Hollywood Women Will Fight Harassment with New Initiative

Shonda Rhimes and Reese Witherspoon (New York Post)

Shonda Rhimes and Reese Witherspoon (New York Post)

Happy New Year! If you haven’t heard, time’s up on sexual harassment. Time’s Up is also the name of a new initiative launched by 300+ Hollywood women to combat sexual harassment on the job.

The women of Time’s Up work both in front of and behind the camera, and count actresses Reese Witherspoon and Rashida Jones and “Scandal” showrunner Shonda Rhimes as supporters.

The initiative takes a many-armed approach, including establishing a defense fund to support women who work in agriculture and service jobs, encouraging penalizing companies whose cultures persist in harassment, and pressuring Hollywood to reach gender parity. Of these three points, the latter is already making headway.

The most visible call to action so far has been encouraging women attending the upcoming Golden Globe Awards to wear black to show solidarity with the victims. (The Golden Globes will take place on January 7, 2018.)

The women behind Time’s Up published an open letter in The New York Times announcing the initiative, signed by its supporters. The initiative’s backers also took out full page ads in The New York Times and Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion.

It is absolutely wonderful to see so many women working together to combat sexual harassment, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.



#ThrowbackThursday: Halima Aden’s Burkini, 2016

Halima Aden's burkini in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, 2016 (WFDD).jpg

Halima Aden’s burkini in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, 2016 (WFDD).jpg

In November 2016, Halima Aden competed in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant. Naturally, the pageant had the typical swimsuit portion. While other contestants strutted out in colorful bikinis, Aden went in a different direction. The Somalian model chose to put her Muslim faith front and center. She wears hijab, and wore a burkini for the swimsuit portion of the event.

Aden is the first woman to compete in hijab and burkini. Though she didn’t take home the title, Aden’s sartorial choice and adherence to her values made headlines.

Trump Bans Funding for International Organizations that “Promote” Abortion

Trump signs international abortion ban (Lifesite)

Trump signs international abortion ban (Lifesite)

Well, that was quick.

On his third day in office, Trump showed his hand on female reproductive rights (not like we didnt already know…) He moved to block U.S. aid for organizations that “promote” abortion. In this case, “promoting” abortion means presenting it as a viable option and/or providing abortion counseling.

Similar rules have been in place since 1984, when President Ronald Reagan instituted the first rule known as the Mexico City policy. (The policy was named for the location in which Reagan announced it.) Depending on which party is in office, the bill has been repealed (by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) and reinstated (by George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush).

Despite the fact that the policy has been around for over 30 years, it’s unclear whether it’s actually working:

Health experts say the policy has not led to a decline in abortions in the affected countries. Some research suggests that it has had the opposite effect: increasing abortion rates by forcing health clinics to close or to restrict contraceptive supplies because of lack of funding. Others say the restriction only heightens the risk of illegal and often unsafe abortions.

A study completed by the Stanford University School of Medicine in 2011 found that the Mexico City policy was “linked to increases in abortion rates in sub-Saharan African countries.” But the study also found that it was difficult to link a country’s abortion rates back to the policy.


How Common Is Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the U.S.?

Girls (The Borgen Project)

Girls (The Borgen Project)

Generally, when people the phrase “female gentile mutilation,” they think of countries where that’s a common practice. Well, actually, many people tend to think of just one continent: Africa. It’s implied that since Africa is less developed and empowered, people don’t think it can happen in the U.S.

Well, it does. And significantly. FGM has been coming to light recently here in the U.S. For a quick primer: Forms of FGM include removing the clitoris to completely sewing the vagina lips shut, done for non-medical purposes. The procedure is usually done without anesthesia, and leaves victims with severe repercussions, especially with the reproductive system. The main goal is to ensure the victim’s virginity and sexual loyalty to her partner.

The Population Reference Bureau studied the rate of FGM in the U.S., and published results earlier this year. It’s estimated that 507K+ women have either had the procedure done, or are at-risk of having it. (The results gave no way to break down the number further into those who definitively have had it done.) Some commonalities have been found about those at risk:

The estimated number of girls at risk is based on the number of daughters of immigrants from countries, mostly in Africa and from some communities in Asia, living in the U.S.

Over 166K women at risk are under the age of 18.

Prior to these results, a study was performed in 2000. Fifteen years ago, it was estimated 227K+ women were at risk for FGM. (It’s unclear as to whether the number included women who’d had the procedure done.)

Performing FGM in the U.S. was made illegal in 1996, and the practice of sending a girl to another country for the procedure (termed “vacation cutting”) was made illegal in 2013. It’s clear there are not enough protections in place to stop this barbaric practice, so I hope strides will be made in the right direction.

How Common Are Hermaphroditic Goats?

Hermaphrodite goat (NPR)

Hermaphrodite goat (NPR)

A recent NPR article on a hermaphroditic goat in Gaza spawned the topic for today’s blog post. The article gave this intriguing stat:

When two naturally hornless goats breed, around 1 in 5 offspring is a hermaphrodite.

I decided to look around to see if that was true. NPR didn’t hyperlink or otherwise cite their source, so I had to go at it myself.

The best thing I found was also the oldest: a 1944 study on the relationship between hornless goats (called “polled” in this case) and subsequent hermaphroditic traits. Spanning 20 years, the study examined the various couplings between polled and horned goats. It found that the horns were a recessive (weak) trait, and that 25% of goat offspring from two dissimilar goat partners (one polled and one horned, in this case) would be likely to be hermaphrodites. The study also found that goats that possessed both horns and hermaphroditic traits were rare.

Isn’t it fascinating how diverse nature is?

Pregnant Girls Banned from Sierra Leone Schools

Pregnant Sierra Leone woman (The Fatou Blog)

Pregnant Sierra Leone woman (The Fatou Blog)

Schools in Sierra Leone closed during the Ebola epidemic are scheduled to re-open today, welcoming children eager to learn again. But the country’s Minister of Education Minkailu Bah has banned one group from returning: pregnant teen girls, claiming they’re a distraction to their peers and would hinder learning.

Incidentally, this ban isn’t new, having been in place since 2010. But it’s making headlines now.

Whether or not this qualifies as a “distraction” is another debate entirely, but teenage pregnancies within the country are becoming more common. A recent long-term study by the UNESCO HIV and Health Education Clearing House found that 33%+ of all Sierran Leonian pregnancies involve teen girls, and nearly 40%+ are involved in a “maternal death.” For context relative to the size of the country’s population, 41% of Sierra Leone citizens are under age 18. Those are some scary stats.

Sierra Leone isn’t the only country battling this issue. As a whole, Africa has the highest rates of teenage pregnancies, taking 18 of the top 20 spots in a 2013 United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) rankings report.

The recent teenage pregnancy epidemic has been attributed to Ebola, in that girls who might otherwise be attending school are now more vulnerable to sexual violence. They may also have to survive and provide, and do so via prostitution. So there might be a bit of a substitution effect at play here.

But human rights governing bodies have taken note of Bah’s stance. The United Nations issued a statement in which stated that “education is a fundamental human right that Sierra Leone has committed itself to uphold.” The UN also reminded the country of its own Education Act, passed in 2004, which barred discrimination of those seeking education.

We’ll see how Bah’s proposed idea pans out. But the words of UNFPA’s Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin ring true here:

Adolescent pregnancy is intertwined with issues of human rights. A pregnant girl who is pressured or forced to leave school, for example, is denied her right to education.