Gender & Human Rights

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Single Mothers Are Not the Problem


No group is as linked to poverty in the American mind as single mothers. For decades, politicians, journalists and scholars have scrutinized the reasons poor couples fail to use contraception, have children out of wedlock and do not marry.

When the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution formed a bipartisan panel of prominent poverty scholars to write a “Consensus Plan for Reducing Poverty” in 2015, its first recommendation was to “promote a new cultural norm surrounding parenthood and marriage.”

The reality, however, is that single motherhood is not the reason we have unusually high poverty in the United States, compared with other rich democracies. In fact, we recently published a study in The American Journal of Sociology, using data from the Luxembourg Income Study, which demonstrates that reducing single motherhood here would not substantially reduce poverty.

Single-mother families are a surprisingly small share of our population. Among households headed by working-age adults, 8.8 percent of people lived in single-mother households in 2013 — the most recent year we were able to analyze. The share of people in single-mother households actually declined from 10.5 percent in 1980 and has increased only modestly since 1970, when it was 7.4 percent. True, compared with other rich democracies, America does have a relatively high portion of families headed by single mothers. Nevertheless, we still fall below Ireland and Britain and are quite similar to Australia and Iceland.

Because fewer people are in single-mother families than you’d think, even large reductions in single motherhood would not substantially reduce poverty. We can illustrate this in two ways. First, what would the poverty rate be if single motherhood in the United States was as common as it is in the typical rich democracy? Second, what would poverty in America be if single motherhood returned to the rate it was in 1970?

If single motherhood in the United States were in the middle of the pack among rich democracies instead of the third highest, poverty among working-age households would be less than 1 percentage point lower — 15.4 percent instead of 16.1 percent. If we returned to the 1970 share of single motherhood, poverty would decline a tiny amount — from 16.1 percent to 15.98. If, magically, there were no single mothers in the United States, the poverty rate would still be 14.8 percent.

What really differentiates rich democracies is the penalty attached to single motherhood. Countries make political choices about how well social policies support single mothers. Our political choices result in families headed by single mothers being 14.3 percent more likely to be poor than other families.

Such a severe penalty is unusual. In a majority of rich democracies, single mothers are not more likely to be poor. Denmark, for example, has chosen to provide universal cash benefits and tax credits for children, publicly subsidized child care and health care, and paid parental leave. Because of these generous social policies, single mothers and their children have a similar level of economic security as other families.

A common knee-jerk reaction against generous social policies for single mothers is that they pose a moral hazard and encourage more single motherhood. The problem with this argument is that it is overwhelmingly contradicted by social science. Did the 1996 welfare reform, which made social policies less generous for single mothers, cause a large reduction in single motherhood? No. Do rich democracies with more generous policies for single mothers have more single mothers? No. Do rich democracies with higher penalties for single motherhood have fewer single mothers? No.

Single motherhood is one of four major risks of poverty, which also include unemployment, low levels of education and forming households at young ages. Our research demonstrates a broader point about the risks of poverty. Poverty in America is not unusually high because more people have more of these risk factors. They are actually less common here than they are in the typical rich democracy, and fewer Americans carry these risks today than they did in 1970 or 1980. Even if one infers that risk factors result from bad choices and behaviors, Americans apparently make fewer such choices and engage in fewer such behaviors than people in other rich democracies or than Americans in the past.

The reality is we have unusually high poverty because we have unusually high penalties for all four of these risk factors. For example, if you lack a high school degree in the United States, it increases the probability of your being in poverty by 16.4 percent. In the 28 other rich democracies, a lack of education increases the probability of poverty by less than 5 percent on average. No other country penalizes the less educated nearly as much as we do.

More generous social policies would reduce the penalty for all four risk factors. In fact, increasing the generosity of American social policies would lower poverty more than increasing high school graduation or employment, and more than decreasing the number of people heading a household at a young age or the number of single mothers. Nor would reducing these penalties encourage people to drop out of high school, be unemployed, form households too young or become single mothers.

Ultimately, there simply aren’t enough single mothers to explain our high poverty. Even if they all married or never had children, poverty would not be substantially lower. We should stop obsessing over how many single mothers there are and stop shaming them.

Instead — even though we all get sick of hearing about how great Scandinavian countries are at handling these issues — we should be following the lead of countries like Denmark. If we did, we could reduce poverty among all American families, including those headed by single mothers. No amount of stigmatization could do the same. Rather than falsely claiming that single motherhood is a major cause of poverty, we should support single mothers in raising America’s children.

David Brady is a sociologist at the University of California, Riverside; Ryan M. Finnigan is a sociologist at the University of California, Davis; and Sabine Hübgen is a research fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.


By            :               David Brady, Ryan M. Finnigan and Sabine Hubgen

Date         :               February 10, 2018

Source     :               The New York Times

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post, Policy | Leave a comment

How the Rohingya crisis is affecting Bangladesh — and why it matters


As of February 2018, the United Nations estimates that almost 1 million Rohingya refugees have fled Burma’s violent campaign of ethnic cleansing. Almost universally, they’ve moved into refugee settlements in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

That is straining Bangladesh, which has absorbed a remarkable number of people in just six months, leading to desperately cramped conditions in the camps. Bangladesh is small, low-lying, under-resourced and overcrowded. And its leaders and citizens are growing impatient with the fallout of Burma’s purge of the Rohingya. Here are five ways this massive number of refugees is straining their host nation.

Political impact

When the military of Burma, also called Myanmar, launched its mass violence campaign in late August 2017, Bangladesh was initially reluctant to open its border to Rohingya refugees. Under international pressure, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quickly relented. Since then, Bangladesh has been unable to organize the international diplomatic support needed to decisively end the crisis.

With China and India both standing behind Burma, and a general election scheduled for later this year, Hasina’s government recently reached a controversial bilateral “arrangement” with authorities in Naypyidaw, Burma’s capital, to repatriate refugees. Dhaka initially insisted that repatriation be completed within two years — but the deal’s terms are ambiguous and impractical. Neither international organizations nor refugees were consulted in devising the plan. Many Rohingya are apprehensive about hasty forced repatriation, and opposition to the plan is growing within and beyond the camps.

Security challenges

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group, whose attacks on Burmese security posts last year triggered the army’s indiscriminate “clearance operations,” has pledged to continue its insurgent campaign against what it calls “Burmese state-sponsored terrorism.” The Bangladeshi security establishment is concerned both that ARSA will try to recruit within camps, and that it will use the camps as a base for cross-border fighting.

Is ARSA linked to other regional or international terrorist organizations? So far, that’s unclear. Shortly before the new year, al-Qaeda in the subcontinent issued a declaration urging Bangladeshi Muslims to mount an armed rebellion in support of the Rohingya. It’s hard to tell whether that resulted from links between the two groups. But extremist networks in Bangladesh and Burma, whether led by hard-line Islamist preachers or radical monks, are gaining influence.

Economic effects

Bangladesh’s GDP per capita is a meager $1,400. However, in 2016 the national economy grew by 7.1 percent, and the country has made remarkable progress toward the Millennium Development Goals. While extensive international humanitarian relief has poured in to support the refugees, that doesn’t cover all the economic costs to the government or to the border region’s Bangladeshi citizens. The influx’s full effect may not be apparent for some time.

The coastal town and beaches of Cox’s Bazar used to be Bangladesh’s main tourist destination; now the area is awash with foreign aid workers. The area’s hoteliers are prospering, and many Bangladeshis have found jobs with humanitarian organizations. But day laborers and poorer locals have complained about price hikes for basic goods and about losing work to refugees willing to accept far lower wages.

 Social strains

The refugees have changed the demographics of Bangladesh’s Ukhia and Teknaf areas, where Rohingya now outnumber locals 2 to 1. Of the approximately 900,000 Rohingya, 73 percent are living in new spontaneous settlements, 13 percent in makeshift settlements, 9 percent among host communities, and 5 percent in formal refugee camps. Kutupalong camp is the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world.

Authorities want to prevent Rohingya from assimilating into the local population. Camps are educating the Rohingya in English and Burmese, but not in Bengali. New refugees are barred from Bangladeshi citizenship through either birth or marriage.

The birthrate among the Rohingya is also much higher than that of Bangladeshis; in 2018 alone, experts expect refugees to give birth to 48,000 babies — who will face severe risks of malnutrition, disease and death. After diphtheria broke out in December, authorities launched a massive vaccination campaign. Although immunization has long been available to Bangladeshis — including in rural areas — public health officials worry that waterborne and other communicable diseases might spread beyond the camps.

Refugees are also at risk for trafficking, including for sex, drugs and labor. Abul Kashem, head of Help Cox’s Bazar — a local nongovernmental organization working to prevent trafficking and raise awareness among youth — warns that organized crime networks are eager to exploit those displaced by the crisis.

Environmental destruction

The environmental impact of 1 million refugees is difficult to overstate. The U.N. Development Program recently released an environmental assessment, identifying 28 risk factors threatening biodiversity and human security. At the peak of the violence, each week some 100,000 Rohingya — mainly women and children — were crossing into Bangladesh. Where they settled, thousands of acres of national forests were cleared. Areas previously inhabited by wild elephants are now barren. The lush, green, hilly landscape has rapidly transformed into flattened stretches of red earth covered in tarp tents as far as the eye can see.

Bangladesh is highly susceptible to climate change. For years the country has been grappling with soil erosion, rising sea levels and frequent natural disasters such as cyclones and floods. Landslides are extremely likely; many worry about what will happen to the refugee settlements when the monsoon season arrives next month. Groundwater sources are quickly being depleted and freshwater streams have become contaminated. Air pollution in Ukhia and Tekfnaf has increased because of smoke from firewood burned by refugees and exhaust from thousands of trucks, jeeps, and cars bringing people and goods into the camps.

The dramatic environmental consequences of this massive migration and will last for years, affecting people who live inland in Bangladesh and beyond.

As the world continues to grapple with large-scale population movements across borders — whether because of conflict or Mother Nature — much deeper, context-specific research on political, economic, social, security and environmental impacts is imperative to helping neighboring countries manage protracted crises in humane and sustainable ways. This is essential to ensuring that refugees do not become scapegoats in host countries like Bangladesh, where frustration among ruling elites and the local population may result in the forced return or further dislocation of the already dispossessed Rohingya.

Mayesha Alam recently returned from conducting research fieldwork in Rohingya refugee settlements in Bangladesh. She is a Soros New American Fellow pursuing her PhD in political science at Yale University and the author of “Women and Transitional Justice” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). 


By            :               Mayesha Alam

Date         :               February 12, 2018

Source     :               The Washington Post


Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Prosecuting ISIS crimes against women and LGBTIQ people would set a crucial precedent


A potentially precedent-setting petition at the International Criminal Court could help human rights advocates and survivors of gender-based crimes in conflict.

In Iraq, including in areas controlled by ISIS, women, girls, LGBTIQ persons, and people perceived as stepping outside of traditional gender roles have been targeted for violence on a staggering scale.

ISIS fighters have tortured women doctors and nurses who have not complied with rigid dress codes, when doing so would interfere with the performance of medical duties. They have executed women who resisted forced marriages, or who served as politicians. Men believed to be gay have been thrown off buildings. Women believed to be lesbians have been threatened with death. ISIS has killed youth because of alternative forms of personal expression, or refusals to join their militia, labeling them “faggots.”

War-time abuses against people who are marginalised within their societies are rarely documented. As a result, such violations are excluded from human rights discourse and from justice processes. In effect, they are left out of history.

For this reason, Iraqi activists, at great personal risk, have been documenting such crimes committed by ISIS but also by Iraqi government forces, and other militias. They have preserved critical information about perpetrators and larger criminal networks. Many have also provided shelter and safe passage to those at imminent risk of sexual slavery or murder.

On 8 November, a historic petition was also filed at the International Criminal Court (ICC), to advance protections of the rights of women and LGBTIQ people during conflict.

This petition was filed jointly by MADRE, the Human Rights and Gender Justice (HRGJ) Clinic of the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, and the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), with assistance from the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. It argues that the international community should prosecute ISIS fighters for gender-based persecution and crimes including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Knowledge of egregious crimes committed against women and perceived or actual LGBTIQ persons, for transgressing gender norms during an armed conflict, is not new. But this is the first time the world has seen this kind of robust documentation of such crimes. The petition currently before the ICC therefore offers a new opportunity to challenge this type of violence.

At the world’s first international criminal prosecutions in Nuremberg, Germany, rape and sexual slavery of women and torture of LGBTIQ persons were acknowledged but never prosecuted. It was only in the 1990s, with the ICC’s creation, that gender-based forms of violence were first recognised as violations of international law.

At the time, women’s rights advocates lobbied drafters of the Rome Statute that governs the ICC to abandon the “outrages to personal dignity” language to describe sexual violence. They succeeded in broadening the category of sexual violence to include not only rape, but also other forms including sexual slavery and forced prostitution, pregnancy, and sterilisation.

These advocates also succeeded in substituting the word “gender” for “sex” in the Rome Statute. This is one of the most important safeguards for gender justice under international criminal law, and a major achievement of global women’s movements in the 1990s. Yet, since then, the full understanding of “gender” under the statute has not been applied.

ISIS’s atrocities meanwhile come at a time when the rights of women and of LGBTIQ people are under threat globally.

Last year, right-wing conservatives curtailed women’s and LGBTIQ rights in Colombia’s peace accords. In 2016, conservative states at the United Nations’ General Assembly sought to revoke the mandate of the first independent UN expert on sexual orientation and gender identity. In countries around the world, rights to gender expression are being rolled back.

With the help of MADRE and UN Women, CUNY Law School convened an experts meeting in 2017 on LGBTIQ rights and international criminal law. Together these experts honed the strategy for the petition to the ICC and for ensuring the safety and security of those involved, including Iraqi groups named in the petition.

Activists also held a series of consultations with Iraqi women’s organisations. For safety reasons, the decision was taken not to translate the submission into Arabic and several supporting groups decided to leave their names off it.

OWFI, CUNY Law Scool’s HRGJ Clinic, and MADRE are seizing this moment in history to broaden the discourse on gender. The ICC petition could change the landscape of international criminal law, highlighting but also redressing the long-standing targeting of civilians based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity in war and conflict.

Appropriate action by the international court would set a new precedent for prosecuting gender-based crimes and create a new tool for human rights advocates worldwide. We continue to update the ICC on the situation in Iraq and are working with a team of international experts on the follow up to the petition. We are awaiting their response.

Lisa Davis is Human Rights Advocacy Director at MADRE, and Clinical Law Professor at CUNY Law School. She provides litigation and advocacy services for women’s human rights organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Follow her on twitter @lisadavisnyc



By            :               Lisa Davis

Date         :               February 1, 2018

Source     :               Open Democracy

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

What Iceland can teach the world about gender pay gaps


‘Iceland has made it illegal to pay women less than men!’ crowed headlines in January, to a huge collective cheer and social media high-fives.

But the reality is, in most countries it’s already illegal to pay women less than men. From the Russian Federation to Rwanda, it’s against the law. Most nations (and not just in the workers’ paradise of Scandinavia) have had some form of existing anti-discrimination laws in place for decades.

But speaking in Davos, Switzerland, even a very upbeat Pat Milligan, multinational client group global leader for consultancy Mercer, referenced some frustrating findings from the latest World Economic Forum report.

The results show we’re going backwards on gender parity across health, education, politics and the workplace for the first time since 2006. According to WEF calculations, an average gap of 32% (up from 31.7%) still remains and the reversal is being driven in part by declining gender equality in the workplace. And like many other high-profile employers, the BBC is very much part of this debate. 

The latest radical step from Iceland is that the country is trying to flip the legal situation on its head. What makes the Iceland plan different is that the onus will no longer be on a beleaguered employee to prove they are underpaid – which can involve years of court battle. It’s up to their boss to prove they are paying workers fairly.

But is this really so radical? Could this model be scaled up to a much larger island nation?

“Most countries have equal pay laws: the UK established them in 1970,” says Daphne Romney QC, one of the UK’s leading barristers in equal pay litigation. Over and above that, she says, is the European Union right to equal pay, which gives workers the right to go to civil court or a tribunal.

Although most countries allow workers to take action against employers, the problem is that “it takes years of slog to get it to court, let alone get to the point of compensation.”

“Iceland has made it a criminal offence for employers not to take action on unequal pay. They’ve effectively made it like a health and safety violation,” says Romney, adding there will be a penalty for inaction which will trigger job evaluation schemes.

So why can’t this model be made to work elsewhere?

Bridging the gap

“I think it’s very radical but to be honest I don’t think it would get through [passed in to law] here in the UK. Nothing works. The new UK gender pay gap regulations will only apply to 34% of employees, i.e. firms of more than 250 employees,” Romney says.

Romney is talking about a 2016 UK law requiring all larger firms – around 9,000 companies – to report their pay data. The idea is to get large firms’ pay data out in the open and subject to public scrutiny.

But Romney feels this is as far as it goes: she feels Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative party is opposed to any changes that go further, as they could bring significant costs for the business sector.

If the UK is unlikely to follow Iceland’s lead, are there any other countries looking to try something else?

Professor Sarah Kaplan, director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto, points to another model that predates Icelandic legislation – Canada, which is making strides towards closing the gap.

The policies in Ontario and Quebec, for example, focus on equal pay for equal work (through human rights legislation) and also equal pay for equal value work (through pay equity legislation). In Ontario, the Fair Workplaces Bill 148 includes a raft of new laws; from making provision for workers who suspect that they’re not receiving equal pay to ask for a review to banning employers from forcing staff to wear high-heels.

“This is more advanced than the scope of the Icelandic legislation, which only has the former,” she says. “But Iceland has reporting and fines in place which we don’t have in Canada.” Kaplan says that some of Canada’s laws enforce detailed individual audits of a company’s payment practices, which most companies comply with.

Even in the US, some states, such as Massachusetts, have banned companies asking job candidates about former salaries. That’s something that neither Iceland nor Canada has. “So, it is a patchwork of solutions, none of which can be fully effective without the others. No country or jurisdiction has put in the full suite of practices,” Kaplan says.

Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies the pay gap in different industries and countries, agrees. He says that while Iceland is “at the very edge of reforms” in this space, and that it could be close to breaking real ground in the pay gap problem, it’s unwise to assume that one country’s policies can apply elsewhere.

“However, there are useful lessons to be learned here, including that gender pay equity does not happen by itself.” He feels that the more accountability and transparency, the better: in the UK, for instance, compulsory gender pay audits will help. “Just showing the scale of the problem is an important step.”

Reeves’s own research suggests that the gap will only be narrowed by a fundamental altering not just of organisational practices, but of cultural assumptions about the respective roles of men and women in the workplace and home. “Women continue to ‘juggle’ family and work life, which impacts on their earnings and advancement. Men are not yet doing the same. The revolution we now need is models of masculinity, not just business models.”

The model to follow?

Tiny Iceland, with its population of 336,483, is a heavyweight in gender equality.

It has had the closest gender gap of any country for nine years in a row. And according to European Union data, Iceland is the world leader at including women in the labour force: participation was over 80% in 2017. This ranks Iceland not only at the top of all comparable countries but also puts the nation as the highest of all OECD countries.

Since the 1970s, more and more Icelandic women have entered the workforce and stayed there. This can be attributed to several political decisions, such as a legal right for parents to return to their job after childbirth.

University of Iceland gender studies professor Thorgerdur Einarsdóttir says a strong women’s movement and huge pressure from feminist groups have been behind the political will in Iceland to rapidly introduce a series of radical measures in gender issues, such as paternity leave and gender quotas.

She believes the wider Icelandic culture has also been a significant contributing factor. “There is a historical legacy of strong women [here] who have inspired other women,” she says, mentioning the election of the world’s first democratically-elected female president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, in 1980.

Bringing as many women into the workforce as men would be the equivalent of adding another China and another US to the global economy

She points to other events such as the Women’s Day Off in 1975, a strike when half the country downed tools, this strike was repeated several times. “Maybe also the smallness of the country, close connections, and easy flow of information. It is very easy to mobilise actions where different women’s groups join forces [here].”

And why should anyone care? Because the economic argument for extrapolating this success – albeit with a large caveat that no Icelandic woman believes it’s utopia just yet– is cast iron. More women contributing to the global economy futureproofs against another global recession. As well, bringing as many women into the workforce as men would be the equivalent of adding another China and another US in gross domestic product to the global economy. A “full potential” scenario, in which women play an identical role in labour markets to that of men, could add up to $28 trillion to global annual GDP by 2025, according to McKinsey’s research.

So, while moving to Iceland may not be the answer for everyone, learning a little from the Icelandic model could be an excellent start.


By            :               Angela Henshall

Date         :               February 11, 2018

Source     :               BBC

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Spanish Corporations ‘Violating Human Rights in Latin America’


In its introduction of systematic violations of human rights in Indigenous and campesino communities, the report cites that 300 human rights defenders were murdered last year.

Spanish transnational corporations are generating social conflicts, violating human rights and deepening gender inequality throughout Latin America, warns a new report by environmentalists and women’s rights groups.

The report entitled “IBEX35: At War With Life” was compiled by Environmentalists in Action; the Observatory of Multinationals in Latin America, and the Calala Women’s Fund. In its introduction of systematic violations of human rights in Indigenous and campesino communities, the report cites that last year 300 human rights defenders were murdered.

Of that number, more than 60 percent occurred in Latin America: 70 percent of victims were targeted for protecting land, and 40 percent were Indigenous. The report calls for corporate accountability, pointing out that major firms represent 69 of the 100 most powerful economic entities, overshadowing state governments.

Spanish corporations such as Repsol, ACS, Iberdrola, Gas Natural Fenosa, Acciona and Renovalia were found to be involved threats, harassment, detention, physical aggression and legal intimidation against Indigenous and campesino populations in areas designated for mega-development projects.

One of the case studies presented is the Camisea gas project operated by Spanish oil company Repsol on the territories of seven Indigenous nationalities in the Peruvian Amazon, of which three are in voluntary isolation. The case reveals the complicity of state governments in predatory corporate behaviour.

In Camisea between 2004 and 2012 there were six natural gas spills which polluted land and water bodies, destroying the main sources of food for Indigenous communities. This in turn hampers people’s self-sufficiency, forcing dependent relations with extractive corporations.

The report also raises alarm over the vulnerability of people living in voluntary isolation, especially due to their lack of immunity to many infectious diseases. As an example, the report cites a case from the 1980s when over half of the Nahua population died after contact with loggers.

Another case is the construction of the Renace hydroelectric project by Grupo ACS in Guatemala, which affected over 29,000 people who now have poor access to water and restricted access to land.

Also cited is the construction of a wind power corridor near the city of Oaxaca in Mexico by Spanish companies Iberdrola, Gas Natural Fenosa, Acciona and Renovalia, accused of land grabbing, discrimination, and dumping massive amounts of oils and other waste leading to loss of biodiversity and arable land.

In every case, local populations faced the loss of food sovereignty and autonomy over their resources, and witnessed an aggressive shift in their economic and social structures.

The report concludes such factors disproportionately affect women, who are excluded from decision making, worsening their economic situation as they become dependent on wage labor that largely excludes them. Women also experience more violence due to militarization, the influx of foreign men and rising domestic abuse.


Date         :               February 9, 2018

Source     :               Telesur

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Fit to serve: Data on transgender military service


As of Jan. 1, transgender individuals are allowed to openly enlist and continue serving in the U.S. military without fear of being discharged.

President Donald Trump issued a ban on transgender military service in August 2017. It was struck down by U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall. In December, the Pentagon announced it would allow transgender people to enlist in 2018.

In a strongly worded 76-page opinion, Kollar-Kotelly wrote: “There is absolutely no support for the claim that the ongoing service of transgender people would have any negative effects on the military.”

And she’s right. Since 2014, we have been working with transgender service members and veterans to better understand their experiences. It is part of a large and growing body of scientific research President Trump, and conservatives more broadly, have ignored.

Medical rationale

In the United States, transgender individuals were officially barred from serving in the armed forces starting in the 1960s. The early prohibition was based on a now-outdated psychiatric classification. Until 2013, the American Psychiatric Association classified transgender people as having “gender identity disorder.” This disqualified them for military service, along with anyone else who exhibited a mental disorder.

Since the 1980s, the U.S. armed forces barred service of any person with a “current or history of psychosexual conditions including but not limited to exhibitionism, transsexualism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilia.” However, the view that transgender people have a pathological condition conflates transgender identity with mental illness and distress. It assumes that all transgender people experience gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria relates to distress caused when an individual’s assigned sex at birth is incongruent with their current gender identity or expression. Not all transgender people experience it.

In 2015, the American Medical Association adopted a formal policy stating that there is no medical rationale for excluding transgender people from openly serving in the military.

Serving under a ban

Transgender people have long served in the armed forces. The Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California in Los Angeles, estimates that roughly 134,000 transgender Americans hold veteran status.

About 15,000 transgender people are currently serving across all branches of the U.S. armed forces, including the National Guard and Reserve forces. The vast majority have served under the transgender ban.

In our research, we have found that transgender service members have had to conceal their identities. In fact, among transgender service members surveyed under the transgender military ban, only 16.2 percent reported being “out” as transgender to friends within their military unit. Only 5.6 percent were out to their commanding officer.

This was in stark contrast to the personal lives of service members where the majority of those surveyed reported being out to immediate family members (72.2 percent) and nonmilitary friends (69.4 percent). This has limited their access to support services and health care, and made it difficult to gain institutional recognition.

Our findings also suggest that transgender individuals enlist for many of the same reasons as cisgender men and women, those whose assigned sex at birth corresponds with their gender identity. Transgender people are motivated by educational goals, career aspirations, travel, family history, patriotism and stability. Transgender service members also report few mental or physical health issues that would limit them from meeting fitness criteria.

Research conducted by the nonprofit RAND National Defense Research Institute has found similar evidence. RAND was commissioned by the government to conduct a wide-ranging external study to assess the impact of transgender service.

RAND reported that the Departments of Defense Homeland Security would incur only small increases in annual health care cost, estimated between US$2.4 million to $8.4 million, representing only .04 to .13 percent of the budget. That is in direct contrast to President Trump’s justification for the ban, as he cited “tremendous medical costs.” Further, the report observed that transgender service has minimal impact on unit readiness and cohesion. And, it recommended that military fitness policies align with contemporary medical standards.

Impact of a military ban

President Trump’s memorandum referenced inaccurate information. Further, the administration’s effort undermines several rigorous scientific studies and peer-reviewed publications, the expert opinions of military leaders and officers, and the medical recommendations of our nation’s leading professional organizations.

Most concerning, however, is that the current commander-in-chief discredits the service and sacrifices of tens of thousands of transgender veterans and service members. They have served and will continue to proudly serve our country despite persistent injustice and inequality.


By : Brandon Hill and Joshua Trey Barnett
Date : January 9, 2018
Source : The Conversation

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Women and the city: reclaiming the streets to impose equal rights


In Argentina, “a woman is killed every 30 hours”, reports Telam, the country’s official news agency, based on a report of the Observatorio de Femicidios Marisel Zambrano from the NGO La Casa del Encuentro.

From July 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016, 275 women had been killed. The violence that takes place in cities goes beyond robbery and assault, the gang that controls the corner, the abuses, the drug ring that terrorises the neighbourhood or the illegitimate use of force by diverse actors.

Violence is also hunger, a lack of basic services, and an unjust legal system. And it is discrimination based on ethnicity, birthplace, sexual orientation and age.

Urban design is for white young productive men

Women are the omitted subjects in much urban design and planning. As Saskia Sassen expressed in a 2016 article:

“Urban planning is not gender neutral. While there has long been research on how urban systems fail to respond to women’s needs, it was only a decade ago that the subject surged. Since then, countless cities have been host to initiatives addressing a version of the ‘urban-planning gender gap’.”

Much research and theory is now focusing on gender and cities, bringing light to these omissions and to the subordinate situations of women in cities.

Gender is here used as an analytical category useful for highlighting the asymmetries between men and women. Society is not binary therefore it is equally concerns LGTBI population, youth, ethnicities, others.

Even as change is happening, many women experience the city differently than men. Women combine productive work with family duties, fragmenting the use of time and space. During daylight hours, public spaces are more likely to be used by women, spending time in nearby parks, with children, disabled and/or senior citizens. And yet, those spaces are mainly designed for men’s needs. Urban design and planning, particularly since Modernism, has answered to a universal citizen: white young productive men.

Millions of women and girls experience violence as a kind of pandemic, natural, invisible and justified. Only recently has it been seen as resulting from patriarchal conditions where ideology and culture hide symbolic dominance and economic exploitation.

A simple street light can reduce violence

This recognition has produced diverse initiatives. For instance, the Safe Cities for Women Campaign developed in Brazil by Action Aid for the municipality of Garanhuns, located in the state of Pernambuco, launched a plan of public policies for women’s safety.

It includes strengthening the focus on women in special courts of justice, police stations, police training, improvement in public transport, investment in street lights, training on gender and violence against women in schools, and more. Renata, a transsexual woman, political leader in Garanhuns and an active member of the Women’s Forum of Pernambuco,  reports on the positive actions taken by the city, including how a simple investment in street lighting is reducing violence.

Denying women’s work

If our understanding of cities and potential policy reforms are to enhance social progress, we must revisit urban planning from a gender-based perspective. The use of time and space should be central to gendered planning.

Mothers use time in fragments – domestic tasks, school and health care each gets its own slice of time.

Women’s responsibilities as family careers are not recognized at the workplace and thereby their economic contribution to both reproductive and productive work is rendered invisible. Ana Falú takes this analysis further by underlining the significance of both kinds of omission: it is the central factor organizing urban space in ways that build obstacles for women.

As social sciences professor Silvia Federici points out:

“We must admit that capital has been very successful in hiding our work. It has created a true masterpiece at the expense of women. By denying housework a wage and transforming it into an act of love, capital has killed many birds with one stone.”

Surveys and analyses of time use and time budgeting in diverse cities highlight on the invisible unremunerated contributions of women to society, estimated around the 20-30% of the GDP of cities.

This is not new. Jane Jacobs taught us in 1961 about the significance of the proximity of basic services and infrastructures for women in particular.

Gaps in knowledge about omitted subjects are part of a larger epistemological question central to systemic inequality and its reproduction. Debates surrounding compact versus diffused cities, or the impact of new, urban spatial fragmentation must address specific identity-based exclusions.

Growth trends tend to be associated with women’s social progress. And yet even though women at all levels of education are better qualified than men, they earn less and much search longer for work. The majority of women work in the low-end service sector.

Assessing the informal sector

A paradox persists: The more women work, the poorer they are. For instance, in the Latin

America and the Caribbean region, female participation in the work force increased by 21% between 2002 and 2012, totalling over 100 million women.

In this period, the region registered significant economic growth and a decrease in poverty, but not among women. In 2002, there were 109 poor women for every 100 poor men; in 2012 the ratio rose to 118.

These trends point to a disjuncture between economic growth and overall social progress, a pattern not unique to this region. Women constitute the majority of the low-paid service sector.

And in Latin America, 71% of domestic workers are women, most of whom are indigenous and/or black. Further, poor women have high fertility rates, having twice as many children than rich women. Accessing sexual, health and reproductive rights is severely limited due to low social and economic status.

The patterns in Latin America are evident throughout the world. Data on the informal sector in India shows that home-based workers, numbering 23.5 million, are mostly women. In the South Asian context, women’s work place is often determined by social and cultural constraints on mobility. As a result, home-based work is the one or only possible option for women to secure an income. As in Latin America, this pattern is unlikely to change even in times of robust development, such as India saw over the past two decades.

Taking risks to build citizenship

In addition to space and income considerations for social progress, it is central to consider the intangible dimension of violence suffered by women in private and public spaces, just because they are women. The persistence of male violence on the bodies of women to discipline them, is one of the most universal human-rights violations in the world.

Diverse instruments have been adopted across the world: laws, protocols, participatory planning and gender budgeting. But progress is slow, as with all policy, political will and adequate resourcing are key to achieve impact.

Reports on violence in cities find reports that 60% of women feel unsafe in urban spaces. Criminality and threats limit women´s freedom of movement. Women are poor in rights: political participation, autonomy, equal access to work, infrastructure, transportation and security all are marked by limited recognition of women’s rights.

Women can become invisible subjects in a context where the city is a political territory for making citizenship. That is why women often have to build their citizenship by taking risks. While this risk-taking builds confidence in terms of advocacy, it nonetheless requires significant economic, cultural and symbolic resources.


This post belongs to a series of contributions coming from the International Panel on Social Progress, a global academic initiative of more than 300 scholars from all social sciences and the humanities who prepare a report on the perspectives for social progress in the 21st Century. In partnership with The Conversation, the posts offer a glimpse of the contents of the report and of the authors’ research.


By : Ana Falu & Saskia Sassen
Date : December 15, 2017
Source : The Conversation

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Human rights and Myanmar’s digital gender divide


Female activists preaching a message of tolerance online are finding that they too are becoming a target.

THE ARRIVAL of affordable Internet access in Myanmar has revealed – and possibly exacerbated – divisions within society around contentious issues. Where military censorship once kept voices in check, now everyone has the ability to speak out.

Human rights defenders have found themselves in new territory, broaching taboo topics online and defending those who are coming under sustained attack.

“I have been forced to ask myself, ‘Do I really want to be a humanitarian?’” said Ma Thin Thin Aung, a young Ta’ang activist.

She’s been exceptionally vocal in condemning hateful language on her Facebook feed, particularly in regard to the flight of refugees from Rakhine State.

“We can’t draw conclusions about people from what they share but I’ve never seen so much hate speech online in my life,” she said.

She argues that sustained media coverage on Rakhine State and international criticism of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has intensified nationalist sentiment and hateful comments online.

Ma Maynadi, a young activist who works as an ethnographer at Koe Koe Tech in Yangon, said there is still a reluctance to discuss human rights on Facebook “because not many people understand what they are”.

“Some people in Burma associate the term ‘human rights’ as an imperialist tool which is very sad when [they] should be respected and practised at every level,” she said.

On September 25, she addressed her friends and followers in a public post that called out the “hateful and racist” comments by “narrow-minded ultranationalists”.

But Maynadi also criticised what she described as the “mainstream media’s black and white approach” and called for more balanced reporting on politically charged topics such as the conflict in Rakhine State.

“In international media, all of Burma is labeled as racist. Perspective and context is missing as outlets demonise Burma as a whole. The news media uses divisive categories portraying majority versus minority,” she said.

Fact vs fiction

Internet access was largely the preserve of the elite until 2014, when foreign mobile operators Telenor and Ooredoo broke the monopoly of state-run Myanmar Post and Telecommunications.

In a short space of time, millions have gone from having no access to the Internet and independent media to being barraged by a constant stream of information on Facebook. Sorting fact from fiction is a challenge that many are ill equipped to navigate.

“We lived under a dictatorship for 70 years so of course, now that the country has opened up online spaces, it’s easy to brainwash especially with a lack of education and critical thinking skills,” Maynadi said. “We’ve had no exposure to outside influences.”

Thin Thin Aung noted that some of her friends on Facebook were taking sides on controversial issues even though they had little knowledge about the particular topic.

“My friends are sharing posts from [social media] with little context but the accounts they’re sharing from have a lot of followers,” she said. “This has the potential to influence people in the wrong way – especially when they’re so easy to convince.”

Women’s rights

There are many other human rights issues in Myanmar that have not generated the same headlines as Rakhine State but are still difficult to broach online.

Several women’s rights activists said they had been challenged when sharing information related to sexual and reproductive health education, for example.

Ma Zin Mar Phyo from the Chiang Mai-based Burmese Women’s Union said some men on her Facebook feed have a difficult time accepting dialogue on gender discourse.

“Men and women talk about gender equality differently,” she said. “They see us living in a cup. Men want to see us stay in the cup confined to domestic duties without being able to climb out and escape.”

The narrative on gender equality is highly contested; many government officials, legislators, academics and activists assert that women’s inequality is a myth. Many studies suggest the exact opposite, however. A detailed 2015 report from the Gender Equality Network, Raising the Curtain, examined how cultural and social practices in Myanmar have had different impacts on men and women throughout their lives.

Discussing women’s rights is still not culturally acceptable in some circumstances. Some – particularly older people – see it as challenging traditional norms.

Zin Mar Phyo said men often view women’s rights as separate to other fundamental rights.

“If women talk about human rights, men disagree with posts specifically related to gender and women’s rights.”

Daw Phyu Sin, formerly with women’s rights group Akhaya Women, said men often challenge posts calling for women to have access to equal opportunities.

“Most of the men on my Facebook feed disagree with women’s rights advancement but seem to agree on the topic of labor rights and basic citizen rights,” she said.

The women activists are unwavering in their positions on human rights. They’ve been the subject of personal attacks from people disagree with their platforms – even close friends and family.

Ma Thin Thin Aung noted that social media was also a powerful tool to educate and encourage discourse, and she hoped that in future it could become a force for social good.

“I share because I feel that I have a responsibility to – especially as a young, ethnic Shan woman impacted by conflict,” she said.


By : Maggi Quadrini
Date : December 27, 2017
Source : Frontier Myanmar

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Internet, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Masculinity Threat; The sociological explanation for why men in America turn to gun violence


In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting that killed a staggering 58 people and injured roughly 500 others, the Trump administration has tried to steer Americans away from political debate. “There’s a time and place for political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a press briefing following the tragedy.

But while it is important to collectively mourn those lost to senseless violence, it is equally important to understand that mass shootings are not isolated events in American society. Mass shootings are still relatively rare in the US, but occur much more often here than in other countries. There are far too many to consider them random, unpreventable acts of violence committed by a deranged individual.

A great deal of commentary attempts to tie mass shootings to a single issue. Often, that seems like the easiest way to make sense of atrocities. That’s why we get sound bites that lean on mental health (when shooters are white), terrorist ties and affiliations (when shooters are brown), gang violence and “urban decay” (when shooters are black), bullying (when it happens in a school), and overwork (when it happens in a workplace).

The truth cannot be boiled down to any single issue. As sociologists, we can look to the bigger picture, point out patterns, and identify common denominators. Our research suggests that gun control is, indeed, an important piece of the problem. But in order to understand the factors behind America’s mass shootings, it is also critical to consider the relationship between masculinity and violence.

International gun ownership and mass shootings

International evidence now makes us incredibly confident when we say that the number of guns in a society is positively correlated with the number of mass shootings in a society, as supported by a study spanning three decades of analysis in a collection of nations around the world.

Look at the clusters of data points. Each represents a different country. The more guns there are in a given country, the more mass shootings it has. But there are two other things worth noticing. For instance, just consider the number of nations in this sample that have approximately 30 guns per 100 people: Austria (30.4), Canada (30.8), France (31.2), Germany (30.3), Iceland (30.3), Norway (31.3), and Sweden (31.6). They don’t all have the same rate of mass shootings over the period of 30 years. Iceland had zero; Norway had one; and Sweden had two. But France had six, and Germany had seven. These are small numbers, but even here, the range is large enough to suggest that the number of guns is not the only factor influencing mass shootings.

It’s also worth highlighting just how much of an outlier the US is when put in international perspective. Sure, we have roughly twice as many guns as the other societies with high numbers of guns owned per inhabitant. But the number of mass shootings the US has experienced makes us an extreme outlier in these data.

The masculinity problem

Scholars who study masculinity and mass shootings have consistently drawn attention to the fact that mass shootings are not only a uniquely American social problem; they are a problem with American men. We’ve argued before that there are two questions that require explanation related to gender and mass shootings. First, why is it that men commit virtually all mass shootings? And second, why do American men commit mass shootings more than men anywhere else in the world?

Why is it men who commit mass shootings?

Social psychologists have a theory referred as “social identity threat” that has been studied across a wide range of contexts. The idea is pretty simple. Research demonstrates that if people feel that a part of their identity that they hold dear is being called into question, they are likely to respond with an exaggerated display of qualities associated with that identity.

Applied to gender, social scientists refer to this issue as “masculinity threat.” Men who have their masculinity called into question (or “threatened” to use the social psychological language) react in patterned ways. Research shows that they are more supportive of violence, less likely to accurately identify sexual coercion as such, and more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, among other responses.

Research has also shown that men whose masculinity has been threatened are more likely to identify as Republican, supported sexually prejudiced statements about gay men, and more supportive of war as a solution to national disputes. They were even more likely to say that they wanted to purchase as SUV. When men’s masculinity is threatened, they don’t respond by backing down; they double down on masculinity and “overcompensate” to demonstrate just how manly they are.

The list of things that men turn to when they feel emasculated is quite revealing about what it means to be masculine in our society. Masculinity is associated with homophobia, sexism, misogyny, male supremacist ideals, and violence, and so men turn to those things in order to demonstrate their membership in the group.

Mass shootings follow a consistent pattern: The men who commit them have often experienced what they perceive as masculinity threats. They’re bullied by peers, gay-baited by classmates, and often perceive themselves as unable to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity, such holding down a steady job, having sexual access to women’s bodies, or being tough or strong.

This does not suggest that men are somehow inherently, unavoidably more violent than women. But it does suggest that mass shootings need to be seen, in part, as enactments of masculinity.

Why do American men commit mass shootings more than men elsewhere?

Certainly men have their masculinity threatened in other societies as well. So why is it that American boys and men are so much more likely to respond to threats with such extreme forms of mass violence?

The answer is that American culture plays a role in supporting this kind of violence. Consider the sociocultural contexts in which these kinds of violent masculinities are produced and (sometimes) valorized. Men have been the beneficiaries of an extraordinary amount of privilege over the course of human history—white, heterosexual, able-bodied, educated, class-privileged, American men in particular. Now a great deal of progress has been made toward chipping some of that privilege away or, at the very least, publicly calling it into question. Gender inequality is alive and well today, but it is also true that men—as a group—have witnessed the gradual erosion of privileges previous generations of men took for granted. Sociologist Michael Kimmel suggests that this shift has produced a uniquely American sentiment among men that he refers to as “aggrieved entitlement.”

Many men still feel entitled to the forms of privilege their fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers cashed in on. And they are resentful of the fact that what they feel to be rightfully theirs feels like its slipping away. Neither we nor Kimmel are suggesting that feeling pissed off about these changes will always lead to mass shootings. Rather, mass shootings are simply an extremely violent example of a more general issue regarding shifts in relations between women and men and historical transformations in systems of social inequality.

What’s next?

When asked to suggest a motive for the attack in Las Vegas, sheriff Joe Lombardo replied, “I can’t get into the mind of a psychopath at this point.” Similarly, a wide variety of statements from public officials and beyond are pointing to severe mental illness as the cause. During these moments, however, it is important to recognize that these statements contrasts sharply with statements from family and friends—those who knew him best. The general manager of one of the gun stores from which the shooter purchased weapons justified his sale of the weapons by describing the shooter as “a normal fellow, a normal guy – nothing out of the ordinary.” His neighbor concurred, describing him as “a normal man.” His brother said something similar.

The scary realization that research and data support is that, in the US, “normal guys” sometimes commit mass shootings. As sociologist Kieran Healy put it, mass shootings are “by now well institutionalized as a mode of violence. When one happens, everybody knows what to do.” There’s a script mass shootings follow; they are socially patterned actions. And they are gendered patterns of action as well, which means that men who want to find a way to assert their masculinity have a clear path to turn to.

Combine these gendered factors with a society in which guns are extremely available and highly valorized in popular culture and the media, and mass shootings will continue to be an American problem. Research suggests that solving this problem requires us thinking about it from multiple angles, recognizing that each can only offer a partial solution.

Certainly, gun control is a vital aspect of any solution to mass shootings in the US. But real change requires a cultural solution as well, one that attempts to invest in new ideals associated with masculinity not founded on dominance, violence, and ideologies of male supremacy. Mass shootings will continue to occur as long as we ignore these connections, and as long as we fail to recognize that mass shootings in American society are deeply entwined with our culture and politics.


By : Tristan Bridges (Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara)
Tara Leigh Tober (Professor of Sociology, University of California, Santa Barbara)
Date : October 7, 2017
Source : Quartz
The sociological explanation for why men in America turn to gun violence

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

We need to talk about the social norms that fuel sexual assault


The recent spate of sexual harassment accusations against prominent men in Westminster comes as no surprise to many of us. We expect them to know better – to have been better people – but we have also seen this kind of behaviour before … over and over again. It isn’t just powerful men – but it is almost always men.

It’s time to start looking at the deep-rooted causes of harassment. We need to try to understand why sexual harassment is carried out much more by men against women than vice versa. And this is going to involve an evaluation of our sexual norms. Once we’ve done this, we can start a conversation about the kind of sex we do want – and how to create a culture where that is more likely to happen.

Let’s consider three gendered social norms that might have a role in why men sexually harass women.

1) Men are entitled to sex

The view that men are constantly thinking about sex, and feel somehow entitled to it due to their superior status to women, is one that we are familiar with: from sexist chants at universities, to pick-up artists, to lyrics that eroticise sexual coercion (such as Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke) and films that revolve around the “winning over” of an uninterested woman. We also take it for granted that there is a large sex industry, which caters – for the most part – for men’s sexual desires.

2) Men call the shots

It is still a common expectation that men should ask women out on dates, decide where to go, and pay for them. Women, on the other hand, should play hard to get and be submissive. Consider the well-known “Rules” dating book, which has tips for women such as: “don’t tell him what to do” and “let him take the lead”.

Men are also expected to be dominant sexually – and this is implicit in the way that we talk about sex: men fuck/screw/bone women. The male dominance norm carries forward into marriage. It is still usual for the woman to wait for the man to ask her to marry him and to take his name when they marry, for example.

3) Women should be sexually pure

Women’s sexuality is controlled through slut shaming. Many men would still be uncomfortable being with a woman who had slept with many more people than he had – and many men still feel comfortable referring to women as “slags” or “sluts” for indulging in behaviour that would make a man a “stud” or a “lad”.

It is implicitly believed that women must help men to control their sexual desire and aggression. They can do this by dressing modestly, and not being too flirtatious with men. Peter Hitchens recently helpfully suggested in the Daily Mail that the niqab is what women will get from all this “squawking about sex pests”, since, as he put it: “No minister would put his hand on the knee of anyone dressed like this; indeed, he’d have trouble finding her knee, or anything else”.

So, let’s talk

These norms are obviously extreme, and are not held by everyone. They are also, I hope, being slowly eroded. But they do exist – and it is not too far-fetched to say that they have a role in creating a culture in which men, much more so than women, feel that they want to and are able to engage in sexual harassment. After all, if there is an implicit assumption that you are entitled to sex (and this view might be held particularly strongly by men who believe they are entitled in all aspects of life), that you call the shots in the sexual arena, and that if a woman is dressed “provocatively”, or acting “flirtatiously”, you just can’t help yourself, then you might feel that you do nothing wrong in harassing her.

The revelations from Westminster have opened up a debate surrounding men’s actions within that small bubble, a debate that needs to be had. But we should also use it as an opportunity to talk about gendered sexual norms, because sex is a part of sexual harassment.

We need to do more than just train men in sexual consent. Consent, after all, is a bare minimum requirement for good sex. What we need is a conversation about what makes good sex – and what kind of gender norms would improve gender relations more broadly. And I think they might end up being quite different to the norms we have now.


By : Natasha McKeever (Teaching Fellow in Applied Ethics, University of Leeds)
Date : November 11, 2017
Source : The Conversation (

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment
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