The Human Impact

Saudi Arabia launches first campaign to stop violence against women

 Saudi Arabia has launched its first visual campaign against the abuse of women, designed to encourage female victims to come out of hiding and to have a global impact at a time of change in the kingdom.

The advertisement shows a woman wearing a full veil or niqab, her made-up eyes staring out from the heavy cloth with one of them blackened and bruised.

Underneath, a caption reads: “Some things can’t be covered – fighting women’s abuse together.”

The campaign is a collaboration between the King Khalid Foundation (KKF) – a royal non-profit organisation – and the Riyadh branch of advertising agency Memac Ogilvy.

“Women’s abuse is a real taboo subject in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said a statement by the campaign. “Nobody really knows the statistics, as it is never spoken about.”

“Urinating in dams” to solve India’s drought? Minister faces backlash

As India’s western state of Maharashtra reels from the worst drought in over four decades and millions of people face the risk of hunger, a top official has sparked outrage with a crass, insensitive joke that he should urinate in the region’s empty dams to solve water shortages.

Ajit Pawar, deputy chief minister of Maharashtra and former irrigation minister, referred in a speech last weekend to a poor drought-hit farmer who had been on hunger strike for almost two months to demand more water.

“He has been fasting for the last 55 days. If there is no water in the dam, how can we release it? Should we urinate into it? If there is no water to drink, even urination is not possible,” Pawar told the gathering, who responded with much laughter.

Fiery activist persuades Gambia to ban FGM

Gambian rights activist Isatou Touray has dedicated her life to ridding her country of female genital mutilation (FGM). In return she has received death threats, been imprisoned and suffered repeated harassment.

But Touray has good news. This year, the tiny West African country is finally set to pass a law banning the brutal ritual, which causes horrific pain and long-term health and psychological problems.

Around 78 percent of women and girls in Gambia are thought to have undergone FGM, which is practised by seven ethnic groups in the predominantly Muslim country.

Margaret Thatcher – Iron Lady but not feminist icon

Margaret Thatcher is famously on record as saying she didn’t think there’d be a woman prime minister in Britain in her lifetime. She, of course, eclipsed her own expectations and became the country’s first, and so far only, elected female leader.

But a feminist icon she was not – as many commentators have pointed out.

“Her notion of women’s rights – to compete, fight, and succeed on equal terms with men – did not fit the orthodoxies of contemporary feminism,” Paul Vallely said in the Independent.

During her 11-1/2 years in power, Thatcher appointed only one woman to her cabinet – Janet Young, who became leader of the upper chamber, the House of Lords – and Douglas Hurd,  foreign minister and interior minister under Thatcher, was quoted as saying that feminist ideology “left her cold”.

A devastating fire displaces an already displaced population

In early March, I visited two refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border to report on the challenges facing refugee women and girls and was struck by the enthusiasm of students I met in Ban Mae Surin, a camp set in a remote but picturesque setting along the Mae Surin river.

The students were part of the Karenni Further Studies Programme and were rehearsing a group dance for International Women’s Day celebrations on March 8.

On that day, they learnt the dance moves for a song that calls for the elimination of violence against women and girls. Despite the sweltering afternoon heat, the four dozen or so students – and some alumni – practised non-stop.

A tale of early marriage and the life-changing power of education

Coumba, a Senegalese girl, and her younger sister Debo are travelling back to their village for the school holidays.

They are the first in their family to attend school and the act of going to class and passing exams gives them a sense of great excitement – education, for them, is not a sacred right.

Their father, mother and older brother all live and work in Sinthiou Mbadane, Senegal, a cluster of straw huts with baobab trees scattered all around.

New Pope praises women, Italian president ignores them

“Women are the witnesses of the Resurrection and they have a paramount role,” Pope Francis said on Wednesday in his address to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.

The evangelists did no more than write down what the women saw on the day of Christ’s resurrection, the pope – former cardinal Jorge Bergoglio – told the cheering crowd. He also said that women play a special role in the Church: they “open the doors to the Lord,” the Italian daily La Repubblica reported.

It was an important statement by the newly elected head of the Catholic Church – a tribute to the fair sex and a recognition of the key role women can and should play in the religious sphere of life.

What stopped India’s “anti-rape” law from being a landmark?

So, three months after the outrage which sent thousands of Indians spilling out onto the streets to protest at the fatal gang rape of a woman on a bus in New Delhi, the country’s parliamentarians were forced to sit up and listen and approve a tough new law to curb rising sexual violence against women.

Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde has hailed the new “anti-rape” law – which means repeat rapists or those who leave their victims in a vegetative state can be hanged – as a law which would create a “revolution” in the largely patriarchal country.

But how much of a landmark law is it really?

Yes, there are certainly some welcome and promising provisions – making human trafficking, acid attacks, stalking and voyeurism criminal offences, expanding the definition of rape and sexual harassment, and making gender-insensitive police and hospital authorities more accountable.

Monique Villa: Being a woman in a schizophrenic male world

This past week, chatting away at the dinner table, I was asked about one of my favorite books. My answer was swift: ‘Il Gattopardo’ -”The Leopard”- the masterpiece of Sicilian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

The novel narrates the changes in Sicilian life and society during the Italian Risorgimento, the revolution which led to the abolition of the monarchy and the creation of a unified Italian State in 1861. Central to the story is the idea of change, feared and opposed by the dominant class, but also opportunistically embraced by those willing to re-invent themselves in exchange for a slice of new power. It is Tancredi, the aristocrat joining the revolution to safeguard his family interests, who speaks the novel’s most famous line: “If we want things to stay as they are” – he says – “things will have to change.”

Tancredi’s view is extremely fitting to describe the social status of a generation of women who – from India to Egypt – have enthusiastically embraced change, taking huge risks in the name of education, equal opportunities and progress. But unlike Tancredi, these women have welcomed change in their hearts, and have voluntarily positioned themselves outside traditional schemes. A choice that has given them a different status. These women are a novelty. The mainstream social-context around them hasn’t changed as rapidly as they have.

India’s growing global humanitarian role: Is it enough?

India is increasingly seen as an important player when it comes to supporting nations hit by disasters or conflict, as well as for development, but given its size and influence, is it really doing enough to help resolve global crises?

Many, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), think not, especially when it comes to addressing humanitarian issues at an international level.

“I am of the very strong opinion that India – which has an enormous influence due to its population, economic growth and history – will have to play a more assertive role in the world,” Yves Daccord, ICRC director general, told AlertNet recently.

    •