Faces of women in the Egyptian protests

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

These brilliant pictures are being compiled together on Facebook by Leil-Zahra Mortada in Spain. Have a look as women stand up equally with their male countrymen, and make their feelings clear through protests, slogans, and chants.

Any revolution can only be built on a solid basis if it involves all corners of the country, considering all of the people in it. While most of the crowd shots on our televisions  seem to be made up largely of men, it’s inspiring to see women central in the protests, and these people make me feel humble and proud. Take the time to have a look at these brave women.

Click here to see all the photos – they are constantly being updated and added to


Ten years old – and married

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Having only recently discovered the brilliant World Pulse, it is a wealth of information – this is one story that struck me from it today.  The young girl, Reem Al Numery, was married at 10 in Yemen, whose case became the focus of international media attention. She even has a Wikipedia page.

But what happened after the camera flashes stopped? According to this article, the media focus did not relate to practical help – although Yemen has raised the legal age of marriage at least, to 17, in the wake of the negative media focus, there are still many who oppose the shaky law, and its too late for the quarter of all women in the country married before the age of 15. As for Reem, she is struggling to afford transport to school, to secure an education. Hailed as an “activist against early marriage”, she is left poorer financially, in the poorest country in the Middle East.

“I am so frustrated,” she said. “I see girls who are able to study and able to speak English and I am not. I would like for someone to help me.”

And this is the girl who has been the centre of focus in the media. Imagine all the girls who are forced into marriage and don’t get the benefit of media focus

“It is not really marriage, it is rape” says Shada Nasser, the lawyer who represented both Reem and the little girl Arwa in this video –  a good piece on another girl’s story of early marriage. Particularly interesting is the interview with the male doctor who helped Arwa escape her husband – but says that raising the legal age to 17 was a mistake.

“Islam determines the age of marriage to be when a girl is ready for intercourse” he says.

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.

Lack of coverage on “honour killings” shames us all

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Having the word “honour” associated with any type of crime is a contradition in terms, and honour killings have to be one of the least spoken about crimes against women, in my opinon.

A report from the UN finds today that Afghan women are still at massive risk of violence and “honour” crimes. The government is simply not doing enough to protect women – probably because they are not really adressing issues like education or financial independence, which have the power to place women in a much stronger position than simply bringing in a new law – which they have done. Laws are easy to bring in, but not to enforce, particularly in a difficult scenario like this which delves into the heart of private communities.

Women in Afganistan

The other day I was on the Stop Honour Killings site, and with less than five minutes on it you can see examples of recent honour crimes in Iraq, the UK, India, Kurdistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey and Uganda  – and it really hammers home that this is a worldwide  issue. This site has a gallery of victims on its homepage of honour killings, and it makes chilling viewing to see so many women assualted or killed in the most gruesome of circumstances, in cases that never made it into the papers.

Perhaps because it goes on typically within smaller or more private communities, or perhaps because they frequently take place in Islamic communities where the press is wary to probe, these crimes just don’t seem to get the press coverage you’d think they would.

Our real shame in these crimes is that we just don’t hear enough about them – shocking when the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are murdered by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more. So, as many potentially as 20,000 women and girls are directly affected – and many reports suggest that incidents are increasing in the last 20 years. The victim’s family members – male and female, guilty or innocent – are affected. Their communities are affected, by implication their economies are affected, and the country is affected.  

How many more people have to be affected before this stops being a “women’s issue?”

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

Another domestic maid dies in the Middle East

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Just a quick follow up to my post earlier in the week on the abuse of domestic maids in the Middle East. Sad news today that an Indonesian maid has reportedly been killed in Saudi Arabia – at the hands of a female employer, reports suggest.

Indonesia is understandably demanding an inquiry – and good luck to them. With another Indonesian maid also in hospital after allegedly suffering from torture in hospital, the country has sent a team to investigate.  I hope they manage to make enough noise to get this issue towards the top of the agenda. The more international pressure can be brought to this issue, the more likely Saudi Arabia will be forced to take action.

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.

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