- oD 50.50
50.50 Editor's pick
Structures of sexism
Voices for change
Highlights of 2013
Towards nuclear non-proliferation
Challenging militarism and violence
by Houzan Mahmoud
Women's freedom means freedom for all. It is time to stand together, writes Houzan Mahmoud as part of our ongoing coverage of international women's week
Speakers rightly fear misleading introductions, and so too should films. As an audience of scruffy aesthetes sucked on their complimentary ActionAid rock candy, a staffer of the Birds Eye View Film Festival rose to introduce Sabiha Sumar's "Dinner with the President". This was, she promised, a timely and relevant film, delving into Pakistan's abiding political crisis as the country remains in the glow of the global spotlight. But for any observer of Pakistan, the subsequent film was less timely than it was out of touch. Such is the speed of events in Pakistan that a documentary released in late 2007 can already feel sepia-toned and out-dated by early 2008.
In June 2007 - five years after it was first promised during the 2002 electoral campaign - political reform finally made it onto the Brazilian National Congress agenda. It was an opportunity for a corrupt Congress plagued by scandals to salvage its tarnished reputation by creating new criteria for representation, rethinking the role of the legislative branch, and establishing civil society-driven accountability mechanisms for both legislators and executives. After years of waiting, women were anticipating deep changes in the patriarchal rules and elitist power structures that had characterised the Brazilian state for decades. Instead, we watched as pacts and alliances among political cronies squelched the possibility of real reforms yet again, and powers were redistributed based on a convenient set of political friendships rather than a genuine commitment to increasing parity. The majority of women's demands did not even come close to the negotiation tables. This was more than a defeat for women: it was a defeat for all Brazilian citizens.
"It's not very popular to be a man these days!", says Boris. It is a hot day in August 2002. We are sitting at Boris's kitchen table, drinking tea and talking about his life and about my research into Russian men's experiences of and strategies for dealing with processes of social, economic, cultural and political change.
Rebecca Barlow is inspired by the Iranian women she met on a trip to Tehran. Please note, all names have been changed in order to protect privacies.
This International Women's Day I would like to express my support and deepest respects to the amazing members of the Iranian Women's Movement, some of whom I met whilst on a trip to Tehran in July 2007. During my short stay in that fascinating city, one particular traveller's cliché came true: so many women implored me to tell people in my own community what Iranian women ‘are really like' - beyond the popular western imagination and the images of submission and servitude conjured up in the speeches of western leaders such as President Bush. Perhaps here I can make a brief contribution to that end.
Wafa'a is a very unusual Saudi woman. A character it would be difficult to come across in the streets and shopping-malls of Riyadh city. So I was lucky to have her as my guide during a two-week visit to Saudi Arabia's capital. The adventure started every day after work, when Wafa'a and I met and she gave me the opportunity to "uncover" her city. A different Riyadh than I had imagined, but as real as Wafa'a herself is.
Numerous countries and foundations are admirably desperate to do something to curb the spread of HIV/Aids. If a policy or a model law appears that has been produced by respected "expert" institutions, it is quite understandable that they will rush to make use of them. But what if those policies or laws, although well intentioned in principle, do not work in practice? This is exactly what is happening in the international response to HIV, where a crisis is developing which is increasingly eroding the rights of women.
The seventh International Women's Day since the passage of the fabled United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 arrives on 8 March 2008 at a time when the gap between the resolution's fine aspirations and their practical accomplishment seems to be widening. This is particularly clear in the area of conflict resolution and peace-building.
Now in its fourth year, Bird's Eye View is a London-based international film festival celebrating women filmmakers from around the world. Ten days of documentaries, new features, workshops, retrospectives and short films showcase the best new work by female directors. And in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry, it is much needed. With a few notable exceptions such as Sofia Coppola and Mira Nair, the female director is - or is thought to be - a rarity. The packed programme of this year's festival gloriously proves otherwise.
The theme of this year's CSW is Financing for Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality. There are dozens and dozens of NGO's here with ideas about how to demand the resources and there are daily sessions sponsored by the UN missions, but with only two days to go I haven't found anyone who is optimistic that this year's CSW will have the slightest impact on women's empowerment.
I attended the session on The Impact of Guns on Women's Lives, hosted by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs and IANSA the International Action Network on Small Arms. The panel of women speakers came from Argentina, the DRC, Iraq, Canada and India. Binalakshmi Nepram is a young woman from India and founder of Control Arms Foundation of India. She opened her speech by saying " This is my first address to the United Nations, a place where everyone comes for final justice." She dedicated her speech to the 5000 women who have died by gun violence in her region by state and non-state actors, and went on to say "My very presence here is proof that women are taking action to stop gun violence". She spoke of her pain as a young woman born in the country that gave birth to non violence and is today the largest democracy in the world, knowing that India is "arming itself to the teeth" and has 40 million fire arms, the majority of which are in private hands. She'd recently attended an arms bazaar in New Delhi where one of the 450 arms dealers had told her that in India "gun shops are mushrooming like phone booths".
Last month, this blog along with many others celebrated the award of the prestigious Olof Palme prize to Iranian women's rights activist Parvin Ardalan. Now, just a few weeks on, Ms Ardalan has been denied a right to travel abroad. On her way to Sweden yesterday to accept the internationally recognised award, she was detained by security officials before the plane could leave. Ardalan explains: "(Officials said) I was banned from travel and that I could not exit Iran. They also seized my passport."
The permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations sponsored the session on ‘Dignity and the Politics of Financing of Women’s Rights’, and Karama organised the panel. It took place in the Dag Haamarskjold Library Auditorium of the UN (which they had fought ‘tooth and nail’ to get). Earlier in the week they’d been worried that the room was too big, but after four days of raising Arab women’s voices at every and any opportunity during the CSW, they attracted a large audience. Afaf Jabiri opened the session by saying “we want to talk about violence in relation to the reality we live in, which in our region is one of conflict war and occupation, so one of our priorities is to work with refugee women and statelessness”. The panel was made up of Sabah al_Hallaq from Syria, Afaf Marei from Egypt, Joumana Merhy from Lebanon, Saadia Wadah from Morocco, Rugaia Abdelgader from Sudan, Teraza al-Ryyan and Afaf Jabiri from Jordan.
Just came out of a parallel event called 'Women in cities' that was hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and organized by the Seoul Foundation of Women and Family (SFWF).With contributions from Asia, Latin America, Africa and Europe, it was no surprise that it ran well overtime. The short version? Women are under-represented in decision-making positions in cities and most urban planners and politicians at the local level (and likely at the national, though this wasn't the topic) do not understand gender and have never had basic gender training. The result? Cities designed by men for men.
Between sessions here at the CSW the choice is to sit in the hallways or what's called the Vienna café - the equivalent to sitting in a giant ashtray - while planning the next move. The Karama women barely had time for a cigarette between them today. At 9am they were in the Conference room ready to read the report of the Caucus meetings to the NGO Morning Briefing. They asked whether there would be an Arabic interpreter and were told by the chair "there is always an interpreter for every official language of the UN, unless there isn't." She beamed at them. At that point Nadia, their interpreter, did the planned 'Karama run' and made it to one of the interpreter booths at the back of the hall. They were the first to speak and Taryza Al Ryyen from Jordan gave their report of the work of the Western Asia caucus meetings. Nadia ended up interpreting for the whole session. The General Discussion session followed on immediately at 10am, Karama were told they had been accepted to speak for two minutes and Azza Kamel had the final document in her hands. At this session NGO's have to wait until all the delegates have said their bit, which today left the NGO's only 20 minutes of a 3 hour session. Azza was refused a glass of water. Only delegates are allowed to drink the water. The NGO's spoke one by one and there were just two more to speak when the chiar closed the session Karama was one of the two. So here is the statement on ‘Refugee and stateless women and financing for gender equality and women's rights' that they did not have the chance to make.
I had the chance to sit in the main UN session today for the first time. The topic was 'gender perspectives on climate change', which is the 'emerging issue' for this year's CSW.
The nature of men's involvement in the struggle for gender justice has long fiercely divided gender-equality advocates. After nearly three decades of disagreement this seam of tension doggedly persists, little engaged with and largely unresolved.
Emily Esplen is research and communications officer at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex
The inappropriately named ‘Western Asia and Middle East' caucus met again today and attracted double the number of people from yesterday. Karama ran again, shut the door promptly and chaired the meeting. Each day they encourage someone in their group who is feeling nervous to speak up or chair a meeting - one way of empowering themselves as they navigate what has to be calculated chaos here at the UN CSW. The idea that this Commission is about ‘empowering women' is wearing thin. At the caucus everyone was given a chance to speak and additions were made to the statement including some about the specific situations of Kurdish and Saharan women refugees. The report was then submitted, all twenty two copies, font size 12, double spaced and in English. When Karama speak about the statement on Friday they will do so in Arabic and have been told that in this case they will also have to submit it in Arabic as well. They call it the "humiliation of the regulation."
The Karama women are still jet lagged, so many of them were awake at 4.30am they met at 5am to start work on the alterations they want to submit to the Agreed Conclusions after taking them to the second meeting of the ‘Western Asia and Middle East Caucus' for discussion and agreement. When they spoke at this morning's NGO caucus at which everybody briefs everybody about what they are doing, they spoke in Arabic. An interpreter was produced by the CSW but he interpreted the word ‘refugee' to mean ‘people'. Their entire statement is about the special conditions of women refugees in their region. The women in the audience simply gave up and took off their ear pieces. The brilliant interpreter Karama have brought with them, Nadia Al Sharif, will now run if she has to, in order to get to the interpretation booths first when it comes to the Conference hall proper. Karama are getting very good at this running (and it does make a change from the queuing). Their passes into the building expired today. They queued twice for two hours earlier in the week only to be given temporary ones and were told to start again today to get formal ones. They queued for hours. They missed one key session and were refused entry to another for being late. They finally got the formal passes. They leave on Friday. The title for this year's CSW they say should be "Queuing for women".
The UN press office told me today that "no specific budget has been approved yet" for the new campaign to end violence against women launched on Monday with such fanfare by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. I was told that "the idea is that there will be additional money, but that it's not known how much this will be or when it will be determined." In the meantime "the agencies already working to end violence are to continue their work". The whole focus of this year's CSW is ‘Financing for gender equality and women's empowerment.'
At a session on gender equality and aid effectiveness today I listened to five women presenters speak about the Paris Declaration in full technical detail. They reviewed the purpose of the agreement, the history of its development, its relevance to the women's rights agenda, and the best ways to influence it.