‘international’

Afghanistan’s Parliament Tables Violence Against Women Act Vote

On Saturday May 18th, 2013 the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament delayed a vote on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) act. No date was scheduled for a future vote. Previously this legislation was simply an executive decree issued by the President in 2009 which can be overturned after the next presidential election, depending on who is elected. Passing it through Parliament would solidify the legislation.

(image from http://www.fawziakoofi.org)

 

Many reasons were given as to why the act was so furiously debated prior to the delay, but the most prominent reason seems to be that the legislation was “un-Islamic.”

Citing things like:

“keeping the legal age for marriage 16,

providing shelters for victims of domestic abuse,

and limiting the number of wives permitted to two instead of four.”

Now, I disagree with the notion that equality is inherently “un-Islamic,” but as I am not an Islamic scholar I’m going to direct you to Google phrases like ‘Islamic Feminism’ or ‘Muslim Feminism’ because there is some really cool stuff out there about the intersections of feminism and Islam. Or you can even check out the Wikipedia page on it! However, that is an entirely separate article.

Also, honestly, I am somewhat perplexed about the idea that having two wives is somehow more secular than having four wives. But, I digress.

But before we start condemning the Afghan government for their gross neglect of women (which delaying the vote was), let us keep in mind that the United States House of Representatives let our Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expire for an entire year before finally reauthorizing it in 2013.

And that we also got gems from our politicians, like Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) who explains her opposition to the reauthorization due to the bill being too inclusive, “When you start to make this about other things it becomes an “against violence act” and not a targeted focus act… I didn’t like the way it was expanded to include other different groups.”

Yes, because having an act against all types of violence would be bad?

But we shouldn’t give up on all of humanity just yet.

Fawzia Koofi is the woman we have to thank for the introduction of EVAW to the Afghan Parliament. And she is very cool.

She currently heads up the women’s committee in the Lower House. But don’t think that’s where her ambitions end. Koofi is also planning on running for president in the upcoming 2014 election. All of this in spite of the fact that the Taliban has tried to assassinate her because of her aspirations.

So don’t give up hope because there are amazing women all over the world doing incredible things.

Here, as a present, is Fawzia Koofi talking to Jon Stewart on The Daily Show:

#CSW57 Roundup: Orgs We Met and Loved At The UN’s 57th Commission on the Status of Women

 The UN’s Commission on the Status of Women took place from March  4 – 15, and we were on the front lines live and tweeting.

The commission was focus on eliminating and preventing violence against women and girls, as well as how to share responsibility among women and men on the issue and reflect the changing needs of gender equity. The Millenium Development goals were a huge part of what was going on.

Not everyone can spend quality time at the UN, so the Panelist papers and webcast are available online. And since you missed out on the elbow-rubbing, here’s an overview on the orgs we met and loved on during the commission and think deserve your support!

Avon Foundation for Women:

Domestic violence is a pattern of abuse with the goal of establishing or maintaining power and control over the victim. It can happen occasionally or continuously and often worsens over time. Domestic violence includes physical, sexual, mental, and financial abuse. It knows no boundaries: Domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.

To help bring this issue out of the shadows, the Avon Foundation for Women launched Speak Out Against Domestic Violence, an initiative to build awareness, educate, and improve prevention and direct service programs. Through the end of 2012, in the U.S. alone, we have provided more than $33 million for the domestic violence cause.

Take Back the Tech:

Take Back the Tech! is a collaborative campaign to reclaim information and communication technologies (ICT) to end violence against women (VAW).

The campaign calls on all ICT users – especially women and girls – to take control of technology and strategically use any ICT platform at hand (mobile phones, instant messengers, blogs, websites, digital cameras, email, podcasts and more) for activism against gender-based violence.

Take Back the Tech! accompanies the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence (November 25 – December 10 each year) with daily actions that explore different aspects of violence against women and ICT tools.

Bytes for All:

Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan is a human rights organization with a focus on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). It experiments and organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening human rights movements in the country.

At the forefront of Internet Rights movement and struggle for the democracy, B4A focuses on capacity building of human rights defenders on their digital security, online safety & privacy. Working on different important campaigns particularly against Internet censorship and surveillance in Pakistan, B4A continues to work on cyberspace issues, awareness raising and policy advocacy from civil liberties & human rights perspective.

Globally acclaimed Take Back The Tech Campaign is the flagship of Bytes for All, which focuses on strategic use of ICTs by the women and girls to fight violence against women in Pakistan.

Sonke

Sonke Gender Justice Network is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation, established in 2006. Today, Sonke has established a growing presence on the African continent and plays an active role internationally. Sonke works to create the change necessary for men, women, young people and children to enjoy equitable, healthy and happy relationships that contribute to the development of just and democratic societies. Sonke pursues this goal across Southern Africa by using a human rights framework to build the capacity of government, civil society organisations and citizens to achieve gender equality, prevent gender-based violence and reduce the spread of HIV and the impact of AIDS.

Breakthrough

PCI Media Impact

We work with partners around the world to produce Entertainment-Education (E-E) programs rooted in our three-pronged My Community approach to communications for social change. Using a combination of serial dramas, talk shows and community mobilization, we:

Strengthen the capacity of our local partners to effectively use communications to catalyze change;
Create a community of constituents who support our collaborative work; and
Promote positive changes in audience knowledge, attitudes and behaviors around target issues.
As a result we are promoting a new generation of change-leaders using communications to effectively turn up the volume on their important work.

