Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Norway”

What Feminism Means To Me – Marianne Ingheim Rossi

My name is Marianne. I’m 36, half-Danish, half-Norwegian (and these days my heart beats sorrowfully and warmly for the courageous and peace-loving friends I have in Oslo), and I’m a feminist. 

I say the latter with pride because I’m incredibly grateful for the advances of the feminist movement. It has given me rights that I believe everyone – no matter race, religion, gender, or any other classification we can come up with – is entitled to. 

Being Danish, I realize I’m a bit “spoiled”. In Denmark, things like gender equality are a given. Here, feminism has made advances much faster and more easily than in the U.S. (for example, full voting rights five years earlier than in the U.S.).

In recent years, the focus of Danish feminism has been on making women as much a part of the workforce and the government as men are. Great gains have been made in this regard through such policies as free child-care, paid maternity leave, and paid paternity leave. 

In addition, reproductive rights are much further ahead in Denmark than in the U.S. Birth control and early-term abortion are free of charge in Denmark, and where the percentage of teen pregnancies in the U.S. is discouragingly high, in Denmark it is very low.

To me, such advances are what the feminist movement is – or should be – about: concrete steps to equality. Only then, I believe, can we affect a societal change in the framework that defines the feminine. To me, feminism is about rights, not about whether or not you wear a bra, whether or not you dress sexy, whether or not you have children. The point is, you have the right to choose: what you wear, what you do for a living, who you marry etc. 

I embrace my femininity! I’m proud to be a woman, boobs and all! And I don’t care whether you happen to be sexier than me or whether you happen to want children or not. I don’t (want children, that is, or care if you do). To me, feminism is about declaring that the feminine is equal to the masculine – not the same, but equal to it. I don’t have to behave and look like a man to succeed; I am a woman and I shall succeed as a woman, with all the qualities that make me and my fellow women unique (and I should have equal pay!).

And, by the way, just because I’m sexy doesn’t mean I’m sleeping with the boss to get ahead! I can actually be pretty and smart, and I can succeed because I’m smart and I work hard. Period. In Denmark, this is a given, but I sometimes feel that in the U.S., this is still highly questioned. 

We must not forget that in spite of all the advances of feminism in the western world, in many countries, feminism has hardly touched ground. One of the tough challenges we face today is the human trafficking of women and children. 

On the other hand, it is encouraging to see how, in many parts of the world, women are the ones making a change in their communities. We are the ones protesting against the building of dams that will destroy our livelihoods, the ones organizing against oil drilling in rain forests, the ones exposing animal cruelty. I believe this is because it is our natural role as caregivers to affect change. Through our connection with the earth – Mother Nature – and our sense of community we can affect the change needed for the betterment of all living things. Not by imitating men, but by embracing ourselves as powerful women.

Marianne Ingheim Rossi

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Banker to the Poor

In earlier posts, I shared a number of books on micro-lending. I want to share with you another important one I just finished. Banker to the Poor is authored by Dr. Muhammad Yunus who is seen by many as the first initiator of such a system.

Dr. Yunus is a professor of economics. He studied at the Vanderbilt University in the US before returning to Bangladesh and slipping into life as a professor. But in 1974, a famine ravaged the country, sending millions of rural Bangladeshi to the cities to beg on the streets.

“What good were all my complex theories when people were dying of starvation on the sidewalks and porches across from my lecture hall?…. Nothing in the economic theories I taught reflected the life around me.”

Dr. Yunus began to experiment with what we now know as micro-lending and lent $27 to 42 women who could buy bamboo to make and sell stools. This was the first step that a few years later saw the creation of the Grameen Bank. He created a system whereby loan recipients were grouped into cohorts of five. Only two of the five received their money up front. As soon as they were paying back their loans, the other three received theirs. Yunus sought to create more than individual business initiative, he sought to create a community of entrepeneurs who gave each other support. 97% of loan recepients repaid their loans.

Today the Grameen Bank is a $2.5 billion banking operation in Bangladesh. The micro-lending model has spread to over 50 countries worldwide, including the U.S. to Papua New Guinea, Norway to Nepal.

Dr.Yunus continues to  travel around the world spreading the belief that poverty can be eliminated: “…the poor, once economically empowered, are the most determined fighters in the battle to solve the population problem; end illiteracy; and live healthier, better lives. When policy makers finally realize that the poor are their partners, rather than bystanders or enemies, we will progress much faster that we do today.”

This book is a great read, particularly the first half, where Dr. Yunus shows his personal evolution into this idea as well as his life in the US as Bangladesh goes through its political upheaval. He shows a passionate love for his country and great courage in his willingness to offer the loans to women, who were held back by tradition and strict male domination.

In 2006, Dr. Yunis was recognized for his life’s work and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This could be seen as recognition not just an award for the work of a visionary, but recognition that there is a sustainable solution to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty. I’ve never met Dr. Yunis, but I bet he also sees it this way.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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