Thursday, March 08, 2012

Women of the one world

For walks and talks through rain, wind, sun, star
Women of the one world, we oppose war
Women of the one world, dancers, sweepers, bookkeepers
We take you to the movies, take you to the movies
Women of the one world, one world
-- "Women Of The One World," written by Laura Nyro, first appears on her Laura: Live at the Bottom Line

Today is International Women's Day so for about 30 seconds various outlets that ignore women or scorn them all year round will pretend to care or at least bite their tongue. You'll also find a lot of women who ignore women all year round in their rush to come off as 'serious' and 'one of the boys' suddenly hop on a soapbox to pretend they care about women (as opposed to about "a woman" -- themselves). Some will pull off the deception better than Alexandra Zimmerman who gives herself and Policy Mic a bad name with her hastily pulled together piece on Iraq. From the opening, she's flaunting ignorance, "The Government of Iraq is fully committed to improving women’s rights in Iraq." Know what, Queen Bee Alex, a government "fully committed to improving women's rights" would not have 4 female ministers in the Cabinet in 2006 and only 1 in 2012. Nor would it have provided less than $2,000 a month budget for the Women's Ministry. In fact, we could go over all the ways in which the government of Iraq isn't committed -- fully or otherwise -- to improving women's rights. In September of last year, Sonali Kolhatkar (Uprising Radio) spoke with the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq's Houzan Mahmoud about realities in her country for women:

Houzan Mahmoud: Plus women were actually the first casualties of the war. You know, they lost jobs, they lost their family members -- husbands, brothers. And they have no one. The government doesn't really care about all these people who have no jobs, who have no homes to live in. You have a huge number of women being trafficked both internally and externally for prostitution in trafficking. The government doesn't even do anything about that. So -- And plus, the Islamic groups, Shi'ite political groups, have gained power as well as in opposition. They are reinforcing the most strict and conservative norms in the society and particularly against women forcing them to wear burqas and hijabs It is really -- As I said, women lost even those basic rights they had before.

In addition to being International Women's Day, today is also another day in Women's History Month. MADRE has a new Iraq project:

The US may have declared the war in Iraq to be over. But we won’t abandon our sisters. We will stand with mothers to care for children and raise safe and healthy families. MADRE is working in partnership with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) to meet the needs of families trying to rebuild their lives in Haweejah.

When OWFI called a community meeting in Haweeja to discuss the health crisis, an overwhelming 500 people attended. With MADRE’s assistance, OWFI will provide humanitarian aid, medical assistance and counseling to families whose children are afflicted by birth defects, pediatric cancers and other health threats.

The food, water and medical aid provided by OWFI and MADRE will help families cope with the crises of war, poverty and compromised health. Counseling will help families support one another as they raise children with lifelong disabilities.

The Results:

  • Families whose livelihoods were destroyed by war will receive vital humanitarian aid, such as food and clean water.
  • Medical equipment and supplies will help families care for children born with birth defects and other health problems. Children with physical disabilities will be provided with wheelchairs, braces and other mobility aids.
  • Families raising children with disabilities will learn to support each other through peer counseling sessions, where they can share their challenges and experiences. These sessions will also help to counter discrimination against people living with disabilities.

Al Sabaah notes Iraqi women today endure forced marriages, that Iraq has no female ambassador among all of its ambassadors to other countries, that there are an estimated 2 million widows in Iraq and that a large number of Iraqi women are homeless. In addition, "Iraqi women and girls are subjected to conditions of trafficking within the country and in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia for forced prostituion and sexual exploitation within households. Women are lured into forced prostitution through false promises of work. Women are also subjected to involuntary servitude through forced marriages, often as payment of a debt, and women who flee such marriages are often more vulnerable to being subjected to further forced labor or sexual servitude." That's the US State Dept, from June of last year with their report on sexual tafficking.

Iraq has a long history of feminism that includes the first women's magazine in the region, Layla, back in 1923. Women fought for and won a great deal in Iraq over the 20th century -- much of which was destroyed when the US launched the Iraq War. Iraqi women continue fighting for their rights. One notable Iraqi woman won a peace award last year. September 14th the International Peace Bureau announced that one of the two winners of this year's Sean MacBride Peace Prize was Hanaa Edwar:

