Tag Archives: Sexuality

Day 15 of 16 Days of Activism: The Bahamas

#Day15 of #16Days focuses on another Caribbean country, the islands of The Bahamas. Shockingly 45% of all homicides in the 20 years leading up to 2012 could be attributed to domestic violence in the islands. The government, under the Ministry of Social Services, does operate the Bureau of Women’s Affairs which presumably handles the Assistance for Persons Experiencing Domestic Violence where assistance is free to those who are willing to comply with the eligibility requirements: willingness to attend and participate in counseling and “willingness to share information.”

The government also offers community development like support groups and classes for the disabled in Braille and sign language, counseling, rehab and welfare services including rent assistance and discounted daycare. A two-day Symposium on Gender Equality and the Law in The Bahamas was held in September of this year, yet a constitutional referendum has been ongoing since 2002 to try to make citizenship laws and gender equality in The Bahamas more in line with the 21st Century. You can find a document outlining laws in The Bahamas regarding sexual assault and domestic violence here.

Men too

Of note is the legal definition of spousal rape: “Any person who has sexual intercourse with his spouse without the consent of the spouse —
(a) where there is in existence in relation to them — (i) a decree nisi of divorce; (ii) a decree of judicial separation; (iii) a separation agreement; or (iv) an order of a court for the person not to molest or co-habit with his spouse, or any other order made under Part II; or
(b) where the person has notice that a petition for judicial separation, divorce or nullity of marriage has been presented to a court, is guilty of the offence of sexual assault by spouse and liable to imprisonment for a term of fifteen years.” Yet the sentence for “unnatural connection with any animal” is twenty years….

According to the US Department of State 2013 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in The Bahamas “The law does not provide women with the same right as men to transmit citizenship to their foreign-born spouses. The law also makes it easier for men with foreign spouses than for women with foreign spouses to transmit citizenship to their children but more difficult for unmarried men (even if able to prove paternity). The law does not include gender as a basis for protection from discrimination. Women were generally free of economic discrimination, and the law provides for equal pay for equal work.” Additionally, pregnant girls in state-run schools are removed and put into special programs until after they give birth, and “The legal minimum age for marriage is 18, although girls may marry at 16 and boys at 17 with parental permission.”

There is no specific law protecting persons with physical or mental disabilities from discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. Provisions in other legislation address the rights of persons with disabilities, including a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability. Although the law mandates access for persons with physical disabilities in new public buildings, authorities rarely enforced this requirement, and very few buildings and public facilities were accessible to persons with disabilities. Advocates for persons with disabilities complained of widespread job discrimination and general apathy on the part of private employers and political leaders toward the need for training and equal opportunity. In one case authorities denied access to public educational facilities for a mentally sound child with only physical limitations confining him to a wheelchair.

Societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals occurred, with some persons reporting job and housing discrimination based upon sexual orientation. Although same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults is legal, the law defines the age of consent for same-sex couples as 18, compared with 16 for heterosexual couples. No domestic legislation addresses the human rights concerns of LGBT persons. LGBT NGOs can openly operate in the country. The 2006 Constitutional Review Commission found that sexual orientation did not deserve protection against discrimination. LGBT NGOs reported that LGBT persons faced some discrimination in employment, and victims were frustrated at the lack of legal recourse.

Stigma and employment discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS were high, but there were no reports of violence against persons with HIV/AIDS. Children with HIV/AIDS also faced discrimination, and authorities often did not tell teachers that a child was HIV-positive for fear of verbal abuse from both educators and peers. The government maintained a home for orphaned children infected with HIV/AIDS.

All Saints Camp claims to be a refuge for those affected by HIV/AIDS in The Bahamas but the US Human Rights Report cited deplorable conditions and extremely substandard care. Their Facebook page argues that they do not have access to government funding but through the generosity of donors “the daily life at ASC has become worth living on a very very basic level – to maintain this goal is a constant and revolving challenge for all involved.”

Bahamas Crisis Centre

The Bahamas Crisis Centre is not easy to find online, and their Facebook page doesn’t offer a lot of insight either, but they do operate a 24/7 hotline at 242-328-0922. It’s difficult to gauge how active they are currently but it looks like they have participated in a number of community events from toy drives for children at Christmas, to their Silent Witness Campaign to Take Back the Night. They and others throughout the Caribbean are listed here under Caribbean Crisis Centres and Women’s NGOs. Similarly elusive is the Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates, or BLEA, but it is unclear what their role is or how they go about advancing equality.

Silent Witness

Unfortunately for a country facing incredible amounts of gender-based violence and general inequality there are few organizations or resources there to help. Let’s hope the situation in Nigeria–for the last day of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence–is less bleak.


International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia/Biphobia & Transphobia – IDAHO. It is an annual event commemorated by millions of people from Ireland to Fiji and in dozens of other countries around the world to take action against homophobia. Started in 2004, the day incorporated transphobia into the title in 2009. Last year alone more than 80 countries held events to speak out against homophobia and transphobia.

May 17 was chosen to commemorate the 1990 decision of the World Health Organization to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Care2 has a number of stories related to IDAHO available today. You can “like” IDAHO on Facebook and follow anti-homophobia actions all year round. You can also follow Ampliphy’s IDAHO Blogathon and read about others’ take on the day too.

This informative piece by Sexuality and Disability answers some of the questions many people have about sexuality, including what it means to be transgender. Many issues faced by the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) community have been all over the international news lately, from marriage equality and other human rights to issues of personal safety like bullying and rape. Let’s start with the good news.

Argentina has set a new world standard in human rights for transgender people by enacting a law that allows any citizen to change his/her gender identity just because they want to! No longer do Argentinians have to undergo mental health screenings, hormone therapy or permanent body altering surgery (read: sterilization) to change their legal or physical gender. “But, if trans Argentinians do want to change their bodies, thanks to the new law, insurance companies–both public and private–will now have to provide them with surgery or hormone therapy at no additional cost.” The first country to legalize marriage equality in Latin America is now an inspiration and symbol of hope for transgender people everywhere.

Other countries are working towards equality and inclusion for transgender people in other ways. India’s largest transgender festival has been going on for the past two weeks. Kenya’s Human Rights Commission has produced a 62 page PDF file The Outlawed Among Us available for download that explores the human rights violations of the LGBTQI community there. Activists in Nepal are joining researchers in asking “Can proper ID save the lives of transgender people in emergencies?” Any recommendations for resources or contacts in that regard can be sent here. Finally, Sweden is leading the way in gender neutral language by introducing a gender neutral pronoun for those who do not wish to use gender labels.

Even in the US there is good news on the sexuality rights front. Shocking I know! Barack Obama made history this month by becoming the first President in US history to voice his support for marriage equality. Many prominent black men, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, actor Will Smith, and rapper Jay-Z, have spoken out supporting the President’s “evolution” regarding marriage equality. Some polls show that more than 50% of Americans are in favor of marriage equality, while in Minnesota 52% of those polled agreed that “same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

President Obama has, in addition to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and speaking in favor of marriage equality, clarified to Congress that DOMA is a “bad idea.” He has also threatened to veto the House of Representative’s Republican Violence Against Women Act because it gutted protections for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, Native American and undocumented women and would put victims of domestic violence in severe danger by informing abusers that they have been accused of violence.

Now for the bad news– bullying. Bullying takes many, many forms and is an issue faced by millions of people around the world but members of the LGBTQI community around the world (and those perceived to be) are especially likely to suffer. One example is the infamous Westboro Baptist Church that protests with sign saying “God hates fags.” One 9 year-old is protesting back with a sign of his own saying “God hates no one.” He joins the good company of other Americans who are fed up with WBC’s hatred.

The Pan American Health Organization has joined the outcry against dangerous and hateful homophobia and declared that “treatments” intended to “cure” people of homosexuality are not medically sound and should have sanctions levied against them by governments and academic institutions. So-called “conversion” therapy, or pray-away-the-gay only serves to further shame, isolate and belittle vulnerable individuals who are already facing discrimination in myriad other forms from society. In many places homosexual acts are punishable by law, and in some cases, like Iran, men are being hanged to death for sodomy.

This article explores how South Africa has become the rape capital of the world, including hundreds, if not thousands of incidences of “corrective rape” occurring every year. But the US is not immune to the idiotic idea that raping a lesbian will make her straight. Just last week a Cleveland DJ told a listener who was worried his daughter might be a lesbian to have her “screwed straight.” Such thinking underlines the War on Women being waged in the US and the hugely false Republican belief that women are not to be trusted to make their own decisions, especially regarding sex.

Bullying is a life-threatening issue today. Students who identify as LGBT are five times more likely to miss school out of fear for their safety. A new documentary, Bully, explores bullying in America while the film Teach Your Children Well looks specifically at anti-gay bullying. The Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, GLSEN, offers anti-bullying resources here. The government also offers tips on creating a safe environment for LGBT youth but acknowledges that federal laws (shamefully) do not protect against harassment based on sexual orientation. This look at how bullying affects children’s and teens’ mental health shows that LGB youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids. But homophobic bullying in schools is not limited to the US; Ireland’s bullying is also “widespread.” The Day of Silence, which takes place every year on April 20, is a way for students to show their support for an end to bullying and to represent all the voices that have been silenced because of violence.

Yet transgender voices are still being silenced in schools, including universities in the US. And the real, day-to-day violence faced by transgender people is often dismissed by the mainstream media, or ignored all together. The New York Times recently ran an article chock-full of transphobic and victim-blaming rhetoric after a transgender woman died in a suspicious fire. The dehumanizing picture they paint is of a deceptive sex worker who deserved what came to her while including unnecessary and disrespectful sexualized comments about her appearance.

The state of North Carolina and its voters asserted themselves as bullies this week when Amendment One altered the state’s Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. Don’t worry though, dwellers of the Tar Heel State can still marry their cousins. And, lest we forget, the last time NC amended their Constitution was in 1875 to ban interracial marriage. And while the bigots who voted for Amendment One were clamoring about “traditional marriage” (see below), this badass woman employed strategic nonviolent action to demand her right to marry her female partner. It ultimately got her arrested and I heart her for that! And “to the queer kids of the United States: Amendment One is a form of bullying.”

Other US states are a mix of flat out shame like Colorado which didn’t vote on civil unions and confusion, like Rhode Island, where other state’s same-sex marriages will be recognized but it is still not legal for its own residents to do so.

This awesomely interactive and informative state-by-state guide shows just how difficult it is to keep track of the laws when the states are not at all united. It explores marriage, hospital visits, adoption, employment, housing, hate crimes and schools. Also check out this video of the 2012 Essential Bi Reading List for other resources.

My best friend (who is in law school at the moment) has reminded me time and again that one day marriage equality will be a reality in the US, because it’s not that long ago that interracial marriage was illegal. Seeing as how she and I are both in interracial relationships and I am bisexual, it’s a painful yet poignant reminder of America’s recent history. As Rachel Maddow explained, rights are not supposed to be voted on. Rights are inherent and should be respected as such.

To help fight for equal rights for all people regardless of gender, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, or any other damn thing, get involved! Human Rights Watch is an awesome international organization working everyday on all kinds of human rights issues. The Human Rights Campaign is a more focused group, fighting specifically for the equal rights of the LGBT community. Amnesty International is another group working around the world to guarantee all people’s human rights. And the American Civil Liberties Union also speaks out for marriage equality and numerous other human rights issues in the US. Oh, and the five tips below are a great start too. Have an equal day!


Women’s History Month 2012

Today kicks off Women’s History Month 2012. As Mark LeVine said in this piece about Black History Month, if a people has a past worth learning about, they also must have a future worth caring about. Over the next 30 days you can look forward to interviews with women who have made or are making history. If you fall into that category and would like to share your story here, feel free! I come from a long line of feisty women, including my paternal great-grandmother, “Mrs. J.U. Gartin” who, in 1937 as President of the Women’s Progressive Club was helping to raise money for disabled children. Her daughter, my father’s mother Dorothy Gartin, graduated from Stanford University in 1938. Unfortunately I was very young when my grandmother died but obviously I come by the feminist genes honestly, and being raised by a single mother who had five older brothers and took auto shop instead of home economics in high school in 1977 doesn’t hurt either.

The news today is full of stories about women and women’s progress (or lack thereof). Each case requires careful study and swift action so that the violence, hatred, poverty and shame that are heaped on women are eliminated. Laws can help or hurt, as we will see, but strategic nonviolent action continues to prove effective.

Dr. Tina Strobos, left, in 1941 with Abraham Pais and Dr. Strobos's mother, Marie Schotte. Copyright New York Times.

A living legend has left us recently, with the passing of Dr. Tina Strobos. She and her mother successfully hid more than 100 Jews from the Nazi Gestapo in Amsterdam during WWII. With the help of the extensive Dutch Resistance Movement she utilized many different methods of nonviolent action because, as she said, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Another important woman passed this week, Dr. Anna Lou Dehavenon, an urban anthropologist whose research on hunger shed light on and advocated for the rights of the homeless. A talented pianist, Dr. Dehavenon’s focus on homelessness lead to the New York State Supreme Court ruling that the homeless must be provided shelter.

Homelessness is a problem in India too, especially for that country’s widows. Today another issue emerged in the news, an average of one woman every 90 minutes is burned alive for not bringing enough dowry into her new marital home. 8391 dowry deaths were reported in 2010 in India but hundreds of burning deaths go unreported, despite stricter laws on the books meant to protect women from being treated as property. These changes only occurred because of human rights activists’ backlash against a legal system that put women at a severe disadvantage until the late 1980s. Obviously there is still much work to be done in this campaign and many others, including illiteracy, sex-selective abortion and infanticide, domestic violence, sexual harassment, etc.

Back in the US sexual harassment, even in public is still rampant but the structural violence that supports latent violence against women is gaining an even stronger foundation as the GOP is desperately trying to convince the American voters that women should not use and/or do not need contraception. From attacks on Planned Parenthood by various politicians, and the Susan B. Komen breast cancer fund, to an astounding 92 pieces of legislation aiming to restrict women’s right to choose, including the Oklahoma personhood bill that spurred the photo to the right, today’s news in the War on Women is no surprise.

When Republicans barred women from speaking at a Congressional hearing about contraception, Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke took to the airwaves and let everyone know she is an “appropriate witness” with the I Have a Say campaign. Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said “Of course” he’s for the Blunt Amendment, up for vote today, which would allow employers to deny women the right to contraceptive coverage if it “conflicts with their beliefs,” nevermind that there are zero other services employers can opt out of covering if they feel like it… like Viagra. Talking head Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” for wanting medical coverage of contraception, just another in a long line of slut shaming that only divides women and belittles them for being human. In some cases the bullying can lead to death.

But you can fight back! Click here to add your name to show support for the Democratic Senators who have voiced strong and consistent opposition to reducing women’s rights. You can also add your name to this Women’s Media Center petition telling politicians that My Health is Not Up for Debate! And if you’re faced with street harassment be sure to Hollaback! to name and shame abusers. Check back often for more actions and more information all throughout Women’s History Month… and give ‘em hell!


