Celebrating Women Changemakers Should Be A Concerted Effort

Originally published on The Huffington Post

Recently, Marie Claire introduced a “20 Women Changing the World” magazine section in honor of its 20th anniversary. In a list including Chelsea Clinton, Eva Longoria, and Melinda Gates, Marie Claire spotlighted “20 movers, shakers, mavericks, and badasses who are boldly, bravely, audaciously blazing new paths for women and girls.” From Kimberly Bryant’s founding of Black Girls Code to empower young women of color through technology education, to Rachel Lloyd’s establishing of GEMS to help victims of domestic trafficking reintegrate into society, these stories were nothing short of amazing, wholly affirming my passion and deep sense of purpose in the movement to empower women and girls.

Moved by these women’s untiring efforts to effect positive change, I immediately thought about one of my favorite extracurricular pastimes: running a weekly “Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight” column as a volunteer with Women LEAD, a nonprofit organization that provides girls in Nepal with education and leadership development training. Nearly a year ago, I started conducting interviews for this column on Women LEAD’s blog because I wanted to highlight the efforts of female community and organizational leaders across the world. At the same time, I wanted to know more than what I could find on a biography or a nonprofit website. I hoped to learn, on a personal level, about a woman leader’s philosophy for change, why she believed her toils and struggles to enact women’s empowerment were worth it, and what advice she had to offer current and future generations of women leaders.

I have been able to interview women leaders working in Hong Kong, where I live, and in the US, Canada, UK, Sweden, Laos, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, and Guatemala through Skype calling and emailing. These women leaders include journalists, entrepreneurs, academics, medical professionals, authors, high school and college students, who are all united by a common passion for removing bulwarks to gender equality.

My weekly experiences canvassing these women for their views on issues including reproductive rights, violence against women, maternal health, and gender pay gaps have been so refreshing and enlightening, offering me alternate perspectives that contribute to my overall understanding of women’s issues. I’ve acquired an intimate knowledge of organizations that expedite women’s empowerment in both developing and developed countries, and the various socioeconomic forces that blockade gender equality in the communities where these organizations are based. The words that these women speak and write never cease to inspire me to continue fighting for women’s empowerment worldwide.

Yet, as I interviewed these women leaders, I noticed that beyond the occasional celebrity spotlight in a magazine, there rarely is an active effort to regularly underscore the untiring work of women advocates and changemakers, whether online or offline. Girls’ Globe, a blog I write for that advocates and raises awareness of issues concerning women and girls across the world, frequently features blog posts about organizations and women working to secure a gender-equal future, and even organized a “Women Who Inspire” blog series to highlight the enlightened efforts of women changemakers. And The NextWomen, a women’s business magazine where I am an Editorial Assistant and Regular Contributor, boasts a “Female Heroes” section that specifically accents women leaders pursuing business and entrepreneurship-related paths. But excepting the few platforms that emphasize the power of women changing the world, where is this much-needed coverage?

I call for a concerted and regular effort to celebrate the work of women changemakers for the very reason I love conducting weekly interviews for Women LEAD’s Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlight column. Spotlights like those in Marie Claire and on Women LEAD’s blog have the potential to encourage nascent women leaders to fight for the causes that matter to them, irrespective of any discrimination they may face, because they are armed with the knowledge that someone else has been there before them, succeeded, and inspired others. And when someone feels empowered by these personal stories of hope, passion, and resilience, who knows what phenomenal things they may be able to accomplish for women and girls now, or in the near future?

Read these Inspiring Woman Leader Spotlights with our Girls’ Globe bloggers and partners on Women LEAD’s Blog!


Featured image photo credit: Gates Foundation Flickr Account

Women in Prison Face Injustice Too

Institutional review boards (IRBs) are ethics committees responsible for monitoring research studies involving humans, and they have specific rules to follow to keep human subjects safe. According to the IRB Guidebook developed by the US Department of Health & Human Services, vulnerable populations must be treated with special consideration when part of a research study. Prisoners are included on the list of vulnerable populations.

A Georgetown University report, “Vulnerability, Vulnerable Populations, and Policy” includes the statement:

“Poor health and diminished sense of dignity suffered by vulnerable populations are the results of unjust public policies and practices.”

Women in prison do not often have a voice and are frequently characterized by “poor health and a diminished sense of dignity”.  It is important to create awareness about this population that is typically ignored, but faces injustice due to the corrections systems’  and other government policies.

A recent CBC News article reported that self-injuries among women in Canadian prisons have “soared” in the last 5 years. From 2007-2008 there were 54 reports of self-injury among incarcerated women. From 2012-2013, however, there were 323 reports of self-injury. The article attributes the increase to an ill-equipped system that is not capable of dealing with the mental health issues of prisoners appropriately.

Image by ImageBrokerRM, from www.inmagine.com

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website includes further information about injustices women in the US prison system face today. Some topics include, pregnancy, women’s health, rape and sexual assault, youth, and loss of parental rights while in prison. Additionally, the ACLU website includes current media coverage of issues involving incarcerated women.

Guidelines for research using human subjects have been developed based on numerous accounts of unethical research practices in the past. Prisoners have made the list of vulnerable populations for research because they had been terribly abused in research historically, and because of their precarious position in society and diminished freedoms. Prisoners might be persuaded to do something they don’t want to do or agree to participating in a research study if it would mean gaining any type of freedom in return. Prisoners might also be forced to do something because they are at the hands of those guarding them. If this is true of research studies, what does this mean for the general prison population? They can be exploited too.

What must be done to make sure there is competent and effective oversight to ensure the human rights of all of those incarcerated? If we simply forget about those millions of individuals who are incarcerated, abuses will continue.

The ALCU website includes a list of ways to ameliorate injustice for women in the overburdened US prison system.  Here are some ways you can help! Some ideas include tutoring or mentoring an at-risk girl, volunteering with an organization for court-involved families, volunteering with GEMS (an organization featured in previous Girls’ Globe articles, one by myself and another by Sally Pope), supporting local after-school programs, or writing to your legislator in support of policies prohibiting incarceration of prostitution by individuals under age 18. Please see the full list of more ways to help here.

As we have seen, it is sometimes easy to forget that prisoners have rights, too. Our work towards a gender equitable world must include all women and girls – including female prisoners.

Google+ Hangout with Nicholas, Somaly and Rachel to discuss Slavery and Sex Trafficking


Today some of us at Girls’ Globe joined the Google+ Hangout with New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof, GEMS founder Rachel Lloyd and Cambodian anti-trafficking advocate Somaly Mam. The topic of discussion was modern-day slavery and sex trafficking and was moderated by Luke Blocher from The Freedom Center.

The group discussed domestic sex trafficking, factors contributing to the international sex trade and ways to help combat the problem, from high-level to grassroots actors.

Regarding what governments and state actors can do, Nicholas spoke about the importance of ending impunity. In most places there are laws in place that should protect trafficked victims and victims of sex slavery, the problem is that these laws are not being enforced. He mentioned the importance of putting pressure on governments to ensure that laws are followed and enforced. One example of this is Naming and Shaming. Through international shame, governments feel pressured to make a change, and this can actually have an impact on enforcing the legal framework in the country.

How do we decrease demand? When working to end sex slavery it is not often discussed how to address the demand side of the market. The Google+ Hangout crowd asked the panelists this question.

Rachel pointed out that it is critical to change attitudes and the way we view men who buy sex. We need to eliminate the boys are just being boys attitude and raise awareness of the crime that is being committed. She said that we need to socialize boys and young men differently, in a way that does not give them the right to buy other people. It is not a victimless crime. Rachel highlighted that we need to see and hear more from the men who do not buy sex, in order to change other men’s perspectives. Men need to rise up too!

Also to address the issue of demand, Nicholas said that there is a delusion that prostitutes are there on their own free will. He asserted that men need to understand what trafficking is really like and that people need to learn what is actually going on. Through education buying sex will become less sexy and more shameful, and thus decrease demand.

Should we distinguish between voluntary prostitution and trafficking? One thing that often arises when discussing sex trafficking is the statement that there are women who sell sex voluntarily. When talking about the modern-day sex trade I think this statement usually steers the conversation in the wrong direction. Instead of talking about how to help trafficked victims, people start arguing for the rights of women to sell their bodies. When this question was brought up by the audience, I think the panelists had some good arguments.

