Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers

Street Harassment

While I was reading another blog, Stop Street Harassment , they turned me onto quote from Lara Logan, from the New York Times, “When women are harassed … they’re denied an equal place in that society. Public spaces don’t belong to them. Men control it. It reaffirms the oppressive role of men in the society.”

I think what she says has a lot of truth to it. I mean I know that I, as a woman, have feared walking on the streets before. I’ve been made to feel extremely uncomfortable in situations before. And in those situations, it is true, men are controlling it. Because I don’t feel like there’s anything I can do. I try to end the conversation, to walk away, but sometimes you can’t, when you’re waiting for a bus stop or you just don’t want to let them have anymore control than they already have.

Part of lifting up women means making everywhere a safe space for them so they don’t have to fear harassment. No one should have to fear harassment, plain and simple. We need to take back public spaces so that women are able to feel safe in them.

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“I am never frightened when I tell the truth” – Malalai Joya

Malalai Joya. You many never have heard her name, but I want to introduce you to her, for I believe she is a hero among women and for women. All of the following are in no particular order, because I decided that all of them are of equal importance to know and of equal importance to hear and understand, so that you might get the picture. I know it’s kind of long, but whatever part you choose to read, should it be all or part, I hope you come across and understanding of who she is and what she is fighting for.

Among other things, she

  • was the youngest member of the Afghan parliament ever at 27 (until she was expelled for speaking up about something unpopular).
  • is living in hiding.
  • is still continuing to speak up despite this.
  • was denied a US visa until public outrage got that decision overturned.
  • has been assaulted.
  • has had threats of rape used against her.
  • is a survivor of attempts on her life (current count is at least 5).
  • opposes Karzai and his regime.
  • calls out the American government and says what they’re doing has nothing to do with humanitarianism (something that I agree with).
  • is the author of a book, A Woman Among Warlords, which has been translated into more than 12 different languages.
  • was named in Time‘s 100 most influential people.
  • receives death threats.
  • lives in constant presence of bodyguards.
  • moves every single day.
  • is forced to wear a burqa in order to hide her identity when out and about for her safety.
  • wants to see the war criminals answer to their crimes before international courts.
  • has written op eds about kill teams in Afghanistan for The Guardian.
  • believes people can make a difference, even when governments fail to.
  • established important services under the Taliban, including a health clinic and an orphanage.
  • taught refugees to read and write.
  • received the Anna Politkovskaya award for human rights.
  • got married despite the fact that she can hardly see her husband for the sake of his safety.

She has been described as

  • someone “who has spoken out with incredible courage against the torturers of the Afghan people: the Soviet invaders; the Islamic fundamentalists unleashed by Reagan and the Pakistani intelligence agencies; the medieval Taliban fanatics trained in the U.S./Saudi-backed madrassas established by Pakistani dictator Zia-ul-Haq; and finally the U.S. forces and their NATO subordinates who restored the rule of the warlords and are now themselves killing and destroying in the name of ‘liberation’ and women’s rights” (Malalai Joya on connexions).
  • “Afghanistan’s most internationally recognized activist” (Give Malalai Joya a Visa).
  • “a lonely voice campaigning for women’s rights in her country” (Give Malalai Joya a Visa).
  • “an exemplar of the sort of democracy that embodies women’s rights” (Give Malalai Joya a Visa).
  • “a woman who doesn’t back down” (A Woman Among Warlords: Malalai Joya brings message of peace to Surf City).

