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Women’s Rights Solutions: Cultural reprogramming & affirmative action

Article by Eric Gondwe (BMC, MBA, DD), author of Breaking Spiritual Strongholds and Healing the Wounded Spirit: Dealing with Root Causes.

“When people struggle together, what was once unimaginable suddenly becomes possible... This is the power of movements - what people without access to power cannot accomplish alone, they can accomplish together through collective action,” by The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID).

The women’s rights movement is not a woman’s thing, a feminist thing, an estrogen versus testosterone thing, an anti-Christian thing, anti-religious, nor an antiestablishment thing. It’s a human thing of seeking equilibrium in areas historically overlooked.

In economics, as in many other fields, equilibrium means “balance.” For example market equilibrium means the balance between forces of demand and forces of supply.  Disequilibrium is the imbalance of these forces. In relation to human rights equilibrium is the balance where human beings have equal treatment in a society, regardless of their race, sex, nationality, income, ethnic origin, age, religion or beliefs, disability, and so on.

Thus women’s rights are a subset among other human rights where equilibrium is the goal. Disequilibrium is a state of imbalance where a group of people are treated as less equal, have less rights, less opportunities, due merely to certain characteristics they have. The social history of humanity is basically a progressive struggle of each of these categories of people seeking to be treated equal in the society they live in.

The women’s rights movement should therefore not surprise us that it’s occurring. What should surprise us is the mental slavery people (men and women) have to the status quo that they consider the old order as the ideal. They’re quick to defend tradition and  the old school with the most irrational forms of reasoning. They even glory in the days when women were completely subservient to men. They consider the super male chauvinist days as the “good old days.”

They blame the higher divorce rates on women, higher abortions on women, higher anti-social incidences of young males on women, and so on. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,” John 8:7. This statement by Jesus was made against a group of men who were about to stone a woman to death after being accused of committing adultery.

According to the teachings of Jesus’ day, once the leadership (the scribes and Pharisees) found a woman in adultery she had to be sentenced to death by stoning. When faced with such a situation Jesus responded to them by questioning their self-righteousness. After his response they all left her alone, knowing that they were hypocrites.

The worst hypocrisy was that such instances were almost always caused by men in Jesus’ day. It was un-cultural and objectionable for women to “make the first move,” as we may call it today. So the principle culprits for any adultery in Jesus’ day were men, not women.

We’re still facing such hypocrisy and blame games today were some are blaming societal problems on the increasing rights of women. Such people are casting stones on women over problems that are predominantly due to men not doing their share of responsibility. They strive to preserve the old order and resist change by using the most irrational and biased forms of reasoning. If only women worshiped men like in the  “good old days” these problems would end.

In a way it is a territorial interest for their own gain. They don’t care what our mothers had to unjustly put up with throughout history while human gods in form of men delighted in lording their mistresses. As long as the wishes of the human gods were satisfied it was considered a happy marriage.

Now that women are saying enough is enough we (as men) are throwing the sad social statistics at them and saying they are the cause of it. The system is broken because of women. Women need to change, not men. Women need to get back to the social disequilibrium of the “good old days.” This is the flawed thinking going on in the mind of an inconsiderate or merely misinformed and deceived person.

An earlier page on the root causes noted why this defense for such social disequilibrium happens. Please click here if you haven’t read it (Women's Rights: The Roots of the Problem). It will help in understanding the rationale for solutions below, without repeating any points.

How do we work to overcome this social disequilibrium against women particularly at its root causes?
There are two key areas of focus in resolving the social disequilibrium:
1) Deliberate cultural reprogramming,
2) Deliberate affirmative action

1) Deliberate cultural reprogramming
Deliberate cultural reprogramming is action on the theoretical level. Culture is something in the unseen theoretical realm that we only get to understand by observing it. People who travel to distant places and experience what’s called cultural shock, experience it primarily due to lack of preparation to dealing with the theoretical issues. They expect humanity being the same in our key physical makeup to behave the same way. But there is one major component in the unseen realm that influences our behavior. This friend and foe is called culture.

