First Woman Passes Marine Corps Infantry Training

It’s been an empowering summer for women all over the world. A generous mom donating 5,000 pints of breastmilk and OB-Gyn delivering another woman’s baby before her own are proving than women are, in fact, super. At the cherry on top of a closing September is an anonymous lieutenant who became the first woman to pass the Marine Corps infantry training.

“Female troops are invaluable for searching houses and communicating with local women, gaining access to spaces and information that, because of local custom, male troops cannot get,”

The woman, set to lead a 40-strong platoon, passed a 13-week course along with 87 others. Of 1.4 million active troops in the United States, only 15% are female, making the feat doubly impressive.

The Corps says it educates would-be officers in “the leadership, infantry skills, and character required to serve as infantry platoon commanders”.

The everyday Wonder Woman will be stationed at Camp Pendleton, California for her first assignment. It looks like girl power is certainly on the rise!

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Tunisian Women Can Now Marry Non-Muslims

Across the globe, the LGBT community is finally receiving the rights it deserves. In Canada, gender discrimination is outlawed. Taiwan became the first Asian country to recognize same-sex marriage. However, homosexuality remains a crime in many countries. In fact, some traditional marriages aren’t even tolerated due to religious factors. But President Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia is shifting views, now allowing Tunisian women to marry non-Muslims.

Until now, a non-Muslim man who wished to marry a Tunisian Muslim woman had to convert to Islam and submit a certificate of his conversion as proof.

Tunisia, which is 99% Muslim, is viewed as one of the most progressive Arab countries in terms of women’s rights.

Non-Muslim marriages were restricted in 1973. The president referred to it as an obstacle to one’s freedom of choice. Baffling was the fact that the law did not apply to men and included minority women who were Jewish or Christian.

Scrapping the decree may not do away with the cultural and traditional obstacles women face with their families in cases of inter-faith marriage, but it now offers Tunisian women greater freedom of choice from a legal perspective.

The battle for women’s rights may be a little worn out, but remains optimistic. A round of applause for Tunisia!

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Female Pakistani Superhero Is A Role Model To Girls

Slowly but surely, the world of literature and television is finally becoming more diverse. People from marginalized populations are now gaining some representation, especially in global mainstream media. Last year, for instance, Sesame Street introduced their first Afghan member Zeerak. But things are also at work internally. The Middle Eastern comic book world is not far behind with Sarah, a female Pakistani superhero.

The creator, [Hassan Siddiqui], of the English-language comic says he hopes the superhero will give young girls across Pakistan a role model and embolden them to fight corruption and violence in a country where crime is rife in major cities and corruption is the norm.

It’s a step towards abolishing gender discrimination in a country where honor killings are frequent. The comic does not only tackle crime and corruption, but even zooms in on gender-based violence and domestic abuse, shedding light on very important issues.

But while the online community has received “Pakistan Girl” with open arms, local readership could be a problem. Illiteracy rates are at an all-time high. However, believing in its significance, schools across the nation are now implementing the comic into curriculums.

“I think we should be teaching them through this kind of literature because that’s actually the tender age when they are building their own images of their future life,” said [new comic book fan and school principal Saadia Adnan] after browsing through a bookstore copy.

Siddiqui’s previous works include “The Burka Avenger” and “Pakistan Man”, with both titular superheroes combating the crisis of corruption. But as “Pakistan Girl” targets gendered issues and provides a different representation, I hope that Sarah, the female Pakistani superhero, becomes to young women all over the region a great figure to look up to.

With the future of this world in the hands of young ones, inspiring respect and dignity seems the way to go.

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The Real History Behind Mother’s Day

Time and time again, a mother proves herself to be a great blessing to those around her. Sometimes, it takes a lot of sacrifice, as shown to us by a mother who chose to forgo cancer treatment to save her baby. Sometimes, it can be in the seemingly little things, like this mom’s viral post on social media promoting depression awareness.

