Category Archives: women's rights

The Bruises and Kisses Our Bodies Don’t Show: ACT Mannequin Art Project on Teen Dating Violence Prevention

By Kathleen Wong, 18, California

Art created by ACT Against Teen Dating Violence

Advocating Change Together (ACT) is a peer health advocacy program at Girls Incorporated of Alameda County, California. ACT has chosen to advocate for the cause of teen dating violence prevention because this is an issue that seriously impacts our communities and youth.

Teen dating violence is defined as a pattern of actual or threatened acts of physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse, perpetrated by a partner to gain and maintain power and control over another. Statistics reveal that at least one in three high school and college-age young people experience violence in an intimate or dating relationship.

Domestic violence is the number one cause of injury to women between the ages of 15–44. Most people stay in their violent relationships—in part because victims usually blame themselves for causing the violence.

The purpose of ACT is: (1) to allow high school girls to be involved in and advocate for issues affecting women/girls in the community; (2) to reduce the violence in our communities; (3) to encourage youth to have healthy relationships that build a sense of well-being, (4) to increase awareness of the health issues stemming from dating violence; (5) to raise community awareness of available resources; and (6) to create systemic change in San Leandro and Oakland that will benefit present and future generations.

The ACT program consists of groups in San Leandro and Oakland. Participants are first educated about how to be advocates and they learn about teen dating violence and healthy relationships. ACT creates system change by recommending policy, based on our own research analysis, which is then presented to policymakers such as the San Leandro City Council and school administrators. Every month, ACT participants are required to educate at least four peers to enlighten them about the problems of teen dating violence and the benefits of having healthy relationships. In addition, ACT does advocacy, runs workshops, conducts research, and outreaches through social media to local high schools to educate and prevent teen dating violence in the community. Topics addressed include violence, misconceptions of rape, the cycle of abuse, power, and control, being an ally, setting boundaries, and many others.

Recently ACT participants used mannequins as a canvas to illustrate the effects of healthy and unhealthy relationships on our emotional, physical, and sexual health.  A division on the body of the mannequin indicates the contrasting effects of violent and nonviolent relationships on the body. Half of each mannequin shows the positive benefits of a nonviolent and respectful relationship characterized by equality; there are images of hearts and happiness, along with words of endearment on this part of the collage. The unhealthy sides of the mannequins have extensive imagery of cuts, wounds, and bruises, in addition to multiple insults and offensive words. One mannequin has a fencing—like the fencing that surrounds many homes—on the side of healthy imagery of a relationship—to convey the message that everything may seem all peachy and lovey-dovey on the outside, but behind closed doors, that is where the violence occurs.

All of these mannequins illustrate that teen dating violence is not only physical and sexual, but also emotional and mental, and likely to have lasting effects on the victims’ lives.  For example, dating violence can foster low self-esteem, and make its victims accustomed to violent partners and to being treated as unequal and unworthy.

My experience in ACT has been life changing. ACT has helped me grow as a person.  I’ve learned how to network. I have become more confident and less shy. And I have improved my public speaking skills. Overall, I’m becoming smart, strong, and bold! Also, being a part of ACT has changed my perspective on how I look at my community. Because of ACT, I am more aware of what goes on in my community. Before, I never would’ve thought that I could actually make a difference in helping my community. But now, thanks to ACT, I am very determined and passionate about doing whatever I can to make positive changes for my community.

My hope for ACT is that the program will continue as long as possible because it sends such a powerful and positive message to young people that we can advocate for change by working together. I would also like to see ACT become more involved in the community, which has started happening. ACT girls have been attending community meetings to learn more about violence prevention and ways to improve public education on this topic.  I hope this trend will continue and we will get even more involved in the community. One day, I hope the community will know the value of what we do. I hope the community already knows ACT is working to make improvements and that we care!

You can learn more about ACT’s move against teen dating violence by following ACT on Girls IncACT.tumblr.com, GirlsIncACT on Twitter, and by liking Advocating Change Together Girls Inc. of Alameda County on Facebook.

For more information on healthy dating relationships, see the Teen Voices article in the 2012 Teen Focus section of the online Boston Parents Paper, pages 6-8 at:  http://bostonparentspaper.digitalparenthood.com/DigitalAnywhere/viewer.aspx?id=8&pageId=1

There are other organziations that can help too:

Love is Respect

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Circle of Six

We happen to know of two Jewish organizations that offer fantastic teen dating violence prevention programs and curriculum,  Shalom Bayit in Oakland, California has Love Shouldn’t Hurt  and Jewish Women International has a prevention program for girls called Strong Girls and one for boys called Good Guys.

Women = Leaders: Impact and Innovation at the 33rd Annual Simmons Leadership Conference

Article and photos by Liz Peters, Editorial Intern

A crowd of over 3,000 women, with a few men sprinkled in, gathered on Thursday, April 5, at the Boston World Trade Center to celebrate, share, and inspire stories of female leadership.

Meg Whitman, president and CEO (chief executive officer) of Hewlett-Packard (better known to the public as the technology powerhouse “HP”), kicked off the day with tales of her own ascent to leadership and sage advice for other women. Whitman is ranked one of the Top Five Most Powerful Women by Fortune magazine.  She sites her mother, Margaret, as a big influence for her success. She explained that her mother’s “can-do” attitude and work ethic during World War II has motivated and even pushed her throughout her life.  Her mother went to college, something that she didn’t tell Whitman’s father until five years after they’d been married because it “never came up.” During the War, she became a mechanic and role model.

As for Meg, after attending college at Princeton University and receiving her masters in business at Harvard, Whitman worked for various companies, including Disney and Hasbro. At Hasbro, she was the general manager and syndicated the airing of Teletubbies from the U.S. to the U.K. (She admitted she found enjoyment in working with Mr. Potato Head!)  She landed a job at eBay in 1998. When Whitman flew across the country to California for the interview, she was greeted by a receptionist at the office. After she was hired, Whitman noticed the receptionist was gone; she later learned the woman had been hired for the day—that’s how small eBay was! At the time, the trading and sharing company was made up of 30 employees and was worth $4 million. As CEO, Whitman helped eBay grow into the 15,000-employee, $8 billion success it is today.

After running for governor of California, the third woman in 20 years to do so, Whitman landed her gig at HP in Sept. 2011. There, she contributes to the operation of cell phones, credit cards, and the running of the U.S. Navy! “It is the fabric of global society,” she said of the world’s biggest computer maker. Whitman is the second woman to lead HP; in 1999, Carly Fiorina was the first female CEO of the Fortune 20 Company—and one of the first female CEOs of any company this size. Today, female CEOs run companies such as the Pepsi Company, Rite Aid, Yahoo!, and Kraft Foods (mac and cheese, yum!), among other stellar organizations.

As Whitman spoke about the qualities of a leader, she stressed that no matter what, you must remain true to yourself and what you stand for. “Inaction presents a greater cost than making a mistake,” she said. Better to take a chance, ladies, and always follow your gut!

The Simmons conference included presentations by other leading ladies such as journalist Michelle Norris, Zipcar cofounder Robin Chase, video game innovator Jane McGonigal (watch for our upcoming interview with her!), and the first African-American female combat pilot, Vernice Armour.  Each spoke of the challenges and rewards of being female in their profession. Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who catapulted the movement for gender equality in sports by beating male tennis star Bobby Riggs in their epic 1973 match, closed the conference.

Overall, the conference was an inspiring event. In the words of Whitman, “The ceiling is where you put it!” Nothing can stop you but yourself, so get going!

“Kony 2012:” What About the Girls?

By Teen Voices Interns Kate Szumita, Raven Heroux, and Mary Gilcoine

Even if you don’t have a Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr account, you’ve probably heard something about the Kony 2012 campaign. Kony 2012, the campaign’s 30-minute film, has gone viral and created an unprecedented uproar in social media. The campaign was launched earlier this month by Invisible Children, a non-profit raising awareness of African armed conflict and the use of kidnapped children as rebel soldiers in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  Simply stated, the mission of the Kony 2012 campaign is to make Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony famous enough that he will be captured and brought to trial.

Kony’s crimes are undeniably heinous. According to the campaign film Kony 2012, Kony has abducted more than 30,000 children over the course of 20 years, forcing young girls into sex slavery and young boys into warring as child soldiers. As advocates for teen girl empowerment, we’re deeply disturbed by the statistics about girls.

But we’re also disturbed by the lack of attention to girls and girls’ issues in the film. While it’s understandable that Jason Russell (co-founder of Invisible Children and creator of Kony 2012) seeks to hold the attention of the masses—a temperamental target audience that may shy away from stories that are too graphic or disturbing—we have to wonder: Where are the girls? Why is the film so silent about the stories of these girls? Russell mentions only in passing the atrocious sex crimes committed against young African women. It is astonishing and disappointing how much this film glosses over the extent of crimes committed.

So why has Invisible Children shaped the Kony 2012 to hold such a narrow perspective? The girls—and all the affected children—deserve a safe place to tell their stories, and to be heard.

It’s critical that a film and organization seeking to make “invisible children” visible should not render girls invisible and voiceless. In the past, the organization has showcased the struggles of African girls from war-torn areas. Among these girls is Grace, who was kidnapped and forced to become a sex slave. Soon after, Grace found out she was pregnant. Grace is celebrated for her strength as a survivor and her resilience in starting a new life.

Roseline has another amazing story of strength, when she was left to survive on her own after her parents were killed by the war.

While we wish that Russell had given voice to girls like Grace and Roseline, we also must give credit where credit is due. In many ways, the film is moving and inspirational and it’s clearly tapped a vein among many people. The Kony 2012 campaign has, if nothing else, proven the power and influence of social media on mass society. Despite heavy criticism from bloggers and other media, in a matter of weeks, Kony 2012 has undoubtedly grown from a film to a movement. Many well-intentioned social media consumers, including teens, are indeed making Joseph Kony famous.

But, to quote Spiderman’s uncle, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So the questions become: How can we use this film and the tool of social media wisely? How can we harness the momentum that’s building around the exploitation of all children to make the world safer? What changes would you like to see made in the world? And what actions are you willing to do to foster that change, even if there’s a personal cost?

Celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8!

By Liz Peters, Editorial Intern

Girls celebrate all sorts of holidays: Thanksgiving, Independence Day, their birthdays and those of their friends, maybe even Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza. But how often do you celebrate being female? International Women’s Day gives you the chance to scream, shout, and make merry over your womanhood!

Designed to connect girls and inspire futures, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1909, driven by women taking a stand against their discrimination the year before. In inspiring futures, let’s take a look to see where we have been in the past. In 1908, 15,000 women stormed the streets of New York City, demanding shorter hours and better pay for their work, as well as the right to vote. One hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote. They were not allowed to serve in the military; they were banned from many sports and jobs; they were not allowed to have abortions. I don’t even think they had the freedom to wear pants!

Today, all of that and more is possible.

We’ve come pretty far, ladies, but there is still more to conquer. And progress hasn’t come without a fight.  Recently, for example, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer charity, pulled their funding from Planned Parenthood, a sexual health and reproduction organization, because of various concerns. In 2008 alone, Planned Parenthood provided nearly 3 million people with health services, some, but not all, related to reproduction. Not only does Planned Parenthood provide medical services, it provides knowledge. As the nation’s largest sex educator, the organization brings issues and methods of contraception, family planning and sexual diseases to light, preparing women, younger and older, for anything that may come their way. Many women don’t have access to affordable sexual and health care, except through Planned Parenthood. In offering breast cancer screenings, Planned Parenthood examines the full health of a woman, possibly catching early signs of cancer and saving lives, at a minimum, encouraging women to get checked regularly.

It’s no wonder that the backlash to pulling funding was so strong. After facing heavy criticism, displayed on several social media sites, the Susan G. Komen Foundation listened to the concerns of the public and reversed its initial decision a mere three days after pulling its funds. They also offered an apology. But the fact that this incident happened at all is scary, and symbolic of how disturbingly women are positioned in this society. Can you imagine funding for men’s prostate cancer screening being pulled without warning?? It’s something to think about.

So despite many successes, the reality today is that women are still outnumbered in politics and the workplace, still receiving unequal pay to their male counterparts [check out our blog post on the Paycheck Fairness Act], still facing a glass ceiling in many fields. It’s clear that we still live in a patriarchy, where men hold the majority of the power. It’s time to even things out.

Under-represented and often misrepresented, women in today’s society need to jump the hurdles that the women of the past could not. It’s a lot of responsibility, but we can handle it. We’re up for the fight. Remember where we were 100 years ago? With your help, just imagine where we’ll be 100 years from now!

How You Can Join the Fight for Women

  •  Set goals and see them through
  • Get involved with your school’s student government
  • Find yourself an afterschool job
  • Play a sport traditionally viewed as for “the guys”
  • Volunteer at an organization focused on empowering girls and/or women
  • Investigate, question, and stay informed on issues surrounding women today

Lastly, on March 8, get together with your girls and celebrate being you—an empowered, intelligent, beautiful girl!  Happy International Women’s Day!

Logo courtesy of International Women’s Day

Planned Parenthood Rally

By Lauren Castner

Planned Parenthood has been around for almost a century, offering affordable healthcare to both men and women all over the U.S., and providing information to women so they can make informed choices about their healthcare.  A wide variety of services is available, from gynecological appointments and cancer screening, to sex education and family planning options, to STI (sexually-transmitted infections) testing and vaccinations.

Funding for Planned Parenthood is currently being threatened at the national level. Like many health centers, Planned Parenthood receives federal funding from Title X.  In existence since 1970, Title X was specifically enacted to provide funding for family planning services.  The program aims to make contraceptives, information, and other family planning supplies available to anyone who needs or wants them.  Title X gives priority to individuals from lower-income families.  Its overall goal is to help families be happy and healthy and have positive birth outcomes. Although an amendment that would have eliminated all Title X funding was defeated in the U.S. Senate, it is still being pushed by conservatives while a compromise is negotiated by White House, Senate, and House leaders. In addition, a Republican-sponsored bill tied to an amendment to specifically cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood—the Pence Amendment—has passed the House and may be taken up by the Senate.  Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown has not yet indicated how he will vote.

In response, Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts (PPLM) hosted a “Defend, Don’t Defund!” rally last Saturday, March 19th, to gain support for continued funding from Title X.  The rally was held in conjunction with other affiliates all over the country to generate a national day of action.  In Boston, more than 600 people turned out in support of PPLM and continued Title X funding.  They were able to sign postcards and petitions to send to members of their Congressional delegation requesting that they vote against the Senate bill.  Among the speakers at the rally were Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, Congressman Mike Capuano, and Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, PPLM CEO Dianne Luby, and other leaders in the women’s health community.  PPLM made a conscious effort to make sure that supporters were aware of all of the comprehensive services offered by Planned Parenthood, not just the controversial ones.

Even some four legged friends turned out to support Planned Parenthood!

Teen Voices’ staff member Sarah Binning was in attendance and had some very positive things to say about what she saw!  One thing she found very powerful was “the diverse audience.  There weren’t just women rallying for women, but men, girls and women of all ages, and even whole families.  She felt that people all over Boston seemed to be receptive to the idea of the rally. For hours afterwards, as she was walking in different areas of the city, people came up to her and asked about her Planned Parenthood shirt and how the rally went.  Sarah also told me about how united the rally seemed to be; bright pink posters and t-shirts enabled everyone in attendance to show support and present a united front.

What do you think about the proposed budget cuts to Planned Parenthood?  Let us know in the comments section!  To see what other young people have to say, check out this video on Youtube.

Special thanks to Tricia Wajda, from PPLM!

Congress Votes Down Paycheck Fairness Act

By Ashley Morris

On Wednesday, the Paycheck Fairness Act was voted down. What exactly does this mean for the future of women’s wages? American women continue to earn less than men, and the Paycheck Fairness Act would have addressed the loopholes employers have used to keep women from earning less.

Hillary Clinton, then a senator representing New York, introduced the 2009 Pay Check Fairness Act to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. In our April blog post, April 20 Is Equal Pay Day, we discussed the importance of a bill like this becoming law.

Fifty-eight voters approved the bill and 41 were against it.  It would have taken just two additional senators’ votes to pass the bill. But despite the bill’s failure by such a small margin, the fight for equal pay is far from over. The bill can be reinstated, but will have to go through both chambers of the new Congress next year.

On Wednesday, President Obama expressed his disappointment with Congress’s failure to pass the act, and said, “My administration will continue to fight for a woman’s right to equal pay for equal work.”

News like this is a great incentive to get more involved in finding out what your state elected officials are supporting when it comes to women’s rights and equal pay. Spread the word! The American Association of University Women suggests adding a pay equity web sticker to your website or blog to promote equal pay action. If you‘re looking for more ways on how to get involved, you can download a Pay Equity Resource kit at aauw.org. And write to your senators! Your voice can inspire those around you to become supporters for change in the fight for equal pay rights.

For more information on pay equity, visit aauw.org and opencongress.org.

Symposium Gives Voice to Gender and Sexuality Issues

By Sarah Binning

For 35 years, the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) has worked to promote female leadership and to achieve female economic and educational equality. On Saturday, WCW gave voice to the road blocks we face in our struggle for diversity and equality at their Reflections, Conversations, New Directions Symposium.

Teen Voices’ Executive Director Jenny Amory attended the Gender and Sexuality panel, which featured panelists  Deborah Tolman (author of Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality), Linda Williams (UMass Lowell professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology), and Jean Kilbourne (co-author of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids). Wellesley College Director of Studies of Gender Policy in U.S. Jurisprudence, Monica Driggers, moderated the discussion.

Amory says that the compelling presentations and discussions ranged on topics from the commoditization of sexual agency in girls to mainstreaming of pornography to the ways that violence is intertwined with sexuality and power.

Following the session, she said, “The research on these topics so clearly points to the need for organizations like Teen Voices that promote girl-generated media and support girls’ voices  in the mainstream media.”

For more information on the Wellesley Centers for Women and the symposium, please visit their website.

Photo of Jean Kilbourne courtesy of Wellesley Centers for Women