Are you a woman? Do you love someone who is female? Do you believe you have or she has the right to her own body and mind? Do you like tacos or beer? If you answered yes to any of these questions, please support this campaign to give women more control over their own destinies: Taco or Beer Challenge. It’s a heck of a lot more fun that dumping ice on your head.
This morning I donated money to Trust Women Foundation through this campaign. Check out some videos of other like-minded here.
BTW, I don’t like all the F-bombs in the subsequent blurb, but the cause is good. Please check it out. Taco or Beer Challenge.
I’m frustrated and depressed. Most of the women at the center have never been to school or studied a different language, unlike their brothers and husbands. They have been coming to English classes now for more than a year and still do not know how to conjugate the verbs “to be” or “to have,” not to mention any of the other useful verbs in the English language. And then there is the problem of getting them to understand how to use the verb “to do” in combination with other verbs, as in “do you have a toothbrush?” or “she does not live at that address.” If they cannot progress beyond this very rudimentary level, then how am I going to teach them to think critically about gender, which is what I imagined I would be doing with them?
I had this lovely fantasy of getting them to talk about their relationships with their husbands and their sons and daughters and asking them why they go along with certain customs. For example, if the family is having meat for dinner, then usually only the men will get some. Why do they regard women whose husbands have abused and abandoned them as fallen women? Why do they think it is so shameful for a woman to get divorced? I had imagined having stimulating and revealing discussions about these and other, similar questions in class.
One of the women in the class is, in fact, divorced, but she doesn’t want any of the other women to know. This woman’s husband beat her before taking off and leaving her with three children. She gets by on the earnings her 13 year-old son brings in. She can’t reach out to her sisters for emotional support, because the women have internalized the cultural codes that stigmatize all women who have cut themselves off from their husbands. The underlying, unconscious assumption is that women do not count in and of themselves, but have value only in relation to men, who alone have inherent value. So, a woman who stands alone in society is valueless, without worth, and should be treated accordingly. The very few Nepali women who have gone to college and established careers are beginning to challenge these assumptions, but they must fight their own and their families’ deeply-ingrained beliefs. Women who marry work 40+ hour weeks and then cook, clean, and cater to husbands, sons, and father-in-laws. Women who wise up and reject this drudgery are shunned. It is an appalling situation that does no one any real good.
Bad scare this morning. As soon as I got through the orphanage gate, Bipin rocketed himself at me and landed with his legs around my waist and his arms around my neck. Rupus was right behind him, and then Gorima, Nirmala, and Anura were on me. Only Krishala stayed behind. She was sitting on a mat in front of the door. She has been complaining of headaches and stomach trouble for the last few days, and I have been worrying about her. Now she was very ill, hot with fever and a racing heartbeat. I don’t have a cell phone, so I had to walk over to Sugandha’s house, where I hoped to find Pete, one of the fifth-year medical students volunteering here as part of a third world medical course. He had already gone to the hospital, so I borrowed Sugandha’s phone to call Kat and Maria, Pete’s classmates, who came straight away. In the meantime, at my prompting, Bimila had called Tej, who called Gehlu.
Kat and Maria examined Krishala, who had a stiff neck, a fever, and extreme sensitivity to light. These are classic signs of meningitis, which can kill within hours. Gehlu came a few minutes later, propped her up in front of him on his motorcycle, and roared off to the hospital. We checked there about an hour later, but could not find Krishala. Hospitals and clinics are notoriously bad here (the doctors don’t come in when it rains, for example), and we could not get a straight answer from anyone. The staff could not seem to understand why we were concerned about a little Nepali girl, not another westerner. Finally we tracked down Gehlu, who could tell us nothing because the results of the tests had not come back yet. He told us that the doctor did not think it was meningitis, however. We went to check up on Krishala, and she did seem a little better. There was nothing that we could do until we got the lab report.
I taught my class at the women’s center. Deelu, who is very wonderful but also very demanding, insisted that I start to teach them math, so from now on Fridays will be math days. I hated math when I was a kid, so I was happily surprised to find that I enjoyed teaching it. Most of the women can do easy addition and subtraction, but only a few can multiply and divide. I gave the two advanced women more difficult problems to solve. In addition to other topics that I never thought I’d end up teaching, I’m instructing the women in basic business skills. I’m trying to show them how they can make money by borrowing, investing, and repaying, and reinvesting. Like all things in Nepal, it will take time to get this program underway. We are beginning from a rudimentary level.
Nothing moves quickly. I’ve been pestering the landlord to turn on the water and clean the apartment where the women’s center is for over a week. Shreezanna, who directs the sewing classes and manages the center, simply laid a plastic floor covering over the cement and set up shop. I want to wash the floors first, but I need some help. The whole center is still really dirty—the kitchen is covered in construction dust and the toilet is filthy. I had brought a bucket and some Lysol-like stuff and started to clean the bathroom during our break. Devi, Menuka, and Rayphati would not allow this. They snatched the bucket and rags out of my hands, and within twenty minutes had all the tile, ceramic and chrome gleaming. This was a miracle, since the toilet is a squat-style contraption on the floor, and workers had ground the dust and dirt into the groves where you stand to go. Their cleaning was truly remarkable. The Nepalis are nothing if not industrious, but it can be difficult to get them to start or finish a project.
Speaking of projects completed, I got my kurta suruwal back today. It was finished a couple of days ago, but I wanted to have it taken in at the waist. I had bought fabric in Kathmandu and brought it to the women at the center. They charge very little for their services, but they also double the price in order to benefit the women who are learning to become seamstresses. So, it cost 200 rupees (about 3 dollars) to sew each kurta and suruwal, but I paid 400. These women will likely be the first entrepreneurs to take advantage of the micro-credit program that I’m setting up.
After class, I took a bus—the wrong one, of course—into Kathmandu to meet Kat and Maria for lunch. I ended up walking for long stretches without having any idea where in the city had I gone, asking people in my broken Nepali the way. Finally, one young man in a motorcycle helmet told me to get on a bus that was just pulling up, and so I did. It took me a little closer to my destination, Thamel, but I still wandered and begged for directions for another half hour or so. Getting lost is never really a problem, because people are friendly and kind, and taxis are plentiful. I don’t like to spend the money on a cab, since the buses cost about 15 cents and I’m trying to get my bearings by walking. I finally arrived at the restaurant, La Dolce Vita, a touristy joint that claims to serve the best Italian in Nepal.
It was great to be eating penne pomodoro with what looked like real basil leaves on top, but I won’t be going back there again. I could not finish my meal because I got sick halfway through it. I thought I had simply eaten too much and needed to walk it off. When I started to collapse on the street, Kat and Maria rushed me into a café, where I threw up into an airplane sick-bag that Kat miraculously whipped out of her backback just in the nick of time. Then they lay me out on three chairs and pressed a cloth with ice in it to my forehead, wrists, neck, and cheeks. I felt like a complete idiot. There I was, pale white woman with golden hair in a green and red kurta, having a fainting spell. Somehow it seemed so cliché. But Kat and Maria insisted that this sort of things happens all the time. When I sat up I was still quite nauseous and dizzy, but Kat produced an anti-emetic from her magic bag. They said I had become dehydrated, which made some sense. I still wanted to blame the food.
Of course the monsoon broke just as we tiptoed out into the road to go home, and there were no taxis available. When you don’t want one, taxis pull up and pester you every five minutes. We took a bus, but had to change at Ratna Park, where we waited like beggars in the rain for the bus to Pepsi-Cola. After we were thoroughly soaked we snagged a cab, which cost us another 400 rupees, leaving both Kat and Maria broke. They had each changed $20 and spent every cent. It is true that one can live here very cheaply, but not if one is going to tourist restaurants and taking taxis and fainting in cafes where bottled water costs 10 times the price it should. At any rate, by the time we got home the anti-emetic had kicked in and I felt a lot better. I took a shower and headed over to check on Krishala. The report had come in and Gehlu had rushed her back to the hospital. She did not have meningitis, thank goodness, but rather a viral infection of her tonsils. I found her shoveling dhal bhat into her mouth with the other kids at the kitchen table. On the refrigerator were the medicines that the doctor had given her. She was fine and would get better.
There is an even happier ending to this story. While Kat and Maria were examining Krishala, they noticed that the children have no toys whatsoever, not even so much as a ball to throw. They told their parents, who now want to donate some money to buy toys. They are planning to give the toys to the children at a party. Since so few of the kids know when they were born, Kat and Maria want to celebrate all of their birthdays at once. They want to have cake, and candles, and lots of presents individually wrapped. It’s a grand idea. I wish I had the money to get each of them something really wonderful, bicycles, for example. I would love to teach them how to ride. If you have any ideas, or want to give, please let me know.
After a bad bout of the johhny-jump-ups I’m back to work and beginning to settle in. I rise with the rest of the Nepalis, at 5 or so, puddle around on the rooftop garden having tea in my pajamas and then get myself into the shower. On clear mornings I can see the Himalayas looming up behind the Kathmandu Valley hills like a huge, benevolent spirit. I study Nepali for about half an hour and then gather up whatever I’m bringing to the orphanage, and walk two minutes to the west to its gate. There I am greeted by beautiful, cheerful children who throw themselves on me, all six of them wanting to hug me at once. They grab my hands and pull me into the house.
