Sunday, 29 April 2012

Problem and solution: women's rights

Aid work really boils down to this: problem and solution. One of the difficulties of communications for development, particularly marketing for NGOs, is that you all too often need to communicate both the incredibly complex problem and the all-too-often counter-intuitive solution in a single sound-byte or 30-second slot. This problem is related partly to the need to own the problem (the cause) and the solution. Most marketing builds on a problem the audience is already familiar with, so they only need to present the most attractive solution. NGOs feel the need to own the problem as well as the solution.

Unfortunately for the NGO marketing people, sometimes the real world claims a problem before they can get to it. And occasionally, just occasionally real life throws up problems and solutions that go together all in own week.

FP's May/June issue includes this harrowing personal presentation of the problem in Mona Eltahawy's incredible article about the situation of women in ME countries, "Why Do They Hate Us?" The article rang true as a women who grew up and lives in a country with incredibly high rates of violence against women, although at least here we have the advantage of paper-rights. The responses were depressingly predictable: "not all Arab women feel that way", "it's their culture", "women in other places are oppressed, too". None of which changes the nature of the problem: women are oppressed on a massive and ridiculous scale because equality doesn't exist in practice or policy in many countries and the powerful nations that brand themselves as defenders or human rights are doing nothing to fix it.

And in the same week, Alanna Shaikh reports from UNCTAD about a great practical presentation of the solutions, here.

The first speaker was Zainab Salbi, Founder and President of Women for Women International. Her speech was inspiring – almost over the top – but she ended with a list of suggestions that really impressed me. None of it is new or unexpected, but it’s a well-phrased list that sums up some major needs:
  1. Don’t protect women in the name of culture. Women can make their own choices.
  2. Female participation needs to be more than symbolic. That means you don’t have two women in a group of 100 people. You have fifty.
  3. Don’t use the politics of women to navigate between religious and secular influences.
  4. It’s time to spend real money on women. Not just for their sake, but for the sake of the global economy.
  5. To Arab women: keep speaking up. The Arab spring, and our participation, was just the beginning. If this is a mountain we’re barely halfway up.


Problem and solution. This is a problem that cannot continue to be ignored.

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