Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Video: John and Yoko's creative use of the "N" word

Unfortunately, it's still all too true - and will likely remain true in 2008.
Even so, have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Pardoning the victim

This is, presumably (and hopefully), the final chapter in an appalling case that took "blaming the victim" to a new extreme:

Saudi women
Saudi women are subject to strict sex segregation laws
The Saudi king has pardoned a female rape victim sentenced to jail and 200 lashes for being alone with a man raped in the same attack, reports say.

The "Qatif girl" case caused an international outcry with widespread criticism of the Saudi justice system.

Read the rest of the BBC article here

The Loomba Trust

Celebrate the true spirit of the holiday season by giving a donation to the Loomba Trust, an organisation that is "caring for widows around the world". I just did.

"The Mourning After"

I'm very glad to see that Cherie Blair is continuing to keep the plight of widows in the public eye. Here's an excerpt from her op-ed piece, published today, December 18, 2007, in the New York Times:

When I reflect on the plight of millions of widows across the world, I realize just how fortunate we were. Although we were surrounded by love, widows and their children in many societies are shunned, abused and exploited.

The centuries-old practice of suttee — a widow burning herself alive on her husband’s funeral pyre — has all but vanished. But the few cases of self-immolation that do occur are a reminder of how bleak the future is for many widows. After a shocking case just five years ago in rural India, a sociologist in Delhi, Susan Visvanathan, explained that the widow who set herself on fire “would have assumed her life would be one of isolation and despair and shame and suffering.”

Read the rest of her article here

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Enduring courage and camaraderie

By the time I finished reading this article, my eyes were blurred with tears.

By Emma-Jane Kirby
BBC News, Paris and London

She told tales of camaraderie, of women from all walks of life thrown together in an alien country, tales of lonely Christmases singing French carols and desperately trying not to think of home.

There were apocalyptic accounts too of watching London burn, of courage in the Blitz and proud memories of moments on the number nine bus when a Londoner would notice her French uniform and lean over to say: "Vive La France!"

Read the entire article here

Sunday, December 09, 2007

BBC News: Vancouver's vanished women

The victims of serial killer/pig farmer Robert Pickton were also victimised by the system because many were drug addicts, drifters and prostitutes. Here's an excerpt:

'Invisible women'

Many were drug addicts, working in the sex trade to fund their habits - part of a transient and disenfranchised community.

Images of one of the women who disappeared at a Vancouver memorial
There were 27 on the missing list, going back to 1995. That was a cluster. That was way too many missing people
Kim Rossmo
Professor of Criminology

According to Mr Rossmo, now a criminology professor at Texas university, the low social status of these women, many of whom were of aboriginal origin, contributed to the police's lack of concern.

"If these women had been from the affluent Westside of Vancouver, you can count on the fact that it would have been a very different response," he said.

Read the entire article here

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Heroic words

'Freedom of expression for some is not enough.
We must work for freedom of expression for all.
Human rights for some is not enough.
We must work for the human rights for all.
Peace for some is not enough.
We must work for peace for all.
I, come what may, will not be silenced.
Come what may, I will continue my fight for equality and justice without any compromise until my death.
Come what may, I will never be silenced.'


Taslima Nasrin

Thanks to the op-ed piece mentioned in the previous entry, I found out about Taslima Nasrin:
Then there’s Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who bravely defends women’s rights in the Muslim world. Forced to flee Bangladesh, she has been living in India. But Muslim groups there want her expelled, and one has offered 500,000 rupees for her head. In August she was assaulted by Muslim militants in Hyderabad, and in recent weeks she has had to leave Calcutta and then Rajasthan. Taslima Nasreen’s visa expires next year, and she fears she will not be allowed to live in India again.

Here's the link to Taslima Nasrin's official website:

Keeping the 'Girl from Qatif' in the public eye - and keeping it real

Published: December 7, 2007
When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion.

Here's an excerpt:

A 20-year-old woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, reported that she had been abducted by several men and repeatedly raped. But judges found the victim herself to be guilty. Her crime is called “mingling”: when she was abducted, she was in a car with a man not related to her by blood or marriage, and in Saudi Arabia, that is illegal. Last month, she was sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes with a bamboo cane.

Two hundred lashes are enough to kill a strong man. Women usually receive no more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that for seven weeks the “girl from Qatif,” as she’s usually described in news articles, will dread her next session with Islamic justice. When she is released, her life will certainly never return to normal: already there have been reports that her brother has tried to kill her because her “crime” has tarnished her family’s honor.

Read the entire article here (registration required)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Vanishing headlines

Whatever happened to the Saudi rape case? It disappeared from the headlines shortly after the Saudis announced they had arrested over 200 terror suspects. Was it a trade-off? Two hundred-odd suspects for 200 lashes?

Interesting take on the 'teddy row'

Red faces in Sudan over teddy row
By Jonah Fisher
Former BBC Khartoum correspondent

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir speaks in Khartoum after pardoning Gillian Gibbons
President al-Bashir had been under huge pressure to intervene

Just over a week ago it was hard to imagine how the international reputation of the Sudanese government could sink any lower.

Accused of sponsoring the killing and rape of hundreds of thousands of its own people in Darfur and then of blocking the peacekeepers who might protect them - barely a week passed without a threat of sanctions or a new UN resolution.

But thanks to the Gillian Gibbons saga, Sudan has managed to transform its public image from pariah state to something approaching a laughing stock.

read the rest (and watch a statement by Ms Gibbons) here

BBC: Britons go to India to abort unborn daughters

Just when I was rejoicing about Gillian Gibbons's pardon (and hoping she gets safely out of Sudan), I found this on the BBC News website. It was like a slap in the face - and a wake-up call:

By Sanjiv Buttoo

Cultural pressure to have a boy is leading some British women of Asian origin to travel to India for abortions to avoid having a girl.

Among them is Meena, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

She describes what led her to do such a thing.

Reconstruction: 'Meena' is an actress
Reconstruction: 'Meena' went to India to abort her daughter

"As soon as you're pregnant everyone sits there and looks at you and constantly says: 'you're going to have a boy. We'll do this and we'll do that and we'll have celebrations'," she said.

But when the child is actually born and it's a girl, everyone around you feels disappointed - they say: 'well, never mind'."

read the rest here

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Good news from Nigeria

NY Times:

Nigeria Turns From Harsher Side of Islamic Law
Published: December 1, 2007
An Islamic revolution in northern Nigeria appears to have come and gone — or gone in an unexpected direction.

Here's an excerpt:

"[D]espite several internationally known adultery sentences of death by stoning in a public square — including that of Amina Lawal, a woman from Katsina State who gave birth to a child out of wedlock that a Shariah court in 2002 took as evidence of the crime — not one stoning sentence has been carried out. Ms. Lawal’s conviction was overturned the following year, and she is now active in local politics, living freely with her daughter Wasila in her hometown.

"The change has little to do with religious attitudes — northern Nigeria remains one of the most pious Muslim regions in Africa, as it has been since the camel caravans across the Sahara first brought Islam here centuries ago. In Kano, the main city of Kano State, thousands of men spill out in neat rows onto the city’s main boulevards on Friday afternoon, an overflow of devotion for the week’s most important prayer, and virtually all Muslim women are veiled.

"The shift reflects the fact that religious law did not transform society. Indeed, some of the most ardent Shariah-promoting politicians now find themselves under investigation for embezzling millions of dollars. Many early proponents of Shariah feel duped by politicians who rode its popular wave but failed to live by its tenets, enriching themselves and neglecting to improve the lives of ordinary people."

Another Heroine: Gillian Gibbons

As the mob calls for her head, her son tells the press:

"She doesn't want people using her and her case as something to stoke up resentment towards anyone, towards Sudanese people, towards Muslim people or whatever.
You know, that's not the type of person she is, that's not what she wants."

Protesters in Khartoum, Sudan
Crowds have marched in Khartoum demanding a tougher sentence

Read the BBC article "UK Peers visit teacher in Sudan" here

Friday, November 30, 2007

Good for Cherie Blair and "On Not Being a Sausage"

I was looking for a report on the interview with Cherie Blair just aired on the BBC, which opened my eyes and those of many others to the plight of widows (and their children) around the world, and found this instead, on the On Not Being a Sausage blog:

Cherie Blair's speech on Women's Human Rights in the 21st Century

Has the World Gone Mad? Redux

15 days in jail for the schoolteacher who allowed her young pupils to name a teddybear Mohammed, and now there are calls for her execution...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

6 months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine if convicted...

...has the world gone mad?

Published 11.28.07 on the BBC News website:

Gillian Gibbons
Colleagues of Gillian Gibbons said she made an "innocent mistake"
A British teacher has been charged in Sudan with insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs.

The Foreign Office has confirmed that charges have been laid against Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool.

She was arrested in Khartoum after allowing her class of primary school pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has said he will summon the Sudanese ambassador "as a matter of urgency".

In a statement, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "surprised and disappointed" at the charges.

A spokesman said the first step was to "understand the rationale behind the charge", something which would be discussed by Mr Miliband and the ambassador as soon as possible.

"We will consider our response in the light of that," he added.

Lawyers say Mrs Gibbons faces six months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine if convicted.

read the rest here

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Reflections inspired by the Saudi rape case

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist
The Case for Illegal Mingling
Published: November 25, 2007
"Two hundred lashes for a woman who was raped, under any circumstances in even the most traditional country, is barbaric — period. But what also keeps tripping off my tongue is this phrase 'illegal mingling.' It seems to me that if the Middle East could use more of anything these days it is more mingling — if not between the sexes then at least between the sects."

This one gets worse and worse

Saudi government: Rape victim had illegal affair

CNN Story Highlights
  • Officials: Woman and her companion were discovered in a "compromising situation"
  • Officials: Victim and her companion caused the crime to take place
  • Woman convicted of violating law by not having a male guardian with her
  • Court more than doubled woman's original sentence of 90 lashes to 200
Here's the Western interpretation - the "woman" was 18, and engaged to be married (no word on whether the marriage was arranged, but that is probably a given) and went out with another man. While they were having sex in a car, they were dragged out and gang-raped by 7 men. Neither pressed charges, but after the woman was married, her husband found out and made a formal complaint.

Putting things in perspective: if Sharia law had been applied in the US when Son of Sam was killing people in lover's lanes, any surviving victims who were not married to each other would have been flogged and jailed for violating the law against "illegal mingling." In fact, Son of Sam might have been viewed as something of a vigilante hero...

Friday, November 23, 2007

This one's closer to home...

...although Brazil's a big country. This horrific incident took place in the northern state of Pará.

Rape case adds to Brazil jail notoriety

By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Carandiru prison in Sao Paulo. File pic
Brazilian jails have a long history of violence and overcrowding

It sometimes seems that there is little left to say about prisons and the system of detention in Brazil that still has the capacity to shock.

Even so, the report that a young woman, possibly as young as 15, was left to share a cell in a police station with around 20 men and is said to have been repeatedly sexually abused, does stand out for its sheer horror.

The fact that police officers involved then started to dispute her age, as if it mattered whether she was 15 or 20, does say something about the inability to grasp the scale of what had been done. (my emphasis)

The girl does not appear to have been helped by the involvement in the case of women officials at various levels.

Read the rest of the article here

See also: Brazil shock at woman's jail rape

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

BBC: Saudis Back Rape Victim Sentence

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have defended a judicial sentence of 200 lashes for a rape victim.

The justice ministry said in a statement that the sentence was justified because the woman was in a car with an unrelated man.

The case has aroused controversy at home and condemnation abroad.

US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said the sentence was an outrage and urged President Bush to put pressure on Saudi King Abdullah.

The 19-year-old, who has not been named, was travelling in a car with a male friend last year, when the car was attacked by a gang of seven men who raped both of them.

"I urge President Bush to call on King Abdullah to cancel the ruling and drop all charges against this woman
Hillary Clinton

She has become known as the "Qatif girl", a reference to the largely Shia town which she comes from.

Four of the men were convicted of kidnapping - but the court also sentenced the woman and her friend to receive 90 lashes each for the crime of "illegal mingling".

Last week the court increased the woman's sentence to 200 lashes and six months in prison.

It also banned her lawyer from the courtroom and took away his licence.

Read the rest (and weep) here

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Old news

Most news stories follow the inverted pyramid structure, which I prefer to call the "ice-cream-cone" hierarchy - fresh, tasty news at the top, old, stale news at the bottom. Well, here's the "old news" at the very end of a recent CNN article on the woman who was gang raped in Saudi Arabia and sentenced to 200 lashes:

Women are subject to numerous restrictions in Saudi Arabia, including a strict dress code, a prohibition against driving and the need for a man's permission to travel or have surgery. Women are also not allowed to testify in court unless it is about a private matter that was not observed by a man, and they are not allowed to vote.

The Saudi government recently has taken some steps toward bettering the situation of women in the kingdom, including the establishment earlier this year of special courts to handle domestic abuse cases, adoption of a new labor law that addresses working women's rights, and creation of a human rights commission (my emphasis).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Maureen Dowd is finally getting it (not to dis Dowd - I'm a big fan)

NY Times Op-Ed Columnist
Should Hillary Pretend to Be a Flight Attendant?
Published: November 14, 2007
Stories have been popping up that suggest that evolution is moving forward in a circuitous route.

Gang-raped and sentenced to 200 lashes (plus jail time)

If you think rape victims are violated all over again when they go to the police and take their attackers to court, consider the fate of this woman, who had the bad luck to be gang-raped while "violating laws on segregation of the sexes" in Saudi Arabia:

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Meena - the Founder of RAWA (1956-1987)

A short biography of
Martyred Meena
founding leader of RAWA


I've been meaning to add to my list of heroines the brave women who formed the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) and keep it going despite death threats and assassinations. I was just reminded of it because my good friend Marc Herold's new book is being advertised on their website (in Spanish) at

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Extraordinary Lives (from the BBC news website)

The extraordinary lives of Iraq's women

It is not often that we get to hear the personal stories of ordinary Iraqi women living under occupation. Earlier this year, however, eight women were asked to record their daily lives in a series of photo diaries.

The extraordinary results of the Open Shutters Iraq project are now being exhibited in central London.

Here are two of those photo diaries.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Thursday, September 27, 2007

NY Times: Saudi Arabia Debates Women's Right to Drive

Published: September 28, 2007
Whether the newly open discussion signals that women will actually be driving soon remains to be seen.

Click here to read all about it

Sunday, September 23, 2007

How do you say "good for you" in German?

Putting successful women between a rock and a hard place

Interestingly enough, this piece was published in the NY Times's "Fashion and Style" section

Putting Money on the Table

Published: September 23, 2007
With rising incomes, young women discover the pitfalls of “dating down.”

Read it and weep.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The things that some of us take for granted...

Published yesterday on the BBC News website:
Women challenge driving ban
Two women cross the road in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (17 September 2007)
Saudi women rely on relatives or chauffeurs to drive them around
A group of women in Saudi Arabia is for the first time to lobby the kingdom's government for the right to drive cars.

Read the entire article here

Friday, September 07, 2007

Back to the subject of "gender imbalance"

From the BBC News website

Chinese woman's 'needle ordeal'

Doctors in China have discovered 26 sewing needles embedded in the body of a 31-year-old woman.

They think they were inserted into Luo Cuifen's body when she was a baby by grandparents upset she was not a boy.

Some of these needles have penetrated vital organs, such as the lungs, liver and kidneys. One has even broken into three pieces in the woman's brain.

The needles were discovered only when Ms Luo went to hospital complaining of blood in her urine.

She was given a routine X-ray, which revealed the needles. Up until then she had been in good health.

Read the entire article here - including links to articles on how China is waking up to the problem of female infanticide, aka, "gender imbalance"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Nina Simone - 'nuff said

She made her life count for something - a true heroine

Jane Tomlinson

Terminal cancer sufferer Jane Tomlinson has died aged 43, following a seven-year battle with the disease.

The married mother-of-three, who was made CBE for charitable services in June, had raised £1.75m in a series of gruelling challenges.

Read the rest of this BBC article here

Monday, September 03, 2007

First female Beefeater

On a lighter note...this just in from the BBC website:

Moira Cameron
Miss Cameron beat five men to the job
The first female Beefeater has made history by officially going on duty at the Tower of London.

Moira Cameron, 42, from Argyll, beat five men to the £20,000-a-year job as Yeoman Warder.

She said it was a "great privilege" to work and live at the Tower as she donned the famous blue and scarlet uniform for her first duties on Monday.

Miss Cameron joined the Army aged 16 and served the required 22 years in the Forces to become eligible for the post

Read the rest here

Friday, August 31, 2007

An excellent role model

Valerie Gooding, CEO, BUPA

Published on August 27, 2007 on the CNN website

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Valerie Gooding is in the top five most powerful businesswomen in Europe as named by the Financial Times.


She runs global health and care organization BUPA and under her leadership it has grown to over 8 million customers in over 190 countries and record revenues.

CNN's Todd Benjamin spoke to her in London and began by asking her why there are so few women at the top. She said it goes beyond family issues.

Read the Interview here

CNN's Profile
Valerie Gooding is currently ranked in the top five most powerful businesswomen in Europe by the Financial Times and has steered the British private healthcare organization BUPA to continued success.

Gooding joined BUPA in 1996 and was made the company's CEO in August 1998.

Since her appointment the company has grown to over 8 million customers in over 190 countries and record revenues, and is the UK's largest independent healthcare company.

Before joining BUPA she worked at British Airways.

Val is a non-executive director of Compass Group plc (since January 2000) and of Standard Chartered Bank plc (since January 2005).

She is a member of the council of Warwick University as well as co-chair of the advisory board of the Warwick Business School. She is a trustee of the British Museum, and a non-executive director of the Lawn Tennis Association.

Val was awarded the CBE for services to business in the 2002 new year's honours list.

Sunday, August 26, 2007's about time!

Published on the BBC website on Saturday, August 25

China to act on gender imbalance
Boys from a kindergarten class
Boys outnumber girls at school
The Chinese government says it is drafting new laws to tackle the growing gender imbalance caused by the widespread abortion of female foetuses.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

NY Times Obituary for Grace Paley

Grace Paley, Writer and Activist, Dies at 84
Published: August 24, 2007
Grace Paley explored the struggles of ordinary women in precise, pungent stories.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Female infanticide holocaust rages on in India

In other words, baby girls are being killed in the womb or at birth on an industrial scale, except there are no gas chambers or ovens this time around - just ultrasound equipment and medical tools. I'm amazed that it doesn't spark generalised outrage. If you think the genocide in Darfur has been neglected, this most heinous type of mass murder is overlooked and invisible.

By Nick Bryant
BBC News

"Why pay 50,000 rupees to your new in-laws when you can pay 500 rupees for an abortion? You do not even have to leave home.

Many unscrupulous doctors carry portable ultra-sound equipment in the boots of their cars.

Increased consumer choice is one of the hallmarks of the new India.

Tragically, it is being applied, with almost industrial efficiency, to depress the female birth rate."

  • Female infanticide occurs in 80% of states
  • Worst-affected states include wealthiest areas
  • 927 girls born for every 1,000 boys
  • Infant mortality rate: 60/1,000

More on Bodies and Souls

Here's another article on Bodies and Souls: The Tragic Plight of Three Jewish Women Forced into Prostitution in the Americas 1860 to 1939 (William Morrow & Company, 2005).

The Jewish Prostitutes of South America

And here's an excerpt:
In hindsight, I embarked on the research into the white slave trade rather naively. I certainly never expected “historians” in South America to escort me out of their offices and homes when I mentioned the Jewish prostitutes. I didn’t expect to find many of the police documents and hospital records pertaining to the thousands of impoverished women forced to work as prostitutes and shunned by their fellow Jews to have simply vanished without a trace.
Read the article in full here

Thanks again to Marc Herold for sending this link.

The Jewish prostitutes who founded the Society for Truth in Rio

My good friend Marc Herold just sent me this fascinating article from :

In the Life

Piecing together the lives of women caught up in the white slave trade

Interview by Sara Ivry Today, reports abound about women from Nigeria, Thailand, or Albania working as prostitutes abroad. But international sex-trafficking is nothing new. Between 1860 and 1940, Jews were ensnared in what was known as the "white slave trade." A network of pimps and conmen lured girls and young women from Eastern Europe to South America with promises of love and work. There, these women found themselves in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, without families, friends, or language skills. In Bodies and Souls, Isabel Vincent pieces together the biographies of three Jewish women forced into prostitution in the New World and examines the history of the Society for Truth, a mutual aid and burial society these outcasts founded as an alternative to the community that rejected them. Formerly based in Canada, Vincent now lives in Brazil. She is a newspaper reporter and author of Hitler's Silent Partners: Swiss Banks, Nazi Gold, And The Pursuit Of Justice....

How did these women come to form the Society for Truth?

In 1916, they pooled their resources and bought a plot of land. They had it officially designated as a cemetery. That was the founding principle, because the women who were dying of yellow fever and of venereal disease were being tossed aside in some city cemetery without a proper religious ceremony. These women didn't want to die like that. They organized their burial society earlier than the Jewish community in Rio, and there was a lot of animosity from the upstanding Jews of Rio, that these women would be able to do it first.

Then it became more ambitious. The women wanted to be able to advance each other money to send each other back to Poland or Romania or Russia if they wanted to spend their last years there. They would pay for hospital stays. I think it grew too ambitious, and when the women started dying off in the 1960s and 1970s, the whole thing disappeared. There was nobody left to support it.

These once penniless women had sufficient resources to front money for passage to Europe?

They were very strict about collecting dues every month, about the operation of the society. That became the most important thing in their lives. You see it in all of the minutes. It's amazing. In 1942, they buy a building for cash in downtown Rio. Some of these women went on to become quite serious madams who had more than one brothel and several women, not necessarily Jewish, working for them.

It sounds proto-feminist.

Well, they were trying to seize control of their own destiny. Most women were not able to—most women in South America were not able to vote until much later. I don't think they looked at it in political terms. They just did it out of desperation and the need to survive—and the need to survive spiritually, which I found very moving: that everything else can go wrong and they can be working in a brothel, but they wanted to be Jewish, and they wanted to hold on to some kind of dignity and faith. For them, unfortunately, that meant death, when they felt they could return to what they were....

Can you tell me a bit more what so captivated you about this chapter of history?

First of all, I'm a journalist. Secondly, I really feel for these women, I'm amazed at what they did. If you see the cemetery and you stand there with the sun beating down, you think, "Oh, my God, how did they end up here from Eastern Europe so long ago?" It's a sad story. But it's also a powerful story, that they banded together and created a cemetery so they could die with dignity. It transcends religion. It becomes this universal quest for meaning and dignity, and dying with a clean soul. I'm not very religious, but I was very moved by their story.

Read the interview in full here

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Nigeria's Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

It's always a pleasure to report good news for a change:

The BBC's Sola Odunfa in Lagos profiles Nigeria's Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, one of the architects of the country's settling of almost all of its foreign debts.

Click here to read the whole story

Wedded to Work, and in Dire Need of a Wife

Published: August 11, 2007
Many working women, seeing their lack of devoted spousal support as an impediment to getting ahead, are wishing they had wives.

Read the NY Times article here

Fortunately, since I live in Brazil, where labour is relatively cheap, I can afford a full-time maid - whom I call my "housewife" - otherwise, as a divorced single mother with two daughters in university, I'd be in the same boat

Bars without women

More from the Freakonomics blog

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Ngawang Sangdrol

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy." Ngawang Sangdrol's story mirrors the tragedy of her country.

Surviving a Tibetan gulag
By Sarah Buckley
BBC News

Ngawang Sangdrol, a former political prisoner in Tibet, only smiles once during our hour-long interview.

She had been asked how long a particular torture method - being hung by the arms after they are tied behind the back - would be used during incarceration.

"It's so painful you don't keep a timing on it," she said simply.

Ms Sangdrol served 12 years in prison before she was released in 2002. She is still only in her late 20s.

She was first imprisoned aged 13, after she joined her fellow nuns in Garu Nunnery in shouting "Independence for Tibet" and "Long live the Dalai Lama" during a protest outside the Summer Palace in Lhasa.

read the rest of her story here

Sunday, August 12, 2007

African NGO wins Hilton prize

Female genital mutilation is nothing new - it has been around for centuries, if not longer (Sir Richard Burton described it in detail in the 1800s). What is surprising is the lack of generalised outrage this cruel and widespread practice inspires. In fact, the silence is deafening. I hope this award will help spotlight a serious problem and contribute to its solution.

Award for anti-mutilation charity
By David Bamford
BBC News Africa editor

A girl undergoing circumcision

An West African aid group campaigning to abolish female genital mutilation has been awarded the world's biggest prize for humanitarian work.

The Tostan organisation, based in Senegal, has been chosen for the Hilton Prize, worth $1.5m (£740,000)

The organisation uses traditional song, poetry, theatre and dance to educate people in West African villages about the dangers of genital mutilation.... Their grassroots approach has been key to dealing sensitively with an issue that involves convincing traditional communities they should move away from a long-maintained yet cruel cultural practice.

Click here to read the article in full

Is "negging" the new "n-word"?

Published on the NY Times website on 10 Aug 07

Freakonomics blog on The Science of Insulting Women
By Melissa Lafsky

Picking up women has been getting plenty of press these days, leading up to this week’s premiere of the VH1 reality show The Pick-Up Artist. The show follows eight “socially inept” men through an eight-week boot camp on seduction techniques, led by a self-proclaimed Lothario called “Mystery.” The headliner (whose real name is Erik Von Markovik) initially found fame after being profiled in Neil Strauss’s 2005 book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, and went on to co-write his own book, How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed: The Mystery Method.

Under particular discussion is a pickup technique that Mystery advocates known as “negging” — a move that involves interjecting an insult during an initial conversation with a woman. The motivation behind the insult is, as Esquire’s A.J. Jacobs puts it, to “lower her self-esteem, thus making her more vulnerable to your advances.” While this tactic has provoked considerable ire, by all accounts from Strauss and his skirt-chasing Svengali, it seems to work.

Read the rest (including my comment) here

Friday, August 10, 2007

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge vs. HIV/AIDS (and Dr Beetroot)

Antiretrovirals or garlic and beetroot? Why not all three? In any event, good nutrition is far better than the other "solution" (raping virgins). Seriously though, I consider Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge a heroine because she lost her job for siding with modern medicine, which, though not always right, has proven effective in combating HIV/AIDS.

BBC News article published 10 Aug 07

Sacked S Africa minister hits out

South Africa's former deputy health minister has said she was sacked for doing her job.

Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge said she had been fired for going on an unauthorised trip to a Spanish Aids conference and for criticising hospital conditions.

She said it was her duty to respond quickly to reports that babies were dying in a maternity hospital.

Her sacking has been condemned by Aids activists and the opposition as a setback in the fight against HIV.

Some 5.5m South Africans are HIV-postive - more than in any other country.

Read the rest here

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Waris Dirie - campaigning against genital mutilation

'My mother held me down'
Waris had operations to try to correct the damage

Police in the UK are offering a reward for information leading to the prosecution of anyone involved in the practice of female genital mutilation. Here the Somali-born model Waris Dirie describes her experience.

Click here to read the BBC article

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Caged birds sing in Iran

Here is an excerpt from BBC correspondent Frances Harrison's moving farewell essay about Iran:

Subtle opposition

But let me tell you about the subtle ways in which Iranians articulate their opposition.

This is not a culture where anyone says anything directly - and it can sometimes be infuriating for a foreigner.

But it has nuance, subtlety and a playfulness that is lost in the one-dimensional views you see in news reports.

The other night I was at a private party and two young Iranian women performed a song about a bird. It was indescribably sad and beautiful and had many of the women in the audience in tears.

Women are not allowed to sing in public in Iran - it is considered un-Islamic for men to hear them.

These women - who in today's Iran can only perform in houses of friends - sang about a bird, a crane, whose wings had been clipped and whose mouth had been covered.

It was a poetic symbol of censorship and the restrictions imposed on women. It moved the audience far more than any feminist speech or political agitation because it drew on their tradition and the Iranian love of poetry.

Click here to read the article in full

Friday, July 06, 2007

Nepalese women train to join Gurkhas

The Gurkhas are one of the bravest, most highly decorated Army brigades in the world, but up till now, they've been an all-male outfit.

Read all about it in the Guardian

Or listen to BBC radio

Six-year old Connie charms Simon Cowell

On a lighter note...

Modern-day Godiva

Indian woman strips in dowry row
A woman in western India has stripped to her underwear in public to protest over alleged abuses from her husband's family for not providing a dowry.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Looking for heroines (real and fictional)

It's been a few days since I decided to switch the focus of this blog to female heroes, and I confess that so far (perhaps because I've missed or overlooked them) I haven't seen anything in the news worth reporting. The other day, however, I was watching "Criminal Minds" and was riveted by "Open Season," the episode about 2 serial killers who would take their victims into the wilderness and hunt them down with bows and arrows. Shades of Deliverance.

This would have been derivative of many similar "hunt 'em down" serial killers in countless cop shows, but the thing that set it a part - and fascinated me - was the incredibly feisty woman who turned out to the killers' last victim.

Instead of running and being a target, she hid behind trees, stalked them, and brought them down with a hunting knife (obtained by some unfortunate campers she ran into, who all fell victim to the hunters' arrows).

Apart from liking the show's compassionate take on the killers - they were clearly victims of their upbringing (reared by a serial-killer uncle) - I loved the fact that, for once, the victim turned the tables on her would-be slayers and they ended up dead instead.

So the only heroine I've found so far is fictional - how pathetic is that? I'd like to invite my readers - if I have any - to join in my search send in their suggestions for heroines (real and fictional) who could be profiled on this site.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Finding Hatshepsut: sometimes time is the best revenge

The mummy was discovered by Howard Carter in 1903

Egyptologists say they have identified the 3,000-year-old mummy of Hatshepsut, Egypt's most powerful female ruler.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"No woman is born a prostitute"

I've been so disheartened lately by news of female journalists and broadcasters being murdered in Iraq and Afghanistan, "honour" killings, a "wife-fattening farm" in Mauritania, etc. etc., that I was thinking of giving up on this blog in despair. After all, I'm the first to criticise people who rail and wail and winge about injustice but do nothing but wring their hands. Therefore (a word that should be unknown to poets, according to André Gide), I was pleased and heartened to see this article on the BBC website today:

Prostitutes in the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, have launched a campaign to raise awareness about the difficult circumstances in which they work.

Read it and smile.

I think I'll make female heroes the theme of this blog from now on, and take the word heroine back from the druggies while I'm at it.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Madeleine (Maddy) still missing

On behalf of Kate and Gerry McCann and all the family, please help us find Madeleine.
> >
Madeleine, age 3, was abducted from her bed in the family holiday
apartment, Praia De Luz, Algarve, Portugal on Thursday, 3rd May.
> >
Police and all of Portugal are trying to find her. The Portuguese people, holiday makers and ex pats have been a great support to the family and continue their efforts.
> >
You, too can help. Please circulate this plea to publicise Madeleine's
photo and ask for information, no matter how small to be passed on to
the authorities.
> >
Whether you are in the UK, Portugal, Europe or beyond, please forward
to all your family, friends,colleagues and business associates.
Someone out there will have some information that will lead to Maddy's return.
> >
The internet can be a powerful tool in finding Maddy, who is so loved
and missed by us all.
> >
Let's use it positively.
> >
Please pray for Madeleine and all the family at this devastating time.
> >
We need your help. We know you won't let Maddy down.
> >
God bless,
> >
Pat Perkins
(Family friend)
> >
Pat Perkins
Pre Employment Lead
> >
NHS Academy (Northwest)
> >
Mob: 07901 541 062
Tel: 0151 482 5614
Fax: 0151 482 5513

Saturday, May 19, 2007

On a lighter (but still mournful) note - I was rooting for Melinda

Melinda is out, so perhaps Jordin Sparks (my daughter's favourite) will be the next American Idol? According to this CNN article, major female singers of the last few years have needed sex appeal. Once talent came first, with beauty a bonus; now it's the reverse.

Read the Wikipedia entry on Melinda Doolittle here

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

CNN: Female pilots reached for the stars

Although they were as good as the men, if not better, they never got a chance to go to space, despite arguing their case before Congress.

BBC: 'Inequality rife' for young girls

Girls are more likely than boys to be malnourished, suffer poverty, face violence and be refused an education, according to a new report.

  • Some 121m children do not attend primary school - 54% of those are girls
  • 82m girls in developing countries who are now aged 10-17 will be married before their 18th birthday
  • In some countries, most girls marry before their 18th birthday: India (50%), Nepal (60%) and Niger (76%)
  • Worldwide, some 14m 15-to-19-year-olds give birth each year
  • Girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth as those in their 20s
Source: Plan report

Plan International: girls disadvantaged

"I never ever understand why boys and girls are not equal to each other. In rural areas elders think that girls are born to give birth and to marry and for cleaning the house. Girls who live in rural areas… are not sent to schools. Their parents are not aware of the changing world yet."
Girl, 15. Turkey

"As ‘Because I am a Girl’ will show, discrimination
against girls and young women remains deeply
entrenched and widely tolerated throughout the
world. Many of the challenges girls will face start
from the moment they are born; in fact in some
parts of the world, girls are the target of a social
preference for boys even before birth.
The ‘Real Choices, Real Lives’ cohort study
was set up to follow 135 girls from birth until
their ninth birthday, in 2015. Every year,
researchers will visit the girls and their families
to talk to them about what they eat, how
healthy they are, their education, and over time
will build up a picture of how the fact that they
are girls impacts on their lives. Findings from
the study will be published in each of Plan’s
‘State of the World’s Girls’ annual reports."

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day?

What's a Mother's Worth?

By Riane Eisler, AlterNet. Posted May 11, 2007.

This Mother's Day let's give mothers what they really need: a more secure old age.

"The devaluation of women and the 'women's work' of caregiving is a pathology we must leave behind - not only for the sake of the female half of humanity but for us all. Indeed, only as we give real value and visibility to the work of caring and caregiving can we move forward to economic systems that truly care for the real wealth of nations: people and our natural environment."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Another sign of the insidious holocaust

Though officially outlawed in India, female foeticide and infanticide is still rampant...

Man 'buried twin daughters alive'
POSTED: 1256 GMT (2056 HKT), May 11, 2007

AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) -- Indian police in the western state of Gujarat have arrested a man accused of killing his six-day-old twin daughters by burying them alive, a police officer said on Friday.

"The father considered the infants as a sign of misfortune," G.S. Malik, superintendent of police, said. "He murdered the six-day-old babies by burying them in a ditch."

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Abortion debate in Brazil

Published: May 9, 2007
A dispute broke out today between the Roman Catholic Church and the Brazilian government about abortion.

Monday, April 23, 2007

And the gender gap goes on and on and on...

I found this article on the CNN website - once again, thanks to Reuters:

On payday, it's still a man's world
Study: Females earn 80 percent of what men earn one year after graduating from college; falls to 69 percent 10 years later.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

U.S. envoy attacks female circumcision in Kenya

I came across this article in the NY Times, and Google News led me to - a very useful service that Reuters provides to alert "humanitarians to emergencies." One quote from the article in question is particularly disturbing:
"The other women threatened me if I did not do this. We must stop this. Young girls are living in fear," a Maasai girl in her early teens said, her voice cracking with emotion.

Click here to read the full article

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Meanwhile, in the Americas

According to this Truthout report, a grim new term has been coined for an age-old tragedy: "femicide"

House Tackles "Femicide" in Latin America

By William Fisher
t r u t h o u t | Report

Monday 09 April 2007

While headlines in the mainstream media front-page such controversies as Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Syria and lawmakers' standoff with the White House on timelines for American withdrawal from Iraq, the more mundane - but arguably no less important - work of the Congress goes on. Much of it continues under the radar, receiving little or no attention in the press. Some of it is actually bipartisan!

One example is an obscure measure known as H.RES.100. What is House Resolution 100?

It is an effort by a large bipartisan group of representatives to try to end a deadly phenomenon known as "femicide" in Guatemala and elsewhere in Central and South America.

Introduced by Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (D-California) and 84 co-sponsors, and unanimously approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the resolution urges the US government to bring pressure on Guatemala to address the unsolved murders of more than 2,000 women and girls since 2001.

Representative Solis says, "Very few of these crimes have been investigated, and even fewer perpetrators have been brought to justice for their crimes. Families of victims deserve honest answers and investigations into the murders of their wives, mothers and daughters, instead of being ignored and intimidated. H.RES.100 will raise awareness of the growing murder rate of women and girls in Guatemala, and increase the international pressure that is needed to stop the violence against women in that country."

Read the rest here

Conned, kidnapped or blackmailed

According to this BBC report, large numbers of Indian women from different walks of life are being lured or forced into becoming sex workers. Many are "purchased" from their parents, never to be seen again.
Assam's missing women and the sex trade

Monday, April 09, 2007

Veiled by force

Humiliating and discriminatory treatment of any kind, towards anyone, man, woman, black, Muslim, Asian or white, should always be denounced and reviled. I've been waiting for the hostage crisis to end before ranting about the treatment of Leading Seaman Faye Turney at the hands of the Iranian government. I was shocked but not surprised to see her stripped of her uniform and treated as a "woman" - i.e., obliged to wear a headscarf and "feminine" garments that covered her arms and legs - instead of what she was: a captured British seaman. In the end, the men were given "five-dollar suits" and she was costumed as what I can only describe as a homeless fashion victim. Fortunately, when the hostages returned to the "real world", they were all back in uniform. The fact that Turney was kept apart from the others and told that the men had been sent home, and she would never see her daughter again, just makes the entire situation all the more heinous. It's hard to think and write rationally when overcome with outrage, but I would like to point out one cold fact: women fighting in a war involving hardcore Islamic extremists are placed in special danger. Female soldiers are always exposed to more "up close and personal" violence than men (though men can, of course, be raped too). However, it is clear from the way the Taliban treated women in Afghanistan that the extremists' claim to "respect" women is completely hypocritical. Plainly, they see us as weaker, frailer, somehow "unclean" and unworthy of being treated as equals. Women have fought long and hard to wear the same uniform and receive the same treatment as men in the "Western" armed forces. Of course, this goal is still a distant dream, but not impossible. All of a sudden, by crossing an invisible border (or not, since it is much more likely that the Iranians staged an ambush in order to get hostages to trade for the members of the Republican Guard being held in Iraq), the one female, a serviceperson among her officers and peers, was obliged to follow precepts that are not of her faith - if she has one - and subjected to treatment that is alien to her culture and upbringing. If Muslim women in Britain are outraged because, in some circumstances, they are not allowed to wear the veil, I would like to see and express the same degree of fury at a non-Muslim being forced to wear one. A woman who is forced to wear any sort of garment - whether "modest" or "revealing" - is being objectified or, what is worse, made invisible. Turney's treatment was yet another example of the real-life reenactment of The Handmaid's Tale.
For more information, read the BBC article UK captive 'felt like a traitor'

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Women (and girls) must be warriors

Aberash faces exile from her village and cannot see her family

I was just reading a horrific BBC News story about a 21-year-old Ethiopian woman whose stalker disfigured her face with sulphuric acid and found a link to this story from 1999 on the same page. Somewhat heartening, though bittersweet:

BBC News June 18, 1999
Ethiopia: Revenge of the abducted bride
Charlotte Metcalfe, director of the BBC programme 'Schoolgirl killer' tells the story of Aberash Bekele, a young Ethiopian women on trial for murder after killing the man who abducted and raped her.

Read more here:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

International Women's Day rant

It happened last week and I'm only just getting around to writing about it because, as a single working mother, I had other things to do. I always find Women's Day depressing at best and infuriating at worst. For one thing, why isn't there a "Men's Day"? (answer: because they get the other 364 days of the year). Living in Brazil, where men reign supreme because women let them, I have all sorts of irritants "up with which to put". This year, I was on a plane from Rio to Salvador - yes, on March 8th - and a female flight attendant wished the passengers "Happy Women's Day". A man sitting near me (as part of a loving couple) said, "Ah, but isn't it men that make women happy?" (A loose translation of: "A felicidade da mulher não é o homem?") Good thing his girlfriend was sitting between us or I'd have thumped him. I have nothing against the male gender in general - some are my closest friends are men ;-) However, I will start to feel that women have arrived when the CNN anchors are a 60-ish woman with plenty of wrinkles and white hair, sitting beside a 30-something man.