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Battling Sexism: There Is No Women’s Day

Aditi Aryal

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Photo by Dylan Siebel on Unsplash

Women’s day is celebrated all over the world on the 8th of March with great fervor. Despite the fact that women have come a long way since the firstly held women’s day in 1909, we are still fighting for progress and equality with the theme for 2018 being #PressForProgress. Being a woman definitely goes beyond the mere biology of possessing a body that could be dissected and thus categorised into belonging to that of a woman’s. It also goes beyond the expected gender norms and roles given to women by the society.

The year 2018 brings 109th women’s day and it should be a good place to discuss what it means to be a woman in today’s time, and the difficulties that come along with being one, with a major focus on the eastern part of the globe.

In Family And Society

Women have been suffering discrimination and injustice in the hands of men and other women. In families in the developing world, girls and boys are treated differently. Girls are taught to take care of their appearance, language, habits, elegance, and manners because as grown up women these attributes make great difference on the way people perceive and judge us. Growing up, girls are brought up more strictly than boys and made to participate in the household chores more. Upon marriage, brides and their families pay up ginormous amounts in cash and kind to the grooms and family. Menstruating women are still considered unchaste and impure and thus banished to animal sheds where they die of cold, animal attacks, infestation of insects and reptiles, and sex crimes. Honour killing is on the rise, even for trivial matters like talking to an unrelated male. Discouraged from looking beautiful, wearing bright colours and make up, and eating what they desire, or remarriage, widows live a terrible life of solitude and unhappiness.

Portrayed as perfect caretakers, home-makers, and nurturers, women have never been able to rise from the basic household duties, which in most cases is unpaid work. Not only are women left behind in the labour force with little participation, they very rarely hold higher positions. Housework is considered petty work and women who work outside the houses are valued more. It has also been concluded through various research in Brazil, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe that women who worked outside their houses faced lesser domestic violence, were more actively participating in politics, and had a bigger say in family matters. However, most women cannot in families make decisions also on subjects that concern them and this further impacts the overall participation and representation in the society.  When some women do try to break from the bounds and speak up on things they are dissatisfied with, they rarely get support from other women because everyone is not mobilised in the society to speak up for themselves.

In eastern societies where worshipping of goddesses and demigoddesses is fairly rampant, being a woman means having to live as a victim of unwarranted assaults, and sexism. Sometimes, being a woman means having been killed in the womb or immediately after birth because the family and society wanted a male child. Often, being a woman means constantly having to look behind our shoulders for a potential rapist even in the safest of areas out of fear that has been institutionalised since we were children.

In Media

The value of being a woman is reduced to that of exactly what should not be, especially in the media. Commercial advertisements still show women as weak where they cannot fix their own things. They also show women as efficient workers in the house: doing the dishes, laundry, taking care of children who are hungry, sick, sleeping, tired, dirty, and such. Lab coats are put on women only when they need to tell us that ‘9/10 experts recommend the product’. Dark women are ugly and unsuccessful and fairness treatments are advertised without any hesitation. Advertisements for menstrual products do not actually try to inform people about the importance but rather focus on women on periods doing things they would not even do otherwise.

In print media and otherwise, women are always portrayed rather uncomfortably. Sexism has been reported to exist in forms that denigrate women, usually by the terminology and pictorial representation. Women’s sports team are called the ‘Women Sports Team’ and men’s teams are simply called the ‘Country’s Sport Team’. In some segments in the Nepalese newspapers, some female models and actors are asked questions like their favourite sexual encounters and positions, and their thoughts on masturbation. While these things are not wrong, per se, but there is a growing trend of using revelations of these women against them. One very famous female actor was once attacked on social media in 2017 for saying something along the terms of her preferences. Once women start talking about enjoying sex as an activity they are judged in the society because it alters from their opinion of a ‘good woman’. A good woman does not talk about her sex life in public.

Marketing gimmicks involve victimising women in the form of scandals, nudity, and stereotypes.

