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Where Are The Women?

8:42 am in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

Pro Choice Protect Women's Health March March 26, 20112

(Photo: stevendepolo/flickr)

By Merle Hoffman, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

After debating every major “right-to-life” leader in this country- including Jerry Falwell – I didn’t need to watch the debate tonight to know that no matter who the pundits say won, it is women who are losing.

In the meager segment set aside to discuss health care in tonight’s debate both candidates brought out their shop-worn stump speeches on the merits and weaknesses of Obamacare.

At one point Governor Romney said “the government shouldn’t be telling a patient and a doctor what kind of treatment they should have.”

What an opening for Obama to come out strongly in favor of reproductive freedom and a woman’s right to choose. This was Obama’s opportunity to emphasize, with strength, that he supports Roe v. Wade – which I consider to be the Medical Equal Rights Amendment for women.

But he didn’t. Like I said, it’s the same old story.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not a Romney supporter. Far from it. I just wish that one of the candidates would have said something specifically about women beyond wishing Michelle Obama a happy anniversary. (Actually Romney’s congratulations were focused more on the president. Weren’t they?)

The candidates talked about a grandmother and the women they met on the campaign trails. But not a word about women’s health care–or the fact that it is the women of this country sitting at all those “kitchen tables” who make the health care decisions for their families.

It is the women of this country who are the most impacted by the economic downturn. And this is intrinsically related to health care.

For example, as the Founder and President of Choices Women’s Medical Center, I commissioned an analysis of previous studies, what I termed “Abortionomics,” which showed that today’s economic hardships are a major factor in women’s decisions to have abortions. I presented at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Jan. 17, 2011.

It seems obvious: When the economy dips, it’s harder for people to raise a family. But this living reality, borne out in the report’s findings, remains outside today’s heated political debates about abortion and birth control. As a result, too many politicians seem oblivious to the consequences of unwanted pregnancies. They are oblivious that when these pregnancies are carried to term, the resulting births impose difficult, if not impossible, financial burdens on already strapped mothers and families.

The debate was mute on the subject of women. but the climate outside in the real world is dangerously loud. A new videotape just surfaced on MSNBC showing Todd Akin-speaking to Congress in 2008, comparing abortion to slavery-and saying that “abortion doctors” perform these procedures on women who are not pregnant.

Now, according to Akin, not only can women’s bodies decide for themselves if they will become impregnated with a legitimate rapis sperm,-they can also produce fetuses on demand for abortion doctors to abort!

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.

Aiken is not going rogue– Aiken is just going public on expressing the political/philosophical foundations of the current Republican party, including Rick Santorum, Jim DeMint and Newt Gingrich, all of whom have come out in support of the congressman. Clearly, the dangerous views of my old debating opponent, Jerry Falwell, live on even if he no longer is with us.

This is what Mitt Romney represents for women of this country.

But where is the response from President Obama?

Echoing at “Occupy”: The Women Behind Social Security

7:01 am in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

Mary Harriman Rumsey (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Mary Harriman Rumsey (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

By Carolyn Gage, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

The emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement would not have been a surprise to one woman activist born over a century ago. Mary Harriman Rumsey was the partner of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, who was the first woman to occupy a Cabinet position.

Perkins has been called the “woman behind the New Deal.” Her achievements include the adoption of the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, employer-provided health insurance, welfare, Social Security, job-creation programs and the banning of child labor.

Perkins made adjustments to fit into the male-dominated arena of politics. She changed her name from “Fannie” to Frances and dressed to remind men of their mothers. But after her cabinet appointment, she found herself in an awkward position. The wives of male cabinet members were expected to host social gatherings where the real business of government frequently was conducted. Perkins didn’t fit the protocol.

Mary Harriman Rumsey came to the rescue. She rented a house in Georgetown and invited Frances to become her “roommate.” History notes that the two were far more than roommates, and that Mary was far more than a typical cabinet wife.

Rumsey, the daughter of a railroad tycoon, had grown up on an estate in upstate New York, where she eventually supervised the 600 employees. Her dinner parties with Frances were legendary, and, as one biographer noted, one would find Will Rogers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Bourke-White, General Douglas MacArthur and unknown Appalachian folk singer all at one table.

Rumsey founded a Washington weekly called Today, which later became Newsweek magazine. More significantly, Roosevelt named her to chair the new Consumer Advisory Board.
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No Women, No Peace: Time to Change Peace Building

12:33 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine


"Peace" by stuckincustoms on flickr

By Shelagh Daley, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

You can’t build peace leaving half of the people out.

Women are a prime target in conflict, yet when it comes to building peace, they are being left out. The discourse around peace building often emphasizes the importance of inclusive and sustainable peace; however, many negotiations proceed amid blatant discrimination against half of the population.

