In 2007, neuroscientist Lisa Genova self-published her first novel, “Still Alice.” It tells the story of a Harvard psychology professor and her experience with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The book became a best-seller and is now a major motion picture. Join Diane and her guests for a discussion of “Still Alice.”
The brutal execution by the Afghan Taliban of a married woman falsely accused of adultery has sparked international outrage. The killing of the 22-year-old also heightened concern for Afghan women after the U.S. ends its combat mission. Some women’s advocates were encouraged by protests this week in Kabul against the execution, calling the reaction evidence of progress. But the reality is that physical, sexual and psychological abuse of women occurs across the globe. In many places it exists in epidemic proportions. Diane and her guests will talk about efforts to empower women and change cultural attitudes among men and boys.
- Rangita de Silva-de Alwis director of the Women in Public Service Project at Wellesley College and director-elect of the Wilson Center's Global Women's Leadership Initiative.
- Ritu Sharma co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide.
- Donald Steinberg deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development and former U.S. ambassador to Angola.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Among women aged 15 to 44, violence is responsible for more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined, that's according to a U.N. report, on women worldwide. Numerous organizations in the U.S. and elsewhere are working to end violence against women.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about strategies that are working and what still needs to be done: Ritu Sharma of Women Thrive Worldwide and Donald Steinberg of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Joining us from a studio in Massachusetts, Rangita de Silva-de Alwis of Wellesley College. I do invite your comments and questions this morning. Join us by phone at 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MS. RITU SHARMAGood morning.
MR. DONALD STEINBERGGood morning.
MS. RANGITA DE SILVA-DE ALWISGood morning.
REHMGood to have you all with us. Ritu, tell us about the woman in Afghanistan who was executed.
SHARMAI think, as many of the listeners know, a few days ago in Afghanistan, a group of Taliban men executed a woman, allegedly for committing adultery, in the open, shot a number of bullets directly into her back. And this is not unusual in Afghanistan and other places, but I think what is shocking to people is that the whole event was recorded on a cellphone camera and then broadcast around the world.
REHMShe had been accused of adultery?
SHARMAShe had been accused of adultery, and I think this is one of myriad ways that violence against women is justified, but rather feebly justified. And that is an easy way to have the authority to put a woman to death is to accuse her of adultery.
REHMDo we know what the circumstances were that lead to their accusations against her?
SHARMAI don't know that we know if it was, in fact, true, but what I can tell you is that it is much more likely that there was some conflict in the household. The husband no longer wanted her around. There might have been a conflict between families, one family accusing her of adultery. There is no way for a woman in that culture to defend herself legally or morally or religiously. So it is, in fact, to be accused of adultery is simply a death sentence.
REHMBecause if one is accused, it is assumed that she has done the deed.
SHARMAIt is assumed. I think what more often happens is that the woman is a victim of rape. And to clean things up and keep them tidy, the man can then accuse her of adultery. And she is executed, and life goes on.
REHMRitu Sharma, she is co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide. Turning to you now, Rangita, am I pronouncing your name correctly?
ALWISIt's perfect, Diane.
REHMThank you so much. Tell me what you think about the process that went on here.
ALWISDiane, I think that out of the ashes of this horrific crime will come some hope for women in Afghanistan and women worldwide. What I see coming out of this is women mobilizing, organizing and galvanizing attention around this horrific act. And for the first time almost, we see Afghanistan women protesting. And it was so heartening to see this protest being lead by Sima Samar who is the head of the Human Rights Commission in Afghanistan, which is a government agency, and she was joined by men protesting together with women.
ALWISAnd I think that goes to the very heart of this issue, the need for men to join. That place is a crime against humanity. And I also see Najiba, the young woman who was executed, as representing not just women in Afghanistan but all women who are sacrificed at the altar of their family's honor. She, to some extent, is the face of Mukhtar Mai in Pakistan who was gang-raped because of an alleged crime committed by her brother. And Mukhtar Mai then became the spokesperson for all women in Pakistan who are sacrificed at the altar of her family's honor.
