Category Archives: Women

International Women’s Day and VAWA Converge, Illuminating Progress and Struggles Towards Gender Equity

Credit: Dominik GwarekOn the eve of International Women’s Day – March 7 – President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act into law. And on March 8, folks around the world celebrated women’s achievements and ongoing struggle towards equality.

I find myself puzzling over the fact that there is no Violence Against Men Act, nor popular observance of International Men’s Day in the U.S. What does this inconsistency say about the genders? We’re not equal, but we’re trying?

The reauthorization, which first passed in 1994 with bipartisan support under President Clinton, recognizes to some extent the problems of domestic violence and sexual assault which disproportionately affect women. VAWA reauthorization did not pass easily this time around, and it got tabled a year ago amid bipartisan bickering over added provisions for Native American, LGBT, and immigrant victims. Those provisions made it into the now-law.

The VAWA reauthorization provides needed funding and services to victims of violence but doesn’t ultimately address the cultures of violence, the reasons women are often victimized, and why acts like rape continue to take place in high numbers throughout the world.

International Women’s Day derived from women’s labor struggles, which persist today. In a Christian Science Monitor article, Steph Solis quotes Carol Rosenblatt’s concern about the factory fires in Bangladesh that killed many female garment workers to demonstrate that women still work for low wages in poor conditions. In addition to freedom from violence and access to fair wages and work conditions, women around the world still fight for equal access from food and clean toilet facilities to maternal health care and parental leave after birth.

In the Guardian, a somewhat sour Suzanne Moore describes International Women’s Day events as, “a strange mixture of talking about female genital mutilation (bad) and then listening to some great women musicians (good).” Both of the Christian Science Monitor’s stories about the international celebration opened with descriptions of the Doodles designed for the day on the Google homepage (one of which makes the G out of the Venus symbol). I’m not sure of the value of Google’s recognition of the day, though it likely promotes awareness to those unfamiliar with the holiday.

Folks throughout the world celebrate International Women’s Day with different practices, some women get time off work, or additional help with housework from the men in their lives. This year in the U.S. women can take the day to appreciate ongoing support for victims of violence though the sentiment remains bittersweet – because the VAWA law and International Women’s Day serve as landmarks towards gender equity which inadvertently highlight the broad disparities that remain between men and women.

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Gender in Star Wars and Other Media

11212012StarWars-jpg_180602In January, the universe brought my attention to the convergence of two things: the Star Wars sequels and the Bechdel Test. I’ve known of Star Wars for a while (like most of us with a pulse), but the Bechdel Test shed new light for me on the popular series and all the other media I have consumed or will consume in the future.

The Bechdel Test serves as a tool to measure female representation in the media. I often notice when movies and television shows present one-dimensional female characters. And while I’m happy to suspend my disbelief for various fantasies of fictive media, I like for those fictions to represent both women and men.

The Bechdel Test has been around since the year I entered this earth (1985), created by comic artist Alison Bechdel. It’s a sequence of three questions:

  1. Are there more than two women [in a particular piece of media]?
  2. Do they talk to each other?
  3. About something other than a man?

The first reference to this came from the video game website IGN, in an article titled “Why Star Wars: Episode VII Should Have a Female Protagonist.” Author Lucy O’Brien makes a strong case for the forthcoming Star Wars sequels to feature a female hero. She applies the Bechdel test to Star Wars, and it does not pass all three stages. In fact, Princess Leia, the fairly tough female lead, doesn’t have other women to talk with and she plays a secondary role to Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. O’Brien boils her argument down to a simple statement, “girls need heroes too.”

A TED talk that narrowly preceded O’Brien’s commentary features a father, Colin Stokes, as he discusses, “How movies teach manhood.” Stokes also draws on the Bechdel Test to critique Star Wars. Rather than arguing for a new female protagonist, Stokes suggests that a lack of female characters is bad for boys too. In a world in which men and women work together in a variety of circumstances, says Stokes, movies should reflect the cooperative nature of the genders today.

Like these critical fans, I too am looking forward to Star Wars, hoping to see enough tough women (with the men) to pass the Bechdel Test.

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Pregnant Inmates’ Rights and Stories

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImagine you are pregnant. Nine months pregnant. And in prison. Imagine that when you go into labor, your escort to the hospital, an armed guard, insists on keeping your hands and/or feet shackled. Consider the implications of restrained foot movement for a top-heavy pregnant woman. Now, when you arrive at the hospital, in order to ensure that you will not escape (even though you are fully pregnant and having contractions), the guard then attaches you to the hospital bed by hand, foot, or belly restraints. Try to imagine how would you feel about that.

These restraints limit mobility for the birthing mother, which can normally help ease and facilitate the labor process. And the restraints can cause delays if she needs to be prepared quickly for a caesarean section.

The practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant woman is widely condemned by medical groups including the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric & Neonatal Nursing. It’s also been condemned by the United Nations in various treaties and documents, some of which the US has signed on to. But despite the condemnation of this kind of shackling, which is often framed as a type of illegal, cruel and unusual punishment, it still occurs.

Less than twenty states have laws against shackling inmates while giving birth. California just passed a law to forbid shackling a woman during “pregnancy, labor, delivery, and recovery,” reports Huffington Post. Even in states without such legislation, incarcerated women (and women who were held and not-yet-convicted) have been filing — and winning — lawsuits for their treatment during labor. A case like this was filed in Nevada this summer, reports Reuters. In September, The Tennessean ran a story about a woman receiving $1.1 million in damages from the metro government for the way she was treated while in custody and in labor.

Shackling during pregnancy is not only viewed as a violation of the Eighth Amendment (re: cruel and unusual punishment), but the UN has condemned the practice in their Bangkok Rules (on the treatment of women prisoners). In 2006, the UN cited the US for not maintaining the international standards that they signed on to when ratifying the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

This topic is new and rich to me, as I’ve been researching it for a term paper. I wanted to share my findings and tie them in with yesterday’s observance of the 2012 Human Rights Day. The theme of the day was “My Voice Counts,” which ties in so well with this anti-shackling group I found while digging around for my project.

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WORTH is a New York based group that lobbied for the state bill that prohibited shackling women in labor. The project expanded their reach to reproductive rights of incarcerated women throughout the US. They are currently collecting testimonials from women who have been incarcerated. The project is called Birthing Behind Bars. They have a website to host blog posts, videos, and audio stories about women who gave birth in shackles or had a range of other pregnancy or postpartum experiences in prison. They’ve even asked for stories about the prison nursery experience, for those women incarceration in institutions with nurseries (that is a topic worth its own post).

The broad range of stories sought by WORTH is a testament to the fact that shackled labor is not the only challenge for pregnant women in prison. Other hurdles including getting adequate nutrition and dealing with the emotional strain of separation from the baby. For women with mental illnesses (a disproportionate portion of the prison population) immediate separation from a newborn can be especially traumatic.

I am not advocating for reform, but as a journalist, I value the power of story-telling. And for the women with traumatic experiences as pregnant inmates, they deserve to share their story. Please comment with links if you have narratives to share.

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25th World AIDS Day Covers the Spectrum of this Global Pandemic

