What leads to radicalization?

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

Last month, the White House released the first report on the Status of Women since Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) under President Kennedy. Really? There’s been no report on this since the ‘60’s?

This made me want to learn more. Do these commissions actually do anything? I was fascinated to learn that PCSW members didn’t think it was enough. The government was not enforcing the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s sex non-discrimination laws. And the commission wasn’t going to change that.

To deal with their government’s indifference or hostility, PCSW and others formed the National Organization of Women. NOW, pun intended, activists could openly rally public support for women’s equality and the end of racial discrimination.

This got me thinking about what led me to the violence against women movement? I had no plan of action. No neon sign telling me to volunteer for a battered women’s crisis line. My past feels more like a mosaic—hard to single out one piece without stepping back and seeing the whole pattern.

Part of my mosaic was formed in the 1980’s. I was a bank secretary in Washington DC on K Street; we secretaries were called “K Street cuties.” I was sitting in the lunchroom one day reading Susan Schechter’s book, Women and Male Violence. One of the executives, a woman, came up and lectured, “You know women who are abused ask for it.” I looked at her thinking, I can’t believe she just said that and—not knowing how to respond —I said nothing.

At the same bank, the chief executive used to slide his hand down the backs of secretaries, and pop our bra straps—which again left me speechless. My own silence bothered me, and I began asking myself, “How do I want to spend my work day?” A dramatic shift in my career path soon followed.

Not everyone is going to form the next NOW or become a domestic violence advocate. You don’t have to. You can change the fabric of your community or your own life in small ways. What gives us the little push to move towards something meaningful and take action? Believing you matter may be radical enough.

I care, we care, healthcare!

Last month, the Affordable Healthcare Act celebrated its one-year anniversary, and still its future as real reform for this country is in question. Although many people put health care near the top of their list of Most Important Issues, I rarely hear anyone describe it as our right. It is rather a “benefit” for those lucky enough to have a job.

What does this have to do with violence in relationships? A lot. For example, if leaving an abuser means losing health coverage for your kids, you may choose to stay. These kinds of choices are going to get tougher for survivors in Washington, as our budget crisis gets worse and the state Basic Health program for low income families looks like it’s going to get eliminated.

I think most folks would tell you that we have a right to live free of violence. And many would agree that we also have a right to determine our own path in life and make our own choices. But the reality is that you don’t get to tap into these rights if you are not healthy and cannot access the care you need. Health care is just one piece of the complex puzzle that put us closer to lives without violence, but it’s a vital piece. Let’s change how we think about health care in this country. It should not be just a benefit. It’s our right.

International Women’s Day

March 8, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. In honor of 100 years of organizing for peace, economic justice, and women’s empowerment, check out these links to learn about innovative and inspiring activism happening around the globe right now.

Maiti Nepal works with girls and women in Nepal who are vulnerable to trafficking and forced prostitution. Their work includes teaching girls about trafficking so that they can avoid being tricked or lured in.

Chouchou Namegabe risked her life to broadcast the testimonies of women who had been raped by militia men in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The organization she co-founded — South Kivu Women’s Media Association — uses media to empower women and fight sexual violence.

No One Is Illegal is campaigning to change the Canadian government’s policy that allows immigration enforcement agents to enter shelters for women fleeing violence to detain and deport undocumented survivors.

And have you seen The Girl Effect video? It is a compelling vision of how investing in education for girls living in poverty can give them the tools to improve the health and well being of entire communities.

What has inspired you lately?  Share more links here. Get inspired. Spread the word. Join the movement.

Egyptian women demand a voice

On February 11, Hosni Mubarak resigns and headlines blare –“This is what freedom sounds like,” “People win” and “Egypt will never be the same.”  Together, courageous women and men forced radical change. Yet, incredibly, some things remain the same. As the Egyptian people work to build a new government, women have not been invited to the table.

There are no women representatives in the Constitutional Committee that has been formed to prepare for free elections. The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights just released a statement protesting the exclusion of women experts.

Why aren’t women included? For that matter, why can’t they walk down the street without being disrespected? A 2008 poll found that 83% of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment. Nihal Elwan, an Egyptian who has worked on social development in the Middle East, describes the daily reality of most Egyptian women: “whether you’re rich, poor, you take public transportation, … you’re doing your shopping, whatever social class you’re from, you’re bound to get sexually harassed.”

The way I see it, both of these issues have the same cure – and it’s also at the root of my work. We have to support women’s right to self-determination. Only then will they be allowed to participate in their government, walk safely down the street, and have relationships free of violence.

Can the end of a dictatorship also lead to revolutionary change in the lives of Egyptian women? I am reminded of the words of Abigail Adams, in 1776 “if particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Party time!!

I don’t know what’s wrong with me this winter. I find myself being inordinately happy – laughing out loud. Sometimes at myself and (full disclosure) sometimes at you too. We can be a grim lot in our movement, wouldn’t you say? Seems like it’s against the rules to celebrate.

