Category Archives: Environment

Giving Back for Native American Heritage Month

Paint It RedMost people in the United States automatically equate November with Pilgrims & “Indians” and Thanksgiving, and while the tide of cognizant adults is turning, there are still millions of people in the USA who do not acknowledge our country’s horrific, genocidal, colonial history. I’ve written about Native American women’s activism in the States before, but today I want to bring your attention to Native American Heritage Month, and a few things you can do to help improve the lives of Native Americans still reeling from centuries of slaughter, forced migration, forced assimilation, and modern political policies like forced sterilization that deepen the mistrust indigenous folks have against white colonizers. While we all might not be able to give back the land our ancestors stole, there are a number of other things we can do to support our Original American neighbors. Today is also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the kickoff of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

Thankskilling

While the sentimentality of a holiday to show gratitude for what we have is nice, we can’t deny the roots of Thanksgiving, which is why many Native American families and activists see the holiday as anything but something to be thankful for. The most important thing you as an individual can do to combat the mistruths we’re taught in school is to educate yourself and others as to the realities facing Native communities on a daily basis. It’s also important to be honest with children of all colors and races about the origins of our country and our holidays. One way to show your support for indigenous communities is to wear red on Friday, November 27th, and use the hashtags #NativeLivesMatter and #IdleNoMore on social media.

Day of Mourning

Native children, as they have under the Bureau of Indian Affairs for decades, also face incredible obstacles in achieving an education. Suicide rates amongst Native youth are astronomical, but all young people of color are much less hopeful to live to age 35 than their white peers. With South Dakota frequently taking Native American children from their families to place them in foster care (because the state earns money for every child under state care) the Lakota People’s Law Project is demanding that President Obama take action. You can sign their petition here.

Refugees_

Another petition you should sign is this one to stop the flooding of Winnemem Wintu’s last sacred location. While Obama has been lauded by many as a leader on environmental issues for not allowing the Keystone XL pipeline project to be built, there’s always room for improvement, and a delegation of more than 45 indigenous leaders from across the continent are making their way to Paris for the UN Climate Talks. Environmental issues are a major factor impacting the health, sovereignty and survivability of many Native American tribes. The President is also the target of demonstrations this weekend to grant clemency to Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement (AIM) activist charged with the murders of two FBI agents and the fierce AIM activist Anna Mae Aquash.

Kahnawake

Unfortunately, despite an incredible history of strong, warrior women and equality for all sexes/genders in many Native cultures throughout the continent, murders of Native American and First Nations women are still rampant and sex trafficking regularly occurs with impunity. Follow the controversy with #MMIW which stands for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Native American women also deal with domestic violence and sexual assault at astounding rates. No better example of “the personal is political” exists than that of environmental degradation of fracking in North Dakota and its impact on the levels of violence against women and girls in the area. But Native women definitely aren’t giving up; they’re fighting back by creating safe spaces like Tewa Women United, the Four Directions Clinic on the infamous Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and the first-ever Native American birthing center, planned to open in New Mexico within three years. With only 14 Native American certified midwives throughout the entirety of the US, you can see why such a project is necessary–donate to it here.

Tweet TruthI owe my initial understanding and appreciation of other cultures to an elementary school classmate’s family. They are Me-wuk, and in my small public school in Northern California, took every opportunity they could to educate our class and our school. Native dancers came and performed for us and we took field trips to learn about them. Officially replacing the derogatory name “Digger Indians” placed on them by the invading gold miners, Miwok became the tribe’s official name in 1924. Although I have written before about how language shapes our realities, and I talk a lot about the importance of naming, labels and respecting identities, many readers may not know that I have a degree in Linguistics. I’ve studied 7 languages, including two indigenous languages, Nahuatl–the language of the Aztecs, and Miwok. Studying indigenous languages is a revolutionary act, especially because of the abhorrent relationship between Native Americans and their languages that white colonizers perpetuate to this day.

Map

Studying a new language can give us a totally new understanding, by making us view the world through a different lens. In the course where I studied Miwok, other students were studying other languages, and I learned that many Indigenous languages group nouns based on shape–round, flat, long, etc. It’s also important to consider that many Native cultures understand their actions as affecting Seven Generations, and thus feel personally and politically obligated to take both their ancestors’ accomplishments and their offsprings’ futures into account. One way to ensure that Native Americans in our communities are not “in the past tense” is to do whatever we can to keep their unique languages from dying.

Marie's Dictionary

Marie Wilcox (right), the last fluent speaker of Wukchumni

National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project shows that two areas of the United States are currently suffering from high to severe threat levels for the extinction of unique Indigenous languages, although even languages like Lakota with 6,000 speakers are still not safe. The Pacific Northwest is home to 54 Native languages, but many of them are on the verge of dying out completely. A Canadian project working to combat this is First Voices, which maps and archives Indigenous languages with soundbites and written dictionaries. Further down the coast the Advocates for Indigenous California Language Survival work with UC Berkeley to document languages, and also created an incredible Master Apprentice Program for individuals to learn directly from speakers of Native languages. The other area of the United States where Indigenous languages are threatened with extinction is the Oklahoma-Southwest region, home to 43 different languages, including Euchee, a language isolate, meaning it doesn’t belong to any language family. Euchee only has five remaining speakers–to donate to the Euchee Language Project consider a recurring gift to Cultural Survival.

 

Cartoon

I know I’ve included a lot of plugs for donations in this post, but really it’s the least you could do. The Dolores Project homeless shelter could use your help as well. If giving money is totally not an option at this point though, supporting Indigenous artists in all media is a good place to start. You can play the unique Never Alone, the first Alaska Native videogame, buy fashions from these Native designers instead of appropriating their themes from big box stores, listen to these seven rising Native American musicians, learn from this intrepid mapmaker and his incredible work, and support Matika Wilbur’s photography with Project 562. If you’re in Santa Fe in mid-August, be sure to check out the Indigenous Fine Arts Market. There are also tons of Native American authors you can read and learn from. Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach was really poignant for me. If you’d rather watch your storytelling, here is a list of 84 films by and about women of color, and if you’re branching further south, 4 documentaries about indigenous Mexicans. Now go forth, and dismantle colonialism!

Wilbur_SelfPort_ Tulalip News

Photographer Matika Wilbur (c) Tulalip News


Pink & Purple Awareness

As October draws to a close the observations of my friends and co-workers are ringing in my ears: cancer is a by-product of life, and we should be focusing on things we can prevent, like domestic violence. Most people are unaware that in addition to being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, hence why there are so few purple ribbons to be seen amongst the sea of pink, but purple goes with your pink ribbons just fine.

William GayObviously no one likes cancer and my friends are no exception, their respective points though–that death is an inevitable part of life and that we should try to heal social issues with social action rather than medical issues with social action–challenge the accepted social norm that causes even burly NFL players to don the “feminine” color pink so that more women will detect breast cancer early. Nevermind that men can and do get breast cancer too…. Despite the NFL’s Crucial Catch Program, there’s a stark contrast between pink-supporting players like Johnny Manziel who recently avoided any legal or NFL discipline after police dash-cam footage showed him schmoozing away a domestic violence incident, and pink-resistant players like William Gay who was fined for wearing purple cleats in honor of his mother who was murdered in a domestic violence incident when he was a child. Thank Gay for his brave action here.

Manziel sporting a pink "Breast Cancer Awareness" towel

Manziel sporting a pink “Breast Cancer Awareness” towel

The truth is breast cancer kills an estimated 40,290 women and 440 men in the US each year, while 1.3 million women and 835,000 men each year are victims of physical intimate partner violence. Lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer by far, killing more people every year in the US than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined, but Lung Cancer Awareness Month (November) is barely a blip on our collective media radar. Maybe breathing just isn’t sexy enough.

willie-maeDon’t get me wrong, I’m not saying mastectomies fit into the mainstream ideals of sexiness either… but oh those reconstructed breasts! And there’s nothing wrong with public awareness campaigns for any serious health issue, the problem I have with BCAM is the pinkwashing–claiming to care about breast cancer while selling/promoting products that are carcinogenic.

