Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Do you know what Female Genital Mutilation is? I’m about to tell you and I’m going to tell you right up front, it will probably be graphic and not for the faint of heart, but I think it is very necessary to know what this is all about.

First it’s important that know that you may have heard of it before – it goes by a lot of names. Female Genital Mutilation, Female Genital Cutting, Female Genital Circumcision, Female Genital Alteration, Female Genital Excision, and Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting to name a few. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to refer to it as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). The controversy over what to call it stems from the fact that people who practice FGM feel that mutilation is too strong of a word, but the people against FGM feel that it is mutilation and it brings attention to that. Some prefer circumcision, but many people this is drawing an unfair comparison between this and male circumcision (which I will admit will probably never be talked about on my blog and I am not very knowledgable about it, but it’s done – at the very least – for very different reasons. I feel it is outside of the scope of my blog, but for your awareness, there are people who feel that because there is such an outcry against FGM that there should be equal amounts of outcry against male circumcision). The World Health Organization (WHO) defines this as, “”all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” There are four different types. Warning Graphic descriptions.  “Type 1, excision of the clitoral hood, the skin around the clitoris, with or without partial or complete removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy); Type 2, excision of the clitoris with partial or complete removal of the labia minora; Type 3 (infibulation), excision of all or part of the labia minora and labia majora, and the stitching of a seal across the vagina, leaving only a small opening for the passage of urine and menstrual blood; and Type 4, miscellaneous acts, including burning or cauterization of the clitoris, scraping and cutting of the vagina (gishiri cutting [where it is cut to make it larger]), and introducing corrosive substances into the vagina to tighten it.” (From Wikipedia)

To me, while they are all horrible, I think type three is definitely the most harmful and painful so I’m going to talk a little more about that one. In this one, sometimes the girl’s legs are even tied together for 2 to 6 weeks so that she can’t move and to basically allow the two cut sides to seal together. These two sides are usually stitched or glued together with things like thorns as stitches or eggs, sugar, and animal waste as a glue. Not only that, but this one is often cut open repeatedly as it is needed, either when she gets married so she can have sex or when she gives birth to children so that there is room for the baby to be born and it is sometimes sealed up again afterwards. Where people have this, the women speak of three feminine sorrows: “the first sorrow is the procedure itself, followed by the wedding night when a woman with Type III FGM has to be cut open, then childbirth when she may have to be cut again.” Type three carries the most risk of complications, which I’ll talk about further down.

“There were two circumcisers – they moved quickly from one girl to the next, cutting their labia. It was horrendous. And none of the girls cried out, because they’d had it drilled into them that they had to bear it without making a sound.” – Cath Holland

It can happen in hospitals under general anesthesia or it can happen by people referred to as “traditional circumcisers” typically with little to no anesthesia using unsterilized things (not even worth calling instruments) like broken glass, tin lids, razor blades, knives, and scissors to name a few examples. It can happen to girls all the way from infants to 15 years old or sometimes women right before they married or give birth to their first child. It happens in 28 countries and also in some immigrant groups in places like America and Europe (though until the 1950s, it was practiced in England and America to “cure” women of “female deviances”). It happens to singular girls and it happens to groups of girls at the same time. There are reports of girls being held down and struggling against the people holding them down so much that their bones are broken. The estimations of women who have been subject to this around the world range from 60 million to 140 million women. (Estimates work this out to about 4 girls a minute). An estimated three million more girls every year face the potential that this will happen to them.

“These families do not do this out of spite or hatred; they believe this will give their daughters the best opportunities in life. We would like a conviction, not against the parents, but against a cutter, someone who makes a living from this.” – Jackie Mathers

Why is this so bad? Besides the obvious, FGM has a lot of risky side effects: often times a lot of pain, shock, hemorrhaging (severe bleeding, sometimes enough that the girls die), infections (including tetanus and UTIs), urine retention (where you can’t pee), ulceration, fever, and septicemia. Long term you can face things like chronic pain, recurring infections, recurring cysts, difficulty giving birth, more likely to have a C-section, anemia, keloid scars (I do not know how to explain this – check the Wikipedia article on it if you’re interested), urinary incontinence, pain having sex, sexual dysfunction, menstrual disorders, fistulae (again, Wikipedia article), infertility, increased risk of HIV infection (though the jury is out on this – there are mixed results), chronic anxiety, depression, other psychiatric problems, kidney stones, other kidney problems, failure to heal, increased risk of hepatitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, bladder stones, increased chance of episiotomy in labor, increased chance of extended hospital stays with labor, psychological effects that are similar to PTSD, Dysmenorrhoea (extremely painful periods), pelvic and back pain, the need for more “surgeries” later, and increased newborn death. The rates on the birth statistics for example are so shockingly high it’s clear to see this has very little benefit. For example, with Type III (which carries the most risks, but certainly not all – the others do too), the infant mortality rate is 55% high and the mother is 70% more likely to suffer dangerous hemorrhaging. I think if we focused on eliminating FGM, we could make huge strides in infant and maternal mortality. FGM is a huge factor in maternal/infant mortality in the areas where it is practiced. This is a real solution to help end the problem.

“Why would anyone want to go and cut up a seven- or eight-year-old child? People need to wake up — you are hurting your child, you are hurting your daughter, you’re not going to have a grandchild, so wake up.” – Miriam, a victim of FGM

Then the question is to ask why? Why would something like this be done? It seems so awful, so unbearable. There are many reasons. Some people think it is just part of how parents raise their child “right.” The women are often seen as “cleaner” after the procedure. It is said to “ensure” that women remain virgins before marriage and during marriage don’t have affairs and is also supposed to help if a much older man marries a younger woman so that she doesn’t have a higher sex drive than him. It is also believed to lower women’s libido (which goes back to making sure that women remain virgins before marriage and don’t have affairs during marriage). Sometimes, they even try to sell it as rape protection (though this is twisted – here, let’s cut you up so that no man tries to rape you). Sometimes the labia and clitoris are viewed as parts of a man, so taking these away makes someone more feminine. Tied up with that is the belief in some places that if a man or a baby touches the clitoris they will die and/or it will make the woman’s breast milk poisonous. Sometimes they think this procedure makes a woman fertile (even though the exact opposite is true) or that it will take away bad odors or that it will prevent vaginal cancer (all fictitious “health” benefits). It is also sometimes believed that if the clitoris isn’t cut off, it will grow so big that it drags on the ground (again, another falsity). Some places think it keeps a woman’s face from turning yellow or makes it more beautiful. It is often viewed as a right of passage – something that turns a girl into a woman and women who are never mutilated are often seen perpetually as a child in their society. In fact, there is a story from Kenya of a woman who chose not to have FGM done to her and then later on when she decided to run office, the people running against her used this as something to attack about her. Often, it is not men pushing and promoting this like one would think, but older women or women themselves wanting it, being taught these things about how it is good for you. Though, the men play into this as well as they will often times not marry a girl unless she has had this done to her. Both men and women play into the idea that it is for the family’s honor and reputation. And even if the parents decide not to have this for their daughters, they still have to be wary of their relatives who believe in FGM, who may kidnap the children and forcibly perform this. There is a lot of back and forth over whether or not it is a cultural practice or if it is a religious practice. I don’t have the answer but I think the answer is that it can be both – it is a cultural practice in some places and some religions include it in their practices in other places. Some Muslims practice it, but they aren’t the only religious group to practice it and not all Muslims do (there is a lot of people who I think associate FGM with Islam, but it definitely should not be the case since many don’t and many communities practice it without religious associations and there have been Christian and Animist groups that practice it as well). In fact, it is believed that FGM was happening before Islam even existed and a lot of Muslims argue that there is no grounds for FGM in Islam.

“Human rights transcend cultural relativism by definition, but the cultural-religious argument has to be taken into consideration for implementation of policy.” – Stephan Isaacs

It’s not hopeless – people are really trying to bring an end to this. February  6th every year is the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. I think also it goes to having a cultural change. I think that those people need to be taught that women can control themselves sexually and just be abstinent before marriage and then during marriage be faithful without someone needing to mutilate them. There is also evidence that this change will come from NGOs helping communities make these cultural changes more than laws, since in many countries, laws by overarching bodies seem to be resisted or not enforced. Indeed, many countries where FGM is practiced has laws making it illegal. Some Western countries help further by granting asylum to women who will have to go through forced FGM (though of course, they must be able to prove this). It is clear that the laws are doing very little, so the change needs to come from other places and there are many NGO’s actively working on it. Holding community meetings is another strategy that is being tried.  Educating people about the harmful effects is also being tried (and what I like about this is they often have respected women already in the community teaching younger women and girls about it – a much more sustainable and viable solution in my opinion). They also are trying to introduce alternative rights of passage and have had some success with replacing FGM with a separate right of passage ceremony. I believe, as do many people, that a harm-elimination strategy is best, as opposed to a harm-reducation strategy (one example would be moving it so it happens in hospitals so it’s “safer” – making the harm less, but not at all reducing it). That means completely eliminating the danger of FGM that women and girls face, not just making it less. Surgeons have also recently developed reversal techniques for this procedure. Of course, it’s not going to be completely like it was, but something is better than nothing for the women who have already gone through this.

This is another youtube video but embedding has been disabled. It is very graphic in nature and there is some nudity, but it does speak to two women who were mutilated at a young age.

Further Reading (Note, I haven’t read them, just found them):

Sources:

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Girl Child Soldiers

So I said that I would try and do my best despite having school and I totally failed this first week. However, going ahead, I think now that I know my schedule and I know that it’s not going to change anymore and that I’m recommitting myself, I will do it. This is one of the things that I do for myself and I miss it when I don’t do it. So I’m making a commitment to you, my readers, and to myself.

Warning: I will say this several times but the below is hard to handle and hard to read. It’s heartbreaking.

So back on track, I want to share a short film today. I will warn you it is VERY disturbing if you’ve never seen anything like it before and it does contain graphic images and language. It is a video demonstrating how children become child soldiers. I’ll talk about this and what it means for young girls after the video. I think, however, despite the fact that it is disturbing and graphic, it is something that people should see. I think sometimes it’s hard for me (and others) to conceptualize how adults turn small children into killing machines. I think this is something that the video does well – it takes it and puts it in a Western setting, in a school setting we’re familiar with, that we can imagine. And this is how it happens, on a basic level. So please watch, if you can.

