Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Afghan Wives, Self-Immolation

For many Afghan women, circumstance can lead to desperation. Forced marriages (for girls as young as 12), extreme poverty, family shame. Mental illness sometimes complicates the situation. New York Times reporter Alissa J. Rubin and photographer Lynsey Addario report on these women and their devastating solution: self-immolation. Setting oneself on fire is a common form of suicide in this part of Afghanistan.

Family members of the survivors are equally devastated. The mother of a teenage wife prays that her daughter does not die with her burns: “That would leave a scar of a thousand years on my heart.”

In October alone, seventy-five women arrived at the Herat Burn Hospital. According to Rubin:

It is shameful here to admit to troubles at home, and mental illness often goes undiagnosed or untreated. Ms. Zada, the hospital staff said, probably suffered from depression. The choices for Afghan women are extraordinarily restricted: Their family is their fate. There is little chance for education, little choice about whom a woman marries, no choice at all about her role in her own house. Her primary job is to serve her husband’s family. Outside that world, she is an outcast.

The Times sheds light on this disturbing trend. How might these Afghan women find options to setting themselves on fire to escape the entrapment of their daily lives?


Filed under: afghanistan, global justice, human rights, women, , , , , , , , , , ,

Women Writers Rule!

There was a period of time when I allowed myself only to read women writers. I devoured Virginia Woolf, E. Annie Proulx, Amy Hempel, and Toni Morrison. I was reading (and still do) a lot of the astute, original, and, in an eggheady kind of way–loopy–writing of Lydia Davis. For some reason, I felt some sexist part of me gravitated to male writers.

I like that I forced myself to consciously choose women writers; I’m somewhat disappointed that I had never assessed my choices. Does the gender of a writer make a difference to you?

Flavorwire published a slideshow of their favorite female writers, including Sarah Vowell (pictured above), who (whom?) I adore. She’s a regular contributor to This American Life, of course, but I like the fact that book-length essays allow her the room to showcase her wide-ranging knowledge and her wry voice. Flavorwire’s lovefest for Vowell:

7. Sarah Vowell

Why we love her: Vowell validates our inner history geek. She was also the voice of Violet in The Incredibles.

Best known for: Assassination Vacation; The Partly Cloudy Patriot; Take the Cannoli

The line that made us fall for her: “Once I knew my dead presidents and I had become insufferable, I started to censor myself. There were a lot of get-togethers with friends where I didn’t hear half of what was being said because I was sitting there, silently chiding myself, Don’t bring up McKinley. Don’t bring up McKinley.”

Vowell is one-of-a-kind smart. Self-effacing, with one of those hard-to-believe life stories (she makes growing up in Montana as hilarious as David Sedaris makes growing up in South Carolina), Vowell is only one on this list of remarkable women writers. I’m a big fan of the fiction of Barbara Kingsolver and Aimee Bender, who also grace the list.

Filed under: literature, women, , , , , , , , , ,

Kristof, Mam on Sex Trafficking in Cambodia

Nicholas D. Kristof introduces us to Somaly Mam, a former child prostitute in Cambodia who is now an activist operating a shelter for survivors. Kristof and Mam explain the injustice and shame in sex trafficking. For the women in these circumstances (an estimated 700,000 girls trafficked for sex around the world), there seems to be a sense of defeatism. I have sex with men for money; this is what I know. What else can I do?

Somaly Mam, human rights activist and sex trafficking survivor

“Slavery was a hard problem, too,” Kristof says, “and yet, we managed to overcome it in the 19th century. And now, people like Somaly are showing us how we can overcome this 21st century version of slavery.”

I’m an ardent fan of Nicholas Kristof’s work. Not content to simply report on domestic issues or international affairs, he has always sought to report on the injustice of everyday folks in other countries, the stories often overlooked. Humanitarianism is something that seems a calling, something that can not be quantified in monetary terms or self-interest. And Kristof’s not alone in his attempts to push beyond material success and to utilize his notoriety and skills for the common good. Dave Eggers and Sean Penn, a writer and an actor safely ensconced in their respective fields, immediately come to mind as great humanitarians. As a writer and teacher myself, this commitment to humanitarian work is something I admire and seek to emulate.

Kristof has made the cause of social justice–and its partner, social change–central to his journalistic work.


Filed under: sex traffic, women, , , , , , , , , ,

Women’s Rights, Rape Awareness, and A Request for Michelle Obama

It may be common knowledge that rape is a tool of war: creating fear among citizens, degrading and demoralizing women (and their loved ones).

How do we fight this shameful injustice? Shed light on the ways rape continues in so many nations unpunished and ignored? Bring awareness to women’s inequality outside the U.S.?

During the recent “Women in the World” conference, Ghanaian activist Leymah Gbowee made a simple proposition to First Lady Michelle Obama: call together the first ladies of 10 African nations to discuss women’s rights.

At the First Lady’s invitation, they would “come running.”


Filed under: africa, global justice, women, , , , , ,

Shocking Wealth Gap for Black, Hispanic, and White Women


For every dollar of wealth of white families, there is only sixteen cents for families of color. This wealth gap between races is staggering; for women, however the gap is even more shocking. Nearly half of all single black or Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth.

A new study released from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development to celebrate International Women’s Day shows that the median wealth for single black women is $100–in contrast to $41,000 for single white women.

Specifically, the study reveals that median wealth breaks down as follows:

  • for single black women, only $100;
  • for single Hispanic women, $120;
  • and for single white women, just over $41,000

Democracy Now reports that “nearly half of all single black and Hispanic women have zero or negative wealth, meaning their debts exceed all of their assets.”

Another interesting comparison is drawn between these startling economic statistics and the billionaires on Forbes’ recent “rich” list. Of the 1,011  billionaires around the world, only 89 were women. How might we begin to address this inequity for women? Has the glass ceiling in corporate America reached the workplace, but not the pocketbook?


Filed under: race, wealth, women, , , , , , , ,



» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
March 2018
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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