Building Research Connections

Fall/Winter 2003  Volume 14, Issue 2


Letter from the Interim Director
CRWG Hosts Latina Girl Scouts
Latina Parent Writers Participate in Public Hearing
South African Women Visit UIC
National Center of Excellence in Women's Health
CRWG New Visiting Scholar
Opinions and Views
MUSLIM Women and Divorce in Contemporary India
What's up with WISE?
CRWG Community Partner Spotlight: "Girls in the Game"

Letter from the Interim Director, October 2003

They used to say that on election day every Chicagoan would vote early and often. When I lived in Nashville during the U.S. war in Vietnam, I belonged to several groups with overlapping memberships that advocated for peace and social justice. We said we wanted to stand up and be counted, and be counted as many times as possible. Here at the Center for Research on Women and Gender we also want our influence to be magnified, of course through democratic and academic activities.

One way we've begun to get out the word about our activities is through a redesigned web page, available at We're eager to recieve your comments and suggestions for this ongoing production. As you can see, we're also putting the Center's newsletter, Building Research Connections, on line and are looking forward to your comments about it as well. Please send your comments or suggestions about format, content, or other newsletter issues to Janise Hurtig, BRC editor, at We'd like to make the transition to an online format work as well as possible so that we can let the community of CRWG supporters continue to know what we're doing at the Center and so that we can continue to inform readers about current research on pressing issues related to gender, women, and girls. Our main focus is on furthering research that advances knowledge about women and gender and so helps to improve women's and men's lives. We've begun a process of strategic thinking in terms of directions for collaborative research with other units, and we'd be happy to hear from those of you with such projects in mind. We're also proud of our vigorous Women in Science and Engineering Program and the activities of our Evaluation and Technical Assistance Team (see stories in this issue of BRC).

We've planned a number of activities for the year that reach out to the campus community and beyond. Already on display at the Library of the Health Sciences is a small exhibit showing the wonderful textiles of the ADITHI collective of rural craftswomen in Bihar, India. Their themes focus on the health challenges to poor women from overwork, bad sanitation, the AIDS epidemic, and customs that prefer boy children over girls and encourage selective abortion to produce more male births (see essay and images in this issue of BRC).

Similar textiles were also be available for sale at our First Annual Arts and Crafts fair which was held on Monday, November 24 at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. The fine hand-made jewelry, pottery, knitwear, photographs, and other items will display the talents of many of our UIC colleagues, some of them professional artists but many developing their talents while working here in unrelated fields. You may be surprised to discover wonderful pieces by colleagues whose artwork you've never imagined!  A portion of all sales from this event will benefit CRWG in our current budget crunch, and we encourage you to begin your holiday shopping with us here.


CRWG is helping coordinate research roundtables among UIC scholars from across the campus. One group is the Welfare Roundtable, which met last year at CRWG (contact Stephanie Riger Another group is focused on Research on and with Girls, coordinated by Laurie Schaffner in CRJ ( CRWG will also sponsor a program on Girls as part of Women's History Month, March 17, 2004, with speaker Lynn Phillips.

For the second year, CRWG sponsored a reading by writers from around the world who come to us from the International Writers Program at the University of Iowa. The readings and reception on in November at the African American Cultural Center will feature Alejandra Costamagna, fiction writer and journalist from Chile; Denisa Comanescu, a Romanian poet and translator; Hoang Ly, a Vietnamese poet; and Barolong Seboni, from Botswana, poet, journalist, and playwright, who has written scripts for a radio soap opera on HIV/AIDS.

Last year's winners of the CRWG Dissertation Awards, Jan Warren-Findlow and Lilian Friedberg, were in November, 2003. Lilian's dissertation provides a critical commentary on Austrian feminist writer Ingeborg Bachmann. Jan's dissertation focuses on "Explanatory Models of Heart Disease in Older Black Women." The reception will also honor faculty emeritae who have contributed to the Center's activities and to the advancement of women at UIC. These stellar women include Kate Barany, Kathleen Crittenden, Alice Dan, Suzanne Poirier, and Sylvia Vatuk.

Current dissertation students working on topics about women are encouraged to check out the application details for the 2004 Dissertation Awards on our web site. In addition, the generosity of Stephanie Riger, Larry Bennett, Sharon M. Wasco, Paul A. Schewe, Lisa Frohmann, Jennifer Camacho, and Rebecca Campbell, co-authors of the book Evaluating Services for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, is making possible an award to a student whose scholarship will aid the effort to stem violence against women.

A new organization is forming of Second Wave feminists who want to rejoice in past friendships and accomplishments as well as strategize to advance feminist goals now. This organization, the Veteran Feminists of America, is planning a meeting at UIC for August, 2004, sponsored by CRWG. Our Director Emerita Alice Dan and I are on the steering committee for the Chicago conference. If you were a feminist in the 1960s or 1970s (or 1980s-2000s) and want to learn more about this group, please email me at

The US Supreme Court's recent decision in Lawrence vs Texas, declared laws against private consenting adult homosexual behavior unconstitutional. CRWG has co-sponsored a program discussing the implications of this decision. As a participant in this panel, I've represented a feminist skepticism about the meaning of several key terms in the decision, including privacy and morality.

If you have suggestions for future CRWG programming, research directions, partnerships, or other activities, please email them to me at

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CRWG Hosts Latina Girl Scouts

Chicago was the host city for this year's "National Latinas in Girl Scouting" Conference, which took place July 25-26 in Oakbrook, Illinois. The CRWG provided an opportunity for over 60 conference attendees -- girl scouts from all over the United States -- to tour the UIC medical center campus and learn about health science career opportunities. The half-day field trip was intended to expose girls to current career options in the health sciences as well as offer a historical context to career opportunities in the health sciences for young women.

The day began with a walking tour that included a visit to the UIC Medical School courtyard and the College of Pharmacy's Dorothy Bradley Atkins Medicinal Plant Garden. Two UIC undergraduate students, Sana Ahmed and Stephanie Cheaney, and two CRWG staff members, Denise Harbert and Sarah Shirk, lead the tour and discussions. The girl scouts were surprised to learn that there were no certified women medical doctors in the United States until Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College in 1849. After her acceptance, Blackwell became a national role model for all women considering careers in medicine. The girls engaged in a lively discussion about how far medical school admissions have advanced since the mid-1800s.

The young visitors also learned about traditional healing that women have been performing for centuries. During the tour of the Medicinal Plant Garden girls tested their observational and olfactory skills to identify medicinal plants such as Peppermint, Purple Cone Flower, and St. John's Wort plants. The day ended with a panel discussion about life on campus in the health science majors from the perspective of the tour guides. All tour participants were also offered an opportunity to join the "Girls' Electronic Mentoring in Science, Engineering, and Technology" (GEM-SET) project. GEM-SET connects junior and senior high students to women professionals in the health sciences as well as other career fields. The girl scouts then departed via bus to Chicago's south side to tour Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. The tour and field trip were made possible by support from the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau, which sponsors the GEM-SET project.

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Latina Parent Writers Participate in Public Hearing on Women/Girls and Literacy

On October 16, 2003, a group of Mexican-born mothers, writers from the "Parents Write their Worlds" workshop at Telpochalli Elementary School in Little Village, joined CRWG researcher and workshop teacher Janise Hurtig to attend the Cook County Commission on Women's Issues annual public hearing. The topic of this year's hearing was "Empowering Women and Girls through Literacy." Participants at the hearing ranged from members of local literacy organizations to state and national associations. Topics included Social Empowerment and Literacy, Health Literacy, Women in Prison, Occupational Literacy, Legal Systems, and more.

Ms. Hurtig opened the group's testimony with a brief introduction entitled "When can literacy empower women? The Parents Write their Worlds Project and the power of a social voice." She was followed by two women from the "Parents Write their Worlds" workshop, Abel Angeles and Rebeca Nieto, each of whom read writings they had published in the magazine Real Conditions, put out by UIC's Community Writing Project. Ms. Angeles read her introduction to one of the magazines, and Ms. Nieto read a story entitled "La importancia de leer y escribir" ("The Importance of Reading and Writing"). BRC is happy to repring excerts from the testimony and the two readings.

"When Can Literacy Empower Women?
The Parents Write their Worlds Project and the Power of a Social Voice."
by Janise Hurtig, Ph.D., CRWG

Good Morning. I want to thank Eva Mika for inviting our group to participate in this important public hearing. For two years I have been meeting with a group of mothers in weekly workshops at Telpochcalli School to write and read creative non-fiction stories that draw on their life experiences. Selections of their writing are published in the magazine Real Conditions, which is circulated to the school, community, and beyond. The workshop, magazine, and subsequent public readings allow adults from poor and immigrant communities who normally don't think of themselves as writers, and who normally do not have the opportunity to contribute to public discussions based on their experiences, to do so. Adults in the community are invited to participate regardless of their formal literacy skills, because the emphasis of the workshop is on telling and sharing stories, on allowing the experiences and insights of those usually not included in literate culture to be read and heard. In this way participants come to be respected as writers, thinkers, and leaders in their communities. This is an especially powerful experience for women/mothers from immigrant communities, who have little opportunity to make their experiences and insights known beyond the home. As role models for educators of their children, participating mothers also pass on an appreciation for reading and writing to their children and other adults in the community, inspiring them to write as well.

Through the weekly writing workshops we hold, and the magazine of the parents' writings we publish, literacy takes the form of shared, creative and intellectual activity that gives voice to individuals and groups who are not simply voiceless and faceless in public discussions about issues of relevance to them, but who are often effectively muted or silenced by the kinds of literacy practices that predominate in the wider society. In other words, one of the premises of this testimony is that literacy is not intrinsically empowering to women; in fact, certain acts of reading and writing can be oppressive. But literacy can be empowering when it gives women the opportunity to represent themselves on their own terms through writing, reflect critically on their own work in a group, and share their stories with others.

The writing workshop creates strong bonds of friendship and support among the participants. As one woman wrote in an essay entitled "The experience of writing," "Writing and reading in a group has created in me the sensation of having tightened still more the existing ties of friendship, the respect with which I was listened to."

The writing workshop also transforms women's sense of themselves in the world, as another participant expressed in her story: "For me writing is a new experience. I have felt very comfortable with this group of friends and I like to share my experiences, since we identify with each other a lot. . . . I never imagined that I could write or that anyone would be interested in what I write, but now I realize that this is not so. We all have something interesting to write and we all have the capacity to be great writers."

I want to now present two writers from the workshop, Rebeca Nieto and Abel Angeles, who will each read works from realconditions that address the topic of this hearing. Thank you very much.

La importancia de leer y escribir
por Rebeca Nieto

 Telpochcalli es una pequeña escuela dedicada a integrar el arte y la cultura de México. Me gusta porque es completamente  bilingüe en inglés y en español. Los estudiantes se sienten orgullosos de estudiar aquí porque en esta escuela se respira un  ambiente familiar. La directora y los maestros son amables con los alumnos, y pretenden integrar el aprecio por la familia, la  comunidad y el mundo.

En esta escuela nos han dado la oportunidad de tener talleres para los padres que son maravillosos. Somos un grupo de madres voluntarias que pasamos algunas horas en la escuela en talleres y clases que nos dan la oportunidad de escribir nuestros sueños e inquietudes y de alguna manera transmiterle a nuestros hijos la importancia de leer y escribir. Antes, a mí no me gustaba leer ni escribir. Era muy floja. Pero a través de esta experiencia que he tenido de escribir mis vivencias me he dado cuenta que es bonito escribir. He aprendido a apreciar más la lectura y la escritura. Ahora leo revistas y folletos sobre la salud, la cocina, sobre como cuidar mejor a nuestros hijos, como llevar una relación mejor con su pareja. Y me ha funcionado. También leo en companía de mis hijos. A veces mi hija la más pequeña me dice, "Mamí, vamos a leer un libro," y yo la siento en mis piernas y le leo un libro. Después le pregunto de que se trató el libro y ella me hace comentarios chistosos. Nos reímos mucho juntas.

Fomentamos en nuestros hijos el amor a la lectura pues ellos son el futuro del mundo.

The Importance of Reading and Writing>
by Rebeca Nieto

Telpochcalli is a small school dedicated to integrating the art and culture of Mexico. I like it because it is completely bilingual in English and Spanish. The students feel proud to be studying here because the school exudes a familial atmosphere. The principal and the teachers are friendly with the students, and they try to integrate an appreciation for the family, the community, and the world.

In this school we have had the opportunity to participate in wonderful workshops for parents. We are a group of volunteer mothers who spend a few hours in the school in workshops and classes that give us the opportunity to write about our dreams and concerns and in some way transmit to our children the importance of reading and writing. Before, I didn't like to read or write. I was very lazy. But through this experience I have had writing about my life I have come to realize that writing is beautiful. I have learned to appreciate reading and writing more. Now I read magazines and pamphlets about health, cooking, how to take better care of our children, how to have a better relationship with your partner. And it has worked for me. I also read with my children. Sometimes my youngest daughter says to me, "Mommy, let's read a book," and I sit her on my legs and read her a book. Afterwards I ask her what the book was about and she makes funny comments to me. We laugh a lot together.

We should foster a love for reading in our children because they are the future of the world.

por Abel Angeles, con la colaboración del grupo "Padres Como Escritores"

 Esta revista está compuesta por historias y experiencias de madres mexicanas de la escuela Telpochcalli. Es una forma de contar nuestras costumbres, nuestros valores y nuestros sueños. Escribimos nuestras historias para que nuestros hijos -- algunos nacidos aquí -- sepan de donde vienen y cuáles han sido sus raíces. Escribimos también para que nuestros hijos se den cuenta del esfuerzo y sacrificio que tenemos que hacer como padres al tomar la decisión de venir a un país desconocido, con diferente lenguaje y estilo de vida; y para que conozcan todo lo que tenemos que enfrentar para sobrevivir y obtener un nivel de vida mejor que el que teníamos en nuestro país.

Esperamos que al tener estas historias por escrito, las tradiciones no se pierdan en el olvido, y que las puedan leer no sólo nuestros hijos, sino también nuestros nietos y quizás nuestros bisnietos.

Las historias están contadas en un lenguaje sencillo como somos nosotros, ya que en este grupo de padres escritores lo que importa es la historia en sí; no importa si la persona que la cuenta tiene estudios o no sabe leer y escribir. Nos apoyamos mutuamente y si algún participante tiene problemas para escribir, otro escribe mientras él o ella cuenta la historia. Todos tenemos algo importante que contar y el no saber leer y escribir no nos detiene para hacerlo.

by Abel Angeles, in collaboration with the "Parents as Writers" Group

This magazine is made up of the stories and experiences of Mexican mothers from Telpochcalli school. It is a way of telling about our customs our values, and our dreams. We write our stories so that our children - some of them born here - will know where they come from and what their roots are. We also write so that our children realize the effort and sacrifice we have to make as parents to make the decision to come to an unknown country, with a different language and lifestyle; and so that they understand everything we have to confront to survive and obtain a better quality of life than that which we had in our country.

We hope that by putting these stories in writing, the traditions won't be lost to memory, and that they can be read not only by our children, but also our grandchildren and even our great-grandchildren.

The stories are told in a language that is simple like we are, since in this group of parent writers what is important is the story itself; it doesn't matter whether the person who tells the story has been to school or doesn't know how to read and write. We support each other mutually, and if a participant has problems writing, another writes while he or she tells the story. We all have something important to tell and not knowing how to read and write doesn't stop us from doing so.

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South African Women Visit UIC

On July 21st the Nattional Council of African Women, Chicago-Midwest Region was invited by UIC's Department of Disability and Human Development to an international luncheon and conference that introduced women from South Africa to staff and faculty from UIC's campus. CRWG staff member Sarah Shirk participated in the one-day conference that highlighted community programs for citizens with special needs. The opportunity for exchange added to our collective knowledge of disabilities as a global area of scholarship. Hostess Zakiyyah Wahid presented gifts and medals of recognition to all participants.

CRWG Project Coordinator Sarah Shirk joins in the international exchange of ideas with other participants of the National Council of African Women luncheon.

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UIC's National Center of Excellence in Women's Health

UIC's CoE Co-Sponsors National Lesbian Health Conference

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Institute for Healthcare Innovation and UIC's National Center of Excellence in Women's Health are the co-sponsors of "Working Together to Create Healthy Lives 2004: The Third National Lesbian Health Conference." More than 250 people are expected to attend this conference connecting advocates, providers, researchers, policy makers, educators, clients, and caregivers and offering them the opportunity to network and to share information and support through coalition building. The conference will take place May 19-22, 2004 at the University of Illinois at Chicago Illini Union, 828 South Wolcott, Chicago, Illinois.

The conference will includes three dynamic, full-day preconference workshops (Research methodology, women of color, and community based organizations), and features keynote addresses and presentations from locally and nationally recognized researchers, practitioners, and advocates in the field, including Deb Price (Detroit News), Margaret "Peg" Cruikshank (author of several books on lesbian aging including "Learning to Be Old", University of Maine), Judy Bradford (investigator for the National Lesbian Health Care Survey, Virginia Commonwealth University), Tonda Hughes (UIC nurse researcher and Research Director of the UIC CoE), Lora Branch (Chicago Department of Public Health), and Jessica Halem (Lesbian Community Cancer Project).

Pre-conference institutes, plenary sessions and panels will address a broad range of topics, including research methodology, community based organizations, fundraising, access to care issues, LGBT health centers; women of color, homophobia and health, myths and stereotypes in lesbian health, healthy weight, and healthy aging. The primary objectives of the conference are to: increase inclusion of and service to underserved groups within the lesbian population; disseminate information on a variety of topics related to lesbian health; increase lesbian health services, research, programming and organizations; and increase awareness of lesbian health issues among policymakers, the media, healthcare providers, LGBT communities, and the general public.

