Why are so many Syrian children being left stateless?

Syrian women advocates recognize the links between the crisis of statelessness and the lack of reproductive justice for women, and argue that control over their own fertility and legal status is paramount.

openDemocracy.net - free thinking for the world
Syrian family displaced to Qaa in Lebanon.

Why are so many Syrian children being left stateless?

Syrian women advocates recognize the links between the crisis of statelessness and the lack of reproductive justice for women, and argue that control over their own fertility and legal status is paramount.

openDemocracy.net - free thinking for the world
Syrian family displaced to Qaa in Lebanon.

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What makes the difference?

How can peace be built? This is the final of three poDcasts from the Nobel Women's Initiative in Galway (2007). The NWI conference has been groundbreaking: from its set-up and strategies, to the extraordinary experiences and ideas of the women involved. Laureates and participants discuss what they brought to it, what they will take away, and what the future holds.

Redefining peace

How can peace be built? In the second of three poDcasts from the Nobel Women's Initiative in Galway (2007), Isabel Hilton asks whether women really do support peace and if so, how. Five expert witnesses respond.

Women and conflict in the middle east

How can peace be built? In the first of three poDcasts from the Nobel Women's Initiative in Galway (2007), women peace laureates and activists talk to Isabel Hilton about what you won't hear from flak-jacketed war correspondents, on war and the middle-east.

A girl, a knife, and Hawa Gréou

At the end of the last century Hawa Gréou spent five years in prison in France. Those years, she said, were the happiest of her life. She was able to pray to Allah in peace in a little room of her own; never mind that it was locked and that she could not walk in the courtyard during recreation because veils are not allowed in French prisons.

Globalisation's gender side

In Africa, globalisation builds on a history of slavery, colonialism and exploitation - a fact many recognize to have a continuing impact on the continent's experiences of the global economy. But globalisation also interacts with a history of gender inequality, casting a long shadow over the present and the futures of Africa's women. This combination harshly limits the lives and hopes of the female half of the population, while holding back a whole continent's people.

Far from being a disembodied force, globalisation takes place through people, organizations and institutions, who together determine its direction. Equality and fundamental human rights are now enshrined in the basic instruments of today's international community and are central to our vision of a democratic society. But the fine words of these documents stand in sharp contrast to the daily reality of millions of women.

Merkel's G8 - spot the difference

As the 2007 G8 summit approaches, Patricia Daniel sees Angela Merkel at the top and asks, how do women best influence the political agenda - from inside, from outside or through the worldwide web?

Africa and HIV/Aids: men at work

A self-education in positive masculinity is at the core of efforts to contain the spread of HIV/Aids, writes Patricia Daniel.

How she didn't get to the top?

by Sarah Lindon

While our two rengas on "how she got to the top" are in full flow, here's an interesting piece on how the media tells the story of women balancing work and family. EJ Graff looks at the "opt-out myth" of women choosing to leave careers to become stay-at-home mothers in the US, and says:

The moms-go-home story keeps coming back, in part, because it’s based on some kernels of truth. Women do feel forced to choose between work and family. Women do face a sharp conflict between cultural expectations and economic realities. The workplace is still demonstrably more hostile to mothers than to fathers. Faced with the “choice” of feeling that they’ve failed to be either good mothers or good workers, many women wish they could—or worry that they should—abandon the struggle and stay home with the kids.

The problem is that the moms-go-home storyline presents all those issues as personal rather than public—and does so in misleading ways. The stories’ statistics are selective, their anecdotes about upper-echelon white women are misleading, and their “counterintuitive” narrative line parrots conventional ideas about gender roles. Thus they erase most American families’ real experiences and the resulting social policy needs from view.

Read the full article in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Justice, not globalisation: Lebohang Pheko's voice

European Union pacts with poor nations push the dispossessed further to the periphery. There is a more humane route to development, trade-policy specialist Lebohang Pheko tells Patricia Daniel.

How power works for women

How is the condition of women improved and thereby the world changed? Two intense weeks at the United Nations leave Solana Larsen with a few answers and more questions

These past two weeks, I have been blogging the United Nations meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for openDemocracy.

International women's day

As Solana pointed out in our Women UNlimited blog, today is International Women's Day, first recognized by the UN in the 70s as a day to commemorate women's rights. And while I am always feeling a little dubious about such events (does it mean that the 364 remaining days are men's? Should I feel contempt and satisfied with having "one day" a year set apart to celebrate 52 percent of the world's population?), some news can certainly nuance what good is associated with the 8th of March:

A court in the mainly Kurdish southeast of Turkey Thursday charged 92 women over a demonstration to mark International Women's Day that saw them shouting slogans in favor of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan, a court official said.

Today is also Blog Against Sexism day, illustrated with entries from hundreds of blogs and amongst them this great post on Pandagon.

Gendered states

Questions of culture hindering women’s political participation don’t just arise around tradition, custom and religion. They go to the heart of the state, says Sarah Lindon.

How she got to the top - author renga

Otto was holding her chandelier as if it were a skirt. He was looking under it for loose wires. "Antiques are complicated. This won't be easy."

She could smell his fresh sweat and the cotton smell of his dark blue overalls, as he stood over her on the stool. He was a typical Scandinavian hard-working man, six feet tall, blond, quiet, looking down at her.

"Would it be too expensive to fix?"

He let the chandelier hang freely. Screwdriver in hand, he caught her gaze and smiled.

"How about an old-fashioned exchange of goods?"

How she got to the top - reader renga

It was too easy for an ambitious tea-lady to exploit the indecisive MD at The Lemon Press. He could always be found by the photocopier, comforting the work experience girl. As she cried, he murmured: "stick with it, something will come up..."

Rattling her trolley along, Ms Slivovitz noticed the lump straining in the pleats of Maxwell Wynne's yellow corduroy trousers. His face remained softly sympathetic as he handed the girl a bundle of paper. "We need ten of these for the meeting. It's the new Armaminta Clark gardening novel. We're getting nibbles from Japan."

Children's education and adult politics

The past three years have seen a stream of reports - in Britain and elsewhere - on Muslims and education. In a post-11 September 2001 context of rising religious fundamentalism across all faiths, this does not surprise groups such as the international network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML). Its 2002 conference and research it published in 2004 on the "warning signs of fundamentalisms" found education and youth to be a major ideological battleground between the authoritarian religious right and secular and pluralist forces.

openDemocracy blogs the UN Commission on the Status of Women

by Jessica Reed

If you think that being in the midst of its third wave, the gender equality movement cannot improve the lives of million of girls and women worldwide, think again. There is an awful lot of work to be done (and an awful lot of questionable statement are still published in mainstream newspapers about feminism's goals).

As part of our 50:50 enterprise, openDemocracy will be blogging the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women, which starts today and ends on the 9th of March (a day after the International Women's day).

Two guest bloggers will document the experience, and tell you everything about the negociations, debates and resolutions (and will even describe the colour of the cafeteria's chairs, if we're lucky). Solana Larsen will describe the process armed with her press pass while Ayse, our "insider from the South", will focus on the internal processes.

So go visit the blog and leave your comments!

Do women and girls have human rights?

The Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations was the culmination of pioneering work by the international women's movement. But rather than a vehicle to advance women's human rights, it has become a vehicle of global political interests, says Pinar Ilkkaracan.

When do you think women and girls were finally deemed to have "human rights" by the world's nations?

Women, violence and empowerment: the world we live in

The systemic, worldwide degradation of girl children makes the Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the United Nations a vital event, says Patricia Daniel.

Edwards' bloggers vs. bloggers

by Jessica Reed

If Howard Dean's campaign back in 2004 was very avant-garde in its approach to grassroot mobilisation and the use of social network sites and blogs, then "web 2.0" is definitely proving to be a major ressource for the '08 candidates (see post below).

But with it all comes the inevitable blogging-drama:  two weeks ago Presidential candidate John Edwards hired two bloggers. Yesterday blogger Amanda Marcotte (from Pandagon.net) resigned from her post after right-wing Bill Donohue ran a defaming campaign against her:

Unfortunately, Bill Donohue and his calvacade of right wing shills don’t respect that a mere woman like me could be hired for my skills, and pretended that John Edwards had to be held accountable for some of my personal, non-mainstream views on religious influence on politics (I’m anti-theocracy, for those who were keeping track). Bill Donohue—anti-Semite, right wing lackey whose entire job is to create non-controversies in order to derail liberal politics—has been running a scorched earth campaign to get me fired for my personal beliefs and my writings on this blog.

Meanwhile, the great Andrew Sullivan regrets "the way in which blogging has been coopted by the collective and used as a tool for political purposes". I am not sure I agree, and can't say I am fiercely opposed to bloggers taking an active political role: if they are 'freelance columnists' hired to work on a political campaign, and if their allegiance to a specific candidate is made very clear to all the readers, where's the issue?

In this respect I fail to see the difference between Amanda Marcotte and Andrew Sullivan: up until last january his blog was published and hosted by TIME magazine, a publication known for supporting some candidates and political perspectives more than others (Sullivan now works for the Atlantic monthly). Of course, it shouldn't mean Sullivan was not entitled to disagree with the TIME's tone (he claims he had absolute editorial control over his blog), nor that the TIME's editorial staff was accountable for his opinions.

Security: a feminist perspective

In the wake of the second Lebanon war and in the face of an Iranian nuclear threat, Israel's politicians and generals focused on their country's national security at the recent Herzliya Conference. Parallel to that high-profile annual event - which provides a platform for the prime minister, the military's general chief of staff and others to articulate policy - Israeli women's and peace organisations gathered to offer an alternative view: to examine security issues from a feminist perspective.

Invitation - tell us how she got to the top

An invitation to openDemocracy's readers to take part in a collaborative writing experiment.

Is another world possible without the women's perspective?

The World Social Forum must represent the best of the new world not the patriarchal worst of the old, says Patricia Daniel.

A politics of myth

As women in Armenia renew efforts to secure their role in politics, Seda Muradyan examines the challenges they confront, from flowers in place of debate, to systemic corruption.

Twenty-two parties recently signed a document making proposals for Armenia's electoral code, to broaden women's access to politics. It suggests a 25 percent quota for women in party lists, up from the current provision of only 3 percent. But the chances of any real change emerging may be slim, given lack of support from two of the largest factions in government.

Guatemalan women’s struggle for justice

(part of openDemocracy's '16 days against gender violence' blog series)

by Cynthia Cockburn and Yolanda Aguilar

Women’s organisations in Guatemala work amidst intimidation and the threat of violence. Offices are raided and women are killed with impunity. But women continue nonetheless to struggle. Three years ago Yolanda Aguilar, herself a survivor of violence in Guatemala's civil war, understood the importance of women speaking out about the violence they had experienced, as a step towards both healing and justice. She came up with the idea for Actoras de Cambio ("From Victims of Sexual Violence to Actors for Change") to tackle both the psychological and structural aspects of violence against women.

Working closely with Amandine Fulchiron, she formed Actoras de Cambio through a partnership between the “National Union of Guatemalan Women”, who came to provide feminist analysis and activism, and the “Community Team for Psycho-Social Action” (ECAP), who brought expertise in psychology and psychotherapy. Luz Mendez became director of the project, and over their first year, beginning 2003, they conducted extensive research across Guatemala to find women who had survived rape and other kinds of sexual brutality and encourage them to give their testimonies.

The organisation had three aims.

First, to reveal the truth about the extreme sexualised violence against women during the thirty-six years of war in Guatemala. Although the postwar enquiry by the Catholic Church, the Recovery of Guatemalan Historical Memory (REMHI) and a subsequent report by the United Nations mentioned violence against women, they had not investigated in depth, and they failed to make recommendations.

