On my way to the Southern US to celebrate my mother’s birthday! A harried beginning to our trip, but now on the plane and enjoying a few minutes to catch up on blogging before I remind myself what it is to relax! For those spending these next few days with loved ones, I hope that you too can find ways to care for yourself, enjoy good food, create memorable conversations, and check-in with how you’re feeling at the end of this year on our way into the next. I have some personal and professional resolutions already on my mind- would love to hear what yours are!
10 Women’s Health Heroes Who Inspired Us In 2013 – Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress
In April, Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores (D) took to the floor to advocate for overhauling her state’s abstinence-only education policy. In order to explain her support for the issue, Flores shared her own personal story of receiving inadequate sex ed as a teen. Flores explained she accidentally got pregnant when she was 16 years old and decided to have an abortion. She said she didn’t regret her choice, but she did want other young women in Nevada to be more educated about how to prevent pregnancy. “We prevent this by giving them the information and the resources that they need, so they don’t have to go to their dad and say, ‘I need $200 for an abortion,’ ” Flores noted.
Thanks to the shame and stigma that surrounds abortion, it’s still rare for public figures to talk openly about their decision to end a pregnancy, and Flores’ decision to share her story was very brave. The lawmaker received hate mail and death threats — as well as an outpouring of support from women’s health advocates, who rallied behind her with the #FierceFlores hashtag.
The Nevada legislature ended up approving the comprehensive sex ed legislation, and Flores is reportedly considering a run for Lieutenant Governor…”
From the Facebook page of 4000 Years of Choice
Ethiopian women pay high price for US aid abortion restrictions– Claire Provost at The Guardian
“…Staff at the health centre, 8km away, the next rung up in Ethiopia’s multi-tiered healthcare system, say the person trained to provide abortions left a year ago and has not yet been replaced. Women who arrive looking for abortion information and services are referred to the public hospital or NGO clinic in the towns of Awassa (19km away) or Shashamane (26km).
Figures from 2008, the most recent statistics, suggest just 27% of abortions were safe procedures carried out in health facilities. Many women remain unaware of their rights, and where they can access services. Stigma around abortion also persists, particularly for young and unmarried women, and the quality of care available varies dramatically across the country. In 2008, only two-thirds of health facilities were sufficiently equipped to provide basic abortion care, treatment for post-abortion complications, and antibiotics; just 41% of the primary care facilities on which most rural women rely offer basic abortion services.
According to some human rights lawyers and public health NGOs, Ethiopia is a prime example of how controversy about abortion in the US continues to limit women’s access to safe services, even in countries where it is legal. While reproductive health issues and efforts to end maternal deaths have risen up the agenda of aid donors, very few are willing to fund abortion. The largest global health donor, the US Agency for International Development (USAid) attaches anti-abortion restrictions to all of its foreign assistance.
“There is increasing recognition by the international community of the impact of unsafe abortions on maternal mortality. But funding does not reflect this,” said Manuelle Hurwitz, senior advisor on abortion at International Planned Parenthood Federation.
The Buta health post is part of a massive USAid programme, which aims to reach more than half the country’s population and help reduce maternal and child mortality by supporting integrated family healthcare. The programme does not fund safe abortion – though it does support some services for women suffering health complications following unsafe abortions.
Pathfinder, the US NGO that implements the USAid programme in Ethiopia, says this is a “missed opportunity” and that it is actively looking for other sources of funding so that abortion services can be offered too.
“Any primary health clinic that doesn’t provide abortions is a missed opportunity,” said Demet Güral, a physician and vice-president of programmes at the NGO. Even if women have access to contraception, there are always failure rates, says Güral, and it is essential they can access safe abortion if needed. “Especially for youth; most are not married, they have a future. How can you talk about family planning for youth and not talk about abortion? It’s nonsense.”…”
11 Pro-Choice Successes of 2013 – RH Reality Check
“…1. The “feminist army” rose up in Texas.
How could a steamy Texas summer that saw the passage of some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country be considered a great moment in reproductive rights? Because of the thousands of Texans who descended upon the state capitol building, clad in orange, to speak out against a bill that, when fully implemented, is expected to close all but six abortion clinics in the state. Average Texans took time off work and made the sometimes hours-long trip to Austin, day after day. They organized a “people’s filibuster,” testifying through the night in front of occasionally hostile right-wing legislators, paving the way for state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) to pull off her remarkable 13-hour filibuster. Davis forced Gov. Rick Perry to call a third special session to force the law’s passage, but even today, the “orange army” doesn’t let up: Nearly 20,000 Texans refused to back down in the face of callous conservative politics and asked state health officials to mitigate the impact of the laws, continuing the fight for reproductive autonomy in the Lone Star State. —Andrea Grimes…”
One Simple Question That Could Change The Future of Reproductive Healthcare – Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress
“…So perhaps it’s no surprise that those doctors aren’t necessarily initiating the right conversations with women about contraception. One recent study found that the vast majority of women are misinformed about their different birth control options, yet don’t receive counseling on the subject from their health care professional. One out of ten women say they have questions about contraception that they don’t feel comfortable asking their doctor.
