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Mapping women's resistance to social and ecological degradation

Women coming together to cross pollinate ideas and build understanding about differing burdens, responsibilities, and solutions is an essential part of worldwide efforts to restore the health of the planet. - free thinking for the world

Mapping women's resistance to social and ecological degradation

Women coming together to cross pollinate ideas and build understanding about differing burdens, responsibilities, and solutions is an essential part of worldwide efforts to restore the health of the planet. - free thinking for the world

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Arab Women’s Fund: an idea whose time has come

by Jane Gabriel, who reports from Amman where Karama activists from across the Middle East and North Africa are meeting.

"To me, it is like oxygen"

Listen now to Takyiwaa Manuh on her work to empower women in Ghana
plus: tackling domestic violence in Africa

"She was probably glad of the attention": tackling rape in the UK

The debate about how and why rape happens goes to the heart of cultural gender and power dynamics, writes Sarah Campbell

Poetry - "Anonymous"

by Amy Pimentel



Pacific Island accent

purple eyeliner

outlined fear

a cry for help

Map of Gaps: The postcode lottery in violence against women support services

by Holly Dustin

Ever thought what would happen if a female friend, family member or work colleague was raped or in an abusive relationship? We all know about the appallingly low conviction rates for these offences but at least women can get the support they need, right? Wrong. Specialised provision, such as Rape Crisis Centres and domestic violence refuges, are patchy in most parts of the country and in some places non-existent. Yet these are vital services that help women reach immediate safety, support them through the justice system and help them move on with their lives.

“Hands off”: The Vagina Soliloquy

by Katie The vagina felt like the last vestige. The bit of the female body that was not attacked on a daily basis, not like the stomach, the skin, the breasts or the behind. At least it was protected by an element of taboo, the one that's not allowed on the front of FHM or Maxim magazine.

Karama: women activists across the Middle East

by Jane Gabriel, who reports from Amman where Karama activists from across the Middle East and North Africa are meeting.

The World Health Organisation's report on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against Women published in 2005 was based on interviews with more than 24,000 women from 10 countries. The incidence of violence by intimate partners ranged from 15% to 71% in each country. But women from countries in the Middle East and North Africa were not included in the survey.

Partly in response to this Karama was formed - an organisation of women in nine Arab countries working to address violence against women. Tired of the incongruity between the intense geo-political activity focused in the Arab world, and the absence of their voices from the international circuit Karama is a network of activists working to "break the cycle of Arab women's absence from the global arena and to generate a base line of information, consolidate networks of activists, and carry out tangible actions by women in the Middle East and North Africa to end violence on our own terms".

If the WHO had included interviews about violence with women in these regions, it would have found that in:

- Egypt 34% of ever married women had been physically abused by a partner or spouse.

- Jordan saw a 20% increase in recorded incidents of gender violence in 2005.

- In the West Bank 52% of women had experienced domestic violence

- and in the Gaza Strip 62.5%.

According to WHO nearly half the world's women who die from homicides are killed by current or former husbands or partners. But in the Middle East and North Africa the trend is differentiated by the number of women murdered by a male relative rather than her spouse. In a study of female homicides in Alexandria 47% of the women killed had been raped and then killed by a relative for loss of "honor". In Lebanon 70 -75% of the perpetrators of female homicides were the victim's brothers carrying out retribution to uphold "honor".

Choosing Karama - meaning ‘dignity' in Arabic, this network of women has a unique way of addressing violence.

Karama, Arabic for ‘Dignity'

    To a western ear, the name ‘dignity' resonates well for an Arab women's anti-violence network. To an Arab ear ‘dignity' carries profound repercussions.

    Dignity is a fundamental social concept in Arab society. It is at the root of many of the Arab world's most remarked-upon social customs including generosity when there is little to share, selflessness in the face of great danger and abundant hospitality. However, it is also invoked for acts of violence against women in the Arab world, particularly ‘honor' killings. Foreign occupations compound a sense of collective humiliation and hardship whose results can be seen in domestic violence, rape and murder.

    In Karama we are rethinking the very definitions and dimensions of violence against women. We question whether violence is indeed a humiliation committed against a woman, her family, her community and her society or whether it might also influence public health and well-being; civic discourse and politics; ingenuity and education; belief and religion; legal protections and the judicial system; creative arts and cultural expression; public discourse and the media; and economic opportunity and advancement.

    We, as women of Karama, believe in our own power, identity, and opportunity to strengthen our societies. In a 2005 survey in eight Arab countries, women's greatest concerns were not the headscarf and driver's licenses, but lack of Muslim unity, violent extremism, and political corruption or violence. We are debating and discussing military violence as much as domestic violence. We find its roots and reach in sectors of our societies that are also awaiting greater progress for women: politics, economics, health, education, and media images.

    We view our mission as one not only to widen the constituencies working to end violence against women, but also to widen the roles and opportunities for women in the key sectors thus strengthening society. Karama is devising a home-grown response to violence against women that takes into account its root causes and social consequences.

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Domestic violence at a party


Many theorists argue that mass media generally, and advertising in particular, encourages male violence against women. Jean Kilbourne's third Killing us Softly film for instances argues that advertising:

  • Normalizes violence against women
  • Links masculinity with violence
  • Presents violence as erotic and appealing

Cambodia: women and war

by Devi Leiper

With the Khmer Rouge Tribunals underway, Cambodia is frequently revisited in the media. Stories of murder, violence, and fear are used to paint Cambodia's recent past, and I wonder what this means for the present. Are the tribunals a symbolic end to war? The last step towards achieving peace? Some see the tribunals as a long-awaited act of justice, and others argue it only opens old wounds. Thinking about Cambodia's experience of war and peace, today, at the beginning of the 16 days campaign and its thematic questions on the continuing obstacles and challenges for ending gender-based violence, what do these tribunals really mean to the women of Cambodia?

South Africa: Violence and Masculinity

by Tessa Lewin

As you may know South Africa has one of the highest levels of domestic violence and rape of any country in the world. Ten years ago I was working on a research project in New Crossroads, Cape Town, and writing a thesis on Violence and Masculinities. We were looking at why, in a group of uniformly disadvantaged youth, some managed against all odds to succeed, while most did not. I was particularly interested in the gendered nature of violence in Cape Town, specifically amongst the group of young people we were looking at in our study. Why was violence a path so frequently adopted by men and rarely by women? I was also frustrated with the gendered nature of feminist politics on campus – both academically, and in activist circles. Gender, it seemed, was women’s issue, as (with a very few rare exceptions) was feminism.

When the state rapes

Rape has been used as a weapon of war for centuries. As Laura Smith-Park wrote a few years ago:

From the systematic rape of women in Bosnia, to an estimated 200,000 women raped during the battle for Bangladeshi independence in 1971, to Japanese rapes during the 1937 occupation of Nanking - the past century offers too many examples.

But as the author notes it has been relatively recently that the use of rape as a deliberate military tactic has begun to be documented in detail, including its use in Sudan, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Iran’s women: listen now!

The courageous voices of the women of Iran's One Million Signatures campaign demand to be heard. Roja Bandari tells their story.

The UK's modern slavery shame

Women's exploitation lies at the heart of a modern-day underclass that keeps the machinery of civilised Britain well-oiled, writes Rahila Gupta.

Is violence relative?

Is there any role left for the idea of cultural relativism when it comes to violence against women? Part of me would like to say, ‘no', that violence against a woman transcends cultural norms and that hurt does not feel different depending what culture you come from. That part of me points to the fact that human rights are universal precisely because they relate to being human, regardless of race, class, citizenship, etc.

On the other hand, another part of me recognizes that when it comes to issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), there are women who defend their decisions to practice the custom on themselves as this extract explains for women in Egypt. That part of me balks at the idea of dictating to another woman how she should and shouldn't behave, especially when I don't live in her environment or face the challenges she would face if she chose not to be cut.

On fighting the gender violence battle

by Bev Clark

I must have been about 9 years old. My father has some business to do in downtown Johannesburg, so he put me in an afternoon movie. I found a seat on my own somewhere. After a while a man sat next to me and put his hand on my thigh. Even so young I had the presence and courage to move away, knowing I had to. Survival kicked in.

A few years later living in Salisbury in Rhodesia I recall my mother and I walking over the road to the shopping centre. We lived on the second floor of a nearby block of flats. My mother was recently divorced and struggling financially. The owner of the supermarket allowed her to buy groceries on credit and settle at the end of the month. This month she didn't have enough money so she needed to plead her case. I remember standing next to her in the owner's little cubicle whilst she explained her situation. During the conversation he gesticulated to me to come and sit in his lap. I did so. A bit later he leaned down toward my face and I felt his tongue in my mouth. I've always thought my mother saw this happen, but I never asked her. I think she got some breathing space and her credit rolled over to the following month.

African women and domestic violence

The experience of using law to address the issue of domestic violence in Africa contains both positive and negative lessons for gender-equality campaigners, says Takyiwaa Manuh.

In pictures: Reclaim The Night 2007

 Jessica Reed
Last Saturday hundreds of women took the streets of Soho, London, to demonstrate against sexual violence. You can view a flickR set of the night's pictures here.

The first march took place in 1977, and has been organised by the London Feminist Network since 2004. It reportedly had 1200 participants last year. Lacking the ability to accurately count the number of people in a crowd I wouldn't dare estimate how many women demonstrated this year, but the result was impressive (the streets surrounding Trafalgar Square and Soho were temporarily closed, dozens of police officers escorted the participants and dozens of curious bystanders took pictures with their cell phones).

More than 16 years of ‘16 Days’ – what ways forward?

16 days banner - blue

Today is International Day Against Violence Against Women. 16 days from now it will be International Human Rights Day. The concentrated time in between will witness some of the most energetic and inspiring campaigns against violence against women of 2007. This new blog will be part of the same movement: for 16 days we will be profiling, discussing and debating the challenges and successes in eliminating violence against women with contributors from around the world.

Discrimination at the local level

Ethnic minority women lack access to power. They are severely underrepresented in senior decision-making positions across the public, private and voluntary sectors. The statistics are stark: less than 1% of top civil service managers are ethnic minority women, only 4 are directors of FTSE 100 companies (0.4%), and none of the 50 highest earning charities have a chair or chief executive that is an ethnic minority woman.

This under-representation is found in politics as well. There are only two ethnic minority women MPs (0.3%) and none in the Cabinet. There have only ever been three ethnic minority women MPs and there has never been an Asian woman MP. There are no ethnic minority women in either the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh National Assembly.

Courage in journalism

This week the International Women's Media Foundation awarded its "courage in journalism" awards to eight nominees: Lydia Cacho from Mexico, Serkalem Fasil from Ethiopia and six journalists from the McClatchy Bagdad Bureau in Iraq (NYT link).

This is Sahar Issa's speech, who accepted the award on behalf on her colleagues (via the IWMF'S site):

The right to abortion: briefing from Brazil

A heated debate over reforms to Brazil's outdated abortion laws has intensified across the country in 2007. The tensions were on show in August at the Brasilia gathering of the second Conference for Public Policies for Women (II CNPM), attended by 2.800 delegates representing all twenty-seven Brazilian states. As they waited for the result of a vote on a proposal to legalise abortion - beyond the current situation, where it is legal only if the pregnancy results from rape or when it puts the mother's life at risk - many of those present feared a coordinated attempt by anti-abortion groups to obstruct the voting process.

Can we untie the global gag rule?

[quote]"None of the funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning or to motivate and coerce any person to practice abortions.

None of the funds made available to carry part I of the Foreign Assistance Act may be used to pay for any biomedical research which relates in whole or in part, to methods of, or the perfomance of, abortions...

None of the funds made available... may be obligated or expended for any country or organisation if the President certifies that the use of these funds by any such country or organization would violate any of the above provisions related to abortions" [more...]

Changing the tune

by Jane Gabriel

A story from Colombia told by Monica Roa, Programme Director of Women's Link Worldwide in Colombia, vividly illustrated the power of taking Professor Sai's advice and changing the tune to fit each audience.

Clandestine abortion providers

Sexual abuse by doctors, inflated prices charged by providers and high rates of suicide as a result of unwanted pregnancies were just some of the experiences raised by some amazing individuals providing clandestine abortion services around the world.

Global safe abortion: the world in London

This week, London played host to the world's first international conference on safe abortion. 800 delegates from over 60 countries around the world attended, and openDemocracy was there to report, speaking to advocates, practitioners and campaigners.

In these first blog reactions, Jane Gabriel reports on the scale of the problem, one woman's amazing work in Ghana, and says it's time to break the silence on gender and power. Jessica Reed investigates the medical abortion revolution, anti-choice tactics, and abortion as a human right. Plus: crossing borders for abortion and the inspiring work of clandestine providers.

Abortion as a human right: the case of Karen Noelia Llontoy vs. Peru

Abortion as a human right

A lot of the speakers at the Global Safe Abortion Conference addressed the right to safe abortion as a human right.

Luisa Cabal, director of the Center for Reproductive Rights' International Legal Program, underlined the fact that human rights are a universal language, a common ground to build on, and a tool for governments to save women's lives. [more...]

The other silence

by Jane Gabriel

Legal barriers, sheer physical pain, stigma and fear are not reducing women's demand for abortion, and the number of unsafe abortions is still rising. What is driving this need and this demand by women?

The conference was the world's first international conference on safe abortion, and at the plenary session declared that it had broken the silence of this "preventable pandemic" (Lancet).

Anti-choice tactics: from manipulation to extremism

An eternal clash

Upon our arrival at the conference at an early 8.30 in the morning we were greeted by a group of anti-choice women silently picketing the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, holding a huge banner stating that "women deserve better than abortions" (ironically enough, my colleague Jane Gabriel remarked that the banner was folded in such a way that at the right angle it read "women deserve better abortions"). I was also handed misguided pro-life leaflets stating (amongst other things) that Marie Stopes was racist. [more...]

The universal struggle

by Jane Gabriel

At independence Ghana inherited the restrictive British law on abortion, and it wasn't liberalised until 1985. In Ghana today between 20% and 30% of all maternal deaths in Ghana are directly related to unsafe abortion.

Nearly 60 years after Professor Sai came to London, Faustina Fynn Nyame was working in a London hospital. One of the women who came to her for help had had an ‘abortion'. What the young woman did not know until then was that the abortionist had removed her ovaries, her womb and her uterus. Like Professor Sai, this woman's story decided Faustina's life's work. She returned to Ghana to work for safe abortion, she opened a Marie Stopes Centre. She worked alone for the first year. One year on she has thirty two paid staff, 35 franchised service providers of safe abortions, three centres and an outreach team - and no-one is denied an abortion because they cannot afford it.

Medical abortion: a revolution for women's reproductive rights

Dr. Hilary Bracken, Senior Program Associate with Gynuity Health Project, opened the session titled "Ensuring Women's access to medical abortion in their own communities" declaring that medical abortion (the abortion pill, or RU486) is the most important revolution in women's medical health since the commercialisation of the contraceptive pill. [more...]

Crossing borders - abortion journeys

The plight of the many women having to undertake long, distressing, often expensive journeys in order to gain access to safe abortion due to restrictive legislation in their home countries was the focus of discussion on day one of the conference.

The choir

by Jane Gabriel

"I am a man out of a woman" - so began the rallying cry of one of women's human rights lifelong advocates, Professor Fred Sai, at the opening of the world's first International Conference on Safe Abortion (MSI Global Safe Abortion Conference).

The numbers of women dying are appalling: 100 million women alive today will have an unsafe abortion and more than 13% of them will die as a direct result. 68,000 women die a year as a direct result of an unsafe abortion - that is one woman every 8 minutes. Of the 42 million known abortions a year, 20 million of them will be unsafe. Professor Sai came from Ghana to London as a medical student in 1949, one of the nurses he trained with at the time became pregnant, she swallowed sleeping pills and died weeks later. He asked himself "What kind of law leads to this lonely death?" That was the point at which Professor Sai decided that his life's work would be to provide safe abortion.

Gender based violence linked with reproductive rights and HIV/AIDS

A lot of the breakout sessions organised by the Women Deliver conference focused on AIDS/HIV treatment and prevention for women and girls, and how it should be treated as an integral part of the fight for reproductive rights for all women, everywhere.

One of the most important and recurrent issues underlined by speakers is that the spread of HIV/AIDS is directly linked to gender based violence, especially in unstable regions where rape is used as a weapon of war, or where women have to sell their bodies as a means to survive and provide for their families. [more...]

Seeing Double

I was at a Fawcett Society round table yesterday discussing how ethnic minority women can access positions of power in Britain - part of their "Seeing Double" project. The under representation of women, and minorities, in British public institutions is a key issue for OurKingdom. Black and ethnic minority women make up 5.2% of the population of the UK - you can probably guess what % of positions of power they hold. I was there to mainly listen - and two themes came out strongly for me.

The first is that ensuring equal representation is important for two reasons. In a system of representative democracy it is intuitive that public representatives should be, well, representative of their public. But the relative exclusion of women, and especially ethnic minority women, from public life represents a loss of talent and creativity. Sitting at the Fawcett table I was reminded of another round table I had attended recently. I won't mention the name of the think tank, but in a table of 20 or so there was only one woman, everyone was white, and I was the only one under 40. How can such a table claim to think creatively if their pool of minds starts out so homogenous? Our Houses of Parliament currently suffer from a similar problem.

Women, men and rape

Sensuality is a source of delight. At least that was what I had assumed as a young child - before sex educationalists in school associated sex with images of disgusting venereal abscesses and threats of violence. As a girl, I learned that I was at risk of abuse from the rapacious penises of every boy and man I would encounter on this earth. The mantra that "all men are rapists, rape fantasists, or beneficiaries of a rape culture" took some of the uncomplicated joy out of my early heterosexual explorations.

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