India’s Relationship with the Third Gender

Simran, 30, walks through Bandra in Mumbai to ask tourists for money so she can pay her Guru. Photo by Sara Hilton for The New York Times

What is the Third Gender?

In April of 2014, the Supreme Court of India formally recognized the existence of a third gender. There is no formal definition of the third gender in India. People who identify as neither man nor woman are commonly referred to as Hijra or transgender. The Hijra have been subject to discrimination, harassment, and persecution for their genderqueer self-identification. Along with the queer community, Hijras have been targeted by law enforcement and government officials under Section 377. This law was used to criminalize any queer sexual acts and has been used to justify discrimination and mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community since its enactment in British colonial era India.

What Is the History of the Third Gender In India?

Although the Hijra have been subject to much hate and discrimination in recent times, this has not always been the case. Hijras were well-respected and revered in ancient India. In fact, Hijras play important roles in many Hindu religious texts. One such text talks about the life of Lord Rama, one of the most virtuous Hindu heroes. At some point, Lord Rama was banished from his kingdom. After being banished, he told his followers that the men and women should wipe their tears and leave him. All of the men and women left. However, a group of people known as the Hijra remained standing before him. They were neither men nor women and refused to leave until Lord Rama returned fourteen years later. This community was praised for showing such loyalty.

Hijras also held religious authority and important court positions and administrative roles in Mughal era India. Believed to have the ability to bless, many would seek out Hijras for blessings during important religious ceremonies.  In ancient India, the Hijras were a community that was respected for being extremely loyal and were well trusted enough to be given important religious and governmental roles. This begs the question. If Hijras played an important role in ancient Indian society, then why are Hijras ostracized and persecuted in modern India?

Why Is the Third Gender Ostracized Today?

The answer is due in large part to the British colonization of India. When the British took over direct rule of India and absolved the British East India Company, government officials sought to enforce their western ideas and beliefs on Indians. Lawmakers accomplished this goal by enacting moral laws that banned anything that western society viewed as unclean and dirty. This included the creation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which made illegal any “unnatural offenses” that were deemed “against the order of nature.” From when Section 377 was implemented in 1858 to when it was recently deemed unconstitutional on 6 September 2018, Section 377 was used as justification to mistreat and punish Hijras, queers, and the LGBTQ+ community.

The western concept of hating and marginalizing anybody who was not straight and cisgender took hold in Indian society. The Hijra community was forced from a well-respected role as pillars of religious and governmental society to being social outcasts. This social exile is responsible for the socioeconomic and medical difficulties that Hijras face. Hijras are prone to being economically challenged because of the stigmas that they face. They are denied educational opportunities, jobs, and discriminated against in every area of their lives.

What are the Social, Economic, and Medical Problems Caused By Lasting Social Stigmas?

Despite gaining their independence from Britain in 1947, India has only recently begun to make progress on removing legislation that has been used to attack the Hijra and LGBTQ+ population. The many decades of subjugation stretching back generations have left a mark. Many of the hateful western views towards LGBTQ+ people have become deeply ingrained in India’s culture. Even with many public relations campaigns along with a growing group of supporters, the vast majority of Indians still are against Hijras. Many Indians don’t respect Hijras worth. Hijras are often called to come to auspicious events such as marriages and child-births for blessings. Many Indians view the Hijras as bringing good luck and warding off evil spirits. Yet because of widespread discrimination, the majority of Hijras are forced to beg for money since they are barred from most employment opportunities. Due to this, some of the common means of living for Hijras are begging, dancing, and prostitution.

Open employment discrimination has run rampant because of the lack of workplace protections and discrimination laws that are not comprehensive or well-enforced. Continued police harassment has also burdened the Hijra community. Many police officers have jailed and imprisoned the Hijra community over offenses such as begging, prostitution, and having queer sex. This community has had to resort to such practices because of the refusal to integrate Hijras into the economy. Yet despite not being able to find work, Hijras are attacked even more for trying desperately to survive in a society that has practiced institutionalized, pursued, and encouraged harmful policies towards this community since colonial times.

In addition to facing issues with getting employed, Hijras also have difficulties receiving access to basic medical care. There have been many unfortunate instances of medical malpractice against Hijra people. The Civilian Welfare Foundation is an NGO that conducted studies on the medical problems faced by the transgender community. The study found that the majority of doctors are not educated on gender identity issues and that a transphobic stigma is ingrained amongst medical professionals which is responsible for the lack of proper medical care for Hijras.

The study highlighted the stories of Saikat and Anushri. Saikat was a transgender patient who died from lack of treatment following a train accident. The reason is that doctors could not decide whether to admit her to the male or the female ward. Anushi was gang-raped by several men and sought medical treatment. However, doctors refused to treat her because she was transgender and even denied her access to anti-HIV medication. These two stories highlight the dangerous impact that social stigmas have on our society. In addition to facing persecution and discrimination daily, Hijra people are at risk for bodily harm and even death from bigoted doctors and nurses who are not trained to deal with gender identity issues.

Fear of the social stigmas for being associated with the transgender community is a major reason why many doctors try to avoid seeing Hijra patients and why some outright refuse treatment altogether. Adding on to social fears, healthcare professionals have been hesitant to treat Hijra people because of the risk of criminal prosecution under Section 377. Up until the recent 2018 Supreme Court decision, it was illegal to commit queer sexual acts as well as to aid and abet these acts. There have been cases of individuals being arrested simply for selling condoms to Hijra and queer people. The lack of proper medical care and access to safe sex talks and practices has led to an HIV rate amongst Hijras that is 100 times the national average. Doctors fear Hijra patients because they are misinformed and believe in multigenerational social stigmas. Hijra patients fear doctors because of the risks of being mistreated and harmed by substandard or complete refusal of medical care. This toxic mutual distrust can only continue to harm the Hijra community.

Rithika, 23 and Ammu, 21, live with their Guru in the Koliwada area of Mumbai. Photo by Sara Hylton for the New York Times.

What Are the Recent Successes For the Hijra Community?

There are some recent successes that have helped the Hijra people. The Right for Transgender Persons Bill drafted in 2014 and passed in 2016 has been a major milestone in protecting the Hijra community. The law declared many forms of discrimination against Hijras to be illegal and banned the forcing of Hijras to beg or to leave their homes. Other benefits include the creation of a committee that focuses on helping Hijra pursue education by giving access to scholarships and textbooks among other needs. The bill has also allowed for Hijras to be recognized as socially and economically disadvantaged which qualifies Hijras for benefits from India’s Affirmative Action program. However, there are downsides to the bill as well. Hijra people have to go through a district screening process to receive their third gender certification and ID cards. This approach can lead to refusal of benefits to Hijras based upon the decision of a committee without oversight and comprised of people not trained in gender identity issues.

