Women’ s History Month

I learned today that March is Women’s History Month and it is a celebration of women’s contributions to society.  Before Women’s History Month, there was Women’s History Week, the birth child of the school district of Sonoma, California which participated in Women’s History Week, an event designed around the week of March 8 (International Women’s Day).  From 1978 to 1979, the idea to secure a National Women’s History Week lay incubated until February 1980 when it was born, thanks to President Jimmy Carter who issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as National Women’s History Week.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the law which was passed making March Women’s History Month in the United States.  This year’s theme is “Nevertheless, She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”  What a great theme.  Like warriors facing bitter battles with ferocious armies, women face societies, communities, institutions and governments that would deny them their rights.  Nevertheless, like phoenix rising from the ashes, women all around world are rising up, joining together and fighting for what they believe in.  Their voices are raised in unison, refusing to be silenced, in spite of the draw backs they face.  Silence is not golden.  Using one’s voice to be heard is golden.

Throughout history, women have had dreams, hopes, plans and visions which they had to fight hard to realize.  No amount of discouragement, obstacles, nay-saying, discrimination or opposition could quell those dreams, hopes, plans, visions which had taken shape.  Women clung to their faith that one day they would be able to vote, own businesses, own homes, land, get an education, work in jobs and play in sports that were predominantly male oriented.  They had to have the courage and the faith to step out, speak up and conquer a world that had long denied them and still does in some cultures, equality, recognition for their accomplishments and basic human rights.

However, despite the strides women have made in their fight for human rights, they still face mountains like human trafficking, modern slavery which target young girls, child marriage, FGM, access to safe water, realizing their self worth and potential in societies which favor boys over girls, pay equity, access to safe water and quality education.  Just this month, the organization, Freedom United is calling for action for the following campaigns:

Show solidarity and tell Uzbekistan to drop all charges against Malokhat.

Malokhat is being targeted because of her determination to expose human rights violations and forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.

JOIN THE FIGHT FOR FREEDOM FOR GIRLS

The fight to end modern slavery today in order to help girls like Phoebe, forced into the commercial sex trade at just 15 years old.  Women and girls make up 71% of all modern slavery victims. 

These girls should be in school getting quality education so that they would have a bright future.  Sex should not something that they engage in until they are adults and married.  Sex came from God was never meant to be exploited or forced on anyone.  It was meant to be a physical and emotional expression of a husband’s and wife’s love for each other.

Help End Forced Marriage in Lebanon

Momentum is growing to repeal laws that enable convicted rapists to marry their victims to avoid punishment. As well as the horrors endured by victims, this law means many women and girls where these laws exist are then forced into marriage against their will

Marriage was meant to be between a man and a woman not a man and a child.  And any law which allows a rapist to marry his victim to escape justice, should be done away with.  It is a disgrace to human decency and dignity and it violates the victim’s rights.  Marriage is a holy institution and is meant to be entered into with the consent of both the man and the woman.

Call on Niger’s President to outlaw child marriage.

Three-quarters of girls in Niger are married before they are adults. Child marriage often amounts to slavery, for example, when girls have not given their free and full consent, are subjected to control, exploited and unable to leave, so outlawing it is an important step towards protecting Niger children.

Imagine you have a young daughter and that a Nigerian girl her age is being married off to an older man.  At the age of twenty, Fati Yahaya has been married twice, divorced once, suffered a postpartum hemorrhage after giving birth to her first child.  I didn’t have a child until I was 41 years old!  It’s so hard to fathom a young girl going through two marriages, one divorce and suffering excessive blessing following the birth of her first child.  I don’t know how many children she had afterwards or if she suffered any more hemorrhages.  And I can’t imagine giving my consent to have my daughter marry at the age of consent which is 15 or even younger when she should be in school.  I can’t imagine subjecting her to a life of “abuse and unrealized potential”.

End sexual exploitation of children in Kenya

The last place you should expect to find a child is in a brothel; yet for 17-year-old Phoebe from Kenya, this is her life.

Phoebe comes from a poor family. When she dropped out of school, she went in search of a better life – instead she has been forced to have group sex with tourists for no money.

Reports indicate that more than 50,000 children are involved in different forms of commercial sexual exploitation.  It is most common along the Kenyan Coast where the majority of tourism activities take place – in fact sex offenders travel to Kenya for this very reason: to prey on these vulnerable victims.

It’s sad that Phoebe had to dropped out of school and instead of finding a better life, she found herself plunged into a world of sexual exploitation.  A brothel is no place for anyone, especially children.  Sex offenders who travel to prey on young girls should be prosecuted and the brothels should be put out of business.  Basically, the Kenyan government needs to do something.  They need to protect the vulnerable.

Help end domestic slavery

Women and girls leave their homes every day to find jobs as domestic workers in the cities of your country.

But when they show up for their first day of work, some find out they’ve been deceived. Locked inside the homes of strangers — no contact with their families, and often beaten and sexually abused — they are caught in the nightmare of modern slavery.

What a nightmare it must be for women and children to go to what they believe is a job which will help their families only to be faced with brutality and sexual abuse.  They are cut off from their families and forced into a modern slavery.  People are not property and slavery should not have any place in our society.  There need to be tougher rules for domestic workers and anyone caught exploiting their rights should be imprisoned.  It’s time to get tough on those who exploit others.

Women’s History month is not only a celebration of the difference women have made in their communities but it is also a reminder that we still have a long way to go and that raising awareness is key.  When I shared these stories with my husband, he commented that there is a whole different world out there that we are not aware of.  And he’s right.  If it weren’t for organizations like Freedom United, Equality Now and many others we would have no idea of the realities that many women and girls are facing.

Sources:  Wikipedia; AJC.com; Freedom United

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The Beach

She ran all the way to the beach and didn’t stop until she saw the silhouette of his house but instead of running up the stairs, she collapsed on the sand, the tears almost blinding her.  Why had she come here?  She should be as far from here as possible.  She had promised herself that she would never see or talk to him again–not after what happened this evening at the award ceremony.

She, along with the other volunteers and the staff were there to cheer on Mitchell Ryan, the founder and director as he accepted the award for outstanding community service on behalf on his non-profit organization.  He deserved it because it was he who played a dominant role in creating and implementing several after-school and summer programs geared toward keeping the youth off the streets.

Through his unwavering efforts and the support of staff and volunteers, many lives were transformed.  Youth who were taking or selling drugs, came clean and began talking to others about the effects of drug use.  There counseling services and programs for those who were victims of bullying and those who bullied.  “We’re here to help the victim and the bully,” Mitchell always said.  Many of the youth who were helped by his organization later became volunteers.

Vanessa met Mitchell ten years ago when she was a senior in high-school.  She was going through a tough time at home.  Her parents were always fighting.  To escape she went to the beach where she spent hours just sitting or standing in the sand, depending on the weather and watch the gentle swell of the ocean as it ebbed and flowed, wishing that she could go with it.  Before she left, she walked along the water’s edge, trying to imagine what it would be like to live on the beach with nothing but the sounds of the waves and the tangy salt air to fill her days.  It was better than living in the city with the constant sounds of traffic, sirens and chatter and of course, her parents bickering.  How she longed to escape it all.

One afternoon she walked farther than she normally did and came upon a lone beach house.  It stood tall above the grassy slope which led to the beach.  It was adequate for one or two occupants with a wide deck and a long flight of wooden steps leading down to the sand.  She wondered who lived there and thought how lucky they were to wake up every morning to a sunrise over the ocean.  As she stood there admiring the property, she heard a voice remark behind her, “It’s a beautiful place, isn’t it?”

Startled, she swung round and found herself facing a very attractive man who looked to be in his early to mid-thirties.  He smiled at her.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.  It has been a while since someone has come along this part of the beach.”

“Do you live there?” she asked.

He nodded.  “Yes, I do.”

“It must be nice having this part of the beach to yourself.”

“Yes, it is.”

She glanced at her watch.  “I’d better be heading back home,” she said.

“Where’s home and how did you get here?”

“I live in the city and I drove here.  I come to this beach a lot.  This is the first time I have walked to this part of it.”

“You know, when I was younger and I had a lot on my mind, I used to come to the beach and just sit and stare at the ocean.  Is that why you come here?”

“Are you a psychiatrist?” she asked.

“No,” he chuckled.  “I run a community organization which helps youth.  My name is Mitchell Ryan, by the way.”  He held out his hand.

“Vanessa Rivers,” she told him as she shook his hand.  He seemed like a really nice man.  “I really should be getting back home before my parents begin to wonder where I am–if they even notice that I’m gone.”

“I’m not going to press you but if you need to talk, you can get in touch with me.  Here’s my card.”  He handed her a business card.  “It was nice meeting you, Vanessa. And any time you want to drop by just to say hello, don’t hesitate.  It’s quiet out here but sometimes, a bit too quiet.  I’m always grateful for some company.”

Vanessa smiled.  “It was nice meeting you too.  ‘Bye, Mitchell.”

“‘Bye, Vanessa.” He stood there with his back to the house, watching her.

She waved at him before she retraced her steps until she reached familiar ground and her car.  As she drove home, she thought of how it would be nice to see him again even if she didn’t want to talk to him about her problems.  Perhaps, she could find out more about his organization and see if she could volunteer.  It would be better than being around her bickering parents.  When she got home, the place was quiet.  Her father was in the basement watching TV while she and her mother were in the kitchen.  “Mama, why do you and Dad fight so much.  Don’t you love each other anymore?” she asked as she was having her dinner.

Her mother sighed.  “Baby, we still love each other but it’s just that we seem to get on each other’s nerves.”

“I hate it when the two of you fight.  That’s why I go to the beach so often.  Are you and Dad going to get a divorce?”

“No, Baby.  We’re not going to get a divorce.  Sure, we bicker a lot but we have been married for a long time and only death will separate us.  So, that’s where you were this evening–at the beach?”

“Yes and I met Mitchell–”

Her mother stared at her.  “Who’s Mitchell?”

“A really nice man who lives in the only house on the beach.”

“How old is this Mitchell character?  Does he know that you’re still in high school?”

“He’s in his thirties and I didn’t tell him that I was in high-school but he knows that I live with my parents.  He gave me his card–”

“What for?”

“He runs a community organization and thought that I might be interested in learning more about it.  I think I will drive over there tomorrow after school and see if I would like to volunteer during March break and the summer.”

“Well, I don’t suppose there’s any harm in visiting the place but make sure you don’t spend too much time alone with this Mitchell character.  Remember you’re a very pretty girl and men get ideas.”

Vanessa shrugged and dropped the subject.  In her mind, she thought, I wouldn’t mind if Mitchell noticed me.  He’s very attractive and although, I don’t know anything about him except that he runs an organization and lives on the beach, I like him.  Who am I kidding?  He’s in his thirties.  There’s no way, he would be interested in a high-school girl although I graduate next month.  He probably has a girlfriend anyway.

