I was fortunate to have some time yesterday and today with Nita Evele (Director of Congo Global Action) at the Hear Her Voice advocacy event in Washington, DC. It was an honor to speak on a panel about Women in Conflict with her and Niemat Ahmadi, the Director of the Darfur Women Action Group. They are both tireless crusaders for peace in their countries.
Nita and I have served on panels together before but have not had much time to talk. We were able to carve out a few minutes to chat about my research project and get her insights about some of the findings.
I wanted to know WHY the women linked economic independence to ending stigma. And I wanted to know why people stigmatize others to begin with (more on her response later). Here’s what I learned. While this is new to me, I understand that perhaps this is not new information for some readers. My apologies if I have missed some latest research. I appreciate people’s patience with my learning curve.
Nita explained that when a woman doesn’t have to beg or rely on the generosity of others for housing and food, she will be respected, to some degree, by people around her. Having means translates into a higher status – a pretty universal human experience. But interestingly enough, ending stigma is more about the woman taking back her own power and finding pride in her ability to provide for herself and her children. This enables her to care less about what other people think. Rather than expecting others to change their attitudes about her, she changes her attitude about herself. Brilliant!
In my mind, then, there are direct policy and practice implications. Want to lessen the devastating stigmatization of rape survivors? Facilitate a woman’s path to economic empowerment. Or, approached a bit differently….Want to reduce poverty? Terrific. An added benefit will be a woman’s improved self-image and a little less sting in public insults or intentional shaming.