Breast cancer survivor Barbara Ehrenreich explains in the documentary Pink Ribbon, Inc., “‘We used to march in the streets. Now you’re supposed to run for a cure. Walk for a cure, or jump for a cure. The effect of the whole pink-ribbon culture was to drain and deflect the kind of militancy we had as women [who] were appalled to have a disease that was epidemic, yet we didn’t know the cause of.'”

RibbonsUnderstand the history of the Pink Ribbon and its campaigns, and Think Before You Pink. If you truly want to make a difference in the lives of the 1 in 8 women who will develop breast cancer, try this:

  1. Create an Early Detection Plan and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Knowing what is normal for your own body through monthly self exams (but not right before or during menstruation), annual clinical breast exams, following the revised mammogram guidelines and speaking up to your doctor about any changes to your breasts including itchiness, redness, swelling, change in shape or size, as well as lumps or unusual discharge.
  2. Donate to Planned Parenthood–their breast cancer screenings and treatments save the lives of folks who would otherwise not be able to afford healthcare.
  3. Hold a fundraiser to help provide mammograms for people who are struggling to afford them.
  4. Support organizations who are fighting to challenge the way we think about breast cancer, like Metavivor and Breast Cancer Action which advocate for finding a cure, the National Breast Cancer Coalition that has a strategic plan to end breast cancer by 2020, and the National Women’s Health Network which pushes for the inclusion of more women in clinical trials.
  5. Challenge people and campaigns aimed as “saving the ta-tas” instead of saving the person with cancer. Understand that many people (~30%) who detected their breast cancer early still went on to die from metastatic breast cancer.
  6. Learn the facts about early detection campaigns for all kinds of cancers, and work to mitigate the racist, classist, transphobic and heterosexist effects a lack of healthcare and lack of awareness create.
  7. Support research for alternative treatments like Phoenix Tears.
  8. Don’t buy pinkwashed carcinogens!

If you want to make a difference in the lives of the 1 in 3 women who will face domestic violence in their lifetimes:

  1. Donate to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and your local domestic violence shelter. Money is great but local shelters could always use toiletries like shampoo, soap, tampons, diapers etc., and clothing as well.
  2. Speak out against police brutality and domestic violence within police families.
  3. Call your Representatives and encourage them to support the SAFE Act.

Reflections on Being an Abortion Provider

After well over two years with Austin Women’s Health Center providing abortion care and reproductive healthcare to the women of Texas I learned many lessons I’d like to share with you, dear reader, and to leave for myself as a reminder why I must always remain in the fight for Reproductive Justice and bodily autonomy. It was a lot to learn, and will be a lot to take in, so bear with me.

