With over eighteen years of experience in the fields of feminism, education, and international development, I support individuals, NGOs, foundations, and other institutions to develop and sustain holistic, transformative programs and policies focused on girls and women. I have presented my research to a variety of organizations and forums, including Global Fund for Women, NoVo Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative, and AUDACIA Forum, among others.
For recent media appearances on The Gender Effect, check out:
"Whiteness in an era of Trump: where do we go from here?" March 8, 2016
From our kitchen tables and Facebook pages to mainstream and progressive media outlets alike, well-intentioned, white Americans are horrified by Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s blatantly racist comments and his attacks on Black protestors, Muslims, and Mexican immigrants. He’s hanging our country’s racist laundry out to dry.
As well-meaning, white Americans, we are used to more palatable forms of racism that mask their racist roots and make us feel comfortable. We’ve grown so accustomed to seeing the wolf in its thinly veiled sheep’s clothing, and so reluctant to see otherwise, that the wolf itself shocks us. But what we need to recognize is that Trump, the Tea Party, and their followers represent a long history of white racialized politics and white supremacy in America that have benefited all white Americans for centuries. The wolf is of our own creation, and it reflects the benefits and privileges we have all accrued. This historical moment of increasing economic inequality and its devastating effects on the white working and middle class have simply brought this wolf and the white racialized anxiety of its followers into the light.
As legal scholar Ian Haney López argues, politics in the post-Civil Rights era has been based on dog whistle politics. This term refers to the use of racially coded language to talk about race, racist ideas, and people of color. In contrast to explicit, state-sanctioned racism of the eras of slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow, in the age of colorblind racism, to talk or act in racially explicit ways has been considered racist. As Haney López explains, white American adapted to this new moment by talking in racially coded terms. Former President Reagan’s rhetoric on ‘Cadillac-driving, welfare queens’ and Sarah Palin’s description of President Obama’s politics as ‘shuck and jive’ are examples of dog whistle language, and former President Clinton’s Welfare to Work program is an example of a dog whistle policy. As white Americans, these didn’t offend us as Trump’s explicit language and policy proposals do today; yet, their underlying meaning was the same.
For many moderates, liberal, and progressive white Americans, Trump’s crudeness offends our polite, well-educated sensibilities. We’re embarrassed by the hordes of white people who show up to cheer him on and vote for him across the country. They lack ‘class’ and desperately cling to their whiteness like it’s the only thing they’ve got left. Decades of neoliberal policies by Republican and Democratic administrations alike have undermined the economic security that working and middle-class whites were guaranteed before their jobs were shipped overseas, trade unions dismantled, and educational, healthcare, and credit card debts skyrocketed. Yet, despite increasing class inequality, white Americans across classes continue to receive the material benefits of whiteness in employment,housing, and financial markets as well as in education, healthcare, and food andwater security in comparison to communities of color.
Thus, rather than attempt to sanitize or censor this new moment of racialized politics by hiding it back in the sheep’s clothing, we need to keep it in the light to expose its true nature. As a country, we need a politics that centers race and racial inequity and enables us to talk about and act upon these in meaningful ways. Only this will enable us to transform the racialized culture and political economy of our country that are predicated on the pernicious system of white supremacy that neither acknowledges nor enables the full humanity of people of color.
This change will necessitate transformations from the level of the unconscious mind to the culture, systems, and structures that influence our everyday lives. These are not simple tasks, yet as white Americans who have long benefited from these systems, we have a responsibility to begin working towards them.
First, we need to check the ways in which we (un)consciously fail to acknowledge the full humanity of Black people and other people of color. The Project Implicitdoes an excellent job towards helping us to look at the ways our implicit biases - “thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control” - function to distort our perceptions of other human beings. This is important for understanding why a return to colorblind and dog whistle politics is not a solution to our current problem of whiteness.
Second, we need to strive towards “accountable solidarity” with Black people and other communities of color. This necessitates developing ongoing relationships with individuals and communities of color, standing in solidarity as they take the lead in solving problems that disproportionately affect their communities, and supporting transferences of power in our communities and the nation. Moreover, given this long, inequitable history, as whites, we need to be held accountable for our words and actions.
Third, we need to actively participate in a process of material redistribution by promoting and voting for taxation, education, healthcare, housing, justice, financial, and food and water policies and practices that enable just outcomes for all. This will require undoing decades of neoliberal policies that have had devastating, yet uneven effects on the lives and well-being of the majority of Americans. It will also necessitate reparations for hundreds of years of slavery, the Jim Crow system, and decades of racialized government policies, as Ta-Nahesi Coates and others have articulated.
Together these measures will begin to move us closer towards the possibility of dismantling our country’s racially and economically inequitable system. Given our linked fate in this world, this unequal system hurts us all and leads to devastating, yet unevenly distributed, effects on lives and well-being of communities across our country.
"Zika, Pregnancy, and the Embodiment of Inequality," February 1, 2016
Tragically, pregnancies across the U.S. and around the world are deeply unequal. The outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in Brazil and Latin America and its association with microcephaly reflect this reality. Microcephaly is a condition in which newborns are born with an unusually small head and brain. If they survive, infants often face a lifetime of physical and developmental challenges.
During the first trimester of my pregnancy, my partner and I were living and working in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Within days of learning of the virus' presence in the city, we boarded a plane to return to the U.S. Our departure marked the difference between thousands of other parents and us - we had the immeasurable privilege of mobility.
Since October 2015, 4,180 cases of microcephaly have been reported in Brazil. A generation of Brazilian children will grow up in need of tremendous support; yet, the medical, scientific, and public health communities have limited knowledge of the virus' association to microcephaly. While the recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization warnings advising pregnant women to postpone travel to countries affected by the virus will hopefully prevent those who would have otherwise traveled for work or pleasure from contracting the virus; women and their partners living in affected countries have little choice but to live in everyday fear.
My partner and I are grateful that we had resources and citizenship privileges to leave. When our local public health department in the U.S. called to say that I tested negative for Zika, we cried in gratitude. It was an unspeakable relief. But we also feel a real sadness. To make a major life decision that so clearly differentiated our unborn child from thousands of others was painful. Consciously embodying inequality is always uncomfortable; yet, this discomfort may be instructive in a world where we would often rather not look at the ways in which our decisions reproduce entrenched inequities.
Pregnancy is a deeply embodied experience. As a researcher of gender and inequality, I am aware of the ways inequality is marked on pregnant female bodies in innumerable ways. Whether in the U.S. or Brazil, privileged, frequently white, middle and upper-class women, such as myself, often spend nine months imagining a nursery, registering for baby gifts, attending prenatal yoga, eating nourishing food, writing a birth plan, and receiving excellent medical care. In contrast, far less-privileged, poor and working-class women, often of color, frequently labor in fields, factories, or other people's homes for the entirety of their pregnancy, placing them at higher risk for environmental and toxic exposure and for the dangers of heavy lifting. They often have limited access to nutritious food and safe drinking water, and receive limited or inadequate medical treatment and preventive care. In many ways, pregnancy marks the beginning of very unequal lives.
As with other infectious diseases, risk of exposure to the Zika virus mirrors racial, class, and geographic-based inequalities that run through all aspects of our lives. While mosquitos don't adhere to zip codes or neighborhood boundaries, outbreaks of infectious diseases tend to disproportionately impact poor and vulnerable populations due to the social, economic, environmental, and medical determinants of health. Poor and working-class women are far more likely than middle-class or wealthy Brazilian women to live in communities whose water and sanitation infrastructure has been neglected by the government for decades creating conditions for mosquitos to easily breed, reside in homes without air-conditioning resulting in open windows and doors, and travel to work at dawn and return at dusk when mosquito activity is at its peak.
As public health officials in Brazil, El Salvador, and other countries tell women to delay pregnancy for up to two years, limited access to affordable contraception, particularly emergency contraception, and strict abortion laws present many women with little recourse. Unfortunately, this leads to an increase in clandestine abortions that pose major health risks to the mother. A Brazilian judge recently began to approve a series of case-by-case legal abortions when a fetus is diagnosed with microcephaly despite intense political and religious opposition.
As feminist Sonia Corrêa has noted, the political approach of governments telling women to avoid pregnancy assumes "women themselves responsible for having or not having babies with microcephaly." This places the onus of responsibility for the condition and its life-long consequences onto women and moves it away from the state, whose insufficient actions since the Zika outbreak, inadequate control of mosquitos during prior mosquito-borne outbreaks, and historical neglect of women's sexual and reproductive health are exacerbating the situation. Moreover, since the outbreak began, women whose infants have been born with microcephaly in Brazil have reported inadequate care and attention by the public health system, which seems unprepared to deal with the crisis. As one mother, Marilia Lima, explained in a story reported on NPR, "We are alone. We have been abandoned by the state."
The impact of the Zika virus' recent outbreak on mothers, fetuses, and newborns serves as a tragic reminder that maternal, prenatal, and infant health are neglected and underfunded on national and global scales. While the Zika virus necessitates immediate coordinated national and regional approaches to combat its spread, the virus is only one of the myriad ways in which lives begin unequally. It is imperative that those with time, resources, and influence pressure their local, state, and national governments, international institutions, and non-governmental organizations to invest money and other resources in research, public policies, medical treatment, and preventive care that prioritize the health and well-being of women, fetuses, and infants who are most at risk.
"Rethinking Why to Prioritize Girls' Education," March 8, 2015
The Obama Administration recently announced the Let Girls Learn program. It is based on the idea that educating girls in the Global South creates a "ripple effect" from the scale of the girl to the world -- reducing poverty, increasing economic productivity, improving child and maternal health, limiting population growth, controlling the spread of HIV/AIDS and conserving environmental resources. This theory of social and economic change has been popularized by The Girl Effect campaign led by the Nike Foundation, and it has influenced educational programs for millions of girls from Afghanistan to Brazil. While the individuals and institutions promoting this idea genuinely care about girls, it has unintended consequences on girls' lives, educations and futures. Girls' education should be promoted because girls matter in and of themselves, rather than because of their potential value as instruments of development change.
Programs and policies designed with this logic target girls for purposes beyond serving them. They position girls as means rather than ends in and of themselves.Sylvia Chant, a professor at the London School of Economics, calls this "the feminization of responsibility and obligation." While addressing the problems of poverty and development is indeed important and legitimate, this rationale for girls' education shifts this burden onto poor girls of color in the Global South. In doing so, it transfers the responsibility for change away from the governments, corporations and global governance institutions whose actions have led to the unequal distribution of resources, food insecurity, abusive labor conditions, unfair trade policies and environmental degradation, which disproportionately affect girls, women and the poor around the world. This individualized, girl-centered approach to development thus risks reproducing, rather than transforming, these broader structural inequities.
Moreover, this rationale for girls' education is driven by the logic of investment. Consequently, many talk about girls as they talk about drilling untapped oil reserves or unleashing new technologies -- in the language of maximizing returns. When the focus is on rates of return, efficiency and calculating gains to GDP, programs that promote girls' education as a fundamental human right are marginalized.
What emerge instead are forms of education with a disproportionate emphasis on girls as reproductive and economic actors, rather than as learners with multiple needs, diverse desires, and undetermined futures. This leads, on the one hand, to a narrow focus on pushing back the age of pregnancy and marriage as opposed to focusing on sexual and reproductive rights and the responsibilities; and, on the other, to a disproportionate emphasis on financial literacy and the acquisition of economic assets, such as credit and savings, rather than more holistic or transformative forms of education.
As individuals, communities and institutions come together to celebrate this year's International Women's Day, I ask the global development community to rethink why we should prioritize girls' education. When designing programs and policies for "other people's children," to borrow the phase from author and educator Lisa Delpit, we should ask ourselves what we might desire for own children's education. Our rationale for prioritizing girls' education in the Global South should mirror our response to that question. Ensuring equal access to a quality education for all young people -- regardless of gender, sexuality, race, caste, class, religion, language, able-bodiedness and nation -- should be the core mission of all those concerned about equity, justice and human rights