- oD 50.50
Dialogues and Themes on 50.50
Women and the 'Arab Spring'
oD 50.50 Editorial highlights 2015
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.
Globalisation makes people move. The credit crunch will change patterns of migration. Four writers - Sunder Katwala, Paul Kingsnorth, Shamser Sinha, Maria 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.
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 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
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 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
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.)
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.
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
Rosemary Bechler revisits an earlier set of Anglo-American feminist ambitions.
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...
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and lived there until I graduated high school, when, with the exception of my father, my family moved back to our native Beirut. I have returned only twice since then. The first time we were escaping the July 2006 war in Lebanon. Although it wasn't a pleasant experience, being back in my childhood home was an oddly comforting one. Earlier this year, my second trip after thirteen years' absence was to help organise a training workshop involving sixty or so male participants from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Iranian women are a force to be reckoned with. Their various campaign groups, such as the One Million Signatures Campaign, are going strong and there are success stories which show the strength of their cause. Perhaps as a result, two disputed articles proposing a relaxation of the polygamy laws and discriminating against women who marry foreigners in the Iranian 'Family Protection Bill' have now been scrapped by the government. And rightly so. Those groups, aided by the involvement of high-profile figures like Shirin Ebadi, who have voiced concern about the bill, must be encouraged by this. So let's hope this brave, united and ongoing pressure on the government will encourage the removal of the remaining contentious articles and help to create a Family Protection Bill that does protect the family...
Podcast: reform of family law in Egypt is prompting discussion about women's sexual rights within marriage
Legal reform in Egypt establishing Family Courts with mandatory mediation ( see Mulki Al-Sharmani: Egypt's family courts: route to empowerment? ) and the introduction of no fault divorce proceedings known as ‘khola' is prompting discussion about relations between men and women in marriage, including women's sexual rights.
This September marks the fourth anniversary of the establishment of the Control Arms Foundation of India (CAFI). But they'll not be celebrating that this Saturday. Along with other organisations concerned with arms (including the UK's Campaign Against the Arms Trade), they will be marking the Global Day of Action for Arms Trade Treaty in New Delhi. This is to demonstrate their belief that international law and UN legislation is not enough to control global arms trade. In 1995, a group of Nobel Peace Laureates developed a model Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in order to regulate and standardise this trade. This Saturday, these organisations will push for this model to be adopted and for the recommendations in it (including a requirement for states to consider human rights and humanitarian concerns when transferring arms) to be put into practice.
CAFI believes that women have largely been left out of the international arms debates until now and should now take the lead in discussions. For this reason, women from all walks of life, among them survivors of incidents involving guns and other arms, will speak alongside men this Saturday. Members of CAFI will speak on the progress of their work to date and members of parliament, academics and journalists will give speeches and lead interactive debate and discussion with students, faith leaders, policy-makers and members of civil society.
It is fantastic to see members of a civil society organisation working together on this issue. And it is no wonder, for twelve people die through guns violence on a daily basis. India has also been shocked by a recent spate of school shootings - a horror previously associated with Western countries. One example of the action taken against arms violence was a ‘Day of Activism against Increasing Armed Gun Violence on Women in India' showing the gendered dimension of this violence; the highest number of war-time gun casualties are among women and children, and the North East India conflicts have also seen women as the most seriously affected victims - not only because some have been shot dead, but also the economic and social effects on women when their husbands, sons or brothers are shot. But it is tragic that this has become such a problem in the largest democracy in the world which, since 2007, is the globe's second most heavily armed country. Earlier this year, the founder of CAFI, Binalakshami Nepram spoke at a session on ‘The Impact of Guns on Women's Lives' and told of CAFI's demands that women in an Indian household must first consent to the purchase of a gun by their husbands, fathers or any other man. The idea is that, by giving women a say in the guns held under their own roofs (and assuming that their consent will not always be forthcoming), the flow of firearms into private hands will be reduced.
This work is positive. But that it is necessary almost defies belief. How can it be that the UN's first attempt at controlling arms trade ever, did not take place until 2001? How can it be that Binalakshami had to dedicate her speech to as many as 5000 female victims of gun violence in Manipur, where the annual death toll has now reached 300? There is a long way to go. And events like this Saturday's show the excellent work being done in increasing awareness and taking each small step towards an Arms Trade Treaty.
It sometimes seems that human violence knows no bounds. Recent reports of the brutal honour killings of five Pakistani women have shocked the world. And the reactions from the Pakistani parliament do not do much to ease that shock. When a terrible event occurs, the world looks for explanations in order to begin to deal with it. And even then the shock, horror and disgust will remain, for this is a crime we will never be able to understand.
Honour killings have been a concern to human rights groups for several years. All these deaths are disturbing but these had a particularly cruel twist, with the woman being buried alive. Such inhumanity and disregard for human life suggests that the perpetrators felt these women did something terrible to deserve this punishment.
Their crime? Doing what women all over the world do every day; choosing their own husband to marry through a civil court, away from the traditions of their tribe. The tribal elders then ordered the abduction and shooting of these three teenagers and their two female relatives, who were then sent alive to their graves. And while a female politician attempted to bring the case to the government's attention, another spoke up in defence of the tribal chiefs who ordered it.
The mind boggles and the heart sinks. How could this be defended? And who would expect that the words to justify and explain this would come from a member of parliament? Pakistani teenage girls have long known that choosing independence could cost them their lives. And now they face the knowledge that their killers may be spoken up for at the highest level. Their families will be rendered helpless.
But we must not lose heart. If politicians in Pakistan and other countries where honour killings are practiced, are forced by their own electorate and the west to stop explaining these away simply as ‘tradition', then these women can be given hope, and these shockingly brutal deaths will not have been in vain.
Today’s globally aware digital generation is used to constant requests to sign online petitions on various issues of international concern. Sceptics aren’t sure how much good those few mouse clicks do – do those signing even know exactly what they’re signing for? Would other types of action, like demonstrations, be more effective in raising awareness for a particular cause? We’re all guilty of skipping the small print and preferring the comfort of our own laptops now and again.
But the One Million Signature Campaign is a far cry from these online drives for mouse clicks. It does not have the usual time limit, but the signatures it seeks are very specific: Iran’s women and men. This petition is not for Westerners but for those directly affected by the discriminatory family laws it works to change. And there is no running total on the website of the amount of signatures collected. Given the difficulty in collecting some written petitions, the organisers felt it would be unrepresentative to reveal the running total after one year.
And as the campaign approaches its second birthday on 27 August, the total is still unknown, but their work goes on. There is plenty of it. Whether a woman signs the petition or not, she is given information about the implications of Iranian family law on her individual situation. To date, over 1000 campaigners have been trained in educating others and collecting their signatures. And all this is not without risk. Activist after campaigner has been arrested or imprisoned for his or her part in the fight against laws which reduce women’s rights to divorce, limit freedom of expression, reduce restrictions on polygamy and divorce for men, give automatic custody to a father after divorce and even demand taxes on dowries, the one safety net for women considering divorce. And yes, you read that correctly – his or her part. Men who sympathise with and work for this cause are also being imprisoned; no one is safe.
But the campaigners are not giving up. Their website is blocked by authorities; they start another. Peaceful protests are broken up using violence and arrests; they organise another two years later. These women and men are truly an inspiration. They continue to work in the face of adversity, overcoming threats and challenges and persisting in their original aim to reach a million signatures and adding new aims along the way. And we in the West cannot email our MP, we cannot sort this one out with a few mouse clicks. We can only watch in awe and voice our solidarity with these brave people who will not let legislation violate their human rights. Happy birthday, One Million, and here’s to plenty more years of courage, education and progress.
One man's experience of the UK asylum system, as told to openDemocracy at Sheffield's City of Sanctuary, as part of Refugee Week 2008.
When I came out of Afghanistan it was during the Taliban, and I think all people know about this difficult time for our country.
We people over there in Asia, especially in countries like Afghanistan, we are talking about Europe - not only UK but Europe - as democratic countries, as countries where you receive fair treatment. And so when I came here I was expecting that "they will listen to my story, and they know about our problems - especially the problems of Afghanistan - and I will be definitely granted indefinite leave to remain and I can stay there and improve my life".
Asylum Seeker Support Initiative - Short-Term (Assist) is a Sheffield-based charity dedicated to helping destitute asylum seekers in the area. Coordinator Robert Spooner explains why the group was formed, and details some of their current work.
I work for Assist, Asylum Seeker Support Initiative - Short-Term, because we didn't think it was going to be long-term, but it obviously is now. Its been 5 years since the initial meeting which grew out of a conversation club, and the discovery of injustices happening to people being refused by the Home Office when they had very good reason for not going back home. This small group met, and within about 3 months we had got enough money to start helping those who are entirely destitute without money or anywhere to live and with reduced access to health services. So since that time we've been telling people - I myself am a local preacher in the Methodist church - as part of my preaching telling people what was really happening and people responded by giving us money.
Development aid is global public funding that belongs to us all. There can be little progress in tackling inequality and injustice whilst the commitments around gender are ignored in practice, says Tina Wallace
A few weeks ago, my online chat with a friend in Beirut was cut short when he disappeared without warning for the better part of half an hour. He explained nonchalantly when he signed in again that he had been distracted by the sound of gunfire outside. Apparently, a prominent political party leader had been holding a press conference, and as sometimes happens in Lebanon, overzealous supporters would take to the streets and fire celebratory gunshots after the fact. My friend then signed off, saying that since the shots seemed to have died down, he was joining some of his friends downtown for a bite to eat. People who don't live in Lebanon might find such a flippant comment strange, but I wasn't surprised. Just before I moved to London a couple of months ago, my friends and I would even time our outings around these press conferences, making sure to get home before any potential clashes could break out between opposing political parties.
In her second report from Women's Worlds 2008, Patricia Daniel explores women and the global economy: New Zealander Marilyn Waring argues feminists must develop a new economic paradigm, and Sonía Parella Rubio examines a global care crisis.
Another wonderful speaker, New Zealander Marilyn Waring renowned academic, formerly the youngest member of the NZ parliament, anti-nuclear campaigner and currently gender advisor to the Solomon Islands, updated for us her seminal work from 1988: Counting for nothing - what men value and what women are worth.
Held every three years since 1981, the international interdisciplinary forum Women's Worlds continues to flourish: located each time in a different capital, it has travelled across the five continents and more than 40,000 people from over one hundred countries have taken part. It provides the opportunity to explore all areas of academic study - and of life itself - from a feminist perspective. In Madrid there were discussions on fourteen different themes, with 130 invited speakers and hundreds of other contributions in exchange workshops every afternoon. This tenth event took as its overall theme "New frontiers: changes and challenges" and its slogan, open to a number of interpretations: "Equality is no utopia."
Being a young woman in a patriarchal society and having what our society calls feminist tendencies is not easy. I study English literature in Cairo University and 95% of my professors are women. When you are a 17 year old who is still trying to find herself and is surrounded by women who are strong, talented and independent, you start wondering why the society around you gives more importance to males and treats you as the inferior sex. Unlike many young women my age it was easy for me to understand and embrace feminism and gender equality because of the women I am surrounded, with beginning with my grandmother and mother, to my professors and friends. Knowing these women has definitely changed my perspective. I came to be more tolerant. I came to realize that our society does not just rate women as inferiors, but there are stereotypical images of men that all boys are expected to grow up and fit into. Those images do not just erase the male's identity but they enhance the ideas of male superiority and at times chauvinism. Being aware of that changed my anger into positive anger and that was when I started writing.