Reflection on Human Rights Day

10 12 2009

Today is Human Right’s Day. Take a moment to reflect.

  • Do you respect the human rights of those you deal with on a day-to-day basis?
  • Are you respectful, kind, considerate, thoughtful, encouraging, and supportive?
  • Do you listen to, acknowledge, and treat respectfully people who think, act, look, speak, or practice religion differently from you?
  • Do you ever give any thought to the rights of those in other countries?
  • Do you care if women can vote, hold public office, work, drive a car, have protections through the legal system, love and marry who they want, and speak their minds?
  • Do you care if children are allowed to be children and go to school, wait until they are adults to marry, have nourishment, have clean water, and are free from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse?
  • Have you considered what life would be like if you had been born to poor parents in Afghanistan or Mali or Haiti?
  • Have you considered what it must be like to be hungry, to have no fresh water, to have no parents, to have AIDS, to have no access to the Internet, and to have no hope and feel useless in the world?

We are each important in the world. We each have rights just because of being born. Be aware. Care. Acknowledge. Listen. Then allow your heart to open and do what you can. Even a word of encouragement can make a difference.

Human Rights are not just for a day. Every day we must do what we can to help our brothers and sisters in the world. Every person is valuable, is needed, and is important…just like you.

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Congratulations to the New Graduates…in Prison

28 09 2009

A letter to the women in the Lockhart, Texas prison who just graduated from the Truth be Told program

You had no choice but to wear matching dull blue v-neck formless pullover tops and pants, white t-shirts, and tennis shoes. I had the freedom to choose to wear a peridot-green peasant blouse, black capri pants, and close-toed (a requirement) black heels. I wore jewelry. You did not. I freely came in from the outside, handed over my driver’s license, and was escorted into the gymnasium with 17 other women and 2 men who chose (and were pre-screened) to attend your graduation. You, too, were escorted there, but after graduation, you stayed in the prison. I went home.

Despite our marked differences in freedom, we came together to celebrate your graduation from the Truth Be Told program. I recognized the 10 of you in the Talk to Me Speaking Class from when I had the privilege of evaluating five of your this-is-my-life speeches. Many of you ran to me, hugged me, and said how happy you were that I was there. I felt real joy in seeing you and delight in sitting between two of you. Three of you spoke and my heart filled with pride that you so openly and skillfully shared the story of what came before that led to you being in prison.

Three of the nine women from the Talk to Me Circle Class also spoke and shared your stories and three women from the Talk to Me Movement Class delighted us with your expressiveness and impressive moves in the Michael Jackson “Beat It” number. Charlotte leaned over and told me it was the first time she’d heard music (from a loud speaker) in three years.

Walking through History - Purchased from iStockPhotoYou told us stories of being sexually abused as a child, a mother who allowed such abuse toward you and even toward your children, a father who beat your mother, using drugs to dim emotional pain, being forced to sell drugs or to prostitute yourself to support your children, being beaten by men who you thought loved you, never feeling loved, joining a gang to find a sense of belonging, having to give up children, being in and out of prison, and more.

Your stories touched everyone who attended. We gathered afterward to name our feelings: grateful, joyful, amazed at your courage and honesty, a sense of sisterhood with you, pride, recognition and acknowledgment of your pain and what you’ve been through, and honored to have had the opportunity to bear witness to your stories.

The Truth be Told volunteers who facilitate the classes are amazing: Peggy Lamb, Julie Wylie, Natalie Weinstein, Katie Ford, Mary Gifford, and co-founders Carol Waid and Nathalie Sorrell. You are fortunate to have women who are so passionate, so talented, so intelligent, so giving, and so caring guide you in walking your life toward making healthy choices and feeling hopeful for a better tomorrow.

As amazing as your facilitators are, I wonder if you ladies in the Truth be Told program realize how much you give to those who work with you. We feel your humanness, that you are our sisters, and that but for different life choices and circumstances, the roles could be reversed…we could be in prison and you could be on the outside. We see your courage, your vulnerability, your willingness to be open and honest, your admission of bad choices, and your desire to turn your lives around. We admire you, we are Truth Be Told Logoin awe of you, we are touched by you, and we take you with us as we leave.

The experience of being in prison with you and hearing your stories lasts long after we leave the facility.  We share our experience with those we care about and they share it with still others. Something changes in us. We develop an even deeper understanding that we are all one and must do what we can to lift each other up.

Thank you, dear Truth be Told graduates. Take in all the applause we gave you at the graduation and continue to give you every time we think of you. You are changing your lives…and ours…for the better. And that’s the truth.

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Empowering Women to Hold Up Half the Sky

28 08 2009

Her family in need of money, at age 14, Abbas Be left her home in Hyderabad, India and went to New Delhi to become a maid…or so she thought. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten, gang raped, made to service customers sexually, made to watch girls who didn’t comply be murdered, and was never paid for her work. Eventually she was rescued by police and taken back to Hyderabad, where she found a home in a shelter that helps trafficked girls heal and learn skills for a new life. Abbas is getting an education, has learned bookbinding, is counseling girls on how to avoid being trafficked, and is earning enough money to help her sisters get an education and help them avoid being trafficked.

How can we improve the plight of women and girls globally? One very important way is through education, as is demonstrated in this story and many others in the upcoming book Half the Sky BookHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will be released on 9/8/09. The book is written by the husband and wife team of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, who have both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. They wrote an essay called “The Women’s Crusade,” which is adapted from the book and appeared on 8/17/09 in the New York Times. Here are some of the things they report:

  • In 1990, while living and reporting in China, they read an obscure report that stated that 39,000 baby girls die in the first year of life annually in China because parents don’t get girls the same medical care they do boys.
  • A bride is burned once every two hours in India because the dowry isn’t high enough or the husband wants to get rid of her to marry someone else.
  • Anywhere from 60 to 107 million females are missing from the planet due primarily to not getting adequate nutrition and health care. This number is more than all the men who were killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
  • The poorest families in the world spend approximately 20% of their incomes on alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts and only about 2% of their income on educating their children. Studies show that when women are able to have an income, it is more often spent on good food, medicine, and housing and children are healthier.
  • In some cases, fathers drink away $5 a week at bars…$5 that could purchase a mosquito net and save a child from dying of malaria.

Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference in the lives of girls. Examples mentioned in the article are:

  • A study done in Kenya by Harvard economist Michael Kremer showed that the best way to motivate sixth grade girls to better academic performance is to offer them a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade and recognition at an assembly.
  • In another Kenyan study, it was shown that dropout and pregnancy rates can be significantly reduced by providing a $6 school uniform to girls every 18 months.
  • Another way to keep girls from missing classes is to aid girls in menstruation by providing pads and a place to change them.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Nicholas and Sheryl have three concrete recommendations for the Council, which would cost no more than the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 9/11:

  • Set aside $10 billion over the next five years to educate girls all over the world.  When Larry Summers was chief economist of the World Bank, he said that “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
  • Sponsor a drive to help countries all over the world iodize salt and eliminate iodine deficiency. Approximately a third of households in developing countries don’t get enough iodine and it can affect particularly female fetuses and reduce girls’ IQs 10 to 15 points.
  • Provide $1.6 billion over the next 12 years to eradicate obstetric fistulas. A fistula is a hole formed inside a woman during a difficult childbirth and it can leave her smelly, incontinent, and shunned by her village. It only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

There is a Chinese saying that inspired the title of the Kristof/WuDunn book:

Women hold up half the sky.

Sometimes women just need a little help. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of women and children all over the world, here are just a few of the many organizations that would appreciate even a small donation:





Celebrating International Women’s Day March 8 with a 100th Post

7 03 2009

Did you know that 70% of people living under $1 a day are women? In celebration of  International Women’s Day, I am writing my 100th post and providing some important information about women globally. First observed in the United intl-womens-day-logoStates on February 28, 1909, it is now celebrated every year on March 8th. Wikipedia includes this information about it:

International Woman’s Day (IWD) is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women. In some celebrations, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day mixed together. In others, however, the political and human rights theme as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

This year the global United Nations theme, which changes each year, is Women and men united to end violence against women and girls. Here are some statistics on violence against women from the United Nations website:

  • Today, many women – in some countries as many as one in three – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes.
  • Worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
  • Half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.
  • For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability.
  • More than 80 percent of trafficking victims are women.
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • 4 out of every 10 births in the world are not attended by a doctor or healthcare professional, resulting in maternal mortality being the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in developing countries.
  • On the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help.

Here are some other interesting facts about women globally. All are sourced from InternationalWomensDay.com.  

  • 2/3 of the world’s illiterate adults are female and 2/3 of the world’s uneducated children are girls. Educating girls is considered the single most effective strategy for economic growth.
  • Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, but receive only 1/10 of the world’s income.
  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of water per day over 6km (3.7 miles). 
  • Only 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female. 
  • The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender gap (the disparity in opportunities available for men and women) for 130 countries in four critical areas: economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment, and political empowerment. Here are how some countries ranked, with 100% representing gender equality.
    • Norway, Finland, and Sweden – all around 82%
    • Iceland (80%)
    • New Zealand (79%)
    • Phillippines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.K. – 74% – 76%
    • United States (72%) – 27th on the list
    • Chad, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Yemen (the worst at 47%) at the bottom of the list

We have a long way to go for women to realize the same rights as men, the same freedoms as men, the same education as men, the same freedom from violence as men, the same health care as men, the same pay as men, etc. etc. Take the time to appreciate the women in your life and all over the world.

Here’s a video about gender equality that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put together to celebration International Women’s Day. As the video says, “It begins with me, it begins with you, it begins with us.” Take a look.