Some of the things she has said include

  • “It was obvious from the very first days that the United States had compromised the rights of Afghan women by supporting some of the worst enemies of women that our country has ever seen” (Malalai Joya on connexions).
  • that Afghanistan needs most “an invasion of hospitals, clinics and schools for boys and girls” (Malalai Joya on connexions).
  • “These values must be fought for and won by the people themselves. They can only grow and flourish when they are planted by the people in their own soil and watered by their own blood and tears” (Malalai Joya on connexions).
  • “We remain caged in our country, without access to justice and still ruled by women-hating criminals. Fundamentalists still preach that ‘a woman should be in her house or in the grave.’ In most places, it is still not safe for a woman to appear in public uncovered, or to walk on the street without a male relative. Girls are sold into marriage. Rape goes unpunished” (Give Malalai Joya a Visa).
  • “the fundamentalists are counting days to eliminate me and silence my voice” (Interview: Malalai Joya on NOW PBS)
  • “I will never give up and will continue to be the voice of millions of voiceless Afghan people who are still being brutalized and smashed by fundamentalists like the Northern Alliance and Taliban” (Interview: Malalai Joya on NOW PBS)
  • “The Afghan parliament is the most disgusting and corrupt parliament in the world. Over 85 percent of the MPs [Members of Parliament] are those who should first of all appear in the court for their crimes against our people. They are trying to use this body for their own interests and benefits. Most of the time the warlords present are arguing to increase the benefits given to MPs. They are bargaining for their salaries to be increased, but they have no intention or willingness to work on laws for the betterment of Afghan people” (Interview: Malalai Joya on NOW PBS).
  • “The voice of me and a number of other democratic-minded MPs is not heard and we are not given time to speak. My microphone has been cut off a number of times when I criticize this situation and want to express my point of view. Once they even physically attacked me inside the parliament and one of them said ‘take and rape this prostitute’ (Interview: Malalai Joya on NOW PBS).
  • “Parliament is just a showpiece for the West to say that there is democracy in Afghanistan, but our people don’t need this donated B52 democracy. I am very fed up with the parliament and have no hope for it to do anything for our people. It is a parliament of killers, murderer, drug-lords and traitors to the motherland. The only reason I am there is to have the opportunity to expose the nature of the parliament and the policy makers and become the voice of my people in it. Being an MP gives me the opportunities to raise my opposition, and my voice is heard by others in Afghanistan and outside” (Interview: Malalai Joya on NOW PBS).
  • “I think that no nation can donate liberation to another nation. Liberation is not money to be donated; it should be achieved in a country by the people themselves” (Interview: Malalai Joya on NOW PBS).
  • (on the subject of what she wants Americans to know) “I want them to know that Afghan people have been victims of the U.S. government’s wrong policies in the past three decades following the Cold War. They should know that Afghanistan is not “liberated” at all as trumpeted by the Western media. They should know that their government is playing a chess game with our country and is not interested in its stability. They should now that worse enemies of the Afghan people, those who brought Osama Bin Laden to Afghanistan and slaughtered our people and committed unbelievable crimes against its unfortunate women, are now in power and backed by the U.S. government. They should know that Afghan people are facing a 9/11 everyday. They should know that under the U.S. occupation, Afghanistan has become the world’s number one opium producer and a large part of it is smuggled to the U.S. Finally they should know that, like all human beings Afghan people love democracy and freedom and dream of a prosperous life. While we hate the war-mongering and criminal-fostering policies of the U.S. government, we feel, acknowledge and thank the sympathies and support of the U.S. people and learn from their humanism and dedication” (Interview: Malalai Joya on NOW PBS).
  • “I never had to wear a burka before” (A Woman Among Warlords: Malalai Joya brings message of peace to Surf City).
  • “We have two choices . . . to sit in silence, or to do struggle. But I’m alive. I didn’t expect to be alive” (A Woman Among Warlords: Malalai Joya brings message of peace to Surf City).
  • “Firstly, the U.S. is not in Afghanistan to fulfill their empty promises of ‘peace’ and ‘democracy’ but for their own political, economic and regional interests. They installed a fundamentalist, criminal and corrupt regime which is mainly the root cause for many problems of my country—particularly the women’s rights catastrophe—and they continue to nurture them till this minute. Since 2001, more than 8,000 civilians—mostly innocent children, women and men—have been killed in their military operations, such as the massacre of 152 innocent women and children in Balabaluk village, 65 innocent women in children in Kunar province and over 140 villagers in Kundoz province. As the result of bringing such a treacherous government in power, Afghanistan is facing a women’s rights disaster; it is the second most corrupt country in the world and is the highest opium producer of the world, the outcome of which is extremely dangerous as now my homeland has fallen prey for drug mafias, who are far more deadly than terrorists. Afghanistan is suffering extreme poverty—over 80% of people live below the poverty line mainly because of the U.S. imposing globalization system on free market economy which only greatly widens the gap between rich and poor. This disastrous situation is gaining momentum under the very nose of 47 foreign nations present with more than 93,000 US troops and 39,000 NATO troops” (Malalai Joy: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire).
