Saturday, August 30, 2008

Forbes: World's Most Powerful Women

This year's Forbes' list of the World's Most Powerful Women has created quite a buzz. Many would be surprised as to who topped the list, and to where women (whom they thought quite influential) fell in the list. A number of women are politicians and world leaders, but many are heads of multi-million dollar businesses.

Forbes List: 100 Most Powerful Women
"Our annual ranking of the most powerful women in the world measures "power" as a composite of public profile--calculated using press mentions--and financial heft. The economic component of the ranking considers job title and past career accomplishments, as well as the amount of money the woman controls. "

MSNBC also ran a story - The World's Most Powerful Women
"These women top a far-flung list that comprises 54 businesswomen and 23 politicians, with the rest being media execs and personalities and nonprofit leaders. A third are newcomers to the rankings; this reflects not only new top positions for women ...... but also the increasingly global reach of this list, with more women from outside the U.S. rising to worldwide prominence.

Just under half the women ranked this year are based outside of the U.S. Top countries represented include the U.K. (five women), China (four), France, India and the Netherlands (three apiece). Morocco has its first ranked woman this year: Hynd Bouhia (No. 29), director-general of the Casablanca Stock Exchange.

Candidates for our list are globally recognized women at the top of their fields: chief executives and their highest-ranked lieutenants, elected officials, nonprofit leaders. They don't have to be rich, but they do have to wield significant influence. This year, an architect, a war correspondent and several foundation executives all won spots on the list."

In addition, the Business Journal ran an article on the women in the Forbes' list from the Bay Area:
"Forbes’ List of the 100 Most Powerful Women included five Bay Area residents and three women with close local ties."

India: Women & Agriculture

The Statesman ran an article recently regarding India's attempts to encourage women in the agricultural industry.

"A high-level meeting of party leaders took stock of the agriculture development process at a recent meeting in Mumbai and noted that the lack of specific allocation earmarked for women farmers under most of the existing schemes.

The party leaders said the National Cooperative Union of India (NCUI) is working on implementing a cooperative education and development programme for women through its 45 cooperative education field projects and four exclusive cooperative education and development projects for women. These projects are located at Shimoga (Karnataka); Berhampur (Orissa); Bhopal (Madhya Pradesh) and Imphal (Manipur).

The NCP leaders favoured broad-basing the scope of the scheme even as they stressed that the focus of these programmes would continue to be on multiple points like promoting literacy, generating awareness and educating women to be organised into cooperatives. They are also to help in advancing loans to the cooperative members for production and consumer purposes. "

Friday, August 29, 2008

Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein"

Did she or didn't she ... that is the question. Did Mary Shelley write this gothic masterpiece .... or did she have help.

According to an article appearing in the Telegraph, Mary Shelley did not write "Frankenstein" on her own - she had help - from her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. So says Professor Charles Robinson of the University of Delaware in the US, who attributes no less than 5000 "amendments" to the novel to Mr Shelley.

From the article by Stephen Adams:
"The Romantic poet made some 5,000 changes to a pre-publication script of the classic novel, according to Professor Charles Robinson of the University of Delaware in the US.

He changed key descriptions that helped paint a more vivid picture of scientist Victor Frankenstein's monster, the professor found.

They include his addition that the monster's hair be described as "lustrous black" and that Victor should refer to him as "beautiful" rather than "handsome".

Prof Robinson made the discoveries by methodically working through the handwritten text, lodged at Oxford University's Bodleian Library.

The academic, who is to publish his research this October in a book, The Original Frankenstein, said: "He made very significant changes in words, themes and style. The book should now be credited as 'by Mary Shelley with Percy Shelley'."

The professor postulated that the couple may have added their comments to the manuscript while sitting in bed together.

"It seems they were using the same pen and very likely were often writing in bed together," he said.

He claimed Percy Shelley's additions often clarified his young wife's writing, making it more lucid.

While Mary originally wrote that Victor was "unable to endure the aspect of the creature I had created", Percy changed it to the more direct "unable to endure the being I had created".

Prof Robinson said it was highly likely that the Romantic poet, famous for such works as Ozymadias and Ode to the West Wind, had a great influence on the overall direction the novel took.

Frankenstein, published in 1818, remains one of the most enduring horror stories.

The tale of a scientist who makes a living being by assembling the limbs of the dead, only to see his creation turn on him, remains as potent in today's world of genetic engineering as it did almost 200 years ago.

First published anonymously, it has come to be seen as one of the first major novels by a woman, and one of the world's first science fiction books.

Mary wrote the novel after she and Percy, who was still married to his first wife, travelled to the Geneva villa of fellow poet Lord Byron in the summer of 1816.

Imprisoned indoors by unseasonably foul weather, they started discussing the supernatural. After reading a collection of German ghost stories they decided to hold a competition to write their own pieces.

The first edition was panned by most critics but it nevertheless sold fast. Its popularity was enhanced by early theatrical adaptations and subsequent editions were published in 1823 and 1831."

Judge for yourselves - I have also included a couple of links to Mary Shelley's famous mother, herself, quite the author!

Frankenstein -
Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus
The Life of Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley
Mary Wollstonecraft - The History Guide
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman - Mary Wollstonecraft

Swiss Miss Exonerated

Further to my June post "Rehabilitation for Swiss Miss" comes this article from The Independent:

Anna Goeldi, the last women to be executed in Europe for witchcraft, has been finally exonerated and her death considered "judicial murder".

Swiss finally clear the last "witch" beheaded in Europe:
"Anna Goeldi was executed for being a witch more than 220 years ago, the last one beheaded in Europe. On Wednesday, the Swiss cleared her name. The parliament of the Swiss canton (state) of Glarus decided unanimously to exonerate Goeldi as a victim of "judicial murder", said Josef Schwitter, a government spokesman.

