The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women’s role at the helm

Equal rights through a public voice — it’s the same war across the globe. Like those battling it out in Parliament for a bill reserving 33 per cent of seats for women, a Scottish organisation has been fighting to “make democracy work” for all its stakeholders in developing countries. Calcutta’s researchers and politicians recently had the chance to interact with the women behind the movement.

Gil Long and Brenda Graham, from Active Learning Systems, Scotland, shared their learning with the women’s studies and research cell of Calcutta University (CU) and Calcutta Municipal Corporation councillors, at an interface hosted by British Council.

The consensus: If women need tips in politics, so do the men. Calcutta University has shown interest in research on the effects of higher women’s representation in government.

Citing the case of Scotland, where women’s reservation in one election was followed by a large percentage of women being elected without reservation in the next, Long stated that affirmative action has to be just one part of a broader empowerment agenda.

“But women need to be there to address issues of poverty effectively. Having women in government is essential to get women’s issues heard,” said the co-founder of the NGO. But for them to gain acceptance or even consider adopting a public role, a psychological shift is needed. “It is all about changing the image of women in power,” stressed the 57-year-old.

If activists are trying to refocus attention on women’s rights as a fundamental part of equal rights, they are armed with the evidence that educating women leads to less poverty. “Women’s rights are directly linked to poverty reduction, maternal and infant mortality rates and education of both sons and daughters,” explained Long.

Active Learning Systems concentrates on making “effective” leaders of women. “Women, like the men, need to learn how to address issues,” said Gil. Having worked in countries where religious issues are as deeply embedded as in India, she doesn’t acknowledge this as a barrier. “The problem is not with religion as much as culture. People think of culture as static, but we know it is not. To people like that I say, ‘Take off your suit and throw away your cellphone and then let’s talk about culture!’” she exclaimed.

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