The Cost of Spending Time with Your Baby

September 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

The Metric System. Measuring degrees in Celsius. Paid family leave. What do all of these things have in common? Almost every country practices them except the United States. I want to focus on the last item—paid maternity and paternity leave.

I recently read an article about a woman named Tara who was about to have a baby, worked full-time, and had a toddler at home. Her husband suffered from an autoimmune disorder and could not work, making Tara the breadwinner of the family. But, her employer required that she return to work full-time 20 days after giving birth and did not pay her for her time off.[i] Eighty-eight percent of women and men across the United States face the same problem as Tara.[ii] These families have to face financial issues just so that they can bond and take care of their newborn.

How does the United States compare to the rest of the world? This map from the Economic Opportunity Institute outlines paid leave for mothers across the world, which is also quite similar for fathers[iii]:


So what makes the United States ever so unique (besides Papua New Guinea and Liberia)? The National Public Radio outlines a variety of reasons as to why this happens: business lobbying, a diminished American labor movement, and the American love of individualism.[iv] Whatever the reason, this remains a heated topic in American politics. Nevertheless, many states, such as California and New Jersey, have enacted paid leave.[v] Some companies in the U.S. have also instigated this policy, but we cannot all work for Netflix or Amazon.

Let’s go back to Tara’s story. The Family and Medical Leave Act (2012) requires companies with more than 50 employees to give their workers a certain, elongated unpaid leave for family and medical reasons.[vi] But, Tara worked for a small company, so she only got 20 days to bond with her brand new baby and then had to return to work.[vii] This brings up another issue: often, the people who need paid leave the most either do not have a low status in their company or work for companies who do not meet FMLA’s standards. Think of the corporate cashier who just had a baby and is the breadwinner of the family. While his or her counterpart in administration may be able to afford to take unpaid leave, the cashier probably does not have the same luxury.

What are the benefits of paid leave? First, paid leave provides many health and development benefits. Having any type of leave (paid or not) is critical for child-parent bonding. If the parent does not have to worry about money for a significant amount of time, this bonding can become more relaxing. Larisa Casillas, a working mom in the Bay Area of California, said that “the extra time was essential for bonding with her son, meeting other mothers and staving off postpartum depression.” Additionally, she said “Honestly, without that income support, I wouldn’t have made it”.[viii] The same goes for fathers. We often talk so much about paid maternity leave, but fathers also need this critical time to bond with their new child. According to a 2011 study, paid parental leave also can reduce infant mortality by up to 10 percent. Additionally, a similar study found that paid leave can increase the rate and duration of breast-feeding, which can then lead to significant health benefits for both mother and child. For mothers, women who took paid leave for more than 12 weeks had a smaller chance of becoming depressed.[ix] These health benefits for parents and children goes on and on.[x]

Now for the economic benefits. In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama said that “paid leave could help increase the percentage of women in the work force and help middle-class families earn stable incomes”.[xi] Choosing between working and having a family is not a decision that anyone should have to face. Having the certainty of paid income during post-child bearing weeks can better guarantee of some women’s participation in the workforce. Plus, women who have taken leave return to work more productive. Specifically, a Rutgers study found that women who have taken leave worked 15-20 percent more hours during the second year of their child’s life than those who did not have leave.[xii] Additionally, economists have found that people with access to paid leave take more time off, especially low-income workers who would have otherwise never taken time off. Companies also do not lose anything when instituting these policies, as seen through recent policy shifts in California and New Jersey.[xiii]

Push-back may come primary from those who think companies simply cannot afford to pay their employees when they do not work. But this is simply not true. Looking at the U.S. states and companies who do have paid leave, we do not see economic or productivity collapse. In California and New Jersey, companies finance paid leave through its taxes of existing insurance programs. A study among companies in California showed that 89-99 percent of employers said paid leave had no negative effect on productivity, profitability, turnover, and morale. [xiv] So maybe paid leave does not add to a company’s profits. But, is that really a reason to prevent this policy? The benefits to families, parents, and babies should clearly outweigh maintaining the status quo in companies.

What can we do about this issue? Obviously, we can support the businesses who offer paid family leave. We can also encourage our political leaders to institute and research these policies. In addition, we can make sure people understand that the benefits of these policies really do outweigh the negatives. By doing this, people will hopefully have a better understanding of the issue and thus more be likely to support these policies to assist children and working parents.

—by ORR


[i] Shortall, Jessica. 2016. “Life in the Only Industrialized Country Without Paid Maternity Leave.” The Atlantic, March 3.

[ii] Gault, Barbara, Heidi Hartmann, Ariane Hegewisch, Jessica Milli, and Lindsey Reichlin. 2014. “Paid Parental Leave in the United States: What the Data Tell Us about Access, Usage, and Economic and Health Benefits.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, January.

[iii] Stone, Alex. 2011. “Sticking it to the Mom: United States Now Just One of the Few with No Paid Leave for New Moms.” Economic Opportunity Institute, February 24.

[iv] Kurtzleben, Danielle. 2015. “Lots of Other Countries Mandate Paid Leave. Why Not the US?” NPR, July 15.

[v] Miller, Claire Cain. 2015. “The Economic Benefits of Paid Parental Leave.” New York Times, January 30.

[vi] U.S. Department of Labor. 2012. “Fact Sheet #28: The Family and Medical Leave Act.” Wage and Hour Division.

[vii] Shortall, Jessica. 2016. “Life in the Only Industrialized Country Without Paid Maternity Leave.” The Atlantic, March 3.

[viii] Miller, Claire Cain. 2015. “The Economic Benefits of Paid Parental Leave.” New York Times, January 30.

[ix] Wallace, Kelly and Jen Christensen. 2015. “The Benefits of Paid Leave for Children are Real, Majority of Research Says.” CNN, October 29.

[x] For more information, see above citation from CNN.

[xi] Office of the Press Secretary. 2015. “Remarks by the President in State of the Union Address| January 20, 2015.” The White House, January 20.

[xii] Rutgers. 2012. “Rutgers Study Finds Paid Family Leave Leads to Positive Economic Outcomes.” January 19.

[xiii] Miller, Claire Cain. 2015. “The Economic Benefits of Paid Parental Leave.” New York Times, January 30.

[xiv] Miller, Claire Cain. 2015. “The Economic Benefits of Paid Parental Leave.” New York Times, January 30.

A Step Towards Change: Better Education and Representation for Women

September 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

I am a young, single woman who has traveled from Texas to South Africa, India, China, Australia, and many other countries around the world. I have been lucky enough to see wonders of the world, experience vibrant cultures that I read about in books, and try foods that I had never heard of. I have also been fortunate enough to speak with women from many of the countries that I have visited, or lived in. Many of these women were in absolute shock that I could be traveling around the world on my own, as a woman. Some of these women envied my freedom while others did not, but I was always reminded how truly fortunate that I am to have the liberty of choice. The choice to see and experience the world and to follow my own path. This choice and freedom always made me think that I was equal to men in my country. I was born and raised being told that I could do anything that I wanted. However as I have learned, my opportunities are different than my brother’s. I face challenges that he, and my father, will never understand. The world is different for me and as lucky as I am in my country, I am not as free as a man because I am not considered truly equal to a man. I will never be able to walk to my car at night without looking over my shoulder nor will I make as much money as my male counterpart at work. I may be free but I am not equal. As my task for Womanstats over the past five months has illustrated to me so well, there are countries of the world where women are treated better than in others, yet there is no country in the world where women are considered truly equal to men.

How are women still seen as less than men in every country of the world in 2016? My charge over these past months has been to code a United Nations report entitled, The World’s Women 2010. This important report comes out every five years covering a broad range of women’s issues. It looks at important sectors of everyday life and quantifies the status of women in various countries around the world. Most importantly, this report is able to track progress, and also regress, of the world’s women. Though progress has been made in many places, there are many countries where circumstances are worsening for women. The rights women wake up with one day are stripped the next because a new leader has come to power or a new law has passed. The importance of highlighting success and learning from defeat, in the realm of women’s issues, is immense. Sharing what we learn is key to empowering women around the world. Because of this, I want to share information from two sections of the report that I have been working on in order to emphasize areas that I believe are vital channels of provoking long-term change for women. My hope is that the work that myself and countless other women and men are doing around the world, to promote the equality of women, will ensure that the next generation of women will be able to say there are countries around the world where women and men are genuinely considered equal. (All information and statistics provided below are from the The World’s Women 2010 Report.)

Education– As a woman currently seeking her master’s degree and who taught English abroad for several years, I have seen and experienced the power of education. The transformation that basic knowledge can provide to a woman’s life is great. Basic arithmetic along with the ability to read and write can make a woman’s life much less arduous as well as open doors that would be otherwise shut to her. Yet women account for two-thirds of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults. Shockingly, this proportion has remained unchanged for approximately two decades as young girls are often kept home from school to tend to the house, are unable to attend school when menstruating, or are pulled out of school at a young age to marry. Of the 72 million primary aged children out of school around the world, 54% of them are girls. The ramifications of limiting the education of half of a country’s population are tremendous and the political, economic, and social future of a state is exceedingly constrained when doing so. For this reason, many regions and specific countries have made great advancements in their pursuit of offering equal education to males and females.

Improvements in the education of girls is evident at all levels of schooling around the world. From 1999-2007, the rate of enrolled primary-school-aged girls increased from 79% to 86%. This increase in enrollment proved larger than the increase in boys enrolled in primary school. Huge strides have been made in primary school education enrollment levels in Africa and Central Asia, due partly to the abolishment of school fees. Africa, as a whole, increased the participation of young women by 16% in primary schools around the continent. Several countries in Africa saw their gender parity index scores favor young women for primary school enrollment including, Gambia, Malawi, Mauritania, and Namibia. The rate of enrolled secondary-school-aged girls also increased, by 8 percentage points, from 1999-2007. Notably, Latin America and the Caribbean (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela), several countries in Southern Africa (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa), Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand), and Oceania (Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga) have more girls enrolled in secondary schools than boys. At the tertiary level, women overtook men in accounting for 51% of those enrolled in tertiary education in 2007. Rapid growth in female tertiary enrollment came in East Asia, South Asia, West Asia, the Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa. The advancements made in women’s education around the world are great, but many regions are still lagging far behind.

