Archive for the ‘Violence Against Women’ Category

Update: New Hampshire Drops One of its Domestic Violence Bills

January 28, 2012

HB 1608, legislation that would have weakened the power of law enforcement to detain or arrest violators of protective orders, was dropped in the House  after the bill’s sponsor, Representative Skip Reilly (R, Grafton 8), first bowed out of the hearing at the eleventh hour because he was out of town. Then, when the hearing was rescheduled to accommodate him, he simply failed to show up, forcing the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to apologize to the  dozens who had traveled to testify against the bill on both occasions.

When asked why he failed to show up, he told WMUR’s Amy Coveno that he “wasn’t prepared to testify about the legislation.” That’s a legitimate reason to be a two-time no-show? If you did that in any other job, you’d be fired.

The intent of the bill remains a mystery, however. When asked about it, Reilly gamely passes the buck and explains he sponsored the bill at the request of Plymouth prosecutor Gabriel Nizetick. Nizetick quickly returns the buck by saying that his original intent was completely lost in the wording of the bill. He explains that

he was trying to bring regulations currently on the books in compliance with state law, saying recent amendments lumped civil disputes in with criminal infractions.

Civil disputes? Mistaken for domestic violence?

Although opponents are relieved that the bill was dropped, Amanda Grady of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, expresses concern about other domestic violence bills proposed this session, including HB 1581 – sponsored by Rep. Daniel Itse (R), and Rep. George Lambert (R) – which prevents officers from arresting anyone on domestic violence charges unless they witness the assault directly.


NH Proposes Legislation that Endangers Women’s Health

January 25, 2012

Part 1: Restricting Access to Affordable Reproductive Health Services

New Hampshire set the stage back in June 2011 when – through a five-person “exectutive panel” – it’s declined federal funding for the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics. As a result, it could no longer offer affordable birth control and considered doing away with pelvic exams as well. Raymond Wieczorek, a member of the panel who voted to nix the funding, voiced an all-too-common viewpoint from the anti-choice camp.

“I am opposed to abortion,” said , a council member who voted against the contract. “I am opposed to providing condoms to someone. If you want to have a party, have a party but don’t ask me to pay for it.”

And here we are – well past saving babies and far into the waters of SEX! People having sex! Because of course, the Hyde Amendment is alive and well and no federal money is used to fund abortions. And how can anyone pretend to believe a an embryo, fetus, or fertilized egg, is an innocent life in need of rescue while at the same time restricting access to birth control? They can’t.

Fast forward seven months and the NH house pulled all state funding as well. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is keeping a running tally of women denied services. As of today, it’s 2459.

Part 2: Making it harder to protect victims of domestic violence

HB 1581 would prevent a police officer from making an arrest in a domestic violence case unless he directly witnesses the violence. An article in NH’s Concord Monitor illustrates an apt scenario:

An officer is called to a home where she sees clear evidence that an assault has occurred. The furniture is overturned, the children are sobbing, and the face of the woman of the house is bruised and bleeding. It’s obvious who the assailant was, but the officer arrived after the assault occurred. It’s a small department, and no one else on the force is available to keep the peace until the officer finds a judge or justice of the peace to issue a warrant. The officer leaves, and the abuser renews his attack with even more ferocity, punishing his victim for having called for help.

It’s hard to understand the justification for this kind of change. And as much as I’ve dug, I haven’t found any proponents speaking out on the web. Reasonable suspicion is good enough for most arrests – but not when the victim is a partner or spouse? It’s reminiscent of criminal investigation being paid by the state, except in cases of rape.

On top of that, we have HB 1608, severely limits when someone can be arrested for violating a restraining order to two things:

  • Committing an act of abuse or an offense against the person named in the protective order
  • Engaging in prohibited contact

Critics worry that this language takes away a judges right to rule on a case by case basis. Additionally, NH law enforcement believes the bill would

remove a judge’s ability to order a defendant in a domestic violence case to relinquish weapons or prevent him or her from purchasing a gun. It would also eliminate law enforcement’s ability to arrest a defendant who threatens to use physical force against a victim or her children.

New Hampshire residents can petition here.


“The Forgotton War” – NYT Covers Lisa Shannon in the Congo

February 24, 2010

NYTimes did a video piece on Lisa Shannon and her volunteer work in the DRC.

Five years ago Lisa founded Run for Congo Women, a “grassroots movement benefiting Women for Women International’s Congo program,” which began with a lone 30-mile trail run, that would help change the lives of 80 Congolese women and their hundreds of children. Today she has quit her job and volunteers full time in DRC and Washington . Her book “1000 Sisters: My Journey to the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman” will be published this July by Seal Press.

Although this war has claimed over 5.4 million lives, and its brutality breaches every code of war (mass rape and mutilation – to even the elderly and small children – is a daily reality), it gets virtually no news coverage. Ironically, the involvement of this young American generates most of the stories you’ll find, especially recently.

