Month: June 2013

Photo by Elizabeth Fortier

Repercussions of Dowries and Arranged Marriages in India

In India, the caste system, dowries, and arranged marriages are sustaining a hostile environment for women in the country. Immersing yourself in a culture or population to find out its needs and not imposing your beliefs upon others are lessons that have been vital in my study and practice of public service and public health. As cultures come together and the world grows smaller, this is not the time to abandon tradition, pass judgment, or foster hatred. Throughout history, fear and misunderstanding of differences have cost our world far too much. However, the shrinking of the world has also created an opportunity to investigate the fine line between tradition and injustice. Injustices can be passed on under the guise of tradition, and are costing individuals opportunities, health, and in some cases even their lives. These things need to be talked about. It is an accepted practice for men of India’s Perna caste to “pimp” their wives as a way to earn income for the family. A detailed article in the Pacific Standard examines the lives …

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See No Evil: Why the Justice System Ignores Rape

Much has been said about the rape culture that exists in today’s society, without a full definition of what rape culture is. To many, it refers to the general acceptance of trivializing sexual violence, from the popular use of rape as a term of competitive jest (for example, “I totally raped that exam,”) or the negations of the definition of rape, as in the example of Todd Akin’s ‘legitimate rape’ quote. A less discussed aspect of rape culture, however, is the accepted response to the crime itself. In an essay on The Huffington Post, Amherst student Angie Epfiano, who went public with the story of her own rape, commented on the inability of victims to speak about their experiences. “When you look at it, sexual assault and rape are basically the only violent crimes that when you talk about it, people close off.” She went on to explain, “If you were mugged in New York City people would be horrified. No one is going to sit there and say ‘Are you sure you were mugged?’ …

Solar energy customers in Bangalore, India

Energy Poverty has the Face of a Woman

Approximately 1.2 billion people – almost one fifth of the world’s population – live without access to electricity needed for day-to-day activities, such as lighting the home, keeping children and the elderly cool during the summer, charging your phone’s battery or meeting the needs of small enterprises. They use candles or kerosene wick lamps for lighting, and often go days without the ability to communicate with the outside world as they can’t find a place to charge their mobile phones. Worldwide, 2.8 billion people rely on traditional energy sources like burning wood or animal dung on open fires for cooking and boiling water, which leads to health and economic burdens that predominantly fall on women and girls. Anywhere from 50 to 70% of people without access to energy are women and girls. Women and girls bear the primary responsibility for fetching firewood, cooking and other domestic work, making them disproportionately affected by energy poverty across developing countries. According to Solar Sister, a women’s enterprise working to eradicate energy poverty, up to 780 million women and children …

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UN Women: Interview with Lakshmi Puri

At the 2013 Women Deliver Conference, Julia Wiklander and I had the incredible opportunity to meet and interview Lakshmi Puri, Acting Head of UN Women. Aiming to enhance gender equality and women’s empowerment around the world, the United Nations General assembly created UN Women in 2010. By focusing on areas such as violence against women and economic empowerment, UN Women helps women and girls achieve gender equality in their villages, communities and nations. By both providing leadership for the Bureau of Intergovernmental Support and the United Nations Coordination and Strategic Partnerships and by serving as a member of the senior leadership team, Lakshmi Puri played an integral role in laying the foundation for UN Women’s active global presence in promoting gender equality and women’s rights. Lakshmi spoke with passion and zeal at the Women Deliver Conference’s  Opening Ceremonies, challenging the over four thousand conference attendees to implement the existing and future commitments aimed at empowering women and girls –  including the commitment to ensure all women have equal access to sexual and reproductive health services. Throughout the Conference, Ms. …

I stand with wendy

Watching History Unfold – Senator Wendy Davis filibusters archaic abortion law in Texas

Yesterday, on June 25th, I along with up to 200,000 others watched live streaming from the Texas Senate as Senator Wendy Davis took the floor to filibuster Senate Bill 5 (SB5), a horrific piece of legislation that would have closed down most abortion providers in Texas and banned abortion after 20 weeks. Under legislative rules in Texas, Senator Davis was able to delay the vote for as long as she was able to talk continuously about her objections to the bill without stopping to eat, drink, use the bathroom, sit down, or lean into anything. Senator Davis started her fight around 11am on Tuesday – and the events that followed were nothing short of inspiring and incredible. After hours of relentless filibustering and exceptional stamina, Senator Davis’ filibuster was halted by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who considered Davis’ remarks about ultrasound to be “not germane”, i.e. not relevant, to the abortion bill – a ridiculous claim to make, especially given how fond of ultrasounds Texas Republicans have been with their previous abortion bills. The …

Yeah Samaké Women

Empowering Women in Mali, Africa: Yeah Samaké

Malian women are strong. They work dawn to dusk taking care of their families and are usually the first to wake up and the last to go to bed. Usually they will have anywhere from 4 to 10 children. They cook, clean, chop firewood and often try to start small businesses so that they can bring in some income. All of this is usually done with a child on their back and one to two in tow. In Mali, women and men have separated incomes. The man is responsible for providing money for food and the general running of the household. Any money the women bring in can be used by her at her discretion. Having a business teaches these women how to sustain themselves. The culture in Mali is rapidly changing and it is very common to see small street businesses run by women selling anything from household items to produce. Mali is taking many steps forward. After the military coup last March 2012, just 39 days before the election, an interim government was …

Thicke's Blurred Lines

Thicke’s Blurred Lines

When I heard the tune of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” featuring T.I. and Pharrell, I thought it was incredibly catchy. That baseline, that beat. It was when I listened to the lyrics, saw the sexism and gender imbalance in the video and read the outcry online, that I reacted. This is not just a summer tune. This song, and especially the music video, reinforces the picture of women as sex objects and the status of men as superior beings, which so often is repeated over and over again in the media. The original video, featuring three models parading around with nothing on but nude colored panties (while Thicke and Pharrell are fully clothed), has been banned by YouTube (but can still be viewed in its full nudity on Vimeo). In the video, Thicke whispers in the ears of the naked women: I hate these blurred lines, I know you want it Blogger Lisa Huynh of the blog Feminist in LA writes, “Call me a cynic, but that phrase does not exactly encompass the notion of consent in …

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Speak Up for Widows

Today is International Widows’ Day. Adopted on February 23, 2011, International Widows’ Day serves as a global reminder of the economic, social, and health consequences that arise upon the death of a woman’s spouse. As such, International Widows’ Day creates a space for conversation on widows’ issues and encourages individuals, organizations, and governments alike to advocate for widows’ empowerment. The Loomba Foundation, the main advocate behind the creation of International Widows’ Day, works to help widows and their children around the world. In 2012, UN Women and The Loomba Foundation launched a three-year project to empower widows through global advocacy and economic empowerment. “No woman should lose her rights when she loses her husband – but an estimated 115 million widows live in poverty, and 81 million have suffered physical abuse. Girls [that marry] much older men are especially vulnerable. Let us use International Widows’ Day to advocate for the rights of all widows so they can enjoy better lives and realize their great potential to contribute to our world.” ~ Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon In addition …

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The Hollywood Problem

In developed countries, we tend to speak of the status of women in less developed countries as oppressive and beyond comprehension. For many of us, it is self-evident that women are equal to men in terms of our capabilities, status and dignity. Yet, the uncomfortable truth is that in our own countries, there exists a persistent and clear gender bias which, though acknowledged, is proving difficult to fully eradicate. Within the mainstream media, more and more voices are emerging which point out the numerous institutions and standards that exist in the developed world that operate on an implicit gender bias. In no case is this more obvious or unapologetic as in Hollywood. The women in Hollywood are subjected to a reduction of themselves as a sum of their physical features. A woman is far more prized in Hollywood for her attractiveness than her acting chops, with the majority of magazine covers dedicated to women featuring their faces, their bodies and their love lives rather than their insights or accomplishments. This could be attributed to a …

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Girls Raise Their Voices For Education!

During a workshop I held at Mottagningskolan Mosaik, a school in Malmö, Sweden for newly immigrated teens, I met some amazing girls. These girls from Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, and Syria shared their views on girls’ rights and education, the importance of gender equality and the strength of women in the societies where they are from. We discussed what barriers there are to girls attending school and what we can do to make a difference for girls all around the world. All the girls in that workshop are an inspiration to me, they are leaders, change makers and strong, wonderful young women that I believe will inspire you too. Salma, 15, writes: (translated to English from Swedish) My home country is Somalia and I am born in Mogadishu. When I came to Sweden, it was summer and warm, almost like in my home country. It was difficult to leave my family. I have 8 siblings, a mother and a father. My parents decided that I should move to Europe for the safety of myself and my …