Marching Ardor

by Mary Johnson- Butterworth

When someone close to me questioned the importance of my marching with White Birminghamians For Black Lives, I wrote this poem as a response.  I proudly carry a sign, “White Silence Breeds Injustice,” every Friday from 4:30-6:30 at Kelly Ingram Park.  Everyone is welcome.

a group photo of White Birminghamians for Black Lives
White Birminghamians for Black Lives. Source: White Birminghamians for Black Lives Facebook Page. Used with permission

“WHITE SILENCE BREEDS INJUSTICE,”

Words I hold in my hands

For those whose hands are shackled

Or too full with work

And growing healthy babies.

Can our voices speak as theirs

Or do we dilute their words?

 

Can I ally with Dreamers,

Insulated by my birthright?

Can I represent the poor

With no balance on my Visa?

Can I fight for women’s rights

And parent three white males?

 

What makes a marcher relevant?

What deems a march impactful?

Pussy hats and Trump attacks

And “Free Melania” placards?

If I echo, “Me Too,” and state,

“No Hate, No Fear,”

Are these the stuff of change?

 

If we few insist on marching,

Does our weekly selfie morph

Into a media laughingstock?

Distractors, subtractors from the core?

Interlopers, intruders on could-be passion?

Transformative, informative,

Or just subnormative?

 

Can we convey, “Black Lives Matter”

As a smattering of whites?

Are we a joke gone viral

In our efforts to protest

For those we cannot protect?

Can we sense Black pain

Enough to hail its power

Over all Americans?

 

When two or three are gathered

In the name of Social Justice,

Do we frustrate the huddled masses

Or does good emanate from the act?

“Yes,” I say ground is gained

By our meager footsteps.

Our rallying imprimatur leaves

Permanence in its wake,

For white silence breeds injustice.

 

Mary Johnson-Butterworth, age 69, has been a social justice activist most of her adult life.  She has facilitated social justice workshops for middle and high school students throughout the Birmingham area and beyond with the YWCA of Central Alabama, the National Conference for Community and Justice, the National Coalition Building Institute, and YouthServe.  Mary has also been on staff at a residential YWCA diversity camp, Anytown Alabama, for 22 years and has facilitated trainings for corporate entities, Leadership Birmingham, and Project Corporate Leadership.  She has recently discovered the power of poetry to transform her own life and the lives of impacted listeners.

Assisting the Non-Assisted

On Monday, October 1, the Institute for Human Rights co-sponsored an event with local education, faith-based and law organizations, titled Addressing the Global Refugee Crisis – Part 1: Focus on Europe. Following, Dr. Tina Kempin Reuter, Director of UAB Institute for Human Rights, and April Jackson-MacLennan, J.D., from the Law Office of John Charles Bell, L.L.C., covered the legal challenges of this phenomenon from an international and national perspective, respectively.

Dr. Reuter Presenting Refugee Statistics. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

The event began with a viewing of the documentary Non Assistance, sponsored by the Consulate General of Switzerland in Atlanta, which illustrates how sociopolitical crises in the Middle East and North Africa have galvanized thousands of people to flee their home countries, permeating the Mediterranean Sea with frail boats past occupancy, holding limited supplies. Just like its title, the film focused on the lack of assistance refugee boats receive during their treacherous journey, highlighting the tragedy on March 27, 2011 that lead to 63 Tripolitanian refugee fatalities.

Despite endearment from many Europeans citizens, like the vigilantes that aim to rescue whoever they can with their personal boats, many ships in the Mediterranean to do not strive to assist the refugees. However, in 2015 alone, Doctors Without Borders rescued over 23,000 people in the Mediterranean with a just three boats, demonstrating how non-governmental parties can be instrumental in addressing this crisis. One theory for this disparity is, since the first country of contact is responsible for reporting asylum, governments do not want to carry the burden of assisting refugees. Such an outcome begs us to ask: What steps are the European Union (EU) taking to address this issue? How would you feel being lost and abandoned at sea with just the shirt on your back? Where is the humanity?

After the film, Dr. Reuter and Mrs. Jackson-MacLennan fielded questions from the aghast, yet spirited, audience. People wanted to know what can be done; answers centered on policy change and contacting elected officials. Others asked why rescue ships are being held at the ports, leading to discussion about the legal entanglements that now restrict these boats from aiding refugees. Despite there being less rescue boats navigating the Mediterranean and a drop in migration via this route, often attributed to slowing of violence in the Syrian Civil War, there is still a need to assist refugees.

Mrs. Jackson-MacLennan Engaging with a Student. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

On November 12, the sequel to this three-part series, titled Addressing the Global Refugee Crisis – Part II: Focus on the United States will be held at Birmingham-Southern College and followed by the third event in early 2019, at Samford University, where action planning around this global issue will take place. Please join us for the following events whereas every voice and helping hand counts.

Due Process: Is It Standard Operating Procedure?

United States Supreme Court  The southern-facing main facade of the United States Supreme Court, overlooking Capitol Hill.
United States Supreme Court. The southern-facing main facade of the United States Supreme Court, overlooking Capitol Hill. Source: Matt Popvich, Creative Commons

I read “The Presumption of Guilt: The new liberal standard turns American due process upside down” the other day. I found this piece presumptuous at worst, and revelatory at best. The WSJ editorial board outlines three core tenets potentially derailing due process in the Kavanaugh appointment, most notably the presumption of his guilt. These core tenets, in the board’s estimation, will defend against a mockery of “the new liberal standard of legal and political due process.” What strikes me most about this piece is the presentation of their core beliefs about the justice system in America: “The core tenet of Anglo-American law is that the burden of proof always rests with the person making the accusation.” What the board revealed is the ever-present reality that populations of color in this country know and experience daily, and this fact is symbolized in the very name of the board’s ideal legal system itself: Anglo-Saxon. The law is not as colorblind or unbiased as the justice system would have us believe. The law is not for the protection of all; it is for the protection of Anglo-Americans. It is a law to the exclusion of everyone else. This blog, using the outlined WSJ tenets as section headers, speaks to the presumption of guilt applied daily to marginalized populations without due process.

Tenet #1: The core tenet of Anglo-American law is that the burden of proof always rests on the person making the accusation. Non-whites do not get the benefit of the doubt, even when video evidence, witness statements, or 911 recordings indicate otherwise. For marginalized persons, few opportunities transpire to make an accusation or offer a defense. Consider any number of non-threatening Sikhs, Muslims, Native Americans, or Blacks who find themselves on the receiving end of the “fear” of a White person for their safety. The accusatory nature of white America against persons of color, especially Blacks, living their lives has become so galvanized that #whileblack is a social media phenomenon.

#WhileBlack spotlights White Americans willingly interfering and causing disruption in the lives of Black people. Whether a politician canvassing a neighborhood or realtor checking on a property or a White grandmother riding home with her Black grandson, White Americans usage of the police as quenchers of irrational fear may result in the death of another unarmed and unassuming citizen. A few months ago, a group of Black women packed their car following their vacation when White residents phoned the police, accusing the women of robbing the AirBnB house where they stayed. Even after pleading their case, the officers did not believe the Black women. A White student at Yale phoned the police on two different Black students on two different occasions because she believed they did not belong on the campus. Colorado campus police detained two Native American students visiting a university when a White parent complained that the boys seemed threatening because they did not say much during the tour. In addition to highlighting the direct and structural violence that non-Whites face over the course of the day, #whileBlack showcases that the mastery of accusation and othering heavily favors the dominant party.

