Tag Archives: Women’s Centers International

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


“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!

Baffling sights, aural delights, and notable encounters of 2018

Navigating life is a daunting challenge most of the time, to say nothing of the considerable regular effort required to behave like a competent, contributory human being.

I do not have a television, having abandoned the device and the medium ten years ago in an effort to firewall my thinking, to improve my experience of a day.  Avoiding the mawkish, trite, corporate free-for-all of advertising relieves me of some anxiety.  If I feel a need to escape, I watch movies without commercials.

Without the clutter of factoids about shootings and disasters, money- or sex-related scandals, political embarrassments and rumors delivered by TV news, which is sandwiched among depressingly un-nuanced dramatic shows and unfunny comedies, I’m able, on more occasions, to be more attuned to observing and listening to the lives and life around me. It’s never boring.

Oakland, California where I live:

Plagued by a volatile racial divide. Some days it cools and softens with the balm of open relaxed conversations or random acts of humanity.

Too many people wandering across busy streets against the light and with no fear.  Suicide by random passer-by.  John George, the psychiatric facility where adults experiencing severe and disabling mental illnesses may commit themselves or be committed, has patients sleeping on mats on the floor in a dorm, unsheltered from each other, medicated but unhealed.

The upcoming Women’s March, spending an obscene amount of money on an events that is unlikely to produce any timely or tangible assistance to swelling ranks of women on the margins of our community,  where domestic violence shelters are always full, too many women have not completed high school, do not know how to use computers, and virtually stagger through their days under the burden of traumas rooted in their poverty.

The City’s infested with the cheap scooters that expose riders without helmets to head injuries and pedestrians without warning to vehicular assault.

The losing battle in West Oakland against graffiti and random trash piles. Not much sense that this is a neighborhood worth valuing. We need to change that.

On the plus side:

white unbrella fungi on tree CU
photo by David Lent

The Yuba River still flows with enormous power; a hike in the forest in the riot of furry mosses and spritely fungi and elegant ferns and nude oaks that have lain down rugged brown carpets on ochre clay – that resets a weary soul.

Women’s issues steadily are gaining traction in the public conversation, suggesting more action to correct the inequities and predations on women that are inherent in our society.


I’ve discovered the amazing music of Jessica La Rel  http://www.jessicalarel.com/  

ODI Dance Kenya   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqmIT3dVQyY   

Sol Development   http://soldevelopmentmusic.com/

JAX (Haiti)   https://www.facebook.com/pg/jaxmusic4/about/

WCI and I survived and rebooted after soul-busting betrayals by trusted women.  New strong allies are arriving with reassuring regularity.

Several extraordinary women I know through Oakland Women’s Center have become wonderful friends.  I cherish my connection with them. Black and white women have more than they usually realize to offer each other.

My next book is coming out in January:  Trouble Ahead:  Dangerous Missions with Desperate People

3D-coverIt’s a compilation of journals – commentary from my numerous missions in East Africa and the birth stories of Women’s Centers International.

Publication announcement to come.

After the holiday slack-off, I’ll be ready again to advance WCI in serving the women who need it most.

We’ve got a long way to go, baby

March 8th is International Women’s Day.

For me, it’s an opportunity to shore up my faith in the mission of Women’s Centers. Why? Because the Women’s Centers movement provides the single most effective way to gather, restore and fortify the woman-power desperately needed to rebalance our society.

After a couple millennia as second-class humans, of having to protest, argue and fight and die for control of every damn choice, most women still live in fear for the safety of their bodies. While suffering breaks, bruises and unwanted pregnancies from abusive men, women are also rapidly losing the ability to make choices about those unwanted pregnancies. Misogynist state legislatures are closing abortion clinics at an alarming rate.

Imagine: over the last twenty years, States have enacted 835 anti-choice measures – most prominently mandatory delays1, TRAP laws2, and insurance-coverage bans3 – that make it unspeakably difficult for a woman to have options for a life worth living.

In the Bay Area, the chances of an abused woman finding shelter space to escape her abuser currently are slim to none. All of the shelters are chronically full. A survivor’s choice often comes down to this: live on the streets or return to her abuser. Where is funding for new or expanded shelter services?

Until our society commits to actively securing the physical safety and reproductive choices of all women, we’ll continue to suffer the absence of women’s genius for repairing the mess men’s repressive violence has made of our world.


  1. Mandatory-delay measures prohibit women from receiving abortion care until they are subjected to a state-mandated lecture and/or materials, typically followed by a delay of at least 24 hours.
  2. Measures that prohibit insurance companies from covering abortion services or require women to purchase a separate policy and pay an extra premium to receive abortion coverage.
  3. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. Common TRAP regulations include those    that: limit the provision of care only to physicians; force practices to convert  needlessly into mini-hospitals at great expense; require abortion providers to get    admitting privileges; and require facilities to have a transfer agreement with a local    hospital (with nothing requiring hospitals to grant such privileges).     Source: NARAL

As the Planet Rotates

My friend Grant, also a member of WCI’s Board of Directors, is visiting Baraka Center in Nairobi. He went to see about the ladies for whom his consistent generosity has been a major enabling factor. He wanted to share with them his love of geography and astronomy and dance. The word comes back that the warmebos have a new favorite son.

One woman asked: “Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?” I could not remember when this piece of knowledge was installed in my mind. I’m sure I was a child. This set me to thinking about the gift of education, how its denial has been a source of shame and vulnerability for women young and old.

Fifty-five ladies come weekly, if not daily, to the Center for the splendid and taxing journey of mining human knowledge. For at least twelve learners, the 30-cent bus fare quickly became a deal breaker. Their choice was ‘Eat or Learn.” The staff and I squeezed travel stipends (a total of about $130/month) out of the Center’s never-enough budget. We’ll figure out how to make it up next month.

With barely a pot to piss in, Baraka members are generous with each other, pooling what they could for a gift to the family of Teacher Sarah, whose mother passed.

They’ve formed groups named Global Women and Digital Women and Precious Women Self-Help Group to support each other’s businesses. They envision bakeries and mushroom farming and mango exporting – dreams they now feel strong enough to describe out loud.

The 315 active members (of a total 572) support over 650 children, many as single mothers. They have that many reasons to succeed.

They show up at workshops to learn about HIV/AIDS and TB and other blights that weigh on their lives.

They celebrate with song and dance as often as they can.Group clapping

They’re clamoring to learn to use computers.

WCI and I serve as a catalyst for the changes these women want to embrace. Their achievements come sailing like bright kites in emailed reports. Of this I am sure: their genius in full flower will be a force of nature.

I have little interest in the notion of ‘saving the world.” This work simply is the right thing to do, given the odds stacked against women – poor women in particular. I’ve grown fevered about seeding this model based on two obvious (to me) truths. Women are stronger together. They are even stronger in a seedbed of opportunity.

History is rife with breakthrough ideas and partnerships rising despite (because of?) popular indifference during the early goings. WCI is just two years into its successes, still nearly invisible. Every day I ask: who are allies and where’s the money? Every day, I’m on the search. Life is full.