Category Archives: developing economies

International Women’s Day – 100 yrs.

On Sunday in the Ivory Coast women were massacred in an ambush while protesting peacefully in the streets. Last week in Libya women were gunned down while being used as human shields by mercenaries.

young women protesting in Libya (Yahoo)

Still, women are out in protest across the Middle East and beyond, asking insistently for change and fundamental fairness for their place in society. But women have taken part in revolutions before in the Arab/Muslim world and their plight has consistently remained unchanged with the change-of-the-guard. They are sent back home with few gains to impact their immediate lives and little to show for their sacrifices. Economic participation remains limited, social inclusion is inhibited, and a future involving full civic participation with rights and choices is no more a broad-based reality today, as we mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, as it was 100 years ago.

Why is there such resistance to women’s inclusion in civic life, along with rights and economic freedom, across the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa?

Some contemplate that it may be religion. Some think it must be the nature of the Eastern woman. Some have come to believe it is simply the eternal destiny of Arab/Muslim women to serve, rather than to be served. Truth be known, it is tradition…simply deep-rooted Tradition.

Muslim women protesting in Egypt

It has been long ingrained in mythology and legendry, that the good Eastern woman is to serve quietly, and to subserviently live out her days as her master and patriarch dictates. Today, as modernity would have it, many young women in the East are questioning the wisdom of this tradition, and its applicability to their emancipated instincts. After all, women across the Arab world and in Muslim Iran have increased their presence in universities and have attained levels of education previously unseen among women in generations prior. Today more than half the students enrolled in universities across the Middle East are women, although only a baffling 5% are represented in the work force.

Still, the state of women in Muslim countries across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia is worrisome. Not because they are battered and beaten just as the men are amidst the brutal crack-downs confronting protests, but because for as long as their emancipation is only in the minds of women, and not in the folklore that creates the Muslim lifestyle, women will continue to be battered and beaten at home as well as on the streets.

Reform must begin at home, and affect society from the bottom up. Women who live in societies where they are expected to cover their heads as a condition of being female, necessarily live in a society that expects them to be subservient. That is not to say that all women who choose to wear head-coverings are subservient. No. If that is a choice made of free will and not higher command, then it is independent of coercion and emblematic of a faith that is to be respected. The trouble presents itself when tradition compels the woman to look and be marked as separate and apart from the men, who remain uninhibited by a dress code that is necessarily debilitating. Hijab by its nature is debilitating. From its most basic to its most oppressive forms, Hijab hinders one or more of the senses and is part and parcel of a tradition to disable and debilitate women by limiting their power of movement and perception.

Contrast in Cairo

When I see pictures of emancipated women with free flowing hair and traces of make-up yelling in protest on the streets of the Arab world along-side their veiled sisters, I worry. I worry that the two sides are not hollering for the same kind of change. One is risking life and limb for change that she thinks will mean equality and emancipation for women and the acceptance of their full participation in civic society, while the other is taking part in an exercise to consolidate the power of religio-centered politics with an allegiance to fundamental Islam rather than to the rule of law and the influence of equality in civic life.

They stand next to each other, grudgingly smiling at one another in a civilized exchange that gives hope to the idea of respectful co-existence, thrusting their fists and voices into the sky as one – one voice for change. They both agree on the idea of rejecting the order they have now and can unite over a call for a new socio-political order. But the new order will not suit them both the same.

Modern women protesting for real change

To see change in the Middle East go toward fundamental fairness and equality for women, the vernacular of society has to change. The culture of domestic life must begin the change just as fundamentally as the politics do. Tradition has to shift from one that trumpets the subservience of women to one that champions their empowerment. Grass roots organizations have to begin in the villages and towns across wide swath of these regions to raise a collective howl against the prevalent but silent domestic exploitation of women. These organizations must begin to change hearts and minds and win people over to the idea that women are equal creations in the eyes of god and man, and that they must be bestowed the rights that make a human whole.

No government anywhere across the domino landscape of revolutionary Middle East today will step in and proclaim the equal rights of women, and actually proceed to bequeath those rights to them. Not without the sustained and committed pressure of regular men and women in society at large – who stand up and assert that fundamental fairness and not a skewed custom of conventions long out-dated should rule the land – will any revolution on the streets of the Arab/Muslim world translate into practical changes in the lives of women there.

These days, to celebrate 100 years of International Women’s Day, female talking heads and pundits in the West, who have attained the emancipated role of ‘role models’ sitting in the comfort of lawful lands, theorize about the plight of women in Arab and Muslim countries displaying the courage for change. They proclaim that until women attain educational and economic equality they cannot be truly empowered.  But to begin to attain that equality they must battle Tradition – and that tradition will be tightly held in place by strong willed men who loath to give up the power it gives them.

If ever there was a time for the emancipated institutions of women to come together for a cause it is now. Women across the Arab world have a chance to turn the corner and establish a pathway to fundamental change against business as usual for governments vis-à-vis the rights of women. Well funded, well connected, well networked organizations that aid, empower and represent the rights of women should come together, strategize and make a plan to establish grass roots efforts wherever possible and to introduce basic education to women and girls. Only this way can we help to change the landscape of civil society and the vernacular of mythology that feeds into a tradition which has historically ill-served the women of the Arab/Muslim world.

