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Women should rally around the Medicare-for-All bill introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year.
Medicare for All as proposed in HR 1384, along with its counterpart in the Senate, would benefit women in several essential ways. Because health insurance coverage would no longer be tied to one’s employment or marital status, women could leave abusive relationships or toxic workplace environments without losing health insurance for themselves or their families.
Our healthcare system is surely broken when some women feel compelled to marry, stay married or remain in a harmful job just to retain their health benefits. This outdated arrangement is a form of subjugation that has no place in our wealthy, democratic nation today.HR 1384 would create a publicly funded healthcare system that would guarantee everyone in the U.S. comprehensive health coverage while leaving the delivery of care mostly private.
It would also include coverage for doctor visits and hospitalizations, vision, dental, mental health, and even long-term care. This means women would no longer be saddled with some of the caretaking responsibilities that often befall them when a parent or other relative becomes severely ill.
Due to centuries of discrimination and asymmetric domestic duties, women and especially women of color are more likely to have low-paying jobs without health benefits. And when women don’t have access to health care, it not only affects them. Their children and other family members who rely on them often suffer, too.
Women who are uninsured or underinsured are especially vulnerable when they become pregnant or new mothers. The United States spends more on health care than other countries, yet our maternal and infant death rates are among the highest of large, wealthy nations. This means that American mothers and babies are not receiving the health care they sorely need.
Dr. Aleksandar Rajkovic, an obstetrician and the husband of one of the authors of this piece, has witnessed the effects of our collapsing healthcare system firsthand. While working in Texas years ago, he encountered an uninsured pregnant patient who experienced abdominal pain for 36 hours before she fell unconscious and was brought to the hospital. Concerned that she and her laborer husband could not afford an emergency room visit, she had told her husband the pain would pass. Sadly, the woman ended up dying of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, which could have been avoided had she gone to the hospital sooner.
People are suffering and even losing their lives because they can’t afford health insurance at all, or must forgo treatment even though they’re insured, due to exorbitant out-of-pocket costs. Tens of thousands of people die each year in the U.S. due to being uninsured. The Medicare for All Act of 2019 (HR 1384) would ensure no one is forced to choose between essential medical treatment or going bankrupt, and it would be funded through modest progressive taxes, based on what people could afford to pay.
Medicare for All as proposed would also guarantee women reproductive choice. The ability to determine one’s family size and the spacing of one’s children is critical to women who must consider their economic reality, relationship status or career concerns. Yet today, women increasingly face obstacles when it comes to their freedom to choose.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey recently signed the strictest abortion law in the country, making it a felony to perform the procedure even in cases of rape and incest. Governors in several other states have approved abortion bans once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks in pregnancy. These moves represent the latest, pernicious assault on women’s reproductive rights since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
The Medicare for All Act of 2019 would also allow federal funds to be used for abortion and other reproductive health matters. (The Hyde Amendment currently prohibits federal funding of abortions except in extreme cases, effectively limiting a women’s constitutional right to choose and affecting poor, young women of color the most.) The decision to terminate a pregnancy or not affects not only a woman’s reproductive health but also her overall health. Thus, it’s one that should be made by her in consultation with her doctor – not politicians.
How many more mothers, daughters, and sisters will needlessly die under our healthcare system before we stand up and say enough is enough? While HR 1384 is now in our legislators’ hands, the choice to keep silent or voice support for it is now ours.
I’ll make this short. Truth in Journalism has never been more crucial than it is today. Surely, it is the only way to distinguish between facts vs. falsehoods.
This is why I will personally be traveling to the Texas, Arizona and Mexico borders on July 28th – August 5th to document the conditions that migrants (particularly women and children) are currently facing at US detention centers.
Through your support, I will serve as your eyes and your ears throughout each of these eight days by posting on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), and you will receive daily updates each morning under our new series, ‘Truth At The Border.’ As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan wrote in Time magazine when it honored journalists as its 2018 Person of the Year, “We need to write now, write well—tell the truth in all its messy complexity. It’s our best shot at helping to preserve a democracy in which facts still exist and all of us can speak freely.”
No donation is too small to help Women’s eNews document the truth and help tell the real stories to continue to change, and save, women’s lives, as we have been doing for close to two decades!
My name is Hannah Downing. I live in San Antonio, Texas. I just completed my senior year of high school. I was a drum major for my high school’s marching band and an editor for the school literary magazine. I was an enthusiastic participant in the classroom. I was a well-established voice in my class and respected among my peers. I was just a regular student, mostly unremarkable.
a year and a half ago I was the target of sexual harassment.
One of my male peers, someone I had considered a friendly acquaintance, regularly touched, squeezed, and pinched me on my arm and waist and told me overtly sexual things about himself and me. Obviously, I wasn’t okay with this. I’m not a huge fan of being touched at random without my consent, and it was grossly inappropriate of him to discuss the sordid details of his personal, private time with me.
I told him to stop every time he did it, but I said it this way, “Oh my gosh, stopppppp!” with my voice highly pitched and with a playful shove. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by acting too sensitive to the situation.
As time went on, I grew increasingly uncomfortable. I finally confided in my mother, and told her that I didn’t want to take the issue to my school’s administration and cause a fuss. I wanted to deal with him myself.
My mom taught me to say “no” like I meant it. She told me that up to that point I had been protesting in a manner that communicated to him that I wasn’t serious about wanting him to stop. She taught me to say “no” in a calm and firm voice. She coached me to learn how to give a cold stare and strong posture. We practiced a lot, and by the end of my training I felt ready to end the harassment once and for all.
The next time he touched me, I implemented my new method of saying “no.” I tried to emulate every badass female superhero I knew. I looked him in the eye with the utmost seriousness and I said in a strong, clear tone, “Stop touching me. I don’t want to be touched.”
Still, he continued…
That broke me. In that moment, when I was trying so hard to establish control over a situation that deeply disturbed me, he just ignored me. It was a complete invalidation of my autonomy. He didn’t care about my consent. He didn’t care about my feelings. To him, I wasn’t a person worthy of respect. It made me feel dirty and worthless.
Eventually, I managed to stop the harassment by avoiding him, which was difficult because we shared an extracurricular activity that required us to work together.
Although it was over, I was left with some psychological effects. My self-esteem was gone. I felt like I had no power over my body; that at that point anyone could do anything to me, and there would be nothing I could do. For a very long time I was fearful and paranoid that I would be harassed again or even assaulted. If one guy thought it was perfectly fine to treat me like a plaything, who’s to say no one else would? It took me a very long time to feel normal again.
Two years ago, I never imagined that I would be the target of sexual harassment. In my mind there was a certain type of person who was more likely to be harassed. Someone quiet or timid, or someone who was more overt about her sexuality. I thought I came off as strong and intimidating but, still, it happened to me.
I was curious about who else might have had similar experiences to mine, so I asked some of my friends to share thoughts or anecdotes about sexual harassment and assault. One of my friends recalled the times she exercised in our school’s weight room. “There was this guy that gave me creepy vibes and he would come over and talk to me while I worked out,” she said. “After a few weeks he would start to comment about how he saw my body transform into an ‘attractive woman.’ It got even worse when he had three of his friends say similar things about my legs when I did squats. I never went back into the weight room.”
story was shocking to me. My friend held multiple leadership positions in
various clubs and organizations at school, and she’s the sweetest, most
well-meaning person I’ve ever met. How could anyone frame her in a sexual light
in a school environment? What had she done to invite any advances?
There was no way that those boys thought they were engaging in meaningful conversation with my friend or giving her actual compliments. Why do people think it’s okay to ignore consent?
“The American sex education system is lacking, at best,” another friend of mine, a fellow editor of the literary magazine, told me. “Consent is not taught in any capacity in most public schools, and if it is discussed at all, it’s lumped in with suicide and bullying in the student crisis section of the curriculum.” “If we are taught about consent, we are taught in the most basic of terms. ‘If she says yes, go for it. If she says no, don’t.’ Consent isn’t explained in terms of mutual enthusiasm, or desire, or enjoyment.”
I’m inclined to agree with her. Our system is broken. On multiple occasions this friend and I have discussed the effects of rape culture and our society’s indifference to women’s issues. We’ve expressed our concerns over the possibility of being assaulted while at college and becoming just another statistic in America’s ever-increasing problem with sexual assault on college campuses.
We swap articles on the subject, but we never learn about the intricacies of consent and healthy, safe sex in a classroom setting. I get most of my information from the internet, which is vast and often misleading, and I only receive that information because I seek it out. We are all at risk of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, and we can’t protect ourselves from assault simply by dressing conservatively or practicing abstinence.
What we can do is educate ourselves. We need to openly discuss sexual health and conduct. We need to have comprehensive sex ed in schools and more accessible counseling for survivors of assault.
I invite anyone reading this to start a conversation with friends or family. It’s really difficult to start talking about personal experiences with sexual harassment, assault, or abuse, but it is important to let our loved ones know that it’s okay to be open about their experiences. Survivors of assault often suffer in silence because they feel powerless. Some even feel that they brought the assault upon themselves.
Removing the stigma and shame of sexual assault can happen by engaging in a safe, free dialogue like I did with my friends. It may seem like a small thing, but starting that conversation is a step in the right direction to creating a safer, more just, and more understanding society for us all.
The Jewish Women’s Archive’s Rising Voices Fellowship was honored as Teen Voices’ ’21 Leader for the 21st Century’ in 2019. It is a 10-month program for female-identified teens in high-school who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism, gender and social justice. The Jewish Women’s Archive is a national non-profit devoted to documenting Jewish women’s stories, elevating their voices, and inspiring them to be agents of change. Founded in 1995, JWA is the world’s largest source of material about and voices of Jewish women.
Dear Women, Let’s not compete with each other, there is too much at stake. Let’s not feel threatened or jealous by other women’s success or victory or possibility. Let’s not exhibit faux enthusiasm when other women get accolades or credit or awards or honors. Let’s not be stingy or hoard compliments. Let’s not fear that other women are taking up too much space, or taking up too much time. Let’s not ignore or dismiss another woman’s good fortune or their good work. Let’s not curse their beauty, or damn their brilliance. Let’s not take away their shine or their ability to stand out. Let’s not begrudge them their place in the world, or their place at the table.
It is time for women – for us – to have a place at the Presidential table, the Oval Office… the Ovary Office.
Before Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, eleven other women threw their hats into the ring: Victoria Woodhull, Belva Ann Lockwood, Gracie Allen (yes, that Gracie Allen) Margaret Chase Smith (it was Smith who inspired a young Hillary Rodham to run for President of her class in ’64), Shirley Chisolm, Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink, Linda Jeness, Geraldine Ferraro, Pat Schroeder, Carol Moseley Braun, and Elizabeth Dole. Every one of these women were bombarded with criticism and insults, dragged through the mud, taken to task, and treated as if they had lost their minds. None won the nomination for President but they all certainly put cracks in the glass ceiling and took many jabs for their courage and their bravery, and fought for the rights and dignity of all women throughout their lives.
When Victoria Woodhull – a suffragette – ran for President women didn’t even have the right to vote but that didn’t stop her. What did stop her – what is astonishing – is the lack of support she received from other women. Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cody Stanton, while applauding Woodhull’s extraordinary courage on behalf of all women, dismissed her nomination and Ulysses S. Grant won the election.
Belva Ann Lockwood was berated and dismissed by local newspapers as being “Old Lady Lockwood,” and dragged through the mud; a woman’s place is in the kitchen but that didn’t prevent her from inspiring other women to stand up and stand tall and raise the bar for other women.
Geraldine Ferraro was consistently ridiculed and constantly tossed sexist comments on the campaign trail – comments mostly asked by female reporters. In 2008, when Ferraro supported Hillary Clinton, she felt emotionally and enormously proud.
Pat Schroeder’s run was short lived; she filled in for Gary Hart after he dropped out of the race after his affair with Donna Rice was exposed. Schroeder was ostracized for being emotional and sentimental, and very often ostracized by other women. Now, in 2019, we have six more women running, tossing their hats into the ring; no doubt mud will be flung – we’ve already seen that – and nastiness and cruelty will be bantered about. Hair styles and fashion will be a hot topic, and passion will be misconstrued for anger. Six women at this very moment have decided to run for President of the United States.
Chances are, like Schroeder, some will be short-lived but their courage will live long. A woman’s place is anywhere she wants to be. So, today I’m applauding and cheering the importance and necessity of trying. It takes courage to try, it takes guts to try, it takes emotional wear and tear to try, it takes grit to try, it takes an amazing amount of bravery to try, it takes standing tall, standing up, putting fear aside and tucking it away to try. It takes a huge heaping of fierce and mighty to try.
So, let’s not compete with each other, it does not serve us well; let us serve each other well. Let us root these women on. They are running for our very lives. Best & warm, Amy
The Ovary Office is a new Women’s eNews series covering the women who are running for the presidency, to counterbalance the patriarchal slant that currently exists in much of the mainstream media. While there are six Democratic women vying to become the party’s presidential nominee, their male counterparts have attained about eighty percent of the media’s coverage, thus drowning out women’s platforms and their viability as presidential candidates. The Ovary Office plans to turn this narrative upon its head.
Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer, and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of its 21 Leaders for the 21st Century for 2018. Amy is also known for championing, encouraging, and inspiring women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor—along with a heaping side of activism.
We are in the midst of a
long-overdue discussion about the role of speech in perpetuating racial biases
in our culture. Presidential candidate Joe Biden triggered the talk when he
recalled working in the senate with the notoriously racist Mississippi Democrat James O. Eastland. “He
never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,’” Biden remembered.
He talked of those bygone days as a time of “civility,” which prompted critics to note that segregationists like Eastland commonly called grown black men “boys,” a term meant to degrade and demean them.
Hurtful rhetoric that demeans Black individuals has been part of our modus operandi, often operating well below the surface of conscious choice. But this latest dust-up over language could have a positive outcome–drawing attention to the fact that speech can also perpetuate harmful gender biases. And men are not alone in using phrases to put women down; women are also at fault.
From the time I was a little girl, I used to bristle at my mother when she talked about “playing bridge with the girls.” What girls? I thought. She was about forty-five years old, and the “girls” were her women friends, also in their mid-forties. At the time, I didn’t say anything to my mother, not yet aware that by being a quiet bystander I was complicit in preserving the stereotype that women were child-like. That was then; now when I hear such demeaning slights I am quicker to voice my objections.
A few years ago, I was accompanying my husband to an appointment with his eye doctor. Before seeing the doctor, patients had to complete a few routine lab tests. The lab technicians in this office were all women. At the conclusion of the tests, the office manager told us to wait in the reception area until “one of the girls” called our name. Once again, I bristled. What girls? My immediate thought was, if the technicians were male, would the office manager have told us “to wait until one of the boys called our name?” Rather than “let it go,” assuming she did not mean anything derogatory, I called the manager aside, telling her that I wanted to talk to her privately. I shared my feelings and was relieved that, after a bit of defensiveness, the manager listened to what I had to say. She asked me how she should say it differently, and I suggested that she tell patients that “one of the technicians” would call their name when the doctor was ready to see them.
I haven’t been back to that eye doctor’s office since then, but I feel certain that our talk raised the manager’s awareness of what she was doing unconsciously, and decreased the chance that she will make the same mistake again.
As Carmen Rios
writes on the website, Everyday Feminism, “saying ‘girl(s)’ comes naturally to me, as it does to so many of us. But
just like calling [mixed sex] groups of people ‘guys’ is a widespread and
completely normalized practice that inadvertently minimizes the existence of
women, so does calling groups of people ‘girls.’
“And yet…the use of the word ‘girls’ to refer to women is very rarely called out as sexist. In fact, it still goes largely unnoticed, even by people who should ‘know better.’ Even media with feminist leanings use the word ‘girls’ as a catchall for adult topics or stories about adult women. Consider the titles of shows like Girlfriends, New Girl, Gilmore Girls, and even Lena Dunham’s own Girls; or movies like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Girl, Interrupted; and Dream Girls. Even the book Girlboss is guilty.
That’s because calling women ‘girls’ is commonplace, and most people don’t bat an eyelash when they do it or when they hear someone else doing it. In fact, calling women ‘girls’ is so normal that people actually feel uncomfortable calling them ‘women’ instead. Yet, it is important to deal with these uncomfortable feelings because there are consequences of not doing so. When we call women ‘girls,’ we’re using the force of language to make them smaller. We resist and deny their maturity, their adulthood, and their true power. When you call a woman a ‘girl,’ you’re actually saying a lot of very serious things about gender politics and womanhood.”
And there are serious consequences.
A girl is a female under the age of eighteen, so when the word ‘girl’ is used to describe adult females, it implies that women are immature or childish. Thus, language perpetuates the stereotype of women as emotional, irrational, weak, and helpless.
There are other troubling consequences. When women are referred to as ‘girls,’ it makes it easier for superiors in the workplace to ignore them and their contributions. Women may also be passed over for promotions because it’s difficult for bosses to appreciate the abilities or career advancement potential of ‘girls’. Further, it’s hard to think of yourself as a capable leader and thinker when you are called a girl or, even worse, when you think of yourself as a girl.
This behavior garnered international attention in 2015 when the British paper the Guardian reported that then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Energy Secretary Amber Rudd were greeted outside 10 Downing Street by a photographer calling to them, “Morning, girls!” For the record, The Guardian noted, “Morgan is 42 and Rudd 51. Both are well beyond their teen years, when such a greeting might have been apt. Morgan, who is also ‘minister for women’ – that’s women – and equalities, had a witty comeback, shouting, ‘Girls? Girls?!’ The photographer quickly apologized.”
Unfortunately, even old age will not provide protection against the harmful effects of dismissive language. This point was brought home to me several years ago when I took my mother, who was roughly the same age I am now, to a medical appointment. The intake nurse had a number of questions, all of which she addressed to me. My mother, who was as fully competent then, as I am today, was completely ignored; it was as if she wasn’t even in the examination room. Once I saw the pattern, I called the nurse out and insisted that she direct her questions to the person with the answers–my mother.
Just as black males of all ages have been devalued by being called ‘boy,’ women of all ages have been demeaned and trivialized by being called ‘girl.’
Hopefully, the Biden dust-up will ignite a meaningful discussion about language and biases that will have beneficial effects during the 2020 election season, and well beyond.
It’s the last week of Pride month. One of my favorite times of the year – a month during which LGBTIQ movements around the world celebrate progress and resilience; when attention is drawn to countering violence; when the spotlight shines on stories of LGBTIQ people to raise awareness, increase understanding, and promoting progress. Whether pride takes the shape of celebration or protest or – as it will for me – both, it is undoubtedly the time of year when our movement is seen the most, and our hearts beat the loudest.
And this year it is even more so, as we mark fifty years after the spontaneous riots in protest against police raids and shaming of LGBTIQ people at the Stonewall Inn gave rise to the contemporary LGBTIQ and Pride movements. New York is hosting World Pride to mark the occasion, recognizing the global importance of the Stonewall riots, and celebrating the incredible progress we’ve seen around the globe over the last fifty years, while also drawing attention to the horrific conditions LGBTIQ people continue to face in far too many places.
Thinking back to what our movement has achieved in 50 years is humbling. Laws criminalizing same-sex relations have fallen across the world. Just this month in Botswana and Bhutan. anti-discrimination legislation, specifically including grounds for sexual orientation and gender identity, have been adopted in numerous locations spanning the globe, most recently in North Macedonia. Recognition that love has no gender is growing, with Taiwan recently becoming the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Pride events have grown in size, visibility and prestige; LGBTIQ characters in popular culture are growing year on year.
Without a doubt, we have a lot to celebrate!
However, the last year has also been a sobering reminder that we can never take progress for granted. After decades of incredible pride marches in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey, they have been banned and violently attacked in recent years. Pride organizers were arrested last year in Lebanon and persecutions of perceived LGBTIQ people, predominantly gay and bisexual men, continued with impunity in Chechnya. Brunei passed a final phase of Sharia law envisaging death by stoning so-called sexual offenses, including same-sex relations and adultery. Further, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education used Pride month to issue an extensive guidance document for Catholic schools and universities to promote bullying and the exclusion of LGBTIQ youth.
Moreover, sixty-eight countries and several territories still criminalize same-sex relations. In fifty-five countries LGBTIQ organizations cannot legally register, and in thirty countries there are no LGBTIQ organizations at all. LGBTIQ people are also subjected to harmful and ineffective “conversion therapies”, recognized as being tantamount to torture by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Fifty years ago, trans women were on the forefront of the Stonewall riots. Their rights have not only lagged behind in the years since, but are facing a particularly tenacious and hateful backlash now.
Even in countries where LGBTIQ progress has been made, they have faced challenges. We have seen openly transphobic comments and policies proposed by the President of the United States, and an 80% surge in hate crimes against LGBTIQ people in the UK. The so-called anti-gender movement has grown in strength and numbers, spanning across hateful civil society and religious groups aiming to challenge the existence of and exclude LGBTIQ people from human rights protections, halt gender equality efforts, restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights, and preserve a social order based on outdated, harmful gender roles.
In this context, I will be joining the World Pride March on June 30 in New York City, in celebration of all of the achievements to date. And I will smile, and dance, and enjoy the incredible energy the event will bring to the city.
But I will also march in the same spirit of protest that the first marches embodied; for we have quite the battle ahead to keep fighting for progress in the recognition of our right to be who we are and live our lives without discrimination, harassment and violence, while also preventing backsliding of the progress achieved so far.
About the author:
Jessica Stern is Executive Director of OutRight Action International, and specializes in gender, sexuality and human rights globally. At OutRight, she has supported the legal registration of LGBTIQ organizations globally, helped secure the mandate of the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and advanced the UN LGBTI Core Group.
“From the moment of my birth in a southern Nepal border village, I was taught that my existence was unremarkable. Growing up I witnessed so many atrocities against women that, by age 9 or 10, my life seemed destined for the same oppressive path. I worked 15 hours per day in a Nepali sweatshop as a child laborer, receiving less than $2 per grueling shift, and only if I completed the hundreds of garments demanded of me. I ate, slept and toiled in my prison-cell sized sweatshop workstation, too afraid to even look out the window. By about age 21, my family had arranged a forced marriage for me. But through the help of a kind stranger who taught me to read and seize my destiny, I escaped the sweatshop and forced marriage.” —-Nasreen Sheikh
Nasreen Sheikh does not know her birthday or her exact age. That is because in her native southern Nepal border village, girls’ births are not recorded in any official record. “From the moment of her birth, society tells the rural girl child that her existence is unremarkable,” Nasreen says. “If one’s own birth does not matter, then the conditions in which she lives, works, strives, suffers and dies also do not matter.” These words served as the opening to Nasreen’s presentation at the Women Deliver Global Conference earlier this month, where over 8,000 world leaders, influencers, advocates, academics, activists, and journalists flocked to Vancouver to hear about the risks, challenges and triumphs of numerous women and girls, all working to create a gender equal world.
For Nasreen, who was determined to empower disadvantaged women, she did so by launching the Local Women’s Handicrafts, a fair trade sewing collective based in Kathmandu, Nepal. LWH is a social enterprise that empowers and educates disadvantaged women by providing a paid training program in design, sewing, weaving, embroidery, knitting, jewelry making and pattern work. To date, LWH has trained hundreds of Nepali women – many of whom escaped forced and abusive marriages, and all of whom are determined to escape poverty.
Nasreen’s seamstresses and artisans sew beautiful handicrafts each day and, in the process, sew the pieces of themselves back together as well. She has also launched a powerful public health and education initiative by making and giving away hundreds of biodegradable antibacterial sanitary pads to rural women and girls who cannot afford basic hygienic supplies. She also leads body image and women’s health workshops in cramped rural schools and villages for those who often suffer in silence and stigma.
Nasreen shatters everything anyone believes about the limitations of women, child laborers, fair trade, or even your environmentally irresponsible plastic water bottle. Although only 10 years ago, Nasreen could barely read or write, she is now giving talks around the world about her work and the plight of child laborers and survivors of forced marriage for such international conferences as the Foreign Trade Association (Brussels), Google (America), women’s conferences, dozen of universities and recently gave a TEDx talk.
“I envision a world where women are leaders in their communities, they are in control of their own lives, their own rights, and their own decisions.” – Nasreen
On Monday, June 17th, The Women’s Forum of New York hosted the 9th Annual Elly Awards Luncheon benefiting The Education Fund of the Women’s Forum. The awards, named for the Women’s Forum founder Elinor Guggenheimer, honor outstanding women leaders, and this year marked the 32nd anniversary of the Education Fund of the Women’s Forum, which has helped over 260 women, age 35 and over, whose lives have been disrupted by extreme adversity, complete their college degrees.
The 9th Annual Elly Awards Fellows
“The Education Fund of the Women’s Forum has transformed lives, influenced families, and improved communities,” says Barbara Marcus, President, The Education Fund of the Women’s Forum. “Launched thirty-two years ago to help other women realize their dream of a college education, The Education Fund has awarded over $1.8 million in financial awards to over 260 women to help them return to school, earn their degree, and take their place in the professional work world. Many of these women have overcome very difficult circumstances to realize their dream of a college education. We are proud to support their efforts.”
The Women’s Forum of New York is an invitation-only organization of more than 500 women representing the highest levels of achievement across all professional sectors and spheres of influence in our city. Founded in 1974, when women were first entering the executive ranks, today’s Women Forum members are recognized among New York’s thought leaders, influencers, trailblazers, policymakers, change agents, power brokers, innovators, icons, creators, and business builders.
The Education Fund is the educational and charitable arm of The Women’s Forum of New York, established under a separate corporate governance as a 501(c)(3) tax deductible organization. Since 1987, the Fund has provided financial awards to women 35 and over who have demonstrated high potential and faced extreme adversity which has disrupted their education and derailed their futures. These women fall outside the scope of most traditional scholarship programs and these awards help them complete their education and get their careers and lives back on track.
This year’s awards recipients included Katie Couric, award winning journalist, producer, New York Times bestselling author, cancer advocate, podcast host, documentary filmmaker, and former co-anchor of the Today Show on NBC; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, representative for the District of Columbia and former Professor of Law at Georgetown University, and Muriel Fox, Board Chair of Veteran Feminists of America and former Executive Vice-President of Carl Byoir & Associates.
“The Women’s Forum of New York is comprised of the most accomplished and successful women in the city from every professional sector,” says Linda A. Willett, President of the Women’s Forum of New York. “We know from our own success how critical education is, so our Education Fund is one way we ‘give back’ – helping women age 35 and over whose lives have been disrupted by extreme adversity complete their education and get their lives back on track. We hope we inspire them, because their dreams, drive, and determination certainly inspire us.”
When she was 5, the little boy Chavisa Woods was playing with pinched her butt. His mother, upon hearing the story, told her she probably liked it. When she was 36, a cab driver locked the doors and wouldn’t let her out until she gave him her phone number. In 100 TIMES: A MEMOIR OF SEXISM (Seven Stories Press; June 25, 2019), Woods lays out one hundred personal vignettes of the sexism, harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault she’s experienced in her life. The incidents, which range from lewd comments to attempted rape, take place when she was growing up in poor rural Southern Illinois, when she was working in St. Louis as a young adult, when she was living with her girlfriend in Brooklyn, and when she was a Shirley Jackson Award-winning author and three-time Lambda Finalist writing this book.
While Chavisa Woods chronicles these 100 stories to show how sexism and misogyny have impacted her life, something else happens simultaneously: she lays bare how these dynamics shape all women’s lives, and how relentlessly common they are. She underscores how thoroughly men feel entitled to women’s spaces and to their bodies, and how conditioned women are to endure it. It’s impossible to read 100 TIMES as a woman without cataloging one’s own “Number of Times.” As Woods writes in the book’s introduction, “It’s not that my life has been exceptionally plagued with sexism. It’s that it hasn’t.”
When I was twenty, still living in Saint Louis, two of my female lovers and one of my close gay male friends were all raped in the same year, two by strangers, and one by someone we knew. This didn’t happen to me, but going through this repeatedly with three unrelated people I was deeply intimate with in such a short time changed me forever.
One of my lovers was hospitalized and had to have stitches
in the places where the man who assaulted her had bitten out
chunks of her esh. She was a butch lesbian, and it was strange
and painful seeing someone who seemed to be so strong and
beautiful become so helpless. To me, she was the strongest,
hottest, butchest girl in the Midwest. When she was around,
I’d always felt safe. I’d never thought of her as someone who
needed protecting. Every dyke wanted to be with her. She was
a stud. e idea that a man could have rendered her powerless
The man was a stranger who had pushed his way into her house as she was coming home from work. He told the police he was having an a air with her, and that her boyfriend had come home and caught them having sex, and chased him out, and that it must have been her boyfriend who beat her uncon- scious, and that she was claiming it was rape for her boyfriend’s bene t, so that he wouldn’t get mad at her.
She didn’t have a boyfriend. She’d never had a boyfriend.
She was a gold-star butch. She was my lover, and probably had
another girl on the side, too. But the police still believed him,
She was hospitalized for days, and the detectives on the case sympathized with her rapist. While she was in the hospital, one detective on the case even referred to him as “that poor man.” Because of this, and after several months of intense emotional discussions with a lawyer and arguments with the detectives, she decided not to go to court and press charges. When she told me this, I thought, “we’re nothing to them.”
Queer women, that is. We don’t exist. They don’t see us. They looked at this hot, fierce butch, and I wondered what they saw; a “larger,” plain woman with a short haircut who dressed unassumingly and for some reason needed to pathetically lie about being beaten and raped?
When she got out of the hospital she came and stayed with me, and we didn’t leave my bed for two days. It was a blue cocoon. I did my best to comfort her, but I was also young and emotional, and it was difficult in moments for me to give exactly what she needed. I was also hurting and not coping well. I did my best. I hope it is a good memory for her, because, for me, those days lying together and holding each other for hours on end are sacred.
I remember her bruises as blue, the room as blue, and the color of the air as blue. I realized, for the first time in our long relationship, that she must see me as powerful, too, if she came to me after that happened to her. I realized we were both powerful together, because we could actually see and value each other. But that time left a blue mark on my heart also, as I realized, after everything that had happened that year, we were really nothing to the cops, nothing to so many straight men . . . nothing to the powers that order the world. Nothing.
Brooklyn-based writer Chavisa Woodsis the author of the short story collection Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country (Seven Stories Press, 2017), the novel The Albino Album (Seven Stories Press, 2013); and the story collection Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind (Fly by Night Press, 2009). Woods was the recipient of the 2014 Cobalt Prize for fiction and was a finalist in 2009, 2014, and 2018 for the Lambda Literary Award for fiction. In 2018 Woods was the recipient of the Kathy Acker Award for Writing and the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette.
Each year, on June 12, the International Labor Organization (ILO) commemorates the World Day Against Child Labor to focus global attention on the extent of child labor and the actions needed to eliminate it.
The ILO, which was founded a hundred years ago in the aftermath of World War I, is using the occasion of this year’s World Day Against Child Labor to urge accelerated action on Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which calls on all “to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor … and secure the prohibition and elimination of all forms of child labor.”
These are noble and important goals, but we also urge the ILO to direct its focus on SDG Target 5.3, which calls for the elimination of “all harmful practices, such as child, early, and forced marriage.” For the truth is obvious: Child marriage is child labor within the ILO’s own definition.
The reality of day-to-day life for girls living within child marriages is one of servitude. They carry out all of the household chores, perform demanding agricultural work, and cook with fire and heavy pots of boiling water over unventilated cookstoves. They also work from dusk until dawn, waking at night to breastfeed, tend to sick kids, and care for elders; and they are forced into a sexual relations before the age of consent.
Consider the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) criteria for the worst forms of child labor: Work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous or harmful to children; work that exposes children to physical or sexual abuse; work that forces children to work long hours, which unreasonably confines them to the premises, and could result in a child’s death, injury, illness or disability. Yet, many child “marriages” are still excluded from the ILO’s child labor statistics.
The dots simply need connecting: A marriage to a minor who is too young to give her legal consent is by definition a forced marriage, creating a non-consensual relationship between a child and the man posing illegally as her “spouse,” which results in a forced labor situation. Forced labor is the worst form of child labor. Therefore, child marriage is child labor.
AIDS-Free World concurs that anyone under 18 should be defined as a minor child, but we also recognize that the Convention on the Rights of the Child left it to individual governments to set the age at which a child becomes an adult and can legally consent. As a first step, while advocates for children work to raise the age to 18 in every country, it must be acknowledged that any “marriage” to a child who is too young to consent under her or his country’s existing laws is, by definition, in a forced marriage that results in child labor.
There is no need to change any treaties or conventions. The legal basis for finally beginning to count child marriage as the worst form of child labor is solidly in place. The
ILO statistics are no small matter. Bad data makes bad policy, and vice versa.
Undercounting the number of girls forced into child labor by omitting all those at work within illegal marriages is discriminatory. It means that critical resources, policies, and programs are being misallocated. People who are genuinely devoted to ending child labor worldwide are unaware that their goal cannot be reached unless we also end child marriage. Recent studies estimate that of the 12 million child marriages that take place every year, at least 7.5 million are illegal in the countries where they occur. This means a minimum of 7.5 million girls are missing from each year’s estimated total of child laborers, rendering the data inaccurate and skewing policy decisions.
It takes strength to abandon old habits and outdated perspectives; it takes courage to agree to a recount that will put the ILO farther from the finish line of eliminating child labor worldwide. But the world needs that strength and courage from the International Labor Organization and, more importantly, and urgently, so do millions upon millions of girls hidden in plain sight.
As the ILO outlined in its founding constitution one hundred years ago: “Universal peace can be established only if it is based on social justice.”