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.

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  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.

$$$$

I think about money a lot – mainly because I have nearly 450 people depending on me.

Even through I’m 10,000 miles away from Baraka Women’s Center in Nairobi, I know intimately what extraordinary progress has been made in just 8 months.

Chief among them is the resurrection of hope, the increasingly joyful belief that, given a small hand-up, these women will turn their lives out of poverty.

 They depend one me because I deliver what money I can shake out of America’s prosperity tree. WCI pays for a safe space for their Center, notebooks, textbooks, pencils, pitifully small salaries to dedicated staff, and fees for teachers and trainers.  I need about $6,000 a month to elevate the prospects of 464 women. It’s gonna take about 3 more months before the big grant money shows up.  So getting through the summer is my challenge. 

I know there’s lots of money “out there.” I’m looking for allies to help me secure it.

Is that you?   

Kinshasa girls

An article posted on http://www.plusnews.org/ got me to thinking about the plight of teenagers in urban environments, and about a more expansive definition of the purpose of a Women’s Center.

The following are excerpts from the article:

KINSHASA, 8 May 2012

Sarah, 16, started sleeping on the streets of Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic republic of Congo (DRC), when she was only eight years old. She doesn’t remember how she came to live on the streets, but thinks it was soon after her mother died.

Sarah is one of an estimated 20,000 children living rough on Kinshasa’s streets, many from homes too poor to feed them, some after being thrown out of their homes because they were accused of sorcery, while others end up on the streets as a result of the divorce and remarriage of a parent whose new partner won’t accept them. According to NGOs, about  one-third of these children are girls, and around 80 percent of girls on the street make a living from sex.

“Some men take you by force, and if you scream for help they beat you,” Sarah told IRIN/PlusNews. “Younger girls can be taken advantage of and get only about US$1 for sex, but if you negotiate, you can get $10 for one whole night… sometimes you go to a hotel, sometimes you just find a dark place to do it.”

Sarah’s face and arms are marked by scars from a fight with a group of girls who cut her with a razor. “When it’s night you have to find somewhere to sleep. If it rains, your usual place may be flooded, and we’re always running from the police,” she said. “If you have no money and have to borrow some to eat, you will pay forever, because a debt on the street is never finished.”

Girls regularly experience violence, but help for street children, particularly girls, is very limited….Many of these girls are raped as often as twice a week, so rape becomes the norm, and they survive by building a wall between themselves and their bodies. … Rape is one of the rituals girls go through when being initiated into sex work on the street, usually supervised by an older girl known as a ‘yaya’, or older sister.

And this telling comment from the director of one drop-in support center:  “We can’t tell them to stop sex work because we can’t give them an alternative [emphasis mine] – what we can do is give them condoms and contraception to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy, but we can’t judge or moralize about their situation.”   

 As Women’s Centers International grows beyond IDP camps into urban environments, it will champion and create options for girls who’ve been thrust into the most demeaning activity a woman can endure. A girl/ women earning money without abandoning her soul is the first step to unleashing her power. From this, the inherent genius of girls begins to flow through the community.

So much need. WCI needs funding to grow!