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This week’s front page editor


Francesc Badia i Dalmases is Editor and Director of democraciaAbierta.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Over 16 days, between 25th November and 10th December, openDemocracy ran editorial project in support of the annual activism against gender violence campaign. We published articles and podcasts and a running a dedicated blog on our front page. Guest blogger Zohra Moosa of the Fawcett Society led the dialogue. Themes addressed include: security masculinities and the state, rape and impunity, healthy bodies, coercion and control, and women as trade. You can find a full list of our articles and podcasts here.

Our 16 Days coverage was made possible by the generosity of Alec Reed.

Domestic violence - missing the point

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

In closing: honouring women

feminist symbol


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

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

The Murder of Nomawethu Ngalimani

by Kylie Thomas

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

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

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

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

Working with men in Sri Lanka's tea plantations

by Stella Victor

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

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

Human security in tea plantations

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

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

Gender Hatred from Conception Onwards

by Cath Elliott

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

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

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

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

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

Why violence against women matters

by Sue Turrell

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

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

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

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

Gender Dimension of Vulnerability

by Marufa Akter

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

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

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

Upholding Women’s Rights Requires HIV and Violence Prevention

by Susanna J. Smith and Whitney Welshimer

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

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

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

Iraq, women and violence: the downward spiral

by Huda Jawad

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

Huda Jawad is Program Director of Forward Thinking

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

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

Making the grade

by Janet Veitch

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

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

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

by Joanne Miller

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

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

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

Mythical choices

one way road sign on blue background

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

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

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

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

Women in war in Sri Lanka

By Farah Mihlar

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

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

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

Damned if you do and also if you don’t

hanger picture, pro-choice

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

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

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


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

Responding to the needs of African women

By Naana Otoo-Oyortey

bust of an African woman

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

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

Rape in rap: more than artistic expression?

By Aisha Phoenix

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

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

Nepal's widows

by Lily Thapa

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

Lessons from a pilgrimage

By Farah Mihlar


kaba in mecca


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

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

Honour and shame: two sides of the stigma coin

16 days banner - blue

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

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

Shrink to fit

by Jennifer Varela

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ongoing exploitation of women weavers

by D. Narasimha Reddy

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

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

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

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

Rwandan leaders and Police say NO to Violence against Women

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

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

The princess and the frog

by Dayo Olopade

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

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

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

Cinema: sex trafficking and the global sex trade

by Naomi Hamer

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

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

Advocating for Security Council Action

by Sam Cook

Of the many gendered impacts of war, sexual and gender-based violence is often held up as one of the most obvious and outrageous. Yet it is also one of the most difficult issues on which to get the Security Council to act. Although the Council, in adopting Resolution 1325 in 2000, recognized the gendered impact of war it has done little that is not rhetorical to address this violence. For the text of the resolution visit this page.

Sam Cook runs the PeaceWomen Project at the UN office of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – an international women’s peace organization founded in 1915 in the Hague. The project monitors and advocates for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.SCR 1325 addresses sexual and gender-based violence through calling on parties to armed conflict to respect international law; it also emphasizes the responsibility of all States to end impunity, including for sexual and gender-based violence, and to prosecute perpetrators of war crimes and exclude sexual and gender-based crimes from amnesty provisions. Parties to armed conflict are also called on to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence. The above obligations are ones to be taken on by parties to armed conflict and governments. What then is the role of the Security Council as such in addressing this violence?

Part of the answer to this lies in the commitment made by the Security Council to integrating SCR 1325 in its day-to-day work. One function the Council performs is adopting resolutions which, amongst other things, set up the mandates of UN peace support operations. It is these Security Council Resolutions which set up the roles and responsibilities of any particular mission including whether they have a mandate to focus on the protection of women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence or to monitor and report on this violence. There has been some progress in including these responsibilities in mission mandates. Several of the UN peace support operations are mandated to act in relation to sexual and gender-based violence and several have mandates to monitor and report on human-rights violations and, in particular, sexual and gender-based violence.

Silence and survival

by Hyshyama Hamin

Nigeria: law & impunity in rape cases

by Theresa U. Akumadu

Anyone who is convicted for rape is liable to life imprisonment, so says the Child Rights Law in Nigeria (31(2). Enacted by the federal government in May 2003, the CRL has been replicated by over 13 states in the federation. But who is enforcing the law? Women and girls continue to be molested, raped, and trafficked for sexual exploitation. Survivors are frustrated, families are ashamed, and police officers that ought to enforce the law are fast competing for the prize for the worst rapists of the year, as recent reported cases have revealed. Three examples out of many will suffice. Sunday Tribune of 30 September, 2007 reported the rape of a seven year old girl by a retired Air Force officer in Makurdi, Benue State. The girl was rescued all bloodied from the dastardly act by the vigilante group in the area following an alarm raised by a woman who heard the girl's cry. On the 10 of March 2007, Sunday Sun Newspapers reported the rape of a 14 year old girl in police custody. On the 2nd of May 2007, Radio Nigeria reported the rape of a 3 year-old girl by a police constable.

Theresa U. Akumadu is National Coordinator of the Global Fund for Women Grantees Network (GFWGN) & President of Model Mission of Assistance in Africa (Momi Africa) Besides being direct offenders, police officers often let other abusers and rapists off the hook under the excuse of culture, especially where the offenders are family members or relatives. These excuses and laxities create loopholes for further abuse and further impunity, as abusers go on a merry-go-round.

Enacting laws are not enough; what is more important is the enforcement of the law to protect those it is supposed to protect. More focus needs to be on actions to create the will and wherewithal to seek and obtain justice.

"Se pa normal"

by Stephanie Ziebell (UNIFEM Governance, Peace and Security) on behalf of the UNIFEM Haiti Team

Most women's rights advocates describe Haiti as having a culture that inherently discriminates against women, where gender-based violence is exceedingly common, and a lack of access to economic autonomy renders women helpless in the face of such dynamics. Advocates for combating violence against women within government ministries, civil society and the international community have come together to form a national coordination mechanism to jointly tackle these various manifestations of violence against women.

UNIFEM is the women’s fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality. This is not enough. Impunity for such crimes is the norm. Even if a woman is able and willing to seek out legal support, even if there is an organization ready and able to take on the case, even if there is a judge who will take the case seriously, this will not guarantee justice will be served. For example, it took nearly two years for the Decree of 11 August 2005, which for the first time recognized rape as a crime in Haiti, to be applied in Cap Haitien. This victory is but a drop in the bucket in a country where girls studying under a community's single street light are targeted because they are easy prey for perpetrators.

Despite widespread acknowledgement of violence against women and national level commitments to CEDAW and Belém do Pará, comprehensive national-level data on SGBV remains a challenge to collect. Recent studies suggest that domestic/familial violence is a primary obstacle to women's effective engagement in public life in Haiti, undermining their right to active citizenship. A Médecins du Monde survey on victims of violence in 15 health centers of Port-au-Prince in 2005 showed that 80% of the victims of violence treated were women and that 60% of the cases of aggression were sexual. 86% of the victims filed a complaint, but only 3.3% of the 79% who were inclined to take legal action actually took the cases to court (citing a lack of trust in the legal system).

Honouring Mahfoutha Shtayyeh


by Afaf Jabiri

On November 28th Mahfoutha Shtayyeh, a 65 year old woman from Palestine was awarded the Sindiyanat el-Karama Award by V-Day Karama in Jordan. Honoring Mahfoutha was recognition of the Palestinian women's struggle. We wanted to recognize the efforts of unknown women who influence the world by their actions, without being known or appreciated. It is also in gratitude to all the Arab women who fight to preserve their dignity.

Also on openDemocracy: listen to Afaf Jabiri takes on the Jordanian government

This Award is our way of honouring women across the Arab world who have struggled throughout their lives to achieve justice and preserve dignity in a prejudiced and dangerous world. These extraordinary women, like the sindiyana (oak tree) that gives its name to this award, are symbols of strength and resilience, struggle and endurance, life and loyalty. They are role models for women young and old across our region and around the world.

Afaf Jabiri is regional director of Karama middle east & north Africa

Mahfoutha inspired us when she stood up to Israeli soldiers and settlers in 2004 when they were uprooting hundreds of olive trees in her village-the source of her community's livelihood. Alone and defenceless, she clung to one of the few trees left standing. Her action spoke out powerfully against the wanton destruction and its disastrous effects for an already suffering people.

Mona Eltahawy on the Egyptian media and gender representation

by Kristina Hallez

On October 30, journalist Mona Eltahawy returned to her alma mater, the American University in Cairo, to deliver a lecture on relationship between media and violence against women.

Eltahawy began her lecture, entitled "Violence Against Women: Pop Culture and Public Debate in Egypt," on a personal note, sharing a few of her own experiences with sexual harassment. Most alarming was her account of being groped while completing the circling of Kaaba during her Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). These encounters stimulated her desire to garner the opinions of other women and their anecdotal responses, supported by wider statistics, suggest that harassment is extremely pervasive in Egyptian society. She went on to discuss a very recent and marked increase in the coverage of violence against women within Egyptian media, emphasizing the powerful role of television and radio in Egypt. Both serve as the primary channels through which most Egyptians receive news, information and entertainment.

Middle east: the terrorized half of our society

by Houzan Mahmoud

The undeclared war on women continues to victimize women worldwide on a daily basis; the Middle East is no exception. Women in our region are amongst the most oppressed and terrorized in the world. The Islamic law upheld in many Middle Eastern countries has turned women into slaves with invisible chains.

In Iraqi Kurdistan in April 2007, Dua Khalil Aswad - 17 years old at the time - was brutally stoned to death in front of a crowd of over 1000 cheering men. Her only crime was falling in love with a man from a different religion.

Houzan Mahmoud is the Abroad Representative of Organisation of Women's Freedom in IraqIn Saudi Arabia in March 2006, a woman was abducted with a friend and was raped by 7 men. In October, the men were sentenced to 2-3 years in prison, but the woman herself was sentenced to 90 lashes. Saudi Arabian Islamic law forbids a woman to meet with a man to whom she is not related. The woman and her solicitor appealed the sentence; the men's sentences were increased from 2 to 9 years in prison, but the woman's sentence was also increased as a result to 200 lashes and 6 months in prison.

This is the price of reporting rape in Saudi Arabia.

Virtual Violence

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Girls need modems

Cyber violence against women is on the rise yet many countries' laws still do not have ways of addressing it in part because of the nature of the 'crimes' involved.

The fact that cyber violence happens virtually rather than face-to-face can make it more difficult to take action on it for any of the following reasons:

  • There may not be any physical evidence that it is happening for a forensic analysis, for instance, especially if it's in chat rooms that don't log messages
  • It may be difficult to link abusive behaviour to actual known people if perpetrators are using screen names
  • The violence may be directed at online representations of women, which themselves may be degrading or visually violent, rather than known or actual individual women

Week 2 - another collection of links

Healthy discussion: In the fantastic sex education site Scarleteen (which I personally can't recommend enough for teenagers and young adults), Heather Corinna writes about rape with boys (and men) in mind:

"Those articles about rape prevention telling women all they can do to prevent rape? This isn't one of those articles. This one’s for the men."

A global generation of women: Imagining ourselves is an online multimedia project ran by the International Museum of Women, full of stories, photographs, films and much more. A true gem.

Women fighting violence: MADRE lists 16 ways women are fighting against violence

Feminist men: The concept makes some feminist bloggers raise their eyebrows at the mention of a "feminist men's blog", but here's one - Feminist Allies blogs 16 days.

A call to men: an men organisation working on ending violence aginast women. To read: 10 things men can do to end VAW. Shakesville's blogger Melissa comments on it.

Any links you want to share with us? Please post them in the comments... 

Addressing violence against women: a global approach (part 2)

by Ceri Hayes

[this is the second part of a blog entry addressing the ways to tackle Violence Againt Women. Part 1 is here].

Co-ordination between and the commitment of different actors in the community is extremely important if interventions to address violence against women are to succeed.

Integrated community approaches

In Ghana, the Nkyinkyim project has a strong focus on working with traditional and religious leaders - and engaging the whole community in its efforts to tackle the pervasive problems of domestic violence. Partners in the project have created COMBATS or Community-Based Action Teams to work with local leaders in rural areas -where access to legal support and formal justice systems can be very limited - in order to resolve individual cases of domestic violence and to establish locally appropriate sanctions such as public ‘naming and shaming' of perpetrators.

This approach has fostered a sense of ownership of the project amongst the whole community that has resulted in not only the incidence of violence against women decreasing, but also a reduction in other types of intra-familial violence.

Who pays for violence against women?

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coins in the air


Consider this, from UNFPA:

In Chile, domestic violence cost women $1.56 billion [USD] in lost earnings in 1996, more than 2 per cent of the country's GDP. In India, one survey showed women lost an average of seven working days after an incident of violence. Domestic violence constitutes the single biggest health risk to Australian women of reproductive age, resulting in economic losses of about $6.3 billion a year. In the United States, the figure adds up to some $12.6 billion annually.

By way of comparison, estimates of the economic cost of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa have ranged (pdf) from 0.6% of GDP for the region to over 1% (equivalent to $12 billion USD a year in 2001). Clearly then the cost of violence against women is significant, whether measured in absolute or relative terms.

As Sylvia Walby has researched this cost of violence against women is not restricted to one government department or one area of society. In addition, the costs to the government as a whole are both direct and indirect (pdf). For example, direct costs include those accruing from direct service provision such as that from the health care and criminal justice systems (including emergency services, hospitals and GPs, and the courts) as survivors access medical treatment for their injuries and perpetrators are brought to justice. Importantly, any measure of these direct costs will only be a fraction of the true costs since reporting rates are so low and many women do not seek medical attention. Indirect costs meanwhile include those cited in the quote above such as loss of productivity and earnings, as well as less tangible variables such as educational achievement and future earning potentials. This is to say nothing of the human and emotional costs, which Walby has demonstrated can also be financially quantified.

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