Category Archives: women and finance

International Women’s Day – 100 yrs.

On Sunday in the Ivory Coast women were massacred in an ambush while protesting peacefully in the streets. Last week in Libya women were gunned down while being used as human shields by mercenaries.

young women protesting in Libya (Yahoo)

Still, women are out in protest across the Middle East and beyond, asking insistently for change and fundamental fairness for their place in society. But women have taken part in revolutions before in the Arab/Muslim world and their plight has consistently remained unchanged with the change-of-the-guard. They are sent back home with few gains to impact their immediate lives and little to show for their sacrifices. Economic participation remains limited, social inclusion is inhibited, and a future involving full civic participation with rights and choices is no more a broad-based reality today, as we mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, as it was 100 years ago.

Why is there such resistance to women’s inclusion in civic life, along with rights and economic freedom, across the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa?

Some contemplate that it may be religion. Some think it must be the nature of the Eastern woman. Some have come to believe it is simply the eternal destiny of Arab/Muslim women to serve, rather than to be served. Truth be known, it is tradition…simply deep-rooted Tradition.

Muslim women protesting in Egypt

It has been long ingrained in mythology and legendry, that the good Eastern woman is to serve quietly, and to subserviently live out her days as her master and patriarch dictates. Today, as modernity would have it, many young women in the East are questioning the wisdom of this tradition, and its applicability to their emancipated instincts. After all, women across the Arab world and in Muslim Iran have increased their presence in universities and have attained levels of education previously unseen among women in generations prior. Today more than half the students enrolled in universities across the Middle East are women, although only a baffling 5% are represented in the work force.

Still, the state of women in Muslim countries across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia is worrisome. Not because they are battered and beaten just as the men are amidst the brutal crack-downs confronting protests, but because for as long as their emancipation is only in the minds of women, and not in the folklore that creates the Muslim lifestyle, women will continue to be battered and beaten at home as well as on the streets.

Reform must begin at home, and affect society from the bottom up. Women who live in societies where they are expected to cover their heads as a condition of being female, necessarily live in a society that expects them to be subservient. That is not to say that all women who choose to wear head-coverings are subservient. No. If that is a choice made of free will and not higher command, then it is independent of coercion and emblematic of a faith that is to be respected. The trouble presents itself when tradition compels the woman to look and be marked as separate and apart from the men, who remain uninhibited by a dress code that is necessarily debilitating. Hijab by its nature is debilitating. From its most basic to its most oppressive forms, Hijab hinders one or more of the senses and is part and parcel of a tradition to disable and debilitate women by limiting their power of movement and perception.

Contrast in Cairo

When I see pictures of emancipated women with free flowing hair and traces of make-up yelling in protest on the streets of the Arab world along-side their veiled sisters, I worry. I worry that the two sides are not hollering for the same kind of change. One is risking life and limb for change that she thinks will mean equality and emancipation for women and the acceptance of their full participation in civic society, while the other is taking part in an exercise to consolidate the power of religio-centered politics with an allegiance to fundamental Islam rather than to the rule of law and the influence of equality in civic life.

They stand next to each other, grudgingly smiling at one another in a civilized exchange that gives hope to the idea of respectful co-existence, thrusting their fists and voices into the sky as one – one voice for change. They both agree on the idea of rejecting the order they have now and can unite over a call for a new socio-political order. But the new order will not suit them both the same.

Modern women protesting for real change

To see change in the Middle East go toward fundamental fairness and equality for women, the vernacular of society has to change. The culture of domestic life must begin the change just as fundamentally as the politics do. Tradition has to shift from one that trumpets the subservience of women to one that champions their empowerment. Grass roots organizations have to begin in the villages and towns across wide swath of these regions to raise a collective howl against the prevalent but silent domestic exploitation of women. These organizations must begin to change hearts and minds and win people over to the idea that women are equal creations in the eyes of god and man, and that they must be bestowed the rights that make a human whole.

No government anywhere across the domino landscape of revolutionary Middle East today will step in and proclaim the equal rights of women, and actually proceed to bequeath those rights to them. Not without the sustained and committed pressure of regular men and women in society at large – who stand up and assert that fundamental fairness and not a skewed custom of conventions long out-dated should rule the land – will any revolution on the streets of the Arab/Muslim world translate into practical changes in the lives of women there.

