On Gender Norms and Young Black Girls

JULY 7, 2014BY




By Riki Wilchins

Riki Wilchins is the Executive Director at TrueChild, an organization that aids donors, policy-makers and practitioners in reconnecting race, class and gender through “gender transformative” approaches challenging rigid gender norms and inequities. Wilchins has authored three books on gender theory and has appeared in a number of anthologies and publications on the subject. Her work has led her to be profiled by The New York Times, and she was once selected as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Civic Innovators for the 21st Century.” Here, Wilchins discusses what we can do to correct the effects of gender norms on young, black girls.

Decades of researchhas found that challenging harmful gender norms are a key to improving life outcomes for at-risk communities.

For instance, young women who internalize narrow feminine ideals that prioritize motherhood, dependence, vulnerability and appearance have lower life outcomes in reproductive health, education and economic empowerment.

Major international donor agencies like PEPFAR, USAID, UNAIDs, and WHO have all implemented “gender transformative” initiatives that challenge traditional gender norms, and found them effective (an introductory paper is here).

Gender impacts every issue funders address; yet donors and grantees are seldom challenged to do innovative work around gender.

As a senior program officer put it, “My staff and grantees get race and class, but where’s the gender analysis? What I want to know is—what happened to gender?”

Part of the answer to her question may lie in new report onyoung Black girlswe conducted for the Heinz Endowments.

We found that Black adolescent girls and young women face special barriers related to both race and gender which have immense effects on their health, achievement and life outcomes. And this was especially true for low-income Black girls, who also have challenges associated with poverty.

First, Black girls’ unique race and gendered experiences of discrimination result in multiple stresses that – over time – impair their immune systems.

Also, they must navigate social hostilities based on race as well as pressures to conform to traditional feminine ideals and those specific to Black communities.

Moreover, feminine norms in the Black community often prioritize caretaking and self-sacrifice. Black girls may be silently encouraged to focus on others’ health while ignoring signals of pain and illness until their own bodies are in crisis.

The additive impact of these stresses can produce a “weathering effect,” in which Black women’s bodies become physically and biologically vulnerable, resulting in high rates of chronic disorders, reproductive health problems, infant mortality and obesity.

Download the report here

Tory MP told to resign as patron by MS Society after voting for £30 ESA cuts | EvolvePolitics.com
By Summer Winterbottom

Conservative MP Kit Malthouse has been told to resign his position as patron for the Andover MS Society.

The decision comes after the Tory MP voted in favour of cuts to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) that will see MS sufferers amongst hundreds of thousands of disabled people to lose £30 a week in the WRAG (Work Related Activity group).

The Conservatives argue that stripping disabled people of financial security will incentivise them to find work quicker.

Donna Birch, Chair of the Andover MS society told Andover & Villages: 

“Due to recent events we no longer feel that Kit Malthouse is a suitable patron, so we have asked him to step down from this role.”

A number of other Conservative MPs are coming under increasing pressure to resign their own positions as patrons for disability groups following the vote to cut disability benefits.

London mayoral candidate Zak Goldsmith is also currently engaged in a row with Richmond AID who have asked him to explain his decision to take money off some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

Research by the Disability Benefits Consortium of more than 60 charities reports that 28% of people on the current WRAG rate have been unable to afford food, while 38 per cent have been unable to heat their homes.

Kit Malthouse was unavailable for comment.