"Sex and World Peace: How the Treatment of Women Affects Development and Security” is an empirical, interdisciplinary, 10-year research recently published.
Examining 178 countries, it reveals that the best predictor of how insecure and unstable a nation is the level of violence against women, rather than the oft-assumed levels of democracy or wealth.
This significant understanding, underscored by Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons, was especially pronounced at a recent event marking International Women’s Day organized by the inspiring and impressive Israeli branch of the International Women’s Club, which I had the distinct pleasure to moderate. A panel of remarkable “women of the world,” a diverse representation of ambassadors and wives of ambassadors, came together to address the topic of the status of women worldwide, to date and in the future, with emphasis on gender equality in different countries.
In a fascinating and thought-provoking discussion, the panelists captivated the impressively large audience with their candor, addressing difficult questions. Adorned with statistics and anecdotes, they discussed the implications and causes of the involvement of women in the public vs the private sector.
They deliberated on the challenge of work life from their own perspectives and experiences, and identified possible cultural, historical and political occurrences that have enabled and encouraged women’s success. They considered the effects of the status of women in their countries on their choices, and described possible manifestations of a changing awareness and understanding of the women themselves and of the population at large.
As International Women’s Day is clearly still required and as the oft too short discussion that it encourages dissipates into other “more pressing” headlines, a few overarching observations and insights are noteworthy.
Listening to the diverse panelists from Rwanda, the Netherlands, Canada and Latvia, it became evident that women in developing and developed countries have interestingly come together in their understanding of the multi-layer issues related to the status of women and gender equality.
In that vein, the Dutch and Rwandan representatives both described the women in their home countries seeking work-life balance, unapologetically specifying their overwhelming preference for part-time employment that would enable them to be the best mothers and employees they can be. Regardless of history, culture, religion, or ethnic background, the stories told in that room revealed a shared space that recognizes the challenges and welcomes the potential to collaborate based on the commonalities, while creating a place for the complexities of difference.
THE ATMOSPHERE in the room was especially relevant and revealing in the face of current uses and abuses of intersectionality theory. An analytic tool that attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power affect those who are most marginalized in society, intersectionality theory posits that we can and should be empowered by all we share.
However, the empowering panel discussion that permitted for nuances and acknowledged complexities, shed light on the damaging pitfalls that often seem to ail the intersectionality theory application and discourse. In so doing, the panel exposed perhaps the most important requirement for addressing the plight of women and other “minorities” the world over, namely the profound recognition and acceptance of the dignity in our differences.
The rhetoric often associated with intersectionality, which asserts that in no uncertain terms, we must choose between being engaged members of our community of origin and engaged members of the global community, is not only false but ultimately undermines our common goal.
In this day and age in which the heightened importance of identity is recognized, as was attested to so gracefully and powerfully by the panel, there is no reason for any woman (or any other person) to be made to feel that she needs to check her identity at the door in order to “belong,” such as the abhorrent allegation that a woman must choose to identify either as Zionist or Feminist.
The recognition and understanding that as women, whether as professionals, mothers, daughters, wives, leaders, we all possess intersectional or hybrid identities, and that it is the very balancing act between them that poses both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity, expose the hypocrisy of this claim if it is applied selectively or discriminatingly.
TRANSCENDING HISTORY, culture, religion, geography and ethnicity, the panel discussion revealed the distinct sense that we are united in the delicate, harmonizing act, vital for our multiple identities to thrive and, given the opportunity, each reach their full potential.
Some of the shared insights of the panelists, regardless of country of origin, included reflections on the fact that though it is not enough, we have come a long way; that we have a responsibility to provide other women with the support and encouragement that will permit them to recognize their potential; that we must continue to demand and to create the infrastructure necessary for women to receive equal opportunity; that we must afford a more nuanced understanding of success and not assume that our own understanding of it is the only one; that we can and should collaborate in our joint quest for societies that will ultimately boast and benefit from true equal opportunity.
Overwhelmingly, it highlighted that in order to succeed in this endeavor, we must not accept the false assertion that we must choose between our multiple identities, and must expose the hypocrisy of those who demand and insist on a binary, simplistic account of reality.
A final thought. To advance and enhance the process, this knowledge and understanding cannot remain a once a year, feel-good discussion, in which a small representation of 51% the world’s population participates.
For the next chapter to evolve, those who have the capacity to do so should unite around these basic understandings, reserving judgment, respecting and appreciating one another for different possible choices that will be made, supporting one another in the varied, nuanced quest to receive equal opportunities.
As “Sex and Peace” suggests, this is not about personal self-fulfillment as individuals or as a collective. It is truly and empirically a shared goal, for the benefit of humanity and the world at large.The writer is a PhD candidate in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researching the topic of free speech as part of the Human Rights under Pressure – Ethics, Law and Politics doctoral program. She is a research fellow at the International Institute for Counterterrorism and a board member of Tzav Pius.