ON BEING A WOMAN.
BY FRANCES KISSLING
Global Fund for Women Co-Founder
It’s the 21st century and around the world, women still don’t have the right to control their own bodies. This is one of the reasons why we are deepening financial and other support to women’s organizations fighting for sexual, reproductive rights and health for all women and girls. One leader who has guided us from the start is Frances Kissling, a co-founder of the Global Fund for Women and leading scholar and activist in the fields of religion, reproduction and women’s rights. The former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, Frances is now a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Women bear the brunt of the pain that comes with human rights.” Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka \\ Global Fund for Women Board Member and U.N. Women Executive Director
In that simple sentence Phumzile set the stage for a new understanding of sexual and reproductive rights as compassionate human rights; human rights advocacy as the effort to alleviate suffering. That suffering originates in the Abrahamic idea of sex as an evil, punishable offense. In the Genesis narrative of the loss of paradise God said to the woman, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
In too many places this biblical verse still influences how we think about women, sex and reproduction. We ignore the pain women suffer when they take charge of their own bodies: decide whom they will love; expect to be treated as the subjects of their lives not the objects of their partners’ lives; and decide for themselves when and whether they will bring new life into the world. They take the task of procreation seriously considering not just themselves but the best interests of a child that might be born, an existing family and the economy they face, even the best interests of a community and the earth itself.
At the level of the eternal unconscious, women’s power to decide whether to bring new life into the world or not is a challenge to men’s sense of fertility and power. No one is to blame, but women’s power over life and death is frightening. Abraham Lincoln put best when he said, “a woman is the only thing I am afraid of that I know will not hurt me.”
It would have been far better had nature made it possible for both men and women to gestate new life. Imagine a world in which men could get pregnant. Would the Chilean president marvel at a raped, pregnant 11-year-old boy’s “wisdom and maturity” when he decided to have the baby and hold it in his arms like a “little doll” or would he have higher aspirations for him? Would the governor of Virginia think it a good idea that all pregnant men have a penile ultra sound before an abortion as necessary “informed consent?” Would South African men need to pay bribes in order to take their babies home after delivery? And would parents anywhere in the world not work to prevent their teenage sons from dying as a result of botched illegal abortions? Would abortion be illegal, emergency contraception denied, and the lack of skilled birth attendants tolerated?
Most likely not. But those violations of reproductive rights are enshrined in law and practice world-wide and the burden of pain is borne only by women. For these reasons the Global Fund for Women from its first grant docket in 1988 has been a courageous funder of reproductive rights, including the right to choose abortion.
But procreative decisions are not just about rights. The decision to have or not have children is at once the most private and intimate of acts with consequences not just for women but for the whole of society. Too often, the good in opposing views is not heard and doubts are pushed aside. Fostering deep listening and a desire to understand the other might bridge the divide. Such an effort would honor the words of Phumzile, and create a form of advocacy for reproductive rights that is compassionate and respectful of all human dignity.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
WHAT WE DO TO THE ENVIRONMENT DOUBLY AFFECTS WOMEN.
BY VANDANA SHIVA
The future of humanity hangs in the balance of how we act now to protect mother earth. Women, the main providers of food and water to their families, know this well. That’s one of the reasons why Global Fund for Women invests in grantees developing women leaders working to preserve and protect the environment.
One thought leader whose vision guides us is Vandana Shiva, world-renowned eco-feminist, activist and thinker from India. Vandana is an acclaimed author of many books, including Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace and Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development.
In the early 1970s, I saw the deep connection between the women’s movement in India and the protection of the environment through the very inspiring movement called Chipko, which means to hug. It was a movement that practiced the Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violent resistance, through the act of hugging trees to protect them from being felled. Women protested, “You can’t cut these forests. These forests protect our soil, our water. They’re not timber mines.” It took ten years for the government to eventually recognize that the Himalayan forests’ primary function is to provide a stable water supply to avoid floods and drought, not the value of its timber.
“Since Monsanto entered the seed market, 270,000 Indian farmers who couldn’t repay the debt have committed suicide. It’s genocide. And every farmer who commits suicide leaves behind a widow. For me, this is a prime example of violence against women through violent economic means.” Vandana Shiva
I also saw the deep connection between women and the environment 26 years ago when I started Navdanya, the movement for seed saving in India, after learning how corporations wanted to patent life. For instance, in India, Monsanto controls 95 percent of the cottonseed supply. Farmers are indebted because the price of seed jumped 8,000 percent. There are no other options, except ones we are creating through Navdanya by saving open-pollinated seed. Since Monsanto entered the seed market, 270,000 Indian farmers who couldn’t repay the debt have committed suicide. It’s genocide. And every farmer who commits suicide leaves behind a widow. For me, this is a prime example of violence against women through violent economic means.
We are living in a very violent economic order to which war has become essential — war against the earth, women’s bodies, local economies and democracy. This violent economic order can only function as war against people and the earth, and in that war, rape against women is a very, very commonly used instrument of war. To protect the dignity of women, we must see the connections — the multiple wars against the earth must end, and we must recognize we are part of the earth.
Most of the indigenous, non-industrialized and non-Western cultures of the world live in the consciousness that we are part of nature and the earth is a mother. For example, we are now fighting against dams on the Ganges River and central to this struggle is a very real discourse that the Ganges is a divine mother. She has her own standing. The government cannot block her flow. She has a right to flow free. That’s the basis of fighting the dams, not only the environmental impact in terms of displacement.
The liberation of the earth, of women, of all humanity is the next step of freedom we need to work for. To achieve this, a paradigm shift led by movements for ecological sustainability, social justice and deep democracy is desperately needed. Their paradigm is centered on the rights of mother earth, the rights of future generations, of women, indigenous communities and farmers. It is this epic contest between a destructive and dying outmoded paradigm and a life enhancing emergent paradigm. The outcome of this contest will determine the future of humanity and will be fought in every country, in every village and town, every farm and workplace, every home and street.
For 25 years, the Global Fund for Women has given crucial support to thousands of women’s groups mobilizing for their human rights and earth’s rights. From indigenous women facing rape and death to prevent the loss of their ancient rainforests to women farmers organizing against pesticides that harm their health and their children’s, the Global Fund’s support is vital to continue the courageous work of these women to advance their own rights and protect mother earth.
Photo by Rex Features via AP Images
TOGETHER, WE WILL FIND THE WAY.
BY SIR PATRICK STEWART*
Violence against women and girls is at crisis levels, everywhere. So it’s no surprise that one of the Global Fund’s top priorities is zero violence against women and girls. But we can’t do it alone. We must enlist men to break the silence and make such violence intolerable. One leading voice calling upon men to end violence against women is Sir Patrick Stewart, the distinguished film, television and stage actor most widely known for his role as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
When I was a child I witnessed repeated violence against my mother. My father was a soldier, a superstar, Sergeant Major of his regiment. He was a man of huge discipline, character and charisma. He was brilliant at his job. But at home, behind our closed front doors was another story. At home, my father was an angry and unhappy man who was unable to control his emotions, or his hands.
I was five years old when this began, and I witnessed a lot of harm. Our house was very small. When you live with violence in a confined space, you learn to gauge the temperature of situations very quickly. I became an expert. I knew exactly the moment when the shouting was done and when a hand was about to be raised. I knew exactly when to throw open a door and to insert myself between my father’s fist and my mothers body. That’s a skill no child should ever have to learn.
“Let’s be absolutely clear: violence is a choice a man makes and he is responsible for it. It is not a women’s issue. It is humanity’s issue. It is your issue. It is my issue.” Sir Patrick Stewart
As a child, I recall so vividly hearing police officers in my home saying things like, “She must have provoked him,” or “Well, Mrs. Stewart it takes two to make an argument.” They had no idea. As a child, I didn’t have the words to explain. As an adult, I can tell the truth. The truth is, my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, responding with violence is not an acceptable way of dealing with conflict.
Last year I learned things about my father that I didn’t know. In 1940 due to his experiences in France with the British Expeditionary Force, my father was suffering from what was then called severe shellshock. That’s what I read in his notes at the Imperial War Museum in England. We now know it as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We also know that there are soldiers all over the world who are returning from combat zones with a serious condition of PTSD. Now we know what it is and how to deal with it. In 1940, it was just shellshock. Basically soldiers were being told,
“Pull yourself together, get a grip on yourself, and get out there and be a man.” An expert in this condition who works with a charity called Combat Stress told me, “What your father had in 1940, because he was never treated, never left him. And all the conditions of your childhood that you have described are classic symptoms of veterans who are suffering from this serious psychological and physical illness.”
For my mother, I work for Refuge, a safe house for women and children, and for my father, and I work for Combat Stress.
Let’s be absolutely clear: violence is a choice a man makes and he is responsible for it. It is not a women’s issue. It is humanity’s issue. It is your issue. It is my issue. And it is not something that is always hidden away in a bad neighborhood, in a remote town, in a developing county. It is in our homes, our streets and in our places of work and at every level of society. Places where we are supposed to feel safe, and protected. A change in society’s attitude to domestic violence is needed and men have to lead that change.
A few months ago, I joined the Ring the Bell campaign and pledged with one million men to end violence against women. It is in our hands.
*Excerpted from talk at the launch of Global Fund grantee partner Breakthrough’s global campaign – Ring the Bell: One million men, One million promises, March 8th, 2013
Photo by Robert Ascroft