Category Archives: Advocacy




Millennials are now the largest living generation in U.S. history and have the power to shift policies. There are many issues to consider when casting your ballot this fall. First, remember your vote matters. Speak up and REGISTER TO VOTE!

Then, read up on the issues. Paid family leave, equal pay, fairness in the work place, and the economy overall are key issues on the ballot affecting women and families across the country.

In our SparkSF chapter alone, there are two State ballot measures that will directly impact women and families:

SB 654 (New Parent Leave Act)

AB 1584 (Restores the annual “Cost-Of-Living-Adjustment”)

As we prepare to cast our ballots, this edition of Spark’s news digest features discussions on economic inequality, including witty and poignant commentary from John Oliver.

Read up below and don’t forget to register before it’s too late (10/24 in California & 10/14 in New York).


Recent research found that the average woman makes 83% of a man’s hourly wages. Read about the Economic Policy Institute’s 12-point plan to fight for gender equality in pay. Learn more HERE

In a Mother’s Day throwback, watch as comedian John Oliver calls out the US and Papua New Guinea as the only countries that don’t offer paid family leave. Watch HERE

In addition to unequal pay and sexual harassment at work, another problem that women are facing is being overlooked for promotions. A survey suggested that this could be a reason why women are more likely than men to want to leave their jobs within the next five years. What action can be taken to change the workplace culture? Find out HERE

Millennials’ #1 concern this election year is the economy (jobs, minimum wage, paid leave). Author Mike Hais, called the millennials “the most female-driven generation in American history.” FULL ARTICLE on how millennials can change America.

As the race to the White House continues, the candidates have spoken passionately about economic security: taxes, minimum wage, paid family leave & equal pay, TPP, and infrastructure expansion. Find out more where the candidates stand on these issues HERE



Spark News Digest: Millennials, Politics, & The Man Who Wore a Sanitary Pad

Obama on the State of Women, The Man Who Wore a Sanitary Pad, A Historic Defense Bill and Millennial Voices in Politics. This is your Spark News Digest.

By Spark Fellow: Stefanie Lee


United 2

GENDER EQUALITY: #UnitedStateofWomen. Today, we will change tomorrow

The first ever United State of Women Summit was a huge celebration of the progress that women have made and the collective focus towards the future, together to achieve true gender equality. “It’s really encouraging to hear young women find their voice and be able to advocate for themselves knowing that they’re not alone.” – Valerie Jarrett. During the summit, POTUS highlighted authors of our history, women who shaped their destiny, VP Joe Biden spoke about his proud accomplishment, writing the Violence Against Women Act and Michelle Obama & Opera Winfrey shared the progress they’ve seen women achieve and encouragement to young women to take action so that that progress continues for generations to come.



WOMEN’S HEALTH: The Man Who Wore a Sanitary Pad

Staggering statistics in India show millions of women still don’t use sanitary napkins out of ignorance and poverty. Nearly 70% of Indian women use old rags, increasing the risk of reproductive diseases. And, it is not just Indian women who believe that periods are a taboo subject, but most Indian men find buying sanitary napkins more embarrassing than buying condoms. Despite these taboos, there are a handful of men who are committed to fighting these stereotypes and working to improve the menstrual hygiene in India. “I became the man who wore a sanitary pad” – Arunachalam Muruganantham. Kudos to these men for standing up for girls. Find out why these men are norm shifting



GENDER EQUALITY – Women Required to Register for the Draft

The Senate made history on June 14th by passing a $602 billion defense bill that crucially includes an amendment requiring women to register for the draft. “Whether in this debate or through the courts. It just seems that now that you have women allowed to serve in any position in the military, there is no logical basis to say women should not be drafted.” – Nora Bensahel, a military policy analyst at American University’s School of International Service. This article shares perspectives from both military representatives and politicians on the bill and the future of women in the military.



POLITICS: Millennials & Women During An Election Year

This year, the Millennial Impact Report is focusing on how millennials’ behaviors may change during an election year. Some of the noteworthy trends listed in the report were: millennials are most interested in education, healthcare and the economy, they only somewhat believe that they are activists, and most millennials believe people like them can have an impact in the U.S. “It is likely that during an election year, causes and organizations that are politically aligned or part of a candidate’s agenda could see an increase in participation from this generation.” There’s a natural opportunity for companies to build momentum towards the November elections by promoting corporate volunteering to continue to engage Millennial employees. In addition to the impact that millennials are having from a political perspective, women are also making strides in changing the countries’ political landscape, from their stance on women’s rights and consideration of public opinion.

Huffington Post – Millennial Report
Women in Politics


Feminism: Why You Shouldn’t Just Dismiss It Nor Just Pick It Up

By Anna Nti-Asare

Anna Nti-Asare is a Spark supporter, budding gender studies expert, Stanford graduate, and creative writer. We asked her to guest blog about her thoughts on feminism in today’s world. Check out her thoughts and more about her below, then we’d love to hear what you think in the comments.

“Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression”
~bell hooks


As a student pursuing a master’s in Gender Studies, I often find myself in conversations surrounding feminism and feminist theory. Most people seem to begin the dialogue with a challenge in attempts to show what is wrong with feminism and feminists. I’ve heard that feminists are crazy and that all they want is either to be like men or to destroy them, I’ve heard that people who study feminist theory are simply emotional and take things too personally to pose factual and objective information.

I also encounter those who quickly proclaim they are feminists yet don’t really know what that means to them, nor can they acknowledge that their feminism may be very different than another person’s. These people might say something like – “oh men, they have no place in feminist conversations because they just don’t understand” or “all women should have equal working rights, unless this makes me give up my own class privilege” (I’m paraphrasing here of course).

I think both standpoints are equally as harmful to a feminist movement, at least the one I consider myself to be a part of, one represented by the quote above. As I often do when in conversations concerning feminism, I want to bring in a few bell hooks quotes here that begin to address both those who just dismiss feminist theory and those who mindlessly pick it up, for both are simply misinformed.

In her book Feminism is for Everybody, bell hooks writes: “When I talk about the feminism I know – up close and personal – [people] willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like ‘real’ feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as real and as radical a feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it”

I use this quote because it is something I deeply relate to. There are too many people who dismiss feminist politics because they have accepted a mainstream representation of it that loses sight of its goal to end oppression on all levels. Feminist theorists themselves have often been unable to question their own levels of privilege especially those they hold over other women of lower classes or of different race groups. These transgressions are more than fair to critique but they are not reasons to dismiss ones commitment to end sexism and sexist exploitation. If people weren’t so quick to criticize feminism when they meet a feminist, they would provide themselves more room to grow and to see the diverse layers and history of feminist thought (as they are many).

In the same book, hooks continues to a different point: “A male who has divested of male privilege, who has embraced feminist politics, is a worthy comrade in struggle, in no way a threat to feminism, whereas a female who remains wedded to sexist thinking and behavior infiltrating feminist movement is a dangerous threat”

Again, this quote addresses a misunderstanding and one that is extremely dangerous. She explains to her readers that being feminist should not just become a fashionable trend; it is something that should cause a change in your lifestyle no matter what gender you identify with. Simply identifying as a woman does not mean you are automatically a feminist, especially if you participate in acts of oppression. And identifying as a man is not a reason to be excluded from a movement that desperately needs you in order to succeed. I believe it is crucial for those who identify as feminists to embrace this belief because each one of us represents a larger movement. One that often becomes vilified when infiltrated by those who wave the banner and are not willing to learn how they might improve in their own thinking.

This is solely a brief introduction to a general discussion of why more people should set aside their misunderstandings and learn for themselves how beneficial embracing informed feminism could be for themselves and society as a whole. bell hooks beautifully summarizes this by writing: “Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction” I hope you take these quotes and commentary as important food for thought in your next interaction with feminism and that you engage with future pieces concerning my choice to align with Black Feminism specifically. More on this soon…

Visit Anna’s original post here.

About Anna Nti-Asare:
Anna Nti-Asare is a graduate student at the University of Cambridge in the UK, pursuing her MPhil in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies. She recently graduated from Stanford University in Medical Anthropology with honors and distinction as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, class of 2014. Anna wrote her undergraduate honors thesis on “Sex Education: An Anti-Feminist Socialization of American Youth.” She is deeply interested in gender and race studies in the US and plans to establish herself as a trusted social commentator on such topics, especially as they relate to youth and popular culture. Outside of studying, Anna is a performance artist – a dancer, singer, actress, and occasional model. She loves finding ways of using her artistic creativity to further develop her intellectual and charitable passions. One example comes through Photography Competing to Raise Support (PCTRS), a photo competition Anna founded in 2012 with the help of two best friends that raises money and awareness for women’s health clinics. She hopes you will enjoy engaging with her opinions and welcomes all feedback.

#PinTheCreep: India Combats Street Harassment with Technology

New Grantee: Safecity (registered under Red Dot Foundation)

By Spark Member Crystal Huber 

848 women are harassed, raped or killed in India every day. Women’s rights have been heavily debated in the past few years and Navi Pillay, UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, called upon India to make a profound change to end violence against women.


That’s exactly what Spark’s newest grantee, Safecity (under Red Dot Foundation), and its co-founders are aiming to do: empower girls and women to break their silence and take a stand for their personal safety by using data and technology to make public spaces safer and more accessible. Safecity is a platform to document personal experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. The crowdsourced reports are aggregated on Google Maps to show trends that prioritize locations where action needs to taken: increase community awareness, engage with local government and change infrastructure including installation of streetlights at crime-ridden intersections or modification of police patrol hours to increase presence during high-crime times. Since Dec 2012, Safecity has collected over 4,000 reports in 50 cities in India and Nepal, and educated over 1,500 people spanning the ages of 9 to 60 years of age. Safecity’s co-founders ElsaMarie, Saloni and Surya compose a dynamic, qualified and balanced team. They are launching this social change that will impact policy, infrastructure and gender equality. Safecity Safecity helps females break the silence. But the organization is doing so much more. They are engaging local communities and educating the next generation about equality and human rights. Safecity is also including men in this conversation, using easily accessible technology (Tweet #pinthecreep) and eliminating the vulnerability of allowing women’s voices to be heard by shifting the focus from the individual to the local level. A Spark grant will cover:

  • 500 children, 500 youth and 500 parents to be educated on issues of sexual harassment through approximately 60 workshops of 25 participants. Each workshop costs under $90 including materials, printing and trainer allowance. The programming has been collaborative and validated with the help of US- and India-based organizations with counselors trained through the UN’s Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre.

Pro bono needs:

  • Graphic design / Data visualization: represent the data in a more appealing and usable way. Create info graphics.
  • Data analysis: build tools to analyze the qualitative data.
  • Strategy: understand what other layers of data to add and how to reach as many people as possible.
  • Marketing support: create awareness about Safecity to the right audiences.

Email for specific details on these opportunities. We are impressed by Safecity’s efforts but are even more enthusiastic about the deep-rooted changes this organization will make at a local and national level. The team at Safecity has embraced technology to fight a social change that we hope you’ll join too. If you are inspired by these efforts, you can help in several ways. You can support Spark’s fundraising efforts for Safecity by donating here. You can also spread the word about what a fantastic organization Safecity on social media. For more information about Safecity, visit:

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.


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.


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.


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. Spark grantee The BuSSy Project is facing censorship in Egypt! Let performers for #GenderEquality speak.

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


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

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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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 ( 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.