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Who’s missing from Syria’s peace talks?

Those organising Syria’s peace talks must go beyond merely ticking the gender representation box. It's essential to move towards real inclusion of women peace advocates and larger civil society.

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Syrian women peace advocates, UN Women press conference, Geneva, January 2014.

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Iranian feminist magazine under threat

This blog has previously featured writing from and about women in Iran, in particular the inspiring One Million Signatures campaign. It is therefore with sadness that we received the following news from Nayereh Tohidi of California State University about the revocation of the license of the Iranian feminist magazine, Zanan. Nayereh writes:

Dear colleagues and friends,

As you might have already heard, on January 28, 2008, the Press Supervisory Board of Iran backed by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has announced revocation of the license of Zanan magazine, Iran's most prominent and important feminist journal.

Marriage, motherhood and masculinity in the global economy

The feminisation of labour markets around the world is having new and often unpredictable effects on the family and the social economy alike, finds Naila Kabeer.

Mid-East peace: missed opportunity

As George Bush leaves Israel and the West Bank and heads for Gulf states talks, Robi Damelin, a member of Parents Circle Families Forum, laments the failure of leaders to understand that the same pain is shared by all.

Robi Damelin writes: Roll up roll up and join the queue to receive your certificate for missed opportunities. Spread the red carpet from Ben Gurion to Har Herzl or Kiriat Shaul and let them pontificate over open graves. Play the National Anthem and let's listen to all the voices of doom and gloom. Fly the flag and stay glued to your identity. (more...)

The price of activism

Last month Roja Bandari blogged about Iranian women's rights campaigner Jelveh Javaheri as part of our 16 Days Against Gender Violence coverage. Jelveh had been summoned to court and taken to the Evin prison on the charges of disrupting public opinion, advertising against the system, and publishing lies.

Jelveh and her colleague and journalist Maryam Hosseinkhah were finally released on bail last week - meaning their activities will be restricted until they go to trial. Both were members the One Million Signatures Campaign. [more...]

Roja Bandari tells us that "two other activists, Ronak and Haana, are still in custody in Kurdistan region and we are very concerned about their conditions".

Elsewhere: Reporters without borders' take on the case, pictures of Maryam and Jelveh at World Picture News, and an interview with Jelveh conducted before she was arrested.

Women and religion in Bangladesh: new paths

Islam's rising public profile in Bangladesh also offers opportunities for young urban women to make more of their own lives, finds a research project headed by Firdous Azim.

Domestic violence - missing the point

Listening to the news last night, I was struck by a particularly depressing story - that of a British woman beaten to death by her boyfriend in August this year. Just one day after the official 16 Days Against Gender Violence campaign ended, news of yet another tragic and preventable death. The case was raised in the UK parliament, but, it seems, for all the wrong reasons.

In closing: honouring women

feminist symbol

 

Today is International Human Rights Day. When I started writing for this blog, it was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The 16 days in between have been packed with truly inspiring activism around the world. The Centre for Women's Global Leadership which originally launched the 16 days campaign in 1991 is currently compiling a full calendar of events which include actions from every continent.

The coverage on this blog has been similarly diverse and inspiring. The themes have incorporated the five I set out to explore (Rape and impunity, Healthy bodies, Coercion and control, Security, masculinities and the state, Women as trade) but also much much more.

Week 3, day 16: quote of the day

"Violence against women is perhaps the most shameful human-rights violation. And it is perhaps the most pervasive. It knows no boundaries of geography, culture or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development, and peace." - Kofi Annan

The dark side of micro-credit

Bangladesh's pioneering micro-finance revolution is also helping to fuel the twin abuses of dowry and domestic violence. Santi Rozario investigates

Educating for women's rights in Turkey

Provided with the necessary knowledge and awareness, every woman has the capacity to help stop violence against women. Evre Kaynak of Turkey's Human Rights Education Programme says participatory projects are the key to success.

The Murder of Nomawethu Ngalimani

by Kylie Thomas

In January of this year Nomawethu Ngalimani, a woman I would call my friend if that were not to disavow all that made real friendship possible between us, was stabbed to death in her home in Khayelitsha, a township outside of the city of Cape Town in South Africa.

