Archive for March, 2009

The bad news is that so many people are losing their jobs. The good news, says Mimi Abramovitz, are three new rules about jobless benefits in the Obama stimulus package that are bound to help women and correct a major gender bias.

After years of facing discrimination by the nation’s unemployment insurance program, women stand to disproportionately benefit from three new rules in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17. Popularly known as the stimulus package, the law provides the states with substantial financial incentives to “modernize” their unemployment insurance systems by closing major gaps that have denied benefits to more than 500,000 people, including many women.

Here’s how women gain; in addition to a temporary hike in the amount of the jobless benefit for all workers and a new dependent’s allowance:

    Benefits will now be provided to workers who must leave their jobs for compelling family reasons, such as caring for ill or disabled family members, relocating with a spouse whose job has moved to another area, or escaping domestic violence in which the abuser follows the woman to her workplace;

    The earning test now looks at the worker’s most recent employment, instead of excluding the last three to six months, making it much easier for low-wage workers and new entrants to the work force (read: large numbers of women) to qualify for benefits.

    Benefits are now available to workers seeking part-time work which also includes many women.

These three reforms–among others that are not of special value just to women–are long overdue given that the old rules were written for a work force that lawmakers imagined had very few women.

Today women make up about half of all paid workers and two-thirds of the part-time work force. Wives bring in more than one-third (35 percent) of their families’ total income–40 percent in African American households–and many women support families on their own.

The National Employment Law Project has reported that under the old, outmoded rules, unemployed men were more likely to receive benefits than unemployed women in 41 states.

This male-female gap dates to the start of the unemployment insurance program, which Congress included in the 1935 Social Security Act, to assist workers who lost jobs during the Great Depression.

At the time, the mostly white male lawmakers assumed that wage-earners looked like them. The truth is that even in the 1930s many women worked to help make ends meet, especially those raising children on their own and women of color. Nonetheless, the joint federal-state unemployment insurance program excluded farm workers and domestic workers, the two main occupations open to women and men of color at the time. Unemployment insurance gradually included domestic and farm workers.

It took a second major economic meltdown, however, to correct the gender bias.

Before the Obama administration liberalized the jobless qualifications, workers had to show a strong “attachment to the labor force” that was measured by wages earned and hours worked. They had to earn sufficient wages over an 18-month period that excluded their most recent earnings and could not be seeking a part-time job.

Women lost out because these rules reflected and supported male work patterns that by definition penalized women. The hidden assumption–that low earnings and fewer hours of work reflected a weak commitment to work–disadvantaged women who receive less pay and work fewer hours because they still bear the brunt of family responsibilities.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, most states considered women who left work to relocate with a spouse moving to a new job, to care for a disabled child, to refuse a shift change that made it impossible for them to find child care, or who left work because of domestic violence or stalking to have “voluntarily” quit and therefore were ineligible for benefits. But how “voluntary” is it when family obligations and fear of violence leave women no other choice?

In Texas women are three times as likely as men to become unemployed because of family responsibilities. About one-fifth of unemployed women nationally have left their last job for these kinds of reasons compared to only 6 percent of unemployed men. Yet women who fall though the cracks are least prepared to handle job loss. With limited savings to cover housing, health care and other basic necessities they are highly vulnerable to irreversible hardship and the vagaries of limited government programs that serve the nation’s destitute.

By the mid-1970s some states, faced with pressure from the women’s movement on these issues, slowly began to weaken or eliminate some of these sexist rules, but with only partial success.

Only 16 states allow workers to leave for good cause and qualify for unemployment insurance due to family responsibilities.

Only 28 states and the District of Columbia provide benefits to workers who must leave a job due to domestic violence.

And 33 states still deny unemployment benefits to spouses forced to leave their jobs as a result of a family move.

The unemployment insurance modernization features of the stimulus package delivered a sea change aided by 44,000 letters of support sent to Congress by MomsRising, an online group of mothers organized to fight for family-friendly policies.

Many of the modernization changes are hugely significant for women. To claim its full share of the $7 billion in federal recovery funds a state has to show the secretary of labor that it has already altered its unemployment insurance program along the right lines or agree to adopt new rules that will grant jobless benefits to hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers currently not covered by the system.

Some 31 states now have to change their unemployment insurance laws to take advantage of the millions of dollars in new jobless benefits. While some updated their laws prior to the stimulus bill, on March 12, Iowa became the first state to pass legislation allowing it to join the program. A dozen other states have expressed interest in adopting the new rules. States that choose not to comply with the new rules risk forfeiting some or all of their unemployment insurance modernization incentive grant, although by law recalcitrant governors may be overridden by the state’s legislature, as might happen in Louisiana.

By recognizing the needs of a changing labor force, the newly minted unemployment insurance rules will help women to escape lasting financial hardships caused by job loss. However because states only have to adopt two of four modernization rules to qualify for the full incentive payment, women need to be vigilant to ensure that their states select the new rules now free of gender bias.

It is fortunate for women that addressing gender bias in the jobless benefit program became one of the most effective ways to help jumpstart the economy. The National Employment Law Project calculated that each dollar of unemployment insurance benefits spent by workers and their families yields $2.15 in economic growth and preserves over 130,000 jobs.

Obama’s “New New Deal” for the unemployed is a great deal for everyone.

Mimi Abramovitz, the Bertha Capen Reynolds professor at Hunter College School of Social Work, is author of “Regulating the Lives of Women: Social Welfare Policy From Colonial Times to the Present;” the award-winning “Under Attack, Fighting Back: Women and Welfare in the U.S.;” and co-author of “Taxes are a Women’s Issue: Reframing the Debate.” She is currently writing “Gender Obligations: The History of Low-Income Women’s Activism since 1900.”

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

Related: Senate Bill Could Help Women Keep Homes

See also:

* Out of Work and Benefits – Women in the US Look for Relief
* Single Moms’ Poverty Spikes After Welfare Overhaul in USA

Nergui Manalsuren interviews Rosa Lizarde of GCAP’s Feminist Taskforce

Activists are calling for an economic bailout plan for women and demanding that their voices be heard at the decision-making table ahead of the G20 summit of the world’s biggest economies in London on Apr. 2.

Rosa G. Lizarde, a member of GCAP, the Global Call to Action against Poverty, told IPS during the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women this week that the taskforce is calling for women to be central to crafting solutions to the financial crisis – particularly since 70 percent of the world’s poor are female and the primary food providers for their families and communities.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

IPS: On International Women’s Day, Mar. 8, you launched the global Internet campaign, “20 Days to G20”, highlighting the connections between the feminisation of poverty and the global financial and economic crisis. What are the impacts of the current crisis on women?

RL: Well, there are many impacts of the crisis on women, primarily exacerbation of the food and energy crises. There is a very large percentage of women in the agricultural sector providing food for families, [so rising prices] creates more hardship for women and families, and has an impact on communities. In turn, those stresses create increased tension, which in turn increases violence against women.

Women also tend to be last to be hired and first to be fired during times of economic hardship. Particularly around the cuts that the private sector makes, there are reductions which impact women receiving services such as health care, education, and other social services. So the burden of the financial and the economic crisis falls on women.

IPS: How does this campaign hope to change the outcome of the G20 meeting?

RL: One of the reasons why we launched this “20 Days to G20” was to make those links between the feminisation of poverty and the financial, food, energy, and the climate change crisis. And to have women included in the dialogue and the decision-making of the economic and financial summits – not just the G20 meeting, but also at the upcoming conference on the economic and financial impacts on development. We want to ensure that particular attention is paid to the specific needs of women and girls due to the disproportionate hardships that they bear.

IPS: How much funding should be made available for gender equality and women’s empowerment, particularly for the eradication of poverty?

RL: Well, as Sylvia Borren, co-chair of GCAP, has said, the funds that go to the economic bailouts don’t trickle down to women, but impacts of the financial crisis do trickle down to women. One of the issues is to look at how, during this time of crisis and negotiations within and amongst governments, to be able to bail out some of the hardships that women are facing.

Some people have mentioned that 0.7 percent of all bailout funds should go to the developing countries, and that a portion of that certainly should go to assist the conditions of women during this time. So there’s no exact estimate that we’re calling for, but we’re saying that we want to be included in any decision around funding.

IPS: What are some key policies that could provide immediate and long-term relief for women who are affected by the current financial crisis?

RL: Some of the key policy points we have outlined in the platform policy paper directed to the upcoming G20 meeting around the issues of justice, accountability, jobs, and the climate change. We’re calling for the eradication of poverty and inequality, within that we want to ensure that needs of women and girls are addressed because it is estimated that 70 percent of the poor are women.

In terms of accountability, we want to ensure democratic governance of the global economy, and we call for the support of the U.N. to serve as the heart of the solutions for the financial and economic crisis.

Within the area of jobs, we call for decent jobs and public services for all with particular attention to be paid to identifying and responding to the specific needs of women and disenfranchised communities.

Around climate, we want governments to commit to investing in women as one of the most effective ways to advance sustainable development and to help to combat the climate change devastation.

IPS: Are there enough women in the dialogue and decision-making processes of the economic and financial summits?

RL: I think if we look at the members of the G20 and the heads of those governments, the members of the Stiglitz Commission that are meeting today [Mar. 10] as a matter of fact and have been meeting these past couple of days to provide alternative solutions to the financial crisis, we see that women are not represented as they are in the general population, which is 50 percent.

So I think that until we achieve that 50 percent representation, we can’t say that women are represented equally. Currently, at the table of the G20, the U.N., and other commissions, we know that women are not equally represented at the negotiating [and] decision-making table – that’s the fact.

For other stories from IPS Gender Wire (24/03/09) see

IPS wants to redress a huge imbalance that exists today: only 22% of the voices you hear and read in the news are women’s. Elections, health, education, armed conflicts, corruption, laws, trade, climate change, the global financial and food crises, and natural disasters. IPS covers these frontline issues asking an often forgotten question: What does this mean for women and girls?

RIGHTS-SOUTH AFRICA: Election Campaign Silent on Violence Against Women
*** Stephanie Nieuwoudt interviews LISA VETTEN, gender rights activist
CAPE TOWN (IPS) – With its emphasis on gender equality, the South African constitution is regarded as a great example for many other developing countries. Yet, despite laws intended to protect the rights of women like the Sexual Abuse Act and the Domestic Violence Act, women in the country still suffer indignities at the hands of police and in court.

Q&A: Women Better, But Far From Equal
*** Miren Gutierrez* interviews SAADIA ZAHIDI, head of the Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme at the World Economic Forum (WEF)
ROME (IPS) – Denying women access to political and economic power is a “strategic waste”, says Saadia Zahidi, co-author of the WEF’s Global Gender Gap (GGG) report in a telephone interview from Geneva.

POLITICS: Form of New U.N. Women’s Entity Still Nebulous
*** By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – When a high-level panel of former political leaders and senior government officials released a study in late 2006 on ways to eliminate duplication and strengthen coordination among the U.N.’s myriad bodies, it also recommended the creation of a specialised agency for women aimed at consolidating gender-related activities under a single umbrella.

CHILE: Agricultural Boom Passes Women Farmers By
*** By Pamela Sepúlveda
SANTIAGO (IPS) – Although agricultural exports are among the most productive and steadily growing sectors in Chile, rural women continue to face precarious jobs, low wages, little access to land and the growing dominance of agribusiness.

Q&A: Women’s Special Water Needs Find Voice
*** Hilmi Toros interviews JOKE MUYLWIJK, executive director of Gender and Water Alliance
ISTANBUL (IPS) – Climate change and corrupt practices are considered root causes for a potential water crisis of global proportions, leading to scarcity where water is needed most and flooding where it is needed the least.

ECONOMY-SRI LANKA: Conditions Worsen For Women Workers
*** By Feizal Samath
BIYAGAMA (IPS) – Ramani, 26, sits inside her small, dimly-lit boarding house room, cutting vegetables, in this industrial town outside Colombo. She plans to return to her rural village in May to get married.

Q&A: Why Not Wages for “Women’s Work”?
*** Mirela Xanthaki interviews JAN PETERSON of the Huairou Commission
UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – Caring for children, ailing relatives and neighbours, cooking and cleaning – all of it feels like “work,” but without the regular paycheque.

ARGENTINA: Bold New Law on Violence Against Women
*** By Marcela Valente
BUENOS AIRES (IPS) – Argentina now has an ambitious new law to prevent, punish and eradicate physical, psychological and economic violence against women, in both the private and public spheres. But the big challenge, say experts, will be to put it into practice.

Q&A: “Zimbabwe Must Release Political Prisoners”
*** Ben Case interviews NOMBONISO GASA, activist and hunger striker
UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – Nomboniso Gasa chairs South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality and is an independent gender research analyst. A committed feminist and political activist, she was first imprisoned in apartheid-era South Africa at age 14.

RIGHTS-BRAZIL: Law Still Not Saving Women’s Lives
*** By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO (IPS) – Rosemary Fracasso, a 37-year-old mother of two teenagers, was murdered by her ex husband with a machete. During the attack he cut off her fingers and arms and left her heart visible through a gaping chest wound.

Q&A: Women Must Challenge the “Gatekeepers of Culture”
*** Nastassja Hoffet interviews women’s rights activist AISHA SHAHEED
UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – “In order to be a good Muslim, a good Hindu, a good Pakistani, a good woman, you need to act in certain ways,” says Aisha Shaheed. “And all these parameters are defined by [male] self-proclaimed cultural leaders.”

PARAGUAY: Nurses Seeking Greener Pastures in Italy
*** By Natalia Ruiz Díaz
ASUNCIÓN (IPS) – Graciela Samaniego has her bags packed. Along with a number of fellow nurses, she is ready to leave her job at a public hospital in the Paraguayan capital and fly to a city in northern Italy, where she will work in a nursing home.


The Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) has asked WLUML to forward the announcement of a call for country research partners on the issue of sexuality and the internet. The exploratory research is on how emerging debates and growing practice of regulating online content might either impede or facilitate different ways women use the internet, and its impact on their sexual expression and sexualities. In relation to content regulation, the definition of “harmful content” is contestable, subjective and open to a range of interpretations. The goal of this exploratory research is to conduct a cross-country research across 5 developing countries.

APC WNSP is calling for research proposals from the following countries:
* South Africa
* Brazil
* Iran or Egypt
* United States of America

The research period is from April 2009 to December 2010, including data collection, analysis, writing, participation in cross-country analysis and implementation of communications and advocacy strategies. The research budget is up to USD20,000 per country, which includes all costs related to the research for its entire duration.

They accept applications from individuals and organisations. You can also apply as a research team. All applications should identify a lead researcher. Researchers must be residing in the identified country during the course of the research. The lead researcher is expected to participate in three research-related workshops. The first workshop will be held in the first week of May 2009, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Please see the post on our website for more specific information on how to apply.[157]=x-157-563851

Contact the Association for Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP) Sexuality and the Internet Research at:

Women Living under Muslim Laws
International Coordination Office

As the world, including Zimbabwe, commemorates International Women’s Day, members of WOZA find little to celebrate.

As organisations, both local and international, take the opportunity afforded by International Women’s Day to speak out about the need for gender equality, respect for women’s right and an end to violence, WOZA joins the chorus.

Yet we understand that women in Zimbabwe, and Africa as a whole, need much more than rhetoric – they need action. And actions speak louder than words.

The current situation of the ordinary woman in Zimbabwe is heartbreaking.

She only lives until the age of 34 because the Mugabe regime killed a perfectly good health system. She can hardly access antiretroviral treatment and even if she does, the three meals a day she needs to take them with is impossible.

She cannot put a full nutritious meal on the table for her family because Zimbabwe is no longer the breadbasket of Africa but its basket case. She cannot afford to buy food even if it is available because the Mugabe regime put the economy in intensive care and Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono put a bullet to its head when he started to remove zeros without comprehensive reforms.

A mother is always preoccupied with a better future for her children so that she can dream about sitting in the shade and being looked after for a change. But the prospects for this have been thrown out of the window by the destruction of the education system by the Mugabe regime.

Educating children was already a challenge previously but in 2008 it became a form of torture for parents. Teachers left, school buildings deteriorated, text and exercise books disappeared to be sold on the streets for exorbitant prices. Government did not even bother to buy chalk, and this burden, along with that of paying teachers, fell on the parents’ shoulders.

Zimbabwe, in the throes of a political and governance crisis, failed to safeguard the rights of children to an education and their right to a better future. The untold story of Zimbabwe is the impact of the crisis on the lives of our children – how these innocent souls will bear the terrible burden of our adult hatred and intolerance.

In Zimbabwe there is now an ‘inclusive’ government but whilst it includes opposing political parties it falls far short of including women who take the time to speak out for women’s equality.

WOZA does not feel represented by the mere fact that there are some women in political office. We want women to use their position to engage and consult women and further our combined interests.

If one takes the time to study the 15th September 2008 Global Political Agreement, rhetoric about women’s representation abounds but they appear to be words without meaning.

Three weeks after the inauguration of this government and 29 years after so-called Independence, women are still not fairly represented in most spheres in Zimbabwe. Peaceful protest is broken up by men armed with baton sticks and women who are simply demanding their constitutional rights are beaten, arrested and detained.

On 9th March 2009, two WOZA leaders will be in the dock in Bulawayo Magistrate’s Court facing a possible five years in prison for demanding political leaders allow free access to food aid for starving Zimbabweans.

In the words of a police officer, this was a crime of ‘exciting people’. In a justice system backlogged for years, with thousands of Zimbabweans in prison and unable to be fed or brought to court, the fact that this case has been prioritised is further proof that women human rights defenders continue to be harassed and intimidated merely for speaking out on behalf of their families.

So a year after WOZA members were beaten and arrested in Bulawayo whilst commemorating International Women’s Day, we still do not find anything in our hearts to celebrate. Instead we use this occasion to remind our leaders that actions speak louder than words.

And to light a candle against the darkness so as to guide our steps on the road to a socially just Zimbabwe. WOZA will continue to demand bread and roses, a full enjoyment of all our social, economic, cultural and political rights and the social justice that will restore our dignity as women. By continuing to take the step forward, perhaps by the next International Women’s Day, we will have something to celebrate.

Mrs Susan Tsvangirai – WOZA mourns the loss of a mother to the nation

Our troubled hearts are further burdened and saddened by the untimely death of Mrs Susan Tsvangirai. WOZA was looking forward to Susan being the mother to the nation that we have long waited for.

We witnessed her dignity and strength in standing by the side of her husband during their 31 years of marriage and understand the unexpressed pain she must have endured watching her husband suffer at the hands of a brutal regime.

We had hoped and prayed that she would enjoy a semblance of peace at his side as a mother of the nation. The loss of this mother of six and tower of strength to her husband is a shocking blow to the nation and all Zimbabwean women.

We offer our heartfelt condolences to the Prime Minister, their children who have lost their mother and rest of their family. May her soul rest in blessed peace at last.

1,500 attend wet rally to push for ‘good jobs and dignity for all’

In tough economic times, fear about layoffs, bankruptcies and companies shutting their doors threaten to push other issues off the public agenda.

Hundreds gathered in Toronto to mark International Women’s Day and make sure that in the current recession, issues critical to women won’t be among them.

“A day like this is so important because we do get pushed off the radar in a tough economic situation,” said Judy Vashti Persad, one of the organizers of the annual event. But we’re not going to be quiet, we’re not going to be ignored.”

The theme of this year’s event was government’s role in ensuring “good jobs and dignity for all.” Organizers estimated 1,500 women, men and children braved the rain to wave placards and chant that message as they marched through one of the city’s busiest intersections at Yonge and Bloor Sts.

Chantal Sundaram of the local International Women’s Day organizing committee stressed that women’s security, health and well-being are particularly vulnerable amid the highest job losses in decades and an unemployment rate of 8 per cent in Ontario.

While headlines tend to focus on news like last week’s layoffs at Stelco in Hamilton, and at Chrysler in Windsor, there is “a low-level bleed” among the many women who are in non-unionized jobs, or are temporary or migrant workers, and their families.

Sundaram added that women are also hurt by shortages of child care, cuts to health care and lack of affordable housing that worsen during an economic downturn. And they are further at risk because of reduced services and supports such as shelters that would help them.

A statement yesterday from the Canadian Auto Workers union noted that women account for two-thirds of Canadians earning minimum wage and hold 70 per cent of part-time jobs, making it difficult to qualify for employment insurance.

“We need to demand a change to EI eligibility requirements that will provide women and their families with a safety net during these tough economic times, as well as stringent pay equity legislation that would finally work to close the wage gap,” said Julie White, women’s director for the union. Women make only 70.5 per cent of the average male salary, she noted.

Dayna Scott of Toronto said she joined yesterday’s march with her 2-year-old son largely to support the fight for access to affordable child care, which is particularly important when women are struggling to make ends meet. Scott, 34, said she’s fortunate her son has a child care spot at York University, where she works. But he’s been on a waiting list for a spot near their home for two years.

Diana Grimaldos, 30, attended as part of a group from the Working Women Community Centre, which provides services to immigrant women and their families. She said it’s critical that challenges facing immigrant women whose work credentials aren’t recognized or who are in low-paying, insecure jobs don’t get overlooked amid the grim economic news.

The struggle to end violence against women is clearly still a long way off. Perhaps for this reason the theme of the recently celebrated International Women’s Day was “Women and Men United to end Violence against Women and Girls”. And rightly so too. Violence against women is an every day occurrence and it comes in several forms. While the most commonly identified are domestic violence and rape, there have since been several more specific forms of acts identified as gender -based violence. These include women in conflict situations, trafficking in women, widowhood rites, early marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual assault etc.

Our women have had these acts inflicted upon them by male folk under the guise of religion, cultural practices and other forms of social discrimination. Others are a result of merely inflicting mental, economic and physical superiority over a woman. The patriarchal nature of many of our societies permits women to be subjected to many of these practices. In some communities the elders will look you straight in the eye and say that what the world terms as violence is actually a valued cultural practice. Take female genital mutilation for instance. It is erroneously believed to be a way to curb promiscuity amongst young girls. As a matter of fact the practice has proven to be a health hazard and hindrance to a fulfilling sexual life.

Sadly these days there is another naked display of violence against our women is also demonstrated through heavy handed tactics of some of the security agents. This is an emerging form of violence as a result of women’s more active and dynamic participation in civic action. In 2005 a group known as the Concerned Mothers of Nigeria went on a peaceful protest to call attention to the spate of domestic airline mishaps in the country. The protest is remembered more for the treatment the women received at the hands of the police. They were rough handled and this led to some of them sustaining injuries and being hospitalized. It is on record that the then Inspector-General of Police Mr Sunday Ehindero apologised the women. Apologies may be soothing in the short term but are not an effective tool in the fight against gender-based violence.

The incident raised a few eyebrows and then became buried amongst other national issues at the time. It made the headlines for a few days and was consigned to the dustbin of history. A few weeks ago a similar incident occurred in Ogun State .

In Abeokuta , a group of women went on a peaceful march to protest what they perceived to be an injustice being perpetuated against female law maker Hon Titi Oseni of the Ogun State House of Assembly. Unfortunately the protest also turned very ugly. Members of the police in a bid to disperse the women tear-gassed, beat and chased them with dogs. Footage of a mobile policeman wielding a baton and chasing one of the women demonstrated the extent of the brutality. Many of the women including the elderly amongst them sustained injuries and were left breathless and disoriented from the effects of the tear gas. The women were neither armed nor threatening and it was quite disheartening to see them bloodied, battered and bruised after the authorities had dispersed them.

The danger of women being confronted with violence from the hands of the police during peaceful protests is that such behaviour is bound to discourage them from participating in civic action. Active participation in civic action and exercising of fundamental human rights will be grossly stifled and undermined by the over -zealous response of security agents. If care is not taken the democratic space will be the poorer for it without the voices of women being heard. Should such cracks be allowed to widen within our democracy?

In the critical debate about violence against women, it is very clear that the fight can only be won in joint partnership with men. Hence it makes perfect sense to call upon men to become partners in the journey to fight some of these heinous practices. This conviction is clearly demonstrated in this year’s theme. But from recent events in our nation a lot of work still needs to be done. While the International Women’s Day calls attention to the daily acts of violence being perpetuated against women, there still needs to be sustained campaigns to combat gender-based violence. It is not enough for us to speak about it for only a few days a year and expect massive changes in attitudes within society. For instance what stops the upper echelons of the female officers in the Nigeria Police drawing attention to the need for gender studies to be incorporated into the curriculum at the Police College ? Such developments can actually cut across all the armed forces, and other uniformed personnel such as the Customs and Excise, Immigration, Civil Defence etc. indeed all of society should be the target of massive awareness campaigns.

Incorporating gender awareness programmes and initiatives into aspects of our lives, education and society in general has become imperative. We have witnessed sustained campaigns in the fight against narcotics, road carnage, HIV/AIDS etc. This is one campaign that the corporate world must support and help in the fight to eradicate. Many of our corporate organisations appear to have converged towards the more ‘glamorous’ social and health concerns. A few of our more prominent corporate companies have thrown their weight behind dancing competitions, talent hunt shows, TV reality shows etc. How about the flagging up of anti- violence messages on their products or partnering with civil society to jump start a nation-wide awareness campaign? Some of our financial institutions have created gender-friendly services and products. This is ostensibly to improve the economic lives of women. How about supporting the fight against the violence many women and girls suffer? What about taking up the cause of violence against women as part of their corporate social responsibility profile? So many women occupy top positions in the corporate world do they not feel that the battle against gender-based violence is worthy off their support?

Violence against women has been described in Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the elimination of violence against women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or private life”. Women who form more than half of the population have made so many contributions to national development and have the potential to do so much more. We love to celebrate our female role models. By the same token we should continuously highlight the causes that hold women back and provoke so much suffering and pain.

Speaking at a press conference the Ogun State Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Welfare Ms Jokotade Odunuga appealed to the media to be “a voice for women so that all hands are on deck to ensure that acts of violence against women are totally eradicated from our society”. What can be more truthful than this?

The fight against acts of violence on women can only be successfully fought if we all join hands. Women and men can stand side by side on this issue and present a united front. Moreover the campaigns should not be once- in a’- while but a long and sustained one. This is an issue that should be kept burning in the public domain.

Opinion from Tayo Agunbiade

The Knesset marked International Women’s Day on Thursday, as dozens of women’s rights activists held a demonstration nearby during which they called on Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint more female ministers.

“(Foreign Minister) Tzipi Livni is expected to be the only female cabinet member in the next coalition; this will take the struggle for equal representation of women in politics 10 years back, to the previous Netanyahu government,” one of the activists said.

“It’s sad to find out that despite the promises that were made there will only be one woman in the next cabinet.”

During the session itself, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said the number of female lawmakers was “far from being sufficient.”

Livni, for her part, told the session that to her being a woman meant “having the right to choose. This right seems natural to any man, but some women still cannot take it for granted.

“A woman should be allowed to choose what to do with her life: Whether to stay single or get married; whether she wants to become a mother or whether she wants to go out and work,” she said.

“To all the women who believe their husbands are beating them because they’ve done something wrong, I say: The problem does not lie with you, it lies with those who discriminate against you; it lies with the beating husband and the sexual abuser.”

Livni said she was unimpressed with the record number of female legislators in the current Knesset (21). “This is an embarrassing figure. We make up 50% of the population, so this is still far from equal representation,” she said.,7340,L-3685445,00.html

Thirty-eight women were chosen for special appreciation as all women were honoured with a ceremony on the front lawn of the Government Administration Building during Cayman’s celebration of International Women’s Day (IWD) on Monday, 9 March.

The IWD ceremony, part of Honouring Women Month (HWM), was opened by the Minister of Health and Human Services, the Hon. Anthony Eden, OBE, JP and the ministry’s Chief Officer Diane Montoya. Among the audience were government ministers and officials, and representatives from private-sector agencies and non-governmental organisations.

Business and Professional Women’s Club President Velma Powery-Hewitt read a prayer, and a member of Prospect Primary Children’s Choir led the singing of the National Song.

Other programme participants included Master of Ceremonies, Empowerment and Community Development Agency (ECDA) Programme Officer Miriam Foster; students from St George’s Preschool; former Miss Teen Cayman Yentel McGaw; and Honouring Women Month (HWM) poetry contest winner, Carren LaCruse.

During his opening remarks, Minister Eden explained the HWM’s Heroes Among Us theme: ”There are female heroes among us that may not necessarily be in the public spotlight, but still significantly contribute to our growth and development, at an individual and national level.”

The celebration included the unveiling of a Heroes Display that recognised the 38 Cayman Islands women, and Minister Eden handed out appreciation certificates to those present who were featured in the display.–1-1—.html

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was women and men united to end violence against women and girls. Reports of violence against women and girls are on the rise in Senegal, and outreach workers say there could not have been a better theme.

Violence against women and girls in Senegal does not just refer to domestic violence and rape.

Women’s groups are also fighting long-standing traditions of polygamy, female circumcision and the forced marriage of girls as young as nine years old. It is a battle they say is made more difficult by traditional Senegalese society and a lack of resources.

Siggil Jigéen is a network of 17 organizations that promote women’s rights and fight violence against women in Senegal.

The group is based in Dakar, but has recently extended its activities to Kolda, Matam and Tamba, three cities where they have noticed spikes in violence.

Though violence against women and girls appears to be increasing in Senegal, the group is not sure whether that is due to an actual resurgence in violence or whether recent awareness campaigns have encouraged more victims to come forward.

The group’s program coordinator in Dakar, Fatou Ndiaye Turpin, says the cases her organization and other groups see are just the tip of the iceberg. She says the culture of silence and impunity that surrounds violence against women is particularly severe in a predominantly Muslim country like Senegal. Not only do women not report the crimes, but discussion of some issues, like conjugal rape, are almost off limits entirely.

Turpin says it is especially rare for women to report domestic violence in Senegal. Families will try to deal with the problem themselves and will do everything possible to discourage women from coming forward. She says victims will often try to endure in silence. Turpin says for a woman to come to Siggil Jigéen, it means she is truly distraught and has nowhere else to turn.

In 1999, the state enacted a law punishing violence against women with jail time and fines, but Turpin says the law is not well-enforced and many women do not even know it exists. Therefore, a key part of the group’s outreach has been translating the law into Senegal’s many local languages and teaching women how it works. The group has also been training police officers and medical staff, who are often the first responders in cases of domestic violence or rape.

But Turpin says education is not enough. The laws that exist need to be enforced and strengthened, and the victims need support.

In October, the group opened its first drop-in counseling center in Dakar to offer legal advocacy and other services to victims and their children.

Turpin says most victims do not understand the legal process or even how to file a police report, therefore the counselors will accompany them throughout the entire process. She says money is another problem. Many women cannot afford to file a complaint, much less hire a lawyer. The counselors will work with other organizations to find the money needed to follow through on the cases.

A counselor at the group’s center in Dakar, Ndeye Fatou Sarr, says since October she has seen about 20 cases, almost all of them domestic violence. Many victims will drop their cases before the lengthy legal process is completed, and domestic violence is still largely viewed as a civil matter in Senegal.

She says that is a problem. Senegal’s legal system does not treat domestic violence as a criminal offense until the woman has been killed, but she says the psychological effects of violence and rape are just as devastating and should be taken just as seriously.

The group hopes to reach out to women in rural areas, but right now they do not have enough money or trained counselors. In the urban areas there are no crisis hotlines or shelters for the few victims who come forward.

Many of the women Sarr works with say they want to go back to school or open small businesses to support their children, but that is difficult.

Sarr is pleased that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day includes men in the fight to end violence against women. It is often men, she says, who alert her to domestic violence situations. A concerned brother, uncle or neighbor will call the center or stop by, and then Sarr will go out to the home to meet the woman and find the best way to intervene.

Ending violence against women is part of a larger battle to increase women’s economic independence and involvement in local government. Women are often the foundation for grassroots development, Sarr says, and the impunity that surrounds violence against women and girls undermines the progress of the country as a whole.

A group of Lebanese hikers celebrated International Women’s Day on Sunday by organizing a hike to a women’s cooperative in the west Bekaa region of Rashaya.

The roots of International Women’s Day began over 150 years ago. On March 8, 1857, hundreds of women staged a strike against the textile factories in New York City, protesting low wages and long working hours. In 1910, at a meeting in Copenhagen, the Women’s Socialist International decided to commemorate this strike by observance of an annual day for women’s rights/issues – International Women’s Day (IWD).

Today, IWD is observed to emphasize women’s equal rights and opportunities worldwide, as well as to celebrate the determination of ordinary women. This year’s special focus was on “Women and Education.” Formal education is often ignored in Lebanon’s rural regions where the ambition of most young women remains to get married to the boy next door – if he has a home and a car. However, the establishment of women’s cooperatives have empowered women from rural communities to become ambassadors for their country’s culinary diversity.

On Sunday, Cyclamen, a division of Lebanese tour operator TLB Destinations and member of CIFA (Centre pour l’Insertion par la Formation et l’Activite), a non-profit organization, organized a trip to the women’s cooperative Wadi al- Taym, Rashaya, to celebrate rural women’s achievements. CIFA focuses on the associations between responsible tourism and sustainable development, and collaborates with Cyclamen to organize “responsible” trips to Lebanon’s rural regions.

After arriving at the village square the group walked up to the citadel and started a 10-kilometer hike with local guide Mehdi al-Fayek along the Lebanon Mountain Trail, the first long-distance hiking trail in Lebanon extending over 440 kilometers from the north to the south. The hikers shared a picnic lunch under the shade of a 400-year-old tree – sandwiches and pies purchased locally – and then headed on to the Wadi al-Taym.

“The women from the village of Rashaya should somehow gain from our visit so we encouraged people to purchase products from the local cooperative,” said Sabina Llewellyn-Davies, project manager, CIFA. Some of the visitors were clearly already socially responsible shoppers who buy from farmers’ markets such as Souk al-Tayeb. Others are seeking healthy products which give fair trade to the rural communities.

“This visit improved my awareness as I learned that the products are exported to the UK. The place looks clean and the women were very welcoming,” said Diana Bazzi , IT consultant. “And I loved their pumpkin jam and honey. We should encourage and support them to expand their market .”

The hike was not targeted exclusively at women – men were of also encouraged to come along to celebrate Lebanon’s women. “After being totally oblivious to the existence of such co-ops (and after visiting a couple of them), they became my first choice for shopping for locally processed goods,” said Nizar Jawhar, a statistician, at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Ibtissam, one of the 28 women who own and run the cooperative was on hand to sell the products and pour cups of tea to refresh the weary hikers.

Several of the participants stayed on at the bed and breakfast of Kamal al-Sahili in Rashaya. The lodging is within the Dhiafee program, a network of rural accommodations throughout Lebanon conceived by ANERA in 2006.

“We always encourage overnight stays in the rural lodgings within the Dhiafee program for visitors to familiarize themselves better with the region,” said Llewellyn-Davies.

“The accommodation was excellent. Khalil’s wife Nour welcomed us with open arms and prepared a lovely home-cooked meal for us in the evening,” said Sylvia Shorto, an assistant professor at AUB. “Our visit during the day to the women’s co-op raised awareness for local products and food traditions and it certainly raised my interest in regional specialties,” added Shorto.

“What also impressed me are the women of Rachaya village, they are really welcoming; as we walked past homes we were constantly invited in,” added Bazzi.

This year’s event included strong participation from Latina, Asian and Black women, as well as many activists from Philadelphia’s LGBT community. With the growing economic crisis hitting women the hardest, many speakers addressed social and economic justice issues, including the mortgage crisis, health care reform and the struggle to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Jaci Adams, representing Transgender Women of Color, spoke at a City Hall rally, noting that it was the first time she knew of in Philadelphia that a transgender woman was invited to speak at an IWD event. Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education and Asian Americans United described her community’s fight against attempts to build a gambling casino in Chinatown, already impacted by gambling addiction.

The rally featured many young women who presented the history of IWD and read from a resolution honoring the day passed by the Philadelphia City Council on March 6. Louise Francis of NOW addressed corporate greed and the drive for profits as the root causes of the mortgage and foreclosure crisis. The outdoor event was followed by a march to an indoor afternoon rally at the Family Planning Council office on South Broad Street.

After a ceremonial opening featuring Aztec drumming and dance by Fuego Nuevo from the Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas and songs from the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, Afghan activist Suraya Pakzad addressed the crowd. In 1988, this Afghan mother of six founded Voice of Women, one of only a few women’s nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan.

Pakzad explained that while by law, women in Afghanistan have the right to go to school, to work and to walk on the streets, real practices concerning women haven’t changed. Every 13 minutes a woman in Afghanistan dies in childbirth and many children do not survive to their fifth birthday.

Other speakers included Kathy Black of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and U.S. Labor Against the War, who said women are disproportionately the victims of war, of suffering in countries under occupation and from the economic impact of a wartime economy and suffering as soldiers subject to sexual abuse and rape.

Pattie Eakin, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Nurses and Allied Professionals, spoke on the need to pass HB 676 for Universal Single Payer Healthcare. She noted that, because of lack of health care, women in the U.S. are far more likely to die from childbirth due to medical complications than women in 32 other countries.

Focusing her remarks on the importance of passing the Employee Free Choice Act, Roni Green of SEIU spoke on the conditions working women face in today’s near-depression economy. “It’s a race to the bottom,” she noted, referring to the decline in wages and employee benefits. “Women need union protection to fight for a livable wage, health care and a guaranteed pension.”

Green described conditions for women working at Wal-Mart who are paid minimum wage and must rely on government programs for health care and food stamps. She noted, “During his election campaign Obama was attacked for suggesting ‘a redistribution of the wealth.’ But workers are the ones who create the wealth and we’re only asking for what is ours. The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act may be one of the most important struggles in the upcoming period.”

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It may send feminists into a spin but the Vatican’s official newspaper has pronounced the washing machine more important for the liberation of women than the contraceptive Pill.

In a long editorial marking International Women’s Day, L’Osservatore Romano, the mouthpiece of the Roman Catholic Church, said washing machines had freed generations of women from the drudgery of housework.

“The washing machine and the emancipation of women: put in the powder, close the lid and relax,” said the broadsheet’s headline, above a black and white picture of two women in the 1950s admiring a front-loading machine.

“In the 20th century, what contributed most to the emancipation of western women?” asked the editorial.

“The debate is still open. Some say it was the pill, others the liberalisation of abortion, or being able to work outside the home. Others go even further: the washing machine.” The first rudimentary washing machines appeared as far back as 1767, noted the article, with the first electrical models being produced at the beginning of the 20th century.

The eulogy to a domestic convenience which most women in developed countries now take for granted quoted the words of the late American feminist, Betty Friedan, who in 1963 described “the sublime mystique to being able to change the bed sheets twice a week instead of once”.

While early models were expensive and unreliable, technology had improved to the point that there is now “the image of the super woman, smiling, made-up and radiant among the appliances of her house,” wrote the Vatican newspaper.

The article provoked an angry response from some commentators and politicians.

“Instead of entering into an abstract debate on gender, it would be better if L’Osservatore Romano discussed reality, such as the fear in which many women still live when they are in the streets and between the walls of their own homes,” Paola Concia, and MP from the opposition Democratic Party, told La Stampa newspaper.

March 8 is known globally as International Women’s Day, and it’s a day that is fast approaching. That name, “Women’s Day,” may offend some people and lead some men to ask – either seriously or in jest – “when’s ‘International Men’s Day?’” Don’t let the name fool you, I would reply. Men play a part in this very important day, too. This year’s theme, in fact, is “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls.” Did you catch that? “Women and men.” But a lot of men don’t want to recognize that they play a role in women’s issues as well. They would rather just blame the victims of violence against women and pretend they have no stake and no influence in the matter. I don’t beat my girlfriend so I’m doing my part – right? Wrong.

There are a number of things men can do to prevent violence against women. Robert Jensen – in his latest book, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity – encourages men to join a pro-feminism organization if they want to help on a grassroots level. A simple request, yes, but one that fails to recognize men’s tenuous relationship with feminism. A lot of men are afraid of being labelled “feminists”: this is a problem. They incorrectly figure that only women can be feminists, that only victims can stand up for their own rights. While men may not be able to sympathize with the problems women face, they can still act as allies; there is nothing contradictory in a man embracing feminist ideology. In order for feminism to work, men must embrace it – the movement won’t fully accomplish its goals if half the population is fighting against, or is acting indifferent to, what the other half is trying to achieve.

Men generally figure that a man who accepts his femininity in any degree is a “queer” or a “pussy.” The very fact that many men consider these terms derogatory is a symptom of the problem: it shows that the emphasis on masculinity is overblown. Men generally believe that they have to act manly – for many this means being dominant, assertive and violent. But why? I think the thing most men fear is not what will happen if they act in not-so-manly ways; they fear what other men will think of them if they do. On the flip side, we have to acknowledge the fact that a small number of men will gladly label themselves “feminists”: this, too, is a problem. These men incorrectly figure that they should join the feminist crusade because women are weak or powerless and require a man’s help – and perhaps leadership – in the fight for their rights. Jensen refers to this as “white knight syndrome.” While it may sound innocent enough, this kind of mentality also works against real feminism.

Men have to learn to be unafraid of the feminist label without getting it in their heads that they’re somehow saving the day. They have to recognize women for who they really are: individuals equal to but different from men; individuals who, because of a number of factors, have to face a number of social challenges men don’t have to face; and individuals who are independent from men. While it looks like I may have painted all men with the same brush, I realize that all men are different and that not all men are bad, but the generalizations I’ve employed are for the most part accurate. While men may not be to blame for the condition they’re in, they do have some responsibility to change it. Furthermore, while they may not be directly or totally to blame for the condition women are in, they have some responsibility to change it, too. Face it – it’s true. And I believe there is no better time to embrace these two truths than on March 8, “International Women’s Day.”

At the occasion of Women’s Day, Breakthrough is inviting you to join the fight against domestic violence. Get involved with our campaign, Bell Bajao! (Ring the Bell), calling on men and boys to join women in bringing domestic violence to a halt.

Bell Bajao! is a high profile national campaign using innovative media outreach throughout India. Over 32 million people have heard the message through TV, radio and press. Through community leadership training and mobile video vans traveling 80,000 km across India, Bell Bajao! has encouraged unprecedented engagement on the ground. We want YOU to be part of the action to promote women’s rights.

Leading up to International Women’s Day on March 8, Breakthrough celebrates all those who are speaking out, through their actions, their beliefs, their music or art.

Join the blog action week from March 2 – 8 on and tell us your stories. Write about those people who support women’s rights either through their passion, their work or in their personal lives. My story is on this blog, read mine and tell me yours.

Stories can include photographs, videos and other visual elements to be posted online. Do include a short description of yourself as well (name, age, location, any additional details).

You’ll be also joined by some amazing male leaders like Bollywood actor and Bell Bajao ambassador Boman Irani. (

Notable author and former UN Undersecretary General Shashi Tharoor is writing…Fashion designer Sandeep Khosla is talking…Bell Bajao campaign creator Zenobia Pithawalla speaks out…Ad film director Bauddhayan Mukerji frames his views…activist Harish Sadani is taking a stand on The “Bell Bajao!” Blog ( You too can become an agent of change by sharing your story!

So, ring the bell and join Breakthrough in bringing domestic violence to a halt! Bell Bajao!

Kritika Dey

Sisters in arms

Iranian women’s presence in the social, political, and cultural arena is fairly recent. However, this movement, its progress and its impact, embraces much of Iran’s contemporary history.

Their struggles took shape at the beginning of the 20th century as a movement for the right to education and to visibility in social life.

This took on a more social and political character after the victory of the constitutionalist movement which, in spite of women’s involvement, still denied them the vote.

The first celebration of International Women’s Day in Iran took place in 1922 in the northern city of Rasht. A few years later, records show that celebrations took place publicly in 1928.

But, with the rise to power of Reza Khan in a 1921 coup, the genuine women’s movement faded and independent organisations gradually gave way to those controlled by the government.

There are no records of public events commemorating March 8 during his rule. However, International Women’s Day was celebrated privately in secret at some elite women’s homes.

In 1979, having fought against the Shah and his despotism shoulder to shoulder with men, enduring prison and torture for years under that regime, women were faced with the orders of the new revolutionary government.

The office of Ayatollah Khomeini announced the annulment of the law of family support to the courts and, for the first time, women were banned from becoming judges.

Khomeini later announced that women could work outside their houses, but they must observe full religious dress code – the hijab.

As a result of these declarations, International Women’s Day celebrations turned into widespread demonstrations in Tehran and other cities. This protest was met with violent reprisal from the supporters of compulsory Islamic hijab.

During the 1980s and first half of the ’90s, International Women’s Day was marked secretly in the homes of secular and intellectual women.

But after June 1997 and the election of the reformist government, March 8 celebrations became more widespread, although they was still being held in private.

The year 2000 was a turning point. Women’s rights campaigner Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani invited a group of women to openly and publicly celebrate March 8.

To the organisers’ surprise, more than a 1,000 people attended and the widespread news of the event grabbed society’s attention.

In the spring of that same year, women’s rights activists Shahla Lahiji and Mehrangiz Karthe were incarcerated after criticising their country’s political situation at a conference in Berlin.

The March 8 organising group launched a petition for the release of these two activists. This was the first time that a group of independent women had risen up to collect signatures and to demand the release of two jailed women.

This clearly was not to the liking of the men in the society, whether in the ruling circle or not. This in itself was a lesson for women on the necessity of the independent of activity of women.

The Women’s Cultural Centre is the offspring of this and other experiences of those years.

In 2001, the centre staged the biggest and most creative event of International Women’s Day at the Khaneh Honarmandan (Artist’s House).

In 2002 the centre focused its efforts on the rights of women as citizens and the right to free participation in civic gatherings, selecting Laleh Park as the location for the event.

The park gathering was conducted under heavy control by the police. This was the first time that an International Women’s Day event had been held in an open space in an atmosphere of defiance and protest.

From 2004 onwards, March 8 has become a focus for women’s resistance to injustice accompanied by increased intimidation by the Islamic state desperate to suppress the voices of women.

Celebrations planned for Laleh Park in that year were met by police violence when permits for the gathering where revoked one hour before it was scheduled to take place.

In 2006, Simin Behbahani, the ageing and freedom-fighting Iranian poet, was assaulted by police.

The following year, one week before March 8, 33 women activists were arrested in front of the revolution court.

This group had gathered in support of five of their friends who were on trial at the revolution court for participating in the June 12 protests of the previous year.

On March 8, a protest by female teachers and other freedom-loving women in front of the Islamic Majlis (Parliament) quickly turned to violence and a large number of participants were arrested.

On International Women’s Day last year, women returned to their homes again. Yet this time they were not small and private groups. This time their houses had become public places, but, unfortunately, even homes were not spared from the attack of the security forces.

One of the many events that were held on this day was organised by the Iranian Women’s Centre and The Feminist School.

Prior to the event, police tried to enter the house. Eventually, they arrested two of the school organisers along with the homeowner and took them to the police station. Despite that, the police were not able to break up the programme. The event was held under the pressure and control of security forces.

This year, March 8 is a day when the gaze of the world and the international community is fixed on Iranian women.

These women have obtained the international Simone de Beauvoir prize thanks to their tireless efforts in the One-Million Signatures Campaign. This prize does not belong to one or two people or even a few organisations.

It belongs to all women who have given meaning and purpose to the campaign by their membership, activities, articles, interviews, holding seminars and workshops and signing the campaign’s petition.

March 8 is when Iranian women, encouraged and appreciated by the international community on one hand and under internal threats and pressures on the other hand, celebrate this great day.

Mansoureh Shojaee is one of the key activists of the One-Million Signatures Campaign.

See also:

The Liberation Movement of Iranian Women – Year Zero

A Historical Document from Iran on the Occasion of the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March

On the 7th of March 1979, only weeks after the revolution in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini ordered that women should only be allowed to enter public buildings dressed with a headscarf. After this – and on the occasion of the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March that year – there were numerous demonstrations against mandatory veiling. As a direct result of these demonstrations, the Islamists were forced to rescend their order, if only temporarily.

„The Liberation Movement of Iranian Women – Year Zero“ is the title of a film made by women of the French Politics and Psychoanalysis Group in 1979 in Iran. The film sought to convey the message of these Iranian women: „Freedom is neither an eastern nor a western concept – it is universal“.

At that time, the meaning and explosiveness of this slogan may not have been very clear to many in the West. But it summarizes in one sentence the critique of Islamism. It inverts Khomeini’s slogan: „Iran is neither eastern [meaning communist] nor western [capitalist], but Islamic“ and debunks this slogan as a fundamental attack against enlightenment and secular emancipation.

The highlight of this film is the statement of two veiled Muslim women, who justify their participation in this demonstration as fighting for the rights and freedoms of their daughters. Not only do they question the claim to power of the Islamists, they also dismiss entirely all concepts of cultural relativism which proclaim Islamic virtue-terror as folklore of the Orient.

The postmodern romanticizing in the West of Islam turns things upside down. It describes Islam in the language of the Islamists: as innocent in nature and as a patron saint against pornography and western imperialism. Western cultural relativists, who see themselves as feminists, are the ones who invent justifications for Islamic rule that grow more absurd by the day. Already in 1978 the Iranian woman, Atoussa H., wrote to Michel Foucault, a fan of Khomeini: “It seems that for the leftist movement in the West, which lacks humanism, Islam is desirable… for other peoples.” Because Iranian women knew very well from the beginning what they could expect from the so-called ”protection” by the Islamists: the abolition of all so far gained civil rights, the adoption of Sharia Law, disenfranchisement, torture and stoning.

When the Iranian women took to the streets and protested against Khomeini, they could not have imagined that thirty years later, elements of Sharia Law would be introduced into legislation concerning family and women’s rights even in western countries. Hence they fought their audacious battle not only against the Islamists in Iran, but for women’s rights around the world.

All Iranian oppositionists, whether they call themselves communist, liberal or even Islamic, refer to these demonstrations time and again, and some even pretend to have participated in them in the front lines. In reality, these demonstrations were spontaneous protests which took place over the course of several days and in all major cities in Iran, and women of all ranks were present.

A Film like ”The Liberation Movement of Iranian Women – Year Zero“ could hardly have been produced in the Europe of today. With all their might, parts of the European media instead insist on drawing the picture that for people from the orient, there can be no other form of society than the Islamic one.

So much the greater is the historical significance represented by this tiny film documentary, as it debunks in thirteen minutes tons of Islamist and cultural relativist propaganda as cruel lies.

By Fathiyeh Naghibzadeh who took part in the women’s demonstrations in March 1979, fled Iran more than twenty years ago and is co-author of the book: „Iran – Analysis of an Islamic Dictatorship and its European Supporters“(German). She is member of the Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin and the Stop the Bomb Coalition, on whose homepage the film is available with English subtitles.

Includes link to online video of the demonstration.

On Sunday 8 March, 2009, the world celebrated the International Women’s Day.

It is a day that offers the world the opportunity to reflect on the status of women, with the objectives of highlighting their contributions, achievements as well as their limitations in terms of promotion of gender equality and empowerment at all levels.

In marking this very important day, very important messages have been delivered by prominent people. The Daily Observer herein reproduces the messages from The Gambia’s vice president, Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy; the US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton; the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon; and the Female Lawyers’ Association of The Gambia (FLAG).

Goodwill message on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, March 7th 2009, by H.E. the vice president and Secretary of State for Women’s Affairs, Dr. Ajaratou Isatou Njie-Saidy.

Theme: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”

Fellow Gambians, Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. You will recall that this day is celebrated, every year on the 8th of March with the objective of highlighting the achievements and challenges in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women at the national and global level. In The Gambia, plans are on the way to celebrate this day, International Women’s Day in April 2009, by the Women’s Bureau, National Women’s Council and the Department of State for Women’s Affairs.

This day is when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.

The global event has grown from strength to strength and has become an event which brings women and all other stakeholders together to promote and advocate for more cohesive and coordinated interventions towards effectively addressing the critical needs of women in the social, political and economic processes. Each year a relevant theme is identified that is deemed most appreciate. This year’s theme is: “Women and men united to end violence against women and girls”.

Violence against women and girls is any act of gender-based violence that result in, or likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women and girls including threats such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

In The Gambia, we cannot overemphasise the relevance and timeliness of this year’s theme on ending violence against women and girls which focus is given by the UN and the AU and their development partners. This theme was the subject of an ADFVI forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from the 19th to 21st November 2008, jointly organized by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the African Union and the African Development Bank.

In the Gambia, violence against women and girls is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, as manifested by current gender relations that are marked by socio-cultural norms of male domination over the discrimination against women. This continued domination and discrimination has prevented the full advancement of women and in one of the crucial social mechanism by which women are forced into sub-ordinate position compared to men.

Violence against women and girls is complex and diverse in its manifestations, with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences and costs and impoverishes women, their families, communities and the state. It is also a violation of the essential basic human rights of an individual to safety, security and physical integrity.

In The Gambia there is no available date on violence against women and girls, but the majority of Gambian women have been either beaten, coerced into sex otherwise abused in a life time. Here in The Gambia violence is pervasive, and as a result many women continue to suffer in the home and in the community with devastating effects.

The kind of violence prevalent in this country, although not exclusive to it includes: domestic violence, sexual violence including rape, early marriages, harmful traditional practices and widow inheritance. Amidst all these violations, women are more at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS than men, while feminisation of poverty is perpetuated and gender equality remains unattainable, yet the culture of silence prevails especially amongst women victims.

Many of the victims of rape and other sexual violence are deeply traumatized. Families and communities often reject women and girls who have been raped and sexually assaulted, and usually strip them of their social standing. In many cases, women who survive rape attacks are subsequently disowned by their husbands, leaving them even more vulnerable to future attacks because they lack the economic, social and physical protection.

Women and girls subjected to violence are more likely to suffer physical, mental and reproductive health problems. Incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDs is high among victims of violence. Women and girls also suffer from serious behavioural and psychological problems, sexual dysfunction and relationship problems, low self-esteem, depression, suicidal thoughts, deliberate self-harm, and alcohol and substance abuse. Their chances of acquiring skills for socio-economic mobility and independence are therefore severely compromised.

All too often the physical and mental health services necessary for victims of violence – women and girls to help them resume normal lives are not available, especially in rural areas. Perpetrators of rape and sexual violence often go unpunished. Few women are able to seek justice against the perpetrators.

It is common knowledge to all Gambians that testifying against alleged perpetrators is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma attached to women is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma alleged perpetrators is often difficult for victims due to the social stigma attachment to women and girls who speak out against their abuses. In this country many women choose not to testify because they do not want to bring further ‘shame’ to themselves and their family. Witnesses may also fear repercussions from the perpetrators.

If the culture of silence amongst victims of violence ends, government will hold perpetrators accountable to their actions, for the government of The Gambia; under the able leadership of HE the President Professor Dr Alhagie Yahya AJJ Jammeh has never relaxed its vigilance in protecting the dignity and welfare of women and girls. When perpetrators of violence are not held accountable, it not only encourages further abuses, but also gives the message that violence is acceptable and normal. This government will not condone this practice and will do all it can to prevent it. We will be fire preventers and not fire fighters.

Cognisant of the prevalence of violence against women and girls, and its horrendous effects on their fundamental rights and freedoms, and physical and mental health, the government of The Gambia has adopted several legal instruments to address the criminal acts.

To harness comprehensive and systematic actions to prevent and protect women and girls against violence, the following questions should be addressed:-

    1. What effective strategies should be adopted to promote and implement the rule of law against perpetrators of violence and all other forms of gender based violence?

    2. How government should put an end to impunity and ensure accountability with regard to violence?

    3. How the national financial policy should be expanded to include provisions for comprehensive support to victims of violence?

    4. What are some examples of best practices whereby gender sensitive approaches have been used to include women and girls in the design; approaches have been used to include women and girls in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of violence?

    5. What mechanism can be adopted to advocate and mobilise popular support to revive and promote community-based outrage and public outcry against such acts of violence? The government has a major responsibility to protect its citizens against all forms of violence. Effective actions to present violence, especially against women and children, required a comprehensive national approach, which should include preventive measures, punitive consequences for perpetrators and protection of the victims and their human rights.

Protest march, awareness camp and meetings were organized by different organizations to mark the International Women’s Day on Sunday in the state capital.

Activists of Women Power Connect and Gramin evam Nagar Vikas Parishad led by Anju Sinha and Ramkishore Prasad Singh submitted a memorandum to governor R L Bhatia demanding reservation of 33 per cent tickets for woman in the coming Lok Sabha elections. The memorandum also carried the signatures of 7,819 women.

Bihar Obstetric and Gynaecological Society, Patna, organized a function at the IMA building. Dr Sharda Sahay was felicitated with Lifetime Achievement Award on the occasion. Earlier, president Dr Pramila Gupta welcomed the delegates while secretary Rita Dayal presented secretary report and her views regarding empowerment of women. Dr Sushma Pandey highlighted the importance of empowerment of woman.

Dhinkar Academy organized a women’s Kavi Gosthi on the premises of Kala Kaksh on Sunday. Prominent among those who participated included Kashinath Pandey, Madhurima Mishra, Punam Singh and Chandraprakash Maya.

Sukh Sansar, a voluntary organisation, organized an awareness camp on `Women: Their Rights and Respect’ at Kadamkuan. Speaking on the occasion, senior advocate Indu Shekhar Prasad Sinha gave detailed information about Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.

Bihar Domestic Workers’ Welfare Trust took out a procession in the state capital to mark the occasion. Later, the procession reached St Joseph’s Convent where a meeting was organized.

Activists of All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan took out a protest march in the state capital over burning issues. The procession later reached Patna Junction roundabout where a meeting was organized. Those who addressed the gathering included Anamika, Sadhna Mishra and Indu Kumari.

Members of All India Progressive Women’s Association took out a march from the party office to Patna Junction roundabout where it converted into a meeting. It was addressed by several leaders, including national general secretary of the organisation Meena Tiwary.

Oum Abdallah Elwan, 44, spent her International Women’s day with her seven children in a cemetery mourning her husband, who was killed in a 22-day Israeli military offensive carried out on Gaza ended on Jan. 18.

Elwan is just one among many Palestinian women in the enclave strip, whom lost their husbands or sons in the Israeli military operation, and became the sole supporter of their family.

Wearing traditional Islamic dress (burquo), Elwan was fully covered with only eyes exposed. She sat next to her husband’s grave, desperately and helplessly.

“He was killed and left me with five sons and two daughters, who will take care of us?” She told Xinhua reporters.

Israel carried out a 22-day massive military offensive on Gaza Strip since December 27th of 2008, leaving some 1,400 Palestinian skilled and more than 5,000 injured.

“My husband was peaceful, he was killed with seven others by an Israeli missile when he went out to help the medics to rescue the injured people. He was a civilian without weapons. Why did the Israelis kill him?” Cried Elwan.

Elwan now is facing a difficult psychological and financial situation after her husband died. “I try to start my new life, but I can’t help missing him and so do my children.” Elwan said.

Now Elwan lives in a very humble house in Ber El Naaja area, northern Gaza Strip, relying on aids from some local organizations. She cooks food for her children with kerosene everyday due to the lack of gas in Gaza since Israel imposed tight blockade.

Some Palestinian human rights activists mentioned that the Palestinian women, especially those who lost their husbands or sons, still suffer very “hard shocks.”

Samar Shahien, Palestinian activist for the woman rights, said that the Palestinian society suffers from shock after the Israeli military operation in general, but women suffer more.

Women, in a direct, or indirect way, are facing huge responsibility because of this unstable situation, and no woman is able to accept quietly the death of her husband or son, Shahien said.

Shahien said especially when a woman has to take the man’s role to support the whole family; she has to undertake more than she can.

In a very traditional Islamic community like Gaza, if the man became a martyr, the wife will be deprived of remarriage, she has to raise all the children by her own, and this may cause her fear for the future, said Shahien.

Talking about her children’s future, Elwan said she is encouraging her sons to devote into “resistance” when they grow up, and she said this happened only when her husband was killed.

But at the same time, Elwan added that, she is also encouraging them to study and leave them the choice to define their goals in the society, which she believes is ruled by armed factions.

Asked about her comment on the first post-war Women’s Day, Elwan replied that the day is supposed to be an important occasion for the women all over the world, but “women in Gaza only experience a joyless Women’s Day.”