Archive for March 24th, 2008

Her series concludes as Judith Orr looks at the issues that women are fighting over today

Women in Britain have made great gains since the days of the Women’s Liberation Movement. We are now a permanent part of the workforce and have a degree of economic independence previously denied to us.

Access to legal and safe abortion, however limited, has saved thousands of women faced with an unwanted pregnancy from risking their lives in backstreet abortions.

Easier access to divorce and acceptance of relationships outside of marriage have enabled millions of women and men to make different choices about how they live together.

Yet we are still a long way from liberation.

The Equal Pay Act was passed over three decades ago but the average wage for women is still around 18 percent less than men.

A recent TUC report talked of a “motherhood penalty” and showed that women who have children are most affected by pay inequality.

Many are forced into part time work, where the pay gap is at its greatest, as they juggle work with inadequate and expensive childcare.

There are also many who want to roll back the gains we have made, and the right of women to control their bodies is still contested.

Around 83 percent of the population support abortion being legal but the anti-abortionists have not given up.

Their tactic is to target the small minority of women who need abortions, often in desperate circumstances, at the upper end of the 24-week time limit.

When it comes to the sexual commodification of women’s bodies it certainly feels like the clocks have turned back.

Lap dancing is now big business and strip clubs are sold as a great night out for both women and men.

Women who object are denounced as prudish or sexually repressed. But what is liberating about commercial sex sold for a profit?

We fought hard in the 1960s and 1970s for more openness in society about sex and sexuality. Now capitalism wants to repackage it and sell it back to us as a commodity.

The obsession with women’s appearance breaks new boundaries. We are supposed to ape skeletal celebrities and aspire to be the mythical size zero.

And if you can’t achieve the perfect body by going hungry you can always go under the knife. Cosmetic surgery is now mainstream with “breast enhancement” the most popular operation.

At the same time as women are encouraged to dress and behave like porn stars we are still seen as the custodians of morality.

Women’s sexual histories, clothing and behaviour are still brought up in court in rape cases to suggest that the victim is in some way responsible for an assault.

The result is that any women wearing what is in the window of Top Shop can be deemed to be asking for it. Today only 5 percent of reported rapes end in conviction.

These attacks are being challenged by a new generation of activists. There may no longer be a Women’s Liberation Movement, but there are many young women, trade unionists, and activists who want to fight for women’s liberation.

In colleges and workplaces across the country women are standing up against the tide of raunch culture and refusing to be defined by the sexist stereotypes peddled by the media.

The struggle for equal pay continues. This year the Abortion Rights campaign has already mobilised many women who have never had to fight on the issue before.

History has shown that the fate of women in society is tied to the fate of the working class. We have won the most gains when the working class has been on the offensive.

We have never been in a better position to challenge our oppression as part of a collective – women are now half the workforce.

But the fight must be for more than just equality under capitalism. Class remains the deepest divide in society, defining our health, education, housing, jobs and pay and even our life expectancy.

Winning equal pay with men would be progress, but not victory.

The top 1 percent of population own over 23 percent of the wealth, while the bottom 50 percent’s share is only 7 percent. Equal pay can still mean gross inequality between the minority and the majority.

For socialists the fight for women’s liberation is part of a struggle for the emancipation of the whole of humanity.

In the second column in her series on women’s liberation, Judith Orr looks at problems that hit the women’s movement

By the late 1970s the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) was in decline on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Britain there was a growing rift between those who saw the struggle for women’s rights as linked with that of the working class, and those who were more influenced by radical feminism, and in particular the theory of patriarchy.

In essence this theory declared that the root cause of women’s oppression was male power. Soon patriarchy became the dominant theoretical explanation of women’s oppression.

It was widely accepted that all men benefited from women’s oppression, and that therefore all men had an interest in maintaining it.

By the time of the WLM conference of 1978 the political divisions in the movement had become insurmountable. It was to be the last such conference to be held in Britain.

When the left started to be characterised as “inherently macho” it signalled just how far the rightward drift had gone.

Beyond the Fragments, an influential book by Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright, was published in 1979. It was an outright attack on the left that claimed Leninist politics was oppressive to women.

