their observations. Some of this, to be sure, reflects the same feelings that many of the protesters in places like Egypt have expressed as they’ve seen their own power usurped by conservative political parties and even old foes like the Army. Last April I conducted some journalism training at the American University in Cairo right next to Tahrir Square, and already this pessimism was palpable in the conversations I had with students, faculty, and even those still gathering in the square.
But as the report makes clear, there are unique concerns among many women, and their male supporters, that the new political systems in these countries are not an improvement, and in some cases could even create a worse environment for women than existed under the old dictatorships.
This is all the more distressing given the powerful role many women played in these revolutions, and, for many, the sense of empowerment the protests gave to these women. As Moushira Khattab, a former Egyptian Ambassador to several countries and former Minister of Family and Population, says in the report:
Women rallied around the cause of pushing the train of political change. One year later,
Egyptian women find that the train of change has not only left them behind, but has in fact
turned against them. It is ironic that the revolution that empowered a country, and made every
Egyptian realize the power of their voice, stopped short of women’s rights. Sadly, the only
march that was kicked out of Tahrir Square was that of women celebrating 2011 International
Women’s Day. Women were beaten, subjected to virginity tests, and stripped of their clothes in
the very same Tahrir Square.
An important underlying theme of the report, from both an academic and a social movement perspective, is that political processes and political parties are ultimately more important for securing rights and freedoms than revolutions. Many of those quoted in the report lament the failure to live up to the promise of female representation in legislative bodies, and the frightening way in which these male- and often conservatively-dominated legislatures are trying to roll back the rights of women by, for example, legalizing polygamy or trying to reinstate female genital mutilation.
This isn’t just about Islamism, either. As Rend Al-Rahim, Executive Director of the Iraq Foundation, points out:
A similar retreat in the civil and human rights of women may well occur, as constitutions are
written and laws are passed. It’s not an issue of Islam. Though the Salafist trend denies rights
for women, the Muslim Brotherhood, less extreme and more numerous, fielded women
candidates for parliament in Egypt (and before that in Iraq). The retreat in women’s rights has
more to do with the resurgence of patriarchal, narrowly conservative, social mores embedded
in ancient tribal customs than with religion. Shari’a is only a convenient peg for the deeper
instinct of male dominance.
Successful social movements, particularly revolutionary ones, have always faced difficulties as they transition from protest to political process, in large part because the latter doesn’t reward idealism and non-hierarchical structures. The problem is, process is where real change occurs, or where it gets squashed. For women in the MENA region, and elsewhere, there are worrying signs, but there are also hopeful ones. To end on a more positive note, here is a cautiously optimistic forecast from Farzaneh Milani of the University of Virgina:
The massive participation of throngs of women, walking shoulder to
shoulder and side by side with men, is a turning point in the contemporary history of the
region. It is indeed a revolution within revolutions. Although there will be many challenges
ahead, particularly for those women who have transgressed all conventional boundaries and
traditional spaces, the genie is out of the bottle.