Category Archives: Empowering Women

In order to get the world to 100%, it’s essential that women are a part of the solution as well as men. I’ve gone with the number of elected women politicians in national government with the theory that the more actual, real power that women have access to, the more change they will be able to effect for themselves and their communities.

Bringing a Ray of Hope to the Girls of Afghanistan

Empowering WomenAlmost six months ago, I published my first novel, An Invisible Woman in Afghanistan. I began working on the book in June of 2001 just before 9/11 and finally published on June 1 of this year. An-Invisible-Woman-in-Afghanistan-thumbnail

A lot of people have asked why I chose Afghanistan. There are many and varied reasons but the main one has always been that Afghanistan at the time was (and still is) one of the toughest places to be a woman or girl. I needed to put my character in the country and find out if she could do anything at all to help the women there because this series, although fiction, was always meant to focus on international women’s rights issues. (And if you want to know what she does and how that works out, you’ll have to read the book!)

While doing the research for the book and discovering the many and truly horrific adversities Afghan women have faced, I also found that there are equally extraordinary, strong, and powerful Afghan women fighting hard every day to bring their country out of its recent Dark Ages and back into the light.

One such woman is Razia Jan, Razias-Ray-of-Hope-imagean Afghan-born American woman who was profoundly moved to do something, anything, after 9/11. She began by organizing her American community to send blankets to rescue workers at ground Zero, then care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan, and then shoes to Afghan children. And then she got on a plane and went there. Right into a war zone. She hadn’t been back in over 30 years.

Razia wasn’t sure at first what to do to help but eventually it became clear: help to ensure that the girls in her homeland had the same educational opportunities as the boys. She founded Razia’s Ray of Hope to fund the Zabuli Education Center for girls which opened in March of 2008. The school now has 440 students, is increasing this number every year, and Razia has set a new target – building the first  women’s college in rural Afghanistan. The Razia Jan Technical College is scheduled to open in March of 2015.

Empowering women and girls in a country that just a few years ago seemed committed to their complete and total dis-empowerment is no small task. But Razia Jan and the founders of this school (including the male elders of the community who she enrolled in the project and who now support it 100%) believe that the education of all the children of Afghanistan is key to bringing positive peaceful change to their country.

Girls across the world are going to school as never before. I can’t help but think that this “Girls’ Revolution” will have some very profound, positive, and peaceful effects as they grow into women leaders in Afghanistan and beyond.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

P.S. For more information on Razia’s Ray of Hope, you can also watch this short video trailer of the upcoming film documentary, WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS (3 min trailer) from Principle Pictures on Vimeo.

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Talking Our Way to a Better World

I think I’ve figured it out. The way to a more equal world for both men and women I mean. It’s really simple.

Talk. Then talk more. And keep talking!

And network, market, exchange ideas, information, maybe even recipes or photos, but keep communicating. Sometimes it’s at a networking meeting, sometimes it’s a conversation on an elevator. Sometimes it’s even via Facebook chat, or Skype, or Twitter. (Chellie Campbell, author of The Wealthy Spirit, had a great piece on the value of talking/networking recently.)

There are, always shocking to we women in the West, countries where women are not allowed to speak very much. I suspect, besides the myriad of political, cultural, religious and discriminatory reasons for this, there is another one lurking underneath, and that is that, when women start really talking and communicating, wow, can we get things done!

One of my favorite examples of what happens when women are empowered and speak out is very visible in this short video from The Hunger Project:

THP recently started a Cause on Facebook to encourage people to have one conversation about how empowering women can help end poverty. All you have to do to participate is talk.

I have to admit that sometimes talking and speaking out is a challenge for me. A lot of times I just assume that the people around me are on the same page as me, and it comes as a huge surprise when I suddenly discover they aren’t! I’m also shy, afraid of making mistakes, of looking like an idiot, of being hurt, all those and more. But watching the video of the woman above puts all those excuses into perspective.

And I took the THP pledge and have had several conversations already!

So, talk, talk more, and then talk some more!

