The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

WCW's Women Change Worlds Blog

“Having it all,” “Lean in,” or “Work-life Balance”-- Asking the right questions

WorkingMomSheryl Sandberg’s recent book, Lean In, created a media frenzy. Before that, Ann-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” was hailed as another round in the Mommy Wars. It’s time to call a truce.

I’d like to begin with a brief personal history. When I was ten, my parents divorced. While my father provided some financial support, it was not enough to support four kids. So, when I was 13, my mother put my four-year old brother in nursery school and went back to work. I learned at my mother’s knee that women do what they need to do to take care of their families.

By the time I was 25, I had worked as a babysitter, cafeteria worker, sales clerk, library clerk, passport adjudicator, child care teacher, community organizer, drug program counselor, and research assistant. As a child of the second wave of the women’s movement, I had sung along to Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman, hear me roar. I knew about women’s work.

blogpullquoteAskingtheRightquestionsWhen I was 39, I gave birth to my daughter. I took a few months off with her, using up most of my sick leave, because this was pre-Family Medical Leave Act, and Wellesley College did not yet have paid parental leave. While at home, I discovered that parenthood was hard work, work that required a different rhythm than my paid work.

All of these experiences have informed my teaching and research on women’s experiences with paid work and family work.

Over the years, I have seen the question, “Can women have it all,” raised repeatedly. These debates have never been satisfying, because I felt they were asking the wrong question. The reality is that almost two-thirds of women with children under the age of six are employed. Overall, women’s rates of employment are fast approaching men’s. Moreover, employed women are even more likely than women not in the labor force to have children.

According to the research, for most women, as for most men, employment has its ups and downs. Good jobs contribute to health and well-being, including self-esteem and feelings of efficacy, and provide opportunities to make a contribution to others. Bad jobs are exhausting, mind- and body-numbing and bad for our health and the health of those around us. One of the questions employed women and men ask is, “How can I find and keep a good job, a career that I enjoy and value?”

But what about “having it all?” I hear many young women concerned about whether their job and career choices will jeopardize their future family, and whether their desire for a family will inhibit their ambitions.

The research clearly shows that combining paid work with raising children is actually a positive for most women and men. Paid work provides working parents with the income to raise their families, and can provide a sense of well-being that spills over to home, while providing a balance in their lives.

Even when combining work and family is stressful, most workers report more benefits from the combination than drawbacks. For the majority of women, and men, the question is, “how can I manage the stresses, and what can my employer do to support me to be the best worker as well as the best parent?”

Based on the research, I second Sheryl Sandberg’s advice: “don’t leave before you leave.”

However, for some parents, work and family is difficult to manage. Because mothers still do more of the day-to-day work of parenting young children, mothers of babies sometimes face more work-family conflict than they can manage, especially if they have very demanding jobs, or very demanding home lives, such as a baby who is sick more than other babies are. Parents with larger families, a serious illness or crisis in the family, or with one or both adults employed in demanding jobs, may find that home demands cannot be met while maintaining demanding jobs, and something needs to give.

For these people, the question is, “how can I manage caring for my family?” For Anne-Marie Slaughter, and others like her, the answer to that question was to make changes in their paid work. Dr. Slaughter chose to leave the Washington D.C circles of power for a full-time job as a professor, where she could be more available to her family; others choose to take time out from paid work, or to leave completely.

It’s time, then, to stop the media fascination with the “Mommy Wars.” No one wins in the current climate. Instead, we need to step up to the challenge of creating good jobs for all workers, and providing parents with needed supports, including family-friendly workplaces, as well as affordable child care and health care.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Wellesley College.

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Marriage: Love, Benefits, ...

DOMAblog Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled that denying recognition and benefits to same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Gay and lesbian couples who are legally married (they are able to do so in 12 states and the District of Columbia) will be able to take advantage of such benefits as tax breaks and pension rights that are available to other married couples. Further, legally married same-sex couples will have the same immigration rights as heterosexual couples. Reflecting on the Supreme Court’s ruling, I am reminded of the research study my colleagues and I launched in May 2004, when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ decision went into effect, making Massachusetts the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

blogpullquoteLoveBenefitsMy colleagues and I interviewed 50 same-sex couples in Massachusetts and their children. Some of the couples had chosen to get married and some had not. Whether or not a given couple chose to marry, they talked about the importance of the legitimacy and the recognition the change in the law offered them. Their sense was that when legal marriage is available to same-sex couples, the ramifications stretch far beyond the couples themselves. Perceptions of families, co-workers, neighbors, and strangers shift toward greater acceptance.

Rod* (married, in a 27-year relationship) put it this way:
It has been an amazing experience. I do feel in some fundamental way that it has changed me in the sense of legitimizing me… I always used to say, I’m married, but it wasn’t real. And now it’s real, you know? It’s real, real. You know? I mean it’s like legal real. In that way I think it fundamentally changes the way I approach the world. You know? It’s like, “Are you married?” “Yeah!” And it’s your problem to figure out who it is that I’m married to, or whether this is a straight marriage or a gay marriage or whatever. And I’m extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to do that.

Regardless of whether they believed that legalization changed their personal relationships, and whether or not they chose to marry, all respondents clearly recognized the tangible and intangible benefits that come with official state approval. These included access to family health insurance, legitimacy for second parents, and next-of-kin status in medical contexts. The issue of medical access, privileges and decision-making was specifically mentioned by a number of families. Linda and Sally, a couple who had been together for 24 years, described the importance of a marriage license for their family’s legal protection:

Linda: Well, I honestly feel like, not to be unromantic but, the marriage part was really just the medical benefits and that sort of the financial and…
Sally: Get the piece of paper.
Linda: Right and, just the things that help the family in a time of crisis.

Ada, a married woman in a five-year relationship described the transformation from a cautious to a secure position with respect to her family and their public entitlements:
If we didn’t have a legal marriage, I would feel like I was constantly on the defensive about what should I do, how I should do it and… And instead I’m able to take a much more assertive stance and be able to advocate for the family in a way I didn’t feel like I could have before, because I didn’t have anything behind me to do it.

Other respondents shared similar sentiments, identifying a sense of “safety” or protection that comes as both a formal and informal benefit of legalized marriage:

Jaidyn (married, in a ten-year relationship), said,
To be legally validated and whether or not someone likes it, we’re married. They can’t say ‘Well, that’s not real’. I think there was a feeling of safety that would come along with the legal marriage. …We were very safe in our relationship with one another, in our lives, but [now we have] safety from people who might want to deny us our civil rights.

Despite the real benefits and protections that came to same-sex couples in legalized unions in Massachusetts, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was repeatedly mentioned by study participants as a source of unequal financial burdens on couples who chose to take advantage of the availability of family benefits that were state but not federally recognized.

Leo, a married man in a 27-year relationship, described the dilemma confronting many couples in the study as they contemplated taking advantage of the new opportunity to put a same-sex partner on the other partner’s family health insurance plan.
Even though I could bring him under my health insurance, I would have to pay a tax on the contribution the state of Massachusetts--because I was a state employee. So [the contribution that] the state of Massachusetts makes towards his health insurance, I’d have to pay a tax on that. That’s a considerable amount, because the state pays seventy-five percent of the insurance. So … there are still some penalties that same-sex couples face that opposite sex couples don’t.

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court has lifted the penalties and unequal burdens. We rejoice.

[*The quotations in this piece are from “What I did for Love, or Benefits or…: Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts,” by the Same-Sex Marriage Study Group, Wellesley Centers for Women. Names of the study respondents have been changed. The paper can be downloaded for free through July 2013: http://www.wcwonline.org/pdf/paid/422.pdf . In addition to the WCW Working Paper, you can also download this publication from the study: "Never In Our Lifetime": Legal Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Long-Term Relationships.

Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Members of the exploratory study of same-sex marriag in 2004-2005 were: Erkut; Ineke Ceder; Georgia Hall; Amy Hoffman; Erinn Horrigan; Gloria Luong; Jean Murphy; Anne Noonan; Konjit Page; Michelle Porche; Diane Purvin; Catherine Senghas; Lisa Sankowski; Ellen Schechter; Joyce Shortt; Allison Tracy; Jasmine Waddell; Nancy Wechsler; and Jodie Wennemer. Additional expertise was provided by Jean Hardisty; Nicolene Hengen; Karen McCormack; Nancy Marshall; Jan Putnam; and Donna Tambascio.

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Unaccompanied Homeless Youth in Massachusetts, what does this mean?

kathyschleyer postpic

This blog post, by Kathy Schleyer, was entered in the Wheelock College Policy Connection 2013 Student Blogger Contest and earned second place. The original post can be found on the Wheelock College Blog.

It happens to be a snowy day in March and I sit in the comfort of my warm (relatively) house in the suburbs of Boston. I am a middle-aged graduate student at Wheelock College studying contemporary issues of children and families. One of our assignments is to research and report on a personal topic of interest. Professionally, I am the Director of Training at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women. I could write extensively on the importance of afterschool for children and youth, but today I must write on another topic.

blogpullquoteUnaccompaniedHomelessYouthA few years ago my daughter, while in college in Connecticut, invited me to a community gathering she helped organize on human trafficking. The purpose of the meeting was to raise awareness of the topic and to encourage attendees to take action to help support young women who are lured or forced into a captive life of servitude or sexual exploitation. The impetus nationwide is to provide supports for the women to decriminalize their actions and to find, prosecute, and penalize the "johns" and pimps. At the time Massachusetts was one of three states without human trafficking legislation.

Today, Massachusetts has legislation in place against human trafficking but it is time to enact new legislation to protect a particularly vulnerable group of young adults who can fall prey to those who would enslave them into a life of sexual exploitation. These youth are called "unaccompanied homeless youth" and are defined as 1) under the age of 25 and 2) not in the physical custody or care of a parent or legal guardian and 3) lacking fixed, regular, and adequate housing. My intent is to draw attention to the importance of passing legislation to support unaccompanied homeless youth to them help avoid mental trauma, dropping out of school, living on the street, or becoming victims of human tracking. The multiple risks faced by homeless youth trying to survive on their own demand solutions that encompass stable housing, access to mental health services, job and skill development, etc. Therefore, legislation or state funding through line item budgeting is needed to enable these wraparound services.

First we must find these young people. An anecdotal phrase that describes one survival mode is "couch surfing." This term refers to youth that move from house to house seeking temporary refuge with help from relatives, friends or strangers. Others live on the street trying to survive by work (hard to get) or petty crime, selling drugs, trading sex for food or money or get caught up in the ravages of prostitution and illegal activities. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE) estimates that there are approximately 6,000 high school students unaccompanied and homeless. This figure does not include those who have already dropped out of school or older youth aged out of the school system.

A classmate of mine "adopted" a homeless high school senior when her son brought him home one day saying that he had nowhere to live. He stayed for the remainder of the school year and enlisted in the U.S. Army upon graduation. This boy is fortunate- care came to him, but it is estimated by the Commission on Unaccompanied Homeless Youth that 50 high school students were homeless in the same town as this boy that year. It is unlikely many of those adolescents were as lucky.

I am grateful for my warm house and my family. I am so far removed from the experience of homelessness that it is hard for me to picture the day-to-day suffering of those affected. I donate money and I volunteer at a downtown shelter, but that is easy and I always go home to my own bed. Some reports describe the effects of street life as mirroring post-traumatic stress syndrome. We can look to nonprofits and churches to assist but it is time to act legislatively. We have the means to offer help and support through our public institutions and through our policing response. The human trafficking legislation passed in Massachusetts to protect vulnerable children, such as homeless youth, from sexual exploitation is proof of that fact. Giving first responders the ability to safeguard youth rather than arrest them, similar to the human trafficking legislation, is essential. Massachusetts has taken steps in this direction but it must go further with legislation and/or budgeting specifically directed towards unaccompanied homeless youth. I urge you to support the work of the Massachusetts Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Commission in addressing this issue. Visit the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless for more information and steps you can take.

Reference: Homelessness in Massachusetts Public Schools. From http://www.mahomeless.org/images/2011_data_8-12.pdf

Kathy Schleyer is an Educational Studies graduate student at Wheelock College (degree expected December 2013), and the Director of Training at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST). She works to support the professional development of afterschool staff. Her primary focus is on the use of assessment tools to improve program quality and to help youth reach positive outcomes.

 

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Children's Rights Are Human Rights

june4blogpic handsThe United Nations General Assembly proclaimed June 4th as International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression(resolution ES-7/8)in 1982 to recognize the “physical, mental, and emotional abuse” many of the world’s children endure. Unfortunately, we even need to have a day to acknowledge such horrific tragedies. According to the Children’s Defense Fund every day in America:

- Every 30 seconds during the school year a public school student is corporally punished;
- Every 47 seconds a child is confirmed as abused or neglected;
- Every seven hours a child is killed by abuse or neglect.

