Why did millions march? A view from the many women’s marches

 

Why did people march on January 21, 2017? As a team of sociologists interested in social movements, we know there are many possible answers to this seemingly simple question.

As a team of sociologists we have developed a multi-method, multi-site research project, Mobilizing Millions: Engendering Protest Across the Globe.* We want to understand why people participate in a march of this scale, at a critical historical juncture in our political landscape. Within weeks of discussion of the first march, there were already “sister” march pages national and internationally. While it is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of the project findings thus far, the predictability of the racial tensions visible in social media or the role of men, local opportunities and challenges we do offer some early findings.

In the project’s first phase, we had team members on the ground in Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA;  Portland, OR; Santa Barbara, CA and St. Louis, MO. We are currently conducting a survey about the motivations and experiences that brought millions of people to the marches worldwide. We recruited respondents from marches in the aforementioned cities, and online. This has resulted in responses from around the world. Our preliminary findings from the observations and survey highlight that 1) there were a range of reasons people attended marches and 2) across and within sites, there were varying experiences of “the” march in any location.

One striking similarity we observed across sites was the limited visible presence of social movement organizations (SMOs). For sure, SMOs became visible in social media leading up to the event (particularly for the DC march). Unlike at social movement gatherings such as the US Social Forum or conservative equivalents, the sheer number of unaffiliated people dwarfed any delegations or representatives from SMOs. Of our almost 60-member nation-wide team across sites only a handful had encountered anyone handing out organizational material, as we would see at other protest. This is perhaps what brought many people to the march—an opportunity to be an individual connecting with other individuals. However, this is an empirical question as is what this means for the future of social movement organizing. We hope others join us in answering.

Second, while the energy was palpable at all of the marches so was the confusion. As various media sources reported, attendance at all sites far exceeded projections, sometimes by 10 times. Consequently, the physical presence of the expanded beyond organizers’ expectations, which in many places required a schedule shifted. At all marches there were points where participants in central areas could not move and most people could not hear scheduled speakers even if they were physically close to a stage.  Across the sites, we also observed how this challenge stimulated different responses. In multiple locations, people gathering spontaneously created their own sub-marches out of excitement as happened in DC when a band started playing on Madison street and people followed. Or, while waiting, waiting participants chanted “march, march.” Still, in many locations, once the official march started, people created sub-marches out of necessity because the pre-planned march route was impassable. When faced with standing for an hour to wait their “turn” to walk or create an alternative, they chose the latter.

Creativity was visible in artistic forms as well. While there were professionally printed signs (and T-shirts), there was a wealth of handmade signs at the marches. As expected, a slew that referenced phrases the president-elect had said noting, for example, “this pussy grabs back.” Yet there was also a range of other signs ranging from simple text to complicated storyboards (see below).

Across sites, we also saw many differences: including which types of organizations sponsored (or “supported” or “ were affiliated with”) that march.

At the Austin, Texas march, marchers’ signs and chants reflected a wide variety of concerns, including women’s reproductive health care, Black Lives Matter, and environmental justice. The emotional tenor was frequently celebratory, though it varied from one point in the march to another across a crowd reported to be more than 40,000. Many speeches at the rally immediately following the march connected the actions of the Texas state legislature–on whose front steps the march began and ended–to the broader national context.

The Los Angeles March numbers suggest it exceeded DC participation. There was a noticeable presence of signs about immigration and in Spanish, which is not surprising considering the local and state demographics.

The Philadelphia, PA march was close to bigger cities of in New York and DC. Some participants noted that due to the location it was  “competing” for marchers.

The Portland, OR protest also exceeded attendance expectations as marchers withstood hours of pouring rain. Holding the “sister” marches on the same day worldwide emphasized the magnitude and assists in building collective identity. Yet it also meant organizers in different locations faced vastly different challenges. Factors such as weather that might not have existed if organizers had been scheduling based solely on local norms and contexts.

To help provide a preliminary sense of the motivations and continued engagement of marchers, we examined a sample of the ~40,000 tweets posted over two months. The analysis continues.