On the way to this delightful destination, I pass intensely thin and dark-skinned women throwing bricks into enormous baskets that hang from straps around their foreheads and balance on their back. They are building a house. Sometimes they stand at a plastic barrel brimming over with water and cement, mixing the water into the sand by hand. Or they are shoveling dirt. They labor in the mud or on rocky ground in full sun from early in the morning until sundown. They wear ragged, faded saris and tie their hair back with the scarves that wealthier women wear properly draped across their chests. They work for men and receive very little to live on. They did not go to school. They have no marketable skills, no property, no support system. If they fall ill, they die. I think about this as I pass them on my way to work that never feels like work in the morning. I salute them with Namaste as I go, and they return the greeting. And then I thank the universe that we have the chance to save Gorima, Nirmala, Anura, and Krishala from their fate. Because of VSN, its staff, and its current and former volunteers, they have a clean and pleasant house, nutritious food, and a good school. They have also been very lucky to find a home with Bimala, who is loving, patient, and kind to them. All of this costs money, and without donors from abroad these kids would end up breaking and hauling rocks or worse. Many Nepali girls are sold into servitude or sexual slavery by parents who can’t afford to keep them. They spend their lives in windowless, dank rooms submitting to rape. Anura, Gorima, Krishala, and Nirmala are lucky. Today I brought earrings for the girls and nothing for the boys, so I’ll have to find something tomorrow.
Christian extremists have not quite taken hold of the country, but they pose an emergent, lethal threat to women, men, and children in the United States of America. They do not constitute the majority of Americans, who largely trust women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health. Nevertheless, a vocal and fiercely religious minority have gained ground in state and federal legislatures and in right-wing media conglomerates such as Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which host women-haters and homophobes on a regular basis. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that contraception is good for society, and most think that in most circumstances abortion should be legal. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes contraception, and a variety of evangelical Protestant organizations have helped to elect politicians now in national and state offices. The legislation that these Christian extremists support would severely harm women, girls, children and men by preventing them from receiving vital STD screenings, routine gynecological care, contraception, and information about safe sex. They also present dangerous precedents for legalizing excessive government intrusion into private life. They would allow the State to regulate human bodies as it has never done before and force women to remain pregnant, even if the pregnancy would kill them. Consider the most recent legislation that candidates supported by Christian extremists have proposed or passed in Congress:
The Pence amendment: the continuing resolution on the national budget, which was passed by the House, includes an amendment that would eliminate all funding for Title X family planning, even though none of this money funds abortions. The Congresswomen and men who voted for this resolution officially declared their opposition to programs that currently provide poor women with gynecological care, pap smears, HIV and other STD testing, cancer screenings, contraception and information about safe sexual practices.
H.R. 358, also known as the “Let Women Die Act,” sponsored by right-winger Joe Pitts (R-PA) and 137 other Representatives, encourages emergency rooms to let women die rather than perform abortions that would save their lives, urges providers to refuse to offer training or referrals related to abortion, and, most infamously, redefines rape in such a way that would exclude most sexual attacks.
H.R. 3, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and 209 co-sponsors, would require the IRS to monitor and impose tax burdens on Americans whose PRIVATE insurance covers abortion. As NOW observes: ” In testifying in favor of this bill in committee, a representative from the Catholic bishops proudly supported revoking abortion rights even in cases of rape. You read that right — and isn’t that rich, coming from the very men who have consistently protected sexually abusive priests?”
H.R. 217, sponsored by Christian extremist Mike Pence (R-IN) and 168 other Representatives, is another version of the Pence amendment. It may die in Committee, but it will live and become law the U.S. Catholic Bishops and other Protestant groups have their way.
Recent action promoted by Christian extremists in the State legislatures
South Dakota: Be grateful if you don’t live in South Dakota, where Christian extremists tried to legalize the assassination of abortion providers and have shut down all but one abortion clinic. On Tuesday the House passed a bill (49-19) that would force women who go to this last refuge to endure “counseling” designed to discourage them from having an abortion. The decision to terminate a pregnancy is agonizing enough for most women who must make it, but South Dakota extremists want to make choice even more unpleasant for women by imposing a 72-hour waiting period between the time that they meet with their doctors and have an abortion. If this bill passes, State will incur approximately $1 million in legal costs defending it in court.
Nebraska: The Christian extremists nextdoor have introduced a bill nearly identical to the one that stalled in South Dakota, defining the murder of anyone who supports abortion a “justifiable homicide.” State Senator and devout Protestant Mark Christensen, who opposes abortion in all circumstances, including rape, introduced this legislation, L.B. 232, this week. Melissa Grant of Planned Parenthood told the Nebraska State Judiciary Committee that this bill “authorizes and protects vigilantes, and that’s something that’s unprecedented in our society.”
Pennsylvania: The State of Pennsylvania unfairly requires teens under the age of 18 to get their parents’ consent before having an abortion. If they are unable or afraid to get their parent’s consent, they can bypass the regulation by going through the courts. The legislation does not grant the judge to force a teen to remain pregnant against her will, but a recently elected Allegheny State Judge thinks it does. Judge Philip Ignelzi recently ruled that a girl just shy of her 18th birthday may not have an abortion, even though abortion is still legal in this country. We must not underestimate the great psychological and physical burden that this judge has just imposed on a young woman in our supposedly free country.
Georgia: Woman-hating State Representative Bobby Franklin (R), who wants all rape victims to be called “accusers,” introduced legislation that would not only label all abortions “fetal murder” but require the police to investigate every miscarriage as a potential homicide. Hospitals would be required to keep records on and investigate every single spontaneous death. A Uterus Police? What’s next? A regulatory apparatus to test the daily flow of women having their periods to insure that they haven’t unwittingly discharged “baby” parts, also known as fertilized eggs or zygotes?
We do not yet force women to veil themselves from head to toe, prohibit them from reading, or exclude them from public office, but if Christian extremists who seek to impose their private, religious views on the rest of us get their way, we could soon find ourselves living in a society not unlike the Republic of Gilead imagined in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale Amanda Marcotte, who thinks a lot like I do, already made this rather obvious and somewhat overblown point. Nevertheless it is worth remembering that bad things happen to people who refuse to speak out against injustice. As Offred (Of Fred) recalls in Atwood’s important 1986 novel:
We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance. You have to work at it. Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. There were stories in the newspapers, of course, corpses in ditches or the woods, bludgeoned to death or mutilated, interfered with, as they used to say, but they were about other women, and the men who did such things were other men. None of then were the men we knew. The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives (Anchor, 1998: 56-57).
The debate over abortion has much to do with religion, but it shouldn’t. On one side there are the pro-choice people, who may be Christians or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or atheists, but who do not want to impose their beliefs on other people. They think women have the right to make their own decisions about their reproduction. On the other side are the extremists who are eager–desperate, even–to impose their religious views on everyone else. They do not trust women to make their own ethical choices. Curiously, these very same “forced-birthers” also very often claim to be against the expansion of government and for a fiscal responsibility. Yet they can’t stop themselves from introducing obviously unconstitutional legislation that would grossly broaden the State’s powers and that wastes everyone’s time and taxpayers’ money in the legal system. This legislation is not only irresponsible, as Rep. Jackie Speiers (D-CA) reminded Chris Smith and other Christian extremists who would have put her in jail for having a late-abortion of a fetus that her uterus had already rejected. “What does this have to do with reducing the deficit?” she asked. “Nothing at all.” This legislation is not only sponsored by ignorant, bigoted men and women who have nothing but contempt for the black “babies” they claim to be saving, as Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) pointed out during the same floor debate. Moore thundered:
I just want to tell you what it’s like not to have planned parenthood. … You have to give your kids ramen noodles at the end of the month to fill up their little bellies so they won’t cry. You have to give them mayonnaise sandwiches. They get very few fruits and vegetables because they’re expensive. It subjects children to low educational attainment because of the ravages of poverty.
This legislation imposes the views of a small but increasingly powerful minority of Christian extremists who are only too happy to keep Black women and children down, a small but powerful minority of Christian extremists who believe that God is male and that this deity intended men to have most of the privileges and power in the world because men, more like god than women, are fundamentally superior to women. This legislation is not merely the expression, , but also the weapon, of frighteningly hierarchical ideologues whom we tolerate and ignore at our peril.
Wake up from the “bad dream dreamt by others” and take action against religious extremism in America today:
Yesterday I received a message, indirectly, from Dr. Iman Bibars, in the form of a comment on one of my posts. Dr. Bibars is affiliated with Ashoka, an organization that, in its own words, “strives to shape a global, entrepreneurial, competitive citizen sector.” The Ashoka website explains that she holds a Ph.D. in Development Studies from Sussex University and lives in Cairo, where she has
dedicated her life to working with marginalized and voiceless groups: female heads of households in Egypt’s poorest areas, street children, street vendors and garbage collectors. She has also worked with UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services, CARE-Egypt, GTZ and KFW. Lastly, Iman is herself a social entrepreneur, co-founding and currently chairing The Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women, a CSO providing credit and legal aid for impoverished women heading their households.
Here is what Dr. Bibars has written to the world about Egypt:
What has happened in Egypt the last week or more is unprecedented and is a wonderful and revitalizing experience for all Egyptians who love this country. This is our first real people revolution and it is fueled by wonderful and great young men and women from all walks of Egypt. The liberation square has become a symbol for all our sufferings and also our victories. I cannot claim that I have suffered as many Egyptians did and many of the young revolutionaries asked me why am I supporting them although I have been benefiting (their words) or have not been harmed by the old regime. My only answer was that I loved Egypt and that to be loyal and patriotic to this country means that you want the best for her and you want her to be free and her people to be liberated and treated as humans.
For me Egypt is a she, a her and the mother of all Egyptians and the matriarch that has kept us all in her bosom and nurtured us whether we were grateful or not. And what the regime of husni Mubarak and the security apparatus headed by the war criminal habib al adly have done to us and to the people of Egypt for 30 years is unparalleled in any other country. The humiliation and destruction of the Egyptian character and the spirit of the people in a calculated and organized way took place for 30 years in a relentless and very evil way.
Egyptians stopped laughing or smiling from their hearts, you could see and touch helplessness and hopelessness among the old and the young. Phenomena such as sexual harassment, looting and predominance of thugs spread because they were encouraged by the security that wanted to break the pride and self respect of all Egyptians.
The murdering and killing was not only of peoples bodies and lives but of their souls and spirits. Corruption and lack of ethical fiber and self respect became the norm, became the traits most respected. I am as you all know quite mature (i.e. old) and have been here since the 60s and I have worked with the people and in the streets and was naïve enough to try to enter politics believing that this country needed those who loved her and who would give more then they would take.
I was burnt and burnt hard and not only from the government but from the pretenders or those who played the roles of defenders of human rights or of the people but who in many cases found it lucrative to play that role. My mistake was that I always followed my conscience and what I thought was right and was neither extreme left nor extreme right.
What happened in Egypt during the last 5 years at least what I found out broke my heart and I started thinking and acting seriously to leave the country to go and live somewhere else. I did not feel there was any hope left.
But then on the 25th and when I was home and discovering the internet world , face book and you tube for the first time in my life, I also rediscovered Egypt, the Egypt I have read about and dreamed about. The brave and noble youth of Egypt have resurrected our pride and soul. They have revived the real spirit and soul of Egypt. They have taken away our shame of being so spineless and useless for decades.
They have and for the first time in our history carried a real people’s revolution at least during my life time. They managed to reveal the true face of our security and police forces, those traitors who abandoned their posts and allowed our children and families to die, be attacked and vandalized. Many of the looters and thugs were reported were associated one way or the other with the police.
They did not mind that mothers, elders and children be terrorized in a an effort to abort the revolution and scare all of the liberation square heroes away from their main battle. They did not care and frankly this is what the last regime had shown over and over again, that they do not care for us, for the Egyptians or for Egypt. That is why they should not stay, they should go , they should not be allowed to rule or govern as they are in reality traitors who hate us.
No one who loves his country and its people would have allowed the scandal and shameful behavior of the security forces not only in murdering and torturing the protesters but more so in terrorizing the kind people of Egypt by opening the prisons, and sending their own thugs to steal, loot and vandalize shops, homes and the nice and simple Egyptian families.
Now at this moment and after the maneuvers of the state , a peaceful transition of power is becoming less of a reality and clashes between the youth of Egypt, the real revolutionaries and those pushed and prompted by the state and the NDP is going on now. I just learned that the liberation square is completely blocked and the army tanks are around it and also blocking any means to go in or out.
The state TV is sending wrong images and stories and lying to the people of Egypt, the regime and its NDP are sending thugs and some paid youth to start fights with the heroes of the liberation square and our youth are in deep danger. They are being under siege now and are being attacked by disguised thugs and security forces, the army has blocked all inroads to the liberation square and the mercenaries of the regime are beating and attacking women, girls and young men whose only demand was freedom and liberty.
If we can reach all Egyptians everywhere and tell them that the revolution is not and will not be over, I met several young people and they said that they are willing to die for Egypt in the liberation square but we do not want to sacrifice those clean souls. Please lets all see a way to save them and tell all of Egypt that the mercenaries of the regime are the ones taking to the street now and that no one should give up the demands for a better and more liberated and free Egypt. Please do not believe the state TV for there are no outside forces or traitors among the revolutionaries who wanted our pride and self worth and respect to return to us.