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The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, by Melinda French Gates
Episode 6330th November 2021 • Breaking Down Patriarchy • Amy McPhie Allebest
00:00:00 01:24:22

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Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. One of the most life-changing classes I’ve ever taken was a class at Stanford taught by Anne Firth Murray, called International Women’s Health and Human Rights, which examined the lives of women from birth to childhood to adulthood to old age, especially focusing on women in the developing world. I have wished many times that every human being could take a class like that - it was so important in my education as a citizen of this world. So I was thrilled when my friend Becca Archibald gave me a book for Christmas last year, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, and I discovered that this book covered so many of the same topics as that class, with clear, precise language and a multitude of gripping stories from Melinda Gates’ humanitarian work all over the globe. I added it to the reading list, and I was so excited when my friend Sara Abbasi agreed to be my reading partner for this book. Sara and I met in that class on women’s health and human rights, and listeners will see why she is such a treasure of wisdom and experience on these topics. Thank you so much for being with us, Sara!

Sara: Thank you, Amy! It’s an absolute pleasure and honor to participate in your podcast! 


Amy: Could you introduce yourself and tell us where you’re from and what makes you who you are?


Sara

My name is Sara Abbasi. 


I was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and grew up around the world. 


I spent the first 9 years living in different cities across Pakistan - we moved almost every other year as a result of my father’s job. 


When I was 9 years old, my family moved to Brussels, Belgium. We lived there for about 4 years. In Brussels, I attended a French, Catholic all-girls school in Brussels. This was quite an experience -- I did not speak a word of French. I had attended English schools in Pakistan. And being in a French school was quite a challenge at first. But within six months I was fluent in French. I still remember during school recess, some of my classmates teaching me how to say the alphabet and numbers in French. In the context of the book we are about to discuss “The Moment of Lift,”, I think that probably was one of the first instances of “lift” in my life -- girls helping girls!


When I was 13, my family moved yet again. We moved from Brussels to Manila, Philippines. 


I attended the International school in Manila. That was a truly international school -- I had friends from all around the globe, and had this wonderful exposure to different cultures and religions. 


I came to the US for university. I attended Bucknell University for 2 years. During my first semester at Bucknell, when I was 18, I got engaged in an arranged marriage, and married 2 years later.


I moved to California right after my wedding. 

I was able to transfer to Santa Clara University where I completed my undergraduate education.


My husband and I started our family soon after. 

We now have 3 children. 

They are all grown, and out of the house. 


Over the years, I served on the boards of various NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) based in the US and Pakistan. 

*One of the NGO’s I’ve been involved with for over 20 years, is called Developments in Literacy (DIL) DIL also means “heart” in Urdu.

DIL is a US based non-profit working to establish schools for girls in Pakistan. 

In 2000, I met DIL’s CEO at an event and offered to make a donation. She asked if I would instead start a chapter in San Francisco -- to raise awareness about DIL’s work and to raise funds. 

I got a small group of friends and started the chapter in 2001. We organized annual fundraisers for DIL. 

I served on the international board of DIL for 13 years. As a board member, I made annual trips to Pakistan to visit our schools and meet with our students, teachers and parents. 


I also completed the MLA program last year. Even though my graduation took place during lockdown, it was a very special occasion as my youngest son graduated from Stanford at the same time as me. He earned his undergraduate degree while I received my Masters. 


Amy: What does “breaking down patriarchy” mean to you?


Sara: 

To me, the term “Breaking down patriarchy” means changing traditions and practices of a system where men determine all the rules of behavior, and women follow; to me it’s a culture which considers men to be superior to women: superior in intellect, ability, and authority. And “breaking down” those traditions means creating a culture that is more egalitarian. Where women and men have equal say…..work as partners. 

Let me share a quick anecdote about how I experienced that in my family:

*when it was time for me to attend university -- father’s friends’ comments about my studying @ Manila Univer vs brothers in US

*My dad’s response: if my boys will go to America to study, so will my daughter. 




Amy: Before we start discussing the book, I’ll briefly introduce the author.


Melinda Ann French was born on August 15, 1964, in Dallas, Texas. She is the second of four children, and her father was an aerospace engineer; her mother, a homemaker. She is a Catholic, and attended Catholic school, where she was the top student in her class. At age 14, French was introduced to the Apple II by her father, and a school teacher who advocated teaching computer science to the girls at her all-girls school.  It was from this experience that she developed her interest in computer games and the BASIC programming language.

French graduated as valedictorian of her high school, and then she earned a bachelor's degree in computer science and economics from Duke University in 1986 and an MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business in 1987.

Her first job was tutoring children in mathematics and computer programming, and then she became a marketing manager with Microsoft, being responsible for the development of multimedia products. Melinda began dating Microsoft CEO Bill Gates in 1987, after meeting him at a trade fair in New York, and they married in 1994. They have three children: Jennifer, Rory, and Phoebe Gates. In 2000 Bill and Melinda Gates launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which was  reported as of 2020 to hold $49.8 billion in assets. As co-chair of the foundation, Melinda sets the direction and priorities of the world’s largest philanthropy. Just a couple of the multitude of amazing things the foundation has accomplished: The foundation has donated billions of dollars to help sufferers of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, protecting millions of children from death at the hands of preventable diseases, the foundation assisted in the eradication of polio, the foundation’s vaccination drives were responsible for helping to reduce deaths from measles in Africa: measles-related deaths have dropped by 90 percent since 2000.

Melinda French Gates is also the founder of Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company working to drive social progress for women and families in the United States. 

Melinda and Bill Gates divorced in the summer of 2021, but she still goes by Melinda French Gates.

 

Amy: So let’s discuss this book! As usual, we’ll take turns sharing passages that stood out to us, and I must say, it was really hard to narrow it down. I literally wrote 20 pages of notes, so I highly recommend that listeners buy this one and read the whole thing. But we’ll discuss just a few key points.



Sara

Intro chapter; pg 7: 

So, the first point that stood out for me was when Melinda Gates describes the meaning of a “feminist”: “Being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential, and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.”


I completely agree with this definition. And I’d love to share two personal examples of how this definition of a feminist came to life in my family:

*Story about my paternal grandmother Jamila.

She was born in an Aristocratic family in Jalandhar, Punjab, India in 1895. She married young but separated from her husband when she was 18. 

Jamila did not want to sit at home being pitied by her extended family for having separated. She wanted to get an education. 

But her maternal grandfather was opposed -- he did not think it was appropriate for a girl from his family to attend school. 

Jamila was determined and applied and got admission at a boarding school in Allahabad, in Uttar Pradesh (about 700 miles away). 

Jamila was helped by her mother and older brother. Her mother gave her the train fare. Her brother took her to the train station. 

Quite remarkable considering this was in 1913 -- not many women even in the western world attended university. 

After completing her high school, my grandmother enrolled at the best women’s university in the state, Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow. After graduation, she worked as the Minister of Education for the Begum of Bhopal -- one of the small princely states in British India. 


My second example is of my parents: my mother was married very young to my father. She was only 16 and still in highschool. After my parents were married, my father and my grandmother, Jamila (whose story I just told) encouraged my mother to study and complete her high school. With their support, she went on to earn her Bachelor's and Master's degree. And when we were in Manila, she earned her PhD.


To me, both these examples highlight Melinda Gates’ definition of a feminist. 



Amy: Chapter 1

“I remember driving outside one of the towns and seeing a mother who was carrying a baby in her belly, another baby on her back, and a pile of sticks on her head. She had clearly been walking a long distance with no shoes, while the men I saw were wearing flip-flops and smoking cigarettes with no sticks on their heads or kids at their sides. As we drove on, I saw more women carrying heavy burdens, and I wanted to understand more about their lives.” (14)


My church has had great success among women in such cultures because the “angel in the house” version of patriarchy is so much preferred to this abusive chauvinism! We have a document that says that the man presides over the home, so he’s responsible for his wife and children, and he needs to provide for them, and basically be the protector. Church culture is also quite chivalrous, treating women as “angels.” This is such an improvement for women who are treated like donkeys. But I insist that there’s a third option where women are not abused, and not coddled and shielded and condescended to and “presided” over. It’s a false dichotomy that those are the only two options… although it might be true that you have to pass through them in consecutive steps as culture evolves. Not sure.



Sara:


I completely agree Amy. There is a third option, where women are seen as equals. 