Starting this year, on the 100th anniversary of a long-standing global struggle, stand together. Make a difference. Change lives forever.

UN Women and Iran

I don’t mean to differ too starkly from my usual diatribe, but the hoopla about Iran joining the board of the newly formed UN Women, and comparing its track record to that of Saudi Arabia on women’s issues, is really misplaced.

Through my research, and personal experience, I’ve had to make note of the fact that women fare far better under the patriarchal control of Iranian laws than they do in Arab countries under the control of authorities that impose a tribal version of traditional Islam that, simply and unequivocally, dis-serves women.

Tehran - Summer 2010

Not to say that Tehran looks like Paris, but neither does it feel like Riyadh. To begin with, we in the West seem to believe we corner the ideological high ground on women. To be sure, we do intellectually. That is not to say that women everywhere are not as bright as those in the West, but that as women of the west we spearheaded (at least 1.5 generations ago) the movement toward empowering women intellectually, legally, culturally and constitutionally. As a result, women in the west began seeking college educations, entering the workforce, and succeeding in a manner that gave them credibility and by extension, the ability to speak out. It is by virtue of women’s achievements in the Western world that so many aid groups have cropped up in the Western hemisphere to help countless women in the East. I would list them, but there are too many to list. A “google” search will yield hundreds of pages with organizations large and small. Each is dedicated to the empowerment of women – from the ones with a global reach to the smallest grass roots movements that focus-in on intimate groups of women and lift them by sheer will and financing cobbled together by — well, women.

But the intellectual empowerment that led to financial strength, which enabled women to begin to spread the word does not equally apply to sexual empowerment. Western women are credible because they are educated and wealthy, by a global standard. The combination garners due respect around the world. But their sexual emancipation does not garner the same respect, nor does it lend us any credibility around the world. It is here that I scoff at the collective western cry against the inclusion of a country like Iran on the board of UN Women. Iran has proven not to be against the intellectual empowerment of women.

Saudi studentIran is not Saudi. To begin with, Iran was not a Muslim society. Islam was brought to Iran (Persia at the time) by the Arab conquests of 633-651AD, and foisted upon its people. Persians will pledge that Islam never really took root of their soul and that to this day, they separate themselves from its strictest scriptures. In fact, women in Iran have the undeniable right to drive, go to school and on to universities where they now comprise statistically more than 50% of the nation’s students, vote, inherit (although at half the rate of men if intestate), divorce, re-marry, work outside the home and even roam the streets without a burka or chador. Yes, they do have to cover their hair and can’t wear revealing clothes. But Iranian women constantly test those perimeters and live to tell about it.

Iranian women in protest in Tehran

 

To the Muslim eye, the “freedom” in the West that is defined by the freedom of thought is applaudible, but the freedom of sexual expression is frowned upon. Ask a Muslim and they will tell you that they treat their women better. I can’t agree. But I comprehend what they are trying to convey. They believe that the instinct to protect women from the male predator is a respectful thing, but that the forward impulse by western women to be with multiple men is a disrespect to the female entity. In Islam, the chastity of the woman is equivalent to the honor of the family, and by broader definition, society. For this reason, a raped woman is an embarrassment to her family. But again, by statistic, fewer raped women are shunned by their communities in Iran than in most of its Arab neighbors. I remember Sakineh Mohammad Ashtiani and her stoning sentence.  (see post at http://womenfound.org/2010/07/09/honor-stoning-stomach-turning/). That sort of state action cannot be condoned or qualified in any way. But  in relation to the area, Muslim Middle East, Iran is a sanctuary for women, dare I say it. Not that I propose Iran is an oasis of freedom and equality, but for every horrific tale of discrimination that comes out of Iran, there are plenty of instances of triumph for women. Today women in Iran occupy positions as scientists, lawyers, doctors, writers, artists, movie-makers, members of parliament, teachers and professors, as well as mothers, wives and daughters. The older they get, the higher they are held in regard as the matriarch of the family, and the ones with the greatest decision making power in the household. This is true of families who are poor with multiple children, to the more modern families who are educated and have fewer children. Across the board, the girls are expected to be as smart as the boys and if the resources exist, they are to study as hard as the boys and achieve as well as they do. The difference is that as a traditional society, the women are expected to marry earlier and bear children after marriage. ‘Stay-at-home Dads’ are still a non-starter. But that is a cultural referendum, not a legal one.

Iranian women in Iran

 

Saudi is a different matter. It is the only country in the world where women cannot drive, nor can they vote. They are rarely seen in the public sphere and when they do venture out, they must be accompanied by a male relative. They do not comprise a surprisingly large percentage of the university population in the country, nor can they be elected to public office. They are subservient to their men in far greater numbers than in Iran, particularly in the villages outlying the cities; and stoning as a form of punishment for immoral digressions are far more frequent. Even within the cities, abuse and beatings within the family nucleus are appallingly widespread and tragically tolerated by authorities and communities alike. Children are married off at an early age, and not much is expected of them other than reproduction.