Today we take a stand: End rape in war.

Courtesy of UNHCR, 2009

Courtesy of UNHCR, 2009

If anyone ever listened to be blather on about my approach to activism, you’ve also listened to me talk about how there is no ‘right way’ to do things, that there just can’t be. People have to come to terms with their discomfort with different issues before they figure out how they’re best poised to act individually. And here at the Line, we’re all about exploring the grey areas, and teasing out the nuances of singular situations. But when it comes to the relationship between sex, power, and violence, particularly as a tool in times of conflict, there just can’t be any wiffling around the subject. For us to make a difference, we have to take a stand, in solidarity, to intensify efforts to end sexual violence against all people, particularly women and girls, in situations of armed conflict and other crises. Sexual violence is an unacceptable human rights violation and as a weapon of war in establishment of power, is unforgivable.

Just the facts, ma’am:

In numerous conflicts worldwide, rape is not only used to destroy lives, but to to undermine the welfare and recovery of entire communities.

Did you know that up 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide?
Did you know that over 64,000 women were raped in Sierra Leone?
Did you know that over 40,000 women were raped in Bosnia-Herzegovina?

And so, enough is enough.

Thursday is our day of action against sexual violence in conflict. The Line stands with the Nobel Womens’ Initiative in their effort today to target governments, encouraging them to give this topic the attention it deserves. Together, we can ensure an end to impunity and insist on supporting survivors in efforts to heal and rebuild their lives and communities.

Today, Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire will be standing together to end rape in war. We urge you to follow suit in your home country and join us virtually.

Following the unprecedented conference in Montebello, Quebec where they hosted over 100 women from around the world to discuss strategies to address sexual violence, the Laureates will be TAKING A STAND in Ottawa – addressing Canadian parliamentarians and urging them to take the lead to end rape in war. Follow along the live-tweet of a panel discussion on May 26 from 8:30 to 10 am EST from Ottawa, Canada. The panel will feature three Nobel Laureates and prominent activists from Sweden, Kenya and Canada, moderated by journalist Susan Riley of The Ottawa Citizen. We will be live-tweeting using #endrapeinwar at on our Twitter page, and taking questions from online followers.

Stand with us!

We at the Line encourage you to take a stand with us and the Nobel Women’s Initiative online, because this issue is non-negotiable:

Go to the UN Action Stop Rape Now website and download the sample letter asking your elected official for increased action against sexual violence in conflict – and send it! Tell your government you are TAKING A STAND!

Write a blog post, tweet or share on facebook. We will be posting videos and live-tweeting throughout the day – letting you know what ACTION we are taking!

Make sure to check the NWI blog and follow the #endrapeinwar hashtag. Use it in your posts – lets make it trend

Make sure you let us know when you have TAKEN A STAND by:

sending us an email (web@nobelwomensinitiative.org)
tweeting: #itookastand #endrapeinwar
or letting us know on our website

Join us today. Together – we can move the earth.

Sexual Assaults are No Reason to Keep Women from their Jobs

500_lara_loganThe New York Times had a recent front-page story on Peace Corps women who are speaking out about sexual assault while in the program. Lara Logan, the 60 Minutes reporter, also recently discussed her sexual assault while covering Egypt’s revolution on air. Some might read these stories and decide that women can’t work in the Peace Corps or cover war zones as journalists because they risk sexual assault. But the real takeaway is that women can hold any of these jobs, as long as they are given proper training beforehand and the right infrastructure is in place to handle the crimes. None of that can happen with our current “code of silence” surrounding sexual assault. It is vital that we encourage women to both report these crimes and to feel comfortable talking about them.

That’s in fact what’s motivating the women speaking out about the Peace Corps. The Times article reports that from 2000 to 2009, more than 1,000 volunteers reported sexual assaults, including 221 rapes or attempted rapes. Those numbers are likely far lower than the actual count, as reported numbers are always low and there is even more incentive to keep quiet in this program. After all, women in the article report that their treatment in the US after reporting their assaults was sometimes worse than the attack itself, as they were blamed for the crimes and given inadequate care. They were also poorly trained for these circumstances beforehand. Many complain that they weren’t advised on how to prosecute their attackers, leading nearly 40% of those raped and 50% of those sexually assaulted in the program to say in a survey that they didn’t report the attacks.

But by coming forward and speaking out, they’re already making progress. One of the women, Casey Frazee, spent the last 18 months tracking down assault survivors and collecting more than two dozen affidavits. Her work was also featured in a segment on ABC’s “20/20.” After these women came forward, the director of the Peace Corps, Aaron S. Williams, has said he is committed to creating a more “victim-centered approach,” including modernizing its procedures with “compassionate care,” hiring a “victim’s advocate,” signing an agreement with a rape crisis group to examine the organization, and removing a training video that emphasized the role of alcohol in assaults. The women are now pushing for Congressional legislation to require that the Peace Corps develop response teams to collect evidence and provide care for victims, among other things. Jess Smochek, another survivor working on this cause, has said her goal is to alert future volunteers and to let those who already experienced crimes know that “they are not alone.”

That’s also what motivated Lara Logan to talk openly about her attack. In her 60 Minutes expose, after going through all the painful details of her assault, she said, “One thing that I am extremely proud of that I didn’t intend is when my female colleagues stood up and said that I’d broken the silence on what all of us have experienced but never talk about.” Women journalists who cover dangerous situations often feel the need to bury their stories of assault for fear of being treated differently than their male colleagues and kept from assignments in these areas. As Logan put it in her interview, “[W]omen never complain about incidents of sexual violence because you don’t want someone to say, ‘Well women shouldn’t be out there.’” In her 2007 piece in the Columbia Journalism Review on this problem, Judith Matloff reports that a meager survey, one of the only ones, of war correspondents by the International News Safety Institute found that of the 29 who took part, more than half reported sexual harassment on the job and two had experienced sexual abuse. “The shame runs so deep–and the fear of being pulled off an assignment, especially in a time of shrinking budgets, is so strong– that no one wants intimate violations to resound in a newsroom,” she says. She even reports that of her own narrow escape from such a crime, “We got away untouched, so why bring up the matter? I didn’t want my boss to think that my gender was a liability.”

What this means is that the issue ends up buried. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports, “We have little on our site [about this issue] because sexual assault is not commonly reported to us–the data, therefore, is not available.” And when the issue is buried, it goes unaddressed and women are left more vulnerable to these attacks. Logan herself reported, “I had no idea how endemic that it is so rife, so widespread, that so many Egyptian men admit to sexual harassing women and think it’s completely acceptable.” As Matloff puts it, “The general reluctance to call attention to the problem creates a vicious cycle, whereby editors, who are still typically men, are unaware of the dangers because women don’t bring them up. Survivors of attacks often suffer in lonely silence, robbed of the usual camaraderie that occurs when people are shot or kidnapped.” And the proper training and infrastructure simply isn’t created to help women prepare for and then deal with these problems. “When one considers the level of detail over protections against other eventualities–get vaccinations; pack dummy wallets, etc.–the oversight is staggering,” Matloff says. “[V]ictims of assault say that some training might have helped them make more informed decisions, or at least live with the outcome more easily.”

Women aren’t the only ones who are attacked in these situations, but the fact that some are is no reason to hold them back from this line of work. They can be unique assets abroad, gaining access to women in countries that divide the genders and the trust of assault victims. But even beyond that, using sexual assault as a reason to keep women from fulfilling important jobs that they are passionate about doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. What is needed is more conversation about the realities they face and what can be done to help them. That starts by encouraging women to come forward about their assaults.

Why We Need SlutWalk

In January, Toronto Police Constable Michael Sanguinetti spoke at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, sharing a few safety tips with the community.  One tip in particular resonated beyond the crowd that day: “I’ve been told I shouldn’t say this,” Sanguinetti said, “however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

In response, about four thousand people marched on April 3rd at SlutWalk Toronto, outraged about the harmful myths and stereotypes that perpetuate widespread sexual violence.  SlutWalk satellites have quickly spread from Canada to Australia, Chicago, the UK, South Africa, and beyond.  SlutWalkers are helping to create a global rally to end sexual assault and challenge rape culture, and we are fed up with the unwillingness of authorities like Sanguinetti to work toward the same ends.

It is fundamentally disturbing that any law enforcement officer would openly advocate policing female sexuality as a means of preventing violence against women.  Disturbing, but sadly not surprising.  The recent media backlash against SlutWalk provides some insight into how thoroughly victim-blaming attitudes inundate our cultural discussions about sexual violence and confirms the timeliness and absolute necessity of SlutWalk’s mission.

Anti-pornography activist Gail Dines might’ve been the first of many major media contributors to distract from the movement’s goal in order to broadly criticize SlutWalk for using the pejorative word “slut.”  Clearly the word is problematic, but who is Gail Porn-Makes-Men-Rape-Says-Me Dines to tell you what you can and can’t find empowering?  And shouldn’t she be more worked up about the police constable who called rape victims “sluts” than the handful of SlutWalkers who’re sick of being told that enjoying sex means that they deserve to be raped?

Dines nicely paved the way for Fox News’ Sean Hannity to assure his audience, “I don’t think you can ever blame the victim, ever,” then proceed to blame the victim.  There’s this infuriatingly out-of-touch and open display of racist nastiness from Margaret Wente at The Globe and Mail, in which rape is not a problem for anyone anywhere ever – except in South Asian and aboriginal households cuz racial minorities are super rapey.  Then of course there’s the endless stream of opinion pieces about how “slut” is not a word worth reclaiming, blah blah.  Cool, thanks for the press – ya’ll are still missing the point.

Whether you personally choose to reclaim the word “slut” or not is sort of irrelevant since embracing sluthood is not a prerequisite to protest rape and rape apologism.  SlutWalk is an exercise of solidarity: everyone is at risk to sexual violence until our culture gets it shit together, stops teaching that sex is evil, and starts teaching that rape is wrong.

This is an international public and political display of thousands upon thousands of people uniting to end rape.  Shut up about how protestors dressed for five seconds and just appreciate how long it’s been since your country has done anything even remotely like this. Or better yet, get out from behind the computer and organize an even better, smarter event to protest violence in your community.  I will be there, bright and early.  I’m serious, I’ll even carpool with some of my anti-violence allies.

