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A midnight move to set free child sex abusers: in the name of “our culture”

Recent law reform initiatives on sexual crimes against children in Turkey reveal the growing danger for women and girls, and the need to interrogate the myths and biases underlying the “our culture” discourse. - free thinking for the world

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The AIDS prevention policy that isn't working for women

On Thursday March 12, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel sponsored by the United Nations Association - USA at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  The topic, addressing the care-giving burdens and gender gaps in PEPFAR, seems as timely as ever as the Obama Administration has found itself dealing with the results of the Emergency Plan's reauthorization process and seeking new leadership at the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC). 

Gender advance in Venezuela: a two-pronged affair

George Gabriel looks at domestic violence, discrimination at work, and the deep moral questioning that grips this society.

Time to stand the narratives of division on their head

"Issues of gender equality have international attention and even the possibility of resources- but do we (the UN Interagency and NGO community) have the crucial infrastructure and capacity to manage that? And in the case that we are simply creating that capacity as we go along- are we doing so effectively?"

Personal Reflections - Where's the Roar?

After a decade of participating in civil society organizing around the Commission on the Status of Women, I came to this year's meetings to observe.   It's an exciting moment for those of us who have worked for so many years to link the women's movement with the HIV and AIDS movement.  For the first time, a central aspect of HIV and AIDS affecting women - the burden of care - is an explicit focus of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Not until 2045......

If there is such a thing as ‘choreographed chaos', it's been happening here at the CSW  for the past two weeks in the Vienna café in the UN.

Fighting for the very poorest of the poor

Now in Washington DC, am trying to recover from last week's circus at the UN.. Rethinking surviving that first week of the 53rd session of the UN CSW, I have changed my mind. I am now, for probably the first time in the 11 years since I've been coming to New York, glad I made it there.

The world behind a word

Every one of the hundreds and hundreds of women who are here at the CSW is trying to build a ‘common understanding', by accurately describing the daily lived reality in their country or region.

Gender Equality, Economy, and Empowerment

"Forget China, India and the Internet- economic growth is driven by Women"

The World Bank

In my earlier posts I have discussed my fundamental issues with the amount of data collection and systematic information gathering that goes on at the UN.

Gender equality in decision-making: the sad reality

Have we achieved the equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels? Having recently undertaken a review of women's leadership and participation in the AIDS response for UNIFEM, I have been intensely immersed in answering this question and understanding where we stand on the trajectory for the past two years.

The lion at their door: threats to the reproductive rights of women living with HIV

A cruel paradox has been emerging during a number of Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) panels: while women bear the lion's share of care giving responsibilities within the HIV/AIDS pandemic, they are often unable to protect their own sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Think global, act local

I really am honored that an international audience, interested in the global perspective of gender and women's issues, reads this blog. But I would like to set aside a few words for the brave women in my own country, the USA, who face violence on a daily basis.

Adding insult to injury at the CSW

Late last year the AIDS activist community breathed a collective sigh of relief when Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was shifted from her position as Minister of Health into the low-profile Minister in the Presidency responsible for overseeing the Office on the Status of Women, the Office on the Child and the Office on Disability.

Demand: do not ask. We are not asking for something that we are not entitled to.

The Arab Women's Network "ROA" meaning ‘Vision', held a session called ‘Occupations in the Arab region contribute to maintaining Gender Inequalities'. The panel of women from Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine described the impossibility of working for women's rights and the alleviation of women's suffering in an area of endless conflict.

Sexual Violence: the UN gets serious about data collection

One of my main frustrations with the UN system has been the lack of reliable data collection and analysis on gender. Research and analysis is key to promoting women’s rights- they are the foundation of quality advocacy and efforts- providing justification for funding, measuring impact and directing programming.

A world of women

On International Women's Day, women's voices for rights, peace and change on openDemocracy

Sharia law comes to the Swat valley

Islamabad insists that its compromise with Islamists in the Swat valley will help bring peace to the region. But is the peace of sharia law what Pakistanis want?

Global Financial Crisis or Global Financial Opportunity?

I was abroad when the global finical crisis struck and thus keenly aware of its reverberating and devastating effects. I assumed the news for financing gender equitable programming would prove equally bleak.

HIV-positive and forcibly sterilized: a chilling reality

Forced sterilization is not something you hear a lot about today, as if it were some relic from a dark chapter in history. Yet, sterilization without a woman’s knowledge or consent continues to be a chilling reality for some of the world’s most marginalized women, such as those living with HIV.

Every year I swear I'm not coming back!

On my way to the canteen I met Margaret Owen who is the director of Widows for Peace through Democracy  she told me that she every year she swears to herself that she's never coming back. But this is her  eleventh time - so I asked her why she's here again.

We Moroccan women: we are not impatient, we know that it will come

Podcast: The reform of the Moroccan Family Code (Mudawana) in 2004 was a watershed in the campaign for women’s rights. The change ushered in a new era in which it was possible to talk openly about such issues as violence against women. But five years on the levels of violence remains unchanged and the Women’s Action Union is now mobilising public opinion in the battle to win more protection for women. In Casablanca recently more than fifteen thousand signatures were collected in a day calling on the city council to build shelters for women and children fleeing family and domestic violence. 

Well, is there a will?

The GEAR (Gender Equality Architecture and Reform) Campaign is a remarkable coalition movement to strengthen the gender apparatus at the UN, to better "enable the UN and movements to deliver on promises made to advance gender quality and women's rights."

Stepping up: young Muslim women in Britain

From reforming mosques to challenging perceptions of their communities, young Muslim women in Britain are stepping up to make their voices heard. Siobhan O' Connell went to meet them. Listen Now.

Uncloaking Invisibility - Claiming Space

In the shadow of the start of the Commission on the Status of Women meeting at the United Nations, twenty-five US Women of Color gathered by phone and in person at the Urban Justice Center in downtown Manhattan to revisit an old unresolved topic, the obscurity of our issues and voices on the global stage.

Women, girls and human security

While the snowy weather and cool temperatures in New York made for a chilly commute this morning, the CSW was a warm reception! As I made my way through the snow into the first session, I couldn't help but reflect on warmer days in the DRC. I reminisced about my experience, and the difference between working on the ground and participating in the CSW at the UN's Headquarters in New York.

Joining two movements

At the age of eighteen, general knowledge regarding the United Nations rarely transcends the limited opportunities provided by student organizations. We are essentially confined to a type of pseudo-involvement.

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

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

Gearing up for the CSW

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This year's agenda

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

Iranian women and the Islamic Republic

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

(This article was first published on 24 February 2009)

Musawah: solidarity in diversity

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

American women's stimulus: voice, agency, change

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

Musawah: there cannot be justice without equality

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