  • “Obama may have brought changes for American people but for my people, he is just a more dangerous Bush. It was during his tenure that civilian casualties increased by 24%. A surge of 30,000 troops was executed which only results in more bloodshed, disasters and mourning and wide military and intelligence bases of the US are being built all over the country” (Malalai Joy: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire).
  • “The current situation of women is quite depressing. Women are subjected to extreme kinds of violence such as rape, killings, kidnappings, acid attacks, cutting of nose and ears. Many such horrible and heart-wrenching crimes against the women and girls of Afghanistan are happening everyday. To escape their miseries, women commit self-immolation and its number is very high in many provinces. There is a huge emphasis in the media about education particularly girls’ education and they just magnify statistics and fool people that 6 million children go to school but now about 5 million children have dropped out—mainly girls because of the high insecurity. Even if they go to school, it is usually a roofless building with no proper books or notebooks and the conditions of schools are very bad. There are women parliamentarians and a women’s ministry and they are the heroines of the mainstream media but practically they are not doing anything for the betterment of the women’s conditions and the situation is getting worse everyday. Furthermore, there have been pro-women laws passed but it is clear that it would never get implemented and the law book is just a collection of useless papers for this regime full of anti-women elements”  (Malalai Joy: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire).
  • “These people are snakes in the sleeves of the government. Only if the government tackles them head-on will we see a brighter future” (Profile: Malalai Joy from the BBC).
  • “Today the Afghan government is the most corrupt in our whole history and the third most corrupt in the world” (Interview with Malalai Joya from Foreign Policy in Focus).
  • “Women’s conditions in some cities have slightly improved since the Taliban regime. But if we compare it with the era before the rule of the fundamentalists in Afghanistan, it has not changed much. Afghan women had more rights in the 1960s to 1980s than today. Rapes, abductions, murders, violence, forced marriages, and violence are increasing at an alarming rate never seen before in our history. Women commit self-immolation to escape their miseries, and the rate of self-immolations is climbing in many of the provinces. Afghanistan still faces a women’s rights catastrophe” (Interview with Malalai Joya from Foreign Policy in Focus).
  • “I am not sure how many more days I will be alive” (Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced).
  • “But I don’t fear death, I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice . . . I am young and I want to live. But I say to those who would eliminate my voice: ‘I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring’ (Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced).
  • “Every day in Afghanistan, even now, hundreds if not thousands of ordinary women act out these small gestures of solidarity with each other. We are our sisters’ keepers” (Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced).
  • “For fundamentalists, a women is half a human, meant only to fulfil a man’s every wish and lust, and to produce children and toil in the home”  (Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced).
  • “If these criminals raped your mother or your daughter or your grandmother, or killed seven of your sons, let alone destroyed all the moral and material treasure of your country, what words would you use against such criminals that will be inside the framework of politeness and respect?” (Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced).
  •  “I am never frightened when I tell the truth” (Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced).
  • “In Afghanistan we have a saying: the truth is like the sun. When it comes up, nobody can block it out or hide it” (Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced).
Here are some videos of her being interviewed. The first video is also shown at the beginning of the second video, but I think it’s worth seeing. At the time this video was shot, I believe she was 25 and speaking out against some of the most corrupt people in the world.
All of this is why I think that she is a hero among women and for women. First of all, for not being afraid to speak the truth in the face of intimidation. For speaking up for women in a place where the West portrays them as not being able to speak up. For all of her accomplishments. For everything she’s made it through. She is truly a remarkable woman to me and she deserves a lot of respect.

