The March 3 Dilbert comic would have been more funny if it weren’t so darn true.
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.
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.
This morning Soroptimist launched DREAM IT * BE IT: Career Support for Girls, a new program to provide secondary school girls with education and role models to help empower them to pursue their career goals and reach their full potential. Soroptimist clubs will be conducting community assessments to identify challenges girls face and ways to help girls overcome those challenges. They will be forming partnerships with girls in their communities to ensure DREAM IT * BUILD IT reflects their unique needs and interests. We have a wonderful opportunity to be role models and advisors to help girls get an education and live their dreams. I can’t wait to work with my club to get started!!!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.