Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers

The Women in Time’s Most Influential List 2011: Angela Merkel

Now here is someone who I think definitely deserves to be named most influential. Angela Merkel has a lot of power, especially in Europe, so let’s find out a little bit more about her.

Angela Merkel:

  • Current (and first female) Chancellor of Germany
  • Was President of the European Council
  • Played an important role in negotiations of the Berlin Declaration and the Treaty of Lisbon
  • Second woman to chair the G8
  • Named 4th Most Powerful Person in the World and the Most Powerful Woman in the World by Forbes
  • Received the Vision for Europe Award
  • Received the Charlemagne Prize
  • Received the  B’nai B’rith Europe Award of Merit
  • Received the Leo Baeck Medal
  • Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • First person from what was East Germany to lead the country

Influential? Definitely! She is all over the political scene in Europe and with Germany being such a big economy in Europe, her actions and decisions will have a huge effect on how the Eurozone fairs, for better or for worse.

Sources:

 

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Rape in India

Rape is something that is treated pretty poorly in a lot of countries. It’s something that is looked down on with shame in many cultures.

Today I want to take a look at rape in India. According to at least one source, India is on it’s way to becoming the rape capital of the world. I warn you that’s what up ahead is not pretty or anything like that. I’m not a fan of skipping things because they’re hard to read, but I want you to be forewarned what’s coming up.

In almost every place in the world rape goes underreported. It seems to be particularly bad in India (though at this time, I don’t have comparisons, but if I run across them, I will compare them), estimates for India are that only 1 in 69  are actually reported and that a woman is raped every hour in India.That means the number of rapes in India are much, much worse. On top of that, of the reported cases, only 20 percent of them actually get convictions. It’s sad because it means so many women are going without justice.

And it seems that little can be done. Women get pulled into cars and gang raped in the cars for 2 or 3 hours. Isn’t that horrible? It seems awful and terrifying to me. One woman was gang raped and then lit on fire.

Equally awful is that incest rape is on the rise and many experts feel these are actually the kind of rapes that happen most often in India, but like others, are underreported. Child rapes are on the rise too, as one in four of the reported rapes are girls less than 16 years old. Though these, like all others, are underreported.

Delhi is particularly bad – so much so that it is coming to be known as the Rape Capital of India, because one quarter of all rapes in India occur there. The statistics work out to a woman being raped every 18 hours in Delhi alone. Apparently, women who migrate from the north-east are raped more and more often in Delhi as well because of underlying discrimination against them. They even tried to get these women to abide by a dress code to “prevent” these rapes.

And often times, rape damages a woman for good socially. There is so much stigma surrounding it in India that a woman often can’t get married after being raped. In fact, one person convicted of rape even used this as a reason to propose before his sentencing, hoping if she accepted her would get a lighter sentence. How twisted is that?

Other attitudes effect victims. There are often very strict ideas surrounding sex and privacy (the idea that this is a family issue and it shouldn’t go beyond that). If you get justice in court, you are often outcast from your family and society. There is also this idea that a woman shouldn’t work outside the home and that when women do this, it “makes” them a target.

Unfortunately, it seems that certain people get a free pass. After a woman said she was raped by soldiers in the army, a protest formed calling for their arrests (which didn’t happen – the government blamed it on the side they were fighting, it happened in the Kashmir area). In a separate situation, one woman committed suicide after no one took action when she was raped at a police station.

And the system is not well equipped to handle it either. The victim has to prove they were penetrated, which can be a hard thing to do. They used to do a “finger test” to see if a woman had been raped. I don’t want to get into the graphic details, but it’s traumatizing and unnecessary. Fortunately, they’re getting rid of this. They’re also getting rid of labeling what a person is wearing as attractive or not, instead choosing that they should only note whether it’s torn or not. The system tries to gather evidence, which is good, but they often forget there’s a person who has just been traumatized. They also recently cut funding meant for victims. The defense will often try to attack the victim as well. Like many places, their laws are good, but they’re not really executed well. However, they have made an effort to come down harder on child rapes.

But there are people working on it. For instance, a charity is releasing an app that sends a text message to five people, including the police, with your location, so that hopefully someone can come and stop it.

For more info, this book might be helpful

I hope you learned something interesting. I know it’s sad, but the discussion needs to be had.

Sources

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Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Do you know what Female Genital Mutilation is? I’m about to tell you and I’m going to tell you right up front, it will probably be graphic and not for the faint of heart, but I think it is very necessary to know what this is all about.

