Violence in Bangladesh over new equality law

April 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

Photo EPA: Protests in Bangladesh

Riots have broken out today in Bangladesh over a new law  which would give women equal property rights as men. The country, although it has a secular legal system most the time, bows to Sharia law in issues relating to inheritance, and therefore a woman only inherits half as much as her brother.

Under the National Women Development Policy, she would inherit equally.

More than 100 protestors have been taken into custody today according to police, but there is worryingly a high level of support for challenging a law like this. The Islamic Law Implementation Committee for example (not surprisingly, I suppose) saying that the protests had the support of the “people” and that they go against the Koran. In a country where 90% of the population are Muslim, a claim like that carries great power.

Women in Bangladesh are an important part of the workforce, with many working as they do in export trades such as making garments. But, women are still part of an overwhelmingly patriarchal society, being judged by their family life, and their opportunities in the country tend to be markedly fewer. For example, there is a higher dropout rate from school for girls than boys, and younger children face a higher mortality rate if they are girls. Trafficking is a huge problem in Bangladesh, including kidnapping into Burma, as is domestic violence which can often pass under the averted eyes of the community.

The return of prime minister Sheik Hasina Wazed to the government in 2008 has been another positive role model for women in the country, and as a member of the Council of World Women leaders she has put rights for women high on the priority list. Nonetheless she has been locked in conflict with extremists in the country throughout her political career, and has withstood assassination attempts on her own life and the murder of many of her colleagues.

It goes without saying that this blog supports these new laws and wishes safety to those pushing them through. Until women can secure economic independence they will always be viewed as second class citizens in a country. This is another step towards independence for women in Bangladesh. I hope the government holds fast in its commitment to give women greater rights in education, employment and inheritance.

Girls as young as 13 trafficked in Cambodia

March 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

 

Girls as young as 13 are being recruited from Cambodia to work in Malaysian households with fake birth certificates, according to a UN report out today.

The girls are being confined in overcrowded and unhygienic “training centres”, with reports of several being killed or injured in desperate attempts to escape – and of course, with human trafficking, someone makes money. And not the person being abused.

In this case, brokers source the girls and get paid the fees. The recruiting companies trick illiterate village residents – more than 100 agencies are reported to exist targeting this sort of business.

The government has made some very positive noises about tackling this problem, which can only be positive, but nonetheless estimated that it will take three more years to fully tackle this problem.

MP and former minister for women’s affairs Mu Sochua has accused the government of complicity in trafficking: “The Cambodian government has effectively legalized human trafficking.” She also said the government was protecting the recruiting companies because some of its members might have financial interests in them.

These examples could be the tip of the iceberg, with the likelihood of girls also being smuggled through into Thailand.

The best way to tackle this is to improve the status of women in Cambodian society, and their rights as female workers. Make a collective decision that it is not acceptable to employ a young girl, without her passport.

Women in Cambodia were denied the right to hold a rally for International Women’s Day this month. Bizarre rules around Cambodian women marrying foreigners are also intended to target trafficking but could easily also be seen as a way of restricting a woman’s human right to marry who she wishes. Domestic violence is largely seen as a matter to be left between husband and wife, even though one-in-four women have suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse from their husbands

Give women equal status, equal standing in society, make them financially independent and this sort of abuse will be whittled away to a memory.

The women of Afghanistan – wives of the warriors

February 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

An interesting video from wisemanproductions here, with some fairly rare footage of women in Afghanistan talking about the situation in their lives, the history of women’s rights, and attacks against women in the country. Although it’s only recently uploaded, I think it might be older than that, but still well worth a watch to help tell these stories. Be warned though, some of the pictures in it are shocking.

Also helping to highlight life for women in Afghanistan is a new exhibition opening in the House of Commons in London this week with some beautiful photos and inspiring stories – you can take an online tour here.

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.

Women in South Africa are more likely to be raped than to learn to read

January 26, 2011 § 3 Comments

Millicent Gaika, victim of "corrective rape" in South Africa

If ever there were two words ridiculous put together, “corrective rape” wins the prize. In South Africa, the term is used to cover a violent, vicious atrocity on a woman to “cure” her of lesbianism.

Campaigning group Avaaz is raising awareness of these crime, highlighting the case of Millicent Gaika, a young woman bound, strangled and tortured for five hours. A few brave activists from Cape Town raised an appeal to the country’s Minister of Justice, gathering over 140,000 signatures.

 Astonishingly, nobody has ever been convicted of “corrective rape” and the Minister has not answered their demands with any action. It’s not even recognised as a “hate crime”.

Sign the petition here https://secure.avaaz.org/en/stop_corrective_rape/?vl

The wider context here too is that a South African girl born today is more likely to be raped than she is to learn to read. 62% of boys over 11 don’t think forcing someone to have sex is an act of violence. President Zuma himself is a Zulu traditionalist who has stood trial for rape.

Avaaz has rightly called it a “human catastrophe”.

I want to do my part to raise awareness on this topic. Please, sign the petition. Let the South African government know that the world is outraged by a statistic like that, a case like Millicent’s, a government that does so little to care for the country’s women.

This video is the Minister of Justice on South African television talking about corrective rape. He’s making a lot of the right noises, emphasising that “rape is rape, regardless of the motives”. Let’s make sure the pressure is kept up so that he has to match his talk with action

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.

A year on: Four year old girls raped in Haiti

January 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s hard to believe. As if there wasn’t enough heartache already in the country following the earthquake a year ago which is believed to have left more than 300,000 people dead, there are still a million people displaced, homeless, and relying on  NGOs to support them as they live under tents and tarpaulins. According to those in the country, reconstruction has barely begun.

 And then the cholera outbreak began. Followed by a disputed presidential election. And scenes of political unrest.

 But the reports of rape in the country break the heart. This morning there were stories on the radio of raped women, and girls as young as four and five being raped in the chaos, and the stories brought me to tears amid descriptions of normal structures breaking down in communities.

 There are reports of women fleeing into the countryside. Raped in the earthquake ruins. Taken away as “servants” for “work” (inverted commas due to the lack of payment involved – “slaves” might be a better word) Children as young as four and five being raped.

The situation was not great for women before the disaster. Rape was only officially recognised as a crime in 2005, and domestic violence was a long-standing problem. The earthquake fallout is running the risk of reversing progress that had been made.

 As the New York Times reports: “Marie Cluade Pierre was sad even before the earthquake. She is sadder now.”

 After a year of horrors, there is little to celebrate. The country is on a knife-edge – the only real question really is whether the balance has already tipped over. After all, many people will be wondering just how it can get worse.

Fabienne Jean in Haiti : Damon Winter/The New York Times

 But there are stories out there to inspire. One example to celebrate is the story of Fabienne Jean, a young dancer who lost her leg in the earthquake. Now walking on a prosthetic leg, she is starting to dance – only a little, and she is realistic about the fact that she will never be a professional performer again. But plans must be re-dreamed, and she is hoping to open a dance school, or a fashion boutique.

Equally, the work of “Eternal Optimist” Cameron Sinclair and his Architecture for Humanity,  planning the rebuilding of the country – to name but one of hundreds of devoted individuals working to help stabilise the situation and provide a safer future. After all, solid bricks and mortar are the first practical protection for women at risk.

 And read the story of Rea, one incredible woman who rebuilt her school literally from the ruins, and even started a micro-credit facility for women  

It’s a sobering fact, but natural disasters are almost always worst for women. As the Haitian example proves, women are not safe in refugee camps, or living without protection. Their children are not safe. Medical care for pregnant women is very limited. There are scores of women who are forced into the Dominican Republic and trafficked into the sex trade.

Everyone can help and make some difference. Everyone, whoever or wherever you are. Let’s do our best to make this year the year of reconstruction that should have begun in 2010.

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