The Opposing Trajectories of Zoe Quinn and Alex from Target

It is a strange thing, sharing the world with the Internet. Most of the time it makes life easier, better. It keeps us more connected, but it also exposes us. We could go to sleep one night, our lives seemingly normal, and wake up the next morning in another realm -- all because something we said or did got picked up and shared by someone and subsequently made its way, like the speed of light, onto the computers, cellphones and tablets of strangers around the world. As a feminist writer on the internet, this is a fact that excites and horrifies me all at once. The fact that something I write here at my kitchen table in Brooklyn could somehow touch a nerve and get shared countless times is at once empowering and paralyzing. Just ask Zoe Quinn.

By Zoe Quinn (@TheQuinnspiracy)
As a female videogame developer in a notoriously male-dominated industry, Quinn is no stranger to the dangers of being a woman online. She has been the target of sustained, anonymous online harassment since the release, in 2013, of her free interactive fiction game Depression Quest. Quinn, who has suffered from depression throughout her life, developed the game with two goals in mind: to show those who experience depression that they are not alone, and to educate non-sufferers about the depths of the illness. The backlash, according to Quinn, started "pretty much the same day" as the game's release. It escalated in severity and volume when an ex-boyfriend of Quinn's published a tirade on a blog, claiming that Quinn had a relationship with a journalist who wrote about the game. In reality, the journalist in question never actually wrote a review of the game, he simply mentioned that it existed. That was enough. The result was the birth of #gamergate and the doxxing of Zoe Quinn.

Over the past few months, #gamergate has spread like wildfire. The issue of women in gaming, which has historically been confined to industry and feminist websites, is now being covered by huge media outlets and countless personal blogs. This is, in many ways, great for women in the longterm both online and off. In the short term, however, the results are a little murkier. Brianna Wu, another female game developer, recently went into hiding after being doxxed and receiving threats such as "I've got a K-bar and I'm coming to your house so I can shove it up your ugly feminist c--t." Notable feminist and games critic Anita Sarkeesian also went into hiding and was forced to cancel a speech at the Utah State University after the school refused to check attendees for guns, despite the threats of violence made against Sarkeesian and speech-goers in advance of the event.

In general, being outspoken and female can be a dangerous proposition. When you are caught being outspoken while female online, the ramifications can be life-altering and, sadly, even life-threatening. The internet, it seems, hates women. It is as if allowing people to be online and anonymous only manages to magnify the misogynistic norms of our culture. And to think, one night when Zoe Quinn went to sleep things were more or less okay, but when she woke up in the morning she was, "the most hated person on the internet." And all she did was develop a game to try and educate people about the challenges of living with depression. And, she had the nerve to do this as a woman.

Let's compare this, briefly, to the recent appearance of Alex from Target, a kid from Texas who was photographed while bagging groceries at Target by a girl who thought he was cute. His photograph went viral. As of this writing, he has 727,000 followers on Twitter.  He recently appeared on The Ellen Show. What Alex from Target and Zoe Quinn have in common is that their celebrity happened by no fault of their own. Both of them were doing their jobs and were catapulted into the limelight by outside forces. For Alex, a photograph taken and published online without his consent has made him some sort of b-list teenage sex symbol. This sexualization, and his presence on The Ellen Show as a result of that, is highly problematic. As far as I know, however, Alex from Target is not being sent death and rape threats nor is he being driven from his home in fear of his life. For Zoe Quinn, the fact that she dared create a game in a male-dominated industry put her in harms way. And due to the fact that she is female, her subsequent sexualization, carried out in written as opposed to photographic form, made her the target of sustained harassment.

For me, there is something inherently wrong happening in both of these situations. In both cases, there was a complete disregard for the right to privacy and the need for consent before sharing photographs or personal information, true or fabricated, with a potential audience in the billions. That aside, the completely opposite trajectories that these two individuals experienced speaks volumes about our society. Don't get me wrong, our need to sexualize people, whether male or female, is incredibly dehumanizing. But that depending on the gender of the individual the result is either empowering or disempowering, that the internet either celebrates or threatens, is just incredible. And sickening.

I imagine that Alex from Target will end up being just a flash in the pan. The plight of Zoe Quinn, however, has staying power. But that also means that for the foreseeable future she, and many other women who dare to be opinionated on this misogynistic platform, will be in danger. It is a sad reality. Those women who keep speaking our minds and hoping that people listen have to live with the gnawing fear that one day we might wake up in the middle of a nightmare. Welcome to being female on the internet.

5 Things I Learned as the Internet's Most Hated Person []
'Alex From Target' and the Mess of Uncontrollable Fame [New York Magazine]
Anita Sarkeesian Cancels Speech After School Shooting Threat at Utah State []
Brianna Wu and the Human Cost of Gamergate: 'Every Woman I Know in the Industry is Scared' [The Guardian]
Eron Gjoni - Proof that Being a White, Hetero-Cis Male Will Get You Everywhere [The Daily Koz]
Gamergate: The Community is Eating Itself but There Should be Room for All [The Guardian]
Zoe Quinn's Depression Quest  [The New Yorker]
Zoe Quinn on Gamergate: 'We Need a Proper Discussion About Online Hate Mobs' [The Guardian]

Programs with Potential: Collective Voice and Sense of Self

Women across the world rarely have an opportunity
to voice their opinion about an issue that
matters to them.  
Photo: Deborah Espinosa
For those of us who are women’s rights advocates and activists with ready access to advocacy platforms and tools, we have constant opportunities to learn about, launch, and participate in advocacy campaigns to voice our opinions about issues that matter to us. 

In communities across Asia, Latin America, and Africa, however, women face a far different reality, where advocating for themselves and their community is unheard of or they lack the confidence, opportunities, and/or tools to engage. As a result, community members are often deprived of their voice, rights, and power; government remains unresponsive; and vital needs go unmet.    

Thankfully, many development organizations are addressing this lack of civic engagement, and by extension, sense of powerlessness, by supporting community members' right to voice their opinions and realize their rights. These programs are intended to inspire and facilitate positive dialogue between communities and authorities to hold government accountable. Often these local programs feed into national, regional, and even global advocacy efforts.   

One notable example is World Vision International's Citizen Voice and Action (CVA) approach, which World Vision has implemented so far in 43 countries through 411 programs. First piloted in 2005, CVA is an approach to improve the relationship between local government and communities and thereby improve delivery of basic public services such as healthcare and education.[1] A cornerstone of the approach is to educate about citizen and government rights and obligations. Check out the short video to the right to learn more.

A study of the impact of the CVA methodology in Ugandan communities, by Oxford University and Makerere University, found that in 100 primary schools in these CVA communities, there was an 8 to 10 percent increase in pupil attendance compared to control communities and a 13 percent reduction in teacher absenteeism.[2] CVA in Uganda also generated significant improvements in the delivery of health care services, as presented in this video.  

Similarly, CARE International uses a "bottom up" approach to their advocacy programs, particularly by women, grounded in human rights. Tools include raising awareness about rights, budget monitoring, public hearings, social audits, and community score cards in sectors such as health, education, food security, and natural resource management.  

For example, in Bangladesh, a CARE program resulted in groups of extremely poor people successfully advocating for access to public resources such as land and water bodies, enabling them to use those resources for collective livelihood opportunities.[3]  And on the issue of gender-based violence (GBV), CARE and its partners implemented the Great Lakes Advocacy Initiative (GLAI) using an evidence-based advocacy model to increase protection for women and girls against GBV in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  At its core, the GLAI relies on linkages between grassroots and global efforts. Underlying the model is the premise that greater participation by women in decisionmaking strengthens civil society and promotes gender equality, helping to address the underlying causes of GBV. The initiative demonstrated the effectiveness of linking grassroots advocates to policy makers, resulting in increased political participation by women at the grassroots and district levels, an increase in the reporting of GBV cases and, in some areas, a decline in the incidence of GBV.[4]   

Many other organizations implement local advocacy programming, including Family Care International, which works with indigenous women in Latin America and Partners for Democratic Change, which works with youth in Yemen.  Many of these organizations share their advocacy tools online, including WaterAid, CARE, and World Vision. A list of Useful Advocacy Resources is also available online.

Copyright Deborah Espinosa
The collective voice. Andhra Pradesh, India.  Photo: Deborah Espinosa
What all of these programs have in common is they create opportunities for individuals to contribute their unique voice and collectively advocate for a better world. As one CVA participant in India explained, "Earlier I used to remain behind my burqa. But I found my voice because of the [CVA] training."[5]

In my October post, The Power of Voice, I shared the story of Wanjiku and the courage and confidence that arose when Wanjiku learned of her human right to self-expression, combined with basic training on the art of public speaking. I had the privilege of witnessing not only her transformation, but that of her community, with positive impacts beyond all expectations. It is for this reason that I am so excited about these more comprehensive local advocacy programs. Opportunities to stand up together with our neighbors with a collective voice on an issue that matters to us not only benefits our community, but leaves a lasting impression on our sense of self. 
Finally I was able to see that if I had a contribution I wanted to make, I must do it, despite what others said. That I was OK the way I was. That it was all right to be strong.” 
                                                                                  ~Wangari Maathai

The Tampon Taboo

Sign in Indonesia, Source: Flikr Creative Commons
For girls everywhere menstruation is a rite of passage. Menstruation is a healthy, normal bodily function that affects half of our population -- the overwhelming majority of our women, at some point in time. But for too many girls worldwide this shared experience is a source of shame, restriction and if badly managed -- illness. Menstruation is an age-old phenomenon and across the developed world we’ve built awareness, products and systems to manage menstrual hygiene to enable women to live their lives seamlessly. Even with such support we can still argue that menstruation is something we’d rather not talk about in the developed world  -- but in the developing world, the stigma around menstruation has led to an invisibility around it that can really hold our girls and women back.

According to the Geneva-based Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), even sectors such as water and sanitation which “routinely deal with unmentionables such as excreta, ignore girl’s and women’s need for safe spaces to manage menstrual hygiene and mechanisms for safe disposal of materials used to absorb menstrual blood.” As we all know, ignoring a problem -- or menstruation -- does not make it go away. NGO Plan International and A C Nielsen conducted a study and estimated that there are 355 million menstruating women in India -- but only 12% of them use sanitary napkins. The study even found that 23% of Indian girls drop out of school after reaching puberty, with irreversible effects on their health, well-being and participation in society. Millions of girls and women instead rely on old rags, dried leaves and grass, ash, sand or newspaper to manage their monthly menstrual flows -- shrouded by shame and disgust on a vital bodily function.

Columbia University,  Millennium Promise and the social enterprise, Be Girl also hosted pilots for menstrual hygiene products and one of their participants, Patience, a 15-year-old girl from Ruhiira, Uganda told them “you suffer a lot; in case you stamp [stain] the boys can make fun of you which causes you to lose your self-esteem […] it’s embarrassing when you are washing your soiled clothes. It makes you not even want to go to school.” The washing of stained rags or clothing can also bring shame, especially in areas of water scarcity. Be Girl reports that in rural Africa, 40% of school girls miss up to 5 school days a month, or 30% of the school year. WaterAid found that 82% of their surveyed girls in Malawi did now know about menstruation before it started; girls across their surveyed countries were found to be excluded from water sources during menstruation, and even prohibited from washing and bathing in some communities making what is often a difficult week even more difficult to bear.

Source: WaterAid
Given the success of feminine hygiene and menstruation products, and the important role it has played in women's empowerment history, it would appear that the private sector could have significant market opportunity if they can break this taboo for women and girls -- who are expected to require the products for more tham 50 years. Sanitary products must be designed to be affordable; disposable tampons and sanitary towels are often priced out of reach of low- and even middle-income families if supply is scarce. Euromonitor International found that women in India, with average earnings of US $750 per annum earns below the $1,000 per annum deemed necessary to easily purchase disposable menstruation products. Moreover, systems to support menstrual hygiene are necessary, products alone aren’t the solution: appropriately designed and managed community spaces and importantly education on female reproductive health.