First it’s important that know that you may have heard of it before – it goes by a lot of names. Female Genital Mutilation, Female Genital Cutting, Female Genital Circumcision, Female Genital Alteration, Female Genital Excision, and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting to name a few. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to it as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The controversy over what to call it stems from the fact that people who practice FGM feel that mutilation is too strong of a word, but the people against FGM feel that it is mutilation and it brings attention to that. Some prefer circumcision, but many people this is drawing an unfair comparison between this and male circumcision (which I will admit will probably never be talked about on my blog and I am not very knowledgable about it, but it’s done – at the very least – for very different reasons. I feel it is outside of the scope of my blog, but for your awareness, there are people who feel that because there is such an outcry against FGM that there should be equal amounts of outcry against male circumcision). The World Health Organization (WHO) defines this as, “”all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” There are four different types. Warning Graphic descriptions.  “Type 1, excision of the clitoral hood, the skin around the clitoris, with or without partial or complete removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy); Type 2, excision of the clitoris with partial or complete removal of the labia minora; Type 3 (infibulation), excision of all or part of the labia minora and labia majora, and the stitching of a seal across the vagina, leaving only a small opening for the passage of urine and menstrual blood; and Type 4, miscellaneous acts, including burning or cauterization of the clitoris, scraping and cutting of the vagina (gishiri cutting [where it is cut to make it larger]), and introducing corrosive substances into the vagina to tighten it.” (From Wikipedia)

To me, while they are all horrible, I think type three is definitely the most harmful and painful so I’m going to talk a little more about that one. In this one, sometimes the girl’s legs are even tied together for 2 to 6 weeks so that she can’t move and to basically allow the two cut sides to seal together. These two sides are usually stitched or glued together with things like thorns as stitches or eggs, sugar, and animal waste as a glue. Not only that, but this one is often cut open repeatedly as it is needed, either when she gets married so she can have sex or when she gives birth to children so that there is room for the baby to be born and it is sometimes sealed up again afterwards. Where people have this, the women speak of three feminine sorrows: “the first sorrow is the procedure itself, followed by the wedding night when a woman with Type III FGM has to be cut open, then childbirth when she may have to be cut again.” Type three carries the most risk of complications, which I’ll talk about further down.

“There were two circumcisers – they moved quickly from one girl to the next, cutting their labia. It was horrendous. And none of the girls cried out, because they’d had it drilled into them that they had to bear it without making a sound.” – Cath Holland

It can happen in hospitals under general anesthesia or it can happen by people referred to as “traditional circumcisers” typically with little to no anesthesia using unsterilized things (not even worth calling instruments) like broken glass, tin lids, razor blades, knives, and scissors to name a few examples. It can happen to girls all the way from infants to 15 years old or sometimes women right before they married or give birth to their first child. It happens in 28 countries and also in some immigrant groups in places like America and Europe (though until the 1950s, it was practiced in England and America to “cure” women of “female deviances”). It happens to singular girls and it happens to groups of girls at the same time. There are reports of girls being held down and struggling against the people holding them down so much that their bones are broken. The estimations of women who have been subject to this around the world range from 60 million to 140 million women. (Estimates work this out to about 4 girls a minute). An estimated three million more girls every year face the potential that this will happen to them.

“These families do not do this out of spite or hatred; they believe this will give their daughters the best opportunities in life. We would like a conviction, not against the parents, but against a cutter, someone who makes a living from this.” – Jackie Mathers

Why is this so bad? Besides the obvious, FGM has a lot of risky side effects: often times a lot of pain, shock, hemorrhaging (severe bleeding, sometimes enough that the girls die), infections (including tetanus and UTIs), urine retention (where you can’t pee), ulceration, fever, and septicemia. Long term you can face things like chronic pain, recurring infections, recurring cysts, difficulty giving birth, more likely to have a C-section, anemia, keloid scars (I do not know how to explain this – check the Wikipedia article on it if you’re interested), urinary incontinence, pain having sex, sexual dysfunction, menstrual disorders, fistulae (again, Wikipedia article), infertility, increased risk of HIV infection (though the jury is out on this – there are mixed results), chronic anxiety, depression, other psychiatric problems, kidney stones, other kidney problems, failure to heal, increased risk of hepatitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, bladder stones, increased chance of episiotomy in labor, increased chance of extended hospital stays with labor, psychological effects that are similar to PTSD, Dysmenorrhoea (extremely painful periods), pelvic and back pain, the need for more “surgeries” later, and increased newborn death. The rates on the birth statistics for example are so shockingly high it’s clear to see this has very little benefit. For example, with Type III (which carries the most risks, but certainly not all – the others do too), the infant mortality rate is 55% high and the mother is 70% more likely to suffer dangerous hemorrhaging. I think if we focused on eliminating FGM, we could make huge strides in infant and maternal mortality. FGM is a huge factor in maternal/infant mortality in the areas where it is practiced. This is a real solution to help end the problem.

