April 29, 2010

Corrective Rape - Brought to You by the Rape Capital of the World

In recent months, my academic research and clinical interest have focused on the ways in which women understand their multiple identities - elements of their life experience that include their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and geography as well as and in some cases multiple traumas and oppressions – all of which combine to tell their story.  When I saw this story and call to action on change.org about a 30-year-old South African, lesbian-identified woman, Millicent Gaika, who was a recent victim of "corrective rape," I couldn't help but think of how this woman is beginning to make sense of herself, her multiple identities, and now this trauma. 

For those of you unfamiliar (as I was) with the concept of "corrective rape," it is when a man or men "rape the gay" out of a woman to make her straight.  In South Africa this practice is of epidemic proportions.  Alex DiBranco writing for change.org reports that "520 women [report] being survivors of corrective rape in a year, and perhaps hundreds more unreported rapes estimated."

I  am bringing this to your attention and to my own for a couple of reasons.  I am thinking not only about the way that I as a social worker and the social work profession can best meet the needs of women with whom we work in this 21st century globalized society, but the way that we women can work together to raise consciousness and effect change.  I think the first most important thing is to raise conciousness and awareness.  How does hearing about "corrective rape" impact you? What feelings does it elicit? If we are not educated or even aware of atrocities around the world such as corrective rape, then how can we possibly take action to effect change and protect our global sisters as well as ourselves? 

Director Lovinsa Kavuma offers us an inside look into the lives of lesbian women in South Africa in a short documentary called Rape for Who I Am.

In addition to raising our own conciousness, we can take concrete steps and sign a petition on change.org here. Have you had experience working towards ending corrective rape? Do you have any thoughts on how the WCC can effect change? Let us know!

Some women have taken the issue of rape into their own hands and have developed the anit-rape condom - Rape-aXe.  This condom was developed to stop and prevent the occurance of rape.  Here is some more information from the Rape-aXe website:

A brief history
The Rape-aXe anti rape condom was developed by a South African woman, Sonnet Ehlers, after witnessing first hand the horrific aftermath of a sexual assault. She felt that something had to be done to stop this growing threat against women and started to work on the anti rape condom, the Rape-aXe. The first prototype was launched on 31 August 2005, at Kleinmond, Cape Province, South Africa.

What is it?
Rape-aXe is a revolutionary new product that aids in the prevention of rapes. This device can later be used to identify the attacker and aid in the apprehension of the perpetrator.

How does it work?
The Rape-aXe system consists of a latex sheath, which contains razor-sharp barbs. The device is worn in her vagina like a tampon. When the attacker attempts vaginal penetration the barbs attach themselves to the penis, causing great discomfort. The device must be surgically removed, which will result in the positive identification of the attacker and subsequent arrest.

Anything Else?
One of the major benefits of the Rape-aXe system is the fact that it helps in the prevention of the rape victim contracting an STD like HIV. An additional benefit of the anti rape condom is the fact that it helps in the prevention of unwanted pregnancies resulting from rape.

For more information, visit the Rape-aXe website and check out this article "Putting Teeth in the Fight Against Rape" by Amanda Bailly.

Celebrating 25 Years - EMILY's List

In 1985, 25 women, Rolodex's in hand, gathered in Ellen Malcolm's basement to send letters to their friends about a network they were forming to raise money for pro-choice Democratic women candidates - EMILY's List.  Today, EMILY's List continues to work to toward building a progressive America by electing pro-choice Democratic women to office.

Their Mission:

•EMILY’s List looks for viable political opportunities and recruits strong pro-choice Democratic women candidates to run.

•We tell our community of members about these women, and ask them to give directly to the campaigns of candidates for House, Senate, and governor.

•We provide extensive training for candidates and staff so they can make the most of limited resources and win the toughest races.

•We conduct in-depth, ongoing research into the minds and moods of women voters, a critical bloc for Democrats whose votes are key to electing more women.

