Friday, May 31, 2013

The case for still more diversity

by Alan Broadbent & Ratna Omidvar
Originally Published: May 31st, 2013

The Ontario government has decided to prod companies and organizations into increasing the presence of women on boards and in senior management positions through a “comply or explain” approach. Rather than set hard quotas, the government has opted to let companies improve their performance – but if they fail, they will be obligated to explain why.
This is a very welcome boost toward a desirable end. As pointed out by Laurel Broten, Ontario’s minister responsible for women’s issues, the province has been moving at a “glacial” pace. The proportion of women serving as company directors has been stuck at about 10 per cent for the past decade. Compare that to 36 per cent in Norway, 27 per cent in Finland and 18 per cent in France.
As the government knows, diversity is about much more than gender. Visible minorities make up 26 per cent of Ontarians, and half of people living in the Toronto region. People living with disabilities make up 16 per cent of the provincial population, aboriginals 2 per cent and immigrants 29 per cent in the province.
This rich diversity is a great asset for Ontario, and a recent poll by Nanos Research shows that most people not only agree with this, but can identify why this is the case. They link diversity in society to economic and social prosperity, and so welcome it.
The case for diversity has been well made. In the natural world, it’s the great insurance policy against catastrophic disease. Investors put money in a variety of companies and classes of asset to protect against the company failures and bubbles. Diversity protects us against the threats imposed by monoculture.
Even better are the benefits to diversity’s upside: links to markets and customers, talent pipelines, innovative ideas, different perspectives. Companies that have embraced diversity in leadership have connected better to their customers, employees and suppliers, who are themselves diverse. And they’ve connected better to overseas markets and pools of talent by contact with diaspora networks. They’ve brought new talent to the table and created a human resource advantage.
The DiverseCity Counts project has been compiling data on diversity in leadership in the Toronto region over the past five years. There’s been progress, but it’s been slow. People who make appointments tend to work within their own comfort zones, and through their own networks of acquaintance. They might aspire to diversity but don’t know how to go about it. And there are few available tools and instruments to help.
One of the project’s initiatives, DiverseCity on Board, provides one such tool, a matching service for organizations seeking to diversify their board. With 1,500 prequalified candidates on its roster, the service has assisted in 640 board appointments to more than 600 organizations, and has been recognized with a United Nations award for innovation. It is being replicated nationally in Montreal, Ottawa, Thunder Bay and Hamilton, among others, and internationally, including Berlin, London and Boston.
We need more tools, though. Change takes time. We’re on the right track, but sometimes change needs a boost.
The Ontario government is right to nudge boards toward more gender diversity. But we need to use a fuller definition that includes other underrepresented groups as well. Instead of merely catching up, Ontario should move to the forefront of diversity.

Read the original article by Alan Broadbent & Ratna Omidvar from The Globe and Mail here: 

We still don't know where Pope Francis is on gender equality

by Maureen Fiedler
Originally Published: May 31st, 2013

There's a lot to admire about Pope Francis: his simplicity, his "off the cuff" preaching (like when he speaks inclusively of atheists), his emphasis on economic justice, the real probability that he will canonize Archbishop Oscar Romero, to mention but a few new papal developments.
But when it comes to gender equality and women's issues, there's still a blank slate. Well, almost: Cardinal Gerhard Müller reported Pope Francis approved the plan for what amounts to a hostile takeover of LCWR. I still don't believe Francis really knows the facts of that case. He needs to sit down with the LCWR leadership -- in private -- and hear the real story.
Then I read about more ordinations of Roman Catholic women priests June 22 in Virginia. Where does Pope Francis stand on the issue of women's ordination? OK, OK, I'm not so naive that I think he'll come out in favor of it tomorrow, but does he have any ability to be incremental? What does he think of women deacons, for example? We still don't know.
After all, when same-sex marriage was an issue in Argentina, he opposed marriage but was at least in favor of civil unions.
Will he appoint any women to high offices in the Curia? No signs yet, but who knows?

And when it comes to contraception, is there any give at all? After all, Catholics use it at the same rate as those of other traditions.
And what about abortion? Pope Francis is not likely to change church teaching on that issue, but does he believe church teaching must always become civil law? (The church opposes remarriage after divorce, for example, but no one is campaigning to enact that into civil law.) And recently, the complexities of that issue came to light with the case of "Beatriz" in El Salvador, who doctors say needs an abortion to save her life. On Friday, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in her favor. I wonder what Francis might think in this case.

I don't expect Pope Francis will reveal himself as a flaming feminist on any issue, but it would be nice if he spoke out for gender equality now and then.

Read the original article by Maureen Fiedler from National Catholic Reporter here: 

Puerto Rico Passes Historic LGBT Rights Bills

by Lester Brathwaite
Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

Yesterday, Governor Alejandro García Padilla (this handsome fella to the right) signed two landmark bills that prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation and include same-sex couples under Puerto Rico’s domestic violence law.

“The dignity of being a human being is inviolable because we are all the same and we must be equal under the law,” Gov. Padilla said. ”Today is a great day for Puerto Rico. I feel that I have fulfilled my duty as a Christian to sign these laws.”

According to the AP the original anti-discrimination bill would have also banned discrimination in commercial transactions, property rentals, public transportation and other circumstances but those clauses were removed due to opposition by religious groups.

Still, the two pieces of legislation are a huge step forward for the commonwealth, which earlier this year upheld its ban on gay adoption, to Ricky Martin’s chagrin.

Read the original article by Lester Brathwaite from Queerty here: 

Illinois Gay Marriage: LGBT Advocates Urge Madigan To Call Marriage Equality Vote

Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

LGBT activists, advocates and community members have begun filtering into the capitol as a the deciding vote on Illinois marriage equality is expected as early as this afternoon.
Sponsors have until Friday to pass the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which would grant equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Chief sponsor Greg Harris has said he will "absolutely" call for a vote on the bill by session's end May 31. He has also stated that the bill will pass.
Multiple sources connected with organizing efforts around the bill have stated that a vote is expected this afternoon, evening or early in the day on Friday. That timeline will partially depend on other business in Springfield as spring session wraps up.

Read the original article by Kate Sosin from the Windy City Times here: 

Women in Business: Mums in Business attracts a range of entrepreneurs

Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

A NETWORKING group for career-minded women is going from strength to strength.
Mums in Business is the brainchild of solicitor Claire Currie, partner at Kirwans, which has offices across the region.
Claire, who has a three-year-old son, says family commitments can mean women miss out on valuable business opportunities.
She said: “I set the group up a couple of years ago when I came back from maternity leave having had my son primarily because I found a lot of networking groups were in the evening or early morning.
“I also found in a many of the groups it was hard to talk to people because a lot of the people already knew each other.”
The events, which are held at lunchtime, normally attract between 30 and 40 women from a wide range of professions.
These include accountants, those working in PR, beauticians and a vintage clothes shop owner.
Claire, 36, said: “We’ve done a couple in Liverpool and some on the Wirral too because there seems to be less chance for people to network there.”
Now the events have built up a loyal base of attendants and Claire is thinking about expanding to Southport.
The last event was held at The Wro in West Kirby and featured talks by guest speakers Sandra Venables from Green Frog Consultancy and Lisa Evans, commercial property solicitor at Kirwans. Lisa Evans said: “As a new mum working in professional services, Mums in Business was the perfect event for me to be part of.
“It is clear there are many women interested in looking for commercial property, and the discussions I had following my talk reiterated the fact that the region’s businesswomen are keen to learn more about how what to look for when acquiring new business premises or purchasing a business and how they can improve their businesses.”
Claire said it was good for working mums to be able to chat with others about returning to work after having children.
“Before I went on maternity leave I thought it would be fine,” she added.
“But then you get the guilt, both because you don’t want to let your company down and want to be performing as you were before but at the same time you don’t want to let your child down.”

Read more: Liverpool Daily Post Women in Business: Mums in Business attracts a range of entrepreneurs - Business News - LDP Business - Liverpool Daily Post 

Ethnically Diverse Areas Are Happier, Healthier And Less Discriminatory, Study Finds

Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

If you live a neighbourhood which is ethnically diverse, you're more likely to be healthier and less likely to experience racial discrimination, a new study has found.
Researchers at the University of Manchester say diversity is associated with higher social cohesion and a greater tolerance of each other's differences.
They also found that someone from an ethnic minority is less likely to report racial discrimination in an ethnically diverse neighbourhood.
More than seven million people were born outside the UK in 2011

And that a neighbourhood's high level of deprivation - rather than diversity - is linked with poor physical and mental health, low social cohesion and race discrimination.
The findings, based on analysis of census and survey data, will be presented tomorrow at a conference attended by the study researchers, policy makers and community organisations
Professor James Nazroo, director of the university's Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity,said: "Our research and this conference is all about setting the record straight on those diverse neighbourhoods which are so widely stigmatised.
"So often we read in our newspapers and hear from our politicians that immigration and ethnic diversity adversely affect a neighbourhood, but careful research shows this to be wrong.
"In fact, the level of deprivation, not diversity, is the key factor that determines these quality of life factors for people in neighbourhoods.
"So our research demonstrates the disadvantages of living in deprived areas but the positives of living in ethnically diverse areas.
"It's deprivation which affects those Caribbean, Black African, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi people who are disproportionately represented in these neighbourhoods, as well as those white people who live alongside them."
Also according to the researchers, one in five (20%) people identified with an ethnic group other than White British in 2011 compared with 13% in 2001.
The ethnic minority populations of England and Wales lived in more mixed areas in 2011 and this mixing has accelerated over the past 10 years, says the study.
Traditional clusters of ethnic minority groups have grown but the rate of minority population growth is greatest outside these clusters with ethnic diversity spreading throughout the country.
Fellow researcher Dr Nissa Finney said: "Despite the clustering of ethnic minority people in some areas, the vast majority of ethnic minority people have a strong sense of belonging to Britain, feel part of Britain and feel that Britishness is compatible with other cultural or religious identities."
While colleague Dr Laia Becares said: "Increased diversity is beneficial for all ethnic groups so we say the policy agenda should develop strategies for inclusiveness rather than marginalising minority identities, religions and cultures.
"Policies aimed at reducing the stigmatisation of diverse neighbourhoods and promoting positive representations can only be a good thing."
The conference, entitled 'Diverse Neighbourhoods: Policy messages from The University of Manchester', will take place at Manchester Town Hall.

Read the original article from The Huffington Post here: 

2013 Diversity Scorecard: Firms Regain Lost Ground

by Brian Zabcik
Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

Diversity illo

Looking at diversity statistics is always a good test of whether you're an optimist or a pessimist, and the 2013 Diversity Scorecard is no exception. In our latest survey of the largest law firms in the country, we found that last year minority lawyers made up 13.9 percent of all lawyers at the 228 firms that responded to our survey. While that's up slightly from the previous year, it's exactly the same percentage as in 2008, before the recession took hold and the overall minority percentage began to dip. If you're an optimist, you'll say that our newest survey shows that minorities have recovered the ground they lost in the economic downturn. If you're a pessimist, you'll point out that there's been no real increase in diversity in five years. You might also note that the percentage of African American attorneys remains markedly lower than it was in 2008.

To understand the significance of what's happened in our survey over the past five years, it's useful to go back to the beginning of the Diversity Scorecard. In 2000 we found that minorities constituted 9.7 percent of all attorneys at the biggest firms. That figure rose most years—albeit sometimes very slightly—until reaching a high of 13.9 percent in 2008. Then the recession hit. Firms started letting go of attorneys, and minority lawyers were disproportionately affected by those layoffs. Though the percentage of minority lawyers has risen since then, it only means that firms have regained the ground they lost. "When we're talking about going back to 2008 levels, we shouldn't be doing it in a celebratory mode," says Laurel Bellows, the current president of the American Bar Association and a principal at The Bellows Law Group P.C. in Chicago. She adds, "We have clearly not found the key to diversifying our profession."

The different racial and ethnic groups covered in our survey have fared differently over the past five years. Asian American lawyers have held steady: They constituted 6.2 percent of all attorneys last year, the same as in 2008. Hispanics also held their own, accounting for 3.1 percent of all attorneys last year, the same as five years ago. The one group to show an increase has been multiracial/other attorneys, who went from 1 percent in 2008 to 1.5 percent last year. By contrast, African American lawyers dropped from 3.6 percent five years ago to 3.1 percent last year.

In addition, we always take note of the percentage of minority partners, because it's often harder for firms to retain and promote minority associates than it is to hire them in the first place. Our survey shows a sharp drop in minority lateral hires, and a smaller decline in minority partner promotions. Minority attorneys accounted for 10.1 percent of all lateral partners last year, down from 16.4 percent the year before—a decrease from 348 minority laterals to 211. Some 12.9 percent of newly promoted partners last year were minority lawyers, dipping from 14.7 percent the year before—a decrease from 259 to 246.

Still, the percentage of all partners who are minorities rose from 6.9 percent in 2011 to 7.3 percent in 2012. That jump is a result of both an increase in the overall number of minority partners, from 3,130 to 3,286, and a drop in the number of nonminority partners, from 41,961 to 41,654. One possible explanation for the shift is that the senior ranks of law firm partnerships tend to have fewer minority lawyers than the rest of the firm, so partners who retire are more likely to be white.

All of the top 10 firms in our rankings last year have returned to the head of the class this year. For the second year in a row, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith is our number one firm, with minority lawyers making up 27.5 percent of its 867 lawyers. Interestingly, the Los Angeles–based firm managed to stay on top despite a slight decline in its minority percentage, from 27.9 percent in 2011. Although Lewis Brisbois added a net 14 minority attorneys, it also added a net 49 nonminority attorneys, meaning that minorities are a smaller percentage of the firm's new head count.

Still, Lewis Brisbois is unlikely to be dislodged from the top of our survey anytime soon. Some 25.7 percent of the firm's partners are minority lawyers—almost four points higher than any other firm in our survey. Remarkably, more of its minority attorneys are partners (127) than nonpartners (111). According to marketing director Jody Jackson, one reason for the firm's diversity is that most of its offices are located on the coasts. "There's a more diverse population in California, New York, and Florida," says Jackson. "Our diversity matches the regions where we have offices." Founding partner Robert Lewis has also made diversity a priority for the firm, says Jackson. "[Lewis] still pays attention to all of the hiring," Jackson says. "We do not target minority firms, but he does look at the diversity of the firms we're acquiring."

White & Case was the biggest gainer in our top 10, rising from number six to number two. Its minority percentage increased from 23.1 percent in 2011 to 24.6 percent in 2012, even though the number of minority attorneys at the firm actually dropped. Overall, the firm's U.S.–based head count shrank from 736 in 2011 to 654 in 2012. While the firm lost a net nine minority attorneys, it also lost a net 73 nonminority attorneys—meaning that minorities made up a higher proportion of the firm's reduced head count. "We do carefully look at our minority lawyers to make sure they're getting the training and mentoring that they need," says Rudolph Aragon, a Miami-based partner who chairs White & Case's diversity initiative. "And I think that's a big part of why we've been able to retain, percentage-wise, minority lawyers over and above some of our competitors."

Still, Aragon adds, "it's always a challenge to recruit minorities. In today's market, you've got heavy competition because there are fewer positions." That dilemma points to the difficulty of increasing diversity during a slow economy. It's harder to hire new minority associates or create new minority partners when firms don't feel confident enough to increase their head counts. Clearly, a growing economy is not just good for business, but good for diversity, too.

This article originally appeared in The American Lawyer under the headline “Same As It Ever Was.”

Read the original article by Brian Zabcik from The American Lawyer here: 

Economic benefits of cultural diversity in Pakistan

by Amanullah Khan
Originally Published: May 31st, 2013

Friday, May 31, 2013 - Karachi—Minister for Religion and Chairman FPCCI Standing Committee of Religion and Culture, Sardar Yasin Malik hasemphasized the importance of Islamic cultural values in Pakistani society.

He was speaking at an expert panel discussion on World Day of “Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development” here the other day. 

The purpose of conducting this event was to arrive at an advisory position to promote sustainable development of Pakistan taking advantage of the great cultural diversity of Pakistan in terms of geographical indications (Products, Curios, Traditional knowledge and Custom, Social Practices, Fashion Costumes, Food, Festivals and Folklore (characters, stories of chivalry, mystery and romance). 

A short clip of a movie based on the diversity of cultures in various regions of the sub-continent was displayed to the audience. Dr Nauman-ul-Haq, IBA Head of Department liberal Art in his visionary comments illustrated the fact that the variance in culture is the bases of human race sustainability. In his views variance in Nature is the chief reason which makes the human race and other beings flourish. Mazhar Qureshi related the cultural diversity with the shared believes and values of different communities and said that our culture is extremely versatile. 

He also quoted example of the 2nd World war which in his views can be considered as a sign of cultural taboo. Baber of IED showed his concern over the discrimination, the people of remote areas face when they come and visit urban centres. 

He was of the view that one should not be looked down upon on the basis of his origins and all should be treated equally. Anwar-ul Haq Siddiqui put things into perspective by elaborating the topic “Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development” and shed light on related issues with contextual relevance.

The meeting was attended by academia, civil society and cultural experts including Salman Javed Chairman, ECO CCI Tourism Council (Pak Chapter), Dr Ashafq Siddiqui, Advisor on SC on Health, Rizwana Shahid, President Women Chamber, Prof. Tariq Kaleem, Dow University, Asifa Sohail, Deputy Director Bahria Foundation and Ms Farhana Iqbal, Chairperson, CMIS.

Read the original article by Amanullah Khan from the Pakistan Observer here: 

Boardroom diversity and disclosure: A nudge in the right direction?

by Aaron A. Dhir
Originally Published: May 31st, 2013

Minister Laurel Broten says Ontario is considering a “comply or explain” formula. (Jan. 3, 2012)
Minister Laurel Broten says Ontario is considering a “comply or explain” formula. (Jan. 3, 2012)
This week, Laurel Broten, Ontario’s minister responsible for women’s issues, indicated that the government is collaborating with the Ontario Securities Commission to craft a strategy aimed at increasing gender diversity in corporate boardrooms.
This initiative flows from a novel passage in the securities regulation section of the Liberal party’s proposed budget. It declares that “[t]he government strongly supports broader gender diversity on the boards and in senior management of major businesses . . .” The chosen method for pursuing this goal is to explore the best way to require firms to disclose “their approaches to gender diversity.”
Recent studies show that Canada is falling behind our international peers on this front. It is clear that the voluntary pursuit of corporate governance diversity has proven ineffective and that legislators must explore regulatory options. Disclosure, it is argued, could provide a politically plausible alternative to the gender quotas adopted in some European countries.
But will this diversification strategy work? Evidence from other countries suggests that it depends on how the requirements are actually designed.
Over the last year, I have analyzed the American experiment with a disclosure regime. Since 2010, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has required publicly traded firms to report on whether and how they consider diversity in identifying nominees for directorships. I’ve analyzed the disclosures of S&P 100 firms over two years. Thus far, the results have been less than encouraging.
The U.S. rule does not define “diversity.” My study’s most salient finding is that, when left to their own devices, firms most frequently think in experiential terms and focus on a director’s prior experience, or knowledge and skills — rather than in socio-demographic terms with an eye to gender or racial diversity. Only approximately half of firms fell into the latter camp.
Broten has said that Ontario is considering a “comply or explain” formula. This approach, implemented by the Australian Securities Exchange in 2011, has potential. Ontario firms, for example, could be asked whether they have initiated specific types of diversity practices. Do they have a policy that defines diversity as including gender and contains measurable objectives? Do they have a strategy for retaining and advancing gender diversity on their boards? Has an internal committee been established that will implement these initiatives and assess their effectiveness? While firms would be given the option not to pursue these measures, they must publicly explain why they have not done so.
It remains to be seen whether requiring disclosure of a firm’s diversity levels and practices will actually lead them to address gender-based imbalances. The theory behind disclosure is that requiring firms to critically reflect and publicly report on their diversity practices will nudge them to adopt better policies in order to avoid negative public and investor reaction. To achieve these desired effects, a first step must be to direct firms to actually focus their attention on gender and other forms of identity-based diversity.
As policy-makers move forward, some constituencies may attempt to dilute any reporting requirements and to leave firms with maximum flexibility. If the Liberals truly desire an increase in gender diversity, however, they must take an evidence-based approach and learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions. While it may be tempting to follow the U.S. lead, my research shows that affording companies too much discretion in defining diversity may not advance the government’s stated objectives.

Read the original article by Aaron A. Dhir from The Toronto Star here: 

Mosque Leader Says Discrimination a Factor

by Tiffany McCall
Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

It's a situation that has the president of a local mosque pondering his next move.
"I believe in all my heart that this is somewhat of a discrimination," said Shafik Hammami.
The Islamic Society of Mobile has called East Drive home for over 20 years. The buildings however, are much older, and that's why Hammami wants to rebuild.
But many residents in the area are against building a bigger building, saying traffic is a major problem.
"There's not enough room. There's not room for the cars. Really it's a small area to expand a school and a church," said neighbor Beverly Montgomery.
The Mobile City Council agreed, blocking his construction plans. Hammami feels the traffic concerns are just a mask to cover people's prejudices about the Islamic faith.
"Does it have anything to do with them being Muslim?" I asked Montgomery. "Not really, no. Of course it's, you know we have feelings. Terrorist that came from that particular mosque, makes you think," she said.
And that terrorist is Omar Hammami, who is Shafik Hammami's son. He is on the America's Most Wanted list for supporting the terrorist organization Al Shabaab and recruiting terrorist for the organization.
"I don't blame the American people for having the fear, but I do blame people who do not pursue the truth. The truth is we are a peaceful religion, and we have nothing to do with the terror acts going on all over the world," said Hammami.
On East Drive you'll find a Jehovah's Witness hall, an apartment complex, cut through traffic coming from Airport Boulevard and the University of South Alabama just up the street. One couple who is new to the area feels a new mosque would not make a difference.
"It never affects the whole through street. Only the student traffic," said Beth Burgert. "I wouldn't have a problem with them expanding it. I think they should be able to build on their property," said Tyler Mason.
Hammami also says that because city councilwoman Bess Rich lives in the neighborhood and is against the mosque rebuilding, her vote should have been considered a conflict of interest.
I asked Hammami if just picking up and moving would be an option and he told me no, saying the property is owned by the Islamic Umbrella which does not allow anything else to be built there other than a mosque. Hammami tells me he plans to seek legal counsel.

Read the original article by Tiffany McCall from WKRG News here: 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

For gender equality

Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

Steely Resolve: Bimla Chandrasekar committed to women's causes. Photo: S. James
The HinduSteely Resolve: Bimla Chandrasekar committed to women's causes. Photo: S. James

Ekta Founder-Director Bimla Chandrasekar talks about her struggle to empower women and banish stereotypes

Bimla Chandrasekar's life experiences as a child raised in a conservative family in Orissa makes her fight for other women. "I was fond of my periamma (paternal aunt) but saw her being mistreated as a young widow by my family members. Anger came from this," she says.
Her grandmother was too rigid and imposed restrictions on her aunt. “Everybody wanted to control her,” recalls Bimla. Her aunt had her head tonsured, wore coarse saris, did not mingle with anybody and suffered in silence. "Yet whatever she did," says Bimla, "was eyed with suspicion."
Young Bimla did not understand what was happening but her mind always wondered why it was happening. This influenced her thinking and motivated her to find out whether it was only her family's problem or a common problem. And till date it motivates her to work directly with women. She established "Ekta’ , a centre for counselling and training women and youth in Madurai, because she believes the key to development is unity and the ability to work closely brings about growth.
Bimla describes herself as women's right defender whose work is "to help women, make as many of them count and change the lives of a few."
Had it not been for the 1977 super cyclone in Andhra Pradesh, Bimla Chandrasekar would not have come this far in her journey. As a student volunteer at the affected sites, she met development consultants from Oxfam who motivated her to explore beyond the realms of her home town.
Eager to free herself from the shackles of brahminical upbringing, she was naturally motivated in social service and arrived in Bangalore for a development training programme in 1980. Working under John Stanley, the then director of SEARCH, became her life changing experience. "He gave me conceptual clarity. I researched on poverty and travelled to villages and slums interviewing people."
From there, when she came to Anbagam Special School in Madurai to work with mentally challenged children, little did she know that the Temple Town would become her permanent home. She met her life partner K.Chandrasekar, a development professional.
For a person like her, sitting at home was out of question since she viewed public domain as her concern and got perturbed by women who didn't think so. She wanted to learn and participate in capacity building opportunities. As a young mother, she had to work hard to achieve what she wanted.
Bimla hit a new learning curve when she completed a Junior Research Fellowhip programme at University of Tanjore and joined the TamilNadu Theological Seminary in Madurai. "I worked in 11 slums with the most vulnerable group in the world -- the women, who talked to me about their day-to-day economics and I taught them about health, sanitation, hygiene, nutrition and education. ".
A brief stint with ASSEFA (Association for Sarva Seva Farms) where she started a rural school educationl programme exposed her to caste dynamics and the marginalisation of women and children. "For instance, sexual and reproductive health and rights issues are largely a taboo subject in many rural settings, yet it holds the key to advancement of the gender agenda,” she explains.
Following a training at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, U.K., Bimla returned convinced that people can be made to change and influence their own lives. It got her thinking how to create space for women. "I wanted to strengthen the women's knowledge base. Why should she be always lost in the kitchen or in her domestic sphere? Why should she be passive watcher and receiver of male mandated decisions? Why should a woman be sent to her mother's home for delivery? Isn't the child an equal responsibility of the husband?
"Every issue," says Bimla, "can be related to gender." She notes that everybody is born with some power and it is taken from them because of societal norm, experiences, family or social circumstances, laws and government policies. "There is a need to discuss ‘re-powerment’", she says, "in order to help women to regain their voices and get their due.
During the time when women's rights were seen as anti-women, she registered Ekta in 1990 to open the knowledge thirst for women and give them a choice and a voice to elevate their role in development. She broke down several barriers and engaged more women in the debate on critical public and domestic issues like poverty and politics, economy and education, health and social disparities, discrimination and development.
She helped to develop their managerial, communication and counselling skills to be used in the future for progress. For example, if a woman had to file a complaint at the police station, she was explained how to do so because it is not as easy as one thinks, especially if you are a woman, she says.
Education is another field where Ekta wielded influence. "Of all the agents of change that empower women – education is the most important. It is a game-changer, an equalizer," says Bimla. Ekta organises programmes in direct contact with students called the Life Education Programme. Women need their space for private talks and discussions about personal matters and Ekta introduced the Study Circle to enable, students, mothers and homemakers from different backgrounds discuss the reproductive system or HIV. Another programme called Student for Change where both sexes participate in active debates about contemporary issues such as globalisation and where they are given information to form their own gender analysis in social affairs.
From being labelled femi-nazis and accused of spoiling the fabric of society, Bimla says she sees significant differences in the youth who take part in these programmes. She meets many of them after years who tell her how their lives have changed. With humanism as her sole guiding force, Bimla's role is essentially that of an enabler for building the capacity of women to be strong and assertive.
Her goal, however, she says, is not to bring about a radical change in the society. "If we collectively focus on a new role for women as decision makers, it would be easy to sensitise people about discrimination against women on the basis of gender, caste and religion."
She is also of the opinion that much of today's crime against women can be checked if women themselves are determined not to succumb to stereotypes and if men are trained to accept women's empowerment.
Ekta has evolved five processes to move towards its vision. It is by building the political consciousness of women; helping them to respect and care for their health; making them aware of legal procedures and their right to access and avail of legal protection; challenging stereotypical representations of women in mainstream media; and microcredit as new economic empowerment.
Touched by women’s natural strength, courage and resilience, Bimla says she gets closer to her goal only when more women make their own decisions.” The nature of women's issues has changed today. "We have failed to foster better understanding between men and women due to unequal participation and lack of perspective."
"But", she adds, "lasting social change is possible only if begun early."

Read the original article from The Hindu here: 

Women are earning more -- and doing more housework too

by Wency Leung
Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

On the Hot Button blog yesterday, The Globe and Mail's Erin Anderssen pointed out a major downside to a new study that shows women are increasingly becoming their families' principal breadwinners: many of these women are single mothers struggling to make ends meet.
But the news is not exactly rosy for married women who earn heftier pay cheques either. According to The New York Times, economists from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and the National University of Singapore have found that couples in which the wife earns more than her husband report being less happy with their marriage and have higher rates of divorce. These couples, in fact, tend to revert to stereotypical domestic roles, in which women also take on the bulk of the housework and childcare, presumably to prop up their husbands' self-esteem.
"Our analysis…suggests that gender identity considerations may lead a woman who seems threatening to her husband because she earns more than he does to engage in a larger share of home production activities, particularly household chores,” the Times quoted the economists' paper as saying.
So not only are women bringing home bigger pay cheques, they are also the ones doing the dishes and cleaning up after the kids after coming home from work. An earlier U.S. study had arrived at the same conclusion: working women also do more around the house to help their lower-earning husbands retain their "masculine privilege."
Sure, men are increasingly taking on a greater share of the domestic work. But it's not entirely an even split of the duties. As Dianne Nice previously reported in The Globe and Mail, Statistics Canada data show that young women still do slightly more housework in households in which both spouses are employed. Among those aged 20 to 29, women reported doing 1.4 hours of housework a day, compared with 1 hour for men.
It's easy to assume the solution would be to have men pick up the slack at home. Yet splitting up the household work 50/50 is no recipe for marital bliss either. According to one Norwegian study, divorce rates are up to 50 per cent higher among couples who share the housework equally, compared with couples in which the women do most of the chores.
This weekend, the Globe and Mail launches a week-long series exploring the role that gender plays is the way household tasks are divided inside modern Canadian households, and how the resulting stress is affecting family life.
Tell us how it works in your home. Does your income factor into how you divvy up the housework?

Read the original article by Wency Leung from The Globe and Mail here: 

Technology's Persistent Gender Gap and Three Ways to Close It

by Jaleh Bisharat
Originally Published: May 30th, 2013

Is public perception hanging a "do not enter" sign for women in front of the technology industry?
My company, oDesk, recently commissioned a survey of more than 3,000 independent professionals who work on oDesk. They shared their thoughts on entrepreneurship, career paths -- including in tech -- and the future of work.
When asked how important gender is to career potential, 76 percent of respondents said "not very important" or "not at all important." However, when asked if some industries offer more opportunity to women than other industries, two-thirds (65 percent) said yes.
I was bewildered by that mismatch in the two responses. Does gender matter or does it not?
I eventually concluded that we're seeing the gap between what people wish to be true and what they actually believe to be true. Perhaps respondents don't want to admit that in 2013, gender still impacts career potential -- but when it comes down to it, they recognize that the business world is not the land of equal opportunity.
We remain vastly underrepresented on corporate boards and in executive positions (4 percent of CEO positions at Fortune 500 companies), and we still earn significantly less than men for the same work (77 percent of men's annual salaries, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research).
My own industry, technology, fared poorly in the survey. When respondents were asked which industries were perceived as offering the best opportunities for women, technology came in third from last, only ahead of engineering and manufacturing.
I've seen disheartening evidence of this firsthand. As my son has moved through high school I've observed the gender composition of his math and computer classes. The more advanced the class, the more the number of girls thins out. Last year, for example, there were two girls and more than 25 boys in his AP Programming class. Anecdotes like these make it hard to argue that the situation is improving. And my son's school is in the San Francisco Bay Area, surrounded by a vibrant technology culture.
How do we change this for the next generation? Specifically, what would it take -- beyond mentorship programs -- to get more young women graduating from STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) or to build careers on the business side of technology companies, like I did?
Stumped for a solution, I decided to ask my son. Without hesitation -- and from his vantage point as a passionate programmer who has worked in a technology company as well as observed the classroom dynamic -- he prescribed three remedies:
1. Make computer programming a requirement for high school graduation. Coding requires students to learn a way of thinking that is equally accessible to girls and boys and is increasingly the foundation for our economy, industry and lives. Once programming is demystified, he argued, a greater number of girls will choose to pursue a future in STEM.
2. Aggressively combat stereotypes of computer scientists. Clarify that programming is approachable, not an exotic talent. Anyone can learn it, just like anyone can choose to learn a language or how to ride a bike.
3. Expose the creativity involved in advanced math and engineering. "There is as much poetry in advanced math and related fields as there is in poetry itself. If society were made aware of that, creative people -- both girls and boys -- who might not otherwise go into STEM would at least consider it," he said.
Of course, there is still work to do, discussions to have, and progress to make.
Here's what I love about working in technology: disrupting the status quo and being on the leading edge of trends are core to our culture. What's more, tech companies are leading the way in flexible work and other next-generation workplace policies, which can make the industry a much friendlier place for women who don't want to choose between having a family and having an accomplished career. (For the full story of how I personally handled that decision, check out my blog post here).
For those of you who also have experience with the tech industry, I'm curious to hear whether this is a shared sentiment. Do you feel the industry offers women more, fewer or the same opportunities for success as other industries? What do we need to do to encourage more girls to pursue STEM or other careers in tech, and how can we nurture their success?

Read the original article by Jaleh Bisharat from Huffington Post here: