April 2019: Empowerment For All

By Maya Frai, April 30 2019

When I talk about LHI, I often use the word “female empowerment” to term the mission of what the platform stands for. Over the past couple of weeks, I have realized that focusing on the word “empowerment” is much more pervasive in tackling today’s societal challenges. People fixate on empowerment in many different spaces whether it be through educational empowerment, economic empowerment, or political empowerment. When thinking about women empowerment in particular, it’s important to bring up the notion that empowering women means supporting equality for all, which means the opposite of disempowering men. Being a supporter of women also shouldn’t involve being overly critical of other people’s views and behaviors.

Feminism in theory encompasses major women’s rights issues including domestic violence, sexual harassment, maternity leave, equal pay, reproductive rights, and many more. It means to be actively supportive for women’s equal rights on all fronts. When people advocate for the empowerment of women through supporting these causes, one could argue they are supporting the right to choose and the importance of independent freedom. The focus being on women should not make the issues less relevant nor separate men from the broader mission at hand. 50/50 equality requires that empowerment is a shared mission amongst men and women.

I’ve become aware of the stereotypes and discriminatory nuances that impact women in society. I’ve seen exposés on companies detailing sexual harassment claims as well as instances of workplace discrimination. With new initiatives and organizations working to advance women, I’ve learned that the framing of the problem is just as important as the proposed solution. Calling out misbehavior and mistreatment against women is admirable, if done productively. When speaking on women’s issues, it’s often easy to become overly expressive in the ways in which women should be visibly supported. However, I’ve often seen negativity spur around the confrontation of women’s issues through outward violence and aggression towards the people who might be disagreeing with one’s point of view. Supporting issues concerning women means being able to frame the problem in a way where you are advocating that equality is a natural and organic mission for all people to feel responsible for. When confronting those who might disagree with women’s rights issues, it’s more productive to try to understand where they are coming from, make them aware of the issues at hand in an objective manner, and propose a middle ground where they can meet you halfway. Empowering those around you is just as important as supporting the cause.

If we’re not careful about the ways in which we talk about these issues, we might make it harder for the broader women’s movement to cut through the noise. In order to productively discuss and prevent putting down others who might disagree, I’d recommend approaching the conversation with advocating for “empowerment for all.” Because when we empower women, we’re catalyzing a widespread movement for global equality. The disempowerment of men is not a by-product nor is the de-prioritization of other pressing issues in today’s society.

Here are some supporting words which I particularly liked on this topic:

The idea that the fight for gender equality somehow erases masculinity or disempowers men seems to be strangely insulting to any man whose sense of identity doesn’t come from being offensive to women. Feminism doesn’t mean doors can’t be held open any more, or the end of flirting, or that men should never again pay a woman a compliment. That’s simple human kindness we should all show one another regardless of gender. – Laura Bates

In her op-ed, Laura Bates talks about the common goal surrounding the mission of feminism and urges the community to disregard the notion of women empowerment erasing masculinity. The movement for women and global equality is only short-stopped by stereotypes surrounding the disempowerment of men as more women advance in society.

Male privilege is not a guarantor of either happiness or health, and trying desperately to play the part of protector and provider has robbed generations of men of both. Feminism, in concert with these many new and exciting reproductive and contraceptive technologies, offers men a chance to rethink and re-evaluate their worth and their purpose. It offers them an opportunity to be intimate allies with their female partners, to forge relationships based on more than duty and dependency. It gives men a chance to be loved for the wholeness of who we are, rather than solely for what we can provide. — Hugo Schwyzer

Hugo Schwyzer explores a different application of the topic in new contraceptive technologies. With new innovation impacting women’s reproductive health, Schwyzer asks “Does increasing women's ability to control reproduction discourage men from taking responsibility for the health and wellbeing of their partners – and of their potential children?” The broader question being: where does male power fit into the advancement of women? This take is highly important in understanding how innovation surrounding the space of female empowerment should not be seen as an infringement on traditional norms of female-to-male relationships. Instead, it promotes a new worldview in which men are no longer required to fulfill roles as protectors and providers.

“Let’s be clear, the more we empower women in the economy, the more success we will achieve in empowering them in politics and other social areas.” — Laura Chinchilla

“In Bulgaria one of the country’s human rights’ priorities is rights for women and girls, including education and empowerment” which was recognized as critical for development and must be included on the post-2015 development agenda." — Ms Tsetska Tsacheva

In a UNESCO talk, Laura Chinchilla, former President of Costa Rica, along with the Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, H.E.Dr Masoumeh Ebtekar, and Ms Tsetska Tsacheva, President of the National Assembly of the Republic of Bulgaria, the notion of women empowerment as a key tactic in embracing democracy and sustainable development is recognized.