Chapter 2; pg 46:

Another moment in the book that stood out was when Melinda shares the story of the midwife Ati Pujiastuti. Melinda met Ati during her trip to Indonesia.  She describes Ati as a 19 year-old trained midwife working in a remote village in Indonesia. Many of the villagers were distrustful of Ati. Melinda writes: “When she arrived in the village, she wasn’t welcome. People were hostile and distrustful of outsiders, especially young women with ideas of how to make things better. Somehow, this young woman had the wisdom of a village elder. She went door-to-door to introduce herself to everyone. She showed up at every community event. She bought the local newspaper and read it aloud to anyone who couldn’t read. When the village got electricity, she scraped up the money to buy a tiny TV and invited everyone to come and watch with her.” Melinda goes on to describe how Ati slowly began to earn the trust of the villagers and work in their village as a midwife.  


Earning the trust of people you are trying to help is so important. I know from personal experience in my work with Developments in Literacy.

DIL works to establish community based schools, primarily for girls, in villages throughout Pakistan. Right from the start we were really particular about meeting with local villagers, with local families to identify a local teacher. We knew that we had to choose a teacher from within their village who spoke the local language, someone who understood and was familiar with local customs and traditions. It was important for us at DIL to build trust within the local communities so that community members and parents of students would see the schools as their own as opposed to outsiders trying to  influence their girls. 


Another passage that stood out for me is a quote from her second chapter when she writes about understanding the daily lives of the poor. She writes:

(Chapter 2; pg 49)

“When you begin to understand the daily lives of the poor, it does more than give you the desire to help, it can often show you how.” 

Example of DIL schools: over time discovered that a lot of students were not attending classes at certain times of the year. When our team in Pakistan looked into it, by talking to parents and teachers, we discovered that a lot of the students were missing school because they were helping their families in their farms during harvest season. The children were needed as extra help. So we adjusted the school day to accommodate the needs of the local families. We realized that in order for our schools to be successful, we need to understand the needs of our DIL families. 


Amy:

This chapter stood out to me too! One story particularly struck me is this one, which happened in a rural village in India. And then I want to ask you about it:


Historically, the mothers in the community would go to the Brahmin, a member of the priestly caste, and ask when to start breastfeeding, and he would say, “You can’t let down milk for three days, so you should start after three days.” False information is disempowering. Mothers would heed the advice of the Brahmin, and for the first three days of the newborn’s life, they would give the baby water - which was often polluted. Vishwajeet and Aarti’s team had prepared for this moment. They gently questioned traditional practices by pointing to patterns in nature that were part of the villagers’ way of life.” [They cited the example of a calf and its mother. ] (43)

It’s a delicate thing to initiate change in a traditional culture. It has to be done with the utmost care and respect. ...If love were enough to save a life, no mother would ever bury her baby - we need the science as well. But the way you deliver the science is just as important as the science itself.” (44)


I’m curious if the women felt anxiety about disobeying the Brahmin. I wonder if they got a lot of pushback for disrespecting him, whether he was a beloved community member or a tyrant - it’s hard either way. 

**Have you encountered this, Sara? How do you help empower women to make changes within  entrenched patriarchies? In some cases it can even be dangerous to encourage women to go against patriarchal traditions, right?


Sara answer

Yes, it can definitely be dangerous. There are so many instances of violence against women who have challenged patriarchal traditions. 

*Briefly describe the honor killing of Samia Sarwar for seeking a divorce (covered in my MLA thesis).

Samia Sarwar’s murder in 1999. A very public killing that took place in a prominent lawyer’s office in Lahore.

 

Samia was born into an educated, wealthy family in Peshawar, in Northwest Pakistan.


Her father was a successful, wealthy businessman. Her mother was a practicing ob/gyn.


Samia’s family was conservative, patriarchal:


*Men as head of household; responsible for all decisions related to the family. 

Decisions such as who to marry. Samia had an arranged marriage at 18. 


Unfortunately, her husband was abusive…


And after a few years, Samia decided to separate and move back to her parents home. 


Samia’s father supported her decision to separate…

And even barred her husband from visiting.


But a few years later, when Samia decided she wanted to get a divroce, her parents were against it. 

Her father said “divorce was not done” in their family and that it would shame the family.


Even though divorce is allowed in Islam and under Pakistani law, in Samia’s community, divorce was considered taboo.


But Samia was resourceful and at her law school she found out about a lawyer who could help her file for divorce and about a private women’s shelter where she could be safely away from her father. 

So, in late March of 1999, while her parents were out of the country,


Samia travelled from Peshawar to a women’s shelter in Lahore, (about 320 miles away).


I was in Lahore in 2019 and had a chance to speak with Samia's lawyer, and also met an activist who had worked at the shelter when Samia was there. 


When Samia’s parents returned from their trip.....father tried to meet with her. 


But Sarmia was afraid to meet him, she told people at shelter she was afraid he would kill her for running away and filing for divorce 


After the father’s failed attempts to meet, Samia’s mother scheduled a meeting with her daughter, saying that she had signed divorce papers from Samia’s estranged husband. 


Samia had been afraid to meet her father, but she trusted her mother so she arranged to meet with her at the office of Samia’s lawyer


On the morning of the meeting, Samia’s mother arrived at the law office 


At the security desk, she told the guard that she had injured her foot and needed her driver’s help to walk. 


Samia was waiting inside her lawyer’s office...

Samia’s mother entered the lawyer’s office...

Samia got up to greet her mother…. 


The driver, who had walked in behind the mother, shot and killed Samia. 


Samia’s killing made headlines across Pakistan. People in Lahore were stunned. 


Newspapers across the country condemned Samia’s parents


BUT, in Samia’s hometown of Peshawar, the reaction was the opposite. 


There was widespread support for Samia’s parents.


Some of their friends and colleagues publicly said that 

“Since the killing was in accordance with tradition it could not be a crime”

What was most shocking about Samia’s murder was that her mother had facilitated it. Hundreds, if not thousands of women are killed each year in Pakistan in honor related violence, and they are usually killed by a male family member. 


Clearly, Samia’s mother believed so deeply that her daughter deserved to die for wanting to get a divorce, that she had her killed. 


The only way to change such a culture is from within. 



Amy: Chapter 3

...I visited Niger, a patriarchal society with one of the highest poverty rates in the world, and extremely low use of contraceptives, an average of more than seven children per woman, marriage laws that allow men to take several wives, and inheritance laws that give half as much to daughters as to sons and nothing to widows who don’t have children. Niger was, according to Save the Children, “the worst place in the world to be a mother.” I went there to listen to the women and meet those mothers. (60)


[Talking with a 42-year-old mother named Adissa]: Adissa had been married off at age 14, gave birth to ten children, and lost four. After her tenth pregnancy, she visited the family planning center to get an IUD and has not been pregnant since. That’s caused her husband and sister-in-law to look on her with suspicion and ask why she hasn’t delivered recently. “I’m tired,” she told them. When I asked Adissa why she decided to get an IUD she sat and thought for a moment. “When I had two kids, I could eat,” she said. “Now, I cannot.” She receives from her husband the equivalent of a little over a dollar a day to take care of the entire family. (62)


Across cultures, the opposition to contraceptives shares an underlying hostility to women. The judge who convicted Margaret Sanger said that women did not have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.” ...That judge, who sentenced Sanger to thirty days in a workhouse, was expressing the widespread view that a woman’s sexual activity was immoral if it was separated from her function of bearing children. [Talks about Anthony Comstock, whom we talked about in a prior episode], ...The decision to outlaw contraceptives was made for women by men. (65-66)


I was really inspired by MFG’s willingness to speak up about the Catholic Church’s prohibition of contraceptives. MFG is a Catholic and it seemed to hurt her deeply that people said she wasn’t a good Catholic if she spoke publicly in favor of contraceptives. But she said that it was her Christian faith that inspired her care for the most vulnerable in our world, and that means poor women. And what poor women need is access to contraception.


I think it’s so important for someone like Melinda Gates, a Catholic and someone with a powerful platform, to speak out on the issue of access to contraception. This is an example of someone within the system trying to change the system. 


Sara:

Chapter 4; Pg 108:

“The most transforming force of education for women and girls is changing the self-image of the girl who goes to school. That’s where the lift is. If her self-image doesn’t change, then going to school will not change the culture, because she will be using her skills to serve the social norms that keep her down. 

That is the secret of an empowering education. A girl learns that she is not who she’s been told she is. She is the equal of anyone, and she has the rights she needs to assert and defend.” 

This quote is particularly meaningful for me. It perfectly describes the way I was raised by my parents. Growing up, I was always reminded by my parents that I could do and be anything that I wanted, that I just had to work hard at it. 



Amy

I had a question for you from this chapter as well:


In Guinea, just one in four girls is enrolled in secondary school, while almost 40 percent of boys are. In Chad, fewer than a third of girls are enrolled in secondary school, but more than two out of three boys are. In Afghanistan, too, just over a third of girls are enrolled in secondary school, compared to nearly 70 percent of boys. [And of course this book was written before the Taliban took over]

Socially, women and girls don’t need an education to play the roles that traditional societies have prepared for them. In fact, women getting an education threatens traditional roles. ...The extremists are saying to women, “You don’t have to go to school to be who we want you to be.” So they burn down schools and kidnap girls, hoping that families will keep their girls home out of fear. Sending girls to school is a direct attack on their view that a woman’s duty is to serve a man. (100-101)

**Do you find this to be true in your work in Pakistan? Do you encounter pushback from men, who cite these reasons to not send girls to school? Do you have any initiatives to help change this mentality?


Sara answer



Chapter 6: When Girls Have No Voice: Child Marriage

Amy:

[2013 trip to Ethiopia to talk to child brides]: When we arrived at the village, two other women and I were invited into a courtyard that was a gathering place for the village; it had a tiny health clinic, a fire pit, and a small church where we would meet. There were very few people around. We brought no staff. The men with us were asked to stay back at the car. We wanted to have the best chance to hear from the girls, so we left behind anything and anyone we thought might put them off. 

We entered the church, which was very dark inside with only a few small windows letting in the light. There were about ten girls seated inside, and when my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw just how small they looked. They were tiny, like little fragile baby birds, still growing up, who hadn’t even started to sprout their wings, and they were being married off. I wanted to put my arms around them and hug them and protect them. They were 10 or 11 years old - the age of my daughter Phoebe. But they looked even younger. Half the girls were married, I was told, and half were still in school. (That’s fifth grade)

[Tells the story of how girls were asked to help their parents prepare for a giant party - cooking, cleaning, fetching water all day. Right as guests were arriving they were told it was their wedding party - they were getting married right then to a man they had never met. Then they would have to leave their childhood homes and go with this new man to a village they had never seen, never go to school again, and assume the duties of house-servitude and sex for the rest of their lives.] (160)


[Tells the story of help lines developed in India  - if a girl is being threatened with child marriage she can call a number and police will come break up the wedding and rescue her. But…] many girls don’t have cell phones. They don’t have support networks. They don’t have a local police force that will come and stop the wedding. But also, and more important, when a young girls gets out of her marriage and goes back home, she goes back to the mother and father who wanted to marry her off. How is that going to work out? She has no power in that household. She thwarted her parents, perhaps shamed them. Do her parents take out their anger on her?

And here is a part that points out the patriarchal structure that men and women are participating in:


When a family can receive money for marrying off a daughter, they have one fewer mouth to feed and more resources to help everyone else. When a family has to pay to marry off a daughter, the younger the girl, the less her family pays in dowry. In both cases, the incentives strongly favor early marriage. And every year a girl doesn’t marry, there’s a greater chance that she will be sexually assaulted - and then considered unclean and unfit for marriage. So it’s also with the girl’s honor and the family’s honor in mind that parents often marry their girls young, so they can avoid that trauma.


Let me pause and say what a heartbreaking reality it is that girls are forced into the abusive situation of child marriage to protect them from other abusive situations. (162)


It’s so heartbreaking and frustrating, and I appreciate that MFG points out the motivations and complexities in the culture.



Sara:

Chapter 6; Pg 164:

Story of mentor Molly Melcing -- challenging long-standing cultural practices: Talks about the “empathy barrier” -- based on Molly’s experience, “outsiders showed little skill in projecting themselves into the lives of the people they wanted to help, and had little interest in trying to understand why something was being done in a certain way.” She goes on to add, “often people get outraged by certain practices in developing countries and want to rush in and say, ‘this is harmful! Stop it!’ but that’s the wrong approach. Outrage can save one girl or two, she told me. Only empathy can change the system.” 


She’s absolutely right that “outrage can save one or two girls.” What is needed in instances of traditions that are harmful to women, is a change in culture. A change in traditions. 

This ties back to the case of Samia Sarwar I shared earlier. When I was researching for my Masters thesis on “Honor killings” in Pakistan, I found that honor related violence against women was based on long standing cultural traditions that equated a woman’s behavior with male honor. And if a woman, in certain families, acted in a way that challenged the authority of the male head of household, the family was regarded as having lost their honor….they were regarded as having lost face in the eyes of their community. Many of these families were in turn shunned by their communities. And in these communities, the only way for the family to regain their lost honor was to kill the woman. 


Just like Samia’s killing, honor killings in Pakistan are generally planned ahead of time. They often involve multiple family members. The killing is almost always carried out in public. 

The reason for the public killing is to show everyone in the community that the family’s honor has been restored + the public killing serves as a cautionary tale for others in the community


In communities where honor killings take place, community members view the killing as just punishment for a woman’s transgression. 


Because there is social pressure on these families to punish female family members who are regarded as having tarnished their families’ honor, the only way to change the system is to change the tradition. 


And the only way that will happen is if men and women from within these communities challenge the practice of honor related violence. I came across a number of organizations working to raise awareness and to change these traditions.


There are organizations who are working to educate men and women about women’s rights. 

Others are working with male leaders to shift the focus from equating family honor with women’s behavior, to making honor about family achievement….about other, positive traditions that have been passed down.



Amy:

Chapter 9: Let Your Heart Break - The Lift of Coming Together

[A woman who worked locally for the foundation in Laos in Burma asked MFG]: “If you were a woman and you were born here, what would you do to keep your children alive? What lengths would you go to?”

I was startled by the question, so I stalled for a minute and tried to put myself in that scene. Okay, well, I would get a job. But I’m not educated. I can’t even read. But I would teach myself to read. But with what books? And I’m not going to get a job because there are no jobs. I’m in a remote region. I was trying to come up with an answer when she interrupted my thinking and said, “Do you know what I would do?” I said, “No. What would you do?” She answered, “Well, I’ve lived here for two years now. I know the options. I would be a sex worker. It would be the only way I could put food on the table.”

It was a shocking thing to say. But after taking the whole trip in and reflecting for awhile, it struck me that saying the opposite thing would have been even more shocking. If you say, “Oh, I would never do that,” then you’re saying you’d let your kids die. ...And you’re saying… “I’m above these people.” She had worked with sex workers on other health crises, so her quesiton to me had an edge to it, implied but still powerful. “How can you partner with them if you think you’re above them?” (242)


[Sex workers in India were frequently harrassed, beaten, and raped by police. They didn’t know what to do. So the women devised a system where they could call a “9-11” and 12-15 of their friends would come running, accompanied by a pro bono lawyer and someone from the media. This immediately put a stop to the abuse, and the practice spread all over India.] (248-249)

I love this successful intervention!! I also read an article during our class about women in India doing this to stop domestic violence - a woman could call a number if her husband was beating her and a huge crowd of women would gather around the house to shame that husband. It’s really effective, and it reminds me of the great apes Bonobos, which are very close relatives of humans, and are the only matriarchal primates. The females are proportionately just as much smaller than the males as humans are, but they have learned how to work together so that if a male gets aggressive with a female, a group of females surrounds the male and threatens him with physical harm and ostracism. And they keep their groups peaceful by banding together. 




Amy: Sara, what is a takeaway from the book?


Sara

My takeaway from Melinda’s book:

Women need allies to help lift them; to help them reach their full potential. 


There’s a story Melinda shares towards the beginning of her book (pg10) , about one of the pivotal moments of lift for her: her HS teacher, Mrs Bauer spent her own time and money to take CS classes at night so that she could teach M and her classmates CS in the morning. That is such a wonderful example of laying a strong foundation for girls. 


Similarly, in my family, my grandmother, Jamila had her allies: her mother and brother who helped her in her journey to get the education she wanted. 


My mother had allies in my father and grandmother when she arrived as a newly married young woman.


And I've had incredible allies in my family: my parents, my husband and my children. 

That is the biggest takeaway for me -- that as women, we all need allies to help us achieve our goals and realize our dreams. 



Amy: Thank you, thank you, thank you!!


Sara


Amy:

Outro: Our next book will be For the Love of Men, by Liz Plank, published in 2019. This book will take us back to the United States and examine our concepts of masculinity, and how patriarchal scripts harm boys and men. Liz Plank calls into question a lot of our assumptions about nature vs. nurture, and I found it to be an extremely compassionate and thought-provoking book, and some of it is rather controversial - Erik and I had some spirited discussions about this one as I was reading it! So join us for conversation about For the Love of Men, by Liz Plank, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.
















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Amy’s Quotes and Notes


Chapter 1: The Lift of a Great Idea

“When I first confronted the questions and challenges of being a working woman and a mother, I had some growing up to do. My personal model back then - and I don’t think it was a very conscious model - was that when couples had children, men worked and women stayed home. Frankly, I think it's great if women want to stay home. But it should be a choice, not something we do because we think we have no choice. I don’t regret my decision. I’d make it again. At the time, though, I just assumed that’s what women do.

In fact, the first time I was asked if I was a feminist, I didn’t know what to say becasue I ddidn’t think of myself as a feminist. I’m not sure I knew then what a feminist was. That was when our daughter Jenn was a little less than a year old.

Twenty-two years later, I am an ardent feminist. To men, it’s very simple. Being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice adn pursue her potential, and that women and men shoudl all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases tha tstill hold women back.” (7)


“I remember driving outside one of the towns and seeing a mother who was carrying a baby in her belly, another baby on her back, and a pile of sticks on her head. She had clearly been walking a long distance with no shoes, while the men I saw were wearing flip-flops and smoking cigarettes with no sticks on their heads or kids at their sides. As we drove on, I saw more women carrying heavy burdens, and I wanted to understand more about their lives.” (14)


My church has had great success among women in such cultures because the “angel in the house” version of patriarchy is so much preferred to this abusive chauvinism! We have a document that says that the man presides over the home, so he’s responsible for his wife and children, and he needs to provide for them, and basically be the protector. Church culture is also quite chivalrous, treating women as “angels.” This is such an improvement for women who are treated like donkeys. But I insist that there’s even a third option where women are not abused, and not coddled and shielded and condescended to and “presided” over. It’s a false dichotomy that those are the only two options… although it might be true that you have to pass through them in consecutive steps as culture evolves. Not sure.


[Importance of contraception for women]:

“One of the longest-running public health studies dates from the 1970’s, when half of the families in a number of villages in Bangladesh were given contraceptives and the other half were not. Twenty years later, the mothers who took contraceptives were healthier. Their children were better nourished. Their families had more wealth. The women had higher wages. Their sons and daughters had more schooling. 

The reasons are simple: When the women were able to time and space their pregnancies, they were more likely to advance their education, earn an income, raise healthy children, and have the time and money to gie each child the food, care, adn education needed to thrive. When children reach their potential, they don’t end up poor. This is how families and countries get out of poverty. In fact, no country in the last fifty years has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives. (18) [And yet when she first thought about advocating for contraception, she felt nervous:]

I thought, Wow, am I going to step publicly into something as political as family planning, with my church and many conservatives so opposed to it?  When Patty Stonesifer was our foundation’s CEO, she warned me, “Melinda, if the foundation ever steps into this space in a big way, you’re going to be at the center of the controversy because you’re Catholic. The questions will all be coming to you.” (20)



Chapter 2: Empowering Mothers

[Went to a place in India where fetal mortality was very high, and local experts told her about the people]: “Their cup is not empty; you can’t just pour your ideas into it. Their cup is already full, so you have to understand what is in their cup.” If you don’t understand the meaning and beliefs behind a community’s practices, you won't present your idea in the context of their values and concerns, and people won’t hear you.” 

Historically, the mothers in the community would go to the Brahmin, a member of the priestly caste, and ask when to start breastfeeding, and he would say, “You can’t let down milk for three days, so you should start after three days.” False information is disempowering. Mothers would heed the advice of the Brahmin, and for the first three days of the newborn’s life, they would give the baby water - which was often polluted. Vishwajeet and Aarti’s team had prepared for this moment. They gently questioned traditional practices by pointing to patterns in nature that were part of the villagers’ way of life.” [They cited the example of a calf and its mother. ] (43)

It’s a delicate thing to initiate change in a traditional culture. It has to be done with the utmost care and respect. ...If love were enough to save a life, no mother would ever bury her baby - we need the science as well. But the way you deliver the science is just as important as the science itself.” (44)

I’m curious if the women felt anxiety about disobeying the Brahmin. I wonder if they got a lot of pushback for disrespecting him, whether he was a beloved community member or a tyrant - it’s hard either way. 

Have you encountered this, Sara? How do you help empower women to make changes within  entrenched patriarchies? In some cases it can even be dangerous to encourage women to go against patriarchal traditions, right?



Chapter 3: Every Good Thing (Family Planning)


[In Malawi, women walking to clinics to get contraception shots]: “They said they would walk ten miles to the health clinic not knowing if the shot would be in stock when they got there, and many times it wasn’t. So they'd be offered some other kind of contraceptive. They might be offered condoms, for example, which clinics tended to have in good supply because of the AIDS epidemic. But condoms are often unhelpful for women trying to avoid pregnancy. Women have told me over and over again, “If I ask my husband to wear a condom, he will beat me up. It’s like I’m accusing him of being unfaithful and getting HIV, or I’m saying that I was unfaithful and got HIV.” So condoms were useless for many women, and yet health clinics would claim they were stocked up on contraceptives when all they had was condoms. 

After I heard most of the women tell the same story about walking a long way and not getting the shot, I stepped inside the room and found that, in fact, the clinic did not have the shot everyone had come for. That wasn’t a minor inconvenience for these women. It wasn’t just a matter of driving to the next pharmacy. There was no pharmacy. And they had come miles on foot. And there were no other contraceptives these women could use. I have no idea how many of the women I met that day became pregnant because the health center was out of stock. (58)


We had to change the conversation around family planning. It had become impossible to have a sensible, rational, practical conversation about contraceptives because of the tortured history of birth control. Advocates for family planning had to make it clear that we were not talking about population control. We were not talking about coercion. The summit agenda was not about abortion. It was about meeting the contraceptive needs of women and allowing them to choose for themselves whether and when to have children. WE had to change the conversation to include the women I was meeting. We needed to bring in their  voices - the voices that had been left out. 

That’s why, just before the summit, I visited Niger, a patriarchal society with one of the highest poverty rates in the world, and extremely low use of contraceptives, an average of more than seven children per woman, marriage laws that allow men to take several wives, and inheritance laws that give half as much to daughters as to sons and nothing to widows who don’t have children. Niger was, according to Save the Children, “the worst place in the world to be a mother.” I went there to listen to the women and meet those mothers. (60)


[Talking with a 42-year-old mother named Adissa]: Adissa had been married off at age 14, gave birth to ten children, and lost four. After her tenth pregnancy, she visited the family planning center to get an IUD and has not been pregnant since. That’s caused her husband and sister-in-law to look on her with suspicion and ask why she hasn’t delivered recently. “I’m tired,” she told them. When I asked Adissa why she decided to get an IUD she sat and thought for a moment. “When I had two kids, I could eat,” she said. “Now, I cannot.” She receives from her husband the equivalent of a little over a dollar a day to take care of the entire family. (62)


Across cultures, the opposition to contraceptives shares an underlying hostility to women. The judge who convicted Margaret Sanger said that women did not have “the right to copulate with a feeling of security that there will be no resulting conception.” ...That judge, who sentenced Sanger to thirty days in a workhouse, was expressing the widespread view that a woman’s sexual activity was immoral if it was separated from her function of bearing children. [Talks about Anthony Comstock, whom we talked about in a prior episode], ...The decision to outlaw contraceptives was made for women by men. (65-66)


The [Catholic] church is the largest provider of education and medical services in the world, and this gives it great presence and impact in the lives of the poor. This is helpful in so many ways, but not when the Church discourages women from getting the contraceptives they need to move their families out of poverty. (70)


[Backlash from the Catholic Church when Melinda spoke out about contraceptives]: Immediately I was singled out for criticism in a front-page story in L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper. I had “gone astray,” it said, and was “confused by misinformation.” It went on to say that every foundation is free to donate to whatever cause it wants, but not “to persist in disinformation and present things in a false way.” ...I did notice that the article focused on me, and corporations, and Church teaching, but not the needs of women. (72)

Can you take actions in conflict with a teaching of the Church and still be part of the Church?” That depends, I was told, on whether you are true to your conscience, and whether your conscience is informed by the Church.” ...Faith in action to me means going to the margins of society, seeking out those who are isolated, and bringing them back in. ...So yes, there is a Church teaching against contraceptives - but there is another Church teaching, which is love of neighbor. When a woman who wants her children to thrive asks me for contraceptives, her plea puts these two Church teachings into conflict, and my conscience tells me to support a woman's desire to keep her children alive. To me, that aligns with Christ’s teachings to love my neighbor. ...No matter what views others may have, I am the one who has to answer for my actions, and this is my answer.” (74)


One RE (resident enumerators who collect datat told me she went to a house [in Kenya] where a woman lived with her husband and twelve children. The woman’s husband was opposed to family planning and turned the RE away at the door. But the mother ran into the RE later - REs live in the communities they serve - and asked her to come talk to her nine daughters when her husband wasn’t around. (76)


Rose Misati [whose mom had 8 kids and then finally got contraceptives] weakens ....stigma by reaching out to men to talk about “a women’s issue.” “When you get men on board,” she says, “their wives’ use of contraceptives is nearly universal.” She tells the men family planning will make their children healthier, stronger, and more intelligent - and because fathers see intelligent children as proof of their own intelligence, they're open to this argument.” 

Male allies are essential. It’s especially beneficial to have male allies who are religious leaders, like pastor David Opoti Inzofu. David grew up in Western Kenya with conservative parents who didn’t use family planning or discuss it. As a young man, he thought family planning was a population control conspiracy. But he started listening after he met Tupange workers who said that timing and spacing pregnancies could improve the health of the mother and child and allow families to have only as many children as they could take care of. That convinced him. Not only do he and his wife use contraceptives, but he uses his pulpit to share the message with his congregation. He points to the Bible verse 1 Timothy 5:8: “and whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (79)


[In the Philippines] legislators had drafted a bill to legalize contraceptives across the country, but the Catholic Church was opposed, and the bill sat idle for more than a decade.

As a result, the maternal death rate was rising in the Philippines - even as it declined around the world. By 2012, fifteen Filipino women were dying in childbirth every day. ...When a sympathetic president, Benigno Aquino III, took office in 2010, [an activist named] Pia decided to push for the bill in the Senate, highlighting the tragedy of maternal death and saying, “no woman should die giving life.” She was told it was hopeless, that her colleagues would amend the bill till she didn’t recognize it, and she’d never get the votes to pass it anyway. Other senators heaped doubt on her statistics about mothers dying and downplayed the significance of the mothers' deaths, saying that more men die at work, so women shouldn’t complain. Not one of her male colleagues would support her until one senator stood with her - her younger brother, Alan Cayetano. (83)

I hate that this is true - society won’t listen to women until a man speaks with her. Reminds me of Elena’s story and how no one would listen to her until her son reached adulthood and he testified. Makes me furious. It’s so important that women keep speaking so we can change this, and it’s also sooo important that male allies speak with us.


[In the United States, our government regularly bans sex education and limits birth control in communities that need it most] The administration… proposed eliminating the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which would end a crucial supply of contraceptives for teens who need them. We’re talking about young people living in poor areas who have few options, like teens from the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma and teens in foster care in Texas. In place of these services, the administration wants to offer abstinence-only programs.

Overall, its goal seems to be replacing programs proven to work with programs proven not to work, which, in effect, means that poor women in the US will have less access to effective contraceptives, and many poor women will have more children than they want to just because they’re poor. ...Most of the work I do lifts me up, some of it breaks my heart, but this just makes me angry. These policies pick on poor women. Mothers struggling in poverty need the time, money, and energy to take care of each child. They need to be abel to delay their pregnancies, time and space their births, and earn an income as they raise their children. Each one of these steps is advanced by contraceptives, and each one is jeopardized by these policies. The people who push these policies often try to use the Church’s teaching on family planning for moral cover, but they have none of the Church’s compassion or commitment to the poor. Instead, many push to block access to contraceptives and funds for the poor. ...It’s the mark of a backward society - or a society moving backward - when decisions are made for women by men. That’s what is happening right now in the US. These are not policies that would be in place if women were making decisions for themselves. (86)


Chapter Four: Lifting Their Eyes: Girls in Schools

[Girls and women in school don’t just learn the subject matter they study, they also learn to think critically]: it means that women can use the skills they learn in school to dismantle the rules that keep them down. (93)


In Guinea, just one in four girls is enrolled in secondary school, while almost 40 percent of boys are. In Chad, fewer than a third of girls are enrolled in secondary school, but more than two out of three boys are. In Afghanistan, too, just over a third of girls are enrolled in secondary school, compared to nearly 70 percent of boys. [And of course this book was written before the Taliban took over]

Socially, women and girls don’t need an education to play the roles that traditional societies have prepared for them. In fact, women getting an education threatens traditional roles. ...The extremists are saying to women, “You don’t have to go to school to be who we want you to be.” So they burn down schools and kidnap girls, hoping that families will keep their girls home out of fear. Sending girls to school is a direct attack on their view that a woman’s duty is to serve a man. (100-101)


All the women I’ve talked to and all the data I’ve seen convince me that the most transforming force of education for women and girls is changing the self-image of the girls who goes to school. That’s where the lift is. If her self-image doesn't change, then going to school will not change the culture, because she will be using her skills to serve the social norms that keep her down. (108)


Chapter 5: The Silent Inequality: Unpaid Work

[Melinda visited a family in rural India where their organization had been alerted that a young child named Rani was so malnourished, she would die soon. She went with volunteers to the house, and the mother answered the door wearing a scarf across her face - very very traditional and conservative. The mother, Champa, was told that she needed to take Rani to a center to receive a special nutrition treatment to save her life.] “but the center was two hours away by bus, and Rani and Champa would have to stay there for two weeks, and Champa’s father-in-law had said, “She can’t go. She has to stay and cook for the family.” 

Champa explained all this to the women health workers there as she kept her face covered, even from the other women. She had offered her father -in-law no resistance, even to save the life of her child.

Ashok asked to see the father-in-law. They found him lying down [drunk] in a field. Ashok said, “your granddaughter will die if we don’t get her treatment.”

“She can’t go,” the father-in-law said. “It’s out of the question, leaving for two weeks.” When Ashok said again that rani would die, the man said, “If God takes away one child, he always gives another one. God is very great and generous in this respect.”

No one had offered to step into Champa’s role and cook. She had no support, no family member willing or able to step in and take on these duties - even in a life-threatening emergency. ...Ashok told us later, ‘This was not an exceptional case. I’ve seen it time and again. The women have no rights, no empowerment. All they do is cook and clean and let their kids die in their arms, adn not even show their face.” (117)


On average, women around the world spend more than twice as many hours as men on unpaid work, but the range of the disparity is wide. In India, women spend 6 hours a day doing unpaid work, while men spend less than 1. In the US, women average more than 4 hours of unpaid work every day; men average just 2.5. In Norway, women spend 3.5 hours a day on unpaid work, while men spend about 3. There is no country where the gap is zero.

We shared some US statistics on our Instagram account, and one woman posted something like “my dad contributed the money; my mom contributed the cleaning and cooking, and that’s fine. Taking care of your own house is just part of being an adult. Who is going to pay someone for cleaning their own bathroom? The government? That’s silly.” Which I do agree with - all adults should be able to do their own laundry and wash their own dishes, and some couples will divide labor differently from other couples. But I love with MFG says here (and btw MFG did step away from her job when she had her kids):


“It is paid work that elevates women toward equality with men and gives them power and independence. That’s why the gender imbalance in unpaid work is so significant: The unpaid work a woman does in the home is a barrier to the activities that can advance her - getting more education, earning outside income, meeting with other women, becoming politically active. Unequal unpaid work blocks a woman’s path to empowerment.

Of course, there are some categories of unpaid work that can make life deeply meaningful, including caring for family members. But it’s saying nothing against the meaning and value of caregiving to say that it helps all family members - those giving care and those taken care of - when those duties are shared.” (118)


And then later she talks about Marilyn Waring’s book If Women Counted, and she says “Waring framed it this way: you pay for childcare in the marketplace. You pay for gas to run a stove. You pay a factory to make food from grain. You pay for water when it comes through a tap. You pay for a meal served in a restaurant. You pay for clothes washed in a laundry. But if a woman does it all by herself- caring for children, chopping firewood, grinding grain, fetching water, cooking meals, and washing clothes - no one pays her for it. No one even counts it, because it’s “housework,” and it’s “free.” 

She says that Diane Elson points out 3 R’s that we need to guide our thinking on this: 

Recognize

Reduce

Redistribute

We need to start by recognizing that unpaid work is being done. That’s why we need to get governments to count the hours women spend in unpaid work. Then we can reduce  the number of hours that unpaid work takes, using technologies like cookstoves or washing machines or improved breast pumps. Finally, we can redistribute the work we can’t reduce, so that men and women share it more equitably. (124-125)



Workshops where men and women were asked to swap roles, swap chores, and speak to each other the way their spouse did.

In [one] training I saw… men and women acted out a typical dinnertime meal. In Malawi, men traditionally eat first, apart from the family, and get first pick of the food. Afterward, their wives and children get what’s left. So a group of volunteers acted this out for the group - a man scarfing down the food while his wife and children look on hungrily. Another group of volunteers then showed another way: a family talking and eating together at the table, everyone getting their fill.

A third exercise they did, my favorite, was called Person versus thing. In this one, a wife and husband switch places. She gets to order him around, directing him to do the tasks that are considered her responsibility. He had to try to imagine her burden of work and see what it feels like to be told what to do. People I spoke with in the village who had done this exercise with their spouses months before told me it was a turning point in their marriage. (128-129)


MenCare, a group headed by Gary Barker, urges men around the world to take on caregiving tasks - and has persuasive data on why men should want to do that. Men who share caregiving duties are happier. They have better relationships. They have happier children. When fathers take on at least 40 percent of the childcare responsibilities, they are at lower risk for depression and drug abuse, adn their kids have higher test scores, stronger self esteem, and fewer behavioral problems. And, according to MenCare, stay-at-home dads show the same brain-hormone changes as stay-at-home moms, which suggests that the idea that mothers are biologically more suited to taking care of kids isn't necessarily true. (130)


It’s true that women are natural caregivers and capable homemakers. But so are men. When women take on those duties exclusively, men’s abilities are never developed in those roles, and women’s abilities are never developed in other roles. When men develop their nurturing side, it doubles the number of capable caregivers. It helps men build strong bonds with their children that bring joy and last a lifetime. And it helps both men and women develop a wider range of their abilities. (130)


Chapter Six: When A Girl Has No Voice - Child Marriage

Equal partnership in marriage promotes health and prosperity and human flourishing. It invites respect. It elevates both partners. And nothing is further from equal partnership than child marriage. In all the ways that equal partnership is elevating, child marriage is degrading. It creates a power imbalance so vast that abuse is inevitable. In India, where some girls’ families still pay dowries (even though dowrise are illegal), the younger the girl is, and the less educated she is, the lower the dowry her family often pays to marry her off. In these cases, the market makes it clear that the more powerless the girl is, the more appealing she is to the family that receives her. They don’t want a girl with a voice, skills, or ideas. They want an obedient and defenseless servant. (153)


[Story of a girl in Nigeria named Fati. Married at 13, pregnant right away. In labor for 3 days, the baby’s head was too large for her tiny body, so it basically ruptured her insides so that things were leaking from one tract into other tracts. This is called a fistula, and it can result in urine or stool coming out the vagina. So Fati’s baby died in childbirth, and she was left with her insides destroyed and with this horrible, painful, embarrassing problem.] The husbands of girls with fistulas are frequently upset by the foul smell and the physical injury and often just kick their wives out of the family. ...Fati, after being forced into child marriage and forced into pregnancy, she was forced out of her house by her husband for a condition she did nothing to cause. She lived in her father’s house for two years until she was able to go to the hospital to have the fistula repaired. I had a chance to talk to her there, and I asked her what she hoped for. She said her greatest hope was to be healed so she could return home to her husband. (154)


At the time MFG met Mabel van Oranje in 2012, founder of Girls Not Brides, there had been more than 14 million child marriages every year for the previous ten years. One in three girls in emerging economies was getting married before her eighteenth birthday. One in nine was getting married before her fifteenth birthday. (155-156)


[2013 trip to Ethiopia to talk to child brides]: When we arrived at the village, two other women and I were invited into a courtyard that was a gathering place for the village; it had a tiny health clinic, a fire pit, and a small church where we would meet. There were very few people around. We brought no staff. The men with us were asked to stay back at the car. We wanted to have the best chance to hear from the girls, so we left behind anything and anyone we thought might put them off. 

We entered the church, which was very dark inside with only a few small windows letting in the light. There were about ten girls seated inside, and when my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw just how small they looked. They were tiny, like little fragile baby birds, still growing up, who hadn’t even started to sprout their wings, and they were being married off. I wanted to put my arms around them and hug them and protect them. They were 10 or 11 years old - the age of my daughter Phoebe. But they looked even younger. Half the girls were married, I was told, and half were still in school. (That’s fifth grade)

[Tells the story of how girls were asked to help their parents prepare for a giant party - cooking, cleaning, fetching water all day. Right as guests were arriving they were told it was their wedding party - they were getting married right then to a man they had never met. Then they would have to leave their childhood homes and go with this new man to a village they had never seen, never go to school again, and assume the duties of house-servitude and sex for the rest of their lives.] (160)


[Tells the story of help lines developed in India  - if a girl is being threatened with child marriage she can call a number and police will come break up the wedding and rescue her. But…] many girls don’t have cell phones. They don’t have support networks. They don’t have a local police force that will come and stop the wedding. But also, and more important, when a young girls gets out of her marriage and goes back home, she goes back to the mother and father who wanted to marry her off. How is that going to work out? She has no power in that household. She thwarted her parents, perhaps shamed them. Do her parents take out their anger on her?

And here is a part that points out the patriarchal structure that men and women are participating in:


When a family can receive money for marrying off a daughter, they have one fewer mouth to feed and more resources to help everyone else. When a family has to pay to marry off a daughter, the younger the girl, the less her family pays in dowry. In both cases, the incentives strongly favor early marriage. And every year a girl doesn’t marry, there’s a greater chance that she will be sexually assaulted - and then considered unclean and unfit for marriage. So it’s also with the girl’s honor and the family’s honor in mind that parents often marry their girls young, so they can avoid that trauma.

Let me pause and say what a heartbreaking reality it is that girls are forced into the abusive situation of child marriage to protect them from otehr abusive situations. (162)


[In trying to solve these problems] ...Outsiders showed little skill in projecting themselves into the lives of the people they wanted to help, and they had little interest in trying to understand why something was being done in a certain way. They didn’t even have the patience to explain to villagers why they thought something should change.

On our drive out, Molly explained to me that the empathy barrier stymies all efforts in development. Agricultural equipment that had been donated was rusting out, health clinics were sittting empty, and customs like female genital cutting and child marriage continued unchanged. Molly told me that people often get outraged by certain practices in developing countries and want to rush in and sya “This is harmful! Stop it!” But that’s the wrong approach. Outrage can save one girl or two, she told me. Only empathy can change the system. (164)


It was taboo to even talk about female genital cutting - a practice they considered so old and sacred it was simply called “the tradition.” Even so, the facilitator laid out its health consequences, including the risk of infection and hemorrhaging. She was met with stony silence. 

At the next class, however, the village midwife raised her hand and stood up. Her heart racing, she said she’d seen firsthand how women who were cut hae more difficult births. Then other women started sharing their stories, too. They recalled the pain it caused them when they were cut, the way their daughters lost so much blood, the deaths of some girls from hemorrhaging. If all girls had a right to their health, wouldn’t cutting violate that right? Was it something they had to do? They debated intensely for months. Finally, they decided that when the time came to cut their daughters that year, they wouldn't do it. 

[They were worried that if other villages didn’t get onboard, their daughters wouldn’t have anyone to marry, so] The imam in the village and Molly discussed this worry, and he said that changed needed to happen. “I will get this done,” he said.

He went out for many, many days ona  walking tour, visited all the villages, and spent time sitting, listening, and talking to people about girls and marriage and tradition and change. Molly didn’t hear from him for a long time. Then he returned and said, “It is done.” He had convinced all the villages to abandon female genital cutting - altogether and all at once. In that region of Senegal, parents no longer faced  choice between cutting their daughters or forcing them to live as outcasts. (167)

On one hand, this shows how important it is for male allies in positions of power to use their influence for good - they can change things that women can’t do alone. 

On the other hand, I hate that that’s true. I hate that it takes a man to get those things done. What do you think Sara?


[A small group talking about cutting]: The air was heavy with grief and regret. One of the women explained, “Our ancestors did it to us, so we did it to our girls. That was what we were supposed to do, and we never thought about it. We never learned about it. We thought it was an honor.”

Another woman cried the entire time she described her role in the tradition. She took a piece of cloth that she was wearing on her head and used it to wipe the tears from her face, and she just kept wiping the tears away the whole time she spoke.

“I was not the cutter,” she said, “I was more involved than the cutter. The cutter could not see the girl’s face. I would hold the children down while they were cut. I needed to be strong to hold them down because it was horrible. The girls would scream and shout. I’ve held down girls even after they had run away. I’ve seen horrible things. NOw we have stopped. I was highly criticized by my family when I stopped. MBut I told them it was God’s will to stop because girls were dying and hemorrhaging. We will never do it again. I talk about stopping it now, and I talk to everyone.” (170)


It’s often surprisingly easy to find bias, if you look. Who was omitted or disempowered or disadvantaged when the cultural practice was formed? Who didn’t have a voice? Who wasn’t asked their view? Who got the least share of power and the largest share of pain? How can we fill in the blind spots and reverse the bias? (174)

This is true everywhere. If you’re a married woman of certain religions, when you got married, you had to promise to “obey” your husband. When that practice was instituted, did women have a voice? Were women asked their view on that? If that tradition comes from a passage of a book written by a dude named Paul, did he consult women when he wrote it?


[Conversation with the village chief as they were leaving]: He told me “We used to take money for our girls - it was like buying and selling. It was the men who said that this is the way it is.” (175)


[The Gates Foundation trying to help local farmers in developing countries]: Next time you’re in Africa, driving in a rural area, look out the window and see who’s working in the fields. They’re almost all women. If you listen only to the men, because they’re the ones with the time and social permission to go to the meetings, then you’re not going to know what the women really need, and they’re the ones who are doing most of the work.” (182)


Here’s an example: When agricultural researchers want to improve a new rice seed, they often leave their labs and go talk to the farmers about the traits they want to see in an improved seed. 

This is a great idea. But many of the researchers are men, and they often talk only to male farmers. The woman farmer very often isn't’ part of the conversation because she is too busy on other tasks in the household, or because it’s culturally inappropriate for a male professional to speak with a woman, or because the researcher doesn’t realize how critical her input is. 

Often, then, what happens is that the researchers tell the men about the traits of an improved seed, and the men like what they hear. So the researchers go back to the lab and finish the seed and help get it to market. The men buy it, and the women plant it, and then the women (who do most of the harvesting) see that the rice stalk grow too short, and they fave to stoop over to harvest it. After a while the women tell their husbands they want a taller plant that doesn’t break their backs during harvest. So the farmers don’t buy the seeds anymore, and a whole lot of time and money and research has been wasted that could have been saved if only someone had talked to the women. (187)


Husbands would beat their wives if they left home without permission and everyone - even the women - thought that was acceptable. Naturally, these women had no standing in the community: no resources, no bank accounts, no way to save, and no access to loans.

So the leaders at PRADAN began talking to the husbands, getting permission for their wives to meet in groups of ten or fifteen to talk about farming. The deal with the husbands was “if you let your wife attend these groups, she’ll increase your family’s income.” 

[...women started getting training in farming techniques, their yield went up, giving them surplus food and money, which led to confidence, which led to campaigns for better roads and clean drinking water, the village’s first toilets, a campaign against alcohol abuse… everything got better when the women weren’t kept in abject subjugation. The foundation trains the women and connects them to markets.] (190-191)


[Helping retrain marriage relationships through role play, switching the gender roles opened the men’s eyes and transformed their relationships. Some people really are just not trained to have empathy!! So they don’t realize what they’re doing.] (193)


[A section called “Woman Are Inferior; It Says So Right Here]:


Farming is not the only area of the economy that is stunted by gender bias. Recent reports from the World Bank show that gender discrimination is encoded in law nearly everywhere in the world.

In Russia, there are 456 jobs women cannot perform because they’re deemed too strenuous or dangerous. Women there can’t become carpenters, professional divers, or ship captains, to name just a few positions. One hundred and four countries have laws that put certain jobs off-limits for women.

In Yemen, a woman can’t leave the house without her husband’s permission. Seventeen countries have laws that limit when and how women can travel outside the home.

In Sri Lanka, if a woman is working in a shop, she must stop by 10:00 pm. Twenty-nine countries restrict the hours women can work .

In Equatorial Guinea, a woman needs her husband’s permission to sign a contract. In Chad, Niger, and Guinea-Bissau, a woman needs her husband's permission to open a bank account. 

In Liberia, if a woman’s husband dies, she has no right to her family’s assets. She herself is considered part of his property - and, as people in some rural communities will explain, “property cannot own property.” Thirty-six countries have rules limiting what wives can inherit from their husbands.

In Tunisia, if a family has a daughter and a son, the son will inherit twice as much as the daughter. Thirty-nine countries have laws that keep daughters from inheriting the same proportion of assets as sons.

In Hungary, men on average are paid a third more than women in managerial positions - and this does not violate the law. In 113 countries, there are no laws that ensure equal pay for equal work by men and women. 

In Cameroon, if a wife wants to earn additional income, she has to ask her husband’s permission. If he refuses, she has no legal right to work outside the home. In eighteen countries, men can legally prohibit their wives from working. 

Finally, discrimination agianst women is perpetuated not only in laws that exclude women but also int eh absence of laws that support women. In the United States, there is no law ensuring paid maternity leave for new mothers. Worldwide, there are seven countries where women are not guaranteed paid maternity leave. ...the lack of paid maternity leave - and paid parental leave - is an embarrassing sign of a society that does not value families and doesn't listen to women. (195)

I have to point out too, in all these cases we say, for example, “In Russia, there are 456 jobs women cannot perform because they’re deemed too strenuous or too dangerous. Women can’t become carpenters, etc.” I think of the conversation we had in our episode about “violence against women” - we talk about these things in the passive voice as if they just exist - there’s no one doing the action. The truth is, in every single one of these examples, the government is and always has been comprised of almost 100% men. So who is not allowing women to be carpenters and ship captains? Russian men have prohibited Russian women from being carpenters and ship captains. Who made the law that Tunisian men inherit twice as much as their own sisters? Tunisian men made that law. Who keeps denying American women a law that protects them with maternity leave? American men do. That’s why we’re discussing this on Breaking Down Patriarchy. 


[Thoughts on the role of religion. President Jimmy Carter, a devout Christian, wrote]: “This system [of discrimination] is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to served God on equal terms. Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status. This false premise provides a justification for sexual discrimination in almost every realm of secular and religious life.” [Melinda goes on to say]: I believe without question that the disrespect for women embodied in male-dominant religion is a factor in laws and customs that keep women down. This should not be surprising, because bias against women is perhaps humanity’s oldest prejudice, and not only are religions our oldest institutions, but they change more slowly and grudgingly than all the others - which means they hold on to their biases and blind spots longer.

...My own church’s ban on modern contraceptives is just a small effect of a larger issue: its ban on women priests. There is no chance that a church that included women priests - and bishops and cardinals and popes - would ever issue the current rule banning contraceptives. Empathy would forbid it. 

...The Catholic Church tries to shut down the discussion of women priests by saying that Jesus chose men as his apostles at the Last Supper, and therefore only men are allowed to be priests. BUt we could as easily say that the Risen Christ appeared first to a woman and told her to go tell the men, and therefore only women are allowed to bring the Good News to the men.

There are many possible interpretations, but the Church has said that the ban on women priests has been “set forth infallibly.” Putting aside the irony of leaving women out of the leadership of an organization whose supreme mission is love, it’s demoralizing that men who make rules that keep men in power would be so unsuspicious of their own motives.

Their claims might have been more convincing in past centuries, but male dominance has lost its disguises. We see what’s happening. Some parts of the Church come from God, and some parts come from man- and the part of the Church that excludes women comes from man.

One of the weightiest moral questions facing male-dominated religions today is how long they will keep clinging to male dominance and claiming it’s the will of God. (198)


Women can’t do it alone. Every successful effort to bring in outsiders has always had help from insider activists who do the work of reform from within. Women need male allies. They know this, and so in every religion where men have unequal influence, women are raising questions that make men uneasy. Who are the men who will stand with the women? And who are the men who will keep quiet out of obedience to rules they know are wrong? (199)


Chapter 8: Creating a New Culture - Women in the Workplace

[Melinda’s friend Charlotte pointed out]: “It’s not okay for women to cry at work, but it’s okay for men to YELL at work. Which is the more mature emotional response? (212) This is true at home as well!! Many parents tell their kids not to cry/show emotion (“get ahold of yourself!”) while they themselves yell or scream at their kids.


[A young Stanford MBA who had challenged a senior VP on his first day on the job - totally off-putting to Melinda, later explained]: “I can’t believe you remember that. The truth is, I had an organizational behavior professor in business school who had just told me the week before that I wasn’t assertive enough and I should try to be bolder. So I was trying it out.”

That was a lesson for me. Men also face cultural obstacles in the workforce that keep them from being who they are. So anytime women can be ourselves at work, we’re improving the culture for both men and women. (215)


Terrible UBER story (216-218)


When people see the effects of poor nurture and call it nature, they discourage the training of women for key positions, and that strengthens the view that the disparity is due to biology. What makes the biology assertion so insidious is that it sabotages the development of women, and it relieves men of any responsibility for examining their motives and practices. That's how gender bias ‘plants the evidence’ that leads some people to see the effects of their own bias and call it biology. And that perpetuates a culture that women don’t want to join. (222) Google Manifesto


Gender and racial diversity is essential for a healthy society. When one group marginalizes others and decides on its own what will be pursued and prioritized, its decisions will reflect its values, its mindsets, and its blindspots. EXACTLY. A governing body must be composed of the same societal makeup as the constituents it represents. This is an ancient problem [Describes the Code of Hammurabi from 1776 BCE, which influenced legal thinking for centuries. Melinda Gates encountered this in Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens, but we talked about it on our second episode. I’ll mention it here again because it’s so important.] “According to the code,” writes Harari, “people are divided into two genders and three classes: superior people, commoners and slaves. Members of each gender and class have different values. The life of a female commoner is worth thirty silver shekels and that of a slave-woman twenty silver shekels, whereas the eye of a male commoner is worth sixty silver shekels.” 

One eye of a male commoner was worth twice the life of a female commoner. ...Is there any doubt who wrote the code? It was the ‘superior’ men. The code advanced their views and reflected their interests and sacrificed the welfare of the people they saw as beneath them. If societies are going to elevate women to equality with men - and declare that people of any race or religion have the same rights as anyone else - then we have to have men and women and every racial and religious group together writing the code. 

This for me is the defining argument for diversity: Diversity is the best way to defend equality. If people from diverse groups are not making the decisions, the burdens and benefits of society will be divided unequally and unfairly - with the people writing the rules ensuring themselves a greater share of the benefits and a lesser share of the burdens of any society. If you’re not brought in, you get sold out. Your life will be worth twenty shekels. No group should have to trust another to protect their interests; all should be able to speak for themselves. (226) This is why I wrote “Dear Mormon Man” - it finally sank in that in the church structure, because I am a woman, I had no vote and no voice. It’s all men making all the decisions, from the local level to the global level, much like the Catholic structure that Melinda Gates talks about, where it’s priests, bishops, cardinals, all the way up to the pope. No women. For Mormons, men even decide about the underwear that women wear - there was just an article about it in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/21/us/mormon-women-underclothes.html


But back to the book… Melinda Gates brings up a really important point about women and people of color - especially African Americans and Latinos - in tech that I had never thought of before. In Silicon Valley there are lots of initiatives to get more marginalized people into STEM fields, but I always just thought it was the same as needing more girls and BIPOC groups into all the different fields. But MFG points out something super important. 


[She tells the story of Joy Buolamwini, an African American computer scientist who noticed when she was testing robots that for some reason the robots didn’t recognize her face in certain lights. She thought nothing of it until she went to company in Hong Kong where they were demonstrating social robots, and hers was the only face the robots didn’t recognize, and hers was the only face that was Black. And she realized that the robots were using the same tech as the ones back in the US. So obviously, the engineers had written the code to recognize white faces. They didn’t do it on purpose - they just all happened to not notice that they were white. MFG says]:


The software is slow to recognize people who don’t look like the programmers. Will the software one day tell an agent, “We don’t ‘recognize’ this person; she can’t board the plane, pay with a credit card, withdraw her money, or enter the country'' Will other programs, replicating the biases of the programmers, deny people a chance to get a loan or buy a house? Will software programmed by white people disproportionately tell police to arrest black people? The prospect of this bias is horrifying, but this is just the bias we can predict. What about the program bias that we can’t predict?” 

“You can’t have an ethical AI that’s not inclusive,” Joy said. 

African American women are only 3 percent of the entire tech workforce; Hispanic women, 1 percent Women comprise about a quarter of the tech workforce and hold just 15 percent of the technical jobs. These numbers are dangerously, shamefully low. That’s why I am so passionate about women in tech and women of color in tech. ...The people in these jobs will shape the way we live, and we all need to decide that together.”

I love this section, and how she starts out with the code of Hammurabi and then links it to computer code. The people writing the code - in both cases - need to reflect the makeup of the population.


Chapter 9: Let Your Heart Break - The Lift of Coming Together

[A woman who worked locally for the foundation in Laos in Burma asked MFG]: “If you were a woman and you were born here, what would you do to keep your children alive? What lengths would you go to?”

I was startled by the question, so I stalled for a minute and tried to put myself in that scene. Okay, well, I would get a job. But I’m not educated. I can’t even read. But I would teach myself to read. But with what books? And I’m not going to get a job because there are no jobs. I’m in a remote region. I was trying to come up with an answer when she interrupted my thinking and said, “Do you know what I would do?” I said, “No. What would you do?” She answered, “Well, I’ve lived here for two years now. I know the options. I would be a sex worker. It would be the only way I could put food on the table.”

It was a shocking thing to say. But after taking the whole trip in and reflecting for awhile, it struck me that saying the opposite thing would have been even more shocking. If you say, “Oh, I would never do that,” then you’re saying you’d let your kids die. ...And you’re saying… “I’m above these people.” She had worked with sex workers on other health crises, so her quesiton to me had an edge to it, implied but still powerful. “How can you partner with them if you think you’re above them?” (242)


[Sex workers in India were frequently harrassed, beaten, and raped by police. They didn’t know what to do. So the women devised a system where they could call a “9-11” and 12-15 of their friends would come running, accompanied by a pro bono lawyer and someone from the media. This immediately put a stop to the abuse, and the practice spread all over India.] (248-249)

I also read an article during our class about women in India doing this to stop domestic violence - a woman could call a number if her husband was beating her and a huge crowd of women would gather around the house to shame that husband. It’s really effective, and it reminds me of the Bonobos apes, which are very close relatives of humans, and are the only matriarchal primates. The females are proportionately just as much smaller than the males as humans are, but they have learned how to work together so that if a male gets aggressive with a female, a group of females surrounds the male and threatens him with physical harm and ostracism. And they keep their groups peaceful by banding together. 

Amy: Sara, what is a takeaway from the book?

Sara: Takeaway or two

Amy: Takeaway and 

Outro: Our next book will be For the Love of Men, by Liz Plank, published in 2019. This book will take us back to the United States and examine our concepts of masculinity, and how patriarchal scripts harm boys and men. Liz Plank calls into question a lot of our assumptions about nature vs. nurture, and I found it to be an extremely compassionate and thought-provoking book, and some of it is rather controversial - Erik and I had some spirited discussions about this one as I was reading it! So join us for conversation about For the Love of Men, by Liz Plank, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.


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