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Baraka SoS

How to convey the oeuvre of Nairobi? The fulminating heap of humans tumbling through their dusty days, industrious as army ants. NBO JamSpeed bumps and pedestrians crossings on freeways. Gridlocked traffic into town all day. I’ve developed an aversion to traveling anywhere in a vehicle, knowing that I will sit in the heat and exhaust for up to 45 minutes, no matter the ‘real’ time of a journey. So I walk a lot.

We are making steady progress in reviewing and refining all the systems at Baraka Women’s Center, as well as making new connections with potential funders. I am ever humbled by the power of relatively small amounts of money here. One woman to whom I gave the equivalent of ten dollars tearfully launched into a lengthy prayer of gratitude.  Baraka indeed gathers in the lost and the hopeless; the energy of inclusion in this community is a miracle to behold. To belong is to have new power, new hope, even joy. A safe gathering place matters, and that’s what the Center provides.

Yesterday, twenty-five women gathered to mark the seventh anniversary of the Center, as well as to celebrate the graduation of the vocational program trainees.  Our food offering was peanut butter sandwiches (would have been plain bread had I not brought peanut butter) and cake.

BWC Staff and trainers
BWC Staff and trainers

This and other daily events painfully remind me that I came mostly empty handed. No month can pass without an infusion of cash; BWC has not located its August infusion. Shifting BWC into ‘thrive’ mode takes money. It means reallocating  some of our wealth to women with the greatest needs, to those who can set things right in the long haul.

$10 transforms a woman’s life for a week.

Add zeros and the prospects for the sisterhood grow exponentially.

What will move you to contribute what you can?  

Trouble Ahead, the Movement Behind

I have it from a number of reliable sources: Trouble Ahead: Dangerous Missions with Desperate People is a fascinating read.

I’m a fairly harsh judge of my own work, but I’m proud of this book because it’s so … different.  How many people do you  know who’ve worked in Darfur during the genocide,  visited a half-dozen slums in Nairobi, Kenya, and braved the incendiary politics of Oakland CA, to bring safety and respite and tools to women excluded from the wealth of their communities.  This is the history of Women’s Centers International and the Women’s Centers Movement –– living, breathing stories of unusual and compelling people and events.

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Buy HERE. I’ll love you best if you leave a review.

The work is not a ‘noble’ undertaking or a ’cause’.  It is necessary initiative. How long will you hesitate to jump in bringing on the full power of women who’ve been excluded?

We’re certain of this path, but we need more allies:  Board members and, as always, donations – preferably with at least three zeros following the first digit(s).

The work cost money; it’s time we respond with our wallets to the reality that women are assets requiring investment. And so are we.  Support WCI today.

Why the World Needs Women’s Centers

In nearly 6000 years of recorded human history, women have made progress in equal rights only in the last 200 years.  In America, most of it in the last 60. Here’s a short tour of firsts.

Medicine:  Though Elizabeth Blackwell applied for admission to every medical college in Philadelphia and New York City,  all twenty nine schools rejected her.  In January, 1849, at the age of 28, she received her medical degree, at the top of her class.

 Voting:  The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, granted women the right to vote.  Just 100 years ago! It’s the only right shared by women globally.

Military:  The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 grants women permanent status in the Regular and Reserve forces of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps as well as in the newly created Air Force.  Seventy-one years later – June 2019 –  the first woman assumed command of an infantry division of the US army.

Contraception:  In 1960, the pill was approved for use as a contraceptive. Even so, the pill was illegal in some states and could be prescribed only to married women for purposes of family planning. Those opposed said oral contraceptives were immoral, promoted prostitution, and were tantamount to abortion. It wasn’t until several years later that birth control was approved for use by all women, regardless of marital status.

Civil Rights: The 1964 Civil Rights Act:  an amendment made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender as well as race.

Sports:  1972  When Title IX was passed there were fewer than 32,000 women competing in intercollegiate athletics. Today more than 110,000 women participate in college sports; the number of female athletes in high school has increased from about 300,000 to 2.13 million.

Juries: It wasn’t until 1974 that women could serve on juries in all 50 states

Credit:  A 1974 law allowed women to have credit in their own name rather than through their husbands or fathers.

ERA – The Equal Rights Amendment

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“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

The constitutional amendment has been fought for since 1923. In 1971, it was approved by the US House of Representatives; five months later by the US Senate, thus submitting the ERA to the state legislatures for ratification.

Three-quarters of the States – 38 – are needed to ratify it.  The ERA fell three states short by its 1982 deadline, and the deadline has been extended twice.  Ratification is now one state short.  The holdouts are NV, AZ, MO, and ALL the southern states, the same ones legislating against abortion and access to birth control.

We have a herstory of solitary struggles, big movements, legal and legislative wrangling, and witchy undercutting by women who imagine they have privilege.

Why is HALF the population still disenfranchised from equal pay, control of reproductive capacity, and freedom from harassment and violence –  in 21st century?

All of us – women and men – have to fight this battle together.  After millennia, how many more decades will it take to get it right?

Every day we help women rise up, no matter the laws that keep them “in their place.” Support the work of WCI!

Unrealized Assets

When Oakland Women’s Center closed in April 2018, I’d been staggered that my Board (at the time) proved unwilling to fundraising, and that no one among the hundreds of women we served evidenced any inclination to step into managing the Center.  Either funding or a committed manager would have enable OWC to continue its important work.  Lacking both, no way forward was possible.

WCI found a new space from which to focus on invigorating Baraka Women’s Center in Kenya. However, not a week passes without at least a couple of calls from women in desperate circumstances seeking assistance. I continue to field those calls and to provide referrals. It’s not the same as having the Center’s full resources at my disposal, but it is better than leaving these women flailing about for a port in the storm.

The nature of the calls remains consistent: help with housing crises, custody issues, domestic violence, lack of income.  If anyone imagines that lives of most women have advanced over the last few centuries, you are sorely out of touch.

Funders – even the women-oriented ones nesting in their alliances with other women’s funds – seem unaware that nothing exceeds the urgency of lifting up women, particularly those living in poverty.  Too many regard the poor – when they think of them at all – as a collection of dreary needs rather than as unappreciated assets. The potential languishing in the 700+million women scraping out subsistence lives thrills and haunts me. I believe that each of them, given the right access to resources, could alter the path of humanity. Not necessarily individually, but as a united community.

So I move along, deep into the process of writing the Women’s Center How-To Guide. With luck, I will find the right combination of words to galvanize the right combination of do-ers with socially conscious money to invest.

Career Busting in the Age of #MeToo

“Cruel and Unusual Punishment” is the title of Lionel Shriver’s excellent essay in the February 2019 issue of Harper’s.  He ponders how charges of sexual predation leveled at men, whose works are considered significant cultural contributions, are ending their careers.

Among those mentioned: Louis C.K. (new film withdrawn before scheduled American release, HBO series dropped), Bill Cosby (“sentenced not only to ten years [in prison] but to cultural near- oblivion”), Garrison Keillor (Minnesota Public Radio ended broadcasts of his Writer’s Almanac, and re-broadcast of  The Best of A Prairie Home Companion), and painter Chuck Close (a major retrospective ‘indefinitely postponed’).

But what of the women who have suffered possibly years of career-impinging depression and anxiety due to men’s violations?  How do we judge that the loss of their contributions would be any more or less than those of the accused?

In the 21st Century, we are fighting off (still) The Great Silence: women have suffered such predations for centuries. Their violations once were considered not a trampling of of rights but the loss of their value as a marriageable commodity.

Silence no longer an option

It’s no news to most women that men of all levels of accomplishment have been culturally permitted a level of sexual entitlement.  Most of us are fully aware that the tether holding men to respectful behavior toward women is indeed fragile and unpredictably loosened.

Being called out is not an aberration, but a signal that the pattern of male entitlement cannot stand. If their fame has not taught these men a modicum of restraint in the internet age, then shouldn’t they take a fall?

Eventually female predators alsowill end up with their heads on stakes outside the gates of our citadel of “too much information.” The work of re-balancing gender power takes no prisoners.