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Posts Tagged ‘women’

Photo: Paul Stremple.
Beatrice Karore, a community leader involved in peace building during Kenya’s elections, stands outside a local vocational college in Mathare that served as a polling station.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Often they are women. We know that not all women are peacemakers, but many are. They see where differences of opinion can get out of hand and take action.

Today’s article is about peacemakers in Kenya trying to change the pattern of violent election periods. The story was written before the country’s Supreme Court made its decision on the recount. If you can’t stand suspense, skip to the end.

Mukelwa Hlatshwayo writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “The Kenyan presidential elections are over, but peace campaigner Beatrice Karore’s work is not done.

“One recent cloudy morning in Nairobi, the founder of Wanawake Mashinani – Swahili for Grassroots Women – walks to her office in Mathare, one of the most densely populated slum areas in the Kenyan capital. 

“Sliding a heavy-duty padlock off a thick metal door, Ms. Karore and her team file into the tiny room that serves as their headquarters, and sit on blue plastic chairs. Over loud music blaring from a nearby shop, Ms. Karore begins with a prayer for a good ‘walk for the peace’ ahead.

“Ms. Karore is one of dozens of grassroots peace activists across the country who sprang into action in the months leading up to Kenya’s Aug. 9 presidential elections. Now, as the country waits for a final verdict on disputed results, that work has become increasingly important.

“The Supreme Court is due to hand down a judgment on Sept. 5, after opposition candidate Raila Odinga challenged official results that showed him losing to William Ruto by a margin of 200,000 votes. A former prime minister, Mr. Odinga has blamed five previous presidential election losses on rigging – claims that have sparked deadly riots in the past. 

“For now, an uneasy calm is holding. But some campaigners fear the Supreme Court verdict could yet unleash the violence that followed disputed polls in 2007, when more than 1,200 people were killed, and again in 2017, when more than 100 people died. 

“As her team walk out of their modest office into narrow passageways crammed with shacks, Ms. Karore says she knows the current lull is far from guaranteed. ‘We [are still] doing peace campaigns to empower the community,’ she says.

‘We realized that when there is no peace, everyone loses.’ …

“Some analysts believe that the relatively peaceful election campaign, in which the main candidates ran on social and economic issues, rather than demanding voters’ ethnic loyalty, points to a maturing democracy. 

“Widely touted reforms to the electoral process, including the effective registration of voters in the diaspora, may have given more Kenyans a sense of greater transparency. And battered by two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and rising costs of living, most Kenyans would prefer to accept the Supreme Court verdict than go to an election rerun, analysts say. …

“The manner in which Kenyans navigate the decision by the court will set a precedent for future disputes across Africa. … Even if the fragile peace holds, electoral watchers caution it will take more than one election cycle to show Kenya has left violence in the past. …

“For the past two presidential elections, Ms. Karore’s team has organized the kind of ‘holistic’ monitoring that Kenya’s human rights commission says will transform how communities like Mathare – which typically bear the brunt of any unrest – participate in the post-electoral process. Wanawake Mashinani has held several community meetings at which faith-based leaders have encouraged people to remain calm. It’s given safety tips to residents on election day. 

“And in a neighborhood that’s neglected by officials, where violence, drug abuse, and crime are prevalent, perhaps the group’s most important work is also the simplest: It checks in on residents and listens without judgment. 

“On this August morning ‘peace walk,’ Ms. Karore stops first to talk to a group of women selling hair-care products outside a corrugated iron-roof shack. Speaking in Swahili, she asks them how they are and how things have been since the elections. The discussion is light and jovial; the women laugh at a joke about a fake flour scandal doing the rounds in Mathare. 

“One vendor, a young woman called Kim, says that things have been quiet and business has been slower. She tells the group they are glad major protests didn’t break out after the results were announced, because that would have meant they would have lost everything. 

“ ‘Anything small can trigger violence on the streets,’ Ms. Karore says. ‘Many people leave their homes and go to rural areas at this time, or where people of their same tribe live.’

“Research has shown that when marginalized communities feel that their favorite candidate loses an election due to irregularities, they are more likely to resort to violence. Human rights organizations say the unrest often breaks out along ethnic and identity lines. …

“As Ms. Karore and her team walk deeper into the township, checking in on neighbors and store owners, they are greeted by passersby who recognize them from previous door-to-door visits.

“Buoyed by the work of peace campaigners across Kenya as a whole, the political atmosphere has been significantly calmer than in two previous elections. A range of activists, from artists to religious leaders, have been galvanized into action in recent months. A campaign by artists in Kibera, Kenya’s largest township, displays works that celebrate the country’s ethnic diversity. Another group of activists organized a ‘peace caravan’ across the country, carrying messages urging voters to remain calm during the heated polls.

“Still, violence and intimidation persist. … In Mathare, Reagan Victor Ondigo says he barely escaped with his life when a mob of men tried to burn down his home as he and his family slept. … He blames politicians for whipping up ethnic grievances, but he’s cautiously hopeful that those perceptions are slowly changing.

“ ‘I hope that my daughter will know that freedom is there,’ he says.”

Looks like Kenya’s Supreme Court decision was accepted by both sides. More at the Monitor, here.

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Elizabeth Catlett: Sharecropper (1968)

If you are on Twitter, I recommend following @womensart1. She has introduced me to some outstanding art by women.

Her website says, “Art is art and artists are artists, yes, but there is also a gendered historical, social and cultural framework in which it is produced and received, which has ongoing implications on issues of value and recognition. The masculine term ‘master,’ for instance, and the ideal of lone male genius, still underpin the omnipresent Western concept of ‘the artist.’ …

“My own online project #WOMENSART was created with the simple premise of raising the profile of women artists. By highlighting their diverse historic and global work, the project clearly reflects that ‘women’s art’ is not a category in itself, yet it does indicate genres to which women are more culturally and socially linked.

“#WOMENSART also creates an integral opportunity to promote women’s self-representation and to explore the female rather than much more scrutinized ‘male gaze.’ … Specific exploration of the artwork of women has enabled insights into areas including capitalism, migration, class, globalization, ethnicity, disability and so on, from an unusual, uniquely female perspective. …

“In addition, the #WOMENSART project has enabled consideration of genres such as textiles, ceramics, zines, crafts and street art rather than focusing solely on the Western definition of ‘high art’ (sculpture and painting), therefore challenging the hierarchical limitations of a system historically based on discrimination rather than ability.

“Utilizing social media as an outreach facility has, in turn, proved quite a leveler, as it provides access to/for artists, genres and audiences that the establishment may ignore.” More here.

At MoMA, I learned more about the artist shown above, Elizabeth Catlett: “Catlett once said that the purpose of her work was to ‘present black people in their beauty and dignity for ourselves and others to understand and enjoy.’ Sharecropper calls attention to the tribulations of tenant farming — a system in which rent for the land is paid by the farmer with a part of the crop, creating an impossible-to-escape cycle of debt — while also offering a heroic portrait of an anonymous woman. …

“Her printmaking practice included woodcut, screenprint, lithography, and, most importantly, linoleum cut, which she learned at the Taller de Gráfica Popular (People’s Graphic Workshop) in Mexico City.

“Founded in 1937, the workshop aimed to continue the Mexican tradition of socially engaged public art. It specialized in linoleum cut, a technique that produces inexpensive prints and can accommodate large editions. Catlett first visited this renowned workshop and artists’ collective while she was in Mexico on a fellowship in 1946, where she found a kinship with the Mexican muralists, including Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Like them she tried, she explained, to make art ‘for the people, for the struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful.’ ” More at MoMA, here.

One of the many advantages of @womensart1 is that it inspires you to find out more about the female artists you see there.

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Photo: Prasidha Padmanabhan.
Prasidha Padmanabhan, 16, founded WEAR (Women for Education, Advocacy and Rights), a nonprofit with an executive board made up entirely of students.

The teen in today’s story not only pointed out the absence of women of color in her school’s history curriculum. She influenced a large school system. That takes a special kind of patience.

Theresa Vargas reports at the Washington Post, “If you happen to get into a conversation about American history with Prasidha Padmanabhan, you will have to keep reminding yourself of this: She is only 16. The names of historically overlooked women flow from her in the same way the names of modern-day A-list celebrities flow from other kids her age.

“She can tell you about the lives of Rebecca Lee Crumpler (the first African American woman to become a doctor), Queen Liliuokalani (the first woman and last person to rule Hawaii) and Claudette Colvin (a Black teenager who refused to give up her seat on a bus before Rosa Parks did). …

“She can tell you why, if you know about Paul Revere, you should also know about Sybil Ludington. Ludington was 16 when she rode through the night during the American Revolution to warn militia members of a British attack. …

“The teenager has not only spent the last few years learning about the historic and too-often unseen roles of women, and in particular women of color, but also has worked to make sure students in one of the country’s largest school systems have a chance to learn about them.

“During the pandemic, Prasidha went from seeing people on social media talk about repealing the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, to creating a student-led nonprofit, to working with educators from Fairfax County Public Schools to add more women’s history to curriculum offerings.

“Her collaboration with school officials is ongoing, but so far, she has worked with social studies teachers to create Civil War material made available for sixth-grade U.S. history lessons, and she has written minibooks about Native American women for the school system’s young readers.

“ ‘She like many others noticed that when it comes to the stories we tell about Indigenous people in our K-12 classrooms, too often Native American people do not show up as individual people with lives and interests and contributions,’ says Deborah March, who works for Fairfax schools as a culturally responsive pedagogy specialist, a position that calls for her to support teachers and curriculum writers. ‘She created these short, accessible, image-laden biographies so that our younger elementary school learners can encounter Native American women as full human beings whose lives are worthy of study.’

“Days ago, the U.S. Mint prompted public celebrations and conversations across the country. The Mint announced that coins from the American Women Quarters Program — which honors the remarkable contributions of women — had been shipped. …

“That these women’s names will soon be in our hands and in front of our faces should give us joy. It should also cause us to pause and think about why many people still don’t know their stories and what women we should have learned about but haven’t. …

“Prasidha is a first-generation Indian American and says those comments she saw online in 2020 about taking away women’s right to vote made her think about what she had learned in her history classes about women. She, like most people, had been taught about Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Susan B. Anthony. But she couldn’t recall learning about what women did during the Civil War or during other notable periods.

“She told her parents she wanted to start an organization that would focus on getting those stories told. From that conversation grew WEAR (Women for Education, Advocacy and Rights), a nonprofit with an executive board made up entirely of students.

One of Prasidha’s first actions through the organization was to create a Change.org petition calling on Fairfax Schools to integrate women’s history into elementary and middle school curriculum. … The petition drew more than 5,000 signatures.

“Prasidha recalls the day she was at home, engaged in virtual learning, and an email caused her to let out an excited yell. She says it was from March saying she wanted to meet and talk about a possible collaboration between the school system and WEAR.

“ ‘I didn’t know what to expect,’ March says of her first encounter with Prasidha, who is a junior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. … ‘It was exciting for me to connect with a student who was on fire for just and equitable access to learning experiences that tell a complete story.’

“March says everyone benefits when educators take seriously the type of questions Prasidha and WEAR are raising: ‘What if we broaden the story? What if we rethink whose lives and contributions are deemed worthy of study in our classrooms and textbooks?’

“ ‘I think students have a better chance of seeing their power to shape our systems and institutions when they encounter lots of different examples of what that can look like, examples of diverse people as the doers and movers of history,’ March says. ‘It would be a shame if students came away from their K-12 education thinking they have to become a president or a general if they want to make a difference in the world.’

“March says she, her colleague Jen Brown and three social studies teachers met with Prasidha weekly at one point to work on the Civil War material that is offered to sixth-grade teachers. Prasidha was also invited in August to speak to educators. Her presentation was titled, ‘Expanding and Transforming Women’s History for K-12.’

“Brown recalls Prasidha telling participants about Susie King Taylor, who was born into slavery and attended school in secret. At 14, she became the first Black teacher to openly educate African Americans in Georgia, and she later served as a nurse for the Union army during the Civil War.

“ ‘I had never heard of Susie King Taylor, before Prasidha introduced me to her, and was so grateful for the opportunity to learn about her and other women who did extraordinary things,’ Brown says.

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Nicole Leeper on Unsplash.
Learn why many people say child care benefits are essential to a strong economy.

When Suzanne and four other women running Rhode Island businesses talked to Vice President Kamala Harris recently, the subject of child care came up a lot. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who was also present, emphasized that to reboot the economy, we need the more than 2 million women Covid forced out of work to come back — and they can’t come back if they have no child care. Child care is infrastructure just like bridges and roads.

Now imagine how hard it has always been for people who lose benefits like child care support when their earnings inch even a tiny bit over the poverty level.

At the Washington Post, Zoe Sullivan describes the ongoing challenges.

“In October 2016, Georgia Allen got a phone call that changed her life. At the time, Allen, 35, was a single parent living in Madison, Wis., with a 3-year-old daughter. To cover her $925 monthly rent and keep her daughter in day care, Allen worked two jobs at a hospital, answered calls part time at a domestic violence center and held down a side hustle caring for elderly people and children. Even with a $300 state subsidy, Allen had to pay another $1,200 out of pocket for her daughter’s care.

“The caller told Allen that she had reached what she calls the ‘benefits cliff’: She was earning too much to qualify for the health- and child-care benefits she was receiving. Yet without those benefits, Allen couldn’t make ends meet.

‘I get emotional thinking about it, because I was just so frustrated,’ Allen said. ‘I finally get to 16, 17 dollars an hour, and the journey was so hard because I couldn’t go to school and have child care. I had to choose one or the other.’ …

“Although Allen adjusted her work schedule after that October call so she wouldn’t lose her benefits, she ultimately lost her job. …

“ ‘It took me several months of a lot of prayer,’ Allen said about finding her new direction in that period. One day, in tears, Allen had a revelation that the different jobs she’d held were all training for running a business. With families like her own in mind, Allen envisioned a cooperative network of home-based child-care sites that would not only ensure that low-wage-earning parents could secure quality child care but also provide living-wage employment to caregivers.

“The challenges and disparities Allen faced existed long before the coronavirus pandemic. The crisis, however, has exacerbated these challenges for many families and underscored the argument that caring for children is an essential service. Without child care, front-line workers, whether supermarket employees or doctors, can’t go to work. …

“In Allen’s home state of Wisconsin, only child-care programs that participate in the state’s ranking system can accept the subsidies low-income families receive. But on the flip side, those subsidies often don’t fully cover the cost of care at high-quality facilities. …

“ ‘If economic stability isn’t happening, and people are choosing alternative child-care options because child care is expensive or not accessible, that will affect the educational journey that our children will face. So, I started to see how it was all connected,’ [Allen] said. …

“Julia Henly, a University of Chicago social work professor, framed the challenge: ‘Child care needs to be super flexible and variable around parents’ work schedules, but child-care workers themselves are low-wage workers who, you know, we kind of are expecting them to carry the caregiving needs of other low-wage workers, and I just think that is not really sustainable.’

“These are the conundrums Allen aims to solve. In mid-2019, she met someone who took seriously her two-pronged approach of simultaneously addressing both employment and child-care needs. That was Abha Thakkar, executive director of a community development organization, the Northside Planning Council, which focuses on that sparsely served area of Madison.

“Now the NPC is helping Allen and her team build a round-the-clock, in-home child-care network with support on a business proposal, and by facilitating connections to grant-makers and lenders. The network’s home-based care sites will be supported by a central location that, along with offering care, will also train providers, prepare meals for the in-home satellites, and handle the back-office tasks.

“One of the central elements of Allen’s plan is that families who participate in this child-care network won’t face the sort of spike in costs that threatened to derail her after that 2016 phone call.

“ ‘This platform, for the parents, when they get to that benefits cliff, there is an option,’ Allen said. She points to a plan for a sliding pay scale and case management to help parents navigate the transition away from public benefits as they grow their incomes. …

“ ‘This model is going to be a hybrid,’ Thakkar says. ‘You don’t want a worker-owned co-op to be a nonprofit [because] the whole point is wealth-building,’ she said. As a result, the Northside Planning Council will serve as a nonprofit fiscal sponsor while the co-op develops its business.”

More at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo via the Met
This caravan account is recorded on a cuneiform tablet from the ancient city of Kanesh.

Sometimes we forget that the way things have been in recent years — or even recent centuries — are not the way things always have been. For example, we imagine women have come a long way in the business world since Victorian times, but the fact that women were managing their own caravans and accounts in 1870 BC is no longer part of our collective memory.

At the BBC Sophie Hardach reports on a new book that aims to rectify our ignorance. Women of Assur and Kanesh is by Cécile Michel, a senior researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France.

Hardach writes, “Around 1870 BC, in the city of Assur in northern Iraq, a woman called Ahaha uncovered a case of financial fraud. 

“Ahaha had invested in long-distance trade between Assur and the city of Kanesh in Turkey. She and other investors had pooled silver to finance a donkey caravan delivering tin and textiles to Kanesh, where the goods would be exchanged for more silver, generating a tidy profit. But Ahaha’s share of the profits seemed to have gone missing – possibly embezzled by one of her own brothers, Buzazu. So, she grabbed a reed stylus and clay tablet and scribbled a letter to another brother, Assur-mutappil, pleading for help: 

“ ‘I have nothing else apart from these funds,’ she wrote in cuneiform script. ‘Take care to act so that I will not be ruined!’ She instructed Assur-mutappil to recover her silver and update her quickly.

‘Let a detailed letter from you come to me by the very next caravan, saying if they do pay the silver,’ [the businesswoman wrote]. ‘Now is the time to do me a favor and to save me from financial stress!’

“Ahaha’s letters are among 23,000 clay tablets excavated over the past decades from the ruins of merchants’ homes in Kanesh. They belonged to Assyrian expats who had settled in Kanesh and kept up a lively correspondence with their families back in Assur, which lay six weeks away by donkey caravan. A new book gives unprecedented insight into a remarkable group within this community: women who seized new opportunities offered by social and economic change, and took on roles more typically filled by men at the time. They became the first-known businesswomen, female bankers and female investors in the history of humanity. 

“The bulk of the letters, contracts and court rulings found in Kanesh date from around 1900-1850 BC. … The Assyrians invented certain forms of investment and were also among the first men and women to write their own letters, rather than dictating them to professional scribes. It’s thanks to these letters that we can hear a chorus of vibrant female voices telling us that even in the distant past, commerce and innovation were not the exclusive domains of men.

“While their husbands were on the road, or striking deals in some faraway trading settlement, these women looked after their businesses back home. But they also accumulated and managed their own wealth, and gradually gained more power in their personal lives. 

“ ‘These women were really strong and independent, because they were alone, they were the head of the household while the husband was away,’ says Cécile Michel. … Through more than 300 letters and other documents, the book tells a strikingly detailed and colorful story of the women’s struggles and triumphs. …

“The businesswomen’s story is tied to that of the Assyrian merchant community as a whole. In their heyday, the Assyrians were among the most successful and well-connected traders of the Near East. Their caravans of up to 300 donkeys criss-crossed mountains and uninhabited plains, carrying raw materials, luxury goods and, of course, clay letters. 

“ ‘It was one leg of a huge international network, which started somewhere in Central Asia, with lapis-lazuli from Afghanistan, carnelian from Pakistan, and the tin may have come from Iran or further to the east,’ says Jan Gerrit Dercksen, an Assyriologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who has also worked on the Kanesh tablets. …

“Assyrian women contributed to this bustling commercial network by producing textiles for export, issuing loans to merchants, buying and selling houses, and investing in naruqqum [stock] schemes. Their skills as weavers allowed them to earn their own silver. They kept a keen eye on foreign fashions and market trends to secure the best prices, as well as on taxes and other costs that dented their profits. …

“ ‘They know perfectly well what they should get back in exchange for their textiles. And when they earn this money from the sale of their textiles, they pay for the food, for the house, for daily life, but they also invest,’ says Michel, who has also co-created a new documentary about the women. 

“This commercial acumen allowed some to slip into positions that were unusual for women at the time, by functioning as their husbands’ trusted business partners. The traders in turn benefited from having literate and numerate wives who could help with day-to-day business as well as emergencies.

“One Assyrian merchant writes to his wife, Ishtar-bashti: ‘Urgent! Clear your outstanding merchandise. Collect the gold of the son of Limishar and send it to me… Please, put all my tablets in safekeeping.’ Others ask their wives to pick specific tablets from the household’s private archives to find financial information or settle a business matter. …

“The women in turn don’t shy away from sending their husbands or brothers instructions and admonishments. ‘What is this that you do not even send me a tablet two fingers wide with good news from you?’ an Assyrian woman called Naramtum writes to two men.”

Lots more at the BBC, here.

Photo: Wikimedia
Ancient sites of Mesopotamia, including Assyria. In the lower right is what we now call the Persian Gulf.

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102320moroccan_women_carpet_market

Photo: Taylor Luck
Bargaining over a Berber rug in Khemisset, Morocco.

Yesterday I mentioned to Nancy that the pandemic may have affected the timeliness of some of the stories I’ve collected for future blog posts. I wasn’t sure, for example, if the Berber women who weave carpets and manage their markets in Morocco were still working.

Today I found a late May report indicating the weavers work from home and continue to produce for export companies despite Covid-19 lockdowns. So I think I can share this article from the Christian Science Monitor. When it’s safe to return to public spaces, I’m counting on women like these to be fully in charge once again.

Taylor Luck writes, “The carpet palace is at the far end of the bustling, dusty, weekly outdoor market here. Past heaps of wheat and grain, mounds of clothes, and piles of sandals and animal feed is a rust-colored structure with vaulted archways and bushels of thread and fabric.

“But visitors drawn by the allure of Berber rugs of every hue must abide by one important law: Inside this palace, women rule.

“For here at Khemisset’s zarabi souk – literally ‘rug market’ – women are the shearers, weavers, mediators, sellers, and distributors. There is no room for men in their business model – and they like it that way.

“Moroccan connoisseurs know their straight-from-the-source products: the minimalist, black-and-white geometric weaves of the Beni Ourain; the colorful reds, blues, yellow symbols, and wavy lines of the Azilal tribe; patchwork confetti-like Boucherouite rugs of leftover textile scraps; the blue-and-red, lightweight, tightly-nit kilims.

“Anyone who wishes to fill their tourist bazaar, auction house, hotel, or travel bag with these intricate multicolor Berber rugs must first go through these merchant matriarchs. … The women of Khemisset know more than their carpets; they know how to drive a hard bargain.

“Situated 60 miles east-southeast of Rabat and nestled in the plains below the Berber-inhabited Middle Atlas Mountains, Khemisset is a bilingual town of Berbers and Arabs. It has long been a natural trading post where Berber farmers and craftswomen from the mountain villages and rural hinterlands sell to urban, mainly Arab clientele. For the past three decades, women from the town have teamed up with relatives and contacts from the outer villages to sell carpets and rugs directly to vendors. …

“Khemisset merchants such as Fatima Rifiya gather at the marketplace to await dozens of women from far-off Berber villages (locals refer to themselves as Amazigh, which means ‘free people’) who arrive in horse-drawn carriages at 4 a.m.

“The sellers and middle-women then rummage through the piles of rugs, evaluating every piece by size, coloring, thickness, weave, and pattern. Khemisset women say their secret to success is an eye for desirability – fitting each carpet to the target audience and buyer who never knew they always needed it. …

“ ‘Once we grade the carpets, we explain to the weavers the values and who their customers may be, [and] we set a price and our commission,’ explains Ms. Rifiya, herself a transplant from a mountainous Berber village who now acts as a head matriarch and an Arabic translator. …

“Carpet dealers come from Marrakech and Fez. The men pace between the tiny stalls muttering, ‘Really, that is too much,’ or, ‘I swear to God, I can get half that price somewhere else.’ But Ms. Rifiya and her sisterhood stand their ground. She and some of the more veteran sellers such as Faten act not only as translators for the Berber weavers, but as coaches in the ways of bartering and selling.

“Simple rules such as: Never appear desperate for a sale. Let the customer walk away, they’ll always come back. Add 20% to your preferred price to open up bargaining. …

“This souk is not sponsored by a charitable association, a collective, or even a government or royal initiative to help rural women. Instead, it is an organic, grassroots product of local residents and shared interests.

“Here at the zarabi souk, women are selling individually yet banding together – an alliance driven by economic opportunity, supply and demand, and a dash of solidarity.

“It was not always like this. Three decades ago, most Berber weavers say they would sell to middlemen who would go off to market towns and sell at any price they wished, or to traveling ‘dealers’ who would purchase directly from village women for their bazaars and tourist shops. But each Berber woman would not know how much others were being paid for their work or what the market rate was for their carpets.”

Sounds like this market has made a real difference in people’s lives. Here’s hoping that post-Covid, these strong women will see to it that everything goes back to normal. More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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depp_1

Photo: Amanda Matthews/Prometheus Art Bronze Foundry & Metal Fabrication
A clay model of a statue of Netti Depp, the first woman to be honored with a public monument in Kentucky.

Now that we’re removing statues and other honors for men whose dark side has become obvious (think segregationist president Woodrow Wilson, whose name has been removed from an institution at Princeton), how do we choose who deserves a statue? It’s possible some of the women and minorities we want to honor are known not only for praiseworthy things but also more troubling activities or associations. People are complicated.

Hakim Bishara reports at Hyperallergic, “Next year, Kentucky will raise a public statue of a woman for the first time in its history. The monument will honor Nettie Depp, a Kentucky educator who died in 1932.

“The statue will be unveiled at the Kentucky Capitol on August 21 of 2021, Kentucky’s Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman announced in a speech on August 5. It will be the first monument honoring a woman on state-owned land.

‘A failure to observe women in places of honor narrows the vision of our youth and reveals a lack of understanding of American history regarding women’s work, sacrifice and the immeasurable and timeless contribution to society’s advancement,’ Coleman said.

“The statue is designed by Amanda Matthews, a sculptor from Lexington, Kentucky, who spent years lobbying state officials for a monument honoring a woman.

“In 2015, Matthews founded the nonprofit the Artemis Initiative to campaign for a monument for Depp upon the recommendation of Kentucky’s Commission on Women. Matthews is Depp’s great-great niece (another distant relative of Depp’s is Kentucky-born actor Johnny Depp, who is her a great-great-nephew).

“Later in 2015, the Kentucky Human Rights Commission backed Matthews’s campaign with a resolution encouraging the state and local governments to erect statues of women of historical significance and outstanding achievements. A year later, Kentucky’s Historic Properties Advisory Commission started reviewing the Artemis Initiative’s proposal for a statue of Depp, and in 2017 it voted unanimously in favor of the monument.

“ ‘My hope is that this sculpture will break through the obstinate norm that has held fast in Kentucky since 1792 and move the needle toward a more inclusive future for women, minorities, and children,’ Matthews told Hyperallergic in an email.

“Last year, Matthews designed a sculpture of Alice Dunnigan for the Seek Museum in Russellville, Kentucky. Dunnigan was an award-winning Kentucky journalist and the first Black woman credentialed to cover the White House. … Presently, along with her sculpture of Depp, she is completing a monument for investigative journalist Nellie Bly, which will be installed next year at New York City’s Roosevelt Island.

“Depp was a Kentucky teacher and principal. In 1913, she became the first woman to be elected as Superintendent of Barren County Schools … During her tenure, Depp built 13 new schoolhouses, repaired 50 others, dug water wells, fought for fair pay for teachers, and promoted stricter enforcement of the Compulsory Education Laws to reduce literacy rates.

“After finishing her four-year term in 1917 (Depp declined to run for a second term), she went on to become principal at Cave City School until 1923. She spent the last decade of her career as a teacher in Scottsville from 1923 to 1931. …

“But there are questions to be raised about Depp’s legacy. As superintendent, she was tasked with overseeing 100 segregated schools across the county. There are no historical records that explicitly show her stances about segregation, and Depp does not appear to have advocated for integration. However, she is believed to have worked to improve learning conditions for Black students. …

“ ‘In the context of Kentucky in 1915, this should not be understated,’ Matthews told Hyperallergic. ‘Barren County Kentucky was located in solidly Confederate territory only a few decades prior. Depp’s public advocacy on [better Black schools] was groundbreaking, and possibly even dangerous.’ …

“However, in 1920, Depp helped write an endorsement for President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election for a third term in her capacity as a member of the Resolutions Committee of the Barren County Democratic Party’s local convention. … Wilson supported the resegregation of federal offices and held virulently white supremacist views, according to historians. In 2015, Princeton University removed his name from its School of Public and International Affairs. …

“ ‘It is honestly a disappointment to me that she publicly endorsed Wilson’s candidacy, but there is evidence that her first and most passionate interest was improved education for all children, and she never wavered on her stance on that,’ Matthews said. …

“ ‘I have no intent or interest to whitewash Depp’s history or that of my ancestors, but I do have an interest in bringing more equity to those who are marginalized,’ said Matthews. ‘Nettie Depp may not have done everything right, but she certainly did some things right.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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This yew watercolor is one of many lovely illustrations by 19th century poet Rebecca Hey for an encyclopedia of trees. The rare book is reviewed by Maria Popova at Brainpickings. More images from Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods, here.

If you are not already following the blog or Twitter feed of Maria Popova at Brainpickings, you’re missing some very thoughtful commentary on the arts and sciences.

One of the many things I appreciate about her is the way she ties in related topics. For example, at the end of her post about 19th century poet/artist Rebecca Hey’s illustrations for an encyclopedia of trees, she suggests complementing the book with “Art Young’s imaginative Rorschach silhouettes of trees from the 1920s, Walt Whitman on the wisdom of trees, modern-day poetic naturalist Robert Macfarlane on what trees teach us about healthy relationships, and the inspiring illustrated story of Wangari Maathai’s tree-planting as resistance and empowerment, which made her the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, then revisit the stunning celestial art of the self-taught 17th-century German astronomer and artist Maria Clara Eimmart.” (Wow, talk about someone with a “catholic” taste!)

In her review, Popova quotes William Blake: ” ‘The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way. … As a man is, so he sees.’…

“Perched partway in time between Blake’s time and ours, and partway in sensibility between the poetic and the scientific, Sylvan Musings, or, The Spirit of the Woods (public library | public domain) is, as far as I am aware, the world’s first encyclopedia of wild trees.

“Having resolved to face the new year like a tree, I came upon this forgotten treasure through the joyous gateway of serendipitous discovery — a bygone pleasure of atomic literature rarely accessible in our search-governed digital culture, always corralling us toward what we already know we are looking for.

“In the midst of a research project involving Mary Shelley, I acquired a rare surviving copy of the pioneering 1849 encyclopedia to which Shelley spent five years contributing short biographies of eminent scientists; one advertisement in the front matter of this fragile pocket-sized time travel device caught my eye. …

“Of the very few female authors published in the nineteenth century, many appeared under male pseudonyms or ungendered initials. (This tradition would carry well into the twentieth century, leading the young Rachel Carson to publish her revolutionary marine masterpiece under the byline ‘R.L. Carson.’) …

“ ‘Mrs. William Hey’ is Rebecca Hey — a poet, painter, and amateur naturalist. (Lest we forget, all women of scientific bent had to be ‘amateurs’ by virtue of being excluded from both formal higher education and the scientific societies of the time. …

“Each chapter opens with one of Hey’s handsomely hand-colored engravings of the tree’s leaves at the tip of a branch and closes with one of her original poems celebrating the species. Nestled between is the natural history of the tree, punctuated by thoughtfully chosen quotations from literary classics, both poetry and prose. …

“I have endeavored to restore and digitize a number of them, making them available as prints, with proceeds benefiting the Arbor Day Foundation, whose noble reforestation work and sylvan stewardship are more and more needed as we watch fires consume the ancient forests that have long been the lungs of this irreplaceable planet.”

Don’t you love the way the character of this writer shines through in her review? She does request donations at her site, and I think I have borrowed enough from her today to spur me to go there now and do my duty.

Do check out the wonderful array of tree watercolors at Brainpickings, here.

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It’s weird to think that for the first seven years of my mother’s life, women were not allowed to vote in this country. Even now, we don’t utilize our full power, repeatedly voting to elect men who belittle us.

In 2020 we are recognizing our first measly hundred years with the vote, in honor of which, the League of Women Voters is sponsoring a traveling exhibit about a mostly unknown woman who probably had more influence on the trajectory of our country in the 20th century than any other individual, male or female. Fierce determination got results under the radar.

Meghan Sorensen of the Boston Globe wrote a tidy summary of Frances Perkins’s life and accomplishments to let readers know that the Perkins exhibit is at the State House, but only until February 7.

“Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve in the US Cabinet, a signature achievement in a groundbreaking life.” she writes. “The Massachusetts State House is hosting a traveling exhibit through Friday on the ‘Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins’ to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the National League of Women Voters.

“Here is a brief overview of Perkins’ life and accomplishments. (Historical information from the Frances Perkins Center in Maine.)

“Perkins was born Fannie Coralie Perkins in Boston in 1880. Although her parents were from Maine, she was raised in Worcester and attended Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, earning a degree in physics while turning to economics and activism after learning about the lack of protections against women and children in factories.

“While her parents expected her to move home after college, Perkins moved to Chicago, [where] she worked with the poor and unemployed at the Chicago Commons and Hull House.

“In 1907, Perkins began working as the general secretary of the Philadelphia Research and Protective Association, which fought to stop newly arrived immigrant women and black women from the South from being forced into prostitution.

“Two years later, she began a fellowship with the New York School of Philanthropy, where she investigated childhood malnutrition among children living in Hell’s Kitchen. Alongside the fellowship, she earned her Master’s degree in sociology and economics at Columbia University. …

“In 1910, Perkins became the executive secretary of the New York City Consumers League, where she sought sanitary regulations for bakeries, fire protection for factories, and limiting work hours to 54 hours per week. After the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 workers, she followed Theodore Roosevelt’s suggestion and became the Committee on Safety’s executive secretary.

The group’s work led to what was referred to as ‘the most comprehensive set of laws governing workplace health and safety in the nation.’

“When Franklin D. Roosevelt became governor of New York in 1929, he hired Perkins to be the state’s Industrial Commissioner and oversee the labor department, [and] when Roosevelt became president in 1933, he asked Perkins to serve as labor secretary. She said yes, but with a condition — that he endorse her policy priorities, which included a 40-hour work week, minimum wage, unemployment compensation, the abolition of child labor, Social Security, and universal health insurance. …

“Under Roosevelt, Perkins achieved most her goals. The Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 established a minimum wage and maximum work hours while banning child labor. As the head of the Committee on Economic Security, Perkins helped draft the 1935 Social Security Act, which offered unemployment, disability, and workers’ compensation. …

“ ‘A government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life,’ Perkins said in a lecture titled ‘Labor Under the New Deal and the New Frontier.’ ”

More here. And do read Kristen Downey’s biography. It’s great. For my GoodReads review of that book, email me at suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com.

 

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Art: Bradshaw Crandell
Jane Hall, a screenwriter at Hollywood’s most glamorous studio, would be lost to us but for her daughter’s painstakingly researched biography. Here she is on the cover of the October 1939 edition of
Cosmopolitan magazine.

I’ve been thinking about the unacknowledged accomplishments of women.

Having just finished a great biography on Frances Perkins, a trailblazer in FDR’s administration, I find myself not at all surprised that she is almost unknown today. Perkins is just one more example of accomplished women throughout history who have failed to get their just due. It’s complicated.

Being dismissed by men is not the only reason, Dear. Sometimes you were dismissed by women, too. Sometimes you didn’t sign your poem or your art and so became known as “Anonymous.” Sometimes, like Perkins, you were determined to do the most possible good for the most people in need by the most effective means.

Thinking about this led me to a New Yorker article on women in the early days of Hollywood.

Margaret Talbot writes, “One of the stranger things about the history of moviemaking is that women have been there all along, periodically exercising real power behind the camera, yet their names and contributions keep disappearing, as though security had been called, again and again, to escort them from the set.

“In the early years of the twentieth century, women worked in virtually every aspect of silent-film-making, as directors, writers, producers, editors, and even camera operators. The industry — new, ad hoc, making up its own rules as it went along — had not yet locked in a strict division of labor by gender. Women came to Los Angeles from all over the country, impelled not so much by dreams of stardom as by the prospect of interesting work in a freewheeling enterprise that valued them. …

“Some scholars estimate that half of all film scenarios in the silent era were written by women, and contemporaries made the case, sometimes with old stereotypes, sometimes with fresh and canny arguments, that women were especially suited to motion-picture storytelling.

“In a 1925 essay, a screenwriter named Marion Fairfax argued that since women predominated in movie audiences — one reason that domestic melodramas, adventure serials featuring acts of female derring-do, and sexy sheikh movies all did well — female screenwriters enjoyed an advantage over their male counterparts. They were more imaginatively attuned to the vagaries of romantic and family life, yet they could write for and about men, too.

“After all, men ‘habitually confide in women when in need either of encouragement or comfort,’ Fairfax wrote. ‘For countless ages woman’s very existence — certainly her safety and comfort — hinged upon her ability to please or influence men. Naturally, she has almost unconsciously made an intensive study of them.’

“Alice Blaché, the French-born director behind some six hundred short films, including ‘The Cabbage Fairy’ (1896), one of the first movies to tell a fictional story, … wrote in 1914, ‘There is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man, and there is no reason why she cannot completely master every technicality of the art.’

In a way, the early women filmmakers became victims of the economic success that they had done so much to create.

“As the film industry became an increasingly modern, capitalist enterprise, consolidated around a small number of leading studios, each with specialized departments, it grew harder for women, especially newcomers, to slip into nascent cinematic ventures, find something that needed doing, and do it.

“ ‘By the 1930s,’  Antonia Lant, who has co-edited a book of women’s writing in early cinema, observes, ‘we find a powerful case of forgetting, forgetting that so many women had even held the posts of director and producer.’ …

“Trying to figure out who actually worked on films is not as easy as you might think. Credits were assigned haphazardly in the early days of filmmaking. …

“In the tendentious but mostly persuasive book ‘Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood’ (Oxford), J. E. Smyth … tots up an impressive array of women film editors, costume designers, talent agents, screenwriters, producers, Hollywood union heads, and behind-the-scenes machers. … It’s little wonder that studios of the era catered to female audiences, with scripts built around the commanding presence of such actresses as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and with stories thought to reflect women’s prevailing concerns.

“Smyth quotes Davis, who pulled enough weight in Hollywood to have been dubbed the Fourth Warner: ‘Women owned Hollywood for twenty years,’ she said in a 1977 interview, so ‘we must not be bitter.’…

“Smyth burrows enthusiastically into humble sources that, she suggests, other scholars have looked down on: studio phone directories, in-house newsletters. Researchers on similar quests have come upon evidence in still more unlikely forms and places. Reels of film forgotten or lost sometimes turn up randomly — interred in an archive in New Zealand, or sealed into a swimming pool in a remote town in the Yukon.” The search goes on.

It’s a long article. Read it here. And while we’re on the subject, be sure to read Robin Cutler‘s wonderful book, Such Mad Fun, about her mother’s role as a writer in Hollywood.

 

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Photo: Diaa Hadid/NPR
Farahnaz Mohammadi (left) and her cousin Fatima Almi, seen in a peaceful Kabul park, hope that the gains made by Afghan women in recent years will remain after a peace deal.

This story is about a peaceful garden in Kabul, Afghanistan, a city where peace is at a premium. Erik’s sister works for the UN in that city, helping women gain leadership skills, so of course, I want to believe in islands of peace like this taking over the danger zones.

Diaa Hadid and Khwaga Ghani reported on the Gardens of Babur at National Public Radio (NPR) in October.

“Farahnaz Mohammadi, 17, and her cousin Fatima Almi, 19, dress identically, from their patterned headscarves to their shoes with matching bunny ears. They also share the same opinions on Afghanistan’s future, which may be nearing a critical phase as a deal between the U.S. and Taliban insurgents appears to be reviving.

“That deal would likely see most American forces withdraw from Afghanistan, where they have been at war for 18 years. In exchange, the Taliban would not host global militant groups like al-Qaida and may adhere to some sort of ceasefire. It would also likely to allow the Taliban to reenter political life.

“The two young women don’t like it at all.

” ‘We will go back to what we were,’ says Mohammadi, referring to a time before she was born, when the Taliban ruled much of Afghanistan and imposed harsh rules against women. …

“Mohammadi’s view was echoed by other women interviewed by NPR in Kabul. The capital is more liberal than other quarters of Afghanistan, yet the uniformity of the opinions suggests a broadly held concern. …

“Mohammadi says she craves safety and security. But she has also benefited from the advances women have made with American forces helping to secure Afghan cities. Describing it as a ‘half-peace,’ she says even in those conditions, ‘girls can go out.’ She gestures around where she stands in Kabul’s Babur Garden, a centuries-old park where orchards and grassy lawns provide a shelter of sorts from the city’s dusty chaos.” More from NPR.

Wikipedia explains that the Garden of Babur “is the last resting-place of the first Mughal emperor Babur. The gardens are thought to have been developed around 1528 AD [when] Babur gave orders for the construction of an ‘avenue garden’ in Kabul …

“Since 2003, the focus of conservation has been on the white marble mosque built by Shah Jahan in 1675 to mark his conquest of Balkh; restoration of the Babur’s grave enclosure; repairs to the garden pavilion dating from the early 20th century; and reconstruction of the … Queen’s Palace. In addition, a new caravanserai was built on the footprint of an earlier building at the base of the garden …

“Significant investments have been made in the natural environment of the garden, taking account of the historic nature of the landscape and the needs of contemporary visitors. A system of partially piped irrigation was installed, and several thousand indigenous trees planted, including planes, cypresses, hawthorn, wild cherry (alubalu — allegedly introduced by Babur from the north of Kabul) and other fruit and shade trees. Based on the results of archaeological excavations, the relationships between the 13 terraces and the network of paths and stairs have been re-established.

“Since January 16, 2008, the garden has been managed by the independent Baghe Babur Trust and has seen a significant increase in visitor numbers. Nearly 300,000 people visited the site in 2008 and about 1,030,000 people visited the site in 2016.”

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Photo: NTV
Led by a grandmother, an amateur theater group in Turkey is raising awareness about climate change and the lives of rural women.

Wherever you live, whatever age you are, you have the power to do something valuable for the world. A grandmother in rural Turkey understood that from an early age and is making her voice heard.

The BBC garnered this story from NTV, the Turkish television news channel.

Dilay Yalcin and Krassi Twigg reported, “A 62-year-old grandmother from rural Turkey who rose to national fame with her all-women village theatre group is now set to stage a play raising awareness about climate change.

“Ummiye Kocak from the village of Arslankoy in the Mediterranean province of Mersin recently began rehearsals for her new play ‘Mother, the Sky is Pierced!’

“She told Anadolu news agency that she wanted ‘people to realise just how serious it is.’

The climate crisis is ‘not only our problem, it is the world’s problem,’ she says. ‘I am shouting as loud as I can — this world is ours, we need to take good care of it!’

“Ummiye Kocak has written plays for many years, always aiming to change perceptions. Her previous works have tackled issues from poverty and domestic violence to Alzheimer’s Disease. … In 2013 she won an award at a New York festival with a film focusing on the difficulties of women’s lives in a Turkish village. …

“Ummiye Kocak grew up in a conservative rural area, and only got primary education ‘by chance — as each family was required to send one girl to school.

“But she says her father was open-minded enough to take all his children to the cinema at a time when no other dad in the village would, sparking her love of drama.

“She says that when she first arrived in the village of Arslankoy as a young bride, she noticed that women there had to do all the work — in the fields as well as in the house. She thought that wasn’t right and told herself: ‘Ummiye, you have to make the voices of these women heard!’

“Her village doesn’t have a stage, so she gathers her performers under a walnut tree in her garden for rehearsals while they do their domestic chores. …

“People in other parts of the country want a piece of the action, issuing invitations on social media for the group to perform locally.

“One woman in Istanbul wrote: ‘I’m proud and honoured on behalf of all women every time I see you, Aunt Ummiye. … I hope all women lead their lives knowing they have this power like you do.’ ”

More at the BBC, here.

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Photo: Guenter Schneider/Kaoru Akagawa
An artist rediscovers kana script, used in medieval Japan by women for secret communications. “I felt as if I were reading a history of my DNA,” Kaoru Akagawa says.

In childhood, I loved the idea of secret languages, mainly for hiding thoughts from grownups, I believe. I never learned Pig Latin, but when I was about 10, my friends and I spoke almost nothing but Goose Latin, which involved throwing a lot of f’s into words.

In medieval Japan, women developed a secret script to hide their thoughts from other authority figures — men. Today the artist Kaoru Akagawa, among others, is giving the mostly forgotten kana calligraphy new life.

Elizabeth Dearnley writes at the Guardian, “Anyone who has ever fired off a text in haste will sympathise with the first point on 11th-century Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon’s list of ‘infuriating things’: ‘Thinking of one or two changes in the wording after you’ve sent off a reply to someone’s message.’

“This list, her messages, and her Pillow Book in which they’re recorded – a sparklingly acerbic, blog-style frolic through the lives of Heian-era aristocrats – were written using kana, a Japanese script mainly used by women for nearly a millennium to write literature, arrange secret assignations and express themselves freely within the confines of court life.

“Women in medieval Japan were discouraged from studying kanji – characters modelled on written Chinese which represent individual words – and began using kana, which transcribe words phonetically. A standardisation programme at the beginning of the 20th century saw 90% of the 550 characters used in kana die out. But these forgotten characters are now being kept alive by the artist and master of Japanese calligraphy Kaoru Akagawa, who became fascinated with them after deciphering letters from her grandmother.

“ ‘Reading my grandmother’s letters was always difficult for me as a teenage girl,’ recalls Akagawa. ‘Her handwriting looked like scribbling, and I used to ask her to write properly.’ But years later, during Akagawa’s calligraphy training, she had a revelation while taking a journey along Himekaido, a historic trading route favoured by women travellers. Reading documents written in kana housed in castles and temples, Akagawa says: ‘I felt as if I were reading a history of my DNA.’ Far from being scribbles, she realised, her grandmother had been writing to her using the same script.

“Akagawa uses the forgotten kana in a style of calligraphy called kana shodo, and also fuses traditional calligraphy with new techniques in a style she’s named kana art, where thousands of minutely painted kana form larger images and paper sculptures

“ ‘When people talk about Japanese calligraphy, they normally mean kanji shodo,’ Akagawa explains, ‘a style imported from China, practiced by samurais and monks.’ Kana shodo uses a script which was known by the 10th century as onnade, or ‘woman hand’, she continues, which became ‘the backbone of a female-dominated literary culture’.

“Sei Shōnagon’s contemporary Murasaki Shikibu wrote her masterpiece The Tale of Genji – often called the world’s first novel – using kana, which were often associated with private and emotional life. Men who wanted to reply to love letters sent by noblewomen used kana themselves to reply. And the tradition lasted for hundreds of years; the 19th-century novelist Ichiyō Higuchi used kana script for her sympathetic portrait of the life of a geisha, Nigorie (Troubled Waters).

“Japan’s government standardised writing in 1900, establishing the system of kanji, hiragana and katakana characters used side-by-side in modern written Japanese. … By the second world war, knowledge of the older kana had almost vanished. One of the last generation to use the script in daily life was Akagawa’s grandmother, born in 1921: ‘When I told her I was learning kana shodo, she was very pleased.’ …

“Whether writing Japanese classics, love letters or embroidered messages, women have circumvented official communication channels in creative ways throughout history. As Akagawa remarks, such handwritten texts frequently feel very personal: ‘I’m always surprised how such a simple action as handwriting can affect audiences’ emotions so deeply.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Cliff Grassmick
Lucy Wallace, the co-founder of Dance to Be Free, incorporates jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop into the dance classes she offers in women’s prisons.

My friend Asakiyume has been a tutor in a women’s prison for several years, where she has learned that many inmates got in trouble after suffering repeated abuse or gross failure by the educational system. Most students, she says, are grateful for any attention from outside and are determined to do better on release. I think she would like this story about a dancer serving incarcerated women in the South.

Maria Di Mento writes at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Lucy Wallace is a dancer who has spent a lot of time in prison. That’s because Wallace, the co-founder of Dance to Be Free, travels the country teaching dance classes to incarcerated women to help them cope with depression, despair, PTSD, and complex trauma. …

“Despite her assumption that most prisons would turn her away, not one has.

‘I’ve never had a warden say, “No, we don’t want your program,” ’ Wallace says. ‘They’re grateful to get programming, especially in rural areas that are so remote no one goes there to volunteer.’

“A former dance major who has a master’s degree in psychology, Wallace incorporates a mix of movement styles into her dance classes, including jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop, and a variety of musical genres. …

“The program involves writing exercises and group discussions that let the women talk about their lives, how they coped with their first few weeks in prison, their biggest challenges, and what they’re getting out of the classes. She provides the prisons with DVDs of the classes and has certified about 400 prisoners who can lead the courses.

“Dance to Be Free is in 13 prisons in eight states and operates on a budget of about $100,000 a year. Few prisons will pay for the programming, something Wallace would like to change. For now, the charity receives all of its funding from individual donors, raising roughly $175,000 since 2015. …

“Wallace is holding off expanding the program for the time being and is instead focusing solely on the South, especially Mississippi and Florida, where she says women’s prisons are in deep need of programs.” More here.

From the Dance to Be Free website: “Our mission is to radically improve the lives of incarcerated women through the healing power of dance. We use ‘Cathartic Choreography’ to both train the inmates and teach them a new skill. We have seen this technique help our students deal with physical and mental illness, including PTSD and complex trauma.

“During our teacher trainings inmates gain confidence as they experience leadership and responsibility, often for the first time in their lives. That sense of accomplishment flourishes as our students learn to not only express themselves through dance, but to free others to do the same.

“Throughout this transformative experience, we teach the nuts and bolts of choreography, timing and flow, and just as importantly we facilitate journaling and sharing exercises that nurture introspection and self-awareness that inmates often need.”

I found the nonprofit organization’s video very moving.

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Photo: Paige Pfleger/The World
Puerto Rican farmer Daniella Rodríguez Besosa says Hurricane Maria “was also a call to action. Nobody else is going to help us. We need to help ourselves.”

Americans expect and deserve government help when there is a natural disaster, and often they get it. But Puerto Rico was pretty much out of sight, out of mind after Hurricane Maria. I do know someone who went there to help with logistics as part of a Federal Emergency Management team, but I also know several someones who lost everything and came to the mainland with their children.

Puerto Ricans who stayed behind have been managing as best they can. I was impressed with Paige Pfleger’s story at Public Radio International (PRI) about women farmers working together to build resilience.

“High in the mountains of Puerto Rico,” Pfleger writes, “a group of women struggles to keep their balance as they drive pickaxes deep into the earth of a hillside guava orchard. They’re digging a narrow trench called a swale on the steep terrain of this 7-acre farm. It’s a low-cost, low-impact way to retain rain water and reduce erosion in a place where both can be a challenge.

“With a swale ‘you end up storing most of your water in the soil itself, so the plants can access it whenever they need it,’ said Daniella Rodríguez Besosa, who has her own farm nearby. Besosa is part of a group called the Circuito Agroecológico Aiboniteño — all farmers, mostly women — who’ve been working together since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017 to help each other’s farms recover and become more sustainable

Maria ‘was an eye-opener for a lot of people,’ Besosa said. ‘It was also a call to action. Nobody else is going to help us; we need to help ourselves.’

“Farms in Puerto Rico were devastated during Hurricane Maria. It’s been estimated that 80 percent of the crops on the island were destroyed, and $1.8 billion of damage was done to agricultural infrastructure.

“ ‘The best part from this hurricane crisis was this, that we get to organize to help each other recover,’ said Janette Gavillan, the owner of the guava orchard the Circuito is working on.

“Gavillan is a retired chemistry professor and is relatively new to farming. But she says working with the Circuito has taught her ways to be more sustainable. …

“Since Maria, the Circuito’s members have come to see sustainability as synonymous with resilience and independence. They hope that if they’re able to rely only on themselves, they’ll be better prepared for the next big storm, or at least be better able to recover. …

“A few miles from Gavillan’s farm, Jessica Collazo works a small plot dotted with baby chicks and thin beds of fruits and vegetables. … Collazo and her husband support their family by selling their produce at local markets, but she says after Maria, they had to start from zero.

“ ‘We were left with nothing,’ Collazo said. The storm washed her crops, seeds and soil over the side of the mountain.

“The brigade of local farmers helped her clear fallen trees and get new seeds. Circuito members also built banks on the edges of the mountain and dug swales that Collazo hopes will reduce the damage from the next hurricane.

“ ‘On my own, that would take me months,’ Collazo said. ‘But with help, it took only a few hours.’

“Collazo hopes the expertise and extra hands of the Circuito members will help her family reach its goal of building a completely self-sustaining farm. She says she wants to dig her own well so she doesn’t have to depend on the government for water, and install solar panels so she doesn’t have to rely on the local electric utility.” More at PRI, here.

I can’t help thinking of the Little Red Hen (“All right, then, I’ll do it myself!”) and wondering if it’s unfair to say that this is more likely to be a woman’s experience than a man’s. In any case, it’s the women farmers arming themselves against a sea of troubles here. I hope that like the Little Red Hen, they reward themselves.

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