Archive for August, 2009
What bravery! The piece is too descriptive to paraphrase, so here are some highlights written by Anna Badkhen for Ms. Magazine.
On a bullet-scarred side street in Baghdad’s downtown, where U.S. Marines famously helped tear down the statue of Saddam Hussein in April of 2003, an inconspicuous entryway tucked between a steel-shuttered shop and a rickety candy stall leads to a flight of steep concrete stairs. Rusted water pipes run precariously over and across the poorly lit top step, tripping first-time visitors. The second-floor landing bottlenecks into a dark, empty hallway. Women in black abayas hurry across the buckled floor tiles in silence and quickly disappear through an unmarked plywood door on the right.The decrepit two-bedroom apartment behind this unassuming portal is an essential junction of what activists in Iraq and their U.S. supporters call the Underground Railroad. This Railroad is a small, clandestine network of several shelters, located mostly in Baghdad, for the countless but commonly overlooked victims of the war in Iraq: women who have been raped, battered or forced into prostitution, or women who, accused of bringing dishonor to their families by having been abused, have been rejected or even threatened with death by their relatives.
In a country ravaged by war and fractured along sectarian lines, these shelters serve women who have nowhere else to turn for help. Operated despite recurring threats and lack of government support by a team of 35 Iraqi activists who call themselves the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), the shelters offer a glint of hope for civil society.
The Underground Railroad was founded in 2004 by Baghdad-born architect-turned-feminist-organizer Yanar Mohammed, head of OWFI, along with MADRE, an international women’s rights group based in New York. It provides the only sanctuaries for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence outside the quasi-autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq, where the local government and NGOs operate several similar shelters. In addition to providing temporary asylum, it helps women resettle in places where their abusers cannot find them easily. Since its inception, says MADRE Policy and Communications Director Yifat Susskind, the Railroad has helped thousands of women. Several have been transferred to Turkey, at least two now live in the U.S., but most of the rescued women have remained in Iraq.
Read the rest here!
Greta Browne, a Unitarian minister from PA, is making her way across the states to alert people to the dangers of climate change. Greta draws attention to herself by wearing her trademark shit that says “Walking for the Climate” but besides that shirt, all her other clothing, down to her sneakers, is second hand. Although she does use a gas-guzzling van to help her on on the trek, she says she has reduced her carbon footprint to half that of an average American.
So far, Greta has walked 1,100 miles, starting from outside New Orleans and will end this week in upstate NY, near the Canadian border.
Along the way people have offered her support in the form of money and water bottles, but some have joined her to argue that humans are not the cause for the growing temperature of the planet.
“Mostly people think [climate change] is a problem,” she said, “but mostly they think it will not impact them anytime soon.”
A longtime member of the Green Party and the founder of a vegetarian cooperative restaurant, she has been concerned for years about global warming. But after she retired last year, she joined an environmental group and read “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet” by Mark Lynas. The book, which argues that most of humanity could be wiped out by the end of the century if Earth’s temperatures continue to warm, galvanized her.
Leslie Kaufman, who wrote the article published on Common Dreams says this kind of action is a growing trend among environmentalists
In choosing to promote her cause this way – as opposed to, say, pressing for legislative change – Ms. Browne joins a growing list of environmental activists who are hoping to draw public attention to the issue through stunts: Colin Beavan, for example, the writer who lived without toilet paper and electricity, or David de Rothschild, a self-described “eco-adventurer” in San Francisco who has built a boat made of reused plastic water bottles and plans to sail to Sydney, Australia.
The law, the many Muslims say is an attack on their religion, is being reconsidered by President Amadou Toumani Toure.
Martin Vogl of BBC news quotes the president of Mali’s High Islamic Council
Mali’s current law specifically states that a wife must obey her husband, and that is the way things should stay says Mahmud Dicko, president of Mali’s High Islamic Council.
“We’re not trying to make women slaves. Not at all,” he says.
“It’s just the way our society is organised. The head of the family is the man, and everyone in the family has to obey him.
“It’s like that to create harmony.”
While men have outweighed women heavily at the protest, one woman explains why there is controversy:
Hadja Safiatou Dembele, president of the National Union of Muslim Women’s Associations (NUMWA), says the Koran is clear that a wife has the obligation to listen to her husband.
“A man must protect his wife. A wife must obey her husband,” she says.
“It’s a tiny minority of woman here who want this new law; the intellectuals. The poor and illiterate women of this country, the real Muslims, are against it.”
Some protesters have turned violent and Imam’s in Mali have threatened not to hold marriage ceremonies for those who voted for the law.
If the law is not changed, Mr Dicko of the High Islamic Council says the country’s politicians will get a nasty shock at the next elections.
“We are trying to keep people calm. We don’t want them to do anything that is against the law.
“Instead we are telling people that they elect the parliament, so if their members of parliament don’t listen to them, they will have the power to vote them out of office.”
In the face of such pressure, President Toure has backed down and sent the law back to parliament to be reviewed.
The Dongria Kondh tribe in Orissa, India is doing everything they can to protect the mountains they worship as god. The tribe’s livelihood is being threatened by the mining company Vedanta. More than 8,000 people would lose the ability to live off the land if Vedanta has their way.
The mountains in question are the Nyamgiri Hills. Jeff Biggers, author of United States of Appalachia, is one of many forces supporting the tribe. As he writes in a piece for Common Dreams, author Arundhati Roy and other London celebrities have stepped forward to back the tribe.
Roy declared: “If Vedanta is allowed to go ahead with its plans for mining the Niyamgiri Hills for bauxite it will lead to the devastation of a whole ecosystem, and the destruction of not just the Dongria Kondh tribal community, but eventually all those whose livelihoods depend on that ecosystem.”
To protest the mining company, the tribe has set up road blocks, organized human chains to stop bulldozers and have gotten their name and cause out into the media.
The following youtube clip is the story of their struggle:
BoldeReach, a non-profit group of women in Boulder, Colorado, who aim to support organizations that empower and educate women around the world is throwing its annual gala. Some of their past projects include supporting clean water initiatives, the prevention of sex trafficking, and girls’ education in Afghanistan.
This year’s gala will support the Global Education Fund. The actual event is on Sat. Oct. 3 and there is a pre-party on Sept 20. Tickets to the gala are $95. If you can’t attend and want to donate anyway, there are links to do so on their website.
The book’s website is extremely interactive and comes with the tag line, “women aren’t the problem, they’re the solution…along with men”. Already I’m in love.
You can also read an excerpt of the book in the New York Times.
There is also a contest you can enter to win the book by either sharing your experience of helping women/girls become more educated or by sharing a photo of a similar experience.
Below are a few choice quotes from the NYT excerpt:
There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism.
This study found that 39,000 baby girls died annually in China because parents didn’t give them the same medical care and attention that boys received — and that was just in the first year of life. A result is that as many infant girls died unnecessarily every week in China as protesters died at Tiananmen Square. Those Chinese girls never received a column inch of news coverage, and we began to wonder if our journalistic priorities were skewed.
A similar pattern emerged in other countries. In India, a “bride burning” takes place approximately once every two hours, to punish a woman for an inadequate dowry or to eliminate her so a man can remarry — but these rarely constitute news.
When a prominent dissident was arrested in China, we would write a front-page article; when 100,000 girls were kidnapped and trafficked into brothels, we didn’t even consider it news.
Follow-up studies have calculated the number slightly differently, deriving alternative figures for “missing women” of between 60 million and 107 million.
The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls and women are now missing from the planet, precisely because they are female, than men were killed on the battlefield in all the wars of the 20th century. The number of victims of this routine “gendercide” far exceeds the number of people who were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.
The 7-page excerpt also includes videos and pictures so I strongly suggest checking it out!
Since my last post on gender-based violence seemed to have struck a chord, I thought I’d take another “swing” at it.
Nasiruddin Haider Khan poses the question, if we are not “hard-wired” for violence…what causes it? He quotes Gary Barker, talking to a crowd in Bangladesh, for the answer:
“Patriarchal legal structure has positioned women in lower social status,” he starts with this opening line. “They (women) do not have property rights. They have lower income. Inequality in property and income give power to men. That power leads to subjugation and violence,” Barker said. Interestingly, Barker points out, “income inequality not only persists within a household but there is class difference at social level too. Class and economic inequality put the same men in a violent situation outside home too. And Men have to understand this to prevent violence.”
In light of all the recent victim blaming, it’s nice to see someone hold men accountable! But he doesn’t place all the blame on men..
Globalization and economic liberalization are two emerging causes for violence. Globalization (especially when it comes to farming practices) really puts the stress on men, and he says when they lose their jobs the men turn to drinking, drugs, and violence. He says this means that the answer to, “where does violence stem from?” has many complexities.
The media also has a role in perpetuating violence and so does nationalism. Barker says sexist interpretations of religions like Islam and Hinduism are also a big factor in gender-based violence.
According to him, nationalist brands anything coming from outside the country as anti-national. He said, “attack of a Hindutva organization on girls in Mangalore in India is an example of this nationalistic ideology. Attacks of Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan on women are the same mentality. They want to keep women in subjugated position.”
War, he says, is also credit for creating violence inside the home. As he explains…”"how is it possible on one hand you glorify killing and sent them for the same and also expect them to be on peace mission inside their homes. You want them to be violent outside the home and non-violent within the home!”
Population Action International’s Climate Change intern Kame Westerman showcased exactly why women’s rights and environmental concerns are one in the same. As part of her peace corps duty she was supposed to teach villages surounding one of the largest remaining forests in Madagascar about sustainable agriculture when she realized there was a bigger problem to tackle: the Malagasy women were having 5+ kids, causing an even bigger drain on the forest’s resources.
Cultural practices encourage women to have bigger families, Westerman writes.
It is believed that a woman with a child is more desirable because she has already proved her fertility; therefore, it is not uncommon for a woman to have her first child early and with a different man than her subsequent children. In addition, being a culture dependent on subsistence agriculture increases the desire for a large family to help in the fields, tend animals, care for younger children, and cook meals.
While it is important to point out many woman do want large families, the UN conducted a study in 2004 that showed that 1 in 4 women would like to put off having children, or have less children, but lack access to family planning information.
As my female friends explained, if they wanted to plan their families, women would have to discuss the rather taboo subject with a man, risk the small community finding out (including her husband, who may or may not be supportive), and most likely would find a lack of supplies; the only other alternative would be a hike of at least five hours one-way to the regional town.
So alongside Westerman’s environmental work, she began holding meetings with the women to discuss reproductive health and the importance of family planning.
If you want to learn more about this issue, check out the documentary put out by PAI called “Finding Balance – Forests and Family Planning in Madagascar.”