Lastly,

We celebrate women’s day every year to celebrate the difference women have been making to humankind. However, one day in the year allocated to profit making ventures like unnecessary programmes and rallies does very little. After the festivities are over, everybody goes back home dealing with the sexism of everyday lives.

In fact, there is no such thing as a women’s day if in reality we ensure women hold on to the same footing as men, are given equal salaries, freedom, treatment, opportunities, education, inheritance, importance, and chance to live. If women and men were equally placed in the society, we would never need for a separate day to remind each other to send out women-centric quotes on Whatsapp and Facebook. Rather, if we noticed and placed importance on subtle things and tried to avoid committing actions that brought out disparities among genders, every day would truly be women’s day. However, this 2018, let us truly #PressForProgress by smashing the patriarchy. For now, a happy women’s day.

Aryal is a student of Social Science and writes about social and developmental issues pertaining to exclusion, inequalities, and gender disparities in the South Asian context.

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New Social Compact

Gender and Climate Change: Where are we and what next?

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credit: UN photo

Climate change affects women more profoundly than men. Often, women bear the brunt of extreme weather events because they lack economic, political and legal power, especially in developing countries.

Because of cultural barriers and their lower economic status, women often have fewer assets to fall back on than men. They are largely absent from decision-making because of unequal participation in leadership roles – further compounding their vulnerability. So when it comes to coping with climate change, women usually have fewer adaptive strategies than men.

The women who live in poor rural communities use natural resources in a different way than men because they possess fewer assets.  It is women, for example, who are responsible for collecting firewood, fetching water, growing food – or foraging for it – making them more vulnerable to the climatic changes that affect these resources.  So the international community must pay attention to gender dynamics when it develops climate change policies and puts them into action.

International recognition – where are we now?

International frameworks are beginning to incorporate a gender dimension into action on climate change. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasises gender balance and increased participation of women in its processes and in national delegations. It also calls for the development of gender responsive climate policies at all levels.

Gender is also getting more attention at climate change conferences.  In 2014, at COP20 in Lima, a Programme of Action on Gender was established ‘to advance implementation of gender-responsive climate policies’. The Paris Agreement of 2015 acknowledged the importance gender equality and empowerment of women in climate action. In 2017, COP23 established a Gender Action Plan.  So there is forward momentum.

And with developing countries calling for more money to address climate change, there is also an increasing emphasis on gender-responsive budgeting. The Green Climate Fund – the largest international fund for countering climate change – is shifting towards a more gender-sensitive approach and recently developed a Gender Policy and Action Plan.

The Commonwealth, gender and climate change

The Commonwealth has a long history of championing small states, women and young people.  In 2015, the Commonwealth Summit introduced a Women’s Forum to amplify the voice of women and raise key gender issues to leaders. Gender and climate change issues gained further momentum at the 2018 Summit in London, when heads of government committed to accelerating action to achieve targets under the Paris Agreement and the Women’s Forum called for the Commonwealth to take gender into account in addressing climate change.

Gender and climate change is one of four gender priorities of the Commonwealth.  That means the Commonwealth is shaping its work to reflect gender considerations.  However, more can be done to build on synergies and collaborate with partners to increase support to small and vulnerable states.

What next?

The urgency of climate change requires more progress at a greater pace. Increasing the participation and engagement of women in addressing it is a first and critical step.  I look forward to seeing progress and will follow discussions on the Gender Action Plan at COP24 in Poland later this week.  Even more important will be the first report on its implementation in 2019 because – as they say – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Sharing experiences and learning from what is already happening is important in understanding gaps and challenges and in developing better responses and strategies, so I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Are there challenges and lessons learned that you feel are important and that can shape the agenda moving forward, especially in the Commonwealth?

The Commonwealth

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New Social Compact

Young Voices Program: Global Space for Youth Empowerment

Rattana Lao

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Young people matter. Not just because they can be powerful constituencies to recruit or consumers to develop. They matter in their own right and their growth is fundamental for the future stability and civilized success of societies, countries, and the world.

Unfortunately, a space for them to be themselves – to express and explore their own thoughts and to learn to articulate their own voices – is limited, especially on a global scale. Within the limited spaces available, most are politicized if not outright commercialized. Too often, youth have been used as vehicles for narcissistic adults, power-hungry politicians, and greedy conglomerates. In other words, around the globe grownups have maximized, exploited, and manipulated the power and potential of the young, all supposedly in the name of ‘youth.’

With seventeen years of experience in educational and youth empowerment projects in Thailand and Asia, I have witnessed how these exploitations take place. Politicians talk about the importance of education, but only in terms of gaining votes for themselves. Political transactions are not bad in and of themselves, if the votes can bring about better schooling, equal opportunities, and gender equity, just to name some rightful benefits. More often than not, however, these talks on education are shallow rhetoric that cease to impact reality after the votes have been dropped into the ballot boxes.

The commitment to education is there, don’t get me wrong. Countries spend billions of dollars on it. But the commitment for youth excellence, for the articulation of original youth analysis, is lacking. More space is needed for youth to express themselves, their concerns for their society, and debate the ideas openly and civilly. Elite schools have done this for centuries – bringing the best and brightest minds together in a room to debate and articulate their thoughts. But with the internet, online spaces have become critical in creating opportunity for youth dialogues and learning spaces. But now the online arena also carries with it dangers: we need to create spaces that provide enlarged, engaged, and equitable venues for youth to participate in the important issues of the day, without fear of retaliation, retribution, or politicization. More youth need to get involved in expressing their ideas on issues that matter to them, to truly become globally-engaged citizens now. This is not so much about a virtual ‘safe space’ as it is a declaration of creating virtual engaged spaces. These are too few and far between in today’s world.

Thus, increasing quality online courses make quality learning fairer and more accessible to youth worldwide. This is why we propose the creation of an online platform on Modern Diplomacy, one of the most vibrant e-magazines in Europe, with massive followers far beyond it. This MD platform believes in the freedom of expression and sharing of ideas. It will allow youth – students across the world in all types of institutions – to not just share their ideas but have opportunities to engage with their own readers, creating a vibrant dialogue and budding global youth network.

Professor Anis Bajrektarevic, professor of Law from the University of Vienna and Chairman of Modern Diplomacy, put it bluntly by saying we are in a crisis of the “cognitive:” namely, there is a dearth of “cognition.” In some circles, the talk already flows about the existence of a “cognitive war:”

“To address this issue, we need to rethink our global intellectual flow, create information pathways for youth to create their own narratives beyond traditional convention so they can articulate themselves, learn to become self-assured, and explore their boundaries and limitations”.

With this new MD platform project, youth can write about current affairs, contest theories, or share their own original creative trajectories. They can learn from each other by being engaged and reading new ideas not as a form of competition but as a spur for new intellectual growth. In addition, they can get feedback to improve their writing from a team of international, experienced, and well-articulated youth editors. Aditi Aryal, one of the editors for the MD Young Voices program, is an experienced and highly-regarded international writer. Growing up in Nepal and India, she has extensive experience in writing, addressing social taboos, and gender restriction in the South Asian context:

“Modern Diplomacy is a huge platform that permits the expression of unfettered ideas and opinions. It has always been a vibrant platform that allows writers to express freely without having to face backlash, judgment, or censorship. As I began my writing journey with Modern Diplomacy, I grew not only as a writer but also as a thinker. It has always supported my quest for expression of ideas without obstructions. I have found in Modern Diplomacy a secure space that has nurtured me, my writing, expression, and thoughts. There could not have been a more conducive platform for this growth that I have seen in myself”.

Another leading editor is Selene Sandoval, graduate student at Teachers College- Columbia University. Being a first-generation student of color to attend college in her family, Selene brings a passion for education, equity, and social empowerment. An experienced writer and tutor, she can help train and inspire other young writers to express and articulate themselves:

“My current belief for youth is that we have a voice stronger than we might realize. That is why it is essential for students around the world to research and be involved in issues that are affecting our generation, whether it be education, politics, or social issues. Students have historically been at the forefront of radical shifts in society by expressing their opinions on such issues like civil rights. Not only is it a way to express your opinion on current events and news around the world, but it is a way to grow as a writer. Writing as a basic skill is fundamental because it is part of every field. The more we are able to effectively communicate our ideas through writing, the more we are able to develop our professional careers. Modern Diplomacy can be the platform where you express your interests in a way that may be palatable for other youth to read and understand.”

‘Young Voices’ as a platform requires space where the communication and interaction of minds and ideas flow freely without judgment. By learning and engaging dissimilar perspectives and engaging in healthy debates and discussions, across all analytical disciplines and geographical locations, we welcome any age group to be participants! We at Modern Diplomacy seek to provide young people a constructive and cohesive community to build around them, based on the freedom of expression, intense analysis, and rigorous, rational thought.

Articles selected will be published on Modern Diplomacy online and the best articles will be published in our geopolitical Ebook series.

Articles can be submitted for reviews at mdyv[at]moderndiplomacy.eu

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New Social Compact

The need for speed on modern slavery

Dr. James Cockayne

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Three years ago, world leaders committed to take effective measures to end modern slavery by 2030. By the best estimates, there are around 40.3 million people in modern slavery. Reaching that goal would mean 9,127 people being removed from or prevented from falling into modern slavery each and every day between now and 31 December 2030.

How close are we to meeting that proposed rate of change? Until now, the short answer has been: we don’t really know. There has been no centralized place to access information on the rate of change towards this goal.

That changed on Sunday, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Delta 8.7 – a project of the Centre for Policy Research at United Nations University – began publishing country data dashboards measuring the change towards this goal.

These dashboards bring together the best available data on modern slavery, forced labour, human trafficking and child labour for each country. They also provide contextual information, including details of what each country is doing to bring these numbers down, and links to relevant legislation, national action plans and social protection arrangements. Over the coming months, more of these dashboards will be steadily rolled out.

So what do these dashboards tell us?

First, the dashboards suggest we are nowhere near the rate of change needed to meet the goal of ending modern slavery by 2030.

Even the countries that are performing best, with double-digit reductions in child labour, are not achieving the sustained reductions needed to meet the 2030 targets. Until we have more complete country coverage it will be too early to draw conclusions on a ‘global’ reduction rate, but the signs from the first set of dashboards are that a steep increase in reduction rates is needed.

Second, they show that we need to rapidly improve our ability to measure these reduction rates.

Most of the countries covered have reliable data only for child labour. Our ability to measure reduction of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking is much weaker. That stands to reason: countries have invested more, over a longer period, in measuring child labour. Only recently have they begun to invest in efforts to measure modern slavery and forced labour with the same scientific rigor.

There are promising signs on this front, though. In October national statisticians from around the world agreed a new method for measuring forced labour, which should make better data available in the next few years. The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime has also been working with countries to strengthen measurement of human trafficking.

Third, the country dashboards suggest that there may be lessons from the effort against child labour for the fight against adult forms of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. Some of the reductions in child labour identified in the dashboards are impressive – for example, child labour decreased 59% between 2002 and 2015 in Brazil, while in Argentina it decreased 31% in just one year between 2011 and 2012. Figuring out ‘what worked’ in the fight against child labour may be instructive as we seek to identify ‘what works’ in the fight against modern slavery – and scale it up.

Generating this type of knowledge can take time. Starting in February 2019, the project will work with partners to accelerate the knowledge-generation process on ‘Code 8.7’, by bringing artificial intelligence and machine learning into the equation. Computational science offers a way to accelerate the process of understanding what works to end modern slavery.

Ultimately, however, it will be up to world leaders to learn these lessons – whether generated by artificial intelligence or the old-fashioned human kind. Unless world leaders accelerate their own learning and efforts, chances are, we will not come close to meeting their lofty goal.

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