Archives for April 2011

HopeWares: Combined Hope Makes Women’s Dreams Come True

What is Hope?  For the Dalit women of India, it means the possibility of expectations, desires and dreams fulfilled.

The word “Dalit” means oppressed. For the many desperate women who have lived under the crushing oppression of the Hindu caste system for over three thousand years, it also means no hope.

“Dalit women say they can be their own worst enemies given that caste distinctions are ingrained from birth. Then there’s the prevalent belief that individuals somehow deserve their fate because of good or bad karma carrying over from the last life.” –Mark Magnier, Los Angeles Times

Hurting Hearts & Combined Hope

After the tragic death of her daughter Anna, an Australian woman named Lynda Disher took a trip to India where she discovered “the horrific injustices that we as women here, rarely have to confront.”

“Anna had a passion to help the poor and bring joy to their lives. Like many young girls she struggled with being accepted by her peer groups but wrote in her diary that Jesus made her unique and she wanted others to know and embrace their uniqueness.” –Lynda Disher, HopeWares

She was challenged to make a difference. Fueled by her own grief, she connected with the grief and crippling oppression of the women she met. Woman to woman, hearts were united around a shared need for hope and the promise of a better tomorrow. 

These women did not want to live on handouts though, they wanted to make a difference for themselves and for their children—with their own hands, minds and ingenuity. That trip changed not only her life, but the lives of countless Dalit women.

HopeWares is Born

Through Lynda’s creative advocacy, her dream became a tangible reality.  Just one heart, one woman, one vision — and HopeWares was conceived.

Lynda observed that simply handing out money was not the solution. They needed more than money. They needed an opportunity to become educated and to learn skills that would pave the way to sustaining their families not to mention, freeing them from the bondages that had kept them down for thousands of years. HopeWares represented a light in their darkness, a flicker of hope.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong in my last life, I’m a human.” –Dalit Woman

The Solution — Sewing & Reaping

Working in partnership with Light Home, a home for children in Andhra Pradesh, HopeWares provides training in sewing and embroidery. At the end of the training program, the women receive a brand new treddle sewing machine. It is wonderful to imagine that something as simple as a sewing machine can symbolize freedom for a woman across the world, but it does!

“I have gained skills in tailoring, embroidery, and knitting and above all I have gained confidence in my future.” –Dalit Woman  

By creating colorful handbags, scarves, ottomans and home décor, the women are able to tend to their children and provide for their families. The profits from the goods (mostly designed by Lynda) and sold on the HopeWares website provide sewing machines and fund training schools that teach these rural women how to sew, thus, their tagline and purpose: You buy, we give.

Through her own grief, loss and sense of hopelessness, Lynda said yes to the call of her dream. And by saying yes to her dream, she gave hope by lighting the torch of the Dalit women’s dreams in India. Together with their combined hopes to make a difference for a better tomorrow–to raise the bar for the women so locked down by this ancient caste system they were prisoners of–their dreams really did come true.

A Brighter Future for the Next Generation

Today, there are up to an estimated 300 million people classified as Dalits, or “untouchables”, living in India. They are dehumanized, segregated. marginalized and suffer discrimination in education, employment, and health care. On top of that, Dalit women rank even lower than men. While the younger generation of Dalits have begun to stand up and plan for their future rights, they are still referred to as “untouchables.” 

Prejudice defines their lives… “Untouchables are shunned, insulted, banned from temples and higher caste homes, made to eat and drink from separate utensils in public places, and, in extreme but not uncommon cases, are raped, burned, lynched, and gunned down.” –National Geographic Magazine

How would it feel if your occupation or status in life were predetermined from birth? Mother Theresa said, “If I look at the mass I will never act.” And, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” If we can light the candle of just one person, we have made a difference, we have ignited hope.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

Additional Reading:

Dalit women find their voice through a newspaper, Los Angeles Times
Untouchable – National Geographic Magazine

To learn more or shop, visit HopeWares online.

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos provided by HopeWares)

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Destiny’s Women: Dreams Do Come True — Are You Living Your Life on Purpose?

April McCallum is the founder, writer and publisher of Destiny’s Women,™ a blog “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

 

“Every action in our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity”  –Edwin Hubbel Chapin

Tell us about Destiny’s Women… 

The tagline for Destiny’s Women summarizes its purpose: “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women™”  As you can read in the Purpose Statement, the goal is to Advocate, Empower and Reform

Destiny is the inner purpose of a life that can be discovered or realized.  That encapsulates what I want to express to women: you are of value and your life has a purpose.  But, it’s not just about what you do.  Most importantly, it’s simply and profoundly about who you are as a woman, as a person. 

The bottom line is: If you don’t see a way of escape because you are living under some form of oppression (circumstance, bondage or mindset) that keeps you from living your best life–don’t settle!  I have heard so many women say, “It’s my life, that’s just the way it is”.  That’s a lie — There is hope.  Enter: the dream for Destiny’s Women.

“While there’s life, there’s hope” –Cicero

What is your passion?