Case in point. We just had a great victory. When the brand new Congressional leadership started the session with a bill to try to force us back into a little box by redefining rape, we raised the roof with an outcry.  Shaming them until they backed down.

Take one minute – that’s 60 full seconds – to feel your power.

That, my dears, is the taste of liberation!

Thank you Nick Baumann and Linda Feldmann for your outstanding reporting and follow up on this. Thank you Jon Stewart for your brilliant satire.

Thanks to everyone who

  • posted a link to info on Facebook or email,
  • talked about it with friends,
  • contacted one of the co-signers on the bill.

That was fun!

Someone. Turn up the music! It’s party time!!

Women trump guns

Imagine living in a place where your healthcare and schooling is free. Where you are given a plot of land to farm and a fishing boat. All that is required in return is that you do not beat your spouse.

Is there such a place? Yes, and its location will surprise you.

In war-torn Somalia, Dr. Hawa Abdi and her two daughters started a one-room hospital on her private land. A city of 90,000 refugees sprung up around it. The women of this city in turn, have created their own social services and justice system, which makes it a sanctuary from the violence, disease, and famine around them. But it is also a threat to those in power in the region.

I read in the news last week that a group of armed militants decimated Dr. Abdi’s now 400 bed hospital. They held Dr. Abdi and her daughters at gun-point for days and interrogated the doctor. “Why are you running this hospital?” the gunmen demanded. “You are old. And you are a woman!” Dr. Abdi said “I told the gunmen, ‘I’m not leaving my hospital … If I die, I will die with my people and my dignity.’ I yelled at them, ‘You are young and you are a man, but what have you done for your society?’ ”

Thousands of women from the refugee city surrounding the hospital organized a protest and forced the militants to back down. A written apology was wrung out of the militants by Dr. Abdi.

We live in one of the wealthiest places in the world and yet we don’t replicate the type of community Dr. Abdi created. As a matter of fact, many of the riches we do have are being eroded. What will it take for us to stand together and demand communities that are prosperous and free from violence for everyone?

Truth and consequences

Weeks after WikiLeaks released thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, was arrested in Britain on charges that he sexually assaulted two women in Sweden.

Supporters of WikiLeaks decry Assange’s arrest as politically motivated. Of course it is. When was the last time we saw an international manhunt for an alleged date rapist?

But it is disturbing how many WikiLeaks’ defenders have completely dismissed the idea that Julian Assange may be guilty of a crime. As if it’s impossible for a guy to be admired, talented, or unjustly politically targeted AND a rapist. (Roman Polanski, anyone?) Bloggers are tripping over each other in their rush to make the usual victim-blaming, rapist-excusing arguments: she agreed to sex and regretted it later; she’s a man-hating feminist; she couldn’t have been raped because she was friendly toward him the next day.

There are also some more original arguments for why Assange should not have to face the charges against him. Like that Sweden is a bizarre, feminist dystopia where sex without condoms is criminal and courts reflexively believe women. Bloggers are deliberately using a strange-sounding English translation of the charges — “sex by surprise” — to make the accusations seem ridiculous. Even Naomi Wolf is leveraging her feminist credentials to mock the women and their “injured feelings”.

I don’t know whether Julian Assange raped anybody. But the charges against him are serious. Assange is accused of refusing to stop sex when one woman told him to, pinning her down with his body. He is accused of having sex with another woman while she was sleeping. Should he get a pass because he is a political target?

We all know these charges would never be pursued without the U.S. vendetta against WikiLeaks. But attacking the women who say Assange raped them doesn’t advance free speech. Far from it. The misogynist blustering manages to distract from the important debate about democracy, state secrets, and the limits of journalism — and empower rapists at the same time.

What happens now?

photo by fibonacciblue

It’s a week after mid-term elections, and I have to say I’m still feeling the sting. Facing a colossal gap in our state’s budget, our ballot was filled with strategies to bring in some new money. Voters said no. Now our state and local governments will have to make devastating cuts to critical services.

I’ve always thought of taxes as a good thing – membership dues I gladly pay in exchange for a vast array of services (running water, meat I’m not afraid to eat, civil rights, cancer research, and so on). But others hold a different view, and now we shall see what happens when government must do less with less.

My thoughts naturally turn to my own work. And not just selfish ruminations about whether or not I’ll still have a job (though as the mother of a child with many special needs, income and health insurance are indeed big concerns). Rather, I worry – and wonder – what will become of the work: the work to end domestic and sexual violence. Over the last few decades,  our government has increasingly funded efforts to support victims and stop abuse and rape. I am proud that we the people have invested tax dollars in what used to be considered a private problem.

But now the variables have changed again. Our great radical experiment to create a world of loving and equitable relationships will need some new strategies. We the people can no longer rely as much on our government to take care of this for us. So what happens now?