Friday, October 17, 2014

The Significance of This Year's Nobel Peace Prize

            The world is buzzing about 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to win a Nobel Prize of any kind. Having grown up in Pakistan under Taliban occupation, Malala is no stranger to hardship, but she definitely doesn’t want to get used to it. In 2008 she started speaking out about girls’ education in Pakistan. Since then, she has gained fame around the world for her advocacy for peace, women’s rights, and universal education. In October 2012, the Taliban tried to assassinate her. Yet, she didn’t even let a gunshot wound to the head stop her and she has continued her advocacy since her recovery. Just this week, the Nobel committee gave her the highest form of recognition: a Nobel Peace Prize. She is not the sole recipient of the prize—she is sharing it with Kailash Satyarthi, a 60-year-old man from India who is fighting to end child labor.

            Malala’s message has evolved over the years. She eloquently ties together the call for girls’ education to wider ideals of human rights and peace as she tears down stereotypes of her culture and religion. In her speeches, she talks about how the Taliban use the name of Islam to gain power and wealth, when in fact the religion is based on peace and equality. This is part of the reason why girls need to be educated. Giving girls the power of pen and paper gives them the power to fight tyranny and advocate for what is right. The reason why the Taliban is preventing girls’ education isn’t because of religion or culture, but because they are afraid of what will happen when girls can start speaking out. Their fear is justified. Malala is fortunate to have been educated by her father and she has used the power of writing and speech to make her voice heard. We can only imagine what can happen when every girl can speak as loudly as she can.

            The Nobel committee made a wise choice when they chose Malala for the prize. She links women’s rights to human rights so strongly that no one can doubt the need to achieve gender equality. Yet they send another message by pairing Malala with Kailash Satyarthi. The contrast in their age and gender shows that anyone can fight for equal rights. Furthermore, it is also no mistake that they selected someone from Pakistan and someone from India.  The two countries have been in conflict since their bloody partition in 1947. Already the two recipients are showing how the fight for peace transcends conflict and differences.

The Nobel committee is serious about peace and equality, and their decision to award these two individuals the Nobel Peace Prize is bringing us one step closer. Hopefully this prize helps both recipients gain support so they can continue their fight for human rights and equality.
-Gia Rowley

Friday, October 10, 2014

What We've Been Reading- 10/10

WBUR Analysis: Issues Keeping Governor’s Race Close
The latest WBZ/UMass-Amherst Poll has the Governor’s race tightening. In this piece of analysis from WBUR’s Steve Koczela, breakdowns on key issues are examined. As Coakley’s lead from before the Sept 9 primary is weakening, she is maintaining a lead when it comes to who voters trust to handle health care and education, while Baker has pulled ahead on the economy and taxes.

WBUR: Shaheen, Brown Court Women’s Vote In New Hampshire U.S. Senate Race
This article explores the focus on the women’s vote in the New Hampshire Senate race between former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and incumbent New Hampshire U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Brown is attempting to upset this lead by what the article cites as “women’s disenchantment with President Obama’s foreign policy.” However, as the article explains, Shaheen still leads with women. Women are for Shaheen by more than 10 points and the article cites one poll from last week that had her up by more than 20 points among women.

Politico: House Homestretch: 5 Key Dynamics
This piece from Politico explores what they identify as five key themes to understand about the midterm House races as we head into the final few weeks.  First, they explain that Republicans are on offense in many races. Second, star power has been lost for several Democratic candidates. Third, this may be a better year than expected for incumbents. Fourth, the ACA and President Obama aren’t the only focus in these campaigns, but a wider range of issues. By this Thursday the National Republican Congressional Committee had aired 77 TV commercials and 39 of them did not mention the ACA or President Obama. And finally, a theme that rings true every cycle, it’s all about expectations.

On October 2, a panel on “femvertising” was held at AdWeek 2014. Nina Bahadur of the Huffington Post writes about the rise of “femvertising,” defined by Samantha Skey, Chief Revenue Officer of SheKnows, as the use of empowering female images and messages in advertisements. Some examples of femvertising she cites are Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, which seeks to break down harmful stereotypes about the athleticism and capability of girls, and Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, which focuses on body positivity, although other ads with similar messages exist, such as Pantene Philippines’ #ShineStrong campaign, having garnered over 48 million YouTube views. Bahadur claims that feminist messages in advertising might be making an impact on not only how women view themselves, but also about how they view the company disseminating the advertisement. Some companies use the proceeds from their campaigns to support female-empowering organizations, like LeanIn, Girl Scouts, and Girls Inc. However, the trend of femvertising does not hold unanimously positive consequences, as some companies produce femvertisements without earnestly supporting the cause they claim to. Nonetheless, Bahadur argues that “femvertising is here to stay.”

Women’s Empowerment Conferences
On a similar note, conferences on women’s empowerment have seen an increase in number, write Christine Haughney and Leslie Kaufman. In fact, they may have as much as tripled in the two years alone, with some media companies like The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, National Journal, and More magazine adding events centered around women’s empowerment and achievement in the workplace. While Haughney and Kaufman include evidence that the number of high-ranking women in business has increased, they also point to the fact that media publications are facing reduced newsstand and advertising sales and consequently hold these ticketed conferences in order to supplement their revenue. With the price of admission to Fortune’s conference at $8,500, this practice raises questions of the intersection of class and gender, although the number of attendees remains nonetheless high, perhaps suggesting, according Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, that we might be in the midst of the third wave of feminism.

Yazidi Village Kidnappings
In early August, 5 women were abducted from their Yazidi village of Kocho, in the Sinjar Mountains of Iraq and taken to the city of Mosul, nearly 100 miles away. They were 5 out of a group of 65 elderly women and 165 unmarried women abducted by the terrorist group, the Islamic State (IS). Yazidi is a faith with pre-Christian roots, primarily practiced in Iraq (though there has been significant immigration to Germany) that IS targets because they consider it too complicated and deviant from “straightforward” Islam. As a result, up to 400,000 Yazidi people have been driven out of their homes into Northern Iraq, and more than 5,000 women have been abducted. The 5 women interviewed for this article report that, in Mosul, a marketplace had been set up in the city center to sell women, with Christian women priced higher than Yazidi women. Some of the women abducted were raped immediately. Of the 5,000, only 43 have returned.

Women in Law
Two women have recently gained top positions at major US law firms. Litigator Jami Wintz McKeon became the first female chair at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and white-collar litigator Therese Pritchard became the first female chair at Bryan Cave LLP. Given that women account for only ⅓ of lawyers and judges in the country, and only 17% of equity partners at major law firms, the legal profession remains stolidly a boys’ club. Moreover, the number of women who head major law firms is fewer than ten, and only 4% of law firms have women as managing partners, down from 8% in 2008. In light of these statistics, the appointment of litigators Wintz McKeon and Pritchard are all the more significant; they represent the hopes that, in the face of adversity, women can aspire to and can achieve top positions in, not only in law, but also business, academia, etc. Diversity without diminishment of meritocracy is possible, as McKeon says, and the visibility of women in leadership positions is crucial to the empowerment and equality of the sexes.

Steve Harvey Launches Dating Site
Jeff Bercovici of writes that Steve Harvey has launched a “female-friendly” dating site called Delightful, which will promote longer-term relationships. “Women are wired differently,” Harvey says. “Women don’t really want to just date. They want to date with the hope that it leads to a relationship.”

While men don’t mind dating several women at once and “playing the field,” he continues, “A lot of women have that biological clock that ticks in them.”

Delightful will cater primarily to women, but also to men with a “womanly interest” in settling down.  The site will provide tips on “how to be more dateable” for women and “how to properly treat a lady” for men.

Though Harvey seems to truly believe he is doing something positive for women, these characterizations of men and women are extraordinarily outdated and offensive. The idea that all women want or need the help of Steve Harvey to find a good man before their “biological clock” runs out is also absurd.

Misogyny and Social Media
A little lengthy but worth the read, the Atlantic’s Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly wrote a shocking piece on misogyny and social media.  Once largely hidden from view, violence and brutality against women is being exposed on websites like Facebook and Twitter. A report from the research and policy organization Demos found 6 million instances of the word “slut” or whore” on Twitter between 12/26/13 and 2/9/14, and an estimated 20 percent of those tweets appeared to be threatening. These verbal attacks on women, as well as photos and videos of rape and assault, have sparked an important discussion on free speech and misogyny, but the issue persists.

Emma Watson? Jennifer Lawrence? These Aren't The Feminists You're Looking For

This opinion piece by Roxane Gay in The Guardian explores the problem with celebrity feminism. Gay argues that feminism is only accepted when presented in the "right package," referring to celebrities. It is unfortunate that women and men only understand and accept the ideals of feminism when presented by famous figures such as Beyonce and Emma Watson. If this ideal persists, feminism will seem nothing more than a "seductive marketing campaign."

Friday, September 26, 2014

What We've Been Reading - 9/26

Boston Globe: Memo to candidates courting women: Stop trying so hard! 
In the Boston Globe this week, Shirley Leung called on gubernatorial candidates to “stop trying so hard” to court the woman vote.

Leung insisted that candidates Baker and Coakley start focusing on the economy, education, and the environment to attract women voters. “We’re so much more than just pro-choice or antiabortion,” she writes.

Leung applauded Coakley’s focuses on early education, earned sick time, and buffer zones, adding that just because she’s the only female in the race, “Coakley is not taking women for granted.”

Baker has made a few blunders in his attempt for the female vote. This past summer, he said the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision “doesn’t matter” to Massachusetts women, a statement he later retracted. The other day, he called a television reporter “sweetheart” during an interview. At one of his Women for Charlie events last week, he avoided campaign issues and brought his 17-year-old daughter in to emcee the event.

Emma Watson Deals with Negative Consequences After "HeforShe" Launch at the UN
 The Huffington Post’s Emma Gray writes about both the wonderful and horrific events that followed Emma Watson’s powerful speech on Feminism earlier this week. Watson, best known from the Harry Potter film series, spoke about fighting for more women’s rights and a more equal society. She encouraged both women and men to stand together in this fight. This has spurred the solidarity movement ‘HeforShe.’ Many female and male celebrities took to Twitter to show their support of both Watson, and the movement. These include Tom Hiddleston and Forest Whitaker among numerous others.

The positivity did not last long, because the very next day an internet group, following the success and the effects of Watson’s speech, threatened to release intimate pictures of her. Though the threat made to Watson was hollow and was made to drive popularity of the group’s website, it still caused a lot of pain and upheaval. It is actions like this that ironically further validates Watson’s call for action. Gray argues the fact “that a woman’s body can still be used as a weapon against her is exactly how we know that the gender equality that Watson is using the UN platform to advocate for has yet to be achieved.”

Gray also enumerates other cases in which other women have been sexually harassed by strangers and are targeted because they are interested in improving the female experience. One case relates to Linda West who in June 2013 debated the part of rape jokes. In return she received multiple rape threats. Another case is that of Caroline Criado-Perez who campaigned for  a woman to be put on the UK’s £10 bill. She was also in turn bombarded with rape as well as death threats. Gray states that situations like these or really just other case of inequality ultimately come down to power. It’s about keeping current institutions intact and threatening those who dare to change them. This should however not discourage us but be additional fuel to work towards gender equality.
30 Most Dynamic Women Candidates Seeking Office in 2014
MSNBC introduced ’30 in 30,’ a new series of the 30 most dynamic women candidates running for office in 2014. Here is a short presentation of these powerful women:
Maura Healey (D) is running for office for the first time. She was previously a civil rights attorney and a prosecutor. Healey: “I’m a foot shorter than my opponent, but I’m the only professional basketball player in the race.”
Martha Coakley (D) is the first woman to serve as Attorney General in Massachusetts. Coakley: “We know that a strong grassroots campaign is not just the best way to win, it’s the only way to win.”
Both Maura Healey and Martha Coakley are MWPC PAC-endorsed candidates; the MWPC is very proud of them!
Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), if elected, would become Kentucky’s first woman Senator. Interesting facts are that former President Clinton has campaigned for her and that she is the youngest woman currently serving as secretary of state. Grimes: “I’ll gladly stack this ‘empty dress’ up against Mitch McConnell’s empty head any day.”
Emily Cain (D) is the youngest woman legislator in history to hold the House minority leader position in Maine. Cain: “I am the only person in this race with a proven track record of working across the aisle and overcoming gridlock.”
Monica Wehby (R), if elected, would become the first female Senator from Oregon in 47 years. She was also the first woman to enroll and graduate from the UCLA neurosurgeon program. Wehby: “The race I want to run is the one that would be ran regardless of what gender I am.”
Kay Hagan (D) comes out on top with the women vote, according to the PPP poll, 44% to 27%. Hagan: “…to the women reading right now, consider this your recruitment [to run for public office].”
Ann Callis (D) is the first female chief judge in Illinois’ third Judicial district. Callis:”I want to be a voice for the thousands of women in our community who work hard, play by the rules, and still are struggling to get ahead.”
Shelley Moore Capito (R), if elected, would become the first Republican senator form West Virginia in more than 50 years and the first female U.S. senator from the state. Capito: “This is going to be a tough race and West Virginians deserve a Senator who is going to fight.”
Jeanne Shaheen (D) is New Hampshire’s first female governor – and first female U.S. senator from the state – she is the first woman in U.S. history to be elected as both governor and senator. Shaheen: “My woman colleagues in the Senate inspire me every day.”
Rebecca Kleefisch (R) became the first the LG to face and survive a recall attempt. Kleefisch: “…my time in politics has proven my parents right over and over: girls are just as good as boys…and at some things…better.”
Wendy Davis (D) stood for nearly 12 hours on the Senate floor to filibuster an anti-abortion bill that shut down multiple abortion clinics across Texas. Davis: “I’m proud to be an elected official who has fought for issues that have a unique impact on women.”
Amanda Renteria (D) is the Senate’s first-ever Latina chief of staff. RenteriaL “In this country, in today’s society, there is no reason we are still fighting battles of equality.”
Connie Pillich (D), an Air Force veteran, wishes to protect the state’s pensions and safeguard Ohio’s tax dollars. Pillich: “In the Air Force, there was never a Democratic or Republican way to get things done – just the right way."
Aimee Belgrad (D) won her party’s nomination with 84% of the vote to challenge Republican Tom MacArthur. Belgrad: “Alice Paul stepped up, spoke out and took risks for what she believed in – that woman deserved the right to vote. She is a true inspiration.”
Nina Turner (D), if elected, would be the first African-American candidate elected to a statewide office. Turner: “All you need to be successful in live: your wishbone to dream big, your jawbone to speak the truth, and your backbone to persevere through it all.”
Lucy Flores (D) has said, if elected, she would help every Nevadan not just the privileged few. Flores: “I don’t have the typical background of most politicians…no matter your past, it is possible to change your future.”
Mary Burke (D) became the first woman nominated by a major party for governor of Wisconsin. Burke: “Wisconsin has everything it takes to have one of the strongest economies, but under Scott Walker, we’re not even close.”
Cheri Bustos (D) is the first women elected in the District. Bustos: “Advice to young women looking to pursue politics is to do what you say you’re going to do. Follow through. Exceed expectations.”
Kate Marshall (D) is the current Nevada treasurer and was endorsed by EMILY’s List. Marshall: “I’ve been the only women in almost every room I have worked in…you have to develop thick skin.”
Kyrsten Sinema (D) has supported same-sex marriage and women’s rights in Arizona. Sinema: “Don’t listen to the people who tell you can’t follow your dreams…ignore the haters and go to what you love.”
Gwen Graham (D) is daughter of former Florida Governor and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham. Graham: “If there’s one thing Congress needs more than anything else right now, it’s some common ground.”
Natalie Tennant (D) is the first Democratic woman secretary of state in West Virginia history. Tennant: “A lot has been said about two women running, but it isn’t about being the first woman, it’s about being the best woman.”
Mia Love (R), if elected, would become first black Republican in Congress and the first person of color to represent Utah. Love: “I’m perfectly comfortable with who I am and what I believe in, and I never allow anyone to put me in a box.”
Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D) was the youngest female elected official in the state of New Mexico. Oliver: “It takes a lot of courage to break that glass ceiling…and there are a lot of naysayers to defy along the way.”
Gina Raimondo (D) is current general treasurer of Rhode Island. She has faced criticism and a lawsuit for making changes to the pension system, including increasing the retirement age. Raimondo: “My mom always said, if you want something done, ask a busy woman.”
Bonnie Watson Coleman (D) is the first African-American house majority leader of the NJ general assembly and first African-American woman to win the democratic nomination. Coleman: “There has not been a woman elected to Congress in New Jersey since 1982.”
Alma Adams (D) points out that North Carolina hasn’t elected a new Democratic woman to the House in over 20 years. Adams: “I will bring to the role voices of the people I’ve fought for. Also, my famous hat collection.”
Staci Appel (D) is running for a U.S. House seat in Iowa, one of only two states that have not yet elected a woman to Congress. Appel: “This is a big opportunity to break up a political boys club and finally break Iowa’s glass ceiling.”
Young Kim (R) is marking the first time voters will be choosing between two women in the district: her and Sharon Quirk-Silva. Kim: “For the first time ever, voters will have the choice to choose between two women to represent them in the state assembly in this area.”
Mary Landrieu (D) is the first female U.S. Senator from Louisiana and first women to head the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Landrieu: “People may not agree with me, but they know where I stand and that I’ll fight…my opponents will have a hard time making this case.”
MSNBC’s ’30 in 30’ Women to Watch in 2014 can be found here:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Today is National Voter Registration Day

Happy National Voter Registration Day (NVRD)! In 2008, 6 million Americans never cast a vote because they missed a registration deadline or did not know how to register in the first place. NVRD is working to change that in 2014.

Today, volunteers, celebrities, and organizations nationwide are working to raise awareness of voter registration opportunities. The League of Women Voters is sending out volunteers from 400 chapters to hold thousands of voter registration events across the country. If you haven’t registered yet, the deadline in Massachusetts to register for the upcoming General Election is October 15th. For those already registered, do your part on NVRD and encourage a friend to register as well! Studies show that personally asking someone to register and vote is the single most effective method.

For all the information you’ll need to vote, visit To register in MA, visit
This is a high stakes election year for women in Massachusetts – make sure your voice is 

Friday, September 19, 2014

What We've Been Reading- 9/19

MSNBC: Women in Politics: College Edition:
This is part of a new series “Women of 2014” from MSNBC that shines the spotlight on women in politics this year. This section of the series is particularly exciting because it focuses on what young women leaders are doing to improve their college communities. Read more here and think about nominating an exceptional woman you know! Massachusetts Primary Signals Women Gaining Clout:
This quick read detailed the victories for women in the Sept 9 primary in MA and the exciting progress those victories signal. Stephanie Schriock, President of Emily’s List is quoted saying ‘‘Momentum for women’s leadership has really been growing in Massachusetts in a state that had historically been tough for women candidates.” It’s exciting to see Massachusetts making strides towards equity in representation! Read more here:

The Guardian: Scottish independence debate: women hold the key far from Westminster:  
The piece, written before the results of the recent referendum in Scotland, commented on the key role women were set to play in determining the outcome. With both parties on both sides talking about their plans to address issues like affordable childcare this article says “Women are at the forefront of this campaign in a way that is currently inconceivable in British politics.” It will be interesting to look at analysis of exactly how women voted in the recent referendum, but one thing is for sure this is yet another example of the central role women can and should play in politics. Read more here:

Paycheck Fairness Act Struck Down Again
Irin Carmon of MSNBC wrote an article this Monday on yet another vote against the Paycheck Fairness Act. This week, Senate Republicans voted down the bill for a fourth time in two years. Claiming that the legislation will encourage frivolous lawsuits, opposers have called these votes a waste of time. Politico has also reported that Senate Republicans allowed debate of the bill in order to “eat up Senate floor time” that could have been devoted to votes on the minimum wage or a response to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby contraception decision.
“Senate Republicans had the opportunity to vote for equal pay legislation and affect real change for hardworking women, but they chose to…cling to their extreme agenda at the expense of millions of women and families,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List.

Maternity Leave Discrimination
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux of the Washington Post revealed the shocking story of a Virginia couple who were denied a loan. Though their mortgage application had been approved and the closing for their new home had been scheduled, FirstBank reversed its decision upon learning that the wife was on maternity leave. In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has opened 15 maternity leave discrimination investigations just this year.

Why is this happening? The banks claim that maternity leaves result in the loss of income and the chance that the women may not return to work. “America is just waking up to the fact that moms are in the labor force and we are in the labor force to stay,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising. In fact, three-quarters of American mothers are in the workforce, and four in ten mothers are now the sole or primary breadwinners for their families.

Further, banks are requiring families to write “motivational letters” stating why they wanted a house and their family planning schedule. Linda Falcão, a civil rights attorney from Pennsylvania, was asked to write such a letter. “I felt genuinely humiliated and demeaned to have to discuss, with a total stranger, whether my husband and I were going to have more children or not,” said Falcão. “I didn’t then, and don’t now, think it’s any of their business.”

Women in Rwanda: Empowered And Motivated To Lead But Feeble To Forget|
In 1994, when President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that responded to the inequality encountered by women victims in state justice system, between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the genocide in Rwanda. As Rene Degni-Segui stated in his 1996 UN Special Rapporteur report, “rape was the rule and its absence the exception.” The Hutu majority, with its goal to destroy moderate Hutu and Tutsi, especially targeted women because they wanted to eradicate them and their potential descendants: Tutsi women were not supposed to have reproductive capabilities because future generations of the Tutsi population wanted to be prevented. In order to make their suffering even worse and their death slow, HIV-infected men were recruited to rape women in Rwanda.

Today, 20 years later, Rwanda has the highest percentage of women appointed to government in the world: 64% of women control and make decisions for Rwanda compared to 18% of women appointed to government in the United States that take an infamous 86th place (after Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan among the others). The post-genocide population was made up of about 70% of women who were left with low financial capabilities and more importantly with no reason to continue their lives. However, mutual strength and support empowered them and made them realize that it was their turn now to take care of their country.

Women knew more about family life, health, education and other need of the community than men. Before the genocide men were making the decisions but just because women did not have means to do so: their obligations were based at home, not in the government. Starting from the local level, women established various councils such as a local women’s council rebuilding their faith in better tomorrow.

Unfortunately, these moments of suffering and pain cannot be simply faded into oblivion. According to the Sowetan’s article form today, “the country struggles with a legacy of traumatized women, unwanted children and high HIV rates.” Women’s groups put in a lot of effort to raise awareness and helped children who experienced trauma and mental health problems when they were told about their origins. However, it is hard to ease inner pain.

The transition of gender equality in Rwanda made a sincere precedent that all countries, developing and developed, democratic and autocratic, should follow. It is needless to say that it should not have happened as a consequence of a genocidal mass slaughter. However, it is pertinent to stand up when you fall down and continue walking with your head up. Many women and their children still suffer in Rwanda and it is most likely that their agony will be everlasting. They need support from the global society, which also has to make sure that the Rwandan genocide does not happen again.