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The first transgender celebrity in China and her sexist dating show

Jin Xing is a progressive icon, and the first person to openly undergo gender reassignment surgery in China. Why is she now hosting a show that helps parents select docile daughters-in-law? - free thinking for the world

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oD 50.50 Editorial highlights 2016

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India's rape victims lost in political row

A war of words over compensation for rape victims has overshadowed the real issue, of violence against poor women

Those of us with a voice to speak

On 30 June 2009, Mairead Maguire was taken into custody by the Israeli military along with twenty others, including former U.S. Congress member Cynthia McKinney.

Checkpoints and counter spaces

Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian talked to Jane Gabriel about her latest book ‘Militarization and Violence against Women in Conflict Zones in the Middle East'. A Palestinian case-study. In which she analyses Palestinian women's agency and the many different ways in which they create counter spaces to the militarization of their daily lives.

War-related rape: shortchanged at the peace table

Pablo Castillo Diaz looks at the issues surrounding a recent meeting organised by the United Nations to address conflict-related sexual violence.

Changing lives in the West Bank villages

The increasing economic poverty in villages outside Ramallah in the West Bank is leading to unexpected changes in gender roles and is challenging the tradition of early marriage. Jane Gabriel has been listening to those involved in making changes on the ground.

We are visible

Katana Gégé Bukuru spoke to Isabel Hilton at the Nobel Women's Initiative gathering in Antigua about her work for women's human rights and the search for durable peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Journalist Zhila Bani Yaghoub arrested

Iranian journalist Zhila Bani Yaghoub and her husband Bahman Ahmadi Amooyi were arrested in Iran over the weekend after government forces reportedly raided their home.  Yaghoub is a veteran journalist who has worked to promote women's rights in Iran. She spoke recently at the Nobel Women's Initiative conference on 'Redefining Democracy' held in Guatemala.

The Nobel Women's Initiative issued a statement saying:

Violence targets the weakest

We have found that the primary cause of all the violence and submission which women undergo is discrimination, and it is this which makes us more vulnerable than the others. Lucie Minzigama spoke to Isabel Hilton at the Nobel Women's initiative gathering in Guatemala about her work in Burundi working for women and children's human rights

Iranian Elections 2009: A New Spring?

From the stone carving adorning the War Museum in Tehran, two women, chadors wrapped tightly around them, stare grimly ahead. Their lips are contorted into determined frowns. One wields a rifle.

Laureate Mairead Maguire: building 'deep democracy'

Laureate Mairead Maguire spoke to Jane Gabriel about a new politic she sees arising: one in which ‘deep democracy’ is built by people, one to one, and demanding that the money be taken out of militarism.

Puddles in Kyrgyzstan

I wrote a book in 2002, Kyrgyzstan Women in Transition, as a reaction to the various interpretations foreigners made of what was going in my country at the time.

Hope's reflections

Many of us travelled on the same flight from Houston to La Aurora International Airport. Our entry into Guatemala was grand. We were welcomed by Erin Allison and the other organisers.

There was a comfortable minibus waiting to take us to our hotel, Casa Santa Domingo in Antigua city. Six of us, an ‘assorted' group of sisters, enjoyed the unknown landscape, and each other's company.  A few of the sisters already knew each other but the others were meeting for the first time. We easily fell into a conversation that took us from the personal introduction to the introduction of our organisations. We shared our hopes and excitement for the conference and located ourselves in it. Before we went to our different rooms, we agreed to meet at the end of day two, go into town and explore pubs, restaurants, the remarkable history of Antigua; its taste, texture and smell.

Flying with Hope


This presentation is based on an imagined airplane conversation  between Hope Chigudu, other sisters and a man (fellow passenger) who introduced himself as Tino. 

To know that we are not alone

Every woman at the NWI gathering in Antigua had a way of redefining democracy - from writing the new Ecuadorian constitution to include the rights of nature, to fighting for a place at the negotiating table of the peace talks in Sudan. Jane Gabriel listened to three days of stories,debate and plans for the future.

Laureate Jody Williams: telling it like it is

Jody Williams speaks frankly to Jane Gabriel about the impact that being a Nobel Peace Laureate has on her life - both personally and politically.

The barbarian phase

“I am reflecting on experiences in Sri Lanka of working with women involved in conflict situations at a time when the situation in Sri Lanka is perhaps the worst it has ever been in thirty years of a very protracted and bitter civil war.”

Sunila Abeysekera is Executive Director of International Women’s Rights Action Watch – a Sri Lankan feminist activist and human rights defender who has worked on issues of women’s rights and human rights in the Asia Pacific region and globally for thirty years and more.

Obstacles to the progress of Human Rights in the World

Sixty years ago, in the hopes of creating a better world, world thinkers came together to devise international standards for how we should live and governments committed to uphold and guarantee the rights and freedoms set out in these standards for the people of their nations.

The priveleged ones

It’s Time to Return to the Hotel Brochure

Day Three. One of the plenary speakers, I can’t remember who it was, told the delegates, ‘We are the privileged ones’. People nodded and you could see that this struck a chord. I have been wondering exactly what it meant. The most obvious reading belongs to the same family as the jesting remark made by Jane Austen’s Elizabeth when she suggests that she fell in love with Darcy when she first saw his lavish ancestral home, Pemberley.

We are the ones

All events of this kind have their own shape and dynamics. If Day One was an eager and passionate Tatiana’s letter, not to Onegin, but to an already cynical yet surely reclaimable democracy – we seem to have collectively matured overnight. There are three major themes to this great day’s proceedings: lessons from some extraordinary women who have run for and held political office, strategic thinking from women reporting unforgettably from the front line of war-torn societies, and the sliding into place of the last gargantuan building block for our overhaul of democracy – the battle for women’s human rights.

Yes we can

STEPS is a women’s organization founded in 1991 and registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Act 1975, based in Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu, to work on the empowerment of all poor women, and particularly Muslim women in the region. It aims to bring about a change in the dominant perception – including among Muslim women themselves – about the rights of women in Islam. It believes that interpretation of the Qu’ran through a patriarchal lens resulted in discrimination against the women of the community and forced them to lead subjugated lives in a way that is not sanctioned in Islam.

The utopias that motivate us

Thomas Rainsborough was the highest ranking supporter of the Levellers in the New Model Army when he spoke in the Putney Debates in July 1647, and uttered the immortal words for British parliamentary democracy:

"For really I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under."

A new type of gender action watch

The first day of deliberations was Women’s Day in Guatemala, and participants at the Nobel Women's Initiative conference had awoken to the sound of firecrackers in Antigua celebrating the role of mothers and the sight of a local volcano erupting ash, apparently an every day occurrence. Naomi Tutu as the first moderator deftly appropriated the motherhood theme, which she said needed renovating, to give an undertaking on behalf of participants: we were going to be gestating a new definition of democracy capable of celebrating women’s achievements over recent months and years. Many of these definitions were offered during the next eight hours of discussion, though none perhaps so pithy as Mairead Maguire’s emphasis on ‘empowering people where they live – giving them dignity and hope’.

Politics outside politics: how women redefine democracy

A conference on women redefining democracy can do no better than start with Mary Parker Follett, the unsung, unacknowledged 'mother' of modern organizational theory and management studies, and feminist political philosopher. In her book, The New State, she defined democracy in a particularly feminist way - a definition unlike that of any male philosopher, from the Greeks, to Rousseauvians, to Marxists and neo-liberals

Journeying to Guatemala

First impressions

In 1998, nearly a decade after his influential post-Cold War piece, 'The End of History?', Francis Fukuyama addressed himself to the question of Women and the Evolution of World Politics in the influential journal, Foreign Affairs. Commenting on what was then an emerging gender gap in support for (US) national defence spending, he announced that it was quite evident that women were more peaceful than men. Women, he argued, are different.

Democracy in action: the Nobel Women’s Initiative at work

Activists, scholars and policy makers from more than thirty countries are heading for Antigua, Guatemala, this weekend for the Nobel Women’s Initiative second international conference ‘Women Redefining Democracy’. openDemocracy will be covering three days of debate as the women examine women’s experience of democracy in different contexts, from both inside and outside the structures of power.

Activists, scholars and policy makers from more than thirty countries are heading for Antigua, Guatemala, this weekend for the Nobel Women’s Initiative second international conference ‘Women Redefining Democracy’. openDemocracy will be covering three days of debate as the women examine women’s experience of democracy in different contexts, from both inside and outside the structures of power.

Imagining: Hope in Guatemala

The year is 2013 and I am still savouring the wonderful time I had in Guatemala, during the Women Redefining Democracy conference in May, 2009. I remember the shining faces of the women I met, their colourful dresses, the dances, the variety of foods, the exchange of information, heated debates over glasses of wine and intergenerational conversations that went on till the wee hours of the morning.

Getting my visa was a nightmare, organizing my travel was energy sucking, the journey was long and draining but it was worth it. If another opportunity presented itself, I would do it again.

The year is 2013 and I am still savouring the wonderful time I had in Guatemala, during the Women Redefining Democracy conference in May, 2009. I remember the shining faces of the women I met, their colourful dresses, the dances, the variety of foods, the exchange of information, heated debates over glasses of wine and intergenerational conversations that went on till the wee hours of the morning.

Getting my visa was a nightmare, organizing my travel was energy sucking, the journey was long and draining but it was worth it. If another opportunity presented itself, I would do it again.

What Now for the Women of Darfur?

The Darfur peace talks or Qatar Process between the Sudanese government and the main rebel groups are disintegrating.  These talks that took place in Doha, Qatar were flawed from the beginning with key elements, and participants, for a true peace process not in place. Moreover, there is no clear and legitimate ownership of the peace process.  The success of these talks should be of paramount importance to the international community to prevent any further killings, displacement and rape of the women of Darfur. The International Criminal Court has issued an indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.  This arrest warrant has lead to Bashir’s decision to forcibly remove a number of vital humanitarian agencies from Darfur.  According to the UN, this will leave over a million people vulnerable to starvation with no access medical care or sufficient water supplies.   I dread to think where this will leave the already insecure women in the IDP refugee camps that depend on these agencies for security.  They don’t just depend on them for food security either, their presence provided a small deterrent for the Janjaweed and other Khartoum backed militias who threaten these women on a daily basis.  What will happen now when they have to leave the camp to collect firewood or food or whatever they need in order to survive?  The sheer scale of the rapes is incomprehensible, the non-profit group Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), has released new data on the rape of Darfuri refugees.  After interviewing nearly 90 women at the Farchana Refugee Camp in eastern Chad, PHR found that 19 percent of respondents had been raped in Darfur, 17 percent had been raped in Chad, and that most rapes occurred outside of the refugee camp when they left to collect firewood  . Experts on the panel noted that the current humanitarian aid crisis will likely lead to an increase in sexual crimes against women. And the situation will get worse now as resources become increasingly scarce and there is also the threat of back-lash from the Khartoum government over the Bashir so called Western influence.Was what is there to help the women of Darfur?  Sexual violence against the women of Darfur has been used as a tool of war throughout this conflict which has left 300,000 and over 2.7 million displaced over six years.            

Iranian and Afghan Women: sisters in struggle against religious extremism

Elahe Amani reports on the Iranian women's organisations mobilising in support of women in Afghanistan and on the power of local resistance with global support.



Having Women Involved in Decision Making is More Important than Ever

A friend recently told me that the board of the company where she works made the decision to stop paid maternity leave (a board of seven men and one woman): a cost cutting measure in an economic downturn. The Irish government has made cuts to statutory bodies as unemployment creeps close to 12% and the economy is in free fall. The most drastic of those cuts was made to the Equality Authority; its budget was cut by 43% in the 2008 budget, which has left the only statutory body dedicated to the eradication of inequality in Irish society more or less unable to perform even its most basic tasks. Another more damning government proposal was to merge the Equality Authority, the Equality Tribunal, the National Disability Authority, the Data Protection Commissioner and the Irish Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, more and more Irish companies are using the recession as an excuse to rid themselves of thorns like paid maternity leave for staff and staff on flexible hours. These so-called measures to deal with the economic downturn are clearly affecting women adversely.

Making conditions even harder for women to work and have a family will unquestionably cause a further increase of the gender imbalance in the decision-making process. Currently, only about one-third of Euro MPs are women and a 2007 report undertaken by the European Commission showed the proportion of women in the single or lower houses of national/federal parliaments of the EU member states was an appalling 23.6% (Women and Men in decision making 2007. Analysis of the situation and trends. European Commission). How can the representative democracy model used throughout the EU be remotely representative if women are absent from the decision making table ? So what needs to be done to ensure a parity democracy in these challenging times?

Obviously the long hours and travelling will always be a big deterrent (not just for women!) but there's also the issue of candidate selection. The simple fact is you can't be elected if you're not selected by your party to contest the election. So should Europe impose a quota on party candidates? I don't think that kind of top down policy making from Brussels would foster a culture of gender parity in decision-making on a national, regional and local level. No, the solution must come from the ground up or at least from national government.

In Finland, the percentage of women in the national parliament has been as high as 42.0%. A quota system is in place but it has created a culture of gender balance throughout the Finnish society. It works as follows; the proportion of both women and men in Government committees, advisory boards, working groups, other similar preparatory, planning and decision-making bodies, and in municipal bodies and bodies established for the purposes of inter-municipal cooperation must be at least 40 per cent. This quota provision does not apply to municipal councils. Also, there is an Ombudsman for equality which monitors compliance with the Act on Equality between men and women. The Finnish government also has an Equality Unit which prepares the governments' gender equality policy and a Council for Equality which is a permanent body with advisory status within the state administration. In addition the Finnish government has also passed legislation on the right to day care being guaranteed for all pre-school children (Cabinetis Equal Opportunities Programme 1996-1999). These measures are clearly effective and in Finland more women enter politics, more women hold positions of power, more women come out and vote, more men vote for women and every piece of policy is gender reviewed.

Talk of change is everywhere. Could this be an opportunity to improve democracy, to make it more representative by looking to systems that have worked, like Finland, and developing policy with a gender focus? Sadly, it would appear the opposite is happening.

Pakistan: women's quest for entitlement

A generation of Pakistani women striving to affirm their rights in the public sphere can draw on a rich history to which education is central, says Pippa Virdee.

It all began on March 8th: feminism and fatwas......

Moroccan women won profound changes in their status when the Family law was reformed.


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Cuban women: content but not satisfied

It has the 3rd highest proportion of female Members of Parliament in the world; over 70 percent of its health sector workers are women, including 64 percent of doctors; and its Family Code obliges men to share domestic duties and child care responsibilities equally with women.

It's not paradise. Or Sweden. It's a little island whose GDP per capita is half that of the United Kingdom, a place more associated with sickles and hammers than hammering through woman-friendly legislation in parliament.

Cuba remains one of the most misunderstood and misreported countries on the planet. When Carolina Amador Perez of the Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas (Federation of Cuban Women) and Gilda Chacon of the Cuban Trade Union Centre came to Tooks Chambers in London, it was clear that they wanted to set the record straight.

Their talk provided some welcome insight on the way that gender politics has unfolded in a country much-maligned in the Western media. Established in 1960, the Federation of Cuban Women was the first social organization founded in post-Revolutionary Cuba. Since then, it has enjoyed enormous success in educating women (99.8% are literate) incorporating them in to the work force (which is 46% female) and passing a Family Code that guarantees women equal social and economic rights. Today the FMC, ostensibly a non-governmental organization, represents 85 percent of Cuban women over the age of 14.

The statistics surrounding female participation in Cuban public life are, on the surface, so impressive that Perez jokingly suggests that what Cuba really needs is a Federation of Cuban Men.

Perez and Chacon's censure of Cuba is carefully calibrated and avoids any direct criticism of the extant regime; Perez calls Cuba an ‘imperfect but perfectable society'. Despite not explicitly addressing these flaws, Perez and Chacon's talk does address a much more convoluted issue: the culture of sexism. Indeed, effecting political change in Cuba is arguably easier than tackling the deeply ingrained traditions that legitimize inequality.

Hiding behind a set of inspiring numbers and figures is a serious undercurrent of machismo, or male domination, which underwrites much of Cuban life in the private sphere. 

Though Cuban law sets out equal rights and duties in domestic tasks, traditional attitudes about gender roles often prevail and many women are expected to take full responsibility in household affairs in addition to full time work. Perez also notes that while the culture of machismo frowns upon physical violence against women, psychological and emotional abuse continue to be problematic in Cuban society - an issue that the CMF has organized a national working group to attend to.

The CMF's goal of democratizing family life remains elusive. And while statistics and statutes are important, they do not portray the subtleties of female subordination that often have deep historical roots. As in the Western world, it seems that legal measures to protect and empower women in Cuba outpace the cultural shifts necessary achieve full gender equality.

According to Perez, Cuban women are ‘content but not yet satisfied' with their progress. But the Cuban example is compelling because it complicates the Western conception of developed and underdeveloped states, a paradigm that tends to equate progress with ‘becoming like us'. At a time when the pay differential between men and women in the UK has recently increased to 17 percent, and when only 20 percent of all MPs in this country are women, a refusal to acknowledge the successes of other political and economic models -even when they are deeply flawed in some respects - seems foolish.

Indeed, Perez is visibly emotional when she speaks of Fidel Castro and she tells me that she sees him as a real leader, a man who genuinely believes that women are a fundamental and equal part of a revolutionary society.

To what extent her sentiments are popularly shared in Cuba is debatable.  Many would argue that Cuba's political restrictions and its economic woes, aggravated by the US embargo, have tarnished the governments ‘revolutionary' credentials. Moreover, the effects of economic hardship have been borne disproportionately by women.

But what Perez articulates is a continued belief in justice and equality, ideals that were integral to the Cuban revolution just as they were integral to social movements of all different political stripes around the world. Those ideals - especially when it comes to women - have been badly bruised in countries that are communist, capitalist, and everything in between. So as economies flag and politicians flail, perhaps it is time to re-commit ourselves to creating societies that accept nothing less than the full participation of half their populations.

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