Sexual Violence Haunts Women With Vivid Memories Years Later

Women who are sexually assaulted experience more vivid memories than women coping with the aftermath of other traumatic, life-altering events not associated with sexual violence, according to a new Rutgers University–New Brunswick study.

The research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, found that women who had suffered from sexual violence, even those who were not diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had more intense memories – even years after the violence occurred – that are difficult, if not impossible to forget.

“To some extent it is not surprising that these memories relate to more feelings of depression and anxiety because these women remember what happened and think about it a lot,” said Tracey Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience in the School of Arts and Sciences who coauthored the study.  “But these feelings and thoughts are usually associated with PTSD and most women in our study who experienced these vivid memories did not suffer from PTSD, which is generally associated with more intense mental and physical reactions.”

The study included 183 college-aged women between the ages of 18-39. Sixty-four women reported that they were victims of sexual violence while 119 did not have a history of sexual violence. Less than 10 percent were on anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication.

The women with a history of sexual violence reported stronger memories with specific details that included seeing the event clearly in their mind. They reported having a harder time forgetting the incident and believed it to be a significant part of their life story, according to the research.

“Each time you reflect on an old memory, you make a new one in your brain because it is retrieved in the present space and time,’’ said Shors. “What this study shows is that this process can make it even more difficult to forget what happened.”

Studies have shown that sexual aggression and violence is one of the most likely causes of PTSD in women, a condition that is associated with decreased brain functions related to learning and memory that can be both physically and mentally debilitating and difficult to overcome.

“Women in our study who ruminated more frequently also reported more trauma-related symptoms. One could imagine how rumination could exacerbate trauma symptoms and make recovery from the trauma more difficult,” said Emma Millon, a Rutgers graduate student and coauthor of the research.

According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of women worldwide experience some kind of physical or sexual assault in their lifetime with adolescent girls much more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape or assault. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five college students experience sexual violence during their university years.

Shors has developed a new treatment to lessen these vivid memories and help women recover that is different from the traditional Prolonged Exposure Therapy, which includes recollecting the traumatic memory during interviews, story writing and even revisiting the traumatic location.

Mental and Physical Training (MAP Training) developed by Shors combines 30 minutes of mental training with silent meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, twice a week for six weeks. In previous studies, MAP Training diminished trauma symptoms in women who experienced violence, with those participating reporting significantly fewer trauma-related thoughts and ruminations about the past.

“This problem will not go away soon and we must keep our attention focused on prevention and justice for survivors – and their recovery,” Shors said.

Girls Who Run the World at London ComicCon 2018

Geek culture has a rocky history with women. But now, women are rocking geek culture. Historically, women have faced invisibility (not the superpowered kind), exclusion, active hostility, violence, and sexualisation.

This is across video games (the communities surrounding video games), films, TV, and comic books – from sci-fi, superhero and fantasy genres. Geek culture does not ‘cause’ gender inequality. However, it does facilitate and shut down particular attitudes.

The stories we tell teach us who is important – and who is not. And now, women are taking charge of their own stories.

MCM London Comic Con

Orange is the New Black stars Tiffany Doggett (Taryn Manning) and Flaca Gonzalez (Jackie Cruz) spoke about the importance of centering women’s stories, particularly untold stories. The hit Netflix series focuses on a women’s prison, and the actors admitted that they have learned a lot about the conditions faced by incarcerated women during the filming process. There is also space to unpick gendered issues around race and class. “If you don’t see it, create it”, Jackie added, speaking of her extracurricular endeavours with music production.

Then, there were the wrestlers.

EVE  is a self-described “ground-breaking feminist-punk-rock wrestling promotion”: a pro wrestling group for women. ComicCon hosted a debut screening of Empowered, a documentary by Lea Winchcombe showcasing Rhia O’Reilly and Candy Floss. Unashamedly feminist and political, the documentary considers the challenges of being a female wrestler (stereotypes, naysayers and balancing home life), with the buzz of parading around the ring being “glamourous and outrageous”.

On being a role model for her daughter and others, EVE founder Emily Read laughed, “I am the hero, I am the strong one”.  They have opened up wrestling classes for women which build their confidence and self-esteem (irrespective of being novice, casual, professional or old hat). “Women have a place, women have a voice, and women kick ass!” she concluded. The author of this article may very well have shed a tear.

On a less physically exerting note, geek writer/actor/creator Felicia Day happily spoke about her work and creative projects alongside motherhood and her hair. Many members of the audience seemed to share with Felicia the same heartfelt and almost tangible importance of having a female role model within the industry to look up to. Felicia humbly acknowledged the praise and assured us that female representation in geek culture is changing. This was a repeated message at this year’s ComicCon – and a very believable one.

Photo Credit: GoGCast 156: Interview with Patricia Summersett and Victoria Atkin | Girls on Games

Voice actors from Pokemon, South Park (yes, April Stewart confirmed that Wendy is very well received by female fans) and Assassin’s Creed participated in discussions about their gender (of course, only as one element of the colorful spectrum of conversations).

Victoria Atkin and Patricia Summersett of the Assassin’s Creed games spoke about how “challenging” things can be in the industry – particularly to find female characters that aren’t one of the two common tropes of  “sexualised” or “butch”, but “somewhere in the middle”. They discussed wanting to be role models for women in a world where there can be little representation, with a standard gender ratio which appears to “almost compensate for having a female lead”. (Yes, Guardians of the Galaxy and Justice League, I’m looking at you – the good old ‘one woman in a group of four or five men’ trick).

Victoria and Patricia positively, and somewhat bravely considering how women can be treated for speaking up, critiqued their industry to a somewhat male-heavy press audience. These women want to be, and indeed, they are, changemakers – whilst acknowledging the hopeful message that, already, “It is changing”.

Away from the interview room in Comic Village, there was a whole host of women proudly showcasing their own work. This included everything from personal stories about one’s cat (and other pets), adventure tales, tea and romance, magic, fairies and fantasy, space and Japan. Worth a special mention in this mix was the interweaving of gender, sexuality, and race in the creations. Sexuality we may consider another time.

Olivia Duchess showcased a stall solely dedicated to beautiful, tender artwork of Black girls and women. Having been drawing since 2015, Olivia explained that “When I was growing up, I didn’t anyone who looked like me… I didn’t see a lot of Black characters,” (Susie Carmichael from Rugrats got a special mention). She continued, with a modest shrug, “I’m trying to be the change I want to see”, as though unaware of her brilliance.

The interplay of gender and race was also witnessed in other ways – for example, Letitia Wright (Princess Shuri from Black Panther), discussed the importance of  Black female presence in her film, not least the range of “strong female characters”. She agreed with an audience member, “The women were an amazing entity”, before going on to talk about the value of a “Disney Princess with cornrows”.

There was a woman so overwhelmed with emotion at meeting the badass Black Panther science princess, Letitia Wright, that she was trembling with joy. After a quick photo, she took my hand intently, asking: “Do you understand? Do you understand what this means for Black people?”

Her face was full of magic and the power of visibility. I don’t know how one heart held so much in a moment.

This theme was repeated by IvyDoomKitty in her panel on mental health with Janina Scarlett. She spoke about how she had never thought the representation of women was important in geek culture until she saw it. Before then, she was satisfied with the norm of the male superhero. Then she saw DC’s Wonder Woman: an unfurling, a stirring. A hunger revealed. As Dr. Scarlett said, in her discussion about seeing oneself in these stories, “equality sends a very powerful message that everyone is equal and everyone matters”.

I felt it too, this ComicCon. A sense of … something, resonating, muscular and powerful, yet somehow delicate and bright. The kind of visceral sensation that glows in your belly and makes you grab a stranger’s hand and ask them:

Do you understand?

ComicCon, I think you did understand. You gave women – all kinds of women – space, made us central and elevated our power.

Superwomen are here to stay. See you next year!

Women Sleep Less than Men, New Survey Finds

When it comes to quality of sleep among Americans, men seem to outperform women, a new survey from the Better Sleep Council has found. The male participants of the survey often bragged about getting adequate amounts of sleep, while the women were considerably less likely to get a good night’s rest.

The Sleep Gap between the Sexes

The survey found that a vast majority—84 percent—of female participants found that sleep is important to their health. However, compared to men, the women fell short of getting recommended amounts of sleep each night. The male participants earned a positive 72 percent score for sleeping well at night. This is only slightly above the 70 percent score average American adults of both sexes received from the researchers. Overall, both men and women were lacking enough sleep.

The researchers found that men got better sleep because they tended to engage in more positive sleep habits. More than a third of the male participants slept alone, thus reducing distractions. More men minimized stress levels, followed strict bedtime rituals including on weekends, and didn’t consume caffeinated drinks after lunchtime, leading to overall better sleep than the women.

Women experienced considerable barriers to uninterrupted sleep—mainly their loved ones. Women were more likely than men to let kids or pets sleep in their beds. Such distraction-causing bedtime habits caused women to miss sleep more. Women were also considerably more likely to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

Mounting Evidence for a Sleep Epidemic among Women

Other surveys have also found women to lack more sleep than men. A 2007 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that women are more likely than men to suffer from sleep disorders. Women with children are often the last to go to bed at night, resulting in less sleep.

Both men and women require at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night, according to guidelines set by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of adverse health conditions among both sexes, including increased risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and mood disorders like anxiety.

A study of 71,000 female nurses who regularly got less than 5 hours of sleep at night found that the sleep-deprived women were more likely to develop diabetes and cardiovascular problems compared to those who slept 8 hours a night. Women who are most likely to lose sleep were corporate women, who worked long hours at the office and commuted a lot, often losing out on sleep in the process. It’s estimated that more than a third of American working women are seriously sleep-deprived.

Why Women Sleep Less

Scientific research indicates several reasons why women lack sleep compared to men. As mentioned above, lifestyle is a major contributing factor. Women often work long hours and when they come home, they are tasked with looking after children. Working mothers don’t go to sleep until their children are asleep and the school bags for the following day are packed. Women prioritize the needs of the family over their individual need to sleep well.

Other biological factors may also play a role. Female sex hormones tune body clocks to wake up earlier compared to men. The menstrual cycle can also play a role, particularly menopause. Pregnant women experience sleep disturbances, which can continue even after the baby is born (mostly because of the crying baby).

Certain diseases, such as restless leg syndrome, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and obstructive sleep apnea, can keep women awake at night as well. Another factor is the bed partner, which is likely to be a male who snores and moves around a lot in their sleep.

Medical professionals recommend that women address this issue head-on and actively sleep at least 20 minutes more than the healthy 7 hours a night. Developing good sleeping habits is at the forefront of tackling this particular gender-oriented problem.

Women Have Fundamentally Different Journeys to Financial Wellness, Merrill Lynch Study Reveals

A new Merrill Lynch study conducted in partnership with Age Wave, “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line,” celebrates the progress made by women while examining the financial challenges women still face throughout their lives, and offers potential solutions. The study finds that 70 percent of women believe that men and women have a fundamentally different life journey, reinforcing the need to better understand women’s financial concerns and opportunities. The study is based on a nationally representative sample of 3,707 respondents, including 2,638 women and 1,069 men.

“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers.”

“Women have come a long way both personally and professionally, but when it comes to their finances, there is still a trail left to blaze,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “As women are at a tipping point to achieve greater financial empowerment and independence, it is even more essential that we support women in helping them pursue financial security for life. This includes encouraging women to invest more of their assets, save earlier for retirement, and pursue financial solutions that closely align to their personal values and life paths.”

Findings include:

Women look beyond the bottom line
While they definitely care about the performance of investments, women view money as a way to finance the lives they want. Seventy-seven percent say they see money in terms of what it can do for themselves and their families. Eighty-four percent say that understanding their finances is key to greater career flexibility. When it comes to investing, about two-thirds of women look to invest in causes that matter to them.1

Superior longevity
Longevity needs to be a factor in everyone’s financial strategy, but more so for women, who on average, live five years longer than men. Eighty-one percent of centenarians are women.2 While 64 percent of women say they would like to live to 100, few feel financially prepared, with 44 percent of women stating they worry they will run out of money by age 80.

Confidence in all but investing
The study finds that women are confident in most financial tasks, such as paying bills (90 percent) and budgeting (84 percent). However, when it comes to managing investments, their confidence drops significantly; only 52 percent of women say they are confident in managing investments, versus 68 percent of men. Millennial women were the least confident at 46 percent. Of women who do invest, their financial confidence soars; 77 percent of women who invest feel they will be able to accumulate enough money to support themselves for life.

A trail left to blaze
The study also finds how important understanding the gender wealth gap (as opposed to the wage gap) and wealth escalators are to women’s financial wellness. Women experience a gender wealth gap – the difference between men’s and women’s financial resources across their lifetimes, including earnings, investments, retirement savings and additional assets. This wealth gap can translate to a woman at retirement age having accumulated as much as $1,055,000 less than her male counterparts.3Contributing factors include:

  • Temporary interruption, permanent impact: Many women experience lasting effects when they take time away from the workforce to provide care, including for aging parents, their own spouses, and their own children. One in three mothers who returned to the workforce after caring for children says she took on less demanding work, which resulted in lower pay. Twenty-one percent say they were paid less for the same work they did previously.
  • Greater lifetime health and care costs: The average woman is likely to have higher health costs than the average man in retirement – paying an additional $195,000 on average4 – due to living longer and having to rely on formal long-term care in later years.

“Women’s life journeys are not only different than men’s, they’re different than the life journeys of our mothers and grandmothers,” said Maddy Dychtwald, co-founder and senior vice president of Age Wave. “We have more opportunities and choices when it comes to family, education and careers, but we’re so busy taking care of other people and other priorities, we often don’t take the time to invest in ourselves and our future financial wellness. If more women can actively take control of their financial future all along the way, it would not only benefit them, but also their families and our society overall.”

Doing more to promote financial wellness
Bank of America’s Global Wealth and Investment Management business serves affluent and wealthy clients through two leading brands in wealth management: Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust. Advisors specialize in goals-based wealth management, including planning for retirement, education, legacy, and other life goals through investment, cash and credit management.