Misogyny and Masculinity in the US Military by Jacob Steele

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been repealed. So we are now allowed to be as misogynist and violent as they are. Well, good job. We can now hate women and outside cultures as good as the next man. Just don’t call me “fag,” or I’ll kick your fuckin’ ass.

We’re now allowed to serve the military machine, the clearest and finest example of patriarchy our country has to offer. Is this really a step forward? African-American men were allowed to serve in all specializations some time ago. Women of all races could serve fully in 1981 (just not in combat, because women can’t kick ass or take names like a man can). And now women and men of whatever sexual orientation, in 2011. Have those oppressed groups that went before us, integrating into the military, changed the institution from the inside? Have they made it a less oppressive, less violent expression of the hegemonic masculinity? Or have those souls who have already been admitted only been subverted into that masculinity themselves?

Fully a third of military women will be sexually assaulted or raped during their time on active duty. Of those, a mere 8% of their assailants will be brought up on charges, and basically none of those that are actually charged will be convicted or face penalties stronger than a short-term pay cut. And this is how we treat our own soldiers! Imagine what happens to those that are labeled “enemy.”

But this is the institution that we can now serve, outly and proudly. As this bill—the culmination of years, even lifetimes of work on the parts of many of us—goes into effect, it’s past time to think about what we’re asking for when we ask to be part of the old boys’ club. What exactly will membership get us? And what, precisely, is the price of that membership card?

The answer already seems clear. From the personage of Lt. Dan Choi, who was the de facto figurehead of the movement until the bill was passed earlier this year, to the ongoing efforts of Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the main thrust of the movement has been to prove that gay men and lesbians are just as good, just as hard, just as military, as their heterosexual counterparts. Lt. Choi, for example, once challenged a friend of mine to a push-up contest at a speaking event—but the self-styled leaders of our movement lack a critical lens at much deeper levels than this sort of machista bravado.

The masculinity that dominates the military and seeps into every aspect of our culture is itself pathological and destructive. This is borne out statistically, as above, and anecdotally, by thousands of stories of men soldiers’ violence against their wives and girlfriends, against women soldiers, and against other men. By pushing so hard to have the same rights that those straight white men take for granted, we have underplayed our hand. The question has not been and should not be “How can we get the same rights as them?” but “How did they ever get the right to rape, to batter, to destroy?”

Hopefully, the LGBTQ movement entering openly into the military will shed light on the fact that, right now, military men (and many non-military men) have those rights—rights which no one should ever have or want. Hopefully, our serving in the military will change the masculinity displayed by so many military men into one that is less violent, less misogynistic and (more obviously) less homophobic.

I fear, however, that our military service will only make those that are serving more violent, while the institutions we serve gain an air of “tolerance” and openness. I fear that gay men and lesbians will come to be seen as “normal” not because of an embracement of diverse sexuality in the public sphere, but because gay men and lesbians serving in the military will become closer to the norm—that is, violent and misogynistic. It’s up to us to not let the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (and, soon, Defense of Marriage Act) be the end.

It’s up to us to keep living and discovering and activisting a new masculinity, to keep calling out, in the streets and in the courts and in our homes, the pathology of the dominant masculinity. And it’s up to us to explore, become, and teach ways of being men that exclude violence as a legitimate way of interacting with our world in the day-to-day, and certainly, at the least, exclude perpetrating sexual violence in any of its myriad forms. It’s up to us.

Jacob discussing life with una vieja in a 'retirement home' in Nicaragua as a member of the NGO Project HOPE, where he a group of sailors from the hospital ship USNS Comfort and other civilians were doing maintenance to the infrastructure of the retirement home

Jacob Steele is a former Navy Officer and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. He holds a Master’s degree in Media, Peace and Conflict studies from University for Peace, Costa Rica, and is currently rediscovering his native United States by motorcycle, bus, and car. He is 29.


Day 31- Connecting the Dots

As Women’s History Month wraps up today I want to express my deep gratitude for all of the support I have felt from readers over the past 31 days. I hope that you have enjoyed the discussions and have learned something. I also hope that you can see how interconnected every individual’s struggle for justice is with everyone else’s. I welcomed you all to Feminist Activism with this quote by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” As I conclude my personal goal of writing everyday, I want to focus on the overarching ideas of justice and equality.

In the web of humanity everyone’s fate is intertwined with everyone else’s, so even if we personally are not facing injustice or persecution, we must stand up for those who are. Fighting to secure basic rights and freedoms for everyone will someday protect you, or someone you love. This statement by Pastor Martin Niemöller comes to mind.

Human rights covers a huge range of things, from women’s rights to access to education to the rights of the disabled to access to health care, etc. Merely fighting for each individual human being to have equal access and opportunity will not fix what is wrong with our world though. Environmental issues and the rights of other species to not only exist but to thrive need to be priorities as well, for even the most equal of societies will fall if the planet cannot sustain it.

