Half the Sky – a needed relook on the global maltreatment of women and girls

The following piece was posted about eight years ago, but it remains relevant in today’s world. With the Taliban re-seizing control, it shows how any forward progress for women and girls can be jeopardized with more autocratic rule. We must also guard against the ice-picking away of women’s rights even here in the US.

One of my favorite columnists, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, was on “Real Time with Bill Maher,” last night. Kristof has co-authored a book with Sheryl WuDunn, which I have yet to read, but will put it on list to do so. The book’s title is indicated above – “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” In short, when women are oppressed, it is like trying to survive with half the sky. I have written about this in earlier posts, but merely from an economic growth standpoint, if a country or region oppresses women, they are competing with the rest of the world with only 1/2 of their intellectual capital. But, it obviously goes far deeper and broader than that.

A society that treats women as lesser citizens will not flourish long term. If you oppress women, you are relegating them to a subservient role, and through your teachings, make more women less inclined to “lean in” as Sheryl Sandberg is suggesting. Last night Kristof observed that the better educated a group of people are, both men and women tolerate far less the abuse and oppression of women. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught per the song from “South Pacific,” the maltreatment of women must be taught as well.

Kristof noted that it is not just the gang rapes in India that are now getting more attention and must stop, it is the maltreatment by male family members of girls that needs to cease as well. To this point, I have seen data which suggests that when boys and girls witness or are victimized by domestic violence, they show a greater propensity as adults than others to either conduct such violence (if male) or associate with someone who is more controlling and could be violent toward them (if female). In other words, the boys are taught by example that it is OK to do this and women are taught they must allow it.

But, this extends beyond the borders of India into many places, especially in several African nations where rivals will rape, maim and abuse women and children. It extends to nations where certain religions make women subservient, where the rape of a wife by a husband is not a crime, e.g. It extends to nations where these same religions do not want to educate young girls as they may get ideas they can better themselves. This denial of education as a means to oppress a group of people is as old as any sin that exists today.

Kristof is optimistic about change. There is a movement that has education, games, film and advocates galore. Please check it out at www.halftheskymovement.org . I made the comment this week, that one of the best things that Hillary Clinton did as Secretary of State, was be a very visible and loud voice for women around the world. I posted last summer that one of the best ambassadors for the US were its female naval officers of very big ships. When Iraqi soldiers wanted to speak with the person in charge saying this directly to a woman officer, she would respond, “I am in charge” and it made a huge impression.

This week a significant leader died – Margaret Thatcher. If you have not seen “Iron Lady” you must. Whether you agreed with all of her politics or not, she made a huge step forward for women and is to be commended. The fact people can openly disagree with her is evidence that she made a difference in moving the ball forward. And, like Jackie Robinson, she had to be tough as nails and not show weakness. The same is true for other great leaders such as Clinton, Golda Meir, Aung San Suu Kyi, Angela Merkel, Christine LaGarde, Nancy Pelosi, Condaleeza Rice and Madeleine Albright to name only a few. In the future, we need to have much longer lists to choose from.

Let me close with a different thought. We need to treat women fairly, just as we would anyone else. I often paraphrase the Golden Rule as they are words to live by – “treat others like you want to be treated.” There are no caveats to this rule. There are no race, sexual preference, ethinicity and especially gender caveats. If we do this simple task that Jesus implored us to do, we will pay it forward. If we teach our kids to do this, they will pay it forward. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught, so should the Golden Rule. If we do, our world will be different. And, in many more places, the other half of the sky will be engaged, educated and valued trying to make it so.

Note: Since I wrote this I have read “Half the Sky.” It is an excellent book, but one of the toughest books I have ever read. It will frustrate you as it delves into girls being sold to adult men for marriage at very early ages such as twelve or thirteen. It speaks to such girls having babies long before their bodies are ready, so vaginal tearing occurs and can lead to an infection known as fistula, where bowel movements leak into such wounds. It speaks of genital mutilation which occurs in some religions which is forced upon teens without their consent.

Only women bleed – an unlikely source for powerful words

Whether his name rings a bell for a younger generation, there is an old rocker named Alice Cooper, who beneath his “Kiss” like make-up, sang some great rock-n-roll songs. But, he co-wrote and recorded one of the most powerful ballads, with domestic violence and maltreatment of women as a back drop. The song was aptly entitled “Only women bleed.”

Here is sample of the lyrics from the middle of the song.

“Man makes your hair gray
He’s your life’s mistake
All you’re really lookin’ fors an even break
He lies right at you
You know you hate this game
Slaps you once in a while
And you live and love in pain

She cries alone at night too often
He smokes and drinks and don’t come home at al
l

Only women bleed”

Domestic violence remains a hidden trauma for women. I use the word “hidden” as many victims try to hide their pain and bruises. They have been told it is their fault by their abusers. They are shamed as well as beaten. And, the abusers are quite adroit at masking their violent and controlling tendencies from their co-workers, friend and relatives.

In an agency to help working homeless families that I volunteered with, about 1/3 of the families in need were domestic violence survivors. In addition to losing their home, the spouse and family had to also experience the trauma of domestic violence. PTSD in these families had two causes.

If you are in a domestic violence situation or know someone who is, here are two loudspeaker bulletins.

  • He will not change. Full stop.
  • Find a way to get out before it is too late.

Let me close with the painful story of a man who started a local group called “Men for Change.” His sister hid from him and her other siblings that her husband was beating her. She would avoid family gatherings when bruises were apparent. She also hid the fact her husband was beating her two boys, on occasion ramming their heads into the ceiling.

She hid this from her siblings until they found out. How did they? He killed their sister Only women bleed. The abusers will not change. Get out.

Imperfections

I think one of the reasons I treasure the eclectic and eccentric, is I appreciate imperfection. Let’s face it, we are an imperfect lot with a wide of array of likes and dislikes. But, we should be less concerned with perfection.

Without getting too risqué, I love imperfections in women. I prefer women to be more true to their look and less inclined to modify their imperfections. I also recognize fully there is psychic value in looking one’s best, but I am speaking to major changes to fix a perceived or actual flaw.

To me, these imperfections add character and beauty. We need not have identically looking women to find beauty. A crooked nose, a beauty mark, differently shaped eyebrows, curly hair, straight hair, full lips, thin lips, small breasts, large breasts, too thin, too heavy, lithe legs, athletic legs, rounded bottom , flat bottom, etc. makes the female varied and beautiful to me.

Yet, women are bombarded by magazines and ads to look a certain way. It adds to a neurosis of appearance that need not exist as much as it does. Of course, we prefer a healthy version of ourselves and would like to remain as youthful as possible, yet these efforts need not be over-engineered. Granted, we men contribute to this with our wandering eyes and sometimes wandering hands. And, I know we men are no day at the beach with our imperfections.

But, the beauty I find most appealing is the ability to laugh, to feel, to converse, to love. There is an old saying that is true to me – the woman picks the man. He just better be aware that she is picking him. What I did not understand until I watched the documentary called “I Am,” is the heart gives off a magnetic signal that can be sensed many feet away. If that heart is a flutter, it can be sensed by the person who made it flutter. There is nothing more attractive to a man than a woman interested in him.

So, if your imperfect self makes an equally imperfect man’s heart flutter, it could be as close as we get to nirvana. Being an imperfect man, we appreciate your imperfections. We certainly have our share. And, together, we can be more perfect than separately.

 

Three Senate Votes Tell You a Great Deal

Last Thursday, the US Senate took three votes that tell you a great deal about where people stand on issues. One of these votes combined two issues into one that the majority of Americans do not want and will be vetoed. The other two address a major concern that would helpful and are long overdue, but they did not pass.

The first one that passed is a bill that combines defunding significant parts of the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood. The former when mentioned by its nickname, Obamacare, drums up political ire from our Republican friends. They fail to tell their constituents it is working pretty well, but could use some targeted improvements. They also hide from the fact Obamacare is based largely off a Republican idea that was advocated by Tea Party leadership until Obamacare was passed and Mitt Romney ran for office.

Adding to the seemingly recurring vote to repeal Obamacare, which Americans said they do not want per a Kaiser Family Foundation survey – they want it improved – is defunding Planned Parenthood. The latter has been the target of a smear campaigns and an unedited video that misled viewers. The Congressional Committee that questioned the CEO looked small and, at times, incompetent when they erroneously cited data that was unverified off another entity’s website and not Planned Parenthood’s. It should be noted that at least two presidential candidates have cited this faulty evidence as fact in debates.

Planned Parenthood does a huge amount of good for women’s health, especially those who cannot afford a doctor. They perform mammograms, pap smears, and provide education on self exam and wellness. And, even though they perform abortions with no federal funding, their group actually reduces the number of abortions through family planning. But, something needs to be said to those who only want to use the rhythm method of birth control and abstinence – those measures do not take into account that people are going to have sex and they fail to achieve the objective of effective birth control. And, neither speak to educating young people about sex, esteem issues and STDs. It should be noted that there is a high correlation between increased family size and poverty.

This combined vote is merely a political stunt as it will be vetoed, a fate known before the vote was taken. The other two votes that did not pass can be viewed together. One was to extend background checks on all gun purchases. The other was for suspected terrorists or people under scrutiny and suggested the use of the No Fly Zone list to deny purchases of weapons in America. It is far easier to get guns here than anywhere, so once the terrorists (many of whom are citizens) decide to purchase weapons, they can easily do that.

Americans have wanted the background check expansion by a large majority per several surveys. The Elon University survey from 2014 noted over 70% of Republicans want background checks on all weapon transactions with the all voter sentiment around 90%. The second vote is both sad and comical. Here is where the rubber meets the road. The GOP has been very adamant over the concerns of the American people over terrorists harming Americans on our own soil. Yet, when a definitive measure that actually would help with a very difficult task of monitoring or denying purchases, the unholy alliance with the NRA rears its ugly heads.

To me, as an independent voter who is frustrated by our failure to act, this vote shows clearly that the money the NRA spends on their campaigns is more important than trying to combat terrorists on our own soil. I was watching the news after the vote and a terrorism expert said governing gun sales to would be terrorists is a critical step. We failed to take this step last Thursday. The NRA would not let us. It should be noted that legislators who want to restrict 1st amendment rights on freedom of religion to millions of Muslim Americans and further restrict entry to Syrian refugees, say it is very important to protect the 2nd amendment rights to No Fly Zone people under scrutiny. This is a shameful hypocrisy in my mind.

Words are cheap. Actions speak volumes. We had three votes – all three that go against what Americans want. One of which was a waste of time as it will be vetoed. In the next few weeks, when Congress complains of time to pass the budget, please remind them that they should not waste it. They should also focus on doing something that might help America. Not dealing with our gun death (see the link below) and terrorist concerns do not suffice.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/guns-killed-more-americans-in-the-past-50-years-than-every-us-war-ever/ar-AAfZ3Bt?li=BBnb4R7&ocid=DELLDHP

Prevention and Wellness – we are train wrecks waiting to happen

As a retired benefits professional, both as a consultant and manager of an employer benefits program, I have been involved with numerous healthcare prevention and wellness efforts. I have worked with wonderful colleagues who put in motion terrific ideas and measured their success. And, if not working well, they tweaked or scrapped them, as the key is to prevent illness and injury. The reason – we are train wrecks waiting to happen. If we don’t take care of ourselves now, issues will manifest themselves later.

March is national Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, so you may have seen more commercials on getting a colonoscopy. There is no better preventive exercise than getting a colonoscopy whether you are male or female. At the age of 55, I have had the “pleasure” twice and each time they have found pre-cancerous polyps, which they can and did remove during the procedure. If you are over the age of 50 and have not had one, please see your doctor. The worst thing is the cleansing liquid that you need to drink the afternoon and evening before. The procedure itself is twenty minutes in length.

Each October, we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month. Unlike colonoscopies, mammograms should start at an earlier age, especially if you have a family history. And, unlike colonoscopies, reading a mammogram is science and art. It takes a trained eye to read them and there are some false readings. I have two suggestions. First, start early with self-examination. If you don’t know how, ask someone who does. You know your body better than anyone, so you may sense something is amiss.

Second, if you do get a mammogram and get a positive result, don’t panic and do the follow-up with an oncologist.  Even if the oncologist says everything is OK, it is worth the trouble and expense. If you get a negative (or there may or may not be an issue) mammogram and feel it is not correct, get another one. In the mid-1990s, we ran a mobile mammogram (thanks Mary!), which conducted 11,000 screenings for our employees, irrespective of whether they signed up for the employer healthcare plan. We detected 9 cancers. That is nine lives who may have been saved, which makes the cost savings to the employees and employers meaningless when compared to a life saved.

While these are of critical importance, most people die from heart disease, including and especially women. So, every month should be heart disease awareness month. One of my old Global Health and Wellness colleagues said one of America’s greatest exports is obesity. We have shared with the world our affinity for fast food and each nation has made it their own adding other unhealthy items to the menu. In Mexico, you can get a burrito with your Big Mac at Mickey D’s. I should add the US is the most obese country in the world according to the World Health Organization with over a third of Americans with a BMI greater than 30, although Mexico is giving us a run for our money.

There are a number of programs and diets that attack people, especially women, from TV and magazines. Dr. Oz is great, but he has a new idea on every day, so you are blitzed by information and are hamstrung on what to do. You cannot do everything Dr. Oz suggests. So, here are a couple of simple ideas that we each can do (please do more if you are and can), that will help you with your heart health.

Walk to better health. That’s it. Walk after dinner or to run errands. Walk the dog or with a friend. Even if for only five minutes, just walk and you will see a difference.

See a doctor for a preventive or wellness check-up.This will be one of biggest benefits of Obamacare. People will now go to the doctor for preventive visits. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can be managed, but you have to know.

– Eat smaller portions. This is the most sustainable diet you can do. Start by leaving “bites for the cook” when you eat. Just don’t overload your plate or when you eat a snack, put the product in a small bowl and don’t eat from the bag or container. We keep lightly salted mixed nuts and small fruits (blueberries, grapes, e.g.) around and use them as snacks rather than chips.

There are many more ideas I could throw out, but let’s stick with those three. Since I retired, I graze during the day eating five or six small meals – the three main meals and usually two or three snacks. I try not to overeat at any of them. I would encourage you also to eat more calories earlier in the day and try not to eat too late, so your body can burn the calories.

I would ask my readers to share their ideas as well, but my main purpose is to suggest small steps that you can do and sustain. Diets will eventually fail unless you make changes that you can live with each day. Walking is easier to start and continue and, if you miss a few days, you can easily pick it up again. Best wishes on keeping your train on the track and avoiding the train wreck later in life.