Happy International Women’s Day!


Today I am proud to be a woman. Today I am proud of what women have accomplished, and what we are accomplishing every moment. Today I am proud to be fighting for women’s rights, for gender equality, for an end to gender-based violence, for every woman’s right to succeed in every aspect of her life, for every woman’s right to feel safe and in control of her own body.

Today, let’s take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how far we still have to go. Today, let’s feel empowered. Today, let’s feel inspired. Today, let’s remember what we’re fighting for.

Today, and every day, let’s celebrate women, all women, all around the world.

Happy International Women’s Day, everybody. I hope it’s a great one.


Will 2013 Be a Banner Year For Gender Equality Around the World?


At the end of January, as Hillary Clinton prepared to leave her position as U.S. Secretary of State, she emphasized how crucial expanding women’s rights and equality would be to current and future U.S. foreign policy. The need to focus on gender equality was not only a moral obligation, she explained, but important for international security and stability:

“[I]t’s not a coincidence that virtually every country that threatens regional and global peace is a place where human rights are in peril or the rule of law is weak. More specifically, places where women and girls are treated as second-class, marginal human beings. Just ask young Malala from Pakistan. Ask the women of northern Mali who live in fear and can no longer go to school. Ask the women of the Eastern Congo who endure rape as a weapon of war … [T]he jury is in, the evidence is absolutely indisputable: If women and girls everywhere were treated as equal to men in rights, dignity, and opportunity, we would see political and economic progress everywhere. So this is not only a moral issue, which, of course, it is. It is an economic issue and a security issue, and it is the unfinished business of the 21st century. It therefore must be central to U.S. foreign policy.”

Since Secretary Clinton has left office, the global women’s movement has continued to take off. 2013 appears to be a year that holds promise of substantive changes towards empowering women around the world. However, this promise can only be realized if governments around the world respond to their citizens’ cries for change. Whether or not governments will respond more effectively to gender inequality remains to be seen, but it is clear that citizens are becoming more vocal on the issue.

On February 14, citizens around the world participated in the One Billion Rising movement to end violence against women and girls in what was most likely the largest campaign ever on this topic. As organizers of the campaign explained, “One of every three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends violated.” However, One Billion Rising is more than just a one-time campaign, where participants take part in one day’s worth of events and then return to their normal routines. Rather, using the attention garnered worldwide, the organization and its partners urge that everyday citizens tackle difficult conversations on taboo topics; civil society groups that are affected by violence against women collaborate to procure creative solutions; leaders pay attention and take concrete actions to address discrimination against women in their societies.

Just a few days ago, on February 20, students and faculty of the University of Cape Town (UCT) through their #WeSayEnough campaign took steps to address violence against women and girls in South Africa. The protest march was in response to several tragic incidents involving crimes against women, including the brutal rape and murder of Anene Booysen. At the #WeSayEnough rally, Vice-Chancellor Max Price noted, “Our constitutional right to be safe in our homes and communities is breached hundreds of times every day, particularly for women and girls … In this sense, government [has] failed society.” Aside from criticizing the South African government for its failure to address the issue, the most notable aspect of the UCT protest was that students highlighted the role of males in ending violence against women, and the stakes that men have in the issue. As one student eloquently performs,

“Men, we are slowly losing our women and children; slowly forfeiting the future of our phenomenal nation in aspirations of rape, dominance, and discipline; slowly witnessing the demise of our sons and daughters … blind to the responsibilities of protecting our families … So our sons will inherit the martial arts of how to strike an innocent significant other; so our sons will falsely conclude that the male figure is a ‘breadwinner’ that would justify to trigger his fingers and plates or palms and plant as many arms in the name of domestic violence … Have you heard the cries of our helpless women? Have you heard about their desperation to escape the mayhem, but can’t because father pays the bills and feeds the children? Have you heard about their misfortunes of being manacled in marriage as savage binded to the abuser by a little bundle of joy? Lastly, have you heard that she blames herself for not being able to bare him a boy? These are the realities that confront our modern day international sisters.”

Similarly, thousands of miles away from South Africa, Stanford University students in California will attempt to build a similar movement to that of UCT’s outcry against violence against women and girls. The Stanford Association for International Development (SAID) is hosting the “Gender and International Development: Recentered” conference to address women’s roles in international development. Speakers including USAID Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg, President and CEO of Global Fund for Woman Musimbi Kanyoro, former President of Peru Alejandro Toledo, leader of the Ethiopian Unity for Democracy and Justice Party Birtukan Midekssa, and former head of UN Gender Program in Pakistan and current Director of Mehergarh Fouzia Saeed will be amongst those in attendance to address how the increased participation by women in government, education, entrepreneurship, and justice can increase international peace, security, and prosperity. While the event is not a protest, this year’s annual SAID conference theme is further proof that students are mobilizing on the important issue of gender equality.

However, even as civil society mobilizes against women’s disempowerment and exclusion from everyday societies  which occurs in too many places of today’s world  and citizens demand that 2013 be the year for the change, it is ultimately in the hands of governments and leaders to prioritize and create widespread gender equality.

-Jessica Pham ’13

This blog was originally published on PolicyMic. Check out the original piece here

Meanwhile, at Fox News…

Suzanne Venker is at it again.

For those of you who don’t remember, Venker was the author of a Fox News article back in November entitled ‘The War on Men,” in which her basic thesis was this: while there is nothing wrong with women achieving success in the workplace, they should be careful not to outperform their husbands. Marriage, she emphasizes, should not be a competition. Women should accept the benefits of the “cushier” lifestyle they are naturally inclined to enjoy, while allowing their husbands to provide for them, masculinity unthreatened.

Venker has now published a book, called “How to Choose a Husband and Make Peace with Marriage.” The very title makes me shudder a little bit, but I promise you, it’s even worse than it sounds. As Venker herself explains in another Fox News article, “Its premise is that if women want to be successful in love, they should reject the cultural script they’ve been sold and adopt a whole new view of men and marriage.”

By “a whole new view of marriage,” of course, what Venker really means is the exact same view of marriage that has been forced upon women since the whole institution was created in the first place—that to be “successful in love” is of paramount importance, that it requires women to sacrifice success in other areas of life (Successful careers, perhaps? And God forbid a woman should find some appeal in the idea of maintaining a satisfying, successful sex life outside of marriage), and to make these sacrifices cheerfully, grateful for the opportunity to settle down with a nice, hard-working man who will take care of everything while we keep the house looking nice.

The irony here, then, is that women’s rejection of “the cultural script they’ve been sold” and adoption of “a whole new view of men and marriage” has, to some extent at least, already occurred—and that is exactly what has Venker on the offensive in the first place. She doesn’t want women to move forward towards any kind of “new view.” Instead, she wants us to move backwards—as far back at as fast a pace as we can possibly go.

This is only the beginning. “Young women,” says Venker, “have an added burden: they’ve been raised in a society that eschews marriage. They’ve been taught instead to honor sex, singlehood and female empowerment.”

Sex, singlehood and female empowerment? The triple threat! Young women might as well sell our souls to the devil now.

But okay, even if we buy into her view of the importance, the virtuosity, of abstinence and monogamy, is she really going to try and take down female empowerment?? This is a woman with a highly successful career that literally wouldn’t have been possible just a few decades ago, before this terrible, ugly trend of “female empowerment” began to have some effect on the nation.

Venker goes on to spell out the dangers of modern marriages—or lack there of. First, “women postpone marriage indefinitely and move in and out of intense romantic relationships, or even live with their boyfriends for year at a time” (gasp!). On the rare occasion that marriage does occur, it becomes “a competitive sport.” Now she’s back to this same argument. “Today, husbands and wives are locked in a battle about whom does more on the home front and how they’re going to get everything done. That’s not marriage. That’s war.”

I’m just glad she’s got some solid empirical evidence to back up these wild claims. Oh wait, that’s right. She doesn’t. How many marriages have you seen in which the couple is “locked in a battle about whom does more on the home front”? And no, occasional bickering about whose turn it is to unload the dishwasher doesn’t count. Meanwhile, I can name you all sorts of marriages (my own parents’ included) in which the fact that both members are full-time workers does not lead to competition but rather to a profound sense of mutual respect.

So what exactly is Venker’s point with all this? It’s something along the lines of this: “Being equal in worth, or value, is not the same as being identical, interchangeable beings. Men and women may be capable of doing many of the same things, but that doesn’t mean they want to. That we don’t have more female CEOs or stay-at-home dads proves this in spades.”

Yes, that must be it. The lack of female CEOs is entirely due to their lack of desire to take on such positions when the far more appealing Cult of Domesticity calls out their names. It has nothing to do with, say, the rampant sexism that kept women out of the workforce until the past century or so, and to this day blocks them from ascending to the highest rungs on the corporate ladder.

We all know sexism is still out there, and we all know there are an abundance of people eager to see women returned to what is viewed by many as their proper place. But it’s a sad day when a women—a professional woman, no less—is one of the ones leading the charge against female advancement not only in the workplace but in the social sphere as well.

No, I do not think that being equal in worth is the same thing as being interchangeable. But, apparently unlike Suzanne Venker, I actually do believe men and women are equal in worth. Yes, there are fundamental differences between the sexes (see: reproductive system). But a capacity for work, for wage-earning, for power, authority, or responsibility—these are absolutely not among them.


Thoughts on the situation in India…

As a woman in this world, there are a lot of reasons to be angry. In the United States, despite how far we’ve come in the past century, women are still not treated with equality in so many walks of life.

But I can honestly say that as a woman, as a feminist, and simply as a human being, I have rarely been so disturbed as I was by the story of the gang rape and later death of the young Indian woman in New Delhi last month.

That’s not to say this sort of occurrence is unique—quite the contrary, in fact. Statistics show that in India, a woman is raped approximately every twenty minutes, and horrible acts of violence are committed against women every day all around the globe, including in the United States—we’re just not used to hearing about it.

What makes this story seem so appalling, so inconceivable, is that the facts of it are staring us in the face. Something terrible happened to this young woman and, for once, the world is paying attention.

None of us would hesitate to say that we condemn rape and sexual violence unequivocally. But what about the millions of rapes that go unnoticed, unreported, unopposed?

The one good thing that can be said about this horrible tragedy is that, unlike so many before it, it has gotten a response. The international community has taken notice, and India has been forced to reexamine the kind of culture that could have led to this horrible act, as well as all the ones that came before it but never made it into the public eye.

India has a lot that needs to be addressed in terms of its treatment of women, but it’s hardly alone in that. This tragedy should serve as a reminder of all that still needs to be done. As women, as human beings—we have a lot to keep fighting for.



Followup to the previous post…

In an interview with The Daily Beast, Suzanne Venker, author of the controversial Fox News article “The War on Men,” explained that the critics had it all wrong. She hadn’t meant to suggest that women shouldn’t compete with men in the workforce. What she really meant to say was that wives shouldn’t be competing with their husband. All a man wants to do is provide for his wife — it’s the duty of the wife to put her career and ambitions in the backseat in order to make sure her husband’s masculinity isn’t threatened by her success.

“I didn’t mean that women can’t compete with men in the workforce,” Venker said. “I meant that men don’t want to compete with their wives in marriage.”

You’re right, Ms. Venker. That’s much better.

Her argument is that, in a healthy marriage, the woman can’t be powerful — she must remain “feminine and vulnerable,” and she ought to take take on “that more traditional role as being dependent on a man,” because that is what will make him most comfortable.

Even allowing that women can advance to high-powered positions in the workforce as long as they’re not out-achieving their husbands, her argument is still horrifyingly old-fashioned, and, quite frankly, simply appalling.

She claims it’s important to make sure that a marriage isn’t a “competition.” Well, that’s great if it means both parties are equal, but Venker certainly isn’t arguing for equality between the sexes. Instead, she is advocating that we remove all competition from marriages and replace it with outright subordination.

But this is perfectly acceptable, she says, because in fact this is exactly what women want. They don’t want to waste their lives working — they want to live a “cushier life.” Men, according to Venker, don’t have this option. But women certainly should.

“There is nothing wrong with having different road maps.”

You know what, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I believe that everybody, regardless of gender, should have the option to follow whatever road map they choose. But choose is the important word there, because nobody should ever be expected to follow one particular path in life just because of some ridiculously outdated ideas about gender roles.

See the full article here.