  1. The twitter-verse lit up on and around Dec. 1 in observance of World AIDS Day and the global issues surrounding the AIDS epidemic. Advocates, governments, and ordinary folks commented on tragedy, hope, stigma, and vulnerable populations. And some even found comic relief.
    AIDS is a fairly young disease. It gained mainstream attention in the 80s, then swept across the world leaving millions of bodies and orphans in its wake. When people in the United States started paying attention to AIDS and the virus that causes it, HIV, it was associated with the homosexual male population. But history demonstrated that women and men, heterosexual and homosexual, are equally vulnerable to the virus. World AIDS Day was established in 1987, and one of the purposes of the event is to remember those who have succumbed to the illness.
  2. aliciakeys
    It’s #WORLDAIDSDAY – Let’s remember those who have passed & re-commit to the struggle.We can achieve an #AIDS-free future in our lifetimes
  3. JoyceMeyer
    Today is #WorldAIDSDay. Join us in praying for the victims as well as for the families who’ve lost loved ones to this devastating disease.
  4. UNAIDS
    RT @un_women: Globally, AIDS is the leading cause of death for girls and women age 15-44. #AIDSfree @unicef_aids
  5. SLangeneggerCBC
    @dsmyxe I had so many friends in Africa who died of AIDS – so many women whose husbands brought it home and they had no idea until too late
  6. While the overall message of AIDS Awareness is as serious as life and death, many promote lighter-hearted awarenss, coupled with statistics. Red remains the color of the day.
  7. RT @geraldinegugo: @IPSForg In the laboratory… #WorldAIDSDay http://pic.twitter.com/xTT61XHV
  8. #UniversityofLiverpool s tribute for #WorldAidsDay #HIV #HIV- #1stDec #1stDecem @ Hele-Shaw Lecture Theatre http://instagr.am/p/SwERohiyqC/
  9. RT @standardny: It’s official, we turned RED with
    @joinRED for #WorldAIDSDay! #nyc http://instagr.am/p/Sts582rHOl/
  10. RT @RealTheWriter: Be positive you’re negative.. Get tested! Protect yourself! #WorldAIDSDay #RED #AMFAR http://instagr.am/p/SwFCSCPYwf/
  11. While AIDS on the continent of Africa gets a lot of coverage, it remains a problem in the United States and throughout the world.
  12. Thethamz
    RT @firstworldfacts: In America, someone is diagnosed with AIDS every 10 mins. In South Africa, someone dies due to AIDS every 10 mins. #WorldAidsDay
  13. Government officials, including both Clintons (former President Bill and Secretary of State Hillary), obeserved and presented plans to address HIV/AIDS.
  14. ClintonTweet
    “On this #WorldAIDSDay, we all need to recommit to the end of AIDS.” President Clinton’s statement: wjcf.co/Sn3rfV
  15. Medical treatments for HIV/AIDS have come a long way in the last few decades, but many people still live with an unknown, HIV positive status. World AIDS Day opens a conversation about and opportunities for destigmatized testing.
  16. ShelbyTNHealth
    #WorldAIDSDay was yesterday, but the Shelby County Health Dept. will offer free HIV counseling and testing ALL December. Know YOUR status.
  17. #WorldAIDSDay Rhema Wellness – 2 days of free testing and Counseling. 200 professionals volunteered http://pic.twitter.com/HTjHPzth
  18. ChristineIAm
    RT @thinkprogress: HIV testing will now be covered under Obamacare; 1st over the counter test was FDA approved this year #WorldAIDSDay thkpr.gs/Rp8pM9
  19. Testing and treatment are not always so accessible in African countries, where HIV/AIDS spread rapidly over the last three decades. Poverty and accessibility to health care play a major role in the large numbers of HIV infections on the continent. But this year some governments and observers highlighted progress, and South Africa even featured puppets against AIDS.
  20. HuffingtonPost
    Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 90 percent of the world’s children who have HIV/AIDS huff.to/SliuH8 #jnj #globalmotherhood
  21. manila_bulletin
    AIDS day:JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africa, home to the world’s largest HIV caseload, on Saturday unveiled … bit.ly/11n49yG
  22. mikehamilton63
    Progress-more to be done “@AfricaDailyNews: Africans mark significant progress on World AIDS day sns.mx/bsY0y6
  23. treebu
    Harper government fails Africa on low-cost drugs for AIDS fb.me/1r2DclH7b
  24. NickKristof
    A sign of progress against AIDS: coffin-makers in southern Africa say their business is slumping: nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opin…
  25. Power2thePuppet
    This week is the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s Puppets Against AIDS, see pics and video here: puppetrynews.com/puppets-ag… @actupny
  26. Stigmas against AIDS and presumed sexual activity and orientation remain a problem around the world.
  27. artisticnesss
    1987 was around the time political figures started saying the word HIV/AIDS and talking barely of gay rights in public…smh
  28. JSIhealth
    “I was drawn to #HIV/AIDS work because it had been so closely connected to the gay/lesbian civil rights movement” ow.ly/fE27I
  29. The following article explores in detail how stigma affects an HIV positive gay male in Canada.
  30. planete8
    Albert Knox on fighting segregation of HIV positive prisoners in #Alabama: bit.ly/11gaf3H #WorldAIDSDay via Gay GUARDIAN RT@
  31. Women experience HIV/AIDS differently than men and are affected in higher numbers. Paul Farmer would say they are made vulnerable by their gender and possibly, depending on their location and circumstances, poverty level (see his book: Women, Poverty, and AIDS: sex, drugs, and structural violence).
  32. UN_Women
    Girls bear a disproportionate burden of #HIV in most-affected regions.
    #AIDSfree @unicef_aids
  33. DAWNInc
    In Sub-Saharan #Africa, young women aged 15-24 are EIGHT times more likely than men to be living with HIV ow.ly/fEgia #WorldAIDSDay
  34. TeeWhyOwei
    Women account for 59% of adults aged 15 and over said to be living with HIV/AIDS in Africa.
  35. msnafia
    1998 saw women exceed men in sub-Saharan Africa living with AIDS #WorldAIDSDay
  36. Some commentators drew connections between HIV infections among women and other issues that affect women.
  37. TheShelterTweet
    Promoting and protecting women’s human rights helps keep them safer from HIV & a multitude of abuses ow.ly/fGeme #wad #dv
  38. CancerAfrica
    @UN_Women “Getting to Zero”: Working together to end twin pandemics of #HIV/AIDS & #violenceagainstwomen—least we forget #Cervical #Cancer
  39. WorldHungerDay
    Why it’s vital to support women with HIV/Aids with Microfinance – meet Elizabeth bit.ly/mcYdIT #Opportunity4All #AFRICA plsRT
  40. Every year my school buys badges like these, handmade in South Africa from women affected by HIV AIDS #WorldAIDSDay http://pic.twitter.com/PktcR0li
  41. In my experiences with World AIDS Day (and I’ve been following it for the last fifteen years), the event is not complete without sex-positive condom distribution. The city of Paris took a strong stand with 350,000 condoms to distribute and their own controversial logo.
  42. George Dexter Omoraro
    2 clicks gives a condom to a project that needs it. Be part of #1share1condom for #worldaidsday to help prevent HIV. 1share1condom.com
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Women’s Rights Paradoxes After the Arab Spring