Also occurring in 2014 was the landmark Supreme Court decision that officially recognized the existence of the third gender. This has allowed for Hijras to opt for third gender classification on official legal documents such as driver’s licenses and passports. The decision has also signified acceptance of the Hijra community’s existence by a government that has continuously sought to marginalize those who aren’t cisgender. However, this decision has also come up short in addressing the many problems Hijras face. Third gender IDs, while motivated by good intentions, do not address many basic rights. When getting married, transferring property, or adopting children there are only cisgender ordinances in place. This means that Hijras cannot get married, cannot leave behind property for their kids, and cannot adopt kids that desperately need good homes while being recognized and identifying legally as the third gender.

Another recent Supreme Court decision that has increased the rights of Hijras happened in 2017. The court declared that the Right to Privacy was a fundamental right to all individuals and enacted protections for the privacy of Hijras’ sexual orientations. This will go a long way toward helping prevent socioeconomic and medical discrimination.

In addition to legal successes, there have also been gains in societal acceptance and integration of the Hijra community. In 2017 India accomplished many firsts. Joyita Mondal became India’s first third gender judge, Tamil Nadu became India’s first Hijra police officer, Natasha Biswas became India’s first third gender beauty pageant winner, and Kochi Metro Rail Ltd. became India’s first government-owned company to provide bulk employment to Hijras. There are plenty more Hijra success stories out there which are a sign of widespread societal change. There is hope that the social stigmas that have plagued the Hijra community will soon be fully erased.

It is clear that Hijras face many challenges in modern times. Widespread social stigmas and discrimination against this community were promoted for generations. It is also clear that such large problems take a long time to fix. However, if legal efforts and public relations campaigns are continued then India can one day become a society that fully embraces and supports all people regardless of sexual or gender orientation.

 

 

 

Gerrymandering’s Effects on Democracy

by Pam Zuber

The Gerry-Mander political cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale
The Gerry-Mander: political cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale. Source: Wikicommons.

The Gerry-Mander is a name for a creature that appeared in editorial cartoons in 1812 and 1813. Given how gerrymandering has shaped and can shape politics in the United States, calling a Gerry-Mander a monster is no mere exaggeration. Gerrymandering takes its name from Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, legislators in Massachusetts’s Democratic-Republican Party redrew the map of a senatorial district to concentrate voters of its party in certain geographic areas. The same map dispersed voters of the rival political party, the Federalists, to separate districts.

Governor Gerry signed this map into law in 1812. This map drew the wrath of the opposing Federalists and spawned the cartoon that criticized the redistricting. The practice and the cartoon gave us a term for politically based redistricting that political bodies still use. We continue to use the term because the practice continues to this day. Politicians still reshape voting districts to suit their political purposes, much as they did in Gerry’s day.

Why Does Gerrymandering Violate Human Rights and the U.S. Constitution?

Creating electoral districts that skew political party representation contradicts democratic principles and human rights. Gerrymandering provides the illusion of democracy but actually denies it. The process still perpetuates voting districts. People in these districts have the ability to vote and usually have their choice of candidates. But, which candidates can they support? People in one district who traditionally vote for one party might not be able to fully support the candidates they would have seen if their districts were more traditionally configured. The voters might have choices, but false choices.

These false choices can undermine their lives. For example, voters might want to vote for candidates who support government-sponsored health insurance, but find that gerrymandering is affecting their choices. Their choices and their voices might be muffled because their votes do not count as much as they could have counted when combined with additional votes for the same candidates and causes. Their votes might not count since they are dispersed among other districts and not concentrated like the votes of other parties in gerrymandered districts.

Redistricting appears to be unconstitutional. It denies basic rights granted by the U.S. Constitution. The Fifteenth Amendment states that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Shifting geographic precincts to highlight or downplay specific candidates appears to abridge the right to vote, a direct violation of the Constitution.

Do People Gerrymander Today?

Yes. Politicians of both parties continue to create electoral districts that blatantly benefit their political parties. A federal court declared in August 2018 that the state of North Carolina’s map of Congressional districts favored Republicans. The court declared that the map “constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the First Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution.” The next month, the same federal judges ruled that although this map did feature gerrymandering, there would not be enough time to change the map in time for the elections planned for November 2018. North Carolina would not be able to not use this map after these elections, so North Carolina will need to use a new Congressional map for elections in 2020.

Gerrymandering has occurred in other regions of the country. In 2016, the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that the Wisconsin Legislature drew electoral maps that favored Republican Party candidates in the state in 2012 and 2014. The case made it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. But, in June, 2018, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, stating that the bodies bringing the case lacked the legal standing to do so. It sent the case back to lower federal courts. This meant that Wisconsin would use the same maps in November 2018 elections.

A number of political insiders expect that voters throughout the United States will use their votes in the November 2018 elections as a way to protest U.S. president Donald Trump and his fellow members of the Republican Party. But, if gerrymandered maps remain in place, they could skew results from the state. They could prevent candidates from certain parties from receiving the majority of votes in their districts and winning their elections.

Gerrymandering harms political parties as well. Both parties engage in such blatant practices for obvious purposes. Such practices tarnish the reputations of the parties as well as the democratic process. The electorate might view such tactics as political dirty tricks, which could discourage voters from supporting political parties, candidates, elections, and causes.

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the topic of gerrymandering in Maryland in 2018 by not hearing cases about redistricting in that U.S. state. Maryland legislators redrew this map in 2010. Just two years later, a Democratic Party candidate beat a longtime Republican incumbent in a race for a U.S. Congressional seat in Maryland, leading to charges that the state’s Democratic Party redrew Congressional maps to give itself advantages that led to such electoral victories.

a voting district map from 2011
Carroll County Voting District 2011. Source: J. Albert Bowden II, Creative Commons.

How Can Gerrymandering Affect Politics?

It is clear, then, that parties do redraw maps and create new electoral districts. It appears that they do this to try to produce political advantages. But, does this redistricting really create such results? In the case of Maryland, it appears that redistricting has made a significant difference. In 2012, Democratic Party candidate John Mulaney beat Republican Congressional representative Roscoe G. Bartlett. At the time of his defeat, Bartlett had served eleven terms (twenty-two years) in the U.S. Congress. Bartlett blamed redistricting on his loss. “We had the most gerrymandered district in the country.” This is significant in a number of ways. Mulaney was a new challenger while his opponent was an entrenched, longtime incumbent. It is often difficult for challengers to beat politicians who have been in office a long time. Incumbent politicians have

  • Name recognition
  • War chests of money to help fund their campaigns
  • Fellow established politicians who are colleagues who can campaign and vouch for them
  • Reputations and accomplishments from their administrations that they can cite in campaigns

Election campaigns are expensive and time-consuming. They require money, connections, and clout. Working in established offices can help people accomplish all three. How hard is it to unseat an established candidate? According to economics reporter John W. Schoen, in 2012, the year of Maryland’s Bartlett/Mulaney race, 90 percent of the people serving in the U.S. Congress kept their seats. This means that Mulaney was one of the minority of 10 percent of challengers who unseated a Congressional representative. His redrawn district could have helped him overcome such long odds.

Are People Fighting Gerrymandering?

Ending gerrymandering restores people’s votes, which helps restore their voices. Groups and individuals hope they can help people restore their voices. Since gerrymandering is about voting rights, it is only fitting that some groups are using electoral means to fight the practice. A Michigan-based group called Voters Not Politicians wants to end gerrymandering in the state. It appears that opposing groups want gerrymandering to continue.

In 2017, Voters Not Politicians collected thousands of signatures on petitions that supported ballot initiatives against gerrymandering in Michigan. The organization needed to collect 315,654 signatures from August to December 2017. In a possible sign of widespread support for anti-gerrymandering efforts, almost 450,000 people signed the petitions. A number of experts say this proposal is sorely needed in the state. For example, a June 24, 2018 headline in the Detroit Free Press noted that “Michigan is an extreme example of gerrymandering.”

Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers approved the ballot proposal. But, organizations such as Save Michigan’s Constitution opposed this ballot proposal as overly broad and took their opposition to the Michigan Supreme Court. The court rejected this opposition, paving the way for the proposal to be on the ballot for state elections in November 2018. The Michigan proposal calls for shifting responsibility for drawing electoral maps from the Michigan Legislature to an independent commission that includes independent private citizens who are not affiliated with political parties.

This proposal aims to take redistricting responsibilities from political parties and giving them to (ideally) nonpartisan private citizens. To implement such goals on a practical level, the proposal suggests:

  • Creating a thirteen-member restricting board. The board would consist of five members who are not affiliated with a political party or are independent, four Republicans, and four Democrats.
  • Choosing the redistricting board members randomly among people who apply for the positions.

The balanced composition of this group would provide equal representation from major parties. It would allow significant input from people who do not affiliate with any party. It would help ensure that one party’s politics does not take precedence over another’s. It would promote inclusiveness and democratic fairness. But, will party politics shape the outcome of this election and the future of the anti-gerrymandering proposal? After all, voters in districts that are already gerrymandered will encounter this ballot proposal. The gerrymandered districts in Michigan largely favor Republicans after the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature redrew electoral maps in 2011 and Republican governor Rick Snyder approved them.

Republicans who want things to remain the way they are would likely vote against the ballot proposal. Gerrymandering, thus, would perpetuate political divisions by working to defeat proposals that fight gerrymandering and political partisanship. It may sound like clichés, but that’s why voting is important and why every vote counts. People might not vote because they assume that certain proposals may pass or that certain candidates may win with or without their votes. But, if they and others don’t vote, they don’t contribute ANY votes to the election. The status quo continues because nothing changes.

But, if enough people vote, their candidates and proposals may win. Even if they don’t win, the large number of votes will illustrate the popularity of these candidates and proposals. The large number of votes can encourage others to take notice, to support such people and causes, and maybe even to run for political offices themselves. Citizens can also use the courts to fight gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear recent cases on gerrymandering. It didn’t issue definitive rulings on it. While it’s unlikely that the Supreme Court will hear further cases on gerrymandering in the near future, it has not issued a final word on the topic. This means that it might hear other gerrymandering cases in the future, especially after the U.S. Census of 2020 might contribute to further political redistricting.

According to Erick Trickey in Politico, it is more likely that individual U.S. states will tackle gerrymandering: “[I]f gerrymandering’s opponents want better, fairer maps, they’ll have to demand them, state by state.” This is happening across the country. In addition to the Michigan Voters Not Politicians initiative, Better Boundaries (Utah) and Clean Missouri are groups demanding an end to gerrymandering. Colorado voters will vote on an anti-gerrymandering proposal in November 2018, while Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved their state legislature’s anti-gerrymandering proposals earlier in 2018.

In a strange way, then, gerrymandering unintentionally encourages the sort of political engagement it’s trying to squelch. Who knew that the Gerrymander could be both a monster and an ally?

About the author: Pamela Zuber is a writer and editor who has written about a wide variety of topics, including politics, addiction, and gender.

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.

The Effects of Low-Income Housing on Health

by Emily Walsh

Old Chicago, Southside
Black Community Older Housing On Chicago’s West Side. This Area In 1973 Had Not Quite Recovered From The Riots And Fires During The Mid And Late 1960’s, 06/1973. Source: The US National Archives, Creative Commons

Low Income Housing (LIH) and Public Housing can have serious negative health impacts on those who need these programs the most. Unsafe living environments can be detrimental to residents’ mental and physical health. The people who utilize LIH have often exhausted all other options available to them, and only have risky situations available to them, in the form of LIH. This blog briefly highlights a few of the negative impacts resulting from the interconnection of low income and public housing.

Mobility out of these housing situations is difficult, since the average annual household income for residents of public housing is $14,511, which is well below the federal poverty line. Citizens who live in public housing disproportionately have a disability, of minority ethnicity, and/or receive social security. Whether taken as singular symptoms of a larger problem or in combination, the possibility of relocation decreases tremendously for individuals/families living below the poverty line.

The topic of the efficacy of public and LIH is not a new one. The first federal housing program was created under The U.S. Shipping Act of 1917, which aimed to provide housing for workers needed in industrial positions during World War I. These housing units championed function over comfort and health, which set a dangerous precedent for housing developments to come. Seventeen years later, the National Housing Act of 1934 sought to address housing and mortgage issues during The Great Depression. This act created many of the housing complexes still in use today, especially for lower income communities.

Low-income communities have a number of difficulties associated with them, from financial distress to lower job prospects. However, it is often easy to overlook the impact of the inadequate housing on both the physical and mental health of these populations.

Housing and Cancer

 To keep costs down during the rise of cheap housing due to the National Housing Act of 1934, builders utilized asbestos. Asbestos was a common inclusion in construction materials because of its resistance to flames and chemical reactions, sounds absorption, and low cost. The low cost made asbestos a popular choice for large scale projects like schools, offices, and apartment buildings. Usage of this mineral peaked in the U.S. between 1930 and 1980. Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) become harmful once damaged, which can happen when materials get older, are exposed to weather, or are subjected to demolition or construction.

Undisturbed ACMs pose little threat, but any sort of disruption can have catastrophic consequences because there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. This disruption can be caused by construction, accidents damaging walls, water or fire damage, and general aging over time. Once disturbed, microscopic asbestos fibers are released into the air. At this point they are at risk for inhalation and ingestion by people and animals.

After they enter the body, asbestos fibers settle into the linings of internal organs including the lungs, heart and abdomen. These particles are microscopic, and rubbing against the sensitive tissue of internal organs can cause tiny nodules to form around the fibers. This irritation can cause tumors and mesothelioma cancer to develop. Symptoms such as chest pain, coughing, and fatigue are vague, and easily attributable to a number of other ailments, which makes early diagnosis very difficult.

Exposure at any point can be dangerous and lead to mesothelioma down the road, which can take up to 50 years to appear. Individuals who are worried about mesothelioma should inform their doctor of any of these symptoms, and of any possible asbestos contact. Exposure can occur from housing, construction materials, working on shipyards, working around fire retardant materials, or in mines. After diagnosis and forming a treatment plan with your doctor, you can pursue options in financial compensation if exposed on the job.

Elderly people are most at risk for mesothelioma because they have a higher likelihood of exposure to asbestos at some point in their lives. Exposing them to even more asbestos in the home can exacerbate irritation and lead to further health complications. Sixteen percent (16%) of residents in public housing are seniors, and more than half of those seniors rely on Social Security as their primary source of income. The only safe way to deal with the concern of asbestos is to hire an abatement professional to take care of the situation. However, building owners, and even the government, are not required to do so if they feel any ACMs present are in good enough repair to not be a danger to health.

Many LIH options are still owned by private property owners, which puts the cost of abatement on them. These proprietors may be loath to shell out money to abatement professionals, but they are required to maintain livable conditions on their properties, even if they aren’t specifically mandated to get rid of asbestos. For poorer individuals, the best course of action is to keep an eye around their housing, to see if anything appears to be in disrepair. If it is, they can ask their property owners to have the building tested for dangerous asbestos. If property owners refuse, they can be at risk for lawsuit for not maintaining healthy living standards.

Southside Chicago 1973
South Side Black Community In Chicago With Small Businesses And Apartments Over The Stores In The Older Buildings Near 43rd And Indiana Avenue, 06/1973. Source: The US National Archives, Creative Commons

Impacts of Housing on Wellbeing

From 1954 to 1967, the Chicago Housing Authority built more than 10,000 public housing units. However, only 63 of these were built outside of poor and racially segregated areas. In 1966, community activist Dorothy Gautreaux, along with the support of ACLU lawyers, sued the CHA in federal court. Gautreaux’s case set a precedent that there is a serious difference between urban and suburban housing. The Gautreaux Project refers to an experiment the court set up after Gautreaux won her case. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the CHA to randomize the placement of families with Section 8 housing vouchers. Participants were placed in either suburban or urban neighborhoods regardless of race. After many years, the outcomes of these families were measured against each other.

The families placed in urban situations were more likely to have lower performing children, remain on welfare, and have lower graduation rates than the suburban participants. The Gautreaux project was hailed as definitive proof that a person’s housing situation has a strong correlation with their overall wellbeing. Sociologist James Rosenbaum testified before Congress on the Gautreaux Project’s results, which helped inspire the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) program. The MTO emulated the Gautreaux project on a larger scale with 4,600 low-income families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City. The official MTO report found that moving to lower areas of poverty lowered risk of diabetes and obesity for women, proving that concentrated and irresponsible low-income housing is undeniably bad for health and wellbeing.

Mental Health and Housing

 In 2015, the MacArthur Foundation released a report entitled The Link Between Housing, Neighborhood, and Mental Health which identified three linking factors between mental health and living situations. The study used a cross-section of 371 low-income Latino families living in the Bronx, with eligibility determined based on their income. The three factors identified in the report were housing quality, neighborhood cohesion, and policy. They found that poor housing conditions contribute to depression and hostility, but contravened by neighborhood cohesion and improvements to housing.

These issues are interconnected since social cohesion is less present in groups of people experiencing mental health issues, which can then contribute to further mental health issues and spiral out of control. A 2016 study in Britain found similar links between housing and mental health. The research concluded that when exposed to unstable housing conditions for more than a year at a time, children are three times as likely to experience depression and anxiety. Women are also more likely to develop these issues, though at a lower rate of 10 percent.

These connections are apparent, but can be difficult to measure since any mental health issue may have predated the move into low-income housing. Additionally, the effects of an unstable living situation can compound on each other.

Closing Thoughts

No matter the difficulty with which these effects are measured, the importance of responsible housing practices cannot be overstated. The biggest barrier to fixing this problem is the intricacy of the situation. Policy changes, shifts in public opinions, political attention, and development of alternatives can all stand in the way. The results of the studies cited above illustrate steps that could be taken to create a successful model of public housing. As these reports prove, an improvement in housing situations can also result in overall quality of life and contribution to society. By taking these factors into account, populations in need of housing assistance can be provided options for safe and healthy living, at the lower cost that they need.

For residents renting from a privately owned property that exhibits any of the risk factors for decreased health and well-being, you will need to prove that conditions are unlivable. To do this take documents and photographs that support your claim and force landlords to fix them or risk having rent withheld. For residents of public housing, the government is subject to the same rules, and if you are displeased, you can consider the MTO program as an alternative.

 

 October is Healthy Lung Month. Toxins in the home can cause harm to anyone exposed. To avoid these dangerous health risks, educate yourself about how you can avoid exposure, and what your rights are. The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is dedicated to seeing asbestos eradicated worldwide and ending toxin pollution for people everywhere. 

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.”

What Does a Cave Rescue Have to Do with Statelessness?

In July of this year, I was a student in a graduate level study abroad program, Conflict Transformation across Borders, in Quito, Ecuador, through the University of Massachusetts in Boston. It was an intensive three weeks of learning about transnational conflict transformation, with an emphasis on the unique challenges of border zones. My intention was to mostly ignore the outside world while in Ecuador, to focus on my studies, but I continued to closely follow developments in a situation that had begun before I traveled to Ecuador. On June 23, 2018, twelve boys, members of the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) soccer squad, along with their coach, were trapped by flood waters in the Tham Luang Nang Non cave system, near Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.

I was keenly interested in this cave rescue situation from day one, because I am a long-time cave explorer, trained in cave rescue, and I lived in Chiang Mai (in northern Thailand) from 2012 – 2013. Also, some of my caving friends and acquaintances were involved in the rescue operation. Ultimately the entire world became captivated by the rescue effort which reached a successful conclusion on July 10, 18 days after the group became trapped in the cave. (Sadly, one of the rescuers, Saman Kunan, an ex- Thai Navy SEAL diver, lost his life during the rescue.) It was quite possibly the most difficult and technically challenging cave rescue operation ever conducted, and its success was due to an unprecedented level of international cooperation, with hundreds of expert volunteers from at least 20 nations including Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Israel, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Netherlands, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

As the rescue and its aftermath unfolded, details about the boys and their coach emerged, and the international community learned that the coach and most of the boys are from ethnic minority groups, or “hill tribes,” and three of the boys as well as the coach are stateless. The area is in close proximity to the Thailand-Myanmar border, and is home to many stateless ethnic minorities. Around 500,000 stateless people are registered in Thailand – members of ethnic groups who for generations have moved across borders in the mountainous regions between Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and China.

The high profile nature of the Thai cave rescue has served to raise international awareness of the plight of stateless people in Thailand, who cannot travel outside their home provinces, and are not eligible for basic government services such as healthcare and higher education. After the successful completion of the cave rescue, the Thai government promised citizenship to the three boys and their coach within six months, assuming there are no complications. Will this promise become a reality? It’s a powerful symbolic gesture to fast-track citizenship for the three Moo Pa soccer team members and their coach, but how does this help the rest of the 500,000 stateless people in Thailand who are waiting to start the process, or struggling to get through the process (which is often lengthy and complex)? Statelessness is a difficult problem to address, and can only be handled one case at a time. It took a massive cave rescue operation requiring international cooperation among 20+ nations to speed up the citizenship process for just four stateless individuals.

In partnership with the UNHCR, Thailand has pledged to end statelessness by 2024, and more than 27,000 stateless individuals have become Thai citizens since 2011. There are many reasons that people might be stateless, but typically it happens because of discrimination – religious or ethnic, for example. Those who are stateless have no nationality, and are denied basic human rights. The UNHCR estimates that there are 10 million stateless people worldwide, and UNHCR’s #IBELONG campaign seeks to end statelessness in the next decade. Everyone has the right to a nationality!

My hope is that the increased awareness of statelessness generated by the Thai cave rescue will help to bolster international support for the UNHCR’s #IBELONG Campaign to End Statelessness, not just in Thailand but worldwide. As individuals, we can help by signing up to support the campaign at http://www.unhcr.org/ibelong/ . Will you do it today?

 

Angela Morgan works for UAB Health System as a database administrator, and is a student in UAB’s Anthropology of Peace and Human Rights graduate program. Outside of school and work she has many interests including traveling, caving, hiking, backpacking, and photography.

The United Nations and Psychosocial Disabilities

Recently, members from UAB’s Institute for Human Rights (IHR), including myself, had the opportunity to visit the United Nations (UN) in New York City for the 11th Conference of States Parties (COSP) on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is an agreement that details the rights of persons with disabilities (PWD) with a list of codes for implementation, where both states and disabled people’s organizations (DPOs) are suggested to coordinate to fulfill such rights. Currently, the CRPD has 177 ratifying parties, with the United States being one of the last to have not ratified it, although it was modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the cornerstone for disability rights in the U.S.

I had the opportunity the serve as rapporteur for Round 3 of the General Debate, witnessing representatives address issues such as education and employment barriers for PWD in rural Afghanistan, India’s concern about the treatment of women and girls with disabilities, Malta’s 20 million Euro dedication to programs and organizations for PWD and Peace 3 Foundation describing how climate change disproportionately endangers PWD. Additionally, I attended many side events that covered topics such as the Voice of Specially Abled People (VOSAP) phone app, barriers to political participation in the Middle East and North Africa, and the first Regional Report of the Americas. The side events were less formal and engaging because the audience was welcomed to participate by sharing their thoughts and expertise, allowing coalition building to take place.

IHR at the 11th COSP to the CRPD. Source: UAB Institute for Human Rights

 

Amid this experience, there were a few important lessons learned. First, there is an enormous push for inclusive education, as opposed to special education, which values PWD’s contributions, equips them with essential skills and validates their societal presence. This approach would allow PWD, namely children, to learn and grow with their peers. Secondly, many nations are not responsibly addressing psychosocial disabilities which are clinical conditions/illnesses that affect one’s thoughts, judgments or emotions. Many countries have legislation that prevent people with an “unsound mind” from full participation in society, which doesn’t relate to one’s acts, but only their character. This stigmatizing approach effectively criminalizes their disability status, possibly resulting in forced institutionalization that separates them from loved ones and their community. Finally, there are countless people worldwide addressing disability rights. In the U.S., it seems disability rights are in the background, while other justice causes get most of the attention; however, I am confident that persistent coalition-building between justice organizations, especially in our impassioned political climate, will change this narrative, much like the collaborations built through the CRPD.

I want to use this blog as an opportunity to address an issue that has personal sentiments and speaks to my second point, stigma toward people with psychosocial disabilities (PWPD). Given my experience working in homeless shelters and having someone close to me who was institutionalized for their schizophrenia diagnosis, I believe there is a cultural disparity in how we talk about psychosocial disabilities because, on many occasions, they are addressed from a criminal and/or deviant lens, often devaluing the person(s) being addressed. According to the Mental Health and Human Rights Resolution of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, PWPD are defined as those, “…regardless of self-identification or diagnosis of a mental health condition, face restrictions in the exercise of their rights and barriers to participation on the basis of an actual or perceived impairment.” Psychosocial disabilities differ, meaning they are capable of being episodic, invisible and/or not clearly defined (e.g. depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia). Also, psychosocial disabilities are subjected to a medical narrative that arguably benefits mental health industries more than consumers.

Two years ago, during the 9th COSOP to the CRPD, Paul Deany (Disability Rights Fund Program Officer) claimed psychosocial disabilities are addressed in many countries through Western-influenced legislation that is separate from other disabilities, streamlining the establishment of psychiatric institutions that undermine fundamental issues for PWPD such as workforce participation, health care and political/rights. Therefore, we cannot view this concern as being exclusive to poor, underdeveloped nations because psychosocial disability stigma in rich, developed nations have fed this narrative and still have a prominent effect on PWPD. Although, to achieve collaborative global efforts that empower PWPD, supportive mental health policy must, first, be endorsed on the homefront. For example, political turmoil in the U.S. has contributed to recent events geared to strip health coverage from millions of vulnerable Americans. These efforts clearly demonstrate political incompetence of the mental health discussion at-large and confess to a larger narrative that admits power doesn’t always equate to knowledge and global leadership must be justified, not assumed.

Although many countries have enacted and enforced rights for PWPD, other countries are falling behind. For example, in Indonesia, roughly 18,000 people are forced into pasung, the practice of shackling or locking one in a confined space. Although pasung was banned by Indonesian authorities in 1977, families and healers continue to exercise this inhumane practice because they believe evil spirits or immoral behavior induce such disabilities. A similar practice in Ghana, at Nyakumasi Prayer Camp, was scrutinized last year, followed by the release of 16 people and the country’s Mental Health Authority claiming they would begin properly enforcing the shackling ban put into law in 2012. Such treatment of PWPD clearly impinges the Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR), a watershed document for global peace, by violating commitments to end “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5) and equal protection before the law without discrimination (Article 7).

To someone living in the modern U.S., such treatment seems unimaginable. However, past images of PWPD experiencing isolation and inhumane treatment inside the asylum walls are now echoed from a different, yet similar, perspective. During the mid-20th century, the U.S. underwent a period of deinstitutionalization which saw the closing of large state institutions that harbored PWPD. Largely due to the advent of the antipsychotic drug Thorazine, thousands of people were discharged from state mental hospitals and the shutting of such doors soon followed. However, the following decades have seen an influx of criminalizing PWPD, leading to their incarceration, where jails and prisons now serve as some of the nation’s largest de facto mental hospitals. This series of events, which moves PWPD from one total institution to another, undermines the liberation narrative of deinstitutionalization by continuing to segregate PWPD from their families and communities. As a result, this misfortune contributes to the current crisis that has seen the U.S. prison population increase by 408% between 1978 and 2014.

These appalling scenarios underscore a comment made by the representative of Kenya, during my visit to the UN, who insisted that policy cannot solely enforce human rights because programming must also be present to guide that path. Since 2007, Users and Survivors of Psychiatry in Kenya, a DPO, has not only influenced legislation that expands the rights of PWPD, but also organizes participatory public education programs through various media outlets, challenging stigma and misconceptions. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Connecticut, the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights works with local governments, universities and health systems to ensure recently incarcerated people access health care and insurance. Many of the individuals receiving such care access health-related goods and services to treat psychosocial disabilities that could’ve influenced or been a byproduct of their incarceration. Looking forward, this is the type of advocacy and programming that needs to be highlighted so it can be shown that good governance, particularly through the CRPD and ADA, is possible.

THE NEW POOR PEOPLES CAMPAIGN: THE SOCIAL MOVEMENT YOU NEED TO KNOW

by Nicole Allen

the US Capitol Building
Poor People’s Campaign: Call for Moral Revival. US Capitol, Washington, DC. Source: Leeann Cafferata, Creative Commons

We are coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses…. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty.”Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967

In his last sermon, King echoed the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty to call for national and global attention to address the dire economic circumstances of the poor. He and others founded the Poor People’s Campaign to influence how Americans view poverty. While the 1960s are behind us, poverty is not. A new organization, a new Poor People Campaign, aims to address continuing economic privation.

Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized the Poor People’s Campaign (also known as the PPC and the Poor People March) following sustained civil rights action and hard-won legislation. These actions and laws included bus boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, the formation of the Direct Action Task Force, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. From its beginning in 1968, the PPC advocated wages that were high enough to support a “decent life.” It strove to become a powerful, social force to change how America understands poverty and worked to end it. It criticized the portrayal of stereotypes of the nation’s poor as dirty and unhealthy. The Poor People’s Campaign was a populist struggle against economic inequality and a reform movement that questioned how race related to economic and political power. Poverty and prejudice were “related enemies,” according to King. He believed that the poor could effectively confront the power structure if they had economic security, expanded education opportunities, improved housing, and unemployment income.

King recognized that poverty, racism, and power were (and are still) intricately linked. He claimed that, “African Americans are not truly free until they reach economic security.” In 1968, a PPC brochure proclaimed, “Poor people are kept in poverty because they are kept from power.” The organization lobbied against dehumanization and poverty wages. It advocated for changes in the federal food program and a significant expansion of food stamps.

Even though King mentioned “racial imperialism” as the primary cause of poverty among African Americans, his anti-poverty proposals were not limited to black Americans.

A committee of hundred religious leaders from several racial backgrounds helped organize the PPC. More than fifty multiracial organizations attended the first meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, in March 1968. Attendees hoped to organize a march of thousands of people on Washington, DC to unify the nation. These plans shattered with the assassination of Reverend King in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

Ohio Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Week #3 Theme: War Economy: Militarism & Proliferation of Gun Violence. 5/29/18 – Columbus, Ohio Statehouse. Source: Becker1999, Creative Commons.

Following this blow, the key leaders of the PPC, including the SCLC’s new president, the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and King’s widow Coretta Scott King, worked to coordinate a new march on Washington, DC. Their goal was to pressure Congress to pass legislation to address employment and housing issues as well as fund a war on poverty. The planned PPC march of 1968 divided into three stages. The first stage was the creation of Resurrection City, a makeshift town at the National Mall from Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. In May and June 1968, this 15-acre urban area served as the home of 1,500 to 3,000 occupants of different racial backgrounds. Resurrection City included a makeshift city hall, a clinic, a general store, and a day care center named for Coretta Scott King. Even though these amenities only covered the bare necessities, some residents received medical attention for the first time in their lives. According to the new PPC, such conditions persist in 2018, as many poor Americans lack health insurance or adequate medical care.

Resurrection City became a symbol for the PPC and made poor people and their fundamental human rights visible to the world. Sidney Poitier, Marlon Brando, and Barbra Streisand visited Resurrection City, reflecting the attention the encampment received and illustrating the longstanding relationship between celebrities and social issues that continues to this day. The activists arrived from nine regions of the country in groups called caravans. They camped in tents and endured terrible weather that brought severe rain and mud, forcing many residents to build primitive A-frame homes. Resurrection City’s permit expired on June 23, 1968. Police forcibly evicted people (sometimes with tear gas) from the settlement the next day. The second stage of the march would have consisted of hallmarks of the civil rights movement: civil disobedience, nonviolent mass demonstrations, and police arrests. The third stage of the march was a planned national boycott of large industries and shopping areas to pressure business leaders to acknowledge the movement’s demands.

Resurrection City and the other actions organized by the PPC did not produce the results King, the SCLC, and other activists had envisioned. The assassinations of Reverend King and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and the Vietnam War hurt the movement causing many to blame Resurrection City leader Reverend Abernathy for the movement’s lack of leadership and disorganization. Racial prejudice, social frictions, and tension between Southern and Northern citizens eroded the movement further. While the movement was down, it was not out. While the Poor People Campaign’s proposed antipoverty legislation did not occur, the organization’s actions did continue discussions about poverty, race, and power. These sustained conversations helped contribute to the launch of the new Poor People’s Campaign (also known as the new PPC or the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival) in 2018. Like the PPC of the 1960s, the new PPC consists of a diverse coalition of activists battling poverty and racism, white supremacy, and greed.

Ohio Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Week #3 Theme: War Economy: Militarism & Proliferation of Gun Violence. 5/29/18 – Columbus, Ohio Statehouse. Source: Becker1999, Creative Commons.

Led by Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II, a Disciples of Christ minister and the leader of the Moral Mondays Movement in North Carolina, and the Reverend Dr. Liz Theoharis, a Presbyterian minister and the co-director of New York’s Kairos (the Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice), the new PPC calls for a national moral revival. The organization claims that although the United States is among the wealthiest of nations, it harbors severe economic inequalities that have persisted for decades, even centuries. Americans continue segregation by their living wages, according to the PPC. The organization has chapters in most U.S. states and strives to highlight problems associated with poverty and inequality. The new PPC worries that recent U.S. federal tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy have hurt less affluent members of society. Additionally, organizers reveal concern with increased funding to battle illegal immigration and illegal drugs, which can lead to rampant addiction. It fears that this funding detracts money and attention away from much-needed poverty programs.

To counter such power imbalances, the new PPC hopes to see a reinforcement of the Voting Rights Act to reduce the voting suppression of convicted felons. The modern-day activists of the new PPC argue that negativity surrounding poverty in America has persisted for centuries. They argue that an entrenched culture of racism and discrimination exists within the economic and political systems of the United States, and favors those with large bank accounts. The new PPC wants people to reconsider how they think about poverty. It emphasizes that poor people are victims of a power struggle, not moral failures. It asks for a moral revival to combat

  • While the U.S. economy has grown, the inequity between the richest and poorest Americans has also grown. Many lack money and health insurance.
  • Systemic racism. Imprisoned African Americans who are unable to vote, African American residents of Flint, Michigan grappling with a tainted water supply, and Muslims and immigrants facing discrimination are all examples of racism in American society.
  • In 2017, the U.S. federal government spent $190 billion on antipoverty programs while it spent $668 billion on the military.
  • Ecological destruction. Flint’s tainted water illustrates how ecological problems and pollution often affect minorities and the poor, who do not have the economic or political means to combat such problems.

The new PPC also boasts some familiar faces. Bernard Lafayette, a friend of Reverend King and the national coordinator of the first PPC, joined organization to train a new generation of PPC activists.

The question remains whether the new PPC will encounter the same problems Reverend King and other organizers faced during the 1960s: Is the message heard and received?

Ohio Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Week #3 Theme: War Economy: Militarism & Proliferation of Gun Violence. 5/29/18 – Columbus, Ohio Statehouse. Source: Becker1999, Creative Commons.

New PPC activists arrived on Capitol Hill on February 5, 2018, to deliver their message of economic justice to the U.S. Congress. The Capitol Police asked them to leave before they gave this message. Fifty years after the formation of the first Poor People’s Campaign, it is clear that its messages and struggles endure. The new PPC organized a 40-day event in May to late June 2018 that featured nonviolent action by the poor, clergy, and sympathetic allies. Echoing the inclusiveness of the 1960s, this movement united people across race, economics, religion, gender, geography, and sexuality. Similar to the 1960s, the event featured acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, teach-ins, workshops, cultural events, and other activities. The 40-day event culminates tomorrow, June 23, in Washington, D.C. for a rally to Stand Against Poverty, Mass Rally & Moral Revival. Although the event ends, participation can continue in various activities by

  • Joining an organization. Whether people join the new PPC or another organization, people can provide strength in numbers.
  • Speaking out. Writing to political representatives, media outlets, and social media sites can help spread the message.
  • Voting and helping others vote. Voting is another way of voicing opinions. Working at polling places, encouraging others to vote, and working for voting rights helps gives agency to more people.

 

Nicole is a freelance writer and educator based in the United States. She believes that her writing is an extension of her career as a tutor since they both encourage learning and discussing new things. Her degrees in creative writing, education, and psychology help her understand her target audience and how to reach them in creative and educational ways. She has written about fitness and health, substance abuse and treatment, personal finance and economics, parenting, relationships, higher education, careers, travel, and many other topics, sometimes in the same piece. When she isn’t writing, you might find Nicole running, hiking, and swimming. She has participated in several 10K races and hopes to compete in a marathon one day. A longtime volunteer at animal shelters, Nicole is a passionate supporter of organizations that help animals. She also enjoys spending time with the dogs and cats in her life and spoiling them rotten.

When You Are Ready for the Baby Carriage: Black Maternal Health and Disparities

by MARTINIQUE PERKINS WATERS, Ph.D. 

a maternity shoot
Source: Ariane Hunter, Creative Commons

I did something very interesting in my mid-twenties. I asked a few of my family members if they would be willing to be a surrogate if I could not have children. Now, let me preface this by saying I never had any kind of health issues and most women in my family conceived with no problem. My OB/GYN never mentioned irregularities, fibroids, or cysts. My graduate school research had nothing to do with women’s health so I was not inundated with facts and figures. Yet, here I was already concerned and worried (with no discussion of even a long-term future with my partner at the time might I add). My wonderful family, including my mother, tentatively agreed but I am sure were thinking “she has to be joking”. I had never been more serious; I wanted to have options. I did not know what would happen when my womanhood was called out on stage. As women, that is how so many of us define ourselves, right? This is what famed Developmental Psychologist Erik Erikson called generativity: deciding how we will contribute to future generations. In his theory, however, he felt that people usually did not start worrying about this legacy until middle age (or at the very least until a partner was on board), but here I was already thinking about my grandchildren.

About 5 years later, while I was teaching Public Health and Medical Issues in African American Communities, I discovered the documentary series, “Unnatural Causes.” Unnatural Causes delves into the relationship between social conditions and population health. When it came time to discuss health disparities as related to women’s issues, the episode “When the Bough Breaks” was perfect. One statement in the video astounded me: Black women with advanced degrees have worse birth outcomes than White women without a high school diploma. I nearly cried in front of my class. It not only took me back to my concerns in my 20s, but I had just found out I was pregnant with my first child. Would I, a Black woman with a PhD in her early 30s, not be able to carry full-term? Infertility issues, low birthweight babies, and high-risk pregnancies can absolutely influence any woman and family. However, research has uncovered unique circumstances that impact the maternal health of Black women.

Physical Factors

The 2006-2010 National Survey on Family Growth interviewed over 20,000 men and women about family life, pregnancy, infertility, general health, and reproductive health. Chandra and colleagues found non-Hispanic Black women were 1.8 times more likely to report fertility issues compared to non-Hispanic White women. This finding was true among married women as well.  It is possible that uterine fibroids, benign tumors in the uterus, affect fertility. Reproductive Science is a relatively young field (compared to Obstetrics and Gynecology which date back to the 19th century), therefore the relationship between uterine fibroids and infertility is far from definitive. However, race/ethnicity is a well-established risk factor for uterine fibroids with Black women developing uterine fibroids at an earlier age than White women. A recent analysis of couples in a reproductive medicine clinical trial found that Black women with uterine fibroids were more likely to miscarry before 12 weeks compared to White women with uterine fibroids. Researchers are trying to identify genetic causes but that will not help the thousands of Black women trying to conceive now.

Psycho-social Factors

Were you ever told babies do not grow in a hostile womb? I heard that at some point in life. During my first trimester, I learned this new information about health disparities in pregnancy outcomes and I was going through a career transition. I was stressed out. Stressors cause the body to release cortisol, which is a necessary hormone when you need to react during intense situations. However, long term exposure to cortisol weakens your immune system and puts you at risk for disease. There is a significant amount of data to support that high levels of cortisol (from continual exposure to stressors) throughout pregnancy can impact the development of your baby. At the same time stress, as a psychological and emotional reaction, is at the center of two of the most common psychological disorders: anxiety and mood.

Anxiety disorders often include fear, tension, nervousness, and dizziness whereas mood disorders often include a sense of hopelessness, fatigue, depression, and an inability to concentrate. Although pregnancy does not increase the likelihood that you will develop either disorder, whether stressed or not, undiagnosed psychological disorders prior to pregnancy can advance further because the symptoms go undetected due to similarities with the normal experience of pregnancy. Dealing with the stigma of mental health issues in the Black community will have to be for another time, different blog! What should a Black woman dealing with certain psychological and emotional symptoms, particularly as stressors, do? Best solutions to deal with stress: walk, yoga, cut out unnecessary activities, watch TV, journal, eat well, and countless other suggestions from books and websites about de-stressing your life. I will admit that I failed miserably in completely de-stressing but I did manage to incorporate a few suggestions over my pregnancy.

a pregnant Black woman sitting on a windowsill
maternity 5. Source: Ariane Hunter, Creative Commons

How can Black women deal with cultural, historical, and intergenerational stress…the kind of cumulative stress that comes from 400 years of slavery, racism, and discrimination? The pervasive stress that has entrenched itself in the Black psyche? Yes, it is absolutely in there, but it has not just remained in our minds as simple negative thoughts. If that were the case, we could have some sessions of cognitive therapy, learn to counteract those aversive thoughts, and stop perceiving the world as a threat. When one examines racial differences in health outcomes with all things being equal across the racial groups, for example money, education, health care access, and family life, health disparities are still present. Scholars have offered the historical trauma of Blacks throughout the course of US history as an explanation. Could racism not be another explanation for infertility? According to Prather and colleagues, it is the perfect explanation for the social conditions endured by Black women that ultimately influence sexual and reproductive health outcomes.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There is additional research on the impact of lack of quality healthcare for Black women experiencing fertility issues. Differences in healthcare options affect the recommended treatment and patient understanding of alternatives. There are also observed racial differences in In Vitro Fertilization usage, with money most often the biggest deterrent.  Low-income families are very likely unaware that there are grants available to assist with infertility treatment. These are macro-level factors that require changes in resource distribution, medical training, and public policy. And I ask again, how does it help the Black woman trying to conceive now?

As it turns out, I worried for no reason as I thankfully have two healthy and beautiful little girls. I want to ensure that my outcome continues to be the norm rather than the exception going forward. In my opinion, increased awareness of this problem in the Black community will cause a push for more research on racial disparities in fertility issues. Only then will we begin to see changes that will eventually trickle down to support for another young girl in her 20s wondering “can I conceive?”

 

Dr. Martinique Perkins Waters is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Behavior Sciences at the University of West Alabama. She obtained a PhD in Lifespan Developmental Psychology from UAB in 2010 and since then has taught a variety of courses for Psychology, African American Studies, and Public Health. For over 10 years, Dr. Waters’ research has broadly related to gerontology with specific interest in the social role of caregiving and how that impacts physical, mental, and emotional health.

Fast-Fashion: Unethical and Unsustainable

Garment workers working at sewing machines in a factory in Gazipur, Bangladesh.
Bangladesh.Gazipur BIGUF.2015.Solidarity Center. Source: Solidarity Center, Creative Commons

Prior to the 1960s, about 90% of the clothes purchased in the United States were also made here.  Since then, it has been reduced to only about 3%.  Over the years, companies have increasingly chosen to outsource their labor to countries with lax labor laws (or a willingness to overlook them) to pay less for the work that is necessary for clothing production.  The purpose of this blog is to highlight the negative impacts of these choices based on the information given in the documentary True Cost.

The term “fast-fashion” refers to the shift in the fashion industry that has resulted in faster production with lower costs.  At first glance, this appears to be an extremely beneficial change, especially for the general United States consumer.  We can buy more clothes and spend less money in the process.  However, it is important that we take time to ask how it is possible to the industry to have changed the way that it did.  What does it really cost?

Garment Workers

When discussing the costs of the fast-fashion industry, one of the most well-known examples is the Rana Plaza building collapse of 2013 that occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh. At the time, the building was being occupied by garment factories for western companies such as Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, and Walmart.  Workers in the factories told their managers that they had noticed cracks in the building but were told to go back to work.  At one point, the managers were even given an evacuation order (which they ignored).  Nothing was done.  As a result, 1,129 workers died, and even more were injured.

Outside of the tragedies that have occurred in the industry’s factories, many of the factories cut corners on a regular basis to reduce production costs.  Work areas are frequently found to have poor lighting, which can be damaging to the workers’ sight, and toxic chemicals, which can be harmful to their respiratory systems.  As of 2016, the minimum wage in $67 dollars each month, which is far less than fair compensation for the labor of these workers, especially in such poor conditions.  More often than not, these workers cannot simply quit and find work with better circumstances.  They must be able to provide for themselves and their families and lack the education and qualifications for more favorable employment.

Environment

Fast-fashion is also an incredibly unsustainable industry.  Eileen Fisher, a high-end fashion retailer who aims to use sustainable and ethical production methods, has called the clothing industry “the second-largest polluter in the world.”  It’s easy to see why.  In 2013 alone, 15.1 million tons of textile waste were created.  The majority of this waste ends up piled up in landfills.  These piles release methane as they decompose and are a noteworthy factor in global warming.  Even if their relationship with global warming were not an issue, the amount of land required to store of all this waste is simply unacceptable.

Leather tanneries are also a significantly harmful part of the clothing industry.  The chemicals used in the tanning process are extremely toxic and are often disposed incorrectly.  This leads to the pollution of the drinking water, soil, and produce of the communities surrounding the tanneries.  These chemicals lead to serious illness and diseases.  People living in these areas are facing skin problems, numbness of limbs, and stomach problems.  The chemicals are poisonous to both the environment and the health of human beings.  Not only do climate change and pollution have harmful effects that we can see today, but they are also severely damaging to the world and resources that future generations will have access to.

People in the street in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Wide avenue in Old Dhaka. Source: Francisco Anzola, Creative Commons

Human Rights

The issue of fast-fashion is one that impacts many different areas in human rights.  Regarding employment, Article 23 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that every person has the right to “just and favourable conditions of work,” as well as the right to “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity.”  The harmful work environments and low-wages involved in the clothing industry prevent workers from accessing these rights. Additionally, Article 25, the UDHR depicts the right to a standard of living that is sufficient to maintain an individual’s health and well-being, which requires an adequate income.

Fast-fashion also has a connection to gender equality.  In the garment industry, 85% of the workers are women.  Often, these women are single mothers without any other real employment options, due to a lack in access to education and other similar resources.  They continue to work in poor working conditions because they want their children to be able to go to school and have better job opportunities in the future.

What You Can Do 

It is easy to fall into feeling like there is nothing you can do on this side of the counter and ocean.  Fast-fashion seems to be a very distant issue.  However, there are changes you can make in your own life to be a part of the transformation of the fashion industry.  First and foremost, it is important that you make an effort to stay informed on the issue and inform others as well.  A problem cannot be solved if no one acknowledges that it exists. Second, if you can afford it, buy from brands such as Eileen Fisher and People Tree who work to produce clothing through sustainable and ethical methods.  Such companies are generally more expensive than what we have become accustomed to because of the fast-fashion industry, but the products are typically of a higher quality.  If you need more affordable options, try to get clothes second-hand, whether that be through clothing swaps or going to thrift shops.  Apps like Depop and Poshmark, make it possible to buy clothes directly from other individuals, or sell your old clothes directly to other people.  Selling your unwanted clothes through apps like these, you can help keep clothing out of landfills.  Donating clothes can be a great option when you want to clean out your closet, but it is best when you can come relatively close to directly giving clothes to the people who will receive them.  Of the clothes that are donated to “mission stores” like Goodwill, only about 10% are purchased in those stores, and the rest have the potential to end up in landfills.

Finally, though the aforementioned options are wonderful and should warrant consideration and use, it is imperative to recognize that we do not need to purchase clothing nearly as often as we do.  Advertising glamorizes things that we do not really need so that we will spend more money.  New trends come out nearly every week, so we feel the need to buy more stuff just to keep up.  Society has become very consumeristic, and this contributes to industries, such as fast-fashion, that disregard the health and safety of their workers to allow people in countries like the United States spend as much money as possible.  By purchasing less of what we do not need, we can avoid supporting these harmful practices while also saving money ourselves.

You may not always be a part of large-scale change, but you can make small, daily changes that, when combined with the efforts of others, can truly make a difference.