To make this happen, WSSCC believes that breaking the silence around the taboo of menstruation is a crucial first step. Girls should be informed and encouraged to talk and discuss menstruation in an informed and positive manner to prepare them emotionally and physically for the onset of menstruation and their monthly menstrual periods. Families need the education to support their girls and women. WaterAid has also compiled a phenomenal guide, Menstrual Hygiene Matters, with nine modules and tool kits -- an essential resource -- to improve menstrual hygienic for women and girls in lower and middle-income countries.

WaterAid found that well designed and appropriate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities that address menstrual hygiene can make a significant difference to the schooling experience of adolescent girls
(Photo: WaterAid/ASM Shafiqur Rahman) 
As WSSCC spokesperson, Archana Patkar,  powerfully argues: “Women are the progenitors of the human race […] Menstruation is therefore something of which they can and should be proud, so each and every one of us should work to improve the lives and life chances for women who do not have access to clean materials, water and safe disposal facilities; who cannot talk about their experiences; or are never asked if they can help define a solution.”

Documentary Unravels Honor Killings of American Sisters

By Suzanne Mahadeo

The Price of Honor is a documentary that shares the story of Amina and Sarah Said, two teenage sisters from Texas who were killed by their father. It's a film that starts off tragically and ends with the sound of your own heart snapping in your chest. Before the opening credits even begin, you hear the haunting 911 call that Sarah made to the Irving, Texas police department on the day she and her sister were murdered in their father's taxi cab. That recording will stay with you long after you finish the film.
American teenagers, Amina and Sarah Said
The Said sisters' story has touched thousands of people and the documentary will undoubtedly affect many more. It unravels the personalized story of two typical American teenagers. Footage used from old home videos shows them jumping on trampolines, taking up an after-school job as a cashier, and practicing Tae Kwon Do in a suburban strip mall dojo. Seemingly innocuous footage until you realize that the girls didn't know they were being filmed. The person lurking behind windows holding the camera was their father, Yaser Said, the man responsible for their deaths. He is still wanted by the FBI more than six years after he murdered his daughters in what has been deemed an honor killing.

Yaser Said murdered his two daughters near Dallas and is still wanted by the FBI.
I asked Amy Logan, the Consulting Producer of The Price of Honor, about the difference between domestic violence and honor killing.
"With 800+ million women and girls living under the honor code, honor violence is not only a global problem, it’s a pandemic that global leaders are failing miserably to address for the crisis that it is," she said in an email. "Domestic violence is usually defined as taking place between intimate partners, whereas honor violence mostly occurs between a female and her blood relatives. Both kinds of violence are motivated by control issues but honor violence occurs because the female is actually considered property of the male blood relative whose honor is at stake if she steps out of line. And with honor violence, the family and community often support the violence, even coercing it with threats of ostracism."
So how did Amina and Sarah "step out of line" in their father's ignoble eyes? They fell in love with boys their father did not approve of. 

Joseph Moreno and Amina Said had young love that ended too soon.
Amina dared to exert her human spirit and fell in love with Joseph, a boy from her martial arts class. When Amina and Sarah were not being sexually abused by their father, they daydreamed of their future. Amina and Joseph would pass sweet notes to each other, chat on the phone, and even held hands for an entire day at Six Flags. 

In the documentary, Joseph sorrowfully reminisces about a young love that ended with gunshots and wounds that would never heal. Filmmaker Neena Nejad said that one of the important reasons for making the film was because, "I felt like it gave people like Joseph and Ruth [his mother, who was also very close to Amina] some sense of closure.” (You can also read this touching article by Joseph called "My Teenage Sweetheart Was Killed To Preserve Her Family's 'Honor'" in Business Insider.)

Visiting Amina Said's tragic grave site.
Even as much as those involved with making this film wanted to bring Amina and Sarah's story to the public, there were terrifying implications that came along with seeking justice for the girls. Filmmaker Xoel Pamos said, "Something that really shocked me while trying to reach out to several friends of the girls was the fact that they wouldn't talk to us because they were scared. I think these people think, 'if Yaser was capable of killing his daughters, what would he do to us who are totally unrelated?' We had one very ugly episode involving threats coming directly from Yaser's family when we approached them to explain their side of the story. We decided to make those interactions public because that's the best way to protect all of us. Those who are featured in the film were offered to blackout their faces but nobody wanted to do so. They knew the risks by coming forward and talking, but telling Amina and Sarah's story was more important." 

Amina Said
Neena said that "telling the story of Amina and Sarah outweighed the risks! I feel that people that make death threats are weak and scared because you are opposing their belief system and they react in this way to gain some sort of self worthso I don't pay much mind to them."

Perhaps we should follow Neena's lead, because fear of speaking out against honor killings is implicit in why the practice has gone unchallenged to this day. "The very reason that honor violence has gone on unabated since 5000 BC," said Amy Logan, "is because of this conspiracy of silence around it. If somebody—or a lot of somebodies—doesn't speak up, it will only continue and probably grow. We decided to break the silence around this atrocity and start calling it exactly what it is: community-sanctioned terrorism against half a culture’s population (female) to reinforce the system of male power and privilege." 

This documentary should serve as a start to a very important conversation. It's currently being screened at film festivals around the country before it can be distributed online or in theaters. Add The Price of Honor to your Facebook feed to keep up to date or go to the film's website to find out about future screenings.

Sarah Said
"We've been lucky, as we have encountered wonderful people along the way who always supported our work, including Muslim and non-Muslim individuals, and we are thankful to those people," said Xoel Pamos.

And what can you do? Amy Logan shares,
"We hope that after watching our film, people will feel tremendous empathy for women and girls living under the honor code—there are 800 million+ of them! We hope they will tell many others about the film (#CatchYaserNow), donate to the Catch Yaser Said Campaign Fund, and join our mailing list to stay updated on the case."
"It’s important for people to see The Price of Honor," Amy said, "so that they can really understand an atrocity that is happening right in our own back yards in the USA. If we bury our heads in the sand, we cannot prevent more of these crimes."

The Power of Voice

Wanjiku[1] has little formal schooling.  She goes about her daily life with a baby on her back and several more at her dusty feet. She tends the crops, cooks the meals, collects the water, and tries to ensure that her children get more of an education than she did.  

Depending on the wishes of her husband, Wanjiku may or may not go to the market, be involved in a women’s group, or handle cash. She may or may not participate in household decision making and rarely owns the land that is the main source of her family’s livelihood.

Women and girls in her remote village are seen but not heard — an all-too-common custom in traditionally patriarchal communities.

But not anymore in one community in Kenya.  

A Justice trainee practices her public speaking skills,
guided by Justice Project staff.  Photo: Landesa/Deborah Espinosa 
You see, Wanjiku now knows that Kenya’s Constitution, which Kenyans adopted by national referendum in August 2010, guarantees her — and every person — the right to freely express him- or herself, a right that includes the freedom to seek, receive, or impart information or ideas and the freedom of artistic creativity (art. 33).  (The right to self-expression is also within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.)  And along with learning about her rights, Wanjiku was trained in the art of public speaking — a simple curriculum grounded in the right to voice her opinion.  The training included techniques and tips on how to speak in public as well as opportunities to practice speaking on a subject of importance to her.  

Wanjiku learned and practiced during a USAID-supported project called, Enhancing Customary Justice Systems in the Mau Forest, Kenya (aka the Kenya Justice Project), designed and implemented by the international NGO Landesa. The Kenya Justice Project piloted a model for improving women’s access to "informal justice" related to land, meaning the all-male, village institutions that resolve disputes but have a reputation for holding entrenched biases against women. Much to our surprise, two months after the pilot’s end, the community elected — for the first time in its history — 14 women as elders, serving alongside male elders resolving disputes. One year later, 22 women were serving as elders alongside men.  
A Justice trainee shares her knowledge of women's
rights in Kenya's Constitution. Wanjiku resides
in all of us. Photo: Landesa/Deborah Espinosa

The women had decided on their own to run for election. No doubt, there are many factors that contributed to this outcome.  

This was the first time I’d included public speaking in the design of a women’s rights project, and so at the end of the first training session, I asked the women to share their thoughts about whether training on the right to self-expression and public speaking was worth including again in a project design.  Every woman in the room eagerly raised her hand, offering to share her opinion. Up until that point in the project, we’d never had full participation in a single session.

