Zika looms on the Rio Olympics, but sheds light on an even larger issue – women’s rights

By Alexandra DeMatos

Summer 2016 – Communications Intern

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Tomorrow the 2016 Summer Olympics will begin in Rio, Brazil. The country will be the host to countless visitors and the world’s best athletes – if they choose to attend. Many have decided to opt out of this summer’s Olympics due to the looming threat of the Zika virus throughout South America, which is extremely prevalent in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, home of the Olympics, is the area that is the most plagued with the virus.

In late April, Brazil released a report that analyzed the statistics of the Zika virus all throughout Brazil, with Rio housing the worst concentration of Zika cases in the country – more than 1 in 4 of the 90,000 reported cases in the first quarter of the year. With 157 per 100,000 people in Rio being infected with the virus, Rio has three times the national average. The threat for outsiders and athletes is easily avoidable, but for the poor residents of Rio leaving is not necessarily an option. For women, the threat is even greater.

The Zika virus is most often spread in one of three ways: the bite of an infected mosquito, sex with an infected man or childbirth. While infections in adults often show no symptoms, if a woman is infected while pregnant, there can be severe consequences. Children born from a mother that is infected with the Zika virus may have a serious birth defect known as “microcephaly,” which results in the baby having a smaller head and brain than expected due to improper development, along with seizures, developmental delay, intellectual disability, hearing loss, vision problems and so on. As the link between the two became more obvious the government of Brazil shared its words of wisdom: don’t get pregnant.

To many, this piece of advice is incomprehensible. Brazil has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world, is extremely lacking in sexual education and lacks contraceptive access, particularly for the poor. Abortion is allowed only in cases of rape, a threat to the mother’s life or in cases of anencephaly (when the fetus is missing parts of the brain). This issue of microcephaly has become so profound that even Pope Francis was swayed into saying that contraceptives would be the “lesser evil” in the fight against Zika.

The women who live in “favelas,” referred to as “impoverished or overcrowded areas” by the World Health Organization (WHO), are at the greatest risk of having a baby born with microcephaly. One in 5 of the residents in Rio live in favelas, which lack basic sanitation, which Marcelo Firpo of Brazil’s National School of Public Health says is the number one factor behind the spread of the mosquito, Aedes aegypti, which spreads Zika (as well as chikungunya and dengue fever). Unlike favelas, which are often riddled with garbage dumps and raw sewage, the well-off cities and neighborhoods in Brazil have an exponentially lower number of cases of Zika, and little to no cases of microcephaly. Highlighting severe economic disparity in the country and a difference, which can also be contributed to the better health care available to those of better means.

As long as Zika thrives in Brazil, poor women will be disproportionally affected and many women will continue to desperately search out methods of avoiding pregnancy. As the concern over the wellbeing of the athletes and visitors rises, we cannot forget the residents, women in particular, that are being left behind.

“Brexit” Threatens the Rights of Women and Minorities

By Alexandra DeMatos

Communications Intern – Summer 2016

People from around the world watched as the United Kingdom experienced its most momentous week in decades. After a nerve-wracking referendum vote, Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU) by a very slim margin – 51.9 percent by 48.1 percent. London residents voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. This vote meant much more to the people of Britain than a typical election because voting to leave the European Union is something that no country has ever done. To add more fuel to the fire, not only did Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron resign and international markets took a harsh blow, but also both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, which many fear will lead to an even more historic event – the fall of Great Britain. These are the concerns that are currently dominating international media, leaving many other extremely important issues, such as the rights of women, minorities and refugees, swept under the rug.

The European Union began after World War II in order to increase security between its members states both economically and politically. The EU consists of 28 members with many more eager to join and it holds a great amount of influence over Europe. Many rights for women and minorities, which were brought to Britain through the EU, were not up for debate during the referendum period.

Feminist Caroline Criado-Perez compiled a list of rights given to women in England through the joining of the EU, “EU referendum: For any woman who values workplace equality, there’s only one way to vote,” including: equal pay for work of equal value, paid maternity leave, making it illegal to dismiss women due to pregnancy and ending the practice of “treating part-time workers as less valuable than full-time workers.” These were all rights that were NOT enforced in England until the intervention of the EU. The worry is now that by leaving the EU, there is no saying what will happen to these advancements and rights of women.

Here’s an example; in 1970 the United Kingdom passed the Equal Pay Act, which was supposed to be a leap towards ending wage discrimination. The issue however, was that it only guaranteed equal pay for women who were doing the exact same work as a man. The intervention of the European Commission in 1982 forced the United Kingdom to comply with Article 119 of The Treaty of Romeequal pay for work of equal value. Criado-Perez compared male street cleaners and women who clean offices as an example of equal pay for equal work. Now the fate of this important policy is unknown.

As for the rights of minorities and refugees, the EU, under the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), says that refugees are guaranteed protection: “Under CEAS, international protection is granted to those migrants who qualify as refugees due to a well-founded fear of persecution. Subsidiary protection status is granted to those who would face a real risk of suffering serious harm if returned to his/her country of origin.” According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, just about half of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees are women – 25.6 percent of whom are extremely young, ranging from infants to 17 years old and 24.2 percent are aged 18 to over 60. Since 1993 a majority of migrants to the United Kingdom have been women, most of which were attempting to escape terrible, often violent conditions from their home country, and considered the United Kingdom a safe space.

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Tweet posted to @PostRefRacism.

Perhaps it may seem unlikely that there would be a backwards shift in the realm of women’s rights or the rights of minorities or refugees, but if the #Leave campaign, which was heavily fueled by a hatred and fear of immigrants and minorities, was able to win the vote then perhaps a backwards shift does not seem so unlikely after all. Since the referendum vote on Thursday, June 23 there has been more than 100 incidents of hate crimes or racial abuses. There has been an outpour on social media of instances of harassment, a great deal of which are being reported by Muslim women. One tweet, by @heavencrawley, reads:Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 1.58.14 PM

Women in Great Britain are unsure of what is to come in the years following the referendum vote. Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, wrote, “Britain is leaving the EU and I would like to know what that means for women. For the cost of my childcare, for the likelihood of closing the pay gap and for the chances of this country ever ratifying the pan-European Istanbul Convention to end violence against women and girls.”

Her thoughts sum up the worries and questions of many.

Why do you want a #She4SG?

All of the past 8 United Nations Secretary Generals have been men. It’s time for a Madam Secretary. In a short 30 second video tell us why you want a woman Secretary General?

Send your video to comm@cwgl.rutgers.edu to be posted to the You Tube Channel and shared on social media.

 

Addressing the Gender Pay Gap & Inequalities

By Rachael Wyant

 

There’s been a lot of attention to the gender-pay gap recently in mainstream media. From Jennifer Lawrence and Robin Wright demanding more transparency and equality in high paying entertainment roles, to the U.S. Women’s Soccer team filing a lawsuit, citing the discrepancy between their contributions to the success of the organization relative to the men’s team including gap in compensation and bonuses.

These stories are found across all sectors today; female CEOs, who make up a mere fraction of leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies, make significantly less than their male counterparts, and are penalized to a greater degree with fluctuations in stock prices and revenues for their companies. We see this with women in academia: women are less likely to receive tenure-track positions, and are paid less than men of the same academic standings.

This says a lot about how far we’ve come societally. The Equal Pay Act was signed into law on June, 10 1963, yet women across the board perform work of greater or equal value to men and are still compensated poorly. What norms does this reflect about the intelligence, voice, efforts, time, and bodies of women in our culture? And if it’s so pervasive—and well documented– in the top 1% of female earners, what’s the situation of everyone else?

The “gender-pay gap”—as well as discrimination and unequal access to social protection—goes beyond discrepancies between men and women. If we are to truly address inequality and poverty, we must look to gaps among women themselves.

Female CEOS make an average annual salary of $18.8 million. The top paid female soccer players are raking in between $450,000, plus some bonuses. Women in large corporations have access to human resources and legal representation when faced with harassment and discrimination. They often receive benefits for themselves and their families with health insurance, paid leisure time and employer contributions to pensions.

A wider view of the labor market tells a much different tale. 26.8% of women work in low-wage jobs in New York; for example, women dominate service and care industries, with average annual wages of $ 26,200 (2014) and $20,490, respectively. The median income for women in the state is $43,800–and they’re making less than 88% of what men make. And within these low-wage sectors, there’s incredible racial disparity: African American child care workers make almost twice what Latina childcare workers earn ($21,400 compared to $11, 200).

And wages are only the tip of the iceberg when we talk about the situation of women at work-harassment, discrimination, lack of long-term job security and unregulated working conditions threatening the livelihoods and security of thousands of women. These issues have been gaining more mainstream attention, many based in New York, such as the Fight for $15 and Fast Food Forward, strong worker organizing through the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Urban Justice Center, and outreach and education initiatives like the Nanny Van.

This is reflected in the recent Women’s Equality Agenda passed by Governor Andrew Cuomo for New York State, which address some of these critical issues: including violence against women in the work force, pregnancy protection, paid family leave, bringing an end to familial status and employment discrimination, and strengthening human trafficking laws.

The recently approved state budget for 2016 has also attempted to include some of these pressing priorities. Estimated at $150 billion, Cuomo had wins with high-profile policy measures such as New York City’s $15 incremental minimum wage increase and 12 weeks of paid time off.

As austerity cuts to social protection programs, job training, health insurance and housing subsidies disproportionally impact women, the budget also looks to residents’ abilities to earn an adequate standard of living. It contains income tax cuts beginning in 2018 for those making below $300,000, and takes measures to increase budgets for local school districts. $20 billion will be going toward homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.

If we’re serious about closing the gender-wage gap, and coming together to address severe levels of inequality in this country, we’ve got to do better than just budget allocations.

As the presidential elections approach, it is essential that we begin to change the conversation around women’s work and our economy: paid family leave, violence in the workplace, and flexible scheduling for care giving aren’t just “women’s issues. They are issues that deeply impact our society as a whole and prevent cities and neighborhoods from flourishing. Recognition of the problems is only the first step: the real work begins when we assess and improve the impacts of these services on the everyday lives of people.

Global Day of Action on Military Spending: Invest in people not the prospect of war!

by Geeta Desai

April 14, 2014, marked the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. UN Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas called on all country governments to make cuts in military expenditures and increase investments in nutrition, health, environmental protection and other major sustainable development challenges, instead. The Rapporteur’s call to action could not have come at a better time because according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), global military spending levels are at an all-time high, reaching a total of $1.75 trillion in 2012.

Quite frankly, it blows my mind to think that most countries would have that kind of money to spend on the acquisition and deployment of weapons, given the competing responsibilities and demands within their country borders. Curious to know which countries placed such a premium on military spending, I decided to look it up. This is what I found: the United States spends the most (no surprise, there) with China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and France, in that order, rounding up the top five spenders. In terms of military spending as a percentage of GDP, Saudi Arabia spends the highest (9.3%), Russia is second (4.1%), the US is third (3.8%) and France and China are fourth and fifth, spending 2.25% and 2.0% of their respective GDP. As a percent of the world’s total military spending, the US is responsible for 33% of the expenditures, by far the largest slice of the pie.

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I expected the United States to be at the top of this list and I’m not exactly surprised that Russia is in the top five given that neither country has as yet outgrown its “Cold War” mentality. Additionally, the terror attacks against the US and consequent military engagements abroad, continue to shape its military budget. If the foreign policy pundits are to be believed, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see China on the list given their contention that China is positioning itself to dominate the world. But, what explains the presence of France and Saudi Arabia on this list? According to a recent report, President Francois Hollande’s government has reviewed the recent conflicts in Mali and Libya and feels that its level of defense spending maintains the country’s ability to react to a terrorist attack. Saudi military spending has doubled in the last ten years, according to SIPRI and Carina Solmirano, a senior researcher at SIPRI, said: “It seems that for the Gulf region, internal or domestic problems or the likelihood of problems like the Arab Spring, might have led to countries reinforcing military spending by giving security forces more resources, as a way to make them more loyal to the government.”

Okay, I’ll admit that in the world in which we live, there are genuine security needs that require investments in weapons, military personnel and in the general maintenance of vigilance and preparedness for action. But when is enough, enough? And, who decides when enough is enough?

So, I think that there are two things to consider here.

First, in each of the countries listed above, there are critical numbers of people whose basic human needs are unmet: In the US, 47 million Americans live in poverty; in Russia 18 million live in poverty with the gulf between the rich and the poor getting wider each year; in France, one in six people or over 11 million people live in poverty and social exclusion; in China, a staggering 99 million people fall below the government’s established poverty line and in Saudi Arabia, a quarter of the native Saudi population lives in abject poverty. For these people, investments in militarization are irrelevant; investments in health, education, housing, food and other daily infrastructure supports make the difference between life, ill-health and death. Admittedly, military spending is a small part of the national budgets of these countries, but the dollar amounts are ridiculously large and all five country governments should reassess the actual level of military need as opposed to the desire to overreach with the intention of stockpiling.

Second, it is commonly understood that weapons that are stockpiled usually find their way into the wrong hands and are the greatest contributing factor for conflicts in several dozen countries. As a matter of fact, April 2, 2014, marked the first anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. The Treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly for the first time set global standards for the transfer of weapons and efforts to prevent their diversion. It regulates all conventional arms within the categories of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers and small arms and light weapons. Among other provisions, the treaty – which will enter into force once it receives 50 ratifications – also includes a prohibition on the transfer of arms which could be used in the commission of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Of the five countries that lead in military spending only France has ratified the UN Arms Trade Treaty.

The UN has urged country governments to prepare national budgets that will implement the will of the people, based on representative opinion polling. We need to tell our elected officials that we want our taxes put towards the promotion of peace and sustainable development, not towards the purchase and stockpiling of weapons.

Geeta Desai is a member of the International Federation of University Women and has served as its representative to the UN. Currently, she is Advocacy Convener for Women Graduates-USA and writes a blog on the status of women. Additionally, as an Organizational Development consultant, she continues to provide capacity building support for international nonprofits.

Reprinted with permission from http://www.wg-usa.org/advocacyblog/2014/04/global-day-of-action-on-military-spending-invest-in-people-not-the-prospect-of-war/.

Community Radio – A Tool for Peace?

So why does community radio matter? Shouldn’t we be mainstreaming and making news, shaking things up in the mainstream media? I only wish it were that easy. After departing from a career in corporate media where I was constantly trying to find ways to take the messages from our women’s movement beyond the confines of International Women’s Day and 16 Days Campaign events, it has been more than a decade since I connected my work with the vision of Virginia Woolf for women to have the resources to define our spaces, including to be able to challenge war and violence.

For the last 3 years, FemLINKPACIFIC has linked the annual 16 Days Campaign to our rural women’s community media network “1325” network, building on the monthly meetings where rural women leaders share and articulate their Women, Peace and Human Security priorities using a United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 lens.

Last year 139 rural women and 24 young women shared their personal stories, the stories of their families, their community groups and clubs during our 16 Days Campaign in Suva, Labasa and Nausori.

UNSCR 1325 reaffirms that women are crucial partners in shoring up the three pillars of lasting peace: economic recovery, social cohesion and political system. But our political reality is that we still have a long way to go to be able to claim spaces in a legitimate political system, even to simply challenge spending priorities by the state.

The 2012 theme of UN Security Council Open Debate on 1325 reiterates the need to support women’s civil society roles in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, and that means that local and national action plans must be inclusive of women’s definitions of peace and human security. It also requires a transformation of structures to ensure the full and equal participation of women in decision making.

Here in Fiji, we are also awaiting the announcement of the 2013 national budget. The 2012 budget brief coincides with the 16 Days Campaign and we heard with dismay that there would be an increase in Fiji’s military budget by $5.2 million “due to the additional 42 troops for the Iraq Mission” with an additional $550,000 allocated for military infrastructure upgrade. This is the same amount allocated to the Women’s Plan of Action, which is focused on “(providing) training to women in the rural and urban areas and in the process assist in the implementing of their projects that promotes the social and empowerment of women,” while an additional $300K is provided for repairs and maintenance of health facilities, including health centres and 103 nursing stations in the 4 divisions.

This will be the 3rd year that FemLINKPACIFIC’s 16 days of community radio campaign will be staged in Suva, Labasa and other rural centres. Ahead of the campaign we organised an interactive learning programme for our current young women producers and broadcasters and a group of potential volunteers from the capital city and from our Nausori “1325” network to work with two outstanding feminist communicators – Vanessa Griffen and Shirley Tagi. They worked together to enhance their collective knowledge of the 16 Days Campaign as well as develop a series of messages which are airing during our 16 Days Campaign.

These are the spaces we have created to enable women including young women to talk about issues closest to them. To connect processes and define where the transformation is needed, especially as here in Fiji in the democratization process of our country.

This is thinking globally and acting locally.

by Sharon Bhagwan Rolls

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is a broadcaster by profession and co-founder of FemLINKPACIFIC (Media Initiatives for Women) established in Suva, Fiji Islands in 2000 following the May 2000 coup. Today she is the Executive Director of the organisation which supports a “1325media and policy network” that includes a cadre of young women producers and broadcasters.