Focus on Women

More Inspiration–Savings Girls in Nepal

December 29th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Just when I start feeling depressed and overwhelmed by the magnitude of challenges facing women and girls, I come across something that gives me hope.  The following story from this morning’s Los Angeles Times recounts the plight of girls who–for generations–have been sold into indentured servitude as part of a cultural, caste-based bondage system called kamlari.  But advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations have made progress in convincing families that they should stop selling their daughters to the point that only 1,000 girls remain enslaved, compared with 14,000 of them 10 years ago. 

Apparently, sometimes all it takes is a piglet to keep a girl from being enslaved.  (I don’t know whether to feel sad or hopeful about that.)  Read more about how girls are being rescued from kamlari here:,0,2662975.story

Inspiring Woman — Hilary Rodham Clinton

December 28th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Whether you agree with her politics or not, you can’t deny that US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton is making a difference in our world.  She is not the first female US Secretary of State, but she has done some things during the last two years that are worthy of admiration.  Here are just three:

(1)  She insisted that the U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report  include reporting on our country’s own progress  in combating human trafficking (or not).  Including information about US efforts to address modern slavery has brought a new level of integrity to the TIP Report–which makes it easier for the US to be a better role model on this particular issue.

(2)  Secretary Clinton oversees the Office of Global Women’s Issues, a division of the US State Department working for the political, social and economic empowerment of women around the world.  For the first time the Office is led by an ambassador at large (Melanne Verveer) to draw attention to issues affecting women and girls and their impact on global peace and security.

(3) The Secretary’s International Fund for Women and Girls establishes private partnerships and funding to provide grants to non-government organizations working to meet the needs of women and girls across the globe.

On December 8, Secretary of State Clinton made some remarks at the TED Women Conference in Washington, DC.  In her speech, she drew the connection between women’s empowerment and international security.  She spoke about how small investments in girls can reap big benefits for the world.  When powerful women speak, sometimes the world actually listens.  To read the text of her recent speech, click here:

Inspiring Woman — Auradha Koirala

December 26th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Last night, while digesting the Christmas turkey, I watched the CNN Heroes special that aired a couple of weeks ago.  It featured 10 amazing individuals who are doing things to make our world better.  All of them were impressive, but the woman who was named CNN’s Hero of the Year for 2010 really inspired me.  Her name is Auradha Koirala–and she is improving the lives of women and girls in her country.

This short, soft spoken woman really got to me.  Perhaps it’s because of her cause–women and girls being trafficked in Nepal.  Perhaps it’s because of her hope–she firmly believes that some day we can end human trafficking and modern day slavery. Perhaps it’s because of her humility–she acknowledges the help she receives from others that has made it possible for her organization, Maiti Nepal, to rescue 12,000 women and girls from Nepal’s sex trafficking trade.  Whatever the reason, Auradha awakened in me new vigor for speaking up and speaking out against human trafficking.

Auradha’s story shows the power of passion coupled with the courage to take a stand in the name of human rights for women and girls.  To learn more about her and what she is doing, follow this link:

January 11 is the National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness in the United States.  What will you be doing to join your voice to Auradha’s and raise awareness of how women and girls are being enslaved in every community–in every country–around the world?

Teen Sexuality on TV Increases, but Teen Pregnancies Decline

December 23rd, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

In my last  post I reported on a study showing the increased portrayal of teen girl sexuality on television.  But in spite of the increased presence of teenage mothers on TV, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported earlier this week that the birthrate for teen mothers decreased significantly this past year–to a 70-year low.  Casey Schwartz from the Daily Beast reports on the CDC’s study and hypothesizes why the number of  teen pregnancies has fallen so far so fast.  Read it here:

Teenage Girls and TV — The News Is Not Good

December 16th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

A study released yesterday by a watchdog group known as the Parents Television Council (PTC), shows significant increases in the number of times teenage girls are depicted in sexualized ways on prime time television.  The PTC used the study to urge television producers, regulators and advertisers to stop this practice. 

As covered by the Hollywood Reporter, “Underage female characters are shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions compared to adults,” according to the study, called Sexualized Teen Girls: Tinseltown’s New Target.

No wonder more girls are engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior at younger and younger ages–the media keeps telling them that they need to be sexual in order to be of value in our society.

Soroptimists have known for years that the media does devastating things to the self image of teenage girls.  Here’s one more bit of data to support efforts to advocate against the objectification of girls on television.

To view the PTC’s full report, visit:

To read the Hollywood Reporter story, visit:

Women’s Rights = Human Rights

December 14th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Friday, December 10 was International Human Rights Day, designated by the United Nations to recognize the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  Friday was also the day that the Nobel prizes were awarded.  Ironically, the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was not in Stockholm to accept his award, because he was under house arrest in China for his advocacy for democracy.   But Liu Xiaobo’s voice is not the only one that can not be heard in today’s world.  The voices of thousands of oppressed women and girls can’t be heard either.

Soroptimist International President Hanne Jensbo issued a statement about International Human Rights Day on December 10th, inviting Soroptimists around the globe to “celebrate, reflect, and ACT.”  In her message, she draws attention to the advocacy work of Soroptimists, who “are defending the human rights of vulnerable women and girls all over the world.”  To read President Hanne’s inspirational December 10th message, click here:

Women in Afghanistan Don’t Feel Much Progress

December 4th, 2010 . by Cathy Standiford

Whenever I read an announcement about the “progress” being made in Afghanistan, I think about Rohsar.  Rohsar is the mother of four children, and she’s in the process of receiving education and training through a program provided by Women for Women International, one of Soroptimist’s former partners.  She’s on the path to a better life, but it doesn’t come without risks.  The reality is that women and girls in Afghanistan continue to be hidden, oppressed, and they are often prevented from receiving basic things such as medical care and education.

A wonderful story from The Daily Beast website sheds light on the situation for women in that war-torn country–as well as the inspiring hope that emerges when girls are allowed to go to school, even for just 2-3 hours per day.  Read it here:$k$bB8WI3DdA

While we may be making progress with the war, let’s not forget the women and girls who are still waiting for the return of basic human rights.