One paradox of the Arab Spring, said Fatima Sadiqi, is that women took a primary role in the uprising but their political rights regressed after the turmoil. The number of women in Egyptian parliament dropped since the uprising in January 2011, for example.

In her presentation to over 150 people at UW-Madison’s Union South earlier this month, Sadiqi quoted the beginning lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities to capture contradictory sentiments about the Arab Spring: “It was the best of times it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was epoch of belief, it was epoch of incredulity…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

Sadiqi visited UW-Madison on November 8 to speak about “North African Women’s Rights in the Aftermath of the Arab Spring.” She discussed the challenges that face the Maghreb, the region of North African now struggling to build democracies alongside political Islam.

Sadiqi argued that women’s rights are a “genuine prerequisite for democracy.”

Sadiqi  started the Gender Studies program at the University of Fes in her native Morocco, and she was introduced as the first female linguist in the Arab world. She serves as a professor of Linguistics and Gender Studies. In 2006 she founded the ISIS Center for Women and Development  and, three years later, co-founded the International Institute for Languages and Cultures.

I had the pleasure of interviewing her in advance about her personal journey into the fields of women’s rights and linguistics. But I also learned a lot from her lecture about the Arab spring and the future of women’s rights in the region.

The Qur’an

She shed some light on political Islam and its influence on the Middle East and North Africa (which have unique histories and political dynamics). Political Islam grew from the Iranian revolution, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the rise of the United States, explained Sadiqi.

Islam comes with its own forms of feminism, and Sadiqi pointed out that the women involved in the Arab spring ranged from Islamic feminists to secular feminists; they ranged in age, and they had support from NGOs and some men as well.

“Islamic feminism is the unwanted child of Islamism,” said Sadiqi.

Islamic feminists have been reviewing the Qur’an and other Islamic doctrine to separate the religious tenants from the politicized interpretations. (But this is a big topic for consideration on another day.)

Sadiqi pointed out that Islam is changing, along with Maghreb democracies. She said that there is a diversification in the religious field in North Africa, and while society is not becoming more secularized, there is perhaps a growing separation between Islam and politics. That separation may be facilitated by movement in women’s rights, she said.

In her talk, Sadiqi explored numerous paradoxes inherent in the aftermath of the Arab spring, but she also presented solutions. She suggested that gender equality be included in new constitutions and the policies of formative democracies and that legal action can be an important way for women’s equality to progress. She ended with the slogan from a growing political party in Tunisia:

“Democracy will happen with women, or it will not happen at all.”

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International Day of the Girl

  1. International Day of the Girl took place last year on a much smaller scale, but this year it was supported by the United Nations. I loved following the conversation on Twitter on October 11 and into the weekend, so I’ve gathered a few highlights here. The day focused on  child brides and education for girls. It drew global attention towards the wedding of young girls to older men.
  2. pleziavi
    “#SecClinton announced new initiatives to prevent child marriage & promote girls’ education worldwide. http://go.usa.gov/Y8AP #DayoftheGirl”
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 15:48:56
  3. ONECampaign
    Today is International #DayoftheGirl. Help raise awareness by RETWEETING this fact: 25,000 girls become child brides every day.
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 06:38:45
  4. UN_Women
    #EndChildMarriage! Let girls be girls, not brides. Check out this new report by @UNFPA http://bit.ly/PZoYtV #dayofthegirl #IDG2012
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 05:01:53
  5. social_entre
    “Let girls be girls, not brides,” says Desmond Tutu. @TheElders’ video on why we shd #endchildmarriage http://bit.ly/p4B6Za #dayofthegirl
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 18:04:55
  6. BrittForPeace
    Oct 11 was Intl #DayoftheGirl but fight to #endchildmarriage must cont. 365 days/yr. Here’s why: http://bit.ly/WaqOf5 via @MailOnline
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 08:59:43
  7. ColleeninLondon
    Child Brides Denied Education, Face Violence, Health Catastrophes http://allafrica.com/c/-4c7Ad #africa via @allafrica #dayofthegirl #vaw
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 23:02:47
  8. zarasnapp
    1 out of 7 girls worldwide is married before age 15! #childmarriage #dayofthegirl #IDG2012 let’s end this and promote female education!
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 12:56:31
  9. Educating young girls gives them survival tools and impacts whole communities.
  10. WLP_Cal
    Girls Education = The FUTURE @10x10act #basicmath #dayofthegirl #IDG2012 http://pic.twitter.com/NlIm4x4R
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 13:05:57
  11. bridgetminamore
    “If you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a woman, you educate and liberate a whole nation” – Malcolm X #dayofthegirl
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 16:50:31
  12. USAID
    Educating #girls can transform entire communities. Learn how http://ow.ly/eqC33 #DayoftheGirl
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 17:15:07
  13. IDLONews
    #Girls in households without #water sacrifice livelihoods and education in order to wait in line at water stations #DayoftheGirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:17:02
  14. stellasglobe
    My first Int’l #dayofthegirl special story: Girl children of sex workers in #India finally access #education. http://bit.ly/SUWWxK
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 07:11:52
  15. mercycorps
    Girls who complete primary school cut their chances of contracting HIV in half. http://bit.ly/OrpZg8 #dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 13:02:38
  16. ALupel
    MT @DFID_UK “Giving girls a good quality education gives us the biggest chance to break the cycle of poverty” B. Northover #Dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:13:13
  17. AnnaSemanova
    “It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor” #NelsonMandela #DayoftheGirl via @NelsonMandela
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 11:16:27
  18. Day of the Girl provided a forum for many to discuss the Taliban’s shooting of Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl who advocated for girls education.
  19. Mechanic_mel
    #StandWithMalala #DayOfTheGirl http://pic.twitter.com/Rox30p4O
    Sat, Oct 13 2012 18:15:09
  20. Yogabilities
    What a difference one girl can make “@CBCNews: Thousands rally for Pakistani girl shot by Taliban http://bit.ly/WkeEAk”#DayoftheGirl
    Sun, Oct 14 2012 10:50:40
  21. These aren’t the only issues facing girls globally. Many in the twitter-verse spoke against Female Genital Mutilation and in favor of building self-esteem.
  22. sereyab
    #DayofTheGirl stop FGM! Girls need to enjoy all their body parts and stay healthy!!
    Wed, Oct 10 2012 21:55:33
  23. DrGwenPKeita
    This comprehensive rsrc on #teen girls covers self-esteem, body image, peer relationships, etc.: http://bit.ly/SS65Y7 #dayofthegirl
    Thu, Oct 11 2012 10:33:46
  24. For the girls out there 15 and younger, many remarkable women shared advice to their 15-year-old selves. The story showed up in re-tweets throughout the day.
  25. womenofbaycrest
    Did you follow the launch of the International #DayoftheGirl? Check out the advice of these remarkable #women http://ow.ly/eqW4A
    Fri, Oct 12 2012 10:49:47
  26. What advice do you have for your 15-year-old self? What issues would you like to see addressed on next year’s International Day of the Girl?
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WI Girl Scouts Event Boasts New, Empowering Brand

