- by whnadmin

A talk given at the House of Lords, London, on 5 June 2014 as part of a seminar on ‘Oppression, Repression and Resistance – Renouncing the Fundamentalist Yoke’, organised by WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality (Pt II).

Cont. (Pt 1 – http://womenshistorynetwork.org/blog/?p=3877)


Another thing that has not changed is the kind of response you will get if you challenge Catholicism. Now as then, if you take issue or even ask awkward questions (such as, did Jesus know he was God and had divine powers? If not, he can’t have been God because God knows everything. If he did know, his so-called humanity was bogus, since humans in general do not have those powers) you get told one of the following.

  1. It’s a mystery, and you have to have faith.
  2. It’s in the bible, so it must be true. (the fundamentalist approach.)
  3. Or, even if it isn’t in the Bible, it is part of Catholic tradition so it must be true. This is also fundamentalist, but in a different sense. Catholic tradition is created by popes, cardinals and priests. All of whom are men. It’s true because men say it is.

If we look at the justification offered for the all-male priesthood, we find an example of this circular reasoning. The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth, which, published in 2007, has the Church’s imprimatur, i.e. official declaration that the document is ‘free from moral or doctrinal error, says this:

The Catholic church ordains only baptised men because Jesus chose men, not women, to be his Apostles…for this reason the church is bound by Jesus’s choice to ordain only men. [3]

By this analogy it might be argued that since Jesus only chose Jews to be his apostles, only Jews can be Catholic priests. But Catholics don’t exclude non-Jews from their priesthood, so why should they exclude non-men? Here’s the answer.

The Magisterium of the church has consistently upheld that this practice is part of the Tradition that has been revealed by God and cannot be changed by human beings.[4]

Or, to put it another way, It’s true because we say it is. And who are ‘we’? Celibate men.


I’m not knocking celibacy. Lots of people are celibate, either through choice or force of circumstances. But to make it part of a job specification, as the Catholic church does for its priests, does suggest the kind of fundamentalism under which individuals who are not women, and who have chosen to forego sexual contact with women or indeed anyone, nevertheless seek to control some of the most intimate areas of women’s lives.


Some Jesuit monk is supposed to have said, ‘Give me a child before he is seven and he will be mine for life.’

I wonder sometimes if the Sisters of Mercy who taught me were working on the same principle. Did it work? Am I ‘theirs for life’?


In one sense, yes. My brain is full of Catholic clutter. I can effortlessly recite prayers, Biblical quotations, questions and answers from the Catechism, the words of hymns in English and in Latin. While I was preparing this talk, I came upon an online Catholic general knowledge quiz, and had a go. I ticked the boxes, and checked my score.

I got 87%. I am, apparently, a Catholic Genius. I was invited to CLICK HERE to become a missionary.

I’d be a funny kind of missionary, believing as I do that God the Father, as envisaged by Catholic tradition is a bully, a tyrant, a sexist and a sadist, fully worthy of our fear and contempt, but not our love or admiration.

Eternal damnation is a frightening idea, which is why the threat of it is such an effective way of controlling some religious devotees. If Hell turns out to exist after all, that will be bad news – but not only for nonbelievers.

It will be bad news too for believers, because they may have to go to heaven – a heaven devised by someone whose idea of justice is to torture people with fire for using a condom. A person whose idea of good governance to have their own son crucified in order to teach everyone else a lesson.. How sure can we be that this individual’s idea of eternal bliss would be as blissful as it sounds? In the words of the Irish-American lapsed-catholic writer Mary McCarthy, author of Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, ‘I should not care to spend eternity in the company of such a person.’



I’ve heard that, since the revelations about sex abuse in the Catholic church, Catholic priests get spat at in the street. I don’t imagine that Pope Francis’s recent comments on the subject have helped. “A priest who has sex with a child betrays God,” [5] he told journalists recently. Betrays God? No, Francis, sexual abuse is an offence against the human victim, not God. God is all-powerful, according to you, and so cannot be abused. A child can.

At the same press conference, Francis also said “I compare it (i.e. child abuse) to a satanic mass.” What is the point of this simile? Is he really saying that the evil and cruelty of child abuse can only be expressed by comparing it with what a recent correspondent to the Guardian identified as “a harmless ritual that is neither illegal nor immoral”?

I would not defend anyone spitting at Catholic priests or anyone else. But you can see where that sort of anger and disgust comes from.



Sheila Jeffreys in Man’s Dominion calls on feminists to reconsider the idea that other people’s religions should be treated with ‘respect’.

Disrespect is crucial. Disrespect for the cultures, values and institutions of male domination is the very foundation of feminism. Since religion is crucial to the construction of cultural norms of every culture, disrespect for it should be the natural amniotic fluid of feminist thought and activism. [6]

I wouldn’t go that far. Christianity and other religions have bequeathed some good values to humanity, as well as fine literature, art, architecture and philanthropy. There are plenty of religious feminists and multiculturalists out there whom I don’t disrespect, and don’t want to.

So what has been the outcome of my non-Catholic Catholic education? Am I ‘theirs for life’? Here is my answer. I am a feminist, secular, and a humanist. I am a woman who has lived with a man for 40 years without marriage. I have chosen not to have children, and have used contraception to achieve this. I support lesbian and gay rights, and abortion rights. I do not believe that the existence of God can be either proved or disproved, any more than the existence of Father Christmas and the tooth fairy can; but I do not believe in any version of God that has been constructed by men to promote patriarchal power, and I do not know of any others. And I have the same respect for all religions, including fundamentalist ones, as they have for me.

