Saturday, July 26, 2008

India's "Untouchable" Prime Minster

You know the names of these iconic women from the Sub-Continent - Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto - now a new name is emerging - that of Kumari Mayawati. Who is this women who is said to turn Indian politics on its head.

Mayawati was a women born into one of India's lowest castes - or social groups - the Dalits. These people were once known as "untouchables". She became educated and became a government teacher. Her speeches at anti-caste rallies ensured she came to the attention of other political activists in the 1990s. Now, as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati is one of the most influential politicians in the world’s largest democracy.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:
"Mayawati demonstrated her political clout when she led a charge to topple India's Congress Party-led government in a no-confidence vote last Tuesday. Although the government survived the vote by a slim majority, Mayawati emerged at the helm of a new Indian opposition movement amid the political realignments that followed.

This "third front" in Indian politics will challenge both the Congress-led governing coalition and the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the lead-up to India's next general election scheduled for May. Some analysts say the new grouping could give Mayawati the national profile she needs to pursue a long-held ambition to become India's first "untouchable" prime minister."

Continue to read this four-page article: "Turning Politics Upside Down"

From BBC News:
"The way a number of Indian opposition parties are rallying around Mayawati, a Dalit or "untouchable" icon, and touting her as a future prime minister must be gladdening the hearts of 160 million members of the community she represents.

Analysts say that Ms Mayawati is also trying to move beyond a purely caste-based agenda to enhance her appeal among upper-castes and classes - her government recently brought in English in primary schools and announced new urban housing and health plans."

From the International Herald Tribune:
"The advance of so-called low-caste, or Dalit, politicians like Mayawati has reshaped Indian politics for 20 years, although no one from her social rank has so shaken up the country's traditional political order. Dalits represent roughly 16 percent of the population and have traditionally been shunted to the lowest rungs of Indian society.

Mayawati leads the government of Uttar Pradesh, a sprawling northern state with a population of more than 160 million. Her admirers see the rise and reinvention of this unmarried outcaste woman of 52 as a triumph of India's democracy over its deeply conservative and stratified traditions.

Her detractors see her as a symbol of an increasingly crude and unprincipled politics. She is accused of being ostentatious and corrupt and of striking deals with anyone who will advance her political ambitions."

And another, more detailed story from the International Herald Tribune: "Indian women rises on votes that cross caste lines"

This story is worth watching to see how things pan out for this politician.

Britain's "Land Girls"

On Wednesday this week, Britain's "Land Girls" were honoured for their work during World War II, working "on farms and estates, milking cows, digging ditches, making hay, sowing seeds and harvesting crops, to help alleviate food shortages.

The Lumber Jills worked in forests to provide timber for the war effort, felling trees, cutting timber and sharpening saws.

With war hampering the transport of food around the world, civilians were also encouraged to "dig for victory" during the war, and arable land increased in are by 63% between 1939 and 1944."

BBC News reported that:
"Fifty of the women - dubbed Land Girls and Lumber Jills - attended a ceremony in Downing Street hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown. More than 30,000 badge applications have been received to date."

Friday, July 25, 2008

Women in the Safavid era

I would love to share an article with you all entitled "Women in the Safavid era" from the Iran Chamber Society.

The article is based upon a work entitled" Women in Safavid (1501 - 1732) Iran: The Evidence of European Travelers" by Ronald W Ferrier.

Briefly the work describes the perceptions of European travelers to the Safavid court at Esfahan - and carefully notes that these people would only have come into contact with those in the upper levels of society.

It goes further to discuss marriage and divorce, women's roles in society as both wives and patrons of the arts. It concluded by listing a number of prominent women of the time.

Not being at all familiar with this period of history - I found the article of great interest. So much so that I am very inclined to seek out more about this period in Iran's history and discover more myself.

Link: Safavid Empire
Link: Esfahan

Ancient Italian Woman

The discovery of the tomb of an ancient woman in Ancona, Italy has revealed just how wide-reaching trade throughout the Mediterranean really was.

The woman died over 2600 years ago was her tomb was recently discovered near the port of Ancona. The area gave up its treasures - to date over 650 artifacts - dating from the 7th century BC AND from different parts of the world.

From the article in ANSA:
" ''This tomb is of extraordinary importance, as it contains the only known funerary finds in the area of Conero dating from this time,'' said the Archaeology Superintendent for the Marche region, Giuliano de Marinis. The pieces demonstrate that an extensive network of contact and trade once linked this section of the Adriatic coast not only to Sicily and southern and central Italy, but also much further afield. The tomb contains artefacts manufactured in sites as far away as modern-day Egypt, Rhodes, mainland Greece, the Palestinian Territories and Anatolia.

Of particular value are five glazed pottery pendants, which were made in Egypt. Among the other items contained in the tomb were pendants of ivory, glass paste and amber, scarabs, and belts of buckle and bone."

So - there is a reason why we women love our jewelry - it dates back many many centuries - its in our genes!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Female Politicians

Another interesting article to come from allAfrica - an opinion piece entitled "To the Pompous Female Ministers" by Rachel Horner.

The cruxt of Ms Horner's article deals with female politicians whose attitudes and behaviours leave a lot to be desired. By that I mean that the writer believes that these female politicians - in Sierre Leone - are perceived as being "pompous, snobbish and arrogant when given power". They suddenly become distant and unapproachable after assuming their positions in government - where prior to obtaining office, these women were just the opposite.

Ms Horner continues: "Clearly, we don't advocate for self aggrandizement but for women to look back at those that will come after them. Females that had the opportunity to attain certain heights in government should work in the interest of those looking up to them as role models. They should be a good example so that more women will be voted into offices."

Now, I am the first to admit that my own knowledge of the politics and politicians of Sierre Leone is equivalent to a big fat zero - but I seem to recall a very similar case of a female political leader who so alienated those she sought support from that they turned against her. For those familiar with English History I give you Empress Maud. For those unfamiliar, a brief biography:

Maud / Matilda was the daughter of King Henry I of England. For political reasons she was married at a very young age to a much older German Emperor. Having grown accustomed to her position and status, her lot was much reduced when following the death of her husband, her father married her off to a much younger man, whose "social standing" was considerably lower than that of Emperor.

As fate would have it, her brother died in a tragic accident - and so Maud was her father's only "legitimate" heir - and was acknowledged as such during his lifetime. Long story short - the death of Maud's father Henry and the "seizure" of his crown by Maud's cousin led to civil war in England.

And after initially rallying support, Maud eventually alienated a great many of her supporters through her perceived arrogance and haughtiness. And thus, having lost the good-will of the people, Maud was forced to retire from the field of battle - the succession of the English throne eventually passing to her son.

Lesson: as you climb the ladder of success, just remember who put you there in the first place - because they might just assist your journey back down - and your landing may not be all that graceful.

Women & Education

Two women have been honoured in the field of Education.

In Nigeria, Dr. Ijeoma Patience Obuh of the University of Benin has been awarded as having the best PH.D thesis in science - this was out of all Nigeria's universities - and for the year 2005.

According to an article first published in This Day then republished online at allafrica, the National Universities Commission [NUC] presented the award "at the 2008 Nigerian Doctoral Thesis Award Scheme [NUDTAS] held at the Usman Dan-Fodio University, Sokoto."

Dr. Obuh's thesis 'Fishes of Jamieson River, Delta State: Gonadal Development and Fecundity', "examined some aspects of the water quality and the reproductive biology of four fish species from the river."

A great achievement for not only both women and science, but for the environment as well.

In Canada, a story from CNW Group, reports that prominent lawyer and author Maureen McTeer was recently "awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Sheffield at its Convocation on July 22nd.

The honour is offered for her work in international law, public policy, and ethics, and is the first honourary doctorate which the University of Sheffield has conferred upon a Canadian woman."

Kudos to both women for their achievements.

Women & the Law in Lebanon

I came across this curious piece from the Daily Star - apparently women in Lebanon cannot, under Law, pass on their citizenship to their children. Only males can do this. Which, no doubt, poses many a problem for a woman. Apparently it all comes down to whether the woman in question is married to a Lebanese "national" or a "foreigner" - that is her husband is not, by birth, Lebanese. This is really, for me, a rather confusing issue - coming, as I do, from a country that recognises the citizenship of all - male and female.

Here's a bit from the article:
"Thousands of children in Lebanon are denied full access to education, healthcare and residency because they do not have Lebanese citizenship. Lebanese women cannot pass on their nationality to their children and in the event of separation, it is the father who gains automatic custody, according to Lebanese nationality law.

The nationality law was established in 1925 and partially reformed in 1994 in a complex decree. According to a 2008 report by the non-governmental organization Frontiers Association, the 1994 amendment allows the child of a Lebanese mother and foreign father to gain Lebanese citizenship after the child's marriage to a Lebanese, and at least five years uninterrupted residency in the country, including one year after marriage."

The article further tackles the issue of female representation in the political field:
"There is a saying in Lebanon: The only woman you'll see in Parliament is the one wearing black, mourning for the death of her husband or brother, whose political mantle she has inherited.

Women were only present in parliamentary life twice between 1952 and 1962 and then not again until three female members of Parliament (MPs) won seats in the 1992 elections. In the last Lebanese parliamentary elections in 2005 only three MPs out of 128 were women - far fewer than politically restricted neighbors such as Syria, which had 30 women MPs out of 250; Jordan which had 13 out of 165; and Egypt which had 31 out of 718. "

Am I being naive in thinking that the only time a woman can enter the political field is when she is widowed or suffers some other traumatic personal loss?? I hope this is not the trend for the future. Maybe a little more female guidance .....

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Education & Girls

Whilst one nation urges more to be done regarding the education of girls, in another, schools are closing.

From a story originally published in the Daily Trust:
"Governor Ali Modu Sheriff of Borno State has been urged to introduce a separate budget for the promotion of girls' education so as to boost the enrolment of the girl-child into primary schools."

The consultant of an NGO in the state, Girls' Education Project, Mrs Naomi Maiguwa, said:
".... that even though government efforts had improved girls' enrolment into schools by about 80 percent in the state, the problem could only be eradicated if adequate funds were appropriated.

She made a passionate appeal to traditional and religious leaders to enlighten the general public on the need to allow girls to acquire education like their male counterparts and called on the government to sustain the Girls' Education Project."

And yet .... in another corner of the globe:
"The relentless terrorist acts rendered 131 girl schools non-functional, while forcing around 17,200 girls to stop going to schools."

From The News International an article reveals that war has caused the closure of many schools attended by girls. These acts were deemed intentional, as militants in the area consider the education of females to be " ‘un-Islamic’ and promoting ‘obscenity’ "

The article further states:
"According to an official data obtained by ‘The News’, the insurgents destroyed 40 girl schools since July 2007, when the tension gripped the district, to May 2008. The violence came to a halt on May 9 when the NWFP government and Taliban operating under the command of Maulana Fazlullah announced a ceasefire.

However, after the collapse of ceasefire agreement on June 23, the suspected militants started destroying girl schools in Matta and Kabal tehsils, though the Swat Taliban had denied their hand in the destruction of schools. They have been blaming a ‘third force’ for the attacks on schools.

There are 566 girl schools in Swat, including four government girls higher secondary schools, 22 girls high schools, 51 girls middle schools and 489 primary schools. Out of the total, 131 girl schools have been closed, putting an end to the education of 17,200 girl students.

The dropout rate, particularly among girl students, has been constantly nose-diving, as female literacy rate stands at 22.89 per cent and that of male at 52.79 per cent, with an overall lizteracy rate of at 37 per cent."

It is a shame that what we in the West would consider a most basic of rights - education - is being denied to many. It is also a shame that a denial of education due to political and / or religious views should ever come to such a point where violence is employed as a means to an end.

Women in Business in America

Hard on the heels (no pun intended) of my posts on "Women in Business in the Middle East" and "Women in Business in Asia" comes this fascinating report from America.

According to a survey done by a group called catalyst, of Fortune 500 Companies in America, the key to a successful business lies in the employment of women.

According to an article published two months ago in the Financial Post:
"On average, companies with the highest representation of women in corporate-officer positions financially outperformed those with the lowest representation. In fact, return on equity was 35.1% higher. Total return to shareholders was 34% higher.

The numbers jumped for women serving as directors on Fortune 500 boards. On average, return on equity was 53% higher for those boards with a high representation of women than those with the least women; return on sales was 42% higher; and return on invested capital was 66% higher.

According to the most recent data from Catalyst, at the corporate-officer level in Canada, women held 15.1% of the top jobs in Canada's FP 500 companies and 12% of board seats.

This January, the third-annual Rosenzweig Report on women at the top levels of Corporate Canada found that 31 women now hold top-officer jobs in Canada's 100 largest publicly traded companies; down from 37 last year."

It's great to see women taking on roles in business that not too many years ago, were seen solely as the domain of their male counterparts.

Still more statistics - worldwide - are needed.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Female Firsts

A couple of "firsts" for women ....

From IOL News:
KZN woman goes for top UN job

"Durban-born Navanethem "Navi" Pillay is due to be appointed the next chief of human rights for the United Nations.

Pillay, who was the first black woman to be appointed a judge in South Africa, is the daughter of a bus driver whose successes include being president of the UN international criminal tribunal for Rwanda for eight years. The high commissioner's job is one of the most politically controversial in the United Nations.

Pillay will succeed the outspoken Louise Arbour, diplomats said yesterday.

Pillay is now a judge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. As a lawyer in South Africa, she defended anti-apartheid activists and championed the rights of Nelson Mandela and other struggle leaders.

Pillay's appointment would be subject to approval by the UN General Assembly. "

And over in the US ...
From The Examiner:
Sunoco names Elsenhans 1st female CEO, president

"Sunoco Inc. on Wednesday named former Royal Dutch Shell PLC veteran Lynn Laverty Elsenhans as its first female chief executive and president effective Aug. 8.

Elsenhans, 52, will replace John G. Drosdick, who is retiring ahead of his 65th birthday next month. He has led the Philadelphia refiner for the past eight years and will remain non-executive chairman through the end of the year.

Elsenhans joins the company from Shell's Shell Downstream Inc., where she has been executive vice president of global manufacturing since 2005. From 2003 to 2005, she was president of Shell Oil Co. and CEO of Shell Oil Products US."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Role Reversal??

Here's an entertaining story of role reversal.

Indian cricketing hero Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been provided an all-female body guard - to protect him from his horde of female fans!

Now please, I am not making light of the women providing this valuable service, but it does make a change from the typical "male" bodyguard type scenarios that we are all familiar with.

From The Times of India:
"India's ODI skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is now well and truly in the big league. For, no longer is the "privilege" of being watched over by female guards the preserve of the odd royalty and, even more spectacularly, the Libyan strongman, Col Muammar Gaddafi. Mahi, routinely mobbed by a legion of admirers, now has a posse of women cops to protect him in Ranchi.

Dhoni, who has a particularly hysterical female following, now runs the risk of becoming the darling of women constables deployed to escort him and shoo away girls trying to hug and fall over him.

For constables of the Jharkhand Armed Police, lady luck couldn't have flashed a more winsome smile. Fresh from training, they were delighted to learn that their first assignment was to escort Dhoni wherever he went. Blushing and giggling, they were a welcome departure from the usual grim-faced constables purveying Dhoni's Mecon colony bungalow."

From the New Zealand Herald:
"The decision to give Dhoni, India's limited-overs cricket captain, the new security detail comes after two recent incidents in which female fans tried to throw themselves on the heartthrob player, Ranchi police chief M S Bhatia said. Bhatia said the female police had been given special training to protect Dhoni from unwanted advances. He has already been given "Z-class" security - the highest level - from the state, usually reserved for the prime minister and other senior political figures."

From BBC News:
" "Dhoni has a Z-plus security cover [the highest level provided by the state]. Yet it is difficult to keep the female fans away," senior police officer Manvinder Singh Bhatia told the BBC. "So we decided to deploy women commandos for his security as they can do the job with ease," he said. Another police officer said, "The next three weeks that he is here we will ensure that he does not have to face any kind of embarrassment like the one in Calcutta."

For the 15-odd women commandos from the Jharkhand Armed Police constabulary who have been entrusted with the task of keeping Dhoni's boisterous female fans away, this is an unusual posting. Trained rigorously in warfare and ambush techniques, they say they never thought they would be deployed to keep an eye on the state's most eligible and sought-after bachelor. "

Irina Baronova

Yet another loss for Russian arts and culture with the passing of Irina Baronova.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:
" She came to fame at the age of 12 when Balanchine cast her in a 1931 Paris staging of composer Jacques Offenbach's operetta "Orpheus in the Underworld." French critic Andre Levinson wrote, "The sensation of the evening was the tiny child Baronova, who went through the final galop (gallop) like a whirlwind."

A year later, Balanchine recruited Ms. Baronova, Tamara Toumanova, 14, and Tatiana Riabouchinska, 15, to be the stars of a new Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo, successor to the Ballets Russes de Diaghilev.

The three dancers were dubbed the "baby ballerinas" by British critic Arnold Haskell and promoted as such by impresario Sol Hurok for their first U.S. tour in 1933.

Toumanova died in 1996 in Santa Monica, and Riabouchinska in 2000 in Los Angeles.

Ms. Baronova, known for her beauty, grandeur and warm temperament, danced such classical and Romantic ballets as "The Sleeping Beauty," "Swan Lake," "Les Sylphides" and "Coppelia."

