Sheryl Sandberg is a woman who inspires me. She ranks number 5 on Forbes’ list of the World’s most powerful women – which you can view here http://www.forbes.com/wealth/power-women
The question of why we should study women as change agents requires an understanding of different cultures in both the Western and developing world, and an appreciation for the gains that women have already made. While women in the Western world still face struggles in terms of career decisions, their issues in some respects, pale in comparison to the issues many women face in many developing nations. However, a common theme in these struggles is the need for women to stand up for their rights, and ultimately work together in solving, or at least alleviating some of these issues.
When you look at the worst examples of gender inequality, it is extremely apparent that we will have a long way to go. Female genital mutilation is practiced in 28 countries in Africa and some parts of the Middle East. As well as this, women in many Middle Eastern countries are still pressured to wear the veil, and in a few countries, such as Saudi Arabia, more onerous restrictions such as the ban on women driving still exist. In some countries, many women are still denied property rights, and in the worst cases, women themselves are treated like property when they are married. Honour killings are still a common, though decreasing practice in some Middle Eastern nations, and in many developing nations, sexual assaults on women are not dealt with any severity.
Looking at these issues is not to say that women in the Western world should simply be grateful that they have the right to drive or vote. There is still a large disparity in positions of power between men and woman, in business, politics and other influential roles, and even in many Western countries, women are still desperately lacking in high government and corporate positions. Obviously this differs from country to country, but even the most progressive countries still have a lot way to go in fulfilling a more diverse selection of people in important leadership positions.
The reasons behind this are obviously extremely complex and cannot be pinpointed down to any one explanation. I do believe however, that choice plays some role in this issue. It is true for a lot of women that they make the choice to raise a family, which puts them at odds with many demanding leadership roles. Some women of course want nothing other than to raise a family – but many other women enviably want to be able to do both. However, the choices of these women is made exceedingly harder when there are engrained gender roles and stereotypes that society expects women and men to live up to.
As the issues facing women in different cultures are enviably different, different approaches need to be taken. It is important to study women as change agents to positively identify what approaches best work in individual countries, and how successful approaches can be echoed in other countries. In countries where women have to fight for their most basic rights, NGO’s and developed countries need to consistently pressure those nations’ leaders for reform, and education needs to be a top priority. Young women in these countries also need to go to greater lengths to speak up when injustices occur.
In more developed nations, it is important that the plight of women in less progressive and developed countries is something that should never escape those living in better conditions. However, even in the most progressive countries do women still face adversity, so it is important that women actively mentor and engage with other women, and also try to play a positive role in discussing these issues with male friends, partners and colleagues.