Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, president of the Global Fund for Women. Photo: Eddie JimThe violence committed against women and girls by men is a global scourge. And it is only one of the barriers to women and girls attaining their full human rights and achieving their potential.
In so many places around the world, the access of women and girls to economic and political participation and to basic reproductive health measures is blocked by outdated systems and structures controlled by men.
One might like to think that in liberal democracies such as Australia, women do not suffer discrimination. But that is not so. Women are sorely under-represented in positions of power here, continue to carry an unfair share of domestic responsibilities, earn less than men and are the victims of widespread violence.
Research by VicHealth shows that for Australian women aged 14 to 45, violence by intimate partners is the leading preventable cause of illness, injury and death. Every five or six days, a woman is killed in Australia by her partner or ex-partner.
Today’s guest in The Zone is one of the world’s leading activists for the rights of women and girls, Dr Musimbi Kanyoro, the president and chief executive of the San Francisco-based Global Fund for Women. The full transcript of our interview – as well as a short video of Kanyoro – is at theage南京夜网.au/opinion/the-zone.
Perhaps Kanyoro’s most fundamental message is that we all lose as a result of the violence and discrimination suffered by women. It is self-evident that nations cannot reach their potential when women are blocked from economic and political participation. Such exclusion also undermines a nation’s decency and dignity, as does genital mutilation of girls and forced marriage.
Kanyoro stresses that men need to play a core role in ameliorating the situation of women and girls.
”The human rights framework basically says all people are endowed with dignity. It is about all people. This is the first easy step for men – men can recognise the humanity of women.
”That is easy. It is easy because we are all human; everybody should just know it. Recognising that humanity and then respecting that humanity as equals, as friends, as sisters and brothers, as husbands and wives, as partners, in whatever we want to do professionally or otherwise, is a big step.”
But, Kanyoro laments, it is a step yet to be taken by many men. Why? She says women have low status pretty much everywhere.
”That is why women get discriminated against – because people do not think we’re equal. So that is the first step of what we would like to do to involve the men – recognising and changing their behaviour towards women. The second step is being involved together with women for advocating for bigger issues. It is not just about what happens to women. We want to see economies grow. How can we do that together? Through the participation of all people.”
The Global Fund for Women began 25 years ago. Since then it has created more than 9000 grants, worth more than $100 million, to women-led organisations throughout the world.
It is now working with groups in more than 170 countries. Recent research by Stanford University found that through its grant-making the fund had helped bring about laws on violence against women that now cover more than 1 billion women and girls. A comprehensive list of the grants can be viewed at globalfundforwomen.org/what-we-do/our-grantmaking.
Kanyoro, though, is frustrated. Applications for grants far exceed the funds available. She wants to raise another $100 million over the next five years.
Most of the fund’s money comes from private donations – by wealthy people and people with limited resources. ”We have a large donor base of individuals who give as much money as they are able to give and we believe that growing philanthropy is about actually making everybody take responsibility, not only when they have large amounts of money.
”We use a philosophy of equal generosity, because people give according to what they think they are able to give.”
She wants governments and businesses to give more, not as an act of charity, but out of enlightened self-interest. ”The work we do actually saves governments a lot of money … when women are safe, the hospitals don’t get overcrowded by sick people, children are taken care of, older people are looked after well, women participate as workers in businesses, in schools, in hospitals, women participate in decision-making at the political level. We’re actually part of that growth economy.”
One of the organisations Kanyoro met with in Australia is the Australian Women Donors Network, a Melbourne-based organisation that seeks to direct attention to the economic and social disadvantage of women and girls here and around the world and to encourage the funding of projects that invest specifically in women and girls.
During her visit, she also met with AusAID, seeking not only funding but also collaboration, particularly on projects in the Pacific, where the fund has given grants totalling $15 million.
”Certain issues are really important for the Pacific. We find the issue of violence against women in Papua New Guinea, for example, is really big, and in the Solomon Islands and in Samoa.” Prime Minister Julia Gillard raised the issue of violence against women in PNG during her recent visit there.
Kanyoro is keen to help women in PNG establish a women’s bank, a project that would mirror others elsewhere in the world.
”We believe that if there is a women’s bank in Papua New Guinea, women would have the confidence of owning and wanting to see it succeed, in the same way that we have seen, for example, women really trust something like microfinance in Bangladesh.”
Kanyoro’s commitment to women’s rights was inspired by her parents. She grew up in Kenya, and has worked internationally for the past 30 years in various human rights organisations. She was an early, leading campaigner for the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS.
”Both of my parents were very involved in the lives of people. I saw what kind of devotion they gave to issues. I saw how much it hurt my mum when she would see a mother lost through childbirth. I saw how much my own father would suffer just to keep the children inoculated and caring for [those affected by] malaria and all the things that were killing children and people.
”I was raised to understand that we do not live our lives for our own sake alone, that it is not about us but it is about being part of the human community.”
One of the issues the Global Fund for Women has focused on from its earliest days is technology; some of its early funding came out of the digital creativity crucible that is California’s Silicon Valley.
The concentration on technology is going to increase. Kanyoro cites the impact women made through their use of social media during the Arab Spring, which saw popular uprisings bring about regime change in nations such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen.
She talks, too, of a simple water-purification technology developed by a young woman in Canada. ”This technology has been tested in Peru, in Kenya and in India and it costs only $10. If we can equip many people to use this kind of technology, not only will it be useful in the rural areas where women need a lot of help and where we do a lot of support for women’s groups, but it will also change the lifestyles of those women. Technology also helps to reduce the workload for women.”
Providing access to education is also one of the fund’s top priorities. It supported women in Afghanistan who set up clandestine schools when the Taliban regime banned girls from schools.
One of those grantee partners, the Afghan Institute of Learning has blossomed into a multi-service organisation providing teacher training, health education and care in addition to general education. But Kanyoro says education alone won’t ensure human rights for women and girls. Other cultural changes have to happen. ”Yes you invest in girls’ education, but you also have to lessen the work that women have to do at home and you also make sure that families do have access to certain funding otherwise they will sell their girls or they will keep them at home. You also make sure that women have access to contraceptives to have smaller families. You just have to do a lot of things that are holistic.”
Kanyoro is buoyed by the changes her organisation has helped finance. She knows how much more progress is required, but believes it will come – if men and women work together. ”I have seen apartheid end. I have seen the Berlin Wall come down. If these huge global problems can be tackled, why shouldn’t we be optimistic for women?
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.