Monday, December 21, 2009

Heroine: Jamie Leigh Jones

WASHINGTON — Four years ago, Jamie Leigh Jones, a 20-year old Texas contract employee working in Iraq, was drugged, stripped, beaten and gang-raped by her co-workers on her fourth day in country. She finally managed to get a phone call out from the shipping container where she was being detained — by her employer, KBR, then a Halliburton company.

That call to her father led to a call to her congressman, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and her rescue after Poe had the State Department locate her. But Jones' attempts at justice — and restitution — were blocked by a little-noticed compulsory arbitration clause in the contracts of private employees working for federal government contractors.

Now, a move by Congress last week, jump-started by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., would protect contract employees by ensuring they have legal recourse.

The provision is in the defense appropriations bill that the Senate approved Saturday after the House passed it Wednesday. It only needs the president's signature to become law.

"This amendment makes all the hard times that I have gone through, when going public with such a personal tragedy, worth every tear shed from telling and retelling my horrific experience," Jones said after the Senate first acted on the bill in October. Jones most recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October: "I know this amendment will save so many in the future."

Jones herself is not directly affected by the amendment. But after a hard-fought four-year battle, she won the right to sue her attackers and the company under a ruling in September by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Her case is expected to go to trial next year.

"The congressional amendment tracks the Fifth Circuit decision," said Poe. For Poe, a former Texas district judge who chairs the House's Victims' Rights Caucus and who has been one of Jones' strongest advocates, the new law is a milestone.

Under the congressionally approved provision, the federal government would not be able to do business with companies with $1 million or more in contracts that deny court hearings for victims of assault, false imprisonment or emotional distress. Victims of assault would be able to sue the employers of the alleged attacker, as well as the attacker. The Defense Department can apply a waiver for national security reasons.

Jones, now married and with a child — who she named after Poe — is a teacher, lives in a Houston suburb and advocates for victims through a foundation that bears her name.

Franken was the prime mover behind the legislation, which came about this fall after he was moved by her story.

"Jamie Leigh Jones is a strong, courageous woman, who used her own horrific experience to inspire change," said Franken in a statement.

"I am honored to know her, and honored to have been a part of her cause," Franken said. "I came to Washington to stand up for folks like Jamie Leigh, and stand up to the powerful interests that too often silence their voices."

The provision had a contentious debate in the Senate, where it passed in October 68-30 — engendering a vocal critique of the 30 all white, all male "no" voters, including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court judge, said that he was a strong advocate for victims but he was opposed to a provision that would benefit trial lawyers.

All 17 female senators voted for the amendment.

"This kind of violent crime should not be obscured by politics or partisanship," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. "The fact is, a Texas woman serving our country in Iraq was brutally sexually assaulted. She deserves to have her day in court."

See original article

Friday, November 27, 2009

BBC: Shirin Ebadi Nobel Peace Prize medal 'seized by Iran'

Read original article

Shirin Ebadi says she has been threatened by the Iranian authorities

Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi says the Nobel Peace Prize medal she won in 2003 has been confiscated.

The medal and accompanying diploma were taken from a bank box in Tehran about three weeks ago on the orders of Iran's Revolutionary Court, she said.

Ms Ebadi, who has criticised Iran's recent disputed election and the subsequent treatment of protesters, said her bank account was also frozen.

Iranian authorities have not made any official comment on the issue.

Norway, which presents the award, said it was "shocked", by the confiscation.

The country's foreign ministry said it was the first time national authorities had taken such action.


Ms Ebadi told the Associated Press that her French Legion d'Honneur award and a ring given by the German association of journalists were taken along with the Nobel prize.

I will return whenever it is useful for my country
Shirin Ebadi

Speaking in London, she said the Iranian authorities had also demanded taxes on the $1.3m (£800,000) she was awarded, but that the prize is exempt under local law.

Ms Ebadi, the first Muslim women to be awarded a Nobel prize, has been away from Iran since travelling to Spain for a conference the day before the 12 June election.

The result of the election, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected, saw thousands of people protesting for several days, with hundreds arrested.

Ms Ebadi said she had "received many threatening messages" since leaving Iran.

"They said they would detain me if I returned, or that they would make the environment unsafe for me wherever I am," she said, adding that her colleagues still in the country had also been "detained or banned from travelling abroad".

But Ms Ebadi said she would not let anyone prevent her from carrying out her "legal activities" and would eventually go back to Iran.

"I will return whenever it is useful for my country," she said.

'Unheard of'

Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, a spokesman for Ms Ebadi's human rights group, said the prize money had been used "to help prisoners of conscience and their families".

Man throwing a stone at a burning police motorbike (13/06)
The election result was followed by days of protest and hundreds of arrests

"The account has been blocked by the officials and they do not allow withdrawals," the AFP news agency quoted the lawyer as saying.

Mr Dadkhah said both the blocking of the account and the confiscation of the award were illegal under Iranian law and that the move was "politicised".

In Norway, where a committee chooses the annual recipient for the peace prize, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said: "Such an act leaves us feeling shock and disbelief."

The ministry summoned Iran's charge d'affaires to protest about the confiscation.

The Norwegian ministry said it was also concerned about the alleged beating of Ms Ebadi's husband in Tehran, with Mr Stoere saying the "persecution of Dr Ebadi and her family shows that freedom of expression is under great pressure in Iran".

The Norwegian Nobel Committee's permanent secretary, Geir Lundestad, said the move was "unheard of" and "unacceptable", Associated Press reported.

Monday, November 16, 2009

BBC: Zambia 'porn' reporter acquitted

A Zambian journalist has been acquitted of pornography charges after sending officials pictures of a woman giving birth in a hospital car park.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Heroine: Tererai Trent

Op-Ed Columnist
Triumph of a Dreamer
Published: November 15, 2009
Of all the people earning university degrees this year, perhaps the most remarkable story belongs a one-time impoverished cattle-herd from Zimbabwe.

Heroine: Chansa Kabwela

BBC: Surreal drama of Zambia 'porn' trial

The trial of a news editor in Zambia, accused of distributing obscene material, is coming to an end. Chansa Kabwela says she sent photos of a woman giving birth without medical help to senior government officials to highlight the effects of a nurses' strike. Jo Fidgen has watched the trial, and reflects on what it reveals about Zambian culture.

Chansa Kabwela, news editor of the Post (image from Post website)
Chansa Kabwela is news editor of Zambia's best-selling newspaper

The arresting officer makes for an arresting sight.

Sharon Zulu strides into the witness box, a strapping woman in gravity-defying heels and a shiny, baby-pink trouser suit. Grace Jones disguised as Shirley Temple. The promise of a grand finale to the prosecution case.

So far, it has amounted to a succession of trembling ministerial secretaries expressing their humiliation and shock that a woman in childbirth, the most private moment of her life, had been photographed.

Shock, not over the fact that she had given birth in a hospital car park. Or that her baby had suffocated. But that the pictures had been seen by men - an absolute taboo.

This is not to say the photographs are not terrible. When I saw them, it took me several seconds to focus, as though my brain was refusing to process the images.

The most graphic shows a woman from the waist down, lying on a plastic sheet, with the bloodied torso of a baby between her thighs. The head is still inside her.

This is what Zambia's President, Rupiah Banda, declared pornographic, when he called for the photographer to be arrested.

Poster girl

But Mrs Zulu has been a police investigator for 19 years. She must have seen a few unpleasant things in her career. Surely, she is not going to be thrown off balance by these photos?

Not for the first time in this trial, my expectations are confounded.

The spectators have been ooh-ing and aah-ing all through the trial, like an audience for a Shakespearean tragi-comedy

Mrs Zulu tells the court that she felt assaulted, disturbed, naked. Upset with the person who had circulated the pictures.

"We are all Zambian here," she says. "We all know this is not allowed in our culture."

I shift uncomfortably, the only non-Zambian in the room. Maybe there are cultural forces at play here beyond my understanding. I scan the public gallery. A pretty unrepresentative lot - the benches are stuffed with pop stars, actors, free speech campaigners and opposition politicians.

The defendant, Chansa Kabwela, news editor of Zambia's best-selling newspaper, The Post, has become the poster girl for anyone who dislikes the government.

The spectators have been "ooh-ing" and "aah-ing" all through the trial, like an audience for a Shakespearean tragi-comedy. Or maybe a Zambian adaptation of Kafka. The magistrate has had to tell them off for intimidating the witnesses.

Rupiah Banda
President Rupiah Banda has described the photos as pornographic

The defence counsel rises to his feet. An imposing man with elegant glasses and a soft voice layered with intellectual menace.

I have watched other witnesses crumple under his cross-examination. The audience holds its breath. We all sense that this will be the climactic scene.

He casually offers her some rope. What prompted this investigation? Was she aware that the president himself had made his position clear? Why did she not interview any of the intended recipients of the photos? Including those who had spoken publicly in support of Chansa Kabwela?

Mrs Zulu folds her arms, pouts, refuses to answer some of the questions, is reprimanded by the magistrate, and pouts some more.

Plot twists

The definition of obscenity employed by the defence is from British law in the 1960s. It talks about corrupting morals by making people homosexual, drug-takers, prostitutes.

A few scattered laughs as the legal extract is read out, but no outrage that an out-of-date law from the old colonial power is being invoked.


It seems to me that Zambia's social conservatism is in tune with a Britain that no longer exists.

Defence and witness continue their ill-tempered exchange as to whether the photographs are capable of causing arousal.

It has been a constant theme. One witness almost found herself agreeing that only a lunatic could be turned on by them, but stopped herself when she spotted the president's portrait looming over the magistrate.

Perhaps she was remembering that now infamous news conference when the Zambian leader declared the pictures pornographic.

I have been to see several plays in Lusaka, but none has had the human drama, the plot twists, the surrealism of the performance in Magistrates Court Three.

But I cannot help feeling that the principal character is hiding in the wings.

Fred Mmembe is the editor-in-chief of The Post newspaper. He hates the government and his paper shouts it loud and clear.

I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that the whole of Zambia is a political battleground at the moment, and that even in a courtroom, there is no such thing as no man's land

Stage whispers hint that he is the real target. And sure enough, he is soon charged with contempt.

His trial, for an article published about this case, began this week. Of course, that could just be one of those coincidences that good playwrights can get away with.

As we leave court at the end of Mrs Zulu's evidence, one of the defence team comes up to me. "Thanks for your support," he says.

I'm aghast. "I'm not supporting you," I say, pointing at the press bench. "I'm sitting there, I'm neutral."

"You support us just by turning up," he asserts.

And I am left with the uncomfortable feeling that the whole of Zambia is a political battleground at the moment, and that even in a courtroom, there is no such thing as no man's land.

Go to original article

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stalin's Falkons, aka Night Witches

BBC News Audio slideshow: Night witches

Russia's three all-female air regiments flew more than 30,000 missions along the Eastern Front in WWII. At home they were known as Stalin's Falcons, but terrified German troops called them the Night Witches.

Here - with the help of archive images - Radio 4's Lucy Ash tells their story, and discovers that their extraordinary exploits have inspired others decades later.

Click here for audioslideshow

Night Witches will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2002 on Monday 2 November 2009.
It will then be available for seven days on the BBC iPlayer.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Michelle Bachelet

Chilean President Rides High as Term Ends
Published: October 29, 2009
After a rough start, Michelle Bachelet, Chile’s first woman in the presidency, is winding up her term as one of the country’s most popular leaders.

Read NY Times article here:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The first, but not the last...

76-Year-Old Is First Woman to Win Nobel Prize for Economics

by: David Usborne and Sean O'Grady | The Independent UK

Professor Elinor Ostrom became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economics. (Photo: Adam P Schweigert / WFIU, wfiupublicradio / flickr)

Elinor Ostrom's award takes number of female laureates in 2009 to five.

The grip enjoyed by men on the Nobel Prize for Economics was broken at last yesterday when Elinor Ostrom, a professor at the University of Indiana, became the first woman to be honoured with the award.

Her win ensured that 2009 was a record-breaking Nobel year for women, with five female winners.

Professor Ostrom, 76, shares her prize with with a fellow American academic, Oliver Williamson, also 76, who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. Both professors specialise in economic governance and the deployment of authority to resolve conflicts.

To read more about Elinor Ostrom and the prize she hopes will direct more attention to other women working in the field of economics, click here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The only woman in the French Foreign Legion

A bit "soppy" in the telling but still inspiring, when one reads between the lines.

A British tennis-playing socialite became the only woman in the French Foreign Legion, leading a daring, wartime, desert escape. She would have been 100 this week and her story remains inspirational, writes biographer and friend Wendy Holden.

When I first met Susan Travers in a Paris nursing home in 1999, she was a papery-skinned 90-year-old who spoke with a cut-glass English accent. Unable to walk, she insisted that before we began I wheel her to a local restaurant for lunch.

Susan Travers
Travers began her career as a nurse

There can have been few in the suburban restaurant who gave this frail old lady a second glance as she ate her omelette and drank a glass of champagne. Unless, that is, they noticed the small coloured ribbons pinned to the lapel of her tweed suit.

One defined her as a recipient of the Legion d'Honneur, a French military honour established by Napoleon, others were for the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. But the last red and blue ribbon was unique - it identified Travers as the only woman in the French Foreign Legion.

Born in southern England as the daughter of a Royal Navy admiral, but raised as a young tennis-playing socialite in the south of France, Travers was among thousands of women who joined the French Red Cross at the outbreak of the Second World War.

Trained as a nurse, she spurned that as being "far too messy" for the more exciting role of ambulance driver, joining the French expeditionary force to Finland to help in the Winter War against the Russians.

Love affair

When France fell to the Nazis she made her way to London and signed up with General De Gaulle's Free French and was attached to the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Legion Etrangere, which sailed for Africa. Volunteering as a driver to the brigade's senior officers, she exhibited such nerves of steel in negotiating minefields and enemy attacks that she earned the affectionate nickname "La Miss" from her thousand male comrades.

Susan Travers and Wendy Holden
Travers and Holden remained friends

After an affair with a White Russian prince who was later killed, she was assigned as the driver to Colonel Marie-Pierre Koenig, and the greatest love affair of her life began.

Attached to the 8th Army and despatched to hold the desolate desert fort of Bir Hakeim in Libya in 1942, Koenig's forces were almost pounded to dust by Rommel's Afrika Korps in what became one of the greatest sieges in the history of the Western Desert campaign.

With Stuka planes, Panzer tanks and heavy artillery at their disposal, the Germans expected to take the fort in 15 minutes. In what became a symbol of resistance across the world, the Free French held it for 15 days.

Refusing to leave her lover's side when all female personnel were ordered to escape, Susan stayed on in Bir Hakeim, the only woman among more than 3,500 men. Her fellow soldiers dug her into a coffin-sized hole in the desert floor, where she lay in temperatures of 51C for more than 15 days, listening to the cries of the dying and wounded.

When all water, food and ammunition had run out, Koenig decided to lead a breakout through the minefields and three concentric rings of German tanks.

It is a delightful feeling, going as fast as you can in the dark
Susan Travers

As his driver, Travers was ordered to take the wheel of his Ford and lead the midnight flight across the desert. The convoy of vehicles and men was only discovered when a mine exploded beneath one of their trucks. Under heavy fire, she was told by Koenig: "If we go, the rest will follow." She floored the accelerator and bumped her vehicle across the barren landscape.

"It is a delightful feeling, going as fast as you can in the dark," she said later. "My main concern was that the engine would stall."

Under heavy machine gun fire, she finally burst through enemy lines, creating a path for the rest to follow. Only stopping when she reached Allied lines several hours later, she noted 11 bullet holes and severe shrapnel damage to the vehicle.

Almost 2,500 troops had escaped with her. Koenig was promoted to the rank of general by de Gaulle. Hardly even saying goodbye, he left Travers to return to his wife and a life of high office.

Travers stayed on with the Legion seeing action in Italy, Germany and France driving a self-propelled anti-tank gun. She was wounded after driving over a mine.

Proudest moment

After the war, she wanted no other life and applied formally to the Legion to become an official member, omitting her gender on the application form.

The man who rubber-stamped her admission had known her in Bir Hakeim. After creating her own uniform, Travers became the first and only woman ever to serve with the Legion, and was posted to Vietnam during the First Indo-China War.

It was there that she met and married a fellow legionnaire, Nicholas Schlegelmilch, who had also been at Bir Hakeim. They had two sons and lived a quiet life on the outskirts of Paris until their deaths.

Marie-Pierre Koenig
Her former lover Koenig gave her the Medaille Militaire

When I met her in the last years of her life, she was finally ready to tell her story only because "everyone was gone and I was left alone with my medals". What she wanted, she said, was for her grandchildren to know how "wicked" she had been.

The book was named Tomorrow to be Brave, after a line from a poem Koenig once read to her which went: "Distrust yourself, and sleep before you fight. 'Tis not too late tomorrow to be brave." She died three years later.

She had witnessed several more wars and watched women routinely join the armed forces and go off to the front lines, surprised that it still raised eyebrows in some quarters.

Her greatest regret, she said, was not to have been born a boy, although she admitted that as such she would never have done half the things she'd done or enjoyed the life she led subsequently.

Susan only ever showed emotion once, when she spoke of her proudest moment. It was in 1956, 11 years after the war. The Legion invited her to Paris to receive the Medaille Militaire for her role at Bir Hakeim.

Promise kept

On a bitterly cold day at Les Invalides, with her husband and two young sons watching, Susan took her place in the middle of the square along with dozens of other Legionnaires, as hundreds looked on.

Standing to attention, she felt her heart lurch as she saw a lone general in full military uniform walking towards her. It was Pierre Koenig, the lover she hadn't seen since the days immediately after Bir Hakeim.

Her hands clenched into fists, she watched as he pinned her medal to the lapel of her coat. Their eyes locked, each one struggling with their emotions, he told her: "I hope this will remind you of many things. Well done, La Miss."

Stepping back, he gave her a brisk salute before marching away. It was the last time she ever saw him. Koenig died in 1970 and Travers waited almost 30 years until her own husband died, to tell their story of love and heroism.

"Wherever you will go, I will go too," she had once told Koenig at Bir Hakeim. It was a promise she kept.

Wendy Holden co-wrote Tomorrow to Be Brave: A Memoir of The Only Woman Ever to Serve in the French Foreign Legion with Susan Travers.

Go to original BBC News Magazine article

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Real "Norma Rae" Dies of Cancer After Insurer Delayed Treatment

by: Sue Sturgis | Facing South

The North Carolina union organizer who was the inspiration for the movie "Norma Rae" died on Friday of brain cancer after a battle with her insurance company, which delayed her treatment. She was 68.

Crystal Lee Sutton, formerly Crystal Lee Jordan, was fired from her job folding towels at the J.P. Stevens textile plant in her hometown of Roanoke Rapids, N.C. for trying to organize a union in the early 1970s. Her last action at the plant -- writing the word "UNION" on a piece of cardboard and standing on her work table, leading her co-workers to turn off their machines in solidarity -- was memorialized in the 1979 film by actress Sally Field. The police physically removed Sutton from the plant for her action.

But her efforts ultimately succeeded, as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers won the right to represent the plant's employees on Aug. 28, 1974. Sutton later became a paid organizer for the union, which through a series of mergers became part of UNITE HERE before splitting off this year to form Workers United, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.

Several years ago, Sutton was diagnosed with meningioma, a type of cancer of the nervous system. While such cancers are typically slow-growing, Sutton's was not -- and she went two months without potentially life-saving medication because her insurance wouldn't cover it initially. Sutton told the Burlington (N.C.) Times-News last year that the insurer's behavior was an example of abuse of the working poor:

"How in the world can it take so long to find out [whether they would cover the medicine or not] when it could be a matter of life or death," she said. "It is almost like, in a way, committing murder."

Though Sutton eventually received the medication, the cancer had already taken hold. She passed away on Friday, Sept. 11 in a Burlington, N.C. hospice.

"Crystal Lee Sutton was a remarkable woman whose brave struggles have left a lasting impact on this country and without doubt, on me personally," Field said in a statement released Friday. "Portraying Crystal Lee in 'Norma Rae,' however loosely based, not only elevated me as an actress, but as a human being."

Field won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her portrayal of the character based on Sutton. The film in turn was based on the 1975 book "Crystal Lee: A Woman of Inheritance" by New York Times reporter Henry P. "Hank" Leiferman.

Sutton was only 17 when she began working at the J.P. Stevens plant in northeastern North Carolina, where conditions were poor and the pay was low. A Massachusetts-based company that for many years was listed on the Fortune 500, J.P. Stevens is now part of the WestPoint Home conglomerate.

In 1973, Sutton, by then a mother of three, was earning only $2.65 an hour. That same year, Eli Zivkovich, a former coal miner from West Virginia, came to Roanoke Rapids to organize the plant and began working with Sutton, who was fired after she copied a flyer posted by management warning that blacks would run the union. It was that incident which led Sutton to stand up with her "UNION" sign.

"It is not necessary I be remembered as anything, but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the U.S. and the world," she said in a newspaper interview last year. "That my family and children and children like mine will have a fair share and equality."

For more on Sutton's life and work, visit the website of the Alamance Community College's Crystal Sutton Collection.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Rosa Parks in Khartoum!

By Nicholas Kristof - New York Times columnist

Published: September 7, 2009
Lubna Hussein, the Sudanese woman charged with the crime of wearing trousers, was spared a lashing but given a fine. Now she is refusing to pay the fine....

When the Sudanese authorities picked up a dozen women in a cafe in July and charged them with breaking the law by wearing trousers, they didn’t realize what they started. Most of the women (some of them actually just girls) accepted what they saw as inevitable and received a flogging. The penalty is up to 40 lashes with a whip that can leave scars, and one teenage girl was so scared she wet her pants.

But one of those arrested that day was Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese journalist who has been fighting back. Lubna had been working for the United Nations but quit her post because she didn’t want to involve the UN or get any special immunity. She spread the word and invited friends to her trial. The judge, not knowing what to do, postponed the trial until today. Lubna helped focus global attention on Sudan’s flogging of women (I wrote about her previously here), and the judge clearly didn’t want further embarrassment. So the judge today tried to compromise by letting Lubna off with a fine of $300, but without a lashing, as my colleague Jeffrey Gettleman reports.

Not so fast! According to Bec Hamilton (who guest wrote the previous item about Lubna on my blog), Lubna says she will refuse to pay the fine. BBC reports from Khartoum that Lubna’s lawyers are trying to persuade her to pay, and that otherwise she will face a month in prison. Lubna’s concern all along has been less her own safety than the need to change the law for the sake of those who are less connected and less protected. She truly is the Rosa Parks of Khartoum — and I also feel enormous admiration for those Sudanese woman who took the risk of showing up at the courtroom today to support Lubna. Some wore pants, and a number were arrested and in at least one case beaten.

I hope Muslim leaders and journalists will speak out strongly for Lubna. Obviously, any initiative to flog women for wearing pants doesn’t reflect real Islam but a caricature. Indeed, that’s a blasphemy as great as any Danish cartoon, and it does more to harm the image of Islam around the world.

