Sunday, April 29, 2012

Interview with Judge Liz Kim

Judge Liz Kim is an outstanding role model who is an inspiration to all young girls, and women. She is a wife and mother of three, two with special needs. Despite the sacrifice, and challenges, she has managed to maintain a healthy balance between her family and her highly demanding professional career. When and why did you decide to become a lawyer? I decided to become a lawyer when I was twenty years old. I graduated from law school when I was twenty three and wanted to become a lawyer to work in juvenile law. I have always wanted to work with children, so in law school, I took classes and learned the many ways that children and the law intersect. After I passed the bar, I was hired by Los Angeles County to represent the Department of Children and Family Services. How did you decide to become a judge? I started out as a prosecutor in the County Counsel’s office. From there, I went in to private practice, where I represented children in dependency court, criminal court, and in contested adoptions. I found the work incredibly rewarding. I got married and have three children, two boys with special needs. I needed to balance work with family and found that working set hours at work was more manageable than working as a trial lawyer. My sons needed early childhood intervention and I was able to schedule their therapy sessions on my days off. I needed to be available for my children, yet I knew I would not be happy if I gave up my career completely. What is the main qualification to become a judge? To be constitutionally eligible to be a judicial officer, you have to be a lawyer for a minimum of 10 years. What is the best part of being a judge? I make decisions that effectuate change. What is the hardest part of being a judge? I work in the Children’s Court and the subject matter of my cases is child abuse. We carry extremely heavy caseloads and the services for our population have been cut dramatically. At any given time, my department has an average of 1100 children with open cases. It is challenging to insure that each case is given the time and attention that it deserves. What do you find most fulfilling as a judge? The most fulfilling aspect of my job is that I work directly with families and make orders which are specifically tailored to assist and serve children and their families. It is incredibly fulfilling to see parents in recovery achieve sobriety, women leave abusive relationships, and children improve and bloom after receiving early intervention and special ed services. Give me an accomplishment which you are proud of? My children are learning that women are important, we hold important jobs, we make important decisions, and we do important things. What impact would you like to have on other women through your role as a judge? As the daughter of first generation immigrants, and as the mother of a 10 year old girl, I would like to show women of all backgrounds that women are strong and we can achieve our dreams. How does a person obtain a leadership role? It is earned through honesty, confidence, knowledge and a willingness to take on responsibility. As a leader, what advice can you give women leaders? I believe it is important to be a mentor. Accept invitations to speak to students, talk about your experiences, challenges and accomplishments. Dispel their fear that goals are unattainable. Tell them that they should try their best; they will be surprised at how they can achieve. I believe it is important to support each other. Although we’ve made great strides in achieving equality, there is still much work to be done. Women need to help each other, celebrate each other’s accomplishments, and push each other along in this journey. By Yolanda Osorio - owner of A-1 Custom Draperies, and in 50/50’s Leadership Circle.

Women remain under-represented in Media

According to the, Women's Media Center which released its annual report on the state of women in the nation's newsrooms, radio stations, and film sets. The good news: In 2011, women held 40.5 percent of newspaper jobs, compared to the 36.6 percent they occupied in 2010. (Women's representation at American newspapers had hovered below the 40 percent mark for more than a decade). The bad news: By almost every other measure, media remains overwhelmingly male, and not looking any better any time soon. Last year, women made up only 22 percent of the local radio workforce, compared to 29.2 percent in 2010. Women's representation in sports news hasn't budged since 2008 (just 11 percent of editors, 10 percent of columnists, and 7 percent of reporters are women). In one year, women dropped from 20 percent of behind-the-scenes entertainment television roles to just 4 percent. Worldwide, women are the subjects of 24 percent of news stories. Just 21 percent of Sunday morning television commentators are women. Only a third of speaking characters in films are female (and about a quarter of them are dressed sexily). Women direct 5 percent of films. And it's not for lack of talent or enthusiasm: Women make up 73 percent of journalism and mass communication graduates. The Women's Media Center's data charts the chronic underrepresentation of women behind the camera, on the page, and in newsrooms back to 1998 (really, it goes back forever). But the sheer endurance of male overrepresentation in the media begets its own narrative: It does not necessarily get better. And even when it does, it doesn't always stay that way. Gender equality in the media takes attention, work, and vigilance. It requires us to confront an uncomfortable truth: If we are all truly hiring the best person for the job, it means that we think that men are better. Women are the majority and make-up roughly 51% of Americans. So it would seem issues of women representing anything should not be relegated as fringe issues, but should be recognized as helping a majority of the people in our country. Systematic oppression and patriarchy is a force hard to break through. Even a woman’s basic rights to control what they do with their own bodies are debated in Congress everyday by rich 50-60 year old men. Unfortunately for women: as long as mainstream media remains controlled by “The Good Old Boys Network,” not much good news for women. By Lorraine Johnson, Financial Analyst, Jet Propulsion Laboratory and member of Pasadena Leadership Circle

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Internship Available

Position Title: Intern
Department: Business Development Center (BDC)
Reports to: Director of Women’s Business Center
Work Location: 1055 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 900B, LA, CA 90017
Employment Status: Unpaid Internship
Vision Statement PACE Business Development Center is a visionary leader in building thriving communities of empowered entrepreneurs.
Mission Statement PACE Business Development Center advances the wealth of our communities by giving individuals the tools to develop sustainable businesses and successfully manage their personal assets.
Skills and Abilities
• Proficiency in Microsoft Office, with experience using Word, Excel, and Search Engine
• Excellent, proven interpersonal, verbal and written communications skills.
• Demonstrated ability to work in a proactively diverse and inclusive organization.
• Demonstrated ability to multi-task and work in a fast-pace office setting.

Intern Opportunity
Under the supervision and administrative direction of the Director of the Women’s Business Center, the Intern will perform all relevant responsibilities to assist¬ with the “Celebrating Women in Business 4” (CWiB4) event. It is an excellent learning experience for someone who has a career goal in event planning, not for profit, or fund raising. It will provide practical knowledge, applicable to the real world.

Main Event: WBC will celebrate WBiC4 at the L.A Chamber of Commerce on March 1, 2012.

Duties may include:
• Follow up and schedule meeting with WBC Advisory Board Members
• Implement a tracking system for follow through and confirmation
• Send/email invitations, call to confirm attendance
• Send out Save-the-date for sponsors, exhibitors and attendees
• Follow up on pending sponsors and exhibitors
• Confirm guest speakers and presentation schedules
• Assist with giveaways for the event, secure, track and make sure that they get to the event
• Handle the Pre Registration and Registration Materials
• Follow up, verify payments, collect and send invoices to sponsors and exhibitors
• Co-ordinate and confirm delivery, location, contracts, logistics and times for food, flowers, etc…
• Confirm placement of exhibitors and sponsors booths and set up
• Track Attendees and collect information as possible

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Losing My Religion for Equality

by Former President Jimmy Carter
Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I am posting this today, Women's Equality Day, as a powerful statement promoting women's equality - the first such statement by a U.S. President

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I have been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention's leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women's equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices - as we are seeing in Iran where
women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy - and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building,
help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world's major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place - and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence - than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn't until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the
religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions - all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Students Active for Ending Rape

An Interview with Margaret Mikkelsen, Executive Director of S.A.F.E.R. - Students Active For Ending Rape
By Jennifer Lauren, Fifty-Fifty Volunteer and Master's Degree Student

1. How did you come to work on raising awareness about rape, did you work on other issues or in other fields prior to working with SAFER?

I worked on this issue in college, and again during graduate school. I've also worked in the fields of education reform and maternity care policy.

2. Can you explain the specifics of your position at SAFER.

From 2006 through 2008, I was the Executive Director of SAFER, running the day to day operations, managing our programs, and leading our fundraising efforts. I am now on the Board of Advisors.

3. Is the main goal of Students Active for Ending Rape to raise awareness amongst youth, or is it also to change school policies that do not address this issue? Please share what you see as the agenda of this organization.

The main goal of SAFER is to have every college implement effective sexual assault policies. We work toward our goal by helping students build campus reform movements. Awareness-raising is part of our work, certainly, but policy reform is really the heart of it.

4. I was recently in attendance at the WAM! (Women, Action & Media) Conference in Cambridge, Boston. It was an informative, inspiring experience during which there was sessions that addressed rape, reproductive health, and other pertinent issues. However most of the people in attendance were activists, writers and students already aware of the importance of these issues. Is it important to SAFER? to reach out to diverse audiences beyond the feminist community? And if so, how does this organization approach that goal?

It's crucial that we do so, or we will not achieve our goal. Part of our training for students includes training on building diverse movements and reaching out to people who may not identify as feminist, womanist, or even activist. It's about finding common ground that sexual assault is a problem that can be addressed. But it's also about helping people understand the varying, intersecting oppressions that support rape culture.

5. Furthermore, is there a goal to reach out and educate men and boys about rape, and not just women and girls? If so, how does the educational campaign that is designed to reach males differ from the one that targets women and girls?

Since we're not an education organization, we don't do work that is specifically designed to educate men and boys. All our work is designed to help the activist, of any gender, who wants to make a difference on his or her campus. We do include some advice for men who are working in these movements who may not be aware of the privilege they bring to the table as men.

6. As an organization that deals specifically with the making the college campus more healthy and equal, how has the experience of working with different colleges and universities been? From your experience, how important is it to school administrators that they have an acceptable school policy and network on dealing with rape?

It really varies widely. I've encountered a broad spectrum of administrators, from those who are passionate about addressing the problem, to those who just don't see what we're talking about. Part of our work is helping students convince administrators that it is in the school's best interest to have a strong policy. Some administrators would rather deny the problem than face it head on. Students have to be savvy about how to approach these administrators.

7. What do you find is the most looming or most often encountered impediment in creating change in faulty school policies, and also changing mindsets?

There are so many, it's hard to pick! Victim-blaming culture is a huge one. It makes people feel safe and unaccountable if they can blame sexual assault on victims. Then they feel it won't happen to them, because they won't do whatever the victim did to "deserve" the assault, and they don't have to step up and take a stand against violence in their communities. Taking that first step, of saying no one "asks" to be assault, and admitting that the larger community has a role to play in stopping sexual violence, is a big first step, but it's a necessary one.

8. On the SAFER. website, students, concerned citizens and burgeoning activists can download a manual “Change Happens: A Guide to Reforming Your Campus Sexual Assault Policy.” There is also a SAFER. campus activist mentoring program and workshops. Can you speak about how you see the college landscape today in regard to activism, and in particular activism on this issue. Do you feel a difference in climate between activists of this current generation with those of past years?

Well, I'm really too young to comment on past generations! I graduated from college in the late 90s, and there was certainly a fair bit of campus activism going on. However, we weren't very sophisticated or organized. I think student activists today are very media-aware, and have access to amazing organizing training and tools. Different campus movements struggle with different things. Some with issues of diversity and privilege, others with a lack of clear goals or targets, some are co-opted too easily by administrators. But overall, I'm always impressed with the college activists I meet.

9. What are your thoughts on the growing role of the Internet and social media in the activist community?

I think it's great, but we can't over look the power of personal contact. I'm personally a big fan of that 20th century mainstay, the telephone.

10. Recently, on March 18, 2009, The New York Times published an article, “Teenage Girls Stand by Their Man” in which the writer Jan Hoffman found that the female high school students in the New York City school she interviewed largely sympathized with the singer Chris Brown who, as widely publicized, was arrested for domestic violence against his girlfriend. They also seem to blame the victim, singer Rihanna. The article goes on to discuss how their response is in keeping with the learned social signals we are taught as girls, that “What really matters is that we don’t destroy boys.” How does an organization like SAFER confront these problematic social signals?

See number 7! We have to always be talking about these issues, confronting them, asking hard questions, challenging each other. We do a lot of this on our blog, and also in trainings with students.

11. Does SAFER work in unison with other organizations that support the rights of women and girls, locally and internationally?

Absolutely. We've collaborated with the ACLU Women's Rights Project, FAIR Fund, Men Can Stop Rape, Gender PAC and others.

12. Rape is difficult for many to speak about, yet it continues to happen and most be dealt with. Are you optimistic or concerned about the current discussion going on now about what needs to be done about rape? Are you confident we are on the right path in confronting this issue and the more subtle social signals Hoffman talks about in her article?

Honestly, it depends on the day of the week. When I watch television, often I'm horrified. For example, we're big American Idol fans in my house. But when Ryan Seacrest referred to a group of female dancers as a male performer's harem, I was so angry. But then when I see a great article about sexual violence in a student newspaper, I'm hopeful. I guess I wouldn't do this work if I didn't believe we had a chance of winning!

13. What is one thing that the readers of Fifty-Fifty Leadership and The Equality Standard can do to raise awareness about this issue?

Speak up. Speak up when you see an ad that equates sexual violence with sex. Speak up when your kids are headed to college. Speak up when you learn an abstinence-only sex ed class is perpetuating traditional gender norms. Speak up when you hear someone blame a victim for being assaulted. Speak up when you hear someone excuse someone for committing assault. Call your alma mater, find out what they're doing about sexual violence. Withold your money if they aren't doing enough.I guess that was more than one thing!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who’s Responsible for Discrimination?

According to author Jackson Katz, despite the substantial gains made through the various take-back-the-night rallies, educational program and general political activism, women will never be able to end the rampant, global sexual discrimination and abuse directed towards their gender... least not by themselves.

That’s because the source of male-on-female abuse arises entirely from the modern understanding of masculinity - a fact that Katz examines in his recent groundbreaking book The Macho Paradox: Why some men hurt women and how all men can help. According to Katz, the impetuous for almost all sexual discrimination lies primarily with men: “it is one thing to focus on the ‘against women’ part of the phrase; but someone’s responsible for doing it, and (almost) everyone knows that it’s overwhelmingly men. Why aren’t people talking about this? Is it realistic to talk about preventing violence against women if no one even wants to say out loud who’s responsible for it?”

Although The Macho Paradox centers on a topic that is generally seen to be a ‘women’s issue,’ Jackson repeatedly emphasises that its target is young males. His goal is to stimulate these men to examine the various facets of popular culture they participate in – the hyper-masculinity portrayed in video games, the rampant sexuality of TV commercials, the re-enactment of abuse in pornography – to determine how these forms of media construct an unrealistic, often violent, notion of manliness. He takes a critical look at a number of structures in North American society – from sports to the education systems – and points to the way in which they train (or facilitate the training of) young men to participate in a larger sexist culture, stopping occasionally to examine the influence of specific individuals such as rap artist Eminem or radio host Howard Stern.

The facts presented in the book alone are staggering. From his chapter on “Facing the Facts,” Katz gives clear evidence for the existence of a widespread, often unacknowledged pandemic of male violence against women. Here are just a few of his findings:

- The Journal of the American Medical Association published one study in 2001 which found that 20 percent of adolescent girls were physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at one point in their lives.
- An estimated 17.7 million women in the United States, nearly 18 percent, have been raped or have been the victim of attempted rape.
- Studies show that between 15 to 38 percent of women and 5 to 16 percent of men experienced some form of sexual abuse as a child.
- The average age at which a child is abused sexually is ten years old.
- In 2000, intimate-partner homicides accounted for 33.5 percent of murders of women.
- One study found that 70 percent of women with developmental disabilities had been sexually assaulted, and that nearly 50 percent of women with mental retardation had been sexually assaulted ten or more times.
- The estimated annual health-related costs, lost productivity costs, and lost earnings due to intimate partner violence in the U.S. is $5.9 billion.

Through an examination of these figures Katz makes way for the second major theme of the book; it is not enough to simply acknowledge the trend. The book attempts to link social knowledge with social action by outlining some things men can do about these startling trends. The message is clear and direct; men must take an active role in not only changing their own personal actions which perpetuate discrimination against women, but also in engaging the wider culture around them. In essence, this amounts to walking a fine (and sometimes confusing) line between taking an active role in stopping sexism, and supporting those women already existing in anti-sexist leadership/activist positions. Instead of letting women shoulder all of the responsibility for anti-sexist activism, men should strive to become equal partners in ending gender-based violence.