ALWISAs well as this being a turning point in Pakistan because of Mukhtar Mai and her outspoken views on this matter, Pakistan reformed and revised the penal code to outlaw honor crimes and to remove the exculpatory measures that, to some extent, created an environment of impunity for honor crimes. So I think of this as a turning point and as a call for action not just for the men in Afghanistan but for women all over.
ALWISWe saw that happening in Morocco a few months ago when Amina Filali committed suicide because she was forced into marriage with her rapist because of a provision in the Moroccan penal code which allows for men to purify their crimes by marrying the victim and therefore would escape punishment. And because of Amina Filali, the case, although it shocked the conscience of the world and the Moroccan civil society, the penal code now is being revised. And 475 -- the article 475 of the penal code is under revision.
ALWISSo to -- going to Egypt, the case of Samira Ibrahim who was subject to virginity testing in custody became, again, the kind touchstone for the supreme court in Egypt to overturn virginity testing as being valid under the Shariah law. So I see this as having some hope.
REHMRangita de Silva-de Alwis, she is director of the Women in Public Service Project at Wellesley College, soon-to-be director of the Wilson Center's Global Women's Leadership Initiative. And turning to you now, Don Steinberg, how has the Karzai government responded, and have they made any positive steps toward change?
STEINBERGYou know, this execution outside of Kabul reminds us of how important the gains we've achieved in Afghanistan are and their object lesson to the Karzai regime. They have come out with some very positive statements. And I was just recently at the Tokyo conference on Afghanistan where the government of Hamid Karzai reaffirmed its commitment not to sacrifice the progress that we've seen for women over the past decade on the altar of a withdrawal of international forces.
STEINBERGAnd, indeed, we have seen progress. Women's life expectancy over the last decade has increased by 15 years. That's the largest increase that we've ever seen. We now have 2.8 million girls in school in Afghanistan. A decade ago, there were none. We have maternal mortality rates declining. We now have a higher percentage of women in the Afghanistan parliament than we have in the U.S. Congress. And so we have seen changes.
STEINBERGAnd to the extent that we needed a reminder, just as images over the last decade of women being raped in Eastern Congo or girls having acid thrown in their face for daring to return to school in Afghanistan, this will be a milestone.
REHMAt the same time, Afghanistan was ranked by a major global poll last year as the world's worst place to be a woman, and some Afghan women say they are being left out of the equation of power and authority and influence.
STEINBERGAnd they are. And let's acknowledge that all of the gains that I've described are fragile and could be reversed. It was a positive sign however that in Tokyo, half of the participants from civil society in Afghanistan were women that every single intervention at the plenary, including that of Secretary Clinton, was forceful in terms of achieving lasting changes on the ground for women.
STEINBERGAnd indeed, the framework that we signed with the Afghan government makes it clear that protection of women and promotion of their political and economic and social participation is a condition for continuing assistance from the outside world to Afghanistan.
REHMAnd what you're saying is that after the American troops leave Afghanistan, you are optimistic that these gains will be not only held on to but increased?
STEINBERGWe're going to do everything we can to ensure that the $16 billion that was pledged from the international community for Afghanistan through 2017 supports women's empowerment and gender equality.
REHMI hope you're right. Donald Steinberg, he is deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development and former U.S. ambassador to Angola. Also here in the studio, Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide. And on the phone with us, Rangita de Silva-de Alwis, she will soon be director of the Wilson Center's Global Women's Leadership Initiative. Short break, and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about violence against women worldwide, we know that an atrocity occurred recently in Afghanistan with the shooting -- the killing of a 22-year-old woman accused of adultery. Protests followed in Afghanistan following the killing, and some see that as, perhaps, encouraging. Ritu Sharma, I know you wanted to add to what Donald Steinberg offered as a fairly optimistic view going forward.
SHARMAI'm also optimistic over the long term. But I think that this video that was released was done so intentionally, and it is a shot across the bow from the Taliban directly in the face of the United States and other Western governments.
SHARMAWell, I think they want to make it clear who's in charge and who's in charge of women, and they will not accept the imposition of "Western values" when it comes to women. So I...
