(VIDEO) The Wednesday Five: Spring Dresses, Ashley Judd’s Epic MediaBusting, and Inspiration from Lilly Ledbetter

Photo: Judy Van der Velden (Judy ** on flickr)

This week, blogs explored gazillions of dresses, interviewed a fair-pay heroine, and  re-introduced Beat Generation goddess Diane di Prima.

  • Spring has sprung, and to some of us that means DRESSES. Check out this slideshow from New York magazine, with “130 spring frocks, from florals to maxi dresses.” At  FabulousAfter40.com,   muse on the classic wrap dress — “It’s made of a soft, supple jersey fabric that does not wrinkle so doesn’t need to be ironed.  It’s lightweight, comfortable and will flatter most figures!”—and suggest checking out Karina Dresses, whose buyers and designers “specialize in simple yet comfortable dresses that are made for the over 40 body type with just enough plunge and yet a little more coverage than other wrap dresses we have seen.  (They even use models we can relate to… not teenagers!)” Click over for a video and much more.
  • Yesterday was Equal Pay Day, perfect timing for this week’s The Feministing Five  interview with the remarkable Lilly Ledbetter, of the landmark equal-access-to-justice law that bears her name.  Her case, Feministing’s Anna reminds us, is “an important reminder that it’s easy for those without the best interests of everyday men and women in mind to reverse equal pay laws and make it even harder to reach justice. By refusing to acknowledge and take action against discriminatory pay, employers and politicians continue to relegate women to second-class citizens in this country.”  The interview itself is full of goodies, including that Eleanor Roosevelt is one of Ledbetter’s heroines: “That lady was way ahead of her time. . . . she took a lot of criticism and a lot of flak, but stood her ground and made a lot of headway. You know we women haven’t even been voting for 100 years yet.”  Ledbetter also praises companies that “are beginning to treat women fairly” and updates us about the newest version of the the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will be re-introduced in the Senate soon.
  • We hope you’ve already been enjoying the amount of energy sparked by Ashley Judd’s landmark essay in last week’s The Daily Beast (we did link to it in “In the News”).  GiaVanne, who spends most of her time “indulging my inner Diva” at Giavanne’s Gems, took time out to exult about it. “In an essay published Monday, April 9th on, Ashley Judd delivered the equivalent of a super-sized “Bitch Slap” to the media in response to the gazillion negative comments made last month regarding her appearance. The Ashley media fest began because her face ‘looked puffy,’ after taking medication which included steroids to fight off a sinus infection.” Click over for more, an excerpt from the piece, including “Our voices, our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted.” We couldn’t agree more.

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  • When you’re moving house, like one of WVFC’s editors, EVERY possession comes under suspicion. So Geri, the founder and editor of FabOverFifty.com, is taking the opportunity to re-evaluate  “Kitchen appliances that I’ve used twice, such as a hot sandwich maker by Salton. I do have one of the original Cuisinart food processors from the seventies, and although it’s the size of a small child, I may continue to save it.  My great great great grandchild can take it to The Antiques Roadshow when it broadcasts from Mars.” Also going in the recycler: ‘Ticket stubs from plays I don’t remember, receipts from items I no longer possess, take-out menus from restaurants that went out of business decades ago, letters of praise from former bosses . . .” But other items can’t be relinquished, “such as select pictures of my children over the years that remind me how precious life is and how fast it flies; handmade cards from my kids that make me smile; my high school diploma, just because; my dad’s cufflinks that remind me of him looking dapper in his dress shirts; letters I typed to my youngest sister when she was doing her doctoral work in Buenos Aires (I don’t have the faintest idea why I have them) because they show me that the way I thought about her 40 years ago is much like I think of her  today.” How often do you assess your stuff?
  • Women’s Enews gives us the heads-up on Melanie LaRosa’s new film (video below), The Poetry Deal: A Film With Diane di Prima. Explaining why she had to go rogue in her documentary techniques, LaRosa cites her subject’s era for guidance: “The Beat writers’ style and choice of subject got them banned and rejected by major publishers. They responded by creating their own venues and presses,” she writes. “In 1961, di Prima started the journal “The Floating Bear,” which she ran with Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones) for many years. It forged ties among writers around the nation and world. She also began poetry presses that published her own work and that of Audre Lorde, Barbara Guest, David Henderson and others.” We can’t wait to see the film, and maybe feature it some Poetry Sunday.