In the coming month, we are launching a separate survey to better understand a group social movement scholars are sometimes less inclined to study: people who do not participate in marches on January 21 (there are exceptions to this of course). As social movement scholars know, mobilization is actually a rare occurrence when we consider the range of grievances present in any society at any given moment. For a second phase of the project, we will conduct interviews with select survey participants.

Understanding the range of responses to grievances is critical as we move into this new era. If the first month of Trump’s presidency is any indication of the years to come, scholars and activists across the political spectrum will have many opportunities to engage these questions.

 

____________________

 

*The team Faculty collaborators are Zakiya Luna, PhD (Principal Investigator, California, DC, LA,PH and TX coordinator); Kristen Barber, PhD (St. Louis Lead); Selina Gallo-Cruz, PhD (Boston Lead); Kelsy Kretschmer, PhD (Portland Lead). The site leadership was provided by Anna Chatillon (Austin, TX); Fátima Suarez (Los Angeles, CA); Alex Kulick (Philadelphia, PA & social media); Chandra Russo, PhD (DC co-lead). We are also grateful to many volunteer research assistants.

Dr. Zakiya Luna is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focused on social movements, human rights and reproduction with an emphasis on the effects of intersecting inequalities within and across these sites. She has published multiple articles on activism, feminism and reproductive justice. For more information on her research and teaching, see http://www.zakiyaluna.com.

Alex Kulick, MA, is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and trainee in the National Science Foundation network science IGERT program. Their research investigates social processes of inequality and resistance with an emphasis on sexuality, gender, and race.

Anna Chatillon-Reed is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is currently completing her MA, which investigates the relationship between the Black Lives Matter movement and feminist organizations.

 

Date         :               February 15, 2017

Authors    :               Zakiya Luna MSW PhD, Alex Kulick MA, and Anna Chatillon-Reed

Source     :               Sociological Images

https://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2017/02/15/why-did-millions-march-a-view-from-the-many-womens-marches/

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How Today’s Populism Dismantles Democracy Worldwide

 

Populism is spreading across the globe. In Europe, populist parties have won victories in Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, and Switzerland; and they have joined governing coalitions in Finland, Norway, and Lithuania. More broadly, strongmen with populist agendas have become president — including Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Donald Trump in the United States.

Various causes lie behind populist upsurges, ranging from increased economic hardship and inequality to growing frustrations with globalization and immigration. But the consequences are worrisome, because research suggests the very real possibility of democratic backsliding worldwide. Populist takeovers are associated with personalist dictatorships and the dismantling of democratic institutions.

Populism Today

Contemporary populists share the objectives of their historical predecessors in Latin America and Europe. They promote a disdain for traditional political institutions, praise the advantages of strong and decisive leadership, and vocalize deep distrust of experts and the “establishment.” Today’s populists use new tactics, however. They no longer signal a quick break from democracy, but rather set in motion a subtle chipping away at democratic institutions.

Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan illustrate this dynamic. Rather than gaining control through coup or revolution, which can incite domestic and international pushback, these leaders came to power via elections. Once in office, they stoked widespread discontent to undermine institutional constraints on their power, sideline the opposition, and weaken civil society. The tactics used are straightforward – and subtle enough each step of the way to make it hard for supporters of democracy to stop.

  • Populist regimes place loyalists and allies in key positions regardless of competence, especially in the judiciary and security services
  • Traditional media is muzzled, and government turns to alternative outlets to push its message
  • Those in power use lawsuits and new legislation to undermine civil society and the opposition

A New Pathway to Autocracy

Today’s populist tactics represent a shift in how democracies fall apart. “Authoritarianization” is the term for this kind of regime change, where elected leaders lead the say in undermining democratic institutions. Historically, military coups were the dominant pathway. Data on authoritarian regimes show that from 1946 to 1999, 64 percent of democracies collapsed due to coups. From 2000 to 2010, however, authoritarianization has been on the rise, representing 40 percent of all democratic failures, equal to the percentage of failures through coups. All signs point to populist-fueled authoritarianization becoming the most common pathway from democracy to autocracy.