Rachel agreed that there are some women who voluntarily sell sex, but she argued that this is not where the global billion dollar industry is actually earning its money. She said that these women are really a minority.

To have a choice you must have options. Most of the women, children and men in the sex industry do not choose to be a part of it. They have no option. What we need to do is bring options to these people – the majority of “sellers” in the global sex industry are victims.

Nicholas pointed to the evidence that has shown that legalizing the sex trade does not necessarily minimize the black market trade that is still going on. That regulating the market does not ensure that underaged girls are not being forced into the trade. Also, when discussing the nature of prostitution, he said that the amount of people who do it voluntarily are minimal. He stated that those who enter into commercial sex in the US are usually underaged girls and those who enter into this market in India are usually coerced.

Somaly really underscored the importance of giving victims an option. By educating the girls in the brothels, protecting them from violence and supporting them with health care, we can make a difference. She emphasized the importance of education and raising awareness. We cannot change the practice if people have wrong perceptions of what is going on. There are victims in this world that need our help and Somaly stressed that if we want to do something we need to have patience and compassion.

Do you want to learn more and get involved?

Visit somaly.org, GEMS, and Half the Sky Movement, and read our related posts.

Or read the memoirs…

Girls’ Globe is all about education and raising awareness for change.

We want to encourage you to make a difference and we want to highlight the organizations that are dedicated to changing the lives of women and girls around the world.
Do you want to join us?
Send us an email: girlsglobe@gmail.com.

See the whole Hangout here:

GEMS: Fighting Domestic Trafficking One Girl at a Time

When most of us think about trafficking, we think about it on an international scale, right? What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear (or read) the word “trafficking?” How about stories of girls being transported across Southeast Asian borders to work in brothels or young Chinese children whose parents think they are sending their child off to a better life, ending up enslaved in America paying off a never-ending ‘debt’ in restaurants and nail salons? Or what about the major feature films like ‘Taken’ and ‘Trade’ (both awesome movies, by the way) that you’ve seen trailers for on TV or watched on Netflix? These grotesque, global escapades catch people’s attention. The thought of a person being transported across borders, oceans, continents to an unknown land where they ‘disappear’ underground is a chilling thought to anyone.

But, what we don’t hear and think about as much is that trafficking isn’t just an international issue, it’s domestic, too. That’s a really scary thought. How about the fact that it could happen to people you know or that you’ve likely seen someone who has been trafficked within their own country? Because, you probably have.

The true statistics on human trafficking overall are difficult to come up with given the clandestine nature of the business. It’s hard to guess whether international trafficking numbers are over or underestimated; but, when you break this down to the domestic-level it is even harder to get an accurate picture. Countries may only report cases of known trafficking and forgo estimating the actual number of cases in their country, so who knows how many cases go unknown. Keep this in mind when you consider these statistics from the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking:

  • 2.5 million people are estimated to be trafficked for forced labor (including sexual exploitation) at any given time
  • Almost half, or 1.2 million, of people trafficked each year are children
  • 43% of victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation, 98% of which are women and girls
  • 95% of victims experience physical or sexual abuse during the trafficking process

Girls Educational and Mentoring Service (GEMS) is a rockstar in the world of fighting domestic trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of teenage girls. Founded by a woman who herself was sexually exploited as a child, GEMS empowers girls and young women who survived trafficking and sexual exploitation and helps them to reach their full potential. GEMS started with one woman, but now works all over the United States providing training to law enforcement and legal professionals as well as promoting policy change to support girls and young women who experienced and survived domestic trafficking.

Check out this trailer for the documentary ‘Very Young Girls’ which features the work of GEMS in the context of sexual exploitation of girls in the US:

Learn more about the amazing work GEMS is doing by visiting their website http://www.gems-girls.org/ or support them on Twitter @GEMSGIRLS #Girlsarenotforsale and Facebook http://www.facebook.com/girlsarenotforsale (Girls are not for sale).

The first featured image is from the Associated Press.

The second featured image is from GEMS.