The Human Impact

Ms Kalashnikovs: Meet Congo’s fearless women fighters

Copyright and all photographs taken by Francesca Tosarelli.

Brutalised. Repeatedly raped. The first to gather the children and flee attack. Weak, poor and uneducated.

Women in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are so often cast as voiceless, nameless victims of a conflict that has raged for decades in the region’s lush jungles and hilltops that it is almost impossible to imagine them as fearless warriors.

But that’s exactly what Italian photographer Francesca Tosarelli found when she travelled to Congo’s North Kivu province early last year – driven by a curiosity to explore how gender identity shifts in times of conflict.

Over four months, she met and photographed a number of Congolese women, many of them mothers, who had taken up arms to fight alongside their male comrades in a messy conflict that has spawned dozens of armed groups vying for power and control of the region’s rich mineral deposits.

The result is “Ms Kalashnikov”, a stunning photo series that captures the unseen face of conflict in eastern Congo, dismantling Western stereotypes of the African militia fighter.

Helped by quotas, more women enter Latin American politics

When Michelle Bachelet takes office as president of Chile for the second time on Tuesday, the person who places the blue, white and red striped presidential sash round her neck will be  Isabel Allende – the first woman in Chilean history to be leader of the senate.

One in four lawmakers in Latin America are women, a proportion second only to Europe, and a continent better known as the home of machismo is now leading the way in drawing more women into politics – enabling them gradually to push women’s, social and educational issues to the fore.

A key reason for the growth in the number of congresswomen and female senators in Latin America is the adoption of quotas for women in parliament by 16 of the region’s countries in recent years.

Gender violence in EU lowest in Poland – should we rejoice?

Poland is the country with the lowest rate of violence against women in the European Union (EU), according to a report published on Wednesday.

Are women really safer in Poland compared to, say, Denmark which came last in the survey with a staggering 52 percent of its female population having experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lives?  In Poland that percentage is “just” 19.

So is “scoring” lowest a reason to celebrate or is it rather a wake-up call? After all 19 percent still means that almost one if five women in Poland experienced violence.

Forbes lists record number of women billionaires

There are more women billionaires now than ever before – 172 of them according to Forbes magazine’s 2014 Billionaire’s List, up from 138 last year.  And a sixth of all newcomers on the list are women.

Famous names include Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, U.S. TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey, fashion designer Tory Burch, British betting queen Denise Coates and the first female Nigerian billionaire Folorunsho Alakija.

However, women still only account for around a tenth of the 1,645 billionaires identified by Forbes on Tuesday as it published its 28thannual list of the richest people on the planet.

Ending the beatings, rapes, murders: Where are India’s men?

Violence against women is widespread across the world. Globally, 35 percent of women have been beaten by an ‘intimate partner’ or suffered sexual violence at the hands of a non-partner in their lifetime, the World Health Organisation says.

The same research suggests that almost one third of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of their partner, and that some 38 percent of all murders of women are committed by their husband or boyfriend.

In India, the situation is little better. The International Centre for Research on Women reports that 37 percent of men surveyed admit to inflicting violence on their intimate partner.

Using rape as an excuse for moral policing in India

The conversation has changed in India since that horrific night in December 2012 when a young woman returning home after watching a movie at the cinema was gang raped on a moving bus and left to die on the streets of the Indian capital.

The crime – which triggered outrage amongst urban Indians who took to the streets to protest – acted as a turning point, forcing many in India to face up to the widespread violence inflicted on women and girls in this largely patriarchal nation.

Discussions about rape, acid attacks, sexual harassment, molestation, dowry murders and female foeticide are now no longer just confined to civil society groups, feminists and academics but are being widely debated in the mainstream media and even amongst the usually apathetic political classes.

The din of misogyny at Bangkok protests

In fiery speeches at protests calling for her ouster, Thailand’s first female Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has been called ugly, stupid, a bitch, a slut and a whore.

A university professor recommended sending a large group of men to “sexually snare” her. A decorated doctor offered to give her vaginal repair surgery and to change her sanitary pads, andsaid she could become a nude model because she hasn’t yet reached menopause.

Not to be outdone, the head of the country’s Election Commission (EC) drew laughter from reporters after suggesting in a condescending tone that a meeting with her might only be possible if it was arranged at a certain hotel where her opponents claim she had an as-yet-unproven extramarital affair.

India’s surrogacy tourism: exploitation or empowerment?

In a globalised world where everything at home is becoming more costly, outsourcing your needs to a third party thousands of miles away for less money makes a lot of sense.

For a country like India, one of the top global destinations for outsourcing, the benefits are tremendous – creating millions of jobs in sectors ranging from garment, software and car manufacturing to call centres and back office operations.

But over the last decade, a more controversial sector for outsourcing has emerged in India: pregnancy and childbirth.

Why the India gang rape verdict doesn’t bring closure

In life she had one name. But in death she has many. Some call her “Nirbhaya”  meaning fearless in Hindi, others refer to her as “Amanat” meaning treasure or “Damini” meaning lightening.

Many in the Indian media just call her “India’s Braveheart” or “India’s daughter” – symbolising the fact that she could have been any one of us. Any woman or girl in this country, where the threat of abuse – verbal, physical or sexual – is horrifyingly real.

On that night of December 16, six assailants raped her on a bus as it moved through the streets of New Delhi. They tortured her with an iron rod, stripped her naked, dragged her by the hair and threw her out onto the road in the cold.

How old is old enough to be jailed for gang rape and murder?

The crime was horrific, the case shocking, and the trial long. Yet when the much anticipated first verdict in the high-profile Delhi gang rape case was pronounced in India over the weekend, there was no jubilation, just outrage.

Found guilty of the gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in December, the teenager – one of six accused – was sentenced to three years in a juvenile home, sparking anger and debate over whether India is too soft on its young offenders. Four adult defendants are on trial in a separate fast-track court. One of the accused committed suicide in jail.

The first reaction came from the parents of the dead 23-year-old student, who was beaten, tortured with an iron rod and raped on the night of Dec. 16 before being dumped on a roadside in the capital.

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