If you’re interested in reading her book, it can be found on Amazon here.

Sources:
Malalai Joya on connexions
Give Malalai Joya a Visa
Interview: Malalai Joya on NOW PBS
A Woman Among Warlords: Malalai Joya brings message of peace to Surf City
Malalai Joy: From the Frying Pan Into the Fire
Profile: Malalai Joy from the BBC
Malalai Joya Bio from Afghanistan Online
Interview with Malalai Joya from Foreign Policy in Focus
US Blocks Visit from Malalai Joya
Malalai Joya: The woman who will not be silenced
Why Can’t This Afghan Activist Get a Visa? 

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Kate and William and the Expectation to have an heir

I want to preface this post by saying, I am not anti-motherhood. I think that being a mother is a special right and privilege given to woman and that God gave us the ability to be mothers for a reason.

That being said. It is wrong that Kate is expected to have an heir. Comments like this, “”If Kate is not pregnant in the next nine months, she will be defying 200 years of royal tradition” and this, “If I’m being brutal about it, Catherine’s duty is to make her husband happy and to produce an heir” are wrong (Source). It’s not because I think that motherhood enslaves women, it’s because I worry about what will happen to Kate if they don’t have a child.

This kind of expectation, royalty or not, could be very harmful. What if Kate and William have trouble conceiving? According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 1 in 7 couples face that difficulty (Source). What will happen to them then? Will the blame fall to Kate? Will the media crucify her? Will they blame William for marrying for love and not marrying a royal?

I have a few friends who struggle with infertility and I see how hard that is for them. But, how much harder would it be for Kate and William if they face infertility on the public stage? I don’t think it’s fair to have such a heavy expectation on her to have children.

I hope for her sake, they are able to get pregnant, because I wouldn’t want to go through infertility under the scrutiny of all the eyes in the world.

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Maternal Health: A Human Right?

So, my professor handed me a disk from Amnesty International about Maternal Health as a human right. So I thought, okay, I’ll take a look at it and see what sort of information I can find. Because I am, for the most part, on board with this. I think that health care, in general, is a human right because we should have a right to live and to have a life, but I think that maternal health care is one of those areas that should be a right because it is so preventable. A lot of complications of child birth we do know how to treat. Giving women the right to maternal health care is giving women the right to life. My only hesitation is that sometimes this includes “family planning” a blanket term often used to cover abortion and the birth control pill, which I wrote about earlier as being bad for women.

According to Amnesty International, “more than 350,000 women die from complications pregnancy and childbirth – that’s one woman every ninety seconds. Most of these deaths could have been easily prevented if women had timely access to quality maternal and reproductive health care services.” – Source (This will be my source for everything in this post since I’m taking my information off of their disk). If you do the math, that’s more than 350,000 in one year. Can you even fathom that? It is hard for women in rural areas to reach health facilities. More than 95 percent of women and girls who die from this are from less-developed countries, but plenty die in marginalized or poor communities in rich countries. Two examples of less-developed countries would be in Sierra Leone where 1 in every 21 women dies in childbirth and Burkina Faso where 4,000 women die every year. I think, however, these are more the stories we are familiar with, so I won’t spend much time on them. We know that women in underdeveloped countries die, but we forget about the ones who are dying in our own backyards. Not that it is less tragic, I just want to remind you that this isn’t something that happens to “other people.” Because certainly, 1 in 21 women, like in Sierra Leone is truly tragic and something definitely needs to be done about that.

But I want to spend a little time on the US, just so you understand this isn’t just a “poor country” problem. Did you know (and I find this shocking) that in 1987 6.6 women per 100,000 live births died in the US. That seems like a low number. And albeit, it is an admittedly low number. But then you look at in 2006, it was 13.3 per 100,000 live births. That’s a low number also comparatively, but that’s not the shocking part to me. The shocking part is that even though medical technology has increased since 1987, more women die. If technology is increasing, shouldn’t the number of deaths go down? In 1998, under the Healthy People 2010 goals the United States wanted to drop that number to 4.3, but instead it has gone up and only five states have met that goal. 5 out of 50. And, lest you think it’s because we’re not investing enough money, we spend more on health care than any other country and more on maternal health care than any other type of health care. In a woman’s risk of death from pregnancy and complications, we 41st in the world. If you want to see how we stack up, a woman in childbirth is three times less likely to die in Spain, four times less likely to die in Germany, and five times less likely to die in Greece. And that’s only looking at deaths. The number of women who suffer a severe pregnancy complication in terms of the woman’s health is 1.7 million in a single year. 1.7 million. And there is also a race divide – African-American women? 5.6 times more likely to die when compared to white women in the US; in New York City their ratio is 83.6 per 100,000 live births. Here, in the US. Amnesty International places the blame for this on poverty, but I think there are more factors (I’m just not sure what they are yet – possibly the medicalization of childbirth as the system is set up to make women birth in very unnatural ways). Some other potential factors are the cost of health care and the fact that many insurance companies either don’t cover pregnant women or exclude maternal care. That’s if you even have insurance in the first place. There is also the fact that many women lack the needed prenatal care, which makes you three or four times more likely to die in childbirth. This hits minority women the hardest as they are even more unlikely to receive prenatal care (including Native Americans and Alaska Natives). Amnesty International also feels that women in the US receive inadequate postpartum care. Another potential problem is that maternal health care isn’t up to speed. One example cited is that medical science has shown that blood clot risk can be reduced after surgery with compression stockings or drugs but this isn’t always done after a c-section. Another fact that I personally believe has a lot to do with it is our use of C-sections. 1 in 3 women in America give birth via c-section, higher than WHO’s recommended guidelines (at max, 15 percent), which gives them a risk of death that is three times higher than having the baby the natural way.

