Tuesday, September 27, 2016

UNGA 2016: A Historic Moment for Refugees and Migrants

By Elisabeth Whitbeck, MPP ’17


Any day in New York City is hectic, but it’s hard to rival the multi-national bustle that is UNGA. 

UNGA – or the United Nations General Assembly – transforms the city’s Midtown East into a flurry of Secret Service vehicles, police barricades, celebrity-occupied limos and government affiliates from around the globe. The Assembly meets from September to December annually, but the first week is especially eventful as Heads of State and other High Representatives from 193 UN Member States come together for a General Debate on pressing global challenges.

Waiting for UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon and UN High Commissioner
on Refugees Filippo Grandi to speak in the UN General Assembly Hall.
This year’s festivities kicked-off last Monday, September 19th, with the first-ever UNGA Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. This is the only time in the UN’s 71-year history that the General Assembly has called on Heads of State, UN system leadership, civil society, the private sector, international organizations, and academia to come together to strengthen international protections for migrants and refugees. As a summer fellow with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – an opportunity supported by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program – I dedicated my time to planning both the content and logistics of the Summit, and I was lucky enough to return to New York for the big day.

By Monday morning, all 193 Member States had already agreed to adopt a pre-negotiated “New York Declaration” which, among its many tenets, gives the General Assembly and UNHCR a deadline of 2018 to present two Global Compacts. The first will focus on refugees and the other migrants, with guidelines for the treatment of these vulnerable populations. The
Declaration also clarifies the importance of intergovernmental “responsibility sharing” to relieve pressure on the small group of fragile frontline countries that currently shoulder a disproportionate share of refugee crisis costs. In adopting the Declaration, Member States reaffirmed the importance of adhering to the relevant international laws, such as the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Listening into New York Declaration negotiation 
discussions this summer via UN translation headset. 
From Syria, to Uganda, to Pakistan to the US, the growing global phenomenon of large movements of refugees and migrants has reached unprecedented proportions. In 2015, the number of migrants surpassed 244 million, growing at a rate faster than the world’s population. A 2015 UNHCR report indicates that there are 21.5 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) – a total of over 65 million forcibly displaced across the globe. This is the highest amount since UNHCR began keeping record in the 1950s.

One lesser-known fact is that forced migration disproportionately affects women and girls, because of hardships like a lack of access to health services, limited educational opportunities, and rampant sexual and gender-based violence. Over 60 percent of preventable maternal mortality deaths take place in settings of conflict, displacement and natural disasters.

Reviews of the New York Declaration and its Global Compacts have been mixed. Critics point out that the document contains no concrete commitments and is not legally binding. Moreover, the Declaration drew ire from many advocacy organizations when UN Member States removed the original draft’s pledge to resettle 10 percent of the world’s refugees per year during negotiations. Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch explained, “We're facing an historic crisis and the response is not historic."

High Commissioner Grandi addresses the General Assembly Hall. 
Although the Declaration prescribes that the Global Compacts incorporate “a gender perspective” and “promote gender equality and the empowerment,” UN funding to gender-specific projects is historically lacking. Only 4 percent of UN projects in 2014 specifically targeted women and girls, and less than 1 percent of all funding to fragile states went to women’s groups or women’s ministries between 2012 and 2013. As the General Assembly and UNHCR develop the Global Compacts over the next two years, leadership and participation of migrant and refugee women will be essential to address and meet gender-specific needs.

UN leaders like Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi disagree with the critics. The Secretary General – a refugee himself during the Korean War – declared on Monday that “Today’s summit represents a breakthrough in our collective efforts to address the challenges of human mobility.” High Commissioner Grandi praised the Declaration for expanding the concept of an international refugee response, because now Member States unanimously agree that traditional humanitarian aid is inadequate. The High Commissioner also said that States’ reaffirming existing international law will give UNHCR more leverage in holding Members accountable for their obligations to refugees and migrants.

