WPO meetings and briefings — second quarter

News you can use.

By Women’s Programs Office Staff

WPO Briefings and Meetings

Raising Awareness for Domestic Servitude

By Megan Levy

On June 25, 2013, Megan Levy (WPO Intern) attended the 52nd Policy Roundtable on “Raising Awareness for Domestic Servitude in the Americas” at the Organization of American States. This event sought to raise awareness and discuss domestic servitude in the Americas. Executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission of Women, Carmen Moreno, began the discussion by describing how domestic servitude is currently the most prevalent form of slavery. Adults and children are exploited and forced to work inside a household without justice, dignity, liberty, rights or pay. Other speakers included Deputy Director of the ILO Office in Washington D.C., Erick Zeballos, Free the Slaves program director, Karen Stauss and former maid and victim of domestic servitude from Peru, Josefa Condori Quispe. Zeballos stressed the importance of Convention 189, which sets labor standards and establishes the basic rights and principles for domestic workers. Zeballos also noted how 83 percent of domestic workers are women, many under the age of 18. Condori gave details of her own experience with domestic servitude and described the shelter she created in Peru in order to provide medical treatment, education, psychological support and legal aid to young survivors. Speakers also stressed the need for a joint effort between governments, civil society and the community in order to better address this massive problem.

Hope Fellowship Program

By Scott Pine

On June 27, 2013, Scott Pine (WPO Intern) attended the ceremony for graduating women from the nineteenth class of the Hope Fellowship program gathered at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center to celebrate their completion of the Hope Fellowship in Washington, D.C. In attendance was Blerta Sulhasi, a licensed clinical psychologist and a Hope Fellow alumna, who visited the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Women’s Programs Office as one of her research development site visits in the fall, 2011. As a guest speaker, she recounted her mentee experiences with Shari Miles-Cohen, PhD, senior director at WPO, and how this relationship helped her establish the first mental health school program for adolescent youth in Kosovo. 

The National Albanian American Council (NAAC) established the Hope Fellowship program to increase and strengthen the role of Kosovar women in public policy and decision-making. Sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), each year Kosovar women participate in a four-week Washington Leadership Program, where they engage in activities of interest to each Hope fellow (e.g., international development or public policy, and in Blerta’s case, mental health services). Fellows participate in project development activities, consult with leaders in their interested field, attend conferences and witness first-hand the democratic process on congressional shadow day. 

Blerta’s goal heading into the Hope Fellowship was to establish the first mental health program for adolescent high school youth in Kosovo. She sought out the APA as a strategic learning site and met with WPO, where she received personal support, guidance and mental health resources. APA also provided technical support for her project. Blerta now directs the School-based Psychological Services Program (SBPSP), offering group and individual counseling sessions, mental health activities and resources to Kosovar high school youth. However, Blerta’s role as a clinical psychologist goes beyond offering critical mental health programs. She is also a mental health activist, championing the need for mental health services and combating mental health stigma. From February to July 2012, Blerta ran a weekly radio program inviting mental health professionals to speak on mental health issues affecting Kosovar youth, such as depression, drugs and self-esteem. Blerta’s activism has even caught the attention of the Government of Kosovo, and on May 21, 2013 (during Mental Health Month) she debated on television, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, regarding the importance of providing mental health services. 

The guidance Blerta received from APA and WPO, and other U.S. based mental health institutions helped establish Blerta as an agent of change in the newly independent Republic of Kosovo. She is not only advancing the field of psychology, but of women’s status and leadership in her society. Blerta plans to pursue a doctoral degree in the USA, so that she may help build a stronger mental health system in Kosovo.

Human Trafficking

By Sonia Sherry

New Restroom Trafficking SignageAwareness of the issue of human trafficking has caught on with various state departments of transportation. In early July 2013, WPO staff member, Tanya Burrwell (WPO assistant director) came upon the signage above in the public restroom stalls during her recent travels to the North of the Washington, D.C. area. The signage basically lists possible trafficking status information and a toll free phone number in both English and Spanish to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center to get help should a victim or friend/family of a victim find themselves in a trafficking situation. Signage is a step forward to putting an end to the plight of human trafficking upon our society providing assistance to those being forced or threatened into the world of trafficking. Most victims feel trapped and that they have nowhere to turn and no one to turn to but this signage placed in such a private environment as a bathroom stall can give some relief and comfort to victims knowing that help is indeed just a phone call away. 

Teleconference Series on Women and HIV/AIDS HIV and Human Trafficking Presented by the American Bar Association 

By Heather Durban

Monday, July 15, 2013, The American Bar Association (ABA) presented a teleconference on HIV and human trafficking attended by Heather Durban (WPO graduate intern). The ABA developed a taskforce to increase public awareness, advocacy and education. One of the speakers was a survivor of human sex trafficking and she shared her story of becoming a victim of trafficking and how she was lured into it by her trafficker at the age of 16. The survivor stated she came from an intact family (normal American family) in a middle class neighborhood, and was pulled into the world of human trafficking by the attentive comments and advances from a man who had been following her. The man eventually put her into prostitution, which lead to her contracting HIV. 

The panel of experts discussed the high correlation between individuals who are arrested for prostitution and other related charges to human trafficking and exploitation. There is also a need to improve identification and methods of intervention for human trafficking victims. Police policy of confiscating condoms as arrest evidence has a high impact on safety and health and the ABA is attempting to change this practice within the legal system. The panel highlighted the importance of listening to the victims and empowering them, being mindful about not placing judgment on the victims and wrapping them up in services without understanding their side of the story. Trafficking victims are likely to experience intense shame, depression and hopelessness. Therefore, it is important to note what providers should look for as signs of trafficking and abuse. Keep asking questions to help identify potential victims who are not likely to disclose information on their first visit or visits, but are more likely to disclose information once trust has been established with the provider.

Gender Violence in Ecuador — No more, No más

By Sonia Sherry

Wednesday, June 19, 2013, 3:30 p.m. Shari Miles-Cohen, senior director and the staff of the Women’s Programs Office, along with Julia da Silva, director of the Violence Prevention Office met with Lisa Kohn of the No More, No Más in Ecuador, a pilot-program run out of Ecuador that focuses on the issue of gender violence in that region. Kohn felt the need to draw attention to the issue after the gang rape and murder of a young college woman along with another case that sparked fury among anti-rape protesters, the rape of a 70 year old woman at a cemetery while she was visiting the grave site of her deceased son. Kohn noted, “Something needs to be done.” Her vision to draw more attention to the problem of gender violence in Ecuador has begun with her production of a song entitled, “No more, no más,” which has a kind of combination rap, new music sound. Kohn has been sharing her new tune all across the Washington, D.C. area as she visits with various offices hoping to open awareness to the plight of gender violence in Ecuador.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Fair and Reception 

By Megan Levy

Wednesday, July 17, 2013, Megan Levy (WPO intern), attended the STEM Fair and Reception sponsored by Women’s Policy Inc. at the Rayburn House Office Building. Several exhibits were set up around the room showcasing different public and private STEM programs encouraging girls and young women to pursue STEM careers. A wide range of organizations and agencies were present including Girl Scouts, SAE International, NASA, National Girls Collaborative Project, Girl’s Inc. and inSPIRE STEM USA. One Girls Inc. program called Operation SMART offers young girls hands-on activities to experience math, science and technology, and the opportunity to work with women professionals in the field. SAE International's A World in Motion program is a teacher-administered program that “brings STEM education to life in the classroom by incorporating the laws of physics, motion, flight and electronics into hands on activities.” For example, one challenge in this program called the JetToy Challenge, provides students with the opportunity to construct balloon-powered toy cars. A few congresswomen including Doris Matsui, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Lois Capps and Donna Edwards were also present and shared remarks strongly encouraging girls to pursue STEM careers. They furthermore stressed the current need for more women scientists and engineers in the job market.

Other News