Professor Sen’s work as chairperson of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding forms the basis of the Commonwealth’s exploration into the root causes of violence and conflict.
28 June 2011
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen addresses London symposium on Women as Agents of Change
Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen appealed for women to be viewed as “agents of change” rather than “patient recipients of well-being”, at a symposium on 20 June exploring the political, economic and social barriers faced by women in both developing and developed countries.
The ‘Women as Agents of Change’ event was attended by around 150 politicians, economists, human rights advocates, academics and activists, and marked the Commonwealth Day theme for 2011 and the centenary year of International Women’s Day. It was jointly organised by the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in London and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Professor Sen addressed delegates on the “agency role of women” – by empowering women to have a voice in family decisions they could act to make changes to their own well-being.
“What we’re looking for is a need to view women, not as patient recipients of well-being, but as agents of change,” he said.
“This not only consists of living well but being able to do what you want.”
Professor Sen’s work as chairperson of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding provided the framework for the day-long symposium, which explored the role of women and the media; political participation and inclusion; poverty and economic inequality; and violence and peace-building.
Opening the meeting, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said the barometer of “wellness in the world” should be measured against how well women are treated on a daily basis.
“If women have a place, status, dignity and respect, then everything else will fall into place.”
Delegates addressed how best to engage the media to effectively highlight inequalities and injustices faced by women, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, and the role of the media in shaping attitudes towards women.
Nazenin Ansari, Iranian journalist with Kayhan (London) and Vice-President of the FPA, said: “The media should represent women not in the stereotypical roles as mother, carer, wife, or according to their sexual attributes, but according to their ideas and contributions.
“To empower women’s role in the media sector is to promote investment, equity and debt financing to women.”
Naana Otoo-Oyortey, Executive Director of FORWARD, which campaigns for the rights and dignity of women in Africa, Europe and the United Kingdom, said: “Where we have the media on board we do make a difference on these issues. I urge we continue in a way that empowers us, and the media, to act as agents of change.”
Participants also debated the effects of political exclusion, which means that worldwide, just 18 per cent of parliamentary seats are held by women.
Rwandan High Commissioner in London, Ernest Rwamucyo, shared lessons from his country, where 56 per cent of parliamentary seats are now held by women, making it the world leader in terms of political participation. He cited: nominating a ‘champion’ to act as a role model; getting support from leaders; the adoption of new laws to remove discriminatory legislation; monitoring of women’s progress; facilitating access to finance and resources for the economic empowerment of women; and building institutions to give women a voice in society.
Mr Rwamucyo said: “Old prejudices will not disappear but they will be broken by open dialogue amongst all sections of society.
“Inadequate or lack of financing should not be an excuse to not make changes. Empowering women is the cheapest investment you can make but brings the greatest rewards.”
Glenys Kinnock, Opposition spokesperson for the UK Department for International Development in the House of Lords, added that legislated quotas on the number of women in parliaments would ensure that political parties seek and train women for leadership roles.
The symposium also heard from renowned economist Devaki Jain, who called for a new vision of economic growth that focused on listening to women and building institutions to help them fulfil their daily tasks so they could train for work.
“If a woman is going far to get water why can we not build a community centre to save her time on getting water? Put a crèche up so her daughter does not have to look after her siblings,” she said.
Dr Cyrus Rustomjee, Director of Economic Affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat, highlighted the impact that climate change would have on women and their household income. He added that it was “crucial” that the impact of new sustainable economic growth models on gender was explored.
As well as discussing political and economic inequalities, the symposium also heard human rights activists and lawyers call for greater protection of women in conflict and peace-building.
Minister of State of Finland Elisabeth Rehn stressed that delegations from the West campaigning for the inclusion of local women in post-conflict reconstruction should include women on their own panels to act as role models.
Janet Benshoof, American human rights lawyer and president of the Global Justice Center, advocated for using international law to leverage women into power and to access justice.
She added that enforceable human rights laws that are based on true equality are the best guarantee for global peace in the future.
“If you believe in the UN Declaration of Human Rights then they have to be enforced, we can’t have a global order that’s just on paper.
“We’re talking about embedding concepts that have more permanence. We’re building laws for our children and our grandchildren.”
Its an awesome message by Noble laureate Amartya sen expressed in a way that women should be seen as transformers for positive change
Excellent. Feeling very nice and encouraging to know such kind thoughts about women from such scholars. The comment on how women are projected by the media was also very important; they are projected and physically attractive most of the time, rather that showing their internal skills. Centuries have passed by but we still are unequal and are considered less efficient.