Eraptis, October 2
As the third anniversary of the global #HeForShe solidarity movement for gender equality just passed us by on September 20, I decided to renew my commitment to ”he for she” (apparently, I had already committed to the campaign two years ago). But now that I’ve committed (again), what do I do? As I browsed further on the website I discovered their action kit specifically targeting students, I felt compelled to act, the results so far? A tweet and a blog post (starting small…):
— Emanuel Raptis (@eraptis) September 25, 2017
Since its inception, the #HeForShe campaign, which is organized by UN Women, has gathered an impressive 1.5 million commitments, of which 1.2 million are from men, sparked over 1.3 billion gender equality actions and generated 1.1 thousand offline events and counting. Using “online, offline, and mobile phone technology to identify and activate advocates in every city, community, and village around the world” surely this must generate a large amount of data, possibly even “big data”, for analysis of the contribution of the movement towards UN Women’s core strategic pillars. This is important because achieving gender equality everywhere is absolutely crucial, and perhaps not the least so in communities and villages in developing countries. However, with this is mind, the question from my previous blog post echoed loudly in my head when I saw the global distribution of commitments on the interactive map on the #HeForShe site. Is all data created equal?
Although it looks like the question “Have you #HeForShe’d yet?” is mostly a phenomena asked among “Western” men, there are also some beacons shining brighter in Magenta (the color symbolizing the movement) than others. In Rwanda, over 200,000 commitments have been made, of which over 160,000 are from men. While its neighbor Uganda have less than 1,000 commitments. Why this difference? Perhaps part of the answer spells Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. But does Kagame’s role as an IMPACT Champion for #HeForShe help to better position his country to empower women? It could, for a number of reasons – some which could be extrapolated from his quote:
Women and men are equal in in terms of ability and dignity, and they should be equal in terms of opportunity. As Rwandans, as a global community, we need every member of our society to use his or her talents to the fullest. – Paul Kagame
Kagame’s words can be elaborated further in terms of power by using Naila Kabeer’s distinction of positive and negative agency. The interpretation of the first sentence of the quote could be that of limiting men’s power over women (negative meaning of agency) by clearly making the statement of equality in both ability and dignity, coupled with a vision of equality in opportunity. Whereas the second sentence is more directed towards the positive meaning of agency aimed at nurturing the power to pursue ones own choices and goals in life. The latter aspect can be further traced to Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach and the notion of development as freedom. Although these elements are primarily aimed at altering the power balance of individual agency between men and women, there is also a structural aspect related to the issue of women’s empowerment. In this second dimension, Kagame’s position in Rwandan society offers the opportunity to greatly influence the structural and institutional barriers hindering such a development.
How could data generated by #HeForShe be used in order to measure the impact of the movement on women’s empowerment both in terms of agency and structure in Rwandan society? Here, we enter the domain of theory. A good starting point would be to depart from Dorothea Kleine’s depiction of the choice framework.
In her framework, the combination of individual resources (agency) and the structural dimensions of a particular society determine the degrees of empowerment of individuals in that society, and whether or not they can identify the various degrees of choice and use it to achieve a set of development outcomes, of which choice itself is the primary outcome. But choice is complex. In her paper, Kabeer points out the difficulties of qualifying choice itself referring to the conditions (access or absence of viable alternatives) and the consequences (the degree of importance) of choice. Furthermore, Kabeer has also demonstrated the conceptual difficulties of using indicators in order to measure empowerment due to a very complex and dynamic interrelation between choice and access to resources, achievements, and agency. However, combining the development outcomes suggested by Kleine with Kabeer’s insights from her “reflections on the measurement of women’s empowerment” could provide a practical blueprint for how theory could be used in order to analyze the large amount of data generated by #HeForShe and determine its impact on women’s empowerment in Rwanda and elsewhere.
Thus, the point I try to make here is similar to that of my previous post that data is “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis”, but to make sense of it all we need to view the data through a theoretical lens. Do you agree? Let me hear your thoughts in the comment field below and let’s engage in dialogue!