Women’s Empowerment

What is Women’s Empowerment?

Simplified, it is the actions that result in women being able to own and control property. It is primarily financial, but extends into the areas of body autonomy (the ability to chose what is done with your own body), childcare, education and violence against women because they all directly impact a woman’s ability to work, run a business and/or manage property.

Addressing inequality and Human Rights violations are key to resolving poverty. When inequality is high, poverty goes up; when inequality is low (and equality is high), poverty goes down.

It’s an important economic concept that has been thoroughly examined, discussed and researched by academics and activists all over the world (see references below).

My Own Experience

Since I’m just a poverty survivor and not a world-renowned academic expert in economics (or anything else), allow me to provide a ground-zero perspective from life here in the United States of America.

The examples I have collected show how an individual is kept in poverty or under absolute financial control of another individual. Therefore, it is important to understand that placing one person in a family (or community or collection of humans) under the absolute control of another person contributes to poverty overall.

The most simplistic explanation for this statement is this: If the controlling person is wealthy, the person they control is impoverished because they care unable to own property.

However, these human rights violations continue the cycle of poverty in many other ways. If a woman is unable to make decisions, maintain control over her body or well being, is subjected to violence, or is simply trapped in her home, then she is not contributing her full potential to the household or the community. Also, if something happens to the individual who is controlling all finances, leaving him unable to work, then the entire family becomes homeless.

For the purposes of this answer, I will focus on the effect on the women (specifically). Please understand that there are others who are effected, both directly and indirectly, by these issues.

1960s

Image source: Asterisk Gallery: No Moms Allowed: Teen Hangouts Through History

(Note: this is NOT a photo of my mom. Technically, it’s a 1950s photo, but the hairstyles remind me of photos of my mother during her late teens.)

During the late 1970s, my mother told me the story of her first drivers license. She a navy child, so my grandfather was out at sea when it came time to go to the DMV, take the test, and get her license; so, my grandmother took my mother in herself.

The man behind the counter asked one question: “Where’s your father?”

They explained the situation and he flat out refused to allow my mother to get her license without a man present, providing his permission. She was not allowed to drive until my grandfather returned home. You can imagine how infuriating it was for both my mother and my grandmother.

Why this is important

Not being able to drives means being shut out of nearly all forms of employment in the far majority of people in the USA. It also significantly restricts movement and the ability to complete simple daily tasks, like shopping for food and going to the doctor.

Simply making divers licenses available to women (and punishing this sort of discrimination on the part of DMV workers) improves both women’s rights and women (economic) empowerment.

1970s

Images Source: NIH: Domestic Violence in the 1970s

As a kid growing up in the Midwest, I had a stay-at-home-mom and lived in a house surrounded by houses filled with stay-at-home-moms. Some of the women were literally trapped in their homes without a vehicle or access to public transportation (at that time, it did not exist outside of the city). A few were doubly trapped by an abusive spouse.

Domestic violence was also common. Not just in my little town – everywhere.

This was when the women’s movement was picking up steam and making a lot of progress, but deep social and political change always seem to take an extra 5–10 years to reach the deeply rural areas and the states located in landlocked areas between the coasts. It took a while, but it did, finally, arrive.

Why this is important:

Without realistic options for income, these women were unable to escape violence and abuse against themselves and their children. Without employment they could not escape. Employment was not possible until after they managed to escape. It was an impossible situation.

When domestic violence awareness campaigns reached all corners of the USA, and changes to the laws provided all people of all ages protection from violence and abuse, then large numebrs of women were finally able to achieve both physical and financial freedom.

1980s

Image Source: 1985 cover of TIME | Current & Breaking News | National & World Updates

As a teenager in the 1980s I found myself faced with some strange contradictions. There were people who were claiming that women had achieved equality and feminism was dead (sound familiar).

Yet, at the exact same time, many of my classmates were getting pregnant due to many difficult realities. Chief among them were the anti-birth control and anti-abortion sentiments of the local religious and political leaders and the disturbingly common occurrence of date rape.

While the majority of teenage girls simply gave their babies to family members to raise, there was a not-insignificant minority of teenagers who were forced to marry their boyfriend and/or rapist. I listened to more than one story that roughly translated into the following process:

  1. Boy ‘likes’ girls and wants to control her (permanently).
  2. Boy rapes girl.
  3. Boy tells everyone, including girl’s parents, that they had sex and the baby was his. There may not be a baby on the way. This did not appear to matter.
  4. Girl is now socially tied to boy. Other teens and adults perceive her as ‘his.’
  5. Boy continues to rape girl until she gets pregnant.
  6. Boy demands marriage.
  7. Parents force marriage, while trying to absolve themselves of any wrongdoing.
  8. Girl is now physically, socially and financially trapped by boy.

This is not a relic of the past – it continues to happen.

Why This is Important:

Body autonomy is about significantly more than ‘wanting to be a parent.’ It’s about physical safety and freedom – literal freedom.

No human being, regardless of age or gender, should be subjected to rape. Laws are in place to protect the victim, but they are difficult to enforce. The circumstances are also frequently complicated, particularly when it’s ‘date rape.’

The ability to prevent a pregnancy under any circumstance is the last line of defense against this particular kind of predator. Therefore, birth control is absolutely necessary in the fight against rape, domestic violence, and women’s inequality.

The ability to raise a child as a single parent, and still pursue a career and/or life goals is something our entire society MUST support, because it provides freedom to girls facing this kind of abuse,

The ability to address everything that goes along with a teen pregnancy, including medical care, without being forced into a marriage, is also absolutely necessary.

Those who have access to these necessities are also provided access to the possibility of a financially independant and reasonably secure future.

1990s

Image Source: Huffington Post: Why Anita Hill’s 1991 Testimony Is So Haunting Today

I started working full-time after college. Then I went to grad school, and returned to working full time immediately after. That makes the 1990s the decade of my introduction into the regular workforce. Here are somethings that I heard on a regular basis during that decade (said to me directly and to other women):

  • Of course your pay is low, you’re married. Your husband is bringing in the real income.
  • You’re young and married. You’ll be having babies soon. We don’t expect you to stick around.
  • We need someone to take notes. [Name of only female in room], you can be the secretary for the meeting.
  • The best job [a woman] can get is secretary (nurse, teacher, [other stereotypically female position]).
  • You should wear clothes that are tighter (more revealing, more fashionable, etc.). If you want to get ahead, you have to learn to work it. Don’t you want to succeed?

I could go on but you get the idea.

While all of these things were frustrating, uncomfortable and occasionally infuriating; none of them were perceived as harassment. In fact, the possibility of harassment didn’t come up until the Anita Hill hearings brought the topic into the TV sets and living rooms of every American with access to standard news channels. Even then, the focus was on extreme examples of sexual harassment.

Therefore, I will put aside the general atmosphere that was prevalent a few decades ago, and focus on the one specific comment that had real and far-reaching consequences for every working woman in the USA:

  • Of course your pay is low, you’re married. Your husband is bringing in the real income.

This is just one of the many excuses/responses to questions about pay disparity that I, personally, encountered. Attempts to pursue this line of inquiry, or negotiate for a simple pay raise, were usually (invariably?) met with threats (direct or implied) of dismissal.

(Note: Reason it’s important will be explored in 2000s)

2000 to Present

Image Source: Equal Pay For Equal Work (Also see: Equal pay for equal work – Wikipedia)

While being held back in the pay-scale during my 20s was frustrating, I didn’t realize just how important it was until many years later. The problem is this:

  • New employers base their pay-level offering on the amount of money previous employers have already paid you.

Requesting pay history and verifying the amount former employers paid is standard background check process. These are also standard discussion points during the interview process.

When it comes time to talk salary, it’s ALLWAYS based on information the new employer has on what previous employers paid. If you made $30,000 doing the same (or similar) work at your last company, why would the new company pay you significantly more? The fact that the men in the company are getting $90,000 during their first year, is irrelevant.

Bottom line: Your price has been set.

Why this is important:

Women consistently making 70% of the salary earned by men (across all professions) has serious implications for total household income. It reduces a woman’s ability to sustain herself and her children without a roommate or a husband. It significantly reduces her ability to find a job that pays a living wage, if she happens to be an unskilled worker.

However, it also has wider implications that directly affect men. The existence of wage disparity establishes a process by which some people are financially discriminated against. This process can be…and often is…applied to any group of people, as the company sees fit.

This isn’t about finding the best candidate or paying for a stronger skill set. Wage disparity is the act of paying significantly different wages to people who are doing the exact same work.

This perpetuates poverty by systematically restricting select groups of people from accessing key resources.

What the Academics Have Said

There are many highly respected academics and activists who have been saying poverty is reduced when women are economically empowered for a long long time. Here are a few examples of published academic papers that illustrate this fact:

For an excellent speech on the effects of violence (specifically) and unenforced laws (in general) on poverty, please watch this TED talk:

Ted Talk (YouTube.com) Gary Haugen: The hidden reason for poverty the world needs to address now

Originally posted in response to How powerful is female empowerment in resolving world poverty? on Quora.

Why a Muslim Registry is a Bad Idea

Originally posted in answer to the question What is so bad about a Muslim registry? on Quora.

I am going to provide an IT perspective on this question.

Yes, that’s right, an Information Technology, computers and the-people-who-deal-with-the-machines-collecting-and-crunching-the-data-perspective.

Why? Because when someone decides to ‘create a registry’ someone (similar to myself) is tasked with the job of creating a database AND reports generated by that database.

As illustrated by the wonderful commentary generated by the Y2Gay database discussions, IT has an important perspective on these things: Gay marriage: the database engineering perspective

Creating Databases Means Identifying Key Data

When a database is created, the first thing that must be done is simply this:

  1. identify the key data being collected
  2. identify the reports and other deliverables created by the database

While you might thing the second item could be restated as ‘identify the reason for the database’ nothing could be further from the truth. When dealing with non-computer people it is not unusual to have someone demand that a database be created to gather information “that creates a positive customer service experience for our customers!”…or something equally unclear yet very pep-rally appropriate. Then, after talking to multiple people and FINALLY getting them to explain what, exactly, they are going to DO with the data, the unofficial and IT specific purpose changes to: “create a mailing list.”

This is one of those near-universal experiences people in IT like to laugh and complain about. It applies to government and private sector equally.

So, in the case of a Muslim registry, the first step (key data) is partially addressed in the notes included with this question:

I am shocked there is not already a registry of ALL citizens with info such as race, gender, religion, languages etc. At least a Muslim registry is a step in the right direction, seeing as a great threat to America happens to belong to a single religion (I know most Muslims are not terrorists).

As noted in other answers, many of these elements are already gathered through existing databases, like the US Census and ID Cards.

Don’t Make Me Fill Out ANOTHER Form!

When data is already being collected and reported, the individuals responsible for that data tend to get cranky when someone comes in asks them to fill out another form, create another report, and generally re-enter the same stuff AGAIN. There’s also the possibility of entering errors into the data source when it’s being created/generated/imported/modified multiple times by multiple people.

Of the items listed, everything except religion and language are already included on divers licenses and state IDs. The data collected by the DMV is free and available to the general public (personally, I do NOT agree with this massive dumping of personal information…but I digress) so an enterprising database designer could…potentially…import the DMV data and connect it to the missing elements: religion and language.

With the right connections and political power, it could also connect to the state and federal databases containing anyone and everyone who has ever been arrested for any reason (including those cleared as innocent) AND the databases maintained by the department of homeland security, the no-fly list, and even the records maintained by public schools. Several of these databases INCLUDE religion and race.

In short, we COULD create a complete profile on every person residing within the United States neatly coordinated within a single location just by importing already existing data.

Explain to me…again…why we are doing this?

That brings us to the second question – what, specifically, is going to be DONE with this data?

Since the Muslim registry enters into the network of existing information specifically for the purpose of:

  1. collecting religion and language
  2. identifying terrorists
  3. focusing specifically on Muslims as potential terrorists

Then the database being created is more like a report-generating app that connects all existing data, spits out lists of known Muslims, their home address, the school they attend, the language they speak, connections to known terrorists groups, their place of worship, and anything else that might be deemed important.

Presumably, this information would be provided to people in the field, who would add information to individual files, as needed.

As an IT person, I’m thinking: soooo…you want to re-create the department of homeland security?

As noted above, all of this information already exists and it is a well known fact that federal agencies have made concerted effort to connect and share data. I guarantee you, this sort of thing already exists – along with similar reports on every religion, hate group, environmentalist group, activist community and whatever else someone in ANY federal level policing agency (or state level or whatever) might deem important to know…for whatever reason,

In fact, if human behavior remains consistent (and it usually does) there are probably databases and reports that focus on individuals, groups and concerns going back to the beginning of data collection – and people working in all levels of law enforcement who occasionally stumble across these things and scratch their heads wondering why in holy hades do they even HAVE this?

Duplicate with different purpose…and the reason is what?

So, again, why are we building this?

Now we are getting down to brass tacks. The key term here is registry.

A registry managed by the government contains data on people that is made publicly available (GovernmentRegistry.org – Public Records Online). A category-specific registry is usually (always?) focused on presenting information about people who are deemed dangerous enough to warn the general public on a permanent basis.

For example:

Therefore, this isn’t data collection, this is data distribution to the general public.

Whats Wrong With a Muslim Registry?

Creating a database of all individuals who associate with a specific religion and making it publicly available for the express purpose of warning all individuals NOT associated with that religion to be wary of interaction due to potential terrorism…

Yeah, that’s a problem.

Why? Because that’s not purpose-driven data collection, that’s propaganda.

I suggest reading any of the other posts that focus on the registries maintained by the Nazis or the crimes committed again the Japanese here in the USA during WWII. I’m sure there are other equally powerful examples and all of them come down to the same thing: when the government ostracizes a group of people and generates a marketing campaign that vilifies all members of said group…and a registry would achieve that goal (and ONLY that goal)…then bad things happen.

Really bad things.

We don’t need that here in the United States.

Can Technology Solve Poverty?

Technology can address the symptoms of poverty

Apps are basically high tech communication devices. They are really useful for gathering and distributing information. In that respect, they can help address the symptoms of poverty by providing poverty survivors access to:

  • Information about potential resources.
  • Free educational resources, tutoring services and MOOCs.
  • Crisis lines addressing everything a person without health care or the cash to pay for professional help, including: medical questions, parenting questions, suicide hotlines, 12-step program hotlines, etc.
  • Legal advice
  • Job listings, resume advice, job advice, etc.
  • Establishing funding platforms to meet the needs of schools and similar resources in poverty stricken neighborhoods.
  • Applying for assistance through online forms (it is important to note that this has both positive and negative affects on access to those resources)

These apps can also affect public perception by answering the questions and addressing the prejudices surrounding poverty. They can attempt to educate the masses about the realities of poverty and the truth about who poverty survivors really are, including those of us who have experienced homelessness.

The voices of poverty survivors

All of these things currently exist and all of them require access to the internet and the specific technology required to connect to the applications. While there are plenty of poverty survivors (homeless included) who have some form of smart phone (Tracfone offers several android phones for less than $100 and a SUPER cheap pay-as-you-go plan…it’s really easy to get one), for many people that is where the technology ends.

Being able to leverage these opportunities often requires access to more than a low grade android cell phone. Determined poverty survivors with access to a reasonably well funded public library will use the computer lab to access all of these things. Others just shrug their shoulders and assume they don’t apply to them.

The thing that is missing from all of these resources and opportunities is the voice of poverty survivors themselves. Please watch the following TED talk by Mia Birdsong. She says it far better than I ever could:

Can technology solve poverty?

No. Poverty is not caused by technology, so technology is not close enough to the source of the problem to have a profound effect on the problem.

Technology does not pay the bills or end human rights violations. It does not block human trafficking, slavery, violence, exploitation or stalking (cyber or face-to-face). It does not end racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, slander or classicism. It does not prevent police brutality or government corruption. It does not put food on the table, a roof over your head or clothes on your back. It does not force your employer to pay a living wage – or provide the paycheck that is owed to you.

It doesn’t even get you a job. Access to long lists of jobs posted to websites like LinkedIn is helpful, but it is NOT a job. If one of those job postings happen to materialize into a job, there’s no guarantee it will pay a living wage.

Poverty can be positively affected by technology. I encourage those with this particular skill set to look for ways to use those skills to positively change the world in every possible way, including addressing the symptoms of poverty. But never forget that these are symptoms and not root cause. Until the root cause is addressed, poverty will remain epidemic in this country and around the world.

-Originally posted to Quora in response to the (frequently asked) question Can apps be used to tackle societal problems like hunger or homelessness or income insecurity?

Mass Blindness: Why don’t American’s see the poverty in their own backyards?

The most common reasons for mass blindness are as follows:

  1. Prosperity theology – Wikipedia This highly flawed religious belief took root in this country before it became the USA. It never left. People still think that poverty survivors (rape victims, abuse victims, people struck by illness, etc.) are cursed by God because they are ‘bad people.’ It’s religion-sanctioned victim-blaming, and it’s long-term effects have been extremely destructive.
  2. Welfare queen – Wikipedia: A highly effective political marketing/propaganda campaign utilized by President Reagan which vilified all poverty survivors based on a fictitious character developed, loosely, out of one female African American criminal who was convicted of fraud. It is a well-established fact that this campaign was an attempted to garner the support of white voters by demonizing black people – and it worked.
    1. The Truth Behind The Lies Of The Original ‘Welfare Queen’
    2. The Real Story of Linda Taylor, America’s Original Welfare Queen
    3. Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” myth: How the Gipper kickstarted the war on the working poor
    4. The myth of the modern welfare queen
    5. Return of the ‘Welfare Queen’
  3. Deserving or undeserving poor: A European belief that was imported to the United States by European immigrants and became a permanent fixture within our culture and politics. It is a well-established fact that the hyper-examination of the relative morality of people surviving a life-threatening crisis is counterproductive to the efforts to reduce poverty, homelessness, and everything that goes with them. But the social belief remains and grant money, political favor, and individual donations are often tied to proof that poverty survivors deserve assistance.
    1. Deserving vs. undeserving poor — for the love of God, here we go again
    2. deserving-vs-undeserving-poor
  4. Performance Poverty: Thanks to the combined efforts of politicians, Hollywood and authors like Charles Dickens, people in the USA have come to expect a very specific ‘show’ when they look for proof of poverty. Some expect to be entertained, others want proof that their investment of money and/or empathetic emotion is ‘worth it’ and, therefore, want a proper performance.
    1. Comparison arguments: This is frequently accompanied by non-logical comparison arguments like:
      1. “Look at these photos of poor people in Africa! Poor people in the USA are FAT, so they CAN’T be poor…not really.” The photos shown are invariably images of people surviving war, plague and/or drought, thereby leaving them so devoid of resources that their ribs are showing through their chest. All reasonable discussions about the realities of poverty in the USA are then dismissed because those people don’t ‘look poor.’
      2. Example: What is the biggest slum in the U.S.? There are American’s who answered this question with ‘they don’t exist here,’ and then proceeded to post photos of ‘real slums’ in other countries. These answers are then debunked by other Americans who proceed to post photos of slums here in the USA.
    2. Slum tourism – Wikipedia: Upper-class Americans are known to make entertainment out of poverty by traveling to other countries and gawking at the poverty survivors in those areas. It’s…unethical…to say the least. It’s also NOT restricted to international travel. It happens here in the USA.
    3. Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol) – Wikipedia Every Christmas season local theater’s put on yet another performance of a Christmas Carol. There are old movies shown on TV and sometimes a new version is released. ONCE AGAIN the world watches as the poor are stomped on by Scrooge and yet, one particularly saintly and sickly child keeps his faith in both God and man, showing great generosity in his ability to extend forgiveness even to Scrooge – a fact which proves to be the tipping point for massive spiritual transformation within the old wicked miser. HURRAY! The Noble savage, in the form of a handicapped child without access to health care, has given proper service to the power-holding upper class by successfully transforming the man’s soul just in time for his death of old age! Americans of all ages leave the theaters filled with Holiday Cheer and a destructively erroneous image of the ‘deserving poor’ in the form of Tiny Tim, as well as an even more destructive storyline concerning the proper interaction between rich and poor. (No, I am not a fan of this story.)
  5. Service Trips: church groups, schools, and community organizations have a frustratingly common habit of taking groups of people (children, in particular) on service trips. Instead of examining and addressing poverty in their own city/town/neighborhood, they pile into a bus or a caravan of cars and go to some magical ‘poverty land,’ like the Appalachian mountains, where they help the ‘real poor.’ Now, just to be clear, poverty survivors exist in large numbers in the Appalachian mountains – the poverty in this region is VERY real (America’s poorest white town and Why Poverty Persists In Appalachia). I object the service trip culture because it presents and solidifies through action the idea that poverty ONLY exists in the Appalachian mountains or other well-known poverty-stricken regions. This directly and significantly contributes to the collective blindness the general public has towards poverty in the USA. It even has this weird way of convincing poverty survivors themselves that their own poverty is, at least partially, a figment of their own imagination because they don’t live in one of the recognized ‘poor areas.’ For example:  I may be homeless, but at least I don’t live in the Appalachian mountains – really???

-Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Do Americans care about their poor people?

Service Project Ideas: Helping the Homeless

If you really want to use your service project to help the homeless, then consider doing the following:

  1. Make a List About YOU: Make a list of all of the key characteristics that describe you, right now, as a person. Try to make it as exhaustive as possible.
    1. What categories do you fit into? For example: race, gender, religion, sexual identity, family situation (e.g.: kids, no kids, married, single), education level, health status (e.g.: healthy, diabetes, food allergies, disabled, etc.)
    2. Identify those categories that you think are most important during homelessness. For example: Diabetes is potentially deadly without proper diet and/or medical care, adult shelters will not take anyone under age 21, and caring for children while homeless is extremely difficult.
  2. Imagine Yourself Homeless: Picture yourself facing some catastrophic financial or physical emergency that leaves you instantly homeless right now. What would you do? Where would you go?
  3. Research: Do a little research and identify those resources that you would attempt to utilize in that situation.
  4. Make Contact: Contact those organizations and tell them you are looking for:
    1. Volunteer work to complete a service project.
    2. Opportunities to meet and work with people who are currently homeless and similar to yourself in a few key ways. Example short lists:
      1. 21 years old, female, no children.
      2. Over 50 with diabetes
      3. 35 years old, male, single parent, 3 kids
      4. 26 years old, lesbian, 2 dogs
  5. Listen: Let the organization tell you what they need help with and then do your best to provide assistance.
  6. Reflect: After a few weeks of volunteer work, sit down and re-imagine yourself homeless. Based on what you now know, what would you do? What are the dangers and challenges other people, just like you, are facing? Are any of those things particularly surprising? What is your biggest fear?

All of this will provide some real insight into what it feels like to be homeless AND the many unique and often maddeningly difficult challenges people surviving homelessness are forced to face.

Follow up that experience by pursuing some tools to help you make a positive impact on poverty and homelessness in the future:

  1. Social Justice: Take a social justice workshop (if you can) and pay particular attention to the justice issues faced by poverty survivors (homeless included).
  2. Mentoring/Internship: If you complete the first part of this plan and decide that you really want to do more – contact the non-profit and ask for a mentor or an internship. Getting to know people who’ve built a career out of fighting poverty and homelessness is far more important and useful than any number of textbooks, news articles, books, workshops, etc.
  3. Emergency Plan: If you were facing a serious emergency that would place you into a homeless situation, what would you do. Take some time with this, really identify the financial and physical needs that would have to be addressed. How can you plan for the worst right now? How can you face a catastrophic financial emergency and get through it? What is your plan? Keeping yourself out of homelessness is important! It’s extremely difficult to survive homelessness, much less combat it while trying to survive. It’s also important to remember…ALWAYS remember!…that anyone can experience homelessness at any time. Poverty is an equal opportunity employer.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question: What can I do as a service project to help out the homeless?

Reasons for Avoiding Homeless Shelters

There are many reasons why homeless people avoid using the local shelter. Some of the more commonly known reasons are a lack of sanitation, infestation with bugs or rodents, extremely dangerous people already using the shelter, problems with theft, enforced sobriety rules and being banned from the shelter for previous actions while staying there.

Here are a few more items to add to that list:

Social stigma: If a person has a vehicle or (even better) a camper they can use, then parking in some random parking lot for the night is more socially acceptable than sleeping at a shelter. Unfortunately, some shelter volunteers are there for the express purpose of identifying ‘those people’ and pointing them out to anyone and everyone who will listen. I’ve actually watched well respected and well connected ‘pillers-of-society’ do this…aggressively…on many (MANY!) occasions over the years.

Employment: If you’re serious about acquiring or maintaining employment, then staying at the shelter can be a really bad idea. People talk and word gets around. If your employer finds out you are staying at the shelter, he or she may decide to eliminate you due to the perceived risks associated with hiring a ‘homeless person.’ This is regardless of how long you’ve worked for that employer or how good your work has been and continues to be.

Abuse: Anyone running from an abusive relationship will be trying to find a safe place where they cannot be found. Shelters are not safe places for people running from a stalker, domestic violence, or similar threat of violence. It’s too easy to be found AND for the abuser to enter the premises of a shelter. If a bed in a battered women’s shelter is not available…or if the individual is male (men face abuse too)…then the standard adult shelter may be exceptionally unsafe.

Children: Even shelters that make accommodations for families with children can be exceptionally dangerous for kids and teens. Depending on the situation, the number of people using the facility (read: is it crowded?) and the way the shelter is managed, a parent may assess the situation and decide that it is simply too dangerous for the kids.

Discrimination: Shelters are often run by private non-profits and religious organizations. Therefore, some of these shelters feel they have the right to require anyone who uses their services to participate in their particular brand of religion. They also believe they have the right to deny assistance to anyone they consider to be ‘immoral’ – this includes people who are LGBT, devoted practitioners of other religions, members of races or ethnicities the group dislikes, and pretty much anything else. Sometimes a court case will be brought against a shelter for doing this sort of thing, but finding (paying) a lawyer is extremely difficult for all poverty survivors, even more so for homeless people.

Forced Adoption or Abortion: There are ‘shelters’ that ‘help’ pregnant women by providing care during the pregnancy with the aggressively enforced assumption that those women will give their children up for adoption (arranged by the shelter, through their network of lawyers and other adoption professionals, all of whom get a cut of the final sale…sorry…adoption). Sometimes these same shelters will do everything in their power to force women to abort babies that are difficult to adopt out (e.g.: they are not a popular racial mix). Bottom line? Word gets around and pregnant women who have found themselves homeless will go to extreme lengths to avoid these places and with good reason – even when other shelters refuse to provide services to pregnant women.

-Originally posted to Quora in answer to the question Why are homeless people still on the streets when there are shelters for them to go to?

Homeless Youth Shelters

Homeless Youth

There are youth shelters throughout the United States but there are far fewer of them than adult shelters and sometimes they don’t advertise their location for safety reasons. Often youth shelters are not included in resources listing. For example: I did a quick search for all shelters in Duluth, MN through Homeless Shelters | Find Homeless Shelters | Homeless Shelter Search and the local youth shelter was not listed, despite having a website and generally being as visible as a youth shelter can be. This means that children and youth find out about shelters through other homeless children and youth, or through the staff at the adult shelters.

Adult shelters will not take children without an accompanying adult and sometimes they will turn away families because they have children – other times they will turn away adults without children, it all depends on the shelter. So homeless kids without a guardian frequently sleep and survive on the street.

A few years back, I interviewed a few people at the Life House youth shelter in Duluth MN and they made some very interesting points about the unique challenges in securing funding for a youth shelter. They admitted that many children in Duluth were forced to sleep outside because the shelter simply did not have enough beds. But they also said the funding wasn’t JUST for beds. Homeless children need an adult support network, schooling, counseling, positive discipline tactics, stability and a litany of other things that can’t be found in an adult shelter or on the street. While the Life House provides all of these things, they have to PAY the adults to do them.