AWHC

Austin Women’s Health Center

  1. All women have abortions. Every age. Every race. Every religion. Every class. Every marital status. Every sexual orientation. Every ability. Every education level. Everyone has abortions. Period.
  2. If someone does not want to be pregnant she will go to extreme lengths, even risking her health or life, to terminate the pregnancy. All the ridiculous laws do is make it more difficult for women to obtain a safe, timely abortion.
  3. October 3rd 2014 was the worst day of my life. On that day my colleagues and I were forced to call, and face, patients who had scheduled abortion procedures with us to tell them the state of Texas would not allow it. We referred them to what was (and could be) the only provider in Austin-Planned Parenthood, and providers in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. It was utterly heartbreaking and many times many of us erupted into tears alongside our patients, because even though we were not the ones needing an abortion, we were also furious that Texas had allowed this to happen.20130712_195121
  4. While the cost of an abortion in Austin this year has gone up for the first time since the 1970s, the $600-1,200 it costs to have an ultrasound and terminate a pregnancy is insurmountable for so many individuals and families.
  5. Many, many women have more than one abortion. And that’s totally ok.
  6. A majority of women who have abortions already have children. They get it, they know how emotionally, physically and financially draining parenting is.
  7. The range of emotions around abortion is as varied as the human experience. For some women their abortion is the most difficult, tragic thing they have ever done; for others the idea of being pregnant is laughable and therefore their easy decision comes with overwhelming relief. I’ve learned that people who have abortions feel like they don’t have the right to grieve because they are choosing to end their pregnancies. This is just so wrong on so many levels. There is no “should” when it comes to emotions.
  8. Women expect to be treated like shit by their healthcare providers, both their abortion provider and their regular doctor, because they chose abortion.20130701_112707
  9. It takes an especially thick skin, a sick sense of humor, and a fierce passion to be an abortion provider, whether you’re “just answering phones” or the MD performing the surgery.
  10. All people deserve quality healthcare from providers who respect their choices and their knowledge of what is best for themselves, their families and their lives.
  11. Adoption is not an alternative to abortion. Adoption is an alternative to parenting. A huge number of women who have abortions do so because they do not want to be pregnant.
  12. The smallest bit of kindness, whether from healthcare providers, from friends or family, or just in general conversations about abortion, can make a huge difference to someone facing an unplanned and/or unwanted pregnancy. Try compassion, I promise, you’ll like it.
  13. A majority of folks who have abortions were using birth control when they got pregnant. I’ve talked to patients using every single kind of birth control from the pill to vasectomy.
  14. Don’t trust doctors who tell you that you cannot get (someone) pregnant. The human body is an incredible thing and folks who were told that their endometriosis or bike accident as a kid meant they would never have children can and do. Tubal ligation and vasectomies can and do heal. The only way for sexually active folks to prevent all pregnancy is to only engage in homosexual sex. Now if only we could prevent rape….
  15. The Republican Party does not care about women’s health, nor respect our individual autonomy as human beings, therefore if someone votes Republican they are saying that they too do not care about human rights. If you think that women deserve to make their own medical choices, that all consenting adults have the right to marry whomever they love, and that education and medical care should be prioritized over border patrol and prisons, it’s time to vote with your conscience.Where are the women
  16. Laws restricting abortion, birth control, cancer screenings and access to general reproductive healthcare are not really about women’s health given that abortion is one of the safest procedures in the country. Hell, they’re not even about abortion, or god, or the church, they’re about greed. Forcing women to give birth to children they cannot afford ensures a cheap labor force by perpetuating the cycle of poverty. This ties into for-profit prison systems, lack of solid public education, etc. The whole thing is disgusting.
  17. Women trust their doctors… and the internet. Factual, reliable, medically accurate information around abortion and its risks is not easily accessible, especially when doctors are forced by the state to lie to their patients.
  18. Women who have abortions for medical reasons are generally truly heartbroken. They are not looking for understanding or blessings from the Religious Right but silence would be appreciated.
  19. Protesters just piss people off. With the exception of umpires, referees and prison guards I can’t think of any other profession where people are yelled at and have their lives threatened just for doing their jobs.1469799_780493158693927_3089968049188411259_n
  20. A huge number of anti-choice protesters and outspoken opponents of abortion have had abortions!
  21. Most patients who choose to view their fetal tissue after a surgical (machine vacuum aspiration) abortion are shocked by it. Early in the pregnancy, under 9-10 weeks or so, they are shocked by how small it is. Later in the pregnancy they are shocked by what they can identify. As we know many of the photos of fetuses that end up in protesters’ signs were late-term miscarriages so don’t think that at 12 weeks you’re dealing with a newborn, but being able to identify appendages and facial features is normal. Viewing the tissue is an incredibly personal decision, and one that most patients don’t even consider, but anyone reading this who is going to have an abortion, I strongly encourage you to ask yourself what it is you’re hoping to gain from viewing the tissue, and prepare yourself for what you might see.
  22. The medical abortion, abortion pill, Mifeprex, Mifepristone, RU-486, Misoprostal, Cytotec or Cyto–whatever you want to call it–is a long, drawn out process for many people. I would not choose it unless a surgical abortion was unobtainable but for many people, this very safe, very effective method of termination is the preferred choice. For women who live in places where abortion is illegal or practically unobtainable Cyto may be a lifesaver.
  23. The ONLY good thing about a mandatory waiting period and Texas’ requirement that the same doctor who will perform the abortion is the one who does the ultrasound is that it gives patients a chance to meet the staff and the doctor and take some of that initial fear of the unknown away.20130701_122950
  24. Many women do want to see their ultrasound, some even want a copy of it. There are medical reasons for ultrasound dating of the pregnancy, but politicians want to force women to have –and view– vaginal ultrasounds to embarrass, humiliate and shame them. Does humiliating someone into becoming a parent sound like a good idea to anyone?
  25. The sentimentality around getting “a picture of the baby” and the fetal “heartbeat” are overwhelming. We forget, or were purposely never taught, that a single cell can beat like a heart in a petri dish, so the idea that a five-week embryo has a “heartbeat” does not mean what politicians want us to think it means.
  26. LMP vs. conception: When dating the pregnancy the doctor want to know when the FIRST day of a woman’s last menstrual period was, thus LMP. Doctors date pregnancy from this point, not from when a patient thinks conception was, because the date of sex ≠ the date the egg was fertilized. Sperm can live in the human body for up to three days, that’s why Plan B can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex (but seriously the sooner you take it the more effective it is!). Therefore when your doctor tells you that the pregnancy is measuring 6 weeks and zero days, that means roughly one month from intercourse. And at that point the embryo is about the size of a single grain of rice.
  27. Most people feel the need to justify their decisions to the staff at abortion clinics because there is so much stigma around abortion. While I love hearing people’s stories, and they all matter, why you’re having an abortion is none of my business, all I need to know is that you don’t want to be pregnant right now.Bedsider-Birth-Control-Effectiveness-Poster
  28. Women will always have abortions. BIRTH CONTROL WILL FAIL, partners will change their minds or leave or die, pregnant folks will change their minds, illness will come up, jobs will go away, partners will be abusive, etc. Even for women who planned to get pregnant, things can and do and will always come up that make continuing the pregnancy a non-option. Abortion will always be a necessity.
  29. I want science to figure out a way to put a pause button on pregnancy. Of course if the pregnancy is with the wrong person or there are health reasons or if someone simply doesn’t want children pausing it won’t do any good, but if someone just wants to finish school, or get ahead in their career, or make enough money to pay for diapers, being able to pause the pregnancy could reduce the number of abortions.20130701_111334
  30. No one gets pregnant to have an abortion.
  31. Not wanting to be pregnant, or not wanting to parent, or not wanting to be pregnant or parent *right now* does not make you a bad person. Sometimes… a lot of the time, abortion is the responsible choice.

Day 12 of 16 Days of Activism: Canada

#Day12 of #16Days of Activism lands us up north, in the great nation of Canada. With a population of over 35 million, and half of all women (according to a 1993 study) experiencing physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, no wonder today has been named the National Day Of Remembrance And Action On Violence Against Women by Canada’s Parliament. A new study shows how domestic violence impacts women in the workplace, and how employers can address and reduce it.

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Due to the astronomical levels of violence against indigenous women, groups like the incredibly badass Native Youth Sexual Health Network are invaluable. They clearly understand the links between reproductive justice and environmental issues, the role men play in ending violence against women, how to combat elder abuse, and in addition to advocacy, outreach and community mobilization, also do “media arts justice work including short films and videos, diverse arts-based responses, media campaigns, zines, declaration and statement writing, and community-based participatory action research” and

  • Culturally safe sex education
  • Reclaiming rites of passage, coming of age ceremonies and traditional knowledge
  • Healthy relationships and violence prevention
  • Pregnancy options, youth parenting and families
  • Environmental justice and environmental violence
  • Harm reduction
  • Two-Spirited and LGBTTIQQA advocacy and awareness
  • Sexually Transmitted and Blood Borne Infections (STBBIs) and HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention
  • Youth in custody, jail, prison and the child welfare system
  • Sex trade, sex industries and street economies
  • Indigenous feminisms and masculinities
  • Sexual self-esteem and empowerment
  • Media literacy
  • Youth activism and human rights

NYSHN Two-Spirit

The Canadian Women’s Foundation is another organization working to end violence against women in Canada. Their multi-prong approach to this enormous problem ensures that not only are women able to get to safety in the shelter, but they are able to rebuild their lives in communities that support them.

