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.