AM: I am passionate about life, people and destiny, among other things I value.  I love to communicate about real life issues through writing, art, advocating and networking. And, to cross-pollinate or collaborate for meaningful purposes in order to make a difference.  With Destiny’s Women, that involves discussion and calls to action about the things that keep women oppressed and from living in freedom–from anything that hinders a woman from reaching her dreams and living her God-given destiny.  

How has your passion fueled your current dream?

AM: Destiny’s Women serves as a catalyst to spark a desire for women to be liberated and set free. It speaks to hope and challenges them to live their own life on purpose. It is also a call to those who will join in advocating for the life, freedom and destiny of women.  

Destiny’s Women has also provided an opportunity for some of my favorite interests to intersect—advocacy for oppressed women and girls, communicating truth (the key to freedom) and creativity, to name a few. It is a privilege to join my voice with others for women and girls imprisoned by oppression.

When your dream for Destiny’s Women grew wings–what form did it take in becoming a tangible living breathing reality?

AM: I wanted to find a simple yet widely accessible vehicle to carry the voice of Destiny’s Women. That vehicle came in the form of a blog. Community is at the heart of its purpose and the content serves that community. It is part information, part inspiration and part challenge.

I love that apart from statistics and data, it also allows voices on all sides of the subject to be heard. From those who advocate and intervene on behalf of others’ freedom and those who have found creative ways to share information or use their voices to raise awareness, to the women who have lived with various forms of oppression and broken free and women who share success stories that will serve to encourage others who aren’t quite yet there.

As your dream began to unfold, did you feel support from those around you? 

AM: Yes! I have had overwhelming support from all of my “sister friends” both near and far! We love to discover, understand and hear about others’ journeys.  Women find healing and relief in telling their own stories, and in the process, others are challenged and inspired–they find encouragement and hope for their own lives. And of course, it is an avenue to raise awareness, provoke thought, and invite people to get involved in the areas of justice, compassion and advocacy.

Once you step out and start living your dream on purpose, it brings a real sense of stewardship, greater focus and intentionality. It crystalizes things and shines a new light on possibility-thinking. I love that.

How is Destiny’s Women impacting the lives of women?

All in all, our stories (women’s stories)–our lives–are interwoven. That’s why the heart of the matters discussed resonate so deeply. Their brokenness is our brokenness. Their suffering is our suffering.  Their hopes and fears are our hopes and fears. And when we hear stories of our sisters who have found their freedom, healing, voice or success, the light shines just a little brighter for us. We want the opportunity to experience our own freedoms, joys and celebrations because we see it is possible for others.

“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” –William Jennings Bryan

If you had to pick a couple of things that were the most challenging to your dream becoming a reality, what would they be?

AM: Many of the issues discussed are extreme in that they can impact lives in permanent ways.  That can go either direction—extremely positive or extremely negative. They speak to women’s realities whether through hardships (cultural or gender oppression, poverty and war, illness and disease, etc.), by their abusers (violence, sexual abuse, forms of exploitation, etc.), or self-inflicted/internal bondage (addictions, wrong mindsets and self-image issues) — and the various things that hinder them from living their destiny with freedom and purpose.

So, it’s the challenge of getting your heart and head around these very big and very real issues, and condensing them into bite-sized pieces so that people can be affected by them to the point of action.

A potential challenge might have been the victims’ vulnerability. There could have been a lack of transparency or willingness for women that needed to share and speak with their own voice, to get involved.  But that evaporated as soon as I stepped out. The road truly does rise up to meet you. I found that women wanted to express, share, reach out and touch others with their stories.  There’s healing in that process. They wanted to know that their oppression and hardships were not lived in vain. Overwhelmingly, women want to make a difference—they want their voice to be heard and their life to count.

Choose a couple of words that describe how stepping out and taking a chance on living your dream with Destiny’s Women make you feel.

AM: Celebratory. Grateful. Expectant. Purposed.

When you started imagining your dream’s potential—did you have any idea where it would take you?

AM: I am on the journey like every other woman who has said yes to her dream. It has already taken on even more verve and sparkle than I could have ever imagined in the beginning. One of the special things about dreams is they aren’t just for our own benefit, they are meant to be shared.

I believe that dreams are placed in our hearts and minds for a purpose, but we have a choice whether we take hold of the wings, or not. The more we invest ourselves, the more we are able to withdraw. In other words, the dream gives back

What advice would you offer others who are in the imagining stage of living on purpose?

AM: Once you know with certainty that this seed–this little dream–has been dropped from heaven into your heart for a reason, turn up the heat in the incubator. Fan the flames. It’s your dream and purpose. It’s a part of your destiny. Keep it alive–and whatever you do, keep dreaming!

When you know it is real and worth investing your life in–even if it’s only meant for a season—wrap yourself in it because it is yours.

Pray. Feel. Imagine. Research. Listen. Learn. Plan.  Invest time brainstorming–talk with people who champion your dream and understand the concept of living on purpose.  And then start creating. Take the necessary steps to take your dream from the “storyboarding stage” to putting hands, feet and a face on it, essentially, bringing it to life!   Your heart is already there.

Since you decided to take a risk and “go for it”, what are some of the ways your life or perspective have changed?

AM: A natural by-product of tipping your toe into the water and “going for it” is that the whole ocean seems to open up to you. New doors of discovery and opportunity suddenly seem to appear—a part of the grander purpose I’m sure. When you breathe, the air seems just a little bit sweeter.  It’s wonderful.

Once you’ve gone there and lived to tell the story so to speak, it’s more likely that you’ll be willing to take that risk again. Because the secret is, with the risk comes much reward, but–we have to be willing to take that first step.

The greatest reward of investing yourself by living on purpose, is that you’re not only investing in yourself, but in countless other lives–it’s that positive ripple effect. The women I have communicated with–met along this journey and have been honored to share in their stories–have blessed me.  Just by saying yes, being available to follow my dream and living my life on purpose—they have invaluably enriched the tapestry of my own life!

Destiny’s Women is for all of my sisters who are oppressed and deserve to live free, happy, purpose-filled lives, the “angels on earth” that advocate on their behalf, and women who are already living out their destiny, inspiring hope and loving life!

Are YOU living your life — on purpose?

© By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photo by Sam Mugraby)

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Women and Oppression: Advocating for Women Through Creativity

 
Throughout history and around the world, women have suffered from many forms of oppression.  Whether by domination or through violence–they have been de-humanized, marginalized, controlled, ignored, hurt, forgotten and silenced.

While others have been a different kind of victim–locked inside their own prisons of addiction, disease, illness and self-hatred, or incapacitated by other internal struggles. All are oppressive realities that keep women from living their lives to the fullest–held back, pressed down and in bondage.

  “What should move us to action is human dignity: the inalienable dignity of the oppressed, but also the dignity of each of us.  We lose dignity if we tolerate the intolerable” —Dominique de Menil 

Henry Ellis said, “Every artist writes his own autobiography”. When we create art for the cause of others, it could also be said that, “Every advocacy artist writes (or, paints, sculpts, weaves, documents, captures, performs) another’s biography.

Truth in Art

Art, when used as a creative vehicle for advocacy, allows us to create unique representations of the truth, or reality. Through music, literature, film, and various art forms, we have the distinct ability to present and propagate ideas and provoke thought.

“Art is not a study of positive reality, it is the seeking for ideal truth” –John Ruskin

Framing Reality – Stimulating Truth

When our senses are not alive, they cannot help us interpret and respond appropriately to the world around us. Art can play a vital role in breathing life into dull senses. It can help put a framework around reality, or stimulate us so we can grasp some critical piece of truth – this holds true for both the women who are victims of oppression and those affected by the advocate’s art. 

“If you do not have eyes, let me show you another way of seeing

If you do not have ears, let me teach you a new language so you can hear

If you do not have a voice, let me be your voice so you can speak and be heard

If your mind is tangled, let me express in a new way that unlocks the eyes of your spirit

If your heart is darkened with sorrow, let me fill it with light

If your hope has faded, let me introduce you to others who have broken free”

–Let Me Be Your Voice, by April McCallum (for victims & advocacy artists)

 Advocating Through Creativity

 “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance” –Aristotle

When we advocate, we don’t just stop at our awareness of an issue or need.  We take it a step further to say, in essence, I will take your hand and I will go there with you.  Or, I will take your story and go there for you—and for those who might follow in your footsteps.

Create to use your imagination to create new ideas or develop something in an artistic context

Advocate to support or speak in favor of something or someone who acts or intercedes on behalf of another

“To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist”. –Robert Schumann

Here’s to the advocates who seek to tell the truth and to the artists who represent, in their own beautiful, terrifying, significant way, the inward significance of the oppression of women.

Whether advocacy art makes us feel happy, sad, thoughtful, shocked, or otherwise moves us in some way—it has accomplished its purpose in leaving an imprint and making us feel.  When we feel, we awaken and become aware to some degree, of the reality of a situation.  If it also informs, inspires or motivates us to get involved, it has completed its journey by meeting with its ultimate objective–we have not only been moved, but moved to action.


April McCallum is also an illustrator and cartoonist and the creator of a group of advocacy art collections that speak to issues of Women’s Freedom from Oppression, Breast Cancer Awareness, Animal Rescue and Adoption.

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photo by Mary Brandt)

 

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Innocence Lost: Women and Childhood Sexual Abuse

Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.  When you imagine little girls, maybe you think of soft pink bows and pretty summer dresses, hearts and flowers, dollies and kittens, giggles and laughter.  Tiny little treasures brimming with life and hope–a future of possibility and promise.

But, in a single solitary moment, a little girls innocence can be violated, stolen. Through a single touch, her precious sanctity shattered.