A look into one individual’s life will clearly illustrate how dependent all living beings are on each other. Let’s look at an average white American woman: 30s-40s, two teenagers and a shelter rescue dog, one expensive abortion, Christian with no time for church, divorced because her alcoholic ex-husband broke too many of her ribs, high school graduate, working class–living paycheck to paycheck, no retirement fund to speak of, paying a mortgage, lives in the suburbs downwind from her job, tries to help take care of her disabled mother who lives in a run-down nursing home, health insurance only covers cervical cancer screenings every two years instead of the recommended annual screenings, her gay brother lives with her because he was forced out of his home when his partner passed away and their home was automatically given to the legal “next of kin,” her mid-90s car has tons of miles on it and is just as hard on her wallet as it is on the environment, and her best friend is the Mexican woman with whom she can barely communicate who is charged with her mother’s care. This story of “middle America” could go on and on.

Every aspect of an individual’s life–sex, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, education, class, religion, ability, language, environment, legal status, criminal record, and age–affects her/his reality. Each of these factors individually can be cause for discrimination but when more than one factor is “abnormal” the individual can feel hopeless. The norm for American society is male, white, straight, man, some college, middle-upper class, Christian, nondisabled, English-speaking, suburban, US citizen, non-convict, 30s-40s. Imagine how harsh someone’s reality is if these are the facts: female, Latino, bisexual, transgender FTM, some high school, working class, atheist, disabled, Spanish-speaking, urban, undocumented, ex-convict, 60s. Obviously this is an extreme case of being at the bottom of the food chain but this man does exist, many times over!

Let’s go back to our “average” American woman. Her Christian upbringing lead her to get married at age 20 and have children by age 22. After her youngest child went to school she tried to get back into receptionist work but found she had been out of the game too long and no one would hire her. The family couldn’t survive on her husband’s paycheck alone so she took an entry-level job at a manufacturing plant where she was often sexually harassed for being a woman and doing a “man’s job.” Despite missing work for three weeks because her husband put her in the hospital, she worked her way up in the union and, since she left her husband, luckily makes enough money to get by every month. Her brother helps with some of the bills but his employers give him just enough hours to qualify for health insurance, out of pity, because they know if he ever lost his health insurance his HIV status would make him “uninsurable.” Her children, whom she would sacrifice anything for, are in high school, sexually active, average students, mildly involved in extra-curricular activities. She’s straight but sometimes wonders what it would be like to be with a woman. Her mother’s illnesses are taking a toll on her and the Mexican caretaker at the nursing home is the only person she feels comfortable being honest with, partly because she believes the caretaker can’t understand her. She’s been having some pains in her stomach lately which could be attributed to cervical cancer or could be a result of years of inhaling pollution, but she can’t afford to take the time off work to see a doctor during normal business hours, and couldn’t afford her co-payment anyway.

We must all fight each other’s battles. My only word of caution is not to fight for what we think someone else wants, but to fight for what she says she wants, otherwise we’re repeating colonialism all over again. If you are interested in fighting injustice in any (or all) of its many forms, get involved in your community. The old feminist adage to “think globally and act locally” is still true. Always consider what effect your actions will have on the global community and start to make changes in your life and at the local level. This explanation may help.

Some organizations with whom you can explore the birdcage of oppression include The Connect the Dots Movement focused on human, animal and environmental well-being, The Connect the Dots Network which teaches green/sustainable environmental practices to social justice non-profits, 100% Renewable Energy that explains the folly in ageist discrimination in relation to the environmental movement, Counter Quo which examines how a multitude of factors compound oppression and sexual violence, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights that is a legal service that understands how race and security issues affect environmental issues, and L.O.V.E. Living Opposed to Violence and Exploitation which explores the necessary links between veganism and feminism, and on combating speciesism, racism, sexism and rape culture.

Tomorrow is April 1st and the start of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I will not be writing everyday but hope to be able to post at least 2-3 times per week, so check back often for new discussions, or subscribe so you’ll automatically be notified when I post something new. As always, any ideas, links, information, etc. is more than welcome. Thanks y’all. Keep fighting the good fight!


Day 30- Indigenous Rights

Indigenous women all over the world face discrimination on multiple levels on a daily basis and historically were systematically targeted for extinction through rape and slaughter. Indigenous women may utilize many labels to identify themselves such as Native, First Peoples, First Nations, Aboriginal, etc. but for continuity’s sake I will use the label Indigenous throughout this post. I was unaware that March 21 is celebrated as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but it is, and was celebrated by Dialogue Between Nations, “an interactive global communications network and an educational forum….”

Earlier this month we have seen examples of Indigenous women’s activism in the US, Peru, and Oceania. While the challenges of each individual woman across the globe are specific to her life and circumstances, some issues almost universally affect Indigenous women. According to Wikipedia some 300-350 million Indigenous people, making up roughly 6% of the total population, inhabit more than 70 countries around the world and represent more than 5,000 distinct peoples. Climate change, gender-based violence, poverty, legal obstacles, and linguistic discrimination are the most common issues affecting Indigenous women worldwide.

Linguistic discrimination: As a linguist the rate of extinction of Indigenous languages physically pains me; as a humanitarian the loss of the worldviews associated with these languages is traumatizing. Many, if not most Indigenous peoples are denied their right to speak their native languages, and this fact plays a role in all other forms of discrimination against Indigenous women from housing and education to health care and democratic representation. The amazing group Cultural Survival is one of many that focuses on linguistic justice, among other issues, in the fight for Indigenous rights.

Climate change and environmental issues: This 1995 declaration by Indigenous women at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing explores the effects of biocolonialism on Indigenous women. There is a long history of discrimination against the Igorot peoples of Cordillera in the Philippines, especially with regard to land rights, unsustainable farming, and soil erosion. This article discusses the potential impact of REDD+ on Indigenous women. United Nations Radio has aired this piece about deforestation and property rights of Indigenous women. In honor of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day the Asian Indigenous Women’s Network issued this statement underscoring the needs of Indigenous women in relation to the environment.

Gender-based violence: For all its positive traits, Canada’s dirty little secret are the disappearances of Indigenous women that are chronicled by Amnesty International and many other organizations. The ongoing saga of the murder of Native American activist Anna Mae Aquash is chronicled by Indigenous Women for JusticeWomen’s Campaign International explains the violence that Arhuaco and other indigenous women of Colombia face due to internal conflict here. Amnesty International also speaks out against sexualized violence against Indigenous women in the US.

Poverty: Also in 1995, in Guatemala, this Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples was drawn up. The New York-based Indigenous Women’s Fund of the International Indigenous Women’s Forum has a concise and thoughtful plan of action for helping Indigenous women from around the world overcome the poverty that has been imposed on them. International Funders for Indigenous Peoples is also an international funding organization working for Indigenous peoples’ rights. This concise article from genderaction.org highlights the problems Indigenous women face as a result of “gender-blind” approaches to finance from International Financial Institutes. From here you can download Indigenous & Tribal People’s Rights in Practice produced by the International Labor Organization.

Health issues: The UN Population Fund, UNFPA, has produced this report on empowering Indigenous women with regard to reproductive rights. Another group dealing with reproductive justice for Indigenous women is the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center. The Indigenous Portal is one group that recognizes the interconnection of Indigenous peoples’ land degradation and lack of reproductive justice.

Human Rights and legal obstacles: Native Planet is one of many NGOs working for the socio-political rights of all the world’s Indigenous peoples. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will hold its 10th session May 16-27 2011 in New York. From 2002, this paper highlights some of the issues faced by Indigenous women in Africa, and has recommendations for ways to improve Indigenous women’s rights. Here is a Guide to Indigenous Women’s Rights Under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), published in 2004. A 2005 factsheet on the rights of Indigenous Canadian women on- and off-reservation can be found here. Many groups in Canada, including the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, participated in the first National Aboriginal Women’s Summit NAWS I in 2007. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs recommends the now out-of-printIndigenous Women: The Right to a Voice edited by Diana Vinding. Here is a list of articles dealing with Indigenous women’s rights in Canada. This project of the UN Development Program addressed Indigenous women’s rights in Asia. Oxfam also works for the rights of Indigenous women, like Calel from Guatemala. The Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust works for the rights of Indigenous Maori people in New Zealand. The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee works across the African continent for the rights of Indigenous peoples there. Finally, the Society for Threatened Peoples (Gesellschft für bedrohte Völker in the original German) tackles everything from political imprisonment and land rights to slavery and environmental degradation.


Day 28- (Dis)ability

I apologize for the lateness of my post; I have been traveling today. Although it’s still the 28th in the US, here in Turkey it is the 29th and so I have failed in my attempt to write everyday, but I will write again tomorrow (today) and everyday until the end of the month. Thank you for your continued support!

“Tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English Language.
I will discard all those striving ambulist metaphors
of power and success
And construct new ways to describe my strength.
My new, different strength.

Then I won’t have to feel dependent
Because I can’t stand on my own two feet.
And I’ll refuse to feel a failure
When I don’t stay one step ahead.
I won’t feel inadequate if I can’t
Stand up for myself
Or illogical when I don’t
Take it one step at a time.

I will make them understand that it is a very male way
To describe the world.
All this walking tall
And making great strides.

Yes, tomorrow I am going to rewrite the English Language
Creating the world in my own image.
Mine will be a gentler, more womanly way
To describe my progress.
I will wheel, cover and encircle.
Somehow I will learn to say it all.”
-Tomorrow I’m Going to Rewrite the English Language by Lois Keith[1]

“Disability is a physical, social, mental or emotional condition which may or may not be handicapping.”[2] Many women who identify as disabled would agree that “people’s attitudes… are most disabling.”[3]

Maura Kelly explains how people’s assumptions about women with disabilities can be damaging “…what if I said I believed that prejudice expressed in subtle acts of misguided, uninformed “kindness” was not only equal to [hateful attitudes towards those of a particular race, religion or sexual orientation], but potentially more damaging and probably more difficult to change? …People can be so focused on my being in a wheelchair that they don’t even hear me saying I don’t need any assistance. This is the part that is so demoralizing…. I resent the people who feel the need to help me so much–though I am clearly not struggling–that I must wait and allow them to assist me, just to make them feel better…. Many of the people I come into brief contact with–it is clearly written on their faces–put me in an altogether different category than they do other people.”[4]

Kelly’s feelings clearly illustrate the need for women to be able to name their own identities and to group or separate themselves as they see fit. Judgments and assumptions based on physical traits–ability, skin color and sex–and not on merit or actions, have no place in an American society that touts democracy and freedom, yet they happen everyday.

The concept of passing, usually used with regard to race or sometimes sexuality, is based on these visual assumptions of physical aspects and can also be an issue in the disabled community. Kelly says, “Recently I was asked if I had trouble ‘passing’ since, other than being in a wheelchair, I don’t seem disabled…. I always associated [passing] with race or sexual orientation…. Usually the trouble is in getting people not to make assumptions about how little I can do.”[5]

Often women with disabilities are seen as doubly vulnerable because they are women and because they are disabled but many have proven their strength by organizing with the disability rights movement and by bringing information and support to others with disabilities.

Activist Anna Sullivan, after having her house blown up, was questioned by the police, “I tell them what I think, that it’s the work of the fascists…. Because of my anti-racist activity the fascists have threatened to kill me many times, now they have destroyed a part of me.”[6] While the blast did not physically harm her at the time, the trauma and stress of the event contributed to her condition- Myalgic Encephalomyelitis- making her vulnerable later in life to viruses and psychological illnesses.

Vulnerability, though not always present, can be a reality for women with disabilities as author Lois Keith shares, “I’m always nervous about going somewhere new. This anxiety is rarely a social one, it isn’t about meeting new people or feeling shy. I had thirty-five standing up years to deal with that one. This ‘normal’ anxiety is displaced for me by the sheer physical concern of going to a place I haven’t been before. Of finding a place to park, worrying about whether I can get out of the car straight on to the pavement, whether there will be kerbs [sic]. It’s anxiety about asking a total stranger (if there is a stranger to ask) to help me in some way. It’s the fear that there will be some obstacle no one has told me about – a step, a bollard, a pothole, a locked door.”[7]

Some women defy the vulnerable disabled woman stereotype, like Janice Pink, “When I was sixteen, nearly six feet tall, and still in pain, I went to another doctor…. Obviously, if you’re disabled, you should look fragile, which I didn’t then and never will now.”[8]

Other women who were involved in strategic nonviolent action when they were nondisabled may find it difficult to participate in the same way after becoming disabled but groups like the Disability Caucus of the National Women’s Studies Association can help ease the transition.

Lizard Johnson explains, “I had thought everything was possible, right down to nonviolent revolution. In moments of enthusiasm, I thought I could start the revolution by myself. Now I think: can’t do that by myself, can’t do this by myself. Certainly can’t start the revolution by myself.”[9] Relearning how to participate in activities that previously did not have to be given any thought can be very challenging for people who become disabled later in life.

These challenges can be exacerbated by other aspects of women’s identities as well. Carol Anne Roberson navigates the complex paths of disability, gender and race everyday as a white, quadriplegic woman with mixed-race (black and white) children. Hermina Jackson is another example of the intersection of gender, race, class and ability and proves that even though sexism, racism, classism and ableism are still in place, with hard work they will eventually be eradicated. She is working to do just that as a black, quadriplegic woman. As a member of a number of organizations in her local community that deal with the issues faced by women, black people, and disabled people, she shows that one person can be all of these things, and overcome the isms she faces daily.

“As a member of the Black United Front, Hermina is interested in the issues and needs of women, especially women with disabilities. She aims not only to get information for women with disabilities… but to educate the community about disabled women and what they need and how they feel.”[10]

Civil rights investigator Adrienne Asch, a blind woman who helped write legislation in New York to include protection from discrimination against disability in hiring practices, explains how her role as an activist helped to change her role as a disabled woman, “Had I not had a history of political activism, in civil rights for blacks and in opposition to the Vietnam War, I might not have been so ready to fight for my rights as a person with a disability. I realized I would have to take the energy I had put into social change for other people’s benefit and use it to benefit myself or other disabled people.”

Asch goes on to explain how her disability relates to other aspects of her life, “Disability is neither at the center or the periphery of my life. It’s just sort of there. I’m not saying blindness isn’t an important fact about me or that it doesn’t affect a lot of things, but it’s not part of my self-definition. If it’s part of the world’s definition of me, that’s the world’s issue.” [11]

The overwhelming message disabled women have for young women and girls who are facing a disability is not to ignore it or dwell on it, and to be realistic about how it will affect what kind of work one wants to do, but not let it be the only consideration. Anna Sullivan admits, “The rise of fascism again, and the many terrible things that are happening in the world, make me feel that I should be out and about organizing, but I know that I can’t do it any more.”[12]

It is true that some things are more difficult for disabled people to do but the kind of disability a person has greatly influences the ease or difficulty of a particular task. A common assumption about physically disabled people is that they are also mentally disabled and so infantilized as if they are not capable of thinking for themselves. Part of the work feminist groups must do in organizing any kind of event, from a rally to a phone bank, is to make sure that the venue is accessible for all kinds of women and to properly value the identities of all the women (and men) who will participate.

Not Dead Yet is one such group of disabled and nondisabled people that utilizes “shouting slogans, singing songs, blockading doorways, [and] being rude to cops” to protest physician-assisted suicide. Another activist group is riot grrrl, which awakens many young women to “the interconnectedness of all forms of oppression.”[13]

One of feminism’s greatest virtues is that it does value every woman’s experience, and thus should learn from every woman about how to make society more inclusive. Teacher Kate Bromfield, after battling Multiple Sclerosis for years, found hope, “I’m beginning to feel again that I can function as a responsible adult, in spite of illness, that my lifestyle can be as viable as anyone else’s.”[14] And lifestyle greatly depends on one’s ability or disability; deaf women may have no problem navigating a flight of stairs but it may be nearly impossible for someone with arthritis. A woman in a wheelchair may be able to read to her child at night but a woman with a learning disability may not be able to.

The one universal thing that disabled women are assumed not to be able (or have any desire) to do is have sex. That disabled people in general, and disabled women in particular, are often seen as asexual beings[15] may seem surprising at first, but makes total sense in the hierarchy of patriarchy: disabled women may not be able to function in some ways as nondisabled women do and therefore are demoted from the “normal” status of women in American society of sex object to something even more passive.

Author of Disabled, Female, and Proud! Harilyn Rousso explains, “One of the myths in our society about disabled women is that we are asexual, incapable of leading socially and sexually fulfilling lives. When I was growing up my parents and I accepted this myth without question. We simply assumed that because I had a disability, I could not date, find a partner, or have children.”[16]

Oddly, the possibility that disabled women may be physically weaker than nondisabled women is often cited as a reason they should not be mothers (even though the reality is that this bias is an extension of seeing disability as a barrier to sexuality and taking away agency from those who have a disability), yet being physically weak (compared to the able male norm of reference) is expected of all women.

See this story and previous posts regarding sexuality and violence for more information on the imposed horrors disabled women face at the hands of cruel people.

Gohar Kordi, a blind Iranian immigrant, tells of feeling her son’s pain at her disability, “He wants me to be like other mothers in his school, sighted, English.”[17] She is one example of the intersection of ethnicity and ability. Suna Polio exemplifies another intersection, “To the public eye I looked an unlikely candidate for motherhood. The wheelchair disqualified me.” She goes on to explain how her lesbianism and her disability intersect to unnecessarily complicate her life even further.[18]

Some disabled lesbians explain that where their lesbianism and their disability activism meet is to see “that the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts and that a better situation for everyone is possible if we see our interdependence.”[19] Not until April 15, 2010 was this interdependence starting to be recognized by the federal government. That is when same-sex partners earned the right in the United States to visit their partner in the hospital.

President Barack Obama issued a memorandum stating, “…gay and lesbian Americans… 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. For all of these Americans, the failure to have their wishes respected concerning who may visit them or make medical decisions on their behalf has real consequences.”[20]

While corrective rape for lesbians seeking treatment for mental illness is no longer practiced in psychology in the United States,[21] disabled lesbians in the United States still face difficulties unique to their situation. Many women who identify as lesbian feminists, like Lizard Jones, have fought for the better part of their adult lives for economic and social independence, but adding disability to their identities makes life entirely more complicated.

Jones poses, “Maybe the struggle for lesbians with disabilities is categorically different from many other disability struggles because we have to convince our chosen families not to let us out, but to take us in.”[22] Social worker Joyce Peltzer admits, “It took me longer to deal with my feelings about being a lesbian than about having a disability….. All ‘isms’ are alike and you have to struggle with the internal attitudes developed by living in our culture. To be an integrated person, you have to accept your wholeness. We cannot be compartmentalized people. I had to integrate everything. I am a person who happens to be a lesbian, who happens to have a disability, but most importantly, I am a whole person.[23]

Vicky D’aoust, a deaf lesbian activist who uses a wheelchair, summarizes the disability and LGBTQAI rights arguments nicely: “I want to be who I am without fighting every step of the way…. We need actual change in how communities think, behave and act. Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is that… attitudes are what prevent us from being whole.”[24]


[1] What Happened to You? Writing by Disabled Women Ed. Lois Keith. The New Press: New York. 1996.

[2] Restricted Access: Lesbians on Disability Eds. Victoria A. Brownworth and Susan Raffo. 1999. Seal Press

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Keith, 1996.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[10] Disabled, Female, and Proud! Stories of Ten Women with Disabilities Harilyn Rousso. Exceptional Parent Press: Boston, MA. 1991

[11] Ibid

[12] Keith, 1996.

[13] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See “Loss” by Anne Macfarlane in Keith, 1996.

[16] Rousso, 1991.

[17] Keith, 1996.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[20] Obama, Barack. 15 April 2010. “Memorandum for the Secretary of Health and Human Services.” Federal Register. Office of the Press Secretary, The White House: Washington, D.C. 9 June 2010. http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/15/2010rightspatients.mem.final.rel.pdf

[21] Until the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV was published in 1973, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and women who were diagnosed as lesbians were sometimes raped to “cure” them of their homosexuality. This practice is still common in some parts of the world, especially South Africa.

[22] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[23] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[24] Ibid.


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