Does The Struggle For Women's Rights Extend To Citizenship?

Michele Wucker of the World Policy Institute thinks so. After the jump, we discuss disenfranchisement, global citizenship, and cultural conflicts.

Here's a little more information about Michele:

Michele Wucker is Executive Director of the World Policy Institute, a non-partisan source of policy leadership for more than four decades. She is the author of LOCKOUT: Why America Keeps Getting Immigration Wrong When Our Prosperity Depends on Getting It Right and Why The Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians and the Struggle For Hispaniola (FSG/Hill & Wang, 1999/2000).

Michele is the recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship for her work on changing views of citizenship, exclusion, and belonging. As senior fellow at the World Policy Institute since 2000, she also has been a research fellow at the Immigration Policy Center, part of the American Immigration Law Foundation.

I love speaking to Michele because of her multinational approach to political issues, particularly immigration. So, without further ado, here's Michele:

LatoyaPeterson: Hello Michele, thank you for joining us today!

Michele Wucker: It's great to chat with you, Latoya!

LatoyaPeterson: Can you please explain to our readers what you do at the World Policy Journal and your many areas of expertise?

Michele Wucker: I run the World Policy Institute, which publishes World Policy Journal, the quarterly magazine that brings new voices in to the debate over shared international policy issues. For us, foreign is the "F" word: we see so many of the biggest challenges facing the world today as shared among people of all nations. My own work focuses on immigration, cultural conflict, and the global economy. There's more about WPI and WPJ at www.worldpolicy.org.

LatoyaPeterson: Thanks Michele! And that is a wonderful thing, to take a interconnected view of international affairs and global policy. With that said, what do you think are the largest issues facing women around the world?

I know - big question. Take your time with the answer.

Michele Wucker: The largest issues facing women around the world are in many ways the same as the ones facing men: basic questions of human security and having a voice in solving problems that affect you. Literacy, education, jobs, and health are all part of this, of course, but they all come down to the question of whether women have the rights to pursue those things, and a way to influence the governments, organizations, companies, and people who affect whether and how women get what we need. In so many parts of the world —including in wealthy countries like the United States— women have a harder time meeting some of those needs than men do, but it's important not to see this as a women-versus-men issue. The places where women have the least rights also tend to be the places where men have the least rights. If we're all going to move forward together, we need to be sure that men also support the idea that improving women's rights leaves men better off too. It's "win-win" not "zero-sum."

I just saw this great new Turkish movie, "Bliss," about a man charged with carrying out an honor killing of his cousin. During the course of the movie, he comes to the realization that the horrible infractions of her rights don't leave either one of them better off.

LatoyaPeterson: Wonderful - earlier in the week, Patricia DeGennaro made a similar point about our efforts to assist women. She related a story about Eve Ensler's work on our reservation here in the US and made the point that we can't just look at what we can do for women - there also has to be a component that examines why men are upholding these behaviors or perpetuating these actions.

In your work at the WPJ, are there any issues you see that are not getting enough air time? What is a major global issue that is flying under the radar?

Michele Wucker: The question of citizenship is essential to just about everything else, yet because it seems like an abstract concept, people who are citizens already don't pay attention unless someone else is trying to get citizenship. Too often there's an idea that citizens have to reserve rights for themselves, which outraged pundits hammer on incessantly (including that guy on CNN whose name I don't mention any more. He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. You know exactly who I mean!) In reality encouraging access to citizenship makes everyone more productive, helps people get to better places, and strengthens society. It's similar, in a way, to the relationship between men's and women's rights. One person's success doesn't necessarily mean that others have to lose.

Countries around the world are changing their rules about citizenship, and that doesn't get enough attention -nor the idea that citizenship is not the same everywhere in the world, or has been historically. it's in flux.

Women are often at the center of arguments about who gets to be a citizen. Only in the last few years, several Middle Eastern countries have begun to allow women to pass their citizenship to their children if the father is a foreigner.

LatoyaPeterson: Fascinating. So citizenship is at the epicenter of a lot of these debates. Oh, and by the way Michele - We already have a She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, which is Sarah Palin. So the Lord Voldermort dance card is full. However, if you are referring to one of the many screaming heads (I can think of Dobbs, Beck...) we can assign them a permanently used alterego. Might I suggest "Minion of Darkness?"

But back to citizenship. How would changing our perception of citizenship - and what it means to "belong" to a nation - assist in strengthening our society and economy?

Michele Wucker: As one example, going back to that great movie "Bliss," the village chief at one point asks the father of Meryem -the woman sentenced to death- if she has a birth certificate. When the father says no, the chief is relieved, because it's as if she never existed in the first place. Without a birth certificate, many people are denied citizenship around the world, and that means that many of them have no way of getting education or health care; no government is willing to protect them.

There are 16 million stateless people around the world today —many of these are refugees, whose understandable flight from danger nevertheless can disrupt other countries and touch off new conflict. So you may be affected if the government of the country next door doesn't protect all of its citizens. But in bigger terms, if you don't have citizenship —or even legal status— it makes it so much harder, if not impossible, to gain skills, become more productive, participate in society, and work to improve conditions for yourself and your neighbors. Would you rather have a neighbor who can help you pressure your City Council member into getting that crack dealer kicked off of the street or not? Would you rather children are in school and healthy, or would you want their options so limited that they see gangs as their only way of belonging? Do you want people to be able to work and pay taxes and build up your community?

In some cases, it's a chicken-and-egg thing. The worst cases, places like Cote D'Ivoire or Democratic Republic of Congo and other countries that try to claim that some of the people who have been there for generations are not citizens, are also the places that treat citizens badly. Wealthier countries are more likely to be tolerant of minorities. It's a vicious versus a virtuous circle.

LatoyaPeterson: Interesting. And in what ways can we agitate for better policy around citizenship? What should we be asking for? And who are the best people to address our concerns to?

Michele Wucker: In the United States, the priority should be on convincing Congress to pass an immigration reform that provides a path to legal status and eventually citizenship. Solid majorities of Americans support this, but small vocal interest groups have blocked it. Americans are deeply concerned about whether immigrants naturalize or not, and very much want people who are here to make a commitment to America, our civic values (and that means our ideal civic values -not the apathetic society with low voting rates and increasing alienation from communities), learn English, and become citizens. But it's pretty hard to do any of those things in a country that's sent a big wink-wink-nod-nod telling people it's ok to come illegally —yet keeps the people we've effectively invited here from ever being able to do the things that we say we want. So let your elected representatives know -not just in Congress, but also on the local level as some police departments have been getting more involved in enforcing immigration laws instead of using their resources to go after hardened criminals. And when you hear people getting on the same old soap box about "those people," don't stand for it. Let them know that you don't want to hear it.

LatoyaPeterson:
Thanks so much for joining us today, Michele!

Michele Wucker: Latoya, thanks for inviting me. It's always great to talk with you!

Michele Wucker [SheSource]
Official Site [World Policy Institute]
Mutluluk [IMDB]

Earlier: On Women, War & The Elections In Afghanistan