In the Chinese region of Xinjiang, home to a large population of the country's Muslim Uighur minority, government workers are encouraging women to cast off their headscarves in the name of good looks. Called "Project Beauty," the government-backed campaign has reportedly taken over the streets of Kashgar, one of the few cities in China where a significant number of women don the veil for religious reasons. De facto beauty police staff street-side stalls and single out veiled women, recording their images with a surveillance camera and even making them watch a re-education film "about the joys of exposing their faces."
The effort is an underhanded campaign to put beauty ideals to work in the name of national security. States have long tried to restrict the veil among Muslim women, often through formal decree. But China is taking something of a soft-power approach and telling China's Muslim women to unveil and show their pretty faces.
What isn't said is that the true aim of that campaign is to make it easier to track members of a restive minority group.
Here's your "quirky Japan" story of the day: Apparently, it's very impolite for women there to eat hamburgers in public -- or so says one Japanese fast food chain that hopes to free women from the unbearable shame of opening their mouths too widely.
Freshness Burger claims that, for the longest time, its tastiest burger was only popular with men because Japanese women were too embarrassed to shove the sandwiches in their "small, modest mouths." So they came up with a novel idea: A hamburger wrapper that not only shields a woman's chewing mouth from public view, but also depicts a soothing image of the lower half of a woman's face. It's pretty much a mask that women can hide behind while they, for the first time, enjoy ""the wild pleasure of taking mouth sized bites."
The company says that the wrapper was a huge success:
Meanwhile, in the U.S., fast food chain Carl's Jr. has long taken the opposite approach: shoveling large portions of food in the wide open mouths of as many women as possible. Come to think of it, maybe it's America that's quirky, and possibly a little gross.
Saudi authorities have found a novel way of punishing women who defy the country's driving ban: jailing the men who support them.
Around 50 women got behind the wheel on Oct. 26, in an act of civil disobedience. While some of the women were stopped and fined, none were arrested. Instead, police apprehended Tariq al-Mubarak, a male columnist who worked closely with organizers and who had penned an op-ed promoting women's rights.
"This time they are not after women, they are after men who supported the women," women's activist Manal al-Sharif told Foreign Policy. "They're too afraid of people's reaction."
Women have organized against the driving ban twice before, each time eliciting swift and heavy-handed responses from the government. In 1990, authorities suspended women from their jobs and restricted their ability to travel outside of the country. Following a 2011 protest, police inciting international outrage when they jailed Sharif for nine days, and sentenced another woman, Shaima Jastaina, to 10 lashes (Jastaina was later pardoned by the king).
The latest demonstration was the largest and most widely publicized, as women uploaded YouTube videos of themselves driving, and supporters broadcast the event on social media. "The whole country went into an emergency state on Saturday," Sharif said, "As if it was in a war - just because of women drivers."
Yet, the government's official response was markedly tamer than in years past -- in part, perhaps, because of the verbal lashing Saudi delegates received at a U.N. Human Rights Council session last week. Following the demonstration, women reported being followed by secret police, and were criticized for choosing October 26 (Hillary Clinton's birthday) for their protest, but Mubarak remains the only person in custody.
Human Rights Watch characterized his detention as a retaliation against supporters of women's rights.
But the government's focus on Mubarak may bear more pernicious implications: By making one man responsible for the protest, authorities invalidate the women behind the campaign -- implying that the movement will come to little without male support. It's par for the course in a country where women are regarded as the legal minors of male guardians -- unable to marry, go to college, or undergo certain medical procedures without the permission of fathers, husbands, brothers or even sons.
Sharif argues that, since the 2011 protest, public perceptions of women are rapidly changing.
"I see men commenting on the movement," she said. "They say, ‘Oh my god, we never thought a single woman would have the bravery of 1,000 men. You go online, they say, ‘if you want to get your rights, listen to women.'"
The women's driving campaign enjoys broad support, bolstered by the ease and availability of social media. An online petition circulated before the October 26 protest collected nearly 17,000 signatures in one week. Just two years ago, a similar petition only garnered 3,000 signatures. "It showed that the society - and even men - was fed up," Sharif said. "This is huge, because women are realizing how powerful they are."
The next women's driving day is scheduled for November 30.
MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images
Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers has prompted some pretty outrageous justifications -- and that was before this weekend's demonstrations, in which 60 women got behind the wheel in a rolling protest. One leading Saudi cleric argued that women ran the risk of damaging their ovaries and pelvises when they drove cars, increasing the possibility of giving birth to children with "clinical problems." But perhaps none of these reasons are more ludicrous than the one charging that female drivers would increase car accidents. The Kingdom's actually has one of the planet's worst safety records. Indeed, the biggest argument against the ban could be Saudi drivers' atrociously high road accident death toll, consistently rating among the highest in the world.
According to the most recent World Health Organization figures, Saudi Arabia has the 21st-highest road-related death toll in the world, but that number becomes even more exceptional when you look at the group of countries that are faring worse. The countries with the worst fatalities are overwhelmingly low-income countries, with the South Pacific island of Niue registering the highest number. The fact that a lot of these countries struggle with basic road infrastructure and an inadequate police force to enforce traffic laws makes the number in Saudi Arabia, a wealthy country, even more striking. Saudi Arabia has the highest accident-related death toll among high-income countries.
A 2013 study by the Kingdom's General Directorate of Traffic found that 19 people die per day in traffic-related fatalities in Saudi Arabia, predicting that if current rates continue, by 2030, 4 million people will die annually in a car accident there. The biggest reason for the high rates is simply reckless driving - the report has found in past years that a third of all car accidents in the Kingdom are cause by drivers jumping red lights, and 18 percent were caused by illegal u-turns. In an interview with Arab News in September, the associate vice president and transportation systems director of Middle East Operations at traffic management consultancy Iteris Inc., Glenn N. Havinoviski, said infrastructure wasn't an issue, but "when you see people turning left out of the far right lane and traffic cutting through parking lots and frontage roads, there are clearly some issues with discipline."
MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images
Women of the world: pack your warmest sweaters, and head immediately to Iceland. According to a newly-released report from the World Economic Forum[pdf], Iceland is the #1 country in the world for gender equality, for the fifth year in a row. And that equality is helping propel Iceland and its fellow Nordic nations to new economic heights. Turns out, the smaller the gender gap, the more economically competitive the nation. Even when that nation is totally freezing.
The notion that gender equality drives development (rather than the other way round) has been so widely celebrated in recent years that it begins to seem trite. But as the newly released 2013 Global Gender Gap Index -- which measures gender parity in 136 countries -- reminds us, gender equity isn't simply a matter of equal rights. It's a matter of efficiency. Many countries have closed the gender gap in education, for example, but gender-based barriers to employment minimize their returns on that investment; Their highly educated women aren't working. The highest ranking countries in the index have figured out how to maximize returns on their investment in women, and are consequently more economically competitive, have higher incomes, and higher rates of development.
The report notes a strong correlation between Global Gender Gap Index rankings (which measure health, education, labor political and participation) and measures of global competitiveness, as the graph below illustrates. The smaller the gender gap, the better off the economy. Perhaps it's no surprise that less-developed nations lke Yemen and Pakistan are near the bottom of the Index. What's more surprising is that relatively economic powerhouses like Turkey and Japan are right there in the basement with them.