I dove into a cold puddle of mud for the first time this weekend, and it was an invigorating experience. The One Tough Cookie mud run I participated in felt like the most positive female-oriented experience I’ve been part of for years. The 5K course with obstacles promoted camaraderie and health.

Equipped with a new logo (shaped like a dog tag with a Venus symbol on it)  and a brand promoting strength and toughness, the event had the ingredients necessary to empower. Two female National Guard members who served in Iraq designed the course. All participants were female and ranged in age from 14-year-old Girl Scouts to older adult leaders. And the event raised funds for Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Badgerland. While men manned parts of the course and cheered on participants, the female majority lent itself to a non-competitive and sisterly vibe.

At the start line an emcee pumping up participants reminded us to be patient if there were lines at the obstacles. “This is a not a race, it’s a challenge,” he told us. And that set a cooperative tone for the whole event. I ran with four other women, and we stayed together throughout the course, cheering for each other and the women we didn’t know. My friend who coordinated our team even boosted up a complete stranger who struggle to climb an inflated wall on the bounce house obstacle (imagine something from American Gladiators).

Saturday’s event marked the first annual mud run by the Girl Scouts in Wisconsin, and the event had a few hang-ups. The lines stretched long and moved slowly, but I take that as a testament to the popularity of the event. At the finish line, young scouts presented mud covered runners with boxes of cookies and dog tags. I thought the tags provided a perfect stand in for medals, with every participant receiving one.

There was one odd supporter that stood out to me. All participants over 21 received a free beer after the event, but rather than having the option of other beers on tap, the only available free beer was Michelob 64. I imagine Michelob banked on sharing their low-calorie variety with a swath of fit females.

I skipped the beer, but enjoyed the all-female band. And my favorite part — besides romping around with friends — was the nostalgia I felt for my time as a Girl Scout, tramping around the trails and fire pits of local scout campgrounds. I also loved embracing the mud, dirt, and scraped knees.

Photos courtesy of Jonas Hackett

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Defining “Human Rights”

Over the last year I’ve been honing a specialty for my pursuits in the field of journalism, and on several occasions I told people that I wanted my beat to focus on human rights and social justice. But I feel like I’m only just starting to understand what human rights even means.

In my work for a course on “Women’s International Human Rights,” I have to keep a glossary of terms. “Human Rights” stands as the first term on my list, and I realized after a few class meetings that it’s a complex concept with a rich history.

The United Nations are largely responsible for the establishment of codified human rights, and that process began after the genocide of World War II. The UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but it still didn’t have any teeth for reinforcement, and its language betrayed some gender bias.

In an intense criticism of the Declaration, Catherine MacKinnon asks, “Are Women Human?” citing the language in Article 1 of the document: “All human beings…should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Men would not feel included if that document suggested all humans treat each other as sisters, suggests MacKinnon.

Furthermore, Article 23 reads, “Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity,” yet women today still do not receive equal pay and many struggle to support their own families to a dignified existence.

The establishment of codified human rights did by no means put men and women on equal footing, but it proved to be an important step in universalizing the idea that all humans deserve life, and dignity, and other immutable rights.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights….Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (Articles 1 and 2)

Other rights set out in the initial UN Declaration go beyond the US Bill of Rights and the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of the Declaration of Independence. In addition to the right of a fair trial and freedom from torture, the Universal Declaration states we all share the right to have a family, health, education, cultural life, leisure time, and more.

But the Universal Declaration does not do into depth about how to protect minority or underrepresented groups who experience systemic oppression. So more committees formed in the UN to monitor abuses against these groups and to support them. These groups include the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) and The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979), among others.

All these details about international human rights are new to me. But I’m thrilled to learn about which countries have adopted various UN treaties and how that reflects on state protection of particular human rights. With each new discovery of the fascinating history of human rights documentation, I learn about more human rights violations. And these rights are violated in the United States as much as the next country. In this blog I’ll be sharing my discoveries and criticisms around human rights issues as I delve in deeper this semester and beyond.

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Women in the Olympics: Five Headlines

As a female athlete, sports fan, and inhabitant of this planet, I am pumped for the Olympics. They begin this evening. The media provided a good deal of anticipatory coverage, looking at  the games from many angles:  London weather, steroids, sponsorship agreements,  projected outcomes, and the list goes on and on. A few headlines about women in the games held my attention longer than the others:

  1. More women than men representing the US

The US will send more female than male athletes to the games for the first time this year. The female total reaches 269, eight more than the men on the roster.

  1. But not so in Saudi Arabia

This conservative country only recently lifted a ban on female participation in the Olympics. Keep in mind that women cannot legally drive in this country, and they’ve only recently been granted suffrage. They will vote in their first election in 2015. Sporting leagues for Saudi women often remain underground. Considering such barriers to athletic practices, it’s not surprising that the country has few athletes of Olympic caliber able to compete now that the ban is lifted. A conversation continues around Saudi Olympian Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and whether or not she can wear a headscarf during her judo competition.

  1. Ban lifted for women’s boxing

This will be the first year that female boxer’s will be able to compete in the Olympics. This sport held out as the last with no female counterpart until this year. Female boxers finally have the opportunity to demonstrate they have a place to fight in the ring, and not just ornament it as bikini-ed ring girls.

  1. Sexism remains

Not surprisingly, female athletes are still held to traditional standards of beauty. Regardless of the sport or skill, Olympians tend to get extra attention if they’re considered beautiful or hot. One article on the US women’s soccer team faced criticism for its focus on looks and disregard for skills. That article began, “All of a sudden, the Olympics have got sexy. Really sexy.”

  1. There are only two genders in the Olympics

While the beautiful and feminine athletes get attention for their looks, the less feminine athletes face scrutiny. South African sprinter Caster Semenya had her gender called into question in 2009. After a series of confidential sex verification tests, Semenya was found to have high levels of testosterone and submitted to “treatment” to place her on more equal footing with her female competitors.

Regardless of the controversies humming around women and the Olympics, I am looking forward to seeing weeks of gender balanced sports. I like watching men compete too, but this is the only time every two years when female athletes vie equally for international attention.

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Battered, Pregnant, Looking for Ride

A woman on the street in downtown Madison asked me to help her find transport to a battered women’s shelter today. She was tired, articulate, and African American. She sought transportation to a shelter just south of Madison. The local domestic violence shelter was full. The local women’s shelter is open only at night and will not house people long-term. The buses don’t run that far out of the city. YWCA couldn’t help her either. She shared this sequence of setbacks with me, and the fact that she’s pregnant.

I wasn’t sure what to do to help, but I felt sympathetic. I know that it requires a great deal of courage to leave an abusive situation. I feared that if I didn’t help her find assistance, she would return to her abuser. So I called the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and passed the phone along to the woman. I listened to her repeat: “I know, there’s just no funding.” She had already tried the suggestions I brainstormed on the spot. I was out of ideas. And I didn’t have a car.

So we talked about taking a cab, and between us we didn’t have enough money to pay for it — $35. She decided to panhandle for the balance, then take a cab when she could. She offered to exchange numbers so she could pay me back in the future, after she gets help, and a new job.

What she said when we parted really struck me, “I guess I shouldn’t have come to the city, as a minority, looking for help.”

Downtown Madison, Wisconsin

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I walked away from this experience feeling sad, helpless, and doubtful. This woman went everywhere I could think of for help, and they didn’t have the resources to assist her. I fear that she will fall through the cracks of an under-funded, well-intentioned system of advocacy organizations. But I hope she makes it to the shelter she set out for.

Any advocates out there recommend different options or suggestions for the future?

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