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May 10, 2017

Religious leaders thwart abortion rights in Sierra Leone

By Ngozi Cole | May 4, 2017

For every 100,000 live births in Sierra Leone, 1,360 women die.

According to a 2015 World Health Organization report, Sierra Leone has the worst maternal mortality rate in the world, and complications from unsafe abortion procedures contribute to 10 percent of these deaths. Thanks to a draconian abortion law, women have to procure abortion by any means they can find, and many either die from hemorrhage and sepsis or suffer severely damaging physical and psychological consequences.

Last year, the country came tantalizingly close to reversing this reality, but the effort was thwarted by last-minute interference by conservative religious groups. And the possibility of future reform may be further hindered by the Trump Administration’s global gag rule.

In December 2015, The Safe Abortion bill was passed by a two-thirds majority of the Sierra Leone House of Parliament to replace the archaic 1861 Offenses Against the Person Act. This law, imposed under British rule, criminalizes the procurement and performance of abortion, except in cases where it is necessary to preserve the physical health of the woman. The new bill provided that abortion would be legal during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to the 24th week of pregnancy in instances of high risk to the woman’s health, risk of fetal abnormality, and in cases of rape or incest. More >>

Image description: Naasu Fofanah (center) protests inside parliament in support of safe abortion bill. Photo courtesy of African Women's Development Fund.

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Oprah Winfrey and the Immortal Reach of Henrietta Lacks

By Yanick Rice Lamb | April 25, 2017

Deborah Lacks grew up without her mother, who died when she was only 2 years old. Her longing for details about her mother’s life is a key aspect of the new HBO film The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, with Oprah Winfrey as co-star and an executive producer.

Henrietta Lacks’ life was cut short at age 31 after a debilitating bout with cervical cancer. However, her cells have lived on as a medical gift that keeps on giving—without her knowledge or consent. The film, adapted from Rebecca Skloot’s best-selling book of the same name, depicts the multiplier effect of Lacks’ cells on her family, other African Americans, science, medical ethics, and the birth of the multi-billion-dollar biotech industry.

Lacks’ family described her as loving, lively, and lovely, but they largely kept the bittersweet joys of her short life and the pain of her sudden death hidden deep inside. It’s unclear how she ended up with the name Henrietta, according to Skloot’s book. Born Loretta Pleasant on Aug. 1, 1920, she was the ninth of Eliza Lacks Pleasant and Johnny Pleasant’s 10 children. More >>

Image description: Oprah Winfrey as Henrietta Lacks' daughter Deborah Lacks. Courtesy of HBO.

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‘A fate worse than death itself’: Women seek the remains of loved ones in the former Yugoslavia

By Marija Šajkaš | April 25, 2017

In the languages of the former Yugoslavia “suza” means “tear.” And in the more than 20 years that have passed since the end of the wars that dismantled the country in the 1990s, it seems that there is one, very last tear that many mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters cannot shed until the mortal remains of their closest kin are found, identified, and properly buried. Despite the decades that have passed, there are some 10,700 individuals still unaccounted for, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“There is a fate worse than death itself: that of not knowing the final resting place of your loved one,” said Dragana Djukic, president of an organization called Suza, which assists families of missing and deceased people from Serbia.

Some of the most affected and underreported victims of the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia (1991-1995 and again in 1999) are, by the nature of war, mostly women whose loved ones are still missing. Remains are likely to be found in mass graves, based on earlier findings. However, until a death is confirmed, many women spend their days in waiting, alternating between a slim hope that their missing relative will return home and the hope that there will be a positive identification of their mortal remains. For many years, these women have not been able to go on with their lives. They have not been able to marry again, move to a new place. Even planning a future has felt like betraying their missing relatives. More >>

Image description:Volunteers assist the Bosnian Institute for Missing Persons’ search for remains at Lake Perucac, on the Bosnia/Serbia border, in 2010. (Velija Hasanbegovic)

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"Pretty" is a dangerous word

By Gabby Catalano | May 10, 2017

Our society very clearly communicates that pretty is everything. Pretty is skipping breakfast. Pretty is counting calories. Pretty is losing weight (and not gaining it back). Pretty is being told by friends that “you look so skinny.”

I know the sting of pretty. My body dissatisfaction and extreme dieting started at the age of 10, when my friend’s mom told me that I shouldn’t wear sweatpants because they made my thighs look large. As a fourth grader, I equated “large” to fat, ugly, and “unpretty.” From then on, whether it was trying on a smaller dress than I knew I could fit into, adding filters to my Instagram photos, constantly weighing myself, or comparing my body to my peers, I always found myself questioning my appearance and wondering, “How come I’m not pretty?”

When I turned 18, I dropped 30 pounds in four months. I did so by maintaining a strict vegan diet, which left me protein deficient, anemic, and Vitamin D deficient. I went to the gym six times a week; my muscles constantly ached from my hour-long treadmill runs. Tumblr and Instagram offered instant gratification every time I posted a picture of my daily food intake or a gym selfie. While on my vegan diet, I tried to convey my pretty self online by posting pictures of my gym workouts, my superfood smoothies, and my food prep pictures. The link between a “like” or follow and feeling popular became blurred and further encouraged me to post even more.

This “lifestyle” physically and mentally drained me almost to the point of death. This extreme dieting made me lose weight fast, but I was also suffering from mental illness: I was depressed and suffering from a body image disorder. More >>

Image description: Back of a girl's head, her hair is in a top knot, as she looks into the distance. Trees line the background of the scene.

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Why I chose a women’s college

By Julie Graves | May 8, 2017

On May 1st, I signed my life away to the college where I will spend the next four years of my life. When I nervously pressed “submit” on the acceptance form a few days ago, I expected a grand display of fireworks, or at least some sign that I had made the “right” choice. Instead, I found my mom was still hovering over my shoulder and little else had changed.

Perhaps I expected that finally making this decision would feel more satisfying since the process leading up to it was so challenging. After receiving 17 acceptance letters and another notifying me that I had made it on the wait list, I narrowed down my options to two schools: Rice University, a top-20 nationally ranked research university in my home state, and Smith College, a progressive, women’s college in Massachusetts.

I struggled to make the decision between Smith, which felt like the best fit for me, and the more “prestigious” college (Rice ranks higher than Smith on most college rankings). I felt like my friends, family, and classmates expected me to go to Rice, but I couldn’t shake the reality that the minute I had stepped on Smith’s campus, I felt a sense of home I had never felt before. More >>

Image description: Smith College

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Stop blaming women for men's violence

By Kayleigh Bolingbroke | May 5, 2017

Last month, thousands of people watched as a man recorded a live Facebook video of himself shooting 74-year-old Robert Goodwin Sr. The shooter, who has since been identified as Steve Stephens, claimed to have already killed 13 people, asserting that he “just snapped.” Before killing Goodwin Sr., Stephens forced his victim to say a name directly to the camera in the since-removed Facebook video: Joy Lane. He told his victim of the woman, who was later confirmed to have been in a relationship with Stephens, “She’s the reason why this is about to happen to you.”

Before this horrifying, now infamous, livestream, Stephens had posted another video aimed directly at Lane herself. “I’m killing mother****rs because of this b***h,” he said. “She’s putting me at my pushing point … Today is the Easter Day Joy Lane massacre.” He said that he wouldn’t stop until she called him. Lane made the decision not to call.

When the details of this latter video became public, some asked why Joy Lane didn’t “just call Steve Stephens.” Stephens’ mother, Maggie Green, confirmed to CNN that Stephens was on the rampage because he was “mad with his girlfriend.” It seemed, at this point, the crime a man decided to commit was being pinned on his girlfriend, who was not present, not, as she told Time, sure “as to why [Stephens] was committing such violence.”

Blaming Lane for Stephens’ horrific behavior is evidence of a much deeper problem: our tendency to blame women for the crimes that happen to them as well as to other people. More >>

Image description: Joy Lane on CNN

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How one formerly incarcerated youth is taking on the system

By Kadin Burnett | May 5, 2017

Hernan Carvente was born into an unstable home environment, rife with alcohol and domestic abuse and devoid of any resources that could help him and his family escape these cycles of violence. Carvente was drinking by the age of eight, gang affiliated by 13, and just 16 years old when he was convicted of a violent crime that resulted in four years of incarceration in a maximum-security juvenile facility.

Hernan, like most youths in juvenile detention, had to rely on the facility itself for rehabilitation—a service that would supposedly present the opportunity for incarcerated teens to find the tools and take the measures necessary to remedy the trajectory of their lives. But Brookwood Detention Center, two hours north of New York City, didn’t facilitate an environment for development.

In the facility, Carvente and his incarcerated peers were deprived of “adequate mental health services, a quality secondary education program, and pro-social opportunities,” he told MTV News’s Julie Zeilinger in an interview. Chief among the facility’s deficiencies was the fact that it was over two hours away from Carvente’s family and community, which isolated him from his loved ones, as well as the prospective education and work opportunities that would be available to him upon release. The program mostly reiterated the patterns that led youth to get locked up in the first place, in perpetuity. Essentially, Carvente’s stint in juvenile detention was an exercise in trying to dry mud with water: You can’t remedy an issue by applying the same issues that created it. More >>

Image description: Hernan Carvente

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The power of sisterhood

By Angela Liu | April 26, 2017

Since I began to swim competitively at the age of eight, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t competing against other women. I competed against the other girls to be better, faster, and stronger. For years, I’ve spent practices challenging myself to swim faster than the other girls in my lane and, at swim meets, lined up behind the starting blocks alongside seven other girls, each more determined and laser-focused than the next.

Yet while my female teammates have been some of my fiercest competitors, they’ve also been some of my best friends. Through the grueling sets of laps, early morning practices, and championship races, my female teammates have undoubtedly been my strongest sources of support. After a bad race at a meet, I could always count on my teammates to cheer me up. After a great one, they were who I was most excited to celebrate with. Though we may have competed against each other for a place in the championship finals or a spot on the travel team, the competition between us was never about pushing each other down in order to succeed ourselves, but pushing each other to be better.

When I hit middle school, then high school, though, I realized that competing against my female peers was increasingly less simple than trying to finish with the fastest time in the 200 freestyle. In the “real world,” outside the four walls of my favorite swimming center, women were not always encouraged to support each other in the way that my teammates and I did. More >>

Image description: Four girls walking together while holding notebooks.

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Loryn Brantz on why the world needs “Feminist Baby”

By Kayleigh Bolingbroke | April 24, 2017

Although we’ve made undeniable progress over the years, debunking the negative stereotypes that still surround the word “feminism” is important, to say the least. And the earlier on we can do this, the better—which is exactly what Loryn Brantz aims to do with her third children’s book, Feminist Baby.

Feminist Baby felt like it had been a long time coming,” Brantz, who lives in New York City and is also a senior writer on staff at Buzzfeed, told me in an email. “From as far back as I can remember, I’ve been trying think of a children’s story I could tell that would positively impact the world. … I wanted to write a book that I would want to give to my friends’ babies, and to my own possible future babies.” The specific idea for this book, though, hit Brantz when she was looking for a baby book related to feminism to buy for a friend’s shower; she was so inspired she “literally ran home to write it,” she said. More >>

Image description: Book cover of "feminist Baby" (Credit: Loryn Brantz)

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The sexism of summer internships

By Chloe H | April 21, 2017

Almost every college student I know seems aware they should have at least one internship under their belt before graduating. So, as a current sophomore at UC Berkeley, I also started diligently applying for summer internships in February. I see an internship as a way to gain valuable work experience, make professional connections, and build my resume. Unfortunately, the quest to find a Bay Area internship has been incredibly stressful and disheartening—and has highlighted challenges that I will soon face as a young woman entering the workforce.

For a month, I spent hours scrolling through postings on Handshake (UC Berkeley’s platform for professional recruitment), LinkedIn, and Google. I scoured for internships I found interesting, for which I was qualified, and that were paid. The more time I spent applying, however, the more pessimistic I felt about my prospects in the job market. I soon became painfully aware of my limited technical skills: I do not know Java Script, basic HTML, or how to code, which limited my options. The internships I did seem qualified for included time-consuming application processes which also felt futile in light of the competition I knew I was facing. What’s more, out of the twenty-odd internships I applied to, only two offered paid compensation.

When I finally landed an internship with a nonprofit law firm in San Francisco, I was thrilled. However, my satisfaction quickly dissipated when I realized that while I would be working a full day—9 to 5—and commuting every day from Berkeley to San Francisco, I would be doing so for free. More >>

Image description: Man and women sit next to each other in a classroom. The man looks as if he's leaning over to tell the women something. 

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WMC Live #207: Stacy Bannerman, Donna Seaman. (Original Airdate 5/7/2017)

Robin on FBI director Comey testifying to the Senate, a new Saudi women's uprising, immigration history, and Trumpcare. Guests: Stacy Bannerman on endangered veterans' wives; Donna Seaman's book Identity Unknown about "disappeared" women artists. Listen here >>

 

WMC Live #206: Alicia Ostriker, Liesl Olson. (Original Airdate 4/30/2017)

Robin blasts Democrats' "Unity" and celebrates Poetry Month. Guests: Liesl Olson unearths women who made U.S. poetry vibrant and inclusive through a century of Poetry magazine; poet Alicia Ostriker reads work with immigrant themes from her new book. Listen here >>

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This week WMC SheSource features experts on James Comey being fired by President Trump, Sally Yates’ testimony about Michael Flynn’s firing, the FCC being urged to not kill net neutrality, Donald Trump’s debate on whether to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Moon Jae In winning the South Korean election, and the Trump administration’s decision to arm Syrian Kurds to fight ISIS.

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The views expressed in this commentary are those of the authors alone and do not represent WMC.

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