Nicholas Kristof, who interviews her on the video, writes about meeting one of the women Lisa has helped:

I found myself stepping with Lisa into a shack here […] Lisa had come to visit a woman she calls her sister, Generose Namburho, a 40-year-old nurse.

Generose’s story is numbingly familiar: extremist Hutu militiamen invaded her home one night, killed her husband and prepared to rape her. Then, because she shouted in an attempt to warn her neighbors, they hacked off her leg above the knee with a machete.

As Generose lay bleeding near her husband’s corpse, the soldiers cut up the amputated leg, cooked the pieces on the kitchen fire, and ordered her children to eat their mother’s flesh. One son, a 12-year-old, refused. “If you kill me, kill me,” he told the soldiers, as his mother remembers it. “But I will not eat a part of my mother.”

So they shot him dead. The murder is one of Generose’s last memories before she blacked out, waking up days later in the hospital where she had worked. [Em. mine]

Yes, this is a lifelong crusade for Lisa Shannon, but if you’ve been moved even partially by anything you heard in that video, or read here: First person stories of Congolese women, or saw here: The Greatest Silence – trailer for Palme D’Or Winner, or here: Lumo – trailer for documentary about one woman’s story… you can help without so much as leaving your chair or inconveniencing your life.

Sponsor a woman through Women for Women International for only $27/month. Money goes to:

Rights Awareness and Leadership Training

designed to help women understand their unique rights: politically, as survivors of war, ethnic and religious conflict and as voices in bringing about stability; economically, in understanding their rights to earn a fair income; legally, in acquiring skills to fight discrimination, domestic violence and other civil wrongs; and personally, with respect to understanding human reproduction, pregnancy and childbirth, nutrition, stress and stress management, and the spread, treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Vocational and Technical Skills Training

Local instructors provide vocational skills training in carpentry, leatherwork, bee-keeping, jewelry-making, traditional folk art, shoe repair and other areas so women can find a job or start their own home-based businesses. Technical training in savings, basic bookkeeping and marketing may also be provided.

and Income Generation Support

To help women transform their new skills into financial independence and sustainability, Women for Women International provides microcredit loans and other income generation support. This support helps ensure that women are provided with an option to continue supporting themselves and their families after their participation in the Sponsorship […] programs ends.

I don’t know about you, but I spend more than $27/month at Starbucks. Think what it can do in a war-ravaged country for a woman who has endured atrocities we can barely imagine…

Other info and ways to give:

Raise Hope for Congo

Stop Rape in DRC

TEN REASONS WHY Eastern Congo is the Most Dangerous Place on Earth for Women

Congo’s Rape Epidemic Worsens

Earlier Blackbird Posts:

“Like Rwanda But Worse” Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 1: History of the Conflict

Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 2: The Savagery]

Rape As a Weapon of War in the Congo [Part 3: The Healing and What You Can Do To Help]

“The Greatest Silence” – DRC Documentary Wins at Sundance

“…emotional unpredictability, danger and humiliation…” – Patrick Stewart Speaks Out on Domestic Violence

December 2, 2009

Patrick Stewart recently spoke to Amnesty International on his own childhood of domestic violence. This follows a letter he wrote to The Guardian in response to an article about three women completing sentences for killing their partners. He empathized with them, explaining similar feelings toward his abusive father,

“I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him. If my mother had attempted it, I would have held him down.”

Stewart briefly told his story in a spot filmed for Amnesty in 2006, and provided voice-over for a clever PSA. He also lends his name to a scholarship for post-graduate studies on children and domestic violence at the University of Huddersfield, and is a parton of Refuge, a UK-based advocacy group for battered women and children.

I won’t go into more detail. This speaks best for itself:

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

November 26, 2009

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Womendecreed by the UN General Assembly in 1999. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

Women around the world are the very linchpin keeping families, communities, and nations together. On this International Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to women’s human rights; let us invest more resources in countering [violence against women]; and let us do all it takes to end these horrific assaults once and for all.

Today also marks the first of this year’s 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, which itself will conclude on December 10th, Human Right’s Day.  Interstingly, Australia has independently themed the day White Ribbon Day, and urges Aussie men to take the following oath:

I swear:
never to commit violence against women,
never to excuse violence against women, and
never to remain silent about violence against women.
This is my oath.

Pretty basic, huh? If you want clarification about what constitutes violence against women, the White Ribbon Foundation says,

“In simple terms, violence against women is violence directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects a woman disproportionately.” [Em. mine]

This last is important because many of these abuses happen to men and boys as well, but the rate of occurrence and global levels of tolerance for these kinds of behaviors overwhelmingly validate this as a women’s issue.  Consider 

  • domestic violence, family violence, wife-beating, intimate violence, intimate homicide, femicide
  • sexual violence, sexual assault, rape, marital rape, gang rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, indecent assault, sexual harassment, sex-based harassment
  • genital mutilation
  • enforced prostitution
  • enforced sterilisation, enforced abortion, killing of unwanted female babies, enforced motherhood

Earlier this month the UN began Say NO – UNiTE to End Violence Against Women, an initiative that “records what individuals, organizations and governments worldwide are doing to end violence against women.” Say NO strives to reach 100,000 actions by March 2009 and 1 million actions by November 2010. They count volunteering, donations, outreach, advocacy, and even individual instances of helping someone in need.  If you’re doing something, stand up and be counted.

I’ve spoken to too many people (men and women, incidently) who roll their eyes upon what they think are “women’s issues” or “feminist” complaints in a world they like to view as more or less equal by now. The finer points of sexism, discrimination, and gender politics aside,  according to UNIFEM:

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. Based on country data available , up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime – the majority by husbands, intimate partners or someone they know. Among women aged between 15 and 44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today […] It takes many forms and occurs in many places – domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.

I highly recommend reading the factsheet in its entirety (all stats documented), but here are a few nuggets:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners. Perhaps the most pervasive human rights violation that we know today, violence against women devastates lives, fractures communities, and stalls development. It takes many forms and occurs in many places — domestic violence in the home, sexual abuse of girls in schools, sexual harassment at work, rape by husbands or strangers, in refugee camps or as a tactic of war.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • Women and girls constitute 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually,7 with the majority (79 percent) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Further Info:

WHO Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women

Violence Against Women – We Can’t Look Away: Blogging and Updates from the International Rescue Committee

Ending Violence Against Women: What Works – 2006 Report from the UN’s WomenWatch (pdf)

“Compassionate Conservative or Dangerous Kook?” Wasilla Project Seeks the Real Sarah Palin

October 10, 2008

A group of friends in the film industry  ventured up to Wasilla to document resident’s views on Sarah Palin. They describe The Wasilla Project as follows:

When McCain nominated Palin for VP, we were especially intrigued. The stories from the right and the left have flown back and forth furiously and it’s been hard to know what to believe.

So we decided to go to Wasilla to find out for ourselves.

What do the people of Wasilla really believe about Sarah Palin? Who is she? How was she as an executive in Wasilla? Is she a religious fanatic? A competent administrator? A compassionate conservative or a dangerous kook?

By taking a credible, authentic look at the real Wasilla, and the real Sarah Palin, in the first person voices of the people who really know her, we hope to counter the mythical “narrative” with something a lot more nuanced and valuable.

The first short was just released and it dealt with the rape kit controversy.

NOTE: I know nothing about the people involved in the Wasilla Project. They could be interested solely in discrediting Palin and unwilling to document any glowing endorsements they might come across. I don’t know – I’ve only seen the one short. What I do know is that the facts presented in the film can be verified ten times over in the mainstream media – and no where have they been blatantly refuted.

See for yourself:

ANOTHER NOTE: I realize that my blog is beginning to look like a Palin hate-space as of late. I don’t hate Sarah Palin, I just don’t want her holding the second highest position in the country and the possibility of that is something I guess I’ve yet to recover from.

Most of this stuff is being passed by on the election trail, I suppose to keep things from devolving into the tit-for-tat finger pointing of “Reverand Wright!” “Pastor Hagee!” “Reverand Muthy!” (Which candidate’s clergy are the craziest? Um…ALL of them.) But since it doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s minds when discussing who’s voting for whom, I feel compelled to talk about it here. I assume the people behind the Wasilla Project had a similar motivation.

Wasilla Update – Palin Originated Rape Kit Policy

September 12, 2008

Thanks to Jacob Alperin-Sheriff of Huffington Post’s Off the Bus, another layer is uncovered in the Mayor Palin Rape Kit Debacle. Sarah Palin has adamantly denied knowledge of the practice (an embarassing admission in itself), while the campaign tries to dismiss the issue as a long-standing bureaucratic procedure that somehow slipped through the cracks.

However, thanks to unearthed documentation on Wasilla’s annual budget, we learn that neither of those assertions is true. In fact, the policy to charge victims for rape kits originated under Palin when Police Chief Charlie Fannon (specially-appointed by Palin when she took office) slashed the typical allotment from the department’s budget in 1999. Palin’s signature appears on the finincial documents that illustrate this change.

So Palin approved the new policy and, according to Tony Knowles – the Alaskan governor who made the policy illegal in 2000 – Wasilla was the only city in the state to implement such a practice. When they were forcd to repeal the policy, Fannon went on the record in protest – decrying burden on the taxpayers. His estimate was as much as $14,000 per year.