There is much left to do in order to provide equal education for girls around the world, particularly in South Asia and much of Africa. Middle and West Africa have the world’s lowest rates of female primary school enrollment at just 60%. South-Central and Western Asia also lag behind in the primary enrollment of young women. Secondary education of girls is a real area of concern as less than 58% of secondary-school-aged girls attend schools. More troubling is that over 90% of these girls live exclusively in Western Europe and North America. Middle Africa, Western Africa, and Eastern Africa have far fewer girls attending secondary school than boys. In contrast to primary school enrollment where gender parity has been achieved in 117 countries, out of 144 with data, only 54 countries have achieved secondary education gender parity. At the tertiary level, Middle, Eastern, and Western Africa, again, fall significantly behind the global average. Overall, in countries like Benin where over 80% of women have never received schooling (compared to 57% of men) and Pakistan where approximately 67% of women have also not received schooling (compared to 35% of men) limitations remain for the socio-economic development within these states. If only more women were able to address these issues…

Power and Decision-making– Around the world women are underrepresented in high-level positions within the public and private sectors. The fact is that men are currently controlling the vast majority of the world and the importance of increasing the participation of women in positions of power is tremendous for many reasons. Companies with a female chief executive officer (CEO) have a greater number of women on their board of directors than companies with a male CEO. Many women recognize the need to lift other women into leadership positions, yet men dominate most realms of leadership around the world. In fact, women account for only 17% of parliamentary seats and ministerial positions around the globe. When his report was written, women held only 11 of 192 heads of government. Eleven! Men, almost exclusively, are making the decisions that govern the world. It is no surprise then that many laws around the world favor men. This is also an issue in the private sector as only 13 of the world’s 500 largest companies in the world have a female CEO. This might be one reason to explain the gender bias in many spheres of general and product research as even the dosage of medicine is typically decided upon with a man in mind. In order for the world to be truly inclusive and equal, women must make up more of the world’s leadership positions.

Some progress has been made in lifting women into positions of power and decision-making over the years. In 1995, women accounted for, on average, 10% of the lower or single houses of parliament around the world, but by 2009 this number had risen to 17%. In all of Africa and most of Asia, the proportion of women in these houses of parliament doubled, or more than doubled. The adoption of quotas and reserved seats has significantly increased the parliamentary representation of women in the South Asian countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. In 2008, Rwanda recorded the highest proportion of elected women to parliament in the world with 56% representation. Interestingly, several post-conflict countries have improved women’s representation in their legislatures during and after reconstruction. Aside from Rwanda, 7 other countries have over 40% women represented in parliament including, Argentina, Cuba, Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, South Africa, and Sweden. Improvements have also come in the representation of female ministers around the world. In 1998, only 8% of ministers were women compared to 17% in 2008. As well, notable elections of female heads of state have come in Argentina, Chile, Germany, Haiti, Iceland, India, Liberia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Yet with so few female leaders of countries, how can we expect women to be made equal?

Though improvements have been made, the statistics outlined above offer a sad reality about the representation of women in positions of power today. In 2009, 6 countries still had no women in their lower or single houses of parliament. In Western Asia, women account for just 9% of the lower or single houses of parliament. Worse still, women presided over only 21 of 176 lower or single chambers of parliament and 10, of the 73, upper houses of parliament, at the time of this report. Local representation of women mirrors national representation with as little as 8% of elected councilors being female in North Africa. Azerbaijan, Egypt, Estonia, Iran, Morocco, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, and Turkey, all noted less than 5% of their local councilors were women. Lack of females in top public sector positions also extends to ministers and judges. In 2008, there were no female ministers in 9 countries and the judiciary remains largely male, aside from Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe offers more opportunity for female directors and chief executives as well with women accounting for over 25% of these positions, within 6 out of 8 countries, but in Western Europe the statistic was below 20% in all countries, except Austria. As a whole, Europe has the lowest proportion of females on the boards of large companies. As women remain vastly underrepresented in top tier posts within the public and private sectors around the world, women’s interests cannot be fully realized.

The cycle of men’s domination of women will not change unless we break it. All people are equal and should be treated so. Thus, providing an education to women begins the process of empowerment and puts a stop to early oppression of half the world’s population. As women put resources earned back into their families and communities, their education improves the circumstances of all. Their decisions can translate to more inclusivity within a community, country, and the around the world. Though progress has been made in the global trends of women’s education and in the promotion of women to positions of power, so much more must be done around the world and more resources must be focused in particular regions and countries. Change is possible and the progress made should keep us hopeful for the future. I hope to see more of our efforts in my future travels as communities, countries, and regions become more equal for women.



The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics (Rep.). (2010). Retrieved 2016, from The United Nations website: report_color.pdf


Travel Safe Series: Spotlight on Women

July 25, 2016 § Leave a comment



American women are increasingly traveling all corners of the globe. Their destinations range from the unusual and exotic to more common destinations for American travelers, such as Europe. Europe is often painted as an ideal international travel destination—due to the fact that relatively few communication barriers exist, cultural differences are manageable, and European countries generally espouse similar societal principles and values as the US (i.e. freedom, democracy, tolerance, etc.). Furthermore, most prime European travel destinations enjoy generally positive reputations in terms of safety, security, and openness—including for female visitors and residents. Despite these popular conceptions and narratives, violence against women in Europe—like so many other places in the world—is a keen reality.

Here we address several issues of which women should be mindful—

both at home, and especially while traveling abroad.

A 2014 study from the European Union found that an estimated 17 million women have experienced sexual violence. One in three women in the EU has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15—and one in 20 have been raped since age 15. Women traveling alone face heightened risk. A 2013 United Kingdom Study found that women between the ages of 16 and 19 (age group for students studying abroad) were at a high risk of sexual assault, particularly if they were alone. Rates were also higher for individuals that frequented pubs once a week, while those who visited nightclubs were the most likely to experience sexual violence.

Deeply problematic attitudes toward women can persist virtually anywhere. Europe today is more a cultural and attitudinal “mosaic” than “melting pot.”

As the world becomes “smaller,” more connected, and truly globalized, it is worth remembering that our world is not a melting pot but rather an ethnic, religious, and cultural mosaic. Global mobility and increased migration is not necessarily followed by cultural and attitudinal assimilation. In today’s day-and-age, people are more mobile than ever. As an example, in Europe both legal and illegal immigration brings droves of people to the Continent in hopes of a better life. The 2015 United Nations International Migration report found that high-income European countries, like Germany, receive some of the highest numbers of migrants and refugees in the world. More than 76 million migrants live in Europe today, with 81% of these migrants relocating to high-income countries.

Migration patterns impacting Europe, stem from a variety of countries—including some with horrific safety records toward women and longstanding patterns of human rights abuses.

While immigrants contribute positively and significantly to society in many ways, including

economically, their presence also creates cultural and attitudinal complexity—which has both positive and potentially negative effects. It is critical to remember that, in some not-so-distant corners of the world, women and men are not even allowed to interact with one another; women are subjugated to customs that mutilate their bodies; death can be a consequent of shame; rape is common; and prosecution of perpetrators is weak.

All women should take into consideration the powerful and shocking research from the WomanStats Project, which finds that women lack (or have low levels of) physical security in the vast majority of countries in the world. While women tend to have moderate to fairly high levels of physical security throughout most of Europe, countries will continue to be impacted by immigrants originating from countries where women lack physical security. [See map below.]

physical security of women

As people migrate, they carry with them a set of perspectives, beliefs, values, and experiences that do not immediately change once they settle into a new country that will become their home. One would expect this to be true in societies where migrants settle in culturally isolated enclaves or ex-pat communities and continue to follow their distinct cultural practices, attitudes, and foundational belief systems. European nations are not homogenous entities with consistent cultures, attitudes, and values. Instead, they play host to a variety of cultures, religions, attitudinal clusters, and ethnic enclaves.

American women travel the world confidently, and empowered by the equality, legal protections, and societal norms they have grown accustomed to at home. But preparing for global travel requires more than a plane ticket and a dream. In many countries around the world, little progress has been made when it comes to human rights and gender equality. Risks and threats to women around the world—and the harmful attitudes and behaviors behind them—can impact women everywhere. Travelers are wise to invest in a pre-trip security assessment that includes local attitudes toward women, and local laws as they pertain to protecting female victims of assault. Furthermore, all travelers (and particularly women) should remain cautious at all times while traveling—even to major European destinations with values and laws similar to the US. The fact is that we live in a globalized yet unassimilated world. Women on the whole (worldwide) are still exceedingly vulnerable to rape and assault; and this vulnerability threatens women everywhere.

Understanding where women’s safety and security lies comes with knowledge of customs and culture. Female travelers’ safety depends on what they know, and how to use their knowledge as they navigate the world.

Carrie Knori Pasquarello CEO of Global Secure Resources Inc. an International Corporation dedicated to risk mitigation and threat assessment planning. She has spent more than a decade in a Diplomatic capacity working and living abroad in Europe and Asia. Served with the US Department of State. Trained victim advocate in trauma, recovery and crisis counseling.


Global Secure Resources Inc.



Jennifer Surface is Founder and Principal of Vantage Intelligence – providing risk consulting, investigative services, and international threat and cultural intelligence analysis for global travelers. She is a former US Government Intelligence Analyst, holding a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Yale University, and a Master of Science of Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University.


Vantage Intelligence


Women Deserve Better Than Just Economic Empowerment

June 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Let me share with you the story of my mother. My mother is a transaction specialist for the World Bank, but she didn’t start out in that position and not much in her life story will suggest that she will end up where she is right now. Once upon a time, she was born on a coffee farm in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. She was the fifth child of a coffee farmer who had only completed his elementary education and of a homemaker whose education level remains a mystery to me to this day. Because of my grandmother’s decision to leave my grandfather when my mother was around 8 years old she and her sisters didn’t go to school for 2 years. In those 2 years, they occasionally worked on the streets selling candy. Luckily they got to move back with my grandfather, who had turned into an alcoholic after losing his family. This lead to him losing a lot of his land, which means his income was reduced. But with the return of his daughters he pulled through and was able to be a good parent to them.

He sent them to school again, but the town they lived on didn’t offer education beyond the primary level so he sent them to a bigger town in the Andes. Because my grandfather knew the none running the school he was able to enroll his daughters for free. Otherwise, all 3 of them attending school wouldn’t have been a possibility. My mother and her sisters finished elementary and secondary school in that town. After that, my mother decided to go to university to become an accountant. She often reminds me that during her student years she only had 2 pairs of pants, 2 t-shirts and one pair of shoes. So I am guessing she had to endure a lot of duress during that time. Higher education is not very affordable in Peru now, and back then it was even less accessible. To pay for her classes she always had to work.

She met my father during this time, because her sister married his uncle. My mother graduated and married my father, whose major was business administration. My dad founded a company and my mom decided to become a homemaker, her lifelong dream. She has said this to me many times, so I can tell you she never had any intention to work after she got married. She had some accounting clients here and there while I was growing up, more as a hobby than anything else. When I started going to school and my brother was in kindergarten she started doing some work for my father so she could for 2 of my cousins’ tuition, because her sister couldn’t. Her whole salary went towards that. However, she would always be home by 3 to help me with my homework and play with my brother. But when I turned 11 my father’s company was going broke so my mom had to find another job. At 45, with 2 kids and a long time out of the labor market outside our family, she went looking for a job. And she got one at the World Bank no less. It was hard for me and my brother for my mom to go back to work. But now I know that without her doing that we would have had to give up our apartment because the mortgage would have been unaffordable. We would have had less and worse health care because her insurance paid for everything. Without it, my brother would still have very crooked teeth and countless other ailments related to his severe allergies like asthma or extreme rashes all over his body.

We were able to see the best doctors in Peru and they helped him. My dad got to have his many surgeries in the best clinics in Lima. We got to stay in our school, even though tuition started rising every year. My cousins got to stay in college and graduate. I am able to study abroad for my bachelor and my masters and my brother probably will too. I am sharing this with you because even though my mom wasn’t part of the target population for a development program she was economically empowered by the World Bank. She took the opportunity and made the life of her nuclear and extended family better by providing us with a quality education and countless other things that not many Peruvians have, much less those with her background. But the thing is my mom was only economically empowered. She providing as much and sometimes more than my father could, was very hard for him to accept and it brought out the worse in him. He was psychologically abusive and controlling. He called her a bad mother for not being at home with us. She had to ask him permission to go on business trips and if her flight on the way back was delayed he would tell her that she didn’t need to come back. Those are only 2 examples of what she had to endure for 12 years since she started working and will probably put up with until she retires in about 4 years.

Empowering women economically deeply changes the gender dynamics, especially if the women are married. But it could also change them with their fathers. And these men can become physically or psychologically abusive. And what kind of message is that to these women’s children or to their younger siblings? We can’t empower women only economically. I don’t even think it’s the first step to empowerment because I believe it only strengthens the idea that paid work is the only valid work. We need to teach women to value themselves before we empower in any way. They need to know that what they do is valuable regardless of what other people might tell them or what role that plays in the economy. By doing this you teach them that their voice matters and once they know that they can choose how they can empower themselves. This may be by speaking up about the working conditions if they already have a paid job, getting a paid job if they please or retaining the control on their own wages instead of giving them up to men. But it might also be becoming an equal partner within the household. In development, you separate the world in countries that need development aid and those who don’t and those who give it. The last 2 categories tend to overlap. But you can’t do that with gender inequality. You can’t separate the world in countries that need to improve their gender relations and those that don’t. You can say that some countries have made more progress than others but that’s it. When I say we need to teach women their value instead of just empowering them economically I don’t just mean women in Africa or Latin America or Asia. I mean all women. Because if you have a career and no children and think your life is incomplete or children and no career and feel frustrated, like some women in the western world tend to feel, then it is obvious that these women don’t know their value. Those who have a career are more than economically empowered, but if they regret not having a family because of that career then they didn’t use their empowerment to change the economy to make it work for them instead of just working for it.

I believe that if they had been taught to value themselves and what they as a contribution to life and the world as a whole instead of just focussing on their contribution to the economy they could change the rules of the game. They could make having a job and a full family life possible just by knowing that their paid job is as valuable as their husbands’ so there is no reason why they should do all the housework or all the care work when they get home. And men should know that what they do, regardless of it’s contribution to the economy is important so that they don’t feel frustrated or become abusive when they see women being more valued by the economy than them. There is no doubt that women achieve great things when they are economically empowered, but they would achieve even greater things if they knew their value all around. There could be a women’s union that would strike until there was paid maternity leave in the USA.

—by CCR

Women in the Media

May 19, 2016 § 1 Comment

2016: The Most Globally Conscious Oscars?

This year’s Oscars Academy Awards may have been the most globally conscious one yet. With Leonardo DiCaprio advocating for the environment and prevention of global warming, to Chris Rock bringing the inequitable treatment of Black Americans to light. Even Vice President Joe Biden attended and spoke about sexual assault and the pressing need to end such tragedy as he introduced Lady Gaga where, during her performance of “Til it Happens to You,” sexual assault survivors stood beside her as she sang, piercingly showing the reality of such injustices. The Oscars got very real. Indeed.

But perhaps the most sobering event of the night was when Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy accepted her Oscar for her film A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness as the Best Documentary Short. Obaid-Chinoy stated in her acceptance speech that “This week [meaning the last week in February] the Pakistani prime minister has said that he will change the law on honour killing after watching this film. That is the power of film” (News Desk, 2016).

And perhaps, she is right. That may be the power of film, of all media. Because before being introduced to WomanStats, the conversations about honor killings—not just in Pakistan but also all over the world—were minimal, if not nonexistent amongst my fellow students, family members, and my entire upbringing. But after her nomination, change felt most vivacious amongst my peers whose sudden interest in tackling honor killings spiked.

Yet, if you consider this: Pakistani Senator Israrullah Zehri, recently guarded the murder of women because honor killings are “a part of our culture…[they are] centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them” (Naqvi & Syed, 2015). How might changing the practice of honor killings occur when within governments, disagreement for their purpose happens?

If in fact Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, does change the law on honor killings, how might that change be practiced? The most recent status of Pakistan’s law on honor killings was when Pakistan’s Senate passed the Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill in 2014. “The previous defence rested on ‘provocation’ — that it was excusable for a person to fly into uncontrollable rage and kill someone. This was justified as an acceptable defence. Now there is a minimum sentence that must be followed, irrespective of what the defence is” (Naqvi & Syed, 2015). The changes the Prime Minister might have with the law may clarify what these acceptable defenses are and what the minimal sentence is.

Just as Obaid-Chinoy sharply and succinctly expressed that “This is what happens when determined women get together,” I would like to add that more can happen when determined women and determined men get together. With the hope that the Prime Minister can enact change amongst their government and their culture, so do I hope that women and men tenaciously try to change the way people think about “normal” aspects of their own society. How might this occur? The media can be and is a phenomenal tool to correct the misinformed ills of all cultures and bridge gaps for fair, equal living. Because when passionate people—women, men, filmmakers, coders, electricians, students, teenagers, and all else—speak, ordinary hopes for fairness can become extraordinary realities.

—by MLFD


Ali, Z. (2012). Girl killed in Pakistani-administered Kashmir acid attack. BBC Urdu, Islamabad. 01 November 2012. Retrieved from

Naqvi, R., Syed, M., (2015). Critical mass: Protecting women’s rights. Dawn. 01 June 2015.

News Desk, (2016). Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s ‘powerful’ Oscar acceptance speech strikes a chord. 29 February 2016. Retrieved from

Why We Need Intersectionality

May 7, 2016 § 2 Comments

What defines you? If you had to choose one category what would it be? Your gender?  Your sexuality? Race? Social class? Nationality? And would this category always hold the same relevance to your identity? As a society, we tend to prioritize. In some situations, we are women first and members of a minority or majority second. In others. it’s the other way around; we are first and foremost Asian, Black, First Nation, Latina or White before we think of ourselves as female. But regardless of the situation we never stop being women, we never stop belonging to our ethnic groups, we are continuously affected by all of these different aspects of our lives, even if they don’t always simultaneously take center stage. They are not compartmentalized, rather than that the categories that we belong to constantly influence each other. In the 80’s Kimberlé Crenshaw, now a law professor at Columbia University, gave a name to this phenomenon that had always been a living reality for so many. She dubbed it intersectionality. Crenshaw was focussing on intersectional discrimination and referring to the case of black women in particular since they are discriminated against because they are black and because they are women. The experience of racial discrimination or prejudice as a black woman is different from the experience of a black male and the experience of sexism is different from that of women belonging to other races. Crenshaw wanted to highlight the multiple avenues through which oppression could occur, be it race or gender, and that these categories are not mutually exclusive. Black women experience a sexualized racism and a racialized sexism that is not analog to the experience of other individuals. This might seem obvious in our current context, but in the past, not much attention was given to this phenomenon because the people experiencing it were kept out of knowledge producing positions for so long and those occupying them were blind to it. This is also an example of intersectional discrimination. Men belonging to minorities and women belonging to the majority had access to positions in higher education before it was socially acceptable and permitted for the women of this minorities.

Over time, the concept was expanded to include social class, sexuality, religion, and ableism. I believe the concept should also include nationality for two reasons. One being that as a person, no matter where in the world you are born, amongst other things, plays a crucial role in whether you are able to develop to your full potential, regardless of your gender. For example, the experience of a person born with a disability is greatly affected by the accessibility of health care in their country. And second because we live in a globalized world where migration is a constant phenomenon. Whether we like it or not certain nationalities are more valued than others, this makes access to citizenship easier for some people. And access to citizenship directly affects one’s opportunities and quality of life. I am a woman born and raised in Latin America. I moved to Germany to go to college when I was 18 and even though my visa clearly stated that I was allowed to work and to earn up to 400€ a month I was not allowed to get a social security number, which meant that I could not obtain a stable job. Legislation since then has changed, I have a German social security number now and can earn up to 450€, but this came years later. At the time, I was strapped for cash and my only option was to take odd jobs or babysit. So I did a little bit of both. I had one babysitting client, a white German woman, in particular that I will never forget. She had a 2-year-old toddler and a 5-month-old baby. She was remodeling her house and hired me to take her son to the park while she overlooked the work of the contractor. One day as I was leaving, I opened the door and another white German woman was standing there. She was a friend of my boss and she was kind of startled to see me going out with the stroller. My boss quickly came to the door and before I could say anything and she introduced me as the nanny from Peru. Her friend smiled at me and let me by. Later when I came back after 3 hours in the park with a sleeping toddler in the stroller I was looking for the house key in my purse and overheard my boss’s friend and my boss talking on the balcony. “But aren’t you worried because of your husband? You know how Latinas are,“ her friend said. I wasn’t sure they were talking about me, so I stayed still and waited for my boss to reply. “My husband will never get to see her. She comes after he leaves and goes before he comes back. I’ve thought this through, she won’t get her hands on him. I only hired her as a nanny because she was the only one that spoke fluent German, I don’t want my son getting confused,“ she said. I was filled with rage. I banged the door loudly as I came inside to alert them to my presence. I carried the toddler to his room and put him in his crib. My boss met me there and asked how it went. I didn’t answer her and politely requested for my payment. After she handed me the money I told her that it was the last time I was going to babysit for her. She looked surprised; until that day we hadn’t had any problems, and I adored her little boy. She asked me why and if I wanted more money. “No,“ I told her, “it’s not about the money, I just need to find a job where I can get my hands on someone else’s husband, you know how we Latinas are“. I watched her grow red and as soon as she opened her mouth to say something I was out the door. I cried on my subway ride to my apartment. I was angry, partly because I didn’t have a job anymore and I really needed the money, but mostly because I felt betrayed by my boss, who I had liked fine until that day. My nationality had worked against me in 2 different ways. First, if my student visa allowed me to get a social security number like it does now I would have had more options to find my next job. Odd jobs wouldn’t have been my only choice in the first place. I was powerless in the situation there was no authority I could turn to because I wasn’t part of the formal economy. And second if I hadn’t been Latina I would not be immediately more sexualized than “plain“ white German women or be considered more exotic and more exciting. My boss let these stereotypes dictate the conditions of my employment. In other words, if I were a white EU-resident I would have access to any job I want, amongst about a million things and the woman I worked for would have been less inclined to think I was going to steal her husband. But that is not the case. And even now that I can partake in the formal economy as an international student, only half f the issue has been resolved because prejudice is not directly addressed by these laws. They don’t help my friend from Ghana who was hired by a catering service but only gets one shift a month while her white co-workers get shifts every weekend. Or my Muslim friend who wears a hijab and is kept in the stock room of the clothing store she works at. But if you ask their employers why that is the case they will come up with any other reason other than their appearance. Discrimination complaints only get taken seriously if you don’t get hired, once you have a job it only gets harder to prove that you are being treated unfairly. Because whoever defined discrimination for these laws thought it only influenced the access to jobs, not how you are treated in them.

This is my experience as a member of a privileged group amongst immigrants and POCs in Germany. How sexism, racial prejudice, and nationality intersect in other social classes, other societies or countries is different and it probably has a deeper impact on people’s lives. We need intersectionality to look at identities, experiences and issues to understand how they relate to the local and global power structures. It allows for a more accurate representation of members of certain groups. Once vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, religion, nationality, transphobia, ableism and more are identified and made visible attempts to change and finding advocates for them become infinitely easier. It also allows us to gain such a deep insight into the workings of a society and its structures. That is why intersectionality should be one of our biggest tools in our attempts to end oppression. Only with an intersectional perspective can we truly attempt to understand the realities of women in other countries and do them justice. The intersectional dimensions of our research topics, the causes we fight for and our daily lives need to be addressed and shared to achieve real change. We need it to identify problems and to conceive inclusive solutions for them, which in turn will lead to a more inclusive society.


Female Photographers in Conflict

April 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

With death rates increasing for reporters and media personnel in conflict areas around the world,[7] there is a need for non-profits and news media outlets, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International News Safety Institute (INSI), to fund training seminars and projects devoted to training international journalists in self-defense, first aid and casualty prevention, and cultural awareness courses. But what about specialty training for female photographers on the frontlines of conflict, who face unique challenges that simply aren’t an issue for males? As female photographers who shoot in conflict areas are becoming more and more of an asset, having access to sensitive subjects and unique cultural accessibility, there must be a discussion of how female war photographers are treated, the gender norms they face, and what standard safety measures are not adequate for women to use in the field.

First of these challenges comes in the form of expectations as a woman and a mother. Some of these women who photograph conflict up close, novice or experienced, are also mothers and many face pushback from male colleagues in the field who say, ‘What are you doing here? This is no place for a woman!”[2] Heidi Levine, an American photographer who has documented the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over 30 years, raised three children in Israel during her career photographing in conflict. She repeatedly thought of herself as a mother, and could not separate that identity from her work in the field. It affected how she related to her subjects and the people she would meet.[1] Being a mother has only helped her understand her subjects at a deeper level.

In 2005, INSI published a two-page brief outlining “recommendations and guidelines”[4] for women reporters, managers, and editors and their in the field operating in conflict with their male counterparts. These recommendations for women include carrying a personal attack alarm, wearing a wedding band, packing a chador or headscarf if going to a Middle Eastern country, or even making sure hair is not wet so as to avoid signaling unintended sexual innuendos.[Ibid, page 1] Interestingly, it is notable that a gendered safety measure, such as donning a burqa, allowed BBC television reporter, John Simpson, to be the first to broadcast from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in 2001. But what about flack jackets and other safety equipment that are not made for women, so they don’t fit correctly and in fact cause more danger? Nevertheless, whether these training methods are able to be an effective safety measure amidst an emerging trend for freelance photographers to take risky, dangerous assignments without much support or experience is yet to be seen, as the deeper issues lie in gendered perceptions of certain topics getting male coverage versus female coverage, and for accessibility of female photographers in the field of conflict.  

According to experienced photographer, Alixandra Fazzina, “[As] staff correspondents and photographers are being pulled out [of conflict areas] because of the dangers, it is left to freelancers to cover without the support or the experience, it’s very worrying.”[8] Female freelancers are drawn to the field for reasons that are no different than men, conflict itself seems to be an equalizer in this regard. BBC chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet states that, “Journalism is defined by the kind of questions we ask and those questions come from our perspective on the world. We each walk into a room, we take notice of different things, we ask different questions. But I know as many men who are interested in the human side of war as I know women who are more interested in the ballistics and the bombs and the aircraft.”[3]  While reasons for pursuing coveted stories in war-torn areas are not different for men and women, other restrictions come into play such as insurance and physical security in the field.

Many freelance photographers do not have adequate pay, nor insurance for safety in the midst of conflict zones.[11]   The gendered component of this issue lies in accessibility of women photographers, freelance or staffed, to document stories in conflict areas, and to acquire insurance which can reach up to $1,000 per month, according to Francesca Borri, an Italian freelance photographer documenting conflict in Syria.[2]   Adding to this is the physical danger of attracting attention by having a male partner in the field. There are both benefits to having a male partner on the frontlines, but also risks for female photographers as they cover sensitive subjects in these regions.

Heidi Levine asserts that, “When you cover conflict you do need someone with you. You need partners who can rescue you if something goes wrong. At the end of the day, you also need someone to talk about your experiences, because it’s horrifying to witness what we do.”[1]   The trouble is, many freelance female photographers do not have partners, nor have access to assignments that are stereotypically assigned to men, such as sports, conflict, and journalism.[9]  However, since assignments amidst conflict often include documenting sensitive subjects, like women, children, and atrocities committed upon these subjects, would women be as successful accessing these sensitive stories if they had a male partner who had been assigned to “protect” her? For experienced photographer of conflict, Stephanie Sinclair[8],  being a women gives her access to stories that her male colleagues don’t have.

So why not encourage females to continue their good and noble work of documenting conflict worldwide by installing specialty safety equipment especially made for women, not equipment that is “traditionally” made for men, such as flack jackets that actually fit well and are not cumbersome? Why not install accountability measures for editorials and news outlets who purchase photos and stories from these photographers? Some outlets such as Christian Science Monitor will not purchase a photo from an inexperienced freelance photographer in a conflict zone because they feel a responsibility throughout the entire distribution process.[11]

These female photographers who are brave and bold enough to go and cover these sensitive and hard subjects through a unique lens, should be adequately trained, have a greater and easier access to insurance, and not be forced into dangerous living situations because of an unregulated market for photos covering conflict. Let’s not forget that while this issue is very real to male freelance photographers as well, the gendered aspect comes into play when women are uniquely able to gain access to women and children’s stories in conflict areas, and safety measures actually attract attention or are ineffective because they are made for men who traditionally take these positions.

—by MPH

Works Cited

[1] Bartlick, Silke, “War Photographer Heidi Levine: ‘I could cover conflicts and make it home for dinner,’” Top Stories: Photography. DW: Made for Minds, June 25, 2015. Paragraph 11.

[2] Borri, Francesca, “Woman’s Work: The Twisted Reality of an Italian Freelancer in Syria,” Archives: Feature, Columbia Journalism Review, July, 1, 2013.

[3] Deller, Hellen, “Women from the Frontline: Life of the War Reporter,” Politics. Daily O, April, 16, 2015.

[4] “Frontline Reporting- Women Working in War Zones: Guidelines for Reporters, Managers & Editors,” Gender. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ): The Global Voice of Journalists, 2005.

[5] IJF Staff, “IFJ Report Highlights High Levels of Gender Discrimination and Violence Against Women in the Media,” News Single View. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ): The Global Voice of Journalists, March, 7, 2016.

[6] “Journalists & Media Staff Killed in 2016,” Casualties. International News Safety Institute (INSI), 2013.

[7] “Killed in 2015,” Data & Research. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 1981.

[8] McVeigh, Tracy, “Women on the Frontline: Female Photojournalists’ Visions of Conflict,” War Reporting: The Observer. The Guardian, May 24, 2014.

[9] Morris, Lee, “[Editorial] Photography: Is It Still a Man’s World?” Contributed Videos. FStoppers, February 26, 2012.

[10] “On This Day: 22 September,” On This Day: 1950-2005. BBC News. Accessed March 12, 2016.

[11] Spinner, Jackie, “Freelance War Photographers: On Their Own in Danger,” American Journalism Review, November 18, 2014.

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