Several thousand people, mainly women, were executed for witchcraft between the 14th and 18th centuries in Switzerland, and elsewhere in Europe. Yet Goeldi's trial and beheading in the village of Mollis was in 1782, when witch trials had largely disappeared from the continent.

Goeldi, a maidservant for a prominent burgher, Johann Jakob Tschudi, was convicted of "spoiling" the family's daughter, causing her to spit pins and have convulsions. Yet Tschudi, a doctor and magistrate, was said to have had an affair with Goeldi; if that had come out, his reputation would have been seriously damaged.

The case was brought to light through a book by a local journalist, Walter Hauser. The move to exonerate came after a long debate in the eastern Swiss region, and was taken after talks with the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Last year, the canton's executive branch and the Protestant church council refused even to consider exoneration, but the Glarus parliament urged the executive branch to reconsider. In June, the Glarus executive branch asked parliament to ratify the exoneration.

The Glarus government said the Protestant church council, which held the trial, had no legal authority and had decided in advance that Goeldi was guilty. She was executed even though the law at the time did not impose the death penalty for non-lethal poisoning.

A museum featuring Goeldi opened in Mollis last year on the 225th anniversary of her death. "

Indian Women: Backlash against progress

According to an article in Dawn, there is a growing male backlash to the increase in progress made by women in India.

"For India’s middle-class urban women, the past decade has brought unprecedented opportunities to advance in a social order long dominated by men. But a powerful male backlash has accompanied the women’s revolution, an up-welling of resentment that has expressed itself in sexual violence and harassment.

In India today, women are working in lucrative retail and technology jobs, sometimes in cities far from their hometowns. Economic independence has, in some cases, allowed them to delay marriage and early childbirth. Social mobility among India’s young is also undermining the country’s traditional joint-family system, in which couples are expected to move in with the husband’s parents. The shift has empowered the modern Indian wife, freeing her from the scourge of the bossy, nosy mother-in-law.

At the same time, however, the number of reported instances of domestic violence, rape and dowry killings is spiking in South Asian cities, according to women’s groups, demographers and sociologists.

Violence against women is the fastest-growing crime in India, a recent study concluded. Every 26 minutes a woman is molested, every 34 minutes a rape takes place, and every 43 minutes a woman is kidnapped, according to the Home Ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau.

With about 19,000 reported rapes a year, India ranks fifth highest in that category out of 84 countries studied, according to a 2006 report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. But women’s groups say fewer than two per cent of women who have been sexually assaulted in India report the crime to police, largely because the social stigma attached to rape may undermine a woman’s chance for marriage.

The United States, where the reporting of sexual attacks is more common, ranks highest in the world, with 95,000 reported rapes each year.

Experts predict that the number of sexual attacks in 2008 may exceed the total in 2007, when 544 rapes were reported in the city.

Part of the problem is also that men’s expectations of women have not kept pace with the changes women are experiencing at home and at work. The change in power has been too fast for some Indian men, whose intense curiosity about women can often be traced back to a segregated youth."

Obit: Del Martin

From The Independent:
"Del Martin, the pioneering lesbian rights activist whose career spanned more than five decades, and who twice took part in California's “first” gay marriage, has died at the age of 87.

The news emerged three months after Mrs Martin and Mrs Lyon became the first couple to legally exchange vows following California's decision to lift its ban on same-sex marriage. It was their second attempt to marry: a previous ceremony, which kicked-off a city-wide series of 4,000 same-sex weddings in 2004, was later declared illegal.

Martin, a self-styled writer and "organiser," was one of eight women who in 1956 founded Daughters of Bilitis, America's first lesbian rights group, named after a 19th-century book of lesbian love poetry. She later became the editor of its influential newsletter, The Ladder, and wrote the agenda-setting books Lesbian / Woman and Battered Wives.

In the 1960s, she successfully led a campaign for the American Psychiatric Association to take homosexuality off its list of mental disorders, and was also a founder of the Lesbian Mothers Union, National Organisation for Women, Council on Religion and the Homosexual, and the Alice B Toklas Democratic Club, America's first openly gay political organisation.

In later years, Mrs Martin was at the forefront of the long-running campaign for same-sex marriage."

Ms Martin's passing was also reported in:
Boston Globe ~~~ Sun Times ~~~ The News Tribune ~~~ The Press Democrat ~~~ CNN ~~~ USA Today ~~~ The Star ~~~ CBS News ~~~ News Day

Hillary Clinton

Not wanting to wade into the deep end of American politics - a subject on which I have absolutely no authority nor knowledge or understanding - I would like to post this article acknowledging Hillary's achievement.

From CNN Politics:
Hillary's Women Already Have Power
"Is there a score higher than an A+? I have heard about a hundred speeches by Sen. Hillary Clinton. Tuesday night's speech in Denver was a clarion call filled with power and grace.

Hillary's job at the Democratic National Convention was a big one. She had to make a strong and compelling case to any of her recalcitrant supporters for the election of Sen. Barack Obama. And she had to do it all in 23 minutes (including applause).

But Tuesday night she was strong and compassionate, comforting and combative, deeply intelligent and extremely charming. She did everything she needed to achieve for a united party and a dignified conclusion to her campaign for her supporters. I think she gave the speech of her life.

We have moved to the next step. That means that we no longer count firsts, we count what counts -- which is wins. Hillary Clinton's candidacy is important not only as a milestone. It is important as a beacon of expectation, not just hope. The expectation that comes with knowing that we are not waiting in line, we are in the race."

Continue reading (via the link above) for the fuller account of the article.

Further commentary on Hillary's speech:
CBS News - article by Michael Barone
Yahoo News - article by Nora Ephron
The Guardian - article by
Suzanne Goldenberg
The News Tribune - article by Thomas Fitzgerald
This is London - article with no author listed
The Guardian - article by Suzanne Goldenberg
The Press Democrat - article by Guy Kovner - article by Sean Kirst

Angela Merkel

Who is the world's most powerful woman - Angela Merkel - Chancellor of Germany. US magazine "Forbes" has listed Ms Merkel as the world's most powerful woman - for the third year running. What an achievement!

