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Shivani Gopal

Shivani Gopal

November 26, 2021
| Womens Advocacy

Founder's Weekly 5th Nov 2021: TITS, nudes, contraception and Michelle Wu

From ending women’s poverty to liberating women’s bodies.

Fellow remarkable community,

There has been so much to celebrate this week, from little Cleo Smith being reunited with her parents after going missing for 17 days to all the amazing women who spoke at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow. This is especially when the link between climate change and birth control has such wide-ranging consequences for females who face greater risks and burdens from its impacts, particularly in situations of poverty.

I was also thrilled to hear that an Australian woman has been victorious in having archaic rules overturned that required female beach handball players to wear bikinis while competing. However, Elon Musk’s sexist tweets and the senator blaming rising pornography viewing on the scourge of feminism had me shaking my head. 

It’s truly amazing that one week can contain such forward and backward thinking at the same time so let’s unpack it together and dig right in...

Why access to contraception is vital to reduce women’s poverty 

A global organisation that provides health services to women and girls in vulnerable countries has explained the disturbing link between climate change, birth control and poverty in the third world.

As world leaders gathered at the UN’s COP26 in Glasgow this week, MSI Reproductive Choices (formerly known as Marie Stopes International) warned that 14 million women are at risk of losing access to contraception due to climate-related displacement.

An analysis from MSI across 26 countries, where they operate, has found that since 2011 an estimated 11.5 million women have had their access to contraception disrupted due to climate-related displacement. Unless contraceptive access is protected, the global safe abortion and contraception provider expects this to rise, with 14 million more at risk of losing access over the next decade, with devastating consequences:

  • 2 million unintended pregnancies
  • 1 million unsafe abortions
  • 5800 maternal deaths

Sanou Gning, regional director at MSI Reproductive Choices said: “It's a grave injustice that the women and girls most affected by the climate emergency are those who have contributed the least. In Senegal where I am from, coastal erosion has forced many families to leave their homes and move into makeshift camps. What my teams are hearing loud and clear from a lot of women living in these vulnerable areas, is that getting pregnant during a crisis is the last thing they want. It’s vital that we listen to what they are telling us.”

MSI believes that if we are to solve the climate crisis, climate action must acknowledge existing gender inequalities and ensure that women and girls can take part in finding the solutions.

With reproductive choice, girls are better able to finish their education and pursue their careers, providing them with more economic stability and agency when facing a disaster. With reproductive autonomy, women are also better placed to take on decision-making roles at a community and national level, enabling them to have a seat at the table in finding climate solutions.

Binetou Sonko, President of the Baba Yaye Association, rebuilding local mangroves in Joal, Senegal, said: “Resources are scarce now because of climate change. If women can’t choose if or when to become pregnant, their lives and those of their children become difficult. Thanks to family planning, we can support ourselves, look after our children and get on with everyday activities. This is why we use contraception, to reclaim our lives.”

It follows the Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement on Gender Equality and Climate Change - jointly-sponsored by the Scottish Government and UN Women - during COP26, which calls for the role of women and girls to be advanced in addressing climate change was launched at COP26.

The statement recognises that women and girls are often disproportionately affected by climate change and face greater risks and burdens from its impacts, particularly in situations of poverty.

UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous said: “We can only achieve our collective goal and responsibility of reducing emissions to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius if women and girls are part of the response. Today’s statement is a powerful tool in sustaining the growing momentum of women’s and girls’ leadership and innovation in climate action. I call on women leaders to make concrete commitments by signing it.” Read the full statement here.

COP26 featured so many inspiring speeches by women committed to fighting climate change. Among them was Samoan climate activist Brianna Fruean who exemplified Bahous’ statement on women and girls being part of the solution saying: 

“I remember, at primary school, my teacher telling my class that climate change could mean small islands like Samoa, Tutuila and Tonga might drown. I just thought, “I’m not going to let my islands drown...We are not just victims to this crisis, we have been resilient beacons of hope. Pacific youth have rallied behind the cry ‘We are not drowning, we are fighting’. This is our warrior cry to the world.”

Watch her full speech here.

The fact of the matter is that young women are misrepresented as an entitled, distracted, apathetic cohort, the furthest from what they truly are. The evidence from COP26 has consistently dismayed this notion. Young women are turning heads, taking charge and creating a contagion of fierce, deliberate and unstoppable progress towards a better future for all environments, genders, cultures and futures. Seeing that passion for positive change affirmed on the world stage is truly exciting and invigorating.

