- oD Russia
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50.50 Editor's pick
Voices for change
The structure of sexism
Towards nuclear non-proliferation
by Anber Raz
Many of us who work in the field of women's rights, when asked what we do for a living will often say we work in human rights. Firstly because women's rights are human rights, and secondly to avoid the inevitable quip which we get in certain settings of ‘but what about men's rights?'
by Lakshmi Anantnarayan and Jacqui Hunt
Kobra Najjar is currently facing death by stoning. She is a 44-year-old Iranian woman whose husband subjected her to systematic violence during their marriage, and forced her into prostitution for 12 years in order to sustain his heroin addiction. A "client" of Kobra who sympathised with her plight murdered Kobra's husband. He was sentenced to death for this murder. However, after enduring 100 lashes for fornication and serving eight years, Habib was released upon paying compensation. Kobra herself was charged with being an accomplice, and also with adultery - the prostitution her husband forced her into - for which she was sentenced to death by stoning. Two years ago, Kobra completed her eight-year sentence for being an accomplice. She now faces the sentence of stoning for the crime of adultery.
One of the most dangerous places for a woman is in her own home. This is quite contrary to many people's beliefs. For example, in today's 16 Days article, Sarah from the Fawcett Society discusses how rape is largely a result of coercion by intimate partners, and not strangers in dark alleys. Similarly, in the first international study on domestic violence, the World Health Organization found that domestic violence, which it also calls ‘intimate partner violence', is the most common form of violence against women. At its release two years ago, the Director General of WHO admitted:
This study shows that women are more at risk from violence at home than in the street.
by Jon Collins
The causes of violence against women
are complex, but we can all agree that we're against it. Can't we?
Unfortunately, it is not as simple as that. I don't think that you'd find many people claiming that they are ‘for' domestic violence. Yet 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience an act of domestic violence at some point in her lifetime. 42% of young people aged 16-20 know girls who have been hit by their boyfriends. That's a lot of bruises and broken bones. That's two deaths a week, every week.
by Helen O'Connell
I would like to pick up some of the points made by earlier bloggers to write a little about how I see the links between violence against women, transforming politics and building democracies.
Politics must become a safe place for women. Violence is an abuse of power and disempowers women of all ages. It affects all societies and is institutionalised in formal and informal political processes and governance structures. It makes it hard, and sometimes impossible, for women to take political decision-making positions.
by Anindita Sengupta
A woman I know has been physically, sexually and verbally abused by her husband for years. In her forties now, she has a teenage daughter who is growing up to be exceptionally quiet. An intelligent and educated woman, she gave up her career after marriage at her husband's insistence. Over the years, the abuse worsened and she felt mired in her own dependence. About a year ago, however, she was encouraged by friends to take a part-time job. She is now earning (possibly enough to get by on her own), but she doesn't feel like she can leave yet. We suspect she is waiting for her daughter to grow up. She doesn't want her to face the stigma of a broken home.
by Jane Gabriel, who reports from Amman where Karama activists from across the Middle East and North Africa are meeting.
When representatives from Karama attended an International forum of the Association for Women's Rights in Development in 2005, they found little attention to their region's priorities and a dearth of Arab women's voices in the conference. Hibaaq Osman, founder of Karama, political strategist and campaigner for women's human rights, decided that it was time to find the resources that would allow them to participate. Working with women's organisations that rely so often on western donor funding, Hibaaq says that she comes up "against blocks wherever there is a new idea, either the donor doesn't understand the idea itself, or has their own idea of what women's rights work is; that if it's new and from the ground they find it very difficult to understand".
The debate about how and why rape happens goes to the heart of cultural gender and power dynamics, writes Sarah Campbell
by Amy Pimentel
Pacific Island accent
a cry for help
by Holly Dustin
Ever thought what would happen if a female friend, family member or work colleague was raped or in an abusive relationship? We all know about the appallingly low conviction rates for these offences but at least women can get the support they need, right? Wrong. Specialised provision, such as Rape Crisis Centres and domestic violence refuges, are patchy in most parts of the country and in some places non-existent. Yet these are vital services that help women reach immediate safety, support them through the justice system and help them move on with their lives.
The vagina felt like the last vestige. The bit of the female body that was not attacked on a daily basis, not like the stomach, the skin, the breasts or the behind. At least it was protected by an element of taboo, the one that's not allowed on the front of FHM or Maxim magazine.
by Jane Gabriel, who reports from Amman where Karama activists from across the Middle East and North Africa are meeting.
The World Health Organisation's report on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women published in 2005 was based on interviews with more than 24,000 women from 10 countries. The incidence of violence by intimate partners ranged from 15% to 71% in each country. But women from countries in the Middle East and North Africa were not included in the survey.
Partly in response to this Karama was formed - an organisation of women in nine Arab countries working to address violence against women. Tired of the incongruity between the intense geo-political activity focused in the Arab world, and the absence of their voices from the international circuit Karama is a network of activists working to "break the cycle of Arab women's absence from the global arena and to generate a base line of information, consolidate networks of activists, and carry out tangible actions by women in the Middle East and North Africa to end violence on our own terms".
If the WHO had included interviews about violence with women in these regions, it would have found that in:
- Egypt 34% of ever married women had been physically abused by a partner or spouse.
- Jordan saw a 20% increase in recorded incidents of gender violence in 2005.
- In the West Bank 52% of women had experienced domestic violence
- and in the Gaza Strip 62.5%.
According to WHO nearly half the world's
women who die from homicides are killed by current or former husbands
or partners. But in the Middle East and North Africa the trend is differentiated
by the number of women murdered by a male relative rather than her spouse.
In a study of female homicides in Alexandria 47% of the women killed
had been raped and then killed by a relative for loss of "honor".
In Lebanon 70 -75% of the perpetrators of female homicides were the
victim's brothers carrying out retribution to uphold "honor".
Choosing Karama - meaning ‘dignity' in Arabic, this network of women has a unique way of addressing violence.
Karama, Arabic for ‘Dignity'
To a western ear, the name ‘dignity' resonates well for an Arab women's anti-violence network. To an Arab ear ‘dignity' carries profound repercussions.
Dignity is a fundamental social concept in Arab society. It is at the root of many of the Arab world's most remarked-upon social customs including generosity when there is little to share, selflessness in the face of great danger and abundant hospitality. However, it is also invoked for acts of violence against women in the Arab world, particularly ‘honor' killings. Foreign occupations compound a sense of collective humiliation and hardship whose results can be seen in domestic violence, rape and murder.
In Karama we are rethinking the very definitions and dimensions of violence against women. We question whether violence is indeed a humiliation committed against a woman, her family, her community and her society or whether it might also influence public health and well-being; civic discourse and politics; ingenuity and education; belief and religion; legal protections and the judicial system; creative arts and cultural expression; public discourse and the media; and economic opportunity and advancement.
We, as women of Karama, believe in our own power, identity, and opportunity to strengthen our societies. In a 2005 survey in eight Arab countries, women's greatest concerns were not the headscarf and driver's licenses, but lack of Muslim unity, violent extremism, and political corruption or violence. We are debating and discussing military violence as much as domestic violence. We find its roots and reach in sectors of our societies that are also awaiting greater progress for women: politics, economics, health, education, and media images.
We view our mission as one not only to widen the constituencies working to end violence against women, but also to widen the roles and opportunities for women in the key sectors thus strengthening society. Karama is devising a home-grown response to violence against women that takes into account its root causes and social consequences.
Many theorists argue that mass media generally, and advertising in particular, encourages male violence against women. Jean Kilbourne's third Killing us Softly film for instances argues that advertising:
- Normalizes violence against women
- Links masculinity with violence
- Presents violence as erotic and appealing
by Devi Leiper
With the Khmer Rouge Tribunals underway, Cambodia is frequently revisited in the media. Stories of murder, violence, and fear are used to paint Cambodia's recent past, and I wonder what this means for the present. Are the tribunals a symbolic end to war? The last step towards achieving peace? Some see the tribunals as a long-awaited act of justice, and others argue it only opens old wounds. Thinking about Cambodia's experience of war and peace, today, at the beginning of the 16 days campaign and its thematic questions on the continuing obstacles and challenges for ending gender-based violence, what do these tribunals really mean to the women of Cambodia?
by Tessa Lewin
As you may know South Africa has one of the highest levels of domestic violence and rape of any country in the world. Ten years ago I was working on a research project in New Crossroads, Cape Town, and writing a thesis on Violence and Masculinities. We were looking at why, in a group of uniformly disadvantaged youth, some managed against all odds to succeed, while most did not. I was particularly interested in the gendered nature of violence in Cape Town, specifically amongst the group of young people we were looking at in our study. Why was violence a path so frequently adopted by men and rarely by women? I was also frustrated with the gendered nature of feminist politics on campus – both academically, and in activist circles. Gender, it seemed, was women’s issue, as (with a very few rare exceptions) was feminism.
Rape has been used as a weapon of war for centuries. As Laura Smith-Park wrote a few years ago:
From the systematic rape of women in Bosnia, to an estimated 200,000 women raped during the battle for Bangladeshi independence in 1971, to Japanese rapes during the 1937 occupation of Nanking - the past century offers too many examples.
But as the author notes it has been relatively recently that the use of rape as a deliberate military tactic has begun to be documented in detail, including its use in Sudan, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The courageous voices of the women of Iran's One Million Signatures campaign demand to be heard. Roja Bandari tells their story.
Women's exploitation lies at the heart of a modern-day underclass that keeps the machinery of civilised Britain well-oiled, writes Rahila Gupta.
Is there any role left for the idea of cultural relativism when it comes to violence against women? Part of me would like to say, ‘no', that violence against a woman transcends cultural norms and that hurt does not feel different depending what culture you come from. That part of me points to the fact that human rights are universal precisely because they relate to being human, regardless of race, class, citizenship, etc.
On the other hand, another part of me recognizes that when it comes to issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), there are women who defend their decisions to practice the custom on themselves as this extract explains for women in Egypt. That part of me balks at the idea of dictating to another woman how she should and shouldn't behave, especially when I don't live in her environment or face the challenges she would face if she chose not to be cut.
by Bev Clark
I must have been about 9 years old. My father has some business to do in downtown Johannesburg, so he put me in an afternoon movie. I found a seat on my own somewhere. After a while a man sat next to me and put his hand on my thigh. Even so young I had the presence and courage to move away, knowing I had to. Survival kicked in.
A few years later living in Salisbury in Rhodesia I recall my mother and I walking over the road to the shopping centre. We lived on the second floor of a nearby block of flats. My mother was recently divorced and struggling financially. The owner of the supermarket allowed her to buy groceries on credit and settle at the end of the month. This month she didn't have enough money so she needed to plead her case. I remember standing next to her in the owner's little cubicle whilst she explained her situation. During the conversation he gesticulated to me to come and sit in his lap. I did so. A bit later he leaned down toward my face and I felt his tongue in my mouth. I've always thought my mother saw this happen, but I never asked her. I think she got some breathing space and her credit rolled over to the following month.
The experience of using law to address the issue of domestic violence in Africa contains both positive and negative lessons for gender-equality campaigners, says Takyiwaa Manuh.
The first march took place in 1977, and has been organised by the London Feminist Network since 2004. It reportedly had 1200 participants last year. Lacking the ability to accurately count the number of people in a crowd I wouldn't dare estimate how many women demonstrated this year, but the result was impressive (the streets surrounding Trafalgar Square and Soho were temporarily closed, dozens of police officers escorted the participants and dozens of curious bystanders took pictures with their cell phones).
Today is International Day Against Violence Against Women. 16 days from now it will be International Human Rights Day. The concentrated time in between will witness some of the most energetic and inspiring campaigns against violence against women of 2007. This new blog will be part of the same movement: for 16 days we will be profiling, discussing and debating the challenges and successes in eliminating violence against women with contributors from around the world.
Ethnic minority women lack access to power. They are severely underrepresented in senior decision-making positions across the public, private and voluntary sectors. The statistics are stark: less than 1% of top civil service managers are ethnic minority women, only 4 are directors of FTSE 100 companies (0.4%), and none of the 50 highest earning charities have a chair or chief executive that is an ethnic minority woman.
This under-representation is found in politics as well. There are only two ethnic minority women MPs (0.3%) and none in the Cabinet. There have only ever been three ethnic minority women MPs and there has never been an Asian woman MP. There are no ethnic minority women in either the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh National Assembly.