Category Archives: activism

Moving, Shaking, and Surviving: A Bedouin Woman Stands Up Against Polygamy, Honor Killings, Arranged Marriages, and Unfair Divorce in the Negev Desert

By Diana Saverin

JERUSALEM – This past weekend I stayed with a woman in a town in the Negev desert, Rahat, who used her own hardship and lack of rights as an impetus to assist women in similar positions. Between jokes about hating the beards in Rahat and delicious tea, her story left me with a great deal of hope.

The Bedouins in Israel have lived in the Negev for generations, but have faced a great deal of issues under Israeli governance. With several villages living without recognition from the Israeli government, impermanent structures dominate the expanding landscape of the desert.

Beyond the poverty and racial issues provoked on the surface of this controversy, women face an especially difficult fate. Honor killings, in which family members kill women for such crimes as sex outside of marriage, go unreported, save for a blank grave away from the village. Men take multiple wives, and since this is illegal under Israeli law, the second and third wives technically don’t exist. This leads to several issues, especially for their children who need identification cards. Most marriages are arranged, and when they fail, men automatically gain full custody of the children.

In this disempowering landscape for women, Mona found her voice. Faced with losing her six children in a divorce, she fought for four years to gain joint custody. She was confronted with fierce opposition within her town, but her unpleasant experiences led her to create an organization, Amerat, for Bedouin women in the desert. While many noteworthy organizations offer women economic empowerment and improve quality of life, Mona has crossed into more controversial waters to challenge the destructive status quo in the region.

NGOs are often deterred from addressing cultural practices that violate human rights because of the values of multiculturalism and respect for traditions, but Amerat is taking on this daunting task with passion, and avoids such controversy with a grassroots approach. Mona’s bravery astounds me; as men claim that she isn’t a true Muslim and threaten her, she continues to protect and speak up for women in the area.

Just as I expressed wonder at the bravery of Women of the Wall, who work within Judaism to create reform, I am awestruck with Amerat’s valiant battle within Islam and the Bedouin community for equal rights for women.

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Soccer and HIV in South Africa

By Jake Amatruda

MTUBATUBA, South Africa — Just inland of Africa’s southeast coast, a downtown taxi rink bustles every day around 4 p.m. as people make their way home from work. Mtuba has only a few thousand people and three modest grocery stores.  It is the proud host of two KFC franchises. The surrounding area is dominated by sugarcane fields and rows of identical gum trees, which feed the local sugar and paper mills. Most of the residents (98%) are Zulu-speaking blacks, and the rest white Afrikaners — excluding the odd American volunteer or two.

For the past few weeks, I have been working for an NGO called Grassroot Soccer (GRS) and one of their partner organizations, Mtuba-based Mpilonhle. GRS uses soccer as a teaching tool for its HIV/life-skills curriculum (called “Skillz”), and Mpilonhle provides health counseling, HIV testing, IT classes, and other services. HIV education is desperately needed in the rural communities near Mtubatuba, where 52 percent of women aged 25-30 and 45 percent of 30-35 year-old men are HIV-positive (statistics for Umkhanyakude District, from Mpilonhle). My efforts have been focused on five-day camps that combine the two groups’ services. I’ve helped train the Skillz coaches who actually teach the GRS curriculum to local kids and joined the late stages of planning and logistics. Now I oversee and troubleshoot at the camps, which are nearing the end of their second week.

This is the first time that GRS has condensed its curriculum into such a short period – the coaches usually visit schools once a week, for a total of nine “practices” – so it’s not surprising that the camps have been a little messy at the beginning as they sort out new issues like safety and catering. Mtuba is a special case, since here we are fusing two distinct programs.

“Camp” is a distinctly American concept, and this may be the root of problems with attendance. Parents here often don’t have the luxury of time and money to drop their children off each day, and kids aren’t used to the format, especially during their special World Cup holiday from school. The good news is that despite a few stumbles along the way, things are going well for the kids, and their experience is more important than any other aspect of the holiday camps. More to come soon about finding my place in this new community.

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Filed under activism, Africa, culture, education, health, Overseas Bureau

Media and Aid

by Diana Saverin

When the urge to donate money to charity strikes, images of global poverty, famine, and health issues often arise. This is a justified phenomenon; these issues are as tangible as the computer screen you are looking at, but how can you put your dollar to the most work? UNICEF does a fantastic job of dissipating donor concerns over where their money is going on their “Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF” boxes by putting statistics such as “$45 provides school supplies for 20 kids, $112 provides emergency blankets for 37 kids, $200 immunizes 104 kids against measles.” These numbers reassure the donor that he or she is truly helping, but what about the causes that don’t lend that warm feeling?

Enter a crucial element of the infrastructure of any organization: media. It may not directly save lives, but it allows organizations to raise money and awareness. Organizations aiming to help women have especially struggled in this area, and need to improve the public relations of their organizations more than ever with the changing tides of technology. Media and PR receive around 2% of the money donated to infrastructure, which is only 1.8% of the total amount donated to women annually. If these organizations had the resources to tap into mainstream media to publish articles about their projects, the effects on donations could make a true difference. The National Council for Research on Women has published several groundbreaking reports, with little to no media attention. Two sisters discovered their wealth when they saw their names listed as the 500 richest Americans, and went on to create “Women Moving Millions,” which has over $150 million pledged to give back to women, but most haven’t heard of it. Right now, for every development dollar spent, girls receive less than 2 cents. Media is a crucial component for an organization to survive. It may not immunize a child, it may not be inspiring, and it may not evoke the same emotions as a picture, but it mobilizes the public’s interest in these topics and educates them on the issues at hand.

The recent tragedy in Haiti highlights the efficacy of a successful media campaign. Within two days of the earthquake, over $5 million were raised through texting. The donations have continued to multiply, and are in large part due to the strong technology and media resources employed by the American Red Cross. If women’s organizations could capitalize on the efficiency of media and technology to affect change, using a strong and accessible model like the American Red Cross so successfully did, the implications for women around the world would make history.

The infrastructure of an organization matters almost as much as the services they provide, and for a donor to make a difference, she has to look to see beyond the statistics to what is truly needed.

Diana Saverin is a freshman in Berkeley College.

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Filed under activism, disaster relief, foreign aid, Latin America, media

A Journalist’s Journey at COP15, But Not Without Bruises

by Erin Schutte

Journalists descend upon protesters chanting "Save Indigenous People's Rights!" in the main corridor of the Copenhagen conference center. (Schutte/TYG)

I spent last week in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Bella Center as world leaders made an attempt at coming to an agreement on climate change.  Each day, eight Yale undergraduates and I excitedly joined the masses of people and wore our COP15 badges printed with our name, photo, “YSEC” (the Yale group that we were affiliated with), and a very clear “NGO” across the bottom (the status of the Yale Delegation).  As an official COP15 observer inside the Bella Center, I rubbed shoulders with thousands of diplomats and journalists as the world watched on in curiosity about the evolving issue of climate change.  I was quite skeptical about the way the hoards of media would portray this politically and scientifically challenging issue to the public back home, but my expectations were exceeded as I saw extraordinary efforts by the press to urgently and clearly convey the difficult matter to people who might not have understood before.

Anyone who has watched the news lately knows that COP15 made news headlines comparable to those of the Olympics, War on Terror, or elections in Iran.  This was due to the magnitude of accredited press from all over the world inside the Bella Center—by November 30, the UN had already received over five thousand press requests and then suspended registration after that point.  It was hard to miss the frenzy of cameramen, broadcasters, and reporters rushing to and from events, trying to capture any shot, quote, or footage they possibly could.  Every minute there would be uproar of voices, flashes of cameras, and an entourage of delegates, mostly likely a president or minister leading the way through the main hall of the center.  It was like paparazzi on the red carpet at the Oscars.

I was amidst the mob of press awaiting Al Gore’s exit after he gave a speech in the conference center, and it was a vicious scenario as distinguished publications and news stations elbowed their way towards the front of the pack and encompassed Gore in hopes of hearing any comments he would make.  Some figureheads attempted to avoid this situation with the press, but I was surprised by how many leaders were open to giving updates about progress in negotiations, as well as general perspectives about the future of our world.

These politicians, diplomats, and scientists realize that the press is the important link between their actions at the conference and their constituencies.  Without journalists and broadcasters reporting from Copenhagen, public knowledge would be at a minimum, and any actions taken would have no sway on population.  Climate change is a complex issue for scientists and politicians to understand, let alone the average citizen.  Yet the press is responsible for raising the awareness and knowledge about climate change.  In my opinion, the media gave an accurate representation of the missions, challenges, and outcomes of the conference, and as a result it brought climate change to the forefront of discussion and debate at the local level. Some of my favorite coverage of the conference came from The Economist and Brian Walsh of Time Magazine.

I believe that the thorough coverage by the press of this conference will be the biggest contributor to how the outcome of the conference will be interpreted.  The pushing and shoving amongst reporters to cover every aspect of the conference directly results in more informed constituencies, which in turn creates a stronger call for action in small communities as well as at a national level.

Erin Schutte is a sophomore Political Science and Modern Middle East Studies double major.

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Filed under activism, environment, United Nations

The Importance of Being Pink

by Diana Saverin

It’s here: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink ribbons, balloons, signs, and shirts have adorned the streets. Bras hang from the library. We laugh at the ridiculous posters intended to increase our “awareness” of breast cancer: Save the ta tas! Boobies rule, cancer drools! Save second base! Save the boobies! Wear pink on Friday! Everyone loves boobs! A pink ribbon can be found anywhere, thongs, bras, rainboots, perfume, blush, vests, sneakers, yogurt, outerwear, socks, ornaments, mini massagers, book lights, hair straighteners, razors, sink strainers, cookie cutters, Egyptian glass globe bottles, hats, purse hangers, flashlights, and so much more. I am quite certain that if I wished to, I could comfortably live my whole life buying only products with a pink ribbon.

In most ways, this is a great thing. The prominent US-based breast cancer foundations[1] have raised money, awareness, and research enormously. As someone who knows women who have survived breast cancer, I am grateful for these strides that have been made. Moreover, these non-profits provide a model for other causes, as their marketing schemes have worked. They have made an issue, which used to be associated with awkward-to-talk-about breasts, pink. Nowadays, money donated to breast cancer receives more money than any other one topic related to women.[2] Susan G. Komen for the Cure alone has a total expenditure of $347,858,000 a year, which is 27% of the total money spent on all women’s issues annually, ranging from sex trafficking to the compensation gap.[3]

Since giving to the pinkest cause easily translates to the most feminine cause, where do the other pinkish topics stand? These topics include the many subsets under power, human rights, education, economic justice and support, family and work issues, health and women’s bodies, and safety (with breast cancer grouped under health and women’s bodies). So where does the money go? Using the fixed amount of money given to women annually,[4] breast cancer has monopolized the landscape. Out of the over fifty diverse topics and issues related to women,[5] and out of the $1,249,541,000 given to all of those topics in a year, $410,578,000 went to breast cancer, which is 33% of that total. Girls’ education gets 2% of that same pie, work/life balance 0.5%, rape 0.5%, and the compensation gap 0.3%.[6] While I will leave the normative statements of which of these topics deserves the money the most to those wiser than I, I want to understand why breast cancer so dominates the market for women’s philanthropy.

One reason is simple: breast cancer is not considered feminist. The f-word makes the notion that boobs were ever awkward or controversial seem laughable. Supporting one of those feminist groups, like the Feminist Majority or the National Organization for Women, would be riskier, and certainly not very pink. The pink ribbon is losing its spot as the only socially acceptable women’s issue, as it is becoming trendy to talk about empowering girls[7], or giving microloans to women in developing countries[8], but proudly sporting a pink ribbon on a baseball cap or vest remains the classic symbol of political correctness in the minefields of women’s issues and feminism. But by so carefully treading over the dangerous and murky waters of the unlikeable and manly women society has warned us about, do we forget about the one in four women in the US and globally who are raped? Or the sex slavery that kidnaps innocent women and girls and sells and resells their virginity in ways that are sure to make the reader extremely uncomfortable? Or the thousands of women who are brutally killed in the name of honor under sharia law, for heinous crimes, such as wanting to choose their own husband?

Sometimes even more squeamish than these ways women are genitally mutilated and assaulted is their “masculine” ambition. Awkward. Let’s just stick with health, because with health matters it’s life or death, and what could be more important than life? Breast cancer is the best answer: clean cut, depoliticized, pink, whose perpetrators are cells in the depths of our bodies—instead of our own continually discriminating tendencies—and it certainly has some distance from those crazy feminists. But on the note of health, what happens to the women who don’t live long enough to get breast cancer? Or those women who want reproductive freedom, or maternal health care, or who have HIV/Aids? And by the way, isn’t heart disease the number one killer of women, with 1 in 4 women dying from it in the US, while 1 in 30 die from breast cancer?

It gets especially ambiguous for those poor corporations and firms, whose board and leadership statistics[9] reveal in plain sight the continued existence of the glass ceiling.[10] That’s where breast cancer comes in with its pinker than pink pink ribbon that shouts: “See, we love women!” without dealing with all of the dreaded baggage that comes with the f-word. It’s all charity anyways, so it’s all for a good cause, right?

While breast cancer research and awareness does helps 3.3% of the population, imagine if the women around the world who are literally not free, or the girls who are not allowed to go to school because they are forced to perform chores such as walk a total of four hours to get water to boil, or the women subjected to systematical violence got a share of our annual giving. Where would the world be if some of the $410,578,000 currently going to breast cancer addressed the needs of those women? The array of issues related to women’s empowerment and equality is expansive, but in taking pink route and avoiding critical thinking about the state of sexism, society has left those issues alone. We dedicate a whole month to breast cancer awareness, along with 33% of the money we give to women, but resist mustering the strength or resources to learn about the at least fifty other equally important and underfunded issues.

One of these issues is domestic violence, which affects over half of women. It also happens to be domestic violence awareness month. Would it be just too uncomfortable to spread that awareness every October, and knowing that over half of women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, count ten women at our lunch tables, imagining five of their faces as they are assaulted by a family member at some point in their life? Or maybe we’ll just keep taking the shortcut, and stick to blaming tumors and cells; no one wants to see that kind of ugliness on a cupcake in every dining hall or in chalk all over the pavement anyways.

This romance with breast cancer doesn’t expose a love for women’s breasts, or the dire need to find a cure for breast cancer; it reveals the unwillingness to acknowledge the elementary facts of the sexism. It is visible in the 77 cents women make for every dollar a man makes in the US, it is visible because women still do not make up even 25% of Congress, and it is visible in seemingly benign sayings like “you play like a girl.” Sexism exists in all its black and white glory, but breast cancer awareness and funding lets us pat ourselves on the back for helping women without having to deal with creating any systematic change. Maybe pink really is more than a color; it’s our way around thinking about the ways women are treated by others, and not cells, in the home, locally, nationally, and globally.

Diana Saverin is a freshman in Berkeley College.


[1] Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Breast Cancer Research Foundation Breast Cancer Network of Strength, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Mary Kay Ash Charitable Foundation, National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund

[2] Diana Saverin and Mayree Clark. “Mapping the Movement.” Silverleaf Foundation, August 7, 2009.

[3] $45,221,540 of this is spent on fundraising and administrative costs, based on the Susan G. Komen 2007-2008 Annual Report

[4] This amount has increased about 6-7% over the past ten years, based on The Foundation Center’s recent research “Accelerating Change for Women and Girls; The Role of Women’s Funds”

[5] Leadership (political, judicial, corporate, professional, academic), human rights, affirmative action, taxes and inheritance, immigration, refugees, prison, LGBT rights, literacy, support for girls, affirmative action in admissions, title IX, compensation gaps, social security and welfare, minimum wage, women in business, women in non-traditional occupations, aging women, paid family leave, childcare, work/life balance, reproductive rights, mental health, HIV/Aids, Breast cancer, physiological differences between men and women, maternal health, general health, domestic violence, rape, genital mutilation, trafficking, prostitution, violence arising from religious fundamentalism, poverty, peace, coping with conflict, the environment, race, economic policy, the arts, media, science, marketing, PR, and media, financing, government relations, leadership and talent development, technology, research, development, and advocacy

[6] Saverin.

[7] The NIKE foundation, which only gives to girls 10-19 have made “girls” an attractive cause, which has spurred a recent surge in investment in girls. While a meaningful task, it is confusing, because in doing so they distinctly separate the girls we ought to invest in from the women they become and the mothers who raise them.

[8] The success of microloans, which started largely with the Grameen Bank, has been phenomenal, and the research that these loans work best for women because women invest money back into the family has led to poverty alleviation for many women. According to the girleffect.org, women invest 90% of their income into their family, while men invest 30-40%.

[9] While women make up 46.5% of the work force, as of 2008 they make up 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 15.2% of Fortune 500 board seats, according to Catalyst’s “Women in Management” October 2008 report.

[10] Refers to sexism in the workplace, that woman can only climb the ladder of leadership before hitting the glass ceiling, and cannot get paid an equal wage for the same job as men.

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