La Azote Negra


Top 3 Myths About Women + Climate Change: It’s a Great Big BAD09!

Welcome to VLF’s Blog Action Day 2009 PostI hope you’re browsing the blogosphere, checking out what web writers everywhere are talking about: climate change. From UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Google, everyone is talking about it.

But not everyone today is talking about women and climate change. Sure, you say, women are affected just as much as men are.

Think again. Here are the top 3 myths about women & climate change.

1.) Climate change doesn’t have anything to do with gender. Hold up – have you been paying attention? Abre tus ojos, mi amor, because that’s definitely not the case. In the words of Wangari Maathai,

“When the rural environment becomes unsustainable, it’s the women whose lives are most disrupted. Men can decamp to the closest urban center to look for work, but women and children have less possibility of escape. They will be left to deal with the depleted resources; working harder to eke out food crops, or traveling farther to collect water or firewood. Often they make the degraded environment worse in their efforts to survive, until eventually they too are forced to leave, following their husbands. Most often they end up living a periphery existence in an urban slum.”

The extremely sad fact of the matter is that if you are a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa and you are totally dependent on the land for survival, you will be the victim hardest hit. As she said, a man can go to the city to try to make money – a woman’s resort in such situations is sadly often prostitution. The vulnerability of having little skills other than agriculture and little education to speak of disable women’s opportunities, and all too often leave them at the mercy of sex slavery.

And of course, women are by nature and tradition the primary caretakers of children and families. Where does that leave those of us who survive on the land? At its mercy.

Today, more than one billion people survive on less than $1.25 a day and already live on the edge of crisis. If left unchecked, climate change may push them off the edge.*

Consider Kebele Galima, a 35-year old mother of eight children from Yabello in Southern Ethiopia*. “Our lives depend on our animals and the breeding season for our livestock depends on the rain. If it rains a lot we have a good life, otherwise we suffer. We use our livestock to produce milk and butter, which we sell at the market to buy items such as soap, sugar, maize and clothes.”

When Kebele was a child, people didn’t worry so much about the rain. The livestock were happy, and they could buy what they needed. Life has changed a bit. “I remember that a single cow could support an entire family. Now the grass is no good and the animals are weak. When I was young, we only needed livestock but now we need maize because the milk production from our animals is low, and we cannot live off it, let alone have enough to sell for profit.”

Constant droughts in Ethiopia for a few dozen years have caused a water shortage, which has a severe impact on people like Kebele. Water scarcity has a direct link to livestock cultivation, especially finding food for the animals. Unfortunately, climate change projections are grim, certain to worsen Kebele’s situation and women just like her. And in many regions, such as Southern Ethiopia, women are primarily responsible for agricultural production and the family. Combine that with all the extra activities that Kebele has to do each day to support her family due to water scarcity and livestock (and human) malnutrition, and she is already too busy to maximize her efforts – she is pushed to the margins by climate change.

2.) Western women will not be affected as much as women in developing countries. Ever heard of the butterfly effect? No, not the Ashton Kutcher movie. The philosophy and concept; the idea is that a butterfly flittering its wings in Patagonia could influence the patterns of the jet stream. How? Well, that’s a complex and interconnected web of atmospheric and ecological relationships, encompassing animal behavior, migration patterns, food chains, the tides, and meteorology. But in this image, it is all connected.

It’s the same idea here, but slightly more straightforward. Imagine if you will an African woman, much like in the previous description. Climate change causes warming and therefore longer droughts. This causes her husband to go to an urban area to search for work (which all the other men are doing, so there isn’t much). The country’s economic situation, being a sub-Saharan country, is largely agriculturally-based. Said drought is wreaking havoc on the economy, subsequently fraying perhaps fragile relations between ethnic groups – local folktales blame a Hutu legend for droughts, causing increasingly violent conflict. The African woman, in fear of the violence, stays at her hut to take care of the family, though there is little firewood and the crops are practically rotten. The longer she stays, the longer she has to walk for firewood, and the less food there is (albeit rotten). After a time, she’s forced to uproot the family in search of food, and since everyone else is doing the same thing, she probably ends up in a.) a refugee camp, or b.) an urban area as a prostitute or sex slave.

Bad for her and her family and her economy and her society and continent, sure, but what about you? Well her African country is not an island, after all. The economic crisis spills over all of the continent, straining economic relations with American and European countries that have development and business contracts with African companies. For example, a Nigerian oil company loses its contract with Chevron, as Chevron falls into financial trouble. In case you don’t know, that company happens to be one of the top five companies in the world. It’s a pretty good economic indicator if a company as massive as Chevron busts. Let’s say it does. There goes the neighborhood. From there, it is not at all difficult to imagine the economic chaos that would ensue, especially after our brief little recession we’ve experienced. Say bye-bye to your tidy 401K. Say hello to night shift grocery clerk. After all, you gotta pay for your kids’ college somehow. Not to mention the fact that you sold your car for pennies on the dollar – gas is $7/ gallon, who wants your BMW? Premium is almost $9!

Your entire livelihood is about the change. Maybe you aren’t walking three miles each day in the hot sun for water, but surely your water bill is about to skyrocket. Your life will change forever – the 90’s, I’m afraid, are so over.

Let’s call that the Global Warming, no- the Global Volcanic Eruption effect. This isn’t a disaster movie concept – it’s a possible future. And I was mostly hypothesizing financial and economic problems – but there’s a lot more to it.

Impoverished countries bear the least responsibility, are the most severely impacted, and have the least capacity to cope with climatic changes.*

3.) Women can’t do anything profound, special, or important to stop climate change. Leader of the Green Belt Movement, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and international progressive environmentalist-feminist superstar Wangari Maathai has a fun littel African proverb that I like. I tell it to people who judge me for driving a used minivan (do you know how many resources it takes to produce just one brand-new hybrid?!).

Once upon a time in the African jungle is a beautiful hummingbird. She is minding her own business when one day, she notices that her jungle is going up in flames. Frightened, she flutters out, panting through the chaos. Across the river, all the animals are gathered to watch the blaze. Elephant, zebra, lion, crocodile, and cheetah are all lined up, sad but quiet. Hummingbird asks, “Why are you all just standing there?” They don’t respond, and she jets off to the river. After collecting a tiny beakful of riverwater, she drips it on the wildfire and goes back to the river. She repeats this many times. After what seems like forever, the animals start calling to her,”Hummingbird, what are you doing? There is no point in doing this. You will not put out the fire.” But Hummingbird says, “I am doing what I can.”

Not that global warming is an unstoppable forest fire, and not that nobody is doing anything about it, but it certainly does seem insurmountable. But there is much to be done – and being that we are all in this together, we all have a duty to do what we can.

Consider the situation in Ghana. Though they received complete independence first, and even with twice the per capita output of the poorest countries in West Africa, Ghana still is dependent on international financial aid. Almost a third of Ghana’s population live below $1 a day. Rural peoples are completely dependent on natural resources for survival. Women, in fact, comprise 52% of the agricultural workforce and produce 70% of the food crops, also making up 90% of the farm produce marketing workforce.

Due to such lush and abundant natural resources, Ghana has been severely exploited. In ten years (from ’90 to ’00), Ghana lost 16% of its forest cover to logging. Women are at risk particularly because they simply are discriminated against and lack recognition.

Meet Ama Ntowaa. She’s a 56-year-old widow who supports six children on a small cocoa farm in Western Ghana. She laid down in front of a bulldozer to stop a logging company that was intent on hauling away her trees without giving her compensation. Amazingly, they gave up, and she held on to her land and her trees, even though her area chief made a deal with the companies without consulting her. She did lose about a third of her land before she could stop them, all for the profit of the logging company and the unscrupulous chief.

Afterwards, Ama took part in CARE International’s community outreach programs, further educating her about human rights and about resource management. She continues to pursue financial compensation by the chief and the logging company.

