International Women’s Day 2010

Today is the 100th year of International Women’s Day, and all over the interwebs, we are celebrating advances in women’s rights and decrying the obstacles still faced by women and girls everywhere. In a world where women still get attacked with acid; where girls are stoned to death for being raped; where, in certain places, not being born male is a handicap, I feel that the strides that have been made in the past century are still dwarfed by the challenges ahead.

I don’t think of myself as a feminist per se, but I do believe in the equality of men and women in every realm of life (except maybe in sports, fine). As an educated woman from France, I’ve been given every opportunity to realize my full potential, to take advantage of everything life has to offer. Being a woman, for me, has rarely been an hindrance – on the contrary, I’m fully conscious of the advantages that come with it. Professionally, I think I’ve encountered more young-ism than sexism. I credit my parents for having brought me up with solid values, and for providing an exemplary complementary partnership at home. My mother, a faithful reader of this blog, needs to be acknowledged here: in her ability to balance family life and career, in her relentless and vocal support for equality between men and women, she has always been an inspiration and a model.

Another source of inspiration for me has been the women of Liberia. The New York Times – fittingly – just published an article entitled about Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf “A Nation Full of Strong Women“, as part of their Female Factor series. I recently read Ma Ellen’s autobiography, “This Child Will Be Great“, in which her strength of character, intelligence, thoughtfulness and determination come across vividly. In her book, she acknowledges (somewhat in passing) the role that women played in helping her win the presidential election. I wish she had emphasized the critical role of women in the 2005 election, and in bringing an end to the 14 year conflict more than she did.

I’ve had the chance to meet some really incredible Liberian women, both in Liberia and in Ghana. Contrarily to what some may think, Liberia is a rather matriarchal society, where women make signficant economic, political and social contributions. Of course, as is often the case in poor places, women are still not on par with men: rape and violence against women are very real, and large, issues, and girls remain less educated than their male counterparts.

That being said, I’d like to focus on the commendable, inspiring actions undertaken by Liberian women. In particular, I wish to honor this International Women’s Day by recommending that you take an hour of your time to watch “Pray the Devil Back to Hell“,a powerful documentary on the role of women in ending the war in Liberia. (I watched this documentary last year during the Vancouver International Film Festival, in the presence of the film maker and producer, as well as Lovetta Conto, a young lady who survived the war and is now engaged in supporting post-conflict development in her home country.) The women in this film are fearless leaders and peace-makers, the kind of people to draw inspiration and strength from. Seeing their determination in the face of adversity gives me a lot of hope: not only for the continued advancement of women’s rights, but also in the growing capacity of women to affirm themselves as leaders. For this 100th International Women’s Rights Day, my wish is that, 100 years from now, we no longer need to celebrate women, their achievements and their challenges on a specially dedicated day.

Here is the trailer of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. PBS allows you to watch the full-length documentary for free; part 1 is here, part 2 is here.

William J Clinton opening remarks

2 of the 4 highlighted commitments in the opening plenary concern Liberia, and President Sirleaf just stepped on stage with the President of the Nike Foundation.

This is about one of my favorite initiatives, The Girl Effect, that I have written about before. They are committing $5 million over 3 years for programs that empower young women and open up economic opportunities for them. Clinton is telling all of us how important it is to insure that girls everywhere have greater access to opportunities….

Another commitment with Liberia is $15 million to help coordinate philanthropic efforts between charitable organizations and the Government – I wonder how The Niapele Project can get plugged into this…. But truly, what a great opportunity: harmonizing and coordinating development activities between NGOs, foundations, international organizations and the government is definitely incredibly necessary.

I hope that these high level commitments, made in a fancy ballroom in NYC, will translate into real positive change for Liberians.

Bloomberg and Lance Armstrong just stepped on stage – the Livestrong Foundation is going to launch an international awareness campaign to make cancer a health priority the world over.

Lance Armstrong is still wearing his yellow wristband, in case you were wondering. Apparently, the number 1 killing disease of young women in sub-saharan Africa is cervical cancer – this is probably the last cause I would have come up with. Interesting.

….more to come….

Ellen and Nicky Chime in

Here is an amazing article from the IHT. Amazing because you’ll notice that it’s written by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, and Nicky Oppenheimer, the Chairman of DeBeers (HT: Chris Blattman)

I subscribe – mostly – to the views expressed in this piece. The caveat is that for all the lofty rhetoric, the empirical evidence points to the fact that attempts at promoting private sector initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa are met with a lot of resistance, both in-country and by the development industry.

The opinions put forward in the IHT article rest on the assumption that capitalism = good. I’m not going to challenge this notion, first of all because I think that debate has been taken up a few too many times, but mostly because whether or not we like or agree with this idea, it is the defining paradigm of the way the world works.

Of course, the way the world works is not always the way it should be working. But haven’t we learned that this is a useless point to make in this day and age? Enough futile attempts to dethrone capitalism as the dominant operating paradigm of our time – let’s work within it, make it work for those who need to be lifted out of poverty.

The problem is that if we are going to be functioning with this mindset, the way in which the entire aid/development industry operates needs to be reconsidered. And as my current hero, Elizabeth Pisani, has expressed, this type of industry is not reactive to changes and evolutions in the real world. A mere look at the Millenium Development Goals gives us a pretty good understanding of how aid agencies construe their work. As Andrew Natsios famously pointed out, arguing against the MDGs is like arguing against “motherhood and apple pie” – you simply can’t, because in and of themselves, these goals are desirable and ultimately good. But they do nothing to make developing nations – and particularly the LDCs of this world – become self-sustainable.

Natsios says:

The MDGs are also heavily weighted towards social services… In overemphasising these particular goals, we risk underemphasising the importance of equitable economic growth, good governance, and democracy, without which, we cannot produce the tax revenue to sustain the social services that the MDGs embrace. What is needed is a proper emphasis on economic growth as a necessary condition for social services, instead of vice versa.

One of my biggest issues with the MDGs is the emphasis placed on universal primary education. It did not take countries, schools, and NGOs very long to realize that this goal is essentially pointless if no proposition concerning the quality of education is associated with it. Furthermore, which countries have been able to raise its population out of absolute poverty by having its citizens educated at the 5th grade level? None. And the MDGs make no provision for university education – something which could really spur development.

This is Goal 2:

Goal 2 of the Millennium Development Goals sets out by the year 2015 to:

  • Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling

I’d like to use this opportunity to invite you to think about a completely different way of approaching aid – one of my favorite topics these days is bottom of the pyramid social entrepreneurship. That’s not the panacea either, but it certainly challenges a lot of dusty misconceptions about what development should be.


Just read this relevant piece from The Washington Post:

Shikwati and others cautiously suggest that the current situation is different. Enormous gaps between rich and poor persist in most sub-Saharan African countries, but there has been a slow trickle-down effect from the growing private sector, as jobs have been created in the cellphone industry, for instance, or tourism or banking.

Maggie Kigozi, executive director of the Uganda Investment Authority, attributes about 63,000 new jobs created in that country this year to growth in the private sector. Uganda has cut extreme poverty in half over the past decade — down to 30 percent of the population living on less than $1 a day — a fact that Kigozi also chalks up to private sector activity.

“We owe our success to that,” she said. “Not to the World Bank, and not to nongovernmental organizations,” she said, referring to aid groups.

Will Justice Prevail?

Buduburam camp.

I am exhausted.

After one week of intense campaigning, I feel like our little coalition is being met by brick walls and glass ceilings, no matter who we turn to.

I have to say that I am truly disappointed by the lack of interest in this situation demonstrated by the authorities and the media – a few grassroots media organizations have been following the situation closely, but what we’ve read in the news so far mostly misrepresents the situation – of course, when the dominating discourse is that of the authorities it becomes the legitimate Truth, and the voice of the forgotten is suppressed, or simply ignored.

I am absolutely heart broken by the current state of affairs – following today’s police raid on the camp, and ensuing beatings, arrests, and imminent deportation of innocent refugees, I am honestly considering changing the name of my blog to “Meanderings of a Young Deluded Idealist”

How is it possible that these people’s rights are being so blatantly trampled upon, and that no one shows a sign of caring? Where are the Angelina Jolies of this world? I suppose painting Easter eggs with their rainbow family, while innocents’ rights are being violated, as I write this.

I’ve contacted media organizations, press agencies, embassies, international organizations, and pulled every string I could think of – but, obviously, to no avail.

Here is our petition, calling for the safeguarding of the rights of refugees in Ghana – I don’t know if this will effect change in any way shape or form, but the least we can do is try.

… and the misinformation continues

For a great background piece on the women’s protest in Buduburam, go here – the writer actually took the time to interview community leaders, and the result is a fair, balanced piece on the original grievances put forward by the women, as well as the community reactions to it.

Who knows what the government of Liberia’s real position is on this issue? According to this article, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, is strongly condemning the unruly behavior of certain refugees. In this report, however, Sirleaf makes a passionate appeal to her Ghanaian counterpart and is “about to storm Accra for an engagement with Ghanaian authorities.”

Here, you have the reaction of the opposition party in Liberia, headed by George Weah, which seems to confirm the first version – that Sirleaf is slamming the attitude of refugees.

Interestingly, the VOA article claims this:

Acarous Gray [national assistant secretary general for the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC)] said if the Liberian government, as it has said repeatedly, wants Liberians in the Diaspora to return home and contribute to the development of the country then it must give those returning incentives. He called on President Sirleaf to send a fact-finding mission to Ghana.

But here, we have this:

The female Liberian President, who is about to storm Accra for an engagement with Ghanaian authorities, is asking that her compatriots are allowed to stay in the country because as she put it, resources are not enough to contain the new arrivals.

So, again, which one’s right? I already highlighted this blatant contradiction in a previous post. Can you, or can’t you, President Sirleaf, truly handle the arrival of an additional 40,000 refugees – homeless, jobless, resourceless refugees?

Continuing to monitor the situation…