Although no simple laundry list could do the message and arguments of the book justice, according to Katz there are ten major ways that all males can be become active in promoting social gender equality. Taken from his website, they are:

1. Approach gender violence as a MEN'S issue involving men of all ages and socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds. View men not only as perpetrators or possible offenders, but as empowered bystanders who can confront abusive peers

2. If a brother, friend, classmate, or teammate is abusing his female partner -- or is disrespectful or abusive to girls and women in general -- don't look the other way. If you feel comfortable doing so, try to talk to him about it. Urge him to seek help. Or if you don't know what to do, consult a friend, a parent, a professor, or a counsellor. DON'T REMAIN SILENT.

3. Have the courage to look inward. Question your own attitudes. Don't be defensive when something you do or say ends up hurting someone else. Try hard to understand how your own attitudes and actions might inadvertently perpetuate sexism and violence, and work toward changing them.

4. If you suspect that a woman close to you is being abused or has been sexually assaulted, gently ask if you can help.

5. If you are emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abusive to women, or have been in the past, seek professional help NOW.

6. Be an ally to women who are working to end all forms of gender violence. Support the work of campus-based women's centers. Attend "Take Back the Night" rallies and other public events. Raise money for community-based rape crisis centers and battered women's shelters. If you belong to a team or fraternity, or another student group, organize a fundraiser.

7. Recognize and speak out against homophobia and gay-bashing. Discrimination and violence against lesbians and gays are wrong in and of themselves. This abuse also has direct links to sexism (e.g. the sexual orientation of men who speak out against sexism is often questioned; a conscious or unconscious strategy intended to silence them. This is a key reason few men do so).

8. Attend programs, take courses, watch films, and read articles and books about multicultural masculinities, gender inequality, and the root causes of gender violence. Educate yourself and others about how larger social forces affect the conflicts between individual men and women.

9. Don't fund sexism. Refuse to purchase any magazine, rent any video, subscribe to any Web site, or buy any music that portrays girls or women in a sexually degrading or abusive manner. Protest sexism in the media.

10. Mentor and teach young boys about how to be men in ways that don't involve degrading or abusing girls and women. Volunteer to work with gender violence prevention programs, including anti-sexist men's programs. Lead by example.

The last of these points is the most important. If the current trends of violence and discrimination arise from a cultural ideal which males ‘buy into,’ then only males will be able to reverse them. The first step for change, however, is to recognize who owns the responsibility for the discrimination. As Jackson himself states, “isn’t it about time we had a national conversation about the male causes of this violence, instead of endlessly lingering on its consequences in the lives of women?”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Renee Bergen - Film Maker

Renee Bergan is a co-producer, co-director, director of photography and editor of the upcoming documentary “Poto Mitan.” Her talent and activism is inspiring and hers is simply a refreshing voice in the world of filmmaking. She has developed and made several documentaries that relate to issues such as domestic violence, the underside of the garment industry, and the plight of Afghan women. In 2003, she created Renegade Pictures, Inc. with the “sole goal of educating, inspiring and advocating change through her films.”

Jennifer Lauren recently interviewed Renee about her work and about “Poto Mitan”, a powerful film that sheds light on the global economy through telling the stories of five women in Haiti.

1. According to your bio on, you studied film in Paris and later at the University of California in Santa Barbara, with a mission to utilize the medium as film as a means of advocating for greater social justice. Can you speak more about how you came to turn to filmmaking as an alternative to “rallies and other forms of protest”?
I guess from an early age I knew that I wanted to make a difference. I remember when I was 5 I stated I wanted to be the first woman president! (I’ve since then decided against that!) But that shows I had some drive and political, even gender awareness at a young age. I was always drawn to imagery, still photography as well as moving…but was not attracted to Hollywood and it’s lack of substance. Simultaneously, I’ve always felt an innate sense that I needed to do something to help make an affect in this world—but didn’t want that to be purely from my ego. I wanted (and still do) to help others. When I got older and was starting to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I knew it had to fall under the arts, but it also had to jive with my desire to help the world be a better place. So, using film as a medium to help others tell their stories and/or influence people to take action seemed a perfect mesh with my dreams/goals.