Agreements made in peace negotiations set out the groundwork for post-agreement political, economic and social development, yet only a shocking one in 40 peace signatories in the past 25 years has been a woman. In addition to making claims of inclusivity highly questionable, this means experiences and issues affecting women are left off the agenda. Decision-making that is more inclusive and democratic is a better informed process and leads to better decisions and outcomes.

The “No women, no peace” campaign was created in the United Kingdom to mark the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and to urge the UK government to honor its commitments on women, peace and security.

Issues such as sexual violence (including the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war), widowhood, women’s insecurity and the erosion of women’s rights in times of conflict are not paid sufficient attention. When women’s voices are not heard, their needs go unmet and wider power inequalities are perpetuated. Only 16 percent of peace agreements even mention women, and often when women are mentioned, it is to restrict their rights. In addition, the failure to empower women peace builders has been identified as a key barrier to the successful implementation of peace agreements.

The need to include women in peace negotiations has been accepted by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1325, which recognizes women’s experiences of conflict and calls for women’s participation in peace and reconciliation efforts. October 2010 marked the tenth anniversary of this landmark resolution, but its real impact is yet to be felt by many women who experience conflict. The “No women, no peace” campaign is working to change this. Read the rest of this entry →

Pioneering Women War Correspondents

12:06 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

“Pioneering Women War Correspondents” profiles six trailblazing women journalists, including Peggy Hull, Martha Gellhorn, Marguerite Higgins and Dickey Chapelle, who managed to report from the front lines. Author Penny Colman narrates. Produced by Milena Jovanovitch.

Trapped In The Story: Local Journalists Face Sexual Violence

12:16 pm in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By Lauren Wolfe, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine. Wolfe is senior editor of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Her report, “The Silencing Crime: Sexual Violence and Journalists” was published in June.

“I’ve never told anyone this before,” the email said. It was one of several that landed on my desk at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) after the news broke that CBS correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted in Egypt in February.

The letters were from foreign correspondents — women who travel to conflict areas to report the news. They wanted to tell me about their own rapes and sexual assaults. As I gathered their stories, I started wondering about the local journalists who actually live in these regions. After all, these journalists experience the brunt of violence globally: 93 percent of all journalists murdered around the world are local, the Committee to Project Journalists has found.

As BBC reporter Lyse Doucet said to me recently, “Lara Logan can go home. The Egyptian journalists still have to go out there.”

Regardless of violence, harassment or threats, many, many women journalists do go out there. Although they live amid the horrors of war and are intimately familiar with how it ravages their country, their loved ones and often themselves, they continue to report. With rape a constant companion to conflict, women from the Congo to Afghanistan told me they work in spite of this ever-present terror. Their bravery stunned me.

Take Jineth Bedoya. She’s a Colombian journalist who was gang-raped in 2000, when she was 27, while reporting on right-wing paramilitaries in the jungles of her country. Bedoya pushed for an investigation at the time, but little more than cursory inquiries came of it. Eleven years later, she has brought her case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. She said that she hopes that by publicly pursuing her case, she will encourage the three other journalists who came out to her about their own rapes to “denounce what’s happened to them and be able to ask for justice.”

She is one of the few journalists willing to go on the record as having been sexually assaulted. Their fear, they tell me, is that they will lose future assignments or culturally they will be shunned. In many countries, a woman who has been raped is unmarriageable or can face honor killings. One Afghan reporter told me she cannot have her name associated with her assault — which was carried out by a co-worker at gunpoint — because she fears her life may be at risk from her family if they learn of the perceived dishonor. Other journalists often don’t bother reporting an assault to authorities or their employers because “they know nothing will come out of it,” Mehmal Sarfaz, joint general secretary of South Asian Women in Media, told me. Police in some countries have been known to ask for bribes or even perpetrate further sexual violence when a woman reports a rape.

Losing assignments too is not just a fear — it really happens. An American journalist told me about being pulled off her Iraqi posting after reporting to her female manager that her government minder had repeatedly sexually harassed and finally assaulted her. “I was crushed by the response of the people I worked with and trusted,” said the journalist, who recounted the story on condition of anonymity. To her, the punishing response of her news outlet was worse than the actual assault, she said.

With more than 50 journalists — 27 local and 25 foreign — telling me they’d been groped repeatedly, sexually violated or raped while working in conflict zones and on dangerous assignments, it’s clear that something needs to change. Media outlets need to prepare both foreign and local correspondents through specialized sexual assault training and put into place confidential processes in which assaults can be reported without retribution. Women need to know that if they come forward with their stories, they will receive medical and psychological counseling, not judgment or punishment.

