(WOMENSENEWS)–In Jordan, journalist Rana Husseini is redefining the concept of honor.It is not uncommon in Jordan for women to be murdered by family members for allegedly bringing dishonor onto the family by interacting with men. Offenses deemed to be worthy of these ad-hoc death sentences include talking to a man who isn’t a close family relation or even beingraped. These murders, or “honor crimes,” aretreated as heroic acts by parts of the communityas a necessary measure to save a family’s reputation. Jordan’s justice system often condones these crimes, which make up 25 percent of its annual homicides, by punishing the murderers with minimal jail time, ranging from three months to one year.
Husseini took on the crime beat for the Jordan Times and for the first time the paper began covering these killings. Her reporting ended the nation’s ability to look away from the carnage and has led to important changes.
“When I first started reporting in 1993 about honor crimes committed against women, many people made fun of my reports and told me they’d never change anything. They accused me of defending prostitutes,” Husseini says. “I would say from 1993 until now many things were changed. The press now talks more freely about violence against women. The royal family became involved and some members urged officials to take action to solve the problems.” She also joined a group of activists who marched on Parliament demanding women’s equality and safety.
“My daily encounters with many stories made me realize that many women in Jordan and elsewhere do not know their rights; some do not know they have rights,” Husseini says. “Being a woman’s activist and a reporter can help me transmit their suffering with the hope of strengthening their position in society.”
Husseini received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Oklahoma City University before returning to her home country to work for the Jordan Times. She is an active defender of human rights, serving as the regional consultant for Equality Now and previously as a campaign and regional consultant for the United Nations Development Fund for Women.To read the life story of the journalist the award is named after, go to Biography of Ida B. Wells
For a girl who says she’s “not quite grown up yet,” 13-year-old Kenya Jordana James has made quite a mark on the world. This home-schooled eighth grader was an avid reader of magazines until she realized that none of the models or even stories appealed to the things that were important to her as a young African American. She created one that did.
At 12, James became the editor and founder of Blackgirl Magazine, a bimonthly publication that promotes healthy images for black female teens while covering lifestyle and entertainment news from that perspective.
“I didn’t see any magazines that served my needs,” James says. “It’s a little selfish, but I wanted to see a magazine that reflected me and my friends.”
To fund her publishing career, James started a baking business out of her mother’s home that attracted enough clients to support her start-up publication. She invested $1,200 of her cake-making profits in Blackgirl’s sold-out debut issue, which ran 20 pages and featured an interview from musical sensation Outkast.
“They were my first interview; I felt real official after that,” James says with a smile.
James plans to launch her own clothing line next year, showcasing modest apparel with an African theme. Becoming a celebrity for being herself, she was featured on an episode of Oprah wearing a skirt she made herself. “I love to sew, so the clothing line was a natural,” James says.
Her goals include becoming a midwife or an obstetrician, or maybe a television producer. From the record she has set already, James will probably do it all.
Imagine a good old-fashioned Mid-West showdown. On one side: an angry prosecutor demanding the pregnancy test of any woman who took one during a nine-month time period. On the other side: Planned Parenthood President Jill June, risking jail rather than turn over test results from her organization’s 17 clinics. When the dust cleared, June was left standing–and women’s privacy rights were protected for another day.
“There was never a doubt in my mind I had to protect those records,” says June, who refused to cooperate with a wide-ranging subpoena issued by a judge overseeing an investigation of a grisly murder of an infant. “Health care can only take place in an atmosphere of confidence and trust. Violating women’s trust in us was tantamount to denying them health care.”
Aware that the incident occurred during a time when political support for women’s reproductive freedom has lost ground, June worries that she may have to start working for women’s reproductive freedom from the ground up.
“There are major forces at play to reverse Roe v. Wade and to condemn female sexuality,” June says. “If successful in its attempt to eliminate the reproductive rights of women, there will be no other barrier or issue of greater importance than securing those liberties once again. Birth control advocate Margaret Sanger said it best: ‘No woman can call herself free unless she controls her own body.'”
June learned those words at an early age, committing herself to a life of abortion activism at age 11. She read a book detailing the mortality rates of illegal abortion that was intended “to scare the bejeebers out of you,” but instead fostered a life-long commitment.
“I asked my mother about it and she said, ‘Women shouldn’t have to die to protect themselves,'” June recalls. “I was hooked.”
Although more than 50 percent of the assets in the United States are legally owned by women, they are the decision-makers on only a small percent of their own assets. As a result, Ann Kaplan is passionate about financial literacy for women.
Kaplan joined forces with Goldman Sachs, the most elite investment bank in the United States, to help Smith College launch a center for women’s financial independence.
This program is the first of its kind in the United States aimed directly at training undergraduates. The program was formally launched in fall 2001 and offers myriad of noncredit courses focused on entrepreneurship, investing, loan and credit-card debt management and retirement planning. The courses tackle both larger business questions and personal life skills.
“Every woman needs to master her personal finances,” explains Kaplan, a 1967 graduate of Smith and becoming in 1990 the first women to be named a partner at Goldman Sachs. “In exercising financial independence, influence and control, she secures not only her own future but that of generations to follow.”
Kaplan is now a managing director at Goldman Sachs and heads a group dedicated to increasing the firm’s involvement with women clients worldwide. In addition to designing new programs that are responsive to requests from many women investors, Kaplan works tirelessly to make sure women are well represented in every major position throughout the leading global investing banking and management firm.
Kaplan also serves on the boards of C-200, Smith College, the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York, the business board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the women’s leadership board of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Defying the stereotypes and cultural norms of the Arab world, Bahrain’s first couple is taking the lead toward establishing a gender-just democracy in the region.
Enthroned in the seat of power for the financial center of the Middle East, the ruler of Bahrain is leading the way to overturning years of gender inequality in his government by having held the first democratic election in 25 years and including women in his new government.
His wife, Her Highness Shaikha Sabeeka Al-Khalifa, led the call to vote.
In a sharp act of divergence from custom in most Islamic nations, Her Highness made a public plea in November 2002 for the women of her country to vote. Although no women were elected to Parliament, the Amir, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, appointed six women to his cabinet, making a grand move toward a more democratic and liberal government that he promised when taking the throne from his father in 1999.
“This will mark the beginning of the practical application of the democratic process within a common vision, shared by the leader and the citizens, to continue modernization and progress based on the positive contributions by all of us to consolidate developments that require serious and loyal contributions,” Shaikha Sabeeka was quoted as saying in The Borneo Bulletin.
Following in this spirit of equality, Shaikha Sabeeka launched a campaign to change “the image of Bahraini women” and now leads the Supreme Council of Women as chair. Her husband created the 14-person council in August to write new policies that better the status of women in his country and to encourage women to be more active in public life. As the leader of this group, Shaikha Sabeeka is attending women-centered conferences, including a meeting with the All-China Women’s Federation and the Women for Peace delegation in Egypt, to promote a greater role for the women of Bahrain.
Jill Miller loves her job. As executive director of Women Work!, she has dedicated the last 19 years to helping other women love their jobs, too.
This national organization runs the largest network of women’s employment, training and education programs to help women find positions that satisfy both their economic needs and personal passions.
Women Work!, formerly the National Displaced Homemakers Network, caters to women who either can’t make a living while taking care of their families or want to explore new avenues of creativity through employment.
“At Women Work! we see firsthand the challenges women face in their effort to attain economic self sufficiency,” Miller says.”My hope is that Women Work! member programs will continue to flourish and grow, increasing their capacity to serve women in transition. But even more, I hope for a day that it won’t need to–a day when society values all the work that women do–in the workforce, in their communities, in their homes.”
Miller manages more than 1,000 programs that serve at least 400,000 women annually. Women can join for an annual fee of $15, which entitles them to job opportunity listings, interview tips, available scholarships and information on health issues. Miller also serves as a valuable resource for members of Congress, monitoring and influencing legislation that affects women’s employment.
Although Miller has seen much success within the organization, even being called on to chair a United Nations expert panel on vocational training and lifelong learning of women, she still recognizes how much is left to be done for women in the workplace.
“Equality has not been achieved. Women continue to be underrepresented through business–on the corporate board and executive levels, in tenured faculty positions and in skilled trades,” Miller says. “People often think that there is no longer a problem because they can name one woman who is an example of success in a particular field. One successful woman does not mean equality has been achieved.”
In an African country roughly the size of Colorado, Asseta Nagbila has started a quiet revolution.
Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 90 percent of its landlocked population relying solely on the arid landscape to produce enough food for survival. Women there are not permitted to own land or take out loans and they are typically so bogged down with their roles as young mothers that education is out of the question.
With the aid of The Hunger Project, Nagbila has usurped that tradition and is recreating the role of women in her village. The Hunger Project is a strategic organization that empowers local people to start a grassroots, self-reliant plan of action and mobilizes local leadership to help these start-ups succeed. Its highest priority is the empowerment of impoverished, silent women in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“Most part of my adult life, as a wife and a mother, my role consisted in feeding and taking care of my husband and children,” says Nagbila, whose typical day used to start at 5 a.m. and working without a break for food until 9 p.m. “Since the establishment of The Hunger Project in my village, I can tell you many things have changed for us women. The workshops taught us how to analyze and solve our problems in dignity and self-reliance. Even our husbands are proud of that.”
Nagbila is in charge of coordinating literacy, health, nutrition and training courses for women aimed at their being able to gain economic independence as farmers. Even though most women are responsible for taking care of numerous children in polygamous families, they also are required to do fieldwork and yet aren’t recognized by the government as legitimate farmers.
“We will appeal to our governments in Africa to seriously take into account the vital role that the African woman food farmer plays in the social and economical development of our countries,” Nagbila says.
Nagbila was awarded The Hunger Project’s Africa Prize for Leadership in 1999 for her efforts in improving the status of women in her village and she was twice named the Burkina Faso Woman of the Year for her work with female food farmers. She has five children and a husband who is also a farmer.
–Julie Leupold is a freelance writer in New York.
For more information:
Kenya Jordana James
Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa:
Her Highness Shaikha Sabeeka bint Shaikh Ibrahim bin Muhammad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain
Embassy of the Kingdom of Bahrain:
The Hunger Project: