Experience The Girl Effect HERE and NOW!

You remember how passionately I wrote about The Girl Effect?

I am still as dedicated and supportive and also asking myself a few questions.

Yesterday, Annie Q.Syed, @so_you_know on Twitter, sent me this tweet:

After a few minutes wandering around @alanna_shaikh ‘s, @Michael_Keiser ‘s and @kalsoom82’s twitter profiles, bio, blogs, etc…, I opened the link offered to my curiosity and read the article, with some reluctance…

The author, Anna Carella, a PhD student in political science at Vanderbilt University, develops 4 reasons why The Girl Effect Campaign might be damaging to women:

  1. It reinforces perceptions about “women’s work” and “men’s work” by claiming that women make better homemakers.
  2. It’s a myth that women will drive growth enough to pull the poorest countries out of poverty.
  3. Men may feel threatened by the singular focus on women.
  4. The girl effect reinforces the perception of women and more generally people in developing countries as needing “saving.”

Gulp. All these reasons are valid, especially the third and the fourth ones. They raise questions that need to be addressed. I want to spend a little time discussing each point:

  1. It relies on the essentialist view that women are innately more nurturing than men, and that women’s natural strengths lie in the home as the “chore doer” and “caretaker.” I quite agree it would be fantastic to start a double revolution, both for girls and for boys. Teaching boys & girls to share chores at home, to be both caretakers and nurturing. It would be great to “address the structural factors that underlie men’s apparent disinterest in the health and education of their children”. It’s another cruisade, it may take longer to change the representations of masculine and feminine archetypes. It is necessary and also compatible with the Girl Effect campaign. Not antagonist.
  2. “What poor countries need to stimulate sustainable growth are not women taking out loans to buy cows, but better governance and better terms of trade with rich countries.” Again, why being so exclusive? What if both movements converged to a better result for all? It reminds me of J.F.Kennedy’s Inaugural Address “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Change will come in many shapes and endeavours, individual and collective. There’s not a single solution coming from better governance, on a shining armor, that might alone solve the problem. Let the girls begin now!
  3. I do agree with this one fully.“The greatest subordination felt by women is within their own home, yet the girl effect has nothing to say about domestic violence, rape, the wage gap, or the many other systemic problems underlying and reinforcing gender discrimination in poor countries (and rich ones too!)”.Yet, what’s best? To leave the girls within their home or to give them the opportunity to stand up and build social relationships, start to exist for themselves as individuals and contributors to the village and society? Yes, taking one step out and bravely asserting oneself requires courage and may trigger fear and jealousy from men. Or it can be done in a spirit of cooperation and creative collaboration, including boys and men in the Girl Effect Movement. Food for thought…
  4. “It’s drawing on a stereotypical image often conjured by Westerners to depict sad, impoverished children in developing countries. Such images perpetuate the dichotomy of modern Western world vs. the backwards, charity-dependent rest of the world. In the slideshow, Westerners are invited to “fix this picture,” and told that if they invest in girls they will change the course of history. This message gives more agency to Westerners than to the girls it claims to be empowering.” Again, here, I fully agree, that was my only concern, from the start of my small involvement in the campaign, and I will explain it further on.

This discussion is challenging, the consequences and risks are real. Yet, it should not prevent us from being actively supportive of the girls and the women around the world, starting here and now. The situation is already so critical that I believe in every single initiative and step taken towards solidarity and cooperation. Such a campaign should be encouraged and improved by constructive criticism, not discouraged and accused of damaging women.

The idea is to first look at ourselves, “developed countries” and stop “fixing” women. By focusing only on girls and women as “victims” and minorities, we reinforce the stereotypes. We also need to stop the” gender apartheid online”, as Ruth Rosen suggests.

” Success, in my view, will come when women’s news is mainstreamed. News about women is linked to the health of the planet, the education of half the world’s population, the reproductive opportunities for or constraints on half the world’s people, the hidden injuries of sex, the violence against girls and women, and the poverty of women and children. By now, most international organizations have embraced the fact that elevating women’s status though education and reproductive choice results in a higher living standard for an entire population. Sadly, that widespread and obvious consensus has not yet penetrated the news media. We will know we’ve succeeded when every magazine asks of every news story, as IPS Gender Wire does, What does this mean for women and girls?” Ruth Rosen in Alternet.

How can we make an impact, here and now, without damaging women?

  • Starting by HERE

Here, yes, here in Europe, Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand, Japan.

The Girl Effect pictures girls from Africa, India, South America, Asia.

It’s also happening here, in the so called “developed countries”.

Three examples:

  • America

“Slavery is not dead in America. Human trafficking – forcing people to work against their will – is the second-largest criminal industry in the world; illegal sale of drugs is first. The money raised by trafficking girls for sex is used to purchase illegal drugs and guns, two commodities that bring in more money and wield more power for the men who possess them. The girls sold for sex don’t get any of the money they earn.

Don’t kid yourself if you think this doesn’t happen in America. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this doesn’t happen in my town. Don’t you believe that it only happens to ‘bad’ girls. Human trafficking occurs daily in cities and towns across this country. Human trafficking takes many different forms. Asian girls are forced to work in low cost nail salons. African girls are forced to work in hair braiding parlors. Even American girls are treated and traded like a commodity. Human trafficking occurs from San Diego to Ohio.”

Read what Pamela Ferris-Olson has to say about it. Her nickname is IntheHeartland and she blogs at Women on The Verge.

The title says it all: “Slavery in America’s Heartland? It’s a 21st Century Dirty Secret Affecting Girls as Young as 12.” You can read the full article here.

  • A second example comes from my country, France.Last month, there was a National Campaign on Rape and Shame, called “La Honte Doit Changer de Camp” (Shame must change from one side to the other). Here’s a podcast on France Culture French radio, by journalist Caroline Fourest.

Listen, in French  ICI

–  Less than 2%  of aggressors are sentenced! Rapists get away with it and victims feel guilty.

– No matter if you’re rich or poor , white or black  as long as you are a woman you are a potential target and you know it.

– You have to be a woman to feel this fear , light but always present when you walk in a street and night comes . The noise of the footsteps behind you ring like an alert and this permanent risk permanent conditions you.

– We need to change the way we look at bodies so that we stop depreciating women’s body image.

– Rape is a cultural weapon shaped by centuries of incitation to domination

– Too many women have fallen on the field of what is still called  “le déshonneur”

“It is true what you say about how different things are for women in the “post-feminist” area. Many have and continue to have the benefit of education that improves the chances for bringing their wisdom to the world. Still I can not completely celebrate this fact knowing that there are still thousands of young girls who go to sleep hungry every night in this country that is part of the so called “developed” world, who lay awake in fear of being raped by their fathers, brothers, mother’s boyfriends…little girls who are raised in a world surrounded by images of “beauty” that exploit their bodies and teach them to use their sexuality as a weapon of power to push their way through the “glass ceilings and walls”. There are women who are not able to freely express who they are because they love another women and are denied the same legal rights that their friends, family and neighbours take for granted. They are beaten up, and verbally abused by other women not just men. There are single women all over the country who are struggling every day to protect their children and themselves from being hurt because they have been abandoned by “deadbeat fathers” and the community of privilege who would rather blame than examine how we are exploiting our rights and privilege as educated people to hide and deny how we are contributing to the problem.I wonder if we have really come so far or just become more a sophisticated version of the same thing. What have we really developed?

We need to stop pretending we are “developed” and instead courageously look at how we are contributing to the global crisis.

Bottom line

What does it have to do with business , leadership and corporations? Why do I write about this as an executive coach, in this professional blog?

  1. We have a responsability to share the information.We, women and men,  we have access to laptops, electricity, internet connection in the comfort of our homes and also have the privilege to dedicate some free time to blogging. It’s the least we can do. Share it on our blog, weave data and facts about The Girl Effect with how it affects us, as a woman, as a son, as a spouse, a friend, a collaborator, as a lover of women, as a father or a brother  of girls. We have the responsability to connect as much women and men possible around the world to create this revolution which is happening NOW and HERE.
  2. It’s not enough. I want to do more. I’m translating TED videos from English to French. I told Brené Brown that I was the first on the list when her awesome TEDx video about Shame & Vulnerability gets translated. You can watch the video here,( and ask TED organizers to have it translated into French!) Brené Brown writes a beautiful blog: Ordinary Courage. I’m also translating French articles into English (like the podcast quoted at the beginning of this post, on Shame & Rape at France Culture radio.) If you live in any other country than the US, translate articles and podcasts into English, or from English into your native language, so that the international audience’s awareness grows!
  3. Founding and fostering The Now Leadership on social media and in Corporations. I am getting more and more professionally involved in learning and teaching Corporations to be Gender Bilingual (reference to Avivah Wittenberg’s Cruisade). I’m doing this by creating and developing with Anne Perschell The Now Leadership Blog Carnival. With a growing circle, rather a spiral, we’re writing and researching , Not Only for Women, weaving relentlessly, like contemporary Penelope, men and women’s voices in Leadership.

