A plea to the UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals
by Guest Blogger, Flynn Coleman
What if just one of the Millennium Goals—achieving significant progress toward Gender Equality by 2015—met its target and in the process ensured that the other MDGs would be realized as well?
On March 8th, the world marked the 100th International Women’s Day. Women now earn half of the world’s science degrees conferred, yet their share of academic leadership positions, Nobel prizes and high paying jobs in fields like computer science and engineering reveal a large discrepancy between their abilities and their ultimate rewards, as compared to their male counterparts.
In the developing world, women are the gatekeepers of their villages’ environmentally sustainable agricultural techniques and the guardians of the secrets of motherhood. With deep knowledge of local eco-systems, they are the primary water gatherers, cooks, domestic organizers and healing agents for their families.
When a mother is given a malaria net or attends a course on sexual education, she shares the net with her babies and an understanding of HIV and AIDS transmission with her partner and her friends. When we equip the millions of single mothers with opportunities to nurture their families while joining the workforce, they will raise a healthy generation of powerful women and
respectful men who understand the world around them.
When a baby is born, he or she is much more likely to be healthy and flourish when the mother has received proper pre-natal care, often given by midwives and other women with a vast reservoir of expertise regarding infants. If she has an income, self-esteem and a voice in community decisions, she is more likely to be able to support her children and use
In fact, the UN already knows about utilizing the unique skill sets of women to bring about peace and positive change—Nigeria and India have both sent record numbers of women to Liberia to serve as catalysts for diplomatic change in peacekeeping missions. Incidents of rape have decreased, and while the system is still evolving, the female presence is softening mentalities and transforming a country ravaged by war, famine, violence and hate.
Armed with a voice in community discussions and political decisions and with a share of leadership roles, women will rise above their poverty and pain. Most importantly, they will bring their children, husbands, brothers, mothers and friends with them. Women will apply the skills they learn in business school back in their hometowns and local communities. They will teach their children about sustainable living, ensuring environmental protection for the next generation.
In Chile, women formed a collective in the wake of the era of disappearances in order to heal from their grief and to take part in business skills workshops. All the while they created arpilleras, small cloth swatches sewn with beautiful bold colors and designs, each telling a story of a mother’s loss, a wife’s pain, a sister’s agony or a daughter’s longing. These workshops allowed the women to find comfort in each other and to gain fulfilling jobs, all the while detailing the stories of their kidnapped loved ones so that the truth would prevent future atrocity.
Kiva.org and Grameen Bank are two examples of how micro-finance has reengineered the possibilities for growth when women are empowered to lift themselves out of poverty. Given tiny loans, not only do women almost always pay back the loan, but they also invest the money back into their communities and can often make extraordinary progress from just a few dollars.
They are likely to send their children to school, making sure they are wearing shoes and carrying pencils. All we need to do is make sure that schools are available to them, especially the little girls. All around the world, women are now entering the highest echelons of their trades and changing them for the better.
Fathers, husbands and sons must be nurtured too, of course, and duly educated as to the value of equality between the genders, and given the same chance to thrive in the vital role of hands-on father, hard-working student, proud worker and loving husband.
It is logical that a person intricately involved in the agricultural maintenance of a community should take part in its leadership. Yet this disparity, forged by stereotypes, has prohibited women’s advancement. It has also stunted their countries’ growth as a whole, because the most skilled individuals in terms of environmental sensitivities and natural expertise in diplomacy have been historically banned from the boardrooms and the decision-making processes.
If we can protect them from abuse and guide them to their own paths, women will lead the way for the rest of us to follow them to a more peaceful and prosperous future—especially in those countries still struggling with so much poverty and war.
What if I told you that I knew who holds the key to a future free from the torture of hunger, the lack of schooling, the isolation of discrimination, the grief of infant death, the confusion of sparse pre-natal care, the agony of disease, the devastation of environmental degradation and the pain of systemic injustice in the developing world?
What if I told you, that it was your daughter?
A longtime advocate for human, animal and environmental rights, Flynn Coleman is a lawyer currently serving a judicial clerkship in New York City. She previously served at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, the Asian Human Rights Commission, and the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, among other prestigious assignments. This blog is based on her essay that earned second-place honors in the Creative Writing Competition 2010, the annual contest sponsored by Concern Worldwide, the international aid and development agency. This year the theme chosen were the UN Millennium Development Goals.