“In a period of remarkable advances for women in society, a remaining frontier is financial well-being,” said Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “It’s a basic component in the quality of life. This report lays out a blueprint for helping to achieve it – and we at Merrill Lynch relish the opportunity to provide women everywhere with advice and support that can make a meaningful difference at every stage of their lives.”

Through its advisors, educational offerings and other resources, Bank of America is positioned to help clients overcome the common challenges presented in the study by:

  • Addressing women’s top financial regret: not investing more. Forty-one percent of women say not investing more is their biggest regret. Women cite lack of knowledge (60 percent) and confidence (34 percent) as top barriers.
  • Focusing on disparities in wealth, not just income. Women’s financial security is about more than closing today’s pay gap. It’s about accumulating assets or wealth at all income levels, and increasing women’s access to wealth escalators (e.g., employee benefits such as paid time off and pretax savings opportunities).
  • Breaking the silence about money. Sixty-one percent of women say they would rather discuss details about their own death than talk about their money. Forty-five percent of women report they don’t have a financial role model.

To learn more about women’s financial wellness, read “Women and Financial Wellness: Beyond the Bottom Line.”

Booking.com and Web Summit Expand Commitment to Women in Tech

Amsterdam, The Netherlands – 25 APRIL 2018 – Booking.com, one of the world’s largest travel e-commerce companies and a digital technology leader, announced a global partnership with Web Summit. Together they will host a dedicated ‘Women in Tech’ networking and mentoring program at the flagship Web Summit event, as well as initiatives at affiliated events Collison and RISE in 2018. This exclusive collaboration continues Booking.com and Web Summit’s efforts to redress the under-representation of women in technology by creating more opportunities for women to enter, advance and thrive in the sector.

Booking.com will host the first of a number of networking initiatives for women at the Booking.com Women in Tech lounge at Collision 2018, being held in New Orleans, USA, from April 30th-May 3rd, 2018. One of America’s leading technology conferences, Collison brings together CEOs of the world’s fastest growing startups and Fortune 500 companies, alongside leading investors and media. Booking.com CEO Gillian Tans will also participate in a panel on “Sustainability in Big Business”, sharing her insights on the role of major companies in furthering global sustainability and ethical practices.

Web Summit 2018, taking place in Lisbon, Portugal, from November 5th-8th, will be the focal point of the global partnership and will feature an expanded ‘Women in Tech Mentor Program’, following the success of the inaugural initiative at last year’s event. The Web Summit 2017 women’s mentoring program attracted nearly 200 participants, with 60 high-profile mentors from across the tech sector, including Gillian Tans and other Booking.com executives.

RISE 2018 will take place on 9th-12th July 2018 in Hong Kong and is the largest tech conference in Asia. The event attracts more than 15,000 attendees each year from over 100 countries. Booking.com will host the Women in Tech networking lounge at the event.

“We are excited to partner with Web Summit again this year to build on the strong demand and engagement we saw in 2017 and to continue our efforts in driving gender diversity in tech at a global level. Recent data suggests that 90% of women working in technology across the world have experienced gender bias in the workplace and this, coupled with the lack of mentors (48%) and female role models (42%), are the top three obstacles preventing women from choosing to advance their careers in tech,” said Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com.

“We are expanding our partnership with Web Summit with marquee events in Europe, North America and Asia to continue the conversations about gender diversity and to support women through mentoring and providing more opportunities for them to collaborate, network and share experiences. This global partnership will give us another platform to help pivot gender inequalities and gaps in the male-dominated tech workplace and encourage more women from across the world to become positive role models for others.”

Web Summit runs the world’s most highly regarded technology events which bring together world leaders, Fortune 500 companies, tech giants and groundbreaking startups to examine and celebrate the latest advances in technology.

Paddy Cosgrave, CEO and co-founder of Web Summit, said: “Web Summit run the most prominent technology events in the world and we are committed to driving a positive change in the industry. We launched our women in tech initiative three years ago to increase the number of women participating at our events around the world. This commitment to change resulted in a female/male gender ratio at Web Summit of 42% / 58% for the last two years.

“We are pleased to partner again with Booking.com to further this important cause and provide a platform for raising awareness about gender equality in the tech industry globally. The partnership with Booking.com will help us provide further opportunities for female tech talent attending our events to network with and learn from some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs in the industry today.”

Is the #MeToo Movement Leaving Black Women Behind

Women have been sexually exploited for centuries and its foundation is heavily rooted in American history. But what about the black woman and her story? With all of the sexual harassment allegations and mayhem involving big names such as Weinstein, Moore, Spacey, and now Matt Lauer; it should come as no surprise that black women are included in the ever-growing list of victims.

However, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It has been amazing and yet difficult to digest the responses to the black women who have come forth with allegations of sexual harassment. The skepticism and scrutiny to which many have been subjected to is both distasteful and heartbreaking. How is it that in 2017 our stories still don’t matter?

It is of strongly held opinions that the black woman was the original victim of what we now know to be sexual abuse/harassment/violence. The historic amnesia that America has denied for centuries has found a way to rear its ugly head only for the sake of whiteness and other contemporary motives yet the black woman is still forgotten.

Lest we forget that it was the black woman who was raped, killed, exploited, molested, and subjugated to adapt to cultural norms that she may never receive full acceptance into despite her many contributions and heavy influence on this culture. Rooted in racist ideology that perpetuates systems of superiority, power, and control; it is evident why the black woman’s story is unbelievable.

Pair that with a century’s long narrative that has painted a picture of the black woman as an over sexualized seductress whose very anatomy is both revered and seen as threatening, and we now have plausibility to deny anything that comes out of her mouth claiming victimization. When a black woman claims that she has been victimized, why is she automatically seen as the perpetrator or instigator?

Case in point, Harvey Weinstein quickly refuted claims from Oscar-winning actress, Lupita N’yongo, but for the most part, remained silent on claims from other women. It is important to note that N’yongo is the only black woman who has come forth with allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. Weinstein. Are we to believe that Weinstein had an ‘off switch’ when it came to Lupita N’yongo? Pssshhh, I think not!

Surely people are not naïve to the fact that black women have and continue to experience sexual harassment and exploitation at alarmingly high rates. In fact, a quick Google search on black women and sexual harassment will render a host of information chronicling our fight against sexual harassment.

One will even learn how it was the struggles of a collective group of black women that helped shape sexual-harassment laws and the many protections it provides on the books today. It is also important to note that when the perpetrator of sexual misconduct is a black male whose victims are typically black women, little to no attention is brought to these issues.

For instance, when you hear the name, R. Kelly, not only is it synonymous with music and pop culture, but you may also think ‘affinity for young girls’ as well. Despite decades of suspicion, allegations, and videos of sexual misconduct, Kelly’s career has persisted and even thrived. This is an unlikely paradox given the current environment that has resulted in many high-powered men losing nearly everything they have worked for.

Even Bill Cosby was shunned for his actions. So why the difference? Again, when you compare Kelly up against other men, the only real difference is the victims. Kelly’s victims are typically young black girls and women whose lives and stories simply don’t hold as much value as their white counterparts.

There is little doubt that the black woman’s mind body and soul have been invaded in an effort to dominate the very space that she occupies. Slavery taught us that while the black male was indeed the head of the family, leader of the tribe, and physically capable to withstand formidable circumstances; it was the black woman who was the driving force behind black people’s survival.

Even still today, she has had to take on all of these roles in the absence of the black male due to the continuous assault on his life while attempting to maintain some semblance of normalcy for both herself and her family.

Somewhere along the way, black women were placed at the bottom of the barrel and devalued, or perhaps she was never valued at all. Society has stripped her of every human right you can think of. She has been poked, prodded, studied, raped, exploited, coerced, deprived, abused, and so on and so forth.

History has shown us that the black woman is a part of one of the most disenfranchised groups and that despite the many strides she has made in overcoming adversity, society still seeks to invade her space, and steal her virtue all while denying her claims that give truth to her existence.

Fearless: How One Financial Expert Faced Her Fear Of Public Speaking

Pamela Yellen and Richard Branson

When you are on a collision course to face your fears in order to achieve your future career goals, what will you do? Do you run and hide, drag your feet and hope things will blow over, or will you dawn your Super Woman cape and address the elephant in the room?

Today’s woman wears many hats and it should come as no surprise that with all of the role-changes, fear and anxiety can be a bit challenging for some. Add to that a career path that is rooted in public speaking and you could have a recipe for disaster as the challenges faced with respect to public speaking are high. Communication, in general, tends to be challenging for women on both a personal and professional level for various reasons, but why do we seem to struggle a bit more with public speaking?

Sweaty palms, a racing heart, or feeling like a frog is lodged in your throat. Those psychosomatic symptoms can be a real bummer and many women never achieve their full potential due to their overwhelming fear of public speaking. To shed light on this common problem, we turned to financial expert and two-time New York Times bestseller, Pamela Yellen, who knows all too well about overcoming the fear of public speaking.

We wanted to know how someone who had garnered enough support to raise $25,000 in funds for the American Cancer Society and was fearless enough to dawn a gold-sequined leotard while riding on an elephant struggled with fear and anxiety that almost halted her career pursuits. “You can be a risk taker and still be afraid to get up in front of more than a couple of people.”

Despite the risks Pamela has taken in her life, it wasn’t until she decided to go in a different direction and develop a more professional career as a financial services consultant and public speaker that she was prompted to deal with her “paralyzing stage fright.” Once she conquered her fears, she went on to help others face their fears relating to financial security and grace us with Bank on Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial Future and The Bank On Yourself Revolution: Fire Your Banker, Bypass Wall Street, and Take Control of Your Own Financial Future.

To help quell her fears and set her on the path to success, Pamela got busy and ushered in the help of a mentor. When asked if she felt like the mentoring approach and feedback would have set her on a different path had her mentor been a female, she chuckled, “I guess we’ll never know, but I will tell you that I was a bit intimidated by him and he was a very strong, demanding, no-nonsense kind of guy. I think maybe I needed that [approach] at that time.” She also acknowledges her abilities to develop and lead people to reach their potential, developing strategies to avoid foreseeable obstacles, and her natural curiosity to challenge conventional wisdom as key strengths that have contributed to her success.

So what do you do when all eyes are on you and it seems as if the world is judging you? According to Pamela, “You can choose are you gonna sit there and stand there and worry about what they’re gonna think about you or are you going to focus on the fact that you have value to give them.”

Having a clear focus is important when taking on any task, especially something as intimidating as public speaking.Once you choose to change your focus to the value that you bring to your client or an audience, you can begin to approach public speaking differently. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you will never have a nervous moment again. Pamela stated she “still gets plagued by a lack of confidence every now and then” but despite a few hang-ups, she has still persisted and has been quite successful in pursuing her goals.

Speaking of womanhood, we would be remiss not to address the obstacles faced by women in addition to the generalized fear many have regarding public speaking. How does one persist when it seems like the odds are stacked against women? Being a woman has made her somewhat of an easier target for negative criticism and has been a cause of hesitancy along her journey.

Given many of the patriarchal norms and stereotypes assigned to women that continue to shape much of society, it’s easy to see how despite all of her success, remnants of fear and anxiety can still rear their ugly heads. There is little doubt that being a woman presents its own set of problems when speaking out and sometimes against the status quo.

When asked about her thoughts on being a woman in such a male-dominated field, Pamela stated, “people attack me regularly because I go against the conventional financial wisdom.” She also offered an inspiring quote from her mentor, Dan Kennedy, “It’s been so profoundly powerful for me ‘If you’re not offending someone by noon every day then you’re not doing much.'” Despite her critics, like a true superhero, Pamela still persists and we are thankful for it.

Switching gears, the interview would not have been complete without garnering some financial advice from the guru herself. Money and financial security or lack thereof can be a great cause of fear and anxiety for anybody. Understanding that a large part of overcoming fear or anxiety involves doing something different, rather it be challenging yourself or learning something new. Pamela’s book encourages you to do both.

With no regard to socio-economic status, age, or income, Bank On Yourself allows consumers to achieve their goals and take control of their financial situation by avoiding Wall Street while challenging financial institutions and their tactics.

While different groups have benefited from Pamela’s books, advice, and financial expertise; by far the group that has benefited the most has been the baby-boomer generation. “I think a lot of baby boomers and women have benefited from my books because the baby-boomers are the ones or the group that no longer has guaranteed pensions from their companies and they’re basically on their own to save for their own retirement.” For those still reeling from the Recession, looking to recover from slow economic growth, or gain financial freedom Pamela advises “if you’re not comfortable with the idea of never being sure that you’ll have you know a certain amount of money for retirement you need to look at safe and guaranteed methods of saving for retirement.”

Rather it is public speaking, finances, or career guidance; no matter how successful, when it comes to certain things, fear and doubt can set in, and if left unaddressed will find a permanent home in our lives. To learn more about some of these safe financial methods and get a free and safe wealth building report, you can visit www.bankonyourself.com.

Why We Are Just Learning About Harvey Weinstein?

Photo Credit: People Magazine – Courtney Love and Harvey Weinstein Taylor Hill/FilmMagic; Venturelli/WireImage

Why has it taken almost three decades for Harvey Weinstein’s absurdities and gross sexual misconduct to come to light? He was a champion of women’s rights, an avid supporter of the progressive movement and a sought-after democratic donor. How did the people not know? Was there some oath of silence friends, colleagues, and staff members took which protected this man for so long?

While some may plead the fifth, it is clear that sexual harassment and discrimination against women is commonplace in Hollywood and unfortunately throughout mainstream and greater society, but it still doesn’t answer the question of why it took so damn long for the public to learn about Weinstein’s behavior. Sure there were non-disclosure agreements and possible gag orders that were strategically attached to pitiful sums of money to hush Weinstein’s multiple victims, but even still the question remains, Why?

Some believe that the answer is simple, misogyny. The misogynistic views that have been embedded in the very fabric of this countries DNA and have been allowed to permeate throughout American culture since this nation’s founding is definitely a good starting point. This misogynistic culture has caused many to turn a blind eye when they see it happen or remain silent when they encounter it themselves. The real kicker is that holding misogynistic views isn’t just a male-only issue.

Women perpetuate these views too which is evidenced by how many women voted for Trump despite the Access Hollywood tapes. Not that it is right, but perhaps the culture of misogyny that has persisted over the years has made it okay for both men and women to perpetuate and accept less than ethical and violent behavior against women.

With a long history of disrespect, disregard, and marginalization of women in this country, it would be ludicrous to ignore the influence that this attitude towards women has had within families, communities, and society as a whole. Despite the historical context that helps explain the 20+ years of silence, the question of why still remains. There have been many strides towards inclusion and improved parity for women. Women have continued to evolve and remain outspoken in various efforts to advocate for themselves and close disparity gaps, so again, why was this allowed to continue for so long?

Outside of the obvious cover-up and threat to one’s reputation; undoubtedly there is certain intimidation that comes with “going public” about issues like this, especially when your livelihood, reputation, and in extreme cases, your life, are on the line. A victim is even more subdued when the perpetrator holds clout such as Weinstein, Cosby, and others who have been ousted for similar acts.

Arguably so, the tolerance for this type of behavior and misconduct is steadily dwindling and is a strong indicator as to why people are just now learning about Weinstein’s gross behavior. Still, look at how long it has taken to get here. The tolerance for this type of behavior has to be high, for goodness sake, Trump was recorded on tape bragging about grabbing women by their meows, yet he was still elected the leader of the free world. This seemingly renewed assault on women has resulted in a call to action for individuals to protect rights that were hard-fought for and losing them would be a detriment.

This new movement of resistance has definitely brought light to the multiple injustices experienced by women as well as exposed several high-powered individuals and corporations for their unscrupulous behavior. However, as with any major change, hitting people in their pockets have always garnered both attention and change when all other forms of advocacy and protesting have been exhausted.

The threat of bad publicity and potential boycotts has been the impetus for many public apologies, forced resignations/terminations, policy changes, and organizational change and perhaps is the reason why we are just learning about Weinstein’s actions. The Weinstein Company has since fired Mr. Weinstein in an effort to save face.

While the power of the purse has definitely seen many individuals stand on the side of “right” and condemn the actions of Weinstein in an effort to save face and maintain their bottom line, many of these same individuals such as Ben Affleck has been ousted for being perpetrators of illicit behavior against women themselves. So not only does the question of why still linger, but the question of what does it really take to resolve these kinds of issues arises as well? Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones. For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to ”

So not only does the question of why these allegations lingered for so long is burned into our minds, but the question of what will it really take to resolve and address these kinds of issues in today’s society remains. Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones.

For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to “make it” but were victimized, perhaps some made peace with their new-found success and opportunities and chose to put the Weinstein experience behind them. Either way, it’s good that the skeletons are no longer in the closet.

Why Feminism is Still Important For Social Workers

PHOTO BY LORIE SHAULL

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.

Military Women: The Surprising Health Benefits of Combat Integration

Better, Not Worse, Together

Military veterans have a good understanding of what unit cohesion means, but if you’re not a veteran or want a refresher, a recent RAND study outlines various ways unit cohesion is established. Task cohesion means everyone is working toward the same goal. Vertical cohesion means troops and their leaders bond, while horizontal cohesion means bonding between peer members is strong.

Our bodies view lack of unit cohesion – or the absence of social support – as a physical threat. In fact, feeling disconnected from others is more dangerous to your health than smoking. Stress hormones surge, and when they’re elevated too long, men and women both begin to have difficulty communicating, displaying empathy, and engaging in high-level thinking. Physical performance also suffers.

Women in the military self-report low levels of unit cohesion. They don’t feel they belong in their respective groups. The reasons are many and the solutions – which inevitably lead to better physical performance and mental health outcomes – are simple.

However, while task cohesion can be easily established among the differently abled, vertical and horizontal cohesion are incredibly difficult to build without trust. Trust built around physical toughness is at the core of vertical and horizontal cohesion in the military; blending varying physical requirements creates a low-trust environment.

Even if a female service member is capable of the same performance as her male counterparts, she will not be inherently trusted if that capability is not validated through identical performance standards. Lack of trust influences unit cohesion and the performance of that less-cohesive team.

Currently, one in seven women Marines seeking to enter combat arms specialties pass the rigorous, gender-neutral performance tests. In an age where 85% of America’s youth are ineligible for military service because of weight problems, medical issues, education, or criminal past, a slender subset of men are capable of becoming U.S. Marines. Fewer women – only one in every 12,889 – will choose to serve as a Marine. Those who opt into combat arms specialties are an even more slender subset and represent a powerful class indeed.

From the moment women recruits enter boot camp, they are trained to a lower standard. Different performance and training standards establish women as marginal, ensuring that they will always be suspect in terms of capability. This marginalization damages military women in ways that matter even after they leave the service. Women are more than twice as likely to suffer from stress injury and depression and the suicide rates of military women are six times higher than civilian women!

Of course, expectations aren’t the only thing that drive performance. Physical capability matters too. Marine Corporal Angelique Preston, the first artillery woman in the Marine Corps, remarked that respect is driven by a combination of will and capability.

“Coming into these types of jobs, you have to be both emotionally and physically strong,” Preston said. “You can’t just be one or the other.

Amazons Only

Security challenges facing America in the 21st Century are many. They include enemies united by ideology rather than statehood – male and female extremists alike. Women Marines will continue to be operationally needed, especially in the Middle East, during the coming years.

As gender integration continues in the military, expect several things to happen.

  • First, equal standards will weed out the majority of women in the Marine Corps. We need to accept that – at least initially – increased standards will result in a drop in the number of women in the Corps. Women currently comprise 7% of the Corps. That number is likely to drop to 1-3% as new standards come into play.
  • For integration to work, it needs to be performance driven and not quota-driven. However, to position women for success, they must not be hamstrung by the substandard training they continue to receive. Good training will ensure that when the enemy meets a woman Marine at a Syrian outpost, she’ll be the right Marine for the job.
  • Second, as combat roles open to women Marines, and as formal and informal expectations of performance increase, so will the performance of women Marines. Expectations are closely correlated with performance.
  • Third, as gender integration into combat arms occupational specialties begins, and as the integration happens with peers who can trust their physical capabilities, expect to see better horizontal and vertical cohesion.
  • Fourth, improved cohesion will result in better individual and group performance.
  • Finally, better mental health outcomes for women service members are likely. Women Marines will no longer mentally join the vocal chorus of men who ask, “Are you really capable?” Instead, they, and their male peers, will be certain.

The military’s insistence on performance-based integration, while perhaps driven by widespread misogynistic culture, will ultimately result in stronger and better performing units and better mental health outcomes for women service members.

We are integrating the combat arms because we have needed women operationally the last fifteen years in theater. Training women to do what the Marine Corps is already asking of them and creating the same mastery experience opportunities from entry-level changes the environment in ways deep and meaningful.

As 21st Century challenges evolve, we need diverse teams with diverse thoughts. However, this diversity of thought must be bound together by unity of capability and high trust. The former breeds the latter.

Empowering Homeless Women in San Francisco

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San Francisco’s overall population is about 864,816 and San Francisco has more than 7,000 homeless people of which 35% are women in the ages between 20-50 years.

With only 1,100 shelter beds available in the city, there are around 4,500 unsheltered homeless living in tents, parks and on the street.

International research on homelessness shows that the majority of homeless people can get out of homelessness through a well-targeted effort that ensures both a housing solution coupled with individual close social support.

During my interactions with the San Francisco Homeless Outreach Team and homeless people, I have witnessed how homelessness is caused by a variety of factors to include loss of stable housing, abuse and/or mental illness as well as lack of access to healthcare and mental health treatment.

Also, loneliness in a new home, lack of structure in everyday life and lack of a job are among the main risk factors for relapse into homelessness which causes a return back into their “old”  homeless environment. Studies in Denmark has shown that a consistency in support by a support person is an important aid in the work of building a new start.  

Money and building more affordable housing can not be the only answer when it comes to homelessness. Homelessness must also be accepted in society as a situation where a homeless person need a care plan which can both include support for physical or/and mental problems.

Life on the street is hard and merciless, and it takes strength to survive. Homeless people live a vulnerable life without basic protection and basic needs many of us take for granted like being able to cook a meal, go to the bathroom or have a shower. Additionally, they are also more exposed to violence, theft, assault in relation to others and are more likely to get diseases.

Small things do make a difference

I recognized that I may not be able to change the world or solve the homelessness problem, but I felt that I needed to take responsible for what is happening around me. The idea for Project Blossom formed a year ago, as I was reading different articles about being homeless as a woman and the difficulties getting sanitary products during the monthly female period.

Homeless women can sometimes get sanitary products from shelters. However, many women do not have the option to reside in a shelter, and their options are limited. This is often an overlooked issue, and yet something we as women face every month. I think most women know the feeling of periods being awful, inconvenient, dirty, uncomfortable, excruciating, exhausting and a very private matter or have been in a situation where we forgot all about that time a month and get caught off guard.

The Blossom Foundation hands out sanitary bags to San Francisco homeless women to aid them in managing their monthly female menstruation. The intention is to give women a feeling of being cared for and a feeling of identity and dignity. The Blossom Foundation recognizes  these basic needs and want to increase homeless women self-worth.

At the end of September 2016, The Blossom Foundation handed out the first 300 bags filled with pads, tampons, hand sanitizer, wet wipes and water. This served as a trial and has all come together with support from the neighborhood, a few corporate donors and RETHINK water.

I am well aware that handing out sanitary products won’t solve all of the problems these women face, but I believe that even the small things do make a difference. I believe we can and should offer these women some respect and positive attention. The mission of the Blossom Foundation is to improve the lives of homeless women and help empower women with dignity and hope. 

I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…Malala Yousafzai

Wilhemina’s War: Women of Color with HIV/AIDS in Rural South Carolina

Wilhemina’s War first aired on February 29th, 2016, and the film chronicles the trials and tribulations of family matriarch Wilhemina Dixon, her daughter Toni who is HIV positive, and granddaughter Dayshal who contracted HIV at birth. Filmed over a period of five years from 2009 to 2014, the feature highlights the stages of caring for loved ones with HIV/AIDS using limited resources. Despite working odd jobs to keep the family afloat, Wilhemina pours her spirit into encouraging her daughter and granddaughter to survive.

This intimate look into the daily life of women of color with HIV in rural South Carolina along with the social and political barriers they faced adds to the appeal of this 55 minute docudrama. Every person in the film whether it be the survivor, activist, social worker, politician, pastor, or resident-is impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Cassandra Lizaire, author of “S. Carolina’s Haley Slams Door on HIV Prevention”, stated that, “Wilhemina Dixon knows this devastation well. A 64 year-old great-grandmother living in the dusty backroads of Barnwell, S.C., she spends her mornings in the field picking peas before the onslaught of the midday sun. Her odd jobs provide for her family of six and she takes pride in making an earnest living. Afterwards, as she sits in the shade of her porch, far removed from the political machinations, I imagine Dixon thinks of her daughter Toni who died of AIDS last year [2011] and ponders the future of her granddaughter Dayshal, who was born with the virus.”

“In South Carolina, we are ranked eighth in the nation in the rate of AIDS. Eighty percent of all women in South Carolina living with HIV/AIDS is black. Eighty percent of all children living with HIV are black. Seventy-three percent of all men living with HIV are black. This is a black epidemic for all practical purposes,” clarified Vivian Clark-Armstead, South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council member in the film, “Wilhemina’s War.

June Cross, in the article “June Cross Tells the Story of a Family Fighting HIV in South Carolina”, chose to develop this documentary to raise consciousness and dispel myths about HIV/AIDS among African Americans in the rural South.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • In 2009, the highest number of adults and adolescents living with an AIDS diagnosis resided in the Southern part of the United States.
  • In 2010, in the South, the Northeast, and the Midwest, blacks accounted for the largest number of AIDS diagnoses.
  • At the end of 2010, the South accounted for 45% of the approximately 33,015 new AIDS diagnoses in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, followed by the Northeast (24%), the West (19%), and the Midwest (13%).
  • In 2013, an estimated 776 adults and adolescents were diagnosed with HIV in South Carolina. South Carolina ranked 17th among the 50 states in the number of HIV diagnoses in 2013.
  • In 2014, 44% (19,540) of estimated new HIV diagnoses in the United States were among African Americans, who comprise 12% of the US population.
  • In 2014, an estimated 48% (10,045) of those diagnosed with AIDS in the United States were African Americans. By the end of 2014, 42% (504,354) of those ever diagnosed with AIDS were African Americans.

The CDC implies that knowledge of the regions where HIV and AIDS have the greatest impact, informs the equitable distribution of resources for prevention and education in those areas. The CDC also suggests that its approach to the HIV crisis is driven by the 2010 National HIV/AIDS Strategy introduced by President Obama. The four main tenets of the strategy are to: lower the infection rate, expand healthcare availability and improve the quality of life for those who are HIV positive, lower HIV-related health inequalities, and attain a more organized federal approach to the HIV crisis.

However, Lisa Ko asserts in her article titled, “African Americans Hit Hardest by HIV in the South” that, “As seen in Wilhemina’s War…Governor Nikki Haley’s rejection of billions of federal dollars through the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cutting of $3 million in AIDS prevention and drug assistance programs has resulted in substandard or nonexistent health services, medication, and medical care.” Wilhelmina’s War brings these statistics to life as it exposes the social and political obstacles Wilhelmina and her family encounter while inspiring the audience to advocate for collective change. Wilhelmina’s War can be accessed through the PBS.org website.

To assist the Dixon family and others with HIV in the rural South, June Cross shares the following ways to get involved:

  • Cross has established a GoFundMe page for Dayshal Dicks.
  • Cross suggests that organizations involved with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and other social justice efforts connect with local HIV advocates.
  • Finally, making financial contributions to HIV foundations to help them continue their community outreach.

In my previous experience working with HIV positive clients in a residential setting, my goal was to promote a safe, drug and alcohol-free community living environment. As residents, clients could access intensive case management, group and individual counseling, and intensive outpatient addiction treatment for up to two years.  During this period, most clients were empowered to acquire and sustain permanent housing. I learned that the best thing I could do for these clients was to show empathy and treat them how I would want to be treated. The only difference between me and them was time and circumstance.

I encourage social work students, practitioners, other helping professionals, and community activists to watch Wilhemina’s War to increase awareness about the status of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the rural South.

Government, Businesses and Organizations Announce $50 Million in Commitments to Support Women And Girls

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WASHINGTON,DC – Ahead of the first-ever United State of Women Summit, the Obama administration, private-sector companies, foundations and organizations are announcing $50 million in commitments, along with new policies, tools and partnerships that will continue to expand opportunity for women and girls. These announcements include a pledge by more than two dozen leading companies to take actions to continue to close the gender pay gap, new resources to empower community college students to negotiate their first salaries, new campaigns to change how our country values caregiving and improve portrayals of women in media, and enhanced global efforts to promote gender quality worldwide.

Each of these new efforts build on the work that President Obama and his administration have done since the day he took office ensure that women and girls have equal rights, treatment and protections.  He’s signed major pieces of legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – the first major bill he signed into law in January of 2009 – and the Affordable Care Act. He’s dramatically expanded fair pay and paid leave protections. And his administration has systematically encouraged cities and states to embrace policies like higher minimum wage and paid leave.

Underpinning these actions, the President has spoken out and driven a conversation‎ about treating women fairly. He convened the first-ever White House Summit focused on working families to help build 21st century workplaces that better support the needs of families and companies. He has pushed for cultural change that gives women the respect they deserve in schools and in workplaces, and joined advocates in dramatically changing our country’s approach to sexual assault on campus and elsewhere. That conversation has spurred changes in cities and states, businesses big and small, and schools from pre-K to college.

To continue this conversation, tomorrow the President and Vice President will participate in the United State of Women Summit to highlight the progress that has been made over the course of this Administration, and discuss public and private sector solutions to the challenges that still lie ahead. The First Lady will join Oprah Winfrey for a conversation aimed to inspire the next generation of women, shedding light on the progress the First Lady and Ms. Winfrey has seen women achieve and to encourage young women to take action so that progress continues for generations to come.

The primary goal of the Summit is to build a roadmap for future policymakers, stakeholders and advocates to continue to expand opportunities for women and girls. The Summit is being convened by the White House Council on Women and Girls, hosted in partnership with the Department of State, the Department of Labor, the Aspen Institute, and Civic Nation, and will bring together leaders across a wide array of public and private sector industries, along with students, advocates, entertainers, and athletes, to explore six issue areas that are critical for women and girls: economic empowerment, violence against women, health and wellness, civic engagement, education and entrepreneurship.

The new commitments, resources and initiatives being unveiled tomorrow will build on the progress we have made over the past seven and a half years – both domestically and internationally – on behalf of women and girls. They include:

Commitments from leading companies to join new White House equal pay pledge

Highlighting the critical role that businesses must play in reducing the national gender pay gap, the White House will announce a new private sector engagement, called the White House Equal Pay Pledge, for companies who share this commitment – many of which are already taking steps on their own. Each company signing this pledge commits to take action within their organizations by conducting an annual company-wide gender pay analysis across occupations, reviewing their hiring and promotion processes, embedding equal pay efforts into broader enterprise-wide equity initiatives, and identifying and promoting other best practices that will help ensure wage fairness for all workers.

As part of this announcement, 28 companies have signed on to the pledge, including Accenture, Airbnb, Amazon, American Airlines, BCG, Buffer, Care.com, CEB, Cisco, Deloitte, the Dow Chemical Company, Expedia, Inc., Gap Inc., Glassdoor, GoDaddy, Jet.com, Johnson & Johnson, L’Oréal USA, PepsiCo, Pinterest, Popcorn Heaven, PwC, Rebecca Minkoff, Salesforce, Slack , Spotify, Staples, and Stella McCartney. Additional companies are invited to join this effort in the coming months.

Modernized protections against gender-based discrimination in the workplace

The Department of Labor will publish a final rule comprehensively updating its sex discrimination guidelines for federal contractors (including subcontractors) for the first time since the 1970s.  The rule newly addresses a variety of sex-based barriers to equal opportunity and fair pay in the workplace, including pay discrimination; sexual harassment; pregnancy-related accommodations; family caregiving discrimination; and discrimination on the basis of gender identity or transgender status.

New collaboration with Harvard Negotiating & Mediation Clinic to expand career readiness resources through making available negotiation training for community college students nationwide

Negotiation training can be critical in helping workers of any age secure a good job, salary and benefits – but many workers, especially women and those newly entering the job market, can face distinct barriers. Tomorrow, the Department of Education and Harvard Law School’s Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program – as part of their program in negotiation training – are announcing the development of a new toolkit for community college students around the country to equip them with the knowledge and tools that will better prepare them for starting a career and successfully negotiating their first salary. In addition to being available for community college students, the toolkit will be made publicly available later this year – so will be an important readiness resource for all those newly entering the job market.

The Department of Labor will award more than $54 million in grants to give working parents the ability to train for higher wage jobs while addressing barriers faced by those with child care responsibilities.  This will help working parents address key barriers to participating in and successfully completing training for middle-and high-skilled jobs in in-demand fields, as well as help bridge the gap between the workforce development and child care systems.

By leveraging additional public and/or private funding, the grants promote activities that address barriers to accessing training and employment including co-location of training and child care services; increased access through unconventional training delivery times or locations; flexibilities related to scheduling and child care exigencies; and improved access to child care and other related participant supportive services.  This more than doubles the grant awards previously announced as part of the Department’s Strengthening Working Families Initiative grant program.

A New Coalition to Change How We Value Care in the 21st Century

Child and elder care are key to the economic growth of our country and the wellbeing of our families, but too often, we overlook the needs – and vital economic and social contributions – of paid and unpaid caregivers. Today Care.com, Caring Across Generations, and New America are launching the “Who Cares Coalition,” a unique partnership bringing together a corporation, advocacy campaign, and think tank to spearhead a broad-based social change movement redefining the cultural norms, behaviors, business practices, and policies around caregiving in the US.

The “Who Cares Coalition” will reach millions of families and caregivers by uniting the world’s largest online marketplace for family care; the nation’s top advocate for families, caregivers and aging Americans; and the leading, nonpartisan civic enterprise focused on creating new data and policy analysis on caregivers and changing the narrative around care.

New advertiser-led campaign to improve portrayals of women and girls across advertising and media

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) Alliance for Family Entertainment (AFE) will announce a new initiative called “#SeeHer” to incentivize advertisers, content creators and the media to develop and showcase content that portrays diverse women and girls authentically. The ANA is the largest representative body for the marketing community in the United States, including over 650 member companies with 10,000 brands who collectively spend more than $250 billion in marketing and advertising each year. The AFE is a coalition of ANA members with family-driven brands. With the launch of #SeeHer, the ANA will share toolkits to support the campaign and lay out the roles of partner organizations to ensure success.

New foundation-backed initiative to invest in young women of color

Seven women’s foundations are announcing their commitment to launch a Young Women’s Initiative in 2016, which will invest and catalyze resources to improve equal opportunity and the prosperity of young women, with a focus on young women of color and those experiencing the greatest disparities in outcomes in our communities. The Young Women’s Initiative will be built on cross-sector partnerships, including: government; philanthropies; nonprofits; corporations; and, most importantly, the young women themselves. The foundations announcing this commitment include the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, California Women’s Foundation, Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Dallas Women’s Foundation, The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis and The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts. The New York Women’s Foundation previously launched a Young Women’s Initiative in 2015.

Academics and Advocacy Groups Launch a Policy Platform to support Marginalized Girls

The Girls at the Margin Alliance, a group of  more than 150 alliance members, steered by The National Crittenton Foundation, Rights4Girls, the National Women’s Law Center, Georgetown Center on Policy and Inequality and Girls Inc, will launch a policy platform that will propose concrete, actionable recommendations to ensure that marginalized girls and young women are met with system responses that honor their experiences and voices, provide opportunities for them to heal, develop their strengths, overcome challenges, ensure their safety, and support them in building thriving lives. This platform will provide a framework for change for all organizations and individuals dedicated to the potential of girls and young women. The Alliance was created to advance the best interest of girls who are marginalized by their communities, and often by their families and by the systems charged with their care. 

New report and convening on early educator compensation

The Departments of Health and Human Services and Education are releasing a new report on the compensation of the early care and education workforce. The report examines the low – and often poverty level – wages that child care providers and early educators receive, the vast majority of whom are women, the growing demand for high-quality early education to both support working families and foster children’s early brain development, and the key role that early educators and child care providers play in preparing the next generation of girls, and all young children, for success. To organize around solutions that address this issue, the Obama Administration will co-host a convening on June 15th with early childhood stakeholders, in partnership with the National Head Start Association, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Service International Employees Union.

Enhanced global efforts to empower women and promote gender equality worldwide

The U.S. Department of State will release a new strategy for women’s economic empowerment across the globe. The strategy will outline four broad policy objectives: promoting women’s equal access to resources and services, promoting women’s equal access to decent work, promoting women’s entrepreneurship, and addressing overarching issues that impede women’s economic participation, such as gender-based violence.  The State Department’s overseas missions and domestic offices and bureaus will use the strategy to guide their efforts to support women’s economic participation and pursue gender integration across their portfolios.

The White House will announce updates to two global strategy cornerstones of the U.S. Government’s commitment to advancing human rights and promoting gender equality worldwide. The updated U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally, jointly led by USAID and the State Department, reflects our growing understanding of gender-based violence, including historic provisions for vulnerable populations, such as lesbian and transgender women. Established in a 2012 Executive Order in order to prioritize U.S. foreign policy and programs to combat gender-based violence worldwide using a whole-of-government, interagency approach, it lays out the tools the U.S. Government is employing to prevent and combat this scourge.  Annually, the State Department and USAID contribute approximately $150 million to support projects all over the world that support women’s and community groups broadly. USAID alone has reached more than five million survivors of GBV with vital, sometimes life-saving services in more than 40 countries worldwide, and has awarded more than $17 million in dedicated incentive funds to support innovative pilot programs, research, and scaled best practices to address GBV in 15 countries. 

Likewise, the newly updated National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security will provide the framework for U.S. efforts to increase participation of women in peace processes, prevent sexual violence in conflict, empower women to prevent violence, and ensure that women and girls have equal access to relief and recovery resources.

More than $20 million in new commitments to the Let Girls Learn Initiative to support the 62 million girls around the world who are out of school with the opportunity to attain an education: 

CARE is committing to reach three million adolescent girls, by investing $15 million dollars in six countries through its Udaan “Second Chances” school program. Through this new commitment, Second Chances will broaden from India into Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, and Malawi to double its reach. This program provides an intensive, nine month curriculum to help girls who were unable to finish primary school, catch up to their peers. Through Second Chances, some of the world’s most marginalized girls have returned to school and some have even gone on to college. With a 95 percent success rate, CARE plans to broaden this program with the support of ministries of education, corporations, foundations, and local organizations.

Oracle is committing to invest more than $3 million in direct and in-kind funds over the next 12 months to promote and support educational opportunities for adolescent girls around the world. Under this Let Girls Learn commitment, Oracle Academy, Oracle Women’s Leadership (OWL) communities, Oracle’s Diversity & Inclusion program, and Oracle Volunteers will offer more than 65 direct educational events and support conferences, summer computing camps, and codefests for girls, reaching more than 55,000 students around the globe and inspiring them to explore and pursue opportunities in STEM fields.  The Oracle Education Foundation and Oracle Volunteers will teach girls coding, electrical engineering, and project management through four immersive girls-only workshops. Oracle also plans to expand the work of its Oracle Academy program in Egypt by making an additional investment of nearly $1 million in resources and services over the next four years as part of a new partnership with the Ministry of Education in Egypt to expand computer science education for girls in nine newly developed STEM schools. These schools, also supported by USAID, will provide three years of paid secondary education for each girl.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is committing to deliver new programs worth $1 million to adolescent girls in the most conflict-affected states in Africa and the Middle East, including programming that addresses how violence impacts girls’ learning and their ability to access education services. Through its education and GIRL SHINE programs, IRC will target the hardest-to-reach adolescent girls with an in-school and out-of-school enhanced package of services, including girl-only safe spaces and discussion groups, life skills and social and emotional skill development curricula, remedial support in math and reading, parent and caregiver support groups, and an interactive visioning program that breaks down barriers, reduces violence, and ensures increased access to education.

The Hershey Company is committing to support projects that will empower and educate adolescent girls through a $250,000 three-year commitment to the Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn Fund. The Hershey Company has a long history of giving underserved children the resources they need to be successful. Tomorrow, the company will advance this shared social purpose through this new commitment to Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn Fund.

PayPal is featuring Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn Fund in its Back to School charitable giving campaign this August as part of an effort to raise awareness and encourage millions of PayPal U.S. users to support Let Girls Learn projects around the world. In addition to encouraging customers in the U.S. to support the Peace Corps’ Let Girls Learn Fund, PayPal will add 1 percent to each donation, ensuring that 101 percent of every gift made by PayPal U.S. users reaches Let Girls Learn projects.

American Airlines, through its Change for Good partnership with UNICEF, commits to expanding support for adolescent girls’ education by working with UNICEF’s “Let Us Learn” initiative. American commits to build upon Let Us Learn’s successes to-date, including awarding more than 4,000 scholarships to girls in Madagascar to help them enroll and stay in school through the lower secondary level, and helping over 8,000 out-of-school adolescent girls enroll in non-formal classes that provide flexible learning opportunities in Nepal.

Just Like My Child Foundation (JLMC) is committing to reach an additional 10,000 vulnerable adolescent girls with their Girl Power Project® in Central Uganda, thereby doubling their current program reach by 2020. An initial investment from the Toni Ko Foundation will launch the JLMC’s $250,000 commitment. The Girl Power Project® was created to empower adolescent girls and to reduce barriers that prevent adolescent girls from completing secondary school. The Girl Power Project® (GPP) “System in a Box” is an evidence¬-based, innovative, targeted, and scalable mentoring program totaling more than 60 hours of training over two years. It addresses the complex needs of vulnerable adolescent girls’ aged 10¬-15, by ensuring that they stay in school and avoid obstacles in the transition to secondary school. The GPP® empowers girls to live healthy lives by avoiding forced child marriage, HIV transmission, early pregnancy, rape and disease.

AOL, a media technology company with a mission to connect consumers and creators, is taking action in support of Let Girls Learn by announcing the Let Girls Build Challenge. The Challenge, powered by Citizen AOL and AOL’s #BUILTBYGIRLS platform, calls for young women to use the power of technology to conceptualize tech-enabled solutions to the problems facing the #62million girls without access to education. The Challenge will conclude with a final “pitch off” to a live audience, as part of the #BUILTBYGIRLS Challenge, which young women with a background in entrepreneurship to fund tech projects built by other girls. Through the Let Girls Build Challenge, AOL and Let Girls Learn will provide the resources, funding, and mentorship needed to empower the leaders of tomorrow to help open the doors to education globally. For more details please go to builtbygirls.com/letgirlsbuild.

New resources to support efforts to combat and prevent violence against women

The Department of Justice, through its Elder Justice Initiative and its Office for Victims of Crime with support from the Office for Access to Justice, and the Corporation for National and Community Service, will announce Elder Justice AmeriCorps, a $2 million grant program to provide legal assistance and support services to victims of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation – the majority of whom are women – and to promote pro bono capacity building in the field. This grant to Equal Justice Works will be the first ever army of new lawyers and paralegals to help victims of those who prey on our nation’s elders.

The Department of Justice, through its Office on Violence on Women (OVW), is investing $3.2 million in new initiatives to prevent domestic violence homicides. This includes $700,000 for the establishment of a new National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and Firearms to improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence homicides involving firearms, as well as a new $900,000 technical assistance grant award to a consortium of organizations that will work closely with OVW to provide enhanced training and technical assistance to implement an effective firearms response at the local, state, and tribal levels. OVW has also entered into a partnership with the National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to launch the new $1.6 million National Intimate Partner Violence Intervention Initiative (NIPVII). NIPVII will work with three cities, to be selected as part of the demonstration pilot, to replicate a successful strategy for reducing intimate partner violence and homicides. The National Institute of Justice will oversee an evaluation of the initiative through a grant to Yale University. Additionally, OVW will announce the addition of two new cities, Miami, FL and Winnebago County, IL, as replication sites for the Lethality Assessment Program model. This model was included as part of OVW’s Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Demonstration Initiative, established in 2012

The Department of Justice, through its Office on Violence Against Women, will award nearly $1.2 million to two organizations to help jurisdictions implement the Department of Justice Guidance on Identifying and Preventing Gender Bias in Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, which was released by the Attorney General in December 2015. Through training and technical assistance, these grants will develop resources and build the capacity of law enforcement and advocacy organizations to improve responses to domestic and sexual violence victims

Today, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will release a special report, Down the Road: Testing Evidence in Sexual Assaults. It highlights findings from NIJ-supported action research projects in Houston and Detroit, where two multidisciplinary teams of criminal justice professionals developed effective strategies to address the large numbers of sexual assault kits that had not been submitted for DNA testing. The report offers key lessons for improving responses to sexual assault based on research findings from Houston and Detroit and discusses NIJ’s forensic and social science research portfolios as they relate to using biological evidence to solve sexual assaults.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families Office on Trafficking in Persons has partnered with the Office on Women’s Health to create a training for healthcare and social service providers offering trauma-informed services to survivors of human trafficking. This will be complemented by a new initiative to collect data to improve understanding of how trafficking survivors interact with the health system and with social service providers, and will begin in August 2016.

The Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) will invest $1.35 million in holistic services for American Indian and Alaska Native victims of sex trafficking in urban settings. Organizations awarded funds through this investment will be supported by Project Beacon, a training and technical assistance project that will help service providers’ work to promote the healing of sex trafficking victims. OVC will support Project Beacon through an additional investment of $450,000.

The Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, through its National Girls Initiative, will provide an additional $700,000 in funds to support eleven community programs in Iowa, Hawaii, New York, California, Texas, Connecticut, Washington state, and the District of Columbia, that are working with young women and girls at-risk of entering the juvenile justice system. These programs are culturally-responsive, and build on girls’ strengths to empower them to build brighter futures.

The Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women will release a report summarizing the sustained impact of the Violence against Women Act (VAWA) throughout communities across the country, drawing from conversations with domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking service providers from over twenty states and tribes.

For The Empowerment of Women and Girls: Women Deliver 2016 Conference

Women Deliver Conference

New York – Women Deliver 2016 Conference is taking place in Copenhagen, Denmark from 16-19 May, and it will focus on the impact and action to advance the health, rights and wellbeing of girls and women.“We must strive to create a world where girls and women have choice, not chance,” said Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Patron of the Women Deliver 2016 Conference. “A world where a woman can decide for herself if, when and with whom to have a baby; a world where she does not risk unnecessarily dying in childbirth; and where she is economically empowered and financially literate.”

At the conference, more than 200 plenaries, concurrent sessions and side events will focus on solutions and how we can achieve the biggest impact for girls and women by emphasizing health, rights, gender equality, education and economic empowerment. When girls and women are healthy and have a chance to learn and earn there are also positive ripple effects across development – families are healthier, communities are stronger and nations are more prosperous.

“I am both very proud and excited that Denmark is hosting the Women Deliver 2016 Conference,” said Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs Kristian Jensen. “Investing in girls and women is crucial for a sustainable future for all. It is my hope that the Conference will help put concrete action behind the new Sustainable Development Goals in order to create real improvements for girls’ and women’s health and rights.”

More than 5,000 global and local leaders, policymakers, researchers, private sector, NGO representatives and young people from 150 countries are expected to participate in the Women Deliver 2016 Conference. Confirmed speakers include:

  • Amina J. Mohammed, Minister of the Environment, Federal Republic of Nigeria
  • Annie Lennox, Singer, Songwriter, Political Activist and Philanthropist
  • Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America & Planned Parenthood Action Fund
  • Chamki, Muppet from Galli Galli Sim Sim, Sesame Street India
  • Jessica Biel, Actor; Ambassador for WomanCare Global’s“If You Don’t Tell Them, Then Who Will?” Campaign
  • Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Laureate; Founder & Chairwoman, Women Journalists Without Chains
  • Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Performing Artist; Founder, Princess of Africa Foundation; Goodwill Ambassador, UNICEF & Roll-Back Malaria
  • And multiple heads of UN Agencies, including UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO

“The Women Deliver 2016 Conference is all about building courage, strength and innovative spirit to drive development with the understanding that solutions works best with girls and women at the heart,” said Women Deliver CEO Katja Iversen. The Conference will also feature several special events, including an Appy Hour, Arts and Cinema Corner, Speakers’ Corner, Career Fair and Social Enterprise Challenge.

Additionally, for the first time, the Women Deliver 2016 Conference will have an online counterpart, Women Deliver Live, which will allow virtual participants to access plenaries, high-level talks, press conferences and VIP roundtables.

Registration for Women Deliver Live can be found here. Members of the media are invited to apply for press accreditation to register for the conference at no cost. To receive the latest updates on Conference speakers, schedules, and events, subscribe to our newsletter and follow Women Deliver on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

WHAT: Women Deliver 2016 Conference

WHEN: 16-19 May 2016

WHERE: Bella Center, Copenhagen, Denmark SOCIAL: Join the conversation by following #WD2016

WEB:  Women Deliver Virtual Live Conference 2016

ABOUT WOMEN DELIVER: As a leading global advocate for girls’ and women’s health, rights, and wellbeing, Women Deliver brings together diverse voices and interests to drive progress, particularly in maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights. It builds capacity, shares solutions, and forges partnerships, together creating coalitions, communication, and action that spark political commitment and investment in girls and women. Women Deliver believes that when the world invests in girls and women, everybody wins.

Remove Obstacles to the Work of Women’s Rights Defenders

HRC-hate-speech-against-women-500x312

Human rights defenders and civil society organisations working to protect the human rights of women and gender equality perform an essential role in Europe. They provide much needed assistance to victims of gender-based violence, combat discrimination against women, contribute to peace-building and hold authorities accountable for fulfilling their human rights obligations. Unfortunately, as I learned at a roundtable with a group of women’s rights defenders in Vilnius in July, they also face serious obstacles in their work.

Multiple challenges as human rights defenders and promoters of women’s rights

Along with other human rights activists, the situation and working environment of women’s rights defenders are affected by several negative trends in the Council of Europe area. Restrictive legislation and repressive practices against civil society in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Belarus have also had an impact on those who work to protect the human rights of women and promote gender equality. In Hungary, several women’s rights organisations were among the beneficiaries of the Norwegian NGO Fund and have been targeted by smear campaigns, audits and inspections.

In addition, women’s rights defenders face specific obstacles when they challenge patriarchal values, sexist stereotypes and the traditional perception of gender roles. They can be portrayed as destroyers of family values and national traditions or as agents of what has pejoratively been labeled “gender ideology”. I highlighted this issue in my latest report on Armenia,where women’s rights organisations and defenders were violently targeted in 2013 during the discussion and adoption of the Law on Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities between Women and Men.

Women’s rights defenders also face intimidation, pressure, threats, attacks, defamation, cyber-attacks and disruption of victims’ hotlines. Those working on sexual and reproductive rights or advocating the rights of women victims of domestic violence have often been specifically targeted. For example, in Ireland, defenders working on abortion issues experienced a smear campaign and stigmatisation. In many countries, segments of ultraconservative movements and far-right or extremist religious groups have been the instigators of such attacks. A serious problem lies in impunity for such actions. All too often state authorities do not fulfill their duty to protect human rights defenders by ensuring effective investigations into these violations and adequate punishment for those responsible.

Most defenders of women’s rights are women. Women human rights defenders are at a high risk of experiencing gender-based violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence, harassment and verbal abuse as well as attacks on their reputation on-line and off-line. A worrying phenomenon which has been identified recently is the increasing use of hate speech targeting women human rights defenders. In Serbia, for example, members of the NGO Women in Black have faced gender-motivated attacks because of their human rights work.

National authorities often fail to consult or listen to women’s rights defenders on relevant policies and laws. In some countries, independent activists feel overshadowed by NGOs which are close to the government – the so-called “GONGOs” (Government-Organised Non-Governmental Organisations). Another disturbing element is that women’s rights defenders are not considered as equals by some fellow human rights defenders, who mistakenly consider women’s rights and gender equality as a soft or secondary human rights issue.

The current period of austerity has made it particularly difficult for civil society organisations to find sustainable and long-term funding.  NGOs running shelters for women victims of violence, for example, have been weakened by cuts in public services at the local level.

Ways to improve the working environment of women’s rights defenders

The difficult situation of defenders of women’s rights highlights the fact that progress achieved towards gender equality has not yet been fully consolidated. As most defenders of gender equality are women themselves, the enduring discrimination of women can affect their work directly. Therefore even today it is essential to stress that equality between women and men is a fundamental right and a crucial element of the human rights agenda.

I urge Council of Europe member states to reaffirm and implement the national and international obligations they have undertaken to end discrimination and human rights violations based on sex and gender. In particular, I call upon all member states to ratify and implement the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention).

States must also meet their obligations to protect human rights defenders and ensure an enabling environment for their work free from intimidation and pressure. These obligations are recalled in the 1998 UN Declaration on human rights defenders and the 2008 Declaration of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to improve the protection of human rights defenders and promote their activities. States should notably refrain from putting in place policies, legislation and practices which run contrary to freedom of association, assembly and expression.

In 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a specific resolution on the protection of women human rights defenders, expressing concern about the discrimination and violence faced by them and urging states to protect them and support their work. In July 2015, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women called on States parties to ensure that women human rights defenders are able to access justice and receive protection from harassment, threats, retaliation and violence.

At the national level, I urge member states to adopt and implement laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex and gender as well as legal provisions specifically aiming to combat gender-based hate crimes and hate speech. I also encourage member states to develop national guidelines and other measures to support and protect human rights defenders and to integrate a gender perspective in this work. It is time to put an end to impunity for violations that human rights defenders face because of their work. Expressions of support from the government and state institutions for the work of women’s rights defenders are of great importance and should also extend to the effective inclusion of women’s rights defenders in official consultations on relevant issues.

Solidarity and cooperation among human rights defenders are necessary for the protection of defenders and promotion of their work. International, regional and national networks of human rights defenders are instrumental in assisting those defenders who face difficulties in their work and threats to their personal security. It is therefore essential for the wider community of human rights defenders to support women’s rights defenders and fully cooperate with them.

Human rights defenders work closely with national human rights structures (NHRSs) on many issues of mutual interest. However, in many cases ombudspersons, human rights commissions and equality bodies have not yet acquired sufficient trust among defenders of women’s rights so that they would turn to these institutions for help when they are under threat. We need more intense co-operation and joint action between NHRSs and human rights defenders to advance human rights agendas and to assist those who are at risk. I encourage NHRSs to fully take on board issues related to the human rights of women and gender equality, and to work together with women’s rights defenders in this field.

In several instances, women’s rights defenders have successfully partnered with the media in countering attacks, including smear campaigns, and in raising public awareness of their work and the importance of protecting the human rights of women and of promoting gender equality. I find it extremely useful to build on such experiences and to foster a culture of human rights and strengthen the defender’s interaction with the public.

It is time that women’s rights defenders receive the acknowledgment, support and protection they deserve for their committed work for human rights.

Social Work Professor Kristie Holmes Elected to UN Women Board of Directors

From left to right, Michel Sidibe (UNAIDS http://www.unaids.org/en/aboutunaids/unaidsleadership/unaidsexecutivedirectormichelsidibe/michelsidibeunaidsexecutivedirector ) , Fatima Toure representing Advanced Development Africa (Mother is Coumba Toure & Hammadoun Toure- Secretary General of ITU), Dr. Jordi Serrano Pons, Dr. Kaseba-Sata First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Veronique Thouvenot , Dr. Kristie Holmes
From left to right, Michel Sidibe (UNAIDS), Fatima Toure representing Advanced Development Africa (Mother is Coumba Toure & Hammadoun Toure- Secretary General of ITU), Dr. Jordi Serrano Pons, Dr. Kaseba-Sata First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Veronique Thouvenot and Dr. Kristie Holmes

Dr. Kristie Holmes, Professor at the University of Southern California and 2014 Candidate for the United States Congress, has been elected to the Board of Directors of UN Women US National Committee.  In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women as the entity to address Gender Equality and the Empowerment of women globally.

Unemployment, wage gap, access to education, poverty, reproductive health and medical care, and violence are just a few of the issues women around the world are facing in effort to create a better life for themselves, their families, and their communities.

According to the UN Women’s website,

Empowering women fuels thriving economies, spurring productivity and growth. Yet gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched in every society. Women lack access to decent work and face occupational segregation and gender wage gaps. They are too often denied access to basic education and health care. Women in all parts of the world suffer violence and discrimination. They are under-represented in political and economic decision-making processes. – Read More

Since connecting with Dr. Holmes last year during her electoral bid for Congress, we remained in contact and have collaborated on several projects. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Holmes about her appointment and work with UN Women.

SWH: Tell us about your work with UN Women, and what led you to begin working from the international perspective.

Holmes: UN Women is an arm of the United Nations working in partnership with UN Women Global.  I felt myself moving from Micro to Macro when I began my dissertation.  Without going too much into it- I was curious if clinicians in other countries interpreted ethics the same way we do here in the United States and how it affected their practice.  Since it was Domestic vs. International, I started getting invites to places other than the United States to talk about it at conferences.  About 5 years ago now, I met Dr. Veronique Thouvenot at a Medetel Conference in Luxembourg, Germany. Her presentation was before mine, and she stayed for mine.

We did a quick “I loved what you had to say–we’ve got to talk soon!”.  Unlike most of those networking moments, we actually did and have been working together ever since–First on a global health project for women & technology and now Zero Mother’s Die (ZMD). When I first met her, she was involved in something with World Health Organization and Millennia 2015.  Zero Mother’s Die came from the Millennia project.

This was my entry into a more global perspective, both in how we see issues, and work with others from different cultures.  We all see each other perhaps a few times a year and utilize Skype and email in between. I think we have been doing that when no one else thought it was a very good idea.  Now so many run their teams from afar this way.

SWH: What are some of your most memorable experiences while working with women leaders around the world?

Holmes: I was invited to be a part of the Women Leaders Forum during the UN General Assembly this past September, as well as the September prior, as an invited panelist.  Once you are involved in one way, you tend to end up in a circuit.  I also remember after one of my first UN events, being on a group email with a few “VIPs”, one of them being a First Lady of another Country and thinking to myself…”Do they really use a Yahoo email address?” Anyway, I have found that much of what we learn in our programs and out in the “clinical” field adapt and translate well, even though at times there is a crisis of confidence–especially when I struggled in that “Intern Mentality”, not believing that I had enough experience in X or Y to make helpful contributions, or be seen as an expert in anything.

After a few events there, however, I came to learn that almost nothing runs on time and things constantly change.  Being well prepared for my panel was a relief, until everything changed and two speakers had to be moved to another slot due to country crisis they were called out for. I was moved to an entirely different panel, and I literally wrote down my speech on 5 post it’s from the man sitting next to me 5 minutes before I went up. I had spent ages figuring out how to pronounce panel member names, and I also learned that humor does translate well for most.

SWH: What do you think are the biggest barriers for social workers to engage at the policy level on either the domestic or international stage?

Holmes: One thing I have noticed and lacked for me in the beginning of my career were mentors- especially women- who were willing to take me around and show me how to navigate various systems until I met Veronique, who wasn’t a Social Worker.  I know there are plenty of social workers out there that mentor newer social workers. However, I just don’t think we see it as much as we should outside of that crash & burn training one gets at a new agency.  I’ve always made a point to bring along who I can if there is an opportunity to do so.  It’s an easy way for us to open a new world to students or younger professionals that may not have otherwise had a chance to head into this area of practice.

Also, I think as social workers we undervalue our skills and abilities on our resumes. It wasn’t until Veronique wrote my nomination letter for the United National US National Committee elections that I realized that she was valuing many of my skills in a way I did not, and that she actually spoke to me sternly about what I had missed in another list I had written about myself.  But to me, and probably to most Social Workers, writing in that way made me feel like I was bragging when I was just trying to say in a bunch of different ways that I wanted to help and do something meaningful. Timing wise, the election for the Board of Directors worked out great. They were within the same month as the Congressional Primary was, so I didn’t even have a chance to get stressed about it. I was extremely excited to find out I had made it through!

SWH: How can social workers engage with the United Nations and/or the work you are doing with UN Women?

Holmes: UN Women has local chapters through the United States, and overall it’s a fairly new program, and I believe it’s a great way for social workers and students to get involved in the UN in the following ways:

  • Join a local UN Women USNC Chapter- student membership rates are very low. *If there isn’t a chapter nearby, new ones are being formed and our board in the process of discussing a virtual chapter for those to be involved anywhere in the US.  University Clubs have also begun.
  • Organize a race/ walk to raise awareness/ funds. This year our focus is on Cities for the Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and last year it was Violence Against Women.
  • Get involved in the He for She Campaign heforshe.org– I’m working on it domestically.  Whoever is interested in this can contact me directly and I will put them to work!
  • Zero Mothers Die- for those interested in the Pink Phone (Mum’s Phone) project I can also see how to connect you for impact.

Dope Sick With Mouths To Feed: The Struggles of American Women in Active Addiction

For certain subsections of society, it happens so often that its occurrence becomes commonplace such as the realities for those of us who live surrounded by the effects of active addiction and alcoholism. Like a soldier who served in Iraq or Afghanistan or a teenager who grew up in the heart of West Baltimore or East St. Louis, it is all but impossible for an addict to make it more that a couple of months without a family member, friend or acquaintance dying on them. In 2011, 41,340 Americans died of drug overdoses. That’s 113 deaths a day—a mortality rate that is higher than the rates for homicides, suicides and traffic accidents and one which is 400% greater today than it was in 1990. This surge in the national overdose rate can be attributed to many factors, but there is little doubt that the sea of prescription drugs that have flooded the market over the past 20 years are at the root of the problem.

One unintended consequence in this rising tide of prescription opiates and benzodiazepines is that women have suffered increases in opioid addiction and overdose deaths at a significantly higher clip than their male counterparts. Women, who have traditionally been seen as a low-risk group for drug-related deaths, have been gaining ground in recent years, nearly cutting the ratio of male to female overdose deaths in half thanks largely to a fivefold growth in prescription painkiller deaths among women in the millennium’s inaugural decade. This trend is problematic for a number of reasons, none more so than the fact that we’re still largely in the dark in our understanding of the differences in opiate abuse based on gender and are inconsistent—if not ineffective—at screening addicts and modifying treatment plans in ways that reflect those differences. How else can we explain the fact that admissions of women to substance abuse treatment have only inched forward a few percentage points over the last decade while overdose death rates and prescription opiate overdose hospital admissions have skyrocketed to unprecedented heights?

The cruel and pernicious irony in the deaths of the young is that the old and the living are made to bear the burden of their foreshortened lives. For the deceased, all of the suffering they endured and the sadness they felt at the prospect of forfeiting the bulk of their life’s balance ends up being little more than existential window dressing. Once the weariness, fever and fret of their existence fades away, the only people effected by circumstances of their passing are those they left behind.

The earth does not give preferential treatment to post-mortem youth and beauty, just as the hereafter shows no deference to the unripened soul. Death is final for the dead. To them it is as eternal as it is immutable; a thing devoid of ticking clocks and swirling moons and rotations of a sun whose rays will never again warm their unwrinkled flesh. Death is little more than a bondsman—a thing that could care less if it found you with a needle in your arm or plaque in your lungs so long as it gets its due. No, it is we the living who are held hostage by the deaths of the fecund and the fledgling members of our little worlds.

We sit and we think of the life they might have had—the life they should have had. We ask ourselves an unrelenting stream of what if’s and how come’s, meticulously analyzing the moments before their passing with the unspoken and unacknowledged believe that if we could just tie up all of the loose ends and unanswered questions surrounding their deaths, we could somehow save them. That we could bring them back whole and as they were—as if it had never happened.

American women have seen a fivefold increase in Rx drug abuse without a corresponding rise in access to treatment (Clarence Williams/Los Angeles Times)

A few weeks ago, I found out that a young woman in recovery in my hometown of Cincinnati—we’ll call her Laura—had died of a heroin overdose. I didn’t know her personally but the recovery community in the Queen City is small enough that I knew plenty of folks that did. From what they told me, Laura’s death followed an all too familiar script of those who struggle with opiate addiction, which is as follows: First, the addict rips and runs until they hit their “bottom” or get in trouble with the law/family/significant other, at which point they head to treatment and/or transitional living to get their mind and body right so they can take another crack at sobriety.

Once the fog lifts and they have their bearings again, they get immersed in 12-step programs, make a new network of sober friends and start beginning to pick up the pieces of the life they’ve left themselves. Pretty soon, things start turning around and they start getting used to sobriety. They start thinking about the future again—about getting a better job, going to college, getting their kids back. A semblance of normalcy and calm comes over their lives for the first time in what feels like forever. Then, for reasons often not even known to them, they go back out. After such a lengthy sabbatical from using, their bodies have temporarily lost most of the tolerance they gained over the years and they overestimate how much junk their body can handle. After that the next steps are often the morgue and a burial plot.

Most of what I’ve heard concerning the immediate circumstances of Laura’s death fits with that particular substance abuse narrative and is common among both men and women who suffer from opiate addiction. Although women do generally progress through the stages of addiction more quickly than men, it would seem that the mechanics and physiology of overdose deaths in both genders mirror one another. But, that’s just the how of it all. I don’t care as much about the how as I do the why and the what comes after. Obviously, I’m not able to speak with Laura and learn more about her battles with addiction, but I was fortunate enough to sit down with a few women at a transitional living house last month who were still in the throes of early sobriety and to listen to their stories. They were not Laura’s story, but they were certainly all variations on the same theme. One woman may have struggled with eating disorders and clinical depression, while another may have come from an abusive alcoholic home and been a victim of sexual abuse as a child, but it was abundantly clear in talking to all of them that the weight of their shared experience far exceeded that of their differences.

The first woman I talked to was Stephanie, a young lady from Knoxville who had come up to Cincinnati the year before in a last ditch effort to escape her addiction by changing her scenery rather than herself. Stephanie told me that she was 21, but by the looks of things, I’d wager that it had been a minute since she’d been carded at a bar. It’s not that Stephanie looked old—she really didn’t. It’s just that some mixture of drug use, trauma and genetic happenstance gave her the look of someone who was already world-weary beyond her years.

“It all started when I was 12 when I got my tonsils removed,” Stephanie told me. “I got prescribed hydrocodone—like the bigger bottles—and my mom is an addict, my dad’s an addict, my brother’s an addict, everyone in my family’s an addict. So, when I ran out of my medicine—my mom was the one drinking my medicine—I remember, she had to go out in the middle of the night and buy these pills—these little blue pills—and I didn’t know what the hell they was. They call em Percocet 30s up here. I call em Roxy 30s. Whatever, same thing, so that’s when it started for me and whenever I came off it I was withdrawing and didn’t even know I was withdrawing from pain medicine, so it never stopped from there. Started smoking weed, drinking, started doing pills every day. Started snorting pills…ended up getting suspended from school for overdosing. Took about 50 pills and uh…”

“You got suspended for overdosing?” I asked

“I was at school there and they took me off on stretcher.” Stephanie said. “Zero tolerance for drug abuse at school. I got suspended for 6 months and went to an alternative school.”

“So your school never sent you to treatment or anything like that?”

“Never suggested that I should go to treatment.” she told me. “Never any of that, so I went to alternative school and got suspended from alternative school for doing drugs there too, and while I was suspended from school I ran away. After that, I got put into foster care, about 2 hours from my hometown and it just got worse up there. My foster mom let me drive her car, we drank every day…the third day I was there all these cars just started piling up in the driveway and it was just like party, party, party every night there.”

“And this was your foster mom?” I asked.

“Yeah, and we just partied. She was like, ‘I’m the cool foster mom. You can drink so long as you drink at home.’ So I did and I found pills there so I started doing pills real bad. Got a job and spent the money on drugs—pills, pills, pills, pills, pills—and then moved back to Knoxville when I found out my mom got cancer when I was 18. She had just got out of prison and she got cancer in her back. So I took care of her and she had legal prescriptions and needles and everything, so it was like, ‘this is what’s up. I get free pills, free needles, let’s do it.’ So, I was pill sick one day and my brother was like, ‘aw, sis, mom ain’t got no more Roxies, we’re gonna have to get some of her morphine’, and I was like, ‘oh, shit, man’ and he was like, ‘you’re gonna have to shoot it up,’ and I was like, ‘okay, let’s do it.’ And that’s when the needles started for me. Morphine is, pretty much, just like heroin. I mean it really is. I was going really hard. I overdosed twice on it and when my mom died all shit went to hell. She died 3 years ago—my high school graduation—after that I just went downhill. Went to treatment once, left treatment, robbed the treatment facility for $1,000, high as shit and then went to jail for 9 months. Got outta jail, got off probation. I was getting high for another month and then I decided to go to Cincinnati—yeah, great idea. Started smoking pot up here, drinking—turned 21 up here—drink, drink, drink, drink, drink, then I found heroin and y’all know where that leads to.”

“Why Cincinnati?” I asked.

“My dad lives up here.” Stephanie said. “I called him and I was like, ‘come get me, I can’t handle this. I’m tired of doing drugs. I’m tired of sticking a needle in my arm. I’m 20 years old, I don’t want to do this—follow in the footsteps of everyone else in my family.’ So, I moved up here and thought, ‘well, I don’t know nobody.’ I only had one friend that lived up here that smoked weed and I thought, ‘yeah, I can just smoke weed because that ain’t my problem. So, I started smoking weed, drinking—going to the bar because I was legal and it was about a year ago that I started doing heroin…I started shooting heroin in May, but I was snorting it first and I was like, ‘oh, it’s okay, I’m just snorting it. I’m not putting a needle in my arm. That’s my addiction. That’s the problem. The needle’s the problem, not the drugs.’ That wasn’t it at all.”

Within a couple of months, heroin had completely taken over Stephanie’s life and it wasn’t long until she lost her manager’s job at McDonald’s, got kicked out of her apartment building and started going through the revolving doors of detox on a regular basis, spending just enough time there to get well and going back to using as soon as she left. Eventually, Stephanie ended up going to the Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment—known in Cincinnati’s recovery parlance as “The Ccat House”—for inpatient rehab and ended up in a New Foundations Transitional Living house when she was released. At the time I spoke with her, Stephanie had 36 days clean, an amount of time that was near the median for the women I talked to.

A quick overview of the rise in drug overdoses in the state of Ohio

————-

With 10 months and 4 days of sobriety under her belt on the day I visited, a young redhead named Amanda had gone longer between drinks or drugs than any of the other woman in her house. It was an impressive achievement to be sure, but may not serve as a good barometer of her chances for long term sobriety because 10 months and 2 days of her clean time was obtained while in prison on charges of forgery and receipt of stolen property. Now, it’s not any more or less laudable to rack up stretches of sobriety in prison or an inpatient treatment center, but it’s worth noting that it is sobriety obtained in what are little more than highly regimented simulacra of the real world. Amanda may have had more than 10 months sober in prison—where, it must be said, drugs are still in abundance—but she was only on day 2 of sobriety without borders and at a greater danger of relapse and overdose than her non-incarcerated peers. Numerous studies bear out the increased risk of overdose death in the weeks and months after a prisoner’s re-entry to the community, with one study of more than 30,000 inmates in Washington state showing that prisoners have a 12.7 times larger chance of overdose death than the general population. Add to that the fact that women have been shown to have more difficulty quitting and a higher rate of relapse than men, and the prognosis for Amanda’s sobriety doesn’t look great.

For her part, Amanda didn’t seem too terribly worried. A 20 year old with a spiked up pixie haircut, puckish smile, and a generationally appropriate amount of metal and ink all over her person, she certainly didn’t behave like someone was uneasy with her freedom after close to a year in prison.

“From a really young age I knew there was something wrong with me.” she told me. “I was adopted so I always felt like there was this void in my life. And, my adopted dad is a cop, so I always wanted to rebel against him…I played softball—select softball—and I had a bad knee so sometimes they’d prescribe me Vicodin for that. So, that started and then I had an underbite and I had to get jaw surgery and they prescribed me Percocet for that. 2 big bottles of it. And then I started selling it. And then I realized, I like to drink on it more than I like to sell it. And so, I started doing that real bad and started going through the whole Percocet-Xanax ordeal, which is when I started partying a lot. Drinking a lot…I was drinking a 30-case of Budweiser to myself a night. And then I got introduced to cocaine and…I just loved it.”

“Had you gotten in any trouble at this point?” I asked.

“Sort of…that was about the time I started hanging out with those people and, like, my dad started noticing shit going on with me. My grades dropped, I stopped playing softball and you know, I went crazy with emo kid status. Like, I started cutting myself…attempted suicide a few times. I was like, ‘I’m really fucked up.’ So, I was really, really high on cocaine one night and I was like, ‘dude, I’m seriously going to die.’ Like, ‘I’m really going to have a heart attack.’ And my best friend just so happened to have some heroin with her, and I was like, ‘man, is this going to bring me down or is this going to explode my heart?’ And she was like—I’ll never forget her saying this to me—she said, ‘Amanda, I’m going to give this to you, but I’m just gonna warn you right now that it’s going to change your life forever.’ And I was like, ‘dude, I’m a fucking grown up, I know what I’m fucking doing’ and…”

“Were you actually a grown-up at that time?”

“Almost.” Amanda said. “I was, like, 17. So she gave me a line that was this big (pinches fingers close together so they’re almost touching). I remember it was on a toilet seat at my friend’s basement party or whatever. I had already consumed  shit ton of alcohol…”

“The seat?” I asked.

“Yes, the seat of the toilet.” she said.

“Not the tank in the bank?”

“No, the seat of the toilet. So, the dopeboy that me and her went to, we didn’t know he sold heroin as well, but I was running his cocaine for him. He would pay me $10 every time I left the house. So, every time I left the house to just go down the street, he would pay me $10. And after that, after I did the heroin, I was like oh—my—god. Like, speedballing was my new thing. I didn’t know it had a name yet, but I started doing that. I was snorting it—didn’t think it was that bad because I was snorting it. And, um, I was a functioning addict there for a little bit. I really don’t think there’s such a thing anymore, but at the time I thought there was. I had a job, I moved out on my own to my own apartment. I was having a lot of house parties…beating people up…getting, like, stupid drunk. And then I got into dental school, and I was going to dental school and I was top of my class, but I was still using. I remember one day driving—I was pawning a lot of stuff—one day I went home to get some more stuff to pawn, and my dad’s a cop so of course I’m stealing all this shit from him. And, like, he was in the driveway, in his cop car. And I was like, you know, ‘this happens all the time’ and I was just gonna run in—I was in my scrubs all the time because I thought I looked more professional that way and that I could get away with more shit, which was true, but my dad called me into the car and he said—oh, and by this time I had shot up 3 times—and when I got into the car he was like, ‘I know you’re using heroin,’ and I just, like, broke down because I sorta knew I had a problem.”

“You sorta knew you had a problem?”

“I would withdraw sometimes, but I didn’t know what it was.” Amanda told me.

Her dad ended up sending her to an outpatient Suboxone clinic, but she got kicked out for selling the Suboxone instead of taking it and and went back out. It wasn’t long before she was enrolled in a different Suboxone clinic and she stayed clean for 4 or 5 months until her 18th birthday when she met her birth mother for the first time.

“I was sober when I met my birth mom.” Amanda said. “Me and my girlfriend went out to meet her one day and she was on Percocet, so, once I figured that out it wasn’t long before we started using together. Um, and this is when I got introduced to crack. And, I just…I was like, ‘this is the greatest thing in the universe’ and it took the place of the cocaine. I just loved the taste, the smell, the bell ringing in my head—it took away a lot of my issues and, I mean, I was really messed up. I ended up being homeless and me and my girlfriend were living in my car and then I, um, got in some trouble and I got a theft from Home Depot, which wasn’t that big of a deal at that point. They put me on diversion, or whatever, and then it got really, really bad because I was like, ‘I got away with it’ and I started doing a lot, a lot, a lot of drugs. So, I came up with the bright idea to steal my dad’s checks and forged a shit ton of checks. And then, this was back in October, I got arrested. The night after I had a mini stroke…”

“You had a mini stroke?” I asked.

“I had a mini stroke. They called it something else…it started with a T.”

“A Transient Ischemic Attack?”

“Something like that.” she said. “My entire right side was paralyzed. I called the ambulance on my cell and said don’t bring the cops and stuff like that. They brought the cops. But the cops just left me alone. They brought me to the hospital and let me go. Ummm, the next day they kicked down the hotel door and I was arrested for forgery and receiving stolen property.”

“Does anyone in your adopted family have problems with addiction?” I asked.

“No, no one in my adopted family is an addict.”

“So they don’t…do they have any idea what…?”

“They don’t understand anything about this lifestyle,” Amanda said. “But it was crazy, because when I met my birth family, like, everyone’s exactly like me. Like, it’s so fucking weird because…I don’t like that at all. I see so much of myself in my birth mom and it’s just disgusting to me. I mean, she tried to choke me out.”

“Your birth mother tried to choke you out?” I asked.

“Uh-huh. One night I went to my dopeboy and I guess I didn’t get enough crack for her liking so she tried to choke me out when I was driving her back home. It was so mind-blowing, I mean, I was like, I didn’t have her my whole life and now I met her and she’s treating me like this. She told me I was a piece of shit, like all of this…like, ‘this is the reason why I gave you up for adoption.’ So, I’ve just been to a lot of rehabs, a lot of psych wards, I’ve been to rehabs for eating disorders. You know, the whole nine…”

herointreatment08

A Northern Kentucky mother grieves at the funeral of her 22-year old daughter, who died of a heroin overdose last September (The Enquirer/Carrie Cochran)

—————

Sitting next to Amanda the entire time she was talking was Jessie, a 23-year old woman who, despite over a decade of hard drug use, looked young enough to still be in high school. Due to her youthful appearance and waifish frame, Jessie’s disposition—which could have come off as argumentative and abrasive—took on a precocious air. Whenever she talked, her arms and hands would languidly gesticulate about her body, often displaying relatively fresh bruising from her IV heroin use in the crooks of her elbows. To hear her story, it’s pretty obvious that Jessie never had much of a chance of avoiding the clutches of addiction.

“My mom’s an addict and so’s my sister,” Jessie told me, “so, I was kind of already introduced to it. I started at a really young age, like, my dad wasn’t around. Nothing like that. I lived with my mom until I was about 7 and then she overdosed at my elementary school. So, me and my sister was…”

“She overdosed at your elementary school?”

“Well, they had called her in because I had been getting in a lot of trouble at school—like, stealing shit from other kids and stuff—so, I guess someone called her in to have a parent-teacher conference or something about it and while she was there she overdosed.”

For a few seconds there was just silence. After an trying and failing to find some sort of adequate response to this information, Jessie just continued talking.

“Yeah, so then they called CPS (Child Protective Services) and then my grandma ended up calling CPS because of that and because my sister got pregnant at the age of 12.” she said. “She got pregnant at the age of 12 and had my nephew when she was 13, so my grandma already knew that shit was not right and that my mom was an addict. So, my grandma called CPS and she took me and my sister away from my mom, and then we lived with her and I would run away from there all of the time because I wanted to be with my mom, but my mom would never let me come there so I would just find myself at random places.”

“And how old were you?” I asked.

“8—I was 8 years old. After a couple of years of me running away from my grandma’s I started drinking and smoking and she just got sick of it, so when I was 14 she sent me away to my dad in Kentucky. I didn’t even know who he was and he ended up beating the shit out of me so I didn’t stay there long. Basically, they all got sick of sending me places and me running away, so they all just said that I was living with them and just let me go off and do my own thing. So, I started living on my own at 16. Like, just different places. Wherever I could.”

“Were you going to school at this point?” I asked.

“No. I did, like, the first 2 weeks of my freshman year and then I left and haven’t been back to school since.” she told me. “Okay, so…in that time, my mom met a sugar daddy. She met a sugar daddy when I was 16 and she started working for, like, his firm thing. And he was addicted to Oxys, and she was addicted to Oxys, so, it was like a perfect little thing. And, um, he had this huge house and he had, like, 5 cars and—yeah—my mom was like, ‘Yo, I got money. You don’t have to live on the streets no more. You can come live with me.’ And I was like, ‘Alright. This house is huge. This is nice.’ And he bought me all this cool stuff and, like, he didn’t know that I knew that my mom did pills and stuff…and that I knew that he did ’em…and that she was secretly giving ’em to me too. Yeah, so my mom…my mom started me on Oxys and then my sister, she got kicked out of her apartment so she was living in the house too and we were all just snorting Oxys together.”

“Like the family that snorts together, stays together?”

“Yeah. Honestly, it brought us closer together. I mean, my mom never really loved me—at least, that just what I feel like.” She said.

“Really? So, the times that you were using with your family…”

“I felt like my mom loved me. Like, I had my family. I had my mom and my sister and we was a family when we was getting high together. I don’t know, that probably sounds crazy to you, but it makes sense in my head. Okay, so I did that. I stayed there for a while. And then my step-dad found out—he left town and somehow my mom figured out where he kept all his money in his safe and by the time he got back she had drained his safe and all 84 of the Oxy 80s he had left, you know, because she was supporting my habit and her habit and my sister’s habit and my baby’s dad’s habit, who I had picked up from Norwood somewhere in there.”

“Hold on.” I said. “When in all of this did you have a kid?”

“Oh wait, I was pregnant. I forgot about that. But, I still did pills while I was pregnant.” she said.

“Okay, and this was when you were, what, 16?”

“Yep…No, actually this was when I was 17.” Jessie told me. “So, he moved in and he’s my baby’s dad now, but he wasn’t my baby’s dad at 16. It took a year for me to get pregnant, you see what I’m saying? So, I moved him in there and my mom didn’t want to cut him in on the pills, because he was doing pills too. Okay, so he wasn’t happy with that so we had to move out…and because my mom threw him down the stairs…”

“Your mom threw your boyfriend down the stairs?”

“Yeah, well, here’s the story behind that one.” she said. “Like, she’s got this really big bedroom, right? And along with a really big bedroom comes a really big closet. Well, that’s where we would all go to…see, she had this mirror that she would scrape the pills onto and we just knew that, when we got up in the morning we’d just go in there and do our line. Well, that morning he happened to follow me in there thinking that he was going to get a line and my mom was like, ‘uh-uh…you ain’t getting nothing.’ And they started arguing and she pushed him down the stairs. And he was like, ‘oh no, we ain’t living here no more. Your mom won’t get me high. I ain’t sitting here sick watching you guys get high.’”

“What did you do after that?” I asked.

“After that we had to move out to Indiana where my baby’s dad’s mom lived. And when we first got out there we didn’t have to pay for pills anymore because his mom just got us high, but after a while she’d run out of Percs and we’d buy them. I don’t know how we were getting money…oh yeah, he was kicking in doors and shit. He kicked in the neighbor’s door because the neighbor sold weed. And he was actually his friend…and, like, stole his safebox and it had $6,500 so that kept us alright for a little bit. And then, in that time, me and him got into it and he tried to put me out on the street so I moved back to Cincinnati because I didn’t know anybody in Indiana. And, I can’t be on the streets out there, know what I’m saying? So, I caught a bus and went back to Cincinnati.”

“Where was your baby during all of this?”.

“He was with me.” Jessie said. “Oh, wait. Yeah, I got pregnant in Indiana, came back and…oh man, did I miss all of that? Woah. I got pregnant in Indiana and moved back to—that’s why I moved back to Cincinnati. I said I didn’t want to have my baby in Indiana. I was just against it. I didn’t know anybody, besides the fact that I didn’t want to be there anyway and that was my prime excuse. So, I moved him back to Ohio with me and got us an apartment in Mt. Carmel, in a place that was like dope fiend central. Everyone was on pills except for a select few and I didn’t really talk to the few that was on heroin cause I was on pills and they was like, way worse off than me, you know what I’m saying? I was still doing pills when I was pregnant, but I had stopped doing the Oxys and in my head, I’m like, ‘this is better, I’m not doing Oxys’, and I just did Percs. Well, my son came out…well, he came out with clubbed feet, but it wasn’t cause I was doing pills. My baby’s dad has that bloodline in his family, like, his cousins have it and shit—umm, that’s what my doctor told me. So, I have my apartment, and I had my baby, and we was getting high, but I was still a good mom…I think. And I still took care of my kid and all that. And then, he kicked in my front door, or something happened. My baby’s daddy kicked in my front door.”

“Are we talking about literally kicking in your front door?” I asked.

“Literally kicked in my front door…and then we fist fought upstairs for about an hour. And, when stuff like that happens—it was a Section 8 apartment—when stuff like that happens it’s like, no tolerance and you’re getting kicked out. So, I left and I brought my kid with me and moved into my sister’s in Goshen. And, when I got there, her baby’s dad had just got out of prison and their way of making money was he was selling heroin. And, I had never seen it, I had never done it, but when I got there I knew that I hadn’t had anything in 2 days and I was sick and I didn’t have a lot of money. So, my sister was like, ‘you’re sick, so I’m not going to charge you for this, but here’s this line of heroin.’ And I was like, ‘I seen what this shit does. I seen what it does and I don’t want to no part of it,’ but I did it anyways. And, uh, yeah. That was the first time my sister gave me heroin.”

“And you were how old? 20?”

“Uhhhh…no, 19.” Jessie said. “I was 19. And, so I got a job, like, out of nowhere, 2 days after I came back to Cincinnati. I was getting fat checks and I was all getting spent on dope. Like, I was my sister’s number 1 customer. Plus, I lived in the house, you know what I’m saying? It was like, on demand. I got to ride with him when he was going to re-up and we was just snorting dope the whole time.”

“And your kid was with you, the whole time this was going on?” I asked.

“Uh-huh.” she said. “And my sister had a kid too. It was just one big crack house, heroin using family.”

“Did all of the usual, motherly duties and such happen while you were there?”

“Yeah, I told myself that was why I was doing the heroin.” said Jessie. “To keep myself energized so I can take care of my kid. Because, in my head, I’m a single mom now because I’ve left my baby’s dad, and I need this to keep me up and…I can’t be sick with my kid…you can’t do that. So, you know, I did everything I was supposed to do and my kid was well taken care of. I was a normal mom. ”

A normal mom? To us, banging heroin while living with your junky sister and her drug dealer boyfriend ain’t normal. But for Jessie—someone who had to sit and watch EMTs cart her OD’ed mother away from her school in an ambulance at the age of 7 and whose idea of taking care of her kids was making sure they had their line of Oxy ready for them when they woke up—that was normal. The only hope that Jessie, her kid and all of the women I talked to have is that they find a new normal before they start the cycle all over again

~~~~~~~ Author’s Note ~~~~~~~

<em>On the night before I was to publish this article, one of my cousins died at the hands of this insidious disease of addiction. The last time I saw her was early Thursday morning after a midnight meeting of a 12-step group in Cincinnati. She had used sometime earlier that day, but was not high so much as she was in state of blurry wellness peculiar to opiate addicts who have built up a tolerance to the drugs they use. When she shared during the meeting, she had been very emotional, talking about how it seemed like it was just so much harder for her to get clean this time and hoping that this increased degree of difficulty would help keep her sober for longer than the periods when she had been able to stop using more easily. Once the meeting was over, we talked about how she was doing and about how much we loved another one of our cousins who had died from Hepatitis C as the result of this disease, but who had more than 20 years sobriety when he passed. As we parted ways, she asked me if I could drive her to a meeting the next night and I told her I could and that she should give me a call tomorrow night, knowing that there was a more than decent chance I wouldn't hear from her. The next time I saw her face it was on a memorial on someone's Facebook wall. She was 24 years old and had a 6-year old son.</em>

<em>I simply ask you to consider donating a little money to the <a href="http://www.ccatsober.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_ID=8CE35C4E-7E90-9BD4-C2E453F58A4F4DEE">Center for Chemical Addictions Treatment in Cincinnati</a>, which helps hundreds of addicts and alcoholics to get sober each year.</em>

<em>Thank you,
Drew Gibson</em>

~~~~~~~~~~~

Be Anything You Want to Be and Learn How To Define What You Want

White House Summit on Working Families-Panel on Career Ladders and Leadership
White House Summit on Working Families-Panel on Career Ladders and Leadership

From the time we had our first memories, many of us can still remember what we wanted to be when we grew up. Childhood was a time when dreams did not have boundaries and were not obscured by societal challenges and barriers many of us would come to know as we got older. Somewhere along the journey from childhood to Adulthood, we stopped asking ourselves “What do I want to be”, and we began asking ourselves, “What can I do” under the circumstances.

Recently, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of listening to a panel of powerful women discuss their journey in climbing the career ladder and the challenges they faced along the way. I hung on their every word while trying to gain some insight into my own path and future career aspirations. What was it they did, what were their commonalities, and what were the resources these women had access to that catapulted them to the top of their fields?

There were lots of nuggets and jewels of profound wisdom that were left on the ears of the participants in the room. However, one of the statements that resonated with me the most came by way of Debra Lee who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Black Entertainment (BET). Debra Lee stated as a child, she was always taught that she could be anything she wanted to be, but she didn’t know how to define what it was she wanted. Lee stated that she had always accepted what was given to her as a result of her hard work. Unlike her male counterparts, she didn’t seek out opportunities to advance her career.

She had reached the ceiling of her current position as Chief In-House Counsel for the network, and there was no higher position for her to aspire as an attorney. It wasn’t until the former CEO presented Lee with an opportunity to move into a newly created Chief Operating Officer position that the ceiling she was previously under was removed. Before the position had been offered to Debra Lee, three men had already gone to the CEO seeking the position to be created for them.

There are several things I garnered from this anecdote and other insights from the panel of women that I would like to share with you, and here are the most important:

1. Know Your Value

We live in a society where we are trained to want more for less. Jobs want to offer part-time work or unpaid internships for the possibility of earning full-time employment. Even though you are set to work a certain amount of hours, the expectation is for you to work in excess to prove your worth. This makes sense when its a symbiotic relationship where the employer is investing in your development instead of only extracting your skills and abilities as cheap labor. How many of us stay on abusive jobs because we fear a worse outcome or a bad recommendation to keep you there? How many of you are waiting for someone to acknowledge your hard work, worth, and value with a raise, time off, or promotion? What is this doing to your self esteem? Self-esteem and self-worth, is the difference between “what I want to do” versus “What I can do” under the circumstances.

2. Identify Your Challenges and Barriers

Challenges and barriers are very real no matter where you fall on the socioeconomic scale. However, those challenges may be exacerbated by the lack of resources, opportunities, and education at your disposal. Before you can change your situation, you have to identify the barriers and challenges you are up against. Admitting that your skin color or being a woman is a barrier in obtaining leadership positions is not playing the race or gender card, but its the unfortunate truth. Once you acknowledge your barriers and challenges, you can develop strategies, create partners and allies, and skills to reduce the impact of those same barriers.

3. Mentorship Is A Necessity

After listening to the women on the panel and other speakers, there was a re-occurring theme of mentorship and re-investment into creating other leaders that rang throughout the day. Not one person took sole credit for their own success. They all acknowledged someone or several someones who invested into their growth which inspired a symbiotic relationship of loyalty and hard work in return. These days, mentorship is harder to find as we continue to evolve into a “What’s in it for me” society.

More and more people who are in leadership positions aren’t necessarily there because they have the requisite skills and abilities rather than the availability of more access and opportunity at their disposal. In the past, we have expected mentorship to happen organically and naturally occurring from jobs, schools, and internships. Today, you must be more purposeful in seeking out mentors to assist your career aspirations. But, there are some pitfalls you may want to avoid on your quest to find mentorship.

Breathe…success may not happen overnight, and there may be many barriers on your path to success. However, you must keep in mind that your journey is preparation for when your moment arrives.

Boys Don’t Cry: The Crisis of Masculinity

When we talk about sexism, we almost always automatically think of the victims as women. Tackling discriminating language, sexual harassment and domestic violence seems to be exclusively discussed as ‘women’s issues’. Much in the same way that these problems are not only ‘women’s issues’, sexism itself is not a ‘women’s issue’. There are other types of sexism which are equally pervasive in our society and potentially more corrosive due to the fact that they constantly go undiscussed or completely undetected.

boysdont‘Man up’, ‘be a man’, ‘men don’t cry’, ‘Lad culture’; these are all commonplace maxims in our daily lives. Our understanding of manhood and masculinity is that of men as tough, unemotional individuals who will not shy away from a fight and who have a duty to protect and provide. They can never be the vulnerable ones.

This image is everywhere for our young boys to aspire to. Popular culture feeds us the ultimate ‘men’s men’ such as Sylvester Stallone, Vin Diesel, 50 Cent, and even the fictional comic heroes, like Batman and Superman, are physically strong and violent individuals.

Manhood is so synonymous with violence that we never stop to ask ourselves what we are fed by the media. How often is the climatic, heroic moment in a film, the part in which one man fights and defeats another? And from being violently superior, that man consequently wins the affection of women and the admiration of his peers. We celebrate these moments rather than condemn the violence.

We have begun to openly acknowledge the damage that our narrow view of manhood has done to young men struggling with their sexuality. As a Social Worker I have worked with a young man whose greatest hurdle to admitting his homosexuality was how it would affect his identity as a male. “But I don’t like girly things” was his stock response for denying his feelings. Ignorant preconceptions state that in order to be a man, you must like women and in order to be gay, you must be camp. However the problem runs much deeper than this.

The conversation we are not having is why the majority of the world’s prison population is male or why the majority of all violent crimes, rapes and assaults are committed by men. We accept this as normal; as if this is what nature intended and there is no cure. Similarly, throughout the world, the number of men successfully committing suicide is dramatically higher than the number of women. In addition to this, a report from 2012 from the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom discovered that men were most likely to be homeless or suffer from substance misuse issues. There is something terrible plaguing our men and I do not believe we should simply stand by and claim ‘it is what it is’.

Some people are finally beginning the conversation about the crisis in masculinity. Jackson Katz, creator of Tough Guise, is a leading anti-violence educator in America. In the United Kingdom, the theatre production of Result, is using football to discuss mental health problems amongst young males. UK MP, Diane Abbot, also launched a campaign to tackle what she describes as the ‘Fight Club’ generation.

We need to stop allowing masculinity and feminity to be defined so rigidly. Siobhan Bligh succinctly stated: ‘What we must aim for is a healthy masculinity, in much the same way feminists would want women to have a healthy femininity. Whilst these ideals may be social constructions, they still guide people in the way they see themselves and others, and therefore it is imperative to promote a healthy gender culture for both men and women.’ )

If we as Social Workers are to claim to be defenders of social justice and equality then we cannot ignore this problem any longer. We must lobby nationally and internationally to tackle the media glorification of male violence, but also on an individual level, we should never allow boys to feel that power, aggression and stoicism are necessary parts of their development into manhood.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL8YmyKUdUM[/youtube]

Malala Yousafzai and Women’s Rights in Islamic Countries

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Women in Muslim countries often do not have the same rights and privileges as women in the West such as the right of education or the right to employment. Author, activist, and survivor Malala Yousafzai is a perfect example of the challenges and barriers Muslim women face in Islamic countries. In her native country of Pakistan, women and young girls were denied the right to education. Malala Yousafzai begins to speak on every media platform available to her on the importance of education.

An outspoken critic of the Taliban’s tactics in her native Swat Valley from a young age, Malala was the subject of an attempted assassination at the hands of a Taliban gunman because she was unafraid to speak out.

Then, at just 14 years old, a Talib fighter boarded her bus, pointed a pistol at her head, and pulled the trigger. But she survived, made a full recovery in England, and has become and transformative figure in human rights.

Now, she is poised to become the youngest Nobel Peace laureate ever.  Read More

Modern women in the West have the same rights and privileges as men such as the right to jobs, pay, and education. They have the right to vote in elections and engage in politics. Western women can wear whatever they want, and their freedom of expression is not a criminal act.

Women can drive, cut their hair and join in sports events, and cheating on your spouse is not cause for a death sentence. All these things when spoken aloud (or, in this case written) may seem ridiculous, but they are just a small part of the rights they may not accessible to Muslim women.

In Muslim countries, these rights are taken away from women and doubled to men. It is legal to beat your wife if she doesn’t listen to you or argues with you. A few years ago, another article appeared in the news about a Norwegian woman who was studying in Dubai. While at home, four guys around her age got into her room and raped her. Later, she went to make a report to the police. Unfortunately, she was not able to bring an accusation against them in the absence of having no male witnesses. What’s shocking about this case, she was charged and faced six months in prison for having unlawful sex.

Religion’s main function is to unite people for good and not to separate them from ‘lower’ or ‘higher’ class of human beings. We’re all the same, no matter our skin color, appearance, or sex. Maybe most of us do not understand Islam, but the truth is social evils in today’s society such as oppression, domestic violence, and the abuse of women are not confined to any one race, religion, or region of the world.

Malala Yousafzai made an appearance on Jon Stewart to talk about women’s rights, education, and her book “I am Malala”. Most importantly, she continues to advocate for equality for Muslim women. View the video below:

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