by Dana Bruxvoort, HTC associate
In honor of International Women’s Day, UNICEF USA* hosted a Google+ Hangout on March 6th that featured leaders who are empowering women and girls globally through advocacy and economic development. I was able to watch the live panel discussion and glean key takeaways, which focused on the importance of giving a voice to women who have experienced violence and training women to become leaders in their own communities.
The participants included Debbie Farah, CEO and founder of Bajalia; Diana Mao, President of Nomi Network; and Cindy Dyer, Vice President of Human Rights at Vital Voices Global Partnership. Bajalia and Nomi Network use economic development to financially empower rural women in countries such as Cambodia, India and Afghanistan through microfinance enterprises. Vital Voices works internationally with female leaders in service provision, criminal justice systems and government offices to advocate for legislation and promote awareness about services available to women who have been trafficked or experienced violence.
Farah spoke to the importance of developing female leaders in rural communities. “When you first meet these women they don’t look like leaders,” she said. “They look a lot like very scared children. But don’t let that fool you. One of the things we continue to see and be surprised by every day is the resilience and power of women to change their society.”
Farah and Mao discussed how a woman begins to earn respect when she starts earning money. This respect allows her to become a leader in her community and effectuate positive change. Mao also noted that it is critical to financially empower women who are survivors of trafficking, as they are often re-trafficked because they lack economic opportunities in their home communities.
As a former attorney, Dyer brought a different perspective to the discussion. She emphasized the need to draft and pass legislation that is comprehensive and protects against all forms of trafficking. Dyer also discussed how Vital Voices works with female leaders to lobby for legislation that truly protects victims.
“One of the biggest problems that I see – and I’m an attorney – is that countries will pass beautiful pieces of legislation…and after they pass these pieces of legislation, they sit back and they admire them,” said Dyer. “And that’s it. They don’t make them work for victims.”
Vital Voices works to make sure laws are enforced in a manner that doesn’t “trample over victims.” It advocates to ensure the law keeps its promises to victims of trafficking by training law enforcement, government officials and service providers. Vital Voices also promotes awareness about the services available to trafficking victims. “If you have services that people don’t know about, it’s not very helpful,” Dyer noted.
Farah also discussed how violence against women and girls won’t end unless entire communities – including men and boys – are mobilized. “It is amazing how family partnerships can really work together to help society,” Farah said. “Human rights is not an issue of men or women, it’s an issue of all of us working together for the betterment of society.”
The discussion ended with suggestions of how the public can help in the quest to end violence against women and girls. All three panelists urged the public to use their buying power to purchase responsibly made products. “Money talks,” Dyer said. “When you spend your money, spend it wisely. Spend it on these organizations that we know have clean supply chains.”
Farah encouraged individuals to become leaders among their own followings and Dyer echoed that sentiment. She said everyone must use their own voice to bring awareness to the issues facing women and girls worldwide and create a culture of intolerance for the degradation of women through violence. Dyer ended the discussion by quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
*Correction: original article stated “UNICEF”
**The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC