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Posts Tagged ‘Human Rights’

The accomplishments of AAUW women never cease to amaze me, and Dorothy Celeste Boulding Ferebee is no exception. Ferebee, a physician, health care advocate, and AAUW board member, tirelessly worked to ensure access to health care for underserved communities.

Dorothy Ferebee

Ferebee, a child of former slaves, was born in 1898 in Norfolk, Virginia. She graduated from Simmons College in 1924 and subsequently earned her medical degree from Tufts University. Although she graduated in the top five of her class, she met with discrimination when she applied for positions at “white” hospitals. Frustrated by the lack of opportunities available to black female physicians in Massachusetts, Ferebee moved to Washington, D.C. She became an obstetrician serving the African American community at Freedman’s Hospital, which is now Howard University Hospital.

Ferebee left her mark on Washington in many ways. In 1925, concerned about the lack of access to public health and family services in the black community, she established Southeast Neighborhood House. This group of physicians provided medical care and other community services, including a day care facility to meet the needs of working mothers. By this act alone, Ferebee was clearly ahead of her time; remember, this was 1925.

During the Great Depression, Ferebee volunteered her time as medical director of the Mississippi Health Project, a program sponsored by the first African American sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Black physicians provided medical care to the residents of Mississippi, a state with notoriously limited access to doctors and hospitals for its black residents.

Within AAUW, Ferebee was a member of the AAUW Washington (DC) Branch. She also served as chair of the Social and Economic Issues Committee. Importantly, in 1969, she was nominated to become implementation chair for AAUW’s Human Use of Urban Space study. She was an especially fitting pick for the job since this fledgling program was created to come up with solutions to community problems left in the wake of urban renewal. No doubt public health concerns and a lack of access to basic medical services were challenges that AAUW leaders felt confident Ferebee could handle.

In addition to her AAUW service, Ferebee succeeded Mary McLeod Bethune as president of the National Council of Negro Women, was president of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and served as vice president of the Girl Scouts. But to be honest, the complete list of her accomplishments and contributions is too lengthy to mention in its entirety.

In a quote from Ferebee’s obituary in the Washington Star dated September 17, 1980, the writer accurately said that Ferebee “was the sort of person who enlarges other people’s ideas of what can be done by those enterprising enough to want to.”

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Between 1861 and 1865, the United States fought a brutal war that divided the nation. By the war’s conclusion, the Union had been preserved and slavery officially ended. Yet more than 150 years later, the nation is still fighting slavery, albeit in a different form: human trafficking. AAUW strongly supports efforts to combat trafficking, a position formally adopted as part of our public policy agenda by AAUW members in 2011.

Human trafficking, which President Obama said “must be called by its true name — modern slavery,” is a criminal activity that forces individuals into prostitution or involuntary labor. On Wednesday, government officials, academic and business leaders, and an Academy Award-winning actress came together to discuss the fight against modern-day slavery.

Hosted by Georgetown University and Deloitte Consulting LLP, the Anti-Human Trafficking Symposium: Transforming the Coalition included keynote addresses from Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton and actress Mira Sorvino, who is a U.N. goodwill ambassador.

Actress Mira Sorvino, photo by United Nations Photos, Flickr Creative Commons

“It’s fitting for us to meet during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” said Morton. “The grim reality is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are a very real part of the modern world … To defeat human trafficking we must attack it relentlessly.”

According to a 2007 U.S. State Department report, 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls. Because the majority of victims are female, Morton stressed the need to educate girls about the dangers of trafficking. Education can help at-risk girls become less vulnerable to offenders.

Morton also discussed ICE’s victim-centered investigation approach. Based on gaining victims’ trust and reducing intimidation from their offenders, the approach considers recovering victims to be as important as prosecuting offenders.

Sorvino echoed the importance of helping victims. She told the true story of a young boy and girl from the Philippines who were lured to the United States by the promise of work. The woman who recruited the children told them to take taekwondo classes for a month before leaving home so that they could come into the country on athletic visas. After securing visas at the border with their transporter (the taekwondo trainer), the children began work at an assisted living facility in Long Beach, California. They worked nearly nonstop without pay until a neighbor tipped off the FBI, who ultimately rescued the children from the woman’s control. Saving these and other children from sex slavery and forced labor motivates Sorvino to lobby Congress and state legislatures to pass laws preventing human trafficking within our borders.

Noting the ease with which the children in Sorvino’s story secured visas, the speakers also discussed the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. Morton said that current laws must be overhauled and rewritten to help protect illegal immigrants from exploitation. He and other symposium speakers agreed that in order to combat human trafficking, partnerships between federal and nongovernmental organizations, both in the United States and internationally, are vital.

“I think we will all agree that human trafficking provokes our justifiable and righteous anger,” said Morton. “Let’s bring our outrage to the offense.”

This post was written by AAUW Public Policy Intern Bethany Imondi.

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Not only was a day last week dedicated to human trafficking awareness, but January was also declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. This month, President Obama is urging Americans to “educate themselves about all forms of modern slavery.”

There’s a lot of discussion about slavery these days — we’re commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, plus the release of movies like Lincoln and Django Unchained. But a different kind of slavery also draws our attention — human trafficking. According to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, modern-day slavery involves “exploitation through fraud, force or coercion; physical abuse and/or psychological intimidation; and victims are not readily able to free themselves from their situation.” Human trafficking is a worldwide, multibillion dollar enterprise that affects 12–27 million people annually.

A recent Google Hangout on slavery and human trafficking featured Cambodian anti-trafficking advocate Somaly Mam, New York City-based Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) founder Rachel Lloyd, and New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof. The panel, moderated by Luke Blocher from the Freedom Center, discussed the causes and consequences of domestic and international sex trafficking, as well as the steps we can all take to address this problem.

Mam, who was profiled in last fall’s documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, is the founder of AFESIP Cambodia (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations). The organization fights against the trafficking of women and children for sex slavery and works to secure victims’ rights, rehabilitation, and reintegration. Mam, a survivor of sex trafficking, understands exactly what’s needed to heal survivors. She noted during the Hangout that “you can’t just go into brothels and get the women — you have to empower them, be with them, and listen to them. Don’t look at them as victims but as human beings.” As a survivor, she understands that “it’s not easy to escape, stay out, to heal.” But once the survivors do, AFESIP provides them with skills training, since most have no education. When asked about the future, Mam has hope. She sees “students getting involved, pop stars, more social media.” This exposure has given more people a chance to understand the issue and gives survivors a voice.

GEMS founder Lloyd indicated that “100,000–300,000 young people are at risk for commercial exploitation each year.” And she reminds us that this is happening in our neighborhoods, not just in other countries. Unfortunately, the lack of attention to the issue of human trafficking reflects a similar neglect of those whom it impacts most: low-income people, people of color, and people in the juvenile justice system — those who are not “high on anybody’s priority list.” Lloyd supports the Safe Harbor for Exploited Children Act, which encourages decriminalization of survivors so that they are “not prosecuted as criminals but as people in need of services when they are picked up at the age of 12 for prostitution.” But she noted, “We can’t legislate or prosecute our way out of it.” She encourages people to get educated, find out what’s happening locally, and get involved — tutor, mentor, volunteer — because ending trafficking is more than “driving around in a van at night scooping up and rescuing girls.”

Kristof noted that “traffickers control the girls the same way around the world, whether it’s New York or Cambodia.” This control can be psychological or physical. The past strategic mistake of “people grabbing the girls instead of the pimps has begun to change but must change even more.” He stressed the importance of the empowerment of girls and education: “Just 1 percent of what we spent on the Afghan and Iraq wars would eliminate the primary education gap and end global illiteracy.” Education is critical since the “pimp model relies on illiterate girls.” Kristof, like Mam, acknowledged that there has been progress because the issue has gotten more attention, and “naming and shaming” has worked, since “the U.S. annual trafficking report does embarrass some governments.”

And speaking of pimps, all of the panelists agreed that men (and boys) need to be a part of the solution. Lloyd wants us to “socialize boys and young men differently, so that they know that they don’t have the right to purchase other human beings.” Kristof stressed the importance of “john school” to give men “a day in which they hear from survivors what trafficking is really like.” Mam simply stated that “we need to have men and boys involved and educate them.”

If you missed the Hangout, I encourage you to watch it (above).

Wondering what else you can do to help?

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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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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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AAUW International Fellow Helen Gebresillassie

In the nine months that I’ve spent working with AAUW fellows, the one thing that stands out in my mind is the passion each woman has for her field of study. AAUW International Fellows also have an unwavering passion for their home countries and a desire to improve their own education, skills, and knowledge so that they’re well-prepared to give back to their communities.

Helen Gebresillassie, who is from Ethiopia, received a 2006–07 International Fellowship to pursue a master’s degree in law at Columbia University. She felt lucky to have had the opportunity to study in the United States, particularly because she came from a country where most women, especially in rural areas, have few educational opportunities.

Much of Gebresillassie’s passion for law and education originates from her experiences in Ethiopia. Before receiving her fellowship, she worked as a legal adviser for the Forum on Street Children in Ethiopia (now called the Forum for Sustainable Child Empowerment), where she advocated for victims of sexual abuse and trafficking. She also served as the policy and advocacy adviser for CARE Ethiopia and as a legal extern for the United Nations.

In the recent Economist article “Maid in Ethiopia,” Gebresillassie discusses the state of economic and education inequity in her home country, particularly as it relates to women who work as maids. She says that these women are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and violence. She says that young women line up to get their passports to work in other countries but are unaware of the harsh reality they will face once they arrive. Ultimately, these women focus on the financial prospects they will gain and accept the risk, and many women feel as though they have no other options. Gebresillassie says she was honored to be interviewed by the Economist, but she hopes “to see a focus on action rather than the problem.” For this reason, Gebresillassie is committed to gaining expertise in a variety of specializations in law here in the United States.

For nearly five years, she has taught at Stony Brook University in New York, where she focuses on law and society. There, she has been able to engage students in discussions of social justice issues. Not only has she been able to enlighten her students about justice globally, but she also has learned more about the U.S. legal system. We are also proud to announce that she recently passed the New York bar examination!

“Diversifying my expertise will allow me to be more helpful in the country’s economic development agenda,” she says. This will no doubt help inform her work in variety of other human rights improvements in Ethiopia, the United States, and beyond.

Gebresillassie has an overwhelming desire to advance her homeland. She wants to improve economic equity and help empower marginalized groups. Her passion is one that I don’t witness often as a student in America, even in the nation’s capital.

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Elyssa Shildneck.

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“If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”

These simple yet powerful words, spoken in 1995 by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in an unforgettable speech at the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, are well-known and often repeated around the globe. They remain as important today as when they were first spoken.

In her speech, Clinton further stated, “As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace everywhere in the world, as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled, subjected to violence in and outside their homes — the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.”

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign was designed to bring individuals and groups together to fight such violence and discrimination. While the campaign officially ends on December 10, International Human Rights Day, we all know that there is no end until violence against women and girls — a violation of human rights — has been eliminated. This year was a transformational one as people, galvanized by social media, took to the streets in Egypt and Tunisia to claim their basic human rights. On International Human Rights Day, we also commemorate the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 63 years ago.

During the 16 Days campaign, women, men, and communities around the world called for the elimination of violence against women by bringing attention to the overwhelming inequities and depth of suffering of women. The 2011 campaign calendar is a remarkable, inspiring display of worldwide activism that included a variety of activities:

  • A purple ribbon campaign, during which volunteers placed ribbons on telephone poles to represent the number of reported spousal assaults and sexual assaults in a one-year period
  • The Candlelight Walk to End Gendered Violence and the Reclaim the Night March
  • 16 Books for 16 Days, a list of books pertaining to domestic violence, sexual assault, or any type of gender-based violence
  • Film screenings of Miss Representation, which explores how the media’s depictions of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence in the United States
  • Public education seminars and outreach activities focusing on women’s participation in elections and seminars on the linkage between violence against women and violence in society

During the 16 Days campaign, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Violence against Women Act.  “Since VAWA’s passage in 1994, no other law has done more to stop domestic and sexual violence in our communities,” said Leahy. “The resources and training provided by VAWA have changed attitudes toward these reprehensible crimes, improved the response of law enforcement and the justice system, and provided essential services for victims struggling to rebuild their lives.”

So today, remember the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — because human rights are women’s rights. How did you spend your 16 Days?

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