Women's Learning Partnership

United States

  • City, State: Bethesda, Maryland
  • Geographic Location: North America


Thursday, October 09, 2008 7:43 AM

Most of us live in societies that are hierarchically organized and command-oriented. The locus of command may be home, community, the political arena, or the economy. The structure of command nurtures and is nurtured by a culture of obedience that at once sustains and camouflages a pecking order by producing a system of authority. The role of authority is to legitimize command relations by creating consent. In the absence of authority, everyone in the command relationship becomes a potential bully or wimp. This cannot be the ideal relationship we seek. Rather, we look to a different kind of society where men and women turn to one another not as objects in social functions, where one commands and the other obeys, but as genuine communicating beings. We look at leadership in a learning society as a means of nurturing genuine beings who look to one another for community and meaning. Yet in order to move toward learning societies, we need to start from where we are.

For most of us the term leadership evokes energy, determination, and power used to achieve some worthy goal. One is a leader if one convinces others to do one's bidding. In this interpretation of the term individuals in authority are in a better position to lead. However, this is not always the case. We know from experience that many individuals who are in positions of authority—fathers, bosses, landowners, and professionals, for example—are not leaders. On the other hand, many of us have come across individuals who are not in any observable position of authority though we feel they are leaders because they influence their environment. Is leadership then a personal quality? Is it a trait that some people possess while others do not?

Friday, July 11, 2008 5:42 PM

From January 28th to February 1st 2008, IWDN Secretariat, WLP, and Nicaraguan women’s rights organization, Fondo para el Desarollo de la Mujer (FODEM) convened the first Central America Regional Training of Trainers Institute for Women’s Leadership in Managua, Nicaragua.

Thursday, July 10, 2008 2:13 PM

The concept of women’s rights is rooted in history rather than culture. Historically, the role and status assigned to women have been remarkably similar across the world. Until relatively recently, nowhere in the world could women choose a field of education, train for a job, get a job, or get paid equally if they were given a job, nor could they marry, have children, space their children, get a divorce, own property, or travel by their own free choice. Until the last decade of the 19th century when women of New Zealand gained the franchise, no woman in the world had the right to vote or to hold elected political office. Everywhere, patriarchy was the foundation of the social order, based on the concept that there is a “natural” place for women in accord with their assumed physical and mental characteristics and in line with the dictates of culture, religion, and tradition. Across the globe, otherwise diverse and varied societies uniformly believed in the complementarity of the roles assigned to women and men and developed a complex system of economic, political, legal, and cultural sub-structures that reinforced each other and the overarching patriarchal framework. Given the premise of complementarity of roles, the system was and is rational, comprehensive, and efficient.

Women in all cultures have struggled throughout history to improve their position in society and within the family. Until recently, the struggle took more or less the same form everywhere. Women tried to get what they wanted by using the means available to them—their sexuality and their position as mothers in the household. To express the human urge for freedom and equality they had to break the accepted rules of conduct and to employ means that were often not considered honorable. To behave honorably, they would have to behave according to the norms that imprisoned them in their allotted place.

Measured by historical time, the discourse for women’s freedom and equality was developed only recently. Mary Wolstonecraft’s A Vindication of Rights of Women (1792), perhaps the first treatise of its kind, was considered an oddity. Even John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869) was ahead of its time and Mill himself was subjected to ridicule by opinion makers in such influential journals as Punch. At about the same time as Mill’s essay, Tahereh Qurrat al-`Ain, a woman priestess in Iran, made a public appearance unveiled to claim rights on behalf of women. Tahereh lost her life for her courage, but she left a legacy that influenced thinking about women’s position in society, religion, and culture among Iranian women and men for years to come. The “woman question,” as it was called in mid-19th century England, touched on issues of sexual inequality in education, economic life, social relations, and politics. Women began to play a more important role in society, but not much happened practically to change their position legally until the beginnings of the last century. The struggle that brought about the changes sprang from ideas and concepts of justice, fairness, and human dignity, which were, as were the concepts underlying patriarchy, embedded in cultures, literatures, histories, and religions across the world. Women began to take a new look at these building blocks of social structure and to develop and articulate alternative feminist interpretations in each area.

The discourse of women’s rights is intricately tied to the discourse of freedom and equality. At its center is the course individual consciousness takes. Individual consciousness, as distinguished from communal consciousness, is a discovery that comes with time as science and technology provide the foundations for doubt about communal law—that is, law that springs directly or indirectly from God or nature. In this sense, history moves from law to right as the individual begins to perceive that she has a right to participate in the making of the law rather than submit to the existing law as unchanging and eternal. In this, all societies that develop and change move in the same direction. To the extent that feminism means anything, it must include the right of women to freedom of choice and equality in law. Otherwise the term loses meaning since without that basic belief, we would have to consider all men and women who have ever tried to improve the condition of women within existing patriarchal structures feminists.

Log In