Also, did the academic environment in Paris and Santa Barbara provide a stimulating foundation for that goal to merge film and social justice? How did your studies inform your later work?
My political awareness started when I was a senior in high school but it was at UCSB that my activism fostered and developed. Being there during the first gulf war, I was heavily involved in the anti-war movement. I was also part of the hunger strike which made an ethnic/gender class an undergrad requirement. There were countless other groups I was involved with from ant-sweatshop, to feminist orgs (I was the 2nd editor in chief for Herstory and on the Women’s Commission), to countless more. I think these years made it clear to me that being an activist was not a temporary thing but now a part of my life…and whatever I could incorporate it in my work, again in order to make this world a better place..all the better. I think it was at this time that the power of media really hit me too. I decided I needed to be on the positive, truthful side of that medium.

2. Your prior work, such as the short documentary “Persistent Discretion” about domestic violence, and the fictional short “Girl in the Window”, about Afghan women, and certainly the in=progress documentary “Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy” illuminate upon the struggles women face internationally. Can you pinpoint when you realized you wanted to work toward greater social justice and on supporting the plight of women or the disenfranchised?
If I could have minored in women’s studies, I would have, but at that time UCSB only offered double majors. I was not ready to commit that scholastically or financially (fees tripled when I was at UCSB). My mother grew up in the era where women were told to be quiet, look pretty, not disagree. My generation was very different… I think my earlier note about being the first woman president again points out my sense of gender equality at a young age. At that time I never felt like there was nothing I could not do because of my gender. On the contrary, I was a very determined girl and believed I could do anything I set my mind to. I learned this was not really the case as I got older. We are 50% of the population in this country…it never made sense to me why we should be treated any differently. I am a woman and I am affected by this so I wanted to change it. As the Revolutionary Assoc. of Afghan women states: “”No woman is free, until all women are free.”

I must note tho, that in cases of my work in other countries, I make sure not to export my Western feminism on these other womens’ agendas. On the contrary, I am there to learn from them.

3. It is not very often that filmmakers complete both narrative and documentary works, yet you have done both. Can you speak a little about your experiences in both and the strengths and difficulties with both?

I’m mostly a documentary filmmaker but I’m not opposed to working in the narrative format if the film has meaning/substance. To be frank, it’s been a long time since I’ve worked on a narrative film, but I’ve seen a rise in documentary filmmaking in the last 8 years, part of that I think is due to documentaries taking on a more narrative approach with their arc or “storyline”. This works well with main stream audiences and allows documentaries to be have a wider reach, I believe.

4. Can you expand on how you came to create Renegade Pictures, your film company, and its mission?
After graduating in the early 90’s, I worked a variety of industry jobs, some being down in Hollywood. I was kind of aghast at the fact that I got a degree to yell out “Rolling! Cut!” (tho I know you gotta start somewhere!). I realized quickly that if I continued down the Hollywood line, I’d have to make a decision about whether I would pursue editing or cinematography…I liked both and wanted to do both. Also, I knew Hollywood was not for me, so this helped me to realize that if I really wanted to be a documentary filmmaker, I had to just do it myself. I found a great project via an article in the LA times that started me on my way…it was about a Thai sweatshop in LA. Sadly I never finished this film (a variety of reasons and a lesson about how determined documentary filmmakers need to be), but this got me on my way. I worked independently for years, as a self employed filmmaker among other part time jobs. It was after I completed my first major film, Sadaa E Zan, that I went official and realized I could do this full time as a career. As far as my mission goes, I think it was explained above…my goal with filmmaking is to inform, educate, inspire and provoke action, most of all.

5. Filmmakers often struggle to fund their projects, and Ken Burns famously said that a filmmaker’s style “in the end, just becomes a description of how one solves the problems of production.” (From The Art of the Documentary, by Megan Cunningham). Please explain the funding process for the new film “Poto Mitan” and some of the challenges that have arisen, financially or otherwise.
This was a completely grass roots film. We raised over $50,000 from donations and fundraisers alone. We received only one grant from the University for $4,000 when Mark was still a student. We did receive a $10,000 matching grant but that was from a personal friend of mine. We applied for over 20 film grants and received none. So we got creative about targeting audiences who would benefit from the film…Ultimately I think we were lucky in that we had a lot of people that believed in us, some who gave substantial donations. Also, we could not have made this film without the support of the Center for Black Studies Research and the Santa Barbara Community.