Personalist Dictatorships and Their Results

Not only are we seeing a change in how democracies wane; a new type of dictatorship is emerging. Populist politics gives rise to “personalist dictatorships,” where power is concentrated in the hands of a single individual. From 2000 to 2010, this happened in 75% of authoritarian transitions, compared to less than half the time in such transitions from 1946 to 1999. We have seen this personalist route from election to authoritarianism in Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela, as well as in Peru under Alberto Fujimori. Even where populist strongmen have not fully dismantled democracy, we often see them enjoying a disproportionate share of power, as in Nicaragua under Daniel Ortega, Ecuador under Rafael Correa, Hungary under Viktor Orban, and Poland under Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

A growing literature in political science finds that personalist dictatorship is associated with a wide range of ruinous outcomes. Even compared to other kinds of dictatorships, personalist regimes pursue the most risky and aggressive foreign policies. They are the most likely to invest in nuclear weapons, initiate interstate conflicts, and launch wars against democracies. Weakened accountability mechanisms enable personalist leaders to take risks without facing consequences for poor choices. This is more the case for personalist regimes than even for other types of authoritarian regimes. Cases in point include the adventurism of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, of Idi Amin in Uganda, and of the Kim family in North Korea. The annexation of Crimea by Russia’s Vladimir Putin is another prominent example.

Existing research also shows that personalist dictatorships stoke xenophobic sentiments and mismanage foreign aid allocations. And when such regimes collapse, they are unlikely to revert to democracy. In short, populist-fueled creeping authoritarianism is potentially triggering a global spread of highly adventurist and dangerous regimes.

To Buck New Antidemocratic Trends We Must Recognize the Signs

Conditions giving rise to populist candidates and parties are probably not going to disappear in the near future. Problematic trends include slow growth and rising economic inequalities and joblessness; rising frustrations with immigration and refugee crises; and citizen perceptions that traditional political establishments are crooked and corrupt. In combination, such trends may very well continue fuel support for populist leaders worldwide, putting elected strongmen in position to shift democracies in authoritarian directions.

Pushing back against this threat to democracy will be difficult to accomplish precisely because of the subtle means through which today’s populists implement strongman rule. Because they incrementally dismantle democratic institutions and norms, no single dramatic change triggers widespread mobilization of opposition. All too often, populist leaders can frame vocal critics as destabilizing provocateurs, fragmenting resistance and rendering it ineffective.

In short, the global surge in populism poses a serious challenge to democracy. A first step toward mitigating this threat is for citizens and leaders in many countries to recognize what is occurring and how.

 

Date         :               February 2017

Author      :               Erica Frantz (Michigan State University)

Source     :               Scholars Strategy Network

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The collapse of pre-election sociology: A view from Russia

 

In 2016 classic political sociology died. Having celebrated its 80th jubilee in November, over the course of elections in the United States, it suffered from a tremendous stroke, from which it did not recover. At the beginning of December, when Italy held its constitutional referendum, it tried to wake up, get up off the sofa and stand up. But instead, it fell into an even deeper coma, from which it has not awoken.

The birth and death of political sociology (by which I understand the system of pre-electoral public opinion surveys) is strongly connected with presidential elections in the United States. At the beginning of the 20th century (and no later than the 1920) the main organisation responsible for predicting election results was the weekly journal Literary Digest. Before every presidential election, the publication would send questionnaires to millions of its subscribers. The recipients were expected to indicate who they were going to vote for and send the completed form back to the editorial office.

Each time, Literary Digest was able to correctly name the next US president. However, in 1936 the journal sent ten million queries and received 2.3 million responses and, based on the data gathered, Alfred Landon was meant to become the next president.

However, in the election on November 3rd 1936, the Democratic candidate, the then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, easily defeated Landon, winning in 46 out of 48 states. But the election had one more winner: a young sociologist, George Gallup. Before the voting began, he got in a public debate with the management of Literary Digest, claiming that the prognoses of the journal were inaccurate, since they were based on views expressed by its subscribers only – who in large part belonged to a higher social strata. Instead of two or three million, Gallup surveyed 50,000 people, having divided them into different groups based on their income level, place of origin, gender, age etc. In the end, his prognosis was the most accurate. Two years later Literary Digest closed down, unable to deal with a prolonged crisis.

