News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

Ashley Judd talks about the response she gets when she pushes back against online harassment: “I brought it on myself. I deserved it. I’m whiny. I’m no fun. I can’t take a joke. There are more serious issues in the world…. Grow thicker skin, sweetheart.”

A new book tells the stories of women in the Zapatistas movement: “The [Zapatista army] has always had a clear commitment to women’s right to participate at all levels, and Zapatista leaders insisted on this from the very beginning. In spite of some men’s resistance, there was a strong response from women who wanted to be involved, who wanted to see a change in their lives.”

Of all the critiques of Starbucks Race Together initiative, Tressie McMillan Cottom’s is my favorite: “There is little reticence about race. My students love to talk about race…. They like to talk about the latest race films. This semester it is Selma. Last year it was Django…. Old people in diners tell me about Obama’s race problem. People on the train to the airport talk to me about Ferguson…. People talk about race to me but they rarely talk to me about racism.”

Silenced

Silenced. A word often associated with domestic violence and how victims feel. So while scanning my Facebook wall the other day, the title of a link caught my eye: Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage. It’s an infographic (which is apparently a schmancy graph) showing a glaring gap in major media outlets’ use of quotes from women—including on issues that by and large affect women!  I sound surprised, I know. Some of you might say, Traci, really this shouldn’t be so shocking. It’s still a man’s world. Blah blah blah. I know.

Even on “women’s issues”—historically regarded as less important and thrown aside only to surface when politically hot—women don’t rise to the level of legitimate sources of information. So what makes the media go to men for expertise on Planned Parenthood, birth control, abortion, and women’s rights? I think sexism is the obvious answer. Our voices are perceived as invalid, even on issues that affect us more.

Why is this such a big deal? Because the media shapes what we think about and how we think about it. It is an extremely powerful tool, and if you, your mom, and that weird cousin of yours, are not hearing from women as well as men, you are not really getting the whole picture. None of us are. Decisions are being made, opinions are being formed, and without the voices of women.

But we can’t let this get us down. We have to continue to speak up. About domestic violence and all the other issues in this infographic. And also about the economy, workers’ rights, and everything else not considered a “women’s issue” because really, all issues are women’s issues, and what women have to say about them matters.

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.”