Women on the streets in Saudi Arabia

 

So if there is protest against Saudi having a say in the global empowerment of women, perhaps it is well-placed. But in fairness, Iran is a respite for women in Muslim Middle East and certainly cannot be compared to Saudi Arabia – no matter how much we may prefer King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz to President Ahmadinejad. To the extent that UN Women; “The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women” is looking to empower women, not sexually – but intellectually, emotionally, culturally and financially, they will be enriched by the participation of Iranian women who have succeeded in navigating a decidedly up-hill thoroughfare obstructed by a patriarchal system that could have impeded their progress, but ultimately didn’t. 

 

young Iranian women demanding equality

 

For perspective see also:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/babylonbeyond/2010/10/iran-saudi-arabia-women-united-nations.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/03/world/03nations.html

http://www.frumforum.com/iran-saudis-poised-to-join-un-human-rights-body\

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_women_in_Iranian_parliament

http://www.brookings.edu/opinions/2008/0305_education_salehi_isfahani.aspx

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women’s_rights_in_Saudi_Arabia

http://www.ideationcenter.com/home/ideation_article/47143812

http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=182

http://payvand.com/news/09/aug/1264.html

Women and Water

By: Sarah Hudson

 

Gundulpet village – India

In rural Africa, it is the women’s job to gather the water for the household. These women often walk ten miles or more every day to fetch water and in the dry season it is not uncommon for women to walk twice this distance.

 The water wells at the end of these journeys are “often little more than waterholes dug out deeper and deeper as the dry season progresses”. The water wells can be very difficult to reach, with steep sides, which sometimes can collapse and the paths to these wells are narrow and slippery and often result in death or serious injury.

I am a fortunate woman by this standard…I can walk into any market at any time of the day or night and pick up a bottle of water from the vast variety in front of me. Not only am I able to drink the essential amount of water my body needs but I am also being filled with electrolytes, zinc, antioxidants and various other ingredients that our lavish supermarkets, gas stations and restaurants have to offer. It is not this simple for women in most developing countries. It is actually a painful, life-threatening and heartbreaking experience when it comes to the simple issue of water.

Ethiopian women carrying water

As well as travelling such long distances, women often have to wait their turn to collect the water. Waiting times can be up to six hours which makes the journey even more treacherous and takes away time from their families. During the dry season, some traditional sources almost dry out for several months each year and it can take up to an hour for one woman to fill her bucket as she waits for the water to slowly filter through the ground. To avoid such long waits many women get up in the middle of the night to get to the water source when there is no line to wait in.

There are also many health risks that these women and their families endure due to the water itself and the process in collecting the water. Most of the time the water is filthy and filled with trash, flies and sometimes feces. Also, animals often drink at the same source. The contaminated water often causes illnesses such as diarrhea and dysentery, which are responsible worldwide for the deaths of thousands of children under the age of five every day. Also, the water containers that the women bring with them usually hold about 20 liters of water, which weigh 20kg. Constantly carrying such heavy weights have severe health implications particularly on the head, back or hips. Backache and joint pains are extremely common, and in some cases curved spines and pelvic deformities can result, creating complications in childbirth. Pregnant women sometimes keep on carrying water until the day they give birth. (see: http://vimeo.com/15336764)

Some shocking statistics on this issue (source http://wateraid.org):

 -884 million people in the world do not have access to safe water. This is roughly one in eight of the world’s population.

-2.6 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate sanitation; this is almost two fifths of the world’s population.  

-1.4 million children die every year from diarrhea caused by unclean water and poor sanitation – 4,000 child deaths a day or one child every 20 seconds. This equates to 160 infant school classrooms lost every single day to an entirely preventable public health crisis.

-7 out of 10 people without sanitation live in rural areas.

-Diarrhea kills more children every year than AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

 -Children living in households with no toilet are twice as likely to get diarrhea as those with a toilet.

-Every year, around 60 million children in the developing world are born into households without access to sanitation.

-One gram of human feces can contain 10,000,000 viruses, 1,000,000 bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, 100 parasite eggs.

-The average person in the developing world uses 10 liters of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking.

-The average European uses 200 liters of water every day for their drinking, washing and cooking. North Americans use 400 liters.

-On current trends over the next 20 years humans will use 40% more water than they do now.

-Over the past 10 years, aid to health and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa has increased by nearly 500%, while aid to water and sanitation has increased by only 79%.

Recently the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles had an exhibit highlighting water and the world called “Water: Our Thirsty World. Click through the photographs here: http://www.annenbergspaceforphotography.org/exhibitions/water_exhibit.asp.  The exhibit “features the work of award-winning photographers looking at our most precious resource from environmental, social, political and cultural perspectives.”
Click through to see how important a role water plays around the world.

Why can’t we, as a civilized globe, come together with all the plentiful resources we have, and make basic clean water accessible to all people? While researching this piece, I came upon many wonderful organizations that are doing their best to help and eventually eliminate this persistent issue. Please check out the following websites and organizations:

 www.water.org
www.wateraid.org
www.lifewater.org
www.thewaterproject.org
www.usaid.gov
www.globalwater.org

 Also, check out “blog action day” at http://blogactionday.change.org/. Or click onto their site, change.org, from womenfound.orgSupport us, support the world – together we can do much good…

Peace, Prosperity, Equality and Misery…

Women rejoice: 

The Afghan Constitution of 2004 is arguably one of the most progressive legal documents in terms of women’s rights in the region, according to afghan-web.com. It guarantees women’s equality before the law (Article 22), women’s education (Articles 43 and 44), the right to work (Article 48), the right to health care (Article 52), support for women without a breadwinner (Article 53), the physical and mental wellbeing of mothers and the elimination of customary practices that are contrary to Islamic prescriptions (Article 54), and women’s representation in both houses of parliament (Articles 83 and 84). In addition, Article 7 stipulates that the state respects the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  

 The problem is that none of these laws are implemented.  

21 year old repeatedly beaten by Afghan husband

For centuries, according to Afghan Web, an Afghan news resource based in the US, women have been denied these rights either by official government decree or by their own husbands, fathers, and brothers. Women in Afghanistan still endure some of the most restrictive societal laws on earth and are forced behind closed doors and pulled veils to keep them removed from life. The government does little to uphold laws enacted to protect women and their rights. Many live in fear. Few escape. Some manage to get to foreign run NGO shelters. Nevertheless, they live in fear, often having had to forego the right to raise or ever see their children, in exchange for living in safety. (see: rawa.org)  

Still we, pat ourselves on the collective back for ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban, and pretend that this alone has emancipated the women of Afghanistan and given them equality. Not so. Not even close. Change takes more hard work than bombs falling from the sky and a few people pushed into hiding where they harden their stance and spread their venom more intently at a closer range. It takes the painstaking work of people on the ground, creating awareness, changing belief systems, altering attitudes and questioning loyalties to a tradition that is abusive.  

Zarin Hamid who serves as a Peace Fellow for the Advocacy Project in Kabul, Afghanistan writes in her blog from the Afghan capital Kabul that “despite this degree of presence on the international and national scene, women are shut out of the decision-making and policy creation that goes on in other areas”. Women’s achievements, she observes, still pale in comparison to the abuse and violence they endure. She writes that “many face violence, discrimination, and intimidation… due to endemic cultural practices and to the conflict that contributes severely to the terrible plight of women in Afghanistan.  [Women] continue to face tenuous circumstances and in many parts of the country continue to bear the brunt of the upheavals and brutality of the conflict.” (see: http://advocacynet.org/wordpress-mu/zhamid/)  

Afghan women at the Parwan Center - Afghanistan

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, many would conjecture that life for Afghan women has improved. Under the Taliban women were forbidden from going to school, working, or even seeing a male physician – which often meant not being able to see a physician at all. The simple act of child-birth had become a perilous tightrope of life and death for many young Afghan women and girls who were married forcibly and bore children before they were ready. The recently adopted Afghan constitution states that “the citizens of Afghanistan – whether male or female – have equal rights and duties under the law”. Under Hamid Karzai’s post invasion government women have been allowed to return to work and school. They are no longer forced by law to wear the all covering burqa, and have even been appointed to prominent positions in the government. Despite all this, however, many challenges remain. The repression of women is still prevalent in rural areas where families continue to restrict their own mothers, daughters, wives and sisters from participation in public life. They are forced into marriages and denied a basic education. Numerous schools for girls have been burned down and little girls have even been poisoned to death for daring to go to school (see our earlier posts). http://www.afghan-web.com/  

Health:

As long as Afghanistan remains a patriarchal society dominated by the notions harbored by men, the availability of health care for women is only as good as the willingness of men to engage in the concept that women need separate and independent health care for their physical well being.

I will not take my wife to a male doctor even if she dies,” said Pir Gul from Paktika Province, southeastern Afghanistan, explaining that such a thing went against tradition. http://www.afghan-web.com/health/women_paktika.html. His wife’s life hung in the balance during a difficult child birth. Mid-wives are these womens’ saviors, and with little training, child birth is perilous in Afghanistan where 70-80% of girls are forced into early marriage. With no birth control and no education, and a culture that tolerates plenty of abuse, a life expectancy of 44 years among Afghan women seems like a miracle.  

Mohammad Tawasoli, an Imam at a mosque in Wardak Province, central Afghanistan, tells the local community to maintain a two-year gap between pregnancies and to to avoid child marriage in order to enable mother and child remain healthy. “Islam does not allow the killing of the fetus”, he explains, “but it also does not want mothers to face health risks because of… constant pregnancies,” Tawasoli preaches. The Imam will have more influence on the community that science ever could. “Islam does not oppose delayed pregnancies if this helps the health and well-being of mothers,” he told IRIN in Kabul, adding that those who think otherwise believe in superstition rather than true Islamic principles.Afghan-Web suggests “religious scholars such as Tawasoli wield strong influence among people in rural communities where high rates of illiteracy and lack of awareness about health issues contribute to the deaths of thousands of mothers and children every year.” 

Burqa-clad Afghan women and child (AP Photo/John McConnico)

 
Family 

“I was put into chains for a whole month by my father. I ran away twice but was returned home by the police. Everybody says I am the guilty one, that my father has the right to beat me,” says Fahima, a poor Afghan girl who embodies the life of the countless girls who often resort to suicide as their only way out.  

