Letter From San Franciso #8

I see me.

This was what a donor said when speaking about the importance of recognizing the diversity of the philanthropic community in a video presented to us at the recent Women’s Funding Network conference. I thought about how powerful this concept is in many other contexts too.

I see me.

It’s what Stella Cornelius always coached me about when teaching me conflict resolution skills – look for the points of commonality to open up options and dialogue.

If men could more often say ‘I see me’ when they see the struggle of women in their families and communities, they would begin to change the equation for women, for their families and communities, and effectively reduce hunger in the process.

How would it be if the men who digitally raped and disfigured a woman who was raising funds on Kickstarter to create girl-friendly video games could see themselves in the woman they were abusing.  Others clearly could as they raced to assist her in the best way they knew how – by oversubscribing to her Kickstarter campaign and allowing her to increase the number and reach of the girl and women friendly video games she was able to create.

While we’re yet to really understand the motives of the Boston brothers who used explosives to maim and kill those running in the Boston Marathon, a comment by one of the two perpetrators is telling. “I don’t have one single American friend,” he wrote.  His disconnection from Americans and the country in which he was living was obviously profound.  His likely radicalization on his last trip to Russia may have contributed to his increasingly fervent religious practice and to his inability to see himself in the lives and hopes and dreams of those around him. And clearly neither did his brother, for whom brother blood ties trumped any other considerations.

How would it be if we could encourage men in developing countries to see themselves in the lives of their wives and daughters, mothers and aunts?  If these men could see that the women in their lives, such as female farmers in countries such as India and Tanzania, are denied the access to bank accounts, credit, seeds, fertilizer and technical expertise that these men enjoy.  What changes might be possible if men could place themselves in the shoes of these women who are also required to do the (unpaid) work of cooking, cleaning, childcare, eldercare, water and firewood collection, among other responsibilities, while grappling with poor energy, sanitation and health services.

At the recent Women in the World conference we heard testimony from many women, both directly and through the voices of others whose clear connection of ‘I see me’ came through in the emotion of their reading these accounts.

For instance, Nizon Guanaes, Chairman, Grupo, ABC read the testimony of Maria Da Penha from Brazil : “my husband shot me in the back, leaving me paralyzed and he then tried to kill me. He was arrested but then released on a legal technicality. I succeeded in changing domestic violence laws in Brazil and this new law bears my name.” Diane Von Furstenburg, read the testimony of Najood Ali from Yemen. “I was forced to marry at age 9 and then I sought a divorce at age 10.  I am now one of 50 girls in my class in my 2nd year of primary school. I finally feel I am a girl again…”

In Meryl Streep’s tribute to the late Inez McCormack, a feminist and human rights advocate and the first female president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions who fought hard for equal pay for equal work for all,  Streep spoke of McCormack as representing the rights of the “excluded ones” and the “invisibles.” Streep: “McCormack was a real time living heroine and hers was a call to arms – for everyone to link arms. Her message was that one life can stand for the benefit of many but everyone must participate.”

This call for everyone to participate was echoed by Dr Mouna Ghanem, Cofounder and Deputy to the President, Building of the Syrian State Movement.  “Women are not in the negotiation process and there’s no democracy without women…Women in the camps are experiencing forced marriages, prostitution, exposure to HIV/AIDS and children are literally freezing to death. Enough is enough. We want peace. We want democracy. We want human rights. We want women represented in the political process.”

23 year old Alaa Murabit, Founder and President, The Voice of Libyan Women, supported the rebels in the 2011 Libyan uprising, and has since become a political force for women in Liby.  Murabit spoke about the Koran as the point of commonality and so women conducted seminars with men that included verses from the Koran that denounced violence as part of a campaign to end domestic violence. “We needed to do it this for people to understand given that they are bound to their religion. We needed to fight fire with fire.”

In other countries, women are claiming their political power. Dr Mamphela Ramphele formed a new political party in South Africa. “Every 34 seconds, a woman is raped in South Africa. One day of these statistics being sustained is one day too many. Nelson Mandela…made the greatest contribution of any human being and we want to stop the betrayal of his legacy. (His) message was the right to live in dignity…that includes equality for women.  This consciousness – the feminism and the solidarity that the women’s movement inspired – made me who I am as a citizen and as a woman.”

In this same brave spirit, two young women from Pakistan are risking their lives for the rights of women and girls. Humaira Bachai, Founder and President, Dream Foundation Trust visits men in different villages to get them to agree to girls getting an education. To those who say that women need to be protected and sending them to be married early is a way to retain their honor, and that of their families, Humaira says “This is the power game – men want to treat girls and women like animals.” Yet she also says “Every day in Pakistan, new Malalas are born.” We continue to struggle for change. We cannot allow our lives to be taken.”

Khalida Brohi is the Founder and Director, Sughar Women Program, and we see a film of her talking to the men in the villages about allowing girls to go to school.  The men in these villages respond by saying

“if a girl wants to be independent, our response is the bullet.”
“If a woman compromises her honor, our response is the bullet.”
“If a girl has any questions regarding her empowerment, our response is the bullet.”

Khalida says to the audience after we hear these words from men in the video, “I was being patient because I knew that one day these men would be working for me.  I need to change the mindset of my community. I tell my parents, if I don’t do this work I will die. If I do this work, I will live. We are holding cricket tournaments for the men and in the commentary we are including messages such as ‘educate girls’ and ‘honor killings are not okay’ so that the men listen to these messages. Never underestimate the power of talking – it is part of doing dangerous work in a dangerous country.”

In the film made by Sharmeen Obaid, CEO of SOC Films, Sharmeen says, “These are the women who are staying on to educate a new generation of Pakistani girls.”  In response to our questions, she replied that “We need to keep educating the men. Education for all is the game changer.”

When Hillary Clinton steps up to the conference stage, the crowd roars, many shouting for her to stand for Presidential election in 2014.  She relaxes visibly in this crowd and is candid in her remarks. “When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping we are more secure. When women participate in the politics of a nation, they make a positive difference. When we liberate women, we advance the economic policies of a nation. If we do not contribute to this campaign then the country we love and cherish will not be what it should be.”

“There is a powerful new current of grassroots activism stirring…enabled by new technologies giving women and girls voices like never before…We need to be smart and savvy about what this moment means for us… The world is changing beneath our feet and we must embrace 21st century technology to advance women’s and girls’ human rights. Technology is where progress is coming from and where our support is needed.

“The Taliban recognized Malala as a serious threat. And they were right. She is a serious threat.  Malala is of this new generation and she has said if young people are not given pens they will be given guns. “

The Taliban’s actions inspired millions of Pakistanis to say ‘enough is enough’ as they saw themselves in Malala’s brave and resilient campaign.  Here was another instance of ‘I see me.’

Clinton: “The struggles do not end when countries attempt the transition to democracy. We know that all around the world when the dust settles women’s voices are lost or marginalized and they are shut out of decision-making… The only way for true liberation is for the full participation of women. A number of rapidly growing countries will create new trading partners and no country can achieve its full potential if women are left behind. Let’s ensure that there is no limit to what a girl can dream and do.”

In this spirit of girls’ dreaming and doing, Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code said “At Girls Who Code we’re hoping to touch at least a million girls by making STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) stimulating and exciting. We need new messaging to support girls changing the world through new technologies.  For example, a girl we supported wanted to be a doctor and she started learning code – and she built an algorithm to determine whether a cancer is malignant or not.  She’s 16 years old and anything is possible for her.”

Leah Busque, Founder and CEO of TaskRabbit is similarly passionate. “I went to a women’s college and that made me fearless and confident – I felt I could do anything. That is the number one gift I would give to girls. Girls need to see girls and women who look like them. I was planning to be a dancer on the stage one day and yet the study I was doing of math and science felt exciting. I started building robots and working with my hands and seeing the possibilities. Recently we worked with a girl in Senegal who was not digitally literate. We taught her how to use a mouse and within 8 weeks she was teaching girls how to code in 38 other languages.  The train is leaving and we can’t leave girls behind.  This is a key issue of our time.”

Girls have been left behind for decades in India. Barkha Dutt, Journalist and TV Anchor, NDTV, reflects that “India is a paradoxical nation where powerful positions are occupied by women and yet the focus on women is usually to protect them and not to give them choices.”

Shoma Chaudhury, Managing Editor, Tehelka, agrees. “People have this idea of women as whores and saints – a woman is like a mango, you suck it dry and then spit it out; a woman is like a pearl in an oyster, we must protect her.”

Chaudhury went on to say “The middle class is hyper-connected. The working class is living in a state of dispossession and yet, with this girl who was brutally raped and who died from her injuries, her father had worked long hours and brought up his children with a passion for education.  She was the face of that aspiration.  Those men who raped her were the dark side of that – they represented access. Only one of them had a history of violence. When I talked to one of the perpetrator’s mothers she said “why did the voice of God not live in the soul of even one of them?”

Again, this question of why did you not see your own humanity and faith in the girl you raped and killed? Did you not see ‘I’ in thou?  What were you thinking when you raped the five year old girl in India and abused her with an intent to kill? Where was your connection to life itself, and the life of you as a child?

Chaudhury: “We’re creating a culture of desire and dispossession – desire that takes its expression in violence. When this young woman went to stop the men from beating the man she was with, a bomb went off in the minds of the men on that bus and that’s when the real brutality took place. They were outraged that she would challenge them.  We need to set men free to be human not brutes.”

“We’re dealing with a global crisis of masculinity. Unless we imbue women’s rights with an understanding of how men need to change then we will perpetuate this situation. It’s time for us to really look at men and say ‘enough is enough.’  We need to recognize the importance of the feminine principle. We need to start saying ‘male violence against women’ to be specific since the greatest proportion of violence is committed by men against women – this doesn’t happen in a gender vacuum but the way we describe it suggests so. Women’s bodies have become the battlefield on which these narratives are played out. Young women are the terrain on which this battle is contested. Women are second class citizens and our humanity is compromised. We must transform this conversation to one where men and women are allies. Until then we say ‘Basta. Enough. No More.’ ”

I fly back to San Francisco and to my beloved Sausalito. I’m so happy to be home. I hang out with the houseboat artist collective and swing along the wharves feeling light and free and strong. Everywhere I turn there’s poetry and magic in the making. People are flowing out to sea in row boats, kayaks – and in larger boats with sails pitched to the wind. 

2013-04-21 10.24.09

Further afield, on one of my early morning trips down the coast to the beach, I watch surfers as they rise on the swell of the waves and as they power through the curls.  I’m mesmerized by the display and again I promise myself that I’ll go take some surf lessons…soon.

Back in Sausalito I trip down a wharf that feels akin to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in its merry colors and psychedelic art. At the end of the wharf is a defiant statement of hope, or at least that’s how I read it:  ‘Occupy Sausalito.’

And so here, in one of the richest counties in the nation, dwells a community that claims equity.

‘I see me’ I think as I look at one of the curious creatures, and smile.

Jane Sloane – San Francisco


Video:  Here is the I Am A Philanthropist I mentioned at the beginning..

Women in the World

 Day 1

stories and solutions

(Stunning) Performance by Michaela Deprince

  • Born in Sierra Leone, orphaned by its civil war and adopted by an American family when she was 4 years old
  • Began dacing at age of 5 and by 13 attended the American Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive
  • Now a ballerina with the Dance Theatre of Harlem


Co-hosts: The Women I’m Here For (views and voices of women from the ground presented by high profile US women)

  • Michelline Kadiriho, Congo presented by Former Ambassador Melanne Verveer – a rape survivor from the Congo where violence and rape continues each moment of the day, impunity reigns and the war against women continues
  • Souad, Syria presented by Lauren Bush Lauren, Co-founder, FEED, the violence continues unabated, we’ve lost our homes, we live in camps, “we want our lives back, we want to live in peace”
  • Maria Da Penha, Brazil presented by Nizon Guanaes, Chairman, Grupo ABC – “my husband shot me in the back, leaving me paralyzed and he then tried to kill me. He was arrested but then released on a legal technicality. I succeeded in changing domestic violence laws in Brazil and this new law bears my name”
  • Delmy Palencia, Mexico presented by Maya L Harris, VP, Democracy, Rights and Justice, Ford Foundation – I am an undocumented mother who started a movement of mothers to create citizenry for mothers like me who want to keep our family together – we belong together
  • Najood Ali – Yemen presented by Diane Von Furstenburg – forced to marry at age 9 and then sought a divorce at age 10.  One of 50 girls in my class, now in 2nd year of primary school. “I finally feel I am a girl again, a normal girl like before”
  • Gladys Kirante, Kenya presented by Dr Hawa Abdi, Founder, Hawa Abdi Foundation “I was forced to undergo female genital mutilation – I almost bled to death and I was lucky to survive and now I’m working to end this practice in my community, in my country
  • Marianne Ibrahim, Egypt, presented by jane Harman, Director, Woodrow Wilson Center “we need to move Tahrir Square to the political square”
  • Jennifer Barnard, Trinidad and Tobago presented by Al-Jen Poo, Director, national Domestic Worker’s Alliance – experienced so many inhumane conditions as a domestic worker and finally walked away from my last position when I was refused my normal day off. “We have a right to be treated respectfully, no matter who we are. We must learn to give ourselves love”
  • Nasrin Sotovdeh, Iran presented by Julie Hemp, Chief Communications Officer, Toyoto – wrote a letter to her daughter from jail saying “justice arrives just at the time when we have given up hope. Seek peace and tranquility upon your oppressors so we too can enjoy peace and tranquility and peace of mind”


Ireland’s Firebrand – A Tribute to Inez McCormack – Meryl Streep

  • Feminist, human rights advocate, 1st female president of Irish Congress of Trade Unions
  • Represented the rights of the “excluded ones” and the “invisibles”
  • Advocate, champion, cheerleader
  • Equal pay for equal work (that radical idea)
  • Stressed the importance of testing any public policy with the most invisible and that they be involved in this measurement – “only through participation can rights be realized and kept
  • McCormack told Streep the story of saying to a woman who was marginalized “these human rights are yours” and this woman responding: “well, that’s the best fucking secret in the world”
  • Streep: “McCormack was a real time living heroine who died six months ago, hers was a call to arms – for everyone to link arms. Her great heart beats in us all”
  • Streep:  “McCormack’s message was that one life can stand for the benefit of many but everyone must participate”


Syria:  Women in War – Eyewitness accounts of the latest atrocities in Syria

Dr Mouna Ghanem, Cofounder and Deputy to the President, Building of the Syrian State Movement;  Coordinator, Women Make Peace Platform and Zainab Salbi, Founder, Women For Women International. Moderated by Barbara Walters, Correspondent, ABC News, Creator, Co-Executive Producer and Co-Host, ABC’s The View

  • Mouna – “women’s issue is not just a gender issue, it’s a security issue, a foreign policy issue”; “it’s related to broader violence in Syria”; “women are not in the negotiation process” “there’s no democracy without women; US needs to advocate for democracy; we need to care about what’s happening to women; US and Russia must put pressure on the Syrian regime as a political process; the regime must be involved in the transitional process and through negotiations, and the support of the Syrian people, Assad must leave; Islamicist power is the rising power in the region; Assad should go in a way that doesn’t cause the disintegration of the country; we need to support women’s political voices to be heard – more than 70,000 people have been killed and more than a million are refugees from Syria. Women in the camps are experiencing forced marriages, prostitution, exposure to HIV/AIDS and children are literally freezing to death. Enough is enough. We want peace. We want democracy. We want human rigths
  • Zainab – “only four women in the Syrian Opposition are women, that’s got to change”; “rape of women and violence is being committed by all sides”; America’s lack of decisionmaking in Syria has created a political gap – the US must have  a position; the US can influence a negotiation process and bring the Russians on board; women must be involved in the political process; in the Middle East, women are the battlefield; Assad has to leave y negotiation that is decided by the Syrian people; we need a democracy and human rights to be restored to Syria; I would wish we got all the women from all sides in a room and to listen to what the women say; we need to raise our voices – we are tired and we want peace


South Africa’s New Power Player – Dr Mamphela Ramphele, the legendary firebrand against apartheid is forming a bold new political party

Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, Leader, Agang interviewed by Charlie Rose, Executive Editor and Anchor, Charlie Rose; Anchor, CBS, This Morning

  • South Africa needs restoration of values and principles that so many of us died for and so many of us hope for.  There are few text books in schools at present and teachers are either unskilled or absent from schools
  • It’s a betrayal of our children and of our beliefs
  • “Every 34 seconds, a woman is raped in South Africa”  One day of these statistics being sustained is one day too many
  • Nelson Mandela’s shining legacy of courage, endurance and transcendence – “he made the greatest contribution of any human being and we want to stop the betrayal of his legacy”
  • “South Africans today feel like they are the forgotten people”
  • “We want to hold the ANC to account in the same way the ANC held the ruling party to account during the decades of apartheid’
  • People want to free themselves from the notion of being victims
  • “Nelson Mandela’s message was the right to live in in dignity…that includes equality for women.  “This consciousness is relevant to the need to evoke that …feminism and the solidarity the women’s movement inspired that made me who I am as a citizen and as a woman”
  • “You have no choice but to be a change agent…it’s about standing for social justice
  • “My son (with Steve Biko) is 35 years old) and he’s written a book called The Great African Society to mobilize his age group to ensure they come together to secure the promise of freedom that his father died for”
  • “The most important thing is to believe in yourself”
  • South Africa needs the promise of its values restored – if that means I lead the country as President then so be it
  • It’s about South Africa’s people beating the odds time and time again
  • “It is right for us to be in a country where our children are better educated than we were”
  • “When the men were afraid, the women marched on Pretoria. Again, we’re going to mobilize women to restore the freedom of the people of South Africa”


The Next Generation of Malalas – Oscar winning filmmaker, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy introduces us to two young women from Pakistan who are risking their lives for the rights of women and girls

Humaira Bachai, Foundr and President, Dream Foundation Trust

Khalida Brohi, Founder and Director, Sughar Women Program

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, CEO SOC Films

Moderated by Christiane Amanpour, CBE, Host, Amanpour, CNN International; Global Affairs Anchor, ABC News

Humaira –  in the film made by Sharmeen, Humaira goes and talks to men in different villages who say that women need to be protected and sending them to be married early is a way to retain their honor, and that of their families; Humaira has managed to work in villages and send 2,000 Pakistani girls to schools; “This is the power game – men want to treat girls and women like animals”, “I am here because of my mother’s struggle to sell firewood to pay for my school fees” and as a result my relatives told my father “Your family cannot live here because you are educating the women”. “Every day in Pakistan, new Malalas are born.” We continue to struggle for change. We cannot allow for our lives to be taken.”

Khalida – was empowered by her parents. “My mother was married off when she was nine and had never seen a school.” My Dad went back to college and gained an education and was about to find an educated girl to marry as he didn’t think he could be with someone who wasn’t educated and then on the eve of a marriage he decided to again return to my mother who was in my father’s house and to instead teach her from scratch and, in the process, they fell in love. I am the eldest of six children.” In the film made by Sharmeen,

Khalida goes to talk to the men in the villages about allowing girls to go to school.  The men in these villages respond by saying “if a girl wants to be independent, our response is the bullet.” “If a woman compromises her honor, our response is the bullet.” “If a girl has any questions regarding her empowerment, our response is the bullet.”

Khalida says to the audience after we hear these words from men in the video “I was being patient because I knew that one day these men would be working for me.” “I need to change the mindset of my community.” “I tell my parents, if I don’t do this work I will die. If I do this work, I will live.” “We are holding cricket tournaments for the men and in the commentary we are including messages such as ‘educate girls’ and ‘honor killings are not okay’ so that the men listen to these messages.” “Never underestimate the power of talking – it is part of doing dangerous work in a dangerous country.”

Sharmeen – (award winning filmmaker) “These are the women who are staying on to educate a new generation of Pakistani girls.”  In response to what we hear from the men, Sharmeen says “If you live in darkness, how would you know what light is.” “We need to keep educating the men.” “It’ll get a lot worse before it gets better. We’re concerned about the types of political parties that come to power and how many more girls will not be allowed to go to school.  In the conflict areas, many girls are prevented from going to school. Education for all is the game changer”


Angelie Jolie:  Malala Undaunted – Angelie Jolie showcases Malala Yousafzai’s powerful new initiative.

Angelie Jolie, Writer, Director, Actor and Special Envoy to the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees

  • “The Taliban shot Malala in the head and it made her stronger
  • A poll to determine the most powerful people in the world saw Malala at number 6.  President Obama was at number 7.
  • When told, Malala said “I don’t think human beings should be categorized that way”
  • Malala has announced a new initiative called Malala’s Fund to ensure the right of every girl and every boy to an education.  Her goal is progress, not notoriety
  • “Let’s start with educating 40 girls and turn those into 40 million girls”
  • Jolie pledges $200,000 to this foundation

Web address is www.witw.mobi  Follow twitter #wiw13



Letter from the UN

International Womens Day outside the UN
2013 International Womens Day outside the UN from Global Fund for Women archive

I was in New York to attend the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The priority theme this year was Prevention and Elimination of Violence to Women and Girls (VAWG). This was in response to the fact that almost 70 per cent of the world’s women have suffered some form of violence.

Representatives of Governments came to report on their progress to advance the rights of women and girls and to report on their implementation of the commitments they’d made under the Beijing Platform For Action (PFA) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The final document from CSW is usually an Outcomes document although there’s been no such agreed document from the last two sessions. We were hopeful this year of having an Outcomes document, although of course it was better to have no document than one that diminished the gains secured.

A large NGO contingent made the trek to CSW to hold governments’ accountable for the rights of women and girls globally. We came to demand that governments do more to ensure the rights of women and girls to be safe and secure and for the perpetrators of violence to be held to account. We came to seek campaigns to engage men and boys as advocates to end violence against women. We came to demand that women and girls be supported to have their views and voices heard and to live their lives free of violence including domestic violence, trafficking, torture, harassment, rape and slavery.

Inside the UN, the official proceedings for the Commission were taking place. Already the Vatican was seeking to reverse language in the draft Outcomes document that was aimed at securing and sustaining women’s sexual and reproductive rights without religion or culture being an excuse to prevent these rights. Here the Holy See was joined by countries including Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Bangladesh, Yemen and Malta. Meanwhile, Norway’s Ministerial representative provided a spirited rebuke of such attempts by stating unequivocally that

“violence against women is a global disgrace. Violence against women is not about culture, not about religion, it is about power, inequality and lack of political will. Let us start at the top, with our own political leaders, mainly men, and demand action.”

More than 6,000 NGOS registered to attend this 57th Session however each NGO only received two passes to enter the UN building and so most NGO representatives got to hear little of the official UN proceedings. Opposite the UN building, at the UN Church Center, and in many nearby buildings, were the parallel NGO sessions where the majority of NGO representatives presented and attended sessions.

Here we spoke truth to power. Women told of their accounts of rape, beheadings of women human rights defenders; girls being trafficked, dowry acid burning, young women being abused in refugee camps and war zones, women imprisoned for fleeing forced marriage and women killed for honor and then passed off as suicides.

DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era)1In the South Pacific, 3.5 million women out of a population of 10 million suffer gender based violence in their lifetime. We heard that people are afraid of the word sex in parts of the Pacific Islands and so it’s hard to get traction on sexual and reproductive health and rights for women. In Papua New Guinea, safety and security for girls and women is almost nonexistent. This in a country where a woman was recently stripped, tortured and torched as a sorcerer in front of school children. A young woman from Chuuk, in the Federated States of Micronesia, told us that 75 percent of the population here was under 30 and the policies developed needed to recognize this reality. This is the time to get serious in the text at CSW57, said one woman – “We refuse to go backwards, we are going forward. We need negotiators with fire in their eyes.”

In another session on Women and the Egyptian Revolution we heard from a panel of women who were creating a gender sensitive archive of the revolution. They spoke about the importance of including fragments of stories that feature the voices of minorities. As one woman said, “In our revolutions these fragments include personal testimonies and songs captured by citizen journalists.

” Another woman added that “power is found in the way revolutionary material is archived; testimonies are never free flowing – the very process of narration guides historical meaning; we are documenting history and its very dynamic.”

We heard from women on this panel that gender based violence is one of the most overlooked issues in conflict situations; we don’t often find the stories of sexual violence that women experience in revolution. One young woman told us of being sexually violated by revolutionaries.

“The revolution was our main entry to activism; I thought I was in a protected space in Tahir Square but I wasn’t, I was separated from my friend and we were each surrounded by hundreds of men who stripped us naked and finger raped us; my friend and I were subject to both political violence and sexual violence. This was an attempt to take away our political participation as well as to violate our bodies. This attempt to silence us has failed. I will not be silent.”

Another woman on this panel said

“We are talking about new weapons of war against female citizen journalists, who seek to be part of the political change in Egypt. We have to keep our hands together for the courage of all the girls and women who have gone public about these sexual assaults. It needs the courage of one girl or woman to go public for a different revolution.”

At a session on violence against women and intersections with the environment we heard from women who had seen the results of contaminated water from mining leading to miscarriages, abortions, malformations and child mortality.

One woman spoke of the destruction of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity resulting in loss of livelihoods for women and the devastation of food sovereignty rendering food unusable for food production. We heard of armed men engaged in land grabbing and sexual violence to reclaim land, and of women who were forced to migrate to cities where a lack of jobs resulted in some ending up as prostitutes. In other situations, death threats to families resulted in men being killed and women becoming widows and new heads of households with quadruple burdens.

Other women spoke of land restitution programs that didn’t have built-in safeguards for women and where it’s often difficult for them to prove that they once lived there, and of increased impoverishment in rural areas resulting in increased domestic violence. One woman asked that the ‘green economy’ terminology claimed by the corporate sector be replaced by what was valued by women – “we want humanitarian and biodiversity zones.” We heard of women leaders in these struggles being murdered or having disappeared, including Sandra Viviana Cuellar Gallega, 26 years, an environmental activist who has been missing for two years from Cali, Colombia.

Women spoke of the need for sustainable development – the kind that takes into account the needs of local communities and holds polluters accountable. As one woman said, “We cannot separate our bodies from structures and our rights from development; we cannot separate out sexual and reproductive health and rights from the political economy.”

She went on to say that she came from the South Pacific which comprised 22 states and territories spread across one third of the earth’s surface – from 4 million people in PNG to a few thousand in micro states. There was an existential threat to Pacific Island states: some of these islands won’t be here in a few years.

In the Pacific, women face a triple crisis: finance; food and water; militarization; in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, rental prices are higher than in Manhattan due to international development consultants, transnational industries and extractive industries moving in. Representatives from transnational and extractive industries are setting up in peoples’ homes which have practical impacts on the lives of women and their families.

The Pacific has the lowest representation of women in national parliaments – currently at 2.5% representation. Women’s contributions aren’t being recognized while they’re dealing with the consequences of transnational corporations whose motivation is profit. As one panelist said “People ask, where are the women? The women are there but they are exhausted.”
Another woman said “There is mining throughout the Pacific, with $25-30 billion in income generated annually and yet the flow on impact on women – rape, sexually transmitted infections and sexual violence – isn’t addressed. Two out of three women and girls in the Pacific experience some form of violence in their lifetime. In Papua New Guinea, excess bride prices are being asked due to the transnational corporations paying local men for land and the men having the money to buy girls and young women. One woman told us that girls as young as 10 are now being bought by local men as brides, some bought by men working for transnational corporations and multilateral agencies.

We heard from another woman from the Pacific that “It is about an enforced economic code that weighs heavily on the bodies of women and girls. There is a small arms trade happening across Papua New Guinea where women and girls are heavily exposed. Women are practicing many forms of resistance in the Pacific, as they are in the Amazon, The Congo and Philippines – above and below strategies and those moving between. We heard how important it was, in this CSW 57 text, to talk about addressing economic and structural violence, restoring sexual and reproductive health and rights and designing development policies with women at the center.

In another forum, there was an important conversation about women’s organizations and corporate partnerships. This had become an increasingly prevalent theme as the focus on girls and women had continued to ratchet up a new level of engagement by the private sector. Walmart Foundation was investing millions of dollars in partnerships focused on women, while Coca Cola was aligning women’s empowerment with women’s entrepreneurship, and by extension women entrepreneurs in developing countries selling Coca Cola. Exxon Mobil Foundation was courting women in countries where the company had active mining leases, including women whom I’d met in Papua New Guinea.
Board members and staff of many women’s organizations were engaged in an ongoing dialogue over whether to accept money from the corporate sector or not.

Personally, I felt there was a big difference between a major corporation approaching an NGO, or a group of NGOs, and saying “we realize we’ve got to change our business practices that are proving to be detrimental (environmentally, in relation to labor practices, in terms of equity) and we’d like to work with you in order to help us change the way we work”— as compared to a corporation with questionable practices providing large scale funding to an NGO on the basis of business as usual and in a way that further legitimized its approach.

Of course, I was aware of the complexity of the situation. “There is no such thing as clean money,” said one woman. “Would you take money from an individual donor who had earned her money from Chevron or Exxon or Walmart?” I thought that was a very different situation to affirming a corporation by aligning with them as a partner by accepting their funding. “What about the major financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and Barclays and HSBC – would you take money from those companies? I didn’t have answers to some of these questions and yet neither did I think it helpful to unilaterally adopt the approach of “we can do more good by working on the inside than the outside” which one international NGO justified as the rationale for taking money from tobacco companies and alcohol companies and from many pharmaceutical companies.

It seemed that it would be worthwhile for a coalition of NGOs and women’s rights organizations to agree on some assumptions, criteria and standards that could be adopted in relation to such partnerships and with a clear rationale for how and why such criteria had been formed. It seemed equally obvious that an informed global citizen movement and citizen journalists could be asking critical questions of the NGOs they were thinking about supporting and funding, so that they understood the rationale and basis for the partnerships formed. This, while continuing to advocate for changes to those companies that continued to adopt exploitative environmental and labor practices.

I realized that different women’s organizations in different countries would likely make very different decisions. “We need the money to stay afloat and we’ll take the money from any company that offers to support us,” said a woman from one women’s organization in Asia. “We could have done with the amazing amount of money offered to us, however, when we talked to the women in rural areas we learnt how much their livelihoods were being affected by this company’s investment practices and we couldn’t take the money. It would have canceled out the work we were doing and been a betrayal of those women who trust us to make the right decisions,” said a woman from a Latin American country.

I also don’t want to be misunderstood in what I’m saying. I think it’s vital that NGOs and women’s rights organizations engage with corporations to influence gender inclusive approaches to policy and programming decisions and to adopt gender budgeting accountabilities. It’s only by engaging in a wider movement beyond the women’s movement that the influence will be deep enough to change the equation and trajectory as far as advancing women’s and girls’ human rights. That said, it can’t be corporations setting the agenda and defining the vision of what women’s empowerment means. Rather, I would hope that corporations could sign on to a gender pact that defines rights and responsibilities that will move us toward a world where women and girls assume their full human rights and have the freedom, confidence and security to realize their potential. I would hope that women’s organizations would claim their own power and constituencies globally and assume the leadership and citizen influence here rather than responding to an agenda set by others.

sausalito gardenI left New York in a heavy snowstorm and arrived back in San Francisco to a blue-sky Friday evening and an enchanted weekend. On Saturday I walked along Sausalito’s back lanes feeling light and happy. Down by the water were sections of land that had become communal vegetable gardens for the families living on houseboats.

Next to rows and rows of hand painted letterboxes were colorful signs, masks, totems and dream catchers in amongst the plots of land carefully planted out with seeds and shrubs. In other areas were shade houses and makeshift greenhouses as hot spaces for wild foods and fruits. The messy gorgeousness of it all made me smile – it reminded me of Piggy Lane in the Adelaide Hills and of my late friend Charles’ own studio space with its garden run amok and a duck pond that I loved.

I expected any minute to see Paul Hawken make an appearance. I knew he lived in Sausalito and his book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World, and, more recently, The Natural Capital Institute and wiser.org, both of which he founded, continue to inspire me. Or perhaps I’d see Bill McKibben, whom I’d heard speak at the 2012 Bioneers Conference and whose writing and 350.org was sparking the global eco-activism needed for real traction in relation to environmental sustainability and climate change action.

Instead I saw a woman, in her late 70s, maybe early 80s, climb down from her houseboat and lower herself into a kayak on the water. I walked closer to watch her as she gathered her paddles and straightened her craft. She paddled toward me as she began to turn the kayak toward the bay. “Great day to be on the water,” she said, lifting her arm in greeting. I saw the red slogan on her t-shirt as she spoke: ‘Old Woman Rising’, and I pumped my own arm in a cheer as she headed out and made rapid strokes on the waves.

It is this belief in a power larger than myself and other than myself, which allows me to venture into the unknown and even the unknowable. Maya Angelou

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn. Harriet Beecher Stowe

Jane Sloane
New York

Letter from New York # 33

Events of the past week in the US and in other parts of the world have reminded me of the importance of strong and wise leadership – whether it comes from our politically elected leaders, former world leaders or citizens assuming leadership in response to a crisis.

For instance, the wisdom of the Global Elders in making dignity the centerpiece of their work.

The Global Elders are a group of people brought together by Nelson Mandela and they comprise Martti Ahisaari, Kofi Anan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Graca Machel, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu, with Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela being honorary members.

The Elders hold up dignity as being the common thread in all great faiths, religions and cultures as well as recognizing it being a central tenet of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  Yet religious values and teachings have also been used to deepen and extend inequality and discrimination against women and girls.  In many societies, the power a girl’s father has over her is then handed to her husband.  As a result, many women have lost their dignity, control of their bodies, their futures and often their lives.

A while ago the Global Elders called on all men and boys to get behind a campaign for equality, recognizing the importance of men and boys also working to change behavior and thinking in order to have healthier, safer and more prosperous communities.  These Elders are sharing stories of progress made by and for women and girls as part of their advocacy for world leaders to promote and protect equal rights for all women.

There is a deeply rooted belief that women are worth less than men and this has led to brutal violence perpetrated on women as well as denial of women’s and girls’ access to education, employment, land, health and representation in public forums.  Even today this was evidenced in a New York Times update on Sahar Gul, the young Afghani woman who, at 13, was tortured by her in-laws after refusing to prostitute herself or have sex with the man she was forced to marry. Sahar was found months later by police in a windowless cellar lying in hay and animal dung.

In a rare nod to justice, her in-laws have been sentenced to 10 years jail, although her husband and his brother remain at large.  Sahar is recovering in a women’s shelter inKabul while many other women across the country experience similar brutal violence without it coming to light.

In this election year in the US, making human dignity part of the President’s economic platform would be powerful indeed.  For, aside from the moral issue, there are clear benefits in women being productive and active members of society, enjoying their full range of human rights.  As there are for Sikhs, who are dealing with the reverberations of the shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin last week where six people were killed.  The dignified way in which Sikh leaders responded to the shooting taught those unfamiliar with the Sikh faith about Sikh values of compassion and love.

 “This tragedy occurred as a result of ignorance and hatred,” said Jasmit Singh, member of the Gurdwara Singh Sabha ofWashington. “But we are hoping to create awareness and acceptance here inWashington. We choose not to live in fear.”

“Let love overcome hate and anger,” said Samra, Samra, a member of the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar.

Those not of the Sikh faith joined in candlelit vigils across the country, wearing scarves and bandanas in solidarity with the local Sikh community.

It brings to mind the book that a Palestinian doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, wrote after three of his daughters and a niece were killed by an Israeli shell fired into their family home on January 16th 2009 during the 2008-9 war in Gaza.  It was called I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity and it is about one man’s determination to focus on reconciliation and peace.

We all need to challenge our own internal prejudices so that we can truly say at times of crisis ‘We are all New Yorkers today,’ ‘We are all Sikhs today,’ ‘We are all Queenslanders today’ and – (not really a news heading I’ve ever seen and yet the same principle applies) – ‘We are all women today.’

So, back to this proposal of the President making human dignity a central part of his economic platform.  This clearly needs to include new gun control laws.   The spiritual leader, Deepak Chopra said to interviewer Piers Morgan after the shooting at the Sikh temple,

“Guns do not belong in a civil society….There just has to be something in our system in America which means if you’re a skinhead white supremacist thrown out of the military for misconduct and you are in a band which advocates violence and racial hatred and all the rest of it, there’s got to be something that flags you up when you go and buy a gun legally.”

Leadership on gun control can be bipartisan too – as it was in Australia after the largest gun massacre perpetrated by a civilian anywhere in the world occurred in Tasmania on 28 April 1996. The weapons used by the Port Arthur murderer were designed for killing large numbers of people, and they killed 35 people and wounded 18 others.

Australian politicians had long acknowledged the need for stronger, nationally uniform gun laws, but they feared an electoral backlash from the gun lobby. It took the intervention of the then Prime Minister, John Howard, to tip the balance in favor of public safety.  Howard was undeterred by threats of political vengeance or physical violence. With the support of the Federal Opposition,  he brought the states and territories together and worked out a deal.

As a result of the tragedy, those weapons were banned from civilian ownership and more than 640,000 were bought back and destroyed. The rules applying to firearms in general were tightened, making it harder to qualify to own a gun, and especially to own more than one.

Fifteen years later, this decision on gun control has been vindicated. In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on  April 28th 2011, researchers at Harvard University reported the evidence on the impact of the reforms, concluding, ”The National Firearms Agreement seems to have been incredibly successful in terms of lives saved.”

As the article in the Sydney Morning Herald makes clear,

‘To be specific, there have been no gun massacres inAustralia since 1996, compared with 13 such tragedies during the previous 18 years. (A massacre is defined as the killing of four or more people.) Total gun deaths have been reduced: gun homicides and gun suicides had been falling gradually beforePort Arthur, but the reforms in 1996 caused that decline to accelerate dramatically. In the early 1990s, about 600 Australians were dying each year by gunfire; that figure is now fewer than 250.  As the Harvard researchers remark, ‘from the perspective of 1996, it would have been difficult to imagine more compelling future evidence of a beneficial effect of the law.”’

A comprehensive evaluation last year by the ANU researchers Christine Neill and Andrew Leigh revealed that the reforms had reduced overall homicide and suicide rates, too. In other words, gun deaths have not been replaced by other methods of homicide or suicide.  The ANU researchers estimated that 200 deaths a year have been prevented, with an annual economic saving of $500 million. That’s a $7.5 billion return on the one-off $500 million cost of the reforms to taxpayers.

Imagine the possibilities for a reshaped economy as a result of placing human dignity at the center and assuming leadership on gun control in an election year.

Yesterday, Josh and I had a glorious time wandering the streets of the West Village and Greenwich Village, and lingering in our favorite bookshop, Three Lives.  Josh bought me a card of a group of women basking in the sun, some collecting fruits from nearby trees.  The image was called Harvest – to me it felt like an affirmation of life in all its colors and dimensions.  That’s what I’ve really felt in the 14 months I’ve spent in New York, and the kinship I’ve had with people in my local community has been a constant source of joy during my time here.

Now I’m preparing to leave in order to take up a new role as Vice President of Programs with the Global Fund for Women and so my Letter from San Francisco will commence next month, spliced with letters from other parts of the world as part of my role with the Global Fund.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey.


For all the hardships and dangers of our particular political moment, there is that element of the pliable and possible about it — if we can change our minds and our hearts about what needs to be done and our responsibility to do it.

Former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson


Jane Sloane