Other times, a mother shares her kindness to people not even her real children, as in the case of this woman donating 5,000 pints of breast milk to gay couples and parents of premature babies, this woman adopting her former student who has been in the foster system since he was nine, or even this group of stay-at-home female doctors providing online consultations to the poor.

Mother’s Day is a tribute to people like them, for sure. But beyond the flowers, fancy gifts in pastel wrapping paper, and delightful brunches, the real history behind the holiday has a lot more to do with peace activism and anti-war sentiments.

A woman named Anna Jarvis started a campaign for an official holiday honoring mothers in 1905, the year her own mother died . . . Over the next few years, Jarvis pushed to have the holiday officially recognized . . . Finally, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day an official holiday, to take place the second Sunday of May.

Anna Jarvis put Mother’s Day on the calendar as a day dedicated to expressing love and gratitude to mothers, acknowledging the sacrifices women make for their children.

If you’ve ever experienced confusion on where the apostrophe falls, don’t worry. I think all of us have. However, even in the 1900s, Anna Jarvis was determined to make it a singular possessive, with the apostrophe coming before the s. She believed that each mother in each family has to be recognized, and so, each mother deserves to feel like it’s her own day.

But again, like I’ve teased earlier, the history of Mother’s Day has even deeper roots. Where did Anna Jarvis get the idea to push for her agenda? That’s right — the answer, of course, is her own mom.

[Ann Reeves Jarvis] played an important role uniting women for good causes. [She] cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the field during the Civil War, and in its aftermath she organized a “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” the goal of which was to foster reconciliation between former Union and Confederate soldiers by having them come together, along with mothers from both sides.

In an attempt to stop the violence brought upon by the American Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis wanted to rally mothers. Her entire life was spent promoting peace and childcare, especially in the midst of war. No wonder her daughter wanted to pay tribute to motherhood.

Years later, daughter Anna Jarvis lobbied against the commercialization of the holiday. She thought that the whole point of Mother’s Day was defeated by how florists, card-makers, and other businesses profit so much from it. And I agree, though I won’t protest the existence of the holiday itself. This Mother’s Day, we might want to look beyond the fancy-shmancy stuff in shops and restaurants. Perhaps we might also want to recognize the day’s roots in women’s activism, and celebrate some recent gender milestones.

Then again, I think it’s okay to spoil your mom just a little. After all, we should remember where the apostrophe falls. This Mother’s Day, it’s okay to get your mom carnations if she loves them. It’s okay to have afternoon tea with pretty pastries. Just don’t forget what this day really is about: her.

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Why We Need to Celebrate the Smallpox Vaccine

In light of brilliant breakthroughs like gene alteration for genetic disorders, nanomachines to cure cancer cells, minimally invasive treatment procedures for epilepsy — no, the smallpox vaccine doesn’t seem like a big deal. It obviously isn’t a new medical discovery. In fact, last May 8 commemorates the fact that the world has been free of the illness for 38 years. But the reason we need to celebrate it is precisely because of the many successes that followed the 1980s smallpox eradication. And the need to counter the threats to these successes.

William Foege, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has written a book in 2011 called House on Fire where he explains just how he made it possible. He and other health workers wiped out smallpox — “by dreaming, being savvy in politics and unafraid to break the rules, and devising the brilliant ring vaccination strategy.”

Foege and his colleagues found that instead of using the vaccine on entire populations, it was more effective to distribute it among the demographic most at risk, which were the contacts of the infected. After being proven true in the smallpox case, this strategy on immunization was replicated on the prevention of other diseases or viruses such as measles, polio, malaria, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and others. Some have been nearly wiped out as well, while the incidence rates of some have significantly dropped.

However, a few decades later, people now face a dilemma. What about the now-debunked finding that vaccine causes autism? The anti-vaccine movement discredits the milestones of smallpox eradication and immunization. Does the use of vaccine actually pose more risk than benefit to humans? Well, it might be time to look back at history for answers regarding the progress of human health. William Foege, the man who developed the global strategy for vaccination, is still fighting for truth.

“I think vaccines are really the foundation of public health . . . By the early 1980s, [many of] our vaccine diseases had gone down to close to zero . . . So things were going quite well until Andrew Wakefield did his Lancet article [suggesting there’s a link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism] . . . He specifically said the MMR vaccine was the problem. He was disbarred in England because of the falsifications of his [data].”

Turns out, the research linking vaccines to autism is completely bogus that Wakefield even lost his medical license. But that hasn’t stopped parents all over the world from being paranoid. Foege understands that parents are only “trying to do the right thing,” but in doing so, they forget the risk of disease and focus on a completely false risk of the vaccine. This seems to make the anti-vaccine movement more of a health education issue, as people are just clearly misinformed.

38 years after smallpox eradication and other successes, vaccination has become a social problem more than a scientific one. In some countries, the public health debate even results in violence. But globally, more often than not, it results in the slower prevention and elimination of certain diseases. But Foege is still hopeful.

“I think we’re at the beginning of an eradication era — because of vaccines — and as we learn more and more about logistics, cold chains, how to develop vaccines that don’t require refrigeration, don’t require using needles and syringes, I think the future is very bright for disease eradication . . . You have to believe a disease can be eradicated . . . you have to put up with all the frustrations . . . you stick with your vision of what the last mile is.”

True enough, a disease can be eradicated. Smallpox is a testament to that. So celebrate the fact that you were born after it’s gone. Celebrate the fact that it led to much slimmer chances of measles in your lifetime. Now more than ever, we need to celebrate this feat, so that decades of medical history — thus, strong leads to medical progress — will not go down the laboratory drain.

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Blockchain Program Piloted to Help Homeless in Austin

With corporate tech giants making appearances on our news feeds every hour, it is difficult to deny that technology serves the purpose of profit most of the time.

Nevertheless, it is also impossible to ignore its greater impact when it serves the purpose of solving real social issues. For example, innovations such as 24-hour “free purchase” vending machines and portable origami tents were produced in a response to the issue of homelessness.

Today, one technological advancement that is making waves is blockchain. Blockchain is used in cryptocurrencies, and the use of cryptocurrency has become more common recently; I believe it is only bound to get bigger in the future.

However, another very real potential of blockchain is the way it can be used to solve critical human issues through its decentralized, private, and secure mechanisms. More governments around the world are also bound to engage this technology if they want to keep finding solutions to various social problems.

Surprisingly ahead of the blockchain race, the city of Austin pilots a platform that uses it to provide identity services for the homeless.

Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin since 2015, explained to TechCrunch that “at a high level, [the pilot] is trying to figure out how to solve one of the challenges we have in our community related to the homeless population, which is how to keep all the information of that individual with that individual.”

If governments cannot address the issue of identity, then the cycle of poverty persists among these people who live in the margins, such as the homeless or refugess. Austin’s blockchain platform seeks to consolidate the identification details of each person and let service providers, like those in health care, safely access that information.

The use of electronic encrypted records eliminates the need for paper records to verify a person’s identity. In addition to this, blockchain can also build someone’s personal history over time by keeping a record of the services he/she had previously availed. Indeed, the program opens up a lot of possibilities for social services.

As Sly Majid, Chief Services Officer for Austin, said, “If you have your backpack stolen or if your social security card gets wet and falls apart, or if you are camping and the city cleans up the site and takes your possessions, you have to start all over from the beginning again … It really prevents you from going about and doing the sort of activities that allow you to transition out of homelessness.”

If Austin can successfully use blockchain to improve the lives of homeless people, then it only goes to show that more governments should be willing to get involved in advance technologies and new economies as a commitment to their citizens.

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Former White Supremacist Removes Swastika Tattoos

Just as these El Segundo cops are evidence that not everyone in the force is corrupt, this former Neo-Nazi is proof that people can change. After reintegrating himself into society, the father of two had his swastika tattoos removed.

