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Bringing Lasting Positive Change for Women

Bringing Lasting Positive Change for Women

Any change brings both positive and negative consequences. Therefore, a development planner should respect various principles to promote change that minimizes negative effects. Also, certain priorities or values should be reflected. This paper shows what are the principles, priorities, and values a development planner should respect to ensure lasting positive changes for women. It also includes a case study of an Eastern European country, the Republic of Moldova. 

Change is the “process of causing a function, practice, or thing to become different somehow compared to what it is at present or what it was in the past” ( Change is vital to make progress in life or to modify cultural constructs. Any modification, even one for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts. To minimize the negative consequences of change, a development planner needs to promote change by respecting the values of the people whose lives will be impacted by that change.

The worst negative effect is the reversal of this change at some point in the future. Some things have become so common in society in all spheres of life that people begin to perceive it as normal, making the change more difficult to be accepted. Some customs and laws are impervious to change or, if changed, a new government can modify or even reverse them. Cultural constructs pass on from generation to generation. It is a great challenge to want to change a tradition respected for a hundred, a thousand or more years, and there are high chances for them to be reversed.

In many cases, when the oppressive practices to women were subverted, they reasserted themselves with a vengeance later. One cannot ever assume that gains for women are permanent and irreversible. One of these examples appears in the film A Veiled Revolution. Even though Egypt was the first Muslim country where women took off their veil in public (1923), later, in the 1970s, women decided to start wearing veil again, as a form of protection from the men’ s gaze.

Even the meaning of wearing the veil has changed over the years. Veiling can empower women or squash them, and it depends on what context it occurs in. Veiling was previously considered a class marker but now is perceived more as oppressive to women. In the past, it was an indicator of status and wealth, not of religiosity. The Prophet Mohammed encouraged his wives to put on the veil to separate themselves because of their specialness, but it was not compulsory. It was a woman’ s choice. However, by the 18th century, the veil became a necessity to protect women, who were increasingly associated with honor and shame. One of the cases appears in the film Stories of Honor and Shame, where girls had to wear a veil at school, especially in the exams. Otherwise, they could be shamed. To protect women’ s virtue, and by extension, her family’ s and society’ s, women needed to be veiled. The veil thus became associated with the depravity of women (Chatty, 2010).

Another adverse effect is the lack of enforcement. Kristof and WuDunn (2009) relate some of these examples. In 15 African countries, various laws against circumcision were passed, articles were written, meetings were held, and not too much changed on the ground. For example, Guinea passed a law in the 1960s that punishes female circumcision with a life sentence at hard labor or if the girl dies within forty days of being cut, a death sentence. However, no case has ever come to trial, and 99% of Guinean women have been cut.

International denunciations of FGM (female genital mutilation) prompted a defensive backlash in some countries leading tribal groups to rally around cutting as a tradition under attack by outsiders. More than 90% of Sudanese girls have been circumcised; they are declaring it as part of their culture. Campaigns are ineffective in Somalia too. Opponents eventually became smarter and backed off a bit, often using the more neutral term “female genital cutting”.

For a lasting positive change for women, and for minimizing the potential negative effects, there are several principles of change a development planner should respect. To discover them, he has to answer to several questions related to the way his strategy can fail, such as:

  1. How can this be gamed?
  2. How can this cause backlash? (Even across generations)
  3. Am I overlooking the broader context?
  4. Am I overlooking the particular situation of mothers?
  5. Have I forgotten time poverty? Mobility issues? Physical insecurity?
  6. Am I thinking about whether a practical need now makes reaching a strategic need less possible to achieve in the future?
  7. Am I ignoring how even tech can be sexist? Or the justice system?

To make family law equitable, it is necessary to enact pro-women legislation, to change the incentive structures, and to include women in the decision-making process. Research shows that mixed-gender groups make less risky decisions, are more creative and communitarian in their solutions, and participants are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome. Worldwide, women make up 24% of members of national legislative bodies. Parity or at least an increase in number of women who are in charge of the legislative power contribute to the durability of those laws. Women can stand for their interests and make sure their rights are respected. This determination will contribute to the understanding on the part of men of how vital is that case for women, so they will not attempt to change it in the future. They will also understand that a benefit for women will improve their life too.

Another principle of change to minimize adverse effects is to consult with the decision-makers, such as the leaders of the community, the religious figures, and, when necessary, with other stakeholders, such as the population. In the movie Changing Paths, when Astan intends to eradicate female circumcision in Tourela (Mali), she discusses with the village chief, with the religious representative, and with other inhabitants. The way the discussions are done is essential. Astan addressed the women and the men separately, her strategy being to speak with older men first, older women second, and mothers third, the reason why it was useful and succeeded in abolishing circumcision in Tourela.

The people with whom you want to discuss the change are significant, but not sufficient. Another principle is the knowledge of cultural norms. It is a great challenge to want to change a tradition respected for hundreds or maybe a thousand or more years. Therefore, the way the information is presented is essential. If a person is not part of the religion or the culture, he has to try to be one of them to understand their principles and values better. As Jim Rohn said, for things to change, you have to change.

In the movie Changing Paths, Astan understood the tradition of female circumcision in Mali and knew how to discuss with the leaders of the community and other stakeholders. She respected their boundaries so as to not trigger their backlash emotion. She tried to be one of them in the discussion, understanding their points of view and social expectations. Heavy things must be lifted carefully. She kindly explained to them the effects of circumcision on women’ s health. In the discussions, it is essential to not ask for abolishment, but rather for replacement. In the case previously mentioned, circumcision has to be replaced with words. Parents have to start at an early age to explain to their daughter what are social expectations. For example, she has to be pure before marriage because otherwise, it will be a shame for the family.

