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Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad in Bangalore, India, through the Vira I. Heinz Program. While I was enamored by the colorful architecture, food, and clothing there, I was exposed to some of the less colorful aspects of India in my sociology course. The large scale and impact that human trafficking has on India was difficult to comprehend and, frankly, disheartening. Traffickers target children begging for money on the streets, women in brothels, and poor manual laborers. When thinking of human trafficking, most people imagine red-light districts in other parts of the world, but human trafficking is closer to home than most may realize.

Photo taken in India by Huong Nguyen

A modern-day form of slavery, human trafficking occurs not only abroad but within the U.S. border — manipulating and exploiting people for profit. U.S. federal law defines victims of human trafficking as “children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of ‘labor or services,’ such as domestic workers held in a home or farm workers forced to labor against their will.” Sadly, human trafficking occurs in all 50 states; however, the exact number of victims is largely unknown or inaccurate due to various factors, including underreporting.

Victims of human trafficking can be children, adults, men, women, U.S. citizens, and foreign nationals. There is not a consistent profile for victims, nor is there a single profile for the  traffickers, who can range from family members to brothel owners to employers of domestic servants.

There are an estimated 27 million people in modern-day slavery across the world. The Polaris Project provides red flags, as well as a hotline for confidential help and information. Regardless of your background or how wealthy your country is, human trafficking occurs everywhere. Human trafficking preys on peoples’ vulnerabilities for profit. Let’s recognize the signs and speak out about this crime against humanity.

Friday, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, a day dedicated to shedding light on human trafficking and empowering individuals to fight against this crime. Join me tomorrow and every day after to say no to human trafficking.

Here are a few ways you can raise awareness:

This post was written by National Student Advisory Council member Huong Nguyen.

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Protestors of the New Delhi gang rape gather on December 30 in Bangalore, India.

Less than a week after the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign — which included hundreds of events demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world — ended, an all too frequent event happened in India — a rape. I’ve blogged about rape before, but this attack captured the attention and outrage of the world.

For more than two weeks, thousands of citizens in India and around the world have protested the brutal gang rape and torture of a 23-year-old Indian woman (called “braveheart” in many news stories) while she and her male companion were riding a bus in New Delhi after leaving a movie theater. She ultimately died from injuries suffered during the brutal assault.

We’ve all heard the tragic story but are unable to comprehend the horrific details. And we can’t avoid the ugly truth — violence against women is a horrendous, appalling, and pervasive reality that has placed an indelible stain on the world. The crime sparked national and international outrage, vigils, and demands to end the culture of rape. It empowered people to stand up and demand action and change from the Indian government and police.

And now, weeks after the horrific event, the men accused of the gang rape have been formally charged with rape, murder, and kidnapping.

Unfortunately, rape is a systemic problem throughout India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, in India, a woman is raped every 20 minutes, and in 2010, more than 24,000 rapes were reported. And there are undoubtedly many rapes that go unreported — mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, aunts, or friends who become the targets of violence that can end in murder or suicide.

Who can grasp the inexplicable violence directed at women and girls worldwide and the state- and government-sanctioned evasion of protection, responsibility, and justice? India, like many nations, has vowed to take action to make women safer and provide better protection against violence — a daunting challenge in a culture and world that do not value women.

In the United States, nearly 1 in 5 women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point. And survivors of violence need support. This year, one of AAUW’s Community Action Grantees is Safe Connections, which provides counseling and support services to women and teens in the St. Louis metropolitan area who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault, or childhood sexual abuse. Another grantee, the African Services Committee’s Project Aimée, serves low-income African immigrant survivors of domestic and gender-based violence in New York City with a combination of legal services, education, and advocacy.

The need for these kinds of programs has grown as violence against women becomes more visible throughout the world. But the shocking tragedy in India could be a turning point. In order to stop this ever-increasing trend of violence, women need action, not empty promises.

We all need to keep the pressure on governments to put into action promises made to eliminate violence against women. Do it for yourself. Do it for a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, or friend. You can make your voice heard on Capitol Hill by urging your legislators to support the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. It’s long overdue. But laws can’t change hearts or minds. That must come from within. What can you do in your community to stop violence against women?

Going to a movie and riding a bus should not cost a woman her life — a woman known as “braveheart.” May her death not be in vain.

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reshma_saujaniReshma Saujani was born in the United States to Ugandan refugee parents fleeing Idi Amin’s violent dictatorship. Her parents’ experiences in Uganda triggered a personal concern in Saujani for the welfare of Americans; she wanted to ensure that citizens had a political voice as well as economic opportunities. And that’s just what she did!

Saujani is a former deputy public advocate for New York City and the former executive director of the Fund for Public Advocacy. During her time in public office she promoted civic engagement and government accountability. By taking the lead on projects that aimed to increase citywide job and economic growth, engaging with immigrant communities, supporting small businesses, and improving education. Saujani made sure she could improve the quality of life for New Yorkers.

But Saujani also takes the time to empower girls through Girls Who Code, a nonprofit she founded with the mission to educate, inspire, and equip girls ages 13–18 with the skills and resources necessary to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Her organization works to fill the gender gap within the STEM fields and give girls the courage and support to take on these areas where they are often discouraged.

Saujani is a woman who cannot be stopped: a public servant, a leader, a role model, and an inspiration. She has given back to her community and leads with a vision that is bigger than herself. Her investment in bettering the lives of girls by encouraging them that they can do whatever they set their minds to pushes me to do more too. Saujani’s actions demonstrate what a leader should be. She leads for others. She leads selflessly and with passion.

With her upcoming book, Women Who Don’t Wait in Line, she advocates for women to support each other and step outside of boundaries that society has deemed normal for women. I am extremely excited to meet her at this year’s National Conference for College Women Student Leaders (NCCWSL). I look forward to listening to her empowering words and learning about her journey. I look up to Saujani, and she encourages me to move forward without fear of failure and to embrace and support other women around me. She is indeed a motivator.

Meet Saujani, a 2013 Woman of Distinction, at NCCWSL 2013! What will you be eager to ask her?

Editors’ note: In an earlier version, we erroneously stated that Saujani was herself a refugee from Uganda. In fact, she is the daughter of political refugees and was born in the United States.

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Nzinga Shury.

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’Tis the season of snow, champagne, and New Year’s resolutions! AAUW will formally submit a list of 2013 policy recommendations to Congress and the president, but we wanted to give our members and supporters a more informal look at some of our goals for this year — our advocacy resolutions, if you will.

Lisa Maatz, director of public policy and government relations: I resolve to recognize 2013 as the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act and call attention all year long for the need to update this important piece of legislation. The Equal Pay Act, originally signed into law on June 10, 1963, prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex. Although enforcement of the Equal Pay Act as well as other civil rights laws such as Title VII has helped to narrow the wage gap, significant disparities remain that need to be addressed. The Equal Pay Act is too limited in scope, and it has several loopholes that prevent us from further closing the wage gap. We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years, but we’ve got a ways to go — and I resolve to make sure everyone knows what we need to do to get there.

Erin Prangley, associate director of public policy and government relations: I resolve to make sure AAUW priority legislation — such as the Paycheck Fairness Act, Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act, Safe Schools Improvement Act, Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, High School Athletics Accountability Act, and Violence Against Women Act — is reintroduced in the 113th Congress. All bills that did not pass in the 112th Congress must be reintroduced to move forward, and I resolve that AAUW will continue to lead efforts to gain co-sponsors for our priority legislation.

Anne Hedgepeth, government relations manager: I resolve to meet with the new members of the 113th Congress to introduce them to AAUW and our priority issues. We can be a great asset as they develop policy and figure out what to support over the coming two years. Plus, many of them already know about us thanks to the amazing work our branch and state organizations do locally. You can help by scheduling in-district meetings with your representatives and senators as well. E-mail us at advocacy@aauw.org if you need help scheduling or preparing for a meeting!

Beth Scott, regulatory affairs manager: I resolve to hold the Obama administration accountable to women and families by monitoring new federal regulations and making sure they reflect AAUW’s public policy positions. For example, in 2013 there should be new rules to make sure women and girls are treated fairly by insurance companies and have access to the medical care they need and deserve, such as contraception. I’ll make sure AAUW reviews those rules and works with the federal agencies to draft the most inclusive and strongest possible laws to protect our rights.

Liz Owens, political media coordinator: I resolve to make an AAUW priority issue “trend” (be one of the most popular topics) nationwide on Twitter this year and to help brand AAUW as a leading voice on our priority issues. That means engaging with top influencers, activists, journalists, and you to spread the word about our work. Get us started by following @AAUWPolicy on Twitter! And help brand topics such as #fairpay, #highered, #STEM, #TitleIX, #VAWA, #pellgrants, and #reprorights as our priority issues by adding @AAUW to your tweets.

Kimberly Fountain, state grassroots advocacy manager: I resolve to show off the public policy accomplishments of AAUW state organizations and branches. As we saw in the It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign, our state organizations and branches are full of innovative ideas, from AAUW of Colorado creating temporary tattoos for millennials to the AAUW Omaha (NE) Branch registering voters at a Zumba class. I want to share these and more exciting accomplishments through social media, our website, e-mails to AAUW members and supporters, Outlook magazine, and other outlets. You can help us by sending media coverage, photos, and stories of your branch’s events to advocacy@aauw.org.

And finally, my resolution as grassroots advocacy coordinator is to grow the AAUW Action Network by 50 percent in 2013 so that we can make our voices in Washington, D.C., even louder. AAUW Action Network, the cornerstone of AAUW’s e-advocacy efforts, e-mails notices about the latest legislation and urges subscribers to contact their members of Congress. You can help me fulfill this resolution right now by subscribing to the AAUW Action Network! Already a subscriber? Share this image with three friends, and encourage them to join you!

What’s your advocacy resolution? How will you help fulfill AAUW’s mission of advancing equity for women and girls through advocacy? Please share in the comments!

Action Network New Years

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During the March 1999 U.N. video conference A World Free of Violence against Women, Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations, proclaimed:

Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human rights violation. And it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture, or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace.

My Voice Counts human rights dayToday, Human Rights Day, is the end of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign. This year’s initiative began on November 25th, International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence. This critical campaign shines a light on the activism of thousands of organizations and millions of women worldwide who are committed to ending violence against women. There were many positive acts during the campaign; they defied the myth that negotiating war and peace is men’s domain and emphasized the need for women and men to join together to create a world free from gender violence:

  • During the 16 Days campaign, young activists in China who call themselves the Volunteers “staged playful but pointed public protests for greater rights for women.”
  • Vietnamese musician and gender-rights advocate Pham Anh Khoa was selected as a member of the U.N. secretary-general’s Network of Men Leaders to End Violence against Women, an initiative that supports the work of women around the world to defy destructive stereotypes, embrace equality, and inspire men and boys everywhere to speak out against violence.
  • At the United Nations, attention was on the first draft resolution aimed at ending the practice of female genital mutilation. The resolution was introduced by the representative from Burkina Faso on behalf of the Africa Group and was subsequently approved by the necessary General Assembly committee.

Globally, individuals spoke out and made their voices count during the 16 Days campaign. Now we end the “official” effort but not the activism of millions of women and men. On December 10, we recognize Human Rights Day in honor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was adopted on this day in 1948 and “sets out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all men and women, everywhere in the world, are entitled, without any distinction.”

As U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon notes in his 2012 address for Human Rights Day,

Over the past century, we have made undeniable progress along the path of inclusion. Yet far too many groups and individuals face far too many obstacles. Women have the right to vote almost everywhere but remain hugely underrepresented in parliaments and peace processes, in senior government posts and corporate boardrooms, and in other decision-making positions. Indigenous people frequently face discrimination that denies them the opportunity to make full use of their guaranteed rights or fails to take account of their circumstances. Religious and ethnic minorities — as well as people with disabilities or those with a different sexual orientation or political opinion — are often hampered from taking part in key institutions and processes. Institutions and public discourse need to represent societies in all their diversity.

In order to end gender violence and support the rights of women, and indeed all people, the 16 Days campaign spirit must continue beyond December 10. Violence against women violates human rights, and women’s rights are human rights.

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For as long as Dahlia Eissa can remember, she has been a feminist. Growing up in Australia with Egyptian immigrant parents, she was never afraid to ruffle feathers. She began her activism leading Know Your Rights workshops for Muslim women with the Islamic Women’s Association of Queensland. Early on, Eissa knew she wanted to work with women in immigrant communities, and she saw law as the natural career choice for her passions. Following 9/11, she established the Arab American Justice Project, a network of pro bono attorneys who advocate for Arab Americans facing discrimination, harassment, and deportation.

Dahlia Eissa

After finishing her undergraduate degree in Australia, Eissa wanted to pursue postgraduate studies in Islamic law and women’s rights. Finding the right program was a challenge. She wanted to study law as a feminist first and as a lawyer second. Her AAUW International Fellowship was the kick-start that made it possible for her to attend Harvard Law School. Without the award, she says, she would not have been able to come to the United States.

Today, Eissa uses her knowledge of law, women’s rights, and Islam to encourage women to broaden their perspectives of what is possible in their lives and identities. She insists that women do not need to be restricted to the binary of Western or Muslim worlds, but rather that women can be true to their Muslim identities and principles while embracing and being embraced by American society.

Eissa has been inspired by the women of the Arab Spring and the women of Egypt in particular. Her academic research has primarily focused on Islamic law and women in Egypt. So when the revolution began last year, Eissa strongly felt that she had to somehow support Egyptian women. She asked herself, How will this new wave of activism play out for women?

When we spoke last week, the first draft of the new Egyptian constitution was being voted on by the country’s Constituent Assembly. Sadly, the new constitution completely leaves out any provisions that guarantee the rights of women and girls. Eissa described the draft as absurd but predictable. As the world watches the women of Egypt, Eissa is focusing on how she can support them from the United States. Working with women activists on the ground, her strategy lies in mobilizing other women to minimize the negative impact of the legislation. The rejection of protections for women and girls could open the door to other dangerous allowances in the law, such as lowering the marriageable age for girls or blocking the recent U.N. resolution that calls for the end of female genital mutilation practices.

Eissa is deeply passionate about women’s rights and gender equality. Even as a teenager, she recognized inequalities between men and women that were supposedly justified on the basis of “biology.” Eissa rejected socially constructed distinctions based on sex and spoke her mind, even when fearful of the backlash that she could face. Being an outsider, she says, is worth the risk in order to pursue what you believe in because, in the end, you’ll find that you aren’t that much of an outsider after all. In a culture that “banks on women being submissive,” Eissa wants women to “be fearless.” Let’s follow Eissa’s powerful example and go out there and ruffle a few feathers.

Eissa’s International Fellowship was sponsored by the Margaret Bigelow Miller International Fellowship, established in 1986, and the Helen B. Taussig International Fellowship, established in 1974.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

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When the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence campaign began on November 25 — the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women — one of the first (of many) stories that astounded me concerned the pervasive and disturbing practice of securing “brides” at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan. An article in the Washington Post described how older men from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, and even as far as Canada are brokering marriages with vulnerable Syrian women.

“U.N. officials said that most of the marriages are brokered and that many are not consensual. The results, they said, include increasing numbers of child brides and marriages that, in some cases, end in abandonment or forced prostitution. U.N. and Jordanian relief agencies estimate that some 500 underage Syrians have been wed this year.”

This is just one of many examples of injustices against women — which are often disguised as “humanitarian” efforts in response to war — and it highlights the challenges of sexual violence after conflict.

This year’s 16 Days campaign, which is based on the theme “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence against Women,” aims to continue the work done in 2011 to challenge militarism and explore the deep socioeconomic structures that perpetuate gender-based violence. More than 4,000 organizations from 172 countries have participated in the campaign since it launched at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers in 1991. The campaign ends on December 10 — Human Rights Day. These dates were chosen to emphasize that gender-based violence is a violation of human rights. The campaign is successful because of the activism of millions of women and tens of thousands of organizations worldwide that are committed to ending gender-based violence.

The 16 Days campaign is an opportunity to reflect on what everyone can do to hold governments accountable and challenge the structures that allow gender-based violence to continue. Participation in the campaign is a chance to join other advocates to raise awareness about gender-based violence and to add your voice to those of women in other countries and regions who refuse to be silent. Gender-based violence is an issue that impacts all of us at multiple levels, and our governments have a responsibility to respond, protect, and prevent.

AAUW joins Women and Girls LEAD in promoting Women, War, and Peace; Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide; and The Invisible War — films showcased in this year’s campaign that amplify the stories of survivors and educate the public about the factors that contribute to violence. Be part of the global movement to end gender-based violence by watching the films, sharing the facts, and taking action.

Want to stay connected and learn more? Visit Women and Girls LEAD, the official 16 Days campaign website, or post and search for events on the campaign calendar.

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