Vol. 16, no. 1
January -- February, 2004
A World of Women
Sing Our Song: Black History Month
From the Editor
Welcome to 2004! We feature two important themes in this first issue of our 16th year. In the United States, February is celebrated as African American History Month, and March as Women's History Month. Why do we need a Black History Month or a Women's History Month? I posed this question to three veteran educators on our Skipping Stones board. Mary Drew, an ESL teacher who belongs to a very multicultural family, explains, "I, myself feel rather conflicted about celebrating Black History Month or Women's History Month. It seems like a kind of segregation. We all live in the world together and we all make vital contributions to each other's experiences.
"These special months came about because there was, at the time, no focus on the contributions of diverse groups to U.S. history or to world history. Whole populations were being ignored. We continue to get very little information or even misinformation on groups other than the dominant one in our news, current events and history lessons. However, my hope is that continuing efforts in multicultural education and diversity training are creating a change, slowly but surely.
"I would greatly prefer to see a concerted effort by all educators to use the energy they might put into these special months to instead design inclusive curriculum to be used throughout the year, and across subject areas."
Paulette Ansari and Bahati Ansari, both African-American educators agree. They feel that while these months offer opportunities to teach the missing pieces, they want to see African-American and women's history incorporated in the classrooms throughout the year (see page 33).
Both in my personal life and work with Skipping Stones, I feel blessed with the continued presence of women of wisdom and courage. Their skills and labors of love give birth to issue after issue of our magazine. As our editors, directors, volunteers, contributors, translators, artists and interns, they nurture the spirit of Skipping Stones.
In these pages, we present voices of many young women from Zimbabwe to Argentina. These perspectives provide a glimpse of the hardships and sorrows that women continue to endure, even today.
It is no secret that women and people of color receive much less recognition or compensation for the services they provide. The media promotes stereotypes that can have a negative influence on their self-images and the way they are treated by others.
During the last seven years, my wife and I have found the unconditional love of Amma, our spiritual teacher. Amma has shown us, with her own exemplary life, that we can learn to treat everyone with respect and dignity. She says we all have both feminine and masculine aspects within us. Men and boys might try to nurture their feminine nature, while girls and women might develop their masculine aspects. This way, everyone can feel whole and thus happy.
Girls and boys, women and men, people of color and others-each one of us has the same inner beauty, goodness, and high potential. External social pressures and conditions help shape or try to crush our spirits. Why can't everyone feel safe and secure walking alone on the street? When anyone in a society or family feels unhappy or unfulfilled, we all suffer the consequences.
Let's be mindful of our words and actions. We can learn to be more respectful and appreciative of each other, including women and people of color. Let us all work together to create the conditions for each person's growth and fulfillment!
I hear lots of people, even my parents, sounding all gloom and doom: tragedy that we went to war, economy is shaky, people's rights denied, spirits in the dumps! Seems to me we should be hopeful and helpful, especially when people are going through hard times, don't you think?
Dear Peter: I also regret our country's decisions, but I don't throw up my arms in hopelessness and withdraw, moaning! Our current situation reminds me of a story.
There was once a farmer. His land was hilly; the soil was not the best. He had a cow that wasn't giving much milk; he had chickens who were laying few eggs. The place looked run-down: barn and fences needed repair. The farmer and his wife were so dejected in spirit that they just could not manage to get the farm back on its feet.
One stormy evening, a poorly-dressed man knocked on their door, asking if he could get shelter for the night. They shared what food had been prepared, while they talked a great deal about the sad shape of the farm.
When the stranger left the following morning, he thanked the farmers for the good rest he had. As he was by the door, ready to leave, he pulled a little bag of gold pieces out of his pocket, and said that maybe this would help them. He added that he'd come by next year with hopes of finding a revived farm.
After this, the farmer and his wife often talked about whether they should buy a more promising cow. Other times they considered whether they should buy chickens who laid more eggs. However, every conversation ended with the farmer trusting the farm would improve as he found himself fixing the barn and the fences, caring for the animals, planting food for themselves, for their animals and more to sell.
The farmer beamed when the stranger really did come by again a year later. Everything looked so much better. The stranger asked, "What did you use the gold for?"
"Why," the farmer said," we had hidden the gold under the kitchen tile and, while we often thought of it, we never did think of anything we needed the gold for."
Then the farmer looked the stranger in the eye and added thoughtfully, "I do thank you, though, ever so much. You gave us what we really needed to keep going-you gave us the lift of our spirits."
Saying that, the farmer dug up the tile and cheerfully returned the gold to the stranger.
So, Peter, maybe what you and I can do is give encouragement to the "down in the dumps" folks we encounter. We can give them whatever lift they need to return to their former positive attitudes. We possess the gold that is needed to turn the world around: it is the courage and hope they experience shining from our eyes.
Send your questions or comments to:
Reflections of the Earth
I feel that it is so unfair that in order to be considered beautiful, women have to be anxious about our weight while men don't. You might say that nobody asks women to do it; they can choose not to lose weight. I agree with that. However, even though nobody asks women to be concerned with their weight, society's values pressure women to adapt to them in order to fit in.
A primary element that motivates women to lose weight is the media. Whether on TV or in magazines, there are a lot of commercials that consider only a certain type of woman beautiful. These women are mostly thin. These ads are very powerful; they gradually change people's beliefs. Ads instill those beliefs into most of the people in society, so most people have the same thinking.
Let me talk about my own experiences. When I came to Oregon, I lived in a dorm for two years. When we girls in the dorm (who were not only from America but also Russia, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and so on) hung out, the topic of conversation would often be weight. We would say, "I am so fat! Look at all the fat in here! I need to lose weight!" or "I have been eating so much lately; I need to stop eating." Sometimes, we would skip lunch or dinner because we thought we were too fat to eat. And, if any girl would lose weight, others would tell that girl that she looked good, which gave her the idea that girls look better with a slim figure. Among the girls I know, some even take diet pills; some of the pills are legal, while the origin of others is unknown.
When I was in Taiwan, I was even more aware of my body shape than I am in the United States. Because of the body type they're born with, girls in Taiwan are much slimmer than the girls in the U.S. Although the girls in Taiwan already have a slim body type, they still want to be skinnier because they think only thinness is beautiful. One reason they think this way is the female figures shown on mass media. There is one popular female host of a show in Taiwan whose height is five feet and weight is only about 90 pounds. She still wants to lose weight, though, which she frequently states on the show.
Furthermore, because of the collective culture of the Taiwanese, everyone expects each other to conform to the values shared by most of the people. Collective culture doesn't really appreciate differences. I remember one day when I was walking on the street, I heard two girls make fun of a fat girl who stood in front of us. "Geez, she is so fat," they laughed.
Likewise, most of the guys in Taiwan like slim girls more. In order to be considered beautiful by guys, some girls want to keep themselves slim. Now, I still talk about "losing weight" with my girlfriends. It's hard to resist the dominant values of society. However, now I know, deep down, that it is a wrong concept. If any of us women find anything we feel is unfair, we should definitely point it out and spread correct values. We shouldn't bear the wrong values and try to take them on. We women should know what is right for us and stick to our own beliefs. This way, we will be less affected by society's values and can really enjoy ourselves much more.
-- Li-Chuan Chiang,
The World of Women
March is Women's History Month, a time to reflect on the status of women around the globe. To move ahead, we must know our past and what it took to achieve the freedom that we now may take for granted. The history of women in every part of the world tells a different story. International Women's Day (March 8) is a time to celebrate womanhood everywhere. Women in the U.S. have struggled for civil rights through education, protest and persuasion. Women didn't even have the right to vote until the 1920s, but now there are at least a few women in Congress. Women have come a long way in the past century, but there are still barriers that we face. Many of the issues women face today cross cultural and national boundaries. The following pages contain opinions and experiences of young women from various cultures and countries. As a part of this feature, I interviewed three students: Tsitsi Melody Magaya from Zimbabwe, Siska Tjhin from Indonesia and Amal from Sudan to get their perspectives.
Emma Juhlin, Journalism student,
University of Oregon.
Amal, 22, from Sudan
I was born in Lebanon; my parents were there for higher education. Then, we moved back to Sudan, and I lived there until I was 17, when I finished my high school.
North and South
Families in Sudan tend to be huge, especially if you are from a family who has not migrated for a long time. But now it's changing because people are moving to Khartoum, the capital city, where I grew up. They go to school there and they meet people from other areas. So, it's more common now to marry someone who is outside your tribe.
In Northern Sudan, women are considered very valuable because they carry the honor of the family. Whatever happens to the female affects the reputation of the entire family. Women can go on to higher education, but for most women in Sudan, even if they're very educated, when they get married, they have to take care of the family. You live with your family until you get married.
Southern Sudan is different in many respects because the religion there is not Islam. It's mostly tribal culture and traditions, so it depends on each tribe how they treat women and what's accepted and what's not. For over 50 years, that area is a war zone. So there is no good education, no good health care, and no good facilities for anything. Life is harder in the South.
War and Women's Education
Marriage, Divorce and Polygamy
Because it is an Islamic country, polygamy is practiced in Sudan. It used to happen more in the past, but now women are getting educated and they're more self-confident and they know what they're doing, so they're more of a companion than before in so many ways. Polygamy had declined, but now it's increasing again because of the war and the men migrating outside of Sudan. The last I heard, there were 1 million women who had hit the age of 40, and still were unmarried in my country. For so many families that's not a preferred situation. If a woman is not educated and she's not married, that means her parents have to take care of her until she dies or until they die, and then her brothers have to take care of her. This is not because women are incapable. They can take care of themselves financially, but in terms of living, they have to stay with somebody. It's more of a cultural thing, because the woman is considered valuable to the family, so she's always being watched.
Traditionally, the people that talk about Islam and explain all this stuff are men. That's the problem for so many cultures that are influenced by Islam. The Book is interpreted by men, and there are all these restrictions on women because the men are in control. They give themselves the benefits: they want to be in charge, and what better way to do it than with religion, because people follow that.
When I came to the U.S., I saw there was more freedom. Sometimes I don't think lots of freedom is a good thing. Back home, even though the women are treated differently, they are sort of respected. They have a higher value in the community in many ways. We're treated like we're fragile, even though we're not. I think it's nice for a female to be treated that way. In Sudan, if a woman has a strong personality, she is the one who is in charge of the family. But in front of people, she has to show that the man is in charge of the family. The man is the head of the family, but the woman is the neck; she tells him whatever she wants to. But you're a victim if you want to be, definitely. So if you stand up and you know what your rights are, and if you act within your culture, you should be fine.
What I Would Change
(Based on an extended interview with Amal.)
Why We Have Black History Month
A Thoughtful Heart
My family has many treasures, but the most valuable one is my Grandma Conchita. I love her very much. She is special to my whole family. She is plump and her hair is short. Her hair has three colors: black like night, gray as an elephant, and white like a rabbit. She lives in Anthony, New Mexico. For the last three years since my grandpa died, she has lived alone on a ranch that grows pecans. She has two dogs to keep her company, Ruby and Maya, plus a cat and fish.
My grandma speaks Spanish; she doesn't really understand English. Each time I call her to say hi, she says, "Hola, mi princesa." That means, "Hello, my princess." My grandma is very thoughtful. She buys us limes when they are on sale; if we're not home, she leaves them in our mailbox. She is like a third mother to me. First is the Virgin Mary, second is my mom, and third is her. When I spend the night at my grandma's, we sometimes make gorditas or tortillas. For Christmas, my grandma Conchita gives us pecans because she has too many.
I love my grandma very much and would never ask for another one.
-- Kristina Dominguez, 12,
El Paso, Texas.
The Plight of Girls with Disabilities in Nigeria
Nigeria is known as the most populous black nation in the world, with a population of about 120 million people, of which slightly less than half are women. However, women are seen and treated as second-class citizens, with little or no opportunity for self-discovery and development. So, you can only imagine the hardship that Nigerian girls with disabilities suffer: they suffer twice, once for being female and again for their disability. First, about the hardship of being a girl: In Nigeria, girls have a lower status and enjoy fewer of the rights, opportunities and benefits of childhood than boys. This is because many believe that sons will provide more economic support for the parents. Sons are also the ones to carry the family name. On the other hand, girls leave home at marriage and subsequently become their husband's 'property.'
Since girls are usually not sent to school in some parts of Nigeria, the education of a disabled girl is simply seen as an even greater waste of time and resources. So naturally, girls with disabilities bear a major share of the burden of poverty; lacking an education, they can't get jobs. Most times, a girl with a disability is seen as a social embarrassment to her family because she is not seen as marriageable. She is often considered unable to be a'good wife' or a 'good mother' and therefore may be forced to remain in her paternal home for the rest of her life.
This, in turn, is a source of shame for the family, which leads the family to discriminate against her and hide her away from public view. She has no place in society. In addition, she usually has a poor-self image because of the emphasis society places on women's physical beauty.
Meanwhile, the access needs of girls with disabilities is being ignored. For instance, reproductive health information is not produced in a format accessible to blind girls (e.g. Braille). Also, health care workers are not trained to understand the special needs of girls with disabilities. Most often, the attitudes of health care workers about disability discourages them from seeking medical attention; this has led to a high incidence of ill health and death among Nigerian girls with disabilities.
Even worse, the reproductive rights of girls with disabilities is increasingly being violated. Teenage, disabled girls are made to undergo sterilization. The mentally challenged are the hardest hit. Men with learning difficulties or mental challenges are usually not forced into sterilization.
Since, there are no strong laws that can be enforced in Nigerian courts to protect the human and reproductive rights of women with disabilities, organizations are springing up to fight for their rights. Fortunately, we are now beginning to record some successes in this direction.
-- Ekaete Judith Umoh,
About the Author
The Bald Eagle Shadow
What's my future? As usual it is the most interesting question that every person asks him or herself. Everyone dreams of the best for themselves. On the other hand, not everyone is concerned about the future of the whole world.
I believe that war is one of the biggest problems of humankind. It is like an awful habit to fight with one another,which brings destruction, harm and suffering.
I think that technologies should continue developing in the field of rational use of natural resources. People should begin to use solar energy in order to save gas, oil, etc.
Although we have so many problems to solve, we should see positive things, too. I believe that a good mood, strong optimism and hope will help us to make the best decisions and to find the best way of realizing them.
In my future I want to get a university education, become a professional and a respectable person needed by other people. One of my dreams is to create an international friendship club without any limitations of age, nationality, religion, occupation, etc. Members will come from all over the world. We will be in touch with one another by e-mail or by post, and hold meetings in one country and then another. We will discuss various topics, members can teach each other their native languages, and they will speak about their cultures. Later maybe this club will establish a little fund to assist friends in need. I think it is a real opportunity to help people in many ways: discussing problems, mutual understanding and cooperation. I believe it will be one step in the right direction. While we can't make a big difference alone, we could unite to make our future prosperous and happy. We should learn to live in harmony with nature and with one another.
May peace prevail on Earth.
-- Vitaly Ionesov, 17,
Skipping Stones Magazine