Thursday, January 29, 2009

Steam Rollers and "The Girl Effect

The World Economic Forum is meeting in Davos, Switzerland. As one would suspect, a great deal of the current world economic crisis is being laid at the feet of the United States. That may be true, but the real problem is the failure of capitalism. If anything needs to come out of Davos, it's the recognition that two things need to be re evaluated in the global economic system. The first is the notion of economic spheres of influence (otherwise known as competition for dominance), and the second is that unlimited growth is infinitely sustainable. The current global crisis amply demonstrates that both of those notions are well past their sell date.

In view of this, what is gaining ground in Davos are notions of philanthropy and the introduction of accountability and transparency in philanthropic endeavors. (That is when speakers aren't bashing the financial industry.) The political and economic movers and shakers are seriously considering investing in people, specifically third world countries. Which is why the only non economic panel discussion is called "The Girl Effect."

God is so providential. Yesterday's posting on Bishop Williamson's ideas for modern woman rankled me to say the least. Not just because they are reactionary but because they fly in the face of everything we know about raising the lifestyles of families and communities in impoverished areas. So today I find this article written from Davos. Thank you Jesus. Take this Bishop Williamson and your like minded fellows:

By Maria Eitel January 28, 2009

I promised to blog about the girl effect from Davos, but I have to admit I didn't expect the buzz to surface before the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting had even started.
Yesterday I had coffee with Geeta Rao Gupta, President of the International Center for Research on Women. We met early on - before the traffic had picked up and well before the main program had begun (it launches today). I was surprised when she told me people were talking about the girl effect session - which doesn't even happen until Saturday - on the shuttle bus into Davos.

When I asked her why, she said, "Every other session is about the economy and the financial situation and here we are with a topic that supposedly has nothing to do with it." But Geeta and I both know well that it has everything to do with it.

Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE, knows it too. One thing she said struck me in particular: "By targeting girls, you're really focused on the solution at the root cause that will have implications on problems more broadly."
She went on to point out that all of the research shows investing in girls provides the best overall outcome - both for girls as well as the economies of communities and of nations. A girl who has an opportunity to participate will be better educated and have better economic prospects. She'll be healthier, marry later and her future children will be healthier. This is important for a girl and her family, but it also addresses issues like slowing population growth, which has a broad impact on everything from health to climate change to economic viability. (What this research is really proving is that patriarchal societies based on keeping women barefoot, pregnant and UNEDUCATED don't work to insure the economic survival of the family. They insure that the poor continue to produce more poor. Using Jesus's comment that 'the poor will be with us always' to justify their exploitation is horrific spirituality.

I thought I'd ask Lee Howell, the Annual Meeting Director, for a bit of insight given that this year's meeting is unprecedented for two reasons. First, we're addressing these issues during the worst financial crisis since the Depression. Second, girls are on the Forum's agenda for the first time in the Meeting's 39-year history. Here's what he had to say:

"The reason we'd focus on the girl effect is in fact that we want to demonstrate that the global agenda needs to be looked at in its totality. If you start to look at these issues zero sum - and only look at the economic situation at the expense of development or other challenges - that's really the short-sightedness that got us to the crisis we're in today.

"When times are tough and resources are scarce, you have to think about what will give you the bang for the buck. The field work, economic analysis and experience all point to the powerful effect you'll have if you invest in girls. People have to do more with less. If that's the context we're operating in, then the girl effect is an answer for a lot of people."

A key theme in my conversations was optimism about the new Obama Administration. Geeta and Helene both referenced Secretary Clinton's confirmation hearings and her recognition of the importance of women and girls. One of the key issues that came up was a call for the United States to ratify CEDAW (the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), which was adopted by the UN in 1979. The United States is the only developed nation that has not yet done so. (Anybody want to guess why we haven't ratified CEDAW?)

Geeta and I talked about a conversation she had on the plane with the head of the Rural Development Institute about inheritance rights for girls. It's not too big a stretch to recognize that girls should be legally able to inherit property. It provides collateral, status and clout within the community. It's an asset that can help weather hardship and is a right that should be extended to all. But the other thing Geeta mentioned was legal literacy - enabling girls to know what the law allows them. She talked about RDI's model to train paralegal workers to educate girls about what their rights actually are and what they can do to make sure those rights are upheld.
It's a powerful approach and it isn't even that costly.

We've seen it in our work with BRAC in Bangladesh. In some regions, almost 90% of girls are married before 18 and every year more than 1 million girls between 10 and 18 give birth - effectively wiping out any future potential to join the workforce. The result is $1,233 in foregone income every year for every one of these girls.

BRAC is demonstrating the value of an adolescent girl as an economic actor instead of as a child-bride. They've pioneered a microfinance program in which 40,000 adolescent girls have gained the confidence, skills and capital to run their own businesses and manage their own resources. These entrepreneurs pay their own school fees and often pay their siblings' tuition. They also delay marriage - both because parents begin to recognize it's not the best option and because girls themselves are empowered to decline an illegal marriage (which is any marriage before 18).


It is the status of women, more so than any other issue, which is paramount in our current global reality. It is the mega issue. Abortion, gay rights, and traditional family values, are all issues which are being used to keep the status of women beneath that of men.

Bishop Williamson's meanderings are not just his own little myopic view. They are held in large degree by every right wing Catholic group which currently enjoys Vatican support. Benedict has on more than one occasion lost his cool over 'radical' feminism. The truth is, the feminism spoke about in the above article is not about bra burning radical feminism. It's a realistic assessment which understands women can not be purposefully held down if we are truly attempting to attain a more just global experience for everyone.

In every sense of the word this is a battle between forms of old energy and the new global reality. But the old energy is not going away because some nice words are spoken and we're all asked to play nice. President Obama is finding this out in his dealings with the Republican party. He makes some concessions and they vote in one massive block to say no, unable to comprehend they have no political power because they insisted on policies for a world which had moved beyond their politics. All they seem to want to do now is say NO, as they are being steam rolled by the new reality. (This is one tail that ain't going to wag the Obama dog.)

This is also true for Roman Catholicism. It has reduced itself the Church of NO. I almost feel sorry for Benedict, but just like Barack Obama and the Republicans, Benedict will find out that there is no compromising with the SSPX. When it comes to Vatican II the answer was and always will be NO.

The question is will Benedict allow the steam roller to flatten Catholicism. The current Vatican reality indicates this is mostly his decision alone. According to the documents of Vatican II, it wasn't supposed to be this way. Bishops and laity were supposed to have a say in the direction of the Church along side the Pope, but that went out the window with JPII.

The official future of Catholicism is firmly in the hands of Benedict and subject to his whims, but the unofficial church, the river beneath the river, is operating on a different channel and it's getting louder. It shouts the joy and hope of a new conscioussness and it's willing to trust in the unfolding of a new way of doing business. How ironic that key parts of this message are being delivered in Davos, when it should be coming from Rome.

Benedict needs to listen for the steam roller. It's coming and gestures to reactionary right wing groups won't stop it. Saying NO won't stop it. Silencing the left won't deflect it. It's too big to be stopped. Even Wall Street wasn't big enough to stop it. Their's a lesson there.

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