Dedicated to the gods, abused by men

February 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

 A post here dedicated to the misogynistic and dangerous practice of Devadasi. If you haven’t heard of it, it is an ancient Indian custom that has been used in more recent times as an excuse for the abuse and rape of vulnerable young girls.

The ancient tradition saw a girl ceremoniously dedicated or married to a deity or temple, in order to serve the goddess Yellamma – it was once a high-status role, if a dubious honour.

The practice has now been made illegal in law, but it still goes on, with the added exploitation that sees young girls, once they reach puberty, forced to have sexual relations with the men in their community in order to better serve the goddess.

No, I don’t understand the logic either.

I only learn of this practice recently, and the more I learn the more I am horrified. The women targeted are typically from lower castes – and in India that still tends to mean they are less educated, poorer and more vulnerable (the attitude persists in the country that rape is more acceptable in lower caste women, because it protects those higher up the social ladder)

And I cannot emphasise enough – this is not a small problem. There are 50,000 Devadasi in southern India.

Particularly sad is the overwhelming poverty that can leave families with seemingly little option but to give a child to the corrupt Devadasi system – and children of Devadasi are often dedicated into the system themselves.

An excellent BBC programme  aired in January highlights the Devadasi system. Also, visit EveryChild’s website   – they are a inspirational international charity working on the ground to urgently protect girls from being sexually exploited.  Measures include trying desperately to keep girls with their family, helping to increase opportunity for girls in low-caste groups, running workshops, setting up credit societies for women-only to help raise the status of women in society, and helping with the work of Child Rights Protection Committees being run at village level to intervene on behalf of children at risk. The last one in particular is a great idea, working with the only people who really have the ability to challenge the system: the people of India.


Iranian woman condemned to death by stoning still awaits her fate

December 30, 2010 § 1 Comment


Sakineh Ashtiani

An update on the case of Sakineh Ashtianti, the Iranian housewife who “confessed” to the crime of adultery and was sentenced to death by stoning.

It’s important to keep the media pressure up in this case, and the BBC report that was put out today and can be viewed here reminds us all as we face the new year, that this is another year the 43-year-old mother of three has been waiting in prison for the shambolic case against her to be finally thrown out.

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Instability of Latvian men hinders high-achieving women

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

The BBC report on women in Latvia

An interesting snapshot into post-Soviet Latvia here from the BBC. The country, which has 8% more women than men and more than ten years difference in life-expectancy, is struggling with the gender imbalance. The men are facing high levels of alcoholism and depression; the women have fewer choices of partners – leading to increased competition in a sense, with fewer men to go around.

As one Latvian woman puts it: “Here we have a war of beauty – the most beautiful wins” and certainly the BBC delights in showing a wave of trendy and well styled young women enjoying their work and social lives, rightly hailed as the country’s success stories.

The men, although referred to as the root of several of the country’s social problems, are sadly absent from the film.

What is filmed as basically a light-hearted piece (“Look how well these women are doing – although they’re all so beautiful and yet can’t find a boyfriend!”), it fails to address the real social issues at work. The transition to capitalism threw up many opportunities for women, but also placed a lot of pressure on men to succeed financially. The country has maintained its “macho” based culture  that puts pressure on men to drink, smoke, gamble, earn lots of money – to live fast. Consequently, the country has the highest rate of single-mothers in the EU, more than 80% of suicides are committed by men, and highly-educated and intelligent women are often left choosing to be alone or to leave the country rather than settle with a man they see as inferior. And there is a sadly inevitable issue with the underground sex trade and human trafficking, not to mention cases of domestic violence and women stuck in abusive relationships where they feel are unlikely to find another partner if they leave this one.

More focus on education would have a positive impact on future generations of both men and women, and help to maintain the country’s emerging economic successes.

Ireland might be forced to face abortion issue

December 17, 2010 § Leave a comment


European Court of Human Rights

When it comes to human rights, life gets complicated. Someone being able to exercise their human rights might have a negative impact on the human rights of someone else – and thus the neverending debates around the subject.

In the case of Ireland an importance ruling for women was made this week – the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that Irish abortion laws violated the rights of women.

Controversy surrounds the case, which is slightly more complicated than it sounds – three women took the case to the ECHR, and only one woman was ruled to have had her human rights breached.

The key piece of information however is that the Irish government is likely to now be forced to introduce new legislation.

According to the BBC’s Irish Correspondant, Mark Simpson: “Changing the law would also be a political minefield. Ireland is bitterly divided over abortion, and the Irish government has plenty of other priorities at present with the financial crisis and a general election early next year.

“The European Court ruling means Ireland must now reconsider its abortion legislation. The current government will be in no rush to do so.”

Of course a cynic might point out that addressing unwanted pregnancies could form a key part of the country’s economic policy, but its not economy that makes the Ireland government avoid touching this issue with a barge pole: its religion. And that’s far more complicated to address.

The key part of this case is how the women described that they felt stigmatised and humiliated by not being entitled to an abortion, and all three said they had suffered medical complications on travelling to Britain.

The court described the Irish medical system and courts as inadequate to considering the real effect on women’s health. The system is not fit for purpose – abortion is currently only allowed if it will endanger the woman’s life. But what, exactly, will that entail? Do they consider the physiological effects on the morther? Not adequately enough, according to yesterday’s ruling. It took a referendum in 1983 to establish that the mother’s right to life was equal to that out of the child.

So, for now, abortion remains illegal in Ireland – along with large parts of South America, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa. It is, however, the only major country in Europe to maintain its anti-abortion laws (the only others being the Vatican City and Malta), and that’s interesting in itself: the rest of European countries have policies to address the seissue for the good of their women. Ireland must stop hedging away from this issue.

But, the pressure is rising, and it looks as though their might be a time in sight where women don’t have to make the distressing trip to another country and endanger their physical and mental health.

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