Saturday, 27 February 2010
Friday, 26 February 2010
UK Feminista is a unique and innovative organisation being launched in March 2010. UK Feminista aims to build a national movement of feminist activists and mobilise them to effect real and lasting change in gender relations. Activists will be mobilised primarily through campaigns coordinated by other women's rights organisations in the UK. The ultimate vision of the organisation is that women in the UK live free from sexism and enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Gender inequality remains endemic in the UK: 100,000 women are raped every year, less than 20% of MPs are women, and women are paid on average 22.6% less than men. While recent years have witnessed a resurgence in grassroots activism aimed at ending gender inequality in the UK, it remains under-resourced and largely invisible in mainstream public life and, as a result, is limited in its effectiveness.
Yet grassroots feminist activism (campaign action taken by ordinary citizens) is critical to building public support for legislative change, addressing local community-based issues, and engaging all sections of society in the process of change necessary to achieve gender equality. UK Feminista seeks to fill this important gap and in doing so bring vital "people power" to women's rights campaigning.This will be like a Facebook for women's rights organisations in the UK, connecting individual activists across the UK who want to get involved in a campaign or host their own event. The White Ribbon Campaign fully supports UK Feminista and will have a profile page on the website (coming soon!).
Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Ugandan lesbian activist Kasha Jacqueline speaks about being lesbian in Uganda, and discusses the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently before the country’s parliament. Kasha is the Coordinator of Freedom and Roam Uganda.
By Kathambi Kinoti
AWID: Please tell us about Freedom and Roam Uganda and how it was started.
KASHA JACQUELINE: Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) is the only exclusively lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization in Uganda. It was started by three lesbian-identified women on July 4, 2003 in a bar which at the time the media frequently called a lesbian bar. Many lesbian women who heard the news started coming to the bar to hang out and make new friends. Earlier, in April 2003 we had been approached by a group of men who claimed to have a lesbian organization by the name Makerere University Students Lesbians Association. When we asked them where the lesbians were and why it was led by men, they said that the women were “shy.” Later we did some research and learnt that these men were not university students nor did any such organization exist.
AWID: Why do you think they would do this?
KJ: Simply because they wanted to use women for their own agendas. Otherwise why would a group of men claim to be a lesbian organization?
After this incident we decided to take up the idea of forming our own lesbian organization. We then brainstormed about what to call ourselves and what the organization would look like. It wasn’t easy because when we introduced it to other lesbians they had mixed feelings. Some wanted it to just be a social club but some of us wanted it to have a political component. At this time, many people had come to know about us and the bar in which we met and would wait for us outside in order to harass us as we left. We argued that it didn’t make sense for us to meet everyday, drink, smoke, and talk about women and sex, and then leave the bar only to get harassed on our way home. This issue introduced some friction into the newly formed organization and some people left including one founder member who had wanted it to be strictly a social club.
The rest of us who still wanted to be part of the group decided that those who wanted to participate in it only to the extent of socializing would have space to do so, and those who wanted to use it as a forum for their political activism could go ahead so long as they wouldn’t expose the names or identities of those who didn’t want didn’t want these revealed to the outside world. And since then FARUG has never looked back.
AWID: What is the situation like for lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda today, even without the obnoxious Bill that is currently before parliament?
KJ: Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. For many people and institutions, it is a no- go area. Many of us have been expelled from schools just for writing love letters to our same-sex lovers, something our heterosexual colleagues are not expelled for. My principal at university even made me sign a memorandum of understanding that I would not go anywhere within a radius of 100 metres of the girls' hostels because I am a lesbian! So many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons have been expelled, sacked from jobs and sent away from families. Many do not receive appropriate and necessary healthcare services for fear of revealing their sexual orientation, identity or preferences. Transgender individuals and lesbians have been subjected to ‘curative’ rape and the perpetrators in most of the cases recorded come from the victims’ immediate families.
LGBTI persons if identified are harassed on the streets, in public recreation centres and churches. Many have been evicted from their houses by landlords. I was once thrown out of a public taxi[i]because a woman who identified me as a lesbian said she would rather pay for the empty space beside her than have me sit in the same vehicle as her. When I got out of the taxi she continued to shout and draw attention to me. Somebodaboda[ii] riders stationed nearby heard her and one of them whom I didn’t identify hit me on the head with a hard, sharp object. So it is really not a safe environment for LGBTI persons, especially those of us who are out and are actively doing advocacy work to end the criminalization.
AWID: Of grave concern is the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 currently pending before Parliament. What the Bill is about, and what are its implications for LGBTI individuals?
KJ: Currently, section 140 of the Ugandan Penal Code criminalizes ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Section 141 punishes ‘attempts’ at carnal knowledge with a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment. Section 143 punishes acts of ‘gross indecency’ with up to five years in prison. While the Penal Code does not specifically refer to same-sex practices between women, lesbians face the same hostility from both state and non-state actors.
The 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Bill expands the range of same-sex relations that would be criminalized regardless of whether or not the parties are consenting adults. It introduces an offence known as “aggravated homosexuality” for which the penalty is death. People living with HIV and AIDS who engage in same-sex relations are one of the categories of people who would be affected by this offence. Anyone who 'aids' or 'abets' homosexuality will also face criminal penalties.
Generally this Bill is just an additional proposed piece legislation to further criminalize and abuse the rights of LGBTI persons. There is currently a lot of public incitement from high profile persons like religious leaders, Ministers, Members of Parliament and so on. This has further victimized LGBTI persons: The people in power and the State that is supposed to protect us are instead calling for harsher laws against us. It is very scary not to know what the future holds for you especially when it includes facing death. Many of us are now underground for fear of abuse by State and non-state actors since lots of allegations and lies are being fuelled in the public. Many people who didn’t even have a problem with us before are now being influenced and by the anti-gay crusaders who are saying all sorts of things about us. There are allegations that members of the LGBTI community recruit children, break up families and spread HIV/AIDS through sodomy. Some cannot even go to church because every sermon is about how sick we are and what sinners we are. There is a lot of talk about how we have dirty sex from eating our faeces to urinating in our mouths. This has made the public so angry that they are ready to strike at homosexuals. Many of us are now back in the closet. I am forced to work from home now for fear of being beaten on the streets since I make frequent television appearances.
The tension and mistrust within the LGBTI community is high and there are some reports of LGBTI individuals blackmailing others. During social events one is never sure that there aren’t spies present and many LGBTI persons are now confined to their own homes. Some of our own activists are making claims that we are indeed recruiters.
AWID: Media reports imply that the Bill's proposer, [Member of Parliament] David Bahati has the financial backing of powerful right-wing evangelicals in the United States, but President Yoweri Museveni seems to have given an indication that the Bill might not succeed in its present form. How likely is it that the Bill will succeed?
KJ: We have to remember that the Bill is a Private Member’s Bill and so the President can only wait for what comes out of Parliament before deciding whether he signs it into law or not. For now, Parliament is an independent organ which cannot be directly influenced by the President, although, just like any other Ugandan, he can comment on it. My concern is that when the Bill first came into Parliament, Museveni was very clear that homosexuality is “immoral and abnormal.” Now that perhaps he has been “enlightened” that he would be violating his citizens’ human rights, he has softened his position because he knows that the donor countries that fund the Government respect human rights and that they wouldn’t spend their citizens’ taxes giving aid to a country that doesn’t respect its citizens’ human rights.
The Bill should either be withdrawn or debated as it is without any amendments to “soften” it. The public has not been sufficiently educated on its provisions and I believe if they were, they would see that it doesn’t just affect LGBTI individuals but has serious implications for everyone in Uganda.
AWID: You say that the Bill has implications for everyone in the country. What would criminalizing homosexual relations mean for anti HIV/AIDS campaigns in particular?
KJ: The Bill is going to throw away all the years of work that Uganda has put into fighting HIV/AIDS. I wonder whether the MP who introduced this Bill or some of the other leaders who support it really want Uganda to win the fight against HIV/AIDS. So many HIV positive LGBTI individuals were in the closet even before the Bill. How many more will remain in the closet, and how many who were already out will be forced to go back? Government campaigns against the disease have not been comprehensive enough to reach LGBTI individuals. Many men who have sex with men (MSM) and women who have sex with women (WSW), live double lives and this fuels the spread of HIV. Many interventions against HIV/AIDS ignore WSW assuming that they are at a low risk of contracting the virus. Yet many of them also have sex with men and do not always have the power to negotiate for safe sex. They do not have adequate information about how some practices such as sharing sex toys or needles can expose them to the risk of contracting HIV.
LGBTI organizations in Uganda have been doing great work to inform and educate the LGBTI community about the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. If the Bill passes, we will have to stop this work. Driving this community further underground is going to negate all the gains that we have achieved.
AWID: What have you, and other LGBTI activists been doing to oppose the passage of the Bill?
KJ: We have partnered with human rights, women’s rights, feminist, donor and health organizations to spread awareness about the adverse effects and implications of the Bill. We have also lobbied our allies and partners nationally, regionally and internationally to strongly throw their weight behind the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law which was formed to oppose the Bill. This partnership has opened up valuable spaces for public hearings and debates including in the media. Without these partnerships it would have been difficult to access any spaces at all. We are documenting every abuse and violation to help us in future work should the Bill pass into Law.
AWID: How can human rights advocates around the world assist you in opposing the proposed law and promoting the upholding of LGBTI rights in Uganda?
KJ: Our allies need to keep up the pressure on the Ugandan Government by signing petitions, speaking out openly and urging their governments not to waste their taxes on funding our Government since it regards LGBTI persons as secondary citizens.
The anti-gay crusaders are trying to force LGBTI persons out of our country and they know that many are scared. Uganda is where I was born and neither any person - including the President - nor any piece of paper has the power to force me out.
[i] Communal taxis are commonly used as public transport in Uganda and other parts of Africa.
[ii] A bodaboda is a motorcycle taxi.
Sunday, 21 February 2010
"Eve Ensler’s powerful work was created through interviews with women from around the world and the monologues themselves reflect the range of issues faced by women the world over. We’re very proud that this performance marks the first time an all-black cast has been used for the play in the UK."The performance was amazing - all five performers were funny and moving throughout. At the end, founder of Save the Congo, Vava Tempa, gave an emotional speech about the situation of women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Currently, in the DRC, it is more dangerous to be female than to be in the militia. The occurrences of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls are brutal; the number of assaults, staggering and unmeasurable. The death toll from the conflict in the DRC is currently 5-6 million, the most deadly conflict since WWII. Shouldn't we be doing something about it?
Tuesday, 16 February 2010
RWANDA: Empowering genocide widows
KIGALI, 11 February 2010 (IRIN) - Sixteen years after the Rwandan genocide, many women are struggling to come to terms with the violence they endured.
According to the association of genocide widows NGO, Avega Agahozo, sexual violence was used to humiliate, degrade and abuse women during the 6 April to 16 July 1994 killings. In many cases, the violence was meted out before, during or after the women had witnessed the killing of a relative.
“Some of the women are only coming out now because they are sick,” said Sabine Uwase, the head of advocacy, justice and information for Avega. "We also receive special cases suffering from cancer or with damaged sexual organs.”
Avega has turned into a refuge for some of these women. Founded in 1995 by 58 widows, it now has three branches and 25,000 members. More than 47,400 women are receiving medical treatment through its programmes.
Each day, 20 to 30 women come knocking on its doors. Asked why it took some of the women so long to seek help, Uwase said: “Many of the women were ashamed to come out. We had to counsel them first. Many of them were victims of rape and are traumatized.”
One study carried out by the organization in Rwanda’s 12 provinces found that in a sample of 1,125 widows, about 80 percent showed signs of trauma and 67 percent had HIV. The study was limited by inadequate resources.
Apart from healthcare, Avega provided legal services for widows who wished to testify against those accused of genocide in the traditional gacaca courts.
The 12,103 courts, which were started in 2001 and modelled on Rwanda’s traditional justice mechanisms, are being wound up after handling more than a million cases. At least 800,000 perpetrators have been convicted nationwide.
However, human rights organizations have criticized the gacaca courts, saying they did not provide adequate legal services to suspects, were plagued by unfairness and have been used to settle scores.
Government officials strongly deny the criticism, saying 94 percent of Rwandans believe in the courts. The process, they argue, has promoted reconciliation and reunited communities.
“Previously, the widows were unwilling to testify,” Uwase told IRIN on 8 February. “We have trained 419 trainers of trainers who go back to the villages to teach others how to testify. In Kigali, we have helped testimony in 150 cases. Now, we are also teaching the widows and orphans about land law.”
Avega also built 919 houses for widows and orphans between 2007 and 2008, and tackles gender-based violence. Over the years, it has encouraged the women to engage in income-generating activities, such as basket-weaving. The baskets are sold internationally and help to supplement the US$60 monthly government grant provided by the Assistance Fund for Genocide Survivors.
Genocide widows form a significant percentage of survivors because the genocidaires targeted mainly men and boys. Data compiled by the genocide survivors fund shows that between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the 100 days of violence in which 800,000 to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus died.
While some women were gang-raped, others were violated with sharpened objects, resulting in extensive damage to their reproductive systems.
Up to 20,000 children were born from rape. Across the country, there are 10 times more widows than widowers among the 300,000-400,000 survivors.
Some 100,000 survivors are categorized as vulnerable, including 40,000 who lack shelter. There are also 75,000 orphans.
According to Avega, the widows and orphans who survived the genocide bear the burden of the atrocities committed. Having witnessed or suffered extreme violence, many of them have a very negative attitude towards life.
“Many of the women still find it difficult to talk about their experiences,” a Kigali-based journalist said. “They are haunted by [the genocide].”
Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Tuesday, 9 February 2010
Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Mauritanian Muslim imams initiate rare ban on female circumcision
Written by: George Fominyen
DAKAR (AlertNet) - Human rights campaigners who have been struggling for years to eliminate female genital mutilation (FGM) in West Africa got a boost this week as news emerged that a group of Muslim clerics and scholars in Mauritania had declared a fatwa, or religious decree, against the practice.The centuries-old practice involves removing part or all of a girl's clitoris and labia, and sometimes narrowing the vaginal opening. About 72 percent of the women in Mauritania have undergone FGM which health workers say often causes severe bleeding, problems urinating and potential complications during childbirth."Are there texts in the Koran that clearly require that thing? They do not exist," the secretary general of the Forum of Islamic Thought in Mauritania, Cheikh Ould Zein, told Reuters."On the contrary, Islam is clearly against any action that has negative effects on health. Now that doctors in Mauritania unanimously say that this practice threatens health, it is therefore clear that Islam is against it," he added.In many parts of West Africa, FGM has been presented as a religious obligation for practising Muslim women, leading most to believe that if they are not circumcised they are unclean and their prayers will not be heard.Which makes the decision by 34 imams and scholars -- supported by the government of Mauritania and UNICEF, the United Nations' children's agency -- all the more unusual."The fact that the religious leaders in Mauritania are standing up and doing this is quite amazing. It shows how concerned Islam and the religion of Islam is about the health of women," said Molly Melching, executive director of Tostan, a Senegal-based organisation that has been working with 30 communities in Mauritania on FGM and rights issues.MORE DECREES TO COME?UNICEF estimates that 3 million girls and women are cut each year across communities in 28 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle-East.So, what is the likelihood of seeing similar bans on female circumcision in other countries?Well, it's hard to say.A fatwa in itself is generally binding only to those who follow a particular imam, so communities could be subject to contradictory decrees.Moreover, not all the communities in the other countries of sub-Saharan Africa where the practice continues are Muslim -- reflecting the fact that, as a longstanding cultural practice, FGM may be hard to end especially when campaigners use judgmental approaches."In the past, people have gone into communities and simply told them to stop this practice because it is bad and they display pictures of naked women and their reproductive organs in communities where this is shocking," Melching said.Many organisations including Tostan and Save the Children believe this approach failed to stop the practice because it ignored the cultural context in which the targeted communities were living."I once asked a community: 'do you have the right to cut somebody's hand?' They said no. 'Do you have the right to cut somebody's head or foot?' They said no. So why do you cut somebody's sexual organ?" said Ame Atsu David, a former regional programme coordinator for HIV and harmful traditional practices of Save the Children (Sweden) in West Africa."This got them thinking," she told AlertNet.Many campaigners back an approach which involves human rights, education, community development, health care and leaves the decision to the communities themselves.A Save the Children-backed campaign run by the Mali Centre Djoliba based on this approach has seen 40 villages abandon female circumcision and set up community groups to oversee the implementation of the decision in a country where over 80 percent of the women have experienced FGM.In Senegal, 4,121 villages have abandoned FGM since 1997 with the support of Tostan whose work has been praised by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and has also contributed to a law against FGM which was passed in the country in 1999."But a law is not what will change a social norm. For it to be sustainable it has to come from the people, a decision made by the people, because they really believe in it," Melching said."The key is empowering people to make their own decisions but with good information," she told AlertNet.