An entire academic field known as anthropology is devoted to the study of culture. Whenever you travel to far places it’s worth getting some cultural background. Whenever dealing with subcultures where you live it’s worth considering the influence from their subculture. We’re all molded by culture in some way or another. This is how powerful culture is.

What is culture?
The Social Science Encyclopaedia defines culture as, “The way of life of a people. It consists of conventional patterns of thought and behavior, including values, beliefs, rules of conduct, political organization, economic activity, and the like, which are passed on from one generation to the next by learning - and not by biological inheritance.” (Kuper, A. and J. (Eds.), 1985)

The major question is: do we let culture control us and slowly evolve with it or do we deliberately work to control and modify culture?
I guess you know the answer.

How do we proceed to deliberately work to control and modify culture in relation to women’s rights?
We focus on the major components that exist in a particular cultural environment that negatively work against the civil rights of women. Culture has the following major components (adapted from Dr. Angela Ambrosia, Rio Salado College):

Component 1: Symbols
Anything that can carry a meaning
Though a symbol can be tangible product it can also carry a meaning
Often taken for granted
Can bind or unite people together or separate them
Allow people to make sense of their lives

Component 2: Gestures
Gestures are the way we use our bodies to communicate with each other.
Our culture teaches us what specific gestures communicate or mean.
A gesture in one culture may mean something completely different in another culture.

Component 3: Language
Language is communicating through a system of symbols.
Language is a universal requirement for the survival of a culture.
Language and intimate interaction are essential to the development of human beings.
With language we can share our:
According to the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis language creates ways in which we perceive and think about our world.

Component 4: Values
They are culturally defined standards.
They define what is right, wrong, good, and bad.
Desirability, goodness, beauty and undesirability are judged by a culture's values.
Guidelines for social living are established by values.
Social values and general beliefs are reflected in the norms of a society.
Many values are similar or are related; these values form value clusters.
Sometimes a group or society will have two values in opposition. This is termed value contradiction. For example, a society can value both individual achievement and working in teams and team achievement. Individual achievement and team achievement, however, are opposing values.

Component 5: Norms
Norms are the rules and expectations we develop based on our cultural values.
They are determined by a society and they guide the behavior of its members.
Much of what we learn as we grow up has to do with the norms of our society. Norms can be:
Proscriptive (what not to do!)
Prescriptive (what to do!)
Types of Norms
Mores (of great moral significance)
Folkways (of little moral significance)
Taboos (violations which are horrific)

Component 6: Sanctions
Sanctions are what a society uses to reinforce its cultural norms.
Positive sanctions reward people for adhering to a norm. Examples of positive sanctions include: a hug, pat on the back, a raise, promotion, and a prize.
Negative sanction punishes people for breaking a norm. Examples of negative sanctions include: a spanking, going to jail, and being fired.
(Angela Ambrosia, “Interactive Games for Components of Symbolic Culture,” Rio Salado College, Tempe, Arizona, USA).

Deliberately changing cultural components that negatively work against the civil rights of women leads to a desirable cultural change. The media in many developed nations is one example that has been instrumental to cultural changes in the West. Through film, radio, music, and print media they work on all the necessary components of culture (symbols, gestures, language, values, norms, sanctions) to stimulate adoption and acceptance of certain behaviors. The cultural programming is so unidentifiable and underhanded it takes a person with some understanding of culture to know what’s going on.

Not all the changes have been desirable but it does serve as a good example of a vehicle of cultural change. For many of us religious people and others with high moral values, we are not happy with the negative cultural programming that has developed. This includes the creation of a culture of consumerism or materialism ("bling bling" culture), “me first” culture, “me against them” culture, means justify the ends culture, cheap sex culture, and so on. In some sub-cultures the media has actually increased the abuse of women through language. Curse or dirty words that ought to be banned have free reign in some music.

The consumerism and materialism culture is a product of the major media players getting into a close partnership with the business world that advertise their products in the media. Promotion of consumerism makes the material “bling bling” being advertised to a specific group a part of their identity. To feel more recognized in one’s group it becomes so important to have a good amount of the products and services being advertised. To many it’s more painful to feel like a social outcast in their culture and sub-culture than in questioning what’s being thrown at them by the media.