How will this prevent rape and injustice against women?

I believe that if we reach equal representation of men and women in corporations, it can first:

  • Save our economies and create more wealth
  • Second contribute to sustainable development and redistribution of this wealth in education, health care and environment
  • Give role models to girls and women around the world and make them VISIBLE

What’s in it for you? Let me quote Tara, the woman who courageously started the Girl Effect Blogging Campaign:

“So I ask you: to sit in silence with this, this chorus of 130+ Girl Effect voices, with the strength that gathers all around you, and with the awareness of all that remains to do. And then to ask yourself, “What am I called to do?”

What are YOU called to do, here and now?

I would like to thank Annie (@so_you_know) and Anna Carella for starting this discussion and encouraging me to question my assomptions. I also have discovered Alanna Shaikh and it’s a blessing. She’s an optimistic and a skeptic! Blood and Milk stories by @alanna_shaikh  http://bit.ly/g6D0qT:  Not exactly radical, contrarian opinions. But they’re not the story. 

“The future of international development: It’s partnership, where donors and recipients recognize that both gain from the process”.

I know I have the tendancy to tell myself stories and lure myself into believing fairy tales. Growing older, hopefully wiser, I tend to integrate a little more salt and pepper, spices in my honey milk and mix skepticism with optimism too!

7 thoughts

  1. Marion, A brilliant and wise look at the situation.
    In my very humble opinion, we can only see the situation through the view we have. If we’re to willing to question the assumptions, stories, rigid beliefs that occlude that view, then what we see will remain.
    A few thoughts:
    It isn’t a black or white, right or wrong thing. It’s a both/and. It’s by venturing out into the open field of discourse that we learn to see where we’ve shadowed our own vision.
    In many creative circles, the one that’ gets the credit’ isn’t the one who has the answer, but the one who asks the question. While there is no ‘credit’ to get, it’s a good way to look at things.
    For me, the both/and is particularly important with regard to gender. We have to stop genderizing, and yet for so long, women have seen themselves through a masculine filter.
    When blogging about the Girl Effect alongside you, I didn’t see these girls as damaged at all, I saw them as human beings simply asking for the same opportunities others have.

    Thank you for all you do. I’m blessed to know you.


  2. Wonderful post Marion – I always deeply appreciate anyone who is willing to engage with the hard questions, especially in the area of international development, social justice and gender, all of which are complex. After more than a decade working on international development and gender issues I also agree wholeheartedly with you that it is important to consider what’s going on close to home as well as being concerned about what might be going on in ‘developing’ countries.

    I also agree with you and Julie that these don’t have to be either/or and that The Girl Effect doesn’t have to tackle the entire spectrum of gender issues in order to be an effective and useful program.

    I’ve been reading, talking and checking in with Alanna for several years (and was thrilled that she agreed to be one of the first change-makers I interviewed on my new website last year) and agree that she is a wonderful voice of reason on international development. She’s experienced, articulate and manages to maintain a wonderful combination between healthy questioning/skepticism and hope that change is possible.

    One of the debates that I’ve followed through Alanna and other fantastic development bloggers/commentators like Saundra at Good Intentions Are Not Enough (http://goodintents.org/) is the debate about the potentially detrimental effect of over-simplifying complex development issues for the purpose of awareness or fundraising campaigns.

    I wrote about it myself in relation to child sponsorship programs (http://marianne-elliott.com/2010/05/child-sponsorships-are-they-effective-aid/). As I said in that post “The problem is that effective development progamming is complex. So those clear simple messages often don’t tell the whole story.” And yet, effective marketing and awareness raising requires clear, simple messages.

    So does The Girl Effect do harm by only telling part of the story? By creating a clear, simple story about the powerful potential of girls without filling in the complex gender and international development context? Perhaps it does, and I’m always thrilled to see people who are willing to engage with the complexity, but I think there is a very real challenge in this: how can we create stories about international development, gender, power and equality that are simple enough for people who only have ten minutes to engage with them to understand?

    Not everyone has the time I have to read development blogs, to think and reflect, to seek out more information. But we need all of us to work together if we are going to shift massive power imbalances and create new, fairer global structures. So we need to tell a story that is engaging, easy to understand and quick.

    The Girl Effect may not have covered the entire story, but it tells a part of that story incredibly well. Perhaps we need other stories to catch with the same energy, rather than needing The Girl Effect story to be able to tell more?