According to Amnesty International women in Afghanistan continue to suffer widespread abuse that remains largely unaddressed. In a report released in 2008, the London-based rights group says few Afghan women are safe from the threat of violence. In the report entitled Afghanistan: Women Under Attack, Amnesty International finds Afghan women are at daily risk of abduction, rape, and forced marriage, as well as being traded as chattel to settle disputes and debts. (see our post: http://womenfound.org/2010/03/16/12/) .

School:  

Girls often face abuse for going to school

Afghan education authorities say they are facing a difficult task of convincing parents to send their daughters to school as attacks on female students have increased in recent months. (see: http://law.rightpundits.com/?p=1509). 

Three girls sustained severe burns in the southern town of Kandahar this year when unknown men sprayed acid on up to 15 girls. One of the girls might permanently lose her sight. In a land where an educated woman is a demanding woman, education for girls and women is frowned upon.  

Life: 

Registered cases of physical violence against women and girls in Afghanistan have increased by about 40 percent since March 2007.  

UN agencies caution that the dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of violence against women does not necessarily mean that gender-based violence has increased. “There is an increased awareness among the law enforcement authorities, so it is not [necessarily] an increasing trend of violence  but that there are more people coming forward to report the violence” said Ramesh Penumaka, representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Afghanistan. The expectation is that nobody would or should talk about gender based violence when it happens within the confines of the private home. Women and their rights be damned, we have an image to protect, goes the logic. When the woman dies it’s called protecting the family “Honor”.  

However, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimates that gender based violence has reached “shocking and worrying” levels in Afghanistan and efforts must be redoubled to tackle it. “Our findings clearly indicate that despite over six years of international rhetoric about Afghan women’s emancipation and development, a real and tangible change has not touched the lives of millions of women in this country,” said Suraya Subhrang, a commissioner on the rights of women at AIHRC. See a story of abuse: http://www.afghan-web.com/woman/domestic_violence.html   

Death:  

Sarah, 20, set herself ablaze in a desperate bid to end her life after four years of marriage to a drug addict in Sheendand District in western Afghanistan. Her family extinguished the fire and took her to the hospital. “I was sad when I opened my eyes in the hospital,” the severely burnt woman told IRIN. Sarah’s husband is a jobless drug addict who often beat her for alleged “insubordination”.    

“I wanted to die and never come back to this life,” she told IRIN from her bed in the Herat city hospital. (see: http://www.afghan-web.com/woman/self-immolation.html)  

“Domestic violence against women not only has serious physical and mental effects on women but also causes other grave problems such as self-immolation, suicide, escape from home, forced prostitution and addiction to narcotics,” according to a study by the AIHRC in 2007 [http://www.aihrc.org.af/Evaluation_Rep_Gen_Sit_Wom.htm].

Afghan-web.com estimates that in one month period nearly 50 self-immolation cases were recorded by Herat city hospital alone. Only 7 were saved. “Ninety percent of the women who commit self-immolation die at hospital due to deep burns and fatal injuries,” said Arif Jalai, a dermatologist at the Herat hospital.  

More than six years after the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001 many women still suffer domestic and social violence, discrimination and lack of access to unbiased say women’s rights activists. The Russian invasion was scary, the Taliban was a nightmare, and now the War on Terror has been disappointingly similar to what came before it. Violence and tribal fueds still control the streets, corruption still runs rampant in government, joblessness and hunger abound and women remain unprotected and frightened in a landscape that is both physically and emotionally brutal to them.

evolution of 1985 photograph by Steve McCurry: Cover of National Geographic

The Afghan Girl:  

In a follow-up story by Cathy Newman on a Photograph by Steve McCurry which was featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1985, a woman named Sharbat embodies the difficult life of an Afghan woman lucky enough to survive the string of armed conflicts that have plagued Afghanistan.

Here are excerpts from the story. See the entire article at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text/1

“There is not one family that has not eaten the bitterness of war,” a young Afghan merchant said in the 1985 National Geographic story that appeared with Sharbat’s photograph on the cover. She was a child when her country was caught in the jaws of the Soviet invasion. A carpet of destruction smothered countless villages like hers. She was perhaps six when Soviet bombing killed her parents. By day the sky bled terror. At night the dead were buried. And always, the sound of planes, stabbing her with dread.

“We left Afghanistan because of the fighting,” said her brother, Kashar Khan, filling in the narrative of her life. He is a straight line of a man with a raptor face and piercing eyes. “The Russians were everywhere. They were killing people. We had no choice.” Shepherded by their grandmother, he and his four sisters walked to Pakistan. For a week they moved through mountains covered in snow, begging for blankets to keep warm.  “You never knew when the planes would come,” he recalled. “We hid in caves.”  

It is the ongoing tragedy of Afghanistan. Invasion. Resistance. Invasion. Will it ever end? “Each change of government brings hope,” said Yusufzai. “Each time, the Afghan people have found themselves betrayed by their leaders and by outsiders professing to be their friends and saviors.” 

Full post: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2002/04/afghan-girl/index-text/1

Update: TIME Magazine cover: http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20100809,00.html

“Rights” not perks…

Once again, there’s a repressive system yanking a ‘right’ away from women, while granting it to men living in the same society.  

This week Hamas announced that it would enforce a ban against the use of water pipes for women in public places. Water pipes are decidedly a whimsical pastime for emancipated women in Gaza. Women who engage in the smoking of water pipes in public places are not likely to be strict followers of the code of Islam – as related to women. They are usually young with a free spirit that allows them to test the limits of women’s rights in Muslim society. They are the ones the AP terms “the secular minority”. They are “secular” because they are better educated. They are a “minority” because education is kept at bay in their broader society so that power can take over. The “right” is to live and conduct ones-self in a manner that one desires. The limit that Hamas decided to impose this week is to restrict the freedom with which women can be who they are, and a compulsion to conform with a conservative Islamic way of life.  It comes on the heels of other limits Hamas has begun to enforce on women in order to adhere to more conservative guidelines of Islamic society.  

The water pipe restrictions are just the latest in a yearlong Hamas campaign to gradually enforce a strict Muslim life code on the people of Gaza. Hamas… has banned women from riding motorbikes. Teenage girls are pressured … to cover up in loose robes and headscarves. 

 Associated Press Writers Diaa Hadid And Ibrahim Barzak – Sun Jul 18, 4:08 pm ET

Water Pipes - AFP 2010

Plain clothed Hamas operatives have begun combing the streets and secular hot-spots to uncover violating women. They then haul them off for some Hamas style intimidation so the next time a woman wants a pipe, she’ll think twice. 

And hence goes the imposition of repression. It is built on intimidation, and the promise that the consequence will be more unpleasant that the conduct in question will be rewarding. It will work. Women will stop smoking and cafe/restaurant owners will stop offering the pipe to women in Gaza. 

Now, squeezed and strained already by the Israeli blockade, the women of Gaza will be further strained by a system that imposes more rules on them, limiting their outlets to a greater degree than the men. Proponents of Islam will insist that their religion does not discriminate against women. But by my understanding, discrimination is just what is described above:  “disparate treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit”. The class or category is women and their treatment is consistently disparate or different. It is not based on merit, ability or qualification. It is simply based on the fact that they are female, and in repressive societies they can be shoved around. For fear of physical harm, they comply. 

AP - Woman smoking water pipe in Gaza

It may be that Hamas was “democratically” elected, thanks to George W. Bush’s 2 terms as the President of the United States. But “Democracy” isn’t just a word. It is a government “of the people, for the people and by the people”. In the Middle East that seems to be a tough concept to convey. 

Case in point: Since elections in Iraq more than 5 months ago, the Iraqi parliament has met for a mere 17 minutes to ponder the affairs of State.  A precious 17 minutes of time the government dedicated to serving the people – a people who incidentally need a lot of service at this point. Hmm, Democracy yes: because the government is technically elected – we have images of inked fingers to prove it. But Democracy not: since there is no representative form of government that meets and debates and negotiates on behalf of the people and their common or specific rights. I remember the triumphant call of “Let Freedom Ring” (I belive it should be “reign”) pronounced by President G.W. Bush on the heels of Iraq’s first election. But today, neither Gaza nor Iraq looks any more Democratic, or incidentally any better, than it did before America’s democracy experiment. 

What both countries do have today, that they may not have had as much of before, is radicalized young Muslims ready to take on Jihad. A conceptual call some years ago against the great “Imperialist Powers” is now a jihad against a realistic and palpable foe to the people of Iraq and the Palestinian territories, not to mention Afghanistan (another democracy pet project of Mr. Bush) and Pakistan (which recently “democratically” elected Asif Zardari who’se wife, the real candidate, was shot to death just before the elections). 

Another woman making the news today is the very distinguished, and as it turns out very correct, , Baroness Manningham-Buller, who headed the British spy agency MI5 between the years 2002 to 2007. Ms. Manningham-Buller, who was testifying for a British inquiry into the lead-up to British involvement in the invasion of Iraq, said “our involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people, some of them British citizens who saw our involvement in Iraq, on top of our involvement in Afghanistan, as being an attack on Islam.” 

So after hundreds of thousands of people have died in these multiple battle fronts, all that we have collectively accomplished are two defunct democracies and many more haters hoping to harm us than we had before.

Former MI5 Chief: Baroness Manningham-Buller

“What Iraq did was produce fresh impetus [for] people prepared to engage in terrorism,” she said, adding that she could produce evidence to back this up. “The Iraq war heightened the extremist view that the West was trying to bring down Islam. We gave Bin Laden his jihad.” 

 See article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100720/ap_on_re_eu/eu_britain_iraq_inquiry 

Now that we’ve provided the “impetus” that propels radical regimes like Hamas and it’s ilk, and enables them to impose their strict brand of Islam on societies where women and girls pay the highest price, I have often wondered how radical Islam will be toppled. It just may be from within: when perhaps women become educated enough to know the difference between a “Right” which governments can’t take a way, and a “perk” which can be granted and witheld to suit policy. 

see articles on water pipe ban:  

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100718/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_hamas_crackdown 

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100718/lf_afp/mideastconflictgazahamaslifestyletobacco_20100718215249

“Open Faced” Democracy…

“Democracy thrives when it is open-faced”

Michele Alliot-Marie French justice minister   

France's fight against the face-veil (bbc.co.uk)

The lower house of the French Parliament, today, voted overwhelmingly (335 to 1) to approve  a bill proposing to ban wearing the full Islamic veil in public. Both the Niqab and Burka would be banned under the proposed law – which still needs to pass the upper house of the French Parliament in September.   

Even now, opposition groups have vowed to begin a legal battle to claim the law as being unconstitutional in Europe. So far as the women in question have been heard to speak or address the issue in France, they have stated that they wear the Islamic head-dress willingly and voluntarily. Indeed, most practicing Muslim women who live under Hijab voluntarily will tell you that they do not perceive their coverage as a limitation.   

That said, it is undeniable that the full forms of the Islamic veil for women have struck and offensive chord with Westerners. France has just been the first to pick-up the gauntlet. Although the proposed bill banning the Niqab and Burka, Islam’s most debilitating covers, makes no reference to Islam, it has been compared to a “walking coffin or a muzzle”, by Andre Gerin of the Communist opposition party.   

The "Burka"

The "Niqab"

The Council of State, France’s highest administrative body, warned in March that the law could be found unconstitutional on the grounds of limiting freedom of religion. What proponents will likely argue is that the Niqab and Burka are only worn by an estimated 2000 women in France. This makes it a minority practice that does not reflect the standard practice of Islam. It does however, limit the state’s ability to identify the women when need be and it flies in the face of the principles of France and French living.   

I have to wonder aloud: why would people who feel the need to follow the strictest strictures of Islam want to live in the West where, although Islam may be welcome, its extreme form is not?    

The French, it seems to me, have worked and fought hard to create a secular society that they covet. Who can blame them for wanting to protect that secularism? For many French people, it is that secularism – that freedom – that allows, indeed enables, them to be on the forefront of technology, industry, economy and the arts. To them, limiting their secular ways is tantamount to limiting their progress and their life-style.   

Though Belgium and Spain are considering similar legislation, it seems for now that France’s Parliament has taken on one of the thorniest issues facing European countries today. These nations have offered generous immigration and asylum policies to the influx of Muslims in their midst, and while Europeans near and far will be watching to see where the trend takes them, the Muslim world will watch to see how to react. Likely, the Muslim world will not simply turn a blind eye to this law, once it passes.    

The Bill, as it is currently proposed, will levy a fine of 150 euros ($190) for women who break the law and 30,000 euros (roughly $38,000) and a one-year jail term for men who force their wives to wear the burka. Clearly, France wishes to put the onus on the men. According to a BBC report, France has determined that the majority of the estimated 2000-3000 women who wear the Burka or the Niqab in France are young women, and many are converts. The assumption is that the men are exerting a great deal of control over these young and perhaps vulnerable, newly minted, Muslim women and the State is stepping in to protect them. It can legitimately be argued that the State does have a duty to protect its citizens and that the control Muslim men exact over their women is a form of coercion and abuse. Under French law, as in most Western legal systems, that conduct – if proven – would be punishable by law.   

The battle is likely to wage for years. Muslims will not turn away from this as a battle lost and a chance to learn and move on. From faith-inspired men acting alone to State’s whose legitimacy rides on their ability to coerce women into coverage, the wheels of establishment Islam will begin to turn toward the undoing of a law legally passed by a sovereign nation’s Parliament. They will mount a virulent opposition campaign against the French and the Parliament, and they will likely issue Fatwa’s (recall Salman Rushdie) and call for the heads to roll (recall the Dutch Cartoonist who dared to satirize the prophet Mohamed). No doubt, this will only enrage the French, and indeed any other country that dares to take on the issue, and harden their stance against allowing full face veils in their communities and societies.   

…And once again, we will have a cycle of hatred and violence with no end in sight.   

   

PEOPLE not PROPERTY… zero tolerance for trafficking

human-trafficking-sale

Every year, hundreds of thousands of women and children are abducted, deceived, seduced, or sold into forced prostitution. According to a book by Siddharth Kara, Sex Trafficking: the Business of Modern Slavery, they are coerced to service hundreds if not thousands of men before being discarded. “These trafficked sex slaves form the backbone of one of the world’s most profitable illicit enterprises and generate huge profits for their exploiters”. (image from theinspirationroom.com) 

Kara, the first Fellow on Human Trafficking with the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University compares the trafficking of humans to the trafficking of drugs and observes poignantly that “unlike narcotics, which must be grown, harvested, refined, and packaged, sex slaves require no such ‘processing’, and can be repeatedly ‘consumed'”.

According to the US Department of State, The modern re-emergence (“re-emergence” because modern-day trafficking of mostly women and girls is being compared to the trans-Atlantic slave-trade from Africa to the Americas) of trafficking in human beings is said to be linked to the deepening interconnection among countries in the global economy, overpopulation – with its consequent production of so called “disposable people” – and the economic and other vulnerabilities of the victims.

Around the world, millions of people are living in bondage. They labor in fields and factories under brutal employers who threaten them with violence if they try to escape. They work in homes for families that keep them virtually imprisoned. They are forced to work as prostitutes or to beg in the streets, fearful of the consequences if they fail to earn their daily quota. They are women, men, and children of all ages, and they are often held far from home with no money, no connections, and no way to ask for help.

