"Women should be viewed as agents of change and advocates of success," said Paulette Meikle, assistant professor of sociology and community development at Delta State University.
Meikle was the guest presenter at "The Role of Women in Community Development: Opportunities, Challenges and Stories of Successful Projects" luncheon on July 28 in Memphis.
The luncheon was hosted by the Memphis Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in partnership with the Community Development Society’s 41st Annual Conference, "Celebrating Community: Creating Hope in Uncertain Times."
During her presentation, Meikle said that "sustainable, inclusive and better communities have been persistent and pressing goals of men and women in disparate places in the world as they endeavor to improve the quality of life for residents." She presented a community development model that illustrated the need to identify problems, establish planned efforts, implement a process and make progress. During all stages of community development, Meikle advocates women as active participants.
Why focus on the role of women in community development? "Not focusing on women’s role in community development can limit the outcomes," Meikle said. "Women interpret, understand and enact planned efforts differently. Women tend to focus on quality of life issues, generate unique responses to social injustice, and they have a unique ability for building community capacity and community resiliency."
Meikle referenced a study conducted in Shelby with a sample of 107 participants. The study looked at women’s community engagement. Preliminary findings were that 64 percent said women were more active than men in identifying and solving community problems. A major predictor of community engagement among women in Shelby is having women in leadership positions. Although the study found that women in rural Shelby believe they can have an impact on decision-making processes in their communities, the tendency is to delegate authority to their male counterparts.
She has conducted extensive field work in international settings on issues related to integrating aspects of resource management and information technology with research in community development. Her research interests include the sociology of community, civic engagement, globalization and its impact on rural and marginalized communities, livelihood, global stratification, and gender and grassroots natural resource management.
Following Meikle’s presentation, a panel of several leading women in the field of community development discussed the opportunities and challenges for women working to improve the quality of life for those in their communities.
The panel included Lyn Haralson, community development specialist at the Little Rock Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Carla Ross, regional coordinator for America Reads Mississippi at the Center for Community and Economic Development at Delta State, Mechelle Wallace, research assistant at the Institute for Community Based Research at Delta State, and director of Friends of the Environment in Alligator and Carley Jefcoat, research assistant at the Institute for Community Based Research, and president of the Community Development Student Organization at Delta State.
Panelists also shared personal success stories and challenges ranging from being new to the field of community development to being an outsider to a rural Mississippi community.
Forty-seven attendees discussed the role of women in community development and the challenges and opportunities women experience in the field of community development during table discussions. Most agreed that it’s important to understand the roles of men and women as a strategy for progress and moving forward.