From The Independent:
"Mrs Merkel came out ahead of Sheila Bair, head of the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation which has been grappling with the global ructions triggered by America's sub prime crisis. Indra K. Nooyi, the chief executive of Pepsi Co came third. Condolezza Rice, the outgoing US Secretary of State dropped down the rankings from 4th to 7th.

Forbes gave Mrs Merkel credit for reforms in Germany which the magazine said had cut the country's previous record post-war unemployment and led to an economic upturn. Yet it failed to mention that the reforms in question were introduced by Gerhard Schröder, her predecessor as Chancellor. Indeed, some outsiders have argued that Mrs Merkel's unwieldy grand coalition government of conservatives and Social Democrats has forced her to make a string of compromises which have effectively rolled back economic reform.

Initially dismissed as a dowdy east German without dress sense and incapable of making an effective political speech, Mrs Merkel has gone from strength to strength since being elected Chancellor by a wafer thin majority in 2005. Her unpretentious, straightforward style has won her a reputation as a powerful and effective negotiator. Within the EU she has managed to broker important solutions over financing, carbon emissions and the controversial European constitution."

From the Sydney Morning Herald:
"Ms Merkel soundly beat the likes of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who fell from fourth place last year to seventh place, and former US first lady and Democratic presidential contender Senator Hillary Clinton, who was ranked 28th by the magazine - three places lower than last year.

Runner-up in the rankings was the little known Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the US agency that "maintains the stability and public confidence in the nation's financial system by insuring deposits, supervising financial institutions, and managing receiverships".

The third-place finisher was another unknown, Indra Nooyi, chief executive of US softdrink giant, PepsiCo, who was one of 54 business leaders on the list, unveiled on Wednesday. Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, one of 23 politicians on the list, is in 13th place.

Other notable women on the list include French Economy, Finance and Employment Minister Christine Lagarde, in 14th place; Italian-born Sonia Gandhi, head of the Indian National Congress Party, ranked 21st; and Queen Rania of Jordan, in 96th place."

Note: In 2007, Fortune Magazine listed Indra Nooyi as the Number 1 most powerful women in the US - for the second year in a row - so "unknown" - I think not.

Forbes Magazine: Angela Merkel
BBC News: Profile: Angela Merkel
Time Magazine (2006 Profile): Angela Merkel

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Defining the "new" feminism

An interesting article from Canwest News Service:
"At a time when young women want to have their cake and bake it, too -- and are likely to be judged for doing either -- determining what it means to be a fearless female is more complicated than ever.

Bombarded by a dizzying array of ideas and images, individuals believe girl power is synonymous with short skirts as much as advanced education. They are demonstrating their independence through community involvement and at the stripper pole. And even as young females are equalling male achievements in math and science competitions, they're matching them shot for shot in bars -- studies show more college women are "drinking like men" and getting drunk more today than in the last 20 years.

It's all evidence of how young women are seeking to make their way in a culture of conflicting messages, experts say.

Sharon C. Wilsnack, a clinical psychologist who has been studying female behaviour since the early '70s, has conducted research that demonstrates many young women are using alcohol as a means of reconciling modesty and inhibition with sexual exploration and experimentation. The more they drink, the more confident they feel in the bedroom.

Among many issues hotly debated by young women are whether to marry or remain common law, the baby track versus the career track, whether a "normal" body size is a six or 16, cosmetic tweaks versus aging gracefully, and if discarding one's maiden name is tantamount to waving a white flag at the patriarchy.

The degree to which today's challenges and choices will affect young women in the years ahead is unknown. Nancy Galambos, a psychologist specializing in adolescents' transition to adulthood, says research has demonstrated that unwanted teen pregnancy and heavy episodic drinking, for instance, aren't necessarily predictors of future behaviour or lifestyle."

The Feminine Mystique

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique".

From The Guardian:
"Social conservatives are wrong to blame women's entry into work on feminism. But women who work are much more likely to adopt feminist-inspired agendas and to reject traditional ideas about marriage. And when women gain economic and political clout, traditional family life is, indeed, destabilised. In Western Europe and North America, divorce rates soared as married women poured into the workplace in the 1970s and 1980s, with women initiating most divorces. Although divorce rates levelled off in the 1990s, cohabitation and unwed childbearing have continued to rise.

Of course, marriage will never again be as stable or predictable as when women lacked alternatives. But even where family change continues apace, it has far less negative consequences when women have access to economic rights than when they do not.

Far from being a threat to family life, the further progress of women's rights may be our best hope for well-functioning families."

From The Taipei Times:
"Today, many social conservatives still blame Friedan and feminism for inducing women to abandon the home for the workplace, thus destabilizing families and placing their children at risk.

But feminism was always more of a response to women entering the labor force than its cause. In Western Europe and the US, early capitalism drew huge numbers of young, single women into industries like textiles. Mill owners often built dormitories to house young female workers. Many of these workers became early supporters of both the anti-slavery and the women’s rights movements, while middle-class women were energized by (and sometimes envious of) working women’s vigorous participation in the public sphere.

By the time Friedan’s book was published in 1963, capitalism was drawing married women into the expanding service, clerical and information sectors. Friedan’s ideas spoke to a generation of women who were starting to view paid work as something more than a temporary break between adolescence and marriage, and were frustrated by society’s insistence that the only source of meaning in their lives should be their role as housewives.

The dramatic decrease in laws and customs perpetuating female subordination over the past 40 years has been closely connected to women’s expanded participation in paid employment. Societies where women remain substantially under-represented in the labor market, such as in the Middle East, remain especially resistant to women’s rights.

As women gain collective rights, and especially as men accept women’s changed roles, many of the disruptive effects of family change are ameliorated. In the US, divorce rates for well-educated women are now much lower than for less-educated women, and women with good jobs or who have completed college are more likely than more traditional women to be married at age 35. In the past, when a stay-at-home wife went to work, the chance that her marriage would dissolve increased. Today, going to work decreases the chance of divorce. In families where the wife has been employed longer, men tend to do more and better child-care, with measurable payoffs in child outcomes."

This story also appeared in The Globe & Mail.

Further links:
Betty Friedan - National Women's Hall of Fame
Betty Friedan - wiki
The Mystique of Betty Friedan
The Feminine Mystique - Chapter One
The Feminine Mystique - Chapter Two
Betty Friedan - Works

Child Marriages - Part II

Further to another post - Child Marriages -

From The Australian:
"A SAUDI court will next month hear a plea for divorce from an eight-year-old girl married off by her father to a man in his fifties, the Arabic-language daily Al-Watan reported today.

It said the girl's mother had filed the divorce case with the court at Unayzah 220km north of Riyadh, and cited lawyer Abdullah Jtili as saying the father had arranged the marriage without telling the girl.

But the daily also reported that the husband had refused to renounce the marriage, saying that he had not done anything illegal.

Arranged marriages involving pre-adolescents are occasionally reported in the Arabian Peninsula, including in the ultra-conservative Saudi kingdom where the strict conservative Wahabi version of Sunni Islam holds sway and polygamy is common.

In Yemen in April, another girl aged eight was granted a divorce after her unemployed father forced her to marry a man of 28."

From Sun Star:
"They have been widely denounced by activists, clerics and others who say such unions are harmful to the children and trivialize the institution of marriage.

Saudi Arabia is already rocked by a high divorce rate that has jumped from 25 percent to 60 percent over the past 20 years, according to Noura al-Shamlan, head of the research department at the Center of University Studies for Girls."

From Arab News:
"THE grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, in recent press statements, has rightly warned parents against marrying their young daughters to men who are older than them by 50 and 60 years or more. He described such practices as an indication of lack of conscience on the part of the parents. He also said such marriages will not protect the chastity of the girls and may drive them toward sinful acts. The mufti stressed that the young girl will be living in agony while her parents enjoy the comforts her dowry can buy them.

WE have heard about a father who married his 10-year-old girl to a man in his 70s for a dowry of SR150,000. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) intervened and delayed the marriage for five years. Just imagine the situation of a desperate child considered to be a married woman and the old man demanding his conjugal rights. This will definitely rob the girl of her innocence. When the consummation of marriage takes place five years later, she will be just 15 while her husband will be in his 80s! Fathers like these consider their daughters to be slaves selling them to the highest bidder. Or they compel them to marry their relatives or men from their tribe.

The grand mufti has clearly stated his position on these types of marriages. What remains now is the cooperation of all concerned agencies to put a halt to such abuses. As most of the cases take place in remote villages where there is poverty and illiteracy, we need to launch a campaign to make people aware of the social and moral implications of such marriages. The mother should not hesitate to inform the police if the father insists on marrying his child to an old man. The officials who write the marriage contracts should alert the HRC to such practices so that they step in to stop it in time. It will be good if we decide a certain age for marriage."

And again, from Arab News:
"The Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) has called on government agencies to take necessary steps to end the practice of child marriages by adopting a clear and unambiguous position on such weddings.

The condemnation comes in the wake of several cases across the Kingdom in which young girls have been married to elderly men, mainly for monetary reasons such as the settlement of debts or to receive generous dowries.

“Such marriages violate human rights by depriving a girl of her childhood,” said Turki Al-Sudairy, president of the Human Rights Commission. He added that such weddings are prohibited by a number of international conventions and by reputed global organizations concerned with children’s rights.

Dr. Ayman Abu Laban, UNICEF representative in the Gulf, said his organization strongly discourages child marriages, which inflict serious psychological and physical risks on young girls."

Arab News Editorial - Girls as Commodities

Abuse of Maids

More stories of horror and abuse of young women working as domestics.

From Arab News:
"A Nepali housemaid is fighting for her life after suffering sadistic torture and rape by her sponsor, said Pushparaj Bhattarai, a spokesman for the Nepalese Embassy, yesterday.

The woman, who was identified only as Maya, walked into the local Nepalese mission yesterday showing evidence of physical and sexual abuse, including injuries to her abdomen.

This is the eighth case of the brutal rape of a Nepali maid reported within the last three months in Saudi Arabia.

Last month, a Nepali maid took shelter at the embassy after being abducted and gang-raped by seven men. The 22-year-old maid was forced into a car, taken to a remote location, raped by the men and later dropped off at the same place from where she was picked up.

In another case in June, a maid was gang-raped by four men and then abandoned at the embassy’s entrance."

And again from Arab News:
"The Sri Lankan government has called on Saudi insurance companies to submit quotations for mandatory insurance to cover Sri Lankan domestic aides such as maids and drivers in the Kingdom.

Colombo has drafted the new insurance scheme because the Saudi government’s current insurance system does not include domestic aides working in Saudi households.

More than 80 percent of the 550,000 Sri Lankan workers in the Kingdom are housemaids whose earnings make up a large portion of foreign remittances to the country. Remittances from Sri Lankan overseas workers are the island’s second largest foreign exchange earner."

And again - Arab News:
"Sri Lanka is planning to trim the number of maids employed in the Middle East, a labor official has reportedly said.

Kingsley Ranawaka, chairman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), was recently quoted by an international media source as saying that Lankan labor officials have decided to curb the number of housekeepers due to the number of complaints of ill-treatment received from Lankan maids in the region.

The bureau said that in the first half of this year, it received a total of 3,400 complaints, including 577 cases of breach of contract and 479 cases of sexual abuse and other forms of physical violence, as well as complaints of unpaid or underpaid salaries.

