Focus on Women

Darfur, Rape and George Clooney

February 26th, 2015 . by Cathy Standiford

There’s a green hoodie sweatshirt hanging in my closet that says “Save Darfur.”  I bought it a decade ago to draw attention to the genocide there.  This was before South Sudan became an independent state–even before the United States named the atrocities being committed as a genocide.  I remember gathering with people on the beach in Corona del Mar to spell out the word “Enough” with our bodies so it could be photographed for an advocacy postcard.  I remember coordinating presentations and play readings about the genocide, and in particular, sharing the stories of women being raped when they tried to leave the refugee camps to collect firewood.  I remember people being horrified that genocide continued on our watch.  But many years have passed since then–and my attention, and that of the world, has largely shifted away from Darfur to other countries with other atrocities.  I hate to admit that it took George Clooney’s persistent advocacy to grab my attention again.

An op-ed piece in the New York Times by Clooney, John Prendergast and Akshaya Kumar focuses attention back on Sudan, where Human Rights Watch recently documented the rape of more than 200 women and girls in Darfur by the Sudanese army.  It contains tangible, practical actions that can be taken by the U.S. government and other members of the international community to both hold the Sudanese government accountable and put an end to the violence continuing to plague the country.

Ten years ago we said “enough” to the genocide and “enough” to the violence being perpetrated on women and girls.  It’s time to say “enough” again–this time with more than mere words.

Get Ready for January 11th with Blue Campaign Resources

December 27th, 2014 . by Cathy Standiford

The Blue Campaign is an initiative launched by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to raise awareness about human trafficking, how to identify potential victims, and what to do if you see the red flags of modern-day slavery.  January 11 is Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the U.S.  Start getting prepared by taking the Blue Campaign Human Trafficking Awareness Course.  It’s completely on line, takes about 30 minutes, and I guarantee you will learn something.  I’ve been studying this issue for more than 10 years, and even I learned some new things.

For more information on the Blue Campaign and other human trafficking resources, click here.

Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let It Begin with Me

September 21st, 2014 . by Cathy Standiford

September 21 is the International Day of Peace, established to strengthen the ideals of peace both within and among all of the nations of the world.  It’s hard to imagine peace when war and conflict, violence, disrespect and social injustice is so evident all around us.  But the International Day of Peace reminds us that a different world–one without all of those things–should be our goal.

Soroptimist International President Ann Garvie has issued a statement calling on each of us to promote peace and tolerance in our local communities, while encouraging decision-makers around the world to end violence and conflict.  Read her International Day of Peace message here.

To learn more about the International Day of Peace, visit

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  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 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

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,, 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.

Let’s Not Forget Those Women Who Served

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 about homeless women veterans.

Will 2013 Be Better for Women and Girls?

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

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  to find out how.




A Woman Making A Difference

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.

Child Marriage As a Rape Prevention Strategy????

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.


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