Politics of Poverty

Women uniting around the world

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Thousands march in Washington, DC at the 2017 Women's March. (Photo: Mark Dixon / Wikimedia Commons)

The #metoo movement could bring a wave of gender equality around the world, and at least seven ambassadors to the US give reasons to be hopeful for the future.

At a time when the news seems like an onslaught of one horrible thing after the next, and a cascade of sexual abuse allegations flood our Twitter feeds, it can be hard to find hope. For me, comfort comes from women standing up, speaking out, and being the unashamed boss ladies they have always been – like they did this weekend at marches around the world. Thankfully, I can get a little dose of this inspiration on a regular basis by walking up the street from my office to the CSIS Smart Women Smart Power events. They inspire and remind me of the incredible power of women.  Last week’s panel did not disappoint.

As I sat in the audience listening to ambassadors to the US from seven different countries – all women – speak about their journeys, women’s equality, and the #metoo movement I was moved and reminded that women all over the world feel the weight of inequality together. Of course, this inequality can be magnified by race, economic status, and a myriad of other factors. And while we all feel the weight, we also have the strength to help our nations, and the world, heal and grow.  Whether in nations with feminist foreign policy like Sweden, tiny island nations like St. Kitts and Nevis, or nations that have felt and rebuilt from the horrors of conflict and genocide like Kosovo and Rwanda. I learned a lot from each of their perspectives.

Sweden has a “feministic” government – as Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter of Sweden, referred to it – and feminist foreign policy. However, Ambassador Olofsdotter is the first female appointed to be the Swedish Ambassador to the US. So even in a nation that ranks fifth on gender equality globally and is committed to change, progress is slow and inequality remains.  For Sweden, having a feminist foreign policy means that they do everything with an eye toward righting gender inequality and examining women’s issues; and they strive to make sure women have equal rights, responsibilities, and representation around the world. This means that Sweden addresses the effects of poverty and development on women more intentionally in their development cooperation than they did before. Now, 87 percent of Sweden’s aid programs address gender issues. Compare that to US foreign aid, which only incorporates gender equality components in about 20 percent of its programs. Sweden is working to make sure it’s not just talk.

Sweden also seeks to bring more women to the table in peace negotiations. “Why shouldn’t 50 percent of the population be included in all these issues? Why have we been excluded before? It’s just the right thing to do,” Ambassador Olofsdotter remarked.  Currently women make up less than 10 percent of peace negotiators globally, but if they were to be involved in the peace processes, data shows that peace agreements are more likely to be sustainable. The US government recently  acknowledged the importance of women in peace-building as well with the passage of the Women Peace and Security Act.  If Ambassador Olofsdotter’s message gave me hope and showed what is possible, many of the messages from the other Ambassadors served as a reminder of how far we still have to go.

For small island nations like St. Kitts, climate change is wreaking havoc as weather events become more frequent and severe. These events are especially detrimental to women because they are disproportionately exposed to risks in disasters. They are more likely to lose their lives, livelihoods, experience violence, and girls are more likely to miss school. And just as in disasters, women that experience conflict are more likely to be negatively impacted by crises.  The ambassadors from Kosovo and Rwanda are also all too familiar with the impact of conflict on women, but they highlighted how women have helped heal their nations after genocide. Even though women lived through unspeakable trauma, they were left to head their households and rebuild their countries.  In both countries – and others like them – women overcame the obstacles and pulled their nations together, making them stronger than before.

While the wounds of inequality and gender-based abuse are reopened again and again these days, the tide may be turning on a global scale. All of the ambassadors said the #metoo movement has reached their countries in some way, with the African Union ambassador Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao remarking that the pain we feel is the same and that “how we deal with it as women, our survival mechanism are the same.” Tarana Burke started a movement, celebrities and other prominent women gave it wings, and it is up to us to help it grow into a fight for gender equality around the world that includes all races, nationalities, religions, and sexual orientations.  If these incredible women taught me anything it’s that if women join forces together anything is possible, so keep marching, standing up, speaking out, demanding equality, and supporting each other.

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