Pursuing Peace for Darfur

On Friday, April 9th, Omar Al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, touched down by plane in Darfur. Al-Bashir is the only serving head-of-state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes that he allegedly committed in Central Africa. He claims the warm welcome he received upon landing is proof that he has done no wrong and that he is a popular leader.

However, most other countries and the International Criminal Court say otherwise. Conflict in Darfur began in 2003 and has yet to stop. It began with the armed rebellions of the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement against the central Sudanese government. The agricultural peoples from various African ethnicities, such as the Fur, for  whom the region is named, felt as if the Arab-centric government was ignoring them and that violence committed by nomadic Arab groups was going unchecked. The rebellion was met with harsh military action, including bombings and the deployment of the camel-mounted Janjaweed, who terrorized civilians, killing over 400,000 people and displacing 2.5 million.

The purpose of this trip to Darfur was to campaign ahead of the referendum, held April 11th to 13th, over forming one single Darfur region as opposed to remaining five separate states. If they were to unite as one state, they would have more sway in the central Khartoum government. Al-Bashir went to fanatic rallies, with huge crowds waving Sudanese flags or holding his portrait. There was song and dance and a promise by Al-Bashir of peace in the troubled region. The ongoing conflict was entirely ignored and declared over by Al-Bashir, who now wants to focus on developing Darfur after all these years of strife.

Omar Al-Bashir

The United States has had rocky relations with Sudan. From 1996 to 2002, the U.S. Embassy closed operations in Sudan following Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism in 1993 for its support and/or harboring of radical organizations, namely Al-Qaeda and Hamas. In 1997, economic sanctions were placed on Sudan for their human rights violations, efforts to destabilize their neighbors’ governments, and support of terrorist organizations. In 2007, more sanctions were introduced as a result of the Sudanese government’s continuous lack of interest in ending the conflict in Darfur. U.S. policy today continues to focus on ending the egregious human rights violations of the Sudanese government, stabilizing the political situation of the country, and ensuring that Sudan does not find itself becoming a safe haven for terrorist organizations again.

Essentially, al-Bashir’s trip to Darfur was a public relations stunt executed in an attempt to improve Al-Bashir’s reputation and the Sudanese government’s standing internationally. This is made even clearer by the fact that a BBC reporter was allowed to accompany the president and even interview him. Usually reporters are barred from investigating the situation in Darfur, but Thomas Fessy of the BBC was invited to join Al-Bashir. Fessy was not allowed to visit any of the many refugee camps in the region and was only shown the massive cheering crowds of loyal citizens. He was reassured again and again by Al-Bashir that he has the situation in Darfur under control and that the international presence of U.N. peacekeepers and aid organizations is unnecessary and intrusive. The United States should not, and will not, buy into this narrative for even a second. To attain justice and peace in Darfur and in Sudan as a whole, the sanctions and international pressure on Sudan and Al-Bashir must continue.

Stop the Sham: Supreme Court Case Poses New Challenges to Abortion Access

On Wednesday, March 2, 2016, eight justices, missing their late, boisterous colleague Antonin Scalia, heard oral arguments on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the blockbuster abortion access case which challenges a Texas law’s thinly veiled attempt to reduce the number of operating abortion clinics in the state. Hellerstedt threatens to eviscerate the precious right preserved in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which set the precedence of evaluating abortion regulation laws on the basis of “undue burden,” defined as “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”  Under this new paradigm, the Court struck down the Pennsylvania law’s requirement that married women notify their spouses before obtaining an abortion but upheld its provisions requiring informed consent, parental consent for minors, and a 24-hour waiting period.

The two notable elements of the 2013 Texas omnibus law HB2 at stake in Hellerstedt are sweeping measures which prescribe that abortion doctors must obtain admitting privileges in local hospitals less than 30 miles away and that clinics must fulfill requirements of ambulatory surgical centers in order to be legally operational.  Texas lawmakers and defenders of the bill counter that these regulations aim to protect the safety and welfare of women seeking abortions. However, these same provisions on an already safe procedure have been deemed medically unnecessary by the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other leading health care experts.

(Credit: The Austin Chronicle)

In oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Elena Kagan astutely questioned why it is in Texas’ interest and jurisdiction to regulate an already safe procedure like abortion and not other more risky medical procedures, to which Keller responded, “legislatures react to topics that are of public concern.”  Keller succinctly articulates precisely what this case is about: not women’s health, but an invasive political agenda that responds more to the public’s sense of morality than the health and civil rights of women.

There are two main legal questions at stake in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. First, should the lower court have considered if H.B. 2 furthered Texas’ stated purpose of protecting the health of women seeking abortions when applying the “undue burden” standard? Second, do the restrictions put forth in H.B. 2 constitute an “undue burden” on women’s access to abortion? Arguably, the appellate court accepted Texas’ justification outright without examining whether it actually had the effect of protecting women’s health, which is legally questionable. Additionally, the clinics involved in the case believe that Texas’ restrictions constitute an “undue burden” because they do nothing to protect patients and only serve to make it more difficult for many women to obtain abortions.

With the regulations in place, Texas is left with at most 10 clinics (some say only 6), down from 40, across the 268,580 square miles of Texas, the home of 27.5 million people.  In fact, one million women would be more than 150 miles away from the nearest abortion clinic. Striking at the heart of this issue, Justice Stephen Breyer asked, “If you suddenly had at least 10,000 … women who have to travel 150 miles to get their abortions,” he said, “are there going to be more women or fewer women who die of complications?”

 With the recent death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court has an even number of justices voting in Whole Woman’s Health.  Justice Anthony Kennedy, the current ideological center of the Court and likely “swing vote,” is the last remaining member of the Casey plurality that first developed the “undue burden” standard central to the present case.  If Kennedy sides with the conservatives, the Court may be divided 4-4 in its decision.  If this occurs, the ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court will stand, and H.B. 2’s provisions will remain in effect. However, the decision would not set a national precedent, and the Fifth Circuit decision is only binding for the states within its jurisdiction (Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi).  Alternatively, if Kennedy sides with the liberal justices, Texas’ restrictions could be struck down 5-3.  In this scenario, Scalia’s presence on the bench would not have impacted the ultimate result, and more women would retain their right to choose a safe procedure.

 

 

This article was written by Meredith Forsyth, Larry Huang and Kerry Synan of the GU College Democrats Women’s Advocacy Team.

 

 

Why I’m a Feminist

In my first article of the fall semester, I expressed the reasons why I am a Democrat. Being a Democrat is a sizeable part of my identity, but much of my identification with the Democratic Party originates from my feminist beliefs. I felt it was only fitting to further elaborate on why I classify myself as a feminist.

My feminist crush, Elizabeth Warren

Firstly, I feel obligated to clarify that feminism is not about valuing women over men, or men over women. It is not crazy women running around, threatening the male species with pitchforks. It is not about middle to upper class white women ignoring the needs of minority women. True feminism is about achieving social, political, and economic equality between the sexes, and recognizing that minority women may need even more help breaking the glass ceiling than white women.

I’m a feminist because the gender wage gap is not a myth. I concede the typically cited figure of women earning on average 78 cents per dollar that a man makes can be misleading. It does not control for industry, occupation, education, experience, or family responsibilities many women undertake. However, even when economists control for those factors, approximately 41 percent of the pay gap remains unexplained. According to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the remaining 41 perfect of the pay gap is very likely due to gender discrimination, even though the employers may neither consciously nor intentionally pay their female employees less for the same work.

Even the other factors that explain the pay gap are troubling. It is not as simple as women freely choosing to work in lower paying jobs. From a young age, women are continuously discouraged from entering certain lucrative “men’s” careers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, construction, etc. Women are told they simply cannot be as good in those areas as men are. I remember loving mathematics as a child, but listening to people (especially peers) tell me over the years I could not be as intelligent or talented as my male counterparts profoundly discouraged me from pursuing it. As a young child, I actually believed people when they told me I simply could not be as good at math because of my sex. I felt that no matter how much I tried, I could never be as intelligent as the boys in my classes, even though I was always one of the highest scoring students in my classes. Insults can be powerful during such a formative stage in life.

Women are also criticized for taking leadership roles in the workplace, and they are often looked over for promotions. When a women tries to lead a project, she is “bossy,” “annoying,” or “shrill,” as opposed to men who are “great leaders” who “show initiative.” Additionally, many employers still unlawfully ask women in interviews for leadership positions if they are married, and if they have or plan to have children. If they appear as if they have or may have children in the future, perhaps it would be best to select a different candidate for the position or the promotion. On the other hand, it makes no difference to employers whether men are married with children. Their wives will relinquish their careers to care for their children, obviously!

Well-intentioned employers often overlook women with children for promotions because they presume women will instinctively prefer or need to spend more time with their children instead of taking on more responsibilities with the company. Perhaps the position will require more travel, so a woman’s boss assumes she would either need or desire to retain the same schedule at home and passes over her for the promotion. Some people would say it is “considerate” of the boss to think of her family needs, but it would actually be more considerate of the boss to simply ask the woman if she is interested in the position and not automatically assume otherwise.

Another obstacle in the fight for gender equality is that many women actually inadvertently stereotype or discriminate against other women both inside and outside of the workplace. It is challenging for us as Americans to view life through a non-gendered lens because of the social construction of gender in our society. I will admit that sometimes I struggle with the same issue. If I find myself thinking negatively about a woman in a position of authority, I try to analyze if I think this way about her because she is a woman, or if I would I still view her in the same way if she were a man. Am I annoyed she tells me what to do because I unconsciously view her as a less legitimate authority than a man? Perhaps she is simply a more vexing person in general, but it is tough to discern if you view a female leader negatively because of her gender and digression from “proper” female behavior.

I am also a feminist because paid maternity leave is not the equivalent of a paid vacation, which is how the lovely Georgetown Academy newspaper likes to describe it. To describe maternity leave as a vacation is so absurd that I question if anyone who describes it as such actually knows what maternity leave is. Women bear the arduous task of carrying around another human inside them for 9 months, only to undergo a painful birthing experience from which it takes weeks or sometimes months to recover. While they recuperate, women and their spouses must also attend to the child’s needs every minute of every day.  In addition to the exhaustion that new mothers face, they also need the time off to bond with their babies. According to Dr. Mary Beth Steinfeld of the University of California at Davis Medical Center, the first few months of a child’s life are critical bonding times for mothers and their babies’ normal child development.

The argument that women should not receive paid maternity leave because they choose to have children is severely flawed as well. By the same logic, companies should also eliminate all vacation days because one chooses to go on a vacation. Nonetheless, paid maternity leave is significantly more important than paid vacation days. Some women must be the ones to give birth to the next generation of humans. This responsibility that many women undertake is not a trivial matter; it is a matter of propagating the species.  I would be interested in asking most men if they would be fine with never having kids because their wives or girlfriends could not afford to leave work for a bit without paid leave.

This scenario reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the television show, “Veep.” The Vice President remarks, “If men got pregnant, you could get an abortion at an ATM machine.” Similarly, if men could become pregnant, paid paternity leave would probably be a basic right. If men received inequitable pay because of their gender, there would be stringent equal pay laws along with an Equal Rights Amendment.

 

Many people would label the issues that concern feminists as “women’s issues.” This categorization is incorrect. These are not only family issues; they are human issues.

If you have any woman in your life you care about, you should be a feminist. You should want your wife, mother, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends to receive the wages and promotions they deserve. You should desire a world in which they can feel free to enter the same careers as men and undertake leadership positions. You should not condone the unfortunate truth that your loved ones may be compelled to choose between critical bonding time with their children and putting food on the table. These are humanitarian issues that affect over half of the country’s population. The time to remedy these issues is now so that your female loved ones do not suffer from discrimination and inequitable treatment anymore.

The Plight of Asian Americans As the “Model Minority”

A family that some may consider a “model minority”

“Model minority.” You’ve heard the term before. It’s all over the New York Times and the Washington Post, but what does it actually mean? The “Model Minority” stereotype is the “cultural expectation placed on Asian Americans as a group that each individual will be: smart (i.e., ‘naturally good at math, science, and technology’), wealthy, hard-working, self-reliant, living the ‘American Dream,’ docile, submissive, obedient, uncomplaining, spiritually enlightened, and never in need of assistance. Some may wonder why Asian American people are getting up in arms about being a “model minority.” These cultural expectations can seem like wonderful compliments to the outside observer.Newsflash: They’re not.

The reality is that no one lives up to the Model Minority stereotype—or any stereotype for that matter—with 100% accuracy. In fact, as noted by UT-Austin’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, “in 2004, 11.8% of Asian Americans lived below the poverty line, experiencing the greatest rise in poverty among all groups.” Furthermore, Asian American college students “were more likely than White students to report difficulties with stress, sleep, and feelings of hopelessness.” On top of that, “Asian Americans have a 17.30% overall lifetime rate of developing any psychiatric disorder and a 9.19% 12-month rate, yet Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than Whites.” This increased deterioration in the mental health of Asian-Americans can be attributed to, among other reasons, “discrimination due to racial or cultural background”, “difficulty in balancing two different cultures and developing a bicultural sense of self”, and most of all, “the pressure to live up to the ‘model minority’ stereotype.” Thus being considered a “model minority” really is not quite as nice as it may seem.

What may come off as even more shocking, however, is the origin of the label “model minority” and its associated term, “Asian advantage.” According to the New York Times op-ed “‘Model Minority Seems Like a Compliment, but It Does Great Harm” written by Bernadette Lim, the term “model minority” was first used during the Civil Rights movement—but not for the purpose of promoting and advocating for equal rights. The term was coined in a 1966 New York Times article titled “Success Story, Japanese American Style,” which led to similar articles, such as “Success Story of One Minority Group in U.S.” and “Those Asian-American Whiz Kids.”  

What did these articles have in common? As Bernadette Lim explains, they all argued that “if Asian-Americans [could] ‘work hard’ and ‘never complain’, why [weren’t] other racial groups following suit?”. To put it into context and in broader terms, the label “model minority” originally “[operated] as a racial wedge that [divided] Asian-Americans from communities of color while maintaining white dominance in leadership (i.e. the ‘bamboo ceiling’) and politics.” Interestingly enough, it seems as if the “Asian advantage” seemed to work rather to the advantage of white dominance.

Therefore it should be clear the label “model minority” and all of its associated terms (i.e. “Asian advantage” and “bamboo ceiling”), are degrading and oppressive. The worst part is that no matter how hard Asian Americans have tried, we still cannot escape this idea that we are “model minorities,” that we should be grateful for our “Asian advantage.” People are correct when they say I should be grateful for some things. I am grateful to have had the opportunity grow up in a multicultural household where I learned to value American and Chinese culture simultaneously. I am grateful for growing up in a country inhabited by so many different ethnicities, nationalities, and cultures. However, I am not grateful for the fact that my family’s success as Asian Americans is being used as a method of silencing other people of color, and I am not grateful for the common expectations of being submissive, good at math, and devoid of a personality. For these reasons, we must continue to push for a renormalization of what it means to be Asian American, because being Asian American does not mean being a “model minority.” Being Asian American simply means being part of a diverse group of individuals who identify as male, female, non-binary, gay, straight, bisexual, queer, runners, dancers, singers, musicians, etc., who also just happen to originate from the same general geographic location. Indeed, Asian American is just one identifier in a sea of qualities and characteristics that make us unique.