by Cindy Hanford, Chapter/State Development Staff
Houston Area NOW Protests the Taliban's Oppression of Women
Houston Area NOW activists observed International Women's Day (March 8) by gathering at the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Rothko Chapel Park, Houston. There they rallied to bring public attention to the human rights violations against women and girls in Afghanistan.
The crowd learned about some of the atrocities perpetrated against the women of Afghanistan since the Taliban militia seized control of two-thirds of that country. Women and girls are not allowed to go to school or work and are confined to their homes unless they have a close male relative who will escort them. Since male doctors are not allowed to care for female patients and female doctors are not allowed to work, health care for women is virtually non-existent. Women are forced to wear a head-to-toe covering called a "burqa" with only a small mesh opening through which to breathe and see, and they have been beaten or killed for not being properly covered or escorted.
Rally speakers included Jeanne Sommerfeld, Texas NOW president; Deborah Bell, Houston Area NOW president; Lakshmy Parameswaran of the Fort Bend County Women's Center; and Barbara Best of the Houston Area Women's Center.
The following day, Houston Area NOW protested outside the local headquarters of Unocal, a U.S. oil and gas company negotiating a multi-million dollar deal with the Taliban militia. Unocal employees were handed pamphlets describing the crisis in Afghanistan. Protest signs read "Unocal, Ban the Plan with the Taliban," "Restore Human Rights for Women in Afghanistan," and "End Gender Apartheid in Afghanistan."
At various events, Houston Area NOW activists have gathered petition signatures calling for a refusal of recognition of the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan, denouncing corporate support of the Taliban, and calling for leaders of the United States and United Nations to do everything in their power to restore women's human rights to work, education, health care and freedom of movement in that country. (See front page story, March 1998 NNT, or check out our web page at http://www.now.org/issues/global for more information.)
Morris County NOW Protests Mandatory Waiting Periods
Morris County NOW (N.J.) chapter activists picketed in front of the offices of Assemblyman Michael Carroll, sponsor of state legislation that would create a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for women before having an abortion. Photo by Joe Wagner.
On March 7, the Morris County (NJ) chapter of NOW demonstrated outside the office of 25th District Assemblyman Michael Carroll to protest his support of state legislation which would force women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. Carroll has repeatedly stated that his goal is to put as many restrictions on abortion as possible.
ChapterVice-President Susan Waldman was quoted in the press: "It is imperative that our legislators hear from the pro-choice community on this and all legislation involving a woman s right to choose." Waldman continued: "Any legislation that obstructs a woman's access to a safe, legal abortion is ultimately dangerous to women. We will not stand quietly by and see our rights eroded away piece by piece."
Chapter activists sought to bring public attention to the dangers of mandatory waiting periods. Such waiting periods create substantial barriers to women seeking abortions. Many women have to travel long distances to find a provider; they also may not be able to take two days off from work, either because they cannot afford to do so or because their employers will not let them have the time off. Forcing women to make additional trips to doctors or clinics can cause severe financial hardships to women, subject them to increased exposure to clinic violence and harassment and increase their medical risk by delaying the procedure.
Morris County activists pointed out that no other medical procedure requires a waiting period and that the legislation has the greatest negative impact on poor women and those who have suffered abuse.
Waldman's press release added: "Waiting period legislation is based on the demeaning and erroneous assumption that women make health-care decisions lightly and without forethought. We know women can be trusted to make informed decisions about abortion."
California NOW's SHIELD Campaign
California NOW has launched a two-year SHIELD campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to end discrimination against all women to ensure: Safety, Health, Independence, Equality, Legislation and celebration of Diversity. Chapters throughout the state are working to take action on all the issues of the campaign. The different aspects of the campaign are explained as follows:
Safety: California NOW works to eliminate all types of violence against women through efforts like the Women-Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign and by supporting legislation to end violence against women;
Health: Through NOW Foundation's Redefining Liberation campaign, California NOW seeks to educate women and girls about the fashion, tobacco and alcohol industries advertising which targets them and endangers their health;
Independence: California NOW works to ensure that women have the right to self-determination;
Equality: California NOW works for the passage of a Constitutional Equality Amendment in order to achieve justice for women;
Legislation: California NOW is working on the Victory 2000 campaign to elect feminists so that legislation at every level of government is supportive of women and girls;
Diversity: California NOW appreciates that the only way to end discrimination is by celebrating and embracing diversity, including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, size or any other arbitrary factor.
"California NOW is very excited to organize this campaign that will help end discrimination against women," said California NOW President Helen Grieco. "In particular, the Redefining Liberation video is being incredibly well received by college campuses and high schools. We had a great event to celebrate diversity at our state conference. We're monitoring at least 100 bills in the state legislature that are important to women, and working on elections. We're holding workshops on the Constitutional Equality Amendment. And we are looking at some big companies and schools to target in the Women-Friendly Workplace and Campus Campaign. We're very busy on the SHIELD campaign, and it's working very well."
University of Virginia NOW Activists Organize National Day of Silence
Over 200 colleges, universities, and high schools participated in a National Day of Silence to bring attention to the silence forced on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people on a daily basis. The international event was coordinated by NOW activists at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville), led by the event s national co-chair and former Action Center intern, Jessie Gilliam and by co-chair Maria Pulzetti. This was the third year for this action, with more campuses participating than ever before.
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 8, thousands of students around the world were silent to protest homophobia. Instead of speaking, the students handed out cards to explain the action. At the University of Virginia, over 300 students participated in the National Day of Silence, passing out cards that read: "Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I am a friend of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders. People who are silent today believe that laws and attitudes should be inclusive of people of all sexual orientations. Think about the voices you are not hearing today. What can you do to end the silence?" At the end of the day of silence, a rally was held, attended by more than 150 students.
To build campus support for the event, organizers created a "Safe Space Campaign" by sending hundreds of rainbow triangles to faculty and staff, asking them to post the rainbow stickers on their office doors and desks if their areas were "safe spaces" for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered individuals. As the rainbows began appearing around campus, more and more people joined the National Day of Silence action.
Activists also worked hard to bring about the participation of as many schools and organizations as possible. With the help of NOW activists at the University of Virginia, the National Day of Silence is the largest international lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered awareness event run by and for youth.
Thanks for information provided by Jessie Gilliam at the University of Virginia; Sue Ann Lorig of Houston Area NOW; Susan Waldman and Bear Atwood of New Jersey NOW; and Helen Grieco of California NOW.