Mexican women climb from violence, poverty and corruption

January 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Video of two women scaling a fence built by the US along the Mexican/American border are supposed to demonstrate how easy it is to to escape into America. And although there are many illegal immigrants from Mexico living in the US, it’s hardly likely to be as easy as this video makes it appear – and it’s not surprising that so many are forced into living outside the law once they get there.

Although separated by as little as a border line, the two countries are worlds away.

In Mexico, one in four women has suffered abuse at the hands of their partner, according to Amnesty International. Female tourists are warned to be alert to high potential of violence – look at this case of a Canadian women pursuing a case of gang rape by the Mexican police, or a woman murdered potentially because of her outspoken criticism of the country’s treatment of women. “Femicide” has reached terrifyingly high levels in Mexican cities.

And there are articles on this very blog detailing women forced into the drugs trade, a mother killed while protesting on behalf of her murdered daughter, and the need for “women only cabs” because violence against women is so high.

 In the face of these problems, living illegally in America for a short while can seem a small price to pay. After all, 56% of the 11m (at least) illegal immigrants in the USA are estimated to be from Mexico, so it’s almost a home from home. And although conditions can be horrendous, some migrant workers will earn far more than at home in Mexico, where demand for work, particularly agricultural or labour work, is dropping, and where corruption costs the economy about $60m a year.

 And children born in the States, even if their parents are illegal immigrants, are considered “birthright citizens”.

 I’m not advocating illegal residency in the States, and I fear for anyone who takes the risks these two young girls in the video demonstrate must be desperate to climb a wall like that in broad daylight. Potentially easy to climb a fence, but not so easy to run once on the other side, with no family, money, identification, safety. That’s a risk only take if you truly believe better awaits on the other side of the fence, particularly with reports of teenagers shot at the fence by American soldiers and President Obama signing a bill worth $600m to fund 1,500 new border patrol agents.

Until Mexico can work to improve the situation for its citizens and women in particular, and American can gain a little more flexibility in its stringent immigration legislation, the two countries sit next to each other as a grim reminder of how unfair life can be.

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Sudan defends the flogging of “indecent” women

December 14, 2010 § Leave a comment

YouTube image: A woman is flogged in Sudan

It’s legal to flog women in Sudan. Whipping women is allowed under the country’s Sharia Criminal Code for “indecent behaviour” – adultery, running a brothel, or worst of all, wearing trousers.

Even with that in mind, there is no explanation for the video of a woman being flogged in a car park. YouTube have now taken the video off – but I’ve watched it, and it’s really not nice. The woman is fully covered in accordance with Sudanese requirements, and seems to be pointlessly whipped by police officers in the midst of a group of men in a dusty car park while she cries and calls for her mother.  Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and realising they are being filmed only makes the policemen play up for the camera more. Images are all over the internet – I’ve included one here mainly because I think it’s important not to shy away from the truth. Before being lashed 53 times, the young woman is told she will be jailed for two years if she does not sit down on the ground and allow herself to be whipped.

According to the Sudanese authorities, a “mistake was made in the way the punishment was carried out”.  According to comments on the web, this sort of attack happens “all the time” and so one can only imagine the “mistake” Sudan meant was not the flogging, but the way the video has captured them in this act of cruelty , and how it has now gone viral worldwide.

Reports now are that dozens of women have been arrested for trying to protest at these laws which humiliate women. Attempts by them to hand over a letter of protest were denied, and reports suggest they have all been arrested and take into the police station – where their lawyers have not been allowed access.

This is a stark reminder of what happens in a country where misogynistic attitudes and violence towards women is condoned – you are left in a country ruled by bullies with half the country as potential victims.

“This horrendous footage provides a chilling reminder that flogging continues to be used as a form of punishment in Sudan. The law which enables flogging to persist is discriminatory and inhumane. Flogging of this kind amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and in some cases can constitute torture.
No one should be subjected to such treatment.”

Mike Blakemore, Amnesty International

 

Beware of filmed “confessions” from a scared, intimidated woman

December 13, 2010 § 1 Comment

Sakineh Ashtiani

Celebrities are getting involved with the case of Sakineh Ashtiani (see my post on November 3rd) who is still languishing in prison in Iran facing death by stoning for the alleged crime of adultery.

To say this case is confusing is an understatement. Sakineh’s alleged crimes include adultery (after her husband’s death) and then the renewed charge became the murder of her husband. Her children have led the campaign worldwide after the case was conducted in a language she didn’t speak with allegations that the 43-year-old was tortured in prison. She was first accused in 2006 and sentenced to 99 lashes, which were carried out in front of her 17-year-old son. Various reports that she will now be sentenced to hang rather than face stoning have been confused with reports of more torture and the Iranian judicial services “losing” the notes on her case – and despite a man having already been convicted for the murder of her husband.

Basically, it’s a shambles, and it’s hard to know even where to start with the human rights abuses in this case.

Videos of her “confessing” being shown on state TV have done little to change international opinion (watch the video here) that the Iranian system is barbaric and unfair towards women and that Sakineh should be released – or at least in the immediacy, that the death penalty towards her should be revoked. The confession of a woman under duress, facing death and torture, should not be allowed to stand up in court. Even a corrupt court.

What this case urgently needs is more high-profile media attention to shame Iran into revoking this inhumane sentence. And so the likes of Colin Firth, Sting, Robert Redford, Damian Hirst and Robert de Niro have joined more than 80 actors, politicians, writers and artists to raise awareness of her case and call for her immediate release. This is a brilliant example of how celebrities can use their status to bring about change. After all, she has been in prison for more than three years. It’s time the world stood up to Iran and keep the focus on her case until she is free and safe.

Top stories of the last week…

December 6, 2010 § 1 Comment

After arriving back into a very cold and snowy Gatwick airport in the small hours of this morning, I have spent today catching up on the week’s latest through slightly bleary eyes.. I promise not to do round ups too often, but here’s a list of what I missed so you don’t have to!

An Iranian woman was hanged in Tehran for stabbing the wife of a famous footballer – she herself was a “temporary wife” of his at the time. Amnesty International protested on the grounds that she is not believed to have had a fair trial, and may have been forced into a confession.

A really interesting piece here about female sexworkers in Kenya being given microloans to help them out of prostitution and poverty .

A report from WOMANKIND Worldwide and the Institute of Education concludes that schools are still failing women with one in three reporting sexual bullying on a daily basis.

The Guardian reported that Mexico drug cartels are increasingly targetting women :

And a Pakistani cleric reportedly offers a bounty reward fee of $6,000 to anyone who kills a Christian mother convicted of blasphemy against Islam.

…After that list of rather gloomy news, a more lighthearted piece to cheer you up (because everyone needs a little light relief on a Monday!) Actor George Clooney visited Sudan to help raise awareness of the war-torn country’s needs, and in a local tradition is spat on by a village elder for good luck. “I’ve had people spit at me before – but it wasn’t a blessing”, Clooney said.

“Poverty wears a woman’s face” as governments fail them

November 24, 2010 § Leave a comment

An woman attacked in the DRC by rebels Pic from World in Witness at blogs.ushmm.org/WorldIsWitness/updates/601/

Violence against women is the single biggest threat to peace, according to a report released today by Women for Women International.

The country director for Nigeria, Ngozi Eze, will launch the report called Gender, Conflict and MDGs officially tonight at Amnesty International’s headquarters.

 MDGs (or Millennium Development Goals) are being missed by a very long way, according to the report, which makes grim reading.

 Research with organisations based in conflict zones with a particular focus on Nigeria, has concluded that:

  • Development and Security agendas are not linked
  • Violence against women is the single greatest impediment to development and peace
  • Economic empowerment is key to women’s recovery from conflict
  • Women continue to be left out of formal peace processes
  • Work on security, conflict prevention and peace-building needs to be informed by local realities and women’s needs.

 Women for Women, which helps women in areas of conflict worldwide to rebuild their lives, concluded that the main obstacle to women’s economic empowerment is the lack of security – both inside and outside the home. Other obstacles are the lack of opportunities to market goods, limited movement outside the home due to cultural attitudes and a lack of social protection when work is not possible.

 To me, the key fact to take away from the report is that women’s participation in the 16 peace processes since 2000 has really been minimal. Particularly, five cases are noted – Somalia (2002), Cote D’Ivoire (2003), Nepal (2006), the Philippines (2007) and the Central African Republic (2008) – where no women participated as signatories, mediators, witnesses or negotiators.  The report sums up: “In spite of their contributions to community reconciliation and peace, women are chronically under-represented in security, justice and public sectors, which all play a key role in peace-building.”

 There is a good list of recommendations to help tackle these problems, and some are being put into practice or helped on their way by this inspirational organisation. But worryingly, most involve money or investment of some kind. This might be what’s needed, but it is also something that is not forthcoming in many warzones.

 Today is the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I wish it was as easy as a one day event. The sobering challenges in this report have not seen progress in the first ten years of the Millennium Goals aiming to eliminate poverty, but let’s hope this important piece of work gets the attention it deserves and helps to bring about some changes.

“Sadly, in times of war a woman’s burdens only get heavier, her vulnerabilities more pronounced. She remains locked in poverty, often losing the protection of home and husband, coping with fear and suffering devastating rights violations and violence, including torture, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and mutilation. Despite these grim realities, she brings enormous energy, leadership and resilience to protecting families and rebuilding fractured communities. “
–          Kate Nustedt, Executive Director, Women for Women

Chechnyan men told to take “charge” of their women

October 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

A fascinating and concerning account from young Chechnyan women about their being forced to wear the headscarf.  The article, written by Tanya Lokshina, of Human Rights Watch, suggests that the state is turning a blind eye to attacks on women not wearing the headcarf.

Chechnya has been in a state of almost constant war for at least the last fifteen years, and as a shaky peace continues  in the territory, it is only right that citizens, men and women, have earned the right to express themselves. The ritual humiliation and assualt of women who don’t cover their hair, even if dressed otherwise “modestly” will only drive the country back into tumult. The latest Amnesty International report on the country concluded that Chechnya was being ” ruled without law, being run into further devastating destabilization.” It has one of the youngest demographics in the former Soviet states, with an average age of 22 years old. There is plenty of new blood in the country that can shed misogynistic and oppressive ideas of the past. Until this is done the country will be balancing on a knife edge.

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