The test of time

In nearly 80 years of public opinion research, based on the method developed by Gallup, the company has correctly named almost every winner of presidential races in the United States, with the exception of years 1948 and 1976. Another failure to predict the election result occurred in 2012, when Gallup gave Barrack Obama 48 per cent of votes and his opponent – Mitt Romney – 49 per cent. That year Obama retained the presidency.

The most recent prognosis by Gallup before the 2016 election asserted that support for Donald Trump was at 35 per cent, while for Hillary Clinton it was 40 per cent. But Gallup was not the only one predicting Clinton’s victory, as so did almost all other sociologists. Many social research agencies claimed that Clinton’s victory would be between 95 and 99 per cent certain. FiveThirtyEight website’s estimates were the most generous for Trump and claimed he had a 23 per cent chance to win.

After the election, in December 2016, Swiss Das Magazin published an investigation on how Trump’s victory became possible. “It cannot be claimed that sociologists lost the election, because their prognoses were mistaken. Quite the opposite: sociologists won, but only those ones who used the latest methods”, the publication concludes. Instead of analysing wide groups of population, the newer methods are based on studying Facebook activities of individual users. Subsequently each of the users was recommended a certain context-based advertisement, to mobilise Trump’s electorate or to compel Clinton’s followers to start questioning her actions.

Alexander Nix, the CEO of data and communications agency Cambridge Analytica, who used this system in Trump’s pre-election campaign, challenged Gallup’s classic sociology. Or rather the way Clinton’s team treated the results of the survey: having divided society into groups, the campaigners prepared certain solutions to women, with other appeals they tried to express support for African Americans etc. Trump’s campaign, on the contrary, focused on an individual approach to each voter or to small groups of people – for example the residents of one house.

Shortly before the US election, one more important failure of political sociology had taken place – United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. Before the vote, the majority of polls suggested a three to ten per cent victory for the “Remain” supporters. However, in the end the “Leave” vote won by a four per cent margin.

On December 4th 2016, a constitutional referendum took place in Italy. Public opinion surveys showed that the opponents of the reforms of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi would win by around five per cent. No one predicted that the actual voting gap between the two positions would be close to 20 per cent.

Polling in Russia

From the point of view of survey methodology, the leading Russian sociological centres, no matter how pro-Kremlin they may be, can be compared to Clinton’s pre-election team rather than the internet-savvy Trump’s technologists. Social research surveys in Russia are based on the same old system developed by Gallup, slightly modified to better suit the Russian reality.

For example, VCIOM – Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (the oldest and largest sociological centre, completely owned by the state) is using the “Express” survey. Every week professional sociologists interview around 1,600 Russian citizens in their homes in half of the country’s regions. The regions are chosen on the basis of their representativeness; first, by population size and second, by their similarity to the average social markers (such as economy, urbanisation, share of resource sector and even political loyalties or instability).

During the process of conducting the survey, respondents are divided into groups by gender, age, education level, income and other social categories. The study is conducted using the so-called omnibus poll: the sociologists ask up to 20 different questions in one round (about politics, economy, society), from which they later compile a summary report on a given subject.

One of the most recent Express surveys, released on December 11th 2016, shows that the level of trust for Russia’s president had risen over the past week by 0.6 percentage points and reached 86 per cent. It is worth noting how the question was posed: “Do you, in general, approve of the actions of the president?” Clearly, the apolitical majority of the Russian population can “in general” support the actions of the president and the parliament, but “in particular” every citizen may have their own list of reservations about the authorities or questions to which he or she needs answers.

For a comparison, apart from VCIOM there are two more leading sociological institutes in Russia: FOM (Public Opinion Foundation – private, but actively cooperating with the authorities) and Levada Centre (private and not so open to dialogue with the state, for which it was included in the list of foreign agents at the end of September 2016).

