Harvard Roundtable Report (January 21-23, 2009)
Boston Massachusetts in the middle of January is not exactly the ideal travel destination, but not so for over sixty Persian Gender Network (PGN) participants who gathered together at Harvard University Middle East Initiative Program. The participants consisted mainly of Persian speaking experts and practitioners from leading universities and institutions in Europe and North America across disciplines as well as participants from Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Harvard University also invited several participants from Iran. Topics of discussion centered on women’s employment, unemployment and entrepreneurship in the three countries. The conference was an opportunity to explore common ground as well as differences and build the foundations of a network and provide recommendations for future PGN direction.
The funding for PGN is provided by the World Bank as part of a larger initiative to support research and advocacy on gender issues in Arab and Persian speaking countries. PGN is currently housed at the Tunis-based Center for Training and Research on Arab Women (CAWTAR) and is headed by Dr. Soukeina Bouraoui. CAWTAR has had extensive experience in establishing a vibrant Arab Gender network. It has been highly supportive of PGN and has included PGN members and activities in its ongoing activities for Arab countries – as such establishing a bridge across the region and capitalizing on common lessons learnt. CAWTAR will continue to execute PGN activities for the coming year. (For more information, please visit CAWTAR’s website at www.cawtar.org.) Mrs. Nadereh Chamlou, Senior Advisor at the World Bank, provided a brief summary of the history of PGN, which she and Dr. Jaleh Shaditalab had initiated and launched in 2004 at the Center for Women’s Studies at the University of Tehran.
The sessions of the Roundtable were centered on identifying and prioritizing the activities of PGN, within its limited financial resources. The participants ranked three areas as top priority: communication, research, and training & capacity building. In addition, it was agreed to establish an additional “governance” committee to establish the rules of engagement for and among network members.
Since the Roundtable, several activities have been undertaken: (a) Dr. Roksana Bahramitash has been identified as a part-time coordinator for PGN. Her responsibility will be to build up the network membership, interact between network members, CAWTAR and the World Bank; (b) two of the committees have fully been established. These are the communication committee and Dr. Pari Esfandiari was nominated to be the Chair. With her help a Google group
has been established. An invitation to members has been sent in order to create a virtual space for communications. Members can post information to be shared on the site. And, (c) the research committee has also been established to be chaired by Dr. Fatemeh Moghadam and Dr. Djavad Salehi-Isfahani. Both committees are in the process of drawing up their terms of reference. The terms of reference of each of these committees has been formulated and their activities are being defined and designed.
A training & capacity building committee is under formation, as is the case with the governance committee. An important consideration is to put in place a structure for PGN that could attract other donors and sponsors, so that it could be self-sustaining after the initiative with the World Bank comes to a close in 2011.
PGN invites and welcomes you to participate in its activities. PGN will benefit from your expertise, insights and interests in promoting the role and improving the opportunities of women in Persian speaking countries in their societies and economies.
Alternative International: Dr. Roksana Bahramitash (PGN Coordinator) has held discussions with Alternatives International; a Montreal based international Canadian NGO, which is interested in helping PGN members in Afghanistan. In order to receive their assistance, an Afghan committee is taking shape and is pending.
ECO Conference: Mrs. Fatemeh Moghimi, woman entrepreneur and Chair of Iranian Women Entrepreneurs, delivered her lecture as the Iran official representative at the “ECO Chamber of Commerce and Industry -- Women Entrepreneur’s Council” meeting in Istanbul Turkey in March 2009. The title of her paper was “Economic Activities in the Private Sector in Iran.” In her lecture, Fatemeh Moghimi stated that there is a growing emphasis and awareness of the role of women in economic activities in Iran. This has led to the official establishment of the “Iranian Business Women Council” in 2007 with the aim of promoting women’s place in economic and commercial affairs, the presence of women in international commercial activities and the exchange of information and bilateral cooperation with women entrepreneurs throughout Muslim countries. There are around 4500 women in Iran who hold commercial licenses (a necessity to engage in international trade) and are active in areas such as capacity building, commerce, transportation, IT, mining, agriculture, tourism, and publishing. However, there are only 3 women in the country’s Chamber of Commerce. Moghimi emphasizes the importance of research and study on the nature of female unemployment and female entrepreneurship which is a rather new issue in Iran and is in dire need of independent studies.
Hamyaran which carried out a number of activities for PGN in 2006-2007, has developed a Community-based Development Portal (CBDP – www.cbdportal.net ) and the Persian Community Development and Empowerment Portal (PCDEP – www.persiandevportal.net ), both funded by the World Bank. These portals have been designed as platforms for sharing of knowledge and information among the community-based development practitioners as well as students, academics and others interested in community-based development and empowerment topics. These two websites are doorways that connect individuals and organizations by providing the gateway for a web presence and the opportunity to exchange knowledge, network and share information through the Internet.
Enabling Educated Female Heads of Households: Profile Analysis of Educated Female Heads of Households under the Coverage of Welfare Organization and their Service Providers
This research was funded under the World Bank PGN program and in partnership with CAWTAR. The research documents that over the last four decades, there has been a steady growth in the number and percentage of female headship of households. The objectives of the research was threefold: a) to identify key service provider organizations for female heads of households; b) to determine the key characteristics of educated female heads of households; and c) to determine if the offered services respond to the needs of educated heads of households. The key finding of the research is that despite considerable social safety nets and transfers to the poor, through subsidies and access to services, female headed households still benefit inadequately from the programs and that these families live under a greater financial instability than their counterparts. It also found that even educated female household heads lacked skills to find jobs. It was recommended that the Welfare Organization increase direct and indirect job training programs through grass roots organizations which could help these women in gaining skills for market jobs or self-employment.
PGN has now 53 official members from different part of the Persian Speaking countries as well as North America and Europe.
Roksana Bahramitash gained support from the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) the Canada Research Chair of Islam, Pluralism and Globalization to fund travel expense for one PGN member from Afghanistan and a researcher from CAWTAR for the CASID annual conference. The panel will be held at Carleton University in Ottawa for a roundtable discussion on gender networks and women’s economic status in Iran and Afghanistan.
PGN Members Activities
IranDokht is an online media platform that connects the global community to Iranian women. It serves as a kaleidoscope of lifestyles, identities, art, and culture, reflecting the tensions between modernity and tradition. With more than eighty journalists and contributing writers, many of them leading cultural figures and accomplished professionals, Irandokht is recognized as a comprehensive source of information on contemporary Iran. Founded in 2002, Irandokht has been showcased by UNESCO, recognized by New America Media, and featured numerous mainstream media outlets. Today, IranDokht remains an independent, non-partisan, politically engaged, controversial and influential voice in the media landscape, attracting worldwide audiences. This month selection:
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Parvin Alizadeh and Chris Stewart, Formation of Islamic identity: A case study of university students, The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 3, Number 12, 2009
Anila Daulatzai, Acknowledging Afghanistan 293, ACKNOWLEDGING AFGHANISTAN, Notes and Queries on an Occupation, Johns Hopkins University, USA (a copy of available at our Google group website.