“The long-term emotional and psychological damage of sexual abuse can be devastating to the child”

  American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Whether a family member, trusted friend or a stranger in the community, the perpetrator always comes to ravage. “Sexual abuse kills your innocence, your sexuality, your life, but most of all your soul,” says Gwen, whose sexual victimization began when she was only 5. Sexual abusers take what is not theirs for their own twisted perversion and pleasure.  They use, destroy and throw away the innocence of a child’s life.

DADDY’S LITTLE GIRL

In some cases, the words: “Daddy’s little girl” take on a dark and sorrowful meaning.  At the age of 18, Stacey Lannert shot and killed her father while he slept. He had sexually abused her from the age of 8, but the final straw came when she learned that he’d also started raping her younger sister.  

When Helen was a tiny girl, her father repeatedly raped her. “In the years of our marriage, sex was a terrible nightmare.  I was unable to forget my past as I constantly relived the rapes I experienced as a child,” she said.  Helen is now 60 years old.

“You have no idea how much of an impact your actions have on a child, how it can absolutely devastate a person’s life, and how much work it takes to reverse the damage done.” –Survivor of childhood sexual abuse

LITTLE GIRLS BECOME WOMEN

As seasons lapse one into another, the day comes when a girl looks in the mirror and a another person’s face is reflected back–she has become a woman. She has left behind her shiny little shoes, roller skates, coloring books and dolls. Her body and her life have changed on the outside, but on the inside, she cannot leave her childhood behind. The memories and that part of her seem frozen in time. 

As she carries the secret of childhood sexual abuse into her future as a woman, the effects of such a personal and invasive abuse can leave radical imprints. “We now clearly know that sexual abuse is a major risk factor for a lot of later mental-health problems” –David Finkelhor

SHATTERED MEMORIES

The beautiful and sometimes tragic truth about time and memory is that humans have the innate ability to capture details, things like atmosphere and feelings–like a snapshot from a camera. That includes for many women, the single solitary moment when their carefree innocent life as they knew it, changed forever. That moment when her life morphed from carefree and innocent to being held captive. Captive by her abuser and enslaved to her own thoughts, questions and feelings. 

GUILT AND SHAME

Many women who are victims of childhood sexual abuse live with a crippling sense of shame. Oftentimes victims don’t believe something bad happened to them– they think they are bad personally and that’s what caused the abuse. Tragically, the debilitating shame perpetuates the secret and keeps victims silent.

CONFLICTING EMOTIONS

A girl might learn that the only way to get attention or love is to give something sexual or give up their self-respect.   In Cheryl Burke’s case (Dancing with the Stars), she recalls, “I felt guilty for wanting his love and affection.”  In some cases–although perverted from what a pure and innocent adult-child relationship is suppose to be--a bonding takes place and because of it, a girl may find herself trapped between affection and loyalty for her abuser. Sex can become confusing and many victims of abuse mistake sexual activity for love, and vice versa. This can be carried into their adult relationships.

TRAUMA AND COPING

Trauma so often associated with sexual abuse can leave survivors to wrestle with some form of addiction as a numbing or coping mechanism aka strategic survival.  Seventy to 80 percent of victims live with a shattered sense of self by medicating their pain with alcohol or drugs. Through various forms of coping mechanisms, women attempt to mask their shame, numb the pain and erase the memories of the trauma. Even in adulthood, they may try to prove to others (or themselves) that they are “clean”, “to be believed”, or are “good girls”.

RESTORING TRUST

It is no surprise that sexually abused women have problems with trust, because the vast majority of perpetrators are people that she trusted as a child. Her experience has taught her that people in general, are not trustworthy. Victims oftentimes expect to be hurt.  No one understands better than she does what it feels like when those she trusted most didn’t save her, help her, believe in her, or even see her.

HOPE AND HEALING

Though childhood sexual abuse is a debilitating experience with potentially lifelong effects, it is not a life sentence. Hope is that little flame that refuses to give up, it is the little bit of light that penetrates even the darkest of times.

In order to recover, adult survivors must adopt positive coping behaviors, forgive themselves, and relinquish their identities as survivors (Sgroi, 1989). The healing process can begin when the survivor acknowledges the abuse.  

They can learn to heal through counseling, making positive empowering choices, washing themselves in the light of truth, and surrounding themselves with a strong support network. Over time they will learn that they no longer need to wear that coat of guilt and shame that was wrongly placed on them by someone else.

Stacey Lannert:

“Coming forward helped me find forgiveness. I learned that no matter how badly I wanted to I could not change the past, I had to accept it for what it was. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it set me free – on all levels. Speak up, shatter the silence that binds us. Our chains of silence can be broken with just a whisper.” 

Our innocence may be forever lost, but as long as we are alive, we still have a future of possibility and promise, and no one can take that from us. Break the chains, silence the silence, and yes, speak up—because the only voice that matters is the voice of Truth.