We help women in Canada to move out of violence by funding emergency shelters and programs that help survivors to rebuild their lives. We are working to end the crime of sex trafficking in Canada, by helping women and girls to escape from traffickers and by working with local stakeholders to create action plans. We also invest in school-based violence-prevention programsthat teach girls and boys to stop the violence — for good.

Canada VAW infographic

Some governmental offices, like the Department of Justice that operates the Victim Services Directory, and The Public Health Agency which hosts the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, work alongside non-governmental organizations both nationally, like The Canadian Women’s Health Network, and locally, like Legal Aid Ontario and the Assaulted Women’s Helpline– available 24/7 at 1.866.863.0511. For young people Canada also has the Kids Help Phone, available 24/7 at 1.800.668.6868. Each province in Canada also has its own domestic violence and/or sexual assault hotlines and shelters; their numbers can be found here. Our neighbors to the north may have the right idea with socialized healthcare and education, so hopefully they are on the right track towards ending gender-based violence as well!


Earning a Living Making a Life

do-what-you-love

As longtime readers will know, for the past two years I have worked for two different causes I am equally passionate about. People who aren’t my co-workers are often surprised by how much I love the work I do. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to pour themselves into doing what they love, and fighting for something they believe in, so with that in mind I’ve compiled a list of not-for-profit organizations, both in Austin and elsewhere, so that any of you, dear readers, who want to commit yourselves to working for change, can have a starting block from which to do so. Keep in mind a lot of non-profits or non-governmental organizations may only have volunteer positions or internships, but it’s a great way to gain experience and get your proverbial “foot in the door.” Don’t forget to check your local Craigslist and Idealist listings too. In no particular order, here’s a partial list (come back soon for more!) of organizations I have bookmarked on my computer to get you started:

Survival International– The global movement for tribal peoples’ rights

Native Planet– Preserving Cultures, Empowering People.

Minority Rights Group International– Working to secure the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples.

International Women’s Tribune Center– Connecting women globally for social change

Population Action International– Healthy Families, Healthy Planet

PeopleFund– Creating economic opportunity and financial stability for underserved people

Equality Texas– Envisioning a state where all Texans are treated equally, with dignity and respect

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation– Transforming the lives of urban children living in poverty through better health and education

Foundation Communities– Creating housing where families succeed in Austin and North Texas

Guttmacher Institute– Advancing sexual and reproductive health worldwide through research, policy analysis and public education

Fellowship of Reconciliation– Working for peace, justice and nonviolence since 1915

CARE– A leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Travis County– Speaking up for children who have been abused or neglected

Open Democracy– Free thinking for the world

Transcending Boundaries– Providing education, activism and support for persons whose sexuality, gender, sex, or relationship style do not fit within conventional categories

National Network to End Domestic Violence– Dedicated to creating a social, political and economic environment in which violence against women no longer exists

Colorlines– News for action

Women’s Information Network– Democratic. Pro-choice. Women.

World Pulse– Connecting women’s voices to transform our world

Mama Cash– Giving grants to women’s girls’ and trans rights groups that are working to change the world

The Peace & Collaborative Development Job Board– one of the premier sites in the world focused on international development, peacebuilding, humanitarian relief, social entrepreneurship, international affairs and more

The Center for Health and Gender Equality (CHANGE)

The Association for Women’s Rights in Development– an international, multi-generational, feminist, creative, future-orientated membership organization committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights

The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault– to create a Texas free from sexual violence

The National Domestic Violence Hotline– Over 17 years of advocacy, safety planning, resources, and hope

national-domestic-violence-hotline-logo


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.


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