The Human Impact

Election day, a time of hope – and concern – over Indonesian women’s rights

Tri Widayati is the first woman in her family – and her village too, she thinks – to find employment. At 18, soon after graduating from high school, she left her small village in Klaten regency in Central Java for Bekasi, a satellite town of the capital, Jakarta.

“Every woman in my village, once they get married, they just stay at home and look after the children,” including her mother and sister, Tri said.

“I wanted to come here for self improvement. If I had just stayed in the village it would be the same old life and there’d be no progress,” she said, sitting in the office of a workers’ union in Bekasi.

It was the end of March and I was in Bekasi to speak to female migrant workers employed in hundreds of factories here. I wanted to get a sense of how they live and work, what they thought of the imminent parliamentary elections and where they see Indonesia heading on women’s rights.

The polls, taking place today, April 9, are the fourth since Indonesia emerged from three decades of dictatorship under President Suharto in 1998. Presidential elections are due in July. The pictures of party leaders and presidential hopefuls in voting booths remind me of the numerous women I interviewed during that visit.

Girls for sale: “A Day in the Life”

A diverse, fresh-faced group, the 20 American girls standing still and expressionless on stage create a striking opening tableau. Between the ages of 13 and 17, they could be anyone’s daughter or sister or cousin – or any sex trafficker’s prey.

Their voices ring out, one after another, in a litany of the ways in which girls become ensnared in youth sex trafficking.

“I was recruited at my school.”

“I met him at McDonald’s.”

“I was 12.”

“I was 14.”

“And now look at me.  I’m for sale. On your street.  On your browser.”

It can happen to anyone.

That is one of the points of “A Day in the Life,” a one-act play drawing on the real experiences of ordinary teenage girls whose lives have intersected with the world of commercial sexual exploitation.

Who’s key to gender equality? Hint: It’s not women

When it comes to women’s rights, it turns out it’s really all about men.

A recent World Bank report underscored that strong economies and greater education for women, once thought to be silver bullets against gender inequality in the world of work, are effectively trumped by persistent social norms.

Entrenched social attitudes and traditions remain among the greatest obstacles to realising women’s rights globally – and most of those attitudes and traditions are held or enforced by men, according to experts.

An emerging theme at this year’s United Nations Commission on the Status of Women  (CSW58), is an increasing acknowledgment of the importance of addressing and changing the attitudes of men and boys to achieve the stubbornly elusive goal of gender equality.

Male breadwinner and (unpaid) female bread maker? Outdated

Unrecognised, undervalued and under the radar of most economic measures, the unpaid care work done by the world’s women is finally getting some long-overdue attention at the U.N.’s 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

In the world of work, the global unpaid daily labour of women caring for families – including children, the disabled and the elderly – across the life cycle is one of the most valuable and costly resources routinely discounted by those assessing economic strength in economies, according to experts.

As a result, some women’s rights activists are lobbying for unpaid work to be included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will replace the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.

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.

Celebrating women’s rights around the world

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD), we have gathered contributions from the likes of Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) who writes that “there is still not one country in which women and girls are equal to men in political or economic power,” and that ” for far too many women and girls, the ability to live a healthy and productive life free from violence remains an aspiration.”

In another post, journalists at the Milan-based newspaper Corriere della Sera reflect on the status of women’s rights in Italy, three years after creating  “La 27ora”, a popular blog about women’s issues. It’s “time to smash female stereotypes in Italy,” they say, pointing to the long way Italians still have to go to achieve gender equality in a country where patriarchal attitudes are still deeply entrenched in society.

For more contributions, photo blogs and articles on women’s rights, visit our special International Women’s Day coverage page here.

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.

“Tiny number of men” tackle gender violence – male activist

You are out with a group of friends at a bar and you see a male friend groping a woman.

How should you respond? Turn a blind eye, say something, physically intervene, call the police for help?

It’s one of several scenarios that activist Jackson Katz has put before thousands of high school and university students, professional athletes and soldiers in the United States as part of the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) he co-founded in 1993 to tackle violence against women.

The pain is far worse than childbirth – FGM survivor

Britain has announced new measures to tackle the hidden crime of female genital mutilation making it compulsory for doctors and nurses to record FGM cases. London community worker Sarian Karim Kamara, who underwent FGM as a child in Sierra Leone, told me how it has affected her life and why midwives are on the frontline in efforts to end the brutal practice.

“I’ll never forget what happened to me. I was only 11 years old and I’m 36 now. I’ve had five children and the pain I went through on that day cannot begin to compare to any of my labour pains. It’s indescribable.

Some people might think that FGM is just a cultural practice, that it is normal or acceptable for some communities. But it is not acceptable because it causes so much physical and psychological harm and has no benefit at all.

Italian men seek help to stop battering wives and partners


Alberto, a metalworker in his mid-thirties from a town in northern Italy, would sometimes get so furious arguing with his wife in the car that he would drive into a tree “just to shut her up”.

“When we argued I felt cornered, like I was about to lose everything,” he said in emailed comments to Thomson Reuters Foundation.

From the beginning of his 13-year-old relationship with his wife, Alberto, who did not want to give his full name, struggled to contain feelings of rage, usually ignited by a cross word or critical tone.

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