Tenet #2: An accusation isn’t any more or less credible because of the gender, race, religion or ethnicity of who makes it. This tenet suggests that any accusation is worthy of address. Recent history, including accusations against Roy Moore and this current case, tell us that many Americans presume the innocence of white males in the entertainment industry and political arena over white women. Thus, revealing a gender bias. Just ask Bill O’Reilly, Les Moonves, and Louis C.K. Presently the exceptions to this rule are men of color like Aziz Ansari and Bill Cosby.

Accusations of sexual misconduct by women of color are often dismissed or discredited. In 1991, Anita Hill came forward with allegations against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. When Lupita Nyong’o said Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed her, Weinstein denied the possibility of it, despite more than 40 other women making similar and more explicit claims. This tenet, however, is inaccurate if you are Carolyn Bryant or Donald Trump. Carolyn Bryant lied to a judge and jury in 1955. With that lie, she sentenced Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago, to a lynching by Bryant’s husband and other family members. Donald Trump, in 2008, initiated and perpetuated the birther narrative about President Obama. Despite the release of Obama’s birth certificate in 2011, many doubt Obama and believe Trump.

statue of justice
Scales of Justice-Frankfurt. Source: Michael Coghlan, Creative Commons

Tenet #3: The right to cross-examine an accuser. This tenet is the crux of due process as exercised under the auspices of a third party, whether a mediator, a judge, or an adjudicator. “The denial of cross-examination is a major reason that campus panels adjudicating sexual-assault claims have become kangaroo courts.” The right to confront an accuser is a component of justice; however, in many cases of sexual assault and violence, there is an invoking of “boys will be boys” and/ or “that’s just what we did in high school and college” to bypass cross-examination and the potential for prosecution altogether. This flippant attitude is primary to the problem. A double standard has always existed when describing the sexual behaviors of men and women.

In conclusion, what is interesting is for all the chatter of due process in this piece, the WSJ editorial board fail to recognize that due process is exactly what the women who have stepped forward desire. Due process allows the accusers the opportunity to tell their sides of the story and Kavanaugh to tell his side. It allows for cross-examination and a committee of his peers to decide if he should find himself rewarded with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Due process should bring about a more just society and system.

If the failure to administer due process signals “the new liberal standard”, how does it apply to conservative-led initiatives? Republicans control the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary – in effect, the Republican party is the chief executor of due process in all branches of government. Are Americans to infer that government officials have not implemented the due process as standard operating procedure? If there is a failure of due process, the burden of responsibility falls at the feet of the Republicans.

Due process seems like an overarching ideal outworked in the request to receive all the documents concerning his judgeship so proper vetting could take place in preparation for the confirmation hearing. It seems like a logical next step when considering the “committee confidential” emails that should not have been confidential; if there is nothing to hide, given the presumption of innocence and blind trust this society is to have for its leaders. Why is a due process so important in this case and for this person but not for others?

Where are the demands for due process for the children stolen from their parents and held hostage by the government as migrant families seek refuge in a country that once held so much promise? Where are the demands for due process when unarmed men, women, and children are murdered in their schools or on playgrounds, or streets or in their homes? Where are the demands for due process for the thousands of survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church? Where are the cries for due process when individuals commit suicide because they experience bullying because of something they cannot change or choose?

Articles 6-12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outline the basic tenets of due process. If Kavanaugh has nothing to hide and believes, as an officer of the court, that the system is just, then he should have no issue facing his accusers, calling a cross-examination, and letting the justice system work. Unless he knows the demands for due process are inequitable because justice is not just.

What is the meaning of “due process” as a component of the justice system, if a potential justice stymies the rights of accusers during his pursuit of a position in the highest court of the land as an executor of the justice system?

Representation and Respect: Addressing Transgender Rights at UAB and Beyond

On Thursday, September 13, the Institute for Human Rights had the opportunity to host Joan Rater and Tony Phelan, parents to actor and student Tom Phelan; and Brianna Patterson, a transgender activist, veteran, former firefighter and UAB health educator. Joan covered her journey as a parent supporting her transgender son and advocating for trans representation on television, while Brianna shared her story of being a transwoman from the South, moving from social isolation to embracing her womanhood.

Brianna, Joan and Tony Engaging with the Audience. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

 

Joan opened with a presentation titled “Transforming My Family”, where she spoke about Tom’s transition that began at 17 but addressed his once reserved feelings about his gender. Tom was very confident as child, but this withered with his teens, becoming suicidal and even briefly moving from Malibu to Boston with his family so he could receive outpatient treatment. One day, after his mental health improved, while being dropped off at school, Joan and Tony received an email from Tom as he walked to class. The email was Tom’s proclamation of being transgender, at the time using they/them/their pronouns, while including resources for his parents to better understand. Usage of the internet and technology has proven to be a positive resource, not only for people in the transgender community to communicate, but to inform allies about the transgender experience, allowing to amplify these traditionally marginalized voices.

A year into his transition, with support of his parents, Tom pursued “top surgery” which is the process of removing one’s breasts through medical procedure. As soon as he had his doctor’s approval to workout, he began jogging without a shirt, feeling a sense of liberation. Soon after, Tom debated the idea of hormone therapy that would ultimately change his voice, becoming a compromise between his options as an actor and happiness. Tom chose the latter, eventually leading to a role as a trans teen, Cole, on ABC Family’s The Fosters. Once Joan saw her son’s role validating the experience of transgender fans, she saw it was her and Tony’s obligation, as television producers/screenwriters, to amplify such voices through media representation. This led to emergence CBS’s Doubt, including Laverne Cox as Cam, a transgender law graduate from Yale University who often litigated for underrepresented clients, contributing to the mainstreaming of complex, genuine transgender identities.

She then demonstrated the importance of voting in support of transgender rights and, if possible, donating to people and organizations who fight injustice professionally. Joan closed by insisting that when facing transphobia, we must be brave and cannot allow intolerance to go unchecked.

Brianna Patterson, an Alabama native and current health educator at UAB’s 1917 Clinic, shared the challenges and accomplishments throughout her journey, including her transition that began in 2012. Brianna expressed the first time she “felt different” was in 1st grade, not knowing how to identify these feelings and consistently using the girls’ restroom. Also, with being raised by strict grandparents, Brianna claimed to have been disciplined violently when caught experimenting with her grandmother’s clothes. At the age of 14, Brianna experienced her first suicide attempt, followed by self-isolation in high school, poor grades and an immediate retreat to the United State Marine Corps (USMC) at 17.

Brianna felt her new home in the USMC gave her the unconditional love she didn’t receive back home. Although, she described having internalized transphobia because she didn’t feel masculine enough. However, after serving her term in USMC, which included tours during the Somalian civil war, Brianna, still, didn’t feel masculine enough. This led to her joining the fire service at a local department in Alabama, which she served for 23 years. Toward the end of this career, Brianna pursued hormone therapy, but was first refused care by nine different physicians throughout the state, demonstrating the discrimination transgender patients experience in the health care field. One day, after producing her driver license with her new name, following a traffic accident, the local officer spread the word about Brianna’s identity. As a result, two years before being eligible for retirement, the city council voted to demote Brianna’s Captain status, highlighting how Alabama doesn’t provide protections for the transgender community.