That particular town had an extensive network of services for children, including a very active foster care program and a crisis shelter (usually used by parents who need childcare while addressing an emergency) through Lutheran Social Services (http://www.lssmn.org) as well as several abuse-oriented shelters and programs. Yet, the local homeless service providers estimated that at least 25–30 kids were sleeping on the streets every night. Duluth MN is not a big city. It’s a small-to-medium sized market, at best.

Minneapolis is a city (not a BIG city like New York, but a city) and it has a significantly larger population of homeless youth. There are shelters: Youth Shelter Information But there’s never enough resources to meet the overwhelming need.

Here is where I see the BIGGEST problem in all of this: I have heard it said that a child generally lasts about 20 minutes before someone on the street snatches them. Pimps, child abusers and human traffickers of all kinds recognize a runaway or otherwise desperate child and lures them away with promises of food and shelter. 20 minutes!

I personally experienced being lured. I was 16 years old, traveling alone, reading a book in a Milwaukee bus station. Two pimps sat themselves down on either side of me and proceeded to play good-cop-bad-cop, trying to entice or force me out of my chair and into the street – with them. The fact that I knew a) exactly what was happening and b) how to get rid of them tells you something about the people in my life at that time. While I was street smart enough to recognize and avoid that situation, I also had someplace to go. I was hungry and completely out of money, but I had a bus ticket and a destination. I could skip a meal or two.

How long did it take them to find me? I don’t know when they identified me as a target because I’d been in the city a few hours, but when they approached me I’d been sitting at the bus station for about 20 minutes.

Place a child/youth who is naive or desperate in that situation and these guys can get away with pretty much anything. Having enough shelters with enough beds for every child in need of help is a life and death matter for homeless children.

Sadly, that’s not our current reality.

Originally posted on Quora in answer to the question: Where can homeless youth (under 18) find shelter in the USA?

Also see:

Evaluating a Favorite Fiction List

What does a favorites list say about a specific individual?

When a college recruiter, potential employer, first date or an acquaintance inquires about a favorite book, they are usually trying to get a sense of who the other person is on a more personal level.

I love the discussions that can develop out of this sort of question. I also remain extremely cautious about using the list itself as proof of personality, ethics or beliefs.

Beware! You have entered the land of dangerous assumptions.

There is no ‘should’ in a favorites list. It doesn’t matter what a person’s inner circle or society as a whole thinks; each person chooses according to their own private, gut reaction. The books placed on that very special shelf within my house are not the same as the books proudly displayed on the favorites shelf in your house. Every list is different. Every. Single. One.

It is impossible to evaluate an individual, based on a list of books, titles without knowing why those titles were selected.

Wordery.com

My Favorites List

As an example, here is a selection of titles from my own favorites list (roughly in order according to publication date):

Just glancing over this list, what jumps out at you? When this list is evaluated without discussion, the following details are usually the center of focus…

Wordery.com

Common literary cannons utilized by most universities:

  • Women’s literature: 3
  • Multi-cultural literature: 3
  • Native American literature: 1
  • African American literature: 1
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction: 1
  • LGBT literature: 1
  • Pulitzer prize winners: 1
  • Not recognized by academic circles: 2

The authors:

Wordery.com

  • 5 women
  • 2 Men
  • 4 Americans
    • 1 African American
    • 1 Native American
    • 2 White
  • 1 Czechoslovakian
  • 2 British

While this numeric evaluation is interesting and easy to identify, it is most important to remember that it has little to nothing to do with the process of selecting a favorite.

Favorites Selection Process

To understand the selection process we must examine an individual’s primary categories. For example, my definitions are as follows (links are to my in-progress book lists on GoodReads.com):

  • Favorite: Any combination of the following:
      • Highly memorable books that provide a strong positive feeling.
      • Books that are re-read or referenced regularly.
      • A person can’t imagine life without a copy of that text.
      • Useful to the point of being necessary for day-to-day living.

    Wordery.com

  • Impact : Titles that significantly changed perspective or left a strong impression.
  • Enjoy: Fun to read. Highly forgettable pulp fiction that is perfect for a few hours of mindless relaxation.
  • Enjoy Plus: Somewhere between Enjoy and Favorite.

My definition of Favorite allows for the inclusion of any genre of text, not just novels. This is important to know because, under these circumstances, the question “what is your favorite book” could be answered with a cookbook, auto-maintenance manual, reference manual or anything else that happens to be particularly useful at that moment.

Reasons Behind Fiction Selections

Wordery.com

Because favorite novels are so intimately personal, the only possible way to truly understand the ‘meaning’ provided by a favorites list is by delving into the reasons why the individual made those selections.

In my case, every one of the novels in my list has one or more female characters who defies society’s norms to carve out a self-determined life for herself.