As I took the train back to Cambridge on Tuesday night, I thought about something UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Monday: “The bitter truth is, this Summit was called because we have been largely failing.” More people are forced to flee their homes than at any time since World War II, and the only answer to this global problem is to harness the political will of the international community. This Summit and the accompanying New York Declaration did just that – it created a blueprint for world leaders to build a more robust protection structure for refugees and migrants.

It was a breathtaking and historic moment to watch. Now that the framework is in place, it’s time for UNHCR and UN Member States to translate that vision into action.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Blurring the Boundaries Between the Social and Commercial Sectors with Lakshmi Ramarajan

The social and commercial sectors are distinct in terms of their goals and values, but in recent years, the boundaries between these sectors have begun to blur. Social ventures are increasingly employing commercial activities such as marketing, accounting, and hiring employees with business backgrounds. Social sector organizations have important choices to make about how to manage the tension between the goals and practices of the social and commercial sectors. In particular: how do you generate revenue? Social sector organizations can operate on a continuum between typical charity-driven revenue generation and more commercial activities. This week’s WAPPP seminar featured results of a new collaboration presented by Professor Lakshmi Ramarajan, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, Organizational Behavior Unit, Harvard Business School.

Previous research has often pointed to environmental factors to explain why social sector organizations make revenue generation choices; for example, turning to more commercial activities when government funding dries up. However, little research has used a gender lens despite the social and commercial sectors being often gendered (the social sector as feminine and the commercial sector as masculine). How might cultural beliefs about gender influence the relationship between social ventures and commercial activities? Professor Ramarajan and her collaborators examine two key research questions: to what extent do female social venture founders employ “masculine” commercial activities in their revenue generation? And to what extent does the proportion of female business owners in the commercial sector affect these choices? Female social venture founders may risk backlash for engaging in masculine-typed behavior in a feminized setting. Alternatively, a higher proportion of female business owners may change the cultural beliefs related to women using commercial practices.

To investigate these questions, Professor Ramarajan examined applications to a prominent fellowship program for early-stage social ventures.  Applicants received a 1-5 ranking based on whether commercial activities were going to be a part of their revenue generation (1 for not at all, 5 for completely commercial). Female social venture founders generally planned on using no commercial activities in their revenue generation. At every positive level of commercial activity, female social venture founders were less likely to use commercial practices than male founders. However, this effect is mitigated by the proportion of female-owned businesses in the community. As the proportion of female business owners in a community increases, so too does the likelihood of female social venture founders using commercial practices.

The collaborators tested this conclusion with a second data set on nonprofit entrepreneurship. These organizations are similar to social ventures in that they’re recently founded, have a social mission, and face many of the same commercialization pressures. However, the researchers have access to data on the full population of newly founded nonprofits, so they don’t face the same self-selection bias issues as in the fellowship application.

To operationalize commercial activity among nonprofits, the researchers used data from tax filings on the percentage of total revenues from commercial services. They also included data on whether the nonprofit had a female leader or a woman among its top five ranking officers, along with the proportion of female business owners in that community. This data set replicated the earlier findings: nonprofits with female leaders are associated with a smaller percentage of revenue from commercial sources. As the proportion of female business owners in the local community increases, female-led nonprofits are more likely to generate a greater percentage of revenue from commercial sources.

Finally, Professor Ramarajan and her collaborators conducted an exploratory analysis on whether commercialization of female-led social ventures affects their organizational survival. They looked at tax filings over five years, using whether the nonprofit was still reporting taxes as a proxy for its organizational survival. On its own, female leadership doesn’t have much of an effect on organizational survival. Similarly, generating revenue through commercial activities does not significantly affect organizational survival. However, the interaction term is significant: female-led organizations that generate revenue from commercial sources have a greater risk of failure. This finding has significant implications for founders’ choices of whether or not to commercialize.

