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The Hideous Man Tour: Not for the Cowardly


“This tour is not for the cowardly!,” E. Jean Carroll warned the twenty women gathered at the square between New York City’s Bergdorf Goodman department store and the Plaza Hotel on the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. Holding a white banner announcing the afternoon’s agenda: “Hideous Men in NYC Walking Tour,” the longtime Elle columnist and author of What Do We Need Men For? A Modest Proposal added, “For twenty-six years I’ve been answering questions from women complaining about men. If you think we’re being unfair to men, get the hell out!”  Her words were underscored by the ‘toot-toot’ of a trombone at nearby Pulitzer Fountain.

Carroll is conducting these 90-minute, bi-monthly tours through October 6th, and it is free, as the invitation reads: For 10,000 years women have been paid less than men. They don’t have to pay for THIS!. Although, participants are encouraged to bring snacks.

While our fearless leader was clearly kidding with her mock-angry introduction, she’s serious as a tornado about wanting sexual predators to be held accountable for their actions. In her new book Carroll, who in 2004 published, Mr. Right, Right Now! Man Catching Made Easy, finally comes out about her rage toward the 20 occupants of what she calls “The Most Hideous Men of My Life List.” The most infamous member, No. 20, is Donald Trump who, she writes attacked her in a dressing room at Bergdorf’s in 1996. Trump denied it, responding, “She’s not my type.”

One year later, then CBS Chairman and CEO Les Moonves, No. 15 on Carroll’s list, allegedly groped her in an elevator after she interviewed him for Esquire.

During my pre-tour interview with Carroll, conducted while sitting on the steps of the fountain, I felt the 75-year-old’s eyes blazing behind her sunglasses as she explained why she kept quiet for decades about the multiple abuses she’d endured. “I’m a member of the silent generation. We were trained from babyhood to chin up and smile and get past it…”
She sighed, “The silent generation changed many things but not the culture of sexual violence.”

As a grinning millennial carrying a plastic container of chocolate covered pretzels bore down on us, Carroll added, “I have nothing to lose naming names. I’m an old woman. If I were a mother in Mississippi or Ohio or Kansas holding down two jobs, reporting my overseer at the factory could lead to a terrible shift, being knocked down in pay, or even fired. “ She snorted, “What am I going to lose – my reputation?”

That reputation went clearly through the roof for the acolytes on her tour. Ranging in age from the early 20s through the 60s, they were united in their gratitude at scoring a ticket to this sold-out event. The group included a forty-something from St. Louis, a mother and daughter from Kansas City and a Manhattanite in bright red shorts whose boyfriend sent her the link, thinking she’d enjoy the tour. Another participant explained why she’d signed on: “E. Jean is taking an abstract idea and lining it up in the social structures that perpetuate abuse.”

As we turned our attention to the revolving doors of Bergdorf’s, Carroll boomed, “So many women in New York have been scrunched, thumped, pummeled, banged and ‘rogered’ by men, it is difficult sometimes to keep them all straight. So I will be referring to notes.”

Her typed and bound together notes included photo-copied pictures, which she held above her head as each hideous man was discussed and dispatched. Carroll mentioned that several non-cowardly men have partaken of this tour – “police investigators, lawyers, an FBI agent, a detective who wore a beanie…”

Our first stop yielded meaty material: Trump (Carroll didn’t use the word rape and said of course she still shops at Bergdorf’s – “it’s the greatest store in the world”), plus a current lawsuit against The Plaza brought by a group of female employees who Carroll recited from her notes, “Say they have been grabbed, groped, or pushed into rooms.” “If you don’t feel nauseous yet, you will,” Caroll added, as she directed us to look eastward toward Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion located in the East 70s. After recapping his crimes, she asked how many felt the prison ‘suicide’ of the convicted sex offender was really murder. A majority of women raised their hands. “Who do you think ordered him killed?” Carroll asked, while showing various photos of Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth. “Don’t forget Prince Andrew was implicated,” she warned.

We then walked onward to Tiffany & Co., where Carroll educated us about a lawsuit initiated in the 1990s by Paula Smith, after its Head of Estate Jewelry was fired for reporting a male colleague who complained she was too aggressive. Smith won the largest settlement to date from the New York State Division of Human Rights ($365,000).

As Carroll announced that the next stop on the tour would be Trump Tower, she quickly added, ‘I’ll meet you there,” and loped off, her trim figure sheathed in a black shirt and short green and black pleated skirt trailing down to sneakers tied with oversized black bows disappearing down Fifth Avenue.  

Outside the 69-story skyscraper, home to the escalator where the improbable campaign began, Carroll highlighted Trump and the 24 accusations of sexual impropriety against him, including the one issued, then retracted by Ivana Trump, his first wife. “The 1990 court deposition said the night he raped her was the first time Donald’s penis was inside Ivana in more than 16 months,” she reported. Carroll also wanted us to know that The Plaza ran most efficiently when the Trump’s first ex-wife-to-be oversaw its renovation in the early nineties. While she did an excellent job, Trump nonetheless bankrupted the hotel in four years.

The subsequent turn in the conversation made it clear why it was essential to bring and share sustenance (I was partial to the shortbread and pistachio nuts). Carroll chewed a Gin Gin as she asked, “How much do women in New York make on the dollar compared to men?” Answer: White women, 87 cents; African American women, 57 cents, Latina women, 49 cents.

Her follow-up statement, “Let’s come up with a solution to the pay disparity,” led to thoughtful answers. The woman who’d signed up for the tour to witness the role of social structures behind sexual abuse suggested: “Radical pay transparency – us being open about what we earn.” A chorus of “Yeses” were followed by iPhone scribblings at the mention that blogger Alison Green created a popular anonymous google doc spread sheet for women to share their salaries. Another suggestion, which was enthusiastically received, was to network on best strategies to win raises.

In just a few hours since this tour began my pondering on why Carroll designed this on-the-surface lighthearted experience morphed from making money and/or selling books (she mentioned her latest book, What Do We Need Men For?, just once), to keeping the post-#MeToo fire not just alive but ablaze. Her true goal was not to provoke male bashing but to encourage ongoing activism geared to changing the political tilt-a-whirl that keeps knocking women down, and backward. During our discussion at the Pulitzer Fountain, Carroll offered, “I like men a lot…I just don’t want them running everything…they never listen!”

Sure, there was plenty of snark and fury as the tour participants walked and chewed our way to venues including St. Patrick’s Cathedral (in 2018, abuser of boys Cardinal Theodore McCarrick became the first Cardinal in 2000 years forced to step down from the College of Cardinals) and Rockefeller Center (a ‘Hideous Man’ motherlode with Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer and Bill Cosby taking their turn in the pantheon of fallen male idols. However, Carroll, who once wrote for Saturday Night Live, deemed former cohort Al Franken “the least pervy guy I’ve ever met. We need to be careful with accusations!”

The mood was somber when Carroll asked anyone who had never been assaulted to raise her hand. Only two sets of hands lifted. “Four in five rapists go free,” she responded. More often, though, shoots of energy raced through us as Carroll paid tribute to those who worked hard to bring down powerful abusive men – i.e.: NY Times reporters Jodi Cantor and Megan Twohey. The most effusive praise went to the New Yorker ’s Ronan Farrow.

The tour’s last stop was The Roundabout Theater, former site of the legendary, and former almost-impossible-to-gain-entry into nightclub Studio 54. Carroll informed us, “Kevin Spacey, now accused of sexually abusing young men, was a dweeb but he got in by entertaining the guards with celebrity impressions.”

The blocks this tour encompassed represent the City’s patriarchal power centers – home to churches and media stations where, as Carroll pointed out, “secrets are held and information is controlled.” After nearly two hours in, no one, not even Carroll, was in a hurry to part. Hugs and emails were exchanged. More ideas on how to change the system were discussed.

Before Carroll parted she smiled, patted the “Hideous Men in NYC Tour” banner now resting under her arm, and with a final wave disappeared as she walked down 7th Avenue.

About the author: Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based psychotherapist, editor of the anthology HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL? True Confessions From Both Sides of the Therapy Couch and contributor to The Cut, Washington Post and

September 14th 2019, 5:35 pm

Equal Rights in Germany: An Exclusive Interview with Claudia Roth, Vice-President of the German Parl


“Globally, we are witnessing a dangerous backlash on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized groups. From Brazil to Poland, from the US to Turkey, right-wing men are threatening democratic achievements and human rights,” said Claudia Roth, longtime Green Party politician and Vice-President of the German Federal Government, or ‘Bundestag.’ Although Article Three of Germany’s Grundgesetz (Constitution) guarantees equal rights to women and men, Roth believes there is still much that has to be done to end sex discrimination in her country. While Angela Merkel has served as the Chancellor of Germany for almost fourteen years, the number of women serving in the Bundestag dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent in the 2017 elections. And although Germany is considered to be progressive in comparison to other countries, abortion is still illegal in there. Further, fewer than 30 percent of public leadership positions were held by women in 2018. According to Claudia Roth, “Patriarchy still works well in Germany.”

Women’s eNews intern, Charlotte Geissler, was granted an exclusive opportunity to pose the following questions to Claudia Roth last month, to gain insights into German politics and show how gender discrimination continues to exist:

Women’s eNews: Although gender equality is included in the German Constitution or ‘Grundgesetz’, women in Germany are still underrepresented in politics and work and gender discrimination still plagues the country. What actions must Germany’s government take to truly provide women with equal rights and opportunities?

Claudia Roth: Back in 1994 the German constitution was amended to push for more gender equality by including the following: “The State shall promote the actual implementation of equal rights for women and men and take steps to eliminate disadvantages that now exist.” It was a big promise. Unfortunately, today there are still many battles to fight to even come close to this status, in which all people of all genders are treated equally in Germany. Women are still underrepresented in leading positions in all areas of society, are paid less, and do most of the unpaid care work. Our tax system undermines women’s financial independence in marriage and single mothers hardly get any state support. Overall, women have less access to power and resources, and are subject to discrimination and violence. Abortion is still illegal in a self-proclaimed liberal Germany and there is not enough action to prevent gender-based violence and support for those affected by it. The picture looks even worse if a woman is affected by multiple types of discrimination. And the list goes on – so action has to be taken and mainstreamed on all levels of politics.

Women’s eNews: What aspects in the General Act on Equal Treatment or ‘Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz’ and the Federal Equality Act are missing to successfully prevent discrimination of women?

Claudia Roth: The General Act on Equal Treatment is the anti-discrimination law in Germany, which the Green party lobbied hard for since the 90’s. It is binding for workplaces and all interactions between private persons. But today, it has to be improved in many ways. One example would be that lawsuits due to discrimination should also be executed by anti-discrimination associations in order to push for more change on the ground and to discharge individuals. Currently the barriers for private persons for legal justice are way too high. The Federal Equality Act aims to create more gender equality in civil service. That law is good, but its implementation is lacking. Without sufficient political will and enough resource allocation we won’t achieve progress at all. Still, the most powerful positions in civil service and in public authorities are filled mostly with men. Mostly old, white, heterosexual, multiple-privileged men. One could say: ‘Patriarchy still works well in Germany.

Women’s eNews: In 1999, ‘gender mainstreaming’ was adopted to reform the procedures and initiatives of Germany’s government through the ‘Modern State – Modern Administration’ Program. In your view, how effective has this program been?

Claudia Roth: The adoption of gender mainstreaming had been an assignment given to national governments by the European Union back in 1997. That was the same year that Germany – against tough resistance – made rape within marriages illegal. So you can see where we were standing 1997: There was still a long way to go. When the government switched to a coalition of social democrats and Greens in 1999, gender mainstreaming was made a guiding principle. The Green Party originated from the 1970’s/80’s women’s movement. Women’s rights and gender equality have always been and still are one of my parties’ main priorities. But as other governments followed, there has not been sufficient political will in order to fully implement gender mainstreaming. Real feminist politics would change the whole system – you need lots of guts to do that.

Women’s eNews: How should Germany further equalize rights for women beyond the country’s borders, and why is it important for Germany to promote equal rights internationally?

Claudia Roth: All over the world, women and other marginalized groups are structurally disadvantaged, are affected more by poverty, are subject to severe human rights violations and do not have equal access to representation, rights and resources. Sweden has been an international role model by declaring a feminist foreign policy back in 2014 under feminist Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström. What we need for Germany, and basically for all states, would be a feminist foreign policy which addresses the structural roots of injustices due to gender or other lines of discrimination. We need the international goal to implement no less than full human rights for everyone on this planet. All areas of foreign policy must be radically redesigned, putting human security at its core. The current efforts of our foreign minister, while being a non-permanent member in the UN Security Council, have been quite disappointing for the feminist agenda. A resolution has been adopted, which actually falls way back to the standards of UNSC-Res 1325. Unfortunately, reactionary forces, such as UN-diplomats reporting to the President of the United States, have lobbied hard to eliminate demands in the resolution on sexual and reproductive health. Globally we are witnessing a dangerous backlash on women’s rights and the rights of marginalized groups: From Brazil to Poland, from the US to Turkey: Right-wing men are threatening democratic achievements and human rights. But on the other hand, there is no movement worldwide as successful as the women’s rights movement to repel those right-wing populist and sexist agitators. The US Women’s March in January 2017 gave hope and strength to women, LGBTIQA and marginalized communities all over the globe: We do not back down!

Women’s eNews: In your perspective, what correlation exists between feminism and environmentalism, and what effects would equal rights for women have on the climate movement?

Claudia Roth: Women, indigenous people and marginalized communities are affected most severely by the destruction of our environment and by the severe consequences of the climate crisis, which already threaten the livelihood of millions of people. It is women who, due to traditional gender-roles, do most of the care work within families and communities, and who take care of the basic needs even in worst conditions. It’s women who mostly work in agriculture and have to deal with droughts and flooding. But it’s their needs, which are cut first. We know for sure that women do not have equal rights, that hunger has a female face, and that the effects of poverty are indeed gendered; that women, who are facing poverty and who are displaced, are even more likely to be subject to violence and rape. Despite their marginalization women are active all over the world to fight for a liveable planet, for just land rights, the sustainable use of resources and on the forefront of climate negotiations. There will be no climate justice without gender justice.

Women’s eNews: How can the climate movement and the women’s rights movement cooperate to accomplish the goals of both movements on a national scale and internationally?

Claudia Roth: Both movements already have linkages, which have to be strengthened. The climate movement should integrate a gender perspective within its struggle and in all of its analyses and political demands. The voices of women and marginalized communities have to be brought to the forefront of climate negotiations. On the other side, feminists should integrate the calls for climate justice into their agenda. Only at first look one might think of them as different struggles, but in the end the aim is the same: A livable and just planet, on which all people – regardless of gender, class, race, whatever background – can live in dignity, freedom and peace.

Women’s eNews: The United States, although home to a strong women’s rights movement, does not have an Equal Rights Amendment in the country’s constitution. Do you believe women in the United States would benefit from such an amendment?

Claudia Roth: Of course they would! As soon as this amendment is written in the Constitution, women can refer to it and reclaim their right.

Women’s eNews: What actions must Germany take to protect all women, regardless of their race or status? In other words, how can the goals of intersectional feminism be accomplished in Germany?

Claudia Roth: I am now quoting our constitution, our “Grundgesetz” again: “Human dignity shall be inviolable” – this is in its very first paragraph. It doesn’t say the dignity of white, heterosexual, Christian, non-disabled men. It means the dignity of all, of each and every one of us. Written more than seventy years ago the fathers and mothers of our Constitution have centrally integrated the learning of the atrocities under the Nazi-dictatorship within this simple first sentence. The realization of human rights is thus the purpose of the state and that’s what intersectional feminism is basically all about. Intersectionality is a perspective to understand the multidimensional effects of unjust structures, an analytical gift given to us by Kimberlé Crenshaw. This just perspective has to be mainstreamed in all areas of policy, otherwise mainly white and privileged women will benefit from any efforts toward gender justice. Moreover, we need comprehensive anti-discrimination and social justice policies. Racism is still a serious and often neglected problem in Germany, and trans- and intersexual people are still heavily discriminated against, so many injustices have to be addressed at the very same time.

Women’s eNews: In the 2017 federal elections, the number of women in the Bundestag dropped from 37 percent to 31 percent. What is the cause of this drop and how can more women be brought into the Bundestag in the next elections?

Claudia Roth: The share of women in our parliament dropped because a right-wing party, with only ten percent of female parliamentarians, was elected into the Bundestag. But other forces also prohibit women from having fair representation in our core democratic institution. The conservatives only include twenty percent women and the liberals aren’t that much better. It’s only the Greens and the Leftist who have sent more women than men into parliament. The Green Party we has internal quotas in place: At all levels of politics, at least fifty percent of positions have to be filled by women, which was a huge achievement of the early feminists thirty years ago, and which accounts for the fair rate of women in the Green Party. Other parties are reluctant to install internal quotas, and that’s why we need binding quotes in our electoral law. Two states in Germany have recently passed Parité laws, to make sure more women will be elected.

Women’s eNews: As an experienced politician working in Parliament since 1989, what have been the greatest challenges for you as a woman? Also, what have been your greatest successes as a woman in the Bundestag, and your greatest successes in empowering other women?

Claudia Roth: Women in politics always have to prove themselves way more than men, and have to be better prepared, argue more sophisticatedly, and work harder to be heard and seen. One has to also deal a lot with subtitle sexism, where too many men systematically give power to other men and make the work of women unseen. Plus, women in public are subject to hate and sexism, especially if you have a strong feminist opinion and dare not to represent what mainstream society might expect of women. I would say that the greatest successes have been political achievements, where women of different fractions worked together. Female solidarity and more feminist men in politics – that’s how we’ll build a more feminist and livable future.

Charlotte Geissler, a sophomore at Bard College, is bilingual in English/German and specializes in international relations. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

As part of it’s mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative reporting, Women’s eNews helps foster, train, and support the career development of new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights.

September 10th 2019, 6:26 pm

Not Equal But Close: Better Pay Parity in Construction


Summer is over, and young adults across the country are headed back to school—one more step toward graduation and making decisions about “what’s next.” Despite making up almost half of today’s US workforce, women face a challenge in choosing career paths that can help them overcome the ever-present gender pay gap. Surprisingly, there’s one male-dominated sector where women are flipping the script and finding both great job opportunities and better pay parity: Construction. 

Construction remains one of the best-kept secrets in rewarding career options for women. The best part is that these opportunities are abundant for job-seekers with or without a college degree. Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade association, estimates that 440,000 construction workers need to be hired in 2019 just to keep up with the current demand for projects. Nearly 60% of ABC contractor members expected to increase staffing levels in the second half of this year, and from apprentices and craft professionals to project managers and executives, the number of women working in the US construction industry is on the rise.

My experience is proof. My high school guidance counselor suggested I shift my focus away from college liberal arts majors and apply for engineering programs, noting my aptitude for math and science. I selected a five-year architectural engineer undergraduate program at Penn State, where I specialized in construction management—which comprises the planning, design, safety, quality control and execution of construction projects—and where I was one of the few women students in this major.  

After graduation, I was hired by a national construction firm on a project management education track. In this program, I spent time both in the field and in an office working in all facets of the construction business, including scheduling, purchasing estimating, project management and business development. Today I am the president of Poole Anderson Construction, a regional construction company headquartered in Central Pennsylvania.

While I took the college path to joining the industry, there are many ways to start a career in construction no matter your level of education. For craft professionals, the construction industry offers an earn-while-you-learn model, which allows people to both get started and advance in construction careers without incurring hefty student loan debt. There are many education routes as well, including technical schools and apprenticeship programs, which provide the skills needed to succeed as a craft professional while also working hands-on in the field. 

Whether you’re a craft professional or part of a management team, construction is not just a job, but a well-paying career with competitive salaries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average national annual salary for construction trades workers is nearly $50,000 a year, and for those in a management role, salaries average $103,000 annually. Additionally, the construction industry has a significantly lower gender pay gap compared to other professions. While the BLS reported that, on average, women across all U.S. industries made 81 cents for every dollar earned by a man in 2018, women made 97 cents to the dollar in the construction trades.

In addition to competitive salaries and opportunities for growth, construction employees report high job satisfaction, since they can pursue their passions and perform meaningful work building America’s communities from coast to coast. Commercial and industrial construction projects also employ some of the most exciting technologies emerging today, transforming the old stereotype that construction is a ‘dirty business’. From drones and 3D printing to robotics and augmented reality, construction innovators are finding new ways to plan and build everything from manufacturing plants to the world’s most inventive skyscrapers more quickly, cost-effectively and safely than ever before. 

Women have made strides in construction and other typically male-dominated industries, but more can be done to expose young women to these types of career options. Guidance counselors, teachers, parents and industry professionals alike need to do a better job of recruiting young women to college majors that feed into construction and other STEM fields. At the same time, we must do a better job of promoting careers in the trades and put jobs obtained through skills-based education on a level playing field with jobs obtained by baccalaureate degrees, especially as outstanding student loan debt reached $1.5 trillion last year.  

Whether you’re a woman starting college, joining the workforce for the first time or considering changing professions, a career in construction offers ample opportunities to achieve the American dream. To learn more about construction career opportunities, visit

About the author: Stephanie Schmidt is president of Poole Anderson Construction in State College, Pennsylvania, and the Northwest Region Vice Chair of Associated Builders and Contractors. 

September 9th 2019, 3:47 pm

Want Equal Pay for Equal Play? Pass the ERA!


With the summer season now coming to an informal end post-Labor Day weekend, it is important to reflect on one of the most inspiring and memorable events that took place just two months ago. On July 7, the 2019 Women’s World Cup was played with the United States national team winning the title for the fourth time. Yet it is important to reflect on what this team, as well as this year’s World Cup, stood for beyond mere numbers on a scoreboard. 

As two very powerful men, Gianni Infantino, the President of FIFA, and Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, walked up to the stadium’s stage just before the game began, they were booed by a majority soccer fans. Choosing to stand in solidarity with the US women’s national team in their fight for equality as the stadium chanted “Equal Pay!” the fans were protesting FIFA’s refusal to provide equal pay for equal play by paying women players less than male players. The overall prize money for the men’s 2018 World Cup is $400 million, for example, whereas the prize money shared by all twenty-four teams for the 2019 Women’s World Cup is only $30 million, reflecting only 7.5% of the men’s prize money

The US women’s soccer team has already undertaken legal battles for equal pay since the last time they won the World Cup in 2015. In 2016, players from the United States women’s national team filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation for institutional gender discrimination. These players – Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd, and Becky Sauerbrunn – reported their mistreatment to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Unfortunately, gender discrimination is not protected by the US Constitution because sex discrimination is still not considered illegal. While Constitution specifies the equal right for women and men to vote, no other equal rights are protected. Without an Equal Rights Amendment, therefore, the rights guaranteed under the Constitution are not explicitly granted to everyone regardless of sex, and advocates for an Equal Rights Amendment believe it would ultimately hold the US Soccer Federation accountable for its discriminatory actions.

A bit of history: In 2017, a collective bargaining deal was developed between the US women’s national soccer team and the US Soccer Federation which did increase base pay and game bonuses for players, but did not grant equal pay for the women’s national team. This year, on International Women’s Day (March 8th), all twenty-eight players of the national team filed a federal lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation demanding equal pay and equal rights. In the lawsuit the team states that, compared to their male counterparts, the US women’s team faces lower quality playing conditions, under-marketing, and inferior transportation. Compared to the men’s team, the women’s team also plays its games on surfaces that have not been upgraded in years, limiting the number of fans willing to attend matches. Additionally, before the lawsuit was filed, the US Soccer Federation did not reserve charter flights for the women’s national team, yet the men’s team flew on charter flights 17 times in 2017

After much criticism from the players and their fans, the US Soccer Federation did agree to meet with the US Women’s national soccer team in August 2019 to mediate their conflict and avoid a federal trial, but the negotiations were unsuccessful and ended on Wednesday, August 14th. Instead of resolving disputes regarding equal pay, USSF President Carlos Cordeiro released open letters presenting facts that Cordeiro believes prove the USSF to be innocent of institutional sex discrimination. The USSF also hired lobbyists in Washington to undermine the claims made by the women’s national team during the trial. Concurrently, Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the twenty-eight players who filed the lawsuit, stated in response, “It is clear that USSF, including its board of directors and President Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed.” Since no settlement was achieved, the case will continue in federal court. 

Although advocates of the ERA believe the Amendment would provide the court with a clear federal judicial standard to follow in cases of sex discrimination, opponents of the Amendment, such as the Eagle Forum, a nonprofit organization founded by Phyllis Schlafley in 1972, assert that passage would actually not increase rights for women. Instead, they contend that the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (which prohibits wage discrimination on the basis of sex) and the Fourteenth Amendment are sufficient to close the gender pay gap. Citing Philip B. Kurland, an American Justice, who wrote in 1978 in Chicago Unbound that the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment would not change the treatment of women in nongovernmental organizations, Kurland asserted that efforts to pass the Amendment would limit the energy put into the more important legislative fights for equality. While advocates for the ERA believe it is a necessary component for gender equality in sports, opponents continue to display uncertainty about its impact to thwart true gender equality.

But it doesn’t stop there. Although the United States is currently leading the fight for equal pay and equal rights in soccer due to their public platform and victories in the World Cup, several other women’s international soccer teams have expressed their frustrations as well. Germany’s national women’s team addressed gender inequality through witty jokes in their World Cup ad with Commerzbank. In the ad the players declare, “We play for a nation that doesn’t even know our names!” In the video, Germany’s players not only address the gender pay gap, but also their fight to gain popularity and support in their own country. 

In Australia, female soccer players have also experienced unfair treatment in soccer leagues and tournaments. The Australian women’s soccer team is therefore fighting for equal pay through its “Our Goal is Now” campaign, which advocates for urgency in achieving gender equality using soccer as a platform to end sex discrimination. It has thus far attempted to do so by cancelling a sold-out tour of the United States over their below minimum-wage salaries in 2015, and has been at the forefront of the fight for equal pay in soccer. Although Australia passed the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984, to end discrimination on the basis of sex, this law is still not reflected in the paychecks of the women’s national team players

Nigeria’s national women’s soccer team also protested their unequal treatment after being eliminated from the 2019 World Cup in a match against Germany. The team conducted a sit-in protest at their hotel rooms, declaring that they would not leave until their bonuses from games against Senegal and Gambia, which were played two years ago, are paid. The team had also not received daily paychecks from this year’s World Cup. Comparatively, Nigeria’s men’s national team not only earns higher daily stipends than the women’s team, but also receives about $5,000 in bonuses per game, whereas female players receive only about $1,500 in bonuses.

As women’s teams are striving to correct these injustices, it is important to consider the next best steps to end gender discrimination in all sports. The United States national team, specifically, will have no choice but to defend its lawsuit while lacking the constitutional grounds. And that’s why Carol Jenkins, co-President and CEO of the ERA Coalition, a group of organizations and members working to pass an Equal Rights Amendment, believes the next steps for gender equality in sports must include its passage:

“What the Equal Rights Amendment would bring to this excitement is the fundamental right to equality that goes beyond equalizing money to fundamental rights and protections, written into the Constitution, the playbook for life in America. Right now, wins must be taken on a case-by-case procedure: in sports, it was tennis first, now soccer. What the ERA would give is a base of equality in every realm: It would be understood, and enforceable by law.”

Although 94% of Americans support constitutional gender equality, 80% are still unaware that a law defining does not already exist. The attention that the US women’s national soccer team brought to unequal pay is now in the forefront. Simultaneously, its passage could provide the women’s soccer team, as well as all professional women’s teams, with the constitutional support to finally end gender inequality in all sports. 

Charlotte Geissler, a sophomore at Bard College, is bilingual in English/German and specializes in international relations. She is a 2019 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program

The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence program at Women’s eNews launched was launched in 2014 with support from the Sy Syms Foundation. The fellowship provides support and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

“For a democracy to flourish all voices must be heard.” said Marcy Syms, a founding Trustee and President of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through its investigative reporting Women’s eNews gets at the essence of good journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s newest women journalists.”

The Sy Syms Foundation has been supporting progress in education, science and the arts since 1885.

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September 3rd 2019, 2:48 pm

Title IX: What a Difference a Law Can Make


We’ve all been rejoicing at the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s amazing world cup performance. Their remarkable success in winning the 2019 championship capped a spectacular run, with world titles in 1991, 1999 and 2015 and Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012. 

As we watched the ticker-tape victory parade in Manhattan in July, it was hard to believe that this story (and others) are all part of a phenomenal sage that began in 1972, just thirty-seven years ago, with the passage of Title IX. In particular, as the Atlantic notes, a “36-word clause largely overlooked by the very lawmakers who passed the bill, requires equal access for women in all facets of education, most notably athletics. Just as much good can come about with the passage of a law, so, too, can this good be undone with a vote to rescind that law.”

The critical section of Title IX reads:

‘No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.’”

Athletics is one of the areas in which Title IX recipients must comply.  In effect, this means that federally funded institutions, such as public schools, are legally required to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities.

What impact has Title IX had? Millions of sports-loving women who were young girls when the law did not exist remember that time well. Few schools had varsity teams for girls in any major sport. One of us, Caryl Rivers, was only able to learn tennis because a tennis enthusiast in her home town gave free lessons to local kids and drove them to tournaments. That was the only way that she was able to get a USTA ranking in the 16-and-under category for Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Bill Littlefield of public radio’s “Only A Game,” notes,  “Before Title IX, one in 27 girls played sports. Today that number is two in five. While we still have far to go before every girl has equal access to sports, especially girls of color, it is clear that we are making headway.” At the college level, “There are now five times more women competing in college sports than there were in the pre-Title IX era.”

In addition to equal access, Title IX  contains specific provisions that regulate athletic programs. They must provide equal athletic opportunities for members of both sexes, including scholarships,  equipment, game and practice times; travel and per diem allowances; coaching salaries, locker facilities and practice spaces, as well as housing and dining facilities and services. These far-reaching regulations have opened the doors to countless females who would not otherwise have had a chance to develop their athletic talents. And, WOW, have they shown us what they can do!

 In addition to soccer, there are several other sports in which  U.S. women are now shattering international and Olympic records.

Basketball. “The United States Women’s National Basketball Team is …by far the most successful in international women’s basketball, winning eight out of ten Olympic tournaments it had entered. It also won eight of the last eleven World Cups (including the last three), and ten titles overall. The team is currently ranked first in the FIBA World Rankings,” notes Wikipedia.

“In 2016, it was named the USA Basketball Team of the Year for a record sixth time (having been previously honored in 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012). It was also named the USOC Team of the Year in 1996.

“The team is one of the most dominant in all Olympic sports, with an incredible 66–3 record in Olympic play (no Olympic losses since 1992, and no losses at all since 2006), and a record six consecutive titles, a feat that isn’t matched by any other women’s Olympic team. Should they win their seventh championship in a row in 2020, they will tie the US men’s basketball team (1936–1968, their winning streak) for the most consecutive Olympic team victories in all Olympic sports, men or women.”

Water Polo: According to CNN, the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team is “absolutely crushing the competition…beating Spain by a score of 11-6…With that victory, they sealed their third world championship win in a row — a feat no other national water polo team, men’s or women’s, has ever achieved. “Think that’s dominance? There’s more: They’ve won 53 games in a row and will be looking to grab their third straight gold medal in next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo. In fact, they’re the only team to win a medal in every Olympic water polo event since women’s water polo became an Olympic sport in 2000.”

Gymnastics:  The U.S. women’s national gymnastics team is the current World team champion and the Olympic team champion. Their dominance began after Title IX, was passed, and looks like it will continue. American Simone Biles  won 20 medals (14 gold, 3 silver and three bronze) from 2013 to 2018. Eight Americans have won the individual World all-around title: Kim Zmeskal (1991), Shannon Miller (1993-1994), Chellsie Memmel (2005), Shawn Johnson (2007), Bridget Sloan (2009), Jordyn Wieber (2011), Simone Biles (2013-2015, 2018), and Morgan Hurd (2017). Biles is the only American gymnast to win both the Olympic and World all-around titles.

Down-hill Skiing: “Double Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin (Avon, Colo.) … headline[s] the list of both accomplished and emerging athletes into the 2019-20 season. Coming off a historic 2018-19 season that saw Shiffrin rack up an impressive 17 World Cup victories, four Crystal Globes (overall, slalom, giant slalom, super-G), and an astounding 83% podium percentage, 2019-20 is bound to be another edge-of-our-seats season,” notes Shiffrin won gold in slalom and finished fifth in giant slalom in 2014 at Sochi, becoming the youngest slalom winner in Olympic history.

Track and field: “It’s no secret that American women are crushing it right now in pro running. Take Desiree Linden, Shalane Flanagan, Molly Huddle, and Jordan Hasay,” reports

The United States is the nation that has won the most medals in athletics at the Olympic Games, 795, of which 332 are gold. Their national-level male, took part in all editions of the games already this season, 25 with the exception of Moscow 1980 known for the 1980 boycott, while women 18 editions from Amsterdam 1928.

U.S. women are now Olympic-medal hopefuls in a variety of track and field specialities, including, 100 meters, 400 meters, 10,000 meters, 3,000 meter steeplechase, high jump, and long jump. Despite these amazing feats, issues remain. The fact that women soccer players get paid less than their male counterparts is not in dispute. “The Guardian’s analysis of each team’s collective bargaining agreements found that while US women’s soccer players have earned about $90,000 each in World Cup bonuses so far, they would have made $550,000 per person if they were paid like the men.” So it’s easy to understand why so many fans joined the team in shouting, “equal pay, equal pay” during the trophy presentation. 

Gender disparities also exist in the composition of coaching staffs. “U.S. women runners are on fire right now. Why are most of them coached by men?,”asks the website Outsideonline. “The problem starts with a lack of access to open positions. Most of the hiring for these jobs is done by men, which can be another obstacle for women who want to enter the field, says Caryl Smith Gilbert, director of track and field at the University of Southern California, who in 2015 was the first woman to win the Pac-12 Men’s Coach of the Year title. “They fill [coaching roles] with who they’re comfortable with, and a lot of people don’t believe women are capable of the job,” she says. “It shouldn’t be a gender issue. Either you hire the best coach or you don’t. You have to be open-minded and you have to be forward thinking. We bring the same skills as men do. I also think we’re very attentive to detail. We talk through things to get to solutions. I don’t think there are that many things that separate us.”

 In addition, some commentators suggest that after Title IX female and male coaches had to be paid equally. Prior to Title IX about 90 percent of coaches were female and were poorly paid. With the higher salaries more men found these positions attractive and competed for them. “Though Title IX has increased opportunities for female players, the number of female coaches has actually declined, even as the total number of jobs has expanded dramatically…The most significant unintended consequence of Title IX is the dearth of women in leadership positions,” says Mary Jo Kane, Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports at the University of Minnesota. Since that time, women’s “share of the available positions dropped by half and has remained at about that level ever since, according to the 33-year longitudinal study, “Women in Intercollegiate Sports, 1977-2010,” conducted by the Acosta and Carpenter [sic]. In 2010, the proportion of women coaching women’s teams stood at the second lowest in history, 42.6 percent, with 21 fewer female coaches than two years prior. “Title IX has been a boon to male employment opportunities,” says Kane.

For Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer, recently inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, this gap represents Title IX’s greatest failure. She calls the lack of opportunities for women coaches a “disturbing trend” that says to girls, “It’s okay for you to play, but you don’t have what it takes to coach.”

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us, when discussing the importance of the Equal Rights Amendment: Any piece of legislation “can be repealed, it can be altered.” Recent events show how true her words are. The Trump Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights jointly rescinded Title IX  protections under the law for transgender students. And the Justice Department narrowed the definition of domestic violence, restricting it to actions that qualify as felony or misdemeanor crimes. Emotional, economic, or psychological abuse that were included in the Obama era definition  are no longer mentioned. And, as the Center for American Progress points out,  “Trump signed a bill to overturn Obama-era protections [of reproductive rights] allowing states to block funding for providers that also offer abortion with nonfederal funds, including Planned Parenthood.” The group provides  reproductive and counseling services related to family planning and contraception to 2.5 million 4 million clients each year.

Justice Ginsburg views passage of the ERA as a way to insure that anti-discrimination laws like Title IX cannot be rolled back. “I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion – that women and men are persons of equal stature – I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.” 

August 29th 2019, 5:14 am

Dear White Women: Are You Behind What’s Suppressing Black Breastfeeding Rates?


Much of the research and analysis of why breastfeeding rates of black women in the U.S. continue to significantly lag behind those of white women have focused on education levels, socioeconomic status, and more recently, the historical trauma and cultural barriers to breastfeeding in the African American community. In the U.S., black women have the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates (64 percent) and the shortest breastfeeding duration (roughly 6.5 weeks) of all ethnic groups.

But much of that research has ignored a vital core issue that continues to suppress and undermine efforts to improve black breastfeeding rates: the role of power dynamics and white privilege. 

What better time than Black Breastfeeding Week, which runs from August 25th to 31st every year, to have an uncomfortable and overdue public conversation about the ways power and white privilege, including the governmental and philanthropic systems that fund breastfeeding interventions, continue to thwart the black woman-led and community-centered work that actually holds the greatest potential to dismantle the racial disparities that have existed for over 40 years.

To be clear, the important work white women have done to catalyze and advance breastfeeding in the U.S and around the world cannot be understated. Women and infants, including myself, are thankful for the ways white-female led organizations and movements have fought for legal protections for breastfeeding, exposed unethical marketing practices of infant formula companies and served as a critical voice for advocacy. They have gotten us very far.

But those gains have come with continued and sustained losses for black women. And the first order of business for changing the future is acknowledging that what you have done in the past hasn’t worked. Now, the white leadership of the breastfeeding movement finds itself facing its greatest existential challenge and perceived professional threat—black and brown women collectively and repeatedly asking them to step aside and make way for them to lead the next iteration of the movement.

Issues of power and privilege are particularly nuanced in lactation circles because breastfeeding advocacy and support is rooted in white liberal values and do-good-ism —after all nobody decides to support breastfeeding to make millions. The assumption is, if you are supporting women to breastfeed, you are a good person.

But good people have biases, too. And at times, white ‘savior-ism’ is at play. Therefore, the very concept that black women in breastfeeding advocacy are saying in effect, “we can save our own communities,” is an affront to the deep personal values and long standing power structure that has been in place for years.

But that is the very same system that’s preventing community-led interventions to fully flourish. Some white women are finding it difficult to not center themselves and insist on being involved, when black women want to create a safe space for black mothers and families. White women have historically dictated which codes or corporate violations we should organize and boycott, and find it difficult to understand when black women have a different perspective based on their experience working in the community. Others are suffering greatly from “What about me?-ism” when, in fact, it is not about you. It is about the communities that are still suffering under disparities and the need to center those most burdened by this problem and look to them for solutions.

In my most recent book, I talk about the unintended consequences of feminism on breastfeeding. Essentially, in the feminist movement’s important fight for women to be viewed as equal to men, what it neglected to fight for were the things that make us uniquely women—such as birth and breastfeeding. Similarly, the white-led breastfeeding movement has its own unintended consequences— black women being left out or left behind. The critical course correction that must come now needs to be led by black women.

Very few black women have reached the highest ranks of lactation consultant, according to the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). As far back as 2012, I wrote in Women’s eNews that trying to find a black IBCLC in many US states felt much like searching for Big Foot. Black IBCLCs are clearly more effective in their own communities, but the pathways are confusing and expensive. And in some locations, white women are charging black women exorbitant rates to get the contacts and mentoring hours needed for certification.

The suppression of black-led interventions is often aided and abetted by government funding systems and philanthropic efforts that mostly fund white mainstream institutions who often bring in black organizations as tokens. For example, the WIC breastfeeding support curriculum, a critical support system for low-income women and infants, has been created by white women. At one point, I joined a number of black women and other women of color to bid for the contract for the curriculum development, and I was told by several kind white female friends not to waste my time with the arduous process because the contract awardee was essentially fixed.

Things have now reached a tipping point. Recently, breastfeeding conferences have become controversial and confrontational, with black women speaking up about unacceptable systems of power, distracting displays of white fragility, the lack of culturally relevant speakers or academic “Columbusing” by white researchers who use black women and their community-based insights for academic gain.

Earlier this year, I refused to speak at a well-respected breastfeeding conference after a white female researcher, who I filed an academic misconduct claim with at Middlebury College for appropriating my field work, was allowed to be a key decision-maker on a panel with three black women on the topic of Black Feminist Thought. Why is a white woman needed in that discussion and why would she have decision-making ability over three black researchers?

The leadership role of white women in the breastfeeding movement goes back to La Leche League, the most well-known mother-led lactation support organization which has fought for legal rights for mothers for years. LLL was incredibly influential in shaping what breastfeeding support looked like for all. For decades, the ‘evidence’ for developing breastfeeding support interventions nationwide were modeled after it. Yet their membership was and remains mostly middle and upper class white women who do not work outside the home. That data set provided zero insight on the cultural barriers in black and Latino communities, the impact of employment, or the role of grandmothers, who have been proven to be critical to continued breastfeeding among women of color. Black women were therefore denied the culturally relevant resources because of the focus on white women. Today, the LLL USA leadership council includes only one woman of color, even though women of color make up 37% percent of the U.S. population.

Thankfully, things are improving. Black-led organizations like Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association (BMBFA) and others are building powerful community-led programs and creating new national models for what breastfeeding support needs to look like in black communities. Efforts such as Black Breastfeeding Week, of which I am a co-founder, center organizations, ideas and innovative events, like last week’s Birth and Breastfeeding Hackathon in Detroit, are part of its annual celebration.

On social media, Facebook pages such as Black Women Do Breastfeed, Black Girls Breastfeeding Club, Black Moms Breastfeed and the Blactavist on Instagram on changing the visibility of black women breastfeeding. And more white women are speaking up and stepping up, unpacking their own white privilege, learning what being an ally means and helping other white women do the same.

We will not eliminate racial disparities or achieve equity in breastfeeding support with white women leading the way. History already tells us that. You have had your time to exclusively lead. Now it is time to also follow, engage as an ally, learn how to listen and be of support, instead of feeling threatened by a black-led movement. As my friend Mars Lord, a powerful birth advocate in London, says, “It’s not pie. A piece for me does not mean less for you.” This idea that black women are taking something from white women is an unspoken problem that must be brought to light.

If your need to center yourself or your ideology supersedes your desire to make sure every black mother and infant receives the best support possible, then we thank your for your service and ask (nicely for the last time) that you get out of the way. 

“The only tired I was, was tired of giving in” —Rosa Parks.

Kimberly Seals Allers in an award-winning journalist, nationally recognized maternal and infant health advocate and an international public speaker. The former editorial director of the Black Maternal Health Project at Women’s eNews, Kimberly is also founder of The Irth App, a digital rating and review platform that addresses bias in healthcare interaction, and the author of five books, including The Big Letdown—How Medicine Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding. Follow her at @iamKSealsAllers on Instagram and Twitter. Learn more at

August 26th 2019, 5:53 pm

For Breastfeeding Awareness Month: How Breast Milk Shapes the Gut


There is simply no better food for an infant than a mother’s breast milk. The body is truly amazing; it creates and produces breast milk to support a growing and developing baby, and it’s why breast milk has often been called nature’s perfect first food. When you think about it, breast milk is an evolutionary guarantee that our offspring will survive—and thrive—long term, which is why the health benefits of breastfeeding are extensive.

Breastfeeding exclusively for at least one full year, which is the critical time frame when the cells of the body and brain are becoming established, has been shown to have significant benefits on a child’s physical and mental health, advantages that carry well into adulthood. This is why one of the first questions that I ask a new patient is whether she or he was breastfed as an infant.

Numerous studies show that children who are breastfed exclusively are less prone—throughout their lives—to obesity, allergies, eczema, diabetes, asthma, respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and digestive problems, as well as being at less risk of developing autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Breastfeeding for at least one year has also been linked to better mental health, including less depression and stress-related and behavioral issues—through age fourteen, though I would argue that this benefit extends into adulthood.

The question is, why does breastmilk have such a powerful effect on health? Yes, breast milk has a rich balance of healthy nutrients for a rapidly developing infant including lactose or milk sugars, protein, and fat. But breast milk’s effects on health has more to do with its impact on early formation of the gut, which has been found in recent years to benefit the body and brain long term. 

The Gut: Where Health Begins

The gut is where our health begins, and it’s immediately after birth that the gut begins to form into anenterotype—a scientific name for an ecosystem—which is conserved for the rest of our lives. In fact, this early shaping of the gut, which includes the formation of critical health-promoting bacterial species, can only happen in infancy and early childhood. Research has shown, that after the age of three—despite any attempts to change this—we simply cannot recreate these same bacterial colonies, which include a core of more than nine bacterial types including StaphylococcusStreptococcusLactobacillus, Bacteroides, and Bifidobacterium.

We can change the numbers of bacteria in the gut through the use of probiotics, but we cannot affect these initial colonies of bacteria. This can only be established in infancy—which is why breast milk is absolutely critical for the lifetime health of the gut. 

• A healthy gut stimulates a strong immune system. The right balance of bacteria in the gut stimulates the healthy development of our immune system. The bacterial colonies found in breast milk, along with something called oligosaccharides, or HMOs, that act as prebiotics to feed gut bacteria and antimicrobials to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria, are the primary stimulus for the development of our immunity.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast milk is also rich in antibodies like IgA, which help to prevent infections and other illnesses by blocking pathogens from attaching to the gut. This explains why breastfed infants are less likely to develop health problems like ear and respiratory infections as infants and later on as adolescents and adults.

• A healthy gut is key to balanced brain health. As the gut develops, so too does the brain. Breast milk is a rich source of essential fatty acids, which are critical for healthy neurological development, and hormones like leptin that seem to have a stress-reducing effect on an infant’s behavior, according to one study in The Journal of Pediatrics.

We also know that the gut communicates with every part of the body, including the nervous system and the brain through something called the gut-brain axis. This means that when the gut is balanced, it sends signals up to the brain allowing for optimal neural development and circuitry. This can result in a calmer overall mood, as well as better regulate her/his neurological behavior.

What to Do If You Can’t Breastfeed?

I understand that sometimes breastfeeding isn’t possible. While the benefits of breastfeeding can’t be completely transferred to formula feeding, it is possible to mitigate some of the effects of not breastfeeding by doing these things:

Do what and when you can. Any breast milk is better than none, so even low milk producers are doing their babies a ton of good by offering some breast milk along with formula. If you can’t physically breastfeed, the latest pumps are discrete and efficient, so it’s easier than ever to incorporate pumping breastmilk into a busy schedule. I recommend doing what you can for as long as your milk supply lasts; if possible, for at least a year.

Choose an organic formula with prebiotics, probiotics, and essential fatty acids. While formulas can’t match breast milk’s composition, the newest formulas do contain some essential components that can help feed a baby’s gut.

Bottom line: Breast milk is absolutely the best form of food for your baby, but your infant can still have a healthier gut even if you have to supplement or feed your baby formula.

Kristine Gedroic, MD, is author of A Nation of Unwell and Medical Director of the Gedroic Medical Institute in Morristown, NJ. She is Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

August 21st 2019, 5:34 pm

One Man Asks: Are We Finally Ready to Put Shooters’ Gender at Center of Gun Debate?


The killing sprees in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio on August 3rd and 4th brought the number of mass shootings in the first 215 days of the year to 251. In the United States of Ammunition, that’s more than one per day. What’s going on? To paraphrase James Carville, “It’s the masculinity, people.”

It’s infuriating to me that because of who did the shooting (white men) that much of the media, politicians, and pundits rarely cite the most significant common denominator of virtually every mass murder in the US—the shooter’s gender! Patrick Crusius, the 21-year-old Texan charged with the El Paso murders, is an avowed white supremacist. The slain Dayton killer, Connor Betts, had previously compiled a “rape list” of females he wanted to sexually assault. Both are poster boys of toxic masculinity.

Any hope we’ll end the madness must begin by acknowledging that it’s almost always men doing the shootings. Until we make gender central to our efforts to prevent mass shootings, we are on a fool’s errand. I have been repeating this message for twenty years, since Columbine, and even before there was Tree of Life, Thousand Oaks, Parkland, Sutherland Springs, and Las Vegas, there was Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Aurora. All male shooters; usually white supremacists.

Let’s also acknowledge what’s not being examined—how we socialize boys and how little attention we give disaffected men. Think about the loner, the male outcast in high school. (Connor Betts’s ex-girlfriend told MSNBC that the Dayton killer had “no support system.”) Because we know how alienated nearly all perpetrators are, not making gender central to the national conversation reveals a blindness of the highest order. Ignoring this fact just escalates the danger.

Don’t get me wrong. Increase gun regulations—the tougher, the better. Step up pressure to shutter the NRA. Support the Giffords Law Center, Guns Down America, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Brady Campaign. But we need a nationwide uprising. Demand Congress authorize the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) study how we socialize males, beginning in preschool. Imagine, if from the age of three, we followed males, not just to identify troubled boys, but also to better develop curricula to cultivate their emotional intelligence and enhance their sense of connection. A pilot program could be rolled out next spring through Head Start.

What role could the authentic media play? How about a Frontlines investigation on manhood and violence? Or, a John Oliver Last Week Tonight special. Newspapers in the cities where shootings have occurred could collaborate to produce a multipart nation-wide series on “Men, Masculinity, and Mass Shootings.” The networks and cable news could do specials, too. Since the #MeToo movement began the media’s been pretty successful connecting the dots between toxic masculinity and sexual assault. Why the blind spot around mass shooters?

For years, I’ve been part of a global movement of anti-sexist men working in seven hundred NGOs in seventy countries committed to transforming masculinity. From preventing violence against women and girls to advocating for women’s reproductive health and rights; from campaigns championing involved fatherhood to raising healthy boys, the magazine I edit, Voice Male, has been chronicling these efforts for years.

So ask yourself: Why does virtually no one think about gender when considering mass shootings or, for that matter, when contemplating how to best protect people of color, LGBTQIA folks, Muslims and Jews when they are attacked? Because we assume the perpetrators will be men, and usually white men. If women had been the shooters in El Paso or Dayton, that’s all we’d be talking about, right? (Ditto if the shooters were persons of color.)

It is the masculinity, people. Addressing mass shootings without making gender central to the debate is like expecting a three-legged stool to stand on two legs. Challenging weak or no-gun laws and pointing out secondary mental health challenges are not enough. We must keep the focus on masculinity.

If you agree, do more than lobby your elected representatives. Blast social media. Wake up your faith communities and your schools. Demand media coverage, too. To honor the memories of the murdered, and to comfort the wounded and their families, it’s the very least we can do.

Rob Okun is editor of Voice Male magazine and a member of the board of North American MenEngage. He was named one the 21 Leaders for the 21st century by Women’s eNews in 2018. A new edition of his anthology, VOICE MALE: The Untold Story of the Profeminist Men’s Movement, was published in 2018. He can be reached at

August 16th 2019, 1:14 am

When “Common Ground Meets Common Sense”


Finding common ground requires a willingness to do so. Once identified, common ground must be tempered with common sense.

That inherent violence and degradation is ingrained in the sex trade is not up for debate. The statistics are in, the research is sound, and testimonies to that effect of those surviving it or who have survived abound. The overwhelming majority of those bought and sold in the sex trade come from marginalized communities, due to race or gender non-conforming identities and are exploited due to that marginalized status.

I look at this through the lens of an exited survivor leader, a citizen of this great nation and the larger global community, and for the last fifteen years, I have worked for one of the largest law enforcement agencies in Illinois. Daily, striving to offer victims, including minors’ services, while holding sex buyers and other exploiters accountable. 

With fifteen years out of “the life,” free from the pain of separation from loved ones, which prostitution causes, I am terrified that a number of states and jurisdictions in the US are considering full decriminalization of the sex trade. This would mean laws that fully decriminalize sex buying, pimping, brothel owning and every other commercial sex establishment. These are indeed perilous times. Now more than ever must we find common ground and use common sense.

For the most part there is already consensus, to decriminalize the prostituted person or, as a small percentage self-identify, a “sex worker.” Prostitution, however, is neither sex nor work, but a place where people are deeply abused, or even die.  It’s common sense to provide exit services for them as well.

How can one in good conscience let exploiters and sexual predators off the hook by not holding accountable those who prey on and exploit the marginalized for the profit of others?

Countless acts of violence have been recorded in the petri dish that is the system of legalized brothels in Nevada. Over the last forty-eight years, we have witnessed what may be the longest failed research experiment in the country, fostering crimes against humanity.