Yet, even reading these statistics, we may have become desensitized or rationalize that these realities only exist for particular communities. Stereotypes place such brutality specifically in “urban neighborhoods” (often read: Latino and/or Black communities) or low-income areas. However, additional CDF statistics confirm:

blogpullquoteChildrensRights- Every 58 seconds during the school year a Latino public school student is corporally punished, every 57 seconds for Black students, and 48 seconds for White students;
- Every day, 402 Latino, 360 Black, and 797 White children are confirmed as abused or neglected;
- Every day, one Latino, one Black, and one White child is killed by abuse or neglect.

The long-term social and health effects of childhood abuse and neglect are poignantly illustrated by the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). The study, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and a California HMO, found that one in four f the 17,000+ middle-income subjects had endured at least one of the “adverse” categories (i.e. abuse, neglect, divorce, household substance abuse or mental illness). Furthermore, one in eight people had experienced four or moretypes, which led to graded risks for health conditions such as depression, substance abuse, heart and liver disease.

Luckily, thanks in large part to such empirical evidence as the ACE Study, as a culture we are beginning to understand and to accept that childhood trauma deeply affects our daily lives. We are also increasingly acknowledging how trauma deeply affects adults which, with proper treatment and support, can act as violence prevention in our families and communities.

For instance, a soldier returning home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and his family can now receive support, whereas this wasn’t always the case. Actor Patrick Stewart recently eloquently spoke out at comic book convention about surviving domestic violence as a child of a WWII veteran father who suffered from what was then referred to as “shellshock.” Blogger Heather Skye had acknowledged Stewart during a convention panel for his recent speech at Amnesty International against domestic violence, while also identifying herself as a domestic violence survivor. Stewart’s emotional reply implored that violence is “never” the answer, and that “men can stop domestic violence.”

As adults, we are charged with protecting children. We know this is the “right” thing to do, and yet, we can often get caught up in protecting only “our” children: members of our families, our communities, our schools, and our places of worship. But for children who were born to parents who cannot keep them safe--children who have (to paraphrase Warren Buffett) lost the biological lottery--we must also take responsibility for keeping them safe. All too often, violence remains a “private family matter.”

On this International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression, I am making the plea that the United States take a big step forward in keeping all children safe by endorsing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which only the United States, Somalia, and South Sudan have not ratified. Yes, such documents are often viewed as “only a piece of paper.” However, I believe there is power in taking a public stand as a country, especially when one signature proclaims that the United States supports protecting and ensuring children's rights and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community.” All children deserve such a vow.

Kate Price, M.A., project associate at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), is also a social scientist in the cultural construction of childhood. As a survivor of childhood sexual exploitation, Price authored a chapter in the textbook, Global Perspectives on Prostitution and Sex Trafficking: Europe, Latin America, North America, and Global (Lexington Books), examining child prostitution through a Relational-Cultural Theory lens. An audio recording of her March 2012 WCW seminar, “Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience in U.S. Prostituted Children,” is available online, and a copy of her recent working paper by the same title is available through WCW Publications.

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Women, Employment & Health

WomenEmploymentHealthThis commentary appears in the Research & Action Report, Spring/Summer 2013 Volume 34 • Number 2 (forthcoming), published by the Wellesley Centers for Women.

When we think about employment and health, we often think about high risk jobs and occupational safety. The recent deaths of first responders in Massachusetts and Texas highlight these serious concerns. However, many workers are exposed to unhealthy conditions that, while not lethal, seriously affect their health.

Trends in the new economy of downsizing, job instability, increased workload and longer hours have led to rising concerns about the health consequences of occupational stress. While both men and women experience stress-related illnesses, women are twice as likely as men to suffer from these consequences due to unhealthy working conditions. Jobs with heavy demands and little latitude in managing or meeting demands are particularly stressful, and women of all races, as well as men of color, are more likely to work in jobs with this combination.

blogpullquoteWomenEmploymentHealthWhile women’s participation in the work force is quite similar to men’s, the occupations and environments vary greatly. In 2009, 44.6 percent of women worked in just 20 occupations, and most of these occupations were heavily female, such as nurses, teachers, maids and housekeeping cleaners, health aides, and clerks—most of which have higher emotional demands. We need to ensure that researchers are examining the effects of emotional work so that employers can identify and implement ways to reduce the stress of these emotionally demanding jobs. In addition, women in the health and education field experience more nonfatal occupational injuries than would be expected in the general workforce; typical injuries include low-back pain, asthma, and exposure to infectious, biological, or chemical hazards.

How can employers and policymakers protect women’s health?

Women need the same protections that men do—standards for workplace health and safety, regular inspections and monitoring of injury rates, and research to develop health and safety practices. However, all too often, women, and women’s occupations and health concerns, have been left out of the funding priorities for research and innovative practices.

But other workplace factors have negative health implications for women employees, too. For example, as women are so concentrated in a select set of occupations, this results in some workplaces where women are not well represented and where they may be less empowered. Research shows that these women are more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace—nearly one-quarter of women report having experienced sexual harassment and 58 percent have experienced potentially harassing behaviors at work. We know that sexual harassment affects psychological well-being and increases psychological distress. Since we know that women are at greater risk for sexual harassment, especially in workplaces that have a climate in which workers believe that reports of harassment will not be taken seriously or will not have consequences for the harasser, it’s essential that employers implement and enforce policies that create a climate that promotes equity and respect and does not tolerate sexual harassment.

Additionally, workers—women and men—have families. Their responsibility to care for young children or aging parents does not end when they enter the workplace. However, despite the increasing involvement of men in caregiving, women still bear a greater burden. For example, married mothers take on almost twice the hours of married fathers each week to address family and home responsibilities. Caregiving for children and aging parents also falls more heavily on women’s shoulders.

How does this affect women’s employment and their health?

Work and family balance issues are a health risk for women with children... Read more of Marshall's commentary>>

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D. is an associate director and senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families and Children Team at WCW and studies women and employment, with a focus on working conditions and health and work-family systems, as well as child care policy and early care and education. She authored the chapter, “Employment and Women’s Health,” in M.V. Spiers, P.A. Geller & J.D. Kloss (Eds.), Women’s health psychology (46- 63). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

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Interdependency and Mental Health

Comforting

May is National Mental Health Awareness month, a fitting time to be mindful of the suffering caused by mental illness. Even though I am a psychiatrist, working daily with people diagnosed with mental illness, I am stunned by the statistics on the incidence of mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health in any 12 month period, 26.2 percent of adults are diagnosed with a mental illness. That is one in four adults who are experiencing disturbing and often debilitating symptoms--the constant distress of an anxiety disorder, the aching despair of a major depression, the terror of psychosis. The lifetime incidence of mental illness is over 50 percent. These statistics tell us that if you have not been diagnosed with some form of mental illness, someone you know and love has. When you go to work today or even out with friends in the evening, see if you can identify the one in four people who has a mental illness. Don’t be surprised to walk away thinking there are none in your group. Also don’t be surprised to find out that you are wrong.

blogpullquoteInterdependencySo, where are all the people with mental illness? From what I hear in my office, many are hiding and suffering in silence for fear of being stigmatized, pitied, or seen as weak. American, Westernized culture plays a large role in this fear. The pervasive image of an American is a person who is strong, independent, and can “make it” on his or her own. There is no direct media campaign telling people who have a mental illness to stay in the closet, but the chronic cultural myth of the “self made man” acts as a reference point from which we all measure our worth. The more dependent you are on others, the less value you hold. This cultural bias is insidious and contributes to an environment that makes each of us hide our vulnerabilities behind a wall of shame at not being strong enough to manage our day to day lives on our own.

The idea that we are stronger on our own is destructive, dangerous, and undermines our natural physiology that works best in healthy interdependency. Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia, Jilek Wolfgang, M.D., M.Sc. reports that people who develop a psychotic illness actually heal faster in a non-Westernized world. A stunning finding given that Western societies are known to have the most educated doctors and best hospitals in the world. So what accounts for the improvement? A lack of stigma. In the West, psychosis or the loss of reality testing is seen as the ultimate failure of individual strength. It is frightening and dangerous. On the other hand, in many parts of Africa, extended family and community reach out and embrace the individual with psychosis rather than fearing or shunning him.

Relational neuroscience offers some explanation for this finding. Researchers at UCLA, Eisenberger and Leiberman, have discovered that the pain of social exclusion is registered in the exact area of the brain, the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus, as the pain from a physical illness or injury. Because humans are meant to function best in healthy human connection, this area of the brain fires an alarm for things that are life threatening. The chronic pain of an acute physical injury or illness can be lethal, but Social Pain Overlap Theory (SPOT Theory) tells us that being socially rejected is every bit as dangerous. When we stigmatize and ostracize people with mental illness we increase their stress levels, decrease their ability to fight illness, and prolong their healing process.  

The range of functioning in the people I treat everyday is tremendous--from CEOs capable of running a company while having a mental illness to individuals on disability unable to work because of severe symptoms. Almost every person I see is hiding their diagnosis from at least one important person in their lives out of fear of the anticipated rejection. In this month of May let’s all open our eyes and our hearts to see and embrace someone with a mental illness and to support those who are suffering knowing full well that statistics show having a mental illness is not an individual failure nor a weakness. Mental illness is, well, an illness and the best hope for a speedy recovery is the support of extended families and friends. This cultural shift from pathological independence to healthy interdependence holds the power to heal many wounds and to improve the lives of all of us who will experience the pain of mental illness.

Amy Banks, M.D. is the director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. Over the last ten years at the JBMTI, she has been integrating emerging neuroscience information with relational-cultural theory.

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The Time Is Now for Women and Girls

AfricanMotherDaughter

This article was originally published May 10, 2013 on Huffington Post by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

What do a collapsing sweatshop in Bangladesh, the denial of a lifesaving abortion to a young woman in El Salvador and the kidnapping, rape and torture of three women in Cleveland have in common?

They exemplify the fact that women are not just second-class citizens, but not considered citizens at all.

Right now, we have the chance to change this reality by creating a wise, strategic and human-centered development agenda centered on women and girls. After months of work, civil society, private sector and government heavyweights will gather in New York this week to chart their vision for the future of global development. As members of a high-level panel tasked with advising the United Nations Secretary General on key areas of investment, leaders like Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and UK Prime Minister David Cameron will have the difficult task of balancing a number of competing and important global priorities like education, employment, water, and health at the group's final meeting.

At the top of their list should be the health and rights of women and girls.

blogpullquoteTimeIsNowWe have waited too long! In 1994, governments agreed to an ambitious Programme of Action to achieve gender equality, eliminate violence against women, and ensure access to basic sexual and reproductive health services. Since that time, this landmark agreement has been reaffirmed, even providing the roadmap for the creation of the Millennium Development Goals that aimed to reduce poverty and ensure universal access to reproductive health.

Yet despite the many promises and commitments signed throughout the years, women's human rights and health remain a distant dream for many. Today, one in three women around the world will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Today, more than 200 million women want--but are unable to access--basic contraceptive services. Today, the largest-ever generation of adolescent and young women are increasingly at risk of HIV infection, many times lacking information on how to protect themselves and the power to negotiate condom use with their partners.

We know--as generations before have professed--that we cannot achieve sustainable development, that we cannot build healthy and empowered communities and nations when we continue to deny half the world's population their basic human rights and fundamental freedom.

This week, as the panel finalizes its recommendations for Secretary Ban Ki-moon, we call on panel members to prioritize:

  • Universal access to quality and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion
  • Universal access to quality education for women and girls, including comprehensive sexuality education
  • The elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls
  • The guarantee of women's rights, gender equality and women's empowerment, including their right to live free of discrimination and participate freely in political, economic, environmental and social decision-making spheres
  • The development of mechanisms within the new global development paradigm that hold governments accountable to clear, time-bound commitments.

 

As the world gears up to enshrine a new set of global development goals and agreements, it's time for us to keep our promise to women and girls. We have an unparalleled opportunity to secure a sustainable world of justice, choice and well-being for all people, and without a doubt, we need healthy, empowered women and girls to ensure that our planet can continue to care for us all.

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

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The Best of What We Bring through Sports

BStrong

Sometimes sports brings out the worst in us. Players taunt. Parents criticize. Coaches belittle. And at other times it is within the context of sports that a spotlight is shined on the best of the human spirit. There are many things that I love about sports participation and spectating. I am easily entranced by the last second shot, sudden death, or match point. There is an inexplicable infatuation with the striving for the perfect pass, play--the hat trick.