    Thanks so much for re-opening this conversation,


    1. I’m so blessed by all these long comments (I LOVE long comments, even if I need to discipline myself to write shorter posts, more frequently, more focused…like @MichaelHyatt reminded us in his latest post http://michaelhyatt.com/why-i-stopped-reading-your-blog.html)
      This was not a simple, usual blog post. This was calling on our deepest values, addressing a cruisade, a mission. Hence, you gave me passionate and vibrant responses.
      You offered us many resources and precious links I’ve started investigating. It’s weaved intimately with so many aspects of economy, politics, environment and culture, that we can easily get overwhelmed. The key idea is to keep speaking about it, making it visible and converging small endeavours into collective action.
      So grateful for you stopping by, reading and commenting with such heart and clarity.

  3. Dear Marion,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write this incredible post. Everything you wrote was part of my initial response and reaction (and remains so). I am grateful that you took the time to articulate it so brilliantly.

    I printed out the aforementioned post which started this discussion for my mother and she said “This is great. We must question and know why and thereupon come to even better conclusions about continuing on with something. But it could have been more constructive.” This you point out.

    And as I read your response to my mother, my mother kept nodding her head in agreement and said the key is to make it the “girl effect” more VISIBLE—and you write just that! And my mother and I both agree that YOUR response is actually more constructive than the original, although the original was sufficient for a discussion prompter but not really something that can stand its own ground for it makes things mutually exclusive when they don’t need to be—especially now, especially concerning this.

    My mother also had the following to say: “One can’t talk about the ‘girl effect’ with a few dimensions. In the Western countries, the women, still deal with a lot of insecurities that are not in other cultures. This too has to be part of the ‘girl effect’. We have to think of the ‘girl effect’ not just in terms of THOSE other women in “developing countries” but also the effect, albeit somewhat different for the women in Western countries, of circumstances as beyond geography.”

    My two cents: We can’t treat body parts—the approach has to be holistic. We have to look at the nuclear family dynamics etc. It’s complicated, not impossible. It will take some time, but this is a start. I didn’t know about the girl effect but for you! See my point?!

    Also, thank you so much for taking the time to mention me. You really didn’t have to do that and I appreciate your generosity very much. Moreover, I truly appreciate your efforts and approach and consider it a blessing to have connected with you, of all places, via Twitter Galaxy. : )

    Finally, speaking of Twitter, I unfollowed some very nice people today. Nice people doesn’t mean ‘thought-out’ tweets. Women.

    Sometimes, I catch tweets to check out later and possibly retweet via my main stream while I am stuck waiting in a line ( and I am finding no intellectual amusement in observing human interactions happening in front of me….like at a post office sometimes!). This means I am actually listening to people. This means I actually catch people’s conversations. Because I have no patience for women putting women down or sensationalizing the nonsensical stereotypes that exist about women, I just had to. I say all this to say you nailed it in your bottom line: “We have a responsibility to share the information.” PERIOD.

    Thank you for this post for more than one reason.



    1. What a delicious comment, coming as a gift from you.
      Now, I want to meet your mother, I guess the 3 of us would have endless and passionate discussions together!
      I will quote you “We can’t treat body parts—the approach has to be holistic.”
      Multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-disciplinary, and multi generational!
      I’m sure we will continue this discussion very actively!
      Merci Annie.

  4. Marion – Thank you for taking on the challenge and clearly articulating that both and and both hands thinking are needed.

    In support of your ideas I offer data and story from a presentation by Nick Kristoff last year. All the way from France, you tweeted that he was speaking in my own back yard. Our relationship, your’s and mine took off from there. It has been a joyous creative adventure.

    From Nick Kristoff:
    When men in developing countries earn dollars, they spends the greatest share of that money on alcohol, gambling and other such items that detract from building society. When a woman earns a dollar she spends most of it to feed, clothe and educate her family. So, it makes a very big difference to support women in business in developing countries. You just have to look further out to see the girl effect. And by the way looking at the social and community value over the long term is a mark of women leaders.
    The lovely amazing Mr. Kristoff also shared a story about a woman who was regularly beaten by her unemployed husband. With the help of a micro loan she started a business. Ultimately she hired her husband and the beating ceased. There is more than one way to “skin a cat,” as we say in the states.

    Education begets work begets money begets the power to make changes at home, in community and in the World.

    Dear Soeur Marion – You bring life to the the phrase “You Go Girl.” You have gone once again. Please continue. Although I’m not at all certain you could stop even if you tried.

    In sisterhood and humangood

    1. Thank you Anne for reminding me this story of how our friendship and collaboration started…the power of connection and serendipity, and Half the Sky with Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
      You give us examples and stories, that’s what the world need to bring visibility.
      Merci Anne for your always encouraging words, they mean a lot to me!

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