Archive for the ‘Feminism’ Category

In the experience of women’s rights activists around the world, religious fundamentalists strategically use physical and psychological violence to undermine those who oppose their policies. Fundamentalist violence can range from highly visible attacks against abortion doctors or LGBT people to the support of military actions to excusing domestic violence.

Religious fundamentalisms are on the rise in every region of the world, and can be found in every religion. In the experience of 8 out 10 women’s rights activists worldwide, religious fundamentalisms have had a negative impact on the rights of women. But activists are fighting back.

In a ground-breaking new publication, AWID presents feminist strategies of resisting and challenging religious fundamentalisms, based on research that draws examples from across regions and different religious traditions. Building on this extensive research, the report examines the factors that help religious fundamentalisms grow and the strategies fundamentalists use to promote their vision and strengthen their social and political power. It unmasks those strategies through feminist analysis and provides proposals and examples of how women’s rights activists and their allies in other movements can work effectively towards a future without fundamentalisms.

Download the report “Towards a Future without Fundamentalisms” in pdf 1.23 MB

Katha Pollitt admires Julian Assange for his work on WikiLeaks, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that he has committed sex crimes

The problem is not that many WikiLeaks supporters question the zeal with which Swedish authorities are pursuing Assange. Maybe it’s true that an ordinary guy, faced with similar accusations, would have been allowed to slip away quietly once he left Sweden rather than become the subject of an Interpol red notice. (Maybe not, though. The 11 Swedes on Interpol’s public red list include people wanted for fraud and other non-spectacular crimes. Much has been made of the fact that only one of these, an alleged child molester, is charged with a sex crime. But the vast majority of wanted people are privately listed, so actually there’s no way of knowing if Assange’s case is exceptional.)

Given that US politicians, from Joe Biden to Sarah Palin, have called for Assange’s head, it isn’t paranoid to suspect that he is being singled out in order to extradite him to the United States. But it could also be that Sweden is following up because law enforcement officials get mad when world-class celebrities flee the country and then thumb their noses at them – cf Roman Polanski.

What’s disturbing is the way some WikiLeaks admirers have misrepresented the allegations, attacked the women and made light of date rape. It’s been known for some time that Assange was accused of using his body weight to force sex on one woman, ignoring her demand that he use a condom, and penetrating the other woman while she slept, also without a condom, despite her wishes; yet writer after writer has treated the whole thing as a big joke.

Appearing on Keith Olbermann’s show after he put up $20,000 to help bail Assange out of a British jail, Michael Moore – apparently an expert on Swedish rape law – called the case “a bunch of hooey”: “the condom broke during consensual sex”.

The heroic Sady Doyle, a blogger at Tiger Beatdown, gets lots of credit for starting a Twitter campaign that forced Moore and Olbermann to – sort of – back off their sexist chortling. But it’s too late: the “revelations” that Sweden has laws against condomless sex and that “Ms A” is a CIA “honeytrap” are all over the left blogosphere.

And it isn’t just men who are spreading it. On the Huffington Post, Naomi Wolf posted a satirical letter to Interpol, aka the “world’s dating police”, repeating the broken-condom falsehood and adding that Assange’s crimes include “texting and tweeting in the taxi… while on a date and, disgustingly enough, reading stories about himself online” in the cab. Is this the same Naomi Wolf who wrote a 2004 New York magazine cover story accusing Harold Bloom of putting his hand on her thigh 20 years before? Wolf argues that the accusations against Assange demean the seriousness of rape.

In fact, Swedish law does distinguish among degrees of rape, with Assange being accused on one count of the least grave kind. In a much-cited letter to the Guardian, Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape argued that Sweden’s low rape conviction rate proved that Assange was being set up – in 2006, she claimed, only six people were convicted out of 4,000 reported. Not so.

“I don’t know where they got those figures,” Amnesty International’s Katarina Bergehed told me by phone from Sweden. “In 2006 there were 3,074 rapes and 227 convictions.” (Sweden tracks rape by individual acts, not by number of victims, so the prevalence of rape is less than it looks.) Bergehed should know: she wrote the Swedish section of the Amnesty report on sex crimes in the Nordic countries that Assange supporters cite as proving that Sweden is the worst place in Europe for rape victims.

One reason the Swedish rape conviction rate is low is that – thanks to 30 years of feminist progress – the law defines sexual violence and coercion broadly but, as in other countries, police and juries often do not. The same seems to be true of large swaths of the American left.

WikiLeaks is revealing information citizens need to know – it’s a good thing. Assange may or may not have committed sex crimes according to Swedish law. Why is it so hard to hold those two ideas at once?

Extracts from a longer comment piece at

See also:

Extract from a longer opinion piece by Carol Hanisch

Feminism (USA) has always been a problematic term in the struggle for women’s liberation, and now with such unlikely public figures as Sarah Palin and Lady Gaga embracing it, it’s become more so. When can or should the feminist label be applied? A look at the recent history of the term may help put the question in perspective.

In the 1960s, many of us involved in getting the Women’s Liberation Movement off the ground didn’t at first want to call ourselves feminists because the term was applied to establishment liberal groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW). These groups concentrated on legal and lobbying solutions, mostly in the areas of employment and careers, and while we appreciated their work, we had a much broader goal for our movement: the total liberation of all women in every area of our lives, including those considered too “personal” for public discussion and action. Also in contrast to the liberal groups, most of us agreed that women’s liberation could not be achieved under capitalism, though we thought progress certainly was possible and necessary and needed to be fought for in the present, that it would actually help bring about the other social and economic changes we wanted.

At the same time we took the name “Women’s Liberation,” we didn’t want to cut ourselves off from other women’s rights groups and we wanted to study and learn from feminist history and our feminist foremothers. We ended up using both terms — feminist and women’s liberation — though not completely interchangeably. We thought of ourselves as the Women’s Liberation Movement within a broader feminist movement.

The radical WLM led the way in making feminism immensely popular by using consciousness-raising to focus on the nitty-gritty male supremacy that women experienced in their everyday lives — some aspects of which, like abortion, were not then discussed in public. (The case for the success of these radical ideas is made in the 1975 Redstockings book,Feminist Revolution.) As its popularity grew, the feminist bandwagon became overcrowded with a myriad of offshoots: cultural feminists, lesbian feminists, lesbian separatist feminists, matriarchal feminists, eco-feminists, anti-nuke feminists, peace feminists, anarcho-feminists, animal rights feminists, third wave feminists, Jewish feminists, and the list goes on — even the anti-abortion Feminists for Life. Some, in our view, bore little relationship to the real struggle for feminist or women’s liberation demands, but were women self-segregating themselves to fight for other goals.

With the marginalization of the Women’s Liberation Movement by liberal forces, a milder “women’s movement,” minus “liberation”– and now even often minus “movement” (in practice if not if intent) — arose proclaiming that “feminism is anything a woman says it is.” It became mostly about the individual woman — individual choice, personal expression, and individual career success — with little relationship to the need for a collective, united, social movement to liberate all women. This tendency, there from the beginning, gained strength as the Women’s Liberation Movement, radical in its collective approach to attacking the roots of male supremacy, was pushed into near oblivion in the early 1970s. The militant multi-issue groups with their willingness to probe and expose every nook and cranny of women’s oppression were either marginalized or became single issue organizations, advocating in only one area and often distancing themselves from women’s liberation as a radical, grassroots movement.

Today, there is even a group aptly called “ifeminists” (individualist feminists), which claims it is for women’s equality while simultaneously associating itself with anti-government libertarians and Ayn Rand. It supports all kinds of “individual choices” for women, from abortion to porn, while opposing such “government intervention” as police and court interference in wife-battering.

Then there is the question of the relation of feminism to issues of war and peace. Many feminists consider peace to be a feminist issue (I don’t). Their criteria, however, is often inconsistent. Some who see Clinton as a feminist claim Palin can’t be a feminist because she supports the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Clinton, who championed mildly progressive women’s and family issues as a senator, is a war hawk as Secretary of State. Rare is the woman who gets into the Good Old Boys Club who doesn’t reinforce the system she started out to reform.

A movement needs a certain amount of consensus to move forward, and if it can’t even decide what direction that is, it is not a force to be reckoned with and will achieve little. What’s more, if its leaders are going to call that chaos a good thing, what hope is there? It also needs more than belief in women’s equality and encouraging words. It needs accompanying theory and action. Knowing that the yearning for equality has not left most women’s souls (even if the Movement that fought for it to become a reality is in disarray), opportunists of both sexes play off feminism in many spheres. Lack of consensus throws the door wide open.

It may be that by now the word “feminism” is so distorted by those claiming the label — including its enemies — that it is impossible to define or use the word without writing a whole book about it. But anyone who thinks we’re post-feminism and it doesn’t matter anymore is asleep at the wheel. We can’t afford to abandon the term and concept of feminism because of the real advances that have been made for women in its name, and the rich historical legacy that we must defend. And we need a name for what still needs to be done, a still monumental task. We need to use the terms “women’s liberation” and even “male supremacy” again, even if it means a very big fight.

