Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /afs/ir.stanford.edu/group/womenscourage/cgi-bin/blogs/wpmu-settings.php on line 45
February » 2012 » Women's Courage

Archive for February, 2012

IRQR: Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees

February 23rd, 2012

It is incredibly difficult to find information about queer rights organizations in highly conservative countries, and those in which homosexuality is illegal, because most of their activity is covert. However, if these individuals are able to organize and seek international assistance, organizations such as The Global Fund for Women can provide grants to nonprofits or local groups dedicated to queer men and women’s rights. These organizations range from support groups to specialized healthcare clinics, and underground networks working to unite a silenced LGBTQ community that can, one day, hopefully fight for legal equality and protection. Of these groups, I have chosen to highlight one specific organization: an international NGO assisting in asylum cases for queer Iranian refugees.


As mentioned previously, in the Iranian Islamic Penal Code, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death. It is not uncommon to hear of public executions, such as the recent hanging of two teenage boys suspected of taking part in same-sex intimate behavior, or honor killings due to alleged homosexual behavior. The Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, IRQR, is an international, nonprofit queer human rights organization based in Toronto, Canada. Their specific mission is to help Iranian members of the queer community who are asylum seekers/refugees by “increasing public awareness of their plight and to provide continued support to them where and when it is required.” Queer Iranian refugees generally escape to Turkey as travel is relatively cheap and easy and visas are not required. It is important to realize, however, that Turkey is also a homophobic and transphobic society and queer people are not physically safe there either. During this stopover, IRQR works to process many cases of queer refugees in finding asylum and eventual residence in several different western countries. In 2010 IRQR helped to “process 109 cases of queer asylum seekers”. For instance, consider the case of Kiarash Zangeneh who lived in Isfahan, Iran’s third-largest city, and worked as a graphic designer. Kiarash changed his name in hopes of evading police who were already suspicious of his volunteer work with international LGBT rights nonprofits. When he learned that authorities were questioning his friends and family, Zangeneh decided he must flee the country. Zangeneh stated that,  “(His) last day in Iran (he) was thinking, ‘Okay, I will go away for at most three months,’” he recalls. “ (and there were) Some people I didn’t even say goodbye to. My parents, I didn’t (even) hug them.” It is now over a year later and he still has yet to see his family, however, he was able to meet with IRQR employees in Turkey who are well aware of the “railroad” queer Iranians must take out of their country.  Zangeneh was escorted to the United Nations Refugee Agency with IRQR members to apply for refugee status. He was quickly granted temporary residency and is in the process of applying for asylum to a third country, Australia, a process that may take up to two years.


Aside from assisting in asylum cases, IRQR also states, “Through our Persian magazine for queer people and through a weekly radio program called RAHA (“Liberated”) we can (also) reach more people. We  (aim to) broadcast this radio program by satellite, so that those without access to the Internet will be able to listen to us (as well).” The program disperses educational information and acts as a network for the queer Iranian community.


While this organization presents a more downstream solution and it is impossible to simply relocate all of the members of the queer community in perhaps “more liberal western countries,” I believe this organization is a positive step in supporting queer community members. At the same time, promoting more education and providing a forum via satellite radio to unite members and disseminate information is a great step, although quite risky in such a censored and conservative country.











Using Media to End Violence

February 23rd, 2012

When creating an effective intervention for issues of violence against women, I believe that men need to be involved at a very basic level. Social expectations need to be challenged and the power in a relationship needs to be explicitly examined. I came across a study published by the World Health Organization that had evaluated the effectiveness of gender interventions by examining 54 different programs. One deemed highly effective among them was run by a Puntos de Encuentro which is an organization striving for gender equality in Nicaragua. They use a combination of mass communication strategies and capacity-building techniques in order to make a difference.

The control group was heterosexual men between the ages of 20 and 39. There was a mass media campaign over the course of three months that centered around men’s ability and responsibility in helping to prevent or reduce violence against their partners. Both the control and variable groups were measured over the course of a year. This campaign used television, radio and posters to directly address the gender-power differential. They increased awareness about violence against women in an accessible form, placed responsibility on all viewers to care about the injustice of violence against women and intervene.

When measured against the control group, the target population saw a %15 increase in the belief that they can prevent gender-based violence. There was also a %15 increase in the belief that men’s violence affects community development. The transformative effect on women was incredible. When questioned, 76% of women believed the campaign had generated positive changes in men’s attitudes and behavior.

This media intervention used mediums that allowed violence against women to be incorporated into everyday though and conversation. Statistically significant results showed that they also effectively challenged men’s perceptions on the male role in gender-based violence as well as the profound impact that violence can have, even outside of a relationship. This campaign could be easily replicated in communities across the glob. Though no intervention can eradicate violence against women; recognizing the issue in everyday life and conversation can have a significant impact in raising awareness and rejecting complacency.


Works Referenced:

Barker, Gary, Christine Ricardo and Marcos Nascimento. Engaging Men and Boys in Changing Gender-Based Inequity in Health: Evidence from Programme Interventions. World Health Organization Publication: January 1, 2007.

Puntos de Encuentro. http://www.puntos.org.ni/ .


Predictors of Revictimization

February 23rd, 2012

Physical and sexual abuse have immediate and long term effects on a woman’s mental health, as seen by numerous studies. An interesting study was recently done that looked to predict the likelihood of a particular college women being raped based on multiple childhood and situational variables. The study performed a preliminary screening of over 250 women and followed with an 8-month follow-up period to test their “model of victimization.” The precursors included child sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, as well as whether or not the respondent abused substances or had ‘risky’ sexual behavior. The study found that 9% of the participants were raped, and 88% of the assaults involved substance use by the victim. The study also indicated that forms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) predicted substance use, rape and sexual behavior. Essentially, the study concluded that substance use was a primary factor in the occurrence of forced rape within college populations. While this is true, it was noted that women who experienced prior child sexual abuse were up to 11 times more likely to experience adult sexual abuse. I find this statistic interesting and question why this correlation exists. Is this because the lasting mental health effects encourage alcohol consumption and other substance abuse, resulting in a higher probability of rape, or could it be due to an unfortunate ‘victimized’ labeling by the women, disabling her from moving forward with a health sexual lifestyle. The relationships are high amongst several of these variables, including PTSD, substance use, and risky sexual behavior. It was reported that between 48% and 85% of child abuse survivors have PTSD at some point in their lifetime. Furthermore, over 50% of the female participants reported using alcohol prior to their assault.

Child sexual abuse was another key indicator were experiences of child sexual abuse, as this leads to revictimization at later times, particularly in college. This statistic reveals that even at a young age, girls feel the effects of sexual abuse and rape for many years, if not their whole lives. Studies have been conducted to better understand other predictors of revictimization. Again, repeating elements were post-traumatic stress disorder from previous sexual assaults, substance abuse, and risky sexual behavior. Though substance abuse is far less studied than alcohol use, it is still identified as a predictor for revicitimization and similarly impacts risk. In one study, sexually assaulted individuals were 2.6 times more likely to report a history of drug abuse or dependence prior to the assault. While this number may seem small, I think it is crucial to identify any actions that might lead to sexual assault and revictimization. As I wrote in a previous blog, one intervention method is to involve the males in a dialogue to better understand the gravity and consequences of sexual assault. However, on another spectrum, identifying predictors and vulnerable populations is another possible intervention, as these women can be offered better counseling, resources, and education.

Often times on university campuses, sexual assault is simply brushed under the rug and not taken as serious as it should be. Whether this is due to excessive alcohol usage or feeling that one is safe because many people they spend time with are their friends and acquaintances that they are safe. Yet, it is on college compases where individuals need to be most aware, not only of sexual assault and how it affects individuals, but also what it even is. Many assaulters may not define their actions as sexual assault, and because rape is such a highly stigmatized word, and rightly so, very few will identify themselves as such or label another as such. Looking at risky sexual behavior, it has been indicated that sexual behavior could increase vulnerability for sexual assault in at least two ways. First, having a greater number of sexual partner can increase the likelihood of running into a partner that is more aggressive and, second, perpetrators may perceive very sexually active women to be better and more suitable targets for sexual aggression. The study also linked child sexual abuse with sexual activity, as child sexual abuse survivors appeared to be more sexually active, which also may ultimately lead to revictimization of sexual abuse. The study further went on to look at a “Tension-Reducing Model.” They hypothesized that alcohol or drug abuse is influenced by an individual’s attempts to escape from painful states, either in the past or present, suggesting that the link between PTSD and substance use is “mediated by coping and that this explanation is more relevant to women than men. Sexual abuse was also conceptualized as a tension-reducing agent; as a behavior utilized to help regulate emotional experience and allow one to take control of their actions and body. However, this unfortunately has also been linked to abuse and revictimization.

While sexual abuse should never occur, especially on college campuses amongst educated and fortunate individuals in a shared learning space, it does happen regularly and it is important to have any type of understanding as to why, and what may lead to revictimization of individuals. In the next blog, I hope to explore what interventions are occurring amongst college campuses to help more vulnerable women and those who have already been assaulted in order to prevent revictimization. Whether this is support groups, sexual education classes, open dialogue between men and women, or more effective alcohol education policies, I feel these are ways to help reduce the amount of abuse occurring on college campuses.



Abbey, A., Ross, L. T., McDuffie, D., & McAuslan, P. (1996). Alcohol and dating risk factors for sexual assault among college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 147-169.

Bissonnette, M., Wall, A.-M., Wekerle, C., McKee, S. A., Hinson, R. E., & Tsianis, D. (1997). Is a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) mediational model a valid framework for understanding undergraduate drinking behavior? Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 21, p. 54A.

Dermen, K. H., Cooper, M. L., & Agocha, V. B. (1998). Sex-related alcohol expectancies as moderators of the relationship between alcohol use and risky sex in adolescents. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 59, 71-77.

Norris, J., & Cubbins, L. A. (1992). Dating, drinking, and rape: Effects of victim’s and assailant’s alcohol consumption on judgments of their behavior and traits. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 16, 179-191.

Forced Marriage, Forced Sex

February 23rd, 2012

In light of our recent discussions surrounding violence against women, I decided to focus on forced sex, otherwise known as marital rape, within the context of early child marriage. Marital rape, until recently, was considered an oxymoron. In many parts of the world, it is still considered an oxymoron.4 Even in the United States, marital rape is perceived as a lesser crime than other forms of rape, and a number of people still question whether it is even possible to rape one’s wife.5

As we discussed, domestic violence around the world has gained increasing attention in the last few years. Sexual abuse, however, remains less well recognized, yet often has devastating consequences for women and especially young girls.  The continuing practice of child marriage is a significant contributor to the widespread prevalence of sexual abuse. “It is, in effect, the socially legitimized institutionalization of marital rape- the rape of (sometimes very) young girls.”1 In most cases, the younger a girl is, the more vulnerable she is to sexual violence in marriage. Studies around the world have shown that the earlier the sexual initiation among girls, the more likely it is to have been forced. In a study conducted in Calcutta, women discussed instances of sexual intercourse before the onset of menstruation, and early and very painful sex forced by their husbands. In nearly half of the cases of forced sex, husbands were aware of their wives’ unwillingness to have sex; however, in 80% of these cases, the rape continued.1

Beyond physical force, sexual coercion among married couples can also result from submission to sex as a result of threats of abandonment or fear of abuse. In discussions with a few young women in India, attempting to abstain from sex was met with arguments and threats of remarriage. One recently delivered woman recalls her uneasiness about having sex while pregnant; “he used to tell me that he would remarry if I refused to have sex with him”. Thus, it continued against her will until the ninth month of pregnancy.3 In other instances, feelings of helplessness are expressed; “I was scared. I felt he would beat me if I refused. I did not like sleeping with him”.3

Young girls are also particularly vulnerable to martial rape due to a lack of access to information about sex. In many places, the cultural silence that surrounds sex creates brides who are ill prepared to take on the expected responsibility of a wife. This problem is only compounded considering a young bride. An account from a 36-year-old woman in Bangladesh highlights these issues- “When I got married, I was very young. Even my menstruation had not started. It started seven to eight months after my marriage. At this age, how am I supposed to know about married life? Just before my departure to my in-laws’ house, my Bhabi (sister-in-law) told me about sex life, and advised me to ‘go close to my husband when he pulls you toward him, and whatever he says you should follow. Never say no to him’”.2

This woman’s account also highlights another issue within child marriage- the unequal power relations that exist between men and women is only compounded by very young brides. With an older and more experienced husband, a young bride has very little negotiating power over how, when and where sexual intercourse takes place. On the contrary, the importance of submission is impressed upon soon to be married girls. In addition, gender norms leave very little room for girls to express any sexual rights. A young woman in India recalls, “I told my sisters-in-law that my husband had forced me into sex, but they told me that this is part of life.”3

And for many young women, who are forced to drop out of school and get married, economic independence is not an option. Without an alternative support system, providing sex to their husbands is a form of security for many young wives. In numerous countries, access to legal support is also denied to women suffering from forced sex within marriage. In India, for example, the penal code does not recognize marital rape as an offense unless the woman is under 15 years old, or is separated from her husband.

Beyond the physical component, the psychological effects of marital rape can be devastating, especially among young girls who haven’t reached physical maturity, let alone emotional maturity. Short-term effects of sexual violence include anxiety, fear, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation. Long term effects include sleep problems, sexual distress, negative feelings, and depression.5 The taboo surrounding the discussion of sexual issues only serves to further isolate girls, strengthening many of the emotional issues mentioned above.

I think the first step in combating the issue of marital rape is a recognition that one, marital rape exists, and two, that it is wrong. Men are not entitled to sex simply because they are married. And when young brides are thrown into the equation, the issue is only magnified.


  1. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/741922829
  2. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/741954315
  3. http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=t3zSB_cro40C&oi=fnd&pg=PA59&dq=mental+of+forced+early+child+marriage+africa&ots=dM-FMKMwd_&sig=q4Lrb8_TFltMu-x7v6zOOjTxghI#v=onepage&q=mental%20of%20forced%20early%20child%20marriage%20africa&f=false
  4. http://www.springerlink.com/content/ubdub7nqct3l6m3m/fulltext.pdf
  5. http://vawnet.org/assoc_files_vawnet/ar_maritalraperevised.pdf


Shattering the Glass Ceiling – Beat Men by being a Woman

February 23rd, 2012

This week, I wanted to focus my research on the gender gap specifically in upper management, often called the “glass ceiling”.  Just to set the stage statistically, while women are now approximately half of America’s workforce (48%[1]) they represent only 15.6% of the corporate office positions in American Fortune 500 companies[2].  There have been a lot of studies that look at this issue, quantify it, analyze it and dig around for the reasons WHY it is happening.  However, I want this particular blog to explore a SOLUTION to this gap, which are much harder to find.

First, I found Baumgartner and Schneider’s study that recounted the stories of 7 different women’s journey into upper management These women presented their stories to illuminate proven methods for breaking through the glass ceiling, leading to 4 main strategies:

  1. Set goals – having the ability to raise or lower your glass ceiling depending on what you want
  2. Promote yourself – “push yourself but do not push yourself on others”
  3. Be very attentive to your physical appearance – “men are ‘visual creatures and if you look haphazard they will make judgments.’’”
  4. Do research and educate yourself – make use of internships and lower level positions to gain experience

I think that many of these points do not address women in particular, however I wanted to point out one strategy that unfortunately I think really hits home for me as a man.  Having also worked in a major corporation (Goldman Sachs) I have also seen this strategy in practice, and it is number 3.  I think that despite the fact it may not be fair or just, women need to always be put together at the workplace.  I think there is some misconception about “hot” women vs. being “put together”.  There is definitely a difference, one you can control and one you cannot.  However, I have seen my managers reprimand my male colleagues for not having shaved, however, they do not confront female workers who look like they might have been rushed in the morning, and they will make silent judgments.  I think this has also contributed to the glass portion of the ceiling in that women won’t even notice they are being evaluated in a negative way.  In no way do I mean to suggest this is the most important factor, but I just wanted to point it out.

More broadly, this study also discussed using women’s networks to the fullest extent and anticipating and overcoming stereotypes.  I think it was a great anecdotal study that actually provided useful strategies, albeit somewhat general.

Another great study I found is from Judy Rosenor, who has shown that women’s style of leadership is generally different from their male counterparts, but just as effective in leading mid-size organizations.  She has also analyzed high-level female executives to identify what factors have allowed them to be successful, traits that I see as critical to shattering the glass ceiling for our female posterity.  She emphasizes they succeed by “not by adopting the style and habits that have proved successful for men but by drawing on the skills and attitudes they developed from their shared experience as women”.[3]

To summarize her findings, basically, while male leaders see their role in companies as transactional (exchanges rewards for services from subordinates), women tend to look at their role as transformational (motivating people to agree upon a goal and work toward it), with the latter approach being more effective than the former.  In order to implement transformational leadership, it is important for women to draw upon some so-called feminine traits:

  • Encourage participation
  • Share power and information
  • Enhance the self-worth of others

I think the lesson here is that that are passages within the female mind that can tap into certain abilities and traits more easily than men which will lead them to be just as successful within leadership positions and executive roles.  The friction in arriving there often is associated with not being able to act “manly enough” or having more family-career conflict.  While I cannot dispute these may be obstacles, I see these aforementioned publications as offering the argument that women may be ignoring their inherent strengths in corporate America by denying themselves the ability to act exactly how they are – women.  Additionally, the first paper teaches us that the vast majority of these career success is self-directed, while fair or unfair relative to the path of men.

[1] Mindy S. Baumgartner and David E. Schneider:
Perceptions of Women in Management: A Thematic Analysis of Razing the

Glass Ceiling.  Journal of Career Development August 2010 37: 559-576, first published on January 11, 2010doi:10.1177/0894845309352242

[2] (Joy, 2008)

[3] Ways Women Lead, Judy B. Rosener

The International Medical Corps: Their Holistic and Sustainable Approach to Gender Based Violence

February 23rd, 2012

After presenting this week about the health effects of rape and the state of women in refugee situations, I found it necessary to research more about the positive and promising interventions that are happening to raise awareness, prevent, and treat those women and families affected by gender based violence in refugee and conflict situations.  I specifically wanted to focus on the International Medical Corps (IMC), a humanitarian organization I have been researching along with Doctors Without Borders.   I also wanted to find sustainable programs within the IMC that were implemented at the community level and whose goal was to not only treat the physical effects of rape and gender based violence, but to also get to the root causes of violence against women.  I found two promising projects; one was a community based prevention program in Afghanistan refugee camps in Pakistan about gender based violence.  The other was about the IMC’s new Care, Access, Safety, & Empowerment (CASE) & Behavior Change Communication (BCC) program in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Gender based violence in refugee camps and areas of conflict is an enormous human rights and health issue.  The IMC defines gender based violence as “actual or threatened physical, sexual, and psychological violence that occurs either within the family or in the broader community.”[1]  Further, rape of woman has become a widespread horror in times of conflict that is sadly seen as the norm during wars and in refugee camps.  During the Rwandan Genocide, there were an estimated half a million accounts of rape.[2]  With all of these numbers, it is hard to see hope in the issues of gender based violence during conflict.  However, as we have learned, there is comprehensive and dedicated work being done to address these issues.

A report done by the International Medical Corps in September 2008 of three camps of Afghan refugees in Pakistan revealed that it is possible to change the long standing beliefs surrounding gender based violence held by men and women.  I was particularly interested in positive interventions against violence of women in this area because my supplementary reading is “A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ and am finding the stories of violence horrifying.  The IMC initiated a community based prevention and response initiative in these camps; they did a baseline survey to assess the knowledge and attitudes of gender based violence of men and women in camps.  They found that 50% of these women had experienced physical or emotional violence.  Then the IMC worked closely with community leaders to create a culturally appropriate lesson plan to cover a range of topics including human rights, and women as well as physical, psychological, and sexual violence. I found the study promising because the IMC worked with religious leaders to find messages against violence in the Islamic teachings and Qur’an.  The fact that the lessons involved community leaders and were culturally appropriate is key.  There were a total of 9 seminars for men and 11 for women, and over 1,000 people participated[3].  In August there was a follow up survey and many of the results are interesting.

The study states that ‘There was a significant decrease in the number of men who agreed with the statement that it is a man’s right to beat a woman and there was “ a large drop in the number of women who responded affirmatively to the statement that there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten.”  They study also found that “Post-intervention Interviews show an 11-point increase in female respondents’ knowledge of women’s rights under Islam and a 32-point increase in their knowledge that a woman has the right to refuse sex with her husband.”[4]  This community based approach to changing the attitudes of gender based violence between men and women should be taken to other refugee camps and offers hope to prevent future violence against women.

Besides the gender based violence study in Pakistan, the IMC is committed to addressing violence in areas of conflict, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  A recent report found that “Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are raped at a rate of nearly one per minute.”[5]  The IMC implemented the Care, Access, Safety and Empowerment (CASE) and “Behavior Change Communications” programs over the next five years to provide medical, psychological, social, legal, and economic services for survivors of gender based violence in the eastern area of the DRC[6]. The IMC states that they aim to provide medical care for “4,000 male and female survivors of sexual violence, legal assistance for 2,300 survivors and vulnerable women, and psychosocial support for 16,300 women.”  What is even more promising is that they take a community based and holistic approach.  They train local health workers, community members, community and religious leaders, and the youth about preventing gender based violence; they not only aim to treat the physical effects of violence but are working to get at the root causes of gender based violence in the eastern DRC. [7]

By taking a holistic and community level approach to gender based violence, the International Medical Corps are moving beyond simply treating women and handing out medicine.  They are getting down to the root causes of gender based violence, aiming to change traditionally held attitudes of violence against women,  raise awareness of entire communities, and prevent future cases of rape and violence.  Their programs done in the 3 refugee camps in Pakistan and the eastern DRC need to be extended to reach more women affected by the horrors of gender based violence.

[1] “Gender Based Violence.” International Medical Corps. 23 Feb 2012. http://internationalmedicalcorps.org/GBV

[2] “War’s overlooked victims.” The Economist.  13 Jan 2011. 3 Feb 2012. http://www.economist.com/node/17900482

[3] ”Gender-Based Violence among Afghan Refugees : Summary of Post-intervention Survey Findings in Three Camps in Northwest.” International Medical Corps. Jan 2010. 23 Feb 2012.  http://internationalmedicalcorps.org/document.doc?id=65

 [4] ”Gender-Based Violence among Afghan Refugees: Summary of Post-intervention Survey Findings in Three Camps in Northwest.” International Medical Corps. Jan 2010. 23 Feb 2012.  http://internationalmedicalcorps.org/document.doc?id=65

[5] New Study Estimates One Woman Raped Per Minute in War-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.” International Medical Corps. 17 May 2012. 23 Feb 2012. http://internationalmedicalcorps.org/page.aspx?pid=2038

[6] “USAID Assistance Will Combat Sexual and Gender Based Violence in DRC.” USAid. Dec 2010. 23 Feb 2012.  http://www.usaid.gov/press/releases/2010/pr101214.html

[7]  “Care, Access, Safety, & Empowerment & Behavior Change Communication.” International Medical Corps. 23 Feb 2012. http://internationalmedicalcorps.org/page.aspx?pid=210

South African Union Building and Migrant Domestic Workers

February 23rd, 2012

Previously this quarter, my blogs have focused on the challenges that migrant women face abroad.  We have seen how migrant women are susceptible to labor rights violations; sexual, physical, and verbal abuse; lack of worker’s compensation; exploitation; and loss of power in another country. Given that a majority of migrant women are employed as domestic workers, I am going to focus on the power of labor unions as a solution to protecting the health, security, and wellbeing of migrant women.  An organization that is leading an effort is the South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union (SADSAWU).

In a study, seventy percent South African women were found to be working five or more days per week.  Additionally, the data from the study “suggested that migrant workers worked the longest weeks and that non-migrant workers were most likely to work five-day week” (1).   On a daily basis, 77% of female domestic workers were found to work have worked 10 or more hours.  About half of these women also are not receiving the minimum wage of R860 per month as set by the South African Department of Labor (1).  Further signifying the importance of this issue, 94% of these women are financially responsible for children and other adults (1).   Thus, the need for labor unions is not simply just for women, but also for their families’ well being.

Responding to such exploitation, Myrtle Witbooi and Hester Stephens joined forces to advocate for the domestic workers of South Africa (2).  At the age of 15, Hester Stephens entered the profession because of financial troubles at home.  Due to experiences of being separated from her own child, she uses her role as President of SADSAWU to focus on the maternal challenges that domestic workers encounter (2).  In addition to her leadership role, she continues to work as a full-time domestic worker to this day (2).

When creating SADSAWU, the founders recognized the unique vulnerabilities that domestic workers face “due to the nature of their work, often completely at the mercy of their employers in terms of hours of work, duties performed, pay and leave” (4). In South Africa, the union offers specific services to the women in a variety of ways:  job training workshops, legal advocacy, mediation, counseling about legal right provisions, campaigning for laws, and increasing communication between workers and employers (2).  Additionally, the organization offers courses for women in literacy and mathematics at times that accommodate their work schedules (3).   Currently, the union has “4,500 members out of an estimated one million domestic workers in the country” (4).

SADSAWU has led the efforts to create governmental recognition of domestic workers through the Domestic Worker Skills Development Project and Domestic Workers’ Act.   The skills development project “aims to train 27,000 domestic workers around the country over the next three years so that the trainees will receive formal recognition for their skills” (4).  Additionally, the legislation specifically outlines domestic workers hourly rates, overtime payments, pay deductions for housing accommodations, dismissal procedures, and maternity leave. (3).


However, despite these successful reform efforts, questions arise over the actual enforcement of such measures.  Currently, the California Domestic Workers’ Alliance is conducting a similar campaign and also face challenges about government accountability to implement the law (5).  Given that much of domestic work occurs in the isolation and privacy of homes, many of the rights abuses go unnoticed and unreported.  However, the existence of such legal protections and labor rights make it possible to seek compensation through the judicial systems.  To better determine the impacts, SADSAWU must address increasing union membership, access to the courts, and more enforcement personnel.

1. “Migration and Domestic Work in South Africa: Worlds of Work, Healthy, and Mobility.” The South African Migrant Study, Migration Policy Study No. 40. 2005. <http://www.idasa.org/media/uploads/outputs/files/SAMP%2040.pdf>.

2. “The Founders.” South African Domestic Service and Allied Workers Union. Web. 23 Feb. 2012. <http://www.sadsawu.org/>.

3. D’Souza. “Moving Towards Decent Work for Domestic Workers.”  International Labor Office.  2010.   <http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—gender/documents/publication/wcms_142905.pdf>.

4. Makanga, Davison. “Decent Work Still a dream for South Africa’s Domestic Workers.”  IPS News.  2010 May 11. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=51396

5. “A Domestic Worker Bill of Rights.” KQED Radio of NPR.  12 August 2011.  http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201108120900

The Conflicts of Refugee Education Amid Conflicts of War

February 23rd, 2012

Refugee relief is called upon in the most pressing stages of a crisis. At this point humanity’s main concerns are water, sanitation, security and medical attention. Education is far down the list of refugee “necessities”. But, when camps remain open for multiple years, the rift in a child’s education can dramatically impair any prospects of future success. Basic schooling is forthcoming as a humanitarian “right”, much like shelter, food and water. With the additional need of education, aid workers are faced with the task of providing promising futures for refugees, not just corn meal and soap.1

Current statistics pain a grave picture for the seemingly insurmountable task of educating refugees. Currently, only 2% of all humanitarian aid is dedicated toward education alone.1 A 2010 UNHCR report on the state of the world’s refugees found 43.7 million people to be forcibly displaced worldwide. While this is a 15-year high, there has been a slight decline in the number of refugees from 15.6 to 15.4 million. 1 out of every 3 refugees comes from Afghanistan, 2.7 million of which sought refuge in Pakistan and Iran. The UNHCR expects 75% of the world’s refugees to reside in a neighboring country within the next few years. Ironically, developing countries host 4/5 of the world’s refugees. As you can imagine this places a heavy burden on already strained economies:

• Pakistan hosted the largest number of refugees in relation to the size of its economy with 710 refugees per $1 of GDP (PPP) per capita. The Democratic Republic of the Cong and Kenya came in second and third in the report
• 49% of persons of concern to UNHCR were women and girls. They also make up 47% of refugees2

Once again we find women and girls suffering the most from conflict. If we thought educating girls was difficult in a state of peace, it is almost logistically impossible at a time of war. Difficult questions must be raised like, what should be the language of instruction? Who is qualified to teach students? What form of instruction is best? What materials should be taught? The ladder question is critical to the state of the conflict. As the Humanitarian Practice Network puts it, “whose history, language, music or literature is taught in primary school – Israeli or Palestinian; Catholic or Protestant; Hindu, Sikh or Muslim; mujahedin or Royalist; Hutu or Tutsi – has much to do with expressions of power.”2 Listed below are some classic examples of real life conflicts facing refugee education:

• In Indochinese refugee camps in Thailand in the 1980s and 1990s, the government’s policy strictly disallowed refugees to stay in Thailand but instructed refugee schools in general Thai curriculum. Few refugees were ever able to go “home”, even against repatriation policies.

• International donors funded Afghan refugee camps in the 1980s in order to conserve Islamist political parties. Refugee schools promoted political ideologies and excluded girls from the classroom. These policies went against the UN and Western NGOs education programs for promoting gender equity.

• Schools in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza promote a markedly Palestinian identity. Palestinian children are taught that they are expelled foreigners to Arab lands. The Palestinian curriculum teaches that Jewish people wrongfully sequestered Palestinian land. This information ensures the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue through more generations.1

In the Afghan refugee situation of the 1980s, the US and UNICEF donated over $50 million for instructional tools as part of the “Cross-border Humanitarian Program”. The main goal of the program was to give political authenticity to the mujahedin fighters over the Soviet-Afghan forces and to encourage political messages. Math problems found in the textbooks read:

1. The Mujahedin laid 260 anti-tank mines for Russian tanks. Out of that 180 mines exploded. Now find out how many mines are remaining.
2. 15 Mujahedin attacked 100 Communists from one side. 17 Mujahedin attacked from the other side. Out of 100 Communists, 14 were arrested and 72 were killed. Find out: a) how many Mujahedin were involved in the attack and b) how many infidels fled.1

Hopefully these examples highlight the unfortunate reality of pushing political agendas over human welfare. Refugee status arises out of conflict, usually the case of political upheaval. Therefore, it is hard to disentangle politics with education, especially in neighboring countries where political stability is often unfounded itself. Refugees in the Dadaab camps in Kenya say, “Education is the only thing I can take home”.2 This is indeed true. These people live on handouts and own virtually nothing. The only thing they can safely carry with them is their thoughts. When and if they reach a final destination, wherever that may be, they can at least have something to call their own.

The UN has created guidelines for refugee education in Western Tanzania that may be universally applicable. The report makes claims for “education for repatriation”, and “Development of a structured school curriculum based on the school curricula of refugees’ homes of origin” among other hopeful ideas.5 Yet without funding these ideas are no more than that, ideas. And amidst political strife, as most refugee situations are, there is little hope in a structured, universal curriculum. Without educating refugees we are further pushing back the prospects of educating women and girls in order to lift a country out of poverty. Women are at the bottom of the bucket when it comes to political priorities, especially in times of conflict. Refugee situations only push back any progress made on women’s rights to education.

1 http://www.odihpn.org/humanitarian-exchange-magazine/issue-29/schooling-in-refugee-camps
2 http://efareport.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/for-refugees-in-kenya-‘education-is-the-only-thing-we-can-take-home’/
3 http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jun/20/refugee-statistics-unhcr-data
4 http://www.odihpn.org/humanitarian-exchange-magazine/issue-29/schooling-in-refugee-camps
5 http://www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/index_29567.html

The Education of Roma Girls

February 23rd, 2012

What I find both fascinating and upsetting about my focus on Roma women is that this issue is a current issue, that I was previously unaware of before this class. As I look for interventions, I see way more papers that list suggestions of what should be done than accounts of what has been done successfully. This week, I wanted to explore the Roma experience during the particularly vulnerable age of adolescence especially since I touched on educational opportunities last week. First, I’d like to talk a bit about all of the great comments I received last week. It was really interesting to hear about your direct and indirect interactions with Roma prejudice. I am glad we are learning together about this important issues. To answer some of your questions, my research has shown that the experiences of women as confined to the home with limited education and economic self-sufficiency is the norm, not the exception. In Romania, only 3 percent of Roma women have completed secondary school compared to 63 percent of women in the majority population. Roma women also experience unemployment rates higher than their majority counterparts (1).

One issue that plagues Roma teens is a conflicting sense of identity. In 2010, 14,000 people from Kosovo were moved back from Germany. This plan was the result of a deal with Kosovo and Germany 11 years after the end of the Kosovo War. According to UNICEF, half of the Roma deported from Germany are children who were born and raised in Germany. Among those removed were two teenage Roma sisters, Bukurije and Lumturije Berisha. They were both born in Germany, speak German, and attended school there. For them, Germany was home. 14-year old Lumturije Berisha says, “I was born there and I feel German.” Although the article does not specify what their home in German was like, but from the girls’ reactions to their slum in Kosovo, I can make an assumption. Once they reached Kosovo, the girls did not re-enter school because of language barriers (Albanian is the main language) and being teased for their mannerisms and style (2). These girls and their family were also sent back into a much poorer society that cannot even provide for the majority population, as exemplified by its 40 percent unemployment rate (3).

One of the widely recognized means of upward social mobility is education, which many consider to be the crux of the American dream. With greater education, one can achieve greater employment opportunities and hopefully a better health status. Unfortunately, that path breaks down at pivotal points for Romani girls and women. As I mentioned last week, many girls are removed from school by their parents before they complete their secondary education. Those who manage to complete school may still struggle to find jobs because of discrimination in hiring practices.

I want to focus on girls’ experiences in schools and how they vary vastly between Western and Eastern Europe. In Eastern Europe, post-communism, Romani children were tracked to special schools for the mentally-challenged. These actions have been condemned several times by UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but the practice persists (4). This policy is representative of a belief among academics that the Roma are genetically incapable of learning at the same level as non-Roma. Teachers removed them from mixed classrooms because the Roma’s inability to speak the majority language as a handicap. Some Roma children grew to prefer the special schools because they were protected from discrimination and abuse from their teachers or classmates. Those who attempt to pursue higher education in Eastern Europe are usually rejected because of the threat Roma education posed to the majority population (5).

A couple of comments last week noted correlations between the US minorities and the Roma and this is certainly one of those cases. While the Eastern European educational system is similar to the African Americans’ experiences in the American South, the Western European practices mimic those of the the North. All children in Western Europe, Roma and non-Roma alike, are required to attend school, but the consistency of their education varies because of their nomadic lifestyle. Also, these requirements do not protect Roma children from discrimination. As late as 2009, British citizens desired to live nearby Romani over all other ethnic groups (5). Many of the youth that have been moved to Eastern Europe experience this sharp contrast of opportunities. Education can become the facet of life that improves the Romani lifestyle just as it has in the United States, but that requires more progressive education initiatives.

(1) http://www.soros.org/initiatives/women/articles_publications/publications/equal_20050502/z_romani_women.pdf
(2) http://www.thelocal.de/society/20100819-29267.html
(3) http://www.theworld.org/2012/02/kosovo-economy/
(5) http://kopachi.com/articles/roma-and-education-by-ronald-lee/

The American Illusion: Illegal Immigrant Women in U.S. Food Industries

February 23rd, 2012

“Despite their contributions to our economy, these immigrants live at the margins of U.S. society — subsisting on poverty wages, enduring humiliation and exploitation in the workplace, and living in constant fear that their families will be shattered if they are detected” (1)

What I want to write about this week for my blog fits right in with this past week’s discussion topic of women in conflict and refugee situations.  Last week I discussed what it is like for women to come across the border into the United States illegally from Mexico.  These women’s stories are hauntingly similar- they flee poverty and injustice in hopes of finding work that will allow them to provide their children or loved ones with a better future.  Often, these women leave family members behind in Mexico, with the intention of coming to the U.S. to work hard and earn enough savings to some day rejoin their loved ones in Mexico, or else bring them to the Unites States.  Unfortunately, the reality for these women is often far more bleak than they ever would have imagined.

The source for my blog this week is a report put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center called Injustice on Our Plates:  Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry.  The report discusses the living situation of illegal migrant women, the majority of whom are from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (1).  The report, based on 150 interviews with female migrant agricultural and other food industry workers, illustrates a picture of the hardships these women face, including discrimination, sexual assault, poverty, and constant fear of being discovered and deported.

The journey begins crossing the border, which, as I discussed last week is a deadly endeavor.  It has been estimated that as 6 in 10 women who cross the border illegally are sexually assaulted in some way (1).  When migrants arrive in the U.S., some are lucky enough to make contacts with relatives, however, some fall victim to human trafficking.

One women, ‘Christina’, reported being forced to live in a chicken coup with 15 to 20 other migrant laborers and forced to perform grueling physical labour 12 hours a day, 7 days a week.  When time came for her first payment, Christina’s captors told her that she was still paying off her debt for being brought across the border.  How long until she would be free to go?  As long as it took, she was told, and if she tried to escape or go to the police, they would kill her and her family back in Mexico.

Not all migrant workers are trafficked to the degree of Christina, however, the living and working conditions experienced by most illegal migrant workers are appalling.  The food industry, which includes jobs planting, harvesting, processing, packaging and serving food, comes with a suite of hazards.  Most shifts entail 12 hour days, 7 days a week, with no sick days or vacations.  For jobs outside, there is often no refuge from the elements.  Workers are exposed to dangerous pesticides and other workplace hazards.  Many employers refuse to pay their workers at the end of the month and the unpaid have no defense against their extortionists. These people, many of them women, occupy the lowest wrung of American society, but without them our economy would crumble.

It is estimated that there are approximately 6.7 million illegal Mexican immigrants currently living in the United States and of the total 10.8 undocumented immigrants of all nationalities living in this country, four million are women (1).  About 6 in 10 agricultural workers in the U.S. are undocumented immigrants whose cheap labor supports food industries worth billion of dollars (1).  A quarter of all butchers and meat processors are illegal immigrants.  They make up 1/5 of all cooks in the U.S.  These people are vital to our economy, and while “their economic value is difficult to quantify, but one recent study calculated that legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. On the other hand, if the government were to deport all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants living on U.S. soil, our economy would decline by $2.6 trillion over a decade” (1).

Why are these people so important?  Cheap labor.  An illegal migrant workers earns an average yearly salary between 1,700 to 9,900 dollars.  To give you a frame of reference, the U.S. average per capita yearly income is approximately $50,000.  Apparently, “under federal law, a farmworker’s weekly pay must equal at least what she would earn under the federal minimum wage for the hours worked.  In practice, this requirement is routinely violated, and paychecks regularly misstate the hours worked.” (1). For these migrant women, their salary if far below the poverty, but the shocking fact is that by moving to the United States, these women increase their yearly salary by a factor of about 2.5.

All illegal immigrants face challenges from living in the United States, but women are particularly vulnerable.  Women are often the primary caregiver for children, making them less likely to react to abuse or mistreatment due to fear of losing their jobs (1).  Sexual abuse is rampant in many migrant work places, but these women, afraid of the consequences for speaking to the police, do not report crimes against them.  The following paragraph is from Injustice on Our Plates:  Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry:

“In Salinas, Calif., a worker told the EEOC that farmworkers there referred to one company’s fields as the field de calzon, or “field of panties,” because so many women had been raped by supervisors there. In Florida, women farmworkers dubbed fields “the green motel” for the same reason. In Iowa, women said they had encountered the problem so often that they believed it was a common practice in the United States to exchange sex for job security.  More recently, a study published in January 2010 found that among 150 Mexican women and women of Mexican descent who were working in the fields of California’s Central Valley, 80 percent said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment”

This paragraph reminded me of some of the horrific stories of refugee camps and systematic rape in chapter 7 of From Outrage to Courage, except that these rapes and other sex crimes are prevalent not only in this country, but not very far away form Stanford.  How can such violations of basic human rights be occurring so close to home, seemingly without any one doing anything to improve the situation of these women?

“Southern Poverty Law Center.” Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry. 2010. <http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/injustice-on-our-plates>.

Murray, Anne Firth. From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice. Monroe, Me.: Common Courage, 2008. Print.