Additional Reading:

Redemption: A Story of Sisterhood, Survival, and Finding Freedom Behind Bars by Stacey Lannert, and, The Case of Stacey Lannert by Charles Montaldo

Please Tell!: A Child’s Story About Sexual Abuse by Jessie Ottenweller (1991)

The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (4th edition) by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis (2008)

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by bithead, Caroline, AJ Baxter, Mary, Melanie Cook)

Sources: National Center for Victims of Crime,, The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, National Center for PTSD, Childhelp

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Sex Trafficking: Turning a Blind Eye to Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls

Twenty-Seven Million. The United Nations estimates that 27 million people in the world are living in slavery, aka Human Trafficking.


  • The most common form of human trafficking (79%) is Sexual Exploitation.
  • The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly Women and Girls.
  • Human Trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States

“Sex trafficking of minors is the slavery of the 21st Century”. –Ernie Allen, President and CEO of National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Turning a Blind Eye

Often the girls are runaways, throwaways or sexually abused at home and have fallen prey to the street vultures. The ones who make it their life to search out young fresh vulnerable “meat”. The girls are forced through threats and coercion to work in places like strip clubs, massage parlors, nail salons, hotels, in the pornography industry and prostituting on the street. 

There are even some public officials who believe that prostitution is an issue between consenting adults in private and it doesn’t concern the public. The obvious problem with that thinking is that the law then turns a blind eye to all of the victims—modern-day slaves—caught in the web of sexual exploitation.

The truth is, there really is no “blind eye”. You can’t ignore a number like 27 million.  Societies begin to tolerate it. They know it’s there, but they ignore it.  And by ignoring what is hidden in plain sight—we make a choice, don’t we?  We make a choice that the money circulated by the industries that the sex slaves serve, is more important than the slaves, the human beings, themselves.  We make a choice to put our sexual lusts and appetites above the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of another person.  We make a choice to not see them as real people, but as a means to an end, as a commodity. 

The Bigger Picture

So, who’s in charge?   Who’s in charge of our streets, our cultural messages, our media and our policies? 

We need to look at the bigger picture—not just the effect, but the cause. It’s no secret that demand drives supply. No one is buying these girls because they are smart, gifted or for their interesting personality. They are paying money to use a human being for sexual pleasure, period. If there wasn’t a demand where profits could be made, the traffickers, pimps and corrupt officials wouldn’t be in such big business.  But they are.

“Trafficking in children is a global problem affecting large numbers of children. Child trafficking is lucrative and linked with criminal activity and corruption. It is often hidden and hard to address. –UNICEF”

So who’s responsible for our appetites–what fuels the requirement, the demand, for sexual slavery?

Here’s a hint.  It’s not just the creep in some dark alley on the backside of a slum half a world away.  The pornography industry is a multi-billion dollar money-maker.  But it goes even deeper than that, it goes back to supply and demand. It goes back to the question of who is responsible for our appetites.  Who but us as individuals–the people who pay other people money to supply women and girls against their will to satisfy our insatiable and deviant desires.

Sex and Love

All too often, movies, magazines, ads and the internet portray sex workers in some sleek beautified sexed up fashion. But the truth is, there’s nothing beautiful or good about bondage and sexual slavery.  There is no life in sexual exploitation, only death–death of the hopes, dreams, identity and a future for those who are enslaved.

Women and girls don’t choose to have sex with up to 50 strangers every day.  It’s not a life that any of them would desire for themselves. But as long as people are hungry, and as long as we feed their appetite—these victims will be given to satisfy their cravings.

There is no sign of love to be found. Love doesn’t hurt, coerce, bully, dishonor, degrade or use.  It can’t be traded, bought or sold.  Love respects, cherishes, values, nurtures and it is bi-directional, not simply self-serving.

Something vs. Someone

When women and girls are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, they are systematically dehumanized by their oppressors. They become like a piece of meat that is offered to satisfy a hungry appetite or a product with a price tag, just waiting for someone to come along and buy

They become a “something” to be bought and sold–no longer a “someone”.  And although they are treated like nobody—they are somebody. They are someone’s daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend or schoolmate. These women and girls have faces, names and unique identities. 

What Women Want

Sexual exploitation not only rapes a woman physically, it rapes (steals and marginalizes) her mind, emotions, spirit–and her hope of living out her destiny.

Women want and deserve to be loved, valued and respected. They are not mannequins, they are human beings with hearts and spirits, dreams and futures.

If you are guilty of ignoring the issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, or of helping to contribute to it in some form—you can make a difference starting today. Make a stand by helping to raise awareness, genrerate funds or speak out—but whatever you do–Stand! 

How are you you involved in helping to eradicate sexual exploitation?

More Reading:

Trafficking in Persons Report 2010, US State Department 
UNICEF Trafficking of Children
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by Jasmic, kuuipo1207, Avivij, Ira Gelb)

Sources: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), UN: A Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, AVN, Forbes, US News & World Report, The Forrester Research Study

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Breast Cancer: Mammograms & Early Detection

 

"Booby Trap" Mammogram by April McCallum

Women Like Their Breasts and They Don’t Want to Lose Them!

Not only do we want to keep our breasts, but we want to live a long and healthy life. The fact is: breast cancer kills. The best way to prevent breast cancer and potential death is early detection.

