Not Your Baby – a smartphone app against harassment

A few days ago I wrote about Hollaback! (and its leader Emily May), the non-profit organization the mission of which is to end street harassment by empowering the targets. They recently hit the news in connection with a sofware application, namely a smartphone app called ‘Not Your Baby‘. This is a free app that is hoped to initiate dialogue around sexual harassment before they happen, but also during and after they happen. This unusual app was developed by Metracthe Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, which prevents violence against diverse women and youth. Hollaback! was their partner a few years ago when they worked together on an online survey on responses to sexual harassment.

The app came out in September this year and got quite some media coverage. This is a screenshot from the app and there is more here in a Huffington Post article:

not your baby

To be able to give an opinion I downloaded this app, but to be honest, I have doubts about whether it can work. You can type in where and from whom you are experiencing harassing behavior and a tailored advice pops up (along with a “random fact”) that suits the users needs, which derives from the above mentioned survey (200 people), but as the app grows, potentially more. However, to me it is unrealistic that in the actual moment I can just get my phone out and say/do something smart when I’m lost for words or simly, I’m too scared/bitten/hurt/embarrassed.

Nevertheless, I think such an app (or rather, incentive) can be useful for sharing information on what  legal actions can be taken if harassment happens at the workplace, or what qualifies as harassment, or simly exchanging experiences and letting others know that they are not alone.

As this is my 4th or 5th post about street harassment, I need to say that I am very happy that I finally found a quote that touches upon a crucial thing when discussing this topic with others – Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism project, said:  “Many people tend to think of it as not particularly serious, with victims being told they are ‘overreacting’ or should ‘take it as a compliment’.” This, sadly, many times  comes from our friends, parents, etc. Harassment is not a compliment. Anything that makes someone scared or uncomfortable, cannot be a compliment.

Sexism, video games, trolls

Anita Sarkeesian from Feminist Frequency is a feminist media critic who initiated a successful Kickstarter campaign to examine sexism and representations of women in video games. (Kickstarter is a fundign platform for creative projects.) Apparently, little did she know what this will bring out of some of the members of the gaming community. Shortly after, she fell victim to (cyber) harassment, and there was even a game developed where users could punch a photo of Sarkeesian.

Challenges and opportunities for female health systems researchers

EV session at SymposiumThis will be a crosspost of an article that appeared in BMJ Open. BMJ is an online medical journal (more info here) and they run a couple of blogs. One of these is the Open blog, where a post appeared which I had the chance (and honor) to co-author with 4 others. One of them is a medical student, two are health systems researchers and one of them is a journalist/media specialist/research associate. We were (are) all part of a project called Emerging Voices, which is an initiative of The Institute of Tropical Medicine in Belgium (my workplace). This Emerging Voices 2012 edition was supported by the 2nd Global Symposium on Health System Research.

We held an organized session at this conference (on October 31, 2012 in Beijing, China) and the following article grew out of the discussions that took place there. I will crosspost it as it was originally published.

Juggling personal and professional lives in search of the perfect balance is an art that women and men across the world, in different spheres of work, are familiar with. How does this play out in the life of a female health researcher? At the Health Systems Research Symposium held in Beijing recently, a group of young female public health professionals from the “Emerging Voices” programme came together with their male counterparts to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face and have observed as young female researchers in the field of health systems research.

Although improving today, the evident underrepresentation of women in leadership positions led to the idea of exploring the issue of the glass ceiling—a term that was first used in the 1980s to indicate the lack of women in leadership positions in the workplace. What began as a fishbowl discussion on the challenges faced by female researchers, opened up into a debate of the challenges facing women in the workplace generally, raising multiple questions.

At the heart of the discussion was the conflict between balancing a family life and career that most female participants feel they face. With extensive travel, often for extended periods of time and to remote locations, is health systems research a family friendly career option for women? Is time taken for maternity leave a barrier to promotion? Have organisations, communities, and smaller family units evolved enough to accept the role of women as professionals along with their more traditional roles as wives, mothers, and carers of the old, young, and infirm?

The personal-professional conflict was further reflected in anecdotal evidence of female PhD candidates being discouraged from having families alongside their academic commitments. There were examples of almost equally qualified men being selected over women for positions. There were also examples of workplace norms which encouraged longer work hours that indirectly led to choices to delay childbearing for some female professionals. In some countries workplace policies that offered short maternity leave were felt to be insufficient for women to be able to look after very young babies as they had to return to work.

The Emerging Voices also felt that different yardsticks were used to measure the behavior and performance of men and women in the workplace. It was felt that women were allowed to make fewer mistakes once they reached senior leadership positions and had to constantly justify their positions.

Gender stereotyping also came up as an issue. Stereotypes ranged from associations of beauty with incompetence, to negative attitudes towards women who choose to forego childbearing to focus on their career, or conversely those who choose to have children and then take maternity leave.

However, all is not bleak and challenging, there are more women getting higher degrees today (over 60% of college graduates in the US are women), and women are increasingly entering spaces previously reserved for men. Some of the “Emerging Voices” from India mentioned examples of women from socially and economically disadvantaged areas transforming the health indicators of entire villages.

There are obvious biological differences between men and women. Bearing children is something that only women can do. Keeping these differences in mind, can social structures evolve to support women so that having and raising children is something that women can do alongside professional responsibilities? Instead of placing the responsibility on a woman of choosing “the right man”—societal and structural solutions are necessary (equal pay for men and women, day-care facilities for young children in workplaces). Both men and women should be able to develop supportive social and professional systems that would allow families and individuals to give equal opportunities to both genders.


  • Radhika Arora, Public Health Foundation of India; 
  • Natalie Eggermont, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp; 
  • Fabienne Richard, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp;
  • Ildikó Bokros, Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp; 
  • Marsha Orgill, Health Economics Unit, University of Cape Town.

The authors are part of the “Emerging Voices for Global Health” programme of the Institute of Tropical Medicine, Antwerp, Belgium. Run concurrently and in collaboration with the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, the programme provides training, mentoring, and networking opportunities for promising young health researchers and professionals from low and middle income countries. The views presented by the authors are solely hers and not of her affiliated institution.

Advertisements: Best and Worst Attempts to Sell Stuff to Women

We all have a love-hate relationships with ads on TV. OK, mostly hate. But every now and then (unlike Axe and most fragrance ads for example) they can be smart, non-sexist and funny.

Policymic collected some of the best and worst US ads of 2012 in which they are trying to sell stuff for women. I only include two examples here, but they have more.

One of the worst: you have probably heard about the pink “BIC for her” pens, which caused some turbulence on the internet and BIC was heavily attacked for being sexist (not without a reason). You may have also seen Ellen DeGeneres’s brilliant piece about it. (If not, watch it, it is hilarious!)

So here is the commercial of this new product for her:

Thankfully, there were good examples also, one of them being from Kotex, who gave a new twist to the usual tampon commercial 🙂

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All

AtlanticCoverSlaughterAnne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and the mother of two teenage boys. She served as the director of policy planning at the US State Department from 2009 to 2011. I have read her recent blogpost entitled Why Family Is a Foreign-Policy Issue on the Foreign Policy blog where she discusses that “if more women could juggle work and family successfully enough to allow them to remain on high-powered foreign-policy career tracks, more women would be available for top foreign-policy jobs. And that would change the world far more than you think, from giving peace talks a better chance to making us better able to mobilize international coalitions to reordering what issues governments even choose to work on.”

In this blogpost she refers to a longer essay that she wrote earlier this year to The Atlantic magazine on  why, as the modified saying goes, “you can have it all; you just can’t have it all at once.” I have the feeling that what she says is still universal to most working women in many countries, and not only to those with such high-profile jobs. In her essay one of the people Slaughter quotes is Mary Matalin, who spent two years as an assistant to Bush and the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before stepping down to spend more time with her daughters:  “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” This, ultimately, affects all working mothers, and actually, should affect all working parents. (On that note, one of my male colleagues is changing jobs at the end of this year because he came to the conclusion that his present position requires so much traveling that it is not compatible with raising three small children if he wants to stay committed professionally.)

Slaughter’s essay might be a bit lengthy, but it is definitely worth to read if you are interested in how to combine work and private life. Two interesting quotes might be enough to lure you into reading on:

“To many men, however, the choice to spend more time with their children, instead of working long hours on issues that affect many lives, seems selfish. Male leaders are routinely praised for having sacrificed their personal life on the altar of public or corporate service. That sacrifice, of course, typically involves their family. Yet their children, too, are trained to value public service over private responsibility. At the diplomat Richard Holbrooke’s memorial service, one of his sons told the audience that when he was a child, his father was often gone, not around to teach him to throw a ball or to watch his games. But as he grew older, he said, he realized that Holbrooke’s absence was the price of saving people around the world—a price worth paying.”

“Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.”

Street harassment – this time in NYC (and how they try to fight it)

According to the TEDx website, when feminist icon Gloria Steinem was asked, “What women today inspire you and make you feel that the movement continues?,” her response was, “Emily May of Hollaback!, who has empowered women in the street, literally.”

So who is Emily May and what is Hollaback!? Emily is an activist who (along with a couple of her friends) created Hollaback! in order to fight street harassment in the streets of New York City. Their aim is to empower the targets and make the harasser feel uncomfortable. In order to achieve this, they encourage people to use their smartphones to document, map, and share incidents of street harassment. Hollaback! is now present in 25 countries of the world, in more than a 60 cities.