What Kesha’s Case Really Reveals

On February 19th, outlets published a photo of singer Kesha sobbing in a courtroom as a judge revealed she’d ruled against her. In a much-publicized case, the singer had been trying to get a preliminary injunction to allow her to stop recording with her producer, Lukasz Gottwald (better known as Dr. Luke). Kesha has said her producer abused her physically, sexually, verbally and mentally from a young age, allegations which Dr. Luke denies and claims are an attempt at extortion.

The ruling sparked an outcry from Kesha’s fanbase as well as support from celebrities like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Amid the frenzy of lawsuits, countersuits, hashtags and Hollywood, we’re ignoring the deeper meaning of Kesha’s case.

In a case that boils down to he-said, she-said, as Kesha’s does, even strong advocates of feminism have to leave room for a sliver of doubt.

What is troubling is who consistently gets the benefit of that doubt.

A Big Ask

“You’re asking the court to decimate a contract that was heavily negotiated and typical for the industry,” said Supreme Court Justice Shirley Kornreich to Kesha’s attorneys. Which is indeed true. However, if you flip the sentiment and examine its alternative, Dr. Luke’s attorneys are asking the court to discredit an allegation of deeply painful abuse, on multiple levels, in favor of a business contract.

The record label, Sony, did offer Kesha the opportunity to continue recording under a different producer. Kesha’s attorneys argued that without the presence of Dr. Luke, Sony would not market Kesha’s music as heavily, which is vital in the short-lived life of a pop star. The judge, however, did not find this sufficiently believable.

In a perfect world, a simple switch of producers would be the optimal solution. However, in the modern work environment, which has been known to demote or dismiss women for offences like being “too aggressive“, “too attractive” or for having the audacity to have a child, it isn’t hard to justify a fear of being indirectly punished for villainizing a highly profitable producer – a job which has a much longer lifespan, and therefore more potential for profit, than a singer’s.

A Woman’s Worth

The Hollywood Reporter stated:

Kornreich heard arguments that Dr. Luke had invested a substantial amount — $60 million in her career — and that the producer had agreed to allow her to record without his involvement. The judge told Geragos that “decimates your argument,” adding, “My instinct is to do the commercially reasonable thing.”

The judge’s instinct to prioritize commercial losses over perceived slight may make financial sense, but stands on shaky moral ground.

From a financial standpoint, there is little to be gained by granting this injunction. From a human standpoint, there is little to be gained by denying it.

Ruling in favor of Kesha, Dr. Luke could gradually recoup his financial losses, innocent or no. Kesha, on the other hand, could not so easily recover a sense of well-being, a full recovery or arguably, a career, if he were guilty.


Burden of Proof

“What disturbs me is a lack of facts,” stated the judge. As it should. But once again, we should ask the question – a lack of facts supporting which argument? 

As it stands now, sexual assault cases must prove that there was indeed inappropriate activity, rather than the opposite. Yet sexual encounters are, by nature, intensely private affairs. With the added factors of shame, abuse, skewed power dynamics, deliberate attempts to conceal, and fear, coerced encounters are even more shrouded in doubt and denial on both sides.

That isn’t to say there is no merit in due process. But what it suggests is that perhaps instead of focusing on proving something did happen, we should be working equally to prove something didn’t.

Dispassiontely viewed, there is no way to know who is telling the truth without hard evidence. In cases like these, someone is going to lose without irrefutible evidence that they deserved to. That isn’t in question. What we should question is why in the overwhelming number of cases, the loser is the victim.

When the judge ruled against Kesha, she ruled for a system that continues to doubt victims of violence over their alleged abusers. That, on it’s own, is injustice enough.

Cover photo credit: Peter Neill / Wikimedia Commons

Remembering America’s Lost Women

Growing up in Pakistan, I was a rule breaker. I got in trouble for speaking my mind and making my own choices, two things good Pakistani women were not supposed to do. Until I broke a rule that could not be fixed or overlooked, falling in love with a Shia man, though I came from a Sunni home. In Pakistan, our families were at war, so we went to Canada. North America was my safe haven, a place I could make my life choices without fearing shame and violence.

America afforded me an escape from the fear of honor violence, the abuse thousands of women around the world experience for bringing dishonor to their families. This violence can take the form of physical, emotional or sexual assault, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

America was my safe haven, but, unbeknownst to many, it is not safe for everyone. Honor violence is not a problem relegated to countries like Pakistan; every year, thousands of girls in North America experience honor violence and even lose their lives to honor killings. Families – mothers, fathers and siblings – abuse, assault and even strangle, stab or shoot their daughters, wives and sisters for being too “Western” or “promiscuous,” refusing an arranged marriage or even just looking at a boy.

Many decades may have passed since I made trouble in Pakistan, but I remain a woman known for speaking her mind. And in my mind, this situation is intolerable and it must be stopped. There is no place in the United States and Canada for shaming and abusing women into submission, forcing them to marry men they do not want and live lives they do not choose. In 2014, I stood up, with eight other women, and we made the world listen with the award-winning documentary Honor Diaries, drawing attention to issues of honor violence in western cultures. Other films and movements have joined us and we have made incredible gains in policy and awareness. Task forces have been formed, data is being collected and, most importantly, paid attention to.

Unfortunately, there is still much more work to do. Forcing a woman into marriage remains legal in 43 states. Women are beaten and even burned with acid, but the nature of what they are experiencing all too often goes unnoticed. Honor violence is a hidden crime that is overlooked more than is conscionable.

Honor Diaries was one stepping stone towards justice and what is right, but now, we need your help to lay the next brick. We want to wake up the US and create a national day of memory for the victims of honor – those who have lost their lives in the name of “honor.” We have teamed up with Jasvinder Sanghera CBE from Karma Nirvana UK, who has succeeded in creating a national day of memory in the UK. We hope to create a national day of memory in the US on the same date, July 14th, uniting women and men across the globe in solidarity.

We can stand up and declare that enough is enough, this will not go on in my backyard. Shame and abuse in the name of culture and religion are not condonable, and we will not sit idly while they are wielded as weapons to destroy the independence and fierce inner beauty of these young American women. Because when we do nothing, they lose more than their independence. They lose their lives. Join us in creating change. Click here and petition US policymakers to institute a national day of memory.

 

The author, Raheel Raza, is an author, diversity consultant and activist for cultural diversity and interfaith harmony. Her mandate is “there is unity in diversity.”

What Indiana’s New Religious Freedom Restoration Act Means for Women 

Today, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allowing for individuals and companies with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse service to individuals who do not align with their beliefs. Although the Governor and his Republican colleagues refute the claim that this bill legalizes religious discrimination, it clearly does.

For example, the law protects Christian bakers, florists, and photographers from punishment if they refuse to participate in a homosexual marriage. (Same-sex marriage was legalized in Indiana in October of 2014.) Now, that might sound seemingly harmless. After all, if same-sex partners are looking for wedding day caterers or other services, they could always choose another, more LGBT-friendly company. Unfortunately, that may be easier said than done when 80 percent of Indiana’s population follows the Christian faith. But that’s beside the point. The point is that they shouldn’t have to look elsewhere. (Before students staged the 1960 Nashville sit-ins at Woolworth’s lunch counter, the same argument was used to justify segregation in restaurants.)

I got married in 2013 and I know from experience that planning a wedding can be a time-consuming albeit exciting task. It’s a big day and a big celebration, and you and your partner both want it to be memorable and meaningful. If, for some people, memorable and meaningful means hiring the best photographers, the best caterers, so be it. They should not be limited to companies who are not anti-LGBT. And who knows, maybe no companies will be left that support same-sex marriage. Who will help those couples on their special day?

Although this law is aimed primarily towards the LGBT community, its consequences stretch much further.

Around the world, communities often use religion as the foundation of political and social norms. For women, this can mean discrimination and gender inequality.

In America, religious extremists often argue against women’s rights – particularly sexual and reproductive rights. In the 19th century, the Catholic church established that life begins at conception, creating the religious-based anti-abortion war that still rages to this day.

Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons
Image c/o Flickr Creative Commons

Many anti-abortion Catholics and evangelicals cite Psalm 139 in the Bible, which says “it was (the Lord) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Another common religious argument against abortion is the story of Moses’ birth, whose mother defied Pharaoh’s order to kill all Hebrew boys and, instead, placed her infant son in a basket to float down the Nile, only later to be rescued, raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, and grow up to share God’s Ten Commandments.

Unfortunately for women in the United States, anti-abortion activists are gaining momentum and support. This past January, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared that his goal as governor was to “end abortion in Mississippi” and, a few weeks later, the state’s last remaining abortion clinic was severely vandalized.  Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who recently announced he’s running for president in the 2016 elections, once referred to birth control as abortion-inducing (which is just scientifically incorrect). When Republicans took control of the Congress in January, one of its first acts was to propose a 20-week abortion ban, a proposal that included efforts to require women to officially report having been raped in order to be qualified for an abortion.

Let’s be honest, the vast majority of women do not want to get an abortion. Getting an abortion is a serious, emotionally draining, and life-changing decision. Women have differing and equally valid reasons for seeking an abortion – whether it be they are not financially able to support a child; they were raped; the fetus, when born, will suffer from extreme disabilities; or otherwise.

However, the consequences of the religious argument against abortion do not limit themselves to just abortion. In Texas, a judge banned the use of federal funding for abortions and, as a result, Planned Parenthood, a leader in the pro-choice movement, lost millions in federal funding. To be clear, Planned Parenthood is not solely an abortion provider. In one year, over 110,000 lower-income women in Texas received preventative treatment for breast and cervical cancer treatments, 48,000 of whom were treated by Planned Parenthood. Additionally, Planned Parenthood enables women to access a variety of birth control methods including the pill, IUDs, menstrual cups, and more. (I, myself, can thank Planned Parenthood for inserting my IUD. Thanks Planned Parenthood!) Therefore, by eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, Texas effectively eliminated funding for women’s health.

When the United Nations calls access to safe, voluntary family planning a human right and “central to gender equality and women’s empowerment,” why are we using religion as an excuse to deny women their sexual and reproductive rights?

Indiana’s passing of RFRA fuels the fire behind the aforementioned religious-based arguments. We, as a society – no matter your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, age, income – need to band together, raise our voices, and reject this law. If we don’t, we are looking at a world of consequences, for the LGBT community, for women, for everyone.

Sign the petition to recall Governor Mike Pence.

Cover photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Using Storytelling to Create Social Change

Violence is the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls globally. Not malnutrition or accidents or cardiovascular disease or maternal conditions. Violence. In fact, among girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide, almost one quarter (around 70 million) have reported experiencing some form of physical violence since the age of 15. These shocking statistics can leave one feeling overwhelmed, confused, and angry. Luckily there are many out there working to change the lives of girls for the better.

Rebecca Barry wasn’t on the course to advocate for the health and rights of girls and women, but her life took a turn in 2009 while on holiday in Samoa. What happened inspired her to find a way to use her skills and resources to raise awareness and connect others looking to create change. Girls Globe recently sat down with the director and producer of I AM A GIRL to talk about what girls in the world are facing today, and how we can all work to make a difference.

Katie; c/o I AM A GIRL
Katie; c/o I AM A GIRL

How did the idea for I AM A GIRL come about? 

Barry: In 2009 I was lucky enough to survive a tsunami while on holiday in Samoa. This event was the most frightening and leveling experience of my life. With my brush with death came a realization that perhaps for the first time, I did not have control, in those moments, over my life and its outcomes. I came to understand that for many (if not most) girls in the world today, this is a feeling they live with everyday.

Soon after, I was reading a magazine article about the plight of girls and was moved to tears. Despite technological advances and the abundance of wealth, we live in a world that openly discriminates against girls. They are not religious or political activists … they are girls. It is from this basis alone from which the most incomprehensible violence, health issues and abuse transpires.

Knowing this information brought me to the point where I asked myself the question, what can I do about this? I decided to make I AM A GIRL, which could reach out to a broader audience to inform others and to give people the opportunity to connect and do something through partnerships.

The film is a fantastic example of blending social impact with storytelling. What did you hope for it?

Barry: I AM A GIRL was my first attempt at social impact storytelling and it is very addictive. I have since co-founded Media Stockade (http://mediastockade.com/) which is a production company whose primary focus is creating and distributing social impact films that can be used to facilitate debate, conversation and get people thinking, feeling and acting differently about social issues.

Can a film change the way we think? Or even change these grotesque statistics. I truly believe it can. My vision for I AM A GIRL is pure and simple – to weave a universal story through the voices of girls in various locations around the world, dealing with different challenges.

HABIBA_IMG_0993
Habiba; c/o I AM A GIRL

How has the film been received since its 2013 release?

Barry: The film has had extraordinary impact! It has screened at film festivals around the world and has been nominated for several awards, as well as been critically acclaimed. It has been picked up by individuals and organizations who have screened the film as a fundraiser and community builder. It has been incredible to hear these stories of impact and outreach! I AM A GIRL has helped raised funds to send two girls to University in Kabul, Afghanistan for a year, put 40 girls from low socio economic backgrounds through self esteem workshops, and to fund an art art therapy program for survivors of domestic violence. And that’s just a few of the amazing examples of impact that have occurred.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Barry: The biggest challenge was finding the resources to make the film. We funded the film through philanthropy and assembled an incredible coalition of partners to help bring the film to the big screen. Another challenge was getting my head around filming in Afghanistan which was a war zone at the time. As small crew made up of two women certainly didn’t pick the easiest of countries to film in!

How did the film impact your life?

Barry: The film has had a huge impact on my life. I have met the most inspiring people through the film and it has given me so much hope having connected with the incredible work of individuals and organisations around the world. I have moved on from a place of despair to now thinking that we are heading in the right direction in regards to gender equality. Professionally, the film has given me a focus and I have started to say to myself that I need to do more in area of girl empowerment.

Breani; c/o I AM A GIRL
Breani; c/o I AM A GIRL

Do you have future plans for I AM A GIRL?

Barry: We are currently releasing the film in the United States through the Cinema on Demand Platform called Gathr. This platform means that anyone can request to bring the film to their local cinema no matter where they are. All you have to do is go to the website and type in your zip code to find a screening near you! If there isn’t one, you can request a screening. Gathr organizes everything – you just have to share the screening with your community, friends and family. It’s very simple and our hope is that everyone will become a part of the I AM A GIRL tribe and bring the film to their local communities.

Within global advocacy, we see the power of storytelling. What do you hope storytelling does for girls and women of the world?

Barry: Storytelling and testimony is a human right. Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” 

How wonderful it is to hear girls’ stories in their own voices talking about their hopes and dreams. The more stories we hear from women and girls the more powerful we become. Storytelling is a way to share these stories and empower change. If we see and hear their stories we cannot ignore them.

We couldn’t agree more! What’s next for you in the world of empowering change?

Barry: I am currently working on a few different projects as producer through Media Stockade. My next directing opportunity will be a drama set in Afghanistan.

Kimsey; c/o I AM A GIRL
Kimsey; c/o I AM A GIRL

You found a great way to use your skills and resources to create change. What advice would you give to the every day person looking to make an impact in the lives of girls?

Barry: Anyone can make an impact in the lives of girls. The thing to do is ask yourself, “what can I do?” Are you a teacher, a parent, an employer? Look for what you are good and apply a gender lense. Even by simply starting a conversation with your friends, colleagues, sons, and community you are making an impact. Even better you can organize a screening of I AM A GIRL at your local cinema!

For more information, visit I AM A GIRL.

Maternal Mortality: When Numbers Speak Volumes

The clinical nature of the term ‘maternal mortality’ makes the importance – and the humanity behind the concept – hard to fully grasp. It evokes images of statistics, of numbers and of distant percentage rankings that seem to have little to do with the women we know and meet. Yet, the issue of maternal health has a direct and powerful impact on the most human and personal aspects of our lives: our mothers and our children.

The fact is that in the world today, despite the availability of modern technology and huge medical advances, pregnancy poses significant health risk for many women living in parts of the globe. While in developed countries, easy access to high quality care before, during and after pregnancy makes the process safe for most mothers, childbirth is a far more painful and risky process elsewhere in the world. Most maternal deaths are painfully avoidable: women die from basic and preventable, but potentially agonizing complications like hemorrhaging after childbirth, infections, eclampsia and pre-eclampsia, and complications from unsafe abortion procedures.

maternal health
MDG 5 logo courtesy of the United Nations

The United Nations recognized the importance and gravity of maternal mortality worldwide and made improving maternal health as Goal 5 of their landmark Millennium Development Goals. The effects of maternal deaths are far-reaching. It is not only devastating for the mothers and children who are directly affected, but has profound social and economic impacts. The long term effects on the family are well-documented, including depression, withdrawal, less care for dependents such as the elderly and children, negative effects in patterns of household consumption and a decrease in the quality of health of surviving family members. 

Studies done on the effect of maternal mortality in Africa show a direct link between mortality rates and GDP. Women, even when not directly involved in the labor force, enable the generation of income through providing food, ensuring schooling for children and sharing the domestic workload, thereby boosting worker productivity. The results of a 2006 study done in Africa show that the death of a single person reduced GDP by as much as USD $0.36 per year, making bolstering healthcare for expectant mothers as much as financial issue as a social one.

While maternal mortality rates have dropped since the introduction of the MDGs, they still remain unacceptably high. An estimated 800 women die every day because of a lack of access to proper healthcare. Some eye-opening facts from the World Health Organization reveal the alarming truth of childbearing in 2013:

  • The maternal mortality rate as a result of pregnancy related complications is 240 for every 100,000 live births in the developing world (standing in stark contrast to 16 per 100,000 live births in the developed world.)
  • The probability that a 15 year old woman will eventually die from a maternal cause: 1 in 3800 in developed countries, versus 1 in 150 in developing countries.
  • 99% of all maternal deaths occur in developing countries.

Maternal mortality rates around the world are still unacceptable, especially given the preventability of the conditions which contribute to it. No woman should have to risk her life to bear a child, and no child should be born with such a high likelihood of being raised without their mother. These are basic rights that are being trampled on through a lack of awareness and engagement with the issue of maternal mortality. To learn more, visit the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals page, or the World Health Organization.

Featured image courtesy of Arne Hoel / World Bank

We Need A Revolution

Members of the Oxfam water and sanitation committee in the Jamam refugee camp, South Sudan. Photo Courtesy of Oxfam International
Members of the Oxfam water and sanitation committee in the Jamam refugee camp, South Sudan. Photo Courtesy of Oxfam International

With last week marking the opening of the 68th session of the United Nation’s General Assembly and the Social Good Summit happening alongside it, the international community has been abuzz about how we can make the world a better place. This has me reflecting on a collection of statements about ending global poverty that I read sometime ago. The gist of the article is that for decades the rhetoric has been that this can be the generation to end global poverty, yet it hasn’t been accomplished. I think about these statements, specifically in the context of women’s rights and the reasons that, although we have been talking about the oppression of women and girls for decades, gender-based discrimination persists. If we are to make real and lasting progress, we need to radically transform the way we position the oppression of women and girls, as well as our approach to addressing this oppression.

Let’s talk about the root causes of gender inequality

The root cause of women’s and girls’ oppression is a patriarchal value system that places men at the centre and women in the periphery, while ascribing rigid gender roles and privilege accordingly. It then works in tandem with  systems like capitalism to devalue the work traditionally done by women – work deemed ‘women’s work’ by the same system of patriarchy. We cannot talk about women’s rights without talking about the systems that place us at a disadvantage politically, economically and socially; and we cannot empower women within systems designed to oppress them. As such, we need to…

Stop isolating certain women’s rights violations to specific countries or regions

News reports would have us believe that rape only happens in India. Latching on to the shock value and ease of separating ourselves from ‘those’ crimes that happen ‘over there’, it became trendy to report on rapes in India while ignoring rape in other parts of the world. By separating incidents of rape from each other, and from other manifestations of gender inequality, we allow patriarchy to go unchecked. Systems of oppression operate globally; they may manifest themselves differently – sexual violence, policing women’s bodies, wage gaps, restricted reproductive rights, and so on – but the root causes are the same. By focusing on the symptoms, we allow oppression to change forms but never put an end to it. We have to connect the dots and draw these parallels in order to dismantle the common perpetrators of sexual violence, poverty and all forms of inequality.

Put the women we claim to want to help at the centre

Within global movements for women’s rights, individuals and organizations in the Global North are positioned as authorities on issues impacting women and girls in the Global South. We consult, invite and include marginalized women and girls, but what all of this implies is that we are in control. Making space for participants from the Global South in our conversations about them sounds nice, but more effective would be having those whose lives are the topic of discussion driving the agenda. While many of us are in our comfortable spaces dialoguing, activists around the world are doing the real work of confronting injustice head on and we would do well to to take their lead.

Dialogue is important, awareness is important, but truly being allies to the communities we claim to advocate on behalf of means examining our relationships with those communities in ways that may should make us uncomfortable. We need to question the amount of space we take up, the amount of power we hold and our role in maintaining unequal relationships – and then we need to work towards shifting the balance of power. We can start by re-directing large portions of the resources used to support dialogue in the Global North towards supporting activism in the Global South and then following instead of insisting on being in the lead.