REHMSo it's not even human values. It's Western values.
SHARMAAbsolutely. I think that that is the mindset, the way they organize their thinking around women's rights, when, in fact, of course, as you said, it is human rights. And I do think, though, that as Don said, you know, the Obama administration really does need to stand strong on this. If the perpetrators of that execution are not caught and prosecuted, we are, in fact, saying to the Taliban, OK, you guys take this one. We're willing to give it up, and we just want to keep the peace. So carry on.
REHMDonald Steinberg, is there any indication that the Obama administration is looking for ways to find and prosecute those involved?
STEINBERGAbsolutely. And we've called for that publicly out of statements from the White House.
REHMBut what do you do besides call for it publicly? I mean, the Taliban is not going to offer up these perpetrators.
STEINBERGWell, the minister of justice has already launched an exercise to try to bring those responsible for the actions to justice. Fortunately, we do have the videotape, so it's not as if these actors are unknown.
REHMAre the men identifiable?
STEINBERGThey are identifiable. I don't think they've been identified yet. But I wanted to get to the question that you just cited because, you know, we all accept the fact that there are differences between countries of historical and religious and cultural importance, but there are certain actions that go beyond the norm. As Secretary Clinton has said, beating women isn't cultural. It's criminal. You know, violence against women is a violation of the universal declaration of human rights, and I stress the word universal.
STEINBERGThese are not Western values that we're trying to import. You know, beyond this sort of situation, we have other practices -- female genital mutilation, child marriage, laws that prevent women from inheriting property -- and we see these as backward practices. For such activities, we also see a responsibility for us to speak out forcefully but perhaps, more importantly -- and this case demonstrates that as well -- to support those women and men on the ground who are trying to stand up against these practices.
STEINBERGWe have programs to support literally hundreds of non-governmental organizations around the world in situations like this to empower those voices who have the courage to step forward and say, enough is enough.
REHMAnd, Rangita, I gather that both education and economic power are ways to achieve that, standing up on the part of the women themselves and to somehow shift the thinking culturally or however.
ALWISYes, absolutely. But I just want to add to what Donald just spoke to, the importance of framing this issue as a human rights issue.
ALWISAnd that this is a universal human rights issue that's being universally accepted, adopted. It's not superimposing Western values. And having said that, Afghanistan is a party to several of the international human rights conventions that outlaw violence against women, but Afghanistan itself has a domestic violence law that seeks to eliminate customs, traditions, practices that cause violence against women contrary to the religion of Islam.
ALWISSo this law was heralded as a law that attempted to reconcile universal human rights with Islamic injunctions, and law itself makes illegal certain customary traditions and practices, such as selling and buying of women for marriage, forced marriage, child marriage, all of those customary practices that Donald spoke to. So Afghanistan itself -- the government of Afghanistan itself can be held accountable both under national laws as well as international human rights laws.
REHMAnd what about what's happened in Syria, Rangita, where rape is being used as a weapon of war?
ALWISRight. Before I go to Syria, I wanted to answer your question about economic empowerment, of social empowerment.
ALWISAs you know, the World Bank Development Report in 2012 for the first time acknowledged the fact that women's agency and women's voice are two of the pivotal cornerstones of not just women's development but economic development. And so, you know, as Secretary Clinton always says, women's empowerment is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do.
ALWISAnd there are reports and research to show that when women are economically empowered, they are less vulnerable to violence and have greater autonomy to resist violence, so -- as Donald says and as I know Ritu will agree -- that we have to see this within that kind of holistic network of rights.
ALWISIt's -- in order to address and combat cultural and religious practices, women's economic and social and cultural empowerment must be advanced and addressed. Going to Syria, rape as a weapon of war has now come to the surface in so many different ways. Back in the 1990s, in 1997, after the Rwandan genocide, the first case before the Rwandan Criminal Tribunal that spoke of rape as a weapon of war, as a crime against humanity, was articulated in the case of Akayesu.