This is a problem that is happening in our own backyard. Wisconsin’s rate is 7.2 per 100,000, so less than national average, but still not great. Compared to the other states, we rank 13th, so not horrible, but not that great either. Our state doesn’t mandate that employer plans cover care for pregnant women nor do they mandate reporting maternal deaths. 15.1 percent of women across the board and 27.4 percent of women of color don’t get prenatal care until late in their pregnancy or even at all. Granted, our c-section rate is a little bit lower than national average, but at 25 percent even it is still higher than recommended.

Like I said before, women deserve a right to life, especially pregnant women. That right to life is a human right and it doesn’t and shouldn’t disappear just because you are pregnant and a woman.

Once again, this is my source Source

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Women and Islam

All right, well before I start this post I want to say, I am a practicing Christian (Wisconsin Synod Lutheran in case you’re curious) and I am not a Muslim, nor have I ever been Muslim. That being said, I do have thoughts on the way that Islam treats women.

The issue I am going to focus on today is the veiling of Islamic women. I’m talking about the hijab, the niqab, and burqa.

For brief definitions:
Hijab – “Refers to both the head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women and modest Muslim styles of dress in general.” (Wikipedia)
Niqab – “A veil which covers the face, worn by some Muslim women as a part of sartorial hijāb.” (Wikipedia)
Burqa – “An enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover their bodies in public places. The burqa is usually understood to be the woman’s loose body-covering (Arabic: jilbāb), plus the head-covering (Arabic: ḥijāb, taking the most usual meaning), plus the face-veil (Arabic: niqāb).” (Wikipedia)

I’m talking about this in light of recent news from France. France has banned the burqa. It went into effect earlier this week. In fact, they’ve already made some arrests.

I want you to watch this video where two Muslim women debate it and then I’ll give you my opinion on it.

While I feel that countries who choose to force women to wear the burqa, niqab, or hijab are wrong and those laws should be overturned, I also feel that nobody should have the right to tell you you can not wear something, especially not if it is something you are doing for religious reasons.

Last week, I attended (and presented) at Wisconsin Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies student conference. One of the sessions I got the chance to attend was called “Do You See More Than My Hijab?” This student had done her research, asking other Muslim women across campus on their feelings on wearing the veil. The speaker talked about how she felt the majority of the time that her veil didn’t bring her any negative effects from people and that men actually respected her more, she felt, when she was wearing it – opening doors for her and such. She was very open with us and allowed us to ask her any questions. She talked about her choice to wear the hijab. I used to feel too that it was oppressive, I used to read Muslim women talking about how it wasn’t, but it wasn’t until I talked to a real person that it convinced me that it wasn’t oppressive to women (where they have a choice).

And you know, even though I would never do it – a lot of it made sense to me. A lot of people have picked on me for wearing what I consider modest clothing because they think my status of modesty is ridiculous. To them (a lot of Muslim women) the hijab, niqab, and burqa are their way of being modest. When it’s done for their choice, I think they should have every right in the world to make that choice. Modesty is so little valued in our world, that when a woman wants to be modest, there is often a lot of backlash against it, like these women are facing.

I think I will end with this quote by a Muslim woman, that sums up my thoughts on this.

If women want to walk around half-naked I don’t object to them doing so. If they want to wear tight jeans where you can see their underwear or walk around with their breasts hanging out, I don’t give a damn. But if they are allowed to do that, why should I not be allowed to cover up? – Source

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Women and the United Nations

Women are an important part of the world, so it only make sense that the United Nations (UN), a group of states that deals with world cooperation and governance, would have to deal with their treatment and their needs.

Some of the issues they try to address are violence against women (especially sexual violence and domestic violence), the political rights that women have, the human rights that women have (like the age at which they can get married), human trafficking (which effects women greatly),  “honor” crimes, traditional, but harmful practices like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and more.

The UN has tried to address women’s needs in many different ways – which I think is great! Some different ways are through the Convention on the Elimination of the Discrimination of Women (CEDAW); Convention on the Political Rights of Women; Convention on the Nationality of Married Women; Convention on consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages; UN Women; UNiTE to end violence against women (UNiTE); Commission on the Status of Women (CSW); Network of Men Leaders; Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women; and more and hopefully more to come.  Indeed, even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is supposed to apply to people, regardless of sex, so this means women too!

Stay tuned – I’ll break down some of these documents and initiatives in further posts.

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