Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers

An Opportunity to Help Out With Domestic Violence

A while back my sister introduced me to this really cool company called Sevenly. Basically what Sevenly does is design t-shirts. But these aren’t just any shirts. These are shirts that seek to raise awareness and funds for different charities around the world. Each week they produce a shirt for a charity. These shirts are only available for 7 days. And for every shirt sold, $7 goes to the charity.

I picked this week to bring Sevenly to your attention because these week’s shirt is bringing in proceeds for Sheltering Wings, which is an organization that helps women and children involved in domestic violence. So I thought that it tied into my purpose with this blog quite nicely.

You can watch their video below:

So far this week they’ve raised over $7,000 and it’s only Wednesday. If you want to help out, you can find them here. If you sign up for their e-mails, you’ll be notified what the new shirt is every week. They are doing really great things. A few weeks ago, they raised over $20,000 for Autism Speaks.

Disclosure: Sevenly did not ask me to write this post, I did it because I wanted to. I am affiliated with Sevenly as an ambassador, but that is a volunteer program that I signed up for because I think Sevenly is a great company and I want to help get the word out.

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The Women in Time’s Most Influential List 2011: Maria Bashir

Again, Maria Bashir is not a name I recognize immediately, but let’s take a look before I make a decision on whether I think she is influential or not.

  • She is a prosecutor in Afghanistan, focuses especially on cases of violence against women.
  • She couldn’t work under the Taliban so she took to schooling girls in her house. Illegally.
  • She has been a hard voice of dissent to the Afghan government’s practices, especially those that restrict women.
  • She has been honor with the International Women of Courage Award by the US government.
  • She has faced assassination attempts.

I definitely think she is influential for a bunch of reasons. First of all, she is giving other women in Afghanistan someone to look up to. Women in Afghanistan need many things to be empowered, but one part of the picture is having positive female role models, so that women and girls have something to aspire to. Maria is providing that. Second, she illegally taught girls during the rain of the Taliban. This makes her influential because these girls will go on to have better lives because they are educated. Those girls have been directly influenced. Third, she is helping to ensure that laws are enforced. This will directly help Afghanistan to become a better place for women and children. She has been highly influential in this area. And not that I would say this is a true way to measure influence, but she has faced multiple assassination attempts and has guards who protect her. Generally, only people who have enough power to change things face these kind of circumstances. If there weren’t people who thought she was making a difference in Afghanistan, then they wouldn’t try to kill her. So I think she is definitely influential. What are your thoughts? Do you think Maria Bashir is influential or do you disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 

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Girl Child Soldiers

So I said that I would try and do my best despite having school and I totally failed this first week. However, going ahead, I think now that I know my schedule and I know that it’s not going to change anymore and that I’m recommitting myself, I will do it. This is one of the things that I do for myself and I miss it when I don’t do it. So I’m making a commitment to you, my readers, and to myself.

Warning: I will say this several times but the below is hard to handle and hard to read. It’s heartbreaking.

So back on track, I want to share a short film today. I will warn you it is VERY disturbing if you’ve never seen anything like it before and it does contain graphic images and language. It is a video demonstrating how children become child soldiers. I’ll talk about this and what it means for young girls after the video. I think, however, despite the fact that it is disturbing and graphic, it is something that people should see. I think sometimes it’s hard for me (and others) to conceptualize how adults turn small children into killing machines. I think this is something that the video does well – it takes it and puts it in a Western setting, in a school setting we’re familiar with, that we can imagine. And this is how it happens, on a basic level. So please watch, if you can.

War School (Short Film) from Pulse Films on Vimeo.

Before watching this video, I also had never realized that 40 percent of child soldiers worldwide are girls. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me that girls too were affected by child soldiering, but I mainly thought (wrongly) that boys were the only ones taken. I’m not sure why because I had even read stories of girls who were taken, but it never hit me until I watched this video that 40 percent (which is still a huge number, even though it’s less than boys, because it means that 2 out of every 5 child soldiers are girls). So obviously, it effects girls too in a huge way.

If you don’t know a lot about child soldiering in general, I encourage you to google it or ask questions here on the blog. At the basic level, it’s where a child is either forced to become a soldier in an armed conflict or joins “willingly” for promised benefits or out of feeling like there is no other choice.