War School (Short Film) from Pulse Films on Vimeo.

Before watching this video, I also had never realized that 40 percent of child soldiers worldwide are girls. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me that girls too were affected by child soldiering, but I mainly thought (wrongly) that boys were the only ones taken. I’m not sure why because I had even read stories of girls who were taken, but it never hit me until I watched this video that 40 percent (which is still a huge number, even though it’s less than boys, because it means that 2 out of every 5 child soldiers are girls). So obviously, it effects girls too in a huge way.

If you don’t know a lot about child soldiering in general, I encourage you to google it or ask questions here on the blog. At the basic level, it’s where a child is either forced to become a soldier in an armed conflict or joins “willingly” for promised benefits or out of feeling like there is no other choice.

I’m going to talk for a bit about girl child soldiers.Because they do differ from boy child soldiers in some ways, though many of the things they face are common problems. For example, something unique to girls is that they often report joining “voluntarily” to escape tough home situations – such as domestic abuse or sexual abuse or even just to escape being a domestic servant. So often times, if they aren’t abducted, their motivation for entering comes out of trying to escape other situations that are also bad. Pretty much, it’s a lose-lose situation. These girl child soldiers have been found in over 50 countries, so it’s not a problem that is just going to go away on its own.

While they are in, they face unique hardships because not only are they involved in combat, but they are sometimes subject to sexual violence or rape or end up becoming a “wife” to one of the adult leaders (I put it in quotation marks because I do not feel these young girls who become “wives” of the leaders have any choice in the matter). It’s especially cruel considering the above fact that some girls enter into to escape sexual abuse and then end up subjected to it anyways. Truly lose-lose again. Also, because of the rape and the fact that some of them are “wives,” if they become pregnant or have small children, they are expected to keep fighting anyways. Imagine yourself as a pregnant girl or as a girl with a newborn and then being sent to the frontline of an armed conflict. It’s horrible and heartbreaking.

“Our work found that the vast majority were sexually assaulted. You’d be dealing with very high rates of sexually transmitted diseases, about 30% of the girls in the three countries we worked in became pregnant during captivity in the fighting forces and are now returning as girl mothers.” – Diane Mazarana

They are also sometimes chosen to be suicide bombers, specifically because they are girls and they may not receive as close of a body search as a boy would – so these girls are being sent to death. It’s also sick and twisted because many, many groups will claim they are empowering these girls by offering a better option to be “more equal” with men, even though that’s clearly not the case at all.

Additionally, once they are in they face a harder time getting out. They are often left out of programs designed to help them get out and reintegrate them into society, either on purpose or accidentally and often face more stigmas upon returning to their hometowns because they have been raped or have small children. All is not helpless though, because now that people and groups are becoming more aware of it, there are organizations working specifically to help these girls.

Let me close lastly with these words. “The problems of girl soldiers are only one small element in a much wider array of girls’ issues and denial of girls’ rights.” -Michael Wessells And I think it’s true – I mean, look at how much of the idea that girls are sex objects and can be used for sex goes into the unique situation that girls face when they become child soldiers. Absolutely all child soldiering should be stopped, but girls face unique problems related to their unequal status – like the fact that many communities shame rape so much, even though it is not the fault of the girls.

I will end with these pictures and quotes from girl child soldiers. They are harsh and hard to read and see, but they are the reality that these girls face. Note, the pictures and the quotes underneath them are (as far as I know) not the same girls.

“I’ve seen people get their hands cut off, a ten-year-old girl raped and then die, and so many men and women burned alive . . . So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn’t dare cry out loud.” A girl child soldier from Sierra Leone

“There was no one in charge of the dormitories and on a nightly basis we were raped. The men and youths would come into our dormitory in the dark, and they would just rape us – you would just have a man on top of you, and you could not even see who it was. If we cried afterwards, we were beaten with hosepipes. We were so scared that we did not report the rapes The youngest girl in our group was aged 11 and she was raped repeatedly in the base.” – A girl child soldier in Zimbabwe

 “At the age of 13, I joined the student movement. I had a dream to contribute to make things change, so that children would not be hungry, later I joined the armed struggle. I had all the inexperience and the fears of a little girl. I found that girls were obliged to have sexual relations ‘to alleviate the sadness of the combatants’. And who alleviated our sadness after going with someone we hardly knew?” – Girl Child Soldier from Honduras

“When you are pregnant there is no hospital in the bush, if the baby dies inside you they will rip it from you by force. It happened to many girls not just me.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier in Uganda

“One boy tried to escape, but he was caught… His hands were tied, and then they made us, the other new captives, kill him with a stick. I felt sick. I knew this boy from before. We were from the same village. I refused to kill him and they told me they would shoot me. They pointed a gun at me, so I had to do it. The boy was asking me, “Why are you doing this?” I said I had no choice. After we killed him, they made us smear his blood on our arms… They said we had to do this so we would not fear death and so we would not try to escape. . . I still dream about the boy from my village who I killed. I see him in my dreams, and he is talking to me and saying I killed him for nothing, and I am crying.” – Susan, a girl child soldier from Uganda

“When I came back I really wanted to go back to school. I always dreamt about school and my friends from before even when I was in the bush.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier from Uganda

“One day, my battalion commander took me to his bivouac (a military encampment) to rape me. Then he said that if I rebelled or tried to flee, he would kill me.” – Bea, a girl child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“Many girls have been through hardship like me, they are denied an education. If you are not educated, you are nothing.” – Juliet, a girl child soldier in Uganda

 “My father didn’t want to see me again since he had heard people saying how soldiers had abused me.” – Josephine, a girl child soldier from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“Being responsible for other people was distressing. It’s either they die or I die in the crossfire because I am the one leading them.” – Aida, a girl child soldier from the Phillipines

” I feel pain from the rape, as if I have wounds inside, and I am afraid I have a disease. I would like to get tested but there is noone to help me. I was tested in the reception centre in Gulu , but I was never told the result. The doctor said that it is better not to know the result.” – A girl child soldier from Uganda

“I really want to rest and be with my mother… The best is to go home. I have this feeling that I’d be able to forget about the movement… I just want to laugh. I was always crying [when I was in the movement].” – Aida, a girl child soldier in the Phillipines

Books (As usual, I haven’t read them, just found them):

Sources:

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The Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education

Living in the US I have a unique opportunity to education that many other women and girls around the world do not. The UN and many others around the world have long recognized the importance of educating women and girls. Secretary Ban Ki Moon said, ““Education sends a message – a message of confidence and hope. It tells that child; you have a future; what you think matters.” Which is true. When you teach someone to think, it makes a huge difference. That’s why they started the Global Partnership for Girls’ and Women’s Education. It is going to focus on literacy (a key skill for life) and secondary education. Like I have said before, not everything the UN does is good or perfect, but girls do need to be educated. They need to learn how to read and write, most importantly, because being literate can go a long way to improving your status in the world. While there are many people in general around the world who can’t read, women make up a disproportionate amount of those because they are often not allowed to go to school or have to stay home to help with things in the domestic sphere. Even when they do go to school, they usually stay fewer years than their male counterparts because their families don’t value educating them and they don’t see the need.

I have to be honest, there is one thing about this that bothers me. The fact that he talks about how education women and girls are reducing fertility as a good thing is what bothers me. First of all, because of the implication that when women are educated, they won’t want to have as many children (even though I, myself, want to have four children someday if God blesses us with them and I consider myself pretty educated and know others who are also educated who want large families). Second, because it’s paraded as a good thing, even though much of the world is in a fertility decline or very close to one. So there’s some good and some bad, like most things.

Source: Ban outlines social benefits of ensuring women have access to education

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La Leche League

Now I will tell you, I don’t have kids so I don’t know what it’s like to breastfeed. I hope to have kids and breastfeed someday, but that’s all up to God. But I think that breastfeeding women need support. Women who are mothers play an important role in our society and are just as needed as every other women. Not only that, but La Leche League was started by women for women. What could be more women centered than that?

That’s why honoring organizations like La Leche League (LLL) is important. Seven women felt that breastfeeding was important and decided to create LLL in order to help and support women in breastfeeding. They use a system of mother to mother support, which I think is especially helpful since I think it’s always helpful to learn from someone who has been there and done that. They have a presence in more than 60 different countries. UNICEF has granted them consultative status. They’re also very professional about the whole thing, having a certification process for lactation consultants.

Fun fact: La Leche means the milk in Spanish. So it’s literally, the milk league.

They’ve put out a book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

I hope that if you don’t have children now that you will consider breastfeeding someday if you have children or support your wife in breastfeeding. It is best for your child and there is help out there , through organizations like LLL.

La Leche League International

La Leche League USA

La Leche League Wisconsin

La Leche League International – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Fashion Companies Cover Up Models to Run Ads in the Middle East

A while ago, H&M ran a set of ads. Some savvy bloggers in the Middle East (Dubai specifically) realized that the ads they got were different from the ads that were running in other Western countries. Check out the side by side comparisons. The ones that are less clothed are the Western ones.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with these companies doing such. It makes sense – they want to try and secure the market over there and the market is more conservative, so it makes sense to do this. Some of the photoshopping looks a little weird (like the sleeve one) but it probably saved them a lot of money instead of taking two separate photoshoots. In fact, I wish the covered up versions of the ads were the ones we got, because the amount of skin people can show in advertising these days just seems to be excessive.

Should companies change their advertising for different countries? Answer your thoughts below in the comments!

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Shirin Ebadi

She

  • was born in Iran
  • used to be a judge and an attorney there.
  • works to better the lives of children and women in the Middle East.
  • has been imprisoned and tortured.
  • doesn’t let any of this stop her from doing what’s right.
  • was the 11th woman and the first person from Iran and the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • did not have her acceptance speech broadcast in Iran (supposedly for not wearing a headscarf, but I think most people can figure out the real reason).
  • had her Nobel Peace Prize stolen by the government.
  • lives in exile.
  • was the first woman judge in Iran. (And then was removed, as women judges were later banned.)
  • established the Society for Protecting the Rights of the Child, which promotes the principles in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • established the Defenders of Human Rights Center, which provides defense for people accused of political crimes, educates Iranians about human rights, and reports on the condition of human rights in Iran, despite constant struggles against the Iranian government.
  • has been critical of the US government.
  • is a wife.
  • is a mother to two daughters.
  • evaded at least two attempts on her life.
  • has written books.
  • helped draft a law against child abuse that was later passed.
  • helped found the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
  • started the Million Signatures Campaign to end legal discrimination against women in Iran.

