by Katharine Daniels
Executive Editor & Founder, The WIP
This past weekend I was invited to keynote the Global Women’s Conference at CSU Fullerton. It was a great opportunity for me to reflect on the journey that we’ve been on here at The WIP and a chance to share the incredible hope that I feel.
For the first time in my life, I see a clear pathway to a future that is sustainable, safe, and free from oppression. Today I feel convinced, down to a cellular level, that the solutions and answers to every issue our global society faces – from the grave injustices committed against women and children to the severe effects of climate change and poverty – can be found in the global women’s movement – a movement that is growing, transformative, and one that I predict will take the world by force this decade.
This picture hardly leaves much room for optimism, but what I’ve learned at The WIP has offered me a new perspective and shown me that change is possible.
Every day we connect with women all over the world, and every day, reading their stories, we see the future through their eyes – a future where all women and children lead healthy and productive lives. One day, I am convinced, these grave and severe issues of our time will be behind us. We will embrace women’s voices and perspectives as the world comes to understand their value. I have never been so certain about anything else in my life.
• WIP Contributor and co-founder of India's first civil society organization dedicated
to conventional disarmament issues, the Control Arms Foundation of India,
Binalakshmi Nepram-Mentschel speaks before the United Nations General Assembly
in honor of the tens of thousands who have lost their lives to gun violence
in her part of the world. Photograph by Benoit Muracciole. •
Five years ago I couldn’t have imagined that I would create a global news service. In 2005 I was teaching at a private middle school in Southern California, and although it offered many challenges and rewards, I had become complacent. I began to feel like I wasn’t contributing enough to my students or the world in a productive, valuable way. The 2004 elections had left a need in me to channel my dissatisfaction with politics in this country, and as it happened, it was the very time that the blogosphere was taking shape and growing online. It was a perfect opportunity to combine my love of writing and activism, and so I took a big risk. I left a good salary and a supportive, nurturing, and stable work environment.
In the short time that I was blogging I quickly saw that there were very few women blogging alongside me. I was completely taken aback to see the same disparities that exist in print had transferred online. As the blogosphere grew in size and popularity I began to understand an equally disturbing truth – eyeballs were migrating to the web from print publications. On a good day these print publications followed a set of basic codes and canons on which their reputations relied. In stark contrast, the blogosphere at that time was a free-for-all of rants that lacked depth and analysis, and often the truthfulness and fairness an informed democracy needs to thrive.
With this understanding and concern I began to create The WIP. I came to realize that the perspectives of women journalists and experts just might be the source of fresh ideas our world so desperately needed. And, after three short years, I know this to be true.
• The WIP was fortunate to meet Leymah Gbowee, principal of the powerful documentary film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell. A true peacemaker, Leymah helped foment a women's movement to end the civil war in Liberia. She spoke at The WIP's 2008 event,
Women as Agents of Change in New York City.
Photograph by Michael Angelo for Wonderland. •
In late 2006 I recruited my childhood friend, Sarah McGowan, to join me in creating The WIP. In true Macstyle and without hesitation she jumped on board, ultimately becoming our Features Editor.
Although we researched long and hard, in 2006 it was difficult to find substantive research on women’s perspectives. We relied on scholars like Carol Gilligan to define what we began to refer to as the “feminine” perspective. We noted distinctions such as how women see "a web of interconnections between people” and that “women listen with all their senses.” We were intrigued by the possibility that “for women there is no right way – instead there are many ways to achieve a purpose. As mediators and nurturers,” Gilligan wrote, “women are aware that there may be alternatives. They look to the whole picture, often trying to determine what might happen.” We have now come to refer to this as contextual and forward-thinking analysis.
The differences in the way men and women view technology gave our online presence new meaning. One researcher found that on the whole, women see technology as people connectors – as communication and collaboration devices. Men, in contrast, tend to envision technology as extensions of their power. Each of these findings had tremendous implications for The WIP’s development as we began to understand the power our publication could have in creating a community engaged in solution-based dialog.
In our early days researching The WIP, we found a quote by Virginia Saldanha that truly served as a catalyst in our understanding of what she also called a “feminine” perspective: “This is not exclusively a women’s perspective but a perspective of all men and women who are concerned for life without looking for personal gain and domination of others.” The moment I read that quote, the vision for our publication doubled in size. We decided that we would not just deliver stories written by women exclusively for women. Instead, we would deliver stories written by women for everyone. And in doing so we would create a space for both men and women who sought to be informed and engaged in the globalized world we share, and who valued the insights, wisdom, and knowledge that women hold.
The WIP launched three years ago today on International Women’s Day with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance for our small publication - we had only a handful of writers from an even smaller number of countries, but we believed deeply in our mission and I think anyone who was there would agree – our enthusiasm was palpable. As I began to address a crowd of 200 or so Monterey Bay Area residents, I noticed that Riane Eisler - author of The Chalice and the Blade - was sitting in the front row. I also noticed that as I spoke she began to nod her head. Afterward she approached me and agreed to be my very first interview.
Later in the evening another defining relationship was forged when an old family friend suggested we recruit his daughter as a writer. Based at that time in Paris, she began covering stories from France for The WIP. A year later we asked Aralena Malone-Leroy to become our News Editor, and again she agreed, completing our team by curating an exceptional collection of bylines from women around the world.
I am sure I am not alone in my need to know why the world is the way that it is. Why it is that one woman needlessly dies in pregnancy or childbirth every minute of every day. Or why it is that rape is used as a weapon of war in places like Burma or Congo. Or why 1 in 6 children are child laborers – 73 million of whom are under the age of 10. Or why millions of women and girls are trafficked, or forced into debt bondage and other forms of slavery, or why women face so many other horrific circumstances.
In my conversations with Eisler over the past three years, I have come to understand clearly the deep gender discrimination that permeates our society. According to Eisler it is “a global sickness” and one that has affected what we value. Reallocating inequitable budgets and resources, narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, turning back the clock on climate change, will not be achieved through better policies - it will be achieved by changing what we value as a society. Changing our system of values is a challenge because people don’t like to talk about gender, but change only happens when we talk about what is uncomfortable.
Late last year, after reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s influential book, Half the Sky, I felt compelled to track them down. Like many others, I believe their book is igniting the global women’s movement as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring did the environmental movement in the 1960s. By moving the conversation away from women’s issues to human rights they are creating the space for both men and women to embrace the movement. Although Kristof and WuDunn are not the first to provide a human rights context for understanding the atrocities women suffer, they’ve done so in a format that has allowed a wide spectrum readers to participate. Half the Sky trades some of the hard statistics common to many of the other books that address women’s suffering worldwide, for personal stories. These individual stories “build empathy” and “open up an emotional connection” for the reader. Written as they are, they are also hard to forget.
• WIP Contributor and Kenyan activist Philo Ikonya (pictured at right with former MP Agnes Ndetei) protested the post-election violence in Kenya and was subsequently arrested for her activism in 2009. She believes "it is women who will introduce transformative power to Kenya". Photograph by Zacharia Chiliswa. •
After running The WIP for the last three years, I’ve learned that the moment I say our website is written by women, it is marginalized. It often takes three or more times describing what we do and who we write for before anyone realizes I didn’t say it was a “women’s website.” What is articulated so powerfully in Half the Sky is that if the fight for freedom and equality is backed only by women, it has already lost. In Kristof’s words, “success will require a broad coalition to resolve an issue that is no more a woman’s issue than the holocaust was a Jewish issue, or civil rights were a black issue.”
In Half the Sky the silver lining is that when women are free and flourishing around the world, they become the economic powerhouses each and every society needs to survive and thrive. The authors refer to this as a central truth: “Women aren’t the problem but the solution. The plight of girls is no more a tragedy than an opportunity.”
• In 2007 WIP Contributor Constance Manika first introduced us to Zimbabwean child rights activist and founder of the Girl Child Network, Betty Makoni. Two years later, we were thrilled to meet her in person when she and filmmaker Michaelene Risley did a Q&A after our screening of their important film, Tapestries of Hope. Photograph by WIP Features & Photo Editor, Sarah McGowan. •
Tonight The WIP will celebrate International Women’s Day with our own conference. Our keynote speaker is the Honorable Linda Tarr-Whelan, who led the U.S. delegation to the Beijing Conference in 1995 and served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. She is the author of Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping up to Leadership and Changing the World.
Tarr-Whelan agrees that to call anything a women’s issue is to marginalize it. In an interview with me last October, Linda went so far as to say that she would “ditch the term women’s issues for the rest of her life!” Like Kristof, WuDunn, and Eisler, Linda Tarr-Whelan makes a distinction between the value placed on issues we view as societal versus those we perceive as “women’s issues.”
Tarr-Whelan advocates the “30% Solution” - the critical tipping point where enough women in leadership positively affects policy decisions, changes the terms of the agenda and impacts the style of achieving goals. This critical mass of women broadens the context of what a society values and opens from a narrow focus on women’s issues to the greater framework of a societal agenda.
The 150 women who have contributed over 500 stories to The WIP from 35 different countries around the world don’t just know what I’ve discovered – they live these truths. Our stories come from the trenches – from women living the stories they tell, from journalists connecting with people on the ground facing unimaginable realities, and from experts holding information critical to a sustainable future.
• The first woman to run for president in Afghanistan, Dr. Massouda Jalal is the principal of the documentary film, Frontrunner. We can't help but wonder whether she could have offered the leadership that WIP Contributor Wazhmah Osman called for in her series about her homeland. Photograph by WIP Contributor Abigail Wendle. •
We are committed to elevating the status of women because we know that when women are empowered, entire communities benefit. Women deliver the stories that matter most to our communities. As leaders on the world stage, we measure our greatness not by our power and might, but instead by the health and well-being of our children, our communities, and our environment. We know that through women's voices we will discover solutions to our global problems that are achievable, sustainable, and that benefit everyone.
If we want to end violence against women worldwide, we must empower women. My work gives me hope that 10 years from now, we will look back on the previous decade and see a universal recognition of the opportunity women provide. That a decade of true partnership has transpired where men and women stood together around the world for human rights. And that women and men around the world have learned to embrace the feminine in all of us, talk about what’s uncomfortable, value women’s rights as human rights, and when 30% has changed the agenda.
From everyone at The WIP, we wish you a very happy International Women's Day.