Tag Archives: Women’s rights

Honoring Women’s Equality Day

We interrupt the regularly scheduled coverage of the miscarriage of justice in Texas to wish you a Happy Women’s Equality Day!

protest_1

While we are obviously still not fully equal any chance to reflect on the work of those women and men who fought for women’s right to vote, and earned it 93 years ago, is a good thing. The right to vote, like many other rights in the United States, is often one that is unfortunately taken for granted.

I challenge each of you to make your voice heard. Make sure you are registered to vote. Encourage everyone you know to register. Educate yourself on the issues and candidates. And then forget party lines and vote with your conscience.

A travesty took place here in Texas this summer, but I will remember in November. I hope you will remember what your politicians have (and haven’t) done for you as well.

The White House blogged this reminder today:

Over half a century passed between the petition and women actually receiving the vote.  And goodness knows there were numerous setbacks along the way. Many who started the journey handed the baton to others to finish it, but the effort continued, and was ultimately successful.

I share this to remind you—and myself—that in the era of tweets and texting, the fierce urgency of now must also be tempered with patience, grit, determination, persistence, resilience and courage. So change often takes time.

6 Suffragist Picketing(4)

In keeping with that thought I also want to encourage you to go beyond the voting booth to make your voice heard. Sign a petition. Start a petition! Join your local chapter of whatever causes move you. Write letter to the editor. Blog. Speak to loved ones and strangers about those issues. PROTEST.

You are far more powerful than you will ever know. Use your power for good.


The Republican War on Women

The War on Women being waged in the United States is culminating in the likely closure of the only abortion clinic in the nation’s poorest state, Mississippi. Measures specifically introduced by the state’s legislature to shut down its last remaining abortion provider have been successful so far, with a new law passed requiring abortion providers to have privileges at local hospitals. While the office’s three doctors have all applied for hospital privileges, as of yet they do not have them. It is unknown what will happen to the clinic after the new law takes effect. In Virginia similar measures are being protested that would make it extremely difficult for abortion providers to remain open. This piece explores the painful reality these abortion restrictions inflict on women, an important voice in the conversation when women are not even “sources” for women’s rights issues. It’s high time women were not ashamed to say that they’ve had abortions, and while men’s opinions on everything from menstruation to menopause seem to hold more weight, we in the pro-choice movement would like to hear from more pro-choice men.

The legislative tactics used by Mississippi and Virginia to effectively make abortion illegal, or at least unobtainable, are nothing new. Across the country a terrifying 1,100 pieces of anti-women legislation have been proposed since 2011! You really should check that link out. Add to this the very real violence faced by clinic workers on a daily basis, like death threats, arson and bombings, and it’s no wonder abortion is becoming impossible to obtain safely and legally in the wealthiest country in the world. Republicans are even trying to sneak language about life beginning at conception into completely unrelated bills, like this one extending FEMA’s national flood insurance plan. But disaster-stricken Americans are not the only ones the GOP is alienating. Not only should women have no control over their own sexual and reproductive health, argue elected Republican officials, their work is worth less than men’s. Extending the war on women to their ability to feed themselves, Republican Senators refused to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

From the absurdity of women being excluded from a panel discussing birth control (and the attacks women who wanted to speak endured) to the extremely anti-choice Michigan legislature banning two female representatives for “inappropriate language” i.e.. vagina and vasectomy, during debates about anti-choice legislation, legislators and laws in the US are becoming more and more misogynistic. Beautifully, thousands of protesters took to the… steps with a performance of the timeless Vagina Monologues to demand that freedom of speech extend to female legislators discussing body politics. If you want to send your own message to Michigan legislators sign this petition asking Facebook to allow users to change their middle name to Vagina, then change yours. You might also mention that the double standard– Medicare covers Viagra and penile implants, yet Republicans think birth control should be an out-of-pocket expense– is unacceptable. Thankfully, while the majority of the anti-woman rhetoric in the US is coming from the Christian Rightwing, it’s good to see other religious figures supporting women’s bodily autonomy.

As you can see from the graphic at the top Michigan isn’t the only state waging war on women’s reproductive freedoms. In Ohio alone a staggering 16 pieces of anti-choice legislation were introduced since 2010. North Carolina Republicans are trying to defund Planned Parenthood, again. Texas Republicans are promoting proven-ineffective abstinence-only sexual education courses. Kansas Republicans have introduced a host of Christian-based anti-woman legislation and a doctor there may permanently lose her medical license for refusing to force a ten-year-old to give birth. South Dakota has proposed a 72 hour waiting period between ultrasound and abortion for women seeking to terminate their pregnancies. And in Arizona now it is perfectly legal for doctors to lie to their patients if they think the information they give will influence them to have an abortion. Also in Hell Arizona, “reasonably suspicious” women and men are being asked for Papers, please, despite a mixed Supreme Court ruling on the legality of SB 1070. This article takes on an excellent exploration of what this means for immigrant women, and what the situation of immigrant women means for equality for all people in the US. Check out the pictures supplied by Planned Parenthood at the end of the post for other evidence of the war on women.

