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?

Inertial Navigation for Life

Building a life in early 21st century seems to come down to the on-board navigation systems we inherit via a series of dice rolls:  the chance of surviving our birth, in the place of our birth, in the technology created in the last 100 years. Most of us had no conscious choice regarding any of these, yet they determine the opportunities and obstacles that make us who we become.

Cultural traditions, the wisdom, pain, courage, and stupidity of all previous generations of our bloodline make up our inheritance. They enhance or limit our exposure to education and income-generating know-how. They determine where we live, how healthy we are, and if we feel safe in our neighborhood.

A life navigation system is what we grasp for. Consider the Inertial Navigation System (INS) used in the maritime and aviation worlds. INS uses a computer integrated with motion sensors and rotation sensors to calculate continuously the position, orientation, and velocity of moving objects.

Think of our personal INS components as Mind (the thought integrator), Body (motion/cues sensors), and Spirit (rotation (upset) sensor.)  All of them give us the opportunity to make sense of the people and opportunities moving, at overwhelm speed, through our lives. We’ve got a lot to track. If our baseline INS was set among abusive, drug dependent, angry, depressed people, we’ve got a very limited view of human potential and a major navigation disability to dig out of. The earlier, the better. Because, if we carry the INS analogy a step further, the really scary part shows up.

INS uses dead reckoning – a process of estimating the value of any variable relative to an earlier value, then adding whatever changes have occurred in the meantime.  The rub: errors are cumulative

The process of setting a child’s so-called ‘moral compass’– the values by which to live – is easily neglected and highly susceptible to twisted malpractice based on their parents’ crappy dice rolls.

Parenting is about teaching, in word and deed, a style of interpersonal behavior that enables a child to succeed in this world, and in the world we wish to create for them out of the current mess.

Fairness or injustice; compassion or indifference, generosity or greed; humility or arrogance, courage to change or fear of change. Never easy values to sort out. But what of those who never got well ‘set’ in the early goings?

If by age of five, a child has experienced only chaotic, negative relationships – and thus has seldom been assured of their intrinsic worth as a human being – their estimate of ‘position’ in the world has accumulated an egregious number of errors.

How do we course correct? We direct our best energy and resources to the elevation of women, particularly those denied early access to adept parenting and with a keen ability to survive.

Women will always be the best change agents. We know how to clean up a mess. And we know how to ennoble love.

These have always been the guiding values of Women’s Centers.

Imagine My Surprise!

Fifteen years ago, I worked with a young woman named Fatiah in Darfur, Sudan. In a simple statement1, she revealed to me my life’s purpose.  Since then, I have understood, with increasing clarity and urgency, the value of Women’s Centers.

The seeds I’ve planted and vigorously tended have taken root in at least two places in Sudan (a third failed due to internal squabbling), and at the ‘mothership’ in Nairobi Kenya, Baraka Women’s Center. My efforts in Oakland, CA died prematurely because the money stopped flowing. But the women’s needs never did. The pandemic deepened them. My goal is to reopen Oakland Women’s Center within four months.

Of course these years-long efforts have not been mine alone. Many remarkable allies have stepped up. Only one possessed the means and commitment to deliver serious money (water for the seeds). God bless Grant Williams.

The tradition of women gathering for mutual support spans millennia. The Women’s Center Model provides a holistic application of that tradition in environments where Conflict, and its evil twin Poverty, are newly introduced or painfully endemic.

I believe the Women’s Centers Model will revolutionize humanitarian assistance to refugees and internally displaced people.  I’m convinced that most urban destitution would reverse at a steady pace with the establishment of Women’s Centers. Every city deserves at least one. That’s because women are the best movers and shakers when it comes to community transformation.

But we women cannot do it if we find no relief from the burdens of being born females. First we must rise from deep craters of internalized insignificance, insane taboos, virulent restrictions, predatory marketing, and soul-depleting violence.

We do that best when we gather in a safe place.

We do that best when key resources– previously denied– are brought to our place.

We do that best when we’re seen and treated as complex beings with vast capacity for healing and creativity.

We do that best when our unique kinds of leadership are given full rein.

A Women’s Center is the ‘base camp’ for that redemption to happen.

Tony Benn, a now-deceased UK Member of Parliament, once opined: “It’s the same each time with progress;  first they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.” 

My shock at the slow uptake of Women’s Center Model has exceeded my own imagining.  Why is this surpassingly elegant Model dismissed without comment by major foundations, international humanitarian organizations, and even (especially!) women’s funding networks?

“It’s the same each time with progress: first they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.” 

After fifteen years, I believe I’ve arrived at ‘dangerous.’ Surely poor women, especially those of color, who will rise to kick ass through engagement with a Women’s Center, qualify as ‘dangerous.’ A Women’s Center would be a lot less messy way forward than howling riots in the streets. If humanity is to thrive, to say nothing of survive, they must come into their full power.

I’m inescapably aware that my stamina and ‘time remaining’ in this life is spooling out. I’d be ecstatic to see the full flowering of the Women’s Centers Model: the global network!  A Movement of undeniable authority and joy.  If I’m not blessed with that experience, I will leave behind the full instruction manual.  The young ones can continue the forward surge, adding their unique grace notes to an indomitable design.

___________________

I In answer to my question “What will you do, inshallah, when you leave [Kassab Women’s Center in North Darfur] and go home?” She said:  “We will build Women’s Centers.”

How Resilient Must Women Be?

In every region of the world, “Ending Violence, Harassment, and Abuse” is the most prominently chosen (48%) response to the question: “Which three issues are most critical for you as a person? From Global Count Interim Findings.

The challenge: not only for the violence to be ended, but that all women who’ve survived violence have the opportunity to heal. It is not a solo activity. It requires a sisterhood of help and support. That’s why Women’s Centers matter more than ever. A Center is a haven, a ‘base camp’ for healing. It’s where women gather strength together.

Ironically, nothing has been a bigger challenge than to gather funds to work this magic of the Women’s Center Model.

Philanthropically inclined Americans gave somewhere around 4% of all donations specifically to initiatives that strengthen women and girls. Four percent. Animal ‘causes’ get more donations. Women and girls remain few people’s special focus.

The profound damage of rape and domestic abuse, and the bottomless self-doubt they generate, requires a major commitment of resources to rectify.

Hands-on engagement has always mattered much more to me than advocacy, especially in such a polarized political system.  WCI’s place is seeding local managed grassroots organizations to create effective Women’s Centers.

We need to get with ALL our sisters, especially those who’ve been invisible on the margins, and steadily help to free more women from all the damage wrought in the prisons of poverty and exclusion.

We have precious little time to nurture a badass united front that can redirect humankind’s current mad dash to oblivion. We don’t have another decade, much less another century to wait it out.

At Women’s Centers, rage for change sings a bold new tune. We deserve the support of everyone who cares about achieving not just gender parity but the ascendence of the women’s genius for the path ahead.

Make our day: Donate to WCI

Source: Women Deliver

Wildish Woman

Survival Tactics

Sometimes my ‘shield’is a vision of clear molded plexiglass, with varying thickness added as needed. Selected ‘incoming’ bounces off. I do not absorb the depth of the grief, pain, and craziness I witness.  This shield actually binds like impermeable wrap preventing other people’s feelings from carving the same hollows in me. I can help them get through.  That’s my strength and I like using it.

Life insists on both weary days of plodding along and also sublime days when a cheerful and generous universe seems to have your back. For me, the spectacle of human existence is never dull, but often baffling.

I remember a woman once a colleague. She presented a kind and deferential persona, cheerful but desperate. A close friend of hers told me: “When she gets in touch with her monumental anger, I do not want to be in range.”

I feel crazy and alone on occasion, depending on the season and the set of challenges delivered.

A woman i wanted to like tells me “I never get angry” – that made me angry. Two women whose talents I appreciated and encouraged close the door of our relationships in silence – that made me unbearably sad.  Silence wounds the heart more deeply than a tirade.

White animals, except the arctic ones, are known to draw antagonism from other wild creatures. I trouble over the possibility that white-haired me similarly draws fire. This wildish part suits me. Thought I am often terrified, I won’t be cowed by other women’s fears. I’m ever seeking bonds with true sisters, and I treasure the ones I have.

When we sufficiently dismantle our color-based caste system, another re-evolution. This one moves us toward once again honoring elders. We boomers, some of us anyway, have lived adventurous lives. We’ve witnessed  tsunamis of social re-adjustments spawned by  WWII and the Korean War (through our parents). We joined and survived the upheavals of the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam (had we had good intelligence about the Vietnamese spirit, the US never would have defiled that patch of civilization), the Afghan and Middle East wars, the millennials’ ride up, and the proliferation of communications technology that oddly interferes with the soulful communities we long for.

We’ve survived, accumulating wisdom born of experience. Our contributions have not ceased and will not end – if our legacies carry forward what we value.  Honesty. Compassion. Patience. A fierce sense of service to those who’ve been stranded on the margins of our vast wealth. And an equally motivated capacity to laugh. Deserves more thought.

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