Posted by Maya Paley
Between Passover, attending NCJW’s Washington Institute, the mayoral elections in LA, Obama in Israel, ongoing fundraising and advocating for women’s and refugee rights, organizing advocacy training sessions, and the DOMA and Prop. 8 hearings in the US Supreme Court, I’m completely overwhelmed. I also turned 30 a few weeks ago, which added to the overthinking process. It kind of felt like a big deal even though logically I know it’s not. I came to a realization that I’m actually happy. It seems silly, but I feel like we’re always searching for “true happiness” and we rarely stop to consider if we’re happy in the moment. So I considered it, and I discovered I’m happy with where I am, where I’m going, and who I am. But happiness is different than contentment. I’ve also discovered that I will probably never be content because to be content is to accept everything as it is.
Last week, when lobbying my representatives and senators in DC with NCJW, I felt very positive about the democratic process. I was excited to be heard and to have the opportunity to tell officials who represent me that I want changes like gun violence prevention legislation, comprehensive immigration reform, and real reproductive rights for all women in the United States.
Yesterday, I watched my college student little brother post a photo on Facebook of himself kissing three male friends of his. He wrote that he posted the photo in solidarity with his gay friends during the DOMA and Proposition 8 Supreme Court decisions this week, ignoring the older generations in our community who worried that this public display might negatively affect his career or might make people think he’s gay. “Who cares?” he said. “I don’t care what people think of my sexuality or how shocking the photo is: that’s the point. We’ve created norms in mainstream America that won’t change until we provoke those who blindly follow them without even realizing it.”
I watched the positive responses to his public provocation by his peers and felt reassured that we are going through some truly remarkable and real changes in our society. I also felt lucky to be living in a place where we can speak and write about most topics without much worry (although that is not to say that there is no censorship in the US at all). I can only hope that the Court makes the right decision and ensures that equality and freedom from discrimination are guaranteed to all those living in this country.
But as Passover began and I read through the two Haggadot we used on different nights of the Seder and some of the supplements I received from various Jewish organizations this year, I could not help but think of those who do not have the basic rights and freedoms I have. One of the issues I most relate to is how we treat strangers, and I’m sure this was handed through the stories of my great grand-parents leaving Eastern Europe, my grand-parents leaving Iraq, and even my mom leaving Israel. Jews say over and over again that “we were once strangers in a strange land” and that it is our duty to treat strangers with respect and compassion. The Torah mentions 36 times how important it is to welcome the stranger.
So I encourage you, during this week, to consider those who are fleeing genocide, torture, and human trafficking at the exact moment that you read this. I encourage you to read about what is happening in Sinai today. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women, men, and children have been tortured and trafficked through Sinai. Some end up in Israel. Some never make it. Some chose to take the journey to Israel to find freedom and peace from the human rights abuses they face in their home countries of Sudan and Eritrea, others were kidnapped and forced to Sinai. Most of the women are raped on the way and most of the men are tortured, and the organized criminals do not care if they are old, young, men, or women. An eight year old girl was finally let go last week after the international Eritrean community raised $41,000 for her ransom. This was after she watched the murders of several others by the traffickers. I know this is depressing, but it is our duty to know and to act.
Here is what you can do to make a difference. Take a few minutes to sign this petition: www.tinyurl.com/sinaicampaign to urge the US, UK, EU, UN, and Egypt to put a stop to what’s happening to the African asylum seekers in Sinai. We can still be happy in our lives without being content about the atrocities taking place in this world. Not knowing will only hurt us in the long run. Let’s use our history and memory to inspire courage within us. Let us not be afraid to stand up to governments to make sure they know what is right and what is wrong, whether it be the security of vulnerable people worldwide, the rights of our fellow citizens to marry each other and live full and happy lives, or the rights of our children to be free of violence in our neighborhood schools.
What do you want to advocate for? Is there anything standing in your way? I would love to hear about it.
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March 8, 2013 | 12:18 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
What is International Women's Day?
From 1909-1913, women of the Socialist Party of America began observing National Women’s Day at the end of February each year. In 1910, at the International Conference of Working Women, Clara Zetkin of Germany proposed the idea of an International Women’s Day (IWD) to be celebrated in all countries on the same day each year. Over 100 women from 17 countries, mostly those involved in the labor rights movement, unanimously approved the proposal launching the now 103 year old tradition.
The United Nations started observing IWD in 1975, going so far as to mark the day as a UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace in 1977.
How is IWD being commemorated this year?
This year, there are over 1000 events worldwide to honor International Women’s Day. The holiday is official in numerous countries, including Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Uganda, and Vietnam. In some countries the holiday is observed by only women getting the day off of work.
What follows is part of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s message commemorating International Women’s Day today:
As we commemorate International Women’s Day, we must look back on a year of shocking crimes of violence against women and girls and ask ourselves how to usher in a better future… Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime. Even more have comforted a sister or friend, sharing their grief and anger following an attack. This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global health menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses, in war zones and placid countries, and in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.
Yesterday, on March 7, 2013, President Obama signed back into law the inclusive Violence Against Women Act, making it clear that the violence against all women, including women who are sexual minorities and Native American women in the United States, must be stopped and that all women have a right to be protected from sexual violence, intimate partner and domestic violence, and any other forms of violence against them.
Happy, Sad, Emotional…and Action-Oriented
I mark this day with both positive feelings and an ongoing sadness. I am genuinely happy to know that I live in a place where there are laws that are meant to protect me from harm, and where there are laws meant to guarantee that I earn what men earn and laws that are meant to prevent any discrimination against me due to my gender. However, I am saddened by the reality that many of the laws both in the United States and throughout the world, including international conventions and agreements meant to protect the rights of women and girls, are not in actuality enforced or respected. You only have to read my last blog post on the state of violence against women to understand what I mean by this. Today I think about our reality and I celebrate the achievements of women internationally while not losing sight of the fact that there are many challenges yet to be tackled, many struggles we have yet to overcome, and many women who continue to suffer atrocities committed against them simply because they are women.
I urge you to take action today and here are some ways:
• Write an op-ed or letter to the editor urging your newspaper to cover more stories about violence and discrimination against women and urging them to include more women’s voices in their news.
• Sign letters to your Senators or Representatives to urge the U.S. to ratify the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Click here to sign a letter from NCJW and send it directly to your Senators.
• Get involved with an organization that is advocating for the rights of women, whether it’s National Council of Jewish Women, National Organization for Women, Emily’s List, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, Women’s Refugee Commission, or any of the countless others.
Like the women who convened 100 years ago from all over the world to discuss, engage, and work together to pressure their respective governments to do something about the inequalities they faced as women year after year, we too can create change. If you’re involved with advocacy for women of any nature, I would love to hear about it. Leave a comment and let us all know what you’re working on and how others can help out or get involved.
If you’re interested in gaining skills to be an effective advocate for women’s rights, join NCJW/LA, Planned Parenthood LA, the League of Women Voters, and the City of West Hollywood for 5 training workshops. Info on the Women’s Action Training Project can be found at www.jwcsc.org/events.