By Mously Lo – “If you ask me whether I am an academic or an activist, I would have to say both. I cannot imagine one without the other,” muses women’s rights activist, architect and National University of Cordoba professor Ana Falù.

After fleeing violent political upheaval in Argentina during the late 1970s, Falù has dedicated her life and career to advocating for women’s rights in policy, urban planning, and academia. In the A New Society documentary, she sits with filmmaker Sofie Wolthers to explain how even the design of urban environments, which have been historically erected by and for men, can enforce the oppression of women.

Falù is a part of the International Panel on Social Progress, a revolutionary collective of over 300 academics dedicated to reforming the institutions behind the world’s most pressing issues. Falù, like the other members of the IPSP, sees herself as a link between the worlds of policymaking, social activism, and academia, seeking to reform institutions to be centered around tolerance, transparency, and human dignity. Through candid interviews with these renowned experts, Wolthers examines the panel’s innovative approaches to global threats such as climate change and income inequality.

Gender inequality underlies all of the major issues that the IPSP seeks to address. In her New York City apartment, the charismatic Columbia University sociologist Saskia Sassen (pictured below left) analyses the complex connections between income disparity, gender inequality, and urban environments, addressed in the IPSP report Rethinking Society for the 20th Century. Despite women’ s unrecognized reproductive work contributing up to 30% of GDP in all cities, women are inhibited from being able to participate as full citizens in these environments by disproportionate rates of violence and gender discrimination (International Panel on Social Progress 2018). Increased female representation in the decision-making processes that build these institutions is essential to ensuring that women are recognized and granted access to the same opportunities as men.

In Tuscan, Arizona, Wolthers reflects on American racial prejudice while dining with law professor and contributing author Leslye Obiora. At times, Obiora purses her lips and clasps her hands in pensive silence, deeply upset by the division and blatant injustice of our current social climate. She also, however, raises the hope of ending racism and other forms of discrimination through early education that instills tolerance and morality in young children. In Vienna, Professor Christiane Spiel of the chapter “How Can Education Promote Social Progress?” additionally advocates for the importance of supporting children through high quality pre-school education, which is an essential component to empowering women in countries where girls are often taken out of school to perform domestic tasks or to work.

The International Panel on Social Progress recognizes that women are central to the policies, cultural shifts, and reforms needed to target not just gender inequality, but all of the major issues that affect our society today. Increasing women’s presence in typically male-dominated spaces such as academia, as well as policies that act to actively include women in positions of leadership are all necessary steps that can be taken to normalize the idea of women as leaders, decision-makers, and trailblazers, and to grant them the dignity and respect they deserve. 

References: International Panel on Social Progress. Rethinking Society for the 21st Century. “Chapter 2 Social Progress: A Compass.” Cambridge University Press, 2018.

About the author: Mously Lo is a grant writer and media outreach for the documentary A New Society. With the International Panel on Social Progress, she aims to bring together activists, academics, and policymakers to redefine social progress.