Others have said

  • “As a lawyer, judge, lecturer, writer and activist, she has spoken out clearly and strongly in her country, Iran, and far beyond its borders. She has stood up as a sound professional, a courageous person, and has never heeded the threats to her own safety.” – Nobel Peace Prize Committee
  • “Both in her research and as an activist, she is known for promoting peaceful, democratic solutions to serious problems in society. She takes an active part in the public debate and is well-known and admired by the general public in her country for her defence in court of victims of the conservative faction’s attack on freedom of speech and political freedom.” -Nobel Committee Profile
  • “the worst nightmare of Iran’s hardline clerics” (From an Article in The Guardian)

She said

  • They should ask for their rights, but they should do it peacefully. Obviously the regime wants people to be violent because it gives them an excuse to crack down. People must not give them that excuse.”
  • “A human being divested of all dignity, a human being deprived of human rights, a human being gripped by starvation, a human being beaten by famine, war and illness, a humiliated human being and a plundered human being is not in any position or state to recover the rights he or she has lost.”
  • “The worst solution is a military attack. Democracy is not merchandise to be exported to a country, democracy cannot be purchased and sent to another country.”
  • “The best thing that a student can do is study well — and then go back to Iran.”
  • “Any person who pursues human rights in Iran must live with fear from birth to death, but I have learned to overcome my fear.”
  • “I compare my situation to a person on board a ship. When there is a shipwreck the passenger then falls in the ocean and has no choice but to keep swimming. What happened in our society was that the laws overturned every right that women had. I had no choice. I could not get tired, I could not lose hope. I cannot afford to do that.”
  • “Democracy is like a flower. You must water it daily and check the light if you want to keep it alive. You can’t pour a bucket of water in your flower pot and go back to it a month later.”
  • “If no one speaks out when a government violates human rights and uses oppression, this oppression continues. But when people are informed, they gradually become aware, and when they become aware, they begin to object. No change happens in society unless people become aware.”
  • “That’s when I felt that human rights were being neglected. … Undemocratic countries are more dangerous than a nuclear bomb. It’s undemocratic countries that jeopardise international peace.”
  • “I maintain that nothing useful and lasting can emerge from violence.”
  • “When there is injustice to one people and there is no way of receiving justice and when several generations live under the poverty line and there is no hope for the improvement of their lives, they may forget their sanity because of hopelessness. And thus they may resort to violence.”

“Undoubtedly, my selection will be an inspiration to the masses of women who are striving to realize their rights, not only in Iran but throughout the region – rights taken away from them through the passage of history. This selection will make women in Iran, and much further afield, believe in themselves. Women constitute half of the population of every country. To disregard women and bar them from active participation in political, social, economic and cultural life would in fact be tantamount to depriving the entire population of every society of half its capability. The patriarchal culture and the discrimination against women, particularly in the Islamic countries, cannot continue for ever.”

“Whenever women protest and ask for their rights, they are silenced with the argument that the laws are justified under Islam. It is an unfounded argument. It is not Islam at fault, but rather the patriarchal culture that uses its own interpretations to justify whatever it wants. It utilizes psychology to say that women are emotional. It utilizes medical science to say that men’s brains are formed in such a way that they are better able to understand concepts. These are all hypotheses. None of this has been proven. Needless to say, the dominant culture is going to insist on an interpretation of religion that happens to favor men. Before the revolution, there were the first 100 female judges in Iran. I was one of them. After the 1979 revolution, they argued that women cannot be judges, and they made us all into peons in the ministry of justice. But women resisted. We wrote essays, held protests, and organized conferences to insist that women being judges was not incompatible with Islam. After twenty years, they finally accepted the argument and said, OK, women can be judges. So, as you can see, one day they interpret Islam in such a way that women cannot be judges and the next day they manage to reverse themselves.”

“How can you defy fear? Fear is a human instinct, just like hunger. Whether you like it or not, you become hungry. Similarly with fear. But I have learned to train myself to live with this fear. Every time I am fearful I think to myself, the reason they do this is to discourage me from doing what I do. Hence, if I discontinue my work I will have succumbed to my fears.”

“In my memoir, I wanted to introduce American women to Iranian women and our lives. I’m not from the highest echelons of society, nor the lowest. I’m a women who is a lawyer, who is a professor at a university, who won the Nobel Peace Prize. At the same time, I cook. And even when I’m about to go to prison, one of the first things I do is to make enough food and put it in the fridge for my family.”

Awards

  • 2003 Nobel Peace Prize
  • Rafto prize
  • Voted 12th leading public intellectual in 2005
  • Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century Award
  • International Democracy Award
  • UCI Citizen Peacebuilding Award

Books about her (Note, I haven’t read any of these, these are just some of the books I’ve found):

I think that anyone who is willing to stand up for the rights of women and children in the face of such an oppressive regime should be hailed someone to look up to. It takes a lot of courage and bravery to stand up in a place like Iran, where you will face possible imprisonment and even potentially death.

Sources:

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“We are not half human beings, we are human beings.”

In America, women still have a way to go. For example, abortion is still legal (something that harms women), women don’t get paid as much, and women still do not represent a large part of the government.

But it’s nothing like it could be.

Let’s look at Saudi Arabia. What it’s like there. And how they’re trying to change that.

Women in Saudi Arabia can not

  • vote.
  • drive (the only country in the world where they can’t, by the way).
  • ride bicycles.
  • be elected to a political office.
  • socialize with non-related men (If they do, they can be charged with prostitution).
  • expose anything but their hands and their eyes. (Though this varies by region of Saudi Arabia.)

They also face harsh male guardianship laws and customs, which means that women can not do certain things without permission from a male relative. Even where laws have been repealed in these areas, the customs and institutions haven’t always followed suite.  These laws require them to have a male guardian, no matter what age the women are. The male relative can be a husband, father, brother or even her son if there is no other male. Imagine that. How humiliating to be a grown woman and needing permission from your son to do some of the following things:

  • work
  • travel
  • study (this is a key area to fight for many women, since education, even when attainable, is considered largely unequal)
  • marry
  • divorce (imagine an awful situation like needing your abusive husband’s permission to divorce)
  • access health care (like have a surgery)
  • rent an apartment
  • open a bank account

Some of the stories would surprise you – at least I hope they would surprise you. One woman reports how after giving birth to her daughter, she wasn’t even allowed to sign the papers to take her daughter home. They don’t even really have much control over their name for their male relatives will get angry if they are allowed to sign something without permission. One woman who wanted to marry outside her tribe was even mentally institutionalized by him. The women fighting these laws insist it’s treating them like children.

It is also a society where killing women for honor is not an unheard of thing. One woman, for example, was killed by her father for simply chatting with a man on Facebook.

Along with that, when women are raped or sexually assaulted, it is often seen as their fault for being alone with an unrelated male. But what we know, is that rape is never your fault, and punishing someone who has gone through such a traumatic event is way out of line and probably causes a lot of women never to report their rapes.

There is also heavy sex segregation. This segregation between men and women is similar to the kind of segregation seen in the United States when blacks were not fully integrated. Segregation occurs in

  • many institutions, such as banks and universities.
  • companies and business (If a woman can even find a job; they are hard to find even in places like lingerie shops).
  • public places like ice rinks and beaches.
  • public transportation.
  • restaurants.
  • some private houses.

And of course, that is not to say that these are all segregated, but that is the large majority.

Many people would cite Islam as a reason for these restrictive laws. But not so, many women would insist. “If all women were given the rights the Qur’an guarantees us, and not be supplanted by tribal customs, then the issue of whether Saudi women have equal rights would be reduced.” That’s the statement of journalist Sabria Jawhar. And indeed, they might be able to point to other Islamic countries where women fare better than in Saudi Arabia (like I said above, it is the only country in the world where women can not drive, but they are not the only Islamic country). Some even feel that with such restrictive laws, like laws against driving, that the image of Islam is being hurt.

And to be clear, things have been a lot worse in the past. The first male and female university was opened, for example, and laws were passed against domestic violence. But still, it’s not enough for the freedom that Saudi women want.

They’re fighting back by organizing the Saudi Women Revolution. They’ve taken to Twitter and Facebook – key tools in today’s revolutions, as is quickly becoming apparent. There is both a Saudi Women Revolution page and a page for Women2Drive. There’s the hashtag #women2drive.They post videos on Youtube. They keep at it, despite the fact that their pages are sometimes taken down, their accounts deactivated, or their videos just disappeared. They’ve protested in ways that almost seem mundane, because it’s very hard for me to imagine never having these rights. But these are not mundane things. In a society that has always put women’s rights less, even trying these small things is a huge pushback to their society. Things like, showing up at an election and asking for the right to vote. They also sometimes take to the streets and drive. They’ve collected petitions saying women should drive as well. They have to be very careful to skirt laws against organized protest, a fear of the government as they have watched other middle eastern countries’ governments topple. But it seems to me, the stories I have read about, that the married women have the support of their husbands – another crucial key to empowering women in Saudi Arabia.

It is important to note that they don’t want all the rights women have in the West either. Journalist Maha Akeel  explains, “Look, we are not asking for … women’s rights according to Western values or lifestyles … We want things according to what Islam says. Look at our history, our role models.” For another example, they don’t really want to change the way women have to dress. It’s sort of the least of their worries. And many women like to wear the veil, something many in the West seen as an oppressive thing (and which I’ve blogged about in the past).

(People) lose sight of the bigger issues like jobs and education. That’s the issue of women’s rights, not the meaningless things like passing legislation in France or Quebec to ban the burqa … Non-Saudis presume to know what’s best for Saudis, like Saudis should modernize and join the 21st century or that Saudi women need to be free of the veil and abaya … And by freeing Saudi women, the West really means they want us to be just like them, running around in short skirts, nightclubbing and abandoning our religion and culture. – Sabria Jawhar

In response to these simple actions, even though many women don’t want to be like the West completely, people attack their character. Saying they are anti-religion and immodest and being called harlots, for example. After one protest involving driving, pamphlets with whore and pimps were written next to their names, they lost their passports, and they lost their jobs. They have even been arrested for driving or posting videos of themselves driving. Female drivers have even been called female terrorists by some religious leaders. These women know the risks though and yet are still willing to take them. Those in the public sphere, like journalism, seek to always find a balance between speaking out and being labeled as anti-Islamic, something that will get them basically blacklisted. But it doesn’t stop them from speaking out.

There have even been other women pushing back against them, with campaigns such as “My Guardian Knows What’s Best For Me.” Polls have found that the majority of Saudi women don’t think they should be able to drive , work with men, or hold public office. The opinion is that things like driving and voting are Western values opposed to Islamic values and that by holding out on making these things legal for women, they are not giving into the West’s ways. Others feel that they already have a lot of independence. Some women feel the guardianship customs and laws are done out of love and caring, for their protection, not to oppress them. There have even been articles to this effect in the press, talking about how good it is that women can’t drive and what a privilege it is. On the extreme end of the spectrum, there have been Facebook pages, calling upon men to beat women who drive. Beat them! For driving!

But in the end, I don’t think these women are going away. Especially not with support of much of the Western community. Many have spoken up on behalf of allowing women to drive. 

“We are not half human beings, we are human beings.” – Khuloud al Fahad, member of the Saudi Women Revolution

“Women in Saudi Arabia see other women in the Middle East making revolutions, women in Yemen and Egypt at the forefront of revolutions, being so bold, toppling entire governments. The women of Saudi Arabia looked at themselves and they realized, ‘Wow! We can’t even drive!’ ” – Waleed Abu Alkhair

“Saudi Arabian women are going to have to fight for our rights, men are not going to just hand them over to us.” – Amira Kashgary

“This is the threshold; this is the point where we have to cross in order to ask for anything else. I can’t say I want to go into government buildings like male citizens or I want women to be recognized as a lawyer when I can’t even drive my own car.” – Al Nafjan

“The ban is much more about women’s identity and independence. Saudi women aren’t asking for the moon here: they’re simply asking for the right to drive to the market or to see their friends, or perhaps to pick up their children at school. They’re asking the all-male monarchy for a small helping of personal power.” – Farzaneh Milani

“Saudi Arabia is the biggest women’s prison in the world.” – Anonymous

Sources/Articles of Note:

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Changing Attitudes to Change Culture on Rape

This story is a bit old, but I have been wanting to cover it for awhile. So here’s my take on this story.

Rape is a horrible problem that happens worldwide. It is even worse in conflict situations, where is is used to shame the women and their men. In some cultures, a woman can be killed for being raped. Even if she’s allowed to live, she’s usually considered pretty undesirable.

Syria is one of those countries. And with the recent conflict, women have been raped.

After hearing about it, some men decided to step forward and offer to marry them. So far as I can tell, they’ve never met them. They’ve never seen them. They don’t know who it is they’re going to marry. But they’re doing it because they don’t agree with how these women have been used.

And that – is a powerful thing. It sends a message, both to these woman and to these rapists. To the women it says, someone wants you. You are desired. You don’t have to live the rest of your life in shame. To the rapists it says, you can’t take them from us. You can’t make them not count.

And that – is how cultures get changed. When places where the long standing history is that rape brings immense shame has men who say, no. Because really, cultures of violence against women, can only get so far by educating the women. The men are the one who need to be educated, who need to stand up and say this is not okay, because usually the men are the one perpetuating these crimes. And these men are doing that. And when the men and the women in a culture stand up and say this is not okay, it is the first step to ending it.

Enjoy the read: Syrian Men Promise to Marry Women Who Were Raped

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The Myth of Overpopulation

So, something that I often hear is that the world is overpopulated and we need population control. This is the reason that we need abortion and contraceptive, people claim. I even heard this at the UN HLM on Youth. It’s really frustrating because I know that pushing that story actually hurts the world. I have known for a long time that many developing countries are below replacement rate. Just a few weeks ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel even ran an article saying that the percentage of children in the US is the lowest it’s ever been and that 1 in 4 of those children are the children of immigrants. This is a very real problem that needs to be addressed.

So when I ran across this video series about overpopulation, I fell in love with it. It uses real facts and backs all of that up on their website with sources. Plus, it says it in a way that’s very concrete and easy to understand, with pretty fun animations. Here are videos 1-4 in the series. I’m not sure if they plan to make more or not, but I would love it if they did.

Overpopulation: The Making of the Myth – this video shows how the whole myth of overpopulation began.

2:1 Kids: A Stable Population – this video shows what makes a stable population and why it makes a stable population.

Food: There’s Lots of It – this video disputes the claim that there is not enough food to go around to everyone and that is why we need population control

Poverty: Where We All Started – this video explains where poverty comes from and how more population doesn’t make more poverty

They also list all their science and their sources. Check it out below:

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The Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights Agenda

About a week ago this time, I was in New York City. It was my first time ever in the Big Apple. And what was I doing? Living my dream of being at the United Nations (UN). Not only being there, but participating as a youth representative for National Right to Life for the UN High Level Meeting (HLM) on Youth. And while I loved being there and the experience was really great, at the same time, I came away feeling frustrated and discouraged. Why, you ask? Mainly because of organizations like International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and their extreme Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (hereafter referred to as SRHR as their own abbreviation) agenda.

If you had asked me, I’d have to be honest. I have probably always known that IPPF and other organizations don’t just allow abortion, they encourage it. But, I had no idea it was so bad, to tell you the truth. I almost titled this post – Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights: The Bad and the Ugly, but I changed my mind at the last minute. But to me, it was truly sad and disheartening to witness how taken in by this idea (and in my opinion, lie) that some people are.

These are some of the things that I heard and that some people said and my comments in parantheses.

  • “Abstinence leads to greater infections of HIV and AIDS.” (This is one I really don’t understand. Back in the day, people could get it from blood transfusions, but now that we can and do test for it, one of the main ways to get it is to have unprotected sex or to share needles for drugs. And I don’t think there’s any correlation like ‘People who abstain are more likely to do drugs.’ Abstinence is the best way to prevent HIV.)
  • After having stated that the purpose of Y-PEER (an arm of IPPF) is to “empower youth to make their own health choices” I asked “Isn’t it our responsibility to protect youth sometimes? I mean, we don’t let them smoke, we discourage them from doing drugs, we don’t let them drink alcohol. Isn’t it our responsibility to protect youth from certain health choices?” To which the answer was (one sentence) “As a progressive education organization, we don’t believe in telling youth what to do and what not to do.” (This to me is really scary – it sounds like they would let young people do anything as long as young people were educated to me. Say I had a ten year old and my ten year old wanted to do drugs and he had been educated about what they did and how they work. By their own reasoning, my ten year old should be allowed to do drugs. That kind of reasoning is such a slippery slope.)
  • “Abstinence is impossible!” (To which I say false. I know for a fact that I am not the only person who was abstinent until marriage. And if I did it, clearly it’s not impossible. I am far from superhuman, trust me.)
  • “When the sexual and reproductive health rights of youth are upheld, they have greater access to education.” (This seems all backwards to me. How does knowing how to have safe sex teach you how to read? Someone explain please.)
  • “There is a huge problem in my country that people think children are a blessing from God so they keep having more of them.”  (First of all, children ARE a blessing from God. Second of all, if you are all about choices, how can you tell people that they are having too many children?)
  • One speaker implied that women who marry young are uneducated. (This really upset me because I married at 20 and I am almost finished with my Bachelor’s degree – early at that – and considering getting my Master’s. Even if I don’t get my Master’s, it would be because I have never felt strongly about getting a Master’s degree and I have other goals and dreams, not because I got married.)
  • After hearing a man talk about how it was time to listen to the young people all evening long, afterwards I approached him and the following exchange took place (I think it speaks for itself).
    “You keep saying you want to listen to the young people, but the truth is, you don’t want to listen to the young people who disagree with you.”
    “Well when all the choices are available, if you disagree, you don’t have to make that choice.”
    “But we know some things are bad for people, that’s why we try not to let people make those choices, like we make some drugs illegal.”
    “It’s just that our society was founded on the basis of freedom.”
    “But we restrict some freedoms for the protection of other people, like if I wanted to murder you, I couldn’t do that, because there are laws limiting my freedom for your protection.”
    “That may be so.”

We also saw blatant attempts to censor us. In their earlier events, they took questions from the audience. After getting many, many pro-life questions that they fumbled through the answers on, in their last event, they only took written questions so they could pick and choose which ones to ask. There were many questions we submitted that were never asked or answered.

They are trying to put all of this in under Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 which is on improving maternal health. However, when you listen to them and see their publications, it’s pretty clear that they don’t want to improve maternal health, they just want guaranteed access to contraception and abortion for everyone.

But abortion and contraception are not the answer to solving maternal health. Contraception doesn’t fix maternal health because it allows people to have more sex, thus increasing their risk of becoming pregnant, since no contraception works 100 percent. The reasons for that are two fold. First because abortions  actually hurt maternal health and second because it doesn’t address some of the real causes of maternal mortality.

There is a LOT of evidence to support these two points (By the way, don’t feel like you need to read them all – just a sampling will give you an idea of what is out there. I include them in case you are like ” I can’t get enough of this” as I sometime am) .

There are other ways to end the problem of maternal mortality. More hospitals, that are sterile and clean. Educating women about proper prenatal care. Having more trained doctors and midwives. Having the supplies and drugs on hand that are needed. Basically, providing women with the adequate care. Because women are dying from things we know how to treat and prevent. So we should channel our energy and funds into treating and preventing, not into abortion.

It’s my hope that after reading this, you’ve learned a little bit about why increasing access to abortion does nothing to reduce maternal mortality. I think the agenda they’re pushing – sex for anyone, with anyone, any time you want and if an oops happens then you should get an abortion, is healthy, normal, or good for society.

Further more, here are some links to read by others who were there or who reported on it. I’ll star the ones that talk about one or more events that I witnessed or pamphlets that I have seen and in some cases have in my possession and will be going over with a fine tooth comb to blog about when I get a chance that I can back up and say, yes, that really did happen.

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