Soon after, Brianna finished her Master’s in Public Health, first working for Planned Parenthood and now representing UAB’s 1917 Clinic, a job she loves because she gets to address vaccine education, recruit research participants and address health issues salient to the transgender community. Although there was a silver lining in Brianna’s story, many don’t include such an ending, demonstrating the need for local, national and international protections for the transgender community.

Following Joan and Brianna’s presentations, the guests, alongside Tony, fielded questions from the audience, including insurance coverage for gender confirmation surgery, internet support networks, advice for coming out and how to be a genuine ally to the transgender community. Brianna responded to the latter by confidently saying, “The best way to be an ally: Treat everyone like a human being. Educate yourself. And if you wouldn’t ask a cis woman that question, you shouldn’t ask a trans woman that question.”

The Plastic Problem

A crushed water bottle lying on its side.
Crumpled. Source: Jesse Wagstaff, Creative Commons

The world is built to run on cycles.  The water-cycle.  The food-cycle.  The carbon-cycle.  The resources on Earth exist to be used and reused.  At some point, humanity lost sight of that, our eyes drawn to the concept of disposability.  Now we must face the consequences.

Think for a moment: when garbage day comes, how much trash have you collected?  If the millions of people who send their trash to landfills every week have as much as you, what does that look like?  It is important we remember that, after the garbage truck drives off into the distance, our bags of trash do not simply disappear from existence.  They must go somewhere, and they pile up.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.  You have heard it before.  Place your plastic bottles and paper in the blue bin rather than the trash can.  Take shorter showers.  Unplug electronics when they are not being used.  This is often accepted as doing enough.  The sad truth is that this makes a very small dent in the pollution of our environment.

Background

Despite being aware of its impact on the planet, most of us cannot imagine day to day life without plastic.  However, the world has not always relied on plastic as we know it.  Though naturally derived plastics have been in use for ages, the first fully synthetic plastic was not developed until 1907.  In the 1930s, its use was common in aspects of the war such as military vehicles.  Since then, plastics have become increasingly commonplace and depended on in everyday life.  It is estimated that over 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s.

Plastic does not decompose like other materials.  It is estimated that it takes at least 450 years to decompose but may never actually do so.  It shrinks and is often mistaken for food by animals or ends up in our water.  More than five trillion pieces of plastic are already in the oceans due to litter and mismanaged trash that never even reaches a landfill.  According to the United Nations, it is possible that the oceans will hold more plastic than fish by 2050 if something does not change.

We are constantly surrounded with promotions of the concept of “out with the old, in with the new.”  Replace clothes every time a new style gains popularity.  Replace technology as soon as newer models are released.  Perhaps this is why we are so comfortable with the concept of “disposable” products.  We have developed a frame of mind where the norm is to dispose and replace.  The results of this attitude have huge, negative impacts on the environment, and by extension, human beings.  In his TED talk, “The economic injustice of plastic,” Van Jones sums it up perfectly: “In order to trash the planet, you have to trash people.”

Human Rights

The pollution of the environment is a human rights and public health issue.  In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25 states that we have the right to a standard of living that supports our health and well-being.  The United Nations also recognizes many specific environmental rights.  For example, we have the right to “a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.”  We also have the right to seek information regarding environmental issues and to “participate in public decision-making.” Plastic pollution is an increasing contributor to violations of the human rights of people all over the world; we have the right, as well as the responsibility, to be a part of the solution.

Landfills are a specific example of how plastic harms people.  Many items that end up there contain toxins that often leak in to water and soil and remain for years.  Problems can also be found when organic materials, such as food waste, are in landfills.  When they start to decompose in the middle of an enormous pile, they are deprived of oxygen and produce methane, a serious greenhouse gas that can become dangerously flammable.

Landfills also have a direct impact on the lives of entire communities.  As of 2003, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund co-represents the Ashurst/Bar Smith community (ABSCO) in a Title VI complaint against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.  ABSCO’s complaint is that the department has discriminated against the community, “by permitting the Stone’s Throw Landfill to open and expand its operations in their predominately (98%) Black community without conducting an assessment of the Landfill’s disparate and discriminatory social, economic, and health impacts on the majority-Black community.”  The landfill had been closed but was reopened in 2002.  Landfills are often placed near low-income, black communities, especially in Alabama.  Many members of the community can trace their family’s ownership of their land back many generations, such as Phyllis Gosa, whose great-grandparents bought the land as former slaves in the 1800s.  As decades have past, such families have been able to see the changes that have occurred since the start of the landfill.

The effects of Stone’s Throw Landfill reported by ABSCO include fear of toxic run-off polluting their water sources, health problems like cancer, respiratory problems, migraines, and dizziness, and gardens no longer producing food.  In the past, this community has been heavily self-reliant, using their own water sources and growing their food on their own land.  Due to the impacts of the landfill, they are now having pay significant costs to replace what their resources can no longer provide.  The EPA closed the complaint in 2017, but the problems continue.

This case is not unique.  Landfills pose daily threats to the health and well-being of people across the country, and yet they continue to grow.

A pile of old, worn down toothbrushes that have been thrown out.
Plastic Toothbrush Debris. Source: NOAA Coral Reef Ecosystem Program, Creative Commons

Legislation

The implementation of some large-scale efforts to decrease the use of plastics and their detriment to societies and the planet have increases as the world realizes the problem that plastic creates. China, who had been the world’s main destination for plastic recyclables until January, banned the import of plastic waste this year.  The European Commission has proposed a ban on nearly all single use plastics.  In 2016, France implemented of a “four-year phase out” of single use plastics such as cutlery and plates.  California banned single use plastic bags and began to require a ten-cent charge on recycled plastic bags in 2014, supporting the use of non-plastic bags for carrying purchases home from the store.  Nearly all of Hawaii’s highly populated cities have banned non-biodegradable plastic bags and paper bags that are made from less than 40% recycled material.

However, the United States as a whole has a lot of catching up to do.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we produced 258 million tons of solid waste, and 136 millions of those tons were sent to landfills.  Multiple states, including Michigan, have gone so far as to ban plastic bag bans.  They have prohibited the creation of legislation that regulates “the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers.”  Supporters of this law often consider themselves to be protecting businesses from having to make changes that disturb regular operations.  The question is whether or not it is worth it.  Is it worth accepting the harm caused by plastic bags in order to prevent businesses from being inconvenienced?

What We Can Do

While the average person cannot do very much about the landfills that already exist, we can help by not adding to them and limiting our waste.  Half of all plastic that is produced is only meant to be used once.  This leads to an enormous amount of plastic destined for landfills, even if we disregard any that could potentially be recycled.  Cling wrap.  Candy bar wrappers.  Ziploc bags.  The list goes on.

A lot of it (if not all of it) is completely unnecessary.  Take it from Lauren Singer.  She has minimized her waste production to the point of being able to fit all the trash she could not compost or recycle from four years of her life into a single mason jar.  She promotes the “zero waste” lifestyle through many different media, such as her blog, Trash Is For Tossers.  According to Singer, being zero waste means to “…not produce any garbage.  No sending anything to the landfill, no throwing anything into a trash can…”

How does she do it?  Through her blog, Singer has offered a lot of information on how to work towards living a zero waste life.  For example, to replace plastic toothbrushes, she recommends opting for a bamboo one, which can be composted when the bristles are removed.  Instead of buying all-purpose household cleaner, she suggests making your own, which is often cheaper and healthier for you to use.  Additionally, single use menstrual hygiene products can be replaced with washable and reusable options, such as menstrual cups and reusable pads.

Many people who are part of the zero waste community abide by the five Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, rot, and recycle.

The Five Rs

1) Refuse.  Do your best not to accept things that are unnecessary or that will end up being thrown away.  Before accepting that free pen, think twice about how much you actually need another one.

2) Reduce.  Try decreasing the amount of stuff you bring home, especially if you are only going to use it once.  Consider buying products that have multiple uses and/or can be bought in bulk.  This leads to less plastic and is often less expensive.

3) Reuse.  Buy items of higher quality that can be washed and reused repeatedly, such as a stainless-steel water bottle.  Bring your own cutlery instead of using plastic ones.

4) Rot.  Compost anything you can.  Here you can learn about how to start your own compost and about what can be composted.

5) Recycle.  While it is good to recycle anything you can, it is important to note that it is at the end of the list.  Strive to find the need to recycle as little as possible, especially when it comes to plastic.  It still involves buying more disposables that will most likely end up in a dump (or worse).

If you decide to try out being zero waste for yourself, please remember that it is not about being perfect.  It is about doing the most you can to maximize the positive impact you have on the world.

Child Marriage Threatens Human Rights

by Nicole Allen

a picture of wedding rings
Rings. Source: Ted Rabbitts, Creative Commons.

Child marriage is an institution of the past, only existing when life expectancies were short and women’s rights were nonexistent, right? It no longer happens in the United States. Surprisingly, both statements are false. Your grandparents might have married when they were teenagers, and you might think that they were so young to be taking such a major, life-changing step. But, did you know that your neighbors might be doing the same thing? That’s because child marriage is a current practice in both the United States and abroad. Legislation and organizations are working to end it. They hope to make it a practice our own grandchildren might hear about but never witness. In May 2018, John Carney, the governor of Delaware, signed a law that requires people to be eighteen years old or older to marry. This made Delaware the first state in the nation to outlaw child marriage. The state of New Jersey followed Delaware’s lead when governor Phil Murphy signed a bill in June that banned marriage for participants under the age of eighteen.

What Is Child Marriage?

Most U.S. children who marry under the age of eighteen are sixteen or seventeen years old;  however, some are as young as twelve. Some states do not even have a minimum age for marriage. This article follows the definition of the United Nations, which defines a child as an individual under the age of eighteen. The organization’s Convention on the Rights of the Child states: “For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” According to the UN, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” The United Nations hopes that these safeguards shield children from a number of harmful factors, such as child marriage and even certain government policies. The UN high commissioner for human rights, for example, decried the U.S. federal government policy of separating immigrant children from their parents in 2018.

Child marriage is common worldwide. How common? Some statistics estimate that in the next decade alone, 140 or 150 million girls will marry before their eighteenth birthdays. Some children marry as young as the ages of seven or eight. While some people claim that child marriage is the product of a specific culture, it is common across many cultures, ethnic groups, religions, and countries. India has many child brides in its large population, but the rates of child marriage are also high in African countries near the Sahara Desert, such as Niger.

What Are the Risks of Child Marriage?

Most of the people entering child marriages are female. Proponents of child marriage state that the marriages exist to protect girls from violence and sexual predators. They state that child marriage offers girls better economic futures. But, child marriage often exploits girls instead of protecting them. It often decimates the girls’ futures. Child marriage often makes girls victims of sexual predators instead of protecting them from such violence. Many child brides are forced into marriage to adult men. These marriages might help the men avoid arrests and prosecution for statutory rape. Human Rights Watch and other opponents against child marriage state that the practice perpetuates the continued sexual abuse of minors and gives legal permission for their abusers to do so without criminal repercussions.

If the child brides have children themselves, it can lead to medical and social problems. Sandra L. Hofferth states that teenage pregnancy can cause “low birth weight, complications of the mother’s pregnancy and delivery, and health problems associated with poor perinatal outcomes; greater risk of perinatal death; lower IQ and academic achievement later on, including a greater risk of repeating a grade; greater risk of socio-emotional problems; a greater risk of having a fatal accident before age one; and finally, a greater probability of starting one’s own family at an early age.” Marrying young can also wreak havoc with the young brides’ mental health. Le Strat, Dubertret, and Le Foll have found that females who marry in childhood are “more likely to seek and access health services.” These mental health conditions can include depression or drug addiction, two illnesses that can affect the mind and the body and can require extensive treatment. These studies both illustrate how child marriage can create mental and physical problems for young brides and their children.

Child marriages often prevent girls from furthering their educations or starting careers. These limitations, their often-limited legal statuses, and their young ages often make it difficult for young spouses to act as equal partners in their marriages. Often, child brides (and grooms) suffer physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse from their older and more powerful partners, yet, their lack of personal agency and physical power renders them helpless and powerless to stop spousal abuse and seek divorce. They might not be able to legally divorce their spouses if they are under the age of eighteen, even though they were legally permitted to marry them in the first place. Child marriage, then, often creates victims who continue to be victimized for years, sometimes for their entire lives. Children when they marry, these brides encounter limitations that could keep treating them as children economically and legally.

How Are Politicians Addressing Child Marriage?

Politicians have voiced different opinions about the practice. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie said banning child marriage entirely would “violate the cultures and traditions of some communities in New Jersey based on religious traditions.” His successor as governor, Phil Murphy, signed the bill to end the practice in 2018, however. Many U.S. states have provisions that allow people to marry under the age of eighteen, especially if they have parental or judicial consent. Some states allow girls to marry under the age of eighteen if they are pregnant and will allow children to marry whether they want to or not. Pregnancy is another reason some legislators use for supporting child marriage, arguing that marriage can help end the stigma sometimes associated with teen pregnancy (even regardless of whether this pregnancy is the result of rape). Legislators in other states, meanwhile, are echoing Delaware and New Jersey’s actions and establishing a mandatory minimum age for marriage. In 2018, the state of Florida passed legislation requiring a minimum age of seventeen to marry if the participants have parental consent and their prospective spouses are no more than two years older than they are.

New Hampshire passed a law that requires all participants to be at least sixteen years old to marry. Previously, boys had to be at least fourteen to marry and girls had to be at least thirteen years old. This law came after the New Hampshire House of Representatives failed to pass a law that would have raised the legal age of marriage to eighteen for both sexes in 2017. Other U.S. states allow minors to marry under the age of eighteen, often with specific requirements. The state of Virginia, for example, allows emancipated minors to marry. It also allows sixteen-year-olds or seventeen-year-olds to marry if they have parental consent. Different laws, thus, exist in different states. Could these differences create confusion and assumptions about child marriage? People might assume that children under the age of eighteen are prohibited from marrying everywhere in the United States, yet that is clearly not the case.

Girl wearing a wedding dress. Source: Amy Ann Brockmeyer, pixabay.com

How Are Organizations Addressing Child Marriage?

Many organizations are also addressing child marriage. Unchained at Last is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization provides emotional, legal, and social support to girls and women forced into marriage. The website allows legal and mental health professionals to apply to offer their pro bono services to help females impacted by child marriage. The organization was also instrumental in the creation and passage of New Jersey’s law to end the practice. Given that child marriage is a global problem, it makes sense that international organizations also work to combat it. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) has partnered with two Cameroon-based groups that help females forced into early marriage, the Association pour la Lutte contre les Violences Faites aux Femmes (the Association to Combat Violence Against Women, ALVF) and the Association pour la Promotion de l’Autonomie et des Droits de la Jeune Fille/Femme (APAD). The APAD provides skill-building programs and literacy to help victims of forced or young marriage. The organization educates the girls and women in these marriages and their communities about human rights. The ALVF also supports girls in Cameroon, stating on its homepage that “Our Association fights against all forms of violence against women and girls in the Far North of Cameroon.” The two organizations share goals and a common lineage, as members of the ALVF formed the APAD.

Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage (Girls Not Brides) is another international coalition of organizations working to end forced marriages for girls and other forms of child marriage. The organization developed a theory of change in 2014. According to its website, this theory includes strategies its organizers believe can end child marriage, such as

  • Giving girls power and agency, including educating girls about their rights to refuse marriage and helping them develop the tools they need to make their own decisions.
  • Working with communities and parents to raise awareness about the risks surrounding child marriage and the benefits of supporting the human rights of girls and women.
  • Developing programs and organizations to ensure that girls have access to education, health services, and other resources so they can refuse child marriage or thrive after they enter such marriages.
  • Creating and developing policy and legal structures, such as legislation to close loopholes that permit people under the age of eighteen to marry.

Girls Not Brides hopes that these strategies will help girls lead happier, more successful lives as well as end child marriage.

How Can You Help End Child Marriage?

Organizations are enlisting the help of others to address child marriage. Girls Not Bride suggests that people can

  • Share facts and infographics to help educate others about the issue.
  • Use social media to discuss child marriage.
  • Sign petitions to generate attention about forced marriage and child abuse.
  • Donate to organizations around the world who work with affected young people.

Although many citizens of Western countries may not be aware that child marriage is a problem, it does in fact exist and often in their own communities. Child marriage has far-reaching, lifelong consequences. Ending it can improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.

Give yourself a break. It’s your right.

Welcome to SUMMER 2018!! This is a repost from last Spring. 

 a picture of two beach chairs at sunset
A Nice Place to Sit. Source: Richard Walker, Creative Commons.

With spring break and summer just ahead, did you know you have a right to leisure and rest? It is in part because of Eleanor Roosevelt and the 18 representatives chosen by the Economic and Social Council in 1948, tasked with drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document that would become a cornerstone of peace around the world. Article 24 of the UDHR pronounces, “everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Researchers, writers, and business insiders market the right to leisure and rest as work-life balance. Harvard Business Review has an entire section of its current and archive database dedicated to the subject.

What is the right to leisure? Leisure is a part of the second generation of human rights. Roosevelt ascribed each right as a component of the “inherent rights of all individuals, without which no one can live in dignity and freedom.” In other words, it is a basic human right. She notes that the UDHR carries moral weight but no legal weight, thus making it easier for violations to occur. Often, governments through repressive systems and structures are responsible for human rights violations; however, the violation of leisure is often self-imposed.

A 2014 Gallup poll revealed that 42% of the polled full-time employees work 47 hours a week while 40% work 40 hours, and 8% work less than 40 hours. Ran Zilca suggests more people want community and relationship over a paycheck, but have not verbalized the desire for a job that will bring fulfillment. He concedes that unnamed values magnify discomfort and distress, clouding perspective. Age is also a factor in finding work/life balance. When all is said and done, work happiness depends on several factors, including having a life outside the office and possessing money to enjoy it.

The notion of “work/life balance” is recognized across the world as a difficult goal to attain because the lines between work and life are blurred. Paula Caproni, working wife and mother of two children under four, explains that achieving the Zen-like status of full balance is easier said than done, especially for the well-intentioned. Citing Martin and Knopoff, who assert, “it is not a stretch of the imagination to consider that a root of the work/life balance tension is that caretaking work in one’s own home—typically done by women—is undervalued and unpaid, and until this fundamental issue is resolved most other attempts that try to resolve work/life tensions are likely to be superficial at best”, Caproni hints that work/life balance is more about the flexible sharing of the work/life load, rather than the circular nature of devaluing the half often associated with women, prioritizing individualism over familial (or community) interaction, and misapplied excellence in the workplace. She acknowledges that the disconnection between the idea of work/life balance and the practical application may disappoint many who discover life values “do not fall into clean dichotomies that lend themselves to trade-offs or prioritization.” In other words, every attempt to compartmentalize one part of life from another will create frustration, disillusionment, and isolation since the ideal is unattainable. Caproni established rest amid the unpredictability of the ‘imbalance’ by embracing “tranquility over achievement, contribution over success, and choice over status”, creating an internal dialogue that helped to name essential values, changing both life and work accordingly.

a picture of a guy reading under a tree
Reading. Source: Marketa, Creative Commons.

David Maume states, “Research has looked at the symbolic meaning of time use and linked it to a person’s identity.” Men and women have different perspectives when approaching and participating in vacations. Gender roles plays a significant role in how often and if vacations happen in the lives of people. Generally, while on vacations with families, women are tasked with meeting the emotional and physical needs while men focus on work-related tasks. On one hand, women sacrifice their personal enjoyment for the sake of others, seeing vacation as an enjoyable ‘disruption of work’ that allows “work on daily family life and cement bonds between family members.” On the other, a man’s career and subsequent job concerns may lead to a limited presence or total absenteeism on vacations. He concludes that men, aware of misplaced values in the past, desire to spend more time with their children–making significant changes to create a more egalitarian home environment or staying home full-time while wives work outside the home. This decision is countercultural and sometimes detrimental to a career.

The acknowledgement of values should remain a priority of an employee, and at minimum, recognized by an employer. Sanghamitra Buddhapriya introduces three key concepts in her essay, “Balancing Work and Life: Implications for Business”: work-family, the guilt complex, and time sovereignty. She argues that work-life balance is not just a reduction in working hours. It is flexibility that allows for the removal of the guilt complex because the control of time has been entrusted to capable, motivated employees, seeking to dedicate themselves to work and family. First, work-family balance seeks out the space achieved when an employer sets, creates, and promotes an environment for an effective balance. The tension of work and family is complicated by typical business culture which emphasizes long hours means more devotion, scheduling conflicts and absenteeism are evidence of noncommitment, and time constraints implies time mismanagement or “role ambiguity”.

Second, the guilt complex magnifies the tension of work and family since domesticity is often attributed to women. Buddhapriya points out that within male dominated organizations and societies like India, women “face a dual burden” of having career aspirations and family goals. “Working women and their spouses continue to regard breadwinning as essentially a man’s job and home management as a woman’s job… women continue to bear the burden of household responsibilities regardless of their employment status.” Due to the weight of the burden, women, especially mothers, may be forced to ‘trade-down’ to part-time jobs, taking jobs for which they are overqualified, or make their career subordinate to that of their husband (Budig 2001, Correll 2007, Gash 2009).

Lastly, time sovereignty places responsibility to organizational commitment in the hands of the employee, citing an ability to manage life stressors and job stressors more effectively, improving work performance and satisfaction. Time sovereignty is not unaccounted time; it is a flexible work arrangement. Using Marriott International, Aetna, UPS, Hewlett-Packard as examples of companies utilizing time sovereignty, Buddhapriya reaffirms that the best employers have cultures and policies which promote a meaningful and supportive workplace, company productivity, movement towards gender equality, and organizational mobility and retention.

Leisure is defined as free time. It is an opportunity afforded by free time to do something that renews, refreshes, and destress you. Leisure is unhurried ease. It is sleeping until 10am or gardening or reading your favorite novel. Taking a trip to a foreign country or to Wyoming or learning to play an instrument. It is about binge-watching a television show and stopping to smell the gardenias by yourself, with a friend, or with family. It is your time and right so do what you want with it.

 

Additional Resources:

Budig, Michelle J.; and England, Paula. 2001. “The Wage Penalty for Motherhood.” American Sociological Review 66(2):204-25.

Correll, Shelly J.; Benard, Stephen, and Paik, In. 2007. “Getting a Job: Is There a Motherhood Penalty?”. American Journal of Sociology 112(5):1297-339.

Gash, Vanessa. 2009. “Sacrificing Their Careers for Their Families? An Analysis of the Penalty to Motherhood in Europe.” Social Indicators Research 93(3):569-86.

America’s Youngest Prisoners: Inhumanity of Family Detention

**As the US government flip-flops on its “zero-tolerance” Biblical mandated immigration policy that isn’t a policy but enforcement of the law, this repost, from this February, describes some of state-sanctioned child abuse and human rights violations experienced those seeking safety in “the land of the free and home of the brave.” You can read more information and some of the latest reports: here, here, here, including former first lady Laura Bush, and this video of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The United States has long been lauded as the land of the free. As Americans, we have a tendency to consider our country to be an almost utopian land, far removed from the bleak landscapes and brutal violence of foreign countries that appear on the news. However, this ethnocentric attitude blinds us to the human rights abuses that happen frequently within our borders. Family detention centers are one such environment where human rights are regularly violated. The United States has three remaining family detention centers, referred to as “baby jails” by dissidents. Family detention has dwindled over the years due to protest, but our government currently detains close to 3,000 non-criminal immigrant mothers and children in horrifying conditions.

A couple sits next to a large wall with graffiti saying "Freedom," and "Take down this wall!"
Yarl’s Wood Protest. Source: iDJ Photography, Creative Commons.

“We are not delinquents who should be imprisoned.” – Eleven-year-old girl on her detention at Berks County Residential Center

Of the three family detention centers that remain open, the South Texas Family Residential Center (Dilley, Texas) is by far the largest. The other two centers, Karnes County Detention Center (Karnes City, Texas) and Berks County Detention Center (Leesport, Pennsylvania), hold less than 700 detainees combined. Dilley, as it is known, has a capacity for 2,400 inmates and, as of 2015, holds over 1,000 children and around 750 mothers. The fifty acres of land that comprise the Dilley center are dotted with small, two-bedroom, one-bathroom cottages with no kitchen, no telephones, and hold up to eight people per house. Nights in all centers are punctuated with officials checking in by shining flashlights on the sleeping families every fifteen minutes, reportedly causing insomnia and anxiety for the children. Medical care is essentially non-existent, as individuals report that the available doctors often only advise mothers to give their children water for any sickness they might have instead of prescribing medicine. On-site doctors have prescribed water instead of medical care for broken fingers, conjunctivitis, and even for a child who vomited blood, according to detainee’s reports.

A young child in a pink dress has her fingers held by a white-sleeved hand for an examination.
The Touch of Hands. Source: Alex Priomos, Creative Commons.

 “Simply, they don’t care. What is more important for them is control. These are delicate situations when someone is sick and vulnerable. They just care about control. I thought I came to this country to escape abuse, mistreatment and disrespect. But it’s the same here.” – a detainee at the South Texas Family Residential Center

The conditions at these centers are incredibly dangerous for children and mothers. Many mothers at the center have already faced sexual assault, brutal violence, or threats of murder against them and their family. This would normally grant these families asylum status, which is a status granted to people who are unable to return to their home country for fear of persecution. Asylum status is granted partially on the basis of past abuse or violence enacted on a person by a foreign government, but trauma survivors often struggle sharing details that would ensure asylum. Most asylum hearings do not have childcare available, so mothers must choose between either sharing explicit traumas in front of their children in order to be granted asylum or minimizing their struggle to protect their children but be denied asylum. The conditions of the centers themselves also are fraught with abuse. An increase in violence in Central America has led to an influx of migrants from unstable countries; most of the detainees at detention centers are of Central or South American origin and predominantly speak Spanish. However, few staff members are fluent in Spanish and the subsequent miscommunication lead to abuse. The women are rarely allowed to speak on the phone, and it is next to impossible to obtain legal advice privately within the centers. This denies women the ability to detail abuses of the center without fear of retribution by the staff. Detainees have been raped and assaulted by guards without adequate punishment; in 2016, a guard was sentenced to less than two years in prison after being found guilty of institutionally raping a nineteen-year-old Honduran woman.

Additionally, the children are deeply at risk for developmental regression and major psychological trauma. According to a report by the child advocacy group First Focus, over half of all children in family detention centers are under the age of six. Children under six are undergoing crucial stages in their development, and can easily be traumatized for the rest of their lives if exposed to the stress of detention centers. Children who have been detained are shown to have increased psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, self-harming, and suicidal thoughts or actions. Even short durations of being detained can have the same impact of week-long detention on children. Mothers have frequently reported their children losing unhealthy amounts of weight quickly, but doctors reportedly overlook the weight loss by claiming that the children are simply not used to the food or even claiming that they are bulimic. Children have been forced to sleep in rooms with non-related adults, creating a vulnerable situation that puts children at risk for sexual assault. At a now-closed center, kids as young as eighteen months were made to wear prison jumpsuits and expected to sleep in locked rooms with open-air toilets. Though the detention center where this occurred was shut down several years ago, similar abuses that display a blatant disregard for immigrant’s human rights have occurred in all family detention centers.

A crowd of people appear to be yelling as they hold signs that say "Close Karnes."
“Karnes Petition Delivery.” Source: WeAreUltraViolet, Creative Commons.

The overwhelming issue is that there is no legislation that ensures appropriate standards for immigrant detention. Management is left to the private companies who own the centers, and the desire for profit often overwhelms the adherence to ethical treatment. GEO Group, the company who runs Karnes, received $161 million in taxpayer dollars in 2015 from their contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Dilley, run by CoreCivic, generates 14% of the company’s income each year, despite owning seventy-four other prison centers– CoreCivic took away $71.6 million dollars from Dilley alone. These detention centers generate huge profits, which encourages the prison owners to fill beds with more detained immigrants. Last year, legislation was introduced in Texas to allow family detention centers to obtain child care facility licensing without meeting the minimum standards that other child care facilities must meet. Eventually, the bill was not passed and licensing was revoked from the Karnes center. However, the center continues to detain children. This is in direct violation of the Flores Agreement, which states that detained children must be kept in the least restrictive environment possible, requires child care licensing, and states that detainment for over three weeks is unlawful. Inaction from the government enables these centers to continue substandard practices that have harmed and will continue to harm children.

"Kids Out of Detention Centers" is stamped onto concrete in black ink with barbed wires surrounding the text.
Keep Kids Out of Detention Centers. Source: Stephen Mitchell, Creative Commons.

The government justifies the practice of detainment through “aggressive deterrence strategy,” which is meant to dissuade more migrants from attempting to gain entry to the United States. This strategy is not effective; the mass violence that many immigrants flee from is far deadlier than the misery of detainment, though both are damaging to families. Women with children are the least mobile group among communities in conflict, and often only flee in the face of real danger. Essentially, families who have fled violence must go somewhere, and the United States is both geographically convenient and generally safe. To deny families refuge is cruel enough, but to create more misery, vulnerability and trauma through inhumane detainment should be an unacceptable practice. We cannot deny that the United States is violating the human rights of thousands of children and mothers. Children in detention centers have a right to education, a right to an adequate standard of health, and the right to freedom from torture, along with all other human rights as defined by the UDHR. Educational needs have not been met by any standard, available healthcare is abominable, and much of the circumstances for detained children could be defined as torture or degrading treatment. Beyond this, the practice of family detention alone is a violation of the human rights of many detained children, as the Convention on the Rights of the Child states:

“No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”

Smiling children hold signs that say "keep families together."
Untitled. Source: Peoples World, Creative Commons.

The conditions in which these vulnerable groups have been forced into are inhumane and dangerous. The detainment of children at U.S. centers rarely conform to the law adequately and detainment periods are often months long. Family detention is punitive by nature, yet none of the detained mothers or children in family detention centers are detained on the basis of crime. Data collected by the Detention Watch Network shows that the majority of families in the centers qualify for asylum status and therefore deserve to be freed, but institutional obstacles prevented the obtainment of that status. Families in detainment simply seek safety and protection from violent conflict in their home country. The mother who make the decision to uproot their homes in search of a better life have not committed a crime, and neither have the children who accompany them. The United States is actively harming a blameless population who has already been subject to trauma and abuse. This problem is not confined to the United States; family detainment occurs around the world in varying degrees of injustice from Australia to Israel. It is essential to call attention to this issue in order to preserve the human rights of children internationally. The global community must condemn the actions of any government that engages in the inhumane practice family detention.

A LGBTQ+ Perspective on Today’s World

picture of a gay pride rally in Leeds, England
Leeds Pride. Source: Bryan Ledgard, Creative Commons,

LGBTQ+ youth today may look at the world around them and think all hope is lost. It is understandable because the possibility of an entire community losing their civil rights at any moment is creating a looming fear. As human beings, we all come to terms with ourselves in our own ways; whether it is simply growing into yourself in order to find out who you are, or growing into someone you never imagined. The process of coming to terms with identity is completely different when your sexuality is not the “social norm.” Growing up, I felt scared of myself, and fearful of what the future might hold for people like me. However in 2015, when marriage equality became law, I thought to myself, “We are finally getting to a place where children will not have to grow up like I did.”

My story is not the same as every LGBTQ+ individual around the country, and certainly not across the globe. Every day, I wake up hoping that I do not hear of another story about a Matthew Shepard or Pulse Nightclub tragedy. To live as an open member of the LGBTQ+ community is to live in a constant state of worry. You may not always feel it, but the hum of it, however quiet it may be, still echoes through the back of your mind. It is a worry for your brothers, sisters, others of your community, and for yourself. This infringes upon our right to security, as we are afraid to be ourselves in public spaces. This fear even extends to private places because for many, our families are the main aggressors. For youths who suffer through the pain of oppression at the hands their family, there is never a true sense of peace.

I have faced discrimination throughout the course of my life. Based on my rumored sexuality, I experienced exclusion from many of things. It is a pivotal moment in one’s life when they choose to come out. It is a time that you accept all the ridicule, the torment, and the imminent threat of attack. I have emotional scars from peers and family that still haunt me to this day. Yet, what hurts me most is the look in another person’s eyes when they become aware of my sexuality; it is that look—from people whom I have never met—which is devastating. How can someone who knows nothing about me, judge me?

While the future for American LGBTQ+ youth seems frightening and uncertain, it is nothing compared to those of the LGBTQ+ community across the globe. A LGBTQ+ youth in the Middle East and Northern Africa has a different perspective based upon cultural experience and a belief that there is no hope and fear that there never will be–an upbringing filled with trials comparatively different to those I suffered as a youth. Living as an open member of the LGBTQ+ community in a Muslim country can potentially turn into a life threatening choice. Imagine that: telling your friends and family who you are, and then fearing that your life could end at that exact moment. That fear, no matter how far from home, affects us all.

Turkey is one of the few Middle Eastern countries where homosexuality is legal. Unfortunately, homophobia is still very prevalent so when a group of members from the community tried to initiate their own Pride festival, local authorities shot them with water cannons, rubber bullets, and sprayed them with tear gas. Across the Middle East, there are standing laws to persecute those of the LGBTQ+ community, including imprisonment for up to 10 years. In Ancient Egypt, being gay or lesbian was a godlike quality; however, in modern times, homosexuality is viewed as sin and punishable by death. When the White House went up in rainbow colored lights in 2015, the authorities in Saudi Arabia went on the hunt. Children face death around the country for “deviant” behavior by their own governments. A privately run school in Riyadh was fined $26,500 (in U.S. dollars) for painting the rooftop in rainbow stripes, and one of the administrators for the school was jailed for allowing such a “monstrosity”. Afghanistan banned the decorating of cars with rainbow stickers because it “may be misinterpreted.” In Iran, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern countries, many face execution for engaging in sodomy.

 

a picture of a city hall building, lighted with rainbow colored lights in honor of gay pride
City Hall. Source: Tom Hilton, Creative Commons.

An assembly was called on in 2015 by the United States and Chile to bring light to the attacks on the LGBTQ+ community that are prominent in the Middle East, specifically by the Islamic State. Syrian refugees who fled their war-torn homeland spoke to the United Nations about what their life and the suffering they endured. One man admitted to hiding his sexuality his entire life, saying, “In my society, being gay means death.” Another man told of his witnessing of an al-Qaeda affiliated group taking control of his hometown and began torturing and murdering men that others thought to be gay. Cheering audiences attended the executions of gay men. Some men, tossed from building ledges, meet their death; however, for those who do not die upon impact, the hateful crowd stoned them to death.

Institutionalized discrimination is a prominent threat no matter where one may look across the globe.

In the south and in the US, we feel criminalized; in the Middle East, we are criminalized. 

Being a part of a marginalized community has affected me in many negative ways, but also in positive ways. I feel a commonality with people I have never met and will likely never have the luxury of doing. As a part of the community, I am “branded in rainbow”, which is the most fulfilling feeling that I had experienced. I chose to take all of the negativity that surrounded me and channel it into positivity. This community and a shared experience has made me stronger, more confident, and allowed me to channel my anger by turning it into passion. As a member of this community, I implore you to become more accepting of the people around you, no matter where you may be from or what you may practice. It is powerful to feel human, and it is a feeling we all deserve.

 

 

Women’s Rights are Human Rights: Ireland Continues to Criminalize Abortion

Tomorrow, May 25, Ireland will vote on a referendum of their Eighth Amendment: the abortion amendment. The referendum posits safe and regulated healthcare, as well as the removal of the stigma placed on both the women who seek abortions and the doctors who perform them. **This is a repost from the fall of 2016. 

March for Choice in Dublin On Saturday 29th. September 2012. Source: William Murphy, Creative Commons.
March for Choice in Dublin On Saturday 29th. September 2012. Source: William Murphy, Creative Commons.

Abortion. It is a heavily debated topic. From the beginning, its very existence is consistently brought up in philosophy papers and classes as a moral question. The negative connotation associated with abortion can make many people cringe when they simply hear the word. In the United States, it is an issue that conservatives and progressives rally around, but for different reasons. Classic conservative ideology revolves around public virtue, self-reliance, freedom, and cultural solidarity. One might argue that if classic conservatism highly values freedom, then the ideology would advocate for the freedom to choose whether to have an abortion or not. However, modern conservatism has implemented a little twist in such ideological freedom. Modern conservatism has emphasized the nuclear family model and to a degree, Christianity. Ronald Reagan once said, “We cannot diminish the value of one category of life — the unborn — without diminishing the value of all human life.”  We see a shift in ideological values. The argument could be made that modern conservatives still value freedom as much as the classic conservative ideology does. The new paradigm frames the issue of abortion as not about the freedom to choose, but rather the act of having an abortion is committing the act of murder. This places a negative stigma with regards to abortion due to the fact that murder is socially condemned and lawfully illegal. Progressive ideology tends to promote social justice, egalitarianism, and inclusiveness. It tends to frame the issue of abortion as the mother’s right to choose whether to continue the pregnancy or not because a fetus is a part of her body, and not a human being considering that it has not been birthed. The belief that abortion is immoral stems from the emphasis on family values as well as religious interpretations that consider abortion an act of murder. In relation to all of these things, is it fair for a national government to ban abortion? I’m not talking about defunding Planned Parenthood or limiting the amount of abortion clinics in a country. Is it fair for a national government to blatantly make abortion illegal and a punishable crime? The United Nations Human Rights Committee doesn’t think so in relation to Ireland’s ban on abortion.

Ireland’s deep-rooted Catholic tradition appears in many of its laws, one of those being the country’s eighth constitutional amendment. The amendment of 1983 established a nationwide ban on abortion. The amendment reads: “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.” It can be debated that this amendment implies that the unborn fetus has more rights than the person carrying the child. So, when it comes to the United Nation’s definition of Human Rights, who do those rights extend to? Can an unborn fetus have human rights? Once again, the United Nations says “no.” The broad definition of human rights given to us by the UN states “human rights are universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions which interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity.” The word “individual” has been deemed insufficient as to identifying if that entity must have already been born in order to take ownership over human rights. Due to the need for clarification on what makes someone an “individual,” there have been a few other conventions and commissions within the UN that has attempted to resolve such confusion on this controversial issue. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child does not identify one’s right to life until birth.  However, the CRC does say, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” Rhonda Copelon, Christina Zampas, Elizabeth Brusie, and Jacqueline deVore argue that “this reflects, at most, recognition of a state’s duty to promote, through nutrition, health and support directed to the pregnant woman, a child’s capacity to survive and thrive after birth…” They also argue that access to safe abortions to pregnant adolescent women is a human right given to women under the right to adequate health. That is, providing safe abortions will decrease the maternal mortality rate due to the decrease in unsafe abortions.

Ireland’s law on abortion insinuates that if the fetus has any sort of problems in the womb, that the mother will still be subject to carry it to full term. In the 2011 case of Amanda Mellet, 21 weeks into pregnancy, the fetus was diagnosed with Edwards’ Syndrome and congenital heart defects that led doctors to believe that it would either die in the womb, or perhaps only live a few hours after being born. Amanda and her husband had requested an exception to the ban on abortion because of the emotional toll that carrying the fetus to full term would bring upon the both of them, but especially for Amanda who would literally have to carry the fetus whose life was already predetermined to end in just a matter of time. The Mellet couple was denied such an exception due to the fact that the mother’s life was not at risk. However, they traveled to Liverpool where they would be provided a safe abortion by a doctor without being criminalized.

About Ten Thousand People Attended A Rally In Dublin In Memory Of Savita Halappanavar. Source: William Murphy, Creative Commons.
About Ten Thousand People Attended A Rally In Dublin In Memory Of Savita Halappanavar. Source: William Murphy, Creative Commons.

Ireland’s abortion ban carries a heavy weight on the issue of the mother’s health. Although Irish Law claims that the only exception for a woman to get an abortion is if her life is at risk, doctors claim that the language used for exceptions is very vague and medical professionals would rather not perform one at all rather than risk going to prison for following their own interpretation of the exception to the law. In 2012, Savita Halappanavar was in extreme physical and emotional discomfort when she knew she was miscarrying, but her request for an abortion was denied because doctors said that the fetus still had a heartbeat. She arrived at the hospital on Saturday. On Wednesday, it was discovered that the heartbeat of the fetus had stopped; Savita died due to septicemia one week after arriving at the hospital. It is believed that if the doctors would have performed an abortion, Savita would have lived.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled that Ireland’s abortion ban is a violation of women’s human rights because the law “subjects a woman to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Such a ruling should not come as a shock to the international community considering UN legislation has insisted that the rights of the unborn are non-existent. Ireland’s law arguably gives more rights to the unborn than it gives to the human. Ireland is creating a social stigma that labels women who get an abortion as murderers and criminals.

Under Irish law, women who have had an abortion within the country are subject to up to fourteen years in prison. So, what’s the solution? Ireland insists that women who want access to a safe abortion should get one out of the country. According to Amnesty UK, a minimum of ten women and girls travel out of Ireland and into England every day in order to get access to a safe and legal abortion. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to travel out of the country to acquire proper medical treatment due to the expense of making such a trip. Also, those who are refugees or asylum seekers are not legally able to leave Ireland at all. Therefore, although Ireland may think that they are being reasonable by allowing women to receive abortions elsewhere, they are still impeding on the human rights of women. Even for the ones who can afford to travel, it is still an expense and a nuisance to have to leave one’s own country for such a procedure; especially for those who are experiencing extreme pain and suffering due to a complicated pregnancy.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee looked at the case of Amanda Mellet (the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint for her) and found that her human rights were being violated under articles 7, 17, and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I commend Ireland on accepting marriage equality, but it is now time to recognize the rights of women. Women have been denied certain rights for so long and although we have gained many, the good fight is not over. The same government who says that it is okay for same sex couples to marry should be the same government that allows women the right to terminate a pregnancy.