American society puts a lot of focus on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But when it comes to developing countries, the focus can, and should, be on the real-world social networks that people have, particularly women and girls. At the 92Y Tribeca this morning, a panel of nonprofit organizations spoke about “Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment in Real World Social Networks” as
part of Social Media Week New York.
Speakers included Scott MacMillan, communications manager for BRAC USA; Farzana Kashfi, the former senior manager of the education program at BRAC Bangladesh; Lynne Patterson, co-founder of Pro Mujer; and Christen Brandt, director of international operations for She’s the First. The event was hosted by the BRAC Task Force NYC.
All the organizations focus on educating and empowering women in countries around the world, including Bolivia, Bangladesh, Uganda, Mexico, Guatemala, and more. MacMillan spoke about the situation in Bangladesh after its independence in the ‘70s, highlighting how the landless people had no relationships, no networks, and therefore no power. But, that the situation shifted when NGOs and organizations, like BRAC, which launched in Bangladesh in 1972, worked to organizing the rural poor, mainly women.
“The most effective pressure point they found was working with women: poor, landless rural women especially,” he said. “Women and girls meet in a safe space, and within this setting that begins with socializing, and through their peer mentors, supported by BRAC, they receive training in life skills, reproductive health, finance, micro-loans.”
BRAC currently operates in 10 countries around the world, using a holistic development approach. The organization educates communities, especially women, about microfinance, education, healthcare, legal services, community empowerment, and more.
“When you go to a developing country you see men and boys hanging out on the streets and in the shops, but you rarely see girls spending time together,” said Kashfi. “Giving them this safe space where they can be themselves and share their stories is really important in helping raise their confidence level.”
Working with women and girls in Latin America has been the mission of Pro Mujer since its debut 23 years ago, Patterson explained. The organization works with mothers, also bringing them together in “safe space” peer groups, and provides micro-loans to help them start their own businesses, or expand work their families have done for generations.
“We began working with women and we realized that, since our major focus was the next generation, we needed to work with mothers,” Patterson said. “The fuel behind Pro Mujer and everything we’re doing is a woman’s desire to give her children a better life. A woman will work 24/7 because she doesn’t want her child to suffer in the same way she did.” She showed a video of a woman in Mexico who had been
helped by Pro Mujer.