The next day after school, she dropped by the historic building and was taken to Mitchell’s office.  He was pleased to see her and invited her to have a seat.  “So, how are things with you?” he asked after they exchanged pleasantries.

She told him about her parents and her concerns about their marriage.  “My family has a history of broken marriages.  I’ve seen my cousins going through a tough time because their parents got divorced.  I’m afraid that the same thing will happen with my parents although my mother assured me that she and my Dad will not split up.”

“Well, based on what your mother said, I don’t think you have anything to worry about.  I’ve known couples who are always bickering but they have managed to stay the course.  There will always be conflicts in relationships but it depends on the couple if they will let those conflicts affect their marriage to the point where they want to split up.  I read somewhere that arguments can lead to a greater understanding between the two people.  I have heard people say that learning how to argue strengthened their marriages.  The good thing is that your parents don’t run from fights like some couples who are afraid to address issues because they don’t want any conflicts which can later lead to bigger problems in the relationship.”

“My parents are not afraid to discuss sensitive issues.  They don’t sweep things under the rug.  And I guess that’s a good thing.  Get things out in the open and deal with them.  I guess my fear is that their constant arguing would lead to a split up because I had seen it happen to other family members.  They were always fighting even when they had company.  My parents don’t fight in front of other people, thank goodness.  I’m the only one who hears them.  I love them very much and hope that they will always be together.”

He smiled.  “I hope so too.”

“It felt good talking to you about it,” she told him.  He was wearing a nice shade of blue tee shirt with the top two buttons undone and tan trousers.  His dark brown hair was tousled but it was becoming for him.  She started when she realized that he had noticed her staring at him.  She couldn’t tell what he was thinking, though.  His expression was inscrutable.  Perhaps he was used to the opposite sex staring at him.  “I-I was thinking that it would be nice to volunteer here during March break and the summer but I’ve decided that I could do it before.”

“We always need volunteers,” he told her.  “Do you have a particular area of interest?”

“I’m interested in fundraising.”

“You can join our fundraising and event planning committee.”

“I’d like that.”

“When are you available?”

“During the week after school for four hours.”

“That’s great.  I will have Melanie our Volunteer Coordinator set you up.  How soon could you start?”

She wanted to say now.  “Monday.”  She hoped the weekend would go by quickly so that she could see him again.

“Monday’s fine.  I’ll take you to meet Melanie now and she will take care of you.”  He rose from behind the desk and she preceded him to the door.  Melanie wasn’t at her desk when they got there.  “She’s probably with one of the volunteers.  You can sit over there and wait for her.  On Monday when you arrive and after you see her, come and see me in my office.  I want to give you a personal tour of the place and introduce you to the staff.  Thanks for volunteering with us, Vanessa.  I look forward to seeing more of you and you being a part of the team.”

She smiled.  “I look forward to being here on a regular basis,” she said.  It means that I will get to see you every week.

They shook hands and then he left.  She went and sat down in the chair by the window and waited for Melanie who breezed into the office ten minutes later.  She was a very pleasant young woman who made Vanessa feel very welcome.  She had her fill out a volunteer form and they chatted for a while before Vanessa left there, confident that she was going to like working there.

When she told her parents that she was going to volunteer at the organization, her father thought it was a great idea and her mother wasn’t so enthusiastic.  “Make sure it doesn’t interfere with your school work,” she admonished.

As soon as school ended on Monday, she was heading over to the organization.  After checking in with Melanie, she was taken to Mitchell’s office.  Her heart began to beat fast when she saw him and when he smiled at her.  After they spent a few minutes in his office chatting, he took her on a tour as promised and introduced her to the staff.  Then, he left her with Berta, the chairperson of the fundraising committee.

Berta was a Jamaican woman was in her late fifties.  She was a very affable woman and Vanessa liked her immediately.  Berta took her under her wing.  She was a widow with two grown children, married and with their own families.  Vanessa loved being on the fundraising committee and brainstorming with the other volunteers.  Her first week went very well.

At the end of some evenings before she went home, Mitchell and she would walk over to the café and have cappuccinos.  They talked about the day and other things.  She enjoyed his company and knew that he enjoyed hers too.  One evening when they were standing in the parking lot, he said to her, “If you were ten years older, I would go out with you.”

Her heart began to pound.  “I’m going to be nineteen next month,” she told him.

“That’s too young,” he said.  “I’m thirty-four.”

“What about ten years from now when I’m twenty-eight?” she asked hopefully.  “Will you reconsider then?”

He pondered that for a moment.  “I might,” he said quietly.  “Goodnight, Vanessa.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Mitchell.”  She walked to her car, her heart fluttering with excitement.  There was still hope for her.

Ten years later, she reminded him of their conversation that evening in the parking lot and he admitted that he had thought of nothing else.  They began to see each other discreetly.  No one at the organization knew about it and he was determined to keep it that way.  They went for dinner, to the theatre, the movies and spent a lot of time at his beach house.

They arrived separately to the award ceremony and were careful not to spend any time alone together.  For all appearances, their relationship was the same as it always was, platonic.  She was enjoying the evening until she spotted Mitchell talking to a woman she had never seen before.

“Who’s that with Mitchell?” She asked Caroline, a fellow volunteer. Whoever she was, she was very beautiful.  Tall and striking in the cream pants suit and thick chestnut hair falling about her shoulders.  They seemed to know each other very well and she felt a sharp pang of jealousy.

“Oh, that’s Linda, Mitchell’s wife.  They are separated but from the way things look now, I wouldn’t be surprised if they get back together.”

Vanessa looked at her, shocked and devastated.  “Mitchell’s married?”

“Yes.  I thought you knew.”  Caroline stared at her.  “Are you all right?” she asked, looking concerned.

“I–I have to get out of here–” the words were strangled as a large lump rose in her throat as she fought to keep back the tears.  She ran out of the room and out of the building.  When she got to her car, she fumbled in her bag for the keys, almost dropping them.  She climbed into the car, slammed the door, started the engine and sped off.  Her fingers gripped the steering wheel as waves of pain washed over her.  Mitchell was married.  Why didn’t he tell her?  Since he didn’t wear a ring, she assumed that he wasn’t married.  What about those times when they were together why didn’t he say anything?  If she had known that he was married she wouldn’t have gotten involved with him no matter how much she loved him.  And she loved him so much it hurt.  Anger, hurt warred inside her and she wanted to scream. 

She didn’t know where she was going.  She couldn’t go home and let her parents see her like this.  They would have a fit.  She didn’t want to go to her friend, Nicole.  The beach.  She would go to the beach.  It was the only place where she wanted to be right now…Ten minutes later, she was running like a wild animal down the beach which, thankfully, was deserted, until she reached his house.  She collapsed in a heap on the sand and buried her wet face in her hands.

The sound of her name and a pair of hands lifting her up broke into her reverie.  It was Mitchell.  She struggled vigorously, trying to push him away as he picked her up in his arms and carried her up to the house.  Once they were inside he put her down and immediately she began to pummel him, the tears falling afresh.  He caught her hands by the wrists, his grip firm but gentle and restrained her. “What’s wrong, Vanessa?” he asked.  “Why are you so upset and why did you leave the award ceremony?  I looked for you but you weren’t there.”

She struggled to control her emotions, her chest heaving at the effort.  “Why didn’t you tell me that you’re married?”

He stared at her.  “Married?”

“Yes, I saw the two of you together this evening at the award ceremony and I asked Caroline who she was and she told me that it was your wife.  She said that you were separated.”

“Oh, Vanessa.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t know why Caroline told you that I’m separated when she should know that I’m divorced.  Linda and I got divorced shortly before I met you.  Our problem was lack of intimacy.  We didn’t feel connected to each other anymore.  She was there this evening because she was also going to receive an award for her commitment to volunteering.  When you saw us together we were just congratulating each other and catching up.”

“Caroline said that you might back together with her.”

“She is mistaken.  I will have a talk with her on Monday when I see her.  I have no desire to get back together with Caroline.  Why would I go back to her when I love you, Vanessa?  How could you think that I would have a relationship with you when I was still married to her?  You should know the kind of man I am by now.”

She started to cry.  “I’m sorry,” she sobbed.  “When I saw you with your ex and how friendly you were with her, I got jealous.  And when Caroline told me that she was your wife…”

He cupped her face and used his thumbs to wipe the tears away, his eyes darkening on her face.  “So, that’s why you ran out on me this evening.  I was going to invite you and the other volunteers on to the platform with me.  Don’t cry, my darling.  There’s no need for tears.  I love you and I want to be with you.”  He kissed her tenderly, almost like a caress.

She responded, putting her arms around his neck.  “I love you too,” she whispered.  “And I’m sorry I ran away instead of facing you.  I would have saved myself a lot of heartache.”

“Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

“Based on how I reacted and my hasty exit, Caroline probably put two and two together and figured out that I’m in love with you.”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.  I don’t want us to continue to hide our relationship, especially since I am going to marry you.”

She gaped at him.  “Marry me!” she exclaimed.

“Yes.”  He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and produced a red velvet box.  He flipped it open and took out the sparkling diamond ring.  He raised his eyes to look her straight into her moist ones.  “Will you marry me, Vanessa?”

“Yes!” She kissed him enthusiastically on the mouth before she watched enthralled as he slid the ring on her finger.  It was the most exquisite thing she had ever seen.  She couldn’t wait to show it to her mother—and Caroline.

He pulled her into his arms, his eyes met hers before he bent his head and kissed her.  As she responded, she remembered a quote that she once heard.  Heaven seems a little closer at the beach.

 

Sources:  Eva’s; Marriage.com; Daily Mail; Huffington Post; Next Avenue

Sexual Harassment

It wasn’t until Ashley Judd heroically shared her story a few days ago that I felt ashamed.  If I had spoken up a decade ago, would I have saved countless women from the same experience I had or worse? While I still do feel guilty for not speaking up all those years ago, I’m glad for this moment of reckoning. To the countless other women who have experienced the gray areas: I believe you – Heather Graham

Sexual harassment has been around since biblical times.  Joseph, a handsome young Hebrew slave was sexually harassed and then accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife.   Yes, men as well as women are victims of sexual assault and harassment.  Celebrities such as Kevin Spacey, George Takei, Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman and recently, comedian Louis C.K. have had charges of sexual misconduct leveled against them.  This comes on the heels of the allegations launched against Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.  Stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie and more have spoken out against the producer who has been described as “a predator”, “vindictive”.

Celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Matt Damon, Quentin Tarantino, George  Clooney and Ewan McGregor knew of Weinstein’s behavior but didn’t say anything.  Other celebrities are appalled such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Gosling.

Sexual harassment is not limited to Hollywood, it’s everywhere.  It’s in workplaces, the military, colleges and other public places.  It’s a form of sex discrimination.  Weinstein’s victims were intimidated because of he had to power to make or break them.  Actress Asia Argento said that she stayed silent for years out of fear and feelings of responsibility and later had consensual sex with him multiple times because she felt he would ruin her career if she didn’t.   Actress Cara Delevingne said that she was hesitant about speaking out because she didn’t want to hurt his family.  “I felt guilty as if I did something wrong. I was also terrified that this sort of thing had happened to so many women I know but no one had said anything because of fear.” 

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (ECCOC) defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature which explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

Sexual harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • The victim as well as the harasser may be a woman or a man. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex.
  • The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
  • The victim does not have to be the person harassed but could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
  • Unlawful sexual harassment may occur without economic injury to or discharge of the victim.
  • The harasser’s conduct must be unwelcome.

How should sexual harassment be handled?  For Gwyneth Paltrow, it was coming forward so that other women to feel less alone and to send a clear message that “this is over.  This way of treating women ends now.”  Angelina Jolie chose not to work with Weinstein again and warned other women who were going to work with him.

Here are tips on how to handle sexual harassment:

  • Be clear and firm. If the person harassing you is told when it happens the first time that you don’t approve and don’t find it funny, they might back off. Be polite, but firm, and don’t giggle. This might be interpreted as a tacit type of consent.
  • Tell others. Don’t keep quiet; this will only make you more vulnerable. Harassers like isolating their victims – physically and socially. If you tell others what’s going on you might also find out that you’re not the only one experiencing such situations. If more than one person lays a complaint, it significantly strengthens the case against the harasser.
  • Don’t doubt yourself. Harassers often try and pass something off as a joke, however if it’s continuously at your expense, or attacks your sense of dignity, you’re being harassed. Don’t allow harassers to make you doubt your observation, how their actions make you feel or that you’re overreacting.
  • Safety in numbers. Make sure that you’re not alone with this person behind closed doors. Take a colleague with you if you feel threatened, and insist that doors be left open if you have to be in a meeting. Make sure that somebody knows where you are at all times.
  • Report the matter. Follow procedures to lay a complaint – and keep records of all correspondence in this regard. If a complaint has been laid and your employers continue to ignore the situation and take no action, they could be liable for damage claims.
  • Keep records. If you want to lay charges, it’s much more convincing if you can give names, dates, places and the names of possible witnesses, than when your charges are unproven. Anyone who has witnessed any of these events can be called to testify if there’s a disciplinary hearing.

It’s a good thing that the victims of sexual harassment are coming forward as in the case of Bill Cosby.  It remains to be seen, though what will happen to the perpetrators.   It took courage for the victims to come forward.  Let’s hope that they will receive justice that they deserve.  It’s time for those who use their power and influence to intimidate and violate others to be penalized.

Victims should never feel responsible for the actions of the perpetrators.

sexual harassment

 

Sources:  National Post; People; ECCOC; Western Cape Government

In the Spotlight

Notes to Women is thrilled to feature In The Spotlight, Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme.

NTW:  Tell us a little bit about yourself.  

Julie:  My job involves briefing the media, raising the profile of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the issue of global hunger within Canada, creating and promoting educational material for universities and schools,producing fundraising, awareness and advertising campaigns, working with our Canadian Ambassador Against Hunger, George Stroumboulopoulos and creating communications material for our private sector partners within Canada.

NTW:  How long have you been with World Food Programme?

Julie:  I have been working in a communications role with WFP for over 9 years.

NTW:  What made you become a part of the organization? 

Julie:  I knew of WFP’s outstanding reputation as the world’s largest humanitarian agency, and I really like the fact that their administrative costs are one of the lowest in the non-profit sector – 90% of donations go directly to WFP operations. 

NTW:  WFP covers a wide range of areas in its fight to combat hunger, is there an area of particular interest for you?

Julie:  I have to say I enjoy visiting WFP school meals programmes.  WFP supplies nutritious school meals to over 18 million children every year.  A meal at school acts as a magnet to get children into the classroom, especially in regions where girls are not encouraged to attend school. Providing a daily nutritious meal and in some cases a take home ration to children helps to keep them in school giving them hope for a brighter future.  I have also seen how buying food locally, benefits local farmers and the whole community and really enhances the sustainability of our programmes.

Julie Marshall

Photo:  Julie at a WFP school meals operation in Honduras.

NTW:  WFP’s vision is a world where every man, woman and child always has access to food in order to have an active and healthy life.  What is your vision?

Julie:  A child’s future should start with zero hunger.  WFP is working to create a world where no one is hungry, freeing children from the effects of undernutrition and helping them achieve their true potential. Every day, thousands of kids die because of hunger. But they don’t have to, because the world produces enough food for everyone. 

NTW:  It is said that empowering women is the first step towards Zero Hunger.  In Ecuador, this seems to be a challenge.  Rural women are illiterate, they earn less than urban women, they work 23 hours more than men, they have suffered some form of gender violence.  The statistics when it comes to abuse among girls in Ecuador are very disturbing.  78 percent suffer from abuse at home, 42% from severe abuse and girls ages between 10 and 15 years have been victims of gender violence, especially sexual abuse. How would WFP help these women and girls who are battling not only hunger but illiteracy, low wages, disproportionate working hours and gender abuse?

Julie:   I visited WFP school meals operations in Ecuador in 2014 and quickly learnt how these meals helped get kids into school, but also helped to support many women in the community. 

I visited a school in the remote community of Pimampiro, where some children walk for hours to school.  When they arrive they are hungry and tired.  The nutritious breakfast of juice and a granola bar and a lunch of rice, vegetables and lentils help them learn and play.  Some of the vegetables are grown, with the help of WFP, in their school vegetable garden and the rest are purchased by WFP from the local small farmers associations, which are run and organized mostly by women.  These associations work closely with WFP and the local government to deliver fresh vegetables to the school every week.  WFP has helped establish farmer’s associations and community gardens  across the region in order to increase the financial and food security of small-holder farmers.

Nancy, a 25 year old, single mom is the president of the local small farmers association in Otavalo, who supply fresh vegetables to the local schools.  Nancy explained to me how WFP and the local government helped to formalize their association, diversified their crops, encouraged women to participate and how working together they now receive a fair market price for their produce.  These women now have a steady income and a standing in the community.

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Photo:  Nancy in vegetable garden

NTW:  Somalia has chronically high malnutrition rates, in fact, one in eight children under five is acutely malnourished.  Please tell us about the nutrition programmes WFP has set up to treat and prevent this problem which is prevalent among young women, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

Julie:  WFP supports food assistance operations to the most vulnerable people, and at the same time is working to help build resilience in the country. We have development operations designed to help hungry people help themselves; emergency operations that provide food to prevent hunger and malnutrition and relief and recovery operations that assist in stabilizing food security and the rebuilding after emergencies. 

The Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) Programme in Somalia helps to prevent malnutrition in children under the age of 2 years. We focus on the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to age 2) because this is the window of opportunity for preventing irreversible damages to a child’s growth and mental development due to poor nutrition. Pregnant and nursing women are therefore also targeted to ensure a good start in life for their children. The women, irrespective of their nutritional status, receive daily supplements of fortified blended food to complement a generally poor diet. In Somalia, the programme is implemented through functional Maternal & Child Health clinics to ensure that women and children receive nutritional support as well as health interventions necessary for healthy growth: immunization, de-worming, treatment of diarrhea and other common illnesses, ante-natal and post-natal medical check-ups, etc. Pregnant or nursing women stay in the programme until delivery and/or when the child reaches 6 months, while children can remain in the programme until they reach 24 months of age.

NTW:  As we all know, education is one way to empower girls in countries where girls don’t have access to it for any number of reasons.  In Somalia, the enrollment rates for primary school-aged children are among the lowest where out of 42% of those who are in school, only 36% are girls..  Share with us what WFP is doing to boost the enrolment rates.

Julie:  WFP school meals encourage children, especially girls, to attend classes, enrollment goes up, attendance is consistently high and with a full tummy both girls and boys can concentrate on their work.  In Somaliland, Puntland and the Central regions, we encourage the attendance of older girls by providing them with a take-home family ration of vegetable oil when the girls attend school regularly.  Keeping them in school longer gives them a better and healthier start to life.

NTW:  In Somalia, unemployment among young people aged 14 to 29 years is one of the highest at 67%.  Tell us about WFP’s Food for Training programmes.

Julie:  Poverty-stricken communities hit by floods or droughts are too busy looking for food to rebuild infrastructure vital for redevelopment.  WFP finds out why a community is hungry and works with the community to rebuild their infrastructure – so they no longer need outside help.  WFP provides food or in some cases cash, in exchange for work making it possible for the poor and hungry to take the first steps out of the hunger trap. 

In Somalia, WFP implemented Food-for-Assets activities for over 12,000 people in Luuq, Dolow and Belethawa.  Through this programme WFP provides food rations to support self-help initiatives, such as building water harvesting structures and canal irrigation. The programme helps meet the immediate food needs of hungry people, as well as preventing communities from resorting to harmful coping strategies, such as selling assets and livestock during an emergency.

NTW:  What changes do you hope to see by the end of this year?

Julie:  A number of our major operations are in conflict areas.  In these areas I hope to see open access to besieged and hard to reach areas in conflict situations, allowing WFP and the whole humanitarian community continued access to all people in need of humanitarian assistance.  Also, Sustainable and predictable funding is needed to ensure that WFP assistance continues, not just in major crisis like Syria, but in seemingly forgotten emergencies were people are still in need but not in the media.

NTW:  What has been your biggest challenge working at WFP?  What has been your biggest achievement?

Julie:  One of the most satisfying parts of my job has been to see the Canadian public becoming more and more engaged in the issue of global hunger and the work of WFP over the years.  It can be challenging to raise funds for a humanitarian crisis that’s been going on for a number of years, like the Syrian conflict, but Canadians and the Canadian Government (who are consistently among our top 3 donors) continue to come through and support our work.

NTW:  Julie, it has been a pleasure talking to you.  Thank you for sharing the work that you are doing through the World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide.  I hope this interview will encourage people to get more involved in the fight against hunger.
Julie:  It was a pleasure talking with you.  Anyone can help WFP, just go to wfp.org to find out more about our work or download the#ShareTheMeal app on your smartphone, and .50 cents will provide Syrian children, their mothers and mums-to-be with vital nutrition with a simple tap on their phones.

Oppressed Because She is a Woman

Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, But they have no comforter—
On the side of their oppressors there is power, But they have no comforter – Ecclesiastes 4:1

It saddens me that in some countries, it is dangerous or even deadly to be a woman.  Sex trafficking, bride burnings, infanticide, gender related crimes, poverty and oppression are the realities that girls and women face in Asia.

Women should be able to live in a society where their rights are protected  and are not oppressed because of their gender.  Gender discrimination is something that all women may encounter at some point in her life but in Asia, women are perpetual victims of violence, abuse and oppression.

Imagine that you are a mother and one Sunday evening you find your daughter lying naked on the front step of the house she shares with her husband and children.  There is no one there to help her and no one wants to come to her so you are the only one she can call for help although you live quite a distance away.   Imagine how you would feel when you see your daughter with burns on more than 80 percent of her body, crying in agony. She survives for three days, long enough to tell the police that she was doused in kerosene by her mother-in-law and set on fire by her husband–the father of her children.  Then she dies…

This is what happened to Laxmi, a woman in Bangladore.  She was a victim of bride burning which is a crime that accounts for the death of at least one woman every hour in India.  More than 8000 women die in this horrendous way.  This type of crime is also called, “dowry death”.

A dowry death is the death of a young woman in South Asian countries, primarily India, who is murdered or driven to suicide by her husband. This results from the husband continually attempting to extract more dowry from the bride or her family. Bride burning is just one form of dowry death. Others include acid throwing and Eve teasing.  Because dowry typically depends on class or socioeconomic status, women are often subjected to the dowry pressures of their future husband or his relatives.

Laxmi was only 28 years old when she died.  Hers was not an arranged marriage.  It was a love marriage and she came from higher caste than her husband, Majunath.  He became increasingly drunk and was unable to find regular work because most of the money Laxmi earned was spent on liquor.  Pressured by her in-laws to provide, Laxmi turned to her mother for financial support.  Laxmi was harassed and accused of adultery by her in-laws and beaten by her husband.  It turned out that it was her mother-in-law who compelled her son to set his wife on fire.  Majunath ended up dying because he suffered from burns when Laxmi hugged him in a desperate attempt to put the flames out.  So, their two children became orphans.   An arrest warrant was issued for Laxmi’s mother-in-law but she has disappeared.

Trafficking of minor girls – the second-most prevalent trafficking crime – surged 14 times over the last decade and increased 65% in 2014, according to new data released by the National Crime Records Bureau.

Girls and women are the main targets of immoral trafficking in India, making up 76% of human trafficking cases nationwide over a decade, reveal NCRB data.

Other cases registered under human trafficking over the last decade include selling girls for prostitution, importing girls from a foreign country and buying girls for prostitution.

Sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes takes place in various forms including brothel-based prostitution, sex-tourism, and pornography.

As many as 8,099 people were reported to be trafficked across India in 2014.

In the article, Silent Slaves:  Stories of Human Trafficking in India, I read about a 15 year old girl who was in a New Delhi hospital.  She was frail, her face and head were bandaged.  A bruised black and blue eye and swollen lips were visible.  She had burn marks and scabs on her neck and down her whole body and one of her ears was disfigured.  She had a wound on her skull which was rotting and filled with maggots.  This caused a stench. She was in this horrific condition because of her employer who beat her everyday with a broom and a stool.  Many times the woman would put a hot pan on the girl’s body and burn her skin.  The skin on her skull started to peel because she was repeatedly burned in that same spot.

How could one human being treat another like this?  Sadly, this teen’s case is not an isolated one.  Thousands of girls like her are trafficked every year from remote villages to large cities and sold as domestic workers. Many of them are abused or sexually exploited.

Extreme poverty, lack of education and employment, and poor implementation of the government’s minimum wage system in rural India make girls more vulnerable to being trafficked. The 2013 Global Slavery Index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, an organization that works to end modern slavery, found that almost half of the 30 million “modern slaves” in the world are from India.

The article describes how domestic worker placement agencies operate and how they are flourishing at the expense of minor and illiterate girls. Read more.

Due to the fact that girls are seen as an economic burden and boys a source of income, girl babies have been aborted and murdered – female infanticide or Gendercide – in their millions in India. The Lancet estimates that 500,000 female fetuses are aborted in India every year. As a result according to the BBC, “an estimated 25-50 million women in India are ‘missing’, if you compare the proportion of women in the population with other countries.” Staggeringly, Unicef believes 10 million girls, were killed by their parents in the last thirty years.

Killing babies because they are girls really hits close to home.  As a woman, I can’t imagine my parents ending my life because I was born a girl instead of a boy.  I always remember my mother telling me that she had a dream of how I would look before I was born.  My father used to take me kite flying. My parents loved my two sisters and me.  I know fathers who have only daughters and no sons but they are ecstatic.  They adore their girls.  This is not the case for the girls in India, however.  Some are aborted or killed after they are born, others are neglected or abandoned.

In India a girl is an expensive burden because when she marries, her family is expected to pay a sum of money to the groom’s family regardless of whether or not they can afford it.  It’s an expense they don’t want to deal with.  So, when a girl is born, there is no joy.  There is no celebration, only disappointment and anxiety.  In some cases, there is rage–rage of the husband toward the wife and the baby girl.  The wife is blamed for the gender of the baby and the girl, if she survives, is constantly reminded that she is a mistake–she should have been a boy.

Bride burnings, sex trafficking and girl infanticide are just some of the hardships that women and girls face in Asia.  The documentary film, “Veil of Tears” takes you on a harrowing journey into their lives.  Their stories may make us squirm but instead of shutting them out, we ought to raise awareness and do what we can to help.  Let us be the voice of hope for the oppressed.

Find out more information at this link:  http://veiloftearsmovie.com/take-action/ 

And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him – Psalm 37:40

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; The Sidney Morning Herald; Wikipedia; Scroll In; Women’s Media Center; Counterpunch

 

Nepal Needs Our Prayers

We were on our way to deliver some relief supplies to a more rural area.  We had stopped for a rest, and just as we were getting out of the car, we heard screaming. I said, ‘It’s another earthquake. Run!’ We all ran to the first open space we could find and stayed there until it stopped. People were screaming and crying.

Kathmandu now looks like a ghost town, with only 25 percent of the shops remaining open. People are afraid to enter any buildings. Restaurants are mostly closed. Many have stopped coming into Kathmandu to work. They are too afraid – Raahi, a Gospel for Asia-supported photojournalist in Nepal

Once at my workplace, my co-workers and I experienced a tremor.  It felt it as if someone had taken hold of the building and was shaking it.  It was a scary feeling.  I don’t remember how long it lasted but the memory has stayed with me to this day.  I can’t imagine how terrified the people of Nepal felt when disaster struck them.   My heart breaks when I think of those who have lost their loved ones and their homes.  All around them is devastation, death and despair.  How do you recover from such a violent, destructive force?  How do you pick up the pieces again?  What about the grief that takes hold of you and won’t let go?  How could you get past the pain of losing a loved one–especially a child?

The Nepalese people lived in fear of aftershocks that would bring more destruction and death.  Sadly, their fears came true.  On May 12, Nepal was struck by another earthquake just 17 days after the 7.8 magnitude quake, considered to be the worst since 1934, devastated the country, killing more than 8,000 people and injuring nearly 18,000.     The last time I heard the news, at least 37 people were killed.  According to News sources, 40 people have lost their lives in the aftershock and 1,000 are injured.

The people of Nepal are living in fear, uncertainty and despair.  All they see is utter devastation.  Hopelessness and helpnessness cling to them.  However, God has not forsaken them.  Through the Gospel for Asia missionaries and Compassion Services teams He is ministering to them.  The teams are providing them with food and medical relief. The World Health Organization (WHO) is setting up a new field office in the Gorkha district of Nepal so that they could extend health care to the people.  From the field office they will combine efforts with the Nepalese government and other humanitarian partners who are also setting up operational bases in the city.  WHO and the national authorities will also coordinate land and air support so that they can get the medicines, health care professionals and other life-saving resources as soon as possible to some of the most remote regions impacted by the earthquake.

Care of children and pregnant women is also a priority at the hospital. In a welcome initiative, the emergency medical specialists from Switzerland, deployed as part of the WHO-coordinated foreign medical team surge response, are shifting their skills to looking after these patients, including newborn babies.

“It is very important to take care of the most vulnerable population, and that is the children,” explains Dr Olivier Hagan, of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit, whose team is planning to remain at the hospital for at least one month. “That is why it is so important to focus on them, and to ensure safe deliveries. In the time we have been here, we have delivered 10 babies in the past four days. What this shows is that life goes on.”

Pray for Gospel for Asia, WHO and all of the other humanitarian agencies that are working to help the Nepalese survivors.  Pray for:

  • The people of Nepal to find comfort and help in their time of need.
  • God to protect and shelter His people.
  • Gospel for Asia-supported workers as they minister and bring aid to survivors.
  • Safety for search and rescue teams as they travel.

At times like these, we see the selfless acts of love, compassion and generosity of people.  We see the world reaching out to help the helpless.  And we see God’s grace working overtime.  One story that really touched me was the rescue of a 4-month old baby boy from rubble.  He had been trapped for at least 22 hours.  The Nepalese army had left the site, believing that he had not survived but his cries were heard hours later so they returned and pulled him from the underneath the debris.  God was watching over this child.  He was covered in dust but otherwise unharmed.  He was taken to the hospital and tests showed that he was fine, just dirty and dehydrated.  Imagine the joy his parents must have felt when the soldier brought him to them.   God still works miracles.

Help to bring hope to the Nepal earthquake victims by joining Gospel for Asia in their efforts to bring relief.  Help Nepal to recover and rebuild.  To find out more visit their link.  Continue to pray for Nepal.

And the LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed – Deuteronomy 31:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; The Guardian; CBC News, WHO; The National Post; abc7

 

 

Life for Women in India

Beneath the veil of society are the tears of India’s most oppressed members of society–women.  The movie, The Veil of Tears tells the untold story of millions of women who are victims of abuse, abandonment, adversity and gender segregation.  This movie dares us to go beyond awareness and to take action.  I encourage you to watch the trailer.

India has the reputation of being one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. They are married early, having no say in the matter.  Arranged marriages are still the norm.  They need to get permission to visit the doctor.  According to a survey, 54 per cent said they expected to be beaten by their husbands if they left the house without his permission.  Women are also beaten if they cook a dish badly or if their dowry is inadequate or if they neglect their household duties.

Life in India is a constant struggle for women.  Veil of Tears draws us into their dark reality but also allows us to share in their triumphs.  And in spite of all the suffering, there is hope.  Through the work and ministry of Gospel for Asia, these women can be rescued from persecution and rejection and given the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ.

For more information about the movie and how you can help to make a difference visit this link:  http://veiloftearsmovie.com/

Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD – Psalm 31:24

Sources:  The Globe And Mail; Gospel for Asia