Social Change for Women Impossible Without Community Buy-In

On Sunday, The New York Times ran a special edition of the Sunday Magazine focused on empowering women around the world. One of the best articles? Kwame Anthony Appiah’s “The Art of Social Change.” Appiah’s piece highlighted two significant campaigns that changed women’s lives: the end of foot binding in China and the eradication of female genital cutting in Senegal.

Why did these campaigns work? Because both initiatives engaged communities at multiple levels through a dialogue of mutual respect; focused on public commitments to new practices (which took into account the traditions of the community); and replaced one practice with another that the full community embraced.

I thought Appiah’s article, while short, was the most powerful of the entire magazine — and wish it had been one of the main pieces! Social change is critical to radically transforming women’s lives and improving communities around the world. We cannot empower women or end harmful practices by traipsing around the world saying to other cultures different than ours, “This [insert practice] is bad; change it!”

Building Community Buy-In

That’s where organizations like TOSTAN (which Appiah mentions in the piece) or Pathfinder International come in. By building linkages throughout communities, engaging local staff who know communities well, and creating innovative programs and dialogues with the communities in which they work together to forge a common solution, nonprofits that embrace community-based change are often the most effective.

TOSTAN’s success in scaling back female genital cutting in Senegal is impressive — and they have continued to expand to other countries in need. Currently TOSTAN, Pathfinder International and Population Services International are partnering to end the harmful traditional practice in Guinea and have combined this community-based approach with other reproductive health services such as maternal and newborn care.

Of course, change does not come without backlash. Change can be tricky — and when it means uprooting social norms, it can be even more so. But as Appiah points out, “reform if handled deftly, can brave the backlash and prevail.” Hopefully more organizations and development projects will take heed of the skillful approaches Appiah featured so that we can one day have a world without harmful practices.

Two interesting community-based change projects: Pathfinder’s Promoting Change in Reproductive Behavior (PRACHAR) in Bihar, India; TOSTAN’s Abandoning Female Genital Cutting in Senegal, Guinea, The Gambia, Burkina Faso and Somalia.  


Pathfinder International: A community-based health worker in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W6 years ago

good news

Karla Haywood
Karla Haywood7 years ago

To Fa'izah J.A.:
I agree with you 100% as well. America needs to take Mr. Appiah's model and apply it to itself. America cannot teach the world how to treat their women while at the same time still mistreats its own women and then say that "ALL ARE EQUAL AND FREE" knowing that it is NOT true at all. You too deserve a green star and more as well, God Bless.

Taina B.
Taina B7 years ago

cool, thanks

Michele G.
Past Member 7 years ago

Thanks :)

Hartson D.
Hartson Doak7 years ago

Until women have equal rights in all things, society will move in circles. Both wings of the bird of society have to be equally strong. Mothers and only women can be mothers, are the first educators of children. Teach the children to respect you. Then in less than 30 years this inequality will be gone.

Marta No Fwd Pls
Marta Away7 years ago

Fa'izah J.A, you wrote a fantastic comment!

Thanks JaimeAlexis for the article. A very interesting reading.

Lynn C.
Past Member 7 years ago

Yes. Otherwise you'd have to live in a police state to enforce the policies.

Fa'izah J. A.
Jauharah Andrews7 years ago

Women's empowerment comes from within. In far too many instances the focus is on getting male "buy in" before empowerment can occur. It's past time for all women (if they freely choose) to break the shackles; those that freely choose to live in a manner that others may not agree with shouldn't be barred from doing that either.

The US does not stand as the model of female equality or empowerment; we've yet to have a female president, although Hillary came close and others came close to VP. Women still don't have equal pay nor equal health care. Women are still subject to harassment on the job and in general and while some have entered jobs traditionally viewed as "male occupations", young girls are still steered towards more traditionally "female occupations" and are all convinced that a husband is needed to "define" her. Those who choose to be stay-at-home wives and mothers are often subject to ridicule for not being all that they can be and those who choose careers outside of the home are often deemed selfish and lacking a nuturing spirit.

What is needed is for women to be free to choose the path they take; what is not needed is for others to tell them which path to take.

We may have come a long way, but the journey isn't over.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Gregory A.
Greg Amour7 years ago

Everyone who wanted progress MUST go out and vote against the G NO P! The Republicans are accepting $75 million from unknown sources who refuse to reveal themselves. Call it legalized(by the 5 conservative members of the Supreme Court) bribery. But it is clear that the Republican agenda is simply to gain power at the expense of the middle class. It was Bush and deregulation of the Banks, mortgage companies, and Wall Street that caused this economic mess. Not even Iron Man could repair it with a snap of the fingers. The Party of NO has sabotaged efforts to improve it just to keep things bad so they could manipulate anger into power. You MUST defeat this cynical, money accepting party from giving back to their corporate sponsors their soul for $$$$ (75 million worth). DO NOT SIT THIS ONE OUT. If you do, EVIL and GREED and EXTREMISTS will prevail! VOTE! Damn it, YOU MUST VOTE!