This research highlights the gendered aspects of entrepreneurship, particularly how gendered cultural beliefs inform choice of activities and models of organizing. Further, these findings highlight the importance of female business owners as a conduit between the social and commercial sectors. Female business owners both disrupt gender norms in business sector and shape how women disrupt gender norms in social sector.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Protection from Gender Violence as a Civil Right with Kristin Bumiller

Recent conversations about sexual assault and harassment on college campuses have triggered questions about the role of regulation in a university environment – how should a university balance its obligations under federal regulation with the interests and needs of its students? This week’s WAPPP seminar featured Professor Kristin Bumiller, George Daniel Olds Professor in Economic and Social Institutions and Chair of Political Science at Amherst College. Professor Bumiller’s presentation focused on the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR’s) enforcement of Title IX with respect to campus sexual misconduct. However, her conclusions have a broad application to public enforcement of civil rights remedies for violence.

In 2011, the OCR released a guidance letter that places certain obligations on educational institutions and grants students the possibility of a civil rights remedy for any and all forms of sexual misconduct. This guidance letter circumvents legislative rulemaking, which is not a new strategy – the federal government employed similar methods to desegregate public schools and to equalize opportunities for women in athletics. However, the most controversial aspects of the guidance letter are those that place universities in an investigative or adjudicative role for sexual misconduct, when these issues may be more appropriately handled in criminal court. This dichotomy – between internal university procedures and the criminal justice system – does not adequately capture the complex reality of the social policies at play, according to Professor Bumiller.  

The consequences of displacing private action with public enforcement

Civil rights cases have always relied on the “hybridity” of public and private action. Individuals bring their own civil rights claims, acting as “private attorneys general” to seek enforcement for themselves and in the public interest. These cases set the stage for future litigants and play a vital role in expanding civil rights doctrine. However, victims of discrimination bear enormous burdens (including psychological and financial) in seeking to assert their rights in court. Students who experience sexual violence typically have little capacity for private action – though they can go to federal courts or ask for protection from OCR, both forms of relief likely occur in small numbers, as there is a very high standard required to bring a claim against the school. This burden on victims to create systemic change diminishes the prospects for private action. Shifting toward public enforcement may detract from private action that has previously stimulated policy innovation.

Confluence of OCR directives and managerial prerogatives within universities

Managerialism has been growing in all aspects of university life, with a greater emphasis on efficiency, quality control, and evidence-based programming. One of these managerial priorities is securing campus safety, even though these concerns may require tradeoffs with student and faculty autonomy and privacy. Ensuring campus safety may justify enacting policies (like mandatory reporting) that replace community norms. In some cases, Professor Bumiller says, the OCR directives are used to transform the organizational culture of the university in order to reduce risk. When this occurs, regulations stand in for rights and compete with fundamental protections that define relationships in university settings. The assumption of managerial logic means that anything related to sex is considered a security issue.

The role of legal entrepreneurs in creating compliance regimes

Regulations like the OCR guidance may produce voluntary commitments, according to Professor Bumiller, but these commitments might be loosely connecting to actually promoting equality. Rather, these commitments are largely instrumental to institutions’ public relations agenda – rather than being substantive initiatives, they’re “good for business.” In trying to protect against reputational risk, many institutions have sought out compliance specialists – usually lawyers and risk managers – who offer expertise on interpreting guidance letters like the OCR’s and advice on avoiding sanctions. These compliance specialists often strongly counsel universities to take the opportunity to standardize policies and more closely monitor all workplace behavior. As previously mentioned, this can create a difficult tension between risk mitigation and other priorities like student privacy – and with the threat of sanctions, risk mitigation can overrule campus values.

Title IX enforcement and the larger symbolic project of protecting women

The OCR guidelines are an example of administrative actions that take derivative civil rights authority and implement it through federal criminal justice policy, Professor Bumiller says. Pointing to campus sexual misconduct as a criminal issue provides an opportunity for political leaders to show they are tough on crime. In doing so, the narrative of campus sexual assault is separated from fact and serves to polarize the audience, simplify the problem, and overestimate the government’s capacity to solve it. While the discourse on protecting women creates opportunities for leaders to claim credit for solving political problems, more often than not administrative and legislative actions reinforce the status quo.

Civil rights enforcement expanding a crime-control agenda

Civil rights enforcement is linked to a larger shift to a victim-centered crime control agenda. However, Professor Bumiller says, victims don’t always benefit from victim-centered criminal justice regulation – it can be ineffective, counterproductive, or at worst can criminalize women (for example, when women report domestic violence, they risk being arrested themselves).

While institutions may have an interest in punitive measures or a police response, victims’ desires vary wildly. When regulations diminish individuals’ autonomy to handle the situation how they choose, the focus is back on the institution furthering its own interests and minimizing risk from the incident.

The essential problem, according to Professor Bumiller, is that Title IX enforcement in this realm never established its force as a civil rights measure, and instead substituted crime control as its fundamental goal. The rule of law is expressly punitive, and institutions demonstrate that they are taking sexual violence by punishing the accused. As long as this demonstrating compliance is the goal, Professor Bumiller says, we will conflate civil and criminal adjudication, both of which are linked to state and institutional powers furthering their own interests.

The question and answer session for this seminar was particularly rich, touching on the literature on victim-centered crime control measures and issues of access to the criminal justice system. Perhaps the most compelling topic was whether education and awareness campaigns about campus sexual assault overemphasize the sexual aspect. Much of the literature on sexual violence emphasizes that these acts are not about sex, but power. We may not be adequately interrogating the dynamics of gender and power on college campuses. As more women enter universities and excel, there may be some gendered resentment or feelings of being left behind that underlie sexual misconduct and violence. These considerations have largely been left out of the policy discussion, but may play a critical role in understanding and combatting sexual misconduct on campus.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Rape During Civil War

The WAPPP weekly seminars are back with an extraordinary lineup of speakers. Our inaugural presenter for the 2016-2017 year was Professor Dara Kay Cohen, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Cohen discussed her recently-released book Rape During Civil War and the importance of combatant socialization to understanding mass rape in wartime.
Dara Kay Cohen, WAPPP Faculty Affiliate; Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
While the level of policy discourse around issues of rape and sexual violence has increased dramatically in recent years, Professor Cohen notes that there are many open questions. Most research on wartime rape consists of case studies, so while a number of possible mechanisms have been identified (ranging from “men are evolutionarily prone to rape” to “ethnic wars create the necessary conditions for mass rape”), little systematic investigation has occurred. In her research, Professor Cohen examined contemporary civil wars from 1980-2012 and conducted fieldwork in Sierra Leone, El Salvador, and East Timor to better understand why, even within the same war, some armed groups commit wartime rape on a mass scale, while others never do. Understanding the root causes of wartime rape, she says, is critical to developing effective policy.

In particular, Professor Cohen focuses on three puzzles:

  • Why does wartime rape take the form of gang rape, when gang rape is a relatively rare form of peacetime violence? 
  • How do seemingly ordinary people, once forced into armed groups, can commit acts of brutal rape on a large scale? 
  • How do we account for female perpetrators, as has been documented in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the DRC?

Conventional Wisdom

The existing explanations for wartime rape fall into three main categories:

1. Opportunism/greed. This is the perhaps the most common conventional wisdom: state collapse and the disintegration of peacetime norms attracts violent types. These now-armed actors may have access to resources like drugs or diamonds and rely on external sources of funding. As such, they don’t need the support of the civilian population and are free to abuse noncombatants.

2. Ethnic hatred. In this formulation, rape is used as a signal to the opposing ethnicity or as a form of genocidal violence during ethnic conflicts and secessionist wars.

3. Gender inequality. This explanation is particularly prominent in contemporary policy discourse. In countries where women have fewer social, political, and economic rights, the theory goes, they will be at greater risk of mass rape during wartime.

Combatant Socialization and Sexualized Violence

By contrast, Professor Cohen advances a new explanation: combatant socialization. Armed groups that randomly recruit fighters by force must find some way to create a coherent army out of virtual strangers. Armed groups that coerce fighters into joining may be able to use existing social ties, but those that abduct new recruits by force need a different strategy. According to Professor Cohen, gang rape is a socialization practice by combatants who need to trust each other but have nothing to base their trust on – other than these displays of sexualized violence.

Sexualized violence acts as a means of sorting and organizing the group and creates bonds between strangers, increasing group cohesion. Similar patterns have been studied in armed groups, street gangs, and prisons. Gang rape, the literature says, raises the status of perpetrators in one another’s eyes. The desire to fit in with the rest of the group is a powerful motivator for group violence. This is particularly true in cases of forced abduction: recent abductees may turn to sexualized physical aggression to help regain their diminished sense of masculinity. For these perpetrators, the benefits of group cohesion (including social bonds, access to food, and protection) outweigh the costs of rape.

Cross-National Statistical Study

Using State Department data on major civil wars from 1980-2012, Professor Cohen examined the cross-national correlation between fighter recruitment mechanism and wartime rape, including variables for the conventional explanations of mass rape in wartime. She found strong support for the association between wartime rape and forced abduction of fighters. There was some support for the relationship between opportunism/greed and mass rape, indicating that state failure and contraband funding is associated with insurgent violence. Interestingly, the statistical analysis did not support a significant relationship between ethnic hatred or gender equality and wartime rape. Gender inequality was highly correlated with the onset of conflict, but this variation doesn’t help explain which conflicts will include mass rape.

Fieldwork and Interviews

On the qualitative side, Professor Cohen conducted interviews and focus groups with former fighters and noncombatants in three countries: Sierra Leone (high incidence of mass rape by insurgent perpetrators), East Timor (high incidence of mass rape by state perpetrators), and El Salvador (low to moderate levels of mass rape by state perpetrators). In these interviews, Professor Cohen sought to understand whether rape did indeed increase social cohesion among fighters.

According to her respondents, most rape perpetrated during war was gang rape. Respondents mentioned perpetrators of both sexes. In general, these rapes occurred in public or were observable by others – if it occurred behind closed doors, it wouldn’t further social cohesion. Most respondents mentioned social pressure to participate in gang rape rather than direct orders or threat of death.

Conclusions

In general, armed groups that abducted the most were also those that raped the most. According to interview evidence, gang rape did create social cohesion. There was strong social pressure to participate; new recruits who did not want to were mocked until they did so. In interviews, respondents reported that gang rape was something to laugh or joke about with other fighters. If a fighter opted to not participate, they were not forced to, but they would be teased. When fighters of both sexes were abducted, both sexes participated in gang rape, with female fighters generally perpetrating object rape. Significantly, rape was generally not ordered from the top down. Commanders took an ambivalent view of gang rape: the socialization component was a benefit, but rape could also be a distraction.

These findings also provide evidence for rejecting alternative arguments for wartime rape. Contrary to the opportunism/greed theory, gang rape was perpetrated not just by voluntary joiners (“bad apples” or violent types), but by abductees. The three conflicts for which Professor Cohen did fieldwork are non-ethnic wars, so ethnic hatred does not explain all of the variation in mass rape across conflicts. Finally, there was marked variation in level of rape across armed groups within the same war, despite occurring within the same patriarchal culture, which indicates that gender inequality cannot sufficiently explain variation in rape in wartime. Instead, random abduction of strangers into fighting forces—who then must create cohesive social bonds—appears to be the best predictor of variation in wartime rape.

Implications for Policy

Finally, Professor Cohen concluded, these findings have significant policy implications. High levels of wartime rape don’t necessarily imply that rape is a wartime strategy ordered by commanders for a military purpose. Rather than focusing on prosecuting commanders, as Professor Cohen argued in a New York Times op-ed, we should work to prevent rape during conflict. Abduction of fighters by armed groups may be able to serve as an early warning sign of wartime rape, allowing time for the international community to intervene.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Gender, Conflict, Israel and Palestine: Gender in Peace Negotiations


President Clinton and Yasser Arafat, then-Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

“If we’d had women at Camp David,” Bill Clinton later rued, “we’d have an agreement.”

There’s one thing that almost all negotiations between Israel and Palestine have had in common: a relative lack of women at the table.

It’s important not to neglect the important contributions several women have made to the much-maligned peace process. Dr. Hanan Ashrawi was a key player on the Palestinian team at the 1991 Madrid Conference as official spokesperson. Her prominence prompted the Israelis to summon their own female negotiator, Sarah Doron.

But by 1993, as talks towards the Oslo Accords progressed, it was clear that women would largely be limited to backseat roles.

One senior Palestinian negotiator at Oslo justified women’s exclusion by privately suggesting that the decisions taken were “too serious and monumental” for women to be involved as lead negotiators.

On the Israeli side, there was a clear divide: almost all the primary negotiators were men, while women were limited to the role of secretary, assistant or junior adviser.

Women’s lack of representation at the negotiating table has endured through the 20th and into the 21st century.

L to R: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
That raises two questions: (1) Why? And (2), does it matter?

Perhaps “cultural” or social norms play a role.

In both societies and economies, patriarchal structures exist that discriminate against women. Women are less likely to work. Those women who do work are less likely to occupy senior roles and less likely to receive fair pay. Women are less likely to enjoy their fundamental human rights.

These social or cultural norms have ramifications for many walks of life in both Israel and Palestine. But discrimination against women in the military and political spheres in particular has resulted in fewer women being picked to lead or join negotiating teams.

There’s mandatory military conscription for women in Israel, but they’re much less likely than men to serve in combat positions. The perception endures that men are the “real” soldiers.

But cultural norms aren’t the only factor at play here. Politics is also to blame. (Side note: When isn’t it?)

In trying to understand women’s marginalization from peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, Espanioli and Sachs found that the perpetuation of the conflict itself has pushed “gender” off the table.

The conflict and the occupation are all-consuming. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it defines political competition and discourse in Palestine and Israel alike. And while both parties remain at diplomatic and military loggerheads, these scholars argue that “gender” issues continue to be pushed aside.

Any discourse that detracts from the main objective for each party is seen as an unhelpful distraction, somehow of secondary importance: How can we talk about gender now when we should be focusing all our efforts on securing our borders?; How can we talk about gender now when we should be focusing all our efforts on ending the occupation?

I’m clear about the answer to the second question. Does it matter? Yes. But maybe not only for the obvious reasons.

 
Let’s start with a basic principle, inherently normative in nature: public sector institutions should reflect the populations they serve. As well as representing the population’s interests, values and priorities, civil servants should accurately represent the demographic diversity of those societies — ethnic diversity, religious diversity, gender diversity and more.

The same should go for government delegations sent to peace negotiations.

Some might make the same argument but in utilitarian terms. Countless studies have shown that businesses that effectively leverage diversity — including gender diversity — do better in a multitude of ways. They’re more profitable, they’re more fulfilling places to work, and they’re more likely to retain talented staff.

It’s been claimed that women are inherently more peaceful than men. This utilitarian argument would therefore predict that having more women sat at the negotiating table would increase the likelihood of success at the next stage of the peace process between Palestine and Israel.

I resist essentialist arguments: That any one group of people exhibits any particular strength or deficiency based on any given biological trait they bear: like the gender they identify with, or the color of their skin. And since there’s evidence for and against the idea that women are more inherently peaceful than men, I’m not going to try to make any conclusions about that.

The more important conversation is about how to make gender front and center in future negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

That starts with having greater diversity in the two parties’ negotiating teams, but it certainly doesn’t end there.

The conflict and the occupation have profoundly different effects on men and women. And when peace processes fail to integrate women, peace agreements fail to address these differential gendered effects.

Those issues might include the impact of the occupation on girls’ access to education; how women’s sexual and reproductive health rights are threatened; how women’s economic opportunities are particularly constrained.

Leaders from Palestine, Israel and the international community can’t afford to regard these gendered consequences of conflict as an afterthought, to be dealt with once settlement construction, incitement to violence and movement and trade restrictions are resolved. They are part of the problem, and must be part of the solution.

So while having greater gender diversity at the table doesn’t necessarily mean those negotiators will be inherently or biologically more inclined to peace, it might prevent these issues being left off the agenda.

Hanan Ashrawi once remarked that “gender does not constitute a structured role in negotiations [between Israel and Palestine.]” It must if future rounds of peace talks are to succeed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

State of Women Summit and the Equal Pay Pledge

This week, the United State of Women Summit highlighted the importance of women’s issues in Washington, DC. BWWC Co-Chairs, Cathy Minehan and Evelyn Murphy, presented the work of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council and the Boston’s 100% Talent Compact. At the Summit, the White House introduced a similar initiative—the Equal Pay Pledge. This builds on the administration’s numerous actions to close the national pay gap (including passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 and passing two executive orders on this issue in 2014–see my last blog post for more details).


Just as the BWWC is encouraging companies in Boston to sign the 100% Talent Compact, the White House is challenging businesses to take the Equal Pay Pledge.

The Equal Pay Pledge has companies commit to conducting an annual company-wide gender pay analysis across occupations; reviewing hiring and promotion processes and procedures to reduce unconscious bias and structural barriers; and embedding equal pay efforts into broader enterprise-wide equity initiatives.

Several private sector companies have come together to support advancing equal pay, including Airbnb, Amazon, Care.com, Deloitte, Johnson & Johnson, Pinterest, Spotify, Staples, Salesforce, and Slack, to name a few.

It’s exciting to see the White House take the initiative to close the gender pay gap on a nation-wide level through data collection and analysis, and exciting as well that Boston is on the forefront of these issues!


By Jessica, MPP '17
WAPPP Summer Intern Blog
Originally posted on Boston Women's Workforce Council Summer Experience

Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Crises

In my last post, I talked about one of the themes the Executive Director of UNFPA discussed in his statement to the UNFPA Executive Board. I’m going to discuss another one here that is incredibly relevant around the world: humanitarian crises. Whether because of natural disasters, pandemics, or conflict, women and girls are disproportionately vulnerable. More than 75% of the people affected by these crises are women and children, and the risks that women already face in their daily lives become heightened when resources are scarce and security breaks down.

Abuse, sexual exploitation, violence, and forced marriage all increase during crises, as well as illnesses and deaths related to reproductive health and pregnancy. Sexual and reproductive health services are difficult to access, if they exist at all, leaving women with few resources if they are victims of violence or are giving birth.

The experiences of women in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan demonstrate how all these risks intersect. The camp is populated with Syrian refugees, who are already dealing with the psychological trauma of displacement. In such an insecure atmosphere, many families arrange marriages for their adolescent daughters, hoping it will keep them safe. However, child marriage exposes girls to many other dangers, especially pregnancy. In Za’atari, many of the pregnant women that health care workers attend are under 15. Many girls fear violence from their husband if they try to prevent or delay pregnancy. Once girls get married, it becomes difficult to continue their education and achieve their full potential.

UNFPA’s State of the World Population report from 2015 does a great job going into detail about the dynamics that threaten women and girls in humanitarian crises, and the steps that can be taken to address it.
  • Include family planning in basic emergency supplies delivered to those affected by the crisis, rather than treating it as an additional, optional service.
  • Couple family planning supplies with education targeted at women and men about how delaying first pregnancy and increasing the spacing between pregnancies is good for the health of the mother and the whole family.
  • Connect women, who may be dispersed in rural, hard-to-reach areas, to maternal and newborn health services.
  • Target assistance to HIV treatment and prevention.
  • Give adolescents access to education and vocational training. This will mitigate the vulnerability they face due to poverty and separation from their families, and give them the tools to be active advocates for positive change.
  • In all areas, work with local women to understand their unique challenges, as well as their input on solutions that make sense given their needs and context.
But most importantly, before a crisis hits, governments and civil society must work to address the underlying socioeconomic and structural issues that affect its severity and the possibility of full recovery. That includes investment in reproductive health infrastructure, education, and gender equality. The issue of reproductive health in humanitarian crises shows how gender, health, and economic development are intertwined. When women have the agency to contribute fully to their societies, then their societies will be that much more resilient and able to bounce back in the face of disasters.


By Morgan, MPP '17
WAPPP Summer Intern Blog
Originally posted on Wanted, Safe, Fulfilled: UNFPA Summer 2016