“Why would anyone want to go and cut up a seven- or eight-year-old child? People need to wake up — you are hurting your child, you are hurting your daughter, you’re not going to have a grandchild, so wake up.” – Miriam, a victim of FGM

Then the question is to ask why? Why would something like this be done? It seems so awful, so unbearable. There are many reasons. Some people think it is just part of how parents raise their child “right.” The women are often seen as “cleaner” after the procedure. It is said to “ensure” that women remain virgins before marriage and during marriage don’t have affairs and is also supposed to help if a much older man marries a younger woman so that she doesn’t have a higher sex drive than him. It is also believed to lower women’s libido (which goes back to making sure that women remain virgins before marriage and don’t have affairs during marriage). Sometimes, they even try to sell it as rape protection (though this is twisted – here, let’s cut you up so that no man tries to rape you). Sometimes the labia and clitoris are viewed as parts of a man, so taking these away makes someone more feminine. Tied up with that is the belief in some places that if a man or a baby touches the clitoris they will die and/or it will make the woman’s breast milk poisonous. Sometimes they think this procedure makes a woman fertile (even though the exact opposite is true) or that it will take away bad odors or that it will prevent vaginal cancer (all fictitious “health” benefits). It is also sometimes believed that if the clitoris isn’t cut off, it will grow so big that it drags on the ground (again, another falsity). Some places think it keeps a woman’s face from turning yellow or makes it more beautiful. It is often viewed as a right of passage – something that turns a girl into a woman and women who are never mutilated are often seen perpetually as a child in their society. In fact, there is a story from Kenya of a woman who chose not to have FGM done to her and then later on when she decided to run office, the people running against her used this as something to attack about her. Often, it is not men pushing and promoting this like one would think, but older women or women themselves wanting it, being taught these things about how it is good for you. Though, the men play into this as well as they will often times not marry a girl unless she has had this done to her. Both men and women play into the idea that it is for the family’s honor and reputation. And even if the parents decide not to have this for their daughters, they still have to be wary of their relatives who believe in FGM, who may kidnap the children and forcibly perform this. There is a lot of back and forth over whether or not it is a cultural practice or if it is a religious practice. I don’t have the answer but I think the answer is that it can be both – it is a cultural practice in some places and some religions include it in their practices in other places. Some Muslims practice it, but they aren’t the only religious group to practice it and not all Muslims do (there is a lot of people who I think associate FGM with Islam, but it definitely should not be the case since many don’t and many communities practice it without religious associations and there have been Christian and Animist groups that practice it as well). In fact, it is believed that FGM was happening before Islam even existed and a lot of Muslims argue that there is no grounds for FGM in Islam.

“Human rights transcend cultural relativism by definition, but the cultural-religious argument has to be taken into consideration for implementation of policy.” – Stephan Isaacs

It’s not hopeless – people are really trying to bring an end to this. February  6th every year is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. I think also it goes to having a cultural change. I think that those people need to be taught that women can control themselves sexually and just be abstinent before marriage and then during marriage be faithful without someone needing to mutilate them. There is also evidence that this change will come from NGOs helping communities make these cultural changes more than laws, since in many countries, laws by overarching bodies seem to be resisted or not enforced. Indeed, many countries where FGM is practiced has laws making it illegal. Some Western countries help further by granting asylum to women who will have to go through forced FGM (though of course, they must be able to prove this). It is clear that the laws are doing very little, so the change needs to come from other places and there are many NGO’s actively working on it. Holding community meetings is another strategy that is being tried.  Educating people about the harmful effects is also being tried (and what I like about this is they often have respected women already in the community teaching younger women and girls about it – a much more sustainable and viable solution in my opinion). They also are trying to introduce alternative rights of passage and have had some success with replacing FGM with a separate right of passage ceremony. I believe, as do many people, that a harm-elimination strategy is best, as opposed to a harm-reducation strategy (one example would be moving it so it happens in hospitals so it’s “safer” – making the harm less, but not at all reducing it). That means completely eliminating the danger of FGM that women and girls face, not just making it less. Surgeons have also recently developed reversal techniques for this procedure. Of course, it’s not going to be completely like it was, but something is better than nothing for the women who have already gone through this.

This is another youtube video but embedding has been disabled. It is very graphic in nature and there is some nudity, but it does speak to two women who were mutilated at a young age.

Further Reading (Note, I haven’t read them, just found them):

Sources:

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Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011

Safe cosmetics, on the surface, might seem like a green or environmental issue, but really, it’s a woman’s issue. Why? Because companies are continuing to make products that contain chemicals that have been proven unsafe and women in Britain have been shown to spend an average of $164,000 dollars on make-up over their lifetime (and do you really think it’s that different in the US?). So needless to say, if it’s not safe, it’s effecting women in a pretty big way.

That’s why making sure that cosmetics are safe is a big priority, even for someone like me, who hardly wears any make-up. Because I have a lot of friends who do. And I bet, even if you yourself aren’t big on make-up, you probably have friends who wear it as well.

So safe cosmetics are important to women, because of the amount that most women use them. Congress has a Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has made it easy to contact your representatives. Helping get this passed will do a lot of good for many women, men, and children.

Thanks for reading!

And also, P.S. I’m thinking about video blogging once a week – what do you think? Just to spice things up. Delivering you the same great information, just in a different format.

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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.

Sources:

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Women in History: Genevieve Cline

She

  • was the first women federal judge.
  • served as a judge on the United States Customs Court.
  • was a chair for the Ohio Federation of Women’s Clubs committee on Legislative and State Institutions.
  • advocated both for women’s issues (more equal treatment under law and suffrage) and consumer protection.
  • was the  Cleveland Federation of Women’s Clubs’ president.
  • was the Ohio Federation of Women’s Clubs’ chairman.
  • was the first woman in charge of appraising goods for U.S. Customs Service.
  • lobbied in Columbus and in the nation’s capitol.

Others said

  • that she was a “brilliant and forceful speaker.” (Magazine article about her)

She said

  • “The law is a jealous mistress. It needs one’s whole allegiance.”
  •  “There is no gender in the law. No one ever says ‘man lawyer’ so why say ‘woman lawyer’?”

Books (Note, haven’t read them, just found them):

As you can see, I couldn’t find a lot out there on her, but I think she’s an important figure for being the first woman federal judge. Women like her paved the way for female Supreme Court Justices and other women in positions of power in the judicial system.

Sources

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Shirin Ebadi

She

  • was born in Iran
  • used to be a judge and an attorney there.
  • works to better the lives of children and women in the Middle East.
  • has been imprisoned and tortured.
  • doesn’t let any of this stop her from doing what’s right.
  • was the 11th woman and the first person from Iran and the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • did not have her acceptance speech broadcast in Iran (supposedly for not wearing a headscarf, but I think most people can figure out the real reason).
  • had her Nobel Peace Prize stolen by the government.
  • lives in exile.
  • was the first woman judge in Iran. (And then was removed, as women judges were later banned.)
  • established the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child, which promotes the principles in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • established the Defenders of Human Rights Center, which provides defense for people accused of political crimes, educates Iranians about human rights, and reports on the condition of human rights in Iran, despite constant struggles against the Iranian government.
  • has been critical of the US government.
  • is a wife.
  • is a mother to two daughters.
  • evaded at least two attempts on her life.
  • has written books.
  • helped draft a law against child abuse that was later passed.
  • helped found the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
  • started the Million Signatures Campaign to end legal discrimination against women in Iran.

Others have said

  • “As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran, and far beyond its borders. She has stood up as a sound professional, a courageous person, and has never heeded the threats to her own safety.” – Nobel Peace Prize Committee
  • “Both in her research and as an activist, she is known for promoting peaceful, democratic solutions to serious problems in society. She takes an active part in the public debate and is well-known and admired by the general public in her country for her defence in court of victims of the conservative faction’s attack on freedom of speech and political freedom.” -Nobel Committee Profile
  • “the worst nightmare of Iran’s hardline clerics” (From an Article in The Guardian)

She said

  • They should ask for their rights, but they should do it peacefully. Obviously the regime wants people to be violent because it gives them an excuse to crack down. People must not give them that excuse.”
  • “A human being divested of all dignity, a human being deprived of human rights, a human being gripped by starvation, a human being beaten by famine, war and illness, a humiliated human being and a plundered human being is not in any position or state to recover the rights he or she has lost.”
  • “The worst solution is a military attack. Democracy is not merchandise to be exported to a country, democracy cannot be purchased and sent to another country.”
  • “The best thing that a student can do is study well — and then go back to Iran.”
  • “Any person who pursues human rights in Iran must live with fear from birth to death, but I have learned to overcome my fear.”
  • “I compare my situation to a person on board a ship. When there is a shipwreck the passenger then falls in the ocean and has no choice but to keep swimming. What happened in our society was that the laws overturned every right that women had. I had no choice. I could not get tired, I could not lose hope. I cannot afford to do that.”
  • “Democracy is like a flower. You must water it daily and check the light if you want to keep it alive. You can’t pour a bucket of water in your flower pot and go back to it a month later.”
  • “If no one speaks out when a government violates human rights and uses oppression, this oppression continues. But when people are informed, they gradually become aware, and when they become aware, they begin to object. No change happens in society unless people become aware.”
  • “That’s when I felt that human rights were being neglected. … Undemocratic countries are more dangerous than a nuclear bomb. It’s undemocratic countries that jeopardise international peace.”
  • “I maintain that nothing useful and lasting can emerge from violence.”
  • “When there is injustice to one people and there is no way of receiving justice and when several generations live under the poverty line and there is no hope for the improvement of their lives, they may forget their sanity because of hopelessness. And thus they may resort to violence.”

“Undoubtedly, my selection will be an inspiration to the masses of women who are striving to realize their rights, not only in Iran but throughout the region – rights taken away from them through the passage of history. This selection will make women in Iran, and much further afield, believe in themselves. Women constitute half of the population of every country. To disregard women and bar them from active participation in political, social, economic and cultural life would in fact be tantamount to depriving the entire population of every society of half its capability. The patriarchal culture and the discrimination against women, particularly in the Islamic countries, cannot continue for ever.”

