Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is the author of the NY Times best-selling book, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana Photo Credit: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
What do you think is the greatest challenge in combating violence against women in the developing world?
In my view the greatest challenge in fighting violence against women is the fact that women are not valued in either economic or social terms. Their rights ‘matter’ less than men’s and they are permitted little claim to their own future. They are educated less often, permitted to work less often, and treated as property far more often than men. Education is the key to answering this ill, but often times this education leaves men out. It is indeed critical to teach women about their rights, but it is also necessary that both men and women learn about why violence against women is wrong. And in the longer-term, helping women to earn an income earns respect within the family, because in tough parts of the world that money goes a very long way to improving families’ lives. This may disrupt the family dynamic in the near term, but it can lead to a changed power dynamic in the longer-run.
If you had millions of dollars at your disposal to address violence against women, how would you invest it for the most impact? In your opinion, what groups are doing innovative, cutting edge work that’s making a substantive difference on-the-ground?
If I had the power to direct millions of dollars, I would put it all towards education efforts that 1) educate men and women on the ills of violence against women; 2) that educate women and men in basic literacy; and 3) that help women and men to improve their family’s financial situation. Entrepreneurship programs that train women and men in basic business skills and that include market linkages can lead to increases in income. This in turn leaves money for both boys AND girls to go to school, and that education piece is what provides a virtuous circle that, eventually, can lead families out of poverty.
The groups doing great work that is making a difference include ICRW, Bpeace, Man Up, Mercy Corps, Peace Dividend Trust, Solar Sister and MEDA.
How do we engage men and boys in this conversation about combating violence against women?
Boys grow into men, so what boys learn in their home and at schools from an early age is critically important. Men who see the power of education early on, like many men I have met in Afghanistan, raise boys who respect their sisters. And these boys go on to become husbands who respect their wives. They also can serve as role models for their community. Programs like Man Up aim at reaching boys and empowering them to be change-makers in their communities.
I also have met many men in countries enduring and recovering from conflict who serve as partners for their wives when it comes to business. Even if they initially did not approve of or understand their wives’ work, they come around when they see the money begin to come in. As Kamila told me in the opening to The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, money is power for women – wherever you are in the world.