As cultural change agents we’d be wise to use all the vehicles of change to confront the negative cultural norms and work to substitute them with positive ones. All the media channels of communication are worth our consideration. These include film, radio, music, print media, the internet, toys, video games, and so on. We deliberately reprogram cultural components that negatively work against the civil rights of women into culturally desirable ones.

2) Deliberate affirmative action
Deliberate affirmative action  is action on the practical level. While cultural reprogramming is working behind scenes affirmative action is right in the open. Even a person without a brain can see affirmative action being applied (i.e. a person who opts to use his brain as minimally as possible). Some may not like what they see but that’s how visible affirmative action is.

What is affirmative action?
Here is an excerpt on affirmative action from Wikipedia.

“Affirmative action refers to policies intended to promote access to education or employment aimed at a historically socio-politically non-dominant group (typically, minority men or women of all races). Motivation for affirmative action policies is to redress the effects of past and current wrongful discrimination and to encourage public institutions such as universities, hospitals and police forces to be more representative of the population.

“This is commonly achieved through targeted recruitment programs, by preferential treatment given to applicants from socio-politically disadvantaged groups and in some cases through the use of quotas...

“Some groups who are targeted for affirmative action are characterized by race, gender, ethnicity, or disability status. In India (where the term used is "reservation"), the focus has mostly been on undoing caste discrimination. In South Africa, the focus has been primarily race-based and, to a lesser extent, gender-based discrimination. When members of targeted groups are actively sought or preferred, the reason given is usually that this is necessary to compensate for advantages that other groups are said to have had (such as through institutional racism or institutional sexism or historical circumstances).

“Proponents argue affirmative action is the best set of principles to eliminate unfair decision-making. Other forms that rely only on race-blindness, gender-blindness or other "blind" faith relying on elites to behave objectively and without power abuse aimed to meet individual self-interests, will not result in optimal or fair decision-making for several reasons:
    * Past historical and current discrimination severely limited access to educational opportunities and job experiences.
    * Ostensible measures of "merit" may well be biased toward the same groups who are already empowered.
    * Regardless of overt principles, people in positions of power are likely to hire people they already know or people from similar backgrounds, or both.

“The opponents of affirmative action counter that using it to remove discrimination is counterproductive, both because it requires the very discrimination it is seeking to eliminate in order to work and because it promotes prejudice by increasing resentment of those who are the beneficiaries of affirmative action from those who have been adversely affected by the policy.

“...Affirmative action opponents also typically argue that those who suffer on account of affirmative action (ie. those who don't get the job or who don't get admitted to a particular university) should not be held accountable for crimes they did not commit; in other words, that most people of the present were not a part of the system that oppressed such minorities.”
(Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia, “Affirmative action,” accessed January 2008)

The American Association for Affirmative Action (AAAA)  maintains that affirmative action is worthwhile in the long run (see affirmativeaction.org/about.html). I believe it is. It is worth applying in African, American, Asian, European and Oceania countries with governments’ financial and legislative support. It is also worth supplementing the programs through efforts of private individual and business support. The work individuals, businesses, non-profit organizations, and multilateral bodies like UNIFEM, are already doing is commendable.

Affirmative action on women’s rights in USA is a good model to study and apply what’s applicable. There are many things people in various parts of the world may despise USA for. Then there are also many things USA is held in admiration for. Affirmative action is one of them -although a lot of affirmative action programs are now being challenged by naysayers.

To undo injustices brought about by thousands of years of oppression of one sexual group upon another won’t take a week. But it’s long overdue that we got started on a full scale level. This is more pressing in countries and regions where it’s most needed. We acknowledge the problem exists. Lets continue addressing it with the level of effort it took to bring it about.

Article compiled by Eric Gondwe, webmaster for Women's Rights World and author of Breaking Spiritual Strongholds and Healing the Wounded Spirit: Dealing with Root Causes.

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