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Conscience Magazine

Choice Is the Unifying Factor in Global Women’s Initiatives

February 19, 2014

The last issue Conscience (Vol. XXXIV, No. 3) did an excellent job highlighting “The Awesome Power of Choice,” and in doing so, reminded me of an article I contributed to the magazine in 2006. “Nothing Short of a Revolution” pointed out the continued US ambivalence about the word “feminist,” even while women in areas of the Global South were leading their own feminist movements tailored to local struggles against imperialism. My view has always been that no women’s group anywhere has a perfect and universal answer to what every woman needs, which is why, in my former position with the Global Fund for Women, we empowered local groups to solve their own problems. In Serbia and Montenegro this included the prevention of sex trafficking, while in Lebanon, it meant encouraging economic independence by providing job training.

Still, there are certain basic freedoms that are the keys to all other opportunities for women, which can be called the 3 C’s: courage, contraception and choice. The power of choice is never more evident than in its absence, as communities in India learned when the Indian government tried to impose forced sterilization on a mass scale. Though India has since made improvements in abortion access, Indian women’s unmet need for contraception continues to be a major challenge, as government programs neglect the many sexually active girls and women, both married and unmarried, who would benefit from improved access to sex education and reproductive healthcare. In my current role with the Ford Foundation’s Delhi office, I see first-hand how vital it is to support local Indian civil society organizations and programs addressing the gender-related stigma that shapes health outcomes while affirming individual autonomy. For instance, developing leadership skills among young people, particularly among adolescent girls, helps them advocate with their families to stay in school, delay marriage and become more knowledgeable about their own bodies, reproductive health and rights.

No matter the distinctions and tensions among groups working for women’s welfare, the overarching women’s movement is strong enough to hold them all. While we are all learning from each other, the most powerful evidence we have about the importance of choice is that everywhere there is a commitment to improving women’s lives, choice is at its heart.

Representative, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka
The Ford Foundation
New Delhi, India