And then there’s the Violence Against Women Act…. The Senate passed a beautiful, sparkling reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that extended protections to undocumented women, Native American women and lesbians. The House promptly stripped those additions, leaving millions of women in traditionally under-served populations even more vulnerable, all the while claiming that women would use these new provisions to scam the system with false accusations. The President has vowed to veto the House version if it crosses his desk. LGBT lobbies and Native American women’s lobbies are still pushing for passage of the Senate version at Capitol Hill and even Christian websites think Congress should pass the Senate version! At least New York understands.

With a staggering 1 in 3 Native American women raped in her lifetime one would hope Republicans could at least show compassion in the wake of such terrible violence. But no. A sickening story of a Tampa rape victim who was arrested on charges of outstanding warrants after she reported her rape has outraged women across the country. The worst is yet to come. After being booked, a guard where she was being held confiscated the second pill of her emergency contraception because it went against her beliefs. A federal court has ruled that the victim will be allowed to sue the guard for violating her right to privacy. In other news of the State violating individuals human rights, this (potentially triggering) piece explores the unnecessary police practice of forced catheterization in Utah. Even liberal San Francisco is being accused of victim blaming people who come to the police as victims of rape and domestic violence.

Rape in the US military is a hot-button issue too, yet House Republicans showed little compassion when blocking abortion access for soldiers who have been raped. The award-winning documentary The Invisible War explores the issue of rape that is poisoning the US military. One service member interviewed explained victims’ options as “suicide, AWOL, or deal with it.” The film explores why many rape victims don’t report the incident: for 25% of women who didn’t report the rape to their commander, their commander was their rapist. The documentary’s website, in addition to the trailer and information on the movement, offers ways to take action and help demand accountability and justice for service members who have been raped.

Pillamina on the campaign trail!

Now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, I want to give you the good news. In addition to the beauty of an estimated 3-5,000 people filling Michigan’s capital steps to respect the word vagina, across the blogosphere people are overcoming the shame of using the word vagina. Like the personal story of abortion linked in the beginning of this post, it is extremely important women are speaking out so that their voices are heard. Public performances, like The Vagina Monologues, have long been an effective tactic in the strategic nonviolent activists’ arsenal, and with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney wanting to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood, a giant pack of birth control pills, Pillamina, is now following him along the campaign trail. If that doesn’t make you smile, how about this: since 1990 abortion rates have decreased 18% for women in their 20s due to increased contraception access. Also, many big city mayors (a lot of whom are men) have added their names in support of women’s reproductive rights. Rock on Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hartford and New York!

And not all news from individual states is bad. The Governor of New Hampshire vetoed a “partial birth” abortion ban since a similar ban (for a procedure which doesn’t actually exist) is already in place at the federal level. Also in New England Connecticut has included abortion as an essential health benefit in the state’s insurance plan. And even quiet Midwesterners in North Dakota are fighting back against this war on women, deciding they don’t want to expand religious liberty to discriminate against anyone. At the federal level Congress actually did something right, by failing to pass a ban on “sex-selective abortions,” a problem which deserves national attention in India and China but is almost non-existent in the US.

Though the comments on this video are repulsive, the White House 1 is 2 Many campaign to encourage men to speak up if they witness violence against women is a good reminder that bystanders have power too. As we saw with the contentious issue of undocumented women being covered by VAWA, immigrant women are the often-forgotten victims of violence against women. Thankfully the newly opened Tahirih Justice Center in Baltimore is a haven for immigrant victims of domestic violence throughout New England. If you want to get involved and fight back against the misogynistic legislative attacks, including the VAWA embarrassment, check out A is For, a group seeking to reclaim the scarlet letter A. Or join the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health in their Week of Action for Reproductive Justice because you, like Mary Gonzalez, the openly lesbian Latina doctoral student recently elected to the Texas House, are poderosa.

Finally, the best news of all. In addition to this long, well-cited list of Obama’s accomplishments as President he can now definitively add “bringing American healthcare into the 21st Century: The Supreme Court has upheld Obamacare!!! This landmark decision ensures that women and men will be treated equally by insurance companies, and preventative services like birth control (with no co-pay), mammograms, and pap smear cancer screenings, will all be covered by insurance! If you’re so inclined you can write a letter of thanks to the five Supreme Court Justices who voted in favor of universal health care. Thank you for reading, be well, and as always, if you have ideas, suggestions or comments as to how we can fight back against the patriarchy, please share them below.

In Peace~

 


Israel/Palestine vs. Turkey/Kurdistan

Before I say anything about these two highly controversial, generally violent, and inherently unjust political and territorial situations I want to make my views on geo-political borders in general clear, first.

I do not believe in borders. I believe in the free and uninhibited movement of people, goods, ideas, and cultures all around the globe. I totally support individuals and/or communities in maintaining their ethnic identities including their languages, cultures, foods, clothing, traditions, dances, holidays, celebrations, etc. but personally I see no use in using violence to maintain imaginary lines on a map. I understand cultural, especially spiritual, ties to specific places, like certain Native American cultures have to specific rivers, lakes, forests and mountains, however, delineating certain areas as “ours” as opposed to “theirs” requires the “othering” of anyone outside the specific ethnicity.

I understand that the elimination of geo-political borders is not feasible at the moment, and would cause utter chaos and potentially even more violence and destruction, and so, I will engage you, dear readers, in a political discussion about these two hotly contested areas within the confines of the currently accepted understanding of nation-states, borders and “states’ rights.” In any case I entirely denounce violence as ineffective and immoral and would ONLY support nonviolent efforts by any actors hoping to have their human rights recognized. So then, the question I have for the world wide web (which I hope will be answered with intelligent, thoughtful commentary and constructive ideas, not jingoistic, trolling rants) is this:

 

How does the situation of Palestinians in the internationally recognized (but contested) borders of Israel differ from the situation of Kurds in Turkey?

 

 

I would especially like to hear opinions from Palestinians, Kurds, Turks, and Israelis, and people with experience in any of these lands. I am also interested in the views of people of any other ethnicities living within the borders of Israel and Turkey.

Does religion make a difference in the discussion? Does language make a difference? How effective have nonviolent efforts been in advancing the human rights of Palestinians and Kurds? Is the situation of women in the oppressed/unrecognized regions similar? Would the causes of Palestinian independence and Kurdish independence benefit from each other’s input and support? Or would Palestinians feel they are betraying other Arabs or their Turkish allies in calling on the political recognition of Kurds’ rights? I have no answers but I would love to learn from the community and then form an opinion.

 


Religion and Modest Dress

France has certainly stirred up quite a storm with their recent enforcement of a ban on the niqab, one version of the hijab that covers the face, in addition to the hair. Women who cover their faces in public will be subject to fines and citizenship lessons. While everyone has an opinion, finally including Muslim women in the debate over niqab/hijab is a huge first-step to overcoming the political wedge being driven between courageous women on both sides by right-wing groups.

As stated previously, women’s identities occur ”in the context of a racistclassistsexist society which places greater value on people who are fully able-bodied and young. Our personal experiences often parallel the experiences of women with whom we identify…. When we foster discussion as to who is the most… oppressed, we encourage the colonialist tactic of divide and conquer.” (Shah, Sonia. 1997. “Women and Gender Issues” http://www.asian-nation.org/gender.shtml). All women must first listen to each other, and then come together to support each other’s rights.

There are many, many things to consider when discussing hijab, the principle of modest dress in Islam, including the fact that observant men are also expected to dress modestly, how laws regarding expression of religion will affect various women, and why women wear outward expressions of religion in the first place. Many Islamic scholars argue that the niqab is a cultural relic and not a true observance of Islam, which adds another layer to the debate.

As an Atheist and someone who is uneducated about the world’s religions, I do not like to discuss the topic; as a feminist and someone who is concerned about every individual’s right to express her/himself, I will now delve into the common principle of modest dress found in the three Abrahamic faiths.

One of the many things Islam, Christianity and Judaism have in common is the principle of modest dress. Each of these three major religions also has followers the scale the spectrum from excruciatingly devout to merely a follower in name alone, and their outward expressions of their faiths reflect this. Here in Turkey, because a religion is strongly encouraged to be included on the birth certificate of a newborn, many parents state that their children are Muslim, with no intention of ever stepping foot in a mosque. Consequently some young women whose families force them to cover their hair rebel by wearing lots of make-up and tight “Western” clothing too. Likewise, many American families are “Christian” but do not attend church or actively practice the religion. This is to say nothing of those people, in any faith, who practice their faiths only in their houses of worship and are bad people everywhere else.