    Carol Hanisch was a founding member of New York Radical Women in 1968 and has been agitating for the liberation of women ever since. She is probably best known for writing The Personal Is Political and for proposing the idea for—and writing a critique of—the 1968 Miss America Protest. She was also managing editor of the Redstockings book Feminist Revolution and editor of the journal Meeting Ground. She has also been active in civil rights, working class and environmental movements. Website: and email:

‘Control and Sexuality’ by Ziba Mir-Hosseini & Vanja Hamzić

The International Solidarity Network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) is pleased to announce the publication of Control and Sexuality: The Revival of Zina Laws in Muslim Contexts by Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Vanja Hamzić. Copies can be purchased in the WLUML webshop for £12.00, and if you follow the link, you can download a sample chapter (the introduction) here:

Control and Sexuality by Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Vanja Hamzić examines zina laws in some Muslim contexts and communities in order to explore connections between the criminalisation of sexuality, gender-based violence and women’s rights activism. The Violence is Not Our Culture Campaign and the Women Living Under Muslim Laws network present this comparative study and feminist analysis of zina laws as a contribution to the broader objective of ending violence in the name of ‘culture’. It is hoped that the publication will help activists, policy-makers, researchers and other civil society actors acquire a better understanding of how culture and/or religion are invoked to justify laws that criminalise women’s sexuality and subject them to cruel, inhuman and degrading forms of punishment.

“It is most timely that this publication should emerge when issues of culture and human rights are being debated in many venues in the international arena: within the United Nations; in national and transnational, mainstream and alternative media outlets; and across social and political movements. Some cultural practices may be particularly detrimental to the rights of women and girls. All harmful practices, regardless of provenance and justification, must be eliminated. All human rights are universal, indivisible and inter-related. It is my hope that by building upon the progressive, equitable and just aspects of culture which are inherent to all, this book can make a substantial contribution towards the promotion of rights, under law and custom.” Farida Shaheed, UN Independent Expert on Cultural Rights

In solidarity,
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Solidarity Network

(this is a comment piece by Meredith Tax)

The International Criminal Court, the first permanent tribunal set up to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, opened its doors in 2002. Five years earlier, people in the global women’s movement had organised a women’s caucus for gender justice to bring about this happy event, and the existence of the ICC is in no small part the result of their concerted efforts. Some of the best feminist lawyers in the world, including the late Rhonda Copelon of the international women’s human rights law clinic of the City University of New York, worked on creating the court, and the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the court – made a qualitative leap forward by integrating gender-based violence into its definitions of international crimes. The statute had provisions to ensure that evidence would be gathered in a way that protected witnesses and did not cause additional trauma, gave the court authority to award reparations, and required the prosecutor to appoint advisors with legal expertise on sexual and gender violence.

Unfortunately, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC’s first prosecutor, has shown little grasp of the statute he is supposed to be enforcing. He came to the court to implement a treaty unique in its attention to gender, and his first case ignored gender altogether. This case, in which Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese militia leader, is accused of drafting child soldiers, has already dragged on for four years. It has been almost thrown out of court twice because the prosecution evidence was so poorly prepared, and last year, Lubanga’s defence team charged that prosecution researchers in Congo got some witnesses to fabricate evidence. This charge could result in the whole case coming to nothing.

Equally serious was Moreno-Ocampo’s failure to include rape among the charges, even though young girls abducted by Lubanga’s troops were routinely forced to have sex with their commanders. Women’s human rights activists tried to persuade the prosecutor to include crimes of sexual violence among the charges, but he wouldn’t listen. Now, because Lubanga was not charged with rape, defence attorneys do not have to allow questions about those crimes.

The ICC’s second Congo case, that of Jean-Pierre Bemba, is flawed in a different way. The Rome Statute provides that rape can be charged as a crime in itself and also as a form of torture or genocide; such multiple charges were intended to capture the many dimensions and the full harmfulness of the act. However, in the Bemba case, the judge in the pre-trial chamber has refused to allow multiple charges of rape; she threw out the charge of torture, partly because the indictment was poorly drafted and the prosecutor’s office showed insufficient evidence.

All this underlines the importance of another provision of the Rome Statute, also violated by Moreno-Ocampo – the early appointment of high-level experts on gender as a permanent part of the prosecutor’s staff. Those who drafted the Rome Statute knew from experience that mainstreaming crimes against women was a new idea, and lawyers and judges would need to be trained for the work. But instead of appointing gender experts, integrating them into his staff and letting them shape cases, Moreno-Ocampo delayed any such appointment for six years.

Finally, in November, 2008, as criticism of him mounted, he appointed Catharine MacKinnon as special gender adviser – not a staff position, but a consulting one with no attendance requirement. It was a peculiar appointment in other ways. MacKinnon had not been directly involved in the process leading to the creation of the court and the mainstreaming of gender in the Rome Statute. Her main claim to fame in the US, where she is a polarising figure, has been in sexual harassment law, and through her activities during the “porn wars” of the eighties, when she sought to criminalise pornography as a violation of women’s civil rights. She carried her analysis of the centrality of porn into the Yugoslav wars, arguing, on dubious evidence, that Serbian militias in Bosnia were provided with special porn to psych them up for mass rapes.

At the ICC, it has begun to appear that MacKinnon’s main assignment is to blow smoke. In a speech in September 2009, she said ( pdf):

“The most striking quality of the pursuit of these [gender-based] crimes by the ICC to date has been that they are there: their centrality to every prosecution so far, in a way that clarifies how the sexual abuse becomes a specific instrumentality in each conflict.”

This is a whitewash of the way gender was neglected in the early years of the court, as evidenced in the Lubanga case.

When the modern human rights movement began, its normative victim was an eastern European male prisoner of conscience. In the nineties, women activists shone light on violations based on gender, and the definition of a human rights victim became broad enough to include sexual violence by both state and “non-state actors” – militias, paramilitary groups, religious fundamentalists, even fathers and brothers and husbands. The Rome Statute is one of the major markers on that road. But the “war on terror” has returned us, in many ways, to status quo ante: today, the normative human rights victim is once more a male prisoner, this time in Guantánamo; human rights offences by states are back at centre stage; and crimes against women and children are again being marginalised.

The ICC’s deficiencies are one symptom of this slippage in the progress of women’s human rights. The struggle between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty is another. We live in a world where the internal processes of human rights organisations, whether Amnesty or the ICC, lack transparency, and where discussions about them are increasingly confined to experts. While the context of women’s human rights work has been transformed by the “war on terror”, the rest of the human rights movement has not caught up, and the global women’s networks that existed in the nineties have become fatigued and lack funding.

At an international conference at McGill University in 1999, Rhonda Copelon observed that “human rights, like law itself, are not autonomous, but rise and fall based on the course and strength of peoples’ movements and the popular and political pressure and cultural change they generate.” We cannot allow ourselves to be pushed back to a narrow mid 20th-century vision of human rights, least of all in the ICC. Ocampo-Moreno’s term as prosecutor expires in 2012. It is time for activists to begin to mobilise, and lobby for a replacement who will have a better grasp of the gender provisions so meticulously written into the Rome Statute.

There isn’t really such thing as a “masculine” and a “feminine,” says feminist icon Gloria Steinem. Because we’ve been so deeply propagandized with the notions about what it means to be male or female, we don’t even know what the differences between these groups truly are. What we do know is that individual differences are much greater than group differences she says: “The differences between two women are quite likely to be bigger than the generalized differences between males and females as groups for every purpose except reproduction, just as the individual differences between two members of the same race or ethnicity are probably greater than the differences between two races.”

In her Big Think interview, Steinem sets the record straight about the oft-demonized feminist movement. Its purpose is not to attack men but “to free the uniqueness of the individual and to understand that inside each of us is a unique human being who is a combination of heredity and environment.” And in this pursuit, tremendous headway has been made, but there is still much more to be done.

Feminism isn’t dead, says Steinem. That’s merely a lie spread by the right. In the 1960s and ’70s, critics of feminism said that it wasn’t necessary, that women didn’t want these new rights and freedoms, and they are still propagating anti-feminist narratives. “The idea that feminism has not succeeded or that this generation has rejected it is just a new form of the backlash,” she says. But their efforts haven’t succeeded. “Even though the opposition has tried very hard to demonize [feminism] and to call us Femi-Nazis and terrible stuff, there are still about a third of American women who self identify as feminists with no definition and with the definition it’s more than 60%.”

We must also reassess our assumptions about men, she tells us. “We’ve demonstrated in this and other modern countries or industrialized countries that women can do what men can do, but we have not demonstrated that men can do what women can do,” she says. “Therefore children are still mostly raised by women, and women in industrialized modern countries end up having two jobs: one outside the home and one inside the home. And more seriously than that, children grow up believing that only women can be loving and nurturing, which is a libel on men, and that only men can be powerful in the world outside the home, which is a libel on women.”