Her stage partners included Serge Lifar and Anton Dolin. In those heady times, artists Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse often designed sets and costumes for the Ballets Russes.

During her career, Ms. Baronova also appeared in several films, including "Florian" (1940) and "Yolanda" (1943), and in musicals and plays, including "Follow the Girls," "Bullet in the Ballet" and "Dark Eyes."

In 2005, she wrote her autobiography, "Irina: Ballet, Life and Love."

Ms. Baronova moved to Byron Bay in 2000 to be near her daughter, Irina. Survivors include her three children, six grandchildren and a great-granddaughter."

Female Afghan Olympian

I recently came across this story regarding the only female athlete on the Afghan Olympic Team - who has gone missing.

From The Star Online:
"The only female athlete on Afghanistan’s team for the Beijing Olympics has gone missing from a training camp in Italy and apparently is seeking political asylum in Norway. Mehboba Ahdyar, a 19-year-old runner who competes in the 800 metres and 1,500 metres, hasn’t been heard from since leaving the training centre in Formia last week. The IOC has had no word from Ahdyar and is in contact with Afghanistan’s national Olympic committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Afghanistan was banned from the 2000 Sydney Olympics because the Taliban regime in power at the time barred women from taking part in the games. The 2004 Athens Games marked the first time Afghan women competed in the Olympics, with Robina Muqimyar running in the 100m heats and Friba Razayee competing in judo."

From myTelus:
"In Kabul, the deputy chairman of the Afghan Olympic body, Sayed Mahmoud Zia Dashti, said Ahdyar had a leg injury and was receiving treatment in Italy.

"I can confirm that she has injured her leg and that she will not participate in the Beijing Olympics and that her family in Italy is taking care of her," he said.

There had been fears that Ahdyar's disappearance could be linked to death threats from Muslim extremists in Afghanistan opposed to women running in the Olympics."

From Time:
"Mehbooba Andyar's choice to compete in a head scarf and full-length, body-covering running suit could not spare her from Taliban taunts and threats. The Afghan middle-distance runner nonetheless trekked on and was on the verge of realizing her Olympic dream. But now Andyar — slated to be the only female Afghan athlete at the Beijing Games — has gone missing from her training site just weeks before the opening ceremonies.

Andyar has not contacted any Afghan or international track-and-field authorities since disappearing Friday from a training facility in Formia, Italy, 106 miles (170 km) south of Rome, where she and other international athletes were based in June. Italian police are investigating the disappearance, though there are no signs of foul play."

From the Sydney Morning Herald:
"The IOC has had no word from Ahdyar and is in contact with Afghanistan's national Olympic committee and the International Association of Athletics Federations.

"The IOC accepts that athletes sometimes feel they have to make hard choices to improve their lives," International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said today. "It would appear this is what has happened in this case." "

This report also featured in:
ESPN ~~~ The Independent ~~~ Times Online ~~~ Gulf News

The last word is with The Independent who reported that:
"Ms Ahadgar herself brought the uncertainty to an end when she phoned her family in a poor quarter of Kabul to tell them that she was on her way to claim political asylum in Norway.

But there was always a lively possibility that she would seize the opportunity presented by her Schengen visa to escape from the grinding poverty of Afghanistan for good. To try to dissuade Ms Ahadgar from vanishing, the head of the Afghan Olympic Federation reportedly threatened to throw her family in jail if she did not return to Afghanistan. Now she has called his bluff."

Let us forget for one moment the politics behind the story, and hope that wherever she is, this young lady is alive and well.

Women in Business in Asia

Further to my recent article "Women in Business in the Middle East":

From The Star Online:
"Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen said that as of June this year, women made up 21% (2,873) of the total exporters registered with Matrade and there was a huge potential for them to grow in this area.

She also said that in small and medium-scale enterprises, only five per cent of financing totalling RM94mil went to SMEs owned by women. Dr Ng said that at decision-making level at the work place, 20% were made up of women, adding that the number was moving up."

This certainly is encouraging - and I am still interested in statistics from other countries as well.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Female Genital Mutilation

An article - written by Anslem Wandega - appeared on allAfrica - originally posted on The New Vision Online - concerning the criminalisation of FGM - female genital mutilation - in Uganda.

I would like to reproduce some excerpts:

"The media recently reported a case of a woman from Sebei who developed a permanent disability resulting from female genital mutilation.

Genital mutilation among the Sabiny is a ritual that marks the transformation of a girl into a woman ready for marriage.

Fulfilling one's cultural practices creates a sense of belonging. But every culture has positive and negative aspects. There are cultural practices that protect human rights and others that violate people's rights.

Respect for culture is important but practices that are detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of its members should not be tolerated. The enjoyment of the right to practice culture should not result in negation of other rights.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has classified female genital mutilation as the cruellest and severest form of torture against girls and young women.

Most parts of Ethiopia used to have high rates of female genital mutilation. Women victims were experiencing a lot of difficulty during child birth and some contracted HIV during the process. The government responded by making reforms in focal sectors to curtail the vice. Three years down the road, incidences of maternal mortality and HIV transmission resulting from the ritual have declined drastically.

The first step was to criminalise female genital mutilation. This was successfully done by having it included in the country's criminal code. Perpetrators undergo imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years. This has gone a long way in deterring many from performing this ritual."

FGM is a very sensitive topic as it sometimes infringes upon the cultural values and customs of a number of nations. This case in Uganda is by no means unique - however steps to criminalise this custom are and will no doubt generate much heated discussion from many opposing sides.

Trafficking of Nigerian Girls

From allAfrica:
"The trafficking of girls from villages to cities in Nigeria is increasing and the state is powerless to stop the trade, officials told IRIN.

"The business of recruiting teenage girls as domestic help in rich and middle-class homes is booming despite our efforts to put a stop to it", Bello Ahmed, head of the Kano office of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), told IRIN.

Girls aged 12-17 are regularly trafficked from villages and brought to the city to work as maids for an average monthly wage of 1,500 naira (US$13) which they usually send back to their parents who are caring for several of their siblings, according to Ahmed.

"Apart from being denied access to education, these girls are in many cases raped and beaten by their employers and this is why we keep a dormitory to rehabilitate them", Ahmed said.

"Bringing in girls from the villages to the city to work as house helps continues unabated. In fact it is on the rise", agreed Mairo Bello, head of Adolescent Health Information Project, a Kano-based non-governmental organisation (NGO).

As well as poverty, trafficking in girls and women is driven by the extreme income inequality which exists in Nigeria, and gender inequality. The problem is prevalent all around the country."

Mohammed Aliyu Mashi, who collaborates with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in fighting child trafficking, rejected the notion that there was no legislation to prosecute child traffickers, saying what was lacking was the political will to enforce the law."

This report appeared in IRIN - UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Girls in Zimbabwe

Yet another sensitive topic - the plight of girls and young women - well, all women - in Zimbabwe.

From The Times Online:
"Dozens of teenage girls have been made pregnant after being taken into the bush and raped in torture camps by President Robert Mugabe’s youth militia operating near Mudzi, a town 100 miles northeast of Harare, human rights workers allege.

Amid the continuing chaos, there are as yet no clear statistics, but the sharp rise in teenage pregnancies seems almost certain to have been repeated elsewhere in rural districts. Some of the victims will have contracted HIV-Aids, which has ravaged Zimbabwe for years and helped reduce average life expectancy to 34 for women, the lowest in the world.

The raped girls are the silent victims of Mugabe’s stolen election. Their suffering has been surrounded by silence owing to the stigma and shame of rape. There are an unprecedented 16 teenage pregnancies registered at one local hospital alone. Residents report that the local Zanu-PF militia boasts that it wants to make Mudzi an “MDC-free zone”. The torture camps, they claim, are still manned, with no sign that they are about to be dismantled."

From CNN:
"The 23-year-old woman in Harare, Zimbabwe, said she could talk, but only briefly. It was 3:30 p.m. there and she had to be home before the 6 p.m. curfew, she said. "I should be home in an hour, hour and a half. If I'm not home by then, it means trouble," she said Tuesday."

From the Boston Globe:
"She has to call the young men her "comrades." She cooks food for the comrades and serves them. She sweeps their floor and cleans up after them. And whenever any of the comrades wants sex, she is raped.

Asiatu, 21, is a prisoner of the comrades at a command base of the ruling ZANU-PF, one of 900 set up by the party ..... She has been at the base for about 10 weeks, ever since she was abducted in the middle of the night because her mother is a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. She has to stay most of each day and night at the base, a sex slave of the thuggish youth militias unleashed by the government.

At most of the bases, young women have been forced to serve ZANU-PF youth militias, and men forced to attend the camps daily. The opposition MDC reports an upsurge in pregnancies among victims of rape. Written testimonies by victims show many cases of women raped because they or their close relatives were MDC activists. The party does not have a figure on the number of rapes reported in the continuing political violence."

From the Irish Times:
"Asiatu (21) is a prisoner of the comrades at a command base of the ruling Zanu-PF, one of 900 set up by the party to terrorise Zimbabweans into voting Robert Mugabe back into power in the one-man presidential run-off election late last month.

[She was] interviewed her during one of the several short daily periods she is allowed to leave the base. When asked why she doesn't escape during her free time, she gives a chilling explanation: "They promised me if I run away, my mother will be killed."

She says she looked forward to the June 27th run-off and the result, assuming she would be freed, but with the election over and no sign to the end of her imprisonment, she has lost hope.

She is fearful she might be pregnant, and terrified she has Aids. She is the sole breadwinner in her family, but has not been able to sell vegetables because she spends all her time at the base."

Domestic Workers In Saudi Arabia

This is a very delicate subject - but of recent days, one that has received much comment.

It concerns the treatment of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia - women who are more often than not from poorer areas within Asia, and have sought employment in another country in the hopes of providing for their families. Unfortunately - not all have found themselves in a safe working environment.

In some cases, these women have been subject to horrific treatment at the hands of their employers - they have suffered physical violence and have been treated as virtual "slaves".

I, personally, have seen only a minute number of such cases reported in the news - and there can be no doubt that many cases of ill-treatment go unreported. However, we must also be aware that these cases do not apply to all employers - these cases reflect a small minority .... unfortunately the actions of a small minority can impact on the general view and overall perception of the majority of good employers.

From The Boston Globe:
"A new report on the abuse of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia cites the case of an Indonesian woman, Nour Miyati, who had her fingers and toes amputated as a result of being starved and beaten on a daily basis. Her case, tried in a Riyadh court, was later dropped.

The case, according to the report released yesterday in Jakarta by Human Rights Watch, is hardly unique: the study found that thousands of domestic workers in Saudi Arabia each year face similar abuses, including lashings, unpaid wages, forced labor, and slavery-like conditions.

About 1.5 million domestic workers live in Saudi Arabia, coming primarily from Asian countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Nepal. Indonesia accounts for by far the most workers, an estimated 600,000 to 900,000.

The report, titled, "As If I Am Not Human: Abuses Against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia," is based on two years of research inside Saudi Arabia and nearly 150 interviews with migrant workers, government officials, and labor recruiters."

From The Manila Times:
"US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report released in Indonesia that many Saudis believed they “owned” their foreign domestic workers and treated them like slaves.

“Saudis treat them like chattel, slaves, like cattle. A domestic worker is like a slave, and slaves have no rights,” the report quoted a “senior consular official” with a foreign embassy in the kingdom as saying.

The kingdom’s kafala or sponsorship system gave employers control over the workers’ visas, meaning they could refuse to allow domestic staff to change jobs or leave the country.

Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Nepal accounted for the bulk of the women, thousands of whom sought shelter each year at the Saudi social affairs ministry or at their respective embassies."

From Taipei Times:
"The 133-page report entitled ‘As If I Am Not Human’: Abuses against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia, was compiled after two years of research, the group said.

The work included 42 interviews with domestic workers, officials, and labor recruiters in Saudi Arabia and the workers’ countries of origin, it said.

Out of 86 domestic workers interviewed, HRW concluded that 36 faced abuse that amounted to forced labor, trafficking or slavery-like conditions.

Few of the abusers were ever brought to justice as migrant women who dared to complain risked counter-charges of adultery, witchcraft or moral degradation, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and 490 lashes."

From Yahoo News:
"The government has spent years considering labour reform "without taking any action," Varia said.

"It's now time to make these changes, which include covering domestic workers under the 2005 Labor Law and changing the kafala system so that workers' visas are no longer tied to their employers," she said.

"The Saudi government should extend Labor Law protections to domestic workers and reform the visa sponsorship system so that women desperate to earn money for their families don't have to gamble with their lives."

More than eight million migrants work in Saudi Arabia, including 1.5 million domestic workers, most of whom send money back home to their families."

From The News Tribune:
"Rather than receiving justice, the report said that domestic workers - most of them from Asia - are more likely to face counteraccusations of witchcraft, theft or adultery.

"In the best cases, migrant women in Saudi Arabia enjoy good working conditions and kind employers, and in the worst they're treated like virtual slaves. Most fall somewhere in between," said Nisha Varia, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Suhaila Hammad of Saudi Arabia's National Society for Human Rights dismissed the report as "unfair and one-sided."

"I wish that when rights groups do their reports they would listen to both sides of the story," Hammad told The Associated Press. "We're being unjustly portrayed, and the crimes against us by the workers are never mentioned."

Hammad said crime rates in the kingdom have increased in recent years because of offenses committed by foreign workers. The country is also home to 5.6 million foreign workers employed in sectors such as oil, business and engineering.

"They smuggle drugs, they turn apartments into liquor factories, they practice prostitution, they steal and sometimes they kill," she said.

"It's true that some of the workers suffer, but we also as a society are suffering from them too," she added."

From Middle East Online:
"Some Saudi Arabians are abusing female migrant workers to the point of slavery and Riyadh needs to respond with sweeping labour and justice reforms, a major rights group said Tuesday.

Haima G., a Filipina domestic worker, said her employer called her into his bedroom one day soon after she had arrived and told her she had been "bought" for 10,000 riyals (2,670 dollars)."

From The Houston Chronicle:
"Human Rights Watch said the report concludes two years of research and is based on 142 interviews with domestic workers, senior government officials and labor recruiters in Saudi Arabia and labor-sending countries.

While no reliable statistics exist on the exact number of abuse cases, the Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs and the embassies of labor-sending countries receive thousands of complaints from domestic workers against their employers or recruiters each year, the report said.

The most common complaints include excessive workload and unpaid wages, for periods ranging from a few months to 10 years, the report said."

From The Guardian:
"Asian domestic workers in Saudi Arabia face routine human rights abuses that in some cases amount to slavery, with employers often escaping any punishment, according to a new report.

Abuses include months or years of unpaid wages, forced confinement and physical and sexual violence, while some workers suffer imprisonment or lashings for spurious charges of theft, adultery, or "witchcraft", says Human Rights Watch.

Saudi households employ an estimated 1.5 million domestic workers, mostly from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Nepal. Thousands of complaints of abuse are made every year.

A restrictive sponsorship system ties workers' visas to their employers, which means employers can prevent workers changing jobs or leaving the country. Employers often take away passports and lock workers in the home, increasing their isolation and risk of psychological, physical and sexual abuse. After interviewing 86 foreign domestic workers, HRW concluded that 36 faced abuses that amounted to forced labour, trafficking, or slavery-like conditions.

Poor investigations and criminal proceedings that often last for years mean that abusive employers are rarely punished. For example, after three years of proceedings, a Riyadh court dropped charges against the employer of Nour Miyati, despite the employer's confession and medical evidence. Miyati, an Indonesian domestic worker, had her fingers and toes amputated as a result of being starved and beaten daily by her employers."

From World News:
" "In the best cases, migrant women in Saudi Arabia enjoy good working conditions and kind employers, and in the worst they’re treated like virtual slaves. Most fall somewhere in between," said Nisha Varia, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "The Saudi government should extend labor law protections to domestic workers and reform the visa sponsorship system so that women desperate to earn money for their families don’t have to gamble with their lives."

The Saudi Ministry of Social Affairs, in cooperation with the police operates a shelter in Riyadh to assist domestic workers to claim their wages and return home. However, in many cases shelter staff negotiated unfair wage settlements between employers and workers, often leaving workers empty-handed because they had to forego back pay in exchange for their employer’s permission to leave the country.

In the absence of effective local redress mechanisms, the foreign missions of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Nepal often play a critical role in providing shelter, legal aid, and assistance to those who have wage claims or court cases. The demands placed on these embassies far outweigh their resources, and many domestic workers complain of long waiting periods with little information about their cases and, in the cases of Indonesia and Sri Lanka, overcrowded and unhygienic shelters."

From the International Herald Tribune:
"The report, titled, "As If I Am Not Human: Abuses Against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia," is based on two years of research inside Saudi Arabia and nearly 150 interviews with migrant workers, government officials and labor recruiters.

Varia, who has researched migrant worker rights throughout the world, said she was shocked by conditions in Saudi Arabia.

"We have looked at this issue in many other countries, and it is very common to see labor abuses like unpaid wages. But in Saudi Arabia, what really stood out was a system that allows employers to force workers to stay against their will," she said from Jakarta.

"You had not just one but many cases where women were forced to work for years against their will." She said labor laws, which exclude domestic workers, and a controversial immigration policy that ties a domestic worker's visa to the employer, are the root cause for much of the abuse. The immigration policy, known as Kafala, gives employers the right to deny workers the opportunity to change jobs or even leave the country.

Questionable recruitment techniques by labor agencies in home countries also cripple a worker's ability to save any money. These agencies are deceptive about work conditions and charge excessive fees that cause indebtedness, Varia said.

The problem is compounded by huge commissions that recruiters receive from labor agencies that find domestic workers willing to go to Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch spoke to a Sri Lankan official that said labor agencies typically pay between $330 and $430 commission for workers sent to Saudi Arabia, while only $50 to $100 is paid for other Middle Eastern countries."

Hamia's Story - from Global Nation. This is a must read.

Note: Nisha Varia is HRW's senior women's rights researcher.

Janet Mary Riley


"Janet Mary Riley, 92, a Loyola University law professor who helped make Louisiana women equal partners in their marriages, has died.

Ms. Riley died Saturday at the Chateau de Notre Dame nursing home in New Orleans, a nursing home employee said.

Ms. Riley, who lived in New Orleans all her life, was the first female professor on Loyola's law faculty. Sixteen of the 60 current faculty members are women.

Until the 1970s, Louisiana's community property law made the husband "head and master of the community," giving him total control of his wife's assets.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that the U.S. Constitution bans certain types of sex-based discrimination, the Louisiana State Law Institute, which can revise the state's civil code, appointed Riley the leader of a committee to revise the law.

Her suggestion was an "equal management" plan that would let either spouse manage community property, with limited exceptions. She tried to persuade the council to support it, but got nowhere, and in 1977 the committee disbanded.

But the proposal wasn't dead. State Sen. Tom Casey drafted a resolution based on the "equal management" approach. The Legislature adopted it, and it became law in 1979. "

Rose K Katz

Obit by By Gayle Ronan Sims - Inquirer Staff Writer

"Rose Kibrick Katz, 80, of Wyncote, a retired associate dean at Temple University who took special interest in helping students with personal problems succeed, died Monday of a brain tumor at Keystone House hospice in Wyndmoor.

While raising three children in Abington, Mrs. Katz earned a master's degree in 1960 in counseling at Temple. She was a guidance counselor at Kensington High School for Girls for a few years.

In the late 1960s, Mrs. Katz became an academic adviser at Temple. She went on to become director of Temple's Academic Advising Center and was later an associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Mrs. Katz took a special interest in students who faced challenges in their personal or family life. She also served on Temple's Jewish campus activities board.

In 1988, Mrs. Katz established the academic advising center at Temple University of Japan. She retired in 1990.

Mrs. Katz was an adventuresome world traveler. She visited Russia and Ukraine, where she and her husband supported "refuseniks," Jews who had been refused exit visas from the former Soviet Union. Her husband died in 1984.

Mrs. Katz was active in her community here and in Israel. She volunteered with organizations, including Retired Senior Volunteers Program of Montgomery County (of which she was president) and the Walnut Street Theatre.

She volunteered in a program that provided juvenile offenders with alternatives to incarceration and often accompanied police to scenes of domestic violence.

Mrs. Katz was a member of Or Hadash Reconstructionist Congregation and of Americans for Israel and Torah, a network of services for children at risk in Israel."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Nonna Mordyukova

Famed Russian actress, Nonna Mordyukova, passed away this week, aged 82yo.

From Pravda:
"Throughout a career that spanned half a century, Mordyukova appeared in dozens of films, including some textbook examples of Soviet propaganda. Her characters often faced a tough choice between devotion to Communist dogma and the quiet happiness of family life.

Mordyukova first found fame at age 23 in "Young Guards," a 1948 epic about a group of young Communists that fought against Nazi Germans during World War II. She continued with versatile and critically acclaimed performances in adaptations of Russian classics, comedies and family dramas.

Mordyukova is to buried Wednesday at the Kuntsev cemetery in Moscow, the Union of Cinematographers said."

From RIA Novosti:
"Nonna Mordyukova, the legendary actress famous for creating the archetypal image of a Soviet woman, died at the age of 82 in a Moscow hospital late on Sunday.

The actress suffered from diabetes and dementia and was admitted to hospital for treatment several times in the past few years, most recently in March 2008. She lived alone after getting divorced from the popular Soviet actor, Vyacheslav Tikhonov, and the death of their only son Vladimir.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have expressed their condolences to the actress' family and friends. Mordyukova will be buried at the Kuntsevskoye cemetery in western Moscow on Wednesday."

Dovvsu And Domestic Violence Legislation

Another interesting report from allAfrica - this time in Ghana:

Dovvsu & Domestic Violence Legislation
Report by Jessica Mcelfresh
"Domestic violence is defined as a family member, a partner or an ex-partner physically or psychologically dominating through economic, sexual or emotional abuses. Domestic violence persists against men, women and children around the world.

The Domestic Violence Bill passed in February 2007 mandated financial assistance to fight domestic violence and set up a Victims of Domestic Violence Support Fund supported by voluntary contributions and Parliament. The fund is supposed to provide enough money for the DOVVSU to provide basic support to victims and assist with matters of rehabilitation and reintegration. But the funding has not come a year and a half later. The DOVVSU is understaffed and lacks supplies to effectively deal with all the cases that come its way.

Formerly known as the Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU), the DOVVSU changed to its present name between 2004 and 2005 and now openly accepts male victims of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Bill is gender-neutral. But, an overwhelming majority of the victims at DOVVSU are females.

In a report from 1999, the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre found that one in three women in Ghana experienced physical violence. According to Actionaid Ghana, two in three women do not report experiences of abuse, especially sexual violence, suggesting that reported cases grossly underestimate the prevalence of domestic violence.

When asked if the Domestic Violence Bill has helped operations at DOVVSU, Attipoe said yes and no because the bill is gender neutral so it is there to protect everybody, but without resources like education and money, the office can do little to make a real difference for victims of domestic violence in Ghana."

Lets hope this organisation receives the support it deserves - for all victims - regardless of age and sex.

Women in Business in the Middle East

Here's a "good news" story:

According to a survey by the World Bank, 13percent of companies in the Middle east are owned by women.

From a report in Gulf News:
"Pointing to the findings of a recent Bank report, [Robert B. Zoellick, President of the World Bank] said, "While only 13 per cent of firms or companies in the Middle East are owned by women, there is no significant difference in terms of size, age, sector, exports, and foreign direct investment to those firms owned by men."

Representatives from both the public and private sector discussed the means to optimise the contribution of Arab women in the development of the region during the first US-based conference of the Arab International Women's Forum (AIWF), hosted by the World Bank Middle East North Africa in the US capital Washington DC recently.

Women entrepreneurs from the Middle East also gathered during the two-day conference to hear ministers including Dr Sharifa Khalfan Al Yahyai, Minister of Social Development in Oman, Hala Bseisu Lattouf, Minister of Social Development in Jordan, and Dr Huda Ali Al Ban, Minister of Human Rights in Yemen, talk about the gains women have made in the region."

I would be very interested in the World Bank statistics for companies owned by women in other areas around the globe.

Edit: I did find a link on Doing Business Blog - Women in Business category - which might prove good reading.

Fertility Treatment for Poor

The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology met in Barcelona this week.

On the discussion table was the issue of infertility in developing countries. A proposal was put together with the aim of introducing inexpensive IVF treatments for women - beginning in Africa where it is claimed more than 30percent of women are infertile.

This IVF treatment could cost around $200.00 which is considerably less than the $10,000.00 being paid for the same treatment in developed nations.

From the Guardian:
"A small number of women already have been treated in Khartoum, Sudan, and other projects are expected to start soon in South Africa and Tanzania. Sembuya Rita, an infertility activist from Uganda, said it was essential for public health officials to address the issue."

From Fox News:
"Despite dozens of other health priorities — from AIDS to pneumonia to malaria — experts said it was worthwhile to introduce a cheap version of IVF. In Africa, where infertility is more common than in the West, women often suffer the problem after complications from unsafe deliveries, abortions or infections.

Experts said that even if millions of women were treated with low-cost IVF, it would only result in a one to two percent boost in the overall population. But with limited funds for public health, officials admitted it would be a tough sell."

"Oluwole Akande, an emeritus professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria acknowledged the price of the procedure would still be available only to Africa's upper and middle classes. He said that in many parts of Africa women who are unable to have children become social outcasts, are labelled as witches, and in extreme cases, are even driven to suicide."

From the Star Tribune:
"Millions of dollars go into family planning projects and condom distribution to prevent pregnancies in Africa, but experts said that more than 30 percent of women on the continent are unable to have children. An estimated 80 million people in developing countries are infertile worldwide."

From Yahoo News:
"The goal is creating a system of centers developed around existing hospitals and clinics that would provide more options for infertile women in poor countries. The key to an affordable program is not attempting to treat every type of infertility but rather targeting those that have the best chance of success, such as women with tubal damage as a result of infection, the researchers said. They also acknowledged that until governments and international aid organizations step in with funding, even a $200 per cycle price tag will prove prohibitive for many."

However, due to the inexpensive nature of the treatment, the success rate may also be lower.

And I am sure that there are many who would disagree with this program on the basis of the world already being over-populated. Many would also argue why this program could not be used in developed countries for childless couples who cannot afford the huge price-tag that comes with IVF treatments.

C of E backs female bishops

In an historic move on Monday, the Church of England voted to accept female bishops - however, the move to do so could cause a rift within.

From the News Tribune:
"More than a dozen other Anglican churches around the world have authorized women to serve as bishops. The Episcopal church, the Anglican body in the U.S., is led by a woman, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Hundreds of traditionalists have threatened to leave the British church if sufficient safeguards were not put into place for those who objected. Advocates of women in the episcopate had argued that any concessions would effectively make women second-class bishops.

The synod - composed of bishops, clergy and laity - rejected compromise proposals for new "super bishops" who would cater to objectors. Some traditionalists believe church leaders should be men, as was Jesus and the 12 apostles.

The Archbishops of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said he did not want to limit the authority women bishops had within the church. Church of England officials say it is unlikely that any woman would be consecrated as a bishop before 2014. The church has ordained women as priests since 1994, but hasn't allowed them to become bishops.

The women's ordination vote also might complicate Anglican relations with the Roman Catholic Church, which does not ordain women. Leaders of the two traditions have been meeting regularly in an effort to find unity."

From the Guardian:
"The Church of England was thrown into turmoil last night over the issue of women bishops, as it rejected proposals that would have accommodated clergy strongly opposed to the historic change.

In an emotional, sometimes bitter debate lasting more than seven hours, the General Synod voted against introducing separate structures and "superbishops", to oversee parishes opposed to women bishops, because they were seen as amounting to institutionalised discrimination.

Instead, the 468 members narrowly agreed to the idea of introducing a national statutory code of practice, throwing out all compromises that would have appeased opponents of women bishops.

A code of practice has yet to be fully explored, but will not satisfy the demands of traditionalists and conservative evangelicals, who had formed an alliance to block consideration of any such code."

From the Times Online:
"After one of the most contentious debates faced by the Church’s General Synod, its members voted to allow the consecration of women bishops but rejected compromise proposals for new “super bishops”, who would have catered for the objectors.

The decisions, after more than six hours of debate, led to extraordinary scenes at the University of York, with one bishop in tears as he spoke of being “ashamed” of the Church of England.

On the proposal to bring forward legislation to consecrate women bishops, the synod bishops voted by 28 to 12 for the motion, the clergy by 124 to 44 and laity by 111 to 68. There were seven abstentions across all three houses. Legislation will be drawn up, coming back to the synod in February next year, and then go to dioceses for approval. A final vote will require a majority of two thirds from bishops, clergy and laity.

But during the debate there was minimal support for traditionalists while long applause was given to strong speeches in favour of straightforward legislation to consecrate women with only a code of practice to safeguard opponents’ concerns."