re: "Development's Essential Ingredient: Women"
"(S)ome ten years ago, my colleague the US Consul phoned with an urgent request: could I help - that night - handle the arrival of a planeload of evacuees from Sierra Leone. My bosses at the US Mission to NATO agreed to release me for what would become a week-long enterprise. One plane was followed by another (charter flights returning to their home in Belgium), full of American-affiliated people. The American "expats" were few; most of the passengers were kids born in the US, but raised in Africa. Many of them were accompanied by young adult "relatives," though there were a few cases of people grabbing an "American" kid as a free ticket onto a US Marine helicopter.
During that week (at the time, I had not yet been to West Africa), I had an insight into what many increasingly see as the key to development: the role of women. In that unused wing of Brussels airport set aside to "process" hundreds of evacuees, the young women stood out as having their act together. The team assembled by the American embassy had almost nothing in the way of resources. The most useful tool was the cell phone, still somewhat of a rare commodity. The women were able to put in a call to a long-lost relative in New York, who contacted someone in Freetown... The next thing you know, the family had arranged for the flight on to the States of the stranded relatives. Meanwhile, it is sad to say, many of the young men simply waited for one of us to assist them. They were the last to leave, and all the "hard cases" (including a Nigerian escaped convict from an American prison!) were among that cohort."
"Three development experts - Katherine Marshall of the World Bank, Hans Rosling of Gapminder, and Percy Barnevik of "Hand In Hand" - spent a half hour discussing how vital the role of women is in development. Barnevik, whose organization has founded micro finance programs in India and elsewhere, was adamant: "women are bankable," whereas men are, well, not always reliable. He recounted how an Indian regional official begged him to "do something for the men," and the result was - how shall I put it? - well short of the 99.6% payback rate that Hand In Hand records for their women entrepreneurs.
In many situations, micro finance might be susceptible to some of the same pressure that leads to corruption in macro development projects. Barnevik, who in an earlier career built power plants in developing countries, said that it took 28 signatures (and 28 greasy palms) to proceed with a project in India. His NGO Hand In Hand, instead of simply handing out micro loans, might therefore loan sewing machines, which are "under the corruption radar." "
"(A)n all-woman Indian contingent of peace keepers, recruited from top candidates in the Indian Army and police forces, sent to Liberia to train police women.
The women have several advantages over the men: they don't rape anyone, and they definitely can relate to the audience of Liberian women recruits. The documentary shows the Indian women - many of them wives and mothers - during their pre-deployment training in India, then on the ground in Africa. They aren't Amazons, but their matter of fact demeanor is impressive. They do have some fun on Holi, the festival of colors, dousing each other with multicolored powder. Most of the time, they work, then go back to their base and write letters, do the laundry, chat about home.
Not all male peace keepers are rapists, nor are all men incapable of handling micro credit. But to me it is clear that development - and a whole lot more - won't go very far unless the half of humanity that is female plays its part."