The Poetry Deal – Trailer from melanie larosa on Vimeo.

Women’s History Month Wednesday 5: Hillary Clinton’s Greatest Hits, Spring Cosmetics Secrets, and Remembering Bayard Rustin

This week’s blog assortment is full of women making history (though none as grisly as at right), from the birth of Ms. magazine to video of Hillary Rodham Clinton over 30 years of advocacy for women.

  • First, let’s be frivolous and fun:  The latest slideshow from fashion site Refinery 29 offers Five Spring Beauty Essentials—perhaps needed with all that new color about. In addition to recommending (as ever) specific products, it suggests some promising strategies to create  “a week’s worth of completely different faces. From babydoll glam to elegant winged eyeliner, see our step-by-step tutorials and learn how to do them yourself! ” We don’t know if we’ll buy  “Tom Ford Lipstick in Wild Ginger” or “Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner in Black Ink,” but, clicking through the slide show, we learned a few things . You might too.
  • We missed Sunday’s Making Trouble/Making History luncheon of the Jewish Women’s Archive, but we couldn’t resist sharing this promo photo provided for their site by Letty Cottin Pogrebin. “The Ms. staff photo was taken in our editorial ‘bullpen’ in June 1972. I had turned 33 a few days before. I’m the blonde on the upper left—hair down to my pupik, huge aviator glasses,” Pogrebin writes. “Gloria Steinem is sitting on the floor, Pat Carbine, our publisher, is on the chair in the foreground, clearly the only grown-up in the room. I loved my desk because it was near a window and I could keep a couple of plants alive through the winter. The photo of me laughing hysterically with former-Congresswoman Bella Abzug was taken in 1990 at the annual feminist seder that I’ve been attending for the last thirty-six years . . .” Click over to see the photo, and let us know in comments if you made it to the luncheon featuring Steinem and Big Girls Don’t Cry author Rebecca Traister.
  • Friday was the 100th birthday of the late Bayard Rustin, civil rights hero and mentor to many of our BFFs, including Liv Ullman (see video below) and Eleanor Holmes Norton. Underestimated in life partly because he was gay, Rustin—the  driving force behind the historic March on Washington—has, since his death, become  also become a revered gay-rights icon. The blogosphere gave him a party:  New Orleans declared the day a holiday, notes the New Civil Rights Movement, and newly-40 blogger Andreana Clay pens a deep-throated tribute. “We owe it to him . . . to recognize the work that he did for us and to not get derailed by single issue struggles that, as intended, divide our communities,” Clay writes. “I am confident we can do this. As confident as Rustin was when he rightly concluded that, When an individual is protesting society’s refusal to acknowledge his dignity as a human being, his very act of protest confers dignity on him. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Bayard Rustin, may your life, your dignity, and your love always be celebrated.” If you want to do the same, an easy way might be to check out Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer’s documentary on Rustin.

  • 2010 may have been The Year of the Mama Grizzly, but a new GOP women’s PAC has its eye on 2012,  Samantha Kimmey writes at Women’s enews.  “I think that we will be electing new women to the House, co-chair Suzanne Terrell tells Kimmey. “I think there is a good chance that we’ll elect four new women [to the Senate]:  Linda Lingle of Hawaii, Heather Wilson from New Mexico, Sarah Steelman from Missouri and Deb Fischer from Nebraska.” Let the games begin.
  • We were searingly sorry to miss the Daily Beast’s Women in the World Summit, which featured many WVFC icons, including Meryl Streep, Madeleine Albright, and Nancy Pelosi. So when the Daily Beast offered us the Hillary Clinton mashup below, we were thrilled. Watch closely and see Clinton as a young governor’s wife, a First Lady rocking the Beijing Conference, a presidential candidate, and a Secretary of State putting “women’s rights are human rights” into practice.






(VIDEO) The Wednesday 5: Reviving Winter-Dry Skin, Eating Disorders Awareness Week, and Cheering Maya Rudolph

February 29, 2012 by  
Filed under Newsmakers


Photo: Duncan Campbell, UK (flickr)

This week, blogs shared our Oscar complaints, gave us winter skincare tips, and stood up for Ellen De Generes and J.C. Penney.

  • No matter how well you’ve protected your skin this winter, it’s not unlikely that, as for us, February finds you in the state described by Cindy Pearlman at Style Goes Strong: “You’re a blah baby if you look in the mirror and see a face that’s a bit grayish pale and your skin feels as dry as leftover French bread. Your hair is like that straw hat you wear for gardening and your cuticles are raw.”  Luckily for us, Pearlman also comes to the rescue: “I asked the beauty experts for a few pick me ups that will take you straight into spring,” starting with the all-important “Get Rid of Winter Dark Circles and Bags.” Click over, follow her advice; to tide you over while you wait for it to work, check out Ruth Katz’ s The Skinny on Top Winter Lotions at  NYCityWoman.
  • Essential news for caregivers from Amy Lieberman at Women’s eNews: “The Department of Labor is in a public comment period until the end of February,” she writes, “on a new rule extending wage protections to two groups of predominantly female workers; casual babysitters and companions for the elderly and infirm. [Previously,] these workers fell under a “companionship” exclusion when the Fair Labor Standards Act was extended in 1974 to other domestic workers, including housekeepers, cooks and chauffeurs.” Click over for more, whether you’re the employer in this case or a  family caregiver being compensated, at least in part, by Medicare or Medicaid.
  • Like the JC Penney ads with Ellen De Generes during the Oscars? We did, and were glad, along with Joanne Bamberger at Babble’s SpinCycle, that the retail chain didn’t fold in the face of online pressure. And it’s personal, she writes; “While I am Christian and am in what some might call a ‘traditional’ marriage, our family is far from what OneMillionMoms.com would consider OK to them.  My husband and I are of two different faiths who are each on their second marriage with children who ‘look like us’ and who ‘don’t look like us.’  We’re a family with stepchildren,  a child by adoption from another country, and family members who fled Germany in World War II who remember that intolerance isn’t always what you think it will look like.  When some group starts talking about wanting to keep things ‘traditional’  it’s not a stretch to wonder when a family like ours will show up on their hit list.” Bamberger, like our own Carla Baranauckas, protested Penney’s marketing last year of a sexist T-shirt, but adds that  now, “I give them a lot of credit for making a decision on who they thought represented their brand and sticking to it, without falling victim to someone else’s faux culture war.”
  • Sometimes one of those National X Awareness Weeks sneaks up on you, and that’s what Eating Disorders Awareness Month almost did—if not for Rachel at Our Bodies Our Blog, who tells us  that this year’s theme is Everybody Knows Somebody.  “We live in a culture saturated with unrealistic body-image messages,” reads the announcement from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).  “Almost all of us know somebody struggling with an eating disorder.”  If you think it might be you, or even if you don’t, you might want to revisit our Dr. Melanie Katzman’s piece about such struggles in midlife.
  • Turns out we were far from the only ones struck by the sexism of Sunday’s Oscars. Melissa at Women&Hollywood was frank:  “The show sucked. Let’s face it. The Oscars are another part of the film industry that takes us ladies for granted.” Slant Magazine even critiqued the academy’s choice of Best Picture: “The Artist‘s gender problem is best articulated in a blog post comparing the plot of The Artist with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. The uncanniness of the similarities makes the comparison all too relevant. Whereas Anchorman satirizes ‘the good old days’ of casual and rampant sexism, The Artist not only reinforces them, but worships them. ” And we couldn’t have said it better than Hendrik Hertzberg at the New Yorker: “The skit comparing the Oscar show’s writers to the obsolete scouts in “Moneyball” was funny, but very much to the dismal point: the show’s actual writers chose to have Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph, the women who are supposedly leading a revolution in female comedy, stand up there and make dick jokes.” If all the wine in the world didn’t get that out of your mouth, we recommend these clips from Rudolph’s recent SNL-hosting gig, to see the mastery of Wiig, Rudolph and, in the second, the beloved Amy Poehler.

The Wednesday Five: Power Women’s “Giraffe Syndrome,” 40 Influential Black Female Writers, and How Wal-Mart Loses Dukes Either Way

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under World

Photo: Nicholas Vigier

Blogosphere offerings this week: the thought that Wal-Mart may lose even if it wins with Dukes, Barbara Walters and “the giraffe syndrome,” and a slideshow of black literary power women.

  • Looking for power women to add to your reading list? Try Black Voices’ amazing slideshow of “40 Influential Black Female Authors.” While it includes long-beloved names like those of Maya Angelou and Phillis Wheatley, you might find some less-known writers to explore, including midlife peers Grace Okot and Bebe Moore Campbell.
  • Women on Business’s Sylvia LaFair writes about what she calls “the giraffe syndrome.” Women who are change agents,  she says, “gutsy” women, also contend with guilt: “When we step into our power it is not just one big fun parade. So often the down side is not discussed. And yet, without really taking time to see the whole picture many gutsy women second guess themselves and wonder if the risk has been worth it.” Such doubts were even expressed, she writes, by  Barbara Walters at an event in her honor at the Paley Center for Media in New York a few weeks ago — even though “Walters has had an amazing career, and continues to do so, daring the aging process to define her.  She continues to be vibrant, curious, and inspiring.” Three cheers for giraffes, who,  Lafair contends, should not be afraid to look down.
  • Speaking of women and leadership, Bridgette Behling reports at the American Association of University Women’s blog  from the National Archives’ 4th Annual Forum on Women and Leadership. Discussing recent research on women in academia, Behling writes, “A panel of women presidents from Vassar College, Wellesley College, Kenyon College, and the University of Virginia offered honest, sound advice about what it takes to become a college or university president. Part of their discussion was the theme of disparity in leadership and how today’s college presidents do not accurately reflect the diversity of the student bodies whom they serve.” S. Georgia Nugent, president of Kenyon College, warned participants to beware of the “starry imperium” — that because the presidents of Brown, Princeton, Harvard, and Wellesley are women, it gives a false sense of how far we’ve come in professional advancement and equity for women in high-level leadership positions.”
  • Two months after the Arab spring began with women like Nawal el-Sadaawi helping usher in the independence of Egypt’s people, Jessica Gray of Women’s Enews reports that women are worried about the the new military government and even the new constitution. Gray interviews Egyptian feminists and adds that Amnesty International “describes Egypt’s continuing violence against women as ‘deeply worrying’ along with the wording of some constitutional amendments, such as the one concerning the president, which carries the assumption that the president must be male.”
  • Speaking of justice for women, many of us are worried about the likely outcome in Wal-Mart v. Dukes, following the reporting on the skepticism expressed by many members of the Court in oral arguments last week. We did take some solace from Gabe Acevedo’s analysis in Above the Law, which includes the counter-intuitive conclusion that Wal-Mart loses even if the Court rules in its favor to deny the million-strong class-discrimination lawsuit against them. Due to advances in discovery enabled by technological change, “if Wal-Mart wins, it will have to deal with one of the biggest legal technology/e-discovery challenges in history. And if the company loses, they face the biggest class action suit in our nation’s history. Not exactly a win-win. “

The Wednesday Five: Women Reporters, Lawmakers Against Illegal Guns, and a Great Date-Night Flick

February 23, 2011 by  
Filed under World

Image: Leo Reynolds, Norwich UK.

This week’s blog basket includes translating French Vogue for midlife women,  a new Web site from NPR’s (and WVFC’s) Jacki Lyden, women leaders still fighting for gun safety, and why The Illusionist makes such a great date movie.

  • Valentine’s week is long over, but in this pre-Oscar week we loved this discussion, at  Acanthus and Acorn, of The Illusionist with Edward Norton.  Rebecca Ilgenfritz explains why the drama makes a great date movie: “The movie, I think, is well-crafted and very stylish. It does takes great liberties with fantasy and illusion, but the acting by Giamatti, Norton and Rufus Sewell (who plays Crown Prince Leopold) should get you well past any criticisms. It takes place in Vienna, Austria and the sets and costumes are fantastic.” So are the photos she includes.
  • The joyous scenes of Egypt’s peaceful overthrow of its dictator were dimmed, for many of us, by last week’s news that CNN journalist Lara Logan had suffered a brutal sexual assault on that celebratory day. At Feministing,  Ann Friedman’s “When rape is a risk that comes with the job” counters much of the pundit-talk that followed (along the lines of “What did she expect?”) and broadens the discussion to broader issues of sexual abuse at the workplace.
  • Speaking more happily of journalists and bravery, check out JackiLyden.com, the new site launched by the acclaimed NPR journalist who occasionally lends her voice here (most recently in our New Years’ roundups). Now we can keep up with progress on the movie being made from her memoir Daughter of the Queen of Sheba (perhaps to star Anne Hathaway), or see photos of her radio subjects, such as the Paris Underground or the history of Chanel Number Five.
  • In January, after the Tucson shooting that targeted Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, we hailed efforts by Carolyn McCarthy and Mayors Against Illegal Guns to take military-caliber ammunition and firearms out of the wrong hands. But did those efforts go by the wayside of the  new Congress? Not according to Women’s Enews, which profiled McCarthy and other Female Lawmakers who Carry the Banner for Gun Control. Reporter Sharon Johnson does wish there were more of them: Illinois representative Jan Schakowsky tells Johnson, “Women are more likely to support gun control measures than are men because they are less likely than are men to own guns, [and they] also realize the significant role guns play in not only mass shootings but also domestic violence, workplace killings and suicides.” The gender gap, says Schakowsky, is thus a barrier.
  • If you’re not currently reading French Vogue — or even if you are — you might want to check out I’m Late, I’m Late, It Was Worth the Wait in Tish Jett’s A Femme d’Un Certain Age.  Jett (who shared her Valentine wisdom with us last week) writes of a feature on celebrity clothes: “Thanks to my discerning eye and the fact I’m the chief of the No One Our Age Wants to Look Like a Fool Police Department, I’ve whittled the magazine selections down to a few choice pieces for us.” Follow the link to learn the basics, from Claudia Schiffer’s glasses to the perfect 501 jeans.

The Wednesday Five: Fighting Media Ageism, Afghan Women Speak, and 21 New Women Leaders (VIDEO)

January 5, 2011 by  
Filed under World

Strumpshaw Steam Museum, Strumpshaw, Norfolk, England, UK. (Photo: Leo Reynolds.)

2011 begins with a new year in blogs, including a new group of 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, some hard economic facts from Today’s Chicago W0man, a campaign against media ageism and a new reality show giving voice to women in Afghanistan.

  • Those year-end roundups are behind us (including WVFC’s.) But it’s still worth checking out 2010: Not Sorry to see you Go, from Farai Chideya’s Pop and Politics. Miriam Zolla Perez’s “roundup of roundups”  includes hard news from the Washington Post, WNYC and The Houston Chronicle, as well as  urgent editorials for the new year from around the Web.
  • Wonder how women are faring economically as 2011 begins? At Today’s Chicago Woman, Cassandra Gaddo examines recent findings of the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee on the subject. While women’s unemployment rates were not as bad as that of men in the recession, she notes, a substantial “gender pay gap persisted even amongst highly-skilled professionals..[which] for older workers is particularly pernicious.” The reasons are manifold, of course, but Gaddo closes her column by pointing to salient facts about who’s running the Fortune 500: “While women comprised 46.4 percent of all employees in Fortune 500 companies, they made up just 15.7 percent of board seats, 14.4 percent of executive officers, 7.6 percent of top-earning executive officers, and 2.4 percent of chief executive officers.”
  • Happy 10th birthday to Women’s Enews’ 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, which debuted this week in 2001. This year, WEnews’ awards are divided into four categories: “Fighting for Equality,” “Working Against Gender Disparity,” “Helping Women Escape Abuse” and “Inspiring a New Generation.”  The long list of names includes Alexine Clement Jackson, board chair of Susan Komen Race to the Cure; Toni Reinhold, president of the Newswomen’s Club, and nonprofit exec Maile Zambuto, who recently moved from Safe Horizon.org to the Joyful Heart Foundation, an antiviolence campaign founded by Mariska Hargitay of Law & Order SVU. Every day this week, that site tells more of their stories.
  • Ever bristle when you hear something’s out of style because “the older folks like it,” or a compliment meaning that someone “looks so young?” At As Times Go By,  Ronni Bennett is collecting examples of elder-bashing in the media. “Language matters. And repetition, as every advertiser knows, establishes credibility and familiarity,” Bennett writes. “With each repetition, the product, service or idea becomes more deeply lodged in one’s mind until even elders themselves sometimes do not recognize, in the case of ageism, that the idea is repellent. Such memes as ‘computer-illiterate old people interested only in the early-bird special at Denny’s’ are repeated hundreds or thousands of times year after year until they are no longer perceived as demeaning and become how old people are acceptably defined.” Speaking of As Time Goes By, we extend our condolences on the death of its co-founder Saul Friedman, who we’ve quoted in many a blogwatch. As his wife Elke wrote in tribute last week: “It was Saul’s mission to teach [adult mid-career students in South Africa] how to write in the active mode instead of the passive. He made an impact and was happy teaching there. And the students appreciated his efforts. The thread running through his work was always the same: make the world a better place as best I can. In newspaperese: ‘The journalist’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.’ “

The Wednesday Five: Pink Cadillacs, Apple Latkes, and Back to the 1970s

December 8, 2010 by  
Filed under World

This week, the blogosphere offers us Mary Kay’s pioneering pink Cadillacs, a killer latke recipe for Chanukah, an exec contemplating the lifespan of friendships, and a cinematic flashback to the 1970s from Sundance’s favorite new woman director.

  • We usually regard SmittenKitchen.com, run by tech guru and journalist Deb, as something of a guilty pleasure.  But for Chanukah week, we can’t resist sharing this Apple Latkes recipe. Enjoy!
  • Mary Kay Cosmetics: three words that generally add up to mixed feelings for most women. So much pink! Such Amway-style tactics! But Wild Women Reviews’ feelings changed after reading Jacki Brown’s Ask ME About Mary Kay. “After reading this book,” they write,  “I am definitely going to read some of the books written by Mary Kay, a highly persuasive and ambitious woman who created a billion dollar company that made many women rich in a time when the role of many women was that of housewife or secretary.”
  • Widespread applause met last month’s release of Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi from prison. But Women’s Enews reports that even for her most fervent supporters, the joy has its limits:  “The widespread elation over the freeing of Suu Kyi may have helped drown the international outcry over elections held by the military government that were decried on numerous counts of fraud, coercion and a host of illegal voting tactics. But Suu Kyi’s release hasn’t changed the reality for [many] people, who have been fighting a civil war with the Burmese junta for over 60 years.”
  • Molly Cantrell, CEO of Women with Drive Foundation, asks at Successful Blog: Do your friends hold you back? And she doesn’t just mean co-workers:  “Take a moment to list the top ten people you see each day, even if it’s a clerk at a store. I know that the clerk may seem like a minuscule exposure, but our habits affect our mood, our perspective and our trajectory. If you stop at a place for coffee every morning and the clerk is snide, abrupt and rude, how does that set the tone for your day?”

As Obama Plans War Exit, Afghan Women Talk Recovery

November 23, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Politics

afghan-women-leadAs Obama mulls a U.S. troop buildup in Afghanistan, Rita Henley Jensen of Women’s Enews checked in with three Afghan women who run social service efforts in their troubled homeland, who talked about schools, jobs, safety and health care instead of focusing on the war that shadows them all.

(WOMENSENEWS)—As the world waits for President Barack Obama to announce his plan to send up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, three female leaders of civil society efforts focused their concerns on nation building.

The trio wanted to talk about something else: the country’s recovery.

They also wanted to discuss individuals they came across in their work who showed why the country needs more international help providing education, jobs, health care and safety. Moreover, the fiefdoms of the Taliban, war lords, tribal leaders and drug traffickers leave the nation poorly equipped to reduce the corruption and violence.

The women interviewed were Sakena Yacoobi, founder of girls’ schools throughout the country and neighboring Pakistan; Fatima Gailani, head of a major national nongovernmental organization; and Mary Akrami, the founder of shelters for women and survivors of domestic violence.

All three women said the situation in Afghanistan remains precarious, especially for women. U.S. troops weren’t an issue they said they felt qualified to assess, but they did understand the country’s struggle to provide its people with a functional society.

Press reports indicate President Obama will announce next week that he has determined not to leave Afghanistan, nor to continue the status quo, but to increase troop levels between 25,000 to 30,000 troops. The United States currently has 68,000 troops in Afghanistan–at a cost of $1 million per military member, or $68 billion per year. The additional troops would mean that U.S. spending would approach $100 billion a year.

In contrast, Reuters reported this week, quoting Oxfam International, that since U.S.-backed forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, international donors have poured more than $20 billion in development and humanitarian aid into the war-ravaged nation.

But the Reuters report, which backs up criticism from aid agencies and observers, said Afghans felt the funds were insufficient and wasted, and there needed to be more accountability to ensure aid got to where it was needed.

sakenayacoobi_w300Yacoobi Runs Schools

Sakena Yacoobi founded the Afghan Institute of Learning in 1995, after completing her education as an international student in California and relocating her parents and other relatives—a total of 17—from Afghanistan to the United States.

Yacoobi’s institute operated 80 underground schools for girls during the Taliban era, when educating girls was banned; it now manages the education of 350,000 women and girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, she has established four medical clinics.

After her family members were settled, she went back to Afghanistan. “My family said, ‘No. You will be killed.’ But I went back.” Yacoobi said.

Now she worries about the millions of refugees also returning from Pakistan and Iran, living in shipping containers without sanitary facilities, water or electricity, in most cases. This compounds the effect of decades of armed conflict, she says, and control by the Soviets and the Taliban, as well as war lords and members of organized crime.

“Billions have been spent. Where did it go?” Yacoobi asked.

“We need infrastructure,” she added. “The snow from the mountains melts and runs into other countries. We have no damns, only wells, and the pipes break.”

Women also need roads to access health care, electricity for economic development and most of all education that leads to jobs, she said.

When Yacoobi talks about the country’s needs she said she thinks about a woman she simply called Malaka. Like the other two Afghan women, she only used a first name in her story.

“She was 24 when I met her, married with three kids. She wanted to go to school, but her mother-in-law said no, she had too much work to do,” Yacoobi said.

When Yacoobi met Malaka as a young woman wishing to attend one of her schools, the younger woman lived in a three-room mud hut in Southern Afghanistan, along with her husband, her children and her in-laws.

Married at age 14, she pleaded with her husband for the opportunity to learn, despite her many duties on the small farm. In addition to caring for her children and in-laws, she tended the sheep, chickens and the crops. Eventually, her husband countermanded his mother’s objections and made a bargain with Malaka: She could go to the center to learn if she finished all of her chores before she left for the center. Malaka began rising at 4 a.m., completing her work in time to reach school by 8 a.m.

Within a year, she was reading at a third grade level. She began a sewing class and learned she was a good tailor. Soon, she was reading at a sixth grade level and graduated along with 300 other women. Her husband was there, clapping along with everyone else. She became a manager of the center and then another center. She took on the duties of teaching the health class too, educating her village about birth control and reproductive health, Yacoobi says.

With that kind of education and leadership replicated by women around the country, which has produced a dramatic increase in the number of midwives, is how Afghanistan has significantly reduced its infant mortality rate since 2002. But Yacoobi notes that Afghanistan’s maternal mortality is still the second highest in the world, after Sierra Leone.

“This is what the United States must do if peace is to come to Afghanistan. The U.S. should stay. We need assistance in skills training and capacity building,” Yacoobi said.

Gailani Offers Humanitarian Aid

Fatima Gailani is president of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (a member of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies) and considers herself a champion of democracy, for women’s rights and all the marginalized.

Afghanistan, strategically positioned as a trade route, is a young nation, Gailani said, because the average life expectancy is 42 years old in a nation that has been at war for 24 years.

Gailani talked about a young man she called Nowroz, who appeared at the Red Crescent headquarters seeking help and insisted on seeing her, as she was the organization’s president.

“He was a young man just out of prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He had no money to return to his home village . . . He was thin, nervous with dark skin,” Gailani said.

He was cold and begged her to help him get some clothing.

“I asked, what were you doing in that place where he was arrested. He said, ‘Where am I supposed to be? At my job?’ He is Pashtun and most of the schools and health facilities are closed in Pashtun provinces. The unemployment rate in Afghanistan is 40 percent.”

The young man went on to tell her that he wants to get married. He said: “I want to live to see my children grow. I want a home. I want all this, but you tell me how? I am prepared to go back to school, but where?”

“How was I to answer him?” asked Gailani.

Young Afghan men are paid $200 to join the fighting, she said, but would gladly avoid it if they could find a factory job for $100 a month.

For her, the wrongly imprisoned Nowroz shows what needs to change in Afghanistan.

“They never experienced ordinary life,” she said of the country’s young men. “We must give them a taste.”

Akrami Runs Shelters

Mary Akrami with Khalida and Shawali, at the AWSDC shelter in 2006.Mary Akrami manages two shelters in Kabul for survivors of domestic violence, including a six-year-old who ran away to avoid being sold into a marriage. She also manages a network of training centers in four provinces for women that teach literacy, English and computer skills. When she thinks of the women and girls she helps, she recalls Naghida.

Her family had tortured Naghida and cut her hair, she said, and her father killed the young man she wished to marry in defiance of his wishes.

For now, Naghida lives indefinitely in one of the shelters, recovering from torture and grieving the murder of her fiance.

Not only is her life in danger if she leaves, her decision to select her own husband has set off a war between two Afghan tribes. After her father killed her intended husband, the tribe of her fiancé revenged the murder, setting off a series of slayings that has yet to end.

“If the international community goes back, what will happen to the women of Afghanistan?” Akrami asked. “Inside the country, we have powerful war lords, the Taliban. We don’t want another civil war.”

Rita Henley Jensen is founder and editor in chief of Women’s eNews, an international news service founded in 2000.

October Kickoff News Mix: NFL Owner’s Wife Charges Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Rep. Baldwin “Hero” of GLBT History Month; Cambodia’s Mu Sochua Asks Clinton, All of Us for Help

October 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Newsmakers, Politics

Whew! When fall  hits, so do a slew of official “months.” October is  now swathed in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month; less expected, however, is this sudden influx of pink National Football League merchandise. For the latter, it seems, we can thank Tanya Snyder, 47, whose husband Dan owns the Washington Redskins. She told The New York Times about the way cancer changed her life:

Redskins Football Tanya SnyderAfter she learned she had breast cancer early last year, she called Dan at his office and he sped home. They took a long walk.
“I just remember being in a twilight zone,” she said. “I felt like I was 2 feet tall. I was very afraid.”

In the decade her husband has owned the Redskins, Tanya Snyder has ceded the spotlight to him. Now she is talking about her illness for the first time, becoming the delicate face of the N.F.L.’s effort during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with help from Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, whose mother died of breast cancer.

At games on Oct. 4 and on other dates in October, players will wear hot-pink gloves, wristbands and cleats, and goal-post legs will be wrapped in hot-pink padding. Each fan will receive a pink-and-white rally towel and will be inundated with the message that screenings for women over 40 are crucial.

“Before she got sick, she’d be all excited about these programs,” Dan Snyder said in an interview at Redskins Park, the team’s headquarters. “It’s kind of eerie. So maybe it was meant to be to help with this.”

Baldwin_AMeanwhile, October is also GLBT History Month, marking the rich contributions made to our history by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voices often lost in the past. This weekend, Equality Forum starts off its list of “GLBT Heroes,” which includes such worthies as Zora Neale Hurston, Alfred Kinsey and Rachel Maddow, with none other than U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin:

Baldwin, 47, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998, making her Wisconsin’s first congresswoman. Elected to her sixth term in 2008, Baldwin serves on the Subcommittee on Health of the Committee of Energy and Commerce, and on the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the Committee of the Judiciary. She’s also a leading advocate for universal health care, as well as a proponent of renewable fuel sources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking of heroes…Women’s Enews reminded us this week that filmmaker Roman Polanski is not the only international figure hoping that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will intervene to stop a long-delayed trial. Mu Sochua, a Cambodian legislator who has worked for 20 years to help revive the once-war-torn nation, first met Clinton in 1995, during the Beijing World Conference for Women; in 2002 she received the Leadership Award from Clinton’s Vital Voices Foundation, co-founded by Clinton when she was a U.S. Senator. And last week she asked Clinton to help her fight the guilty verdict she received in August for “defamation” of the country’s prime minister (by accusing his party of corruption during the 2008 elections).

After meeting with Clinton, Sochua reiterated to her audiences across the United States, including the one in Sacramento, that she pressed the top U.S. diplomat to make future U.S. economic aid contingent upon taking action to end human rights abuses.

musochuaThe office of Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, states that Verveer had been planning a trip to Cambodia to look into women’s issues, including unemployment due to the current global economic crisis.

When Sochua heard that Verveer might be coming to Cambodia, she asked Clinton if the ambassador-at-large could also look into some of the issues that Sochua raised regarding the rule of law and freedom of speech.

Sochua [has] encouraged supporters to petition Clinton to keep her promise about sending a special envoy to investigate human rights abuses. Cambodia receives approximately $1 billion in annual foreign aid, of which $59 million is from the United States.

Below, watch Sochua talk to World Pulse magazine about her case. We hope that women everywhere have Sochua’s back at this crucial time.