“Whenever women protest and ask for their rights, they are silenced with the argument that the laws are justified under Islam. It is an unfounded argument. It is not Islam at fault, but rather the patriarchal culture that uses its own interpretations to justify whatever it wants. It utilizes psychology to say that women are emotional. It utilizes medical science to say that men’s brains are formed in such a way that they are better able to understand concepts. These are all hypotheses. None of this has been proven. Needless to say, the dominant culture is going to insist on an interpretation of religion that happens to favor men. Before the revolution, there were the first 100 female judges in Iran. I was one of them. After the 1979 revolution, they argued that women cannot be judges, and they made us all into peons in the ministry of justice. But women resisted. We wrote essays, held protests, and organized conferences to insist that women being judges was not incompatible with Islam. After twenty years, they finally accepted the argument and said, OK, women can be judges. So, as you can see, one day they interpret Islam in such a way that women cannot be judges and the next day they manage to reverse themselves.”

“How can you defy fear? Fear is a human instinct, just like hunger. Whether you like it or not, you become hungry. Similarly with fear. But I have learned to train myself to live with this fear. Every time I am fearful I think to myself, the reason they do this is to discourage me from doing what I do. Hence, if I discontinue my work I will have succumbed to my fears.”

“In my memoir, I wanted to introduce American women to Iranian women and our lives. I’m not from the highest echelons of society, nor the lowest. I’m a women who is a lawyer, who is a professor at a university, who won the Nobel Peace Prize. At the same time, I cook. And even when I’m about to go to prison, one of the first things I do is to make enough food and put it in the fridge for my family.”

Awards

  • 2003 Nobel Peace Prize
  • Rafto prize
  • Voted 12th leading public intellectual in 2005
  • Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Award
  • International Democracy Award
  • UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Award

Books about her (Note, I haven’t read any of these, these are just some of the books I’ve found):

I think that anyone who is willing to stand up for the rights of women and children in the face of such an oppressive regime should be hailed someone to look up to. It takes a lot of courage and bravery to stand up in a place like Iran, where you will face possible imprisonment and even potentially death.

Sources:

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Off the Sidelines: My Take

Up until this article, I had never even heard of Kristen Gillibrand. This may have to do with the fact that she is a senator from New York. But when I heard about her campaign (Off the Sidelines) to get more women involved in politics, it really piqued my interest.

Because I agree – there should be more women in politics. While researching this I learned that the number of women in Congress dropped (ever so slightly) in 2010. And there are less women in state governments than there were 10 years ago. And Ms. Gillibrand does make a good point – there are laws being made about women by a Congress that is largely male.

But I have a problem with Gillibrand’s campaign. Why? Because it seems like she only wants to get women involved in Democratic politics – not Republican or any independent politics. And I would be fine with that. If she wants to support Democratic women in politics, that’s her prerogative. What bothers me is that she’s not presenting this like it’s for Democrat women, but for all women. I’ll take the about page for example.

Kirsten knows that women who make an impact on our country all start by simply believing they can.

Getting off the sidelines is a state of mind. More women need to embrace the fact that their voice matters and that they can make a difference, with their vote, with their advocacy, with their candidacy.

More women must get off the sidelines and make a difference in their community. Whether it’s in the classroom, the boardroom, Congress or at home, it’s crucial that more women adopt this philosophy to affect change in ways both big and small. Because if they don’t, decisions will be made without them that they won’t like the outcome of.

Women have the power to shape the future, it’s just a matter of getting off the sidelines and getting involved.

That’s why Kirsten has launched OffTheSidelines, to make more women aware of the need to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives every day. Kirsten wants to let women know that their voice matters, to give them the resources to start to get more involved and tell the inspiring stories of women who already are.

That doesn’t sound partisan right? There’s not one mention of Democrats in that statement. In fact, it’s a lot of ideals I agree with. But when you look around at her website, to me, it becomes pretty clear that this is for Democrat women. On the website under get involved, it lists several things. If you click on the link “How You Can Get Off the Sidelines” it has several more links and suggestions. Some are innocent enough and not attached to anything (vote for example) but under categories such as Volunteer for a Campaign it only lists Emily’s List (a group for electing pro-choice Democrats who are women). Under Run for Office and Win! it has three non-partisan resource and then two that are strictly Democratic: The Elenaor Roosevelt Legacy (whose mission is to train pro-choice Democratic women) and Emerge America (for Democratic women). You could say to me, but Melissa, she has the non-partisan resources, to which I would say, she also listed to very partisan resources from one side without listing ANY from the other. Under Give or Raise money it has one link, to “Find candidates that share your value on ActBlue.” Upon going to ActBlue, you see their tagline says, “Want Blue states?” The majority of the resources she provides for women to get off the sidelines are aimed towards partisan, Democratic links. The women that I have found her getting behind in this Off the Sidelines effort are Kathy Hochul (D), Sarah Anker (D), and Terri Sewell (D). This campaign is largely supported by Democrats like Debbie Wasserman. She’s promoted her campaign on Emily’s List and they’ve said about her ““And she shares the mission of Emily’s List — getting more Democratic women into office.” She’s been promoted (and guest posted for) blogs like Momocrats (“Raising the Next Generation of Blue).

Do you want further proof that her “Off the Sidelines” campaign is meant to encourage more Democratic women in politics than overall women in politics? She’s gotten involved in my home state of Wisconsin and is supporting five Democratic women who are running against the incumbents in the recall election. On the surface, this might look like she is just supporting women candidates. Except when you look at the fact that two of the Republican candidates who are already in office are women. The call she puts out clearly states that she wants only these women to be elected, regardless of the fact that two of the positions are already filled by women.