For me this project was particularly hard, financially. When I was living in Santa Barbara, I was able to supplement a lot of my work on the film with other film work. But I moved to NY in the middle of the project, where I no longer had connections. The film could only afford to pay me for some of my time, so I worked some on deferment. This has been a real hardship for me this past year…not easy at all.
As far as the budget dictating the style, we knew from the outset that we had to be frugal all along the way. We were a very small crew, mostly me and Mark and occasionally a third person when we were in Haiti. Luckily with the current digital age, one can make a film for a lot cheaper than they could before. And in the end we just steamed ahead, knowing that we’d eventually make our money back. I think compared to other films, we did pretty good with how little we ended up dishing out.

6. The co-producers, consultants and Advisory Board for “Poto Mitan” having interesting and diverse backgrounds. How has the collaborative process been for this film and what has your role been in the making of this film?
Some of the advisory board member were obviously more active then others. Ultimately they were a wonderful support system. At times when we weren’t sure about the dirction the film was going or about our process, their support carried us through those difficult times (what I call the “rough cut blues”) and helped us to see that the film we were making was an important story to be told. Again, without their support, it would have been difficult to continue. I think it’s really important to have these outside support systems, particularly when you are such a small team. You can get too close and lost in your film, having those outside eyes occasionally helps bring you out of that downward spiral and refresh your perspective and attitude.

7. “Poto Mitan” takes on such an important and often overlooked subject, that is the role of women in the socio-economy and furthermore, the roots of Haiti’s perilous condition, and how the international economy has played a role in that. As viewers, we learn of the lives of these five courageous women along with an intimate history of Haiti-personal and national histories that need to be heard by the broader world.

What drew you and your fellow collaborators to this much-needed project, and has it been an educational process for you all as well to work with the women of the Committee to Defend Working Women’s Rights and Women in Action?

Mark probably already mentioned this to you, but it was the women in the film who created this project. Mark was working on his PHD dissertation down in Haiti for several years. His focus was on two female NGO’s (non-governmental organizations). One group was particularly astute to the power of media and told him: “That’s great you want to write about us but we know no one will read it….if you really want people to know our story then you need to make a movie about us!”. Mark, dedicated, dutifully complied. He returned to UCSB and through the film studies dept., he found me. So really, without the women, this film would not exist…we have them to thank for it. I also want to note that we kept them involved along the process, showing them works in process, so they could lend their opinion of the direction of the film. So it’s not like they had the idea and we took it and ran, it was collaborative all along the way.
For me it’s been an extremely educational process. Mark has spent year in Haiti, he’s an expert in the field. I came to the project with minor understanding of the country. These women, like the women in many under-developed countries I meet, are amazing, strong, resilient beings, women that I’m honored to know.

8. The website for the film speaks about the image of Haiti in the media, the structural causes for the poverty and division in the nation, and how doings of the international economy-such as when the World Trade Organization lifted quotas on Chinese textiles, greatly effected the Americas. How important was it to you to offer the viewer a broader as well as historical context for what is going on today in Haiti and beyond?
We certainly could not assume that most viewers had an understanding about the political, historical or cultural understanding of Haiti. To understand this perspective was to understand the women’s situation better as well as our role, as global citizens, and our affects on peoples of other countries.

9. I love that the subjects of the film-Solange, Frisline, Therese, Marquise and Helene-as poto mitan, or central pillars, are such strong examples of how to be a successful activist, with organization and deep conviction. Haiti itself has a strong history of activism. Can you speak about these five compelling, inspiring activists and what you think is the role of the activist, in Haiti or anywhere?
I think Mark can answer this question better than I—but I’ll try. The role of the activist is to consider the community or the future before one self. The activist puts their time and often lives on the line, in order to make their world a better place. They will sacrifice themselves, their time to make this happen. It is a difficult an arduous task, but one that some feel compelled to do.

10. You had previously done a film called “Fashion Slaves” about the garment industry. With “Poto Mitan”, we learn a great deal about how industrialization in 1980s Haiti meant a shift from the “family-run factory owner producing local foodstuffs to the foreign-owned export-processing zone.” Solange, for example, organizes and leads a union in her factory that produces shirts for Fruit of the Loom until in 2006 her and her co-workers were laid off, yet she remains active in her community. What is your view of the factory system and labor unions given your prior experience with both films’ relation to this issue?
The factory system is usually based on a triangle with a few at the top (executives) reaping most of the profit while the majority (labor) is at the bottom making pennies….and in between is the manufacturers, the middlemen. I think this is a pretty, forgive my French, fucked up system. It’s never made sense to me why companies can’t take just a hair less profit to give their workers a living wage…or if necessary (which I don’t’ think it is) pass this cost onto the consumer. Instead they prefer to have modern day slaves or indentured servants. Workers are afraid and wont’ leave their jobs because it’s possibly the only descent income in their area. Despite how bad the working conditions are…they’ll stay because they have no choice. With the profits the top execs are making, it should not be this way…they should pay their workers a living wage and have them work in safe and descent environments.

11. Helene in particular is described as a “true leader, inspiring others-especially women-to speak out and become involved.” Among her works, she organized a public health training program and after a friend almost died from her husband’s beatings, Helene created a campaign against violence upon women and founded Women in Action. Can you speak about the impact of women’s leadership in Haiti and beyond, and perhaps speak also to the political climate in the United States?
As the title Poto Mitan (which means center post, and is a metaphorical representation of how women are the center post or back bone of the culture) insinuates, women are the heart of Haiti’s culture. Yet in part of their world they are treated as dirt. These are strong, vibrant and resilient women (as were the women in Afghanistan) that won’t take this kind of injustice and they stand up and fight for themselves (not all of course, but many). The women leaders help those that are afraid or not sure what to do…they educate, support them. Both in Haiti and Afghanistan, these women are some of the strongest women I’ve met…so much so, I ask myself if I would have been like them had I been born in their countries. It really is us that should be learning from them.

12. In the clips from “Poto Mitan” on the website, we hear from the five subjects about the depth of the economic turmoil and violence in Haiti. Due to a dramatic price change of essential items, we learn that “you can’t buy anything” and that it is “destroying the country”. When there are literally 50,000 people behind you eyeing your job, it is hard to speak up for worker’s rights. We learn in the clips from Helene (????) that “us women, we carry everything” and that the problems affecting Haiti are “problems that attack women, who don’t have a man to help them out, and it’s all our burden”. It is hard hitting to hear from them directly how deeply they have been affected by the world’s economy.

Is part of the mission of “Poto Mitan” to awaken the international community to the depth of these issues?

Yes indeed, one of the main goals of the film is to show the effects of globalization or our legislative policies in the North on those in the South…people we never think that are affected by our actions. But this is a small world now and actions cross borders. Another purpose is to see the similarities between other countries crisis’ and our own. What is happening in Haiti that is similar in our own backyard? What can we as citizens do about that?

13. With the success of the Grameen Foundation and the attention Muhammad Yunus has received for his groundbreaking microfinance program, and other studies that underline the important and perilously undervalued role of women in the workforce and the economy, this is certainly the time for such an intimate view of that dynamic, which we see in “Poto Mitan”. Paul Collier’s “The Bottom Billion” and books like “Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World” by Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart really call for a change in how the often called “First World” deals with the “Third World”, or how the G-8 deals with failing states and the world’s poorest nations. Has any of these works or studies inspired or influenced your work on “Poto Mitan”?

14. Are you still in touch with the five amazing women in “Poto Mitan”? Please share with us the next step for the film and your experience working on this timely project.

Mark is more in touch with them than I….being that he returns to Haiti several times a year. I look forward to seeing them when I’m not behind a camera and just hanging out!
We are currently entering the film in film festivals, working on creating the DVD, and looking for a distributor so we can get the film out there. This will take another 1-2 months. Ultimately, if we can get the funding, we’d love to bring some of the women to the US for a screening/speaking tour, where we have the hopes of creating a dialogue between the women and students, labor, women’s and faith based organizations.

Jennifer Lauren is a writer and researcher from New York City. She represents the NGO Globe Aware at the United Nations, and has worked with organizations such as Open Society Institute on research projects related to human rights and international law. She has worked as a grant writer for the development of several local and international projects. She can be reached at