Tag Archives: Women’s Health

The Brazen Optimism of “Girl Rising”

girlrisingWe parked a few minutes before the viewing was scheduled to start and hustled towards the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, WI. Two members of the group did not yet have tickets to see the documentary Girl Rising, so they made their way to the end of the long box office line snaking around the building. In the other “line,” groups of tweens and teenaged girls pushed their way to the front with chaperons assertively pushing after them.

I had a hard time keeping my cool in the chaotic crowd, but I felt grateful at the end of the film that all those young people had watched the movie. I hoped they felt inspired as I did, possible, I think, because of the film’s bold optimism and omission of some dark details.

Richard E. Robbins’s Girl Rising succeeded aesthetically and narratively and in promoting its theme that educating girls will make the world a better place — for everyone. Girl Rising featured the stories of nine girls from nine different developing countries and (in most cases) overcoming their plights towards education.

Each of the girls shared their experiences with an author from their home country, who in turn interpreted the stories with a unique voice. These are not face-to-face interviews à la traditional documentaries, there’s reenactment, dream sequences, and animation on top of the lovely narratives.

Artistic shots captured the details of the landscapes each girl called home and the lines and details of their faces. (Alert: Spoilers ahead.)

Ruksana’s family in Kolkata, India manages to stay in the city to send three girls to school even though they live in a makeshift house on the pavement. She is a budding artist whose father bares the expense to buy her art supplies. The footage of her story is overlain with fantastical animations of a blue monkey and flowers that reflect the art in her notebook.

The stories feature obstacles that the girls overcome to attend school, and throughout the entire film we see poetry, song, art, and even physics embraced by the girls as survival tactics. My favorite character, Senna of La Rinconada, Peru, turns to poetry after the death of her father, and begins to write her own. Her father named her after the title character in the television show “Xena: Warrior Princess.

Bravery and fortitude also run through the various stories of the nine featured girls. The stories of two, kept anonymous through name changes and actress portrayals, demonstrated strength but touched on the tough themes of rape, youth marriage, and early motherhood. Yasmin’s story in which she defends herself against assault is told via animation, where she takes on a superhero persona. We see Amina as a neglected girl child, who gives birth when she is still a child herself.

The stories of these girls ends with an almost brazen optimism that I bought into, because I became wrapped up in the story. And yet, as I left the theatre, I felt sad for all the stories of Yasmin and Amina that ended with a flourish of hope but unconcluded stories.

The Girl Rising website offers a follow-up to each of the girls, and Yasmin’s and Amina’s next steps cast a shadow on the hopeful sheen of the movie: “…despite our partner NGOs efforts to enroll [13-year-old] Yasmin in literacy classes, Yasmin’s mother considered a marriage proposal to be a more secure investment in her daughter’s future,” reads the website.

This video was well crafted to uplift (as evidenced in the title, Girl Rising). It also conveys the remaining problems for girls throughout the world, albeit with a glossy, optimistic over layer. It ended with a call to mobilize, and I hoped the young girls in the audience got the message: appreciate your education, it’s a right we all deserve but don’t all have access to.

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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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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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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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Translating trans-prisoners’ rights to all

Transitioning from male to female or female to male is not an easy or inexpensive process. Considered by some insurance companies as an elective or cosmetic surgery, many transpeople must pay for gender reassignment surgery out-of-pocket and draw out the process over years. In many instances the process involves hormone therapy and surgical components.

The number of insurance companies covering sex reassignment surgeries is on the rise reported Huffington Post last December. Recent court decisions in Wisconsin and Massachusetts ruled that the failure to provide hormone treatment and other services constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. So if it’s a constitutionally mandated right for our prisoners to have access to transgender surgery, shouldn’t it also be accessible to law-abiding citizens?

The related Wisconsin case concluded in March of this year, and it began with a state law barring the medical care of transgender inmates. Lambda Legal and the ACLU challenged the state law in federal court and won in 2010. After being upheld in a court of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a subsequent appeal, securing the right for current and future transgender inmates access to appropriate medical care.

The recent decision by a federal court in Massachusetts focused on the right to surgery, discussing the medical implications of gender identity disorder. The fact that convicted murderer Michelle Kosilek (born Robert Kosilek) attempted suicide and self-castration demonstrated the gravity of the disorder and the requirement of surgical treatments. I do, however, worry about labeling all transgender people as disordered. Mental illness and trans-identities are both already stigmatized in the U.S.

Implementing these new rules will be complicated for prison systems, which operate on a strict gender binary. Officials in Massachusetts worried about the added cost and security required to care for a transfemale in a male facility. But just because an transition is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not important and necessary – just ask a transgender person.

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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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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

 * * *

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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Delving into the issue of Sexual Assault in Native Populations

Last spring, Jacqui Callari-Robinson visited Sawyer County in Wisconsin, which hosts the Lac Courte Oreilles tribe and the Oakwood Haven shelter for victims of domestic and sexual violence. She worked with a focus group of women to determine what services tribal communities needed to protect against these issues. Ten women of various tribes throughout the state participated and shared their own experiences.

All ten of the women were victims of sexual assault. They did not receive physical or emotional treatment, nor legal justice. Callari-Robinson holds onto this memory as she strives for full sexual assault response coverage throughout the state. I too grasped onto this story.

Callari-Robinson, the director of health services for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA), keeps an eye on all the SANE certified nurses and SART teams throughout the state. SANE stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a national certification for nurses who conduct forensic exams and collect evidence from victims of sexual assault. The exams play a crucial role in the medical treatment of victims and subsequent cases against their perpetrators. Sexual Assault Response Teams (SART) consist of medical personnel, law enforcement, and advocates within a community who work together to help victims of assault.

Many of the eleven Native American tribes in Wisconsin do not have SANE nurses or SART programs on their reservations. Callari-Robinson forged relationships over the last 14 years with tribal community members and advocates to try to develop these programs.

My discussions with Callari-Robinson mark the beginning of my investigation into domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Indian country. A report from Amnesty International pulled me further into this issue. Maze of Injustice documents the high volume of indigenous American women who experience assault. This report came out in 2007, and the CDC confirmed in their 2010 Survey  that native women still experience assault more frequently than women of other races.

Why is this problem so pervasive in Native communities? Maze of Injustice reports that in our American history of colonialism rape became a tool of conquest placing Native women in a position vulnerable to abuse. And some Native Americans report that they inherited abuse practices from colonizers. Boarding schools which indoctrinated indigenous youths with a punitive system taught them to be ashamed of their culture. When these “reformed” Natives returned to their communities as adults, they brought punitive methods with them. C.J. Doxtater, an Oneida member and employee of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence shared this theory with me, and the anecdote that Native children who spoke their indigenous language were punished with pins in their tongue.

Many Native groups have sprung up in response to reports of high numbers of sexual and domestic abuse against Native American women and children including Mending the Sacred Hoop, a group based in Minnesota. They strive to disrupt the cycles of abuse that affect Native communities. Other groups addressing this issue include American Indians Against Abuse in Wisconsin and the national Indian Health Service. These groups work hard to address sexual assault and domestic violence on tribal land. Prevention of abuse remains a priority. And considering the focus group with ten out of ten women retaining the trauma and memory of abuse, these organizations work for healing and recovery on the individual and cultural level.

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Tribes Fight Violence Against Women

Enjoy News from the Margins’ first podcast! M. Brent Leonhard, tribal attorney and supporter of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), presented on the impact of VAWA on tribal sovereignty. He spoke at UW-Madison for the Indigenous Law Students Association’s Coming Together of Peoples Conference on March 23, 2012.

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