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A rare victory for women's rights in Iran

On the brink of the Persian New Year, on 17 March 2008, human rights defenders welcomed the news of the release of Mokarrameh Ebrahimi and her son Ali from prison in Takestan, Qazvin province, Iran. Mokarrameh had been awaiting execution by stoning for the past eleven years. She was sentenced to death after being convicted of adultery, along with Ja'far Kiani with whom she had two children. While in prison, she gave birth to their son Ali who remained in custody with his mother after he was born. Her partner, Ja'far Kiani was stoned to death on 5 July 2007.

Enough: tackling sexual violence in eastern DRC

A new report aiming to protect women and girls in eastern DRC argues that policies to prevent sexual violence be closely linked to established and ongoing conflict resolution and peacemaking initiatives already underway.

Sukkar Banat: sweet like candy

Shortly after the downfall of the Taliban regime, the media relayed many stories illustrating the great liberties given to Afghan women by democracy: their newfound ability to drive and go to school, their right to not wear the burqa and bizzarely, the establishment of beauty parlours.

Jasmine blossoms, bombs and Bruce Lee

A ten year old Bruce Lee fanatic attached to her Adidas trainers and determined to become a future prophet is not your average leading lady. Meet Marjane, of Marjane Satrapi's Oscar-nominated film Persepolis, adapted from her autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. At a packed ICA screening in London this week, part of the Bird's Eye View festival, much of the audience fell in love.

Rebuilding civil society in Sierra Leone

Hussaina Abdullah spoke to Jane Gabriel about rebuilding civil society in Sierra Leone in the aftermath of civil war.

Clowning glories: Hollywood's screwball women

As part of the London-based Bird's Eye View film festival, the British Film Institute's Screwball Women season (until 27th March) provides a welcome introduction to a wide variety of talented "comediennes in classical Hollywood", both on and behind the screen. It's great to see Mae West performing her own dialogue in She Done Him Wrong (1933), and to be reminded of Anita Loos's 1925 novel, Gentleman Prefer Blondes, while watching Marilyn Monroe take on the role of Lorelei Lee in Howard Hawks's 1953 movie. But I'm not sure if all these women are really screwballs.

One day of life: a Romanian odyssey

Sitting in their shared university dormitory, a young student agrees to help her friend; "OK" she says, in an understated opening that perfectly captures the essence of Cristian Mungiu's quietly powerful 4 Luni, 3 Saptamini si 2 Zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days). As we gradually learn, the agreement is to help her friend to get an abortion, and the ensuing drama is at once thoughtful, uncomfortable, harrowing, heartbreaking, political and personal. To me, this Romanian film is an example of cinema at its very best.

Women and world poverty

The basic rights of women in the developing world are being ignored in the battle against poverty

We stand for all women

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

Getting close to Musharraf

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.

Women and politics: the Brazil paradox

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.

“Being a man” in contemporary Russia

"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.

Why Muslim women can have it all

Muslim women in Britain, are sluicing away restrictive cultural practices and reclaiming their fundamental Islamic rights, says Samia Rahman, part of our coverage of International Women's Day, 2008.

Iran's real women

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.

Riyadh: city of women

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.

HIV/Aids: a war on women

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.

When will they ever learn? Women, men and peace-building

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.

"Citizenship is everything"

As part of our coverage of International Women's Day 2008, Abigail Fielding-Smith meets the women fighting for citizenship rights in Lebanon.

A Bird’s Eye View

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.

One dollar at a time.....

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.

Looking for final justice

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".

Parvin Ardalan banned from travel

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."

"You used to speak for us. Forget it. We'll speak for ourselves".

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.

The urban woman

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.

You've had your chance.....

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.

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