Sometimes the life-path resulted in catastrophe (e.g.: Wuthering Heights)  and other times it provided the best possible outcome a character could have hoped for (e.g.: Their Eyes Were Watching God). In some cases she was sexually free and aggressively confident (e.g.: Rubyfruit Jungle) and in others she was a virgin who refused to give in to peer pressure (e.g.: Voices of Dragons).

They are warriors (e.g.: Lord of The Rings), cautiously defiant and politically subversive teenagers (e.g.: Truckstop Rainbows) and strong young women who choose to live according to traditions and culture of their people (e.g.: The Ancient Child).

Whatever the circumstances, dangers or personal objectives, every one of these stories describes at least one woman who took life head-on and blazed a trail of her own making. This is a specific scenario that I am drawn to on a deep level, so the titles are placed on my favorites list.

Wordery.com

Properly Using a Favorites List

If you ask a potential employee, new friend or long-standing acquaintance for their favorite books list, remember that the list is the beginning of the conversation and not the end of the analysis.

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Space Satellites Are Not Afraid Of YOU

The use of satellite imagery in the fight against human rights violations is both important and fascinating. Amnesty International explains the power of technology like this:

Importantly for efforts to secure justice and accountability for the gravest of crimes under international law, remote sensing is replicable, and offers evidentiary value as we move closer toward a system of international justice that minimizes impunity for these grave crimes. These relatively new data – such as remote sensing data and corresponding analysis – cannot be intimidated or threatened, and enjoy permanence that allows for even retrospective documentation.

Remote Sensing for Human Rights, Amnesty International

This technology was used to examine political prison labor camps in North Korea and produced hard evidence that the camps are not being shut down, as promised by the North Korean government. In fact, they appear to be growing in size.

The report contains copies of images and detailed analysis of those images. It also presents information from survivors, including the following:

According to testimonies from former inmates in kwanliso 15, all inmates were subject to forced labour for between 10 to 12 hours daily in dangerous conditions in the production facilities, mines, logging and farming. Failure to meet the work quotas could lead to reduction or discontinuation of food rations. According to a couple, Kim and Lee (full names withheld), who were detained in kwanliso 15 between 1999 and 2001,

“We worked in the farms (at kwanliso 15) from 7am to 8pm. We cultivated corn. We were divided to work in units comprising 10-15 people each. We were given a daily production target that we had to meet. If the unit did not meet the daily target, the unit-members were punished collectively. During the course of our three-year detention, often we did not meet our targets because we were always hungry and weak. We were punished with beatings and also reductions in our food quota. In addition to that, in the Ideology Struggle Sessions that were held after work, those who did not meet the target were severely criticized and beaten by other inmates.”

According to prison official Mr. Lee who worked in kwanliso 16, inmates used to spend most of their time working in dangerous conditions, were overworked and had very little time to rest. In most cases, they had to work until they fulfilled their work quotas. After their work, they had to attend self-criticism meetings. Only after these meetings were they allowed to rest; mostly between 12 midnight and 4am. He had witnessed accidents in the work place, many of which were fatal.

North Korea, New satellite images show continued investment in the infrastructure of repressionAmnesty International, October 2013

The same imagery was combined with Tomnod crowd sourcing to identify locations of illegal fishing on Lake Malta, known for rampant human rights violations, including a disturbingly large number of of child slaves.

Visit Tomnod to participate in currently running crowd sourced projects or review the results of past campaigns.

Slave Free City

As the world enters the holiday season I have been doing a lot of thinking about the issue of modern slavery. These things may not seem to go together, but I recently finished the Ending Slavery MOOC and (to complete a class assignment) started trying to complete my holiday shopping with exclusively slave-free products. This is much harder than it sounds! It’s also something that really struck a nerve with me because giving slave-tainted holiday-season gifts or chocolates is just…well…wrong! I don’t care what high holiday you celebrate during the winter solstice – whether Santa visits your house or if the event is entirely religious – giving gifts made from slave labor, CHILD slaves in particular, is counter to the spirit of the season.

The course then introduced the concept of a slave free city. The idea is simply this: develop the support, networking, community organizations and whatever other resources are necessary to completely eliminate slavery from a single city. This isn’t a long-distant effort to assist people in other countries, this is a targeted program designed to eliminate slavery and human trafficking, in all of its forms, from your own home town.

There’s even an entire conference devoted to the topic (and I really really really want to go!): Slave Free City Summit (SFCSummit)

How and why have I never heard of this before? Sadly, the answer to my question is this: it’s a new concept, still being developed and tested. But I am convinced that it both can and MUST work. This effort intersects with the efforts of people fighting homelessness, poverty, and social justice issues of all kinds. Achieving this goal will have a universally positive impact on the entire community (city). This is something worth supporting 100% – and then some!

More information about Slave Free Cities: