Blog for Fair Pay Day

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Today is Equal Pay Day. Each year, Equal Pay Day falls in April because it symbolizes how far into the next year women must work to earn what men do in the previous year. Similarly, Tuesday is the day on which women’s wages catch up to men’s for the previous week.

Despite increases with the Equal Pay Act, women continue to be paid significantly less than men. The average for women is $0.78 for every dollar men make. To be sure, that’s a major improvement from the $0.59 women received when the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, but it’s still entirely unacceptable. There is no reason women should not be paid as much as men.

Along with it, progressive bloggers across the United States are holding a “Blog For Fair Pay Day” to encourage action in support of women’s fair pay.

Women’s Wages in Michigan

Here in Michigan, women are paid only $0.72 cents for every dollar paid to men. That’s six cents less than the national average of $0.78. Women in Michigan are paid less than every neighboring state with the exception of Indiana.

Some more interesting statistics:

  • White, non-Hispanic women working full-time, year-round in Michigan earned only 70% of the wages of White, non-Hispanic men. However, Black women working full-time, year-round in Michigan earned only 64%, and Hispanic women only 56% of the wages of White, non-Hispanic men.
  • The wage gap persists at all levels of education. Women in Michigan with a high school diploma earned only 62% of what men with a high school diploma earned. Women in Michigan with a bachelor’s degree earned only 60% of the amount that men with a bachelor’s degree were paid. In fact, the average Michigan woman must receive a bachelor’s degree before she earns as much as the average Michigan male high school graduate.
  • The wage gap exists across occupations. For example, Michigan women working fulltime, year-round in sales and related occupations earned only 73% of what men in the same occupations earned, and Michigan women working full-time, year-round in management, business, and financial occupations earned only 69% of what men in the same occupations earned.

Moreover, the National Women’s Law Center says that women in Michigan hold a more precarious position in the economy than men. They report that aside from lower earnings, women have higher rates of poverty. Women are also more likely to face problems if they lose their jobs, with fewer women having savings to fall back on. Women also rely more on government programs such as Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance than men–programs which are threatened in the current economy.

Take Action for Fair Pay

Back in January, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. However, the Paycheck Fairness Act has stalled in the Senate (it has already passed in the House, but Grand Rapids Representative Vern Ehlers did vote against it). The bill would deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages.

Send a letter to your Senator urging them to vote for the Paycheck Fairness Act.

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Afghan Law Allows Rape of Women in Marriage–This is Liberation?

Afghanistan Women's 'Liberation': Rape Allowed in Marriage

In the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, elite and mainstream opinion in the United States often sought to justify the war as being not only aimed at lessening the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States, but also as a way of overthrowing the brutal regime hostile to women’s rights. Proponents of the invasion said that an underlying goal was to “liberate” the women of Afghanistan.

Former First Lady Laura Bush described the policy, stating:

“Because of our recent military gains in much of Afghanistan, women are no longer imprisoned in their homes. They can listen to music and teach their daughters without fear of punishment. Yet the terrorists who helped rule that country now plot and plan in many countries. And they must be stopped. The fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women.”

Numerous writers have critiqued this rationale, pointing out that the United States was silent to years of abuses before the 9/11 terrorist attacks and showing that progress has been slow.

The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has been highly critical of this rationale, stating:

“After the US and allies invaded Afghanistan around seven years ago, they misleadingly claimed of bringing peace and democracy and liberating Afghan women from the bleeding fetters of the Taliban. But in reality Afghan women are still burning voraciously in the inferno of fundamentalism. Women are exchanged with dogs, girls are gang-raped, men in the Jehadi-dominated society kill their wives viciously and violently, burn them by throwing hot water, cut off their nose and toes, innocent women are stoned to death and other heinous crimes are being committed.”

There have been relatively few gains for women and many of the abuses that took place under the Taliban are continuing to this day.

New Law Legalizes Rape in Marriage

Now, Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai–who’s administration depends on U.S. support for its survival–has signed a law that legalizes rape within marriage and bans wives from leaving their homes without their husbands permission.

The law has not yet been published, but according to media reports the law:

“…the law is believed to contain articles that rule women cannot leave the house without their husbands’ permission, that they can only seek work, education or visit the doctor with their husbands’ permission, and that they cannot refuse their husband sex.

A briefing document prepared by the United Nations Development Fund for Women also warns that the law grants custody of children to fathers and grandfathers only.”

So, this is women’s liberation?

Empowered Women’s Health Workshop Explores Alternatives to Traditional Healthcare

An Empowered Women's Health Workshop Hosted by The Bloom Collective Provided Alternatives to Corporate Dominated Healthcare

On Saturday, about 25 people of various ages gathered at the Tanglefoot building for the Empowered Women’s Health Workshop, hosted by The Bloom Collective.

The workshops were varied in topic and in style:

Birthing and Pregnancy

The first workshop, about a woman-sense approaching to birthing and pregnancy, was facilitated by Yolanda Visser, a local lay midwife who has been practicing for 20 years. Visser talked about how giving birth has become “medicalized,” but that there are other aspects to the process. For example, Visser focuses on a spiritual component as well, noting that birth is inherently spiritual as the miracle of life. She also makes sure to care for the mother as well as the child during the birthing process.

Some of the challenges of home birthing were also discussed. For example, in Michigan home births are legal, but in nearby states they are not.

Media and Marketing – “Pink” Products

Following this was a workshop about media and marketing targeting women for profit, facilitated by Julia Mason, asst. professor of Women and Gender Studies at GVSU and Mindy Holohan, a member of Kent County Friends of Coalition for a Commercial Free Childhood.

Mason began the discussion by talking about recent campaigns for breast cancer awareness. She stated her opinion that the issue of breast cancer needs to be focused on as a societal issue, rather than individual. On the subject of “pink” consumer products, she noted that it is important to be educated on whether or not the company you buy from will actually do anything concrete with the profits – Mason recommended www.thinkbeforeyoupink.com as a resource to educate yourself on which products are legitimate. She pointed out the contradiction of many of these “pink ribbon” products, noting that many women’s pharmaceuticals contain cancer causing chemicals, but then convince consumers to buy their products in order to fight cancer. The discussion was then led to the problems of a consumerism viewed as a fix for societal problems – most people present were critical of the current cultures which dictates that we all need more stuff to be happy.

Marketing Toward Young Children

Mindy Holohan focused on marketing toward young children – she read off some disturbing statistics (the average male sees his first pornographic image at age 11.5, a life size Barbie would have a 16 inch waist), saying “we are a culture in crisis.” To further illustrate her point, she passed around disturbing advertising images of dolls distributed in Happy Meals dressed provocatively and caked with make up, of 4 year old human models dressed in the same manner, and advertising for young males which shows unrealistically muscular men and promotes stereotypes. Holohan called on society’s fathers to step up and learn to be supportive for their young daughters as they navigate through this sea of advertising – “There is no time a girl needs her Dad more than early adolescence, but that’s when they’re pulling away.”

Menstrual Health

The next workshop, “De-Sanitizing Our Menstrual Health,” facilitated by GVSU student Rachel Hamilton and Lori Day, utilized a more hands-on approach. Materials and instructions for everyone present (whether or not they themselves menstruate) were shared to sew their own reusable menstrual pad. While everyone sewed, the facilitators talked about how our culture has made menstruation a taboo topic, and they encouraged everyone to get rid of that stigma and share their own experiences.

During discussion, it came up that many young women are confused when their first cycle occurs, because so little information about menstruation was given to them prior. Discussion continued to the problems of the most commonly used products – disposable pads and tampons. As with any disposable product, these are harmful to the environment, both in their manufacturing process and after being thrown out. They also contain toxins which are harmful to the body, most of which are added during the bleaching process (contradictorily, the only reason these products are bleached is give the illusion of cleanliness.)

Many alternatives were shared: reusable pads, menstrual cups (the Diva Cup and the Keeper were two brands mentioned), sponges and disposable cups, all of which are better for women’s bodies and the environment.

Meditation

The final workshop of the day, facilitated by Kathy Reider of Intuitive Services, began with an explanation of the benefits of meditation: meditation gives one’s body the chance to everything down, and helps the body heal more quickly. Meditation connects you to the fullness of who you are, allowing you to have better relationships. Reider said, “being grounded is your natural state. Thinking is not.” The group was then led through a meditation technique, which some found beneficial, and others struggled to relax.

For the final twenty minutes, everyone participated in a go-around in which we shared what we do for our own health. Exercise, a healthy diet, using a menstrual cup, and many other ideas were mentioned.

Overall, the workshops represented a variety of opinions and encouraged productive discussion among everyone present.

Empowered Women’s Health Workshop Saturday

An Empowered Women's Health Workshop will Provide Alternatives to the Corporate Health Care System

On Saturday March 7, the Bloom Collective will be hosting an Empowered Women’s Health Workshop, to be held at the Tanglefoot Building, located at 314 Straight SW, Door M. The workshop will provide information for women interested in avoiding the mainstream system of health care which has been corrupted by corporate capitalism. The focus will be on empowering women in the challenge to live outside of the mainstream, as well as providing education for self-care practices.

Schedule of events:

  • 9:30 A Woman-sense approach to Pregnancy & Birth a presentation by Yolanda Visser, local lay midwife with more than 20 years in practice.
  • 11:45 How Media and Marketing Package Women for Profit, a panel discussion with Julia Mason, asst. professor of Women and Gender Studies, GVSU and Mindy Holohan, Kent County Friends of Coalition for a Commercial Free Childhood
  • 1:45 – 2:45 De-sanitizing Our Menstrual Health with Rachael Hamilton, GVSU a presentation/discussion which will include a DIY pad making activity.
  • 3 – 4:30 Sharing Empowered Alternatives, a group sharing experience which includes instruction on meditation for stress relief by Kathy Reider of Intuitive Services.

The workshop is free. As one facilitator said, “The workshop is intentionally free because access to health information, or healthcare for that matter, should not be based on one’s ability to pay.”

A vegan potluck lunch will be included. The Bloom Collective will provide main dishes, attendees are asked to bring a side dish to pass.

Study: Union Membership Raises Women’s Wages and Benefits

A new study has found that unions benefit women workers by increasing wages and benefits, even in the lowest paying jobs in the US economy. It’s an important finding at a time when union membership continues to decline.

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At a time when union membership is declining and unions are being aggressively attacked for their supposed role in automobile industry’s woes, a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that unions dramatically benefit women workers in the United States.

The report, titled “Unions and Upward Mobility for Women Workers,” finds that unionized women earn on average 11.2% more than their non-unionized peers. This translates into almost $2 per hour more than non-union workers. Compared with a four-year college degree, unions boost wages less (a degree boosts wages 52%), but union membership can achieve 20% of the college education boost. Moreover, women in unions are more likely to have healthcare and pension benefits.

Even in lower paying occupations such as food preparation and cashiering, unionization benefits women workers. Among the 15 lowest paying occupations in the survey, union members earned 14% more. Similarly, they were 26% more likely to have employer-provided health insurance and 23% more likely to have a pension plan.

The report analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey to arrive at its conclusions.

Currently, women make up 45% of the unionized workforce.

Renowned Childbirth Educator Suzanne Arms Speaking in Grand Rapids

Birth activist Suzanne Arms–who has written extensively on how we have children in the UNited States–will be speaking Friday in Grand Rapids.

Friday Oct. 24, 7 – 9 p.m., at Holistic Care Approach, 3368 Beltline Ct. NE., Grand Rapids. $10 suggested donation. Sponsored by The Bloom Collective.

Birth, as the body intended, empowers women and starts infants on the adventure of life as balanced, healthy human beings. During the ’70s and ’80s, a sea of women activists worked to reclaim birth, which in the US usually takes place in the hospital setting. The medical industrial complex viewed this movement as a challenge to their power, practices and profits. Today, the few babies born without medical intervention in the hospital setting are those impatient brats born in the parking lot.

Electronic monitoring, induced labors, epidurals and cesarean section are now the norm. As one intervention leads to the need for another, profits rise –and maternal and infant outcomes plummet. According to the New York Times (Oct. 15, 2008), the US infant mortality rate “remains well above that of most other industrialized countries and is one of many indicators suggesting that Americans pay more but get less from their health care system… In 1960, the United States ranked 12th lowest in the world, but by 2004, the latest year for which comparisons were issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that ranking had dropped to 29th.”

A birth activist since the ’70s, Suzanne Arms has written books on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and adoption; created films and photographs; and presented hundreds of talks at conferences worldwide. Her book, Immaculate Deception, was a 1975 New York Times Best Book of the Year. Arms advocates holistic, sustainable health policies and practices and conscious parenting that is based on ancient and cross-cultural wisdom. Her 1977 documentary, Five Women, Five Births, remains a staple among natural childbirth educators. Arms weaves modern science: cellular biology, neurobiology, psycho-immunology and attachment theory with ecology, feminism and spirituality. Arms writes:

“My purpose is to help shift the paradigm that drives the loneliness, anxiety, addiction, greed, and aggression so prominent in post-modern societies to one that promotes joy, wellbeing and peace. I work at the beginning of life, where the patterns are set. We must transform how we bring human beings into the world and care for each childbearing woman and mother-baby pair from conception to the first birthday, when they are one biological system and the baby’s developing brain and nervous system are laying down patterns for a lifetime.”

“For too long, our approach to childbearing and caring for mothers and babies has been fear-based, its hallmarks isolation, intervention in natural processes, hyper-stimulation and maternal deprivation. Women’s experiences and their feelings about themselves, their babies and motherhood, translate directly into thoughts and biochemistry that lay down patterns in their baby’s developing nervous system and brain. These patterns shape not only how we see ourselves as children, but the relationships we form as adults and how we care for others and our world. The mother-baby relationship is crucial. Thus, how we treat the women who bring children into this world – with honor and tenderness or neglect and abuse – profoundly influences the direction of our society. Love and fear, and peace and violence, begin in the womb.”

Arms is a founding and active member of the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children. At the pioneering Holistic Childbirth Institute in San Francisco, in 1977, Suzanne created and taught the first course on the evolution of childbirth practices and how we got the practices we have today. A year later she co-founded The Birth Place, the country’s first resource center for pregnancy, birth and new parenting and one of the first independent birthing centers in the U.S. Suzanne was a founding and active board member of Planetree, the international organization working to transform hospitals and clinics into true healing centers. Suzanne lives near Durango in SW Colorado.

Author Explores the Women’s Vote and the 2008 Election

Last Night, author and feminist Martha Burk gave a talk on the 2008 election and the women’s vote. While it was billed as an exploration of the issues facing women this election, the talk was vague and offered little substance.

Last night, author Martha Burk spoke at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in downtown Grand Rapids. Burk–who received much notoriety in the fight to open the Augusta National Gulf Club to women in 2003–delivered a lecture on the 2008 elections and the women’s vote. While the talk hit on some important themes–particularly the cost of the Iraq War as it relates to funding for domestic programs–much of the talk was vague largely missed its goal of convincing those who consider themselves feminists, people of conscience, or supporters of social justice to vote.

Burk began by sharing that while the anti-suffragists campaigned against giving women the right to vote by saying that they would either vote how their husbands do or would take over the world, women really did not vote in great numbers until 1980. That year Republican Ronald Reagan ran on an anti-Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and anti-abortion platform, both of which drove women to the polls. That year a “gender gap” emerged in which women voted dramatically differently then men. Since that year, women have voted in high numbers in every election.

Her insights on what are important issues for women–most based on poll data obtained while working on her new book Your Money and Your Life–were interesting. She said that the economy is a major issue for women right now, although women tend to see it more personally and are concerned more about if they are going to lose their job than the stock market. She said that women also oppose the Iraq War as many women make the connection between spending on the war and cuts in Medicare, childcare programs, and other domestic programs–many of which poor women rely on. She returned to this theme later saying that spending on the war is a major reason why the United States does not have paid family medical leave, healthcare, or federal childcare programs.

Burk said that this election women’s issues are not getting a lot of coverage. Instead, there is a focus on side issues that she called “false prophets.” These include issues related to “God, Guns, and Gays.” She said that they are popular for politicians who do not want to talk about serious issues. She stressed the importance of really looking into what candidates are saying because we are “getting so much crap” through the media. She also chided the media for focusing on issues that were not popular with voters–such as immigration–during the primaries.

Despite some interesting insights, Burk did not provide much substance. She said relatively little about where the two major party candidates stood on women’s issues, mentioning only that Obama supports stronger legislation in favor of pay equity while McCain thinks the market should decide. The talk certainly could have benefited from a detailed exploration of McCain and Obama’s positions on a variety of issues. She also completely ignored third party candidates including Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney and her vice presidential candidate Rosa Clemente, who are the first all women of color ticket. She also repeatedly implored the audience to “ask candidates hard questions” about where they stand, but she seemed to ignore the fact that presidential candidates are inherently inaccessible and its difficult to ask them. Moreover, at one point she spoke about having to sift through several pages on a candidate’s website to find some mention of women, a fact which suggests the two major party candidates don’t see them as much of a priority.

Burk concluded by telling the audience that this country has been through a lot of “majorities”–the Moral Majority, the Green Majority, and the Silent Majority–but that there is one majority that has been ignored: women. She said that women have the power to control in any election if they vote for their interests as a group.

March Calls for Solidarity With Women in the Congo

About 100 people gathered Saturday in Grand Rapids to participate in a rally and march in support of women and girls in the Congo. Organizers said that they hope to raise awareness about the brutality that women and girls are suffering in the Congo and to raise money to support projects to help heal those who have been raped.

About 100 people gathered Saturday in Grand Rapids to participate in a rally and march in support of women and girls in the Congo. A “Walk Against Violence for Women & Children” was organized by the African Center of West Michigan. Organizers said that they hope to raise awareness about the brutality that women and girls are suffering in the Congo and to raise money to support projects to help heal those who have been raped.

Systemic rape of women in the Congo has been well documented in recent years and has been carried out by both the government military forces and armed militias. There has been an organized campaign to stop the rape of Congelese women and girls for several years, campaigns like the one organized by the international group V-Day. The march in Grand Rapids was a local action that is part of this larger international effort.

A few opening remarks were made by one of the organizers, a refugee from the Congo, Mr. Yaka Kamungi. He spoke in English and Swahili, his native language, especially since half the crowd were refugees from the Congo, Kenya, Somalia, and Burundi. After the opening comments the crowd marched towards downtown on Wealthy Street and made a loop back on Cherry. Those driving by in cars, sitting on porches, and walking by showed tremendous support for the marches who carried signs that had statements like “End rape in the Congo.”

The marches gathered back at the rally site to hear comments from a local African minister, a representative of the YWCA, and Jeannette Kabanda, a Congelese woman who has been part of several human rights trips to her home country. Jeannette said that what Congelese women have suffered begins for many of them when they are girls. Sometimes the soldiers for mothers to have sex with their sons, only to beat and murder the entire family afterwards. The speaker also stated that if women resist being raped they will be mutilated. Jeannette said that the US needs to pressure the government of the Congo to investigate these crimes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The funds that were raised at the rally will be used for programs that will provide “basic needs, trauma counseling, job training and health education to the women who have been victimized.” Several of the speakers mentioned that one of the many consequences of rape in the Congo is that a large number of women have become infected with HIV/AIDS, which further isolates these women from their communities.

If anyone is interested in supporting the work of the African Community Center to raise funds for the women of the Congo, they are welcomed to stop by their office at 1019 Wealthy SE, in Grand Rapids.

From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

In her book From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice, Anne Firth Murray undertakes a comprehensive study that concludes: being born female is dangerous to one’s health. “Of the 68 million girls born around the world annually, the majority are greeted with varying degrees of disappointment by relatives hoping for a boy,” Murray writes.

From conception to death, females are more likely to be terminated during sex selective abortions, left to die as unwanted newborns, sold as child sex workers, contract AIDS during adolescence, be victims domestic violence, die as casualties of war and be forgotten in old age. In poor households, food and medical care are given to male children first. Girls are less likely to be educated: worldwide, 25 million boys and 90 million girls don’t go to school.

Because poverty aggravates poor health, Murray focuses on women’s health issues in developing countries. Though she faults patriarchy as the underlying cause, the book seems to confirm the notion that developing countries are more likely to exhibit misogynistic cultural practices because they aren’t as well educated as the west. A more in-depth analysis might determine that imperialistic practices of western patriarchal colonizers are equally or more to blame for the misery in developing countries than indigenous cultural practices. Murray does thoroughly document how the experience of being female increases risks for poor health.

FGM and Sexual Abuse

In many African and Middle Eastern countries, girls’ health is put at risk by female genital mutilation (FGM), a brutal rite of passage linked to girls dropping out of school and women, experiencing serious lifelong medical problems that are exacerbated by sexual relations and childbirth.

Murray gives lengthy documentation to FGM but fails to mention how Western medicine subjects nearly every woman giving birth in a hospital to another kind of genital mutilation: unnecessary episiotomy. How is it that lay midwives attending homebirths never cut but rarely see a serious tear during childbirth? But in hospital, nearly every woman who gives birth vaginally has to recover from a surgical procedure that can lead to infection, sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence.

Girls’ health is also put at risk because of sexual abuse. Murray writes, “In some areas of the world–for example, Nepal, the Philippines, Thailand, Central and Eastern Africa, and some regions of Latin America–poverty and the devaluing of girls drives parents and relatives to sell girls into slavery, sexual or otherwise.”

This practice maroons hundreds of thousands of girls in brothels–until they become ill and are dumped in the streets to fend for themselves. In addition to acquiring HIV/AIDS and other STDs, these women and girls experience depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

Girls are also more likely to fall victim to sex abuse at home and in school. In East Africa, adolescent girls commonly depend on “sugar daddies” to finance their educations in return for sexual favors. Transactional sex is often the only way for young women in many developing countries to earn money for basic needs. The health impact includes STDs that can cause sterility or problems during pregnancy as well as HIV/AIDS.

Another form of child sexual abuse is child marriage. In some countries, girls as young as 11 years old are married off. Pressured to bear children before their bodies are ready, these girls experience high maternal mortality rates and lifelong medical problems as a result of giving birth at such a young age.

HIV/AIDS

Women contract HIV/AIDS more readily than men because soft vaginal tissues are more apt to become infected and the concentration of the virus in sperm is higher than in other body fluids. Worldwide, teenage girls are contracting HIV/AIDS at twice the rate of teenage boys. In some developing countries, being a married woman is a risk factor for AIDS. In addition, women in these countries are less likely to receive medical treatment for HIV/AIDS than are men.

Pregnancy and Childbirth

Another unique health challenge women face is childbearing. While healthy, well nourished mothers can in most cases give birth naturally without complications, those who live in poverty, are malnourished or live in environments fraught with violence–domestic or otherwise–face high health risks. They are more likely to develop toxemia, give birth prematurely, hemorrhage after birth or develop infections postpartum. Their babies face higher mortality and morbidity rates, as well.

Torture in the Home: Domestic Violence

“The Center for Gender Equity describes violence against women as ‘the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world,'” Murray relates. She goes on to state that one out of every three women in the world experiences domestic violence at some point in their lives. “Women are shoved, slapped, punched, beaten, burned, kicked and killed every day in every country of the world,” she affirms. Obviously, a wide range of health problems, physical, mental and emotional, results from this violence.

Honor killings and dowry death are two more kinds of domestic violence inflicted upon girls and women. “The practice is mostly centered in the Middle East, but it has also been documented in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Uganda and Turkey. In 1999, an estimated two-thirds of all murders in the Gaza strip and West Bank were likely honor killings,” Murray writes.

One has to wonder how Israel’s continuing barrage against the Palestinian people living here has exacerbated this horrific practice.

The Risks of War

Civilians (mostly women and children) are the new casualties of war. At the turn of the century, 5% of war casualties were civilians. Today that number has risen to as high as 90% in certain conflicts.

“Women’s health, already under siege during times of peace, is profoundly affected during times of war: rape, forced marriages, domestic violence, widowhood and the sudden necessity for heading households without the necessary resources intensify the already catastrophic effects of conflict,” Murray writes.

In refugee camps, women are victims of rape, exposed to disease and lack medical attention during childbirth. Murray points out how The Lost Boys of Sudan were regaled by the media but no one ever heard about The Lost Girls.

Added Risks of Aging

In cultures where patriarchy has reduced women to the roles of laborer, sex object and mother, older women are seen as having no value. Whereas older men can take on younger wives and assume the position of the wise elder, older women are often cast aside. As developing countries become more industrialized, these women are often left behind to fend for themselves–and often, to care for grandchildren whose parents have gone to work in the cities.

This scenario brings up another point Murray makes, though she does not make it strongly enough. Globalization has negatively impacted women’s health in developing countries. While she brings forth several examples of how globalization has displaced people from their farms and thrown them into factory settings where they cannot make enough money to survive, she fails to see that these tragedies are a price that the imperialistic capitalist forces behind globalization are more than happy to pay.

She writes, “Globalization has opened opportunities for women–for paid employment and a way out of very restrictive lives. At the same time, may believe that work in the new global economy is exploitive, and in some sense makes life more difficult than it was before the surge of globalization.”

Courage

In every chapter of From Outrage to Courage, Murray also includes many shining examples of how women have empowered themselves and helped each other lay claim to better health. Women around the world are creating organizations that shelter domestic violence victims, teach trades to former sex workers, provide displaced women with small business loans and a host of other creative responses to dealing with the many horrific results of discrimination against women.

From Outrage to Courage, Women Taking Action for Health and Justice lays an excellent foundation for understanding how women of all ages are discriminated against in ways relevant to their health. However, this writer would like to see the underlying cause of this discrimination, i.e. patriarchy, be more fully addressed as concerns women in all countries of the world. While most women and girls in the United States do not face the health perils experienced by their sisters in Africa, South America and Asia, we are mistreated by a for-profit, patriarchal medical system that seeks to disempower us during pregnancy and childbirth, disbelieve us in middle age and target us as for an ever increasing number of aesthetic procedures and prescription medications as we age.

That being said, From Outrage to Courage comprehensively documents the health risks half the world’s population faces simply because they were born female. Murray has collected an amazing amount of data from a great many sources to create a book that shows why women and men must continue to take action for peace, health and justice.

Anne Firth Murray, From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice, (Common Courage Press, 2007).

Surviving Somehow Behind a Concrete Purdah

The impact of the United States’ occupation of Iraq on women is often ignored, despite the fact that the war has drastically reduced gains made by Iraqi women in the years preceding the occupation.

By Dahr Jamail

With the fifth anniversary of the start of the United States’ occupation of Iraq approaching, Media Mouse is reprinting this article to highlight a perspective on the occupation that is often not considered and to encourage our readers to attend the antiwar march that will be held this Saturday, March 15, in downtown Grand Rapids at Heartside Park at 12:00pm. The march is hosted by ACTIVATE (Grand Rapids SDS).

Iraq, where women once had more rights and freedom than most others in the Arab world, has turned deadly for women who dream of education and a professional career.

Former dictator Saddam Hussein maintained a relatively secular society, where it was common for women to take up jobs as professors, doctors and government officials. In today’s Iraq, women are being killed by militia groups for not conforming to strict Islamist ways.

Basra police chief Gen. Jalil Hannoon told reporters and Arab TV channels in December that at least 40 women had been killed during the previous five months in that city alone.

“We are sure there are many more victims whose families did not report their killing for fear of scandal,” Gen. Hannoon said.

The militias dominated by the Shia Badr Organisation and the Mehdi Army are leading imposition of strict Islamist rules. The Shia-dominated Iraqi government is seen as providing tacit and sometimes direct support to them.

The Badr Organisation answers to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the Shia bloc in the Iraqi government. The Mehdi army is the militia of anti-occupation Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Women who do not wear the hijab are becoming prime targets of militias, residents both in Basra and Baghdad have told IPS in recent months. Many women say they are threatened with death if they do not obey.

“Militiamen approached us to tell us we must wear the hijab and stop wearing make-up,” college student Zahra Alwan who fled Basra to Baghdad told IPS last December.

Graffiti in red on walls across Basra warns women against wearing make-up and stepping out without covering their bodies from head to toe, Alwan said.

“The situation in Baghdad is not very different,” Mazin Abdul Jabbar, social researcher at Baghdad University told IPS. “All universities are controlled by Islamic militiamen who harass female students all the time with religious restrictions.”

Jabbar said this is one reason that “many families have stopped sending their daughters to high schools and colleges.”

In early 2007 Iraq’s Ministry of Education found that more than 70 percent of girls and young women no longer attend school or college.

Several women victims have been accused of being “bad” before they were abducted, residents have told IPS in Baghdad. Most women who are abducted are later found dead.

The bodies of several have been found in garbage dumps, showing signs of rape and torture. Many bodies had a note attached saying the woman was “bad”, according to residents who did not give their names to IPS.

Similar problems exist for women in Baquba, the capital city of Diyala province, 40 km northeast of Baghdad.

“My neighbour was killed because she was accused of working in the directorate-general of police of Diyala,” resident Um Haider told IPS in January. “This woman worked as a receptionist in the governor’s office, and not in the police. She was in charge of checking women who work in the governor’s office.”

Killings like this have led countless women to quit jobs, or to change them.

“I was head of the personnel division in an office,” a woman speaking on condition of anonymity told IPS in Baquba. “On the insistence of my family and relatives, I gave up my position and chose to be an employee.”

Women’s lives have changed, and women are beginning to look different across most of Iraq. They are now too afraid to wear anything but conservative dresses — modern clothes could be a death warrant. The veil is particularly dominant in areas under the control of militias.

Women are paying a price for the occupation in all sorts of ways.

“Women bear great pain and risks when militants control the streets,” Um Basim, a mother of three, told IPS in Baquba recently. “No man can move here or there. When a man is killed, the body is taken to the morgue. The body has to be received by the family, so women often go alone to the morgue to escort the body home. Some are targeted by militants when they do this.”

Confined to home, many women live in isolation and depression.

“Women have nowhere to go to spend leisure time,” Um Ali, a married woman in Baquba, told IPS. “Our time is spent only at home now. I have not travelled outside Baquba for more than four years. The only place I can go to is my parents’ home. Housekeeping and children have been all my life; I have no goals to attain, no education to complete. Sometimes, I can’t leave home for weeks.”

In northern Kurdish controlled Iraq, ‘honour killings’ continue. In the ancient tradition of ‘honour killing’, the view is that a family’s honour is paramount. As of last December, at least 27 Kurdish women were murdered on suspicion of having had ‘illicit’ affairs in the previous four months, according to Youssif Mohamed Aziz, the regional minister of human rights.

Iraqi women are not spared U.S. military prisons either. In December, Iraq’s parliamentary committee for women’s and children’s affairs demanded the release of female detainees in Iraqi and U.S.-run prisons.

According to Nadira Habib, deputy head of the parliamentary committee, there are around 200 women detained in the Iraqi run al-Adala prison in Baghdad. Habibi says there are presumably women in U.S.-run prisons too. “But no one knows how many female detainees are now in prisons run by U.S. forces as they always refuse requests from our committee to visit them.”

As the central government remains essentially powerless, and religious fundamentalism continues to grow across Iraq, it appears that the plight of Iraqi women will get worse.