The Human Impact

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.

It’s located just a few miles from the city of Mbour but it’s an entirely different world – a small, traditional community of cattle herders who still cook meals on open fires and fetch water from wells.

As they walk back home, the two sisters have no idea their brother has been badly injured and will no longer be able to tend to the family cattle. They also can’t imagine that their father will marry one of them off to pay for the medical expenses.

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.

Divorce may be legal in Morocco, but it’s still controversial

By Maria Caspani

A veiled woman hails a cab late at night on a deserted road in Casablanca, Morocco. As the taxi takes off, the driver asks her what on earth she is doing out alone at such a late hour.

“I was working,” the woman responds as the disconcerted driver asks her whether her husband approves. “I’m divorced,” she says.

For a woman in Morocco, there are few situations that are worse than that of Khadija, the protagonist of “Camera/Woman”, a documentary about a divorced woman working as a camera operator who faces strong discrimination in her community and, ultimately, becomes estranged from her family.

When is rape not considered rape?

I had always thought – naively as it turns out – that rape is when a person forces another person, either physically or by using threats, to have sex and/or when there’s an absence of a clear ‘yes’.

Apparently not.

According to the laws in some of Southeast Asia’s fast-developing nations, rape within a marriage isn’t rape. Or if you go by some of the decisions handed down by the courts, it’s not rape if there isn’t a physical struggle or the perpetrator is in his 60s.

Politicians and law enforcement officials raise doubts that a rape has occurred if the victim and the perpetrator know each other or if the female victim is behaving in an ‘unladylike’ way, for example getting drunk, staying out late or being overly friendly with members of the opposite sex.

Is the new Pope bad news for women?

As most of you probably know already, the newly-elected Pope Francis represents a lot of firsts: First Jesuit to become pope. First Latin American (or from the ‘New World’). First pope to take the name Francis.

I’m Italian I take a special interest in his election. He’s the new archbishop of Rome and – due to a long history of mingling between the Italian state and the Catholic Church, due to culture and religion – Italians tend to follow Papal elections with a particular, even if unwanted, attention.

I was messaging my mom on Skype the night the whole thing happened – live webcam on St. Peter’s Square and everything – and I have to say a sort of emotional shiver went through my body as she texted “Biancaaaaaaaaaa” (white) to me as puffs of white smoke rose from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel.

Should we admire, love or hate Alma’s tale of violence?

There was a moment while watching “Alma: A Tale of Violence” when I wanted to hit the pause button and take a breather.

Only about 40 minutes long, the documentary was, for me, much harder to watch than “Pink Saris”, “Saving Face” or “Banaz – A Love Story” – other films I’ve reviewed for TrustLaw.

The opening frames of the webdoc show a lovely-looking Guatemalan woman with long, dark hair and a warm, wide smile. Then, Alma starts talking, about being 15 and about yearning to belong to her “homies” and their gang in the slum where she lived.

Cairo sex attack victims reveal horrors of Tahrir Square gangs

By Maria Caspani

The accounts of women sexually assaulted during protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square are horrific not just for their sheer brutality but for the apparent level of organisation among huge gangs of assailants.

The degree of premeditation was revealed this week when state-run Ahram Online reported shocking details of mob assaults in the Cairo square where the country’s uprising began two years ago.

“All I remember is hands all over my body, grabbing under the layers of pullovers I was wearing, touching my breasts, opening my bra,” Ahram Online quotes an unidentified woman as saying.

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