“The Forgotton War” – NYT Covers Lisa Shannon in the Congo

February 24, 2010

NYTimes did a video piece on Lisa Shannon and her volunteer work in the DRC.

Five years ago Lisa founded Run for Congo Women, a “grassroots movement benefiting Women for Women International’s Congo program,” which began with a lone 30-mile trail run, that would help change the lives of 80 Congolese women and their hundreds of children. Today she has quit her job and volunteers full time in DRC and Washington . Her book “1000 Sisters: My Journey to the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman” will be published this July by Seal Press.

Although this war has claimed over 5.4 million lives, and its brutality breaches every code of war (mass rape and mutilation – to even the elderly and small children – is a daily reality), it gets virtually no news coverage. Ironically, the involvement of this young American generates most of the stories you’ll find, especially recently.

Nicholas Kristof, who interviews her on the video, writes about meeting one of the women Lisa has helped:

I found myself stepping with Lisa into a shack here […] Lisa had come to visit a woman she calls her sister, Generose Namburho, a 40-year-old nurse.

Generose’s story is numbingly familiar: extremist Hutu militiamen invaded her home one night, killed her husband and prepared to rape her. Then, because she shouted in an attempt to warn her neighbors, they hacked off her leg above the knee with a machete.

As Generose lay bleeding near her husband’s corpse, the soldiers cut up the amputated leg, cooked the pieces on the kitchen fire, and ordered her children to eat their mother’s flesh. One son, a 12-year-old, refused. “If you kill me, kill me,” he told the soldiers, as his mother remembers it. “But I will not eat a part of my mother.”

So they shot him dead. The murder is one of Generose’s last memories before she blacked out, waking up days later in the hospital where she had worked. [Em. mine]


Yes, this is a lifelong crusade for Lisa Shannon, but if you’ve been moved even partially by anything you heard in that video, or read here: First person stories of Congolese women, or saw here: The Greatest Silence – trailer for Palme D’Or Winner, or here: Lumo – trailer for documentary about one woman’s story… you can help without so much as leaving your chair or inconveniencing your life.

Sponsor a woman through Women for Women International for only $27/month. Money goes to:

Rights Awareness and Leadership Training

designed to help women understand their unique rights: politically, as survivors of war, ethnic and religious conflict and as voices in bringing about stability; economically, in understanding their rights to earn a fair income; legally, in acquiring skills to fight discrimination, domestic violence and other civil wrongs; and personally, with respect to understanding human reproduction, pregnancy and childbirth, nutrition, stress and stress management, and the spread, treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Vocational and Technical Skills Training

Local instructors provide vocational skills training in carpentry, leatherwork, bee-keeping, jewelry-making, traditional folk art, shoe repair and other areas so women can find a job or start their own home-based businesses. Technical training in savings, basic bookkeeping and marketing may also be provided.

and Income Generation Support

To help women transform their new skills into financial independence and sustainability, Women for Women International provides microcredit loans and other income generation support. This support helps ensure that women are provided with an option to continue supporting themselves and their families after their participation in the Sponsorship […] programs ends.

I don’t know about you, but I spend more than $27/month at Starbucks. Think what it can do in a war-ravaged country for a woman who has endured atrocities we can barely imagine…

Other info and ways to give:

Raise Hope for Congo

Stop Rape in DRC

TEN REASONS WHY Eastern Congo is the Most Dangerous Place on Earth for Women

Congo’s Rape Epidemic Worsens

Earlier Blackbird Posts:

“Like Rwanda But Worse” Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 1: History of the Conflict

Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 2: The Savagery]

Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 3: The Healing and What You Can Do To Help]

“The Greatest Silence” – DRC Documentary Wins at Sundance

Helping Haiti – Facts & Links…

January 14, 2010

We’re all aware of the devastating earthquake to hit Haiti this week. Here are some quick facts and links to how you can help.

Facts:

  • The most violent quake of the past two centuries struck the densely-populated epicenter of a country the size of Maryland.
  • Nearly 1/3 of the population (approximaately 3 million) have been severely impacted and are in need of emergency aid.
  • 50,000 are estimated dead.

According to Haiti’s President Préval:

“Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed. There are a lot of schools that have a lot of dead people in them.”

(For a more intimate picture check out the New York Times’ interactive map with audio. Or this slide show.)

Help:

Needs include medical supplies, food, shelter, and water tablets to prevent an outbreak of cholera. The high level of destruction has slowed the flow of aid into the country – due to wrecked landing strips and obstructions to traveling over land. The lack of an exisitng emergency management system has further impeded aid.

According to CNN:

Most organizations are asking for monetary donations. They are not seeking material items, like clothes or food, or volunteers at this time.

These agencies have set up phone lines, online donation pages and even texting for individuals to contribute to their relief efforts.

They’ve compiled a great list of agencies working in the relief effort.

More info:

List of organizations from The Nation.

American Red Cross details needs for Haiti. You can even donate a quick $10 by texting “Haiti” to 90999.

Tips for choosing  an organization from GuideStar database of non-profits and info-hub on giving.

Or just Google “Haiti Relief Organizations” and you’ll have more information that you will reasonably need.

“Saving Grace” – Mueller on One Catholic Family’s Late-Term Abortion

December 6, 2009

Amanda Mueller, at Truthout, has an interesting piece about a family coming to grips with a late-term abortion and their strong Catholic faith. Gail and Robert Andersons have deep ties to their families and to their Catholic community. They were both raised with strong faith and never questioned their beliefs. Yet, when they discover a severe birth defect 27 weeks into Gail’s first pregnancy, they question everything. After intense soul-searching and long discussions with their doctors, they decide on a late-term abortion.

“We are Catholic. We are supposed to be against abortion, but the church teaches mercy as well. The church examines quality of life. It isn’t a black and white issue as so many like to make it,” Robert says, looking away while fondling with his fingers the golden crucifix he wears around his neck.

The Andersons sought the help of Dr. George Tiller, the doctor who was shot and killed by “pro-life” activist Scott Roeder last May. Tiller operated one of only three clinics in the country willing to perform late-term abortions. As such, he was particularly vilified by the anti-abortion community. However, Gail Anderson didn’t find the root of evil she had once envisioned.

“Dr. Tiller was a very gentle man to my husband and me. He wasn’t the villain that people, me included, had often painted him. He was soft-spoken. He held our hands while we mourned our loss. He even prayed with us.”

[…]

“The staff was respectful and allowed me to have a little bit of dignity where I didn’t think I had any left. It made me sad that I didn’t get that from my friends or my religious community, but from strangers in a hospital setting. To this day, I am bitter about that,” Gail confessed.

The Andersons managed to mourn their lost child, Grace, and come through with their faith in tact. However, they worry that the church is becoming “dangerously involved in politics and losing sight that the world simply is not black and white.” [Em.mine]

They continue forward, despite for some calling for their removal from the church, because they know that they are not alone. They move forward because it is their hope that other Catholics faced with similar situations will realize that they are not alone.

It’s worth a read – along with the voices of these men and women who share the heart-wrenching tales of their own late term abortions.

Newly Released Documents Show Bishop Egan’s Chilling Disconnect

December 3, 2009

Source: Catholic_Kids.com

12,000 pages documenting the 2002 investigations into sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic diocese of Bridgeport CT were released last week, after the diocese lost a seven-year legal battle to keep them sealed. The documents include memos, administrative records, and testimony surrounding twenty-three lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by seven of the diocese’s priests. 448 of these pages transcribe the testimony of the diocese’s bishop at the time – Edward Egan.

Egan admitted to shielding accused priests, often relocating, and, at times, promoting them. The lawsuits were settled in 2002 and Egan was subsequently promoted to cardinal and then archbishop of New York.

In 2002, news of the lawsuits broke and, in the wake of the ensuing scandal, then New York Cardinal Egan released a  letter to his current parishioners expressing regret.

”Over the past 15 years, in both Bridgeport and New York, I consistently sought and acted upon the best independent advice available to me from medical experts and behavioral scientists. ‘It is clear today that we have a much better understanding of this problem […] If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have been made as regards prompt removal of priests and assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry.”

Victims, dubious of his sincerity, regarded the letter as an empty PR maneuver. Paul Mones, attorney for several victims, was especially unimpressed, (as quoted in the New York Times), ”It is getting off easy to say the behavior of the church was a mistake. It was not a negligent, unthinking action; it was a conscious plan to prevent scandal and to protect the interests of the church.” [Em. mine]

In another statement released in 2002  Egan vows, “I will do everything in my power to ensure the safety and security of each child.” Yet, there is no sign Egan has done anything at all to bring truth to light, punishment to criminals, and safety to potential future victims. Justice to past victims seems not even on his radar.

And then there is Egan’s testimony, which was never supposed to come to light, and in which he unflinchingly defends his decision to repeatedly shield and relocate accused priests, neglect to alert authorities, and his disbelieve accusations as a matter of course.

Sound bites include:

Incidentally, these things don’t happen, and we are talking about ifs.”

And when challenged on this,

“These things happen in such small numbers.”

And when questioned about Rev. Raymond Pcolka, who was accused by 12 former parishioners of abuses including forced oral and anal sex and beatings,

“I am not aware of those things. I am aware of the claims of those things, the allegations of those things. I am aware that there are a number of people who know one another, some are related to one another, have the same lawyers and so forth.” [Em. mine]

He seems to regard prevalence of sexual abuse by clergy as minimal at best. The Times article summarizes:

“Bishop Egan, the fact that 19 individuals have come forward and made claims,” [attorney for plantiff] asked about Father Pcolka’s case, “you don’t consider that to be a significant number of individuals?”

The bishop waited while his lawyer quibbled over the number 19, then answered that considering there were 360,911 registered Catholics in the diocese, “I do not consider that a significant segment or factor.”

“Would you agree with me, Bishop Egan,” the lawyer pressed, “that if one person, one individual, has been affected by the sexual abuse of a clergy member, when that person was a child, that that’s far too much to accept in any diocese?”

“It would not be a significant portion of the diocese,” he replied.

He goes further to self-congratulate the diocese for such low rates of abuse

“It’s marvelous, when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have even been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything.” [Em mine]

How can you prove something that is never investigated? Such deeply twisted logic, denial, and chilling disconnect from reality appears to be shared by Egan’s Bridgeport predecessor, Bishop Curtis, who admitted to keeping, then destroying records on accused priests and who asserted his belief that pedophilia isn’t a a disease, but a “more incidental” condition.

So how does Egan reconcile his promise that “Should any priest sexually abuse a child, he will be removed from pastoral ministry,” with his continuing penchant for uniformly turning a cold ear to the pleas of victims and their families and allowing such soul-crushing abuses to continue?

Copious amounts of skewed logic and denial.

The Washington Post did a piece on the videotaped testimony from a 1997 lawsuit against the diocese when a former parishioner,  Frank Martinelli,  testified that Fr. Laurence Brett had sexually assaulted him three times as a teenager in 1962 and 1963, including biting him during oral sex. Brett was transferred.  In his testimony, Egan seeks to absolve himself (Bishop of the CT diocese at the time) by claiming – incredulously – that under the strict hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church

“…diocesan priests were “self-employed” and not the bishop’s responsibility”

In further testimony

Martinelli’s attorney asked Egan if he would suspend any priest who was discovered to have sexually assaulted a minor.

“I would have to know the complete circumstances,” Egan replied.

The lawyer then laid out a hypothetical case with a fact pattern identical to the Martinelli case. (By this time, Egan was aware of church files showing that Brett had admitted assaulting Martinelli.)

What if this priest was a teacher, the lawyer asked, and sexually assaulted a student and bit the student’s penis?

“That would be sufficient cause [for suspension], I’m sure, in many bishops’ minds,” Egan responded.

Would it be sufficient cause in your mind?

“I would have to know all of the details,” Egan replied.

Egan admits that he met with Brett in 1990, knowing that Brett had admitted to sexual abuses. In a memo immediately after that meeting he wrote that Brett “made a good impression on me, he spoke with grace,” and “I’ll be inclined to write [him] a letter encouraging him to go on with his work.”

Eventually the diocese was flooded with so many accusations involving Brett that Egan was forced to remove him from duty. It is not clear how many children were abused in the interim.

On an encouraging note, although pervasive and far-reaching, this inexcusable minimalization  and denial isn’t quite institution-wide. An op-Ed in the Times last week contrasts Egan’s response with that of Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, following the release of a recent report detailing years of abuse and cover-ups in Ireland:

“The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime in canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the report is that while church leaders — bishops and religious superiors — failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what was involved.”

Martin speaks to what Egan appears to avoid all thought of – the children, the victims, the now-adults who try to refit the pieces of lives that have been shattered.


“…emotional unpredictability, danger and humiliation…” – Patrick Stewart Speaks Out on Domestic Violence

December 2, 2009

Patrick Stewart recently spoke to Amnesty International on his own childhood of domestic violence. This follows a letter he wrote to The Guardian in response to an article about three women completing sentences for killing their partners. He empathized with them, explaining similar feelings toward his abusive father,

“I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him. If my mother had attempted it, I would have held him down.”

Stewart briefly told his story in a spot filmed for Amnesty in 2006, and provided voice-over for a clever PSA. He also lends his name to a scholarship for post-graduate studies on children and domestic violence at the University of Huddersfield, and is a parton of Refuge, a UK-based advocacy group for battered women and children.

I won’t go into more detail. This speaks best for itself:

Hope, Concern – World AIDS Day 2009

December 1, 2009

December 1st 2009 is the 21st annual World AIDS Day, nearly 28 years following the first diagnosis of the disease in June 1981. Great strides have been made against the disease over the decades. Rates of infection have continued to decline, due in part to medical advances that have reduced the likelihood of transmission through pregnancy, the cumulative effect of global education and prevention programs, and a slow reduction in the stigma of AIDS that encourages earlier and more frequent testing.

Despite this, there is still much to be done. The World Health Organization reports that nearly half of the 9.5 million people who need anti-retroviral treatments (ART) don’t receive it – that’s roughly 5.5 million untreated people. And while rates of infection have slowed, there are still 7400 new infections every day, 1200 of which are children.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé calls for an end to the stigma, discrimination, and criminallization that prevents education, testing, and treatment in many parts of the world. In his 2009 World AIDS Day address:

On this World AIDS Day we are filled with both hope and concern.

Hope because significant progress has been made towards universal access. New HIV infections have dropped. Fewer children are born with HIV. And more than 4 million people are on treatment.

Concern because 28 years into the epidemic the virus continues to make inroads into new populations; stigma and discrimination continue to undermine efforts to turn back the epidemic. The violation of human rights of people living with HIV, women and girls, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers must end.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on “all countries to live up to their commitments to enact or enforce legislation outlawing discrimination against people living with HIV and members of vulnerable groups”. On this World AIDS Day, let us work urgently to remove punitive laws and practices and put an end to discrimination against and criminalization of people affected by HIV.

(It’s hard not to think of the proposed Ugandan legislation criminalizing repeated homosexuality with life imprisonment or death by hanging.)

On the home front, when establishing the Office of National AIDS Policy last June, President Obama noted the heavy impact AIDS continues to have even in the US:

“‘When one of our fellow citizen becomes effected every nine and a half minutes, the epidemic effects all Americans.”

It’s heartening that as a country we’ve made such progress as repealing the global gag rule, dropping the HIV travel ban, and Washington D.C.’s hosting the 2012 International AIDS conference for the first time in a decade. Yet, the Obama administration has come under fire from AIDS avocacy groups who criticize the lack of funds allocated to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Health GAP, Africa Action, Treatment Action Group and the Global AIDS Alliance released a report on PREFAR’s 2010 funding:

“Despite repeated public commitments to expand funding for successful global AIDS programs, the first budget request to Congress prepared by President Obama, for FY2010, would for the first time essentially flat-fund U.S. global AIDS investments—it will not even keep pace with global medical inflation, estimated at 4-10% this year.

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Eric P. Goosby, MD, stated that PREFAR is working to transition from emergency response to long-term sustainability.

“PEPFAR’s five-year strategy will focus on sustainability, and sustainable responses, programs that are country owned and country driven.”

Further Info:

HIV:Reality The UK’s world AIDS Days site. Focuses on stories, videos, photos of people living with HIV/AIDS.

World AIDS Campaign – Lots of up to the minute news.

AIDS Portal – Hub  of 1232 AIDS organizations.

UNAIDS – Founder of World AIDS Day.

Global Commission on Women and AIDS

AIDS 2009 Epidemic Update – Comprehensive Report from UNAIDS (pdf)

”A priest’s collar will protect no criminal,” – Dublin Report Reveals Decades of Abuse

November 30, 2009

Last Thursday a 750-page report was released on the secrecy and coverup of  sexual  abuse by clergy in the Dublin archdiosese. This report comes just six months after the groundbreaking  Ryan Report (spearheaded by Irish high court judge Sean Ryan) released last May. The Ryan report revealed endemic, long-term abuses by nuns and clergy against children in Ireland’s catholic institutions including schools, orphanages, and reformatories. Children were frequently sent to these reforming institutions for such crimes as petty theft, truancy, unwed pregnancy, and dysfunctional family life. Chronic beatings, molestation, rape, and humiliation were the norm for more than six decades. The last of these facilities closed in the 1990’s.

The Ryan report found that when confronted with evidence of such abuse, the sole response of Catholic authorities was to  promptly and discreetly relocate offenders.

“There was evidence that such men took up teaching positions sometimes within days of receiving dispensations because of serious allegations or admissions of sexual abuse. The safety of children in general was not a consideration.”

By providing an evidence-based portrait of the sexual, emotional, and physical damage wrought on thousands of children the Ryan report forced the church to acknowledge the reality of sexual abuse. Survivors formerly silenced for fear of being branded as liars by their catholic community, could tell their stories,  in many cases for the first time,  to investigators.

However, although the Ryan Report shed much needed light upon these crimes, many, including the organization Irish Survivors of Child Abuse (SOCA), were angry that no persecutions would result from the findings. In 2004, when news of the investigation surfaced, the Order of Christian Brothers, which was involved in the running of most of the institutions, filed and won a lawsuit that guaranteed all of its members, dead or alive, would remain anonymous in the report.

The latest report, issued this week, focuses specifically on the parish of Dublin – home to four million of Ireland’s Catholics – and the fact that not a single instance of abuse was reported to police until 1995, despite the shocking and long-term pervasiveness of the crimes.  From the NY Times article:

Thursday’s report detailed ”sample” cases of 46 priests who faced 320 documented complaints, although the investigators said they were confident that the priests had abused many more children than that. They cited testimony from one priest who admitted abusing more than 100 children, and another priest who said he abused a child approximately every two weeks for 25 years.

It examines the cover-up and consequential perpetration of these abuses by Catholic authorities, singling out four archbishops in particular: McQuaid, Ryan, McNamara, and Connell, and concludes that each of them sought:

”the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities.”

No apology yet from the Pontiff in Rome, although he was reportedly “visibly upset” upon hearing the findings of the latest report. The lone comment came from Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi who stated, appallingly, that this was “a matter for the local church.”

The Irish government, on the other hand, issued an immediate apology to the public. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern promised that never again would the government treat the Catholic church with deference. “A priest’s collar will protect no criminal,” he said.

My question is this – why haven’t we made a similar pledge in the United States? If this were happening in any other type of institution – school, day care, boy/girl scouts, little league… – there would be no secrets, no privilege of keeping files from the court, no opportunity to dole out punishment “from within.” Is it the political entanglements of those in power that keep them from pulling rank on the Catholic Church?  Why did Speaker Pelosi let a call from the Vatican inform her decisions regarding the new health care bill? Why do most states still have a statue of limitations that uniformly prevents most victims from ever seeking justice (as they would do as an adult who has had years to come to terms with, or even so much as admit, what has been done to them)?

A papal apology is nice, but justice, accountability, and the prevention of further abuse matters so much more.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

November 26, 2009

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Womendecreed by the UN General Assembly in 1999. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

Women around the world are the very linchpin keeping families, communities, and nations together. On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to women’s human rights; let us invest more resources in countering [violence against women]; and let us do all it takes to end these horrific assaults once and for all.

Today also marks the first of this year’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, which itself will conclude on December 10th, Human Right’s Day.  Interstingly, Australia has independently themed the day White Ribbon Day, and urges Aussie men to take the following oath:

I swear:
never to commit violence against women,
never to excuse violence against women, and
never to remain silent about violence against women.
This is my oath.

Pretty basic, huh? If you want clarification about what constitutes violence against women, the White Ribbon Foundation says,

“In simple terms, violence against women is violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects a woman disproportionately.” [Em. mine]

This last is important because many of these abuses happen to men and boys as well, but the rate of occurrence and global levels of tolerance for these kinds of behaviors overwhelmingly validate this as a women’s issue.  Consider 

  • domestic violence, family violence, wife-beating, intimate violence, intimate homicide, femicide
  • sexual violence, sexual assault, rape, marital rape, gang rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, indecent assault, sexual harassment, sex-based harassment
  • genital mutilation
  • enforced prostitution
  • enforced sterilisation, enforced abortion, killing of unwanted female babies, enforced motherhood

Earlier this month the UN began Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, an initiative that “records what individuals, organizations and governments worldwide are doing to end violence against women.” Say NO strives to reach 100,000 actions by March 2009 and 1 million actions by November 2010. They count volunteering, donations, outreach, advocacy, and even individual instances of helping someone in need.  If you’re doing something, stand up and be counted.

I’ve spoken to too many people (men and women, incidently) who roll their eyes upon what they think are “women’s issues” or “feminist” complaints in a world they like to view as more or less equal by now. The finer points of sexism, discrimination, and gender politics aside,  according to UNIFEM:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available , up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime – the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know. Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today […] It takes many forms and occurs in many places – domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.

I highly recommend reading the factsheet in its entirety (all stats documented), but here are a few nuggets:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development. It takes many forms and occurs in many places — domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • Women and girls constitute 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually,7 with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Further Info:

WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women

Violence Against Women – We Can’t Look Away: Blogging and Updates from the International Rescue Committee

Ending Violence Against Women: What Works – 2006 Report from the UN’s WomenWatch (pdf)

It’s Veterans Day; Do Something.

November 12, 2009

Veterans: Men and women who have voluntarily curtailed their own freedoms and agreed to give their lives, if  neccessary, in order to protect you and I as citizens of the United States and defend the freedoms and privileges we largely take for granted.

On this Veterans Day, checkout a great post on Huffington –  “5 Things You Didn’t Know About Veterans (And How You Can Support Them)“. It covers  homelessness, PTSD and other types of disability, and issues involving active duty. Lots of links on how you can help.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America do a great job in addressing needs of vets, particularly in an oft-overlooked area: the difficult re-integration into daily civilian life. Checkout their latest outreach PSA:

THIS Ad Was Too “Controversial” to Run During the Superbowl?!

February 2, 2009

The NFL and NBC rejected the following pro-gay marriage ad by the California organization Get to Know Us First. The group planned to target counties that most heavily supported Prop 8 by running their 30-second PSA on the Los Angeles station KNBC, however were prevented from doing so when the spot was rejected by the legal department at the NFL, which asserted that it was banning all advocacy spots for the entire day of programming on Superbowl Sunday. This, however, wasn’t true because yesterday ads for the anti-smoking group TobaccoFreeCA.org and the anti steroids group DontBeAnAsterisk.org ran twice each.

When pushed for further explanation, NBC fobbed the question off on the NFL, which failed to provide any concrete reason, vaguely siting “certain restrictions in [their] network television contracts.” The NFL then tried to toss the issue back to NBC, who so far has declined comment.

Earlier this year Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC rejected ads by Get to Know Us First during the Presidential Inauguration deeming them “too controversial” to run when families were likely to be watching. It can only be assumed – since they won’t explicate – that similar reasoning went behind  the NFL’s/NBC’s decision. (It similarly rejected a pro-life ad, also telling CatholicVote.org that it was banning all advocacy commercials.)

Let’s go over this again… THIS ad was unsuitable for family viewing:

Yet this ad (Voted a Superbowl 2009 “Winner” from NBC’s L.A. affiliate KNBC) was perfectly suitable for families:

I’m not making a comment on ads targeted to a largely rowdy male, beer swilling, sports loving demographic. I’m making a comment on organizations that block PSAs for certain causes without having the balls to say why.

Didn’t want any “downers”? Wanted humor/sex/sports related ads to fill the entire day? Don’t want to be “political?” Believe that gays shouldn’t have the right to marry?” One way or ther other just say it NBC/NFL, because your excuses are insulting.

Family Planning Reduces Abortions AND Helps the Economy

January 31, 2009

There was quite an uproar with the short-lived inclusion of a family planning initiative in the proposed national economic stimulus package. Conservatives scratched their heads at how contraception had anything to do with economy. On Hardball last Monday Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey, equating family planning services to contraception alone, quipped “Now, indeed, that may stimulate something, but I don‘t think it‘s going to stimulate the economy!” Sex, sex, its encouraging more SEX!

Rush Limbaugh drew the erroneous conclusion that the initiative (and family planning itself) is akin to “abortion all over the world”, its economic aim was to reduce the country’s birth rate and that a better method to do so would be to “… put pictures of Pelosi in every cheap motel room in America today, that will keep birth rates down because that picture will keep a lot of things down.”

Normally quoting Limbaugh serves little purpose, and I’m going to ignore a large part of why this comment is offensive, but I wanted to mention it because it demonstrates a conservative belief about the purpose of family planning clinics. “In every cheap motel room in America…” Seedy, sordid, illicit sex. The kind in sleezy motels across the land. Irresponsible, immoral behavior. That’s what contraception is for. That’s what clinics serve. If you want to engage in THAT kind of behavior, and dodge its logical consequences, why should the government help you out?

This kind of thinking, whether vocalized or not, is pervasive, damaging, and just plain inaccurate. It belies a person who knows very little about what clinics such as Planned Parenthood are all about, and a willful ignorance of what was in the stimulus package regarding family planning.

First, let’s look at what the nation’s largest family planning organization actually does on a daily basis. In 2007  a breakdown of Planned Parenthood services looked like this:

  • 36% Contraception
  • 31% STD testing and treatment
  • 17% Cancer screening and prevention
  • 11% Pregnancy tests, pre-natal care, menopause, and infertility.
  • 3% Abortion (*No federal money can be used for this – see below)
  • 2% Primary care and adoption referral

If you’re a low-income man, woman, or couple with no health insurance, who do you go to? Where do you go?

Now let’s look at what the inclusion of this legislation actually would have accomplished. Currently low-income women of child-bearing age cannot access Medicaid until they become pregnant. If a woman wants federal help for family planning before this time, she has to petition for a waiver, providing her state allows for this. 27 states offer a waiver, which can take as long as two years to acquire. Obama proposed eliminating the federal waiver thereby allowing states to directly access Medicaid funds for family planning services if they so choose. States that never offered the waiver remain completely unchanged.

This money would fund mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, medically relevant sex education, contraception, STD testing and treatment, pre-natal care, and infertility treatment –  but not a penny would go toward abortion! *Remember the Hyde Amendment? Since 1976 no federal dollars may be spent to fund abortion. In fact, Medicare and Medicaid explicitly state that under no circumstance may abortion “be claimed as a family-planning service.”

Family planning. Essentially ensuring low-income women’s gynecological health and empowering them with the means to control when they become pregnant. How can a multitude of  pregnant teens, women who drop out of college for a menial job to raise an unexpected child, and couples who can’t afford more children nevertheless finding themselves pregnant again NOT be a drain on the economy? AIDS or other STD’s being contracted, untreated, and exponentially spread. Women who seek emergency room help for cancer only after it had advanced to the point that her physical symptoms impair her daily life. Low-income, mostly uninsured women. Again, NOT a drain on the economy? On the health care system? This isn’t complicated, it’s common sense!

Even if we were dealing solely with contraception – is that so wrong? Deciding where and when to have a child is a basic fundamental right. Again, we’re not even talking about abortion. We’re talking about PLANNING! The most responsible thing a person can do. Why is there such a backlash?

Is it sex, again? Are we back to sex? Pro-creation only sex? Because as great as it sounds I don’t see a whole lot of neo-cons with 15 kids. Even outspoken Huckabee only has three. I suppose he abstains.

The fact is that people have sex. Teenagers do it, college kids, singles, couples, married people. How can being healthy along the way and in control of your life be a negative thing?

Dr. Pete Klasky has a great piece on Huffington where he points to evidence that family planning significantly reduces the number of abortions and saves the government money.

To understand how this works, it is helpful to look at California’s experience with a state-funded contraception and family planning initiative for women with incomes between 100% and 200% of the poverty level:

Four years after implementing the program, California saved an estimated $500 million in public health care spending, net of what they spent on the program itself. In fact, for every dollar invested in the program, the state of California saved an estimated $5.33, over a period of five years. These are conservative estimates that do not include money saved through increased productivity and cost savings from reductions in paid medical leave and sick days that result from unplanned pregnancies. Few other public spending plans can boast such a positive return on investment. [Em mine]

He also points out that sex education and access to contraception do NOT lead to an increased amount of pre-marital sex. Another myth opponents assert time and again.

In 2002, the Department of Health and Human Services (under Republican Secretary Tommy Thompson), released a report documenting an increase in contraceptive use with a decrease in sexual activity between 1995 and 2002. Supplying contraceptives and educating adolescents about sex during the late 1990s did not increase their likelihood to engage in sexual activities; it did keep them from getting pregnant. Even supplying emergency contraception to adolescents, prior to sexual activity, has been proven not to affect sexual behaviors.

Of course, we all know that abstinence-onlyeducation” has the exact opposite effect (doesn’t delay onset or frequency of sexual activity, but rather increases the likelihood of unprotected sex because it purports – among other things – that condoms are ultimately ineffective), and yet the Bush Administration spent more than $1.75 billion on it – not in an effort to boost the economy, but an attempt to spread good Christian virtue to those who would otherwise find themselves sullied and impure.

So what is the reasoning behind indignantly rejecting an initiative that would reduce the number of abortions and save the government money? What is it? Politics? Ignorance? The misplaced notion of seedy hotel room sex?

I do understand the argument that the economic stimulus package simply wasn’t the appropriate vehicle for this initiative and, in fact, its inclusion simply lofted a softball for opposition to self-righteously whack over the fence – that it was a tactical error on Obama’s part. Its ability to instantly appall conservatives and consequent swift removal from the package bears this out.

But family planning will be back. How will the debate go when we don’t have to show that that it’s good for the economy, but simply that it’s good for the country? The very fact that we’re beginning to have these conversations on a national level is a start and I am hopeful that over the next few years we will see signifiant changes in both policity and cultural attitudes about women’s health and reproductive freedom – that dicussion of sexual issues won’t revolve around fear and shame, but will instead focus on  self and mutual respect, healthy relationships, education, safety, emotional and physical health, autonomous control, and responsibility. Am I too optimistic?

Prop 8 & Gay Marriage – A Point by Point

December 18, 2008

I have a hard time understanding the current fervid “defense of traditional marriage” position. How is marriage being attacked, again? As Jason Linkins pointed out recently on Huffingtonpost:

…it’s a lot like saying that my preference for chocolate ice cream over vanilla threatens the sanctity of dessert. Must we have these conversations over harms that are entirely imaginary?

But way too many Americans voted for Prop-8 or similar legislation, so what did they tell themselves to make that okay? I’m trying to understand. I am. Which is why when Jon Stewart managed to have a civilized discussion about gay marriage with Mike Huckabee this week, I sat up and paid attention. Huckabee speaks for the core of social conservatives, right? What did he have to say when Stewart questioned him?

…um, that’s all he’s got? Sadly, I was expecting more. If you look closely at what he asserts, you find merely age-old rhetoric without an ounce of logic or demonstrable fact.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:

  • Marriage between a man and a woman should be the only marriage because “it’s always been that way.”

Since when has this been a vaild reason for anything? Earlier in this country it had “always been” that a woman had no right to enter into a contract of any kind and she legally held no possessions. First she was a dependent of her father and then a dependant of her husband and held no legal rights to make life choices that might go against their wishes. (See Debran Rowland’s awesome book,  The Boundaries of her Body.)

In 9th century Europe, and for centuries before, it had “always been” that a woman who learned to read was sinful, dangerous and very likely possessed.

Things that had “always been” but were eventually changed for the betterment of society are so numerous you could dedicate a book to the topic.

And besides that, it HASN’T always been that way. Far from it. Although Huckabee boldly asserts that it was one man one woman for “the past 5000 years of recorded history,” it’s just not true. In a 2006 article historian Stephanie Coontz writes:

Pundits and politicians love to pontificate about strengthening traditional marriage. But as someone who has studied marriage forms and family life for more than three decades, I wonder how many of them have the faintest idea of what they’re talking about.

I suppose they mean the “traditional” marriage of one man and one woman.

But through most of human history and in most cultures the most widely accepted tradition of marriage has been polygamy — one man and multiple women. We’re not just talking about exotic island cultures or lost tribes in the African jungle. Polygamy is the family form most often mentioned in the first five books of the Old Testament.

In some societies, traditional marriage meant one woman wedded to several men. In others, a woman could take another woman as a “female husband.” In China and the Sudan, when two sets of parents wanted to forge closer family ties and no live spouse was available, one set sometimes married off a child to the “ghost” of a dead son or daughter of the other family. Among the Bella Coola and Kwakiutl native societies of the Pacific Northwest, two families who wished to become in-laws but didn’t have two sets of marriageable children available for a match might even draw up a marriage contract between a son or daughter and a dog belonging to the desired in-laws. Most traditional marriages were concerned with property and wealth, not love or sex.

But what about the sanctity of marriage in the Christian tradition? It is true that Jesus, contradicting Moses, forbade his followers to divorce. But Jesus was not very keen on having them marry in the first place, holding that it was better to abandon worldly ties and dedicate oneself to building the faith. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke, 14). The Apostle Paul thought that getting married was better than burning in hell for unmarried fornication, but that the truly good thing was to remain a virgin and devote oneself to spreading God’s word. [Em. mine]

  • Marriage is all about making babies and hey, they just ain’t got the plumbing for it…

We’re talking about the law here. What part does procreation play in the law of marriage? Barren couples can marry. A couple can marry who has no intention of ever having children. A couple can marry and then proceed to adopt the offspring of others. All perfectly up and up. So the feeling is basically “As long as you’re having sex the way we expect you to, your marriage doesn’t have to be about procreation at all!”

And seriously, what does he mean by

“But even anatomically- let’s face it, the only way that we can create the next generation is through a male female relationship.”

So… gay marriage would replace heterosexual marriage and therefore lead to our eventual extinction?

  • If you “open up” the definition of marriage to include same sex couples, then you “have” to open it up to include everything else – (with multiple spouses, children, and animals ostensibly the first in line.)

Really? Why? Because you need to equate two men falling in love, getting married and spending their lives together with the profound abuse of children and animals? (assuming the animal marriages were, uh…consummated.) Sadly the equating of “grave sins” with whatever he disagrees with is not new territory for Huckabee.

Let’s look at other groundbreaking moments of  “redefinition” over the past 60 or so years.

* When “free man” in the US was redefined to include all races, were children suddenly emancipated from parents? Live stock emancipated from owners? Pets roaming the streets? Zoos emptied?

* When the definition of a legal voter changed to include women, did the floodgates open so that children, animals, and immigrants suddenly lined up at the polls?

* When an interracial couple could legally marry – did that immediately pave the way for marriage between homosexuals, children, animals, and next of kin?

Then why? Why would gay marriage lead to everything else you propose? Never once has anyone elaborated on this. Why.

  • It says so in the bible.

This one is so flawed that even Huckabee didn’t touch it during his Daily Show chat. First of all, contrary to the opinions of some, the bible does not inform our laws. Cheating on your spouse, disrespecting your parents, shouting “Goddamnit, Jesus Christ!” and lusting after another dude’s wife are all perfectly legal. Rather, our laws are explicitly informed by the US Constitution and the Separation of Church and State is in its oldest amendment.

That really is all that needs to be said to on the topic. Separation of Church and State. Yet, it’s only the beginning of why this “reasoning” is flawed. So although I don’t have to go here, it’s so much fun, why the heck not?

Yes, the bible says a man shall layeth with a woman, etc… The bible, in fact, says a lot of things. Deuteronomy Books 21 and 22, for example, have an awful lot to say…

  • You must stone to death a disobedient child. Deuteronomy 21:18-21
  • “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whomever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 22:5
  • Any man whose bride has not shown sufficient evidence of virginity upon the wedding night must publically stone her to death upon her father’s doorstep. You know, to “purge the evil from the midst of [him].” Deuteronomy 22:13-21
  • If a married man cheats with another woman “both of them shall die.” Deuteronomy 22:22

(The previous culled from the wonderful Michael Shermer in his book Science Friction.)

Sure, there are lots of positive “do unto other” sentiments in the bible, especially once God has a son and everyone mellows out. But if you proclaim that what is written in the bible is the word of God, how can you dismiss some points while emphasizing others as absolute truth?

As Shermer says:

The problem here is consistency, and selecting ethical guidelines that support our particular or social prejudices. If you are going to claim the Bible as your primary (or only) code of ethics, and proclaim […] that homosexuality is sinful and wrong because the Bible says so, then you’ve got to kill rebellious youth and nonvirginal premarried woman.

Instead, the social conservative culture chooses to target homosexuals (no marriage!) while going easy on equally offending sexually active single women (please marry!…Oh, and have babies as soon as possible…)

Prop 8 proponents also spew another attack line, which again Huckabee was smart enough to avoid in his tete a tete with Stewart – Gay marriage defiles children. How?

The official Prop 8 site has this cute video (I’ve linked to it before, I know…) where a couple fears for the well being of their child because a teacher spoke about same-sex marriage in class. How the child would be harmed is never delineated.

This woman, gets more specific with

If you look at homes where one parent abuses the other parent, especially if the child is a girl, she will grow up to pursue guys who abuse her. My prediction is that if two lesbians raise a little girl/boy, the child will have a very high chance of either committing suicide or turning homosexual himself. Especially if one of the parents has been artificially inseminated.

She also happens to believe

…homosexual lifestyle leads to high rates of suicide, depression, HIV, drug abuse, STDs, and other pathogens.

What kind of koolaid has she been drinking? I don’t even feel the need to rebut this, as it’s a sentiment that has never been substantiated in any way – not even in theory.

Random House defines homophobia as “unreasoning fear of or antipathy toward homosexuals and homosexuality.” Now, explain to me how actively supporting Prop 8 (or similar legislation) doesn’t make you homophobic.

Go on , Huckabee. I’m listening…