According to FOM, on December 11th 2016 the popularity of the current president Vladimir Putin was on the level of 66 per cent (the question was: “Who would you vote for if the election was taking place on Sunday?”). While according to Levada Centre, Putin is supported by 84 per cent of the population (just like with VCIOM, the question was: “Do you, in general, approve of the actions of the president?”).

Classic mistakes

As we can see, the difference between “approval” and the “intention to vote” comes to around 20 per cent – and this is according to a rather loyal sociological centre. In fact, coming back to the question of predicting the election outcome, survey data in Russia always shows a lower number of votes for a leading candidate than they actually receive.

For example, in 2012, FOM and VCIOM predicted that Putin would receive around 59 per cent of the vote. The final result, however, was 63.6 per cent for the president. Before the parliamentary election in 2016, the last survey by VCIOM showed 41.1 per cent support for the ruling United Russia, while the final result gave the party 54.2 per cent. Even if we believe the reports saying there were mass falsifications, the results of the elections are far from the sociological prognoses.

The methods of Trump’s advisers can be used as a weapon on social media: if not to influence the election results, at least to affect social moods. However, the amount of Russian users on Facebook is limited – there are only around six million unique visitors a day, according to data from April 2016. V Kontakte social network, a Russian equivalent of Facebook, is much more popular and is visited by more than 70 million users a day (not only Russians, but also citizens of the rest of the former Soviet Union). However, the algorithm of the social network differs from Facebook, and V Kontakte, as a Russian company, has to adhere to certain rules. For example, the site’s personal user data are accessible not only to the company’s owners, but also the governmental agency “Roskomnadzor”.

The hidden stratum

The most interesting sociological surveys in Russia, which attract the most media interest, are thematic polls, as opposed to the “omnibus” ones. Indeed, it is one thing to ask about the relationship towards the head of state and another to share one’s own view on a given divisive issue. The results of such surveys continuously prove to be sensational and do not support the conventional stereotype of the “84 per cent” (the percentage of Russians who, according to data presented by the media, support the activities of the Kremlin since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine).

For example, a recent survey by Levada Centre suggests that in 2016, 33 per cent of Russians put personal well-being above saving the current state system (in 2015, 27 per cent of respondents gave this answer and in 2014 – 21 per cent).

Moreover, additional research conducted by Levada Centre found that in November 2016, around 71 per cent of Russians supported rapprochement with the West. In March 2015 after the conclusion of the Minsk agreement on the situation in Ukraine, the same was true for 50 per cent of respondents.

In the end, it seems that Russians are rather “lucky” as a society, as they have not been divided into two camps (as Americans on Trump and the British on Brexit). A person who is ready to vote for Putin, can at the same time support normalisation of relations with the West – and the other way around.

Russians in general are not a politicised people. According to FOM’s data, 75 per cent do not plan to take part in any demonstrations (against the authorities or in their support) and 55 per cent will verbally support neither the authorities, nor the opposition. Therefore, public opinion surveys in Russia might get a second chance: at least when they are conducted on a narrow topic. It will not help in accurately predicting election results, but it may help to shape a better picture of where the country is heading. Perhaps.

 

Translated by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska

 

George Makarenko is a Moscow-based Russian historian and journalist. He currently works as a staff writer at RBC Russian daily newspaper and news agency.

 

Date         :               February 13, 2017

Author      :               George Makarenko

Source     :               New Eastern Europe

http://www.neweasterneurope.eu/articles-and-commentary/2260-the-collapse-of-pre-election-sociology-a-view-from-russia

 

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The Female Resistance

 

WARSAW – Antagonism is mounting between today’s right-wing populists and a somewhat unexpected but formidable opponent: women. In the United States, much like in Poland, women’s rights have been among the first targets of attack by populist leaders. Women are not taking it lying down.

Traditional conservatism in the West has largely come to terms with the need to grant women broad reproductive freedom. Today’s right-wing populist administrations, by contrast, are downright pre-modern in this regard, attempting to reverse reforms championed not just by the left – and long accepted by the conventional right.