ALWISSo we have a legal norm that speaks to this, and we have the U.N. Security Council resolution 1820 that Secretary Clinton often refers to which, once again, articulates rape and sexual violence against women as a tool of war -- as a weapon of war. So despite these laws on the books, despite these legal articulations, we see, obviously, this happening in Syria. We saw it happening in Egypt soon after the revolution. We saw this happening in Libya. And this has become a touchstone for protest.
ALWISAnd I think it is time for the ICC to investigate rape in Syria and to look at the policy of rape as a weapon of war being used in Syria. They did that in Libya. And I think now the time is right for that to take place. And I know that the U.N. Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Margot Wallstrom has spoken about this that's taking place in northern Mali. And she is very concerned about what's happening in Syria.
REHMMm hmm. So I think this report that came out is very timely...
ALWIS...and is really a clarion call for action.
REHMDonald Steinberg, do you want to comment?
STEINBERGYeah, it's true that we're getting some horrendous reports of rape being used as a weapon of war. But I also wanted to open the focus a little bit. We all know that when social order breaks down, it's women who suffer most. And rape as a weapon of war is one aspect, but we're also seeing in Syria other acts that are targeting women. We're seeing a real problem with mother-child health care. We're seeing women heads of household having to struggle for food and medicine for their families.
STEINBERGAnd so what we need to do is to focus not only on the specific acts that we're seeing. And I do agree entirely. We welcome the fact, for example, in the Rome Statute that established the ICC rape as a weapon of war was identified as a war crime. And that's very important. But we also need to focus on the broader picture. United States is providing about $60 million worth of humanitarian assistance to Syria right now. A lot of that is focused on women, health conditions for women, providing food for heads of household and that sort of activity.
SHARMAYeah. I want to talk about money because I think that's where it really comes down how serious we are about this or not. You know, if we are serious about Afghanistan, when we get up to that point where Karzai doesn't respect women's rights and...
REHMOr do anything really dramatic.
SHARMAReally dramatic that -- you know, we really have to close the checkbook, and that's going to be a tough scenario.
REHMI don't see that happening, do you?
SHARMAI am not going to prejudge the future. But the other thing about money is there are many problems in the world where sort of throwing more money at it is not the solution. This is not one of those problems. We need more resources coming into this area. Programs for women and girls that teach them how to be economically self-sufficient are very cost-effective programs.
SHARMALocal women's groups around the world, even in Afghanistan, are coming up with brilliant solutions to educate and raise awareness of men and boys, of religious leaders to address this problem at its root cause, which is how men think of masculinity. That is the root of the problem, and Don and others in the administration have really led the way in putting a lot more resources into this area.
SHARMABut if you look at how much we're spending on, say, agriculture assistance, which is critically important to addressing hunger, you know, violence is -- it's just a tiny fraction of that. So, you know, I think the thing to keep in mind is, you know, if we are really serious about this, let's put our money where our mouths are.
REHMWell, and doing something about agriculture with money is not really changing the cultural mindset of the men themselves. Don.
STEINBERGYou know, at USAID, we are focused on increasing the amount of resources directly towards women. We now have a requirement that every single one of our projects have a gender impact statement. How is that project being designed to enhance women's empowerment and gender equality? But I also want to stress that we also need to mainstream gender considerations into all of our programs. I'm often asked, do you support women's ministries around the world? Well, yes, we do. But we also want the agriculture minister to be thinking how is he or she working to empower women farmers.
STEINBERGWe want the health minister to be thinking, how am I addressing mother-child health care? We want the education minister to be thinking, how do we expand girls' participation in school? And, just to quote one statistic, we have found, all around the world, that if you could assure women farmers of the same access to capital credit, other inputs that men have, you'd increase world food production by 30 percent and feed 150 million people worldwide.
REHMDonald Steinberg, he's deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He's former U.S. ambassador to Angola. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers waiting. I'd like to open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Orlando, Fla. Monin, (sp?) you're on the air.
MONINYes. This is Monin.
REHMYes. Go right ahead, sir.
MONINThanks for taking my call. I just want to clarify the ruling, when it comes to committing adultery Islamically, it both applies to male and female, and the execution itself applies to married couples, meaning therefore women or men who are married, if they commit adultery, they get to be executed in two cases: one, if they admit they committed adultery, two, if they deny and there are four witnesses, they say they saw them committing adultery, then the execution will apply.
MONINAnd that is, like I said, for both male and female, which means that if they're not married, there will be no execution whatsoever. And the other point that I wanted to make here is that rape...
REHMHold on there. Hold on there. Let's address that first point, Ritu.
SHARMAYeah. Monin, thank you for raising that question. We are really living in a world where rules just don't apply. It doesn't matter even what the Taliban code is. It's irrelevant. The fact of the matter is a man with a gun or men with many guns have the power to do whatever it is they please. And so I think that passing new laws or trying to amend the Islamic law around or Shariah law around adultery is probably not the right long-term solution. But I think it's helpful what you're saying in terms of pointing out the hypocrisy even inherent in that system.
MONINYes, yes. I do agree. I mean, the Taliban, they're -- I mean, they're not representing the -- Islam in any way, shape or form. They're representing themselves. The other point I wanted to make is that, in a rape situation, Islamically again -- I'm talking about from Islamic perspective -- there is no such punishment or any ruling for someone who commits rape on a woman. And that woman should not be punished in any way, shape or form just because she was raped. And that was it. Thank you for taking my call, though.
REHMThank you for calling, Monin. Ritu.
SHARMAAgain, a few things are what is necessary here, I think -- and Don can really speak to this -- which is what happens to women in conflict situations. When countries are awash with weaponry and explosives, women become extremely vulnerable to all types of violence and coercion. So I think that, you know, there is a strategy that the U.S. government came out with recently called the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which addresses this issue of violence in war head-on.
REHMRitu Sharma, co-founder and president of Women Thrive Worldwide. Short break now, and more of your calls, your comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about violence against women around the world. Donald Steinberg, you were a former U.S. ambassador to Angola. What about the actions of Jonas Savimbi?
STEINBERGWell, it's Jonas Savimbi. It was our friend Kony in Uganda...
REHMAnd we won't call him our friend.
STEINBERGHe's not my buddy. And, I would say, Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone, I think there was an understanding, unfortunately, of a group of rebels all around the world that rape used as a weapon of war can demoralize local populations...
REHMAnd so these soldiers are thereby instructed to carry out that action in order to achieve demoralization.
STEINBERGYeah. When we -- I was part of the group that looked at this situation in Darfur, and we interviewed women on the border in Chad. And they would say that the men who were raping them said to them, you will never have another black child again. And that was clearly -- they were being told that, time and time again, as an effort to say, we are ending, you know, your race. This is a conscious effort.
STEINBERGWe're seeing this too frequently around the world, and that's one of the reasons why the International Criminal Court is so important in terms of addressing these, setting a norm that this isn't just an act of war. It is a crime against humanity.
REHMRangita, what does that say about the Taliban and its actions toward women?
ALWISYes. I want to build on what Donald just said. It's also about power and control over women and women as property and women's bodies as property. Just to add to Donald's own articulation of this, it is also about stigmatizing and shaming women and making sure they're not only ensuring that a certain population or a certain clan does not endure, but it is also shaming women and making sure that men -- women do not have autonomy. But what this (word?) is that it shames both men and women.
ALWISAnd until men take action -- men join the struggle on women's rights -- we're not going to see any transformation. And, as Ritu earlier mentioned, transforming gender roles is the only way -- is one of the most important ways in which we can address this issue. Stereotypes about men and women, concepts of masculinity harm both men and women. But I also agree with Donald that gender mainstreaming, mainstreaming gender into all aspects of policy planning is very important, including agriculture.
ALWISI don't think the importance of agriculture in women's lives can be undermined. It speaks to women's access to agriculture, women's access to fertilizer as a way of improving women's empowerment. In Mali, it has improved development by 13 percent just by giving women greater access to fertilizer. And in China, I was just -- I'm just back from China, and one of the issues that's really become a lightning rod for reform is using access to land and land tenure as a way of addressing the devaluing of the girl child.
