Feminised toll of man-made global crises demands that women’s voices be taken seriously Print E-mail

Leading Issues Journal Issue 2 November 2009

Women's Solutions to the Fore as the Curtain Closes on the Third Millennium's First Decade

By Dr Lynette J. Dumble Founder and Director of the Global Sisterhood Network*

Lynette Dumble with Afghanistan's Malalai Joya

As the first decade of the third millennium draws to a close, recent news of a first female Nobel Economics laureate in Elinor Ostrom, together with Dr. Catherine Hamlin's Right Livelihood Award [also referred to as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize'], and Sue Gilbey's Bremen Peace Award, spur hopes of a future in which women's voices are to be taken seriously. A common theme in the missions of all three award winners is  the departure from the corporate-greed which has dominated, and which to a large extent underpins, today's excessively militarised world as the entire planet faces climatic disaster, while each has demonstrated extraordinary stamina in fulfilling their goals in the face of gargantuan challenges.
 
Until 2009, California-born Ostrom was known only for her 1990 book, Governing the Commons, which coincidently disproved biologist Garrett Hardin's The Tragedy of the Commons which had asserted the essential need for either free market or government management of local resources. Whereas conventional economic theory has long paid homage to the virtues of the markets of global free-trade, but scant attention to arrangements formulated within social organizations, Ostrom's numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins instead show that the outcomes from locally-managed resources are, more often than not, better than those predicted by standard economic gospel.  In taking on the powerful world of male-governed finance, Ostrom’s scholarship was an act of considerable courage, and the 2009 Economics Nobel was a fitting reward for her remodelling of homoeconomicus to represent all of humanity - women, men and children, both rich and poor - thereby giving the world of finance a refurbished outlook which has a community-centred humanitarian framework.
 
Sydney-born Catherine Hamlin's commitment to Ethiopian women and girls began when she and her co-obstetrician husband Reg, a New Zealander, answered The Lancet medical journal’s advertisement to set up a midwifery school some 50 years ago. The Hamlins are quoted as saying that their hearts broke at the sight of women suffering from injuries inherited as a result of prolonged labour while giving birth, and they knew they could not ignore their plight. The injuries, or fistula, are caused when the infant’s head becomes lodged in the birth canal for periods of as many as five days. The infant usually dies, but its skull creates a tear in the mother's bladder and/or rectum, causing continuous urinary and faecal incontinence which can only be repaired by surgery. More than 9000 cases occur each year in Ethiopia, usually to women and girls giving birth alone in remote villages and provinces, whereas in the developed world episiotomies [a declining obstetric procedure where a surgical incision is made through the perineum to enlarge the vagina and thereby assist delivery] and caesarean sections have virtually eradicated fistula injuries.
 
The achievements of the Hamlins, and since her husband’s death in 1993 of Catherine Hamlin, are legendary: Never once charging a fee for their surgical “miracles” which have restored health, hope and dignity to many thousands of African women and girls humiliated and ostracised as a consequence of birth-related fistula; over the years voluntarily training countless other health professionals to perform similar repairs on the hapless victims; and establishing five regional "Fistula Hospitals" in Ethiopia, another in the Congo, another in Angola, and another in Afghanistan. For Catherine Hamlin that is still not enough, and her current burning ambition is for a trained midwife to be placed in every village throughout Ethiopia. Right Livelihood Awards honour those offering practical and exemplary solutions to the world's most urgent challenges, and there is perhaps no more worthy recipient than Catherine Hamlin for her life spent in the service of poor and marginalised women. Unquestionably, Catherine and Reg Hamlin were the epitome of "The Power of Two”, Catherine to this day is the epitome of "The Power of One”.
 
Sue Gilbey, left with permanent disability, chronic pain and limited mobility following an accident in her 40s,  joined the Australian Peace Committee after these injuries curtailed her work at an orphanage in Cambodia. Adelaide-based Gilbey became actively involved in the movement to liberate asylum seekers from the inhumane detention devised and imposed by John Howard’s Australian Federal Government: First as a founding member of the appropriately  and cleverly named community radio program, "A Peace of the Action", in order to bring peace, social justice, human rights and environmental issues to public attention; next by volunteering to transcribe the countless sorry sagas of detainees who had fled conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri-Lanka, and several other countries, the sole reward for the painstaking and heartbreaking task being the somewhat remote possibility that an asylum seeker might be released from detention to embark on a life outside of prison walls; and subsequently by training to become the first para-legal to successfully represent refugees granted a highly-insecure Temporary Protection Visa in their quest to obtain a Permanent Visa. There are many other strings to Gilbey's quests for a more socially just world, and she is a more than worthy recipient of the Bremen Peace Award 2009[in the category "The Unknown Peace Worker"] from Germany’s Threshold Foundation.
 
The commencement of the second decade of the third millennium sits just around the proverbial corner with the emerging human toll of man-made economic, military, environmental, climatic, religious and health crises bearing an unacceptably feminized face. Women’s scholarship and initiatives are the key to avoiding deepening crises, creating peace, and guaranteeing the survival of whole communities and the entire planet. Ostrom, Hamlin and Gilbey are not alone as women whose voices deserve to be taken seriously. The names of Afghanistan’s Malalai Joya, Australia’s Helen Caldicott, Pamela Curr, and Sonja Karkar, Britain’s Jennifer Drew, Canada’s Naomi Klein, India’s Arundhati Roy and Vandana Shiva, Iraq’s Betool Khedairi, Haifa Zangana and Yanar Mohammed, Israel’s Gila Svirsky, Kenya’s Wangari Maathai, New Zealand’s Marilyn Waring, Pakistan’s Asma Jehangir and Hina Jilani, Sri Lanka’s Asoka Bandarage, and the US’s Betsy Hartmann, Lucinda Marshall, Riki Ott and Rafia Zakaria, come quickly to mind, but there are of course numerous others. Be that as it may, the 2009 recognition of these three women’s diverse achievements is a significant step towards opening the eyes and ears of those in the corridors of political power to feminist ideas which serve to create pathways towards gender justice, justice for Indigenous peoples, economic justice, criminal justice (notably with respect to men’s violence against women, the trafficking of women and children into sex and domestic slavery, and war crimes committed against civilians), health justice, environmental and climate justice, and a just peace in regions afflicted by military and cultural conflict.