Why Feminism is Still Important For Social Workers


Feminism continues to be a fraught issue with fractures within the community of feminists, as well as women in general. Yet, feminism is more crucial than ever given the diversity of challenges women are now facing. Feminism has become a focal point again recently largely as a result of the Presidential election and the response from it. This is clearly important for social workers as well, from the perspective of human rights and social justice, as well as from a policy perspective.

The role of feminism came to the forefront during the Presidential election for various reasons, most obviously because for the first time a woman became the Presidential candidate for a major political party in the United States. The treatment and response by the media to a female candidate, in comparison to a male candidate, was highlighted by various commentators. This included incessant references to the candidate’s clothing and appearance, the sound of her voice, and the dichotomy of seeming too harsh or cold vs. too weak.

Sadly, many female candidates are forced to endure humiliating treatment that their male counterparts would not experience. The list of demeaning comments made against Hillary Clinton goes on and on which also impacted the Republican female presidential candidate. President Donald Trump infamously commented on Carla Fiorina’s looks stating, “Look at that face!.. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!” These demeaning, misogynistic attitudes and comments were pervasive this election season.

As a result, there has been a strong backlash to what many views as a war on women. This has culminated in the Women’s March, which was estimated to have had three times as many people in attendance than at the Presidential Inauguration. The momentum has continued with more women taking up the call to run for office. International Women’s Day, held on March 8th, also held more significance this year as the Women’s March organizers highlighted the day with calls for strikes from women, and for women to wear red in acknowledgment of the challenges women face.

Yet, there are many naysayers that feel that these efforts are women playing the victim. Some women are vocal that these efforts do not represent them. Political policy impacts all women, and the advantages we enjoy now came from blood, sweat, and tears. This includes the continued fight for equal pay, women’s ability to advance in the workplace, paid maternity leave, and better childcare options—these issues are universal. Aside from this, there is the continued victim blaming of those who have experienced rape on college colleges and a lack of substantial follow-up on the part of the police. Many of those who are prosecuted are given a slap on the wrist, as was the case with Brock Turner.

Sexism and assault of women in the military continue, where most recently nude photos of a female Marine have been posted online. Intimate partner violence and murder of women by husbands or boyfriends are frighteningly pervasive. Seven trans women have already been murdered in 2017 and 27 were killed in 2016.

Furthermore, women and girls continued to be sexually exploited through human trafficking networks. This is due largely in part because our society condones selling women and the demand persists. Until recently children who were caught prostituting, some as young as 10, were prosecuted in court instead of viewing them as a victim in need of help. Even today not all states have yet adopted Safe Harbor laws, viewing “child prostitutes” as culpable in some way.

Worldwide women continue to experience gender-based violence. In Pakistan, Saba Qaiser was shot in the head and left for dead by her father as part of an honor killing. She miraculously survived but saw no justice as she was pressured by the community to forgive those who shot her, letting them off the hook legally. India is experiencing a rape crisis, with 34,000 cases reported in 2015. 200 million girls and women alive today have experienced female genital mutilation. Rape continues to be used as a weapon of war, including in Syria and Iraq, by ISIS militants.

Now is not the time for inaction or denial. Clearly, we still have a long way to go to achieve social justice for women in the United States and worldwide, and these issues have a direct connection to social workers and those we serve. The silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor has ignited a new rallying cry, “never the less she persisted”– and so should we all in this fight for fairness, equality, and justice.

University Conference to Debate Latest Issues around FGM

Anti-FGM campaigners Leyla Hussein and Ifrah Ahmed will be amongst a host of speakers set to talk about the challenges presented by female genital mutilation at a London conference organised by Coventry University.

Home Office minister Norman Baker, who is leading the UK government’s campaign to eradicate FGM, is also set to deliver a video address to the conference.

The conference – which comes as the Crown Prosecution Service announced the first ever prosecutions under the Female Genital Mutilation Act (2003) last week – will take place on Friday 11th April at the University’s London Campus near Liverpool Street.

Prevention or Prosecution? The Behaviour Change Approach to Tackling FGM in the EU will discuss research carried out by Coventry University and its partners in the European Commission-funded REPLACE 2 project – which was set up to combat FGM.

Leyla Hussein, who co-founded the ‘Daughters of Eve’ organisation which works to protect girls and young women at risk from FGM, will talk about the importance of preventing the practice amid widespread discussion around achieving prosecutions.

Dublin-based, Somali-born Ifrah Ahmed – an FGM survivor – will discuss the crucial role community engagement has to play in putting an end to female genital mutilation.

Workshop sessions in the afternoon aim to delve down into some of the deeper challenges surrounding FGM, and will involve the discussion of forthcoming academic papers on the issue – including those addressing ethical, legal and economic concerns.

The UK government’s latest statement on the matter of female genital mutilation followed the signing by senior ministers of a Home Office ‘declaration to end FGM’ on February 6th – the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation – and underlined the “serious criminal” nature of FGM.

Professor Hazel Barrett from Coventry University said:

“We’re seeing the issue of FGM being taken very seriously across government, but there’s still a considerable amount to be done at a community level to work towards preventing the practice in the first place. A lot of high-level discussion on the matter focuses on legislative concerns and achieving the first prosecution in the UK, but through our research we’ve been finding that there are far more complex factors at play which put the onus for long-term solutions on changing attitudes amongst communities affected by FGM.

“This cannot happen overnight, but with the right approach we can do a lot to influence current and future generations into recognising and acknowledging the harmful effects that FGM can bring about.

“It is these issues and concerns that will be at the forefront of discussions at our conference, and we will benefit from the insight of some key figures and campaigners, including those who have experienced FGM and have been fortunate enough to have survived to help prevent others suffering from its consequences.”

The all-day conference – entitled Prevention or Prosecution? The Behaviour Change Approach to Tackling FGM in the EU – will take place at Coventry University’s London Campus on Middlesex Street (map).

For more information, visit www.replacefgm2.eu.

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

UK’s First Female Genital Mutilation Prosecutions: A Triumph for Human Rights campaigners

Yesterday, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service announced that it will be prosecuting two men over allegations of female genital mutilation (FGM). Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena, 31, and Hasan Mohamed, 40, both from London, will appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on the 15th April and it will mark the first prosecutions of its kind.

FGM-Anti-FGMIn England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985 was replaced by the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. The 2003 Act raised the maximum penalty for FGM from five to 14 years in prison and made it illegal for UK nationals to carry out FGM abroad even in countries where it is legal.

FGM, also known as ‘female circumcision’ or ‘female genital cutting’ (FGC) is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as”all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons”.

It is estimated that approximately 100-140 million African women have undergone FGM worldwide. Journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, authors of the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, continue to campaign tirelessly to end gender-based violence. Their book documents numerous true horror stories of women who have been subjected to FGM around the world and the subsequent physical and psychological trauma that they have to overcome. The physical ramifications include severe pain, heavy bleeding, infections, cysts, difficulty in menstruating, sexual dysfunction, complications in pregnancy and fatal haemorrhaging. In addition to this are the social and psychological implications for the woman.

However, this is no longer an African problem as today’s announcement recognizes. FORWARD, an African Diaspora charity which campaigns to eliminate FGM, estimates that 6,500 girls are now at risk in the UK. The majority of those at risk are from African, Middle Eastern and Asian communities. Despite it being outlawed in the 1980s, it is precisely because of the ethnicity of those affected that the law has been so slow to prosecute. Lack of understanding around new, incoming communities, and a fear of demonstrating cultural superiority, rather than embracing multi-culturalism, has left FGM unaddressed. However, thanks to the hard work of campaigners from the African and Asian British communities, the nation is finally realizing that abuse is abuse and torture is torture, regardless of your culture.

Recognizing the universality of abuse is a huge success for Human Rights campaigners. However, there is another factor that needs to be acknowledged if we are to see an end to FGM. For too long, FGM has been referred to as a “Women’s issue”, much in the same way that rape and sex trafficking previously were. Of course, like rape and sex trafficking, this is not a “Women’s issue” but rather a Human Rights issue that not only affects all people, but should really matter to all people. Describing it as a “Women’s issue” confines it to the responsibility of women to sort out; as if the many male perpetrators have no role to play in its prevention and eradication. It also separates the woman from her integral place in the fabric of society; as a Daughter to a Father, a Sister to a Brother, a Mother to a Son. The systematic mutilation of women simply does not only affect women. It is a “Men’s issue” too.

Hopefully these two prosecutions will mark the end of this horrific practice in the UK and place even greater pressure on its acceptability internationally.

University Decision to End Partnership over Reproductive Rights May Have Bigger Implications

Dean Will Rainford
Dean Will Rainford

In a recent decision, School of Social Work Dean, William C. Rainford, at Catholic University of America (CUA) issued a statement ending a long-standing partnership with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) because of its support for women’s reproductive rights.

According to the university’s website, Dean Rainford was appointed to lead the School of Social Work in June 2013, and his biographical information states that he is nationally recognized as a social justice advocate. This major change in University policy comes less than three months after Dean Rainford’s appointment.

Many social work students have taken to twitter to express their outrage for the decision. However, an on campus student social work group, NCSSS Action, reached out to the Chronicle of Social Change to go on record about their opposition to the new policy. According to the group’s organizer Andy Bowen,

“The other students and I are still coalescing around strategy and action, but we won’t go quietly into the night here,” said NCSSS Action organizer Andy Bowen, in an e-mail to The Chronicle of Social Change. Will Rainford, who in April of 2013 was named dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS), informed students in a recent letter that he will “no longer allow NCSSS to officially partner or collaborate with NASW.” The reason, he said, is “based solely on NASW’s overt public position that social workers should advocate for access to abortions.” Read More

The timing of this decision is surprising especially when NASW has been on record about its support for reproductive rights as early as 2004. According to the NASW website in its activities, projects, and research section, it states:

  • Healthy Families, Strong Communities is an NASW project funded by the United Nations Foundation to engage the U.S. and the broader international community in the strengthening of maternal health and reproductive health.
  • Human Rights Update on Social Workers Addressing the Rights of Women and Girls Worldwide through MDG5 (10/8/2010 pdf)
  • NASW Policy Statement on Family Planning and Reproductive Health – appears in Social Work Speaks, a compilation of over 60 NASW policy statements on social work-related issues.
  • Female Genital Cutting – an NASW research page focusing on the practice of female genital cutting, otherwise referred to as female genital mutilation or female circumcision.
  • March for Women’s Lives – a 2004 rally co-sponsored by NASW for women’s reproductive rights.

Since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, women’s reproductive rights have been an area of contention for conservative and religious groups. In several Red States, such as Texas and North Carolina, Republican led legislatures have begun passing some of the most restrictive laws limiting women’s reproductive rights and women’s ability to gain access to preventative care.

In 2012, Catholic University of America joined a lawsuit with Wheaton College asserting the Affordable Care Act is a violation of the school’s religious liberty. During the conference call, Wheaton College President Dr. Phillip Graham Ryken and The Catholic University of America’s president John Garvey stressed their schools’ alignment on pro-life beliefs according to the Huffington Post.

This major policy shift by the university’s School of Social Work does not align with the mission and values of a social work education. The role of a social worker is to help a client who is in crisis or help them improve their outcomes through intervention. As a social worker, if you can not set aside your personal beliefs to provide a client all necessary information to make an informed decision, you are ethically obligated to refer them to someone who can.

If the logic of this university is accepted and applicable to make policy decisions based on religious beliefs, what prevents it from teaching future social workers the tenets modeled as it relates to members of the LGBT community or women seeking health care advice? What prevents any religion from making policy decisions based on ideology to be enforced on a minority group? In my opinion, CUA’s shift in policy is in direct conflict with the Council for Social Work Education’s Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS). If institutions are modelling practices and instituting policies in violation of accreditation standards, should the institution retain its accreditation?

In EPAS section 2.1.4, Engage Diversity and Difference in Practice states:

Social workers appreciate that, as a consequence of difference, a person’s life experiences may include oppression, poverty, marginalization, and alienation as well as privilege, power, and acclaim. Social workers

  •  recognize the extent to which a culture’s structures and values may oppress, marginalize, alienate, or create or enhance privilege and power;
  • gain sufficient self-awareness to eliminate the influence of personal biases and values in working with diverse groups;
  • recognize and communicate their understanding of the importance of difference in shaping life experiences; and
  • view themselves as learners and engage those with whom they work as informants.

The website for the commission and board who oversees the accreditation for schools of social work can be found at http://www.cswe.org/About/governance/CommissionsCouncils/CommissiononAccreditation.aspx. Additionally, if any students at CUA would like to be interviewed, I can be reached at deona@socialworkhelper.com or at @swhelpercom.

You can view all of the Council for Social Work Education’s educational policies and accreditation standards as adopted here.


Cover Photo: Courtesy of Catholic News Agency

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