Sandy Pasch, a member of the Wisconsin state Assembly since 2008, is running against Alberta Darling in WI-SD-08.

Shelly Moore, a former high school teacher who was elected to the National Education Association (NEA) Board of Directors in 2005, is running against Sheila Harsdorf in WI-SD-10.

If it was really about getting all women involved in politics, wouldn’t these Republican women (Alberta Darling and Shelia Harsdorf) be good enough? But yet she is throwing her support (and invoking the name of Off the Sidelines) in with the Democratic candidates, further cementing for me the fact that this is about Democratic women being more involved and not all women being more involved.

And that’s not the only issue with it. If you go to her website, you will see a button on your homepage asking you to contribute to her re-election campaign. There is another link to contribute to her re-election campaign under the Get Involved Page. When you click on the contribute button, you’re brought to another page where it says your donations will go to her re-election campaign. Not a single link dedicated to giving money  to get more women in office, but three links to keeping one woman in office. She’s even on record saying, “This is very much part of my election campaign.” And I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have written about it and so has BuffaloNews.com.

And this is not good for getting women involved in politics as a whole. If we really want women to be involved in politics, it needs to come from all parties.Because women are 50 percent of the population and if we want true representation of women in government, it will come from them being in both parties – not just in one party. If we only promote to women that they can belong to and be a part of this one party is that really empowering women? I don’t think it is. If we really want more women involved in government, we need to encourage them across the board, not just in one party or in one area of government.

So in light of this, I am going to make a pledge – for women who want to get involved in politics and for men who want to support women involved in politics. If you comment on the pledges, I will add your name to the list of people who have publicly said they support more women in government – in all the parties.

To see and sign the pledge for women, click here.

To see and sign the pledge for men, click here.

Sources Not Already Linked To:

P.S. I just hit 1,000 views on my blog and I am so, so appreciative. Thank you to everyone who reads.
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“We are not half human beings, we are human beings.”

In America, women still have a way to go. For example, abortion is still legal (something that harms women), women don’t get paid as much, and women still do not represent a large part of the government.

But it’s nothing like it could be.

Let’s look at Saudi Arabia. What it’s like there. And how they’re trying to change that.

Women in Saudi Arabia can not

  • vote.
  • drive (the only country in the world where they can’t, by the way).
  • ride bicycles.
  • be elected to a political office.
  • socialize with non-related men (If they do, they can be charged with prostitution).
  • expose anything but their hands and their eyes. (Though this varies by region of Saudi Arabia.)

They also face harsh male guardianship laws and customs, which means that women can not do certain things without permission from a male relative. Even where laws have been repealed in these areas, the customs and institutions haven’t always followed suite.  These laws require them to have a male guardian, no matter what age the women are. The male relative can be a husband, father, brother or even her son if there is no other male. Imagine that. How humiliating to be a grown woman and needing permission from your son to do some of the following things:

  • work
  • travel
  • study (this is a key area to fight for many women, since education, even when attainable, is considered largely unequal)
  • marry
  • divorce (imagine an awful situation like needing your abusive husband’s permission to divorce)
  • access health care (like have a surgery)
  • rent an apartment
  • open a bank account

Some of the stories would surprise you – at least I hope they would surprise you. One woman reports how after giving birth to her daughter, she wasn’t even allowed to sign the papers to take her daughter home. They don’t even really have much control over their name for their male relatives will get angry if they are allowed to sign something without permission. One woman who wanted to marry outside her tribe was even mentally institutionalized by him. The women fighting these laws insist it’s treating them like children.

It is also a society where killing women for honor is not an unheard of thing. One woman, for example, was killed by her father for simply chatting with a man on Facebook.

Along with that, when women are raped or sexually assaulted, it is often seen as their fault for being alone with an unrelated male. But what we know, is that rape is never your fault, and punishing someone who has gone through such a traumatic event is way out of line and probably causes a lot of women never to report their rapes.

There is also heavy sex segregation. This segregation between men and women is similar to the kind of segregation seen in the United States when blacks were not fully integrated. Segregation occurs in

  • many institutions, such as banks and universities.
  • companies and business (If a woman can even find a job; they are hard to find even in places like lingerie shops).
  • public places like ice rinks and beaches.
  • public transportation.
  • restaurants.
  • some private houses.

And of course, that is not to say that these are all segregated, but that is the large majority.

Many people would cite Islam as a reason for these restrictive laws. But not so, many women would insist. “If all women were given the rights the Qur’an guarantees us, and not be supplanted by tribal customs, then the issue of whether Saudi women have equal rights would be reduced.” That’s the statement of journalist Sabria Jawhar. And indeed, they might be able to point to other Islamic countries where women fare better than in Saudi Arabia (like I said above, it is the only country in the world where women can not drive, but they are not the only Islamic country). Some even feel that with such restrictive laws, like laws against driving, that the image of Islam is being hurt.