Take the Philippines. It ranks #5 on the Global Gender Gap Index, higher than any other Asian nation. It's the only country in Asia that has fully closed the education gender gap, and its labor force boasts growing ranks of women workers, especially professionals and managers. Not surprisingly, the Philippines is now the fastest growing economy in Asia, having recently edged out China (#69 on the index). There are many reasons for this, including macroeconomic policy reforms under Aquino, but the role of a large, educated and diverse work force shouldn't be discounted; Indeed, gender parity in Filipino education and labor preceded recent economic growth.
Though not exactly analogous, something similar is playing out in the corporate world. A 2012 report by Credit Suisse found that companies with at least one woman on the board outperformed those without by about 26 percent. A 2012 report by McKinsey & Company similarly found that companies with more diverse boards boasted higher profit and higher returns on equity than others. It could be that better performing companies are in a better position to give women a chance, but the researchers at Credit Suisse suggest that simply diversifying the leadership pool can generate surprisingly positive results.
So, what are the highest ranking countries doing right, exactly?
One major factor, which the report notes every year, is that high ranking countries "have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in high female employment, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labor at home [and] better work-life balance for both women and men."
Meanwhile, in the United States, the notion that women could conceivably someday successfully combine work and family is still constantly under debate. Incidentally, the U.S. dropped one place in the rankings to #23 -- below Burundi, Cuba and, god forbid, Canada.
The lowest ranking country is Yemen, which has only closed about half of its gender gap. Japan fell four places to #120, due in part to a widening gap in political participation: The number of women in parliament fell from 11 percent to 8 percent during the past year. And, though Japan has made significant investments in education over the years, it has not removed barriers to employment for women meaning it has yet to cash in on this investment. The report argues that simply closing the gap between male and female employment in Japan would boost GDP by up to 16 percent. Turkey remains among the lowest ranking countries in Europe. Despite some gains in literacy, educational enrollment and labor force participation, the country still has fewer women professionals, managers, and politicians relative to other European nations.
In short: It's awesome to be a woman if you're in Iceland. In Yemen, not so much.
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That the first feature film shot in Saudi Arabia (a country with no commercial theaters) was directed by a woman (in a country where women still famously cannot drive) would have been enough to spark a media firestorm. That the film, Wadjda, which hit U.S. theaters last week, also happens to be good -- "a stunningly assured debut," wrote Slate; "sharply observed, deceptively gentle," wrote the New York Times -- has made it, and its photogenic director, Haifaa al-Mansour, irresistible.
Mansour's story about a young Saudi girl's quest to buy a bike -- so she can race her male friend Abdullah -- explores the lives and roles of women in one of the most conservative, traditional countries in the Middle East. It introduces us to the rhythms of daily household life in Saudi Arabia, a world that few outsiders ever see.
Mansour spoke to Foreign Policy this week about losing access to locations hours before a shoot, why it was so hard to recruit actors for her film, and the curious relationship between Saudi women and their drivers. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The shocking findings of a study on sexual assault in Asia, published Tuesday in the Lancet Global Health journal, have been generating a lot of buzz, particularly the figures on Papua New Guinea, where 59 percent -- yes, more than a majority -- of men admitted to raping sexual partners.
The researchers involved in the study, which is part of a wider United Nations campaign to track and study sexual violence in the Asia-Pacific region, interviewed men aged 18 to 49 in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka. To control for some variation, the investigators used only male interviewers and did not use the word "rape" explicitly, asking instead if the subjects had "forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex."
By any measure, the numbers are unsettling. Across the region, 10 percent of men said they had raped a non-partner, and almost one in four -- 24 percent -- admitted to raping a partner. But one of the most striking parts of the study -- the largest of its kind ever conducted -- is the variation in frequency of sexual assault across countries. Percentages of non-partner rape, for instance, jump from 5.4 percent in rural Bangladesh to 23 percent in Jayapura, Indonesia to a staggering 41 percent in Papua New Guinea. All of which raises a question: What could possibly account for such a huge disparity in cultural propensities toward rape?
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He's been counted down-and-out prematurely before, so those predicting that a decision on a tax-fraud conviction -- slated to come down from Italy's Supreme Court as early as Thursday -- will finally spell the end for the resilient Silvio Berlusconi may want to hold back. But even if the former prime minister really is temporarily banned from holding public office -- as this conviction, in theory, requires him to be -- those who fear that the Italian political scene will grow too boring (or too functional) without him need not worry: there's another Berlusconi waiting in the wings to carry on the family name.
Reports say Il Cavaliere is eyeing eldest daughter Marina Berlusconi to take over leadership of his center-right People of Liberty party -- perhaps as part of a larger rebranding of the party slated for this fall, when Berlusconi plans to change its name back to the original "Forza Italia" and "focus on young people." Marina, 46, is seen as better equipped to challenge Florence's dynamic 38-year-old mayor Matteo Renzi, a likely leader of the center-left in Italy's next elections.
So far, Marina maintains she doesn't want to succeed her father, professing that her heart is in business. But even without holding elected office, as head of the Berlusconi family holding company, Fininvest, and its publishing arm, Mondadori, Marina has become one of the most powerful people in a country where hardly any women have real clout in the realms of politics and business. Does that make the daughter of the man who brought Bunga Bunga into our vocabulary a lean in-style feminist?
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A new global survey from the Pew Research Center has revealed a striking difference of opinion along gender lines. The issue? Drone strikes.
"It's one of the most extreme gender differences we've ever seen [on an issue]," Bruce Stokes, Director of the Global Economic Program at the Pew Research Center, told Foreign Policy.
In 31 out of 39 countries surveyed, at least half of respondents disapprove of U.S. drone strikes "targeting extremists in places such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia." When looking at the gender break down, double-digit gaps were found in many countries with the highest gap in Japan where 41 percent of men approve of U.S. drone strikes while only 10 percent of women do. (The gender divide grew in Japan this year -- last year 32 percent of men approved while only 11 percent of women did.)
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It has been an awfully strange week in Australia, at least in terms of sexism-related news. First there was Prime Minister Julia Gillard's provocative speech on abortion, then a menu popped up on Twitter featuring "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box," and finally the Dalai Lama weighed in on what the Australian press has dubbed the country's "gender war."
Let's start at the beginning (or, more precisely, the start of the latest battle in the country's long-heated gender wars). On Tuesday, during an event launching the Labor Party-linked fundraising group Women for Gillard, the prime minister addressed abortion in highlighting the consequences of her politicial opponents winning the country's upcoming election. "We don't want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better," she warned.
Gillard raised the specter of a government run by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who favors blue ties because U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron -- "two of the coolest dudes in politics" -- both sport them. "I invite you to imagine it," Gillard observed, "a prime minister - a man with a blue tie who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie."
Not everyone shuddered at the thought. The Australian media reacted swiftly, with headlines like "Gillard's gender card the wrong play" and "Gillard's gender opportunism puts feminists in a bind." In the midst of all of this, a chef posted a menu from a Liberal Party fundraiser in March on Twitter -- one featuring a Moroccan quail dish described as "Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs & A Big Red Box." This revelation prompted many apologies, including one from Mal Brough, the Liberal candidate in whose honor the fundraiser was held, who called it "deeply regrettable, offensive and sexist." Now there are conflicting claims about whether the menu was even distributed at the dinner.
But the theatrics didn't stop there. On Thursday, Gillard went on a radio show where the host, Howard Sattler, wanted to discuss "myths, rumors, snide jokes and innuendo." The first rumor tackled? The sexuality of Gillard's partner, Tim Mathieson, who works as a hairdresser. As Sattler put it, "But you hear it, 'he must be gay, he's a hairdresser.'"
To which Gillard responded:
To all the hairdressers out there, including the men who are listening, I don't think in life one can actually look at a whole profession full of different human beings and say ‘gee we know something about every one of those human beings.'
Sattler has since been suspended.
Incidentally, the Dalai Lama just happens to be on a 10-day tour of the Land Down Under. Asked about Australia's gender wars, the spiritual leader, who two years ago accidentally called Gillard a man, responded by saying that his successor could be a woman. "If the circumstances are such that a female Dalai Lama is more useful, then automatically a female Dalai Lama will come," he pointed out, adding that "females have more sensitivity about others' well-being."
Australia, what's going on?
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She's been one of the world's most elusive first ladies -- let's just say no one ever called her the "Russian Michelle Obama" -- and after today, she'll be a public figure no longer.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila Putina, announced that they are divorcing after almost 30 years of marriage during an interview with Russia 24. Putina accompanied Putin to the ballet to see Esmeralda at the Grand Kremlin Palace. Afterwards, the couple first praised the performance, only discussing their relationship after a reporter noted that the Putins rarely appear in public together.
"It was our joint decision," Putin said, according to an AP translation. "We practically never saw each other. To each his own life."
"We will eternally be very close people," Putina added, "I'm thankful to Vladimir Vladimirovich that he supports me." She added, "I don't like publicity and flying is difficult for me." (Granted, Putina did once work as a flight attendant, but it was for Russia's Aeroflot, which may explain the fear of flying.)
We don't know much about Putina: A notoriously private person, she surfaces so rarely in public with her husband that it was news when she showed up at the Kremlin for Putin's inauguration last year (there was once speculation that the reason she appeared so infrequently was that she'd retreated to a monastery). She appears to have taken a public stance on just one issue: the reform of the Russian language (she's firmly against).
Rumors have swirled for years about the couple divorcing, accompanied by speculation about the various other women Putin may be having affairs with, including a former gymnast more than three decades his junior. Even a simple photo shoot in 2010 -- seemingly designed to convey an image of a happy first family -- stoked divorce rumors because the pair appeared so uncomfortable together.
The official website for Russia's president includes a description of how Putin and Lyudmila Shkrebneva met "through a mutual friend":
"I was already working in the First Main Directorate in St Petersburg, when a friend of mine called and invited me to the Arkady Raikin theatre. He said he already had the tickets, and mentioned there would be two young ladies joining us. So we went to the performance and the young ladies did join us. The next day, we went to the theatre again, but it was now my turn to buy the tickets. And the same thing happened on the third day. I then began dating one of the girls. I became friends with Lyudmila, my future wife."
In the official biography, Putina recalls, "There was something about Vladimir that attracted me. Three or four months later, I already knew this was the man I needed." The couple married on July 28, 1983 and have two daughters together.
Despite Putina's reputation for privacy, the first lady did share details about her personal life from time to time. In a 2002 biography of Putin, for instance, Putina dished on the couple's bizarre relationship. She explained how she gave birth to their first child alone, hailing a taxi in order to get to the hospital, because he was away on a business trip. When Putin returned, he declared that the baby girl would be named Masha after his mother, despite his wife's preference for Natascha.
"I was in tears," Putina recalled. "But then I realized there was no choice in the matter and my daughter was going to be Masha."
Putina described her husband's habitual lateness -- "after an hour, I would nearly cry out of humiliation" -- and claimed he would use KGB tactics on her to ensure she was trustworthy.
Putina also allegedly confided to a West German spy who befriended her while her husband worked for the KGB in Dresden, telling the agent that her husband was violent toward her and had extramarital affairs.
And every now and then, Putina made fashion statements as well (see left). "One of Moscow's top fashion designers, Vladislav Zaitsev, is famous for dressing Putina in an oversize hat, reportedly twice as big as the British queen's, when she and Putin visited Buckingham Palace," Anna Nemtsova wrote back in January. "'I love her very much,' Zaitsev said on Dozhd TV last October. 'She is wonderfully natural without any snobbishness or ambitions.'"
Sounds like a catch. But hey, Russia's divorce rate is notoriously high. The Putins, it seems, are just one more Russian couple that didn't make it.
Save the Children's "Mother's Index 2013," released less than a week before Mother's Day, generated buzz on Tuesday for its ranking of the best countries in the world to be a mother. Out of the 176 nations on the list -- 46 developed and 130 developing -- the top six are all located in Northern Europe while the bottom 12 are in Africa (Finland placed first, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo came in last). The United States finished in 30th place despite performing well on the index's educational and economic measures. The metrics holding the America back? Maternal mortality rate, under-5 mortality rate, and especially female representation in government, where it ranked 89th (women hold only 18 percent of seats in the U.S. Congress).
It's this last prong of the methodology that we found particularly interesting. Is there really a connection between a higher percentage of females in national government and a mother's quality of life?
According to Save the Children, the answer is yes. The report hypothesizes, "When women have a voice in politics, issues that are important to mothers and their children are more likely to surface on the national agenda and emerge as national priorities."
The organization based this conclusion on a number of factors. First, it compared individual countries to regional peers and nations with similar gross national incomes (GNIs), and found that the strongest performers in terms of mother and child health and well-being (maternal mortality, under-5 mortality, and access to education) also had higher proportions of parliamentary seats held by women. The team also found that when a country performed better in terms of those three health and well-being metrics than its GNI would predict, a differentiating factor was participation of women in government.
For example, Rwanda has the highest percentage of female lawmakers in the world (52 percent), and it surpasses other countries with similar levels of national wealth in terms of maternal mortality, under-5 mortality, and years of education. Nepal and Afghanistan, which have made great strides in improving the quality of life of women and children, also have the highest levels of female political representation in South Asia.
It's data Congress might want to take a closer look at.
When Amina Tyler, a 19-year-old Tunisian activist, posted topless photographs of herself on Facebook in March, she caused a global uproar. The tremendous backlash within Tunisia to the images -- which included one of Amina topless, hair short and black, with the words, "Fuck your morals" splashed across her chest -- quickly spilled beyond the country's borders as the feminist protest movement Femen, declared a "topless jihad" in her defense.
But while Amina's name exploded onto the international scene, she herself largely disappeared from the public eye. In April, Amina told Femen's leader, Inna Shevchenko, over Skype that she had been kidnapped by her family, beaten, drugged, and subjected to a virginity test. She also admitted that she had been coerced into doing an interview with the French station Itele in which she declared she didn't want to be associated with Femen. "I will continue the struggle that started in Tunisia," Amina declared during the Skype conversation. I will do a topless protest and then I will leave."
But as recently as May 1, there was still confusion over the whereabouts of the activist. In the Atlantic, Jeffrey Taylor described her as "in hiding" somewhere in the North African country.
On Wednesday, however, the young dissident finally reappeared with another topless photo posted to the Femen Facebook page. So far, the image has generated a number of headlines in the Arabic press but virtual silence in the U.S. media. This time she was blonde, and the words scrawled on her chest were in bright red instead of black. But the message was essentially the same: "No More Moral Lessons."
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
When it comes to women's rights in Saudi Arabia, things always seem to move one incremental step (or, in this case, cycle) forward, two steps back. On Monday, AP reported that al-Yawm, a Saudi daily, had cited an unnamed Saudi religious police official as saying that women will now be allowed to ride bicycles in the country, but only for "entertainment" purposes.
The underwhelming story inspired its fair share of sarcasm in the blogosphere. Cartoon images of fully veiled women pedaling on bikes circulated online. Jezebel ran with the headline, "Saudi Arabia Lets Women Ride Bikes for Funzies." Meanwhile, Policymic listed five ways the change doesn't represent progress at all (and accompanied the list with a few can't-miss GIFs).
But, alas, even this modest sign of progress may have been an illusion. The pan-Arab daily al-Hayat spoke to the country's religious police chief who called the matter "funny," adding that because riding bikes is uncommon in Saudi society, officials never considered the practice as something to either be banned or allowed for women. (Al-Hayat also name-checks the outlets that were a little eager in reporting the AP story, including Fox, the Huffington Post, and ThinkProgress).
In light of the ambiguous wording, it remains unclear whether it would be acceptable for women to ride bikes in public if the mood strikes. My guess, for what its worth? Probably not.
(h/t: Riyadh Bureau)
Image entitled "Allowed", by Mohammad Sharaf
Rape has played a devastating role in Syria's two-year-long civil war, but data about how prevalent the practice is in the murky conflict have been hard to come by. In one of the most ambitious efforts yet to nail down statistics, a study released Wednesday indicates that Syrian government forces have committed most acts of sexual violence.
Women Under Siege, along with Columbia University epidemiologists, the Syrian-American Medical Society, and Syrian activists and journalists, has spent the past year documenting and mapping incidences of sexual violence in the war-ravaged country. And while the group acknowledges that the data-- derived largely from media and human rights reports -- is incomplete and unverified, the numbers do paint an interesting picture of who is behind acts of sexual violence in the country, and how often they're occurring.
One of the report's most compelling findings is just how many of the cases of sexual violence on record have allegedly been committed by government forces:
According to the study, government forces have carried out 56 percent of sexual attacks against women. But if you include pro-regime shabiha (plain-clothed militia) perpetrators, the number is closer to 80 percent. When it comes to men (who were the victims in 20 percent of the cases tracked by Women Under Siege), the figures are even more staggering. 90 percent of the reported sexualized violence against men was committed by government forces, possibly due to the fact that these tend to occur in detention facilities. Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army, has only carried out 1 percent of the documented sexual attacks.
FP caught up with Women Under Siege Director Lauren Wolfe to delve deeper into the story behind these figures. Here's what she had to say:
Our number of reports has nearly doubled since we last put out our stats in July, yet the stats have remained remarkably consistent. Our lead Columbia epidemiologist thinks that indicates we are potentially on the right track. But again, the key caution is always that we are only getting a portion of what's potentially out there.
Wolfe acknowledges that rape is being committed on all sides of the conflict, but stresses the importance of looking at "why so much of the information coming out of Syria indicates that the majority is being enacted by government perpetrators." According to Wolfe, there are a number of explanations for this finding.
While the Syrian opposition has been diligently documenting atrocities and reporting these to international actors, the Syrian government has restricted journalists' access to information on sexual violence. "Much of the rape appears to be occurring in government detention centers, at checkpoints, and during army raids on towns," she told FP. "Whatever less structured [rape] carried out by opposition forces may be underreported."
There's another potential explanation, Wolfe adds: "It is entirely possible that government forces are actually carrying out the majority of the sexualized violence." Past studies of sexual violence in conflict show that state forces are more likely to perpetrate sexual violence -- a pattern that might just be recurring in Syria.
People across the world are celebrating International Women's Day today as both a reminder of the struggles women face and a celebration of their achievements and progress since the holiday's inception in the early 20th century. In many countries, it's even an official national holiday. But in a few, men are explicitly excluded from participating.
In countries such as China, Madagascar, and Nepal, the holiday is specifically geared toward "women only." In China, for instance, women get a half day off but men have to work. Other less institutionalized examples of male discrimination exist as well. The London borough of Tower Hamlets, for example, once made news by banning all men from its libraries on International Women's Day.
This "positive discrimination" against men raises interesting questions in a world where gender gaps are still so pronounced. Just look at the latest figures for cross-country rankings of women's political representation. Rwanda, is the only country in the world where women outnumber men in parliament, and just by 6.3 percent. The bottom five countries, conversely, have zero female participation, and Yemen, which comes in sixth-to-last, has a mere 0.3 percent. The United States ranks pretty poorly as well, finishing in 77th place with women holding only 17.8 percent of national legislative positions.
Globally, women are behind when it comes to literacy, health, and income, and things are not changing fast enough. According to the World Economic Forum's comprehensive 2012 study, only nine countries have closed health and education gaps, while none have managed to completely eradicate gaps in economic or political participation.
Debates about the best ways to change these numbers often center on methods of "positive discrimination," from legislative quotas to affirmative action programs. But does positive discrimination reinforce problematic gender divides? Or is it necessary in a world where women are still so widely disadvantaged? These questions might be too complicated to tackle in a blog post, but they are certainly worth thinking about. Particularly on International Women's Day.
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After several months of will-she-won't-she, today brought a fresh wave of speculation that actress Ashley Judd will challenge Mitch McConnell for his Kentucky Senate seat in 2014. It's still unclear whether Judd, a Democrat, could pose a serious challenge to the Senate minority leader, and, given that Kentucky's unemployment rate continues to hover around 8 percent, it's unlikely either candidate would run a foreign-policy focused campaign. Still, just what would the foreign policy of a Senator Ashley Judd look like?
Judd doesn't appear to have staked out positions on U.S. drone policy, defense spending, or Iran just yet. But where Judd has spoken out publicly is on women's issues in the developing world like family planning, public health, and in particular rape -- perhaps as a result of being a rape victim herself. She's given a speech before the U.N. General Assembly on human trafficking and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She's on the board of the D.C.-based Population Services International, and her role as global ambassador for their YouthAIDS program has taken her to countries such as Cambodia, Kenya, and Rwanda (the picture above shows her in Thailand). In 2010, she made a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to highlight how valuable minerals like tin and tungsten fuel violence against women. She's also chronicled her travels on her blog, ashleyjudd.com, where she at times gets intensely personal in her reflections:
Here's what she wrote about traveling to Congo and using Apple products made with minerals potentially mined in Congo:
Apple is known for the clean lines of their products, the alluring simplicity of their designs. Dare I....go so far....as to suggest...this signature cleanness is stained by the shit and urine of raped women's leaking fistulas?