I guess the burden of a concurrently built $1.3 million (see comments) $15 million hockey rink was more palatable.

Under Palin, Victims Charged for Their Own Rape Kits

September 9, 2008

Haven’t had much time to blog lately, but this was too stunning to pass by. Thanks to this piece at Huffington Post, we learn what shouldn’t be so surprising coming from an evangelical in power – and yet it is. Palin was mayor of Wasilla Alaska from 1996-2002 and, until a state law banned the practice in 2000, Wasilla charged victims of rape for their own rape kits.

In case you’re not aware, a rape kit is the physical exam and collection of bodily evidence taken from the victim in the hours following a rape; it allows for the forensic testing essential to pursue prosecution in a crime whose prosecution is already stacked in favor of the defense. A traumatized woman brave enough to make it to an ER following her attack in Wasilla would be granted the examination only if she could pay anywhere from $300-$1200. (It was billed to her insurance where possible.)

Did Wasilla charge for fingerprint dusting at the scene of a burglary? Special fees for bagging evidence at the scene of a mugging? When someone was murdered, was the victim’s family billed for the bodily exam? Did the Wasilla police department charge a victim for examining any scene of a crime? Only when that crime scene was a live woman’s body and only when the crime involved sex. This can be rationalized only considering an unspoken assumption that the victim is somehow to blame. Something she said, something she wore, someplace she was.

Not such a jump for an evangelical who is a huge supporter of “abstinence only”. Palin has said that “explicit sex education programs will got get my support.” Explicit? What kind of education do you give by being vague? Palin also spent twenty years at the Wasilla Assembly of God, a Pentecostal church where they speak in tongues, believe in the imminent rapture, and pray to cure homosexuality. Although Palin switched to the more moderate Wasilla Bible Church several year ago (no tongue-speaking at least) she since, as governor, renamed the street on which the Wasilla Assembly of God sits after its founding pastor, Rev Riley.

Okay, maybe Palin wasn’t fully aware of the policy to charge victims of sexual assault for their own rape kits. Maybe it wasn’t on her radar?

Not likely.

When Palin took office as Mayor, she ousted the sitting Police Chief (a move so contested it brought about clamor for a recall) and replaced him with Charlie Fannon. Fannon would become the most vocal opponent to the legislation, passed by Governor Tony Knowles in 2000, that made it illegal for any law enforcement agency to bill victims for the costs of examinations conducted to collect evidence of a sexual assault. He went on the record saying the law “unfairly burdened the taxpayer.” Again – why not charge for the investigation of other crimes? Why just rape?

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) 60% of all sexual assaults go unreported. What’s one more hurdle to speaking out? RAINN also reports that, factoring in the unreported assaults, only 1 in 16 offenders go to jail.

So how much rape reporting is happening in one of the least populated states in the country? In 2000, the year Knowles’ legislation passed, Alaska had 497 arrests for rape. This post at Daily Kos does a great job of contrasting the “burden to the taxpayer” against Alaska’s exhorbitant earmarks during Palin’s term as governor.

Fannon argued that the

“new law will cost the Wasilla Police Department approximately $5,000 to $14,000 a year to collect evidence for sexual assault cases,”

as if collecting evidence for sexual assault isn’t already the responsibility of the police.

There are many disturbing things about Palin – more specifically about McCain’s decision to choose Palin as his running mate. As others have said, this isn’t about Sarah Palin; it’s 100% about John McCain.

There has been a lot of talk about the McCain camp not vetting Palin enough – instread pouncing on her after one breif meeting because of her selling points. I worry that the campaign has been aware of a lot more than we suspect and just didn’t care. McCain has issues with his ultra-conservative base, many of whom wouldn’t recognize victim blaming in regard to rape if victims were emblazoned with bright red letters. There will also be those swayed by the image of hockey-mom, loving wife, god-fearing citizen: conventional in many ways Clinton was not. And let’s not forget those desperate for a way to rationalize voting for McCain when they had been planning to vote for Clinton while being loathe to broach the subject of race.

That law in Wasilla was the epitome of the repression of women and backward thinking about sex. The question is…will anyone really take notice?

Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2008

April 2, 2008

April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Didn’t know we had one?teal-ribbon.jpg

Here’s a little history…

SAAM sprung from the 70’s “Take Back the Night” rallies, which have a somewhat equivocal origin. Certain sources claim the first U.S. rally, kicked-off by controversial and self described “militant” feminist Andrea Dworkin, took place in 1978 when 3,000 women took to the streets of San Francisco’s red light district to protest violence in pornography. Yet, further research shows that the National Organization for Women first called women to “Take Back the Night” against violence as early as 1975.

In any event, these ideas likely fomented in co-existing pockets of feminist activity throughout the 70’s. By the 1980’s the movement – almost exclusively targeted against all forms of gender-based violence – was roaring with annual marches and by 1990, through coordination efforts led by the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCASA), Sexual Assault Awareness Week came into being. Finally, in 2001 the movement had grown to encompass the entire month of April and SAAM was born.

According to the NCASA:

April brings an annual opportunity to focus awareness on sexual violence and its prevention. It is also an opportunity to highlight the efforts of individuals and agencies that provide rape crisis intervention and prevention services while offering support to sexual assault survivors, victims and their families.


The National Resource Center for Youth Violence Prevention gives the following statistics.

Sexual assault involves sexual acts that are forced upon individuals against their will. These acts can be physical (such as rape or unwanted sexual touching), verbal (such as sexually abusive or threatening speech), or psychological (such as voyeurism or exhibitionism). Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault. However, women and girls are more likely than males to experience violence of this type. Sexual assault is most often committed by someone known to the victim such as a spouse, family member, co-worker, friend or acquaintance, although it can also be committed by a stranger.

  • According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), a national survey of high school students, approximately 9% of students reported having been forced to have sexual intercourse against their will in their lifetime. Female students (11.9%) were more likely than male students (6.1%) to report having been sexually assaulted.
  • Sexual violence can start very early in life. More than half of all rapes (54%) of women occur before age 18; 22% of these rapes occur before age 12.
  • The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study estimated that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experienced completed or attempted rape during their college years. [Em. mine]

The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) gives these well-documented stats:

  • 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
  • College-aged women are 4 times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault.
  • Every 2 minutes someone in the United States is sexually assaulted.
  • 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
  • Only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.

Get Involved!

Although the “Day of Action” is slated for the 3rd, events are going on all month long. Most of the events are local, so check out the organizations in your area. Here are a few that are particularly active this year:

The DC Rape Crisis Center has a host of activities. Their rally is April 8th, but they have events throughout the month such as poetry slams, informational seminars, healing workshops, self-defense classes, and – my favorite – the “Dragging Out Sexual Violence Benefit Drag Show.” If you’re near the capital, don’t miss it.

As part of SAAM the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault holds SAY SO (Sexual Assault Yearly Speak Out). Described as “part vigil part performance art” it takes place in early May. Plenty of time to sign up!

RAINN has various activities. It also sponsors, along with Peace Over Violence, annual Denim Day in LA, which this year is April 23rd. Other cities and campuses across the country also have Denim Days in April.

The RAINN website explains:

In 1998, an Italian Supreme Court decision overturned a rape conviction because the victim wore jeans [rationalizing that “jeans cannot be removed easily and certainly it is impossible to pull them off if the victim is fighting against her attacker with all her force.”]. People all over the world were outraged. Wearing jeans became an international symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault. Last year, on Denim Day an unprecedented 300,000 people signed up to wear jeans in support of raising awareness about the need to end sexual violence. This year we aim to at least double that amount.

This day in the schools, offices and streets of Los Angeles County we unite against rape of girls, women, boys and men. We stand in support of survivors. We break the silence to end sexual violence.

On Denim Day in LA wear your jeans as a visible sign of protest against the myths that still surround sexual assault!

More information on the case via Denim Day’s site:

An 18-year old girl is picked up by her married 45-year old driving instructor for her very first lesson. He takes her to an isolated road, pulls her out of the car, wrestles her out of one leg of her jeans and forcefully rapes her. Threatened with death if she tells anyone, he makes her drive the car home. Later that night she tells her parents, and they help and support her to press charges. The perpetrator gets arrested and is prosecuted. He is convicted of rape and sentenced to jail.

He appeals the sentence. The case makes it all the way to the Italian Supreme Court. Within a matter of days the case against the driving instructor is overturned, dismissed, and the perpetrator released. In a statement by the Chief Judge, he argued, “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”

Judge Aldo Rizzo defends the ruling in the NY Times by saying

“It should be noted that it is instinctive, especially for a young woman, to oppose with all her strength the person who wants to rape her. And it is illogical to say that a young woman would passively submit to a rape, which is a grave violence, for fear of undergoing other hypothetical and no more serious offenses to her physical safety.”

I can think of nothing to add to that comment. Can anyone really question why more awareness is needed?

“The Voices of Innocents Caught in War” CNN addresses suffering of women in Iraq

March 19, 2008

CNN posted an article today by correspondent Awar Damon on the strength of Iraqi women in the face of nearly paralyzing hardship. She begins the piece with the sentence:

The pain here is choking — it’s a dark, suffocating sorrow.

Bombs, kidnapping, torture. The stories are so numerous they masquerade as normalcy in a country whose past five years have seen little but successive and overlapping turns of oppression, anarchy, occupation, and war. The CNN piece pays close attention to four women. One woman lost her husband when he was abducted, tortured and killed. When she retrieved his body the following day, she discovered his eyes had been gouged out.

In another case, Nahla’s husband was a doctor. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, determined to help rebuild his country, he returned to Iraq with Nahla and their six year old autistic son. Soon after, he was killed by a roadside bomb. She describes her husband’s flesh as melted and his charred body melded with those who died around him.

Although her 8-year old son lives outside the city for his own safety, a pediatrician named Dr. Eaman remains in Baghdad by choice. She wants to do her part to re-establish the city she recalls from before the war. She misses her son but will not be swayed from her mission.

Yanar left a tranquil life in Canada to move to Iraq with her 9-year old child. In 2003 she founded The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI). It’s the only organization of its kind and has since developed Iraq’s first women’s shelter and an activist newspaper called Al Mousawat (Equality). She changes her address often because of constant death threats. She explains her decision to uproot her life and return to her country of origin:

What brings me here, it is that everybody that I love, all the people that I love have been crushed…This cannot happen, should not happen, cannot be allowed to happen.

This weekend CNN aired Damon’s searing documentary, On Deadly Ground: The Women of Iraq. Click for the full transcript.

For more information, see my earlier post “It Wasn’t Supposed to be this Way” The Plight of Women & Children in Occupied Iraq

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.” The Plight of Women & Children in Occupied Iraq

March 19, 2008

It’s been five years today since the United States invaded Iraq. There is much speculation about the success and failure of the war, the contractors, the casualties, the stability of the Iraqi government, consequent foreign views of the U.S., inadequate troop supplies, shameful lack of support for the mentally and physically wounded troops returning home, whether we should have ever gone to war to begin with, and how the hell we’re going to get out.

Having acknowledged those issues, I’m going to talk about something else. What were the lives of non-combative Iraqis like before U.S. occupation and what are their lives like now? Not soldiers, not religious extremists, not government officials, but the ordinary Iraqis struggling within the daily mine-field living of a conflict zone with multiple warring sides using base guerrilla tactics.

Before I continue I just want to say this:

I recognize that the period following the fall of one form of government and its replacement by another is, quite literally, revolutionary. Throughout history, all cases of this are paired with periods of social and political unrest, instability, and hardship.

However, the Iraqi people didn’t instigate this revolution. Indeed, they couldn’t have. But they never asked for our involvement and it wasn’t for their suffering that we went in. The U.S. invaded Iraq for its own reasons, none of which were later substantiated. After five years of mismanaged occupation, we’ve taken a country weighted with severe oppression and injustice and replaced it with a battlefield of warring religious, political and tribal factions, starvation and disease, and near anarchic instability in which every day is a lottery to see who will walk into the streets and make it home alive.

As in most wars and regions of conflict, it is mostly women and children who fall to the bottom of a deep pool of suffering.

Life Under Saddam

There is no disputing that life during Hussein’s quarter-century police state was a nightmare of cruelty and corruption. Your ethnicity and/or behavior could easily earn you a middle-ages style punishment (with the exception of the modern chemical warfare unleashed in repeated ethnic cleansing efforts against the Kurds.)

If you spoke out against Hussein’s regime you, and possibly your family members, were imprisoned, tortured, or killed. Political gathering of any sort was forbidden to the public, except for occasion to exult the government.

Police stations included basement torture chambers, and the crime of theft could lead to amputation, branding or death. Any woman suspected of prostitution, proof being unnecessary, was beheaded and her head placed on a pike and displayed with a sign reading “For the Honor of Iraq.”

There are tales of further insanity, of course. But for the bulk of Iraqi’s, what I’ve just described were the prominent sources of danger.

And yet, although women’s rights began to deteriorate during the final years of Hussein’s reign, until the early-1990’s urban Iraqi women were widely considered among the most liberated in the middle east. Women had careers, drove automobiles, and as of 1987 75% of Iraqi women were literate.

Following World War I, Britain colonized several regions into the country of Iraq, which they ruled for fifteen years. Many British laws remained in place through the 1990’s including equal inheritance rights, equal rights in seeking divorce, restrictions against polygamy, and a legal marrying age of 18.

In 1970 Saddam Hussein drafted a constitution that granted women the right to attend school, own property, vote, and run for office.

None of this diminishes the atrocities of Hussein’s reign, but it does set a contrast for what was to come.

“It Wasn’t Supposed to be Like This.”

Although many returned joyously to Iraq following the fall of Hussein, most were quickly disillusioned. Today, the rules have changed and for women, they have not improved. An ineffective government, appointed by the U.S., allows religious extremists to create and enforce informal laws throughout their varying regions of dominance. Sunni and Shias alike dictate new and severe requirements for women.

Zainab Salbi, an Iraqi who grew up during the final two decades of Saddam’s regime, and at age 23 founded Women for Women International, describes the differences in her country since 2003. As quoted in a recent article in Ms. Magazine:

“The violence during Saddam’s time was … committed by the government, Saddam’s family, people in power. Now the violence is … being committed by everyone around you.”

