A community outreach team run by AJWS grantee, Fortress of Hope, teaches about gender-based violence. Photo: Evan Abramson
Last week on October 11th, the United Nations commemorated the very first International Day of the Girl. My colleagues and I were still reeling from the tragic shooting of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old Pakistani activist who was unjustly targeted for going to school and speaking up for her right to get an education. But we were grateful for the outpouring of support for the UN’s decision to dedicate a day to advancing the status of girls worldwide.
AJWS is committed to promoting girls’ rights, preventing gender-based violence and improving access to education and healthcare for girls in the developing world.
A few sobering facts:
- Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls. Girls represent nearly 60% of the children not in school.
- Child marriage is a threat to the fundamental human rights of girls, and to the health of communities.
- Ten million girls every year become child brides.
- One in seven girls in the developing world marries before she turns 15. These young girls are forced into motherhood before their bodies are ready, and too many die giving birth as a result.
- Every year, some 14 million adolescent girls give birth. They are two to five times as likely to die owing to pregnancy-related complications than women in their twenties, and their babies are less likely to survive. Read More
Photo Credit: Feministing.com
Today is Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, so we’re taking stock of sexual and reproductive rights around the globe. For many Americans, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the struggle to safeguard women’s health in the United States. We often forget about what’s happening in the developing world. So, a reminder:
- In Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico, health coverage for indigenous families lags substantially behind the rest of the population. In Guatemala, maternal mortality among indigenous women is almost double that of non-indigenous women. Organizations like Asociacion de Mujeres Campesinas Q’eqchies “Nuevo Horizonte” are dedicated to promoting the rights and health of Q’eqchi women in Guatemala by organizing communities to work on projects to reduce sexual and gender-based violence; increase public education on sexual health and rights; and build women’s leadership and presence in community and municipal decision-making. Read More
Staff and clients of AJWS Haitian grantee SEROvie. The group’s banner reads, “Everyone should be able to live his life with respect and dignity.” (Photo: SEROvie)
With the International AIDS Conference right around the corner, there has been a flurry of articles about stemming the spread of HIV in the developing world. We have certainly made great strides, but many countries’ efforts to maximize access to HIV treatment do not always succeed. Botswana is one example. In the early 2000s, the country demonstrated commendable leadership and rolled out an ambitious plan to test and treat all Botswanans for HIV. But the number of people without access to treatment remained high. This was the result of a number of issues, including stigma. Former President Mogae said, “I’m very frustrated. Because of the stigma attached to this sexually transmitted virus, and because some religious people have said this is a curse or that those who have HIV are sinners, many are afraid to get tested.”
This cautionary tale contains lessons the rest of the world should heed. Even as we celebrate the scientific discoveries and treatment that dramatically reduce ongoing HIV transmission and death, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that a biomedical solution can overcome the devastating effects of social prejudice and bigotry. These effects exacerbate human rights abuses and prevent people who are most vulnerable from accessing life-saving services.
Around the world, selling sex is as inflammatory an issue as abortion. It’s just as divisive, too—particularly among feminists and in the global human rights community.
At the 2012 AWID Forum—the largest women’s rights gathering in the world—sex workers’ rights took center stage. Panel discussions and plenary sessions featured sex workers from Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, along with myriad organizations—including several AJWS grantees—that protect sex workers from human rights violations. One grantee offered a clever metaphor to capture how sex work is relatively alien to women’s rights conversations. “Imagine you go to a restaurant with a friend,” she said. “You order beef. But your friend explains she is vegetarian, so she orders a plate of rice and vegetables. You look at her plate and think to yourself, ‘This is a bit strange; a little different.’ But it’s a choice on the menu. And it’s a choice she made herself, just like any other choice. That’s sex work—a choice.”
Sacks of rice stored in the open in Ranwan, India, have rotted and suffered other damage. (Photo: Manpreet Romana for The New York Times)
Today’s New York Times article about India’s “paradox of plenty” is a painful reminder that hunger is acutely political.
The article boils the problem down to this:
“Spurred by agricultural innovation and generous farm subsidies, India now grows so much food that it has a bigger grain stockpile than any country except China, and it exports some of it to countries like Saudi Arabia and Australia. Yet one-fifth of its people are malnourished — double the rate of other developing countries like Vietnam and China — because of pervasive corruption, mismanagement and waste in the programs that are supposed to distribute food to the poor.”
Clearly, India doesn’t struggle with food scarcity; it struggles with food access and inequitable distribution. The crux of the problem is about who gets what and why; which populations are able to access government schemes and which populations struggle against stigma, corruption and bureaucratic procedures that limit their access to needed services.
Marginalized populations, including rural indigenous women and migrant workers, are often shut out of the food system in India and elsewhere in the developing world. This is why the World Food Programme (WPF) often provides food or cash vouchers to women instead of men. But the WPF’s approach isn’t the ultimate answer. India needs to have strong internal mechanisms of accountability so that its vulnerable citizens do not suffer the consequences of false promises and neglect. Read More
Adrienne Rich in 1987
The decision to feed the world
is the real decision. No revolution
has chosen it. For that choice requires
that women shall be free.
—Adrienne Rich, “Hunger”
When I learned last week that Adrienne Rich had passed away, I immediately pulled two of her books off my shelf and re-read my favorite poems: Integrity, Ballad of the Poverties, Hunger, What is Possible, What Kind of Times Are These? Then I read tributes to her life and legacy, posted by friends, colleagues and strangers, along with hundreds of comments on her obituary in The New York Times.
In addition to being the first full week of Women’s History Month and with Purim coinciding with International Women’s Day on March 8th, this week is also National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS. AJWS President Ruth Messinger issued a statement as a National Interfaith Supporter of the week’s events:
“The National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS offers a vital opportunity to rededicate ourselves to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Jewish tradition is unequivocal on the value of human life. As it says in Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5: ‘Whoever destroys a single life, it is as if he has destroyed an entire universe; and whoever saves a single life, it is as if he has saved an entire universe.’
Chamber of Maine's State Legislature where 2009-2010 Kol Tzedek Fellow, Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, delivered a benediction on February 29, 2012.
We love when members of the AJWS family are called upon to share their wisdom in unexpected places. Earlier today, Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, 2009-2010 Kol Tzedek Fellow and rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in Waterville, Maine, delivered the benediction for Maine’s State Legislature. She was kind enough to post about her experience on AJWS’s Facebook page and wrote: “I want to acknowledge American Jewish World Service for providing me with the perfect text to shape my benediction.”
Here are the remarks Isaacs delivered:
Grace and the Greater Good: A Blessing for the Maine House of Representatives
Politics is indeed a holy vocation, if and when we choose to make it so. You are the custodians of our great state, and serve a unique role: being the wards of Maine’s most vulnerable. The power to provide care is one of the most beautiful and outstanding abilities that a leader can assume. In order to exercise this power in the Godliest way, one must challenge herself to not only be just, but to also be righteous.
Even after a long weekend, the memes are alive and kickin.’ So, I couldn’t resist sharing a few favorites:
On the heels of the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we wanted to take stock of the status of reproductive rights in the developing world. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the United States’ struggle to safeguard women’s health that we often forget about what’s happening in the Global South. So, a reminder:
- In Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico, health coverage for indigenous families lags substantially behind the rest of the population. In Guatemala, maternal mortality among indigenous women is almost double that of non-indigenous women. Organizations like Asociacion de Mujeres Campesinas Q’eqchies “Nuevo Horizonte” are dedicated to promoting the rights and health of Q’eqchi women in Guatemala by organizing communities to work on projects to decrease sexual and gender-based violence; increase public education on sexual health and rights; and build women’s leadership and presence in community and municipal decision-making. Read More