It is a passionate pact between player and spectator. As much as anything else that passion effusing from spectators is what was under attack on April 15th on Boston's Boylston Street. The very nature of the Boston Marathon–-so heavily focused on the rise of perseverance; the goodness of encouragement from family, friend, and stranger; and the sheer will to keep at something--made the violence even that much more sickening.

blogpullquoteBringthroughSportsIt was no surprise that our sports teams looked for a way to publicly display their solidarity with the people of Boston and the marathon victims – 617 Boston Strong hung on a t-shirt in the Red Sox dugout (617 is Boston's area code.) We wanted something from them. We expect our teams to be a reflection of ourselves. Cheering for our teams becomes cheering for ourselves. The patriotic and spiritual rituals that have become matter-of-fact elements of the generic sporting event (e.g. national anthem, heaven looking) suddenly become more meaningful gestures to express our humbleness, our unity. Never have I heard a stadium crowd sing the national anthem with such magnitude as the opening Bruins game following the bombing.

Each year I am a spectator in Hopkinton--the starting line of the Boston Marathon. I am in the crowd that sends off the 27,000 runners from the start line with waves and cheers. I am repulsed by what I sent them to. I am heartened, though, that the other human beings 26.2 miles ahead were there to hold them, to comfort and care for passionate spectating victims, to dismiss fear, and to let the best of what we bring through sports shine through.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for WomenWellesley College, is a sports enthusiast who specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs.

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What Is A Woman Worth?

PayEquityBlog

Are you paid what you’re worth? How much do you earn? Is your paycheck fair?

These are the kinds of questions we don’t talk about in public, or even with co-workers. We might broach them with close friends or family, but many Americans don’t like to talk about whether our paychecks are fair. However, when women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, and this gender wage gap holds at all levels of education, we have to ask what’s at play here. For Black and Latino women, the gap is even greater; Black women earn 70 cents for every dollar earned by men of all races, and Latinas earn only 60 cents.

Is it that women put family and children first, and that affects their pay, because they work part-time or take time out of the workforce? While women who work part-time or take time out of the workforce to experience a “motherhood penalty,” the majority of mothers are working full-time. Working mothers are as serious about their employment as are working fathers, in an economy where a second income is essential to maintain a standard of living that, decades ago, could have been supported by one income.

Perhaps the pay gap is because women “chose” to go into jobs or professions that pay less? Women are concentrated in relatively few occupations, such as nursing, teaching, administrative assistants, health aides, customer service and the like. This concentration of women in a few, predominantly female, occupations does hold wages down, because more women are competing for a more limited range of occupations. However, even when women work in the same occupations as men, they often earn less than the men.

These kinds of arguments about why women earn less than men are grounded in old ideas about what a woman is worth, and about women’s place in the world. When we devalue women’s family and community work, we also devalue the paid jobs that support families and communities, such as teaching and nursing. When we ask whether it's women’s choices that drive the pay gap, we’re ignoring the effects of discrimination enacted by others with the power to hire and fire.

According to the official blog of the U.S. Department of Labor, “Economists generally attribute about 40 percent of the pay gap to discrimination--making about 60 percent explained by differences between workers or their jobs.” That’s right, almost half of the pay gap is attributed to discrimination. Two bills that would address this discrimination are currently in committee and not likely to go further. The Fair Pay Act (S.168, H.R.438) is designed to end wage discrimination by requiring equal pay for comparable work. The Paycheck Fairness Act (S.84, blogpullquoteWomanWorthH.R.377) would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963.

However, we don’t have to wait for Congress to act to address the issue of discrimination and pay equity. As workers, we can start talking to each other about what we earn, and whether we think that’s fair. As employers, we can reconsider the wage structure in our firm, and evaluate its fairness. As citizens, we can challenge the old ideas about what a woman, and women’s work, is worth, and encourage our daughters and sons to not limit their dreams to the old dreams, but to explore a wide range of occupations and follow their own interests.

Nancy Marshall, Ed.D., is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She leads the Centers' Work, Families & Children team and teaches courses at Wellesley College on gender, employment and the sociology of children and youth.

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Happy Birthday Maya Angelou!

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This blog was originally published on the National Center for Civil and Human Rights Voices of our Community Blog.

We may remember today many ways, but one of the happiest has to be by wishing an ebullient “Happy Birthday!” to one of America’s living national treasures: Dr. Maya Angelou, who was born on this day, as Marguerite Ann Johnson, in 1928.  In the 85 years since then, she has graced our nation and the world with wisdom, vivacity, courage, and splendor as the very embodiment of the figure she made famous in her poem, “Phenomenal Woman.”  On a day that encourages us to reflect on civil and human rights with the widest possible scope, we can use this occasion to look closely at the many ways that Dr. Angelou has blazed paths, opened doors, and enlarged life and living for the rest of us.

Dr. Angelou is perhaps best known for her groundbreaking autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, first published in 1969, which tells the story of her tumultuous childhood and its overcoming, and then again for her riveting recitation of the poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, or as the first poet to be invited to a presidential inauguration since Robert Frost appeared at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.  Yet, these anchors of public awareness only punctuate a life of irrepressible self-invention that has enlarged our sense of what human beings are capable of and what human liberation might actually look like.  Challenging early circumstances in Dr. Angelou’s life – family violence, family mobility, economic insecurity, sexual abuse – only served to refine and lay bare her genius and expose us to her gifts – artistic, political, literary, and spiritual. 

This Phenomenal Woman was the first African American woman to author a screenplay: Georgia, Georgia, the first African American woman to direct a major motion picture: Down in the Delta, the first major Black writer to author a fourth (then a fifth and sixth) autobiography (giving W.E.B. DuBois, who famously authored three, a run for his money and his historical legacy), and even the first African American female streetcar conductor in San Francisco.  Yet, this litany of firsts obscures a deeper contribution to women’s empowerment and the global legacy of civil and human rights for people of African descent.

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As an integral creative spirit within the Black Arts Movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. Angelou’s works of autobiography then poetry helped lay the foundation for Black women’s literature and literary studies, as well as Black feminist and womanist activism today.  By laying bare her story, she made it possible to talk publicly and politically about many women’s issues that we now address through organized social movements – rape, incest, child sexual abuse, commercial sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and intimate partner violence.  Through the acknowledgement of lesbianism in her writings as well as her public friendship with Black gay writer and activist James Baldwin, she helped shift America’s ability to envision and enact civil rights advances for the LGBTQ community.  And the time she spent in Ghana during the early 1960s (where she met W.E.B. DuBois and made friends with Malcolm X, among others), helped Americans of all colors draw connections between the civil rights and Black Power movements in the U.S. and the decolonial independence and Pan-African movements of Africa and the diaspora. 

By communicating through the arts, Dr. Angelou has always brought a much-needed dimension of heart and soul to our political efforts and aspirations.  Her life-as-career has been recognized for its universal value to others in her appointment as the lifetime Reynolds Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University, as well as through numerous awards and recognitions. The long arc of her contributions to civil and human rights, which reaches back to her early employment with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, reached a tragic pitch with the assassination of her friend and colleague Dr. Martin Luther King on her 40th birthday in 1968, and proceeds forward to the recent formation of the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest School of Medicine, is now part of the fabric of our history.

At 85, Dr. Maya Angelou is a living legend and cultural treasure. Her courage in the service of freedom and justice has left its unmistakable mark on our world. As she once stated, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

On this day, as an act of honor and celebration, I encourage everyone to seek out and share a book, poem, film, song, or speech by Dr. Maya Angelou – but not to stop there.  To truly honor her life, we must look around and witness the many “caged birds who still sing” – and then find a way to help open doors to freedom.  We can look to organizations like the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which has become a convener of change conversations and a facilitator of change actions, or to organizations like the Wellesley Centers for Women, that works to move the needle of change by supporting social change efforts through social scientific research, theory, and action.  But we can also start right where we are, as Dr. Angelou did so many times herself, and ask ourselves, “What can I do, right here, right now?”  There are so many ways to get involved, and, like Dr. Angelou, to live a life that makes a difference.

 

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

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It's a SNAP: Living on Four Bucks a Day

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This blog appeared originally on YWCatalyst blog. Author Peter Biro is the husband of Nova Biro, a participant in LeadBoston, YW Boston’s experiential executive leadership program which explores key equity issues facing Boston. As part of its examination of poverty, LeadBoston 2013 participants undertook the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Challenge (feeding yourself on four dollars a day for one week). To support Nova, the entire Biro family participated in the Challenge to better understand food insecurity. Here, Peter reflects on the experience:

I rarely decline a cappuccino any time of day, and certainly never first thing in the morning, but last Thursday I had no choice. To support my wife Nova, our family went on a diet. We were trying to shave not calories, but dollars: her mission was to complete the “SNAP Challenge” as part of her LeadBoston program, and experience issues of poverty firsthand by limiting our daily food spend to what poor families can afford. That number, per person, is only four dollars a day.  

So, the Thursday morning cappuccino that rang in at $4.25 was not in the budget.

If you are lucky enough never to have thought about the breakdown on four bucks a day, as many reading this have not, you eventually arrive at a few other non-obvious conclusions. First, you have to allocate the $4 among your meals--say, 50 cents for breakfast, 1 dollar for lunch, 2 dollars for dinner, and 50 cents for “other” 50 cents for other is just not a lot. In that world, if someone offers you free food, whatever the kind, you probably take it. Second, as characters in Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, about growing up poor in Ireland could tell you, alcohol is a budget-killer. Say your addiction is on the opposite end of the spectrum like mine and you need a cup of coffee. Cheap will do. That’s about $0.25 if you make it yourself.  

The issue in both cases is that the $0.25 has to come from somewhere. So taking your children out for a ice cream or a treat is a non-starter.  
blogpullquoteFourBucksaDayWhat are some cheap nutritious foods? In no particular order, the Biro family’s diet last week consisted of rice, beans, potatoes, inexpensive meat (specifically split chicken breasts on sale, and stew meat on sale), bananas, eggs, carrots (but you have to peel them yourself--having the factory do the work for you and turn them into baby carrots costs too much), pasta, homemade pancakes, nuts, oatmeal and super cheap granola bars we bought in bulk (more on this later). We bought a small crate of “Clementine” oranges on sale for $6, or $0.20 apiece. We made homemade pizza one night, with dough from scratch costing roughly $0.40, the sauce about $1 and mozzarella at $3, totaling not quite $5 for 2 pizzas, with leftovers for lunch. We did buy fresh broccoli, which is expensive at $0.30 per serving, so we didn’t have much.  Frozen vegetables are usually cheaper, but not always. Lentils are cheap and high-quality calories but we didn’t get those in.  

Greasy tortilla chips are cheap--low quality, to be sure, but cheap. It is true, as has been noted many times by those studying childhood obesity, that two liters of soda (for about $1 on sale) are much cheaper than a half gallon of orange juice (about $3.50 on sale) or milk.  

Besides designer coffee served by a disgruntled barista, other luxuries were out.  Berries. Flank and high-quality steak. Lamb. Brand names. Good apples out of season cost $1.33 each. So, you can eat a granny smith in March, but you have to give something up.  

My daughter Sophie and I typically spend Tuesday afternoons together and share a piece of cake ($4) and bring one home for my wife and other daughter ($4). We knew this had to go. So, last week, Sophie and I split a mini-cupcake for $1.  

We worked over the crumbs for a while. This was a theme all week.

This experience with my daughter really got my attention. My wife and I know how to improvise in the kitchen, and the convenience of leftovers makes them a way of life for us already, so fitting different ingredients into this model didn’t jar us. For Sophie and me to go without our usual dessert was not that big of a deal either, because in truth, we knew we could resume it next week. It was temporary. But poverty is rarely temporary. And on the best day, you can either have a cup of coffee yourself, or give your child a treat, but never both.  

My family adapted. Sophie resiliently offered, “That’s OK dad, I don’t need the big piece anyway.” I checked the daily sales at our local supermarket and, for example, bought a “Five Buck Cluck," a pre-roasted chicken on sale on Thursdays for $5. That’s meat for four of us, plus a little extra, plus the basis to make stock instead of buying broth at $0.80 per can. We used things that we had bought before in bulk--on a per-serving basis, much cheaper. A granola bar from a small box cost $0.40, but from a Costco-sized box, it’s about $0.10.  

But families in poverty, I imagine, cannot adapt this way. They might not have time to check in at  the market every single day. Yes, shopping at Costco saves money in the long run. But if you are poor, it’s not in your neighborhood. How do you get there? How do you have the money upfront to pay for everything? How do you get it back home? Where would you store it? And  you can’t spend, in the form of foregone wages, nearly $22 to make the 3-hour round trip; $22 is food for six days. At the same time, you probably have to shop for food much more frequently, which is a tremendous time burden for people already stretched to the limit.

This made us think about the broader issues.  