I met Nomawethu in 2002 while I was working on a book project that told the stories of the lives of 13 HIV positive South African women. Over the course of several months Nomawethu was one of the participants in an art and narrative therapy workshop process through which she shared the narrative of her life. She also created a life-size self-portrait that conveys how the context of extreme violence in which she lived has made its marks on her body.

She had always been a loud-mouth, a fighter, confident and self-assured. As a teenager she had been attacked by a group of men. She had been stabbed but she refused to give them the money she was carrying. She had been carrying a knife of her own and she wounded one of the men in his chest and they had run away.

The last time I saw her, in December 2006, she had had an operation to remove the cancerous growth in her eye and it had been successful. She seemed different - she looked happy, more at ease in herself. She was wearing a green dress.

Working with men in Sri Lanka's tea plantations

by Stella Victor

In Sri Lanka's tea estates most families live in line rooms. All of these have common pavement, and residents belong to all age groups, and can interact all the time. When parents go to work, the children who are not going to school are left behind with elderly people. Unemployed men also stay there during the day, and many boys try to follow their older companions. Young boys start to behave as the men they spend their days with and some start to control and harass their female counterparts, avoiding any involvement in "female" work.

Young girls follow their mothers, grandmothers and older sisters, and are compelled to do all kind of household activities including caring for their younger siblings and giving priority to their male counterparts. This is how the "gender socialization" in the tea plantation sector is rapidly growing and pervasive.

Human security in tea plantations

The housing system and the environmental sanitation is poor in the plantation sector. There are 6-12 or 24 line rooms in one line barrack. Without windows living rooms are dark: there is no ventilation. As most of the families are extended ones, approximately 6 to 11 members often live in one room.

In this housing system women and girls do not have privacy, which presents a higher risk for sexual harassment against women and girls.

Gender Hatred from Conception Onwards

by Cath Elliott

There have been a number of articles in the UK press over recent weeks highlighting the increasing prevalence of sex selective abortions. Even though abortion on the grounds of gender is not permitted under UK law, there is currently nothing to stop women from travelling overseas to deal with unwanted female foetuses.

Female foeticide is illegal in India, but it still appears to be easily accessible, as this report from the BBC illustrates:

"Sex selective abortion - female foeticide, as it is known - has been illegal in India since the early 1980s. Having a scan to find out the sex is also against the law.

But the law has simply forced the practice underground and UN figures state that 750,000 girls are aborted every year in India."

I can understand why, in certain cultures, women are driven to female foeticide. In patriarchal traditional societies it's easy to see how girl children come to be considered a burden: when marriage still means a dowrie to be paid; when the family business is still the son's inheritance, and when the care and financial security of the elderly is the responsibility of sons and not daughters, what possible motivation can there be for families to cherish their baby girls?

Why violence against women matters

by Sue Turrell

"The attainment of MDG 3 will require a comprehensive approach to overcome not only violence against women, but also gender-based discrimination in laws and policies, and deeply embedded social and cultural norms that perpetuate gender inequality." (WHO)

Despite the recognition by the international community that violence against women is a serious and fundamental problem limiting progress in human development, reading the UK Equal Opportunity Commission's new publication, ‘The Gender Gap', is depressing. It includes the stark statistic that conviction rates for rape stand at 6%, making it understandable that 95% of women never report an attack in the first place.

Sue Turrell is the executive director of WOMANKIND worldwide It can be easy for women in the UK to think that the equality debate has been won and that it doesn't concern us any more. But this ignores both the ongoing structural inequalities in our own country - and the fact that women's struggle for equality is only just beginning in many other parts of the world. For example:

  • The World Health Organization has reported that up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners
  • More than 60 million women are "missing" from the world today as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, according to an estimate by Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate
  • At least one out of every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to a study based on 50 surveys from around the world

Gender Dimension of Vulnerability

by Marufa Akter

Ms. Marufa Akter is Field Researcher for the Pathways of Women's Empowerment Development Studies Programme at BRAC University Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is one of the signatories of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women signed in 1993. Yet today it is known that about 47% of women in Bangladesh are being subjected to different kinds of violence by men and male relations. Bangladesh is a country in which the structure of the society strongly upholds patriarchal values, norms and traditions. Women here have been subjected to exploitation and negligence for centuries. The status of women has been ranked the lowest in the world on the basis of twenty indicators related to health, marriage, children, education, employment and social equality.1 Women in Bangladesh are victims of inequality, abuse, oppression and exploitation, social customs and traditions, illiteracy and face a lack of employment opportunities which have hampered the total integration of women in the mainstream development activities in Bangladesh.

All these aspects have made women more vulnerable and maintained the unequal status between men and women. The value of women's unpaid work in Bangladesh needs to be critically addressed.

Upholding Women’s Rights Requires HIV and Violence Prevention

by Susanna J. Smith and Whitney Welshimer

The BBC's recent story on Tamali Mbogella, a Tanzanian woman who was beaten by her husband after she sought an HIV test ("Outcry at Tanzanian HIV beating"), sadly illustrates what we have known for too long: until we secure women's rights and respect within relationships, the world will fail at protecting women and girls against HIV/AIDS.

Globally, one in three women will be raped, beaten, or abused in her lifetime. In regions where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS is particularly high, violence against women puts them at a significantly greater risk for contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For too many girls, their first sexual experiences are coerced or forced. In South Africa, 30 percent of girls say their first intercourse was forced, and 71 percent report being subjected to sex against their will in the past.

When women cannot control when or with whom they have sex, they cannot negotiate condom use or take the steps needed to protect their health. In South Africa, women who are in abusive relationships are 50 percent more likely to contract HIV. Violence may also lead women to engage in more risky behaviors such as having multiple, concurrent sexual partners. In South Africa, women who were abused by their partners were two to three times more likely to engage in transactional sex.

Iraq, women and violence: the downward spiral

by Huda Jawad

Unlike other parts of the Middle East, Iraq was a country with significant advances in the spheres of health, education and academia, business, the arts and an expanding middle class: that is, up until the imposition of UN sanctions. Women's status and accomplishments in every sphere of life was something that was noted as a beacon for all the Middle East and the West to aspire to. Not only did they excel at the traditional roles of employment such as nursing, teaching and administration, but were found in significant numbers in non-traditional roles such as engineering, pharmaceuticals, medicine, science, the telecommunications industry, politics, the military - and they were entrepreneurs in their own right.

Huda Jawad is Program Director of Forward Thinking

As war gripped the country and the vacuum of power created opportunities for all kinds of desperate and fundamentalist doctrines, the horrors being inflicted on women and girls became increasingly apparent. But the violence and oppression of women in Iraq is not a new phenomenon. Whether administered by the state or ‘the clan' directly against women, or indirectly through violence committed against their husbands and sons, the often cited progress of women in Iraq was made despite such violence, not because of its absence.

Violence and fear aimed specifically against women was a form of torture that was professionalised and refined by the regime of Saddam and some Western countries are implicated in the supply of torture ‘products' and training to the regime. It is notable that the silence of Saddam's former allies on such abuses did not break until late 2002 when the drums of war were being heard.

Making the grade

by Janet Veitch

The End Violence against Women Campaign was set up to bring together women working on this dreadful, invisible, issue. According to the crime statistics, stalking, domestic violence, and sexual harassment affect around half of all women, at a cost of £23 billion a year for domestic violence alone. Not a small problem, so why is it often ignored? Our members are working at all levels - grassroots service provision, public policy development and research - to change things for women.

Janet Veitch is the vice chair of the End Violence Against Women campaign.One of the ways we do this is by publishing "Making the Grade".

"Sometimes it seemed safer to stay, than die trying to leave"

by Joanne Miller


WAITS' mission is to enable women disadvantaged by low self-esteem, status, poverty and domestic abuse to take a positive step forward in their lives and become role models in their communities.

Although violence against women and children is widespread, it is especially hidden in Black and Minority Ethnic women in the UK. Many of them still find it difficult to receive appropriate support, information and access to services. Many encounter specific barriers such as language needs, immigration and lack of financial status. Asylum Seekers and Refugee women are usually in total dependence on their spouse/partners or families because they do not having any recourse to public funds. These women may seek low paid work, or beg on the streets to support themselves and children. As the children are usually with their mothers they also suffer because of the mother's status and sometimes end up in care. When the woman leaves her husband, protection, housing and welfare benefits are restricted, hence they end up in the community living destitute lives.

Joanne Miller is WAITS' Women's support and Development Officer I am a survivor of domestic violence for 24 years and I have worked at WAITS as a lead support worker for nine years I now. I have developed many life-skills and self-awareness training programme and deliver the workshops to women WAITS supports - women who have left violent partners or husbands, and have said that they feel abused all over again - but this time by the system. Violent partners have been given access to their children through the court system, even if the children have witnessed abuse and said that they don't want to have contact because they are afraid. When the non-violent parent expresses this concern to the local authority they are sometimes blamed for leading the child's thoughts and emotionally abusing the child and risk the child being put on the Child Protection (CP) register or removed from the non-violent parent. CP is one of the main issues that is affecting the women we support - nearly 80% of our clients have CP orders against them. One result of this is that when we meet women who are suffering domestic violence, we are unable to get down to the issues of her experiences and why her self-esteem and confidence is low because her main issues are everything but! Straight away we are having to deal with CP and civil courts actions, housing, and financial issues, rather than with her safety and well-being.

Empowering women in the middle east

Hibaaq Osman on dignity and violence in the middle east. Plus: blogging 16 days

Mythical choices

one way road sign on blue background

Much of the inertia around taking action on the abuse of women in its form as prostitution appears to me to frequently be the result of a problematic conception of the nature of choice.

Opponents of the criminalization of prostitution argue that prostitution is a legitimate occupation that women should be able to choose. They believe that 'sex work' is something a woman is entitled to take on as it is her body and her decision to trade it for money. Yet according to Madeleine Bunting:

In the UK, more than half of prostitutes have been raped or sexually assaulted. Three-quarters have been physically assaulted, 95% are drug users, and 90% want to get out.

This obviously means that at its maximum, only 10% of women working as prostitutes in the UK actually want to be doing the 'work'. The rest, it would seem, have no choice.

Every human has rights - A conference call with Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, and Graça Machel

Today, I spoke to Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, and Graca Machel on the phone. I wish I could say that happened often! Global Voices Online was asked to invite only six bloggers to participate in a conference call to help spread the word about their new alliance of 13 world leaders, The Elders, and the campaign they are launching tomrorrow called Every Human has Rights. I joined from Berlin. The Elders were in Cape Town, taking a break from talking to UNICEF youth leaders on CNN.

Tomorrow is Human Rights Day and the beginning of the 60th anniversary for the UN Declaration of Human Rights. These world leaders of activists are marking it with an effort to "reclaim human rights for individuals". Inspired by the possibilities of new technology, they are reaching out to world citizens and asking them to tell their own stories of resistance and survival, and broadcast them through blogs and citizen video networks like The Hub.

The Elders have also launched an online petition in support of the Declaration of Human Rights. Desmond Tutu said he would like to see “a billion” signatures on it. I wonder how many have even read it? Considering the enormous mailing lists of organizations like Amnesty International, UNICEF, Action Aid, and other who are partnering in the effort, it shouldn’t take too long to reach the first million signatures. But 1 billion signatures? Has that even been done before?

Women in war in Sri Lanka

By Farah Mihlar

painting of faces in agony Earlier this year I was in my home country Sri Lanka on research. The little Indian Ocean Island in the last year has plunged back into war leaving more than 3500 civilians dead and hundreds of thousands displaced. The recent battles fought mainly in eastern Sri Lanka between the government and the Tamil Tigers - the militant group fighting for a separate state for ethnic Tamils - shattered a five year cease-fire that had given a breather to the country plagued by over two decades of conflict.

In the outskirts of the eastern town of Batticaloa the bare land is lined with thousands of tiny white tents housing some 290,000 people who fled their homes. Families, some with four of five kids, live cramped in each one of the tent.

When we visited the camps it was mostly women who were there. They talked of their harrowing experience of fleeing their homes dead at night whilst explosives rained down on them. As we spoke explosions could be heard in the nearby villages. At the time, the government faced with severe criticism over the huge numbers of displaced and the subsequent humanitarian crisis, had decided to repatriate these families to some villages deemed safe. The women told us they did not want to go back. 'As long as the army is there we don't want to go back. They have in the past attacked us and raped women....and as long as they are there the Tigers will try to attack them and we will be in the middle,' they said.

Damned if you do and also if you don’t

hanger picture, pro-choice

The many contradictions of anti-abortion arguments serve only to reinforce to me the extent to which the anti-choice agenda is actually about undermining women's right to have control over what happens to their bodies.

Take the argument that anti-abortion is about being pro-life put forth by the Catholic Church or the government of Nicaragua. In August Amnesty International, after two years debating the issue, took the decision to

'support access to abortion for women in cases of rape, incest or violence, or where the pregnancy jeopardises a mother's life or health'.

 

In response, the Vatican asked all Catholics to boycott the organization, likening abortion to murder. As Cath Elliot points out this effectively means that the Catholic Church values a woman's present life less than the potential life of the unborn. I fail to see how condemning a woman who is currently alive to death-by-childbirth is pro-life. Forcing such a woman to term in full knowledge that it will kill her is anti-life just as surely as asking her to sit on a ticking bomb is.

Responding to the needs of African women

By Naana Otoo-Oyortey

bust of an African woman

As we all mark the 16 Days of Activism, we should all recognize that gender based violence has received all the necessary global attention and recognition as a human rights violation and a form of discrimination. The special needs of minority African women and girls in the UK continue to be an uphill task in bringing our issues onto the mainstream agenda on gender based violence. African women's experiences of gender violence are compounded by the multiple discriminations they face as immigrants with varied ethnicity and cultural practices which do not fit into the definition of domestic violence.

The UK Government defines domestic violence as 'Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.' This includes issues of concern to black and minority ethnic (BME) communities such as so called 'honour based violence', female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage.

Rape in rap: more than artistic expression?

By Aisha Phoenix

"I'm gunnin' for your spouse, tryin' to send that bitch back to her maker, and if you've got a daughter older then 15, I'm a rape her, take her on the living room floor, right there in front of you, then ask you seriously, what you wanna do?" raps US artist DMX on the track "X is Coming".

Violence against women in rap lyrics is a form or artistic expression, like brutality against women in films. However, unlike onscreen antiheroes who remain imaginary protagonists, when rappers brag about misogyny and sexual violence the distinction between the persona of performer and artist can become blurred. So while youngsters may look to film stars as role models, easily distinguishing between actor and character, as kids seek to emulate the "bling bling" lifestyle of rappers, there is not such a clear demarcation between what rappers boast about in their music and their behaviour in "real life." The connections a number of prominent rappers have with gangs, violence and crime only compounds the problem.

Nepal's widows

by Lily Thapa

In a patriarchal and male dominated society like Nepal, where women are systematically discriminated, the status of widow's women (to whom we use the term ' Single Women ' due to the agony and humiliation attached in the word widow in Nepali) is totally low and they are the most marginalized and abused sector of the population . The scenario worsens no sooner the Nepalese woman is widowed and is begun to be seen as a curse befallen on the family. The death of the husband opens the floodgate of hell for her and the ocean of miseries fall on her if the woman happens to be quite young. A young single woman (widow) is often viewed as an adversary and the family often taunts her as being responsible for her husband's death. One of the biggest traumas single women undergo after their husband's death arises from her apprehensions about her and her children's future. They are put through a life of humiliation and are always looked at with hatred and suspicion. The moment they become single they loose their independence and every means of happiness and get tied down by the ancient iron rules, culture, systems and beliefs of the society.