Ama was very brave, and fortunate to have such a grasp of her human rights. Unfortunately for most women in Ghana, most women do not share such an awareness. CARE International is making a huge difference in women’s lives by educating them about their rights and their resources, further empowering them to care for themselves and their families.

There’s a lot that women can do to stop climate change, or even to stop a bulldozer. Not sure what to do next? Here is a good starting point. Once you’re ready for something more proactive, go for it.

*Courtesy of Care International’s Reclaiming Rights and Resources: Women, Poverty and the Environment (.pdf)

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Putting your time where your blog is.. or something like that

So I mentioned earlier how Oprah’s episode last week focused on poverty relief through women.

Not convinced yet? In that case, you might want to go and check your pulse. In the meantime, check this out too.

Id be dancing too, if I graduated from a W4W progam in a poverty-stricken region.
I’d be dancing too, if I graduated from a W4W program in Rwanda.

You know that saying, “Put your money where your mouth is?” Well I don’t have money. And this is a blog. So tonight, I put my time where my blog was… or something like that.

Tonight, my boyfriend and I attended the volunteer orientation at Women for Women, Int’l. Featured on the Oprah show (see previous post), they enjoyed a SPECTACULAR 10,000 additional sponsorships to help that many women in the developing world attend a year-long program that empowers them through education and vocational training.

That’s about a tenth of the previous amount of women that W4W has helped since their inception in ’93 by the gloriously beautiful and equally brilliant Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi immigrant who started the program in Bosnia and Herzegovina (is it just me or are Persians unfairly and ungodly attractive? Didn’t think so. Latinas too. I digress).

On top of that, they got over $7K, yes, $7,000, in donations. That’s enough to sponsor an ENTIRE program (1 year) for and entire class of women (20 students)! Thank you Oprah!!

To boot, Half the Sky (you still haven’t bought it? Even after watching Oprah?) got the “Oprah bump,” and was catapulted to the no. 2 position on the Amazon bestseller list. Behind Glenn Beck. No comment there – that’s a whole ‘nother blog.

At the HQ of W4W, we watched a lovely video on W4W’s work, and my Mr. Wonderful teared up a little, I am proud to say. He’s so cute. I did a bit too, I admit it. It was quite moving.

After a tour and a hundred questions about how the programs work, we got started on our volunteer work. We organized folders with brochures and literature for the sponsors in America to read when they receive information about their sister overseas. Just some tedious but calming work that is too mundane for the sparse staff to deal with – I’m more than happy to donate my time so the .org can do it’s thing!

I felt really normal when I was there, like there was no other place I needed to be at the moment. Eventually, I hope to do bigger and better things, but I can’t believe I waited so long to volunteer for this organization. I mean, I don’t have any shortage of volunteer experience, but this one is particularly relevant to me. Rehabilitating wild critters is great, but I’m not majoring in it, I’m afraid.

Volunteering is an incredibly rewarding experience. Just two hours of my time on a weeknight + a little administrative work = happiness. And that’s the equation to remember. Though, I have to admit, feeding baby squirrels was way cuter than stuffing folders. But still.

Just in case time is what you don’t have, donations are needed too. W4W is having a fall matching campaign where your dollars are doubled. Just think! It would be a nice gift to a young college woman in your life, for example, to sponsor a woman in her name, allowing her to connect with a different kind of student with similar hopes and dreams. What a motivation for midterms – at least she doesn’t have to walk 3 hours to get to school in a post-conflict region of the DNC!

I’m lucky enough to live a few subway stops away from our nation’s capitol, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t volunteer at or for an organization that helps women. Almost every state or county in America has women’s centers and shelters, and they probably need help with all kinds of things. In fact, there are a lot more places than county shelters – visit www.volunteermatch.org/ to check out opportunities in your area!

With the holiday season only a few weeks away, it’s about time to get into the spirit of things. In fact, it’s about damn time, period!



Oprah makes it easy: Help women in the Congo & change 2 lives

Congo woman

It’s called “The Girl Effect” – what happens when you invest in a young girl in a developing nation. She multiplies the dividends.

You buy her a sewing machine, and next thing you know, she’s the local fashion tycoon. Then her husband stops beating her, there’s no more talk about a second wife to bear a son, and he’s happily employed in his wife’s business.  Her daughters are empowered and dream of going to college, and choose to postpone marriage so they can start a business too. She protects herself and her daughters from HIV. The business lifts the local economy, thereby the nation’s, thereby the world’s.

Sounds like a fairy tale – but it’s not.

This happens everywhere that you invest in a girl. But in some places, it’s harder to reach the women who need help the most. This is the case in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, systematic rape and stigmatization have been used as weapons against women for years. The debilitating consequences ruin lives.

Not disgusted enough to get involved yet? Watch Ben Affleck report back from the front lines of sexual violence. And if you have a strong stomach, dare to view Oxfam’s video.

The UN just acknowledged rape as a war crime, enabling international prosecution of Congolese officials, and Secretary Clinton presided over the initiation of a program to combat the use of rape in conflict in the DRC. But that’s not enough.

Change and progress start within – and that’s why it’s so important to give women a “handup, not a handout.”

There are so many places to help, but Oprah made it super easy. Check out www.oprah.com/forallwomen. On Thursday, she dedicated a show to “The Girl Effect,” featuring organizations that educate and empower women with microloans. A small loan of $45USD, yes, only $45, can change a woman’s entire life – from hopeless to victorious.

As if that weren’t enough, according to Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer-winning authors of NYTimes bestselling Half the Sky, did you know that “a woman in the developing world is more likely to invest in her family than a man?” The Girl Effect, a non-profit that invests in women with microloans, says that women reinvest 90% of income in their families compared to 30-40% for men.

For example, just $10 buys vocational training for a rape victim in the DRC, providing her with the skills she needs to make a living, so she can take care of herself and her family. You can also provide HIV treatment and prevention; provide counseling, hospital care, a safe house, and more. And it’s so easy. Watch a moving video of a woman who was inspired to do something, and ended up changing two lives; the Congolese woman’s, and her own.

Extend your hand to these women who have so much potential – make an investment in women, today, right now. They will literally thank you for it. Maybe even on Skype.



Half the Sky
09/18/2009, 11:56 PM
Filed under: Badass Babes

There is a Chinese proverb that goes, “women hold up half the sky.” While one may be tempted to feel that women indeed do contribute to our world in such a communally large way, you might want to consider the following.

Nicholas Kristov and Sheryl WuDunn, a married couple who have received numerous awards for journalism (including the Pulitzer!), have spent a lifetime studying what they once thought was a fringe issue as reporters: women in the world. As newlyweds and budding New York Times reporters, they stood in Tiananmen Square as hundreds were massacred, and the horror shocked them into disbelief. The headlines from the massacre dominated the media for weeks.

However, they were later covering a story where a village had lost many men due to HIV/AIDS, and wrote about the women of the village who were very poor, and had to take care of themselves and their children, but social norms prevented them from doing little more than begging or prostituting. Sounds like Afghanistan – it wasn’t. It’s a fairly common theme anywhere in developing nations when men face high mortality rates. It’s rare that women are able to actually take over.

This piece led the journalists to the realization that women all over the world are dying at high rates every day, just because they are women. Sound unrealistic/ unbelievable/ far-fetched? I can hear your “whatevers” from here. Humor me for now; we will revisit the “missing women.”

Fast forward through several years, and you have the product of a progressively compassionate couple: Half The Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. Check. It. Out. Now.

Buy this book - its an investment in every woman.
Buy this book – it’s an investment in every woman.

The book was released about a week ago, with a phenomenal and deserved response; it debuted no.9 on the New York Times Bestseller list. However, it appears to be behind Bill O’Reilly: America, we can do better than that!

The book tells the stories of a few women around the world who faced unimaginable cruelty along with countless others, only to escape their horribly oppressive and abusive conditions to become entrepreneurs worthy of The Donald’s notice.

For example, the woman in the first chapter, Srey Rath, was trafficked from Cambodia to Taiwan. Upon arrival, she was told by her new “boss” that instead of working in a restaurant, she owed him a debt of tens of thousands of dollars for getting her there that she would have to repay. Regardless of whether or not most women in this position resist at first, she was ultimately beaten and drugged into a pacific stupor, as are all other victims of sex trafficking. She was raped many times by her captors, and she learned to keep a straight face as she “serviced” customers, otherwise she would be beaten at the end of the day because the Johns didn’t like the swollen, bruised, hurt look on her face without the plasticity of a smile.

Srey and her girlfriends, now all sex slaves, were kept naked in order to make it difficult to impossible to escape or hide their earnings which were immediately confiscated. They were tied to dirty mattresses and funneled into a tiny room every day to sleep.

One day when the girls had an opportunity, they balanced a 2 x 4 across the balcony in their apartment and the one across the alley. Some of the girls, terrified of falling several stories to their deaths, stayed back. Others were convinced of certain death regardless, and soldiers across they rickety bridge to freedom. The startled neighbor let them in and they ran off to the police station immediately.

Upon arrival at the police station, the police did not believe them, and took them across the border to meet up with other police officers. While the girls though they were on their way home, they found themselves in a horrible deja-vu nightmare; as if the first time wasn’t cruel enough, the police officers sold them into sex slavery yet again. After several months, Srey managed to escape, and our heroine found her way back to Cambodia. There, she met up with her family, and found an aid organization that specialized in empowering sex trafficking victims with self-employment.

Srey Rath at her trinket and jewelry kiosk in Cambodia, after recovering from her ordeal.
Srey Rath at her trinket and jewelry kiosk in Cambodia, after recovering from her ordeal.

She made herself a stand with snacks, hats, and trinkets, and positioned herself in a busy marketplace in a Cambodian city. Since, she has made enough money to help her family, raise children and send them to school, and have savings.If you run into Srey in Cambodia, as the authors explain, you will undoubtedly buy a toothbrush that you never realized you needed. And all of this happened to her when she was only 15 years old.

The book is full of stories like this, which each chapter devoted to a woman who is changing her community. Other women are doing similar things having been in terribly abusive conditions before, and are also changing the norms, stereotypes, myths, and little girls’ dreams in their local communities. Not to mention uplifting their local economies!

So now we’re all well acquainted with the basics of one of the worst problems facing women(& children!): sex slavery. Wrapping up a few of the others issues into one (female mortality rates, female infanticide, severe discrimination and less access to healthcare) is the concept of missing women. But I’ll save that for my next post.



Resident Evil – Badass Babes: Film Series Analysis Vol. I
Alice cocks her shotgun, prepared to take on an infected Raccoon City.
Alice cocks her shotgun, prepared to take on an infected Raccoon City.

“I’m missing you already.”

Resident Evil is scary. Make no mistake. However, it is uniquely interesting to me that a movie of this caliber, that made this much money (in America!) starred a demure-bodied female. Sure, she’s svelte, but she’ll kick your un-svelte ass. She’s a BADASS BABE.

“Badass Babes” is the name of my film series, about to be screened at Montgomery College. A handful of action films starring women in lead roles will be shown, probably starting with this one.

Why? Sure, I could show Volver and Y Tu Mama Tambien or Real Women Have Curves and North Country or the like, movies that talk about real women’s issues, that are probably depressing/ inspiring in their own unique/not-so-unique ways. The problem with screening those at a community college is that a.) it’s hard to get people involved, regardless of their intelligence, depth, or importance, and b.) they are simply heavy-hitting.

I’m showing action films because they’re uplifting. Nothing blows off the steam of a depressed women’s studies student like watching a tough broad punch the face off a zombie. So here we are:

Alice doesn’t get the full character development that she should, but that’s because she doesn’t know who the hell she even is at the start; she’s had medical-induced amnesia. But as the film prods along, she comes into her own as one of the freaking coolest action stars ever, especially for women.

The Resident Evil franchise has been very exciting for me because the film studio, as Milla Jovovich herself put it, “placed so much trust in a woman to carry such a role.” I definitely am not surprised that it was made by a European writer/director. Americans have to f*ck up everything exciting. Case in point: the X-men franchise. Catwoman with Halle Berry. I could go on.

The other thing that makes this movie interesting is that even though Alice has her sexy moments, she isn’t oversexualized in my opinion. You may very well disagree. See the photos below, for example. These are just two instances where Alice is wearing very little. BUT – that’s not what the scene is about. Contrary to the shower scene in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. In that, she is making the “f*uck-me” face as the lens is steamed up and water drips off her pillow lips. Please.

You can actually see her coochie briefly, but it's not a big deal. It's really just more like: she's a person who's become a medical experiment.
You can actually see her coochie briefly, but it’s not a big deal. It’s really just more like: she’s a person who’s become a medical experiment.

In the Alice nude scenes, she’s not making those faces, you’re not hearing trance-like sexy music, it’s not overdone. She’s just there, like a human being would be. NOT like most films.

I think that’s what makes this so different at its core – that the character Alice is about a human being based on a video game character, rather than about a sex bomb. But then, maybe it would have been different if Milla had a different, rounder body? Who knows – do you think that an actress’ body will almost always dictate how her character is represented in a film?

Lastly, the two female characters in this both play their roles very different. Alice vs. Michelle Rodriguez’s character. Alice doesn’t seem to compromise her feminine side (she’s wearing a red dress the whole time, perhaps if not by choice), while Michelle R.’s character’s very first line is, “Blow me!” Hmm.

Michelle R. asks this lucky dude to blow her. He looks confused, though; so was I.
Michelle R. asks this lucky dude to blow her. He looks confused, though; so was I.

That statement alone definitely suggests that MR’s character is trying to ascribe to a higher social status. Her character is trying to be taken seriously, and for her, what makes the most sense is to act like a man. And talk like a man. I would have preferred it, however, if she had’ve said, “Lick me.” Right?

"I'm missing you already." Not.
“I’m missing you already.” Not.

Alice’s character definitely doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot of sentimentality. Well, here’s the dichotomy of it: when her “ex” turns into a zombie after leaving her for dead, she takes a great deal of pleasure in hacking his brains out with an axe, adding (ash he did previously), “I’m missing you already.” Sense the sarcasm? Well, when MR’s char turns into a zombie, she’s actually terrified to pull the trigger. Later, it isn’t her that does the deed of putting her infected face out of her misery. In fact, after Alice realizes MR is still not infected, she says to her, “I could kiss you, you bitch.” Sorry? Well, I guess she’s bi. That’s cool, I guess. So long as it isn’t being implied loosely to titillate.

savethedude
She’s going to do what it takes; regardless of if you’re man enough to do it yourself.

Another thing: on several occasions, Alice saves a male member of the cast. WTF? When in the heck does this ever happen in action movies? Even in X-men, Wolverine is usually saving Jean Grey. Please. Alice doesn’t give a shit. In fact, Alice kills a zombie that her guy-friend thought might have been an uninfected relative of his. But she kills her, with a paperweight, while she’s trying to devour his jugular.

Then again, she does wear a ridiculous red dress throughout the movie. And her nipples are like cutting their way out of it. And there is a very brief, if important sex scene. I do still find myself saying, “Males don’t wear skimpy outfits in action movies.” Okay, the beach scene in Casino Royale notwithstanding.

I guess that there will always be some of the stereotypical stuff. Otherwise, people might not like it. Then it wouldn’t make money, and that’s why those types of movies don’t get made. As it is, movies that are as unusually feminist as this are rare.

I definitely enjoyed the roundhouse kicks, though. My advice, though: don’t watch it alone – that is, unless you’re a badass babe.

This is awesome.
This is awesome.