If you have not personally been touched by cancer, most likely you have had a sister, mother, aunt or friend who have. All cancer is devastating, but breast cancer is one that is so very personal to a woman. It is aggressive. It is powerful. It is oppressive.

About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.

Three main tests are used to screen the breasts for cancer:

Mammogram. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Mammograms are the best method to detect breast cancer early when it is easier to treat and before it is big enough to feel or cause symptoms.
Clinical Breast Exam. A clinical breast exam is an examination by a doctor or nurse, who uses his or her hands to feel for lumps or other changes.
Breast Self-Exam. A breast self-exam is when you check your own breasts for lumps, changes in size or shape of the breast, or any other changes in the breasts or underarm.


According to Breast Cancer.org about 39,840 women in the U.S. were expected to die in 2010 from breast cancer (though death rates have been decreasing since 1990).  There is some good news — In 2010, there were more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

These decreases are thought to be the result of treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness.

Having regular mammograms can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. If you are age 50 to 74 years, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are age 40–49 years, talk to your doctor about when and how often you should have a screening mammogram.

Screening for Breast Cancer –U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

Natiional Cancer Institute – Breast Cancer Preventiion

Basic Information about Breast Cancer from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society

So, go out there and get your breast exam and mammogram, and take a girlfriend along with you!  If there’s a woman in your life that hasn’t gone yet—a sister, wife, daughter, friend—challenge them to do the same.   Live well, live long.

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

All artwork by April McCallum. All Rights Reserved. To purchase artwork for publications or other purposes, contact April: april(at)aprilmccallumdesigns.com.  View more of her illustrations for Breast Cancer Awareness, or browse April’s Advocacy Art on Destiny’s Women to shop for more categories of her advocacy artwork on a variety of products for gifts or fundraising campaigns.

Sources: CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Breast Cancer.org, American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer.org

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Empowering Women — Stirring The Fire: A Global Movement to Empower Women and Girls

 

The goal of Stirring the Fire is to raise awareness about the issues women and girls face and ultimately inspire individuals to get involved.

Through the exhibition and multimedia documentaries developed and produced by Stirring the Fire, viewers learn about human trafficking, violence against women, education, health, leadership, economic security and the complex issues that face women and girls around the globe.

The stories of remarkable women reveal the practical pathways that helped them achieve social and economic justice.

Oppression of Women and Girls 

Women and girls make up the majority of poor, uneducated and illiterate around the globe. Systemic gender-inequality oppresses any hope for equal opportunity. When it comes to healthcare issues, women and girls are the most vulnerable and they have the least voice and influence in the socio-political leadership arenas.

Stirring The Fire is the vision of social documentary photographer Phil Borges. Phil met the women and girls that are featured in the exhibition while documenting projects for NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) like Amnesty International, CARE, The Tibetan Rights Campaign, One HEART, GEMS and Resurge International (formerly Interplast).

About Stirring the Fire

To learn more about Stirring the Firevisit the website where you will find organizations, resources and partner opportunities that contribute toward global gender equality. You will also learn how you can get involved through internships, study abroad programs, creative volunteer opportunities and political advocacy.

Phil Borges: Story Teller & Advocate of Gender Equality

Phil Borges is a Social Documentary Photographer, Filmmaker and Women’s Advocate. He has documented indigenous and tribal cultures around the world for more than 25 years. His work opened his eyes to the amount of discrimination and oppression of women and girls in developing countries, inspiring him to become a strong advocate for empowering women and girls with the support they need to make a difference in their lives and communities.

Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World

Phil Borges has also written a book titled, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World, with a forward by Madeleine Albright, documents women from developing countries who have broken through barriers of tradition and oppression to become catalysts of change in their communities. Through the photos and inspirational stories of these women, Borges hopes to bring the issue of global gender inequality to a new level of awareness. Click here to purchase the book.

When we advocate on behalf of women and girls by telling the stories that they cannot tell for themselves–we become their voices of hope.

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women


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The Power of Words: Women and the Negative Voices Within

You’ve heard the expression: You are what you think. All of us have positive and negative voices, but the negative ones can be crippling. They can advise, dictate, taunt, mock, measure and define us. They are constant reminders to us of who we are, and who we are not.

They may scream or they may whisper, be constant or intermittent, but as long as we listen to them, we feed them and give them permission to keep us in bondage. Like internal slave masters–they are oppressors who keep us locked in heavy chains–held captive within our internal prisons of self-doubt, self-deprecation and/or self-loathing.

But where do these voices come from?  From mothers, fathers, other family members, caretakers, teachers, coaches, friends and strangers. They also come from the media or the culture we are a part of. But sadly, and more often than not, they originate from the very people who were meant to love and nurture us the most– our families. Napoleon Hill said, “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.”

