Net Briefs – April 2011


  "Not Now" emailed an article by Australian journalist Glen Johnson titled "Tahrir Square, 8th March: not a good day for women." Johnson noticed some posters torn to shreds at the south end of Midan Tahrir, where Egypt's anti-government protests began on January 25. Some had giant X marks scrawled across them or the words "Not now." The posters, aired as part of International Women's Day, called for harsher punishments against sexual harassment. (A constant barrage of slurs and sexual innuendo are directed against women in Egypt every day.) They called for fairer representation in parliament and a woman to stand for Egypt's presidency.

     One evening, Johnson writes, "I saw a young western woman running across the street, east of Tahrir, holding her head, a group of men stalking her. And I watched as three women stood in Tahrir simply holding their posters, completely surrounded by another mob of men. One man, Yousef, dressed in a well-cut suit and wearing sun-glasses, was yelling at the three women, in chorus with other protesters, 'Not now.' Yousef explained that Egyptians could not focus on the grievances of one group of people. 'It is about all Egypt now,' he said. 'We have to stand together. No one group should act alone. We have other goals first. Later they can talk about what they want.' His sentiments were repeated again and again by other reactionary men. "

     A 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women in Cairo said they had been harassed—while only 62 percent of men admitted to harassing.

Johnson references a 2010 World Gender Gap Report, which shows Egypt ranked 125th out of 134 countries. More than 80 percent of women are circumcised, though the government has attempted to stamp out the practice.

     Many women had reported an end to sexual harassment during the 18 days of protest in Tahrir Square. However, the night of Mubarak's resignation, there were numerous cases of sexual assault.


  Women Front & Center posted "The Middle East Feminist Revolution" by writer and activist Naomi Wolf who points out that in both Tunisia and Egypt "women protesters were nothing like the Western stereotype." They were a leading force behind the cultural evolution that made the protests inevitable. Wolf states that the greatest shift was educational, as today, "women account for more than half of the students at Egyptian universities." They are publishing newspapers in defiance of a government order to cease operating, campaigning for student leadership posts, and so on.

     Wolf also notes that the nature of social media has helped turn women into protest leaders. Wolf says that it is difficult for women to speak out in an hierarchical organizational structure. In such contexts—with a stage, a spotlight, and a spokesperson—women often shy away from leadership roles. But social media, through the very nature of the technology, has changed what leadership looks and feels like.

     Wolf asserts, "Of course, Facebook cannot reduce the risks of protest. But, however violent the immediate future in the Middle East may be, the historical record of what happens when women participate in freedom movements suggests that those in the region who would like to maintain iron-fisted rule are finished."


  Report on Asian Women


On International Women's Day, March 8, (the Asian Human Rights Commission) emailed a report that for 100 years a strong struggle for equal rights between genders has been taking place in the world, but  the formal recognition of equal rights without discrimination based on gender and criminalization of gender-based violence has failed to materialize in practice in many parts of Asia.

     The Global Gender Gap Index of 2010 reports that the Philippines and Sri Lanka rank as 9th and 16th respectively out of 134 countries in terms of gender equality, mostly due to the achievements of those two countries in reducing the gender gap in education and health, while Pakistan ranks the third worst country in the world in terms of gender equality. Thailand ranks 57th globally, but ranks among the best countries in terms of maternal health and 36th in terms of economic opportunity for women, with women representing 51 percent of the non-agricultural labor force, a rarity in the Asian context.

     The gender situation in Bangladesh and Indonesia is less optimistic, ranking as 82nd and 87th respectively. The scores of both countries are increased only by the fact that they have women as their head of state, but in terms of economic empowerment, access to education and health their scores are very low. Closing this ranking are India (112th), Nepal (114th), and Pakistan (132nd) with important discrepancies between genders in all spheres of life.

     In a number of Asian countries patriarchal cultural and religious traditions are invoked to systematically control women's lives. It is common practice in some communities in Pakistan that at the time of the birth of a girl, she is declared engaged to be married to a boy. Similarly, honor killings remain a strong issue in South Asia. In some countries the "traditions" invoked to maintain women in a state of oppression benefit from the support of the authorities and are even reflected in the legal framework, like in Aceh where some of the criminal laws are based on misinterpretation of the Shari'ah.

     Even countries which are trying to achieve a 33 percent representation of women in the Parliament are finding the task difficult—Nepal being the only Asian country to have achieved that goal so far. 

     Acid attacks still occur in Bangladesh and Pakistan against women who dare to say "no" to a marriage or a relationship. Threats and harassment against women human rights defenders in Nepal further show societal resistance to those seen as challenging the established social order. In some countries, women are considered as chattel that can be exchanged to maintain the relationship between families, to settle conflicts, or a commodity that can, more simply, be sold.

     Further, Asia continues to suffer from a massive trafficking in women. In many cases the authorities cooperate with trafficking rings and brothels where women are effectively imprisoned for sex work. Due to the underground immigration of trafficked women, the victims often have no legal status in the country where they end up and risk detention should they try to escape or lodge a complaint.

     In almost all the countries in Asia, collusion between the perpetrators of rape and police officers is common. The social stigma surrounding rape and economic dependency are the main obstacles hampering women's access to redress.

     Gender bias is also visible in larger issues like poverty and malnutrition. For instance, in South Asia and South-East Asia, in both urban and rural poverty, often the direct victim of poverty and malnutrition are women and/or the girl-child.

     Nevertheless, throughout Asia, women continue to gather, organize, and defend their rights and the rights of their community. The fight of those thousands of anonymous women not only contributes to the promotion of the "rights of women" but also to the advancement of democracy in their community as a whole.


  Women & Land sent word that, according to the UN, while women constitute up to 70 percent of the agricultural labor force and produce 80 percent of the food in countries afflicted by hunger and malnutrition, rural women own only 2 percent of property in the developing world. Access to land is a prerequisite for women's livelihood in rural areas as illustrated by the case of the 200 women of the "Movement 10th of June" on the Atlantic coast of Honduras. In 2001, these women occupied uncultivated land belonging to the National Honduran University and demanded the land be awarded to them by the state. On March 1, 2010, the women got word from the National Agrarian Authority that the land titles would be transferred to them by February 16, 2011. Blanca Portillo, a leader of the Women's Movement 10th of June, said at a meeting with an international fact-finding mission: "Our struggle is for our right to land, our right to food–for our future and the future of our children.


  Nurses Speak Out emailed an article "Nurses Offer to Buy President's Shoes to March With Workers" by Rose Ann DeMoro in which she writes about the Wisconsin struggle where tens of thousands of American workers, joined by students and community allies, marched in Madison and slept on the floors of the capitol to defend their most fundamental right to freedom of assembly and a collective voice.

     She recalls the pledge made by candidate Barack Obama in Spartanburg, South Carolina on November 3, 2007 when he declared: "Understand this. If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain, when I'm in the White House, I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I'll walk on that picket line with you…because Americans deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner."

     DeMoro writes, "We're waiting. Nurses, who have been on the ground every day in Madison and at support rallies across the country, will buy his shoes. Standing with the embattled workers would be an important symbol (and might even get more of the media to show up). But we need far more from this Administration—and for that matter from the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill."

     She further states, "Every time you hear the president or any other politician call for "shared sacrifice," think about this:


·   Corporate taxes as a percent of the gross domestic product are at historical lows.


·   Corporate profits per employee are the highest on record. At $1.6 trillion, third quarter corporate profits were the highest figure ever recorded since record keeping began 60 years ago.


·   A one-time 14 percent surcharge on the super-rich would more than pay for the $1.6 trillion budget deficit projected for 2011 (according to the National Nurses United's research arm, the Institute for Health and Socio-Economic Policy).


·   Workers' wages have been stagnant or falling for at least 30 years.


     She closes by saying that this is not about public workers, it's about politicians funded by far right zealots like the Koch brothers who want to privatize all publicly-owned institutions in the U.S. and shift even more resources to Wall Street. "Let's recall it was the finance sector, especially the big banks, not workers, who created the economic crisis through wild economic speculation concentrated in the mortgage industry."


  Women Defenders emailed information posted by Laura Carlsen about women human rights defenders. Carlsen describes Josefina Reyes, who organized in defense of her family and community, like thousands of women across the globe. Reyes staged a hunger strike to demand the safe return of her son after Mexican soldiers abducted him. She had previously lost another son to the violence of the drug war. In August 2009, Reyes, who had become a strong community voice for human rights, participated in the first regional Forum against Militarization and Repression. On January 5, 2010, Josefina Reyes was shot to death.

     The Valle de Juarez has been occupied by Mexican Army troops since 2008 when the federal government launched a military operation there. To date, Josefina's son, two brothers, a sister, and a sister-in-law have been assassinated.

Josefina's case is one of many. Throughout the year, reports from women's organizations and grassroots movements warn that women who dare to speak out against violence are falling prey to it at an alarming rate. These brave women usually take on the most powerful forces in society with little support or resources.

     Women defenders confront the risk of gender-based violence, including rape and sexual abuse, in their work. Women and men who protest femicides (the systematic murder of women, as documented in Ciudad Juarez), defenders of sexual and reproductive rights, labor movement leaders, women leaders of displaced communities, and anti-militarization organizers report receiving the most threats. They have suffered attacks against themselves, their family members and homes, and the forced closure of their human rights organizations.

     Says Carlsen, "In spite of the attacks, women human rights defenders have not been silenced. They fight for the rights of all at tremendous personal risk. They must not be left alone."


  Taking Back Women's Well-Being forwarded "This Is What 'Pro-Life' Means?" by Rebecca Traister who writes, "As part of their stated mission to focus on jobs (specifically, the job of preventing women from getting health care), House Republicans recently voted 240-185 to bar federal funding for Planned Parenthood." This is a big win, Traister notes, for Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) whose deficit-minded crusade against Planned Parenthood hinged on the conviction that taxpayer money should not go to organizations that provide abortion services, regardless of what else they might do.

     Pence's plan, which will likely stall in the Senate, would mean the end of federal support for an organization that annually provides more than 800,000 women with breast exams, more than 4 million Americans with testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and 2.5 million people with contraception.

     Traister argues that "Pence and his fellow Republicans are not simply taking aim at a particular medical procedure—one that, I would submit is an integral component in women's ability to control their bodies, their health, their careers, and thus their economic, social, and political freedom. What the House of Representatives have done is to devalue women's lives, women's rights, and women's ability to participate fully.

     "Morality is not the exclusive domain of the unborn, whatever we have been told for decades. Morality is on the side of women, on the side of children, on the side of a society that offers aid to its impoverished and to its young and does not discriminate against half its population."


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