The Obvious in Detail

I often make the mistake of believing that something obvious to me is just as obvious to others, especially those working in the field of women’s equality. But often the obvious is missed. The Women’s Centers Model is a prime example.

How to describe the enormous impact of Baraka Women’s Center (BWC)? Nearly 1,200 women are members.  If you read any of the Success Stories, you’ll understand how vital BWC is to poorest women living in Nairobi’s slums.

Baraka Women’s will celebrate its tenth anniversary in October. Teresia Njora, the Center Director, Wanjiru Ngigi, Program Director, and their 10-member Board of Directors – all of them are on fire to meet the challenges so many women bring to the Center. They are uniquely gifted with shauku (passion) for healing and elevating the young single moms, the undereducated older moms, the struggling elders. They see needs and do as much as they can to ease a woman’s crisis. The crises are many: living on the streets with children, parenting at age 15, addiction, fleeing domestic violence, scratching for capital to boost a small business, unemployed with no marketable skills.

Poverty’s effect is universally the same:  chronic trauma from the unrelieved dismantling of self-worth and aspirations. When a Women’s Centers brings resources to ease the struggle, a woman can make her first leap to the “other side” – the place where she has what she needs with a sense of control over her choices.

BWC deserves to thrive.  To see what the Center is and does watch:  Amazing Place.

Women’s Centers should be opened and sustained in every major city, in every refugee camp, in every rural area where women’s education, health, livelihoods, and protection have not been considered, much less nurtured.

After years of effort, I’ve detailed the process in The Women’s Centers Guide: Best Practices for Creating and Sustaining a Women’s Resource Center

WCI is building an affiliate network of community-based organizations using the Guide as their roadmap. The Guide will be available also to large NGOs interested in elegantly integrating gender in global programming. 

On June 30th, find it here: Women’s Centers International 

Brown and Beige

Some tribes in Sudan have skin the color of deep night.  Some Asians and Scandinavians have skin the color of pure porcelain.  But the vast majority of humans are wrapped in an epidermis that runs an amazing gamut of hues from brown to beige.

We have no choice in the matter of our color. It is our inheritance, no more alterable, except for the travesty of skin bleaching, than our ancestral lines, all of which trace back to the first humans in Africa.

Our cultures enforce attitudes about skin color. In her extraordinary book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson argues convincingly that this identifier is arbitrary. Nonetheless, It defines whether our lives are privileged or marginalized.

One identifier transcends – or could transcend – these limits.  Throughout history, most women have been relegated to “second class” status. In our deepest selves, we share doubts and fears about our value and adequacy, despite all the evidence of women’s innate and unique power. Most of us share some of the traumas of rape, domestic violence, ill treatment at the hands of health providers, barriers of abortion, and disparities of pay. We know the prevalence and persistence of these traumas across all female-dom. Our dark side – competitiveness  – has been no small part of keeping us stuck. Women of all colors have much more to gain as allies, but too often that seems a bridge too far.

In  their book From Here to Equality, Kirsten Mullen and William (Sandy )Darity Jr. set forth in harrowing detail all the missed opportunities to define and instill racial equality in America, particularly after the Civil War. The endless predations arising from white supremacist thinking are unforgiveable, and they persist.

We’ve made glacial progress in refuting American’s original sin of slavery. Action for reparations – achieving acknowledgement, redress, and closure – is the only way we can salvage a sane society.

In my life, as a beige woman, I find myself standing back as I watch the discovery and consolidation of power among my brown sisters. It’s damn well time. Their rejection of alliances is, however, often grieves me.

I’m committed to finding my place in achieving women’s ascendance, most particularly, for women of color. A quote from a forgotten source is one touchstone:  “Hate your oppressors and you’ll be forever enslaved by your memories.” But what is more  difficult: forgiving or forgetting?

A Survivor’s Guide to Depression: Passage Two – Grey Tide

In the Company of Millions

SSRIs are the most widely prescribed antidepressants in many countries. with sales of $14.3 billion in 2019, expected to reach $15.98 Bn by 2023.

Depression is a notoriously expensive disease, costing society $210 billion per year, according to new data published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Depression is an epidemic with approximately one in six Americans on antidepressants,  and more than a quarter of those long-term users,

It’s not reassuring to know I have lots of company.

The Grey Tide Wanes and Waxes

Thanks to pharmaceuticals, I’ve had remarkable runs of freedom from serious or lengthy depressive episodes – passages I refer to as ‘donating my brain to science.’

For the past ninety-five days – for the first time in nearly thirty years – I’ve been taking no medication for depression. Stopped cold. Since I hate most kinds of drugs, this was liberation. A few situational episodes of feeling defeated rolled in, but that’s part of the challenge of this passage in my life. For most of these days, my spirit has been doing well. I fancied that my brain had rebooted, free from chemical interference. Of course, as with all experiments, one has to wait for the other shoe to fall.

I used to think of it as ‘the abyss,’ a chaos of black despair. I’ve renamed it ‘the black tide’ and I’m now swimming in the grey part of that tide. My shine’s gone dim. I hunger to be back the sun, fully engaged with all the strange and wonderful and confounding ideas and people and events that life serves up. I’m looking at all sorts of alternatives to return to stable ground.

It amazes me how little science can tell us about brain function. Psychiatrists and psychologists have evidence only of trends in effectiveness and possible side-effects, not that any individual will have these experiences or if, in fact, any given drug will have good outcome without too many bad side effects. We may be years away from knowing the best way forward in the treatment of depression.

In the meantime, drugs that tinker with neurochemistry must stand in as the best-guess response to psychological distress. We accept the little tortures of trial-and-error:  which drug, at what dose?  Sometimes a med does well by you. But if your brain is hardwired for ‘instability,’ are these work-arounds the only option? 

Admitting that depression claims occasional dominion over my life still feels a bit like copping to a secret flaw. How do we make Depression, and mental health in general, part of the wider social conversation – or at least the family conversation?  For so many, depression is the elephant on the coffee table of life. You, dear reader, or someone you love, is needing that elephant to stand down. This is my small contribution to that conversation. Comments welcome.

How We Live Now

When I make the time to reflect on the kind of living that surrounds me, forebodings creep forward about our collective future. Noticing and commenting is a kind of resistance to what doesn’t work. Here are a few callouts.

Prancing Pronouns

The custom (when and where did it start?) of including a gender designation after your name seems to be tightening its throat-hold on Zoom and other video conferencing platforms.

Why would one feel the need to advertise their gender identity?  Why would anyone care to know?  It’s become one more socially ‘correct’ but useless affectation.

Self-induced Deafness

Our body’s auditory apparatus delivers delights and aggravation.  For me, the delights include birdsong and odd, sometimes hilarious, bits of conversation by passers-by. City-life aggravations abound:  infernal leaf-blowers, jackhammers, garbage trucks, ranters. Often these aural intrusions are mercifully short-lived. Part of the package.

Our hearing also delivers early warnings with survival implications. Who might be approaching from behind? Who might be calling for help?  Why would anyone impose relative deafness on themselves walking in an urban environment?  Earbuds worn in public disable the user. Possibly this is an inadvertent technological instrument for clearing the gene pool.

I Won’t Know You

When I walk my neighborhood, I usually greet passersby – a simple “Hi” or ‘Good Morning.’ In most cases, people look away or do not respond.  Sometimes this a result of the earbud phenomenon. Other times it’s a human whose mind it stranded elsewhere.

We are drifting a long way from vaunted notions of – or aspirations to – community when acknowledging another’s presence is too much effort.  We’ll remain isolated strangers until we make even the smallest efforts to connect.

Urban Trash Pit

The City of Oakland (California), where I live, gets trashier by the day. People can be standing a few steps from a trash bin and still drop their fast-food and packaging on the sidewalk or street or park. Entire streets are festooned with human detritus. Our central-city lake, a major bird habitat, reveals, especially at low tide, all sorts of careless leavings, from scooters and clothing to the ubiquitous plastic bottles and beer cans.

Even primitive societies employed designated trash pits. How have we managed to devolve to this level of sprawling trashiness?

Oh, and graffiti: Most of it looks like miserable artless attempts to say “Look at me! I’m here.” How do we motivate taggers to consider more productive direction for their inclinations with paint?

Our Human Tribe

These details of living add up to either a buy-in or a rejection of community. Though I admit to liking humans less and less, I recognize that we are ‘stuck’ with each other. We have to live with the living.

We can choose grace and accountability in strengthening our human tribe. Those qualities prefigure intelligent responses to events we carelessly believe won’t happen here:  food and water shortages, riots, looting, and war. With Trump and the pandemic, we got a scary preview. We have to be and do better. It’ll work if women lead the way.

You’ve Got a Very LONG Way to Go, Baby

Philanthropic trends suggest that asking for money to support services to women has somehow become like screaming ‘Fuck” in polite company.

According to a recent estimate, about 1.9% of total charitable donations go to programs for women and girls. Pet ‘causes’ get much more.

I’m talking about providing assistance to female humans who are somebody’s grandmother, mother, aunt, sisters, daughter. Around the world, we’ve got vast inequities to redress.

Employment

Depending on their ethnicity, women receive about 25-30% less than their male counterparts in every kind of job. Women constitute the largest pool of unpaid domestic workers and caregivers. Only six countries in the world give women the same work rights as men. This despite the fact that economies become more stable when women participate.

Health

Of the nearly $42 billion the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends on medical research each year, only approximately $5 billion (less than 12%) of that funding is directed specifically at women’s health.

Many women around the world do not have authority over when they become mothers. They have limited options for birth control, options often mired in cultural/religious opposition.

When women do access health care, the quality of service is often compromised by discrimination and dismissal from doctors.

Too many states in the US have launched a full-frontal assault on women’s right to abortion and contraception. As though we are breeding stock. We keep having to fight this battle over and over with governance bodies hijacked by men with minds as useless as their dicks.

Access to Education

Globally, one-quarter of women ages 15-24 have not completed primary school. That group makes up 58% of the people not completing that basic education. Two-thirds of illiterate people are women.

Political Representation

Women remain grossly underrepresented in government and the political process. Of all national parliaments, only 24.3% of seats are held by women.

This means that issues female politicians tend to bring up – parental leave and childcare, pay equity, and sexual violence and harassment – are usually neglected.

As of 1 September 2021, there are 26 women serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries.  At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.

Violence

Over one billion women don’t have legal protection against domestic sexual violence or domestic economic violence. Rape culture persists, making life a misery for young women who tend to be prime targets.

In every case, the status of Black women and Latinas are worse. And worse still for non-gender-conforming people.

Those are just the headlines. Then we have all the other predations on women that somehow survive in the 21st century:   bride price, forced early marriage, genital cutting, ‘honor ‘ killings and disfigurements, trafficking, and arranged marriages.

How societies value women determines their stability. But progress made through structural changes often is accompanied by pushback that delays substantive advances.

There’s no lack of women willing to do the heavy lifting to assist poor women. However, they seldom have sufficient capital to do all that’s necessary, much less all that could be accomplished.

Egregious inequity is the kindling of revolutions. Yet we women, and the men who claim to like/love/support us, are curiously unmotivated to take to the streets (the pandemic notwithstanding). A critical mass of righteous anger has not been achieved.

What will it take?