Second, to promote healing in women survivors by enabling them to come together in small local groups to tell their stories and hear those of others. At each meeting a feminist woman from the National Union and a psychologist from ECAP were present so that a unified understanding of the problem of violence against women could evolve. National meetings have also taken place, in many local languages.

Third, to achieve justice. Some cases have already begun in the Guatemalan courts and in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. The women plan a final “Tribunal of Conscience” in 2008. This week Actoras de Cambio are publishing a book – the first research in Guatemala on legal strategies against violence against women.

Passing on the challenge to the next generation will be essential to make sure these efforts have been worthwhile. Yolanda hopes their project Actoras de Cambio will enable women to move beyond heroic confrontation with adversity to something more positively creative: designing alternatives for peace, with a prospect of social justice for all humanity.

The world's widow - Nepal

(part of openDemocracy's '16 days against gender violence' blog series)

By Hyshyama Hamin



Nepal is a patriarchal society: women are discriminated against from birth, in the family and right up to the state level. The scenario worsens for Nepali women if they are widowed. A widow is seen as a curse befallen on her family. For the rest of her life she is identified as an inauspicious omen, and the cause of the death of her husband. Religious and traditional practices enacted on widows harm her physical health and mental state, aggravating her suffering and lowering her status in society.

These practices include set rituals, such as the removal of all jewelry from her body, dressing in only white clothes, and eating meals prepared without salt or spices. She is not allowed to be touched, doing so is considered “impure”, and because a widow cannot remarry, she is at the mercy of male members of her family. She no longer accepted by her in-laws, nor is she welcome back home. Many widows have been traumatized by family members most nearest to them.

Widowed women and their dependants usually fall under the category of the most marginalised, poorest of the poor, invisible, their voices unheard and their needs, immediate and long-term, unmet. They are denied access to nutrition, health resources, and social security, and their movements are restricted. In Nepal, like in most developing countries, poverty has a female face.

This is what drives the work of Women for Human Rights (WHR), founded in 1994 to address the rights of single women in Nepal, which gives widows opportunities include ng access to skills and vocational training to enable them to support themselves independently; micro-credit schemes; and funds for personal and child study scholarships. We have also succeeded in changing many discriminatory laws relating to, among other things, property rights ownership, and the acquisition of passports without male consent. Our most successful movement has been the Red Movement Campaign which freed widows in Nepalese society from wearing the color white for the rest of their lives, with the slogan that “Color is our birthright”. There was a huge backlash to this campaign from the conservative members of society, but it still succeeded in emancipating widows across the country.

Although there have been social and legal advances, discrimination is still widespread in Nepal, and is at its most severe in the rural areas. Some of the stories and issues are heartbreaking.Widows are amongst the worst affected victims of conflict and societal practices in Nepal. We believe that by strengthening widows, we strengthen women, and by strengthening women, we strengthen families, and societies, and in our humble way we in fact strengthen the world.

Take back the tech!

By Jessica Reed

The private is made public thanks to Take Back the Tech! (official site here), an online initiative which helps spreading the word about the 16 Days against gender violence campaign. Blogs are largely used not only as strong community builders; they also help strengthen networks which seek to inform women about their rights via digital means.

As a feminist blogger, I see the blogosphere as an incredible tool to keep both activists and writers up to date on a year-round basis: virtual communities often provides readers extremely valuable advice and feedback, sometimes even acting as a support group while blog collectives are especially helpful for girls, women (and even men) who want to connect and explore feminist issues and their own lives in context thanks to writing and discussion.

Here are some Take Back the Tech! participants that I think are worth pointing out:

  • Hundreds of women made private public by testifying about street sexual harassment in the "Blank Noise Project Blogathon" in India.
  • In New Mexico, USA, the "Domestic Violence Virtual Trial" helps judges and court staff learn about issues and challenges in VAW cases, and compare rulings with colleagues.
  • Paroles de Femmes/Womyn's voices is a website dedicated to help women to use technology in the name of equality
  • Last but not least: ka-BLOG! is a 16-day blog fest for the Take Back the Tech Campaign. It is open to anyone and everyone - girls, boys, everyone beyond and more — who wants to share their thoughts.

Human Rights in Afghanistan

(part of openDemocracy's '16 days against gender violence' blog series)

"Woman: with one hand she rocks the cradle, and with the other hand she rocks the world."

An old Afghan man shared this saying with me. He said it is not used often these days. I found it poignant and powerful.

I have been running programs for women in Afghanistan for four years, an experience I feel privileged to have had. It has made me realise how rare it is to take the time to listen to people's views on the changes happening in their country and in their lives. My conversations with many Afghan men and women during this time have led to surprisingly similar conclusions. They want to be directing the course of change themselves. They are feeling increasingly pushed and pressured into what we might call "modernity", without being allowed the time or the opportunity to find the local roots to seemingly-imported and imposed ideas. Human rights, gender equality, democracy: these concepts already exist in Afghanistan. They do not need to be taught or imported. Aggressive approaches to reform appear patronizing – and will be resisted.

I've recently left the country, and I am saddened by the deteriorating situation and by the disillusion that people feel. It did not have to be this way. It was possible to actually listen (rather than talking about how much we listen!) and to root our understandings within the Afghan experience.

If we listened, we would find that there are indigenous roots to concepts like human rights. We might see that the symbols and stereotypes we bring to Afghanistan breed misconceptions that work against mutual understanding.

How Nigera betrays its women

(part of openDemocracy's '16 days against gender violence' blog series)

by Alexis Hood

Rape is rife in Nigeria, but the Nigerian government has turned a blind eye to the problem, says a report just out by Amnesty International. This is outrageous. Because rape in Nigeria is not a secretive affair. Far from it. It is inflicted on women by state actors, in other words, members of the police and security forces. Women are being raped in their homes and communities, in police custody, and when they visit male relatives in custody. The police use rape to punish, to extract confessions, to put pressure on family members, to intimidate and to humiliate.

It is estimated that around 60% of violence against women is committed in army barracks or police stations. The Nigerian government should be ashamed of this statistic.

Rape is especially widespread in the Niger Delta, where ongoing violence has left civilians at the mercy of the police, the army, and local militant leaders. Women's bodies are part of the terrain of conflict. As in so many wars, rape in the Niger Delta is used as a terror tactic, a systematic weapon of war. Nigeria's security forces are raping women as a counter-insurgency strategy, and to coerce entire communities, they are even keeping women in barracks as sex slaves.

Radio Fiji - Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls

(part of openDemocracy's '16 days against gender violence' blog series)

by Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls

I am honoured to be asked to share a reflection from Fiji and the Pacific Island region, particularly because Fijian women have often felt that our region sometimes gets lost within a rapidly evolving women’s movement, despite advances in global technology. I welcome the opportunity to open communication channels - not just through women’s media initiatives like my own, femLINKpacific, but also through valuable spaces in mainstream media.

The reality for so many women in our villages and rural settlements is that they remain invisible because they don’t have the space - in formal meetings and foras - to say what they think or feel. They remain deeply disempowered and ashamed even to break their own silence, because they are veiled by a society that purports to know what women feel and want. In 2006, we continue to face a conflux of values which means a woman often remains isolated because the violence she is facing is in her home.

This year, I salute the brave leaders of the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre - who first took a stand more than twenty years ago. The centre has a new building which stands tall in the heart of Suva’s business area, a symbol of dedication and countless unpaid volunteer hours, and of how, with focused advocacy and action and management, women’s organisations can grow, and attract financial support – and that women also can build and manage buildings! It is testament to Shamima Ali’s long perseverance in challenging the status quo, of her unwillingness to back down from drawing people out of their comfort zones to admit that we live in a violent society.

I also welcome efforts by religious leaders and initiatives: “The Church and violence against women”, a recent publication from the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools (SPATS), contributes to breaking the taboo of silence. At the book’s launch, the Director of the Fiji Human Rights Commission, Dr Shaista Shameem, suggested it would have far-reaching effects, and highlighted biblical aspects of human rights: “religious elders of all persuasions are often human rights’ most trenchant critics but they should find the human rights paradigm immensely valuable, because the basis of human rights, as well as all religions, is indeed the same, that is, justice and fairness.”

A key challenge I face is to ensure that, in working for justice for women and their families, the “victim” mentality is not perpetuated, excluding us from the long term formal process of reconstruction and transformation (notwithstanding the need for security reform).

South Africa - a silent civil war

(part of our 16 days against gender violence blog series)

by Kemi Ogunsanya

The increasing violence against women and children experienced in South Africa has been characterised as a ‘low intensity civil war’ in some quarters. As South Africa lights the torch in Tshwane to end violence against women – including the wide-spread domestic abuse, sexual assault and rape that expose women to the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS - the flames of remembrance become significant. Research shows that most women are violated by people they know, carrying the problem of deep-seated cultural stigma - the reporting of such acts of violence is seen as betrayal. This makes it particularly hard to expose such atrocities.

The good news is that the South African Bill of Rights and national laws have enshrined the rights of women to live free of violence, including sexual violence. Parliament is currently reviewing its rape laws to ensure women and girls are able to report all incidents of rape without fear of reprisal. The police and other security personnel are being trained on gender-based violence and how to improve the reporting of such acts, taking cognizance of the victim beyond cultural prejudices and stereotypes. More women have been recruited into the police force, intensifying the acknowledgment of the situation in the country. Government has provided anti-retroviral drugs to rape victims, reported within the 72 hours incubation period of the HIV virus. The media has been castigated on its reports of sexual violence, found to be over-sensationalised, particularly during the Jacob Zuma rape trial. Stiff penalties are now envisaged if acts of sexual violence are not duly reported or when perpetrators are dealt with lightly.

Sixteen days against gender violence?

By Sarah Lindon

Sixteen days may, in the near-manic world of politics and media, seem a long time to expect people’s attention to one topic, but given the scale of the issue in hand, it is a relatively small demand – one we wish to make. “Sixteen days of activism against gender violence” is a global campaign to raise awareness about gender-based violence, a phenomenon that affects as many as one in three women and is much more wide-ranging than its generic label might suggest - in fact, the UN Population Fund lists sixteen kinds of gender-based violence, one for each day of the campaign.

We decided to ask women activists and writers who took part in our “Women making a difference” blog to give us some direct insight into this problem as they see it in their work in different parts of the world. During the 16 days from 25 November to 10 December (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and International Human Rights Day, respectively) oDToday will bring you their stories and reflections.

America's election: Daddy's swagger vs Mommy's care

The mid-term political earthquake in the United States was a vote against a macho politics of fear, says Ruth Rosen.

The world will long wonder what took the American people so long to realise that George W Bush, the swaggering, macho, faux rancher from Texas, was an incompetent and dangerous man who threatened the democratic foundations and moral credibility of the United States.

The answer, I believe, can be summed up in one word: fear.

Soldiers without guns

An encounter with trained United Nations peacekeepers in Mali convinces Patricia Daniel that there is another way of being male.

South Dakota, sexual politics, and the American elections

This is an "only in America" story that takes place in the small, conservative state of South Dakota. A few months ago, the national media were obsessed with this state's effort to ban all abortions. Recently, the story has faded, eclipsed by other electoral news, most notably the sharply worsening situation in Iraq and domestic scandals. But the effort to forbid all abortions is far from an insignificant matter.

Africa: ask the women

To address Africa's deep-rooted problems, it's time to reject the superficial male charisma embodied by the likes of Tony Blair and Bob Geldof and instead mobilise the dynamic energies of African and Africa-engaged women, says Patricia Daniel.
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