I have always considered myself something of a feminist. In fact my good friend Meredith Effler, who got a degree in women studies, once referred my sister Colleen to me when she was researching a project saying I was the biggest feminist she knew. It is somewhat of a family trait. There is a famous story of my father going to drop my youngest sister and her best friend off at what he thought was an art camp. As he drove he asked the girls what they were doing that day and the answers of cooking and sewing he received did not please him one bit. When he got to the camp, which was located at an all girl’s high school run by nuns, he let said nuns have a piece of his mind. His general point was that they were stuck in the past and that this is supposed to be an art camp and how girls should be expressing themselves and not learning how to be domestic. I have 3 sisters and have always thought of them as equals, being able to do whatever they want to do. I have worked closely with women on every stop of my international development work. I am still known to Julia Cusick , a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, for my ability with pregnant women. I had a great relationship with the mothers in my mal-nutrition group. Yet, again though I have been proven how little I know.
In my 5 weeks here in Nepal I have gotten to know my fellow Peace Fellow Rachel Palmer very well. To hear from her the stories of how differently men treat her when I am around and I am not is mind boggling. No, one dares to try anything when I am around, but when I am not different types of comments and gestures are made. This has got me thinking about all of the other things that I have missed. I feel just like my father, except I have no nuns to scold.
I just don’t understand the way men treat women. I cannot say I am perfect, but I like to think I treat women with the same respect I treat men, now sometimes this involves jokes that go wrong, but pretty much that is par for the course with everyone in my life. I keep coming back to the idea of how everyone has a mother. Even the toughest gangsters and drug lords are cowed by their mothers. To almost any man the thought of anyone disrespecting their mother is unacceptable, yet they often have no problem disrespecting other people’s sisters and daughters.
This is not to condemn all men, because I have seen a lot of fathers and daughters in my travels. I have met men who have obvious love and respect for the women in their lives and any women that they encounter from day to day. Through my time with Rachel I have come to respect the strength of women even more. The way that she is able to continue working no matter the condition is impressive.
In Central America I saw women holding families together and stitching a shattered community together. Here in Nepal I seen women striving to take care of their families and work to build a better Nepal. I have a new respect for women who are willing to travel to places that are not the most women friendly, in an attempt to live their lives and improve the world.
So what are we to do? I think that we in the international development community need to focus some more attention on the development of young men. I have often felt that we focus too much on women, because they are the ones who want to work with us and need our help. However, we cannot overlook the boys and young men who are going to help shape the society in which these women live. If we can help instill respect for women, when boys are young it will help them throughout their lives. We can also not forget to try more with grown men. Grown men often seem like a waste of money, since they will often not participate in work and leave the community after you train them. However, society needs everyone. Donors must being willing to accept a lower success rate, because the ones that you get too can make a huge difference in patriarchal societies.
In the end I continue to be amazed at the resiliency of women around the world. I now have a new vision of what goes on when I am not around and what does when I am. I will continue to believe that men have the will and capacity to change and treat women with respect. After all every women has the opportunity to be someone’s mother and we all know what respect that deserves.
Posted By Alex Kelly
Posted Aug 26th, 2012