Those women like Lubna are truly holding up half the sky. The West can be most successful in bolstering human rights around the world if we aren’t out front lecturing other countries on what to do, but if we stoutly support those people like Lubna who are trying to bring about change from within. So, go Lubna! In Arabic, shidda haelik — be strong!

Go to original article

Friday, August 14, 2009

Heroine: Lubna Hussein

Published: August 14, 2009

July, hot and usually slow for many of us, was a month of humiliation and pain for 164 Muslim women sentenced to a public flogging for “crimes” as varied and absurd as wearing trousers in public to having sex outside of marriage in countries as far afield as the Maldives, Sudan and Malaysia,

The most famous of those 164 is Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese journalist who was among 13 women arrested by police at a Khartoum café on July 3 and charged with violating the country’s “decency laws” by wearing trousers.

Ten of those women accepted a fine and flogging but Ms. Hussein and two others contested the charges, which they’re now fighting in court. The Sudanese regime barred her from traveling to Lebanon earlier this week to give a television interview on her trial, which resumes on Sept. 7.

It’s bizarre to use the word “lucky” to describe a woman facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers, but by virtue of her position and clout, that’s exactly what Ms. Hussein is. She is also brave and defiant: Ms. Hussein resigned her position as press officer for the United Nations, which could have earned her immunity from the charges, to stand trial.

And most importantly she is a Muslim woman who knows that a flogging for wearing trousers is sheer and utter nonsense; she has said she was ready to “receive (even) 40,000 lashes” if that’s what it takes to abolish the law.

Not so lucky have been the thousands of other Sudanese women — Muslim and non-Muslim southern Sudanese women. They have served as the whipping girls for the Sudanese regime’s cheap game of flogging women to show off its “Islamic principles.”

The International Criminal Court has indicted President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. His janjaweed allies in Darfur have been accused of rape. Trousers are “indecent” but rape is just another reminder of how useful women’s bodies are in conveying the message.

Mr. Bashir is an unabashed dictator. How then to explain the silence of the Maldives’ liberally-inclined President Mohamed Nasheed at the flogging sentences handed out to 150 of his countrywomen in July for extramarital sex?

It’s depressingly simple. To appease Islamists he needs for his ruling coalition, he offers up the easiest chips to bargain with — women. Ruling according to “Islamic law,” courts in the Maldives sentenced about 50 men along with those 150 women to flogging.

Why is the ratio of women-to-men to be flogged 3-to-1? Men can escape a flogging for extramarital sex just by denying the charges. Women who become pregnant after the sex find their babies used as evidence against them. According to official statistics from the Department of Judicial Administration, the Maldives sentenced a total of 184 people to flogging in 2006 — 146 were women.

Claims that courts in the Maldives rule according to “Islamic law” are hollow at best and at worst a moral offense to the justice and compassion that we are taught are central pillars of Islam. The Maldives no longer cuts off the hands of thieves. Instead, it pours its zeal for “Islamic law” into flogging, a punishment that seems to be designed to torment mostly women.

If you want to know what a public flogging is like, search online for a video showing the Talban flogging a screaming woman in Pakistan’s Swat Valley.

For the faint of heart, there is Amnesty International’s description from the Maldives of the public flogging of an 18-year-old woman on July 5. She received 100 lashes after being accused of having sex with two men outside of marriage. Local journalists reported the woman fainted after receiving the lashes. The court ruled the woman’s pregnancy was proof of her guilt; the men involved in the case were acquitted, Amnesty said.

Also on July 5, an “Islamic court” in Malaysia sentenced a Muslim woman to be flogged with a rattan cane for having a beer with her husband in a nightclub.

As Zainah Anwar, a Muslim Malaysian feminist who is project director of Musawah, the global movement for justice and equality in the Muslim family, reminded her country’s authorities, “Neither the Koran nor the Hadith [sayings of Prophet Muhammad] prescribes any form of punishment for drinking alcohol ... Islamic teachings emphasize forgiveness, compassion and positive personal transformation. So why punish in the first instance?”

Flogging is a cruel and inhuman punishment that is banned by international law and conventions like the one against torture, to which the majority of countries in the world are signatories.

It is time for the international community to take away the pass to the international club from countries that duck out of their international obligations under the pretext of “cultural or religious” reservations.

One hundred and sixty-four women were sentenced to flogging in July alone. Where is the outrage?

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-born commentator on Arab and Muslim issues.

read original article here

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Enhorabuenas, Justice Sotomayor

Today is a day to celebrate - a wise Boricua woman is on the US Supreme Court. She may not tip the scales, but she is making history.

Read all about it and see video of her swearing in here:

Here's a lovely rendition of "La Borinqueña" in her honour:

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Her Honor Sonia Sotomayor

"It’s the American way that we judge people as individuals, not as groups. And by that standard we can say unequivocally that this particular wise Latina, with the richness of her experiences, would far more often than not reach a better conclusion than the individual white males she faced in that Senate hearing room. Even those viewers who watched the Sotomayor show for only a few minutes could see that her America is our future and theirs is the rapidly receding past."

excerpted from
Published: July 19, 2009
The Sotomayor show reduced the antics of Washington’s clueless ancien-régime to a spectacle as ridiculous as it was obsolescent.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Published: July 18, 2009
Natalya Estemirova was one of the premier human rights investigators in the entire Caucasus, unflinching as she documented crimes against uncountable others.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Preoccupations: A sisterhood of workplace infighting

Published: January 11, 2009
One of the last remaining obstacles for women in the workplace is how they treat one another.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Birthday Aung San Suu Kyi

Women in Iran March Against Discrimination

By Moni Basu

(CNN) -- Like thousands of other Iranian women, Parisa took to Tehran's streets this week, her heart brimming with hope. "Change," said the placards around her.

The young Iranian woman eyed the crowd and pondered the possibility that the rest of her life might be different from her mother's. She could see glimmers of a future free from discrimination -- and all the symbols of it, including the head-covering the government requires her to wear every day.

Women, regarded as second-class citizens under Iranian law, have been noticeably front and center of the massive demonstrations that have unfolded since the presidential election a week ago. Iranians are protesting what they consider a fraudulent vote count favoring hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but for many women like Parisa, the demonstrations are just as much about taking Iran one step closer to democracy.

"Women have become primary agents of change in Iran," said Nayereh Tohidi, chairwoman of the Gender and Women's Studies Department at California State University, Northridge.

Read the rest of the article here

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Friday, June 05, 2009

UN Women Peacekeepers in Short Supply
Lydia Zemke, Inter Press Service: "Even as UN peacekeeping operations in the world's battle zones continue to expand, women soldiers, police and civilian support staff remain a small minority - something that sorely needs to change, UN officials say."

Monday, May 25, 2009

Unsung heroines of WWII finally get their due

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- From the time she was about 8 years old, Jane Tedeschi wanted to fly.

Jane Tedeschi when she was in the Women Airforce Service Pilot program.

Jane Tedeschi when she was in the Women Airforce Service Pilot program.

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"[Charles] Lindbergh was flying across the Atlantic, and a lot of other people were flying air races and things like that. It was very romantic," she said.

Flight was still relatively new in the 1920s and 1930s, and female pilots were few.

But Tedeschi was determined.

In 1941, she found a childhood friend who taught flying and started taking lessons. After the friend was sent off to war and the airport near her home in Bethesda, Maryland, was closed to private flying, she traveled about 40 miles to Frederick and spent nights on the floor of a farmhouse to continue her lessons.

Around the same time, Deanie Parrish was working in a bank in Avon Park, Florida, and kept seeing aviation students who were attending a flying school there.

"I asked an instructor 'Why can't I learn to fly,' and he didn't have an I decided to find out for myself."

Click here to read the rest of the article

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Still looking for the western feminists

"Despair can coarsen one's judgment. I knew enough about what Saddam Hussein and his talented son Uday were doing to women to want that regime toppled. The price of doing so might have seemed too high, but at least now, six years later, it is no longer official policy to rape a woman in front of her family. There may be unofficial forces still on the loose in Iraq who would like to do that, but the government no longer does it.

"Fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan still seems worth it when you have read about what the Taliban want to do with any woman who seeks an education, but it's easy to despair when you think of how hard it is to stop them. "

Read article in full here

Friday, May 15, 2009

Burma's Suu Kyi Charged by Military Over US Intruder
Agence France-Presse: "Myanmar's military junta charged pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi Thursday with breaching the terms of her house arrest over a bizarre incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside house. The 63-year-old goes on trial on Monday on the charges, which carry a jail term of up to five years and would stretch her detention past its supposed expiry date this month and through controversial elections due in 2010."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Taking Inequality to Court
Maya Schenwar, Truthout: "'Equal' brings to light perhaps the most obstructive force in the fight for women's rights and liberation: the predicament of not being taken seriously. The book depicts the institutionalized stereotypes of vengeful wives bringing rape cases and vindictive female employees suing for sexual harassment, showcasing the overwhelming tendency of courts to 'disbelieve women.' During one sexual harassment case, the referee asks the plaintiff whether her boss was simply a 'pain in the neck.' When she responds emphasizing the situation's severity, the referee rejoins, 'Oh, so he's one of these Male Chauvinist Pigs?' The dismissive vibe makes its way all the way up to the Supreme Court: In attacking VAWA, Justice Rehnquist asserts that the federal courts should be reserved for 'important national interests.' Strebeigh wonders 'why the issue of violence against women was not important and not national.'"

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Oh happy day

Young Saudi girl's marriage ended

Saudi Arabian women in Riyadh (March 2009)
Saudi Arabia is ruled under an austere and patriarchal form of Sunni Islam

Media reports say an arranged marriage between a Saudi girl aged eight and a man in his 50s has been annulled, in a case attracting worldwide criticism.

The Saudi Gazette says the divorce was agreed in an out-of-court settlement after a judge rejected two attempts to grant the girl a divorce.

The case prompted Saudi officials to say it would start regulating the marriages of young girls.

Rights groups say some Saudi families marry off young daughters for money.

The judge who first heard the case in the town of Unaiza refused to end the marriage at the request of the girl's mother , but he stipulated the groom could not have sex with the girl until she reached puberty.

The girl's father is said to have married her off against her mother's wishes to a close friend in order that he could pay off a debt.

A new judge was appointed to oversee the case, who issued the annulment after the husband finally gave up his insistence that the marriage had been legal, reports say.

Saudi Arabia implements an austere form of Sunni Islam that bans free association between the sexes and gives fathers the right to wed their children to whomever they deem fit.

Saudi commentators pointed out that the marriage took place in the central province of Qaseem - the heartland of Saudi Islamic fundamentalism.

Earlier this year, the country's highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Shaikh, said it was not against Islamic law to marry off girls who are 15 and younger.

On 15 April, after this case generated considerable negative publicity, Justice Minister Muhammad Issa said he wanted to put an end to the "arbitrary" way in which parents and guardians could marry off their young daughters.

However, he he did not say that the practice would be banned.

View source article

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Michelle Obama's first 100 days

Michelle Obama lifts the 'curse'

Why Michelle Obama inspires women around the globe

(CNN) -- Heather Ferreira works in the slums of Mumbai, India, where she has watched thousands of women live under a "curse."

The Obamas enjoy their new family dog, Bo, at the White House.

The Obamas enjoy their new family dog, Bo, at the White House.

The women she meets in the squalid streets where "Slumdog Millionaire" was filmed are often treated with contempt, she says. They're considered ugly if their skin and hair are too dark. They are deemed "cursed" if they only have daughters. Many would-be mothers even abort their children if they learn they're female.

Yet lately she says Indian women are getting another message from the emergence of another woman thousands of miles away. This woman has dark skin and hair. She walks next to her husband in public, not behind. And she has two daughters. But no one calls her cursed. They call her Michelle Obama, the first lady.

"She could be a new face for India," says Ferreira, program officer for an HIV-prevention program run by World Vision, an international humanitarian group. "She shows women that it's OK to have dark skin and to not have a son. She's quite real to us."

Those who focus on Michelle Obama's impact on America are underestimating her reach. The first lady is inspiring women of color around the globe to look at themselves, and America, in fresh ways. Photo See photos of past first ladies »

"She might be the first woman of color that females in male-dominated countries have seen as confident, bright, educated, articulate and persuasive," says Barbara Perry, author of "Jacqueline Kennedy: First Lady of the New Frontier."

A symbol for women around the globe

The notion of a woman being a first in anything is alien in many parts of the world. Millions of women struggle against sexual violence, discrimination and poverty, several women activists say.

But Michelle Obama offers a personal rebuke to that message. Her personal story -- born into a blue-collar family; overcoming racism and once even making more money than her husband -- makes her a mesmerizing figure to women across the globe, says Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women's studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Reverby says this is the first time many women have seen their class and color reflected in America's first lady. Video Watch how Michelle Obama has done during her first 100 days »

"This is someone who appeals across the usual divides," Reverby says. "She is a celebrity you can imagine being, not a celebrity you have to watch from afar."

A hint of Michelle Obama's global appeal came recently when she spoke at an all-girls school in London, England. The students came from various backgrounds: Muslim, Christian, black and white. Yet they all surged forward, shrieking and even crying, as they hugged the first lady.

Thu Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, wasn't at the London school, but she experienced a similar sense of elation when Obama became first lady.

In her native country, she says women "are not human beings." But when Obama became the first lady, Nguyen called her niece and told her that any hard-working woman could become the first.

Vietnamese women can identify with Michelle Obama, Nguyen says.

"We have a yellow color because we're Asian, so we felt a bond with [Michelle] Obama when she became the first black first lady," says Nguyen, who works at a nail salon in South Pasadena, California.

Some women's identification with the first lady, however, goes deeper than skin color.

Sue Mbaya of Nairobi, Kenya, says the first lady inspires African woman to assert themselves in their personal and professional lives.

Many African women are conditioned to be subservient, she says. They're prevented from rising to management positions in the workplace, and their families often relegate them to taking care of household tasks while sending their brothers off to school.

But Obama is a high achiever who didn't intimidate her husband, says Mbaya, a native of Zimbabwe who is the advocacy director for World Vision's Africa's region.

"I've always liked knowing that she was Barack Obama's supervisor when they first met," Mbaya says. "He once said that he wouldn't be where he is without his wife. That really appeals to me."

Women in the West also find inspiration in Obama.

Christine Louise Hohlbaum, who lives near Munich, Germany, says the first lady impresses German women because she is a powerful public figure who doesn't seem threatening. German history is marked by charismatic leaders who wielded personal power for malevolent ends, she says.

"She's the perfect blend of power and civility. That's important in German culture," says Hohlbaum, author of "The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World."

How does Michelle Obama define herself?

While other women have defined Obama's appeal, the first lady is refining her role.

She has talked publicly about the pressures military families face. She has encouraged healthy eating by planting a White House garden. She's opened the White House to ordinary people and children. Service to community and family seems to be her theme.

She recently drew the most attention for what she did, not said, during a visit to London. She briefly embraced Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, breaking royal protocol. The Queen, however, according to press accounts, responded warmly to the first lady's embrace.

Obama has often been compared to another regal woman: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. But Autumn Stephens, author of "Feisty First Ladies," says that Obama reminds her more of former first lady Hillary Clinton.

"But Hillary really downplayed the mom part whereas Michelle has really played it up," Stephens says. "She is straddling both worlds."

In a poll of first ladies, certain women are invariably cited by historians as the most noteworthy: Abigail Adams, Lady Bird Johnson and Eleanor Roosevelt, who is widely considered to be the most influential first lady, Stephens says.

Where would Stephens rank Michelle Obama?

"She's got the whole package," Stephens says. "She's in a class by herself."

View source article

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Guerrilla Girl Power: Have America's Feminist Artists Sold Out?
Guy Adams, The Independent UK: "After a quarter of a century railing against the dusty establishment, the art world's most prominent group of radical feminists has decided to join it. The Guerrilla Girls, a collection of radical, left-leaning pop artists famed for wearing gorilla masks and fishnets to highlight sexism, racism, and other pillars of injustice, announced this week that its historic archive will be kept, for posterity, by the bluest of America's blue-chip cultural institutions."

Heroine: Sitara Achakzai

Taliban Shoot Dead Afghan Politician Who Championed Women's Rights
Jon Boone, The Guardian UK: "A leading female Afghan politician was shot dead yesterday after leaving a provincial council meeting in Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, which her colleagues had begged her not to attend. Sitara Achakzai was attacked by two gunmen as she arrived at her home in a rickshaw - a vehicle colleagues said she deliberately chose to use to avoid attracting attention. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the murder. The two gunmen were apparently waiting for Achakzai, a 52-year-old women's rights activist who had lived for many years in Germany when the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan."

See also:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saudi judge upholds man's marriage to 8-year-old

By Mohammed Jamjoom

(CNN) -- A Saudi mother is expected to appeal a judge's ruling after he once again refused to let her 8-year-old daughter divorce a 47-year-old man, a relative said.

Sheikh Habib Al-Habib made the ruling Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza. Late last year, he rejected a petition to annul the marriage.

The case, which has drawn criticism from local and international rights groups, came to light in December when Al-Habib declined to annul the marriage on a legal technicality. His dismissal of the mother's petition sparked outrage and made headlines around the world.

The judge said the mother, who is separated from the girl's father, was not the legal guardian and therefore could not represent her daughter, the mother's lawyer, Abdullah al-Jutaili, said at the time.

The girl's husband pledged not to consummate the marriage until the girl reaches puberty, according to al-Jutaili, who added that the girl's father arranged the marriage to settle his debts with the man, who is considered "a close friend."

In March, an appeals court in the Saudi capital of Riyadh declined to certify the original ruling, in essence rejecting al-Habib's verdict, and sent the case back to al-Habib for reconsideration.

Under the Saudi legal process, the appeals court ruling meant that the marriage was still in effect, but that a challenge to the marriage was still ongoing.

The relative, who said the girl's mother will continue to pursue a divorce, told CNN the judge "stuck by his earlier verdict and insisted that the girl could petition the court for a divorce once she reached puberty."

The appeals court in Riyadh will take up the case again and a hearing is scheduled for next month, according to the relative.

Child marriages have made news in Saudi Arabia in the past year.

In a statement issued shortly after the original verdict, the Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia said the judge's decision went against children's "basic rights."

Marrying children makes them "lose their sense of security and safety," the group said. "Also, it destroys their feeling of being loved and nurtured. It causes them a lifetime of psychological problems and severe depression."

Zuhair al-Harithi, a spokesman for the Saudi Human Rights Commission, a government-run group, told CNN that his organization was fighting child marriages.

"Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed," al-Harithi said.

Child marriage is not unusual, said Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabian researcher for the international group Human Rights Watch, after the initial verdict.

"We've been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger, especially so when girls are traded off to older men," Wilcke told CNN.

View source article

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Chad: Fighting Violence Against Women - but How?
IRIN News: "Awa was killed by her husband last November in Guelendeng, 150 km south of the Chad capital N'djamena. Her death was the tipping point for the town's women, who, appalled by the rampant violence they face, have decided to fight for their rights."

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

BBC World Service Have Your Say: Religion and Women's Equality

Click to listen to the podcast:

Frances Benjamin Johnston

Frances "Fannie" Benjamin Johnston (15 January 186416 May 1952) was one of the earliest American female photographers and photojournalists. Her photographs of the Hampton Institute were exhibited at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Read all about her on Wikipedia

Katharine Gun: The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War
Marcia Mitchell, Truthout: "Pigeons are coming home to roost in the prestigious halls of the United Kingdom's Parliament building. Whether they make it across the Atlantic to the US Capitol is a matter that should be of interest to all Americans. On March 19, Katharine Gun testified before British lawmakers, asking them to commit to a full public inquiry into the decision to invade Iraq. Gun is well-known to Members of Parliament. She was the young British secret service officer who was arrested for leaking an illegal US spy operation against members of the UN Security Council debating the decision for war. The operation, mounted by the NSA, targeted six nations whose vote for a preemptive strike was considered essential to winning broad international support for war."

Friday, April 03, 2009

Pakistan to probe girl's flogging

The Taleban made her brother hold her down, witnesses said

Pakistan's top judge has called for a court hearing into the public flogging of a teenage girl, which was captured on video and shown around the world.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has ordered police and government officials from the north-western Swat Valley to bring the girl to court next week.

The film shows apparent Taleban members holding her down and hitting her with a strap as she cries out in pain.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has condemned the incident as "shameful".

Local sources said the girl had been accused of illicit relations with a man and that the flogging took place about a month and a half ago.

Since then, the provincial government in the North West Frontier Province agreed to implement Sharia law as part of a peace deal with militants there.

A press release quoted Chief Justice Chaudhry - who was only recently restored to office - as saying the action was a cruel violation of fundamental rights that gave Pakistan a bad name.

Forced to marry

The language in the video is of the Swati dialect of Pashto, says the BBC's Abdul Hai Kakar.

The burka-clad woman is heard crying throughout the two-minute flogging and at one point swears on her father that she will not do it again.

Tribal areas map

Relatives of the man involved in the incident told the BBC he had gone to the house of the girl in the village of Kala Kalay to do repairs as an electrician, but militants accused him of having a relationship with her.

They dragged him from the house and flogged him before punishing the girl, his relatives said.

The Taleban made the girl's brother hold her down during the flogging, they said.

After the incident, the Taleban forced the couple to marry and instructed the man not to divorce his wife. His relatives say he has been left mentally scarred.

The incident happened weeks before the new Sharia courts began to be introduced in Swat.

Militants 'still in control'

Prime Minister Gilani said he strongly condemned the "shameful" incident in a statement issued by his office.

Mr Gilani said it was contrary to Islamic principles, which teach Muslims to treat women politely and gently.

He said the government believed in the rights of women and would continue to take every measure to protect their rights.

The Sharia system was agreed in Swat to try to stop the Taleban from imposing their harsh brand of justice, the BBC's Islamabad correspondent Barbara Plett says.

Previously they had beheaded dissidents and killed women accused of un-Islamic behaviour.

That seems to have significantly decreased after the Taleban leader officially accepted the Islamic courts.

However, it is not clear whether this new justice system will replace Taleban rule in practice.

The courts seem to be operating with some effect in Swat's main city of Mingora but not in outlying rural areas.

There witnesses say the militants continue to exercise control, if not as brutally as before.

View source article

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Death on the Home Front: Women in the Crosshairs
Ann Jones, "Wake up, America. The boys are coming home, and they're not the boys who went away. On New Year's Day, The New York Times welcomed the advent of 2009 by reporting that, since returning from Iraq, nine members of the Fort Carson, Colorado, Fourth Brigade Combat team had been charged with homicide. Five of the murders they were responsible for took place in 2008 when, in addition, 'charges of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault' at the base rose sharply. Some of the murder victims were chosen at random; four were fellow soldiers - all men. Three were wives or girlfriends."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Amid Abuse of Girls in Brazil, Abortion Debate Flares

Published: March 28, 2009
The case of a 9-year-old who had an abortion after saying she was raped has revived a debate over abortion rights.

Here's a snippet:

"Finally, the Vatican’s top bioethics official, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, also criticized the initial stance, saying the 'credibility of our teaching took a blow as it appeared, in the eyes of many, to be insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy.'"
Go to NY Times article (registration required)