Aug 302010

Okay, I get that there is a percentage of the population that feels rather strongly that feminists are to blame for everything that ever went wrong, but what I don’t get is when feminists themselves start blaming feminists. That however seems to be the gist of several recent posts by Rafia Zakaria on the Ms. Blog. Several weeks ago, Ms. Zakaria dismissed posts on the Feminist Peace Network as, “The Left’s framing”* and now apparently Zakaria is worried that feminists are to blame for the slow response to providing aid to Pakistan.

While very correctly pointing to the gendered impact of the disaster, she then writes,

For feminists, the crisis in Pakistan presents particularly tough questions regarding the ability of women around the world to come together for a humanitarian cause. Despite the fact that Pakistan remains a prominent ally, few American women’s groups have initiated campaigns to either collect funds for flood survivors or to coordinate efforts that would insist that American aid be disbursed in a way that insures that women’s needs are accounted for.

First of all, why should aid be tied to the fact that Pakistan is an ally, this is a humanitarian issue, not a political issue.  Women’s groups regularly raise a ruckus about the need to provide women-responsive aid, but the scope of this disaster is far beyond what most women’s groups can begin to adequately address and it is well past time that women-responsive aid be an internationally recognized need, and not something  assumed to be an issue that women or feminists are responsible for addressing.

While the Global Fund for Women has mounted an admirable effort to raise funds for flood-affected women in Pakistan, the issue has failed to gain significant traction among feminist groups, even those that have been focusing on the region with campaigns on ending the American military presence there.

Being opposed to militarism makes us impotent in the face of a humanitarian crisis?  Must one be in favor of militarism to be empowered to mount an aid effort?  Zakaria’s logic here escapes me.

The silence points to some of my worst fears: that the fervor of arguments preaching immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan may have bled into a general attitude that wants nothing to do with the region at all. Simultaneously, as I discuss here, the admirable push to empower Afghan and Iraqi women may at times slide into the wishful thinking that they can perform a miraculous, by-the-bootstraps self-empowerment, without support.

No one is suggesting that and Zakaria provides no examples. Demands for immediate military withdrawal should not be confused with support for humanitarian efforts.

Could an unfortunate consequence of such thinking be that respect for the ability of Pakistani women to help themselves without foreign interference has been crudely transformed into the belief that they do not need any help from feminists around the world?

With all due respect, how could any thinking, compassionate person possibly think that?

Indeed, acknowledging the integral possibility of self-empowerment must not impose an insularity on global feminism that prevents solidarity at crucial times of humanitarian catastrophe. These unfortunate realities are abstract and achingly difficult to explain to the hundreds of thousands of women crouching in small makeshift beds and holding crying babies who continue to ask aid workers why the world does not care about them.

So the question stands for us to answer: Has global feminism been ravaged by the contentious debates over Iraq and Afghanistan, or can it revive in the face of the worst humanitarian disaster in the history of the United Nations?

That question is quite a leap. Zakaria offers no evidence of what she terms ravaging but with so many examples of how feminism continues to grow this is an odd assertion.  To the extent that feminism is strained, the root causes lie in economic hardship, racism, ecological stress and patriarchal politics, not contentious debates.  In any case, there has never been any debate that we should offer our support to Afghan (and Iraqi) women.  Women in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and many other places need our support too.  That we are not providing it is a reflection of our misguided national vision and extreme lack of understanding of the dire nature of this need, not our lack of humanity or feminist principles.

It defies understanding as to why there is still debate in the feminist community regarding whether military intervention is a viable way to provide that support or whether in fact a policy that includes the crass and cynical use of the difficulties faced by these women to justify our presence in these countries does more harm than good.  The amount of money we are spending for destruction dwarfs the amounts spent to enable Afghan women, or for that matter spent to provide humanitarian aid to Pakistan.  While there is no doubt that the women of Afghanistan need support, our current policy is not providing that support nor was it ever primarily intended to do so.

As regards Pakistan, again, the way we provide aid needs to be re-conceptualized but in fact, it is worth noting as the Feminist Peace Network did last week that feminist groups from around the world are working to help women in Pakistan.  I find it disturbing and disheartening that Ms. continues to run pieces on their blog that bash other feminists with little to back up those assertions.


Note:  This is the response I wrote to that particular piece.  As a result of that, a productive dialog was held between Ms. and myself regarding the issues  involved and they were very kind to put a link to my rebuttal on their web page.  In the aftermath of that dialog, this most recent post is particularly baffling.

 August 30, 2010  Posted by on August 30, 2010 2 Responses »
Aug 272010

For reasons beyond my control, our server will be down Friday night for planned maintenance.  Please be assured that I’m aware that the site is down (as I believe our email will be as well).  Once we are down, if warranted, I’ll post any other information on our Facebook page, so please be sure to check there, we expect to be back up on the site Saturday morning.

 August 27, 2010  Posted by on August 27, 2010 Comments Off on Website Downtime
Aug 262010

As is always the case in the aftermath of an environmental disaster, women and children are particularly vulnerable and there are women-specific needs that are generally inadequately addressed by aid organizations, such as protection from violence in refugee camps, maternity needs, and providing feminine hygiene supplies.  There are a number or agencies working full tilt to provide aid to those affected by the flood (CARE, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, the Red Cross).  Organizations that are particularly responsive to the needs of women include the Global Fund for Women and Madre.

Photo courtesy of Aware Girls

In addition, via Isis International, I received an email about the efforts of a young Pakistani women’s organization, Aware Girls, that is working to meet the needs of young women impacted by the flood. Gulalai Ismail, the organization’s Chairperson writes,

The Flood affected communities are struggling for their survival. Their habitats have been destroyed, they have lost their livelihood. In such circumstances in the patriarchal societies adolescent girls do not get proper attention to fulfill their specific needs, they are ignored by the Humanitarian support programs and even local philanthropists as their needs are not taken as an important issue. Diarrhea and other water related diseases are very common, the water has become contaminated, access to safe sanitation lacks. The young women and adolescent girls have little access to nutritious food. This program is focusing on these specific issues of young women. This program will supplement the ongoing support programs by UN agencies and other Support Programs in the area.

AWARE GIRLS is membership Organization and it has membership from the flood affected areas. The members from the target area have asked the organization to work for addressing the specific needs of the young and adolescents women. AWARE GIRLS is young women led organization working for the rights and development of young women of the Province.
The young women can feel the sufferings and problems of young women. AWARE GIRLS has already worked for Internally displaced Young women by providing them support KITS, raising voice for Gender Cluster, and developing Research Report for Mainstreaming Gender in Humanitarian work in the North Western Pakistan.

In the Gender neutral relief, rehabilitation efforts the specific needs of Adolescents Girls are ignored such that the use of unhygienic cloth for sanitary purpose during menses period may cause of spread of further diseases among the affected population. The young women have a little access to the relief and support provided by the Relief organizations because of patriarchal culture.

There is an urgent need to move from gender blindness to gender sensitivity in helping the victims of this disaster. it is imperative to ensure that a gender perspective is included in the disaster management programs so that the relief efforts are able to properly address Young women’s needs such that;

  • Fulfilling women specific requirements, such as sanitary pads /towels and clean white cloth and underwear,
  • Providing Contraceptives, blankets and clothes,
  • Toiletries: toilet rolls, soaps, shampoo, Towels,
  • Nutritional supplements (multi vitamins, iron etc)
  • Clean drinking water
  • Ware cleaning tablets

We have developed a KIT fulfilling these specific needs of young women. One KIT Costs 30 USD. We are Generating resources to approach 5,000 Young women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and fulfil their needs.

Gulalai Ismail

If you are able to help with this effort, please contact Aware Girls here.  At this time, the best way to donate money to Aware Girls is via Western Union, please contact them for details.

Photo Courtesy of Aware Girls

Many thanks to Aware Girls for sharing these photographs which were taken in Northwestern Pakistan by Aware Girl supporters.

 August 26, 2010  Posted by on August 26, 2010 Comments Off on Helping The Women Of Pakistan
Aug 252010

August 26th is Women’s Equality Day.  If we were being honest, we would call it Women’s Inequality Day.  Yes indeed, we did win the right to vote 90 years ago, but that does not equal equality.  In that regard, we’ve still got a long way to go.  As Catalyst notes,

Women hold 16.8% of seats in the U.S. Congress, while less than 20 female world leaders are in power. Women hold only 3% of positions of clout in mainstream media. Less than 10% of TV sports coverage in the United States is devoted to female athletes. And of the 250 top-grossing movies produced last year, 7% were directed by women.

Hell, we’re even discriminated against when it comes to naming streets–turns out that only 7% of the traffic circles in our nation’s capitol are named after women and when it comes to economics, that the faces on our paper money are all male should tell you something.

Bella Abzug

While Women’s Equality Day represents more of a wish than reality, I decided I wanted to learn more about it, and found this on Wikipedia,

Every president has published a proclamation for Women’s Equality Day since 1971 when legislation was first introduced in Congress by Bella Abzug. This resolution was passed designating August 26 of each year as Women’s Equality Day.

In a section on the modern observance of the event, there is also this informative tidbit:, a US organization, claims that women have the same constitutional right to be bare chested in public places as men. They further claim constitutional equality between men and women on being topless in public. In 2009, they used August 26, (Women’s Equality Day) as a day of national protest.

That this is the best example the authors of this page could find to illustrate the impact of Women’s Equality Day certainly lends credence to the fact that we’re just not there yet.

But it isn’t just Wikipedia that doesn’t get it.  Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a profile of  political hopeful Reshma Saujani, or more accurately, they ran a profile about her shoes,

Finally, as we returned to her office, I asked: About those shoes?

“They’re the Kate Spade wedges,” she said, sagging slightly, as if she had only just then been reminded that she had feet. “They’re these politician-woman shoes.”

I’m not a big fan of high heels, so I might be inclined to vote against Ms. Saujani if such things mattered.  But actually, I’d rather know where she stands on issues such as climate change, education and oh yeah, women’s rights.  Long time political activist and writer Jill Miller Zimon sums it up nicely,

Women  politicians should be covered  by the media for their issues and character and leadership abilities, based on their  experiences, accomplishments and vision for how they’ll fulfill  expectations in public office should they win.  Exactly as men  politicians.

It’s beyond the pale now: there is NO QUESTION that  the NYT did this story  to get up hackles and in the end, throw serious  political reportage of women candidates under the bus.  It’s an  inexcusable dog and pony show for readers and frankly, if I were that  candidate, I would have demanded a different article.

Now – lest I be picked on for saying that a woman politician should be able to choose being portrayed anyway she wants, fine.

BUT  I would then ask: WAS SHE GIVEN A CHOICE? Did the Times say to her: we  can either do a fashion piece on you and connect shoes to women running  for office, or we can do a piece on how you and Maloney differ and what  you bring to the table that she doesn’t.

Let’s celebrate all that we’ve accomplished, and honor our foremothers for all of their hard work.  And then let’s get back to work, because when it comes to equality for women, we’re not there yet.


To learn more about Women’s Equality Day, click here.

 August 25, 2010  Posted by on August 25, 2010 Comments Off on Women’s Inequality Day
Aug 252010

This week’s conviction of former U.S. Marine Cesar Laurean in in the 2007 brutal  murder of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbachand her unborn child almost three years after the crime was committed is long past overdue.  In August, 2008, Ret. Col Ann Wright wrote about the case as but one example among many of misogynist violence in the military,

Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach

Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach had been raped in May 2007 and protective orders had been issued against the alleged perpetrator, fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean. The burned body of Lauterbach and her unborn baby were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Laurean’s home in January 2008. Laurean fled to Mexico, where he was captured by Mexican authorities. He is currently awaiting extradition to the United States to stand trial. Lauterbach’s mother testified before Congress on July 31, 2008, that the Marine Corps ignored warning signs that Laurean was a danger to her daughter (testimony of Mary Lauterbach to the National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee,

I asked Wright via email for her take on the mind-boggling amount of time it has taken for justice to be served in the Lauterbach murder,

“I think it is very important for women of the military to know why it has taken this long to have a court-martial on such a high  visibility case, which included extradition of Laurean from Mexico where he had fled after he murdered Maria Lauterbach and her baby, burned and buried their bodies.  For women in the military who are a part of the 92% of women who file rape charges and never have their cases even brought to a court of justice so that their pleas can be heard (only 8% of military rape cases ever come to trial in constrast to 30% of allegations in the civilian sector), it is no glimmer of hope that the verdict in this high profile case has taken so long.”

Indeed, this is just another in a much to long list of ways in which the military continues to send the message that women who serve in the military are at more risk of being harmed by their fellow soldiers than by any enemy and that contrary to the expectation that every soldier has, that their comrades have their back, for women, it is decidedly not so.

 August 25, 2010  Posted by on August 25, 2010 2 Responses »