Taking the Cutoff

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On the track in North Darfur

The Donner Party’s fiasco in the Sierras grew from two bad decisions. One was to take an new untested ‘cutoff’ from the main trail. The other was getting a late start over forbidding mountains where an early and brutal winter awaited.  When asked about lessons learned, one surviving Donner party member offered: “Don’t take no cutoffs and hurry right along.”

Points taken. Nonetheless, I’ve traversed an uncharted cutoff and it’s proven worthy. I’m now in the process of hurrying right along – with a fierce will to be of service to women who need a hand up.

Despite a total reach of over 2,000 women since the Centers were opened, I seldom believe enough has been accomplished. Millions more women would benefit from a local Women’s Center. WCI has not been blessed – yet – with the financial resources to see just how national and global it can grow.

Donations to WCI tanked this year.  Baraka Center in Nairobi struggles to keep the doors open.   So, I’m creating two new revenue ssources to continue the work. The first is Speaking.  I’ve much to share, as I’ve enjoyed a career of ceaseless wonders working with women during way-off-the-beaten-path travels.  See my speaker info sheet HERE  https://wp.me/P28mxV-1e

The second is Consulting. Larger aid organizations finally may be realizing the importance, in their mix of aid, of a tested Model for a women’s center.  Over thirteen years of intensively studying and coordinating the operation four Women’s Centers, I’ve amassed a LOT of wisdom.  All of it has been complied in the Women’s Centers Guide. This and my strategic thinking skills I will happily share (for a fee).

The Women’s Center Model, birthed during Darfur’s darkest times, is especially effective where women are displaced and poverty endemic – including urban U.S. It’s how we advance women, a community’s best game changers, out of poverty.

Evidence Pileup

I felt slammed by an article this week.   It radicalized – even further – my belief that too many women in the US are laboring under the illusion that we don’t need to fight for basic rights.

The article, An Epidemic of Disbelief by Barbara Bradley Hagerty in the August 2019 issue of The Atlantic, opens with a riveting description of this discovery: in a broken-down warehouse in Detroit,  more than 11,000 rape kits that had not been sent for testing. Their dates extended back thirty years. Each one bore evidence of the most horrific event in a woman’s life. Image rape kit

A scandal it was, this breathtakingly negligent warehousing – but not an isolated case.  Estimates are that more than 200,000 untested rape kits now languish in police evidence lockers in cities throughout US.

In many rape cases, police don’t even begin investigating; a prevalent belief is that most women lie about being raped. One detective stated: “Out of ten cases, eight are false reports.”

Most prosecutors won’t take a case to court without a “righteous victim” – a woman who didn’t know the assailant, fought back, had a clean record, hadn’t been drinking, and didn’t offer sex for money or drugs. Essentially, the victim on trial.  If prosecutors predict a jury won’t convict, they won’t prosecute.

This ‘blame the victim” mindset in the criminal  justice system allows women to be raped with impunity. Journalist Bradley Hagerty captured it succinctly:  “Rape is by far the easiest violent crime to get away with.”

After six millennia, the only right women share worldwide is the right to vote.

In this country, as in many,  we’re still up against The Big Three Wrongs that try to “keep women in their place.”

We are paid less that men.

Our reproductive decisions are legislated by governments.

We are physically not safe; we will likely see no justice if we, or someone we know, is raped. And rape is epidemic in our world. Statistics forcable-rape-rate-in-the-us-by-state-2017

These ugly truths tend to invite depression,  a  predictable malaise too common among women, along with real fear of stepping beyond the restrictive definitions of ’woman’ so well embedded and defended in our culture.

In many countries,  women are in pervasive jeopardy, suffering transgression that even our broken systems might find actionable.  Women walking eight hours a day to collect water. Young girls married off to old men.  Clitorises removed. Wife-beating an accepted practice. And, diabolically, so much more pain-inflicting behavior.

The warriors among us have to come up with solutions.

Nine years ago, an amazing Darfuri woman revealed my warrior purpose to me, I have been immersed in thinking about how Women’s Centers work and grow and change.  I know, from creating four Women’s Centers, that women find what they need there.

Think:  base camps for the movement of advancing women’s lives.

Think:  safe places where women learn new skills, changing their life trajectory.

Think:  women experiencing the support of a sisterhood, learning that the petty stuff undercuts the enormous strength women find in unity.

That’s what Women’s Centers do. They equip women to become strong and resourceful – as they must be to build a better life. And their transformation ripples through the community.

I have witnessed the joyful engagement of the women at Baraka Center.  I know they come, sometimes a great distance, because they find acceptance and wisdom and support.

Meanwhile, to my utter bafflement, I have yet to convince enough monied allies of the urgent utility of Women’s Centers.  We’ve paid big dues; it’s time for big movement.

Women of means – even small means – must  step up for the sisters in dire situations – refugee camps and slums. There you find the women whose unique gifts can and will transform our world.

Women’s Centers are the most elemental way to advance the power of women. We need all the help we can get.

 

 

 

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.

The Women’s March Disconnect

I’ve written extensively about the struggles of women living on the margins of our prosperous city, and the need for resources that help advance them. At some time in all women’s lives, the adjectives “vulnerable” and “marginalized” apply. Do we forget?

The messages streaming from the organizers of the Women’s March urge us to RSVP to a March, DONATE, and most recently are pushing to sell March merchandise ( t-shirts etc.).  An earlier email mentioned the formation of policy groups, but no one  responded to a query.

The Women’s March risks becoming a ’cause’ unto itself.

Consider the costs of dozens of Marches in major US cities. I can only guesstimate it’s in the double digit MILLIONS of dollars – much of it for police “protection.”

It’s the new nexus for donations to “Women’s Issues,” usually the least funded of all human services.

If a one-day event can induce an outpouring of so much money, but none of it is publicly earmarked to serve the most vulnerable women, then we have a serious failure to define purpose.

How can the March induce hundreds of thousands of women to gather and NOT enable them to do something more effective than carry signs?screen shot 2019-01-09 at 11.08.22 am

What’s needed now in Oakland – and probably most major cities:

Sufficient safe and comfortable space for all women who need shelter from domestic violence;

A safe place for women to discover and receive the help they need to finish high school, learn computers,  prepare for a job, get low-cost counseling, hang with other women, and learn to value their uniqueness. Too many women ravaged by poverty have a LOT of healing to do.

An initiative to educate EVERYONE our community about how to end violence against women;

A campaign to induce local major employers give public evidence of equal pay – or correct the inequalities.

That’s for starters.

When will the connection between March activism and effective community action begin?  Will the Marches disclose their finances, and will they opt to serve real needs?  It’s an open question that begs response.