These days, to celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day, female talking heads and pundits in the West, who have attained the emancipated role of ‘role models’ sitting in the comfort of lawful lands, theorize about the plight of women in Arab and Muslim countries displaying the courage for change. They proclaim that until women attain educational and economic equality they cannot be truly empowered.  But to begin to attain that equality they must battle Tradition – and that tradition will be tightly held in place by strong willed men who loath to give up the power it gives them.

If ever there was a time for the emancipated institutions of women to come together for a cause it is now. Women across the Arab world have a chance to turn the corner and establish a pathway to fundamental change against business as usual for governments vis-à-vis the rights of women. Well funded, well connected, well networked organizations that aid, empower and represent the rights of women should come together, strategize and make a plan to establish grass roots efforts wherever possible and to introduce basic education to women and girls. Only this way can we help to change the landscape of civil society and the vernacular of mythology that feeds into a tradition which has historically ill-served the women of the Arab/Muslim world.

Starting this year, on the 100th anniversary of a long-standing global struggle, stand together. Make a difference. Change lives forever.

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For the first time ever…

Elena kagan

For the first time ever there are 3 women on the United States Supreme Court (this follows another recent breakthrough of 4 women in space this year). Although few projected a contentious confirmation hearing for Elena Kagan, the most recent history making female confirmed to the court, even fewer thought it would go this well.

The 50 year old Solicitor General, whose record on the bench was nearly non-existent and her thoughts on the law were hard to discern, guided her questioners through a labyrinth of questioning that was designed to thwart her, until she masterfully meandered through it and brought Congress out the other end with her. She emerged into the sun-drenched light of confirmation, and made history by stepping onto a court now comprised of more women than ever.

So have we entered the “age of women”, asks Christia Freeland of the Washington Post? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/01/AR2010070105218.html)

As the founder of Womenfound, I sure hope so. But I must refrain and observe that we’ve got a long way yet to go. The article above laments that it is not, indeed, the age of women because women have not yet made their way sufficiently into the hallowed halls of power and money. Christia Freeland declares that “[t]he areas where the real money and power reside are [still] occupied almost exclusively by men.” This may be true, but I see women’s inequality from a different angle, the angle seen when looking from the bottom up – not the top down.

From my standpoint, women remain on an unequal footing from men, not because they haven’t made phenomenal strides in business, politics, media and in the sciences, but because in the undeveloped or under-developed world they are still so far behind as to lack basic rights such as education, reproductive freedom, voting rights, inheritance rights, representation and even equal protection of the law in the face of abuse and criminal behavior perpetuated on them. This is why women remain unequal: because other than in the few developed pockets of the world, women remain largely oppressed, downtrodden and falsely persecuted throughout their lives. Sadly, they die silently knowing their daughters will live the same tragically restricted lives.

In some corners of the world women and girls are denied the right to gain an education. Similarly, in some countries physicians cannot be trained in the female anatomy and are incapable, as doctors, to render effective medical attention to women and their unique needs. No one needs me to tell them that the lack of education disables women from advancing in any field; but I will impart that the lack of medical attention reduces women’s life expectancy in many corners of the world to their 40′s. How much can any woman achieve without an education by the age of 40?

So no, its not that women don’t hold impressive positions of money and power in the Western world. The problem is that they haven’t even gotten started in most of the rest of the world.

Christia Freeland

Freeland concludes: “Feminists should applaud Kagan’s poised performance on Capitol Hill, but let’s not stop there. The job now is for women to accumulate their own capital.” I couldn’t agree more. Let’s nod at our collective strides – including Freeland’s – and keep nudging forward.

Women, Decisions and Money

Who controls the finances in your household?

“Women now account for more than half of the workforce. Additionally, men have suffered the brunt of job losses in the recent recession, meaning that more and more women have been entering the workforce and those that were in it already, are now working longer and harder to make up the difference and make ends meet.  Women are now economic engines, and their progress in the labor force is intrinsically tied to our future prosperity as a country.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/03/29/putting-spotlight-women-finance-watch-live-1000

In the States, in a day when, according to Valerie Jerret, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs, women account for half of the national workforce, I would think that at least half of them would be the head of their household. But according to statistics compiled by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA.gov), only 10%see themselves as the head of the household.