And to be clear, things have been a lot worse in the past. The first male and female university was opened, for example, and laws were passed against domestic violence. But still, it’s not enough for the freedom that Saudi women want.

They’re fighting back by organizing the Saudi Women Revolution. They’ve taken to Twitter and Facebook – key tools in today’s revolutions, as is quickly becoming apparent. There is both a Saudi Women Revolution page and a page for Women2Drive. There’s the hashtag #women2drive.They post videos on Youtube. They keep at it, despite the fact that their pages are sometimes taken down, their accounts deactivated, or their videos just disappeared. They’ve protested in ways that almost seem mundane, because it’s very hard for me to imagine never having these rights. But these are not mundane things. In a society that has always put women’s rights less, even trying these small things is a huge pushback to their society. Things like, showing up at an election and asking for the right to vote. They also sometimes take to the streets and drive. They’ve collected petitions saying women should drive as well. They have to be very careful to skirt laws against organized protest, a fear of the government as they have watched other middle eastern countries’ governments topple. But it seems to me, the stories I have read about, that the married women have the support of their husbands – another crucial key to empowering women in Saudi Arabia.

It is important to note that they don’t want all the rights women have in the West either. Journalist Maha Akeel  explains, “Look, we are not asking for … women’s rights according to Western values or lifestyles … We want things according to what Islam says. Look at our history, our role models.” For another example, they don’t really want to change the way women have to dress. It’s sort of the least of their worries. And many women like to wear the veil, something many in the West seen as an oppressive thing (and which I’ve blogged about in the past).

(People) lose sight of the bigger issues like jobs and education. That’s the issue of women’s rights, not the meaningless things like passing legislation in France or Quebec to ban the burqa … Non-Saudis presume to know what’s best for Saudis, like Saudis should modernize and join the 21st century or that Saudi women need to be free of the veil and abaya … And by freeing Saudi women, the West really means they want us to be just like them, running around in short skirts, nightclubbing and abandoning our religion and culture. – Sabria Jawhar

In response to these simple actions, even though many women don’t want to be like the West completely, people attack their character. Saying they are anti-religion and immodest and being called harlots, for example. After one protest involving driving, pamphlets with whore and pimps were written next to their names, they lost their passports, and they lost their jobs. They have even been arrested for driving or posting videos of themselves driving. Female drivers have even been called female terrorists by some religious leaders. These women know the risks though and yet are still willing to take them. Those in the public sphere, like journalism, seek to always find a balance between speaking out and being labeled as anti-Islamic, something that will get them basically blacklisted. But it doesn’t stop them from speaking out.

There have even been other women pushing back against them, with campaigns such as “My Guardian Knows What’s Best For Me.” Polls have found that the majority of Saudi women don’t think they should be able to drive , work with men, or hold public office. The opinion is that things like driving and voting are Western values opposed to Islamic values and that by holding out on making these things legal for women, they are not giving into the West’s ways. Others feel that they already have a lot of independence. Some women feel the guardianship customs and laws are done out of love and caring, for their protection, not to oppress them. There have even been articles to this effect in the press, talking about how good it is that women can’t drive and what a privilege it is. On the extreme end of the spectrum, there have been Facebook pages, calling upon men to beat women who drive. Beat them! For driving!

But in the end, I don’t think these women are going away. Especially not with support of much of the Western community. Many have spoken up on behalf of allowing women to drive. 

“We are not half human beings, we are human beings.” – Khuloud al Fahad, member of the Saudi Women Revolution

“Women in Saudi Arabia see other women in the Middle East making revolutions, women in Yemen and Egypt at the forefront of revolutions, being so bold, toppling entire governments. The women of Saudi Arabia looked at themselves and they realized, ‘Wow! We can’t even drive!’ ” – Waleed Abu Alkhair

“Saudi Arabian women are going to have to fight for our rights, men are not going to just hand them over to us.” – Amira Kashgary

“This is the threshold; this is the point where we have to cross in order to ask for anything else. I can’t say I want to go into government buildings like male citizens or I want women to be recognized as a lawyer when I can’t even drive my own car.” – Al Nafjan

“The ban is much more about women’s identity and independence. Saudi women aren’t asking for the moon here: they’re simply asking for the right to drive to the market or to see their friends, or perhaps to pick up their children at school. They’re asking the all-male monarchy for a small helping of personal power.” – Farzaneh Milani

“Saudi Arabia is the biggest women’s prison in the world.” – Anonymous

Sources/Articles of Note:

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The Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Agenda

About a week ago this time, I was in New York City. It was my first time ever in the Big Apple. And what was I doing? Living my dream of being at the United Nations (UN). Not only being there, but participating as a youth representative for National Right to Life for the UN High Level Meeting (HLM) on Youth. And while I loved being there and the experience was really great, at the same time, I came away feeling frustrated and discouraged. Why, you ask? Mainly because of organizations like International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and their extreme Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (hereafter referred to as SRHR as their own abbreviation) agenda.