On interviewing a women whose mother was raped three times:
I am still holding her child. I have been crying some. She tells me I am not like other white women. I confide in her, telling her I have chosen not to have children because I believe the children who are already her [sic] are really mine, too. I do not need to go making "my own" baby when so many of my babies are already here who need love, attention, time, care.
Judd has made this last point before, and Republicans have sought to highlight a 2006 statement Judd made in which she called it "unconscionable to breed, with the number of children who are starving to death in impoverished countries."
While Judd may not have a fully fleshed out foreign policy platform yet, it is clear she's passionate about some issues. But whether advocacy on rape in Congo will win her traction in Kentucky remains to be seen.
PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/Getty Images
China's People's Daily may have taken some heat this week for publishing what the Shanghaiist described as a "leering" slide show of a "beautiful" journalist, but some news outlets in Kazakhstan have been one-upping the Communist Party daily when it comes to misogyny. This week, in honor of International Women's Day on March 8, the Kazakh website Vox Populi is hosting a Miss Military Kazakhstan contest -- encouraging readers to vote not for models but for "beauties" from various military and law-enforcement units who "wear shoulder straps" and guard the country.
On Wednesday, Kazakhstan's Tengri News reported on the competition as if it were a horse race:
Judging by the current results of voting the National Guard of Kazakhstan has the most beautiful officers. Three girls from the National Guard of Kazakhstan have taken the leading positions in the rating: Sergeant of the National Guard Bibigul Sauytova from Astana is in the first place, Junior Sergeant of the National Guard Saltant Bayzhumanova from Astana is in the second place and Sergeant of the National Guard Natalya Fokina is in the third place.
It's not clear how many times this particular contest has been held, but Tengri News reports that authorities in the country do host an annual Lady of Kazakhstan Police contest, with the winner appearing on the cover of a police magazine.
Which brings us back to International Women's Day. According to the website for the century-old celebration, the "tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts." In keeping with that tradition, Vox Populi will award Miss Military Kazakhstan with a digital camera. And in a separate development, Tengri News is reporting that police in the country will give female drivers flowers and forgive them traffic violations in honor of the holiday. So, there's that.
HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images
Economic arguments have a particular resonance during periods of sluggish growth, and that logic even seems to extend these days to the hot-button issue of abortion. In Switzerland, a new, very literally named initiative --"Protect life to remedy the loss of billions" - is calling for a referendum to ban abortion in the country for economic reasons. The initiative committe is led by politician Heinz Hürzeler, a member of the country's Social Liberal Movement, and maintains that in Switzerland, where 12 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, the practice represents a huge blow to the economy (comparatively speaking, Switzerland has one of the lowest abortion rates in the world, with only 6.4 abortions for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44). As AFP reports:
It calculates that if the more than 100,000 foetuses aborted in Switzerland over the past decade had been born, grown up and worked for 45 years, they would have contributed nearly 334 billion Swiss francs ($359 billion, 274 billion euros) to the country's GDP.
And, as consumers, the same 100,000 people would over 80 years pump more than 324 billion francs into the country's economy, it says.
Economic arguments abound in favor of abortion (and contraception more generally), and they tend to focus on the burden and welfare demands posed by unsupported children on both the individual and societal levels. Freakonomics has even weighed in on the debate, linking abortion to decreased crime rates in places like Romania, Canada, and Australia.
Perhaps less well known are the economic arguments for banning the practice. Like the Swiss initiative, these tend to rely on what pro-life author Larry Burkett has called "the George Bailey Affect" after the main character in It's a Wonderful Life: How the world would look, if, for each abortion, we substituted a consumer child who would grow up to become a productive member of society.
As for the campaign in Switzerland, the initiative has until August 2014 to garner 100,000 signatures, at which point the abortion ban will be put to a national referendum. Abortion was only decriminalized in Switzerland in 2002, also by national referendum.
To everyone's surprise, 2013 might prove a historic year for women in the U.S. military, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday that the Pentagon will remove the ban on women in combat.
All the attention is focusing on ground troops, but it's actually on the high seas that the last glass ceiling, or in this case high-strength alloy steel hull, is being shattered. Last October, the Navy announced that beginning in January, women will be allowed to serve on attack submarines for the first time, and the number of women in crews on Trident-class submarines will also be increased.
And the United States isn't alone. Britain has also said that this year will see the beginning of female participation on Royal Navy submarines, and countries such as Canada and Australia have already seen successful integration of women in submarine crews.
While these changes are being welcomed by men and women around the United States, the question remains: Why have submarines proved the final stubborn frontier? Out of the 42 countries that use submarines, only six allow women to serve.
According to the BBC, the British Navy banned women's participation for their own good, citing "health concerns about carbon dioxide." Unsurprisingly, two years ago, a study by the Institute of Naval Medicine deemed these concerns unfounded. The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, raised questions about cramped quarters and privacy:
On fast-attack submarines, approximately 150 personnel live in space the size of a three-bedroom house. Officers sleep in three-person staterooms, each the size of a small closet, and all 15 of them share a single shower, sink and toilet.
For female officers to live on the submarines, some three-person berths would be reserved for them and they would share the bathroom -- known as a "head" -- with men in a time-sharing arrangement.
But logistics and CO2 aside, the Navy has always been a bit behind the times when it comes to female participation. In the United States, it wasn't until 1978 that women were allowed to participate in surface warfare, and many of them left in the 1980s because of the lack of opportunities available. Now, as the Navy suffers from lack of personnel and women become more dominant in fields like engineering, they are finally being allowed below the surface.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Uprising of Women in the Arab World is not pleased with Facebook.
The group, which advocates for women's rights in the Middle East, issued a press statement on Nov. 7 claiming that Facebook, once hailed as the catalyst of the Arab Spring, was purposefully targeting the organization through censorship. After a member posted a controversial photograph to the group's Facebook page on Oct. 25, group leaders say, the social networking giant reacted by blocking the image and suspending the account of the administrator who posted it for 24 hours.
"The photograph was part of a campaign which asks the members of our Facebook page to post pictures of themselves holding banners that explain why they support The Uprising of Women in the Arab World," Diala Haider, one of the organization's administrators, explained in an interview. "Women from all the Arab countries participated and expressed their demands and outrage at social discrimination and the ways in which women have been marginalized in the public sphere."
This particular photograph was posted by Dana Bakdounes, a young woman from Syria. In it, Bakdounes is pictured with her hair uncovered, holding her passport, which has a photo of her wearing a hijab. She also holds a sign which reads: "I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I was not allowed to feel the wind in my hair and on my body."
Haider says that after the first time Bakdounes' photo was removed by Facebook, supporters of The Uprising of Women in the Arab World responded by posting the image to their own Facebook pages and on Twitter. Convinced that the removal of the photograph had been an error on the part of Facebook, one of the administrators, Yalda Younes, reposted the image to the original page. Facebook then allegedly removed the photograph again and suspended her account for seven days. The group filled out a feedback request stating that Facebook's actions were a violation of free speech, and on Oct. 31 the block on Bakdounes' photo was removed. But just a week later, after the organization posted a status update on Facebook asking its supporters to follow the group on Twitter and use the hashtag #DanaWind for solidarity, Haider says Facebook suspended all five of the administrators' accounts and sent them an official notice warning that their accounts could be deleted if they violated Facebook community rules again.
