I Want Culture Change
Pillar of Peace: Justice and Good Governance
Commentary by Alicia Simoni
Community Manager and Staff Writer
I’d be preaching to the choir if I used this space to write about how when women lead they tend to put so-called women’s and family issues (such as health care, education and the welfare of children) on the same level as homeland security, foreign relations and defense. And hopefully you’d be bored if I started to talk about how women tend to use a consensus-building approach in leadership. Among some audiences this is common knowledge, perhaps even common sense.
However, when women’s distinctive and powerful leadership qualities are recognized and appreciated by mainstream media I notice and want to talk about it. An article in this week’s Washington Post entitled “Why did health-care reform pass? Nancy Pelosi was in charge” inspires me in just that way!
For those of you outside of the United States – and for whom the going-ons of this country aren’t front and center – after a long and ugly battle a law was passed last week initiating a reform of our healthcare system. Among its many failings, the current healthcare industry in the United States has been riddled with discriminatory and unfair practices to women. These unjust practices include telling a woman she must be sterilized in order to be insured and denying coverage to women who have suffered from domestic violence.
Clearly there is cause to be excited about the reform itself. But there is more to my jubilation. It has to do with the way this reform came about and the role that women played in its passage. Most notable is Nancy Pelosi – the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. She was at the helm of the difficult healthcare battle and, as the Washington Post article points out, her leadership was critical to its success.
Is this a harbinger of change? It looks to me like more compelling evidence of the positive change that women all around the world have been arguing will come if and when they are in leadership positions. Not only is it a shift in priorities, it also marks a transformation in the way institutions are structured.
As Pelosi herself said of the US government, “It’s such a male-dominated institution. It’s sort of a pecking order that goes back over 200 years. All of a sudden you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, I have another idea about how this should be.”
And while Pelosi is striving to transform one behemoth of a patriarchal institution, the US government, women all around the world are altering others. One among many examples is the Roman Catholic nuns who broke with the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, defying the church’s hierarchy, and announced their support for health-care reform.
I don’t want to be too pollyanna though. Personally, I don’t think it is necessarily in women’s DNA to challenge patriarchy’s ways. Sarah Palin’s recent use of violent rhetoric – “it’s time to reload!” – in an effort to rally Republicans strikes me as more of the same old divisive, war-mongering patriarchy.
Recently I heard Cora Weiss speak about the importance of recognizing that “it will take more than ovaries.” She stated, “we need to separate out the women who want dialogue before violence, who are committed to equality and justice from those who support the death penalty, who carry concealed weapons and who oppose healthcare for all.” The ultimate goal cannot simply be to have more women in leadership; it must be to bring about broader culture change.
I want consensus-building to be the norm, human issues to be a universal priority, and everyone’s leadership to be valued. And for this week, I am optimistic that we can achieve those goals.
What about you? Do you see signs of change? Tell us about you have witnessed in your country or community.
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- Cecile Richards: Call on Women to Get the Job Done Right (huffingtonpost.com)
- Nancy Pelosi: ‘one of history’s most skilled vote-getters’ | Richard Adams (guardian.co.uk)