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Repeal the Eighth: putting intersectionality into practice

A long-established conservative media frames the terms of abortion politics in Ireland. The pro-choice activism challenges dominant discourses with the inclusivity and diversity of the movement exemplifying how to put intersectionality into practice. - free thinking for the world
March for abortion rights.

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Combating sexual and gender-based violence: a key role for US women peacekeepers

There is an opportunity for the US to have an impact in the international community, specifically in peacekeeping, where it is now all but absent. And it’s down to the women, argues Kristen Cordell.

Gearing up for the CSW

As I prepare to attend the 53rd Session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York, I have been reflecting the progress of the international community in regards to gender. One of the most encouraging developments is that we have finally moved the argument for gender equity and rights from an emotional standpoint to one based on the facts.

‘Unveiled’ Exhibit: Illuminating Inequality and Violence in the Middle East

Kader Attia's installation ‘Ghosts' has dominated the media's coverage of the Saatchi Gallery's latest exhibit Unveiled: New Art from the Middle East. It is indeed a striking piece, showing 224 Muslim women crafted entirely from tinfoil crouching in prayer. The figures are hollow and vulnerable, yet their metallic shimmer lights up the room. The haunting quality of ‘Ghosts' permeates the rest of the exhibit, whose artists have used their work to express the trauma of war and the indignity of discrimination.


The theme of gender inequality pre-dominated the work of male and female artists alike. For instance, Ahmad Morshedloo's depiction of a woman at rest is an almost voyeuristic study of a moment of intimacy and solitude.  At first glance, the piece is cold, rigid, and almost morgue like; yet the subject's stiffly rendered figure contrasts with the movement in her mass of hair that dominates the canvas. The painting subtly illustrates the long-standing constraints on Middle Eastern women in the private sphere, but also comments on the way in which tradition and custom bequeath power to women. Hair, for example, has historically in the Middle East been considered a potent source of female sexuality and sway over men.


A similar ambiguity is evident in Shadi Ghadirian's compelling photographs of fully concealed women in the traditional Iranian chador, whose faces have been replaced by generic kitchen utensils. The 183 x 183 prints engulf the room with the anonymity of the shrouded, faceless figures. A current of violence and resentment underwrites some of the photographs, as steely cleavers, irons and cheese graters glint ominously in front of the muted, flowery chadors. Yet there is also a comedic and tender element to the pieces; Ghadirian manages to instill a sense of individuality into each of her anonymous subjects, with each utensil portrays a different facet of womanhood in all its complexity.

Equally powerful were the works Iraqi artist Halim al-Karim. Al-Karim's photography is informed by his personal experience with war; he evaded compulsory military service under Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War by hiding for three years in a hole covered by rocks. His distorted, monochromatic print entitled ‘Hidden Prisoner' depicts harrowed, grotesque faces and evinces the monstrous nature of authoritarianism. The subjects' almost indistinguishable mouths contrast starkly with their eyes -  wide with terror - forcefully conveying the political oppression of Saddam's regime.  

In a recent review, the Financial Times panned the ‘Unveiled' exhibit as providing young artists who "have barely progressed beyond sixth-form competence" with  "too much exposure, too soon". On top of their youth, their artists are accused of portraying their cultural identity in a "transposed and diluted" fashion and of re-ifying the West's misguided perceptions of ‘the other'.

But the selection of young artists based both in the Middle East and abroad is an opportunity to highlight the way that a new generation is experiencing and interpreting national identity, exile, and immigration in a transnational era. It is also a valuable expose of the creativity and imagination produced under, and by, the conditions of censorship in many Middle Eastern countries.

‘Unveiled' is a sincere, critical, and unpretentious examination of the political, social, and cultural struggles that are unfolding in the region. It is also refreshing in the nuance and complexity that it brings to issues like gender inequality, the subject of much clumsy stereotyping in the West. The women depicted by Morshedloo and Ghadirian are not merely victims of their environment. They are active re-arrangers of their culture, defying clichés and demanding attention. Like Kader Attia's ‘Ghosts' these pieces portray an honest vulnerability; but it is outshined by a sense of strength and resolve.

From poverty, stigma and isolation - to the psyche, patriarchy and the planet.....

Today the 53rd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women gets underway for ten days of meetings, greetings, roundtables and interactive panels and dialogue. This afternoon two roundtables, each with representatives from more than 95 countries will begin the discussion on this year's priority theme  "The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS".

HIV and women's rights in Uganda: why a new law would hurt women

Julius Tumwesigye from the western districts of Uganda was accused of hacking his wife to death with a machete last year after finding out she was HIV positive. The police said the 30 year-old man, who also had the virus, blamed his wife of 10 years for infecting him. He reportedly pounced on his wife Glorius one morning as she returned home with their two young children and killed her instantly.

This year's agenda

This year's session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, about to begin in New York, once again has a varied and compelling agenda.

Iranian women and the Islamic Republic

The hunger to extend and secure their rights has long been central to the experience of Iran's women. Their response to the challenges facing them continues to evolve, says Nikki R Keddie.

(This article was first published on 24 February 2009)

Musawah: solidarity in diversity

In her concluding report from the launch of a global initiative to reform Muslim Family Law, Cassandra Balchin finds solidarity in diversity and a growing convergence around human rights values. 

American women's stimulus: voice, agency, change

The test of Barack Obama's economic-recovery plan will be the degree to which women workers' interests and needs are put at its heart, says Ruth Rosen.

Musawah: there cannot be justice without equality

Muslim scholars and activists from forty eight countries are today launching a global initiative insisting that in the twenty first century "there cannot be justice without equality" between men and women,

Home truths in the Muslim family

Sky rocketing rates of women's employment in Muslim countries and recent scholarship that has developed a vision of Islam that insists on equality between men and women, mean that the global pressure to reform Muslim family law is mounting, writes Cassandra Balchin.

The four lessons of Gaza

The beginning of an end to the bitter conflict in which Israelis and Palestinians are enmeshed must come from within, says Lucy Nusseibeh.

A joint call for reconciliation and peace from Israeli and Palestinian Families


To those who can make a difference to the daily reality of the Palestinian and Israeli people. To those who know that the negotiation of a cease fire is not enough and that it would only mean a temporary hiatus until the next round of killing To those who understand that freedom of movement and the right to an independent and viable state for the Palestinian nation is a basic requisite for solving the conflict. To those who understand that Israel's need for security is legitimate and that without it, no solution is possible. To those who care about both peoples. To those who only care about one side. We implore you to force all sides to sit around a table and find a way to stop the never ending cycle of violence so that finally we can live with a permanent sense of safety and dignity, which every nation deserves.  


From the Parents Circle -Families Forum Bereaved Families website: 

"There is no purpose and there is no hope in this war, that is about to swallow us by the flames of bereavement; there is no purpose to the mutual annihilation and to the approaching silence of death afterwards". 

"We are strengthened by the substantial and clear international call for sanity, ceasefire and dialogue".

"We see it as our responsibility to provide the public from both sides a direct means of dialogue, not through the political leaders and not through the media. Thus we are planning to upgrade chat and forum tools on our website and reactivate the Hello Shalom\Hello Salaam phone line enabling direct dialogue between citizens of both sides. The technological system exists - over one million calls were made in the years 2003-2005. 

Read more

A message from Israeli women's organisations: the time for women is now

Statement by Israeli Women's Organizations

We women's organizations from a broad spectrum of political views demand an end to the bombing and other tools of death, and call for the immediate start of deliberations to talk peace and not make war. The dance of death and destruction must come to an end. We demand that war no longer be an option, nor violence a strategy,  nor killing an alternative. The society we want is one in which every individual can lead a life of security - personal, economic, and social.

A message from Lebanon

Zoya Rouhana writes from Beirut:

Dear friends,

Women in the Arab countries have been desperately striving to achieve gender equality and overcome the results of hundreds of years of oppression. However, this struggle is rendered obsolete in the face of the escalating violence that some countries have been witnessing, particularly Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon.

Russell Brand & JR: an iconic moment

Russell Brand: Hello Andrew Sachs, this is Russell Brand. I am a great appreciator of your work over the decades. You are meant to be on my show now mate … I am here with Jonathan Ross. I could still do the interview to your answerphone.

Russell Brand: Hello Andrew Sachs, this is Russell Brand. I am a great appreciator of your work over the decades. You are meant to be on my show now mate … I am here with Jonathan Ross. I could still do the interview to your answerphone.

Migration beyond resentment

Globalisation makes people move. The credit crunch will change patterns of migration. Four writers -  Sunder KatwalaPaul KingsnorthShamser SinhaMaria Yanovskaya offer contrasting perspectives on the challenges: from those competing for scarce social resources in the UK to the reality of Uzbekistan's rural exodus we explore the opportunities for a politics beyond resentment and restraint.

Syrian Women's Rights: "the fight does not stop here"

Syrian Women's Rights: "The fight does not stop here, this is not the end of the story".

Also read: Bassam AlKadi - one man's fight to end 'honour killings'.

Breaking the Cycle of Violence: finding a place of peace

Breaking the Cycle of Violence: finding a place of peace. Women in Birmingham who have escaped violence at home talk to Siobhan O'Connell.

Iraqi women refugees: surviving in Syria

Iraqi women refugees: surviving in Syria. As the months turn into years, more and more women refugees in Damascus are becoming vulnerable to the human trafficking networks.

Femicide and Patriarchy in Lebanon

Femicide and Patriarchy in Lebanon:  The Lebanese judiciary has tried sixty six cases of 'honour killing' since 1999 and rejected all of them. Dr Azza Baydoun told Jane Gabriel the story behind the trials.

Maternal Health Sidelined in Uruguay

Almost 800,000 Latin American women die each year from medical hazards associated with abortion, and fatalities resulting from the procedure make up 17 percent of all maternal deaths in the region.

To the disappointment of many women's rights activists, President Tabaré Vasquez of Uruguay vetoed a bill to legalize abortion last week. The bill, part of a larger document on sexual health and reproductive rights, would have decriminalized abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. The bill was approved by the parliament and senate, and recent polls indicate that 63 percent of the population in Uruguay supported the proposed legislation.

President Vasquez, leader of the left wing coalition Frente Amplio and a former oncologist, said that he disagreed with the bill on both "philosophical and biological" grounds.

Currently, Uruguayan women can only legally obtain abortions if they have been raped or if the pregnancy endangers their lives. According to a 1938 law, women who have abortions under any other circumstances are liable to serve up to nine months in prison. Doctors who perform the procedure may face a sentence of six to twenty four months.

Abortions are illegal throughout most of Latin America, with the exception of Cuba and Mexico City. Nonetheless, an estimated 3.7 million women in Latin America have clandestine abortions every year.

Abortion is a multi-layered issue interwoven with themes of gender discrimination, culture, and religion. While many gender activists in Latin America argue that abortion is part of women's fundamental rights to health and security of person, the region's strong Catholic tradition militates against abortion's legalization. Many Latin American doctors are against abortion and have been known to report their patients to the authorities after surgeries where complications have arisen.

Yet the criminalization of abortion multiplies the risks involved, often forcing women to seek help from untrained practitioners in unsanitary conditions. Cross cutting the problem of medical safety is the issue of socio-economic inequality. While most middle or upper class women in Latin America can obtain safe abortions in spite of legislation, poor women generally cannot.

According to the Human Development Index and Gender Development Index, inequality is relatively low in Uruguay compared to most Latin American countries. But socio-economic disparities and gender discrimination continue to plague Uruguayan society. In a report issued earlier this month, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women expressed its concern over high incidences of teen pregnancy and maternal mortality in Uruguay. CEDAW also cited high secondary school drop out rates, low public participation and under/unemployment as severe problems for Uruguayan women - especially those of rural background or African descent.

Upon vetoing the bill to legalize abortion in Uruguay, President Vasquez argued that "it is more appropriate to look for a solution based on solidarity, giving a woman the freedom to make other choices and thereby save both her and the baby." Yet when access to education or health care is limited - as it often is for poor or rural women - making informed choices about reproductive health is difficult. Mr. Vasquez's veto reflects both a denial of the structural inequalities that impact women's personal security and health, and a negation of women's right to control over their bodies. For a country which, according to CEDAW, has made important strides toward ending gender discrimination, the veto is a disappointing retreat from the principles of equality and justice.

A message for World Aids Day

The criminal prosecution of people with HIV is accelerating insidiously around the world. This article charts developments since Alice Welbourn's openDemocracy report on this ‘war on women' for International Women's Day 2008.

Reclaim the Night - Win the Day

A photo-essay by Nick Eastlake

The wind whistles, dogs howl. This might all be in your head but when you’re heading out on a windswept autumn evening it does not take much to get you scared. Especially if you see a shadow in the opposite entrance of the park you need to cross to get to your tube station. Still, lurking, male.

Spot the Danger

Enough: ending private justice and violence against women

The Lebanese government is about to decide whether to introduce the first ever piece of legislation to protect women from violence in their extended families. Jane Gabriel met the women's organisations and activists who have been campaigning for this law for more than fifteen years.

'Deviant victims' and 'deficient men'

Dr Azza Baydoun has analysed every ‘honour killing' in Lebanon that has gone before the courts since 1999 and found that behind the plea of offended honour lies the crime of femicide. She describes the patriarchal concepts of ‘deviant women' and ‘deficient men' in her research. Here she outlines some of her findings.

This article is part of 50.50's coverage of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence from 25 November to 10 December 2008

London: Olympic City of Sanctuary

London to become 'Olympic City of Sanctuary' for 2012

London joined 11 other UK cities in a making the commitment to become a 'City of Sanctuary' for people claiming refuge in the UK with a launch event at St Martin-in-the-Fields last week.

Palinism - taking advantage of feminism for personal gain

Palinism - taking advantage of feminism for personal gain

Susan Griffin responds to The Wrong Turn...

I think we ought to memorialize Sarah Palin's candidacy with a new word, Palinism, to be defined as the practice of taking advantage of feminism for personal gain without supporting the rights of other women. (see also opportunism.)

The wrong turn (5): the swerve

Rosemary Bechler argues that Anglo-American feminist ambition has taken a wrong turn over the last twenty years, missing out on a historic opportunity. 

In the concluding section of her open letter, she calls for an urgent gender debate on the use of force.

Part one of five begins on the election campaign trail

In the second section, Rosemary Bechler looks at some US feminist thinking that she argues provides a better critical approach

Part three sees a lesson in the Greenham Common experience

Part four concentrates on an old debate about women and war.


The wrong turn (4): a real choice

In this penultimate section, Rosemary Bechler takes another look at the career of Sarah Palin in this context of Anglo-American feminist ambition and asks where we are heading.

Part one of five began on the election campaign trail.

In the second section, Rosemary Bechler looked at some US feminist thinking that she argues provides a better critical approach

Part three saw a lesson in the Greenham Common experience

The wrong turn (3): siren voices

Rosemary Bechler revisits an earlier set of  Anglo-American feminist ambitions.

Part one of five begins on the election campaign trail.

In the second section, Rosemary Bechler looked at some US feminist thinking that she argues provides a better critical approach.

Part three finds a new resource in the Greenham Common experience...

An Illegal Turn

Esha Momeni, an Iranian-American 28-year old graduate student studying arts and media at California State University, Northridge, was arrested on Wednesday October 15th in Tehran, Iran. Esha is a member and volunteer of the One Million Signatures Campaign --a grassroots movement that has emerged inside Iran demanding gender equality. She had flown out to Iran from Los Angeles in July to visit family and friends. While there she was also working on a film about the One Million Signatures Campaign to submit as her final graduating project at CSUN.

Esha now sits in Iran's notorious Evin prison after being pulled over by police on the pretext of having made an illegal turn at an intersection. Authorities subsequently entered her parents' house and removed items such as books, camera footage, and computers. The authorities thus far have not mentioned to her parents or her lawyer what the charges are, if any.

Members of the Campaign in both Iran and California are working tirelessly to spread the word about Esha's arrest, which comes as a surprise considering the fact that all she was doing was filming campaign members and those interested in gender related issues. It should be stressed that all her activities were in accordance with the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I am also a member and volunteer in the campaign and would like to write a few words about my friendship and experiences with Esha Momeni. I will not give a melodramatic soliloquy on the matter, nor do I feel the need to interject with a character defence. What is obvious is that as a woman, a friend, a confidante, and a mentor Esha Momeni stood up for me, and all the other women and men in or outside of Iran that have raised their voices for change. But as we gaze from wherever our "outside" may be, Esha is still standing for us, even if it is in the 209th ward of Iran's Evin prison.


The wrong turn (2): 'hegemonic masculinity'

Rosemary Bechler looks at some of the discussion around the ‘feminist vote' in the US elections. 

Part one begins on the election campaign trail

In the second section, Rosemary Bechler looks at some of the best of US feminist thinking in international relations.

The wrong turn (1): ‘half a feminist vote'

Rosemary Bechler looks at some of the discussion around the ‘feminist vote' in the US elections. What does it tell us in particular about Anglo-American feminist ambitions today? Do they reflect hard-won insights over the last twenty years? 

Part one of five begins on the election campaign trail.

Generation Faithless?

For some time now, the New York Times has been running a series of articles entitled "Generation Faithful" which examine the changing dynamics of youth culture in the Middle East.

With economic stagnation on the rise and with few credible political identities to which to turn, the articles conclude that many Middle Eastern youths are drawn to Islam as a means of coping with their individual and collective frustrations.

One article in particular highlights the Islamicization of young Egyptians, who are often forced by economic constraints to postpone marriage. In a society where marriage represents "the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect", these kinds of delays are often unbearable for young men and women who are thirsting for autonomy, personhood - and each other. Enter religion.

Like Egypt, marriage is an exceedingly important marker of prestige and social stature in Iran. Yet as Iranian youth undergo the same economic and social frustrations as their Egyptian counterparts, they seem to be becoming less rather than more pious.

Undoubtedly, Iran's Islamic tradition and spirituality has deep roots. Ironically however, it appears to have been in the post-revolutionary era that young Iranians have begun to question the deeply entrenched institution of marriage and embrace new conceptualizations of sexuality and gender relations.

This may partly due to necessity. As in Egypt, the troubled Iranian economy cannot provide enough work for its young people, who represent around two thirds of Iran's total population. The age of marriage in contemporary Iran has soared from the pre-revolutionary era, when 18 was the average age of marriage for women; it is now 27. In one survey, 97 percent of Iranian youth stated economic constraints as their primary reason for postponing marriage.

But challenging traditional norms with regards to sex and gender may also be a means of venting political frustration. Since they are expected to follow a strict code of Islamic conduct in public places, Iranian youth seem increasingly determined to express defiance through their individual, private lives - including sexual activity.

Of course, there is no reliable data to confirm that sexual activity is on the rise (few would dare ask and even fewer would dare answer). But many observers agree that the shift in attitude towards sex and gender is palpable. Moreover, it does not seem to have escaped attention of the Iranian government. Last year, the Iranian government started actively promoting temporary marriage, or sigheh, as a way to solve Iran's "social problems".

Temporary marriage is a Shi'a custom endorsed in the Quran under Surah 4:24 and intended for sexual enjoyment (rather than pro-creation, like permanent marriage). The practiced died out in the Sunni community when it was outlawed by the Second Calif Umar in the 7th century, but the ruling was considered illegitimate by Shi'a Muslims. Thus, the practice has continued, though it has traditionally been looked down upon by members of the Iranian middle and upper classes.

When a man and a woman enter into a temporary marriage contract, they specify the length of the relationship - which may range from one minute to ninety nine years - and the amount of financial compensation the woman receives. When the contract expires, the marriage automatically dissolves without divorce process. Children born of a temporary marriage are legally legitimate.

For the Islamic Republic, promoting temporary marriage is likely an effort to re-assert control over changing Iranian values. But will the policy stem the tide of change, or merely accelerate it?

Strong cultural taboos continue to militate against the use of temporary marriage, and some Iranian feminists condemn it for being little more than "thinly disguised prostitution". Even some religious scholars question the policy, which they believe will allow wealthy men to take advantage of economically disadvantaged girls.

But some women such as Shahla Sherkat, a prominent Iranian feminist, believe that temporary marriage could be a useful institution. Sherkat believes that as a result of temporary marriage "sexual relations will become freer, youth can satisfy sexual needs, sex will become depoliticized, our society's obsession with virginity will disappear."

If Sherkat is correct, temporary marriage will indeed be an interesting variable in the rapidly changing youth culture in Iran - especially for women. Indeed, it may allow youth with a legal way to bring their private lives in to the open, in a more direct affront to the Islamic Republic's rigid control of the public sphere.

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