The Power of  Words — Messed Up Messages

You’re Not Good Enough.
No matter how hard you try, you can’t measure up. You will never be good enough, so don’t even bother trying. You’re not capable–you don’t have it in you–you’re not cut from the “right” cloth. You’re not smart enough, hard-working enough, talented enough, charming enough, thin enough, pretty enough. 
You’re a Bad Girl.
You’re not a good little girl like those other girls. You’re dirty and you’re a bad girl. Look at what you’ve done and look at what you’ve caused other people to do. You should be ashamed of yourself, you’re a nasty girl. 
You’re to Blame.
It’s your fault, you’re to blame. Whatever bad things happen to you, it’s because of you, you deserve whatever negative things come your way. If something bad happens, you probably provoked it, either by something you did or something you neglected to do—either way, it’s your fault.
You’ll Never Be Anybody.
You’re not going anywhere in your life. The stars don’t shine for you like other girls. You’re not meant to be anyone or anything. You just stay low, that’s your “place”, that’s where you belong. Don’t dream, wish or imagine, because that’s not for you. You’ll never be anybody and you’ll never go anywhere.
You’re Worthless. 
You’re not wanted. No one truly celebrates your life. You’re a nobody, you have no worth or value, and you are not cherished–because you are considered to be nothing.  Or, “You’re just like your… fill in the blank.

In some families and cultures, you are de-valued simply because you were born a girl — Talk about a no-win proposition!

The Power of the Mind — Influence & Choice

The human mind and emotions are powerful forces. They are fertile fields ripe for planting and we reap a harvest from whatever seeds are planted. The question is, what kind of harvest?

  From the mind and emotions our spirits can either shrivel or soar. We can hear beautiful melodies, or hear stabbing, painful or judgmental tones. We can envision greatness, manage complex processes and dream dreams, or see only darkness, locked doors and certain failure on our personal horizons. Because of them, we can believe in endless possibilities and a future with hope, or we can believe in nothing because the voices tell us not to bother–those things are for other women, not us.

Like pre-programmed computer chips, the voices embed themselves and create strongholds in our minds. They translate to our senses and emotions how we “should” feel, and define consciously or subconsciously, who we are. If we listen to a lie long enough, we begin to believe it to be truth. The destructive voices hold us back from being our true selves, stunted from all that we are meant to be.

Certainly, there are some places around the globe (or in some family structures) where women and girls are treated with high esteem and are given equal opportunity compared to their male counterparts. It is also true that in many cases, females have become much more self-confident, self-reliant, successful, truly happy and free. But for the ones who are not yet there, and are caught in an oppressive place (in the cultural or familial context) because of the voices who have not stewarded, taught, or nurtured them well — there is hope!

“The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.” –Author Unknown 

Saying Goodbye to the Voices

To recognize the negative messages being piped into our minds as lies, is key. We don’t have to live with the voices, but they will not go away on their own because they are deeply rooted. It may take some time, but it will be time well spent.  For women, the voices are so intricately tied to our self-image.

By purging the lies, we choose to invest in reprogramming our view of ourselves in order to bring a true sense of reality, peace and overall well-being. It’s time to say goodbye to the harsh masters who have held the keys for far too long. The plaguing thoughts that have held us captiveincapacitating and hindering us from living our lives in freedom and confidence.

“No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence, but by your own consent.”  –William Ellery Channing

Replacing the Voices — Choosing Life

So how do we begin to make a change for better?  We begin by washing our minds with truth, which is what will set us free. We make a conscious choice to say yes to right thoughts about ourselves and no to the negative ones. We keep company with positive and honest people who will act as mirrors in our lives, speaking truth to us about ourselves, our dreams, our futures—and we rid ourselves of regular contact with the toxic ones. “Blessed is the influence of one true, loving human soul on another.” –George Eliot

We lose the things in our atmosphere that bring death (belief systems we’ve subscribed to, harmful relationships, bad habits or addictions, places we frequent, or any inputs we listen to through media, music or literature that reinforce the negative or dark messages) and replace them with the things that bring life. Our thoughts can be like a tape stuck in an infinite loop that runs and re-runs in our mind. The good news is, we have control over what tapes—messages—we choose to play.  Choose life!  Choose the things that bring you peace, joy, encouragement, inspiration, challenge and fulfillment.

“Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.”  –Wilma Rudolph

And, we welcome the voice of God and let it tell us who we are. We are cherished, capable, valued and loved—we are here for a purpose. We have a future and a hope, and thankfully, we are not alone. Our true destiny awaits us.

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women
(Photos by Heal and Inspire, Jason Borneman, Alice Palace, AJ Bruestein)

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Sexual Violence Against Women: Rape, Abuse and Incest

TWO MINUTES… What Can You Do in Two Minutes?

Put on your lipstick.  Make a quick phone call.  Check your email. Let the dog out.  Change your dress.  Fix a cup of coffee.  Write a postcard.

 QUICK FACT: Did you know that someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every 2 minutes?

Most research concludes that girls and women are at substantially higher risk of being sexually assaulted than males (Matsakis, 1991). These girls and women are not just part of another crime statistic either. They are people we love–Our sisters, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, co-workers, and the list goes on.

Understanding the Definitions

RAPE: The crime of forcing somebody to have sex against their will

ABUSE: The physical, sexual, verbal or psychological maltreatment of a person

INCEST: sexual intercourse between persons so closely related that they are forbidden by law to marry

Sexual assault and violence against women do not discriminate. They happen to girls and women of all races and every religious, educational, and financial background.

QUICK FACT: Did you know that 15 out of 16 rapists will never spend a single day in jail?

Help for Victims of Sexual Assault

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, and publicizes the hotlines’ free, confidential services; educates the public about sexual violence. RAINN also leads national efforts to prevent sexual violence, improve services to victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

Resources for Assault Victims & Their Advocates

Tips for Sexual Assault Victims

Tips for Friends of the Sexual Assault Victims

International Sexual Assault Resources

More Information on Sexual Violence Against Women

“May the love hidden deep inside your heart find the love waiting in your dreams. May the laughter that you find in your tomorrow wipe away the pain you find in your yesterdays.” –Author Unknown

Recommended Reading

Recovering from Rape by Linda E. Ledray, R.N., PH.D

The Rape Recovery Handbook by Aphrodite Matsakis

As Cicero said, “While there’s life, there’s hope”.  While the recovery is daunting, you made it through.  Your life matters, and you are here for a purpose.  Be there for your sisters, and make sure to be there for yourself–you are worth it!

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photo by erikadotnet)

Sources: RAINN, Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Matsakis, Aphrodite. (1991). When the Bough Breaks. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

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Photographs Tell the Story: Images of Human Trafficking

We have all heard the expression: A picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of human trafficking—the buying and selling of human beings for the sake of profit through forced labor, or the sex trade industry—it might be more fitting to say: A picture is worth a thousand tears. Welcome to her world.

Through the Eyes of a Camera Lens

Those who document the stories behind the stories–through the eyes of their camera lens–share other worlds with the rest of us, worlds that we would not have access to on our own. They are our eyes, ears and feet on the street in so many of the dark places that exploit women and children throughout India, Thailand, Italy and Hong Kong, and beyond.

They are visual artists, who through their photographs, tell stories—people like Kay Chernush who traveled on behalf of the U.S. State Department to document the lives of exploited girls (and boys) who are used as pawns in the illegal web of human trafficking. Make no mistake, human trafficking is playing out on a global stage, but her assignment was to tell the story through images captured on film in the areas where she traveled.

The photographs in this gallery were taken to accompany a U.S. State Department’s report on “Trafficking in Persons.” The special report serves as the primary diplomatic tool through which the U.S. Government encourages other countries to help fight forced labor, sexual exploitation, and modern-day slavery.

Sexual Exploitation

The majority of girls and women moved across borders are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Commonly, their families are lied to by the traffickers and told that they will help provide an education or legitimate opportunities to better the girl’s life and/or her families.

Many are held captive as sex slaves working in brothels and prostituted to men from all over the world. The girls/women may be forced to have sex with between 10-40 or more men a night. They face violence from beatings by pimps and customers, rape, and a myriad of diseases. Sadly, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug addiction, suicide and murder are common in the lives of these modern-day slaves.

Slave Labor

It is not uncommon to be forced to work 20 hour days, sleep on the floor and receive little food. Many of the victims are plucked from the poorest and most underdeveloped areas and sold. With no means of escape, and unable to speak the local language, the family is isolated and lives in terrible conditions.

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to enslave a person. Some traffickers use a bond, or debt, to keep a person trapped, and sometimes in bondage from one generation to the next.

Street kids, runaways, or children living in poverty are all easy targets for traffickers who force them into begging rings. Children are sometimes intentionally disfigured to attract more money from passersby. Victims of organized begging rings are often beaten or injured if they don’t bring in enough money, and are also vulnerable to sexual abuse.

At Risk, Rescued and Sheltered

The story is so often the same. A girl is told there is a job or educational opportunity awaiting her. Longing for a better life, she (or her family) puts her trust in those who have come to deceive. When she arrives at her destination, she discovers that she has been sold a bill of goods. She is forced into prostitution through coercion, threats against their families at home, voodoo rites (in some cases), and physical violence.

Organizations and shelters share a common goal: to help reintegrate these girls and women into society so that they can lead productive lives. They do that by providing practical assistance and services such as counseling, legal and psychological support, food, basic job training, and some cases, spiritual counseling.

“Modern slavery – be it bonded labor, involuntary servitude, or sexual slavery – is a crime and cannot be tolerated in any culture, community, or country … [It] is an affront to our values and our commitment to human rights.”

–Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State

This gallery was prepared by the Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and managed by the Bureau of Public Affairs, Office of Electronic 
Information, U.S. Department of State. Click here to view the gallery. Once you have seen with your own eyes, you can now share in the cause.

© by April McCallum, Destiny’s Women

(Photos by Kay Chernush who was commissioned by the U.S. State Department for the G/TIP Special Report. Photograph locations include: India,Thailand, Italy, and Hong Kong.)

Sources: Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. State Department, G/TIP (Global Trafficking in Persons) Report

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