["]Born 1946 in Basra, Iraq, Hanaa Edwar became an activist already as a student. She joined the Iraqi Women's League while very young, and was arrested after the Ba'athist-led coup in 1963. Escaping from prison, she moved to Germany to represent the Iraqi Women's League at the Women's International Democratic Federation in the 1970s.
["]After this period she moved to Lebanon and then Syria, and became a strong activist in the struggle against the dicatorship. She also joined the resistance movement in Iraqi Kurdistan for three years, but not in a military position. Forced to migrate again, she formed the Iraqi Al-Amal Association. This was located first in Damascus, and then from 1996 the organization settled in Erbil, Kurdistan. After the fall of the regime in 2003 she moved the head office to Baghdad.
Hanna's name has become synonymous with the defence of human rights, with a long track record of activities. She has been instrumental in the formation of the Iraqi Women's Network, made up of more than 80 organizations. One of her most recent campaigns was lodging a law suit at the High Court of Iraq against the Speaker of Parliament for acting unconstitutionally to hinder the formation of a government after the last election. This campaign became known as the Civil Initiative for the Preservation of the Constitution. Her action at the Human Rights Conference in Baghdad on 5 June 2011, to defend civil society organizations and to demand the release of four arrested young people, highlighted the increased attacks on civil liberties in general in Iraq. Her protest led to the release of four youths.
IPB's Co-President Tomas Magnusson comments: "Hanaa Edwar is an extraordinary woman activist, well-known in the whole of Iraq for her strong positions in the slow moving process among politicians. She is brave, and under constant threats to her life, but not slowing down in any way her mission. She is a most worthy laureate, determined and energetic, with an impressive record of activities to strengthen human rights and democracy, to develop civil society, and to defend women's rights. She has been an outspoken and tireless challenger of the ruling parties, the Ba'athists and male-dominated politics in general."["]

December 21, 2010, when Nouri announced his Cabinet, there were no women in it -- even the Minister of Women was a man. Hanaa Edwar publicly observed, "They call it a national (power) sharing government. So where is the sharing? Do they want to take us back to the era of the harem? Do they want to take us back to the dark ages, when women were used only for pleasure?"

Beat down in the market, stoned to death in the plaza
Raped on the hillside under the gun from LA to Gaza
A house made of cardboard living close to the rail
Somebody's mama, somebody's daughter
Somebody's jail

And I feel the witch in my veins
I feel the mother in my shoe
I feel the scream in my soul
The blood as I sing the ancient blue
They burned in the millions
I still smell the fire in my grandma's hair
The war against women rages on
Beware of the fairytale
Somebody's mama, somebody's daughter
Somebody's jail
-- "Somebody's Jail," written by Holly Near, first appears on her Show Up

Iraqi women suffer through a great deal including the Gender Traitor Ibtihal al-Zaidi, the only women on the Council of Ministers and one who doesn't believe in equality. Reuters notes the so-called 'honor' killings in Iraq and quotes Gender Traitor al-Zaidi insisting that, since a girl (12-years-old) got 15 years for killing her father when she caught him in bed with a woman other than her mother but men who kill women for infidelity get six months in jail, "Definitely, we have brought up this issue and we asked 'where is the fairness and justice?' Here the sentence for a woman differs from a man's. Fairness and equality is required in this issue."

Is there a bigger idiot in all of Iraq? No, Gender Traitor, the issue isn't "fairness and equality" in the sentencing of those who murder in the name of 'honor killing' -- the issue is fairness in terms of murder. Murder is wrong. Start punishing murder the way you should and stop making exceptions for so-called 'honor killings.'

Stop allowing murder in the name of 'honor killings' and the small number of families who engage in the practice will have to deal with reality the same way the bulk of Iraqi families do. That would prevent a large number of homeless young women who are forced to leave their homes due to so-called 'honor' crimes.

Iraqi-American Manal M. Omar visited Iraq for the first time when the Iraq War broke out and she went on behalf of an NGO and worked on programs to assist Iraqi women. Her Barefoot in Baghdad: A Story of Identity -- My Own and What it Means to be a Woman in Chaos is a strong book (and, at Third, we picked it as one of the top ten most important books of 2001 to 2011). Here's an excerpt from the book where she's attempting to help a young Iraqi woman.

Perhaps it was the fact that the drugs had worn off. Perhaps it was the pregnancy. I secretly believed her twenty minutes at the orphanage for disabled children had shocked her into the reality of her situation.
For whatever reasons, we stood at a crossroads. I called several Iraqi women's organizations for information, as I knew they would be the only people to tell me the truth about her situation. They all confirmed my worst fears: her return to her family would be a death sentence.
Yet Kalthoum was fully aware of this. In her heart of hearts, she seemed to believe it to be a reasonable sentence.
Over the span of a few days Kalthoum had developed a strong sense of the cosmic powers of karma, and she begged me to allow her to pay her dues to her family so that her suffering would end. She explained to me repeatedly that her life was over and that the decisions she made head left little room for her to start over.
However, she had four unmarried sisters at home. Her scandal had reached the tribe. Before, she believed that people would think she had been kidnapped or killed, and there would be no way to confirm she had abandoned her husband and broken the family honor. Now it was to be confirmed. If she were to go back to her family and face her sentence, then honor would be restored. If she were to run away, then her four unmarried sisters would pay the price. They would be shunned by society and would never marry because of their sister's tarnished reputation.

Nasrin Mohammed is a an Iraqi activist and one of the women behind a new woman's only cafe in Erbil. When the cafe opened in January, she noted that there were numerous clubs and facilities throughout Iraq that were for men only and that she and other women wanted to create a space for women (and their children). She also works to end female genital mutilation in Iraq. Inez Tariq and Mahmoud Raouf (Al Mada) quote her today explaining that the Ministry of Women is not equipped to address the problems of Iraqi women and that was true before the Minister herself spoke against equality. She notes that the Gender Traitor's mentality does nothing to help Iraqi women. She also points out that Iraqi women represent over half of Iraq's population and that women's rights are Iraqi rights so Iraqis should unite to promote equality.

The Gender Traitor's attack on equality goes against the Iraqi Constitution and it outraged many Iraqi women. February 11th, they took to the streets of Baghdad:

Al Mada notes a group of women demonstrated in Iraq on Baghdad's Mutanabi Street -- a large number of women from the picture -- to salute Iraq women and the pioneering Iraqi women of the 20th century feminist movement. The women noted the widespread discrimination against women (illegal under the country's Constitution). Dr. Buthaina Sharif made remarks about how the rights of women are a cause for all men and women to share. Dr. Sharif saluted Paulina Hassoun who, in 1923, edited Iraq's first feminist magazine Layla ("On the way to the revival of the Iraqi woman"). She spoke to Iraq's long history of social progress in the 20th century and decried the violence aimed at so many women today. (The UN estimates that one out of five Iraqi women is a victim of domestic violence.) Those demonstrating had passed a list of recommendations.

1) The Constitution must be followed.
2) The government needs to establish a fund for women -- women who are widows and women whose husbands have left them.
3) Publis assistance for the education of girls to prevent them from being forced to drop out.
4) Subsidies for young families which would encourage marriage and building families.
5) Better housing for women and priority on housing lists.
6) Training sessions should be opened to women and job creation should keep their qualifications in mind.
7) Double the amount guaranteed by the ration card.
8) Efforts to discredit women by sullying their names with false rumors should result in prosecution in court.
9) Freedom and unity is for all and that includes women.
10) Restore normal life by providing potable water (safe to drink) and electricity.
11) create a Higher National Committee of women and men from different backgrounds and ages

Nora Khaled Mahmoud and Mahmoud Raouf file a follow up piece for Al Mada
on the demonstration noting thatit included intellectuals and activists and could said to have been prompted by the Minster for Women's recent remarks that men and women were not equal and her insistance upon dictating how women dress. The note Iraqi women spoke of women's history being a continuum of two experiences: Injustice and triumph. Women face injustice and they triumph over it. They declared that democracy is traveling around the world and that Iraq must be a good model for it. They noted that, throughout the women's movement in Iraq, women and men have taken part in the struggle for equality and that, as early as the 20s and 30s, Iraqi clerics joined in the demands for equality for all. Women, they insisted, must not lose their freedom and that this is even more clear when they hear the Minister for Women publicly declaring she does not believe in equality. While that's her opinion, the women state, that's not the opinion of alll women and it's not the opinion of the Constitution. Journalist and feminist Nermin Mufti declared that civil liberties and personal freedoms are declining in Iraq and that the Minister for Women should represent the interests of Iraqi women and seek to claim the rights guaranteed to wom1en, not rob them of their rights little by little.

Before we leave Iraq, we should take a moment to note that the most experienced foreign reporter in Iraq is a woman, Jane Arraf. From her Twitter feed.

Fascinating parliament session now debating whether MPs should keep their armored cars after they leave office. So glad this is on TV.

Jane Arraf has now covered Iraq for decades. She currently covers it for Al Jazeera and the Christian Science Monitor. In addition to Jane, two other extremely experienced foreign correspondents are women: AP's Lara Jakes and Rebecca Santana. And one of the best Iraqi reporters for a US outlet remains McClatchy Newspapers' Sahar Issa.

In addition to those four women, other women who've done strong work covering Iraq since the start of the war include: Alexandra Zavis, Ellen Knickmeyer, Alissa J. Rubin, Sabrina Tavernise, Deborah Haynes, Gina Chon, Tina Susman, Nancy A. Youssef, Erica Goode, Deborah Amos, Kelly McEvers, Cara Buckley, Anna Badkhen, Lara Logan, Martha Raddatz, Liz Sly, Alice Fordham and Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.

Women struggle around the world for equality. In the US, women are victims of assault, victims of wage discrimination and much more. Ian Simpson (Reuters) reports on a group of women taking on a very powerful institution, "Eight current and former female members of the U.S. military allege in a lawsuit they were raped, assaulted or sexually harassed while in the military and were retaliated against when they complained. The suit filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington is the latest to allege widespread sexual violence in the world's most powerful military." Susan Burke's representing the women, as disclosed before, I know and like Susan. Jennifer Hlad (Stars and Stripes) zooms in on one of the plantiffs:

Ariana Klay, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and Iraq veteran, also appeared at the news conference. She was stationed at Marine Barracks Washington four years after Helmer, and said the command had “a frat-house culture.”
After six months of “routinely being called a slut and a whore,” enduring verbal and physical sexual advances and false allegations of adultery, Klay reported the abuse. No action was taken, she alleges in the lawsuit; instead, she was told to “deal with it.” Klay said she was raped in August 2010 by a Marine officer and a former Marine. The officer was court-martialed and convicted of adultery and indecent language — a process Klay called “a farce” on Tuesday.
“Our constitution forms a system of checks and balances, but I faced the military justice system unchecked,” said Klay.

Meanwhile Tammy Daniels (iBerhshires) reports, "Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, is encouraging women to 'break the code of silence' and share their stories -- about social discrimination, about physical violence, about economic suffering."

If all our flights are grounded
Libby, we'll go to Paris
And dance along the boulevards
And have no one to embarrass
Puttin' on the Ritz in style
With an Arab and an heiress
Libby, we'll fly anyway

And leave behind our blues
Half sung melodies
We'll trade them all in
For a Paris breeze
Libby, we'll fly
-- "Libby," written by Carly Simon, first appears on her Another Passenger

We'll close with this from the International Committee of the Red Cross:

On the occasion of International Women's Day, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is calling for more action to help these women meet their specific needs and regain dignity and hope, while emphasizing the responsibility of parties to a conflict to search for the missing and provide information for the families.

"Women all over the world have shown an extraordinary capacity to overcome hardship and take their fate into their own hands," said Maria-Teresa Garrido Otoya, the ICRC's adviser on issues relating to women and war. "Given half a chance, they find novel and effective ways of providing for themselves and their families."

Beyond the anguish of not knowing what happened to their husbands, sons or other relatives, women and girls in these situations typically face daunting practical difficulties. Because in many cases they have lost a breadwinner, they struggle to provide such basic necessities as food for their families and education for their children. "They also face legal and administrative challenges when it comes to such things as claiming their husband's property or their eligibility for public assistance to ease their families' economic hardship," said Ms Garrido Otoya. "In addition, they are often stigmatized in their communities. For example, not knowing whether their spouses are alive or dead, many do not dress or behave like widows. Their communities are unable to understand their behaviour, leaving them with no one to turn to for support."

The ICRC endeavours to provide a whole range of support to address the specific needs of women with missing loved ones. In Libya, families are still approaching the organization on a daily basis in the hope that it can help find out what became of their loved ones. In Iraq, the ICRC helps women whose husbands have gone missing by helping them set up small income-generating activities, like running a shop or working as a hairdresser. (see also: Households headed by women in Iraq: a case for action)

In Nepal, the ICRC makes counselling available and helps set up support groups to relieve some of the distress and difficulty that the wives and mothers of missing persons experience. In the support groups, women come together and are able to share their suffering, sometimes even when they and their families were formerly on opposite sides in the conflict.

Devisara and Laxmi are two Nepalese women ostensibly on opposite sides who are now allies – they are united in pain. "For days, we walked alone," said Devisara. "Now, we are walking in search of justice as victims from both sides of the conflict. This is equally beautiful. We share grief with each other." Laxmi agrees that they should not lose hope and that they must move ahead.

Under international humanitarian law, everyone has the right to know what happened to missing relatives. It is the responsibility of parties to a conflict to search for the missing and to provide the families with information on their fate, and this obligation continues after the end of the armed conflict. The authorities must see to it that the needs of the families of missing persons are met. The most effective and appropriate way of doing so is to provide women heading households with the tools to fend for themselves without outside help.

For further information, please contact:
Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 25 90 or +41 79 251 93 18

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