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.
August 20th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford
Todd Akin, a candidate for United States Senate from Missouri showed his true ignorance and insensitivity this weekend. Actually, insensitivity is probably too light a word to describe his comments. During a television interview, Mr. Akin basically said that we shouldn’t worry about forcing women who are raped to carry their babies to term because their bodies prevent them from getting pregnant from “legitimate rape.” Huh?
Since when is any rape–or any form of violence against women for that matter–”legitimate”? “Legitimate” means lawful, rightful, legal, valid. Since when is rape any of those things?
Not only was it a very poor choice of words, it’s inaccurate. The fact is that more than 30,000 women per year become pregnant as a result of rape in the U.S. alone. So much for Mr. Akin’s theory that our bodies naturally protect us from unwanted intrusions. The truth is that rape is never–ever–legitimate.
Mr. Akin is getting pressured to drop out of the race (by both parties), because what he said was so offensive (and so embarrassingly stupid) that it’s impossible to believe he could possibly win. But with only 17% of the current U.S. Senate currently comprised of women, I’m not taking it for granted that he won’t. Sigh…..
For a run down on his comments and the outcry that has occurred since then, click here.
February 13th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford
A new book by Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker says “yes.” Read more about the book and its findings here:
Here’s my favorite quote: The key choices about war and peace in our future will depend not on gender, but on how leaders combine hard- and soft-power skills to produce smart strategies. But Pinker is probably correct when he notes that the parts of the world that lag in the decline of violence are also the parts that lag in the empowerment of women.”
That’s why the Soroptimist mission to improve the lives of women and girls through economic and social empowerment is so important. Without it, we are destined to live in a world that continues to be filled with violence. Particularly violence against women and girls.
January 11th, 2012 . by Cathy Standiford
Today is the National Day for Human Trafficking Awareness in the US. In recognition of this day, Soroptimists will be out in the community raising awareness about this form of modern day slavery, advocating for better laws to protect victims, and having courageous conversations with the men and boys in their lives about the demand for paid sex and how it fuels trafficking both in our country and all over the world. Today and throughout the rest of this week there will be conferences, film screenings, community forums–all kinds of activities to bring the faces and voices of women and girls who are being sexually exploited out of the shadows and into the light.
I’m going to be with my club at a local train station during this evening’s “rush hour,” distributing flyers about this issue. What will you be doing?