Women veterans are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population in the United States and are four times more likely to become homeless than civilian women. Women who have survived Military Sexual Trauma are the most hidden population of homeless women and often flounder in unsafe relationships, live in their cars or endure drug-infested motels to avoid shelters or the street.
Although the Pentagon recently paved the way for women to serve in combat positions, the US Military has a long way to go. Women are under-represented in the upper ranks and many who signed up for a military career are getting out due to dashed hopes of career advancement and high levels of harassment and sexual assault. Women who courageously served their country in Iraq and Afghanistan have arrived home with healthcare issues including Military Sexual Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to scattered families, jobs that no longer exist, an impotent Department of Veteran’s Affairs and to a nation who favors their male counterparts.
The challenges for women veterans are unique and difficult to address, especially when programs for vets seldom meet the needs of mothers and many homeless women vets happen to be single parents.
Women have to leave their children in the care of family members or friends when they deploy and many face custody battles when the stress of deployment tears their families apart. Many of these women escaped a difficult situation by joining the military and when they get out find them unable to cope with the stresses of unemployment and a weak economy. In addition, a good deal of homeless shelters cannot accommodate children and those that can often won’t allow a male child over the age of 12.
Airman 1st Class Jessica Hinves was an Air Force fighter jet mechanic when a member of her squadron raped her. After a steady campaign of harassment and retaliation by her fellow servicemen, the case against her rapist was thrown out the day before the trial was to begin by a new commander who said, “Though he didn’t act like a gentleman, there was no reason to prosecute.” Soon after, she was discharged from the military for post- traumatic stress disorder.
Women who join the US Armed Forces are being raped and sexually assaulted by their colleagues in record numbers. An estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the armed forces last year; only one in seven victims reported their attacks, and just one in ten of those cases went to trial. Most military rape survivors are forced out of service and many are even compelled to continue working for their rapists.
The effects of Military Sexual Trauma, (MST), include depression, substance abuse, paranoia and feelings of isolation. Victims spend years drowning in shame and fear as the psychological damage silently eats away at their lives: many frequently end up addicted to drugs and alcohol, homeless or take their own lives.
Women who join the US Armed Forces are being raped and sexually assaulted by their colleagues in record numbers. An estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place in the armed forces last year; only one in seven victims reported their attacks, and just one in ten of those cases went to trial.
Now at Senate and House hearings on Capitol Hill, the US Military is being forced to examine why are rape and sexual assault are so prevalent within the ranks, its victims ignored and the abuse considered simply a breach of conduct and not a criminal offense.
Polio is a highly infectious virus that cripples those children it does not kill. In 2002 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it had contained polio to three countries, and was close to eradicating it completely. An unprecedented, sustained, and multi-billion dollar global effort had confined the virus to Nigeria, Pakistan and India, and the WHO was closing in on victory.
But it didn’t happen that way.
A vaccine with polio’s track record became a line in the sand for Muslim clerics. Local leaders of predominantly Muslim pockets in Nigeria rejected immunization efforts for different reasons.
The governor of Kano, Nigeria, warned that the U.N. vaccine was part of a larger Western conspiracy: It was better to lose a dozen children now, Sheikh Ibrahim Shekarau said in 2003, than to raise a generation of sterile women and AIDS-infected men. Over the next four years, more than 3000 of Nigeria’s unprotected children were infected with polio, and the contagion spread. By 2006, the WHO reported, the Nigerian polio strain had reinfected 20 countries across Africa and Asia.
But now, global authorities feel they have one last, best chance to conquer this disease. Governor Shekarau has reversed himself, declaring his support for a new polio vaccine, and President Barack Obama, in his landmark Cairo address to the Arab world, announced a new anti-polio initiative to be undertaken in cooperation with the Organization of the Islamic Conference. As Bill Gates told Congress on March 10, “We will never have a better chance to eradicate polio than we will in the next three years.” Immunization campaigns are back on the streets administering the polio vaccine drop by drop.
As the Muslim suspicion of the polio vaccine lingers on, Nigeria is coping with scores of polio survivors, children and now young adults who are crippled or paralyzed and the continuing Muslim-Christian friction in Africa’s most populous and potentially unstable nations. Since the ban of the polio vaccine, over 3000 Nigerian children have been cripple with polio and over 20 countries have been re-infected with the Nigeria strain of polio.
written by Betsy Pisik, 2010 Fellow, International Reporting Project
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier. In a country plagued by decades of violence, rape has become the weapon of choice on both sides of the ongoing civil unrest; it is cheaper than bullets and is guaranteed to leave a community subservient or destroyed. Rape has been a tool of war since the beginning of time, but what is different in Congo is the systematic nature of this crime and the numbers of women being attacked.
Tens of thousands of women have been raped in Congo in the past 10 years of civil war, most of them gang-raped. According to the United Nations Population Fund, an average of 1,200 rape cases are reported each month. The future of Congo remains uncertain. Each new battle between government forces and rebel militias leaves behind the scar of more brutalized women and girls. The rape epidemic continues to jeopardize the chances for recovery from this brutal war.
Women are an endangered species in India. “Raising a daughter”, said an old Punjabi saying, “is like watering your neighbor’s garden.” In the last 20 years India has lost about 10 million girls to sex selection. Due to the devaluation of women and expensive dowries required by the groom’s family, women are holding out for boy children. Sons are preferred in India because boys will be more prosperous and take care of their aging parents. They carry on the family name and are the ones to inherit family wealth.
Girls are seen as a drain on family resources. Many women rely on illegal ultrasounds to determine sex, leading to the aborting of girl fetuses. the world’s largest democracy is experiencing a shift in the ratio of men to women as more girls are lost. The long-term effects are coming to fruition; orphanages filled with girls, schools filled with boys, villages with shortages of brides.
Fistula is a debilitating condition in which women injured in childbirth uncontrollably leak a trail of urine or feces. While a delivery by caesarian section prevents obstetric fistula, in sub-Saharan Africa such medical procedures and prenatal care rarely exist. As many as three million women, many in Ethiopia, suffer the devastating effects of this injury, while being shunned by the patriarchal society of their clans and villages. The Bahar Dar Fistula Hospital is one of the few refuges for these suffering women.
Archery is the national sport of the tiny, Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Competitions are held each week in villages and towns all over the country and are a ribald show of color and excitement. Players wearing the traditional dress of Bhutan, called the “goh,” each shoot for targets placed 140 yards apart and matches are lively with singing and dancing and players jeering the other team’s abilities.
Traditionally the game was played with bamboo bows and arrows but in recent years players have turned to American style, state of the art carbonite Hoyt brand bows and arrows. Though the lightening fast, ultra accurate equipment has not dampened the tradition of the sport, it is somewhat ironic that a weapon used mainly for hunting in the United States is used for a blood free sport in the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan.
On the rough and rocky edge of the state of Maine, Rev. Ted Hoskins takes his boat to as many island churches as he can. When the summer people leave, there are barely enough residents to keep the churches going. With a white cross emblazoned on its side, the 72 foot boat “Sunbeam” is a church on the sea serving as second home to these weathered New England lobster men. By late winter, Hoskins had reached the age of 69, and decided that he could no longer bear the burden of both ministering and being fishing advocate for the lobstermen.
The Maine Sea Coast Missionary Society put out the call for anyone willing to pick up the struggle, and found a young hospice chaplain named Rob Benson in Washington DC ready to uproot his wife and five month old baby to take over in Maine and allow Ted to return to his first love, the sea.
The Sakya Nunnery in Deradun, India is a refuge for young women who have escaped repressive conditions in Tibet and Nepal. Women and girls of many different backgrounds, ranging from age five to 40, have found their way to Sakya Nunnery often surviving treacherous escapes out of the Himalayan region. With the Chinese government sharply hampering the religious lives of Buddhist nuns and monks; young women whose few opportunities often include the risk of abuse and sex trafficking, find the Sakya Nunnery is a safe haven indeed.
The young nuns learn to read and write and are fed and clothed. When they reach the age of 18, they can decide if they want to continue the life of a nun.
While experience has shown that to teach a girl in the developing world to read is to teach a whole family, Pakistani girls and women rarely get an opportunity to go to school and most remain illiterate. While the literacy rate for females in the more progressive cities of Pakistan is 36%, it falls to the single digits in the patriarchal tribal areas of the countryside, where tribal elders still believe that it was a waste of time to educate a girl.
However, in some areas, where parents are assured of their girls’ “safety”, so their “family honor” remains intact, girls are taught to read and they, in turn, teach their families.
With record bumper crops of opium, Afghanistan finds itself adding opium addiction to its long list of problems. Women count for 13% of the country’s addicts and 7% of addicts are children. This “mother’s little helper” cures a multitude of ills; it fills an empty belly, takes the place of medicine, doctors and dentists that a family cannot afford, and dulls the pain of several generations of war. The Sanga Amaj Treatment Center, Social Services For Afghan Women operates a clinic in Kabul for women and children suffering from opium addiction.
Geoffrey Gallante is an eight-year-old trumpet prodigy well on his way to becoming a virtuoso. He started taking lessons at the age of four and, although he is well versed in classical music, his real love is jazz. At an age where most children are just learning to play “Old McDonald”, he sits in at local clubs playing Bebop with cats nearly 10 times his age.
During its heyday, Titusville, Florida enjoyed the distinction of being the capital of Florida’s Space Coast. Scores of support staff launched astronauts into space from the Kennedy Space Center, while thousands of spectators crowded the shores of Titusville to view the launches and grocery stores, gas stations and businesses of all kinds opened to serve their earthly needs. Titusville was a boomtown born of the space race.
Now, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, the boomtown is going bust; reeling from NASA’s withdrawal from manned space flight. The economic casualties are mounting in Titusville and surrounding communities as home foreclosures skyrocket and the ramifications of over nine thousand people losing their jobs is the closing of businesses all across the Space Coast.
The estimated one million illegal immigrants that pass over the border of the United States each year easily blend into the melting pot that is a US city. It is the task of 2300 federal agents of the US Department of Homeland Security to detect, detain and deport the millions of illegal foreign nationals in the US. Once they are found, usually after committing a crime, federal agents, instead of incarcerating them, give them a “free pass”, interrogate them and then put them on a plane bound for their native countries, knowing full well that they will try again to cross the border.
They are called Guardian Angels and the mission of these US Air Force para-rescuemen is not to drop bombs, but to save lives and bring home troops doing battle in Afghanistan. All are trained trauma medical technicians who can perform rescues under enemy fire. “These aren’t numbers, these are our family, our brothers, sisters, husbands, wives and children,” said Para-rescueman Vincent Eckert, from Tucson, Ariz. “We’ve kind of become a jack of all trades. These are the things we do so that others may live.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most desperate countries in the world to be a child. Despite abundant natural beauty and fertility, armed conflict and related hunger and disease have killed an estimated 5 million people here since 1998— a veritable second Holocaust that the International Rescue Committee says claims 45,000 new lives every month. The smallest victims and survivors of this catastrophe are children. The ongoing fighting puts millions of them at risk of abuse, disease, grinding poverty and exploitation by soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Living within this downward spiral of violence has severe consequences, not least the effects of living traumatized by war and in a culture that seems to have forgotten its children.
Charlie Thunell, 89, was married to his wife Kathleen for 60 years until she died eight years ago. They had a great marriage and Charlie loved her very much but he plans to never marry again. He is using this phase in his life for nothing but fun and games and the company of women.
Charlie fills his time with social engagements, clubs and entertaining with his song and dance troupe, the “Merry Makers.”
In the Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan many vulnerable girls from poor families in the countryside seek their fortune in the city by accepting jobs as dancers in nightclubs called “Drayangs”. Men gather in the clubs, drinking warm Bhutanese beer, flirting with the girls and then paying them to dance and sing traditional songs. Girls usually live in quarters in the back of the drayang. They are locked in at night, “For their own protection.” This pretense for entertainment is pushing the limits of a chaste Bhutanese society and the government considers the clubs exploitive and bordering on “sleazy”.