Local journalists, in particular, need awareness and support from the international community, including advocacy groups like the Committee to Project Journalists. Without major news organizations backing them, these journalists may find themselves on a long and painful road to justice. We must advocate for better legal protection and let these women know that their suffering, and their effort to bring us the news, is not in vain.

Bombing to Liberate Women

5:21 am in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By Debra Sweet, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine. Sweet is the Director of World Can’t Wait, based in New York City, which engages in efforts to stop occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ten years ago, when the Taliban had mostly wrested control of Afghanistan from former fundamentalist warlord allies of the United States, the U.S. government turned a cold and deaf ear to testimony about the suffering of Afghan women. Then, suddenly, after her husband announced a “war on terror” to last “generations,” Laura Bush told us in November 2011 that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was “a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”

U.S. activists for the global rights of women quickly differed over what has become the longest U.S. occupation. A number of us asked, where, ever, had U.S. bombs, contractors, armies and money brought liberation for women? A section of feminists, led by the Feminist Majority Foundation formed up in support of the Bush regime’s aim of removing the Taliban. While deploring violence, they lobbied for humanitarian aid programs to be part of the war, and for women to be included in the U.S. puppet government. Initially, some were, but the cynical inclusion of women in occupied governments has been meaningless, largely done to fool outsiders.

While Bush’s preemptive war on Iraq, a much more populous, developed country than the impoverished Afghanistan, destroyed that country, driving more than four million people into internal exile, and killing somewhere between 120,000 and over a million Iraqis, the world’s attention was focused on the sectarian disaster it sparked. But at least no one made a serious argument that this was saving the women of Iraq.

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Women’s Rights, Human Rights and Climate Change

9:38 am in Uncategorized by On The Issues Magazine

By Cate Owren, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine. Owren is the Executive Director of WEDO, a global women’s advocacy organization working to foster the interlinkages between gender equality and women’s rights, sustainable development and global governance.

A major paradigm shift in dealing with climate change has been unfolding in the last few years – largely thanks to concerted efforts by women’s human rights advocates. Once a strictly “environmental” or “business” issue, climate change has been increasingly accepted as a gender equality and social justice issue by civil society organizations, UN agencies and governments from around the globe. Despite this, an ongoing struggle is underway to address both climate change and its specific gender impacts.

Until recently, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was something of an anomaly in the sustainable development policy sphere: it has been the only one to neglect to include any social dimensions, much less gendered ones. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was one of several strong policies that emerged from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which also resulted in the Rio Declaration and two other UN Conventions – on Biological Diverity and to Combat Desertification. The latter three emphasized women’s direct participation and leadership on these issues and safeguards against gendered vulnerabilities.

But climate change has been a political battlefield from the start with deeply contentious economic issues – these became the heart of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as its 1997 Kyoto Protocol, whose commitment period is about the expire. The global community is now faced with the reality of a changing climate — which is proving to be deeply gendered, indeed, and threatening to entrench the vulnerable poorest of the poor (70 percent of whom are women) further into poverty. A much more comprehensive view of climate change is urgently needed.

Today, climate negotiations have changed. The impact of climate change has become undeniable. The highest scientific panel in the world — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — emphasized that impacts would vary based on geography, age and gender. Governments such as Iceland and Finland have been outspoken in connecting the dots, and women’s organizations have gained visibility as experts on climate issues. A powerful tool has been CEDAW – the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women – which, with great foresight, included global warming as a gendered issue.

Along with women, indigenous peoples, farmers and youth have gotten involved in climate debates. Issues of water, land tenure, biodiversity and forests all play critical parts in mapping out a comprehensive climate response framework – and social issues have emerged competitively with economic ones in many discussions. In early 2009, after targeted lobbying by WEDO (Women’s Environment and Development Organization) and partners, negotiators put forward more than 40 references to women, gender equality and broader social considerations in the draft text for a new global deal on climate change. Text emphasizing gender-sensitive adaptation and capacity-building, as well as the importance of women’s effective participation in responding to climate change, was successfully secured. Many were retained in the final conference documents in Cancun in December 2010. (This compliation can be viewed online.)

The Cancun Agreements create the first comprehensive framework to shape a future climate change treaty. They are a victory for beginning to address climate change as a human rights and justice issue, and include an unprecedented eight references to women and gender.

But much remains at stake. Despite numerous policy mandates to move forward on climate change, a lack of political will and financial investment has left implementation lagging. We are still fighting to ensure women have a proper place at critical decision-making tables – at global level, national and local levels, where it seems the mentality largely persists that, when it comes to money and science, leave it to the men.

It’s going to cost billions upon billions of dollars worldwide to mitigate the damage already done to our climate. Adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology, capacity building – these are essential and interlinked pieces, and women and gender issues are at the heart of every one. We’ll continue to fight to make sure that progress doesn’t get sidetracked.