Many areas of Iraq are ruled with Sharia-inspired laws reminiscent of the Taliban. Women must remain cloaked in full burqua, genders must remain segregated in public, singing and dancing are prohibited. Women’s hair salons, one of the few (although marginally) accepted professions for a woman, are often bombed and many are abandoned, or taken underground.

Additionally, in the generally lawless state of warring factions, carjacking, kidnapping, and rape are common. As they are exceptional targets, women avoid the streets and few if any still risk driving.

Since 2003, more than 2,000 honor killings have been reported.

According to Yanar Mohammed, founder of the The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI),

We used to have a government that was almost secular. It had one dictator. “Now we have almost 60 dictators—Islamists who think of women as forces of evil. This is what is called the democratization of Iraq.

Although she gets repeated death threats, and many of her colleagues have fled the country, Yanar Mohammed stays in order to run the few women’s shelters available to protect abused women and those targeted for honor killings.

The international human rights organization MADRE, who once warned that religious fundamentalists would benefit most from a U.S. invasion in Iraq, explains in its 2007 report Promising Democracy, Imposing Theocracy: Gender-Based Violence and the U.S. War on Iraq,

Often, the first salvo in a war for theocracy is a systematic attack on women and minorities who represent or demand an alternative or competing vision for society.

The MADRE report also documents how pleas for help from women’s groups were ignored by the U.S.

During the first year of US occupation, Iraqi women’s organizations appealed directly to [US Director of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance Paul] Bremer, demanding that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that he headed train and dispatch security guards to help prevent violence against women and that the CPA prosecute crimes against women. These demands were ignored.

Under Bremer, the US refused to honor a series of demands by women’s organizations, including calls to create a women’s ministry; appoint women to the drafting committee of Iraq’s interim constitution; guarantee that 40 percent of US appointees to Iraq’s new government were women; pass laws codifying women’s rights and criminalizing domestic violence; and uphold UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates that women be included at all levels of decision–making in situations of peacemaking and post–war reconstruction.

In 2003, Iraqi men and women risked their lives to come forward and vote on a new constitution. Overwhelmingly they voted to replace the government established by the U.S. in favor of the United Iraqi Alliance, which in addition to offering Iraqis the resources to rebuild homes and the promise to utilize the nation’s oil wealth for economic development projects, called for an immediate “withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq.”

The new government however, has been unable to deliver on its promises and has additionally shown itself to condone and even encourage women’s oppression.

Although Iraqi law now states that women must hold 25% of the seats in Parliament, according to a recent NPR piece, activist Amira Al Khabi (ph) says

These women members of Parliament are ghosts. They say nothing. The party has fooled the people. They say “Look, we’ve given women a role,” when they have no role at all. It’s pure propaganda.

According to Ms. Al Khabi, members of Parliament recently expressed approval that nearly 100 women were tortured and killed in Basra (mostly by strangulation or beheading) because they had been wearing makeup or dressed in a manner considered too “western.”

29 year-old journalist Khalzar Abdul Amir received a note at her office. It read, “Quit or die.” She took the note as a declaration that it was legal to kill her. She fled to Kurdistan for a while, before returning to Iraq to help support her family. Echoing the sentiment of American and Iraqi citizens alike, she tells herself over and over

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Add to this the other sufferings of combat zones – a dearth of electricity, water, food, and jobs – where any attempt to leave your home to procure any of these scarcities risks your life – and you have an idea of a civilian’s life in modern day Iraq. Many Iraqi women have submitted themselves to prostitution in order to feed their families.

In 2005 alone, the country endured over 1,000 roadside bomb attacks – that’s more than three per day. More than 1 million Iraqi’s have died since the invasion began. 2 million have fled Iraq and another 2 million have abandoned their homes to hide in less volatile areas of the country.

Earlier this month Women for Women International released Stronger Women, Stronger Nations, a comprehensive report on the state of women’s lives in post-invasion Iraq. The report addresses the atrocities and suffering endured under Saddam Hussein, and compares it with the lives of non-combatants under U.S. occupation.

During a ten-day fact-finding mission the organization found:

  • [E]xtremists from both communities increasingly mounted attacks on one another in the form of car bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and torture, hit-and-run raids, and [although malice between Sunnis and Shias during Hussein’s reign was minimal] increasingly larger instances of deliberate ethnic cleansing against towns and neighborhoods occupied by civilians from the other sect.
  • Even in those parts of Iraq where there is little sectarian violence, a pervasive state of lawlessness remains. Even in ethnically or religiously homogeneous cities and towns, the government typically provides little security or policing presence. This allows the militias, in conjunction with a wide variety of organized crime rings, to assume authority in these areas, and while they may keep outright violence low, they indulge in all manner of criminal behavior against the local population. Theft, extortion, kidnapping, and the threat of random violence are ubiquitous problems for most Iraqis.
  • 88.8% of respondents expressed a great deal of concern that they or someone living in their households would become a victim of violence.
  • 67.9% of respondents stated that their ability to walk down the street as they please has gotten worse since the U.S. invasion.
  • 63.9% of respondents stated that violence against women is increasing. When asked why, respondents most commonly said that there is less respect for women’s rights than before, that women are thought of as possessions, and that the economy has gotten worse.

Then & Now

Further Reading:

Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq’s women – A month-long investigation by The Observer reveals the terrible reality of life after Saddam.

Letter from Baghdad – A Democracy of Killings and Bombings – Yanar Mohammed

Iraqi Women Hit Hard by Occupation

Listen to a panel with Yanar Mohammed and other global rights leaders – courtesy of Ms. Magazine.

Stolen Away The abduction and forced prostitution of Iraqi women and girls. Time Magazine feature.

Slightly off-topic but very relevant – Five Years and Counting: The Unmitigated Disaster is Working Dahr Jamail for IPS News.

How You Can Help:

Women’s Alliance for a Democratic Iraq Join the letter-writing campaign to amend the Iraqi constitution, or donate money. Donations go toward human and women’s rights training, democracy training for Iraqi women, and sewing machines distributed to help women gain economic self-sufficiency while working safely from their homes.

MADRE gives you lots of ways get involved. You can donate, purchase stuff through their web store, buy books or movies through giveline, volunteer, host a speaker, and more…

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days – Palme d’Or Winner Tackles Totalitarianism, Reproductive Rights

February 1, 2008

4monthstwogirlsatwindow In 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, filmmaker Cristian Mungiu offers an unsparing view of life under Communist Totalitarianism in 1980’s Romania. Beneath the oppressive rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, household appliances are often shared, cigarettes and gum require black market finagling, and contraception is virtually unavailable.

In an effort to populate the country and increase its labor force, Ceausescu criminalized the use of the IUD and contraceptive pill, while Romania’s socialist economy ensured that other forms of birth control were exceedingly scarce. In 1966, except under relatively rare conditions, abortion became punishable by imprisonment for both the patient and the doctor, who additionally risked losing his or her medical license. Employers mandated gynecological exams and were required to report employee pregnancies to the state, whereupon women were monitored by the state until delivery.

It is a reality that some Americans would consider appealing. These Americans should see 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

The reality of the situation in Romania, in what has been termed the Golden Age of the Breeding Machine, was an intended increase in birth rates…initially. However, after the first several years birth rates slowly returned to pre-1966 levels and in concordance, maternal death rates steadily rose.

But don’t expect to find politics in 4 Months, or even any historical context. The film is presented without music and much of the action is captured in long, stationary shots where characters move in and out of frame. In fact, it provides little exposition of any kind. The film opens simply, as two friends, in mid-conversation, prepare themselves for a frightening and dangerous night where, we eventually discover, one will help the other procure an illegal abortion.

Mungui based the screenplay on real events that occurred in 1987, when he was close in age to the girls in the film.

It’s somehow a personal story to me. Someone told me fifteen years ago about something that happened to them a few years before that. Eventually, last year, when I was looking for a story that happened during my twenties, I ran into this person again and the story came into conversation. I was surprised with how much emotion this story was still bringing to me, and decided to make this the subject of my next film.

Although the story elicits such emotion for Mungui, his film makes no judgments about abortion. It’s not pro-life and it’s not pro-choice. Instead, the film steps back and lets a human story tell itself, as though we were given a peep through a keyhole into another reality where two girls, although desperate, determined, and terrified, seem not so different from American girls today.

Mungiu insists it’s not a film about abortion, but rather totalitarianism. It illuminates a world were personal choices are controlled by the state and reveals the oppression and tragedy that can result. Would the outcome be so different in the United States if unmarried youth were restricted knowledge of and access to birth control, and abortion illegal?

We are not so far from this as we might think. Consider the billions of dollars spent on abstinence-only programs, President Bush’s appointees in the Office of Family Planning, the restrictions placed on global aid for HIV/AIDS by mandatory abstinence programs, and the fact that Roe v Wade is an issue in the Presidential campaigning of 2008…

But aside from social or political implications, I recommend this film for its very mastery of film making. Its approach to the art form borders on revolutionary and Mungui’s lack of sentimentality is (in my view) heroic.

We’ve had enough heart-warming fantasy-comedies about unexpected pregnancy. If abortion were to become illegal and comprehensive sex-ed neglected, we wouldn’t have a country full of Juno‘s. We’d have a country with an increased rate of unintended pregnancies, and the tragic (anti)heroines of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.