Women, Human Rights, and Counseling: Crossing International Boundaries

Article excerpt

There has been a substantial reduction in the psychological distance between countries and cultures as we move rapidly into the 21 st century. Different cultures and countries have become more easily accessible with the onset of globalization and rapid change. The fast-paced movement of globalization has affected all walks of life including professional counselors. Simultaneously, as the world becomes more accessible, increased instances of social injustice on a global scale have become more apparent, with women and children being especially identified as victims of social injustice and human rights violations (World Health Organization [WHO], 2003). Professional counselors in developed industrial countries can no longer ignore this situation but instead must be proactive in addressing social injustices and human rights, both on a national and an international level.

The purpose of this article is to examine, from an international perspective, the role of professional counselors in the context of working with women both in the U.S. and internationally. The aim of the article is threefold: (a) to heighten awareness and understanding of the interrelationship of global women's issues within the profession of counseling, especially as it relates to women, social justice, and human rights; (b) to advocate for professional counselors to be actively involved in working with women internationally; and (c) to discuss the challenges in working on a global level. Thus, the article targets both the work that a professional counselor would do internationally and working with international populations within one's home country.

The article begins with an explanation regarding the importance of professional counselors working from a global perspective with women, followed by a discussion on the challenges of working internationally, and an examination of personal and Western biases that may arise in international work. Finally, two international women's issues, female genital mutilation and the trafficking of women and girls, are presented as examples to illustrate the challenges in working with women from a global perspective.

Why Should Professional Counselors Be Involved in Women's Issues on an International Level?

Dramatic changes as a result of sophisticated communications, technology, and global travel have created an accelerated global economy and financial interdependence forming a link between different cultures, regions, states, and countries. For example, the world gross domestic product grew from 8% in 1950 to 26% in 1998, and international travel has increased by 700% since 1960 (Arnett, 2002). Furthermore, there are currently 40 ongoing conflicts and wars worldwide that generate mass movements of people globally (Bemak, Chung, & Pedersen, 2003). Globalization, therefore, involves more that just economy and trade and must include a psychological component that addresses issues such as the effects on lifestyle (e.g., Sassen, 1998) and cultural practices (e.g., Appadurai, 2000; Giddens, 2000; Tomlinson, 1999). Furthermore, ethical dilemmas, such as who has access to expensive technology that saves or prolongs life or to health care services and priorities in govermental funding, play an important role in globalization. Other relevant issues related to globalization involve the development of conflict resolution strategies for peaceful coexistence among groups whose beliefs, values, and behaviors are influenced by their cultural and religious worldviews, their gender and/or ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic situations (Mays, Rubin, Sabourin, & Walker, 1996). To address these important issues in the movement of internationalization, there has been a recent call to the helping profession to be responsive to the demands of globalization and changes in a multiethnic, multiracial, and multinational society (e.g., Arnett, 2002; Leong & Ponterotto, 2003; Marsella, 1998; Mays et al. …