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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An urgent call to save a life


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.

This book changed my life

December 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Half the Sky: How to Change the World

I’ve never written a book review before – and I don’t intend to do one now. All I will say is simply that if you are interested in politics, international development and any issues relating to women’s rights should read the book Half The Sky: How to Change the World by two American journalists, Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn. I’ve just finished it, and I genuinely think it’s fair to say it changed the way I think about issues relating to women forever.

To quote from the opening chapter: “We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way – not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.”

The phrase “half the sky” is from a quote from Mao Zedong, who for all his (massive) faults did mange to bring in some measures which benefitted women enormously. In fact the organisation Half the Sky  targets Chinese orphans in reference to this famous quote. This book looks at issues relating to the sex trade, war, maternal mortality, women’s involvement in politics, education – in short, all the things this blog writes about. It details real examples and individual cases, but counters it with how they fit into the worldwide scheme of poverty and development. The main thrust of the book is that if only half of the population of any country are being educated, working and contributing to the economy, then the country can only ever reach half of it’s potential. Some parts of this book are easier to swallow than others, inevitably, and some parts will make you cry and stay with you indefinitely. But what is so brilliant about it is the way that it takes a real hands-on, grass roots approach. The final chapter is entitled Four Steps you can take in the next ten minutes and the back is a full index of charities, NGOs and women’s groups worldwide that you can get involved with, and how to contact them. It is the bible of women’s rights and I know I will be referring to it again and again. Let me know what you think.

“Sensationally interesting – I think this is one of the most important books I have ever reviewed” – Washington Post

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.

Afghan women’s football team is a sign of progress

November 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Nice optimistic piece from the BBC here on the Afghanistan’s national women’s football team  – don’t forget that in the very recent past women were kept away from education and public life, and frequently kept indoors. The existance of this video, and the team in Afghanistan, is a triumph.

The health of a woman’s national sport side can be a good indication of the state of women’s rights within the country. Football in Iran has a rocky history, for example, with various political leaders deciding that women should not even be allowed to watch men playing the sport. The Iranian youth women’s team was also at the centre of a controversy about how to compete in international competitions whilst still following Iran’s restrictive dress code for women (Interestingly, women’s football in Iran was thriving prior to the Islamic revolution there in 1979). In Saudi Arabia, the decision to allow women to drive almost prompted riots from hardline conservatives in the country. And, in keeping with that – women are allowed to take part in football games. 

As long as the referee, linesmen, all the players and all the spectators are female.

Ukraine: Protestors strip to raise awareness of women’s rights – but at what price?

November 18, 2010 § Leave a comment


A Femen protestor

It’s hard to know what to make of the Ukrainian protestors who strip to the waist to raise awareness of women’s rights . Femen is the groups name, and they perform topless protests to campaign on women’s rights.

As Alexandra Shevchenko, a 22-year-old economics student, puts it: “We started out being dressed but we found nobody took any notice. I’m a big fan of taking off our clothes.

“It’s how we get attention for our views.”

The group of 300 regular protestors also boasts an online support group of thousands. And they have some very serious points to make.

Their campaign – to improve the role of women in the male-dominated Ukraine – include protests at the visit from Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, disrupting an Iranian exhibition to protest at the treatment of women in Iran, and targeting sex tourism.

They have valid, serious, important points to make, and they are intelligent deteremined women. So why make themselves into a figure of fun, of cheeky speculation, and of the wrong sort of male attention?

On one hand I applaud them, and would say they are right to raise awareness for the issues any way they can. Take the steps needed to get more people involved and try and improve lives.

But. On the other hand.

How will they be taken seriously if their breasts are what they use to gain attention? It’s surely a contradiction in terms to complain about being demeaned in society but to counter it by demeaning yourself. It’s a tabloid editor’s dream, guaranteeing pictures of bare breasts in the media – but it’s ok, because it’s for a serious cause – and opening the movement up to a serious of pun-based headlines. Think along the lines of “Busted!” on a red-top paper with a pair of boobs flashing up from the page, and any serious political meaning is lost.

The police reportedly “once laughed off Femen’s activities as cheeky but harmless”. Now they are becoming more aggressive. More aggression from the police does not equal being taken seriously.

I can’t see this movement will really help to bring about substantial, long-term, thoughtful change to gender relations in the former Soviet state, and there is something a little chilling about the words of 20-year-old Inna, a journalism student, when she says: “It’s all we’ve got, our bodies. “

An urgent call to save a life

November 3, 2010 § 1 Comment

Apologies that the blog has been a little quiet in the last few days. I’m back now! And to get right to a very serious topic, I want to draw attention to this post from my friends at Women’s Views on News. The story relates to the possible execution today of Iranian woman, Sakineh Ashtiani, committed for adultery in a court conducted in a language she doesn’t speak.

It takes a second to sign a petition on’s site to protest about her case – I just did it. They’re aiming for 400,000 pleas to save her life, and  they are only about 80,000 short at the time of writing. Send a message that individual women matter, and that by people around the world standing up in the name of injustice, changes can be made.

Sakineh Ashtiani

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