Connie Schultz reviews Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution by Mona Eltahawy: In the early 1990s, Mona Eltahawy walked into the women’s section on the metro in Cairo wearing a beige-and-red headscarf that framed her young face. A woman covered in a black veil that revealed only her eyes bristled with disapproval. “Why aren’t you wearing a niqab?” she asked Eltahawy.
“If you want to eat a piece of candy,” the woman said, “would you choose one that is in a wrapper or an unwrapped one?”
Eltahawy’s reply: “I’m a woman, not a piece of candy.”
A bold response for an encounter with a stranger in a public space in Egypt, and an early glimpse into the life of activism that has culminated in her new book, “Headscarves and Hymens.”
Divided into seven essays and an epilogue, this is a small but packed manifesto, incendiary by design. Eltahawy is calling for a “revolution of the mind,” which is where she insists the battle for women’s bodies must begin. She takes on any and all Arab customs that serve to imprison women not only in their countries and in their homes but, just as dangerously, within the confines of their own psyches. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Nearly two-thirds of women in the military who filed sexual assault complaints last year said they faced retaliation, according to a Pentagon report released on Friday.
The study found that the number of sexual assaults in the military declined last year, echoing the conclusion of a Defense Department report released in December. But the new study said that the number of attacks in the fiscal year that ended in September may have been slightly higher than the figure in the December report.
Even as sexual assaults were reported to have declined, the Pentagon said that more service members filed assault complaints, and that about a third of attacks were now being reported. The study attributed the rise in reports of attacks to a “greater confidence” among victims that their complaints would be properly handled.
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter outlined steps that the military was taking to reduce the thousands of sexual assaults that occur each year. The initiatives include updated training, a new strategy to prevent retaliation and a biennial survey of sexual assault and harassment throughout the military.
But he appeared well aware of past criticism of the Pentagon’s portrayal of the increase in assault reports as a sign that victims were more comfortable filing complaints. Critics say that previous studies did not fully substantiate the military’s conclusion, and that rising reports of attacks could mean that assaults are increasing. [Continue reading…]
The Daily Beast: The academy might seem like a bastion of American liberalism but an extensive database of faculty salaries compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education paints a damning picture of gender inequality at U.S. colleges and universities.
Not only does the data reveal a substantial gender pay gap at both private and public schools, it also shows that male-dominated college faculties disproportionately rely on the labor of women in instructor and lecturer positions.
Women may keep our colleges running but the American university is still an old boys’ club.
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s new tool displays faculty and staff salary data from over 4,700 colleges and universities stretching from 2003 to 2013. The federal data powering the database isn’t brand new but it provides the starkest and most accessible visualization yet of the gendered distribution of labor in the American academy.
Reuters reports: When the handsome young man came courting her, Sunetra could not believe her luck.
Born into a desperately poor family in India’s southern Sundarbans region – one of the parts of the world hardest hit by climate change – the lanky 18-year-old had few prospects. A flood the previous year had destroyed her home and left her family struggling financially.
A new start was what she needed, and her out-of-town suitor’s offer of marriage seemed ideal. He was content to wed without her family providing a dowry, and the pair quickly eloped.
But soon after their marriage, on a visit to Hyderabad, her new husband locked her in an apartment, in preparation for handing her to sex traffickers from Dubai. It quickly became apparent that the marriage had been a ruse.
“I had lost my face having ran away from my family, trusting this man,” she said, weeping at the betrayal of her “husband,” who she had believed was an insurance agent in Baruipur, a town about 30 km from Kolkata.
Sunetra is just one of more than 5,000 people who went missing in 2012 from the state of West Bengal, where the Sundarbans sits on a low, shifting delta where South Asia’s great rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, crime records show.
The forested islands of the Sundarbans are increasingly considered a trafficking hotspot as climate change impacts – such as worsening cyclones, sea level rise and loss of land to erosion and saltwater – mean worsening poverty and living conditions, and more desperation. [Continue reading…]
Most of us take for granted that we can read, say, the street signs outside of our house. But for an overwhelming number of women in the Arab world, basic literacy is not a given. That’s why in 2009, photographer and TED Fellow Laura Boushnak began “I Read, I Write,” a series that documents the state of women’s education across Arab states. Having struggled to be able to attend college herself, the Palestinian refugee sees education as the key to a woman’s financial independence.
The Guardian reports: Girls can marry at the age of nine, should ideally have husbands by 16 or 17 and should not be corrupted by going to work, according to a treatise published by female Islamic State supporters in Iraq and Syria.
The document, Women of the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study, says women must stay behind closed doors and leave the house only in exceptional circumstances.
“It is always preferable for a woman to remain hidden and veiled, to maintain society from behind this veil,” the English translation says. Fashion shops and beauty salons are denounced as the work of the devil.
The semi-official Islamic State manifesto on women – believed to be the first of its kind – was published on a jihadi forum in Arabic last month and is purported to be by the media wing of the al-Khanssaa Brigade, an all-female militia set up by Islamic State (Isis).
Bayan Perazzo writes: In an interview with the LA Times, Haifaa al-Mansour (director of the first Saudi film, “Wadjda”) made a very simple comment about being a woman in Saudi Arabia that rang very true for me. Al-Mansour said, “for me it’s the everyday life (in Saudi Arabia), how it’s hard…things like that can build up and break a woman.” Despite what many in the international community may believe, there are no women being stoned to death in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, those outside the country are absolutely right to criticize the state of women’s rights in the Kingdom though they may not realize how subtle the oppression can be.
Yes, women in Saudi Arabia are banned from driving, subjected to an oppressive male-guardianship system and living on the unfortunate side of gender segregation. While these are major obstacles for women’s progress in the country, such an innately oppressive system naturally trickles down into smaller aspects of everyday life. These little indignities can indeed break a woman, and I confess I am a woman extremely close to being broken.
I never thought much about my gender identity until I moved back to Saudi Arabia as a young adult. Small instances of gender discrimination would take place regularly, but at some point in time those experiences built up to leave me feeling something I had never felt before: that being female is an absolutely exhausting burden to bear.
What exactly were these small everyday events that pushed me over the edge? [Continue reading…]
Alison Wolf writes: Feminist cries for action have seen a resurgence of late, notably in calls for quotas on company boards. Large numbers of very successful women feel that life is profoundly sexist and unfair. Feminism has always and inevitably been driven by the educated and well-connected, but today’s feminists are also obsessed with their own elite, metropolitan lives. This is deeply depressing. It is also having a pernicious effect on politicians and policy-making.
Take the 30% Club – the campaign for at least 30% of board members in large public companies to be female. This has attracted huge publicity and traction. Top women campaign for it, politicians line up to sing the importance of such “diversity”. It is received wisdom that this policy is good for women in general, and important to them – and also good for the benighted companies themselves.
This is simplistic, and it is nonsense. A number of countries have introduced quotas for large public companies; but only one, to date, has enacted major sanctions for miscreants, and has a good many years’ experience with quotas. That is Norway, where 40% representation is required and enforced.
And the result? The policy has done nothing whatsoever for the female labour market generally. It has had no impact on female pay and promotion prospects in the companies concerned. It has had no positive impact on company profits either: replacing privileged men with privileged women doesn’t seem to pay any “diversity” benefits. [Continue reading…]
“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” [Source]
I have been waiting all my life for what 2014 has brought. It has been a year of feminist insurrection against male violence: a year of mounting refusal to be silent, refusal to let our lives and torments be erased or dismissed. It has not been a harmonious time, but harmony is often purchased by suppressing those with something to say. It was loud, discordant, and maybe transformative, because important things were said – not necessarily new, but said more emphatically, by more of us, and heard as never before.
It was a watershed year for women, and for feminism, as we refused to accept the pandemic of violence against women – the rape, the murder, the beatings, the harassment on the streets and the threats online.
Further into her essay, Solnit says:
Sometimes at big political demonstrations – against the war in Iraq in early 2003, for example – the thousands of placards with handwritten statements, jokes, and facts, for all their brevity, constitute a cumulative critique that covers a lot of angles. Social media can do the same, building arguments comment by comment, challenging, testing, reinforcing and circulating the longer arguments in blogs, essays and reports. It’s like a barn-building for ideas: innumerable people bring their experiences, insights, analysis, new terms and frameworks. These then become part of the fabric of everyday life, and when that happens, the world has changed. Then, down the road, what was once a radical idea becomes so woven into everyday life that people imagine that it is self-evident and what everyone always knew. But it’s not; it’s the result of a struggle – of ideas and voices, not of violence.
Silence leaves a vacuum that can only be filled with speculation, but the reason for this omission seems to be spelt out in the terms by which Solnit describes effective political activism: it is defined by the absence of violence.
But did this Yazidi girl betray feminism by picking up an AK-47?
— Danny Makki (@Dannymakkisyria) August 18, 2014
Since the battle for Kobane began and due to its convenient location right next to the Turkish border gained several weeks of intense international media attention — the battle continues but the media has mostly lost interest — the heroism of Kurdish women has been highlighted.
Zîlan Diyar, a Kurdish guerrilla fighter, wrote last month:
The whole world is talking about us, Kurdish women. It has become a common phenomenon to come across news about women fighters in magazines, papers, and news outlets. Televisions, news sites, and social media are filled with words of praise. They take photos of these women’s determined, hopeful, and radiant glances. To them, our rooted tradition is a reality that they only recently started to know. They are impressed with everything. The women’s laughter, naturalness, long braids, and the details of their young lives feel like hands extending to those struggling in the waters of despair. There are even some, who are so inspired by the clothes that the women are wearing, that they want to start a new fashion trend! They are amazed by these women, who fight against the men that want to paint the colors of the Middle East black, and wonder where they get their courage from, how they can laugh so sincerely. And I wonder about them. I am surprised at how they noticed us so late, at how they never knew about us. I wonder how they were so late to hear the voices of the many valiant women who expanded the borders of courage, belief, patience, hope, and beauty.
The fact that Solnit is not talking about Kurdish women, seems to imply that for her and perhaps many other activists in the West, the use of violence can never be defended.
If this interpretation is correct, this dedication to the principle of non-violence seems to me less a matter of principle than a luxury only available to those whose own lives are not under immediate threat.
I also have to wonder whether those who have chosen to ignore the Kurds, failed to notice that in Rojava — the Kurdish-controlled part of Syria — a political experiment has been underway for the last three years that deserves the interest and support of anyone who believes in the creation of an egalitarian and truly democratic society.
BBC News reports: Two Saudi women who were detained for defying a ban on female drivers are to be tried in a terrorism court, activists say.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, have been in detention for nearly a month.
The women’s cases had reportedly been transferred over comments they had made on social media – rather than for their driving, according to activists.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s only country to forbid women from driving. [Continue reading…]
AFP reports: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described efforts to promote birth control as “treason”, saying contraception risked causing a whole generation to “dry up”, reports said Monday.
Erdogan made the comments on Sunday, directly addressing the bride and groom at the Istanbul wedding ceremony of the son of businessman Mustafa Kefeli, who is one of his close allies.
He told the newly-weds that using birth control was a betrayal of Turkey’s ambition to make itself a flourishing nation with an expanding young population.
“One or two (children) is not enough. To make our nation stronger, we need a more dynamic and younger population. We need this to take Turkey above the level of modern civilisations,” Erdogan said.
“In this country, they (opponents) have been engaged in the treason of birth control for years and sought to dry up our generation,” Erdogan said. [Continue reading…]
Alev Scott writes: On Monday, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, made headlines by announcing at a summit on women and justice in Istanbul that women are not equal to men “because it goes against the laws of nature”.
Understandably this caused some outrage around the world but in Turkey it was outflanked by weary cynicism. We’ve heard it all before, you see, most recently in July when the deputy prime minister told Turkish women not to laugh in public. “Don’t rise to the bait, ladies,” said one (female) journalist on Twitter. Another Middle East observer called the story a “waste of news space”.
Here’s why it isn’t: Erdoğan is neither a lone madman in a padded cell, nor a Victorian uncle caught in a time warp. He’s the president of a country of 75 million people where only 28% of women are in legal employment, an estimated 40% of women suffer domestic violence at least once in their lives, and where millions of girls are forced into under-age marriage every year (incidentally, Erdoğan’s predecessor, Abdullah Gül, married his wife when she was 15). Exact figures on domestic abuse and rape are hard to come by because it is socially frowned upon to complain about husbands, and police often tell women and girls who have been threatened with murder by their partners to go home and “talk it over”. [Continue reading…]
Elif Shafak writes: After a talk I gave in London a woman in the audience approached me: middle-aged, tall, and wearing a designer dress. Although she agreed with me on various issues she could not understand why I was critical of military takeovers. “In the Middle East a coup d’état is the only way forward,” she said. “If it weren’t for [Egypt’s president] General Sisi, modern women like me, like yourself, would end up in a burka. He’s there to protect the likes of us.”
As I listened to her, I recalled scenes from my childhood in Turkey. I remembered my mother saying that we should be grateful to General Kenan Evren, who led the coup d’état in 1980, for protecting women’s rights. After the military seized power, a number of pro-women steps were taken, including the legalisation of abortion. Yet the coup would eventually bring about massive human rights violations and systematic torture in police headquarters and prisons, particularly against the Kurds, maiming Turkey’s civil society and democracy for decades to come.
Female adulation of male autocrats is widespread throughout the Middle East. I have met Syrian women who have tried to convince me that Bashar al-Assad is the best option for modern women. The Syrian regime seems aware of this rhetoric, recruiting hundreds of so-called Lionesses for National Defense , who are said to be fighting against Islamic fundamentalism and defending women’s freedom. [Continue reading…]
In my experience, when it comes to women, young men lie to each other in grotesque ways and those lies are foundational to what, at least in my youth, was men’s culture. My own learning curve on this was uncomfortable indeed and I’ve never forgotten it. In the early 1960s, I went to Yale, an elite all-male college. It was still a time when, if you were walking along a street with a friend and your hands happened to touch, you jumped as if electricity had shot through you and reflexively began to make jokes about “fags.”
My particular problem in those years when it came to male culture, women, and of course the topic of the moment, sex, was that I was experience-impaired and quite shy about that fact. Two alternatives were then available, or so it seemed to me: lie through my teeth and be one of the boys or keep quiet. I chose the latter option, not out of any essential purity of spirit but out of embarrassment, out of a feeling that I wasn’t really your basic man’s man. The result proved curiously educational, and deeply unsettling. I regularly sat through spiraling bouts of intra-male bravado in which guys pumped themselves up while denigrating each other (and above all women) by lying outrageously, and I did so in silence. The unexpected twist was this: that silence was sometimes mistaken for knowledge, for a deeper understanding.
Here’s one vivid memory of just how this worked. Yale’s residential colleges had courtyards and one day from our third-floor window I heard a roommate, returning from spring vacation, yelling from that courtyard that he was no longer a virgin, that he had “screwed” his girlfriend. He bragged ceaselessly about this for the next 24 hours, upping the ante on what he had done, and just how spectacular it all was, while others pitched in with their own tales of sexual bravado. I said nothing. Finally, clearly because I hadn’t joined in, he pulled me aside and told me the actual story of a desperately failed encounter, a nightmare for him and undoubtedly even more so for his girlfriend. It was hair-raising. Among other things, at that age I didn’t want to know how bad it could be (and keep in mind that, back then, information about sex was in distinctly short supply in the society at large).
All of this represented a truly poisonous system that was everyday life for boys. Until I grew up, until feminism came along, I wasn’t going to be privy to just what that culture felt like from the other side of the aisle, just how grimly those lies and the “truths” that went with them often played out in women’s lives, but at least I knew in a modest sort of way just how badly it all played out in my life. When I think of the online male trolls of the present moment, I imagine a modernized version of that grim male culture of self-inflicted lies running riot in a new world of social media which is open, at least, to the rest of us to see. It’s so much clearer now just how poisonous it is when young (and not so young) men lie ceaselessly to each other and everyone else at the expense of women. Such a system is also far more open to puncturing, and so to change, and it’s that reality which TomDispatch regular Rebecca Solnit, author of the bestselling book Men Explain Things to Me (just out in a new hardcover edition with two extra essays added), considers today — and thank heaven! Tom Engelhardt
Feminism: The men arrive!
By Rebecca Solnit
What do the prime minister of India, retired National Football League punter Chris Kluwe, and superstar comedian Aziz Ansari have in common? It’s not that they’ve all walked into a bar, though Ansari could probably figure out the punch line to that joke. They’ve all spoken up for feminism this year, part of an unprecedented wave of men actively engaging with what’s usually called “women’s issues,” though violence and discrimination against women are only women’s issues because they’re things done to women — mostly by men, so maybe they should always have been “men’s issues.”
The arrival of the guys signifies a sea change, part of an extraordinary year for feminism, in which the conversation has been transformed, as have some crucial laws, while new voices and constituencies joined in. There have always been men who agreed on the importance of those women’s issues, and some who spoke up, but never in such numbers or with such effect. And we need them. So consider this a watershed year for feminism.
NPR reports: Iranian officials attacked the latest United Nations report on its human rights record Friday, blasting what they called efforts to impose a Western lifestyle on the Islamic republic.
But for Iranians and others who hoped President Hassan Rouhani would begin to turn around his county’s human rights record, the U.N. report provided a depressing but not surprising answer. It said executions in Rouhani’s first year in office had increased to what U.N. Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed called “alarming” levels.
Coming days after a woman was executed for killing her alleged rapist, and after several acid attacks against women in the city of Isfahan, Shaheed’s report portrayed Iranians as suffering from an opaque justice system, regular oppression of women and religious persecution.
Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights, attacked Shaheed for including in his report people who had been charged as terrorists. He told state television that someone with “the high-flown title of U.N. rapporteur shouldn’t act as a Voice of America showman.”
“I think such words in this report devalue the entire report,” Larijani says. “I strongly advise him to resign from this post conclusively, because his background as a rapporteur is very poor.”
Shaheed and other rights advocates say Rouhani, who promised human rights reforms during his election campaign, is hampered by the country’s fractured political system. With hardliners well-placed in parliament, the judiciary, the security services and religious establishment, Rouhani and his supporters can only try for improvements on the margins.
Faraz Sanei of Human Rights Watch says one good example is the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, a well-known defense attorney who formerly worked with the exiled Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi.
Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sotoudeh was arrested on what Sanei calls trumped-up national security charges and given a six-year prison term. After Rouhani took office, she was released halfway through her term. Then came the backlash: Sotoudeh was barred from practicing law, then briefly arrested again at a demonstration on behalf of the acid attack victims from Isfahan. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: A British-Iranian woman detained in Iran for trying to watch a volleyball game has been sentenced to one year in a notorious prison, according to her family and lawyer.
Ghoncheh Ghavami, 25, a law graduate from London, was found guilty of spreading “propaganda against the regime” following a secret hearing at Tehran’s revolutionary court.
Ghavami has been detained for 127 days in prison since being arrested on 20 June at Azadi (“Freedom” in Farsi) stadium in Tehran where Iran’s national volleyball team was scheduled to play Italy. Although she had been released within a few hours after the initial arrest she was rearrested days later.
Speaking to the Guardian, Ghavami’s brother Iman, 28, said the family felt “shattered” by the court verdict.
“We are really disappointed because we felt she would get out on bail immediately. She’s been through a lot and now it’s a full-year sentence and she’s already served four months,” he said.
No reason was given for the conviction, although Ghavami had been accused of spreading propaganda against the regime, an unspecific charge often used by Iran’s judiciary. [Continue reading…]
Dilar Dirik writes: A young Kurdish woman called “Rehana” has garnered a great deal of media attention over the past few days, after reports emerged claiming that she had killed more than a hundred ISIL fighters – single-handedly. A picture of the smiling beauty, wearing combat gear and toting a rifle, is still making the rounds of social media. Even as Rehana’s circumstances remain uncorroborated, the overabundance of attention she has received raises several important questions. It adds to the plethora of reports out there glamorising the all-female Kurdish battalions taking on ISIL fighters, with little attention to the politics of these brave women.
Preoccupied with attempts to sensationalise the ways in which these women defy preconceived notions of eastern women as oppressed victims, these mainstream caricaturisations erroneously present Kurdish women fighters as a novel phenomenon. They cheapen a legitimate struggle by projecting their bizarre orientalist fantasies on it – and oversimplify the reasons motivating Kurdish women to join the fight. Nowadays, it seems to be appealing to portray women as sympathetic enemies of ISIL without raising questions about their ideologies and political aims.
At the same time, critics have accused the Kurdish leadership of exploiting these women for PR purposes – in an attempt to win over western public opinion. While there may be an element of truth to such charges in some cases, those same critics fail to appreciate the different political cultures that exist among the Kurdish people as a whole, scattered across Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. They also ignore the fact that Kurdish women have been engaging in armed resistance for decades without anyone’s notice. [Continue reading…]
Minna Salami writes: A report this week has exposed how progress towards gender equality is slowing down in the west. The Global Gender Gap Report showed that Europe has undergone the smallest change in terms of closing the gender gap. In terms of political empowerment, from Britain to Austria to Spain, in only nine years, women’s rankings have sunk sharply.
By contrast, the region with the largest positive change is Latin America where, just last weekend, Brazil re-elected a woman president, Dilma Rousseff. Also known as the world’s most powerful feminist, Rousseff will lead the world’s seventh-largest economy and fifth-largest nation for another four years. Voters in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean have also done a better job of electing women presidents and prime ministers. Today, only three of the 22 female heads of government are in the west (Germany, Denmark and Norway).
It’s commonly perceived that the western world is at the forefront of the campaign for women’s rights. State bodies such as the British Department for International Development, organisations such as the Cherie Blair Foundation and celebrities such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie all invest in women’s empowerment in the developing world, which is often seen as lagging well behind. But in truth, as the survey shows, when it comes to having women at the top levels of political leadership, industrialised western countries actually lag behind developing ones. Of 142 countries, Britain came just 63rd for the number of women in parliament and 75th for the number of women in ministerial jobs. The US was 83rd and 25th. [Continue reading…]