Statelessness: Life Without a Nationality

A persons eyes, looking directly into the camera.
Eyes. Source: Demietrich Baker, Creative Commons

Nationality is a privilege which is often taken for granted.  For most, nationality is something that we are born into or that we inherit from our parents.  In these cases, it requires little, if any, effort on our own part.  Because of this, we often fail to realize that not everyone is recognized as a national by a state.  You could have been born in a country and lived there your entire life, and still not be claimed by that country.  This is statelessness.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”  As of 2014, there were 3,242,207 known stateless persons in the world.  This does not include the numerous stateless persons who were unaccounted for.  The United Nations adopted the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in 1954 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 1961.

People begin to experience the serious consequences of statelessness as children, when they are most vulnerable.  It impedes their access to a quality education and healthcare.  The effects of statelessness follow them as they grow up, keeping them from finding legal employment and taking care of themselves and their families.  Statelessness is then often passed on to their children, grandchildren, and so on.  It creates a vicious cycle, which is extremely difficult to break.

What Causes Statelessness?

There are numerous circumstances which may lead to person being without a nationality.  Gaps in nationality laws are a significant part of the problem.  An example of such a gap is seen when nationality is inherited from a parent in a specific country.  If the nationalities of a child’s parents are unknown, then the child is not seen as a national of that country, and the child is stateless.  Sometimes, nationality laws have discrimination built in to them.  In countries like Barbados, Iraq, and Sudan, mothers cannot pass their nationality on to their children.  If the father is unknown, the child is left stateless.  Statelessness can also occur if new states are formed or a country’s borders change, and people are left living a different state than they originally did.  For example, when Yugoslavia dissolved, the Roma people and other minorities of the area were left, struggling to gain citizenships in the states that came into existence, and continue to have great difficulty in acquiring documents for identification.  There are even times when an individual’s nationality is taken away by legislation changes or if they live outside of their country for a certain amount of time.

Real People

It is important that, as we discuss the issue of statelessness, we remember that this is an issue that affects real people.  It is more than an abstract concept.  Take Jirair, for example.  Jirair was born to Armenian parents in Georgia.  They moved to Russia soon after he was born but had passports from the Soviet Union (from before it dissolved) and were unable to obtain citizenship.  Jirair did not legally have a nationality.  He had no legal ties to Russia and no proof of his birth in Georgia.  He was unable to work legally or acquire life insurance until 2016, when Georgia’s citizenship laws changed.

The entirety of the Makonde people of Kenya were stateless until 2017.  Though they were originally from Mozambique, many of the Makonde people have been living in Kenya since before 1963.  They lacked citizenship and any official documents.  This made it difficult for them to work, travel, and even to obtain birth certificates.  Generation after generation of the Makonde people experienced statelessness, vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and poverty.  Everything began to change when Kenya’s 2011 Citizenship and Immigration Act was put into full effect and the Makonde became recognized as the forty-third tribe of Kenya.

Four children, standing together.
Children. Source: Lead Beyond, Creative Commons

Statelessness and Human Rights

Statelessness is heavily tied in with numerous human rights violations.  The first and most prominent violation is found in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to a nationality.”  It violates Article 23, which describes the right people have to employment, as statelessness often keeps people from working legally.  Without work, individuals cannot provide for themselves or their families, and will also have an even more difficult time gaining nationality.  Statelessness is also a violation of Article 25, which says that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family,” due to the poverty and lack of access to basic healthcare that result from statelessness.  In order to have a quality living situation, one needs to be able to afford safe housing, a balanced diet, and basic healthcare and insurance.  Many countries deny access to education to children who are not nationals of those countries, violating Article 26, which says, “Everyone has the right to education.”  Education is key in a child’s ability to have a better living situation in the future and to flourish in life.

In the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 7 states that every child has the right to acquire a nationality.  Article 24 recognizes the child’s right to “the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health,” and Article 28 recognizes the right to an education.  Children do not have access to these rights without a nationality.

The extent to which statelessness inhibits access to basic human rights makes it an issue with a severe need to be addressed.  Though the rights violations it causes are reason enough to justify a change, the problem is magnified by the way statelessness impacts entire groups of people and passes from generation to generation.

Lacking a nationality also impedes an individual’s ability to participate in political processes.  In many countries, such as the United States, you must be a citizen of that country in order to vote.  People who are stateless have a significantly lessened opportunity to have their voice heard, especially since it is not uncommon that entire groups of people are stateless, like the Makonde people.  This makes it even more important that people who do have a nationality of their own help to not only speak up and increase awareness of statelessness, but also to support a platform from which stateless people can be heard.

What Can We Do?

So, what can we do now?  One of the most important things that we can do as part of the general public is promote awareness of the issue.  Many people are not aware that it is even possible to lack a nationality, and more people do not know how serious the consequences of statelessness are.  The more people know about the issue, the more it will be pushed to the forefront of conversations.  Change cannot occur if people do not know that change is needed.

The UNHCR currently has a campaign called #IBelong, which aims to promote awareness of statelessness and work towards its end.  You can sign their “Open Letter to End Statelessness,” which declares the need to end statelessness.  The UNHCR also provides resources to those who are do not have a nationality.  If you are stateless yourself, you can click here.  You can select the country you reside in, and the website will provide you with resources that can help you on a path to acquiring a nationality, documentation that proves your nationality, or civil registration.

 

Black Panther: A Game-Changing Film

A laughing boy.
Child laughing. Source: cheriejoyful, Creative Commons

On February 16, 2018, the revolutionary movie, Black Panther, was finally released for the world to enjoy.  The film provides the audience with a much-needed source of representation for the black community, both on and off-screen.  Black Panther is part of a revolutionary change in an industry that has historically disregarded people of color.

Depiction of Black Characters

It is easy to see that Black Panther is a game-changer in the film industry in relation to its production, but it also includes a much-improved depiction of black characters.  They are multi-dimensional and have their own personal histories and experiences.  They are not forced into any one single role, challenging the idea that people of minorities are limited to the surface-level narratives that society usually expects.  They are real people who have struggles, fears, and triumphs.  It lacks the stereotypes that films often use to create characters of color.  The normative roles given to black actors are often of dangerous criminals with limited education, such as drug dealers and con-artists.  These kinds of characters worsen the incorrect and harmful perception that much of society has of black men.  When black roles are actually given positive characteristics, they are still generally given littles depth, and are used as nothing more than support for the white main character.

The Black Panther himself, T’Challa, is not just a superhero (though his being a superhero is significant in itself).  He is the king of Wakanda and acts as a diplomat, representing and speaking on behalf of his country at the United Nations.  He is respectful of women and recognizes their value and strength, as seen through his female bodyguards, the Dora Milaje.  He does not let toxic masculinity impact his actions and has a strong connection to his family.  T’Challa is brave, intelligent, and compassionate, making him a well-developed main character and hero.

Even Eric Killmonger is given depth and undeniably human experiences.  If one seeks a traditional villain among the movies’ characters, most signs point to him.  All of his actions are focused around defeating the Black Panther and taking over the throne, and he does not care what it takes to do so.  However, if we look closer, the circumstances are not so black and white.  His anger towards T’Challa stems from the death of his father and Wakanda’s years of ignorance of the suffering of African Americans.  His primary goal in defeating T’Challa, is to send Wakandan resources to people facing oppression.  His methods were misguided, but his motivations are fairly easy to understand.

The development of Killmonger conveys the idea that we all think of ourselves as the hero in our own stories.  T’Challa sees himself as the hero, fighting to save the country he knows and loves.  Killmonger sees himself as the hero, trying to correct the wrongs of the past and seek what he believes to be justice.  The only thing that changes is the framework of the story, the perspective through which you are experiencing it.  In real life, the vast majority people make the choices they make because they believe they are doing the right thing (even when they are wrong).  While this does not excuse actions that harm other people or mean that everyone is concerned with doing the right things, it does suggest that wrongdoings are not independent events.  Every experience we have impacts the choices we make.  If we want to make the world a better place, we have to address the causes and events that have led to different negative situations.

People are complex.  The fact that this concept is explored in a film about characters of color is indescribably important because it goes against the stereotypes and archetypes that are often used to create such characters.  It gives the characters dimensions which reflect the human experience that connects all people.

Depiction of Women of Color

The film’s use of well-rounded characters does not end with those who are male.  The character stereotype of black women in films is loud and dramatic and is perceived as having an attitude problem.  They are considered bossy, aggressive, and sometimes even mean.  The female characters in Black Panther defy traditional expectations and radiate empowerment.  Black Panther depicts numerous powerful black women without objectifying and over-sexualizing them as many movies do.  They are just normal women.  Realistic, intelligent, kind, and brave. These characters stand on their own and serve a greater purpose than supporting the development the male characters.

Shuri, T’Challa’s half-sister, is a sixteen-year-old genius who leads the development of Wakandan technology.  She offers representation for increasing number of women and young girls, especially those of color, who aspire to be part of the STEM field.  She is not limited to being “the smart one.”  When the time comes, she is ready and more than willing to be part of the fight to protect her country.  In addition to her brilliance and strength, she is also equipped with a vibrant personality.

Okoye is a member of Dora Milaje, the group of women who act as bodyguards for the Black Panther.  She is a fierce warrior, dedicated to serving her people to the best of her ability.  She is strong and loyal, ready to sacrifice her relationship to do what is right for her country.  She would do anything to protect Wakanda.

Nakia is a Wakandan spy, who goes undercover in an effort to undermine human traffickers in the beginning of the film.  She takes action and puts herself in dangerous situations in order to help others.  Her work is her passion and main priority, and she refuses to sacrifice it for the sake of romance. She also encourages T’Challa to share the resources of Wakanda with the rest of the world.  She is driven and wants to make the world better place.  She is a world-shaker.

A smiling boy.
Jamaican. Source: Ashley Campbell, Creative Commons

Watching Black Panther as a White Woman

This film is not just important for the black community, or even just for minority groups.  It is important for white people to watch the film as well.  As a white woman, I originally went to watch Black Panther to simply support a film I knew was important for people of color and to enjoy the experience.  However, as I sat in a theater full of children of color, listening to their reactions to the dialogue and every plot twist, I truly believe that I gained a deeper understanding of the film’s importance.  The kids were excited and absorbed in every moment.  I realized the extent to which I am privileged to have characters I can identify with in just about every movie and television show.  It is something that I have taken for granted for a long time.

I also realized how important it is that black people have an increased opportunity to speak.  White people need to be close allies of course, but we should not dominate the conversation.  We need to support the creation and maintenance of platforms from which they can represent themselves.  We have a history of making everything about us, and we need to ensure that that does not continue.  In the past, white people have stolen land, enslaved entire nations of people, and destroyed families for their own selfish gain.  We now need to be a part of fixing the damage that our ancestors have caused and work to empower people of color in every way possible.

Why Does this Matter?

There are some people who question the importance of representation in the media.  They do not understand why it is so vital to have well-developed characters of color and female characters.  Dr. Christopher Bell provided a thorough explanation of this in his TED Talk, “Bring on the Female Superheroes!”  In his talk, Bell explains public pedagogy, or “how societies are taught ideologies.”  This involves concepts such as what it means to be a member of the different genders, how to behave while in public, and how to be polite.  According to Bell, we now live in a 100% media saturated society, meaning every part of our lives, including public pedagogy, is influenced by what we seen on television, in films, and on social media.  The characters and the people that children see through the media are key in their understanding of the world.  When children are unable to see people they identify with as leaders, scientists, or artists, it is difficult for them to see a future where they are doing those things.  The media you consume impacts your outlook on who you can be.

The film shows traditional gender roles being smashed through all its characters.  Women can be warriors, scientists, and world-changers. They can be protectors and leaders. Men can be compassionate and emotional. They do not have to fit into ‘traditional masculinity’.  People can support each other in their choices, regardless of how it fits societal expectations.  In the film, the country of Wakanda contains a society in which gender roles do not seem to apply.  The proposal of a woman becoming the leader and Black Panther is not questioned.  The king’s guards are women, and no one tries to fight it or questions the Dora Milaje’s ability to protect their leader.  All people are equal and are offered the same opportunities.

In addition to its being a huge leap in representation, the film also acts as a proof that change is possible.  More representation, better opportunities, and a better future are all within reach for marginalized groups.  It is crucial that we maintain this momentum.  The Black Panther film is an immense milestone, but there is still more to do.  There still needs to be more representation for the black community and similar representation for other people of color.  We need to work towards a future where such a representative film is a norm rather than an anomaly.

 

Be a Real Man: Toxic Masculinity

Man turning his head to face the camera.
He-Man. Source: Reddy Aprianto, Creative Commons

What does it mean to “be a man”?  The traditional response would involve being dominant, physically strong, and emotionally closed off.  Some might see someone who is tough and intimidating, who never cries in front of others, and say that he is a “real man.”  Men in our society are pressured to fit perfectly into this traditional depiction of masculinity.  If a man fails to be strong enough or shows too many emotions, he is often shamed by others.  When a man’s masculinity is questioned, he might make a point of acting more masculine, which could lead to harmful or even violent behavior.  It can have a negative effect on his mental health, contribute to the occurrence of intimate partner violence, and marginalize certain groups.  When masculinity is forced upon individuals and is significantly harmful, it becomes toxic.

For the purposes of this blog, toxic masculinity refers to masculine traits, attitudes, and behaviors that are harmful, yet continue to be encouraged by much of society.

Impact of Toxic Masculinity on Mental Health

Masculinity is often associated with not sharing one’s feelings with other people. Men are not expected to be emotional individuals.  When they are emotional, they are often chastised.  The suppression of emotions is a negative thing for anyone to do.  Bottling up everything does not make one’s feelings go away and can have long-term consequences.  In a meta-analysis of 48 studies, there seemed to be a relationship between the suppression of emotions and an increase in negative changes in mental health, such as depression and anxiety.  There also seemed to be a relationship between the suppression of emotions and a decrease in positive changes in mental health, such as life satisfaction.

The negative effects of societal expectations of masculinity begin in childhood.  One study, which used a sample of 280 middle schoolers, found that the boys in their study began to conform to traditional expectations of masculinity between the fall and spring of their first year of middle school.  The results of that study also suggest that there is a relationship between the presence of depression and conformity to traditional masculinity.  The study defines traditional masculinity as, “a dominance-oriented ‘bravado’ with which individuals posture for social dominance through fundamentally maladaptive behaviors, such as physical toughness and emotional stoicism, that project social power and invulnerability.”  Many of the behaviors that traditional masculinity supports are “socially dysfunctional,” such as suppressing emotions and being physically aggressive.  Considering the fact that middle school is a critical point of development, one can see that long-term harm can be caused by being held to standards that relate to depression and dysfunctional social behaviors.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for boys, which suggests that there are serious mental health issues and factors that need to be addressed.  Boys who fail to fit into the norms of traditional masculinity are often bullied by those who adhere to norms well.  Bullying is associated with symptoms of depression, which has the potential to lead to the occurrence of suicide.  One study, which used a sample 236 students, found that individuals who had experienced bullying had more symptoms of depression and suicidality four years after initially being surveyed than those who did not report that they had experienced bullying.  In addition to depression, bullying that relates to failure to meet gender norms can lead to violence against others.

Intimate Partner Violence 

Not only does toxic masculinity harm men themselves, but it also harms the other people in their lives.  One study, using a sample of 570 married men in Bangladesh, suggests that increased norms of gender equity are associated with a decrease in the use of “coercive control” over men’s partners.  The men in the study were presented with a list of coercive behaviors, such as, “when I want sex I expect my partner to agree,” and, “I have more to say than she does about important decisions that affect us.”  The majority of the men reported using most of the behaviors.  On average, the men agreed with 5.7 of the 8 traditional gender attitudes, such as, “a woman should obey her husband,” and, “a woman’s most important role is to take care of and cook for her family.”

Another study, which surveyed 600 men, looked to test the presence of a relationship between “masculine discrepancy stress” and intimate partner violence.  The study defines masculine discrepancy stress as, “a form of stress arising from perceived failure to conform to socially-prescribed masculine gender role norms.  Intimate partner violence is mental, emotional, or physical violence towards an intimate partner.  The results of the study suggest that “masculine discrepancy stress” was significantly effective in predicting a man’s history of committing intimate partner violence.  If a man felt that their masculinity was being questioned, then they felt the need to perform strong acts of masculinity, such as acts of violence.

Men standing by a wall and talking to each other.
Men Gathering. Source: Eleni Papaioannou, Creative Commons

The Marginalization of Groups

If a boy or a man is considered to be too feminine, people might call him a girl or say he’s gay in an attempt to make him feel bad about who he is. This depicts being feminine or being gay as being a bad thing, like it is shameful to be anything other than a straight man. Why are entire groups of people being marginalized in order to demean another person?  What is wrong with possessing traditionally feminine qualities?

One might suggest that it is only a problem when someone possessing those qualities breaks traditional gender roles. However, that does not explain it.  Women are frequently supported for displaying certain characteristics, such as being strong, or participating in certain activities that are traditionally masculine, such as enjoying sports, hunting, and fishing.  In other situations, their positive “masculine” characteristics are twisted around into negative “feminine” ones.  For example, if a woman is very confident and has strong leadership skills, she is likely to be called “bossy”.  If a girl is more logical and is not very emotional, then she may be considered cold-hearted and mean.  A man and a woman can act in the exact same way, but they will not receive the same response from other people.

Toxic masculinity also has a significant impact on transgender men.  Violence against the transgender community has been on the rise.  In some situations, trans-men experience “defensive masculinity,” where they conform to traditional ideas about masculinity, whether they identify with them or not, in fear of violence.  Toxic masculinity harms their mental health and puts them at risk of violence if they do not meet traditional gender norms.  It is more than a matter of people not agreeing with non-traditional ideas about gender.  Toxic masculinity has the potential to be an issue of life and death for transgender individuals.

Why Is Toxic Masculinity an Issue of Human Rights?

Ultimately, traditionally masculine traits themselves are not bad, but they become negative when they are expected and forced upon people.  Toxic masculinity has the potential to violate human rights.  It can be harmful to mental health and lead to intimate partner violence, both of which are public health and human rights issues.  According to Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”  Toxic masculinity can also act as a barrier to gender equality and harm the LGBTQ community.  Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that all people are entitled to the rights given in the declaration, “without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

For years people have tried to explain away toxic masculinity as “boys just being boys” and simply “the way men are,” but that is not fair to anyone.  The way people act is hugely impacted by the way people expect them to.  Societal expectations need to change to support boys and men in being kind and being open with their emotions.  Violence and aggression cannot be accepted as granted parts of masculinity.  Men do not have to be strong and domineering to be men.

Diagnosing ADHD: Mental Health and Human Rights

Playground adventures. Source: BrownZelip, Creative Commons

Mental health is a topic that is becoming increasingly recognized as an important public conversation.  It is usually focused on depression and anxiety and is often overlooked in the context of human rights. It is important to recognize that mental health is a public health issue, and therefore a human rights issue. Mental health has an irrefutable impact on an individual’s physical health and their quality of life.  It can also harm their ability to receive an education. This blog will discuss Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the issues created by the stereotypes and stigmas related to mental health.

Conditions like ADHD are frequently given a specific popularized depiction. Though the depiction may not be entirely incorrect, it is rarely inclusive of all the individuals experiencing these conditions.  When people think of ADHD for example, they often think of a boy with a lot of behavioral problems and poor grades.  The fact of the matter is that people with ADHD can be any gender and can have any kind of experience in school. Using stereotypes to inform our ideas about the people who have certain conditions impacts if and when people who have these conditions are able to receive a diagnosis and treatment. Because of this, girls with ADHD are frequently unaware of what they are experiencing.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a disorder that results from the way the brain develops.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood.”  It is very important to understand that ADHD is not merely a behavioral issue.  It is a condition that cannot be punished away.  ADHD brains work differently than brains without ADHD.  ADHD brains lack a sufficient amount of dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that transport signals in the brain.  They are like filters for your brain.  Dopamine helps to regulate the reward center of the brain, movement, and emotional responses. Norepinephrine strengthens signals that are relevant and important while blocking information that is unnecessary.  Medicines that treat ADHD typically aim to support the circulation of these neurotransmitters in the brain.  These medicines decrease the frequency of the symptoms of ADHD, though they do not eliminate them.

In addition to the symptoms related to impulsiveness and inattentiveness, the lack of filter ADHD causes in the brain can lead to sensory overload, which can cause a lot of stress and anxiety.  When this occurs, one becomes overwhelmed by all of the noises you hear, the things you see, and the things you feel.  You notice everything around you, including the things that are unimportant.

Depending on an individual’s personal symptoms and experiences, they may have one of three different types of ADHD. One type of ADHD is the “Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation”.  This type can involve a lot of fidgeting, feelings of restlessness, and an unusually large amount of impulsive behavior, such as interrupting people.  Another type of ADHD is the “Predominantly Inattentive Presentation”.  This type often involves forgetfulness and difficulties in fully absorbing new information.  The third and final type is called the “Combined Presentation” and involves experiencing the symptoms of the other types equally.

Differences Between Boys and Girls With ADHD

Girls are significantly less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than boys are, though they are not less likely to actually have it. One study, using data from the Danish National Birth Cohort, found that children whose parents reported ADHD behaviors and who were undiagnosed were girls more often than boys.  Because of this, girls with ADHD are more likely to go untreated than boys are.  The differences in how boys and girls experience ADHD contribute to the underdiagnoses of girls. Another study, which combined the results of 8 prior studies to have a sample of 772 boys and 325 girls, suggests that boys with ADHD are more likely to display symptoms of impulsivity that girls with ADHD are, based on the children’s performances on “Continuous Performance Tests”. Symptoms of impulsivity are often easier to recognize than inattentiveness and result in behaviors that catch people’s attention.  Inattentiveness, which girls more frequently experience, does not lead to behaviors that are as disruptive as the behaviors of impulsivity.

Children in a classroom reading with their teacher.
students-in-class-with-teacher-reading. Source: Ilmicrofono Oggionom, Creative Commons

Why It Matters

ADHD is highly connected to the issue of mental health. According to one study, girls with ADHD are more likely to experience comorbid disorders such as depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, and conduct disorder than girls who do not have ADHD. Individuals with ADHD may internalize what they are going through, blaming themselves and feeling like what they are going through is their own fault.  They may externalize what they are going through, impacting the way they interact with other people and their environments.  Internalizing and externalizing behaviors occur in individuals with ADHD regardless of the existence of a diagnosis but being undiagnosed can make the situation more difficult.

The possibility of being diagnosed with ADHD is also impacted by many social determinants. Social determinants are defined as “conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.” They lead to avoidable health disparities. It is important to recognize social determinants when it comes to mental health and human rights, because they highlight the fact that people of different backgrounds do not have access to the same resources. Factors that are out of an individual’s control impact their ability to access their human rights and maintain a good quality of life. By identifying social determinants, we can begin to identify changes that can be made to diminish injustice in the world. For example, even the country that someone with ADHD lives in can impact the chances that they will be diagnosed.

In France, 0.5% of children are diagnosed with ADHD, while about 12% of children in the United States receive a diagnosis. Different countries around the world have different views of ADHD, affecting their rates of diagnosis and the methods of treatment. The treatment of ADHD in France frequently involves prioritizing methods such as therapy and family counseling over medicines. In Germany, it is likely that students with ADHD benefit from the “outdoor component” of their education, as being outside can be more favorable for them than a traditional classroom. The United States relies more heavily on using medicinal methods to treat ADHD.

Another social determinant that impacts treatment is socioeconomic status. Even if a child in poverty has received a diagnosis, it is still possible that they cannot afford treatment. If they are uninsured, it would be difficult for them to access medication or therapy. Race also acts as a social determinant. The results of one study suggest that there is a large disparity in ADHD diagnosis and treatment that negatively impacts African-American and Latinx children.  According to the study, it is more likely that the disparity is due to African-American and Latinx children being underdiagnosed and undertreated than white children being overdiagnosed and overtreated.

Social determinants like nationality, socioeconomic status, and race can be barriers to a child’s diagnosis and treatment for conditions like ADHD. These factors are out of the child’s control and create disparities that cause further harm.  Even if an individual knows what a problem is, they cannot work towards alleviating it if they do not have the resources they need. If a black girl is born is born into a New York family in poverty, she may lack the ability to spend time outside, receive certain medications, or go to therapy. She would not have access to the same resources as children from families with higher incomes or different geographical locations. This injustice feeds into comorbid disorders and has a negative impact mental and public health, as emotional issues can develop from being able to understand the injustice.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes the right to education (Article 26) and the right to an environment that promotes health and wellbeing (Article 25), along with many others.  Access to these rights is limited when individuals with conditions like ADHD are unable to seek treatment, whether that treatment be medicinal or a form of counseling.  The effect that these conditions have on one’s mental health makes a significant difference. Education is one of the human rights that is fundamental to growth and flourishing in life.

We, as a global society, must recognize the relationships between mental health, public health, and human rights. They are not isolated issues. The way we approach one impacts the outcomes of the others.  Mental health is a part of public health, impacting an individual’s physical health and their quality of life. Both mental health on its own and public health as a whole are largely influential in one’s ability to access their human rights. Everything is connected.

The Right to Menstrual Hygiene

a picture of three girls smiling
Jordanian School Girls. Source: David Stanley, Creative Commons

It probably goes without saying that periods are difficult to manage. They are painful, expensive, and often quite problematic for people who experience them.  We use resources such as pads, tampons, pain relievers, and bathrooms in an effort to manage menstruation. According to the WHO-UNICEF Joint Monitoring System, menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is when people with periods are able to use sanitary materials to absorb menstrual blood, change and dispose of these materials in privacy as needed, and have access to soap and water to keep clean.  For those of us who do have access to what we need to manage menstruation, it seems that we often take these things for granted. But what if someone doesn’t have these resources within reach? The bottom line is that a lack in opportunity to practice proper menstrual hygiene is a violation of human rights due to its negative impact on mental and physical health, access to education, and gender equality.

What Is the Problem?

The aspect of this issue that might be the easiest to recognize is the inaccessibility of products like sanitary pads and tampons. One study in Kaduna State, Nigeria reported that only 37% of women in their sample had all the products needed for proper menstruation management. In Uganda, 35% of women reported the same thing. This can partly be attributed to financial issues and the frequency at which the products must be purchased. Some products, such as menstrual cups or washable pads, can be washed and reused over an extended period of time, making them cheaper in the long run. However, they are initially far more expensive than the disposable options. They are simply outside of the budget for many people. Even when someone can afford to pay for the reusable materials, finding somewhere to purchase them may be a problem.

Issues of accessibility do not end with menstrual hygiene products. In many countries, schools lack proper sanitation facilities, like bathrooms, which are vital to being able to safely and comfortably replace and dispose of used menstrual products. This is seen in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where there is an average of 1.2 “toilets” per primary school. These “toilets” are actually pit latrines. They are not usually kept in good condition and rarely have sufficient waste disposal options. In situations like this, there is little to no access to a truly safe and private place to change menstrual materials.

a picture of a traditional pit latrine, which looks like a very small building with a tin roof and two tin doors
Traditional Pit Latrine. Source: SuSanA Secretariat, Creative Commons

Exacerbating this issue are the stigma and shame associated with menstruation. Around the world, girls are taught from a young age that having a period is something to hide and to be embarrassed of. In many countries, girls are even considered to be “dirty” when on their period. This can be seen in western Nepal, where there is a tradition called “chaupadi” which requires that girls and women stay outside throughout menstruation. If they enter a home, it is believed that all of the people and animals of the household will fall ill. This perspective puts both their mental and physical health at risk. Menstruation is frequently viewed as a taboo subject, so many girls are not taught anything about it before their first period. Even after they begin to experience menstruation, they do not have access to much knowledge of why it happens or what good menstrual hygiene management is.

It is also important to recognize the relationship between menstrual hygiene management and the transgender community. Menstruation is typically referred to as a strictly feminine issue, but that is simply not the case. Many transgender men and non-binary individuals experience periods, and they should be included in the conversation about menstruation. By failing to recognize their connection to menstruation, we fail to recognize the validity of their experiences and identities. This failure is a problem within itself, but it can also have repercussions on the mental health of transgender and non-binary individuals and their ability to access sanitary materials and bathrooms for menstrual hygiene management. We need to actively work towards being more inclusive with the language we use when discussion periods and related topics. This involves choosing gender neutral terms over gendered terms, such as choosing to say “menstrual hygiene products” rather than “feminine hygiene products”.

Why Does It Matter?

According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual has “a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being” of themselves. When you are told that one of the basic biological processes that you experience and cannot control is shameful, it has the potential to lower the value that you see in yourself. Combined with the common lack in understanding of menstruation, this can lead to significant amounts of fear and confusion and have a considerable negative impact on mental health. Article 26 dictates that everyone has a right to education. Without access to clean menstrual management products or places to change and dispose of used ones, many girls around the world miss school during menstruation to try to keep it hidden. Some girls do not even have the option to go to school during that time. This creates a disparity between the educational and career opportunities of men and women, violating Article 2 of the declaration, which says that everyone is entitled to their rights without discrimination based on distinctions like one’s sex. It is unacceptable to allow limitations to be placed on individuals’ access to their human rights based on something that is uncontrollable. In order for things to change, individuals must take action.

What Can We Do?

Part of the reason why access to menstrual management products is such a difficult issue to deal with is that the majority of people are not comfortable talking about it. Even in the United States, where we generally have access to education about the most basic aspects of menstruation and know that it is normal and healthy, there seems to be some sort of collective, irrational fear surrounding the topic. Periods have a direct impact on half of the world’s population and an indirect impact on all of the population. We cannot continue trying to pretend that the obstructions of human rights that are caused by poor menstrual hygiene management do not exist. Conversations about menstruation might be uncomfortable at first, but they are absolutely necessary. uncomfortable at first, but they are absolutely necessary.

Many organizations have begun working towards improving MHM worldwide. AFRIpads, for example, works to provide menstrual kits with reusable sanitary pads and storage bags to women and girls throughout Africa, while creating job opportunities within the organization for women in Uganda. They also collaborate with Lunapads in a program called One4Her. For each eligible product that is purchased from Lunapads, an AFRIpad is donated to a student in need. On UAB’s campus, we have access to a chapter of Period: The Menstrual Movement, an organization that is dedicated to improving access to menstrual hygiene products for homeless women in the United States. If you are interested in taking action, the group is currently hosting a donation drive for pads and tampons through October 31. You can find donation boxes by the elevators in any of the residence halls. They are also hosting a Period Packaging event at the Spencer’s Honors House from 6:30pm to 8:30pm on November 1, where people will come together and pack menstrual hygiene products in kits to be given to those in need. Additionally, the Blazer Kitchen is hosting a toiletry drive through October 30, to which you can donate menstrual hygiene products, as well as many other non-perishable items.

If you lack the resources to financially support the improvement of MHM, do not be afraid to speak up and get involved in the conversation. Be a part of spreading awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding periods.