That’s why, in partnership with a primary care provider, Hunter developed the “One Key Question” program. Essentially, she simply wants to encourage general practitioners to start asking women this question — whether or not they want to become pregnant during the next year — during each annual check-up. The initiative was first piloted at a community health center in Oregon, and it’s since spread to several public health county clinics in the state. The Oregon Medical Association now endorses it.
And the goal is to spread it even further. Hunter’s group has received a grant from the Ms. Foundation for Women to keep working on One Key Question. The project is funded under the Ms. Foundation’s current initiative to integrate women’s reproductive health into basic health care. Especially over the past several years, as federally-funded family planning clinics and abortion providers have been under attack from anti-choice Republicans across the country, there’s been a renewed push to protect women’s health care by incorporating it back into general practice.
“Our current project is trying to make sure women’s health isn’t left out in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” Ellen Liu, the director of the Ms. Foundation’s women’s health program, told ThinkProgress. Liu pointed out that contraceptive counseling is an important part of a holistic approach to women’s health. “We chose Oregon because we want to fund innovative pilot programs that can be replicated across the country. One Key Question is so simple, and it’s just brilliant.”…”
A discourse on brocialism – Laurie Penny at New Statesman
“…I know, I know that asking that female people be treated as fully human and equally deserving of liberation makes me an iron-knickered feminist killjoy and probably a closet liberal, but in that case there are rather a lot of us, and we’re angrier than you can possibly imagine at being told our job in the revolution is to look beautiful and encourage the men to do great works. Brand is hardly the only leftist man to boast a track record of objectification and of playing cheap misogyny for laughs. He gets away with it, according to most sources, because he’s a charming scoundrel, but when he speaks in that disarming, self-depracating way about his history of slutshaming his former conquests on live radio, we are invited to love and forgive him for it because that’s just what a rockstar does. Naysayers who insist on bringing up those uncomfortable incidents are stooges, spoiling the struggle. Acolytes who cannot tell the difference between a revolution that seduces – as any good revolution should – and a revolution that treats one half of its presumed members as chattel attack in hordes online. My friend and colleague Musa Okwonga came under fire last week merely for pointing out that “if you’re advocating a revolution of the way that things are being done, then it’s best not to risk alienating your feminist allies with a piece of flippant objectification in your opening sentence. It’s just not a good look.”
I don’t believe that just because Brand is clearly a casual and occasionally vicious sexist, nobody should listen to anything he has to say. But I do agree with Natasha Lennard, who wrote that “this is no time to forgo feminism in the celebration of that which we truly don’t need – another god, or another master.” The question, then, is this: how do we reconcile the fact that people need stirring up with the fact that the people doing the stirring so often fall down when it comes to treating women and girls like human beings?
It’s not a small question. Its goes way beyond Brand. Speaking personally, it has dogged years of my political work and thought. As a radical who is also female and feminist I don’t get to ignore this stuff until I’m confronted with it. It happens constantly. It’s everywhere. It’s Julian Assange and George Galloway. It’s years and years of rape apologism on the left, of somehow ending up in the kitchen organising the cleaning rota while the men write those all-important communiques.
It comes up whenever women and girls and their allies are asked to swallow our discomfort and fear for the sake of a brighter tomorrow that somehow never comes, putting our own concerns aside to make things easier for everyone else like good girls are supposed to. It comes up whenever a passionate political group falls apart because of inability to deal properly with male violence against women. Whenever some idiot commentator bawls you out for writing about feminism and therefore ‘retreating’ into ‘identity politics’ and thereby distracting attention from ‘the real struggle’….”
Midwives for the dying – Richard Gunderman at The Atlantic
“…For millennia, midwives have cared for and assisted childbearing women throughout pregnancy, labor, birth, and the postpartum period. Particularly for women who have never given birth before, the support and experience of a midwife can reduce anxiety and confusion, decrease pain, and at least at times, even make the experience more peaceful.
The parallels between birth and death are numerous and remarkable. Like birth, dying is often associated with pain, uncertainty, and fear. In both cases, there is lots of waiting, certain signs occur reliably, and the final timing is not predictable. In neither case are health professionals in control. In death as in birth, patience, kindness, and privacy can make the experience more healing, bringing out more of the good and less of the bad in people. And a health professional with appropriate training and experience can do a lot to help patients and families negotiate both transitions.
One person who regularly plays this role is Peg Nelson, nurse practitioner and director of pain and palliative services as St Joseph’s Mercy Oakland Hospital in Pontiac Michigan. Peg has been a nurse for thirty-three years and brings fifteen years of experience in palliative care to her patients. She is the recipient of numerous awards for her work, which she now regards as her life’s calling.
During a recent conversation with Peg, I had the opportunity to ask her about the difference a person who partners with a patient and family at end of life can make. Peg does not immediately call herself a midwife, nor does she use the related term doula. But she does offer a number of helpful insights from which everyone contemplating death or caring for a dying person can benefit…”
Feminist TV channel to empower women in the Mediterranean countries – Maysa Shawwa at Your Middle East
“…“We will start broadcasting for 8 hours per day on the 8thof March 2014, which is the International Women’s Day. The administrative office will be in Brussels and the main one will be in Tunisia. We will have offices in different major cities including Beirut and Cairo”, says Lila Lefèvre, the director of Nissa TV (which means women TV) and the president of the Euromed Audiovisual Productions which is the body responsible for managing and promoting Nissa TV.
The programs of Nissa TV will include reality shows that will directly engage its female participants in raising awareness about their rights and provide them with the needed expertise to practice their political, legal, economic and social rights pertinent to their emancipation.
“We will focus on such type of programs which are better at making a change towards eradicating sexist ideologies and policies and achieving gender equality in society”, says Lefèvre.
World-wide, the mass media has contributed to the normalization of objectification of women and to stripping women of any identity or rights “since subjects have identities and rights but objects do not”, according to Sarah Mallat, who taught a digital media literacy class at the American University of Beirut and who wrote her thesis on plastic surgery in Lebanon and the influence of media’s messages on women. The mass media present women as “something to be bought, sold, modified, or to accompany something else like an accessory,” says Mallat…”
One weird old trick to undermine the patriarchy – Michelle Nijhuis at The Last Word on Nothing
“…My five-year-old insists that Bilbo Baggins is a girl.
The first time she made this claim, I protested. Part of the fun of reading to your kids, after all, is in sharing the stories you loved as a child. And in the story I knew, Bilbo was a boy. A boy hobbit. (Whatever that entails.)
But my daughter was determined. She liked the story pretty well so far, but Bilbo was definitely a girl. So would I please start reading the book the right way?
I hesitated. I imagined Tolkien spinning in his grave. I imagined mean letters from his testy estate. I imagined the story getting as lost in gender distinctions as dwarves in the Mirkwood.
Then I thought: What the hell, it’s just a pronoun. My daughter wants Bilbo to be a girl, so a girl she will be.
And you know what? The switch was easy. Bilbo, it turns out, makes a terrific heroine. She’s tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender—and neither does anyone else.
Despite what can seem like a profusion of heroines in kids’ books, girls are still underrepresented in children’s literature. A 2011 study of 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000 showed that only 31 percent had female central characters. While the disparity has declined in recent years, it persists—particularly, and interestingly, among animal characters. And many books with girl protagonists take place in male-dominated worlds, peopled with male doctors and male farmers and mothers who have to ask fathers for grocery money (Richard Scarry, I’m looking at you). The imbalance is even worse in kids’ movies: Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender and Media found that for every female character in recent family films, there are three male characters. Crowd scenes, on average, are only 17 percent female.
More insidiously, children’s books with girl protagonists sometimes celebrate their heroines to a fault. Isn’t it amazing that a girl did these things, they seem to say—implying that these heroines are a freakish exception to their gender, not an inspiration for readers to follow. Children’s lit could benefit from a Finkbeiner Test. (Well-intentioned kids’ media can, ironically, introduce their youngest listeners and viewers to gender barriers: The first time my daughter heard the fabulous album Free to Be … You and Me, she asked “Why isn’t it all right for boys to cry?”)…”
On cynicism, calling out, and movements that don’t leave our people behind – Verónica Bayetti Flores at Feministing
“…Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways that the movements for social justice of which I am a part deal with mistakes folks make publicly. I’ve been thinking and talking with my friends about how quickly we shun and publicly shame our folks that are in a different place from us politically, how our cynicism is serving to limit us. And then Ngọc Loan Trần at Black Girl Dangerous gave us Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable:
We have to let go of treating each other like not knowing, making mistakes, and saying the wrong thing make it impossible for us to ever do the right things.
And we have to remind ourselves that we once didn’t know. There are infinitely many more things we have yet to know and may never know.
We have to let go of a politic of disposability. We are what we’ve got. No one can be left to their fuck ups and the shame that comes with them because ultimately we’ll be leaving ourselves behind.
Can I get an amen?
Now some folks will say that this is about the internet – just after I wrote most of this piece, a whole discussion sprung up under the #twitterfeminism hashtag in response to a piece deeming twitter feminism toxic – but I’ve been seeing this dynamic play out in our movements for social justice long before I was ever on twitter. Sure, the internet can be rough. Yes, we have a lot to learn about treating each other with dignity when we aren’t experiencing each other in person. But internet feminism, including twitter, has also given a platform to voices we would rarely have heard from otherwise, has created community for folks in places or circumstances where finding each other is difficult, and has catapulted historically marginalized conversations into the mainstream. This is a fact that cannot be ignored, and to suggest that a feminist space that has fostered and amplified the voices of women of color is toxic in its entirety is misguided at its very best. And let’s not pretend like folks consistently see each others’ full humanity in person either. This is about our movements everywhere.
I am so ready to let go of the America’s Next Top Radical model of social justice; it’s unsustainable, unproductive, and frankly a pretty bad strategy. It seems as though some of us – us being folks invested in the advancement of social justice in some way or another – are calling folks out sometimes not to educate a person who’s wrong, but to position themselves a rung above on the radical ladder. What’s worse, both in real-world organizing and online, this behavior is often rewarded: with pats on the back, social status, followers. We’re waiting and ready to cut folks out when they say the wrong thing. We’ve created an activist culture in which the worst thing we can do is to make a mistake.
Of course, it’s not all so simple.
A while back, I was reading a piece somewhere I can’t recall about tools of survival that no longer serve us well. Cynicism, I think, is one of these tools. For folks doing activism on the margins – women of color, queer and trans folks, sex workers, disabled folks, immigrants, those of us that fall in several or all of these or more marginalized categories – I know that our being so guarded comes from a place of being repeatedly and consistently hurt. Hurt by activism that works to further marginalize us. Hurt by projects that leave our communities behind. Hurt by good intentions that never were and never will be enough. We’ve become cynics in order to shield ourselves from hurt we can’t afford, to not waste time on folks that never included the full liberation of our people in their agenda. We’ve become cynics because, in order to survive, we’ve had to shut some folks out…”
Effort To Help Filipino Women Falters, Says U.N. – Sarah Wheaton at The New York Times
“…Sexual health “has always been tricky when it comes to emergency situations,” said Nora Murat, the director for the International Planned Parenthood Federation in the region that includes the Philippines.
But advocates are applauding what they say is improved coordination among the contributing organizations and the speedy arrival in the Philippines of specialists to make sure that evacuation centers have better lighting, “safe spaces” where women can congregate separately and gender-segregated bathrooms with locks on the doors.
“I think there’s the political will to do a better job, and I think the Philippines is giving us an immediate opportunity to test that will,” Ms. Greening said.
The United States has not pledged any money to the population fund’s effort, but Nancy Lindborg, the assistant administrator for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance at the United States Agency for International Development, said the agency insisted that programs that are part of its $30 million in disaster aid to the Philippines show that they are incorporating measures to protect women.
Some experts expressed skepticism about the agency’s approach, however. “When you talk about integrated protection, accountability to women and girls goes out the window,” said Heidi Lehmann, the director of the Women’s Protection and Empowerment unit of the International Rescue Committee. “That requires specialized, specific gender-based violence programming.” It is not realistic, she said, “to think that you can add a bullet point to the shelter guy’s job description.”
After the conflict in Bosnia in the early 1990s, in which an estimated 60,000 women were raped, the Inter-agency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crises said that women in war zones or disaster areas should be provided with birth kits, contraception, obstetrics care and counseling. Yet over the past two decades, that help has been delivered sporadically, if at all.
Women who barter sex for food and water remain a major concern, officials said. To combat the rise in trafficking that has occurred in past disasters in the Philippines, the American agency has increased its funding to programs that warn families about the dangers. The goal, Ms. Lindborg said, is “so they’re not taken in by that great job offer in Manila that your 16-year-old daughter is being recruited for.” Even before the typhoon, an estimated 375,000 women and girls in the area — about 10 percent of women of childbearing age affected by the storm — would have likely experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes, United Nations officials said. Based on studies of emergencies, they said that Haiyan’s aftermath could add another 65,000 victims of sexual assault…”
Forcing A Woman To Get Pregnant Isn’t A Crime, But Domestic Violence Experts Want To Change That – Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress
“…In the United States, it’s illegal to force a woman to take an abortion pill against her will. Every once in a while, charges will be brought against a man for tricking his partner into taking abortion-inducing drugs, a crime that can lead to decades in prison.
But what about the women who are forced into other reproductive health outcomes against their will? Although the anti-choice community frequently pushes to strengthen the legal protections against “coerced abortion,” it’s not currently against U.S. law to tamper with a woman’s birth control to try to trick her into getting pregnant. Domestic violence prevention advocates say this type of abuse is rampant, and should be punished more seriously in the eyes of the law.
The official term for this type of abuse is “reproductive coercion” — and it can encompass anything from poking holes in a condom without a woman’s knowledge, to hiding her birth control pills, to making her feel guilty about not wanting to have a baby, to trying to yank out her intrauterine device (IUD). If a woman does become pregnant, the coercion can either take the form of pressuring her to have an abortion when she wants a child, or pressuring her to continue an unwanted pregnancy when she wants an abortion.
According to a 2010 study into the issue, as many as 15 percent of low-income women who rely on public family planning clinics experience this type of tampering with their birth control. And it’s a particular prevalent aspect of abusive relationships — a clear sign that a man is attempting to control and manipulate his partner’s body. In fact, at the beginning of this year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) issued a new policy statement recommending more widespread screening for reproductive coercion. “We want to make sure that health care providers are aware that this is something that does go on and that it’s a form of abuse,” one of the experts who helped write the new recommendations explained at the time.
Domestic violence prevention advocates argue that reproductive coercion should fit under the criminal statutes regarding domestic abuse and rape. It’s possible to make the legal case that it constitutes an act of violence — but, as the Daily Beast reports, one of the central roadblocks to prosecuting reproductive coercion is the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a robust definition of consent…”
“…The gender wage gap has long been an issue of importance for feminists, and one that consistently finds itself on the UN and government agendas. Despite this, there is a persistent idea among many in mainstream society (mostly men, and some women) that the gender wage gap is simply a myth, that women are paid less on average because of the specific choices that women make in their careers. Everything, they claim, from the industry a woman chooses to establish herself in, to the hours she chooses to work, to her decision to take time off to spend with her children, and so on, leads to lower pay, for reasons, they confidently assure us, that have nothing at all to do with sexism. Now we could delve into, and rebut, these points at length, but in this post, I will focus only on the assertion that the wage gap exists partly because women choose to go into industries that just happen — what a coincidence! — to be lower paid.
So here’s how the argument usually goes. Women, they say, gravitate towards lower-paid industries such as nursing, cleaning, teaching, social work, childcare, customer service or administrative work, while men choose to work in politics, business, science, and other manly, well-paid industries. Those who propagate this idea usually aren’t interested in a solution, since they see no problem, but if asked to provide one, they might suggest that women behave more like men, one aspect of this being to take up careers in male-dominated industries that are more well-paid (and respected, but they seldom say this out loud).
But is this really a solution, even a small one? What their analysis misses out is the question of how the average pay levels of different industries are decided in the first place. There’s demand and supply, of course, but another factor is the perceived value of the role, and what it means to society. Let’s examine a traditionally male-dominated role that is very well-respected, and well-paid, in many parts of the world — that of a doctor. In the UK, it is listed as one of the top ten lucrative careers, and the average annual income of a family doctor in the US is well into six figures. It also confers on you significant social status, and a common stereotype in Asian communities is of parents encouraging their children to become doctors.
One of my lecturers at university once presented us with this thought exercise: why are doctors so highly paid, and so well-respected? Our answers were predictable. Because they save lives, their skills are extremely important, and it takes years and years of education to become one. All sound, logical reasons. But these traits that doctors possess are universal. So why is it, she asked, that doctors in Russia are so lowly paid? Making less than £7,500 a year, it is one of the lowest paid professions in Russia, and poorly respected at that. Why is this?
The answer is crushingly, breathtakingly simple. In Russia, the majority of doctors are women. Here’s a quote from Carol Schmidt, a geriatric nurse practitioner who toured medical facilities in Moscow: “Their status and pay are more like our blue-collar workers, even though they require about the same amount of training as the American doctor… medical practice is stereotyped as a caring vocation ‘naturally suited‘ to women, [which puts it at] a second-class level in the Soviet psyche.”
What this illustrates perfectly is this — women are not devalued in the job market because women’s work is seen to have little value. It is the other way round. Women’s work is devalued in the job market because women are seen to have little value. This means that anything a woman does, be it childcare, teaching, or doctoring, or rocket science, will be seen to be of less value simply because it is done mainly by women. It isn’t that women choose jobs that are in lower-paid industries, it is that any industry that women dominate automatically becomes less respected and less well-paid…”