Apr 14
Her eye on the news

An in-depth report in the New York Times takes a close look at the violence in Central America that is driving women from that region into the United States.

The report focuses on Honduras, one of the five deadliest countries in which to be a woman. Official statistics show that 380 Honduran women were murdered last year, in a country with a population roughly equivalent to New York City’s. But the actual number is believed to be far higher.

Many of these homicides suggest a particular kind of terror aimed at women specifically. In much of the world, most murdered women are killed by husbands, partners, or family members. But in Honduras, many women are killed in a gruesome fashion — shot in the vagina, skinned alive, strangled in front of their children — that appears intended to send a grim message. In 2017, 41 percent of women and girls killed in Honduras showed signs of mutilation or cruelty beyond what was actually needed to kill them.

Part of the wanton cruelty stems from the violent narco economy, in which gangsters spread terror by murdering women associated with the members of rival gangs. Another factor appears to be a culture of machismo that tolerates domestic abuse. In 2013, the government passed a law imposing harsher sentences for femicide, but it is rarely applied. Domestic violence laws didn’t even exist in Honduras until 1997.

The fact is that the police are rarely interested in investigating murders of women, and 9 out of 10 cases involving a femicide never go to court. These forces are pushing more and more women in Central America to attempt to enter the U.S. illegally. Not surprisingly, the Trump administration is cracking down on such attempts harder than ever. In June, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, sought to reverse a 2014 decision that allowed domestic violence survivors to claim asylum in the U.S. (He was blocked by a federal court.)

Meanwhile, women in Honduras continue to fear for their lives in a country where death could come at any moment, in a form of violence meant to keep them in a constant state of terror.

Read more at the New York Times.


Surge in unchecked gang violence is driving women and girls from Central America

Thousands of women flee Central America to escape deadly violence

Costa Rica elect’s Latin America’s first black female president

Missing person

The Vatican has opened an investigation into the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, a 15-year-old girl who vanished in Rome in 1983 while on her way home from a flute lesson. According to the Telegraph, Orlandi was a Vatican citizen and her father was an employee of the Vatican, but this is the first time that the Holy See is officially looking into her case.

The investigation was prompted by a mysterious tip off to Orlandi’s family, suggesting that her body was been buried in a 19th century tomb in the Vatican’s Teutonic cemetery, which is reserved for German, Austrian, Dutch and Flemish Catholics. Above the tomb in question is a marble statue of an angel, who is pointing to the ground. An anonymous letter sent to Orlandi’s family urged them to “look where the angel is pointing.”

According to the Guardian, the family was encouraged to ask the Vatican to open the tomb after Pope Francis announced that he would unseal the archives of the controversial WWII-era Pope Pius XII.

“Seeing as the pope decided to open the Vatican archives for the pontificate of Pius XII in 2020, we made an appeal to the pontiff,” said Laura Sgrò, the family’s lawyer. Per the Telegraph, Sgrò also said she had since received confirmation from the Vatican that an “investigation is already in an operative phase.”

In the more than three decades since Orlandi’s disappearance, theories about what might have happened to her have abounded. Some believe she was kidnapped by an organized crime gang to pressure the Vatican to repay a loan, while others say she was abducted to force the release of Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish man who tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981. But Orlandi has never been found, and her family has expressed frustration over what they see as the Vatican’s lack of transparency.

“After 35 years without cooperation,” Orlandi’s brother, Pietro, told the Guardian, “the start of an investigation is an important breakthrough.”

Read more at the Telegraph and the Guardian.


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Star pupil

On Tuesday, the world was treated to the first-ever image of a black hole, a feat made possible by the years-long efforts of more than 200 researchers. Among those who played a crucial role, according to CNN, was 29-year-old Katie Bouman, who “developed a crucial algorithm that helped devise imaging methods.”

As a graduate student in computer science and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bouman worked on a project to develop imaging methods that would capture a black hole in a galaxy known as M87. Because the black hole was incredibly far away — more than 26,000 light years — it was also incredibly hard to take a picture of it. As Bouman explained in a 2016 Ted Talk, obtaining  the image with a single-dish telescope was impossible; the instrument would have to be the size of the Earth.

Instead, researchers relied on the Event Horizon Telescope initiative, a global network of telescopes that assembled mass quantities of data about M87.  “Each telescope in the worldwide network works together,” Bouman explained in 2016. “Linked through the precise timing of atomic clocks, teams of researchers at each of the sites freeze light by collecting thousands of terabytes of data.”

Bouman’s algorithm was among several that helped piece together an image from the data. “We developed ways to generate synthetic data and used different algorithms and tested blindly to see if we can recover an image,” she explains to CNN.

Due to begin a job as an assistant professor at California Institute of Technology in the fall, Bouman stressed that Tuesday’s groundbreaking image was the result of a collaborative effort. “No one of us could’ve done it alone,” she said. “It came together because of lots of different people from many backgrounds.”

Read the full story at CNN.


Nobel Prize-winning scientist was at first denied a Wikipedia entry — but not her male colleague

As girls get older, they become less likely to imagine scientists as women, study finds

Female scientists will brave Antarctica for STEM leadership camp


Anti-abortion lawmakers in Texas are working to pass a new bill that would make women who legally obtained abortions culpable of murder, a crime that can be punished with the death penalty under Texas law.

The new legislation is authored by Republican State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a self-proclaimed family man who has been married five times. According to Tinderholt, threatening women with the death penalty is the only way to make them “more personally responsible” and ensure “equal protection” of life inside and “outside the womb.”

In what is believed to be the first hearing of its kind, on Monday and Tuesday lawmakers listened to public testimony from advocates for the extreme proposal during a marathon hearing before the Texas House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence.

“God’s word says, ‘He who sheds man’s blood, by man — the civil government — his blood will be shed,’” declared Sonya Gonnella, one of hundreds of anti-abortion advocates to testify during the hearing.

One Democrat in attendance, State Rep. Victoria Neave, decried the logic of so-called “pro-life” activists who were willing to charge women with the death penalty over an abortion.

“I’m trying to reconcile in my head the arguments that I heard tonight about how essentially one is okay with subjecting a woman to the death penalty for the exact — to do to her the exact same thing that one is alleging she is doing to a child,” said Neave.

Read the full story at the Washington Post.


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Texas woman forced to deliver stillborn baby due to abortion ban

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‘Gwen went light’

Fosse/Verdon, a new FX miniseries on the life and work of famous Broadway director Bob Fosse and dancer Gwen Verdon, is being billed as a post #MeToo examination of the myth of “the auteur, usually male, who is doing everything himself.”

Originally intended as an adaptation of Sam Wasson’s 2013 biography Fosse, the film’s concept was revised after producers decided that the story would be incomplete if it ignored the vital ways Verdon, Fosse’s wife, contributed to his success.

“The series, as it goes on, is really about the unsung role that Gwen, Bob’s wife and collaborator, played in forming his work,” producer Steven Levenson told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s about how things actually get made.”

The series also examines the stark differences in how Fosse, an infamous womanizer, and Verdon capitalized on their individual and collaborative successes.

“We felt that in telling this story now, we have an added responsibility to really talk about abuse of power,” said Levenson. “Bob used his power for good and bad, and we want to be honest about the way that he interacted with young women especially, and the pressure that those women were under to go along to get along.”

Actress Michelle Williams, who will play the role of Verdon alongside Sam Rockwell as Fosse, said that a key aspect of their respective characters was the alleged emotional and sexual abuse they both endured as children.

“Sam and I would talk about them as twins,” she recalled. “They come from this very similar place, these abusive backgrounds, and it manifests inside of them in different ways. Bob went dark, and Gwen went light. Gwen wanted to rise above everything, she refused to feel pain, whereas Bob wanted to delve into it.”

Read the full story at the Hollywood Reporter.


Yoko Ono finally credited as writer on John Lennon’s ‘Imagine,’ a song directly inspired by her poetry

At all-women tango festival, women reclaim a dance that often disrespects them

NASA dedicates building to Katherine Johnson, mathematician and ‘Hidden Figures’ hero


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