Violent female rebels must not be ignored

October 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Ignoring the fact that female rebels also use weapons is dangerous, according to IRIN, in a report which particularly looks at the situation in Nepal, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In Sierra Leone, the article reports that women were not just sex slaves or passive victims, but also the perpetrators of attacks and violence, and trained well in using weapons . To use the report’s words: “women and girls carried arms, killed, commanded armed groups, looted and spied.”

In a bizarre way there is a comfort in this. To deny women’s role in war as female soldiers is to re-write history, to omit important facts, and to deny them the rehabilitation and support they need in post-war reconciliations.  It also fails to recognise how empowering many wars can be for women. The two world wars were determining factors in gender relations in the 20th century, and when British women gained the vote in 1918 it was largely down to their war efforts (admittedly, not as soldiers, but I think the principal is the same). In times of war and conflict, rigid social norms are broken down, and there is a chance for women to challenge preconceptions and move into “male territory”.

It also serves to remind us that war is horrific for all involved. Always. And for women in particular, you can’t win either way.

The key conclusion of the report takes us back to a point coverd by the site Women’s Views on News that women are kept away from peace talks (cue wry response that it’s no bloody wonder so many fail). IRIN concludes:  “There are too few trained women peacekeepers, civilian police and experts” and calls for “the establishment of a regionally balanced group of women and gender DDR experts.”

Pic courtesy of UN: A female soldier in Sierra Leone


UK women face worst fallout of nation’s cuts

October 20, 2010 § Leave a comment


As a journalist based in London, today has been entirely dominated by covering the Comprehensive Spending Review outlined by the Chancellor George Osborne. In a day packed with interviewing, gathering responses, and analysing, the most striking statement by a long way came from the Fawcett Society. The campaign group has pointed out in its response to Osborne’s announcement that women are already in the worst position in this age of austerity in Britain, which is facing a national deficit of £180bn this year. And today’s measures will further cement this trend.

The Fawcett Society has said that with 65% of public sector workers being women, they are the most exposed to the inevitable redundancies that must follow the announcements today. It also said women would be hit harder as they use the NHS more through maternity uses and childcare, and will struggle with the reduced benefits in social care, housing  and child care. As a result of the “quango bonfire”, the Women’s National Commission has also been axed, a move which Fawcett says will make it even more unlikely that government will have access to balanced advice on specific women’s needs.

This is a dark day for many vulnerable groups in the UK, and for women most of all.

“Women already typically earn less, own less, and have less financial independence than men. Government plans to reduce the deficit largely through cuts in public spending look set to worsen an already unjust situation.”

Should girls be forced to wear a veil as school uniform?

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Burkhas were back in the British press this week. Outraged pages in the more conservative broadsheets report on three British schools where girls wearing the veil whilst walking to school is compulsory. The niqab will be worn in these institutions travelling to and from school, for girls aged between 11 and 18.

Moderate Islamists have warned that this is likely to damage relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, and the chairman of the Muslim Education Trust of Oxford said it was setting a “dangerous precedent” and meant that the children were being brainwashed at a young and impressionable age.

The site of a woman clad from heard to toe in black is a disturbing site for those not familiar with it, and for younger teenagers to have to wear such a garb can hardly be comfortable or convenient. On the other hand, if it is their choice, and is genuinely not enforced, then the polarisation of women who follow this practice is equally abhorrent, and talk of banning the burka in countries such as the Netherlands  disgusts me.

It is difficult to measure to what extent the decision is made independently – in this case it is of course an enforced rule as it equates to school uniform. Most students resent uniform in some way or another, generally because it restricts their ability to express themselves and explore their individuality during their teenage years.

This uniform does the same but on a religious premise, seeking to make the female students hide their emerging sense of self under a gown which isolates and segregates them from non-Muslims of their own age. The lack of social interaction and the sharing of ideas and experiences is what makes this practice particularly sad.

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