BLUF 
In the Spring 2020 semester, I worked with six amazing individuals under the instruction of Dr. Valerie Hudson to draft a report for the Department of State's Office of Global Women's Issues. By developing a framework and researching four case studies, our work seeks to exhibit data that may explain why various legal reforms are effective or ineffective for women's economic empowerment.

The Assignment

In the Spring 2020 semester, I provided the privilege of joining the Women, Peace, and Security Capstone team with Anna Akhmetova, Lauren Carpenter, McKinzie Davis, Shelby Eckhardt, Kathrine Krehmeier, and Tessa Pennington under the instruction of Dr. Valerie Hudson. Our assignment was to deliver a report to the Department of State's Office of Global Women's Issues, exhibiting the various legal reforms and the effects the legal reforms have on women's economic empowerment. This assignment is crucial for women on a global scale, especially for women who live in a region where both de jure and de facto practices deliberately harm or disadvantage women's legal access, mobility, property rights, finances, and physical wellbeing. 

The Methods

Our team first decided to develop a theoretical framework in which to align our research. Based on our review of the literature, our capstone team devised a conceptual framework describing the factors that we believe contribute to the success or failure of legal reforms to enhance women's economic empowerment. Our model contained three main elements: actors, scope conditions and barriers, and legal avenues.

  • Actors   
    • Government Entities   
    • NGOs / INGOs   
    • Individuals   
    • Inter-Governmental Entities   
  • Scope Conditions and Barriers   
    • Women's Mobility   
    • Women's Intra-Household Bargaining Power   
    • Attitudes Toward Women   
    • Parallel Legal Structures   
  • Legal Avenues   
    • Women's Access to The Law   
    • Structure of the Legal System   
    • Accountability and Enforcement 

Our team decided to use the time allotted to exhibit the World Bank's Women, Business, and the Law report to identify countries that formally enacted legal reforms for women's economic empowerment. The Women, Business, and the Law (WBL) report examines 35 indicators in the categories of mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension. Improvement in women's economic empowerment was operationalized using data from USAID's Demographic and Health Surveys.

Upon further analysis, our capstone team decided to utilize two positive case studies (countries that exhibit significant legal reform) and two negative case studies (countries with no legal reform or insignificant legal reform) to examine factors that contribute to women's economic empowerment. Our positive case studies were the Maldives and Nepal, and our negative case studies were Bangladesh and Malawi. Each of these four cases were then analyzed using our theoretical framework to determine which factors contributed to the effectiveness or lack of effectiveness of their respective legal reforms.

Women, Peace, and Security - Spring 2020 Capstone Framework

Women, Peace, and Security - Spring 2020 Capstone Framework

Why Is This Capstone Important?

If our capstone team can sufficiently articulate the factors that generate positive change or negative change for women's economic empowerment via legal reform, then the report we submit could assist NGOs, INGOs, research teams, and policymakers to make further informed decisions. These decisions affect how these entities can better help women's demands for economic equity, especially in developing countries. Our capstone team's report has the potential to be a compelling study that affects how strategies and policies are implemented in the future. The data our capstone team provides may be able to explain factors that affect the legal protections and economic status of women on a global scale, and therefore be a substantial supplement to the literature that is currently available.

Skills and Knowledge Obtained from Capstone

How would you describe the impact of the capstone experience to work you will make in the future? 

One of the main reasons I enrolled in Dr. Valerie Hudson's capstone course is because I want to get into human rights work. When asked why this capstone would be a good fit, I replied, "As someone who wants to work in human rights, I would be extremely remiss not to put forth the effort to learn specifically about half of the world's population." Therefore, because of Dr. Valerie Hudson's instruction, and the work put forth in this capstone, I am confident that I have learned valuable new skills that will make me a productive contributor to the human rights field.

Working with the great minds found in my teammates, I was able to learn how to better engage with quantitative data. Furthermore, I improved my ability to use quantitative data to articulate an important assertion. Lastly, by merging quantitative data, scholarly research, and effective writing, I developed my skills in writing for a specific audience. 

 

How did your engagement with people in your capstone course broaden your perspective about the values and interests of people outside the university? How do you think this broadened perspective will influence your actions?   

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings became a sudden normality when engaging with teammates and individuals of great academic value. Before COVID-19 social distancing measures, our group acknowledged that hosting interviews would be a valuable source of information. However, we assumed that the bulk of our questioning would be via phone call, e-mail, or in-person meetings. Interestingly, as our capstone began to uncover methods that would require international contributions, the COVID-19 lockdown measures were enacted en masse. 

Therefore, not only did our team have to locate international scholars but host virtual meetings with them as well. As a Bush School student, engaging with individuals on a global level is something that pushes our work forward, it is something we are reasonably comfortable with. For me, however, hosting virtual meetings with international experts was quite the learning curve. Having to manage schedules and time differences was the natural part. However, practicing international etiquette via a webcam was the harder feat. Having to speak with international scholars virtually gave me a broadened perspective on how international scholarship and general meeting etiquette was not only groundbreaking for me, but it was also great practice for what will inevitably be a whole new way to engage in the workplace in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Would you recommend this capstone course/project to your peers in the discipline? Why or why not?   

For anyone looking to engage in international development, law, human rights, civil rights, women's issues, or general data analysis, this capstone is strongly advised. This capstone improved my skills in workplace communication, international communication, academic research, data analysis, and writing for case studies, governmental reports, and extensive graduate-level research. These skills are not only highly sought after, but they are also required when looking for a position with NGOs, INGOs, government entities, and inter-governmental organizations.

 

Provide an example of a challenge you encountered or an insight you gleaned from having to do your interviews with scholars internationally. What do you know now that you didn't know before? 

There is a pattern I have noticed with international scholarship in which many students who pursue higher academia in countries outside the United States, especially developing countries, often use their research to give back to their country. Many of the scholars' research they are doing focuses significantly on their home country. At first, this was highly intimidating. When meeting with these scholars, I did not want to come off as utterly unknowledgeable of their home country, especially since I am contacting them claiming to be a student performing extensive research. Alternatively, I did not want to come off as pompous, as if I understood all of the nuances of their home country simply because I had read some articles. I did not want these experts to think I was a privileged American who sought to slander their country for a grade. Instead, I wanted to show these scholars that I had indeed done the research, but I still greatly needed their assistance to make our capstone report much stronger. What I learned was that scholars, no matter their background, are delighted to share their research and cultivate scholarly thinking. Also, female scholars--who are globally marginalized--were extremely willing to share their research. International scholars are pleased to learn that their countries are the subject of research, especially at Texas A&M University. What I learned from my encounters with international scholars is that in many ways, they feel isolated and ignored, especially if they are performing their life's work in a developing country. These experts take pride in their work, and they dedicate their lives, attempting to make their country better with the education they earned. Thus, experts take pride in knowing that they could help younger students think critically and spread the word about issues going on in their country. While knowledge of etiquette and customs exhibits a sense of respect towards international scholars, experts genuinely appreciate a curious mind and honest scholarship. In essence, academia is not so different across borders--regardless of location, scholars seek to find accurate answers to their inquiries, and thus, seek to share their findings to anyone willing to listen.