: The Center for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality (CWEGE) at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, organised International Conference on Systems Thinking & Women’s Empowerment Advancing Women’s Empowerment through Systems Model Expansion (AWESOME), an international virtual conference, recently, that called for systems thinking, a way of understanding wholes and their relationships of a subject and creating multi sectoral interventions, to advance women empowerment.
Co-organized by Systems Innovation, Mumbai and supported by Indian Council for Social Science Research & Esri India Technologies, in commemoration of International Women’s Day that falls on March 8, the theme of the conference was ‘Advancing Women’s Empowerment through Systems Model Expansion’. AWESOME attracted the participation of 12 keynote speakers and hundreds of thinkers, researchers, practitioners, educators, and innovators from interdisciplinary groups from 12 countries. There were 15 paper presentations on systems thinking, women and gender studies, technology innovation, and related fields.
Providing an overview of AWESOME at the inaugural session of the conference, Dr. Bhavani Rao, UNESCO Chair on Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment (India), Dean – CWEGE, said, “The aim of AWESOME is to offer a platform for the stakeholders to discuss and exchange ideas and perspectives on the potential of complexity science, systems thinking, innovation, and impact research to address the intersectionality of women empowerment and make interventions on this front more effective and sustainable.”
She pointed out that the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report estimates that the time required to bridge the gender gap worldwide has grown over the past 12 months from 99.5 years
(estimated in 2020) to 136 years. “We cannot afford to wait 136 years for more than half the world’s population to achieve parity. Existing interventions, while well-intentioned, are too often unidimensional. Gender inequality is an ongoing issue that requires creative, holistic, and systemic approaches.”
She said that the AWESOME Framework upholds the vision of women leveraging their internal and external resources to live free from discrimination in healthy, sustainable, and safe environments, and to enjoy access to quality education, cultural, political, and socioeconomic equality by 2050.
While presenting his paper Prof. Arch. Carmine Gambardella, UNESCO Chair on Landscape, Cultural Heritage and Territorial Governance & President and CEO of BENECON, said that when the wings of a butterfly touches one part of a web, its touch reverberates throughout the entire web. The framework of systems thinking is based on this understanding. It can be an effective approach in addressing multiple factors impacting women’s empowerment and gender equality.
In her address, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Indian scholar, environmental activist, ecofeminist and author, said that the Indian philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the earth is one family) is based on systems thinking. Systems thinking can create a sustainable change in women empowerment and gender equity. She noted that despite all the efforts devoted to women’s empowerment, statistics show that globally, women still experience disrespect, disempowerment, and discrimination across all lines of race, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and ability.
Ms. Deepa Narayan, Ph.D., author, “Chup: Breaking the Silence about India’s Women”, and a former advisor at the World Bank, said, “We live in a very unequal world and this inequality is particularly strong between men and women. The prevalent notion is that men are somehow superior and so they are the ones who should make the decisions and dominate. Entire cultures are built around this. Empowering women is essential, not only for the well-being of the individuals, families and rural communities, but also for overall economic productivity.”
Ms. Charu Sinha, IG, Central Reserve Police Force, Srinagar Sector, stated that there is still a vast gender gap in education attainment, especially for the very poor. If women did not get more than 10th standard, they are likely to only work in the informal, unsafe economy. “All the leadership journeys of women are about how we have navigated in spaces created by men. Then how do we change these standards and bring more sensitivity and empathy into the system and make it easier for all women to grow? This is the gender conversation that we need to have,” she remarked.
The conference had sessions on: applications of systems thinking, and applied research, project findings, and evidence-based practices in women empowerment and gender equality. It also covered topics such as computational social sciences, simulation and machine learning algorithms, and technological innovations to advance women empowerment. There were focused workshops, tutorial sessions, and
presentations of open-source tools and curriculum. AWESOME also witnessed 15 paper presentations on systems thinking, women and gender studies, technology innovation, and related fields.