ALWISWhen women have greater economic empowerment and greater agency, they tend to be valued more by their families and by their communities. So one way in which we can address the devaluing of the girl child is by economic agency and social agency.
REHMAll right. There's a caller in Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Flora. You're on the air.
FLORAThank you for taking my call. I live in an area where we see many Muslim families. And, over and over again, in observing them, I wonder how complicit the women are in the behavior toward them. For example, in non-Muslim -- in a non-Muslim world, you continually hear of women running with their children to authorities for restraining orders, for help, leaving the country with their children, whatever from abusive husbands. I don't hear or see any of this among the Muslim population.
SHARMAThat is a really tough dynamic, and I think that if you can put yourself inside the head of a woman who has grown up in a family that has told her she's worthless, she has no rights, she has no power, she need to uphold her own honor and the honor of her family, you know, she needs to make sure that her daughter has undergone female genital mutilation, et cetera, we also have to change the consciousness of women.
SHARMAThere were some -- an amazing piece of research done by the World Health Organization several years ago, and they asked women in the survey, for what reasons is your husband justified to beat you? A, I burnt the dinner. Ninety-plus percent of women in Africa said that that's a justifiable reason. And so it went on down the list. So it's, you know, these ways...
REHMThey take on.
SHARMA...they have internalized.
SHARMAAnd again, you know the concept of, you know, liberation begins from within. You know, we have to help women liberate themselves from within. And I agree with Rangita. It's really about liberating men as well from this distorted way of being.
REHMFlora, does that answer your question.
FLORAIt does to an extent, but when I -- particularly at the beaches, 97 degrees, children and men swimming and frolicking in the water and women willing to sit in 97-degree sun, not in the shade, black trousers with robes to the ground, the head wrapped and, in some cases, even the face covering and gloves.
REHMBut, Flora, what are you asking? Are you saying, why don't these women throw off their bonds? Why don't they just go else...
FLORAOh, fall on the ground for the ER to pick them up is a beginning.
REHMWell, I think that what you're asking indicates, perhaps, that you did not listen carefully to what Ritu had to say. Rangita, do you want to add to it?
ALWISOne thing that we are here to speak of, Diane, is the fact that this is also about an extrajudicial and arbitrary form of execution. And that undermines the rule of law in Afghanistan, so this is not only about a crime against a woman. It's a crime against humanity.
ALWISIt's an extrajudicial and arbitrary form of execution that was carried out by the Taliban without any due process, and that affects the very core of the rule of law and the legal system in Afghanistan. So we do need to have more men involved in protesting against not only the death and the murder of Najiba but also the potential death to rule of law.
REHMAll right. To DePauw, Ind. Good morning, Butch.
BUTCHI'm going to start in a quick call to action. My observation is that at no point when people have power can you talk them out of their power. Telling that the use of their power is wrong just doesn't work. You have to take the power away from them. So I'm hopeful that everyone should join my wife's campaign to take over the world. Her campaign slogan is castration without representation.
REHMAll right. Sir, thanks for your call.
SHARMAI'm there. I'm joining up.
STEINBERGI'm not obviously.
STEINBERGYou know, I think this whole...
REHMBut he makes a good point that, in order to shift the power toward women, you have to be willing to withdraw some of that power from the men to try to begin to equalize the situation. Going back to what Ritu said, if you continue to provide the money to those in power, they will work to keep the money to stay in power.
STEINBERGAnd let me reaffirm that in the case of Afghanistan and the commitments that we made in the mutual accountability framework, we have said that if you fail to protect women's rights, there will be a cost to that.
REHMWhere have you seen that succeed? Where have you seen it occur and succeed?
STEINBERGI've seen it work in a number of cases.
STEINBERGPrimarily in Africa where you -- but -- where you use conditionality in order to propel governments forward. But I wanted to also...
REHMCan you name a particular country, Donald, where it does work?