Radical feminists argued that socialist politics were not part of the solution, but part of the problem.

Even working class struggle and trade unions were increasingly dismissed in this manner.

This disintegration of the WLM led some women – usually the most privileged – to look to individual solutions.

These were women who could pursue careers in the City and big corporations while employing nannies and cleaners to carry the burden of housework.

The image of a businesswoman in shoulder pads and high heels became a 1980s cliché. But the success of the few women who broke through the “glass ceiling” did nothing to advance the position of the majority of women.

For others, the Greenham Common peace camp in the early 1980s provided a model. This was a women-only protest against US nuclear missiles in Britain.

Greenham Common came to embody the radical feminist view that men were biologically driven to be aggressors while women were naturally peacemakers. Yet Margaret Thatcher’s warmongering was proof that women are not naturally non-violent.

Many women found a new political home in what seemed an unlikely place – the Labour Party.

Labour was dominated by men and bureaucratic, but it provided an alternative to a layer of political activists – women and men – who were giving up on class struggle as a way forward.

Thatcher’s victory in the 1979 general election convinced many activists that the left had to take over the Labour Party and transform it from the inside.

Labour-controlled local authorities became key battlegrounds. Many of them established women’s committees, reflecting the new influence of feminism on the party.

The pinnacle of these was the Greater London Council’s women’s committee, which controlled a budget of £8 million. But this top-down approach was a far cry from the struggles of the 1960s.

The trajectory away from class politics was briefly stopped in its tracks by the great Miners’ Strike of 1984-85.

Despite the fact that the National Union of Mineworkers was a male-dominated union, the common interest of working men and women was clear for all to see.

Miners’ wives and other women in mining communities threw themselves into the struggle. Many went from making the tea and kitchen duties to mass picketing and travelling all over the country to win solidarity. A layer of feminists was inspired by their magnificent fight and got involved.

But this spark of renewed interest in working class struggle turned out to be short lived.

In the end many of those who had been at the forefront of the WLM ended up playing the system rather than trying to smash it.

These are the women who are the cabinet ministers, lawyers and managers of today.

They have benefited from the struggles of the 1960s and 1970s that put equal opportunities on the agenda. But their lives have little in common with those of the mass of ordinary women.

The battle to win real women’s liberation is still to be won. We face pay inequality, attacks on abortion rights, welfare cuts and a massive rise in sexism in popular culture.

In the first part of new series in Socialist Worker Judith Orr looks at the rise in the struggle for women’s liberation

It is hard to imagine just how different the world was for women before the 1960s.

When my mum got married she had to leave her job in a bank. It was assumed that her husband would keep her and she would look after the home.

This was not unusual – in many jobs, including the entire civil service, married women were not employed. It was difficult for a woman to get a mortgage or even buy something on hire purchase without a man’s guarantee.

These were the days before the pill. Sex before marriage was seen as shameful and if a single woman got pregnant it was devastating. Abortion was illegal and many women risked their lives going to the backstreet, or were forced to give their baby up for adoption.

The radical political movements of the 1960s blew apart this repressive and stifled world.

The gains women made then – legal abortion, easier divorce, freedom to express our sexuality and the principle of equal pay – changed the lives of millions.

The Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) was born in the US among students radicalised by the mass black civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War.

In Britain the WLM developed from the struggles of women workers for equal pay.

The two movements had different characteristics but both were rooted in the effect of the long post war economic boom.

This had pulled increasing numbers of women into the workforce and into further education.

For example between 1960 and 1965 there was a 57 percent increase in women being awarded degrees in the US (the same figure for men rose by 25 percent). Suddenly a whole generation of women had new expectations.

The universities of the US became centres of struggle and debate. By 1967 thousands of women had been on marches and protests. They had fought for black civil rights, opposed the war in Vietnam and challenged the state.

Yet they faced sexism in their own political organisations and felt sidelined and trivialised by the mainly male leadership.

It seems shocking that such brilliant radical movements did not take women’s rights seriously. But when the movements exploded in the 1960s they did so in a vacuum.

The socialist tradition had been decimated by the witch-hunts of McCarthyism. There was no Labour type party or revolutionary left to speak of. The shadow cast by the experience of Stalinism made many feel that socialism had nothing to do with liberation.

Women activists began to organise their own workshops, write papers and talk about their oppression.

The movement in the US was dominated by the idea that women had to organise separately. Meetings often involved women talking about their personal lives­ – a process described as “consciousness raising”.

Groups, dominated by college educated middle class women, spread to cities all over the US.

But although it was never a truly mass movement in terms of numbers and activity it did articulate the dashed hopes and frustration of millions of women.

In Britain the experience of the women’s movement was shaped by the greater influence of the left and class politics here. The presence of a Labour Party, the higher density of trade union membership, and an organised revolutionary left made a difference.

It meant that there was an understanding of the socialist tradition of fighting for women’s rights.

These influences ensured the demands of the British WLM reflected the needs of working class women – free abortion and contraception, equal educational and job opportunities, free 24 hour nurseries and equal pay. Strikes of women workers like the London office cleaners were seen as very much part of the movement.

But there were problems. Ideas about women needing to organise separately divided the movement. In fact bitter experience showed there was nothing inevitably “sisterly” or democratic about women-only organisations.

By the mid 1970s the high point of the WLM on both sides of the Atlantic had passed. Groups fragmented over questions of sexuality, race and issues such as national liberation and imperialism.

Yet the world had changed. For the first time women could control their fertility. Millions of women were gaining a level of economic independence that gave them new choices.

The struggle for women’s liberation and equality had made massive strides but the movement disintegrated.

An ABC 20/20 special takes a rare and intimate look at the oldest profession in the world, Diane Sawyer goes inside both the legal and the underground businesses of prostitution in America. From expensive New York penthouses to Nevada’s legal brothels to the tough streets outside Philadelphia and Reno, Sawyer speaks candidly with America’s “working girls.”

Who are these women, what drives them to sell sex for money and what is it like to work as a prostitute? Sawyer also speaks with experts, including New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, to examine the state of prostitution today.

The world of high-end, high-priced prostitution has been in the news lately because of former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s scandal involving an alleged high-priced escort service, but this kind of service under represents what prostitution in America really is. Behind the “Pretty Woman” image is a world of vulnerability, danger and fear.

For more than two years, “20/20” cameras documented the daily risks of streetwalkers and expensive call girls. The report captures the realities of who these women are and how the law deals with them compared to their male clientele.

The program follows women — whether a single mom, a college student, a housewife, a school teacher or a drug addict — who have ended up in places they never planned to be. Some are lured by the dream of a flashy lifestyle and fast money, others to feed their drug habit and just to survive, but almost all struggle with the challenge of how hard it is to get out of the profession.

Whether the women are making $20 in five minutes or $20,000 in one night, the program follows the grim spiral of dependence these women often fall into.

One working girl named Jessie says, “We believe money buys happiness. And it doesn’t. But it does for a while.” Another says she makes as much in one day at a legalized brothel than she would make as a nurse working for two weeks. What would it take for them to change their lives?

Programme promo at

Video at of Working Girls in America

Video at of Prostitution in America: Working Girls Speak

As “torture porn” movies deepen their imaginative excursions into terror and violence against women, some of their creators are not only defending themselves from attacks by women’s activists, they’re calling their work feminist.

When the movie “Hostel” raked in $19 million on its debut weekend and gripped the No. 1 spot for a week in 2005, some critics heralded the comeback of horror, which had been in a box office slump for a decade.

But to others, the film’s shocking violence and grisly torture scenes marked the beginning of a descent into a subgenre that New York magazine film critic David Edelstein dubbed “torture porn.”

Women have long borne the brunt of on-screen terrorizing says Jill Soloway, a consulting producer of ABC’s TV show “Dirty Sexy Money.” But she says the difference is the element of torture in movies that followed “Hostel,” such as “Captivity,” which prompted a storm of criticism for its graphic ads.

“There’s all this blood spurting and it’s like waiting for the money shot in a porn movie,” says Soloway.

Eli Roth, who directed “Hostel” and its sequel, “Hostel Part II,” and other directors say the term torture porn misrepresents their work, which depicts exaggerated violence as a way of expressing horror with real violence and war.

“Torture porn is an absurd term,” Roth said in a phone interview. “People are forgetting that it’s not real violence.”

In Roth’s first “Hostel” film, three U.S. frat boys visiting European red-light districts are lured to Slovakia, where they’ve been promised a village full of beautiful, sex-starved natives and are subjected to decapitation, chest-drilling and cannibalism.

The film’s female characters receive similar treatment, but often while they are naked or dressed in lingerie. The leading woman in the sequel, “Hostel Part II,” is nearly raped but ultimately outsmarts her attacker by pretending he arouses her, catching him off guard and castrating him. “The film is about control in sexual power,” Roth said.

Lindsey Horvath, who works in film advertising and is president of the National Organization for Women’s Hollywood chapter, doesn’t see it that way. “We think the term is devastatingly accurate,” she said about calling the films torture porn. Both she and Soloway emphasize that they do not want to censor the films but have organized against graphic, torture-porn advertisements, since they are in public view, where onlookers don’t make an active choice about seeing the images.

Last March, Soloway, Horvath and others campaigned to remove billboard ads for “Captivity” that depicted actress Elisha Cuthbert being gagged by a black-gloved hand, tubes shoved up her nose and left for dead with one breast about to fall out of her shirt. The words on the ad were: “Abduction,” “Confinement,” “Torture” and “Termination.”

The Los Angeles-based Motion Picture Association of America rejected the ads on the grounds they were too indecent for public display. The ads ran anyway–appearing on some 30 billboards across Los Angeles–although they were eventually pulled a week later by the After Dark production company. The company claimed the wrong files had been mistakenly sent to the printer.

Upset that the ads ran, activists then pressured the association to remove the R rating given to “Captivity,” and make it unrated, to restrict its appearance in theaters and video stores. The Motion Picture Association suspended the “Captivity” rating, delaying its release from May until July, when it eventually grossed $2.6 million at the domestic box office.

“Captivity” director Courtney Solomon took his depictions of sadism one step further by hosting a premiere party for the film with a sado-masochistic theme. He hired the SuicideGirls–punk rock West Coast strippers–to spank guests and chain each other up in provocative positions. Adding to the ambience was a shirtless man suspended from a rack by piercings in his flesh.

Solomon has also called his film “feminist” because the female victim overthrows her assailant in the end.

“Hostel” director Roth also claims the “feminist” label, and says his movies have been unfairly associated with “Captivity.” He says he found the film’s ads offensive and thought, “I’m going to be blamed for this and I don’t even want to see that movie.”

Roth says women’s rights activists are wrong to see him as the enemy. Graphic violence was necessary to show that torture is scary, not titillating, he said, and the scenes are meant to parallel images from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison as well as criticize violence against women.

But Horvath, of NOW’s Hollywood chapter, said, “I just think if you’re looking to end that kind of behavior against women, you don’t continue to create it.”

Filmmakers like Roth take pains to distinguish their fictional work from illegal “snuff and rape” films, where actual crimes are carried out on camera.

“A snuff or rape film is worlds away from a fictional horror movie,” wrote First Amendment attorney and screenwriter Julie Hildman in an e-mail interview. Hildman has written that “torture porn” is an unfair label. “One has victims of terrible crimes; the other has actors who walk away unhurt.”

Although they were made before “Hostel,” two other films–“Saw,” which grossed $18 million at its opening weekend, and “House of 1,000 Corpses,” which grossed $12.6 million–have also been labeled torture porn by critics. But the subgenre’s box office draw has dropped with the many knockoffs and sequels that followed.

Some critics have refused to review torture porn films because of the ways women are depicted as drug-addicted prostitutes (“Saw”), strippers (“The Devil’s Rejects”) or sex addicts (“Black Snake Moan”).

Critics like Soloway see a connection between the dearth of women in Hollywood and torture porn.

In 2007, only 7 percent of the Screen Directors Guild’s members were female; no woman has ever won an Academy Award for best director; and the horror, fantasy and action genres have the smallest fraction of female directors.

“Men are making films and calling them feminist when they don’t understand the feminine experience,” Soloway said. “It’s their salute to how they see female power.”

A few months ago, Horvath said she began receiving calls from publicists pitching the new film, “P2,” to NOW as a critical look at violence against women, and she attended the premiere.

“Essentially I watched an hour and 45 minutes of a woman being stalked, drugged, nearly raped and terrorized,” she said. In the end, the character escapes and kills her attacker. “It’s like as long as the woman kills the guy at the end, then of course it’s a female empowerment movie.”

Roth said that for his upcoming thriller “Cell” he has been consciously writing strong roles for his female characters. And, expressing an ongoing interest in his brand of “feminist” horror, he said that he experiences fear from seeing “Keira Knightley’s skeletal figure on the cover of Vanity Fair. Perhaps that’ll be the subject of my next film.”

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Young Australian women are as unlikely to have an abortion today as their grandmothers were half a century ago, according to new national data that shows a dramatic decline in the procedure.

Researchers behind the major findings credit increasing condom use and the nation’s newfound enthusiasm for having children for the remarkable new trend.

Findings from a study of women’s reproductive history has found that less than five per cent of women born in the 1980s have had an abortion – a significant drop from the 14 per cent seen in women 10 years older.

“We’ve plotted a sudden decline in the abortion rate that is so low it harps right back to the time when abortion was illegal and rarely practised,” said Dr Julia Shelley, of Deakin University in Melbourne.

“That means that a young Australian woman these days is about as unlikely to have an abortion now as her grandmother was back in her day.”

Dr Shelley presented new data from the landmark Australian Longitudinal Study of Health and Relationships at the International Congress on Women’s Mental Health in Melbourne today.

The study involves about 4,500 women of all ages whose reproductive history was mapped over their lifetime. Women born before 1945 had the lowest rate, below five per cent, but this increased rapidly with the legalisation of abortion, the sexual revolution and the pill.

“It continued to rise for each subsequent group of women who were born later but what we’ve seen is a dramatic downturn for the latest group of women enlisted, born between 1976 and 1990,” she said.

Dr Shelley said while these women were still young, they were past the 20 to 25 peak when women were most likely to abort.

She said the findings were surprising, extremely significant and likely linked closely to changing attitudes to safe sex.

“Widespread sexual education trailed the sexual revolution by some decades and I think the effect of that only more recently cut in and change practices,” she said.

“But probably more significantly, the occurrence of HIV and AIDS has vastly increased condom use which has the side effect of stopping unwanted pregnancies.”

It was also possible that the drop could be linked to the recent rise in the birth rate, seen mostly among older women, the research says.

“If women generally are now more willing to have babies if they fall pregnant then it may partially explain the fall in abortion among younger women.”

She said the findings were in stark contrast to the picture of booming abortion rates painted by state and federal politicians over the past decade.,23599,23403616-421,00.html

The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! (SKSW!) welcomes the news of the release of Mokarrameh Ebrahimi and her son Ali from Choobin Prison, in Takistan, Qazvin, in Iran, where she had been awaiting execution by stoning for adultery for the past ten years.

On 17 March 2008 Mokarrameh Ebrahimi and her 4-year-old son were released from prison by the Iranian authorities in Tehran. Mokarrameh was sentenced to be stoned to death ten years ago, along with her partner, Jafar Kiani, who met his death on 5 July 2007. While in prison, she gave birth to their son Ali who remained in custody with his mother. Mokarrameh’s release was the result of a long and difficult struggle by the Stop Stoning Forever (SSF) campaign in Iran, the commitment of her lawyer, Shadi Sadr, and the increasing pressure put upon the Iranian government by the international community. Another factor in Mokarrameh’s amnesty verdict may have been the fatwas (religious opinions) issued by three significant ayatollahs (clerics) in recent months. These fatwas all stated that stoning Mokarrameh to death would be against the shari’a.

For the time being, Mokarrameh has been discouraged from speaking to the media, but she and her son Ali are safe with her elder son and are staying with family, hoping to build a new, independent life for herself and her two sons. Her case, along with others who face the same fate having been sentenced to death by stoning, has inspired the formation of this global campaign last November, hosted by the Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) international solidarity network. The SKSW! campaign has been working closely with the Stop Stoning Forever campaign in Iran who were responsible in bringing the case of Mokarrameh and others in Iran to world attention from 2006.

Stoning, or lapidation, refers to a method of execution in which an organized group throws stones or rocks at the person they wish to execute. Although it takes many different forms, stoning has been used throughout history and in many religious and cultural traditions as a type of community justice or capital punishment. In Iran, as in the Sudan, stoning is codified into law for adultery. Although the Head of the Judiciary of Iran, Ayatollah Shahroudi, decreed in 2002 that stoning would no longer be practiced in Iran, the laws were never officially removed from the penal code and stoning sentences continue to be handed down by lower judges today. Although there are no official statistics, there are at least 8 women and 1 man who remain in prison in Iran, currently facing execution by stoning.

The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! reaffirms its call for support from governments, groups and individuals concerned about the continuing practice of sentencing to death by stoning to press the Iranian government to revise its existing criminal law code by omitting the stoning sentence and to decriminalize consensual 2 sexual behavior. National-level legal reforms are imminent. It is crucial to keep the pressure on the authorities of Iran to enact these changes.

Stoning to death is a particular, but not exclusive focus of the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! We seek to end the relentless misuse of religion and culture to justify killing women as punishment for violating the imposed ‘norms’ of sexual behaviour around the world. The killing of women – under any pretext – is unacceptable and is a grave and serious violation of international human rights law.

For more information about Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! and the Stop Stoning Forever Campaign, please visit the following sites: / (Farsi) (English)
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If the board has its way, a Muslim woman would be entitled to seek divorce if her husband was found having illicit relationship with another woman.

The board has also rejected any divorce done through SMS, e-mail, phone as video conferencing, besides rejecting divorce done on provocation.

A Muslim woman can seek divorce if she is forced by her husband to indulge in unnatural sex. She can also seek divorce if her husband contracts AIDS.

“We have framed the new nikahnama strictly in accordance with the tenets of Islam, which clearly prohibit any kind of harassment or oppression of a married woman by her husband,” said AIMWPLB president Shaista Amber.

Shaista Amber added that at the shariat also entitles a woman to take separation even when the husband refuses to grant a divorce.

“Besides extra-marital relationship, these include absence of physical relationship between the husband and wife for more than a year, abandonment of the wife for more than four years, failure of the husband to look after the wife and family or any kind of ill-treatment or torture,” said the model nikahnama.

The new nikahnama has 17-point guidelines for marriage under the Shariat for bride and groom, while eight points on the divorce process.

In the wake of Turkey’s lifting of the head scarf ban women’s groups have been grappling with the damage to tentative secular-Islamist partnerships.

Standing outside of Istanbul’s Bilgi University, first-year student Efna Yilmazer was wearing a bright orange, floral pattern headscarf and a big smile on her face.

The Turkish parliament had recently passed a set of constitutional reforms lifting a decades-old ban on wearing headscarves in universities, and this was the first week that Yilmazer could openly wear hers to school.

“I feel happy,” said Yilmazer, dressed in a long denim skirt and a red cardigan. “I have my freedom now. Before I didn’t feel free.”

Previously the 20-year-old student would take off her headscarf before entering school, for fear the guards at the gate wouldn’t let her in.

Standing next to Yilmazer was a friend, Dilek Kocal, whose long, dark hair is uncovered. “I feel happy, too,” said Kocal, also 20. “This is a sign of her religion. I believe she should be able to wear it.”

It’s a rare scene of harmony, though.

Since parliament’s action in early February, Turkey appears to have become even further divided over the polarizing headscarf issue, with anti-headscarf protests taking place at some campuses and a large number of university rectors saying they will continue to enforce the ban, despite the constitutional changes. Turkey’s highest court is now considering a motion to have the changes repealed.

The issue has become especially contentious among Turkish women’s organizations. Some of the most vocal protests against the lifting of the headscarf ban have been led by women’s groups affiliated with Turkey’s secularist establishment. They are opposed by the country’s handful of Islamic women’s organizations. Stuck in the middle are Turkey’s unaffiliated women’s rights groups. So far, they have been only able to hold their own counsel.

“There is a lot of talk internally, but we have been silent on this issue,” said Pinar Ilkkaracan, founding president of the Istanbul-based Women for Women’s Human Rights, one of Turkey’s leading women’s advocacy groups. “We have not been able to come up with a clear position on the headscarf issue because we have not been able to come up with a common position with women activists in the Islamic movement.”

Over the last few years, organizations in Turkey’s women’s rights and Islamic movements have started developing closer relations. They worked together, for example, on pushing for expanded women’s rights in a new penal code passed by the Turkish parliament in 2004, which among other things imposes tougher sentences for the murder of women by their family members in “honor killings.”

But the polarizing effect of the head-scarf issue has been seen as a setback by female activists.

“Because everything went totally haywire, naturally the dialogue has been damaged,” said Zeynep Goknil Piyade, president of the Baskent Kadin Platformu Dernegi (Capital City Women’s Platform), an Islamic women’s rights group based in Ankara.

Added Neslihan Akbulut, general secretary of AKDER (Women’s Rights Organization against Discrimination), another Islamic women’s organization: “The feminist movement in Turkey has not said a word on the headscarf issue. I think that’s a poor point for them. Can you imagine a feminist movement not saying anything about this?”

Leaders in Turkey’s women’s rights movement said they struggled to come up with a position, but in the end decided that issue was outside of their organizations’ mandate.

“Most of us don’t call it a women’s rights issue, but a question of individual rights and religious rights,” said Selen Lermioglu Yilmaz, general coordinator of KA-DER, a nongovernmental organization that promotes women’s political participation.

More important, women’s rights leaders said, are their reservations about the government, run by the liberal Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP). While party leaders promoted lifting the headscarf ban as a matter of women’s rights, activists say other recent moves betray a less enlightened approach.

For example, a version of a new constitution drafted by the AKP–shelved for now–stripped away an article guaranteeing equality between men and women, substituting it with an article about women being a group in need of “special protection,” along with children, the elderly and the disabled. On Friday a top prosecutor filed a motion to close down the AKP for trying to undermine secularism. Among the evidence is the lifting of the headscarf ban.

The 2007 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report ranks Turkey 121st out of 128 countries, dropping three places from its previous level.

Government statistics paint a bleak picture of women’s political participation, with women accounting for only 18 of Turkey’s 3,225 mayors and only one of the AKP government’s 25-member cabinet.

“We told (the Islamic women’s groups), ‘Show us a way to support you on the headscarf issue. We don’t trust this patriarchal government,'” said KA-DER’s Lermioglu Yilmaz. “The major problem here is that women are not participating in the society, in the decision-making, and there are no positive measures being taken to change that. Lifting the headscarf ban is not in itself a way to change that.”

It’s a sentiment that many in the Islamic women’s movement would agree with. “We did not want this change in the legislation to be grounded only on the headscarf. We were for a total package (of constitutional reforms),” said Piyade, of the Capital City Women’s Platform.

Her organization met with AKP leaders before the headscarf reform to offer their suggestions about making the constitution–drafted in 1980 by the military–more responsive to individual human rights. “In the end, the whole dialogue thing went into the bin and they came up with a totally different package, which is something that we are criticizing right now within the circles of the party.”

A ban on wearing headscarves in universities started being strictly enforced in the late 1990s, as a kind of retort to the success of the Islamist Welfare Party at the ballot box, which raised concerns about the rise of political Islam in Turkey.

But observers say the fight over the headscarf also reflects deeper societal changes in Turkey, where an emerging Muslim middle class is looking to expand the opportunities available to it, be it in politics, commerce or education.

“It’s part of a larger power struggle between an old secular elite and a new Islamic elite,” said Jenny B. White, a Boston University anthropologist who studies Turkish political culture. “It’s a battle over who gets to determine how Turkish culture is represented to the world and what the face of Turkish culture in the cities will be.”

By Yigal Schleifer WeNews correspondent – a freelance writer based in Istanbul, Turkey, where he works as a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and the Jerusalem Report.

This article is the third in a series is supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Carnegie Corporation of New York (see below).

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Muslim Women: Pushes and Pulls From All Directions

Women’s eNews launched an eight-part series exploring how Muslim women manage customs, religious practices and women’s rights. This series is supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Police are ready to tackle traffickers “head-on” to stamp out the menace, it was declared yesterday.

Exploiting cheap labour is punishable under a new law passed in Bahrain in January this year, said London-based International Organisation of Migration (IOM) training curriculum designer Peter Bryant.

“People from the world’s poorer countries, hired to work as labour in Bahrain and the other parts of the Gulf are often lured by promises of a lucrative pay and good working conditions, but when they arrive, they find that is not quite the case.”

Bahrain is adequately prepared and determined to stamp out the menace, Inspector General in the Interior Minister’s office Brigadier Ebrahim Al Ghaith told the GDN.

“We are working closely with other agencies, particularly the ministries of Labour, Social Development and immigration authorities, and have even formed a separate directorate under the CID to work on it,” he said.

“There is a very serious effort to develop human rights in Bahrain and our fight against traffickers is part of that initiative.

“In addition to addressing problems involving labourers, we are also concentrating on trafficking in women for sex and to work as housemaids as well as children as carriers of drugs and narcotics.”

“The battle is hard and there are several obstacles, but we shall overcome them. We are prepared for the worst.”

Brig Al Ghaith was speaking on the sidelines of a workshop to provide specialist training to law enforcement officers on how to handle trafficking victims and traffickers, at the Intercontinental Regency Hotel.

The four-day event, opened by Interior Ministry Under-Secretary Major General Farook Salman Al Mo’awda, is being attended by Interior Ministry officers and officials from the Labour, Education, Social Affairs and Foreign Affairs ministries.

Bahrain resident co-ordinator for the UN, Sayed Aqa was also present.

Mr Bryant, who is conducting the workshop, said many of the employers hire people on promises of high wages and pay them a pittance for long hours of work and put them up in unhygienic conditions, according to reports received by the IOM.

“This will strictly translate to trafficking, although there may be differences in interpretation,” he said.

The new law, ratified by His Majesty King Hamad on January 9, is designed to stop the illegal movement of people across international borders for sex trade and other forms of forced and indentured labour.

According to the law, taking advantage includes using people for prostitution or any form of sexual exploitation or assault, forced labour, slavery and practices similar to them and removal of organs.

The recruitment, transport, relocation, shelter or reception of those under the age of 18 or those who are not in a state in which their consent or will is acknowledged are all considered forms of human trafficking.

Legal entities convicted of human trafficking are fined from BD10,000 to BD100,000 under the law and those working for such an entity will also be penalised.

Mr Bryant said whenever people are exploited, it is trafficking and cheap labour are of the most striking examples.

“The problem is here in Bahrain, which is also on a US government watch list of one of the countries not doing enough to get rid of the menace. But to what extent it is prevalent is difficult to say,” he said.

The same could be said for women who are allegedly engaged in the sex trade in Bahrain, added Mr Bryant.

“Most of these women are victims and they have to be identified and dealt with,” he said.

Mr Bryant said that this was a very serious problem in this part of the world, but the situation is now improving with the governments becoming more and more pro-active, rather than reactive.

“But in spite of a lot of government controls, traffickers find ways out,” he said.

Mr Bryant said the development in Bahrain and the resultant demand for manpower are the factors that encourage and promote trafficking, whether it is for cheap labour or cheap women, or both.

He said citizens of China, countries of the Far East and parts of Africa as well as the Indian Sub-continent, particularly Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are the most affected.

“Fortunately, the governments of these countries are now getting involved with these issues and are coming down on such activity,” said Mr Bryant.

Established in 1951, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organisation in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners.

With 122 member states, a further 18 states holding observer status and offices in more than 100 countries, including Bahrain, IOM is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all.

It does so by providing services and advice to governments and migrants.

Ministerial Consultation on Overseas Employment and Contractual Labour for Countries of Origin and Destination in Asia “Abu Dhabi Dialogue” (21-22 January 2008)