Sexuality Education As Justice Making
This is not the blog I had intended to post. I’m scrambling at the last minute, putting aside my original work. I tossed and turned all night thinking about our work as sexuality educators and the profound impact we can have on cultural attitudes towards poverty; specifically its effect on women and girls. You are probably not surprised given the comments I made in class about this issue.
My restlessness was brought on by going to the movie theatre last night to celebrate International Women’s Day organized by the authors of Half the Sky and CARE (a humanitarian organization). The set-up was a live concert streamed from the Skirball center at NYU, which included musical performances by artists like India Arie and Diane Birch. Several celebrities read excerpts of women’s stories from the book (Marisa Tomei, Maria Bello, Sarah Ferguson). It also featured a short film of one of the stories of a girl named Woinshet from Ethiopia. She was the victim of the cultural practice of bride abduction, where a girl is kidnapped and raped by a man who then forces her to marry him afterward to avoid paying a dowry as well as any punishment for the rape. It was the first of several documentaries to be made into a TV series that will tell these women’s stories to an even wider audience.
Half the Sky, through its Pulitzer-prize wining authors, exposes three major abuses of women: sex trafficking and forced prostitution; gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape; maternal mortality, which needlessly claims one woman a minute.
During the panel discussion each panelist responded similarly to the question of what can be done: EDUCATION. The dominant theme of this presentation was the power of education. It is one of the Millennium goals of the United Nations (United Nations, 2000). There are groups of people, including Woinshet, who travel throughout Ethiopia educating women AND men.
This is some SERIOUS education. This is not like writing a lesson plan on how to effectively use a condom or the benefits of masturbation. I can’t imagine a koosh ball activity that could stop a group of men from gang raping a young girl.
I expect to be confronted with the effects of poverty on sexuality in my work here in the United States. I expect this because poverty is very real here. The 2006 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that 13.3% of Americans live in poverty. Women and children represent a significant portion of this population (Michigan Domestic Violence and Treatment Board, 2008).
How can we maximize our effectiveness in this culture of poverty? Research shows an undeniable link between poverty and sexual violence (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, 2007). To me it is the “ism” that is at the root of many of the other “isms” we encounter.
Sarah Ferguson suggested that each of us develop a discipline of gratitude and that this discipline be the basis for our efforts. Then we act.
Today’s blog asks you to identify your gratitude, to claim it; then to ponder how you as an educator can act. Think about the career path you may choose, the curriculum and programs you will create, the organizations with which you will associate, your relationships with colleagues, the dissertation you will write. On our first day of class, Dr. Dyson asked us to consider the role of culture and other influences on our community partners/target group.
How does poverty influence your group in any way? I look forward to your responses.
And to a good night’s sleep.
Kristof, N. and WuDunn, S. (2009). Half the sky. Knopf Publishers, New York:New York
Michigan Domestic Violence and Treatment Board (2008). The intersection of poverty and sexual violence. Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/poverty/DHS-Poverty_DomViolence-Report_239087_7.pdf
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (2007). Poverty and sexual violence: building prevention and intervention responses. Retrieved from http://www.pcar.org/resources/poverty.pdf
United Nations Millennium Development Goals (2000). Retrieved March 5, 2010 from http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/