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Haitian earthquake effect on girls and young women

January 17, 2010 2 comments

Women and girls have always carried the brunt of natural disasters. They become more vulnerable than they may already be. They become more impoverished, due to the fact that they were probably in a worse-off financial situation beforehand. Since they’re generally the primary caretakers, they have other people to take care of, so they don’t put their own needs first. Also, the countries are usually rebuilt on the shoulders of women. You get the picture. Obviously nature disasters effect men in negative ways, but women just carry the brunt of negative effects.

When I heard about the earthquake, I was immediately thinking about how women and girls were going to be effected, and now there is actually an acknowledgment that young women and girls are in more danger now than ever before in Haiti.

As of right now, relief efforts are being put into Haiti, and many have said that things like security is just not something that is important at this moment. However, Gerardo Ducos, a Haitian researcher for Amnesty International states,

“My worry is we put a lot of effort into bringing relief, but we have to have some protective measures to benefit women and girls to avoid their being victimized and sexually assaulted. It was already difficult in ordinary times.”

As Ducos said, it was already difficult during ordinary times. There are various reported numbers, but so many girls and young women do not report their rapes or other sexual assaults. During this time of crisis, this issue is just going to get worse. Yifat Susskind, policy and communications director for MADRE, says that women need more support during this time, but this is what happenings:

“They need support commensurate to the burden they are carrying. Instead, we see women and girls are targeted in all sorts of way, especially gender violence.”

She also mentioned that there are simply more losses for girls and young women, by stating,

“Her grandmother, the one person (a girl) could go to for protection or solace – she doesn’t know if she is dead or alive. Her school, the one safe place she could go every day is destroyed. … “

Ultimately, this earthquake has been such a huge hit for everyone, and it’s wonderful that the world is really stepping up and pouring out love to Haiti. We just can’t forget that women and girls are the ones that are going to be effected by this the most in the short and long run.

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Plastic surgery obsession in Western societies

January 15, 2010 3 comments

First off, I’m sorry for neglecting this little blog at the moment. I have some personal family things going on and I’m completely distracted and incoherent at times. I’m going to try and be as consistent as I can, but I can’t really guarantee that right now!

Anyway, by now, you might have seen Heidi Montag (The Hills) on the cover of People Magazine, being called a plastic surgery addict. She is 23 years old. I seriously don’t want to give Montag anymore press, but the issue of a plastic surgery obsession is of interest and is changing the landscape of image for women in North America. So first, here is Montag’s before and after photo, where she clearly had multiple procedures. Ten to be exact.

Um, I just need to say that she now looks 40, and I’m not entirely sure if that’s what she was going for. Isn’t our culture obsessed with youthfulness as well? Maybe Montag isn’t. Not sure.

So how is the availability of plastic surgery effecting women and girls in our society? Well, obviously we already know that women and girls alike are self-conscious about their appearance, and celebrities who do partake in plastic surgery don’t help the situation. I must say, the one good thing about Montag coming out and saying she’s had so much plastic surgery might mean that “normal” women and girls won’t even worry to compare themselves to her apparent “perfection”.

But what about the people that are having plastic surgery that claim they haven’t had any work done? Women and girls are still looking at those people and saying “Oh crap, I’m never going to look like that“, or “Wow…she’s so perfect. I wish I could be like that“, or something along those lines. Now that plastic surgery is readily available to those who can afford it, artificial beauty is becoming more commonplace.

And what does more artificial beauty create? Shitty feelings in women and girls. Low self-esteem. More image-consciousness. The feeling to need “perfection”. We know that women and girls are valued in terms of their appearance, but as the obsession with plastic surgery grows, I think this value based on appearance will grow as well, which is disheartening. Now, I am not blaming celebrities and other people who can afford it, for getting plastic surgery. We do have beauty standards in our society for women and there is absolute pressure to be a part of that standard. I guess what I’m wishing for is a society where these things never mattered. A society where women and girls were not valued for their appearance over a lot of other things, such as intelligence, talents, or individual personalities.

Do you agree? Do you think our society’s obsession with plastic surgery will ultimately hurt women and girls in the end?

Hillary Clinton’s speech for the International Conference on Population and Development

January 11, 2010 Leave a comment

On January 8th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech commemorating the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development and it was a great speech for women’s rights, health and reproductive rights. Here are some excepts (via The Broadsheet):

“One woman dies every minute of every day in pregnancy or childbirth” and, “for every woman who dies, another 20 suffer from injury, infection or disease every minute.”

“20 million unsafe abortions” occur every year, millions of women die annually from preventable sexually transmitted diseases and millions of lives are destroyed by fistula, which is often “the result of pregnancies that occur when a girl is too young.”

“Seventy million — that’s sev-en-ty million — women and girls worldwide have been subjected to female genital cutting,” which can lead to life-threatening infections and complications while giving birth.

One quote I love, as it is seems so simple, yet…the world doesn’t get it, is:

“Investing in the potential of women and girls is the smartest investment we can make. It is connected to any problem on anyone’s mind in the world today.”

There is much more than these small excepts, I encourage all to watch the speech here.

Men Against Violence Against Women Panel

November 17, 2009 2 comments

Last night, I had the great experience of attending an all men’s panel discussion, provided by my university’s Anti-Violence Network. The panel was entitled “Men Against Violence Against Women”. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first showed up, but it turned out to be a great discussion and some awesome points were brought up, that I want to highlight here.

1. Men need to acknowledge hegemonic masculinity
One speaker went over the basic hegemonic masculinity in our North American culture. This means strong, invulnerable, emotionless, silent, and angry (with anger really being the only emotion allowed). Homophobia is also a part of this. Men aren’t allowed to be feminine in any way, because the traditional man is supposed to be everything opposite of femininity. All of these things open up the pathway to violence, because women and homosexuals are “othered” or dehumanized; therefore, men feel that they CAN be violent.

2. There needs to be a new conception of masculinity
There needs to be a positive conception of being a man, which will make for better partnerships with everyone (women, other men, and children). Men need to reconceptualize strength. Strength can be something that is good, and not used for harm. Also, there needs to be insight within this new masculinity. Openness, self-reflection and self-awareness are necessary for this new masculinity.

3. Men must take responsibility
Many times, men are excused from their violence, or have some form of excuse for their violence. One of these excuses is that it’s a man or boys “nature” to be violent. But we were reminded again tonight that nothing is biological about violence! But another important point was that men who are not violent against women must also take responsibility. These non-violent men must not be silent. They must tell other men and boys that violence against women is not acceptable. Without these men leading other men and boys, this issue is NOT going to go away.

4. Action must be taken
One panelist discussed how there is too much damn research. We all KNOW that there is a problem, and we can continue paying for research to be done, but it’s not doing anything about the problem! We need to move on from identifying the problem. It is now time to seriously act. We must be examples to the younger generation. We must tell others that this issue is not acceptable. However you can act against this issue, you have to do it!

There were some other really awesome things discussed, which I’m going to save for a later post, since I don’t want this post to go on forever. I will just say that it was simply refreshing to hear men discuss this issue and not pat themselves on the back for having this panel in the first place. You know, that self-congratulatory thing? Not cool! So, it was awesome not seeing that. More discussions like this need to happen, because ultimately, this is an issue that only men can get rid of.

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HIV is top killer for young women

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

A new report done by the World Health Organization has stated that for the ages between 15 and 49, HIV is the biggest killer for women.

Women are “particular vulnerability” to infection by HIV, WHO says, due to both biology and gender inequality.

WHO Director General Dr Margaret Chan said:

“It’s time to pay girls and women back, to make sure that they get the care and support they need to enjoy a fundamental human right at every moment of their lives, that is their right to health,”

I couldn’t have said it any better myself. It’s true that women and girls need to have better health care, all over the world. This doesn’t just mean more care for those with HIV, but other things, such as reproductive health. As for HIV though, there does need to be more access to the treatment drugs which are available in Western countries for the many millions in Africa (and other underdeveloped countries) that suffer from this disease. Just because these people may not live in a developed country, does not mean that they don’t deserve the same treatment that people can get over here. It’s sad and shows true character when the rich don’t give to the poor.

And of course, more preventative measures need to be taken to stop this disease from getting a hold of people. Proper sex education must be done, for both women and men. None of this abstinence-only crap, where condoms are evil. Also, since so many women have this disease because of rape, we still need to fight institutionalized sexism all around the world. We need to make sure that we are taking measures to let men know that they have no right to rape anyone.

Ultimately, this is not a fair disease. This is not a fair disease because so many women and girls get it without even consenting to the sexual intercourse they get it from. This remains a feminist issue until many things change.

Why must activism happen AFTER the wrong act?

November 5, 2009 Leave a comment

Today, I read about how the Richmond High students came together, along with community members and the mayor, for an event to support the girl who was gang raped and speak out against sexism and racism which is still so pervasive in our culture.

The white streamers were everywhere – worn as armbands, headbands, neckties, leg-bands – as hundreds of Richmond High School students gathered on the football field with teachers, parents and community members to express their support for the victim of a horrendous gang rape on the school grounds and their determination to act together to prevent future violence.

The speakers spoke of “building a culture that rejects racist and sexist actions and comments and fights back against the underlying social conditions in which such attitudes flourish.” As well as mentioning how these injustices need to be faced on a daily basis, not just after “one acute problem”.

This is all great. This is all fine and dandy and in fact, it seems like a great community movement at this point and who knows, some of those Richmond High students could go on and be the next leaders in fighting social injustice. However, my question is this, why does it take one horrendously wrong act, or “acute problem”, to create activism within people?

If you think about it, many horrendous acts of sexism or racism (or any other ism) wouldn’t occur if the activism was done on a daily basis. As the mayor said at the Richmond gathering, there would be “no bystanders”. That’s the whole point, right? If activism is performed everyday and people are educated about things like sexism and racism, people will no longer be passive about what’s happening around them.

But what gets them to the point of activism? Obviously, to some extend, something has to be there already. Usually something broad, like sexism or racism. I mean, if those things didn’t already exist, we wouldn’t of had great activist leaders of our time, like Gloria Steinem and Martin Luther King Jr. However, when it comes to individual (but extremely serious) incidents, such as the gang rape in Richmond, CA, why wouldn’t people do something about this at the time it was all happening? Everyone knows that something like gang rape is wrong. I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe that they thought that what they were doing was just fine, even if they might have been in an impaired state due to alcohol. Everyone has a moral compass, and gang rape is off the charts, screaming “WRONG”.

But had people not been educated enough about these things? Did these people who were bystanders, or participants think they didn’t have a voice and therefore couldn’t be against this? And how does one get a voice when it comes to injustice anyway? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but these are things that need to be addressed. We cannot just continuously wait for the next horrendous crime against a girl or woman to occur and jump on the whoa-we-need-to-fight-sexism train. This is an ongoing battle, and activism must take place before these incidents occur.

I’m not trying to knock whatever Richmond is doing right now. I think it’s good that they are collectively realizing what’s going on in our society today and will hopefully push towards a society where sexism isn’t so pervasive. However, what I am saying is that activism after the wrong act is too late. It’s too late for that 15 year-old girl. It’s too late for others who have been raped or murdered because of sexism or racism.

We all need to be collective in our actions and make sure that it’s never too late again, for anyone.

Teen pregnancy an “epidemic” in foster care

July 23, 2009 Leave a comment

I read an interesting article from Time yesterday about teen pregnancy in foster care. It’s never anything that I’ve really thought about (despite me volunteering with foster kids every week), and the article is quite enlightening about this topic. It’s definitely a recommended reading!

To start off with a stat: Nearly 50% of girls in foster care have been pregnant at least once before they are 19. My reaction was a big, fat wow. There is clearly something wrong here! Luckily, the article goes into why this is obviously neglected.

Yet very few advocates and policymakers have focused on the issue of pregnancy among foster youth. “Most people in the teen-pregnancy field don’t really pay much attention to teens in foster care,” explains the National Campaign’s senior policy director, Andrea Kane. “And most people working in the child-welfare system are so busy trying to place kids in homes that they don’t focus much on pregnancy prevention.”

The article also says that girls in foster care are more likely to have sex at a younger age, be forced to have sex and less likely to use contraception. Well, these issues just open another can of worms which can be connected with education, the instability of foster care (and sometimes the bad conditions of foster care), peer groups, etc.

Of course within the realm of education, comes sex education. The article brings up this issue as a big one. Social workers aren’t talking to the kids about sex education, and the foster parents are definitely not bringing it up. I mean, it’s true. Parents of even their even biological children don’t want to talk about sex. It’s just one of those things that gets “passed off” to someone else, which usually ends up being peer groups, and we all know that peer groups aren’t the best place to learn what you need to learn about sex.

Fortunately, something is being done about this.

Planned Parenthood is recruiting and training thousands of peer educators — many of them in foster care themselves — who can reach out to teens with medically accurate advice. The organization is also testing out an online chat service that enables teens to get answers from a health professional at any time, day or night. “Sometimes,” says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, “we find teens are more comfortable asking a total stranger.”

This is a great solution, and I hope that it will work at least to some extent! Obviously nothing is going to happen overnight, but the more advocacy for these foster kids, the better.