Focus on Women

Risks to Women’s Workplace Rights Extend Beyond the Issue of Contraception

July 5th, 2014 . by Cathy Standiford

While the debate continues over whether working women should have the right to employer-funded contraception in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” decision, let us not forget that there are other, perhaps more significant risks to working women’s rights.  A recent article by Richard Eskow points out “five signs that much more needs to be done to ensure equal workplace rights for women in the United States.”   They include the fact that women continue to do most of work at home, despite working outside the home more, and the fact that the wage gap between men and women has not improved.  The loss of public sector jobs and education cuts are also significant indicators that have disproportionately affected women, particularly teachers.

I am tired of women being the primary target for blame when they get pregnant (even though they don’t get that way all by themselves) and of misogynistic policies that support employer funding for Viagra in the name of “reproductive health,” but not contraceptives.  But the gender inequalities many working women face every day and what we can be doing about them are just as worthy of passionate discourse–even if it’s not as sexy or inflammatory to talk about them.

I can’t help but wonder how different things might be today if the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence had stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A Salute to Military Women on Memorial Day

May 26th, 2014 . by Cathy Standiford

Memorial Day is a national holiday in the United States for remembering the men and women who died while serving their country.  There are currently more than 214,000 women serving in the U.S. armed forces, comprising approximately 14.6% of total enlisted personnel.

Although women didn’t begin serving in the armed forces until 1901, women have been on the battlefield since the American Revolution.  In fact, the first woman killed by enemy fire was Jemima Warner, who died on December 11, 1775 during the siege of Quebec.  Jemima had been travelling with her husband, a private in the Revolutionary Army to nurse him during poor health.  Sadly, her husband died on the way to Quebec, but she continued along with the battalion.

359 women died during World War I, mostly from influenza that was sweeping the world at that time.  During World War II, 543 women died in combat, 16 from enemy fire.  A total of 17 nurses were killed during the Korean War, and 8 died during the Vietnam war.  Sixteen women died during Operation Desert Storm.  And as of April 2013, more than 143 women deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait had lost their lives in the line of duty.  That number has likely increased in the last year.

For more interesting information about women in the military, visit the Women’s Memorial Foundation, or this website, dedicated to telling the history of women in combat.

2.5 Million Slaves in the World Today

January 11th, 2014 . by Cathy Standiford

Did you know there are more than 2.5 million slaves in the world today ?  They are the victims of human trafficking, a modern day form of slavery.  And more than 2 million of these slaves are women and children,  many of whom have been sold, coerced, or tricked into the commercial sex industry.

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States.  It’s intended to help raise public awareness of the slavery that exists right in front of us–though we may not always see it.  To raise your awareness, visit liveyourdream.org.  Beginning today and continuing over the next week, the website will be featuring a fact about human trafficking that you can post, share or send along to your contacts.  You can also get the facts by following LiveYourDream.org on facebook.

To learn the facts behind the sex trafficking of women and girls, and what we can do to help stop it, read Soroptimist’s outstanding white paper at Soroptimist.org.

Holiday Wishes for Women and Girls

December 23rd, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford

As I have travelled around the world, I have come to realize that no matter where we live, no matter what our culture or religion or socio-economic status, all women and girls want basically the same things.  As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, here are my Top 10 holiday wishes for women and girls.

  • Pay equity
  • An end to rape, trafficking, bullying, female genital mutilation, domestic violence and all other forms of violence against women and girls
  • Improved access to education — the pathway to social and economic empowerment
  • More women in positions of leadership in the board room, the halls of justice, and local and national governments.  Ideally, equal representation in all of those venues
  • An end to gender bias in the media, and more images that value women and girls for what they think instead of what they look like
  • Less poverty
  • More access to health care
  • An end to war and conflict
  • Social justice
  • More people like me who care about issues facing women and girls, and who want to do something about it.  (Hint: you can find out more about how to get involved at either liveyourdream.org or soroptimist.org)

May 2014 be a year of positive change that makes the world better, not just for women and girls, but for all of us.  Happy Holidays!

The Danger of Euphemisms

October 27th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford

The language we use can say a lot, sometimes without us even recognizing it.  Language euphemisms are the “disguised” stories we sometimes use to describe our actions.  For example, unethical and potentially fraudulent bookeeping may be called “creative accounting practices.”  We have “collateral damage” in military actions, not civilian deaths.  Language euphemisms themselves may not be dangerous.  In fact, they can help simplify some of the complexities of our world.  But I sometimes worry about the attitudes underlying some of the euphemisms.

For example, what if we say it isn’t “rape,” it’s “entitlement?”  Or, that forcing sex on a woman is just “entertainment?”

A study on the prevalence of rape published this month in The Lancet Global Health Journal surveyed more than 10,000 men between the ages of 18 and 49 from six Asian countries (Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka).  The study found that when the word “rape” was not used in the survey, more men admitted to forcing sex on a woman who was not their partner.  When they were asked why they forced themselves on women, 73% said it was because of “entitlement.”  And 59% said they raped for “entertainment.”

Sadly, I don’t believe for a minute that using such euphemisms as a justification for rape is limited to men from the six countries studied.  Until we can all name it for what it is, not only are the attitudes dangerous, but also the words.

 

Is 30 Days An Appropriate Sentence for a Rapist?

September 27th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford

Groups in Montana are calling for the removal of a judge who issued a particularly lenient sentence last month to a high school teacher for raping his 14-year-old student.  Stacey Rambold was convicted of the rape and sentenced to 15 years in prison by District Judge G. Todd Baugh, who then completely suspended all but 30 days of the sentence.  Adding insult to injury, the judge justified the light sentence by stating that the victim was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist.  The victim, Cherice Morales, committed suicide before the case went to trial.

The last time I checked, when the law defines rape as sex with a minor, it doesn’t matter if she was more mature than her chronological age.  And in a classroom setting, teachers have the power, not the students.  It’s hard to believe that the victim was truly in control of the situation.  Judge Baugh’s ruling is indicative of the misogynistic attitude that if a woman (or girl) is raped, it’s because she was “asking for it.”

Fortunately, the Montana National Organization for Women, MoveOn.org, and other women’s advocacy organizations have submitted petitions with more than 140,000 signatures calling for Baugh’s removal to the State commission regulating judges.  Let’s hope the commission isn’t as off base as Judge Baugh clearly is.

How We Encourage Miley Cyrus to Behave So Inappropriately

August 28th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford

I turned on the MTV Video Music Awards the other night because I wanted to see Lady Gaga perform.  And I was not disappointed.  But then there came Miley Cyrus.  After watching her performance, which shocked, saddened and appalled me, I turned the TV off.

John S. Dickerson’s opinion piece in USA Today this morning gets it right.  We own some responsibility (and blame and shame) for encouraging such inappropriate public behavior by young women.  We encourage it through our viewing and purchasing habits, which tell young girls like Miley Cyrus that they will be loved, valued, popular, if they “get as naked as possible and behave the way sex slaves are forced to in countries where women are chained to beds and beaten.”

My biggest fear is that the post VMA chat about Cyrus will encourage her to behave this way even more.  And that other young girls will be encouraged to follow in her footsteps.  When we choose to watch programs that value girls and young women for something other than their bodies, only then will the kind of public display we witnessed stop being valued by our society.

 

Are Today’s Leadership Lessons Getting in the Way of Your Success?

August 24th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford

For years, professional business women like me learned (sometimes the hard way), that in order to succeed we had to behave more like “the guys.”  Look at business fashion for women over the last 20 to 30 years, and you’ll see what I mean.  Remember those button-down blouses with the bow neckties (that were always coming undone)?  Remember the boxy pantsuits?  Today’s business fashion for women has changed, and fortunately, so has some of the conventional wisdom on what it takes to be a successful leader. The corporate world is beginning to recognize (albeit slowly) that some characteristics commonly demonstrated by women are actually good for business.

But there’s just one little problem.

A recent article by Dana Theus in SmartBlog on Leadership warns us that current day messages about what it takes to be an effective leader may be dangerous for us women.  Why?  Because some of them are intended “to help men overcompensate for some testosterone-induced bad habits. These bad boss habits include lack of empathy, rigidity and egotism.”

Unfortunately, those particular characteristics are typically not problem areas for women.  Discover three leadership “truths” women should ignore and why we should be “filtering out the stuff the guys need”, but we don’t.

Malala Speaks at the U.N. (The World Should Listen)

July 13th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford

On her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai addressed the U.N. Youth Assembly, continuing her advocacy efforts to ensure that girls around the world have access to education.  Her speech is riveting, inspiring, and a call to action for all of us.  It is traditional to give gifts to someone on their birthday.  Today, Malala gives us a gift of inspiration instead.

http://www.nytimes.com/video/2013/07/12/world/europe/100000002333427/girl-shot-by-taliban-addresses-the-un.html?src=me

 

Equal Pay Act — 50 Years Later

June 7th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford

I’ve written about equal pay so much lately (or more accurately, bemoaning the lack of it), that I was invited to write a guest blog posting about it on the singlemom.com website.  Needless to say, I’m humbled to have been asked.  Singlemom.com is a website that provides advice, resources and other information to help single moms succeed.  They’ve featured Soroptimist in the past, including our Women’s Opportunity Award Program.

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.  Check out my guest blog posting here, and find out why advocating for equal pay for equal work remains so important today.

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