As the women shared with us how they felt, I was struck by the fact that along with the women’s timidity and discomfort, a glimmer of pride shined through. They explained how growing up as girls they were not supposed to speak directly to an adult. And so they believed that their opinions were unimportant, and certainly never worth sharing. The room shook with potential.   

Although the short-term impact evaluation did not try to measure a causal relationship between project outcomes and the public speaking activity, specifically, I am convinced that this activity was a critical component to the success of the pilot. Knowledge of their constitutional rights to express themselves, combined with practicing public speaking in a safe and supportive environment, gave the women Justice trainees the courage to dare step out of their comfort zones. And dare to reach for one of the most powerful positions within their community — an elder resolving disputes.      

The community has made many other advances supporting women's rights and empowerment, including greater awareness among men and women of their constitutional rights to land; procedural improvements in elders' resolution of disputes; a requirement of spousal consent for land transactions; and, most recently, an increase in economic development, led by women in the community. 

Wanjiku’s courage to find her own voice is the inspiration for this column on the relationship between the arts (in its many, many forms) and women’s rights and empowerment. This column is certainly a step out of my own comfort zone.  Along the way, please share your voice — we have a lot to learn from each other!

[1] In Kenya, "Wanjiku" is an iconic representation of the "ordinary, Kenyan citizen," the common person. "Her power rests in her ordinariness."        

McKayla Maroney and the Celebrity Photo Leak of (August) 2014

Much like Loren Lynch did in her first post here at Her Blueprint, I feel I ought to tell you a little bit about myself. I have, for most of my adult life, made my income tending bar. One of the great things about this particular line of work is the opportunity to meet an incredible array of people and learn about a diversity of topics including, of course, quite a bit about yourself. Through the almost 6 years I have spent working at a small local pub in Brooklyn, I picked up two valuable pieces of Rebekah-specific information:  I do not particularly care about beer or mainstream sports.

As someone who considers herself something of an academic, I read far too much about the severity of head injuries in football and hockey to be able to see past the brutality inherent in those two sports and through to the games themselves. I find baseball boring and, though I was a big Knicks fan back in the 90's (I had a thing for John Starks), I am not terribly attached to basketball. The one sport that I watch religiously, that I can talk your ear off about (and yes, I know it is not mainstream although this is something I simply do not understand) is elite women's gymnastics.
For most people here in the United States, women's gymnastics is a once-every-four-years sport. In an Olympic year, they watch all the team and individual events on NBC and fall in love that particular quad's American it-girl: Mary Lou Retton, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Gabby Douglas. But for us all-the-time fans, there is so much behind those Olympic moments. These young women have, by age 16, already spent the previous 12 years in the gym. What their bodies and minds allow them to do is absolutely breath taking. Forget the athleticism which I could never dream to possess, these girls have more focus at 16 than I have at 31, a fact which is at the same time mind-blowing and enviable. It is interesting because for as much as I would love to see these girls get the attention and appreciation that all their hard work and talent deserves, I think the sport stays more pure, and the athletes more protected from the negative aspects of mainstream fandom, because of the lack of big money and the lack of exposure. Unless, of course, they are one of the lucky five to make it to the biggest stage in women's gymnastics: the Olympic Games. Once that happens all bets are off and no one knows this better than 2012 Olympic team champion and vault silver medalist McKayla Maroney.

Previously known only for her sky high vaulting, Maroney made an error in the Olympic vault finals that resulted in her being awarded the silver medal behind Romania's Sandra Izbasa and spawned the now famous not impressed face. It was that face, and her regular social media updates, that made Maroney something of a celebrity beyond the gymnastics world. Unfortunately, being in the public eye does come with certain drawbacks. This past August, McKayla Maroney found herself embroiled in a massive scandal when nude photos of her and roughly 40 other female celebrities were stolen from compromised Apple iCloud accounts and leaked via the imageboard 4chan and then widely disseminated using social media sites such as Imgur, Reddit and Tumblr. As is often the case, the victims were blamed for their own victimization, with people taking to Twitter and comment boards to tell female celebrities that if they don't want nude photographs of themselves on the internet, they shouldn't take them in the first place. In the case of McKayla Maroney, this issue took on another layer of complexity when it was discovered that the leaked photographs were taken when she was under 18, and therefore considered a minor under United States law. As a result, Reddit removed all of the photographs of her with the explanation that they are "considered CP (Child Pornography), and break reddit's site-wide rules (in addition to international law...)" At the same time, a group of concerned citizens put together a "We the People" petition to get the US Government to charge Maroney with "production and possession of sexual material containing a minor," stating that the government should not let her "get away with a crime that would get a normal teenage girl landed on the sex offenders list."

This petition is, of course, absolutely ridiculous and unlikely to gain any real traction. It is an example of victim-blaming at its finest. The absurdity of it becomes especially poignant when placed alongside the recent scandal involving the Ravens star running back, Ray Rice. When a few weeks ago TMZ released the February video of Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator, it sparked a national conversation about domestic violence and the role of organizations such as the National Football League in combating it. Even among those who were understandably outraged, there was an undercurrent of victim-blaming as well as a noticeable presence of those who were opposed to Rice's indefinite suspension. Rice acted violently upon another person, Maroney was acted violently upon, and yet we, as a society, still don't seem to be clear on the true definition of "victim," especially where women are concerned. There should be no question as to who was in the wrong in each of these situations, and yet there is.

McKayla Maroney, in spite of it all, is at her Los Angeles gym day after day training for a chance at a second Olympics. The odds are against her, not because of this scandal but because no woman has made two consecutive US Olympic Gymnastics teams since Dominique Dawes and Amy Chow did it in 1996 and 2000. One thing I am certain of, though, is that she will be out there competing on the national and international stage in the years leading up to Rio 2016, if not at the Olympics themselves. She will be out there with the knowledge of all that has happened, and in a skin-tight leotard no less, and I have no doubt that she will show everyone exactly what she is made of. She, along with all the other gymnasts from the US and abroad, are fantastic, hard-working athletes who deserve our respect, just as all women do.

The Great 2014 Celebrity Nude Photos Leak is only the beginning [The Guardian]
Ricky Gervais and Fox News take the lead in victim blaming over celebrity nude photo leak [Salon]
The Leaked Photos of McKayla Maroney Were Taken When She was Underage, and Reddit is Freaking Out [Business Insider]

What I Talk About When I Talk About Money

Source: Flickr Creative Commons
“Money is never just about money” argues a leading financial services designer, James Moed, over a dinner attended by financial inclusion professionals hosted by Women Advancing Microfinance UK. "Instead," he explains, "it’s pretty much always about something else." In conversation with James, who has over 11 years of experience in helping innovation leaders and design teams understand people’s complex behaviours around money, we learnt how we can use Human Centered Design (HCD) to promote global financial inclusion -- an issue particularly pertinent to the world’s women.  According to the UNDP, 6 out of 10 of the world’s poorest people are women; women may comprise more than 50% of the world’s population but only own 1% of the world’s wealth. Some 75% of the world’s women are without access to bank loans as they have unpaid or insecure jobs and are not entitled to property ownership.
This blog will share some of the insights from James’ experiences having advised companies, governments, startups, and social enterprises, most recently as the Director for Financial Service Design at the London office of IDEO, a global innovation consultancy.

First, what is human-centered design (HCD)?
HCD applies the design process to create innovative solutions based on observations on humans. The HCD process begins by examining the needs, dreams and behaviours of people relevant to a prospective solution. A solution can be a product, a service, an environment, an organization or a mode of interaction. HCD focuses on desirability (what do people desire?), feasibility (what is technically and organizationally feasible?) and viability (what is financially possible?). It is an iterative process -- borrowing from the designer who observes, prototypes, tests and then repeats until an appropriate solution is reached. James describes the approach as "building to learn," creating imperfect examples of solutions to be tested by user experience instead of aiming to launch the perfectly formed solution straightaway.
Original Invitation for the HCD event with WAM UK

How can HCD help promote women in financial inclusion?
HCD depends on human observation and often women and girls have been ignored in the design of financial products and services. Even if they haven’t been explicitly ignored, then perhaps not enough nuance to their culture could have supported their financial exclusion. Such as failing to pay attention to what women and girls feel like they can and cannot say in interviews and surveys. Moreover, there is a big difference between what people say they will do, and what they actually do -- especially when it comes to money. HCD promotes user insight, so adopting an approach to always consider gender in the target user group is vital and can be extremely telling. Designing solutions with women’s behaviours, aspirations and needs specifically in mind can lead to women-inclusive financial solutions.

What kind of HCD insights on women do we have?
Investing in women has a multiplier effect

One of the major observations in microfinance -- the provision of financial service to the under and unbanked -- is based on gender. Women’s World Banking found that, "when a woman generates her own income -- and this holds true no matter what the  country -- she re-invests her profits in ways that  can make long-term, inter-generational change: the  education of her children, health care for her family and improving the quality of her family’s housing”. As James highlighted in our conversation, time and time again in his fieldwork, he saw that for women "finances are less about her own interests, but for others." Financial inclusion for women does not only empower the woman user, but often has positive impact on her wider community.
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For some women illiquidity is attractive

Mind boggling at first, especially when we consider the gender discrimination that has led to three quarters of the world’s women unbanked, women may actually prefer access to financial services with features of illiquidity in some circumstances. Liquid cash could be dangerous to a woman’s wealth if socially she is obligated to financially help out family members and friends if they ask. It may be hard for a woman to not hand over her cash to her husband for example or her friend in financial difficulty -- it could bring stigma, perhaps attack if she says no. However a savings account with fixed non-withdrawal periods, or other features to lock funds away, could provide a socially acceptable excuse. In providing illiquidity in formal financial services, it could attract women who otherwise would prefer to store their wealth in more illiquid forms such as gold and livestock or hidden away in difficult to reach places. Illiquidity could not only protect wealth from the saver’s own impulses, and the demands of those around her.
Women experience high emotional return for good financial management
A recurring theme in James’ work saw that the rewards for good financial management were beyond financial for women -- this applies to women across the economic spectrum. Juntos Finazas, which was borne out of a class project from the Stanford Design School, helps Spanish speakers save via SMS. The founders saw that SMS was the right technology to help low-income Latinos as they tend to use mobile devices more than other groups and are substantial SMS users. Around 72% of successful Juntos Finazas savers said at sign up that they had never saved successfully before. Importantly, in feedback, users cite that using the tool to help them save has made them feel like better mothers, better daughters -- the return is more than extra money leftover in an account.
In consultation with IDEO, the successful Keep the Change savings program from Bank of America originated from the observation that women were more satisfied by the act of saving than the interest rates offered on savings itself. The program was therefore designed to emphasize the action of saving rather than focusing on the potential reward. Keep the Change automatically rounds up purchases on the Bank of America debit card and transfers the difference to a savings account, building up a savings balance subtly over time. Since its launch in 2005, the program has led to 12 million new customers building up an additional $3.1 billion of savings.
Financial planning can save lives

Having a financial plan in place affords protection for life’s shocks, and in some cases can make the difference between life and death. Although still imperfect, there are now maternity saving programs to help women save money over time to access skilled maternal care. In Kenya, where only 43% of births occur in health facilities and many Kenyans still lack access to basic maternity care and health insurance, medical payment can be a life-threatening barrier for mother and child. Changamka, established in 2008, developed a smartcard program which allows women to set saving goals and save via the mobile payments service, M-PESA. The program is a dedicated maternal savings program which locks the deposited funds for maternity expenses only. USAID has written up a case study on this project, which can be accessed here.
With financial technology advancing globally the practice of HCD, people are placed back in the center of experience to build lasting solutions. With 75% of women worldwide without access to financial services -- and importantly, the lack of understanding and emphasis upon their needs as cause and effect of their exclusion -- HCD can provide an attractive framework to unlock their considerable potential.
For more information on the topic connect with @jamesmoed, @WAM_UK, and @lisavwong on Twitter. Other interesting links on HCD and financial inclusion include: