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Category: women's rights

How Miss Peru Contestants Shined the Spotlight on Femicide

Latin America, Peru, Human Rights, women's rights, Violence Against Women

Picture this: Gorgeous women dressed in sequin gowns line up on stage. One by one, they step up to the microphone and introduce themselves.  

“My name is Camila Canicoba, and I represent the department of Lima. My measurements are: 2,202 cases of femicide reported in the last nine years in my country,” says the first.

“My name is Karen Cueto, and I represent Lima and my measurements are 82 femicides and 156 attempted femicides so far this year,” says the second.

No, this isn’t a UN Women gala. It’s the 2017 Miss Peru pageant. In a surprising twist, the 23 contestants broke the tradition of revealing their measurements (bust, waist, and hip) to announce far more important numbers: the statistics on violence against women in their homeland.

The numbers are easy to gloss over. (How many more women die in car crashes each year, you might ask.) True, statistics can come across as meaningless without the stories behind them, which is why the faces of battered women flashed behind the contestants as they spoke. But they didn’t end there. Each woman finished by answering the following: which law would they change to end violence against women?

Latin America's 'Woman' Problem

Pageant organizer Jessica Newton’s brilliant idea put women’s rights center stage and turned an old fashioned competition into a moment of solidarity. But why in Peru? And why now?

Loss of Youth: Growing Concerns over Child Brides in Ethiopia

A 14-year-old girl prepares for marriage in the West Nusa Tenggara province of Indonesia. (Credit: UN Photo/Armin Hari, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0,

For privileged children in the United States, their biggest worries are getting their homework done in time to watch TV and being able to play outside with their friends. However, for young girls in Ethiopia, they are worried about getting a proper education and hoping their parents don’t force them into marriage.

According to Girls Not Brides, two in every five girls are married before their 18th birthday and one in five girls marry before the age of 15. For these young girls, forced marriage brings their childhood to an abrupt halt.

In Ethiopian culture, some believe that a woman's main job is to be a wife and mother. Patriarchal ideals such as these contribute to the issue of female genital mutilation: 80% of women in Ethiopia become victims of this practice before the age of one.

Many of the girls who are married off at a young age will be unable to complete their education, either because their families cannot afford it or because their husbands refuse to allow them to attend school. It is common for girls not to even find out they are getting married until a week or a few days prior to the wedding. They are forced to marry men they do not know and who are eight or more years older than they are.

International Women's Day

IWD, International Women's Day, Women's Rights, UN Women

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), the day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world. In honor of the day I think it is important  not only to recognize the historical influence of women, but to also look forward and promote a gender equal future.

International Women’s Day was first organized by the German socialist and theorist Clara Zetkin along with 100 delegates from 17 countries in March 1911. It was instituted in response to the numerous movements worldwide advocating for women’s right to vote, hold office and be given equal employment rights as men. It began as a massive protest by strong, brave, independent women when it was not “progressive” or “cool” to be a strong, brave, independent woman.

Since then, the holiday has evolved into a day of awareness on women's progress in the ongoing fight for gender equality and a day to address issues across the globe that directly affect women. It has also expanded from one day to encompass the entire month of March, recognized as Women’s History month by President Obama in 2011. It has gained support in the media and across the internet; every year Google posts a doodle on its homepage in support for women around the world.


#HeforShe Logo

#ThankYouMexico for finally joining the #HeforShe campaign fighting for gender equality!

#HeforShe was created by UN Women, which was established to accelerate progress on meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide. The campaign has been famously supported by Emma Watson, who made an extraordinary speech at the UN in support of this global movement. The goal is not only to discuss positive change, but to make it happen with real action.

The campaign’s main focus has been on encouraging men and boys to take action against inequalities faced by women and girls. Unlike most social media movements, the #HeforShe campaign has existed for a few years, but its momentum has not come to a halt. The campaign continues to grow, reaching hundreds of thousands of men and women worldwide. Currently the countries leading in participation and support include the United States, the United Kingdom, Ecuador, Mexico and Canada. In Iceland, 1 in 18 men have made the #HeForShe commitment, the highest percentage in the world.

The Other Reason to Educate Girls

Malala Yousafzai, education advocate and Co-founder of the Malala Fund, speaks during an event to mark 500 Days of Action for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). UN Photo/Mark Garten

Programs seeking to improve girls’ education around the world have a laundry list of critical justifications supporting them. In particular, girls’ education is seen as an important development tool. This World Bank report shows how uneducated women directly affect countries’ Gross Domestic Product; this infographic from USAID makes explicit how more girls in school improves GDP, increases agricultural output, and creates an investment in future generations because women are more likely to spend their money on their families than men are.

Simply put, educating girls is awesome for pretty much everybody.

But here's what's barely mentioned in too many of these reports: these education programs are educating girls. Their chief importance isn’t in economic benefits or the return on investment donors see in financial reports or improvements in the global economy. Educating girls matters because women matter.

Ending the Practice of Foot-Binding

Although the struggle for women’s rights in China is far from over, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party has allowed women more opportunities and rights than their ancestors before them, especially in the public sphere. The best thing that the Party did in the name of women’s rights has been to eradicate the practice of foot-binding.

Foot-binding began during the Song (or Sung) Dynasty (960-1279). Over time, this practice trickled down the socioeconomic ladder from the ruling to the lower classes.

Foot-binding can also accurately be called foot mutilation. It involved great risks, including infection and gangrene; some women and girls even died as a result of these complications. But those who willingly participated in it believed they were culturally obligated, as sometimes this was the only way a lady could improve her status and marry into a family of higher economic or political rank.

Besides being considered aesthetically pleasing, bound feet were also a symbol of women being inferior and dependent on men, as they couldn’t move about so easily. It was also believed that foot-binding helped to protect women’s chastity as well as devote their bodies’ energy into reproduction.

Speaking Out Against Rape Culture

 When you dress like that, you are asking to be raped.

For every man in jail for rape, there should be a woman in the cell next to his.

It wasn’t uncommon to hear my prep school teachers utter sentences like these. Though their statements outraged me, I never took them to be indicative of society as a whole; surely no one outside of my backward little Northern Virginia community would actually blame a victim for her own assault. After graduating, however, I would come to realize how wrong I was about that.

In later years, I learned of not only the prevalence of rape across the globe, but the cultural acceptance of it. In Afghanistan, for example, sexual violence is a widespread and underreported problem. It often comes in the context of forced and child marriage, domestic abuse, and police brutality. Because of the high value placed on girls’ virginity, rape victims who come forward often are shamed and may even be imprisoned for “moral crimes.”

Here in the US, rape culture is illustrated by the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and the failure of administrations to take appropriate action. Another major indicator are incidents like the Steubenville rape case, in which the respective offenders were sentenced to a mere one and two years in detention, while those in mainstream and social media alike mourned the loss of the boys' "promising futures" and attributed the crime to the victim's intoxication.  

Free for a Day: Meriam Ibrahim Released and Rearrested

A few days ago, my mother, who of course reads my blog posts, excitedly notified me over Facebook that Meriam Ibrahim has been released from prison in Sudan. Last week I wrote about how the court’s apostasy accusation against Ibrahim, in addition to being an egregious assault on religious freedom, was also a case study in codified misogyny. This legalized chauvinism had forced a mother to give birth shackled to the floor and had sentenced her to death--but last Monday it seemed she’d been granted a reprieve.

The international outcry against the conviction’s abuse of human rights seemed to have been answered in the Court’s latest ruling. Jehanne Henry of Human Rights watch suggested that the international pressure may have had an influence on the decision. Certainly between Amnesty International, David Cameron, and Hillary Clinton, influential voices had raised a clamour worldwide in an international campaign demanding justice for the imprisoned Ibrahim. Widespread investment and concern for the fate of one woman had transcended borders and yielded a concrete and happy result.

Still, the international community rejoiced cautiously. US Rep. Chris Smith called the release a “huge first step,” but maintained that the next was putting Ibrahim and her family on a plane to the US.

Senate Hearing on Women's Rights Affirms Importance of IVAWA, CEDAW

Senate Witness Panel on Gender-Based Violence, cred. Feminist Majority

This blog was co-authored with Ben Gross

Tuesday marked a monumental day for women around the world as the Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy, and Global Women’s Issues gathered to address the global epidemic of gender-based violence and discrimination. Senator Barbara Boxer, presiding, convened an impressive array of witnesses that included prominent Senators as well as many other leading figures in the struggle for gender equality.

Senator Boxer emphasized in her opening remarks the need for the long-overdue passage of  the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) and the ratification of the Women’s Rights Treaty (CEDAW) as vital steps in protecting women’s rights worldwide.

Climate Change: A Distinctly Gendered Issue

Climate change has been framed in many ways: as an environmental issue, a public health issue, an economic issue, a sustainable development issue...what is rarely acknowledged, however, is that climate change is also a women’s rights issue.

But how can climate change be misogynistic? 

In poor countries around the world, a disproportionate amount of household responsibility falls on women and girls; namely the tasks of providing water, food, and resources for heating and cooking. Moreover, most small-scale farmers are, in fact, women--particularly in developing countries, where men typically leave home to find employment. In these roles, women become especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change (such as drought, soil erosion, and deforestation), as well as the effects of a lack of political power and economic independence.

A poignant example of this occurs in refugee camps in Darfur, where women walk as many as seven hours three to five times a week in order to find firewood. Leaving the camps makes women vulnerable to violence, sexual assault, and starvation, as many are forced to use the very food they hope to cook as payment for fuel. This reliance on firewood and other types of traditional fuel also affects climate change, as it leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. While steps have been taken to address this particular issue (most notably with the creation of a fuel efficient stove) this is only one of many issues connected both to climate change and to gender inequality.