Revolution Rising on Cat’s Feet

Our busy lives, our much-loved comforts, seem to invite amnesia or indifference or denial about the fact that women everywhere are in the fight of their lives, as we always have been.

The biggest battles – for control of our bodies and freedom from sexual violence – are a long way from won. And so we come to the impact of a network to advance women’s power.

I often ponder the transformations occurring among the members of  Baraka Women’s Center. When I speak with them or read their stories, their rising hope is palpable. They’ve found a place with the tools that make shiny possibilities come within their grasp.

The guidance offered in the Entrepreneur and Leadership Program is one of the most significant contributions, helping women find their core of self-worth – lost or never found in the fray of surviving extreme poverty.

Reminding a woman that she has intrinsic value is a subtle and continuous process. Little things add up: a warm welcome to a place where women gather, a clear message that ‘you belong’, and spontaneous connections with other women working to reshape their lives.

That’s what a Women’s Center does best.

Women’s Centers International now is supporting eight Women’s Centers: six in African, one in the Middle East, and one in California USA. We ‘call in’ those with not far to fall: women excluded from society’s wealth, women who grew up in poverty or were downed by a twist of violence, who subsist on starchy foods, wear second-hand clothes, and love their kids so much they have to scramble too damn hard to keep them fed and clothed and educated. That’s where the revolution rises on cat’s feet.

There’s nothing noble in brutal alchemy of poverty. There is, however, great power in poverty-honed instincts for survival. Those who possess them belong in the ’situation room’ as women resuscitate and reshape a kinder world. Yeah, we get clean up duty. But we’re the ones with the best and fiercest instinct to make life better.

Buzzword: Girls

I love girls.  I used to be one. It was a time not particularly festooned with lovely experiences, but one thing that defined it: the presence or absence of mom. The role of adult women in shaping girls’ lives can never be understated.

In the non-profit and philanthropic universe, ‘Girls’ has become the latest buzzword.  Do we have a shared definition of the word ‘girl’? For me, a girl is a female age 3 through 12 years. A child. Do current trends indicate teens should now be included? Consider also the expression ‘one of the girls’, usually referring to adult females and used either pejoratively or affectionately depending on source.

This – and society’s – often fawning obsession with youth ignores certain realities.

  • Girls don’t know what they don’t know. 

They haven’t lived very long but may have seen more than a child should. That doesn’t infer understanding. If they’re smart, they find answers from women –  mothers, grandmothers, aunties, older sisters – with wisdom based on lived experience. Women’s Centers uniquely serve this role.

Mom sewing African bags with young daughter at Baraka Women’s Center, Nairobi, Kenya
  • Girlhood delivers different experiences depending on culture.

These tender years ideally would be the realm of unimpeded curiosity, of playful explorations that reveal innate gifts, and of gilded dreams to use those talents. In less privileged places, girlhood is a forced march, a time of repression, with limited opportunities for the flowering of femaleness.

  • Expectations for girls  to assume adult responsibilities can hobble or destroy aspirations.

While some girls possess natural instincts for leadership and activism, most must be guided by the hackles that rise over injustices they see or experience. Their leadership skills emerge with compassionate and patient coaching.

‘Young females’ doesn’t fall easily from the lips, but ‘youth’ offers less of an ambiguous pigeonhole than ‘girls.’  I love the idea of promoting and celebrating girls, especially feisty ones. But we gain little by seeing them as standard bearers for the gender justice struggle that requires the power of women’s wisdom.

Howl We Do It Revisited

The Howl We Do It / Full Moon Sisters Movement has not caught on (yet), probably a tad too visceral in 2012. But here I am, ten years later, revisiting the idea because it’s in-your-face enough to gain traction.

Excerpts from the first blog post in 2012:

A young mother in Congo, the “rape capital of the world,” offers a detailed account of a horrendous gang rape in front of her husband, who is then murdered. The trauma ends her early-term pregnancy. Her legs are shot so many times that one must be amputated.

This woman, made a penniless beggar by the horrific assault, painfully tells her story with no likelihood of receiving emotional support. A note at the end of the article states that her “identity has been concealed for security reasons and because rape carries strong social stigma in the region.”1 As if there is a place in world where rape does not carry a stigma.

And, from around the world, statistics that vary widely from source to source:

  • A woman born in South Africa stands a greater chance of being raped than of learning how to read.
  • A UK study concluded that between 75 and 95 percent of rape crimes are never reported to the police.
  • In the US, victims 12-years and older survived a total of 125,910 rapes or sexual assaults. (2009 statistics). At least 50% of victims never report to police.

My question: Why haven’t women taken to the streets, raging en masse to end the trauma meted out to them and their sisters around the world?  How could we possibly be cowed into silence?

It makes me wanna howl. I tried it one night. Alone on the rooftop, I ended up whimpering quietly like a wounded pup. To be honest, it scared me to summon that primal noise.  But, when I got with a few other women, at night, at the beach, we could let go. Out there, maybe nobody heard us but we could hear ourselves growling, yipping, barking and howling our pain, our protest. It felt like releasing a grievance that, unspoken, would eventually main my soul.

Think of The Howl as pro-woman activism, as public theater, a compelling aural reminder that women will not suffer quietly the violence inflicted on them. 

The full moon, the symbol of women’s rhythms, is the perfect occasion for The Howl.

Imagine the reaction of urban (or suburban or rural) neighbors to a few minutes of women howling every time the full moon rises. Then, The Howl ripples through time zones around the world.

The first couple times, folks are wondering WTF and perhaps feeling a little nervous. We state our message clearly through public media and blogs and social media and even on street corners: The Full Moon Sisters – a global movement – howls every full moon around the planet until the violence and rape and laws controlling our bodies stop. 

Today – Ten years later:

Howling sounds threatening if you mean it to.  And that’s good, considering the egregious violations imposed on women. Howling rises from the locked room in women’s hearts, the place where we are worthless. Howling asserts we are more valuable than all the shit we endure.

It’s not over when we lose, it’s over when we quit. New tactics required.

Are we ready yet?  Howl We Do It!

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.