In Judaism the principle of Tzniut requires Orthodox men to dress modestly (no short-sleeved shirts or shorts) and women to cover from their collarbones to their elbows to their knees, not wear open-toed shoes or pants, wear demure colors, clothing that does not show their shape, and, if they are married, to cover their hair. Because many married Orthodox Jewish women often cover their hair with wigs they are perceived as less “frightening” than Muslim women who wear a headscarf. Jewish men too are expected to dress modestly and cover their heads out of respect for God.

Anyone who has ever been to Catholic school can tell you that nuns are scary. And while the habit is not required of regular practitioners of Catholicism, the only women allowed to serve as authorities under the Catholic Church are required to wear black, shapeless dresses and cover their hair. Other branches of Christianity also encourage modest dress, with some practicing women not allowed to wear pants or show their figure. Also the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Dunkard Brethren, among other Christian denominations, require simplicity and modesty in the dress, including head covering, of all followers.

While many of the world’s religions require followers to cover their heads, rarely is covering the face a requirement, and if it is, it is only required of women. In Catholicism women were expected for centuries to wear a veil in church, the difference here being that in Islam women are encouraged to hide themselves from unrelated men, and in Catholicism, women are encouraged to hide themselves from God. I am a fan of neither of these ideas.

Unfortunately, these major religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, are all patriarchal in nature, with women’s voices traditionally being left out of the “written word of God.” Of course there are examples in each of the holy texts, the Qu’ran, the Bible and the Torah, of messages of love and peace and equality, but there are also a number of passages which promote violence or revenge or inequality. Interpretation is key to utilizing the idea of a loving God to promoting human rights, including the rights of women.

Oddly, both sides of the niqab ban debate claim to have women’s rights in mind. I find it sad, if laughable, that politicians and religious leaders alike raise the banner of women’s rights only when they have no other excuse for their actions (ie. Let’s invade Afghanistan to “liberate their women!“) If either the French government or the Islamic leaders in this debate were truly concerned about women’s rights, especially Muslim women’s rights, they would have been speaking out long ago about the racism, sexism and socio-economic disadvantages Muslim women face in Muslim and non-Muslim countries on a daily basis, to say nothing of opposition to war and drone attacks.

FEMINISTS have been speaking out against the mistreatment of women, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, for decades, and yet our pleas for governments to change laws that truly can affect women’s lives have gone unnoticed. Muslim women’s groups and Islamic feminists have also been speaking out about the issues of concern to them… obviously their voices too go unheard since “veiling” is not usually amongst their biggest concerns. Poverty, education, healthcare, democracy, unemployment–these are the rights Muslim feminists are demanding. We cannot diminish their real needs by imposing our ideologies onto them.

Now, one of the most important ideas I learned in graduate school was this: Cultural relativism is one step away from racism. Let me explain. By excusing away some particular behavior as “cultural” we are condoning/allowing it and claiming there is no room, need or ability for change. “[Insert any race/ethnicity here] men beat their wives… but it’s part of their culture. Those people only send their children to school for two years… but it’s part of their culture.” These ideas are inherently the same as blatantly racist statements like “X people are stupid.” Thankfully we do cry out when culture/religion are used to torture and kill people- as in the picture above, but this retroactive lamenting of “cultural practices” still does nothing for the women being killed for being raped.

There are fundamental human rights that every individual on the planet should have access to. In my mind those (should) include: education, healthcare, food, water, shelter, clean air, the right to vote, economic opportunity, the right to form legal bonds, and freedom of speech, movement, assembly, demonstration, physical expression, sexuality, and yes, religion. Of course age and issues of consent arise with such things as sex and voting, but these are still fundamental rights.

The debate over whether or not the government has the right to ban certain types of religious dress is a quagmire. On the one hand, the government has a duty to uphold secularism, work towards gender equality and fight religious/gender oppression, and on the other hand, the government has a duty to protect its citizens’ rights to practice their faiths. The French government has taken the stand that face coverings in public are of such significance to the government that it is justified in denying personal rights.

I fully appreciate the arguments that many women do not really have a choice in wearing the niqab, that the niqab disappears women and takes away their individuality, that outward expressions of religion have no place in government offices or schools, and that in the name of security one’s face should not be hidden. I also appreciate the arguments that telling women what they cannot wear is just as oppressive as telling them what they can wear, that the niqab/abaya allows women to be appreciated for what they say and not how they look, that freedom of religious expression is a fundamental human right, and that not all Muslims are terrorists!

ALL WOMEN ARE JUDGED ON OUTWARD APPEARANCE. Women who wear hijab understand this as much as any woman, and sometimes choose to wear hijab out of rebellion against colonialism/government oppression/imperialism etc. Whether or not women are judged as being sexy enough for marriage material in the West or pious enough for marriage material in the East, what women wear is under constant scrutiny by other women, men, and society in general. Adopting standards of modesty specific to women objectifies women as much as encouraging women to show off does. In both cases women are to be seen, and then their worth determined.

Obviously my mind is not made up as to whether or not the ban is ethical/legal. My biggest concern with the ban, however, is the isolation it is likely to cause. Essentially, the French government is saying, “Either remove this expression of your religion (culture), or stay home,” further widening the chasm between the public and private spheres for women. Another of my concerns with the enforcement of this ban is class issues: French Muslim women who wear niqab will be fined or required to take classes in French citizenship, and the government of France is basically telling the women of the Gulf States, where niqab is the law, that they are not welcome unless they are willing to endanger themselves.

What is needed in this case is not a band-aid solution to the gaping wound that is women’s inequality. To tackle the underlying causes of why men and women are held to different standards in any situation we must start deconstructing socially constructed gender roles in every society. This is hard, dangerous work, but until women are no longer seen as property to be protected from the eyes of lustful men, (and the eyes of lustful men are rightly shamed into looking at their own feet!) we must educate ourselves and anyone who will listen as to the necessity, for men and women, in abolishing strict gender roles.


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 27- Sexuality in the US

Disability is one of the few factors in women’s lives that can overcome racist assumptions about their sex lives. Nondisabled black women are very often compared to or pictured with animals in advertising[1] and this idea that black women will be wild, animalistic lovers is in the back of many people’s minds. But, if a black woman is in a wheelchair, most people will see the chair and assume asexuality before they make any association to her skin color. Neither assumption is correct but it is interesting how one aspect of a person’s identity can overshadow everything else.

Physical appearance is extremely important to American society and the superficiality of the media directly affects all people but has the direst consequences for women. In the hierarchy of patriarchy the closest women can get to the top is when they are young, thin, nondisabled, white (blond), straight and pretty looking. To be clear, women do not actually have to be any of these things but to be successful, especially in the media,they must appear to be all of these things.

Visibly disabled women are automatically excluded from this cult of beauty, as are women of color, normal-sized and heavy women, transgender and lesbian women, and older women. The male/female dichotomy has such a stranglehold on aesthetics in the United States that even when someone who does fit this description, like actress Julia Roberts, forgets to change something natural about her body (shave her armpits) she is publicly chastised and ridiculed for not conforming to the beauty ideals of Hollywood.

The four Killing Us Softly documentaries with Jean Kilbourne best explain how dangerous being bombarded by these images can be for women. American women are expected to be nearly hairless, have flawless skin, long, silky hair, no fat or cellulite, a small waist and big breasts. The beauty industry in the U.S. is a multi-billion dollar per year business and has a big interest in challenging women to be flawless, knowing they will never achieve perfection but will spend lots of money trying.

Even women who have slightly masculine features can be discriminated against and face violence, especially if they are assumed to be lesbian. Obviously the male/female dichotomy is most dangerous for transgender and intersexed individuals who have the courage to confound gender stereotypes and live according to the aspects of their gender identity that they are most comfortable with, but even internationally acclaimed athletes are facing the consequences of being accused of not being feminine enough.

Caster Semenya, a world-record-holding Olympic runner, was forced to undergo sex testing to see if she is “female enough” to compete against other women. In accusing female athletes of not being entirely female the The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are not concerned about fairness to all involved but rather about their own public images.

The co-founder of the IOC’s Olympic Science Academy and of the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, Tim Noakes, claims “As many as eight ‘intersex’ women may have been expelled from athletics in the past and I gather that they were warned that if they made a fuss, they would be exposed. So it seems it’s not about athletic advantage, it’s about keeping the Olympics free of ‘intersex’ athletes, free of unwanted complications. It sends the message that women must do what men say and if the eight previous athletes had to be sacrificed, so be it….”[2]

Noakes contends that athletes suspected of being intersexed are not treated with respect. Whether or not Semenya is found to be intersexed or not, he feels she should be allowed to compete stating, “You can’t exclude ‘intersex’ athletes and there is growing consensus… that whatever gender you were assigned at birth, that is your gender…. There is no single test that will show whether you are more male than female.” He goes on to argue that “some genetic variants” are allowed in sports and if they are “linked to gender, so be it.” Because the implications for forcing gender conformity are so widespread the LGBTQI community must come together to fight against discrimination on the basis of sex.

“As long as dependence is seen as a personality flaw in the lesbian community, our ability to be a truly diverse and inclusive force to be reckoned with is nonexistent…. As long as we think some of us are going it alone and others aren’t, we are ignoring the very real facts of social structure. The possibility of going it alone is just an illusion that distracts us from organizing. You are either successful on someone else’s back, or arm in arm with her. Your choice.”[3]

In a similar way that Asian-Americans are pointed at as being “model minorities” so too are lesbians singled out of the larger LGBTQAI movement. Well, not lesbians, per se, but actions that traditionally would have been classified as lesbian. And it is not because American culture suddenly woke up and decided to be more inclusive; it is precisely to continue dividing minorities and to pit them against each other so that they cannot fight together.“That’s the capitalist stake in keeping us divided. If we’re tied up fighting each other, we won’t be struggling together against the real enemy.”[4]

More and more heterosexual women are engaging in activities that twenty years ago would have had them classified as dykes: publicly kissing, touching and fondling other women. Some would argue that this shows a greater acceptance of gay culture in the United States. While acceptance of homo- and bisexuality has grown greatly over the past decades these straight-but-seem-bi women are using the heterosexual male lesbian fantasy to their advantage while simultaneously reinforcing gender inequality. Katy Perry, a popular U.S. performing artist, took this advantage to the extreme with her multi-million dollar record deal showcasing her not-really-lesbian behavior. Again, the labels one chooses to use to identify herself are extremely important personally, and politically.

Sexual relationships between women in the United States are generally seen in one of four ways: as an arousal tool for heterosexual men, as harmless (i.e. not cheating for a woman in a monogamous heterosexual relationship), as a threat or an abomination against God, or less often, as legitimate loving relationships.

The first two analyses of lesbian relationships are closely linked; they assume that women loving women poses no threat to the heterosexist patriarchal machine because women are valued less than men. The “joke” is still made that some women are only lesbians because they have not yet had sex with the “right” man.[5] This patronizing of women’s sexuality takes away agency and shows that often women’s opinions and feelings are not respected even when they are clearly voiced. The other side of this coin is that many men feel that if their monogamous female sexual partner engages in sexual activity with another woman it is not cheating, while if she were with another man it would be, once again showing how little value is placed on women owning their own sexuality.

This criticism should in no way be seen as a disapproval of polyamory, or love between multiple consenting adults, but rather as a critique of the sexist and misogynistic way in which women’s sexuality is viewed by the American culture at large.

The third view of lesbian relationships is the most overtly harmful because people who view women loving women as a threat to their way of life are more likely to act out against it by pushing for discriminatory legislation or in the form of hate crimes. Real opposition to lesbianism often comes from the Religious Right in the United States that has a strong interest in maintaining the patriarchal hierarchy. Because lesbians generally operate outside the normal sphere of “woman depending on man” this weakens men’s power over women, something the Church sees clearly. The lesbian community has often been an example of the strength of women and many heterosexual women have learned from lesbian communities that there are alternatives to depending on men.

Bisexualwomen, while they face some of the same discrimination as lesbians, also face discrimination that is unique to their situation. Biphobia–the fear or hatred of people who identify as bisexual–exists both in the heterosexual community and the homosexual community.

Everyone in America is brought up seeing the world through dichotomies: black/white, male/female, good/bad, straight/gay, etc. This socialization is just as effective on homosexuals as on heterosexuals and is often responsible for the polarizing of butches and femmes in the lesbian community. People who see the world only in pairs of opposites lack imagination and are made uncomfortable by anything or anyone who does not neatly fit into the good box or the bad box, as dichotomies always result in one side being clearly more valued than the other.

Bisexuals are discriminated against by heterosexuals who can only see that they love people of the same sex. They are further discriminated against by the homosexual community who see them as traitors to the cause for loving people of the opposite sex. Bisexuals are often seen as indecisive, confused, oversexed and/or dangerous. This exclusion can lead to both physical and psychological health problems; a recent survey found that bisexual women have the poorest health of all women. The LGBTQI community has poor overall health in general–a direct result of being marginalized by society.

“Compared to heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals…were more likely to be tense or worried, to smoke, have asthma, abuse drugs, or be victims of sexual abuse. Bisexual men and women were also more likely than heterosexuals to say they faced barriers to getting health care, had higher cardiovascular risk, felt sad, and had contemplated suicide in the past year. Binge drinking was more common among bisexual women than heterosexuals.”[6]

Bisexuals were also more likely to be poor and bisexual women reported the highest rate of sexual assault among all sexuality groups. Most bisexuals do favor one sex more than the other but are openly attracted to both men and women. Some bisexuals explain that they are attracted to certain qualities in people and it does not matter what sex the person possessing those qualities is. While bisexual is the most commonly used term for people who are attracted to more than one gender, other terms may be more appropriate to individuals’ situations such as pansexual, fluid, or omnisexual, as these terms do away with the male/female dichotomy that the term bisexual reinforces. Again, naming one’s own identity is an important step in political action.

