Security, Protection, Self-Care: international Feminism’s agenda

Apparently a good amount of international peace and justice activists’ discourse is focused these days on issues about security, protection and self-care. At the same time, it can be difficult for policy makers to have much sense of the immense range of responsibilities women’s lives can involve; plans for a nation can too often neglect or work against women’s interests. In responding to this problem, women working for the security and protection of women in developing countries have, over the last several decades, developed a very nuanced and detailed agenda. It is still evolving, of course, but the recent meeting in Istanbul of the Association of Women’s Rights in Development seems to me to suggest an exciting and maturing convergence of agendas.

There is so much going on; so many questions being raised, so many action plans being developed. Follow through on some of the links from the conference, and see what you think.

I’m told there was not much Western presence. I think that is a situation we should think about critically. Many of the problems being discussed are not regional.

Development in women’s position in Afghanistan

There’s a pretty horrendous story come out about a child bride, Sahar Gul (aged 15), in Afghanistan being tortured by her new in-laws in order to get her to become a prostitute. You can find the article here, but note there are some very unpleasant pics and scenes described.

The reason this is noteworthy is that this story occurred in an Afghan paper and Afghan people were apparently outraged.

From the article:

The case highlights both the problems and the progress of women 10 years after the Taliban’s fall. Gul’s egregious wounds and underage wedlock are a reminder that girls and women still suffer shocking abuse. But the public outrage and the government’s response to it also show that the country is slowly changing.

And though things are improving a bit,

Still, for every improvement, there are other signs of women’s continued misery. The U.N. says more than half of Afghanistan’s female prison population is made up of women sentenced by local courts for fleeing their marriages — the charge is often phrased as “intent to commit adultery,” even though that’s not a crime under Afghan law. And the U.N. women’s agency UNIFEM estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15, even though the legal marriage age is 16.

I do think it is sort of hopeful that the outing of this story caused an outrage in Afghanistan. I hope Sahar is going to be ok, despite this extremely traumatic experience, and I hope that because of her, a lot of other kids are going to be more ok than they would have been otherwise.

Thanks @AllenStairs for sharing

Congolese anger on the streets of London

Thousands of Congolese women, children and men have been protesting on the streets of London for the past week. But there has been little/no media coverage. I wonder why that might be?

The protests are about the recent election results. The protesters argue that Étienne Tshisekedi was cheated from power by Jospeh Kabila, during elections marked by violence and chaos. They fear that Kabila is a Western puppet, who will continue to allow rich Western nations access to the DRC’s natural resources. These include, amongst other things, the minerals used to produce our beloved consumer gadgets: mobile phones and laptops. The problem is that control of the resources has brought one of the most violent conflicts to the region, which has led to endless rapes, beatings, and murders.

Many of the London protesters were angry that the media rarely reports on the atrocities happening in the Congo. They carried pictures of dismembered bodies, bearing witness to the many victims of the ongoing chaos.

You can read more about the recent protests here. WARNING: there are graphic photographs of atrocities included in this report.

You can read a bit more about the elections and the contemporary history of the region here.


Suppose you organise society so that only men are allowed to work outside the home. Women are confined inside to be childrearers and housekeepers. Since women cannot work, their chances for survival depend on being supported first by their parents, and then a husband. Parents must pay for a man to take their daughter off their hands. Suppose also that there is no welfare system, so parents must rely on their children to support them in their old age. If you were a parent, you’d inevitably prefer a son, who would receive a dowry when he marries, and take care of you when you’re too old to work. Daughters are of no use to you, and a drain on your already meagre resources. It would be no surprise if you aborted/killed any baby girls. Others take the same line as you, and so the ratio of men to women becomes skewed. Now what happens when your son(s) try to find a wife? There aren’t enough women to go round. So what should one do? There are various solutions. You could arrange a wife for one son, who will then be shared amongst many brothers. Or you could kidnap a woman to be a wife for your son(s). Or you could buy a kidnapped woman, sometimes at an open auction. Since women are viewed as inferior beings in your society – you killed your baby girls, remember? – the women shared and bought will be yours to treat as possessions. Welcome to rural India.

More from Al Jazeera.

Win for Women in Saudi

Women in Saudi Arabia are to be given the right to vote and run in municipal elections, the Gulf Kingdom’s King Abdullah has announced.

He said they would also have the right to be appointed to the consultative Shura Council.

The news will be welcomed by activists who have long called for greater rights for women in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The changes will take effect from next year, the king said.

King Abdullah announced the move in a speech at the opening of the new term of the Shura Council.

“Because we refuse to marginalise women in society in all roles that comply with sharia, we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulama [clerics] and others… to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from next term,” he said.