Women, as it turns out, are working longer hours and at a wider gamut of positions to make up for the revenue lost by men without jobs during the latest recession. But they’re still not controlling the purse strings. Women are still the primary care givers and seen as the nurturers, while the men maintain their traditional role as the worker and bread winner (http://mchb.hrsa.gov/whusa_05/pages/0303hcwc.htm). What happens when those roles intermingle and mesh? From my look-out point I see many families that have begun to blur the lines of traditional male/female roles. Of those families, many either share the burden of managing the family finances, or the women have taken over the task. What surprises me is that in the families where the women don’t work, as is centuries old custom, they also don’t control the purse strings.  

Why does it matter, you ask? Well, the decisions they make matter because they are different. Women prioritize in a different way than men. They tend to give priority to the children more consistently than men do. Men tend to view adult leisure activities as a must-do more often than women. This is true by statistic (see Sciencedirect.com), as well as by practical observation. Research has also found that men tend to be more confident about their financial prowess so they spend more freely. Women tend to spend more cautiously (if they are in charge of household finances – not if they are given a personal budget) since they are more anxious about handling the finances (see: http://www.natefacs.org/JFCSE/v26no1/v26n1Carpenter.pdf). You may notice if you look around you that the women you know are more concerned about the children’s activities and clothes than the men are. You may also note, if they control the family finances, that they are more cautious and more protective of the money they spend. If you do, then you can personally and practically concur with the research that I’ve found.

Last week, Time magazine featured three prominent women in finance, who effectively now run America’s finances, or at least spearhead its recovery.

Among them was Sheila Bair, the chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and one of the first federal regulators to publicly sound the alarm about the collapse three years ago. She sat next to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chair Mary Schapiro, the first woman to hold that post and the deciding vote to initiate the agency’s recent lawsuit against Goldman Sachs. Across the stage sat Elizabeth Warren, chair of the panel bird-dogging the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bank bailout and the chief advocate for new consumer-finance regulations that banks and their allies have spent millions to oppose.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1988953,00.html#ixzz0pMUqhly1
The New Sheriffs of Wall Street” (May 2010 issue)

By contrast, risking political incorrectness, NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF wrote last week in a New York Times Op-Ed (May 22, 2010) that  “if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed.”  (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/opinion/23kristof.html?scp=1&sq=obamza&st=cse). He was talking about a village in the Congo, but he could just as easily have been talking about an inner city American family. Kristoff argues that in traditionally patriarchal cultures them men control the purse strings and often make decisions that are debilitatingly inappropriate for their families. In a Congolese village Kristof meets an impoverished family who’s children have been expelled from school for non-payment. They are the Obamza’s:

The Obamzas have no mosquito net, even though they have already lost two of their eight children to malaria. They say they just can’t afford the $6 cost of a net. Nor can they afford the $2.50-a-month tuition for each of their three school-age kids.

“It’s hard to get the money to send the kids to school,” Mr. Obamza explained, a bit embarrassed.

But Mr. Obamza and his wife, Valerie, do have cellphones and say they spend a combined $10 a month on call time.

In addition, Mr. Obamza goes drinking several times a week at a village bar, spending about $1 an evening on moonshine. By his calculation, that adds up to about $12 a month — almost as much as the family rent and school fees combined.

The story is not unique. A search on “gender attitudes toward finance” reaps a stream of resources comparing emancipated attitudes toward finance with those of traditionalist, and finds that societies with traditional notions of finance as a man’s realm are dis-served. Mostly the women in these societies toil and the children suffer, while the men decide how to squander what little they have as best they can.

If you believe Time magazine, you’d have to believe that women are becoming more accustomed to a role of financier, rather than back seat consumer. But if you look at Kristof’s Op-Ed, you’d have to think that across the world women still find themselves without control on home budgeting. Whereas in the States, more control over finances may be just a matter of asking or taking on the task, around the globe the lack of financial control for women is a product of age-old preconceptions that keep hard working, good thinking women out of the realm of finance.

Unfortunately, the staus quo may dis-serve some of the neediest families around the world and even at home. But attitudes can be changed. Less than a century ago, here in the states, a woman working and controlling the household finances equally with her husband would have been unthinkable. Today it is practical. No reason why tradition can’t assimilate to change in every other corner of the world…as long as we make sure we get out the word that we, globally, expect the empowerment of women to beat its path forward in every corner of the world.