Dr. Jamie Capuzza Discusses Advances in Women's Rights at LINC Luncheon

April 23, 2009

Dr. Jamie Capuzza present LINC Luncheon address April 21, 2009Jamie Capuzza not only teaches an introductory gender study course at Mount Union College, it is a subject dear to her heart.

Capuzzo, who graduated with a communications degree in 1985 from Mount Union College, delivered the last in a series of LINC (lunch, information, networking, communication) Luncheon Series programs for this academic year at the college's Hoover-Price Campus Center on Tuesday afternoon.

The title of her talk was "Global Advances in Women's Rights."

Quoting Albert Einstein, she said, "The strength of the world is equal to the amount of hope in it."

Capuzza originally planned to share news stories about women's rights successes worldwide, but after searching in both mainstream and alternative news media, she learned that "women's rights is not a topic that garners much media attention," she said.

"Just last week an Afghani woman was killed for protesting on behalf of women's rights there," added Capuzza. "We should acknowledge that today's topic is timely and literally one of life and death."

Capuzza sees some "hopeful" signs concerning women's equality in the United States that she shared with her audience comprised mostly of women, and also at least 15 men.

In the U.S., President Obama signed an executive order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls with the goal to ensure that Cabinet-level agencies coordinate policies and programs that affect women and families, she said.

Also, Congress passed the Lilly M. Ledbetter bill, providing women, African-Americans and Hispanics more tools to challenge pay discrimination in the workplace. "The bill extends the statute of limitations for filing this type of civil rights claim," she said.

Thirdly, the president signed legislation providing $50 million to the United Nations Population Fund. According to Capuzza, "We haven't paid our fair share into this fund since 2002, so this is a good start and it will help save lives in many countries." She added, "This gesture was well received globally and does something to restore the U.S. image abroad."

Another "glimmer" of hope is the U.S. Senate is once again discussing ratification of the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Capuzza said congressional hearings had been held in 1994 and 2002 with Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all supporting it.

Often called the "international bill of rights for women," Capuzza said this treaty was adopted by the United Nations in 1979 and all but eight United Nation member states have ratified it, including the United States, Somalia and Iran.

And, "There is a new way in how we talk about women's rights that seems to be gaining momentum," Capuzza said.

"In the past, the argument was a moral philosophical one. Now the argument is different ... it says even if you don't value women or if you don't believe in the philosophy of human rights, you should support gender equity because it makes good business sense."

Offering illustrations, Capuzza said several people, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, have said, "You can't solve problems of financial crisis, climate change, disease and poverty if half of the population is left behind ... Global problems are too big and too complex to be solved without the full participation of women."

She added that Paul Wolfowitz, World Bank president, once said, "Gender equality and empowerment of women is not only important on the grounds of fairness and social justice, it is also just plain smart economics."

"So what makes me hopeful about these quotes ... if people on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum as Clinton and Wolfowitz can agree on this issue, then I'm hopeful we can get somewhere," Capuzza added.

Offering some data on empowering women, Capuzza said, "An international infrastructure for securing women's rights is now in place" with international organizations (Women Watch); policies and treaties (protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children); conventions (held in Mexico City in 1975, in Nairobi in 1985 and Beijing in 1995); and data collection (establishment of a Violence Against Women and World Bank GenderStats database).

The speaker said indicators regarding progress women are making are in areas of education, economics, health and politics (an area in which women are lagging behind).

Although "most of the world's illiterate youths are female, in education, 90 percent of the gender gap has been closed," according to a video Capuzza showed.

Women make up the majority of the world's poor and in many countries paid labor is not socially acceptable for women.

Capuzza said England's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last fall that, "The stark fact is that most of the world's poor are women and part of what keeps them poor is the gender discrimination that they face."

"We know we need to keep working on all four fronts," Capuzza said. "We also know what it will take to reach the goal of women's empowerment. We even know how much it will cost -- $13 billion annually," according to a 2008 study.

"Compared to the stimulus package this is a drop in the bucket," she added.

Capuzza, who returned to teach at Mount Union in 1992, serves as professor and chair of the communications department. She holds master's and doctoral degrees in rhetorical theory and criticism from The Ohio State University.

Recently, she earned a Fulbright-Hayes Fellowship and spent a summer in India studying the changing roles of women.

In his introduction of Capuzza, Harry Paidas, vice president of public affairs and marketing at Mount Union College, said, "She typically uses her summers to study overseas and uses those experiences to enhance her teaching."

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