Empowering Women in India

After a trip to India, a woman was inspired to help change the lives of the women she met.

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Mary Elizabeth Heard started her business, Marigold & Co, with the mission of using social entrepreneurship to create job opportunities and empower women in rural India.

Her current products include all-cotton pajamas, wallets, and jewelry. Her brand supports ethical production and sustainability.

“I went to India for the first time a little over a year ago last summer. While I was there, it was definitely this crazy experience what I understood about the world didn’t really make sense anymore. I was really struck by how many people there were living in such poverty” said Heard.

“ And I think the main thing that you can see is just that there aren’t enough jobs for people. The government— they’re definitely are taking steps forward, coming up with programs, but in this village I spent two weeks in, most of the people there are unemployed and then the government has started this program where they’ll hire people but can only hire them 100 days a year and only pay them 100 rupees a day, which is a little over a dollar.  It’s just not enough for them to run a household.”

In high school, Heard had a business where she was designing jewelry and custom gowns for events and things for people.

“When I went there, someone had told this woman who started an orphanage in this village, her name’s Viji—someone told her about my business in high school. She approached me and was like ‘hey I heard you had a successful business and she was like what if you started it here and had the women making the things that you design’”, said Heard.

Heard decided to pursue this and went back in December 2016, doing a trial run.

She went to Chennai to shop for materials including leather, cotton, and silk. She brought the material back to the village, Hanumanthapuram, and hired a couple women, teaching them how to make it.

She returned in June 2017 and had them set up more long term. She witnessed a lot of what the women had to go through and experienced it herself as well.

“I think while I was there, I very much for the first time, felt like such a feminist. I felt so taken aback the way I was treated as a woman and the way I saw other women being treated and subordinated and kept down,” said Heard.

“A lot of them don’t have equal opportunity to education. They’re valuable based on their marriage, like it has to do with much money their husband is gonna get. Women can’t go to funerals. I’m not saying this is all over because I’ve only been to a few places in India.”

“But for instance in the village, someone passed away and all the men in our group got invited to go to the funeral but the women just put their hands out and pushed us back and were like no women can’t go to the funeral because their tears are weak, I know there’s some kind of cultural significance there. And not that I want to go somewhere and assert my own opinion of what is right or wrong, in terms of something that’s been intact in them for a long time. But I did feel very strongly about the fact that women were not being treated well in a lot of ways and there’s room for improvement.”

Heard now hires four women. For three of them, this is their only source of income in their home and they all have children. And three of the four’s husbands are out of work and are alcoholics.

The women are really excited about the opportunity and said they always wanted to learn a skill, to know a craft. No one ever taught them, they just grew up in the village, said Heard.

Heard’s long term goals involving doing some production in the United States in order to grow the business and work towards greater profits to do larger scale projects.

Heard graduated December 2018 and will be moving to India for a couple months.

“I want to make sure that whatever project I bring— because I want to bring more job opportunities to the village—I want to make sure that whatever I do really fits their culture well, fits their geography, and is like appropriate for what their needs are.”

“I’m open to a lot of things and want to do a lot of research but ultimately I want to bring something that’s going to provide a lot of jobs and I think that’d be exciting.”



 

And So Now We March

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We saw social revolution when women fought for the right to vote, when women started going to work.

Women were finally allowed to receive an education. And now women today go to college at a higher rate than men.

But women are being vocal saying that’s still not enough.

It’s not enough until women are treated equally and given equal opportunities.

The list of women’s issues continues including sexual assault, harassment, sex and human trafficking, domestic violence, unequal pay, workplace discrimination, lack of reproductive rights, and so on.

This includes all women, women of color, single mothers, and women from around the world.

Instead of old white men deciding what to do with women’s bodies, how about women decide.

(If you want to ban abortion, but want to ban birth control…you need to make up your mind.)

We’ve heard stories of older generation women sharing that it was normal for men to pinch their cheeks and call them sweetie.

Now women are demanding respect. And if that pisses off people, well that’s too bad.

And we're sorry not sorry for ignoring your catcalls. Sorry not sorry for being "bitchy."

When a girl is brave enough to tell you she’s been raped, how about you ask her how’s she doing instead of asking what she was wearing and if she was drinking.

And so now we march. For every girl who’s been assaulted and unbelieved. We march.

For women who work twice as hard and get paid half as much, we march.

For women who have been fired for taking maternity leave, we march.

For women who have been shamed for needing an abortion, we march.

For women of color, who face double discrimination and are often less believed, we march.

For women who have been dealt with and even been killed from domestic abuse, we march.

For women who have been vulnerable and trafficked, we march.

For women around the world, who have even less rights, who still face forced marriages, abusive marriages, and less opportunities, we march.

Now women are saying Me Too. They are breaking the silence. They are giving birth to a movement.

Now with women unifying, there’s nothing that can stop us.

 

Photo by Women's March. 

We Support Single Mothers, Women in STEM, Women of Color, and a Space for Women

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“When I came to Westmont College, I never realized the significance of being a woman really had. I didn’t know women were really treated differently because I was adopted by a single mother. She chose to be a mother and she knew she could raise me by herself and that’s why she chose to adopt me. A lot of single mothers or single women in general don’t always necessarily choose to adopt children because they may not believe it’s always possible for them. Coming to Westmont, I’ve always been surrounded by women growing up.

I think the first time I realized that there’s a lot of pressure on women was when I took a physics class. I was the only woman and I felt instantaneous pressure. And not only was I the only woman, I was also the only African American female. In class, I always thought about what I did, about what I would say, the type of questions I would ask. I didn’t want all the men around me to think of me as a representation of all the women, and be like well yeah she would ask a dumb question because she’s a woman and she doesn’t understand science and kind of those preconceived notions that women don’t necessarily belong in the sciences. That class was just so hard.

I think it was when I found out that there existed a BSU, Black Student Union, on my college campus. Basically it’s a gathering of people interested in talking about black culture and all the things that go along with that—just there being that space for that type of community and connection to be built so we can talk about a lot of the things we all experience. That’s when I found out there’s an organization for women and there’s just the need for symbolism for women that they know there’s a place for them that they can gather and speak about their experiences and have a community to build upon for each other and be allies to each other to make a difference in the world.”

Embracing your Identity

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“I’m from a family of 7 kids. I have 5 sisters and 1 brother. So there’s a lot of women.

I’ve always been surrounded by women. I grew up in Kenya.

Generally speaking, I think of people in authority—the police in Kenya—I know that some people view women as property. A topic that popped up in my mind is domestic violence, like the police in Kenya. The police are underpaid in Kenya and have to share quarters in other families. But that’s not an excuse to be abusive and take it out on their wives.

So who do you report to when it's within the police family.

I also come from a Christian background. My mom always tell my sisters that men out there are just after one thing— objectifying women and using women as their trophy. And I think that’s really common.

Most African cultures have polygamy. The more rich and wealthy the man is, the more wives he has. I think it may stem from that but I’m not saying that’s all African culture.

There’s still a lot of rights that women don’t have, or even that they have but they’re constrained from really exercising their rights.

I’m going off of what I’ve heard because I moved here when I was 16. When it comes to my own family, we were not raised in that conception.

Through that Christian lens, my dad was the head of my family. But if it wasn’t for my mom, my family wouldn’t be where it is now. She’s always holding us together. I really value the strength of a woman, especially my mom.

I didn’t really think of myself as less than men. Also moving here, I remember a time at a women of color conference for UCSB students. These are two groups that are oppressed which someone had phrased that way. But how I look at it, I see those as also strengths. I see it as, no that’s not the part of my identity that I should see as a weakness, but that’s my identity, that’s my strength.

It’s actually powerful to be a woman and a woman of color. I see the oppression with my friends, my family, and people around me but I can use that as tools in order to be the change agent. It just really builds resiliency, you just have to learn how to survive and thrive.

Yes I have my identity as a black woman, as a African woman, and also my identity as a Christian. That’s another powerful identity because that also changes my lens through which I see the world.

The past 2 years, I went to India for this organization, All Ladies League. I got to go to this conference and automatically become the chapter chair for Santa Barbara.

Each year they have a different team. It’s basically bringing women from all backgrounds, from different sectors—they’re people from all the continents. There was this great energy. I feel like if it’s women leading something, it’s going to be different, it’s going to be balanced.

