Thursday, November 26, 2009

UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

A recent article highlights the stunning and tragic statistics on violence against women in the world. It is something that often goes unreported and is unknown. I am continually amazed at how unaware people are regarding these issues.

Issues of violence are often closely linked with issues of power. This is particularly true for violence against women. Women all over the world face systematic discrimination. This is most exemplified in many middle- and low-income countries where women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food but only own around 1 percent of the land. This huge power differential creates a situation where women are not represented in society. Their marginal position opens them to violence of all types, much of which comes from a woman's family or acquaintances.

I hear solutions such as education pushed as panaceas to this problem. Even in countries with high education there are still fundamental inequities in pay and power which are experienced by women at all levels of society (e.g., pay disparity gaps, likelihood of experiencing poverty and hunger, etc.). Until women have the opportunity for substantive political representation, their situation will not change. Those countries where women have the largest political power (meaningful inclusion in ruling parties, civil society, and bureaucracies) are those with the lowest levels of violence against women. Some will ask what comes first, respect for women or women in positions of political power? I would say that they reinforce and sustain each other, but must be backed by all who would favor a more just world.

People rejoiced the overthrow of the Taliban, believing that the role of women in society would change in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Many people falsely believe that women are in a substantively better position than they were under the Taliban. A recent article highlights that this has not been the case. Violence against women continues and under the lawlessness created by this war, it is hard to track. Women leaders in Afghanistan face serious risks of violence against them and their families. The central government is powerless to stop it, even within Kabul. And even if it had the power, it is unclear whether it would expend any of its resources to tackle this problem.

The adoption of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979 was a bold gesture which has not been sufficiently supported. The future is murky on women's rights. While progress has been made in these 30 years, the structures that created such discrimination then have not fundamentally changed. Until we take a serious look at what underlies women's marginalization, we stand to simply repeat the injustices of the past.

Google Waves of Grief

I recently received my invite to Google Wave and am finding it quite interesting. I have always considered myself an early adopter of new technologies and this is quite an interesting one. However, I continue to be troubled by the lengths to which companies such as Google will go to secure market share in China. Their willingness to censor links is deplorable and it is really difficult to understand how they could find such moves ethical.

The possibilities for international collaboration made possible through Google Wave simply highlights how contradictory censoring the internet for Chinese consumption is. What steps has and will Google take to censor users from China using Google Wave? At what point will Google and other companies like it realize that there is no market share worth fundamentally undermining the human rights of others? It is hard to imagine how these decisions were made, or how those who made them can continue to pretend they are doing no harm.

If silence is consent, then censoring under the direction of a totalitarian state is collusion. History never judges such treason lightly.

A Year On

This week marked my one year anniversary of working at GAO. It has gone by very quickly but I really feel like I have come a long ways and also settled in nicely. I was extremely pleased with my one year review and also with the shape of the first report I worked on. It is coming to a close and will likely be published in early 2010.

I definitely feel like I have a more clear perspective on GAO and my role within it. I feel like there are a lot of great opportunities that I will be able to take advantage of while I am there. Having just attended my first meeting with Congressional staff, and seeing how interested they were in our findings, I can definitely understand why many people stay at GAO their whole career. There were recently retirement parties for two people who had both been there around 40 years. At this point in my life, it is hard to imagine going to the same place for a year, let alone half of your life.

I am finding my new project even more engaging than my first one. It is on a topic I have quite a bit of familiarity with and it has some important policy implications depending on what we find. Also, given pending health care reform, our findings could indicate the likely success (or failure) of some of the provisions that are currently included. While the report won't be out before health reform is passed, it will certainly be something that could spur further reforms, particularly when the program we are looking at comes back up for reauthorization in a few years.

Hard to Believe

It is really hard to believe that it is the end of November already. It has been a month of ups and downs, and, for the most part, I am glad it is over. It was sad going to my grandma's funeral, but it was nice to go back to Utah and see so many extend-family members that I hadn't see in a really long time. It was nice to catch up and also meet the newest addition to the family (my cousin's one-year-old daughter).

The service itself was nice. There were times when we all were alternating between crying and laughing. I was sitting right behind my grandpa which made it all the more sad, as he would periodically break down and shudder in his seat. He was really strong through all of it though, even though it is he who feels the grief most acutely.