Saudi Arabia in particular has been a main market for Sri Lankan workers. For years as many as 500,000 maids work in the Kingdom at any time, according to data published by the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh."

From Global Nation:
"Sri Lanka is planning to trim the number of maids employed in the Middle East, a labor official has reportedly said.

Kingsley Ranawaka, chairman of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE), was recently quoted by an international media source as saying that Lankan labor officials have decided to curb the number of housekeepers due to complaints of ill-treatment received from Lankan maids in the region.

The bureau said that in the first half of this year, it received a total of 3,400 complaints, including 577 cases of breach of contract and 479 cases of sexual abuse and other forms of physical violence, as well as complaints of unpaid or underpaid salaries.

Saudi Arabia in particular has been a main market for Sri Lankan workers. For years as many as 500,000 maids work in the Kingdom at any time, according to data published by the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh.

However, last year the US-based Human Rights Watch rebuked Arab governments for not doing enough to eradicate the abuses against Sri Lankan domestic workers in the region."

And again, Global Nation:
"Foreign maids are dying each week in Lebanon often by committing suicide to escape bad treatment by their employers, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

"Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week," said Nadim Houry, a senior researcher at HRW, in the second damning report since April on the working conditions of foreign workers in Lebanon.

According to HRW around 200,000 domestic laborers, mostly from Sri Lanka, Philippines and Ethiopia, are not protected by Lebanese labor laws."

From The Australian:
"LEBANON must improve working conditions for migrant domestic workers, who often commit suicide or die while trying to escape from their employers, a US-based rights group says.

Human Rights Watch said there were an estimated 200,000 maids in Lebanon, including those with illegal status, mostly from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Ethiopia.

The rights group said interviews with embassy officials and friends of domestic workers who committed suicide suggested that "forced confinement, excessive work demands, employer abuse and financial pressures are key factors pushing these women to kill themselves or risk their lives".

According to Human Rights Watch, Lebanese labour laws specifically exclude domestic workers from rights guaranteed to other workers, such as a weekly day of rest, work hour limits, paid holidays and compensation."

From Human Rights Watch:
"The high death toll of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, from unnatural causes, shows the urgent need to improve their working conditions, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called on the official steering committee tasked with improving the situation of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon to investigate the root causes of these deaths and develop a concrete national strategy to reduce them.

Since January 2007, at least 95 migrant domestic workers have died in Lebanon. Of these 95 deaths, 40 are classified by the embassies of the migrants as suicide, while 24 others were caused by workers falling from high buildings, often while trying to escape their employers. By contrast, only 14 domestic workers died because of diseases or health issues.

“Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “All those involved – from the Lebanese authorities, to the workers’ embassies, to the employment agencies, to the employers – need to ask themselves what is driving these women to kill themselves or risk their lives trying to escape from high buildings.”

Interviews with embassy officials and friends of domestic workers who committed suicide suggest that forced confinement, excessive work demands, employer abuse, and financial pressures are key factors pushing these women to kill themselves or risk their lives. An official at the Philippines embassy told Human Rights Watch about one Filipina worker whose employers accused her of stealing a piece of jewelry. The employers beat her and locked her inside the house, he said. She ended up committing suicide.

A 2006 survey of 600 domestic workers in Lebanon conducted by Dr. Ray Jureidini, of the American University in Cairo, found 31 percent of the women saying that their employers did not allow them to leave the home. "

From The Daily Star:
"Leading human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) spoke on Tuesday of "the urgent need" to improve the working and living conditions of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, saying that "at least" 95 women had died between January 1, 2007 and August 15, 2008.

There are thought to be some 200,000 domestic workers, mostly from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and the Philippines, working in Lebanon. A great number of these work as live-in maids and are often forced to work long hours without a weekly break or sufficient food. A 2006 survey conducted in Lebanon by Dr. Ray Jureidini of 600 migrant domestic workers found that 56 percent worked more than 12 hours a day and 34 percent were not allowed regular time off.

According to a 2005 survey by the non-governmental organization Caritas Lebanon, 90 percent of employers retained the passports and other legal documents of their employees, seriously limiting their freedom of movement. Many workers are also forcibly confined to the house and denied regular, if any, payment of their salaries.

On top of all that, Lebanese labor laws do not protect domestic workers, making them vulnerable to exploitation and human rights abuses."

These stories were also reported in: Dawn ~~~ CNews ~~~ Fox News ~~~ BBC News.

Women of History Blog - Domestic Workers In Saudi Arabia

Regardless of what countries these women originated from or which countries they seek work in, no woman should be treated in such a way. There is no justification for violence against women.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Who Is Jason Cosmo???

WHAT???? Never heard of him??? Where have you been hiding???

Let me introduce you to Jason Cosmo - Woodcutter turned reluctant Superhero.

Follow Jason as he does battle with nefarious villains, assorted monsters, and wizards of the highest (and darkest) order. Gasp as Jason is pursued by the cream of the Bounty Hunters. Marvel as Jason is seduced by beautiful damsels in obvious distress (this is a fantasy book after all). Be amazed as Jason comes to the attention of the Gods (and one scatterbrained Goddess in particular). And all this is just a typical day in the life of a Superhero.

Will Jason and his good friend the wizard Mercury Boltblaster save the Eleven Kingdoms from the Dark Magic Society (reputedly "Under New Management") or will Jason end up on the Superhero scrapheap. Jason soon learns that this Superhero business is not always what it is cracked up to be - and wearing one's underpants on the outside is hardly a fashion statement for today's aspiring Superhero.

Visit Jason (and his creator, Dan McGirt) via the internet portal to the Eleven Kingdoms and learn more! I dare you!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Women in Gaza

Women in strife-torn Gaza are taking huge steps forward. None moreso that the 53 women of the Hamas Police Force.

From the
Columbus Dispatch:
"In her year on the vice squad, Lt. Mariam al-Bursh has been on narcotics busts, interrogated male drug dealers and fought off a female assailant with her fists.

