Minjon Tholen

Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow
 

Recent Posts by Minjon Tholen

  • A President Should Run the Country Like a Household, Not a Business

    Oct 22, 2012Minjon Tholen

    Romney and his conservative colleagues have made it clear that they care more about bottom lines than investing in people's lives.

    Romney and his conservative colleagues have made it clear that they care more about bottom lines than investing in people's lives.

    In last week’s presidential debate, Governor Romney said he will make a great president because he is a businessman and has run companies. He might know how to make a profit and possibly balance a budget like he promises. But running a country is not just about balancing the budget – which, by the way, he likely wouldn’t be able to do any better than President Obama – and it is definitely not about making a profit.

    President Obama is not trying to run America like a company. He has a background in community organizing and is trying to run the country like a community, like a family, a household. A nation is not just a material system of capital, investment, and revenue. It directly affects the human lives of each and every American. Households are invested in every family member, as their shared living space, culture, history, and lineage binds them together for life. In companies, on the other hand, employers and employees are generally tied together by monetary relationships.

    A few years ago, I met a member of the Pan-African Parliament at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. We had a conversation about how to encourage women to participate in politics. She said she talks to women living in the villages in her country, and they typically respond that politics is not for them, as they “only” know how to run a household. The member of Parliament then told them that if they can run a household, they can run a country. Think about it: you have to work together and negotiate with your spouse or partner to make decisions and get things done (bi-partisanship), understand and respond to the needs of the various family members (constituencies), and do so strategically with limited resources (budgeting, redistribution, long-term investments).

    This is President Obama's strength. Sure, he hasn’t been a perfect president – if such a thing exists. But I trust him as a leader. I believe he truly cares about all constituencies, especially those who have traditionally been disenfranchised. He understands the strategic, long-term social and economic benefits of investing in quality education, efficient universal healthcare, healthy lifestyles, fair distribution of resources, and respect and equal rights for every individual. He understands that a country is only as strong as its weakest link and that leveling the playing field for everyone facilitates equal opportunity and empowerment for individuals as well as for the entire country. He understands that creativity, innovation, and progress are promoted by leveraging our rich diversity. His commitments and policies regarding healthcare, gender equality, poverty, education, and immigration, for instance, give us the feeling that he is everyone’s president.

    Governor Romney, on the other hand, recently made it very clear that it is not his job to be concerned about 47 percent of Americans. He implied that almost half of the country does not take responsibility for itself and that he won’t be able to convince it otherwise. But most people want nothing more than to be economically independent, and the fact that some are not is more a reflection of social inequalities than of their characters. As most parents know, to raise your children to be self-sufficient and productive members of society, they need to develop skills and gain knowledge. They need to be invested in; they need opportunities for personal and professional development.

    David Brooks argues, "People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation." Deprivation of opportunity -- an unleveled playing field -- does not create self-sufficiency and actually fosters dependency on others, including on the government. For all the conservative rhetoric about economic self-sufficiency and individual freedom, President Obama seems to get this logic better than his opponent, with a long-term plan to empower all Americans and with strategic budget decisions that will set us on the road to economic recovery, deficit reduction, and a more equitable society. Republicans say they so greatly value “the family as the cornerstone of society,” yet they disregard the factors that promote economically independent, educated, healthy, and thriving individuals and families.

    By not raising taxes, cutting capital gains, and reducing the corporate income tax, Governor Romney is catering to big business and the wealthy and their interest in making a profit. Like companies, Republicans are focused on their own bottom line and the bottom lines of those they consider stakeholders in the conservative political ideology, rather than on the empowerment of all the American people. I’m sure Governor Romney is a wonderful husband and father. It just doesn’t seem like he would be a true family man when it comes to 100 percent of the American family.

    Minjon Tholen is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow and the Training & Development Specialist at Cook Ross Inc.

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  • Making the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Fully Gender Inclusive

    Mar 8, 2012Minjon Tholen

    On International Women's Day, a proposal that will make sure a vital document includes women's rights as human rights.

    "It is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it." - Audre Lorde

    On International Women's Day, a proposal that will make sure a vital document includes women's rights as human rights.

    "It is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we speak it." - Audre Lorde

    The continued battle over women's rights both in the United States and across the world calls for a reaffirmation of the fact that women's rights are human rights. International Women's Day is the perfect time to once again point that out and challenge the gender bias in the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    During the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, it was explicitly reaffirmed that women's rights are human rights. The commitment of the United Nations, its member states, and NGOs to this important recognition has become clear in their efforts for the advancement of women and gender equality in their policies and practices. An important example is the institution of UN Women, the gender equity agency uniting the Division for the Advancement of Women, the International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, the Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and United Nations Development Fund for Women.

    However, this evolving consciousness has not yet been reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights itself: the fundamental document human rights advocates base their work on. The declaration emphasizes that human rights are indivisible and apply to all members of the human family, and Article 2 explicitly states that there will be no distinction based on gender. Yet Article 1 still reads, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

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    Furthermore, almost half of the articles (8, 10, 11.1, 12, 13.2, 15.2, 17.2, 18, 21.1/21.2, 22, 23.3/23.4, 25.1, 27.2, 29.1/29.2) use the male pronouns "him," "he," "himself," and/or "his" as the generic terms to represent all of humanity. This initial gender bias in the declaration is historically understandable, but today needs to be addressed if we are truly committed to the full inclusion of women's rights in human rights. If you are not convinced, imagine all pronouns to be feminine. Wouldn't that sound exclusive of men? Therefore, we should replace the word "brotherhood" in Article 1 with something along the lines of "human solidarity." This term is gender inclusive and reaffirms our shared humanity, which in turn strengthens the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the same way, the words "him," "himself," "he," and "his" should be replaced with "one," "one's," or "their".

    This linguistic adaptation will be of invaluable symbolic importance,  as it recognizes the efforts of those working for women's rights and truly reaffirms the United Nations' commitment to gender equity. It is well known that words are not value-free: they simultaneously reflect and reinforce values and attitudes. Moreover, a change in language is not only symbolic, but also has practical value for educational purposes. Gender equity should be integral to the next generation's upbringing and curriculum. When they learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they should not have any reason to read gender bias in the concept of "human."

    Since the declaration was always intended to include women, there should be no legal consequences of these changes. And I by no means suggest a complete re-examination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is merely an update in the language. Fifteen years after Beijing, it is time to review the Declaration from the perspective of our evolving consciousness regarding women's rights and gender equity. We must recognize the dedicated efforts of millions of women and men around this world for these causes by reflecting their work in the central declaration for human rights, either in the document itself or in the form of an addendum.

    Like all gender equality advocates, I am dedicated to the tireless efforts of the global women's movement. I hope to do so with a gender-inclusive Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Minjon Tholen is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow and the Training & Development Specialist at Cook Ross Inc.

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  • Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Should Be Prominent on the Progressive Agenda

    Dec 19, 2011Minjon Tholen

    Ensuring that women can make healthy reproductive choices benefits their economic independence and our society as a whole.

    Ensuring that women can make healthy reproductive choices benefits their economic independence and our society as a whole.

    Last month, I was excited to see that the Ad Council is working together with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy to promote the use of birth control as a tool for self-determination and empowerment. Finally some are starting to acknowledge that people have sex, young or old, whether for reproductive purposes or not, and with or without adequate information and resources. We have to provide them with comprehensive information and resources to make smart decisions and prevent any undesired outcomes. But then last week Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius overruled an FDA recommendation to allow emergency contraception to be sold over the counter. Meanwhile, Congress is attempting to increase dedicated funding for abstinence-only-till-marriage education. As Norman Ornstein said in a recent New York Times article, it appears that the Obama administration may be trying to assuage conservative and religious groups with Sebelius's decision. These groups are opposed to the new health reform law that requires health insurance programs to fully cover contraceptives, as they are now rightly understood as preventative medicine. Ornstein argues that the decision was motivated by the desire to create some political balance -- rather than by pragmatism, science, or regard for women's rights or pro-choice values.

    This appears to be true for the push for the abstinence-only education as well. Despite the conservative mantra of economic self-sufficiency, pragmatism, and smaller government, their opposition to sexual and reproductive health once again reveals that their beliefs are driven by conservative and religious values. These values are dominating the debate on sexual and reproductive health, and progressives are left defending the vulnerable ground we have gained on this front. With the battle over political, moral, and religious values continuing over women's bodies, we need to make women's rights and sexual and reproductive health a more prominent issue on the progressive agenda and start dominating the debate.

    A core progressive value is ensuring social justice through policies that facilitate every individual's ability to make choices in his or her life. This same struggle for equality and freedom of choice is at the core of feminism, to which economic and reproductive rights were and continue to be the main means. Moreover, we have to understand how these rights are intertwined. If women cannot even have bodily integrity, how can they have agency in other areas of their lives? From this perspective, it is even more important to talk about reproductive justice, rather than merely reproductive rights. Reproductive justice is grounded in a social justice framework and refers to everything necessary to have choices in one's reproductive life. This includes not only access to contraceptives and abortions, but more importantly it also demands access to comprehensive sex education and adequate pregnancy-related care, housing, nutrition, education, employment, health care, and social support in order to be able to prevent pregnancy or to have and raise children if one chooses to do so.

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    Educational attainment, for instance, is correlated with increased contraceptive use and delayed and reduced childbearing. It is also correlated with increased income, which in turn is fundamental to economic self-sufficiency. That economic self-sufficiency means independence, which allows for women to make choices and have self-determination.

    In addition to individual empowerment, promoting gender equality and sexual and reproductive health (or in other words, reproductive justice) is imperative for society as a whole. It contributes to a higher GDP, as a larger and more educated workforce increases productivity and consumerism. Gender equality also encourages women to enter politics in larger numbers, which increases equal representation and may lead to new approaches to the political landscape and policymaking that can promote political stability. Furthermore, gender equality implies investments in women's health, which improves public health. In fact, the maternal mortality ratio is one of the World Health Organization's core indicators in assessing the overall public health of a country. Environmental sustainability also appears to be positively correlated with gender equality, as women's expertise and skills can enhance agricultural and production practices, and women's disproportionate vulnerability to environmental hazards requires them to be more invested in a sustainable environment than men. Finally, preventing undesired pregnancies and STI transmissions means lower public healthcare costs for the taxpayer. It also leads to healthier and more educated, productive, and self-sufficient individuals and communities.

    So rather than imposing abstinence-only education and preventing Plan B from being sold over the counter, let's follow the Ad Council's lead in acknowledging reality, trusting people to make responsible decisions, providing comprehensive information and resources, and recognizing the social and economic benefits of respecting women's sexual and reproductive rights. The progressive movement needs to once and for all understand and embrace how these issues are intertwined with all of our other causes and put these rights at the core of its agenda.

    Minjon Tholen is a Roosevelt Institute | Pipeline Fellow and the Training & Development Specialist at Cook Ross Inc.

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