•Finally, our WOMEN VOTE! project reaches out to women voters in the days and weeks before Election Day with persuasive messages that motivate them to go to the polls and cast their ballots for progressive Democrats — because if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s When Women Vote, Women Win!

EMILY's List’s motto is “win today and build for tomorrow.”

Our immediate focus is to protect our gains from 2008 and make sure President Obama has strong Democratic majorities in Congress and in the states to carry out his progressive agenda.

At the same time, we are making long-term investments to help women develop political skills and cultivate resources so that we can bring more women into politics and elected office. Only then can we build a lasting progressive majority dedicated to social justice, civil rights, diversity, economic reform, and compassion — and construct a society that values the contributions of all of its citizens.

Working together, we can make a difference — and change the face of American politics.

April 28, 2010

Speaking Their Voices - The Edge of Joy

In the U.S., a woman’s lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth is 1 in 4,800. In Nigeria it is 1 in 18.

In the one-hour documentary, The Edge of Joy, filmmaker Dawn Sinclair Shapiro closely follows an ensemble cast of Nigerian doctors, nurses, midwives and religious leaders as they battle the second largest maternal mortality rate in the world.

The Edge of Joy is a character driven, cinematic expedition ranging from deep within Nigeria’s semi-arid lands of the isolated Islamic north to the lush-savannahs of the volatile Christian south. Inside a maternity ward, the film chronicles distressed labors, deaths, and miraculous survival. Outside, lack of blood supply, transportation and family planning are examined as causes of the cycle that kills more than 36,000 Nigerian women a year. Through unprecedented access to antenatal visits, labor and delivery, family planning counseling, rural health seminars and reproductive health training for Islamic leaders, this unique film captures the dramatic story of pregnancy and childbirth in Nigeria. The central characters in The Edge of Joy are the people deep within the Nigerian culture who know its misconceptions, its limitations, but also its capabilities.

Film Credits:
Director and Producer - Dawn Sinclair Shapiro
Executive Producer - Tod Lending
Editor - Michael S. O'Brien
Director of Photography - Nicola Marsh
Field Director - Bhagyashree RaoRane
Animation Director - Yoni Goodman
Original Music - Mark Bandy

For more information about The Edge of Joy contact Dawn Sinclair Shapiro at theedgeofjoy@gmail.com and visit their Facebook page - The Edge of Joy.

April 26, 2010

Speaking Their Voices - For the Next 7 Generations

For the Next 7 Generations tells the story in 2004, of thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers from all four corners, moved by their concern for our planet, came together at a historic gathering, where they decided to form an alliance: The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. This is their story. Four years in-the-making and shot on location in the Amazon rainforest, the mountains of Mexico, North America, and at a private meeting with the Dalai Lama in India, For the Next 7 Generations follows what happens when these wise women unite. Facing a world in crisis, they share with us their visions of healing and a call for change now, before it's too late. This film documents their unparalleled journey and timely perspectives on a timeless wisdom.

I am honored to share with you this spectacular documentary and story of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers who came together from all over the globe to harness their power and voice and work towards healing our planet and all her inhabitants.

April 23, 2010

International Reproductive Health Education - Pathfinder International

Since 1957, Pathfinder International has maintained an unwavering belief in the right of women and families to have access to contraception and to quality reproductive health care. Pathfinder’s founder Clarence Gamble, a pioneer in family planning and maternal health, introduced contraception to more than 60 developing countries, including some where Pathfinder is still engaged today.

Pathfinder works in remote locations, under the most difficult conditions, serving the most vulnerable people. We collaborate with governments, NGOs, and community- and faith-based organizations to make contraception available and provide the quality care needed to ensure safe childbirth and healthy families. Working in countries with high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, we provide a continuum of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services and are expanding the integration of these services into reproductive health and family planning programs. Though controversial, we support safe abortion care in countries where it’s legal, provide reproductive health services to commercial sex workers and adolescents, and advocate for sound reproductive health policies in the US and abroad.

Pathfinder’s work focuses on overcoming barriers and is based on developing long-term relationships, not only with clients, but with entire communities. Working in traditional societies, we understand that changes in attitude and behavior must have the support of religious and community leaders, the guardians of local culture. We train doctors, nurses, midwives, traditional birth attendants, community-based health workers, and teachers. At the same time, we build the capacity of our partner organizations to make them stronger, more effective, and able to thrive independently once our support has ended.

Pathfinder International was recently featured on CNN's Amanpour with Christiane Amanour.  This story features one of  over 120 countries that Pathfinder serves.  If you are interested in more information or how to get invloved in the work of Pathfinder International, visit their website today!

April 21, 2010

Earth Day Special: Speaking Her Voice - Rachel Carson

I recently watched a documentary Earth Days on the history of the modern environmental movement and was moved by the work of Rachel Carson, founder of the contemporary environmental movement.  What I was most moved by was not necessarily her groundbreaking findings and progressive ideas, but her persistence in having her voice heard despite many dissenting opinions and full out attacks by the chemical industry and those alike opposing her views. 

In one of her most well known books, Silent Spring published in 1962, she "challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world" as shared by her biographer Linda Lear in her 1997 book on Carson, Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.

On this Earth Day 2010, please share with us, your family, friends and community in celebrating the voice of Rachel Carson who was a fierce advocate for our Mother Earth.  Pass along this post in honor of Earth Day and all the fearless women in your life!

Speaking Their Voice - Trans Bodies, Trans Selves

A parent of a transgendered child and active member of the Trans Youth and Family Allies (TYFA) recently brought to our attention this amazing new and very timely resource that is currently in production - Trans Bodies, Trans Selves.  Trans Bodies, Trans Selves edited by Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth is a resource guide for transgender and other gender-variant people, covering health, legal issues, cultural and social questions, history, theory, and more. It is a place for transgender people, their partners and families, students, professors, guidance counselors, and others to look for up-to-date information on transgender life.

Laura Erickson-Schroth, MD, MA is a recent graduate of Dartmouth Medical School. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY, a child of feminist and environmental lawyers, she was guided by their love of activism and service. Laura attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan and then Middlebury College in Vermont, where she became involved in feminist and LGBT student groups. During medical school, she returned home to New York City for a year to earn a master’s in Women and Gender Studies at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York. During her last year in medical school, Laura chose electives in transgender medicine, transgender surgery and gender variant pediatrics. These clinical rotations complemented the relationships she had with friends who are transgender. They made her acutely aware of the lack of comprehensive resources that exist for gender-variant people as they make important decisions in their lives and compelled her to begin working on a book that would attempt to provide these resources. Laura has finished a one year fellowship as the Director of Student Programming for the American Medical Student Association, and is starting a residency in Psychiatry.

I believe that the conversation about transgender and gender-varient individuals has become more productive over the past several years, but there is a lot of work still to be done.  As a feminist and social worker I am thrilled to see a comprehensive resource like this available for not only the trans-community but for the benefit of educating the general public.  I think the more information there is about gender and identity, the more opportunity to break down harmful social constructions of gender and work towards eliminating sexism, racism, and classism in our world.    

For more information about this above pictorial represenation of gender variance, please visit this website from scottishtrans.org.  As always contact us with your thoughts, comments and questions!

Speaking Her Voice - Elissa Stein

I recently received an email from Elissa Stein, co-author of the book Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation sharing with the WCC community her latest article on the Huffington Post - To Vajayjay Or Not To Vajayjay. I am incredibly grateful for Elissa and co-author Susan Kim's work to bring attention to women's bodies in a  fresh, vibrant, creative, and eclectic way.

There continues to be an increase in the multitude of ways in which women's bodies are objectified, demeaned and down right abused including by women themselves.  Books like Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation provide another creative outlet for discourse on the importance of conciousness-raising and education for women and men alike about women's bodies and experiences.

So, grab yourself an I love my vagina coffee mug, a few girlfriends and check out Elissa's website and blog for more information about her work, inner most thoughts and most recent book.   

April 18, 2010

Speaking Our Voices - Take Action NOW

From Take Action with NOW:  The retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, a champion for women and social justice, gives President Obama an opportunity to appoint a new Supreme Court justice who will also stand for equality and fairness-and there are many qualified women who fit that mold.

Women's rights advocates cheered the appointment of Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year, who joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to raise the representation of women from 11 to 22 percent of the Supreme Court. Researchers estimate that women achieve critical mass when they make at least one-third of a group's membership. Now we have an opportunity to create that critical mass and get one justice closer to gender parity on the Supreme Court.

But any woman won't do. Women need a justice who will stand up for women's fundamental rights and freedoms. Given the role played by Justice Stevens, it is both acceptable and preferable that his replacement be a woman who will stand for:

Fundamental privacy rights

Enforcement of fair pay laws

Equal opportunity and affirmative action laws

Abortion and reproductive rights

Full rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation

With radical right-wing activists attempting to codify marriage discrimination, overturn Roe v. Wade through fetal personhood laws and even criminalize miscarriage in the states, it is absolutely critical for the next Supreme Court justice to stand on the side of social justice. President Obama should choose from the list -- and it's a very long list -- of qualified women who fit that description and throw the full weight of his presidency behind her during the confirmation process.

Send an e-mail urging President Obama to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court who will advocate for equality and fair treatment under the Constitution.  You can do that directly from the now.org site or click here. Or you can phonePresident Obama with your thoughts (202) 456-1111. 

April 16, 2010

Speaking Their Voices - GLBT Civil and Human Rights

From the Associated Press: Obama orders hospital visitation and decision making rights to include gay and lesbian partners!

WASHINGTON (AP)– In a move hailed as a step toward fairness for same-sex couples, President Barack Obama is ordering that nearly all hospitals allow patients to say who has visitation rights and who can help make medical decisions, including gay and lesbian partners.

The White House on Thursday released a statement by Obama instructing his Health and Human Services secretary to draft rules requiring hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid payments to grant all patients the right to designate people who can visit and consult with them at crucial moments.

The designated visitors should have the same rights that immediate family members now enjoy, Obama's instructions said. It said Medicare-Medicaid hospitals, which include most of the nation's facilities, may not deny visitation and consultation privileges on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
The move was called a major step toward fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans.

"This is a critical step in ending discrimination against LGBT families and ensuring that, in the event of a hospital stay, all Americans have the right to see their loved ones," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The new rules, Obama said, should "guarantee that all patients' advance directives, such as durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, are respected," and that patients' designees be able to "make informed decisions regarding patients' care."

Some gay advocacy groups say Obama has moved too slowly to fulfill campaign promises to expand their civil rights. The nation's top military leaders recently said it is time to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that has kept gays from serving openly in the armed services.

The Human Rights Campaign, which backs gay rights, called Obama's decision an "important action" that was inspired in part by a New York Times article about a lesbian couple in Miami. They were kept apart while one lay dying in a hospital despite having an "advanced health care directive" asking for full visitation rights for each other.

"Discrimination touches every facet of the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, including at times of crisis and illness," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "The president's action today will help ensure that the indignities" suffered by the Miami patient and her children will not happen to others.

In his statement, Obama said: "Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides — whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay. Often, a widow or widower with no children is denied the support and comfort of a good friend."

He added: "Also uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives — unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated."

Without the expanded visitor-designation rights, Obama said, "all too often, people are made to suffer or even to pass away alone, denied the comfort of companionship in their final moments while a loved one is left worrying and pacing down the hall."

April 15, 2010

Who Does She Think She Is?

Check out this amazing film and website - Who Does She Think She Is?  Literary Mama also offers an article on this topic.  Contact us with your thoughts about the topic and/or your experience as a mother and artist trying to to honor both of your identities.

April 11, 2010

Speaking Our Voices - Our Bodies, Ourselves

Do you remember the first time you ever picked up a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves?  I do.  I was 15 years old and away at summer camp.  One of my counselors was an undergraduate at Barnard College.  At the time, her being a Barnard student with unshaven legs didn't really seem to phase me or provide me with much meaning.  What did provide a lasting effect seventeen years later is that she took the time to create a space that would allow us girls as a group to feel comfortable enough to ask her ANYTHING we wanted!  I must have arrived back to the bunk a bit later than some of the other girls, as they were already crowded around her with a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves

I was a bit confused and was not exactly sure what was going on.  It seemed like an organized activity, but somehow I do not think that the camp director provided the hat in which we placed little pieces of paper with our anonymously written questions about our menstural cycles, dating, and oral sex.  In that moment I can remember holding simultaneous feelings of confusion, embarrasment, freedom, and excitment, all in my 15-year old-head.  Beyond the glass coke bottle that was conveniently available as a prop for someone to demonstrate how to perform oral sex on a guy (as per an anonymous request written on a small piece of paper which was, again, not provided by our camp), I remember the looming presense of a tattered copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves.  In an observent Jewish sleep away camp with daily prayers and frequent reading from the Torah, this seemed to come a close second to a "religious" experience.

Though I did not have the words to express my feelings in that particular momemt, I have come to hold this experience and really the meta-experience of our counselor holding that space for us young women to gather in an open, accepting, non-judgemental (non-health education at school) forum to explore our physical and emotional selves as radical!  It seems to me that every opportunity for women of all ethnicities, race, age, and cultural backgrounds to gather and raise-conciouness and explore our bodies and ourselves is radical.  The publication of Our Bodies, Ourselves allowed women to recognize and know that we have a voice and a right to knowledge and action around our bodies! Decades after the initial printing, the mere presence of Our Bodies, Ourselves on bookstore, library, home, and community center bookshelves serves as a visual reminder of how far the women's movement has come in recognizing our inherent differences, power, and rights to our bodies and how much work we still have left to do!

In honor of the upcoming National Organization for Women's National Conference in Boston, MA, on July 2-4, the WCC wants to hear about your first encounter with Our Bodies, Ourselves. This year's conference theme is Loving Our Bodies, Changing the World.  Since it is taking place in Boston, NOW will be using the location and context to honor the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.  The following is an excerpt from NOW's conference website. 

It all started in Boston, at a women's liberation conference in 1969. Twelve women, ranging in ages from 23 to 39, met at a workshop titled Women and Their Bodies. After unpacking their own health care nightmares and negative experiences with doctors, they decided to turn their frustrations into action. From the civil rights movement to fighting for legal abortion, these women were no strangers to grassroots activism. Focusing on self-empowerment and raising their own consciousnesses about health and sexuality, they decided to work on a summer project that eventually led to the creation of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

In 1970 they published a stapled newsprint booklet entitled Women and Their Bodies. The booklet, which put women's health in a radically new political and social context, become an underground success. In 1973 Simon & Schuster published an expanded edition, renamed Our Bodies, Ourselves. The book transformed women's relationship with their health care providers and finally gave women agency over their own bodies through education. Translated into various languages and updated for different generations throughout the years, profits from the sales of the books even go toward improving the lives of women.

The collective went on to support the creation of the National Women's Health Network -- the first national women's health advocacy membership organization. The NOW Foundation is proud to honor the founding women of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective for their feminist contributions to the field of women's and girls' health.

April 07, 2010

Who Ever Said Feminists Do Not Have A Sense of Humor?!

Ok so I am not big on comedy.  I mean if I am watching or reading something and I think it is funny, I will laugh.  But I never intentionally set out to watch a stand up comedy act or comedy movie with the hopes of getting a good laugh, they are usually just stupid or bad.  What can I say, such is life.  However, for some reason nothing makes me laugh more than pictures of cats in compromising positions with funny captions!  I know, random and perhaps a bit odd.  But when I discovered  LOL feminist cats, I was well, LMAO (laughing my ass off).  So, while I am familiar with internet speak such as LOL (laugh out loud), OMG (oh my god) or BRB (be right back), I had no idea (though in hindsight, this makes sense) that there exists a whole universe of discourse on internet communication.  So while I am not writing here to give a dissertation on the origin of texting language - you can read here from a New York Times article for a bit more of that.  I am here to share with you funny cats with even funnier feminist captions! Though I must add that a phenomenon of text-type language and bad grammar has taken place and continues to be perpetuated at sites such as icanhascheezburger.com. You can even create your own LOL feminist cat. Oh and just for fun, I added a Nellie Mckay song about just this sort of topic! So sit back and (hopefully) have a good laugh!

April 04, 2010

ColorLines Reports - The Violence Of A Recession

ColorLines, a national newsmagazine on race and politics recently reported on the interpersonal and intrapsychic consequences of unemployment.  Daisy Hernandez reports in her article The Violence of a Recession, that along with our economic crisis comes the increase of biological, psychological and social burdens and in particular abuse in relationships. 

As a social worker, feminist and activist for women's rights and health, I believe it is crucial that those of us who work directly with women not ignore the external, global, social and political occurrences that effect our physcial, emotional and spiritual health. Better yet, I believe it is of utmost importance to integrate and contextualize our current events into our professional practice for those of us who work in a social service or psychological profession, as well as to raise-awareness on the effects of globalization in our daily lives.  Even within the profession of social work, we tend to dichotomize our own practice areas such as casework, psychotherapy, policy, research, education and administration to name a few. I propose that especially for women of color who face multiple oppressions that are unique to the intersection of race and gender, using a lens such as black feminist thought and critical race feminism that addresses gender, race, socio-economic status and feminist jurisprudence in light of globalization.  It is my hope that this perspective may begin to allow for a more salient dialogue on all women's multiple realities.  

April 01, 2010

Healthcare Reform - Where Do You Stand?

In recent weeks we have had to untangle a lot of important though often complicated political rhetoric, including unsubstantiated claims and "facts" about women's health care needs during the process of these health care reform debates. I am glad that this bill has passed and I hope that it does, in fact create a great paradigm shift in the way that our country views health care as a basic human right for all of its citizens. With that said, I believe that we as women are standing on a sociological, cultural and political precipice. More than ever, we need to come together and speak up for our FULL rights! I hope the contribution of this site as well as the many others continue to support the ongoing activism and obligatory conversations among us.  Let us know your thoughts! Share your voice!

Feminist Government Bans the Exposure of Nordic Nipples!

Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland's prime minister and the world's first openly lesbian head of state, has led the government, along with backing from its strong female parlimentary officials and large number of women's movement participants, to close down Iceland's sex industry. 

As the Guardian reported in the article "Iceland: the world's most feminist country," what is even more impressive [than just banning sex work is that] the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold." When I asked her if she thinks Iceland has become the greatest feminist country in the world, she replied: "It is certainly up there. Mainly as a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society.  Guðrún Jónsdóttir, a participant in the anti-sexual violence campaign, was quoted as saying that she is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. 'I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.'   

Is this, however, really a feminist decision?  There is at least one other school of feminists, particulary liberal feminists who would object to such a ban.  Grassroot groups such as COYOTE (call off your old tired ethics) were founded for all sex workers to support the rights of sex workers in their work, and to promote, among other things, sex education for the workers, their clients, and the general public. Here in Philadelphia we are fortunate to have Project Safe, an organization also dedicated to the advocacy and empowerment for the basic human rights of women working in the sex work industry.  Again, women find themselves in the middle of centuries-long debate! Take a look at this snippet of video of a debate in action.