[Former neo-Nazi Michael] Kent recently made his turn-around official by beginning the process of getting his swastika tattoos covered up through Redemption Ink, a non-profit that removes hate-based tats for free. The entire tat removal is expected to take 15 hours. Additionally, the former neo-Nazi has removed his Nazi flags from his home and replaced them with smiley faces.

Kent claims he owes his transformation to his parole officer Tiffany Whittier, who is African American. The two had developed a friendship that moved not only Kent, but the entire population of Twitter and Facebook. Kent now works at a chicken farm, whose employees are predominantly Hispanic.

“Before all this, I wouldn’t work for anybody or with anybody that wasn’t white,” said Kent. “[Now] we have company parties, or they have quinceañeras, I’m the only white guy there!”

In a society bleeding with hate, it’s people like Kent who have the potential to inspire many to turn around.

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Brazilian Judge Saves Amazon Region From Miners

Just weeks ago, the Chilean government snubbed an iron mine to rescue endangered penguins. Now, more mining projects are being placed on the back burner. Brazilian judge Rolando Valcir Spanholo halted a mining effort that would’ve destroyed 17,700 square miles of the Amazon rainforest.

The ruling came after the government sought to respond to an international outcry by issuing an updated version of the Renca decree that more broadly outlined steps to mitigate environmental damage, safeguard the rights of indigenous communities and retain protected areas.

Behind the initial plan is Brazilian President Michel Temer, a controversial leader who has narrowly escaped corruption charges. Since coming into power, Temer has slashed budgets meant to protect the environment and indigenous communities. As the Brazilian government is working on appealing a decision against Judge Spanholo’s ruling, activists have little time to strike back.

“The suspension of President Temer’s unilateral decree with its severe threats to vast Amazonian forest offers a welcome and temporary reprieve. Today’s ruling upholds constitutional guarantees and puts the brakes on this drastic regression, but is ultimately vulnerable to being overruled by higher courts.”

The Amazon may not be as appealing as Chilean penguins, but remains equally as valuable as an environmental resource.

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North African Solar Farm To Light Up Europe

Solar farms are becoming a country staple. They exist in China, in the playful shape of a panda. You’ll also find them in the Middle East. What we haven’t seen is a solar farm from one continent hooked up to another. Now, a solar farm in Africa may be lighting up Europe.

Tunisia-based TuNur filed a request in the North African country to export 4.5 gigawatts of solar energy to Europe, enough to power 5 million homes or 7 million electric cars.

If my understanding is correct, we now have the technology to import power from other countries. Way to drop a bomb, TuNur! The project is also moving at a fast pace. By 2020, it will connect solar plants in Tunisia with Italy and France.

This link will form part of the EU’s Project of Common Interest plan, which funds infrastructure developments that benefit the EU as a whole.

Vital to the success of the project is cost — reducing rates per megawatt hour. That and a number of border disputes. Despite the struggle, supporters of the project remain hopeful for energy cooperation.

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Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban On Women Drivers

Throughout the course of history, women across the globe have been fighting for their rightful place in society. Unfortunately, the war is far from over — but women continue to speak out. Robyn and Michelle Lyle are working to remove the stigma on breast education. Now, Saudia Arabia is lifting its 27-year-old ban on female drivers — an enormous victory for thousands.

Saudi leaders… hope the new policy will help the economy by increasing women’s participation in the workplace. Many working Saudi women spend much of their salaries on drivers or must be driven to work by male relatives.

Many have attempted to justify the ban by claiming that driving would promote promiscuity or even damage women’s ovaries. For long, Saudi women have been subject to male “guardianship.” The law, which requires male consent for a woman’s actions, is limiting and humiliating. Eliminating the ban will have positive effects on many aspects of Saudi life.

Low oil prices have limited the government jobs that many Saudis have long relied on, and the kingdom is trying to push more citizens, including women, into private sector employment. But some working Saudi women say hiring private drivers to get them to and from work eats up much of their pay.

The decree is another breakthrough for Saudi’s female population, who were only given the right to vote in 2015.

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