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October 5, 2013

Gun Violence by the Numbers

navy-yard-shooterRecently, Americans witnessed another mass shooting, this time at the Washington Navy Yard in the nation’s capital.  Thirteen people were killed and another 14 were injured.  The shooter was well-armed, with among other guns, an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.  He also had a history of violent behavior and mental illness.  Such incidents bring the debate over gun control back into the spotlight, and raises the questions of why does this happen, and what can we do about it.

One of the reasons there is so much gun violence might simply be the large number of weapons owned by Americans.  The Harvard Injury Control Research Center assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there is substantial evidence that more guns means more murders. A more recent study of gun violence in the United States corroborated this finding.  The study was conducted by Professor Michael Siegel at Boston University and two coauthors, and published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Siegel and his colleagues compiled data on firearm homicides from all 50 states from 1981-2010 to see whether they could find any relationship between changes in gun ownership and murders using guns over time.  The authors employed the largest-ever number of statistical controls for variables in this kind of gun study: age, gender, race/ethnicity, urbanization, poverty, unemployment, income, education, income inequality, divorce rate, alcohol use, violent crime rate, nonviolent crime rate, hate crime rate, number of hunting licenses, age-adjusted non-firearm homicide rate, incarceration rate, and suicide rate were all taken into account.  The conclusion:  widespread American gun ownership is helping fuel America’s gun violence epidemic.

americans at gun showThe U.S. stands out in the sheer number of guns owned by its citizens. According to the Small Arms Survey, the estimated total number of guns held by U.S. civilians is 270 million, or 88.9 firearms per 100 people. The country with the second-most guns is India, with an estimated 46 million guns in private hands, or about four firearms for every 100 people.  The U.S., with 4.5 percent of the world population, accounts for about 40 percent of the planet’s civilian firearms.

Political gridlock and a deepening political divide in the U.S. almost assures that there will be no legislative solution anytime soon.  While mass shootings usually evoke a large public outcry at the time of their occurrence, public pressure for comprehensive gun control legislation wanes over time and political will seems to melt under the relentless lobbying of the National Rifle Association.  Although there is often sustained support for specific types of legislation, e.g., preventing those with a history of mental illness from owning guns, to date such efforts have generally not resulted in new gun laws.

gun-ownership-declining-in-usaThe good news in this otherwise gloomy prospect is that statistics show that gun ownership and violence overall are declining in the United States, though both are significantly higher on a per capita basis than in other developed countries. Perhaps the ultimate resolution lies in the story those numbers tell.  The problem of gun violence will dminish as the culture of guns continues to wane and guns become meaningless relics of the American imagination.

May 13, 2013

Making Women Equal Economic Partners – Closing the Nation’s Gender Based Pay Gap

Women in the U.S. have made tremendous gains in education, employment and earnings in the past 50 years, but there is still a persistent gender pay gap. Even young working women continue to lag behind men.  And, unfortunately, the gap tends to widen from graduation onward.  Here are some sad facts about the gender wage gap that were summarized by The Center for American Progress from data compiled by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

1. In 2010 women who worked full time, year round, still only earned 77 percent of what men earned. The median earnings for women were $36,931 compared to $47,715 for men, and neither real median earnings nor the female-to-male earnings ratio have increased since 2009.

2. The gender wage gap does not only affect individuals—entire families are impacted by women’s earnings. In 2010, in nearly two-thirds of families (63.9 percent), a mother was either the breadwinner—either a single working mother or bringing home as much or more than her husband—or a co-breadwinner—bringing home at least a quarter of the family’s earnings. When women’s wages are lowered due to gender discrimination, their families’ incomes are often significantly lowered as well.

3. Women earn less than men within all racial and ethnic groups. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, white women earned 78.1 percent compared to white men, African American women earned 89.8 percent compared to black men, Hispanic women earned 91.3 percent compared to Hispanic men, and Asian women earned 79.7 percent compared to Asian men. The wage gap is lower for black and Hispanic women in part because wages for people of color tend to be lower overall. This gap occurs within racial/ethnic groups as well. In 2010, according to the Census Bureau, African Americans earned only 58.7 percent of what whites earned, while Hispanics earned only 69.1 percent of what whites earned.

4. Even though women are outpacing men in getting college degrees that’s not enough to close the gender pay gap. The American Association of University Women tackled the pay gap question by looking at workers of the same educational attainment—same kind of college, same grades—holding the same kinds of jobs, and having made the same choices about marriage and number of kids. They found that college-educated women earn 5 percent less the first year out of school than their male peers. Ten years later, even if they keep working on par with those men, the women earn 12 percent less.

5. Women are more likely to work in low-wage, “pink-collar” jobs such as teaching, child care, nursing, cleaning, and waitressing. The top 10 jobs held by women include: secretaries and administrative assistants (number one); elementary and middle-school teachers (number four); retail salespeople (number six); and maids and housekeepers (number 10). These jobs typically pay less than male-dominated jobs and are fueling the gender wage gap. These are also the “jobs of the future,” the kinds of jobs that the Department of Labor projects will grow faster than other occupations, so addressing the pay gap here will have long-term consequences.

6. The wage gap accumulates over time. Over a 40-year working career, the average woman loses $431,000 as the result of the wage gap. The pay gap accumulates in no small part because initial pay matters: If a woman earns less in her first job, when she takes a new job and her new employer sets her pay scale, they will often base it on her pay history. The lifetime wage gap for a woman who did not finish high school is $300,000, while the lifetime wage gap for a woman with at least a bachelor’s degree is $723,000. Making sure that young women understand the importance of negotiating for good pay from day one should be a pressing policy concern and is included in the Paycheck Fairness Act.

7. As women age the wage gap continues to grow. For working women between the ages of 25 to 29, the annual wage gap is $1,702. In the last five years before retirement, however, the annual wage gap jumps to $14,352.

8. Single women are even more adversely affected by the wage gap than married women. Single women earn only 78.8 percent of what married women earn, and only 57 cents for every dollar that married males earn.

9. More than 40 percent of the wage gap cannot be explained by occupation, work experience, race, or union membership. More than one-quarter of the wage gap is due to the different jobs that men and women hold, and about 10 percent is due to the fact that women are more likely to leave the workforce to provide unpaid care to family members. But even when controlling for gender and racial differences, 41 percent is “unexplainable by measureable factors.” Even if women and men have the same background, the wage gap still exists, highlighting the fact that part of the discrepancy can be attributed to gender-based pay discrimination.

10. Mothers earn about 7 percent less per child than childless women. For women under 35 years of age, the wage gap between mothers and women without children is greater than the gap between women and men.

There are pay discrimination laws on the books, but the continuing gender pay bias shows that enforcement is weak or lacking.  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would help women and minority workers challenge discriminatory pay in the courts.  The Paycheck Fairness Act would be an important step further and close the wage gap by prohibiting gender-based pay discrepancies and banning workplace policies that prohibit employees from disclosing their wages with each other.  However, the measure has stalled in Congress and currently seems unlikely to even come to a vote in the House.

The gender pay bias is a form of discrimination as ugly as any America has experienced.  It hurts the women who are its victims and the families they support.  No society will ever achieve its full potential if it demeans and disenfranchises half of its population in this way.

May 4, 2013

We Can Stop Violence Against Women

A 4 year-old girl died recently from cardiac arrest at Care Hospital in Nagpur, India after being raped by a 35 year old man, Firoz Khan.  He was  later apprehended by police and confessed to the crime.  The girl was allegedly abducted from Ghansaur, a small town in central India, on April 17, and was found by her family the next day, unconscious and with severe head injuries.  Though she was quickly airlifted to a hospital in Nagpur and put on a ventilator, she did not survive.

This incident was the latest in a series of brutal assaults on very young girls that have sparked outrage in the country and raised awareness about how women and girls are treated in India, and around the globe.

Statistics collected by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women about violence against women and girls worldwide paint a grim picture of the scope of the tragedy.

  • Worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16.
  • An estimated 150 million girls under the age of 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
  • Most of this violence takes place within intimate relationships, with husbands or partners as the perpetrator.
  • The first sexual experience of some 30 percent of women was forced. The percentage is even higher among those under the age of 15 at the time of their sexual initiation.  Up to 45 percent of girls in this group reported that the experience was forced.

And the violence takes many forms:

  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation.
  • Over 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18. Women who marry early are more likely to be beaten or threatened, and more likely to believe that a husband might sometimes be justified in beating his wife.
  • Women and girls are 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked across national borders annually, with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience various forms of sexual harassment at work. In Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea 30 to 40 percent of women suffer workplace sexual harassment.
  • In the United States, 83 percent of girls aged 12 to 16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools
  • Conservative estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of women and girls have been the victims of rape and other forms of violence during recent conflicts in Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans.

Gender-based violence both reflects and reinforces inequities between men and women and compromises the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. It encompasses a wide range of human rights violations, including sexual abuse of children, rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, trafficking of women and girls and several harmful traditional practices. Any one of these abuses can leave deep psychological scars, damage the health of women and girls in general, including their reproductive and sexual health, and in some instances, results in death.

Over the years, there have been many theories about the causes of violence against women range from biological to social, political and economic.  To varying degrees, in many countries, women have restricted access, relative to their male counterparts, to education, health services and justice systems.  Gender inequality is often rooted in social attitudes and traditions, and enshrined in a web of legal statutes.

The United Nations has developed a list of recommendations aimed at dismantling gender inequality in all its forms and ending the violence it spawns.  But the very first step must be to bring this issue into the light where it can be acknowledged and acted upon at all levels of society.  In India, the recent brutal attacks against young women and girls have brought a public furor and activism never seen before.  This recognition of an intolerable situation is the first step to real change.  The struggle of women around the world for equality and freedom from violence is one that we all share.

We want to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions.  Join the discussion – here, on Twitter and on Facebook.  (On Twitter use the hashtag #dtpfsvaw.)

February 26, 2013

Telling Stories that Matter – The Art of the Folklorist


Folklore is the foundation of a culture.  It is the sum total of the stories, experiences, art and beliefs of the people living in that culture.  But much of it is hidden, and it is the task of the folklorist to discover a people’s heritage and communicate it to others.  In  a world frequently torn by ethnic and sectarian conflict, the role of the folklorist has expanded to that of peacemaker.  The artistic, human and material expressions of culture unearthed by the folklorist offer a way forward for validating all the cultural traditions that comprise our modern societies.

Kiran Sinkiran singh sirahgh Sirah is a modern day folklorist.  He began his career as an artist and teacher. This led him to establish a number of award winning peace and conflict resolution programs in museums and cultural centers in the UK, focused on sectarian, ethnic and religious conflict, poverty, and gang violence.

He went on to develop arts-led projects exploring modern slavery violations, war, and issues facing socially marginalized peoples. He is now a Rotary Peace Fellow and a folklorist interested in the power of human creativity, arts and social justice to build a truly multicultural society, based on understanding and peace.

Kiran’s new toolkit, Telling Stories That Matter, is a “How To” for prospective folklorists.  He created this easy to use guide with support for its production by the Partners for Democratic Change, Laina Reynolds Levy, Editor.


Download the free toolkit here and find specific guidance from storytelling to theater production to slam poetry.

Additional folklorist resources:

Photo credits for this post and the video include:


December 9, 2012

Finding a Measure of Peace

Can we measure the peacefulness of the world?  And beyond that, estimate the impact of conflict on the global economy?  On first consideration, these seem like impossible tasks.  After all, the drivers of human conflict are varied and complex.  But one organization–using a tool called the Global Peace Index–has set about to do both.

The Global Peace Index (GPI) is an attempt to measure the relative position of nations’ and regions’ peacefulness. It is the product of Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) and developed in consultation with an international panel of peace experts from peace institutes and think tanks with data collected and collated by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The list was launched first in May 2007, and has been published each spring since that time. The study attempts to rank countries around the world according to their peacefulness. The index currently ranks 158 countries, up from 121 in 2007. The study is the creation of Australian entrepreneur Steve Killelea and is endorsed by individuals such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, economist Jeffrey Sachs, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and former US president Jimmy Carter.

About the Global Peace Index – from Visions for Humanity

The Global Peace Index takes into account 23 factors.  Factors examined by the authors of the index include both internal factors–such as levels of violence and crime within the country–and external factors–such as a country’s  military expenditure, its relations with neighboring countries and the level of respect for human rights. The index is showcased each year at events in London, Washington DC, Brussels and the United Nations in New York.

2012-Global_Peace_IndexAn article in The Guardian compared the 2012 Global Peace Index with 2011 and found the following:

  • Somalia is the least peaceful country at 158th position and with a score of 3.392. Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo make up the bottom five
  • There has been change for the the indicators as well. The top three largest improvements have been for the Political Terror Scale, terrorist acts and military expenditure as a % of GDP
  • Iceland has remained at the top spot as the most peaceful country in the world, after dropping in the rankings in 2009 and 2010 because of violent demonstrations linked to the collapse of its financial system
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is no longer the least peaceful region in the world, for the first time since the GPI began
  • The US moved from 82 to 88

One of the most interesting aspects of the Global Peace Index, is its estimate of the “peace dividend” – the added economic value if we had lived in a world totally at peace in 2011.  This year’s estimate: $9 trillion.  In addition to the human suffering that a world in conflict

You can explore the Global Peace Index yourself, by downloading the spreadsheet containing the GPI information, or using the interactive map on the Vision of Humanity website.