One Feminist’s Perspective

Chipped and cracked, I still have in my possession my childhood mug that reads, “A Woman’s Place is in the House…Senate and Supreme Court.” That statement, at such a young age, made an indelible mark on my sense of self and my view of the world around me. It seems as if I’ve spent my whole life defining and honoring my own personal interpretation of feminism.

What I have determined is that my feminism is not defined by the fact that I went to Douglass College, or by my personal perspectives on family or politics.  Nor is it defined by the fact that I have spent the majority of my career working to advance the social justice issues influencing the everyday lives of women.  My feminism is rooted in the inclusive philosophical considerations of “humanism,” which speaks to the self-determination and advancement of all peoples. It is the breadth with which humanism affirms the dignity of all peoples that most accurately aligns with my view of the feminist movement as being a part of the larger social justice framework.

Defining feminism in this context underscores the need for individuals and organizations to work together to overcome all oppressive norms. In order to effect sustainable change, advocates must be sensitive to the delicate ways in which gender is influenced by race, ethnicity, spirituality, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, educational attainment and age. To not evaluate gender-specific oppression in this larger context is to deny the rich and complex realities that shape the lives and identities of women. To address one of these influencers, as if it exists in its own isolated silo, is to disregard the way in which various forms of oppression intersect and overlap.

It is in this intersection that my feminism resides, and if by chance my commitment to feminism should ever start to waver or a sense of false confidence regarding the status of women should try to emerge, I need only think of my work with Women Aware, the comprehensive domestic violence agency serving Middlesex County, New Jersey. It is the reality of my work that prevents me from falling into a place of complacency.

Each year, we provide free and confidential services to thousands of women and children moving beyond abuse – families who have been economically oppressed, emotionally tormented, physically and sexually assaulted, and psychologically demoralized. During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, approximately 250 women will call our hotline, 15 women will escape violence by seeking refuge in our Safe House, and 50 women will seek the justices afforded them by law through our Legal Advocacy services. And we are just one organization, working within one county, in one state.

As a domestic violence service provider, I spend 365 days a year entrenched in the feminist movement and every day I am inspired by the strength and resiliency of women – women who are not defined by their past, but driven by their dreams of the future.

And so…I have my own dream for the future – one in which all people are able to live lives free of the fear of abuse and the oppression of institutionalized privilege. We can start with 16 Days, but it’s not enough time to right the wrongs of generations’ worth of gender-based oppression. Sixteen days is not enough time to heal the wounds caused by violence. But, if for 16 Days we can focus on our collective strength as women, we can shift the tides of change. Because the stakes are too high for us to allow ourselves to succumb to apathy. Because our foremothers have paved the way for us to be forces for change, so that our daughters and sons may live in a more just society. Because we are strong. Because we are humanists. Because we are feminists.  

by Patricia Teffenhart

Patricia Teffenhart is the Assistant Executive Director for Women Aware, the state-designated domestic violence organization serving Middlesex County, New Jersey.  She also is serving her second term as elected Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees for the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and is also a member of the Board’s Governance Committee.


CWGL staff puts “all hands on deck” for the 2012 16 Days Campaign.

Masculinities and Militarism

When, as women activists, we come together to discuss gender and militarism, we often end up discussing how militarism affects women’s lives. Men are also a recurring topic during these conversations: Men taking up arms to settle conflict; men raping women as a strategy of war; and men deciding who gets what at the peace table. Consciously or not, we often end up concluding that men are quite a problematic category of people in our struggle for gender justice and a more peaceful world.

But what if we would change our lens, and instead of perceiving men merely as perpetrators of violence and gender injustice, would focus on the fact that men also often end up as victims of war? Such a perspective could open the door for working with men as partners in the struggle for gender justice.

For this, it is worth considering the philosophy of active nonviolence, which looks beyond the direct perpetrator and instead focuses on the entire oppressive system upholding the injustice. This philosophy reasons that those oppressing others also oppress themselves. Ten years after the ratification of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325),[1] Women Peacemakers Program started to integrate this perspective in its work. Women activists informed us that one obstacle they continued to face in their peace work concerned the lack of male support. It made us realize that the full implementation of UNSCR 1325 remains obstructed by the fact that those who make the decisions on war and peace too often dismiss 1325 as a women’s issue only.

Still, 1325 is about gender and peacebuilding. And men also have a gender identity. We reasoned that we needed to get more personal if we wanted to engage men as allies for the cause, by pointing out how war, as the ultimate expression of patriarchy, also targets men because of their gender. Though at first it might seem that patriarchy only benefits them, in the end men also lose out. Militarism narrows the male gender identity to an intensely violent masculinity, which is measured according to one’s willingness to fight, mutilate, kill and die. Those men who want to escape this narrow “male box” often face severe consequences.

It is hence important to disclose the unspoken reality of suffering, which often lies beyond the superficial image of the war hero. I want to refer here to some of the personal stories I heard from young men during the late nineties, who grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. They told me that joining the paramilitaries for them was part of becoming a man, somebody to be respected. In this world, you were either a real man and committed to defending the community, or you were labeled as weak and a traitor. Returning to normal life was a real challenge for several of them, manifesting itself in depression, suicide attempts, alcoholism, and broken marriages. I clearly recall one former paramilitary, who spoke of his loneliness and isolation because society did not allow him to share his experiences and feelings of regret and doubt. He experienced this because real men are not supposed to have “these kind of emotions,” nor express any insecurity in relation to the acts they commit during war times.

Building peace therefore requires looking critically at boys’ socialization.  If we want UNSCR 1325 and what it stands for to succeed, we need to reveal that we live in cultures that chronically dehumanize their men as well. We have to go to the root of the problem and start addressing the construction of male and female identities, including a male gender identity that supports men’s violence and militarization. We need to start opening up this narrow male box, so that more constructive masculinities can take root.

Several groups and networks are already actively working towards this, and the number of men who are getting on board is growing every day. Once women and men start working together as allies, the foundation will be laid for the transformation of the peace-and-security agenda from a radical gender perspective.

by Isabelle Geuskens

Isabelle Geuskens is the Director of the Women Peacemakers Program, which works since 1997 to support women peace activists  worldwide. During 2009-2010, WPP pioneered a program on engaging men for gender-sensitive peacebuilding, and since then has integrated a masculinities perspective in its work.

[1] United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was adopted by the Security Council in October 2000. It specifically addresses the impact of war on women as well as women’s contributions to conflict resolution and sustainable peace.

Women Mobilize To Tackle Gender-Based Violence

Violence against women and girls is the most frequent, silenced and unpunished type of human rights violation. It is a global problem that impacts on women of all ages, cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, and is rooted in the power inequalities between men and women which are based on cultural values and norms.

One of the main obstacles to eliminating violence against women and girls is that cultural norms continue to be considered something that are “natural”, which impedes their recognition as a human rights violation. In the framework of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign, the Fundación para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer (FEIM) will perform two public activities in Buenos Aires City that aim to sensitize people on this problem that involves all of society.

The first activity will be a poster exhibition, which will use art and culture as a way to make the problem of violence against women and girls visible. The images that will be exhibited were created by a group of young artists during a project developed by FEIM and Casa Escuela de Arte.

The works of art, originally made with stencil and serigraphy techniques, are the result of the collective analysis of, and work around, the causes and different types of violence against women and girls, as well as the rights that protect women. The messages were created by young people aimed to target other young people and address symbolic and media violence. They are aimed to deconstruct stereotypical roles of women and men and to intervene in the early stages of violent relationships that are seen more and more often.

The proposal draws on the power of art and culture to contribute to changing cultural norms that maintain gender-based violence and inequalities between women and men. In the framework of this project, visual production is used as a means of aesthetic expression at community level and as a tool of communication for social action and transformation.

The second activity will address the reciprocal link between violence against women and the feminization of the HIV/AIDS epidemic through an activity targeting young students at the University of Buenos Aires.

Violence against women increases women’s vulnerability to HIV, and, at the same time, HIV/AIDS is a risk factor that increases the possibility of women suffering from violence. The context of inequality between men and women is a common factor that lends itself to violence and HIV infection. Therefore, prevention among young women and men is vital.

FEIM, together with the National Network of Youth and Adolescents for Sexual and Reproductive Health (RedNAC) and the First Year Basic Cycle of the University of Buenos Aires will organize and set up an informational stand to sensitize and inform students. Visitors will receive information on the different forms of violence that women and girls suffer, the risks that increase vulnerability to HIV, and how to prevent it. Female and male condoms will be exhibited, and there will be demonstrations on their correct use. Moreover, materials will be distributed that explain how all forms of violence against women and girls are both cause and effect of the feminization of HIV/AIDS.

by Mabel Bianco

Mabel Bianco, MD, MPH, is an epidemiologist and President of Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer (FEIM) in Argentina.

Bringing College Men into the Movement to End Gender-Based Violence

Hey guys, you know what’s really cool?

…Empowering Women! And there’s never been a better time to tell you how than during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. Just a little recap for those of you who may not know: the 16 Days Campaign runs from November 25th (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) to December 10th (International Human Rights Day). Throughout the 16 Days, participants advocate for, and raise awareness of, gender-based violence as a human rights issue.

Here’s the thing: from personal experience I have concluded that a good number of college men either don’t think there is a place for them in the women’s rights movement or just don’t know how to go about it. I’d like to ask you to try to think of a woman you care deeply about, whether it be your mother, sister, aunt, daughter, friend, girlfriend or wife. Next, I’d like for you to think of her being in the position of the women in the following scenarios from my own experiences.

I have witnessed how objectified and undervalued women are in society. Walking past a group of guys on campus bragging about how many girls they “bagged” at the frat party the night before is all too common, or a girl hurriedly walking past a male passerby who is whistling and calling out to her. To some, these situations are thought of as nothing more than the norm. But the reality is that they illustrate dangerous views about women. In the situation above, the woman is not viewed as a human being, but rather as a lifeless object one feels they are entitled to stuff in their “bag.” Or, just as a body that only serves as eye candy.

Take a second and think of this happening to someone you love. The terrible reality is that these are only a few of the very severe realities that women all over the world face. Thinking of women as nothing more than an object gives permission for some to treat them as such. And this very view makes violent actions towards women permissible and often excused.   

But boys, this is a call out to you. The answer is yes, there is a place for you in the movement to end gender-based violence. And no, we all don’t hate men. We look to the attitudes and behaviors toward women that are continuously perpetuated throughout society. Great news, these attitudes and behaviors can be changed and stopped. However, women alone cannot stop them. There needs to be a call out to the entire human population from the entire human population. It is possible to break this cycle, and the time is now. Women and men can work together to both end gender-based violence and guarantee the rights to women as human beings.

How are you going to help, do you ask? First, question your own attitudes and behaviors. Do they disrespect or pose harm? If so, take the time out to inform yourself on how these attitudes and behaviors contribute to the culture of violence. Lead by example and spread awareness. You must recognize that violence against women is a serious issue, and should not be the reality. Challenge your friends and show them that what they think is “really cool” is really not. The objectification of women should totally not be a status lifter. You can also offer your support to those who have had or are having bad experiences.

Finally, get involved. I know what you’re thinking, “But I’m gonna get made fun of!” Seriously? By the same people who dismiss and simply ignore these issues? Reality check: you have power, brother, and you can make change. You are refusing silence and ignorance surrounding an underrepresented issue while giving a voice to those who may not have one. Silence is taking the side of the oppressor, and oppressing women is definitely not cool.

by Dina Mansour

Dina Mansour is a 3rd year student at Rutgers University studying Political Science and Women and Gender Studies with a minor in Social Justice. She is currently an intern at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and full-time advocate of human rights for all.

A Hostile State: On Being a Woman Human Rights Defender

On December 2011, the image of an abaya[1]-clad female protestor being dragged on the streets of Cairo by military soldiers went viral. The woman’s abaya was ripped by the soldiers, exposing her naked torso and blue bra as a soldier stomped on her chest with his heavy boots. The image epitomized the attitude of state actors when dealing with women human rights defenders (WHRDs). Faced with women who defy cultural norms of what it means to be a “respectable” woman by demonstrating and spending nights on the streets, the knee-jerk reaction of state actors is to strip her of her clothes, undeterred by the fact that there are hundreds of witnesses on the streets. The message that the state tries to convey by targeting WHRDs with sexual and gender-based violence is clear: get off the street and go home.

The use of sexual and gender-based violence against WHRDs is not a new phenomenon, however, but has been a persistent practice of the Egyptian state. In 2005, on what has been dubbed “black Wednesday”, hundreds of young men carrying and wearing badges of the, then-ruling, National Democratic Party, pulled out 30 women from a demonstration and took them to a parking garage by police officers, sexually assaulting the women and tearing their clothes. Following the January 25 revolution that toppled Hosny Mubarak, Egypt’s president for almost 30 years, no action has been taken to train the police officers and the Central Security Forces deployed in demonstrations on how to deal with protesters in a manner that respects their human right to protest without fearing for their lives. It was only normal, then, to see a resurgence in the very actions by police forces that were amongst the main spurs of the revolution.

Following the first 18 days of the revolution, it was disheartening to be eye witness to the oft stated argument that violence, if left unaccounted for, will grow in ferociousness, and become more blatant by the day. In the span of a mere 4 months, as documented by testimonies collected by Nazra for Feminist Studies, the response of state security officers on the streets to female protesters graduated from beatings and calling the women “whores” and “bitches” for simply being on the street to targeting a woman and publically stripping her. It did not matter that the woman was veiled or that the brutal attack was done in broad daylight- the only important factor was that she was a woman and that somehow, it must be instilled in her and through her, that it is dangerous to be a female protestor on the street.

It is difficult to navigate our way out of the hell that is the targeting of WHRDs with sexual and gender-based violence. And it is easy, amidst the many painful testimonies to throw the towel and walk away. However, changing institutions, not merely the head of the state, was the goal of the January 25 revolution. And it is a goal that will be achieved gradually by pushing for new laws, for accountability for past violations, and the underpinning social attitudes without which any meaningful change for WHRDs will always stall in the realm of far-fetched dreams.

by Masa Amir

Masa Amir is a researcher in the women human rights defenders program at Nazra for Feminist Studies. She has a BA in international relations and an MA in international human rights law. 

[1] An abaya is a loose-fitting, robe-like garment, usually black, covering the whole body except the face, hands, and feet.

For True Peace and Security: Welcoming the 16 Days Campaign

Worldwide, militarism continues to be a significant source of violence against women, from the domestic sphere of the home to civil war and international conflict.  This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign seeks to highlight the linkages between gender-based violence and militarism through our 2012 Campaign theme, From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Gender-Based Violence!  Coordinated by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University, the 16 Days Campaign serves as a global advocacy campaign to increase awareness about gender-based violence and call on governments to respond, protect, and prevent such violence. 

Militarism not only undermines women’s rights as a whole, but also women’s dignity and bodily integrity. Militarism creates a culture of fear, supporting the use of violence, aggression, and military interventions for settling disputes and enforcing economic and political interests. While often being used in the name of “security,” militarism typically has the opposite effect, causing violence and preventing peace.

Women and men worldwide are organizing hundreds of initiatives to challenge militarism and gender-based violence in their communities and world.   Activities range from dialogues with local policymakers in Botswana and documentary film screenings in Egypt, to pledges by police and firefighters against domestic violence in England and a 940 kilometer walk across Malaysia. 

For the 2012 16 Days Campaign, CWGL joins women’s, peace, and human rights groups across the globe in challenging militarism, ending gender-based violence, and promoting a culture of peace.  I am thrilled to kick off the CWGL 16 Days Blog, which will feature insights by activists worldwide on their experiences working to end violence in their communities.  Guest bloggers include Masa Amir, researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies, writing on state response to women human rights defenders; Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, Executive Director of FemLINKPACIFIC, discussing radio as a tool for social change; and Mabel Bianco, President of Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer, on challenging cultural norms through art.  

In addition, the Center has launched The Security Project, aimed at questioning traditional definitions of security to consider what human security really means to all of us.  Often when we hear about security, it is defined by the state, in terms such as the presence of military personnel, checkpoints, and the right to bear arms.  But do we define our own sense of security in these same terms? 

We invite readers to share your thoughts through our anonymous, three-question survey.  Your feedback will help guide our advocacy on state spending priorities and national budgets, work toward developing a renewed understanding of what human security means for all of us, and help us realize human rights and peace for all.

Already in the responses we have received thus far, key patterns are emerging in how members of civil society envision a more peaceful world, hinting at the steps necessary to achieve sustainable development and long-lasting peace.  To end violence against women, women’s rights must not be seen as one dimensional.  Women’s experiences of violence are manifested in multiple forms of discrimination, and greatly influence their access to economic, social and cultural rights.  Violence against women cannot be adequately addressed unless States also address land rights, healthcare, education, access to justice and legal mechanisms, and the larger economic, social, cultural, and political context in which women and men live.  Only then can we truly have an equitable and peaceful world.

by Julie Ann Salthouse, Violence Against Women Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

What we should think about in the aftermath of Sandy…

November 7, 2012

In 2006 the United Nations adopted guidelines on human rights and humanitarian disasters.  The document focuses on the ways in which intergovernmental organizations and civil society respond to crises from a human rights-based approach. However, the role of government is not addressed.

Hurricane Sandy severely impacted areas in Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and the northeastern coast of the United States. Government agencies, humanitarian aid organizations, and independent local groups have all had a significant role in the immediate response to the disaster. Those responding to natural disasters fulfill basic needs such as providing food, water and sanitation, shelter, and health services. During the recovery period from a disaster, governments have an obligation to uphold human rights and have a vital role in fulfilling economic and social rights of affected peoples.

Dare I ask what we can expect next? In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the U.S., numerous survivors of Katrina were displaced. There was little oversight and attention paid to international human rights norms by the U.S. government and standards were ignored in the long-term recovery. Using the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the U.S. Human Rights Network mounted a national campaign to address this gap and hold the U.S. accountable.

In the wake of Sandy, and based on the experiences of similar natural disasters, the U.S. government and those recently elected must ensure that it does not repeat the mistakes of the past. This disaster has the ability to push many more families and individuals deeper into poverty, thus the long-term recovery requires governments to adhere to human rights principles. The economic crisis coupled with millions of people living in poverty, racial injustices, and the realities of climate change expose the deep and systemic inequalities within our society. A human rights-based approached recovery would address these issues and ensure that people’s economic and social rights are realized. 

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

When 50 million people in the U.S. do not have enough food to eat….

For the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, October 17th, I want to raise the issue of food insecurity in the U.S.

Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living which includes food and health, but has the U.S. government ensured the right to food? I don’t think so and here’s why. In 2007, 11 percent of households were food insecure. Since 2008, this number has steadily increased and in 2011 50 million people were living in food insecure households. As the top one percent seemingly go unscathed by the economic crisis, many people are facing a deterioration in basic human rights as shocks from 2008 continue to reverberate across the country.

Food insecure households are those that do not have access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times.” Adults living with limited financial resources are running out of food to eat which impairs the health and well-being of their diet and their family’s. Clearly, the U.S. government has insufficiently guaranteed the right to food and this has severe implications for the most vulnerable populations in society, including female-headed single households, households with children under the age of six and households headed by people of color. Whereas the 2011 national average of household food insecurity was at 14.9 percent, the rate of households with children headed by a single woman was 36.8 percent, households with children under age 6 was 21.9 percent, black households was 25.1 percent, and Hispanic households was 26.2 percent.  

The U.S. has failed to comply with human rights obligations of non-discrimination and equality and failed to guarantee the right to food and the right to health. Obviously, the current food programs are lacking and are not effectively addressing this pervasive problem. When will the U.S. take seriously its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of persons living in poverty within its own borders?

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator,  Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University

What does economic policy have to do with it?

Thank you for your messages on my last blog! Many of you shared when you thought about human rights; issues ranged from violence, racial profiling, access to healthcare, prisoner rights, voter rights, rights of older people, and the list goes on. Clearly, we do think about human rights, but when we do … who do we hold accountable? Do economic ministries or the treasury come to mind? We rarely think about financial institutions, economic policy makers, and central banks as promoting or eroding human rights. Well they do, and here is a current example:

Lately, mainstream media’s attention has been focused on governments entering into austerity due to the economic crisis. Governments are trying to confront the negative impacts of the crisis by cutting spending on social sectors such as education, housing, and social security, without realizing the detrimental and regressive effects this has on the achievement of human rights. Our well-being is dependent on basic services and often government expenditures on specific services, such as education and health, which directly impacts our realization of human rights.

Governments have the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill economic and social rights; each of these obligations requires governments to take action (conduct) and have impact (result). How could we go about measuring how our governments are doing on economic and social rights? Here’s an idea:

I might ask, “is the distribution of government spending going to basic social services that promote economic and social rights and is that spending reaching vulnerable groups?” In societies with inequality, vulnerable groups often do not receive adequate entitlements; those countries therefore fail to uphold the human rights principle of non-discrimination and equality.

Tell us how you see the current economic situation impacting your human rights.

by Margot Baruch, Economic and Social Rights Program Coordinator, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University