"We've had a lot of religious fanatics and extremists who use offensive and insulting language in reaction to our efforts," says Haider. "They call us infidels for supporting the freedom of women to choose things like whether to wear a veil or not. We've come under attack, but that was expected.... The real surprise was Facebook's reaction to the page."
In a statement posted on Reddit on Nov. 13 and confirmed to Foreign Policy as official by a Facebook spokesman, Facebook explained that the incident was simply an error:
"We made a mistake," the statement reads. "In this case, we mistakenly blocked images from The Uprising of Women in the Arab World Page, and worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified.... To be clear, the images of the woman were not in violation of our terms. Instead, a mistake was made in the process of responding to a report on controversial content.... What made this situation worse is that we made multiple mistakes over a number of days, and it took time to rectify each of these missteps."
Incidents such as the removal of Bakdounes' photo raise questions about Facebook's content moderation system, which has come under fire in recent months. In February, Amine Derkaoui, a Moroccan employee of oDesk, one of the outsourcing firms that Facebook used to moderate its content at the time, leaked internal documents to Gawker detailing the social media site's content guidelines. According to the documents, while "camel toes" and breastfeeding mothers are off limits, "Crushed heads, limbs etc are OK as long as no insides are showing." Facebook terminated its partnership with oDesk in May.
An incident similar to the removal of Bakdounes' photo occurred in April 2011 when a photograph of gay men kissing was removed (and subsequently reposted by Facebook with an apology for its "error"). The site has also been criticized for blocking the New Yorker's Facebook page after the magazine posted a cartoon that depicted female nipples. In October, a group of Navy SEALS claimed that Facebook was censoring an anti-Obama meme when it took down the image and provided no explanation for its removal until after the story was reported -- at which point Facebook issued statements to news outlets apologizing for its mistake.
These episodes begin to make more sense when you factor in the system that, at least until May, Facebook used to moderate its content. Derkaoui told Gawker that he was part of a team of 50 people from across the globe -- many from poor countries -- who moderated Facebook's content from home for as little as $1 an hour. He did not return requests for comment, and Facebook has been tightlipped about which companies it now uses to moderate content, failing to respond to emailed questions sent by Foreign Policy.
Vaughn Hester, who works at Crowdflower, a San Francisco-based crowdsourcing firm that also tasks employees from around the world with moderating content, told The Daily Beast in September that "asking moderators to flag photos that are ‘offensive' can result in very different attitudes in terms of what constitutes offensive content versus permissible content." Given what seems to be the inherent subjectivity of the content moderation industry, as well as the vast cultural and religious differences between employees from different countries, it seems possible that a photograph like Bakdounes', which Americans might not find offensive in the least, could have upset a moderator from another country.
Panagiotis Ipeirotis, an associate professor in the Operations and Management Sciences department at New York University's Stern School of Business, says that there are many ways to identify and eliminate biases in the content moderation industry.
"You might, for example, compare different moderators' work against each other," says Ipeirotis. "So, if you're worried about cultural biases, you can take five moderators from different regions and get blended input on an image."
Ipeirotis says he is unfamiliar with Facebook's content moderation policy, but maintains that the content moderation systems of different companies are only as efficient as the standards they implement.
Haider says that while she understands that mistakes are made, it's important that Facebook take incidents like this seriously because arbitrary acts of censorship aren't compatible with the site's role as a forum for free speech.
"It's only normal that Facebook, which has penetrated the whole globe, hires employees from all over the world with various religious and cultural backgrounds," she says. "This becomes problematic only when those employees favor their cultural and religious biases over Facebook's policy of respecting freedom of expression. This is why Facebook should take serious measures regarding such mistakes. We trusted that Facebook would be a supporter of freedom of expression and the uprising; we have faced the opposite by feeling that Facebook is assisting extremists and misogynists to put us in a corner.... It is disappointing, to say the least."
Facebook outlines some of its guidelines for acceptable content on its community standards page while maintaining that it attempts to balance the need for a safe online environment with its commitment to freedom of speech.
"Facebook gives people around the world the power to publish their own stories, see the world through the eyes of many other people, and connect and share wherever they go," the page reads. "The conversation that happens on Facebook -- and the opinions expressed here -- mirror the diversity of the people using Facebook. To balance the needs and interests of a global population, Facebook protects expression that meets the community standards."
Despite the removal of Bakdounes' photograph, The Uprising of Women in the Arab World's Facebook page has over 66,000 likes, and Haider acknowledges the important role that social media sites such as Facebook have played in mobilizing activist groups such as hers.
"We wanted a forum that can provide a free space for women and men from around the Arab world to meet and voice their concerns and propositions for a better reality for women within the transforming Arab societies," she says. "In this sense, Facebook helps break the borders and helps in sharing real experiences and awareness with the least possible costs."
Iran suspended accreditation for Reuters today, but not, as one might expect, over reporters prying into the country's nuclear activities or besmirching the good name of the Supreme Leader. Instead, Reuters is reportedly being sued by a group of female Iranian ninjas, like the one pictured above.
A video produced by Reuters about the thousands of women learning ninjutsu was unfortunately titled, "Thousands of female Ninjas train as Iran's assassins." The inference that the women -- whose interest in the ancient martial art is primarily motivated by "staying fit," according to one participant -- are violent marauders offended the athletes, who are overseen by the Ministry of Sports' Martial Arts Federation. In case it wasn't obvious, you don't want to offend a highly-trained cadre of Iranian ninjas. Anger these black-belted beauties and they'll ... take their legitimate complaint to the appropriate authorities who will suspend your press credentials. Hiiiii-yah!
Reuters released a statement about the gaffe, saying, "We acknowledge this error occurred and regard it as a very serious matter. It was promptly corrected the same day it came to our attention." The agency is currently in negotiations with Iran to regain accreditation (There are 11 accredited Reuters employees in Iran). However, the ninjas argue that the damage has already been done.
"It can harm our chances to travel to other countries to take part in global tournaments and international championships because Reuters is considered by many to be a reliable source," Raheleh Davoudzadeh told PressTV, Iran's semi-official news agency.
While the assassins line might not seem like the highest order of business for a country facing sanctions and potentially an armed attack, glibly labeling a group in a way that plays into stereotypes about violence is no laughing matter. As poll after poll shows, language matters tremendously when people are asked to consider military action.
Don't believe us? Why don't you tell her that.
The case of Bibi Aisha, the young girl who graced the cover of TIME Magazine after her nose and ears were cut off, has been dropped. The only arrested suspect, Aisha's father-in-law, was released in Afghanistan, according to government officials. Aisha has been living in the United States for the past two years following her dramatic recovery, so there is no one available to press charges against Haji Suleiman. The provincial attorney, Ghulam Farouq, maintained that the suspect was innocent since he did not actually cut the young girl. But Suleiman is far from innocent -- he was accused of holding a gun to 18-year-old Aisha while several other men mutilated and left her for dead. He then marched around the village with the young girl's nose in hand. Aisha's father, Mohammedzai, relayed his anger, saying:
"We don't know who released him. We don't know at all. It's either government weakness or our weakness. We don't have money to pay the government and we don't have someone in the government to support us."
Aisha won the hearts of readers around the world with her horrifying tale of survival. She was a servant, a child bride fleeing the brutal abuse of her in-laws who would make her sleep with the animals as if she was an animal herself.
Aisha's father feared what the Taliban would do if Aisha spoke out. But she ignored his advice to keep quiet:
"My father told me not to tell anyone the full truth, that I was given away, that I went to jail for two or three months, not to tell anyone anything. But I will tell them all these things because I am not such a person to lie. I will tell them because I think my story must be told."
Aisha quickly became the face of the Afghan woman's plight -- the United Nations estimates nearly 90 percent of women in Afghanistan suffer from domestic abuse. The haunting photograph of beautiful, but disfigured Aisha draped in a purple scarf, won the 2010 World Press Photo of the Year.
Her attackers may never be brought to justice, but Aisha continues to recover. She is currently studying English in New York City.
Nisa Yeh via Flickr Creative Commons
What do chicken-processing factories, noodle factories, and polygamy clubs have in common? Easy -- they're all ventures undertaken by the Malaysian company Global Ikhwan Sdn Bhd. Before his death in 2010, the chairman and founder Ashaari Mohamed doubled as the leader of the radical Islamic sect Al-Arqam, banned in 1994 by the state's National Fatwa Council for what Malaysian newspaper The Star terms "deviationist" teachings. But his passing hasn't sapped the derring-do of the Global Ikhwan team. Their latest venture deals with that peskiest of pesky social ills -- women who, you know, make their own decisions:
A wife must obey and serve her husband like "a first-class prostitute" to keep him from straying and to prevent greater social ills, according to the Obedient Wives' Club.
The Malaysian branch of the club, launched here yesterday, was formed as an answer to social problems such as infidelity, prostitution, domestic violence and abandoned babies, which its members believed stemmed from a lack of belief in God and the failure of women to keep their husbands content.
The 800 Muslim women who comprise the club have faced a virulent backlash since they announced its creation on June 4. But the response issued this weekend by OWC national director Fauziah Ariffin suggests that the criticism hasn't really hit home:
I believe we have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. When we said that husbands should treat their wives like first-class prostitutes, we were not putting wives on the same level with prostitutes. We are talking about first-class elite types, not street hooker types.
Our wives provide men with top-level service. However, ordinary prostitutes can only provide good sex, but not love and affection which only a wife can provide.
Oh, I see. Wives should be like Eliot Spitzer's call girl. Charming.
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
When one woman made a mistake at work, her boss called her a "stupid fucking female" and spit in her face. She was later stalked, sexually harassed, and raped. Another woman got drunk with her coworker, who was her superior, when he raped her. She spent the next two years forced to continue working with him; her work assignments were downgraded because she took medication to cope with the trauma of the ordeal. A third woman was sexually harassed by a supervisor and raped by a coworker. When she sought help from her workplace's chaplain, she was told that "it must have been God's will for her to be raped" and was recommended to attend church more often.
Where do these women work?: The U.S. military.
These are the stories of some of the plaintiffs in a class-action suit filed in an Eastern Virginia federal court yesterday against Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld. The litigants are current and veteran service members, 15 women and two men, and they charge that, even twenty years after the landmark Tailhook case, the military has allowed a dangerous culture of rape and sexual abuse to proliferate. Specifically, Gates and Rumsfeld are charged with running "institutions in which perpetrators were promoted; ...in which Plaintiffs and other victims were openly subject to retaliation...and ordered to keep quiet."
Since 2005, when Congress mandated that the Defense Department create a task force on military sexual assault, other similar efforts have attempted to do something about this increasingly egregious problem. Last March, the Pentagon released the latest Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military which showed an 11 percent increase in reports of sexual assault in the military during fiscal year 2009 (equivalent to one-third of female service members reporting sexual violence). The Pentagon even says that reported incidents probably represent only 20 percent of those that actually occur.
While sexual assault in the military carries its own unique implications -- a particularly high-stress workplace environment, a traditionally male-dominated work culture, a strict mandate to follow superiors' orders, among much else -- the military is not the only workplace where women (and men) are assaulted. According to one statistic, one out of every six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And, on average, 36,500 incidents of rape and sexual assault happen annually in the workplace.
This year, that number unfortunately includes Lara Logan. The CBS news correspondent is recovering in an American hospital after being sexually assaulted and beaten by a mob in Tahrir Square last Friday. The media firestorm surrounding Logan's ordeal ranges well into the vulgar. As Jezebel points out, "media outlets are clamoring to respond -- in the most offensive way possible" detailing Logan's looks, sex life, and past experience reporting from war zones and other dangerous places, implying that she had it coming.
Today, journalist Nir Rosen (who has written for FP) resigned from his fellowship position at New York University's Center on Law and Security after some heavy backlash to his critical tweets of Logan, including "Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger." On the opposite end of the political spectrum, Debbie Sclussel, an extreme right-wing commentator, wrote that Logan "should have known what Islam is all about."
Sadly, the "Muslims did it" argument has found its way into the mainstream. Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post noted that Egypt is a place where women "are not free to pass through the street without being groped and catcalled." The Daily Beast, today, ran a piece titled "Egypt: Unsafe for Women." Even film critic Roger Ebert joined the debate, tweeting: "The attack on Lara Logan brings Middle East attitudes toward women into sad focus."
While the statistics on women's experiences in Egypt are terrible and alarming -- 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women visitors have experienced harassment -- Egyptian culture is by no means the only one where rape, sexual assault, and harassment are embedded and pervasive.
Sadly, Logan's story is not an isolated event: Not isolated to an attractive foreign reporter pursuing a story, not isolated to those 18 days in Tahrir, not isolated to broader Egyptian culture, not isolated to the experience of women in every country around the world. Yet the way this incident has been explained in popular media -- as a result of Logan's looks, her job, and the unique cultural environment in which she was working -- reduces Logan's experience into a singular, rather than societal, problem.
Perhaps the most unique thing about these cases is that they are so public. As we can see in the cases of the 17 service members suing the Pentagon, and the countless others who remain silent, sexual violence in the workplace (and everywhere else) is notable not for its rarity but for the stigma and difficulties attached with reporting it.
The photos coming from Cairo and other parts of Egypt have many around the world glued to their computers, compulsively clicking through slideshows of the protests and brushing up on recent Egyptian history. On social networking sites and in the comments of various news sites (including this one), newbie Egyptologists have been asking: Where are Egypt's women?
Seeking to answer that question and helping to dismiss the idea that this is a boys-only revolution, a new Facebook album is making its way around the internet. Titled "Women of Egypt," it depicts women in both hijabs and jeans, with mouths open defiantly voicing protest. The Facebook user who created the album and compiled the photos said that the album is an "homage to all those women out there fighting, and whose voices and faces are hidden from the public eye!"
Perhaps one of the most provocative and moving of this photos is what's being referred to as "The Kiss Photo" which depicts an older Egyptian woman kissing a soldier on the cheek. According to The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta, this is "truly exceptional."
[The photo] was a powerful statement of national unity.
But it was also far more radical than that in a country in which men and women are barely tolerated holding hands in public in the most liberal precincts of comparatively Christian Alexandria, and where public displays of affections are frowned upon and likely to be met with cutting glances and vicious neighborhood gossip elsewhere...
In short, when it comes to women in public life, Egypt can be pretty conservative. It's not Saudi Arabia or Iran, but it's also not Lebanon."
Franke-Ruta noted that 90 percent of Egyptian women wear the hijab and even with a quota, only 1.8 percent of the seats in the People's Assembly are held by women.
In fact, many experts are saying that the number of women taking place in the anti-government protests is "unprecendented." Slate rounds up various estimates of women in the crowds:
Ghada Shahbandar, an activist with the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, estimated the crowd downtown to be 20 percent female. Other estimates were as high as 50 percent. In past protests, the female presence would rarely rise to 10 percent. Protests have a reputation for being dangerous for Egyptian women, whose common struggle as objects of sexual harassment is exacerbated in the congested, male-dominated crowd.
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images
Give the Bulgarian government points for efficiency, if not productivity. On the same day the country's defense minister lifted its ban on women serving on submarines, the parliament voted to mothball the country's only submarine. It's the thought that counts, I guess.
The U.S. navy also lifted its own ban on women in subs this month and a group of female officers are currently in training to begin service onboard four nuclear submarines in December 2011. Presumably, the USS Wyoming, USS, Georgia, USS Ohio, and USS Maine will still be there when they're done.
Egypt is infamous both for the sexual harassment women endure and the government's lackluster response to the problem. Now, a private venture called HarassMap will allow women to instantly report incidents of sexual harassment through text messages. Victims will receive a reply offering support and practical advice, and reports will be compiled into a larger map of harassment hotspots. The project is set to launch next year, and utilizes open-source mapping technology, which was also used earlier this year to help relief efforts after the Haitian earthquake.
According to the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, a Cairo-based NGO, 83 percent of Egyptian women surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment, including groping, lewd comments, and stalking. Almost half reported harassment on a daily basis. And belying popular belief, harassment incidents do not seem to be linked to revealing outfits -- three-quarters of victims were veiled at the time of incident. There are currently no laws prohibiting harassment. Egypt's first lady, Suzanne Mubarak, has even said that the media exaggerates the threat posed by sexual harassment.
The most recent statistics available place Egyptian mobile phone users at around 40 percent of the population and the female literacy rate at about 60 percent. While HarassMap could be important on a practical level for those women able to access it, those working on the project think it could change societal norms.
Rebecca Chiao, one of the volunteers behind the project told Britain's Guardian.
"In the last couple of years there's been a debate in Egypt over whether harassment of women on the streets is a serious issue, or whether it's something women are making up. So HarassMap will have an impact on the ground by revealing the extent of this problem. It will also offer victims a practical way of responding, something to fight back with; as someone who has experienced sexual harassment personally on the streets of Cairo, I know that the most frustrating part of it was feeling like there was nothing I could do."
U.S. cities, including New York and Washington, and entire countries like Britain and Australia, already have similar maps where citizens can report incidents by e-mail. Hollaback, first started in New York, is also in the process of launching an iPhone app.
CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images
No surprise that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusoni and Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi seem to be extremely fond of each other: they're both prone to making extremely... questionable... comments. Berlusconi put on his old sage hat Sunday and offered this relationship advice:
I said to a girl to look for a wealthy boyfriend. This suggestion is not unrealistic.
Berlusconi, being famously wealthy himself, noted that women are drawn to him because he's a "nice guy" -- and oh yeah, that "I'm loaded." He went on to say women like older men because they think, "'he's old. He dies and I inherit.'" Classy.
Of course Berlusconi's trysts are well known. He's been accused by his wife of putting attractive young women on his party lists in European elections, and last year he was embroiled in a scandal over his 'companionships' with a slew of women. His wife is seeking a divorce.
As if his comments on women weren't bad enough, he went ahead and made a Hitler joke -- based on the premise of Hitler's followers urging him to return to power. Berlusconi preemptively acknowledged his crassness, saying "I already know I am going to be criticized."
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images
A new study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association questions some traditional gender notions surrounding sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It found that sexual violence against civilians in the eastern DRC is indeed horrifyingly widespread. Most notably, both men and women reported being victims of sexual violence-23.6 percent of men surveyed and 39.7 percent of women. Additionally, this study was the first to ask about perpetrators' genders in conflict-related sexual violence. 41 percent of female and 10 percent of male survivors reported that their attacker was a woman.
This study was an attempt by researchers to add some needed depth to current understanding of sexual violence in the DRC-a part of the world commonly known as "the ground zero of rape" where sexual violence is used as a weapon of a war that first began in 1994 and has since killed millions of people, even after a 2003 peace treaty.
The typical language surrounding rape in the DRC-"Stop raping our greatest resource: Power to the girls and women of Democratic Republic of Congo," for example-asserts that women are the abused and men the abusers. Atrocities in the DRC have gained attention recently as writers and activists, including the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, have noted that fighting over minerals in the Congo have turned smart phones into "blood phones."
Previous studies have only provided anecdotal reports and often only evaluated already identified survivors of sexual violence. Because of social stigmatization many survivors (especially male) face in reporting violence, rates of non-report are as high as 75 percent, and may be higher in conflict areas, according to the study.
With a mission to assess the wider impact of sexual violence in eastern Congo, American researchers went door-to-door with a 144-question survey administered to 998 adults (593 female and 405 male) in North and South Kivu provinces and the Ituri district. It asked about basic demographic information (including education, health care access, and past and current substance abuse), as well as lifetime exposure to sexual violence, combatant experience, and opinions on women's roles in society, and justice for sexual violence. Respondents were asked if they had ever been forced into sexual slavery, sexual abuse type (including rape and attempted rape, molestation, and gang rape), and about the identity of the perpetrator, number of attackers, and consequences of the attack. They were also assessed for symptoms of PTSD, depression, and other types of mental illness.
This area has a long history of forced recruitment into armed groups. Twenty percent of those surveyed reported personal combat history-both men and women performed the same tasks within armed groups, except for sexual slavery (women were more than twice as likely to be victimized here than men). The majority of sexual violence reported was conflict-related, disputing some recent studies that have shown civilian-perpetuated sexual violence is on the rise.
"We can no longer think that sexual violence is just violence against women perpetrated by men, it is about everybody," study author Lynn Lawry, of the International Health Division of the U.S. Department of Defense, told the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). Action and advocacy combating sexual violence needs to include men and boys, a statement echoed by a paper from Sweden's NordicAfrica Institute published in May, which criticized "the invisibility of men and boys as victims of sexual and gender-based violence."
Some NGOs have disputed the study, saying that while there were male victims of sexual violence, statistics on female perpetrators are too low to be conclusive. For example, according to IRIN, Ciarán Donnelly, head of the International Rescue Committee in the DRC, noted that it was "unclear whether women kidnapped by armed groups and forced to perform sexual acts on others were listed among the perpetrators." The study's methodology has also been called into question-interviewers had to avoid currently active combat zones.
The study was funded by the DOD's Africa Command, the International Medical Corps, and McGill University.
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