Another principle is to offer incentives to the stakeholders that may want to change the actual situation in the future. For example, in the case of circumcision, to provide benefits to those who would otherwise hurt women, such as cutters, parents. Another example is to invest in education for women, giving money to the parents who keep their daughters in school instead of marrying them off.

In conclusion, to bring positive change for women with fewer negative consequences, it is necessary to respect some principles of change, whose roots in most of the cases are the values of people that can be impacted. Negative consequences, such as the reversal of the change in the future, the lack of enforcement, can be avoided if the development planner thinks about what can lead to failure. He should take into account the opinions of community leaders, to respect the social norms and to understand the values of the impacted people, to lift the heavy things carefully so as not to trigger an emotive backlash. 

Case Study: Bringing change for women in the Republic of Moldova 

In every society, several cultural constructs discriminate or misrepresent a specific category of persons. Unfortunately, in most communities, women are more affected by these cultural constructs. The best way to bring change and to empower women is the developmental intervention in the cultures of less-developed countries.

The Republic of Moldova, the least developed country in Eastern Europe, has several cultural constructs that affect women. Therefore, they need to be changed. The first one is that the family should be patriarchal. Being part of the Soviet Union in the past, the Republic of Moldova is still following some of the principles of that time. For example, its men tend to believe they are the head of the family and that women should listen to what they said because they are the ones who bring the money in the house. This was true in the past when most of the women were staying at home, doing house chores, and taking care of children. But things have changed over the years. More women work now, and there are even cases where wives gain more money than their husbands. The average wage of women in 2011 constituted 87.8% of the average salary of men, compared to 73% in 2008 and 68% in 2006. Unfortunately, there are more men in the Republic of Moldova addicted to expensive vices like alcohol and cigarettes. Even though women do not agree with this, men never take into account their opinions and advice.

I would change this with a Bottom-Up strategy. I would not accept the concept of patriarchy in my family, promoting the idea that wife and husband are part of a team that supports each other to have a beautiful and prosperous life together. Because children are always watching their parents, are their main followers, my children will promote this idea in their future family too. I would join NGOs which support human rights, standing up for women’ s issues to bring a positive change to their lives. We would organize different events and trainings sessions for women, to inform them about their rights in the family and to lobby the politicians to enact pro-women legislation.

If I have a chance to be in the legislature, I will propose laws against the oppression of women (domestic violence, forced sex in marriage, rape), and I will stand for equity in family law (divorce, custody, inheritance), making sure they are not ambivalent, and that they will be enforced. I will also motivate men to support this campaign, as women have a higher participation rate in the elections (54.32%). By offering more rights to women, they will be more likely to vote for our party. In all these situations, the main cost will be time and patience. In the case of NGOs, there are funds available for promoting the goals of the organization. I also can contribute with donations for the cases I want to support directly. As for the legislature, every political party has a budget (from membership fees, state subventions, donations) for supporting causes of interest to the majority of the population: to organize meetings with the main stakeholders, such as NGOs and the leaders of the centers/communities. My cost will be the fee as a member of the party.

Another cultural construct I would change is the one which holds it as self-evident truth that women are not good political leaders. Hudson’ s rule of old dictators also applies to Moldova: “Men agreed to be ruled by other men in return for all men ruling over women”. Every time a woman tried to attain a powerful position, she had many obstacles befall her just because she was a woman. Even after she overcame those obstacles and succeeded in obtaining that position, men have tried to limit her or eliminate her from power because they cannot get used to the idea of being ruled by a woman. For example, in 2019, Maia Sandu, an alumna of Harvard Kennedy School, who ran for President a few years ago, succeeded in becoming Prime Minister. However, after a few months, she was replaced because of a no-confidence vote, as there were misunderstandings between her and the President.

I would change this cultural construct by applying to become a member of a political party/NGO and by teaching my children that public office and other influential positions can be held by women (Top Down). I will promote women political leaders, helping them in the election campaigns and making their activity visible after that. One of my passions is journalism, so I can write about the stories of women who want to become political leaders, and their “Why” of becoming involved in politics.

Compared to men, women want to be politicians because of an issue, wanting to change/achieve something. I would join an NGO which promotes women leadership and political participation, where I will propose to organize training for women. Boosting women’ s political participation and decision-making is fundamental for democracy and to achieve sustainable development in the Republic of Moldova. I can also join the Centre Partnership for Development (CPD), the Women in Politics initiative, to support women as candidates and voters; to provide support to elected women MPs, to build more gender-responsive electoral management bodies; to develop and advocate for adoption of legislation and policies that promote women in decision-making; to improve gender-responsive media coverage of women and political issues; to work with communities to nominate women candidates; to include men in all advocacy and capacity building. The cost will be time, donations, and membership fees, which I can cover from my wage.

I would also change the view that women cannot have specific jobs, because they are “men’ s jobs”, such as jobs in military, police, surgery. If a woman can take care of a family, she also can take care of a country. This is because women are used to putting others first; they are more likely to sacrifice for the wellbeing of others. Therefore, a woman can work in these positions. She will do this because of her passion, not because of money. She will care about the persons in suffering and also about their families, especially mothers. I will join NGOs and centers that advocate for these issues. I do not need to change the law, because it already states that there should be no discrimination for women and men in selecting a candidate for a job. Then, when my children start school, I will help them to understand that a woman can have any job she wants if she is passionate. It only takes our commitment in seeing the change through. 



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A Veiled Revolution

Changing Paths

Stories of Honor and Shame

Women World Leaders




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