Elon Musk sinks to new low with sexist STEM tweet

Remember that eye roll from last week? Cue it again. Is it any wonder why women are wary of careers in STEM when tech leaders such as Elon Musk think it’s appropriate to make trashy boob jokes on Twitter?

Earlier this week, Musk proposed opening a school called the Texas Institute of Technology and Science. In a thread, he added, “it will have epic merch, universally admired.”

When someone suggested swapping “technology” and “science” so the latter came first (on the premise that “technological breakthroughs almost always follow scientific breakthroughs”), Musk replied: “Nope, T is def first.”

Why? Because if you swapped the letters, the acronym would no longer be TITS.

Uh, sorry? Hello? Elon? Honey, what’s wrong with you? 

And to prove we’re not overthinking it, when Twitter user Morgan Sarkissian replied “It’s official @elonmusk likes and supports boobies”, Musk wrote back: “What gave it away!?”

And this is right about when my entire inner being went:

“I heard sexualizing women is a top-down, systemic issue in tech. Might be wrong though idk,” Cher Scarlett, one of the leaders of the AppleToo anti-harassment group at Apple, tweeted sarcastically in response. Read the full thread here.

It’s a distasteful move by Musk, who has almost 62 million followers on Twitter. Even more disappointing is the fact the tweet has received more than half a million likes. (Don’t get me started on his phallic profile picture.)

Musk should set a better example as the face of two important tech companies – Tesla and SpaceX.

As Eric Wenger, senior director for technology policy and government affairs at Cisco, tweeted: “Honestly. As a shareholder and customer, this is really a puzzling and disappointing attempt at humour. We are trying to encourage more women to pursue technology degrees and careers. I cannot see how this helps that effort in any way.”

Last year, Tesla released its first diversity and inclusion report, which highlighted that 79% of its workforce in the United States is male. At a leadership level,  the representation of men goes up to 83%. Women hold just 17% of “director” and “vice president” positions.

The report said: “Increasing women’s representation at all levels, especially in leadership, is a top priority in 2021. We are taking active steps to increase our outreach to women and build an inclusive culture that supports their development and retention.”

However, the attitude of Elon McMusky, Tesla’s CEO, clearly says otherwise.

A survey by Accenture and Girls Who Code found that half of the women in tech roles leave their jobs by the time they’re 35, with 37%—the largest percentage—citing “non-inclusive company culture” as their main reason for quitting.

So, executives making tit jokes? Yeah, as Augustana College Assistant Director & Student Employment Coordinator Andy Shearouse tweeted: “Not cool, dude.”

The senator who thinks feminism is driving men to pornography

Far-right US senator Josh Hawley, has given a speech at National Conservatism Conference in Florida suggesting feminism is responsible for increased pornography viewing.

Hawley, 41, said: “Can we be surprised that after years of being told that they are the problem, that their manhood is the problem, more and more men are withdrawing into the enclave of idleness and pornography and video games?”

Hawley also attributed the supposed decline in masculinity to issues including unemployment, people marrying at a later age and the preservation of liberty.

“The left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic. They want to define the traditional masculine virtues—things like courage and independence and assertiveness—as a danger to society,” he said, before claiming that this is the reason why “American men are working less, getting married in fewer numbers,” and “suffering more anxiety and depression,” and why men are “leaving higher education in record numbers.”

Let’s unpack this. So Hawley, the son of a banker who attended private school before studying at Stanford and Yale and is now a successful, well-paid politician with three children and a wife who’s a practicing attorney, feels his manhood is under attack.

My thoughts on this are “uh, okay, and what? Did you expect to...achieve something with that little rant?”

As you can tell, I’m not buying it. What Josh Hawley doesn’t understand about feminism is that it’s about equality for all, regardless of their gender. The “traditional” values he is touting for men won’t solve the issue of young men are skipping university, not working, still living at home and committing suicide at higher rates. The burden of being expected to uphold those senile outlooks on traditional masculinity is part of the problem! 

Men - and women - need to feel supported to be themselves, not pressured to conform to a crusty and conservative view of what’s acceptable.

Creating a more even playing field is an opportunity for both sexes to share the burdens AND the triumphs of society’s ever-growing, deepening and empathic awakening to diversity, acceptance and inclusivity.

Beach handball players celebrate end to bikini bottom mandate

An Australian woman has helped overturn a deplorable rule requiring female beach handball players to wear bikini bottoms rather than shorts during games.

The Norwegian women’s beach handball team was penalised for wearing shorts rather than bikini bottoms during the Euro 2021 tournament and were hit with fines of €1,500 ($2,400 AUD) by the International Handball Federation (IHF) for their “improper clothing”. The news provoked outrage around the world.

A change.org petition – called “Drop the fine and let them wear shorts!” – was launched by Talitha Stone, an Aussie living in Norway. It received 61,421 signatures.

Stone noted: “Global research shows the number of girls playing sport is declining because they are self-conscious about their bodies and attracting unwanted attention. Forcing women to wear bikini bottoms sends a bad message to all girls that sport isn’t about fitness and enjoyment, but about putting your body on display.”

Previously, while men are allowed to play in tops and shorts “no longer than four inches above the knee” in beach handball, women were forced to wear midriff tops and bikini bottoms that must be “cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg” with a maximum side width of 10 centimetres.

The new rules allow female players to wear "short tight pants with a close fit”.

Stone tweeted: "I hope this is the beginning of the end of sexism and objectification of women and girls in sport, and that in future ALL women and girls will be free to participate in sport without fear of wardrobe malfunctions and sexual harassment!"

No one should be forced to wear revealing clothing that they are uncomfortable in. It’s infuriating that it took global condemnation to make the IHF see that.

Nude photos break down taboos about women ageing

A new empowering and body-image revolutionary book by photographer Jocelyn Lee called “Sovereign” features nude portraits of women ranging from their mid-fifties to their early nineties, aimed at breaking down taboos about ageing.

In the pieces, women reveal their spectacular wrinkles, sags and scars for the camera. The results? A beautiful and awe-inspiring reminder that aging women are magnificently sensual, wonderful, beguiling and more than worthy of visibility.   

“It’s time we revolutionise the image world and flood it full of real women in real bodies, feeling sensual and wonderful in their very human skin,” Lee said.

“The whole image culture of social media, and our culture in general, is squashed into this tiny, little range of what beauty is — it’s both cruel and destructive, especially the way it bakes into the brains of young people. The culture is so biased towards youth and Instagram and plastic surgery and a certain way of looking — that is not OK.”

One of Lee’s subjects, Nancy, who is 80, posed with her grandniece Maine, who told the New Yorker the image makes her happy because the pair look so alike.

“It’s like seeing myself in 60 years, and I sort of love that,” she said. “I think Nancy is beautiful.”

An age stigma abolition is rising and to witness it in such an honest, expressive and mesmerising way is so, so special.  

Michelle Wu: Breaking a 200-year-old pattern of white male mayors 

Michelle Wu, Boston’s first person of colour elected as mayor. This deserves a more celebratory GIF so here you go:  

You’re welcome. 

This victory comes after Kim Janey stepped in as Acting Mayor of Boston, the first Black female mayor, back in March this year. 

Wu, the daughter of  Taiwanese immigrants, shattered Boston’s long 200-year-old history of electing white male mayors. Her campaign policy agenda, capturing such current global needs within Boston’s society and economy, reads: 

“This moment is a call to action. To me, that means thinking big about how to build a more resilient, healthy, and fair Boston, and then having the courage and political will to fight for all of our families. We can make real investments in education, food access, and good jobs. We can build wealth in our communities by closing the racial wealth gap and supporting small businesses and local entrepreneurship…” 

The power, passion and urgency you just read is very much rooted in family, opportunity and community. I look forward to seeing Wu breathe life into these endeavours because these values are not uncommon, they’re values that we each hold dear to ourselves. 

But, this isn’t Wu’s first time destroying glass ceilings. Add Boston’s first Asian American city councilman in 2013 and Boston City Council’s first woman of colour president from 2016 to 2018 to her list of incredible achievements. What a remarkable woman! 

And so, I’m ending this week’s wrap with a segment from Wu’s victory speech where she mentioned that one of her sons had asked her if “sons can be elected mayor of Boston” to which she replied “they have been, and they will someday again, but not tonight”. “On this day, Boston elected your mom because from every corner of our city, Boston has spoken."

Until next week,
Shivani

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