STEINBERGAngola, where I was ambassador, where we did say to the government, if you want assistance, we insist that you involve women in the peace process. We insist that you pay attention when you're demobilizing soldiers who are going back to villages and then abusing their wives because they don't have a place in their society. They feel demoralized. They are engaging in rape. They're engaging in other kinds of domestic violence, where we have indicated that we want to see increase in participation of girls in school, and it worked.
REHMAnd how well has it worked?
STEINBERGWell, it has worked. And we've seen that in a number of situations. And, frankly, we're seeing it in Afghanistan. Again, 2.8 million girls are in school right now.
REHMBut there remain instances of girls being poisoned going to school. Ritu.
SHARMADefinitely. Again -- and I really agree with the caller that the dynamics have to shift. But I want to tell you a really helpful story about a friend of mine who've shifted these dynamics successfully. A very good friend, Marlene Contreras, in Honduras was very tired of the violence in her community. This is in a rural community outside the city.
SHARMAAnd instead of taking violence on -- kind of head on, she decided to organize the women to start growing coffee, so they bought some land. They started growing coffee. They have now become incredibly successful. They export 10,000 pounds of fair trade coffee a year. And the violence stopped.
SHARMAAgainst them, against all the women in the community, and, now, if there is a threat against a woman in that community or against kind of the community with people coming in from the outside with some of the political instability in Honduras, the whole community is now mobilized because they want to protect.
REHMAnd where did the money come from?
SHARMAThe money came from the women themselves. They literally sold beans and put together, you know, $100. They started with a very small piece of land, and they grew it from there. And, again, this gets back to the point about money. It does take some money, but we're talking about very small investments for an incredible impact. And I think it's really important for people to know that this is eminently doable. As depressed as we can get about it, there is something we can do.
ALWISYes. I want to add to that. You know, we've been talking a lot about the impact of U.S. money, USAID on changes on the ground both in terms of policy and social change. But I want to stress the fact that till -- until both men and women in their own countries take ownership over social change, social change is not going to happen. It cannot be superimposed. It has to come indigenously. It has to come from within, although it can be supported from these external forces. And that's very important.
ALWISI'm not in any way trying to discount importance of U.S. policies in Afghanistan or in other parts of the world, but what is most important is for women and men to take ownership of social change...
ALWIS...in their communities and in their countries. And as Ritu pointed out, there is so many, you know, ways in which -- at the micro and the macro level where women and men can do that. And transforming power relations is very important, but it's not just an abstract concept. It can be done in concrete ways by joint heads of household policies and joint heads of household initiatives that make sure that land and property are registered in both men and women's names. In several countries, just, you know, changing the title registration of land to ensure that both signatures...
REHMMm hmm. Interesting.
ALWIS...can be reflected on the title deed is a way in which to increase women's autonomy and enhance women's economic power.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have time for one last call. To Mary in Monkton, Md. Good morning.
MARYGood morning. Thank you for taking my call.
MARYI've been listening to this all morning, and I have also worked as a victim advocate in domestic violence. But what I've been listening to all the way through -- and I can't seem to get my head around is why women, particularly like your guests, cling to the Muslim religion. It -- the religion itself is -- it's horrible towards women. You're not going to change governments that are based on religions if you support the religion.
SHARMAI would point out that our own major faith in the United States at times in history, Christianity, has condoned and supported violence against women. Islam is a religion of peace fundamentally. What has happened to it is it has been distorted beyond recognition by these people in power. There is a strong rationale in the Quran for equality between women and men, for protection of women and girls. But it is like any other religion where those in power pay attention to what they like, and they disregard what they don't like.
SHARMAAnd I don't think that attacking Islam as the religion -- I think we make the mistake of objectifying all of those women who are deeply steeped in their faith and that are trying to change this from within their faith. They're trying to bring out the best and highest expression of their faith as a solution to these issues.
REHMAnd I would just point out, think about the nuns in the Roman Catholic Church who are attempting to do the same thing. I'm not talking about violence but the hope for change. Thank you all so much for being with me, Ritu Sharma, David Steinberg, Rangita de Silva-de Alwis, for a very important program. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Nikki Jecks, Susan Nabors and Lisa Dunn, and the engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com, and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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