Adults and children alike, primarily women and girls, but also men and boys and LGBTQ, must not be sacrificed to prolong an already failed business model.

I have faith that common sense will prevail and jurisdictions such as New York and our nation’s capital, the District of Columbia, will not pimp their own citizens.

Common sense dictates that we must no longer sacrifice Black and Brown women and girls for the profitable pleasures of the master. If we do not use common sense, we will lose all sense of civility.

Perceived consent is tainted by unknowns remaining unknown and simply not caring about the individual being purchased. My goodness, even when we buy goods at the market, we expect the condition of what the transaction results in to be good.

How can an individual be in good condition, emotionally, psychologically and physically when repeatedly raped and often met with violence, abandoning by force and economic necessity, their most prized possession, themselves?

Sex buyers, pimps and brothel owners hide their crimes behind legal tender, at the door, the foot of the bed, or behind the dumpster in the alley.

I am a survivor of prostitution. I survived vaginal rape, sodomy, beatings and kidnapping at the hands of sex buyers. I am one of the hundreds of survivors who recently signed an [Open Letter] to Presidential candidates asking them to think twice before they endorsed prostitution as “work” or called for full decriminalization of pimping. I lived to share our pain, lived to fight another day, lived to represent the missing and murdered and those who can’t publicly come forth, fearing retribution from pimps they have fled or shame from societal judgment.

I believe that well-meaning people – including Presidential candidates – are being sold a bill of goods by a small, privileged group with their own interests who, for the most part, have resources and therefore a megaphone to illegitimately speak for the vast majority of people, adults and children, who have been (and are) bought and sold in this inherently violent and exploitative industry.

Common ground means we support law enforcement’s growing consensus to stop arresting and criminalizing those bought and sold in prostitution.  Common ground must extend to offer comprehensive services and exit strategies should they wish. Common sense means you penalize those who harm. That is known as Equality Model. Equality for those left behind. It’s common sense.

Rev. Dr. Marian Hatcher is a Survivor Leader and Advocate in the Office of Public Policy at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, Cook County, IL. She is a 2014 recipient of the Pathbreaker award and in 2016 she was honored by President Obama with a Presidential lifetime volunteer achievement award.

August 13th 2019, 8:19 pm

How to Help Those Affected by the ICE Raids in Mississippi


The interview with eleven-year-old Magdalena Gomez Gregorio, who tearfully begged for her father’s release last Wednesday after the largest single-state immigration raid in U.S. history, is just the latest of the reports continuing to unfold surrounding the ICE raids of seven agricultural processing plants across Mississippi. These atrocious ICE raids have had devastating consequences for immigrants and their families across the country.

The workers at these agricultural processing plants were working at their jobs one minute, and in the next minute, their entire lives were upended. Raids like these result in significant trauma for the workers and the family members who are directly impacted. They also ostensibly send a message to these companies and those in power that they can treat workers – especially the most vulnerable among us – in any way they choose.

Furthermore, these raids demonstrate that our Latinx and immigrant communities are under increasing attack. Our community is still reeling from the massacre in El Paso but, yet again, we are scapegoated, made the subject of hate speech and hate crimes, imprisoned in camps, deprived of necessities like food, and water, and denied dignified treatment.

In every way possible these workers and community members are being told: You are not wanted here, you are not safe here, your children have no security here.

The raids in Mississippi illustrate what we at Justice for Migrant Women know to be true; that targeting and mistreating immigrants, many of whom are Latinx, is not just happening at the borders. Last year, over one-hundred children in Ohio started their summer break reeling from immigration raids. This year, children in Alabama and Mississippi are starting their school year begging for their parents to be returned to them.

The next few days will prove critical to help families who have been ripped apart by United States governmental agencies. We have an opportunity, right now, to show who we really are and that starts with love. Action must be taken by each of us to support groups on the ground. To support these children. To speak out for our communities.

A donation page has been created to support the children and families impacted by the immigration raids in Mississippi. By donating, you’re supporting the critical work of the ACLU of Mississippi, El Pueblo Mississippi, MacArthur Justice Center, Mississippi Center for Justice, Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance, and the Southeast Immigrant Rights Network, as each of these groups organize humanitarian support for impacted families and rebuild the lives of the children whose lives are forever changed.

Mónica Ramírez, is an advocate, organizer, and attorney fighting to eliminate gender-based violence and secure gender equity, and is the founder of the nonprofit, Justice for Migrant Women.

About Justice for Migrant Women: Justice for Migrant Women uses education, public awareness and advocacy in order to ensure that all migrant women are guaranteed human and civil rights, including the freedom of mobility, the ability to live and work with dignity, and the right to be free of threats of violence against them and their families, whether they are migrating across borders, around regions or within states. Find more about their work on Instagram and Twitter at @mujerxsrising and @monicaramirezdc.

August 12th 2019, 7:49 pm

Four Days in El Paso: Of Rock Stars, Rhetoric and Words


There was a lot of rhetoric being bantered about these last few days in El Paso, following the killing of twenty-two people of color by a white male shooter last Sunday. Which political leaders garnered the largest crowds when visiting this hurting city; who did the surviving victims really want to meet with, or actually avoid; and was the US President truly treated like a ‘rock star’ by those who were still recovering from their injuries. The jury is still out on all of these.

As a journalist, it sometimes seemed insurmountable, standing alongside the makeshift memorial overflowing with teddy bears, flowers, photos and the names of those who perished carved into simple white crosses honoring each of them. I was there to provide the truth for all to bear witness, and to even help fuel change, but I often felt helpless, beset by baseless and false rhetoric claimed by those with alternate public and political agendas. Could words ever be enough? I often wondered to myself. I felt language had become much too limited.

Yet I was saved…saved by the one true rock star who was undeniably present, perhaps not physically, but in every honest and heartfelt word expressed at that makeshift memorial. But this savior would not have cared, or even dared, to publicly claim that title or assume that role. For she already owned it, silently, allowing her life and her work to speak for itself.

Yes, Morrison was on my mind. Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize- and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who died on Monday at the age of 88, was very much alive. “This is the time when artists go to work. Not when everything is alright. Not when it looks sunny. It’s when it’s hard.” Toni Morrison once said.

But one not be a professional writer, or artist of any kind, to use the power of words, or to understand its promise for others. Wordsmiths of every age, education, and ethnicity were there in El Paso expressing their sadness, hope and even rage, on signs adorning the makeshift memorial overflowing with personal tributes. So in tribute to their courage I am providing you, our readers, with an open window to some of their most powerfully written words, and messages to live by. And, since all writers stand on the shoulders of others, it is Toni Morrison’s corresponding messages of truth and hope that you will find included alongside them. For truly, as she said during her Nobel Prize address in 1993: “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” 

“Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” 
– Toni Morrison, Beloved
“If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” 
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.” 
Toni Morrison
“The function of freedom is to free someone else.” 
Toni Morrison
“You are your best thing” 
Toni Morrison, Beloved
“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” 
–  Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
“Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” 
Toni Morrison, Beloved

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” 

Rest In Power

August 10th 2019, 3:25 pm

Day Two in El Paso: “I Wish You Could Have Been There To See It.”


As soon as I awoke yesterday morning in my El Paso hotel room, I turned on the local news station to find out whether Donald Trump was still planning to travel to El Paso to meet with the shooting victims and their families, even though a number of legislative leaders here did not want him to do so. It was confirmed that he was indeed planning to travel to El Paso’s University Medical Center, with an approximate arrival time of 12:30pm.

In hopes of covering Trump’s arrival and his meeting with the shooting victims and their families, I arrived at 11:30am, parked off site, and then crossed the street to the Medical Center. The streets were completely closed off by police cars, and armed officers were starting to circle the building. But I walked right in, through the large entrance doors that automatically opened for me.

I was wearing a black cap, aviator sunglasses, and a black fanny pack around my waste, which carried my cell phone, passport, credit cards and some cash. In my large black satchel, which was draped over my shoulder, was an iPad, a bottle of water, and charging equipment.

No one at the hospital asked who I was, what I was doing there, or what was in my bag. Walking through the lobby, I found a table just beyond the registration desk where I sat down, plugged in…and waited.

Approximately thirty minutes later, the area just beyond the registration desk, and directly in front of where I was already sitting, was roped off. Security guards were positioned on each side, as a man wearing a hospital ID instructed them, “No one is allowed past these ropes without an official ID.” I was sitting just beyond the roped off entrance and, still, no one asked me to leave, or inquired about who I was or what was in my large black bag. 

As it got closer to Trump’s arrival, which was now rescheduled for 2:30pm, additional guards appeared as security increased. After remaining seated for a couple of hours, I asked a staff member for the closest bathroom, but she told me that the only one was on the other side of the registration desk. I knew if I walked past that desk, I would never be allowed back in. So I wandered around the hospital’s first floor to see if I could find one on my own, which I did. I felt completely free to go anywhere, take any of the elevators to any floor, including the floors where patients are being cared for, and to the ICU, where the victims of the mass shooting were recovering. I even walked past a number of security guards on my way, including Department of Homeland Security officers, with their guns strapped to their waists to protect any threats to Donald Trump. Still, no one asked me about my identity.

I wondered how Trump would have felt, had he known that an unidentified woman, who traveled hundreds of miles from another state, carrying an non-inspected bag, was waiting for hours in the building he was planning to visit, and specifically for him to arrive. Would he have felt uncomfortable…threatened…even terrified? Would he have even cancelled his visit for security reasons?

This is what ordinary civilians in our country are feeling every single day, and no number of police officers or security guards with weapons will sufficiently protect us. For people of color, this fear is magnified, and rightly so, by the anti-immigration rhetoric being spewed at the highest levels of our country’s office. Truly, if an unidentified person can walk freely through a secured building, roped off with armed officers at every turn, what protections are there for those who are in buildings where there is no security at all, I wondered.

Trump ultimately arrived at the Medical Center at 4:30pm. But no one would have known, since every precaution was taken to ensure his arrival was done in secret. His safety was completely protected. Journalists were not even allowed into the rooms where Trump was supposed to be meeting with the victims and their families although, according to an article in today’s Washington Post, the actuality of these meetings are now questionable.

Yet anyone could have walked into one of the Medical Center’s elevators before or after his arrival, pressed the button to be taken directly to the ICU where the shooting victims were being cared for, opening them up to the possibility of being victimized, yet again. I guess it’s easy to keep weapons out on the streets, and in the hands of just about anybody who wants one, when one’s body is guarded twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Clearly, for everyone else, it is only the complete removal of these weapons that will provide safety for those who do not live with this level of security.

Once it became clear that there would be no Trump sighting after all, I walked out of the Medical Center toward my car across the highway, but was stopped by a member of the Secret Service. “You can’t leave until the President leaves,” he told me. “We are trying to keep the protestors away from the hospital, and if they see a civilian like you walking in this sealed-off area, they will have cause to be here as well.”  Learning there were protestors just a few hundred yards away, I then tried to leave the hospital grounds through another road in hopes of interviewing them, since their voices were not being heard. But I was stopped again, this time by officers holding rifles that rivaled their own physical size.

Exhausted, I then walked to one of the benches outside the Medical Center, and sat in 100-degree weather alongside another woman, an older woman of Mexican descent, who was complaining about having to sit in the exhausting heat, and couldn’t wait to get back home. I shared my bottle of cold water with her, as we both sat there, and we waited.

A building that stands a quarter-mile from University Medical Center.

Approximately thirty minutes later, the police cars which were blocking all roads and entrances to the hospital, started to depart. This signaled that Trump had officially left, although there was no sign of him doing so. As I drove back to my hotel, I was particularly struck by the sight of a huge building located just one quarter-mile from the Medical Center, emblazoned with the words, ‘GUNS AMMO. EASY PARCEL SHIPPING,’ along with a contact phone number in equally large letters beside it. While the hypocrisy of this sign struck me, it couldn’t have served as a truer metaphor for what Trump said after his hospital visit that day, where no journalists were allowed: “The respect for the office of the presidency, I wish you could have been in there to see it. I wish you could have been in there.”

August 8th 2019, 12:08 pm

Of Shooters, and Hooters, in El Paso and Beyond


It was not my original reason to fly from New York City to El Paso, Texas, this past Monday. I planned to travel to the borders of Texas and Mexico to document the truth about the migrant conditions there. As a journalist, I needed to see it for myself, rather than rely on the reports of others. And as Executive Director of Women’s eNews, I felt our readers deserved to know the truth about the conditions there. Women’s eNews, as a non-profit organization, can report on it like few other news outlets can, since we are not beholden to any corporate funding or interests, thereby devoid of any outside influences.

But just two days before my arrival, El Paso became known for something that rivaled its popularity for its proximity to the Mexican border. It was the day that a gunman opened fire in a Wal Mart there, killing twenty-two people.

The hotel where I had already booked my stay was located just one-quarter mile from where the shooting took place. Intent on driving straight to the scene of the shooting upon my arrival, it was impossible to get to it since all of the nearby roads were blocked by police vehicles. A makeshift memorial was therefore set up at a location on higher ground providing the clearest view of the massive store below. Flowers, teddy bears, red balloon-shaped hearts, and white crosses bearing the names of those who were massacred, along with their photos, were laid across the concrete ground in a straight line, overflowing on all sides as the day wore on into night. Prayers were said. Countless tears were shed.

A mother and her 11 year-old son offer free hugs.

Yet I found it ironic that this memorial was actually located just outside the popular restaurant franchise known as Hooters. While I understood that its location provided the best view for visitors to pay their respects to the innocent victims who lost their lives in the sprawling Wal Mart store just below, I couldn’t help but think about how this entire scene served as a metaphor for where the real responsibility for mass shootings mostly lies, and our country’s resistance to acknowledge it as such.

For those who are not familiar with the Hooters restaurant chain, it operates close to five-hundred locations and franchises around the world, including forty-four locations throughout the US. Their wait staff is primarily comprised of young women whose required uniforms include tight-fitting and low-cut tops, with high-cut shorts. The name ‘hooters,’ in fact, is an American slang term for women’s breasts. And it is objectification of women, like these hostesses who are forced to wear revealing clothing, that has been shown to provide a direct link to male aggression toward them.

This is true of the Sutherland Springs church shooter in 2017, 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley, who was kicked out of the Air Force for “bad conduct” that included assaulting his wife and her child.

This is true of Connor Betts, the shooter behind the Dayton, Ohio, shooting on Sunday, August 4th, whose former classmate told CNN that Betts kept a “rape list” for girls. Another former classmate said Betts would talk about violence and use harsh language about women.

This is true of Omar Mateen, the man who carried out the Orlando shooting at the Pulse Nightclub, who reportedly beat his wife and called her the Afghan word for “slut.” Further, both shooters in San Bernardino and the Las Vegas killings at Mandalay Bay had stalked or abused women as well.

And while Patrick Crusius, who is responsible for the Sunday’s mass shooting in El Paso, did not mention any specific references about anger against women, he did post racist comments online suggesting “race mixing” is destroying the US. We also know that white supremacy and misogyny are closely related.

Yet none of this should come as a surprise since, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, the majority of mass shootings in the US are in some way related to domestic or family violence. Further, a recent report by Everytown indicates that in 54% of mass shootings, the killer also shot a current or former intimate partner or family member. 

What was surprising, however, was that Hooters’ objectification of its female staff inside its restaurant was allowed to flow to the outside as well, where a small stand was set up to provide complimentary water, snacks and, even, hot dogs to first responders, the victims’ families and friends, and all others who came to show their respect for the innocent lives that were lost. And while this support is to be commended, it was in direct contrast to the environment displayed inside the restaurant, where there were signs hanging on the walls that read ‘Please Don’t Touch The Wildlife,’ t-shirts for sale with the American flag emblazoned on them, but with the word HOOTERS printed where the blue background and white stars would normally appear, and a selection of beer and shot glasses molded in the voluptuous silhouette of a typical Hooters server. The spouts to drink from were located exactly where the server’s head would normally be.

Yet this paradox of displaying support for the victims who were murdered while simultaneously reinforcing objectification of women was not the only example of hypocrisy on display. Similarly, Donald Trump’s speech just one day earlier, when he stepped up to the White House podium on the day of the El Paso shooting to say that “hate has no place in America,” rivaled this exhibition.

Sign at El Paso makeshift memorial (translated): Mr. Trump, please, no more acts of terrorism, no more hatred acts. We, also, are a Hispanic country and it is not worth it to have so much hatred against Mexicans.
We are three little girls and we are US citizens, our parents are Mexicans, and we are all afraid of coming out of our house. We hope you read this.
God bless you.
                       El Paso strong

By increasingly stoking racial and misogynistic tensions, from telling female Congresswomen of color to “go back to their country of origin” and encouraging chants of ‘Send Her Back,” at his rallies; to declaring that there were “fine people on both sides” at a white supremacists’ rally in Charlottesville, Va.; to using the word “animals” to describe people crossing the border while calling Mexicans rapists, murderers and criminals numerous times, the rhetoric is becoming more dangerous, as he is appearing more responsible.

And yet today, he will be visiting both El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio to try to deliver a message of national unity, while ignoring calls not to attend by many leaders of these two cities who believe he has encouraged the shooters and has fanned the flames of division.

I will continue to report form El Paso on this and other related issues today, and over the next few days, as Women’s eNews continues to provide you with information you can count on, and believe in. Thank you for your support in enabling us to do so.

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August 6th 2019, 11:50 pm

Teen Voices: How the Matilda Effect Affects Women in STEM


Genetics — it is a simple word that reminds us why we are who we are, yet it wasn’t until 1905 that the concept of inheritable traits began to be understood. Who were some of the original scientists studying genetics? If we think back to middle school biology, this names include Gregor Mendel, Watson and Crick? Maybe even Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace? But behind the scenes, there were others who were making just as revolutionary discoveries, but were robbed of recognition merely because of their gender.

This has been attributed to a phenomenon best-known as the Matilda Effect, defined as the refusal to acknowledge scientific discoveries made by female researchers.

Nettie Stevens, who was born in 1861, fell victim to this phenomenon. Responsible for groundbreaking discoveries, her contributions led to the discovery that an organism’s sex is determined by its chromosomes. Through her research on mealworms, she found that males produce sperm through X and Y chromosomes, while females produce reproductive cells using only X chromosomes. Thomas Hunt Morgan, another rising geneticist at that time, is often incorrectly associated with these discoveries because he credited himself for discovering the genetic basis for sex determination. He framed the research as his own while corresponding with Nettie Stevens and asking her for details regarding her discovery.

While there is a lack of acknowledgment about women who have made important scientific discoveries, there are also fewer women who are hired for scientific research positions. In fact, according to the UNESCO Report on Science, only 29% of all employed scientific researchers were women. Furthermore, only 3% of all Scientific Nobel Prizes have been awarded to women.

One example of a woman who was deserving of a Scientific Nobel Prize, but was never received one, was Rosalind Franklin. Working as a research associate at King’s College in England in 1951, she began her research on the structure of DNA using advanced X-Ray- diffraction techniques. She soon met Maurice Wilkins, a researcher who was leading a team of scientists working on a separate DNA project, who also assumed that she was an assistant rather than the leader of her own project. At the same time, James Watson and Francis Crick, both at Cambridge University, were researching the structure of DNA. When Watson and Crick started working with Wilkins to advance their research, Wilkins ended up showed them one of Rosalind Franklin’s research images of DNA, but without her knowledge. This image ultimately enabled the three men to deduce the structure of DNA, and they published their article about their discoveries in the same issue of the journal Nature as Rosalind Franklin’s had, who wrote a more detailed article revealing her discoveries. Rosalind Franklin’s research was a crucial turning point in the three men’s ultimate discoveries; research. however, her research proved to be irrelevant when it came to awarding credit. Only Watson, Crick, and Wilkins were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

According to the US National Science Foundation’s annual census (2017), male researchers with PhDs are expected to earn a median annual salary of $88,000 dollars, compared to $70,000 dollars that women at the same educational level. Further, women with PhDs that are more often hired for positions in academia, rather than as science researchers.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of organizations and movements that are working toward the advancement of women in research fields internationally. The Association for Women in Science helps by raising awareness of the gender barriers preventing the advancement of women in STEM fields. It also pushes for policy changes at the national level, working towards fair pay and a supportive work climate. In 1990, the National Research Council established the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine in order to advocate girls and women in the STEM fields. Also, in 2005, the European Platform of Women Scientists was founded to join networks of women scientists to promote equal opportunities in research fields for all STEM disciplines. This platform works to finding position for women researchers in the European Union, as well as giving women a voice for policy change.

 If we want equality for women and girls around the world, we need to develop young girls’ early interest in STEM subjects. We also need to support them throughout their journey so that they can earn recognition for their hard work, be hired for scientific research positions, and win well-deserved awards for their contribution to science.

Arshia Verma is a rising sophomore at the Math and Science Academy at Dulles High School in Sugar Land, TX (near Houston). She is 14 years old.

August 1st 2019, 9:55 pm

Get Off My Nipple: Stop the Baby Food Industry from Milking Profits


If you have been on the breastfeeding journey or supported a loved one through it, you may have heard these myths: 

“Breastmilk alone is not enough.”

“Breastfeeding is old-fashioned.”

“Breastfeeding is for poor people who cannot afford formula or baby food.”

“Breastfeeding for a long period will make your breasts sag.”

I am no stranger to these myths. In fact, every year during World Breastfeeding Week celebrations (the first week of August), I find myself reflecting on my breastfeeding experience and the pressures parents on this journey are currently facing.

About five years ago, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Zhane Lindiwe. I was particularly thankful that I had an easy pregnancy, which helped tp well-position me to commit to breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months. My mother is a nurse and I grew up in Kenya, where the social setup promotes breastfeeding and associated health benefits to both mother and baby.

But while I enjoyed a lot of support from family and friends, I found the first few weeks challenging. I encountered strangers and loved ones alike, caught up in breastfeeding myths and misconceptions spread by the  aggressive marketing campaigns of powerful corporations. These myths are passed on as ‘culture’ from one generation to another. This is difficult to resist especially when you factor in the sore and sometimes cracked/bleeding nipples, the sleepless nights, engorged breasts and intermittent flow of breastmilk, just to name a few of the challenges.

However, challenges that inform breastfeeding misconceptions work in favor of a $70 billion baby food industry, which impedes the confidence of mothers and undermines our breastfeeding choices to drive up sales of breastmilk substitutes. This industry is dependent on, and reinforces, long-standing and interlocking systems of oppression based on colonial histories including gender, class, race, caste and ethnicity.

Breastfeeding — A Radical Act

Associated with the “uncultured poor,” breastfeeding was frowned upon during 17th century Europe. But when breastfed children seemed to experience better health outcomes, slave owners began to force enslaved mothers to become ‘wet nurses’ to their children. Ruling class mothers could then avoid what they felt was the ‘messy’ part of motherhood and maintain the hope of perky breasts, while allowing their children the health benefits of breastfeeding.

Today, countries in the global North have made significant progress due to policies such as longer parental leave, which allow women to embrace breastfeeding. According to the NGO Save the Children’s Breastfeeding Policy Scorecard, Norway, which has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world, reports ninety-nine percent of babies breastfed at birth, and seventy per cent still breastfeeding exclusively at three months.

Globally, feminists have long upheld the right to breastfeed in public within hypersexualized cultures where displayed breasts are seen as sexual objects. This has birthed campaigns like #FreeTheNipple, which challenge the sexualization of female bodies but fell short in it’s feminist imaginations by excluding queer, trans, gender non-conforming and racialized narratives.

Milking Profits at the Expense of Global South Mothers

Breastfeeding myths continue to play a significant role in profit-motivated corporate strategies to capture markets today. According to an investigation by The Guardian and Save the Children, “Companies continue to use aggressive, clandestine and often illegal methods to target mothers in the poorest parts of the world so as to encourage them to choose powdered milk over breastfeeding.” This has compromised infants’ health and even led to infant deaths.

Mothers in Global Southern countries remain particularly vulnerable. For example, Asia represents 53% of the global market share of infant formula. Witnessing their sales flatten in the Global North countries, corporations are taking advantage of weak legislation in the global South to increase their sales of substitutes. In 2018, global sales were forecast to rise by four percent, according to Euromonitor, with most of that growth occurring in ‘developing nations.’ Essentially, the colonial legacy has taken the form of neo-colonialism, with global North-based corporations profiting in the global South, at the expense of the people – particularly women and their infants.

Yet these same corporations are increasingly emboldened in their actions, and use more overt tactics as they consolidate economic power, which is quickly translating into political power. In traditional human rights safe-keeping spaces such as the United Nations, we are witnessing ‘corporate capture’ with agendas that prioritize corporate profits over people’s lives and the environment. 

Ducts of Hope: From corporate power to corporate accountability?

In 2018, Ecuador tabled a resolution at the World Health Assembly (WHA) supporting breastfeeding. The US government was not in favor of this resolution and proceeded to threaten countries with trade sanctions and withdrawals of military support if they endorsed it. They went even further by threatening to cut funds to the World Health Organization (WHO). (It’s worth noting that the infant formula giant Abbott Laboratories contributed to Trump’s 2017 inauguration ceremony.) Despite these threats from Trump’s administration, however, the resolution ultimately passed.

So while we celebrate gains made around the world during this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, the ongoing battle over breastfeeding begs for a moment of reflection, especially due to the imminent threat of breast feeding choices of mothers in the Global South. Let us join with global feminist mobilization to help ensure that all parents are supported with a safe environment to make the best feeding choices for their infants, free from powerful corporate influence.

Felogene Anumo is a  pan-African feminist activist who is passionate about using her creativity, politics and intellect to strengthen feminist movements to build collective power. She co-leads the Building Feminist Economies program at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). During her free time, she loves to explore the world with and through the lens of her five-year-old daughter. 

July 29th 2019, 9:35 pm

Rich Woman, Poor Woman: What Wealth Really Means


Women’s eNews Executive Director, Lori Sokol, PhD, grew up in the Brooklyn public housing projects.”We could not even afford rolls for hamburgers,” she tells the Wall Street Journal’s Veronica Dagher. But none of this would have mattered, she says, had she been provided with a family that supported her goals, rather than discouraged them. Listen to what Lori has to say about how her passion for human rights developed, the continuing struggle to make a difference amid constant battles of inequality, and what wealth truly means to her: Lori Sokol: Empowering Women Beyond Societal Limits

Abigail Disney is an heiress to her grandfather’s as co-founder of the Walt Disney Company. She’s also a philanthropist who has given away more than $70 million, and she is a Twitter queen. Her tweet storm recently went viral when she called Disney CEO Bob Iger’s $66 million salary “insane.” and expressed her fury about what she calls the poor working conditions and low salaries of the people who take your tickets at Disneyland. Listen to what Abby has to say about being rich and being poor on this episode of “Now What?” where she is interviewed by Carole Zimmer, and which was produced with help from Stephanie Hou, Steve Zimmer and Gabe Zimmer. Audio production in by Nick Ciavatta.

July 25th 2019, 2:35 pm

OTC Birth Control Pills: Answering Attacks on Access


This is a deeply uncertain time for access to all forms of reproductive health care in the United States. At the same time that new bans on abortion are cropping up across the country, we’re also seeing efforts to limit access to contraception and family planning care. The Trump administration is beginning to enforce its  ‘domestic gag rule,’ which forces clinics to choose between receiving federal family planning funds and offering comprehensive reproductive care, including even referral for abortion, to their patients. The administration is also in court trying to implement a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement, which could deny workers insurance coverage of birth control based on their employers’ religious beliefs.

As a researcher and practicing OBGYN, I recognize that these ideologically motivated policies threaten the ability of millions of Americans to obtain affordable birth control that meets their individual needs. They also ignore the urgent need to expand access to contraception. Although rates of unintended pregnancy have gone down in recent years, studies still show that 45% of all pregnancies are reported to be unwanted or mistimed. 

Fortunately, there are also efforts underway to advance policies that expand access to oral contraceptive pills (OCPs), one of the most commonly used methods of birth control in the United States. For example, seventeen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws mandating insurance coverage for a twelve-month supply of OCPs; new research shows that allowing patients to receive a one-year supply of pills with a single prescription reduced both health spending and rates of unintended pregnancy, compared to a three-month supply limit. In addition, twelve states and DC also allow pharmacists to prescribe OCPs and sometimes other hormonal methods as well. 

But ultimately, if we want to truly make birth control pills accessible to everyone who wants them, one essential step will be making them available over the counter (OTC) without a prescription and covered by insurance.

There’s a large volume of evidence in support of making OCPs available OTC. OCPs are some of the best studied medicines on the market, and research overwhelmingly shows that they are safe enough to be available without a prescription, likely even safer than common OTC medications like Advil and Tylenol. Some people have health conditions that might make birth control pills less safe or effective, but studies show that they can use simple checklists on their own to figure out whether the pill is right for them. Other research shows that women who get the pill OTC use it longer than women who obtain pills by prescription. OTC access also enjoys the support of major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Not only is making birth control pills available OTC common sense, it’s also popular. Polls consistently find that most Americans support OTC access to OCPs. And there’s a demonstrated desire for them as well: a 2015 survey I co-led found that 39% of adult women ages 18-44 said they were likely to use an OTC pill if one existed, as did nearly one-third of young women aged 15-17. 

Given the raging debate around contraceptive access in the United States today, making birth control pills available OTC may seem like a tall order. But many other countries have already taken this step. Other research I co-authored found that in more than 100 countries around the world, women can obtain OCPs directly in a pharmacy, sometimes with the assistance of a pharmacist. 

At least two companies are doing the necessary research to submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval, but an OTC birth control pill is likely still years away. In the meantime, lawmakers can lay the groundwork for ensuring that contraception is as accessible as possible. Last month, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) introduced the “Affordability is Access” Act in their respective chambers, legislation that would require insurance companies to cover any OTC birth control pill without copay and without requiring a prescription. And other Republican-led proposals to support making OCPs available without a prescription, while sometimes flawed, show that even in this heated political environment, there’s a widespread consensus that it’s both the smart thing and the right thing to do. 

The challenges we confront around reproductive health access today require bold, forward-thinking solutions. To ensure that Americans nationwide can access and afford the contraception they want and need, it’s time to bring the pill over the counter.

About the Author: Dr. Daniel Grossman, is director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH)

July 24th 2019, 4:18 pm

Such A Pretty Girl (book excerpt)


In her poignant and gripping memoir, leading disability rights activist Nadina LaSpina shares her unforgettable story and reveals how the disability rights movement changed the course of history.

“Such a pretty girl” was a refrain that Nadina LaSpina heard frequently in her native Sicily. What was sometimes added and always implied was that it’s a shame that she’s disabled. Contracting polio as a baby, LaSpina was the frequent target of pity by those who dismissed her and her life as hopeless. Arriving in the US at thirteen, she spent most of her adolescence in hospitals in a fruitless and painful quest for a cure, which made her feel that her body no longer belonged to her. Against the political tumult of the 60s, LaSpina rebelled both personally and politically. She refused to accept both the limitations placed on her by others and the dominant narrative surrounding disability. As an activist, LaSpina has been arrested numerous times and she was an important figure in some key struggles, including those that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Her story is at once a story of an activist, a disabled woman in an ableist world, an immigrant, and a feminist.

Chapter 1


When I was four or five I wanted to be ugly, and got very angry when people said I was pretty.

“I’m ugly, brutta, say that I’m ugly.”

But no one listened to me.

Che bella bambina, what a pretty little girl,” they all said. And inevitably, they added, “Che peccato! What a shame!”

There was such sorrow in their voices, such an anguished look on their faces… I didn’t want my being pretty to make people sad. Better to be ugly, I thought.

I especially didn’t want my being pretty to make my mother sad. As soon as she heard those words, even if she had been laughing a minute before, my mother’s eyes filled with tears and her face turned into a mask of agony. At those times, my mother looked just like the Addolorata.

The Addolorata, the “sorrowful woman,” was the name of a statue in the church across the street from where we lived, in the little town of Riposto, in Sicily. It was a statue of Mary holding the dead Christ, a Sicilian version of Michelangelo’s Pietà. The mother dressed in gold-embroidered purple silk, grief carved deeply into her painted face, on her lap her dead son, red-stained slender limbs draped in lifeless abandonment.

People seemed as mournful when they looked at my mother holding me as they were when looking at the Addolorata holding her dead son. Sometimes I thought my mother and the Addolorata were one and the same. They even had the same name: Maria.

I have early memories of being on my mother’s lap as she sat outside with the town women while my father was at work. We sat in the after- noon sun in the winter months, and in the summer we sat in the shade.

My mother told the women the story of when I was born. The mid- wife, mammana in Sicilian, was impressed that such a slight woman as my mother could give birth to such a big baby as me. She left my mother bleeding on the bed, with my grandmother tending to her for a few minutes, and rushed with me in her arms to the bakery around the corner to weigh me on the bread scale. Not even washed yet, crying loudly because my lungs were so vigorous, wrapped only in a sheet, for it was very warm on the afternoon of May 16, 1948. Over four kilos I weighed, almost nine pounds.

And I was growing so healthy and strong, my mother told the women, already talking, at sixteen months, and walking on my own, and I was never sick, never a fever until… until that fateful night when Crudele Poliomielite, Cruel Poliomyelitis, invaded our happy home and stole me from my family.

I imagined Crudele Poliomielite as an ugly monster with a weird name, who actually appeared out of the darkness to grab me and steal me away. But how could I’ve been stolen when I was still there in my mother’s arms? Could it be what got stolen was the healthy baby she’d given birth to? And what was left was a changeling, me? It took a while before I understood she was talking about my getting sick. Only then could I get over the secret fear that I might not be my parents’ real daughter.

Nadina LaSpina is a prominent activist in the disability rights movement and has been arrested countless times for civil disobedience. You can find her in the streets with Disabled In Action, ADAPT, the Disability Caucus, and other groups. After teaching Italian for many years, LaSpina created and taught courses in Disability Studies at The New School. She lives in New York City. SUCH A PRETTY GIRL: A STORY OF STRUGGLE, EMPOWERMENT, AND DISABILITY PRIDE (New Village Press, July 2019)

July 21st 2019, 8:04 pm

Too Late For My Daughter: It’s Time to Treat Violence Against Women as a National Emergency


Each day in the United States women become victims of many types of violence at the hands of men – murder, domestic abuse, sexual assault – yet too often as a nation we take little or no notice.

But on occasion, for some of us, the violence hits home and can no longer be ignored. My daughter, Jessie, was only nineteen years old when she was raped and murdered in our home by a friend. Her death left me stunned, shocked and filled with anguish, yet also inspired me to do all I can to prevent such horrors from happening to others in the future.

During her brief life, Jessie developed a strong social conscience. Ironically, her biggest cause was to support women and girls victimized by male violence. Her legacy, The LOVE>hate Project, is dedicated to ending violence against women and inspiring people to choose love over hate.

Essentially, we would like to see violence against women treated as the national emergency it is. Sadly, not only has male against female violence been occurring since the dawn of mankind, but often the attacker is a spouse, boyfriend, an ex, or someone else who is close to the victim.

Nearly one in four adult women have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also reports that sixteen percent of women have experienced some form of contact sexual violence from an intimate partner, such as rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact, and ten percent of women report they have been stalked by an intimate partner. (Men can also be victims in these situations. For example, the CDC reports that one in seven adult men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner.)

Certainly, violence against women is a large societal problem that won’t be easily solved, but here are some ways to begin the process:

The bottom line is that while it’s too late for Jessie, it’s not too late for millions of other girls and women – if we educate, motivate and inspire people to end the violence.

My question is: How many more Jessies will there be before we get the job done? 

Dr. Buck Blodgett is the author of  ‘A Message from Jessie’ and is the Founder of The LOVE>hate Project. He and his wife, Joy, were the parents of Jessie, who was murdered when she was 19. Since her death, Blodgett has worked to end violence and to educate, motivate, and inspire young minds to choose love over hate. He speaks nationally in schools, at conferences, and in prisons.

To learn about the current status of the Violence Against Women Act in the United States, click here.

July 17th 2019, 3:46 pm

Why Women Win with Medicare for All


Women should rally around the Medicare-for-All bill introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year.

Medicare for All as proposed in HR 1384, along with its counterpart in the Senate, would benefit women in several essential ways. Because health insurance coverage would no longer be tied to one’s employment or marital status, women could leave abusive relationships or toxic workplace environments without losing health insurance for themselves or their families.

Our healthcare system is surely broken when some women feel compelled to marry, stay married or remain in a harmful job just to retain their health benefits. This outdated arrangement is a form of subjugation that has no place in our wealthy, democratic nation today.HR 1384 would create a publicly funded healthcare system that would guarantee everyone in the U.S. comprehensive health coverage while leaving the delivery of care mostly private.

It would also include coverage for doctor visits and hospitalizations, vision, dental, mental health, and even long-term care. This means women would no longer be saddled with some of the caretaking responsibilities that often befall them when a parent or other relative becomes severely ill.

Due to centuries of discrimination and asymmetric domestic duties, women and especially women of color are more likely to have low-paying jobs without health benefits. And when women don’t have access to health care, it not only affects them. Their children and other family members who rely on them often suffer, too.

Women who are uninsured or underinsured are especially vulnerable when they become pregnant or new mothers. The United States spends more on health care than other countries, yet our maternal and infant death rates are among the highest of large, wealthy nations. This means that American mothers and babies are not receiving the health care they sorely need.

Dr. Aleksandar Rajkovic, an obstetrician and the husband of one of the authors of this piece, has witnessed the effects of our collapsing healthcare system firsthand. While working in Texas years ago, he encountered an uninsured pregnant patient who experienced abdominal pain for 36 hours before she fell unconscious and was brought to the hospital. Concerned that she and her laborer husband could not afford an emergency room visit, she had told her husband the pain would pass. Sadly, the woman ended up dying of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, which could have been avoided had she gone to the hospital sooner.

People are suffering and even losing their lives because they can’t afford health insurance at all, or must forgo treatment even though they’re insured, due to exorbitant out-of-pocket costs. Tens of thousands of people die each year in the U.S. due to being uninsured. The Medicare for All Act of 2019 (HR 1384) would ensure no one is forced to choose between essential medical treatment or going bankrupt, and it would be funded through modest progressive taxes, based on what people could afford to pay.

Medicare for All as proposed would also guarantee women reproductive choice. The ability to determine one’s family size and the spacing of one’s children is critical to women who must consider their economic reality, relationship status or career concerns. Yet today, women increasingly face obstacles when it comes to their freedom to choose.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey recently signed the strictest abortion law in the country, making it a felony to perform the procedure even in cases of rape and incest. Governors in several other states have approved abortion bans once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks in pregnancy. These moves represent the latest, pernicious assault on women’s reproductive rights since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

The Medicare for All Act of 2019 would also allow federal funds to be used for abortion and other reproductive health matters. (The Hyde Amendment  currently prohibits federal funding of abortions except in extreme cases, effectively limiting a women’s constitutional right to choose and affecting poor, young women of color the most.) The decision to terminate a pregnancy or not affects not only a woman’s reproductive health but also her overall health. Thus, it’s one that should be made by her in consultation with her doctor – not politicians.

How many more mothers, daughters, and sisters will needlessly die under our healthcare system before we stand up and say enough is enough? While HR 1384 is now in our legislators’ hands, the choice to keep silent or voice support for it is now ours.

On which side of history will you stand?

Kirsten Magnuson is chair of Health Care for All-California 

Ana Malinow, MD, Pediatrics, CHP

Dr. Ana Malinow is a past president of Physicians for a National Health Program.

July 14th 2019, 1:00 pm

Women’s eNews is Going to the Border!


Dear Faithful Readers,

I’ll make this short. Truth in Journalism has never been more crucial than it is today. Surely, it is the only way to distinguish between facts vs. falsehoods. 

This is why I will personally be traveling to the Texas, Arizona and Mexico borders on July 28th – August 5th to document the conditions that migrants (particularly women and children) are currently facing at US detention centers. 

Through your support, I will serve as your eyes and your ears throughout each of these eight days by posting on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), and you will receive daily updates each morning under our new series, ‘Truth At The Border.’ As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan wrote in Time magazine when it honored journalists as its 2018 Person of the Year, “We need to write now, write well—tell the truth in all its messy complexity. It’s our best shot at helping to preserve a democracy in which facts still exist and all of us can speak freely.”

No donation is too small to help Women’s eNews document the truth and help tell the real stories to continue to change, and save, women’s lives, as we have been doing for close to two decades! 

Please click here to donate. Women’s eNews thanks you, as always, for your heartfelt and continuing support!

In solidarity,

Lori Sokol, PhD
Executive Director

July 10th 2019, 8:54 am

Sexual Harassment in High School: When Saying “No” is Not Enough


My name is Hannah Downing. I live in San Antonio, Texas. I just completed my senior year of high school. I was a drum major for my high school’s marching band and an editor for the school literary magazine. I was an enthusiastic participant in the classroom. I was a well-established voice in my class and respected among my peers. I was just a regular student, mostly unremarkable.

About a year and a half ago I was the target of sexual harassment.

One of my male peers, someone I had considered a friendly acquaintance, regularly touched, squeezed, and pinched me on my arm and waist and told me overtly sexual things about himself and me. Obviously, I wasn’t okay with this. I’m not a huge fan of being touched at random without my consent, and it was grossly inappropriate of him to discuss the sordid details of his personal, private time with me.

I told him to stop every time he did it, but I said it this way, “Oh my gosh, stopppppp!” with my voice highly pitched and with a playful shove. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by acting too sensitive to the situation.

As time went on, I grew increasingly uncomfortable. I finally confided in my mother, and told her that I didn’t want to take the issue to my school’s administration and cause a fuss. I wanted to deal with him myself.

My mom taught me to say “no” like I meant it. She told me that up to that point I had been protesting in a manner that communicated to him that I wasn’t serious about wanting him to stop. She taught me to say “no” in a calm and firm voice. She coached me to learn how to give a cold stare and strong posture. We practiced a lot, and by the end of my training I felt ready to end the harassment once and for all.

The next time he touched me, I implemented my new method of saying “no.” I tried to emulate every badass female superhero I knew. I looked him in the eye with the utmost seriousness and I said in a strong, clear tone, “Stop touching me. I don’t want to be touched.”

 Still, he continued…

That broke me. In that moment, when I was trying so hard to establish control over a situation that deeply disturbed me, he just ignored me. It was a complete invalidation of my autonomy. He didn’t care about my consent. He didn’t care about my feelings. To him, I wasn’t a person worthy of respect. It made me feel dirty and worthless.

Eventually, I managed to stop the harassment by avoiding him, which was difficult because we shared an extracurricular activity that required us to work together.

Although it was over, I was left with some psychological effects. My self-esteem was gone. I felt like I had no power over my body; that at that point anyone could do anything to me, and there would be nothing I could do. For a very long time I was fearful and paranoid that I would be harassed again or even assaulted. If one guy thought it was perfectly fine to treat me like a plaything, who’s to say no one else would? It took me a very long time to feel normal again.

Two years ago, I never imagined that I would be the target of sexual harassment. In my mind there was a certain type of person who was more likely to be harassed. Someone quiet or timid, or someone who was more overt about her sexuality. I thought I came off as strong and intimidating but, still, it happened to me.

I was curious about who else might have had similar experiences to mine, so I asked some of my friends to share thoughts or anecdotes about sexual harassment and assault. One of my friends recalled the times she exercised in our school’s weight room. “There was this guy that gave me creepy vibes and he would come over and talk to me while I worked out,” she said. “After a few weeks he would start to comment about how he saw my body transform into an ‘attractive woman.’ It got even worse when he had three of his friends say similar things about my legs when I did squats. I never went back into the weight room.”

Her story was shocking to me. My friend held multiple leadership positions in various clubs and organizations at school, and she’s the sweetest, most well-meaning person I’ve ever met. How could anyone frame her in a sexual light in a school environment? What had she done to invite any advances?

There was no way that those boys thought they were engaging in meaningful conversation with my friend or giving her actual compliments. Why do people think it’s okay to ignore consent?

“The American sex education system is lacking, at best,” another friend of mine, a fellow editor of the literary magazine, told me. “Consent is not taught in any capacity in most public schools, and if it is discussed at all, it’s lumped in with suicide and bullying in the student crisis section of the curriculum.” “If we are taught about consent, we are taught in the most basic of terms. ‘If she says yes, go for it. If she says no, don’t.’ Consent isn’t explained in terms of mutual enthusiasm, or desire, or enjoyment.”

I’m inclined to agree with her. Our system is broken. On multiple occasions this friend and I have discussed the effects of rape culture and our society’s indifference to women’s issues. We’ve expressed our concerns over the possibility of being assaulted while at college and becoming just another statistic in America’s ever-increasing problem with sexual assault on college campuses.

We swap articles on the subject, but we never learn about the intricacies of consent and healthy, safe sex in a classroom setting. I get most of my information from the internet, which is vast and often misleading, and I only receive that information because I seek it out. We are all at risk of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, and we can’t protect ourselves from assault simply by dressing conservatively or practicing abstinence.

What we can do is educate ourselves. We need to openly discuss sexual health and conduct. We need to have comprehensive sex ed in schools and more accessible counseling for survivors of assault.

I invite anyone reading this to start a conversation with friends or family. It’s really difficult to start talking about personal experiences with sexual harassment, assault, or abuse, but it is important to let our loved ones know that it’s okay to be open about their experiences. Survivors of assault often suffer in silence because they feel powerless. Some even feel that they brought the assault upon themselves.

Removing the stigma and shame of sexual assault can happen by engaging in a safe, free dialogue like I did with my friends. It may seem like a small thing, but starting that conversation is a step in the right direction to creating a safer, more just, and more understanding society for us all.

The Jewish Women’s Archive’s  Rising Voices Fellowship was honored as Teen Voices’ ’21 Leader for the 21st Century’ in 2019. It is a 10-month program for female-identified teens in high-school who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism, gender and social justice. The Jewish Women’s Archive is a national non-profit devoted to documenting Jewish women’s stories, elevating their voices, and inspiring them to be agents of change. Founded in 1995, JWA is the world’s largest source of material about and voices of Jewish women.

July 8th 2019, 10:25 pm

The Ovary Office: Running for our Lives


Dear Women,
Let’s not compete with each other, there is too much at stake. Let’s not feel threatened or jealous by other women’s success or victory or possibility. Let’s not exhibit faux enthusiasm when other women get accolades or credit or awards or honors. Let’s not be stingy or hoard compliments. Let’s not fear that other women are taking up too much space, or taking up too much time. Let’s not ignore or dismiss another woman’s good fortune or their good work. Let’s not curse their beauty, or damn their brilliance. Let’s not take away their shine or their ability to stand out. Let’s not begrudge them their place in the world, or their place at the table. 

It is time for women – for us – to have a place at the Presidential table, the Oval Office… the Ovary Office.

Before Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, eleven other women threw their hats into the ring: Victoria Woodhull, Belva Ann Lockwood, Gracie Allen (yes, that Gracie Allen) Margaret Chase Smith (it was Smith who inspired a young Hillary Rodham to run for President of her class in ’64), Shirley Chisolm, Patsy Matsu Takemoto Mink, Linda Jeness, Geraldine Ferraro, Pat Schroeder, Carol Moseley Braun, and Elizabeth Dole. Every one of these women were bombarded with criticism and insults, dragged through the mud, taken to task, and treated as if they had lost their minds. None won the nomination for President but they all certainly put cracks in the glass ceiling and took many jabs for their courage and their bravery, and fought for the rights and dignity of all women throughout their lives.

When Victoria Woodhull – a suffragette – ran for President women didn’t even have the right to vote but that didn’t stop her. What did stop her – what is astonishing – is the lack of support she received from other women. Both Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cody Stanton, while applauding Woodhull’s extraordinary courage on behalf of all women, dismissed her nomination and Ulysses S. Grant won the election. 

Belva Ann Lockwood was berated and dismissed by local newspapers as being “Old Lady Lockwood,” and dragged through the mud; a woman’s place is in the kitchen but that didn’t prevent her from inspiring other women to stand up and stand tall and raise the bar for other women. 

Margaret Chase Smith was the first member of the Senate to take on the human stain known as Joseph McCarthy in her brilliant piece, “The Declaration of Conscience.” Yet she refused to back down, and encouraged many young women to speak their truth and fight for equality. 
Patsy Mink was responsible for the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act prohibiting gender discrimination, and she authored and introduced the Women’s Education Equality Act

Geraldine Ferraro was consistently ridiculed and constantly tossed sexist comments on the campaign trail – comments mostly asked by female reporters. In 2008, when Ferraro supported Hillary Clinton, she felt emotionally and enormously proud.

Pat Schroeder’s run was short lived; she filled in for Gary Hart after he dropped out of the race after his affair with Donna Rice was exposed. Schroeder was ostracized for being emotional and sentimental, and very often ostracized by other women. Now, in 2019, we have six more women running, tossing their hats into the ring; no doubt mud will be flung – we’ve already seen that – and nastiness and cruelty will be bantered about. Hair styles and fashion will be a hot topic, and passion will be misconstrued for anger. Six women at this very moment have decided to run for President of the United States.

Chances are, like Schroeder, some will be short-lived but their courage will live long. A woman’s place is anywhere she wants to be. So, today I’m applauding and cheering the importance and necessity of trying. It takes courage to try, it takes guts to try, it takes emotional wear and tear to try, it takes grit to try, it takes an amazing amount of bravery to try, it takes standing tall, standing up, putting fear aside and tucking it away to try. 
It takes a huge heaping of fierce and mighty to try.

So, let’s not compete with each other, it does not serve us well; let us serve each other well. Let us root these women on. They are running for our very lives.
Best & warm,

The Ovary Office is a new Women’s eNews series covering the women who are running for the presidency, to counterbalance the patriarchal slant that currently exists in much of the mainstream media. While there are six Democratic women vying to become the party’s presidential nominee, their male counterparts have attained about eighty percent of the media’s coverage, thus drowning out women’s platforms and their viability as presidential candidates. The Ovary Office plans to turn this narrative upon its head.

Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer, and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of its 21 Leaders for the 21st Century for 2018. Amy is also known for championing, encouraging, and inspiring women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor—along with a heaping side of activism.

July 4th 2019, 11:55 pm

Talking About Talking: Perpetuating Bias in our Culture


We are in the midst of a long-overdue discussion about the role of speech in perpetuating racial biases in our culture. Presidential candidate Joe Biden triggered the talk when he recalled working in the senate with the notoriously racist Mississippi Democrat James O. Eastland. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son,’” Biden remembered.

He talked of those bygone days as a time of “civility,” which prompted critics to note that segregationists like Eastland commonly called grown black men “boys,” a term meant to degrade and demean them.

Hurtful rhetoric that demeans Black individuals has been part of our modus operandi, often operating well below the surface of conscious choice. But this latest dust-up over language could have a positive outcome–drawing attention to the fact that speech can also perpetuate harmful gender biases. And men are not alone in using phrases to put women down; women are also at fault.

From the time I was a little girl, I used to bristle at my mother when she talked about “playing bridge with the girls.” What girls? I thought. She was about forty-five years old, and the “girls” were her women friends, also in their mid-forties. At the time, I didn’t say anything to my mother, not yet aware that by being a quiet bystander I was complicit in preserving the stereotype that women were child-like. That was then; now when I hear such demeaning slights I am quicker to voice my objections.

A few years ago, I was accompanying my husband to an appointment with his eye doctor. Before seeing the doctor, patients had to complete a few routine lab tests. The lab technicians in this office were all women. At the conclusion of the tests, the office manager told us to wait in the reception area until “one of the girls” called our name. Once again, I bristled. What girls? My immediate thought was, if the technicians were male, would the office manager have told us “to wait until one of the boys called our name?” Rather than “let it go,” assuming she did not mean anything derogatory, I called the manager aside, telling her that I wanted to talk to her privately. I shared my feelings and was relieved that, after a bit of defensiveness, the manager listened to what I had to say. She asked me how she should say it differently, and I suggested that she tell patients that “one of the technicians” would call their name when the doctor was ready to see them.

I haven’t been back to that eye doctor’s office since then, but I feel certain that our talk raised the manager’s awareness of what she was doing unconsciously, and decreased the chance that she will make the same mistake again.

As Carmen Rios writes on the website, Everyday Feminism,  “saying ‘girl(s)’ comes naturally to me, as it does to so many of us. But just like calling [mixed sex] groups of people ‘guys’ is a widespread and completely normalized practice that inadvertently minimizes the existence of women, so does calling groups of people ‘girls.’

“And yetthe use of the word ‘girls’ to refer to women is very rarely called out as sexist. In fact, it still goes largely unnoticed, even by people who should ‘know better.’ Even media with feminist leanings use the word ‘girls’ as a catchall for adult topics or stories about adult women. Consider the titles of shows like Girlfriends, New Girl, Gilmore Girls, and even Lena Dunham’s own Girls; or movies like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; Girl, Interrupted; and Dream Girls. Even the book Girlboss is guilty.

That’s because calling women ‘girls’ is commonplace, and most people don’t bat an eyelash when they do it or when they hear someone else doing it. In fact, calling women ‘girls’ is so normal that people actually feel uncomfortable calling them ‘women’ instead. Yet, it is important to deal with these uncomfortable feelings because there are consequences of not doing so. When we call women ‘girls,’ we’re using the force of language to make them smaller. We resist and deny their maturity, their adulthood, and their true power. When you call a woman a ‘girl,’ you’re actually saying a lot of very serious things about gender politics and womanhood.”

And there are serious consequences. 

A girl is a female under the age of eighteen, so when the word ‘girl’ is used to describe adult females, it implies that women are immature or childish. Thus, language perpetuates the stereotype of women as emotional, irrational, weak, and helpless. 

There are other troubling consequences. When women are referred to as  ‘girls,’ it makes it easier for superiors in the workplace to ignore them and their contributions. Women may also be passed over for promotions because it’s difficult for bosses to appreciate the abilities or career advancement potential of ‘girls’. Further, it’s hard to think of yourself as a capable leader and thinker when you are called a girl or, even worse, when you think of yourself as a girl. 

This behavior garnered international attention in 2015 when the British paper the Guardian reported that then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Energy Secretary Amber Rudd were greeted outside 10 Downing Street by a photographer calling to them, “Morning, girls!” For the record, The Guardian noted,  “Morgan is 42 and Rudd 51. Both are well beyond their teen years, when such a greeting might have been apt. Morgan, who is also ‘minister for women’ – that’s women – and equalities, had a witty comeback, shouting, ‘Girls? Girls?!’ The photographer quickly apologized.”

Unfortunately, even old age will not provide protection against the harmful effects of dismissive language. This point was brought home to me several years ago when I took my mother, who was roughly the same age I am now, to a medical appointment. The intake nurse had a number of questions, all of which she addressed to me. My mother, who was as fully competent then, as I am today, was completely ignored; it was as if she wasn’t even in the examination room. Once I saw the pattern, I called the nurse out and insisted that she direct her questions to the person with the answers–my mother.

Just as black males of all ages have been devalued by being called ‘boy,’ women of all ages have been demeaned and trivialized by being called ‘girl.’

Hopefully, the Biden dust-up will ignite a meaningful discussion about language and biases that will have beneficial effects during the 2020 election season, and well beyond.

July 1st 2019, 8:23 pm

Celebration and Protest at this Year’s World Pride.


It’s the last week of Pride month. One of my favorite times of the year  – a month during which LGBTIQ movements around the world celebrate progress and resilience; when attention is drawn to countering violence; when the spotlight shines on stories of LGBTIQ people to raise awareness, increase understanding, and promoting progress. Whether pride takes the shape of celebration or protest or – as it will for me – both, it is undoubtedly the time of year when our movement is seen the most, and our heart beats the loudest.

And this year it is even more so, as we mark fifty years after the spontaneous riots in protest against police raids and shaming of LGBTIQ people at the Stonewall Inn gave rise to the contemporary LGBTIQ and Pride movements. New York is hosting World Pride to mark the occasion, recognizing the global importance of the Stonewall riots, and celebrating the incredible progress we’ve seen around the globe over the last fifty years, while also drawing attention to the horrific conditions LGBTIQ people continue to face in far too many places.

Thinking back to what our movement has achieved in 50 years is humbling. Laws criminalizing same-sex relations have fallen across the world. Just this month in Botswana and Bhutan. anti-discrimination legislation, specifically including grounds for sexual orientation and gender identity, have been adopted in numerous locations spanning the globe, most recently in North Macedonia. Recognition that love has no gender is growing, with Taiwan recently becoming the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage. Pride events have grown in size, visibility and prestige; LGBTIQ characters in popular culture are growing year on year.

Without a doubt, we have a lot to celebrate!

However, the last year has also been a sobering reminder that we can never take progress for granted. After decades of incredible pride marches in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey, they have been banned and violently attacked in recent years. Pride organizers were arrested last year in Lebanon and persecutions of perceived LGBTIQ people, predominantly gay and bisexual men, continued with impunity in Chechnya. Brunei passed a final phase of Sharia law envisaging death by stoning so-called sexual offenses, including same-sex relations and adultery. Further, the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education used Pride month to issue an extensive guidance document for Catholic schools and universities to promote bullying and the exclusion of LGBTIQ youth.

Moreover, sixty-eight countries and several territories still criminalize same-sex relations. In fifty-five countries LGBTIQ organizations cannot legally register, and in thirty countries there are no LGBTIQ organizations at all. LGBTIQ people are also subjected to harmful and ineffective “conversion therapies”, recognized as being tantamount to torture by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Fifty years ago, trans women were on the forefront of the Stonewall riots. Their rights have not only lagged behind in the years since, but are facing a particularly tenacious and hateful backlash now.

Even in countries where LGBTIQ progress has been made, they have faced challenges. We have seen openly transphobic comments and policies proposed by the President of the United States, and an 80% surge in hate crimes against LGBTIQ people in the UK. The so-called anti-gender movement has grown in strength and numbers, spanning across hateful civil society and religious groups aiming to challenge the existence of and exclude LGBTIQ people from human rights protections, halt gender equality efforts, restrict sexual and reproductive health and rights, and preserve a social order based on outdated, harmful gender roles.

In this context, I will be joining the World Pride March on June 30 in New York City, in celebration of all of the achievements to date. And I will smile, and dance, and enjoy the incredible energy the event will bring to the city.

But I will also march in the same spirit of protest that the first marches embodied; for we have quite the battle ahead to keep fighting for progress in the recognition of our right to be who we are and live our lives without discrimination, harassment and violence, while also preventing backsliding of the progress achieved so far.

About the author:

Jessica Stern is Executive Director of OutRight Action International, and specializes in gender, sexuality and human rights globally. At OutRight, she has supported the legal registration of LGBTIQ organizations globally, helped secure the mandate of the United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and advanced the UN LGBTI Core Group.

June 27th 2019, 9:15 pm

Nasreen Sheikh: From an Unremarkable Birth, to a Remarkable Life


“From the moment of my birth in a southern Nepal border village, I was taught that my existence was unremarkable. Growing up I witnessed so many atrocities against women that, by age 9 or 10, my life seemed destined for the same oppressive path. I worked 15 hours per day in a Nepali sweatshop as a child laborer, receiving less than $2 per grueling shift, and only if I completed the hundreds of garments demanded of me. I ate, slept and toiled in my prison-cell sized sweatshop workstation, too afraid to even look out the window. By about age 21, my family had arranged a forced marriage for me. But through the help of a kind stranger who taught me to read and seize my destiny, I escaped the sweatshop and forced marriage.” -Nasreen Sheikh

Nasreen Sheikh does not know her birthday or her exact age. That is because in her native southern Nepal border village, girls’ births are not recorded in any official record. “From the moment of her birth, society tells the rural girl child that her existence is unremarkable,” Nasreen says. “If one’s own birth does not matter, then the conditions in which she lives, works, strives, suffers and dies also do not matter.” These words served as the opening to Nasreen’s presentation at the Women Deliver Global Conference earlier this month, where over 8,000 world leaders, influencers, advocates, academics, activists, and journalists flocked to Vancouver to hear about the risks, challenges and triumphs of numerous women and girls, all working to create a gender equal world.

For Nasreen, who was determined to empower disadvantaged women, she did so by launching the Local Women’s Handicrafts, a fair trade sewing collective based in Kathmandu, Nepal. LWH is a social enterprise that empowers and educates disadvantaged women by providing a paid training program in design, sewing, weaving, embroidery, knitting, jewelry making and pattern work. To date, LWH has trained hundreds of Nepali women – many of whom escaped forced and abusive marriages, and all of whom are determined to escape poverty.

Nasreen’s seamstresses and artisans sew beautiful handicrafts each day and, in the process, sew the pieces of themselves back together as well. She has also launched a powerful public health and education initiative by making and giving away hundreds of biodegradable antibacterial sanitary pads to rural women and girls who cannot afford basic hygienic supplies. She also leads body image and women’s health workshops in cramped rural schools and villages for those who often suffer in silence and stigma.

Nasreen shatters everything anyone believes about the limitations of women, child laborers, fair trade, or even your environmentally irresponsible plastic water bottle. Although only 10 years ago, Nasreen could barely read or write, she is now giving talks around the world about her work and the plight of child laborers and survivors of forced marriage for such international conferences as the Foreign Trade Association (Brussels), Google (America), women’s conferences, dozen of universities and recently gave a TEDx talk.

“I envision a world where women are leaders in their communities, they are in control of their own lives, their own rights, and their own decisions.” – Nasreen

June 23rd 2019, 10:51 pm

In Case You Missed It: The Ninth Annual Elly Awards


On Monday, June 17th, The Women’s Forum of New York hosted the 9th Annual Elly Awards Luncheon benefiting The Education Fund of the Women’s Forum. The awards, named for the Women’s Forum founder Elinor Guggenheimer, honor outstanding women leaders, and this year marked the 32nd anniversary of the Education Fund of the Women’s Forum, which has helped over 260 women, age 35 and over, whose lives have been disrupted by extreme adversity, complete their college degrees.

The 9th Annual Elly Awards Fellows

“The Education Fund of the Women’s Forum has transformed lives, influenced families, and improved communities,” says Barbara Marcus, President, The Education Fund of the Women’s Forum. “Launched thirty-two years ago to help other women realize their dream of a college education, The Education Fund has awarded over $1.8 million in financial awards to over 260 women to help them return to school, earn their degree, and take their place in the professional work world. Many of these women have overcome very difficult circumstances to realize their dream of a college education.  We are proud to support their efforts.”

The Women’s Forum of New York is an invitation-only organization of more than 500 women representing the highest levels of achievement across all professional sectors and spheres of influence in our city. Founded in 1974, when women were first entering the executive ranks, today’s Women Forum members are recognized among New York’s thought leaders, influencers, trailblazers, policymakers, change agents, power brokers, innovators, icons, creators, and business builders.

The Education Fund is the educational and charitable arm of The Women’s Forum of New York, established under a separate corporate governance as a 501(c)(3) tax deductible organization. Since 1987, the Fund has provided financial awards to women 35 and over who have demonstrated high potential and faced extreme adversity which has disrupted their education and derailed their futures. These women fall outside the scope of most traditional scholarship programs and these awards help them complete their education and get their careers and lives back on track.

This year’s awards recipients included Katie Couric, award winning journalist, producer, New York Times bestselling author, cancer advocate, podcast host, documentary filmmaker, and former co-anchor of the Today Show on NBC; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, representative for the District of Columbia and former Professor of Law at Georgetown University, and Muriel Fox, Board Chair of Veteran Feminists of America and former Executive Vice-President of Carl Byoir & Associates.

“The Women’s Forum of New York is comprised of the most accomplished and successful women in the city from every professional sector,” says Linda A. Willett, President of the Women’s Forum of New York. “We know from our own success how critical education is, so our Education Fund is one way we ‘give back’ – helping women age 35 and over whose lives have been disrupted by extreme adversity complete their education and get their lives back on track. We hope we inspire them, because their dreams, drive, and determination certainly inspire us.”

June 18th 2019, 9:44 pm

Book excerpt: 100 TIMES: A MEMOIR OF SEXISM


When she was 5, the little boy Chavisa Woods was playing with pinched her butt. His mother, upon hearing the story, told her she probably liked it. When she was 36, a cab driver locked the doors and wouldn’t let her out until she gave him her phone number. In 100 TIMES: A MEMOIR OF SEXISM (Seven Stories Press; June 25, 2019), Woods lays out one hundred personal vignettes of the sexism, harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault she’s experienced in her life. The incidents, which range from lewd comments to attempted rape, take place when she was growing up in poor rural Southern Illinois, when she was working in St. Louis as a young adult, when she was living with her girlfriend in Brooklyn, and when she was a Shirley Jackson Award-winning author and three-time Lambda Finalist writing this book.

While Chavisa Woods chronicles these 100 stories to show how sexism and misogyny have impacted her life, something else happens simultaneously: she lays bare how these dynamics shape all women’s lives, and how relentlessly common they are. She underscores how thoroughly men feel entitled to women’s spaces and to their bodies, and how conditioned women are to endure it. It’s impossible to read 100 TIMES as a woman without cataloging one’s own “Number of Times.” As Woods writes in the book’s introduction, “It’s not that my life has been exceptionally plagued with sexism. It’s that it hasn’t.”



When I was twenty, still living in Saint Louis, two of my female lovers and one of my close gay male friends were all raped in the same year, two by strangers, and one by someone we knew. This didn’t happen to me, but going through this repeatedly with three unrelated people I was deeply intimate with in such a short time changed me forever.

One of my lovers was hospitalized and had to have stitches in the places where the man who assaulted her had bitten out chunks of her esh. She was a butch lesbian, and it was strange and painful seeing someone who seemed to be so strong and beautiful become so helpless. To me, she was the strongest, hottest, butchest girl in the Midwest. When she was around, I’d always felt safe. I’d never thought of her as someone who needed protecting. Every dyke wanted to be with her. She was a stud. e idea that a man could have rendered her powerless was surreal.

The man was a stranger who had pushed his way into her house as she was coming home from work. He told the police he was having an a air with her, and that her boyfriend had come home and caught them having sex, and chased him out, and that it must have been her boyfriend who beat her uncon- scious, and that she was claiming it was rape for her boyfriend’s bene t, so that he wouldn’t get mad at her.

She didn’t have a boyfriend. She’d never had a boyfriend. She was a gold-star butch. She was my lover, and probably had another girl on the side, too. But the police still believed him, somehow.

She was hospitalized for days, and the detectives on the case sympathized with her rapist. While she was in the hospital, one detective on the case even referred to him as “that poor man.” Because of this, and after several months of intense emotional discussions with a lawyer and arguments with the detectives, she decided not to go to court and press charges.
When she told me this, I thought, “we’re nothing to them.”

Queer women, that is. We don’t exist. They don’t see us.
They looked at this hot, fierce butch, and I wondered what they saw; a “larger,” plain woman with a short haircut who dressed unassumingly and for some reason needed to pathetically lie about being beaten and raped?

When she got out of the hospital she came and stayed with me, and we didn’t leave my bed for two days. It was a blue cocoon. I did my best to comfort her, but I was also young and emotional, and it was difficult in moments for me to give exactly what she needed. I was also hurting and not coping well. I did my best. I hope it is a good memory for her, because, for me, those days lying together and holding each other for hours on end are sacred.

I remember her bruises as blue, the room as blue, and the color of the air as blue. I realized, for the first time in our long relationship, that she must see me as powerful, too, if she came to me after that happened to her. I realized we were both powerful together, because we could actually see and value
each other. But that time left a blue mark on my heart also, as I realized, after everything that had happened that year, we were really nothing to the cops, nothing to so many straight men . . . nothing to the powers that order the world. Nothing.

Brooklyn-based writer Chavisa Woods is the author of the short story collection Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country (Seven Stories Press, 2017), the novel The Albino Album (Seven Stories Press, 2013); and the story collection Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind (Fly by Night Press, 2009). Woods was the recipient of the 2014 Cobalt Prize for fiction and was a finalist in 2009, 2014, and 2018 for the Lambda Literary Award for fiction. In 2018 Woods was the recipient of the Kathy Acker Award for Writing and the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette.

June 16th 2019, 6:20 pm

On World Day Against Child Labor: Put an End to Child Marriage


Each year, on June 12, the International Labor Organization (ILO) commemorates the World Day Against Child Labor to focus global attention on the extent of child labor and the actions needed to eliminate it. 

The ILO, which was founded a hundred years ago in the aftermath of World War I, is using the occasion of this year’s World Day Against Child Labor to urge accelerated action on Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which calls on all “to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labor … and secure the prohibition and elimination of all forms of child labor.”

These are noble and important goals, but we also urge the ILO to direct its focus on SDG Target 5.3, which calls for the elimination of “all harmful practices, such as child, early, and forced marriage.” For the truth is obvious: Child marriage is child labor within the ILO’s own definition.

The reality of day-to-day life for girls living within child marriages is one of servitude. They carry out all of the household chores, perform demanding agricultural work, and cook with fire and heavy pots of boiling water over unventilated cookstoves. They also work from dusk until dawn, waking at night to breastfeed, tend to sick kids, and care for elders; and they are forced into a sexual relations before the age of consent.

Consider the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) criteria for the worst forms of child labor: Work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous or harmful to children; work that exposes children to physical or sexual abuse; work that forces children to work long hours, which unreasonably confines them to the premises, and could result in a child’s death, injury, illness or disability.  Yet, many child “marriages” are still excluded from the ILO’s child labor statistics. 

The dots simply need connecting: A marriage to a minor who is too young to give her legal consent is by definition a forced marriage, creating a non-consensual relationship between a child and the man posing illegally as her “spouse,” which results in a forced labor situation. Forced labor is the worst form of child labor. Therefore, child marriage is child labor. 

AIDS-Free World concurs that anyone under 18 should be defined as a minor child, but we also recognize that the Convention on the Rights of the Child left it to individual governments to set the age at which a child becomes an adult and can legally consent. As a first step, while advocates for children work to raise the age to 18 in every country, it must be acknowledged that any “marriage” to a child who is too young to consent under her or his country’s existing laws is, by definition, in a forced marriage that results in child labor. 

There is no need to change any treaties or conventions. The legal basis for finally beginning to count child marriage as the worst form of child labor is solidly in place. The ILO statistics are no small matter. Bad data makes bad policy, and vice versa.

Undercounting the number of girls forced into child labor by omitting all those at work within illegal marriages is discriminatory. It means that critical resources, policies, and programs are being misallocated. People who are genuinely devoted to ending child labor worldwide are unaware that their goal cannot be reached unless we also end child marriage. Recent studies estimate that of the 12 million child marriages that take place every year, at least 7.5 million are illegal in the countries where they occur. This means a minimum of 7.5 million girls are missing from each year’s estimated total of child laborers, rendering the data inaccurate and skewing policy decisions.

It takes strength to abandon old habits and outdated perspectives; it takes courage to agree to a recount that will put the ILO farther from the finish line of eliminating child labor worldwide. But the world needs that strength and courage from the International Labor Organization and, more importantly, and urgently, so do millions upon millions of girls hidden in plain sight.

As the ILO outlined in its founding constitution one hundred years ago: “Universal peace can be established only if it is based on social justice.”

Paula Donovan is Co-Director of AIDS-Free World.

June 11th 2019, 7:42 pm

A Letter from Men to Men: Why We Must Ensure Abortion Remains the Law of the Land!


According to the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of women and 57 percent of men say abortion should be legal in “all or most cases.” But “checking a box on a questionnaire doesn’t tell us much, because polls don’t measure intensity,” noted Katha Pollitt in The Nation recently. “There is no box for “Sure, babe, whatever” or for “Yes! Abortion rights is the hill I would die on.”

When it comes to speaking up for women’s reproductive health and voices, pro-choice men’s voices have been more or less on mute. It’s a tricky conversation but it shouldn’t be. While not everyone believes men should have a seat at the reproductive rights table, would excluding men really be in women’s best interests? In their Girls’ Globe article, “What do men have to do with women’s reproductive rights?”, Gary Barker of Promundo, an international NGO engaging men and boys in promoting gender equality, and Serra Sippel of Change, a 25 year-old center for health and gender equity, argue that it would be a disservice to women to exclude men from sexual and reproductive rights conversations because it “…keeps the burden for contraception on women. It halts efforts that encourage men to support the reproductive choices of their female partners, and perpetuates a culture in which no man is perceived to be, or engaged to be, an ally in ensuring reproductive rights of all people.”

For many men who believe in gender equality, me included, there’s been little of a sustained, consistent men’s pro-choice effort. We heard the maxim, “women’s bodies; women’s choices” and nodded. Consequently, many of us backed off from actively working to protect Roe v. Wade, believing we could always re-engage if circumstances became dire—if Roe was being threatened, right? After all we reasoned, Roe’s been settled law since 1973. Well, it is now more than unsettled—it is unraveling. In the face of vicious anti-choice laws sweeping through southern and mid-western states, men cannot afford to stay silent. 

Before the 2006 mid-term elections, I was among hundreds of volunteers who went door to door across South Dakota canvassing to overturn what was then the most restrictive abortion ban in the nation. For weeks, pro-choice legions criss-crossed the state. I stood on residents’ doorsteps on leafy streets in small Dakota towns explaining why I’d come all the way from Massachusetts. “I have a son, 18, and three daughters all in their twenties,” I’d begin. “Imagine if even one parent in South Dakota had a daughter who’d been raped and became pregnant. Must that family follow a state law that forbade the young woman from aborting the rapist’s child? One that compelled her to bear his baby?” Often enough my comments struck a nerve. We won that battle (55 to 45 percent) and South Dakota’s law was overturned by the will of the people. Nevertheless, vigorous efforts to restrict a woman’s right to choose continue unabated to this day all across South Dakota.

I can come up with a half-dozen reasons why I didn’t maintain as active an involvement in the reproductive rights movement as I might have; but none hold water. It’s painful to admit that I have fallen short, missed the mark—that I have not been a better ally to women in the struggle to maintain their reproductive rights.  After all, as a man who believes in gender equality, I have always been able to enjoy and manage my own body knowing that the same is not true for women. I now know I cannot remain silent.  How can I ask other men to speak out for women’s reproductive health and rights if I‘m not willing to do so as well?  Men need to encourage other men to step up. 

Hopefully Father’s Day, 2019, will jumpstart some important conversations among men and between women and men. More than a new grill or tickets to the ballgame—and certainly beyond the demeaning dad stereotypes that get aired every June—there are practical ways men can stand with women at this perilous time. Whether you’re a father, stepdad, father figure, brother, uncle, nephew, coach or mentor, we need you, not just on Father’s Day, but every day!

Here are some actions men—not just fathers—can take: 

Volunteer at a clinic, including escorting patients inside.

For fathers: in lieu of a gift ask your family to make a donation to a local clinic, Planned  ParenthoodNARAL, or all three.  

–  Urge your faith community’s leader to deliver a sermon supporting a women’s right to choose (or be the guest speaker yourself).

–  Write a letter to the editor stating your unequivocal support for women’s reproductive rights.

–  Invite a group of men over to talk about the threat women face and why men need to break their silence.

–  Urge researchers to accelerate work on developing male birth control methods.

–  If you have a son old enough, talk with him about respecting women’s autonomy.

–  Let your daughter know you unequivocally support her right to control her body.

–  Alert anti-choice legislators that you won’t just vote to unseat them, you’ll work to elect pro-choice candidates.

Katha Pollitt has other suggestions, beginning with noting the economic advantage most men have: “That dollar you earn compared with the average woman’s 80 cents? Put it to work by donating today to an abortion fund in one of the abortion-ban states,” she suggests. Among possible recipients could be Missouri’s Gateway Women’s Access Fund, which helps people in this state with more than six million people, but only one clinic, and where the latest super-restrictive “heartbeat bill” was recently passed. (To support the Missouri fund, along with many others, go to

Women are facing a full-blown emergency. The clock is ticking; a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade could soon be before the Supreme Court. With the flames of intolerance rapidly approaching our sisters’ windows, men must join the bucket brigade to put out the fire. NOW!

Quotes from Men about AbortionFrom the Political to the Personal:

“Among the scores of pro-feminist, anti-violence men’s organizations Voice Male magazine has written about and partnered with over the past three decades, are committed colleagues who champion gender equality, working both in North America and around the world. Their overarching goal of transforming masculinity takes many forms, including (but not limited to) advocating to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault; educating young men about respectful relationships; involving actively fathers in caregiving; consulting with NGOs around the world on projects to advance gender equality; and training early childhood educators on strategies for raising healthy boys. Their projects are representative but by no means exhaustive among efforts aimed at advancing a new expression of manhood, a new vision of masculinities. Recently, six colleagues that have been engaged in pro-feminist men’s work for decades shared with me some of their thoughts about men’s role in supporting women’s reproductive rights. The edited excerpts below range from the political to the personal.”—Rob Okun

“Although we are making progress in helping men and boys understand their role in the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the vast majority of men, including many working to engage men and boys, are still unsure, largely silent on the question of a woman’s access to abortion and reproductive rights.  Could abortion still be viewed by most men as a “woman’s issue?”  We were able to break the barrier when it came to gender-based violence and gender equality, so why are we stuck on abortion?  Removing access to safe abortion is a form of gender-based violence. Controlling a woman’s reproductive choices—including access to abortion—is a form of individual and state-sponsored control over a woman’s body.  If men are speaking out against all other forms of violence against women, then we should speak out against this form of violence, too. Men and boys need to join women advocates. We owe it to the women’s movement, and we owe it to ourselves.” —Humberto Carolo, executive director, White Ribbon, board co-chair MenEngage Alliance

“Political analysts say that pro-choice women, outraged by the abortion ban legislation sweeping through state legislatures, will be an important political force in 2020, perhaps more than in any single previous presidential election. The idea that threats to women’s reproductive freedom are also an issue for men is only mentioned—if at all—as an afterthought. This has to change. Liberal and progressive men need to hear loud and clear that their support for women’s right to comprehensive health care services—which includes access to safe, legal abortion—needs to be an absolute first-order priority, because without it there is no gender equality. And without gender equality, there is no real democracy.”     — Jackson Katz, cofounder, Mentors in Violence Prevention and author of The Macho Paradox

“In the mid-1960s my mother had an abortion. I was 12 years old and didn’t know that it happened until decades later. Because abortion was illegal in the United States, my mom and dad had to sneak around like criminals. They ended up in Puerto Rico where abortion was also illegal, but more common. Luckily they found a safe and compassionate doctor. My dad was by my mom’s side throughout the process,supporting her decision. The systematic erosion of women’s reproductive rights happening now should be ringing alarm bells for men around the country. Control of our own bodies is the most basic human right. Erosion of this right moves us steadily into a world where we are no longer free to make our own choices.  Will we speak out on behalf of mothers, sisters, wives and lovers? Will we stand up on behalf of all of our freedom.” Steven Botkin, coordinating committee, North America MenEngage

“Men who support gender equality must join with women and people of all genders in supporting women’s reproductive right to choose. Men also need to take their share of responsibility for birth control, as many unplanned pregnancies are the product of sexual abuse, reproductive coercion or mere irresponsibility on the part of men. If as a society, we want to reduce the number of abortions, men have to do their part.” Juan Carlos Areán, director, children and youth program Futures Without Violence

“Men’s participation in reproduction is minimal. Minutes of pleasure; our desire fulfilled. Then what?  If, despite precautions, the woman accidentally becomes pregnant, what should men do? It’s simple: assist her in whatever way she decides. Support her right to choose. It’s her life; not ours. A growing number of state governments are insisting theycan determine what she does with her body and her life. What should men do? Basking in our male privilege, remaining quiet in the face of immoral impositions upon women’s basic human rights is unacceptable. There is no neutrality when there is oppression. Men must speak out publicly. Join women in support of their right to decide—for themselves—what they will do if they become pregnant. Do not sit quietly by. Women’s reproductive rights are not just a woman’s issue; they are an issue of justice and democratic freedom.” Chuck Derry, cofounder Gender Violence Institute

“When I was still a teenager, I was having unprotected sex with my girlfriend. I was ignorant and irresponsible; I assumed she was taking measures to avoid a pregnancy Why? My reasoning was shallow. I thought, well, she’s the woman, and she’s had more experience in these matters since she was mother to a four year-old. When she told me she was pregnant, I freaked out. I was about to start my first year of college. I “convinced” her to abort the pregnancy. I played the victim; guilt-tripping her, saying something like, “How could you this to me when I’m just starting college?” I acted as if I was not co-responsible for the pregnancy. Feeling alone, she got the abortion. I was not even present. My “excuse?” She was living in another city and did not let me know where and when it would occur. All these decades later, the question remains: When women face an unplanned pregnancy and all the complex decision-making it requires, where are the men? A few years later, after I was lucky enough to be exposed to feminism, I became active in the profeminist men’s movement in my native Nicaragua. That was in the late eighties and nineties. Then about 20 years ago, our Managua-based profeminist men’s collective, Grupo de Hombres contra la Violencia, drafted a statement about men’s responsibility regarding abortion. Here’s an excerpt: As brothers, parents, boyfriends, husbands, and friends of women who at some time have needed or may need a therapeutic abortion to safeguard their life and health, we reject the claim of criminalizing therapeutic abortion… Men have no right to demand that women put their lives at risk… It is the right of women to put their own health and well-being first. If therapeutic abortion is penalized, then men should also be imprisoned. Men are the cause of many abortions, particularly when we behave in the following ways: 

               – Pressure or force women to have sex.

               – Refuse to use condoms or other male contraception. 

               – Prevent a partner from using her preferred contraceptive method. 

               – Inflict physical, sexual or emotional violence on a partner. 

               – Deny responsibility for her pregnancy.

               – Fail to comply with legal and moral obligation to support our children. 

               – Strong-arm and/or threaten our partner to abort.

Abortion is a very complex, delicate issue. But what is clear is women are the ones who experience pregnancy and abortion. Women must always have the last word.”

Oswaldo Montoya, Networks associate, MenEngage Alliance; cofounder, Grupo de Hombres contra la Violencia, Managua

Rob Okun is editor of Voice Male magazine and a member of the steering committee of North America MenEngage. He was one of Women eNews “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” in 2018, receiving the Gordon Gray Male Leadership award. He can be reached at

June 10th 2019, 6:55 pm

The Ovary Office: This is No Time for ‘Polite’


Women have been told to sit down and keep quiet, to stand off to the side and stay out of view. 

In other words: Be Polite.

We have witnessed and watched, with absolute disgust and horror, how women who have run for office have been dragged through the mud, hung out to dry, vilified, verbally and emotionally assaulted and put in their “place”—that “place” being a corner—or shushed, told to stand in the background, or ordered to stand behind because we all know that old saying: Behind every great man…is a woman, being told to be polite. 

To say that women are judged unfairly is an understatement. We are judged from every single angle: from the way we talk, to the way we dress, to the way we wear our hair, to the shoes on our feet, to the clothes on our back. We are judged for being strong, being determined, being smart, and being gutsy. 

Being Persistent. Nevertheless, We Run!

Women candidates are put under a different microscope than their male counterparts are; women candidates are pulled apart at the seams and admonished for emotional outbreaks, instead of being hailed for their passion and compassion and empathy, which are qualities women have in abundance. Our anger is equated with hormonal imbalance, not inequality, and our frustration, we are told ad nauseam, comes from either menstruation or menopause—period. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, one of the handful of Democratic women who have stepped into the Democratic presidential ring, all knowing beforehand that they will get pummeled many times, got into a bit of verbal tussle with Chris Wallace at a FOX News town hall meeting where he reminded her that she had been invited and she needed to be a bit more polite.

More Polite.

When is the last time you heard someone tell a male candidate to be more polite?

Let me tell you what being polite does. It shrinks our soul, diminishes our shine, and it keeps us wedged—tucked—into a corner. We can’t ride a wave because being polite would prevent us from making waves. It keeps us fresh and tidy, discouraged from speaking our truth or declaring our truth, because if we speak our truth or declare our truth and someone gets offended…and we all know someone is bound to get offended when a woman speaks her mind.

“Mind Your Business is what we’re told.

Being polite is agreeing and acquiescing when every fiber in our being is shouting and screaming, “Do not agree and do not acquiesce.” It keeps us quiet and in the background, preventing us from being seen, being heard, and being loud.

It is waiting until everyone else gets served, waiting until everyone else is seated even if it means sitting on the floor. It is letting so much crap eat away at us—at our soul, at our heart, at our spirit, at our life force—allowing others to make claims on what is ours, allowing others to cut ahead in line, allowing others to steal our thunder. Polite is risk free, no sharp edges, no noticeable scars; blemish free. 

It is trying to be perfect.  It is tasteless and bland. 

Polite is a first cousin to being nice; both are rooted in fear and worry, preventing us from standing tall, standing up and standing for who and what we believe in, allowing others to get ahead at our expense. Polite may give us the shirt off its back, but it will never allow us to stand on it, and it most certainly won’t have ours. Polite will never have our back.

Now is not the time for women to be POLITE. Now is the time for women to be POLITICAL.

Welcome to The Ovary Office.

The Ovary Office is a new Women’s eNews series covering the women who are running for the presidency, to counterbalance the patriarchal slant that currently exists in much of the mainstream media. One of these glaring omissions from the American mainstream media is the lack of real coverage of the women running for the presidency. While there are six Democratic women vying to become the party’s presidential candidate nominee, their male counterparts have attained about eighty percent of the media’s coverage, thus drowning out women’s platforms and their viability as presidential candidates. The Ovary Office plans to turn this narrative upon its head.

The Ovary Office is the brainchild of Amy Ferris, a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer, and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of its 21 Leaders for the 21st Century for 2018. Amy is also known for championing, encouraging, and inspiring women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor—along with a heaping side of activism.

June 6th 2019, 7:34 pm

On World Environment Day


On World Environment Day
“Girls and Rhinos Have The Same Enemy”

Today, on World Environment Day, we hope you’ll listen to what some girls in East Africa have to say about the link between girl’s rights and conservation.

The short video, Girls’ Rights or Conservation?,
 (link belowaims to change the narrative for girls living alongside wildlife, and provide opportunities for those working in the field of conservation to embrace these young women as leaders and change makers.

Thank you to these amazing budding journalists and conservation advocates!  


*This video is part of a collaborative project with South Africa’s BRAVE, Kenya’s Samburu Girl’s Foundation and GlobalGirl Media, in Kenya.

June 5th 2019, 11:29 am

Taking Back the Streets with Chalk


I was 15 years old and walking to the first day of my summer job. I was thinking about making a good impression on my boss. I had painstakingly picked out my outfit: a purple sun dress and white espadrilles. The nervous rush of excitement brought about by my acquaintance with adulthood was quickly interrupted as I got off the number 1 train at 18th street and 7th Avenue in New York City. “Hey, beautiful!” “You’re sexy” “Gorgeous” “Mmmmm.” These are some of the many comments I heard on my walk to work that day. My first thought was to respond ‘thank you.’ After all, these comments sounded like compliments. But in these moments, they felt nothing like compliments. I felt uncomfortable: like my body was under surveillance. Each new block made me more self conscious. I wanted to hide. Quickly, I started to think there must be something about what I was wearing that was provoking this harassment. Was my dress too short or too tight? When I got home that night and told my parents, they suggested I ignore it. My dad even said I should ‘dress down’ to avoid provoking unwanted attention.

Years later, for a freshman year writing assignment, I decided to do something about the harassment I was facing. Frustrated by feeling silenced, I decided to respond to catcalling in a creative way. I started to collect catcalls, both from my experiences and from those of friends, and write them on the streets with chalk where they were being shouted, along with the hashtag #stopstreetharassment. The colorful chalk would mark the spots where someone was harassed. It would catch people’s attention and bring to light something that is normally ignored. Then, I would post their images on Instagram to illustrate the catcalling spectrum, highlighting comments from “hey beautiful” to “I want to f*ck the sh*t out of you.” The combination of public art and Instagram would be a method of raising awareness. It would make people confront this problematic behavior and educate them about how frequent and invasive this behavior is. I could provide victims of harassment a space to share their story and start a dialogue about harassment.  

As a 19 year old student, I never could have predicted the impact that this project would have.  At first, writing in chalk was a way for me to feel empowered when so much of my agency in public space had been taken away.  But this project has become so much bigger than me. In December, 2017, almost two years after I started my project and shortly after the #MeToo movement went viral, @catcallsofnyc got picked up by international press; @catcallsofnyc went from having 800 followers to over 10 thousand in just one week. This growth proved that the account was providing something that many people around the world needed. Much like my younger self; many folks facing harassment felt isolated by these experiences. They were ashamed to tell people because they felt it was somehow their fault.

Being one voice among many makes the fight against street harassment louder and harder to ignore, and this feeling of empowerment is contagious. I began receiving messages from people asking, “Can I bring this initiative to my city?” Accounts started sprouting up around the world. Catcalls of London, Catcalls of Amsterdam and Catcalls of Paris were some of the first to launch. Soon after, Catcalls of Mauritius, Catcalls of Berlin, Catcalls of Mumbai. Catcalls of Iran. Catcalls of Cape Town, South Africa, and Catcalls of Dhaka, Bangladesh began . Now, there are over 100 programs around the world that also collect stories of harassment and document them on the streets. My idea, which I now call “Chalking Back,” has been a springboard for young activists around the world to fight back against harassment, creatively.  

More than half of the women who run these programs are under the age of 18, and 88% of people are under the age of 25. They represent a wide variety of racial and religious groups and, because of them, what was originally a class project has become a global movement. The bravery and commitment of everyone involved in “Chalk Back” has built this movement from the ground up.

Last week, I graduated from New York University (NYU) with a degree in Gender and Sexuality, and after working on this project for three years as a full-time student, I have decided to commit my time to turning “Chalk Back” into an international non-profit to provide additional resources for the movement which will allow it to grow. Our mission is to allow young people to advocate for cultural change within their communities, and ultimately end street harassment through creative means such as chalk events and workshops. It is a community and youth-led project, based on our personal experiences.

We have been harassed. We have been disempowered. We have been objectified. Now, we will amplify our unique experiences to come together as a collective whole. Join us!

Sophie Sandberg, a recent graduate of New York University, is an activist, organizer and professional speaker. She founded Catcalls of NYC, a viral Instagram account and initiative which seeks to raise public awareness about street harassment using street art.

June 2nd 2019, 9:13 pm

Book Release: Wounds into Wisdom


Wounds into Wisdom: Healing Intergenerational Trauma, by Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, PhD.

“This book is applicable to any and every ethnic group,” Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, PhD., says. “It speaks to every woman who has been objectified or who has fear of harassment.” By studying trauma, Dr. Firestone has learned that the biological memory in all of us will continue to vibrate within us, stimulated by what our ancestors’ experienced. “We are connected not only between one another, but also from generation to generation. There are horizontal ripples and longitudinal ripples,” she continues, “Every thing we do to liberate ourselves from trauma will also impact generations. This is particularly true between mothers and daughters. It is never too late.”


Shedding New Light on a Dark History

In my twenty-fifth year, I dreamed of a slender Hungarian woman dressed in a fur coat. Beneath her lavish attire, I saw that she was, in fact, a naked skeleton, peering at me with both irony and affection. The woman could see that I was young and raw, paralyzed by an unnamed guilt, barely able to buy myself a teapot or a secondhand sweater without being assailed by self-doubt.

Dahlink, she called to me, her thick accent comforting and somehow familiar: Don’t be a fool! Don’t you think we would be enjoying our beautiful things if we could? Her jaw clacked with boney laughter.

Suddenly the lights went on and the room filled with rich- ly clad Hungarian ladies, skeletons all, enjoying a tea party. It was clear that they were all dead, yet they were also radi- ant and full of life. Turning toward me, their voices rose in unison: Do you think it helps us that you suffer? Live the life we could not live!

I sat up in bed and wept. Their words had penetrated me, touching the core of my malaise, an outsized case of survivor’s guilt I did not know I had. Live the life we could not live! These words became a turning point, a mantra, a north star. I took them with me as I found my footing in the world, followed the call to become a psychotherapist, and ultimately, rejoined the religion that I had fled.

But it was not until fifteen years later that I learned the truth of my dream. I learned that my German grandmother’s entire family came from Austro-Hungary; almost all had been murdered in Nazi Europe. Their elegant bearing had not helped them one wit to escape Hitler’s roundups; their assim- ilation into high society meant nothing in the end. Stripped of all their beautiful things, they died like paupers in the death camps.

Like many post-Holocaust families, my parents did not speak directly of these matters. The heavy legacy of loss re- mained muted. Yet for my five siblings and me, it was like finding ourselves in deep waters without life vests or instruc- tion. We responded as best we could, each of us fighting the undertow of history, swimming or sinking, not knowing how to help one another, divided by the trauma we had inherited, but never knowing why.

Scholars of intergenerational trauma tell us that the silence shrouding a family’s untold stories paradoxically becomes the strongest form of transmission. This was the case in my own family, and in myriad families with whom I have worked as rabbi and psychotherapist.

Yet, there is an inner compulsion to know. “One has to know one’s buried truth in order to be able to live one’s life,” writes the late Professor Dori Laub, himself a survivor. Many of us struggle to bring to consciousness the hidden legacies that our families bequeath to us. For some, it takes years to piece together the unspoken wounds that have shaped our lives. The residue of our ancestors’ unresolved injury does not simply disappear. In fact, it often weighs most heavily on the introspective, sensitive members of the next generations.

Rabbi Tirzah Firestone, PhD, is an author, Jungian psychotherapist, and founding rabbi of Congregation Nevei Kodesh in Boulder, Colorado. Ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter Shalomi in 1992, she is a leader in the international Jewish Renewal Movement and a renowned Jewish scholar and teacher.

May 28th 2019, 5:25 pm

“Now What?” Podcast: Carole Zimmer with Mary Pipher


It’s a subject that’s been on my mind — older women. They’ve been the target of jokes forever. Now that I’m a little older myself, I’m not so sure I like that, and neither does clinical psychologist and bestselling author  Mary Pipher. Pipher wrote the seminal book about adolescent girls, “Reviving Ophelia.” Now, she’s traveled to the other end of the age spectrum with her latest book “Women Rowing North.” It’s about flourishing as we age. To round out our conversation, I invited my young friend Haley Zimring to join us. Haley is 28 and has two young children.
So here we are, talking young and old and all the stages in between.
– Carole Zimmer

Listen Here

“Now What?” with Carole Zimmer is a podcast about inspiration, big life decisions and how we navigate all the bumps in the road.
You may subscribe to Now What? With Carole Zimmer on iTunes and write a review:

 You can also find us on Stitcher: http://www.stitcher.

Check out our conversation at:
Also, please follow us on Twitter and Instagram @Now_WhatPodcast.

May 27th 2019, 9:19 pm

Life as an Inmate — and Mother — in a Women’s Prison


The numbers are shocking but true. The number of women and young girls behind bars has increased by 700 percent in fewer than 30 years. In fact, women represent the fastest growing prison population in the United States. Perhaps even more shocking is that 60 percent of women in prisons have a child under age 18, and 60 percent of incarcerated women haven’t actually been convicted of a crime, but are simply awaiting trial because their bail is unaffordable.  

I’m no stranger to these numbers, because I was one of them.  Seventeen years ago, I was sentenced to one year and one day in Danbury Federal Correctional Facility for harboring a fugitive. Six months pregnant, young and in love, I discovered that the father of my unborn child was one of the biggest marijuana smugglers in the country.  Since he was never captured, I faced a decade of federal interrogations, until I was torn away from my daughter, who was then just nine years old. Although life-shattering, I witnessed firsthand the way incarceration rips at the hearts of children and families, and the injustices that women face behind bars – both on a physical and emotional level. 

During my time in prison, I, like other women, went to bed hungry; underwent hard, physical labor; and cleaned toilets with no cleaning supplies in a prison housing over 300 inmates. Toiletries were impossible to come by, and feminine hygiene products were not available. I also lost my name and identity when the system assigned me a number: I became #43949. And just when I thought I was finally “free,” things couldn’t have gotten any worse. After leaving prison, I was assigned to a halfway house before going home. It was drug-ridden and infested with roaches, and surrounded by other inmates who were predominantly men. 

Prison brutalizes women, but this is especially true for mothers with young children. In my case, my young daughter, Ashley, was left emotionally scarred after I was pulled from her life. While it’s been 17 years since I was behind bars, she says it still feels like yesterday. My daughter isn’t alone in her feelings, however. Statistically, two out of every 28 kids in every classroom have at least parent in jail, amounting to over three million children who are victims of parental incarceration. Many end up in foster care, which can be a terrifying experience for a child. Even more disheartening, mothers are more likely to be incarcerated far from home since there are fewer women’s prisons, making face-to-face visits with their children difficult and expensive.  

My experience in prison as a young mother, along with the experiences of millions of other mothers in the US, is the reason why I am sharing my story and advocating to change how women are sentenced in the criminal justice system. There are many alternatives to prison–like home confinement, probation and community service– especially for first-time offenders who are convicted of nonviolent crimes. Not only will alternatives to incarceration save taxpayers thousands of dollars, it will also keep families together, helping children live healthier and more productive lives.  

What happened to me, can happen to anyone. A poor decision or choice in the moment can have an irrevocable impact, but everyone deserves a second chance.  

About the author: Linda Argila is a motivational speaker and prison survivor dedicated to helping women overcome challenges, and to prison reform. For more on Linda, visit her website: or Instagram:

May 23rd 2019, 8:41 pm

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away: A Beauty Pageant for Men


It’s in the year 2195, in a galaxy far, far away, where you are cordially invited to the most watched reality TV show of the future: VICTOR’S ANGELS MR. WORLD BEAUTY PAGEANT, in the new film GALAXY 360, which is premiering in Cannes on May 20th and 21st.
It is a time when women rule the world and men dream of getting married, GALAXY 360 features Illumina (Anna Fishbeyn), a giant media personality who whips the male contestants into shape by using an insatiable sexual appetite and unorthodox coaching methods. With the help of the judges’ sexual longings, the men compete as they dream of winning The Golden Fallickorn Crown, a prize that will raise their social and economic status.
In a world where all the women are political leaders, the men are objectified, and being called a “Whore” is a compliment, the film features Illumina (Anna Fishbeyn), a giant media personality who whips the male contestants into shape by using an insatiable sexual appetite and unorthodox coaching methods. With the help of the judges’ sexual longings, the men compete as they dream of winning The Golden Fallickorn Crown, a prize that will raise their social and economic status.

Anna created Galaxy 360 to target the sexism, misogyny, and absurd objectification of woman in today’s society but in a fun, playful, and comedic way. The idea for the film was born from the #MeToo Movement and Anna’s own personal #MeToo incident.

“I created Galaxy 360 because I love comedy and I love feminism and I think reversing gender is hilarious. Gender roles have been so proscribed, ancient, constricting, and acceptable that they have become the breeding ground for countless corrosive demoralizing stereotypes that also happen to be absurd and hilarious and easy to lampoon. It is precisely hilarity born out of society’s hypocrisy and engrained prejudices that gave me the impetus and passion to create this film,” Fishbeyn says. “Galaxy 360 is a dystopian reality, ruled by women, afflicted by social media and corporate control, obsessed with male beauty competitions – as a response to the intense, unadulterated objectification of women during the U.S and World Beauty Pageants, and of course, Victoria Secret’s Angels annual two-hour TV Special.”

GALAXY 360 stars Anna Fishbeyn, Squeaky Moore, Lauren LoGiudice, Athena Michaelides, Lawrence Sturdivant, and Brennan Lowery. Written and directed by Anna Fishbeyn. Produced by ANTERIYA FILMS, co-produced by XOFeminist Productions and Margarita Fishbeyn. Cinematography by Bela Attila Kovacs. Edited by Tony D’Alauro and Cameron Bossert. Animation/Special Effects by Ace Salisbury, and music by Matt King.

May 20th 2019, 11:53 am

The Ovary Office: A New Series Launching June 7th


Electability, Likability or True Ability?

Elizabeth Warren has written 11 books, and Kirsten Gillibrand speaks fluent Mandarin. Still, we hear much more about how Beto O’Rourke likes to read, and how Pete Buttigieg speaks Norwegian.

These are just a couple of examples of how the national, mainstream media is more prominently covering male presidential candidates than female presidential candidates. In fact, one of the top female candidates, Kamala Harris, is being eyed more as an ideal Vice President, even though she is not campaigning for that position. This bias must stop, if we are to elect the best possible Democratic candidate, regardless of gender. And now Women’s eNews is doing something about it!

Lori Sokol, PhD., Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief of Women’s eNews, and Amy Ferris – writer, author, screenwriter, Editor, columnist and all around women’s champion – are teaming up to bring you a new monthly series, The Ovary Office, which will report on the true qualifications and accomplishments of each female presidential candidate, rather than her electability or likability, which too often takes precedence in traditional coverage of female politicians. Amy Ferris, with her usual fierceness, will interview each candidate about her expertise, policies and goals for the future of the United States with accuracy, honesty and transparency, which both Women’s eNews and Amy Ferris are known for.

We all know that presidential candidates rely heavily on major media coverage to get their messages across, and Women’s eNews, with a global readership of over 2.5 million, is dedicated to helping them get the coverage they deserve.

Watch for the series launching on Friday, June 7th!

May 20th 2019, 9:49 am

Transphobia and the Anti-Gender Movement


Last year, the UK government held public consultations for reforming its Gender Recognition Act, intended to seek input from trans people to ensure an accessible, affirming result, which would bring progress for the rights of trans people. Instead, it sparked a hateful debate about the very existence of trans people with a heavy dose of misinformation and fear-mongering. Similarly, a handful of anti-trans activists hijacked the front of the London Pride March last summer, shouting hateful slogans like, “dykes not dicks” and “trans women aren’t real women”. Over the last year, transphobia has only continued or worsened.  Conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation hosted prominent events featuring transphobic so-called feminists in Washington, DC and at the United Nations, and there was an overall increase of trans-exclusionary rhetoric online and in the media.

Since today, May 17, is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, Biphobia and Interphobia (IDAHOTB), I have been thinking about this rising transphobic activism, especially coming from women purporting to speak on behalf of lesbians and feminists like me. They’re often called TERFs, meaning ‘trans exclusionary radical feminists,’ but I think a more accurate moniker is “trans exclusionary radical fundamentalists.” Because, in fact, these activists align not with feminism but with the very forces seeking to erase LGBTIQ people’s lives and stall gender equality – populist, right-wing and anti-gender movements.

Just like any movement, feminism has grown in waves, developing and changing, with some factions becoming more intersectional, concerned with racial justice, police brutality, and wealth inequality, while others more conservative. Differentiation will inevitably continue, but absolutely fundamental to the fight for gender equality has been the rejection of the definition of gender as the sum of our body parts. Feminism understands gender as a personal experience shaped by social, economic, and cultural forces. 

As such, there is nothing more feminist than standing for transgender rights. In turn, excluding trans women from the women’s rights movement is anti-feminist. Whether knowingly or not, anti-trans activists are aligning themselves with the anti-gender, right-wing movements which have grown in strength and numbers across the world, which advocate for restrictions on sexual and reproductive health, rights and education; to ban rights to abortion; and to create a new definition of gender based on biological determinism.  

The similarities between anti-trans activism and the anti-gender, fundamentalist movements are striking. Last year the New York Times reported that “Transgender Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.’ The Trump Administration was planning to define gender as an immutable, biological condition determined by genitalia at birth. The arguments used by the Administration are exactly the same as the ones spouted by advocates of exclusion of trans women.  They all claim that if you are born with a penis you are a man, and if you are born with a vagina you are a woman. This argument completely overlooks intersex people and ignores what decades of feminism has sought to highlight – that gender is a social construct.

Anti-trans activists claim that trans women pose a threat to ‘real women’, and some have gone as far as to accuse trans women of systematically raping lesbians. Such unfounded, blanket accusations are no different from President Trump’s attacks on Mexicans as “drug dealers, criminals and rapists”. They are no different from Hungarian president Viktor Orban calling migrants “terrorists” and “poison,” or Russia’ President Putin implying that lesbian and gay people are out to get children. All are brutal, hateful, and misleading labels of minorities, designed to exacerbate fear, marginalization and hate.

Disturbingly, these fundamentalists use the language of human rights to spout hate. Anti-LGBTIQ groups label themselves as protectors of the rights of the family, women and children. Anti-abortion campaigners use arguments of the ‘right to life’ of the fetus. Religious groups quote rights to freedom of religion and belief in their efforts to exclude LGBTIQ people. Anti-trans activists do exactly the same by using pseudo-feminist language about individuality and choice to argue that trans women somehow infringe on the rights of ‘real’ (meaning cis-gender) women, and lesbians.

In fact, what the anti-gender movement, populists and fundamentalists, and anti-trans activists all do is pin one human right against another, pretending life is a zero sum game. They claim that it’s the right to religious belief or sexuality; family or gender identity; women’s rights or trans rights; rights of the child or rights of LGBTIQ people.   

This is completely flawed logic. Let’s not forget that we are never just one thing. We all have multiple, intersecting elements of our identities, and they are all protected. I am a woman, I value my family, I am a member of the LGBTIQ community, and these are in no way contradictory.

Since our inception in 1990, OutRight has been a proud LGBTIQ and feminist organization, fighting for gender equality for all women and LGBTIQ people. Seeing a group from within our own community aligning itself with the movements that advocate to ban abortion rights, to restrict women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services and education, to reinstate a binary society with would-be norms for women and men, and erase the very existence of LGBTIQ people shakes me to my core. Make no mistake, this is not feminism or lesbian activism. It is hate.

Jessica Stern is the Executive Director of OutRight Action International.

May 16th 2019, 3:56 pm

Legal Reproductive Choice is on the line in the US: What Will You Do?


When I opened one of the first abortion clinics in the country in 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade, women finally had access to safe, legal abortions. New York State had acted to decriminalize abortion in 1970, so we were already a step ahead. Doctors could now treat patients in a respectful environment, far away from the back-alley secrecy and lethal dangers.

I remember my first patient who travelled from New Jersey because abortion was still illegal in that state. She was white, in her mid-thirties, and married with two children. Abortion had then been viewed as a crime, a sin, a pathological response to pregnancy, an act of utter desperation.

I was 25 years old and nervous. In this, as in all my other tasks, no one had trained me. What could I say to her? What would she say to me? She was pregnant and did not want to be. Coming to my clinic required an enormous amount of courage, and now her future was in my hands. I was to guide her way; I was to be her bridge into the realms of power and responsibility that encompass her decision to abort.

I recall holding her hand tightly in mine to ease the discomfort of the dilators; that hand that came to symbolize the intimate personal connection of one woman helping another, the gravity of forming a natural alliance with that woman and the thousands who followed her.

Now, 48 years later, I can’t count how many hands I held, how many heads I caressed, how many times I whispered into how many ears, “It will be alright, just breathe slowly.” I saw so much vulnerability: legs spread wide apart; the physician crouched between white, black, thin, heavy, but always trembling, thighs; the tube sucking the fetus from their bodies.

“It’ll be over soon, just take one more deep breath” — one last thrust and pull of the catheter — then the gurgle that signaled the end of the abortion. Gynecologists called it the “uterine cry.” Over and over again I witnessed women’s invariable relief after their abortion that they were not dead, that God did not strike them down by lightening, and that they could walk out of this place not pregnant any more. Grateful that their lives had been given back to them.

The act of abortion positions women at their most powerful, and that is why it is so strongly opposed by many in society. Historically viewed and conditioned to be passive, dependent creatures, and victims of biological circumstance, women assume the power over life and death with the choice of abortion—it is THEY who decide when and whether to bring new life into the world.

In 1989, I led the first pro-choice civil disobedience action at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Nine people were arrested as we hung our Proclamation of Women’s Transcendant and Generational Rights on the great doors of the cathedral which stated:

  1. Women are full moral agents with the right and the responsibility to choose when and whether they will be mothers.
  2. Abortion is a choice made by each woman for profound personal reasons that no man or State should judge.
  3. The right to reproductive choice is a woman’s legacy throughout history, and belongs to every woman regardless of age, class, race, religion or sexual preference.
  4. Abortion is a life-affirming act chosen within the context of women’s realities, women’s lives and women’s sexuality.
  5. Abortion is the most moral choice in a world that frequently denies healthcare, housing education and economic survival.

Now, in the year 2019, we are facing a full frontal assault on these principals and on the delivery of women’s reproductive care from “heartbeat bills” to legislation calling for as much as 99 years in prison for doctors who perform abortions (which was approved yesterday in Alabama with Senate passage of a total abortion ban, punishing providers with up to 99 years in prison, and criminal penalties for women who have them). Now, the power of the state and the fundamentalists who control much of its levers are directed to insure that every attempt will be made to push women back to a place where they once again become the tools and vessels of the political.

I agree with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who said in his Nobel Lecture, “I am indeed thrown arbitrarily into history. I therefore choose to voluntarily shoulder the responsibilities of my advantages and the burden of my disadvantages.”

Now is the time, and this is the hour to ACT!

We are in a Profound Power Struggle…and are currently losing this battle. Step into your PERSONAL  power—take responsibility for your agency and your fundamental rights by doing the following:

*You can support you local abortion clinic by; escorting patients past protestors or volunteering for other support functions

*Help agencies that are working to get women in slave states—to Free ones—like New York (see list of agencies below).

*Join activist campaigns at any level you are comfortable with.

*Give money to organizations that are doing this work.

*Come out of the closet and talk about your abortion with your friends, family, and even strangers.

*Get involved with the Presidential election and demand that every 22 of the Democratic nominees are questioned about the stand on legal abortion.

*Hold speak-outs at colleges or other appropriate venues for women who are willing to tell their abortion stories.

Choices Women’s Medical Center works closely with the following funding agencies to provide financial assistance for patients seeking abortion services at our facility:

The New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF) supports people who are unable to pay fully for an abortion and live in or travel to New York State by providing financial assistance and connections to other resources. Contact: 212-252-4757 (leave a recording) or email: (work with a variety of intake coordinators).

Women’s Reproductive Rights Access Project (WRRAP) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization helping women gain access to safe, legal abortion services and emergency contraceptives. We work with pre-qualified, reputable reproductive health clinics across the U.S. on behalf of disadvantaged women in need. Contact: 323-223-7727 (leave a recording) or email (work with a variety of intake coordinators)

National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) works with members to remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion access by centering people who have abortions and organizing at the intersections of racial, economic, and reproductive justice. Contact: Charlie Hughes,

Midwest Access Coalition (MAC) envisions a world in which all people have access to safe, free, legal abortions wherever they live. As a practical abortion fund, MAC helps people traveling to, from, and within the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) access a safe, legal abortion with support in the following areas: travel coordination and costs, lodging, food, medicine, and emotional support. Contact: Marie Mohrbacher,, Outreach Coordinator

The Brigid Alliance is an organization that provides logistical and financial support for travel and housing for patients seeking abortion:

Contact: Odile Schalit LMSW MSC, Program Director,, 212.381.0846

Merle Hoffman is the Founder/President/CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center.

May 14th 2019, 11:10 pm

How Women Entrepreneurs and Freelancers Can Get Paid The Same As Men


Technology Can Help Level The Economic Playing Field

The gender wage gap for women in the workplace has been widely reported: Women earn on average 80% of what a man earns doing the same job.

What’s rarely discussed, however, is the pay gap that exists for women entrepreneurs and freelancers.  According to Women in the Workforce Report Self-Employed women earn on avg $56,184 per year, while self-employed men earn on avg $77,540 annually.

It’s not just pay disparity that are causing women entrepreneurs and freelancers insecurity. Late and non-payment also take a toll on financial and emotional well-being.

The Late Payment Gap

According to the Freelancers Union, freelancers across the United States make on average $45,000 a year, and lose 14% of their income to late or non-payment.  FreshBooks – Women in the Workforce Report, women freelancers get paid late 31% of the time.

“If you think about it but think about it in terms of in the context of the liabilities that you have, perhaps a mortgage, or car payments, even daycare for your children, it’s very painful,” says Lamine Zarrad, Social Entrepreneur, CEO, Co-Founder, Joust Bank.

“Systemic biases exist across the board. And as a woman if you engage clients there’s a higher chance of delinquent payments or non-payment,” he adds.

Technology – Leveling the Playing Economic Playing Field

Zarrad created a new banking app called Joust, aimed at eliminating the stress of wondering if you will get paid and when.  The app’s Pay Armor feature will pay your invoice immediately or within 30 days, for a fee of between 1% and 6%.

There are other apps that have features that allow you access invoiced funds. Experts say Joust’s low fees, coupled with Zarrad’s social mission to create pay equity in the solopreneur and freelancing worlds, make it a standout in the field.

“That’s going to be a huge game changer when women who are already managing so much can actually have some assurance that they’re going to be paid on time for their work,” says Caitlin Pierce, executive director of the Freelancers Union.

“We certainly are not delusional enough to believe we can solve the pay gap problem with an app, but we see it as an equalizer,” says Zarrad.

Creating Financial Security

Other steps self-employed women can take to realize the economic value of what they have to offer:

The New Realities of the Workforce

In 10 years, the majority of the U.S. workforce will be freelancing. For women, this takes on significant importance as more and more turn to self-employment and entrepreneurship.

While legislation and socioeconomics have a long way to go to catch-up to labor trends. It’s up to us to empower ourselves with the skills and resources we need in order to thrive.

Stacey Tisdale is an award-winning financial journalist, and CEO of Mind Money Media Inc., a content provider that focuses on how socioeconomic issues like gender and race impact our financial experience.

May 14th 2019, 10:25 pm

My Mother, The Brisket, and The Rabbi: A Love Story


I am a pathological liar. I stand by my superior ability to fabricate the truth, to create a false narrative, to lie on command. And I would do it all again if I had to.

When my mother was approaching the final stage of her life, she was often inconsolable. Dementia has a way of robbing those it latches onto with assorted unspeakable atrocities. The confusion, the fear, the sheer frustration amid the utter sadness, often overtakes not only the afflicted, but those who are ultimately left behind. Until an adult child enters the frightening and chaotic world of caring for a parent diagnosed with this insidious disease, one never truly knows the lengths they may go to in an effort to minimize a loved one’s suffering.      

Watching someone slowly deteriorate, day by day, moment by moment, is like dismantling a puzzle; piece by piece, the picture, no longer recognizable, begins to fade, its meaning has eroded, until it is no more.     

Piece by piece, my mother was leaving us.       

Though we didn’t know it at time, when my sister Barbara and I moved our mother from West Palm Beach to New York City into nursing care near us, she would live for just nine months. Those months proved to be transitional for her, but also, transformative for us.     

Confused, sad, angry, Esther Sheryl Prizant, “Sherry” was nothing like the sweet, funny, kind-hearted woman who was considered a second mother by many of our childhood friends. Because of my mother’s unremitting compassionate nature, our home, “the fun house” became a respite for many a wayward teen in need of comfort, some who even left home. 

When I was in college, I began to notice a pattern: boyfriends would spend an inordinate amount of time with my mother, having coffee, playing cards, watching basketball, under the guise of waiting for my return from the nearby university. On one occasion, I arrived home to find a boyfriend having coffee with my mother in the kitchen, while another waited on the porch for his time with my mom. Though I would like to believe that I was the main attraction, I have come to accept that this kind of behavior goes with the terrain when one is blessed with a mom like mine. 

“To understand everything is to forgive everything.”  Buddha

Watching my father and mother interact was like being an unwitting character in “Who’s Afraid Virginia Wolf.” It was fairly brutal. Between my father’s drinking, as he tried to provide for his large brood after his clothing store was destroyed by fire, coupled with many people occupying our modest home, it was often unmanageable. Even so, my mother never succumbed to the bitterness that could have been the proverbial response to living in such a chaotic and unforgiving environment.  

My mother, a dark-haired, green-eyed beauty of Hungarian descent, raised six children amidst financial duress and emotional turmoil. Yet, she always wore this bright smile no matter what the circumstances. While I am left with vivid memories of my mother, it’s her interminable spirit in the face of life’s unexpected challenges I often call upon when in need of guidance and support.   

It was from my mother that I learned my most important lessons about compassion and grace. When an unkempt, poor neighborhood child wanted to play with me and my twin sister, Joan, I recoiled. But my mother wouldn’t have it. “We are no better or no worse than anyone,” she chided, while encouraging me to play with the child. She also insisted that I give the young girl a hug. And I did.  

“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Ella Fitzgerald

When my mother’s stress levels would rise during the Dementia daze, she would display a range of varied emotions; the anger, the sadness, coupled with the relentless confusion, was typically not quelled by the many psych drugs doctors prescribed in an attempt to reduce her anxiety.

After finding my mother overmedicated, passed out in her bed in the nursing home, or planted in front of the nurse’s station in a wheelchair, yelling, confused, fearful, while sporting fresh bruises and bedsores, we were forced to make a change.  

And we become very creative in finding ways to help calm my mother, if not for her sake, for the sake of my neighbors who may not have approved of the loud disturbances emitting from my Big Apple crib, when we moved my mother into my Gramercy Park apartment, after her short stint at the Manhattan nursing home.   

First and foremost, we sang, all my mother’s favorites. “Bei mir bist do schön, please let me explain, Bei mir bist do schön means you’re grand.” We may not have been the Andrew Sisters, but we had our moments, creating some nice harmonies, and soothing memories.  

We also quickly learned the importance of focusing on activities that my mother would succeed in, such as spelling, geography.  

Me:   “What’s the capital of Alaska?”

Mom “I don’t know, Juno?”(ba dum bum tss)  

It was around this time my sister introduced a new way to reach our mother as she further descended into some other world, a seemingly dark, unfamiliar place. So, we persuaded her to stay in our world a bit longer by embellishing the truth.

“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing and should therefore be treated with great caution.” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Among my mother’s hopes and dreams, she wanted me to settle with a nice, Jewish man. Though I wasn’t able to fulfill her wish, my sister Barbara’s creative attempts to soothe my mother resulted in Sherry’s dream being fulfilled, even if only briefly, and only in fantasy.

Upon my return from grocery shopping one afternoon, I was met by an unfamiliar calm when I entered my apartment. It was uncharacteristically quiet, and surprising to see my mother engaged in conversation with my sister.  

Barbara: “Do you think I should make brisket or stuffed cabbage?”

Mom:” Definitely the brisket! That’s the winner!”  

Barbara: (speaking to me) “I’m having lunch with the Rabbi on Sunday, and Mom thinks I should make brisket!”

Me: (chiming in while putting away the groceries) “I don’t think you should have brisket. You know, animals have feelings like we do and just want to live. Why not make vegetarian stuffed cabbage?” 

Barbara: (whispering to me)”What’s the matter with you? There’s no Rabbi, there’s no brisket, Beevis! Just play along–Sheesh!”

Me: (Oh! I finally get it! Winking at my sister)

“Yes! I agree! Let’s have the brisket! The bloodier the better! Vegetarian stuffed cabbage is sooo boring…”

Barbara: (rolling her eyes) …And Jill is going to be visiting with the Cantor.

Mom: Oh, that’s wonderful!”

Me: (whispering excitedly to Barbara) “I don’t mean to complain, but wondering why you get the Rabbi and I get the Cantor? I mean, isn’t the Rabbi higher in rank than the Cantor? I don’t necessarily mind having the Cantor per se, but still…”

Barbara: (cutting me off, whisper fight ensues)“OMG! Where did you get your degree? Trump University? OK you can have the Rabbi!”

Me:“I didn’t say I wanted the Rabbi, and I take umbrage to your suggestion that…”

Barbara: (ignoring me) “Yes, Jill and the Cantor have a lot in common since they both studied singing.”

Mom: “Oh! That’s lovely!”

Barbara: “Ok. Let’s plan the menu for Sunday.”

Mom: “You’re having brisket, salad, roasted potatoes…”

So, this is how we spent many hours during my mother’s Big Apple residency: singing, spelling bees, practicing state capitals, and menu planning for our pretend Jewish husbands-to-be.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

My mother entered hospice care twice. The first time, we made a decision to hydrate and provide intravenous nutritional support after she stopped eating and drinking. It seemed cruel not to.

But when my mother became alert, she was livid, angry that I “brought her back.” With an unparalleled lucidity and razor-sharp clarity, she recounted her near-death experience in vivid detail. 

“I was waiting in line with the others to get on the train, we were dressed properly, preparing to leave, but you wouldn’t permit it because you were not ready to let me go.”

I promised her then that I would allow her to do what she needed to do, and that I wouldn’t stop her from getting on the train when it was time, next time.

It wasn’t until months after my mother’s death that I had an epiphany.     

Grief is an odd, unrelenting, strange trip, full of twists and surprises, with an uncanny ability to surface at the most unexpected times. I suppose grief never really dies, rather we just adjust while learning to cohabitate with our new circumstances.      

In hindsight, it’s not surprising that I got involved with my college boyfriend, now married, who reemerged after 25 years, surprisingly (or not) right around the time of my mother’s death. “If the world had more people like your mother,” he told me during our first meeting, “it would be such a wonderful place.”  

Rekindling a past love offered a comforting familiarity and bittersweet reminder of a simpler time. Being absorbed in a past love-turned-current also provided a convenient opportunity to avoid the grief process.   

But grief will not be ignored.   

While in the check-out line at Whole Foods, nearly a year after my mother’s passing, I came to realize the magnitude of grief, after the cashier looked at me strangely, asking if I was ok. I assured her I was. 

But I wasn’t ok. As I left the store, I was overcome with an overwhelming anxiety and unexplained urgency, as tears began streaming down my face. Instead of running from these uncomfortable feelings, I walked, through the green market, through the park.

And I walked some more, blending into a sea of unfamiliar faces crowding the bustling city streets, while feeling a sense of uneasiness, intertwined with moments of despair, when I was finally was able to put into words what I had feared most: That no one would ever love me the way that she did.   

It would be some time before I would find relief from the cascading sea of sadness that enveloped me that day. But gradually, this sorrow was slowly replaced with an acceptance, and that all-knowing feeling of what lies beneath the fear: the gut-wrenching truth. In a surprisingly strange way, it felt like a weight had been lifted. 

For I am one of the lucky ones.     

I am aware that not everyone gets to experience the gift of true unconditional love while a visitor on this earthly place. As difficult as that time was, there was a sense of calm too, in the knowledge that we can we can survive what we fear most: We can survive our greatest fear.  

Of the most unique and wondrous things about being a thinking, feeling, sentient being, is that every moment is an opportunity for renewal; a chance for change. In every moment we are given a choice: to act in fear or love.

I have learned my lessons well from my kind teacher, my mother. And each day, I choose to honor her by acting out of love, as she surely did.  

So, I’m not going to dine on brisket or marry the Cantor. Though my mother did not approve of lying, I would do it again if I had to. I’m sure she would make an exception this time.

Jill Rachel Jacobs is a New York based writer whose publishing credits include The New York Times, Reuters, The NY Post, The Independent, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsday, The Chicago Sun Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Organic Style, The Chicago Tribune, NPR’s Marketplace and Morning Edition.

May 13th 2019, 11:47 am

Handmaids and Jezebels: New York Must Not Legalize Harm


Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison once spoke of an enslaved pregnant woman whose master decided to punish her. The slaveowner dug a hole in the ground large enough to place her swollen belly. That way, he could whip her back, her face down swallowing dirt, without jeopardizing his future financial assets.

In that dark historic vein, New York State legislators are now proposing two bills to preserve this legacy of human chattel, defining women as vessels for economic profit.

The first bill is on the fast Albany track, sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Senator Brad Hoylman, to legalize commercial reproductive surrogacy. Under this bill, unfittingly called the “Child-Parent Security Act,” anyone can contract the renting of women’s wombs. Governor Andrew Cuomo is lauding the bill; yet over one hundred New York-based women leaders signed a letter, expressing their vehement opposition to the bill.

The other ill-advised bill proposed by Senators Jessica Ramos and Julia Salazar, and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried, also with the support of Senator Hoylman, would fully decriminalize the sex trade, including pimping, brothel owning and sex buying. Together, these elected officials, under the guise of progressive politics, are saluting an acutely regressive status of women, jeopardizing their rights to health, safety, bodily integrity and hindering any collective efforts to reach equality.

New York has vowed to reduce maternal mortality, improve women’s health, combat sexual harassment in the workplace, and take other measures for women’s equal treatment in life. Yet both bills are antithetical to those promises.

First, the commercial reproductive surrogacy bill provides no protection from abuse. Requiring only a 90-day New York residency with no background checks, anyone, including human traffickers, could haul women here from anywhere around the world for embryo implantation.  Under this bill, similar to the enslaved pregnant woman and contrary to established New York law, neither the fetus, nor the baby, belongs to the birth mother. 

Like the romantic fallacies portrayed in Hollywood’s “Pretty Woman” or “The Girlfriend Experience,” commercial surrogacy websites feature Hallmark-type images with names like Growing Generations. Remove those rose-colored glasses, however, and dark realities quickly reveal themselves.

In commercial reproductive surrogacy, for example, two women are often contracted: the egg donor and the surrogate mother carrying the fetus. Heavy dosages of hormones are injected into the egg donor, typically a tuition-strapped college student, to produce ova, at a proportion that can generate four years’ worth of eggs in one month. These women can suffer extreme pain and contract illnesses, such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can lead to strokes or heart attacks. Other long-term health risks for egg donors, including reproductive cancers and even death, have yet to be researched. A three-time commercial surrogate mother, Brooke Brown, died died to a placental rupture, as did the twins she was bearing.

Regarding the Salazar-Ramos bill, which would protect pimps from accountability, brothels would be turned into businesses and, like any other business, would give New York’s “If You Can See It You Can Be It” girls’ empowerment program an entirely different meaning. New York doesn’t even know how many women have died in the sex trade.

Both commercial surrogacy and prostitution are industry-driven – one by gestational surrogacy companies, and the other by a multibillion-dollar sex trade and its lobby. Both thrive on the vulnerabilities of disenfranchised people, especially women of color. Both turn their profits on growing demand for women’s bodies as commodities, and both kick open a wide door for sex and reproductive trafficking.

Women’s control over their bodies, reproductive systems and sexuality must be rights-driven. In a society where marginalized populations live with limited opportunities, the State must not bless the deceptive argument of “personal choice,” dictated by the power and control of reproductive surrogacy consumers, sex buyers and profiteers in exploitative enterprises.  

The European Parliament and many countries condemn and prohibit commercial reproductive surrogacy because it undermines the human dignity of women. After fatalities and other devastating outcomes stemming from commercial surrogacy tourism, India, Thailand, Nepal and Cambodia have all banned it. Parallel to these efforts that recognize harm, an increasing number of governments worldwide are enacting legislation that recognizes prostitution as systemic violence against women, perpetrated by sex buyers and organized criminal networks. These laws, known as the Equality Model, solely decriminalize the prostituted and offer them services.

New York must recognize that commercial reproductive surrogacy and the sex trade are stitched with that same noxious thread. A quilt where women’s bodies, especially Black and Brown bodies, are sown into history for the profit of others, disdaining the idea that women are human. Don’t we deserve better, New York?P

Taina Bien-Aime is the Executive Director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), the first and oldest international non-governmental organization dedicated to ending trafficking in women and girls and related forms of commercial sexual exploitation as practices of gender-based violence. CATW has national coalitions in over fifteen countries including thePhilippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Chile, the United States,Canada, Norway, France and Greece.

May 9th 2019, 7:38 pm

From the Executive Director: In Tribute to Lenora Lapidus


It is with much sadness that we report that Lenora Lapidus, Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, lost her battle with breast cancer on Sunday, May 5th. Lenora had a huge impact on the ACLU and beyond. I first met Lenora when I became Women’s eNews Executive Director in 2016, and quickly came to know her as a generous, tenacious, optimistic and joyous woman who was passionate about protecting women and girls under the law, while mentoring young female lawyers. While I will miss her warm smile and glowing presence, I also know that her work will continue to improve the lives of women and girls for many generations to come. – – Lori Sokol, Exec. Dir.

Below please find the email that was sent from Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU, to all ACLU staff yesterday morning:

Dear Friends,

I write with the very sad news that our longtime colleague, Lenora Lapidus, died this morning at her home, after a long struggle with cancer. The news will be a shock to many, because Lenora fought this battle privately, with incredible courage and dignity, while at the same time fighting valiantly and boldly in the public sphere for women’s rights. We will miss her sense of humor, her warmth and caring, and most of all, her firm commitment to making the world a more just place for all women. 

Lenora was a pillar of the ACLU. She began here as an intern in 1988, served as legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey, and led the Women’s Rights Project since 2001. As I have said before, Lenora renovated the house that Ruth built. She increased the Women’s Rights Project to nine staff, and reshaped its agenda to focus on eliminating gender-based violence, and furthering equality in employment and education. She spearheaded a Gender Justice Task Force of the WRP and ACLU affiliate lawyers throughout the country. Under her leadership, the WRP focused on the most marginalized members of society, including championing the rights of domestic workers trafficked by diplomats, farmworkers, nail salon workers, and women caught up in the criminal justice system. She was a globally recognized leader in women’s rights, and a powerful voice within the ACLU family for gender equity in the workplace. 

Lenora was a visionary lawyer. She litigated Lenahan v. USA, winning a decision from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights holding that the United States violated international human rights law for failing to respond adequately to gender-based violence. She represented military women in a lawsuit that led to the military’s repeal of its policy excluding women from combat positions, Hegar v. Panetta. She published many articles on women’s rights, and was the principal author of The Rights of Women, published by NYU Press in 2009. 

Lenora was recognized for her leadership on many occasions, including receiving a Wasserstein Fellowship from Harvard Law School for outstanding public interest contributions, and the Trailblazers Award from Women and Hollywood. In 2017, Women’s eNews honored her one of ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century.’

But it was her work as part of the team that brought a landmark challenge to human gene patents, resulting in a unanimous 2013 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, for which I will most remember her. This case was initially controversial among the ACLU staff — with some staff worrying that our legal arguments would undercut the intellectual property regime that protected science and the arts. Other staff wondered how could we not challenge a practice that inhibited women’s and others’ ability to get the care and treatment they deserved for breast and ovarian cancer. Lenora demanded that I break the logjam. Her lived experiences as a cancer survivor and her unflinching demand for gender justice made clear that there was only one decision to make. We took the case and the Supreme Court ultimately rejected the notion that the BRCA1 and BRCA2 human genes could be patented. Because of Lenora’s courage and her unwillingness to accept no, and thanks to the work of her ACLU colleagues who helped bring the case with her, the health and lives of millions of women and men battling cancer would be improved. The Myriad case would come to embody the two battles that Lenora so valiantly fought: the battle against cancer and the fight against gender injustice. 

We recognize Lenora as our friend, colleague, and tireless advocate for justice. We will miss her terribly. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Matt, their daughter, Izzy, and the rest of her family.

May 5th 2019, 5:14 pm

The ERA – Rising from the Dead


The House Judiciary Committee held the first Congressional hearing on the amendment in more than three decades on April 30. Supporters of the ERA argued that its resurrection was desperately needed. Opponents wanted it to stay buried. The conservative National Review opined, The Equal Rights Amendment Is Deader than Marley’s Ghost.

But this epitaph is premature. Two states—Nevada and Illinois—have recently ratified the amendment, bringing the total to 37, just one short of the 38 needed for ratification. The key passage at the heart of the ERA is:  “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The ERA, if ratified, would provide a strong legal defense against a rollback of the significant advances in women’s rights that have been achieved since the mid–20th century.

MARCH 22: A woman hold up a sign as members of Congress and representatives of women’s groups hold a rally to mark the 40th anniversary of congressional passage of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) outside the U.S. Capitol March 22, 2012 in Washington, DC. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a new version of the Equal Rights Amendment last year and called for it to be passed again. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Without the ERA, women regularly have to fight long, expensive, and difficult legal battles in an effort to prove that their rights are equal to those of the other sex.

But is the ERA necessary?

In a 2010 interview with California Lawyer magazine, the late justice Antonin Scalia said, “Women’s equality is not explicitly protected in the constitution or in the 14th Amendment.”  In his words, “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” Some critics argue that we don’t need the ERA because women have done ‘just fine’ without it. This argument completely ignores a troubling reality. Every time women make great gains, a sustained period of backlash sets in and a retreat follows on women’s rights.  

After women were granted the right to vote in 1920, the drive for more gains slowed down. It would take another 45 years for women to win the right to simply use contraception to plan their families. The women’s movement of the 1970s was followed by an extended period of “Post feminism,” and young women avoided the term as if it were a swear word. In 1998, a Time magazine cover asked, Is Feminism Dead? and suggested the answer was ‘yes’.

In 1991, women were enraged over the sexist treatment of law professor Anita Hill when she testified against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in his Senate confirmation hearing. Hill, who said that Thomas sexually harassed her, was grilled about prurient issues. Senators insisted that she name the pornographic movie Thomas allegedly recommended to her, “Long Dong Silver.”

Women responded by running for political office in greater numbers in the next year than in the past, and winning. Never before had four women been sent to the Senate in a single congressional election. The year 1992 was even dubbed “The Year of the Woman,” but mass political activism around sexual harassment mostly faded, until the #MeToo movement surfaced in 2017.

The ERA could successfully diminish the power of backlash that builds after every major step forward, because when rights are embedded in the Constitution, they are hard to deny. Recall that in the 1970s, Phyllis Schlafly, the ardent, strident and out-spoken enemy of the ERA, issued dire predictions about the aftermath of its passage. “She warned of a dystopian post-E.R.A. future of women forced to enlist in the military, gay marriage, unisex toilets everywhere and homemakers driven into the workplace by husbands free to abandon them,” noted the New York Times. Scare stories abounded, and the amendment fell short of the number of states needed for ratification.   

Although the amendment failed, the New York Times reported that, “Much of what she [Schlafly] recoiled from has come to pass: abortions are intact, albeit under siege in some jurisdictions. Same-sex marriage as a right has the Supreme Court’s blessing. Unisex bathrooms are a broadly accepted fact of life, notwithstanding struggles over transgender rights. And women today not only fill the ranks of the military but are also eligible for combat duty.”

But many of these changes resulted from legislation and, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg reminds us, “legislation can be repealed, it can be altered.” Or it can simply ignored. In April, the U.S. Justice Department decided not to defend a federal law banning female genital mutilation. This is a barbaric procedure, unfortunately common in many areas of the world. The section of a women’s genitalia that is key to sexual pleasure is simply cut out of her body. Women’s rights activists have called for the reversal of the decision. (Women’s eNews alerted readers to this story on April 26.)

What difference would the ERA make if it were to be made law today? According to the New York Times, it would “guarantee equal legal rights for all American citizens regardless of sex. It would also require states to intervene in cases of gender violence, such as domestic violence and sexual harassment; it would guard against pregnancy and motherhood discrimination; and it would federally guarantee equal pay.” During the 1970s and ’80s, Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped to persuade the Supreme Court to extend the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to prohibit unequal treatment on the basis of sex — similar to what the ERA would have done. But supporters said that clause didn’t go far enough, particularly when it comes to violence against women, sexual harassment and equal pay.”

Looking at the history of the gender pay gap shows us why the ERA is needed. This stubborn  gap persists despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was signed in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. He praised it as a “significant step forward,” but acknowledged that “much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity” for women. His words were eerily prescient.

Since then, some gains were made. In 1963, “women who worked full-time, year-round made 59 cents on average for every dollar earned by men.” In the past six decades, women’s earnings have increased, but according to the National Women’s Law Center, the wage gap remains stubborn, with very little change over the past 12 years.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) finds that “if change continues at the same slow pace as it has done for the past fifty years, it will take 41 years—or until 2059—for women to finally reach pay parity.” For women of color, the rate of change is even slower. The gender wage gap persists in spite of passage of The Equal Pay Act. Gender discrimination, unequal opportunities for advancement, and lack of federal paid parental leave and childcare assistance all contribute to the unequal status quo.

And the fight goes on. Since the 1970s, five states – Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota – have attempted to withdraw their approval of the Equal Rights Amendment. There is heated debate over whether states actually have the right to rescind a ratification. Ultimately, the Supreme Court may have to answer this question. And this debate is likely to intensify as we approach the magic number: 38.

Why is it important now?

In 2017, Nevada ratified the amendment, led by democratic State Senator Pat Spearman,  “It was then that other states said, ‘Wait a minute, you mean we can still do that?” noted the New York Times. In 2018, Illinois did as well. Then, in February of 2019, Virginia came close to being the 38th and final state needed to ratify the amendment — until the State House killed its progress. “The drumbeat for the ERA is louder than ever before. Women are marching, protesting, running for office – and getting elected – in record numbers. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have shined a light on the discrimination that persists in this country. And it is up to us to harness the energy of these movements to break through the final barrier to finally ratify the ERA,” says Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). “Our rights cannot be subject to the political whims of legislators, judges, or occupants of the White House who do not see women as equal citizens. We will not quit until women are in the Constitution, where we belong. Women are not waiting any longer. We demand full equality now. We demand that it be spelled out in the Constitution. And you know how you spell it? E-R-A.”

Virginia’s Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, has led the new movement to defeat the ERA. The Washington Post reports, “Virginia was poised to become the 38th state to ratify it, filling in that three-quarters majority of states required for it to become official. In Richmond, the GOP-led Senate passed the ERA bill [in February 2019]. And celebrities, lawmakers and activists were touting its revival on Capitol Hill in Washington. “But then a tiny subcommittee in Richmond — the House Privileges and Elections subcommittee — voted along party lines to block the amendment from reaching the House floor after heavy lobbying from Cobb.” The Post goes on to note that, “(Cobb) has powerful place in the world of business is her family’s oyster company, where she has worked mostof her adult life. Good thing there’s no sexual harassment or gender discrimination there, right?” Cobb bases most of her objections on abortion, “convincing folks that somehow, if women were to finally be included in the Constitution, it would mean all kinds of public money would be funding abortion.” However, the ERA has nothing to do with abortion.

 “Today, we are witnessing a massive cultural shift for women around the globe. As the highest-ranking female elected official in New York ?– the birthplace of the women’s rights movement – we must lead by example and pass the Equal Rights Amendment now,” says NYS Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “From the workplace to our health care system, women are being held back by outdated institutional social and economic barriers. Because of our current climate, enacting an ERA on both the state and federal level is more important now than ever. Let’s take action and support women around our nation to achieve full constitutional equality. Our generation must take the torch passed on to us by our foremothers and enact a new ERA for the next generation.”

As the battle rages on, Justice Ginsburg, aka The Notorious RBG, has also made one of the best arguments for ratification: “I would like my granddaughters, when they pick up the Constitution, to see that notion—that women and men are persons of equal stature—I’d like them to see that is a basic principle of our society.”

May 2nd 2019, 4:41 pm

Beyonce’s Homecoming: A Lesson In Black Excellence and Vulnerability


Beyoncé is as close to perfection as one can ever hope to become. She is the face of #iwokeuplikethis. But her new video, Homecoming, released on Netflix reveals a different side of this fierce, feminist icon. Between clips of her 2018 Coachella headline performance, the audience is given a glimpse beyond the effortlessly perfect front we are used to seeing. In this two-hour documentary, Beyoncé reveals another superpower: Vulnerability and authenticity.

We see a woman struggling to get back in shape after a difficult and dangerous pregnancy. A woman who is tired, sweaty, and frustrated as she learns her dance routine and directs a crew of 100+ individuals.

Her voice narrates the video of her first rehearsal post-birthing twins: “There were days I thought I’d never be the same. I’d never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same.”

She reveals the internal struggles she faced, as well: “A lot of the choreography is about feeling so it’s not as technical. It’s your own personality that brings it to life and that’s hard when you don’t feel like yourself… it took me a while to feel confident enough.” Her vulnerability is refreshing and restorative to women, especially Black women who so often feel the need to project a strong, stoic front to the world.

Black women live at the intersection of racism and sexism. These systems of oppressions work constantly to demean, depress and disenfranchise those it intends to harm. Yet magically, and miraculously, Black women continue to rise like the mythological phoenix, but that doesn’t negate the harm of the fire that burns them. The ashes do not simply disappear once they are in flight. Black women are human, and like all humans, they need space to mess up, grow, fail, succeed, fail again, and genuinely come into their own power.

But Black women are consistently given the least number of resources and receive the most judgement about their decisions.

Many religious institutions admonish them for their bodies and sexuality. White conservatives label them as moochers and welfare queens. Most media paints them into caricatures: Angry, aggressive adversaries and asexual maternal figures with no lives of their own; or overly-sexual beings that only exist for the beck and call of men.

With no nuance provided and minimal honest investigation of their true lives, we are left with few authentic representations of Black woman and the effort it takes to be excellent, which makes watching this documentary even sweeter. In a call-and-response portion of Beyoncé’s performance, she incorporates audio of one of Malcolm X’s speeches amidst her lyrics:

Malcolm X: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.”

Beyoncé: “I am the dragon breathing fire.”

Malcolm X: “The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.”

Beyoncé: “Beautiful man, I’m the lion.”

Malcolm X: “The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

By using her own language to counter Malcolm X’s sobering truths, she both acknowledges the oppressive forces they are up against while providing an empowering denouncement of those who deny their power, beauty, and humanity.  However, such responses also contribute to a societal expectation that Black women are able to do anything, but there is no gladness in being the mule of the world. This expectation is hurtful and deadly.  While there is pride in overcoming such immense strugglea and oppression, many fail to recognize the price being paid. “What people don’t see is the sacrifice,” Beyoncé notes.

The Black community has started to connect the dots where Black women are expected always appear strong, thus creating additional stressors that can lead to development of serious mental and physical health issues. Due to stress-related accelerated biological aging, Black women between the ages 49-55 are 7.5 biological years “older” than white women on average, with perceived stress and poverty accounting for 27 percent of this difference. Further, the pain women of color experience in medical situations is often perceived as lower than the pain of white women due to erroneous racial biases that women of color have higher pain tolerance. Having their pain taken less seriously has proven to be lethal in many cases.

Beyoncé, herself, experienced serious complications during her pregnancy, including high blood pressure, toxemia, pre-eclampsia, and an emergency C-section. “I was in survival mode and did not grasp it all until months later,” she notes. Still, she pushed herself to get back to work as soon as possible, driven to use her platform to help “lift up” her people and “put on stage a proud moment for us”.

As the first female African American woman to headline Coachella, she had a vision for a performance that evoked images from HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities): “I wanted a Black orchestra. I wanted the steppers. I needed the vocalists… the amount of swag is just limitless.” Her Homecoming video also includes audio from numerous famous African American scholars dispersed throughout. “I wanted every person who has ever been dismissed because of the way they look feeling like they were on that stage killing it,” she notes.

This centering of “The Other” is a highly strategic move that not only gives the mostly white Coachella audience a Black history lesson they would never forget, but also provides a grand display of authenticity in an industry sometimes filled with thoughtless stage productions. It was a move that only Beyoncé could have pulled off. Her earth-shattering theme came right from her very own Black southern background.

Beyoncé worked hard to provide this experience. Possibly too hard. She admits during her film, “I pushed myself further than I knew I could and I will never push myself that far again.” The power of this comment was not lost on us. Beyoncé is acknowledging how even she, a woman with an extensive staff helping her to maintain a front of effortless perfection and providing many of the resources needed to reach her goals, is prone to breakdowns. It is eye-opening when a person you idolize as ‘having-it-all’ suddenly reveals that she does not. It illustrates the hollowness of this flawless front we are desperately trying to build for ourselves. We see reality more clearly.

In this moment of the film, Beyoncé is recognizing that we need more than superwomen to help move us forward into bigger and better opportunities. We need authentic, sincere women who are willing to be honest about the struggles they faced to get where they are so the other women following them realize they are allowed to struggle, too, and that struggling doesn’t make us any less worthy.

Homecoming ends with audio of Dr. Maya Angelou. The brilliant writer is asked what advice she would give the next generation and the first thing she says is: “Tell the truth. To yourself first, and to the children.”

We as an audience are left to consider that, when you practice radical self-honesty, the pain of the truth gives way to the wonderment of growth. And when that level of vulnerability is displayed, honored, and respected in front of our children, we can raise generations of young people who understand that growth and improvement is always better than inflexible ideals of perfection.

Only when we show up as who we are, flaws and all, no matter how accomplished we become, do we give permission to others to recognize the greatness in themselves.

About the Authors:

Afftene Taylor is a full time web developer and aspiring actress and writer. She currently lends her creative talents to the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company’s daily audio podcast drama, Mercury: A Broadcast of Hope. You can follow her on Instagram at @madebyafftene.

Caralena Peterson is a high school teacher, writer and visual artist. She is at work on the forthcoming book The Effortless Perfection Myth. You can follow her on Instagram at @caralenapeterson or @badasscreative_

April 28th 2019, 1:36 pm

Women’s Rights Advocates Condemn DOJ Decision to Not Defend Female Genital Mutilation Law


On Thursday, April 25th, Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12) (pictured in center) joined elected officials and Equal Rights Amendment advocates to condemn a recent US Department of Justice decision to not  defend a federal law banning FGM/C, to call for Speaker Pelosi to step in to defend the law, and call for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Congresswoman Maloney is the sponsor of H.J. Res. 35, a bill to restart the ratification process of the ERA.

While the Trump Administration has decided not to defend the 1996 law banning FGM/C, the House or the Senate could do so. Accordingly, Congresswoman Maloney wrote a letter today (full text below) to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to urge her to defend the law in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

In light of a federal district court in Michigan’s November, 2018 ruling that Congress does not have the constitutional authority to criminalize FGM/C, the advocates today highlighted the need to ratify the ERA. Without this constitutional bedrock protecting women’s rights, courts can roll back the laws Congress passes.

“Female genital mutilation and cutting is a grotesque and extremely painful procedure that removes a portion of a woman’s sexual organs in order to exert control over her bodily integrity and sexual autonomy. The Trump Administration’s decision not to protect women and girls from this horrific practice illustrates not only its unwillingness to fight for women’s rights, but also exposes large loopholes in our Constitution that allow for women’s rights to be chipped away far too easily. Activists have been fighting the same battles for decades, and without the Equal Rights Amendment any progress we achieve can be rolled back. It’s time for the ERA to finally be ratified so that the rights of women can be protected, no matter who is in the White House, who sits on the bench, or who is in the majority in Congress or state capitols,” said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12).

“As a survivor of female genital mutilation, I am deeply disappointed by the decision of the Department of Justice,” added Aissata M.B. Camara, Co-Founder, There Is No Limit Foundation. “This outcome undermines decades of progress made by activists like me to end this harmful practice. It sends a negative message about the value of our bodies and experiences. The time to act is now—protecting women and girls rights must be a priority.  I applaud everyone breaking their silence because FGM affects all of us and it’s a violation of human rights. Ending this practice requires collective action rooted in community education and strong policies. I know we can achieve a world without FGM so women and girls can live to their full potential”

According to Kate Kelly, Program Officer of Women’s and Girl’s Rights at Equality Now, “Simply put, FGM is a human rights violation. It’s a form of gender-based violence and child abuse. The procedure can be fatal, and is always harmful. The decision by the DOJ to not appeal the decision in the Nagarwala case tacitly says that the federal government can’t pass laws to stop human rights violations. This is not true. Congress does have the authority to enact an FGM law. In fact, it is under international obligation to do so. Currently, 19 states do not have laws against FGM. In this very case girls were taken across state lines to be cut. This alarming lack of federal enforcement and gap in state laws is putting American women and girls at risk today,” said 


April 25th 2019, 8:51 pm

Can Women Save The World?


Can women save the world? By looking at the life Edna Adan Ismail, Somaliland’s former Foreign Minister and former First Lady, the answer would be a resounding, “YES.” Labeled the ‘Muslim Mother Teresa,’ Edna has taken everything she learned through these prominent positions to save the lives of untold numbers of women and children.

Edna Adan Ismail

As the current director and founder of the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeisa, her mission is to help improve the health of the local inhabitants and, even more urgently, to decrease Somaliland’s extreme levels of maternal and infant mortality, which are among the highest in the world. This non-profit making charity and midwifery teaching hospital, which Edna built from scratch, is also training student nurses and other health professionals. “I am just doing what needs to be done,” Edna says, reflecting on her decision in 1998 to sell her home and car, as well as donate her U.N. pension, to fund the hospital.

Edna Adan Maternity Hospital

Officially opened on March 9, 2002, the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital was built on land donated to her by the regional government at a site formerly used as a garbage dump. The region lacked trained midwives/nurses to staff the hospital – as most had either fled the country or been killed during the Somali Civil War, which destroyed Somaliland’s entire health infrastructure. Edna recruited more than 30 candidates and began training them while the hospital was still under construction. Now completed, it houses two operating rooms, a laboratory, a library, a computer center and a university dedicated to training nurses and midwives as well as other health professionals. As of 2018, the university hospital has grown to 200 staff members and 1500 students. “Due to our training, our country now has the largest number of midwives per capita, and we have been able to reduce infant mortality significantly,” Edna says proudly. The hospital’s historical survival rate is 75% higher than the national average.

This facility is also the address where Edna calls home, having moved into the only room that had a door and a shower/toilet during construction. “I was born into this,” she says, recalling that, as a child, “the problems of the world came to my father’s door.” Edna witnessed her father, a prominent physician, display compassion, generosity and devotion to his patients throughout her childhood. “His patients came before his own needs,” she recalls. “I brought this level of dedication to my diplomatic career, and now to this hospital.”

The first woman Minister of Social Affairs (August 2002 – June 2003), Edna then became Foreign Minister, and found she was able to more powerfully present the case for supporting Somaliland not only as a diplomat, but as a woman. “Being a woman, I am allowed to be forceful and angry and show sorrow for my people. I am allowed to express pain and sorrow and anger. I can be motherly and I can be tenacious. I can also shed a tear or two,” Edna adds. “I can also share emotions I feel by witnessing the pain and Injustice my country has suffered.” Further, as the Foreign Minister of Somaliland, Edna purposely hosts delegations at the hospital. “I do this so that I can prove to everyone that if this site is good enough for my patients, it is also good enough for me to live in, and it is also good enough for those who wish to associate with me.” As the only woman in the delegation, she has also had to remind other dignitaries that she is the head of the delegation. “If I bang on a table or shed a tear, don’t try to appease me, I tell them. When I express anger, don’t tell me to cool down,’ she continues. “Don’t try to impose a different emotion to what I am expressing at that moment. I will know when I want to cool down, and I will tell you what I need. If I wish to show my emotions, it is because I have chosen to do so.”

Yet one of the most memorable stories she tells is of an experience that occurs time and time again, and often just before a woman is about to die. “Since a woman in our society does not have the authority to sign for her own surgery when requiring a Caesarean section, she must have a male (father, husband, brother or son) do it for her. Sometimes, when we tell the husband that we must have his consent immediately (because of a time-sensitive emergency) or his wife will die, he will refuse, or will want to wait to decide. But we cannot afford to wait. So I summon a policeman, and on the back of the form I write, ‘I want my wife to die.’ I then ask him if he wants to sign that instead. The husband approves the surgery for a C-section every single time. If not,” Edna adds, “I would have taken the risk and signed it myself, which could cause me to go to prison if his wife did not survive the surgery. Fortunately, no one has ever called my bluff.”

Yet it doesn’t stop there. “My battle against female genital mutilation (FGM) has been the biggest battle of my life,” Edna says. A victim of FGM herself, she was the first woman to speak out against it. “These young girls have survived measles, whooping cough, chronic diarrhea and other life-threatening diseases, and when they reach the age of seven or eight, when they are learning to jump and learn and talk…they are subjected to FGM.” “It is not only cutting. It is total mutilation!” she adds. Edna believes that fathers have to be educated about the dangers of FGM as well, so she is working on publishing an animated book about it since so many in her country cannot read.

Based upon so many of Edna’s accomplishments, one would think there wouldn’t be anything she could fail at. But there is. “I want to get my country internationally recognized. That is my unfinished book,” she says. “The world is losing the presence of a democratic country in Somaliland.  We have managed to demobilize our militia with our own resources, we have a functioning, democratically elected government and we generate all taxes from our own country. While the international community is spending billions of dollars to try to bring peace in Somalia, they are ignoring the peace we have already achieved in Somaliland. We gain from peace and stability,” she adds, “They gain from lawlessness.” 


April 24th 2019, 5:47 pm

#MeToo in the Garment Industry


Chances are that the clothes you are wearing as you read this were made by a woman. Chances are that she lives in Asia and migrated from a rural area to a big city to work in a garment factory, a job she considers better than anything she could find in her hometown. Chances are also that at this “good” job she is not making a living wage, is experiencing some form of harassment or violence, and fears being fired. 

Approximately 75 percent of the world’s garment workers are women, making the fashion industry a powerful employer with a powerful economic force. Valued at 2.4 trillion, the fashion industry would be the globe’s seventh largest economy if ranked alongside countries’ GDPs. Despite the industry’s profitability, its workers are among the least protected or compensated. A garment worker in Delhi compared their low and inconsistent pay rates “like we are vegetables; our prices vary.”  Pervasive gender discrimination on top of garment workers’ temporary work status leaves women workers vulnerable economically and physically.

Female garment workers sort through fabric in a factory located outside of of Dhaka, Bangladesh on October 2, 2018. According to Human Rights Watch, sexual harassment in garment factories in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Burma, and Pakistan were rife with abuse, legal protections did not exist or were weakly enforced, and efforts to audit factories or monitor for harassment were ineffective.

Six years ago the world awoke to one of the acute dangers in the fashion industry when Rana Plaza – an eight-story building housing clothing factories – collapsed in Bangladesh, killing over 1,000 people and injuring 2,500 others. It was the deadliest garment factory accident in history.

Since the factory housed a number of US and European brands, the magnitude of the tragedy led to a groundswell of activism. Following global protests and outcry, global brands signed two agreements mandating more robust fire and structural safety standards in factories.

Gender-based violence at work

Still, structural building hazards are far from the most pervasive dangers women face in the garment industry. One of the most insidious threats to women garment workers is gender-based violence. This takes many forms, from outright sexual violence and harassment to physical abuse, inappropriate touching, and verbal abuse. Despite the #MeToo movement, however, we yet to hear their stories, but women’s-rights organizations and activists are working to change that.

Organizations of women garment workers are looking to spark change

At Global Fund for Women, we support some of the organizations working with women garment workers through an initiative funded by C&A Foundation and NoVo Foundation, to eradicate gender-based violence and empower women garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India and Vietnam. These women-led organizations are creating safe spaces for the women workers to come together to share their experiences, document abuse, and strengthen their leadership to advocate for their rights. Through increasing mobilization and organizing, women are being encouraged to join and lead trade unions; police and labor officials are being sensitized on the issue; and through negotiations with factory managers, mechanisms for safe reporting and response and being created inside the factories.

These organizations, and others are helping to build an understanding and awareness of what sexual abuse and harassment is for both the women workers and factory management. They are gathering documentation of the cases and data on how widespread gender-based workplace violence is for evidence-based advocacy.

Social norms and the pervasiveness of gender-based violence can prohibit it from being recognized as such. Further, the shame and stigma associated with harassment, particularly sexual harassment, and fear of reprisals at work prevent women from making formal complaints despite its high prevalence.Still, we know that in India 60 percent of female factory workers reported experiencing some type of harassment. In Bangladesh, 75 percent of women garment workers experienced verbal abuse, and 20 percent experienced physical abuse, according to Fair Wear Foundation.  

Maheen Sultan of Naripokkho, a women-led organization that began working with female garment workers after the Rana Plaza disaster, explained, “This is such an important area to establish women’s rights, with more women coming into the formal sector and with all the different kinds of rights violations taking place.”  She also emphasized that living free from violence is a predicate for establishing other rights. “Gender-based violence is not isolated to factories, or localized to workplaces; it’s woven throughout the lives of women. They experience it when they travel to work on public transit, in schools, and often at home,” Maheen says.

Change in progress

Change is slow, but there are encouraging signs. From grassroots to policy, the number of women leaders and members of the trade unions are growing; India law has mandated Internal Complaint Committees at the workplace; Cambodia is negotiating an industry-wide collective bargaining agreement; factories in Bangladesh are partnering with women’s rights organizations to allow worker trainings on sexual harassment; and a new and pending International Labor Organization (ILO) convention on ending violence and harassment in the world of work – the first international standard of its kind – is expected to be voted on in June. An international universal definition on harassment and violence in the world of work planned at the ILO convention in June) would set the stage for its ratification and the development of national policies and laws.

Change is possible and will require political will, as shown in the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse. It will also demand a human rights commitment from consumers, factories, brands, and governments. Above all, it will require the courage and voices of women garment workers and activists.

Sonia Wazed, of the Society for Labour and Development in India, explained, “Developing women leaders to claim their rights and that of their fellow members is a long drawn journey where women need to start questioning their perceptions of patriarchy, how it impacts them as workers, and why they need to challenge the existing norms that repress and violate their rights.”

About the author: Sangeeta Chowdhry is the Senior Program Director for Economic Justice at Global Fund for Women. She has worked on women’s empowerment and rights over the past decade with a focus on economic and environmental justice issues.

April 21st 2019, 7:13 pm

The Right Way to be an LGBTQ+ Ally


A few days before summer vacation, I got her text.

“I have to tell you something but I don’t want you to hate me,” it read. My seventh-grade heart started racing. Had I accidentally said something mean about her? Was she about to tell me we couldn’t be friends anymore? What had I done wrong?

We made plans to talk the next day in person. Sitting in the middle of the crowded gymnasium of Pyle Middle School, she leaned in and whispered, “I’m bisexual. I like guys and girls.”

At a loss for words, I just leaned in to give her a hug. I didn’t know whether to congratulate her or thank her. I just knew that she had taken a huge leap of faith, and I wanted to be there for her in any way I could. We had only known each other for one year, but she had become one of my closest friends. Her secret was safe with me, but I felt the need to protect her at all costs. I didn’t yet know against what, but I was about to find out.

As we walked through the school’s halls immediately after, I became hyper-aware of the comments my peers were making around us. “That outfit is so gay,” I heard a boy remark to his friend. “Oh my god stop being such a f*g,” another boy yelled. I felt as though these remarks were aimed directly at my friend, though I knew that none of them knew she was bisexual.

The following fall she approached me with a proposal. “How would you feel about starting a Gay-Straight Alliance here at Pyle?” she asked. I knew that an eighth-grader had attempted to start one a year earlier, but it never took off. “I’m in,” I immediately responded. “What do we have to do?”

We met with our guidance counselor the following week to discuss our idea. She was completely on board but seemed apprehensive about getting parental and administrative support. She organized a meeting for us with the head of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at our local high school, a strong-willed senior who was ready to help us. We discussed the goals of the club; to create a safe space for queer, questioning, and student allies in our community, as well as providing education about sexuality, which was a taboo topic in our middle school classrooms. We talked about the importance of confidentiality and anonymity in a space like this one. The guidance counselor reminded us that starting this club will be an uphill battle, and we might face pushback, but we knew it would be worth it.

Every day we became more and more aware of the necessity of this club. As word spread about what we were trying to do, a number of students told us they were in support of a GSA and would participate if we succeeded in creating it. A few students even approached us in confidence and came out, while sharing that their orientations did not feel celebrated or valued at Pyle, and that they needed a place to talk about it. A handful of students made snide remarks about the existence of a GSA–why was it necessary, and why did we care–but these comments only further emphasized the need to create this club.  

A few weeks later, we were finally able to meet with the principal. He informed us that he was personally in support of a GSA, but that he was worried about pushback from parents and conservative teachers. He also told us that the meetings would have to be secretive, and information about the existence and logistics of the meetings would have to spread solely by word of mouth. We weren’t allowed to hang flyers or mention meetings in the school’s daily announcements.

This took us by surprise. We knew we’d face pushback, but not to this extent. Yes, gay marriage had only become legal six months earlier at the federal level, but it had been legal in Maryland for over two years! And legality aside, Pyle was a place that prided itself on diversity. Every morning, during the school’s public announcements, a student read our school values, the last two which were: “sustaining a nurturing and respectful environment” and “honoring diversity.” It seemed ironic that these announcements would boast respect and diversity yet could not discuss a club dedicated to preserving these values.

“We can’t have parents getting wind of this,” he told us. He had a point. As middle schoolers we didn’t have much mobility, and widespread parental knowledge about the GSA could potentially put students in harm’s way if they lived in a homophobic household. Yet, at the same time, his demands felt too restrictive. They felt like homophobia veiled as support. His assumption that students would choose to conceal their involvement with a gay-straight alliance demonstrated our school’s lacking support systems for LGBTQ+ students as well as stigma around LGBTQ+ rights and personhood.

We pushed ahead with the GSA, compliant with the principal’s restrictive regulations since we felt that a restricted GSA was better than no GSA. For the first meeting, 25 students showed up. A number of them came out at that meeting, or have since come out as LGBTQ+. Many straight allies showed up as well. The enthusiasm from both groups validated our original goal: We had created a space where students could openly discuss and celebrate diverse sexual orientations.

We continued to hold GSA meetings every Thursday until the end of the school year. We mixed lesson plans with open discussions, careful to honor confidentiality and allow students enough anonymity to remain comfortable. By the end of the year, a group of sixth and seventh graders were attending the meetings as well, to whom we later entrusted the club’s future. The Pyle Middle School GSA exists to this day, and remains a safe space for LGBTQ+ students and allies.

A number of adults have since approached me to remark how brave it was to start this club. Still, I don’t believe I was the brave one in this experience, since I didn’t have anything to lose. The bravery belongs to my LGBTQ+ peers who attended the meetings and opened up about their lived experiences, helping to foster a more supportive network for questioning and closeted students. Bravery also belongs to my good friend and co-founder of the GSA for serving as a role model to our peers and future students. I simply saw a problem that needed to be addressed, and used my ‘straight privilege’ to help elevate the voices of those who didn’t have any. That’s not bravery; it’s responsibility.

About the Author: Emily Axelrod is a member of The Jewish Women’s Archive’s  Rising Voices Fellowship,a 10-month program for female-identified teens in high-school who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism, gender and social justice.

April 17th 2019, 7:47 pm

From Victim to Victor: Surviving Sexual Assault in Uganda


I am a survivor of a sexual assault that happened in my village in Rwanda when I was just an 11-year-old child.

I thought I had put all that pain behind me until 2015, when I traveled to Uganda to visit my husband’s home—the site of his organization, Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. There, I learned that a 35-year-old man had raped a nine-year-old girl that weekend. The adults around her knew what had happened, but they did nothing. Instead, they sent her to school the following day, as if nothing had even happened. I soon learned, too, that a five-year-old girl in the same village was raped by her grandfather, leaving her HIV positive. Then I heard about a 14-year-old in a neighboring village who had been repeatedly raped by her father, starting when she was just four years old. The child had attempted suicide twice, and made futile attempts to seek help and safety, but she couldn’t get away.

This is the sad truth about my part of the world: Young girls are frequently sexually assaulted in sub-Saharan Africa, and justice is rarely served. I knew I needed to do something to help.

This turned out to be more difficult than I had thought. While working with young survivors, I learned how hard it is to gain justice in Uganda. Survivors are responsible for completing their own police reports, which often includes walking an average of seven miles to report the crime, and paying $12.00 in legal fees—half a month’s salary for most families—before the perpetrator can even be arrested. The rape victim then has to walk another long distance to a hospital where she has to gather her own evidence to take back to the police. It’s a maddeningly cruel system that seldom leads to justice for survivors. Even worse, a survivor’s case can easily be thrown out, and often is. Survivors must come to court, which often means walking and giving up a full day of work for family members, and court dates are often changed at the last minute. Once in court, the survivor is responsible for presenting the correct paperwork and bringing enough copies for the court. If anything is missing, the case is thrown out.

The process is frustrating, grueling, and embarrassing for survivors. One young survivor had become suicidal after facing threats from her perpetrator’s family and taunts from local boys. Without support of any kind, she came to believe all the evil lies claimed about her. I therefore created the EDJA Foundation, to help survivors heal by helping them at every step, beginning immediately after an assault and staying by their side long after the criminal trial. Working with the community, we added a Rape Crisis Center within the hospital to support survivors immediately after being attacked. Since then, every survivor is given a rape exam, medical attention, and life-saving medicine that can prevent HIV contraction.

As we know, however, a sexual attack causes more than just physical pain. To address the level of psychological healing every survivor needs, we also established a Sexual Assault Program to provide free counseling. We began with individual counseling, and have since added support groups to accommodate the increasing number of survivors coming to us for help.

Additionally, our Legal Advocate assists the police by first locating many perpetrators, and then providing the police with a ride to arrest them. He also provides transportation for survivors to court, files the police reports, and handles other issues with the court. He is a guide for families through this painful process, while offering them legal counsel so they know their rights.

Finally, I knew we needed to do more than just react to sexual assault; we had to change the culture — fighting for a world without violence. Now EDJA educates the entire community through a monthly radio show and group sessions about girls’ rights, sexual assault, and how to get help for survivors. We also teach the community’s boys about standards of behavior that respect the rights of girls, which we hope will begin to put an end to the enduring rape culture.

Best of all, we witness positive changes every day. Over 50 rape survivors—some as young as four years old—are receiving life-saving support from EDJA. And, appropriately enough during April’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, that grandfather who raped his own granddaughter and infected her with AIDS received 32 years in prison. Today, over 30 perpetrators have received prison sentences.

Change like this is important for many reasons, including keeping the community safe. But most importantly, it’s a message to girls and women that they matter, they are valued, and they can fight for their dignity and for justice.

As a survivor myself, I can tell you that there is no greater gift to rape survivors than being believed and validated. That’s the message that EDJA intends to deliver to survivors worldwide, beginning with those in East Africa where women have accepted their fate of abuse for too long. Today, EDJA is saying in a loud and clear voice: Those days are over. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

About the author: Tabitha Mpamira-Kaguri is the Founder/Executive Director of the EDJA Foundation.To learn more about the EDJA Foundation to end sexual violence in Uganda, please visit their website, To view the trailer of their film, Victors, click here.

April 16th 2019, 10:49 pm

What ‘Career Barbie’ Really Needs


Barbie first hit the toy market 60 years ago in March, 1959. Her creator, Ruth Handler, believed that by playing with this new toy, “little girls…could be anything they wanted to be.” This message continues to be a clear winner.

In 2018, the Barbie brand “generated gross sales that amounted to about 1.09 billion U.S. dollars, up from about 955 million U.S. dollars the year before.” Mattel hit the jackpot with Barbie, both here and across the globe . The website Statista reported, “The commercial success of Barbie has allowed Mattel to become the ninth most valuable toy brand worldwide as of 2018.”

It is not surprising that to commemorate her diamond anniversary, Mattel introduced a glamorous Barbie who, according to the company’s product website, “wears a cascading ball gown twinkling with silvery sparkles. Paying homage to the original Barbie® doll and her iconic fashion heritage, Barbie® 60th Anniversary doll wears a dramatic ponytail with an elegant twist, side-eye glance, hoop earrings and wrist tag.”

The original Barbie was unrealistically thin, blonde and built with impossible to obtain proportions. Critics noted that she was stereotypically, the “dumb blond.”

That conclusion was reinforced when, in 1992, Mattel introduced Teen Talk Barbie. A doll with a voice box programed with such phrases as “Math class is tough.”, “Will we ever have enough clothes?”, “Let’s plan our dream wedding!”, ”Wanna have a pizza party?”, “Want to go shopping?”, “Okay, meet me at the mall”, and “Let’s have a campfire”.

With very few exceptions these phrases added to the picture of Barbie as a air-headed girl who could only think about enjoying today. She personified the stereotype of the day; a female who had no dreams of a future career, only thoughts about fun and marriage.

Since then, perhaps in response to changing demographics, Mattel has done a 180, and has embraced Ruth Handler’s message of choice, who once said, “Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.” Mattel’s recent focus has been on Barbie’s choice of career. One report on the popular website TwentyTwoWords claims that Barbie has had “over 200 careers… she’s been everything from robotics engineer to journalist; a few more of her careers include a U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Squadron Leader, a paleontologist, a fashion editor, a sign language teacher, and a presidential candidate!”

Barbie was around when the percentage of women entering the labor force shot up dramatically., and Mattel’s decision reflected this change. “In 1970, about 43 percent of women ages 16 and older were in the labor force. By 2000, 61 percent of adult women were in the labor force ,” reports the Population Reference Bureau.

In another move to recognize women’s outstanding contributions, Mattel honored a number of female heroes (Sheros) with their own Barbie dolls, including filmmaker Ava DuVernay , tennis champ Naomi Osaka, fashion executive Eva Chen and Olympic fencer  Ibtihaj Muhammad.  The list of continues to grow by recently introducing big wave surfer Maya Gabeira; Kristina Vogel, a disabled Olympic Gold Medal cyclist from Germany who has gone into politics; Tessa Virtue, a Canadian Olympic gold medalist in ice dancing; Yara Shahidi , co-star of the popular sitcom Blackish; Vogue cover model Adwoa Aboah; Dipa Karmaka, an Indian visual artist; Chinese photographer Chen Man and Ita Buttrose, an Australian journalist and editor. And, in 2016, “Mattel went a step further and released a range of dolls with different body types, more hairstyles and seven skin tones, to better represent the world we live in.”

Mattel has also incorporated other changes to reflect the diverse world of today. As of 2016, Barbie is no longer universally slim, blonde, and pale skin. She is now brown, black, and Asian. She also mirrors society by featuring some dolls in wheelchairs and even wearing a prosthetic leg.

So Mattel is clearly getting some things right, but there is one glaring omission. Barbie may have Ken, but she certainly doesn’t have children. In that way, she is just as one-dimensional as the original Barbie. Apparently, she can choose to have a career, but she cannot choose to have a career and children. Yet the choice of being a working mother is the overwhelming choice of her target audience. In an important way, Mattel is sending the age-old message: Women cannot have it all.

But young women are ignoring that advice. A 2014 large-scale Gallup poll concludes, “There doesn’t appear to be any evidence that millennials — both married and single/never married — are putting off having children. Even among the small percentage (2%) of married 18-year-old millennials, less than half (44%) have no children, and the percentage decreases with age to just 17% at age 34. And while few single 18-year-old millennials have children (4%), that percentage rises to almost half by age 34. Essentially, almost half of the oldest millennials who have never married nonetheless have children. In 2000, the comparable number for Gen Xers aged 30 to 34 was just 30%.”

Regardless of whether they delay marriage or decide not to marry, millennials are definitely choosing to become parents. In fact, working mothers are now the norm, according to a 2017 report from the Department of Labor. Indeed, “Seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-tim Mothers are the primary or sole earners for 40 percent of households with children under 18 today, compared with 11 percent in 1960.”

Women are clearly are opting to have it all, while Barbie is still stuck in the days when that option was not available. She may look different, she may not be tied to the house, but she is clearly out of touch with the life most of her target audience envisions for itself.

Maybe Mattel needs to add working mom Barbie to its cast of characters. She could be wearing a suit for the office, scrubs for the operating room, a police uniform or work clothes for the building site.

She would also come with a detachable snugli with a baby in it.

Dr. Rosalind C. Barnett is a senior scientist who has directed studies for the National Science Foundation, NIMH and the Sloan Foundation and Caryl Rivers is a professor of Journalism at Boston University They are the authors of The New Soft War on Women (Tarcher/Penguin) 

April 11th 2019, 4:04 pm

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April 8th 2019, 7:20 pm

Brothels of Bangkok


(An excerpt from Beautiful Justice: Reclaiming My Worth After Human Trafficking and Sexual Abuse)

I was invited to speak at a conference in Bangkok sponsored by the United Nations to address members of Parliament from more than forty Southeast Asian countries. While I was there, I knew I wanted to visit the local red-light district and connect with young women recovering from sexual exploitation.

I was honored to speak to world leaders, passionate women and men, devoted to ending human trafficking and gender violence. I shared how to empower survivors to become leaders, as well as strategies for integrating survivor expertise into policy making.

Legislators from India, Tibet, Japan, and many other countries from the surrounding regions resonated with my message: those who are most impacted by a human rights issue should shape the policies that will directly affect their communities.

As we discussed this essential approach to political change, I knew that a few miles from the luxury hotel where I stayed, teen girls were openly being sold out of brothels. Many of them, born into generational poverty, migrated from rural areas and experienced violence and exploitation after seeking better jobs in the city.

When I walked down one of the main streets of the red-light district with my friend Constance, I witnessed bar after bar filled with white Western men, holding their drinks and checking out the merchandise. Every time I saw a new neon sign advertising girls or heard another wave of men laughing with their crew, I was filled with disgust.

Each one reminded me of my trafficker and the men he sold me to, callous men ruled by their cravings, disconnected from the truth of the suffering they left in their wake. They refused to see what their desires, divorced from the reality of other human lives, ultimately cost.

Although technically it is not legal for the bars in Bangkok to directly sell the girls, they facilitate the transaction and benefit financially. In most of the visible commercial establishments, a buyer picks a girl and then pays the bar an “exit fee” to take her somewhere to perform sexual acts.

To the uneducated eye, it might appear to be consensual. But the histories of abuse, coercion, and poverty tell a different story. There is an illusion of a constant party with copious drinks, loud music, and young smiling girls. Some have numbers pinned to their clingy dresses so they can be quickly identified by a buyer. This ploy conceals the reality of rape, complex trauma, and economic vulnerability. It also hides the fact that many of them are underage.

A few blocks from the bars, a safe house for survivors of sex trafficking shelters girls in their teens and early twenties. Over a beautiful homemade dinner of Thai stews and rice dishes, I spoke to the girls about their experience in recovery.

“What do you love most about being here?” I asked the girls at the dinner table. One of the staff members translated for me. When it was her turn to speak, the shy, slender girl sitting next to me smiled and said, “What I like most about being here is learning about the love of God.”She beamed as she shared this, her face illuminated from within.

“That is beautiful.Thank you for sharing that with me,” I replied, in awe of her response. After walking past all the buyers, all the sellers, all the girls still trapped in poverty and exploitation, her answer pierced through my disgust and gave me hope. God was in the red-light district. I saw her in the faces of these radiant girls.

“My favorite part of being here,” another young woman said, “is our Christmas parties. Every year during Christmas, we host a party and invite all the girls from the bars to come, so we can give them presents and show them love.”

One of the staff members explained, “We pay the bar owners a fee for any of the girls who want to come. It’s the only time of year when they can receive. People are always taking from them.”

The girls were excited to show me the rest of the house. When we went upstairs, the gentle one, who talked about the love of God, walked with me.

“What are you passionate about?” I asked.

“I make art,” she said excitedly. “Want to see?”

“Absolutely!” I said.

She led me over to her collection of drawings and held one up for me to see, smiling with pride. “That is gorgeous. You are a talented artist.”

“Thank you,” she said with quiet confidence. She spoke like a person who had started to grasp her own worth.

I left my dinner with the survivors of Bangkok filled with hope. After all they endured, they are living with the joy of loving and being loved. They are learning the truth of their spiritual identity and purpose.

Love found them in one of the most loveless places on earth. In the past, they were told they were nothing more than sexual commodities to be consumed by men with greater power and privilege. Now, they were preparing for college and spoke with excitement about their dreams for the future.

As I watched the sunrise over Bangkok the next day, I could see that the light within these young survivors was far fiercer than the violence that was forced on their bodies.

Brooke Axtell is the Founder of She is Rising, a healing community for survivors of gender violence and sex trafficking. Her work as a writer, performing artist and human rights activist led her to speak at the 2015 Grammys, The United Nations and The U.S. Institute for Peace. She is the author of Beautiful Justice: Reclaiming My Worth After Sex Trafficking and Sexual Abuse.

April 4th 2019, 9:25 pm

Women and Girls are Being Raped in Uganda


Rape, Rape, Rape – Rape has become a problem in Uganda. Almost 40% of women and girls have been raped in the district of Mukono, especially in my village, Namagunga. Rape is a rampant issue. We find that the perpetrators are often the husbands or the boyfriends of the victims.

In Namagunga, there is a known story of a man named Ngobi Agabale and his wife Nakadama Teddy. One night, Ngobi wanted to have sex with his wife Teddy but she refused because she was not feeling well. Ngobi just forced her into sex (raped her). Teddy tried to scream but no one helped her because no one could hear her. Teddy cried and cried as her husband raped her. In the end, the wife died and the man ran away to another district. That is one of the ways women are being mistreated and abused by their husbands in Uganda.

I have also witnessed this happening with my own eyes to girls in my village. One day, there was a girl named Hope, who was going to Ruamutumba town. On her way, she came across an old man named Mukisa. Mukisa started calling her but Hope refused to reply. The old man started to chase Hope and raped her. The man was HIV positive, which means that Hope is now also HIV positive.

Because of this, I want to study hard in order to help those who have been mistreated. If my parents are able to continue supporting me in my studies, I will fight hard so that women can also be respected in Uganda.

So, I ask the government to continue to fight for women’s rights and for its leaders to believe women and to raise our issues in Parliament. The government should aim to teach equality and to tell men and boys not to rape women like that. I also request my fellow young girls to start moving in groups in order to save their lives.

Nakagolo Elizapraise (16 years old) is a participant in the Teen Voices @ Women’s eNews program at Standard Secondary School, Busembatia–Uganda.

April 1st 2019, 6:45 pm

A Small Step for Women – A Gigantic Step for Womankind


On Friday, March 29, the world will experience a watershed moment as NASA will celebrate the first all-female spacewalk in history. This small step for women is a gigantic step for womankind that didn’t happen by accident. When flight engineers Anne McClain and Christina Koch step outside the International Space Station and into history, it will be thanks to several decades of women and people of color who have introduced diversity into space travel.

Diversity in Space

A report from on diversity in space travel found that gender diversity continues to rise but still has a long way to go. In the 1970s, approximately 8% of astronauts worldwide were women and only 8% of those who were active in space travel were people of color. By the time Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel to space in 1983, those numbers had risen steadily. Racial diversity rose dramatically during the ’90s to over 18%, but it wasn’t until 2010 that significant strides in racial and gender diversity were made, bringing the number of astronauts worldwide to nearly 24% people of color and 31.5% women.

While these rising numbers are encouraging, space travel still has a long way to go before the industry can put real equality in orbit. Since the ’50s, roughly 88% of astronauts have been white and an overwhelming majority have been men. While the USA has some catching up to do in terms of diversity, space programs in Japan and Canada lead the way with the most gender diverse teams of astronauts.

Why Diversity Matters

Beyond the symbolic importance of having those in space reflect the diversity of humanity, research has shown that diversity can drive innovation, becoming a compelling source for ‘outside the box’ thinking that’s essential in science and technology.

Kelly Johnson, professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia, argues that increasing the number of women in the science workforce should be mission critical. She writes, “Progress in science is fundamentally dependent on having a mix of backgrounds and experience in order to think about problems in new ways and come up with innovative solutions. Progress also depends on having people with both technical expertise and the ‘soft skills’ to build successful collaborations and maximize efficiency.” Certainly astronauts, who are often required to multitask and take on several different kinds of roles in space, could benefit from the insight diversity brings.

Momentum behind equal representation in space travel is mounting. In 2013, NASA announced that the new class of astronauts—who might be the first to lead an expedition to Mars—would be 50% women, and it has encouraged more diverse leadership among teams applying for space missions. Commercial space travel organizations have followed suit, with Virgin Galactic cosponsoring a symposium on increasing diversity in space travel in 2016.

Making History Again

As the all-female crew prepares for their walk outside the International Space Station, they do so aware of its significance. The spacewalk takes place almost fifty-six years after Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963. Since then, fifty-nine women have gone into orbit as astronauts, cosmonauts, scientists, and specialists.

To complete the crew for this historic spacewalk, flight engineers Anne McClain and Christina Koch will be supported on the ground by Canadian Space flight controller Kristen Facciol and NASA lead flight director Mary Lawrence.

You can watch Anne McClain and Christina Koch take their first steps into space on NASA TV on March 29 at 8:20 a.m. EST.

March 25th 2019, 9:09 pm

Just Watch How Women Build Peace


In a year when American women mobilized, ran for office, and were elected to Congress in unprecedented numbers, the documentary series Women, War & Peace returns today, Monday, March 25 and Tuesday, March 26, 9-11 p.m. on PBS with powerful stories of women’s role in dramatic conflicts and peace settlements across the globe.

Series II demonstrates how some of the biggest international stories of recent memory are shaped by women. An all-female cast of directors present four never-before-told stories about the women who risked their lives for peace, changing history in the process: Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs (Eimhear O’Neill), The Trials of Spring (Gini Reticker), Naila and the Uprising (Julia Bacha), and A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers (Geeta Gandbhir and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy). Women, War & Peace II is executive produced by Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker for Fork Films and Stephen Segaller for THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. The original groundbreaking documentary series Women, War & Peace premiered on PBS in 2011. “We are at a very fortuitous moment,” says Abigail Disney. “We are starting to feel the changes of women in power.”

“Women play a central role in ending conflicts and building peace, but their stories are often left untold,” adds Stephen Segaller, vice president of programming, WNET. “As women continue to gain political momentum in the U.S., with more women elected in this year’s election than any point in U.S. history, Women, War & Peace II, shares four remarkable stories of brave women facing tremendous obstacles to pursue significant political change.”

About Women, War & Peace II

If today’s movements signal a future marked by gender equality, Women, War & Peace II looks to the past to see exactly—and how effectively—women can make that happen. The first two films look at two movements: one in Northern Ireland, the other in Palestine, in the late twentieth century.

Directed by Eimhear O’Neill, Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs follows the all-female political party in Northern Ireland, where years of violent strife compel a group of Catholic and Protestant women to demand a seat at the negotiating table for the Good Friday Agreement—a deal that stands to this day.

Emmy®-winning and Oscar® nominated filmmaker Gini Reticker then transports the series to Egypt in 2011, where the euphoria of the Arab Spring quickly runs into headwinds. In TheTrials of Spring, the film follows the journeys of three Egyptian women as they fight for the goals of the popular movement: “bread, freedom and social justice” for all. But caught between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, the women soon find themselves being pushed backwards.

Peabody-winning director Julia Bacha takes us to 1980s Gaza, where, as shown in Naila and the Uprisinga non-violent women’s movement formed the heart of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. The film revolves around the tragic and remarkable story of Naila Ayesh, a student organizer and activist who joins a secret network of women in a movement that brings together the disparate organizations protesting Israeli occupation.

The second two films of contemporary women activists and organizers chart the path forward for international peacebuilding and security. A Journey of a Thousand Milesdirected by two- time Primetime Emmy® winner Geeta Gandbhir and two-time Academy Award® winner and two-time Emmy® winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, follows one of the world’s few all-female peacekeeping units. As 160 Bangladeshi women embark on a UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti following the devastating 2011 earthquake, they confront extreme poverty and devastated healthcare systems in their effort to build peace.

Seven years after the original debut of the award-winning series, Women, War & Peace II premieres at a critical political moment where women are calling for a seat at the table. In uncovering untold histories of those who have made that possible, the series reveals their transformative power and the long road ahead for contemporary peacebuilders around the world.

Women, War & Peace II – Four New Episodes / Documentaries
Discover how some of the biggest recent international events have been shaped by women in a showcase of four, female-directed films that tell never-before-told stories about women who risked their lives for peace, changing history in the process.

Wave Goodbye to Dinosaurs – Debuts Monday, March 25 at 9:00 p.m.
Discover the story of the Catholic and Protestant women who come together during Northern Ireland’s bloody conflict to form an all-female political party and fight to ensure that human rights, equality and inclusion shape the historic Good Friday Agreement peace deal.

The Trials of Spring Debuts Monday, March 25 at 10:00 p.m.
Follow three Egyptian women as they put their lives and bodies on the line fighting for justice and freedom. The film tells the story of Egypt’s Arab Spring, the human rights abuses that came to define it and the women willing to risk everything.

Naila and the Uprising – Debuts Tuesday, March 26 at 9:00 p.m.
Discover the story of a courageous, non-violent women’s movement that formed the heart of the Palestinian struggle for freedom during the 1987 uprising, known as the first Intifada. One woman must make a choice between love, family and freedom. Undaunted, she embraces all three.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers Debuts Tuesday, March 26 at 10:00 p.m.
Embark on a risky year-long UN peacekeeping mission into earthquake-ravaged Haiti with an all-female Bangladeshi police unit. Leaving their families behind, these police officers shatter stereotypes as they rise in the name of building peace.

March 24th 2019, 8:49 pm

Join Us at our ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ Awards Gala 2019



March 22nd 2019, 8:45 pm

It’s a Booming Business: Trafficking Myanmar ‘Brides’ to China


Nang Seng Ja was just 19 and living in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State when her aunt invited her on a trip to see her three cousins who live in China. About a month into the visit, Nang Seng Ja fainted. She awakened in a strange house surrounded by a Chinese man and his family. “I heard from them that I was trafficked,” she told Human Rights Watch.

Nang Seng Ja, whose name I’ve changed for her protection, fled to a nearby police station, and begged for help. “The police then took 5,000 yuan [$800] from the family,” she said. “Then they sent me back to the family.”

They locked her in a room where the man raped her repeatedly. They forced her to take what they said were fertility drugs. “The family’s mother and father told me, ‘We bought you. You must stay here,’” she said. After 14 months, one of her cousins, angry that she received a smaller share of the “bride” money, told Nang Seng Ja’s parents where she was. They paid another trafficking survivor half of the family’s property to recover her.

Each year, traffickers through deceit or force, transport hundreds of women and girls from northern Myanmar to China and sell them to Chinese families struggling to find brides for their sons due to the country’s gender imbalance.

Myanmar’s internal armed conflict in the North has been ongoing since achieving its independence in 1948, but dramatically escalated in 2011 when the government ended a 17-year ceasefire. More than 100,000 people, predominantly ethnic Kachins, have been displaced. Many trafficking survivors said that they live desperate lives in displaced people’s camps, with little opportunity to earn a living. The Myanmar government blocks aid to the camps. Women and girls often become the sole breadwinners for their families, with their husbands and brothers away fighting.   

Across the border in China, the percentage of women has fallen steadily since 1987. Researchers estimate that China has 30 to 40 million “missing women.” The imbalance is caused by a preference for boys, exacerbated by the “one-child policy” in place from 1979 to 2015, and China’s continuing restrictions on women’s reproductive rights.

Trafficking survivors usually said that trusted people—in some cases their own relatives–promised them work in China, then sold them for amounts ranging from $3,000 to $13,000. Survivors said buyers often seemed more interested in a baby than a bride. The women and girls were typically locked in a room and raped repeatedly.  After giving birth they could sometimes escape, but usually only by leaving their children behind. Several women said they were so desperate to see their children that they returned to China to the families who had held them captive.

Law enforcement officials on both sides of the border make little effort to stem trafficking and, as Nang Seng Ja’s story illustrates, are sometimes complicit in the business. Families of trafficked women described begging the Myanmar police for help repeatedly and being turned away. The families—and experts—described police demanding bribes to act. Police operating as part of the opposition force, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), were no better.

Women who escaped and made it to the Chinese police were often jailed and deported, while their traffickers and buyers remained free. There is little effective coordination between police in Myanmar and in China, and even the most essential tools to facilitate such cooperation— interpreters, for example—are not in place.

Back in Myanmar, survivors have little access to services and grapple with stigma as they try to rebuild their lives. The Myanmar government provides a few services, but these are narrow in scope and miss most of those who need them. A number of civil society groups help survivors, push for justice, and work—with or without law enforcement help—to recover victims, but they have few resources.

All three police forces in the region should do more to prevent trafficking, recover and assist victims, and pursue both the traffickers and the buyers. International donors should fund nongovernmental groups’ efforts to help women and girls caught between Myanmar’s abuses against the Kachin and China’s war on reproductive rights.

Heather Barr is acting co-director for women’s rights at Human Rights Watch and author of a new report about bride trafficking in the region.


March 21st 2019, 2:40 pm

Gender-Fueled Fraud in the Auto Industry


According to recent news reports, car insurance companies are charging women higher rates than men for no reason other than gender. The report states that in several cases women were paying $500 more than men for identical policies.  However, this rampant gender discrimination doesn’t start with auto insurance; it starts the moment you walk onto that giant lot of shiny new vehicles. The auto dealership industry, even after the 2018 “The Year of the Woman,” is still riddled with widespread gender discrimination and gender-fueled consumer fraud.

Studies dating back to the mid-90’s found that women buyers were consistently quoted higher prices than men in over 300 audits at new car dealerships. In the 2000’s, studies found women were quoted higher prices for auto repair as well.  Although further studies need to be conducted on auto dealerships, the “pink tax” is still utilized and costing women a reported 7 percent more on consumer products than men in the United States.

In 2014, for example, American consumers bought more than 16 million new cars and light trucks at an average price of nearly $33,000 per vehicle.  With women holding 60 percent of the personal wealth in this country and making the majority of the buying decisions, car-buying fraud has become the newest bad business in gender discrimination. The Bureau of Labor statistics sited transportation as close to 20 percent of the total household expenditures for consumers in 2016. If that expenditure continues to rise, especially with corresponding fraudulent pricing and advertising, it may have effects on the financial stability of the entire American family.

Growing up in the rural southeastern United States, automobiles were a part of the everyday culture, and I spent many summer nights at the Beech Bend street car drag races.  From the age of 17, I knew how to change the oil and spark plugs in a small block Chevy engine. Recently, earning a science degree and being a financially successful woman with a hard-earned credit score, I had the opportunity to buy the car of my dreams, an ultimate driving machine. Negotiations with a local salesman were going well; the salesman had the car I wanted at the price I could manage, but when I showed up that morning the monthly price had mysteriously increased by over 55 percent of the original quote.  The salesman showed me all the very “generous” rebates, discounts, and comps I was receiving, but the newly inflated price remained.  My male partner had made a similar purchase, just months before with the same salesman, and had presented at the dealership paying exactly the quoted price.  Even after pointing this out I walked away still paying over 30% more than I was quoted.  I, an educated and independent woman, was left feeling bewildered, ultimately used, and another victim of a bait-and-switch dealership tactic.

As I soon discovered, auto dealer fraud is considered the number one most common type of consumer fraud.  Auto dealerships swindle buyers out of fair and honest pricing with misrepresentations, misleading advertising, and bait-and-switch tactics. Bait-and-switch is a technique where one car price is advertised or quoted but the dealership, upon your arrival, substitutes a more expensive vehicle. If you added all the additional unquoted charges and packages, I ended up walking away with a payment doubling my current monthly car payment.  Being a solitary provider for my two small children, this was less than an ideal situation regardless of my finances.  With women spending over $20 trillion globally on consumer purchases, this should not be occurring; it’s just bad business.  According to JPMorgan Chase, at least 65 percent of all automobile purchases are being made by women, so why is this still occurring? 

Organizations such as the Federal Trade Commission and National Automobile Dealers Association take great efforts to regulate theses activities, and there is more hope still on the horizon. Sites such as are now offering auto dealerships the opportunity to become certified as a “women and family trusted dealer”, but even with this there is still much work to be done. 

Having access to a vehicle is not only an American essential, but for many American women it is a necessity to carry on with their daily lives. Since March 8 was recently celebrated as International Women’s Day, remember that on this day and on every day, as you’re commuting to work or taking your children to school, the words of Aristotle Onassis: “If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning.” From the first licensed female drive in 1899 to the over 105 million women drivers today in the United States, women deserve an honest and fair car-buying experience. 

Dr. Garling is Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy and a UT Austin Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.

March 19th 2019, 10:22 am

I’m Scared Shitless of Success


I’m not a victim, vindictive or angry…

I’m just scared shitless of success.

There are times I self-sabotage in life because the ‘Ghosts of Christmas Past’ haunt me. On my chest is a black scarlet letter that I carry around with me. A plus-size Black woman with the audacity to try and make it into the club, that room has been defined by White America since the first Black slave stepped onto these shores. The exclusive club that has brought a plague to my career walking into rooms as the only minority. A victim I’m not; because I still sashay in with my street smarts defined by a hardened childhood of poverty, drugs, alcohol, domestic abuse and physical violence — but also a college education. My comfort drinking a 40oz. bottle of beer outside some housing projects is the same when walking into a boardroom filled with millionaires. Having street smarts and college degrees prepared my militant maneuver within corporate America. There’s a calmness in me when there’s chaos around me. As a natural born leader, I’m able to walk into a room and align teams back to the prize — the profit and success of the business. However, with this revelation came a target so big on my back that I feel an itch before they pull the trigger. What they don’t know are the layers that define me, so it’s a steady aim that needs to topple my kingdom of fun. Yet, no matter what’s been done to me I still have the courage to try again.  

During my teen years in New York I had no confidence at all. A lot of it was beat out of me, so the pavement became my world. I’d stare at the cracks and divets trying to navigate around crack needles and trash that rats scurried out to claim. I recall, one day, a grouchy teacher in high school who grabbed my hand and spoke to me. She was known to ‘bust your balls’ with a smile on her face. Back then I carried anger as a best friend so no one would bully me, lashing out at those who wanted to test my nature because I’d been tested so many times at home. Looking back I see myself as a feral animal that dressed nicely, covering up bruises and working around the soreness my body endured from abuse. So when she grabbed my hand and looked straight at me asking something like, “Are you okay?” I was shocked, No one had ever asked me that before. Tears sprang to my eyes so quickly, but that split second of care was brushed away in an instant. My Incredible Hulk masquerade slammed back onto my face. I shrugged her hand away from me and screamed venomous anger from my throat. ‘Now someone cared?,’ I thought to myself. ‘Where were they when the terror claimed my soul and made me into a reluctant warrior?’

That warrior remains in me but she is a lot nicer now. Time has faded the shakiness in my hands and turned me into steel. The courage I bring forth now comes from my lack of knowledge by not seeing the right enemy. ‘Is it I or they that sabotage my success?’ I now ask. When I walk into work the faint whisper of many cycled moons still asks “are you ok?” and the Incredible Hulk looks up slowly to say — “Yes I’m fine.”

Still, it’s not fine when I’m brave enough to ask the questions that everyone else in the club has said before. “Is my work not enough?” “Is there room for growth, can I learn more, how can I support the team and would you mind if I tried this option?” Those questions only bring forth a tilt to others’ heads and a smiling mask to their faces. Never reaching their eyes, of course, replying, “No everything is ok.”  All anyone can say is “manage up,” but how about managing alongside? Should a Black woman not challenge the status quo in order to be promoted? Currently there are only three Black CEOs on the Fortune 500 list. All of them are men, and that figure is down from six in 2012. Those stats are disheartening when fighting to climb the corporate ladder. Should I not play a victim to the Gender Wage Gap that pits my work ethic against men? Statistics show women are paid $.80 to every $1 a man makes. However that figure is even lower for Black women at $.61. Does the world compensate us for that by offsetting a lower cost to mortgage, daycare or travel expenses? Additionally this makes me fourth in line to white men, white women and black men. Have you ever tried running a track meet where the gun goes off last for you?

I’m still sitting here with a smile on my face and courage in my heart to never give in to anger. I want to worry less about the figure in my bank account that’s accruing no interest from the lack of a fair salary. The goal for me remains the same, which is to do a great job and help maintain profitability for my employe, but in my heart I know it’s the bravery that bothers them most. The hard handshake I give that used to be for the boys club only; the eye to eye stare that has them blinking and averting their eyes. Could it also be the dimples in my cheeks carved out from the tears of my oppression?

Also, my strategy of acceptance in corporate America has changed over the years. When I first began this path, I told myself to get the highest degree I could hold in media so no one could never say I am not qualified for the job. Guess what? I still ain’t qualified for the job. It’s not that privileged white people have said that to me, they just don’t know what to do with me. I smile big even with the ugly I carry inside. I’m optimistic, even though I’ve watched countless other people move onward and upward in their careers. Out of 100 people in the division of a major TV studio, I was the only black person. Before that, when I worked at one of the top five motion picture and television studios in Hollywood, there was just me and one other black woman, out of 200 employees. When I went to grad school I was just one of two black women in the graduate school program. Then there are also the friends I’ve met along the way who invite me over to their homes, where I’m usually the only black person in the room.

I always pause in the doorway and I say – “Fuck it.” If I’m meant to be dragged in the street and lynched, at least I carved out a lane for those behind me. To stroll into that door again and challenge the Matrix just one more time, what’s the worst that could happen? Nothing has, except stagnation. In my career, it’s become exhausting hearing the word ‘No.’ But how can other people really see my sacrifice? Who wants to be known as the angry Black woman? I’m writing this so the world can know how much I love each and every person. That little girl who used to be balled up on her bed crying into the wall, praying for the pain to stop, is gone. As I see it, we only get one round on this roller coaster called life; one chance to hand in our ticket to fun. So when I shake your hand, look you in the eye and smile at you genuinely, please know it’s taken me a long time to wear my courage.  

Welcome into my world.

Vonti McRae is an alumni and since 2017 a  Film Instructor at the Academy of Art University. She is an up and coming screenwriter who has worked tirelessly in the media industry for over 10 years. Her writing is inspired by her childhood plus travels across the USA, and hopes to one day see her stories on the big screen. 
Contact her at for writing inquiries. Follow her on:Instagram the_real_vonti Blog: Follow her blog and IG the_real_vonti

March 14th 2019, 4:46 pm

Lost in Space: Women Scientists in the Workforce


As a woman, mother, and astrophysicist, the recent study published in Nature hit me in the gut; 40 percent of women with full-time jobs in science are lost from the work force after having their first child (compared to 23 percent of men). This percentage is right on target with the general workforce, in which 43 percent of women leave their careers after having children, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by the numbers in science. Yet, somehow this number caught me off guard. For virtually all of the women scientists I know, being a scientist is far more than a career, it is part of their identity. Yet young mothers are still leaving in droves. If we are disproportionately losing mothers from science, what skill sets, talents, and ways of thinking are being lost from the workforce along with them?

Progress in science is fundamentally dependent on having a mix of backgrounds and experience in order to think about problems in new ways and come up with innovative solutions. Progress also depends on having people with both technical expertise and the “soft skills” to build successful collaborations and maximize efficiency. “Social skills reduce the cost of coordinating with others,” David Deming, a Harvard education economist said to the Harvard Gazette.

Parenting relies on an in-depth working knowledge of essential soft skills. Keeping another helpless human being alive does require some technical proficiency, but learning how to change a diaper is easy compared to determining when to let a baby cry at night. In a study published in Scientific American, Robert Epstein distills the 10 most important parenting skill sets for raising children.  I would argue that these 10 skills, adapted for a professional setting, also have an important role in science.  These parenting skills include: stress management, relationship skills, life skills, and behavior management. In my experience, we can use a lot more of all of these in science.

I am not saying that people who aren’t mothers can’t or don’t have these skills, nor am I arguing that all women in science should have children. It is also true that fathers have stepped up their parenting contributions over recent decades, but mothers still carry the bulk of the workload. It seems to me that if mothers are preferentially lost from the workforce, we are ultimately doing science a disservice.

Not only are we shooting ourselves in the foot by losing the skills finely honed as a parent from the workforce, but long-term productivity is also lost. A 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that a mother of three will lose the equivalent of four years of research productivity before her children have reached their teens. However, over a 30-year career, there is a “motherhood bonus” of roughly 10 percent in research productivity. In other words, if a mother’s career can survive until her children are teenagers, evidence suggests that her efficiency will blossom beyond that of her childless colleagues for the remainder of her career. If the primary metric we use to evaluate scientists is research productivity, we are systematically undervaluing the capabilities of mothers with young children. Given that evidence shows these very same mothers ultimately overperform in the long-term, we are shooting ourselves in the other foot too.

Not surprisingly, my own career trajectory dramatically leveled off after having children. If I’m being honest with myself, I am disappointed that my career is not what it might have been, and that I wasn’t “good enough” to keep up my productivity while having children. Yet, I would make the same choice again and again and again. Trying to understand our place in the universe as an astrophysicist and my unfathomable love for my children each give my life rich meaning and purpose in their own way. Experiencing these together is even more powerful. Having children helps me to see the universe through their eyes, peeling away assumptions and long-held “truths” and encouraging me to simply play.  Their constant sense of wonder and awe is refreshing in contrast to a professional world of mostly incremental advances and paper drafts. I have convinced myself that the perspective my children nurture in me is of value to science.  

After I had my third child, a senior male directly above me in the food chain at my university asked me if I was “done yet.” The guilt, external and internal, just settles in and makes itself at home. I have come close to leaving academia more times than I can count, so I empathize with the mothers we have lost from the workforce, and I understand their choice. But I bet that if that senior childless male had instead been a senior woman with children, she would have instead asked how she could help. And that is one of the soft skills that is being lost from the workforce. 

Kelsey Johnson is a Professor of Astronomy at the UVA and director of the Dark Skies Bright Kids Program. She is on the board of the American Astronomical Society, and vice president of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Johnson is a 2018 Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

March 10th 2019, 11:33 am

It’s That Women’s Time of the Year Again


I have always felt somewhat ambivalent about Women’s History Month, that one month out of 12 when we honor women’s contributions to history; as well as International Women’s Day, the one day of the year (March 8th) when we honor women’s accomplishments around the globe. I guess it’s because I run an organization devoted to reporting on women’s goals and accomplishments every day of the year, and know that true gender parity will not be fully achieved until women no longer need one designated month, or day, to honor our work.
But what if, I thought, both girls and boys were taught about women’s achievements, alongside that of men’s, as early as grade school? How would this influence young children’s minds about what they, too, could realize for themselves and others? This year’s Women’s History Month theme, “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence,” honors women who have led efforts to end war, violence and injustice, and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society.” Imagine if boys, as well as girls, learned about the effectiveness of historical nonviolence to make change, instead of memorizing the names of each country’s presidents and dictators who led their countries to war, as well as the number of casualties that resulted for those who both won and lost.

Perhaps they would learn that in France, in 1789, while protesters stormed the Bastille, a number of Parisian women gathered in the square in protest of the surging price of bread, and then peacefully marched on Versailles, where King Louis XVI held court. Ultimately, many men joined the women as they made their way to the city, in a crowd which was said to have numbered in the thousands. This ultimately forced the King to move the royal family out of Versailles.
More recently in 1975, 25,000 Icelandic women peacefully protested by striking (called ‘Woman’s Day Off’), to demonstrate against being underpaid and underrepresented in government. Further, 90% of the female population did not go to work, cook, clean or take care of children. As a result, Finnbogadottir became the nation’s first female president five years later, and credits that day with helping her get elected.
Later that year in Poland, when politicians sought to further restrict abortion access by proposing a ban on abortion in all cases and a prison sentence of up to five years for women who undergo the procedure, thousands of women dressed in black and boycotted their jobs and classes. About 30,000 also gathered in Warsaw’s Castle Square, chanting. Their efforts resulted in the parliament backtracking and overwhelmingly rejecting the total ban.
And just imagine if women’s inventions and creations were taught in schools, alongside those of Thomas Alva Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, and Alexander Graham Bell. As we celebrate today’s International Women’s Day theme, “Think Equal, Build Smart,” we would have already known about Grace Hopper, who invented computer programming in the early 1960’s, and Maria Telkes, who designed the first 100 percent solar-powered house, and Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. manned spaceflights, without having to first learn about her from a major motion picture release decades later.
Achieving a gender-equal world requires social innovations that work for everyone… leaving no one behind. It also demands that women have equal opportunity to shape them, and be recognized for their work, every single day!

As Katherine Johnson once said, “It’s not parallel, so I’m going to straighten it. Things must be in order.”

In solidarity,

Lori Sokol, PhD
Executive Director & Editor-in-Chief

March 8th 2019, 10:13 am

I’m Vegan, But That Shouldn’t Stop You From Reading This


My identity consists of many different but overlapping sub-identities. Some were given to me — Jewish, female, etc. — and some I’ve chosen. Four months ago, I chose a new one for myself: Vegan.

My veganism has already become a defining part of me and is based on one of my core values: Saving the environment. Adopting a vegan, vegetarian, or even semi-vegetarian diet is the best way to take personal action to save the environment. Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than every transportation system combined. The livestock industry is responsible for 65% of human-produced nitrous-oxide—a chemical that has 300 times the global warming potential as CO2—and 67% of the total human-generated methane, which is 23 times as warming as CO2. In fact, one study shows that if the entire world ate beans instead of beef, our climate problems would be entirely solved. Kind of crazy, right!?

I went vegetarian in March of last year, mainly because it is a fairly common choice among my peers. As I continued my research, I realized eating meat was not worth its detrimental environmental impact. Although I was vegetarian, supporting animal agriculture through consuming eggs and dairy also ate away at my conscious; I knew it was wrong. The guilt I felt was immeasurable, and I went vegan in October, in pursuit of what I call a “guilt-free diet.” Now, I can’t imagine not being vegan. Every day I am thankful that my life led me to this amazing cause, and subsequently, the immense passion I have for it. I recognize that for many, however, my lifestyle simply isn’t an option.

Veganism is hard to uphold, mainly because of issues related to accessibility. For American families living in poverty, fast food—comprised of cheap animal products—is often the only affordable option. I’m extremely grateful that I’m able to maintain a vegan lifestyle, but I also recognize that it’s a privilege.

I have parents who are willing to change their habits and lifestyle to accommodate mine. I have the time and money to experiment with new foods and meat alternatives. I also have access to grocery stores, and money to buy groceries and, because of all this, I can be vegan. I can help save the world in this way, but I also have a responsibility to do so.

I have the means, the passion, and the determination to be vegan. Therefore, I must be. I must be for all the people who don’t have the same opportunities as I, those who can’t alter their lives, like I can, to help the planet. The fact that not everyone can be vegan makes it even more vital I continue my veganism; and, it makes it even more vital that people like me, with similar privilege and power, take real steps to decrease their carbon footprint.

Let’s use the audience of this blog post as an example. To read this post, you must have access to a phone or computer, which already presents a certain level of privilege. In addition, you must have some free time; time not spent earning money to provide for yourself. I can comfortably say that if you’re reading this right now, you probably have the ability to shift your diet in some way. Maybe try “meatless Monday,” or eat onlyone meat meal per day. Try cutting out red meat, fish, or chicken. You can even help with a simple swap to a non-dairy milk option like soy or almond. No effort is too small!

I recognize that adopting a vegan diet isn’t easy for many reasons—time, cost, accessibility, nutrition, allergies—but I’m here to say it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. By implementing small changes to your diet, like the ones I just mentioned, you can help our planet. Earth has given us so much, yet we give her so little in return. We abuse her and we disrespect the living beings with whom we coexist. You have the power to change this. You have a responsibility to change this.

There are infinite ways to make your diet better for the planet, and I’d like to help you make some of those changes! To let you in on a secret, sometimes it’s really fun! I run a food account on Instagram under the name @plantbasedlila. I began the account to show people the realities of a vegan diet. Yes, I do get protein in my diet and, no, I don’t only eat salad. My posts are meant to debunk prevalent myths surrounding veganism/vegetarianism. I don’t expect every person reading this to become vegan immediately. My goal is for everyone to make one sustainable choice in the near future, whether it’s a pescatarian diet, one vegetarian meal, or even just a soy latte instead of regular latte.

Do what you can, because you can.

The Jewish Women’s Archive’s  Rising Voices Fellowship will be honored as Teen Voices’ ’21 Leader for the 21st Century’ on May 6th, 2019. It is a 10-month program for female-identified teens in high-school who have a passion for writing, a demonstrated concern for current and historic events, and a strong interest in Judaism, gender and social justice. The Jewish Women’s Archive is a national non?profit devoted to documenting Jewish women’s stories, elevating their voices, and inspiring them to be agents of change. Founded in 1995, JWA is the world’s largest source of material about and voices of Jewish women.

March 5th 2019, 6:54 pm

What Is Truly Surprising About Robert Kraft’s Arrest


I was not surprised at all to learn that Robert Kraft, one of Boston’s most prominent citizens and one of sports’ most powerful men, was buying sex. What truly surprised me, and even encouraged me, was that he was actually caught. I have been working with both survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and with men who buy sex for almost 30 years, and he fits the profile of a high frequency sex buyer, most of whom are never arrested. He is rich, white, male, and in a position of power. I’ve got nothing against white men per se. I am a white man. Some of my best friends are white men. These friends are typically quick to acknowledge that their race and gender brings privilege. These men tend also to understand that because of that privilege, they have blind spots that they must seek out to be aware of, and to be accountable for. These friends would never buy sex. They understand that it is precisely when we have such power that we should not use it to exploit others. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should.

My work with sex buyers and with men in general reflects these values. We must go deep. It involves effecting a profound shift in attitudes toward gender, sex, self, relationships and justice. This work needs to happen on an individual level and on a societal level. It is happening with #MeToo movement, and we see it here. This is what is perhaps most compelling about the Kraft case. Historically and tragically, it has been people who are prostituted – it has been those who are are harmed and exploited that have been targeted by law enforcement and scapegoated by society. Focus is finally shifting to the cause of commercial sexual exploitation, the buyer, who is almost never held accountable but who, if he didn’t purchase sex, would shut down this multi-billion-dollar market in selfishness and cruelty in an instant.

Recent research from Demand Abolition, a leading advocate for holding buyers accountable, helps shed light on the sex buyer.  As I mentioned earlier, many high frequency buyers have high incomes, but what’s more important is that there are prevalent attitudes that these men share. I was struck particularly by the following sentence in the findings section, “The main driver of sex buying, “normalized beliefs” about the commercial sex trade, combines interrelated ideas: prostituted women enjoy the act, it is mostly a victimless crime, buyers are merely taking care of their needs, and they are just “guys being guys.”

These ‘normalized beliefs’ are at the root of the victim blaming and sexual entitlement that drive sex buying behaviors. They create the social norms that men who buy sex wish to perceive. They are not normal in a statistical sense, however, and they are NOT TRUE. Most paid prostitutes do not “enjoy the act.” Worse, most experience great harm and want to leave prostitution, but they cannot find other options for survival. Most men, however, do not ever enact these beliefs. In fact, the Demand Abolition study finds that 80% of men will never buy sex. Yet buyers are correct at one level; the beliefs are normative since they represent a currently accepted mythology about commercial sexual exploitation and masculinity.

Thankfully, very clear policy imperatives flow from what we actually know to be true. Some of the key policy recommendations from Demand Abolition’s report include: Shift law enforcement’s finite resources from arresting and adjudicating prostituted persons towards arresting and adjudicating buyers; make available federal short-term funding programs to support state and local law enforcement agencies ready to make demand-reduction reforms; and implement mandatory minimum fines of adjudicated buyers to help offset costs of survivor exit services, effective long-term buyer education programs, and law enforcement demand operations.

The challenges can seem overwhelming, but change is more possible than we may think. The Demand Abolition study finds that among currently active sex buyers, only 25 percent of the buying population accounts for 75 percent of the demand for commercial sex. This indicates that a relatively small percentage of men are responsible for the majority of commercial sex related transactions. The study also finds that if there is a credible threat of arrest through operations like that of Robert Kraft in South Florida, they will feel pressure to stop buying. Again, these high frequency buyers are men of means who, if they continue to be treated without impunity, have a lot to lose.

Peter Qualliotine has been working to engage men to end commercial sexual exploitation and gender-based violence since 1990. In 2012, he and Noel Gomez co-founded the Seattle-based Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS). With OPS, he developed and launched a 10 week sex buyer education program that is utilized by courts throughout King County, WA and served as founding co-cordinator of the Ending Exploitation Collaborative. He is also a founding co-chair and sits on the Executive Committee of World Without Exploitation. Peter recently relocated to Western Massachusetts.

March 3rd 2019, 9:42 am

Join Us for our Biggest Event of the Year!



February 28th 2019, 3:09 pm

In Case You Missed It…Disability Through a Brand New Lens


Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 Summit & Panel Discussion: Disability Through a Brand New Lens —Talent with Disabilities in Front of and Behind the Camera in Television, Film and StreamingT

Top Row (l-r): Jodi Delaney; Television Academy Foundation; Dennis Doty, The Caucus; Tari Hartman Squire, EIN SOF Communications; CJ Jones, Sign World Media/Actor; Tanya Hart, The Caucus; Michael Berk, The Caucus; Douglas Schwartz, Baywatch co-creator Bottom Row (l-r): Monika Mikkelsen, Paramount Pictures; Kaitlyn Yang, Alpha Studios; and Zach Anner, Story Editor, Speechless
Photo by: John Lawson

Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0: Disability Through a Brand New Lens, an industry panel exploring talent with disabilities in front of and behind the camera in television, features, and streaming, was held on February 20th. The event, held at the Saban Media Center in North Hollywood Television Academy campus, was presented by The Loreen Arbus Foundation, EIN SOF Communications, and The Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors, in association with Emerson College.

Loreen Arbus and Tari Hartman Squire were the Event Producers of Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0: Disability Through a Brand New Lens. Chuck Fries was Caucus Events Chair. Tanya Hart and Bob Papazian were Caucus Co-Chairs. Michael Berk was Caucus Panel Chair. Deborah Leoni is Executive Director of The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors. Jodi Delaney is Executive Director of the Television Academy Foundation.

The morning began with a roundtable discussion of the Hollywood & Disability White Paper created by the Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy & Innovation in partnership with Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0. The roundtable was facilitated by Katherine Perez, Executive Director of The Coelho Center, and Tari Hartman Squire, CEO EIN SOF Communications and founder of LCA. Roundtable participants included: Steven Allen and Barbara Butz, PolicyWorks; Derek Shields, National Disability Mentoring Coalition, Karyn Benkendorfer, Producers Guild of America, Diversity Committee; Deborah Calla, Producers Guild of America, Diversity Committee and Chair of the Media Access Awards; Wendy Calhoun, Co-Executive Producer Empire, Consulting Producer Station 19, Producer Nashville, Revenge, Justified, Hell’s Kitchen; Lawrence Carter-Long, Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund; Jo-Ann Dean, Founder SIGNmation, Producer ASL Cabaret; Consuelo Flores, SAG-AFTRA Diversity; Keith Jeffreys, US Veterans’ Artists Alliance; Diana Elizabeth Jordan, Best Actor 2016 Easterseals Disability Film Challenge; Kristin Kucia and Benjamin Maixner, Exceptional Minds; Tatiana Lee, Accessible Hollywood; Ben Lewin and Judi Levine, writer/director/producer The Sessions, Catcher Was a Spy, Please Stand By; Nanci Linke-Ellis, Specialty Media Consultant; Jillian Mercado, model/social media influencer; Jd Michaels, Creative Engineering, Michaels.Adams; Anna Pakman, Empire Development Fund; David Radcliff, Staff Writer, The Rookie; Angela Rockwood, producer, actress Push Girls; Allen Rucker, WGA Chair, Committee of Writers with Disabilities; Sue Sawyer and Liz Zastrow, CA Transition Alliance; MyKhanh Shelton, SVP 21st Century Fox Global Inclusion; Michelle Alford-Williams and Wan-Chun Chang, CA Department of Rehabilitation; Gail Williamson, KMR Talent Diversity Division; Danny Woodburn, actor Seinfeld, Bold & the Beautiful; Kaitlyn Yang, CEO Alpha Studios; Jason E. Squire, Professor USC School of Cinematic Arts and editor, The Movie Business Book; Brian Roberts, DreamWorks Animation; and Consuelo Flores, SAG-AFTRA Diversity.

Katherine Perez, Executive Director of The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation, and Tari Hartman Squire, CEO EIN SOF Communications and LCA Founder and Producer, facilitate the roundtable that will result in the Hollywood & Disability White Paper later this year.

Panel topics throughout the afternoon included:

How to Make it in the Media, a Q&A moderated by Anna Pakman, Vice President, Digital Marketing for Empire State Development/NYC Division of Tourism. Panel participants included: Jillian Mercado – model and social influencer; Ben Lewin – director/writer of the acclaimed film, The Sessions. Kesila Childers –Vice President of Development for Powderkeg; CJ Jones – actor, Baby Driver and Avatar; Danny Woodburn, actor, Seinfeld and Bold & The Beautiful, SAG-AFTRA PwD Committee.

How to Make it in the Media

Resume Review, Speed Interviewing Flash Mentoring included:Ben Lewin and Judi Levin, Such Much Films; Brian Roberts Co-Executive Producer, DreamWorks Animation; David Radcliff staff writer, The Rookie; Jd Michaels former EVP Diversity at BBDO Worldwide; Wendy Calhoun – Co-Executive Producer of the hit series Empire and her assistant Maddy Ullman; Jason E. Squire – USC School of Cinematic Arts and editor of The Movie Business Book. Angela Rockwood – Sundance Channel’s Push Girls;Benjamin Maixner and Kristin Kucia Exceptional Minds; Jo-Ann Dean – Founder & CEO, SIGNmation;Tatiana Lee Founder & Editor, Accessible Hollywood; Diana Elizabeth Jordan – Easterseals Disability Film Challenge and Performing Arts Studio West; Giselle Legere –  staff writer, Quantico; Gail Williamson, KMR Talent Diversity Division; Daniel Woodburn – actor Seinfeld, Bold & The Beautiful; Kaitlyn Yang –  CEO Alpha Studios; Craig Tollis,editor, The Good Doctor,and board member, Able Artists Foundation; Liz Kelly –  21st Century Fox Diversity; Consuelo Flores –  SAG-AFTRA diversity; Eileen Grubba –  actor; Karyn Benkendorfer –  PGA Diversity; Anna Pakman,Vice President, Digital Marketing for Empire State Development/NYC Division of Tourism; CJ Jones, Sign World Media, and actor Baby Driver, Avatar; and Jillian Mercado, model and social media influencer.

Resume Review, Speed Interviews, and Flash Mentoring

Self-disclosure: How to Leverage Your Disability to Sharpen Your Competitive Edge: workshop facilitated by Barbara Butz, PolicyWorks, and Katherine Perez, Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy, and Innovation.

Networking and Mentoring: workshop facilitated by Derek Shields, National Disability Mentoring Coalition.

Deaf & Disability Narrative Imperative: Casting Authentic Stories Across Genres – Panel and Q&A moderated by Jd Michaels – former EVP Diversity, BBDO Worldwide,and Angela Rockwood – actress, star of the Sundance Channel’s Push Girls. Panel included:Diana Elizabeth Jordan – Easterseals Disability Film Challenge and Performing Arts Studio West;Dawn Grawbowski – actor, writer, filmmaker, sit-down comic, motivational speaker;Tatiana Lee Founder & Editor, Accessible Hollywood, blogger;David Radcliff – staff writer, The Rookie;Jo-Ann Dean, SIGNmation, Deaf Film Camp; John Lawson – Easterseals Disability Film Challenge.

Deaf & Disability Narrative Imperative

Concluding the all-day event was a dynamic evening panel entitled Disability Inclusion: In Front of and Behind the Camera, moderated by Tari Hartman Squire.Panel included:Zach Anner Actor & Writer, Speechless and Rollin’ With Zach, winner of Oprah Winfrey’s Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star, author of If at Birth You Don’t Succeed; Kaitlyn Yang –CEO Alpha Studios and Forbes 30 Under 30 Hollywood; Monika Mikkelsen – VP of Casting, Paramount Pictures;Michael Berk – Creator/Showrunner/Writer, Baywatch;andDouglas Schwartz –Creator, Showrunner, and Director, Baywatch; and CJ Jones – actor, Baby Driver and Avatar.

About The Loreen Arbus Foundation:

Loreen Arbus is the first woman in the United States to head up programming for a national network, a feat accomplished twice (both Showtime and Cable Health Network/Lifetime), and the author of six books. She possesses an extensive, multifaceted history in the entertainment industry with a solid track record as an executive in network television, pay and basic cable, syndication, and the print media; as a consultant to a pay-per-view network, several established and new cable networks; as a writer and as a producer.

Ms. Arbus co-founded Media Access Office (operated in partnership with California Governor’s Committee), to increase employment, improve depiction, and raise consciousness regarding disability. In addition, she was Co-Founder and, for seven years, Co-Chair of the Lucy Awards for Women in Film. Ms. Arbus is also among the core group of founders of Los Angeles Donor Circle of The Women’s Foundation of California.

In 2014, she worked as Executive Producer of the acclaimed documentary, A Whole Lott More, which examined work and disability through new perspectives, revealing the struggles of over eight million people in America with developmental disabilities to join the work force.

She currently serves on over a dozen non-profit boards including: Women Moving Millions; Paley Center for Media; The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation; Harvard Kennedy School of Government Women’s Leadership Board; Harvard School of Public Health; Harvard Medical School Advisory Committee for Neurobiology; Visionary Women; Town Hall Los Angeles; Gabrielle’s Angel Foundation for Cancer Research; and Salomé Chamber Orchestra.

Ms. Arbus has served as a two-term Governor for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences; on the boards of Women Moving Millions; The Producers Guild; The Caucus for Producers, Writers, and Directors; Women in Film; Women in Cable and Telecommunications; and as Chair of Women in Film International.

The Loreen Arbus Foundation supports a broad scope of charitable interests including: scientific and medical research, women and girls, people with disabilities and other minorities, gender and racial equity in media, the arts, animal rights, the environment, and world peace.

About EIN SOF Communications:

Tari Hartman Squire’s EIN SOF Communications is the leading strategic marketing and employment consultation firm specializing in disability-inclusive diversity in entertainment, corporate America and the disability community, promoting authentic media images, increased employment and the untapped $220 billion purchasing power of the disability market segment.

As a result of a discrimination in the casting process, Squire spearheaded creation of the SAG Committee of Performers with disabilities with other disabled actors, and was the Founding Executive Director of the Media Access Office (liaison between the entertainment industry and disability community) to operationalize programs to increase disability employment and improved portrayal strategies illuminated by The Media Access Awards founded by Loreen Arbus, Norman Lear and Fern Field.

Together, Loreen and Tari joined forces to create Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0 (LCA2.0) to increase employment of aspiring filmmakers and media professionals with disabilities, improve disability portrayals and enhance accessible entertainment with captions and audio descriptions.  LCA Career Exploration Summits have occurred in Hollywood (hosted by the Television Academy and CBS); Washington, DC (hosted by The White House and Gallaudet University); NYC (hosted by BBDO, CUNY, NYU and ReelAbilities Film Festival); Boston (hosted by ReelAbilities and Northeastern University); Chicago (hosted by the Chicago Film Office and Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities). LCA is expanding to Silicon Valley when the Computer History Museum hosts on May 17, 2019.

EIN SOF disability-specific focus groups for companies like AT&T, Apple, and Bank of America, help focus advertising and marketing messages and strategic alliances. For Verizon Media, Getty Images and the National Disability Leadership Alliance (NDLA) EIN SOF focus groups resulted in The Disability Collection to capture more authentic disability portrayals in stock photos, resulting in disability-savvy guidelines for Getty’s 240,000 photographers worldwide. LCA2.0 and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell co-authored the Ruderman TV Challenge to increase performers with disabilities in last year’s pilots.

For more information about EIN SOF or LCA, visit

About The Caucus for Producer, Writers & Directors:

The Caucus is leading the evolution of television by providing a creative forum for Producers, Writers, and Directors to explore the issues of the ever-changing landscape of content and exhibition.  The Caucus is proud of its rich history and esteemed membership of television innovators.  For over 40 years, The Caucus has provided an opportunity for the best and the brightest talent to network and voice the ‘creative conscience’ of the television industry.  Today, we continue to stand for better and meaningful content across all platforms.  As Producers, Writers and Directors we support a working environment that fosters, through our various programs, the best content that we can create for our audiences.

In addition to its professional membership, The Caucus is proud of its non-profit work through The Caucus Foundation. Established in 2000 to help launch the careers of future entertainment professionals in film, television, and emerging media, The Foundation provides completion grants to student thesis productions from accredited universities and colleges.  To date The Caucus Foundation Grant Program has given over $1.6 million dollars in cash and in-kind awards:

About The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy & Innovation:

The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy & Innovation, housed at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), pursues a unique four-pronged mission: convening thought leaders to pursue positive change on disability issues; leveraging technology to advance the lives of people with disabilities; creating a pipeline of lawyers with disabilities to populate the bench and hold elected office; and fostering a campus-wide dialogue on issues affecting people with disabilities. The Coelho Center also draws on multiple areas of expertise from other LMU colleges. Founded by former congressman, disability rights icon, and LMU alumnus Hon. Tony Coelho (LMU ’64), The Coelho Center is the only organization of its kind at a Catholic university in America and the only one housed at a top U.S. law school. Details about The Coelho Center are available at

February 26th 2019, 8:18 pm

Mass Sexual Harassment – Caught on Tape in Brazil


Video Shows Toxic Environment for Women at Soccer Game

Anyone who thinks women’s complaints about sexual harassment in Brazil are hyperbole should watch the video that went viral after Quebrando o Tabu (Breaking Taboos), a Brazilian social media platform, posted on January 29.

It was shot in February, 2017 at Mangueirão stadium in the northern state of Pará, where arch-rivals Remo and Paysandu were about to face off. Shortly before kick-off, female supporters of both teams are seen walking around the playing field calling for respect for women fans. Their banner reads: “A woman’s place is wherever she wants, including a stadium,” with the hashtag #repeiteasminas (“respect women”).

Taking advantage of the anonymity of the crowd, the Remo fans first booed them, and then chanted demeaning lyrics about kissing and having sex with Paysandu women. “They threw objects at us. It was very difficult,” one of the women walking that day later told a reporter. “I felt really bad. I had never gone through anything like it. I heard lots of insults.”

Rachel Rossetto, 39, a loyal fan of the São Paulo team Corinthians who has attended games since she was 15, says the organized fan club she belongs to is very respectful of women, but on the bleachers, catcalling is common. “Men whistle, make comments that are disrespectful of women. It’s verbal harassment,” she told Human Rights Watch.

Some female sports reporters have also endured harassment. Last year, a fan tried to kiss a female journalist who was live on television, and another hurled insults at a female journalist who was covering a game until police removed him from the stadium.

Women are fighting back. A group of female soccer fans has opened the #DeixaElaTorcer (#LetHerCheer) campaign, and female reporters created the hashtag #DeixaElaTrabalhar (#LetHerWork) to raise awareness about the perils of being a woman inside and outside of stadiums.

Some soccer teams are moving in the right direction. While in 2017, Atlético Mineiro gave roses to women fans on International Women’s Day, they did something much more relevant the following year: They displayed banners in the stadium urging people to report violence against women. The team also hosted Maria da Penha, for whom Brazil`s 2006 domestic-violence law is named, as a guest of honor. After the 2017 video burst, both Remo and Paysandu issued statements condemning the fans’ behavior, but it is unclear whether they said or did anything when the harassment actually happened.

Stadiums certainly aren’t the only place where Brazilian women’s rights are trampled upon. They earn 23 percent less, on average, than men, make up only 15 percent of Congress, and face widespread domestic violence. Further, women are denied reproductive freedom under Brazil’s harsh abortion restrictions.

The authorities’ response has been seriously inadequate. To give one example, the money invested in shelters and other services for women by the National Secretariat of Policies for Women fell by a whopping 35 percent from 2014 to 2017. (The Secretariat did not provide Human Rights Watch data for 2018.)

Fans, sports teams, and authorities at all levels should pay much more attention to the rampant discrimination and violence against women in Brazil. We should all step up.

Let’s let women cheer; let women work for equal pay; let women exercise their reproductive rights, be free from violence —and free to make Brazil a better place for everyone.

About the author: César Muñoz Acebes is the Brazil Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch.

February 25th 2019, 6:54 pm

The Truth About the Sex Trade: Exit Ramps from “the Life”



The Life Story: Moments of Change is a groundbreaking website and film project supported by NoVo Foundation that shines a light on the stories and experiences of women in the sex trade—also referred to as “the Life.” Their goal is to provide better solutions that can prevent all girls and all women, cis, trans, and gender non-conforming, from being exploited in the first place and raise awareness around the issue so that better resources can be put in place to help women exit the Life.

Throughout this series, we have looked at different stages of girls and women in the sex trade, starting with childhood vulnerabilities leading to the Life, entry into the sex trade, and the harsh daily realities of surviving in the Life.

In this fourth and final article in this series, we’ll look at exiting the Life. What are the possible exit ramps for women in the sex trade? What challenges do they face as they try to navigate their exit? And what services and resources do they need in order to make their exit not only possible but permanent?  

I had the privilege of interviewing women who have exited the Life who helped shed light on the unique challenges and needs a woman has when trying to leave the Life. Many of these women have gone on to be advocates for girls and women who need help doing the same. Their stories are a testament to the fact that although it isn’t easy, it can be done.

There are many factors that may prevent a woman from being able to leave the Life. To begin with, her exploiter will have cut her off from any possible support system so she has no one to turn to for help. She also may have a lack of education, few marketable skills, no job history, no credit, and no savings. She may not even have identification. And if she has a criminal record related to being in the Life (which many women do), it will greatly limit her options for finding a job or housing.  

As Quintecia, a survivor, advocate and service provider put it, “If it was easy, everyone would leave this life in a heartbeat.”

Improve Social Systems

“If someone had said ‘I can help you,’ I would have taken it….but it wasn’t offered.”  — Andrea, Survivor and Advocate

A girl or woman who is vulnerable to sexual exploitation often encounters a variety of social systems throughout her experience: child welfare, school, foster care, medical care, the juvenile justice system and many others. Although these systems are meant to be safety nets, unfortunately many girls and women end up entering the sex trade, or staying stuck in the sex trade, because of moments when these systems fail them and opportunities for intervention are missed.  

Jeri, an Indigenous Survivor and Service Provider, described her experiences with multiple social systems: “I was a prostituted child. I was interfacing with law enforcement. I went to juvenile detention. I had over eighteen emergency room visits. I was a child. I was walking on the streets. You could tell I looked young. I should have been in school. People knew that I was a prostituted child, but they looked the other way. I was in the ER eighteen times and no one ever asked me if I was really okay.”

If these systems and their staff and practitioners were better trained and equipped to recognize girls and women who are vulnerable to entering the Life, or those who are already in the sex trade, they could step in to offer compassion, empathy, and access to resources to help shift her path.

In an effort to improve these social systems, The NoVo Foundation recently announced The Life Story Grants, a $10 million, 3-year commitment for programs—including Housing, Medical Needs, Law Enforcement, Trauma and Mental Health, Immigration, and Systems Impacting Youth—that will open exit ramps and close on-ramps to commercial sexual exploitation.

“System failures call for systems-based solutions to create lasting change—and that’s where we see an untapped opportunity for anyone who wants to improve the lives of marginalized girls and women,” says Pamela Shifman, executive director of the NoVo Foundation. “Practitioners in critical systems—like teachers, social workers, bus drivers, police officers, emergency room doctors, and immigration officials—come into contact with people in sexual exploitation every day. By offering compassion, resources, and opportunity, these practitioners can close an on-ramp to exploitation—or open an exit ramp.”

A large part of improving the various social systems lies in providing trauma-informed training for all service providers so that they can recognize the signs of sexual exploitation and respond with empathy and understanding instead of bias or judgment.

Kendra Harding, a licensed professional counselor for sexually-exploited women, stressed the need for “across-the-board training, so that people in the mental health field are trained, people in law enforcement are trained, people on state patrol are trained, first responders—people who are working in any type of direct contact. It is so necessary because I think if more people were aware, so many warning signs and red flags that people miss, could be picked up on so much faster.”  


“The need for housing is tremendous. There needs to be more transitional housing for when people are coming out of the Life as a space to learn the skills you need.” —Quintecia, Survivor, Advocate and Service Provider

Homelessness can be a factor that leads a women into the Life, but more importantly it is often the threat of losing housing that can keep her in the Life. How can she even consider leaving if she has nowhere to go?  

In order to begin healing from the trauma of life in the sex trade, women need a stable, safe place where they can start to rebuild their life, which makes housing one of the most crucial steps toward exiting the Life.

“We need to recognize that safe housing is one of the first steps that women need,” says Robin, a survivor leader and case manager. “Only then can she address her other needs like battling substance use, getting job training, getting counseling for complex trauma and applying to go back to school.”

But finding housing can be nearly impossible for a woman exiting the sex trade. Not only is there a scarcity of affordable and public housing, but there are often other obstacles in her way: lack of savings, lack of job skills, and a criminal record, just to name a few.  We need to change the policies and systems that keep housing out of reach and develop new, viable options for these women.

What would this look like? The creation of specialized shelters and transitional housing that not only offer a bed to sleep in but also provide long-term services—including mental health counseling, addiction services, job training, life skills and access to education or legal services—provided by trauma-informed practitioners who understand the unique needs of sexual exploitation victims. Also, increasing the availability of affordable long-term housing and making sure housing services don’t discriminate against women who have prostitution charges or other charges related to their trafficking experiences are needed.

“We desperately need housing options specific to this population,” says Robin. “We need transitional housing. We need short-term and long-term, supportive and subsidized housing so women can focus on developing life skills that will allow them to be self-sufficient. We need landlords willing to rent to women who have criminal records. We need housing in safe neighborhoods.”

She describes how improving housing options for women trying to exit the Life can make a world of difference: “I just helped place three trafficked women and their children into housing. They were staying in homeless shelters and fleeing violence. Now they are in two-bedroom subsidized units with parenting classes and job training on site. That is what women need.”

Survivor Mentorship and Leadership

“We are survivor-led. We are led by the people who have gotten out to help the people who are in.” — Quintecia, Survivor, Advocate and Service Provider

Survivors who have successfully exited the Life have a lot to offer in terms of becoming advocates for others, leading anti-trafficking efforts, and informing crucial changes to the system. One approach that has proven to be successful is having women who have exited the Life provide mentorship to those who need support as they try to navigate their own exit. In fact, most of the women’s voices included in this series are mentors or advocates for other women in the Life.

Not only does this provide an empowering, rewarding career path for the mentors who may otherwise have had limited job options, but it also provides the women trying to exit the Life with a support system—someone they can trust who truly understands what they’re going through and is living proof that a way out is possible.

Mike Gallagher, a police officer in the sex trafficking unit in Portland, Oregon, describes the mentorship programs as “invaluable.” “The thing about mentors as opposed to law enforcement is the women go and learn to trust them, and we don’t expect the mentors to give us back this confidential information,” he continues. “It’s a friend. It’s somebody that they can trust and talk to about things and know that it’s not being given back or spilled back to law enforcement. These people are here to help the victims and get them down that path.”

Roxanne, an Indigenous survivor and advocate who exited the Life and now works as an Outreach Coordinator for an anti-human trafficking organization, told me, “My life is so amazing right now. I am definitely empowered today and I am grateful for everything I survived to be able to be a voice for other indigenous women and girls.”  

Quintecia is also a survivor who has gone on to be an advocate and service provider for women in the sex trade and offers this reassuring message: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Working Together with a Holistic Approach

“Working together is everything. Now is the time.”  — Roxanne, Indigenous Survivor and Advocate

There is no one thing that a woman needs to exit the sex trade; it’s a combination of different resources and services that collectively must meet all of her different needs along her exit ramp—from housing to legal services to trauma treatment to job training.

As The Life Story Grants recognize by seeking to fund system-focused strategies across six different social support areas, change takes the combined forces of many social systems. They all have the potential to be exit ramps if their policies, protocols and training reflect the needs of girls and women in the Life, and this can be achieved if they all work together.

As Kendra Harding put it: “We need to join together to support these girls and women in a holistic way. We will be missing the mark if we don’t support them with all of the things they need.” “I don’t think this issue, this movement, can be done alone,” she continues. “You need a multidisciplinary team. It takes everyone …whether that be mental health professionals, addiction counselors, police officers, lawyers, medical professionals, media, or survivor leadership. So many different avenues need to be on the same page, because just coming at it from a mental health lens or a case manager lens or a housing lens, it’s not encompassing everybody. Everyone needs to be at the table and everyone needs to have that conversation of how we can all work together as a community.”  

Survivor, advocate, and service provider Quintecia agrees: “This is a ‘we’ project, not a ‘me’ project. Together we can change the system and make it better.”  

I encourage you to visit to learn more about the different ‘moments’ in the Life, and help raise awareness in your community about the realities of the sex trade. Visit to learn more about The Life Story Grants.

Marianne Schnall is a widely-published interviewer and journalist and author of ‘What Will It Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership & Power’. She is also the co-founder and Executive Director of the women’s website and non-profit organization (, and co-founder of  What Will It Take Movements(, a media, collaboration, learning, event and social engagement platform that inspires, connects, educates and engages women everywhere to advance in all levels of leadership and take action.

February 24th 2019, 1:10 pm

Is It Sexist to Criticize the Women in White…or Has the Resistance Utterly Lost Its Mind?


My essay, Women in White Surrender to Trump’s Thoroughly Fascist State of the Union, sparked some healthy and much needed debate within our movement to drive out the Trump/Pence regime through sustained, non-violent protest. My main thesis in this piece was that Trump’s State of the Union address clearly outlined a fascist program and intent to ethnically cleanse immigrants from our southern border, prepare public opinion for genocide based on vicious white supremacy and xenophobia, take away women’s reproductive rights, and wage war with Venezuela and Iran, while simultaneously recruiting new groups of people into supporting and rallying behind this fascist program. One sharp illustration of this was the behavior of the #womenswave, dressed in white that evening, and the surreal moment when they stood up and started chanting “USA”.

The responses to this article, which we received via email and social media, ranged from gratitude to discomfort to revulsion. And while some arguments were easily dismissed (Refuse Facism has been taken over by Russian bots; the women were not chanting US, there was one criticism I want to respond to in some depth because it illustrates a line of thinking we must break through in order to forge deeper unity and build a determined movement to stop this regime from carrying out its crimes against humanity.

It is very important for people who are coming to Refuse Fascism from different perspectives to be able to air their disagreements in an open and principled way. Therefore, I am not paraphrasing the critique here since it was posted publicly on the Refuse Fascism Facebook page. However, I am only quoting and responding to the parts relevant to my article:

“This article is sexist because it shifts focus to the women of the Senate and House instead of keeping it on Trump and Pence. This article is sexist because it says we should be ‘more disgusted’ by the WOMEN than by Donald Trump and Mike Pence. This article is sexist because it suggests that the women should hold the blame. This article is sexist because it incites hatred of the women in the House and Senate over the people who are directly responsible for what is happening. Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Republicans are the ones who are actively destroying this country, humanity, and the world. Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Republicans are the ones carrying out these atrocities. They are the ones actively changing laws, ending climate change and nuclear agreements, ending women’s rights, traumatizing children, the list goes on (you know everything they’ve done and are doing), and yet, the official stance of Refuse Fascism is to focus on the women in white, to be ‘more disgusted’ by the women.”

It’s true that I was being deliberately provocative when I wrote, “If you have a heart for humanity, as sickened and disgusted as you should have been by Trump making crude conciliatory gestures and then going in for his vicious attacks on immigrants, women, and the people of the world — you should be more disgusted by the response from the women in white who were supposed to represent the people most under attack by this regime.” It is also true that Trump and Pence are doing all of the things listed to women, to immigrants, to the environment, to the people of the world, and doubling down on them in this speech. That is why I called this a thoroughly fascist State of the Union that no one who claims they will fight for any one of the groups in the crosshairs of this regime could have sat through politely, let alone applauded, let alone echoed with the MAGA chant that stands for the American chauvinism that is used to justify this whole fascist program. This was a fascist speech, using effective fascist propaganda tactics, to successfully advance and buy complicity with a fascist program and nightmare future for all of us.

This was my strongly stated opinion as one of the commentators at, not the official stance and certainly not the only stance of Refuse Fascism. Some within Refuse Fascism agree with me, and some do not. The fact is, I was disgusted because my hatred for what this regime is doing to people does not waver depending on the circumstance. The #bluewave and #womenswave, represented in part by the women in white, has absorbed much of the hatred that millions of people feel for this regime and have taken the oxygen out of it. This was what was on display in the House Chambers that night.

At no point did I say that the women in white were to blame for the crimes of the regime. There is a difference between designing and carrying out crimes against humanity and becoming complicit with those crimes. But let’s be real; after Trump boasts that the US has the most powerful military in the world, and then promises to keep out “illegal” immigrants whom he claims are killing “countless” Americans, what does it mean to chant USA from the standpoint of the resistance? What effect does it have? How does that look any different to the children in concentration camps or the immigrants being terrorized or the people under the bombs and occupation of the most powerful military in the world? Does the world need us to defend those who clap politely and celebrate through a horrifying speech, or does the world need fierce and determined resistance from us in our millions?

The respondent continues:
‘That is what sexism is. This is the form that insidious sexism takes. And Refuse Fascism is perpetrating it and they are steadfastly refusing to consider anyone else’s experiences and points of view. I truly am sorry and I think it’s lamentable that you cannot understand that this is sexism. I have tried to explain it.’
[As a sidenote: Sexism is when someone (any gender) talks down to a woman, assumes she doesn’t have any knowledge of a situation, assumes that she is ignorant, assumes that she is wrong, and then proceeds to try to educate her on a subject she knows well. It is dismissing the views, thoughts, and actions of women as inadequate, incorrect, and ill-informed. It is not an explicit statement of hatred towards women. In fact, it is hardly ever explicit. The sexism that, yes, we all have is internal because we have learned it from birth and it has to be recognized in our own thoughts and actions. We have to be actively conscious of it and take steps to correct it.]

If this is a working definition of sexism, then as a woman of color, could I not turn around and say this criticism of my article is both sexist and racist? It is assumed I have no knowledge of what sexism is or how this regime is creating a nightmare for women; assumes that I am ignorant of what the women in white claim to represent; assumes that I am wrong about their assertions or their actions, and then proceeds to try and educate me about what sexism is. It is dismissing the views, thoughts, and actions (by writing the article) of a woman of color as inadequate, incorrect, and ill-informed.

I could argue that, but it would be absurd because this is NOT an accurate definition of sexism. Anyone should feel free to critique the content of what I’ve written, as long as it fairly represents the facts and arguments presented. This should happen regardless of how I identify.

But the question on the table is not how we should define sexism; the question is what Trump’s State of the Union speech posed for the future of humanity and the planet, and whether the response to it rejected, resisted, normalized, or celebrated that. It is disingenuous for anyone to claim that the women in white did not take on some leadership and responsibility to be the opposition to Trump that millions of people are relying on. For two years, people have been urged to put their faith and energy into these waves of politicians to be a check on Trump, all while the number of children in concentration camps swelled to 15,000 and the Supreme Court upheld one fascist Trump policy after another, and those are just two examples. On that basis, to say that the response of the women in white to the State of the Union speech does not warrant sharp criticism is the height of condescension. Implied in this critique is that the women in white deserve some kind of pass because they are women and because they are not members of the fascist Republican Party. I didn’t criticize them as fascists. I criticized them as leaders and purveyors of the #resistance and measured their response against the content of the speech and the danger it poses to humanity.

The respondent ends with: “The official line of Refuse Fascism is that it is ‘a movement of people coming from diverse perspectives, united in our recognition that the Trump/Pence Regime poses a catastrophic danger to humanity and the planet.’ This sort of article is not accepting people coming from diverse perspectives, and uniting in recognizing the danger that the Trump/Pence regime poses. “

The principal part of this mission statement is that we are united in our recognition that the Trump/Pence Regime poses a catastrophic danger to humanity and the planet. We certainly want people coming from diverse perspectives, but on this point of unity, we cannot be diverted. If we become seduced into thinking that the danger this regime poses can be met with anything short of driving them from power through non-violent protests that grow every day until our demand is met, we are being seduced into accepting horrors we should not and do not want to accept.

I maintain that it is not actually within the power of these women to drive out this regime. It is not what they signed up for. Their job is to work within the framework of this system and cooperate with the regime in power. Stopping this regime is, in fact, OUR responsibility, not to be passed off to some proxy we hope can do it for us. We do not ask why the Weimar officials did not stop Hitler. We ask why the German people went along with the genocide happening in their name. Are we going to make the same mistake, or are we going to take the lessons of history, at a point when the stakes for humanity are even higher, and refuse to be sucked in to the mechanisms of fascism? It is painful to give up illusions, but taking off our blinders and confronting reality is also liberating. It helps us find a pathway to a future worth living in, not only for ourselves but for all of humanity.    

About the Author: Coco Das is a member of the editorial collective of RefuseFascism

February 21st 2019, 4:54 pm

‘Grandma’ Needs a Makeover


What do Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Meryl Streep, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have in common?

They are all in their seventies,

They are all working, and

They are all grandmothers.

In short, they are all prominent examples of a growing demographic that challenges stereotypes and requires updating.

But these employed grandmothers are by no means alone. Older adults are working longer. By 2022, 20 percent of women (and 27 percent of men) ages 65 and older will be in the labor force. One out of every five female septuagenarians will be employed in the next four years. Medical advances and a longer life expectancy are fueling this trend. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060.

Grandparents on the rise

“Grandparents represent a bigger chunk of the population than ever before, according to new data from the Census Bureau,” wrote Sharon Jayson in the New York Times in 2017. The number of grandparents had already grown by 24 percent since 2001, when there were an estimated 56.1 million grandparents. “We would expect more people reporting as grandparents because of the aging of the population,” said Wendy Manning, a sociologist who is the director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University. “In 2001, 38 percent of women age 30 or older with a child at least 15 years old were grandparents, as were 31 percent of men in that category,” Manning continued. By 2014, 61 percent of these women and 57 percent of these men were grandparents.

These dramatic shifts raise, once again, the question of why females live long past their reproductive years. In this regard we are unlike most other great apes. One theory, the “’grandmother hypothesis,” theorizes that human females survive well past their reproductive prime because of the benefits that post-menopausal women offer to their grandchildren.

Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and her colleagues proposed this hypothesis while studying hunter-gathers in Tanzania in the 1980s and 90s. The team realized that grandmothers provided the help new mothers needed to continue foraging for themselves and their already weaned children while they were caring for their new infants. When grandmothers helped with foraging, their grandchildren were healthier and heavier, and were weaned at a younger age. Unburdened by the need to care for their infants, new mothers were more successful at foraging and were able to have more children. Thus, grandmothers who survived long past menopause provided an important service and increased the reproductive advantage of their offspring.  

Although the specifics are dramatically different, the grandmother hypothesis is as relevant now as it was eons ago. Today, grandparents are “the primary caregivers for more than 2.9 million children nationwide,” according to a 2018 report from the Silver Century Foundation. Even so, it shows how eventually grandmothers grew from representing one percent of female caregivers to 43 percent — thus achieving “grandmothering equilibrium.”

Our failure to provide high-quality, affordable and accessible child care means that grandmothers will continue to be a primary source of such care for millions of working mothers. By the time American women are 40 to 44, 86 percent of them are mothers, and unless they are affluent — or have a retired but still energetic grandma who’s willing to pitch in full time when the kids are little — the child care crisis hits families hard.

To Be or Not to Be a Grandmother

Of course, not all employed seventy-somethings are grandmothers. But, a great many are. And grandmothers get a bad rap.

According to Sandra Martin, writing in the Globe and Mail, a common stereotype portrays granny retiring “to her rocking chair [where she] “is transformed into …. the plump, kindly old woman in her dotage, sitting with her knitting in an isolated corner of the room.” Basically, once she is a grandmother, everything else in her life is irrelevant. In Martin’s view, “I think I would rather be villainous than pushed off-stage, as though becoming a grandmother subsumes everything else in your life under a fog of irrelevance.”

The Conversation suggests a way to gauge the power of that stereotype. Recall how often in 2016 Hillary Clinton was asked how becoming a grandmother would affect her candidacy for president. “How many newspapers asked that question when Mitt Romney was proudly photographed with his 18 grandchildren, or when George W. Bush and John McCain showed theirs off for the press?

Answer: Zero.

So should Hillary, unlike her male peers, have set aside political ambitions to help her daughter care for her grandchild? Recall that Nancy Pelosi, upon regaining speakership of the House of Representatives in 2018, invited all her grandchildren, as well as those of the other members of the House to the podium. While she relished that role, she was never defined (or constrained) by it.

How accurate is the granny stereotype for the women mentioned above? Apparently Judge Ginsburg never got the “irrelevant” memo. When her grandson, Paul, got married in October, 2018, she was not to be sidelined. She officiated at the ceremony, which was held at “her place” –the Supreme Court in Washington D.C.

And RBG is not alone. Among the scores of other grandmothers who never got the memo are the caretakers of their grandchildren.

Of the 65 million grandparents in the United States in 2012, seven million, or 10 percent, lived with at least one grandchild, according to a 2012 report from  the U.S. Census Bureau. In most of these homes, at least one parent is present, too, but the household is headed by a grandparent. Further, about 39 percent of these grandparents had cared for their grandchildren for five years or more.

More and more grandparents are taking their children and grandchildren into their homes. Ten percent of American children live with a grandparent, compared to 7% in 1992, according to a Census Bureau study released last year. In most of these homes, at least one parent is present, too, but the household is headed by a grandparent.

Among the people raised by a grandparent, at least for part of their childhoods, include Maya Angelou, Carol Burnett, and two former presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. According to The Atlantic, “This pattern is more common than ever ever these days.”

With women living longer and remaining healthier as they age, more of them will be reaching the pinnacle of their careers later in life than ever before. Pelosi didn’t run for office until she was 47, after her children were grown. Meryl Streep started making movies early in life and just never stopped. Elizabeth Warren co-authored a critically acclaimed book with her daughter in order to the family income.

The famous psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson, once suggested that at about age 65 people should curtail their ambitions, park their egos, and focus on mentoring the next generation. But women, more than men, often spend many of their early years caring for children. At 65, many are just hitting their stride, taking on challenges, and reaching for new goals for their 70s and beyond.

Let’s stop perpetuating those old stereotypes of grandmas as ‘sweet but peripheral — the bakers of cookies rather than the writers of tuition and rent checks–not to mention Supreme Court briefs.’ Let’s show more examples of what real, modern, grandmas are all about.

February 19th 2019, 8:28 pm

Announcing 14 of our ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ 2019 …and a new Keynote Speaker!!



Monday, May 6th in NYC @6:30pm

Keynote Speaker & Honoree

Wendy Davis, Founding Director of Deeds not Words

As the founding director of Deeds Not Words, a non-profit that seeks to empower and activate the voices of young women in public and political discourse, Wendy Davis is also a former Texas State Senator, 2014 Texas Democratic Gubernatorial nominee, frequent public speaker and author. Wendy gained national prominence in 2013 when she strapped on a pair of pink sneakers and held a 13-hour filibuster to protect women’s reproductive freedoms in Texas.  In 2016, Wendy founded Deeds Not Words to give women the tools needed to turn their passion into effective action – teaching civic engagement skills to young women who use what they learn to organize, advocate for policy change and increase voter participation.

Gisselle Acevedo, President and CEO, Ackerman Institute for the Family

As President and CEO, Gisselle Acevedo leads the Ackerman Institute for the Family to further its mission to improve the mental health of families in the New York area through the dynamic interaction of innovative treatment, state of the art training and cutting edge research. In her role, she will use her vision and voice to help Ackerman in moving families forward with the purpose to serve mental health care professionals and bring innovative perspectives to a broad array of community service agencies and other health care facilities. Appointed in 2018, she is the Institute’s fifth president and the first Hispanic woman to lead the organization.

Danielle Belton, Editor-in-Chief, The Root
Recipient, Rita Henley Jensen Excellence in Journalism Award 

Born and raised St. Louis, Mo. on a healthy diet of news programming, pop culture, black history and “snark,” Danielle Belton is currently Editor-in-Chief of the leading black news site, The Root. She was previously best known as the editor and writer of the award-winning pop culture-meets-politics blog The Black Snob. As a journalist, Belton has written for: The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Essence Magazine, The Guardian, The American Prospect, Jezebel, NPR, The Huffington Post and many others. Belton currently lives in New York City.

Carolyn A. Butts, Founder, Executive Director of African Voices  

Trailblazer and proud Brooklyn resident, Carolyn A. Butts has nearly three decades of experience organizing programs in the areas of arts, education, business and film.  She has worked on numerous projects to increase the visibility of African-American artists in literature, film, and art. In 1992 she founded African Voices Communications, Inc., a non-profit arts organization devoted to promoting the art, literature and history of people of color. At 25, she was one of the first New Yorkers to publish a literary magazine, African Voices, a quarterly.

Robyn Hatcher. Owner and CEO of SpeakEtc.

Robyn Hatcher is a keynote speaker, communication expert, author “recovering” actor. Robyn inspires women to stand out, move up, lean in and take charge through corporate programs, private coaching, and interactive presentations. Pretty astounding since her literal nickname growing up was SHY She has written, stage film and two daytime dramas and last year appeared on Good Morning America speaking about the “Me Too” movement.

Katja Iversen,  President/CEO of Women Deliver   

Katja Iversen is a leading global advocate for investment in gender equality and the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women, with a specific focus on maternal, sexual and reproductive health and rights. Iversen, an internationally recognized expert on development, advocacy and communications, has more than 25 years of experience working in NGOs, corporates and United Nation agencies. Previously, she held the position as Chief of Strategic Communication and Public Advocacy with UNICEF, a position she came to after almost six years of leading the team responsible for advocacy and communication on reproductive health with UNFPA.

Cynthia López, Executive Director of New York Women in Film & Television

Cynthia Lopez leads the preeminent professional association for women in film, television and digital media in New York City, NYWFT. She is an award-winning media strategist, and former Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, where she implemented strategies to support film and TV production throughout the five boroughs. Prior to working as Commissioner, López was Executive Vice President and co-Executive Producer of the award-winning PBS documentary series American Documentary | POV, and is the recipient of many coveted industry awards including: 11 News and Documentary Emmy Awards, a Special Emmy Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking, three Peabody Awards, two duPont-Columbia Awards, and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Award for Commitment to Corporate Diversity.

Rosalind McLymont, Executive Editor of The Network Journal

As the Executive Editor of The Network Journal, a New York-based business magazine that targets an audience of black professionals and entrepreneurs, Rosalind McLymont is also chief executive officer of an online publication, Rosalind has more than 25 years’ experience as a writer, speaker, and adviser to small and medium-sized companies in global business. She was an international trade reporter and the first female and first Black managing editor at The Journal of Commerce, at the time The Economist Group-owned shipping and global trade newspaper.

Brette McSweeney, President of Eleanor’s Legacy

Brette McSweeney leads Eleanor’s Legacy, the only statewide organization in New York focused on recruiting, training, and funding pro-choice Democratic women candidates at the state and local level. She was a member of the New York Leadership Council for Hillary for America in 2016 and the deputy New York State director for women’s outreach in 2008. Brette is a graduate of Georgetown and Columbia universities.

© Donna F. Aceto

Ana L. Oliveira, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation 

Under Ana’s leadership, The New York Women’s Foundation has increased The Foundation’s grantmaking from $1.7M in 2006 to $9M today. Ana previously held key roles as a CEO of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, VP of Programs at Osborne Association, and Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center Substance Abuse Clinic. Ana attained her M.A. in Medical Anthropology and a PhD. (hon) from the New School for Social Research.  She was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and resides in Manhattan.

Stephanie Sandberg, Executive Director of LPAC

As the Executive Director of LPAC, Stephanie Sandberg leads the only political organization for LGBTQ women; and Project LPAC, a charitable organization that conducts original research on LGBTQ women and civic engagement. Prior to her appointment in 2018, Stephanie was Director of OutWOMEN and Managing Director at Out Leadership, a B Corp that seeks to provide businesses ‘return on equality’ through LGBTQ inclusion. She spent her earlier professional career in media, where she had business roles at The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The New Yorker and The New Republic, where she served as president and publisher. Stephanie lives in Princeton, NJ, with her wife and two daughters.

Sean Strub, Recipient, 2019 Gordon Gray Award (named after Women’s eNews founding board member)

Sean Strub is a long-time activist and writer who has been HIV positive for more than 33 years. He is the founder of POZ Magazine, the leading independent global source of information about HIV, and served as its publisher and executive editor from 1994 to 2004. He presently serves as the executive director of the Sero Project, a network of people with HIV fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice and as treasurer of the U.S. Caucus of PWHA Organizations. He served on the board of directors of the Global Network of People living with HIV/AIDS from 2009 to 2012 and as co-chair of its North American affiliate from 2011 to 2012.

Leading National Organization: MARCH ON is a political organization composed of women-led, grassroots political and activist groups that seeks to engage women and their allies in the democratic process, advocate for policies that impact women and other marginalized communities, and make our government more representative of its people. They achieve this by supporting and resourcing hundreds of local affiliates and organizers nationwide, mobilizing our network for national collaborative campaigns, and partnering with other progressive organizations. Born out of the 2017 women’s marches, they strive to be radically inclusive and take a “bottom-up” approach to activism.

Leading International Organization: The Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) is an international non-profit organization tackling poverty and inequality by supporting girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as leaders of change.  CAMFED invests in girls and women in the poorest rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa, where girls face acute disadvantage, and where their education has transformative potential. Since 1993, the organization’s innovative community-led education programs have supported more than 2.6 million children to go to school in Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe at more than 5,745 partner schools.W

Honorees to be joined by: 

Gala Host:  Tamsen Fadal

Honorary Gala Chair:  Loreen Arbus       

Honorary Gala Co-Chairs:

Abigail Disney, Lauren Embrey, Suzanne Lerner  

 Stay Tuned: On Friday, March 1st, the Complete List of ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ will be Announced,  with a link to RSVP!!

February 16th 2019, 4:35 pm

Monthly Column: WRighteous



Almost exactly a year ago I learned that when a pet dies – whether it’s in your arms or in your home, or when taken to a veterinarian or when a veterinarian comes to your house to put her or him down – the grief cuts through you so deep you can barely breathe, and it stays. It stays and rears its head when you’re driving, walking down the street, taking a bath, or making dinner. It rears its head when you smell their fur on a pillow, on a sofa, or on a chair. It hits you so hard and so deep and so wide. I also learned something I never knew: partner pets grieve profoundly. Partner pets sleep together, and play together and take care of each other; lick each other’s coats and yes, their wounds, and keep each other clean. When one goes, the other is lost, sad, full of pain that is palpable and visible. They love good, and fully and unconditionally; that I now know wholeheartedly with every single fiber in my being. 

I also know something else – we must stop comparing trauma and suffering and pain – making other humans feel badly or unworthy of their own suffering and pain. No one needed to tell folks a year ago – folks who were without power for days and days and days here on the East Coast – that the people in Puerto Rico had it much worse, and were suffering much more. To be without power – to literally be and feel powerless – is scary and hard and it should bring out the compassion, not the competitive, in all of us.

Competing only makes people feel horribly guilty and awful and, worse, it makes folks feel that their pain doesn’t much matter or count or have any value whatsoever. Something else I know from the inside out: heartbreak is heartbreak, it shouldn’t be weighed by circumstance. I know what it’s like to dig a grave and bury a pet who meant the absolute whole entire world to me – a creature who helped me get through my dark depression and unbearable sadness and loved me when I couldn’t love me. Someone recently wrote that she could barely breathe because her dog had died, and she didn’t know how she would get through a day, and someone responded, “But, it’s only a pet for God sake.’ No, no, no… it’s not just a pet. Not to that woman who wrote in all CAPS that she could barely breathe, and not to me; my cat, my Lotus, was my life-saver. Please, let’s be less judgmental, less critical, less petty. Petty is so unattractive. 

It is not a good accessory to wear or even try on. Let’s stop competing with each other and start completing each other. Let’s stop acting holier than thou with the, “…but it’s only a home, it’s only a pet; it can be replaced, oh, it’s just a car, it’s only a piece of jewelry, it’s only a teddy bear… but but but but it’s only… but it’s only… but think of other folks who have it much worse… but, it’s only…” For folks whose comfort and safety and ease came or come from any of those things, items, possessions; for folks whose unbearable pain comes from the reminder of a touch or a smell or a memory of a pet; for a child who held tight to a stuffed animal to help her or him breathe during an anxiety attack or sadness or a death – and now that stuffed animal is lost, gone, in a fire… it’s not ‘an only’, it’s absolutely everything. It is everything to that person – to that child, to that girl, to that boy, to that woman, to that man. Please, allow folks the luxury of mourning and grieving whatever loss weighs on them; whatever loss that is. It is not ours to judge or criticize someone’s pain or sorrow or suffering or heartache, and it is not up to us to take that away from them. Let’s be humans who show compassion and goodness, and spread kindness everywhere. Let’s be creatures who comfort each other, not diminish the needs of others. Let’s be people who afford someone else their pain, their suffering, their heartbreak; it is what allows us the opportunity to understand and know and love another human heart. Let’s stop comparing and competing. There really is no best in hell.

amy ferris

author. writer. girl

*This post is written in memory of Lori Sokol‘s pet Merlin, a teacup Yorkshire Terrier who left this world on February 9th, after spending 14 years providing unconditional love and support for all who were lucky enough to know him.

Women’s eNews monthly columnist Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of our ‘21 Leaders for the 21st Century‘ for 2018. Once a month you will continue to be invited into her world, where she will champion, encourage and inspire women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor — along with a heaping side of activism.

February 14th 2019, 8:50 pm

Transforming Pain Into Healing


Excerpt from Chapter Six of  My Blood Divides and Unites,by Jesmane Boggenpoel

Embrace the Pain?

Apartheid and its lingering after-effects still pain the nation of South Africa. And that is a frightening realization; for this pain stands in the way of racial reconciliation. Lack of reconciliation is a festering sore that hampers the social, economic, and other advances needed to propel South Africa into a prosperous, harmonious future.

We all feel pain, for we all are human. We all have reason to feel this pain, for we have all been wounded by someone or something. Some people quickly forgive those who, or that which, harmed them and move on. For them, pain is but a passing issue that does not become lingering anger. Other people do not realize they are in pain and by feeling only the resulting anger, have little opportunity to heal. Yet other people know they are in pain but do not recognize that they have the ability to deal with it. Instead, they focus on the person or group they feel has caused their agony and lash out in anger.

Sometimes it seems as if South Africa is awash in anger and violence due to inequality, unemployment, the frustration with poor service delivery, the cost of university education, issues related to land transfer without compensation, and so much more. Many are angry because they believe that certain jobs and neighborhoods are closed off to them and “their kind,” and many harbor anger over the feeling that they and their group are being slighted.

Much of this is really pain manifesting as anger, an anger with roots that go back to what happened years before, and over things members of other groups say and do today. So much pain spews out as anger, and so often we fail to recognize the underlying hurt. The targets of this wrath certainly don’t think about the underlying pain. Instead, they see the anger and the threat, to which they respond dismissively, defensively, or with an anger of their own. Individual pain levels ratchet up, as does the social pain level, and we sometimes seem to be locked in an endless, ever-more-frightening cycle of indignation, ire, or wrath.

I believe we would be much better off as individuals and as a society if we could recognize and deal with our pain before it becomes uncontrollable anger.

Healing at the Micro Level

I have spoken, directly or indirectly, about healing on the personal level in this book. For me, healing came through the process of working out my identity, realizing that I am so much more than a Coloured person as defined by apartheid, dealing with my lingering emotions, and experiencing gratefulness as I realized just how much support I received from my family and faith.

Talking about my pain with close confidants and family members, and putting it down on paper, was cathartic. In many cases, the act of speaking and being heard is all it takes to start the process of healing, so long as those to whom you are speaking listen to hear and not to judge. Talking in this manner doesn’t always dispel your pain, but it certainly helps uncover hidden hurt, which you can then decide how to deal with. There are numerous ways to discover, explore, and process pain, ranging from two people informally coming together to share their stories and their pain, to broadly based, moderator-led group discussions guided by the essential principles of truth and reconciliation.

I encourage everyone to talk, and to listen with open ears and an open heart as the other person pours out her stories. I encourage everyone to create a space where stories and pain can be recounted and acknowledged, no matter how large or small that space may be, no matter who wishes to speak within it.

Healing at the Macro Level

Healing at the social and national level is just as important as healing at the personal level. In some ways, healing socially and nationally is more difficult, for it requires millions of people to make a deliberate effort to recognize, respond to, and release their pain, even the “righteous pain” that everyone agrees is justified because so many people did suffer in so many ways.

South Africa attempted to deal with its pain via – among other things – the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a nation-wide effort to address the crimes perpetuated by apartheid, grant amnesty to the perpetrators in some cases, and call for rehabilitation and reparation where appropriate.

Despite its limitations, the Commission was an excellent start. Can we take it further? A relatively small percentage of South Africans were included in the truth and reconciliation process. I hope this has brought them some measure of healing. And now, what of the rest, of the tens of millions of people denied a good education, shut out of many jobs, forced to live in crime-ridden slums far away from city centers, denied permission to use certain buses or dine in certain restaurants, and so much more? What of them and their pain? To what extent has their pain turned to anger? And to what extent is that anger hindering social healing and racial reconciliation?

Making Pain a Plus

Our ultimate goal should be to transform pain into a positive. Instead of a negative to be avoided, it should be a positive to be sought out. It should be exposed to the light, recognized, acknowledged, and empathized with.

When we see people acting out, rather than responding with disgust or anger, rather than throwing up the barricades, might we ask ourselves, “What is their pain?”

I believe that when a nation – any nation – commits itself to truly and honestly engaging with its members, and to affording opportunities for all to listen and discover their pains and needs, deep and permanent healing is possible. As the healing takes hold, the tide of racial reconciliation will follow, and we will be able to engage with each other authentically, on the basis of humanity. That is my hope.

Read the rest of the book, My Blood Divides and Unites

Jesmane Boggenpoel is an experienced business executive and former Head of Business Engagement for Africa at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She has served on the boards of various South African and international organizations. She is a Chartered Accountant and holds a Master’s degree from Harvard University’s JFK School of Government. Jesmane was honored as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, is a Harvard Mason fellow and a shareholder and founding board member of African Women Chartered Accountants Investment Holdings. Boggenpoel has extensive global experience having studied and worked on three continents, as well as traveling to over 65 countries.

February 10th 2019, 11:24 am

Meet Our First Group of ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ 2019




Monday, May 6th

6:30pm Cocktails/7:15pm Dinner & Awards

Club 101 (101 Park Ave., NYC)



Gisselle Acevedo, President and CEO, Ackerman Institute for the Family
As President and CEO, Gisselle Acevedo leads the Ackerman Institute for the Family to further its mission to improve the mental health of families in the New York area through the dynamic interaction of innovative treatment, state of the art training and cutting edge research. In her role, she will use her vision and voice to help Ackerman in moving families forward with the purpose to serve mental health care professionals and bring innovative perspectives to a broad array of community service agencies and other health care facilities. Appointed in 2018, she is the Institute’s fifth president and the first Hispanic woman to lead the organization.


Danielle Belton, Editor-in-Chief, The Root
Recipient, Rita Henley Jensen Excellence in Journalism Award 2019
Born and raised St. Louis, Mo. on a healthy diet of news programming, pop culture, black history and “snark,” Danielle Belton is currently Editor-in-Chief of the leading black news site, The Root. She was previously best known as the editor and writer of the award-winning pop culture-meets-politics blog The Black Snob. As a journalist, Belton has written for: The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Essence Magazine, The Guardian, The American Prospect, Jezebel, NPR, The Huffington Post and many others. Belton currently lives in New York City.


Robyn Hatcher. Owner and CEO of SpeakEtc.
Robyn Hatcher is a keynote speaker, communication expert, author “recovering” actor. Robyn inspires women to stand out, move up, lean in and take charge through corporate programs, private coaching, and interactive presentations. Pretty astounding since her literal nickname growing up was SHY She has written, stage film and two daytime dramas and last year appeared on Good Morning America speaking about the “Me Too” movement.


Cynthia López, Executive Director of New York Women in Film & Television.
Cynthia Lopez leads the preeminent professional association for women in film, television and digital media in New York City, NYWFT. She is an award-winning media strategist, and former Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, where she implemented strategies to support film and TV production throughout the five boroughs. Prior to working as Commissioner, López was Executive Vice President and co-Executive Producer of the award-winning PBS documentary series American Documentary | POV, and is the recipient of many coveted industry awards including: 11 News and Documentary Emmy Awards, a Special Emmy Award for Excellence in Documentary Filmmaking, three Peabody Awards, two duPont-Columbia Awards, and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Award for Commitment to Corporate Diversity.


Brette McSweeney, President of Eleanor’s Legacy
Brette McSweeney is the President of Eleanor’s Legacy, the only statewide organization in New York focused on recruiting, training, and funding pro-choice Democratic women candidates at the state and local level. She was a member of the New York Leadership Council for Hillary for America in 2016 and the deputy New York State director for women’s outreach in 2008. Brette is a graduate of Georgetown and Columbia universities.


© Donna F. Aceto

Anna Oliviera, President and CEO of The New York Women’s Foundation Under Ana’s leadership, The New York Women’s Foundation has increased The Foundation’s grantmaking from $1.7M in 2006 to $9M today. Ana previously held key roles as a CEO of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, VP of Programs at Osborne Association, and Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center Substance Abuse Clinic. Ana attained her M.A. in Medical Anthropology and a PhD. (hon) from the New School for Social Research.  She was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and resides in Manhattan.


Stephanie Sandberg, Executive Director of LPAC
Stephanie Sandberg serves as the Executive Director of LPAC, the only political organization for LGBTQ women; and Project LPAC, a charitable organization that conducts original research on LGBTQ women and civic engagement. Prior to her appointment in 2018, Stephanie was Director of OutWOMEN and Managing Director at Out Leadership, a B Corp that seeks to provide businesses ‘return on equality’ through LGBTQ inclusion. She spent her earlier professional career in media, where she had business roles at The Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, The New Yorker and The New Republic, where she served as president and publisher. Stephanie lives in Princeton, NJ, with her wife and two daughters.


Women’s eNews’ complete list of  21 Honorees will be announced on Feb. 15th, along with a registration link to easily RSVP!

We Hope To See You There!




February 1st 2019, 4:56 pm

Menstrual Products Must Be Available in School Restrooms. Period.


My expectations for school restrooms are relatively low. I attend a large public high school where clogged sinks and overflowing trash bins are the norm. Still, even worse than the condition of the restrooms is the near-lack of menstrual hygiene products, which has impacted me as a young woman. When I see that toilet paper, hand soap, and paper towels are available and are provided to students free of cost, I wonder why menstrual products aren’t too.

Currently, in the United States, only three states—California, Illinois, and New York— require schools serving students in grades six through twelve to provide menstrual products in women’s restrooms for free. Millions of girls around the country are therefore forced to bring these products from home and face discomfort and lost educational time when they must leave class with their entire backpack to go to the restroom, or have to ask the school nurse or a friend for one when they don’t have any. Menstrual products are largely viewed as luxuries rather than the necessities they truly are, and this is an issue that must be acted upon.

Many individuals are unaware of the fact that period poverty in the United States is real. Often viewed as an issue faced primarily by individuals in developing countries, many are shocked to learn that nearly one in five American girls have either left school early or missed school entirely due to a lack of access to menstrual products. The “tampon tax,” a tax on menstrual products that currently exists in 36 states, further aggravates the issue, and in a country where nearly 14 percent of girls and women live below the poverty line compared to just 11 percent of boys and men, it is crucial for menstrual equity to exist.

Recognizing that challenges regarding access to menstrual products persist, students in some schools have attempted to take action to ensure that pads and tampons are available in all women’s restrooms. After receiving funds from my school last year to redecorate and “renovate” one of the women’s restrooms, members of my high school’s Women’s Club used a large portion of the money to purchase menstrual products that were stored in plastic containers in the restrooms. Although this has been helpful, it hasn’t proven to be a reliable solution to the problem. Products haven’t been restocked this school year due to lack of funding, and even last year when menstrual products were supplied by the club, they ran out in just a couple of days and it was a few more days before containers were refilled.

The reality is that when students don’t have constant, reliable access to menstrual products at school, they are forced to ask the school nurse or their friends. Most school nurses only have a limited supply of menstrual products, and while they are happy to provide them to students occasionally, they are unable to supply them to students on a regular basis. Many students also feel a sense of discomfort when asking other students for menstrual products and telling them about their period. Some students may even feel that it is best to just stay home when they are on their period because they don’t have proper access to menstrual products at school,  which is unfortunate. Having easy and reliable access to these products in school restrooms is essential.

Additionally, at some schools in my city, including mine, sanitary pad and tampon dispensers are currently only available in restrooms that are at centralized locations in the school, such as the commons. Therefore, some students find it difficult to access these restrooms during class time. “Students can’t leave their academic wing with a bathroom pass and go to the commons…what are you going to tell the male security guard in the academic wing you’re in? I have to go to the commons to get a tampon?” says Ava Kaminski, 16, a student at neighboring public  high school. Having menstrual products and dispensers available in restrooms is critical for students to stay in school and feel safe and comfortable. Furthermore, expanding access to menstrual products to gender neutral restrooms would benefit an even larger number of students.

Many individuals also believe that while teen leaders are important, they should not be the only ones ensuring that their fellow classmates are able to access these products in schools; schools and district administrators must recognize the critical nature of the issue and work to allocate funds for menstrual products and dispensers. “School would go a lot smoother if these products were available to students. Students should be able to focus on their classes and education and not have to worry about if they remembered to bring pads to school,” says Noelle Livingston, 17. A group of student leaders at my school are currently working with school administrators to receive funding for menstrual products and dispensers for all the women’s restrooms, something many are looking forward to.

In a society where women are taught to hide their period, working to end menstrual stigma is very important to achieve menstrual equity. Many students agree that menstrual health is often glazed over and inadequately addressed in their middle school and high school health education classes. Creating a welcoming, trusting, and open environment is the first step to effectively educating both girls and boys on this topic and the stigma that currently surrounds it. When students can learn from one another through thoughtful and meaningful conversation, it is possible to form a collaborative community that is capable of creating change.

It’s time for everyone to realize that menstrual products are necessities, not luxuries, and that periods should be embraced, not feared.

Shruti Sathish is currently a senior in high school and lives in Madison, WI. 

January 29th 2019, 1:05 pm

Q&A: Building Bridges Instead of Walls


Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers are rising stars in the podcast world–twice a week hosting Pantsuit Politics, which boasts close to four million downloads to-date. Their first book, ‘I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations,’ will be released to the public on February 5. Here Sarah, a devoted Democrat, and Beth, a lifelong Republican, show–as they do in their podcasts–that what unites us is far greater than what divides us. Their experience building bridges instead of walls is a message needed now more than ever.

Q. What does the title of your book mean? And, especially, how are you defining the word “grace”?

A: Sarah (from the left): For me, grace means every human being has inherent worth by virtue of being born and deserves inherent dignity that should not be stripped from them no matter how abhorrent their behavior. Grace is a value separate from behavior or wealth or party or any other outside characteristic by which we try to categorize each other.

Beth (from the right): Unlike civility, tolerance, politeness, compromise, or just being nice, grace is a state of being–a quality that we have to personally embody in order to extend it to others. This quality might be informed by a faith perspective. It might also mean a secular groundedness — a confidence in your own worthiness and a sense of connection to others because of their worthiness. Grace makes space to hold the tension between and among very different perspectives, even when compromise is unlikely or impossible, with a sense that the tension is worth it. The title of our book, to me, means “we don’t have to convince each other of anything to know that we belong together.”

Q: One of you is a Republican, the other a Democrat. And you’re friends. How would you describe your personal relationship, and your working relationship as hosts of the podcast, “Pantsuit Politics”?

A: Sarah: When we started the podcast, we were not close friends. We had known each other since college but hadn’t been in touch for many years. The act of showing up with authenticity and vulnerability to discuss politics – a subject most people avoid with their closest friends – actually forged a deep bond. As our connection grew, we continued to prioritize the relationship instead of trying to score cheap political points, and that’s why now Beth is one of my dearest friends and closest confidant.

Beth: Sarah and I have entirely different perspectives on policy and very different personalities. We have discovered through our commitment to conversation that our values very closely align. We see this not only in our political conversations, but also in our approach to work and life. To me, our partnership is a testament to the fact that difference of opinion enhances almost any endeavor. Sarah pushes me to think more clearly and deeply. I want people in my life who make me better, and Sarah is at the top of that list precisely because she is so different from me.

Q: I’m sure it’s no coincidence that your book is coming out during this fractious time in our nation’s history. What’s the first step in the process of bridging the political divide in our country?

A: Sarah: We all have to take a long, hard look at ourselves. We have to closely examine our political identity and dig down deep to find the values that animate that identity. When we can start to talk about our values – both shared and divergent – as Americans, then we can start to bridge the divide.

Beth: I think coming to grips with our individual responsibilities as citizens is absolutely key. Hopelessness about politics is an abdication of responsibility and power, and it’s how we got to such a fractious time. Especially if you’re a person of moderate positions or temperament, it’s important to examine your beliefs and motivations to decide how you want to participate in your communities.

Q: How do the two of you deal with differences of opinion?

A: Sarah: We approach every conversation with the understanding that we are trying to understand each other – not convince each other. It is perfectly acceptable to have different opinions. We aren’t all going to agree on everything and that’s ok. We lose sight of that sometimes. A democracy is based on the idea that no one gets it right 100% of the time, so disagreement is essential. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. When you recognize that, it makes disagreements much easier to navigate.

Beth: We invite differences of opinion. We say up front in the book that we aren’t asking people to agree with our opinions; we’re asking readers and listeners to use our conversations as a way to examine their own opinions. We expect differences, and we want to test and challenge, and sometimes even evolve or wholly change our opinions. We write in the book about how we don’t want to freeze our political thought in time, but without differences of opinion, that’s what happens.

Q: How do you continue to strengthen your connection?

A: Sarah: Beyond being together in a business partnership and all the connection that can bring, we also talk for 2-3 hours every single week. That is more than some people talk to their spouses! A regular communicative practice like that will strengthen any connection. We are connecting and disagreeing and understanding each other better all the time through regular conversation. It’s that practice that leads to a strong connection.

Beth: I agree with Sarah that our practice of talking is a huge part of our connection. We also do simple but powerful things to show our appreciation for each other. We intentionally give each other credit for ideas. We talk openly about each other’s strengths and the ways in which we’ve positively influenced each other. Those small things affirm our commitment to each other as friends and partners.

January 27th 2019, 1:39 pm

Meet India’s First Transgender Woman Lawyer


When Sathyasri Sharmilla graduated as a lawyer in 2007, she was elated. She knew, armed with a law degree, that she could help her community with greater vigor. But when she applied for mandatory enrollment to the Bar Council, she realized she couldn’t register since the form did not include a category for transgender persons. Sharmilla then decided that she would only enroll when the Bar Council recognized the third gender and included this category on its official form. It would take almost 11 years of advocacy and resolve before Sharmilla’s dream would come true when last year, on July 1, 2018, she became India’s first transgender woman to become a lawyer.

“I wouldn’t have had to wait so many years if I had followed the gender binary columns in the form and enrolled under the female category. But I was determined to enroll only as a trans woman lawyer. Since I am a resident of Tamil Nadu, I went to the state Bar Council of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry to register. They were shocked to hear that I wanted to enroll 11 years after graduating. However, they were very supportive. They told me that no other lawyer had ever approached them to include a category for transgender people and that I was the first. I am really happy that I have opened the doors for trans women and trans men lawyers to be known for who they are,” said the 36-year-old Sharmilla, currently working under the guidance of a high court judge.

“I am happy to see that I have inspired some members of the community to study law. I am hoping that I will be able to articulate their voices on a larger platform and change mindsets about our community,” she said.

Her success has come as a big shot in the arm for the community which continues to struggle for respect and dignity despite the 2014 Supreme Court ruling in favor of a ‘third gender.’ The court judgment gave them the right to self-identification of their gender as male, female or third-gender and granted them political and economic rights.

Although there are approximately five million transgender citizens in India, according to the 2011 national census, it is believed that stigma and fear of harassment prevented many from revealing their gender identity during the official mapping. Even though recognition of the third gender was finally official, LBGTQ activists believe several thousands of transgender persons remained uncounted because they were afraid to disclose their gender status.

“One of the reasons for their fear is the lack of information and knowledge,” Sharmilla says. The literacy level in the community is just 46 per cent, compared to 74 per cent in the general population, according to the 2011 census. And this is what Sharmilla wants to change. Not only does she want to underline the importance of education, but also wants the community to become aware of their rights, both legal and constitutional, so that they can counter discrimination.

“I faced problems since the time I and everyone around me became conscious that I was different. My family was harassed because I did not conform to the norms traditionally associated with the sex assigned to me at birth. Biologically born a male, I realized I wanted to be a woman when I was 12  years old. After learning more about the trans community, it became clear that, except for begging and sex work, most trans persons were not gainfully employed in any other professions. Then I knew that education would be my biggest weapon to tackle discrimination,” Sharmilla says.

So after completing school, she left home to pursue higher studies because she didn’t want her family to face any trauma because of her. After graduating as a lawyer in 2007 from Salem Government College in Tamil Nadu, Sharmilla started to work for the community. Over the next 10 years, she travelled across the country to use her skills as a lawyer to educate the community about its rights. “Having become the first person to get a passport under the third gender category, I know the process and documents required. I faced many obstacles despite being educated. But I don’t want the community to go through the same problems especially as majority of them are uneducated,” Sharmilla says.

Besides help from people like Sharmilla, the community was hoping that the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 would address stigma, discrimination and harassment and bring change. Although the bill was finally passed last month by the Lower House of Parliament in India, after hanging in the balance for two years, it has disappointed the community. The bill, which was supposed to uphold their rights and prohibit discrimination against them in education, employment, and healthcare, has not lived up to its promise. It now makes screening mandatory to identify transgender persons, criminalizes begging, proposes lighter punishment for crimes committed against members of the community and offers no opportunities in education and employment. Further, the bill does not provide a proper definition of transgender persons and neither does provide for self-determination of gender, thus undermining their human rights as guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

Today, Sharmilla is using her legal skills to build support against this bill. She, along with the community and civil society organizations, are trying to ensure that these problematic provisions are revised so no trans person has to wait 11 years, as she did, to be respected and recognized.


January 24th 2019, 9:35 pm

When the Fetus is Female


Choosing to arrive one day early in Washington, DC, to march in solidarity with other women and men in protest of the current administration’s anti-women policies on January 19, it quickly became clear that I was not the only one who wanted a full day to prepare. The overcrowded taxi-stand outside Union Station amassed a seemingly endless line of out-of-towners, each of us standing impatiently amidst frigid temperatures and falling snow for what seemed like hours, awaiting taxis of which there were clearly not enough.

But then the real outrage began.

Anti-choice extremists had just completed their ‘March for Life’ demonstration that afternoon, returning on buses to Union Station en masse, still cheering, while raising their arms holding signs that read, ‘A person’s a person no matter how small’ (I don’t think a person’s size was ever really at issue), ‘Life begins at conception and ends at Planned Parenthood’ (Planned Parenthood actually saves the lives of hundreds of thousands of people by providing breast exams, pap smears and, even, thousands of vasectomies per year), and my personal favorite, ‘The end of storks means the end of life.’ (I don’t think the man who held up this sign actually understood how babies are made, but I digress).

Yet my outrage had still not reached its peak until it became glaringly obvious that a significant number of these ‘March for Life’ protestors were male. This seemed particularly poignant since they had traveled from far and wide, on a workday, and in the frigid cold, to march outdoors to help ensure that our elected officials force all fetuses be carried to full-term.

But then, I wondered to myself, “Even if the fetus is female?”

Our country, and the world, has forever been giving birth to inequality, due to patriarchal systems men have put in place. Newborn females are born into a world of gender injustice and socialized into gender norms as early as preschool. From the earliest age boys are still prepared for their future role as provider and protector, and girls as caregivers, thereby preventing girls from reaching their full potential. And when these girls become women, danger to their emotional and physical well-being only multiplies. They are likely to be rattled by sex discrimination, harassment and other forms of dangerous and unfair treatment, including unequal pay and limited career opportunities. In fact, the longer a woman lives, the higher the likelihood of her becoming impoverished.

The male protestors’ behavior therefore defies logic. Why would they march in defense of all fetuses, even when over half of them are female, knowing that so many of their protections are eliminated once they are born? Could it be that they only care about protecting females inside the womb, but not out?

One would think so, since the current male-dominated Trump administration, which supports an extreme ‘anti-choice’ platform, has done nothing to help reduce the dangerous levels of discrimination females face throughout their lives. In fact, it has actually done the opposite. A number of our nation’s laws ensuring protection for women have either been reduced or eliminated in the last two years, including the Violence Against Women Act, which was allowed to expire thanks to the continuing government shut-down. Further, Title IX was recently changed to favor the accused (almost certainly male) over the victim (almost certainly female) in college sexual assault cases. The administration has also silently removed official information on sexual violence from government websites, thereby preventing women and men from receiving the information they need to learn about what constitutes sexual violence, and what legal actions a victim may undertake.

And while these rules and laws are hampering women’s ability to embark on futures free from sexual harassment, financial dependence, and deteriorating health, there is something even worse in the works: ‘Fetal Personhood Laws.’  These laws are being proposed, and passed, by an increasing number of states under the guise of ‘protecting’ the fetus. What these laws actually do is place the future of the fetus ahead of even the mother. As a result, a woman who terminates her pregnancy, or behaves in any way that could potentially jeopardize the health of her fetus, can be arrested and prosecuted. Currently, over 600 pregnant women in the United States have been charged with crimes under ‘fetal personhood’ laws, which have now been adopted in 37 states by anti-abortion lawmakers. Essentially, the ‘pro-life’ stance has become ‘pro-prison’ for women.

So it really boggles the mind why anti-choice legislators, and those who support them, would go to such extremes to defend and protect a fetus, even when the fetus could be female, only to dismantle so many of her safeguards once she is born. It seems almost as if it’s not really the ‘sanctity of life’ the GOP and its supporters actually care about but, perhaps, something else…

Many supporters of gender equality and reproductive choice have contended that what is really at stake is men’s desire to control reproduction, thereby limiting women’s freedom. This reasoning, in fact, was used in a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision that rejected a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion. “Autonomy and dominion over one’s body go to the very heart of what it means to be free,” wrote Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, in his June 29, 2018, decision. “At stake in this case is the right to shape, for oneself, without unwarranted governmental intrusion, one’s own identity, destiny, and place in the world.”

And nothing could be more fundamental to the notion of liberty and equality, once outside the womb, even if delivered by stork.







January 20th 2019, 8:57 pm

When Bullying Backfires


A major hallmark of President Trump’s style is his relentless attack on politically-correct (PC) norms. Down with the elites! Down with career politicians and their constrained language! Down with the fear of offending!

One of the most common reasons people gave for voting for Donald Trump is that he is straightforward and outspoken; he doesn’t mince words. “Unlike so many career politicians, he ‘speaks his mind’ and is ‘unafraid to offend,’ notes the Los Angeles Times.

But as we look ahead to the 2020 elections, Trump is seeing some major competition from an unexpected source. For the first time, women are out-trumping Trump in the ‘I’ve-got-to-be-me department. On the 2018 campaign trail, female candidates were forthright, openly claiming their authenticity; they ran as lesbians, victims of sexual assault, Muslims, mothers of drug-addicted children, bi-sexuals, cancer survivors, and gun-control advocates. They have embraced his anti-PC style, ignoring socially accepted norms and challenging social conventions about what women are and should be. They have stepped out from behind the mask of submissiveness and passivity with pride.

And it worked. Over one hundred women were elected to Congress, breaking all previous records. 

Kansas Democratic candidate Sharice Davids is one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress and is also the first openly LGBT candidate to win statewide office there. She is from the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin and has focused her career on the advancement of Native Americans. Her ethnic identity and sexual orientation were front and center in her campaign, as was her experience as a professional mixed-martial artistTwo muslim women also entered Congress for the first time, Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar. Omar, a Somali refugee, campaigned wearing Muslim garb. Talib, born in Palestine, took on Trump’s islamophobia by stressing her heritage in her campaign. “I don’t really give space to people who are attacking me based on my identities,” she said.  

For all of this we have Trump to thank. Little did he think that his endless chest-thumping brags about “telling it as it is” and “speaking his mind” would have the unanticipated consequence of freeing women to be authentic. And their authenticity helped them to remarkable success at the ballot box. While men and women alike have drawn Trump’s ire, there is a marked difference in how the sexes have responded.

Trump’s non-stop bullying has also had devastating effects on his male targets. Witness the fate of the 16 Republican hopefuls during the 2016 campaign. Frontrunners ‘Lying Ted Cruz,’ ‘Low-energy Jeb Bush,’ and ‘Little Marco Rubio,’ all withered under Trump’s blitzkrieg. Without stooping to Trump’s level, they had no other rejoinder. Since the 2016 election, few Republicans have challenged Trump in any way due to fear of retribution. 

In contrast, while women have been constant targets of Trump, their reaction was surprising. They laced up their sneakers and ran for office. In addition to those elected to Congress,  nine women were elected as governors and record numbers of women won statewide office across the U.S.  In the past, women have been muzzled by heavy sanctions against forthright, aggressive, open, honest speech.  No more. Trump’s headlong verbal assaults have backfired. 

His assaults on powerful women, while devastating, have not scared off the likes of Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Dianne Feinstein, or Elizabeth Warren. (Warren brushed off Trump’s attacks and won her senate race easily.) Trump ramped up his attacks on prominent black women, who also fought right back. Although ee called representative Maxine Waters, the soon-to-be chair of the House Financial Services committee, a person of “ low-IQ,” Waters snapped right back, calling Trump “dangerous” and a “liar” on MSNBC. Further, Trump recently called three well-regarded black female journalists “stupid” and “losers. ” All three lost no time in responding that their questions were proper and appropriate, and their colleagues agreed. 

And, although Stacey Abrams lost a very tight race, she has emerged as a role model for other women showing that you, too, can stand up for yourself and refuse to be silenced by tradition and bullies. Rather than being cowed, she and other women found their voices. The rules of the game have changed, and politics are no longer a hostile place for women. 

Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, a national group devoted to electing female candidates, said that before the 2016 presidential election, nearly 1,000 women had reached out to the List, wanting to get more engaged in politics, maybe even to run for office. More recently, she said, the number has skyrocketed to over 22,000. “We have never seen anything like what we have seen over the last 12 months,” Ms. Schriock told NPR. 

By actually turning out in large numbers, not by falsely claiming big crowds, women are rebuking Trump’s assertions. Many critics wondered if such intensity could be sustained. And perhaps it would have waned, if Donald Trump had not kept throwing logs on the fire. His anti-PC attacks on women continued unabated. Shortly before the midterms, the President derided Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who had accused his Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, of sexual assault. Imitating Dr. Ford at a campaign rally, he kept saying “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember,” in a mocking tone. He added, again in what was supposed to be her voice, “I only had one beer!,” mocking her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Upping his anti-PC rants, he has compared women to “dogs,” “pigs” and “horses”  when commenting on their looks or weight.

“This rhetoric is the kind of thing that has turned off college-educated Republican women who voted for Trump in 2016, but have fallen away,” says Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in her recent interview with the New York Times. She called the President’s remarks  “adolescent,” adding, “you cannot continue to be a party in power if the voters that you are appealing to are white men over the age of 60.” 

Did Trump expect to ignite the firestorm of women who came gunning for him? Probably not. Surely he must have been startled by the way they took a page out of his own playbook, letting the chips (and the insults) fall where they may. Ayanna Pressley, the new congresswoman from Massachusetts, used words as weapons, Trump style: “Our president is a racist, misogynistic, truly empathy-bankrupt man… change is coming and the future belongs to all of us.”

Whether marching, voting en masse, or running for office, women are succeeding at using Donald Trump’s combative tactics to proclaim their own authenticity. Will the trend continue as the 2020 race heads our way? According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, women were angered by Trump’s election and “are now even more driven to get involved after the flood of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men.”

Nothing succeeds like success, especially in politics.  


About the authors: Dr. Rosalind C. Barnett is an award-winning psychologist who has directed major research projects for federal agencies and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, among others. Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University and is a recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists. They are the authors of “The New Soft War on Women” (Tarcher/Penguin) as well as six other books on women, men and society.

January 17th 2019, 9:09 pm

We Must March Against Kakocracy


The US Government’s shutdown is a petulant display of minority power. It is a conservative coup against the will of the people. It is also a dangerous game that disproportionately affects women via a kakocracy with blatant disregard for them.
That’s just one reason why, on Saturday, January 19, 2019, women and allies across America will march again in a wave of rage and determination. What could have been a day of celebration for women’s progress since unleashing the rainbow sea of signs and pussy hats on January 21, 2017, has instead become an urgent call for change. Our nation is in a hostage situation and needs us all to help it break free, particularly for women who are the most vulnerable.
Congress recently passed legislation assuring that 800,000 federal workers will eventually be reimbursed for lost time during the US government shutdown, but only after the shutdown ends. Even so, this act does nothing to help custodians, cleaners and other contract support staff that have been out of work since just before Christmas. These workers, disproportionately women and often immigrants, will therefore never receive their lost wages, and are now scrambling to find jobs and money to feed and shelter their families in the dead of winter.
If the governmental shutdown continues into next month, the food programs that assist low-income people will run out of appropriated funding. This looming threat of the loss of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other mother-support initiatives add stress to an already anxiety-ridden population of women trying to keep their families afloat. In a nation led by the wealthiest administration in our history, this disdain for the plight of low-income minorities is obscene.
Further, the WIC federal program that offers assistance to women, infants, and children known by providing millions of dollars for pregnancy support, breastfeeding and infant formula has been shuttered along with our government. States and limited emergency funds are therefore being forced to stretch their dollars to cover lower-income expectant and new mothers’ needs, foretelling disaster for America’s next generation.
Additionally, the shutdown has already dismantled other protections for women, including the Violence Against Women Act, which was allowed to expire on December 21, 2018. Further, the safe preparation of family meals in America, which is primarily provided by women, is also now in question since the shutdown has negatively impacted the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to guarantee safety of our food, as well as the EPA‘s ability to guarantee safe water for all residents. This is an act of terrorism. 
Although America’s citizens have spoken with our votes, in the conservative coup, this is not enough. Again and again the majority of our citizens have demanded progress, justice, equality,  and compassionate responses to these urgent environmental crises. Unfortunately, the Republican party has thus far responded with dangerous and overt actions against the will of the people, which include a majority of women.
Many who marched in protest on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration have raised legitimate concerns about the language and tactics of some of the women’s marches. Even a quick glance at history shows that many social justice movements have been roiled with conflict when sudden alliances form to take down a common foe. It takes time for the mix of passion and anger to congeal into a unified purpose and approach.
We must understand that these frustrations, discussions and emotions will continue as we work toward equality, separately and together. Women have suffered massive injustices since this country was formed, but we are not a monolith. We each have vastly different histories, which will hopefully be understood and felt by other women in full and open compassion in the future, but we are not there yet. We can’t be, when so many of of us are just trying to stay alive.  
Yes, the status quo of the patriarchy has been wounded by the midterms and is deeply threatened; they are fully armed and have begun firing at will. Yet women are the strongest and most legitimate defenders of the promise of democracy. That is why on Saturday, January 19, women must rise as high as we are able and protest as loudly as possible. Which march we attend doesn’t matter as much as our voice of rage does.
Lately, some media seems to have taken delight publishing stories that diminish women’s protests while emphasizing new spins on the old sexist trope of “catfights.” One day, a unified women’s protest will evolve with time and talking, deep listening and learning, and action and support. While that is our long-term goal as progressive women, this Saturday provides an opportunity for women and allies across America to show unity beyond boundaries, borders and bigotry by rising as one against the shutdown.
Alyson Palmer is the founder and executive director of 1@1 Women’s Equality Actions and a member of the feminist trio, BETTY.
The 1@1 Minute for Women’s Equality
On January 19, 2019 at exactly 1pm EST,  the largest shared action for equal rights, justice, representation and opportunity on Earth will take place. No matter where you are, your focus will unite you in the same action with thousands of women and allies worldwide. Visit for details.
Information about a variety of women’s marches scheduled on January 19th in the US,
as well as globally, can be found by clicking onto the links below:

January 13th 2019, 8:49 pm

RespectAbility: Fighting Stigma Through Opportunity


Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President

“Nothing about us without us,” says Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, President of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. “The people most impacted with a set of challenges need to be at the table to help resolve those issues,” she continues. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu!”

As its President, Mizrahi regularly works with disability organizations, national, state and local policy leaders, workforce development professionals, media, employers, philanthropists, celebrities and faith-based organizations in order to expand opportunities for people with disabilities. She has submitted testimony on employment for people with disabilities in all fifty states and at the Federal level.

She has also published dozens of opeds and publications on disability issues, including in USA TodayThe Hill and other publications, and as a columnist for The Huffington PostTimes of Israel and The Mighty. Mizrahi is a also co-author of Disability & Criminal Justice Reform: Keys to Success, which brought critical attention to the school-to-prison pipeline for people with disabilities and was featured on the PBS NewsHour. She is was involved in the Emmy-winning TV show, Born This Way, and in advancing diversity in Hollywood. Dyslexic herself, she also knows what it means to parent a child with multiple disabilities. “Women with disabilities have to have the agency and power to impact their own lives and those around them to have a better life,” Mizrahi adds. “The disability community needs to come out of the closet.”

And Mizrahi has been helping the community do just that by meeting one-on-one with 43 of America’s governors on disability issues. She also has undertaken projects with the White House and with more than 60 US Senators, as well as helped elect Prime Ministers and Presidents around the world.

RespectAbility hosts a dinner in NYC with some of its prospective candidates for its upcoming 2019 Disability Inclusion Advocacy trainings in NYC, funded by NYWF. In attendance were representatives from organizations serving women and girls with and without disabilities, self-advocates, an ally, RespectAbility board members and staff person. Photo credit: Rick Guidotti




RespectAbility, which was founded in 2013, represents Mizrahi’s mission. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that understands people create a stronger community when they live up to their values –- when they are welcoming, diverse, moral and respect one another — RespectAbility fights stigmas and advances opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. “We don’t use pity,” Mizrahi asserts. “Instead, we show the capacity of people with disabilities. We don’t think there needs to a lot more public money spent in this area, but we do believe that most of the money is badly spent on programs destined to fail.”

Led by people with disabilities and those who love them, RespectAbility works with entertainment, policy makers, educators, self-advocates, nonprofits, employers, faith-based organizations, philanthropists, journalists and online media. Understanding that people with disabilities and their families have the same hopes and dreams as everyone else, even if they face different challenges, Mizrahi says that “it is very important for people to have a reason to get up in the morning. People with disabilities can do everything from cleaning an office to running an office. They can contribute to making the world a better place!”

The free educational platforms, training and resources RespectAbility provides therefore enables and empowers women and girls to be strong self advocates for themselves, the disabilities community and those around them.

To learn more about upcoming training, education and volunteer opportunities RespectAbility provides, click here.


This is the final in a number articles in our series, IN FOCUS: Eye on Changemakers, a collaboration between Women’s eNews and The New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF) to shed light on some of New York City’s most inspiring women-led non-profit organizations dedicated to empowering women and girls of diverse racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds.


January 8th 2019, 8:17 pm

Meet Our New Board Member: Xian Horn


Meet our new Board member: Xian Horn

Xian Horn is a joyful half-Asian woman with Cerebral Palsy, who serves as teacher, speaker, beauty advocate, blogger, and Exemplar for the AT&T NYU Connect Ability Challenge toward the creation of Assistive Technology. She also served as an honoree in Women’s eNews’ 21 Leaders for the 21st Century in 2017, and created Give Beauty Wings’ Self-Esteem programs which continue at NYU’s Initiative for Women with Disabilities, the Jewish Community Center Manhattan, and M.S. 131. She has presented her classes at United Cerebral Palsy, the Center for the Independence of the Disabled NY, the Standing Tall school (a school for non-verbal children), and at her alma mater, the New York City Lab School, where she served as its commencement speaker in 2014. Xian has spoken at Apple, AppNexus, for the New York Public Library, Barnard College, Williams College, and on the ReelAbilities film festival (where she is on the Film Selection Committee). In 2018, Xian was invited to serve on the Cooper Hewitt’s Accessibility Advisory Committee. She has also served on the NY Women’s Foundation Committee for the Future, and mentored at the White House for Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0., for the Disability: IN Innovation Lab where she coached their NextGen Leaders, and worked with students at the Future Project and IMentor. Xian has run vocational workshops for the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities for Disability Mentoring Day, and served the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program’s European delegation. She has also been featured in The White House Blog’s Women Working To Do Good series, NPR, Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company, Bloomberg, NBC News, Fox 5 and NY1, among others. Xian starred in the Starlight Children’s Foundation’s PSA, Give Actually campaign and, beginning in the Fall of 2016, Xian has worked with Open Style Lab’s team at Parson’s, where they created a couture coat tailored for her needs. She is also a blogger for Positively Positive – a community of over 2.5 million.

To learn about all of our Board Members, click here.

January 4th 2019, 12:14 pm

In Deference to Men: Growing up in the 1950s


Many moons ago during the middle of the twentieth century (before the gender expansion of today), learning to look and act like a proper young lady involved being self-effacing, self-limiting and docile. In my current lectures, when I tell my story of growing up more than a half-century ago, the younger women in the audience always roll their eyes in disbelief, while their elders nod at me in agreement and understanding, remembering their own all-to-similar experiences.

One account of growing up female in the 1950s was taped in a two-minute video interview with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, whose story is very much like mine. We both learned that ladylike postures, specifically with legs crossed either at the knees or ankles, and hands in lap, were typically mandatory for a female in mid-century society. But female restrictions went deeper than just posture, as we accepted the cultural norm of displaying deference to men in words and demeanor.

Showing this kind of deference was de rigueur for me growing up, as it was for Letty. Little girls were trained in mundane and monumental ways to take constricting, shrinking postures while boys were told to enlarge themselves and claim extra territory. This became such an unconscious reflex-action for girls wanting to fit in with their peers that the cultural pull was hard to counter.

One woman who dared to confront this norm describes how a male photographer came to her classroom of seven-year-old students to take their class picture. He adamantly insisted, despite this teacher’s protest, that each boy should sit in the chair like a “Captain,” with arms firmly set on arm rests, reaching out and forward toward the viewer, and with legs assuming the wide stance of one ankle overlapping the other knee, taking up additional horizontal space as well. The girls, on the other hand, were instructed by the photographer to sit demurely with legs crossed at the ankle, and hands folded onto their laps.

Two details from Linda Stein tapestry in her Sexism series

It was expected that this positioning, distinguishing boys from girls, would be accepted by the class without protest. But this teacher surprised the photographer by not giving ground, even to his rising anger, as we see in Daphne Harwood’s video.

It’s not unusual to see a man win an argument or get his way by raising his voice and getting angry. I saw it over and over as I grew to womanhood (even with my own father), and more recently during the Kavanaugh/Basey-Ford hearings. Emma Brockes expressed those hearings well in her recent column when she said:

“One of the discussion points to have come out of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings has been the question of anger and what women do with it – specifically, where and how they manage to stuff it down low so it doesn’t spill out and get them labelled as lunatics. Lindsey Graham can go the full Foghorn Leghorn; Kavanaugh can howl like a kid with his head stuck in railings; but to be heard, a woman must be demure and nonthreatening.”

Demure, nonthreatening –– and deferential: That’s what I learned to be as a young girl. Boys, it seemed to me, required a great deal of ego-building.

By the age of twelve, when I had my first real boyfriend, I knew how to make him feel better, stronger, smarter than me. Although a gifted athlete, I managed always to lose: I intentionally threw the bowling ball into the alley gutter and ping pong or tennis ball into the net. Losing, I learned, was the price to pay for popularity. The boy had to win. I thought that no self-respecting girl would want to be with a boy who wasn’t above her. And no boy would want a girl better than he.

And so, I was raised to take my place as a proper girl in our patriarchal society. I was contained, submissive and domesticated. I thought I would surely marry, have three children, and encourage my husband’s success. His ego, or any masculine ego, had precedence over mine. I mastered a wide-eyed look of adoration for my boyfriend as I said ‘Wow, you’re a plumber. Tell me about it. What do you do with faucets and drains?”

In my family, education wasn’t important for a girl; in fact, it could only get in the way of marriage. If I were intimidating or too smart, no boy would want me. To be desirable, I learned to balance my love for school with choosing a non-threatening (read “woman’s”) profession. I became a teacher. That was best, I was told, because it gave me “something to fall back on.” If my husband became ill or if I wanted to work after my children grew up, it was ideal. Since I loved making art, I became an art teacher.

And yet, though far from cognizance or articulation, thoughts and feelings kept cropping up: something wasn’t right. I needed answers for undefined questions. Why did I have to act differently when a boy entered the room? Why couldn’t I be proud of my education and abilities and not have to hide them? Was I signing my paintings “Linda J” (replacing “Stein” with my middle initial) in wait for my husband’s last name and his life (which would then become my life)? Why did society give boys so much more mobility, authority and respect, and why did girls accept such an unfair double standard?

When I asked a gym teacher at Music and Art High School why there was no female tennis team, he said it was because “tennis was bad for a girl’s heart.” But the absurdity of his answer didn’t register with me even though I played tennis for three hours every day after school without having a heart attack! These inconsistent sound bites went on as I grew up. At Pratt Institute graduate school, I said to an art teacher that I was going for a doctorate. He replied, ‘Why go for a doctorate? Why not just marry one?” Once again, I didn’t connect the dots. But the contradictions kept juggling in the back of my mind.

Practicing deference slowly began to grate on me. Gradually I saw that the gender rules of our society were mostly one-sided. I realized that I couldn’t fulfill my potential while putting so much effort into catering to the needs of another person.

I began to watch myself as if I were outside myself. With a male present, I saw that I spoke in a softer, cutesy voice, with less confidence. I had fewer opinions and hardly ever contradicted his manly assertions.

I sat in a constrained manner, cross-legged, poised and pretty, as if waiting to be discovered. I tended to fuse with my projection of male needs and desires. (If I thought a man were seeking a sexual liaison, I would automatically become more flirtatious and seemingly available, even if I were in a monogamous relationship and not really interested in any pursuit). I felt an invisible lid on my head, allowing me to go only so far and no further. I began to feel denied the freedom to hit the metaphorical ball as hard as I could, and, damn it, try to win!

Detail of Legs Together and Apart 925. The artist always modifies the comic’s original bubble text to address Gender Justice and Diversity

Slowly, with determination and the support of feminist writers, friends and therapy, the dots began to connect and I gradually started to change my behavior. It was difficult for me to give up the status of sex object since I didn’t know what would take its place.

But, with effort, I stopped trying so hard to please men. It helped me to ask myself if I would talk or behave the same way with a woman. My goal was to be as equally “real” in the company of either gender.

So, now, am I totally free of this Deference Syndrome? Am I as outspoken and confident with men as I am with women? Do I always try to win at ping pong?

My answer is a qualified “Yes,” though I know from reflecting on my behavior that I still have to carefully monitor my propensity to defer to men. I still struggle with my tendency to feel less important in their presence. I continue to need to remind myself to be confident and proud of my strengths and abilities.

Will relating freely and equally with men ever feel totally natural to me? These days, at least, I’m certainly hitting the ball over the net –– and winning.

Do you have a related story to tell? If so, please contact Linda Stein: or

Linda Stein is a feminist artist, activist, educator, performer, and writer. She is the Founding President of the non-profit Have Art: Will Travel! Inc (HAWT) for Gender Justice, addressing bullying and diversity. HAWT currently oversees The Fluidity of Gender: Sculpture by Linda Stein (FoG) and Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females – Tapestries and Sculpture by Linda Stein (H2F2), two traveling exhibitions with educational workshops. Two more exhibitions will travel soon: Displacement from Home: What to Leave, What to Take (DC4) and Sexism and Masculinities/Feminities: Exploring, Exploding, Expanding Gender Stereotypes (SMF). In 2018, Stein was honored as one of Women’s eNews’ 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. In 2017, Stein received the NYC Art Teachers Association/UFT Artist of the Year award, and in 2016, she received the Artist of the Year Award from the National Association of Women Artists.

I’ve received many responses to my 6/26/18 Womens eNews article, Legs Together and Apart, and would like to continue to share some of the 2-minute video interviews that were made with these responders. Please feel free to email me, and describe your own story, so that in future articles we can make generational comparisons.

January 3rd 2019, 10:45 pm

Anupam Singh: Saving Lives After Her Own Dream Dies


Married at 14 years of age to a man 12 years older than she, Anupam Singh saw her dream of becoming a teacher die when her father-in law refused to let her continue studying. Ironically, he sent his daughters, including the elder one who was Singh’s classmate, to school.  When her father-in-law died four years later, the responsibility of looking after the family fell on Singh’s shoulders. Then already a mother of two children, the 18-year-old began sewing to keep the family fires burning. She also took a loan to fund the education of her two sisters-in-law. When she became an accredited social health activist (ASHA or a government frontline health worker) some years later, she faced social stigma for traveling without her husband to meet communities. “They thought I was a loose woman and wanted to prevent me from doing my work. They knew that if I didn’t work, I would have had to sell my small piece of land to make two ends and that is what they wanted,” Singh recalls.

Remaining defiant, Singh continued to work, and as her salary and success increased, the same people who originally criticized her sought her advice about their daughters also becoming an ASHAs. “This was a big victory,” Singh. contended.

Yet a bigger victory came when she was able to reduce the number of maternal deaths in her Sehra Jalalpur village in the Ambedkar Nagar district, Uttar Pradesh, by convincing pregnant mothers to register for antenatal care and opt for institutional deliveries. Considering the maternal mortality ratio in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, is the second highest in the country, this is a major achievement. The state maternal mortality ratio dropped from 285 per 100,000 live births in 2012-13, to 201 deaths in 2014-16.

“I tell parents not to marry their daughters young. They must be educated so that they can follow their dreams and not die while giving birth,” said the 36-year old Singh.

The journey, however, hasn’t been an easy one. Not only did she have to leave her children behind, but she also had to counter verbal abuse and taunts about her character. Determined to continue her work, Singh dug in her heels even deeper. When she took a mother and her ill newborn child to the district government hospital at 2:00 am in a private taxi after the ambulance didn’t arrive, word got around the village that Singh was a life saver.

Slowly, an increasing number of pregnant women arrived to register their names and seek her help. Last year, Singh reached out to over 300 women and helped 36 women give birth safely in hospitals. In fact, had it not been for Singh’s intervention, a pregnant woman with twins would not have been able to give birth safely, since she was originally turned away by the government hospital for arriving too late at night. “When the nurse asked them to make their own arrangements since a caesarean operation could not take place without a doctor at the hospital, I stepped in. I told her that I would be the doctor on emergency duty who would be responsible if the woman died as a consequence of their inaction,” Singh said.  Singh remained with the mother and twins throughout the night to ensure there were no more complications.

“I have been working for 13 years now. Yes, everyone in the community health centre knows me now and they also know that I am aware of all government schemes, so no one can deprive any women of their right to healthcare,” Singh continues. “I am known as Rani Laxmibai because I am just as strong-willed and fiery as the famous Indian queen who died fighting for the country’s independence against the British.”

Her willingness to go beyond the call of duty has won Singh love, respect and many awards. She has been honored twice for being one of the best ASHAs in the district by the state government. In July this year, Singh was also chosen to receive the annual Plan India Impact award for her exceptional commitment and dedication to bring down maternal and infant mortality. “The Award recognizes and awards exemplary work of grassroots champions who have battled numerous challenges in their lives to bring about change. We received 289 nominations from 22 states. Singh has been honored for her tireless efforts as a frontline healthworker to transform lives in her community,” said Bhagyashri Dengle, Executive Director, Plan India.

Singh has also ensured that her three children, a son and two daughters, study. “I walk 7-8 kms for my work every day so that I can give them a better life,” she continues, with a smile. “I gave my cycle to my daughter five years ago when she started middle school. I hope that by passing Class 11 through open school a few years ago, I have been able to teach them the importance of education and inspired them to fulfill their dreams.”


December 26th 2018, 9:28 am

Exclusive Investigative Report: Harvard’s Pediatric Nutrition Star Comes Under Scrutiny for Conflict


One of Harvard’s highly regarded physicians and a national expert in pediatric nutrition, who has guided policy for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the US Dietary Guidelines, has come under scrutiny for his financial connections to fast food and infant formula industries. In March, 2018, Harvard University’s Office for Academic and Research Integrity quietly concluded an investigation into a complaint against one of its most prominent physicians, Dr. Ronald Kleinman, amid growing concern that these financial connections were influencing his research and public statements as a leading expert on developing nutritional guidelines for America’s children.

Kleinman’s experience includes serving as the Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Physician-in-Chief at MassGeneral Hospital for Children, and the Chief of Partners Pediatrics in Boston (Partners is the largest health care system in Massachusetts which was founded by MassGeneral). He has also served as chairman of the Committee on Nutrition for the American Academy of Pediatrics, editor-in-chief of four editions of the AAP’s Nutrition Handbook, and on the board for US Dietary Guidelines, which devise nutritional recommendations for millions of Americans, among other key roles.

Kleinman has an extensive list of past and present known financial connections to the fruit juice, cereal, and infant formula industries, including work as a consultant for Burger King  (these industries appear to be at odds with optimal nutrition for infants and children). Harvard’s review did not find any official fault, but due to recent investigative reporting by the New York Times and ProPublica, light has been shed on the conflict of interest for scientists in all fields. Potential conflicts of interest that directly impact mothers and infants therefore merit additional consideration. This article reflects Women’s eNews’ investigative reporting on this issue.

Kleinman’s connections to the infant formula industry, and a failure to disclose those relationships when publishing research on breastfeeding, have drawn particular ire. In 2016, Kleinman and two other physicians co-authored an article published in the highly-regarded peer-review journal, JAMA Journal of Pediatrics, which was viewed as critical of the Baby Friendly Hospital initiative, a global initiative designed to promote better breastfeeding practices in hospital maternity units. Specifically, the study entitled, Unintended Consequences of Current Breastfeeding Initiatives, reported the rooming-in practice, where a baby stays in the same hospital room as the mother at Baby Friendly Hospitals, could, as Time Magazine described, lead to mothers’ accidentally smothering their children and possibly contribute to sudden unexpected postnatal collapse, a rare but often fatal respiratory failure.”

A Failure to Disclose Long-Term Relationships

At the time, Kleinman failed to disclose his deep financial ties to Mead Johnson, the parent company of Enfamil infant formula, which spanned eight years (2006 to 2014). He had also received an honorarium from Mead for chairing the Mead Johnson Iron Infant Nutrition Panel, funding for a hospital initiative (which he described as a “fruitful partnership”), and was the author of two Mead-funded studies. His other connections to formula companies included co-chairing two Nestle Nutrition Symposia (Nestle is the parent company of Good Start formula and has been the subject of a seven year boycott by breastfeeding advocates for their egregious marketing violations). Kleinman told Women’s eNews that he no longer has an ongoing relationship with Nestle.

Additionally, Kleinman has published at least six articles in the last three years, which some advocates claim are critical of breastfeeding initiatives.  Two of these articles appeared in the academic journals, JAMA Pediatrics and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (at least two others were funded by Mead Johnson, and a fourth was funded by Nestle).  In an email response to Women’s eNews, Kleinman responded that his previous failures to disclose his industry connections were an “inadvertent omission.”

In a more recent article published in the November issue of JAMA Pediatrics critiquing the skin-to-skin guidelines for the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, Kleinman disclosed his vast industry connections, including financial ties to the infant formula maker Mead Johnson, General Mills, Ocean Spray and the Alliance for Potato Research and Education (APRE), among others. He also disclosed serving on the board of trustees of the International Life Sciences Research Foundation, the grant-making arm of a food industry group whose member companies include Coca-Cola, Dow Agrosciences/Dow Chemical, General Mills, Hershey Foods, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald’s, Merck & Co., Monsanto, Nestle, PepsiCo, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

“Now that we finally see the full scope of Kleinman’s conflicts of interest, it is still unclear how all of these conflicts do not raise ethical flags for Harvard, and why a highly respected journal such as JAMA Pediatrics would still publish his research,” says Kimberly Seals Allers, author of The Big Letdown—How Medicine, Big Business and Feminism Undermine Breastfeeding.  “These studies influence public health policy for infants and children — they deserve more stringent guidelines for integrity, not business-as-usual behavior.”

After several researchers complained about the 2016 article, JAMA issued a correction in January, 2017, adding Kleinman’s disclosure of an honorarium from Mead (the prior hospital funding went unmentioned). The Mead-funded studies and Nestle symposia fell outside the three-year range JAMA requests for conflicts of interests, though experts believe the bias that comes from such financial connections can last well beyond three years. JAMA’s disclosure practices came under scrutiny last week in a recent New York Times article, which details that many physicians fail to fully report their financial ties to industries.

Key Influence on Nutritional Policy for Children  

Experts and advocates have questioned why Kleinman would be allowed to have any financial ties to industries that seem to be at odds with the best childhood nutrition, particularly when giving advice to low-income populations. The 2008  and 2010 studies he authored were funded, in part, by the Juice Products Association (Kleinman later published an article citing the role fruit juice can play in WIC offerings and a child’s diet, despite nutritionist warnings that juice is high in sugar). He also served on the Burger King External Advisory Board and as a consultant for General Mills and Beech-nut foods. Further, he received an honorarium for chairing a presentation and meeting on vegetables sponsored by the Alliance for Potato Research and Education, and later authored a 2016 review paper on vegetables with that same sponsor which concluded that more potatoes were healthy for a child’s diet. (In response to our specific questions, Kleinman said that during his time spent in Peru in his 20s, he witnessed the importance of a potato as a staple food, and that there are approximately 100 countries worldwide that depend on the potato as a major source of nutrition.)

What makes Kleinman’s financial ties concerning to other nutrition experts is that he is in a unique position to issue prolific nutrition guidance. In addition to his work on the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines for All Americans, he is the editor of the fourth, fifth, and sixth editions of the Academy’s Pediatric Nutrition Handbook. These publications provide popular nutritional information that guide decisions by physicians and policy makers, as well as guidelines parents often consult when making food and nutrition decisions for their families.

“Disclosure alone doesn’t solve the problem,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, though of no relation to the company by the same name, “but it does provide context necessary for evaluation, especially in well respected journals. If I were a peer-reviewer of [Kleinman’s 2016] paper, I would say, ‘Do not publish.’ I don’t care what the science says. This paper has a very high probability of bias.” In her latest book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, Nestle documented that in 156 of the 168 food industry sponsored studies she followed, results favored the sponsors’ interests.

Formula Industry Targets Breastfeeding Research; Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative Hit  

Not surprisingly, as breastfeeding initiation rates have risen, so has the influence of formula funding for breastfeeding research, notes Lucy Sullivan, executive director of 1,000 Days, a nonprofit dedicated to the health of women and young children. “It’s made the Baby Friendly Hospital initiative a target for formula companies,” she says, “and for a $71 billion industry, that is a really big deal.” As part of receiving the Baby Friendly accreditation, which requires the completion of 10 total steps, hospitals only dispense infant formula when medically required, and mothers do not receive any free infant formula upon hospital discharge, as is common in many hospitals.

Kleinman said, in an email response to Women’s eNews, that the articles he published are “not critical of breastfeeding,” pointing specifically to language in his 2016 JAMA piece that reads, “Promoting and supporting breastfeeding during the postpartum period has been an important and appropriate priority for maternity units.” The article further recommends that ‘Hospitals should direct their efforts toward implementing practices that will promote breastfeeding safely.’

Still, it was the study’s title, introductory paragraph and use of the phrase ‘potentially hazardous practices’ that garnered the most media attention. This study led to sensationalistic headlines and was quoted in media to paint breastfeeding as dangerous, including a reference in a provocative Time Magazine October, 2017, cover story about the overwhelming demands of motherhood. “Anecdotal reports indicate this is having a negative impact on hospital care practices and reduced support of breastfeeding,” says Trish MacEnroe, Executive Director of Baby-Friendly USA. An independent Google Scholar analysis also shows that Kleinman’s article has been viewed and cited more than any other Viewpoint articles related to breastfeeding in JAMA that year. “While the full extent of the damage is not quantifiable, the commentary offers a highly speculative interpretation of the presented data. Its publication in a respected journal [JAMA Pediatrics] confers more credibility than is warranted,” MacEnroe says. She also reports that this article has been used by organizations seeking to stoke fear about breastfeeding exclusively.

Experts say the rise of Baby-Friendly Hospitals, which recently celebrated its one- millionth birth and now has over 500 certified hospitals in the US, has played a key part in the rise of  breastfeeding rates in the US.  From 2009-2015, more women not only started breastfeeding, but were also breastfeeding longer and doing so exclusively, as measured at both the three and six-month marks. Additionally, MacEnroe says that another 534 hospitals are in the process of certification, resulting in falling infant formula sales.

Industry Funding, Shown to Influence Outcomes; Yet Likely to Continue

Kleinman says that most studies conducted with industry funding serve as “important means of advancing knowledge and science, and the outcomes are clearly not influenced by the funder.” In a statement to Women’s eNews, specifically, he describes the standards that he and his colleagues adhere to when conducting such studies, including acknowledging the funding in the report, research being initiated by the investigator, and that such research is conducted completely independent of the corporate funder. By following those rules, which Massachusetts General Hospital has put in place, Kleinman believes “appropriate firewalls” exist, even in the face of other high-profile examples where industry influence is present.  

“Industry funded-studies and honorariums like those Kleinman receives are likely to continue, as long as industries continue to get the outcomes they seek,” Professor Nestle cautions. “As both researchers and industry leaders have learned, however, outcomes from industry funded studies have a strong probability of favoring the industries’ interests, although the researcher may deny any impact.”

Rebecca Gale is an award-winning journalist based in Bethesda, Md. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Slate, and Health Affairs, among other outlets. Follow her at @beckgale or find her work at

This article is part of a series from The Maternal & Child Health Communication Collective, a W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded initiative to shift the national discourse on the socio-cultural factors influencing the health of mothers and infants.

December 18th 2018, 10:11 pm

Let’s Send One More Woman to Washington Next Year


From the Executive Director

Lori Sokol, PhD

As 2018 comes to an end, Women’s eNews is planning for the future. The results of the November midterm elections ensure that we will see a lot of change in Congress next year due to many new faces in government, including the first Native American congresswomen (Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland), the first Muslim congresswomen (Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib), the first black congresswoman from Massachusetts (Ayanna Pressley), the first Latina congresswoman from Texas (Veronica Escobar), and the youngest woman to be elected to Congress (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). In total, there will be 42 women as incoming members of Congress who will be walking the halls of the House of Representatives and the Senate next year.

And we want to add one more.

In honor of the fellowship named after our founder, Rita Henley Jensen, Women’s eNews is planning to hire a seasoned female reporter, based in Washington, DC, to provide immediate, insightful, and compelling coverage of the momentum building on Capitol Hill. From on-the-ground news coverage of Nancy Pelosi’s new role as House Speaker, to the future of women’s reproductive rights; from new plans to add changing tables in the congressional members-only bathrooms at the Capitol, to talks to possibly change voting schedules so that parents can video chat with their children to help them with homework, Women’s eNews will be there to report on it all.

But we can’t do it without you, our loyal readers and supporters. I hope you will therefore consider making a year-end gift to help us reach our $50,000 goal to hire, train and house our 2019 Rita Henley Jensen fellow in DC!

To help make your decision a little easier, we would like to provide you with a digital compendium of all of the articles written by our 2018 Rita Henley Jensen fellow, Christina Saint Louis, a rising-senior at Barnard College of Columbia University. You will find it by clicking here.

The entire staff at Women’s eNews would like to thank you in advance for your continued support of the honest, factual and transparent journalism you have come to expect as a Women’s eNews subscriber. We look forward to continuing to deliver these professional standards of journalism in the coming year,  and beyond.

Wishing you a joyous and healthy Holiday Season and New Year!

In solidarity,

Lori Sokol, PhD


December 16th 2018, 7:02 pm

WRighteous: In Honor of Nancy Pelosi


In honor of Nancy Pelosi
Sometimes it’s hidden deep, way deep, under fear and anger and resentment. 
Sometimes it rears its sexy gorgeous head – says hello – and then runs away. 
Sometimes it makes a big huge splash. 
Sometimes it’s in the back of a drawer next to a box of stale Newport lights. 
Sometimes it’s accompanied by god-awful unbearable sadness. 
Sometimes it’s an accessory to kindness. 
Sometimes it shows up hand-in-hand with goodness. 
Sometimes it stands shoulder-to-shoulder with grief. 
Sometimes it’s backed into a corner. 
Sometimes it comes roaring out full-force full-on. 
Sometimes it’s so quiet you can barely hear it. 
Sometimes it mix-matches with fierce & mighty. 
Sometimes it comes knocking at the door with flowers. 
Sometimes it appears just when you fall to your knees. 
Sometimes it finds its way back home to you. 
Sometimes it walks out the door forever. 
Sometimes it’s the word no. 
Sometimes it’s the word yes. 
Sometimes it’s the pen. 
Sometime’s it’s the brush. 
Sometimes it’s the stranger at a gas station. 
Sometimes it’s the neighbor you never knew. 
Sometimes it’s the old friend who shows up unexpectedly. 
Sometimes it’s opening a closet door.
Sometimes it’s declaring your worth.
Sometimes it’s standing up.
Sometime’s it’s speaking up.
Sometime’s it’s I’m sorry.
Sometime’s it’s I forgive you.
Sometime’s it’s I love you.
Sometimes it’s a raised hand. 
Sometime’s it’s a raised fist. 
Sometime’s it’s rising up.
And sometimes it takes one seventy-eight year old feisty tough broad to prove that yes, Goddess yes, a woman’s place is mostly definitely in the House.

amy ferris

author. writer. girl.
Women’s eNews weekly columnist Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of our ‘21 Leaders for the 21st Century‘ for 2018. Every Friday, you will continue to be invited into her world, where she will champion, encourage and inspire women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor — along with a heaping side of activism.

December 13th 2018, 10:44 pm

Let’s Send One More Woman to DC in 2019



From the Executive Director

Lori Sokol, PhD

As 2018 comes to an end, Women’s eNews is planning for the future. The results of the November midterm elections ensure that we will see a lot of change in Congress next year due to many new faces in government, including the first Native American congresswomen (Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland), the first Muslim congresswomen (Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib), the first black congresswoman from Massachusetts (Ayanna Pressley), the first Latina congresswoman from Texas (Veronica Escobar), and the youngest woman to be elected to Congress (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). In total, there will be 42 women as incoming members of Congress who will be walking the halls of the House of Representatives and the Senate next year.

And we want to add one more.

In honor of the fellowship named after our founder, Rita Henley Jensen, Women’s eNews is planning to hire a seasoned female reporter, based in Washington, DC, to provide immediate, insightful, and compelling coverage of the momentum building on Capitol Hill. From on-the-ground news coverage of Nancy Pelosi’s new role as House Speaker, to the future of women’s reproductive rights; from new plans to add changing tables in the congressional members-only bathrooms at the Capitol, to talks to possibly change voting schedules so that parents can video chat with their children to help them with homework, Women’s eNews will be there to report on it all.

But we can’t do it without you, our loyal readers and supporters. I hope you will therefore consider making a year-end gift to help us reach our $50,000 goal to hire, train and house our 2019 Rita Henley Jensen fellow in DC!

To help make your decision a little easier, we would like to provide you with a digital compendium of all of the articles written by our 2018 Rita Henley Jensen fellow, Christina Saint Louis, a rising-senior at Barnard College of Columbia University. You will find it by clicking here.

The entire staff at Women’s eNews would like to thank you in advance for your continued support of the honest, factual and transparent journalism you have come to expect as a Women’s eNews subscriber. We look forward to continuing to deliver these professional standards of journalism in the coming year,  and beyond.

Wishing you a joyous and healthy Holiday Season and New Year!

In solidarity,

Lori Sokol, PhD



December 12th 2018, 8:37 pm

Overcoming My Fear By Pressing ‘Post’


I could feel my stomach tightening as my finger hovered over the ‘Post’ button. I swallowed, trying to push the nerves back down my throat. What was going on? It was just an Instagram post, right? A simple square, a picture, some text. Nothing life-changing. Just a quick announcement about an event a few weeks in the future. So why was I so anxious?

Last winter, I created Girl Speak, an event-based organization built to foster education and action on issues affecting teenage girls, as an answer to the calling I’d felt for years. When I first started labeling myself a feminist in middle school, I began searching for a way to become more engaged in social justice work and start making more of an impact on the world.

I struggled to find a central cause to undertake, for which I felt a strong connection. For a long time I did volunteer work here and there and posted many rants on social media, but my efforts felt unfocused. I was drifting. I told myself I wanted to be an activist, but I wasn’t acting on anything. It felt like a betrayal — a lie.

At the same time, I was examining my connection to Judaism and as my Jewish identity evolved, so did my dedication to tikkun olam. My religious faith became deeply intertwined with my concept of community and global service; one did not exist without the other. Suddenly, my lack of focus and action became a crisis of both my feminist and spiritual selves.

One day, though, I figured out my direction.

I can vividly remember the thought that went through my head, “Write what you know.” It had been hammered into me as a writer, a North Star to follow in the search for inspiration, and it occurred to me that there was no reason it couldn’t apply to my activism as well. I didn’t need to search for a cause; there was so much work to be done in the realm of my own experiences.

I began brainstorming Girl Speak as an answer to the questions I had about myself: What does it mean to have self-confidence? How can I work on claiming space and owning my voice? How do I navigate the mind-boggling world that is a high school social life? I spent weeks figuring out how I wanted Girl Speak to look, who I could bring in to share their knowledge and, even, what my Instagram feed theme would be.

Emma Cohn’s first “Girl Speak” event on body image featuring body image activist Lisa Zahiya (far left).

In the end, I created an event-based organization; each event centers around talks led by community experts on topics like body image and confidence, paired with workshops on the material I design. My intention has been to craft a space dedicated to education, discussion, and action around real issues affecting teenage girls. And it had all led to this moment: pressing ‘Post’ on the announcement I’d created for my very first ever Girl Speak event.

I was so proud of the work I’d done and couldn’t wait to share it with the world, so why was I having such a hard time? Why was I stalling? Why do I still stop each time I wanted to post a new event or to reach out to potential attendees? Because opening oneself up to the world is terrifying.

No matter how proud we are of what we create, and no matter how confident we are that it’s important and beneficial and beautiful, putting it out there for everyone to see and judge takes a lot of bravery, and vulnerability. Additionally,  asking people to evaluate your creation and decide if it is worthwhile for them to dedicate their time feels highly personal; it often feels like I’m asking people to decide if they think I’m good enough…if I’m important…if I’m worthwhile.

I’ve struggled tremendously with self-promotion. I often feel like I’m bragging or being arrogant, or that what I’ve created isn’t really worth attention. It’s an issue that’s based in both a fundamental questioning of the space I take up (or don’t take up) in the world, as well as a fear of putting myself out there. Luckily, in these moments of wavering, I have people to whom I can turn. I look to my sheroes, the women risking far more than minor mockery from my schoolmates to stand up for what they believe in, and I look to my faith. Stories of influential Jewish women in history remind me that there’s a long line of powerful Jewish women standing behind me, women who have my back and who are ready to catch me if I fall. And, through it all, I’ve realized that in the end that I just have to do it. I have to press ‘Post’ because amazing things may result? My first Girl Speak event was a success and each one since has taught me, as well its attendees, more and more.

Learning how to share what I create while asking for people’s attention is going to be a lifelong process as I continue to build my self-confidence and become more comfortable with my vulnerability. It’s therefore a journey I’m willing to take because I now know that I do deserve to own my space, and that my work matters.

December 11th 2018, 8:39 pm

Self-Worth vs. Net Worth: An Interview with Gloria Steinem


Letting Her Truth Take The Lead

One of money’s greatest gifts is that it can reflect back when we are, and are not, living in step with who we truly are. Through more than two decades of work as a financial journalist, I have learned so much about human nature by observing the choices and beliefs people bring to their financial lives. We often overlook how money can help bring about a level of awareness that helps us move beyond false conditioning.

Money mirrors, and their power, are coming to mind as I reflect on a conversation I had with Gloria Steinem about her relationship with money. As someone who has the pleasure of having Gloria as a friend, I am inspired, but not surprised, by how her relationship with money embodies who she truly is:

                 “If I had one lesson to convey about money, it is this. Money has been used to rank us. It could be used to link us. You and I can decide.”  – Gloria Steinem

Early Lesson$

For better or worse, a tremendous part of our financial behavior and belief systems are set by childhood conditioning – the ways in which we saw money handled in our formative years. Steinem is a study in this.

“As a child, I used to go with my father to Household Finance – a high-interest lender for people who couldn’t qualify for bank loans – and listen to my otherwise funny and independent father as he made a brave, but nervous, case for his dependability and our family need to an impervious guy behind a desk,” she shared.

“I’ve never borrowed a penny in my life, no doubt, because I didn’t want to be vulnerable to a humiliating guy behind a desk. Though now I have a mortgage, for most of my life, I never borrowed a penny. My father was always in debt, and bill collectors coming to the door were scary to me as a child. I’ve always avoided that.”

Steinem’s observations of her mother’s financial behavior also greatly informed her own relationship with money.

“At home, my mother used to save change and dollar bills in a big glass jar in the closet, ‘just in case our car was re-possessed or there was some other disaster.’ On leaving any restaurant, she also put sugar packets in her purse,” said Steinem.

        “Neither the Household Finance guy’s condescension, nor my mother’s worry, seemed to have anything to do with who my parents really were.”Gloria Steinem

Fighting Fear With Self-Sufficiency

Whether it’s that we won’t have enough, we won’t make enough, or we will not be able to take care of ourselves, everyone has one money fear, or ten. Steinem’s was that she would end up a bag lady, although she recently pointed out to me that she’s never held down a ‘steady’ job. I was always sure I would end up as a bag lady, a fear I handled by thinking, ‘It’s a life like any other.’ I’ll just organize the other bag ladies,” she said.

I learned to support myself by different stages of doing it, from working as a salesgirl after high school and on Saturdays, to being a lifeguard in summers during college, to writing for newspapers and tourists when I lived in India, to freelancing as a writer in New York. I think one of the most important things I learned about money is that I could support myself and buy freedom, despite all the instruction to my generation of women to marry a good provider.”

There is a saying that for women, life begins at 50. For Steinem, that’s when her efforts to preserve and build wealth kicked in. “I began to save money after 50, and I also lucked into buying an apartment at the all-time low of real estate,” she continues. “I have to say that owning my home, plus a pension fund, did finally do away with my bag lady fantasy. I plan to live to be 100, and in the event of a shortfall, I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have to burden any one of my friends too much. They help you live longer and are a form of insurance.”

Money Myths, Gender, and Power

While the incredibly humble feminist icon would likely demure at the statement that her life is a shining example of how to have a healthy emotional and compassionate relationship with money, her observations reveal her wisdom and insightful nature. “I’ve noticed that friends with a lot of money worry at least as much: Are they being ripped off? Is someone being truly friendly or just looking for a contribution?” “One of the advantages of being a female human being is that you can blend in with a variety of social groups,” Steinem asserts. “I’ve witnessed people–more men than women since power is still supposed to be masculine – for whom no amount of money is enough. They like to make people jump, regardless of where they are jumping to. Like addicts looking for a fix, they are locked into defeating others. Our premiere business schools should give a course called, Money Is Boring, with a special seminar: How Much Is Enough?”

The Wisdom in Reflection

We often overlook the invitation our money mirrors extend to help us live more authentic lives, and the roadmap they provide to the place where our choices and values are aligned. We should embrace feelings of conflict as we look in the mirror at the varying aspects of our financial lives, because those feelings are the sign posts that show where we need to take a different turn if we are to truly live authentic lives.

“Altogether, we each deserve enough to eat, a home, and a little dancing, but after that, I’ve discovered money doesn’t change who we really are,” Steinem says. Pearls of wisdom that can remind us all that net worth has absolutely nothing to do with self-worth.


About the Author: Stacey Tisdale, a Women’s eNews Board Member, is an award-winning on-air financial journalist who has reported on business and financial issues for more than 20 years. She has contributed to some of the largest and most prestigious news organizations in the world including CNN, CBS, NBC’s Today Show, PBS, ABC’s Good Morning America, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Black Enterprise, and Al Jazeera America. Stacey is also president and CEO of financial media and education content provider Mind Money Media Inc., and authored a book titled,’ The True Cost of Happiness: The Real Story Behind Managing Your Money.‘ (Publisher: John Wiley & Sons).

December 9th 2018, 9:46 pm

Weekly Column: WRighteous = #TragicChoices


“An abortion?” she asks. “What’s that?’
“It’s when you don’t want the baby.”
“I didn’t either,” she says.
“You wanted an abortion?” I ask.
“Oh, yes.”
“What happened?”
“I had you.”
This was at the end of my mother’s life, when moments of clarity were life-stopping and earth-shattering…literally. I could feel the earth give way under my feet. I wasn’t at all surprised. It made sense, perfect sense. I had always felt unwanted. Always. She would treat me with disdain and dissatisfaction, and there were many days and months and years while I was growing up that she would tell me – in a heat of red hot anger – that she loved me because I was her child, but she didn’t like me. 
That always made me cower. Shrivel up.
I would shrink right in front of her eyes, and she would watch me shrink and my insides would crumble and my heart would crack and I would wait for her to say she didn’t mean it or that it was a lie or that she was sorry and hold me.
That didn’t happen.
I turned sixty-four yesterday, and as I was face-down getting a ‘Sixty-minute with 
Aromatherapy sides’ massage, I had this sudden urge to flip over on the table, and sit upright and face this – being unwanted – this demon that I had been carrying and burying and carrying and burying and yes, trying to abort for sixty-four years. 
I am a firm believer in a woman’s right to choose, pro-choice, across the board. I am what you would call a hardliner. I, myself, have had a few abortions. To say that they saved my life would be an understatement. To say that the boys I slept with were the bad choice in the equation would be the blatant hard-core reality. To take it one step further and say I would never had been a good mother at the ripe age of 18 or 19 would be the absolute irrefutable truth. I didn’t want children.
I suppose being secretly unwanted webbed itself into my entire body, and I didn’t quite get the whole picture. 
But here, back in 2008, my mother was telling me that she didn’t want me. And the pieces fit; all the cracked and messy and edgy frayed pieces fit. 
She, like millions of other women, had babies when what they really wanted was a different life path. My mom was an artist. She was creative and wild and gorgeous and sexy and emotional and vibrant and she wanted to have a Bohemian life, but her choices were limited and, so, she chose to be married and have two kids, ten years apart, and lived in the suburbs and it was there, on a street like every street in middle America, where the split levels all looked the same and the flower beds all had the same floral arrangements and the gardener would show up and mow the lawn and the mail would come at the same time everyday and everything was in its place…and it was there that she lost pieces of herself, fragments, while she sat in front of the television screen watching Gail Storm and Lucille Ball and Donna Reed and Father Knows Best, and Queen for a Day, and she played Mahjong, and made meals, and went bowling with the girls and chain smoked and coughed, and had bouts of depression that no one ever talked about, no one, and on occasion, I would find her sitting on the edge of her bed, the one that was perfectly made with a cream color chenille bedspread dotted with magenta and rose chenille balls, crying her eyes out. And I would tip-toe into her bedroom and I would sit down next to her, and I would put my skinny little arm around her and tell her that everything would be okay. But everything was not okay. Everything was far from okay, and if she didn’t like something I wore or said or did, she wouldn’t speak to me for days. 
Which brings me to this:
Don’t pop babies out and then treat them with disdain. 
Don’t pop babies out and ignore their needs, their wants.
Don’t pop babies out and discard their feelings, their pain, their sorrow.
Don’t pop babies out and then refuse to acknowledge their existence especially when they are standing right in front of you dying – dying – to be acknowledged.
No wonder so many women feel unsafe in this world. 
We didn’t feel safe in the womb.
It has taken me years to understand that feeling unwanted has been a road map for me, a bumpy scary road map. The decisions I made, the choices I made, the roads I travelled, getting hugely lost; the mistakes that piled up, the bad boys and the awful drugs and bad, bad nights, and the rebellious acts and the need to be seen and loved and the deep desire to feel as if I belonged. To be accepted. Included. It all comes with a big neon sign: Unwanted
That was the very foundation where I made most of my decisions: children who don’t feel wanted are always looking to fill that deep dark awful hole. And trust me, it is awful,  it is dark, and it is unbearably deep. It is a deep hole that seems to go on forever. 
Do not pop babies out if you can’t love them, or like them, or care for them, or nurture them. Do not pop babies out if you have no plan on putting your life on hold for them. Do not pop babies out and then destroy their confidence, or take their joy, or diminish their hearts and souls because you didn’t want them in the first place. 
Do not pop babies out and then hurt them. 
When I stopped needing my mother to want me, I was able to want my own life; accept myself; ignite my wild rebellious crazy sexy life and dream up and dream big. Epic, as I like to say. Permission and validation were no longer on the menu.
And the other truth, the hardest truth of all – my mother could have never told anyone, not a soul, sixty-four years ago that she didn’t want to have another child, that she didn’t want another baby, that she wanted an abortion, or even thought of an abortion – she would have never been able to admit that sacred truth, that deep desire, because she, herself, was unable to make choices that were for her own benefit, for her creativity, for her own wild dreams, for her own life. 
If you don’t really want to bring a child into the world, if you’re doing it for some religious right fundamentalist reason – stop – seriously stop – and think about the burden you’re about to lay on an innocent child. The burden will trail her or him their whole life.  
A pregnancy can very much be unwanted. It happens all of the time – it’s a powerful realization. It takes enormous courage and guts to know that no child deserves to be brought into this world feeling unwanted. The effect on that one life can be catastrophic; the ripple-effect enormous. 
An unwanted child is far worse than an unwanted pregnancy. 

amy ferris

author. writer. girl.
Women’s eNews weekly columnist Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of our ‘21 Leaders for the 21st Century‘ for 2018. Every Friday, you will continue to be invited into her world, where she will champion, encourage and inspire women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor — along with a heaping side of activism.

December 6th 2018, 10:12 pm

Save the Date: 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Gala 2019


December 4th 2018, 10:25 am

Is it 2020 Yet? Let’s Nominate a Woman for President


Democrats suffering from 2016 PESD (Post-Election Stress Disorder) are already in a panic about 2020, wringing their hands over the lack of a suitable leader. A popular talking point is that we must nominate a male candidate, or Donald Trump is sure to win a second term.

In a well-stocked lake of misguided opinions, this one is multiplying the fastest, and quickly overtaking the social media ecosystem. Check out any post about the Democrats’ prospects for 2020, and you’ll see an impassioned pool of comments with this specific talking point, even from liberals who consider themselves feminists. They insist that nominating a man is the only position a pragmatist can take.

But they’re wrong. This terror-laced belief is like a fever dream that magnifies a small percentage of voters into a monstrous mass of knuckle-dragging, women-eating zombies that will devour the 2020 election. It overlooks the fact that, despite the most massive, hate-fueled, misogyny-laden propaganda campaign in modern history, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and, arguably, would have won the election if not for the 11th hour nuclear bomb dropped upon the national discourse by FBI Director James Comey, when he announced he was reopening the investigation into her emails.

And since that election, women voters have become turbo-charged, Millennials have exceeded expectations, and people of color continue to champion the Democratic Party. These folks stormed the polls for the 2018 midterms, electing a record-shattering number of women candidates. Indeed, women will now occupy 100 of the 435 seats in congress. It’s still far from parity, but a historic move forward. You couldn’t ask for a clearer bellwether about the opportunity for a woman presidential nominee, especially since this momentum continues to grow.

Nervous Democrats will argue that we ignore the white male working class voter at our peril, and can only win this demographic with a folksy white man like the affable Joe Biden. I like Joe, too, and agree that the Democrats need a big tent and a clear message that ours is the working people’s party. But the notion of the white working class voter as a brutish, racist misogynist is condescending and misguided. This stereotype represents only a small knot of Americans, so tightly tied they’re not likely to vote for any Democrat, female or male. Yes, it would be lovely to convince them that they are voting against their own best interests when they cast a ballot for Trump, but we cannot. Their fervor is religious and impenetrable.

The good news is that we can win without them. Further, by doubling down on his tactics of fear and divisiveness, Trump has proven himself incapable of casting a wider net.

It’s also worth considering this scenario: If neither Donald Trump nor Mike Pence receives the Republican nomination  (an unlikely but plausible prospect if the Mueller investigation is allowed to continue), that would leave the door open for a viable female Republican such as Nikki Haley. If the Democrats run a male candidate against her, we could well bleed out the suburban women and independents who put us over the finish line in so many of the midterm elections. And without these groups, we cannot win the presidency.

That aside, Democrats are also worried about another ugly propaganda campaign, fearing that any woman we nominate would be subject to the same rage-driven vitriol as Hillary Clinton. This is true, but any man we nominate would also be subject to this treatment. Such ugly, virulent and carefully launched attacks are the GOP’s war room strategy, and they do it effectively enough to infect even our own ranks. Sadly, Democrats make this all too easy for them, because our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. As a passionate and opinionated bunch, we are easily manipulated to moral outrage. If we are to take any lesson from the 2016 election it should be this, and not the idea that only a man can win the presidency.


About the author: Ellen Meister is the author of five published novels, and currently under contract for a three-book series with HarperCollins.

December 2nd 2018, 6:36 pm

Weekly Column: WRighteous




In the name of God and America – You can’t take a knee, but you can take a bullet.
You can’t take a knee, but you can slaughter Jews in a Synagogue.
You can’t take a knee, but you can murder Black Lives in a Baptist church.
You can’t take a knee, but you can massacre young children – children brimming with hope – with an AR-15 in a school.
You can’t take a knee, but you can mow down concert-goers in Las Vegas and Thousand Oaks, California, with a weapon used for war.
You can’t take a knee, but you can take children away, along with their dreams.
 You can’t take a knee, but you can tear gas children and women crossing the border.
You can’t take a knee, but you can enthusiastically prevent Dreamers from obtaining citizenship.  
You can’t take a knee, but you can rip children and babies right from their parents arms, and place them in cages. 
You can’t take a knee, but you can take our dignity, and our beliefs.
 You can’t take a knee, but we all witnessed the President of the United States standing with Neo-Nazis and White Supremacists and Nationalists because you know, he said: “here is good and bad on all sides.”
You can’t take a knee, but we watched in despair as OUR United States was pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord to the horror and dismay of all of our allies.
You can’t take a knee, but you can take an abuser and place him on a pedestal.
You can’t take a knee, but a sexual abuser can serve on the Highest Court because well, you gotta mock the victim.
You can’t take a knee, but you can abandon our fellow citizens.
You can’t take a knee, but you’re willing to watch Puerto Rico and it’s entire people left decimated and devastated.
You can’t take a knee, but you can take our livelihoods.
You can’t take a knee, but you can sell us a lie when you tell folks that coal is gonna make a comeback – boom boom boom again – and cars are gonna be built in Ohio.
You can’t take a knee, but you can bludgeon a trans human to death in a bathroom stall.
You can’t take a knee, but you can incite racism and homophobia and xenophobia and sexism
and misogyny and anti-semitism.
You can’t take a knee, but you can dismember and behead a US citizen and then align with the murderers because, yes, they’re good people too.
You can’t take a knee, but you can call all journalists, all media, the enemy of the people.
You can’t take a knee, but you can take a woman’s body and violate it; rape her, sully & dirty her, and then claim it was consensual.
You can’t take a knee, but you can violently and horrifically abuse a child, torture a child, beat a child and say that you are pro-life.
You can’t take a knee, but you can rip the heart and the soul out of this country.
She is bleeding.
She is dying.
She is gasping for breath.
Let us all get down on a knee for her.

amy ferris

author. writer. girl.
Women’s eNews weekly columnist Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of our ‘21 Leaders for the 21st Century‘ for 2018. Every Friday, you will continue to be invited into her world, where she will champion, encourage and inspire women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor — along with a heaping side of activism.

November 29th 2018, 9:02 pm

On the Outside of Incarceration: The Need for the ERA


Women bear the brunt of the costs, both financial and emotional, when their loved ones are incarcerated. According to a recent study by the Ella Baker Foundation for Human Rights, in 63% of cases, family members on the outside are primarily responsible for court-related costs associated with conviction, and of the family members primarily responsible for these costs, 83% are women. This is especially problematic for black women, since their family members are five times more likely to be incarcerated than their white counterparts.

This impacts black women and their families more significantly than others, deepening inequities and societal divides that have pushed many into the criminal justice system in the first place, since two out of every five Black women are related to someone who is incarcerated. This can further jeopardize their own stability, since the family’s financial burdens disproportionately fall upon women in the family who may also have children living at home. For example, almost half of family members primarily responsible for paying court-related costs are mothers, and one in ten are grandmothers.

Specifically, the costs associated with incarceration include phone calls, visitation, commissary, and health care, which often result in severe financial consequences for families on the outside. One in three families (34%) reported going into debt to pay for phone calls or visitation. Often, families are forced to choose between supporting incarcerated loved ones and meeting the basic needs of family members who are outside. Research conducted with visitors at San Quentin State Prison in California showed similar results. The majority of women in that study reported spending as much as one-third of their annual income to maintain contact, and for a number of these women, including many who are mothers, these costs often put them into debt.

Further barriers exist based on race and ethnicity, including fewer jobs for black people previously incarcerated, as well as restrictions on travel. For Latinos, documentation status is a more likely barrier to finding work. These challenges only serve to prolong the financial burden placed on women and these families.

For women of color, the financial load that comes with supporting a loved one in prison is often amplified by the reality that there is no Equal Rights Amendment in the US Constitution. The ERA would help ensure that women, of all races, would have the right to employment earnings equal to white, non-Hispanic men (the highest income earners in the US). According to the 2017 census, black women were paid only 63 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. And even in states with large populations of Black women in the workforce, rampant wage disparities persist, with potentially devastating consequences for Black women and families.

Black women in the District of Columbia, for example, are paid only 52 cents, in Maryland only 69 cents, in Pennsylvania just 68 cents, and in Mississippi only 56 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Further, Black women in Louisiana are paid just 47 cents, in Texas only 58 cents, and in Utah,just 52 cents for every dollar paid to a white, non-Hispanic man. One could only imagine how much easier it would be for Black women to support themselves and their families while a family member is incarcerated if the ERA were included in the Constitution.

What would it take to ratify the ERA? There are two options, really:

The traditional constitutional amendment process is described in Article V of the Constitution, where Congress must pass a proposed amendment by a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and send it to the states for ratification by a vote of the state legislatures. The amendment becomes part of the Constitution when it has been ratified by three-fourths (currently 38) of the states. This process has been used for ratification of every amendment to the Constitution thus far. Article V makes no mention of a time limit for the ratification of a constitutional amendment, and no amendment before the 20th century had a time limit attached to it.

The second option is the three-state strategy for ERA ratification, which was developed following the 1992 ratification of the “Madison Amendment” as the 27th Amendment to the Constitution after a ratification period of 203 years. Given that acceptance, some ERA advocates contended that the ERA’s ratification period of just over two decades would surely meet the “reasonable” and “sufficiently contemporaneous” standards required by Supreme Court decisions in 1921 and 1939. Time limits were not attached to proposed amendments until 1917, and Congress demonstrated its belief that it may alter a time limit in a proposing clause by extending the original ERA deadline. Precedent regarding a state’s ability to withdraw its ratification by a rescission vote shows that such actions have not been accepted as valid. Thus, supporters argued, the 35 existing ratifications should still be legally viable, and Congress likely has the power to adjust or repeal the previous time limit on the ERA, determine whether state ratifications subsequent to 1982 are valid, and recognize the ERA as part of the Constitution after three more states ratify.

This mode of ratification is getting closer to potential realization. With the ratification of the ERA by the state of Nevada in 2017 and by the state of Illinois in 2018, one more state is needed to ratify the ERA to achieve the initial 38 states for federal ratification as determined in 1982. If one more state ratifies the ERA, the ratification process will move into the courts for determination regarding the constitutionality of the original deadline that was originally applied

The states that have not ratified the ERA yet include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and Virginia, Currently, bets are on Virginia to become the 38th state, which could be done as early as its next legislative session, starting in Richmond on January 9th, 2019

A recent graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Sage Howard is a 2018 fellow in the Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program, funded by the Sy Syms Foundation. The Sy Syms Journalistic Excellence Program at Women’s eNews fellowship supports editorial and development opportunities for editorial interns in the pursuit of journalistic excellence.

November 29th 2018, 12:44 pm

After 17 Years, Venezuelan Survivor Finally Wins Justice


On November 16, 2018, in a decision with potential implications for survivors around the world, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that the State of Venezuela is responsible for the torture and sexual slavery of a young woman who has spent half her life fighting for justice.

Linda Loaiza López was just 18 when she was kidnapped by a stranger outside her Caracas apartment building, then raped and brutally tortured for nearly four months. “It was like living my own death,” López recalls.

When she was rescued, she was near death, with injuries were so bad doctors likened them to those of a traumatic traffic accident. They included a fractured jaw and nose, disfigured lips and ears and trauma to the head and brain. She had broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and cigarette burns all over her body. One of her nipples was cut off and Linda was so severely malnourished that she weighed only 62 pounds. Over the next two years, López spent more than 600 days in a hospital. To date, she has required 15 surgeries and her psychological scars run deep.

Her aggressor, Luis Carrera Almoina, had bragged that he was untouchable because his father was the politically-connected rector of a major university in Caracas. Despite the modest finances of her family of 13, an undeterred López hired a lawyer who filed charges for rape, grievous bodily harm, kidnapping, torture and attempted murder. But the trial was postponed 38 times, and no judge would touch the case.

Three years later, with the statute of limitations approaching, López waged a hunger strike on the Supreme Court steps, despite having undergone a recent operation on her pancreas. The public display garnered national attention and gave her trial the green light. López thought justice would finally prevail, but instead of vindication, she says that she felt as if she were the person on trial. Although most attempted murder trials normally last three or four months, the judge acquitted Carrera Almoina of all charges within days, and even worse, an investigation was ordered into López and her family for prostitution. “That day, I lived the most tragic moment of this whole process because I realized that it wasn’t just him anymore,” López recalls. “I could see that the whole system was against me!” Devastated, but refusing to give up, she appealed, and on a shoestring budget, founded a small non-profit organization to support survivors of sexual violence.     A few months later, a retrial was ordered.

I first heard about her case around this time, while working as a foreign correspondent in Chile, and travelled to Caracas to interview her at a makeshift office.

Six months later, the retrial yielded a conviction for kidnapping and “grievous bodily injuries,” but Carrera Almoina was still acquitted on the heftier charges of rape, sexual violence, torture and attempted murder. Sentenced to six years in prison, he spent just a few months in jail, lessened due to his time served while awaiting trial.

López was outraged. When her final appeal was rejected, she set her sights on an even bigger adversary; the very system that was supposed to protect her. Having exhausted all avenues in Venezuela, López then petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), hoping to take it all the way to its sister body, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Fewer than 1 in 100 successful petitions to the Commission ever make it to the Court[1] and she knew the process would be long. So, she begun working on a law degree. Usually, victims rely on NGOs or legal organizations to take their cases before international courts, but López wanted to test whether survivors could do it themselves. “I think this is a huge opportunity—for survivors to be able to directly petition the Inter-American human rights system,” says López. “There are no limitations. At least, I never felt any. More women could do what I did!”

López graduated from law school in 2011, and in 2013 enrolled in a post-graduate double specialization in international and human rights law. During this time, her petition to the IACHR was accepted, and the exposure attracted two human rights NGOs—the Washington-based Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), and Venezuelan-based Committee of relatives of victims of the events of February and March 1989 (COFAVIC). Both joined as co-petitioners, offering pro-bono legal support. “We thought it was an emblematic case,” explains Elsa Meany, a Senior Attorney with CEJIL. “Also, because of Linda herself—because of how she had pursued the case and all the effort she had put into it, we thought that it could have a tremendous impact.”

In March 2015, López testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—the first case involving gender-based violence against the State of Venezuela. In its Merits Report, the Commission concluded that Linda “did not have equal access to justice” and suffered “revictimization.” The Commission then elevated the case to its sister body, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in San José, Costa Rica.

Inter-American Court in San Jose on the day of her hearing (February 6, 2018). (LtoR)Ana Secilia Lopez (Linda’s sister), who also testified. and one of Linda’s lawyers, Francisco Quintana, of CEJIL, is on her right. (Photo courtesy of Linda Loaiza Lopez.)

On February 6, 2018, López sat before the seven judges donning black and red gowns, while pleading, “It is important that you value my testimony… I come here now because I trust you … and I expect justice.” Venezuela’s legal representative, Larry Devoe Márquez, also made a rare apology, acknowledging that López clearly “did not have access to justice under conditions of equality.” Given its potential, the ruling was much-anticipated by international human rights experts.

Ultimately, the Court ordered the State of Venezuela to compensate López and her family by covering her lifelong medical and psychological care. Further, Venezuela would have to acknowledge its responsibility publicly, establish a national gender-violence curriculum bearing the name “Linda Loaiza”, as well as other prevention measures. “That’s very important to Linda. She pursued this whole process in part to get truth and justice for herself, but also very much on behalf of others,” Meany says. Essentially, this ruling sets a global precedent by establishing that States can be held responsible for the actions of private citizens, thus upping the onus on prevention. “That’s a big idea and a core question of where many women could direct their legislative and advocacy tactics,” she posits.

Whether Venezuela will comply with the ruling is another question. Amid Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, López says domestic violence and femicide have increased and her Foundation is struggling. López called the ruling a “triumph of justice” in a statement, but said it “will only be effective when the State fulfills its sentence.”

I was surprised that, after so many years of waiting and wanting, her reaction to the ruling was lukewarm. Still, it’s understandable. The scepticism and battle scars have become ingrained in this tireless activist and survivor, who vows “to continue to sustain the struggle of others like myself, as an advocate.”


[1] In 2016, of the 2,567 petitions received by the Inter-American Commission, only 16 were sent to the Inter-American Court. When Linda filed her petition in 2007, only 14 of the 1,456 petitions received by the Commission reached the Court.

Source: Organization of American States website (2018). Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: Statistics.             Retrieved on February 20, 2018.


About the Author: Jen Ross is a Chilean-Canadian foreign correspondent with hundreds of articles published in newspapers and magazines around the world. She also spent 10 years working in communications for the United Nations, most recently as Editor for UN Women’s global website in New York, before resigning and moving to Aruba, where she now works as a freelance writer and editor, and teaches Human Rights at the University of Aruba.

November 28th 2018, 12:29 am

Our Gift to YOU on #GivingTuesday


Today, on #GivingTuesday, we would like to offer you, our faithful readers, even more compelling and award-winning journalism about women…by women.

In 2019, Women’s eNews is seeking to hire a journalist based in Washington, DC, to provide immediate and cutting-edge coverage on national politics, particularly as it pertains to Democrats’ recently regained control of the House of Representatives, and how this will impact the Trump Administration’s current  policy actions and proposals attacking women’s rights and equality.

But we can’t do it without your help. By donating today, you can help us reach our goal of $25,000 to support the work of our DC-based journalist. And, with a donation of $150 or greater, you will receive a Racerback top inspired by the Women’s March. This garment is designed by DeMuse Designs, made in the USA, with fabric made of recycled plastic bottles (see below):



Thank you in advance for your support, ensuring that you will receive top-notch news coverage on the ground in DC, for what promises to be a very compelling year for women in Congress!

November 26th 2018, 9:38 pm

Weekly Column: WRighteous – #ThanksGivingLove




This is a piece about Love.

Good Love.

Sexy Love.

Thanksgiving Love.

Giving Thanks Love.

We dated for a handful of months, just a few. Maybe three or four – maybe five, tops – and on Thanksgiving in ’92, he asked me to marry him.

When we first met – had our first date – he told me in no uncertain terms, that he would never get married again, that he had already tried that, done that, and it wasn’t for him…marriage, that is. “Nah, not my thing.” It was our first date, so marriage wasn’t on my mind, but a second glass of sauvignon blanc was.

He got down on his knees, and I thought he was looking for a contact lens because he would, you know, very often lose one – or both. So I got down on my knees and he looked at me and asked, “Whatcha doing?” and I said, ‘I’m helping you” and with that he asked: “Okay, well, will you help me for the rest of my life?”

He wasn’t looking for his lens.

He was looking for me.

“You betcha,” I said.

How lucky am I?

My husband is a hero, a super-hero, albeit a cranky, messy, chaotic – with a side of ADD – hero. And marriage is not easy. Not one bit. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a piece of cake; they’ll be separated or divorced in no time. Marriage is hard work; it’s coming to terms, it’s saying no, it’s kicking and screaming and finding your way back into each other arms, tentatively, at first. It’s sticking to your guns with a teeny – kindly – little bit of lee-way. It’s opening your heart to the point of bursting a vein. It’s allowing yourself to be exactly one hundred percent who you are without wearing a stitch of make-up, or cover-up; without any masks. It’s being the truest human being you can be in front of another human being. It about intimacy; no, not sex, intimacy –  letting someone into your soul, your truth, and seeing the scars and all the flaws and messiness and sharing the deep dark ugly stuff, the stuff you wanna hide – keep away from sunlight – and know they’re gonna stay; yeah, that kind of intimacy. And if you’re lucky, really, really lucky – they will love you – yes you – 100 percent in return. The naked, eyebrow-less girl standing right in front of them, because they saw the beauty in you before you ever did.

They saw it, they fell in love with that beam, that laser, that spark in you, and even on the worst days, the hard days, the messy chaotic cranky painful days, they lean in and kiss you, and they tell you in a whisper that will give you crazy-cakes goosebumps, that you – YOU – make the world spin.

That’s what i’m talking about.

Nothing trumps it.


Happy Thanksgiving.

I wish you all love.

I am so grateful to share my life here on Women’s eNews.

amy ferris

author. writer. girl.
Women’s eNews weekly columnist Amy Ferris is a highly accomplished author, screenwriter, television writer and editor. She was also honored by Women’s eNews as one of our ‘21 Leaders for the 21st Century‘ for 2018. Every Friday, you will continue to be invited into her world, where she will champion, encourage and inspire women to awaken to their greatness, as only she can, through passion, truth, hope, and humor — along with a heaping side of activism.

November 22nd 2018, 12:27 pm

Where Jewish and Muslim Women Find Sisterhood


It is 9:00 am on a Sunday. I am in the gymnasium at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, home to the Aggies basketball team. The bleachers are rolled up to accommodate tables seating 600 women – some with hijabs, some with tichels (Yiddish word for the headscarf worn by many married Orthodox Jewish women). 

Under a basketball hoop at the front of the room is a podium where keynotes will address the audience at the 5th Annual Conference of Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a nonprofit dedicated to building bridges between Jewish and Muslim women. There is also a choice of 14 two-hour workshops ranging from Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: Differences and Parallels” to “Woman Up” and “Step into your Power”.

The Sisterhood was founded in 2010 by Sheryl Olitzky (a Jewish woman) and Atiya Aftab (a Muslim woman), who banded together to rid the world of intolerance on a micro level, which is where lasting change starts. From one Central, New Jersey based chapter consisting of six Muslim women and six Jewish women, there are now over 160 chapters throughout North America. Their families share Passover dinner and break Ramadan fast together.

As a child of holocaust survivors and a psychotherapist who serves clients from a rainbow coalition of countries, I am eager to learn more about the Sisterhood. At my table is Sana Waris Siddiqui, eight months pregnant and a member of the Squirrel Hill chapter in Pittsburgh – the neighborhood where the Tree of Life Synagogue is located. Waris Siddiqui’s eyes brim as she tells me, “The day the shooting happened I had my baby shower.”

Waris Siddiqui, who was raised in Pakistan, joined her chapter at its 2016 founding. She has discovered similarities and differences in her sister members’ religious beliefs: “If you are a Reform Jew you may or may not believe in God, whereas in Islam, no matter if you belong to the Shia or Sunni denomination, the main pre-requisite is belief in one God.” The members engage in grassroots social actions together, such as helping refugees settle into their new lives in the United States.

The Sisterhood mandate is to learn to trust one another on an interpersonal level before tackling contentious topics. While co-founder Olitzky has said, “It takes time, work to become a compassionate listener.”, Waris Siddiqui says, after two years, “We’re not quite there yet.”

From the podium Rabbi Shira Stern blows a shofar – a ram’s horn trumpet traditionally blown during the Jewish High Holidays. We observe 13 seconds of silence in memory of the 11 massacred at the Tree of Life Synagogue, and the two African Americans shot dead outside a supermarket in Jefferson, Kentucky late October. Then Olitzky directs us to hug the women around us. Initially it feels hokey, but as Shireen Quarzar and I lock arms around one another, a sadness-infused strength courses through me.

Eagerly, I head to the workshop, “Meeting This Moment: Lessons from Activists, Artists and Media Makers in Trump’s America,” led by Edina Lekovic, named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the world by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. Lekovic, a board member of NewGround: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change, leads a discussion about how women are taught to be conflict-averse and that niceness is a stumbling block to problem solving. “You have to stir things up. Conflict is wrong only when people are defensive, instead of curious…”

Sitting in a circle in a spacious room in the University’s library, we discuss the concept of “safe spaces,” where everyone can feel affirmed without fear of rejection, and “brave spaces” where participants are encouraged to sit with the discomfort of disagreeing with the aim of coming to new understandings. During a 10-minute exercise we journal about “what I’m for.” I write about my moments of “connect” with patients who are my polar opposites. I flash to a Cultural Competence class I took at Wurzweiler School of Social Work in 2006. To become a therapist I needed to be in touch with my own prejudices. It was unnerving to see where I failed on my expectations of myself as an accepting person. Later, I share with attendees in the room, “If we don’t acknowledge the parts of us we’re ashamed of, those ugly parts can gain power.”

Back in the gymnasium, after a musical performance by The Interfaith Music Project of Philadelphia, keynote Marianne Williamson’s voice vibrates as her gaze locks us in. The spiritual guru explains, “Historically Jews and Muslims have been friends and cousins thousands of years. The politics of what is happening now only began in ’48…”  She orates, “None of our children will be safe unless all our children are safe.” Williamson talks about how after 9/11 there were questions about why more moderate Muslims didn’t speak up, which is the reason, as a Jew, she won’t voice her feelings about Israel’s politics in front of more than two or three listeners: dissension in the ranks often leads to being called a traitor. Her speech is galvanizing but still only, as she warns, “a battery charge.”

Hopefully love is stronger than fear and hate, but perennially tip toeing around areas of dissension with partners for change, and those we want to change, will cause our batteries to run down. If we can’t sometimes be ‘unlovely’ in a civil manner, the results won’t be, well, nice.


Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a NYC-based psychotherapist, author of three books including The Complete Marriage Counselor and editor of the anthology How Does That Make You Feel: True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch. She has written for many publications including New York, Washington Post and Her parents, both holocaust survivors taught her about empathy and resilience.

November 19th 2018, 7:00 pm
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