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

The Third Billion

One of the best ways to improve the lives of people in poverty is to channel development money to them. It’s the old, “Teach a man to fish” theory. Only what has become increasingly apparent over the last few decades is that it’s actually more effective to channel small amounts of finance, usually via micro-finance programs, to women. Women, for whatever reason, tend to use the money to pay for their children’s education, cover healthcare costs, and use the money for improvements to their community, raising standards of living for everyone. (Recently, one woman in India, in rebellion against the low standards of sanitation in India and specifically her new home, took a stand for a modern toilet, and was even rewarded by an international aid agency!)

But finally, the idea that empowering women and providing them with access to finance works, is becoming mainstream, to the point where even the U.N. is recognizing this fact. There was an interesting article about this process recently, but going even further, and speculating on the enormous and untapped economic power of the women in developing countries, referred to as the “Third Billion.”

And it’s pretty easy if you want to help support women in developing countries these days thanks to traditional organizations’ increasing adoption of micro-finance as a development tool, “social businesses”  like Kiva.com, and even organizations like  Microplace.com which provide investment opportunities for people in the developed world benefiting those in the not-so-developed world.

But this is more than just a huge increase in both entrepreneurs and consumers into the global marketplace. Women have different styles of working which are often less competitive and more collaborative. In the future, we may have a very different kind of economy if current trends continue.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Gauging Women’s Well-being

I checked on the indicator I’ve been using, Women’s Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%) this morning and found that the 2011 numbers had not yet been uploaded. As I’ve been updating these numbers for the New Year, I’ve also been looking at the indicators I’ve chosen. In the case of gauging women’s well-being, I would ultimately like to get the figures of how much of the wealth of any particular country is realistically controlled by the women of that country. (Though I don’t believe wealth alone is the perfect indicator of empowerment, it is about as close as I believe you can get.) That measure doesn’t exist yet so I will have to keep looking and, in the meantime, women’s participation levels in their governments will have to do.

But this exploration always brings up a difficult question. There are many women who do not believe they should have the rights and privileges as men. This came home to me after seeing an article on the “honor” deaths of four women in one family in Canada. The husband, second wife (the marriage was polygamous), and son felt completely justified in murdering the father’s three daughters and first wife, because the women were acting “dishonorably” in the frame of traditional tribal Islamic laws. (They were also from Afghanistan which possibly still has the most repressive laws in the world regarding women’s rights.)

But this is what they believe in with all their heart. Who are we to impose our belief systems on other countries?

Although the above example is a very stark example, there are millions of other less-defined examples that we, as a planet face. (Consider the current French debate on headscarves for one.)

Over 100 years ago, in colonial India, a British colonel, Charles James Napier, was confronted with this kind of situation, when Hindu priests complained to him about the British ban on “sati” or the traditional burning alive of a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre. His response, as recounted by his brother was:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

I find myself, though I truly wish to respect other cultures’ customs, siding with the Colonel’s sentiments in the majority of today’s instances of women’s rights violations. “Culture” is not an excuse.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. There aren’t too many examples on the planet today, but occasionally, the men need to have their rights respected by women. Balance, it’s all about balance!

Empowering Women

This may be one of the toughest indicators both to define and quantify. There are probably as many definitions of what true and fair equality between men and women is, as there are people on the planet.

For this indicator, though, again I had to go with what is available. Although maternal mortality rates are a good indication of women’s well-being, especially and obviously, health, I didn’t feel that they represented basic rights as much as possible. So I’ve gone with the number of elected women politicians in national government on the theory that the more actual, real power that women have access to, the more change they will be able to effect for themselves and their communities.

Another aspect of this indicator is very important and must be pointed out. It is pretty well accepted by the international aid community that, in countries where women do not share the same status, power and respect that men receive, the economy and general well-being of the people is not as good as in countries with more equality. (There are exceptions in some of the Arab countries with enormous wealth but I am not convinced that this prosperity will last long-term without fundamental, positive changes in the status of women.)

One of the major discoveries aid agencies have made in the last few decades is that, if you really want to get a community back on its feet, the straightest path towards that goal is simply to empower the women. Infant mortality, maternal mortality, disease rates, all drop dramatically as soon as women are empowered to change and gain control over their lives. Income and rates of education increase as well. (In addition, there seems to be an associated drop in domestic violence as women gain respect from men.)

So, in order to get the world to 100%, it’s essential that women are a part of that program as well as men.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC