Tag Archives: equal rights

On The Beijing Platform For Action and How You Can Help

wgg-logoThe folks over at The Working Group on Girls – a coalition of over 80 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are dedicated to promoting the human rights of the girl child by advancing the inclusion and status of girls and assisting them to develop into their full potential as women – have put together a survey to help assess the progress of the United Nation’s “The Beijing Platform for Action”.

Twenty years ago, in 1995, the United Nations convened its fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. By identifying twelve strategic areas to assist in empowering women, a gender-equality road map emerged to help governments and communities around the world address a variety of human rights issues related to improving quality of life for girls and women.

Now WGG wants to know how this platform has impacted communities the past twenty years, and how the lives of girls have changed through its use.

If you know a girl under the age of 18, please ask her to consider completing this short survey. Help give girls the opportunity to impact their world by providing them a platform to voice their concerns, accomplishments, and dreams.

Simply follow the link to complete or share the survey: Girls Grade Beijing

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On The Importance of the Global Education of Girls

photo (98)I remember sitting on the sofa, listening to my grandmother’s stories about her coming-of-age days during the final years of WWII. After her high school graduation she entered the work force in The City (that would be New York City, of course), where she and her fellow office girls defied cultural and professional dress codes by painting tan, narrow stripes down the backs of their calves in an effort to look as if they were wearing those highly-rationed, rare extravagances otherwise known as stockings. On the weekends she and her sisters frequented the local USO where, as Billy Joel once sang, men “ask(ed) them to dance, dance(d) with ‘em slow”. On one of those USO visits she met and fell in love with a young sailor. The romance ended shortly after the war ended, but Handsome Sailor left my grandmother with a precious memento of their love affair: my mother.

By the time my mom was two years old, my grandmother found herself a single mother in the late 1940s. She moved in with her mother and continued working in an effort to support herself and her daughter. Feeling stuck and overwhelmed, she married a man who didn’t treat her well in exchange for putting a roof over their heads.

My mother, on the other hand, attempted to pursue her educational dreams by enrolling at the local junior college after high school graduation. She, too, met a handsome young sailor and, anxious to set up her own home and enjoy some element of independence from her parents, said yes when Dad proposed. They married at the tender ages of 20 and 19. Two kids and eight years later, Mom realized that the independence she was looking for was not just breaking away from her parents by moving out of her childhood home but the growth, maturity, and self-confidence that only comes from learning how to support yourself both financially and emotionally.

Both my mom and grandmother demonstrate the motivation behind the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s: to allow women and girls other options for their academic and economical future than they were historically provided. For my mom and grandmother, and many of their contemporaries, the normal cycle of life dictated that they meet a boy, fall in love, get married, and have babies. But what if women wanted something more? (Gasp!) What if the intellectual stimulation offered by college classes and assignments helped them attain economic independence from their parents? What if the gratification and self-confidence obtained from working in a career that excited them led to more fulfilling relationships with their husbands, children, and peers? And what if those same jobs helped keep their families out of poverty or served to enhance the quality of life and educational opportunities for future generations?

Fortunately for me, the second generation women’s movement meant greater opportunities and options for girls. Unlike the youthful days of my mother and grandmother, attending university in the 1980s was no longer a luxury afforded only to boys – or wealthy girls whose families sent them off to school to look for a suitable husband. Thanks to federal legislation that created more funding sources combined with the efforts of the State of Florida to provide better access to higher education to more of its students, enrollment in the University of Florida was very much a realistic and attainable goal for me. In fact, in my mother’s eyes, obtaining a college degree was the ONLY option available to me when I graduated from high school.

So, two months after my anti-climatic graduation from high school, Mom loaded me and my foot locker full of earthly belongings into her car and drove me to that beautiful campus of red brick, Gothic buildings covered with thick ivy and surrounded by stately live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Then, after waving good-bye to my mom as she drove away, in the words of the ever-inspiring Indigo Girls, “I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper, and I was free”.

For me, those four years of learning and maturing, followed by a couple of years earning a decent living, helped me grow into a stronger, more independent woman and, eventually, a better companion for my husband and sound role model for my sons and daughters – something my mom and grandmother both envisioned when they encouraged me to pursue my education before committing to marriage and raising a family.

While we must continue our diligence to overcome such issues as domestic violence, poverty, and the lingering gender stereotypes that inhibit girls’ educational opportunities here in the United States, we must also now turn our attention toward the extreme discrimination against girls throughout the world that inhibits their ability to experience the same opportunities for economic independence and growth that I found in the 1980s. As stated by former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard,

“I think across the world, as we talk about women in developing countries, there’s been increasing recognition that empowering women and girls is a key change agent for development. There have been some truly shocking incidents that have caused us to have tears in our eyes and sharply intake our breath—what happened to Malala, what has happened with the Nigerian schoolgirls—that powerfully remind us that in some part of the world, getting an education is still a very dangerous thing for a girl. Education is powerful, which is why some people want to stop it and why we should feel so passionate about assuring that it occurs.”

This week world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly have discussed the issues surrounding gender inequality. Goodwill ambassador for U.N. Women, Emma Watson, delivered an inspiring speech about feminism while former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed U.N. delegates regarding the impact of the Clinton Global Initiative and its future goals. This focus on girls and education leads us to the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, 2014, where leaders in promoting worldwide education equality will celebrate the progress made toward girls’ global education these past twenty years as well as look to the future and what remains to be done in order to continue to help make education safe and accessible for girls everywhere.

Remember, only when girls and women have the same educational and economic opportunities as boys and men will we then be able to truly overcome poverty.

On the Definition of Feminism

Woman_suffrage_headquarters_ClevelandRecently a friend posed the following question on her  Facebook page: “What is your definition of ‘feminism’?”

I read several of the responses listed in her comments section and then added my own reply, which is my personal interpretation of the definition found in Webster’s Dictionary: “To me, it (feminism) means that women should have the same education and career opportunities as men. Period.”

While most of the respondents wrote similar definitions to mine, I must admit that I was a bit surprised that some women still find themselves hesitant to identify with the term, feminism, due to perceived negative connotations that continue to accompany a word that strives to promote gender equality.

In order to more thoroughly understand why feminism carries such a vast array of definitions, we must first look at the history of feminism as a doctrine and examine its political impact throughout history. Feminism, by its very definition, requires action. Those who work to create a society that protects gender equality must look at the current state of a government’s policies and address the fairness of any laws and practices that result from such guidelines.  Additionally, throughout history the politics surrounding gender equality have been closely related to religion in that many traditional patriarchal religious beliefs often dictated the distribution of power between the sexes. Thus, when women suffragists in the United States confronted the political status quo, not only were they criticized for disrupting the country’s existing customs and beliefs, but they were also viewed as challenging church doctrine. Keeping this in mind, as well as the fact that even among the suffragists there was often great dissension over the direction in which the movement should proceed, it is no wonder that modern feminism also carries mixed feelings when discussed.

The introduction of the birth control pill in the early 1960’s brought about a new wave of feminism, closely linking the movement to reproductive rights and sexuality as women more openly discussed the notion that the ability to plan for pregnancy (and the newfound freedom to plan against pregnancy) provided them the same opportunities for employment and economic advancement as men. And, as the Supreme Court delivered its opinion in the historic Roe v. Wade case, abortion rights also got added to the mix when discussing reproductive rights.

Suddenly feminism became a fight of “us against them”.

However, in my opinion, feminism is not a case of, “if you’re not for us, you’re against us.” Instead, feminism is simply the notion that women, as human beings, deserve the right to pursue whatever interests they desire. They should be allowed to follow their dreams, whatever those dreams may be. Just like not all men will study to be lawyers or doctors, not all women aspire to the traditionally female roles of wives or mothers or teachers or nurses. We should support one another no matter what our individual personal goals might be. Working mother, stay-at-home mom, corporate CEO, English teacher, politician, single, married, gay – these differences are not things to argue over. They are experiences that we can share with each other in an effort to educate one another on the variety of lifestyle choices that create a healthy, industrious, and enlightened civilization. All of us, male and female, possess various individual talents that enable us to contribute to society as a whole. Without the opportunity to study or work toward our goals we become unproductive citizens, unable to add value to the world around us.

And that, to me, would be a waste of humanity.

Just as the term, “love”, can be used in a variety of contexts, so, too can the term, “feminism”. And it is important to remember that we all reserve the right to use either term in the manner which we choose. All too often, in an attempt to maintain their own identity when discussing a term that has become a label, women apologize for their belief in gender equality.

It’s time we stop apologizing for our belief that women deserve the same rights as men.

On Learning About Feminism

Antioch College, in Yellow  Springs, OH, was the first college in the country to admit both non-whites and women with equal status to white men (Wikipedia)

Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, OH, was the first college in the country to admit both non-whites and women with equal status to white men (Wikipedia)

In January of 1985 I embarked on my second semester of my freshman year in college. As I scheduled my classes for the upcoming spring, I determined that this semester would be different from the last semester: I resolved to earn an ‘A’ in at least one class this go-around.

Since I tested out of English Comp 101, the university allowed me to enroll directly into Comp 102, which suited me just fine because I fancied myself a budding writer looking for the tools I needed to pursue my personal goal of writing the next Great American Novel, and to do so I needed to get the boring preliminary classes out of the way as quickly as possible.  Time was of the essence here, you know.

Imagine my surprise and displeasure when my PhD candidate-grad assistant-professor informed me after grading my first essay that I would not, under any circumstances, make an ‘A’ in her class.

I withdrew from her office, holding my butchered-with-red-ink, ‘C’ graded, pathetic composition at arm’s length from my body as I trudged back to my dorm, ready to cry and change my major to the much less subjective field of Computer Science (the major my dad recommended I study in the first place. Hooray for STEM-minded dads!).

Through some miraculous feat of determination (and the lack of anything better to do during the hour-and-a-half allotted to my schedule for Comp 102), I managed to continue attending her class and scraped out a ‘B+’ for my final semester grade. And, in the process, this remarkable professor taught me two things that stayed with me for the rest of my life: avoid using ‘to be’ verbs as much as possible in my writing, and – despite my personal upbringing where my family placed my brother and me on equal footing with regard to education and career choices – women continue to struggle to achieve the respect they need for their professional and personal success.

My professor focused her PhD thesis on pop culture and its effects on women in social situations. She theorized that there was a direct correlation between the prolific distribution of porn and the increase in date-rape crimes on college campuses. I participated in a focus group she hosted (for extra credit, of course – how else do you think I managed to obtain the highest grade possible in her class?) that discussed the use of pornographic images in music videos, magazine ads, and movies and how these images turned women into one-dimensional sex objects instead of living, breathing human beings capable of making their own decisions – especially in regard to what happens to their bodies. In short, due to the portrayal of men as dominant over women, pop culture reiterated the idea that boys reserved the right to treat girls as possessions instead of equal human beings capable of making their own decisions about their sexuality, career pursuits, family planning, and so on.

My participation in this focus group awakened me to the idea that not everyone looked at women as intellectually equal to men. Two years later, as I sat in my business classes populated by a disproportionate amount of male to female students, I further recognized the prevalence of sexist attitudes in Corporate America when a male professor pointed out that, at the time, only a minority of Fortune 500 companies boasted female executives (God bless him for even discussing the topic in class.) My burgeoning feminist beliefs reached full maturation when, as an assistant manager with Wal-Mart in 1989, I learned that my district manager took it upon himself (as in, without my permission) to inform the Home Office that no, I would not be interested in entering their newly designed buyer trainee program, despite the fact that they had called to personally invite me to join the program. After a brief deliberation, I decided that I would, indeed, like to relocate to the Home Office in Bentonville, AR. Unfortunately, my district manager’s assertion that I stay put caused the director of the program to withdraw his earlier invitation – a fact I didn’t learn about until two months later. Which is when I began the search for a new job.

Among some groups (most specifically, of course, intimidated men), the term “feminism” carries negative connotations. “Men haters”, “bra burners”, “radicals”, “feminazis” are just a few of the many derogatory terms used to describe those of us who believe that gender should have no bearing on a person’s ability to earn a living or pursue his or her educational interests. At times, even I have shuddered at the label, “feminism”.  And then I read the actual definition of the term:

Feminism: “The doctrine which declares that social, political, and economic rights for women be the same as those for men.” – Webster’s Dictionary

This definition does not state that feminism advocates for women to become men (or stop being feminine), nor does it declare that women are superior to men. It simply states that women – as human beings – deserve the opportunity to enjoy the same rights as men. Period. And that is a doctrine that both men and women can subscribe to with a very clear conscience. Equal educational and economic opportunities for myself and my daughters. For my friends and their daughters. For women both at home and abroad. Because, how can we expect to overcome poverty, hunger, and war if only half of the population is educated and/or employed?

How about you? When did you first identify with feminism? Did you ever experience discrimination and, if so, how did you handle the situation? Were you ever encouraged to not pursue an interest or job opportunity due to your gender? If so, tell me about it in the comments section below – I love to hear your stories!