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.
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!