It is no secret that the mainstream consensus is a source of contempt – and success – for the modern populist, and not just on women’s rights. Donald Trump’s first acts as US President show an eagerness to reject longstanding norms in many other areas as well, including foreign affairs and economic policy.

But it is the attack on women’s rights that is receiving the most powerful pushback. Poland’s de facto leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has retreated politically only once since his party’s return to power in 2015. Last October, when thousands of women of all ages took to the streets in the “black protest,” his government was forced to withdraw from its plan to introduce a total ban on abortion. (Under the current law, abortion is allowed in the event of rape, severe fetal defects, or a threat to the health of the mother.)

Similarly, of all the sources of opposition to Trump, only women have been able to organize quickly and efficiently. Last month’s Women’s March on Washington boasted a turnout some three times larger than Trump’s own inauguration the previous day. In other words, Trump began his term with a symbolic defeat at the hands of American women.

Trump’s subsequent reinstatement of the “global gag rule,” which undermines women’s health in developing countries by defunding organizations that provide abortion counseling, could not obscure that loss, nor could his pledges to defund Planned Parenthood, which offers reproductive-health services in the US. Instead, women continued to resist – for example, by creating the #DressLikeAWoman hashtag on Twitter, to shine a spotlight on Trump’s sexist demand of female staffers.

As women have stood in the path of the populists, mainstream political leaders and parties have practically cowered; unsurprisingly, they continue to lose ground. But women have not been entirely alone. NGOs and other kinds of social movements have also stepped up. Even the media have helped the cause; though they are not accustomed to such a blatantly political role, circumstances – such as Trump’s “war” on them – have forced their hand.

The composition of the resistance actually makes considerable sense. Right-wing populism is, at its core, an attack on liberalism, not necessarily on democracy. Separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, and free trade are liberal ideals; they are not democratic. Women have stood above the rest in the opposition, because they are, in many ways, the antithesis of right-wing populism, support for which comes primarily from poorly educated white men – the demographic cohort with the least comprehension of feminism.

The question now is whether women can win the battle against the populists. While the answer is not yet clear, they do have a few powerful weapons in their arsenal.

For starters, women are more numerous than any other single social group, including blacks, Latinos, the left, the right, liberals, conservatives, Catholics, and Protestants. There are more women than there are white men in the US – or in Poland, for that matter. And, most important, women far outnumber populists. (Women must fight for their rights as if they were a minority, though they are a majority, and as if they lacked human capital, though, in the West, they tend to be better educated than men.)

Moreover, women are everywhere, and discrimination, to varying degrees, is part of all women’s experiences. This makes women something of a revolutionary class, in the Marxist sense.It also makes it relatively easy for women to build solidarity.

During Poland’s black protest, thousands more people protested in solidarity, from Berlin (where several thousand took to the streets) to Kenya (where about 100 people demonstrated). During the Women’s March on Washington, up to two million people marched in solidarity around the world. Clearly, women are a global force. Who better, then, to resist the likes of Trump, Kaczyński, and other right-wing populists, as they launch an assault on globalism?

Perhaps the most important weapon in women’s arsenal is that they are unashamed. While the twentieth century was characterized by discipline through fear, the twenty-first century has been characterized by repression through shame. Unlike fear, shame can be hidden – and that’s the point.

Whereas one can feel fear without losing one’s dignity, shame arises from feelings of inferiority. That is what women are rejecting in their anti-populist protests. Defending the rights of women to choose whether to have an abortion – particularly in places where abortion is still relatively accessible – amounts to defending women’s dignity and autonomy.

Mainstream political parties, however, still experience shame, as do other traditional organizations like trade unions. They have scruples, and are concerned about how they are perceived. That makes them poorly equipped to stand up to the most shameless group of all: the populists.

The likes of Kaczyński and Trump have benefited massively from their lack of shame, saying and doing whatever wins them the support of their political base. But women aren’t having it. They are throwing off the shackles of the shame that has long been used to repress them, and fighting fire with fire. Can the populists take the heat?

 

Sławomir Sierakowski, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement, is Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw.

