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.
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.
May 27th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford
As we celebrate Memorial Day with its picnics and family gatherings, it is common for us to remember and express gratitude for those who have served our country, protecting our rights and freedoms.
But I was saddened today to read that America’s fastest growing homeless population are women veterans. The armed forces continues to be a male dominated environment–as are the institutions serving veterans. With more and more women serving in the armed forces, not only do we need to do something about the rise in military sexual assault, we also need to do something to ensure they have access to gender-specific services when they return home.
Note: In case the hyperlink above doesn’t work, here’s the URL of the article in Salon.com about homeless women veterans.
January 8th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford
The news in recent weeks has been better for women and girls. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager shot by the Taliban, has left the hospital to be with her family while waiting for more reconstructive surgery. Malala remains an inspiring reminder of the importance of providing girls’ access to education as a basic human right. South Korea has its first female President, and the US Senate has a record-high 20 women who were sworn into office last week, joining 82 representatives in Congress. We are seeing progress in some notable ways.
But there is so much more to do. Wage inequities, violence against women, bus rapes in India–for every positive story about advances in women’s rights, there seem to be many others documenting how far women and girls still have left to go before achieving gender equality.
With the start of every new year, I ask myself what I could be doing to make the world better for women and girls. Participating in Soroptimist programs and projects is one way to do that–whether it’s through a local Soroptimist club in your community, or by taking advantage of advocacy and other opportunities offered by LiveYourDream.org.
Want to take action this week? Friday, January 11, Soroptimists throughout the United States will be taking action to raise awareness of human trafficking in their communities. They will advocate for better laws against traffickers, more services for victims of trafficking, and enhanced efforts to educate both girls and boys about what a healthy relationship is–and isn’t. You can do something to help combat human trafficking. Visit soroptimist.org to find out how.
January 6th, 2013 . by Cathy Standiford
Claudia Paz y Paz is 46. A former human rights lawyer, she now holds what could be one of the most dangerous jobs in Latin America, “confronting the most feared and powerful men of the Guatamalen present: gang leaders, dirty public officials, shot-callers in the Mexican drug cartels who have bled in from the north.” She is Guatemala’s Attorney General. Her willingness to tackle crimes and human rights violations is truly inspiring. Read more about it here.
October 15th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford
A 16-year old girl gets raped by two men coming home from work. Traumatized when her father catches the perpetrators in the act, she goes to a relative’s house, douses herself in kerosene, and sets herself on fire. Despite the efforts of her family to save her, she dies.
In the developed world we would expect there to be a prompt police investigation, a quick arrest of the perpetrators, and that justice would be served. But instead of justice, we get this: An elected official from the district where the rape occurs suggests that the best solution to preventing rape in the future is to force girls to marry young. “This way rapes will not occur,” he says.
Because this incident didn’t happen in the developed world. It happened in India, where the incidence of rape has increased 27% since 2006, and 870% since 1971 when India started keeping records. It happened in India, where 40% of the world’s child marriages occur, according to UN reports. It happened in India, where it is common for victims to be pressured to marry their rapists and drop the charges against them, so they can erase the stigma of being “tainted.”
This girl’s death has sparked outrage–and rightfully so. But it illustrates that there is still much work to be done to protect the rights of women and girls and raise their social and economic status not only in India, but also elsewhere around the world. Read more about the challenges in India here.
October 14th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford
Thursday, October 11 marked the first International Day of the Girl Child, an effort by the United Nations and civil society to raise awareness about the importance of educating girls as an effective strategy for addressing many of our world’s problems. Sadly, October 11 also was the day when 14-year old Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for wanting to go to school. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the incident has prompted many individuals and organizations to rally behind the cause for female education. Soroptimist has recognized the importance of improving access to education for women and girls for decades. It’s nice to know we are at the forefront of a global movement to help women and girls live their dreams, take control of their own lives and live according to their own values. Read more about how Malala’s attack has helped advance our mission to improve female access to education here.
October 1st, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford
In the United States a documentary called “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women” will be broadcast on PBS on October 1 and 2. The film was shot in 10 countries (Cambodia, Kenya, India, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Liberia and the U.S.) and introduces women and girls who are living under some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable — and fighting bravely to change them.
If you enjoyed reading “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, you’ll love this film. I’ll be watching it tonight and tomorrow–and I encourage you to watch it too.
For more information about the Half the Sky Movement, click here.
September 19th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford
Think we don’t need feminism today? Think again! Another wonderful Feminism FAQ from Jarrah Hodge, author of the Canadian blog Gender Focus. Visit it here.
August 23rd, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford
Eve Ensler–writer, performer, activist–has written an incredible, articulate response to Todd “legitimate rape” Akin.
Read it here.
And yes, we should rise up–not just women, but any of us who are tired of the violence directed at women and girls in the form of rape, honor killings, domestic violence, objectification and harassment–and of the politicians who continue to pontificate instead of helping us do something about it.