Slowly bisexuals are becoming more accepted within the LGBTQAI movement, as is apparent that people rarely forget the ‘B’ in the alphabet soup, but the people behind the letter are still rarely visible. Women of all sexualities must be included in the campaign for gender equality in the United States and around the world.

The LGBTQAI movement has long been visible in the United States and has paved the way for Pride Movements around the world. The determination of the politically active sexual minorities within the U.S. can be felt all the way to the White House. Only last year, in 2010, did LGBTQAI individuals earn the right to visit their partners in the hospital and make medical decisions for them if they are the appointed guardians. Nation-wide legalization of same-sex marriage is still a ways off, at least until California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, gets to the Supreme Court.

“It’s not possible to know whether the final ruling in this case will broadly confront the overarching denial of equal protection and due process created by prohibiting one segment of society from entering into marriage. The Supreme Court has, in different cases, called marriage ‘essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men’ and a ‘basic civil right.’”[7]

Other legislation is also in the works to guarantee civil rights for the LGBTQAI community. On May 20, 2010 Senator Al Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to the Senate, the bill “would prohibit discrimination in schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.” According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) more than 85% of LGBT students have been harassed and more than 60% feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation.

Moreover, one-third of LGBT students “missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe, five times higher than a national sample of students.”[8]Despite the advancement of rights with this legislation LGBTQAI students in New Jersey will still not be able to find books in their school library with which they can identify. The school board took the liberty of banning “gay-theme books” from a local high school.[9]

Just days before Senator Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Campaign reported that the Minnesota governor had vetoed a bill that would have given same-sex couples the right to take charge of their partners’ remains after death and also to sue in cases of wrongful death.[10]

In many ways laws regarding the rights of same-sex couples, or sexual minority individuals, follow the “two steps forward, one step back” rule. The most visible battle currently is to reform the United States Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which the Obama administration historically has decided not to defend.

And very recently the US finally overturned the military’s policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) regarding sexual orientation of service members. Under this policy those service members who were found to be homo- or bisexual or who disclosed their sexual orientation to anyone could be discharged from the military. Even though this policy was supposed to apply equally to all serving in the military those serving who filled a difficult position, or were much needed by the military, were generally overlooked in the witch-hunt. “In 1994 Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, winner of a bronze star in Vietnam, won reinstatement in the Army Nurse Corps after being discharged for admitted homosexuality.”[11]

The ban disproportionately affected minorities and women. The latest data, compiled by the gay rights group Servicemembers United from Defense Department numbers, showed that in 2008, 45% of troops discharged under ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ were minorities, while minorities were 30% of the service. Women accounted for 34% of the discharges but were 14% of the military.[12]

Highly vocal spokesperson for the repeal of DADT, Lt. Daniel Choi, an openly gay Korean-American man whose skills as an Arabic translator made him too valuable for the Army to let go, was reinstated while DADT was still ineffect, after being discharged because of his sexual orientation. He and other military activists took direct action to overturn DADT, including handcuffing themselves to the White House fence, and fasting.

Autumn Sandeen, a disabled transgender Navy veteran who handcuffed herself to the White House fence, was disrespected and harassed while in custody because of her gender identity. Federal law enforcement officers referred her to as an “impersonator,” “shim,” and “it,” degrading and dehumanizing terms that do not reflect the federal government’s duty to protect and honor all American citizens.

In an eloquent and telling letter to President Barack Obama she wrote, “I personally approached this civil disobedience action with honor, courage, and commitment — the core values of the U.S. Navy — and my honor, courage, and commitment was met with disrespectful and dehumanizing epithets by your representatives in the Park Police and U.S. Marshals.”[13]

Inclusion of a clause disallowing discrimination based on sex or gender in the Constitution would provide grounds on which Sandeen’s case could be taken to the federal level. As has been seen with legislation regarding homosexuality, individual laws are not striking forcefully enough at the inequalities faced on a daily basis by a considerable number of Americans.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon in American society for women in general to be disrespected or dehumanized. One of the cruelest examples of this is the lack of Reproductive Justice (RJ) available to so many women in the United States. Because women’s opinions are not valued their autonomy and decision-making abilities are frequently called into question while men’s decisions are considered sound and logical.

In the Catholic Church priests are not punished for sexually abusing children over decades while one nun was excommunicated for allowing doctors to perform a life-saving abortion on a woman in a Catholic hospital.[14]When women make the choice to terminate a pregnancy they are vilified by right-wing conservatives who only proclaim to be pro-life until they themselves need an abortion.

