Commentary: Michelle Obama is reinventing the stay-at-home mom

By Jolene Ivey
Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Jolene Ivey, co-founder of the nonprofit Mocha Moms, Inc., is a Maryland state delegate and mother of five boys. She's married to Glenn Ivey, the state's attorney for Prince George's County, Maryland. She's also a regular contributor to "Tell Me More," hosted by Michel Martin on NPR.

Jolene Ivey says Michelle Obama is bucking tradition of African-American women working outside the home.

Jolene Ivey says Michelle Obama is bucking tradition of African-American women working outside the home.

CHEVERLY, Maryland (CNN) -- America's vision of the stereotypical June Cleaver at-home mom is about to get a shake-up.

Michelle Obama is joining the ranks of the Mocha Moms! And she'll be doing it at the most prestigious address on earth -- 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

From the time when Africans were dragged to these shores as slaves, one of the jobs that fell to these women who weren't working in the fields was caring for the children of their owners.

From breast-feeding to bathing to rocking them, the women tended their owners' children, while not being allowed to lavish such attention on their own. Long after slavery was over, little changed in this dynamic.

It was common for black women to leave their own children at home to fend for themselves and go to work for low wages as domestics in the homes of well-off white families. As African-Americans have gotten more opportunities, a college degree has been a ticket to the career ladder. Period. Devoting full time to motherhood is considered a waste of education by many in the black community.

Middle-class white women, on the other hand, were expected to stay home with their children. They fought their way into the workforce in large numbers relatively recently. The feminist and civil rights movements opened the working world to all women, but culturally, black women still were discouraged from being the primary caretakers of their own children.

Michelle Obama is bucking that mind-set in deciding to take time off from her career to focus on getting her children acclimated to life in the White House. Her own mom stayed home with her children, but this was unusual enough that few African-Americans have such a family memory.

Mrs. Robinson can claim credit for having raised two highly successful offspring -- one now a coach of the Oregon State basketball team, and one about to become first lady of the United States of America. What a proud legacy!

Michelle will be following in her mother's footsteps, being available for her children and her husband while forgoing a paycheck of her own. It's not a lifestyle that's right for all families, but it's a template that should get more attention -- and respect -- now that our incoming first lady will model it on the world stage.

When my first son was born 19 years ago, I quit my job as Rep. (now Sen.) Ben Cardin's press secretary. Family and friends disapproved, in a range of volumes.

The new mom friends I made were mostly white, and I'm grateful to them even today for helping me get through those early, confusing, frustrating, thrilling years. But I was lonely for friends who understood my jokes, and what it was like to walk a path unlike any family member before me.

A friend told me to stop my whining and start a newsletter. Call it Mocha Moms, she said, and use it to find other women like me. Another black at-home mom friend helped me launch it nearly 12 years ago! Two more women found us, and we built the framework for the organization that today has more than 100 chapters around the country.

I can't think of a better ambassador for Mocha Moms than Michelle Obama. For all the 16 years I was home with my kids, no one cared what my views were on anything more exciting than toilet training. She'll be in the position to bring light to issues and organizations that are currently working in obscurity, and energize their efforts.

Two issues she's chosen so far are on the work-home life balance and the needs of military families. I hope she'll also take on eliminating domestic violence as an issue. It crosses class and race, and has such long-lasting negative effects on families. We can use some star power on that one.

Programs that teach parenting skills and those that support strengthening marriages would welcome some help. The homeless could certainly use a champion, and it's hard to think of a better one than Michelle Obama. This is her chance to be a trailblazer and a traditional first lady at the same time!

We've got a Mocha Mom heading for the White House -- one who's using her Princeton and Harvard degrees to raise her children and our consciousness. Our attitudes about the choices women -- especially African-American women -- make may never be the same. At least, I hope not.

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Arrests after Afghan acid attack


The damage done to some of the girls who were attacked

Police in southern Afghanistan have arrested 10 men in connection with an acid attack on schoolgirls earlier this month, officials say.

The men are all Taleban insurgents and some have confessed to taking part in the attack, the authorities say.

Several girls received severe burns when acid was thrown in their faces on 12 November in Kandahar city.

The Taleban denied involvement in the attack, which brought condemnation from around the world.

President Hamid Karzai has called for those involved to be arrested and publicly executed.

'Led by the Taleban'

Deputy Interior Minister Gen Mohammad Daud said the men had been arrested in recent days.

"The attack was the work of the Taleban and we have not finalised our investigation," Gen Daud told reporters in Kandahar.

Gen Daud said the men were Afghans who had travelled from Pakistan.

Schoolgirl in hospital after two men on a motorbike threw acid on her in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008
Some of the girls were offered some protection by veils

"They were led by the Taleban," he said. "They were taking orders from the other side of the border from those who are leading terrorist attacks in Kandahar."

Kandahar Governor Rahmatullah Raufi said the attackers had been paid up to $2,000 (£1,300) by the Taleban to carry out the attack.

He did not say how many of the men had confessed. The men's names were not disclosed and they were not shown to reporters.

At least 15 schoolgirls and female teachers had acid sprayed at them by two men on a motorcycle near the Mirwais Nika Girls High School in Kandahar.

Officials say the attackers used a toy gun to spray the acid and fled as soon as people came to the assistance of the girls.

Most of the victims suffered severe burns and at least one of them will have to have her face and neck reconstructed by plastic surgery.

Some of the girls were wearing Islamic burkas or veils which provided them with some protection.

The attack shocked ordinary Afghans.

Correspondents say it is likely to have been carried out by those opposed to the education of women.

The former Taleban government, which was ousted in 2001, banned girls from attending school.

A spokesman for the movement denied having anything to do with the attack when it took place two weeks ago.

But the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Kabul says many Afghans blame the Taleban for continued arson attacks on girls' schools.

Only two million girls attend school in Afghanistan, with many conservative families still preferring to keep them at home despite a government push to encourage female education, he says.

Hundreds of schools - and students - have been attacked by insurgents in recent years.

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UN urges end to abuses of women

A 10year old girl who was raped waits for medical treatment in Goma, DRC (24/11/2008)
The UN says one in five women will be subject to actual or attempted rape

The United Nations secretary general has said the world must do more to combat the abuse of women and girls.

Ban Ki-moon spoke as organisations around the world marked the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The UN says at least one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.

It has called on leaders and people around the world to address what it said was a "global pandemic" of abuse.

Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are at greater risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, traffic accidents, war and malaria, says the UN.

It says violence against women has been reported in every international or non-international warzone and that half of all women murdered are killed by their current or former partner.

Violence against women is never acceptable
Ban Ki-moon
UN Secretary General
Mr Ban said such violations "undermine the development, peace and security of entire societies".

"We need to do more to enforce laws and counter impunity," said Mr Ban, who has his own campaign, UNiTE, to address the issue.

"We need to combat attitudes and behaviours that condone, tolerate, excuse or ignore violence committed against women."


Organisations around the world are using the UN day to comment on the situation facing women where they are based.

The UK-based development organisation Oxfam is launching a campaign in Kenya, where half of women have reported experiencing domestic violence.

Women in Baghdad, Iraq (23/11/2008)
One in three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or abused in her lifetime
One in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape
Women make up more than 80% of trafficked people
Up to 130m women have been subjected to genital mutilation
Source: UN
Campaign director Carol Thiga told the BBC's Network Africa programme that the group hoped to reduce the social acceptability of violence against women.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian government has warned of an increasing risk of rape and sexual assault against girls and women in the country.

It says that around a quarter of the female population faces domestic violence and that long-held prejudices, combined with new forms of anti-social behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse, have put young women and girls at particular risk.

In Iraq, women have seen their rights eroded "in all areas of life," according to the UN's special rapporteur on violence against women, Yakin Erturk.

She said the "ongoing conflict, high levels of insecurity, widespread impunity, collapsing economic conditions and rising social conservatism are impacting directly on the daily lives of Iraqi women and placing them under increased vulnerability to all forms of violence within and outside their home".

Ms Erturk said she was also concerned about the rise of so-called "honour killings" of women by family members and the number of women apparently committing suicide to escape abuse.

'Universal truth'

The UN says that the cost of violence against women is "extremely high".

That includes both the direct cost of providing services to abused women and the impact on the economy in lost productivity and in "human pain and suffering".

The UN commended efforts made in some countries to address the issue but says more investment and greater leadership and political will are still needed.

"There is no blanket approach to fighting violence against women," said Mr Ban.

"What works in one country may not lead to desired results in another. Each nation must devise its own strategy."

But he said there was "one universal truth applicable to all countries, cultures and communities; violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable".


There are some tribes in Cameroon where thrashing, beating or whipping your wife is a sign of loving her
Morfaw Rene, Brussels

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