Afghanistan’s First University for Women and Other Notes from the Week

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We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Who Run the World?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was impressed by her female colleagues this week: Apparently they were the only ones to come to work on Tuesday morning to run Congress after a record-setting blizzard over the weekend. The all-women session of Congress wasn’t planned but a “genuinely fabulous” coincidence. Sen. Murkowski commented, “Perhaps it speaks to the hardiness of women.” We couldn’t agree more. —Emily Mae Schmid

#WomenNotObjects Campaign

This week a famous ad executive named Madonna Badger launched an awesome new campaign to call out sexism in advertising. After years of contributing to sexualized imagery in ads, including the Calvin Klein ads that made Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg famous, Badger had a change of heart after her girls were killed in a tragic house fire. “I love my job, but I don’t want to do it if it hurts anyone,” she told the Wall Street Journal. As a result, her ad agency (including clients such as Vera Wang and Diane von Fürstenberg) has pledged not to create ads where women are objectified or overly photoshopped to unrealistic standards.

As a part of this new initiative, Badger released a short video this week showing women holding objectifying images while saying what the pictures suggest, promoting the hashtag #WomenNotObjects. The images may be offensive, and the women might sound sarcastic, but that’s part of the point. If we take these images seriously in advertising, they’re saying outrageous things—especially because recent meta-analysis published by the American Psychological Association shows that sex and violence don’t actually succeed in selling products. “It never helps to have violence and sex in commercials,” says Brad Bushman, professor at The Ohio State University and co-author of the study. “It either hurts or has no effect at all.” So here’s hoping with Badger’s latest initiative that it continues to hurt advertisers’ objectives. Maybe then the sexism that stems from objectifying imagery will finally take a hit. —Mary Rose Somarriba

Afghanistan Will Open a University for Women

Afghanistan is set to open the country's first-ever women's university in Kabul. The news was announced by Afghanistan's First Lady, Rula Ghani, who has long been a vocal advocate for women's rights in the country. "It is with great conviction that I predict that through technology the women of Afghanistan will contribute significantly to bringing back prosperity and development to our beloved country Afghanistan," she commented, as she shared the news with the press. The new university is significant because it will enable women from more conservative backgrounds who haven't been able to study in co-ed environments thus far to get an education. —Sophie Caldecott

Emily Blunt Is Pregnant with Her Second Child

British Actress Emily Blunt recently announced that she and her husband John Krasinski (of 13 Hours and The Office fame) are expecting their second child. Their daughter, Hazel, is almost 2 years old, and Krasinski opened up about her recently on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, saying "She's starting to do little bits, which is hilarious. Like if she's looking for me instead of saying, 'Daddy, Daddy,' she says, 'Where is that daddy?' And she's starting to pick up on Emily's accent." Congratulations to the whole family! —SC

New Recent Research on C-Sections

New research shows that there are some longer term health difference between children who were delivered vaginally or by an emergency C-section in comparison to those delivered by a planned C-section. Evidence suggests that the physiological changes that a baby and a mother experience during labor have some health benefits, even if the delivery ultimately transitions into a C-section. As Lindsey Schlegel wrote for Verily this week, “This is not to say that a planned C-section is never a good choice. Every family’s situation is different at the moment of delivery; it’s risky to make too many blanket statements in a matter as complex and unique as childbirth. What’s certain is that childbirth is a delicate and singular experience, and there’s much more going on than meets the eye.” This research is eye-opening, that’s for sure. —DS

Also Recent Research on ‘Mommy Brain’

It’s not uncommon for women to report that after they have a baby, they have a harder time remembering details like they did previously. However, new research indicates that the postpartum brain itself is actually better off than pre-pregnancy. The research shows that certain areas of a woman’s brain expand postpartum, including areas that facilitate learning, emotional recognition, empathy, reasoning, and emotional regulation. As Sophie Caldecott covered this week, these brain changes are as significant as when a woman exits adolescence. This study has some positives for working moms too. Caldecott says, “What’s so exciting about this research, then, is that it could turn deeply held cultural assumptions on their heads, forcing employers (and coworkers) everywhere to rethink their attitudes toward working mothers (and women in general). Companies such as Vodafone are already starting to realize that it makes good business sense to hire talented women and support them whether or not they plan on having children. Perhaps this would encourage other employers to think the same way.” We certainly hope so. —DS

Gender Equality Requires More Than Just Parity in Jobs

Since 2014, actress Emma Watson has been the spokesperson for the United Nation's HeForShe Campaign, an initiative to engage men in promoting gender equality globally. Part of the goals of the HeForShe Campaign include a HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 pilot initiative, which primarily seeks gender parity in the work force. But equal numbers does not translate to equal treatment or respect. Gender parity is like a Band-Aid for true gender equality—it addresses a surface issue without combating the root of the problem. As a result, this report is lacking in some measures because it only addresses one facet of equality. 

As Baleigh Scott wrote in Verily this week, “This is not to say that there are not good reasons for companies to pursue parity. Having senior women to provide perspective and champion issues that may not otherwise be addressed can have real implications for company culture, and the bottom line. As the report indicates, research suggests there is a correlation between high female representation and financial performance among companies. But the truth is that full gender parity is neither necessary nor sufficient for gender equality. In which case, if it is sexism we’re aiming to dismantle, gender parity is, in my opinion, somewhat of a red herring.” —DS

World Health Organization Releases Warning About Zika Virus

The Zika virus is a rapidly growing threat, the World Health Organization announced at an emergency meeting yesterday. The mosquito-borne virus, which was first detected in May of last year, has now spread to more than twenty-three countries in the Americas. "Between three and four million people in the Americas could be infected... over the next twelve months," New Scientist reports, and somewhere in the region of 1.5 million people have already been infected in Brazil. The WHO will be meeting again on Monday to decide whether this outbreak should be declared a global health emergency (the Ebola virus was the last outbreak that was classified this way). The virus, for which there is currently no vaccine, has recently been linked with a series of birth defects from babies born to mothers with the infection. Pregnant women in the U.S. have been warned not to travel to the affected areas (including Brazil, Barbados, Colombia, and El Salvador), and women in affected areas are being advised not to get pregnant for at least two years. We’re kind of wondering how this is all going to work out for the 2016 Olympics, which are being hosted by Brazil this summer. —SC

Nicki Minaj Invests in Problematic App

A new app has just been released that provides anonymous texts and images to friends, and figures including Nicki Minaj have invested in the app. While the creators of the app claim their intent is to “provide a safe environment” for individuals to converse without judgement, it's clear this app could help toxic situations escalate. While Minaj’s intentions in investing in the app are not clear, Anna Quinlan notes in Verily this week that “in the meantime we hope that the public will start to see companies like Blindspot for what they are—apps that allow the worst products of online anonymity to flourish and that often hurt vulnerable young women. And we hope that better technologies—ones more prone to uplifting girls and women than putting them down—will one day be more lucrative investments for celebrities like Nicki Minaj to participate in. Because if there's something more rewarding than general financial gain, it's financial gain that coincides with the goal of doing good in the world.” —DS

Here’s One Way to Respond to Street Harassment

A group of young women in Mexico have come up with a creative way to combat street harassment: Barrage anyone who gives catcalls with confetti guns and by breaking out in a punk rock song against harassment. The women dubbed as "Las Hijas de Violencia" ("the daughters of violence") confront men they see harassing women in the street, Al Jazeera Plus reported Wednesday. "If you do this to me this way, I will respond,” the ladies chant triumphantly. Talk about overpowering the negative with positive. These girls made my day. —MRS