I’m going to talk for a bit about girl child soldiers.Because they do differ from boy child soldiers in some ways, though many of the things they face are common problems. For example, something unique to girls is that they often report joining “voluntarily” to escape tough home situations – such as domestic abuse or sexual abuse or even just to escape being a domestic servant. So often times, if they aren’t abducted, their motivation for entering comes out of trying to escape other situations that are also bad. Pretty much, it’s a lose-lose situation. These girl child soldiers have been found in over 50 countries, so it’s not a problem that is just going to go away on its own.

While they are in, they face unique hardships because not only are they involved in combat, but they are sometimes subject to sexual violence or rape or end up becoming a “wife” to one of the adult leaders (I put it in quotation marks because I do not feel these young girls who become “wives” of the leaders have any choice in the matter). It’s especially cruel considering the above fact that some girls enter into to escape sexual abuse and then end up subjected to it anyways. Truly lose-lose again. Also, because of the rape and the fact that some of them are “wives,” if they become pregnant or have small children, they are expected to keep fighting anyways. Imagine yourself as a pregnant girl or as a girl with a newborn and then being sent to the frontline of an armed conflict. It’s horrible and heartbreaking.

“Our work found that the vast majority were sexually assaulted. You’d be dealing with very high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, about 30% of the girls in the three countries we worked in became pregnant during captivity in the fighting forces and are now returning as girl mothers.” – Diane Mazarana

They are also sometimes chosen to be suicide bombers, specifically because they are girls and they may not receive as close of a body search as a boy would – so these girls are being sent to death. It’s also sick and twisted because many, many groups will claim they are empowering these girls by offering a better option to be “more equal” with men, even though that’s clearly not the case at all.

Additionally, once they are in they face a harder time getting out. They are often left out of programs designed to help them get out and reintegrate them into society, either on purpose or accidentally and often face more stigmas upon returning to their hometowns because they have been raped or have small children. All is not helpless though, because now that people and groups are becoming more aware of it, there are organizations working specifically to help these girls.

Let me close lastly with these words. “The problems of girl soldiers are only one small element in a much wider array of girls’ issues and denial of girls’ rights.” -Michael Wessells And I think it’s true – I mean, look at how much of the idea that girls are sex objects and can be used for sex goes into the unique situation that girls face when they become child soldiers. Absolutely all child soldiering should be stopped, but girls face unique problems related to their unequal status – like the fact that many communities shame rape so much, even though it is not the fault of the girls.

I will end with these pictures and quotes from girl child soldiers. They are harsh and hard to read and see, but they are the reality that these girls face. Note, the pictures and the quotes underneath them are (as far as I know) not the same girls.

“I’ve seen people get their hands cut off, a ten-year-old girl raped and then die, and so many men and women burned alive . . . So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn’t dare cry out loud.” A girl child soldier from Sierra Leone

“There was no one in charge of the dormitories and on a nightly basis we were raped. The men and youths would come into our dormitory in the dark, and they would just rape us – you would just have a man on top of you, and you could not even see who it was. If we cried afterwards, we were beaten with hosepipes. We were so scared that we did not report the rapes The youngest girl in our group was aged 11 and she was raped repeatedly in the base.” – A girl child soldier in Zimbabwe

 “At the age of 13, I joined the student movement. I had a dream to contribute to make things change, so that children would not be hungry, later I joined the armed struggle. I had all the inexperience and the fears of a little girl. I found that girls were obliged to have sexual relations ‘to alleviate the sadness of the combatants’. And who alleviated our sadness after going with someone we hardly knew?” – Girl Child Soldier from Honduras

“When you are pregnant there is no hospital in the bush, if the baby dies inside you they will rip it from you by force. It happened to many girls not just me.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier in Uganda

“One boy tried to escape, but he was caught… His hands were tied, and then they made us, the other new captives, kill him with a stick. I felt sick. I knew this boy from before. We were from the same village. I refused to kill him and they told me they would shoot me. They pointed a gun at me, so I had to do it. The boy was asking me, “Why are you doing this?” I said I had no choice. After we killed him, they made us smear his blood on our arms… They said we had to do this so we would not fear death and so we would not try to escape. . . I still dream about the boy from my village who I killed. I see him in my dreams, and he is talking to me and saying I killed him for nothing, and I am crying.” – Susan, a girl child soldier from Uganda

“When I came back I really wanted to go back to school. I always dreamt about school and my friends from before even when I was in the bush.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier from Uganda

“One day, my battalion commander took me to his bivouac (a military encampment) to rape me. Then he said that if I rebelled or tried to flee, he would kill me.” – Bea, a girl child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“Many girls have been through hardship like me, they are denied an education. If you are not educated, you are nothing.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier in Uganda

 “My father didn’t want to see me again since he had heard people saying how soldiers had abused me.” – Josephine, a girl child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“Being responsible for other people was distressing. It’s either they die or I die in the crossfire because I am the one leading them.” – Aida, a girl child soldier from the Phillipines

” I feel pain from the rape, as if I have wounds inside, and I am afraid I have a disease. I would like to get tested but there is noone to help me. I was tested in the reception centre in Gulu , but I was never told the result. The doctor said that it is better not to know the result.” – A girl child soldier from Uganda

“I really want to rest and be with my mother… The best is to go home. I have this feeling that I’d be able to forget about the movement… I just want to laugh. I was always crying [when I was in the movement].” – Aida, a girl child soldier in the Phillipines

Books (As usual, I haven’t read them, just found them):

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Innocent Spouse Relief

So I learned the other day about a really interesting (and beneficial to women) rule. It’s called the Innocent Spouse rule within the IRS. Basically, it’s intended to prevent spouses from having to pay back taxes on a joint return if they weren’t aware of the fact that their spouse wasn’t paying them or was committing fraud or other tax evasive measures. It’s intended to protect victims of domestic violence and whose spouse is committing fraud unbeknownst to them. It’s a women’s issue because the spouse that requests it is almost always the wife.

Even though these rules exist, it’s hard to actually be granted innocent spouse status.  It’s difficult because you have to prove that you had no knowledge of it. And if you are perceived to benefit from it at all, you must not be innocent according to the IRS. Because abusers can’t keep you in golden cages, apparently. According to the IRS, even if you file a joint tax return with your spouse and they die leaving tons of back taxes, you’re on the hook. Also, if you divorce and in the proceedings agree that one spouse is responsible for the taxes, the IRS doesn’t take that into account and you can still be liable. Even if the other spouse earns all the income (say you’re a stay at home mom or your abusive husband doesn’t allow you to work outside the home), you can still be held responsible. They also feel that if “a reasonable person in similar circumstances would have known of the understatement” then you’re not eligible. How do they determine something like that? It seems so subjective. Also, they take your education background into effect, like if you’re more educated, you should have known or questioned the tax return. I’ll be completely honest here, I’m almost a college graduate and taxes still confuse me. Also, they’re required to contact your former spouse, which could restrict women from filing if their spouse was an abuser, they may be afraid of repercussions when the abusive spouse finds out. Additionally, if the IRS granted you relief, they could fight it. Abuse is often times about power and dragging you through a long, legal battle could be a form of one spouse continuing to try and exercise control over the innocent spouse. There is also a 2 year deadline (which they recently did away for equitable relief, but not for innocent spouse relief). Imagine being a woman faced with an abusive spouse that it will take you on average seven times to leave. Now imagine during all this time you’ve been together (which could be years before you even have the courage to leave for the first time) your husband has been filing taxes and evading rules and you owe back taxes, since your husband made you sign the tax return and threatened you with violence if you didn’t. Maybe this went on 5 or 10 years. Either way, the IRS says that you can’t file for the first return he filed or any of the other ones, because it’s been longer than 2 years. I think they should do away with this rule immediately, since it hurts more people than it could ever help. For the record, there is back and forth on this. Some news I read claims that the two year limit for everyone is done away with (and that’s what I thought at first), but the official IRS publication I link to below states, “This change does not apply to requests for regular innocent spouse relief or separation of liability relief. Instead, the 2-year period discussed on pages 2 and 20 of Publication 971 continues to apply.” So that is why I am going with the fact that it is NOT changed across the board. And it definitely should be. Doing away with the two year rule is something that has seen support from both Democrats and Republicans.

One woman, who upon her husband’s death discovered that he owed millions of dollars to the IRS (his lawyers had told him never to tell her anything), wrote Innocent Spouse: A Memoir about her experience.

For more information in audio form, you can listen to a podcast on the subject here (I have not listened to it, to be totally honest, because I prefer reading to listening, but I know some people are audio learners).

If you are an innocent spouse, remember that there is help out there. You can find the forms to file for innocent spouse status here. You can also find more resources here. Please note: I am not an attorney and can not give legal advice. This is just my understanding from googling and reading.I’ve done my best that I can to provide you with accurate information, but it is only my understanding and not a background in tax law.

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