For information about registration or general planning please contact Michelle Choi, MS, RN, Conference Coordinator, UIC Nursing Institute, email: For information about additional sponsorship opportunities or local Chicago activities, contact Jessica Halem, Executive Director, Lesbian Community Cancer Project Phone: (773) 561-4662 x105, Email: For general information about the conference, visit the conference website at:

New Initiatives in the CoE Clinical Core

The Clinical Core of the Center of Excellence on Women's Health is committed to providing optimal care to women, with a particular emphasis on new clinical endeavors involving integrative patient care models. Two new clinical efforts at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago (UIMC) reflect this commitment by addressing the health needs of midlife women and women and adolescents with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

In September 2003, the Comprehensive Midlife Practice began in the UIMC Center for Women's Health. The Comprehensive Midlife Practice targets perimenopausal and postmenopausal women who are interested in an alternative health care practice that respects the complexity of women's lives and the need for a woman-friendly environment. Before and during menopause, women may experience a variety of health-related questions and concerns, including but not limited to sexuality, exercise, use of medications and herbal supplements, and chronic disease. In the Comprehensive M idlife Practice a woman is able to obtain care from multiple practitioners who have interest and expertise in the health care of midlife women.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects approximately 10% of adult and adolescent women. Women with PCOS can exhibit a number symptoms, including ovarian cysts, menstrual irregularities, hirsutism, alopecia, obesity, acne, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, insulin resistance, and infertility. The Multidisciplinary Clinic for the Treatment of PCOS is an innovative model of health care that brings together multiple medical specialties to participate in the care of affected women. UIMC has organized practitioners in all of the areas necessary to provide comprehensive care to women with PCOS. The PCOS clinic will open in October 2003, and will be located in the UIMC Nutrition and Wellness Center. The proposed multidisciplinary approach seeks to not only improve the treatment and care provided to women with PCOS, but also offer a benefit to practitioners who will have the opportunity to work collaboratively and learn from other specialists.

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CRWG Welcomes New Visiting Scholar

The Center for Research on Women and Gender is pleased to announce that Michelle Fahlstrom VanNatta, Ph.D. (Sociology, Northwestern University, 2003) has joined the CRWG as a Visiting Scholar for the 2003-2004 academic year. Dr. VanNatta will be working on a research project exploring the discontinuity between anti-sexual assault organizations' constructions of rape/sexual assault, and the forms of sexual violence experienced by incarcerated women, a group largely ignored by anti-sexual assault organizers. VanNatta's study analyzes how social problems claimsmakers define social problems, focusing on the experiences of particular groups and marginalizing other groups. This research also contributes to the ongoing debate about what kind of problem rape/sexual assault is, adding new voices and narratives to the literature on rape/sexual assault and enriching how social researchers, policymakers, and activists construct the complex concept of rape/sexual assault.

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Dear BRC readers: With the initiation of our online newsletter format we are also inaugurating a "Viewpoints" column. The purpose of this column is to encourage discussion and debate about current social issues relating to the status of women and the study of gender. This issue's "Viewpoints " essay was written by CRWG Associate Director Claudia Morrissey, MD, MPH. We welcome submissions or ideas for future "Viewpoints " pieces from all of our readers. If you are interested in submitting a Viewpoints article to the BRC, please send your ideas and contact information to Janise Hurtig, BRC editor, at

Why I Like Quotas

by Claudia Morissey, M.D., M.P.H., Associate Director
Women in Science and Engineering Program
Center for Research on Women and Gender

Several weeks ago two papers surfaced from the stacks fossilizing on my desktop. One was a New York Times article describing a proposal before Norway's Parliament, and the other a report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Progress of the World's Women 2002. Both nudged me out of the complacent fog that seems to have enveloped progressives since the recent Supreme Court decision on the University of Michigan's admission policies. Remember how giddy we were supposed to be when a wishy-washy version of affirmative action was upheld for law school admission? The decision seemed to say that the only legitimate rationale for extending even the most timid nod to minorities and women was to enrich the learning experience for mainstream kids. At the same time, the same university's undergraduate point-system for leveling the playing field was shot down since it smacked of a quota system.

But what's so wrong with quotas? I hear the arguments proffered about "equal protection" and "merit," but I suspect the main reason we do not embrace quotas as a nation is because they work. Quotas walk the talk of "representative participation," and do so at a rapid clip. Proof positive comes from the UNIFEM report. Progress of the World's Women 2000 is a biannual report that tracks and assesses global commitment to gender equity -- one of the United Nation's Millennium Goals -- by examining advances in education, literacy, employment and parliamentary representation. One bright spot in this year's report is the global increase in the number of women in parliamentary positions. The target of 30% parliamentary representation by women has repeatedly been endorsed at international conferences as the "tipping point" for gender equity, yet women currently make up only 14% of decision-making bodies worldwide, 12% in the United States.

Eleven countries have, however, maintained or achieved the 30% benchmark over the last two years: Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland, Norway, Iceland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Mozambique. This is a striking mix of developed and developing nations, given that the expected country line-up would have reflected the oft-noted positive correlation between economic development and gender equity. But these economically diverse countries do have one thing in common: the use of quotas to achieve greater equity.

Diane Elson, professor of Sociology and Human Rights at Essex University and principal author of the report, believes it is political will and explicit targets, not national wealth, that predicts progress. "In countries that committed to change and set quotas," Elson says, "we saw real and rapid improvement." Absent quotas, even the world's richest, most "advanced" nations have been unsuccessful at achieving more than token representation of, in this instance, women legislators. That carries real consequences. "It makes life harder for all women because they don't have adequate representation in the government and therefore their issues and needs aren't being discussed," she states. On to boardrooms in Norway and Sweden…

The Norwegian Parliament is poised to pass legislation that would require the country's largest publicly-traded companies to increase the number of women on their corporate boards from the current 8.4%to 40% by July 2005. Penalties would be imposed if, by 2007, any of the estimated 600 companies affected remain non-compliant. And these sanctions wouldn't be just a slap on the wrist, but loss of board certification and thus a corporation's ability to do business. Sweden is following suit by mandating that publicly-listed companies increase the percentage of women board members from 8 to 25 by 2004. When announcing this new policy, Vice Prime Minister Margareta Winberg noted, "At today's speed it will take up to 150 years until half of the Swedish boards' seats are held by women." Time that most Americans seem willing to wait.

Janice Swaby, a public affairs analyst for Catalyst - a nonprofit organization working to advance women in business - has called this approach "absolutely groundbreaking," Yet Laila Daavoey, the Norwegian Christian Democrat who introduced the bill, says, "It's not that dramatic." Using quotas to promote gender equity in the boardroom is seen as an extension of Norway's 1979 Equal Status Act. That legislation required 40% female representation on state and local government boards and committees, a charge that was extended to the federal government two years later. By 1988, 44% of cabinet posts were headed by women.

While other countries, rich and poor, are finding the political will to use quotas to transform their societies, we are running against that global tide, much as we have done on the issue of universal healthcare coverage. We can look to the Supreme Court decision to rationalize our inertia in lofty terms, but how long are we willing to wait for our deeply divided system to "self-correct?" Without quotas, we are in for decades of tokenism in our elite classrooms, corporate boardrooms and parliamentary halls. I like quotas because they work. They work to help societies build institutions that accurately reflect their national ethnic and gender make-up, and thus benefit from diverse perspectives and myriad strengths.

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Sylvia Vatuk, Department of Anthropology, UIC> `

India is a multi-religious society, with a large Hindu majority (82 percent of the population), a significant Muslim minority (12 percent), and smaller numbers of Christians and followers of other faiths. The Indian legal system gives special recognition to this diversity by providing a distinct code of family law for each religious community. This system was devised during the British colonial period and was retained when India gained its independence from Great Britain in 1947. Soon thereafter there were calls for legal reform in this area, mainly on the grounds that the existing religiously-based codes were heavily biased against women. A secularized Hindu code of "personal law" was enacted in 1955-56, but attempts to reform Muslim and Christian law in the same direction were soon abandoned for largely political reasons.

However, the question of enacting a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) of personal law that would be applicable to all Indians, regardless of religion, has not disappeared from the nation's political agenda. It has risen to particular prominence in recent years, along with the rise of an active Indian feminist movement, on the one hand and Hindu chauvinist nationalism, on the other. Among the provisions of Muslim Personal Law that proponents of a UCC most often criticize is that which allows a Muslim man to dissolve his marriage extra-judicially, unilaterally and with immediate effect by simply pronouncing the word talaq ("divorce"), either once on each of three successive occasions or three times on one occasion. Critics of the law point out that the availability to Muslim men of this form of divorce means that married women are in a state of constant insecurity, fearing that they may be discarded on the merest whim of an angry husband. Critics also maintain that, as a consequence of easy talaq, the Muslim divorce rate is very high by comparison with that of other religious communities. The extent to which this is true cannot, be established, however, since India has no comprehensive system for compulsory registration of marriages or divorces.

The issue of reform of Muslim Personal Law (MPL) formed the background for an anthropological field research project I carried out in two cities in southern India, first during a seven month period in 1998-99 and again for three months in the winter of 2001. My broad purpose was to investigate how, in practice, easy divorce for men and other provisions of MPL, many of which clearly privilege male interests, affect the ordinary Muslim woman. What kinds of marital difficulties is she likely to experience? What does she know about the laws that apply to her situation and what influences her choice of legal or other remedies? If she turns to the law for help, what is the nature of that encounter, in terms of process and outcome? And finally, in line with questions being asked by scholars of Muslim law elsewhere in the world, to what extent does the evidence support the common view of the Muslim woman as helpless victim of patriarchal laws or, on the contrary, reveal her to be an active agent, making use of the law and legal institutions in pursuit of her own life goals?

Despite a great deal of public rhetoric on the subject of MPL's negative impact on Muslim women, empirical information that would enable one to answer any of these questions is woefully lacking. In order to address this lack of information, I observed the day-to-day workings of family courts, on the one hand, and of the offices of religious functionaries who conduct marriages, hear marital disputes and issue divorce certificates, on the other. I examined records and case files in both venues and interviewed their staff as well as interviewing women who had had personal experience with MPL as divorcees, destitute separated or abandoned women, mothers seeking child support, victims of domestic violence, petitioners in divorce suits, respondents to suits (filed by their husbands) for restitution of conjugal rights, remarried women and divorced women seeking to remarry and initiators of extra-judicial religious divorce negotiations.

Analysis of the data I collected is still underway. Here I will just outline a few of my preliminary findings regarding the question of unilateral divorce. Although I found that the threat of talaq is a real one for many Muslim women involved in conflictual marital relationships, it is probably not as prevalent as is generally believed [generally believed by whom?]. Recent religious records in Hyderabad show an average annual rate of 11 divorces for every 100 marriages. Less than half of these divorces are by talaq; most of the rest are extra-judicial divorces - khula - and are initiated by women. The overall Muslim divorce rate is probably higher than the Hindu or Christian rate, but is much lower than the divorce rates in Western countries or the Muslim Middle East. But for Muslim women as for women of other religions, desertion, ejection from the marital home, or being forced through mistreatment to leave on her own are much more common than divorce.

Most talaqs are pronounced, not in a fit of anger when the couple are living together, but after careful consideration, when a couple has been living apart for some time. Generally speaking a man divorces his wife only when something happens to strongly motivate him to legalize what has been, up to then, an informal separation. For example, he may find that, even though it is legally permissible to have up to four wives at a time, the parents of a prospective second wife are reluctant to give their daughter to a still-married man. Or he may find uttering talaq a convenient way to evade responsibility for the support of an estranged wife who has filed a maintenance suit against him in the family court.

It is not generally realized that a Muslim woman can also initiate an extra-judicial divorce. Indeed, in the religious records that I examined in Hyderabad, I found that the majority of all extra-judicial divorces were of this kind. To get a khula divorce, the wife asks her husband to release her from the marriage, offering him a financial consideration in return, usually the same amount that he gave--or promised to give--her at the time of their wedding as "dower" (mehr). Since the mehr in India is rarely actually handed over to the bride but takes the form of a "promissory note" with no due date, the khula transaction is almost always a paper one. If the husband refuses his wife's offer, or if his whereabouts are unknown, she has the option of filing a suit in court. It is, of course, not as easy for a woman to get khula as for a man to pronounce talaq. But, assuming the husband is willing, the availability of this kind of divorce is a boon for a woman locked in an unhappy marriage, being both inexpensive and expeditious. Unfortunately, however, this provision of the law is open to manipulation by the husband. If a man wants a divorce, he has much to gain if, instead of simply pronouncing a unilateral talaq, he can persuade or force his wife to enter into negotiations for khula. After talaq the mehr becomes payable, so agreeing to khula may spare him considerable expense. Furthermore, a man who unilaterally divorces a blameless wife suffers social opprobrium. If he can get her to ask for khula, the onus of breaking up the family falls on her. As a consequence, although this does not show up in the records, a significant proportion of ostensibly woman-initiated divorces are actually initiated by men.

The more I have learned about the practice of Muslim Personal Law in India, the clearer it becomes that Muslim women's major problems are not directly related to the particular code of law under which they live their lives, but the patriarchal structures of a society that limits their options to move beyond a definition of self as dependent minors, subject to others' life strategies and desires rather than entitled to work toward realizing their own. These issues are systemic ones, shared by Hindu and Christian women as well. They have a largely cultural, rather than specifically religious, basis. Although legal reforms doubtless have something real to offer those Muslim women unfortunate enough to find themselves in unhappy and even intolerable marriages, without other accompanying social changes, such reforms will not suffice.

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What's Up With WISE?

The CRWG Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program is busy unpacking! We moved to our new office located in the Science Learning Center on the East Campus to increase our proximity to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) students and faculty. And even though we are waiting on supplies and equipment, our initiatives continue full throttle . . . .

 Pre College Program

The Girls' Electronic Mentoring in Science, Engineering and Technology (GEM-SET) project has received additional funding from the Department of Labor, Women's Bureau to recruit new immigrant Latina and Asian middle and high school students in five urban areas across the United States. This effort builds on the existing national program that provides web-based mentoring for over 700 girls. GEM-SET is also partnering with Sally Ride Science Clubs to recruit new participants. GEM-SET will have a booth at all the Sally Ride Festivals and GEM-SET mentees will be able to attend these events for free.

UIC Student Program

The WISE Wing living/learning community had its debut this fall. Eleven women first-year STEM students are living in a designated area in Commons West. They were welcomed with an orientation event, "The WISE Wing Fling" and have the opportunity to participate in dorm-based activities such as the WISE Pizza and Film nights.

The WISE student to student mentoring program was also launched this fall. Twenty-six third and fourth year STEM students were paired with twenty-six freshman by major or interest area. Each member of the mentoring dyad agrees to meet a minimum of once per month and attend WISE events, if possible. The program was kicked-off at two "Meet your Mentor" meetings featuring college survival tips by Rebecca Gordon, Director of the Office of Women's Affairs.

In October, WISE initiated its AY 03/04 program with a workshop on "Stress Management." WISE will also host two panels on November 11 and December 4, 2003 as part of our "STEM Careers: A World of WISE Choices" series. Both will be held at Burnham Hall from 12-1:30 pm. Please join us. Your involvement is also requested as we announce four $1000 tuition scholarships for undergraduate engineering. Please urge female engineering students in good standing to check out the WISE Web, Application and selection criteria are delineated there.

 Faculty Program

WISE has received a small grant from NSF to continue building momentum for gender equity in eleven target STEM departments through its Women in Science and Engineering System Transformation (WISEST) Initiative. WISEST Facilitators have been named for each department and department self-studies are underway.

The first WISEST Leadership Seminar was held October 30th. Robert Drago, Ph.D. Professor of Labor Studies and Industrial Relations at Pennsylvania State University, spoke on "Scholarship and Caretaking? Faculty with Family Responsibilities in Engineering and the Sciences." Drago also met with College of Medicine (COM) Department Chairs, presented at Grand Rounds and lunched with the Provost and Deans of the COM and Engineering. His sessions were well attended, and engendered lively discussions about how to balance life/livelihood demands in Academia. Drago's visit was co-hosted by the newly created COM Dean's Committee on Faculty Academic Advancement, a dividend of the "Beyond Parity: Transforming Academic Medicine Through Women's Leadership" conference sponsored by UIC National Center of Excellence in Women's Health in September 2002.

Those are our major undertakings this fall. We welcome your feedback and involvement.

Claudia Morrissey, MD, MPH

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CRWG Community Partner Spotlight: "Girls in the Game"

Girls in the Game (formerly A Sporting Chance Foundation) is a Chicago-based non-profit that provides and promotes sports and fitness, leadership development, health education and life skills opportunities to enhance the overall health and well being of all girls. Since its inception in 1995, Girls in the Game has directly reached over 8,000 girls through services and programs, and thousands more through advocacy and resource materials. Our two-fold purpose is:

  1. to ensure that adequate sports and fitness, leadership development, health education and life skills programming are made available to girls; and
  2. to reduce the barriers that young girls face in sports and activities that promote healthy lifestyle choices. The sports and fitness, leadership development, health education and life skills programs designed by Girls in the Game empower girls to make better decisions with regard to their overall health.

Girls in the Game (GIG) core programs include:

If you would like to refer a girl, sign up as a volunteer, make a donation or just learn more about Girls in the Game, you can contact the organization at:
Phone: 312.633.4263 (GAME); Email:; Address: Union Park Fieldhouse, 1501 W Randolph St, Chicago, Illinois, 60607; Website:

Upcoming Girls in the Game Event! In celebration of the 9th anniversary of Girls in the Game's incorporation as well as Girls and Women in Sports Month, Girls in the Game is holding a special event on Sunday, February 22, 2004 from 6-9 p.m. The event will take place at Tomboy Restaurant, 5402 N Clark Street in Chicago, and will bring together old and new friends of our organization. In addition, the event will raise awareness of our organization and the need for girl-focused sports & fitness, nutrition and leadership programs.

Tickets are $30 in advance or $35 at the door and include beer, wine, appetizers, live jazz/R&B and a raffle with incredible prizes! Wine and beer generously provided by Louis Glunz Wines Inc., Goose Island Brewing Co. and Anchor Brewing Co. Event proceeds will benefit GIG's sports & fitness, health and leadership programs for underserved girls in the Chicagoland area.

To purchase tickets or to donate items to be featured in the raffle, please contact Shannon English at or 312.633.4263. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

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