Posts Tagged ‘gender equality’

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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This week, at the 56th U.N. Commission on the Status of Women, the challenges, hopes, strengths, and resilience of the world’s rural women are taking center stage. This year’s priority theme is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development, and current challenges.” Women are central to the development of rural areas — they make up more of the agricultural labor force than men, produce the majority of food grown, and do most of the unpaid care work. Improving support for these women will make a major contribution to ending poverty and hunger, accelerating the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and realizing sustainable development. For those of us in the nongovernmental organization community, the excitement began when hundreds of women and girls of all ages came together from around the world on February 26 for NGO Forum Consultation Day to lay the groundwork for two weeks of workshops, panels, discussions, and interactions, both within the United Nations and at parallel events hosted by NGOs.

“We need to take off our high heels, roll up our sleeves, and fight viciously in the trenches like we did before Beijing [because] we have been toasting Beijing for too long.”

—       Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Laureate

Dozens of AAUW members hailing from all over — from California to Washington, D.C. — came together to participate as speakers, workshop facilitators, and advocates. They came from states and branches to the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund and Women Graduates-USA, ready to learn, share insight, and connect with the global family of women.

During the event, U.N. Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet provided an update on her organization’s first year and noted progress in a number of areas. The opportunity to hear Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee of Liberia was a special treat — she passionately told us to “take off our high heels, roll up our sleeves, and fight viciously in the trenches like we did before Beijing [because] we have been toasting Beijing [the site of the Fourth World Conference on Women] for too long.”

We also heard from representatives of governments, international organizations, and multilateral organizations about the progress being made in promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. Passionate activists and grassroots leaders shared successful projects that are lifting the veil of poverty and helping women who are challenged by corruption, patriarchy, and apathy.

But what does it all mean? I heard from representatives of Norway, Cuba, South Africa, Portugal, Mexico, and Mozambique, among others, extolling the many policies and initiatives to promote gender equality. Organizations presented compelling projects with successful results in building microfinance, increasing economic security, and addressing legal rights. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder, if all of these policies are really being carried out, why are women still the majority of the world’s poor and uneducated? Where are the female presidents, CEOs, legislators, and other decision makers? Why can’t women own or inherit land in some places or have control over our own bodies? Why is pay inequity still rampant around the world?

The U.N. events, which are taking place through March 9, are accessible via social media — you can follow the proceedings at @UN_CSW on Twitter and via the hashtag #CSW56. Many sessions are being webcast so that anyone can listen and watch. There is also a growing movement in support of convening a Fifth World Conference on Women (5WCW) that include efforts to encourage ambassadors to sponsor or co-sponsor a draft resolution proposing the conference in 2015.

We need action, legislation, and more political will for all women and girls to move forward.

Interested in supporting a Fifth World Conference on Women? Sign the petition, and get other organizations involved!

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As a progressive, American Reform Jew, I sometimes struggle for acceptance in what we call Klal Yisrael, a term used to describe the fellowship of all Jewish people. I often have to defend a progressive understanding of my religion, which includes notions such as religious pluralism (“Mine house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” —Isaiah 56:7) and gender equality (“In God’s own image God made them, man and woman.” —Genesis 1:27), to my conservative peers.

My own struggle for acceptance, however, seems insignificant compared to that of liberal Jewish women in Israel.

In particular, members of a progressive prayer group who call themselves the Women of the Wall (Nashot haKotel in Hebrew) have experienced oppression and discrimination when they pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The Western Wall, sometimes called the “Wailing Wall,” is the last remaining portion of the ancient temple of Solomon, which was destroyed in the first century by the Romans. The site is widely considered the holiest place in Judaism, a religion that otherwise tends not to ascribe particular significance to a given geographic location. The Women of the Wall have attempted to celebrate the monthly holiday called Rosh Chodesh at the wall by reading from a Torah scroll, singing prayers, and dancing.

Although these monthly activities take place in the women’s area at the wall (the courtyard there is gender segregated), ultra-Orthodox Jews curse at — and sometimes assault — these women. In Jerusalem, where the religious right has potent social, political, and municipal power, this sort of behavior is not unexpected and is often tolerated.

In recent months, anti-Women of the Wall incidents have escalated. Members have been detained and endured further assaults. In July, Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman, who is also the executive director of the civic equality organization Israel Religious Action Center, was arrested for carrying a Torah scroll, which is not itself illegal in rabbinic or secular Israeli law (watch the video of her arrest below). This outrageous act, which violates every value of equality upon which Israel’s democracy was founded, was carried out by Jerusalem police, underscoring the power of the religious right in secular matters.

Israel has been backsliding in other areas of religious pluralism. However, the Women of the Wall’s struggle for acceptance into Klal Yisrael has been the issue that most powerfully seized my attention as an American women’s rights advocate. American progressive Judaism has not been silent; we have sought to engender the change necessary for women to stand at the Western Wall and pray in accordance with their own religious self-understanding.

I can’t tell you this will be an easy fix; in Israel as in America, working toward gender equality has been and continues to be a generations-long effort. However, America is a friend to Israel and as such has a responsibility to teach the lessons we have learned from our mistakes. As I rebuke a friend whom I see doing wrong, so must Americans, Jewish or not, remind the Israeli government and people that gender equality is a fundamental truth that democracy must defend.

For more information, visit the Women of the Wall online and follow them on Twitter @Womenofthewall.

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We’re taking a short “blog-cation” this week. We’ll be back next Thursday, August 26, National Women’s Equality Day, with an update on a powerful and important story!

In the meantime, here are links to some of our all-time most popular posts. Enjoy!

Should Women Have Equal Rights? (June 2008)

(Wo)man vs. Beast (August 2009)

Madam C.J. Walker: “I got my start by giving myself a start.” (February 2009)

Remembering Women Soldiers (May 2008)

Girls and “Self-Esteem” Tees (April 2008)

Culture Affects Perception (May 2008)

Are You Ready for the Summer? (July 2010)

Note: This post was updated to correct the date.

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As I read the reports honoring Sen. Edward Kennedy this morning, listing his long and historic accomplishments on behalf of humanity, a small shiver of apprehension crept up my spine. One of his most admired traits, aside from his down-to-earth approach to life, was his ability to collaborate in one of the most important houses in the world, the U.S. Senate. Already voices are speculating about the impact his death may have on the health care initiative as well as other key legislation.

Yikes! As we pay tribute to a man who made a difference on behalf of all of us, I hope we don’t quiet our own voices. We need to make sure our representatives understand that we expect collaboration on all issues that concern us, that we expect an honest review of what we need, not “politics as usual.” Naïve you say? Necessary, I respond.

Let’s take a look at an issue near and dear to my heart. It’s been a topic of conversation since talking began and is still not resolved. If you read the title of this post, you know where I’m heading. Equality —something everyone wants but few receive. Today is Women’s Equality Day, and I know we all agree that we have a long way to go in achieving this goal.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Nicolas Kristof’s and Sheryl WuDunn’s New York Times article, “Saving the World’s Women,” I strongly urge you to do so. To give you an idea of the article’s impact, here’s one of the statistics it quotes: “More girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century.”

The U.S. Army is celebrating Women’s Equality Day. Numerous younger bloggers are letting their generation know that equity is still an issue, and still others are detailing the stats of inequality. There’s even a humorous movement promoting toplessness — no surprise that this seems to be getting the most media attention. Since 1881 AAUW has been promoting equity for women and girls, and we continue to do so.

Is equality an inherent right earned simply by birth for each and every individual? I want to say yes, but the actions of all societies at all levels lead me to believe that if it is our right, it certainly is the most unrespected right of any on earth. So while we honor a great humanitarian, while we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, let’s remember to do our part in making sure equality is not a forgotten concept.

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Women, it is our duty to lead, on campus, at home, at work, and in every aspect of our lives. If we don’t use our natural talents and intuition to better our friends, family, school, co-workers, communities, and the world around us, then we will miss the opportunity to fulfill our destiny of greatness. I speak passionately on leadership today because it wasn’t until recently that I realized how virtually nonexistent gender equality is in leadership and how it can still be seen as unacceptable or frowned upon.

I recently was elected Student Government Association (SGA) president, a position of great responsibility and commitment. And for those of you who are familiar with the position, you can agree that it is not one to be taken lightly. Being only the second female to be elected in my university’s history, I took on the position with great appreciation and honor.

Many, however, did not share in my joy. I was informed that the idea of a female president was unrealistic and nontraditional, among other things. I ran unopposed, so individuals took it upon themselves to offer to fund the campaign of others in the hopes of finding a qualified competitor. Their efforts failed, however, and a destiny was fulfilled.

Standing in the midst of such stubbornness and reluctance, I found myself confident and steadfast, knowing my experience, talents, and vision could speak for themselves. Initially, to be honest, it was disheartening to know that people would allow their preconceived notions of gender to hinder their good judgment. I now know, as SGA president, that I’m representing not only myself and my school but the female population!

Ladies, if there was ever a moment that you were motivated to do more, go further, and achieve greatness, let it be now.

It is with an urgency that we stand and move forward, unaffected by the poisonous point of views of traditionalists. I charge you to become trailblazers, leading and inspiring. Organizations like AAUW are here to help cultivate and shape us into the intelligent, intellectual, and inventive women we are destined to be. As a woman, despite the roadblocks that are still ahead, just say to yourself, as renowned poet and role model Maya Angelou did, “Still, I rise.”

This post was written by Sabrina Stewart, 2008–09 AAUW Student Advisory Council member.

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This cross-posted blog is authored by Gloria Feldt and originally appeared on her blog, Speaking up.

Red Shoes

Red Shoes

Red happens to be my favorite color. I’m an Aries after all. A classic one according to my sister (maybe that wasn’t meant as a compliment? Pioneering, passionate courageous, dynamic they say, but also selfish, impulsive, impatient, foolhardy.). Even my planet, Mars, named for the god of war, is red.

So I laughed when tweets from AAUW and National Women’s Law Center (NLRC), two organizations that have been pushing for the Paycheck Fairness Act and have declared this Blogging for Fair Pay Day, told me to wear red today.

No problem. I’ll just close my eyes and pull something out of my closet. It’ll more than likely be red.

There are many fabulous people blogging today about the fact that women make on average 78 cents to every $1 earned by a man, and women of color earn even less: African-American women earn 62¢, Latinas earn 53¢ for $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men. NLRC can tell you how the comparison shakes down in your state.

Rather than write a long diatribe, I want to link Heartfeldt readers to some sources I’ve found particularly compelling or useful.

I’ve often said that equal pay should be considered part of the stimulus package. Liz O’Donnell’s op ed in the Tucson Citizen explains how the economics work:

It doesn’t take an economist to understand that when American families are struggling, consumer spending goes down. And consumer spending accounts for approximately 70 percent of total economic activity. Even the best laid stimulus plan is at risk unless we right the gender inequities in the workplace.

Closing the wage gap and promoting women in the workplace has to be part of the package if we are going to revive our economy.

Feminist Peace Network continues its “Girl’s Guide to the Economy” series with this argument for we should get the additional 22 cents. And the Institute for Women’s Policy Research compares pay by profession.

If you twitter, you can go here to read all the #fairpay tweets.

And Change.org gives you all the goods on the history of women’s pay progress–and there has been much progress, thanks to much hard work by women and men who have a sense of fairness and equality.

But still, good grief, what makes me really see red is that in 2009, we are still fighting to pass a piece of legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act (S.182), that is nothing more than simple justice, and asks companies to do nothing more than to be fair to all employees regardless of gender.

So right now, while you are all hot and bothered about it, go here to send a message to your senator, or call him/her at 202-224-3121 and voice your support for the Paycheck Fairness Act. The bill has already passed the house, so we’re within shouting distance (hey, maybe Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democratic party today will put them over the top!)

Wearing red to highlight the need for equal pay shouldn’t be necessary. Equal pay should just BE. But till it is, please see red and be red with passion for equal pay.

Let’s see, which of my 10 red tops shall I wear tomorrow?

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