Aug 262009

According to Human Rights Watch:

The finding by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of widespread abuses in Honduras should compel the international community to take firm action, such as targeted sanctions, to resolve the country’s ongoing crisis, Human Rights Watch said today.

The commission released a report on August 21, 2009, showing a pattern of serious violations under the de facto government, including excessive use of force, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, and attacks on the media, as well as several confirmed deaths and possible “disappearances.” The commission also documented an absence of effective legal protections from abuse.

In regard to sexual violence,

The commission found that “women were especially subject to acts of violence and humiliation because of their gender.” The commission heard the testimony about two incidents that reportedly took place in San Pedro Sula, one in which a woman said she had been raped by police officers and another in which a woman said she was stripped from the waist down and beaten with batons.

The commission confirmed that the police and army groped the breasts and genitals of women in detention. And women denounced security officers for forcibly spreading the women’s legs and touching their genitals with police batons.

The report comes just days after 93 of scholars  and Latin American experts wrote a letter to Human Rights Watch urging the organization to speak out. and after reports of the  brutal gang-rape of a protester.  In addition, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune,

The group Feministas de Honduras en Resistencia said Thursday that is has documented 19 instances of rape by police officers since the June 28 coup that ousted President Mel Zelaya.

 August 26, 2009  Posted by on August 26, 2009 Comments Off on Honduran ‘Government’ Accused Of Human Rights Violations Including Sexual Violence
Aug 242009

Yesterday’s magazine section of the New York Times was devoted to the topic of, “Saving The World’s Women.”  The second paragraph of the lead article by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn proclaims, “The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”  Say what???  Since when were women the problem in the first place?

Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has an outstanding deconstruction of the way in which the topic was  handled,

Saving the World’s Women: How changing the lives of women and girls in the developing world can change everything.

Interesting. From whom are the world’s women being saved? From themselves? From just the women and girls in the developing world? Or are those the only women and girls who need saving? Everything’s peachy in the developed world, is it? And then there is this: Can the lives of women and girls, anywhere, be changed if the lives and men and boys aren’t changed, too? Hold onto that thought.

Page One:

IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Inflicted by whom?

Yet the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater.

The injustices perpetrated by whom?

She continues  to point out this language in the entire article and concludes,

If I’m not mistaken, I just read seven pages that are the philosophical equivalent of “She got raped.” Passive. Rape is something that happens to women. Something that gets done to them.

So, apparently, is worldwide institutional oppression.

I don’t guess I need to say that I am all for giving women around the world every tool, every resource, every dollar and dinar, every bit of choice and opportunity and access, everything possible to lift themselves up and achieve everything they could want or imagine.

But how can we talk about lifting women up without a serious discussion of, no less without more than the merest passing reference to, who and what has been keeping them down?

While it is wonderful to see a publication of the stature of the NYT cover the topic of violence and oppression against women, the patriarchal undertones of, ‘oh we just found these poor women who have been victimized and we must help them,’ without addressing who did the victimizing is disingenuous at best.  Until we deconstruct the root causes, real, transformative change will not be possible.

Case in point–the magazine includes an interview with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about her plans to make women’s rights issues a top priority.  This is a good thing, right?  Not if you read closely.  As I wrote the other day, Clinton’s vision involves using the U.S. military to protect women, and that unfortunately is an ominous plan given the long history of the U.S. using women’s rights as an excuse for military action, not to mention the well-established connection between militarism and violence against women.

As appreciative as I am of Nicholas Kristoff’s tireless efforts to address violence against women, the reality is that the reason people listen is because he is a man.    His insights are good, he is right that this is a huge problem, but there is nothing that he is saying that hasn’t been said by hundreds of women before and until  we fully listen to those voices, without the necessity of the introduction by a man and outside the framework of the patriarchal blinders that refuse to address the cause of this oppression, it will continue.

 August 24, 2009  Posted by on August 24, 2009 2 Responses »
Aug 222009

Not surprisingly, it is quickly becoming clear that the election in Afghanistan is a sham that flies in the face of the U.S. narrative of bringing democracy to the Afghan people. Kavita Ramdas, the President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women puts it succinctly, “After five years, $30 billion in aid, and the presence of 150,000 foreign troops,

While the Obama administration’s recent shift in military strategy towards increasing the protection of Afghan civilians is encouraging, it begs the broader question of whether top-down military interventions from the global North are the best means towards securing lasting peace in Afghanistan. Unless we are willing to question whether violence can truly be used to end violence, it is unlikely that this election will change anything in Afghanistan. It will not bestow legitimacy on Karzai nor is it likely to bring greater security and safety to ordinary Afghans.

Even the tired Western trope of charging in to “rescue” Afghan women from the clutches of their “oppressive” culture and their “tribal” menfolk has lost its sheen. That narrative collapses under the weight of the fact that pro-government NATO bombs that kill one in three civilians. Afghans also remember their history. They know that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were networks recruited, armed and trained by US Special Forces and the CIA. Ordinary people are the victims, caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the West’s precision drones that leave villages in towns with countless orphaned and maimed children and widows.

Today Afghan women are tired of broken promises and of living in a land overrun by foreigners. Women parliamentarians like Malalai Joya write, “the longer foreign troops stay in Afghanistan doing what they are doing, the worse the eventual civil war.” Afghan women laugh outright at the argument that further militarization of their society will bring them peace and security. They have seen the rise in “insurgent” violence alongside increased foreign military troops.

Despite the fact that, according to Ramdas, women make up 35% of registered Afghan voters, very few appear to have actually voted.  As I pointed out on the Feminist Peace Network blog last week, even if women were able to get to the polls, a shortage of female poll workers for the segregated polling places virtually assured that few women would be able to vote.

In a report published on the RAWA website, Alex Strick van Linschoten, an independent journalist based in Kandahar, provides this glimpse of what actually took place.

Women’s voting centers were interesting to visit. The first that I saw, Kaka Said Ahmad High School in the center of the city, had some women voting (perhaps several dozen) early in the morning. In one room that we entered, however, the two boxes were open and women were in the process of handling the vote papers. When we asked the head of the voting center what was going on (boxes were supposed to be locked and closed) she said that some women had come very early in the morning (before the official opening time) and asked, hands trembling out of fear, to vote quickly.

In another women’s voting station (Mirwais Meena Girls School), we were kept waiting outside the locked main gate for around ten minutes before finally being allowed in (a policeman outside gave us a hand opening the gate). When inside, there were hardly any voters (under a dozen in the whole building) but lots of election workers and other girls. Again, I’m not sure if this was an irregularity, but my guess is that women’s polling stations, especially ones in the districts, were easy places for fraud to occur.*

Along with the U.S. silence regarding the passage of a law legalizing marital rape in Afghanistan, the liberation of Afghani women at the point of a gun can only be seen as a deadly farce that as I noted on FPN and Ann Wright also points out, should make us seriously question recent statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding helping women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  As Wright reports,

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) will implement a $7 million program with medical care, counseling, economic assistance and legal support to 10,000 women and girls in North and South Kivu provinces, the regions most affected by rape and sexual assault.

Another $10 million U.S. contribution will fund new programs in eastern DRC to include equipping women and front-line workers with mobile devices to report abuse and share information of treatment and legal options.

A separate $2.9 million U.S. program will recruit and train female police officers to investigate rape and interview survivors of violence against women.

All of which sounds like the U.S. is making a huge commitment to help women in the DRC.  But as Wright notes, that the U.S. military, rather than humanitarian agencies, will decide how to best provide the aid should make us question the motivation and usefulness of these promises.

(T)he U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) is sending an assessment team to “determine how to best assist survivors,” and provide “sensitivity training on sexual violence and legal seminars that contribute to the professionalization of the Congolese military.”

If the women of the Congo should Google, “U.S. military – sexual assault and rape,” I suspect they will decline the offer of assistance from the African Command. 1 in 3 women in the U.S. military are sexually assaulted or raped. Women and girls in countries with U.S. military bases are raped by U.S. military. 8,000 U.S. Marines are being “re-located” from Okinawa in great measure because of citizen activist pressure following the numerous rapes of women and girls there. Prosecution rates in rape cases in the military are abysmal- 8% versus 40% in civilian cases.

The August 10, 2009 Washington Post article “Congo’s Rape Epidemic Worsens During U.S.-Backed Military Operation” begins with an alarming statement: “For the women of eastern Congo, a U.S.-backed Congolese military operation meant to save them from abusive rebels has turned an already staggering epidemic of rape has become markedly worse since the January deployment of tens of thousands of poorly trained, poorly paid Congolese soldiers, with people in front-line villages such as this one saying the soldiers are not so much hunting rebels as hunting women.”

Writing about the Afghan election, Malalai Joya sums it up well,

Democracy will never come to Afghanistan through the barrel of a gun, or from the cluster bombs dropped by foreign forces. The struggle will be long and difficult, but the values of real democracy, human rights and women’s rights will only be won by the Afghan people themselves.

Clearly the same could be said about Iraq as well, where women’s lives are in far more peril now than they were before the U.S. invasion.  The bottom line is that the use of militarism is not only oxymoronic when it comes to establishing democracy and freedom but also when it comes to protecting the lives of civilians, especially women and children.

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, we used women’s lives as a cynical justification for military action. This should serve as a cautionary note regarding the connection of aid to the women in the DRC and an increased U.S. military presence and is extremely worrisome.  If  history is an indication, the chances are that, like in Afghanistan and Iraq, the lives of Congolese women will be further imperiled in the name of U.S. imperialism.


*The full report makes riveting reading and also points to another site where firsthand reports on the voting have been posted. Please take the time to read both.

 August 22, 2009  Posted by on August 22, 2009 3 Responses »
Aug 212009

As usual, I find myself at the end of the week with a cornucopia of stories and not enough time to post them all, so I’m going to try something different this week and post a wrap–up with links, and if this works well, it may become a regular event.  It isn’t that each of these doesn’t deserve its own post, it’s just that no one has invented an 8th day of the week or hired a staff for FPN!  Without further ado:

The Global Fund for Women has a fabulous new blog, check it out here.

Stop Family Violence has the latest on the Stamford Marriott rape story.  Let’s keep the pressure on Marriott to go beyond apologizing and become an industry leader in ensuring the safety of their guests.

As this blog has reported too many times, the C-section rate in this country is much too high which both raises the costs of maternity care and endangers the lives of mothers and infants.  Our Bodies Our Blog points to evidence that if you take away the financial incentive for performing C-sections, the rate mysteriously goes down. Hmmm. And as they also point out, part of the health care reform process is figuring out how to pay for health care.  Reigning in unnecessary costs would be a brilliant start although I do have to say there is this nagging thought in the back of my mind that worries about starting with women’s health as the place to cut costs because it can go too far as it did with what became known as drive-by mastectomies where women are released from the hospital much too soon after such major surgery.

This piece by Masum Momaya takes an in-depth look at Google’s controversial advertising policy for abortion services in 15 countries asking if the policy violates women’s rights.

RAWA has this brilliant piece by Malalai Joya about the Afghan elections.

And check out this new DoJ resource for information on Domestic Violence, a lot of really useful stats.

And last, we have this horrific account of acid attacks in Zambia via WNN:

“I didn’t realize that the tongue skin was also peeling off. The young girl was pushing something in her mouth. I opened her mouth to see and found that almost the whole tongue had come off. I had to pull it out like you do with a cow and only a little red thing (tongue) remained.”

These excruciating words by a girl’s older sister describe the aftermath of the worse physical attack a 13 yr old could ever experience.

For all the times I get accused of being an angry feminst, I ask how stories like that could possibly evoke any other response.

Let me know what you think of having regular wrap-up posts.

 August 21, 2009  Posted by on August 21, 2009 Comments Off on Friday Frenzy
Aug 202009

The real obscenity of course is that women are dying for lack of necessary maternal health care.  Chansa Kabwela is a shero for us all. Via Amnesty International:

The editor of Zambia’s largest independent newspaper, The Post, is currently on trial for distributing pornography. Chansa Kabwela was charged in July for ”circulating obscene matters with the intention to corrupt the morals of society,” punishable by a five year prison sentence. What exactly did Kabwela circulate that was so dangerous to the moral character of Zambians? Pictures of a woman giving birth on the ground outside a hospital.

A recent nurses’ strike led to dangerous medical conditions in the country, a fact Kabwela wanted to highlight. When she received pictures of the incident, she decided not to publish them in the paper, but instead sent copies to the vice president, the health minister and several organizations. The pictures were taken by a relative of the woman, who visited clinics and the hospital in search of medical assistance due to the breach birth position of the baby. Eventually she laid down on the ground near the hospital before doctors from the hospital finally assisted her. The baby did not survive.

As The Post (Zambia) reports,

A large number of people from all works of life including musicians and opposition political party members gathered at the Lusaka Magistrates court complex to give solidarity to Kabwela and The Post.The courtroom was packed to capacity with a large number of people standing with no where to sit.

Others who could not get into the court grounds were filled with a huge crowd of members of the public with placards.

Some of the placards read: “Leave The Post, Chansa alone,” “ We are returning to the stone age” while some artistes’ wore tee shirts with the message “Zambian artistes are with you Chansa Kabwela, labour is labour not pornography,” “Go on The Post Speak the Truth.”

 August 20, 2009  Posted by on August 20, 2009 1 Response »