Author: Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp

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Standing Up for Girls in the Time of Trump

Trump is threatening the rights and well-being of adolescent girls domestically and globally, especially those whose skin color, religion and country of origin do not meet his approval. The person holding the most powerful and prestigious office in one of the most influential global nations is a sex offender who fetishes his daughter, believes “putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing” and views girls and women as a sum of their sexual parts. He is now turning this disgusting misogyny and racism, xenophobia and many other forms of hate, into policy. My work as an advocate for girls just got a lot harder. My work, like all work, begins at home. I visibly resist hate for and with my own daughters, two immigrants of color who are growing up in a time when integral parts of their identity are being challenged. They, and all girls in my life, must see me modeling contested truths: black lives matter, native lives matter and refugee lives matter; women’s rights are human rights; no human being …

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Linking with Those at Standing Rock

I stand in solidarity with the water protectors. Native Americans from nearly 300 tribes united to protect the water by protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. This pipeline would transport 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day across sacred burial grounds and Lake Oahe on the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for Standing Rock. According to the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851, Standing Rock Reservation is a sovereign native nation, meaning that Energy Transfer Partners has no right to construct this pipeline on their land without their permission. The US Government, per their own treaty, has no right to let them. I stand with the water protectors because I oppose a $3.7 billion project that supports a corporation at the expense of human beings. I stand with them as a white American who is interwoven in a system that exploits Natives for my gain – and I want that exploitation to stop. I stand with them because I am crying out for my government to honor the treaties and begin to right its …

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The Yellow Movement

The road to equality begins when women raise their voices. At the Women Deliver conference, I met a university student from Ethiopia. Describing herself as an emerging feminist lawyer, she talked about the Yellow Movement at Addis Ababa University. This student led movement works to engage students, faculty and the community around issues of violence against girls and women. They hold weekly open discussions to create awareness, fundraise scholarships for female students, host an annual blood drive for maternal health and lead an orientation for female first year students at the university. They visit women’s shelters, offering support to local organizations while wearing bright yellow t-shirts; yellow represents the sun and a promise of a new day. The Yellow Movement is pushing back the darkness created by inequality and oppression. The Yellow Movement emerged in a country where violence against girls and women is so common that it’s largely socially acceptable. Research from the Population Council found that 23% of female survey participants reported that husbands have the right to beat their wives if they …

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I Feel Rage – And You Should Too

I have never been raped, but the threat of rape is embedded into my conscious and subconscious. It’s a part of me; it’s a part of being a women in the vast majority of the world. Recently, I got a treadmill. In the middle of a run, my partner casually walked in and began talking to me. I jumped, nearly tripping on the machine as my heart rate seemed to double. I screamed, yelling that he should never, never surprise me on a run again. Never. He didn’t understand why I was so upset; he was just asking if I wanted him to pick up a post-run latte for me. When I’m running outdoors, I explained, I’m on alert for any man who might sneak up behind me. Even though I was running in my own home and even though I heard a familiar voice, I panicked because my brain is so programmed to fear approach during those moments when I’m alone on the trail. The threat of rape is very real. I feel it …

‘I was married when I was very young,” says Maria, 14, pictured here. “I used to sell milk to get food and sleep in the forest because I [didn’t] have a place to sleep. Society should stop bad practices, because what I have been through was so hard for me. After my education, I would like to be a nurse so that I can help other girls like me.” 

Photo credit: Modestar, age 12/Too Young To Wed

Dreaming Big at WD 2016: Ending Child Marriage

‘I was married when I was very young,” says Maria, 14, pictured here. “I used to sell milk to get food and sleep in the forest because I [didn’t] have a place to sleep. Society should stop bad practices, because what I have been through was so hard for me. After my education, I would like to be a nurse so that I can help other girls like me.” Photo credit: Modestar, age 12/Too Young To Wed My dream is to end child marriage. I know it sounds naïve, but I refuse to believe that we can do nothing to keep children away from the bedrooms and kitchens of adult men. I advocate determinedly against the practice, often working directly with at risk adolescent girls in communities across the globe. Part of my dream is that those girls escape child marriage and then, empowered by their own story, join the fight to end the practice. I saw a bit of my dream manifest when I met Isatou Jeng at the 2016 Women Deliver Conference. Isatou is …

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Let Her Play – How Sports Can Transform Girls

Sunita Kumari opened the May 17th Women Deliver Conference plenary session, “Girl Power in Play: Leveling the Playing Field for Girls and Women.” Standing on stage in an athletic uniform, the 17 year old from Jharkland, India introduced herself by saying that her father is a farmer and her mother died last month. She then took a deep breath, cracked a smile and identified herself as a footballer. “People think girls should not wear shorts. They think girls should not go outside and play,” she said in a slightly hesitant voice that consistently grew bolder. “But my friends and I, we do not care what people think.” Breaking all community norms and expectations, Sunita both plays and coaches football. She was also a member of the first Indian football team to compete in Spain. 'my friends and I don't care about what people think' Sunita Kumari sets the scene @YuwaFootball #WD2016 pic.twitter.com/CAh5hxM1Ug — Divya Datta (@divya_skdatta) May 17, 2016 Sunita attributes her mental and physical strength to sports, and I can relate. When I was …

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The Quest for Gender Equality: Get Angry About the Present and Keep Going!

I can’t forget the day I met Gloria Steinem. Having barely recovered from the flu, I rolled out of bed too late to wash my hair. Behind on a work deadline, I was preoccupied by Everything-I-Had-To-Do later in the day. The babysitter had to leave earlier than originally planned, which meant that either my partner or I would be rushing out of the event early. As I downed my cough medicine and blew my nose I had second thoughts about going. Still, I went. Realizing I would have the opportunity to speak with Gloria, I planned to tell her about my work as an activist for girls and women. But when I actually stood next to her, I surprised myself by thanking her for her own tireless work that spans decades. “Gratitude,” Gloria once said, “never radicalized anybody. I don’t care if they recognize the past, I just want them to get angry about the present and keep going.” This quote ran through my mind as I spoke to the feminist icon who said it. …

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Young Women Leading Change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

It’s hard to be a young woman in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). When something goes wrong, many people tend to blame girls and women. If a child cries, it’s his mother’s fault. If a team is unsuccessful, the blame is cast on female members. If a man’s car breaks down, somehow he traces mechanic failure to his wife. “When that’s all you hear for your whole life,” one young woman told me, “it gets in your head. We start to blame ourselves for problems that we had nothing to do with.” In a series of leadership workshops in September 2015 and March 2016, 40 students from 12 universities in North and South Kivu grappled with the social norms and stereotypes that stand between women and equality. The leadership training is part of International Alert’s Tushiriki Wote project, which focuses on increasing the economic, political and civic participation of women as a basis for lasting peace. The project works with both male and female university students to challenge traditional gender roles and discuss …

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Sexual and reproductive health in emergencies

One of the most talked about issues at the International Conference on Family Planning was sexual and reproductive health in emergency situations, such as in conflict and displacement. Using the guidelines of the Minimum Initial Service Package (MSP), organizations and agencies working in emergencies offer comprehensive reproductive health services, including family planning, prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, safe motherhood and prevention and response to gender based violence. They aim to provide girls and women with the resources for sexual and reproductive health in the most unstable, unpredictable and unsafe circumstances imaginable. Representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) explained that sometimes girls and women receiving these services are in healthy relationships, but often they are not. Most seek reproductive health services because they have been victims of sexual violence. Sarah Knaster of the Inter-Agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis explained that existing gender inequalities are exacerbated in conflict and displacement. As systems of law and justice break down, rates of intimate partner violence, rape and incest increase. Families …

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Ending child marriage is family planning

In my work I travel to cosmopolitan cities and remote villages to assist girls and young women in living the lives that they want- and deserve- to live. Today as I sat before an audience of activists, scholars and practitioners to present my research on child marriage at the International Conference on Family Planning, I remembered one particular encounter in Ethiopia. I was with a team of researchers conducting interviews at a rural health post in the Amhara Region, where 50% of girls are married by age 15 and 80% by 18. Mid-day an adolescent girl who couldn’t have been older than 15 arrived. She was carrying a large clay jug of water on her back. She wasn’t part of our group, but she talked to my Ethiopian colleagues and eventually came over and sat on the grass next to me. It turns out that this girl was looking for contraception. The previous month she was forced to marry an adult man and, since her best friend died in childbirth, she was terrified of becoming pregnant. But her husband expected children and so she …