Thursday, October 30, 2008

Woman Brutally Murdered

From The International News:

"Women from different walks of life here Tuesday strongly condemned the brutal murder of 17-year-old Taslim Solangi, who was thrown to dogs and was forced to give birth to her premature baby in Khairpur.

While talking to ‘The News’ they expressed their extreme reaction against the barbaric act and severely criticised government and Non-Government Organisations (NGO) for just raising slogans and doing nothing in practical.

Sabiha Aftab, a woman working at a private organisation, said that the incident was mocking the Constitution of Pakistan according to which such acts were unlawful and deserve severe punishment.“The culprits should be hanged to death so that nobody in future would ever dare to commit such horrendous crime,” she said, adding that the culprit should be hanged publicly for a lesson.

Another woman Ayesha Saleem said that a woman could better imagine the pain that the poor woman (Taslim) had gone through during forced delivery. “The people who were involved in the act should not be given the status of human beings as they are worst than animals in their practices,” she said.

She termed the incident the most shocking and barbaric that could ever happen in the face of this earth as far as the human rights especially the women rights are concerned.Fayeza Shah, a housewife, said that it was failure of our state that such incidents were taking place. “What our law enforcement agencies for?” She said.She said that it appears as if we were living in the time before the advent of Islam. “There is no rule prevalent here except the rule of jungle,” she said.

Maria Hafeez said that the silence over such issues by the government and other law enforcing agencies have increased such incidents. “The politicians and members of civil society just raise slogans for their own benefit, but nothing has been done so far,” she said.

Maria quoted the example of a previous barbaric incident in which five women buried alive and nothing has been done so far to punish the culprits. “The political workers and NGOs staged protests just to get fame through media and after that they preferred to sit quite,” she said.

Javeria Musa said that it was unfortunate that we were living in a society where women were treated worst than animals and nobody including the government ever bothered to take initiatives to curb such incidents in future.“It is the time when government and civil society organisations should join hands to take some solid steps to discourage such practices by properly pursuing the cases and punishing the culprits,” she said.

Javeria said that although the president of Pakistan has taken notice of the bone-chilling incident, yet he should also properly pursue the case to ensure punishment to the culprits involved in the incident."

Somali Woman Stoned to Death

From The Star:
"Somali Islamists have stoned to death a woman accused of adultery, witnesses said, the first such public killing by the militants for about two years.

The 23-year-old woman was placed in a hole up to her neck for the execution late on Monday in front of hundreds of people in a square of the southern port of Kismayu, which the Islamist insurgents captured in August.

Stones were hurled at her head and she was pulled out three times to see if she was dead, witnesses said.

"A woman in green veil and black mask was brought in a car as we waited to watch the merciless act of stoning," one local resident, Abdullahi Aden, told Reuters.

"We were told she submitted herself to be punished, yet we could see her screaming as she was forcefully bound, legs and hands. A relative of hers ran towards her, but the Islamists opened fire and killed a child."
Islamist leaders at the execution said the woman had broken Islamic law. They promised to punish the guard who had shot the child in the melee around the execution.

"We apologise for killing the child. And we promise we shall bring the one who opened fire before the courts and deal with him accordingly," one unnamed Islamist leader told the crowd.

The European Union's presidency condemned the stoning."

Edit (2/11/08): Reports have been coming in over the weekend that Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, the woman stoned to death for adultery after reporting she had been raped, was only 13yo.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Govt. Guilty of Slavery

In Niger, a young woman who has spent the past 12 years as a slave, has been successful in her action to take the country of Niger to court for failing to protect her.

From The Independent:
"A West African regional court of justice convicted the state of Niger today for failing to protect a 12-year-old girl from being sold into slavery in a case anti-slavery campaigners hope will set a precedent.

The regional ECOWAS Court of Justice ruled that Niger had failed in its obligations to protect Hadijatou Mani, who says she was sold into slavery in 1996 for around $500 and regularly beaten and sexually abused.

The Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), based in neighbouring Nigeria, upheld Mani's claim that the state had failed to protect her from slavery.

But the court, which has been sitting in Niger's capital Niamey to hear the case, dismissed a second plank of the case, which accused the government of legitimising slavery through customary laws that campaigners say discriminate against women.

London-based Anti-Slavery International says 43,000 people are enslaved in Niger despite the practice being officially outlawed in 2003. Activists say slavery is also common in other countries in the region, including Mauritania and Sudan. "

From the Times Online:
"Hadijatou Mani was sold into slavery at the age of 12. She was beaten, raped and even imprisoned for bigamy after she married a man other than her “master”.

Astonishingly her story is not that rare in Niger, but now it has a happy ending. In an historic ruling that will resonate across West Africa, where slavery is still rife, Ms Mani won a landmark case yesterday against the Niger Government for failing to protect her.

Ms Mani was sold to a man called Souleymane Naroua when she was 12 for about £300. For the next ten years she was forced to carry out domestic and agricultural work. She was raped at the age of 13 and forced to bear the children of her “master”.

In 2005 Ms Mani's “master” freed her and gave her a “liberation certificate”, but when she left him and tried to marry another man he claimed that they were already married. A local court found in her favour and she went ahead with the wedding.

For generations the children of a slave automatically became the property of their parents' “master”. Ms Mani said that one of the reasons she turned to the international court was to secure the freedom of her two children and ensure that they did not have to suffer the same fate."

From the International Herald Tribune:
"Slavery has long been tolerated in Niger. The Niamey government outlawed the practice in 2003, but it continues in the remote reaches of the vast, arid and impoverished nation that straddles the Sahara.

Antislavery organizations hailed the decision as an important victory against deeply entrenched social customs.

The Community Court of Justice, the entity that found Niger guilty, is a judicial arm of Ecowas, a political and trade group of West African nations. The court, which can sit in any of the member nations, was created in 2000 and has made a number of important rulings."

From BBC News:
"Now the former slave from Niger has won a landmark case against her government, which a regional West African court found had failed to protect her.

The court has ordered the government to pay her 10m CFA francs (£12,430; $19,750) in compensation.

The ruling could have broad implications for countries nearby where slavery is still practised, including Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali, according to observers.

Human rights organisations say more than 40,000 people are still in slavery in Niger, though the government says this figure is exaggerated.

Most live in conditions little changed over centuries, forced to look after animals or domestic work such as cooking and cleaning without pay.

Born into an established slave caste, they inherit a status from their mothers that it is almost impossible to shake off.

Romana Cacchioli, Africa Programme Coordinator for Anti-Slavery International, says this form of slavery began centuries ago when North African Berbers and Arabs raided the settlements of black Africans to the south and enslaved them.

Ilguilas Weila, head of the local human rights group Timidria, said the situation in Niger had barely changed since the country announced that it was banning slavery.

Slaves are kept in humiliating and degrading conditions, he said. They can be beaten, sold, or given away as wedding presents."

Let us all hope that this court ruling does have far-reaching consequences.

Famous Five

No, not the book series by fictional author, Enid Blyton, but five famous female spies.

Who are there - here is the list according to CNN:
1. Mata Hari: Margaretha Geertruida Zelle MacLeod (1876--1917) - Having spent time in Java with her husband, Captain Campbell MacLeod, Margaretha returned to Holland and sued for divorce. To make ends meet she took up exotic dancing and the name Mata Hari (meaning "the light of day" in Malay). With her sensual performances becoming the attraction of the major European cities came the men and the gifts for her favors. Many of these favors came from royalty and high-ranking French and German military officers.

2. Noor Inayat Khan: Khan was born in 1914 and at a young age moved with her family first to England and then to France. In 1940, Khan, along with her mother and sister, escaped back to England just before France surrendered to Germany. On September 13, 1944, Khan and three other female British spies were executed by the Nazi SS. In 1949, Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

3. Belle Boyd (aka "La Belle Rebelle"): In 1864, Confederate president Jefferson Davis asked Belle to carry letters for him to England. The Union Navy captured her ship, but the officer in charge fell in love with Belle and let her escape. The officer, Lieutenant Samuel Harding Jr., after being courtmartialed and discharged from the Navy, traveled to England, where he married Belle.

4. Elizabeth Van Lew: After developing a hatred for slavery, Elizabeth returned to Richmond and freed all her family's slaves. She also went so far as finding where her freed slaves' relatives were and purchased and freed them also. When the citizens of Richmond found out that Crazy Bet was an act, they shunned her. However, at her death, the state of Massachusetts placed a memorial marker on her grave.

5. Sarah Emma Edmonds (or Was It Frank Thompson?): In 1861, Frank (Sarah) enlisted in the Second Michigan Infantry and over the next two years not only fought in a number of Civil War battles, but also served as a spy for the Union Army. Solders in her unit called Frank "our woman" because of his feminine mannerisms and his extremely small boot size. However, none of her comrades ever figured out that Frank was really Sarah.

Who would have made your top five list.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Woman in Berlin

From The Age:
""Frau, komm"They mean "woman, come" and for an estimated 2 million women and girls at the end of World War II, it was the precursor to savage, multiple rapes.

Now Germany is searching for survivors of the hideous orgy of abuse committed by soldiers of the Soviet Red Army. The quest began in the same week as a film called A Woman in Berlin opened to the acclaim of critics.

The film is based on a book of the same name by Marta Hillers, an autobiographical account originally published in the 1950s, which describes her experiences between April and June 1945.

Most have hidden their agony and shame since those terrible days in 1945, when girls as young as seven and grandmothers as old as 90 were attacked by hordes of drunken, depraved and diseased soldiers.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin saw rape as a weapon to crush German resistance. Whole legions of women lived in shattered, bombed-out buildings, skulking in the ruins like rats as the Soviet troops came for them. Suicides soared and Catholic priests in Berlin and other cities occupied by the Soviets counselled on abortion.

After more than 60 years, academics have begun recording the experiences of the victims. Since Monday, nine survivors have begun speaking to researchers with Professor Phillipp Kuwert of Greifswald University. "A systematic scientific processing of the trauma released by the rapes and the long-term silence over them is missing in our knowledge about them," he said.

In conjunction with the Cologne-based Medica Mondiale association, which works with traumatised women, his team hopes to interview hundreds of survivors for a lasting record of what occurred.

After starting their research in and around Berlin, the team will move to Ukraine and other areas of Eastern Europe to get the testimony and experiences of victims of German wartime rapists in the Nazi army and the SS.

But it was in eastern Germany in general, and in Berlin in particular, that rape became a sinister weapon in modern warfare."

Roberta O'Brien

Lieutenant Commander Roberta O'Brien is set to make history nest month when she takes command of the Irish Naval ship, the LE Aisling.

From the BBC News:
"A native of County Tipperary, Lt Com O'Brien is currently serving at Irish naval headquarters at Haulbowline.

Her appointment comes four years after a woman was first given command of a ship in the Royal Navy. Lieutenant Charlotte Atkinson assumed command of the HMS Brecon in 2004.

Lt Com O'Brien joined the naval service after leaving school and was one of two female cadets commissioned in 1997. She served as navigator on a 25,000-mile voyage to Asia on the LE Niamh in 2002.

An Irish defence department plan to replace three of the naval service's eight ships, including the Aisling, has been put on hold.

A department spokesperson said the lifespan of the ships would have to be extended."

Return of the Queen or King?

Chris Ayres from the Times Online reports on the latest royalty news out of Hawaii:

".... American monarchists are not lobbying for the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, but to be governed by one of the native Hawaiian descendants of Queen Lili'uokalani, deposed with the help of US troops in 1893 - a dastardly act for which President Clinton apologised."

Howeverver there are to rivals heirs to the long-vacant throne - Her Majesty Mahealani Kahau, and His Highness Akahi Nui.

Chris continues: "Supporters of both have attempted to storm the Iolani Palace in Honolulu and reoccupy it in recent weeks - a tactic marred only by King Nui's inability to locate the throne room. Queen Kahau went so far as to establish a government-in-exile in the palace's grounds, passing fantasy laws to dissolve the state and confiscate all banking assets.

The official state agency of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has gone so far as to lobby for federal legislation that would give native Hawaiians a form of self-government while returning some of their ancestral lands."

From The Star Online:
"Asean, China and other Asian countries should set up a network to collect and share data to prevent international crimes against women.

The network would also promote education and economic empowerment of women, said Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen.

She said gender issues had to be put into mainstream national and international planning €“ not in sideline discussions.

Dr Ng said women’s issues had to be the mainstay of most international meetings between governments and not just at women-led forums.

“It is obvious that to initiate change on gender-related issues, there must be discussion and agreement among all related parties, particularly our male counterparts, if gender equality is to achieved,” she said.

On the Malaysian scene, Dr Ng said women here were still under-represented in Parliament and the private business sector €“ with the number not even touching 30%.

Women representatives accounted for only 26.7% in the Dewan Negara and only 10.8% in the Dewan Rakyat.

Dr Ng said there were only two women Cabinet ministers and six women Deputy Ministers. Women members on boards of directors had dropped from 9.9% in 2005 to 5.3% in 2007.

“Initiatives are being intensified to create awareness among political leaders, the legislative and judiciary and high-level management officials,” she said at the second China-Asean High Level Women’s Forum on Tuesday."

"Virtual" Murder

The following story appeared in my local paper today.

In Japan, a woman has been jailed on suspicion of murdering her virtual husband after he suddenly divorced her.

And from USA Today:
"A 43-year-old player in a virtual game world became so angry about her sudden divorce from her online husband that she logged on with his password and killed his digital persona, police said Thursday.

The woman, who has been jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his ID and password to log onto the popular interactive game Maple Story to carry out the virtual murder in May, a police official in the northern city of Sapporo said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of department policy.

"I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry," the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations. The woman, a piano teacher, had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said."

File this under "Strange But True"

Monday, October 20, 2008


Just wanted to say "THANKS" to all of you who have left comments for me on some of the many and varied topics covered here. Especially those of you who have taken time to read through the older posts and left your comments there. I do appreciate the time you take to leave a message - however long or short.

Many thanks - and happy reading!

~~~ Melisende

No Hijab - No Office

From The Australian:
"The appointment of two Kuwaiti women ministers breached the constitution and the law because they do not wear the hijab headscarf, a panel in Kuwait's conservative parliament ruled today.

"The committee unanimously decided that appointing the two ministers in the cabinet violated article 82 of the constitution and article one of the election law for failing to abide by Islamic regulations," Ali al-Hajeri MP, spokesman for the Legal and Legislative Committee, said.

The four members of the seven-person panel who attended the meeting are all Islamists or tribals. The remaining three are liberal-leaning MPs.

The two female members of government - Education Minister Nuriya al-Sebih and state minister for housing and administrative development Mudhi al-Humoud - were appointed to the cabinet following the May 17 general elections.

If the panel's decision is approved by parliament, MPs can either call on the prime minister to dismiss the two ministers or take a more serious action of grilling the two women as a prelude to voting them out of office.

At its first meeting on June 1, parliament, which is dominated by Islamists and tribal conservatives, voted to refer the case of the two ministers to the committee to establish if they broke the law.

As cabinet members took the oath on that day, nine Islamist and tribal MPs walked out of parliament in protest at the two women's failure to wear the Islamic headscarf.

The oil-rich Gulf emirate's election law requires women to "abide by Islamic regulations while voting or contesting the elections".

Kuwaiti women were granted political rights in May 2005. Fifty-four female candidates contested the last two general elections but none was elected.

As well as its 50 elected members, the Kuwaiti parliament also comprises 15 cabinet ministers."

Women Candidates Fear Elections

From the Buffalo News:
"Even as violence has declined, lingering fear bred by rampant crime and a small but die-hard insurgency has left many Iraqi women afraid to run in the elections, to be held by Jan. 31.

The election jitters are part of a larger concern about violence and traditional values or prejudice sidelining women from important jobs. The constitution provides that men and women have basic legal rights such as voting and owning property and suing in court. But deep differences exist within Iraqi society over the role of women and of Islam.

Under heavy U.S. pressure to promote gender equality, the Iraqis agreed to a 25 percent quota for women in the last elections for parliament and provincial councils, both held in 2005. A law paving the way for the new vote to be held by Jan. 31 maintains that requirement, opening the door for women to make up at least a quarter of the provincial councils.

But there's a crucial difference this time. In the past elections, names did not appear on the ballot - only numbers and symbols identified with political parties. That system helped empower well-organized religious parties and left many Iraqis feeling little connection with elected officials who were supposed to represent them.

In the new vote, the names of candidates must be presented to voters. The change to a so-called open list has scared some qualified Iraqis from running, particularly women. Activists are worried there won't be enough women to meet the 25 percent threshold, or that the parties will just find women to act as figureheads to fill the quota.

The problem is more acute for women who have come under attack simply for wearing makeup or refusing to don head scarves and head-to-toe black robes - behavior deemed un-Islamic by extremists.
Women also have come under scrutiny for defying traditional norms that discourage them from mixing with men or occupying a public role."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Congo: Rape Rampant

Unfortunately for Congalese women, rape is on the rise - it has become so endeminc that the United Nations has called the scale "horrific" and possibly ".. the worst sexual violence in the world.."

From the International Herald Tribune:
"Tens of thousands of women, possibly hundreds of thousands, have been raped in the past few years in this hilly, incongruously beautiful land and many of these rapes have been marked by a level of brutality that is shocking even by the twisted standards of a place haunted by warlords and drug-crazed child soldiers.

After years of denial and shame, the silence is being broken. Because of stepped-up efforts in the past nine months by international organizations and the Congolese government, rapists are no longer able to count on a culture of impunity.

Of course, countless men still get away with assaulting women. But more and more are getting caught, prosecuted and put behind bars.

European aid agencies are spending tens of millions of dollars building new courthouses and prisons across eastern Congo, in part to punish rapists. Mobile courts are holding rape trials in villages deep in the forest that have not seen a black-robed magistrate since the Belgians ruled the country decades ago.

The American Bar Association opened a legal clinic in eastern Congo in January specifically to help rape victims bring their cases to court. So far, the work has resulted in eight convictions. Here in Bukavu, one of the biggest cities in the country, a special unit of Congolese police officers has filed 103 rape cases since the beginning of this year, more than any year in recent memory.

The number of those arrested is still tiny compared to the perpetrators on the loose, and often the worst offenders are not caught because they are marauding bandits who attack villages in the night, then melt back into the bush.

United Nations officials say that the most sadistic rapes are committed by depraved killers who participated in Rwanda's genocide in 1994 and then escaped into Congo. These attacks have left thousands of women with their insides destroyed.

But the Congolese Army, a ragtag undisciplined force of teenage troops who sport wrap-around sunglasses and rusty rifles, has also been blamed. The government has been slow to punish its own, but Congolese generals recently announced they would set up military tribunals to prosecute government soldiers accused of rape.

No one - doctors, aid workers, Congolese and Western researchers - can explain exactly why Congo's rape problem is the worst in the world.

The attacks continue despite the presence of the world's largest UN peacekeeping force, with more than 17,000 troops. Impunity is thought to be a big factor, which is why there is now so much effort put into bolstering Congo's creaky and often corrupt justice system. The sheer number of armed groups spread over thousands of miles of thickly forested territory, fighting over Congo's rich mineral spoils, also makes it incredibly difficult to protect civilians."

From the Globe & Mail:
"At the Catholic parish office, on the cramped and crowded ledger pages where they list rape victims, at least half the names appear more than once: women who have been victims of sexual enslavement or public gang rape by rebel groups or the Congolese army; women, 30 in an average month, who have come to the parish to get help reaching a hospital to repair their injuries; women who have been healed, come home and a year or two or three later, been gang-raped again, during another small surge of the conflict. The youngest victim on the list is 6. The oldest is 74.

The epidemic of rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, without doubt the most horrific and persistent abuse of women anywhere in the world, has flared in a vicious new outbreak in recent weeks with renewed fighting in the country's troubled eastern region.

Mass rape began here with the civil war in 1996. That conflict quickly sucked in all of Congo's neighbours, and killed an estimated five million people. “And it brought systematic, planned, ordered, collective public rape – rape used as a weapon of war – it is a war within a war,” said Mathilde Muhindo, who heads Centre Olame, one of Congo's oldest women's organizations, founded nearly 50 years ago. Rape was used as a tactic by every single armed force here – each with their signature style: some raped women with guns and shot them off as a finale, some raped girls, some forced sons to rape mothers.

Congo moved into a fragile peace in 2003, and the rate of rape declined. Much of the country came under the nominal control of the central government – but not the volatile, mineral-rich east, home to no fewer than 23 armed groups. Here the conflict simmered for years, and flared once again into full-on fighting in late August because, it seems, a glacial peace process threatened to cut off warlords and neighbouring-country governments from their access to the illegal mineral trade.

With the fighting came a resurgence of rape. Admissions at the two hospitals in the east that can repair the injuries of rape victims have spiked in the past six weeks. Many more victims are assumed to be, as in previous years, trapped deep in the bush, cut off from help by the lack of roads, lack of transport, lack of any money or by the fighting.

But ending rape here depends on more than pushing the state to protect or prosecute. “Unless the war ends and unless the militias stop fighting, we will be sewing up vaginas for eternity – and unless the foreign governments who are benefiting from the resources in the Congo face pressure to cease the fighting and withdraw the troops, we will be here forever,” said Eve Ensler, the New York playwright best known as the creator of The Vagina Monologues, who has become an impassioned advocate for Congo's women over the past two years."

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Saxon Princess

British Archaeology (Issue 47, September 1999) also had this interesting article about the discovery of the grave of a Saxon Princess.

Grave of an early Saxon `Princess' found in Newark
"The grave of a wealthy and important early Anglo-Saxon woman - possibly the leader of an early group of settlers, or a leader's wife - has been excavated in Newark, Nottinghamshire, in advance of a housing scheme.

The richly-furnished grave originally lay under a barrow with an enclosure ditch, and was in a prime position overlooking the River Trent, some 100 yards from the Roman Fosse Way and close to the parish boundary. It was isolated from other burials. According to the excavator, consultant John Samuels, its form, contents and position suggest an individual of the highest status. A similar grave found last century at Caenby, north of Lincoln, has been interpreted as that of a king of Lindsey.

The grave-goods, although rich, may once have been richer as the grave had been disturbed - and possibly robbed - in the post-medieval period. Surviving artefacts include a decorated urn, a bronze-rimmed wooden bucket containing three corroded Roman coins, two pairs of silver wrist clasps, a gilded bronze disc perhaps once attached as a decoration to a box or a bag, 47 glass and amber beads (with one trimmed snail shell) from a necklace, an iron knife, and other items. A lamb was also buried in the grave. The artefacts date the grave to the 6th or early 7th century.

The occupant, apparently buried on her side, was a woman in her late 30s or early 40s. She was about 5ft 8in tall - tall for women in the period - and, to judge from her bones and joints, she was `robust' and muscular.

The burial may shed light on the origins of settlement at Newark. The modern place-name dates from the 11th century, and until recently no evidence for pre-Norman settlement had been found in the town. Excavations over recent years at Newark Castle, however, have uncovered signs of Anglo-Saxon occupation and defensive ditches dating as far back as the 5th century.

Bede, writing in the 8th century, mentioned a place called Tiowulfingacaestir - the defended town of Tiowulf's people - by the River Trent in this area. The town has never been firmly identified. According to Mr Samuels, however, the Saxon defences at Newark Castle and the new burial strongly suggest Tiowulfingacaestir was the forerunner of Newark. `It would be nice to think we may have found the grave of Tiowulf herself,' he said. "

Pictish Women

I came across an old article from "British Archaeology" (Issue 3, April 1995) written by Dr Ross Samson, Editor-in-Chief of Cruithne Press. I would like to share it with you.

Power to the Pictish Ladies
"The idea that women may have had unusually high status in medieval Pictish society has long been the subject of scholarly fascination - and dispute - even though there has never been much evidence on which to pin opposing views.

The idea started with the 8th century English historian, Bede, who wrote that, whenever the Pictish royal succession was in dispute, kings were chosen from the female royal line rather than the male. Although dismissed by some scholars as a myth, others have taken the absence of sons succeeding fathers in the Pictish king lists as supporting evidence for Bede's words. Several scholars have gone further, arguing that if women had a decisive role in succession disputes, their power doubtless extended to other areas of society as well.

An entirely new line of evidence, however, may be provided by Pictish symbols. These are carved on rough boulders or cross stones, and about 400 examples survive. They have been taken, at different times, to represent inter-tribal marriage instructions, estate boundary markers, records of personal professions, Pictish `flags', simple artistic expressions, even pagan altars--but never on the basis of much hard evidence. In my view, the symbol stones were memorial stones, and the symbols represent names - either the name of the dead person, or of the person who had the stone erected. Moreover, I believe that a fifth of the names belonged to women. Compared to other contemporary societies, this would represent a very high proportion-- in Ireland, for instance, we know the names of about 10,000 men dating from before AD1000, but of only 200 or 300 women.

The symbols almost always appear as pairs, and in several contemporary societies names were produced from two themes. In Anglo-Saxon, for instance, we have Aethelgifu (`Noble-gift'), Aethelstan (`Noble-stone'), and Wulfstan (`Wolf-stone'). On Welsh stones we find Vindobarus, a Latinised version of Finnbar (`Fair-head'). The few Pictish names we do know, such as Bridei, pose difficulties because they do not look dithematic, but the reason may be that the names have collapsed - as happened to names in Ireland. By the 8th and 9th centuries, many Irish names could no longer be recognised for the two themes they once contained.

Knowledge of the Pictish language is miserably poor, and many of the symbols are too abstract for us to guess what they meant. But even without knowing the names, I believe we can distinguish those of men from those of women. The gender of themes used for Anglo-Saxon names could not be confused - gifu or `gift' was feminine and Aethelgifu had to be a woman's name. But in several languages the gender of a name depends solely on its ending - for instance, in Latin, Aeternus and Aeterna (`Mr and Ms Everlasting', which appear on an early medieval Welsh stone), or in Irish, Aadan and Aednat (`Mr and Ms Fire').

I believe Pictish names may have worked in the same way, and that feminine endings on the Pictish carved stones were represented by the mirror and comb symbols that follow one in every five symbol pairs. A mirror and comb appear to the left of the only unmistakably Pictish woman represented on a cross stone - there are several biblical females - that from Hilton of Cadboll, dating from about AD800.

If this theory is correct, 20 per cent of Pictish stones were erected for or by women, which is between five and 20 times more often than in any other contemporary Celtic or Scandinavian society. One motive for commemorating the dead publicly is the statement it makes - I am inheriting this person's wealth, power, authority and prestige. If women held 20 per cent of the power and wealth in Pictish society, it is no wonder Bede heard such stories about their dominant role in the royal succession."

"Ugly" Duchess

From Mail Online:
"For years, Quinten Massys' portrait of An Old Woman in the National Gallery has captivated audiences with her unattractive looks.
Looking at her upturned nose, wrinkled cleavage and beady eyes, one would wonder why the Flemish artist would choose to paint such an ugly woman.

After much investigation and debate, art experts believe they have found out why the woman looked like she did and have authenticated the masterpiece.

Medical research on the subject of the painting found she was suffering from an extremely rare form of Paget's disease - an chronic disorder which enlarges and deforms the bones.

The investigation into the 1513 creation found not only why the woman looked like she did, but also that the portrait was a truthful representation.

Researchers told The Guardian she suffered from an advanced form of osteitis deformans, which left her with an extended upper lip, a pushed up nose and enlarged jaw bones. Her hands, eye sockets, forehead, chin and collarbones were also affected by the condition."

Marie Stopes

It appears that the Royal Mail has come under fire for issuing a stamp with the image of Marie Stopes.

Stopes was the first woman in Britain to open a family planning clinic back in 1921. But that is not the reason for the uproar - it would appear that Stopes' other sympathies may have lain elsewhere.

According to the Telegraph:
"To her supporters Stopes, who has a sexual health charity now working in 40 countries named after her, helped liberate women and transform society with her campaigning in favour of family planning.

But Stopes, who died in 1958, was also a supporter of eugenics, the pseudo-scientific theories which promoted sterilisation of diseased or weak people to "perfect" the race, which was openly promoted by the Nazis in Germany.

She is also said to have been a supporter of Adolf Hitler, even sending a book of her poems to the Nazi dictator on the eve of the Second World War, enclosed with a warm letter declaring: "Dear Herr Hitler, Love is the greatest thing in the world."

In 1935 she attended a conference in Berlin to promote "population science". She openly advocated sterilisation of those deemed "unfit for parenthood" including those who were ill or suffered alcohol problems as early as 1919. She called for this to be compulsory in her book Radiant Motherhood."

But the Royal Mail has stood by its decision, saying that: "These stamps commemorate six unique individuals whose dedicated work not only changed the lives of other women, but society as a whole."

Others honoured include the Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle, for her work promoting equal pay, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first British woman to qualify as a doctor, and her sister the women's rights campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett.

Women in Business: It Pays

You've all heard the phrase "behind every great man is a greater woman" and "if you want something done properly, get a woman to do it". Well now the proof is in the fiscal pudding.

A recent survey by Catalyst, a non-profit advisory group, looked at the relationship between women in corporate-officer positions and board-of-director positions in the U.S. Fortune 500 companies, and the fiscal bottom-line of these same companies.

Financial Post reporter Mary Teresa Bitti commented that:
"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."

So, it would seem that the financial and business world is finally catching up with what we women have known all along: it pays to have women in business - or should that be, running your business!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Liberian Women & Warfare

From allAfrica:

"Female ex-combatants are twice as likely as men to take up weapons again to escape poverty, based on a recent US-funded survey of more than 1,000 former fighters in Liberia. Almost 30 percent of the people surveyed said they were willing to take up arms again to earn a living wage, family and community acceptance, and respect for their tribe or religion.

Researchers concluded that ex-fighters at risk of returning to violence can destabilise a country still recovering from war.

Surveyors with the US-based non-profit CHF International, formerly known as Cooperative Housing Foundation, focused mostly on former fighters in rural Lofa county. The former seat of recruitment for both government and rebel forces and current home to many of Liberia's former fighters is 65km northeast of the capital Monrovia.

One-third of those surveyed by CHF International said both the army and rebels had promised them cash, education or jobs for fighting during the civil war. Among these 312 respondents, 19 percent said they would be willing to fight again."

Mawusi Awity

The price of politics in Ghana makes for an interesting story - even more so when we encounter one woman's struggle.

From Inter Press Service News Agency:
"Mawusi Awity and her husband were willing to jeopardize his military career for her dream of running for parliament in Ghana but there was another price to pay that she could not afford.

"The excessive use of money to win the minds and hearts of the voters is making it difficult for women to get into the forefront of politics," Awity told IPS.

A development worker and district assemblywoman for the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), Awity, 46, is one of a handful of women trying to move into Ghana's political arena. Her story shows the need to re-draw political rules in this democratic West African country (pop.23 million).

In August, Awity lost the primary election to choose the parliamentary candidate for the South Tongu constituency, in the southeast.

Never mind the possible consequences for her husband, an officer in the Armed Forces, of her choice. "My husband has resigned himself to the fate that if my party looses the elections, that is the end of his career," she added. "But he is a wonderful man and supports me."

The insurmountable problem was vote-buying among party delegates, a common practice in Ghana, according to political analysts.

The numbers speak for themselves. For this year's general elections scheduled for December, only 70 women are running for Parliament's 230 seats.

Perhaps the lesson of the last elections in 2004 was not lost on women. Between the two main parties and a few small ones, a total of 101 women ran. Twenty-four were elected -- just under 11 per cent of Members of Parliament (MPs).

The NPP fielded 227 candidates, of whom 27 were women. Twenty women and 107 men were elected.

The National Democratic Congress (NDC) fielded 212 male candidates, of whom 90 were elected, and 16 women, of whom four were elected.

The Convention People's Party (CPP) candidates numbered 150 men and 18 women. Only two men were elected."

Mary Phombeya

From Inter Press Service News Agency:

"Through hard work and resilience, Malawian entrepreneur Mary Phombeya has developed her once small and struggling business outfit into a fully fledged company. She imports fashionable clothes – for women, children and men – from Dubai, Thailand and Hong Kong which she sells locally.

nitiated in April 2006 with a measly 3,000 dollars, the clothing business has given her a five-bedroom house in one of the affluent areas in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. She is also able to send her two children and three other relatives to the country’s distinguished schools from the profits she makes.

‘‘I was so reliant on my husband before I started my business. But I am now very independent as I have a daily cash flow from the sales,’’ Phombeya says proudly. She makes an average profit of 5,000 dollars per month and provides employment to two women.

The business is different from when she kick-started it two years ago. She did not even have a business plan. ‘‘I had no real vision at all when I started. I just decided to accompany somebody to Hong Kong who had been selling clothes to me. I brought back whatever I could lay my hands on but most of the clothes did not sell because I had only bought what I’d liked,’’ she explains.

Phombeya learnt her lesson from that incident and decided to take her trade to greater heights. She went around to offices, asking potentials clients what their desired piece of clothing would be.

There are a number of sacrifices that Phombeya has to make in her quest for an income. She throws the need for privacy to the wind during her travels as she usually shares a hotel room with four other traders. This helps them save money.

She also has to be tough and stop herself from being enticed to buy goods that she might want for herself and her family while shopping for her customers.

She holds a Master’s of Science Degree in Agricultural Economics which, she says, has also helped her in being resourceful."

WOZA Leaders Arrested

From SW Radio Africa:

"On Thursday Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, the leaders of the pressure group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), were arrested during a demonstration protesting the deteriorating situation and hardships being suffered, while the political impasse continues. Some people were allegedly beaten when the riot police used force to disperse the peaceful protesters.

Group spokesperson Annie Sibanda said several women went to the police station in Bulawayo to hand themselves in, in solidarity with their leaders, but were turned away.

She said seven people were arrested before the demonstration started. The seven had been waiting for the others, near a group of foreign exchange traders but were arrested and taken to the police station where they were beaten, together with the forex traders.

As the day progressed the seven were released one by one, but Williams and Mahlangu remain in custody at Bulawayo Central police station. Sibanda said: "We don't have any details as to what charges they are facing as their lawyer has not been allowed access to them as yet." "

Taiwan Women Target UN

From the Taipei Times:

"Because the UN refuses to allow Taiwan to be a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a number of the nation’s women’s groups have decided to write their own alternative report.

CEDAW was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, and currently has 185 signatory countries.

All signatory countries are required to submit a report on their status of women, gender equality and efforts to eliminate discrimination every four years.

Although former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) signed the convention last year, Taiwan is not a CEDAW member because it is not a member of the UN General Assembly.

Unable to submit a country report, a number of Taiwanese women’s groups have decided to write an alternative report as a non-governmental organization (NGO) instead.

They formally inaugurated a report-writing panel composed of representatives from several women’s groups yesterday.

“Due to the political reality, it’s quite difficult for us to interact with the international society as a country, but we NGOs can always play an alternative role in letting the world sees us,” Cynthia Kao (高小晴), executive director of the Women’s Rescue Foundation and a member of the writing panel, told a press conference.

Garden of Hope Foundation executive director Chi Hui-jung (紀惠容) agreed.

“China cannot and should not boycott activities by NGOs in Taiwan for political reasons,” she said.

Chi pointed out that Taiwan’s first alternative CEDAW report will focus on sexual violence and human trafficking.

While the UN is unlikely to accept the alternative report, Eva Richter, a representative of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women to the UN, praised it as a good move."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Women in Modern Turkey

For young women in modern-day Turkey, donning the scarf is an act of youthful rebellion. Turkey is a secular country today, and women are not forced to wear the scarf, even in public. But for one young women, the scarf became a symbol - not of who she was but of who she was not.

"Like many young people at a time of religious revival across the Muslim world, [Hawa] Yilmaz is more observant than her parents. Her mother wears a scarf but cannot read the Koran in Arabic. They do not pray five times a day. The habits were typical for their generation - Turks whose families moved from the countryside during industrialization.

While her decision was in some ways a recognizable act of youthful rebellion, in Turkey her personal choices are part of a paradox at the heart of the country's modern identity.

Turkey is run by a party of observant Muslims, but its reigning ideology and law is strictly secular, dating from the authoritarian rule in the 1920s of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a former army general who pushed Turkey toward the West and cut its roots with the Ottoman East.

For some young people today, freedom means the right to practice Islam, and self-expression means covering their hair.

Yilmaz's embrace of her religious identity has thrust her into politics. She campaigned to allow women to wear scarves on college campuses, a movement that prompted emotional, often agonized, debates across Turkey about where Islam fit into an open society. That question has paralyzed politics twice in the past year and a half and has drawn hundreds of thousands into the streets to protest what they said was a growing religiosity in society and in government - though just how observant Turks are remains in dispute.

The girls say that the scarf, contrary to popular belief, was not forced on them by their families. Nor are they paid to wear it. Some women wear it because their mothers did. For others, like Yilmaz, it was a carefully considered choice.

The head scarf debate ended abruptly in June, when Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that the new law allowing women attending universities to wear scarves was unconstitutional, because it violated the nation's principles of secularism."

Source: The International Herald Tribune

Power & Politics

Two of India's most powerful women are at war - with each other.

"The dispute escalated yesterday when Kumari Mayawati, leader of the Untouchables caste and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, barred Mrs Gandhi from addressing a meeting in her own parliamentary electorate.

Deep-seated political rivalry between Mrs Gandhi, 61, and Ms Mayawati, 52, has burst into open political warfare over a $556 million railway carriage factory that Mrs Gandhi wants for her electorate in the northern state, one of India's poorest and most populous.

While Mrs Gandhi leads the dominant Congress party, it is Ms Mayawati, as leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who is in the ascendancy. Ms Mayawati could win enough seats to hold the balance of power following the national elections, due by May next year, and if she does is believed likely to demand the prime ministership.

Most analysts view the stoush over the project as the beginning of a fight to the finish between the two powerful women - one the custodian of India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, the other born an Untouchable, but who has developed wealthy tastes, especially for gemstone-encrusted jewellery, and is now said to be worth in excess of $17 million."

Source: The Australian

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Witches of Cornwall

From Archaeology Magazine:
"Over the centuries, many in the British Isles have appealed to witches in times of need--to cure a toothache, concoct a love potion, or curse a neighbor. Witchcraft, the rituals of a number of pagan belief systems, was thought to offer control of the world through rites and incantations. Common as it has been over the past several centuries, the practice is secretive and there are few written records. It tends to be passed down through families and never revealed to outsiders. But archaeologist Jacqui Wood has unearthed evidence of more than 40 witchy rituals beneath her own front yard, bringing to light an unknown branch of witchcraft possibly still practiced today.

Witch trials were common during the 16th and 17th centuries, and sometimes a few whispers were enough to see someone hanged. "During the 1650s more than 25 people were sent to Launceston Gaol [prison], in Cornwall, after a woman was accused by her neighbors of being a witch. She promptly implicated others in her alleged practice of the dark arts, some of whom were executed," says Jason Semmens, assistant curator at the Horsham Museum in Sussex and an expert on witchcraft in Cornwall during the 17th century."

Further Reading: "Mysterious Witch-Pits"

Fatma Aliye

From Dawn:
"Turkey’s central bank has been criticised by secularists for choosing a previously obscure Ottoman writer as the first woman to adorn the country’s banknotes.

Critics say the choice of Fatma Aliye, believed to be Turkey’s first female novelist, represents a surrender to religious conservative forces and a snub to others who fought for women’s rights.

Aliye, who died in 1936 and was the daughter of a senior Ottoman bureaucrat and historian, is among several historical figures who will appear on the notes from January. The notes are being minted to mark the inauguration of a fresh currency to replace the existing New Turkish Lira.

A central bank-appointed committee also chose a mathematician, a composer, an architect and a 13th-century Sufi mystic in a departure from the established practice of notes carrying political figures.

But the committee has been accused of bowing to pressure from the ruling Islamist-leaning Justice and Development party (AKP) in choosing Aliye and overlooking Halide Edip Adivar, a writer and feminist icon who fought beside Ataturk.

Mustafa Ozyurek, an MP for the secularist Republican People’s party, described Aliye as a “dubious personality” of whom most Turks had never heard.

Aliye, born in 1862, will appear on the new 50-lira note."

Further Reading:
Fatima Aliye Hanim - Turkish Wikipedia (in Turkish)

"Biographical Dictionary of Women's Movements and Feminisms in Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe: 19th and 20th Centuries" by Francisca de Haan, Krasimira Daskalova, Anna Loutfi (Pub: Central European University Press, 2006)
"Women in the Middle East: Past and Present" by Nikki R. Keddie (Pub: Princeton University Press, 2006)

Women in Business: Tops Jobs

From Mail Online:
"The workplace is changing, as the number of women joining top professions are soaring, new statistics show.

The sectors of law and medicine feature highest with 61% of new law trainees and 60% of newly-qualified solicitors being female last year. Women made up 61% of trainee GPs and 59% of first year house officers last year. Similarly, 5,128 women students accepted a place at medical and dentistry school in 2007 compared to 3,929 men.

The gender revolution in the workplace is thought to be the result of girls overtaking boys at school and university, greater career ambitions among women and more open recruitment practices.

Fewer women are reaching the top in politics, the judiciary and policing than a year ago, a recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found. There was also a fall in the number of women running councils, health bodies, police forces, unions and other professional bodies, according to the report."

Alabama Women

"Two women who made Alabama political history are trying to become president of the state’s utility regulatory board..... Democrat Lucy Baxley, Alabama’s first female lieutenant governor, is trying to restart her political career after losing the 2006 race for governor and suffering a crippling stroke. Republican Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, the first woman to lead a major political party in Alabama, is trying to move into the public spotlight after many years in support roles.

The winner will make history again. She will join the other two members of the Public Service Commission—Democrats Jan Cook and Susan Parker—to create an all-female commission. The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners says it has no record of any other state having an elected utility board consisting entirely of women."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Romancing the Queen

Where do you go when you want to woo your Queen - why, to the "Glory of England" of course.

The "Glory of England" was created by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester at a time when he hoped to persuade Elizabeth I to marry him. ".. the garden was designed with romance in mind and includes a bejewelled aviary, and 18-foot-high fountain carved from dazzling Carrara marble as well as flowers, fruits and trees.

The lost, one-acre garden, which was discovered during excavation work at the Castle, will present the most complete picture of an Elizabethan courtly garden anywhere in the world."

According to John Watkins, English Heritage's Head of Gardens and Landscape: "The 16th century garden was highly sensual. Perfume was an essential part of the garden experience and the clove-scented carnation was an important high status plant, crucial in the heady summer cocktail of strawberries, roses, stocks, peonies and pinks."

Plans are now underway to re-create this Elizabethan pleasure-spot - however, public help is needed in tracking down varieties of carnation that would have been available in the 16th Century.

"400 years ago the carnation was considered one of the most beautiful flowers around. It is hoped they will provide the finishing touches to the garden at Kenilworth Castle, Warwicks, where the Queen was romanced by Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester."

Source: The Telegraph
Website: English Heritage
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester - The Luminarium Encyclopedia
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester - National Portrait Gallery

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Tsar's Women

This article from The Independent is a couple of years' old now, but it is still of interest:

Resurrection of the tsars' women
By Andrew Osborn in Moscow
Sunday, 20 August 2006

"500 years after their deaths, the imperial beauties are brought back to life by 'Gorky Park' forensic science.

Their remains have gathered dust in sealed sarcophagi for more than 500 years in the Kremlin, their appearance in life a mystery, the manner of their deaths the subject of intense speculation. But with modern forensic techniques usually employed to solve murder cases, the first ladies of medieval Russia - a catwalk of tsarinas and glamorous princesses - are being "brought back to life".

In a macabre and extraordinary scientific project, Sergei Nikitin, one of Russia's leading forensic scientists, has pieced together the appearances of the wives and mothers of Russia's rulers from the 15th to the 18th century.

He applied the latest forensic modelling techniques on the women's skulls that were controversially removed from tombs beneath the Archangel Cathedral in the Kremlin for the project.

Until now, the blue-blooded women were faceless; no portraits of them existed and details of their lives survived only in crumbling manuscripts. But thanks to Professor Nikitin and a team of scientists who have been working on the project for more than a decade, historians know for the first time what the women behind the tsars' thrones really looked like.

Other tests have revealed what they ate, what medicines they used, what they wore, what cosmetics they used, and even, in some cases, how they died.

Professor Nikitin's facial reconstruction technique is one that is more commonly employed to identify murder or accident victims whose appearances have been horrifically disfigured. The method was memorably featured in the 1983 film Gorky Park to reveal the identity of three faceless corpses. He has used his expertise to piece together the appearances of at least five women, including Marfa Sobakina, Ivan the Terrible's murdered third wife who won the first beauty contest to be held on Russian soil, in the 16th century.

The infamously harsh Tsar ordered 1,500 women to compete and made them to undergo strict medical tests. He chose the winner, Marfa, to be his third wife, but she fell ill shortly before the wedding and died two weeks after taking her vows. A jealous rival had poisoned the young beauty though who killed her remains a mystery. Forensic tests on her failed to detect traces of the poison.

Professor Nikitin has also "resurrected" Ivan the Terrible's mother, Elena Glinskaya, who was also poisoned, something chemical testing has proved.

Other women to get the "Gorky Park treatment" include Princess Sofia Paleolog, the wife of Tsar Ivan III, Tsarina Irina Godunova, and Evdokia Dmitrievna, the wife of a medieval prince called Dmitri Donskoy. The professor is now working on a likeness of Tsar Peter the Great's mother, Natalia Kirillovna, and has at least four more heads to sculpt before an exhibition, provisionally entitled Kremlin Women, opens next year.

Chemical tests on the women's bones and hair have uncovered large quantities of toxic substances. These are probably traces of medieval medicine concocted using poisonous substances such as mercury, arsenic, and lead. Other tests have shown their cosmetics were not much better and that they painted their faces with the toxic materials used by artists to paint icons and frescos at the time, namely white lead and barium.

For centuries, the women lay untouched in a special necropolis in the Vosnesensky (Ascension) Convent within the Kremlin's walls in Moscow. Between 1407 and 1731, it filled up with the corpses of the great and the good. But the Bolsheviks demolished the convent in the 1930s on the orders of Josef Stalin who presided over the destruction of thousands of churches as part of a campaign to wean the masses off religion. Encased in their white stone sarcophagi, the Kremlin wives were moved to the nearby Archangel Cathedral in 1929 ahead of the demolition.

After scientists have finished studying, their bones will be put back where they were found and Professor Nikitin says they will probably not be disturbed again. "It was a unique opportunity to see their faces," he told the daily Izvestia. "But after our research is finished we will put them back in their sarcophagi and nobody will touch them again."

Professor Nikitin says he sometimes suffers the equivalent of writer's block. "Sometimes I can sit for two weeks opposite a head and stare at it. And then suddenly I understand what I need to do to really make the person 'live'. It's easier for sculptors; they work from living models but I just have a skull and empty eye sockets to go on." "

The Archangel's Cathedral - Kremlin website
Discovering the Kremlin - Kremlin website
Cathedral of the Archangel - Scared Destinations
Ascension Convent - wikipedia