Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Could women's leadership make a difference?

I'm not much for viewing movies, but two films from Just Vision, chronicling Palestinian struggles, Budrus and The Wanted 18, have grabbed my interest -- and made me laugh.

As a result, I was willing take a look at a Just Vision-sponsored TED Talk, in which the filmmaker Julia Bacha discusses the role of nonviolent resistance in struggles where women are active leaders. Bacha has been making films that fill in gaps for people in the U.S. for several decades. She wrote and edited the wonderful Control Room, which, during the early phase of the Iraq war, introduced U.S. audiences to journalism from an Arabic-speaking point of view.

Bacha begins with this arresting slide:
Not all struggles for justice succeed, but the nonviolent ones have a better track record. And then, with great precision and economy, she develops her themes.

... nonviolent campaigns were almost 100 percent more likely to lead to success than violent campaigns. Nonviolent campaigns are also less likely to cause physical harm to those waging the campaign, as well as their opponents. And, critically, they typically lead to more peaceful and democratic societies. In other words, nonviolent resistance is a more effective and constructive way of waging conflict.

But if that's such an easy choice, why don't more groups use it? Political scientist Victor Asal and colleagues have looked at several factors that shape a political group's choice of tactics. And it turns out that the greatest predictor of a movement's decision to adopt nonviolence or violence is not whether that group is more left-wing or right-wing, not whether the group is more or less influenced by religious beliefs, not whether it's up against a democracy or a dictatorship, and not even the levels of repression that that group is facing. The greatest predictor of a movement's decision to adopt nonviolence is its ideology regarding the role of women in public life.

... I do want to tackle two very serious misunderstandings that could happen at this point. The first one is that I don't believe women are inherently or essentially more peaceful than men. But I do believe that in today's world, women experience power differently. Having had to navigate being in the less powerful position in multiple aspects of their lives, women are often more adept at how to surreptitiously pressure for change against large, powerful actors. The term "manipulative," often charged against women in a derogatory way, reflects a reality in which women have often had to find ways other than direct confrontation to achieve their goals. And finding alternatives to direct confrontation is at the core of nonviolent resistance.

Now to the second potential misunderstanding. I've been talking a lot about my experiences in the Middle East, and some of you might be thinking now that the solution then is for us to educate Muslim and Arab societies to be more inclusive of their women. If we were to do that, they would be more successful.

They do not need this kind of help. Women have been part of the most influential movements coming out of the Middle East, but they tend to be invisible to the international community. Our cameras are largely focused on the men who often end up involved in the more confrontational scenes that we find so irresistible in our news cycle. And we end up with a narrative that not only erases women from the struggles in the region but often misrepresents the struggles themselves. ...

She goes on to introduce her hearers to an array Palestinian women leaders who we probably have never heard of.

It's hard to believe that women's energies unleashed within that most intractable struggle for justice might just point to better outcomes, but Bacha goes way beyond naive happy talk.

Here's the whole TED talk, well worth the 12 minutes:

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