 

Date       :               February 7, 2017

Author    :               Sławomir Sierakowski

Source    :               Project Syndicate

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/populist-war-on-women-resistance-by-slawomir-sierakowski-2017-02

 

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Gender Empowerment: Re-Writing The Agenda And Changing The Narrative

 

All over the world, numerous campaigns and interventions have been instituted by government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to fight gender inequality. Gender inequality affects women the most and spans across different spheres of human life: education, work, health care, sexual violence, representation in political and economic discourse, opinion, marriage, social status and access to property among many others.

The latter indeed justifies the need for carefully-thought “women/girls’ empowerment” initiatives.

It is undeniable that women have a critical role to play in sustainable development. However, over the years, the narrative for the “women empowerment” movement has been one-sided. Men are merely regarded as chauvinists and anti-women. Women empowerment campaigners and various government interventions have failed to see men as collaborators. But how far could we go with this same old narrative of inequality against women where men are regarded as chauvinists and anti-women instead of collaborating with them to push forward this issue of women’s rights?

Women’s rights are human rights – and for that matter everybody’s right. Gender equality is a human right and achieving it means doing away with society’s rigid ideas and notions about what it means to be a woman. That also means getting rid of the limitations that surround what it means to be a man.

The United Nation’s Development Program’s Gender Inequality Index (GII) shows that some good strides have been made in women/girls’ education. About two thirds of countries in the developing regions – that is to say much of Africa – have achieved gender parity in primary education. In the area of women’s representation in parliament, many African countries lag behind but for Rwanda, Senegal and Angola being somehow the exceptions, recording 57.5%, 42.7% and 36.85% of the parliamentary seats being held by women, in that respective order.

Other Numbers To Watch

In Southern Asia, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. By 2012, the enrolment ratios were the same for girls as for boys. Women in North Africa hold less than one in five paid jobs in the non-agricultural sector. The proportion of women in paid employment outside the agriculture sector has increased from 35% in 1990 to 41% in 2015. In 46 countries, women now hold more than 30 per cent of seats in national parliaments in at least one chamber.

The numbers indicate some success, though somewhat limited. But sadly the feminist agenda has more or less now been reduced to an attack on gender roles and lacking in the idea that men could be partners in building a consensus towards fighting gender inequality. Feminist movements and women campaigns must begin to rethink what gender equality means. They must endeavour to involve men in their fights against women and girls’ marginalisation.

Some Recommendations

It’s about time we did more than joining in the women empowerment choruses and campaigns. A comprehensive approach is needed to increase women’s participation in power and decision-making processes. The media could be used as a platform where women constructively take part in crucial policy discussions by writing, speaking and engaging in dialogues that contribute to policy making.

A good example is The Stanzers, a not-for-profit media organisation focusing on gender policy, research and public awareness and is working towards bridging the gender gap in media. This online media platform assembles African women’s insights and perspectives mainly in writing on the following themes: business and economy, politics and governance, science and technology, culture and society. This shows some progress in getting women’s voices heard.

We also need to have more women in politics and governance. Let’s offer constructive criticism rather than destructive ones that discourage women from contesting political as well as public offices. “The idea of being a feminist: so many women have come to this idea of it being anti-male and not able to connect with the opposite sex, but what feminism is about is equality and human rights. For me that is just an essential part of my identity,” as US actor Lena Dunham said.

We ought to also move away from the conventional thinking that it isn’t for women to own property or invest in businesses unlike their male counterparts. Women should begin to see having a business as a future investment to make life better. And so I implore that their access to loans and other forms of capital be made easy and simple.

In addition, government should make business registration processes much simpler than they currently are. I suggest the whole process be made digital so that everyone – both men and women, nursing mothers and even young girls alike, are more enthused about starting a business.

To achieve all of the above, there is a need for a paradigm shift in the entire educational system. The contents need to be redesigned such that from the very onset, people appreciate the need for equal opportunity for all without any prejudice or being gender biased.

 

Date         :               February 8, 2017

Author      :               Elorm Esi Abusah

Source     :               The Huffington Post

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post, Policy | Leave a comment
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