Another sign of positive change would be a change in the forms of pornography society consumes, says Steinem. Pornography is tantamount to female slavery: “It’s all about passive dominance and pain,” she says. “I want to pass a newsstand and see erotica, real erotica, which has to do with love and free choice, not pornography,” she tells us. The same is true of prostitution: men go to prostitutes because they need a certain kind of dominance, which she says is an addiction to masculinity. “What has been eroticized by male dominant systems of all kinds is dominance and passivity; we need to eroticize equality,” she argues. “I always say to audiences of men, ‘Cooperation beats submission.’ Trust me.”

Finally, Steinem tells us why Sarah Palin’s choice to brand “mama grizzlies” as the mascot for right-wing women is so ironic. Grizzly bears are actually the animals that most embody reproductive freedoms, she says.


Interview: Has feminism succeeded – interview with Gloria Steinem

A blazing row over feminism erupted Tuesday between Family Minister Kristina Schröder and Germany’s leading women’s rights campaigner, Alice Schwarzer, following an interview by the minister that had other women politicians bristling too.

Schwarzer, the 67-year-old leading feminist and founder of the women’s journal EMMA, blasted Schröder in an open letter as a “hopeless case” and “simply unqualified.”

Schröder, 33, is the youngest woman ever to sit in Germany’s cabinet. In an interview this week with Der Spiegel magazine, the conservative Christian Democrat took issue with some of Schwarzer’s assertions in the latter’s famous feminist book, Der kleine Unterschied und seine großen Folgen, or “The Small Difference and its Great Consequences.”

The minister questioned Schwarzer’s purported view that “heterosexual sex was hardly possible without the subjugation of the woman.”

“It is absurd when something that is essential to the survival of humanity is defined as subjugation. That would mean that without the subjugation of woman society could not continue.”

Schröder also said: “I don’t find it convincing that homosexuality should be the solution to the disadvantage of women.”

The radical feminist tendency to reject relationships between men and women was not a solution for inequality, she said.

“I believe that early feminism at least partially overlooked that partnership and children bring happiness,” she told the magazine.

The minister also rejected the idea of quotas to improve women’s standing in the workplace, calling it a “political capitulation.” She blamed some women’s own choices for the fact that they earned less than men.

“The truth is this: Many women prefer to study German philology and humanities, while men study electric engineering – and that has consequences when it comes to wages. We can’t forbid companies from paying electric engineers more than a philologist.”

Schröder told Der Spiegel that a new part of her policy would be providing more support to boys, who are falling behind girls in schools. Government policies have neglected boys and men, she said.

The Family Minister’s comments were not appreciated by feminist leader Schwarzer, who made a brutal retort in an open letter to Schröder, also published by Der Spiegel.

“I consider you to be a hopeless case. Simply unqualified,” Schwarzer wrote.
“Whatever the motive of the chancellor might have been in appointing you of all people – it cannot have been competence and empathy for women.”

Schwarzer accused Schröder of using “cheap clichés” about “the most momentous social movement of the 20th century,” which Schröder, among many other young women, could thank for their personal success in their careers.

She went on to blast Schröder for employing “populist wisdom” and “outrageous nonsense” about Schwarzer’s book.

She said she had waited for the past year for deeds and action from Schröder, but “in vain.”

“The only exciting news from your office was your change of name from Köhler to Schröder,” she said, referring to the minister’s name change after she got married in February.

Meanwhile Green party parliamentary group leader and candidate for Berlin mayor Renate Künast said she was “dumbfounded” by the Family Minister’s comments, calling them “crude and antiquated.”

Another opposition politician, Social Democrat deputy leader and Minister of Social Affairs and Health in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig, called the interview “nonsense.”

“Mrs. Schröder has absolutely no understanding of the historic meaning of feminism,” she told Der Spiegel, adding that she was also uninformed about the modern problems of women.

The deputy leader of the socialist Left party, Katja Kipping, weighed in on the debate with equal vigour, questioning Schröder’s knowledge of the movement, saying it had “never been about man-hating, but about fighting the patriarchy – that is, structures that discriminate against women.”

As participants from the U.S. at the 25th National Gathering of Women (XXV Encuentro Nacional de Mujeres) in Paraná, Argentina we denounce the attacks by rightwing Catholics on feminists at the workshops on “Women, Contraception and Abortion” which resulted in a number of injuries and the hospitalization of one activist.

This gathering is an historic victory by Argentine women and is a crucial place for the sharing of experiences as well as for strategizing on how to advance the fundamental rights of women as full human beings. The infiltration of the huge meeting by religious fanatics, a provocative and dangerous assault on freedom of speech, was an outrageous violation of women’s right to engage in much-needed discussions on how to win the basic right to control their own bodies.

Over the last four decades, Latin American women have won great advances in access to contraceptives and abortion. The ultra-right Catholics apparently consider it their mission to turn back the clock and reverse women’s hard-won victories.

Rightwing religious fundamentalism increased internationally in the 1970s in reaction to the worldwide revolutionary upsurge. Today, it is spurred on by the global economic crisis and the reliance of capitalism on women’s free labor in the home and cheap labor in the marketplace for super profits.

The seemingly ever-growing number of religious reactionaries often has the full collusion of bourgeois governments, including that of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. Through women’s sweat and sacrifices in the home, where they produce and care for the next generation of workers, and due to their drastically under-paid status in the workforce, untold wealth and global profits flow freely to keep capitalism and its crony governments afloat.

We stand with women all across Latin America who refuse to back down in the face of rightwing repression. At the enormous assembly in Paraná, feminists said “No more!” to the provocation of church-backed infiltrators and physically ousted them from the building where the workshops on “Contraception and Abortion” were being held. That same night, thousands of women mounted a march that stretched over 10 blocks singing chants against the dictatorship of the church and for women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies, including the right to abortion. The massive presence of police and military forces, posted in front of churches to “guard” them from protesters, was a display of government support for the anti-abortion fanatics.

As socialist feminists from the U.S., we are inspired by the militancy and tenacity shown by Argentine women this past weekend. We are engaged in a similar fight against the ultra-Catholics and evangelical Protestants on our own soil and are defending abortion clinics from attacks nationwide.

For forty years Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party have organized united fronts with other groups and individuals against similar campaigns by the right wing that target women, lesbians and gays, Blacks, Jews, and radical activists. We have learned that feminists, leftists, unionists and racial and ethnic minorities, representing wide-ranging political perspectives can and must work together to defeat our common enemies.

We support the call of Argentine feminists for legal, safe and free abortion and for the separation of church and state.

No more rightwing assaults on the Gathering of Women!
Long live global feminism!

Emily Woo Yamasaki, Radical Women
Laura Mannen, Freedom Socialist Party

Freedom Socialist Party, U.S. Section

Coalition of women’s groups calls on PM Netanyahu to name a woman to peace talks team; the appeal comes weeks after High Court criticized Turkel Committee’s failure to include a female.

Weeks after High Court judges harshly criticized the Turkel Committee’s failure to include a woman, a coalition of 14 women’s groups appealed to the prime minister on Sunday to name women to the team handling peace talks with the Palestinians.

Among the signatories to a letter addressed to Benjamin Netanyahu are Women Lawyers for Social Justice, Ahoti Movement, Isha L’Isha, Economic Empowerment for Women, Lobby for Gender Equality, The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow, and Kolech.

The organizations are demanding that the prime minister appoint a woman in accordance with a law that requires “adequate female representation” on government committees formed by the cabinet, the prime minister, a minister or a deputy minister.

In their letter, the groups said that the law also regards negotiating “staffs” or “teams” as bodies bound by the terms under which state committees operate.

“By dint of the demands of the law, there is a clear, unequivocal obligation to appoint women from all walks of the population in a manner that reflects their proportion in greater society,” the groups wrote. “This clearly applies to the negotiating team, and we expect that the law will be fully implemented.”

In the letter, Anat Thon Ashkenazy, an attorney with Women Lawyers for Social Justice, cited the High Court ruling earlier this month that required the addition of at least one woman on the Turkel Committee investigating the raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla.

From the Editors

How are women faring on “equality”? What remains unequal? And is equality really the summit for progressives and feminists, or only one more mountain to climb?

With the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote upon us — and August 26th is designated as Women’s Equality Day – On The Issues Magazine invited writers, artists and poets to consider the elusive search for equality and its flip side, double standards in our lives, for “EQUALITY: How much further away?”

Despite impressive gains, women in the U.S. and around the world are still seeking full equality in political, religious, civic, social, personal, work, financial and artistic realms. But if equality were to arrive or women were to arrive at it, will our goals as feminists and progressives be met? Before her death in 1998, former U.S.Congressional Rep. Bella Abzug said that women should change “the nature of power,” rather than power changing “the nature of women.” But with rare exceptions, the reality is that women still don’t hold the reins of power.

Even the suffragists who labored for women’s voting rights had more in mind. In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments, listing a range of injustices encountered by women. Borrowing from the Declaration of Independence, she wrote of the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal,” she wrote. Among her 16 “injuries and usurpations” are some still deeply relevant – relegating women to subordinate positions in church and State, applying a different code of morals to men and women, and attempting to destroy women’s “confidence in her own powers.”

After securing the vote in 1920, activists immediately turned to organizing in other spheres, writing the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (still not passed), and using the courts and legislatures to end discriminatory practices. The work, of course, is not done. In this edition, Carolyn Cook writes about how Hillary Clinton’s presidential run drew her to get involved in a new campaign for the ERA Say “I Do”: Constitutional Equality is Forever. Cindy Cooper explores the laws and still-pending concerns on sex discrimination in Gender Equality: Devil in the Details, while Beverly Neufeld writes about a refreshed movement for equal pay in Best City for Working Women: In Our Checkbooks.

In our first video essay, Ann Farmer looks at nontraditional employment, stepping into the garage with a woman mechanic in Equality Under the Hood: Car Repair is Women’s Work.

But there are many areas in the U.S. that the law does not reach at all. Religion is one. Angela Bonavoglia, an author who has researched extensively the Catholic Church and women, explains not only how the Vatican is using an iron fist against woman of faith but why it matters to those outside its purview, in Women Challenge Gender Apartheid in the Catholic Church. Eleanor Bader looks at the ways that women in conservative Jewish communities are quietly removing gender barriers in Snood by Snood, Tight-Knit Orthodox Piety Loosens Up.

Marcy Bloom and Ariel Dougherty remind us of two other areas that are beyond the scope of the government. In Health Inequality: Gates Foundation Bans Abortion, Bloom describes how one decision of a generous donor will sentence some women to ugly deaths. Dougherty writes in Girls Kick: Moving the Media’s World Cup Goal Posts that girls’ sports dreams are squelched by pathetically low media coverage.

Loretta Ross, a frequent writer for On The Issues Magazine, applies a multifaceted (“intersectional” to academics) analysis to the goals of the women’s movement from her perspective as an African American feminist. In the struggle against oppression, equality is but one marker along the way to undivided justice for all peoples of the world, she writes in A Feminist Vision: No Justice-No Equity.

Other contributors take a sharp aim at double standards, often with a good dose of humor.

Megan Carpentier dissects the suddenly-popular (if unproven) notion that it’s the male gender that is facing bias in Alright Then, Let Men Compete, while Elizabeth Black writes in bittersweet terms about the ways that women are still criticized for sexual enjoyment in Good Girls, Bad Girls: The Kinkiness of Slut-Shaming.
Marie Shear takes on dozens of linguistic slights and putdowns in “Little Marie”: The Daily Toll of Sexist Language. (Her essay brought to mind a comment by the crusading medical writer Barbara Seaman, who declared that she could not understand why researchers on women’s sexuality described “hard” and “soft” data; more appropriate, she said, would be “wet” and “dry” data.)

Other articles apply a long view. Lu Bailey finds hope in the common sense of parents who bristle at Hollywood stereotyping in Defeating Racism and Sexism with the Politics of Authenticity. Mary Lou Greenberg explains her view that the concept of equality does not go nearly far enough in addressing the degradation of a consumerist and capitalist society in Beyond Equality to Liberation.

Our art and poetry sections bring especially unique perspectives. Co-Poetry Editor Judith Arcana selects works from four poets who eloquently portray the lives of women, real and mythological, as they circle the edges of their lives and try to find places to breathe. Maria Padhila, Penelope Scambly Schott, Wendy Vardaman and Sondra Zeidenstein share the rugged dilemmas and not-so-delicate dances that women encounter.

“The Art Perspective,” curated by Art Editor Linda Stein, features a retrospective of a highly acclaimed international artist who frequently addresses inequities in wealth, labor and gender roles in Regina Frank Is Present. In multiple-part audio and video displays, Frank describes how she creates her works, often placing herself as a physical presence inside the art.

The work of other artists is represented throughout the magazine, including Roz Dimon, seen here and here, Robin Gaynes-Bachman, Barbara Lubliner, Kathleen Migliore-Newton, seen here and here, Victoria Pacimeo, Mark Phillips, Inga Poslitar, Marjorie Price and Deborah Ugoretz.

Lastly, we take a look at ten stories on equality from our archives (print, 1983-99; Online, 2008-present), including an investigation by Sally Roesch Wagner into the shared-power experienced by Native American women in pre-colonial societies, Merle Hoffman’s concept of Roe v. Wade as the Medical Equal Rights Amendment for Women, the links between Right-wing anti-gay and anti-women’s rights propaganda, and the vivid description of a “pee-in” to protest the lack of women’s toilets at Harvard. These and other writings are described and linked in From Our Files on Equality.

Equality, and what it means, turns out to be a rich and layered subject, with each question leading to another. We will continue to explore new perspectives on it in the Café of On The Issues Magazine, and we invite your articles, essays and creative thinking, as well as your letters and comments. Write to: On the Issues at In addition, we invite you to send us short videos on the topic of nontraditional employment. Send inquiries to On the Issues at

    Pornography had started influencing us long before it came out of the underground and crept into Wall Street boardrooms a couple of decades ago.

    But now, with porn stars bagging the status of ‘crossover artistes’, XXX has seeped into our very sexual identities, convincing obsessive users that the art of lovemaking begins and ends like the way it is shown on screen. Gail Dines, American anti-porn activist and professor of sociology, exchanges notes with Arghya Ganguly about her new book, ‘Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality’ and how the multibillion-dollar industry is shaping people’s lives, sexuality and relationships …

In your book, you say that in American society, porn is probably the most articulate teller of sexual stories for men. In your land of vibrant literature, it’s a bold statement to make…

Yes. It is bold, but it’s a statement I stand by. Boys are not going to great works of literature or art to learn about sex; they are going to porn. They first learn about sex in a culture steeped in porn imagery, so they develop a pornographic way of looking at women’s bodies at a young age. Just watching TV, going to the movies, or playing video games introduces boys to images that reduce women to sex objects. With this pornographic gaze well established by adolescence, boys graduate to actual porn. Most porn on the internet is hardcore, and boys are catapulted into a world of body-punishing sex that is based on the dehumanisation of women. We have no alternative images in the culture that counter this way of looking at women, so this one becomes dominant.

The message porn sends to men is that they are entitled to access women’s bodies. In porn, the man makes hate to the woman, as each sex act is designed to deliver the maximum amount of degradation. Whether it be choking her or brutal intercourse, the goal of porn is to illustrate how much power he has over her. The narrative about women is that they are all whores by nature, ready and willing to do whatever men want. In this world, women are never concerned about pregnancy, STDs, or damage to the body, and are astonishingly indifferent to being called whores. This is an uncomplicated world where women don’t need equal pay, healthcare, retirement plans, or good schools for their children. It is a world filled with one-dimensional women, who are nothing more than a collection of holes.

The story pornography tells about men is much simpler than the one about women, since men in porn are depicted as nothing more than soulless, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. No matter how uncomfortable or in pain the woman looks, these men are utterly oblivious to her as a person. She is to them just a set of orifices. These stories get delivered to men’s brains via the penis. The younger the boy is when he first views porn – the average age of first viewing is 11 – the more likely these stories are going to form the core of his sexual identity.

You also talk about how women have internalised the men’s gaze and they spend hours in front of the mirror due to it. ‘Porn penises’ have also become the standard against which men judge themselves. Do you suppose it will be a good idea to rehabilitate the youth by showing Renaissance art – for instance, Michelangelo’s ‘David’ – which mostly feature modestly endowed men?

Unfortunately, we live in a world in which culture is commercialised through the mass media, so there is little room for fine art. A better idea would be for men to stop using porn. They do measure themselves against male porn performers, and many feel like sexual losers. Their penises are not as big, nor can they perform the same way as the Viagra-fortified penises in porn. Many feel let down by actual sex, because they get used to masturbating to industrial-strength sex that is supposed to give their partners screaming orgasms. Next to this, real sex looks and feels bland and boring. I don’t think we need to ‘rehabilitate’ men; rather we need to raise their consciousness as to the harm of porn. I believe that the more men learn about the ways in which porn affects their sexual identity, the more they will think before clicking on a porn site. Girls and women have indeed internalised men’s gaze, and they are increasingly turning themselves into objects. This makes absolute sense when you think about the images that they are bombarded with. Flip through the pages of popular women’s magazines and you’ll see slight variations on a theme: a heavily made-up, young, attractive, technologically perfected woman devoid of body hair, cellulite, age lines or physical disabilities. She’s minimally clothed, with a seductive look plastered on her face. Whether it be an almost naked Britney Spears writhing around on stage or a Victoria’s Secret model clad in a plunging bra and thong, women and girls today are overwhelmed by images of themselves as sex objects whose worth is measured only by their ‘hotness.’

Do you agree with the historical argument that if the Great Depression and WW II didn’t occur then Playboy wouldn’t have been able to successfully advertise its anti-woman ideology?

Yes. It was no accident that Playboy became so successful in the 1950s.The obvious question here is how a porn magazine became a best seller in what was one of the most conservative decades of the second half of the twentieth century. To understand this, it is pivotal to map out some of the economic and cultural themes that marked this era. The post-World War II America required a consumer population that would spend money to build the economy. However, the targeted group – the emerging white suburban middle class – was born during a depression and raised during a war, circumstances that lead to frugality. To nurture consumerism, businesses adopted a number of techniques, not the least of which was a massive marketing campaign, to turn frugal people into spenders. The expansion of television helped spread the ideology of consumerism through advertisements and sit-coms, which were often thirty-minute ads for how to furnish a suburban home. However, women were typically targeted by television, so there were few avenues for luring men into buying products they did not need.

Enter Hugh Hefner, a failed cartoonist who – by design or accident – hit on an idea that meshed beautifully with the needs of capitalism. He created a lifestyle magazine for men that placed consumerism at the centre of the new identity of the upwardly mobile male. Playboy spent much of its early years crafting a magazine that taught men what clothes to wear, what furniture to buy for the office, what food to cook, and, most important, how to consume to a level that would attract women, whose goal was to marry out of the working class. Playboy promised men that if they bought the products they would get the real prize: lots of women, just like the ones in the centerfolds. Playboy thus not only commodified sexuality, it also sexualised commodities.

Why has the US government been insouciant with respect to porn? Is it because ‘Pornland’ is a capitalist’s dream?

Porn is indeed a capitalist’s dream, since it is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year machine with ties to other major industries. This is a business with considerable political clout, with the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles, and use public relations to influence debate. The porn industry sells the idea that women who enter the industry do so because they love sex and enjoy what they are doing. What we don’t hear about are their economic circumstances. Jenna Jameson is a major recruitment tool for the porn industry. She is a walking ad for what a woman can supposedly achieve by doing porn. I don’t think the solution to porn will come through the government. In a capitalist society, the role of the government is to protect the rights of corporations, not the people. If we are going to tackle this problem, it has to be through a mass movement.

Is it fair to conclude that dinners, vanilla sex and post-coital affection are passe due to capitalism and its tag team partner, porn?

I would say what we are witnessing is a move away from relationships toward a hook-up culture where sex, rather than an ongoing relationship, is the expectation. The increasing pornification of our society has been instrumental in shifting heterosexual relationships. Given its lack of commitment and intimate connection, hookup sex is a lot like porn sex, and it is being played out in the real world. If porn and women’s media are to be believed, these women are having as good a time as the men. But research is finding that women do hope for more than just sex from a hook-up – many express a desire for the encounter to evolve into a relationship. Sociologist Kathleen Bogle, for example, found in her study of college-age students that many of the women ‘were interested in turning hook-up partners into boyfriends’, while the men preferred it ‘with no strings attached’.

Do you approve of film schools having porn in their curriculum?

I don’t think educational institutions should support the porn industry in any way. I do, however, believe courses on porn are appropriate for a college classroom as long as they critically explore different ways of thinking about porn, not just ones that celebrate it. Showing movies or stills can be tricky, given the effect it may have on students. In my classes, I show stills, but only after much discussion and the establishment of a clear set of guidelines that allow students to not attend or to leave if they feel uncomfortable or upset. I also worry about students who have a history of abuse, since such images can trigger memories. Given that we live in a porn culture, we should be providing our students with media literacy skills.

Do you reckon that feminists fighting for sexual liberation in the ’60s and ’70s erred somewhere, because all they got is sexuality that has its roots in porn?

Feminism fought for a sexuality based on equality and respect, and what we got was a pornified, plasticised, formulaic sexuality that is an industrial product rather than a reflection of women’s authentic desires. This is not the fault of the feminist movement, but the result of a predatory porn industry that has become the main producer and disseminator of sexual images, ideologies, and messages. I have been doing work in this area for over twenty years, and I never expected porn to get so mainstream or cruel and brutal so quickly. Remember also that the feminism of the ’60s and ’70s was not just about sex, but about radical economic, political, and social change. This feminism understood that without equal access to material resources, women would always be oppressed. Today, feminism talks a lot about sex, but not much about the economic and social conditions of women’s lives.

    The XXX effect

    The global porn industry was estimated to be worth around $96 billion in 2006 with the US market worth around $13 billion. Each year, over 13,000 porn films are released and, despite their modest budgets, pornography revenues rival those of all the major Hollywood studios

    A key factor driving the growth of the porn market has been the development of technologies. There are 420 million internet porn pages, 4.2 million porn web sites and 68 million search engine requests for porn daily. However, officials estimate DVD sales were down by 50 per cent in the last year due to a weak economy, piracy and free or cheap porn on the Internet.

It was the mid-1980s and the international women’s movement was sweeping across the globe. From the struggles of women’s suffrage and political rights groups which started in the 18th century, the fight had evolved into a campaign for equality, and to end gender discrimination.

In this charged atmosphere, prominent women’s groups in Malaysia were born.

Pockets of women came together to help create a more equal playing field for other women, and they set up centres in the country’s capital.

One exception was the Women’s Crisis Centre (WCC, now known as the Women’s Centre for Change), which took root up north instead, in Penang.

This year, WCC, as well as JAG (the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality), an umbrella organisation comprising five influential women’s groups in the country, celebrated their silver jubilees, still as stoic as ever about protecting and empowering women in society.

As with most organisations, the WCC started out as a small group of volunteers wanting to reach out to others.

In 1984, a handful of women and men (yes, men) in Penang banded together to start an aid group for abused women. Banking on their different talents and expertise, they started counselling services for victims of domestic violence in a room located at the carpark of the former King Edward VII Memorial Hospital on Macalister Road.

“The founding group actually had a good cross-section of people equipped to help abused women, including a social worker, a lawyer and an academic,” says current WCC executive director Loh Cheng Kooi. They came in on a voluntary basis, to counsel, answer phone calls and handle emergencies both at the office and in people’s homes.

The group was formally registered on July 1,1985, and soon, the members realised they had to do more than just cater to the needs of battered women.

“JAG started its first campaign against violence against women in 1985, which we were a part of. WCC also held its very first public forum in 1986 on ‘Women in Crisis’, that was attended by 180 people. That was the start of our community outreach programmes and legal advocacy,” Loh says.

These two areas of focus – advocacy and outreach – are equally important to WCC, which changed its name to the Women’s Centre for Change in 2002, to reflect current developments.

In its first year, WCC reached out to 13 women through face-to-face counselling and telephone calls. “We hired our first paid staff member in 1986 to help co-ordinate all the activities,” Loh says.

Awareness of its existence grew through talks and by word of mouth and it was finally able to buy its first women’s shelter in 1990. The shelter was set up because in some serious cases “there was a need for the woman to remove herself from the home, but she did not have any family support system.”

The first shelter was located in Gelugor, and that same year, WCC moved its office to its current location on Jones Road. It grew in numbers too: in 1995, it had 17 committee members, who reached out to 273 clients.

The following year, the centre chalked two milestones with the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act.

When the act was passed, WCC became the first women’s organisation to help set up a One-Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) at a government hospital. At its the launch at the Penang Hospital, the-then Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng announced that henceforth, all state hospitals had to set up an OSCC for sexual abuse survivors, Loh recalls.

At the start of the next decade, WCC recorded 1,471 clients. In 2002, with the Internet swiftly gaining ground, the centre decided it was time to extend its services via the Web.

“We started counselling through email. Since then, we get emails from all over the country, including Sabah and Sarawak, seeking information or advice on various issues.” That year, too, WCC moved its shelter to its present, undisclosed location.

In 2005, a single mothers’ support group was initiated to help former domestic violence victims raise their self-esteem, become financially self-sufficient and improve their parenting skills. WCC also began to monitor the disturbing figures of rape cases in the country.

The Rape Survivors Support Network, a collaborative project between WCC and the Penang Hospital, was launched in April 2008 to provide swift help to rape victims, says WCC programme director Prema Devaraj.

“Rape is centred on control and power, not so much sexual gratification, as some people assume. What we try to do with victims is give the power back to them.”

But the decision to accept help can only be made by the victims, so WCC only goes to the OSCC when a victim chooses to talk to someone. Four staff members and two volunteers are on call round-the-clock. Since it was set up, the network has worked with some 80 rape survivors.

On Jan 19, 2009, WCC fulfilled its dream of reaching out to abused women on Penang’s mainland with the opening of the Women’s Service Centre (Pusat Perkhidmatan Wanita or PPW) in Seberang Prai.

The centre, funded by the Penang Women, Family and Community Development committee, is tasked to WCC, which now also provides counselling and legal advice to victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Last year, WCC’s Jones Road office and the PPW together conducted 2,709 counselling sessions for women.

Currently, WCC offers counselling in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil, as well as various local dialects. Its team of 12 committee members, eight staff (including three social workers cum project officers) and over 30 active volunteers still runs Penang island’s sole domestic violence shelter, which provides refuge to an average of 10 women and 15 children a year.

When WCC was formed in the 1980s, several other pioneer women’s groups like the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), All Women’s Action Society (AWAM), Women Development Collective and Sisters in Islam also took root.

Banding together in 1985, they established JAG, then called the Joint Action Group against Violence against Women. It has since changed its name to the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality. Through JAG, WCC has aided and spearheaded campaigns for legal reforms for the protection and empowerment of women.

After its inception, JAG kicked off with a major campaign to push for amendments to existing laws concerning rape.

Subsequently, the police force started setting up sexual assault units in all the main police stations, where female officers were on hand to deal with cases of sexual violence.

In 1994, JAG celebrated again when Parliament passed the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), although it was another two years before the Act was implemented.

But weaknesses in the DVA soon surfaced and JAG pushed for further amendments in 1999.

In the late 1990s and into the new millennium, JAG and WCC continued lobbying for domestic crimes to be treated as crimes of family violence, as opposed to other criminal violence acts.

When the Child Bill was formulated in 2000, WCC sent 14 recommendations for the proposed bill. That year also saw the start of the landmark Copthorne case, in which four former employees of Copthorne Orchid Penang brought a suit against the hotel for wrongful dismissal.

Supported by WCC, the women testified about their experiences in the Industrial Court. Seven years later, the court found in favour of the four claimants on Oct 30, 2007, and awarded them RM308,642 in back wages and compensation in lieu of reinstatement.

To date, a proposed amendment on sexual harassment under the Employment Act has seen its first reading in Parliament, but WCC’s campaign continues. (See Pushing for protection, SM6).

The Ministry of Women, Family and Community was formed in 2001, closely followed by what Loh calls the most important event for women in Malaysia.

“In 2002, we finally got an amendment to Article 8(2) of the Federal Constitution prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of gender. This was singularly the most important thing that had happened for women in Malaysia.”

Unfortunately, there was no subsequent move to change all the other existing laws that are discriminatory to gender to match this new Federal Constitution amendment, she adds.

For example, Article 15 of the Federal Constitution allows a foreign spouse of a Malaysian man to apply for citizenship, but not the foreign spouse of a Malaysian woman.

In 2004, the Dewan Rakyat approved a Select Committee to review the Penal Code (Amendment) 2004 and Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) 2004 bills and make recommendations. JAG promptly pushed for the criminalisation of marital rape, among other issues.

In 2006, JAG started campaigning for a wider Gender Equality Law, which is still being considered by the lawmakers.

Today, WCC members are familiar faces around the George Town courthouse, as they go about helping rape and other sexual violence victims get their day in court.

Extracts from a longer article at

Kurdish women contribute to the global fight for women’s rights while also struggling for human rights in their own country, an Istanbul deputy from Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party said at a summit of European feminists at the end of June.

The “Kurdish feminist movement” has gained significance because the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has prioritized female representation, BDP’s Istanbul deputy Sabahat Tuncel said at the opening session of the 2010 European Feminist Meeting held at Istanbul Technical University’s Maçka Campus.

As a rule, the BDP tries to assign a woman as one of its presidents-general, and out of the 28 female mayors in Turkey, 14 of them are BDP members, Tuncel said, adding that Kurdish men recognize women’s success and motivate them to attain higher positions.

According to the deputy, what she characterized as “Kurdish feminism” has its basis in the larger struggle for Kurdish people’s rights and challenges problems of violence, rape, honor killings and polygamy through demanding equal rights in the political arena.

By establishing nongovernmental organizations, Kurdish women have tried to broaden their outreach within the country despite the racist and nationalistic opposition they sometimes face, Tuncel said.

The 2010 European Feminist Meeting welcomed women from 22 countries to Istanbul to discuss women’s issues as well as the current economic and political situation in Europe.

Italian television could finally be heading in the direction of feminism with the formation of a new anti-sexism watchdog that will crack down on the gratuitous use of young female flesh by state-funded Rai TV.

The new panel will work ‘independently’ for ensuring “the correct representation of people’s dignity, with particular emphasis on the distorted representation of women”.

Approved by ministers, if the panel spots too much flesh or female stereotyping, it will report back to the Rai commission in parliament, which has the power to censure programme-makers.

“Is this the beginning of a revolution? We hope so. With the creation of the panel to monitor the way women are portrayed on state TV we hope to curb the use of women as mere decorative images,” The Independent quoted Giovanna Melandri, the Democratic Party MP and a member of the Rai commission in parliament, as saying.

Silvia Costa, an Italian member of the European Parliament, agreed, “I’m very satisfied that this amendment that has been approved will allow a more realistic representation of women in our country.”

Even Mediaset, owned by the infamous Silvio Berlusconi, allowed a female presenter a stint on its top-rated evening satire show Striscia La Notizia (Hot off the Press), which despite its pretensions of sophistication, still employs dancing girls in hot pants to flesh out the programme.

“Every five years some politician realises that Italian TV is too sexist, and tries to change that. It never worked and I’m not sure it will work this time,” he said.

“It would be like trying to stop us eating pizza: showing sexy girls on TV is so ingrained in our daily life that it can’t be stopped anymore. I really believe that,” said one Mediaset comedy writer who declined to be named. (ANI)

But Prof. Catharine MacKinnon agrees that she has been less successful in fighting pornography.

In at least one area – pornography – Catharine MacKinnon has failed spectacularly. Ever since she began writing about women in the pornography industry and to advocate for them, at the start of the 1980s, nothing in their situation has changed. Her criticism of the damage caused by pornography has achieved nothing.

“On the contrary,” she says. “During the past 20 years the situation has only deteriorated. Today pornography is accessible and available everywhere. It is possible to obtain it with a few keystrokes, it comes in through Internet to every home where there is a computer and the women who work in the industry, in the thousands, are weak and exploited and have no options.”

MacKinnon represented, pro bono, victims of rape in the Serbian-Croatian war. In 2000 she won in the famous Kadic vs. Karadzic case and obtained for the women – victims of the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic – compensation totaling $745 million. More importantly, she advanced the awareness of rape during wartime as an act whose aim is genocide.

However, MacKinnon’s influence is evident primarily in other areas, which have to do with the mainstream of society. All of the basic terms accepted today in the United States, and also in the cultural and legal system in Israel, regarding sexual harassment in the work place as a prohibited form of discrimination against women, as well as rape and violence within the family, and the criticism of the idea of “consensuality” in rape (the fact that forced sex is considered rape even if the woman who was raped said “yes”), that is, the very fact that women today have the possibility of obtaining legal aid in cases in which they have been injured in a gender-related context – all of these are the fruit of MacKinnon’s theoretical and activist work.

From what she says and from the way she analyzes the power relations between men and women, great pessimism emerges. MacKinnon’s basic idea is that gender – that is, the concepts of “man” and “woman” – is not about difference, but rather about dominance. By virtue of their definition, she argues, the man is dominant and the woman is dominated, subordinated to his needs. And in any case, the male, as Simone de Beauvoir saw before her, is the standard, is “man” – the pattern on which everything is based and from which everything is derived – whereas the woman is the “other,” who is defined relative to him. Just as in anatomy the human body is studied and the model is usually the male body, whereas the female body is shunted into the study of gynecology, as a special case – the same holds true in culture: Woman is not part of the human standard.

MacKinnon stresses: “De Beauvoir showed the problem: that the woman is the `other,’ and the man is the standard. I am showing something else: that the things that have been depicted as a solution to the problem – that is, the feminist struggle for equality, for the equalization of the rights of women to the rights of men – are in fact part of the problem.”

MacKinnon makes it clear that the very fact of wanting to be equal to men perpetuates the assumption that men and masculinity are the model that determines what is worthy and what is desirable. “If we want to achieve equality in such conditions of inequality, our way will become endless,” she comments.

It sometimes seems as though MacKinnon’s radical feminism does not respect women. If a woman is by definition subordinate to a man’s authority, and is defined by him and in relation to him – it is difficult to imagine a totally free and independent woman. This is especially difficult with respect to sex and pornography. MacKinnon assumes that heterosexual sexual relations are defined and shaped by the male point of view. Sex is penetration and subordination, she says, only from the male perspective. She argues that unequal sexual relations – relations of conquest and forced submission – became eroticized in order to perpetuate the inequality between the sexes.

Why have you failed? Why have your proposals for legislation in the area of pornography failed and in all other areas – sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault and so forth – you have succeeded in bringing about real change?

“It’s very simple: Power and money win. There is not a sexual harassment industry. There aren’t people who are making millions out of sexual harassment the way people are making millions from pornography. The moment we succeed in advancing legislation against pornography in one of the states in the United States, or in the world, someone in the international lobby of pimps hears that this is getting under way and they organize and exercise tremendous power to prevent change. They hire huge public relations firms and they invest lots of money and make sure that this does not succeed.

“And not only that. The problem is that the printed and electronic media support pornography, on the mistaken assumption that a prohibition on pornography threatens them and their power. They confuse obscenity laws and the pornography laws that Andrea Dworkin and I have proposed, and they think that they are publishing pornography and their freedom of expression will be limited. But in fact we have made a clear distinction between pornography and all the rest. What there is in advertisements for Hollywood films is not pornography.”

But the non-pornographic eroticism in advertising and mainstream films is also likely to contribute to the demeaning and harming of women. And it is consumed by everyone.

“Ordinary advertisements and films do not lead to violence and rape. Pornography does do this. Studies show this clearly. And pornography is what influences the mainstream, and not the other way around. The struggle has to focus on pornography.”

From a longer article and interview published at

See also:

The Future of Pornography: Stop Porn Culture! Conference
June 12-13, 2010 – Wheelock College, Boston MA

In March 2007, over 500 people gathered at a conference in Boston to help re-ignite a progressive and feminist movement against pornography. Our second national conference will once again bring together activists, researchers, survivors, parents, and other concerned community members to continue developing our anti-pornography analysis and building our resistance movement. Come and join us for two days of keynotes, workshops, and discussion.

Implementing SCR 1325: lessons from Israel.

The attempt to implement Security Council Resolution 1325 after the failure of the Oslo Peace Process revealed a paralysed women’s movement in Israel.

Does the incorporation of women in formal peace processes pose a threat to the possible achievements of women’s grassroots peace organizations in the transition from conflict to peace? Should women insist on joining formal peace negotiations, or maintain feminist resistance from outside? These questions are part of a developing debate concerning the potential of women’s peace activism in times of armed conflict at the beginning of the 21st century, in light of the adoption of United Nation SCRs 1325 and 1889.

Many peace activists and scholars around the world have acknowledged that the public engagement of the Security Council with gender issues has opened the door for new forms of understanding the marginalized placement of women in peace processes. Resolution 1325 has outlined a strategic path to claim women’s protection and participation, promoting an underlying assumption that women’s inclusion in formal peace efforts is a means of achieving gender equality and sustainable peace. As a result, local and international mechanisms ensuring equal representation in peace negotiations were rapidly encouraged during the last decade. But many have also experienced how overcoming the gendered construction of peace negotiations is a difficult task. Currently, the most documented difficulties that women who are involved in formal peace efforts face are: lack of funding, capacity and experience; a dominant masculine political culture and the prevalence of militaristic values among political elites; and the need to overcome gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles.

This is why a decade after Resolution 1325 women’s participation in peace processes still remains a utopian struggle. As stated by the Secretary General in a report submitted to the Security Council in September 2009, “A persistent cause of concern is that women continue to be virtually absent from the peace table and to be severely underrepresented as third-party mediators or even as representatives of the United Nations in most conflict-affected countries. Women’s activism at the grass roots rarely translates into official recognition during peace processes, where they are seldom included in formal negotiations.”

At the International Gender Justice Dialogue held in Mexico last month I wanted to share with participants the limitation of local attempts to implement and interpret international norms concerning gender, peace and security, based on the Israeli experience during the last decade. This is a chronicle of a paralysed women’s movement trying to face the aftermath of a ‘failed peace process’.

To read the full comment piece go to

On April 9th 2010, Amnesty International issued the following statement:

Due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International on 9 April 2010. Gita has most recently held the position of Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit, and was in a period of consultation over possible redeployment following a redundancy process. Accordingly, Gita will leave receiving a payment based on Amnesty International’s redundancy policy.

Statement By Gita Sahgal On Leaving Amnesty International (11 April 2010)

On Friday 9th April, 2010 Amnesty International announced my departure from the organization. The agreed statement said, ‘due to irreconcilable differences of view over policy between Gita Sahgal and Amnesty International regarding Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners, it has been agreed that Gita will leave Amnesty International.’

I was hired as the Head of the Gender Unit as the organization began to develop its Stop Violence Against Women campaign. I leave with great sadness as the campaign is closed. Thousands of activists of Amnesty International enthusiastically joined the campaign. Many hoped that it would induce respect for women’s human rights in every aspect of the work. Today, there is little ground for optimism.

The senior leadership of Amnesty International chose to answer the questions I posed about Amnesty International’s relationship with Moazzam Begg by affirming their links with him. Now they have also confirmed that the views of Begg, his associates and his organisation Cageprisoners, do not trouble them. They have stated that the idea of jihad in self defence is not antithetical to human rights; and have explained that they meant only the specific form of violent jihad that Moazzam Begg and others in Cageprisoners assert is the individual obligation of every Muslim.

I thank the senior leadership for these admissions and for their further clarification that concerns around the legitimization of Begg were of very long standing and that there was strong opposition from Head of the Asia programme to a partnership with him. When disagreements are profound, it is best that disputes over matters of fact, are reduced.

Unfortunately, their stance has laid waste every achievement on women’s equality and made a mockery of the universality of rights. In fact, the leadership has effectively rejected a belief in universality as an essential basis for partnership.

I extend my sympathies to all who have fought long and hard within Amnesty International to match the movement’s principles with its actions. I know many of you have been bewildered by this dispute and others deeply shamed by what is being done in your name. You may have been told that that debate is not possible in the middle of a crisis. I agree that there is indeed a crisis and that the hardest questions are being posed by Amnesty International’s close human rights allies, particularly in areas where jihad supported by Begg’s associates, is being waged.

I am now free to offer my help as an external expert with an intimate knowledge of Amnesty International’s processes and policies. I can explain in public debates, both with the leadership and inside the Sections, that adherence to violent jihad even if it indeed rejects the killing of some civilians, is an integral part of a political philosophy that promotes the destruction of human rights generally and contravenes Amnesty International’s specific policies relating to systematic violence and discrimination, particularly against women and minorities.

During these last two months, human rights gains have been made to defend the torture standard and to shame governments who have been complicit in torture through their ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policies. But the spectre that arises through the continued promotion of Moazzam Begg as the perfect victim, is that Amnesty International is operating its own policies of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’

So I invite you to join me as I continue to campaign for public accountability at this moment, which comes but rarely in history, when a great organisation must ask: if it lies to itself, can it demand the truth of others?

Gita Sahgal
Former Interim Head of the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Unit, Amnesty International

See also:

Dangerous liaisons by Gita Sahgal

In a letter in response to the Global Petition to Amnesty International, the Secretary General of Amnesty International makes a shocking and incredible claim that “Defensive Jihad not antithetical to Human Rights”. If this is the official position of the world’s leading human rights organisation, this would gravely undermine the future of the human rights movement.

And earlier stories:
* Global Petition to Amnesty International: Restoring the Integrity of Human Rights
* Statement by Gita Sahgal Head of Amnesty International’s Gender Unit

Writer Nawal El Saadawi has braved prison, exile and death threats in her fight against female oppression. And she isn’t about to give up now

‘I am becoming more radical with age,” says Nawal El Saadawi, laughing. “I have noticed that writers, when they are old, become milder. But for me it is the opposite. Age makes me more angry.”

In 1972, her non-fiction book Women and Sex (which included criticism of female genital mutilation) led to her losing her job as director general of public health for the Egyptian ministry of health. In 1981, her outspoken political views led to her being charged with crimes against the state and jailed for three months – she used the time to write Memoirs From The Women’s Prison on a roll of toilet paper, with an eyebrow pencil smuggled in by a fellow prisoner. In 1993 she fled to the US after death threats were issued against her by religious groups.

Her work continues to be explosive. Her play, God Resigns in the Summit Meeting – in which God is questioned by Jewish, Muslim and Christian prophets and finally quits – proved so controversial that, she says, her Arabic publishers destroyed it under police duress. And recently her criticism of religion, primarily on the basis that it oppresses women, has prompted a flurry of court cases, including unsuccessful legal attempts both to strip her of her nationality and to forcibly dissolve her marriage.

Her energy, she insists, comes from the 10 to 15 letters she receives every day from people who say their lives have been changed by her writing. “A young man came to me in Cairo with his new bride. He said, I want to introduce my wife to you and thank you. Your books have made me a better man. Because of them I wanted to marry not a slave, but a free woman.”

El Saadawi is “a novelist first, a novelist second, a novelist third”, she says, but it is feminism that unites her work. “For me feminism includes everything,” she says. “It is social justice, political justice, sexual justice . . . It is the link between medicine, literature, politics, economics, psychology and history. Feminism is all that. You cannot understand the oppression of women without this.”

In her first autobiography, A Daughter of Isis, she recalls her outrage when she began to realise daughters were not considered equal to sons. When her grandmother told her, “a boy is worth 15 girls at least . . . Girls are a blight,” she stamped her foot in fury.

In that same book she writes about the horror of female circumcision. “When I was six, the daya (midwife) came along holding a razor, pulled out my clitoris from between my thighs and cut it off. She said it was the will of God and she had done his will . . . I lay in a pool of blood. After a few days the bleeding stopped . . . But the pain was there like an abscess deep in my flesh . . . I did not know what other parts in my body there were that might need to be cut off in the same way.” Later, while working as a doctor, she saw for herself the terrible physical damage female genital mutilation could cause; she campaigned for 50 years, she says, for it to be banned in Egypt. A ban was finally instituted in 2008, but she says the practice “still happens – it is even increasing. Some religious leaders talk against it, but others are for it.”

Circumcision wasn’t the only horror El Saadawi faced as a child. Brought up in a middle-class Egyptian household, she was expected to become a child bride, but refused; she blackened her teeth and dropped coffee over one would-be suitor who came to call. “When I was a child it was normal that girls in my village would marry at 10 or 11,” she says. “Now, of course, the government is standing against that because it is unhealthy. And it happens much less. But we are having a relapse again, because of poverty and religious fundamentalism.”

El Saadawi’s desire to study was so great that her parents were eventually convinced she would benefit from university. She believes that her radical views were formed, at least in part, by training as a doctor. “When I dissected the body it opened my eyes,” she says. “Also, I think I have the gene of my grandmother who was a rebel. My sisters and brothers took another gene.”

She still refuses to tone down her work. “I am very critical of all religions,” she says. “We, as women, are oppressed by all these religions.” It is religious extremism, she believes, that is the biggest threat to women’s liberation today. “There is a backlash against feminism all over the world today because of the revival of religions,” she says. “We have had a global and religious fundamentalist movement.” She fears that the rise of religion is holding back progress regarding issues such as female circumcision, especially in Egypt.

In a bid to address this, she has helped to found the Egyptian chapter of the Global Solidarity for Secular society. She believes religion should be a personal matter, and approves of France’s ban on all religious symbols, including the hijab. “Education should be totally secular. I am not telling people not to believe in God, but it should be a personal matter which should be done at home.”

Despite the fact that her sisters wear the veil, she refuses to accept it as a free choice. “What do we mean by choice? It is pressure, but it is hidden pressure – she is not aware of it. I was exposed to different pressures from my sisters. We are all the products of our economic, social and political life and our education. Young people today are living in the era of the fundamentalist groups.”

El Saadawi says that she is dismayed by the relaxed attitude of young women who do not realise what previous generations of feminists have fought for. “Young people are afraid of the price of being free. I tell them, don’t be, it is better than being oppressed, than being a slave. It’s all worth it. I am free.”

And, she adds, there are more battles for her on the horizon. “A new university opened in Egypt and I was asked to teach, but the top people said no. They are afraid. So that is the next thing. I will work towards teaching in Egypt.” A fighter to the last.

Part of a longer article at

Iceland is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.

While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. And forget hiring a topless waitress in an attempt to get around the bar: the law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.

Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold. The law is a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society.”

The news is a real boost to feminists around the world, showing us that when an entire country unites behind an idea anything can happen.

According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not. Supporters of the bill say that some of the clubs are a front for prostitution – and that many of the women work there because of drug abuse and poverty rather than free choice.

So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women’s movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April).

Johanna Sigurðardottir is Iceland’s first female and the world’s first openly lesbian head of state. Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation based in Reykjavik that campaigns against sexual violence, says she has enjoyed the support of Sigurðardottir for their campaigns against rape and domestic violence: “Johanna is a great feminist in that she challenges the men in her party and refuses to let them oppress her.”

Then there is the fact that feminists in Iceland appear to be entirely united in opposition to prostitution. There is also public support: the ban on commercial sexual activity is not only supported by feminists but also much of the population. A 2007 poll found that 82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.

Jónsdóttir says the ban could mean the death of the sex industry. “Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale.”

Janice Raymond, a director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, believes the new law will pave the way for governments in other countries to follow suit. “What a victory, not only for the Icelanders but for everyone worldwide who repudiates the sexual exploitation of women,” she says.

Jónsdóttir is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. “I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.”

Part of a longer comment piece at

We are a group of feminist who aim to advance the status of women in the Israeli-Palestinian society. We believe that social change can be achieved if women are empowered to take a more active role in private and public life, encouraged to contribute their experiences and perspectives and to confidently demand recongnition of their needs and realization of their rights.

Empowering Arab Women to Be

The word Kayan comes from the Arabic word for being or existing. Our name reflects the guiding belief of Kayan that social change can be achieved when women are empowered to exert influence and make decisions about their own lives as well as society as a whole. In order for this belief to be valid women must have the knowledge and confidence required to become proactive and self directed. The activities of Kayan lay the foundation for this process of women`s empowerment to take place.

Kayan was founded in 1998 by Arab feminist women with the goal of advancing the status of Arab women in Israel and protecting their rights. Kayan`s singular approach is to focus on grassroots capacity building that has a transformative effect on individual women as well as throughout society.

The founders of Kayan are interested in issues that tackle the tension between nationality and gender, feminist concepts and ethics in feminism as it relates specifically to Arab-Israeli women. As women who belong to an unrepresented minority we often experience double discrimination, as a woman and as an Arab. It is from this place that we engage in grassroots work to bring about social, legal and economic equality for all Arab women in Israel.


In 1990, Arab Feminist women from Haifa and the northern region of Israel were actively working with women`s services, battered women`s shelters and crisis centers for injured and sexually assaulted women. These women helped create programs, meetings, workshops and crisis-services specifically for Arab women. The meetings evolved into a place for Arab women activists to work together and discuss common concerns. Through these meetings the idea emerged to establish an organization by and for Arab women in Israel.

In 1999 Kayan became registered as a non profit and has been responding to the distinct needs of Arab women since that time. Through the creation of unique programs, forums and services delivered in a culturally aware manner there continues to be a surge in Arab women eager to become activists, participate in workshops, receive legal services or simply engage in an exchange of ideas with other women.

In the ten years since it was founded, Kayan achieved significant improvements in the status of Arab women in Israel, most notably:

The Childcare Workers Program (2002-2004) addressed the violation of workers` rights of female childcare workers in Arab villages and towns in Israel, whose salaries were not transferred because of municipal debts. Kayan succeeded to organize 1300 childcare workers, who had not been organized before, in a workers` union, and supported them in their confrontation with local and national authorities. The project was a big success, with an unexpectedly high number of women joining the efforts from the very beginning. At the first national childcare conference in 2003, 450 women attended, among them Bedouin women from the Negev. The union, with the help of a big public and media campaign, eventually succeeded in its demand that salaries were paid directly to the childcare workers and not to the local municipalities.

The “Women Demand Mobility” Program (2004-2008): Kayan facilitated a grassroots campaign that is bringing public transportation to Israel`s Arab towns and villages in 2009. The project started as a local initiative in the village of Maghar, out of Kayan`s empowerment course. Participants of the course were exhausted trying to find ways to get to a weekly Kayan meeting, as no form of public transport existed in this large village spread out or most other Arab towns and villages in Israel. They decided to change their situation, and the situation of women in most Arab localities who are isolated in their homes, unable to move beyond a certain radius outside their homes without male accompaniment. In 2006, the first report on “Mobility among Arab women in Israel” was published, which served as a major advocacy and media tool. The program achieved its aim of installation of public transportation in 2008, when Kayan worked with the Ministry of Transport in a joint work-plan for the installation of public transportation in two major clusters of Arab villages.

The Arabic Leaflet on the Law against Domestic Violence: In 2007, Kayan has published excerpts of the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act” of 1991 in Arabic. The act is designed to offer fast and not bureaucratic help to women in emergencies. 2000 leaflets were distributed to Arab women in social welfare offices, universities, schools, and other public places. This was the first publication of an Arabic version of the legislation at all. Most legal information in Israel is distributed to the public in English only, despite the fact that Arabic is an official language of the State and despite the fact that many Arab citizens and especially Arab women can not understand this language and are thus deprived of their right to know the legislation which they are subject to. The need to inform Arab women about their legal rights against domestic violence, and the lack of any Arabic information about it, brought up the idea at Kayan to create this publication. Kayan was surprised by the big public storm raised by this project, with unprecedented media attention. It was debated in most major Arabic and Hebrew newspapers in Israel, as well as on the public television and radio broadcast. It thus reached a very high number of women, among them the direct beneficiaries, women who face domestic violence.

Community Action

The focus of Kayan`s work is to engage in grassroots capacity building by bringing together Arab women in order to raise awareness, increase knowledge, and foster personal development so that women become proactive and self directed in their personal lives and in society.

Kayan organizes workshops, lectures and community meetings about women`s rights and issues so that participants are prepared to advocate for themselves and create social change in the community. Out of these workshops many women have intensified their community activism and remain involved in self governed local initiatives ranging from installing Public Transport in rural villages to creating a community women`s center.
Kayan`s staff trains, mentors and advises local leaders in the community in addition to raising funds and support for various women`s initiatives.

Legal Aid

Kayan gives legal aid, assistance, and advice to low income Arab women. As members of an unrepresented minority, Palestinian-Israeli women often have their legal rights disregarded on two fronts, both from within the community and within the national arena. Kayan focuses on informing women of their legal rights, raising awareness about legal recourse and ensuring women have access to legal aid.

Policy change

Kayan has developed relationships with policymakers in the government in order to be effective in bringing about policy change primarily in Arab villages and communities. Through an ongoing dialogue among women in the community about the areas most in need of improvement, and collaboration with policy makers on how to address these issues, Kayan continues to progress. Some recent policy changes include:
* The creation of a National Childcare Workers Union
* The establishment of an Arabic language option in the police departments emergency phone line
* Installation of Public Transport in Arab towns and villages


Kayan engages in ongoing public discourse, comprehensive data collection, publishing of reports and dialogue in order to advocate for ourselves and other Arab women by bringing key issues to the public arena.