One blogger explains, “Women are talked about, and legislated upon, as though having the organs in question disqualifies women from the discussion.”[15]But abortion, and legal, geographical and financial access to it, is not the only concern of the RJ movement.

SisterSong explains that Reproductive Justice “is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.”[16]

Demands for RJ can include accurate sex education for all women, including disabled women and lesbian women; economic and legal access to birth control and emergency contraception; the right to choose and form a legal commitment to one or more partners; and the right to become pregnant and adopt. Some of these ideas, especially recognizing same-sex marriage and the right to become pregnant, are still fairly radical but are imperative to ensuring that all women in the United States have equal rights.

Sexologist Bianca Laureano of Reproductive Health Reality Check questions the medicalization of women’s sexuality (and the “selling” of female sexual dysfunction) in the United States from a RJ perspective:

“When people discuss “comprehensive sexuality education” what do they really mean? Because when I discuss it I’m not just talking about sharing options in contraception, birth control, consent, etc. but I also include race, class, national origin, dis/ability, immigration status, and the criminalization of certain communities. Who decides what “comprehensive” means and includes/excludes?
Why is the U.S. sexuality and sexual health field so racially White, able-bodied, English-speaking, doctorate degree having, and older…still?!…
Why not mention the big elephant in the room: that FSD is focused on people whose sex assigned at birth is female and does not include transgender people or people who identify as intersex? How do we continue to “Other” and medicalize bodies that do not conform to what medical professionals have classified as “normal”?
How does a disability framework complicate, challenge, or affirm the medicalization of sexual dysfunctions?
What about working class and working poor people? Is sexual dysfunction just a illness of the middle and elite class who may have health insurance to cover such medications, procedures, access to entering into a trial, or the time to seek out specialized care?”[17]

As Laureano’s questions show, there is much work to be done to ensure that women are not discriminated against just for being women. All American women, LBTQAI, straight, disabled, nondisabled, Arab, Asian, black, Latina, Native, mixed-race, immigrant, and white of all classes, religions and ages must work together in strategic nonviolent action to include women in the Constitution and make sure discrimination on the basis of sex is no longer legal.


[1]Kilbourne, Jean (Producer). (2010). Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women [Motion picture]. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.

[2] Borland, Ken. 19 May 2010. “Eight athletes secretly banned over gender doubt.” National Post. Johannesburg, South Africa. 10 June 2010 http://www.nationalpost.com/sports/story.html?id=3047610

[3] Brownworth and Raffo, 1999.

[4] Alaniz and Wong, 1999.

[5] An idea that springs from “corrective rape.”

[6] Cooney, Elizabeth. 10 June 2010. “Survey: Bisexual women in poorest health.” White Coat Notes. Boston, MA.

[7] “Marriage, a Basic Civil Right.” 11 June 2010. Editorial. The New York Times.  p. A30.

[8] Presgraves, Daryl. 20 May 2010. “Franken Introducees Student Non-Discrimination Act in Senate to End Anti-LGBT Discrimination in Schools.” 10 June 2010 http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/news/record/2579.html

[9] Marinelli, Louis. “Gay-theme books banned from high school.” 10 June 2010 http://www.protectmarriagesite.com/nj.html

[10] Warbelow, Sarah. 17 May 2010. “Update: Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty Vetoes Domestic Partner Funeral Rights Bill.” 10 June 2010 http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2010/05/update-minnesota-gov-pawlenty-vetoes-domestic-partner-funeral-rights-bill/

[11] Celebrating Women’s History: A Women’s History Month resource book Ed. Mary Ellen Snodgrass. 1996. ITP: New York.

[12] Bello, Marisol. 27 May 2010. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ affects women, minorities more.” USA Today. 10 June 2010 http://www.usatoday.com/news/military/2010-05-26-dont-ask_N.htm

[13] Spaulding, Pam. 26 April 2010. “President Obama: A Transgender Veteran Is Not An ‘Impersonator,’ ‘It,’ Or ‘Shim.’” 10 June 2010 http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/4/26/860860/-President-Obama:-A-Transgender-Veteran-Is-Not-An-Impersonator,-It,-Or-Shim-

[14] Bradley Hagerty, Barbara. 19 May 2010. “Nun Excommunicated for Allowing Abortion.” National Public Radio. 10 June 2010 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126985072

[15] Presley, Katie. 14 May 2010. “3 Main Ways Right-Wing Legislators Control Women’s Bodies.” Ms.blog 10 June 2010 http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/05/14/3-main-ways-right-wing-legislators-control-womens-bodies/

[16] Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice. 2007. “What is Reproductive Justice?” SisterSong. 10 June 2010 http://www.sistersong.net/reproductive_justice.html


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