If you had asked me, I’d have to be honest. I have probably always known that IPPF and other organizations don’t just allow abortion, they encourage it. But, I had no idea it was so bad, to tell you the truth. I almost titled this post – Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights: The Bad and the Ugly, but I changed my mind at the last minute. But to me, it was truly sad and disheartening to witness how taken in by this idea (and in my opinion, lie) that some people are.

These are some of the things that I heard and that some people said and my comments in parantheses.

  • “Abstinence leads to greater infections of HIV and AIDS.” (This is one I really don’t understand. Back in the day, people could get it from blood transfusions, but now that we can and do test for it, one of the main ways to get it is to have unprotected sex or to share needles for drugs. And I don’t think there’s any correlation like ‘People who abstain are more likely to do drugs.’ Abstinence is the best way to prevent HIV.)
  • After having stated that the purpose of Y-PEER (an arm of IPPF) is to “empower youth to make their own health choices” I asked “Isn’t it our responsibility to protect youth sometimes? I mean, we don’t let them smoke, we discourage them from doing drugs, we don’t let them drink alcohol. Isn’t it our responsibility to protect youth from certain health choices?” To which the answer was (one sentence) “As a progressive education organization, we don’t believe in telling youth what to do and what not to do.” (This to me is really scary – it sounds like they would let young people do anything as long as young people were educated to me. Say I had a ten year old and my ten year old wanted to do drugs and he had been educated about what they did and how they work. By their own reasoning, my ten year old should be allowed to do drugs. That kind of reasoning is such a slippery slope.)
  • “Abstinence is impossible!” (To which I say false. I know for a fact that I am not the only person who was abstinent until marriage. And if I did it, clearly it’s not impossible. I am far from superhuman, trust me.)
  • “When the sexual and reproductive health rights of youth are upheld, they have greater access to education.” (This seems all backwards to me. How does knowing how to have safe sex teach you how to read? Someone explain please.)
  • “There is a huge problem in my country that people think children are a blessing from God so they keep having more of them.”  (First of all, children ARE a blessing from God. Second of all, if you are all about choices, how can you tell people that they are having too many children?)
  • One speaker implied that women who marry young are uneducated. (This really upset me because I married at 20 and I am almost finished with my Bachelor’s degree – early at that – and considering getting my Master’s. Even if I don’t get my Master’s, it would be because I have never felt strongly about getting a Master’s degree and I have other goals and dreams, not because I got married.)
  • After hearing a man talk about how it was time to listen to the young people all evening long, afterwards I approached him and the following exchange took place (I think it speaks for itself).
    “You keep saying you want to listen to the young people, but the truth is, you don’t want to listen to the young people who disagree with you.”
    “Well when all the choices are available, if you disagree, you don’t have to make that choice.”
    “But we know some things are bad for people, that’s why we try not to let people make those choices, like we make some drugs illegal.”
    “It’s just that our society was founded on the basis of freedom.”
    “But we restrict some freedoms for the protection of other people, like if I wanted to murder you, I couldn’t do that, because there are laws limiting my freedom for your protection.”
    “That may be so.”

We also saw blatant attempts to censor us. In their earlier events, they took questions from the audience. After getting many, many pro-life questions that they fumbled through the answers on, in their last event, they only took written questions so they could pick and choose which ones to ask. There were many questions we submitted that were never asked or answered.

They are trying to put all of this in under Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 which is on improving maternal health. However, when you listen to them and see their publications, it’s pretty clear that they don’t want to improve maternal health, they just want guaranteed access to contraception and abortion for everyone.

But abortion and contraception are not the answer to solving maternal health. Contraception doesn’t fix maternal health because it allows people to have more sex, thus increasing their risk of becoming pregnant, since no contraception works 100 percent. The reasons for that are two fold. First because abortions  actually hurt maternal health and second because it doesn’t address some of the real causes of maternal mortality.

There is a LOT of evidence to support these two points (By the way, don’t feel like you need to read them all – just a sampling will give you an idea of what is out there. I include them in case you are like ” I can’t get enough of this” as I sometime am) .

There are other ways to end the problem of maternal mortality. More hospitals, that are sterile and clean. Educating women about proper prenatal care. Having more trained doctors and midwives. Having the supplies and drugs on hand that are needed. Basically, providing women with the adequate care. Because women are dying from things we know how to treat and prevent. So we should channel our energy and funds into treating and preventing, not into abortion.

It’s my hope that after reading this, you’ve learned a little bit about why increasing access to abortion does nothing to reduce maternal mortality. I think the agenda they’re pushing – sex for anyone, with anyone, any time you want and if an oops happens then you should get an abortion, is healthy, normal, or good for society.

Further more, here are some links to read by others who were there or who reported on it. I’ll star the ones that talk about one or more events that I witnessed or pamphlets that I have seen and in some cases have in my possession and will be going over with a fine tooth comb to blog about when I get a chance that I can back up and say, yes, that really did happen.

PS, sorry I know I’ve said this a lot lately, but if you like my blog, please like my fan page on Facebook. Thanks!

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