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“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.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of women and 57 percent of men say abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.” But “checking a box on a questionnaire doesn’t tell us much, because polls don’t measure intensity,” noted Katha Pollitt in The Nation recently. “There is no box for “Sure, babe, whatever” or for “Yes! Abortion rights is the hill I would die on.”
When it comes to speaking up for women’s reproductive health and voices, pro-choice men’s voices have been more or less mute. It’s a tricky conversation but it shouldn’t be. While not everyone believes men should have a seat at the reproductive rights table, would excluding men really be in women’s best interests? In their Girls’ Globe article, “What do men have to do with women’s reproductive rights?”, Gary Barker of Promundo, an international NGO engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality, and Serra Sippel of Change, a 25 year-old center for health and gender equity, argue that it would be a disservice to women to exclude men from sexual and reproductive rights conversations because it “…keeps the burden for contraception on women. It halts efforts that encourage men to support the reproductive choices of their female partners, and perpetuates a culture in which no man is perceived to be, or engaged to be, an ally in ensuring reproductive rights of all people.”
For many men who believe in gender equality, me included, there’s been little of a sustained, consistent men’s pro-choice effort. We heard the maxim, “women’s bodies; women’s choices” and nodded. Consequently, many of us backed off from actively working to protect Roe v. Wade, believing we could always re-engage if circumstances became dire—if Roe was being threatened, right? After all, we reasoned, Roe’s been settled law since 1973. Well, it is now more than unsettled—it is unraveling. In the face of vicious anti-choice laws sweeping through southern and mid-western states, men cannot afford to stay silent.
Before the 2006 mid-term elections, I was among hundreds of volunteers who went door to door across South Dakota canvassing to overturn what was then the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation. For weeks, pro-choice legions criss-crossed the state. I stood on residents’ doorsteps on leafy streets in small Dakota towns explaining why I’d come all the way from Massachusetts. “I have a son, 18, and three daughters all in their twenties,” I’d begin. “Imagine if even one parent in South Dakota had a daughter who’d been raped and became pregnant. Must that family follow a state law that forbade the young woman from aborting the rapist’s child? One that compelled her to bear his baby?” Often enough my comments struck a nerve. We won that battle (55 to 45 percent) and South Dakota’s law was overturned by the will of the people. Nevertheless, vigorous efforts to restrict a woman’s right to choose continue unabated to this day all across South Dakota.
I can come up with a half-dozen reasons why I didn’t maintain as active an involvement in the reproductive rights movement as I might have; but none hold water. It’s painful to admit that I have fallen short, missed the mark—that I have not been a better ally to women in the struggle to maintain their reproductive rights. After all, as a man who believes in gender equality, I have always been able to enjoy and manage my own body knowing that the same is not true for women. I now know I cannot remain silent. How can I ask other men to speak out for women’s reproductive health and rights if I‘m not willing to do so as well? Men need to encourage other men to step up.
Hopefully Father’s Day, 2019, will jumpstart some important conversations among men and between women and men. More than a new grill or tickets to the ballgame—and certainly beyond the demeaning dad stereotypes that get aired every June—there are practical ways men can stand with women at this perilous time. Whether you’re a father, stepdad, father figure, brother, uncle, nephew, coach or mentor, we need you, not just on Father’s Day, but every day!
Here are some actions men—not just fathers—can take:
– Volunteer at a clinic, including escorting patients inside.
– For fathers: in lieu of a gift ask your family to make a donation to a local clinic, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, or all three.
– Urge your faith community’s leader to deliver a sermon supporting a women’s right to choose (or be the guest speaker yourself).
– Write a letter to the editor stating your unequivocal support for women’s reproductive rights.
– Invite a group of men over to talk about the threat women face and why men need to break their silence.
– Urge researchers to accelerate work on developing male birth control methods.
– If you have a son old enough, talk with him about respecting women’s autonomy.
– Let your daughter know you unequivocally support her right to control her body.
– Alert anti-choice legislators that you won’t just vote to unseat them, you’ll work to elect pro-choice candidates.
Katha Pollitt has other suggestions, beginning with noting the economic advantage most men have: “That dollar you earn compared with the average woman’s 80 cents? Put it to work by donating today to an abortion fund in one of the abortion-ban states,” she suggests. Among possible recipients could be Missouri’s Gateway Women’s Access Fund, which helps people in this state with more than six million people, but only one clinic, and where the latest super-restrictive “heartbeat bill” was recently passed. (To support the Missouri fund, along with many others, go to abortionfunds.org).
Women are facing a full-blown emergency. The clock is ticking; a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade could soon be before the Supreme Court. With the flames of intolerance rapidly approaching our sisters’ windows, men must join the bucket brigade to put out the fire. NOW!
Quotes from Men about Abortion – From the Political to the Personal:
“Among the scores of pro-feminist, anti-violence men’s organizations Voice Male magazine has written about and partnered with over the past three decades, are committed colleagues who champion gender equality, working both in North America and around the world. Their overarching goal of transforming masculinity takes many forms, including (but not limited to) advocating to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault; educating young men about respectful relationships; involving actively fathers in caregiving; consulting with NGOs around the world on projects to advance gender equality; and training early childhood educators on strategies for raising healthy boys. Their projects are representative but by no means exhaustive among efforts aimed at advancing a new expression of manhood, a new vision of masculinities. Recently, six colleagues that have been engaged in pro-feminist men’s work for decades shared with me some of their thoughts about men’s role in supporting women’s reproductive rights. The edited excerpts below range from the political to the personal.”—Rob Okun
“Although we are making progress in helping men and boys understand their role in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the vast majority of men, including many working to engage men and boys, are still unsure, largely silent on the question of a woman’s access to abortion and reproductive rights. Could abortion still be viewed by most men as a “woman’s issue?” We were able to break the barrier when it came to gender-based violence and gender equality, so why are we stuck on abortion? Removing access to safe abortion is a form of gender-based violence. Controlling a woman’s reproductive choices—including access to abortion—is a form of individual and state-sponsored control over a woman’s body. If men are speaking out against all other forms of violence against women, then we should speak out against this form of violence, too. Men and boys need to join women advocates. We owe it to the women’s movement, and we owe it to ourselves.” —Humberto Carolo, executive director, White Ribbon, board co-chair MenEngage Alliance
“Political analysts say that pro-choice women, outraged by the abortion ban legislation sweeping through state legislatures, will be an important political force in 2020, perhaps more than in any single previous presidential election. The idea that threats to women’s reproductive freedom are also an issue for men is only mentioned—if at all—as an afterthought. This has to change. Liberal and progressive men need to hear loud and clear that their support for women’s right to comprehensive health care services—which includes access to safe, legal abortion—needs to be an absolute first-order priority, because without it there is no gender equality. And without gender equality, there is no real democracy.” — Jackson Katz, cofounder, Mentors in Violence Prevention and author of The Macho Paradox
“In the mid-1960s my mother had an abortion. I was 12 years old and didn’t know that it happened until decades later. Because abortion was illegal in the United States, my mom and dad had to sneak around like criminals. They ended up in Puerto Rico where abortion was also illegal, but more common. Luckily they found a safe and compassionate doctor. My dad was by my mom’s side throughout the process,supporting her decision. The systematic erosion of women’s reproductive rights happening now should be ringing alarm bells for men around the country. Control of our own bodies is the most basic human right. Erosion of this right moves us steadily into a world where we are no longer free to make our own choices. Will we speak out on behalf of mothers, sisters, wives and lovers? Will we stand up on behalf of all of our freedom.” —Steven Botkin, coordinating committee, North America MenEngage
“Men who support gender equality must join with women and people of all genders in supporting women’s reproductive right to choose. Men also need to take their share of responsibility for birth control, as many unplanned pregnancies are the product of sexual abuse, reproductive coercion or mere irresponsibility on the part of men. If as a society, we want to reduce the number of abortions, men have to do their part.” —Juan Carlos Areán, director, children and youth program Futures Without Violence
“Men’s participation in reproduction is minimal. Minutes of pleasure; our desire fulfilled. Then what? If, despite precautions, the woman accidentally becomes pregnant, what should men do? It’s simple: assist her in whatever way she decides. Support her right to choose. It’s her life; not ours. A growing number of state governments are insisting theycan determine what she does with her body and her life. What should men do? Basking in our male privilege, remaining quiet in the face of immoral impositions upon women’s basic human rights is unacceptable. There is no neutrality when there is oppression. Men must speak out publicly. Join women in support of their right to decide—for themselves—what they will do if they become pregnant. Do not sit quietly by. Women’s reproductive rights are not just a woman’s issue; they are an issue of justice and democratic freedom.” —Chuck Derry, cofounder Gender Violence Institute
“When I was still a teenager, I was having unprotected sex with my girlfriend. I was ignorant and irresponsible; I assumed she was taking measures to avoid a pregnancy Why? My reasoning was shallow. I thought, well, she’s the woman, and she’s had more experience in these matters since she was mother to a four year-old. When she told me she was pregnant, I freaked out. I was about to start my first year of college. I “convinced” her to abort the pregnancy. I played the victim; guilt-tripping her, saying something like, “How could you do this to me when I’m just starting college?” I acted as if I was not co-responsible for the pregnancy. Feeling alone, she got the abortion. I was not even present. My “excuse?” She was living in another city and did not let me know where and when it would occur. All these decades later, the question remains: When women face an unplanned pregnancy and all the complex decision-making it requires, where are the men? A few years later, after I was lucky enough to be exposed to feminism, I became active in the profeminist men’s movement in my native Nicaragua. That was in the late eighties and nineties. Then about 20 years ago, our Managua-based profeminist men’s collective, Grupo de Hombres contra la Violencia, drafted a statement about men’s responsibility regarding abortion. Here’s an excerpt: As brothers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, and friends of women who at some time have needed or may need a therapeutic abortion to safeguard their life and health, we reject the claim of criminalizing therapeutic abortion… Men have no right to demand that women put their lives at risk… It is the right of women to put their own health and well-being first. If therapeutic abortion is penalized, then men should also be imprisoned. Men are the cause of many abortions, particularly when we behave in the following ways:
– Pressure or force women to have sex.
– Refuse to use condoms or other male contraception.
– Prevent a partner from using her preferred contraceptive method.
– Inflict physical, sexual or emotional violence on a partner.
– Deny responsibility for her pregnancy.
– Fail to comply with legal and moral obligation to support our children.
– Strong-arm and/or threaten our partner to abort.
Abortion is a very complex, delicate issue. But what is clear is women are the ones who experience pregnancy and abortion. Women must always have the last word.”
—Oswaldo Montoya, Networks associate, MenEngage Alliance; cofounder, Grupo de Hombres contra la Violencia, Managua
Women have been told to sit down and keep quiet, to stand off to the side and stay out of view.
In other words: Be Polite.
We have witnessed and watched, with absolute disgust and horror, how women who have run for office have been dragged through the mud, hung out to dry, vilified, verbally and emotionally assaulted and put in their “place”—that “place” being a corner—or shushed, told to stand in the background, or ordered to stand behind because we all know that old saying: Behind every great man…is a woman, being told to be polite.
To say that women are judged unfairly is an understatement. We are judged from every single angle: from the way we talk, to the way we dress, to the way we wear our hair, to the shoes on our feet, to the clothes on our back. We are judged for being strong, being determined, being smart, being gutsy, and being persistent.
Nevertheless, We Run!
Women candidates are put under a different microscope than their male counterparts are; women candidates are pulled apart at the seams and admonished for emotional outbreaks, instead of being hailed for their passion and compassion and empathy, which are qualities women have in abundance. Our anger is equated with hormonal imbalance, not inequality, and our frustration, we are told ad nauseam, comes from either menstruation or menopause—period. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, is one of the six Democratic women who have stepped into the Democratic presidential ring, all knowing beforehand that they will get pummeled many times, got into a bit of verbal tussle with Chris Wallace at a FOX News town hall meeting where he reminded her that she had been invited and she needed to be a bit more polite.
When is the last time you heard someone tell a male candidate to be more polite? Let me tell you what being polite does. It shrinks our soul, diminishes our shine, and it keeps us wedged—tucked—into a corner. We can’t ride a wave because being polite would prevent us from making waves. It keeps us fresh and tidy, discouraged from speaking our truth or declaring our truth, because if we speak our truth or declare our truth and someone gets offended…and we all know someone is bound to get offended when a woman speaks her mind.
“Mind Your Business“ is what we’re told.
Being polite is agreeing and acquiescing when every fiber in our being is shouting and screaming, “Do not agree and do not acquiesce.” It keeps us quiet and in the background, preventing us from being seen, being heard, and being loud.
It is waiting until everyone else gets served, waiting until everyone else is seated even if it means sitting on the floor. It is letting so much crap eat away at us—at our soul, at our heart, at our spirit, at our life force—allowing others to make claims on what is ours, allowing others to cut ahead in line, allowing others to steal our thunder. Polite is risk free, no sharp edges, no noticeable scars; blemish free.
It is trying to be perfect. It is tasteless and bland.
Polite is a first cousin to being nice; both are rooted in fear and worry, preventing us from standing tall, standing up and standing for who and what we believe in, allowing others to get ahead at our expense. Polite may give us the shirt off its back, but it will never allow us to stand on it, and it most certainly won’t have ours. Polite will never have our back.
Now is not the time for women to be POLITE. Now is the time for women to be POLITICAL.
Welcome to The Ovary Office.
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.
The Ovary Office is the brainchild of Amy Ferris, 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.
Today, on World Environment Day, we hope you’ll listen to what some girls in East Africa have to say about the link between girl’s rights and conservation.
In May 2019, twelve girls from Kenya and Tanzania came together as part of UNEARTH Kenya, a joint project between GlobalGirl Media, BRAVE, and Samburu Girl’s Foundation. UNEARTH began with a week-long media and leadership training for girls living on the perimeters of some of East Africa’s most remote and wildest places, teaching them to become digital storytellers, girls’ rights advocates and champions of conservation.
In the second week, the girls hit the road, traveling to wildlife reserves and staying in lodges that usually only foreign tourists frequent. On this road trip, the first of its kind in Kenya, the girls got behind the camera, writing, directing, filming and editing two short video reports. Female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage are still practiced in the communities the girls are from, with only 19% of girls receiving a secondary school education. But these girls are part of a growing movement to change these harmful cultural practices. In an area where a wild rhino’s rights and protection might seem more important than a girl’s, they asked some tough questions and got some answers.
The short video, Girls’ Rights or Conservation?, (link below) aims to change the narrative for girls living alongside wildlife, and provide opportunities for those working in the field of conservation to embrace these young women as leaders and change makers.
Thank you to these amazing budding journalists and conservation advocates!
I was 15 years old and walking to the first day of my summer job. I was thinking about making a good impression on my boss. I had painstakingly picked out my outfit: a purple sun dress and white espadrilles. The nervous rush of excitement brought about by my acquaintance with adulthood was quickly interrupted as I got off the number 1 train at 18th street and 7th Avenue in New York City. “Hey, beautiful!” “You’re sexy” “Gorgeous” “Mmmmm.” These are some of the many comments I heard on my walk to work that day. My first thought was to respond ‘thank you.’ After all, these comments sounded like compliments. But in these moments, they felt nothing like compliments. I felt uncomfortable: like my body was under surveillance. Each new block made me more self conscious. I wanted to hide. Quickly, I started to think there must be something about what I was wearing that was provoking this harassment. Was my dress too short or too tight? When I got home that night and told my parents, they suggested I ignore it. My dad even said I should ‘dress down’ to avoid provoking unwanted attention.
Years later, for a freshman year writing assignment, I decided to do something about the harassment I was facing. Frustrated by feeling silenced, I decided to respond to catcalling in a creative way. I started to collect catcalls, both from my experiences and from those of friends, and write them on the streets with chalk where they were being shouted, along with the hashtag #stopstreetharassment. The colorful chalk would mark the spots where someone was harassed. It would catch people’s attention and bring to light something that is normally ignored. Then, I would post their images on Instagram to illustrate the catcalling spectrum, highlighting comments from “hey beautiful” to “I want to f*ck the sh*t out of you.” The combination of public art and Instagram would be a method of raising awareness. It would make people confront this problematic behavior and educate them about how frequent and invasive this behavior is. I could provide victims of harassment a space to share their story and start a dialogue about harassment.
As a 19 year old student, I never could have predicted the impact that this project would have. At first, writing in chalk was a way for me to feel empowered when so much of my agency in public space had been taken away. But this project has become so much bigger than me. In December, 2017, almost two years after I started my project and shortly after the #MeToo movement went viral, @catcallsofnyc got picked up by international press; @catcallsofnyc went from having 800 followers to over 10 thousand in just one week. This growth proved that the account was providing something that many people around the world needed. Much like my younger self; many folks facing harassment felt isolated by these experiences. They were ashamed to tell people because they felt it was somehow their fault.
Being one voice among many makes the fight against street harassment louder and harder to ignore, and this feeling of empowerment is contagious. I began receiving messages from people asking, “Can I bring this initiative to my city?” Accounts started sprouting up around the world. Catcalls of London, Catcalls of Amsterdam and Catcalls of Paris were some of the first to launch. Soon after, Catcalls of Mauritius, Catcalls of Berlin, Catcalls of Mumbai. Catcalls of Iran. Catcalls of Cape Town, South Africa, and Catcalls of Dhaka, Bangladesh began . Now, there are over 100 programs around the world that also collect stories of harassment and document them on the streets. My idea, which I now call “Chalking Back,” has been a springboard for young activists around the world to fight back against harassment, creatively.
More than half of the women who run these programs are under the age of 18, and 88% of people are under the age of 25. They represent a wide variety of racial and religious groups and, because of them, what was originally a class project has become a global movement. The bravery and commitment of everyone involved in “Chalk Back” has built this movement from the ground up.
Last week, I graduated from New York University (NYU) with a degree in Gender and Sexuality, and after working on this project for three years as a full-time student, I have decided to commit my time to turning “Chalk Back” into an international non-profit to provide additional resources for the movement which will allow it to grow. Our mission is to allow young people to advocate for cultural change within their communities, and ultimately end street harassment through creative means such as chalk events and workshops. It is a community and youth-led project, based on our personal experiences.
We have been harassed. We have been disempowered. We have been objectified. Now, we will amplify our unique experiences to come together as a collective whole.
Sophie Sandberg, a recent graduate of New York University, is an activist, organizer and professional speaker. She founded Catcalls of NYC, a viral Instagram account and initiative which seeks to raise public awareness about street harassment using street art.
“This book is applicable to any and every ethnic group,” Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, PhD., says. “It speaks to every woman who has been objectified or who has fear of harassment.” By studying trauma, Dr. Firestone has learned that the biological memory in all of us will continue to vibrate within us, stimulated by what our ancestors’ experienced. “We are connected not only between one another, but also from generation to generation. There are horizontal ripples and longitudinal ripples,” she continues, “Every thing we do to liberate ourselves from trauma will also impact generations. This is particularly true between mothers and daughters. It is never too late.”
Shedding New Light on a Dark History
In my twenty-fifth year, I dreamed of a slender
Hungarian woman dressed in a fur coat. Beneath her lavish
attire, I saw that she was, in fact, a naked skeleton, peering at
me with both irony and affection. The woman could see that
I was young and raw, paralyzed by an unnamed guilt, barely
able to buy myself a teapot or a secondhand sweater without
being assailed by self-doubt.
Dahlink, she called to me, her thick accent comforting and
somehow familiar: Don’t be a fool! Don’t you think we would
be enjoying our beautiful things if we could? Her jaw clacked
with boney laughter.
Suddenly the lights went on and the room filled with rich-
ly clad Hungarian ladies, skeletons all, enjoying a tea party.
It was clear that they were all dead, yet they were also radi-
ant and full of life. Turning toward me, their voices rose in
unison: Do you think it helps us that you suffer? Live the life we
could not live!
I sat up in bed and wept. Their words had penetrated me,
touching the core of my malaise, an outsized case of survivor’s
guilt I did not know I had. Live the life we could not live! These
words became a turning point, a mantra, a north star. I took
them with me as I found my footing in the world, followed
the call to become a psychotherapist, and ultimately, rejoined
the religion that I had fled.
But it was not until fifteen years later that I learned the
truth of my dream. I learned that my German grandmother’s
entire family came from Austro-Hungary; almost all had
been murdered in Nazi Europe. Their elegant bearing had not
helped them one wit to escape Hitler’s roundups; their assim-
ilation into high society meant nothing in the end. Stripped
of all their beautiful things, they died like paupers in the
Like many post-Holocaust families, my parents did not
speak directly of these matters. The heavy legacy of loss re-
mained muted. Yet for my five siblings and me, it was like
finding ourselves in deep waters without life vests or instruc-
tion. We responded as best we could, each of us fighting the
undertow of history, swimming or sinking, not knowing how
to help one another, divided by the trauma we had inherited,
but never knowing why.
Scholars of intergenerational trauma tell us that the silence shrouding a family’s untold stories paradoxically becomes the strongest form of transmission. This was the case in my own family, and in myriad families with whom I have worked as rabbi and psychotherapist.
Yet, there is an inner compulsion to know. “One has to know one’s buried truth in order to be able to live one’s life,” writes the late Professor Dori Laub, himself a survivor. Many of us struggle to bring to consciousness the hidden legacies that our families bequeath to us. For some, it takes years to piece together the unspoken wounds that have shaped our lives. The residue of our ancestors’ unresolved injury does not simply disappear. In fact, it often weighs most heavily on the introspective, sensitive members of the next generations.
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, PhD, is an author, Jungian psychotherapist, and founding rabbi of Congregation Nevei Kodesh in Boulder, Colorado. Ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi in 1992, she is a leader in the international Jewish Renewal Movement and a renowned Jewish scholar and teacher.
It’s a subject that’s been on my mind — older women. They’ve been the target of jokes forever. Now that I’m a little older myself, I’m not so sure I like that, and neither does clinical psychologist and bestselling author Mary Pipher. Pipher wrote the seminal book about adolescent girls, “Reviving Ophelia.” Now, she’s traveled to the other end of the age spectrum with her latest book “Women Rowing North.” It’s about flourishing as we age. To round out our conversation, I invited my young friend Haley Zimring to join us. Haley is 28 and has two young children. So here we are, talking young and old and all the stages in between. – Carole Zimmer