Naana Otoo-Oyortey has recently been appointed Director of FORWARD, a UK-based organisation dedicated to improving the health and human rights of African girls in the UK and in Africa. A major focus of the organisation's work is the eradication of female genital mutilation (FGM).
A new report from FORWARD suggests that 20,000 girls under the age of 15 are potentially at risk of FGM in England and Wales, and that the practice is on the rise in the UK. The study was designed to inform the planning of a comprehensive national strategy in the UK which will help to speed up efforts to end FGM within one generation.
"Here in the UK we do have good Government policy on FGM, but so far no-one has been prosecuted under the dictates of new legislation that came into force in 2004. [Two doctors have been found guilty of serious professional misconduct by the UK General Medical Council.] The problem is that so many different sectors – from social services, to health service providers and community-based organizations – need to work together to provide strategic interventions.
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"In London, some councils are beginning to working together, but elsewhere around the UK there is no clear strategy for organizations working collaboratively to address FGM. So we have good policy and legislation, which is vital, but we need to work much more closely in the co-ordination of education and awareness-raising. If we don't reach local communities, we will not be able to address this issue effectively."
FORWARD is in its second year of a Young People Speak Out project, which has helped both young women and men to speak up about the need to eradicate FGM. These young people, mostly aged between 18 and 22, are promoting awareness amongst families, in schools and on university campuses, giving the eradication campaign a voice and legitimacy.
FORWARD is also part of a network of European countries (Belgium, France, Spain, Sweden, UK) seeking to learn from each other's experiences in order to create best models for interventions. In France, there is no specific legislation criminalizing FGM. However, using other legislation there have been successful prosecution of practitioners. In Sweden, there is a national eradication strategy closely aligned to the work of social services networks.
According to Otoo-Oyortey, there is anecdotal evidence that FGM is decreasing in Africa, but not enough hard data. "In Burkina Faso for example, there is a good system whereby perpetrators can be reported to the authorities but we don't have any evidence that the actual prevalence has dropped. We need hard data to inform our future strategies, in African and in Europe."
This lack of data – if frustrating – is not surprising. With criminalized status in many countries, those who perpetuate the practice of FGM go underground in order to avoid detection. It is also performed on very young women, many of whom are "protected" from the outside world by their families and communities.
There is also – I would argue – the problem that FGM remains a complicated agenda, one that poses some fundamental questions about the control of women's sexuality and health – easier to ignore than discuss, easier to leave alone than address.
And there is an argument that those who seek to eradicate FGM are dabbling with cultural practices and traditions. On this issue, Otoo-Oyortey is very clear. "Every culture has its strengths. FGM is not one of them, in any country."
Though Trump’s statement came the same day the Associated Press first reported Clinton—whose 2008 concession speech referenced the glass ceiling—would be the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee, the news had not broken at the time of Trump’s comments.
This week on the campaign trail, Donald Trump insisted he was the one who had broken the “glass ceiling” for women—in the construction industry.
Clinton Takes Democratic Nomination—and Endorsements From Key Democrats
Clinton received endorsements and support from President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Thursday after Clinton’s Tuesday primary victories solidified her place as the party’s presumptive nominee.
“For more than a year now, across thousands of miles and all 50 states, tens of millions of Americans have made their voices heard,” Obama said in a video posted to Clinton’s Facebook page. “Today I just want to add mine.”
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“I’m with her,” continued Obama, who had previously remained neutral in the 2016 Democratic primary race. “I am fired up, and I cannot wait to get out there to campaign for Hillary.”
Biden threw his support behind Clinton that same day while speaking at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy’s 2016 national convention in Washington. According to CNN, Biden said that “God willing, in my view, [the next U.S. president] will be Secretary Clinton.”
During an interview Thursday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Warren, an influential voice among the party, also embraced Clinton. “I am ready to get in this fight and work my heart out for Hillary Clinton to become the next president of the United States,” said Warren, adding that she was determined “to make sure that Donald Trump never gets anyplace close to the White House.”
Clinton’s string of endorsements come just days after news broke that the former secretary of state had secured enough delegates to become the party’s presumptive nominee.