Lessons from a pilgrimage

By Farah Mihlar

 

kaba in mecca

 

As an adult I have only once in my life been hit by a man. It happened when I was on pilgrimage in the Muslim holy city of Mecca. I had completed the very trying pilgrimage soon after arriving in Mecca following a more than 10 hour journey. It was 2 a.m. in the morning and I crumpled on to the floor in the mosque in absolute exhaustion only to be awakened by a shot on my leg with a baton from a towering man, in long robes, screaming something in Arabic. Apparently in my state of fatigue I had fallen asleep in an area that was not for women - even though at this time in this part of the mosque there were barely three other people and I was accompanied by a 'male guardian'.

I find it a great solace and a wonderful spiritual experience to go to Mecca, which is considered the holiest city for Muslims. It houses the Kaaba that is the central point to which Muslims turn to in prayer, and in pilgrimage millions rotate around this bare brick box which Muslim's believe is God's house built by Abraham and later Muhammad, both prophets of Islam. But as a woman, going to Mecca, in particular to the mosque, is also an extremely humiliating experience. It starts from the point where I can not enter the city without being accompanied by a male guardian - a father, brother, uncle, husband or son. The mosque is segregated during most of the year and the sections for women seem considerably smaller to that allocated to men. Just in front of the Kaaba there is no segregation but the prayer areas are specified and I have been physically moved, while in prayer, because I did not strictly follow the rules. I have also been dragged out of crowds and forcibly had the few strands of hair that had slipped out of my head scarf pushed back.

Honour and shame: two sides of the stigma coin

16 days banner - blue

statue of shamed woman I had a conversation yesterday with a friend about domestic violence within the Muslim community in the UK and the issue of why some Muslims resist discussing what they know is happening in the company of non-Muslims. In my friend's view, challenging Muslims, and Muslim men in particular, about domestic violence in such an open space, where non-Muslims are present, is problematic because of the current socio-political climate within the country, including widespread Islamophobia. She felt that a public naming of the problem would be hijacked by those with a racist agenda to further demonize Muslims in the eyes of the UK public, for instance by accusing Muslims of having barbaric cultures.

While I don't disagree that this hijacking is likely, I remain unconvinced that this is sufficient justification for not being vocal about violence against Muslim women in a relevant forum such as a meeting with the police on 'community safety' for one key reason: I believe advocating silence makes one complicit in the stigmatization of the victims. This stigmatization, in turn, is closely related to ideas about honour and shame that undermine women's rights.

Shrink to fit

by Jennifer Varela

I have an incredible ability I'd like to share with you all: I am incapable of seeing myself as I truly am. Women are never allowed to escape themselves. As I get dressed in the mornings, pass the hallways mirror in my office, glance at my reflection in the supermarket window, I am always, continuously, permanently aware of myself. More specifically, aware of my body. Logic evaporates from me as I am confronted with an all too-familiar sights of my "fat" self. I quickly take a ratio of knees to thighs, clock the circumference of my upper arms and the resulting diagnosis will dictate my daily outlook.

When I take out my measuring instruments, make my calculations and move the beads across the abacus, I know that I am not fat. I am not even remotely medically fat. My Body Mass Index has always within the boring healthy range - even during my "fat" years - and for the most part, I presently sport size 6 US (10 UK). Making allowances for my height of 5'9" and on a good day, I'd even humour my shape at "thin". But to have to try on a pair of trousers in a larger size, to have to step on a scale, to catch sight of an unflattering photograph - all these normal acts constitute sources of panic and anxiety. After a recent spell of weight loss, I made a pact to not know my weight, save for the yearly checkups at the doctor, as the entire ritual fills my body with nauseas dread and even the thought of the act is met with a tightening in my chest.

Jennifer Varela is attempting to be a freelance journalist, living in London, UK. She departed from her native Toronto to embark on an M.A. in Near & Middle Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. She counts Luis Buñuel films, '78-'82 post-punk and coffee among her friends.

But psychologically, I feel enormous. For the most part of my "thin" intervals, I simply find it impossible to correlate the size of my jeans to the reflection I see in the mirror. It is comparable to having a carnival mirror attached to me wherever I go; I know what I am but I can't see it. On bad days I want to quickly check my size, just to make sure an extra "1" hasn't magically appeared in front of the size number. To paraphrase Susie Orbach in Fat is a Feminist Issue, I simply have not had enough time to "recognize" my "thin" self. It is sticking up a middle finger to all the thin girls who had never been made to feel self-loathing: "Ha ha! I was once fat but I broke free and joined your ranks! How does it feel to be infiltrated by outsiders?"

With the onset of puberty and all of its glorious physical transformations, I was quickly informed by my peers that I was not of the "correct" body shape. Namely, that I was fat. In hindsight, I never was more than a normal-sized child growing into her adolescent shell. But graver, is that even at such a young age, as children we had already been conditioned to have strict ideas on what was to be attractive. As Naomi Wolf successfully named it, the beauty myth had already taken hold. By the time I entered high school, it had spread to a pandemic. My main concern became that of my size and how to reduce it. There were other preoccupations festering in my teenage head, of course - records, boys and simplistic Marxist theory - but all paled in the shadow of my allegedly large ass.

I did not want to be normal or healthy, but T-H-I-N. Achieving high marks in university, being part of a wide social circle and having a boyfriend did nothing to quell my desire for bodily perfection. It was never about making myself more attractive to the opposite sex. Rather, as I had been thrown out of the club at a young age, it was in defiance of their standards. This was a question of control and my inability to contort my image into that which I deemed acceptable to present the (mostly male) outside world infuriated me to no end.

By my early twenties, I had finally achieved my utmost aspiration and through a textbook routine of healthy diet and exercise (after a few stunted attempts at anorexia campaigns that never did last more than a few days due to my lack of will-power), I slimmed and trimmed my way down to a size my 14 year old self would have considered as attainable as a walk on the moon. Was I super-skinny? No. But was I smaller, thinner? Absolutely. And yet here I was, finally equipped, I felt, to face the rest of my life and it would be not my life experiences, relationships or personality but the inches across my waist that would be my source of strength. I was thin now. I am entitled to anything. I was a success.

Rwanda: Informal educational system used to mitigate GBV

by Maxime Rwendeye (UNIFEM Central Africa Regional Office)

In Rwanda women suffer both from community and domestic violence despite ratification of international instruments against discrimination of women through the ICCPR, the International Convention on Civil and Political rights. Internally, Rwanda set up a series of structures and the environment is in favour of promotion of gender equality: A permanent Beijing secretariat has been established, the creation of a ministry of gender (MIGEPROF), a department in charge of gender issues has been set up at the district and provincial levels; creation of women's councils, a Forum for Rwandan Women Parliamentarians.

UNIFEM is the women’s fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality.Interventions have been focused on the following strategies: using the existing structures like Umuganda (community work) in order to encourage community participatory dialogue but this still less used; the involvement of men as role models is less used; engaging leaders at the grass roots level.

On the of 16PthP November 2007 we noticed that during an address to launch an informal educational system (ITORERO Ry'igihugu) aimed at mitigating Rwanda's socio-economic challenges, President Kagame urged Rwandans to have self esteem and not under-value their own potential in solving their problems. Through this informal system, people are encouraged to deal with issues such as national unity and GBV.

The ongoing exploitation of women weavers

by D. Narasimha Reddy

Violence against women has been a constant, in various societies, for different reasons, across different time periods. However, in most places, awareness and networking among women has been helpful. There have been individuals and organization, who have been and are playing their role in reducing violence against women.

D. Narasimha Reddy represents the Centre for Handloom Information and Policy Advocacy based in IndiaHowever, VAW is set to rise for different reasons. Global trade, as defined by the WTO, has been distorting societies and destroying livelihoods. Pitting livelihoods against each other across the countries, trade-centric policies and programmes have been inducing situations which enable the growth of violence against women.

The handloom sector is also part of this phenomenon. Women handloom weavers are now increasingly facing violence, previously unknown in most of their homes. For ages, women in the homes of handloom weavers have been working with their partners, inside their homes, on various production functions. However, this work has been traditionally seen as part of the family engagement, and was never recognized an "income activity". Women's work increased as handloom production graduated from household production to commercial production. Despite this change, in many places, the work of women weavers was still considered as supplementary activity. There has been no recognition to this work, neither in terms of praise or costs. As a result, this production relation became a part of the exploitation process. Exploitation of women weavers did not stop at this process level. As the handloom production became commercialized and more organized in terms of a sectoral activity, exploitation and subjugation of women weavers continued on an equal scale.

With globalization and liberalization of trade, the handloom sector became prone to discriminatory policy changes, and unfair market competition. This has induced further stress on handloom livelihoods.It is widely known that unfair and unregulated competition leads to price competition and depressing wages. Many entrepeneurs and enterprises resort to cost-cutting.

Rwandan leaders and Police say NO to Violence against Women

by Irene U. Zirimwabagabo, Communications Officer (UNIFEM Central Africa Regional Office)

On November 25PthP, Rwandan leaders, gender advocates, the police and women from local civil society organizations joined together in a candlelight vigil to mark the opening of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. The candle-light vigil, led by the Minister in Charge of Gender and Family Promotion, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, the President of the Forum for Rwandan Parliamentarians, and the UNIFEM Regional Program Director, was a symbolic act to commemorate the women who have been victims of violence in Rwanda this year. Participants gathered at the round-about in front of the Prime Minister's office, lit candles and pinned "prevent violence against women" badges to their lapels as they walked in unison around the traffic circle and into the Prime Minister's gardens. UNIFEM is the women’s fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality.

The princess and the frog

by Dayo Olopade

Earlier this year, in a move that made animation history, the Disney corporation announced the addition of a ninth "Disney Princess," who-like her colleagues Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan-will do beautiful better than the rest. According to details released in April, a new film entitled The Princess and the Frog will be set in jazz age New Orleans, with characters that include a voodoo villain, a wacky Cajun firefly, and a jolly alligator. It will also boast a heroine that is black.

It's about time, say social activists who have been crying foul about race in Disney pictures. They suggest that the glaring hole in the media giant's newly consolidated pantheon of beauty cut to the core of social violences in America. More plainly, they've said that if Disney wishes to promote a comprehensive vision of beauty for its black girls-Nala from The Lion King isn't going to cut it.

Dayo Olopade is a reporter based at the New Republic magazine in Washington. Her work can be seen at tnr.com Disney has perennially visited the touchy intersection of pop and politics, gender and race. If the dustups over names alone in the months since development began are any clue, the topic is still quite prickly. Early reports listed the title heroine's name as "Maddy", a supposedly underclass name that has been changed, under protest to the crystalline "Tiana." Likewise has the original title, The Frog Princess, been scrapped. Wild cheers went up from the race crusaders. And a good thing. No girl, brown or otherwise, should have to sigh herself to sleep with visions of bogs and bullfrogs. In fact, that sounds like a recipe for malaria.

Cinema: sex trafficking and the global sex trade

by Naomi Hamer

Over the last decade there have been a number of films produced to raise awareness about the trafficking, and often slavery, of children in the global sex trade. Many of these films have taken the form of documentaries, television serials or news specials such as the Channel 4/ ARTE France co-production The Child Sex Trade (2003) about the sex trade in Romania, and the documentary Stolen Lives: Children in the sex trade (1999), an expose about young people in the sex trade in Canada. However, a number of recent feature films have begun to address these issues through fictionalized accounts instead of documentary style reporting. On a positive note, this movement to fictional feature film will provide more opportunities to educate broader audiences about these issues. However, I do wonder about the problems that fictional films may pose (particularly high budget, Hollywood-style projects) with sensationalist or simplistic portrayals of characters, cultures and events.

On November 9, the film Holly (2006) opened in the US for a limited release. This film addresses the trafficking of children into sex work in Cambodia and Vietnam. The film follows an American dealer of stolen artefacts living in Cambodia (Ron Livingston) who befriends and then attempts to ‘save' Holly, a 12 year old Vietnamese girl (played by 14 year old Thuy Nguyen) who has been sold into the sex trade by her family.

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