This is modern slavery, a crime that spans the globe, providing ruthless employers with an endless supply of people to abuse for financial gain. Human trafficking is a crime with many victims: not only those who are trafficked, but also the families they leave behind, some of whom never see their loved ones again. Trafficking has a broad global impact as well. It weakens legitimate economies, fuels violence, threatens public health and safety, shatters families, and shreds the social fabric that is necessary for progress. And it is an affront to our basic values and our fundamental belief that all people everywhere deserve to live and work in safety and dignity.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009

What exacerbates the trade is the vicious cycle which is comprised of failing third world government infrastructure and resources to police the remote corners of their lands, while traffickers, motivated by profits, have nothing standing in the way of them and poor young women and children in rural areas. Most traffic victims are nabbed from their home villages in rural areas in developing countries around the world where regulation, policing and prosecution are more theory than practice. Poverty and lack of education is rampant, and lives are easily won and lost.

In China, the nation’s “one child” population control policy has led to a disproportionate number of boys being born to families who often aborted female fetuses if they could. Now, women are trafficked in from neighboring Burma, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea and sold to Chinese families. These women are often drugged and abused on the way there, after being tricked into traveling with the promise of a better life, an education or a job. Then find themselves alone in a foreign land, without papers or a passport, virtually prisoner to their “owners”: men who have paid a trafficker for their wives. See:(http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/asia/Trafficking-in-Foreign-Women-Rises-in-China-97858749.html). 

Sadly, even in South Africa during the euphoria of the World Cup games, some studies estimate that about 100,000 people may fall prey to human trafficking schemes, according to newamericamedia.org (http://newamericamedia.org/2010/07/sex-trafficking—big-business-during-the-world-cup.php). Most of them will be women and children. Some will be taken to South Africa to be sold as prostitutes. Others will be abducted and trafficked in their own land using a variety of schemes by ever-ingenious traffickers including posing as photographers looking for models to men posing as soccer camp organizers. “They’ll go up to a group of kids and say, ‘Oh, I see you’re playing soccer, would you like to go to a soccer camp?’ There may be a few games that come out of it, but it’s all a plan to later abduct them and force children into sex slavery,” says Danielle Schneider, a lifelong teacher who trains instructors who work with underprivileged kids near Cape Town, South Africa. During the 2006 Word Cup in Germany an estimated 40,000 women were trafficked into that country, according to the “2010 Stop Human Trafficking” campaign.

Salvation Army/Leo Burnet campaign to end trafficking

This year, the Salvation Army in South Africa worked with Leo Burnett to highlight the harsh realities of human trafficking. They developed a hard hitting idea that put children on sale in fashion boutique windows. The message emphasizes the tragedy of putting a price tag on human life. The text: “Human trafficking is a serious crime. Help us end the exploitation”.

 Closer to home, in Ocala, FL, three people were charged with human trafficking dozens of victims from Haiti in 2008, (http://www.ocala.com/article/20100706/ARTICLES/100709817/1402/NEWS?Title=Three-charged-with-human-trafficking-on-Alachua-County-farms); and just recently the BBC produced a multi-part series on human trafficking in the UK, perpetuated often by diplomats with immunity from criminal charges. Staff from the Saudi Arabian and Nigerian missions have been suspected of human trafficking and sexual assault. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/london/10436729.stm).

UNODC anti human-trafficking image

 Now the UN has embarked on a campaign to raise awareness regarding human trafficking and “modern-day slavery”.

Raising awareness about human trafficking is the aim of a new campaign by the United Nations. The victims are extremely likely to be women and children. In order to tackle the problem more effectively, the UN has published figures documenting this modern slavery. In Europe, it is thought that 70,000 new victims arrive each year and stay on average for two years. The figure is half the total estimated number of 140,000. The vast majority are brought over for prostitution – in a market worth 2.4 billion euros a year. (www.euronews.net). See: (http://www.euronews.net/2010/07/02/un-targets-human-trafficking-for-prostitution/).

Victims are mostly women and children who endure heart-wrenching circumstances, under sub-human conditions for the sole purpose of enriching their traffickers and satiating a perverse need harbored by their subjugators. Tragically, women traffic and enslave other women and girls in greater numbers than can be believed. Many victims of human trafficking are nabbed at a young age and are forced into servitude, whether physical or sexual labor, for as many years as they can bear it. In the end they are either discarded as trash or used to their deaths, without a voice, rights or any representation. Most are too frightened in a foreign land to reach out to any civilian or even local authorities for help.

The UNODC is the only UN agency that focuses on the criminal justice element of the crime of trafficking. It is there mission to capture and prosecute the organizers and perpetuators of kid-napping and human trafficking which is defined as “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.” (UNODC).

As members of society, we should focus on the moral and humane aspect of this crime. Zero tolerance is how we should view global trafficking.

“Virtually every country in the world is affected by these crimes. The challenge for all countries, rich and poor, is to target the criminals who exploit desperate people and to protect and assist victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants, many of whom endure unimaginable hardships in their bid for a better life.”

 http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/index.html