Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gender Equity Begins at Home

I spent yesterday at the Jamestown Foundation's Annual Terrorism Conference(Get your jokes in now, yes we have a membership card, no you don't have to have a beard and turban, no there was no metal detector at the door. Hahaha.)  There were 16 speakers on four different panels.  About 240 people atteneded this conference and I estimate 35-40 percent of the attendees were women.

There was not a single woman on any panel, not as a speaker and not as a moderator.  During the Q&A, not a single woman raised her hand to ask a question, not even me.

Towards the end of the day I wanted to ask a question.  I wanted to speak up, but I didn't.  I stayed quiet.  If you know me, this is unusual.  I am not shy.  I am not normally intimidated.  But I was.  As intimidated as I am when all the men in my family gather in the living room talking politics.  I sit quietly, I listen.  I disagree.  I wonder.  The questions form in my mind, as they did yesterday, but my voice is unwelcome.  They don't say "Zary, don't speak", but I feel it and I know it.  I pass through to the space where I really belong, with the women in the other room.

I've been to other talks and normally there is at least one panelist who is a woman - Brookings, Mideast Institue, CSIS, USIP.  The conversation is vibrant and full.  I wondered,  yesterday, as I sat in silence with my question bubbling inside me, if all of the other women felt it too.  Was our silence our acknowledgment that this was a mens club, and we should just pass through?  We should listen but not participate?  I have not been a part of any studies on the topic, but the clear impact of neglecting women's voices on the podium was to silence women's voices on the ground.

We send people to Afghanistan to teach gender equity.  Maybe we should keep some of those experts here to teach it at home.

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