How To Explain The Benghazi And Planned Parenthood Hearings To Your Two-Year-Old Daughter

Erin Matson

What’s this? 

It’s a hearing, sweetie. And we need to talk about something important.

What do you notice about the people asking questions?

Yes, they seem mad. Really mad. What else?

That’s right. They’re almost all boys. Usually when boys grow up we should call them men.

Now what about the person getting yelled at?

Yes, she’s not a boy.

So this is not fair, but it’s true: There are a lot of boys who grew up thinking they were better than girls.

Why?

People were mean and they were wrong in the old days. They thought only boys could be strong, and only girls should take care of other people. I know, that’s not at all like your friends! Now boys play with dolls, and girls are great at running and jumping and playing baseball.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty hard for people to let go of things they learned when they were little, even when those things…

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Siblings and Older Foster Kids Need Parents

Nancy Hill posted a blog on her website yesterday regarding adopting older children and sibling sets. As an adoptive parent with an open adoption, I think her comments are right on target. Although we did not adopt our son’s half sibling (she was adopted by her biological grandfather), we are in regular contact with her and her family. These open, blended families, whether within the same household or in an extended family relationship are important for making successful “forever” families.

Here’s that blog.  And to all families, whether biological, blended, and/or “forever” families, Happy Holidays!

Siblings and Older Foster Kids Need Parents

by Janice Hill, December 16, 2014

Regular readers will find this to differ from my usual post, at first glance.  Social action that sees light on this blog is often political, but at this time of the year, when everyone is thinking of family, family gatherings, and tradition, I’ve decided to take a moment to consider youths whose family structure is so fragmented that they essentially have no family or are in danger of being torn apart  by the foster and adoptive systems from the only loving relationship they know – that of a sibling.

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

This week U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AdoptUSKids and the Ad Council are unveiling a new series of public service advertisements (PSAs)  to encourage the adoption of children from foster care with an emphasis on the importance of keeping siblings together.  This is legit.  The program itself is 10 years old. The gist of the idea is that no one needs be perfect to be a needed, appreciated, and loved parent.

I said good-bye to a brother last month.  But I had him 57 years before he died at age 66.  I cannot imagine how I could have survived without family, even my imperfect big brothers.  I know there are many mid-lifers who have aged out of biological parenting almost accidentally.  It isn’t too late to provide love and all the imperfect parenting you have to offer to older kids and siblings who desperately need you.

Give yourself the gift of checking into adoptuskids.org.  Consider:  Older parents, older kids.  Successful singles of a certain age who thought about being a parent but never found the right partner.

Growing up I knew a brother and sister who were adopted together.  I thought that was wonderful then, and I think it is even more wonderful now.  I have a friend who lost both parents in High School but she and her brother were not separated.  My cousin was adopted.  People I care about had people who cared enough to make them family.

Check out AdoptUsKids on Facebook.  There are currently 402,000 children in the foster care system in the US.  102,000 children, under 18 years of age, are waiting for adoption.  They are waiting to have you share your life, your regular old life, with them.

Powerful UN CSW57 Document on Ending Gender-Based Violence Created

On March 14, I wrote a blog entitled “The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence.” I talked about an alliance between the Vatican, Iran, Russia and a couple of other countries that were attempting to eviscerate the comprehensive plan being created at the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements). These previous agreements include the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000).

I am happy to say that this didn’t happen.  Thanks to the bloggers, news media, Tweeters, NGO’s attending CSW57, and several official Member States, the amendments to the document were voted down on Friday during the final day of the 2-week convention.

Iran was the only country that voted against the final, comprehensive document. The Vatican did not get to vote because of its status as a “Permanent Observer State” rather than as a voting “Member State”. And Russia backed down and voted for the final document along with all of the remaining UN Member States.

People around the world heard about these attempts to deny women and girls safety from all forms of violence.  We spoke out and acted.

As a result, unlike last year, we FINALLY have a strong document that

“condemns in the strongest terms the pervasive violence against women and girls, and calls for increased attention and accelerated action for prevention and response.” (Source)

This document has a strong prevention focus since the best way to end violence against women and children is to stop it BEFORE it happens.  It also addresses inequalities in the political, economic, and social spheres that engender violence. And it takes action to provide services and justice for victims of violence around the world.

Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women summarized the comprehensive coverage of this powerful statement to end this type of human rights violation in her closing statement of the conference:

During the past two weeks, discussions centred on matters of urgency to people around the world — eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls, ending impunity for perpetrators, fully engaging men and boys, and advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality to prevent and end these human rights violations….

Important and timely matters were addressed — ending child and early forced marriage, protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and providing justice and critical services for survivors of violence.

There were debates on ending sexual violence in conflict, tackling human trafficking, protecting sexual and reproductive rights, and on the role of culture, religion and the family.

You had many intense late-night negotiations, going over every single word and paragraph, debating long and hard in order to come to [this] strong agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, immediately after CSW57, released a statement showing the commitment of the United Nations to fully implement this new document. It says, in part:

Violence against women is a heinous human rights violation, global menace, a public health threat and a moral outrage.  No matter where she lives, no matter what her culture, no matter what her society, every woman and girl is entitled to live free of fear.  She has the universal human right to be free from all forms of violence so as to fulfill her full potential and dreams for the future.

States have a corresponding responsibility to turn that right into reality.  The Secretary-General hopes that all the partners who came together at this historic session and others around the world will now translate this agreement into concrete action to prevent and end violence against women and girls.  The United Nations system is fully committed to leading this global effort.

So now I say, THANK YOU! Thank you for creating this statement. It is one more step  towards realizing the rights, dignity, and humanity of girls and women throughout the world.

Picture of Joanne Tosti-Vasey standing with sign that says "I AM Ending Violence"

Joanne Tosti-Vasey “Refusing to be Silent” and calling for an end to gender-based violence

The “Unholy Alliance” that May Defeat Comprehensive UN Call to End Gender-Based Violence

Last week, on International Women’s Day (March 8), I participated in the 24-hour Global Tweet-a-Thon to end gender-based violence.  This event was held in conjunction with the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW57) that is being held in New York City.  The theme of this year’s session is the “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

I participated as a host for one hour of this event to facilitate the global conversation between people around the world and those attending the unofficial Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) programs at the UN as well as to send a message to the official UN delegation. Our message was that advocates around the world are looking for a strong draft statement calling for the full elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls as directed by the theme of this two-week conference.

Here are a few of the many tweets I sent out that either addresses the situation of violence in countries around the world OR that calls on governments, including the UN, to create best practices to end gender-based violence:

@JoeBiden “40% of all mass shootings started with the murderer targeting their girlfriend, or their wife, or their ex-wife.” #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

The first sexual experience for 24% of women in rural Peru was forced. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

In Latin America & the Caribbean, abused women reported higher incidents of miscarriage and induced abortion. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013 (Source)

In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners are 48% more likely to be infected with HIV than those who were not. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must enact legislation that addresses violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW governments must fully fund health services for survivors of violence, including #HIV screening & emergency contraception. #CSW57 #IWD2013

To #EndVAW, governments must ensure girls and women have access to abortion in cases of rape and incest. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Providing young people with human rights-based, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information helps #EndVAW. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Respecting, protecting, and fulfilling girls’ and women’s sexual rights can minimize the violence they face. #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

Promoting girls’ and women’s sexual rights is a key tool to #EndVAW, address women’s inequality, and achieve sustainable development. #CSW57 #IWD2013

Domestic laws to #EndVAW should align with international best practice and reinforce the protections found in #humanrights treaties. #CSW57 #IWD2013

And

There is no country where women and men are equal in all spheres of life. You have the power to can change that! #EndVAW #CSW57 #IWD2013

That last tweet is a call for individuals, organizations, countries, and the United Nations to pull together to create and execute a comprehensive plan to end gender-based violence and fully comply with all of the universally agreed-upon agreements (treaties, resolutions, and statements), including the Women’s Rights Treaty (commonly known as CEDAW or the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (1993)) as well as the Beijing Platform for Action (1995), and UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000)

I had hoped the draft document that is supposed to be finalized and signed on March 15 – the final day of the two-week deliberation – would help strengthen these treaties.  Instead on Tuesday, March 12, 2013, I received an email from two NGOs – the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutger’s University and International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)—indicating that

“the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document.”

The next morning, I saw a New York Times editorial called “Unholy Alliance.”  This article clearly lays out what was going on in the official deliberations.  Apparently, the Vatican (which, btw, is a “Permanent Observer,” not a “Member State”), Iran, Russia, and a few other Member States have spent the their entire time at CSW57 trying to eliminate language in the draft communiqué to “duck” their obligations – and thus the obligations agreed to by most of the world – to eliminate all gender-based violence.

Their excuses?  Religion. Custom. Tradition.

What are they objecting to specifically?  Any reference to abortions or contraception.  Any mention of reproductive or sexual health. Any reference to forced sex as rape by either a spouse or other intimate partner.  And even any reference to women’s rights in general from the aforementioned international agreements; in this case, they claim that either religious or cultural traditions must take precedence over ending any form of gender-based violence.

These “reservations,” by the way, are the same reservations raised by essentially the same countries at the 56th session of the CSW conference in 2012.  As a result, that session ended without any agreement and women, once again, were left without a comprehensive UN plan to help improve their lives.

I am appalled. Gender-based violence is a crime against humanity.  Whether that crime is perpetrated by a government (for example, when military units carry out gang rapes and other gender-based war crimes for ethnic intimidation, ethnic cleansing and terrorizing a community).  Or when that crime of violence is perpetrated by individuals.

After learning all of this, I contacted the National Organization for Women (NOW) chapters in Pennsylvania.  Within 24 hours, Pennsylvania NOW along with South Hills NOW (Pittsburgh area), East End NOW (part of Allegheny County just east of Pittsburgh), Northeast Williamsport NOW, Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (my chapter here in Centre County), and Montgomery County NOW all co-signed the letter created by CWGL and IWRAW Asia Pacific.

This letter was signed by 281 organizations from 57 countries and 129 people from around the world and delivered to the conference on March 14.  FYI, since some of the organizations do not include the country of origin in their names, there may be — and probably are — more than 57 countries represented on this letter.

Here’s the letter that we signed.

IWD Statement on Concerns of Women’s Organizations Over Negotiations on CSW 57 Outcome Document 3-14-13

I along with all of these organizations and individuals want to see a comprehensive UN program to end violence against women and girls.  We want to strong enforcement of all international agreements.

Patriarchy has no right to quash human rights.  Let’s hope that the official delegates hear our voice and stop this “unholy alliance.” If allowed, the result will be more, not less gender-based violence.

If not, then I believe that like last year there should be no UN document signed by the United States or any other Member State participating in the 57th CSW conference.  Going forward with a strong plan to end all forms of violence is the best plan.  Going backwards is appalling and should not be condoned.  Better nothing than something that moves us backwards.

Let’s just hope they hear our voice and “do the right thing.”

VAWA Passes Senate: One Step Toward Ending the Climate of Indifference Towards Violence Against Women

The climate of indifference that I talked about in my blog on February 10 is pervasive both here in the US and around the world.  Which is why Eve Ensler has called for a worldwide day of action to recognize and end violence against women around the world.  Thursday, February 14, 2014 is V-Day, aka One Billion Rising. V-Day calls for people around the world to Rise, Strike, and Dance to end violence against women.

Today, the US Senate by an overwhelming majority, passed the comprehensive version of the Violence Against Women ReAuthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA, S.47). We all can speak out. We all can rise and call for the end to this indifference by funding this law and allowing the Office on Violence Against Women to fully do their job in collaboration with advocates and service providers throughout the country.

If you haven’t done so already, do so on February 14. You can find your Representatives phone number here. Call him/her on V-Day.  Say that they need to have a heart, they need to have compassion, and they CAN help end this Climate of Indifference by passing and fully funding VAWA.

Climate of Indifference IS Part of Why the Sandusky Sexual Assaults Occurred

This morning, Joe Paterno’s family released their report contradicting much of Judge Louis Freeh’s report on why the child sexual assaults at Penn State University occurred.  In this report, they state that there were essentially no issues within the football program (and, by implication, the Athletics program in general) that would have created what I call the “Climate of Indifference” at The Penn State University towards sexual assault, domestic and acquaintance violence, and stalking.

Whether or not Joe Paterno should be held accountable for his actions or in-actions in the Jerry Sandusky case, I do believe that those within the Athletics department and the Penn State administration contributed to a climate where athletes, staff, and faculty within the Athletics program either felt immune from possible repercussions of their actions OR felt fearful in reporting what they saw or heard.

Since 1994, I along with Ni-Ta-Nee NOW (the local NOW chapter in Centre County, PA), Pennsylvania NOW, and/or National NOW have been calling on the University to take all forms of assault against women—and subsequently children—seriously, to create a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence against others, to end the Climate of Indifference within Athletics, and treat all allegations of assault under the same rules and policies that the rest of the University community is held up to.

In November 2011, right after the Sandusky case came to light, The Nation’s Dave Zirin referenced a 2006 comment I had made in an article he titled “The World Joe Paterno Made.”  He first set up the background for my statement:

In 2003, less than one year after Paterno was told that Sandusky was raping children, he allowed a player accused of rape to suit up and play in a bowl game. Widespread criticism of this move was ignored. In 2006, Penn State’s Orange Bowl opponent Florida State, sent home linebacker A.J. Nicholson, after accusations of sexual assault. Paterno’s response, in light of recent events, is jaw-dropping. He said, “There’s so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do? Geez. I hope—thank God they don’t knock on my door because I’d refer them to a couple of other rooms.”

Zirin then stated,

Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of Pennsylvania’s National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania, was not amused. With chilling unintentional prescience, Tosti-Vasey responded, “Allegations of sexual assault should never be taken lightly. Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted.”

Upon seeing a Tweet by Mr. Zirin calling my statement “prescient,” I contacted him and told him that NOW continued to have concerns over the Climate of Indifference within the Athletics program.  He printed my comments in their entirety in a subsequent blog.  This included the following:

I truly wish that I hadn’t been “prescient” as you stated in your article when you referred to my call in 2006 for Penn State to address campus violence. Due to these newest allegations of child sexual assault and the possible cover-up that may have occurred, I have once again referred to this Climate of Indifference and minimization of abuse towards others, particularly in the Athletics Department….

For almost 20 years, we have challenged Penn State’s dismissive attitude toward violence against women, particularly within the Athletics department. It is time to stop this insular focus.  It is time to make sure that NO form of campus violence – sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking – is ever again tolerated.   Against any child.  Against any adult.  Against any member of the PSU community or a visitor to any of our campuses (yes, I am alum).

After NOW and many others called for an independent investigation into the Sandusky scandal, Judge Louis Freeh was appointed as the Special Investigative Counsel by the Penn State Board of Trustees.  On July 12, 2012, Judge Freeh released his scathing indictment against the upper administration, the Athletics department, and the Board of Trustees for covering up, failing to protect potential and actual victims of sexual violence, and failing to provide appropriate board oversight.

Regardless of whether or not Joe Paterno was culpable in this alleged cover-up (which I am not commenting on one way or the other), I continue to believe that the Climate of Indifference within the Athletic program contributed to this scandal and needs to be addressed.  It needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner so that no child or adult is ever stalked, physically assaulted, or sexually assaulted again.

Once this report came out, National NOW posted a statement by me as a member of the National NOW Board of Directors regarding the Freeh report.   In light of today’s report by the Paterno family relating to the scandal and this Climate of Indifference at Penn State, I’d like to reiterate the following:

[The] University must step up to the plate and fully implement these recommendations. But they need to go even further to focus on policies to prevent all forms of campus violence — sexual assault, domestic/relationship violence, and stalking — of both children AND adults….

One way Judge Freeh’s recommendations could have additional teeth is if the University also complies with the new Title IX regulations that were created by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). These new Title IX regulations were announced on April 4, 2011, by Vice President Biden, and according to the Women’s Sports Foundation, “The Department of Education issued a policy guidance which made clear that Title IX’s protections against sexual harassment and sexual violence apply to all students, including athletes. It addresses athletics departments in particular when it requires schools to use the same procedures that apply to all students to resolve sexual violence complaints involving student athletes.”

In June of [2012], the Department of Education released its Title IX Enforcement Highlights report. According to this report, OCR provides detailed policy guidance documents to schools and colleges around the country with recommendations on what each school should do to meet these Title IX legal requirements. Since 2009, OCR has issued nine such documents. Three of these documents relate to Title IX, on topics such as “bullying, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and equity in athletics programs.”

Penn State University and every other college, university, and school — both public and private — need to ensure that no child assaults and no assaults or harassment of faculty, staff, students or visitors occur on their campuses. Judge Freeh’s recommendations, particularly those focusing on the campus climate and compliance to school-wide polices within the Athletics department be expanded to all forms of campus violence; additionally, Title IX polices need to be fully reviewed and implemented as well.

And as Lisa Bennett, NOW’s Communications Director said in a blog she wrote on July 12, 2012,

[I]f we can direct the conversation to the role that sexism and patriarchy played in these cover ups, perhaps we can change these systems in a real and profound way. We must not let the reverence our society has for such institutions stand in the way of an honest dialogue — in fact, it is that very reverence that smothers the potential for justice and healing.

Let’s get started now.