Saturday, March 3, 2012

Unlearning Gender Stereotypes and Recreating a Sustainable Environment

​The parallel session titled "Ethics, Rural Ecology, and Poverty" was held by The Temple of Understanding; this New York based, interfaith NGO advocates for global citizenship and peaceful coexistence. While the panel of women was quite diverse, (Dr. Pam Rajput and Rucha Chitnis from India, Maame Yelbert-Obeng from Ghana, and Nina Simons from New Mexico) the issues they discussed all revolved around the hope that women are for re-creating a healthy, sustainable, thriving environment. Different contextual examples from each speaker were given on how women are positively impacting their environment; some of these included collective farming, biodiversity training programs, and BIO-SUN water filtration systems. 

 ​It is clear that women are working to address some of the most dire environmental problems. The greatest tragedy however is that many women do not see themselves as change agents. Despite doing 80% of all the agricultural work in India, women are still not considered farmers and have no access to land titles. Rucha Chitnis told a story of an agricultural training program for rural women in India where other women from the region served as the instructors. At the beginning of the program the women were asked to draw a picture of a farmer; after posting all the pictures on the wall, they quickly noticed each drawing depicted the farmer as a man. The gender stereotypes were so prevalent and internalized that despite being women farmers themselves, these women thought of farmers as being male. ​

Maame Yelbert-Obeng told a similar story of women working in Ghana to help build a school. As these women were mixing concrete the female students were shocked and surprised to see women working as masons. She spoke of the importance of changing women's mindsets so that they acknowledge all they are already accomplishing as well as all that they are capable of. The girls of Ghana should not be shocked when they see women working as masons, carpenters, and engineers. Mrs. Yelbert-Obeng ended the panel with another story of a woman in Ghana that was training other women how to mix concrete and breastfeeding her baby at the same time. "Women are holding it down!" exclaimed Mrs. Yelbert-Obeng. This image stuck with me and seemed to serve as a glimpse of hope. In a previous parallel session hosted at Lehigh University, Dr. Peggy Kong and Dr. Yuping Zhang mentioned the marriage/motherhood penalty that many women are faced with; this is the notion that women often must pick a family or career. As more women begin to find their place in sectors often reserved for men as a result of our patriarchal society, I think these gender stereotypes will decrease...or rather hold less of a claim over women. As the speakers noted, it is important first and foremost for women to be confident and believe they can hold these power positions and affect change in their communities; it is time to unlearn the gender constricted roles society has placed on women. It is important for women to believe in the other women who are doing great things around them as well. Lastly it is important to note, as Mrs. Yelbert-Obeng did, that we cannot leave the men out of this equation. A truly sustainable world needs both men and women working together.  

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