It’s OK to Beat Your Wife or Children in UAE – Just Don’t Leave a Mark

26 10 2010

The highest judicial body in the United Arab Emirates, which has the seventh largest oil reserves in the world, borders on Saudi Arabia, and includes Dubai, says it’s okay to beat your wife and young children…just don’t leave a mark. Here’s the short article about it from the Huffington Post:

Dubai in the UAE - Credit: Neil Emmerson/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE’s highest judicial body says a man can beat his wife and young children as long as the beating leaves no physical marks.

The decision by the Federal Supreme Court shows the strong influence of Islamic law in the Emirates despite its international appeal in which foreign residents greatly outnumber the local population.

The court made the ruling earlier this month in the case of a man who left cuts and bruises on his wife and adult daughter after a beating.

It says the man was guilty of harming the women but noted that Islamic codes allow for “discipline” if no marks are left. It also says children who have reached “adulthood” – approximately puberty – cannot be struck.

The ruling was reported Monday in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National.

You’re probably feeling outraged, right? Of course. We live in a “civilized” society and can’t imagine our Supreme Court saying it’s okay for men to beat their wives and children as long as no physical mark is left on them. It is outrageous. Men are allowed to treat women and children in the UAE and in so many countries in the world however they please and women have few rights. And this is a RELIGION saying it is okay to “discipline” them if you don’t leave marks. Is this really the way that God wants women and children to be treated?

We can sit here in moral outrage because this is Islam and somewhere far away, but these things happen right here in the United States and are sanctioned by Christianity (remember the verse about spare the rod, spoil the child?). I wrote a post called Kids in School: Getting an Education Plus a Beating about how school children in the United States are beaten with barbaric looking paddles in schools…and often for things as benign as being late to class or chewing gum. Corporal punishment of children by parents has been banned in 29 countries, including 22 in Europe, but is still legal in all 50 states in the United States. In our country, if a child has physical marks from being beaten and someone alerts social services, the parents may suffer some consequences, but if the parents are able to cover it up, they may get away with it.

So are we any better than the United Arab Emirates? We still legally condone children being beaten in schools in 21 states and at home in all 50 states and often these beatings leave horrible marks (even from school beatings) and cause children to be aggressive and to have psychological problems. This is legally-condoned assault on children. We have a culture where people are becoming more aware of the horrors that women suffer when they are beaten by husbands or boyfriends, but still men crack jokes about “slapping her around” to friends.

When will women and children in the United States and around the world really be treated equally? Why aren’t they now? Men overwhelmingly make and enforce laws in our country and in other countries. We need more men to stand for and with women and children and protect them. No schoolteacher, husband, boyfriend, father, or any man has a right to hit a child or woman. Women and children don’t need to be “disciplined” through hitting; they need to be loved.

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Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani: Falsely Accused, Flogged, Sentenced to Death by Stoning

7 07 2010

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, 42-year-old Iranian mother of two, has exasperated all legal steps to avoid being stoned any day now. She was convicted in May 2006 of having an “illicit relationship outside marriage” and received 99 lashes for that “crime,” which her son Sajjad, 22, and daughter Farideh, 17, say she did not do. Her son, who was 17 at the time, was present at her flogging and says “They lashed her just in front my eyes, this has been carved in my mind since then.”

Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani - Credit: Huffington Post

Why is she now to be stoned?  The Guardian reports that:

Sakineh already endured a sentence of 99 lashes, but her case was re-opened when a court in Tabriz suspected her of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but the adultery charge was reviewed and a death penalty handed down on the basis of “judge’s knowledge” – a loophole that allows for subjective judicial rulings where no conclusive evidence is present.

The Guardian goes on to report that:

Mohammed Mostafaei, an acclaimed Iranian lawyer volunteered to represent her when her sentence was announced a few months ago. He wrote a public letter about her conviction shortly after. “This is an absolutely illegal sentence,” he said. “Two of five judges who investigated Sakineh’s case in Tabriz prison concluded that there’s no forensic evidence of adultery.

Men who commit adultery often do not receive the same punishment as women do in Islamic countries. CNN.com reports that:

Human rights activists have been pushing the Islamic government to abolish stoning, arguing that women are not treated equally before the law in Iran and are especially vulnerable in the judicial system. A woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man, they say.

Article 74 of the Iranian penal code requires at least four witnesses — four men or three men and two women — for an adulterer to receive a stoning sentence, said Ahadi, of the International Committee Against Stoning. But there were no witnesses in Ashtiani’s case. Often, said Ahadi, husbands turn wives in to get out of a marriage.

Sakineh is to be stoned to death because the judge has supposed “knowledge” of her having had sex with someone who was not her husband…something she says she did not do and for which she has already been punished. Around 40 to 50 other women are awaiting the same fate in Iran right now.

Her children…helped by Mina Ahadi, head of the International Committee Against Stoning and the Death Penalty…are waging an international battle to get support to hopefully reverse the judge’s decision, which is their only hope to spare their mother’s life. They have written the following letter:

Today we stretch out our hands to the people of the whole world. It is now five years that we have lived in fear and in horror, deprived of motherly love. Is the world so cruel that it can watch this catastrophe and do nothing about it?

We are Sakine Mohammadi e Ashtiani’s children, Farideh and Sajjad Mohamamadi e Ashtiani. Since our childhood we have been acquainted with the pain of knowing that our mother is imprisoned and awaiting a catastrophe. To tell the truth, the term “stoning” is so horrific that we try never to use it. We instead say our mother is in danger, she might be killed, and she deserves everyone’s help.

Today, when nearly all options have reached dead-ends, and our mother’s lawyer says that she is in a dangerous situation, we resort to you. We resort to the people of the world, no matter who you are and where in the world you live. We resort to you, people of Iran, all of you who have experienced the pain and anguish of the horror of losing a loved one.

Please help our mother return home!

We especially stretch our hand out to the Iranians living abroad. Help to prevent this nightmare from becoming reality. Save our mother. We are unable to explain the anguish of every moment, every second of our lives. Words are unable to articulate our fear…

Help to save our mother. Write to and ask officials to free her. Tell them that she doesn’t have a civil complainant and has not done any wrong. Our mother should not be killed. Is there any one hearing this and rushing to our assistance?

Farideh and Sajjad Mohammadi e Ashtiani

What happens if Sakineh is stoned? She will be buried in the ground up to her chest. Carefully chosen stones…not too big to make death come too soon and not too small to prolong the process…will be thrown at her head and face until she dies. The public is not going to be allowed to witness this for fear of a backlash. In Somalia, 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, met a similar fate. She was accused of adultery and stoned to death after she reported having been gang raped. I wrote about this horrific case in an 11/13/08 blog post. I wrote another post about someone being stoned for having married sex and you can read it here.

This is not justice. This is a case of a government misusing supposed religious laws to instill fear in the people in order to control them. Imagine being stoned to death for being falsely accused of having sex with someone who was not your husband. We should all be outraged.

If you are and want to get involved, here are two ways you can:

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Sakineh-Mohammadi-Ashtiani-from-being-Stoned-to-Death-in-Iran/123908540984923?ref=ts&v=wall

Sign a petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-sakineh-mohammadi.html

Update 7/9/10 from The Guardian:

Iran has imposed a media blackout over the case of a 43-year-old mother of two who was sentenced to be stoned to death and whose fate is still unclear despite an apparent “reprieve.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is still facing execution by hanging after being convicted of adultery, her son told the Guardian today.

Newspapers, agencies and TV channels in Iran have been banned from reporting Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence, despite an international campaign launched by her children, which has been joined by politicians and celebrities from all over the world.

The campaign, first highlighted by the Guardian last week, has failed to stop the Iranian authorities from pressing ahead.

Last night the Iranian embassy in London issued an opaque statement saying that Mohammadi Ashtiani would not be stoned to death. “According to information from the relevant judicial authorities in Iran, she will not be executed by stoning punishment,” it said.

The statement was not reported inside Iran and neither was the news of stoning death sentences for 15 other Iranians.

UPDATE 7/21/10: The Iranian Supreme Court was to have issued a statement today about Ms. Ashtiani’s case. I read on today’s blog of Maryam Namazie, who is a spokesperson for Iran Solidarity amongst other groups, that Iran’s Supreme Court decision has been postponed for 20 days. There is incredible international pressure for her not to be executed. July 24, 2010 has been proclaimed an international day in support of Ms. Ashtiani and rallies are being held all over the world.

The Guardian reports in its 7/22 issue that:

Last week, Iran imposed a media blackout over Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence, banning newspapers, agencies and TV Channels in Iran from reporting any news about her case.

It also reports that her children are being told to stay silent or face arrest and mentions the http://freesakineh.org website, where signatures for her release are being collected.

UPDATE 8/5/10: This from CNN.com blog is very sad news indeed:

A second attorney representing an Iranian woman whose death by stoning sentence was under review told a human rights activist Thursday that Iranian authorities have decided she will be executed.

Mina Ahadi, spokeswoman for the International Committee against Stoning, said she had spoken to Hotan Kian, an attorney who attended a court session in Tehran Wednesday. He was informed that there would be no more appeals for his client, Sakineh Mohammedie Ashtiani, and that Iran’s high court will decide within a week whether she will be stoned or be executed in another way.

UPDATE 8/11/10: This was posted today on the Facebook page in support of Ms. Ashtiani:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, was FORCED by the Regime in Iran to speak against herself, Mostafaei (her lawyer) and the Campaign on Iran state TV. Her lawyer said that she was tortured before interview recorded in Tabriz prison, and fears imminent execution. (Guardian)

UPDATE 8/15/10: This is from CNN’s website:

(CNN) — An Iranian court has delayed the final verdict of a 43-year-old woman sentenced to death by stoning, a human rights group said Sunday, two days after the country announced she will not be executed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The International Committee Against Stoning did not say how it got its information on the postponement of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s final verdict, which had previously been scheduled to come down last Thursday. The group said in a statement that the final verdict in Ashtiani’s case is now expected on August 21, the date of her lawyer’s next court appearance.

UPDATE 8/30/10: This is a press release issued on 8/29 by the International Committee Against Stoning and the International Committee Against Execution:

On the 28th of August, in connection with the global protests against stoning and the death penalty that took place in at least 111 cities around the world, the authorities of Tabriz prison informed Sakineh that she would be executed on the 29th of August at dawn. She was told that she could write her will if she wished to do so. Sakineh started to cry and wrote her will. She waited for her execution the whole night. She waited for the guards to take her to the place of execution. Sakineh’s friends in prison showed her their deep grief and tried to comfort and calm her. However, until this hour, noon on August 29th, there has been no news concerning the completion of this death sentence. It seems that the Islamic Republic, while under immense international pressure, wanted to give the impression that it would not bow to world public opinion.

The International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution strongly condemn such heinous and criminal behavior of the Islamic regime towards prisoners sentenced to death. This [mock preparation for execution] is an indicator of the lack of detainees’ human rights. Over the years, the regime has threatened prisoners with execution sentences in order to intimidate and torture them mentally. Azar Bagheri is a young girl who has been in jail for four years, awaiting execution by stoning. She was 15 years old when she was convicted of adultery. She has been subjected to mock stonings twice [wrapped in a shroud and buried in preparation to be stoned, then released]. The dimensions of this regime’s atrocities have no limits. Opposition by Iranian people and people worldwide is the only way to push back this regime and finally free the Iranian people and all of humanity from this Islamic regime.

The International Committee against Stoning and the International Committee against Execution will continue the campaign to save Sakineh and other prisoners sentenced to execution and stoning. From here, we encourage the world to participate actively in this struggle.

UPDATE 9/3/10: An incredibly moving interview was conducted by Bernard-Henry Levy, a French philosopher and writer with Sakineh’s 22-year-old son Sajjad, who is leading the efforts to save his mother. His mother is accused of complicity in murdering his father and he says it is a “blatant lie.” The interview is posted on Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bernardhenri-levy/interview-with-sajjad_b_704311.html. Also, Sakineh has been sentenced to another 99 lashes for (and I see two causes quoted) “spreading corruption and indecency” or allowing her cause to be taken to the press.

UPDATE 9/8/10: CNN reports that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told state-run Press TV on Wednesday:

The sentencing of Ms. Ashtiani for adultery has been stopped and (her case) is being reviewed again, and her sentencing for complicity in murder is in process.

UPDATE 11/2/10: Sakineh’s son has been arrested, detained, and tortured. The go-ahead has been given to execute Sakineh on 11/3. Heartbreaking. Read about it here.

UPDATE 12/9/10: It was reported that Sakineh was released today. Iranian TV showed clips of her at home with her son. There is some question whether this was done by Iran just for appearances to try and quell the international human rights outcry over Sakineh’s case. Supporters are cautiously optimistic that she truly has been released. You can read about it in the online version of the UK’s Guardian here. The latest is that Iran is now denying that she was released.

UPDATE 1/17/11: This is from Reuters. You can read the full article here.

Iran has suspended a sentence to hang a woman [Sakineh] at the center of a global outcry about a separate stoning sentence, a member of parliament was quoted Monday as saying, but another official suggested the comments were false.





International Women’s Day: Have Women Made Any Progress?

8 03 2010

Yesterday I heard the second president (in 1970) of the National Organization of Women (NOW) Aileen Hernandez speak on “Women’s Human Rights: Turning Principles into Practice: An International Women’s Day Event” at University of California at Berkeley. Aileen is currently the chair of the California Women’s Agenda, a state action alliance of over 600 organizations. Yesterday…as part of today’s International Women’s Day commemoration and sponsored by the UN Association-East Bay…she led a group of activists through a discussion of the advances that women have made over the last three or so decades. Those include:

  • More choices of types of work are available to women now. Previously women primarily were employed as sales clerks, teachers, nurses, secretaries, or domestic workers.
  • Women and girls are more involved in athletics and play in team sports now.
  • Women have more choices about working vs. staying at home with children. This creates more choices for men, too, and more men are stay-at-home fathers, for instance.
  • Women are seen more often in higher level positions within companies.
  • Women represent higher percentages of those seeking upper education degrees.
  • Women have more choices about whether to marry or not and whether to have children or not. Previously it was assumed they would marry and would have children.
  • There’s more recognition that educating a girl or woman means that a whole family and whole community benefits.
  • Women have assumed leadership roles in government and other positions of power to greater degrees.

And yet, despite the advances for women, many things have not changed…or have not changed enough. Some examples:

  • The International Trade Union (ITUC)…which represents 176 million workers from 155 countries…reported on 3/8/10 that women with children still only earn 68% of what their male counterparts earn for the same job. Women overall earn 74% of what men earn for the same position. This study included information from over 40 countries across the world.
  • According to Causecast, which has been dubbed a “one stop philanthropy shop, “One in three women die or are seriously injured as a result of gender-based violence. Violence against women results in more deaths among women ages 15 to 44 than the total number of women who die because of war, malaria and cancer.” One woman in the talk yesterday said she felt that the attention to violence against women has been a plus, but in reality, all that attention has not lowered the prevalence of the violence. Causecast also reports that “One out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. An estimated 60 percent of all rapes are not reported to the police.”
  • Also per Causecast, an “estimated four million women and girls are bought and sold worldwide each year, either into marriage, prostitution or slavery.”
  • Another disturbing statistic from Causecast: “Approximately 96 million young women in developing countries still cannot read or write. Globally, girls account for 55 percent of children not in school.
  • And also from Causecast, “nearly 75% of those displaced by violent conflict are women. Displacement leaves women without access to health care, proper nutrition or education. Displaced women face a higher threat of gender-based terrorism and violence.”

You can read a lot more statistics about the state of women internationally today in my 2009 International Women’s Day post.

So have we achieved equal rights for women? No…far from it. Women and girls still bear the brunt of violence, lack of education, and lack the same privileges and pay as men…even in the United States. When will we…as human beings and the men throughout the world…the fathers, sons, brothers, uncles, grandfathers…begin to cherish and value women and girls and create opportunities, laws, and places in family and society that guarantee their safety and worth?






Empowering Women to Hold Up Half the Sky

28 08 2009

Her family in need of money, at age 14, Abbas Be left her home in Hyderabad, India and went to New Delhi to become a maid…or so she thought. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten, gang raped, made to service customers sexually, made to watch girls who didn’t comply be murdered, and was never paid for her work. Eventually she was rescued by police and taken back to Hyderabad, where she found a home in a shelter that helps trafficked girls heal and learn skills for a new life. Abbas is getting an education, has learned bookbinding, is counseling girls on how to avoid being trafficked, and is earning enough money to help her sisters get an education and help them avoid being trafficked.

How can we improve the plight of women and girls globally? One very important way is through education, as is demonstrated in this story and many others in the upcoming book Half the Sky BookHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will be released on 9/8/09. The book is written by the husband and wife team of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, who have both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. They wrote an essay called “The Women’s Crusade,” which is adapted from the book and appeared on 8/17/09 in the New York Times. Here are some of the things they report:

  • In 1990, while living and reporting in China, they read an obscure report that stated that 39,000 baby girls die in the first year of life annually in China because parents don’t get girls the same medical care they do boys.
  • A bride is burned once every two hours in India because the dowry isn’t high enough or the husband wants to get rid of her to marry someone else.
  • Anywhere from 60 to 107 million females are missing from the planet due primarily to not getting adequate nutrition and health care. This number is more than all the men who were killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
  • The poorest families in the world spend approximately 20% of their incomes on alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts and only about 2% of their income on educating their children. Studies show that when women are able to have an income, it is more often spent on good food, medicine, and housing and children are healthier.
  • In some cases, fathers drink away $5 a week at bars…$5 that could purchase a mosquito net and save a child from dying of malaria.

Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference in the lives of girls. Examples mentioned in the article are:

  • A study done in Kenya by Harvard economist Michael Kremer showed that the best way to motivate sixth grade girls to better academic performance is to offer them a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade and recognition at an assembly.
  • In another Kenyan study, it was shown that dropout and pregnancy rates can be significantly reduced by providing a $6 school uniform to girls every 18 months.
  • Another way to keep girls from missing classes is to aid girls in menstruation by providing pads and a place to change them.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Nicholas and Sheryl have three concrete recommendations for the Council, which would cost no more than the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 9/11:

  • Set aside $10 billion over the next five years to educate girls all over the world.  When Larry Summers was chief economist of the World Bank, he said that “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
  • Sponsor a drive to help countries all over the world iodize salt and eliminate iodine deficiency. Approximately a third of households in developing countries don’t get enough iodine and it can affect particularly female fetuses and reduce girls’ IQs 10 to 15 points.
  • Provide $1.6 billion over the next 12 years to eradicate obstetric fistulas. A fistula is a hole formed inside a woman during a difficult childbirth and it can leave her smelly, incontinent, and shunned by her village. It only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

There is a Chinese saying that inspired the title of the Kristof/WuDunn book:

Women hold up half the sky.

Sometimes women just need a little help. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of women and children all over the world, here are just a few of the many organizations that would appreciate even a small donation:





SLAP HER: Advice at a Saudi Domestic Violence Seminar

11 05 2009

Judge Hamad Al-Razine advised men to slap their wives at a recent seminar in Saudi Arabia on domestic violence. Here’s what he said:

If a person gives SR 1,200 [$320] to his wife and she spends 900 riyals [$240] to purchase an abaya [the black cover that women in Saudi Arabia must wear] from a brand shop and if her husband slaps her on the face as a reaction to her action, she deserves that punishment.

Credit: AFP Getty Images

Credit: AFP Getty Images

Women in the audience booed…and rightly so. Arab News, which reported this, said that Al-Razine was trying to explain why domestic violence has increased recently when he made the comments. Al-Razine said that women and men shared responsibility, but also said that “nobody puts even a fraction of blame on women.” 

According to Arab News, Al-Razine: 

…also pointed out that women’s indecent behavior and use of offensive words against their husbands were some of the reasons for domestic violence in the country.

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for 14 months many years ago. Every time I see stories like this, it makes me angry. This is yet another example of men…and this time validated by a judge…using violence to subjugate women. Women have little opportunity to be indecent in this country. They wear veils everywhere they go. They cannot socialize, attend classes, work, or even be seen with a man who is not their husband. When friends come to visit in homes, men socialize with the men in one room and women visit with the women in another room.

It’s a religion that men use to repress women and attitudes like the one this judge displayed…and at a seminar on domestic violence…that keep Saudi women from gaining basic rights and being free from domestic violence.

It’s never okay to slap a woman. NEVER.





Raped? Pay Up Now! And Then WAIT

11 05 2009
Credit: HRW

Credit: Human Rights Watch

Rape victims having to pay for their own rape kits. Rape kits sitting on shelves by the tens of thousands and not being processed. Women being revictimized by governments and criminal justice systems that don’t take rape seriously. This disgusts me.

I was dumbfounded during the presidential campaign with the news that when Sarah Palin was mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, rape victims had to pay for their own rape kits. And now it seems that many raped women in the state of Texas (where I live) are receiving letters threatening their credit if they don’t pay for the processing of their own rape kits, which can cost from $1,200 to $1,800 to process. This is outrageous. In what other crime do we make the victims pay to collect and process evidence?

 Joe Cutbirth, Adjunct Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, wrote an article about this for the Huffington Post site. He cites the U.S. Violence Against Women Act, which says that states must pay for rape kits if they want to get other federal funding. He also mentions how Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott remarkably tries to defend the letters to victims, saying the Texas Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund—which collected almost $100 million in 2007—would go broke if it didn’t put some restrictions on the payout from that fund. In that same year, the fund had a $58 million surplus—money just sitting around that could go to pay for the processing of these rape kits. Governor Rick Perry—who has talked of secession—continues to embarrass and outrage me and many other Texans every single day with unbelievably insensitive and stupid words and actions such as this.

And to add another layer of insult to these women, even when they are courageous enough to report a rape, often these rape kits can sit on shelves for months…or years. Nicholas Kristof wrote an article about this in the New York Times and quoted a Human Rights Watch report, which said that in Los Angeles County, at last count there were 12,669 rape kits in police storage that had not been processed. Some unprocessed kits were more than 10 years old and the statute of limitations for being able to prosecute the case and use the results as evidence had expired.

The Human Rights Watch report Testing Justice: The Rape Kit Backlog in Los Angeles City and County puts a human face on the tragedy of this delayed testing through real stories such as this:

Catherine was in her forties, living with her young son. She was awakened at midnight by a stranger who raped her, sodomized her, and forced her to orally copulate him—repeatedly. Thankfully, her child remained asleep. When it was over, the police brought her to the Rape Treatment Center. Like all rape victims, her body was one of the crime scenes. She consented to the collection of evidence.

The detective was told by the crime lab that it would take at least 8 months to analyze Catherine’s rape kit. The detective said he knew from the “MO” in this crime that the rapist was a repeat offender. Eight months was too long to wait. He personally drove the kit to the state lab—where the kit still sat for months. When it was processed, they got a “cold hit.” Catherine’s rapist was identified. He was in the offender database.

During the months Catherine’s kit sat on a shelf, unopened, the same rapist attacked at least two other victims—one was a child.

Does any of this alarm you? Piss you off? Sadden you? Evoke any emotion at all? It does for me. I have known in my lifetime several women who have been raped. It is absolutely devastating. And without exception, these women experienced the legal system raping them all over again. We must stand with these women and support those who have the courage to report what happened to them.

Want to do something about this? Contact Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott at greg.abbott@oag.state.tx.us or the U.S. Department of Justice at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov.

Here’s the CNN report on Texas billing women for their own rape kits. Below the video, please note an update to this post.

UPDATE 5/15/09: I was incensed about this and wrote the State of Texas (where I live) Attorney General’s office. Here’s the reply I received:

Dear Ms. Beeler:

Thank you for your recent message. We appreciate your contacting the Office of the Attorney General.

There has been much confusion regarding a Houston television station’s recent report regarding the Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund. In response, we have posted on our website a message which addresses inaccuracies and misinformation contained in the report. Please read “Notice To Crime Victim Advocates” on our website at

Rest assured, the Office of the Attorney General is committed to protecting and serving Texas crime victims.

Sincerely,

Carlos Ibañez

Public Information & Assistance

Office of the Attorney General of Texas

http://www.oag.state.tx.us/victims/advocate_notice.shtml.





Somaly Mam: One of the World’s 100 Most Influential People and a Real Hero

5 05 2009

She was raped and tortured for five years in a horrendous brothel. Her parents and then her grandmother had disappeared. She was left to fend for herself. A “grandfather” (really a stranger) said he’d help. He raped her at age 10 or 12, made her be his personal slave, and then sold her at age 14 into sexual slavery in Cambodia. She escaped in 1993 and returned to help others living through the same nightmare. Somaly Mam is a true and courageous hero(ine).

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

Somaly Mam - Credit: Kris Connor - Getty

In 1996 she founded a nonprofit organization called AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, which is French for Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) to help law enforcement rescue trafficked women and children from brothels and bring them back into society. One of every 40 Cambodian girls is sold into sexual slavery; some are as young as five years old.

So far, she has helped more than 4,000 women escape a life of sexual slavery. Somaly has suffered enormously for the stand she has taken and the work she has done. She has received death threats and assaults, had her house burned down, and endured the horrific kidnapping, drugging, and raping of her 14-year-old daughter in 2006. She courageously continues the work.

She details her experience in the September 2008-released book The Road of Lost Innocence. She offers vision and leadership to the Somaly Mam Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending slavery.

In November 2008 she was the first recipient of the Roland Berger Human Dignity Award “in recognition of her fight for a world without slavery” from the new human rights and Munich-based Roland Berger Foundation. The 1 million euro ($1.269 million) she received to continue her work is almost exactly the amount awarded to recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. She has won several other prestigious awards.

Somaly Mam was named this week one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and was lauded with the others named tonight at the TIME 100 Gala in New York. Angelina Jolie, who with her partner Brad Pitt adopted their son Maddox from Cambodia, wrote the TIME article about Somaly Mam. She is an Oscar-winning actress, goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, and co-chair of the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.

Somaly Mam suffered tremendously in the first part of her life. She not only lifted herself up, but so many others with her decision to help those who lived the horrors she did. She has made a tremendous impact in the lives of thousands of trafficked young women and has given a face and voice to human trafficking throughout the world.

Stand up and applaud. This woman is a true hero.

Here are Somaly Mam and Somaly Mam Foundation board member and actress Susan Sarandon on the Tyra Banks show.





Courage in Afghanistan

15 04 2009

Today the women in Kabul, Afghanistan demonstrated against the recent Taliban-like law that dictates that Shiite women must give their husbands sex when he demands it and ask their husband for permission to leave the house, go to the doctor, get an education, etc. I wrote about this in detail in my post Honey, I Have a Headache – Not in Afghanistan You Don’t.

Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images for The New York Times

Credit: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images for The New York Times

It takes tremendous courage for these 300 women to protest and demand that the new law be repealed. An angry crowd of close to 1000 mostly men poured into the streets near them and some shouted “Get out of here, you whores!” And worse, “Death to the enemies of Islam! We want Islamic law!” They threw stones at the women.

I remember when a group of Saudi women in 1990 drove cars in protest of their country’s law that women can’t drive. NPR.com reports that:

The women paid heavily for their actions — all the drivers, and their husbands, were barred from foreign travel for a year. Those women who had government jobs were fired. And from hundreds of mosque pulpits, they were denounced by name as immoral women out to destroy Saudi society.

And today, women still cannot drive in Saudi Arabia.

President Karzai signed the Afghan law. He is under intense international pressure to change the law, which has not yet gone into effect, and he is considering making some changes. A leading cleric Ayatollah Mohseni said: “If a woman says no [to sex] the man has the right not to feed her.” Stunning.

For more on this, read this New York Times article, which appears in the 4/16 print edition of the Times.





Run for Congo Women – Women for Women

11 04 2009

run-for-congo-women2A story on Oprah about the plight of Congo women and what Women for Women International is doing to help them spurred Lisa Shannon of Portland, Oregon to take action. She organized Run for Congo Women to raise money to help the women there and today bloggers are uniting to bring attention to this cause.

I wrote about the incredible HBO documentary The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo in a November post. Women and children continue to suffer greatly there. The 3/27/09 United Nations Security Council report of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) reports the following:

  • As of January, there were an estimated 1.4 million displaced people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with 707,000 of those being in the northern area of the province of Kivu.
  • Attacks on humanitarian workers, human rights, and the socio-economic and financial situation there have worsened “significantly” even since the start of 2009.
  • Members of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), the Congolese National Police, and other armed groups have committed egregious human rights abuses such as arbitrary executions, torture, extortion, abduction and disappearance of citizens, and rapes.
  • Sexual and gender-based violence continues with 11,00 rapes being reported each month. Varying from area to area, 35% to 50% of the victims are between 10  and 17 years old and 10% were younger than 10 years old.

Lisa Shannon is one person who decided to do something to make a difference. Below is a 2008 video of her speaking about Run for Congo Women. Another video from Women for Women follows that talks about how we can change the lives of women there by sponsoring a Congolese woman or donating to the organization. Go to http://www.womenforwomen.org to find out more or make a donation.





Human Rights Activists on Twitter

8 04 2009

Here are some Human Rights activists I follow on Twitter. I am so twitterappreciative of the work they do and what I learn from them. You might want to check them out too if you’re a Twitter fan.

GENERAL

http://twitter.com/HumanRightsNews – News headlines on human rights

http://twitter.com/hrcberkeley – Human Rights Center UC Berkeley

http://twitter.com/susanneure – Web editor for Amnesty Intl in Canada

http://twitter.com/AmnestyIntl – Amnesty Intl

http://twitter.com/AmnestyUK – Amnesty Intl in UK

http://twitter.com/AmnestyOnline – International Secretariat of Amnesty International

http://twitter.com/phrTweets – Physicians for Human Rights

http://twitter.com/The_Advocates – The Advocates for Human Rights

http://twitter.com/ladu – human rights activist

http://twitter.com/rtsadvocate – human rights activist

HOMELESS/REFUGEES

http://twitter.com/MLFNOW – helping the homeless

http://twitter.com/wrcommission – Women’s Refugee Commission working to improve the lives and protect the rights of refugee women and children.

http://twitter.com/theIRC – The International Rescue Committee goes to crisis zones to rescue and rebuild. We lead refugees from harm to home.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS

http://twitter.com/HumanFolly – editor of Change.org Women’s Rights blog

GENDER VIOLENCE

http://twitter.com/sinbysilence – documentary on stopping violence against women

http://twitter.com/FGFoundation – working to end gender violence

http://twitter.com/WRC_DOD – White Ribbon Campaign to end violence against women

CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

http://twitter.com/childrensrights – working to reform child welfare systems

TORTURE
http://twitter.com/notorture – healing torture survivors

http://twitter.com/IStandVsTorture – an umbrella campaign for a U.S. Commission to Investigate Torture

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

http://twitter.com/StopConflict – working to stop conflict in the Congo

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

http://twitter.com/AaronCohen777 – rescuing victims of child trafficking

http://twitter.com/TheA21Campaign – abolishing the injustice of human trafficking in the 21st century

 

http://twitter.com/VisionAbolition – dedicated to prevention, rescue, and restoration of sexually exploited and trafficked children

http://twitter.com/RichLeger – human trafficking activist with Abolish Slavery Coalition

http://twitter.com/slaverymap – online repository of human trafficking incidences

http://twitter.com/EBain – author of Season of Light blog on child trafficking

http://twitter.com/BuckUpCampaign – building shelters for sex trafficking victims by asking people to donate $1

http://twitter.com/endingslavery – writer of One Voice to End Slavery blog

http://twitter.com/FredDouglassSon – Frederick Douglas Family Foundation fighting modern day slavery

Here are additional abolitionists (people who fight slavery and human trafficking) from Diana Scimone:

@Freeallslaves
@freedomday
@IJMcampaigns
@IJMHQ
@ijminstitute
@innocentjustice
@Justicecrazy
@lovejustice
@nowhere2hide

@nosilencenow

@Polaris_Project

@advancnonprofit

@AmberGlattSmith

@antitrafficking

@BeverlyHogue
@brandedphx

@cfpdx
@charlestlee

@cortneyr
@dhepburn

@ElCuso12

@fisher_david

@just4one
@LaLaLives
@lwood15
@MaeSotShane

@maryhooke
@mathewhulbert
@MatthewBarnett

@mgjack

@missdeneen
@monicabrand

@mrskutcher
@NatalieGrant
@northernchick
@NYTimesKristof
@respres

@sethjohnson78

@ProjectExodus
@RedLightCC
@ROBLOVE146

@RunForFreedom
@socialheart
@thesoldproject

@Traffickfree
@trafficksucks

In addition to the above, this is a wonderful list from Emily at the Season of Light blog on ending child trafficking on people who twitter on human trafficking:

Individuals:

Diana Scimone, Born2Fly: @DianaScimone

Brandi, Social Heart Blog: @socialheart

Carol Fenton:@cfpdx

Greg Darley: @gregdarley

Nicholas Kristof, New York Times reporter: @nytimeskristof

Somaly Mam, The Somaly Mam Foundation: @somalymam

Seth Johnson, Transitions Global: @sethjohnson78

Stef, Nowhere2Hide: @nowhere2hide

Laura: @LaLaLives

Mae Potter: @maepotter

Amanda Kloer, Change.org blog: @endhumantraffic

Organizations

ECPATUSA: @ecpatUSA

FreeChains: @freechains

IJM: @IJMHQ

Not for Sale: @not_for_sale

Redlight Children: @redlightcc

SheDances: @shedances

The SOLD Project: @thesoldproject

Transitions Global: @transitions_g





Honey, I Have a Headache – Not in Afghanistan You Don’t

4 04 2009

You can’t say no if your husband wants sex and you’re a Shiite Muslim woman in Afghanistan. You are required by a new law to have sex with him whenever he asks unless you are ill. Convenient for the men…and critics are outraged at the worsening of women’s human rights in Afghanistan. Estimates put the number of Shiite (or Shi’a) Muslims there who are affected by the new law at 10 – 25% of the population.

The new law signed by Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai restricts a Shiite woman’s rights even further:

  • She cannot leave the house without her husband’s permission and it can be only for a “legitimate purpose.”
  • She cannot seek work or hold a job without her husband’s permission.
  • She cannot get an education without her husband’s permission.
  • She cannot make a doctor’s appointment without her husband’s permission.
  • She cannot be granted child custody in the case of divorce; custody goes only to fathers and grandfathers .
  • She cannot inherit houses or land from her husband, but he can inherit them from her.

An United Nations press release was issued about this on 4/2/09 and begins by stating this:

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Thursday urged the Afghan Government to rescind a new law, reportedly signed by President Karzai earlier this month, saying it would seriously undermine women’s rights in Afghanistan and contravene the Afghanistan constitution as well as universal human rights standards.

The press release quotes Ms. Pillay as saying that:

This is another clear indication that the human rights situation in Afghanistan is getting worse not better. Respect for women’s rights – and human rights in general – is of paramount importance to Afghanistan’s future security and development. This law is a huge step in the wrong direction.

I got a small taste of these lack of freedoms for women when I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1979 and 1980. I could not drive a car. A man had to accompany me anywhere I went. I had to have my arms and legs covered when I went to the main souq (marketplace) downtown (with a man, of course). I wasn’t allowed to work except to teach in the American school. I could not even go to Jeddah to join my husband until he had established himself as a legitimate person working in that country. I was left behind in the U.S. pregnant for several months and had the baby without him by my side as a result.

But my restricted freedoms were nothing like what the Afghan Shi’a women are now being faced with. The new law legalizes a husband raping his wife. He has total control over what she does and when. If you are a woman, ask yourself how you would like to have no choice on whether you have sex or not with your husband. How would you like to be told that you cannot get an education or a job or leave the house or even go to the doctor without your husband’s approval?

The freedoms we enjoy in the United States as women are immense compared to those that are slipping away from or nonexistent to women in other parts of the world. We don’t have pay parity with men. We don’t have many women in executive positions. We have never had a woman president. But we can choose to say no to our husbands when we don’t feel like having sex.

Let us remember our sisters all over the world and join Commissioner Pillay and President Obama in denouncing this new Afghan law that makes a woman less than a person.





Oprah on the Polygamous Yearning for Zion Ranch – It’s No “Big Love”

30 03 2009

Oprah visited the Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch and aired scenes from her visit today. Disturbing. What she showed is nothing like the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated TV show Big Love, which just wrapped up its third season on HBO. I love that show. The writing on Big Love is superb, the acting is emotional and believable, and the drama is suspenseful.

Yearning for Zion Ranch outside Eldorado, Texas is owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). In 2008 the Texas Child Protective Services (CPS) removed the children after being tipped that children were being sexually abused and underage girls were being forced to marry much older men. Twelve girls between ages 12 and 15 were married when the raid was conducted. Since the raid, people on YFZ say they won’t marry children below the legal age, which is 16 in Texas. The children were eventually all returned except a 12-year-old girl who was forced to marry their prophet Warren Jeffs, who according to FLDS church records, had 58 wives.

Jeffs was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in 2006 when he fled to avoid prosecution. He was later found and arrested and on 11/20/07 he was sentenced to 10 years to life imprisonment for being guilty of two counts of rape as an accomplice. Jeffs is still scheduled to be tried for additional charges in Arizona. Willie Jessop, who took Oprah into the ranch, is now the prophet.

Excellent, shocking, and eye-opening books I have read on the FLDS church are Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven and Carolyn Jessop’s book Escape. In 1986, 18-year-old Carolyn Jessop, who wanted to attend medical school but was not allowed, was instead forced to marry 50-year-old Merril Jessop (Willie’s brother) who already had three wives and 30 children. Soon after the marriage, Merrill was given two additional wives.

Merril Jessop and his first six wives - Carolyn is on the right

Merril Jessop and his first six wives - Carolyn is on the right as a young bride

Carolyn endured repeated rapes from her husband and life-threatening pregnancies and childbirth until she was able to escape at age 35 with her 8 children in 2003 from the compound in Colorado City, Arizona. She took them and fled because she was afraid that her oldest daughter Betty, aged 14, would be forced into marriage. Betty screamed as they left and said that a mother has no right to do what she wants with her children.

Four years later and two days after Betty turned 18, she returned to the compound. Carolyn feels Betty is brainwashed. Oprah interviewed now 19-year-old Betty who seems to think her mother’s concern is silly. Betty talks to her mother once a week, but says it’s “awkward.” Merril Jessop is Betty’s father and is awaiting sentencing for conducting the unlawful marriage of Betty’s 12-year-old half-sister to FLDS head Warren Jessop who is in jail.

Betty, as well as the other women, men, and children tried to appear candid, but it’s almost certain that they were coached on what to say. Their stories were nothing like what Carolyn Jessop tells in her book of what life is like there.

Oprah probed those she talked to, but did not judge and let it go when people denied what so many people have said happens there. These interesting things did come out of her conversations. My comments are in purple.

  • Children don’t play. The FLDS people consider play frivolous and they say it doesn’t serve a purpose. Their purpose? To be like God. Wouldn’t God consider play and joy okay?
  • Oprah asked a classroom full of second graders if they’d heard of Shrek, Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Little Mermaid, and other fictional characters…no, they hadn’t. The teacher said that teaching them about fictional characters serves no purpose. I can understand why they don’t encourage children to think creatively or have imaginations. They might consider doing something besides what they are told…like LEAVE.
  • They listen to religious music and sermons on iPods. Again, having no exposure to “fun” music or hearing opinions on topics besides their own religion keeps the people focused on work and their religion and contributes to them having no ability to think for themselves.
  • Oprah interviewed three wives of one husband who was there during the interview making sure they said the right thing watching. Oprah asked them didn’t they get jealous of their husband being with the other wives. One wife said “Our way of life is self-improvement and what better way to improve yourself than to live with other women and learn to overcome your bad feelings and jealousies? If I didn’t live with other women, I would never know about myself. I would never discover the weaknesses in my human flesh.” On the surface, one can understand her comments, but they say so much more if you delve deeply. She is saying that she has bad feelings and jealousy, she is weak to have feelings, and she can’t know herself or feel without being put in this situation of having to share her husband with other women.
  • Oprah talked to about 20 teenage girls and none of them had dated. One said that marriage is the start of a relationship. They all indicated that their parents pick who they will marry. This sounds a lot like what happens with arranged marriages in India. There is little to no free will to choose your own partner in your own time.
  • Oprah asked the teenage girls if they knew that it was against the law for adults to have sex with children. One said she didn’t know that before, and had just learned that. One can only imagine how the men groom girls for sex at an early age. Read Carolyn Jessop’s book. It’s disturbing.
  • Oprah asked about their dresses, which cover their arms and legs and look identical except in color. They wear them even when they swim and only take them off to put on their gowns for bed. They are not encouraged to be individuals and to express their own personalities (or even to have them) with choice of clothes. They also don’t get to be carefree children, wearing shorts, a swimsuit, etc. They are denied so many of what we would consider freedoms.
  • Oprah asked what the teenage girls what want the outside world to know. They answered in unison “That we’re happy.” Of course they said that. They do and say what they are told. They know they will be beaten if they don’t. They denied beating children in Oprah’s interview, but Carolyn Jessop says that children are beaten badly…even with boards…kicked, and otherwise abused. When the children were removed by the Department of Human Services, many of them had broken bones as a result of the physical abuse they deny happens.

Twelve men from YFZ remain under indictment and their trials are set for this fall. Although some might see it differently, after having read Jon Krakauer’s and Carolyn Jessop’s books and done other reading about what goes on in the FLDS “religion,” I see this as men using their power to make women and children subservient and slaves to their every need and desire. Carolyn Jessop said the boys are often taken out of school and made to work from 5 a.m. until sunset every day as slave labor.

The men cloak what they do in the name of religion and being like God and yet they literally take teenage boys out of their homes and dump them somewhere outside the ranch when they reach a certain age (like 14) because they become a threat to the much older men who pluck their peer-aged girl classmates from childhood to service them in “marriage.” Women and children there could have walked out of a “Stepford Wives” movie…they are zombies with no ability to think or choose for themselves.

I find the whole thing disgusting, disturbing, and alarming. The State of Texas tried to do the right thing, but it backfired. I cried for those women and children when they were returned to the Yearning for Zion Ranch.  The men are back to being happy and controlling. The abuse continues. It’s no “Big Love.”

UPDATE 4/14/09: The Texas House Committee on Human Services met today to look at how Texas officials handled the removal and investigation of child abuse at YZR. When questioned, the now FLDS prophet Willie Jessop said he wasn’t sure if there were underage marriages there and that it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to speculate on the entire group. The chairman of the committee, Rep. Patrick Rose, told Jessop he just didn’t believe him.

Anne Heiligenstein, commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, who was not working there at the time of the raid, defended their actions. According to the Austin American-Statesman article on the hearing,

She also pointed out that the protective services agency’s investigation concluded that nearly 30 percent of the girls ages 12 to 17 at the ranch had been sexually abused.

“It’s what other reasonable people would have done in the same situation to protect children,” Heiligenstein said.

Heiligenstein also issued a warning: “You cannot abuse children in Texas and get away with it, even if you are a large, reclusive, well-organized and funded organization that has a great deal of media savvy.”

UPDATE 11/6/09: In the first trial (in the 3,000-resident Schleicher County) associated with the 2008 raids on the Yearning for Zion Ranch in Schleicher County, 38-year-old Raymond Jessop was convicted of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl he calls his wife. She is one of the daughters of the former FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs and was previously “married” to Raymond Jessop’s brother before being “reassigned” to him when she was only 15 years old. She became pregnant at age 16 and her daughter is now four years old. According to Texas law, no one under 17 years of age can consent to sex with an adult. Jessop, who has 9 wives, faces up to 20 years in prison.

UPDATE 8/9/11:This is from the Huffington Post:

SAN ANGELO, Texas (AP) — Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs has been sentenced to life in prison for sexually assaulting two underage followers he took as brides in what his church deemed “spiritual marriages.”

The head of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stood quietly as the decision of the Texas jury was read Tuesday. He received the maximum sentence on both counts

The jury deliberated less than half an hour.

The 55-year-old Jeffs was convicted Thursday. During the trial, prosecutors used DNA evidence to show Jeffs fathered a child with a 15-year-old and played an audio recording of what they said was him sexually assaulting a 12-year-old.

Jeffs is the eighth FLDS man convicted since a raid of a ranch run by the church, which believes polygamy brings exaltation in heaven.





Saudi Arabia: A Bread Delivery Makes a Criminal out of Khamisa Sawadi, 75

9 03 2009

Her crime? Mingling with two 24-year-old men – one the nephew of her deceased husband – when they delivered five loaves of bread to her home north of the Saudi Arabian capital city of Riyadh last April. 75-year-old widow Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi is from Syria, but was married to a Saudi man. After her March 3rd sentence of 40 lashes and 4 months in prison is carried out, she will be deported back to Syria.

The men were arrested by the religious police after delivering the bread to Sawadi. They, too, will be lashed and serve time in prison. The court based its decision on “citizen information” from the father of one of the young men, who accused the woman of corruption. The court verdict said:

Because she said she doesn’t have a husband and because she is not a Saudi, conviction of the defendants of illegal mingling has been confirmed.

Khamisa Sawadi says she even breastfed one of the young men who delivered the bread…which would normally establish a degree of maternal relation and would save her from the charge of mingling. Because she can’t prove it, the charge stands. Her lawyer is appealing the sentence.

Saudi Arabia prohibits men and women who are not immediate relatives from mingling and practices some of the strictest interpretations of any Islamic country. I know…I lived there many years ago. When I, or any woman, would go to the main market (the souq), I had to have my arms and legs covered. I couldn’t drive…even as an American woman…and had to have a man with me everywhere I went.  

One morning when I was waiting outside a store for it to open. My driver was sitting in the car right in front of me and I had my baby in my arms. An Egyptian man came up to me and started a conversation about politics. After a few minutes, he asked me if I’d like to go with him to his house. Stunned, I just said no. I did my brief shopping and returned to the car (usually the driver would come in with me, but he could see me from the car and remained there this time). I told the driver what the man said and he was upset and said I should’ve immediately come and told him. I asked him what would have happened. He said the police would’ve come and gotten the Egyptian man and beaten him. I was glad I didn’t tell.

The outrageousness of the religious police in Saudi Arabia is reaching new levels and causing outcries. Recently King Abdullah fired the chief of the religious police and a cleric who condoned killing owners of TV networks that broadcast “immoral content.” When I lived in Jeddah many years ago, there was only one English-speaking television station that ran really old very wholesome shows and had 15 minutes per day of news – 10 of which was what the king did that day.

I saw the work of the religious police everywhere…a can of beans with serving suggestions of “with pork” would have those words marked out (pork is unclean and illegal there). A magazine ad showing a woman’s bare midriff would have the midriff blacked out. Some pages would be ripped entirely from magazines and some magazines – with news the religious police didn’t want us to know – would not even make it into the country. As I entered the country and waited in the Jeddah airport, a man was trying to smuggle a can of ham in his suitcase and the police were stabbing the ham and screaming at the man. I heard of an American man accused of dealing drugs in Jeddah. He was offered the choice of having a hand cut off or spending 10 years in a Saudi prison.

Justice is harsh in Saudi Arabia. Beheadings, advertised in even the English newspaper, were held in the public square for anyone to watch. For more on “justice” in Saudi Arabia, read my recent post on how being gang raped is considered adultery – a crime with a harsh sentence.

I never felt unsafe in Jeddah and the people were very nice to me, my two tiny children, and my then husband. It saddens me to see these helpful young men treated as criminals because they showed kindness to an elderly woman and to see her treated as a criminal for accepting their kindness. This is not religious. This is not just. This is not right.

Here’s a report from CNN on this:





Celebrating International Women’s Day March 8 with a 100th Post

7 03 2009

Did you know that 70% of people living under $1 a day are women? In celebration of  International Women’s Day, I am writing my 100th post and providing some important information about women globally. First observed in the United intl-womens-day-logoStates on February 28, 1909, it is now celebrated every year on March 8th. Wikipedia includes this information about it:

International Woman’s Day (IWD) is marked on March 8 every year. It is a major day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women. In some celebrations, the day lost its political flavour, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love to the women around them in a way somewhat similar to Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day mixed together. In others, however, the political and human rights theme as designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

This year the global United Nations theme, which changes each year, is Women and men united to end violence against women and girls. Here are some statistics on violence against women from the United Nations website:

  • Today, many women – in some countries as many as one in three – are beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in their lifetimes.
  • Worldwide, one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.
  • Half of the women who die from homicides are killed by their current or former husbands or partners.
  • For women aged 15 to 44 years, violence is a major cause of death and disability.
  • More than 80 percent of trafficking victims are women.
  • More than 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • 4 out of every 10 births in the world are not attended by a doctor or healthcare professional, resulting in maternal mortality being the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in developing countries.
  • On the basis of data collected from 24,000 women in 10 countries, between 55 percent and 95 percent of women who have been physically abused by their partners have never contacted NGOs, shelters or the police for help.

Here are some other interesting facts about women globally. All are sourced from InternationalWomensDay.com.  

  • 2/3 of the world’s illiterate adults are female and 2/3 of the world’s uneducated children are girls. Educating girls is considered the single most effective strategy for economic growth.
  • Women do 2/3 of the world’s work, but receive only 1/10 of the world’s income.
  • Females in developing countries on average carry 20 liters (5.3 gallons) of water per day over 6km (3.7 miles). 
  • Only 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female. 
  • The Global Gender Gap Report measures the size of the gender gap (the disparity in opportunities available for men and women) for 130 countries in four critical areas: economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment, and political empowerment. Here are how some countries ranked, with 100% representing gender equality.
    • Norway, Finland, and Sweden – all around 82%
    • Iceland (80%)
    • New Zealand (79%)
    • Phillippines, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the U.K. – 74% – 76%
    • United States (72%) – 27th on the list
    • Chad, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Yemen (the worst at 47%) at the bottom of the list

We have a long way to go for women to realize the same rights as men, the same freedoms as men, the same education as men, the same freedom from violence as men, the same health care as men, the same pay as men, etc. etc. Take the time to appreciate the women in your life and all over the world.

Here’s a video about gender equality that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) put together to celebration International Women’s Day. As the video says, “It begins with me, it begins with you, it begins with us.” Take a look.

 





Silent No More: Taking Lincoln’s Advice

7 03 2009

Battered women are in prison for killing their abusers even though they acted in a form of self-defense for themselves and their children after experiencing years of violence.

They have often been repeatedly raped, beaten, and threatened to be killed. If they tried to leave, their abuser said he would find them and kill them. If they called the police or told anyone what was going on, he told them he would kill them. They were trapped and out of options.

In March of 1991 a battered women’s support group for women incarcerated in the California Institution for Women for killing their abusers was formed. The group – called Convicted Women Against Abuse – began writing letters to the governor seeking clemency and several have been released from prison as a result.

Women in Sin by Silence Film

Women in the Film Sin by Silence - Photo: sinbysilence.org

A new movie entitled “Sin by Silence” about the Convicted Women Against Abuse support group will be premiered March 22, 2009 at the Cleveland International Film Festival. The Internet Movie Database has this synopsis of the movie :

From behind prison walls, SIN BY SILENCE reveals the lives of extraordinary women who advocate for a future free from domestic violence. Inside the California Institution for Women, the first inmate-initiated and led group in the U.S. prison system, shatters the misconceptions of domestic violence. Against the system and against the odds, the women of Convicted Women Against Abuse have risen to expose the stigma of the cycle of domestic violence. Through their stories of terror and hope, the viewer can begin to understand the cycle of violence, the signs of an abuser, and how each and every one of us is responsible for changing the tragedy of domestic violence. Written by Olivia Klaus

The facts, according to the SinbySilence.org website, about domestic violence:

  • 1 of every 3 women experience abuse.
  • Every 7 seconds a woman is battered.
  • Up to 4 million women are battered in their homes each year.
  • Battering is the #1 cause of injury to women in the U.S.
  • There are 3 times as many shelters for animals as there for battered women.
  • Every day 4 women die from domestic abuse.
  • Up to 50% of homeless women and children on the streets are fleeing domestic violence.

Domestic violence happens to women of all classes, cultures, races, etc. This has really hit home with the recent battering of mega singing star Rihanna by her equally mega singing star boyfriend Chris Brown. Even she isn’t immune from abuse.

According to the Sin by Silence website:

While most of the women in SIN BY SILENCE may remain in prison for the remainder of their lives, these women are committed to helping others understand the reality of domestic violence.

You can watch a trailer of the movie here. The website lists resources such as the Domestic Violence Hotline and Free Battered Women if you want more information or want to get involved.

The least we can do is to help these women raise awareness about domestic violence, learn the signs of when a woman is being battered, and help a battered woman out when possible…by extending a hand or by making a donation to a women’s shelter. We can advocate that laws be eased to decriminalize actions taken in self-defense by battered women.

Abraham Lincoln said, “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.” These women are courageously standing up and speaking out. Let’s join them.





Saudi Arabia: Where Being Gang Raped is a Crime

3 03 2009

A 23-year-old Saudi woman accepted a ride from a man and was assaulted by him and four of his friends all night long. She became pregnant as a result of the gang rape, tried to get an abortion (which was not allowed), and was made to “confess” to “forced intercourse” with her attackers.

FloggingA judge ruled that this unmarried woman had committed adultery and sentenced her to a year in prison and 100 lashes, which is enough to cause very serious bodily damage. She will be flogged after the baby is born.

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia many years ago. The people there were so kind to me and my very young children. It is hard for me to reconcile that kindness with the violence that I continue to read about that is committed against women in the name of Sharia “honor.” I consider that total bullshit, cowardice, DIShonor on the part of the men who order and practice it, and a total reversal of what the prophet Mohammed intended for his people.

Please contact the White House and ask them to intervene. You can do this by going to whitehouse.gov/contact.

For more on “justice” in Saudi Arabia, read my post on a 75-year-old woman sentenced for MINGLING and the harsh sentence she just received.

UPDATE: I wrote a post about 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow of Somalia who experienced something similar to this. It is the most visited post on my blog and tells a truly tragic story.





One in Three…ONE IN THREE

25 11 2008

One in three women have been affected. It has affected my family and probably yours, too. Violence against women. Nicole Kidman, Goodwill Ambassador for UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, joined others in participating in several events at the UN today as part of today’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which has been marked since 1981. She handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon over 5 million signatures of people who have joined Say No to Violence against Women. The United Nations, under Ki-Moon’s leadership, has a campaign called Unite to End Violence Against Women. Here is a statement released today by the Secretary-General:

We need to do more to enforce laws and counter impunity. We need to combat attitudes and behaviour that condone, tolerate, excuse or ignore violence committed against women. And we need to increase funding for services for victims and survivors. I am determined to strengthen these efforts, including through my global campaign “UNiTE to end violence against women”, which aims to raise public awareness, increase political will and resources and create a supportive environment to make good on existing policy commitments.

Here is Nicole Kidman speaking about stopping gender violence:

Today also begins the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. This program is sponsored by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and began in 1991. This year’s theme is “Human Rights for Women <–> Human Rights for All.” The Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University “…develops and facilitates women’s leadership for women’s human rights and social justice worldwide.”

Here is an UNIFEM video well worth watching about what the UN Trust Fund is doing to help women:

If you’d like to know more about what you can do, visit the Stop Violence Against Women website. StopVAW is a project by The Advocates for Human Rights and has a newsletter, which you can sign up for. Amnesty International also has a Stop Violence Against Women program.

Here in Austin is the nationally-acclaimed Austin SafePlace, which “works to end sexual and domestic violence and abuse.” I went through their training and volunteered on their hotline years ago.

Lest you think that violence against women happens in other countries, Amnesty International reports that one woman in the U.S. is raped every 6 minutes and one woman is battered every 15 seconds.  Let’s work together to eliminate violence against women all over the world.





Remembering 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow from Somalia

13 11 2008

ANOTHER POST ON A POSSIBLE UNJUST STONING: Please read my 7/7/10 post about Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a 42-year-old Iranian mother unjustly accused of adultery who is scheduled to die at any moment by stoning.

While walking to see her grandmother in Mogadishu, Somalia, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was raped by three men. She reported it to the al-Shabab militia, hoping for justice. Instead, she was accused of adultery under Shariah, CLICK HERE to keep reading