The 27-year-old is one of 53 women serving in the 11,000-strong Hamas police force, established after the Islamic militants seized Gaza by force more than a year ago.

Since taking power, Hamas has put some educated, motivated women in government jobs, promoted athletics for women, and boosted their presence on male-dominated TV.

Hamas says it wants to recruit the best and brightest, regardless of gender, and improve women's status in Gaza's conservative society.

But al-Bursh's working conditions show the limits of Hamas' tolerance.

On drug busts, she is unarmed and wears a long blue-and-gray robe and head scarf that reveals only her blue eyes. When she interrogates a drug dealer, a male colleague must be present, because Muslim custom doesn't allow her to be alone with a strange man.

No problem, al-Bursh said-- the measures are meant to protect her. "These limits are to the benefit of women. Not against them," she said.

The Hamas government says it employs more women than Fatah did. Female students outnumber men at Gaza City's Islamic University. Several girls and women appear in a children's show and a woman's program on Hamas' Al Aqsa TV, whose programming extols the virtues of the head scarf and teaches viewers how to be good Muslims.

But women's rights campaigners in Gaza say these changes are misleading and that Hamas' long-term strategy is to restrict their rights.

Activist Nadia Abu Nahla said it's impossible to get permits for women's rights demonstrations. "This democratic mobilization is not present," she said. "Women are afraid."

When Fatah ruled Gaza, female police officers trained with male colleagues. Now, it's a problem because the instructors are male.

Hamas has had to fine-tune the dress code, allowing female cops to have side slits in their robes to allow for easier movement. Al-Bursh can now wear pants under the robe."

Friday, August 22, 2008

Wedding Outrage

From the Charlotte Observer:
"A Muslim marriage in northern India officiated by women has sparked an angry debate, with one of the most influential Islamic seminaries in South Asia calling it an affront to the religion.

Muslim marriages are traditionally officiated by a man, often a local community leader. The signing of the wedding contract is also witnessed by four Muslim males, two each for the bride and groom.

Women's rights activists have greeted the marriage as a symbolic step forward for Muslim women, but the ceremony sparked a firestorm of criticism from conservative Islamic institutions, especially the Dar-ul-Uloom seminary in northern India.

Hasan, the bride, works for Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan, or the Indian Muslim Women's Movement, a rights group that seeks a greater role for women in Indian Muslim society.

Hasan brushed off the criticism. "I do not care. Islam says there cannot be anyone between Allah and his disciple. How come these clergymen are interfering in our matter?" she said Thursday.

India, a predominantly Hindu country with a sizable Muslim minority, allows marriage, divorce and inheritance matters to be determined by religious laws, and the couple's unorthodox ceremony was approved by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which sets the rules on Muslim religious matters.

In 2005, a group of Muslim women established the All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board, saying that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board wasn't doing enough to protect women's rights."

Second Class Citizens

Why and when women are second-class citizens - By Jumana Al Tamimi, Associate Editor (Gulf News)

"In patriarchal societies, as well as liberal ones, millions of women are forced to deal with different forms of discrimination and abuses at their work places and in their homes.

Sometimes, men install glass ceilings to separate women, which prevent them from moving up in their careers. Sometimes, it is manifested through salaries with women being paid less than men. At other times, it takes the form of physical or psychological abuse. Discriminatory laws and social norms, which give preference to men in different fields, also reduce women to the status of a "second class citizen".

Amazingly, many studies have shown that women who are subjected to violence and abuse are from all segments of society, including those from well-educated and well-off social classes. Yet, they don't speak about it because of shame, fear or out of concern that it would negatively affect their social status.

Societies and women alike share the blame for the situation by accepting the abuse and, in some cases, justifying it.

On the other hand, women activists say that many females, regardless of their education, feel "insulted" when activists speak to them about the need to end the abuse they are being subjected to.

Today, over 185 countries, over 90 per cent of the members of the UN, are party to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The Convention, which was established in 1979 by the the UN General Assembly, is considered as the "international bill of rights for women".

It consists of a preamble and 30 articles, and defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Female Spies

The recently released movie "Female Agents" or "les Femmes de l'ombre" depicts five women who were part of the secret world of espionage during World War II.

It put me in mind of other movies depicting women who "fought behind enemy lines" - Nancy Wake "the white mouse"; Violette Szaba "carve her name with pride"; Mata Hari - to name but a few.

Female Spies of World War One - by John Craig
Female Spies in History - About Women's History
WWII Female Spies
Women in Espionage - the Women who were Spies

"Female Intelligence: Women & Espionage in the First World War" by Tammy Proctor

Review: The Foodtaster

Set in Renaissance Italy, "The Foodtaster" by Peter Elbling takes you on a journey with humble Ugo DiFonte, who becomes the foodtaster to a highly despicable duke.

It is a rather vivid insight into what 16th Century Italy was actually like - a hotbed of political intrigue; of papal dissembling; of life and death; of love and hate.

All over Italy, self-governing duchies were ruled by men considered as mere tyrants. The ruled with a violence that was "natural" for their time. People survived by their wits - advancement came through the downfall of others - and ultimately so did one's own.

Into this den of vice came the plague, sweeping all before it - no-one was spared - rich and poor alike suffered the same fate. And with the plague came paranoia and conspiracy.

Elbling presents the novel as a long-lost manuscript left as a bequest to the author - or in this case - the "translator", Elbling.

Review: The Visit of the Royal Physician

This novel of personal and political intrigue is set in the court of King Christian VII of Denmark at a time when the monarch was merely a figurehead, and real power was held by those who controlled the King.

And thus, Per Olov Enquist takes us on a journey through the murkiness of Danish politics in the mid-18th Century.

Now, I was, and still am, unfamiliar with Danish politics of the 17th and 18th centuries. This novel does given in incite into the grab for political and royal power against a growing backdrop of "european" change.

At the forefront of the book is King Christian VII, whom many considered to have been either mad or an imbecile; his English wife, Caroline-Mathilde; the German Doctor, Struensee; and the man who opposed the burgeoning "Age of Enlightenment" - Ove Hoegh-Guldberg.

Events in the story are sometimes retold from the perspective of different characters - and at times I struggled over whether this was a fictionalised account of the events in question or an actual retelling - as in a biography, of sorts.

Had I a firmer grasp on Danish "affairs of state" I may well have understood the flow of events.

In all though, a most interesting read.

"The Visit of the Royal Physician" by Per Olov Enquist, and translated by Tiina Nunnally.

Rosenborg Castle

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Status of Saudi Women

Again from Gulf News:
"The number of spinsters in Saudi Arabia has reached 180,413, according to a demographic survey conducted in 2007.

The survey classified spinsters as women who had reached the age of 30 years or above without getting married.

It revealed the rate of spinsterhood amounted to 2.6 per cent last year out of the total number of women in Saudi Arabia. This means that one out of every 16 women in Saudi Arabia is classified as a spinster.

The study also revealed that the rate of divorced women in Saudi Arabia amounted to 2.4 per cent in 2007.

The survey conducted by the Central Department of Statistics and Information of the Ministry of Finance and Planning and released here yesterday pointed out that the kingdom's population reached 23,980,843 in the past year compared to 22,678,262 in 2004 with an increase rate of 5.74 per cent. The annual growth rate of the population was 2.3 per cent.

The survey also showed that 97.4 per cent of Saudi women married below the age of 30 years old while only 2.6 per cent married at the age of 30 or above."

Child Marriages

Two stories to come out this month concerning the "child marriages" - not just predominantly young girls, but in some cases, of young boys as well.

From Saudia Arabia - Saudi Activists & Clerics Demand An End To Child Marriages
Child Marriages have been "... widely denounced by activists, clerics and others who say such unions are harmful to the children and trivialise the institution of marriage. Saudi Arabia is already rocked by a high divorce rate that has jumped from 25 per cent to 60 per cent over the past 20 years.

There are no laws in Saudi Arabia defining the minimum age for marriage. Though a woman's consent is legally required, some marriage officials do not seek it. For example, a father can marry off a one-year-old girl as long as sex is delayed until she reaches puberty.

There are no statistics to show how many marriages involving children are performed every year. And it's also not clear whether these unions are on the rise or whether people are hearing about them more now because of the prevalence of media outlets and easy access to the internet.

But the phenomenon is not new, said Shaikh Mohammad Al Nujaimi, a strong opponent of the marriages. He and other clerics, activists and writers have urged the government to pass legislation setting the minimum age for marriage and to resolve differences among the kingdom's religious authorities over the issue."

And from Yeman - Girls Had Their Childhood "Returned"
"Child marriage is on the rise in Yemen. Poverty, illiteracy, a growing population and a lack of legislation preventing the practice are among the major reasons behind the phenomenon.

A group of human rights activists, lawmakers, and journalists last week called to protect children, especially girls, from such marriages. The call came in a gathering held to celebrate the divorces of three little girls after being forced into marriage.

Activists should continue to lobby until a law is issued to prevent any marriage under 18, and organise awareness campaigns to educate people about the dangers of such marriages.

Poverty and illiteracy are behind most child marriages in Yemen. Illiteracy is higher than 50 per cent and is 75 per cent among women and about 8 million people out of a population of 22 million live below the poverty line.

Yemen is ranked 13th among the worst 20 countries in terms of child marriage according to a 2007 report by a local think-tank."

Tunisian Women

Tunisian women celebrated their national "Women's Day" on 13th August, which commemorates the day back in 1957 when "... the Personal Status Law was promulgated and hailed as a great step forward by the predominantly Muslim North African country."

Now here is something that you may not be aware of: " ... Tunisia [is] regarded as the most advanced Arab country in women's rights and political, social and economic empowerment ..."

From Gulf News:
Leila Ben Ali, the wife of President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, was reported as saying: "Tunisian women have become a bright image of a vivacious forward-moving nation and an excellent model of progress and modernism. They are increasingly involved in all economic sectors, now assume greater responsibilities and hold more decision-making positions."

Egyptian Women & Inheritance

Gulf News has this story:

Women in Egypt are being disadvantaged when it comes to inheritance. According to the article, there are ".... many Egyptian women whose access to inheritance is blocked by centuries-old traditions denying them their share of inheritance on the grounds this will fragment the family's property and hand it over to strange spouses. The trend is believed to be rife in Egypt's rural areas where tribal traditions and male chauvinism are still deeply rooted."

It is women who are usually the victims in this instance, fearing that acting against their male relatives would bring shame upon their family.

Furkhanda Hassan, the chairwoman of the governmental National Council for Women "... has recently proposed a draft bill to the Egyptian Parliament to criminalise the disinheritance of lawful heirs." No date has yet been forthcoming .. let us hope that it will not be too long.

Review: The Tudor Sisters

Making a trip to the local library today, I came away with a mixed bag of 10 books - a mix of non-fiction and fiction - but all to do with history.

I read this first one over a period of an hour and a half today.

"The Tudor Sisters" by Aileen Armitage is the story of Mary and Anne Boleyn. It begins with the death of their mother and finishes with Henry's impending marriage to Anne. For me, however, it is more the story of Mary. In this book, the author places Mary as the elder of the two sisters who went to France in the entourage of Mary Tudor when she married the King of France.

The book itself is barely 200 pages - and its easy to read, whether the Tudor period of English history takes your fancy or not. Though, not a fan of the abundance of Tudor fiction about, I did enjoy the book.

I think the story of Mary Boleyn is becoming more popular than that of her sister (and rival) Anne. Mary, at least, survived her entanglement with Henry VIII!.

Spectacular Women

Yes - the title intrigued me - who were these women who headed the list of Lisa Kroger from Oprah's website.

Unfortunately I was left a little disappointed. The likes of Wilma Flintstone and Chelsea Clinton were not names that I would readily have placed at the head of my list. So I continued reading - and continued to be disappointed.

I have never been a fan of "O" - her show, her magazine, her website - and this type of journalism continues to only reinforce my views.

Her "Women Changing the World" article predominantly featured one woman - Queen Rania of Jordan, and a couple of interviews with the "common folk". And a small piece on President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia. Quite a disappointing article really - or should I say mere excerpts from her show. Maybe I was expecting "O" to touch on more women who have made a difference in their own countries.

I actually watched a more indepth piece from a female BBC reporter about women in Iran.

Future for North African Women

From an article written by Mary Kimani and reproduced on the allAfrica website:

North Africa: Women Organise and Forge Alliances
"In recent years women in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia have secured more rights, greater access to education and a modest increase in their political representation. But entrenching those achievements will require joint advocacy by women's organizations, governments and religious groups, argues Leila Rhiwi of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). "To guarantee and consolidate the gains of the last few years we must follow through with the application of the reforms," she told Africa Renewal. "If you do not have advocacy, then no change happens because institutions are always reluctant to change."

The need for concerted effort is even more acute in the face of growing opposition by conservative groups and clerics who claim that such initiatives violate Islamic law or are contrary to the Koran. Such opposition in North Africa, Ms. Rhiwi says, reflects the wider spread of conservative trends throughout the Muslim world.

Women's groups have learned to adapt to differing situations, explains Ms. Rhiwi. "They are very strong, they know the culture. They know the religious context in which they live and can use either universal human rights arguments or religious arguments for their cause." Most often, Ms. Rhiwi adds, "to succeed we must find clerics with progressive interpretations of the Koran to support us."

Such support does exist. When the Egyptian government in 2004 appointed a female judge to the Supreme Court, conservative groups attacked the move as a violation of Islamic law. When the government named 30 more women judges three years later, there were further denunciations. That reaction prompted the government to ask for a ruling on the legitimacy of the nominations from Al Azhar University, the Muslim world's oldest seat of religious learning and the highest authority on Islamic law in Egypt. The mufti of Al Azhar ruled that the appointments did not violate Islamic law.

The mufti had previously judged that Islam allowed equal opportunities for men and women to end unhappy marriages, a ruling that helped efforts by the government and women's groups to change Egypt's marriage and divorce laws.

Women's organizations in Morocco have also sought to work closely with clerics, Ms. Rhiwi reports. "We needed society to understand that the conservative clerics were not the sole interpreters of Islam." Through such partnerships, she adds, women's organizations were able to obtain Islamic rulings that supported legal changes, such as increasing the age at which women may legally marry, granting women and men equal rights in marriage and divorce and securing women's custodial rights to their children."

Bring Back Feminism

The call has gone out - feminism should be taught in schools - again! Why - to counter the images that young women today are subjected to from the likes of pop-poppets and social-vacants.

When girls today use online usernames that were once considered the epitome denigration; when "tweenies" are subjected to the raucous cavorting of former "Mousekateers" (and I don't mean Annette Funicello) - its time to instill a little bit of female pride back into their lives.

From a Times Online article by Joan Smith "Why Feminism should be taught in schools":
"The research of Dr Ringrose - who works at the Institute of Education in London and whose conclusions have just appeared in the Times Educational Supplement - could hardly be more timely, coming at a moment when there is growing anxiety about the sexualisation of girls and women. Schoolgirls, she says, increasingly link their personal worth to being sexually attractive. She is calling for young women to be offered alternative role models to the ubiquitous celebrities - such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Christina Aguilera - who embody the must-have look for young women in the 21st century.

...feminism needs to reinvent itself as much as any other political movement. It needs to address teenage girls in a modern language that doesn't reinforce the worst stereotypes about feminism ...

Indeed, I worry that there has been a generational slip - that a generation of teenage girls has missed out on feminist ideas and is having to deal with an increasingly exploitative culture without the tools to look beyond the surface glitter. Few of them realise, when they jokingly call themselves “sluts” and “whores”, that they are using male words that have always reflected contempt for women. It may be cool to talk about “hos” and “bitches”, using a vocabulary lifted from rap music, but I'm not surprised to discover from Dr Ringrose's research that teenage girls still fret about being seen as “slutty” if they go “too far” sexually.

That's the trouble with this kind of faux-liberation. I've seen it all before, as have most women of my generation. But it's no good talking to teenage girls about objectification and patriarchy when they have grown up with the casual vocabulary of teen magazines and the internet. In fact, I'd go farther than Dr Ringrose and argue that it's no good teaching feminism only to girls when their male contemporaries are just as vulnerable to the ghastly messages of lads' culture.

We need feminism more than ever, not just to address all the myths that have grown up - we're still a long way from living in an equal society, despite girls' much-vaunted success over boys in exams - but to counter the pervasive influence of the commercial sex industry on young women."

Over at Mail Online, Laura Clark has taken up the theme:
Dr Ringrose "... called for teachers to discuss feminism and suggest positive role models, who could include figures such as Virginia Woolf, suffragettes' leader Emmeline Pankhurst and even the cartoon character Lisa Simpson.

But the study also found that while girls rely on their sex appeal to create their identities, they tend to see themselves - and others - as 'slutty' if their behaviour goes too far.

Dr Ringrose's research, published in the Times Educational Supplement, comes at a time of growing concern over the sexualisation of childhood through teen magazines, advertising, films and music videos.

Ministers have launched an inquiry into the commercialisation of childhood and teachers' leaders have warned that highly sexualised clothes and toys are being marketed at primary school children."

Further reading: "The End of Women's Studies" (March 2008)