 

Reframing Intimate Partner Violence: Human Rights in the Home

co-authored by Lindsey Reid, Ajanet Rountree, Nicholas Sherwood, and Nora Hood

a beautiful house on a hill
house. Source: oatsy40, Creative Commons

Domestic violence, domestic abuse, domestic terrorism, intimate partner violence (IPV)—all refer to abusive patterns of behavior within the context of relationship. While a universal definition has not been agreed upon, this blog operationally defines IPV as “causing or attempting to cause physical or mental harm to a household member or engaging in activity toward a family or household member that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed, or molested.” In other words, IPV transpires when an individual exerts abusive control over another, resulting in a pattern of physical and/or psychological pain. Due to the extensiveness of IPV, we concur with the CDC assessment that IPV is a public health and a human rights issue, as stated in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. While we tend to think repressive governments or other sinister forces violate human rights, survivors of IPV experience and endure human rights violations within their home. With this blog, we aim to raise awareness of your rights in a relationship.

What is Intimate Partner Violence?

The vagueness of the term “IPV” makes recognizing and combatting this human rights violation difficult; as is the case with any vague definition in the human rights literature. One thorny issue in particular is the oftentimes (over)emphasis of the physical elements of IPV. To be completely clear: IPV, or any form of relational abuse or neglect, refers to physical and psychological maltreatment of an individual. Just because there are no physical scars does not mean it is not abuse. Psychological IPV includes behaviors such as: creating psychological isolation, sexual abuse (unwanted sexual contact, inhibiting access to birth control, unwanted sexual comments, and pressuring or threatening someone into sex), economic abuse (taking actions in order to maintain total control of the household’s finances), and digital abuse (using technology to control, stalk, or manipulate the survivor). This list is neither complete nor comprehensive; IPV as a human rights violation can take many, many forms.

Who are the victims and survivors of IPV? The classical answer is a wife or husband with a marriage; this is why the original term to describe IPV was ‘domestic abuse’ (implying this crime occurs within a domestic setting). The new term of IPV expands that outlook to include unmarried partners, as well as any form of relationship with emotional closeness and proximity. IPV can happen between married partners, and IPV can happen on a first date.

The Changing Demographics of IPV

As ‘battered wife syndrome’ has fallen out of favor, the IPV has been shaped and expanded to include male, female, and child survivors and perpetrators alike. While majority of IPV perpetrators are male, human rights advocates and laypersons alike must recognize perpetrators come in all genders and ages. In previous decades, cultural stigma against male victims may have pressured men from speaking out against their abusers; therefore, the actual gender breakdown of this crime remains unknown.

Male and female perpetrators themselves utilize markedly different forms of violence, which may compound efforts to qualify and deconstruct the gender breakdown of IPV. Machado et al. studied Portuguese men and discovered a pattern among their female perpetrators: “self-partner aggression”. They characterize self-partner aggression as the occurrence where the female injures herself in some way and then claims to be a victim of domestic violence to the police. She (the perp) takes advantage of confirmation bias, recognizing society generally believes that the male partner is abusing his female partner as it confirms gender stereotypes and social norms. Female abusers may also be more likely to use weapons or other objects to cause harm. One study involved a sample of 2,760 victims using the National Crime Victimization Survey from 1987 to 2003 found that 6% of the male victims had been stabbed with a knife, while 1% of the female victims had. Additionally, they found 10% of the male victims had been hit by an object that was thrown by their abuser, while 3% of the female victims had. However, male victims were less frequently found to have experienced violence through direct contact such as grabbing or pulling, with 20% of them having experienced it, while 53% of the females had.

Finally, IPV is not limited to adult perpetrators. Children can exhibit abusive behavior towards anyone in the household, whether another child or an adult. The normative assumption is parents possess the power in the home when compared to children, so it is difficult to imagine children as abusive. Control is the motivation for domestic violence and abuse; therefore, it is necessary that we pay attention when children perform violent actions, avoid brushing them off as merely “bad kids” because the behavior and consequences may have a serious impact on the present and future. Children exhibiting abusive behavior, if unchecked and untreated, may later show further signs of psychological deviance or disorder.

a picture of a boy with 'stupid' written across his forehead
Stupid IV. Source: Laura Lewis, Creative Commons

Controlling to Death

Social researchers have long sought to understand the motives of IPV perpetrators in order to predict violent behavior patterns. By predicting situations of relational violence, social researchers can empower advocates, policy-makers, and survivors themselves prevent occurrences of IPV. Several conceptual frameworks of IPV exist, including the stress-diathesis model, feminist / gender studies theories, and a pathological need for psychological control.

The stress-diathesis model suggests abusive behavior results from high psychosocial stress on the perpetrator. As the stress load increases, the perpetrator takes his or her frustration out on a less-threatening target (the victim). In this model, attempts to mitigate or prevent IPV focus on the perpetrator eliminating or healthily dealing with stressors. This theory has fallen out of favor, as its deterministic view of patterns of abuse at times ‘excuse’ perpetrators for their behavior. However, these theorists take a biopsychological approach to understanding behavior, which indeed aids in painting a holistic portrait of motivations and emotions in general.

By contrast, feminist and gender-studies theories focus on the broad sociocultural factors compelling IPV in perpetrators. Exploring the notion of male dominance in interpersonal relationships, Ornstein and Rickne sampled 714 post-separated and divorced couples in Sweden in 2001. They suggest separation between partners triggers a loss of control (especially for the male partner), weakening his domination of the situation, thus increasing the escalations of violence in the relationship. Violence reported by the respondents showed high variance, including verbal abuse (i.e. name-calling and cursing) psychological abuse resultant from emotional vulnerability of the perpetrator (i.e. feelings of inferiority), and finally physical abuse (including stalking and physical / sexual assault). Overall, feminist and gender-focused theories explore how fundamental issues of identity (such as gender) influences the occurrence of IPV.

Finally, the “control” theory of IPV posits an unhealthy need for psychological control, regardless of gender, is the most significant factor predicting IPV. This theory formulates relational abuse is symptom of a person’s subjective feeling of lack of control in a situation. Violence is therefore the means to an end, with the ‘end’ being feelings of control. Controlling behavior can take many forms, including stalking. The National Council commission in Sweden issued a 2006 report of 4000 surveys that found 362 (3/4 of whom are women) responded to questions of stalking in their lifetime, with 3% in the previous year. In 2011, the establishment of Swedish stalking law brought a four-year prison sentence for those found guilty. It is imperative to note justice systems, regardless of locale, treat the symptoms of violence but not the roots.

a picture of a girl with bruises on her back
Domestic Violence. Source: CMY Kane, Creative Commons.

Regardless of the underlying causes (such as stress, gender roles, or a need for control), each case of IPV is unique and complicated. Recognizing signs of an abusive relationship is the first step and often difficult for the survivor to admit. Leaving the relationship itself is a whole other ordeal. Ornstein and Rickne affirm Kit Gruelle, a victim advocate in North Carolina (NC), who insists battered women are the experts on their relationships- no one knows more about IPV than someone who has gone through it. Gruelle suggests there is a noticeable pattern in abusive relationships—the couple has good days and bad days, just like every other couple. However, the ‘normalcy’ of the good days in no way makes up for the deviance of the bad days. Perpetrators often wear a façade of kindness and normalcy in mixed company, which makes spotting these perpetrators even more difficult.

Deanna remained married to her husband, Robbie, for nine years. She returned to him three times over the course of the years despite police knowledge of threats and violent tendencies. ‘The police knew he was violent but they believed he wasn’t violent enough to kill someone’.

When Robbie kidnapped and beat her across state lines, courts sentenced him to 21 years in prison—majority of the sentence for the kidnapping rather than the abuse. Assault on a female is an A1 misdemeanor in NC, resulting in 150 days in jail, whereas theft is a felony. IPV (or domestic violence) laws in Alabama have a stratified penalty process, ranging from Class A misdemeanor to Class A felony.

Controlling and abusive behavior may persist, even when the abusive relationship terminates. Prison, for many abuse survivors, is the only place they feel safe due to a system that does not protect them.

Latina returned to her abusive boyfriend numerous times because of love and at the time of his death, there was a warrant for his arrest. Courts charged her with first-degree murder when she killed him, after years of threats and abuse left her blind in her right eye.

Gruelle concludes, “our criminal justice system requires that she be beaten enough to satisfy the system, and by the time it get to that point, she’s already been so worn down psychologically and physically and emotionally. That’s when it’s really time for advocates to step up and begin to treat her like she has some value because she’s been told now systematically that she doesn’t. The courts have told her that she doesn’t have value; her partner has told her that she doesn’t have value… and all that strips away from her. Advocates, instead of stripping away, we have to build back up.”

If You See Something, Say Something

It is important to understand the difficulty of reporting cases of IPV. Who wants to get their partner in legal trouble? Who wants to report their wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, and partner is abusive to them? Who is ready to accept they themselves are abused? IPV, like other forms of sex-based violence, often leaves the survivor in a traumatized state. This can manifest psychologically (irritable mood, overeating / undereating, splitting, dependency, fear of being along or fear of being with the abusive partner, and increasing isolation) or physically (exhaustion, severe weight gain or weight loss, and jumpiness). The symptoms of abusive relationships typically run deep, and the longer the relationship lasted, the more difficult these symptoms may be to spot. One critical symptom to look for is increasing isolation. The IPV situations typically result from an over-controlling or obsessive partner. These controllers may begin their abusive pattern of behavior by cutting off the victim from social contact with others outside of the relationship; the less face-time the victim has with others, the less likely to victim will be able to ask for help. In total isolation, the victim is hardpressed to find an ally, and he or she may fall prey to hopelessness and further traumatization. If you believe you know someone is in an abusive situation, reach out.

IPV is a complex human rights violation, and efforts to combat IPV must be flexible, durable, and persistent. Many social scientists work on deconstructing the psychopathology of perpetrators and patterns of survival in IPV victims. Advocates use their voice and social capital to broadcast the plight of IPV survivors and the identity of perpetrators. Ethical policy-makers codify punishments for IPV perpetrators, and enact funding for NGOs and government organizations that help IPV survivors. Finally, you can take action too. If you see something, say something. If you see a friend or loved one is in a relationship that does not seem right, initiate a conversation. Commit to naming and preventing intimate partner violence whenever you see it.

If you or someone you know is or may be in an abusive relationship, here are authorities to contact: in immediate danger, call 911 and The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.

 

Ms. Hood considers domestic violence to be a form of domestic terrorism, and aims to raise awareness about the issue through her efforts including ThreeDaily.org.