“Women will be able to run as candidates in the municipal election and will even have a right to vote.”

The BBC’s world affairs correspondent Emily Buchanan says it is an extraordinary development for women in Saudi Arabia, who are not allowed to drive or leave the country unaccompanied.

You can read more here.

Gay man to be deported to Uganda?

Uganda is not a very groovy place to be if one happens to prefer same-sex sex. Not only can one be imprisoned for life if one engages in ‘repeated acts of homosexuality’, the government keeps threatening to pass a Bill making such acts punishable by death.

And where legislation falters, the mob takes things into its own hands, and the prospect of
extreme violence is never far away.

How nice to hear, then, that good old Blighty is planning to deport a gay man back to Uganda because the judge refused to believe that he is gay (despite expert evidence to the contrary), and is adhering to the old guidance about which countries are safe (Uganda was only recently added to the list of unsafe countries for gay people, following an Amnesty report). You can read more here.

Palin and Bachman: real feminists

Naomi Wolf argues that feminism in North America is associated with the left, but is not necessarily left-wing.  I can agree with that, especially when I think of Women’s Christian Temperance Union activists of the 19th century (some of whom were lefty, but some of whom would fit well into the Southern Baptist Convention today).

It’s possible to buy Wolf’s argument, though, without necessarily agreeing with her definition of feminism:

The core of feminism is individual choice and freedom, and it’s these strains that are being sounded now more by the Tea Party movement than by the left.

Is this the core?  And even if it’s necessary, is it sufficient?  I know I’m going to sound like a child of the seventies, but I always took seriously the importance of consciousness-raising, and authentically identifying with women, with feminists, and with certain principles as a feminist.  Hence my deep ambivalence about one of Wolf’s last sentences:

But these women are real feminists – even if they don’t share policy preferences with the “sisterhood,” and even if they themselves would reject the feminist label. [my emphasis]

I agree with much of what Wolf says, but here, she loses me.  Can we insist others are feminist who reject “the feminist label”?  What kind of ‘real’ feminist rejects it?  I do not mean to agree with the main thrust of the article, an interesting one that I hope others read.  Palin and Bachmann do have wide appeal in part because of their capacities to speak as women and to women in voter-motivating ways.  I nod my head at Wolf’s last sentence, if only because feminists are wise to attend to the uses of feminism by others, whether or not they really are feminists:

In the case of Ms. Palin – and especially that of Ms. Bachmann – we ignore the wide appeal of right-wing feminism at our peril.

Uttar Pradesh – extreme violence against women

Uttar Pradesh – a state in Northern India – is seeing an increasing number of extremely brutal attacks on women. In the latest case, a sixteen year-old woman was assaulted with knives and axes before being gang raped. The woman and her family are too scared to stay in their village. They have abandoned their home and land to stay with relatives. This is just one of hundreds of rapes and attempted rapes that have happened this year in Uttar Pradesh. The attacks are a tragic example of the intersection between gender, class, and poverty. Women are accorded very low status in the region. Moreover, many of those attacked are Dalits – members of India’s lowest caste, which used to be known as ‘untouchables’. An analysis of rape figures carried out by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Uttar Pradesh found that 90% of the victims were Dalits. Poverty makes things worse, as people are unable to afford sanitation in their homes, forcing them to go out into their fields at night to go to the toilet. Many women are attacked whilst performing their ablutions. Campaigners say that most of the rapists are people with money and political power. Roop Rekha Verma of Sajhi Duniya (Shared World), an organisation based in Lucknow that works with women says, ‘It’s a very difficult situation here… There is a lot of violence: Crimes are escalating; gender problems are increasing; girls are being attacked, both in rural and urban areas… These cases are so brutal that we wouldn’t have believed that they could happen – we thought such things could happen only in novels and films’. You can read more here.

Uncertain Iranian lives: Sakineh, lawyers, and human rights activists

The life of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani remains in the balance

“A year after public attention was cast upon Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s plight, her life appears to remain in the balance.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old woman from Iran’s Azerbaijani minority, was sentenced in 2006 to be stoned to death for “adultery while married”.  She was also sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for her role in her husband’s murder which,  according to her lawyer, was reduced to five years’ imprisonment for complicity in the murder. She remains in prison in Tabriz.  In a letter sent by the Iranian Embassy in Spain to Amnesty International Spain on 8 July 2011, the Iranian authorities reiterated that she was sentenced to death by stoning and to 10 years’ imprisonment for murder…”

for more, click here

also, Fears grow for lawyer of woman in Iran stoning case

Lawyer still in prison after speaking to foreign media about case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani

for more, click here

Interested readers might also wish to check out:

What do Iran and the U.S. have in common?


Urgent petition to save Sakineh