Thursday, 9 September 2010

INTERNATIONAL: Violence against women: an international epidemic

These are extracts from an article written by Gerald Caplan, published in Canada, the original home of the White Ribbon Campaign.

Twelve girls and women have been murdered by family members in Canada since 2002; these grisly deaths, perversely known as honour killings, have all taken place in certain minority communities. But these minorities have no monopoly on such savage brutality. In Ontario alone between 2002 and 2007, 202 women were murdered by their partners, an astonishing average of 42 each year.

About 20 years ago I was part of a small group of men who founded the White Ribbon Campaign – men working to end violence against women. It was one of the best things I've ever done. The campaign continues to operate both in Canada and many other countries, doing its best to make men aware that any kind of physical violence against women is completely unacceptable, full stop. There are no exceptions. The best-known of the founding members of the White Ribbon Campaign was Jack Layton and he has never tried to exploit his contribution for political gain, a rare example of integrity that I have long admired.

The full article can be found at

Friday, 21 May 2010

Adriana Running London Office

A warm welcome to Adriana who will now be running the London office. We are sorry to lose Kaitlin but are equally enthusiastic about Adriana taking the helm. Best wishes to her in her new capacity as London co-ordinator for the White Ribbon Campaign

Friday, 23 April 2010

A Fond Farewell

My time with the White Ribbon Campaign UK has come to an end and I am moving on to another human rights organisation. It's been a delight working with the White Ribbon Campaign and I look forward to supporting this campaign in the future. This blog will likely be inactive for a few weeks until my replacement is settled in London.

While you're waiting for the blog to start up again, check out these books and movies relating to male violence against women:


(1) This Charming Man by Marian Keyes - A story of four women and one very "charming" man

(2) A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - an amazing story of two women in Afghanistan and how they're lives converge over several decades

(3) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - The first of the Millennium series, this gripping thriller was originally titled "Men Who Hate Women." It's a bit slow at the beginning, but takes off about halfway through. The Swedish film adaptation of this book is in theatres now. Though not as good as the book, it is still a decent film. Warning: it is a bit graphic.

(4) The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle - this infamous novel is about Paula Spencer, abused by her husband. The novel is narrated from her perspective.


(1) North Country - Based on a true story, this film tells the story of a group of female mine workers who win a landmark sexual harassment case.

(2) Behind the Smile - A short documentary on prostitution and trafficking in the UK, produced by the Anti-Trafficking Alliance. It can be seen here.

(3) The Stoning of Soraya M. - I first saw this at the Toronto Film Festive almost 3 years ago, and it has stayed with me every since. It tells the true story of an Iranian woman who is falsely accused of adultery and is consequently stoned. An amazing film, the climactic stoning scene is very difficult to watch, but extremely important to convey the horror of the act.

(4) There are several other films relating to violence against women. Hollywood films include Precious: Based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire, Sleeping with the Enemy, the Colour Purple, and Enough.

Take care, and continue to never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women! And keep checking our new and improved website:

x Kaitlin Bardswich

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Women in Politics

As the second political party leaders' debate takes place this evening, it's fitting to ask - Where do women's rights fit in? Last month, our friends at Eaves hosted Women's Question Time. The panellists were Vera Baird QC MP (Labour), Theresa May MP (Conservative), Lynne Featherstone MP (Liberal Democrat), and Caroline Lucas MEP (Green). The panel was chaired by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, columnist for The Independent. This panel gave us a rare look at the women in politics, when the focus is usually on the men - and the male party leaders. Yesterday, an an article appeared in The Guardian on this topic:

Women in a very male general election

Election 2010 sees increased emphasis on party leaders which MPs say is marginalising female political voices


‘A woeful lack of representation’… (Left to right) Labour MPs and parliamentary candidates Meg Hillier, Stella Creasy, Joan Ruddock, Tessa Jowell, Harriet Harman and Diane Abbott. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA/PA

The increasingly presidential style of the UK general election campaign has edged senior women politicians out of the forefront of the political debate, shifting focus instead on to the wives of the three party leaders, a number of prominent female Labour MPs conceded today.

Women in all three main parties have been at the margins of the political campaign, with greater attention paid to the activities and outfits of the leaders' spouses than to the roles played by senior women politicians, in a shift described as a significant regression by campaigners for improved representation of women in parliament.

The shift in focus has been exacerbated by the increasing prominence that the leaders' debates are playing in the campaign, concentrating attention on the three male party leaders rather than a wider spectrum of politicians, and triggering an intensified interest in the supporting role played by their partners.

"As we watch this election, it is clear that women politicians are markedly absent. We have a lot of wives, but not many women MPs," said Kat Banyard, co-founder of UK Feminista and author of The Equality Illusion, a recent study of modern feminism. "All the main players are white men. The lack of female role models is really stark."

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for greater equality between men and women, said: "There is still a woeful lack of senior representation of women in politics and that is reflected in the election campaign."

At an event yesterdaythis morning to celebrate the record number of women standing as Labour candidates, Tessa Jowell, Cabinet Office minister, acknowledged that traditional aspects of the campaign, such as press conferences, had been supplanted by the leaders' debates, shifting more attention to the male leaders, but she stressed that she and other women politicians still "feel at the forefront" of the campaign.

"This is the most activist-led, grassroots-led campaign that I have worked on, largely driven by the internet. Women MPs are all over the country getting votes."

Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour party, said: "Politics has always been male-dominated – that's why we have much more work to do."

"There is a growing celebrity culture in this country," said Joan Ruddock, an undersecretary in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. "It is inevitable that the leaders' families are more prominent than a decade ago. The Obama election has played into that as well."

Defending the party's record, Harman said Labour had attracted many more women into parliament than the other two main parties, with three times more female MPs in the last parliament than all other parties put together – 94 women MPs, compared with 18 for the Conservatives and nine for the Lib Dems. In seats where Labour MPs are retiring, 53% of Labour candidates are women.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said that, when she first stood as a candidate in 1987, "Many people didn't believe that I could win because the notion of an MP was of a middle-aged white guy in a suit. Things really have moved on. If you raised subjects like work-life balance or childcare 20 years ago, people would say, 'But that's not really politics.' Now the party leaders are all talking about it. Things have progressed – perhaps not as much as I would have liked, but they have progressed."

Jowell argued that the number of policies benefiting women and children during Labour's administration was a reflection of the increased representation of women, citing Sure Start, better childcare facilities and child tax credits.

Campaigners such as Goddard believe the way politicians have tried to appeal to female voters marks a regression.

"There is a focus on women as mothers and only mothers, particularly as the polling is showing that middle-class mothers are a key voting group and all three parties are targeting them. This has had the unfortunate knock-on effect that much of the coverage of women in the campaign has been about women as mothers."

The Conservative party's drive to alter the male-dominated profile of its shadow cabinet has failed, according to a poll published in the Financial Times this week, in which most people questioned could not name a single female Tory MP. Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary, is a lone female figure in the Conservative campaign. But party officials point out that a third of its candidates are women, most in winnable seats.

"If the Conservatives have a majority of one we will have 60 female MPs in parliament," May said yesterday. "However, I realise we need to continue the process of getting more women involved in politics."

Banyard is despondent about the proportion of women MPs. "There was massive progress in 1997 when we saw the number of women MPs doubling. But that has ground to a halt and we only have six more women MPs today than we did in 1997," she said. "We have slipped to 73rd place in the world league table for women's representation as MPs."

And if you want to read about Conservative MP Theresa May, who has been a keen supporter of the White Ribbon Campaign UK, check out The Guardian's December article here.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Women's Link Worldwide's Gender Justice Uncovered Awards

Women's Link Worldwide is an international human rights non-profit organization working to ensure that gender equality is a reality worldwide. They annually judge the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards, deciding on the best and worst decision made in English or Spanish relating to gender justice. There is also a People's Choice Award based on the public's vote. So make sure you vote by May 10!

Check out the video on the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards:

Across the world, people are uploading videos to explain why they are voting for the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards. Here's a video from Iceland:

And here's a short video I made of my friend Paul Goldsworthy discussing the Awards in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

The White Ribbon Campaign UK supports the Gender Justice Awards. Vote by May 10 here.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Earthquakes Caused By Promiscuous Women

Today the BBC reported on a story from Iran, where a senior cleric said that promiscuous women are responsible for earthquakes. While most will find this laughable, it is also an example of hate speech that could lead to violence against women if they are viewed as being "promiscuous" and therefore responsible for earthquakes. Let's hope that does not happen.

Iranian cleric blames quakes on promiscuous women

The reuined citadel of Bam aftern the 2003 earthquake
More than 25,000 people died in the Bam quake

Promiscuous women are responsible for earthquakes, a senior Iranian cleric has said.

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi told worshippers in Tehran last Friday that they had to stick to strict codes of modesty to protect themselves.

"Many women who do not dress modestly lead young men astray and spread adultery in society which increases earthquakes," he said.

Tens of thousands of people have died in Iran earthquakes in the last decade.

Mr Sedighi was delivering a sermon on the need for a "general repentance" by Iranians.

"What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes," he said.

'Disappoint God'

Young Iranians sometimes push the boundaries of how they can dress, showing hair under their headscarves or wearing tight fitting clothes.

Mr Sedighi also referred to violence following last year's elections, which occurred when thousands of - mostly young - Iranians protested against the result, as a "political earthquake".

"Now if a natural earthquake hits Tehran, no one will be able to confront such a calamity but God's power, only God's power. So lets not disappoint God."

More than 25,000 people died when a powerful earthquake hit the ancient town of Bam in 2003.

Seismologists have warned that the Iranian capital Tehran is situated on a large number of tectonic fault lines and could be hit by a devastating quake soon.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said many of Tehran's 12 million inhabitants should relocate.

There are plans to build a purpose built new capital near Qom.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

A Year Ago Today

Here's an article from The Guardian that was printed on April 14, 2009.

Child trafficking into Britain accelerating, figures show

• Victims hidden in lorries or pass with false papers • Case workers say rescued are told to flee care centres

Suspected victims of child trafficking from Asia, Africa and the Middle East are being smuggled through Britain's leading ports and airports at an accelerating rate, new figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

A total of 957 children, including more than 400 from Afghanistan and 200 from Africa, were picked up by local authorities in the eight months between April 2008 and the end of the year.

At least 53 came from Iraq in a development that appears to back up warnings this week from aid agencies and police in the war-torn country of a growing trade in child trafficking to countries including Britain and Ireland.

The figures, obtained by the Guardian, represent a 90% increase compared to the annual rate of arrivals over the previous three years.

The children are often hidden in the backs of lorries which travel through ports in Kent and Suffolk and others are smuggled through Heathrow and Gatwick on false papers, according to care officials and the victims' testimonies. It is thought many are trafficked for exploitation in prostitution and domestic servitude.

Anti-trafficking campaigners are particularly concerned that one in eight of those taken into care go missing. Case workers who help victims said the children are commonly told by their traffickers, often under threat, to flee care.

Figures released by Kent county council, which handled the biggest single influx of suspected victims of trafficking, show that 86 of the 474 children it took into care over the eight month period last year, went missing. Officials in Hillingdon, west London, which handles children trafficked through Heathrow, said 27 of the 285 children it took responsibility for left care without leaving a forwarding address and have been reported missing.

"These figures bear out what we see happening across the UK where reports of child trafficking are increasing significantly," said Chris Beddoe, chief executive of Ecpat UK, which campaigns against child prostitution, child pornography and child trafficking. "Given so many of these child victims go missing so quickly after they are taken into local authority care, it seems clear that we are witnessing a pattern of criminal activity among traffickers. Yet no one goes out looking for these children when they disappear. If the government is really committed to keeping them safe they would implement a system of guardianship so someone would be responsible for each and every child."

In Kent, where the largest proportion of trafficked children arrive, facilities to look after suspected victims of child trafficking are thin on the ground. There is only one residential reception centre which can accommodate two dozen children. Yet in the last recorded eight months, authorities there had to try and help 255 Afghan children, 55 from Iran, 50 from Iraq and 49 from Eritrea as well as others from Vietnam, China, Kosovo, Algeria, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

"We are of course most concerned about this situation," said Leyland Ridings, Kent's cabinet member for children, families and education standards. "We do all we can to prevent it."

Not all local authorities are losing the battle against traffickers. West Sussex, which handles cases from Gatwick, has managed a reduction in the number of children who go missing from care. It took 55 suspected victims of trafficking into care between April and January last year and only five children went missing. In the previous three years it lost track of 42 children.

The Home Office has admitted there are barriers to victims of human trafficking seeking help and last week launched a national mechanism so that any suspected victim will be referred to the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield.

It is part of a series of measures which followed the introduction of the Council of Europe convention on human trafficking which came into force in Britain on 1 April. "Human trafficking is one of the most horrendous crimes threatening our society," said a Home Office spokesman. "Those who are responsible for this modern form of slavery are profiting from human misery and suffering."

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Violence against Forcibly Displaced and Stateless Women

This is an older news story, but still really important, as it highlights discrimination against refugee women and girls - a group that are all too often forgotten.

UNHCR attends landmark meeting on discrimination against women

News Stories, 24 July 2009

© UNHCR/L.Foster
A group of female refugees from Central African Republic in south-east Cameroon. Forcibly displaced and displaced women and girls are at risk of discrimination.

NEW YORK, United States, July 24 (UNHCR) A landmark meeting in New York, co-organized by the UN refugee agency, has given important impetus to efforts to eradicate discrimination against forcibly displaced and stateless females, including rape, domestic violence and other abuses.

The July 16-17 seminar, the first of its kind, brought together officials from UNHCR and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) with 15 independent experts from around the world who serve on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The meeting was called specifically to look at how the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women a de facto international bill of rights for women can be used to protect forcibly displaced and stateless women. CEDAW is meeting until August 7 to review countries' implementation of the Convention.

A number of important so-called "general recommendations" and "commitments" were agreed upon with the CEDAW members to increase awareness about discrimination against women of concern and to bolster the Convention's power to protect and help them through better use of existing reporting and complaint mechanisms.

"This is a breakthrough," said UNHCR Chief Protection Policy and Legal Adviser Oldrich Andrysek, who attended the meeting. This was echoed by Pierre Bertrand, director of UNHCR's New York office, who told the opening session, "This seminar is a milestone in our collective efforts to ensure that the rights of displaced and stateless women and girls are fully respected."

Others stressed the importance of governments and international organizations in ensuring progress. "The violations that women experience . . . will never be dealt with appropriately until justice issues receive sufficient attention both nationally and internationally," said Craig Mokhiber, deputy director of OHCHR's New York office.

The seminar participants also heard powerful and sometimes harrowing testimonies from former refugees from Bhutan, Liberia, Mongolia and Zimbabwe as well as two internally displaced women from Chechnya and Kenya. "Discrimination against women is everywhere," said one of the women, a widow who suffered abuse.

"The fact that refugee women gave testimonies and that the often forgotten situation of refugee and stateless women was discussed in detail allowed us to spotlight and deal with the problems women face," UNHCR's Andrysek noted.

Forcibly displaced women and girls, and women seeking to integrate into new societies or reintegrate in post-conflict countries, are frequent victims of multiple forms of discrimination and sexual violence. Yet there remains a persistent culture of denial, neglect and impunity around this growing problem.

Monday, 12 April 2010

New Website

Our new website is up and running - check it out here.

And please make the pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

International Tuesday: Women in Space!

While this is not related to violence against women, it is a step towards gender equality and should be celebrated as such for International Tuesday. Yesterday, the Discovery shuttle launched three women into space, bringing the total number of women in space to four - a record! The Guardian article below points out that men still outnumber women by more than 2 to 1, but this is still an achievement - a step in the right direction.

Discovery shuttle launch sets record for most women in space

Three women on board will join female scientist already on space station during one of orbiter's final missions

Discovery astronauts Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki

Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson and Naoko Yamazaki will join Tracy Caldwell Dyson at the International Space Station, between them becoming the most women ever in orbit at the same time. Photograph: Gary I Rothstein/EPA

The space shuttle Discovery rocketed into orbit today on one of Nasa's final stockpiling missions to the International Space Station.

The launch – the last scheduled one in darkness for Nasa's fading shuttle programme – helped set a record for the most women in space at the same time. Three women were on board Discovery as part of the seven-member crew, and another is already at the space station. The shuttle should arrive at the orbiting outpost on Wednesday.

But problems with Discovery's main antenna, which emerged as soon as the shuttle reached orbit, could affect the radar needed for the rendezvous, Mission Control said today.

A spokesman stressed there were other tools to work around the situation. "We probably won't have answers for you today about what this means," Mission Control told the astronauts.

The six space station residents gathered around the dinner table to watch the launch on a laptop. "We are absolutely delighted to have our friendly comrades joining us here in a couple of days," said Timothy Creamer.

"Stand by for a knock on the door," Mission Control radioed.

Men will still outnumber women by more than two to one on board the shuttle and station, but that won't take away from the remarkable achievement of having four women in space at one time, coming 47 years after the world's first female astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova, rocketed into space.

A former schoolteacher, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, is among the female astronauts about to make history, as well as a chemist, Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who once worked as an electrician, and two aerospace engineers, Stephanie Wilson and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki.

Japan celebrated its own space feat with Discovery's liftoff. Two of its astronauts were circling Earth at the same time, one on the shuttle and the other on the station.

Only three shuttle missions remain after this one. Nasa intends to retire its fleet by the end of September, but is unsure what will follow for human spaceflight. President Barack Obama will visit the area on 15 April, while Discovery is still in orbit, to fill in some of the blanks.

Commander Alan Poindexter and his crew will spend nine days at the station, replenishing supplies. The astronauts will install a fresh ammonia tank for the cooling system – a cumbersome job requiring three spacewalks. They will drop off science experiments as well as an extra sleeping compartment, a darkroom to improve picture-taking from the lab's high-quality window, and other equipment weighing thousands of kilos.

The space station will continue operating until 2020 under the Obama plan. The idea is for commercial rocket companies to eventually provide ferry service for astronauts. Nasa is currently paying for seats on Russian Soyuz rockets. That's how Caldwell Dyson got to the space station yesterday, two days after being launched from Kazakhstan.

Once combined, the shuttle and station crews will number 13: eight Americans, three Russians and two Japanese.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cameroon and Violence Against Women

Today for International Tuesday, we have an article from Cameroon by university student Njeke Joshua.

Cameroon and violence on women.

Women in Cameroon want their rights respected with some of the laws in the MAPUTO PROTOCOL respected as well. This year, on International Women's Day, some women marched around the town of Buea singing against violence (against) women. Cameroon signed the MAPUTO PROTOCOL on the 28th of May, 2009. This is an agreement among several African states determined to ensure that the rights of women are promoted, realized and protected in order to enable them fully enjoy all their human rights. All state signatories were to apply these agreements in their countries. Some of these laws are cited below:

  • A man and a woman are equal and do have the same rights. In order to be applied the state has to take women’s needs and interest into consideration in their planning and programming.
  • To eliminate discrimination against women, the State has to inform and educate the society so that all are aware of the discrimination which is present in our way of doing, our thinking, in our cultural practices, and traditions which make men superior to women; so that once educated, everyone will change his/her behavior in order to stop all practices which are discriminatory to women.
  • No woman has to marry before the age of 18 years, and she has to do it out of her free will. The woman has the right to choose with her husband; the place where they will stay; she can continue using her name after marriage, she can keep her nationality and give it to her children; she can dispose of her property as she pleases.
  • The woman, in like manner as the man, has responsibility over the family; she has to educate and protect the children.
  • In the aspects to pronounce separation, divorce, and annulment of marriage a woman can seek separation, divorce, or annulment of marriage. When separation, divorce or annulment of marriage is pronounced, the man and the woman have to share property and each person is supposed to have what normally belongs to him/her, and both have to take care of their children.
  • Widow’s rights should be respected. A widow should not be maltreated in the name of tradition. After the death of her husband, it is the widow who takes over the children. She can remarry if she likes and with whom she pleases.
  • The widow has to inherit her own part of the property left by her husband. Whether they signed “joint property” or “separate property” the woman has the right to continue living in the matrimonial home. And even if she remarries, she keeps this right if the house belongs to her.
  • The state has to protect poor women; women who are head of families, and women who are vulnerable. It has to provide them with level of life easily adapted to their physical, economic and financial needs. The state has to compensate victims whenever any of the rights and liberties cited by this protocol is violated.

Countries that have signed this MAPUTO PROTOCOL are not following these rights and liberties cited. Africans should take a step forward.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

UK Feminista

Yesterday, I attended the launch of UK Feminista at the Women's Library in central London. It was an amazing day! The White Ribbon Campaign had a stall there, along with such organisations as Eaves, Funny Women, OBJECT, and the Fawcett Society. Hannah Pool chaired the speakers - Kat Banyard and Ellie Cumbo began, as they created UK Feminista. The other speakers were Darinka Aleksic of Abortion Rights, Frances Carlisle of the Latin American Women's Rights Service, Anna van Heeswijk of OBJECT, Katie McGrainor of Birmingham Fems, Elizabeth Carola of Anti-Porn London, and Gail Cartmail of Unite the Union. It was an inspiring session!

UK Feminista strives to bring individual feminists together with each other and with already-established campaigns and organisations. It is an exciting venture, one that the White Ribbon Campaign is delighted to be a part of.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Saudi Rights Panel Take Up Child Bride Case

Today for International Tuesday we have an article from Saudi Arabia. This is fitting after last week's launch of the HBV/Forced Marriage Knowledge Centre and Directory.

Saudi Arabia’s state human rights body has hired a lawyer to review the case of a girl whose mother sought her divorce from an 80-year-old man, a move activists hope is a first step against child marriage

Saudi Arabia, a patriarchal society that applies an austere version of Sunni Islam, has no minimum legal age for marriage. Fathers are granted guardianship over their daughters, giving them control over who their daughters marry and when.

The girl — believed to be 12 years old — from Buraidah, a conservative town near the capital Riyadh, was married to her father’s elderly cousin late last year for bridal money of 85,000 riyals ($ 23,000), lawyer Sultan bin Zahim said.

Activists see the divorce proceedings as a test case that could pave the way for introducing a minimum age for marriage in the kingdom, where child marriage is common in poorer tribal areas.

The child’s mother had earlier filed for divorce on her daughter’s behalf but withdrew without giving a reason after a second court hearing in early February, Zahim told Reuters.

The state-affiliated rights body then took over the case, to investigate the mother’s reasons for withdrawal as well as the age of the child and her husband, which have been disputed, before they assess further action that they can take.

The lawyer had previously stated that the Human Rights Commission is filing for divorce on behalf of the child.

“(HRC) became involved in this case as a public rights issue that concerns the Saudi community ... This case is still valid even after the mother withdrew,” Zahim said.

This is the first time the commission has intervened in a case of child marriage, an issue that was previously seen as a “family affair” and outside the commission’s remit.

“This intervention is part of the commission’s authority in accordance with its rules, however it cannot propagate these measures until it confirms the facts in this case,” Zahim said.

Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of a Child, which considers those under 18 as children.

“This case is an investment in order to push for a law,” said Wajiha al-Huweider, a Saudi rights activist. “We need to affect public opinion and I believe that Saudi Arabia will issue a law preventing child marriages soon.”

Zuhair al-Harthi, a member of the advisory Shura Council, said a draft law on banning child marriages was being studied by a government committee. But activists fear it could take long.

“Such a law will take a long time to be passed as there are social, religious, and cultural aspects,” said Mufleh al-Qahtani, chairman of the National Society for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation. Harthi said a quicker way to address the issue could be for the government to ban notaries from performing marriages for girls under the age of 18 years, which would be an intervention on an administrative rather than legal level

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Launch of the HBV/Forced Marriage Knowledge Centre and Directory

Yesterday evening, I attended the launch of the new HBV (Honour-Based Violence)/Forced Marriage Knowledge Centre and Directory. The Knowledge Centre and Directory have been produced by the Henna Foundation, based in Wales.

The Chair of Henna, Ahmed Suleiman MBE gave the welcome. He specifically states that we need to engage with men, as any approach must be a holistic approach. The launch was hosted by Christine McCafferty, MP. She said that women are still affected by violence against women all over the wold, usually at the hands of men for dominance reasons. There is an imbalance of power between men ad women. Factors may shape the type of violence but it is not constrained to any one factor; VAW is universal which is why it's endemic. Domestic violence has historically been seen as a "private" issue, which is why the Council of Europe has placed the recognition of domestic violence as a human rights issues at the cornerstone of its approach. She finished by explaining that we need to place the needs and choices of the women affected at the centre of our approach, even if this may not be the same as what we want. McAfferty then introduced Alan Campbell, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. He thanked all of us in attendance, the people who work on the ground since the government can't do it all alone. Having this knowledge centre, he explained, to connect the dots is extremely important - "We fully support it."

Then, Naz Shah, the daughter of Zoora Shah (who killed an abusive partner and spent 14 years in prison) spoke about the reality of Izzat ("honour") and its impact on families. Zoora Shah was from India and suffered a forced marriage. Naz was sent to Pakistan to marry when she was 15. Since Naz was a girl, her father wouldn't pick her up until she was 10 months old. Her dad ran off with the 16-year old neighbour, forcing Naz and her siblings to leave school because of Izzat. Zoora then entered into a relationship with another man who would abuse her for years. She eventually killed him by putting arsenic in his food. She didn't tell her story in court because of Izzat and the shame that sexual and physical abuse would bring on her family, especially her daughters. Then in the 1990s, the family went to the judges, who rejected the Izzat aspect. Then a man ran over a woman with a car and they finally recognised it - Zoora has now been out for 4 years. Izzat runs deep in the veins; it must be understood to properly deal with the issues that Asian families face. However, we can't see Izzat as something that leads to killing, as it also protects and keeps families together. There are negative and positive aspects to Izzat.

Next was Shahien Taj MBE, the executive director of Henna. She explained why this site (the knowledge centre and directory) has come abut. She was brought up with Izzat - it can be a very bad or good thing; you need to know how to balance that type of life. One focus of the site is service delivery - people don't know how to approach certain families. Asian women's groups have done a lot in this regard. The main part of the site is the directory - it shows what the government is doing, what organisations like Women's Aid are doing, as well as ethnic women's groups and local authorities. The links take you straight to the relevant page of those organisations, not the homepage. The knowledge centre is all practice based and looks at the interconnectedness between forced marriage and HBV. They are trying to get people to go to their local service, and if there is not one, to speak to the community about starting one in the area.

Finally, Elspeth Webb spoke about the ethical approach to resolving value conflicts in child protection and Nikki Hubbard (ACPO) talked about the police's approach to HBV and forced marriage. In October 2008, the police set out a strategy on these issues and it is the only one in the world. Webb explained how culture can be an excuse to justify practices, but child welfare should always be the bottom line. We can't allow relativism to come in and be an excuse. There have unfortunately been some cases where children have died, and professionals were terrified of being called racist by speaking out against the "cultural practices." Amina Lone, the vice chair of Henna, gave the closing remarks.

The White Ribbon Campaign fully supports the HBV/Forced Marriage Knowledge Centre and Directory. It is a valuable resource for practitioners, police, and the government to understand such factors as Izzat when dealing with certain communities in order to better protect the women and children of those communities.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Behind Closed Doors

Yesterday, I attended a morning meeting sponsored by Pupil Parent Partnership on domestic violence in multi-cultural Britain. The meeting was chaired by Amelia Hill of The Guardian; panelists included Virendra Sharma (MP and Councillor for Ealing Southall), Samantha Darby (Domestic Violence, Interpersonal Violence: Policy & Deliverance Team at the Home Office), and Gill Jesson (Director of Part Time Services, Pupil Parent Partnership). The purpose of the meeting was to bring well-informed individuals, especially DV practitioners, together to discuss these difficult issues. We discussed the role of the police and the judicial system, how to work with perpetrators, how to break the cycle of violence, and how to reach out to all communities while understanding the specific needs of those communities and of individual women. This is not just about different ethnic communities, but also about reaching LGBT women, disabled women, and domestic workers (as they usually have no recourse to public funds).

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Nicaragua's Abortion Ban Is Inhumane and Backward

Onto a more controversial topic today for International Tuesday. As promised, it is a story from Latin America, and an outrageous one at that. Whatever your views on abortion, the current laws in Nicaragua (as well as a (fortunately) few other countries) that outlaw abortion for ANY reason (even if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother) violate a fundamental human right. These laws are a form of violence against women as they are placing women's lives at risk and are in fact killing many women. Not only is it inhumane, it is also illogical - in many cases, if the woman dies while pregnant, the fetus dies as well. What good does that serve? How is denying cancer treatment to a pregnant woman beneficial to the fetus? And what does this say about how Nicaraguan society, and the other societies with these heinous laws, view women?

Nicaragua's Abortion Ban Is Inhumane and Backward
By Delia Lloyd
In a move that ought to raise eyebrows even among pro-life groups, the Nicaraguan government is denying cancer treatment to a woman because she is pregnant. This is only the latest outrage in a country that has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world.
case concerns a 27-year-old woman known as Amalia (not her real name) who has cancer that is suspected to have spread to her brain, lungs and breasts. But Nicaraguan authorities have withheld life-saving treatment from her because it could harm the fetus and violate the country's total ban on abortion.

The decision has ignited furious protests from relatives and campaigners who say that Amalia -- who has a 10-year-old daughter and is 10 weeks pregnant -- will die unless treated.
Amnesty International has called on the Nicaraguan government to provide the urgent chemotherapy and radiotherapy that her doctors recommend. A government-run medical commission is expected to announce a decision on Monday.

Nicaragua has one of the most
draconian abortion laws in the world. It is one of the few countries to prohibit abortion under any circumstances. Girls and women who seek an abortion -- as well as health professionals who provide health services associated with abortion -- face jail.

Needless to say, these restrictions have taken their toll. According to
official figures, 33 girls and women died in pregnancy in 2009; the year before, 20 died. Amnesty International believes these figures are only a minimum, as the government itself has acknowledged that the number of maternal deaths is under-recorded.

Oh, and it gets worse. According to a
survey of media reports between 2005 and 2007, 1,247 girls were reported in newspapers to have been raped or to been the victims of incest in Nicaragua. Of these crimes, 198 were reported to have resulted in pregnancy. The overwhelming majority of the girls made pregnant as a result (172 of them) were between 10 and 14 years old.

Fun stuff.

Fortunately -- at least for those of us who are horrified by such statistics -- Nicaragua is an outlier. As I reported back in October, the trend has been toward an
easing of restrictions on abortions worldwide. Even in Ireland -- which has an abortion law that is only slightly less severe (abortion is permitted when there is a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother) -- things may be changing. Ireland is currently awaiting a landmark ruling from the European Court of Human Rights on the case of three women who accuse the government of putting their health at risk by forcing them to travel abroad for terminations. This case may establish a new international precedent regarding abortion and human rights by enhancing protections for mothers.

But the Nicaraguan abortion ban isn't only a debacle on humanitarian grounds. It's an enormous setback for women's rights in this small country, once at the vanguard of women's liberation in Latin America. It's
widely understood that Daniel Ortega, the two-time president of Nicaragua who is currently in power, signed onto this abortion ban as a paean to the country's powerful Catholic Church, which launched an aggressive campaign against abortion back in 2006 (the law was enacted in 2007).

Some of you will remember Ortega from the heady days of 1979. Then, he spearheaded a socialist revolution in Nicaragua, one which subsequently unleashed a civil war that ripped the country apart socially, economically and politically over the course of the next decade. (Thank you,
Oliver North.)

Say what you will about the
Sandinista Revolution -- and there's plenty negative to say about it -- but one of its signature achievements was to significantly elevate the power and position of women in what had traditionally been a very socially conservative Latin American country. In Ortega's first term as president (1985-1990), 31 percent of the executive positions and 27 percent of leadership positions were occupied by women. Not incidentally, he also supported a limited form of abortion rights.

I lived in Central America in the late 1980s and traveled to Nicaragua while the Sandinistas were still in power. One of my close friends at the time was a senior official in the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Like many other women I met there, she was incredibly proud that her country's government respected and promoted women's rights in a way not seen in that country -- or arguably on the continent -- before.

Sorry, but -- whatever you think about abortion -- this current law does not respect women's rights at the most fundamental level. Rather, it is a huge step backwards for women and girls in Nicaragua. It is also a huge betrayal of some of the more promising -- and one would hope, lasting -- legacies of early Sandinista rule.

Shame on you, Daniel Ortega.

Monday, 15 March 2010

No Recourse to Public Funds

Last Wednesday evening, our director, Chris Green, spoke at a panel event at Amnesty International. The other panelists were Heather Harvey, SVAW Campaign Manager for Amnesty International UK; Jo Clarke of Eaves; and Anthony Wills - Hammersmith & Fulham local government officer and Chief Executive of Standing Together Against Violence.

Here's what Amnesty International UK says about the issue of No Recourse to Public Funds:

As part of the Stop Violence Against Women campaign, AIUK has been lobbying for an exemption to the No Recourse to Public Funds rule for vulnerable women of insecure immigration status, such as those on a student, spousal or temporary visa. The current rule leaves women of insecure status in violent relationships with the choice of remaining with an abusive partner or risking destitution if they decide to leave by denying them access to public funding (housing, benefits, etc) because the rule could force shelters and refuges to turn away such women.

Following intensive lobbying, the Home Office has agreed to a three-month pilot scheme to grant women facing violence, and who have insecure immigration status, the ability to temporarily access a refuge and seek specialised support. While we welcome this, our long-term aim is to get a new ruling to grant women’s refuges the funds they need to offer protection from violence to all women suffering abuse, and to launch an integrated strategy to counter violence against women so as to prevent contradictory policies undermining women’s rights.
The event was attended by the WRC's intern, Selene Trivelli.

Heather Harvey began by saying that the first problem is due to rules, especially immigration rules, as it's very hard for immigrants (who are often illegal) to run away from violent situations. Difficulties are related to such things as economic and linguistic concerns. These women are especially vulnerable when in a violent situation as they have few options to escape.

Jo Clarke spoke about an Eaves project, the Sojourner Project, which supports women who have entered the UK on a spousal visa and are experiencing domestic abuse. It is a national project that provides affordable accommodation for women who need it. From November 25 until March 28, there is a phone line for this project, which has been a great success.

Chris Green spoke about mobilising men to wear a white ribbon, but that this is not enough. We need to do more regarding prevention, which is what the WRC focuses on. We need more materials, resources, and workshops delivered to young men.

Anthony Wills asserted that the government must support ALL women who are suffering domestic violence - "If you talk about domestic violence in terms of how much it will cost to the government, then they'll probably start to think about it."

* Notes provided by Selene Trivelli

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

The White Ribbon Campaign UK Forms Partnership with UNIFEM

Today, the WRC UK officially began its partnership with UNIFEM UK, the United Nations Development Fund for Women. This is an exciting development for the WRC, as we partner with the only UN agency specifically dedicated to empowering women around the world. UNIFEM also believes that men and women should work together to end violence against women and work towards women's empowerment. And as Alice Fookes of UNIFEM said, "Unlike some humanitarian organisations, UNIFEM helps women OUT of poverty, not women IN poverty."

Our partnership officially began today with a joint educational workshop at Southfields Community College, the most multilingual school in Europe. I, along with the WRC's new intern, Seline Trivelli, assisted our Director, Chris Green, present the ethos and work of the WRC UK.

Students listening to Alice Fookes, of UNIFEM.

WRC UK Director, Chris Green, explaining our work.

Alice with our third group of students.

Chris Green and Selene Trivelli

The White Ribbon Campaign UK is very excited about our partnership with UNIFEM!

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Celebrating International Women's Day at the House of Lords

Yesterday evening, I attended a panel event at the House of Lords, entitled "Achieving Equality in Parliament," sponsored by WAFE (Women worldwide Advancing Freedom and Equality). Chaired by Baroness Harris of Richmond, the panelists were Peter Facey, Director of Unlock Democracy; Monique Auguste of Canadian University College; Kate Growcutt, former Chair of the Young Fabians; and Julie Smith, Deputy Director of the Centre of International Studies, Department of Politics and International Studies, Cambridge University. Fittingly, the event took place on the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day to highlight the inequality of women's representation in Parliament.

Peter Facey spoke on democratic reform and women, stating that some people think the struggle for equality is over, but it continues since Parliament is still unrepresentative of society. Parties, which are declining in membership, have a tendency to replace one middle-aged white man with another middle-aged white man. Parliament needs to support candidates, and female MPs more - for example, there is no creche in Westminster and no maternity leave scheme.

Monique Auguste gave a presentation on gender equality in Canadian politics. As a Canadian, I was particularly interested in this presentation. Women are 52% of the population, so it would seem that women's representation in Parliament should be close to that percentage. But this is obviously not the case; the target is even much lower than this - set at 30% at the Beijing World Conference on Women. Canada is still well below 25%, as is the UK. The exception is Quebec, which is at 28%. Monique set out two main representations to achieve the 30% target - increasing budgets at all levels of the process and the creation of an observatory for equality of representation.

Kate Growcutt spoke about political representation in the UK. She brought up the Fawcett Society's 4 Cs (reasons why women are underrepresented) - culture, childcare, cash, and confidence. She strongly asserted that reform of Parliament is essential, and pointed out, like the other panelists, that it would be problematic if only rich women are able to become candidates.

And finally, Julie Smith asked the question "Why are there so many middle-class white men in Parliament?" She began by stating that gender is not the only underrepresented aspect of Parliament, but also age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, and disability. We need diversity of women, so not just rich women and not just women in their 20s who haven't yet had children and those in their 50s and 60s whose children are adults. She brought attention to an interesting phenomenon, the idea that when women are leaders in politics, they're considered to have male qualities (i.e. Margaret Thatcher) or to be playing men at their own game. Kate brought this up again during the Q & A, pointing out that women are accused of being "shrill" if they get passionate, which is why Thatcher trained her voice to be deeper. Julie also described how, around the world, female leaders are often either born into it (i.e. Queen Elizabeth II) or marry into it (i.e. their fathers or husbands are assassinated). So WHY do we favour people who look like those who came before? It is something that is difficult to overcome, but must be overcome.