Is the SlutWalk movement perfect?  Of course not, but no social movement is. And even now in its infancy, I don’t think anyone honestly believes that SlutWalk is the magic pill that will unfuck our society — hopefully the movement will continue to grow in strategy and diversity. But the media has wasted the better part of a week trying to wedge apart feminists on different sides of the debate and clutching its pearls at the droves of “scantily clad” women taking to the streets, all in an effort to shout over SlutWalk’s more nuanced messages about violence and sexuality.

No one deserves to be raped, ever.  Just because someone asks for sex does not mean they “ask for” rape.

When our culture talks about rape prevention, the word “responsibility” recurs constantly but rarely in reference to the person doing the raping.  When we engage victim-blaming attitudes, we make it harder for victims of sexual assault to come forward and report a serious violent crime, we become complicit in the unwillingness of authorities like Constable Sanquinetti to help victims and pursue allegations with the gravity they deserve, and we make the world a safer place for rapists.

This is exactly what SlutWalk aims to change.

SlutWalk has placed an international spotlight on an otherwise silent social problem.  Thanks to these community organizers, privilege, violence, consent, and sexual autonomy are being openly discussed across many diverse communities.  Even if it’s a clumsy discussion, I for one am glad people are having it.

Badass-Activist Friday presents: EMILY HEROY of Gender Across Borders

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Feminism is an wide-ranging movement, and we at WIYL feel it’s so important to include activists working to broaden our perspectives and work in negotiating the complexity of intersectional oppressions, making the voices of marginalised groups heard. For this mini-series, we’ll be focusing on men and women who critique the gender hierarchy across all boundaries – cultures, race, age and medium.

So, without further ado…

Here’s Emily Heroy of Gender Across Borders!

Emily Heroy is the Executive Editor and a founder of Gender Across Borders, an international feminist community and global feminist blog, created in April 2009 out of her interest in international development work and feminism. In this community, issues of gender, race, sexuality, and class are discussed and critically examined. It embraces people of all backgrounds to come together to voice and progress positive gender relations worldwide. In March 2011, Emily was named one of the top 100 ”most inspiring people delivering for girls and women ” from the NGO Women Deliver.

Gender Across Borders is an acclaimed blog that suggests gender relations can be progressed worldwide through critical inquiry. Admirably, it is particularly aware of its position of privilege as from the dominant, US perspective. Can you talk a little about why you started the blog and why this awareness is especially important?

This blog was started back in April 2009, when there were no feminist blogs dedicated to highlighting international issues. It is extremely important for us, as global feminists, to continually acknowledge privilege in the fight for gender equality. Not only does it not only engage more with international readers, but we don’t want our U.S. readers to be in the dark about the position of power we have.

Gender and sexuality based oppressions are intersectional ones and often locate themselves within other forms of oppressions such as race/ class/ ability. How do you think your work in Global Feminism and broadening western feminist perspectives can help advance discussions about addressing inequality abroad// inform foreign aid campaigns.

Gender and sexuality cannot be discussed without addressing issues of race/class/ability/religion/etc. When it comes down to it, feminists want equality for all. However many movements have failed to address intersectionality. For example, the Feminist movement in the 1970s and even today ignored and continue to ignore black women’s rights—and this implies inequality. That’s why we talk about other issues that feminists face on GAB—racism, classism, ableism, immigrant rights, etc. Without discussing these forms of oppression, we’re putting feminism on a pedestal and saying that all other movements and issues aren’t as important.

Some western feminists seem to think that feminist issues outside of the U.S. aren’t as important local feminist issues. At GAB we’re trying to show that gender issues live “across borders.” For example, my issue of abortion rights in the U.S. may vary in content from a Moroccan woman’s issue of economic power, but we’re both dealing with a similar kind of inequality because of our gender. Solutions to our problems will not be the same, but just like intersectionality, we have to be inclusive in our end goal: equality for all.

Are your personal experiences and identity important to your activism? Can you speak a little more as to how or why?

I am a white upper-class woman from the U.S. My family traveled a lot when I was younger—Egypt, Morocco, Czech Republic, Germany, France, England, Italy, Austria, etc. From that I got a sense of cultural awareness– something that I realize not many Americans have (because of lack of funds) or value. My family is somewhat politically middle-of-the-road but more importantly, fiscally conservative. I think that because of this, I didn’t have a sense of politics until I got to college in 2003.

Once I got to college, after a year or so, I declared my major in Gender and Sexuality studies and declared myself a feminist. I interned at small nonprofits in New York City (where I went to college) where I could work with underprivileged girls. I wanted to combine my interest in international cultures and feminism—so I traveled abroad in the summers between my years in college doing international volunteer work in India, Brazil, Peru, and Thailand—mostly working with women and children. After college, I joined the U.S. Peace Corps in Morocco to further my interest in international development and feminism.

I don’t think I would identify as a “global feminist” had I not had these experiences both abroad and in the U.S. Working with different groups of women and girls, those who are less privileged than I am, put my own experiences into perspective.

How has technology helped with your activism? Considering the use of technology is an economic privilege, to some extent, do you think the online activism that has been lauded as being far-reaching/ global in fact necessary marginalises certain groups? How can we address this?

Technology has helped with my activism—I’m able to connect with other feminists around the globe more easily. I want to also stress that blogging is not activism—it does spark change and can grow into activism, but it is not activism in it and of itself.

I do agree that technology is an economic privilege. While almost everywhere, for the most part, is connected to the internet—it certainly doesn’t mean everyone is able to use the internet. Especially in underdeveloped countries, the majority of people using the internet are men, because after all in these countries, families cannot afford computers at home or internet connectivity. There are internet cafes all around—which are great, don’t get me wrong, but some women in these countries just don’t go out of the house very much. Or many countries have issues with power—power is not reliable and goes off frequently. Or they don’t know how to use a computer.

Some of these problems can be answered with better infrastructure—countries don’t have the money to spend or the politicians to implement developing a more internet-accessible country.

We’ve recently faced many challenges to our right to reproductive justice – but this is a fight that’s remained largely US centric – how do you feel about the dominant perspectives of feminist activists nowadays? Do you feel they are limited?

I think there are a few feminists out there who think that one issue trumps the other. Reproductive justice is currently being attacked from just about everywhere in the U.S.—from Republicans and Democrats, to prolife interest groups to evangelical Christians, which is why it’s the center of the movement here, and I understand that we as feminists must band together to defend our reproductive rights, but there are so many equally important issues and problems at stake in terms of gender equality. As feminists in the U.S., we need to make every issue important and at the forefront of feminism. I feel like we are only limited because of what we limit ourselves—we need to branch out to other people and other groups to let them speak, discuss, and voice their opinions on gender equality.

We at Where Is Your Line are all about sex positive education and consent – and hope to continue disseminating our message internationally. But cultural relativity can be tricky when it comes to issues of sexuality. What are your thoughts?

I agree—cultural relativity can be very tricky in terms of talking about sexuality. I remember back when I was living with Morocco a few years ago, some Peace Corps volunteers had organized a women’s health seminar where they went around to local villages telling them about safe sex. Because of the social conservative culture, all men were asked to leave the room during the seminar and we weren’t allowed to hand out condoms to the women. How do you promote positive sex education without handing out condoms? The least we could do was discuss condoms and tell them how they worked and why they should use them. Not the best sex education, but in this instance, women were very curious about condoms as most of them had never used them or knew what they were. I’d like to think that bringing up the issue of safe sex allowed for some sort of acceptance that condoms were okay, even in a small conservative village in Morocco.

But when it comes down to it, the way you approach sexuality in the U.S. is very different from approaching sexuality in other countries and cultures. Being cognizant of the culture is first and foremost when teaching about positive sex—for example, in Morocco, some women expressed that they didn’t want to have as many kids as their mothers did. We used that to our advantage—in telling them that condoms also prevent pregnancy. But I also think that there are limitations within conservative cultures, and you can’t overstep that boundary.

How can we best continue to raise awareness of a global feminist perspective in this age where information can be too overwhelming and people have more of an eye towards home?

There’s more to global feminism than technology—which, with the internet, makes the dissemination of information very overwhelming. We can truly raise awareness of global feminism with discussions between people, face-to-face. While much of this discussion happens online, it’s important to take this discussion offline—connecting at a local level, and relating how these local feminist issues are similar to the broader feminist movement internationally. How do we expect to achieve gender equality without banding together with women across the globe?

South Africa Government Hears Out LGBT Activists On Corrective Rape

There is perhaps no phenomena so inexplicable as “corrective rape.”

A common practice in South Africa, corrective rape is an act of violence where lesbians are raped in order to “fix” them, because, you know, if we haven’t met the right dude yet, maybe it’s jut because the right one hasn’t raped us! (Same-sex marriage in South Africa has been legal since 2006, proving once again that marriage equality is unfortunately not synonymous with equal rights.) The practice was called out by human rights groups in 2009:

A report by the international NGO ActionAid, backed by the South African Human Rights Commission, said the horrific crimes against lesbians were going unrecognised by the state and unpunished by the legal system.

The report called for South Africa’s criminal justice system to recognise the rapes as hate crimes in an attempt to force police to take action over the rising tide of violence.

The ferocity of the attack became clear in April last year when Eudy Simelane, former star of South Africa’s national female football squad, became one of the victims. Miss Simelane, and equality rights campaigner and one of the first women to live openly as a lesbian, was gang-raped and brutally beaten before being stabbed 25 times in the face, chest and legs.

But scores more women have been deliberately targeted for rape, the Guardian reports.

Now, as charming as that sounds, it is clearly time to wave goodbye to that trend. Gay and lesbian activists have been lobbying in South Africa for corrective rape to be labeled a hate crime agree. They have been tireless in their efforts to not only spark conversation on the tragic practice of corrective rape, but to hear their government speak out against it with them.

In Cape Town, government officials have finally met with a group of those activists. This marks the first time the government has acknowledged the discussions surrounding corrective rape in the region.

The activists gathered outside of Parliament to spotlight the practice, and call out the perpetrators for targeting lesbian women based on their sexual orientation. Members of the group met with the Justice and Constitutional Development Minister (sounds fancy, right?) Jeff Radebe today – and they were ready. The activists’ demands were clear: for Radebe’s department to research, develop, and implement an action plan for the nation to tackle hate crimes and even other acts of homophobic violence.

Activists had circulated a petition calling him to take action; it was signed by over 170,000 people from 163 countries within 100 days. (The petition was one of the most popular / successful on change.org of all time.)

There’s no word yet on the outcome of the meeting; it may be too much to hope that all activists’ demands were met. But it’s not too much to hope that with the government finally meeting with LGBT activists, the road may be paved for further efforts to stop corrective rape and diminish its commonality.

This article was initially posted on Autostraddle and republished with the permission of the author.

Badass-Activist Friday presents: REGINA YAU of The Pixel Project

It’s Friday, and we all know what that means! Interviews with your favorite badass feminists and activists. Whether social media queens and kings, creative artists, sex educators, or just kick-ass personalities, these people harness righteous anger, instigate movements and inspire culture change. We’re here to honor them and their work, but more importantly, to highlight how we can all get up, plug in, and Just Start Doing.

Without further ado…

We’re presenting Regina Yau, the Founder and President of The Pixel Project!

Regina Yau_compressed

The Pixel Project is an innovative virtual volunteer-led global non-profit organisation that uses social media and online strategies to turbo-charge global awareness about violence against women, while raising funds and volunteer power for the cause. Whoa! Without a doubt, Regina is one of our digital activism heroes. And here’s what she has to say.

1. What inspired you to create The Pixel Project?

I started The Pixel Project in response to a cry for help from Malaysia’s Women’s Aid Organisation. Their need emerged when the global financial crisis started in late 2008 and donors and funders rescinded, froze or reduced financial pledges. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) who came on board a couple of months later were in the same position as WAO.

I hatched the idea in early January 2009 in the shower (yes – the shower! Archimedes was really on to something!), resulting in me rushing out to call WAO to pitch the idea while I was still dripping wet!

My motivation for getting involved with the cause is personal though. There is a history of domestic violence against the women in my mother’s family, starting with my grandmother who was a battered wife.

Starting The Pixel Project is my way of using what talents, skills and resources I have on hand to help stop the violence and, if I can, prevent other women and girls from experiencing any form of violence against women (VAW).

Also, working in this field has always been my calling. In fact, I have always been devoted to feminism and women’s issues in one way or another since I was 12!

Initially, I was on track to becoming an academic specialising in Anglophone Chinese women’s literature and women’s issues as I loved academia. However, a serious case of chicken pox derailed that career path. I ended up working in Public Relations as a way into the corporate world to hone my skills and build my network of contacts.

Eventually, I started working on women’s issues again by using my professional skills for charity work in my spare time, first doing Breast Cancer campaigns and then, finally, putting everything I have to work for The Pixel Project and the cause to end Violence Against Women when WAO came a-calling.

2. What tools did you use?

I essentially started The Pixel Project from scratch – no funds, no backers, no high profile supporters during what was – to paraphrase Charles Dickens – the best of times and the worst of times.

It was the “worst of times” for such an ambitious social enterprise because we kicked off at the height of the global recession of 2008/2009 when there was very little funding to be had. I mean, it was the reason I started The Pixel Project to begin with – because WAO and NCADV were facing a funding crisis and ironically, The Pixel Project itself needed resources in order to take off! *laughs* So I found other ways to compensate for the lack of funds.

I rolled up my sleeves and put my experience in setting up and running campaigns on little to no money to work. I structured The Pixel Project to mostly run on a combination of skilled volunteer power, donated or sponsored services and products and help from my network of contacts. Anything that needed cash such as photo shoots would be run on a shoestring budget. I wanted to prove that you can run a world-class nonprofit
organisation and first-rate global campaigns on very little cash.

That I was proven right shows that it was also the “best of times” for The Pixel Project to come into being because the time is right and ripe for the first wave of next-generation 21st century nonprofits to take off. With social media technology being free-to-use and easily accessible, increasing numbers of people getting wired up to the internet and the ascent of Web 2.0, we are an offshoot of what Forbes calls “the cheap revolution” where you can start an organisation without overhead costs – just set up shop online and you’re ready to go… and to go global with a keystroke!

So I made The Pixel Project a completely virtual non-profit social enterprise start-up using social media and other virtual and online tools to raise the triple bottom line of awareness, funds and volunteer power for the cause to end violence against women. Everything we do from our Twitter Tag Team programme to our annual “Paint It Purple” campaign is designed to take the cause to end violence against women into the 21st century. We don’t even have or need a physical office because our team members can work on our campaigns wherever they are in the world – have internet, will volunteer!

3. Did anyone say “you can’t” or question why it was useful?

Definitely. The Pixel Project started life as – and still is – an idea and vision with a scope so ambitious that many people who didn’t know me doubted my ability to bring it to fruition. In a way, I don’t blame the early naysayers for their take on it. To them, I was an “unknown quantity”, and The Pixel Project started with no funding, no celebrities signed up, no high profile partners or no Big Corporate backers.

Now, after two years of successful digital and hybrid digital/offline programmes and the Celebrity Male Role Model Pixel Reveal campaign just about ready to launch as I write this, early critics have largely been silenced or have become staunch allies. Now, we face those who loudly and vehemently criticise us for our laser-like focus on violence against women. They are the usual suspects who attack anyone working to make women’s lives better.

Funnily enough, we are rarely questioned as to whether our digital advocacy is useful. It’s probably a sign that unless you have been living under a rock during the past 5 years, the typical person on the street with internet access will have seen, heard of and probably participated in one form of digital activism or another be it signing an online petition or helping to take a Facebook campaign viral.

4. How did you respond?

With the early naysayers, I just thought: “Watch me!” in response to their cynicism, and got on with what I set out to do with The Pixel Project. I’m a pretty determined person and I really believed in The Pixel Project and so I just went with my gut feeling and pushed forward with plenty of sheer grit, strategic thinking, hard work and chutzpah.

You have to pick your battles. My priority is channelling my energies and my team’s energies towards building The Pixel Project and its work to prevent, stop and end violence against women. So my team and I have always tried to the other cheek to vitriol, and just relentlessly keeping our eye on the ball. We are here for our mission to raise the triple bottom line of funds, awareness and volunteer power for the cause, and to get men and women from all walks of life and all over the world working together to end violence against women. Nothing more, nothing less.

This is not to say that we do not defend our work but we feel that the best way forward is to be relentlessly positive and constructive, and to build a formidable body of programmes, initiatives and campaigns that effectively contribute towards preventing, stopping and ending violence against women.

The proof of the pudding is, after all, in the eating.

5. What impact has PP had, how do you measure, can you share some of your
favourite responses?

The Pixel Project is still a very young non-profit and we are still gathering momentum for the very long journey towards ending violence against women. Indeed, we are just setting up or had just completed the pilot of campaigns and initiatives that we hope will either be held annually or be ongoing. So in a sense, it is a little early to provide accurate, tangible measurements of the impact that we are working to achieve.

Nevertheless, while we continue to work hard towards fulfilling the triple bottom line of raising awareness, funds and volunteer power for the cause, we have had some surprising feedback. To our supporters, survivors and fellow activists and nonprofits, our positive, solutions-based approach means that the biggest impact on their lives is to give them hope in the long battle to end violence against women.

For survivors, it is the hope that they can come out of abusive and/or traumatic violent situations intact, that they can get help and that their voice matters.

For our supporters, our efforts give them hope that there is help out there should they or the women in their lives need it. Hope also comes from the fact that we provide them with so many opportunities to contribute to the cause.

For fellow activists and nonprofits, we keep hope alive that the younger generations (most of us working on The Pixel Project are in our early twenties to mid-thirties) can and will continue the cause to end violence against women.

Hope is an intangible, abstract notion. You can’t measure it. Yet it is a positive galvanising force that helps people keep going for this very tough cause which has a long way to go. That we have achieved this impact so early in our existence as a change organisation is amazing!

As for my favourite responses, there are so many! Some of the ones that stand out include:

- A couple of our staunch supporters, one of whom is a long time volunteer on our
team, getting our ribbon tattooed on their ankles to remind them that they will
never again let a man hurt them.

- A dedicated informal group of followers on Twitter devoted to re-tweeting every single helpline we tweet during our daily helpline retweet session.

-A domestic violence survivor who emailed The Pixel Project team to tell us that our work has empowered her to begin sharing her story and speaking up so other battered women can break free of their abusers.

6. What is your hope for the future of the project? (and humanity!)

It is my hope that The Pixel Project will continue to steadily mature into an independent and sustainable non-profit social enterprise that continuously leads the way with fresh, workable ideas that will be the engine behind digital and technology initiatives,programmes and campaigns that will help end violence against women by:

- Growing a strong, united, and vibrant network of partners comprising nonprofits working to end violence against women and our allies across other sectors. We really do mean it when we say that “it’s time to stop violence against women. Together”. Nobody can do it alone because of the complexity, scope and entrenched nature of the issue.

- Changing public perception of the cause from a negative one focused on the ugliness of the social ills we are battling into a positive one focused on putting solutions into practice and empowering communities to take action.

- Galvanising action to prevent, stop and end violence against women by providing inspiration to act and creating opportunities for anybody in the world in fun yet effective ways.

I truly believe that The Pixel Project’s work is done when organisations like us are no longer needed – that will the day when violence against women and girls has been truly eradicated. In the meantime, we are here for the long haul.

As for humanity, despite having to face the ugliness of violence against women, I maintain an unwavering belief that most people are good people who want to help. They just need a nudge, a roadmap and an opportunity to get engaged and get involved with the cause. It may sound idealistic but we lose nothing by believing in the best of humanity. Gandhi expressed it best when he said: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

For more, follow The Pixel Project on twitter.

Girl-on-girl Crime.

i-can-have-it-all-sandwich-day

I’ll admit that I live in a bit of a feminist bubble. Many of my close friends are self-identified, active feminists; I kill an absurd amount of time reading feminist blogs; I’ve interned and volunteered for organizations focused on women’s issues. Although it is a bit of a myopic perspective, I’ve come to see most issues as feminist vs. virulent misogynists; Gloria Steinem cited at press conference in November 2009 that “more women self-identify as feminist than Republican,” but I’ve encountered a shocking number of sexist females in the past few months abroad.

The worst part about this particular brand of sexism is that it isn’t sexism in the strictest and most dangerous sense of the word, but more of a self-defeating attitude and acceptance of rigid gender roles. I’ve heard comments ranging from “The skiers were really good, even the women” to “He should get the last piece, he’s a boy.” The most common anti-female attitudes from females, however, are about acceptable careers for men and women. My Belgian friend told me over coffee and quiche one day (Sweden is delicious) that she felt torn between male and female aspirations. “How so?” She responded that she loved “women things,” like cooking, cleaning, decorating, and, one day, raising a family, but was “like a man” in that she went to business school, studied hard every day in the library, and aspired to be a bigwig at a financial corporation one day. Her ambition was commendable, but did it have to be framed as a “man thing?” Can’t it just be a thing?

Her thoughts, however, are more likely to reflect a reaction to stereotypes than sexism; a bit of the response could have been lost in translation as well. More antagonistic to the aims of feminism is the “one of the boys” mentality. Being told that you’re “like a guy” is often used as a compliment, one that many women strive to receive. If masculinity is praised, where does that leave femininity? An article on Jezebel, “Dudeliness is Next to Godliness,” put it perfectly:

The disturbing implication of considering logic, being fun, and having a sense of humor to be in the realm of dude-dom is that what’s left for ladies is the dreary opposite. If men are logical, then women must be illogical. If men are carefree and exciting, then women must be boring. If men are hilarious, then women must be perennial wet blankets who hate laughing and fun. If having masculine qualities is a positive, then is possessing feminine qualities a negative, and is anyone who is acting wack therefore performing ladyhood? To make matters worse, I know more than one woman who wears her “I’m not like those other girls; I’m just like one of the guys!” badge with pride, who agrees with the public consensus that girls are just terrible and they’re ideal. They’re special and superior, like a man. They use the “I’m a dude” excuse to exempt themselves from any number of standards to which women are subjected- they use their guy-ness to avoid being slut-shamed, to explain why they aren’t overdramatic or overemotional.

While saying that one is following a “male” career path did create a gender dichotomy, it did so without claiming that one aspect is “good” while the other is “bad.” The pedestal upon which male qualities are placed as girls declare proudly that they “hate girls” and can hang with the bros, places a normative quality to the issue. Besides, what does it mean to be “one of the guys?” As Morning Gloria states in her article, “There are subsets of every population that are insufferable. Women aren’t insufferable as a population and neither are men; people are across-the-board flawed and collectively a pain in the ass. Bitches aren’t crazy; human beings are crazy.

This insidious, underlying yet ubiquitous female sexism raises several important obstacles in the struggle of shaking misogyny from society. First and foremost, there needs to be greater solidarity among women if we ever hope to make progress. If women themselves shirk away from feminism, vehemently declaring that they believe in equal rights, but that they aren’t- gasp!-feminists, how do we stand a chance in convincing more antagonistic groups that misogyny exists in today’s culture, and that it needs to be eradicated? As Tina Fey quips in Mean Girls, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” Claiming to “hate girls” and striving for masculinity only validates harmful attitudes towards women, particularly in the fight for issues of consent.

Secondly, this form of sexism creates a paradox in which women are held to certain gender roles- the aforementioned cooking, homemaking, etc.- while they are simultaneously expected to pursue a certain level of masculinity, to be “one of the guys.” Worst of all, this ideal is often perpetuated by women themselves. Invoking the genius of Tina Fey once again, the situation reminds of me the 30 Rock episode “Sandwich Day,” in which Liz Lemon, chasing her ex-boyfriend through an airport in hopes of emotional closure and perhaps romantic reconnection, is stopped at security, and can only pass if she throws away her sandwich, a sandwich she has been waiting all day, and year, to enjoy. She frantically shoves the sandwich into her mouth, explaining whilst maniacally chewing that, “I can do it! I can have it all!” When forced to choose between traditional feminine and masculine goals, the boyfriend and the sandwich, a symbol for her career and personal fulfillment, she opts for both. How many times have we found ourselves at this hypothetical airport? I know I have scarfed down the proverbial sandwich many times. But can we have it all? Can we follow dreams that have traditionally been reserved for men while retaining our femininity, whatever that means to us personally? Can we shatter the glass ceiling with a pair of stilettos? I think so. It will just take a bit of solidarity.

Teenage Dreams: Better in Dutch

Photo via Pedro Ribeiro Simões on flickr.

Photo via Pedro Ribeiro Simões on flickr.

A new sociological study by Amy Schalet entitled ‘Sex, Love and Autonomy in the Teenage Sleepover’ demonstrates how much parental attitudes can influence teenage explorations of sexuality – particularly through an incisive comparison of the cultural attitudes towards sex in America and the Netherlands. The conclusion – Dutch parents seemed to have developed a respect and understanding of teenage sexuality while the state of America is pretty much a mess of sexual panic. Figures.

According to Schalet’s study, the Dutch take on teen sexuality is refreshingly calm and trusts in teenagers to make their own decisions and take responsibility for the consequences, rather than expounding the dangers of sexual conduct, punitively enforcing abstinence or imposing a moral/religious views about sex:

Dutch parents downplay the dangerous and difficult sides of teenage sexuality, tending to normalise it’. They speak of readiness (er aan toe zijn), a process of becoming physically and emotionally ready for sex that they believe young people can self-regulate, provided they’ve been encouraged to pace themselves and prepare adequately …They permit sleepovers, even if that requires an “adjustment” period to overcome their feelings of discomfort, because they feel obliged to stay connected and accepting as sex becomes part of their children’s lives.’ All of this is accompanied by easy access for both teens and adults for contraceptives and sexual healthcare.

Interestingly, this attitude, though much less rigorous and punitive than American attitudes, does not encourage a culture of unsafe, un-premeditated sex amongst teens. Rather, a 2005 survey of Dutch youth, ages 12 to 25 described their first time experiences as ‘well timed, within their control, and fun’, typically within monogamous, loving relationships. Furthermore, teen birth rates (between ages 15-17, as of 2007) are a whopping eight times lower than America, not to mention the low STD rates.

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