Monday, April 16, 2012

The Status of Women and Girls around the World

As mentioned on our Facebook page, I attended the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, CO last week. I attended a panel discussing the status of women and girls around the world and very much enjoyed it. The panelists each took a slightly different approach to their discussions.

Judith Morrison, Senior Advisor of the Gender & Diversity Division at the Inter-American Development Bank, provided many of the statistics from which the panel drew.

  • women make up about 40% of the global labor source and over 50% of college students around the world
  • 1/3 of developing countries have more women in school than boys
  • productivity in the world's GDP's (gross domestic products) could increase by 3-25% if barriers to women were eliminated
  • Approximately 4 million women and girls have "disappeared" through infanticide, gender selection, and other similar acts
Morrison then went on to talk about 2nd wave feminism and the personal as political. She chose to focus in on maternity and paternity leave following the birth of a child, specifically noting that the US has some of the worst of these policies in the world. She suggested that by not giving men paternity leave, we're setting up a system in which the sexes are set up as opposites. Women should stay home and men should work. Essentially, we reinforce traditional gender roles.

Morrison then reverted back to the economic aspect of empowering women. She asked, "How can we make sure excluded, marginalized women are included in development?"

On that note the second speaker, Judithe (Judy) Registre, an international development expert who established Women for Women International began her talk. Judy spoke about her work on gender issues over the past 15 years, noting that much of her work is done in difficult locations such as Sudan, Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan. She stated, "when we talk about gender, we often mean women." But, what she said next really brought home her point. She insisted that "the discussion around the status of women is in respect to men's privilege." Much of Judy's talk was about the experience of VAWG during war. She spoke about how her organization, Women for Women International works with women who are raped during war in an effort to reintegrate them into their communities. She said that the women often thank her and her organization, but have clearly stated, "If you really want to help us, you need to talk to our husbands, our pastors, etc. It's really nice that you want to help us, but we don't have a community to reintegrate back into." Considering this, Judy initiated the Men's Leadership Program (started in Nigeria). See THIS also if you're interested in the Men's Leadership Program. As the women suggested, this program is designed to address the head of the communities--the gate keepers for their cultures and societies. After it's success in Nigeria, this program expanded to Congo. 

One of the other significant things Judy said during her portion of the talk was that VAWG is not something caused by women. So, then, how can we address VAWG without addressing the role of boys and girls? How can we begin to change the dialogue and discussion?

The final speaker was Merle Lefkoff, President of Ars Publica, who has been a "Track Two" facilitator and mediator for more than 30 years in conflict zones around the world. Lefkoff reiterated some of the statistics and information mentioned by Morrison and Judy, stating that rape as a weapon in war is huge and historic. She stated, "What does it take for women to have the respect and status in the world so that men do not look at women as objects?" The way the women are looked at by the men that rape them.  She spent a large chunk of time focusing on technology and suggested that we're not spending enough time examining the role of technology in the status of women in the world. "What can give women more agency now (in the modern world) and not continue to be responded to as victims?" Unlike Morrison and Judy, Leftkoff suggested that the idea of economics and the link to women will not help restore women to the status that they once had (as necessary parts of the family and community).

I'll write more in the next few days. I'm sure this gives quite a bit to consider. So, what do you think? Does one view resonate more with you?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sexual Assault Awareness: The Interaction of Women & the Criminal Justice System

It's been a long time, right? I know. I haven't had a good opportunity to really get into a blog for a month now. Sad really. But, I've continued to add to the VAWG Dialogue Facebook page and that's going well. If you haven't already, definitely consider "liking" the page so that you, too, can stay up on the news related to recent events and ending VAWG. It is a quick and easy way to stay involved.

In the meantime, let's jump right in for today's entry. I just finished showing the movie Monster in my class. We've been applying various criminological theories to current events and Monster is an excellent example of feminist theory, but is also full of other theories. We've now transitioned into talking about the criminal justice system. How do these relate? The story of Aileen Wuornos, the first publicly recognized female serial killer, is featured in Monster. I won't spill the beans in case you haven't seen it, but the criminal justice system and Aileen interact a number of times. Keep your eyes open.

The criminal justice system was historically built for men. However, we have seen a drastic increase in the number of women being held in jail and prison facilities, not to mention juvenile detention facilities as well.  And, April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so I thought it fitting that we look at how the criminal justice system has treated women in regard to victimization.  First, we know that it was not until recently that laws were actually put in place to prohibit a victim's prior history from being entered into evidence. Yep. Sad, right? Somehow sex without consent, rape, was seen as more justified if the woman was more sexually active when she consented.

Other new laws include those not requiring witnesses to corroborate the rape and those creating specific procedures for collecting evidence from victims.  I ask, "how many people are actually present when an individual is raped?" Who sits there and watches someone get raped and then goes and tells the police? Who tells the police and then doesn't have fear that they, too, might get hurt for being a "rat"?  Yet, in some countries, witnesses are still required. If enough witnesses do not come forward, the victim may be punished under consideration of "false reporting." The US is thankfully not one of these countries, but we must remove this requirement from all countries.

And, let's acknowledge that statistics show that most sexual assaults, rapes specifically, are at the hands of someone we know.  That's right. It's not that person dressed in black with a mask over their faces jumping out of the bushes. Indeed, acquaintance rape is the most common form. The aspect that makes this so disappointing is that some within the criminal justice system suggest these cases are too hard to solve. Cases between two individuals who know one another are too difficult to prove. Consequently, efforts are reduced. In 2010, the arrest rate for rape was only 24 percent. Okay. Okay. Not so bad you may be thinking. But, this percentage was the exact same in 1970. Huh? Really? With such improved technology, training, and knowledge, why are we not increasing our treatment and arrests of rapists?

Finally, let's not forget about rape kits. Performing a rape kit is extremely beneficial when considering conviction rates. The aspect that fails, however, is the analysis of these kits. Have you seen the news articles about untested rape kits? Here is a second article. Between 180,000-400,000 forgotten kits have gone untested.  As you can see, further improvement is still needed.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Feeling Attacked? Let's Stop the War on Women

Feeling attacked? What is this business with seemingly reverting back 50 or so years and taking away the rights women for so long have fought to have? And, if taking away rights is not enough, calling us names seems to be another approach.

I've heard a number of people question why Rush Limbaugh is receiving so much flak, when Bill Maher did not. I would argue that Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher hold very different positions in our society. One is a political figure, the other a comedian. Now, I'm not saying either of these men should degrade women--it's not acceptable in any form. But, I will say that I think this contributes to the varying responses they receive.

When I say I feel personally attacked, I mean, of course, as a woman. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why certain changes are being made. Some proposed changes over the last year include:

  • Federal funding of Planned Parenthood was threatened.
  • Reproductive rights of women have been threatened (in many forms).
    • Virginia is attempting to mandate women undergo an invasive procedure, the transvaginal ultrasound, before any abortion.
    • Missouri and Washington, D.C. have proposed legislation that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage (even though most employers provide coverage for such things as Viagra for men).
    • Several states have proposed bills that would allow doctors who perform abortions to be murdered (South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa).
    • A Georgia State Representative introduced a bill that would make abortion illegal, in addition to making miscarriages illegal (what?!?!).
    • The Texas State House of Representatives has passed the Sonogram Bill requiring women to get a sonogram before ending a pregnancy, forcing even victims of rape to have a sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure. Gov. Rick Perry has signed the bill into law, which takes effect September 1, 2011. There are exceptions in cases of rape and incest. As Planned Parenthood reports: “While a woman can opt-out of seeing the sonogram image and hearing the heart tone, she cannot opt-out of a medically unnecessary sonogram, nor can she opt-out of the fetal description except within very narrow parameters for situations of rape, incest, judicial bypasses, and fetal anomalies.”
    • Arizona passed a bill to allow doctors to lie to women to prevent abortions
What I've listed here speaks to reproductive rights specifically. However, in the U.S. and abroad, legislation to protect women against the violence and abuse from partners and family members fails to pass. Women are raped in war zones--and it's seemingly acceptable. Female babies are expendable and are disposed of with the trash. 

We must put a stop to this. We must speak up!

Many position the war on women in a political foundation. As a result, the following video was made:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Efforts to end IPV?

I've been reading up on laws being passed around the world in effort to stop intimate partner violence (IPV). I've posted a number of articles related to these efforts on the VAWG Dialogue FACEBOOK PAGE, but wanted to get into more of an analysis here.

Mandatory Arrest Laws
My research for the past few years has been on the implementation and effects of mandatory arrest laws in the U.S.  These laws, while slightly different by state, require officers to make an arrest when responding to a situation where probable cause to believe a crime has been committed between intimate partners. Notably, many states have these laws, and those that don't may have pro-arrest policies, which encourage arrest, but do not mandate it.

These laws have sparked debate since their implementation. Unintended consequences, the largest of which is the tremendous increase of women arrested for intimate partner violence, have founded many of the criticisms. Additional concerns revolve around this idea of mandatory arrest as a one-size-fits-all policy and a blanket approach.

A new development has recently been proposed that I believe strongly impacts the mandatory arrest laws. Recently the Indiana House approved a law allowing homeowners to kill police officers. This law, I believe, puts officers in a very difficult position. Situations of IPV are already often emotionally charged and unpredictable. This proposed law, however, simply increases the likelihood of danger. Officers are required to attend to situations of IPV and often are faced with making an arrest. If an officer enters a home upon hearing screams (probable cause) this law would allow individuals in the home to shoot the officer. Having laws that work against one another is certainly a predicament. HERE is a link to a news article.

I don't see mandatory arrest as a best-case scenario; I've definitely become educated about the effects (for officers and individuals identified as perpetrators). But, I also know not all officers attend to IPV appropriately.

Clare's Law
Just yesterday a link about Clare's law was posted on our FB page. Clare's law, dubbed after a woman murdered by a former boyfriend, gives individuals the "right to ask" authorities about their partner's criminal/violent histories. Currently there is a year-long pilot trial testing the effectiveness of this law in Greater Manchester, Nottinghamshire, Wiltshire, and Gwent.

Police already have common law powers to provide information about someone's background if officers think there is a pressing need to do so to prevent a crime. This law, however, provides greater accessibility to histories. Debate continues regarding whether the law (common law powers) should remain the same, or should be changed to a woman's right to ask the police or to the woman's right to know (where the police would automatically disclose information in certain circumstances). (NOTE: Men also have the right to ask under this law.)

Criticisms of this law focus on it's effectiveness and it's intrusion on personal privacy. Some organizations contend that education and awareness programs would be more effective. This law doesn't necessarily change anyone's mindset or provide resources once you find out information.  Additionally, claims against this law suggest that once an individual has served the time/paid the price for crime, s/he should not continue to be labeled.

Lebanese Efforts
I was so thrilled when I first learned about the efforts being made to criminalize not only physical violence, but also sexual, psychological and economic violence in Lebanon.  The proposed legislation has been drafted by the NGO Kafa and supported by a number of other groups. Currently, there is no such legislation and family law is governed by religious courts.

The law, as drafted, would have appointed public prosecutors to investigate incidences of violence, estibalished special police units, obliged medical personnel to report cases of expected IPV, and empowered women and children to seek restraining orders.

A problem has arisen. The parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing this law (made up of 8 MPs--7 men, 1 woman) has made numerous amendments to the law. The law was expected to be reviewed/held by the MPs for 3 weeks, but has now been held for over 6 months. In fact, one of the male MPs made a statement in December 2011 that "There's nothing called rape between a husband and a wife. It's called forcing someone violently to have intercourse." Yikes!!! So frustrating. So, marital rape has been eliminated from the law, and a clause establishing a specialized police force for IPV cases was also deleted. And efforts to identify and prosecute economic and verbal abuse has been weakened.

Protests have been held and organizations continue to put pressure on the government.

Below is a video. If you need subtitles, click on the button to the bottom right that looks like an upward error. A menu will pull up and click the CC button. Alternatively, if you double click on the video when beginning to watch it, it will pull up on youtube (as opposed to watching it on the blog) and you will see a CC button on it's own to the bottom right and you can click on it there.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Spreading the word!

Lots of life changes. That's where I've been. It seems like there has literally been no time for blogging this last week. This has made me extremely grateful for the recent Facebook addition to VAWG Dialogue. I'd love to continue to grow the FB page and hope to get more dialogue and sharing of information happening--but I've certainly noticed an increase in readership and participation more generally since adding Facebook. Such a great resource...most of the time.  This week I've really been thinking about the various platforms we have for talking about, learning about, and communicating about VAWG. While I may not agree with all statements made on certain topics (that would only happen in my own utopia, right?), I think the variety of places and people I hear acknowledging and talking about topics related to VAWG is great.

Just this week I've posted a number of links to Saturday Night Live, Jon Stewart, youtube links to slam poets, various newspaper articles, petitions, other blogs, and a number of other places, people, and things. What did we do without Internet? What did we do without television? Other sources of technology?

So, to the topics. Women's health and reproductive rights have certainly been the top of topics I've noticed from all of the sources I just listed. In particular, I wanted to share a Jon Stewart segment with you.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Punanny State - Virginia's Transvaginal Ultrasound Bill
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Prime example of what I was talking about. While I may not think Stewart's presentation of the issue is 100%, I sure am glad he presented the issue nonetheless. His show, and others like it, reach populations that may not otherwise hear about the injustices and violence being perpetrated against women. So, heck yes--let's keep the word spreading.

And, please do spread the word about this blog and our accompanying Facebook page. Finally, let me know what you think about all of this. Better yet, if you'd like to be a guest blogger...I'd love it! Send a quick email my way so we can chat.

Have a great day!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Expected to Pay: Girls Atone for Familial Misdeeds

She did nothing. She was simply born a female child in the family of a "criminal."

There are several practices, in a number of different places, that require young female children to atone for the misdeeds of their criminal family members/ancestors. In the trokosi system, if someone commits either a serious crime or social infraction, traditional leaders of the community order the family to send a young girl from that family to serve the priest of the local shrine. The trokosi system translates to "wife of the gods." Thus, the girl, sometimes very young, serves the priest as a means of repenting for her family member. In some instances, the girl serves a shorter time (3-5 years). However, in more established Trokosi systems, the severity of the crime determines the length of service (sometimes multiple generations of girls are expected to serve the priest). The girls serving are often left to their own devices (families are expected to pay for their food, but rarely do). One woman, 22 at the time she was freed, stated:

"I had to cut down trees and uproot tree stumps to burn into charcoal to sell and make some money to take care of myself," she says. "I did not have the right to take crops from the farm unless the priest allowed me to. Occasionally my parents sent me some food, but that was kept in the priest's room and I had to request it any time I needed some. I was forced to have sex with the priest as one of the rituals in the shrine, but luckily I did not get pregnant."

A similar practice, "baad" or "baadi," is illegal, but remains quite prevalent. Now associated with Afghanistan, young girls are taken as payment for misdeeds committed by their elders. This system is clearly related to the position women hold in society more generally. For example, the father of a young girl who recently escaped her capture expressed anger that the girl was abducted because he had already promised her to be married to someone else. The girl was simply a pawn in everyone's games. These young girls are often kidnapped and beaten. Given the cultural emphasis placed on family honor and the need to repent for acts that bring dishonor or shame, this practice uses the young girls as a source of retaliation--a way to regain familial honor.

A member of Parliament in Nangarhar Province said the following when discussing baad:
"The bad aspect is that you punish an innocent human for someone else's wrongdoings, and the good aspect is that you rescue two families, two clans, from more bloodshed, death and misery."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

V: Not Just for Valentine's

The word? Vagina. It's Scandalous. It's immoral. It's unnatural. It's about sex.

Eve Ensler's idea: "When you name things, you bring consciousness to things."

The Vagina Monologues has served as a liberating and empowering avenue through which women can express themselves. The Monologues support women of all ages, experiences, sociodemographic background as they talk about more than just vaginas. In fact, each year playwright Eve Ensler (of the Vagina Monologues) puts out a script for the type of stories she wants done. This year, the topic is ending violence against women, especially rape. While this may sound morbid and sad to some, if you've ever attended a performance of the Monologues, you know the stories are full of all different kinds of emotion--happiness, anger, humor, sadness. You'll find it all.

Ensler says she began this play because as we utter the word, a silence gets broken and a taboo gets eradicated. Freedom. She states that "one of the reasons violence is allowed to go on is because we don't have agency over our own bodies. And we don't have a way or articulating what happens to us. So, it happens invisibly." Interestingly, in some of the locations where the play is now, there originally was not a word for vagina. Words were borrowed. Or, the play was banned.

The play is meant to empower. The play is meant to give voice.

What do you think? Is it too much? Is it not enough? How does it make you feel?

I want to draw your attention to a unique situation. Perhaps a step toward breaking down barriers. A step toward uniting all women.  Guess who is presenting the Vagina Monologues in 2 days? Clergy from the Anglican Diocese of Niagara. That's right. Seven female clergy are performing the Monologues--4 letter words and all.

So, is it really such a bad word? I mean it's an anatomical label. Why then do we fear the word? Why do we teach our children to use funny names for their body parts. Not to say some of the words are quite funny, but we've got to think of the bigger implications of not simply saying...VAGINA.

For more information about the Vagina Monologues and Eve Ensler's V-day campaign to end violence against women and girls, click HERE and HERE.

And, for articles on the resistance experienced by the Vagina Monologues, click HERE and HERE.