Egypt’s Women: Uncensored

New Grantee: The BuSSy Project

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

In modern Egypt, traditions limit women’s contact with men via practices such as veiling and gender segregation at schools, work, and recreational activities. To simply walk down the street, girls and women have to put up with abuse running from verbal to physical. The Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Women’s Rights Poll in 2013 even determined Egypt to be the worst out of 22 Arabs states for women due to high rates of sexual harassment, high rates of female genital cutting, a surge in violence and Islamist feelings after the Arab Spring uprisings, plus discriminatory laws and a spike in trafficking.

Since then, the first step has been made legally to end sexual harassment in Egypt with a new law in 2014 criminalizing sexual harassment for the first time in modern Egyptian history.

But still, a troubling trend has inflicted Egyptian society for some time—young Egyptian women and men are bound by the barriers of gender-segregating traditions and practices, social taboos, stereotypes, and other cultural norms that leave a narrow space for open expression and opportunity to challenge the status quo. The BuSSy Project seeks to break away from these confines, giving those living in this traditional society his or her own opportunity at a story, a face, a voice.

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The BuSSy Project is a performing arts group based in Cairo, Egypt that seeks to provide open and uncensored spaces for young women to candidly and anonymously share their personal experiences with a range of social issues, with a larger campaign to raise awareness about the different, and often unreported, facets of Egyptian society through storytelling.

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BuSSy’s storytelling workshops expose real women’s stories and provide a space for free expression on issues that society was failing to address, while the performances offer a unique opportunity for young Egyptian women to write for themselves instead of being written about by others. They are not professional artists, but a group of passionate, enthusiastic youth with strong faith in the value and impact of the project. They felt that theater would be the best way to reach a large body of people while providing the storytellers with a direct opportunity to publicly reclaim the truth as they experienced it. The BuSSy Project’s stories reflect a reality Egyptians are living with regards to gender issues that are experienced by all members of society, irrespective of class and background.

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A Spark grant will cover: 

  • Sponsorship for BuSSy performers on a tour throughout Egypt and help empower these young women to reclaim their stories as they experienced it.

Pro Bono needs:

  • Spread the word on Social Media: The BuSSy Project is facing censorship! The BuSSy Project’s high school students’ performance in Cairo, Egypt, was unfairly canceled (both in venue and funding) due to “inappropriate” content, with excuses of technical issues in the space. Check out the full story below and share the following messages with your social media networks.
    • Twitter: .@SparkSF grantee @TheBuSSyProject is facing censorship in #Egypt! Let performers for #GenderEquality speak. http://bit.ly/1aWP8MWFacebook: Spark grantee The BuSSy Project is facing censorship in Egypt! Let performers for #GenderEquality speak. http://bit.ly/1aWP8MW

More Information on the censorship issue:

In January 2014, The BuSSy Project and AFCA Foundation for Arts and Culture entered into a partnership to facilitate storytelling workshops in high schools all over Cairo, Egypt in order to document the experiences of high school students and create an open space forum for young Egyptians to feel empowered by the chance to share experiences with their lives, families, relationships, and school dynamics. The stories of the high school students were then adapted into a staged performance, to raise awareness about the issues discussed, calling “500s” [or “Khomsomeeyat”].

The performance was originally set to premiere at the Hakawy International Children’s Festival at the Cairo Opera Houseon 15 and 16 March 2015. On the night before the premiere, the director of the Opera House, having been informed of the alleged “inappropriate” content of the show by technicians she hired to observe our rehearsals–an accusation which was based on the show’s depiction of youth going through adolescence, including such common experiences as masturbation and sex education–the director asked that they “tone down” the content. The “500s” team refused the request to edit the content, on the grounds that it constitutes a form of censorship and intrusiveness, as well as a sort of distortion of content which would greatly impact the performance and its underlying goal and message. Thus, the performance was canceled by the Opera House, for, in their words, “technical reasons.”

Despite its initial difficulties, “500s” was scheduled to proceed with its premiere, at an independent venue. The co-producers, BuSSy & AFCA secured the Greek Campus in Cairo to host the premiere of “500s” and began publicizing the new dates of the performance, 16 & 17 April.However, just two weeks before the show’s premiere, the leadership of AFCA decided that the show’s content is inappropriate, and AFCA has decided that they no longer feel comfortable producing the show without making major changes to the play. AFCA then suggested that BuSSy submit the script of the performance to a committee, selected by AFCA, to review the script and make suggested changes. For the second time in less than one month, “500s” was censored. Since BuSSy had not changed its convictions concerning censorship, AFCA decided to cease its support of the performance, which was not only as co-producers, but also has financial supporters.

“500s” is now facing a ‘sink or swim’ situation–and we have decided to choose to ‘swim.’ The premiere, which is scheduled for April 16th, will go on, though due to BuSSy’s limited financial resources, it will be a difficult endeavor. Thus, we are reaching out to members of our community for support, to bring to light the realities of art censorship and regulation in Egypt, and help us to share the important messages that “500s” addresses.

Press coverage:

Egypt Independent: Cairo Opera House cancels play on adolescence for ‘inappropriate’ content

Ahram Online: Play for teenagers cancelled, organisers explain why

cairoscene: STATE-RUN THEATRE BANS ‘INAPPROPRIATE’ CHILDREN’S PLAY

Mada Masr: BuSSy Monologues’ new show halted at Cairo Opera House

Women Rock the Golden Globes, Start-up Sisters Decline Millions, Street Harassment Intensifies in Africa, and Ocean-Bound Healthcare

2015 is strong out of the gate with more than 10 top feminist moments at the Golden Globes, and local start-up women not only getting big TV exposure, but also turning down millions in funding. See what the realities of the new year look like for women in Hollywood from highlights to job truths, why street harassment has escalated in Africa, and how one doctor has beaten abortion laws by taking her clinic to the seas. This is your Spark News Digest.

Read, Discuss, Share.

By Spark Fellow: Kendra Hyett

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FEMINISM: Hollywood Women Rock the Globes + “Celluloid Ceiling” Revealed

In 2014, actress Emma Watson spoke at the U.N. Headquarters, calling men to be advocates for gender equality with the “HeForShe” Campaign; male celebrities Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Aziz Ansari, John Legend, and more stepped up as feminists; plus female-led film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 was the biggest opener of 2014. But Hollywood 2014 news also included the shocking break of multiple rape allegations against beloved actor and comedian Bill Cosby as well as female actors Cate Blanchett and Mindy Kaling speaking up about sexism in Hollywood casting and jobs behind the camera. So what will 2015 look like in Hollywood? The fact that there were 10+ top feminist moments in the 2015 Golden Globes sounds like 2015 is coming out of the gate strong, so check those out below for a little new year’s cheer, but also a dose of how far we have yet to come with the new year’s report on female jobs in Hollywood.

READ THE STORIES:
The Most Feminist Moments of the 2015 Golden Globes
Breaking Through Hollywood’s Celluloid Ceiling

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TECHNOLOGY: SF Start-up Sisters Spurn “Sharks”

The three Bay Area sisters who created dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel, are getting a lot of attention! Not only is their dating app designed by women for women and has been racking up the success stories, but in early January, the sisters had the huge opportunity at getting some serious funding from investors on Shark Tank. Find out why these local entrepreneurs turned down the sharks’ $30M offer. (Yes, 3-0 MILLION!!)

READ THE STORY

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GLOBAL WOMEN’S RIGHTS: Attacks on the Street Fight Women in the Seats

In late 2014, a woman in New York filmed herself walking through the city catcalled and followed while wearing jeans and a t-shirt, a woman in Nairobi wearing a mini-skirt was filmed being stripped and attacked by a crowd, and a girl in Zimbabwe wearing a short dress was filmed being dragged off a bus and stripped. Obviously, this is about a whole lot more than “inappropriate” clothing and even a woman’s right to dress as she wishes without harassment. This poignant New York Times article discusses how in Africa (and likely around the world), these attacks on women are not about what women are wearing, but about where women are going as women rapidly advance into positions of power.

READ THE STORY

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GLOBAL HEALTH: Clinic ON the Sea – Doctor Goes the Distance for Safe Abortions

With abortion laws under fire, an incredible doctor took her clinic to international waters. Dr. Rebecca Gomperts started her own organization sailing around the world to teach women to safely use abortion-inducing drugs. Get the scoop on how it works and about her amazing documentary that premiered at SXSW.

READ THE STORY

A Kit That Saves Lives: Bringing Safe Delivery to Nigerian Mothers

New Grantee: Advocates for Sustainable Health (A4SH)

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

Nigeria is the most populous country and arguably the richest in Africa. Yet, the health of the people remains poor, especially for women and children. The Nigerian Ministry of Health spends about 70% of its budget in urban areas, where only 30% of the population resides. Most public healthcare facilities are consequently under-funded and lacking supplies leaving expectant mothers to buy their own basic medical supplies or go without, exposing themselves to serious health risks. The 2013 Demographic Health Survey (DHS) reports that Nigeria has a maternal mortality ratio of 576 deaths/100,000 live births (the 13th highest in the world), and the neonatal mortality is 37/1,000 live births (with the highest at 47). The World Health Organization (WHO), reports that 1 in every 13 mothers die during childbirth in Nigeria every year, and the deaths of newborn babies represent a quarter of deaths under 5, most of which occur within the first week of life. These deaths are primarily attributable to complications during pregnancy and delivery, many of which could be detected and prevented before delivery during antenatal care visits.

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Spark’s latest grantee, Advocates for Sustainable Health (A4SH), seeks to improve the quality and availability of health services provided to pregnant women and mothers in rural Nigeria. A4SH was founded in 2013 by a small group of dynamic young individuals driven by a passion to ensure that women in their communities could gain access to basic and necessary health care.

A4SH’s signature program is the Safe Delivery Program, which encourages pregnant women to attend antenatal care visits in exchange for safe delivery kits. The kits are sterilized and packaged locally and include: a delivery mat, infant receiver, gloves, cord clamps, a scalpel, methylated spirit, antiseptic soap, a mucus extractor, olive oil, cotton wool, gauze, and maternity pads.

Expectant mothers receive a delivery kit at their fourth antenatal care visit in a participating primary healthcare center. Since its founding in 2013, A4SH has reached about 400-500 women in three communities within the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria.

A Spark grant will cover:

  • 4 interventions in hard-to-reach communities,
  • 100 safe delivery kits to facilities in these communities,
  • and further outreach through providing “pikin kits,” (post-natal kits) for women after delivery in a health facility. Kits include items to care for their newborn babies including powder, baby oil, Vaseline, a sponge, lotion, cloth diapers, one outfit with hat and socks, a blanket, and information on post-delivery care.

Pro Bono needs:

  • Website Development: The organization’s staff did their best to create a website, but are in need of professional consultation and aid in completing website development.
  • Video Development: Create a demonstration video for their Sensitization Program in which they provide essential care instructions on breast feeding, immunization, and hygiene in the local women’s language of Hausa. Create a video around their Advocacy Program in which they advocate for the provision of midwives for communities in need.
  • Management Consultancy – Help the organization develop a sustainable business plan to help A4SH successfully move forward with its mission and vision.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for A4SH, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. If you are interested in providing pro bono services for them, please email programs@sparksf.org.

We are thrilled to support this wonderful organization, and thank you for all of your support! Visit A4SH’s Website to learn more.

CWEN: Cultivating Women Entrepreneurs

New Grantee: Community Women’s Enterprise Network (CWEN)

By Spark Fellow Kendra Hyett

Uganda was described as “the pearl of Africa,” by Winston Churchill, referring to the country’s natural beauty, rich landscapes, and good climate. But unfortunately, as The Foundation for Sustainable Development reports, “the country currently ranks as one of the 20 poorest nations in the world and 50% of the population lives below the poverty line.” The majority of the population lacks basic resources and infrastructure from running water to health care and education and now 1 million citizens are infected with HIV/AIDS.

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Women in Uganda face even more health risks and employment barriers as they are at greater risk of HIV/AIDS infection, face lower social status than men, and lack economic self-sufficiency. For most women, this reduces their access to education, power to act independently, ability to avoid poverty, and their power to escape reliance upon abusive men.

Facing these discriminations, risks, and barriers to controlling their own livelihood, women in Uganda are in desperate need of new and innovative opportunities. Community Women’s Enterprise Network (CWEN) was created to do just that.

CWEN was founded in 2012 by a group of passionate young women looking for new opportunities for women in their communities. The young women were selected by their own communities in the districts of Kampala, Mukono, and Wakiso to run the organization. Now, only a few years later, they have a network of 220 low-income women entrepreneurs. CWEN’s mission is to build the entrepreneurial capacity of women to overcome economic and social barriers and achieve self-sufficiency. Their programs focus on micro lending and value chain development for women entrepreneurs, plus social research and impact measurement. Their proposed project, Women on the Shelf, aims to help low income, high potential women entrepreneurs gain shelf space in leading local and regional stores and get their products flying off the shelves. Women on the Shelf focuses on cultivating and strengthening the capacity of women food entrepreneurs and other products through branding, packaging, marketing, merchandising and promotions so products will fetch higher prices, doubling incomes for women producers and expanding their markets locally and globally.

A Spark grant will cover:

  • Support for 41 low-income, high potential female entrepreneurs through CWEN’s Women on the Shelf project.
    • This support includes: branding, packaging, marketing, and merchandising their products; project team staffing, transportation, plus monitoring and evaluation costs.
  • CWEN is looking for website and marketing guidance. If you’d like to be the one to provide pro bono support, please contact us.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for CWEN, you can make a donation on Spark’s website. We would also love to hear from you if you are interested in providing pro bono services: email programs@sparksf.org. We are very excited to support this wonderful organization! Visit CWEN’s Website to learn more.

New Grantee: Serenity House

Authored by Spark Member: Lily Womble

Amidst staggering rates of sex trafficking, prostitution, poverty, and illegal drug use in Oakland, California, there stands a sanctuary of respite and recovery for struggling women.

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At the age of seven, Johnnia Davis was raped and held that secret for over 26 years. Serenity House was born out of Johnnia’s desire, years later, to create a community where women of all walks of life, struggling with addiction, trauma, depression, or other mental illnesses, could heal spiritually and naturally.

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Serenity House does more than provide shelter, food, and health services. It’s a comprehensive program for women who want to recover from their emotional trauma and addictions, build self-worth and confidence, and find living wage jobs to support themselves, their families, and their communities. Serenity House facilitates this healing by providing individual and group counseling, as well as classes on relapse prevention, anger management, self-esteem, life skills, art, karate, movement, health, communication skills, and relationship skills. Currently, 89% of their clients suffer from some form of mental health issues (i.e. PTSD, depression and/ or bi-polar disorder), and because of their programming, Johnnia has seen many women maintain their mental health stability after undergoing the comprehensive counseling program. In addition, they provide opportunities for clients to have fun and mark their achievements, such as a graduation ceremony to celebrate the women who have successfully completed the program and a prom for all Serenity House.

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Serenity House serves over 125 women per year, 60 of who stay in their clean and sober housing while they attend the program. 78% of the women that complete the program go on to obtain a degree, purchase homes, and/or get their children back.

Currently, one of the biggest struggles faced by this organization is their lack of capacity and funds. Johnnia and the Program Director, Faye, do all the grant writing and programming. The rest of the staff are dedicated volunteers. There are many local women who would benefit from their services, but there is limited housing, food, and availability in their program due to capacity issues.

Spark members: We encourage you to consider volunteering with this amazing organization. Your volunteer support is just what they need to extend their capacity and offer more help to those who need it. To learn how to volunteer, email Amanda (amanda@sparksf.org) with a request.

A Spark grant will be used to provide safe housing, food and specialized counseling for at least five additional women – from those in their neighborhood involved in sex traffic to young women struggling with addiction and homelessness.

We are energized and excited by the work of Serenity House because of Johnnia’s inspiring grassroots leadership, the transformative and healing nature of her approach, and the life changing services they offer to this underserved area. We look forward to seeing the great work this grant will facilitate.

SparkSF Fellow Profile: Kendra Hyett

Kendra Hyett is a Chicago suburbs native who moved to San Francisco in 2006 after earning a BA in English Writing and minor in Gender and Women’s Studies from North Central College. She is a girls’ and women’s empowerment advocate, an avid traveler, reader, writer, plus TV and goldfish cracker addict. After five years of getting paid to be a professional TV addict at a successful internet startup, she followed her passion for giving back by shifting to nonprofit work where she focuses on grant writing, development, and volunteer recruitment. She serves on the Associate Board of About-Face, the Advisory Board of First Book SF, is part of Girls, Inc.’s Volunteer Department team, plus serves as a volunteer grant writer for Operation Rainbow.

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Kendra’s Spark Story:

When attending an event last fall for local Spark grantee, Oasis for Girls, I met one of Spark’s founding board members, Fiona Hsu. She told me all about Spark’s work and invited me to the upcoming holiday party. Already excited about Spark’s work after talking to Fiona, I became a member online, and then fell in love with the amazing Spark network at the packed holiday party! I developed a strong interest in grantmaking for girls and women’s organizations after working with many nonprofits through my career transition, so I was excited to see the fellowship opportunity as a way I could get even more involved in Spark’s work and learn more about this potential career direction. Now about 6 months into the fellowship, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning the inner-workings of Spark as a grantmaking nonprofit, a changemaker for grassroots women’s organizations, and as a successful membership-based organization.

Who is your favorite grantee?
Young Feminist Movement in Pakistan – I think these young women are so brave for fighting for their rights to gender equality in a place where it’s risky to even call oneself a feminist.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Exploring the streets of a new (to me) international city or town with someone I love.

What talent (or superpower!) would you like to have?
Instant travel. I would love to be able to say where I want to go, and be there immediately – whether to get to work on time without bothering with public transit, or to be in Paris for breakfast! (And lunch, and dinner, and the whole month…)

What is your most marked characteristic?
Compassion – I’ve always had a strong desire to help others and make a difference for others from supporting a friend to volunteering.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
JK Rowling. To be a writer famous while still alive, and to have written such adored stories would be a dream. And then to have the money and influence to help change the world – perfect combo!

What is the quality you most like in a fellow human being?
Drive to follow a passion and love of dogs.

What is your favorite journey?
Studying abroad in China and Japan my junior year of college. I have always loved to travel, but that was the most foreign place I had visited and the longest time I had spent being constantly out of my comfort zone. It was a wonderful adventure to be in a completely different kind of world every day I stepped outside to go to class, and every time my group and I got to explore new places in interesting ways from climbing up and sliding down the Great Wall to sleeping in a yurt in Inner Mongolia.

Who are your heroes in real life?
All four of my grandparents who were open-minded and loving to people from all walks of life before it was cool. Also Malala, Nicholas Kristof, and others bringing much-needed attention to the plights of girls and women around the world.

Seeing Through Our Project Window

New Grantee: Project Window

By Chrissy Schwen

Far Rockaway, the easternmost part of Long Island’s Rockaway Peninsula, can be a tough place to grow up. That is something Angela Hines knows all too well. Born and raised in the Far Rockaway NYCHA housing projects, Hines dropped out of high school in 1987 and struggled for years to support herself and her family. Vowing to create a better life for her children, Hines got her GED and decided to further her education.

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Dubbed “Hero mom” by the New York Daily News, Hines’ determination is awe-inspiring. In order to attend CUNY law school, she would bus from her apartment in Far Rockaway two hours with two children in tow, and then return from class in time to make dinner for all five of her children. All that hard work paid off; in 2009 Hines achieved her dream by becoming a practicing lawyer at the Queens County Court Legal Aid Society.

After succeeding in building a better life for her own family, Hines set her sights on improving the lives of girls still struggling in her community. She created Project Window to help girls in the Far Rockaway housing projects reach their full potential. “I don’t want to turn my back on the community,” she said. “If I could help just one person, then my work is done.”

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She’s done much more than that. Project Window has supported girls in Far Rockaway in many ways – from mentoring and tutoring programs to providing girls in the Sandy-raged community with free prom dresses and community service opportunities. All of the programs are designed to instill a sense of responsibility, community, and possibility. To achieve this level of comprehensive support, the organization is divided into components:

  • Project Connection is Project Window’s mentoring program. Each child is paired with a mentor for a school year for weekly activities and monthly check-ins that record the child’s progress.
  • Project Steppers promotes physical fitness and camaraderie through athletic and recreation activities, including volleyball and dance, on the weekends and through summer camps. The program aims to reach girls who might not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in organized activities.
  • Team Recovery aims to provide tutoring and other academic support to girls to keep them focused on their schooling.
  • Project Bulls-eye is a series of workshops for girls that address self-esteem, peer pressure, sex education, drug and alcohol abuse, and healthy relationships. The workshops aim to improve the girls’ ability to address these issues in a positive way.
  • Project Give back teaches girls to value their community and themselves by organizing clothing and toy drives, visits to nursing homes, and time at local soup kitchens.

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It is Project Window’s hope that this broad spectrum of assistance will expose its participants to opportunities they might not otherwise have had, and teach them self-awareness, the importance of education, and strong interpersonal skills.

We couldn’t be more thrilled to support Project Window! A Spark grant will cover:

  • The cost of 15 girls to participate in their summer camps
  • Pro bono support including:

o   Prom Dresses: Project Window is sponsoring “Queens of Far Rockaways” event, providing prom dresses and accessories to girls in the Far Rockaways who wouldn’t otherwise have them. If you have a dress to donate please email programs@sparksf.org.

o   Website Expertise: Project Window is looking for help revamping their website, and needs your help. Please contact programs@sparksf.org for more details.

If you would like to support Spark’s fundraising efforts for Project Window, please make a donation on our website. And if you are interested in donating dresses, revamping the website, or providing other pro bono services for Project Window, email programs@sparksf.org. Learn more about Project Window on their website, and follow them on Twitter and Facebook!