Belatedly Yours

As you have probably noticed, I have not updated as promised.  (And as someone cleverly suggested, the subtitle of my blog should be changed to Nulla Month Sine Linea.)

Going back to where I left off in my previous post, the rest of my week at the UN was incredibly busy and I ultimately chose sleep over blogging.  That sounds like laziness until I tell you that during that incredibly busy week I got at most six hours of sleep a night (which is not enough).  By the end of each day my ability to write clearly and coherently was suffering anyway.  Thus, I fell behind.

When I returned from New York I had a week in Boston to catch up on everything I’d missed for school and work (and sleep) before heading off to Washington D.C. for the CARE National Conference.  I arrived back in Boston this morning and though spring break would be a perfect time to catch up, I’m off to Detroit on Sunday for a week-long service trip with 15 undergraduate students.  (Yes, I’ve been called “jet-setter” quite a few times this week.)

I know part of the appeal of reading a blog is the fact that it’s timely, and I apologize for failing in this regard, but I hope you will check back at the end of March when I will have a chance to post my accumulating notes and reflections.

In the meantime, for quick updates (140 characters or less), follow me on Twitter: @m_pomerleau


Wednesday Part 1: Pacific Islands and Trauma Healing at CSW

I had every intention of posting every night but that obviously hasn’t happened.  That fact is a testament to how busy we’ve been.  I’ll do my best to review the highlights of the past three days.  I’ll start with today and work backwards.

Wednesday February 23

The flags were up today! Here's some of the 192!

Claiming Space for Pacific Women in the International Arena

This morning I attended an event sponsored by Pacific Women’s Watch (New Zealand) titled “Claiming Space for Pacific Women in the International Area.”

The Pacific islands, between 20,000 and 30,000 islands in the Pacific ocean, are made up of three subregions: MelanesiaMicronesia, andPolynesia.  The panel included women from Melanesia (Fiji) and Polynesia (New Zealand), but not Micronesia.  The panel recognized this issue as problematic, and representative of the larger issues being discussed, and attributed the absence of a Micronesian women to a lack of resources.  They noted that a number of women had wanted to attend.

The panel discussion, using a human rights framework, focused on issues of representation faced by Pacific island nations, especially Pacific women.  In the United Nations, the Pacific islands are part of the Asian regional group.  This is problematic because the Pacific islands is a unique region that faces specific issues that differ from the rest of Asia.  It was suggested that the Pacific islands work with the rest of Asia to come to an agreement about permanent or rotating representation within the Asia regional group.

A friend of mine in my graduate program has a research interest in environmental health in the Marshall Islands.  Following the panel, I was able to ask two of the panelists a question on her behalf.  The question was, “Some experts anticipate a rise in sea level of three feet by the end of the century.  Given the susceptibility of many of the Pacific islands, particularly atoll countries, to changes in sea level, are you planning for possible displacement contingencies for the people of this region?”  The answer was that they have no longterm strategic plan but are responding as environmental issues as they occur.  It was noted that the largest obstacle in developing a longterm plan is the global denial of climate change as a danger.

Learning Methodologies: Post-Trauma

The second event I attended was “Learning Methodologies: Post-Trauma” sponsored by Ecumenical Women at the United Nations.  The panel was impressive and each woman had a powerful story to share.  The panel consisted of an ordained Lutheran minister from India, a peace-building specialist with expertise in trauma healing from South Sudan, a domestic violence shelter coordinator from Brazil, and an American urban minister.  The moderator was an American educator and artist.  Talk about some amazing women!

The Rev. Dr. Surekha Nelaval told a moving story about a Dalit girl which illustrated the traumatic effects of patriarchy, casteism, and classism on girls in India.  Cecilia Castillo spoke about her work with victims of domestic violence in Brazil.  Milcah Lalam shared some of the techniques she uses in trauma healing in her work in South Sudan.  These techniques include storytelling, games, coloring mandalas, and drawing.  Lalam identified the need for leaders to do their own healing before they take on the care and wellbeing of others.  The Rev. Heidi Neumark spoke about her work in the South Bronx and the traumatic issues that children face in their young lives.  Neumark named three ways to create paths for healing: (1) creation of spaces that nurture hope, (2) cultivation of a space of trust and solidarity, and (3) creation of spaces to explore the stories of biblical sisters.  She stated that biblical stories of trauma affirmed and validated trauma victims, even when the stories did not have happy endings.  Because the stories were included in holy texts, women who could relate felt like their stories also matter.  She also mentioned the healing qualities of exercise (like yoga) and  beauty and relaxation practices.  These things teach girl victims of trauma to care for their body, a place that has been often been dishonored by others.

The panel was inspiring and offered practical advice to others working in areas of trauma.  I was fortunate to have an opportunity to ask a question at the end.  I asked how trauma healing and treatment can be incorporated into the work of UN Women as part of women’s mental health.  The panelists acknowledged that doing so was necessary and that the only mention of women’s health so far this week has been maternal health.  I was thrilled to hear their answer because this is something that I’ve noticed and have been concerned about.  Women’s health must not be defined as maternal health.  There are so many other areas of women’s health that cannot be neglected (e.g. sexual, reproductive, mental, and preventative health).  I will be sure to reflect upon and write more about this at the end of the week.

Please see my next post for a (more photographic) description of the rest of my day.  Post will be up tomorrow.

I’m Not in Lab to Wash Dishes

(Please see my previous post for context.)

A paper written for Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies

September 19, 2006

Before becoming gender-conscious and keeping a gender log, I was completely unaware of the role gender plays in the academic area of science.  I had realized previously that there were very few female science professors (and I have yet to have one), but I never fully understood the consequences of having so few female role models in science academia, and the gender bias that students face because science is male-dominated.

My freshman year at Anonymous College, I became aware that there was not a female restroom on the chemistry floor.  I, along with many of my female peers, viewed this as an inconvenience and a result of poor planning in an old building.  We would receive comments from our male peers indicating that we should take the absence of a female restroom as a hint that female students do not belong in the chemistry lab.  A comment that I once could have laughed off, has now become quite disturbing and angering to me.

Upon reflection, I realized that on the days that I have lab (Wednesday through Thursday), I tend to dress more masculine.  One day I changed from a girly vintage sweater into a baseball t-shirt and also removed my earrings.  Part of the reason for this was because I knew I would be elbow-deep in a preserved cat, but I also knew it was important that I conveyed an image of a serious science student.  This happens to be a masculine image.  As I looked at what most men were wearing to lab, it was clear they did not have to perform a “costume change” before lab.  I feel that if I were to come to chemistry lab and set up a distillation wearing a skirt and heels, I would not only be taken less seriously but my peers, but also my professor.  Even I sometimes think less of the women who come to lab mirroring the latest spread in Vogue.  It should also be noted that in many labs it is not permitted to wear anything but long pants and closed-toe shoes, which again emphasizes the masculinity associated with working in a lab.

There was an instance in biology lab where my chair, just as old as the science building, was stuck in a raised position and would not budge.  As I struggled to adjust the chair, my professor, who was in mid-conversation with another student, came over and fixed the chair, without skipping a beat in his conversation.  Aware of the role that gender plays in so many of the things I encounter, I contemplated whether or not my professor’s actions were simply of kindness or a result of an assumption that I was incapable of fixing a chair.  I thought about how he would have treated a male student in the same situation.  And as much as I can hope his actions were gender-neutral, I can’t imagine his actions would have been the same had I been male.

As I find myself asking my male peers (who are no more qualified than me) questions in lab or lecture, I am giving into the “discouragement [of] a culture” which causes me to “resign [myself] to low expectations…before [I’ve been] given half a chance to become a more thoughtful, expressive human being” (Rich 24).  I have been passively taught to view myself as inferior to my male peers.  I dress a certain way so I will be taken seriously.  I am careful of the side-conversations I have during lab, although my male peers can talk inappropriately without worrying that their reputation as a science student will be damaged.  As Rich explains, all students—especially female students in the current college climate—truly must claim their education (Rich 22).  If I choose simply to “receive” my education, there is a very good chance I will walk across the stage at graduation with something less than my male peers.

Perhaps the biggest gender-log-worthy moment that I experienced was in chemistry lab.  Upon our arrival to lab, the instructions on how to filter our solution were slightly altered.  The filter paper had to be folded a certain way, something we had not been taught in class.  Of the people who surrounded my work area, the male students had used this technique in high school.  Another woman and I had never done this.  When we asked the men for some guidance, their response was, “Why do women have small feet?…So they can stand closer to the sink…That’s also why they can’t fold filter paper”  My female peer laughed at this comment.  I was so angry that she reinforced their behavior with laughter at the comment.  I was also extremely angry that none of the other students realized that if attitudes like the one reflected by the comment were still tolerated by our society, the male students would be in a lab with all male students.  My female peer and I would not be in the lab.  Without feminism, the women who would be “privileged” enough to be at college would be “major[ing] in teaching, home economics, English” (Baumgardner and Richards 26).  As I become more aware of the injustices of our society, I am angry that I’ve been ignorant about these issues.  I am angry that these issues are not priority in our country’s education system.

Being conscious about how gender influences my education, specifically in the area of science, will allow me to better “claim” my education.  I can learn to be feminine in a male-dominated field while being respected and recognized for my merits.  It is also my hope that I will be able to share part of this insight with others.  Now that I realize that the struggle for gender equality is not over, I want to share that realization to promote active change.

Works Cited

Baumgardner, Jennifer and Amy Richards.  “A Day Without Feminism.” Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions:  Classic and Contemporary Readings.  Ed. Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006. 25-28.

Rich, Adrienne.  “Claiming an Education.” Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions:  Classic and Contemporary Readings.  Ed. Susan M. Shaw and Janet Lee. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2006. 22-24.

Arrival to the Big Apple

To anyone planning to travel between Boston and New York, I highly recommend taking a bus.  I left from South Station and four short hours (the bus was equipped with wifi) and I arrived in the Big Apple.  I took a cab to my hotel where I met some of the other women participating in the Practicum.  A few of us walked over to the UN (about two blocks) and picked up our grounds passes.

Where the peacemakers take their dry cleaning.

Sculpture in front of the UN

I’ve been excited about this week for months, but I must say that having an official UN pass in my hand made my excitement grow exponentially.  The UN security is all international (naturally) and hearing some familiar and unfamiliar foreign accents, I can already tell that though this experience may temporarily satisfy my wanderlust, I will leave needing to use my passport in the near future.

This evening, over New York-style pizza, we each started to learn the names of the other 22 practicum participants.  We are a diverse group coming from all parts of the country with different academic backgrounds and interests.  The group is mix of undergraduate and graduate students, and I know there is a lot we can learn from each other.

Tomorrow we will have a day of orientation, but we began to discuss some of the ideas and themes of the week.  The United Nations has designated the priority theme of the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women as “Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”  Our discussion tonight got me thinking about my experiences of science and technology and how these have influenced my direction, both academically and otherwise.

55th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women

As a sophomore in college, I was pre-med and had every intention of going to medical school.  With Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy and Organic Chemistry on my schedule, I decided to round things out with French Literature. It seemed like a great idea until I sat through one class of French Literature — not my thing.  I quickly researched my other course options and decided that my best option was to pick up Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies (WAGS).  From the course description, I figured it would hold my interest more than my a close relationship with my French dictionary.

After running around campus to get my course change paperwork signed (and after my French professor lovingly slammed his door on me when I asked him to sign the form), I walked into Intro to WAGS five minutes late.  The desks were arranged in a circle and there was an index card on each desk.  What had I gotten myself into?  I was a science student and used to lecture halls with podiums where the professor poured his (yes, only his — I never had a female science professor) knowledge about hydrogen bonds or the Krebs cycle into our clueless minds.  The desks in WAGS were in a circle.I was the only science student in the course, and to be honest, I had never thought much about gender.

My first assignment was to think about gender.  For three days, we were required to keep journal about the ways that our lives involved or were affected by gender.  For example, I would write down that I went into the women’s bathroom or that I checked the “female” box on an application.  As I kept a list, I realized that the part of my life that made me most conscious of my gender was the science lab.

My academic life soon felt like two conflicting worlds.  But when your life is pulling you in two directions, you make it work until it works out.  Though I dearly loved the WAGS program at the first college I attended, I transferred to Loyola University Chicago to complete a degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Women’s Studies and Gender Studies.  This diverse academic background along with study abroad in India, Spain, and Morocco led to my current interest in global women’s health.  So here I am, in graduate school for Women’s Health (and thankful I didn’t have a love for French literature).

Click here to read “I’m Not in Lab to Wash Dishes,” the paper I wrote as a college sophomore.


Tomorrow I will travel to New York to attend the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.  I am very fortunate to be participating in the Practicum in Advocacy at the United Nations sponsored by Suffolk University’s Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), and the National Women’s Studies Association, with assistance from Physicians for Human Rights.  The practicum, a week-long program that takes place during the Commission on the Status of Women, provides 23 students with the opportunity to observe how the UN works to address issues requiring multilateral engagement and coordinated action between governments and civil society groups.  (For a more detailed description of the practicum see my previous post or Suffolk University’s press release.)

I am looking forward to an intense week of learning and networking and am very excited to share my experiences.  In addition to blogging here, I will be posting updates on Twitter throughout the week, so please follow me: @m_pomerleau.  (You can also view my most recent updates on the right side of this page.)

As always, I welcome your comments and questions and thank you for reading.

Suffolk Graduate Student Heads to U.N. to Learn Advocacy Skills at Commission on the Status of Women Conference

BOSTON – Michelle Pomerleau, a student in the Master of Arts in Women’s Health program at Suffolk University, will gain experience in the art of advocacy as a delegate to the annual Commission on the Status of Women meetings to be held from Feb. 22-March 4, 2011 at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Pomerleau is one of 23 women students chosen from across the nation to participate in the Practicum in Advocacy at the United Nations, a week-long program which offers an opportunity to observe how the UN works to address issues requiring multilateral engagement and coordinated action between governments and civil society groups.

This year, the Commission’s priority theme is “access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science and technology”. They will also review last year’s theme that focused on “the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against girl children.”

Pomerleau’s temporary delegate status will allow her to attend official and non-government organization (NGO) sessions, and contribute to the official documentation of both official and NGO meetings.

The practicum on the Commission on the Status of Women is sponsored by the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University, Boston; the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the National Women’s Studies Association, with assistance from Physicians for Human Rights.

“We teach the women how important citizen engagement is,” said Laura Roskos, co-president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and activist-in-residence at the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights.

The participants will learn how to network with NGOs, observe high-level negotiations, meet government officials and participate in turning specific proposals into documents that can be adopted by U.N. bodies.

Pomerleau must also create an advocacy project when she returns to the Suffolk University campus.

“This success empowers them to engage in successful civic campaigns on their campus and local communities,” noted Roskos, who with Connie Chow, Executive Director of Science Clubs for Girls, will serve as faculty for the 2011 practicum.

“As a women’s health advocate, I plan to use this opportunity to expand my knowledge and understanding about global health while improving my advocacy skills and building international connections,” Pomerleau said.

This will be the fourth practicum at the Commission on the Status of Women. The CSW focuses on gender equality and the advancement of women, with the U.N. drawing representatives of governments to address the problems facing women around the world. This year more than 3,000 registered representatives from NGOs will lobby the delegates about current issues and work to put new ideas on the table. The NGOs engage in and host hundreds of events, such as performances and panel discussions directed at the local, national and international issues affecting women.

See Suffolk University’s press release here.

Thinking Pink

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the town is painted pink.

During my last trip to the grocery store, I was surrounded by products claiming their commitment and support to the cause of breast cancer awareness.  As someone passionate about women’s heath and a firm believer in education as a tool for disease prevention, I am glad that Breast Cancer Awareness Month is cause that everyone wants to participate in.  However, I wonder if some companies are taking advantage of the power of the pink ribbon and “pinkwashing” their products.

For example, while at the grocery store I came across a package of chicken sausage that was pink for for the special occassion of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and displayed a pink ribbon claiming “Proud Supporter [of] Breast Cancer Awareness.”

Other than the pink packaging and the claim that the company was a supporter of breast cancer awareness, there was no other information about what this meant.  It was unclear whether the company actually financially supported any breast cancer organizations or initiatives and if so, what these were.  When I got home I looked up the company’s website to find out more.  I found that the company donated $25,000 to theAmerican Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Boston.  Though it is debatable whether this amount was significant to the company (my guess is not), I must give them credit for providing a list of tips on awareness and prevention.  However, the packaging did not guide consumers to visit their website to view these tips, learn more about their pink initiative, or even encourage participation in events like the breast cancer walk.  The biggest issue I have with the pinkwashing is that companies are using the pink ribbon for marketing purposes and missing the significance behind the pink ribbon — saving women’s lives from breast cancer.

Which leads me to my next point…  Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  With the pink ribbons everywhere, haven’t we achieved the goal of making people aware?  What about making next October Breast Cancer Prevention Month?  Instead of focusing on the pink ribbon as a tool to make people think about breast cancer, let’s use it as a tool for action.  Besides my self-directed visit to the sausage company’s website, I have not seen any products with the pink ribbon provide information or education about breast cancer and how to prevent it.  Products that display the pink ribbon should provide information about taking action to fight breast cancer, even if it’s just a website referral.  I’ve heard so much about awareness but have yet to see a company promote an action to fight breast cancer beyond purchasing their product.  (As a consumer concerned about the practice of pinkwashing, you may want to consider these questions published by  Also, are some of the products that display the pink ribbon to fight cancer hypocritical?)

Because it’s incredibly important, I want to suggest some resources for you to visit now.  The American Cancer Society provides information on their website about screening recommendations and if a mammogram is recommended for you, there is mammogram reminder service that will send you an email once a year during the month of your choosing.  For more detailed information, the American Cancer Society’s Breast Cancer Guide is a great resource.  And as always, ask your doctor about any specific questions or concerns about your health.

So please be sure to take care of yourself and to make sure your loved ones are doing the same.  Wear your pink ribbon proudly, knowing that you have the facts you need and are taking action to advocate for your health.