Tight food budgets bring the pervasiveness of cheap processed foods into sharp view. I don’t know what happens to the economy if the minimum wage goes up $1. I do know, that an extra $1 equals $40 per week and would increase the food budget of a family of four by almost 35 percent. A huge impact.    

Most importantly, I remember the anxious feeling after exhausting the daily $4. Not hunger pangs--we had full pantries in a warm spacious house in a safe neighborhood. The anxiety was rooted in this: for someone on $4 per day for food, food insecurity is rarely the greatest of their challenges.

Peter Biro is husband of Nova Biro, co-director of Open Circle, a social-emotional learning program for grades K-5, based out of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. Biro and her family's food challenge were featured on Yahoo News.

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Lean In to Social Change

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One of the things I like best about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, is something she says on page 9. Addressing the debate about whether the key to increasing women’s access to power lies in removing “internal barriers” or “institutional barriers,” she writes, “Both sides are right. So rather than engage in philosophical arguments over which comes first, let’s agree to wage battles on both fronts. They are equally important.” I couldn’t agree more.

As the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, a social-change oriented women-and-gender research and action institute that works on both sides of the coin--systemic factors and individual factors--when it comes to issues of gender equality and women’s and girls’ wellbeing, I know--and WCW has known collectively for nearly 40 years--that these issues exist both because of what society has set up as unfair parameters and because of how individual people think. And these thoughts include women’s thoughts about themselves, what Sandberg refers to as “internal barriers.”

We all know women who do lean in and succeed, and we know many others who have been leaning in but haven't been able to secure a space at the table. We know that it's not just a matter of will and desire, but the opportunities as well as our perseverance. This is why leaning in for social change-–indeed, for full social equality--is so important.

Sandberg shows real insight when she points out that “personal choices are not always as personal as they appear” and notes that “we are all influenced by social conventions, peer pressure, and familial expectations.” She is rightly acknowledging, as much research has shown before her, that our thinking is often constrained by the social context as well as “demand characteristics” in the environment that overdetermine our tendencies to think (or feel) one way or another. And much of this is unconscious.

The role of research is to bring our unconscious tendencies to light, so that all of us can contribute to the individual and societal self-corrections that add up to social change. I applaud Sheryl Sandberg for incorporating so much research into her book (a full 33 pages of footnotes, to be exact), particularly highlighting the blogpullquoteLeanInSocialChangelife-changing impact of our own Peggy McIntosh’s theoretical insights on her own understanding of how women feel like a fraud, mentioning the Wellesley Centers for Women and Wellesley College by name, mentioning the NICHD Study of Early Child Care on which two of our senior researchers worked, and working closely with sociologist Marianne Cooper at our sister organization, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford, to provide much of the statistical data that supports her arguments.

A cornerstone of Sandberg’s social change recommendations center around increasing women’s access to power and women’s leadership in arenas of power. In perhaps what is the book’s most famous recommendation (and the source of its title), she states, “I believe that if more women lean in, we can change the power structure of our world and expand opportunities for all.” Her concern with women’s leadership is the book’s animating anxiety, as evidenced in her statement, “We have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we are failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.” I actually like Sandberg’s recommendation for women to “lean in to leadership” as a way of advancing gender equality and eradicating sexism, but I would like to expand her notion of what this means by pushing her (and all of us) to consider leaning in on multiple fronts simultaneously.

What I mean is this: In addition to leaning in to end sexism, we need to lean in to end racism that holds women of color back, lean in to end heterosexism that holds LGBT women back, lean in to end xenophobia that holds immigrant women and women of different nationalities and religions back, lean in to ending able-ism that holds women with disabilities back, lean in to ending ageism that holds “women of a certain age” back, and lean in to ending classism which holds women of low socio-economic status as well as women strapped by global poverty back. And we also need to lean in for all of the men and transgender people who are disadvantaged by these same systems. Leaning in is intersectional! And there’s room for everyone to lean in somewhere.

There’s also one more comment I’d like to make about the notion of leadership. Sandberg echoes and applauds the comments of recent Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee, who stated decisively that what we need to make a difference on all these issues is “more women in power.” We tend to think of power as being at the pinnacle of a hierarchy, whether that hierarchy is governmental, corporate, professional, or even among celebrities. But, as feminist theorist Audre Lorde has pointed out, there are two kinds of power--“power over” and “power with.”

“Power over” reproduces the very hierarchies and their inevitable violence that we are trying to escape, whereas “power with” is invitational and transformative, linking agents of change together in service of a common idea or aspiration. In fact, it resonates with the definition of success that Sheryl Sandberg attributes to Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria, namely, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

While I will not deny that, within our current world system, having more women in “traditional” positions of power is a good thing, we need to give more credence and visibility to women--and men and transpeople--who are leaders in the “power with” vein. In fact, we need to educate our children, one and all, about how to lead using “power with.” A recent study by political scientists Mala Htun and S. Laurel Weldon drives this point home even further: In a study of 70 countries over a 30-year span, these authors found that advancement in policies to end violence against women were explained by the presence of active, autonomous feminist movements and organizations ("power with") and not the presence of female leaders ("power over") per se. And they further found "that autonomous movements produce an enduring impact on VAW policy through the institutionalization of feminist ideas in international norms."

I am thankful for all the attention that Sandberg gave to the importance of men sharing household and family duties with women as well as being accountable for the pro-women policies they create in the workplace as well as in law and policy. She rightly points out that, “Any coalition of support must also include men, many of whom care about gender inequality as much as women do.” It is worth noting that many of these men are the sons and grandsons of the proverbial “feminists from the 60s and 70s,” highlighting a generational change in attitudes, an often overlooked achievement of the second-wave feminist movement, or “women’s lib.” This article by Kunal Modi, “Man Up on Family and Workplace Issues,” which she cites, is a worthwhile read. Sandberg also applauds lesbian and gay couples for the level of equity they demonstrate with regard to sharing household duties, suggesting that heterosexual couples and families could learn a thing or two from their LGBT counterparts.

There’s no doubt that Sheryl Sandberg’s new bestseller Lean In has generated considerable buzz and controversy. The issues she addresses are front and center in many people’s lives. Although her perspective is heavily race-d and class-ed, she acknowledges this with fairness. Having now read the book cover to cover, I find myself wishing that fewer people would spend so much time searching for the flaws in her perspective and more people would take up her challenge to “work together toward equality.” From my perspective, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In is a real clarion call for those of us who are working on issues that will improve women’s lives--professional and otherwise--to join forces, be more systematic and strategic about our change work, and to align efforts. Equipped with a both/and perspective that acknowledges both societal and individual impediments to gender equality and women’s empowerment, I would love to see more of us just lean in to social change.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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The Birds, the Bees, and the Stomach Butterflies

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March is Talk with Your Teen about Sex Month. Why talk about sex with our kids?

In her recent talk at Wellesley College, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, reminded us that parents are the most important source of sex education for their children. National studies agree. When parents talk about sex with their kids, it can help them postpone having sex and make it more likely teens will use protection when they do have sex. Our research at Wellesley Centers for Women found that this is particularly important in delaying sex for boys.

Here are some take-home messages from our own and others’ research on how parents and teens talk about sex and relationships. The quotes are from our interviews with parents of middle school students.

“I’m willing to go there with her (talk about sex), because I know that I had trouble speaking with my mom about it when I was younger. So I know I need to be there and play that role. And if I don’t talk to her about it, she’ll find out on her own, and that’s not the way that I want that to happen.”

Why is it so hard for us to talk to our kids about sex?

“It’s hard for me to say, ‘Well this is how your penis works.’ You know? Okay, I’ll try to figure it out and I don’t want to sound stupid in front of the kid.”

- Parents often feel embarrassed and may not know how to start conversations about sex
- Parents don’t know where to get accurate information to share with their kids
- Kids are embarrassed too, but it’s important for them to hear from you
- Once you start (even with a small conversation), it will get easier

How do we do it? Tips on talking with teens about sex

“You’re basically informing them and, you know, letting them know that you’re there. And then you kind of just have to take it as it comes, because you never know what’s going to happen.”

- Figure out what’s important to you and share it with your kids
- Listen to what your kids have to say (or what they may have trouble saying)
- Keep the door open – sometimes the first conversation is just an icebreaker
- Give your kids medically accurate information about sex
- Talk with your kids before they have sex

Who can help?

“He still talks about things that he learned in (sex education) class. He still makes a reference to it when we’re talking about things. One of the funny things that doesn’t happen anymore is any reference to sex, we don’t shy away from it if it does come up. He’s just more accepting that it’s a part of life at this point.”

- Just because you didn’t talk about sex growing up with your own family, doesn’t mean you can’t talk with your own kids about sex
- Even when you’re embarrassed, you can still have good conversations with your teens about sex
- You are not alone

  • o Think about friends and family you trust who can be part of the conversation (e.g., aunts, uncles, older siblings, godparents)

o Find out if your teen has a sex education class at school and ask your teen about it
o Here are some resources for information and support to talk to your teens about sex:

10 tips for parents (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy)

Communicating with Youth: Themes for Parents to Remember (Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts)

Help your teen make healthy choices about sex (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Jennifer Grossman, Ph.D. is a research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women. She co-directs an evaluation of a middle school sex education curriculum and leads a project investigating what works and what gets in the way of family communication about sexuality among diverse families.

 

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On International Women’s Day: How Do We Get Girls in School Safely?

Global Partnership for Education

This blog post originally appeared in the Education for All Blog of the Global Partnership for Education; by Nora Fyles, Head of the UNGEI Secretariat

Earlier this year, I read an interview with a secondary school girl about her experiences commuting to school in rural Uganda. Her message has stayed with me, as an example of the “everyday” reality of violence in girls’ lives.

Interviewer: What is the biggest problem or difficulty that you have in your life right now?

Student: The biggest problem--is these men who disturb us--begging for sex when walking to school.

Around the world today, International Women’s Day, attention is focused on the issue of violence against women and girls, the theme of the 57th Commission on the Status of Women. For millions of girls worldwide, violence is more than the “topic of the day,” it is part of their everyday reality. Girls face violence and discrimination due to their sex and age, in many contexts, including on the way to school, in the school yard, and in the classroom.

There is no doubt that gender-based violence is a major and critical barrier threatening the education of girls in many countries of the world, with far reaching consequences: poor performance, irregular attendance, dropout, truancy and low self-esteem not to mention physical harm and pregnancy. In a consultation jointly hosted by UNGEIUNICEF and the Ethiopia Ministry of Education, participants reported on issues faced by girls. One country representative reported that, “Girls at secondary education levels increasingly face sexual violence including forced marriage, abduction and sexual exploitation, taking advantage of the fact that girls have limited financial and material means.”

Surprisingly, given the impact of violence, school-related gender-based violence is often unremarked upon and taken for granted. Thus, one of the biggest challenges is to recognize that social norms prevent girls from attending school in a safe environment, and to place girls’ education within the broader discourse of women’s rights.

Focus on Girls in GPE’s Strategic Plan

The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has drawn up a Strategic Plan for 2012-2015 which provides an opening for dialogue and action by focusing on girls’ access to and achievement through school, including schools as safe spaces for girls. The GPE Plan identifies five thematic priorities, including one relating to girls, which states: “All girls in GPE endorsed countries successfully complete primary school and go to secondary school in a safe, supportive learning environment.

For UNGEI, this is a transformative statement which:

  1. Recommits the Partnership to an agenda of equity and rights;
  2. Defines quality education as a safe and supportive environment for learning, and recognizes the potential (and the reality) of the opposite: violence, including gender-based violence; and
  3. Puts forward a new vision of education that includes adolescent girls and their social context.

GPE proposes a holistic approach, with a focus on gender responsive education sector plans, strategies to ensure school safety and supportive learning for girls, including female teachers, the collection of evidence and sharing of good practice, and the tracking of enrolment, progress and learning of primary and lower secondary girls.

It is this country-led and holistic approach to ensure that schools are safe and supportive spaces that will allow girls to become advocates for their own rights.

Plan International Report: Education Reduces Violence against Women

We know that education can serve a protective role for girls and young women by making them aware of and confident to exercise their rights. A recent report by Plan International indicates that women who are educated to secondary level or higher are less likely than their non-educated or primary-educated counterparts to experience violence, and men who are educated to secondary level or higher are less likely than their non-educated or primary-educated counterparts to perpetuate violence.

Education can be empowering, providing space for girls to speak on their own and with their own voices, now and in the future. Preventing and eliminating violence against girls in and around schools is an effective strategy in advancing the status of women in society. UNGEI is pleased to join GPE in celebrating International Women’s Day. Our partnership is ensuring that all girls successfully complete primary school and go to secondary school in a safe, supportive learning environment.

 

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Is A Global Consensus Emerging on Women’s Issues?

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As we hurtle towards the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015, some of which have more or less been met and others of which remain very far from target, there seems, at least based on the most recent United Nations on the Commission on the Status of Women (UN CSW a/k/a CSW57) meetings, to be something of an emerging global consensus about women’s issues.

First, there is now a nagging sense that eradicating violence against women and girls (VAWG) is “the missing MDG.” In fact, Michelle Bachelet, the Director of UN Women, stated this forcefully in her opening remarks at the 57th UN CSW last Monday. “Ending violence against women is the missing MDG that must be included in any new development framework. We need a stand-alone goal on gender equality with gender mainstreamed across all other goals.” Bachelet’s statement also indicates a growing international consensus around women’s empowerment and gender issues more generally.

The fact that the authors of the MDGs didn’t think to include ending VAWG as a global development objective both highlights glaring flaws in the process that produced the MDGs in the first place and sets the stage for greater inclusiveness and attention to women’s issues, especially the eradication of VAWG, in the probable “next” global development model, currently being referred to as the post-2015 development agenda or framework. This emerging framework was the subject of a UN CSW parallel session called “The Post-2015 Development Agenda: What’s at Stake for the World’s Women?” This session was sponsored by the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition, self-billed as “a coalition of feminist, women’s rights, women’s development, grassroots and social justice organizations working to challenge and reframe the global development agenda.” The panelists noted that the MDGs were created through a process that was less than consultative and that women came late or not at all to the conversation. In contrast, the post-MDG process is proving to be highly and purposefully consultative – perhaps too consultative, as some have only half-jokingly suggested – and there is a sense that women and women’s issues must be prominent and interwoven in terms of both process and content.

Second, it has become clear that eradicating VAWG specifically and gender equality more generally are preconditions of success for virtually all other planks of global development. Feminists, take a bow, because intersectionality-–the concept that both social identities (such as sex, race, and class) and social oppressions (such as sexism, racism, and classism) are interlocking, co-constitutive, and co-relative – was all abuzz in these discussions. It is fair to say that no one at this conference would argue that the next development model can proceed without fundamentally acknowledging the intersecting nature of all social inequalities and articulating the principle of gender equality as a necessary premise of all global development. My sense was that, all lingering controversies aside, maybe we’ve actually reached global tipping point with regard to recognizing the principle of women’s equality and the principle of the unacceptability of violence against women and girls. But, of course, principles alone do not a reality make.

At the meeting, there has been well-articulated recognition that not only are all women’s issues intersectionally interconnected with all other development goals, but also that, because of intersectionality, development models must disaggregate the experiences of different groups of women (and men, indeed, people of all genders) with regard to the various development goals. UN-level, country-level, and NGO-level speakers acknowledged at this meeting that global targets and even country-level targets are insufficient because they often fail to capture the very different experiences of diverse populations within a country. On a more blogpullquoteGlobalConsensusEmergingpragmatic level, it was pointed out that the statistical apparatus which will make disaggregation of data possible on global or country-level indicators remains to be designed or put into place.

For example, with regard to MDG 3, which aims to eliminate gender disparity in primary education, urban and rural girls or girls from different socio-economic statuses or racial or religious backgrounds within a country often achieve educational parity at different rates and face different constraints in the achievement of access to primary education. With regard to MDG 5, which involves reducing maternal mortality and increasing access to reproductive health resources for women, similar differences among women evince but are not currently well captured in the indicator data. Thus, speakers have argued, development goals must have quantitative (“this many”) as well as qualitative (“this well”) targets to address the real needs of sustainable human development. It is pertinent to note, however, that NGOs play a crucial role in the provision of the needed data that show these kinds of differences--both quantitative and qualitative--and helping to define the meaning and causality of the differences in outcomes. Women’s research centers, take heed!

Thus, there was evidence during my week at CSW57 that a global consensus on women’s issues is emerging. It is fair to say that we have perhaps reached the global tipping point with regard to the acknowledgment that violence against women and girls is unacceptable and must be eradicated. Additionally, we have perhaps achieved global consensus about the value, although maybe not the particulars, of women’s empowerment, at least at the level of state actors. There are of course, cautions. This consensus does not imply that nations, cultures, and subcultures are in agreement about what women’s empowerment means or looks like, or about the frameworks to use when creating rationales for eradicating VAWG. Stark religious differences have been in evidence at CSW57 as they have been at virtually all UN meetings pertaining to women and gender, and lines of conflict and contestation still run deep. Similarly, regional differences have been in evidence, particularly, for example, between the countries of the European Union and some Middle Eastern nations. I also observed interesting differences between countries with high populations of recognized indigenous people (in Latin America or the Pacific Islands, for example), and nations whose populations are more uniformly non-indigenous in self-characterization.

One test of this consensus will come at the end of the week when the participants in CSW57 do or don’t come up with a list of agreed conclusions. In the history of the UN CSW, according to one knowledgeable scholar I met at the meetings, only once has a meeting ended without a list of agreed conclusions--and that was last year. Michelle Bachelet herself acknowledged the possibility that language will have to be “toned down” to make a set of agreed conclusions possible from this meeting. So, stay tuned as we follow this CSW57 journey!

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

 

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Missive from the 57th UN CSW

layli at UN

It’s International Women’s Day, and I’ve spent the last week attending the annual meetings of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – for the first time. As a starry-eyed youngster who used to collect pennies for UNICEF every Halloween when other kids were collecting candy, I always dreamt of being involved with the U.N. in some way. Now, here I am, representing the Wellesley Centers for Women in its capacity as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) with consultative status at the CSW under the banner of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It has been an eye-opening experience – one filled with a mix of awe and inspiration, counterbalanced by a healthy dose of critical reality checks.

 

My week began at the opening session of this 57th CSW, which was presided over by Her Excellency Madame Marjon V. Kamara, Ambassador of Liberia to the United Nations and Chair of the CSW, newly re-elected for a second term. The priority theme of this year’s meetings is “Elimination and Prevention All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls.” During the opening session, high-level statements were offered by a representative for the Chair of ECOSOC, who acknowledged that gender-based violence must be eliminated completely, and the Deputy Secretary-General of the U.N., who argued with some passion that ending violence against women is a matter of life and death and that we must channel our outrage into action. The highlight of the session was a speech by Michelle Bachelet, Head of UN Women and former president of Chile, who informed us that the 57th CSW, with its many country representatives as well as over 6,000 registered NGOs, was the largest-ever convening on the topic of ending violence against women and girls (VAWG). As such, she indicated, it represents an historic opportunity to take responsibility for ending violence against women and girls. Although I enjoyed these august speeches from the glamorous environs of the overflow room, having arrived a day too late to garner a coveted ticket to the U.N. General Assembly Hall, their messages stuck with me and set the stage for the rest of the week.

The 57th CSW continues for another week, but today – International Women’s Day – is my last day here. On this day, there are festive celebrations and commemorations that will break up the grind of the regular daily meetings, which cycle between three-hour long sessions of 10-minute country reports, day-long in-and-out “informal” conversations (where the real work of negotiation gets done), “official” CSW side events, and “unofficial” NGO parallel events. As I prepare to depart, I find myself reflective with regard to the events of the week. Three themes in particular are holding my attention: First, is a global consensus finally emerging around issues related to women and girls, particularly with regard to ending violence against women and girls and more generally with regard to the theme of gender equality? Second, what will the post-2015 global development agenda look like? Although ending VAWG is the official theme of the 57th CSW, there has been a great deal of discussion around what will happen after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015 – and this theme will serve as the centerpiece of the next two CSW meetings, in 2014 and 2015. Third, what role do civil society organizations (CSOs) – particularly those, like ours, that are feminist, womanist, or woman- or girl-centered – play in advancing women’s and girls’ issues, at the U.N. and beyond? A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review suggests that, with regard to some issues (such as ending VAWG), the role is indeed great. This gives us – as people who work at, stand with, or support WCW, a CSO with a longstanding reputation for high-quality research, innovative theory, and influential action programs – even greater impetus for all we do.

All next week, I will continue blogging about these themes as I track the progress of the CSW to its final conclusion on Friday, March 15th. My trip to the CSW – a first, but certainly not the last – has been productive and illuminating. Yet, it has also introduced me firsthand to the “realpolitik” of advancing justice and wellbeing for women and girls around the world. Since such change is WCW’s reason for being, I look forward to dialoguing about the issues.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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In quest for equity, sports and combat are sisters

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How perfect that National Girls and Women in Sports Day (who invented this cumbersome name?) arrives as the military prepares to lift it’s ban on women serving in combat.

The barriers that women have faced to such service sound like the battle for equal access and treatment in sport.

How so?

Just step back and consider that the barriers, the arguments against women have focused on three central ideas (the three “I’s”): the presumption of women’s physical inferiority, the perceived immorality of women serving alongside men, and worry that women would be injured.

Drop those three I’s onto sport and those arguments – inferiority, immorality, and injury – have been the rhetoric used to limit and bar women from equal access to competition, whether it was 1970s Little League or ski jumping (finally to be included in the 2014 Olympic games).

In many countries, girls and women still do not have access to regular sports participation. In many urban areas, strapped families do not value or can’t afford to let daughters play sports.

This is not merely a problem of fitness, but of political, social, and economic equity. Sport is not just about play, but about parity.

When President Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill of Rights on June 22, 1944, the official text of his public statement recognized “service men and women” in the opportunity to resume training and education. Reality looked different. Even women who flew B-26 Marauder medium bombers on service missions could be declared “nonveterans” and made ineligible for benefits. Many in that generation of women didn’t get the government-funded college education they earned.

Women have been serving on the front lines. As the battlefield has become less clearly defined with danger available at most pay grades, it is time for women to have the same access to assignments and the economic and career benefits that come with combat-level commissions.

There is grumbling. Worries about sexual harassment (immorality) fail to recognize that half of the assaults are against men. That’s a problem of unacceptable behavior, not of gender. Injury? Unfortunately, women are already getting injured and even dying — alongside men.

The physical inferiority piece is more interesting. It raises questions of physiological differences and the relevant question: What do you really need to be able to do, physically, to perform?

blogpullquoteQuestForEquityIn a recent NY Times story exploring how military fitness tests will change with the new admission of women, we learn that those are all under review. But Greg Jacob, former commander of the training school for enlisted Marines at Camp Geiger, N.C. points out that he saw women who couldn’t complete two pull-ups be able to pump out eight in a matter of months, “because they were training to that standard.”

Females have never before trained for combat. Just imagine what it will mean to have women push themselves physically to a new level. Remember the surge in performance following women being allowed to run the marathon?

Come to think of it, equal access to combat may be just the thing to bring women’s athletics to new heights.

Laura Pappano is writer-in-residence at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, and an experienced journalist who writes about education and gender equity issues in sports. This post is courtesy of her blog, FairGameNews.org.

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Mentoring, Sports, & Girl Athletes

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January was National Mentoring Month, as President Barack Obama recognized on January 3. Next week we celebrate National Girls and Women’s and Sports Day. The notion of “mentor,” and of one imparting wisdom to others, has its origins in Greek Mythology. It has long been a relationship dynamic that has been promoted, studied, arranged, and challenged over many years. Formal mentoring programs have been a regular and consistent strategy for engagement and relationship building in the youth development field and regularly a human resources approach used in non-profit and private business. And sports have been a perfect venue for mentoring relationships.

However, there is also great potential in the more informal ways we mentor. It is interesting that when surveyed about school, out-of-school time, and summer program experiences youth consistently express a desire for more opportunities for leadership and responsibility. We underutilize the natural dynamic and model of cross-age grouping. Across the spectrum both in academic content and enrichment activities, older and younger children working together can be an empowering and nurturing experience for both. We seem to embrace cross-age group more naturally in sports than many other settings. I was interested to observe the placement of high school students (with some training and supervision) as coaches at my younger daughter’s pick-up soccer tournament in the fall. The opportunity for the older girls to share relevant “on the field experience” and for the younger girlsblogpullquoteMentoringto have a more accessible image of where practice and commitment could get them was inspirational. It’s more than just the final score.

Encouraging these connections for young people in our daily work without having to be derailed by the tasks involved in more formal mentoring programs (and quality mentoring does require careful and plan full work), might allow us to exploit some of the natural interests of younger youth to learn from and older youth to lead each other.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the National Institute for Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, who specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs.

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Women's Review of Books: Now We Are Thirty

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Reprinted from the January/ February 2013 Women's Review of Books.

Longevity, I tell people who compliment me on my age (sixty) and youthful (apparently) looks, is not a sign of virtue. In my case, it’s simply dumb luck: a combination of good genes, a middle-class upbringing, and a job that provides me with health insurance. Yet for a small-circulation, special-interest publication like Women’s Review of Books, reaching a great age is an achievement. The year WRB was founded, 1983, was a boom time for feminist publishing—of books, newspapers, magazines, and journals, as well as ’zines, leaflets, manifestos, and graffiti. Little of that survives, but Women’s Review of Books is still hanging on.

I attribute this to many factors. For one thing, WRB is, for better or worse, still necessary. Disgracefully, even after forty years of the contemporary women’s movement, feminist scholarship and critical analysis, and women’s creative writing, receive little more attention in the mainstream media in 2013 than they did in 1983. Unlike in 1983, when WRB and our sister publications could cover just about every feminist work that appeared, these days university, small, and even trade publishers are releasing an outpouring of interesting, challenging, original books by women. Yet most of this is ignored by daily newspapers, glossy magazines, and book review publications like the New York Review of Books. When it’s not ignored, it’s often treated fleetingly or dismissively: and the well-deserved prizes and recognition that writers like Joan Didion (an NYRB regular), Adrienne Rich (lauded more enthusiastically after her death last year than she often was in life), or Louise Erdrich (winner of this year’s National Book Award) do not mitigate the situation. WRB is just about the only place where you’ll find long-form, review-essays by expert, excellent writers that thoughtfully consider the newest women’s studies scholarship and analysis. I’m regularly surprised by the lack of overlap between WRB’s coverage and that in the New York Times, for example. And WRB is by no means comprehensive: we do what we can in six issues per year, 32 pages per issue. There are a lot of worthy books out there that we miss, and getting old doesn’t mean we are getting complacent. We are always striving to do better.

Secondly, like me, Women’s Review of Books has been lucky in its parentage. Since we were founded, by Wellesley College Professor Linda Gardiner, we have been housed at the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), a gender-focused, research and action organization located at the college. WCW not only provides office space, computers, and other invaluable infrastructure; the organization has also come to our rescue during financial crises, offered personal support to the staff, and cheered on our accomplishments. In 2005, when we had to suspend blogpullquoteWRB WeAreThirtypublication because we had, basically, run out of money, WCW partnered with Old City Publishing, a publisher of scholarly journals, to get Women’s Review of Books back on our feet and to restructure financially.

Since WRB’s founding, we have been developing an extensive network of writers and informal advisors among feminist scholars, activists, and journalists. As a result, as editor, I can always find a writer to say something interesting, intelligent, and even illuminating about any book we decide to assign. The journal’s reputation is such that I’ve discovered I can cold call just about any feminist, no matter how exalted, and she will take seriously my invitation to review for us.

Of course, this is in part because at WRB, our terrific writers encounter a high-quality audience of activists and avid readers, one that appreciates their ideas, grapples with them, applies them in the world, and even extends them further.

So, the sources of WRB’s fountain of youth have been our relevant mission and the support of our parent organizations, our writers, and our audience. Perhaps one day a book review publication dedicated to women’s studies and creative writing will no longer be necessary—but until then, Women’s Review of Books is here to stay.

Amy Hoffman, MFA, is editor-in-chief of the Women’s Review of Books at Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. A writer and community activist, her newest book, the memoir entitled Lies About My Family, will be published this spring by the University of Massachusetts Press.

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Mentoring & Girls of Color

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Happy National Mentoring Month! Since 2002, each January has been a time to give mentoring a boost nationwide through the recruitment of individuals and organizations.

The documentary, It’s Our Time: The Empathy Gap for Girls of Color, by Wellesley Centers for Women Research Scientist Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D. and Rosa Lau, B.F.A., illustrates the powerful effect that mentoring can have in the lives of young people – especially girls of color. While more attention and resources have been guided toward young men of color in recent years, young women of color often end up overlooked, although they too have a great deal to gain from mentorship.

The stories told in It’s Our Time reveal what can happen in an environment where girls of color are the focus, as they were in the Boston-based Teen Voices program. Founded in 1988, Teen Voices was a magazine produced by teen girls, for teen girls. With the guidance of mentors, Teen Voices participants wrote and edited the magazine. They also had opportunities to present their knowledge through public speaking.

Many of the girls in the Teen Voices program felt that they weren’t getting as much attention in the classroom as their male counterparts. “[Teachers] don’t say ‘Oh good job on your last math test,’ because [a girl] consecutively gets good grades on her math tests. But when a boy does, it’s like a huge thing…they focus on the boys more than the girls.” says Teen Voices participant Denesha. She echoes the sentiment that is supported by research – girls feel that their instructors are more concerned with boys’ classroom achievement. When girls do better than boys academically, they are not rewarded with more attention. All too often, resources are diverted to boys who may not be succeeding at the same rate.

In the documentary, African American Policy Institute Co-Founder Kimberlé Crenshaw explains how this inequality flourishes. Public alarm, and therefore research, are focused on boys, and because the bulk of research covers boys, it appears to as if boys are in need of more help, creating a feedback loop in which girls and young women are left invisible.

It’s Our Time fits into the mission of encouraging girls and women by making them visible, but that is only one step. This National Mentoring Month, consider giving some of your time and attention to the young women in your community. This is especially important to girls who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve in a school environment.

Unfortunately, the story told in It’s Our Time includes the end of Teen Voices due to lack of funding. The documentary captures the very real consequences of silence and lack of advocacy for young girls. Better research on girls, pioneered by researchers like those at Wellesley Centers for Women, can lead the way to blogpullquoteGirlsofColorinstitutional changes. Until then, it is largely up to mentors to influence the capable and powerful young women who may otherwise slip through the (huge) cracks.

As a young woman of color, mentoring has been extremely important in my own life. My various mentors have encouraged me to try new things and have given me guidance on how to realize my dreams. As a Wellesley Centers for Women intern, I continue to be mentored by researchers who are interested in people like me, and who have conquered the challenges that I will face. Every young woman should have the same opportunity.

At the end of the documentary, Teen Voices Program Director Suan Green explains her hope for girls. “I think I want them to know that there are adults out there that care for them and that will fight for them and advocate for them, and that they don’t have to go through things alone, and that there’s someone who will listen, and someone who will advise them, and kind of go through the fire with them when they need it. “ As a mentor to girls, you can be that adult.

Temple Price is the 2012-2013 Wellesley Centers for Women Class of ’67 intern and a Wellesley College student majoring in Psychology (Class of 2013). The WCW-Teen Voices initiative was funded by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, and was supported by the Susan McGee Bailey Women's Perspectives Fund.

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Ending Violence – A New Year’s Challenge

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I can’t remember a time when our holiday season was more marred by violence than the one that just passed. Not only did the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shootings take place just days before Christmas (and in the middle of Hanukkah) in Newtown, CT, but there were also at least three other mass shootings in December (Happy Valley, OR, Frankstown Township, PA, and Webster, NY) – two of them seemingly “copycat” affairs. As if this weren’t enough, there were also mass shootings in October (Brookfield, WI), September (Minneapolis), August (Oak Creek, WI, and College Station, TX), July (Aurora, CO), May (Seattle, WA), April (Oakland, CA, and Tulsa, OK), March (Pittsburgh, PA), and February (Norcross, GA, and Chardon, OH) – making 2012 one of the most violent years on record for this kind of horror in the U.S.

In fact, the whole thing became personal for me three days after the Sandy Hook shooting when Sean Louis Callahan – the mate of one of my dear former students and a new policeman only four months into the career of his dreams – was fatally shot in the head and neck after responding to a domestic violence call in a hotel in Clayton County, GA. The perpetrator, who was also fatally shot in that incident, was a previously convicted felon. That a loved one of somebody I care about had to go down to stop such a potential tragedy only fuels my fire for doing something about the normalization of violence that pervades our society.

These mass shootings – as horrific as they are – are just the tip of an iceberg of normalized violence that is taken to extremes when mental health concerns, gun control issues, unresolved social oppressions, gender issues, and even economic insecurity are added to the mix. Taken together, these things are “always already” a powder keg waiting to blow up. Often these things are normalized in ways that keep us from seeing them unless we really look hard.

Over the holiday break, for example, I had a chance to visit Disney World with my family. Primed by recent events, never before had I noticed the degree to which guns are embedded as entertainment everywhere from Frontierland to Tomorrowland. As much as I love Disney World as a fun getaway for multiple generations, I found myself irked by these seemingly “harmless” portrayals of “guns as good” to kids. I also observed the still tremendous amount of normalized sexism presented as entertainment in a theme park that, on one level, appears to valorize women and girls through its emphasis on princesses. Listening to the “Carousel of Progress” – which features a father figure from different historical blogpullquoteEndingViolenceeras cracking jokes at the expense of his wife and daughter, among other things – for probably the fifth or tenth time in my life, I thought, “When is Disney ever going to progress to gender equality (or racial equality, for that matter)?” As someone who grew up in Florida, I love Disney World, and my point is simply some of the sources of violence in our society are “hidden in plain sight.”

Recent cases of gender-based violence, as well as the gendered dimension of recent episodes of violence that seemingly had little to do with gender, remind me that we can never look at violence in isolation. The shooting of 14-year-old girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, which I blogged about previously, was an attempt to suppress through violence women’s advancement to gender equality. The recent fatal gang-rape of a woman on a bus in Delhi, India, is an example of sexual aggression, which affects many women all over the world on a daily basis – from the epidemic war rapes of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo to commercial sexual exploitation and rape of women, girls, and boys all over the United States and elsewhere. The 40 million “missing girls” in China reflect a more systemic form of violence that comes from societal bias against women and girls.

We must also look, however, at the ways in which masculine socialization normalizes and even encourages aggression – which, in its most extreme cases (when combined with mental illness, economic marginalization, racial/ethnic/religious hatred, or misogyny, for instance) becomes violence, often horrific violence. Media depictions of gun violence, for example, whether in movies, music, or video games, feed into this masculine socialization by linking guns with “cool” – not just for U.S. men and boys, but for men and boys across the globe. If we stop short of examining these connections because we don’t want to face what we might have to change, we are shooting ourselves in the foot (or worse).

Obviously, violence isn’t just a U.S. thing. Anyone who has been able to sit through the constant stream of gruesome news reports from Syria, for example, has felt gut-level anguish over the seemingly interminable civil conflict there, particularly the wounds – many of them fatal – to innocent children. Violent civil conflicts and other insurgencies are now generating death and devastation in numerous parts of the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, and Mali to Burma, Afghanistan, northwest Pakistan, Iraq, Mexico, and Colombia. The autumn flare-up of hostilities in the Israel/Palestine region and renewed violence in Egypt added to the somberness of this year’s holiday season. As we stand by from the safe distance created by our TV and computer screens, even this kind of violence has become dangerously normalized and numbing. Often, we are paralyzed into believing that there is nothing we can do.

I write this today because I beg to differ. I truly believe that violence can be eradicated, and that we have the power to make it happen. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” With this New Year, let us resolve to even explore the possibility of ending violence in our world – of truly creating a peaceful and nurturant global society – and to commit to taking the small (and big) steps that will lead us in this direction.

Please join me in 2013, if you care about these issues, by making three commitments:
1) I commit to the belief that we can eradicate violence,
2) I commit to engaging in honest and sophisticated discussions about the causes of violence as well as earnest searches for ways to reduce and eliminate violence, and
3) I commit to taking whatever personal and professional steps I can take to make ending violence a reality, and to work with and support others at home and globally who are doing the same.

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Milarepa, a one-time murderer who eventually became a Buddhist sage: “In the beginning, nothing comes. In the middle, nothing stays. At the end, nothing goes.” In our efforts to end violence in our world – in our nations, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, and in ourselves – let us commit to a beginning, a middle, and an end, knowing that if we are patient and persistent and creative and compassionate, we will get there.

Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

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Human Rights Month: Women Prisoners

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Massachusetts Corrections guidelines permit shackling women prisoners by one foot during birth and according to testimony given to the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in September 2011, women have left the hospital after giving birth shackled at their waist, arms, and legs. Such practices have been deemed a violation of the United Nations Convention against Torture, yet in a national study by the ACLU, such practices have been outlawed in only 18 states. Also, each year hundreds of women are held in the Massachusetts state women’s prison awaiting trial in the most overcrowded unit in the state, deprived of programs and family contact, because their counties cannot hold them, and they could not pay bail as low as $50.

Both situations run counter to the Bangkok Rules adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in December 2010. Officially termed the United Nation Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders,” they expand government’s efforts to comply with international minimum standards for the treatment of offenders by emphasizing the special circumstances and needs of women. Certainly, the Rules impact was evident at an international conference, Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Practice: Diversion, Dignity, Desistance and Dignity, held at the University of Cambridge, January 2012. The U.K. participants reported on changes in the policies and practices affecting women offenders in the wake of a scathing report on the treatment of women prisoners issued in 2004, and participants from 18 countries spoke of the challenges of working with female offenders and their reform efforts.

Although the average daily count of women prisoners in the U.S. is over 210,000, compared with 4,000 in the U.K., 2,000 in Italy, and 700 in Sweden, the circumstances and needs of women offenders throughout the world are remarkably similar. These include reproductive health and pregnancy; mental illness and substance abuse (often as co-occurring disorders); the separation from  dependent children for whom they have sole custody; experiences of violence andblogpullquoteWomenPrisonerstrauma; lack of education and training; sexual victimization by criminal justice personnel; and restricted eligibility for state benefits.

Many people in the U.S. believe that discussions of human rights belong in third and fourth world cultures; for many it is indeed surprising that a handbook, Treatment of Women Prisoners, based on the Bangkok Rules and written by advocates in Sierra Leone, could benefit women in the U.S. However, I recommend that policy makers, advocates and criminal justice personnel read this handbook or others like it together with recent ACLU reports on these important topics.

The Massachusetts Women’s Justice Network (MWJN) platform for change in 2013, will focus on the reducing the numbers of women held in the state’s pre-trial unit and women’s health needs. For more information on the MWJN’s work, email ekates@wellesley.edu, and to learn more about the Bangkok Rules and ACLU efforts refer to:

ACLU (2012). Briefing Paper: the Shackling of Pregnant Women & Girls in U.S. Prisons, Jails, and Youth Detention Centers. Washington DC: ACLU (2012). Briefing Paper: the Shackling of Pregnant Women & Girls in U.S. Prisons, Jails, and Youth Detention Centers. Washington DC: ACLU

Mahtani, S. (2012) United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners: A Handbook.  Freetown: Sierra Leone. Advocaid.

Pradier, C. (2012) Penal Reform and Gender: Update on the Bagkok Rules.  DCAF (Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces).

Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, who directs the Gender & Justice Project on Women Offenders.

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Helping Children Deal with Traumatic Events

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A message from Open Circle, the elementary school social emotional learning (SEL) program at the Wellesley Centers for Women:

"In light of the recent shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, we are writing to share some resources that school communities might find helpful at this time. This tragedy touches all of us, both near and far, regardless of whether we are educators, parents or students. Open Circle would like to offer its assistance during this difficult time by helping schools support students who, understandably, may have questions or concerns in response to this tragic event.

"Children may need reassurance that their classroom and school are safe places for them. It is important to recognize the needs of individual children who might have a harder time coping with this event than others. Often children who are blogpullquoteHelpingChildrenprone to anxious feelings or those with their own trauma history can be triggered by another traumatic event, even if it did not directly happen to them. In addition to the positive, supportive classroom climate and the social and emotional learning tools that Open Circle provides, some students may need additional time with a school psychologist or guidance counselor to help them manage their fears.

"It is also critical that adults get the support they need to help students with their questions and feelings about this tragic event. Modeling how to stay calm and knowing when to ask for help yourself will help reassure students of their safety and remind them that the adults in school will be there to take care of them.

"During difficult times, safety, consistency and predictability are critical to helping children maintain a sense of stability and psychological comfort. Open Circle provides a classroom routine and climate that is safe, consistent and predictable. Continuing to do Open Circle, as usual, is very important. Revisiting and applying the following skills and concepts may be one way to help students and adults as they deal with this traumatic event.

"Calming Down ...
Understanding Feelings ...
Speaking Up ...
Listening Skills ...

"Additional Resources
We recommend the following additional resources from the National Association of School Psychologists and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

  • A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope
  • Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers--English
  • Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers--Korean
  • Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers--Spanish
  • Coping with Violence and Traumatic Events: Tips for Talking with Children (by age group, in multiple languages)
  • Coping with Crisis--Helping Children With Special Needs
  • Tips for School Administrators for Reinforcing School Safety"
  •  

    Open Circle is a universal social emotional learning (SEL) program focused on two goals: strengthening students' SEL skills related to recognizing and managing emotions, developing care and concern for others, establishing positive relationships, making responsible decisions, and handling challenging situations constructively; and fostering safe, caring and highly-engaging classroom and school communities.

      15511 Hits

    Fortune 500s--Where Are the Women?

    WomenCorporate

    Five years ago, my colleagues Vicki W. Kramer, Ph.D., Alison M Konrad, Ph.D. and I studied the effect on boardroom dynamics of increasing women’s presence. We interviewed 50 women directors, 12 CEOs (9 male), and seven corporate secretaries at Fortune 1000 companies. The results showed that the benefits of having women on a corporate board are more likely to be realized when three or more women serve on a board.

    Two recent reports released by Catalyst of Fortune 500 women board directors, executive officers, and top earners, show that “women’s share of Board Director and Executive Officer positions increased by only half a percentage point or less during the past year”—the seventh consecutive year of no improvement in the number of board seats women held. The reports further demonstrated discouraging data for women of color and women’s earnings at the highest levels within the organizations.

    What we found in our study—and what studies since have verified—is that women directors make distinct types of contributions that men are less likely to make. For example, they can broaden boards’ discussions to include the concerns of a wider set of stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the community at large. And even more germane to the distressing news about the lack of growth in women’s representation reported by Catalyst in “Women and Men in U.S. Corporate Leadership,” women’s presence on a corporate board has a positive impact on women in the corporation. In other words, increasing the number of women on corporate boards is a good beginning for increasing the number of women leaders in a corporation.

    A recent report in the McKinsey Quarterly from April 2012 shows that diversity in the top echelons of corporate diversity is associated with better financial results. In 180 publicly traded companies in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany, companies making up the top quartile of executive board diversity (in terms of women and foreign national on senior teams) returns on equity and margins on earnings before interest and taxes of were 53% higher compared to companies in the bottom quartile.

    So if top team diversity is good for the bottom line, why aren’t corporations rushing to diversify their leadership? The answer may be the persistent bias in viewing men with identical credentials to women as more competent than the women. The results of a recent experiment reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Sept. 17 can shed light on this gender bias. The study focused on the scarcity of women in academic science, where women are also highly underrepresented. In this experiment, science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a graduate student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the identical female applicant. (Faculty participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.)

    It appears that undervaluing women’s credentials, seeing them as lacking the necessary competence, to be a laboratory manager or a corporate leader, is pervasive and quite resistant to change. This gender bias operates most forcefully in situations where people are evaluating candidates with whom they have little personal familiarity. Curiously, in actual organizational settings the results of field studies (not laboratory experiments) have shown that there are few differences in how male and female managers are perceived. Greater familiarity with the actual characteristics and performance of managers one works with seems sufficient to overcome masculine biases. However, hiring and promotions decisions are made blogpullquoteFortune500sby people who do not know the candidate personally. When there is no familiarity with the person being evaluated to trump the bias that makes men seem more competent, men are chosen over equally competent women.

    How are we to bring rationality to evaluating women on their merit? Becoming aware of implicit biases is a first step. Training can help us to be aware of our implicit biases. When faced with a hiring or promotion decision, we need to compel ourselves to justify an “automatic” assumption that a male candidate is more competent. Having diversity on evaluation committees is another must.

    Sumru Erkut, Ph.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author of Inside Women's Power: Learning from Leaders.

      8902 Hits

    Caregiving across the Life Span

    elderlymotherdaughter

    November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize those who care for family, friends, and neighbors, including the elderly, sick and disabled. While the elderly are healthier now than in previous generations, about 17 percent of Americans 65 and older need assistance with one or more daily activities, such as bathing or dressing (Himes, 2002); many more need assistance with chores, errands or transportation. Family members in the community provide most of this assistance; for example, 26 percent of adult daughters and 15 percent of adult sons report spending at least 100 hours/year caring for or helping their older parents (Johnson & Lo Sasso, 2000).

    While important, these numbers obscure the many ways in which we are each embedded in networks of care. Some of us are directly involved in hands-on caregiving, but care also encompasses “caring about” – paying attention in such a blogpullquoteCaregivingAcrossLifeSpanway that one sees and recognizes the need for care – and “caring for” – responding to other’s needs by taking responsibility for initiating caring activities (Fisher & Tronto, 1990).

    I think of my 88-year-old mother, living independently, even though she is vision-impaired and cannot drive. Her children, who do not live nearby, call her regularly, provide financial support and make sure her bills are paid, and take responsibility for ensuring that she receives the care she needs. When they do visit, she has a list of chores ready for them. Her friends provide rides to church and occasional lunches out. Her neighbor calls her daily, takes her food shopping and to doctors’ appointments. Another neighbor brings her books on tape, and helps her figure out the technology to listen to the audiobooks. But my mother is not just a receiver of care. She calls friends who need to talk, makes sure that someone is checking on others living alone, provides advice and labor for activities at church, as well as advice to her children, neighbors and friends. In her younger days, she was the one providing transportation to others, visiting people in the hospital or at home, or providing housing and financial support for her adult children.

    These networks of care are often invisible, but they are essential to our communities. As our population ages, and those who provide care are increasingly employed outside of the home, caregiving demands are potentially in direct conflict with employment responsibilities. This reality demands recognition of caregivers not just this month, but year-round, by employers who can provide workplace flexibility – to accompany someone to doctors’ visits, provide transportation, or help with food shopping – and paid family and medical leave for intensive caregiving when needed.

    Nancy Marshall, Ed.D., is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She leads the Work, Families & Children team at the Centers. For more than 20 years, researchers on the Work, Families and Children team have studied the lives of children and adults, and the workplaces, early care and education programs and families in which they live, work and grow. The Team applies an ecological systems model to the study of the lives of children and adults. From this perspective, individual lives are best understood in the context of social institutions, such as families, the workplace, and early care and education settings.

      6407 Hits

    The Next Four Years: Electing Ourselves as Agents of Change

    votebutton

    Now that we’ve had a day to reflect on the U.S. presidential election results, it’s time to get back to the business of changing the world for women and girls, their families, and communities. We have the election to thank for bringing to light a growing gender gap in terms of the kinds of issues women and men are concerned about, and we would do well to study this more deeply. During the campaign season, “women’s issues” included not only the right to abortion, reproductive freedom and justice, and access to contraception, but also jobs, pay equity, education, health care, violence against women, and even, sadly, rape. And I can’t begin to name all the issues that didn’t even make it to the table of discussion. We were reminded, yet again, that we still have much work to do to make our nation – not to mention the world–a place that is safe and welcoming for women and girls, a place that respects and cultivates women’s and girls’ capabilities, and a place that acknowledges the reality that women’s issues are everybody’s issues.

    As much as we may be energized, inspired, stunned, angered, or even fatigued by the election of our nation’s leaders, I think we should never lose sight of the reality that “we are the ones we have been waiting for.” And there is so much we can and should do of our own initiative, regardless of what government is or isn’t doing to make our dreams of social change a reality. Presidencies are complicated, and we can’t always rely on political leaders to realize our visions the way we might like. We must step into our own potential as the initiators and inaugurators, stewards and sustainers, of the change we wish to see in the world. I am blogpullquoteElectingOurselvesgenuinely thankful, on behalf of all of those who came before in many generations, to establish this diverse nation and secure the rights of people of all genders and backgrounds to vote, for those who did exercise that right on Election Day. At the same time, I hope we recognize the need to elect ourselves as agents of change. Now, it is time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work–perhaps with even greater exuberance.

    I invite you to share with us, in response to this blog, your highest hopes for women and girls, their families and communities, during the next four years. Have you chosen an issue to advocate for or work on? What do you care most about right now? How can we best work together to increase our power to make a difference? And, very importantly, have you asked any of the young women and girls around you what they think? Let’s start a conversation!

    Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

     

      8131 Hits

    Check Box(es) that Apply

    censusbox

    As the Massachusetts senate race becomes increasingly heated around the topic of candidate Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry, social scientists have a unique opportunity to provide some insight into the greater conversation by highlighting recent research on racial identity in general and bi-racial identity development specifically: racial categories are socially constructed, racial self- identification is often fluid, and phenotype — or physical appearance — can vary widely.

    The United States is increasingly moving from a society of monoracial groups into one with a large population of bi-racial or multi-racial individuals. For the first time, in 2000, the U.S. Census began allowing respondents to check more than one box when providing self-identification. Data from the 2010 Census estimated that over 7 million people in the U.S. (2.3 percent) identify as belonging to more than one race (United States Census Bureau, 2012; www.census.gov). Similar to Census data collection, places of employment and K-12 and higher education have only recently allowed for checking of multiple racial and ethnic identities. Although research testing alternative strategies for capturing the complexity of mixed ancestry identity can inform practice (Tracy, Erkut, Porche, Kim, Charmaraman, Grossman, Ceder, & Vázquez García, 2010), many of the same single-check-boxes remain in place. Thus generations of mixed ancestry individuals have been, and continue to be, forced to choose a single ancestry, denying one parent/grandparent/side of the family while singling out the other.

    These historically restrictive practices must be understood in the context of anti-miscegenation laws that were declared unconstitutional in 1967 with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Loving v. Virginia, which legally protected the right of interracial couples to marry. Even with legal protections, however, discrimination and stigma related to interracial marriage and mixed race children is slow in dissipating; difficulty remains in acknowledging that a person can belong to more than one race. Historic patterns of discrimination also include the “one-drop rule” which classified any individual with any African ancestry—“one drop of black blood”—as black (Davis, 2006). People with Native American ancestry were historically classified in the same way. This rule of hypodescent stood whether or not you could tell people’s background by simply looking at them. And indeed, Jim Crow laws were enforced according with strict accordance to the one-drop rule.

    Against this historical backdrop, decades of research on racial identity development have revealed common patterns in stages of self-identification and disclosure that are influenced by family, physical appearance, community, and blogpullquoteCheckBoxmedia; compelling stage models have been proposed first by Poston (1990) and then expanded by Kerwin and Ponterotto (1995). In addition, Fhagen-Smith’s (2003) WCW Working Paper also described a stage model of mixed ancestry identity development. Children grow up taking on the identity community to them by their immediate family for the most part, although parental identification of children and the child’s own self-identification is not always consistent (Kao, 1999) []. Phenotype, or appearance, will influence how the individual is categorized by others; lighter skinned individuals may be simply thought of as white, while individuals with darker complexions, for instance, might be externally identified as simply black. Rockquemore and Brunsma (2002) found that cultural context in childhood and adolescence influenced whether an individual of mixed ancestry identified as monoracial or bi-racial. Being forced to choose only one box in demographic forms only exacerbates the invisibility of mixed ancestry individuals who are thus forced to choose the one racial identity they are most immersed in at any given time. Pride in one’s ancestral background at a time of exploration and self-discovery is likely to drive a particular racial identity, and it would not be unusual for this choice to change again as the individual begins to integrate all ancestral backgrounds into a single identity. Youth have been born into an era where biracial or multiracial identification is a norm, and are more likely to be comfortable identifying as such. Older generations that have been socialized to “choose one” are more likely to claim a monoracial identity even if it does not fully describe their background. Rockquemore, Brunsma, and Delgado’s (2009) more recent work stresses ecological theory in understanding identity development which focus on the role of context as an influence of self-identification and also that there is not one particular “final” stage of identification. Context matters and the individual may choose to identify as one racial category or another, or both, or none—all are reasonable based on context, rather than assuming a single “correct” or “healthy” identity.

    Hapa is a Hawaiian word loosely defined as “of mixed descent” and often used by Asian or Pacific Islanders to describe their mixed ancestry. The hapa movement to educate people about the variety in physical appearance for people of mixed ancestry is a powerful response to the too often harmful question of “what are you?’ Several websites document the incredible range of both physical appearance and self-identification patterns that abound in the United States. You can learn a lot by looking at someone’s racial identity only when you also listen carefully to his or her story.

    Michelle Porche, Ed.D. is an Associate Director and Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

      11978 Hits

    Caution, White Knight

    whiteknight

    Half the Sky is a two-part documentary film that aired on PBS stations beginning October 1 and 2, 2012. The film’s themes are 1) the ubiquitous violence against women that is perpetrated throughout the world, especially during and in the aftermath of war, and 2) the efforts made by courageous women- many of whom have experienced violence personally, to overcome this oppression. The film features U.S. women with celebrity status – Eva Mendes and Meg Ryan among others – to draw attention to these themes. The inspiration for the film was a book with the same title, co-authored by the husband-and-wife team of New York Times correspondents Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and began with their efforts to explain the “disappearance” of thousands of girl babies every year in China, where traditionally boys are favored.

    As a lifelong researcher in the area of the concerns of women in poverty I think this film has great value in drawing the viewing public’s attention to the oppression of women worldwide. However, as a social scientist and activist I have serious concerns about the ethics of making of this film, especially in the case of the two girl rape victims in Sierra Leone; Kristof’s so-called “encounter” with a three-year old girl rape victim and his interview with a 13-year old girl raped by her uncle. Both girls experienced traumatic events likely to leave profound and long-lasting effects on their lives. They are, as all trauma-informed literature states, vulnerable to being re-traumatized in any situation where there is a male and they feel insecure, and their experiences are complicated by cultural norms and deference to locally influential men. It was insensitive at best to have a white adult male taking the lead in talking one-on-one with these girls. Further, the lack of privacy -- showing the girls’ faces and broadcasting their undisguised voices -- likely endangered the girls and their families, if not immediately then at some point in the future. There are many ways in which the film’s message could have been equally well transmitted but with more consideration shown for the victims.

    I recommend these readings to help shed light on the complex issues we should consider in aiding women and advancing their security:

    Erika Kates, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

      8223 Hits

    Brave New Girls

    DayOfGirl

    Let’s Celebrate U.N. International Day of the Girl by Supporting the Malala Yousafzais of Our World

    I’ll bet that when the Taliban decided to fire their guns at 14-year old Malala Yousafzai, it didn’t occur to them that they might be making her the cause celebre of the U.N. International Day of the Girl, which is today – October 11th. Although the Taliban might argue otherwise, Malala is everything a girl should be – intelligent, inquisitive, bold, brave, and a concerned, aware world citizen. She embodies and dares to live up to that oft-repeated maxim, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

    What does it say about us when the global war on women – the ages-old attempt to keep women down through violence, silencing, discrimination, and worse – stoops down to attack young girls who haven’t even yet reached womanhood? I say “us,” because, on some level, we are all accountable for the collective consciousness that excuses violence against women in its many shapeshifting forms. No country, no population, is immune. Whenever something like this happens – something terrible and obvious, like the attack on Malala Yousafzai – all of us should stop in our tracks and ask ourselves, what am I doing that keeps the tacit acceptance of violence against women – and now girls – alive in the world…and how can I change that??

    Malala Yousaufzai has been fighting for girls’ education in Pakistan.  Girls all over the world deserve education, and even though some challenging impediments have been identified by researchers and others, there is no excuse in this day and age for girls to be kept from schooling. None. The U.N. has made girls education a tenet (in Targets 2 and 3, to be specific) of its Millennium Development Goals – and in case you were wondering, we only have three more years, until 2015, before we are expected to achieve them. Malala Yousafzai is in a position to challenge the rest of us as women’s activist Audre Lorde famously did when she wrote, “I’m doing my work … are you doing yours??”

    What are we doing to help Malala Yousafzai’s dream – and MDGs 2 and 3 – to become a reality? Not only in Pakistan, but everywhere, all over the world, including the United States, many girls still languish, along with their male peers, in indecently substandard schools and where staggering rates of sexual harassment and violence negatively impact social-emotional development and learning. The issue of a right to education doesn’t just apply to developing nations – it applies, too, in the developed world where different subpopulations often have differential access to a good education. We must look outward and inward as we reflect on these questions.

    Girl activists like Malala are becoming more common and more visible in their efforts to create that “another world” that’s so famously “possible” – a world in which they would like to live, a world that will not only welcome their talents, their full participation, and their leadership, but also a world that will keep them safe and healthy, upholding their dignity and equality. In the United States, for example, I think of girls like Mary Pat Hector who, at age 10, founded Youth in Action USA (she’s now 14, like Malala) to fight violence in her community and communities nationwide. Her organization, which now boasts chapters in seven U.S. states, encourages children to get involved in change through volunteerism, peace rallies, and community advocacy trainings. I also think of girls like Hannah Salwen who, also at age 14, authored The Power of Half as a way to generate social-change
    blogpullquoteBraveGirlscapital. It was witnessing homelessness in her city that inspired her to figure out how she and her family could make a real difference, and her “power of half” principle has since become a movement.

    Malala, Mary Pat, Hannah, and so many more… These are girls who can’t wait – who are taking the bull of the global conditions they care about by the horns – perhaps because they don’t trust us to do it for them, or perhaps because they are simply aware of their own power and genius. Whatever the case may be, we must support them and help them build the brave new world that they would like to grow up in, because the world they envision is not just a world that will be good for them, it’s a world that will be better for everyone.

    The U.N. International Day of the Girl is our opportunity not only to celebrate girls, but also to listen to them, lift them up, and ask them what they need from us to do more of the good that they are doing. I could have spent this column railing against the Taliban and the outrage of their violent attack, but how much better to highlight the work of Malala Yousafzai and girls like her. Let’s celebrate the International Day of the Girl by joining them and supporting them in their audacious, courageous work to change the world!

    Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

      9462 Hits

    Welcome to the Women Change Worlds Blog!

    "A world that's good for women is good for everyone."

    Welcome to Women Change Worlds, the new Director’s Desk blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women. At WCW, also known as the Centers, we do research, theory, and action that promotes justice and wellbeing for women and girls, their families and communities – and we’ve been doing it since 1974. This year, 2012, marks our official entry into the blogosphere, where our goal is to speak up and shape conversations – national and global, regional and local – that impact our core constituencies and the multiple contexts in which their lives unfold.

    Here at WCW, our motto is “A world that’s good for women is good for everyone.” But what exactly does “a world that’s good for women” look like? The truth of the matter is, there are worlds within worlds, and a world that’s good for women acknowledges women’s similarities as well as women’s differences. This includes obvious and widely acknowledged differences – such as race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, education level, income, social class, sexual orientation, gender expression, (dis)ability status, and age – but also less visible or less widely-acknowledged differences such as health status (physical or mental), experience with violence, rural/urban location, political attitudes, and even worldview. This “worlds with an s” approach acknowledges that not all women have the same perspectives or the same needs, yet, at the same time, all women deserve a life of decency, dignity, education, equity, power, health, and wealth.

    As I state in my Director’s Message on the WCW website, today’s world has been shaped over multiple generations by feminist and womanist critical theory and social activism, yet many women and girls still do not enjoy full equality, freedom of expression, or even the provision of basic needs and rights. What gives?? What remains to be done?? What do we need to do to steer the world in the direction of that world that is not only “good for women” but is also “good for everyone”? These are the kinds of questions that this blog will tackle.

    Since I took the helm of WCW in July, the popular media has debated such provocative issues as whether women really can or can’t have it all, whether there is or isn’t such a thing as "legitimate rape,” whether a nearly all-male panel of Congressional representatives is actually qualified to make decisions of national scope about birth control, what to do when a woman who testifies in favor of contraception is characterized with a misogynistic epithet in the national media, whether men are “in decline,” whether women are becoming the richer sex, whether father-daughter dances and mother-son ballgames are or aren’t discriminatory, and whether opportunity really is the route to overcoming oppression for women and girls worldwide. Just before I got here, we were having national and global conversations about issues such as whether the Arab Spring actually benefitted women, whether Title IX is still relevant, and even whether there are enough women writing op-eds. Now, as we hurtle towards a presidential election, we are talking about – although not loudly enough, in my opinion – whether and how women voters and women’s issues matter in this presidential election year. While I was chomping at the bit to blog on all these topics as I settled into my new position, my point is simply that the stream of women’s issues that matter – or issues that matter to women – is swift-moving and never-ending. Any moment can be the right moment to jump in.

    In the worlds of scholarship and scientific research, not to mention the worlds of theory and program development, knowledge production can crawl at a snail’s pace. And rightly so, given the necessarily deliberate and systematic nature of such work: turning over every stone, ruling out every alternative explanation, testing every theory, and piloting then evaluating every program. Yet, with age and expertise comes authority and responsibility. Our researchers, scholars, theorists, and practitioners have invested years, careers, and at times even lifetimes into this work on behalf of women and girls, their families and communities. With nearly four decades of expertise at our collective disposal, those of us at WCW have a lot to say about the issues of the day. Women Change Worlds is our new platform.

    While blog posts can never replace peer-reviewed journals and books, the immediacy of blogging plays in indispensible role in public discourse. From my perspective, blogging serves as a platform for bringing diverse constituencies into conversation and as a staging ground for organizing action. Blogging also serves as a needed bridge between the academic and the everyday. Blogging helps break through the walls that have kept the ivory tower isolated from everybody else and the silos that have kept thinkers of different disciplines from talking with each other. Blogging facilitates what I like to call “the politics of invitation” – a “build it and they will come” route to “another world is possible” – inviting us to engage towards change differently than the more adversarial “politics of struggle.” Thus, it is in this spirit that I hope you will join the conversation at Women Change Worlds, so that together we can make that world that is good for women, girls, and for everyone.

    Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.

      7567 Hits

    WCW Blog

     

    Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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