Saturday, January 31, 2009
By BOB HERBERT
A Crazy Dream
In the documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a woman whose family had endured the agony of civil war in Liberia talks about a dream she had in 2003 in which someone urged her to organize the women of her church to pray for peace.
“It was a crazy dream,” she said.
Prayer seemed like a flimsy counterweight to the forces of Charles Taylor, the tyrannical president at the time, and the brutally predatory rebels who were trying to oust him from power. The violence was excruciating. People were dying by the tens of thousands. Rape had become commonplace. Children were starving. Scenes from the film showed even small children whose limbs had been amputated.
The movie, for me, was about much more than the tragic, and then ultimately uplifting events in Liberia. It was about the power of ordinary people to intervene in their own fate.
The first thing that struck me about the film, which is playing in select theaters around the country now, was the way it captured the almost unimaginable horror that war imposes on noncombatants: the looks of terror on the faces of people fleeing gunfire in the streets; children crouching and flinching, almost paralyzed with fear by the sound of nearby explosions; homes engulfed in flames.
It’s the kind of environment that breeds feelings of helplessness. But Leymah Gbowee, the woman who had the crazy dream, would have none of that, and she should be a lesson to all of us.
The filmmakers Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker show us how Ms. Gbowee not only rallied the women at her Lutheran church to pray for peace, but organized them into a full-blown, all-women peace initiative that spread to other Christian churches — and then to women of the Muslim faith.
They wanted the madness stopped. They wanted an end to the maiming and the killing, especially the destruction of a generation of children. They wanted to eradicate the plague of rape. They wanted all the things that noncombatants crave whenever the warrior crowd — in the U.S., the Middle East, Asia, wherever — decides it’s time once again to break out the bombs and guns and let the mindless killing begin.
When the Liberian Christians reached out to “their Muslim sisters,” there was some fear on both sides that such an alliance could result in a dilution of faith. But the chaos and the killing had reached such extremes that the religious concerns were set aside in the interest of raising a powerful collective voice.
The women prayed, yes, but they also moved outside of the churches and the mosques to demonstrate, to protest, to enlist all who would listen in the cause of peace. Working with hardly any resources, save their extraordinary will and intense desire to end the conflict, the women’s initial efforts evolved into a movement, the Liberian Mass Action for Peace.
Their headquarters was an open-air fish market in the capital, Monrovia. Thousands of women responded to the call, broadcast over a Catholic radio station, to demonstrate at the market for peace. The women showed up day after day, praying, waving signs, singing, dancing, chanting and agitating for peace.
They called on the two sides in the conflict to begin peace talks and their calls coincided with international efforts to have the two sides sit down and begin to negotiate.
Nothing could stop the rallies at the market, not the fierce heat of the sun, nor drenching rainstorms, nor the publicly expressed anger of Mr. Taylor, who was embarrassed by the protests. Public support for the women grew and eventually Mr. Taylor, and soon afterward the rebel leaders, felt obliged to meet with them and hear their grievances.
The moral authority of this movement that seemed to have arisen from nowhere had become one of the significant factors pushing the warring sides to the peace table. Peace talks were eventually held in Accra, the capital of Ghana, and when it looked as if they were about to break down, Ms. Gbowee and nearly 200 of her followers staged a sit-in at the site of the talks, demanding that the two sides stay put until an agreement was reached.
A tentative peace was established, and Mr. Taylor went into exile in Nigeria. The women continued their activism. Three years ago, on Jan. 16, 2006, in an absolutely thrilling triumph for the mothers and wives and sisters and aunts and grandmothers who had worked so courageously for peace, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as the president of Liberia — the first woman ever elected president of a country in Africa.
Liberia is hardly the world’s most stable society. But “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” reminds us of the incredible power available to the most ordinary of people if they are willing to act with courage and unwavering commitment.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
By GAIL COLLINS
President Obama is scheduled to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law today. (This is, technically, his second bill-signing, not the first. But you cannot possibly expect us to make a fuss about legislation fixing the salary of the secretary of the interior.)
“I’m so excited I can hardly stand it,” Ledbetter said recently after the bill passed the Senate.
Obama told her story over and over when he campaigned for president: How Ledbetter, now 70, spent years working as a plant supervisor at a tire factory in Alabama. How, when she neared retirement, someone slipped her a pay schedule that showed her male colleagues were making much more money than she was. A jury found her employer, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, to be really, really guilty of pay discrimination. But the Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 decision led by the Bush appointees, threw out Ledbetter’s case, ruling that she should have filed her suit within 180 days of the first time Goodyear paid her less than her peers.
(Let us pause briefly to contemplate the chances of figuring out your co-workers’ salaries within the first six months on the job.)
Until the Supreme Court stepped in, courts generally presumed that the 180-day time limit began the last time an employee got a discriminatory pay check, not the first. In an attempt at bipartisan comity, the Senate decided to simply restore the status quo, rejecting House efforts to make the law tougher. Even then, only five Republican senators voted for it — four women and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is currently the most threatened of the deeply endangered species known as moderate Republicans.
Ledbetter, who was widowed in December, won’t get any restitution of her lost wages; her case can’t be retried. She’s now part of a long line of working women who went to court and changed a little bit of the world in fights that often brought them minimal personal benefit.
Another was Eulalie Cooper, a flight attendant who sued Delta Air Lines in the mid-’60s when she was fired for being married. Not only did a Louisiana judge uphold the airline industry’s bizarre rules requiring stewardesses to be young and single, Cooper was denied unemployment benefits on the grounds that by getting married she left her job “voluntarily.”
But she began a pattern of litigation that eventually ended the industry’s insistence that women needed to look like sex objects in order to properly care for passengers on airplanes. Next time you talk about US Airways Flight 1549’s spectacular landing on the Hudson River, remember that the three flight attendants who kept calm in the ditched plane were all women in their 50s and give a nod to people like Eulalie Cooper.
Patricia Lorance, an Illinois factory worker, went to court after her union and employer secretly agreed to new seniority rules that discriminated against the women who had been promoted in the post-Civil Rights Act era of the 1970s. Like Ledbetter, she lost her court fight because of a ridiculous ruling about timing, which had to be fixed by Congress.
Working at a series of lower-paying jobs after the factory closed, and then disabled by physical ailments, Lorance lost track of her case long before it finally wound its way through the Supreme Court. “But to this day, I am rather proud of myself because I was not a dumb person. I believe in just standing up and fighting for your own rights,” she said in a phone interview.
Ledbetter’s real soul sister is Lorena Weeks of Wadley, Ga. Weeks, now 80, had worked two jobs to support her orphaned siblings, then struggled with her husband to set enough money aside to assure their children would be able to go to college. A longtime telephone employee, she applied for a higher-paying job overseeing equipment at the central office. Both her union and the management said the job was unsuitable for a woman because it involved pushing 30-pound equipment on a dolly, even though Weeks regularly toted around a 34-pound typewriter at her clerical job.
Weeks v. Southern Bell helped smash employers’ old dodge of keeping women out of higher-paying positions by claiming that they required qualifications only men could fulfill. But it was a long, painful fight during which Weeks was terrified that she might lose her job entirely. “I felt like I was so alone, and yet I knew I was doing what God wanted me to do. Going back to the fact my momma had died working so hard. And I knew women worked and needed a place in the world,” she said.
It’s a good day for the feisty working women who went to court to demand their rights and the frequently underpaid lawyers who championed them. They’re strangers to one another; most of them made their stands and then returned to their ordinary lives. But they’re a special sorority all the same. And Lilly Ledbetter got to go to the inauguration and dance with the new president.
“Tell her congratulations,” said Lorena Weeks.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
By SAM DAGHER
BAGHDAD — Amal Kibash, a candidate for the Baghdad provincial council, is running a bold and even feverish campaign by most standards. With elections coming on Saturday, she is trolling for every vote she can muster.
“You are going to vote for me, right?” she quizzed passers-by on a stroll recently through her neighborhood of Sadr City, which was until May a battleground for Shiite militias. Giant posters of her veil-framed face were draped on several buildings, some of which still bore the marks of recent fighting.
In Basra, where until a year ago banners warned women that they would be shot if they wore too much makeup or ventured out of their homes without a veil, another female candidate, Ibtihal Abdul-Rahman, put up posters of herself last month. Encouraged by security improvements throughout the country, thousands of women are running for council seats in the provincial elections.
Of the estimated 14,400 candidates, close to 4,000 are women. Some female candidates have had their posters splattered with mud, defaced with beards or torn up, but most have been spared the violence that has claimed the lives of two male candidates and a coalition leader since the start of the year. But on Wednesday, a woman working for the Iraqi Islamic Party was killed when gunmen burst into her house in Baghdad and shot her 10 times in the chest, according to an Interior Ministry official.
For many of the female candidates, the elections offer a chance to inject some much needed fresh air into councils that are plagued by deep corruption and dominated by men and big political parties that are often ultraconservative.
But even if they win, they face numerous hurdles, particularly the entrenched attitudes of most Iraqi men, who view women as either sex objects or child bearers who have no place in the rough and tumble arena of politics. “This is the mentality,” said Safia Taleb al-Suhail, a member of Parliament and the daughter of a prominent Shiite tribal leader assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen in Lebanon in 1994. “We have to change it. How can we change it? By fighting.”
She is leading a group of female Parliament members who are lobbying to make sure that the same constitutional provision that mandates that 25 percent of all seats in Parliament go to women is applied to provincial councils as well. Currently, it is not.
While Iraq in the 1950s was the first Arab country to name a female minister and adopt a progressive family law, the leadership aspirations of women were mostly quashed under Mr. Hussein’s macho government. The situation became further complicated for women after 2003, with the ascendance of religious parties.
Ms. Suhail and others were instrumental in lobbying Iraq’s American administrator at the time, L. Paul Bremer III, to include the quota for women in the country’s first transitional constitution. It was preserved in the current Constitution because many felt that it was the only way to ensure the participation of women in a male-dominated culture.
When it was published in October, the law regulating the provincial elections omitted the quota for women; it remains unclear whether the omission was deliberate or just an oversight. The electoral commission has ruled that the law as written is acceptable, saying that women are ensured of adequate representation by the requirement that a woman be chosen after every three men in any winning slate.
But Ms. Suhail said that many of the candidate slates did not have enough women in them to meet that requirement, while other slates were made up of fewer than four candidates, all of whom are male.
Mahdiya Abed-Hassan al-Lami, a women’s rights advocate, and candidate in Baghdad running on the slate of a former prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, said that while she supported the quota system, it has been manipulated by the major political parties, both secular and religious, to marginalize women. Most of the women chosen for the large candidate slates are there for their family and tribal connections and loyalty to the sect or party, she said, rather than for their qualifications.
“If women are simply followers they cannot fulfill their roles properly,” said Ms. Lami, who is a teacher and a practicing Shiite. Her campaign has focused on reaching out to her network of women, particularly in some of the most destitute slums of Baghdad.
Ms. Kibash, another female candidate who is running on Mr. Jaafari’s list, is currently a member of the Sadr City municipal council, but she and other women on the council are prevented by the men from sitting on the crucial and financially important Services Committee. She said the council was mired in corruption.
Despite the recent gains in security, some women continue to face threats, while others say the whole thing is a charade and not worth the effort.
Liza Hido sat on a municipal council but was forced to quit in 2006 after receiving threatening e-mail and text messages on her cellphone.
She is running again this year but, still concerned for her safety, she is keeping her campaigning discreet, putting up no posters and making no public appearances. Instead, she restricts herself to private gatherings.