Though Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) remains in the race for the Democratic nomination, he signaled he will be willing to work with Clinton in order to unite the party.
“I look forward to meeting with her in the near future to see how we can work together to defeat Donald Trump and to create a government which represents all of us, and not just the 1 percent,” Sanders told reporters Thursday during a press conference outside of the White House.
Trump Says He “Broke the Glass Ceiling on Behalf of Women” in Construction
Trump took credit for breaking “the glass ceiling” in construction for women during an interview on Fox News’ The O’ReillyFactor Monday evening.
“Number one, I have great respect for women. I was the one that really broke the glass ceiling on behalf of women, more than anybody in the construction industry,” Trump told host Bill O’Reilly when questioned about how he would appeal to women voters during the general election. “My relationship, I think, is going to end up being very good with women.”
O’Reilly went on to ask the presumptive Republican nominee about a recent Boston Globe report analyzing presidential-campaign payroll data, which revealed that just 28 percent of Trump’s staff were women and that the men on staff made “about 35 percent more” than women.
Trump denied the allegations, instead claiming it was Clinton who truly failed to offer pay equality, though he later suggested “there are reasons” men on his campaign would be paid more than women such as “different jobs.”
“If you look at my company and what I pay women versus men, in many cases I pay women more money than I pay for men, and frankly, now I’ll probably get a lawsuit from my men that work for me,” Trump added.
The Globe’s analysis, however, also looked at data for the Clinton campaign and found that men and women were paid roughly the same:
The women working for Clinton — who account for 53 percent of her total staff—took home an average of $3,710. The men made slightly more, at $3,760. Clinton’s staffers, men and women, made less than the women who work for Trump.
On Clinton’s campaign, the highest-paid employee was a woman, Jennifer Palmieri, the campaign’s director of communications. And of the 15 highest-paid employees, eight were men and seven were women.
Trump has voiced some support for gender pay equality in the past, telling the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe in August 2015 that “if they do the same job, they should get the same pay,” but adding that “it’s very hard to say what is the same job.” When questioned about the topic by an attendee of a rally in November, Trump reportedly said that a woman would “make the same [as a man] if you do as good a job.”
Conservatives have previously alleged that a gender pay disparity existed in Clinton’s senate office, evidencing their claim with a report from conservative news site the Free Beacon. According to FactCheck.org, Clinton’s campaign doesn’t deny that the data used for that study was accurate but argues the analysis used “incomplete, and therefore inaccurate set of numbers.”
When the fact-checking site analyzed the annual salary data provided by the Democrat’s campaign, which included some staff members not included in the Free Beacon’s study because they did not work the full year, it found that “median salaries for men and women in Clinton’s office were virtually identical” and that “Clinton hired roughly twice as many women as men.” The site took “no position” on whether the methodology used by the campaign was superior to that used by the conservative news site.
What Else We’re Reading
ThinkProgress’ Evan Popp explained that “while Clinton’s declared victory was historic and diversity within government positions has improved, experts say much more is needed before the U.S. government is truly representative of the people.”
When asked about the possibility of another woman joining her ticket as potential vice president, Clinton told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “I’m looking at the most qualified people, and that includes women, of course, because I want to be sure that whoever I pick could be president immediately if something were to happen—that’s the most important qualification.”
Though 70 percent of women view Trump unfavorably, Politico’s Daniel Lippman and Ben Schreckinger profiled some of the women who do support the presumptive Republican nominee.
“Libertarians are stepping up to the big time when it comes to fundraising from political action committees,” according to the Sunlight Foundation. Though big money typically doesn’t flow to the party during presidential elections, Gary Johnson’s presence in the race this year could change that.
Last week, the team at the “podcast and web community” Just Not Sports shared a new video project. The video, titled “#MoreThanMean: Women in Sports ‘Face’ Harassment,” featured two notable sportswriters, Julie DiCaro and Sarah Spain, who sat across from men who read “mean tweets” to them.
The tweets began in an almost comical yet rude manner—”I’d like to start a petition for a ban on all links to Julie DiCaro’s Twitter feed”; “Sarah Spain sounds like a nagging wife on TV today”—but they escalated quickly into violent misogyny, including messages of sexual assault. These messages had been sent directly to the women, and they had seen them. The tweet-readers had not. The video shows the men shifting uncomfortably in their seats as they are expected to vocalize these horrific remarks. Meanwhile, DiCaro and Spain remain very dignified and calm.
Within one day, the video had reached upwards of one million views; it now it stands at over three million. The #MoreThanMean project filled social media timelines and headlines, including international outlets. It has ignited discussions on the radio, news shows, and feminist websites. Fellow women sportswriters wrote about their own experiences and how we were affected by this video. I did. Spain wrote about what the experience meant to her, as did DiCaro.
Much of the response, however, has also been around how shocked the men in the video seem to be, and how shocked its male viewers have been. Men have said they were horrified to read and hear these tweets, effectively centering their own reactions in the conversation. This, too, is problematic: This video may have highlighted the abuse DiCaro and Spain receive through the internet, but women in sports media have faced this kind of harassment for decades. Disbelief and horror are not enough; it will take real, systemic change from the industry, social media companies, and these “shocked” fans to work against this kind of incessant abuse.
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In 1990, Lisa Olson, a former journalist at the Boston Herald, endured what she called “premeditated mind rape” when she attempted to interview the New England Patriots football team after a game. She settled with the team owner and the players were fined. More than 25 years later, prominent sports journalist Erin Andrews was awarded $55 million in a lawsuit against a hotel that failed to protect her privacy from a man who videotaped her while she was naked in her room. He leaked the video to the internet. Both journalists were unmistakably targeted because they are women.
In the case of online trolls, however, the problem is more complicated: Comments, emails, or tweets can be issued by people who do not use their real names and might not be identified. The waters become murky. One of the only ways to fight them is to block them, mute them, or as often suggested, disengage, phrased as “not feeding the trolls.”
Some women, DiCaro among them, argue against not engaging because they feel it is tantamount to being silenced. Each woman might have different ways of processing and handling the situation; it’s unfair to expect that all women should simply not reply or defend their work. People who attack women constantly are trying to derail our work and conversations—and the voices of women are important for adding nuance and perspective in a field that is already predominantly male.
For that matter, it may not work. As DiCaro explained for Chicago Magazine, “There are these guys who feel you’re a fake, a phony, a fraud, and you’re in a position you don’t deserve to be in, and you’re receiving attention you don’t deserve. Their mission is to take you down. Those are the trolls you can’t ignore. They don’t go away.”
And logging off—leaving Twitter and other forms of social media—is not a plausible course of action. As a sportswriter, I feel it is essential to be on Twitter. Social media is a tool to collect information quickly, and connect with readers and fans about events in the world of sports. In other words, being on social media is an essential part of our jobs.
This is where it becomes crucial for social media companies to step up and enact policies that can prevent this type of abuse from happening. DiCaro thinks social media—Twitter specifically—should wield greater responsibility in order to create a safer space for women online. “I blocked guys, but they would just create new accounts or find other ways to get around being blocked,” she said to me over email. “And Twitter didn’t really do anything about reported tweets unless they were rape or death threats. Anything else seemed to be tolerable to them, and that was really shocking to me.”
Twitter updated its Abuse Policy in December 2015 to crack down on “hateful conduct.” But DiCaro was so frustrated about constant harassment that she created a new handle at the end of March, @ZeroSafety, where she shares screencaps of harassment in order to urge Twitter to take these tweets seriously and further amend their policies to suspend abusive accounts. At one point, ironically, the account itself was suspended for using an avatar that was considered branded.
Female sportswriters will tell you that their work and their social media profiles are real life. It is not always possible to divorce one’s personal life from what they put out on their Twitter feed. A constant deluge of horrific comments can’t be ignored or simply waded through—particularly when the comments might wish for death or sexualized violence on the sportswriter. It is unfair to expect that women will have the mental or emotional bandwidth to fight trolls all the time.
This was especially evident in #MoreThanMean, when the male participants had to use their own emotional strength to get through reading the tweets. The experience was harrowing: One of the tweets directed to DiCaro, who bravely wrote in 2013 of her rape, read, “I hope you get raped again.” On more than one occasion, DiCaro has described the abuse as “soul-sucking.”
As emotionally exhausting as it is, DiCaro and Spain have very courageously pushed this conversation forward. I can’t fathom sitting in a chair and hearing all those awful comments spoken to me in front of the whole world. DiCaro and Spain used this opportunity to educate and share lived experiences.
But I wondered: Why did this particular video affect so many people? Was it the way we were able to see Spain and DiCaro as people, not just as faceless personalities on social media? Or were the men so sincere in their discomfort that the public was mortified?
DiCaro thinks it is the latter. “Honestly, I think it’s because society in general believes men more than they believe women. Sarah and I could scream from the rafters about being harassed, but if it was just us in the video, I wonder if it would have had the same impact,” she said.
DiCaro believes #MoreThanMean is a great start toward addressing this pervasive reluctance to acknowledge women speaking about abuse. In addition to urging social media companies to take action, she also tasked those horrified individuals to make change themselves, by including women in conversations, helping to promote them in industries where women are outnumbered, and by recommending women for panels and conferences. “Don’t speak for us; scoot over and give us a place at the table where we can speak for ourselves,” she wrote.
To men, DiCaro emphasized, “And if you see a buddy or family member beating up on women online, SAY SOMETHING. It’s not okay for people to treat others this way, and it’s not okay to stand by silently, either.”
It is my experience as a visible woman of color that there are no limits to the abuses that can be showered upon a woman for speaking up about a game, a team, or advocating for a victim of sexual assault by a player. I write about misogyny and race in sports; I also write about Muslim women. So, the abuse I receive is not only sexist, but coupled with Islamophobic and racist opinions. Charming, I know. This occurs only because I am doing what I am supposed to. Essentially, women sportswriters are abused for doing their jobs. For thousands of women in this industry and others, we don’t accept it but are are forced to tolerate it.
This is probably another reason #MoreThanMean struck a chord with so many. DiCaro said she was approached by women who admitted they never felt like they could talk about it before they saw the video. She suspects a lot of women keep it quiet or constantly self-edit to make sure they say nothing anyone could possibly object to. Both approaches silence women and suggest complacency is a way to combat abuse.
One way to also move away from a toxic, and in my opinion dangerous, acceptance of abuse is to support women’s work in the industry. In a column about #MoreThanMean project, DiCaro wrote, “Support women’s sports. Read and share women sportswriters. Question why more women, and especially women of color, aren’t actively promoted by their employers. Call out panels at events that don’t include women. Teach your sons and daughters that women have a place in sports equal to men.”
I feel this is essential if we want to move forward at all.
As far as handling the abuse, DiCaro told me about her self-care routines and how she should make them more of a priority. “We’re all working so hard to get ahead in this industry, [self-care] tends to fall by the wayside. But lately I’ve been giving myself permission to not charge so hard after everything. To set longer deadlines for myself, to have nights where I do nothing but watch a River Monsters marathon. And I’m a huge proponent of having pets. No matter how bad your day is, they always make you smile,” she said.
Her comments resonate with me too. As much as I rely on Twitter to stay connected and be “in the know,” I also love my time away from social media. It might involve watching Bend It like Beckham and eating popcorn. Or it might mean working out and just enjoying my family.
But self-care also means that when I log back on, I know I need help from other individuals to get through the day. After a few years on Twitter, I also became part of an informal support group of women who write about sports and its intersections with misogyny, sexual assault, politics, and various important social issues. We encourage and help each other every day, offering advice about projects, sharing contacts, and venting about our mentions. In response, we send each other photos of baby sloths or elephants and positive notes. This type of safe space is critical, particularly when we are trying to work while simultaneously swatting away trolls and defending ourselves against unfathomable rudeness.
Women are moving forward in sports writing and presenting, as game correspondents and as match analysts. As this happens, it is important to highlight toxicity in sports media and make sure that male colleagues, readers, and fans are aware of the abuse that happens and how they can eradicate it. It will not go away on its own. Consistently promoting the voices of women, and not excluding them from discussions of violence, is crucial. Equally important is addressing the layers of misogyny, racism, and homophobia present in all facets of the industry, including online.
Women need to lead discussions on what are the best strategies to combat online harassment and abuse. But it cannot be done without support.