Category Archives: Political participation

Political Cauldron Boils on U.N. Women’s Rights

In this article, Amy Leiberman discusses the outcomes of this year’s UN Global Gathering of Women. While the gathering did produce conclusions via a 17 page document on the issue of violence against women, it is heavily criticized by many within gender and women’s rights. Many individuals say that the meeting has turned into a battleground over rights, rather than a public forum. As more agencies are included in this forum, the path to agreement becomes that much more bumpy. There are also issues of certain regions working together, such as Africa. Conservative nations get the larger voice in this group, while those which are more liberal are quieted. The meeting also concluded in the resignation of Michelle Bachelet, former executive director of UN Women. The meeting does hold value however, in the opportunity it presents for women from around the share their voices. Many travel far and long to be a part of it. However, the results of the gathering still fell short in addressing protections for lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people and condemning violence against women in personal relationships.

Shannon

 

 

Article

Mona el-Tahawy on Lack of Women’s Progress and the Firestorm that followed

Here is an article that appeared in Foreign Policy, which sent Twitter, FB, and all forms of social media buzzing:  http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/23/why_do_they_hate_us?page=0,0 discussing “the real war on women.”

For an example of a response, see http://neocolonialthoughts.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/a-response-to-mona-el-tahawy/

A Subjective View of the Iranian Revolution in Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz

Dalia Sofer recreates her heartbreaking childhood story illustrating the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution in her novel, The Septembers of Shiraz. Sofer’s story is inspired by her own childhood story and takes place in the 1980’s in the United States, after her family emigrated from Iran. The Sofer’s story portrays the emotional torment and distress that the Iranian Revolution caused families during this time to undergo, as well as the consequences such distress had on relationships between family and friends. Isaac Amin, the father in the book that is inspired by Sofer’s father, is arrested and imprisoned after being falsely accused of being a spy. As a result of the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution and Amin being incorrectly incarcerated, Amin’s family encounters emotional torment and distress as they search for Isaac in an attempt to restore his status. The Iranian Revolution and the events that took place allowed the Sofer’s to show their true loyalty for each other.
        Farnaz is the first family member that illustrates her loyalty to her family. Isaac Amin is a Jewish rare-gem dealer in Tehran. After the fall of the Shah of Iran, many people are wrongly accused of pursuing activity that the government does not allow people to partake in. Although the armed workers of the prison beat Amin and his fellow inmates in order to get them to confess such activity, few inmates became willing to reveal anything. Unfortunately, Amin is caught between a rock and a hard place because he has nothing to confess. As Amin undergoes his own personal struggle while in prison, his wife, Farnaz, struggles with shielding the harsh truth from their children, showing the love and loyalty she has for them by keeping such sad news about their father from them. 
        Secondly, other family members also show the loyalty they have for their family. Being as The Septembers of Shiraz tells of the author’s own story, many things are revealed about Dalia Sofer throughout the text. Some of these aspects about Sofer include her exploration of loss and loyalty throughout the harsh situations that she and her family encounter on their journey. Although Farnaz attempts to keep the truth about Isaac Amin private from Shirin, the character who represents Sofer, she also has another son that lives away from home who struggles with what his father is experiencing. Each member of the family struggles with issues of loyalty because all they had throughout their struggle was each other. Much of the community stood their distance from them because of the accusations held against Amin, so they each had to stay loyal to one another and understand that Isaac did nothing wrong.
Specific situations that reveal characteristics of loyalty about Sofer and her family include when Farnaz goes to the prison in search of Isaac, and when Sharin attempts to save people who have been falsely accused by making their files “disappear”. As Farnaz and Habibeh enter the prison together to search for Isaac, they are nastily greeted by guards who are not very willing to release any information to her, including a guard with a “black beard so thick that it darkens the entire southern hemisphere of his face” and a “rifle hanging from his shoulder” (72). Despite the terrifying sight, Farnaz continues to ask questions in order to find out where Isaac really is, no matter the consequences. Typically, anyone that came to the prison searching for answers was immediately turned away, or imprisoned themselves. Farnaz was not imprisoned, and some of her questions were answered. The courage it took for Farnaz to enter such a terrifying place, knowing full well that she may not ever leave, shows the loyalty the Amin family had for each other during this hard time.
          A belief spoken of in the novel is that “if you withhold information in order to protect someone, God won’t punish you” (94). Sharin seems to constantly be thinking about this, especially when she goes into the armoire to make some of the files disappear. Sharin is aware that the men who are listed in the files are “destined to disappear” and her loyalty towards her father is reflected in her act of attempting to save as many people as she can (95). Sharin knows that even if she could only “make one file disappear; she could be saving one man’s life” (95).
        These instances portray the testament of loyalty that the Amin family exudes for each other in the story. I predict that by the end of the book, the family becomes closer from going through these struggles and is able to overcome even the most difficult of obstacles.

Lindsey Westphal

Humanitarian Organizations Must Involve Refugee Women in Planning Reproductive Health Programs

–Rachel Girmus

In 2009, the UN Refugee Agency reported that 21.8 million worldwide are “persons of concern;” these include refugees, internally displaced persons, and stateless persons, spread over 140 countries. Of these, 80% are women and children who fled their home countries due to conflict and human rights violations. Women are disproportionately affected by every stage of conflict–as conflict begins, as they are forced to flee their communities, and during periods of seemingly interminable exile in camps. During these stages, women lose the protection of their families, on whom they are dependent for physical and economic security. They often become the victims of violent unprotected sex that results in unwanted pregnancy and contraction of disease, while humanitarian services offered in camps do not adequately meet their reproductive needs. Women and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the form of rape during wars of nationalism or ethnicity. Because their bodies are interpreted as symbols of the collective motherland or culture, they are likely to become targets due to citizenry, religion, ethnicity, race or class. The use of rape as a weapon of warfare effectively terrorizes a society’s women and humiliates its men, causing whole communities to flee their territories in search of safety. During the disorganization of flight, women may also become separated from the protection of male family members, leaving them vulnerable to assault, robbery, harassment, and sexual violence by strangers they meet along the way, including army and militia units, police, pirates, highwaymen, border guards, peacekeepers, humanitarian aid providers, and other male refugees. Once settled within refugee camps, security may be lax leading to further assualts on women by other refugees or the security police themselves as recent reports on Haitian refugee camps document. In addition, women who are separated from male partners often bear the burden of providing for their families and may be forced to exchange sex for food and protection. Even when male partners are present, the stress of dislocation and the lack of economic opportunities lead to documented increases of domestic violence and marital rape. Frequent unprotected sex, moreover, poses significant risks to the one fourth of refugee women who are of reproductive age; most obviously, unwanted pregnancy and contraction of sexually transmitted infections. Adolescent girls are at particular risk of unprotected sex, early pregnancy and exploitation by older males in camp settings. While humanitarian organizations provide many important services to refugees, they sometimes fail to provide adequate gender and culture- appropriate ones because they don’t ask refugee women what they need. For example, despite the prevalence of forced and coerced sex, which is usually unprotected, services for women in the camps tend to focus only on basic family planning and antenatal care and those services are limited in comparison to the numbers of women who need them. As a result, many women have no option but abortion when faced with unwanted pregnancy. As a result, unsafe abortion is responsible for between 25-50% of all maternal deaths in refugee camps. Even though the majority of pregnancies and infections are not the fault of the women themselves, they risk death by trying to gain some semblance of control over their lives. Why are these reproductive services so woefully inadequate? The surprisingly straightforward answer: women refugees are not consulted about their own health needs. At the most basic level, addressing women’s needs effectively in refugee settings requires the inclusion of refugee women in the planning of programs and their implementation. Such an approach has the potential to create both gender and culturally sensitive outreach. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees even agrees that “programmes that are not planned in consultation with the beneficiaries, nor implemented with their participation, cannot be effective.” Assumptions and generalizations by aid organizations about how to serve female refugee populations do not work. There are myriad documented cases of interventions undertaken by relief organizations with the best intentions that ultimately ended in failure because the attempted speed of the response prevented any gender and culture sensitivity during implementation. Cases include instances of food and shelter distribution in the camps being under the sole control of men, resulting in malnutrition and mortality in female-headed households; counterproductive female income generation programs that alienate men; and male-dominated health service provision and lack of female health workers, which lowers women’s access to healthcare. To address issues of reproductive health, women should be involved in needs assessments and all stages of health care services including their planning, provision and implementation. It is the responsibility of agencies that work with refugee populations, including non-govermental organizations, reproductive health organizations, and government health officials to inform themselves of refugee women’s reproductive needs, as cultural taboos may prevent them from being openly voiced. Contextual understanding of the restrictive, overwhelming circumstances of camp life under which the women live is crucial. For example, one simple way to prevent sexual violence against refugee women is their inclusion in the distribution of necessities so they will not be forced into transactional sex to provide for themselves. Many women are under societal pressure to hide the fact that their pregnancies are the result of rape or transactional sex. By discussing reproductive health in culturally appropriate ways and settings, aid organizations could better understand that the challenges of daily life and social repression may be prohibitive to a woman’s self advocacy, but her silence does not indicate her lack of need for certain services like safe abortion. No one knows what refugee women need more than the women themselves. Any ‘top-down,’ generalized programs by humanitarian organizations that do not welcome the knowledge of the beneficiaries themselves risk becoming nothing but ‘feel-good’ operations. There is a massive need for effective reproductive health care in refugee settings. The only way to bring tangible benefits is to involve the women in the planning and delivery of services in more than a token way. Rachel Girmus is a graduate student in her last semester of the MA in International Studies program at East Carolina University. She is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Economic Development, and is interested in foreign languages and literatures, social justice, development and Africa. Rachel Girmus In 2009, the UN Refugee Agency reported that 21.8 million worldwide are “persons of concern;” these include refugees, internally displaced persons, and stateless persons, spread over 140 countries. Of these, 80% are women and children who fled their home countries due to conflict and human rights violations. Women are disproportionately affected by every stage of conflict–as conflict begins, as they are forced to flee their communities, and during periods of seemingly interminable exile in camps. During these stages, women lose the protection of their families, on whom they are dependent for physical and economic security. They often become the victims of violent unprotected sex that results in unwanted pregnancy and contraction of disease, while humanitarian services offered in camps do not adequately meet their reproductive needs. Women and adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the form of rape during wars of nationalism or ethnicity. Because their bodies are interpreted as symbols of the collective motherland or culture, they are likely to become targets due to citizenry, religion, ethnicity, race or class. The use of rape as a weapon of warfare effectively terrorizes a society’s women and humiliates its men, causing whole communities to flee their territories in search of safety. During the disorganization of flight, women may also become separated from the protection of male family members, leaving them vulnerable to assault, robbery, harassment, and sexual violence by strangers they meet along the way, including army and militia units, police, pirates, highwaymen, border guards, peacekeepers, humanitarian aid providers, and other male refugees. Once settled within refugee camps, security may be lax leading to further assualts on women by other refugees or the security police themselves as recent reports on Haitian refugee camps document. In addition, women who are separated from male partners often bear the burden of providing for their families and may be forced to exchange sex for food and protection. Even when male partners are present, the stress of dislocation and the lack of economic opportunities lead to documented increases of domestic violence and marital rape. Frequent unprotected sex, moreover, poses significant risks to the one fourth of refugee women who are of reproductive age; most obviously, unwanted pregnancy and contraction of sexually transmitted infections. Adolescent girls are at particular risk of unprotected sex, early pregnancy and exploitation by older males in camp settings. While humanitarian organizations provide many important services to refugees, they sometimes fail to provide adequate gender and culture- appropriate ones because they don’t ask refugee women what they need. For example, despite the prevalence of forced and coerced sex, which is usually unprotected, services for women in the camps tend to focus only on basic family planning and antenatal care and those services are limited in comparison to the numbers of women who need them. As a result, many women have no option but abortion when faced with unwanted pregnancy. As a result, unsafe abortion is responsible for between 25-50% of all maternal deaths in refugee camps. Even though the majority of pregnancies and infections are not the fault of the women themselves, they risk death by trying to gain some semblance of control over their lives. Why are these reproductive services so woefully inadequate? The surprisingly straightforward answer: women refugees are not consulted about their own health needs. At the most basic level, addressing women’s needs effectively in refugee settings requires the inclusion of refugee women in the planning of programs and their implementation. Such an approach has the potential to create both gender and culturally sensitive outreach. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees even agrees that “programmes that are not planned in consultation with the beneficiaries, nor implemented with their participation, cannot be effective.” Assumptions and generalizations by aid organizations about how to serve female refugee populations do not work. There are myriad documented cases of interventions undertaken by relief organizations with the best intentions that ultimately ended in failure because the attempted speed of the response prevented any gender and culture sensitivity during implementation. Cases include instances of food and shelter distribution in the camps being under the sole control of men, resulting in malnutrition and mortality in female-headed households; counterproductive female income generation programs that alienate men; and male-dominated health service provision and lack of female health workers, which lowers women’s access to healthcare. To address issues of reproductive health, women should be involved in needs assessments and all stages of health care services including their planning, provision and implementation. It is the responsibility of agencies that work with refugee populations, including non-govermental organizations, reproductive health organizations, and government health officials to inform themselves of refugee women’s reproductive needs, as cultural taboos may prevent them from being openly voiced. Contextual understanding of the restrictive, overwhelming circumstances of camp life under which the women live is crucial. For example, one simple way to prevent sexual violence against refugee women is their inclusion in the distribution of necessities so they will not be forced into transactional sex to provide for themselves. Many women are under societal pressure to hide the fact that their pregnancies are the result of rape or transactional sex. By discussing reproductive health in culturally appropriate ways and settings, aid organizations could better understand that the challenges of daily life and social repression may be prohibitive to a woman’s self advocacy, but her silence does not indicate her lack of need for certain services like safe abortion. No one knows what refugee women need more than the women themselves. Any ‘top-down,’ generalized programs by humanitarian organizations that do not welcome the knowledge of the beneficiaries themselves risk becoming nothing but ‘feel-good’ operations. There is a massive need for effective reproductive health care in refugee settings. The only way to bring tangible benefits is to involve the women in the planning and delivery of services in more than a token way.

Rachel Girmus is a graduate student in her last semester of the MA in International Studies program at East Carolina University. She is pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Economic Development, and is interested in foreign languages and literatures, social justice, development and Africa.

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