Her friend Bushra al-Obeidi, a law professor at Baghdad University, has rebuffed all efforts to persuade her to become a candidate. She feels the odds are stacked against women, starting with laws she views as discriminatory and derogatory toward women — one allows a rapist to largely escape punishment if he marries his victim. Ms. Obeidi also has little faith in the commitment to gender equality among the current political leadership, which is dominated by religious parties.
“I assure you they are against women, they are lying to us,” she said.
Ms. Suhail, the lawmaker, admitted that Iraqi women had failed so far to break into the top levels of the political power structure but said that this was no reason to give up.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Islamabad
Private schools in Pakistan's troubled north-western Swat district have closed to comply with a Taleban edict banning girls' education, officials say.
The edict was issued on schools in Swat by a Taleban cleric in a radio broadcast last month. A 15 January deadline was set.
Owners say the schools will not reopen until the conflict in Swat is resolved, or the Taleban revoke the ban.
The government says it will do all it can to protect education.
School owners in Mingora, the administrative centre of Swat district, say even if they keep the schools open, parents are unlikely to send their children in view of the Taleban threat.
"The local administration called a meeting of Mingora's school owners two days ago and promised to provide security to us if we remained open, but no-one is ready to run the risk,", Ahmad Shah, a Mingora school owner, told the BBC.
There are more than 350 privately owned schools in Swat, each with separate sections for boys and girls, according to data available from a local association of schools.
Over the past year, most of them were ordered closed by the Taleban, except 96 schools that operated in Mingora town.
They have now closed, bringing all privately administered girls' education in Swat to an end.
The Taleban have destroyed nearly 150 schools in the last year.
Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman said on Friday that the government would work with the provincial administration to protect education, particularly for girls, in North West Frontier Province.
She expected a resolution in the National Assembly against the attacks on schools.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Marnie Pearce, 40, with her eldest son, seven-year-old Laith
A British mother's conviction for adultery in Dubai has been upheld by the Emirate's Appeal Court, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has said.
The FCO said Marnie Pearce's sentence was reduced from six to three months. She was also ordered to pay a fine of 3,000 Dirhams and will be deported.
Ms Pearce, 40, from Bracknell, Berks, was convicted of adultery in November.
She claimed she was framed by her ex-husband Ihab El-Labban, who accused her of cheating on him. He denies this.
They had two children together, Ziad, four, and Laith, seven.
'Only a friend'
She insists she is innocent and said she feared losing custody of her sons.
Ms Pearce remained on bail while she attempted to overturn her conviction - it is unclear whether she will have to start her sentence immediately.
She first met her ex-husband in Oman and married him in the Seychelles in September 1999.
They moved to Dubai but the relationship eventually broke down.
In March last year she was arrested and accused of committing adultery with a British man who she insists was only a friend.
She contacted Bracknell Conservative MP Andrew MacKay, who has raised her case with Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch-Brown.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — She celebrated her 45th birthday in a vintage train car, amid balloons and crepe-paper streamers, and cheering crowds serenaded her by name.
She danced in front of the Lincoln Memorial to Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” with her husband and daughters clapping by her side. She assembled care packages for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, in this long, whirlwind weekend, marveled that she would soon be the public face of America’s first family.
On Inauguration Day, Michelle Obama will become the first African-American to assume the role of first lady, a woman with the power to influence the nation’s sense of identity, its fashion trends, its charitable causes and its perceptions of black women and their families. Already, the outlines of her style and public agenda have begun to emerge.
She has hired a politically seasoned team of advisers and an interior decorator committed to creating a family-friendly feel in her elegant new home. She has sketched out a vision of a White House brimming with children and ordinary Americans while suggesting she may delegate some traditional first lady duties to her staff: food tastings, china selection and the like.
She has decided to shape her public program with the help of a policy director who has raised concerns about instances of systemic employment bias against minorities and called for tougher enforcement of antidiscrimination laws, contentious issues in the workplace.
And she has highlighted the warm, informal tone that she hopes will characterize her time in the executive mansion by signing e-mail messages to supporters simply as “Michelle.”
Mrs. Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer and a former hospital executive, has made it clear that her two young daughters will be her biggest priority. The causes she has promised to promote — expanding volunteerism and supporting military families and working parents — fall squarely into the realm of platforms traditionally championed by first ladies. But the staff she has assembled is also clearly prepared to tackle a tougher issues-oriented program.
“Her experience will guide the kinds of things she does, and her personal experience is unique for a first lady,” said Paul Schmitz, a longtime friend. “She understands the needs of low-income communities. She understands the needs of women. She has balanced raising a family with a career.”
“She’ll think deeply about how to use her own bully pulpit,” said Mr. Schmitz, who heads Public Allies, a nonprofit leadership-training network for young adults. “And I think that’s the challenge. You are now the most prominent woman in America. What does that mean? What do you do?”
It is a difficult question, particularly since Mrs. Obama is still grappling with how life in the grand house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will transform her family’s existence.
She has grown accustomed to being in the spotlight — with Secret Service agents accompanying her to private lunches with her girlfriends — and has consulted with Laura Bush and former first ladies Hillary Rodham Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter. But she has no experience with the day-to-day details of life in the White House.
President Bush and his wife were old hands at White House living because they had visited often when Mr. Bush’s father, George Bush, was running the country.
Mrs. Obama visited the private residence in the White House for the first time in November after the election. She grew up in a tiny apartment and marveled recently when she and her close friend Valerie Jarrett pored over photographs of the 15 bedrooms in the presidential mansion.
“You have to pinch yourself to think that that’s home,” said Ms. Jarrett, who is also one of President-elect Barack Obama’s closest advisers.
Craig Robinson, Mrs. Obama’s brother, described the Obamas’ new reality as “mind-boggling.”
“Every time I talk to her, I’m like, ‘What are you doing now?’ ” said Mr. Robinson, who has delighted in his sister’s accounts of her days in Washington before the move to the White House. “We are such novices at this. I’m just trying to find out, How many bathrooms are in there?”
(The answer is 34, according to William Seale, a historian who has written about the White House.)
Mrs. Obama has the highest favorability ratings of any incoming first lady since 1980, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll completed Thursday. Forty-six percent of those surveyed had a favorable opinion of her. Seven percent had an unfavorable view.
Gossip magazines, cable networks and major newspapers vie for tiny details about her and her daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. The designer of Mrs. Obama’s inaugural gown? (Sorry, no word yet.) Her favorite musician of all time? (Yes, Stevie Wonder.) Where in the White House is Malia likely to gather her thoughts when she has a tough school assignment? (At Lincoln’s desk where he penned the Gettysburg Address.)
Mrs. Obama, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has reached out directly to supporters via e-mail and YouTube. And she has taken care in recent months to strike the right notes, emphasizing a preference for American fashion designers and announcing plans to use “affordable brands and products” as she redecorates the White House during this recession.
She knows that life under the microscope carries its perils.
After some rhetorical stumbles during the presidential campaign, Mrs. Obama was criticized by conservative columnists who accused her of being unpatriotic and bitter toward whites. Her approval ratings have soared since she refocused her image on her role as a wife and mother, but she still comes under periodic attack from conservative bloggers and others.
“There will be some people trying to pick holes,” Mr. Robinson said. “We’re used to that.”
Mrs. Obama’s diverse team, which includes former Congressional staff members and strategists from Democratic presidential campaigns, seems equally prepared to hone her message or deflect attack.
Jackie Norris, her chief of staff, served as a senior adviser in Iowa for the presidential campaigns of Mr. Obama and former Vice President Al Gore. Melissa Winter, her deputy chief of staff, spent 18 years on Capitol Hill.
Jocelyn Frye, her policy director, is general counsel for at the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, a nonprofit that advocates for workplace equity. Camille Johnston, her communications director, worked on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and served as press secretary for two cabinet officials. And her press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld, worked for Mrs. Clinton when she was first lady and was deputy communications director for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign.
By contrast, Laura Bush’s first chief of staff came straight from the Governor’s Mansion in Texas and knew little about national or Washington politics, and her press aides have typically lacked national media experience, according to a former Bush administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
While many of Mrs. Obama’s advisers do not have White House experience and may have initial difficulties navigating its bureaucracy, the official said the staff was far more politically seasoned than Mrs. Bush’s team. “She’s trying to get the best people, pulling in the cream of the crop,” the official said of Mrs. Obama.
The new first lady will also have clear channels to the West Wing, counting close friends among the president-elect’s advisers, including Ms. Jarrett and Susan Sher, who is associate counsel. They could be key allies should she choose to weigh in on policy issues she cares about. (She has said that she plans to leave the business of governing to her husband.)
Mrs. Obama has focused publicly in recent months on her self-described role of “mom in chief,” settling her daughters at Sidwell Friends School and persuading her mother to move into the White House. She has made a point of hiring a chief of staff and a chef who regularly wrestle with the challenges faced by working mothers.
But the disciplined, no-nonsense executive also comes through.
While Mrs. Bush often hand-picked the silver, china and tablecloths for White House dinners, Mrs. Obama is more likely to focus on the broad themes of such events, delegating the details, Ms. Jarrett said. (Mr. Robinson said that while his sister typically cooked for her girls, she might be happy to delegate that for a while, too.)
She wants a home that is gracious, with 20th-century art amid the antiques, but comfortable for children. As a former community organizer, she also wants the White House to be more accessible to ordinary Americans, envisioning picnics that might include local children as well as state dinners.
“She wants it to be fun and to bring a sense of youth and style,” said Ms. Sher, Mrs. Obama’s friend.
Mrs. Obama also wants the White House to feel like home. She has spent her entire life in Chicago, aside from her years in college and law school. And when her closest friends prepared to hold a goodbye lunch in her honor, she asked only for keepsakes and personal mementos.
So her friends brought snapshots in small frames, photographs of Mrs. Obama with her family, colleagues and friends in Chicago.
Ms. Sher, who attended the lunch, said she did not know if Mrs. Obama had settled on a place for the photos in her new house. But she is not worried.
“She said there’s a lot of room,” Ms. Sher said.
Saturday, January 17, 2009
(CNN) -- The debate over the controversial practice of child marriage in Saudi Arabia was pushed back into the spotlight this week, with the kingdom's top cleric saying that it's OK for girls as young as 10 to wed.
"It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."
The issue of child marriage has been a hot-button topic in the deeply conservative kingdom in recent weeks.
Late last month, a Saudi judge refused to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man.
The judge, Sheikh Habib Abdallah al-Habib, rejected a petition from the girl's mother, whose lawyer said the marriage was arranged by her father to settle a debt with "a close friend." The judge required the girl's husband to sign a pledge that he would not have sex with her until she reaches puberty.
Al-Sheikh was asked during a Monday lecture about parents forcing their underage daughters to marry.
"We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls," he said, according to the newspaper. "We should know that Shariah law has not brought injustice to women."
Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, recently told CNN that his organization has heard many other cases of child marriages.
"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 said.
Wilcke explained that while Saudi ministries may make decisions designed to protect children, "It is still the religious establishment that holds sway in the courts, and in many realms beyond the court."
Last month, Zuhair al-Harithi, a spokesman for the Saudi government-run Human Rights Commission, said his organization is fighting against child marriages.
"The Human Rights Commission opposes child marriages in Saudi Arabia," al-Harithi said. "Child marriages violate international agreements that have been signed by Saudi Arabia and should not be allowed." He added that his organization has been able to intervene and stop at least one child marriage from taking place.
Wajeha al-Huwaider, co-founder of the Society of Defending Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, told CNN last month that achieving human rights in the kingdom means standing against those who want to "keep us backward and in the dark ages."
She said the marriages cause girls to "lose their sense of security and safety. Also, it destroys their feeling of being loved and nurtured. It causes them a lifetime of psychological problems and severe depression."
The Saudi Ministry of Justice has made no public comment on the issue.
Friday, January 16, 2009
While in her mid-thirties, Ane Pema traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to England at that time, and Ane Pema received her ordination from him.
Pema first met her root guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, (the "Vidyadhara") in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Rinpoche, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong. She first met Ayya Khema at the first Buddhist nuns conference in Bodhgaya India in 1987, and they were close friends from that time until her death.
Ane Pema served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder, Colorado until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. The Vidyadhara gave her explicit instructions on running Gampo Abbey. The success of her first two books, The Wisdom of No Escape and Start Where You Are, made her something of a celebrity as a woman Buddhist teacher and as a specialist in the mahayana lojong teachings. She and Judy Lief were instructed personally by the Vidyadhara on lojong, "which is why I took off with it," she explains.
Pema has struggled with health problems in the past five years but her condition has improved and she anticipates being well enough to continue teaching programs at Gampo Abbey and in California. She plans for a simplified travel schedule with a predictable itinerary, as well as the opportunity to spend an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.
Pema is interested in helping establish Tibetan Buddhist monastacism in the West, as well in continuing her work with western Buddhists of all traditions, sharing ideas and teachings. She has written five books: The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times and The Places That Scare Youand No Time to Lose are available from Shambhala Publications. She recently completed a new book called "Practicing Peace in Times of War" that will be published by Shambhala Publications later in 2006.
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Baroness Vadera makes an unwise comment - and suddenly she's 'Shrieky Shriti the ball-breaker'. And we all know why, says the Guardian's Zoe Williams
We don't know much about Baroness Vadera, who this week found herself lambasted by critics after daring to suggest there were "green shoots" appearing in the economy: but what we do know is this. She is single, 5ft 2in, a former investment banker and 45 years old. Mostly personal stuff - and do we think that is related to the fact that she's a woman and her critics are men? Well, yes we do: men, after all, do not usually knock women so small that you might kick them by accident when you get out of the bath.
The relatively obscure adviser to Gordon Brown- she does not like the limelight and bystanders have lost no time at all in pointing out how uncertain she is in it - has made a relatively mild, if ill-advised, remark. The Tories, finding it just controversial enough to launch one of their keening, "Oh the insensitivity! Oh my sore heart!" displays, have thrashed on about it. And the (male) journalists have all piled in on top.
Had she been a man, perhaps a precis of her career would have been given, but her disgrace would have been turned towards Brown. But she is not a man! So, problem number one. What is a woman doing in this job in the first place? Aha, well, she is not exactly a woman. According to some fella in the Spectator, she is an "assassin ... ass-kicker ... axe-wielder"; the Mail quotes anonymous colleagues, calling her "Shriti the Shriek"; Nick Robinson on the Today programme absolutely disgraces himself, here: "Civil servants call her Shreiky Shriti. Others choose to leave." I mean, seriously - can you imagine that ever being said about a man, that he was such a big meanie, he had such a shouty voice, that people under him had to leave their jobs?
It's piffle. You could find people in any institution, under any boss, who left because they weren't getting on, and in order for that to pass muster as a useful thing for a journalist to disseminate, it would have to be unusual and documented, a matter of public record. There would have to be complaints on a personnel file, people willing to put their names to it. To be said about a man, this would have to be news: with a woman, apparently, it's news enough that she has a job in the first place and doesn't act in what Robinson considers to be a very womanly fashion. If we can stick with Nick for a second, he also offers that Vadera is a "deal-maker and ball-breaker". Deal-maker often crops up in hatchet jobs against women - it's been used about Nicola Horlick and Marjorie Scardino (first female CEO of a FTSE 100 company); journalist Norman Lebrecht called Avril McCrory, former BBC head of music, the "mother of all deal-makers". It means "enters a negotiation with an aim, seeks execution of the same by means of discussion". You would never say it of a man; it would be taken as read that that's how he operated, since what else is he supposed to do, a jester dance? Arrive in rags with suppurating sores all over his face, begging for scraps? "Ball-breaker" technically means "gives people a hard time", but again, it is never used about a man - even a gay man. Imagine "Peter Mandelson, ball-breaker!", for example. It would be considered homophobic, or, at the least, disrespectful, about a gay man. No such compunction about a woman; if she doesn't like the sound of bollocks what, I ask you, is she doing in the locker room - sorry, workplace - in the first place?
The point is, as a curious public, we are always keen to know why people at the centre of things are hated. During the tortuous American primaries, commentators were always muttering about how people really viscerally despised Hillary Clinton. Excellent. Bring it on. I bet some of this is good stuff, ooh, I wonder if any of it ends in a dodgy stain. And when it comes out, what is it?
She's a "bitch"; she's "ambitious"; she has a "stubborn, grinding energy"; she couldn't show weakness, she was steely ... there was nothing there, in other words. There was just a person with a job.
Madonna? Person with a job, also on a diet. Nicola Horlick? Person with a job, also with some children. Cherie Blair? Person with a job, maybe somewhat grabby. You think of the women who are basically denatured by the commentary, who are made to sound extraordinary, defeminised to the point of being alien, ridiculed for their barking, their brashness, their lack of composure, derided for their bullying, despised for their ambition, and it's all a puff of smoke.
There's nothing behind it; just a woman, with a job. Test these statements against a man. It would not take long. Gordon Brown is ambitious. He is a deal-maker.
He breaks balls. He is a bitch (or, if you prefer, a bastard). He is five foot, ten and three quarter inches. They call him Shouty Gordo. It's pretty simple to root this stuff out, no? Simple, and nevertheless important.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking through the muddy streets to the local girls school when a man pulled alongside them on a motorcycle and posed what seemed like an ordinary question.
“Are you going to school?”
Then the man pulled Shamsia’s burqa from her head and sprayed her face with burning acid. Scars, jagged and discolored, now spread across Shamsia’s eyelids and most of her left cheek. These days, her vision goes blurry, making it hard for her to read.
But if the acid attack against Shamsia and 14 others — students and teachers — was meant to terrorize the girls into staying home, it appears to have completely failed.
Today, nearly all of the wounded girls are back at the Mirwais School for Girls, including even Shamsia, whose face was so badly burned that she had to be sent abroad for treatment. Perhaps even more remarkable, nearly every other female student in this deeply conservative community has returned as well — about 1,300 in all.
“My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” said Shamsia, 17, in a moment after class. Shamsia’s mother, like nearly all of the adult women in the area, is unable to read or write. “The people who did this to me don’t want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things.”
In the five years since the Mirwais School for Girls was built here by the Japanese government, it appears to have set off something of a social revolution. Even as the Taliban tighten their noose around Kandahar, the girls flock to the school each morning. Many of them walk more than two miles from their mud-brick houses up in the hills.
The girls burst through the school’s walled compound, many of them flinging off head-to-toe garments, bounding, cheering and laughing in ways that are inconceivable outside — for girls and women of any age. Mirwais has no regular electricity, no running water, no paved streets. Women are rarely seen, and only then while clad in burqas that make their bodies shapeless and their faces invisible.
And so it was especially chilling on Nov. 12, when three pairs of men on motorcycles began circling the school. One of the teams used a spray bottle, another a squirt gun, another a jar. They hit 11 girls and 4 teachers in all; 6 went to the hospital. Shamsia fared the worst.
The attacks appeared to be the work of the Taliban, the fundamentalist movement that is battling the government and the American-led coalition. Banning girls from school was one of the most notorious symbols of the Taliban’s rule before they were ousted from power in November 2001.
Building new schools and ensuring that children — and especially girls — attend has been one of the main objectives of the government and the nations that have contributed to Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Some of the students at the Mirwais school are in their late teens and early 20s, attending school for the first time. Yet at the same time, in the guerrilla war that has unfolded across southern and eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban have made schools one of their special targets.
But exactly who was behind the acid attack is a mystery. The Taliban denied any part in it. The police arrested eight men and, shortly after that, the Ministry of Interior released a video showing two men confessing. One of them said he had been paid by an officer with the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence agency, to carry out the attack.
But at a news conference last week, Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said there was no such Pakistani involvement.
One thing is certain: in the months before the attack, the Taliban had moved into the Mirwais area and the rest of Kandahar’s outskirts. As they did, posters began appearing in local mosques.
“Don’t Let Your Daughters Go to School,” one of them said.
In the days after the attack, the Mirwais School for Girls stood empty; none of the parents would let their daughters venture outside. That is when the headmaster, Mahmood Qadari, got to work.
After four days of staring at empty classrooms, Mr. Qadari called a meeting of the parents. Hundreds came to the school — fathers and mothers — and Mr. Qadari implored them to let their daughters return. After two weeks, a few returned.
So, Mr. Qadari, whose three daughters live abroad, including one in Virginia, enlisted the support of the local government. The governor promised more police officers, a footbridge across a busy nearby road and, most important, a bus. Mr. Qadari called another meeting and told the parents that there was no longer any reason to hold their daughters back.
“I told them, if you don’t send your daughters to school, then the enemy wins,” Mr. Qadari said. “I told them not to give in to darkness. Education is the way to improve our society.”
The adults of Mirwais did not need much persuading. Neither the bus nor the police nor the bridge has materialized, but the girls started showing up anyway. Only a couple of dozen girls regularly miss school now; three of them are girls who had been injured in the attack.
“I don’t want the girls sitting around and wasting their lives,” said Ghulam Sekhi, an uncle of Shamsia and her sister, Atifa, age 14, who was also burned.
For all the uncertainty outside its walls, the Mirwais school brims with life. Its 40 classrooms are so full that classes are held in four tents, donated by Unicef, in the courtyard. The Afghan Ministry of Education is building a permanent building as well.
The past several days at the school have been given over to examinations. In one classroom, a geography class, a teacher posed a series of questions while her students listened and wrote their answers on paper.
“What is the capital of Brazil?” the teacher, named Arja, asked, walking back and forth.
“Now, what are its major cities?”
“By how many times is America larger than Afghanistan?”
At a desk in the front row, Shamsia, the girl with the burned face, pondered the questions while cupping a hand over her largest scar. She squinted down at the paper, rubbed her eyes, wrote something down.
Doctors have told Shamsia that her face may need plastic surgery if there is to be any chance of the scars disappearing. It is a distant dream: Shamsia’s village does not even have regular electricity, and her father is disabled.
After class, Shamsia blended in with the other girls, standing around, laughing and joking. She seemed un-self-conscious about her disfigurement, until she began to recount her ordeal.
“The people who did this,” she said, “do not feel the pain of others.”
Jesse Washington, The Associated Press: "Black women face special challenges in their efforts to reach the top levels of corporate America, according to a new study."
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Sunday 11 January 2009
by: Kathryn Joyce, Religion Dispatches
More than 6,000 women gathered in Chicago in October, 2008 for the Evangelical Christian "True Woman Conference." (Photo: True Woman Conference)
This October, more than 6,000 women gathered in Chicago for the True Woman Conference '08: a stadium-style event to promote what its proponents call biblical womanhood, complementarianism, or - most bluntly - the patriarchy movement.
Women gathering to support the patriarchy movement? It's evangelical counterculture at its most contrarian.
The Associated Baptist Press explains the relationship of biblical womanhood to feminism, highlighting an ambitious initiative that arose from the meeting: a signature-drive seeking 100,000 women to endorse its "True Woman Manifesto," which, the ABP writes, aims "at sparking a counter-revolution to the feminist movement of the 1960s."
To outside observers of the patriarchy movement, the starkness of the calls for gender hierarchy often seem amusingly outdated (not to mention historically misleading: feminist blogs Feministing and Pandagon have deftly dismantled some of the speakers' "Leave it to Beaver" idealizations of the 1950s as a time when women were universally protected).
For the rest of Kathryn Joyce's exploration of evangelical anti-feminism, please click here.
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Monday, January 12, 2009
- On January 21, the Rev. Sharon Watkins to deliver sermon at National Prayer Service
- Watkins is president of the 700,000-member church Disciples of Christ
- Her hope for the message: "To believe in something bigger than ourselves"
- Traditional service takes place at the National Cathedral in northwest Washington
(CNN) -- The Rev. Sharon Watkins will deliver the sermon at the traditional National Prayer Service on January 21, the day after Barack Obama is sworn in as president, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Sunday.
Watkins, the general minister and president of the 700,000-member church Disciples of Christ, will be the first woman to deliver the sermon at the inaugural event.
It takes place at the National Cathedral in northwest Washington.
"I am truly honored to speak at this historic occasion," Watkins said in a news release from the committee.
She added, "I hope that my message will call us to believe in something bigger than ourselves and remind us to reach out to all of our neighbors to build communities of possibility."
The National Prayer Service is a tradition dating back to the nation's first president, the inaugural committee said.The service includes prayers and hymns delivered by various religious leaders.
View source article
Sunday, January 11, 2009
In trying to figure out how we can defeat sex trafficking, a starting point is to think like a brothel owner.
My guide to that has been Sok Khorn, an amiable middle-aged woman who is a longtime brothel owner here in the wild Cambodian town of Poipet. I met her five years ago when she sold me a teenager, Srey Mom, for $203 and then blithely wrote me a receipt confirming that the girl was now my property. At another brothel nearby, I purchased another imprisoned teenager for $150.
Astonished that in the 21st century I had bought two human beings, I took them back to their villages and worked with a local aid group to help them start small businesses. I’ve remained close to them over the years, but the results were mixed.
The second girl did wonderfully, learning hairdressing and marrying a terrific man. But Srey Mom, it turned out, was addicted to methamphetamine and fled back to the brothel world to feed her craving.
I just returned again to Ms. Khorn’s brothel to interview her, and found something remarkable. It had gone broke and closed, like many of the brothels in Poipet. One lesson is that the business model is more vulnerable than it looks. There are ways we can make enslaving girls more risky and less profitable, so that traffickers give up in disgust.
For years, Ms. Khorn had been grumbling to me about the brothel — the low margins, the seven-day schedule, difficult customers, grasping policemen and scorn from the community. There was also a personal toll, for her husband had sex with the girls, infuriating her, and the couple eventually divorced bitterly. Ms. Khorn was also troubled that her youngest daughter, now 13, was growing up surrounded by drunken, leering men.
Then in the last year, the brothel business became even more challenging amid rising pressure from aid groups, journalists and the United States State Department’s trafficking office. The office issued reports shaming Cambodian leaders and threatened sanctions if they did nothing.
Many of the brothels are owned by the police, which complicates matters, but eventually authorities in Cambodia were pressured enough that they ordered a partial crackdown.
“They didn’t tell me to close down exactly,” said another Poipet brothel owner whom I’ve also interviewed periodically. “But they said I should keep the front door closed.”
About half the brothels in Poipet seem to have gone out of business in the last couple of years. After Ms. Khorn’s brothel closed, her daughter-in-law took four of the prostitutes to staff a new brothel, but it’s doing poorly and she is thinking of starting a rice shop instead. “A store would be more profitable,” grumbled the daughter-in-law, Sav Channa.
“The police come almost every day, asking for $5,” she said. “Any time a policeman gets drunk, he comes and asks for money. ... Sometimes I just close up and pretend that this isn’t a brothel. I say that we’re all sisters.”
Ms. Channa, who does not seem to be imprisoning anyone against her will, readily acknowledged that some other brothels in Poipet torture girls, enslave them and occasionally beat them to death. She complained that their cruelty gives them a competitive advantage.
But brutality has its own drawbacks as a business model, particularly during a crackdown, pimps say. Brothels that imprison and torture girls have to pay for 24-hour guards, and they lose business because they can’t allow customers to take girls out to hotel rooms. Moreover, the Cambodian government has begun prosecuting the most abusive traffickers.
“One brothel owner here was actually arrested,” complained another owner in Poipet, indignantly. “After that, I was so scared, I closed the brothel for a while.”
To be sure, a new brothel district has opened up on the edge of Poipet — in the guise of “karaoke lounges” employing teenage girls. One of the Mama-sans there offered that while she didn’t have a young virgin girl in stock, she could get me one.
Virgin sales are the profit center for many brothels in Asia (partly because they stitch girls up and resell them as virgins several times over), and thus these sales are their economic vulnerability as well. If we want to undermine sex trafficking, the best way is to pressure governments like Cambodia’s to organize sting operations and arrest both buyers and sellers of virgin girls. Cambodia has shown it is willing to take at least some action, and that is one that would strike at the heart of the business model.
Sexual slavery is like any other business: raise the operating costs, create a risk of jail, and the human traffickers will quite sensibly shift to some other trade. If the Obama administration treats 21st-century slavery as a top priority, we can push many of the traffickers to quit in disgust and switch to stealing motorcycles instead.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Ann Friedman, Ms. Magazine: "When Lybrel, a brand of birth control pill that stops monthly menstruation, became available in July, many women expressed skepticism that suppressing a regular bodily function could come without serious side effects. The media quickly latched onto this attitude, with headlines such as 'Many Young Women Wary of a Life Without Periods.' One woman told The New York Times she was worried by 'the idea that you can turn your body on and off like a tap.'"
The family of a 14-year-old Afghan rape victim face prosecution after her foetus was removed without anaesthetic.
The mother and brother of the girl are accused of cutting her open with a razor blade to perform an abortion.
Doctors say the girl is in a critical condition. A man accused of raping her is under arrest, officials say.
Rape victims and their families in Afghanistan often feel ashamed to report what has happened because people may think the victim consented to sex.
Sex outside marriage is illegal in Afghanistan.
The governor of Bamiyan Province, Habiba Sarabi, says that action is being taken.
When the girl was five months pregnant it is alleged her mother and brother took her to a stables and cut her open with a razor blade.
They removed the foetus, which they buried, before stitching up her wound, Governor Sarabi said.
The father eventually took the girl to get medical treatment.
Dr Ghulam Mohammad Nader, head of Bamiyan hospital, said the girl is in a critical condition, but that she had been able to explain what had happened to her.
"The girl stayed at home for three or four days in her condition until her father took her to hospital," Dr Nader said.
"He said a dog had bitten her so that people in the area wouldn't know what had really happened."
The girl has now been transferred to Kabul for treatment.
The provincial governor says the man accused of raping the girl has been arrested and that police are trying to arrest her mother and brother.
The victims of rape and their families in Afghanistan are often afraid to admit what has happened to them because of the stigma and shame attached to the issue.
Sometimes the victims are murdered by their own families.
Critics accuse the authorities of not taking accusations of rape seriously, especially those made by children.But President Karzai recently called for rapists to be brought to justice and the Afghan Supreme Court suspended three judges who acquitted people accused of rape.
View source article
(CNN) -- A woman in rural Papua New Guinea was bound and gagged, tied to a log and set ablaze on a pile of tires this week, possibly because villagers suspected her of being a witch, police said Thursday.
Her death adds to a growing list of men and women who have been accused of sorcery and then tortured or killed in the South Pacific island nation, where traditional beliefs hold sway in many regions.
The victims are often scapegoats for someone else's unexplained death -- and bands of tribesmen collude to mete out justice to them for their supposed magical powers, police said.
"We have had quite difficulties in a number of previous incidents convincing people to come forward with information," said Simon Kauba, assistant commissioner of police and commander of the Highlands region, where the killing occurred.
"We are trying to persuade them to help. Somebody lost their mother or daughter or sister Tuesday morning."
Early Tuesday morning, a group of people dragged the woman, believed to be in her late teens to early 20s, to a dumping ground outside the city of Mount Hagen. They stripped her naked, bound her hands and legs, stuffed a cloth in her mouth, tied her to a log and set her on fire, Mauba said.
"When the people living nearby went to the dump site to investigate what caused the fire, they found a human being burning in the flames," he said. "It was ugly."
The country's Post-Courier newspaper reported Thursday that more than 50 people were killed in two Highlands provinces last year for allegedly practicing sorcery.
In a well-publicized case last year, a pregnant woman gave birth to a baby girl while struggling to free herself from a tree. Villagers had dragged the woman from her house and hung her from the tree, accusing her of sorcery after her neighbor suddenly died.
She and the baby survived, according to media reports.
Killings of witches, or sangumas, is not a new phenomenon in rural areas of the country.
Emory University anthropology Professor Bruce Knauft, who lived in a village in the western province of Papua New Guinea in the early 1980s, traced family histories for 42 years and found that 1 in 3 adult deaths were homicides -- "the bulk of these being collective killings of suspected sorcerers," he wrote in his book, From Primitive to Postcolonial in Melanesia and Anthropology.
In recent years, as AIDS has taken a toll in the nation of 6.7 million people, villagers have blamed suspected witches -- and not the virus -- for the deaths.
According to the United Nations, Papua New Guinea accounts for 90 percent of the Pacific region's HIV cases and is one of four Asia-Pacific countries with an epidemic.
"We've had a number of cases where people were killed because they were accused of spreading HIV or AIDS," Mauba said.
While there is plenty of speculation why Tuesday's victim was killed, police said they are focused more on who committed the crime.
"If it is phobias about alleged HIV/AIDS or claims of a sexual affair, we must urge the police and judiciary to throw the book at the offenders," the Post-Courier wrote in an editorial."There are remedies far, far better than to torture and immolate a young woman before she can be judged by a lawful system."
View source article
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
(CNN) -- President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday will announce his pick for "chief performance officer," a newly created position that will work on the federal budget and to reform government, a Democratic official told CNN.
Barack Obama has selected Nancy Killefer to be his CPO, according to two Democratic officials.
Obama has selected Nancy Killefer, according to two Democratic officials. She is a senior director for McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm. She was an assistant secretary of the treasury in the Clinton administration.
The CPO will "help put us on a path to fiscal discipline," a Democratic official said.
The announcement comes a day after Obama told reporters that the deficit will probably hit $1 trillion this year and that "potentially we've got trillion-dollar deficits for years to come."
The president-elect said he would need to "invest an extraordinary amount of money" to get the economy back on track. He intends to push through what is expected to be an $800 billion economic recovery plan as one of his first acts in office.
Obama has also promised that his administration will embrace budget reform. He vowed on Tuesday to "bring a long-overdue sense of responsibility and accountability to Washington."
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
This may be one of the few cases in history where a US president was overshadowed not only by his VP but by his First Lady (I'd rather read her memoirs than her husband's)
LAURA Bush has signed with Scribner to write her memoirs for publication in the spring of 2010. The first lady plans to write about her experiences in the White House and Texas governor's mansion, and to touch on universally relevant themes like having a strong-willed mother-in-law, dealing with loss and raising children. More specifically, she plans to describe what it's like to have issues you're passionate about described in the press as 'pet projects,' what's it's like for your husband to be criticized, getting over the reluctance to speak publicly, and dealing with the world's biggest spotlight. The first lady will have a collaborator, to be chosen later. Terms of the contract, negotiated by Washington superlawyer Robert Barnett, were not disclosed. Speculation is wild.
Source: Mike Allen's Politico Playbook Daily Update