 Zoe Fairbairns (c) June 2014

[3] P 199

[4] P 199

[5] theguardian.com 27 May 2014

[6] 3%

Zoe Fairbairns studied at theUniversity of St. Andrews, Scotland, and College of William and Mary, USA. Former poetry editor of Spare Rib,she is a freelance journalist and creative writing tutor, holding appointments as Writer in Residence at Bromley Schools (1981-3 and 1985-9), Deakin University, Geelong, Australia (1983), Sunderland Polytechnic (1983-5) and Surrey County Council (1989). A widely acclaimed novelist and nonfiction writer, her first novel, Live as Family, written at seventeen, was published in 1968, followed in 1969 by Down: An Explanation, whilst still at university. Benefits (1979) was followed by five further novels: Stand we at Last (1983), spanning 120 years, three continents and five generations of women living through Victorian repression, prostitution, the suffragette movement, war and the women’s movement; Here Today(1984), awarded the 1985 Fawcett Society Book Prize; Closing (1987), depicting working women caught between feminism and Thatcherism; and Daddy’s Girls (1992), three sisters enmeshed in a family’s secrets. Zoe Fairbairns’ most recent novel, Other Names, was published in 1998.





A talk given at the House of Lords, London, on 5 June 2014 as part of a seminar on ‘Oppression, Repression and Resistance – Renouncing the Fundamentalist Yoke’, organised by WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality (Pt II).


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 - by whnadmin

A talk given at the House of Lords, London, on 5 June 2014 as part of a seminar on ‘Oppression, Repression and Resistance – Renouncing the Fundamentalist Yoke’, organised by WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality (Pt I).



I was listening to a radio discussion about airport security. The issue was whether all passengers should be treated equally – i.e. thoroughly searched before being allowed to board a plane – or whether resources should be concentrated on people who ‘look like terrorists’.

Some people (it was argued) are obviously not terrorists: newborn babies for example. And nuns. Nuns are mild, gentle people who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, let alone blow up a plane. They can be safely waved through after only the most cursory of searches. That was the view of one of the speakers.

But somebody else thought nuns should be regarded as prime suspects, because what could be more fundamentalist than a nun? Nuns believe so strongly in the truth of their religion that they dedicate their whole lives to it. They live in like-minded communities, and spend many hours in rituals of religious devotion, serving a god who, they believe, has a special mission for them – their vocation. A god who, if they follow their vocation obediently will reward them with eternal bliss, but who, if they don’t, may send them to hell.

That is exactly the sort of mindset, the speaker argued, which motivates religiously-minded suicide bombers.



I mention this debate not because I have any reason to believe that any of the Catholic nuns who educated me in the 1950s and 60s were terrorists, but because one of our topics this evening is fundamentalism, and I want to underline the point that it is a word that means different things to different people.

a)    For the speaker on the radio,’fundamentalist’ meant ‘religiously devout and therefore a possible terrorist’.

b)    In the Oxford dictionary, fundamentalism is ‘strict maintenance of the doctrines of any religion, according to a strict, literal interpretation of scripture.’ That’s neither good nor bad: it depends on the doctrines.

c)    Sometimes the word ‘fundamentalist’ is used is to mean ‘theocratic’, describing a religion that has a role in government. The Church of England would be an example of this.

d)    A fourth way in which the word ‘fundamentalist’ is used is to describe patriarchal men who pursue their favourite hobby of controlling, exploiting and oppressing women, and who seek to justify this by reference to religion.



In her book Man’s Dominion: the Rise of Religion and the Eclipse of Women’s Rights, Sheila Jeffreys suggests that the term ‘fundamentalism’should be avoided, because it seems to suggest that religion is OK as long as it isn’t fundamentalist.[1]

In Jeffreys’ view, any belief system which is based around the worship of a male godhead, deference to a male hierarchy, and the control of women’s sexuality, will always be bad news for women. And that is my view too.

Jeffreys bases her arguments on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I’m confining my comments to Christianity – specifically Catholicism. I’m not a Catholic and never have been, but I spent 14 years as a day-pupil in a Catholic convent school.

Why? I hear you ask. And I have wondered that myself. In defence of my late parents, who weren’t Catholics either, or even particularly interested in the Church of England to which our family nominally belonged, I can only say it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The Catholic school was nearby, its girls behaved well on the buses, and the school had a good (and, as it turned out, well-deserved) reputation for getting its pupils through exams.

Non-Catholics were welcome, but we had to take part in group prayers, which occurred up to seven times a day, and which often involved special body-movements: head-bowing, genuflection, the sign of the cross, the dipping of fingers into holy water. We had to study Catholic theology, take exams in it, and show proper respect for its beliefs. For example:


  • God created the universe. His power over it is absolute and eternal. But if anything goes wrong – floods, famines, droughts, diseases, storms, snakebites – it’s not his fault, it is ours.


(My religious education was not, of course, phrased in those terms – I’ve tried to translate the evasive, slippery language of some Catholic theology into plain English so that we know what we are talking about.)


  • God forgives wrongdoers who repent. But the price of his forgiveness is that Jesus, who was God’s son and who never did anything wrong, had to be tortured to death through crucifixion. God could have intervened to save Jesus, but he chose not to. Yet God is to be regarded as a loving father.


  • God created all human beings equal, and in his image. But he won’t tolerate lesbianism, male homosexuality or women priests.


  • The use of pharmaceuticals or barriers to prevent conception is against natural law and are therefore sinful. But it’s fine for women to take their temperature every morning, peer closely at their vaginal secretions, use the data to draw a graph indicating when they are least likely to conceive, and confine sexual intercourse to those times. This sort of behaviour is apparently natural.


  • Warfare and judicial execution are, in many circumstances, acceptable. But abortion never is, because it involves killing a human being. .

These are the sorts of things that my Catholic friends were raised to believe, and I, sitting beside them, was warned that I had better believe them too. These doctrines are still alive and well in Catholic catechisms and textbooks today. [2]



Zoe Fairbairns (c) June 2014


Zoe Fairbairns studied at theUniversity of St. Andrews, Scotland, and College of William and Mary, USA. Former poetry editor of Spare Rib,she is a freelance journalist and creative writing tutor, holding appointments as Writer in Residence at Bromley Schools (1981-3 and 1985-9), Deakin University, Geelong, Australia (1983), Sunderland Polytechnic (1983-5) and Surrey County Council (1989). A widely acclaimed novelist and nonfiction writer, her first novel, Live as Family, written at seventeen, was published in 1968, followed in 1969 by Down: An Explanation, whilst still at university. Benefits (1979) was followed by five further novels: Stand we at Last (1983), spanning 120 years, three continents and five generations of women living through Victorian repression, prostitution, the suffragette movement, war and the women’s movement; Here Today (1984), awarded the 1985 Fawcett Society Book Prize; Closing (1987), depicting working women caught between feminism and Thatcherism; and Daddy’s Girls (1992), three sisters enmeshed in a family’s secrets. Zoe Fairbairns’ most recent novel, Other Names, was published in 1998.




[1] Sorry I can’t give a page number – my Kindle only does percentages. It’s in the Introduction, at 2%.

[2] See for example the Catholic Truth Society’s Catechiism of Christian Doctrine (2013); Brian Singer Towns et al: The Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth (St Mary’s Press 2008); and Religious Education Curriculum Directory for Catholic Schools and Colleges in England and Wales (Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales 2012)

For Pt 2 – http://womenshistorynetwork.org/blog/


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Communique – Getting Asia Pacific Women’s Voices Heard!

 - by whnadmin





Women and girls of the Asia Pacific Region and Oceania are vital political activists and agitators. Although the region has one of the lowest parliamentary representations of women – possibly the lowest in regional terms – women and girls are determined to make their voices heard – and listened to. Around the region, conferences, workshops, seminars, meetings and group activities take place on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. Women organise in business, in markets, in mothers groups, as office workers, retail assistants and managers, as villagers, city women, town-dwellers and itinerant workers. Women and girls speak up and speak out against violence against women, against trafficking in women, women’s right to abortion, women’s right to contraception and family planning advice, education in sex and sexuality, criminal assault at home and other forms of domestic violence and the importance of ending it, women’s political rights, business rights, resource rights and right to exist in dignity and freedom – everywhere.

Women’s non-government organisations are well-established with a vital presence at UN Commission on the Status of Women meetings, and UN regional meetings.  This is a communique from one such meeting.

Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) June 2014


Communique – Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (RCEM)

Seventy-five (75) representatives of civil society organizations in the Asia Pacific region gathered on 15-17 May in Bangkok, Thailand for the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development. The meeting preceded the UNESCAP intergovernmental Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD) and focused on consolidating and expanding the collective civil society call for Development Justice as central part of the post-2015 development agenda.

A major milestone of the CSO forum was the creation of a transition mechanism for a new

Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (RCEM).

The momentum to create such a mechanism derives from a series of discussions and meetings held throughout 2013 and 2014 in the region. These meetings have focused on the creation of a comprehensive and structured process to facilitate and coordinate Asia-Pacific CSO engagement on sustainable development with the entire United Nations system. This is a result of the Rio+20 outcomes, which has articulated the importance of multi-stakeholder participation for sustainable development.

During the CSO forum on May 15-17, representatives of the Transition Committee have been appointed based on constituency and sub-regional representation. During a one-year period (2014-2015) they will collate input from civil society on the optimal structure and functions of the RCEM. They will also facilitate outreach and capacity-building as well as consolidation and articulation of common positions of CSOs in the Asia-Pacific region in regional and global discussions on sustainable development. The Transition Committee is complemented by an Advisory Group consisting of individuals that have extensive knowledge on sustainable development and civil society engagement. This structure is expected to further evolve based on lessons learned and collective experience during this transition period and culminate in the formation of the full RCEM.





Transitional Committee

5 Sub-regional Focal Points,

14 Constituency Focal Points

Subregional Groups

Pacific, North East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia

Constituency Groups

(1) Women, (2) farmers, (3) fisherfolk, (4) youth, children and adolescents (5) migrants, (6) trade union/workers, (7) people living with HIV, (8) LGBTIQ, (9) urban poor, (10) people displaced by disasters and conflict, (11) small and medium enterprises, (12) science and technology, (13)persons with disability, (14) Indigenous peoples, (15) elderly, (16) Local Authorities




Thematic Working Groups

Advisory Group

The aim of the RCEM is to enable stronger cross constituency

1 coordination and ensure that voices of all sub-regions2 of Asia Pacific are heard in intergovernmental processes. Thus, the RCEM will ensure that the 60% of the world’s people living in the Asia Pacific region are better represented by civil society and social movements in global negotiations and have a stronger, coordinated, and more effective voice in regional processes.

1 (1)

Women, (2) farmers, (3) fisherfolk, (4) youth, children and adolescents (5) migrants, (6) trade union/workers, (7) people living with HIV, (8) LGBTIQ, (9) urban poor, (10) people displaced by disasters and conflict, (11) small and medium enterprises, (12) science and technology, (13)persons with disability, (14) Indigenous peoples, (15) elderly, (16) Local Authorities

2 South East Asia, South Asia, North East Asia, Central Asia, Pacific

As result of a bottom-up and inclusive process, the creation of the RCEM has been initiated, designed and will therefore be owned by CSOs in Asia and Pacific. It will be an open, inclusive and flexible mechanism designed to reach the broadest number of CSOs, harness the voice of grassroots and peoples’ movements to advance a more just, equitable and sustainable model of development. Moreover, it will be a platform to share information and best practices and build capacities of CSOs for better and more effective engagement in the future.

Taking into account diversity of the Asia Pacific region and the limitations of existing institutional structures for civil society engagement, the CSO Forum in Bangkok defined 8 additional constituencies

3, which are currently not included in the existing Major Group structure, as well as 5 (five) sub-regional groupings.

3 Fisherfolk; migrants; people living with HIV; LGBTIQ; people displaced by disasters and conflict; SMEs; persons with disability; elderly

At the UNESCAP APFSD, the RCEM served to coordinate the interventions and engagement of CSOs in the various plenary and roundtable sessions as well as for side events and informal dialogues. This generated positive feedback from many UN bodies and member states who are recognizing the substantive contributions made by civil society at the APFSD. This was a very encouraging preview of the RCEM’s role and contribution to the sustainable development agenda for the region and beyond.

With the RCEM civil society can better advance their collective call for

development justice - an agenda that calls for five transformative shifts of redistributive justice, economic justice, social and gender justice, environmental justice and accountability to peoples.

For further information: Wardarina – Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development

Chair of Transition Committee of RCEM. Email: rina@apwld.org



Transition CommitteeConstituency Focal Points
1 Wardarina, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) Email: rina@apwld.org Women/Chair of TC
2 Wali Heider, Roots for Equity, Pakistan E-mail: walikhi@yahoo.com Farmers
3 Paul Quintos, Ibon International E-mail: pquintos@iboninternational.org) NGO
4 Anusha Kumari, SLITU, Sri Lanka E-mail: kumari.anusha27@gmail.com Trade Union & Workers
5 Frances Quimpo, Center for Environmental Concern/CEC Email: fquimpo@cecphils.orgMasanori Kobayashi, Ocean Policy Research Foundation Email: m-kobayashi@ynu.ac.jp Scientific and Technology
6 Bernice See, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact/AIPP, E-mail: bernice@aipp.org Indigenous Peoples
7 Emani Kumar, ICLEI Email: emani.kumar@iclei.org Local Authorities
8 Kabita Gautam, BYND2015 Nepal Hub email: kabitagautam1@gmail.com Youth, Children & Adolescent
9 Gomer Padong, Philippine Social Enterprise Network, E-mail: gomerpadong@gmail.com Small Medium Enterprise
10 Lani Eugania, PUANTANI, Indonesia E-mail: puantani.desa@gmail.com Fisherfolks
11 Aron Ceradoy, Asia Pacific Mission on Migrant Email: ahc27hk@gmail.com Migrants
12 Maria Lourdes Marin, Coalition of Asia-Pacific Regional Networks on HIV/AIDS, Email: malu_7sisters@yahoo.com People Living with HIV
13 Helen Hakena, Leitana Nehan Women Development Agency, Papua New Guinea E-mail: helenhakena@gmail.com People in Conflict and Disaster Area
14 Rudolf Bastian Tampubolon,GCAP SENCAP Email: bastiangerard2003@gmail.com LGBTIQ
Sub-Region Focal Point
1 Ranja Sengupta, Third World Network E-mail: ranja.sengupta@gmail.com South Asia
2 Ahmad Syamsul Hadi, WALHI, Indonesia E-mail: ahmad.walhi@gmail.com Southeast Asia
3 Cai Yi Ping, DAWN, China E-mail: caiyiping2000@gmail.com East Asia
4 Nurgul Djanaeva, Forum of Women’s NGO of Kyrygysztan Email: dnurgul@yahoo.com Central Asia
5 Alaipuke Esau, Pacific Youth Council Email: alaipuke@gmail.com Pacific
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Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era

 - by whnadmin




At the appointed hour on a sultry, mid-July afternoon, the highly decorated, customized Model-T autovan, nicknamed “Rome’s Chariot,” arrived on the corner of Washington Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue in Brighton, Massachusetts. In the autovan rode Martha Moore Avery and David Goldstein, the featured lecturers for the meeting to be held that evening sponsored by the Catholic Truth Guild. The Model-T had been modified to hold evangelistic meetings from within its doors. It housed a moveable platform, complete with a stand-up rostrum known as the “perambulating pulpit,” that folded out at a forty-five degree angle from the front of the car. Its four seats could be removed or stacked on top of one another to form a table, and ample storage compartments carried large quantities of Catholic literature.

Designed as an eye-catching spectacle, the autovan generated a crowd simply by driving into town. Its decorations blended American patriotism and Roman Catholic devotion. It sported a sentence from George Washington’s Farewell Address: “Reason and experience forbid us to believe that national morality can prevail where religious principles are excluded.” A miniature star spangled banner decorated the hood to display visibly its patriotism. The Catholic nature of the enterprise shone forth in a large crucifix topped by an electric light and in the yellow and white chassis colors borrowed from the papal flag. In cardinal red letters, the refrain from the Holy Name hymn, penned by Boston’s Archbishop William O’Connell, covered the other side of the car: “Fierce is the fight for God and the right; sweet name of Jesus in Thee is our might.” The autovan’s maiden voyage took place on Independence Day, 1917, when it carried Avery and Goldstein, the co-founders and lecturers of the Catholic Truth Guild, to Boston Commons, to the inaugural meeting.



The Catholic Truth Guild provides only one illustration of the rampant institution building that women evangelists pursued during the decades of the Progressive Era, from 1890 to 1920. Three thousand miles to the west, Florence Louise Crawford brought the Pentecostal message from Azusa Street to downtown Portland and opened the Apostolic Faith Mission. In Hicks Hollow, an impoverished enclave in Kansas City, former slave, Emma Ray, turned a ramshackle, two-story wooden building into a rescue mission for African American children, while at a nondescript crossroad along the foothills of the Appalachians, Mattie Perry founded Elhanan Training School, even before the first public school opened in Marion, North Carolina. When institution building reached the craggy creek beds of western North Carolina through an ordinary woman like Perry, with no financial reserves, no church standing, and no higher education, the movement can be said to have thoroughly pervaded the entire nation.

This phenomenon differentiates women evangelists in the Progressive Era from their counterparts in previous generations. Earlier in the nineteenth century, evangelists like Harriet Livermore, Jarena Lee, Nancy Towle, and Zilpha Elaw, the so-called “strangers and pilgrims” featured in Catherine Brekus’ groundbreaking study, Strangers & Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845, had labored single-handedly as preacher, publicist, and pastor at the altar. What changed toward the century’s end was that women evangelists settled down to build institutions, from evangelistic organizations to religious training schools, from churches to rescue missions.



Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era focuses on the generation of women evangelists who shifted their tack from itinerancy to institution building. The salient change was this: the first generation of lone itinerant women evangelists who had once wandered the continent became, in the next generation, a phalanx of entrepreneurial institution builders. With this key strategic change, these women transformed the quintessential expression of American Christianity—evangelism—from an itinerant practice into the grand task of institution building.


Priscilla Pope-Levison (c) May 2014

Priscilla Pope-Levison is Professor of Theology, Seattle Pacific University and author of ‘Building the Old Time Religion: Women Evangelists in the Progressive Era’.

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‘What does a woman want money for?

 - by whnadmin

‘Heading Households – Power, Domination, Subjugation and Survival’



 ‘What does a woman want money for?’ the Reverend Patrick Brontë asked when his daughter, Charlotte, told him she was going to be paid for a book she had written. The book was Jane Eyre.

Patrick’s stipend was not enough to maintain his children, and until his daughters began to earn money, first as governesses and then as novelists, the family lived in poverty.

But, what did Charlotte want money for?

Charlotte paid the doctor’s bills – her sisters, Anne and Emily died from tuberculosis. She paid for their home, the parsonage at Howarth, to be redecorated and improved. She paid off her brother’s debts. Her prosperity did not last long, for in 1855 Charlotte, now married, died, not in childbirth, but from being pregnant; her body was simply too frail to withstand a pregnancy. Did poverty during her own childhood contribute to her frailty?



By earning her own living, Charlotte Brontë took on the role of head of household, but it was not until 1993 that the assumption that the man was ‘head of household’ ceased to be automatic, and a definition of ‘chief income earner’ adopted. Charlotte broke the pattern of genteel poverty imposed on nineteenth century women of the middling sort, but only by posing as a male author.  When the success of Charlotte’s novels brought her to London to meet her publisher, George Smith, of Smith, Elder and Co, was shocked, but he was also generous towards his writers: Charlotte had chosen well, and she continued to earn what a man would have earned.

So, more than a century and a half on from the publication of Jane Eyre under a male pseudonym, how are women faring? And what impact has equal pay legislation had on women’s ability to earn a living?

The equal pay legislation

The Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Equal Pay Act 1975, enables a woman to claim pay equal to that received by a man on the grounds that they are doing:

  • Like work
  • Work rated as equivalent under a job evaluation scheme
  • Work of Equal Value

‘Pay’ includes wages, holidays, pension rights, company perks and some bonuses. Claims are pursued through the Employment Tribunal system.


The current gender pay gap

The median full-time gender pay gap for hourly earnings is 10.00 per cent [ONS April 2013], an increase on the previous year. For the tax year ended 5 April 2013 median gross annual earnings for male full-time employees were £29,300, women the figure £23,600.

Averages do not tell the full story: some women will experience no pay gap, others will experience much larger inequalities than the headline figures imply. And it’s important to recognise that a pay difference doesn’t necessarily signify pay discrimination. A pay gap can have many causes, only one of which could be pay discrimination.



Full-time gender pay gaps are wider in some occupations than in others. The gap in median hourly earnings is widest for skilled trades and for process, plant and machine operatives, both at 22 per cent. Among major industrial groups, the median full-time gender pay gap is widest for financial and insurance activities, 37 per cent, and in England, the widest gender pay gap is in the South East , reflecting the higher average earnings of men in those regions, particularly of men working in the financial services industry.

Full-time gender pay gaps widen for women aged 40-49 and 50-59, before narrowing for older. Conversely, the gap has largely disappeared for those in their twenties and thirties, with the earnings of women and men aged 22-29 being similar.



Research into the gender pay gap

We know from the large body of research into the gender pay gap, as well as from our own experience and observations as women, that the nature and pattern of women’s labour market participation remains distinct from that of men. Women’s choices about what kind of work to do, where to do it, and for how many hours a week, are still quite restricted. Women are over-represented in the ‘5 Cs’: caring, cashiering, cleaning, catering, and clerical. These roles tend to be poorly paid, with few opportunities for training and progression, and often do not make the most of women’s skills and abilities.

Men dominate full-time employment, women part-time, but while the proportion of men working part-time is steadily increasing, for men this reduction in hours tends to be for a finite period of time – while they are students, or after they have retired; for women it lasts for many years. Despite advances in ‘flexible working’ – intended to open up higher paid jobs to working on a reduced hours basis, there is still a real limit to high quality and well paid part time work.



 The consequences of the gender pay gap

Almost all the research into the gender pay gap has looked at its causes, but I want to look at its consequences. The correlation between low pay and unequal pay is unclear – I believe deliberately so: policy makers quite simply don’t want to face up to the fact that poverty is a women’s issue; easier by far to blame the education system, or the way in which benefits are distributed, than to redress the imbalance of power that impoverishes women.


Low income in retirement

What we do know is that women are more likely to be low paid than men throughout their working lives. This often translates into lower income in retirement. 17 per cent of women pensioners live in households with a low income compared to 14 per cent of men [EHRC 2012]. The pensions’ gap is narrowing, but until the underlying cause – the gender pay gap – is tackled, the problem is not going to go away.

The consequences of unequal pay and/ or low pay are more than financial, especially when women are heads of household. Over the past fifteen years the proportion of mothers in couples who are breadwinners has risen from 18 to 31 per cent, while the proportion of mothers who are sole earners is up from 11 to 18 per cent. The consequences of unequal pay/low pay for women include:

  • Residence in poor neighbourhoods. More female-headed households with children report both ‘pollution and grime and other environmental problems’ and ‘crime, violence and vandalism’ in the local areas than do other types of household [EHRC 2012].


  •  Poor housing. Households headed by women are more likely to live in overcrowded or substandard homes than those headed by men.  articlewhnblog18imagesCAGGUMH3
  •  Life transitions. Bereavement or divorce have a more significant and potentially negative impact on women’s financial position than on men’s [BHPS].


  • Domestic violence. Divorced or separated women are more likely to experience domestic violence, but domestic violence is less likely to occur in households where male and female contributions to household income are roughly equal [Olsen &  Walby, 2002]. articlewhnblog18untitled


Not enough has changed in the century and a half since Charlotte Bronte shocked her father and her publisher by taking on responsibility for her own material wellbeing. While the headline gender pay gap is 10 per cent, the figure for older women is 18 per cent. ‘Women’s rates’ were outlawed almost fifty years ago, but we all know that a part-time rate is a ‘woman’s rate’. ; Unequal pay all too often also means low pay, which in turn means poorer housing provision and less ability to self-provide for a pension. We’re still stuck in the male breadwinner mould. It’s not regulation that is needed, nor endless policy initiatives, but a seismic shift in attitudes towards women.

Sheila Wild (c) March/April 2014




Sheila Wild

Writer and equality consultant Sheila Wild was for many years the Director of Employment Policy at the Equal Opportunities Commission (the EOC), where she headed up a number of major projects on workplace issues affecting women. Through her work on equal pay cases, and on the 1997 and 2003 codes of practice on equal pay, she acquired a particular expertise on equal pay issues and subsequently led the development and dissemination of the EOC’s equal pay audit kit, which for over a decade has been the focal point for UK campaigns to close the gender pay gap.  Sheila moved across to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2007, where she continued to lead on equal pay issues. After leaving the Commission in 2011, Sheila set up www.equalpayportal.co.uk an information resource on equal pay. Sheila Wild is an award-winning poet and is currently reading, part-time, for a Masters in Publishing.

This is an edited version of a presentation at the WWAFE (Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality) seminar at the House of Lords on 6 March 2014 – ‘Heading Households – Power, Domination, Subjugation and Survival’.


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Violating Human Rights by Criminalising Trafficking Victims/Survivors

 - by whnadmin



March 27, 2014 | CUNY School of Law

Today, the U.N. Human Rights Committee urged that the U.S. end the prosecution of human trafficking victims for crimes that they are forced to commit. The Committee expressed concern that victims of sex trafficking are arrested and convicted for prostitution and related offenses, and recognized that there is insufficient identification of trafficking victims. The Committee urged the U.S. to “take all appropriate measures to prevent the criminalization of victims of sex trafficking, including child victims, to the extent that they have been compelled to engage in unlawful activities.”

The recommendations follow the Committee’s dialogue with a U.S. government delegation in Geneva earlier this month to review the U.S.’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of three human rights treaties to which the U.S. is a party.



“The Committee’s concluding observations send a clear message that criminalizing trafficking victims violates their fundamental human rights,” says Cynthia Soohoo, director of the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic (IWHR) at the City University of New York School of Law.

“We hope that the U.S. government will heed the Committee’s recommendations and take action to ensure trafficked people are not arrested and criminalized,” says Kate Mogulescu, supervising attorney of The Legal Aid Society’s Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project (TVAP). “In addition, many states have passed laws allowing trafficking survivors to vacate criminal convictions.  These laws are a crucial step toward redressing the harms of unjust criminalization and should be encouraged across the country.”



Advocates from IWHR and TVAP were in Geneva during the review to raise the issue of criminalization of victims of sex trafficking with U.S. government representatives and the Committee.  IWHR, TVAP, and the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center also submitted a shadow report to the Committee highlighting the issue as a human rights violation.

IWHR recently issued a new report describing the alarming consequence of the U.S’s emphasis on a criminal justice approach to trafficking: trafficking victims are often treated like criminals rather than being recognized as victims of a crime. The report documented the lasting consequences that criminal records impose on the lives of trafficking survivors, including barriers to safe housing and stable employment, in addition to fueling mistrust of law enforcement.

Sixteen states across the country have enacted legislation designed to mitigate these harms by allowing survivors of human trafficking to clear prostitution and related convictions from their records.

The Committee’s full concluding observations are available online.


Cindy Soohoo, Director, CUNY Law’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic, Cynthia.Soohoo@law.cuny.edu(718) 340-4329

Kate Mogulescu, Supervising Attorney, The Legal Aid Society Trafficking Victim Advocacy Project, kamogulescu@legal-aid.org(347)834-6089.




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Electronic Gadgets Cost More than Money …

 - by whnadmin


Self-confessed electronics fan Adam Turner [The Age, March 22], deemed wearable gadgets as yet to meet his desires. Such technology fails to tick his boxes relating to simplicity, elegance, and value for money. Others would agree, though for some the reasons are distinctly unrelated to user-friendliness, cosmetic appearance, and price.

The central critique of newly emerging technical gadgets is unconnected to a mentality innately fearing and/or loathing technology per se.  Rather, the basis is humanitarian. It focuses on the source of the ingredient, Columbite-tantalite, essential for the manufacture of hi-tech appliances, including laptop computers, mobile phones and paging systems, digital and video cameras, game consoles and applications, and military missiles and drones.




The Congo is home to 80 percent of the world’s Columbite-tantalite. Known as Coltan, this black tar-like mineral produces a heat resistant powder uniquely capturing and retaining a high level of electric charge. These properties, together with a conductive ability in extreme temperatures, also make Coltan ideal for smart bomb guidance controls. Security analysts refer to it as a strategic mineral.

Yet in Central Africa, Coltan is known as a conflict mineral. According to a 2001 UN Report on the Illegal Exploitation of the Congo’s  Natural Resources, Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi and their proxy militias are the primary exploiters of the Congo’s Coltan.

Mining is masterminded by rebels and foreign forces, then sold to foreign corporations. Although UN Reports on the Congo have not directly blamed multi-national corporations for the conflict in the country, they have stated that these companies serve as “the engine of the conflict in the DRC.

Mining facilities are described as 19th century. Miners are men and women refugees displaced during the Congo’s war which began back in 1998; prisoners as a result of the conflict; and children. They toil from dawn until dusk under the supervision of soldiers, without protective clothing, and in narrow tunnels with virtually no ventilation. Children are seen as a valuable resource since they can squeeze into the small Coltan-rich cavities within the makeshift mines located within the Eastern Congo’s riverbeds”.



Adult miners are paid between $10 and $50 per week, considerably more than the country’s average monthly wage of $10 per month. Child miners, destined to remain illiterate in the absence of any schooling, receive just $1.50 per week.



Mining processes have turned the forests and fields into swamps, with lethal landslides a common occurrence. The toxic impact of Coltan, together with mining intrusions into animal habitat has reduced elephant numbers by 80 percent, and gorilla numbers by 90 percent. By and large, miners fail to fulfil the national life expectancy of 47 years due to malnutrition, Coltan toxicity, contagious diseases, and the extremely gruelling labour. Women miners face physical and emotional violence from both military overseers and co-workers. Estimates have two children paying with their lives for each kilogram of Coltan harvested.

Once the Coltan is processed, chiefly by corporations in the US, and others in Germany, China and Belgium, it is  sold  to companies such as Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Alcatel, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lucent, Ericsson and Sony for the manufacture of electronic devices.

The market does not stop there. Coltan-dependent drone manufacturing companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, AeroVironment, and Textron in the US, Northrop Grumman in Australia, Prox Dynamics in Norway, Denel Dynamics in South Africa, and Israel’s Aerospace Industries report annual multi-billion dollar profits.

While blood hi-tech has proceeded unabated, the world has lost its conscience when it comes to accepting responsibility for capitalising on a market largely financing a war witnessing the slaughter of an estimated six million of the Congo’s 70 million people, and the brutal rape and torture of in excess of 200,000 females – age being no protection against this atrocity.



Instead, as new technologies have emerged and new electronic devices are manufactured, the demand for the Congo’s Coltan has grown even larger. Right now there is no known substitute for Coltan, but the time is nigh for individuals to question whether we wish to remain complicit with the gross crimes against humanity in the Congo. For starters, who truthfully needs a new mobile phone each year, or a replacement iPad whenever a new colour range appears on the scene, or an expensive electronic gadget that will serve multiple futile functions while attached to the wrist?

Lynette J. Dumble and Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) March 2014

electrictronicgadgets5imagesCAL9JQOH electronicgadgets6imagesCATO91DW



Dr Lynette Dumble is the founder and director of The Global Sisterhood Network, and Dr Jocelynne Scutt a barrister and human rights lawyer.

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Human Rights & Development – An Essential Duo!

 - by whnadmin
The UN hosts the Commission on the Status of Women annually in New York City. CSW 58 – 9-20 March 2014 - saw a debate on human rights and development. Clearly human rights should not be seen as in conflict with development, and development should go ahead in complete concert with human rights. Women from CSW 58 spoke out on this issue, drafting the Civil Society Red Flag appearing here. All organisations endorsing the letter to date and involved in shaping it are listed.


In the past year, civil society organizations worldwide from different fields of work have closely followed United Nations Member States’ deliberations on the post 2015 development agenda. We have welcomed invitations to contribute through online or in-person consultations and have been suggesting development alternatives, analysis, and comprehensive recommendations throughout this process.

Despite these efforts, we are alarmed that within the post 2015 discussions, little seems to be underway to reverse the trend of doing business as usual and that the UN is about to lose the opportunity to transform the current vicious cycle of development focused on economic growth alone that fuels inequalities, inequities, environmental degradation and marginalization into a virtuous cycle where human rights and justice prevail. Despite the statement of the UN Secretary General that “no one will be left behind,” the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] are not on track to be built on the essential priorities for a sound and effective post 2015 global agenda, namely human rights and dignity for all.





In the Millennium Declaration, governments made an explicit commitment to “promote … respect for all internationally recognized human rights (…) including the right to development [and] (…) to strive for the full protection and promotion in all our countries of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for all.” It is unacceptable that at this point in UN history, despite all agreements and commitments affirming their interlinkages, there is still a dangerous disconnection between development and human rights.

This means that the most important lesson from the MDGs has yet to be learned: that sustainable development is impossible unless human rights are at its center as a foundational pillar of vibrant, equal and prosperous societies. Progress on people’s rights and substantive gender equality in the development agenda requires critical attention to interconnected and indivisible sexual, reproductive, and other civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Moreover, in order to be truly effective and inclusive in the face of current global inequalities, the post 2015 agenda must focus on a just distribution of the benefits of development, consider and commit to the creation of an enabling macroeconomic environment for the achievement of development goals and ensure that human rights underpin all development efforts.





The current level of inequalities is insulting and, as global citizens, we do not agree with investing human and financial resources for governments at the UN to merely reaffirm what was agreed on 20 years ago, or in the Rio+20 outcome document.  We demand that you go beyond these commitments and establish a well articulated and interlinked human rights and development agenda, with all stakeholders held responsible for coherent and transparent policies, programs and services. This means naming rights holders and duty bearers, identifying obligations of all parties, focusing on implementation and accountability through legal, policy and institutional measures to fully realize all human rights for everyone. It means preventing cultural, religious, ethnic, gender or other forms of bias, the possible non-recognition of the rights of certain categories of persons and categories of rights when shaping the future.

There will not be sustainability in any development model without human rights. We need and call on Member States and UN Agencies to demonstrate and sustain the necessary leadership and political will to ensure that the post 2015 development agenda is based on fully realizing the fundamental principles of human rights, equality, non-discrimination, and social justice for all. ­

The future we need requires courageous actions to shape the future we want. Civil society organizations from around the world are watching. And we do hope to be heard.



Gestos- HIV, Communication and Gender, Brazil LACCASO – Latin American and the Caribbean Council of AIDS Organizations RESURJ – Realizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice Alliance Coalition of African Lesbians Engajamundo, Brazil Diverse Voices and Action for Equality,


Fiji Pacific Feminist SRHR Coalition The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission YouAct: European Youth Network on Sexual and Reproductive Rights Balance, México


ILGA LAC Women International for a Common Future WICF/WECF DSW – Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevoelkerung Association of War Affected Women (AWAW), Sri Lanka ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (ASTRA Network)

Italian Association for Women in Development – AIDOS Rome, Italy Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland PROFAMILIA, Puerto Rico INTER-MUJERES, Puerto Rico. RFSU, IPPF Member Association, Sweden Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
COC, Netherlands Women in Europe for a Common Future WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform Union Women Center, Georgia FOKUS-Forum for Women and Development, Norway MEXFAM, Mexico Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peace Building (ZYWNP)
Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago Amnesty International Red de Educacion Popular Entre Mujeres de Latinoamérica y Caribe, LAC La Red de Mujeres Afrolatinoamericanas, Afrocaribeñas y de la Diáspora

Center for Women’s Global Leadership Fundacion para Estudio e Investigacion de la Mujer- FEIM, Argentina International AIDS Women’s caucus – IAWC RedNAC Red Argentina de Adolescentes y Jovenes por los derechos sexuales y Reproductivos, Argentina


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CSW 58 – Voices Call for Peace

 - by whnadmin


The Commission on the Status of Women takes place every year at the United Nations in New York City. CSW 58 saw Canadian Voice of Women for Peace construct a letter to the Chair of CSW 58, calling for Peace in the World:

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace

7 Labatt Ave. Suite 212-I, Toronto, ON Canada

M5A 1Z1

March 20th, 2014

Dear H.E. Mr. Libran Cabactulan,

I am pleased to submit to you, as Chair of the Bureau for the 58th session (2014) of the Commission on the Status of Women, this petition which has circulated during the two weeks of this CSW.

We have collected much support for the recommendations which you will see on the petition.

The number supporting them amount to four hundred, half collected here at the meeting and half online (www.vowpeace.org).

The signatories are from thirty-six countries, and sixty-seven organizations. The countries represented are: Hungary, Iceland, USA, Canada Uganda, Hong Kong, Sierra Leone, UK, Sudan, Tunisia, India, Mexico, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Taiwan, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Bulgaria, Malaysia, Germany, Nepal, Nigeria, Burma, Pakistan, Australia, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway ,Guatemala, Japan. France, Finland.


 WE CALL FOR the years of international rhetoric to be translated into action.

WE CALL FOR  the delegitimization of war. Given the social, economic, ecological, health and psychological consequences of war, under no circumstance or condition is was legal or just.

WE CALL FOR  the United Nations, to agree that all States will reform their domestic laws and judicial procedures so that they provide effective and meaningful protections for the rights of indigenous women within  their jurisdictions, and to take steps, immediately, to ensure the elimination of the direct and indirect impacts that militarization and the development and utilization of nuclear  processes/byproducts have on  indigenous people,  particularly indigenous women and girls*(using the transfer or capital money no longer being used  to fund war) *note., who are the most severely impacted, as a result of various States intentionally identifying and locating industries related to militarization, nuclear facilities and related waste disposal on their legally protected homelands.



WE CALL UPON all governments to help prevent war by invoking the UN charter’s chapter VI; the peaceful resolution of disputes.

WE CALL FOR the United Nations to promote common security and call upon the member states to sign  and ratify  international covenants and conventions  which embody obligations  and commitments related to common security.

WE CALL UPON  the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to calculate the contribution of militarism to greenhouse gas emissions.


WE CALL FOR the disbanding of NATO and the relying on UN Peacekeeping instead.

WE CALL FOR the conversation, to peaceful purposes, of military bases (including those on foreign soil).

These measures would contribute to a much invigorated development agenda for developing and developed countries. May these ideas provide momentum for future consideration.


Janis Alton

Co-Chair, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace


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Politics & Women’s Voices – Anna Howard Shaw

 - by whnadmin

Anna Howard Shaw 1875

 Dr Anna Howard Shaw

On April 20, 1917, Dr Anna Howard Shaw, honorary president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), received what was essentially her draft notice. President Woodrow Wilson had appointed her to head the Women’s Committee of the Council for National Defense (CND), the governmental entity created to coordinate the domestic war effort. The Women’s Committee would become the first governmental organization composed solely of women and focused on women.

President Wilson made a definite pro-suffrage statement with this appointment, but perhaps even more, the entire government was recognizing the remarkable depth and breadth of women’s activism of all stripes that existed in the United States at that point in our history. Yet how many people know of either this committee or its leader?

Fast-forward nearly a century later. Perhaps Hillary Clinton will run for president again. While such an election would mark a significant milestone for United States’ women, many question whether it would really be a measure of women’s political power. How might we compare where women are today to where they were in 1917?  In her famous 1914 speech, “The Fundamental Principle of a Republic,” Shaw argued that for the United States to live up to its foundational ideals, to be a representative government, all voices must be heard.  Have we reached that representative government? Are women even allowed an equal voice on the issues that disproportionately affect their lives? Unfortunately, those ideals have yet to be realized.

Wilson’s choice of Anna Howard Shaw recognized her years of activism and her standing among the general public. In many ways, this one remarkable and unusual woman was representative of women then. Shaw embodied women’s expanding opportunities in the 19th and early 20th centuries for education, work and politics, as well as the challenges they faced. An immigrant raised in poverty on a Michigan farm, from an early age Shaw worked to financially support her family, teaching school in addition to her unpaid hard physical farm labor. When she was called to the ministry, her family didn’t approve. She went it alone. She worked her way through college and seminary in the 1870s, fought for ordination, headed two parishes, and earned a medical degree, before giving all of it up to become a freelance lecturer, activist and organizer. Shaw devoted more than 30 years working full time for the women’s movement and over 12 important and transformative years as president of NAWSA. She was the movement’s greatest orator and truly a self-made woman.


 Dr Anna Howard Shaw

Shaw led the way for the many impressive women in leadership today. We see individual women in positions of power in the government, in the professions, in business. We might think we have accomplished a great deal in terms of gender equality. Nevertheless, when we look at the numbers of women in Congress (18.5%), as governors (27.6%), in state legislatures (24.2%), and as mayors (18.4%), somehow it doesn’t seem like we have made a century of progress after women’s century of struggle. Looking beyond these statistics, almost every week we see politicians stumbling because they can’t coherently articulate or analyze gender-related issues.

And while some women have made great strides, it is also clear that other women, generally poorer women, haven’t. From raising the minimum wage to health-care coverage, from clean water to safe foods, from sexual assaults in the military to real sex education – aren’t these all women’s issues? Are women’s voices equally heard and women’s views equally represented?

It is up for debate whether women had more power 100 years ago, but it is pretty clear that they were seriously involved in social issues. They weren’t unified, but they were speaking out. And if they did need to come together, as they did during the war, they found a way to work in coalition across their differences. As we begin to assess what we have accomplished over the last century and what we haven’t, perhaps we need to go back and study our history, women’s history.

Trisha Franzen (c) March 2014


 Professor Trisha Franzen

Trisha Franzen is professor of women’s and gender studies at Albion College and the author of Anna Howard Shaw: The Work of Woman Suffrage (University of Illinois Press, 2014).


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