I do feel that this is a time women are rising up and raising their voices and I do think this is needed. There is a lot of wrong in the world and healing needs to happen. I believe women are the nurturers and we bring creativity.

For such a long time, there’s been oppression and imbalance. We need that balance of women rising up in their strengths. We need that balance of healing. Women naturally are peacemakers. I think there’s a lot of gifts that we have to bring to the world.

For a long time, we’ve been silent. And this is a time I’ve been hearing women rising up and women being empowered and women using their gifts.

Even within the church, there’s those parallels of oppression. Some are subtle.

Some denominations, women are not allowed to preach. God wants there to be that rising up. It may feel like a shift but yeah if someone’s been oppressed and rising up, there’s gonna be a shift.

There was men at the conference and it was great because there are conversations needed where men are listening and learning from us. A lot of things we go through is centered around men’s perspective. Bridging women from different cultures, generations, and backgrounds was great.”

 

Meet Odile

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“I was born and raised in Rwanda. I just moved here two years ago for school. I’m a sophomore and I’m pursuing biochemistry. I want to go to medical school after my four years.

I am the firstborn of four kids back home. As a girl and as a firstborn at the same time, my parents just raised me really to kind of help me think of me as if a person who has full potential. Not just because I’m a woman and then I’m maybe less or something. They really, especially my dad used to tell me that I can do anything as long as I want to and as long as I work hard for that. It kind of helped me to view myself not as the less person, until still today.

I grew up in a culture where women were considered less. And to me, men and women are the same people. But if I can say, the worldview of the past of thinking is that women can’t do anything. But I think we are getting better which is really good. Also in the U.S., like last year— in the past I don’t even think women would be involved in elections but now they can which is a huge step. If anything, we still have a huge way to go.

It kind of makes me sad when I hear that women and men don’t get paid the same way but yet they make the same contributions. They took the same classes and have the same degrees, but they don’t get paid the same. And I”m like why is it like that. Why can’t people get what they had earned for, just because they have different genders.

We have come from so far and I’m sure we’ll get further but these are issues that need to be addressed.

I know men and women are different, God gave us different gifts and different capabilities. There are things we can do that men can’t do, and there are things they can do that are hard for us but that doesn’t mean we can’t. It just means it’s maybe harder for us but we can do it.

I just want to see the world as a place where everyone feels they are not limited to reach their dreams, whether they are men or women. Just like my parents raised me to be. I think this is something that has to be done with everyone. Even women have to live it, in their daily lives. Like if you feel like you are less than your male friend, then how is he going to respect you.

You’re the first person to respect yourself. And to show the world that you can. And then people will take from that and learn from that and change their mindset. So that’s what I think women should do.

But also men should remember that they are men because there was a woman in their life. We are all born from women. And I know both people are needed to make that happen, but we should also value that in women. They are life-givers. We should start from that and see them as people who don’t just bring their soul to the world, but bring life to the world.

I’m really grateful to where we are today. People have stood up to advocate for women’s rights. But I’m not satisfied yet. I want to see more. I want to see better. I want to see a world where everyone feels capable and included.”

 

Nancy Wang Yuen, author of Reel Inequality, addresses sexism and racism in Hollywood

“We’re in a very historical moment where women, and men, are coming forward in mass,” said Yuen.

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There is a problem of victim blaming and victim shaming. Women deal with post-traumatic stress from sexual assault. Women of color deal with double harassment. Women of color tend to be less believed than white women. This was reflected with Harvey as well when he refuted Lupita but not the white women who accused him.

The women assaulted by Cosby weren’t as famous and were mostly women of color so they weren’t heard as much.

A lot of women growing up may feel like they’re the only one and have to keep silent.

Racism and sexism have been perpetuated by humor. For example. David Cross defends his racist comments to Charlyne Yi, saying he was joking and playing a character.

Yuen’s studies shows the inequality gaps between men and women. Out of 900, there were 34 female directors between 2007 and 2016. Women have 32% of speaking roles. 12% of 900 films had balanced casts.

There is a lack of female actors from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. 

“You’re just as likely to see an alien woman than an Asian woman,” Yuen said.

Women deal with objectification in movie roles. 25.9% are in sexy attire, 25.6% nudity,  and 10.79% attractive. Objectification starts very young in Hollywood. 13-20 year olds are just as likely as 21-29 year olds to be in sexy attire.

No acting oscar has gone to Asians, Latina/os, or indigenous people in the last 15 years. Best supporting actresses has been 89% white. There’s hasn’t been a woman of color since Halle Berry.

Film is influential in everyday people and you socialize what you think of people groups from what you seen on the screen. So how people of color and women are portrayed shapes how society views them.



 

A Young Woman Shares her View on #MeToo

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“What really intrigued me about that campaign was how many women jumped on board with it. Right when I heard about it, I thought it was pretty crazy. This is something that’s never, ever been done before—women talking about being sexually abused. So I looked it up and basically she tweeted #metoo if you have ever been sexually assaulted or abused. And 60,000 women within two hours had responded to that saying #metoo. And I’m sure it’s skyrocketed even more now. That was just so incredible to me— the severity of this, of sexual abuse, of abuse inflicted upon women. And I feel having that space to openly share what has happened to you, especially as a woman, that we have such a need to vocalize and share about the abuse, about the experience, about what we felt.

I think the amazing thing about this campaign is how it opened up the ground, to soften the ground, for women to come forward and share in detail what they experienced. And not only focusing on the darkness and the negative aspect of it, but also sharing how they’d grown. Because they’re survivors. It’s a miracle that all of these women are still here. Because I’ve experienced sexual abuse. I’ve never been raped which I can’t even imagine, but even having sexual abuse was like very traumatizing. I can see why a woman would feel shattered and like the world would be better off without her, and I don’t know the statistic, but why so many women commit suicide after being raped. It’s like a common thing that happens.

I think men need to know how we feel. Because oftentimes it’s just done and no one hears about it, it’s swept under the rug. There’s no justice, especially in colleges. I think that’s even more devastating for that to happen to you. Because it takes a lot of courage to go then tell in detail what happened, relive it, to a police officer, or to someone who’s questioning you, and then to have them not do anything about that.”

Now is the Time and We are the Women

A Letter from the Creator of Birth of Reason

As women gather at this time in our history we are doing so out of reaction. Millions of us marched after the election but the pink pussy hat was a reaction to Donald Trump and his pussy grabbing, #MeToo is the reaction to Harvey Weinstein and his sexual predator behavior. But do we really want to be reacting or do we want to be proactive? What do we do? How do we grow into a meaningful movement? What are the elements that create this shift? What are the important factors and how can we all come together?

I believe that this is the time for the Birth of Reason and the unifying symbol for the women’s movement worldwide. It is what we all need now. As you all know, I began this process right after the election in November 2016. I had a vision of the egg with the earth emerging from it at the United Nations during a women’s peace circle. Today I know that I have been called to create a world that empowers all women through this symbol.

Our women’s movement needs it’s very own branding. Instead of waiting and reacting, we must take the reins and actively sculpt our future. We are the women and we are being called to make the change on this planet.

We are asking you to help us do this work. We are about to launch a new and improved version of the Birth of Reason website. At this time we have some products, necklaces, temporary tattoos and patches to sell. The next step is to find the NGOs that would like to make products with our symbol on them. In doing so we will help to support their message in the world and we will create a larger marketplace for our symbol.

We have also begun a weekly blog that we would love for women to become involved in. We are hoping to call all women young or old, black or white, straight or lesbian, Muslim or Hindu - all women to write about their experiences and to inform and inspire others.

We are also looking at creating a podcast, once again asking women throughout the world to interview each other on their phones and recording devices, and submit it to Birth of Reason so that we can put together a weekly podcast on issues that are concerning to women around the world.

We want to be the place that you go when you’re looking for answers, inspiration, and above all else, a resting place where you are understood and heard. For millennia women have always gathered around the watering hole in their small villages to talk about their pain and suffering and to express their joy and gratitude in life. We need to make the Birth of Reason our new watering hole.

Please help us to create a deep and meaningful website and a place that the branding of the women’s movement can be birthed. It’s not about one woman, it’s not about one issue, it’s not about one political view, it is about all that we stand for together as sisters. Because today is the day that we take the power back and become the balance for the world that we want to see. Together we must help create the safety and nurturing of our planet and our future.

 

With love and gratitude,

Judi Weisbart - Birth of Reason Founder