Healing for the Women of Afghanistan

Thanks to Gerardine Luongo for this guest post about what powered women can do for our sisters.

For almost three decades Afghan women were hidden under burquas and in homes they could not leave without a male escort. The impact of this oppression is evidenced by the horrifyingly high maternal and infant death rates among Afghan women. Indeed, each day 44 Afghan women will die giving birth.

During the rule of the Taliban (1996 – 2001), women were treated worse than in any other time or by any other society. They were forbidden to work, leave the house without a male escort, not allowed to seek medical help from a male doctor and not allowed to practice medicine! Women who were emerging leaders of their nation –doctors, teachers, lawyers were forced into horrific conditions.

But despite many gains in Afghanistan, women continue to lag behind their male peers in health and education status. Today, less than 20% of girls attend school regularly, 1-in-8 women die giving birth, child-brides and the sale of women into marriage are still common, victims of rape are stoned for shaming the family and no Afghan court will condemn an Afghan man for domestic violence. We have only to imagine what will be the impact on women’s health of spending five or more years literally without sunlight and natural vitamin D.

Research has long indicated that the health of women is a good barometer of the health of nation. One indicator of state stability is maternal mortality. Improving the education levels of women directly leads to improved health outcomes…providing girls with just a sixth grade education leads to a 50% reduction in a nations maternal mortality rate.

The US and other nations must implement strategies that empower Afghan women to become leaders and primary influencers in their country. But government action alone is insufficient. A number of organizations exist to educate and improve the lives of Afghan women. CURE International for example is increasing the number of well-trained female physicians who can then train others. CURE International’s hospital and clinic in Kabul are dedicated to promoting reproductive health among Afghan Women.

Unfortunately, today (May 2009) more Afghan provinces and regions are in the control of thugs and extremist groups such as the Taliban than just a year ago…

American Women have the power to impact the lives of Afghan women through advocacy, service and philanthropy. Many groups are waiting for your support.

For the women of Afghanistan, time is running out.

Healing changes everything.

For more information contact gluongo@cureinternational.org

Hillary Clinton Versus Chris Smith: No Contest

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Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Afghanistan to Alaska–Who Respects Women Less?

The Twitterati loudly retweeted their rightful shock this past week as women around the internet e-mailed one another to organize protests against Afghan president Karzai’s signing a law a that allows fundamentalist Muslims to enforce Sharia, including requirements that women must submit to sex with their husbands at least every four days, thus effectively legalizing marital rape.

Meanwhile, 300 courageous Afghan women exercised their right to protest this barbaric law by staging a public march to their capital. They were met with over 1,000 counter-protesters, some of whom threw stones, spat, and called them whores, which tells you exactly where their stupidly misogynist heads are.

For those who want a way to voice their opposition immediately, here’s an action you can take to persuade President Obama to act on his statement that this law is intolerable. And here’s how to deliver the same message via text to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But lest we in the U.S. become too self-righteous, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s nomination of far-right attorney and her longtime Hummer (what else?)-driving political ally Wayne Anthony Ross for attorney general is clear evidence that the same misogynistic strains are yet to be rooted out here. Fortunately:

Palin’s hopes for a swift confirmation process were dashed April 10 when Leah Burton, a veteran lobbyist on children’s issues and domestic violence, submitted a letter to the Alaska State Judiciary Committee claiming that Ross publicly defended spousal rape. According to Burton, who detailed the allegations for me, Ross allegedly declared during a speech before a 1991 gathering of the “father’s rights” group Dads Against Discrimination, “If a guy can’t rape his wife, who’s he gonna rape?” (In a subsequent letter, Ross denied the remark and claimed, “I don’t talk like that!”)

Burton said Ross’s statement was consistent with his overarching attitude toward women’s issues. She claimed that he once said during a debate on the Equal Rights Amendment, “If a woman would keep her mouth shut, there wouldn’t be an issue with domestic violence.” Burton also maintained she has been in touch with “a number” of domestic-violence victims who witnessed Ross make “horrible” statements, but are too intimidated to speak out.

Alex Koppelman notes in Salon that “26 Democrats joined nine Republicans in voting against Ross on Thursday, while 23 lawmakers (it was a joint session of the state House and Senate) voted to confirm him. It was the first time in Alaska history that the legislature has rejected a governor’s appointment for an agency head, according to the New York Times.”

Still, I must wonder what those who defended Palin here at Heartfeldt last fall are thinking about this. What do you think? Was she oblivious, obtuse, indifferent, or in agreement?

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

The Yanks Are Coming–Back–Now What?

The road to the international agreements forged in Cairo and Beijing was long and fraught with cultural potholes, but nothing like the challenges that our own government placed in the path of women’s reproductive self-determination. Now, there’s been a 180 degree turn back to the future, and the world is relieved. But other countries have moved forward, so what’s the next step for the U.S.?

Linda Hirshman, author of Get to Work and columnist for Slate’s new XX among many other accomplishments, and I wrote this commentary. After we were rejected by the New York Times and the Washington Post (what else is new?), we decided it was too important an issue not to see the light of day. So we’re publishing it on RHREalityCheck, Huffington Post, and here on good ol’ Heartfeldt.

At the very moment the Obama administration’s decision to seek a U.S. seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council grabbed headlines, the United States quietly took the reins on the most important human rights issue for humanity’s future: sexual and reproductive rights. On March 31, State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Margaret Pollack, told delegates to the United Nations Commission on Population and Development, meeting in New York, that America was back.

Marking a 180 degree turnaround from Bush administration policies that fought international efforts to enable people to control their own reproductive fate, the U.S. will once again defend the “human rights and fundamental freedoms of women” and support “universal access to sexual and reproductive health.” Abstinence-only sex education, the bête noir of health providers attempting to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, was Kung-Fu kicked aside. Human rights apply to all regardless of sexual orientation. The U.S. commits to ratify CEDAW, the women’s rights treaty already signed by 185 nations, and even endorses “equal partnerships and sharing of responsibilities in all areas of family life, including in sexual and reproductive life.”

The global sigh of relief was palpable. For with all its money and diplomatic resources, the U.S. is the 10,000 gorilla in international reproductive policy. Now the question is, while this is certainly change we can believe in, is it all the change we need?

U.S. foreign policy since the 1970’s has included funding for international family planning programs. We’ve been the largest contributor to these preventive reproductive health services (by U.S. law, abortions aren’t funded) globally. The U.S. led the march to the groundbreaking 1994 Cairo International Conference on Population and Development agreement that women’s rights and health, including reproductive rights and health, are central to development and poverty-reduction, environmental sustainability, and the strength and security of democracy itself.

Since the Reagan administration, though, cultural and religious conservatives have fought U.N. commitment to women’s reproductive rights. Reagan issued the first global gag rule denying U.S. funding to organizations that perform or even discuss abortion.

President Bill Clinton rescinded the gag rule; George W. Bush’s first official act was to reinstate it. In the last eight years, the United States government, in alignment with fundamentalist Islamic nations as well as Christian fundamentalists and Catholics, used U.N. meetings aggressively to push abstinence education and faith-based institutions as the source of guidance on sexuality and reproductive matters. And U.S. staff on the ground enforced the strictures on the ground with increasing zeal.

Women’s right to safe abortions were the sharp point of this wedge issue, but preventive family planning, comprehensive sex education, and HIV/AIDS prevention programs were opposed equally. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that—ironically–each year Bush denied them the $34 million funding Congress authorized, it led to 2 million preventable unintended pregnancies, 800,000 induced abortions, 4,700 maternal deaths, and 77,000 deaths of both mother and child.

European countries took up some slack; UNFPA’s largest supporter is now tiny Netherlands for example. And many of the nations in the developing world have contributed more than their fair share commitment stated in the Cairo agreement. But U.S. legitimacy suffered. After euphoria in Cairo, followed by the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing where then-First Lady Hillary Clinton declared, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,” reproductive rights advocates struggled to hold land they had gained while the largest richest country in the world aided the sexual conservatives.

Now all that has changed again. Not only did Obama rescind the global gag rule, UNFPA’s funding was reinstated and increased to $50 million. USAID’s 2009 budget for international family planning assistance increased to $545 million from $457 million in 2008. All great news. The 10,000 pound gorilla has pivoted back to the future.

But much of the world has advanced since Cairo to a more ambitious agenda for women’s full social and economic equality. And what does that mean for the U.S. vision for its own leadership role for women, population, and development globally?

Domestically, five former directors of USAID’s Population and Reproductive Health Program are calling for immediate doubling of U.S. funding for family planning overseas, to $1.2 billion and increasing to $1.5 billion over the next few years, if global anti-poverty and development goals are to be achieved amid the worldwide economic downturn.

And it is essential that the U.S. address the legitimate place of safe and legal abortion within women’s reproductive health and human rights; after all, in meanwhile, groups opposed to women’s rights and abortion are redoubling their efforts to push back. That is why the Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations are working to establish legal theories regarding why reproductive rights are indeed human rights , and we can see in countries such as Mexico how these perspectives are advancing women’s access to safe, legal abortion based on human rights  rather than the right to privacy as in the U.S.

Michelle Goldberg argued persuasively in her recent book, “The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World,” that the absence of women’s reproductive rights contributes to overpopulation, environmental disaster, family instability, HIV/AIDS, and sex-ratio imbalances that threaten global stability. Other matters may make more news, but nothing will make more difference. Whatever the next steps in this continuing struggle, U.S. policy will lead the way.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

This is What Winning an Election Will Do

Madam Chair,

I am honored to be here today to express the renewed and deep commitment of the United States Government to the goals and aspirations of the ICPD Program of Action. President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Ambassador Rice as well as the United States Congress, have already acted strongly to support women’s and young people’s health, human rights, and empowerment; global partnership; and the wider development agenda embraced by the Program of Action.

These opening lines of the U.S. government’s official statement, so calmly delivered March 31 by Margaret J. Pollack, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and Head of the United States Delegation to the United Nations Commission on Population and Development, belied the sea change they represent in U.S. relationship with the United Nations in general and in particular with the global consensus reached at the ICPD in Cairo fifteen years ago that women’s human rights and health, including reproductive rights and health, are central to global economic development, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, and global security.

Pollack, a career civil servant who has worked in the State Department under both Republican and Democratic administrations referred to herself in an interview with me last week as “the lantern in the cave” simply delivering the current administration’s message that the U.S. is going “back to the future”–i.e., the one when Bill Clinton was president–in our policies and leadership for women’s rights globally.

The statement was delivered the same day that the U.S. declared its desire to be seated on the U.N Human Rights Council, and shortly before President and Mrs. Obama jetted off for London to see the Queen–oh, and to attend the G-20 meeting, followed by other European stops where the still young administration is being greeted with much excitement and renewed good will for America. Everyone seems particularly pleased to have an American president who can string a complete sentence together and actually values global diplomacy. Novel idea, no?

All in all, this week has illustrated what a difference an election makes, and we dare not let that thought escape our consciousness: without a doubt anti-choice and other right-wing groups that are already mobilizing to take us back to their preferred future.

I served on the U.S. government delegation to the Cairo + 5 conference a decade ago, when country representatives from the 190 or so nation members of the the U.N. gathered to evaluate progress toward the Cairo consensus. We had our challenges to be sure, but could not have then anticipated the trench warfare and sock in the gut to women’s progress that eight years of George W. Bush’s administration would bring. So when I read our nation’s “new” statement, tears of joy welled up in my eyes.

There are many powerful nuances, such as saying the US will “work in partnership” and acknowledging the expertise of others, which the arrogant Bushies rarely did. A few other salient points:

Abstinence-only sex education has been Kung-Fu kicked aside. Condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention are in–or hopefully, on–again.

The phrase “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and the protection and promotion of reproductive rights” definitely ushers in a sigh of relief moment, since to the dismay of most of the rest of the world, the U.S. hadn’t uttered them in eight long years..

“We also support the ICPD understanding that the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women must be protected, so that women can make their own health and fertility decisions, which helps to ensure healthy, productive families and communities as well as sustainable, prosperous, and stable societies.” Clear, unequivocal. (The statement doesn’t address abortion specifically however-that’s clearly one of the areas where we need to advance beyond Cairo.)

Human rights for all regardless of sexual orientation are asserted, as are “linkages between HIV/AIDS and voluntary family planning programs.” and CEDAW ratification as a priority. I didn’t expect they would tie all these together and the sexual orientation inclusion was a surprise to me though might not be to others more inside.

But let me stop interpreting. Pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage, sit down, put your feet up, and take a few minutes to savor reading the full statement. Then remind yourself why it’s important to be actively engaged in the political process today and every day.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

How to Reverse That “Perverse Cosmic Myopia”

Guest blog today by Jane Roberts, cofounder 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund and author of the book “34 Million Friends of the Women of the World”. Though written in present and future tense terms, the post reminds us that we can rewrite the history of women’s global economic and reproductive subjugation.

The term PERVERSE COSMIC MYOPIA (PCM) was used by David Brooks in a New York Times column on March 20, 2009 which intimated that the world economic and financial crisis was so bad that President Obama needed to concentrate his attention on this single tiger sinking its teeth into the world’s neck and forego at least for now health care, energy, immigration, and education.

To me PCM is a fitting term for only one all encompassing area of concern. Gender inequality, the neglect of women’s and girls’education, health, economic empowerment, and human rights, and the coming 9.1 billion people on the planet by 2050, fighting over resources and for survival, and living on a planet with a down-spiraling environment, now that, and only that is COSMIC!

Hillary Clinton at her Senate confirmation hearings: Of particular concern to me is the plight of women and girls who comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unschooled, unfed, and unpaid.

Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations: In women the world has the most significant but untapped potential for development and peace.

Stephen Lewis, former U.N. ambassador to Africa for AIDS: I challenge you to enter the fray against gender inequality. There is no more honorable or productive calling. There is nothing of greater import in the world. All roads lead from women to social change.

How perverse to deprive girls, who will be the givers and keepers of life, of an equal welcome into the world, of food, education, and health care!

How perverse to marry girls off at 13 or 14 thereby cutting off all their choices for later in life and terrifying many of them with sexual intercourse and childbearing!

How perverse to let over 500,000 women a year die as a complication of pregnancy or childbirth!

How perverse to tolerate the deaths of 9.2 million children under the age of 5 every year, forty percent of them dying in their first month due to the ill health of the mother during pregnancy and/or post-partum!

How utterly perverse to tolerate at least 40 million abortions in the world very year representing twenty percent of the 200 million pregnancies! The family planning which has been promised in U. N. human rights documents has simply not been forthcoming. Fully half of these abortions are illegal and dangerous resulting every year in 68,000 deaths and over 5 million serious injuries, hemorrhages, and infections. And behind every abortion is an erectile functioning you know what which hasn’t made sure that any resulting baby would be enthusiastically welcome!

How myopic that the world’s governments spend more money on arms than on education and health!

How myopic that in the 21st century gender equality is not the order of the day for all activities which pertain to civil society, especially in all government decision making and in all peace negotiations and peace making!

How cosmic will be the implications of 9.1 billion people on the planet in the next 40 years all wanting a decent life? VERY COSMIC! If you think things are getting ugly now, just wait.

We can smile though at a few developments in this country. The Obama Administration has released $50 million to the United Nations Population Fund. This puts us once again on the side of the world’s women. (During the Bush Administration a total of $244 million was withheld. That is one of the reasons 34 Million Friends will keep going and going.)

Melanne Verveer, after being confirmed by the Senate, will be at the State Department as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues. This is change we can believe in.

The Obama Administration has recommended an eighteen percent increase in the US-AID allocation for reproductive health. He does know and he does understand.

President Obama’s rescinding of the Global Gag Rule will mean more family planning, better reproductive health, and fewer abortions worldwide.

But worldwide there is still perverse cosmic myopia about the centrality of women to any chance for a decent future.

But you can reverse the PERVERSE COSMIC MYOPIA by becoming one of 34 Million Friends of the United Nations Population Fund. GOT ONE DOLLAR? GO FOR IT!

Goosebumps Over Dipnotes

I was over at the UN last week. Staffers from a variety of countries mentioned how great it feels to the international community to know that the US is back–resuming its rightful place in among the member countries of the United Nations. One woman said to me that she goes around these days smiling and saying “Yes, we can!”

What gave me goose bumps? Being reminded what a profound impact Hillary Clinton is making as Secretary of State–and a SOS who understands and prioritizes women in her approach to the rest of the world at that– when I signed onto my Twitter account (I’m Heartfeldt if you want to follow me) a moment ago and saw the following tweet from Dipnotes, the Department of State’s blog name and Twitter handle.

Question of the Week: How Best Can Women’s Rights Be Expanded Internationally?

The world recognizes March 8 as International Women’s Day. During her recent travel to the Middle East, Secretary Clinton met with women who are developing their own businesses through a microcredit program. Promoting women’s economic and political participation is an important element of U.S. foreign policy and a key component of democratic development.

Yes, indeed we can! Check out the Dipnotes website and leave your opinion there. And please tell us what you said here at Heartfeldt also.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Appeasement is Lethal

Gloria Feldt and Maria Luisa Sanchez Fuentes for The Huffington Post

Rosaura “Rosie” Jiménez died bleeding and doubled over in excruciating pain from infection caused by the botched illegal abortion she sought in desperation. She was 27, a scholarship student in McAllen, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, six months shy of getting her teaching credential and struggling to make a better life for herself and her 5-year-old daughter when she was caught in a vise called the Hyde Amendment. This law denied her, as it has denied millions of low income women who depend on Medicaid for their health care, financial access to a safe abortion.

Rosie’s life was sacrificed on the altar of politically expedient appeasement.

Pro-choice members of Congress, it seems, hadn’t fought the bill, so sure were they that the courts would find such discrimination unconstitutional.

Once the Hyde amendment of 1977 put the anti-woman camel’s nose under the tent, and pro-choice forces were in part unwilling and in part unable to wrestle the beast to the ground, increasingly draconian restrictions became the norm. Abortion opponents learned that while they were unsuccessful in making abortion illegal, they could lull the public to inaction by switching to a slow, incremental strategy of making abortion inaccessible, one restriction at a time. So barriers to access are increasing for all U.S. women, but especially the young, the poor, and those living in the 87 percent of counties without an abortion provider. Continue reading “Appeasement is Lethal”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings Go Both ways

Originally posted on The Huffington Post

Mention the U.S.-Mexico border and you set off political hot buttons. Everyone knows the two countries share complex historical, economic, and cultural relationships. But one relationship is seldom acknowledged: the movement of women across the border in both directions to obtain abortions over the years.

Sarah was a 22-year-old law school student at the University of Texas when she became pregnant in 1964. Her future husband was planning to attend law school after she graduated and got a job. They agreed they didn’t want to have a child before marriage and felt they both deserved the chance to finish school. Together, they went to Piedras Negras across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, where she had an illegal, but thankfully safe, abortion. Continue reading “U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings Go Both ways”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.