Gendered Life in the U.S., Voices We Should Hear

Gendered Life in the U.S., Voices We Should Hear November 4, 2015

Women_In_Poverty_2One of the CNN.com leads today described a 19-year-old Afghan woman being buried in ground to her neck and then being brutally stoned to death for suspected adultery. Rokhshana reportedly had been forced to marry against her will and had fled her village with another man. Nevertheless, it is still easy to dismiss this tragic tale as just another horror story about the treatment of women out there, over there, somewhere else, in places people can’t seem to get their values or religion…right. Yeah, that’s it. Over there.

Last week, I attended MPOLIS (Moral Political Organizing Leadership Institute & School), the annual training event for the NAACP’s Moral Movement in NC. In the midst of this gathering (located strategically at the Franklinton Center at Bricks), Janet Colm, the Founder and former CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central NC, stepped nervously to the microphone. She forthrightly confessed that she had little experience speaking to a room of pastors and faith-based organizers. This confession was met with a chorus of shouts from around the room of “welcome” and invocations to “preach”.

Colm was just one of a litany of women (Thank you: Yara Allen; Rev. Liz Theoharis; Attorneys Denise Lieberman, Mary MacLean Asbill, and Caitlin Swain; and Bishop Tonya Rawls) to speak on this day about the moral crises of voting rights suppression, environmental decay, labor rights restrictions, the viral growth of poverty (in a wealthy state and nation), and deep biases in both education and criminal justice. Encouraged and reassured, she grabbed the microphone and told our own sordid tale of the entanglement of gender with all of these issues.

Here are just a few ‘highlights’ of her presentation…

  • 66% of the voters in NC who do not have a state issued photo ID (now required to vote) are women.
  • Women contribute less to climate change, but are often impacted more by environment calamities. For example, women accounted for over 80% of those who were stranded by Hurricane Katrina.
  • Women also count for more than 50% of the uninsured in NC due to the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid. Regarding other women’s health issues including the controversial topic of abortion, so many key facts related to women are obscured or ignored in the binary language of “life” or “choice.” Half of all pregnancies in the US are unplanned. One third of all women in the US will have an abortion by the age 45. All of these issues are exacerbated when the lenses of race and poverty are added. Most forms of reliable birth control cost upwards to $600 annually. Lack of insurance and other poverty-related factors such as stress and violence result in high infant mortality rates especially among women of color.
  • The number of women in prison has increased radically, more than a 800% increase in the last three decades. Women in the criminal justice system are twice as likely to be incarcerated than men. Nearly 90% of these incarcerated women have histories of domestic or sexual abuse.
  • Approximately 66% of minimum wage workers are women and almost a quarter of minimum wage workers are women of color.
  • At every level of education, women have lower incomes than men. In other words, a woman with an Associates Degree will make the equivalent of a man with a GED. A woman with a Bachelor’s Degree typically makes the same as a man with an Associates Degree.
  • Almost 60% of the adult poor in the US are women. Similarly, 60% of the poor and hungry children in the U.S. live in households headed by women. These rates of poverty are uniquely high for single mothers, women of color, and elderly women living alone. The number of women in poverty exceeds 18 million persons.

Colm asked all of us in attendance to continually ask the question “what about women?” as we worked for justice in all of these arenas. This answer to this question is so often disturbing. The many feminine voices at this gathering —women of color and women in the dominant racial paradigm, gay and straight, religious (in many faiths) and non-religious — all trumpeted the intersectionality of all these various justice issues.

And there were other witnesses bearing testimony on this day and in this place. The beautiful Franklinton Center at Bricks, still standing in the midst of flowering cotton fields, was the site of an infamous ‘breaking’ plantation where disobedient slaves were sent to be literally broken by the leather lashes of White supremacy. A magnolia tree currently marks the spot where the whipping post stood. In that place, we often felt the presence of the many generations of slaves who lived and died on that property saying prophetically, “not just ‘over there,’ right here, exactly right here, in our history, in our present, right now, the struggle continues.”

We all should rightfully be in horror for the unthinkable fate of Rokhshana, another young female life crushed in the unyielding grasp of patriarchy. But — not just ‘over there,’ right here, exactly right here, in our history, in our present, right now, the struggle continues.”

(Check out the amazing narrative of this plantation’s historical journey from breaking plantation to school for children of color and now center for justice education.)


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