Recent Resources for Feminists
Nawal El Saadawi: Collective [feminist] efforts empower to overcome political & economic oppression Print E-mail
 14th November 2017

(sister-hood is an award-winning digital magazine spotlighting the diverse voices of women of Muslim heritage)
Also at:  Sunday November 19 2017

 Flickr / Jeanne Menjoulet

A letter to young feminists

by Nawal El Saadawi
I was asked to write a letter to younger generations of feminists and to give them my advice. I hate to give advice. I think nobody can 'advise' anybody else. We learn from our own experiences in our own lives. We pay the price of knowledge and awareness through physical and intellectual pain. We cannot learn without pain. We cannot liberate ourselves without paying the price of freedom. We cannot be creative without paying the price of creativity. The price may be high: prison, exile or even death.

But I do not advise young women or men to die or go to prison in order to be free and change the system of oppression. We can minimize the price of freedom by working and fighting together. Collective efforts through social and political organisations give power to powerless people, who are facing organized military, political and economic powers, at the state level and internationally.

1. Unveil your mind

We live in a world governed by power (not justice) under the capitalist, patriarchal, racist, religious system. The most oppressed sectors of society are women and the poor, who have refused to submit to slavery since the beginning of history.

Reading history illuminates and helps us to discover the origin and roots of patriarchy and other types of oppression and aggression. We need to undo what official educational systems did to us and unveil our minds by re-reading the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Iraq, Greece and others, to understand that the oppression of women and slaves is neither natural, divine nor eternal, but political and economic, and that therefore these can be changed through our collective organised efforts, locally and globally.

Revolutions of women and slaves were able to undermine the power of the patriarchal-class-religious system in every country: West and East, North and South. Every revolution faces a counter-revolution. The struggle goes on. The Egyptian revolution of January 2011 was composed mainly of young men and women. They were able to remove Hosni Mubarak, the head of state. They could not, however, change the capitalist-patriarchal system ruling the country. They did not undermine the power of the Islamic fanatic terrorist groups, and the global colonising powers which were supporting them, openly and secretly.

2. Connect, link and challenge
We need to link the global to the local. I like the new word 'glocal' which shows that we live in one world, not three or four, and that the global and the local are inseparable. I was born, and live in Egypt, but I have travelled all over the world during my years of exile to speak at conferences and teach my course, 'Creativity and Dissidence' at universities. I made the link between creativity and dissidence. You cannot be obedient and creative. I changed the concept of exile from a punishment to a reward. I gained knowledge from living in different countries and different cultures. We can overcome any hard or painful situation by making it fruitful and pleasurable, by changing the negative experience into a positive one.

I was able to survive prison. Every day, the jailer would inspect my cell and shout 'If I find paper and a pen in your cell, it will be more dangerous than if I find a gun.' I was able to smuggle a small eyebrow pencil and some toilet paper into my cell. I was able to hide them underground in a tin can. Every night, I brought them into my cell and wrote. In three months of being in jail I finished my book entitled Memoirs From The Women's Prison which I published after I was released. I felt as if the walls of prison vanished through the challenge and power of creative writing. If I have to give advice to younger generations I can tell them this: if you can transform a negative experience into a positive one, you can survive any torture or oppression.

I am living surrounded - physically and intellectually - by young women and men who read my books or attend my lectures inside and outside Egypt. They write emails to me, or phone me, or visit me at home. With their support I gather the energy to continue fighting and writing, and, above all, to continue to be happy, active, optimistic and productive. Hope is power and I never lose hope. Even in prison I was full of hope, and sure that I would come out alive, healthy and even more creative, and that Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt who had put me in jail, would soon fall. My prison-mates did not believe it. He was powerful, wealthy and healthy. But he was shot dead just one month after putting us in jail.

I feel young amongst young people, although I am now seventy-eight years old. You can change the concept of age, and of time and place, of loneliness and divorce, of disease or even death.

3. Lose the fear of hellfire
We have illusions and fear inherited from early childhood. I lost the fear of hellfire because my father and mother told me there was no hellfire. Many children lose their common sense because of the fear of hellfire. Most children are born intelligent and creative. They look up to the stars and ask who created them. Parents reply, 'God created the stars'. The child then asks automatically, 'And who created God?' But nobody answers this question. Another child asks, 'Who created the sky and the earth?’ The teacher replies, 'God created the whole universe.' The child then asks automatically, 'And what did God do before creating the universe?' Now the teacher gets angry and says, 'He was preparing hellfire to burn whoever asks that question'. Many children stop asking questions after that.

My daughter and son asked questions from a very young age. I never stopped them. Some schoolteachers discouraged them with threats of hellfire, but I talked to the teachers and they stopped threatening my children. We should not leave the brains of our children to be crippled by fear. My daughter, Mona Helmy, gained a PhD in political economy but she resigned from her post to become an independent writer and poet. She published many books and led a youth campaign to give due respect to mothers in family naming traditions. Her campaigning helped to change the law. My son, Atef Hetata, graduated with honours from the college of Engineering but left this career to become a film director. He wrote and directed the feature film The Closed Doors which has won many prizes nationally and internationally. Both my son and daughter have paid a high price for their creativity and dissidence - but they continue to struggle, and they never give up.

4. Don't give up
This is my advice to younger generations, men and women all over the world. Many young feminists were disappointed after Donald Trump came to power in the USA, and after many other fiercely capitalist, patriarchal and racist figures like him took power in Europe and other places. We hear about terrorist attacks everywhere. In Egypt, some of the young feminists who participated in the January 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square are disappointed and have lost hope. They think the revolution has failed because of the backlash against women and progressive and feminist ideas and activities. But if we read the history of revolutions in France, Britain, Russia, America and other countries, we learn that the dreams of any revolution may take many years (or even centuries) to come true. In spite of the increasing counter-revolutions everywhere, and the growth of Salafi and Islamist groups, the daily attacks of Daesh and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, people never give up. Those who fight for justice and freedom will succeed in the end.

We need to change the conception of success. It is not money, nor fame, nor power: it is the ability to make the world a better place to live in. It is the ability to fail, to fall to the ground, but to stand up again and again, and continue the struggle. Failure is not a negative experience; it can be positive, if we can learn that failure is the first step to success.

Nawal El Saadawi is an internationally renowned Egyptian writer, novelist, medical doctor and fighter for women rights.

Australia: A Nation's YES via post votes overwhelmingly to end discrimination against Gay Marriage Print E-mail

 Wednesday November 15 2017

Why all Australians had a stake in the postal vote on same-sex marriage

By Penny Wong

Wednesday's "yes" vote is a momentous statement for LGBTIQ Australians – that we are accepted for who we are. That we, too, belong. That our love is equal.

Same-sex marriage: Political support
Federal politicians in favour of same-sex marriage have reacted with emotion to Australians voting yes to marriage equality.

Australians have recognised that our relationships have as much worth and commitment as everyone else's relationships. Our desire to make a public and lasting commitment to the person we love is as important and meaningful as everyone else's.

For those of us fighting for equality, this has been a deeply personal debate. The stubborn legislative discrimination excluding us from the institution of marriage was a clear statement about how our relationships were regarded.

This has been a very hard time for our community, the LGBTIQ community across Australia.

The worth of our relationships has been questioned. Our love and commitment to our children has been questioned. Our identity has been denigrated.

And when a part of our community is diminished in this way, whether it on the basis of ethnicity, language, religion, sexuality or other attribute, we are all diminished.

Those attitudes have been resoundingly rejected.

John Shakespeare

The Australian people have declared we belong, our love is equal, and those who argued for division and intolerance have been rejected.

So this campaign wasn't just important for LGBTIQ Australians. It's important for all Australians.
Celebrations at Prince Alfred Park in Surry Hills on Wednesday morning. (James Brickwood)

Thank you to the millions of Australians who stood up for fairness. Thank you for standing up for equality. Thank you for standing up for gay and lesbian Australians, the LGBTIQ community everywhere. Thank you for standing up for my family and for all our families. Thank you for standing up for the sort of Australia we believe in, one that is decent, one that is fair, one that is accepting and one that turns its back on exclusion and division.

We have now seen an outpouring of love and support from our fellow Australians. I hope we can all take from this a message of solidarity, of support, of decency from our fellow Australians.

Senator Penny Wong hugs Senator Richard Di Natale after the result in the same sex marriage survey at Parliament House (Andrew Meares)

All of us have been lifted by the support from unions, from business leaders, from farmers, miners and professionals; from the ordinary working men and women of Australia; from the national sporting clubs and their leading stars to the local clubs in towns and cities across Australia.

We have been lifted by support from the local cafes with "Vote Yes" signs in the windows, from the airlines and airports decorated with rainbows.

Woodleigh School students Cas Baptist and Indigo Rule react to the same-sex marriage survey result. (Simon Schluter)
I have seen it also in the thoughtful messages my partner Sophie and I received, in the kindness of strangers stopping me in the street to ask after our family and those who tell me in the lift or the airport terminal that they were voting "yes".

And as much as these interactions lift my spirits, I can also I see how much it means to our fellow Australians that they are able to show their support in millions of individual ways, to bring an end to discrimination imposed upon us by the changes to the Marriage Act in 2004.

Happy responses at Prince Alfred Park to the majority yes vote. (James Brickwood)

So the "yes" vote is not just a statement for the LGBTIQ community: it's a statement about the kind of nation we are.

A nation where the values of fairness and equality grow ever stronger.

A nation where acceptance and respect mean that all members of our community are made to feel safe and welcome.

Australians have voted for equality. They have done their part.

Now it is time for us to do ours.

The bill we will now debate is the 23rd marriage equality bill to be introduced into the Australian Parliament. And it is the first I have co-sponsored.

I have chosen to put my name in support of this bill because I believe it is the right bill to pass this Parliament.

The Australian people voted to remove discrimination – not to extend it.

It's time for us to get on with it.

It's time to remove discrimination from our Marriage Act.

It's time to legislate for marriage equality.

Senator Penny Wong is the leader of the Opposition in the Senate

Ireland: Catherine Corless awarded National Human Rights Award for exposing Tuam infant atrocities Print E-mail

 Thursday October 26 2017

Amateur historian Catherine Corless honoured with Human Rights Award for Tuam Mothers and Baby work

 Catherine Corless

By Saidhbh O'Callaghan

The Bar of Ireland has presented Catherine Corless its Human Rights Award relating to the discovery of the remains of 796 children on the site of a former mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Amature historian, Catherine Corless has spent years searching through the records of the former Saint Mary's mother and baby home. Her research showed that 796 children, mostly infants, had died from 1925 and 1961 in the home run by Bon Secours.

Two local boys, Frannie Hopkins and Barry Sweeney, were playing in the field, 14 years after the home closed, where they discovered a hole covered by a concrete slab "full of skeletons... of children". After telling a local priest the site was covered over again, without any investigation into who was buried there or what had happened to them.

Corless had heard about the story, and began to investigate who had been buried there. After contacting countless people (Bon Secours Headquaters in Cork, Western Health Board, Galway County Council), and getting nothing, she finally began to get information when she contacted the registry office Galway.

Between 2011 and 2013, Corless paid €4 per death certificate of the children who had died while in the home.

She eventually came to a number of 796 children, whos deaths had been caused by a range of diseases, including tuberculosis, measles and pneumonia, as well as neglect and malnutrition. This meant that the child mortality rate at the home was extremely large compared to the rest of Ireland at that time.

After using a site map, she concluded that the most likely site where the children would have been buried was the sewage tank, which has been out of use since the 1930s.

Corless and some fellow local historians began to appeal to put a permanant memorial there for the children who had died. Despite a local paper (2013) and the Connact Tribune (Feburary 2014) running the story, it was not brought to national attention until May 2014 when, focusing on the mass grave mostly, journalist Alison O'Reilly interviewd Corless.

Without Corless's tireless and, until now, thankless work, this tradegy may have never came to light. Later today she will receive the Bar of Ireland Human Rights award, which she undoubtedly deserves for fighting for the 'forgotten children', who couldn't fight for themselves.

Accepting the award, Corless said; “I am truly honoured to receive The Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award. My work campaigning on behalf of the survivors of mother and baby homes continues and I hope that this special award will give even more survivors the strength to come forward to tell their story. With each and every testimony the truth is uncovered further and our campaign for justice to prevail is strengthened. I share this Award with the all survivors, this is for them.”

The Irish Times ~ Thursday October 26, 2017,

Galway historian Catherine Corless receives Human Rights Award

Children’s bodies found at Tuam mother and baby home should be exhumed, says Corless

By Olivia Kelly

Catherine Corless after receiving the Bar of Ireland’s Human Rights Award in recognition of her work in relation to the Tuam mother and baby homes. ( Brian Lawless/PA)

Galway-based historian, Catherine Corless has called for the exhumation of the bodies of all children buried at the mother and baby home in Tuam, Co Galway.

Ms Corless was speaking in Dublin on Thursday where she was presented with the annual Human Rights Award from barristers’ organisation the Bar of Ireland, for her work in relation to the home.

Her research led to the discovery of the remains of hundreds of babies on the site of the former institution for unmarried mothers run by the Sisters of the Bon Secours, and she continues to advocate on behalf of survivors.

A “terrible injustice” had been done to “innocent children” at the home she said, “both the people who went through the home and survived it and also . . . the children who died there” .

The Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes earlier this year announced that “significant” quantities of human remains had been found buried under the Tuam home site. The commission was set up in February 2015 after Ms Corless, published research that revealed death certificates for 796 children home with no indication of their burial places.

“I couldn’t get my mind around how the sisters could leave that home in 1961, close the gates when it closed down, with 796 children buried beneath in the tunnels in coffins, a lot of them in the sewage tank area as we now know,” she said. “What kind of mentality would leave that place without acknowledging that so many burials were there, so many precious lives were lost?”

She said she hoped the commission would make recommendations which would restore some dignity to the dead.

“The ideal would be to exhume those little bodies and just show them some dignity and reverence and to perhaps reinter them in the main Tuam graveyard which is only across the road.”

The commission must also provide justice for the survivors, she said.

“Hopefully the commission of inquiry will give them justice. All they want is an apology and an acknowledgment of what happened to them and their mothers.”

Paul McGarry SC, chairman of the council of the Bar of Ireland said Ms Corless had shown “incredible courage and determination” in her advocacy work on behalf of survivors of the home.

“She has worked tirelessly on their behalf and has shone a light on a dark period of our history, passionately represented the victims and their rights at all times, often in the face of adversity,” he said.

“She epitomises the very essence of a humanitarian and is a very deserving recipient of this award.”

The Bar of Ireland’s Human Rights Award is presented to a person or organisation who has shown exceptional humanitarian service. Last year it was awarded to the Irish Naval Service for its work on the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.
 March 08, 2017

Tuam “chamber of horrors” – babies starved, sold, experimented on

By Niall O'Dowd

The horrors of Mother and Baby Homes. Children sit in a tea room with a nun posing for a photo  (Adoption Rights Alliance)

At least 6,000 Irish children died in the now notorious mother and baby homes throughout Ireland, but the nightmare doesn't end there. Eighteen children, mostly girls, mostly mentally handicapped, were starved to death.

Details are emerging of the horrific stories behind some of the 796 deaths at the Tuam mother and baby home.

Irish leader Enda Kenny made an impassioned speech in the parliament yesterday calling Tuam a “Chamber of Horrors.”

He stated. “No nuns broke into our homes to kidnap our children.

“We gave them up to what we convinced ourselves was the nuns’ care.

“We took their babies (unmarried mothers) and gifted them, sold them, trafficked them, starved them, neglected them or denied them to the point of their disappearance from our hearts, our sight, our country and, in the case of Tuam and possibly other places, from life itself.”

Twelve of the 18 who starved were girls and there is a suspicion that some were mentally retarded. Bridget Agatha Kenny was two months old when she died as a result of marasmus, child malnutrition, on August 23, 1947. She is described as having been ‘mentally defective.'

She was one of 18 children whose cause of death was listed as child malnutrition or the official term “marasmus.”

Marasmus is a form of severe malnutrition characterized by energy deficiency. A child with marasmus looks utterly emaciated with ribs protruding. Body weight is reduced to less than 60% of the normal body weight for the age.

The new details raise the shocking specter of children dying of starvation in Ireland 100 years after the Famine.

Photo: Children in a playroom at a Mother and Baby Home (Via: Adoption Rights Alliance).

In 2014 it was revealed in a report compiled by Michael Dwyer of Cork University’s School of History 2,051 children from state-run homes were used as medical guinea pigs for the pharma giant Burroughs Wellcome during the 1930s. He came to this conclusion after trawling through tens of thousands of medical journal articles and archived files.

Dwyer told the Daily Mail in 2014, “What I have found is just the tip of a very large and submerged iceberg.

“The fact that no record of these trials can be found in the files relating to the Department of Local Government and Public Health, the Municipal Health Reports relating to Cork and Dublin, or the Wellcome Archives in London, suggests that vaccine trials would not have been acceptable to government, municipal authorities, or the general public.

“However, the fact that reports of these trials were published in the most prestigious medical journals suggests that this type of human experimentation was largely accepted by medical practitioners and facilitated by authorities in charge of children’s residential institutions.”

Children taking the air, accompanied by nuns at a Mother and Baby home (Via: Adoption Rights Alliance)

There were nine homes in all and it is now also a confirmed fact that between 1940 and 1965 Saint Patrick's, on the Navan Road in Dublin, and its sister hospital, Saint Kevin’s, “donated” the bodies of at least 461 deceased babies for routine dissection practice in all the major medical teaching institutions in the state, including Trinity College Dublin, The College of Surgeons and University College Dublin’s medical school.

No questions were asked where the baby bodies came from.

Following the excavation of “significant quantities of infants' remains” at the Tuam site of the Bon Secours’ Mother and Baby Home the case has been handed over to the gardai (police). The case of the mass grave, homed in two underground sewerage structures, was referred to the north Galway coroner by the Mother and Baby Home Commission of Investigation.

As more widespread investigations into burial plots and Mother and Baby Home records across Ireland are called for the Coalition of Mother And Baby home Survivors released a statement, a rundown of facts already known about the Catholic Church’s Mother and Baby Homes. Among them is the fact that the children in the church’s care were used for medical experimentation and drug trials.

In 2011, RTE’s investigative current affairs show, "Prime Time" revealed that hundreds of the bodies of babies born in Ireland’s Mother and Baby were sent from the homes to Irish medical colleges. They also reported that other children were vaccinated in the homes with experimental drugs and closely monitored for side effects.

According to Dwyer’s report from 2014, no consent was ever sought by the Mother and Baby Homes for these medical procedures. These vaccine trials were carried out on Irish babies before the drugs were eventually made available for commercial use in the United Kingdom.

  Nun sits with young boy and other children at a Mother and Baby Home. (Via: Adoption Rights Alliance)

Among those homes listed were Bessborough, in County Cork, and Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, County Tipperary. Both of these homes are included among the mass grave investigations being sought by survivors and campaigners.

The report states that other institutions where children may also have been vaccinated include Cork orphanages St Joseph’s Industrial School for Boys, run by the Presentation Brothers, and St Finbarr’s Industrial School for Girls, run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. Dublin trials may have involved children from St Vincent’s Industrial School, Goldenbridge, St Joseph’s School for Deaf Boys, Cabra, and St Saviour's Dominican Orphanage.

A spokesman for GSK – formerly Wellcome – told the Irish Daily Mail: “The activities that have been described to us date back over 70 years and, if true, are clearly very distressing.”

Children at the Bon Secour Mother and Baby Home, in Tuam, County Galway.

At the time of the report Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny called for a countrywide investigation into these practices and the burial plots at Tuam, and other Mother and Baby Homes.

According to the 2011 "Prime Time" documentary, the Polio vaccine was developed during the 1950s. While this led to a decrease in such diseases as diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough, however this new drug brought on an increase in the amount of child research performed. Much of the research was consequently performed in children’s institutions through the 1960s. There are no records that show consent from the mothers in the homes. “It was clear from the report that there was no parental consent,” reports the documentary. “There was a violation of the physical integrity of the children.”

Before Dwyer’s 2012 report, a damning report by the Irish government’s Health Service Executive (HSE) found that the Irish Catholic mother and child homes had an infant mortality rate of 68% in 1943. The report shows that, according to the Register of Deaths, Bessborough Mother and Baby home during certain months in the 1940s the death rate among children living in the home amounted to a child dying roughly every second day.

More than 80 of the 472 infant deaths have malnutrition listed as the cause of death.

The reports also showed that as time went on, the standard of the death records kept decreased dramatically. It is the case that for hundreds of children listed it was unclear when exactly the death took place and it appeared that many were recorded at the same time.

The Guardian ~ Wednesday 8 March 2017

The Catholic church is ‘shocked’ at the hundreds of children buried at Tuam. Really?

By Emer O'Toole

The discovery of remains at a former home for unmarried mothers shows that Ireland is still in denial over a horrific legacy

Engineers use ground-penetrating radar to search the mass grave at the former mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway. (Aidan Crawley/EPA)

It has been confirmed that significant numbers of children’s remains lie in a mass grave adjacent to a former home for unmarried mothers run by the Bon Secours Sisters in Tuam, County Galway. This is exactly where local historian Catherine Corless, who was instrumental in bringing the mass grave to light, said they would be. A state-established commission of inquiry into mother and baby homes recently located the site in a structure that “appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water”, but which we are not supposed to call a septic tank.

The archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary, says he is “deeply shocked and horrified”. Deeply. Because what could the church have known about the abuse of children in its instutions? When Irish taoiseach Enda Kenny was asked if he was similarly shocked, he answered: “Absolutely. To think you pass by the location on so many occasions over the years.” To think. Because what would Kenny, in Irish politics since the 70s, know about state-funded, church-perpetrated abuse of women and children? Even the commission of inquiry – already under critique by the UN – said in its official statement that it was “shocked by this discovery”.

If I am shocked, it is by the pretence of so much shock. When Corless discovered death certificates for 796 children at the home between 1925 and 1961 but burial records for only two, it was clear that hundreds of bodies existed somewhere. They did not, after all, ascend into heaven like the virgin mother. Corless then uncovered oral histories from reliable local witnesses, offering evidence of where those children’s remains could be found. So what did the church and state think had happened? That the nuns had buried the babies in a lovely wee graveyard somewhere, but just couldn’t remember where?

Or maybe the church and state are expressing shock that nuns in mid-20th century Ireland could have so little regard for the lives and deaths of children in their care. The Ryan report in 2009 documented the systematic sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children in church-run, state-funded institutions. It revealed that when confronted with evidence of child abuse, the church would transfer abusers to other institutions, where they could abuse other children. The Christian Brothers legally blocked the report from naming and shaming its members. Meanwhile, Cardinal Seán Brady – now known to have participated in the cover-up of abuse by paedophile priest Brendan Smyth – muttered about how ashamed he was.

It may be time to stop acting as though the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the Catholic church are news to us

The same year, the Murphy report on the sexual abuse of children in the archdiocese of Dublin revealed that the Catholic church’s priorities in dealing with paedophilia were not child welfare, but rather secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of its reputation and the preservation of church assets. In 2013, the McAleese report documented the imprisonment of more than 10,000 women in church-run, state-funded laundries, where they worked in punitive industrial conditions without pay for the crime of being unmarried mothers.

So you will forgive me if I am sceptical of the professed shock of Ireland’s clergy, politicians and official inquiring bodies. We know too much about the Catholic church’s abuse of women and children to be shocked by Tuam. A mass grave full of the children of unmarried mothers is an embarrassing landmark when the state is still paying the church to run its schools and hospitals. Hundreds of dead babies are not an asset to those invested in the myth of an abortion-free Ireland; they inconveniently suggest that Catholic Ireland always had abortions, just very late-term ones, administered slowly by nuns after the children were already born.

As Ireland gears up for a probable referendum on abortion rights as well as a strategically planned visit from the pope, it may be time to stop acting as though the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy of the Catholic church are news to us. You can say you don’t care, but – after the Ryan report, the Murphy report, the McAleese report, the Cloyne report, the Ferns report, the Raphoe report and now Tuam – you don’t get to pretend that you don’t know.

Two members of my family were born in the Tuam home, lived short lives there, and are likely lying in that septic tank – sorry, in that structure that “appears to be related to the treatment/containment of sewage and/or waste water”. Their mother died young, weakened from her time in the custody of the church. Because of this I understand that otherwise good, kind people in Ireland handed power over women and children’s lives to an institution they knew was abusive. And I wrestle with the reality that – in our schools and hospitals – we’re still handing power over women and children’s lives to the Catholic church. Perhaps, after Tuam, after everything, that’s what’s really shocking.

Joy A. Palmer Cooper & David E. Cooper [Editors]: Key Thinkers on the Environment Print E-mail

Key Thinkers on the Environment [Edited by Joy A. Palmer Cooper and David E. Cooper]

Key Thinkers on the Environment is a unique guide to environmental thinking through the ages. Joy A. Palmer Cooper and David E. Cooper, themselves distinguished authors on environmental matters, have assembled a team of expert contributors to summarize and analyse the thinking of diverse and stimulating figures from around the world and from ancient times to the present day. Among those included are:
?    philosophers such as Rousseau, Kant, Spinoza and Heidegger
?    activists such as Chico Mendes and Wangari Maathai
?    literary giants such as Virgil, Goethe and Wordsworth
?    major religious and spiritual figures such as Buddha and St Francis of Assissi
?    eminent scientists such as Darwin, Lovelock and E.O. Wilson.
Lucid, scholarly and informative, the essays contained within this volume offer a fascinating overview of humankind’s view and understanding of the natural world.

Table of Contents

Alphabetical list of contents
Notes on Contributors
Confucius, 479-551 BCE by Yue Zhuang
Buddha, fifth century bce by Purushottama Bilimoria
Zhuangzi, c.370-c.286 bce by David E. Cooper
Aristotle, 384–322 bce by David E. Cooper
Virgil, 70–19 bce by Philip R. Hardie
Saint Francis of Assisi, 1181/2–1226 Andrew Linzey and Ara Barsam
Wang Yang-ming, 1472–1528 by T. Yamauchi
Michel de Montaigne, 1533–92 by Ann Moss
Francis Bacon, 1561–1626 by Paul S. MacDonald
Benedict Spinoza, 1632–77 by Paul S. MacDonald
Bash , 1644–94 by David J. Mossley
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1712–78 by Paul S. MacDonald
Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804 by Emily Brady
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749–1832 by Colin Riordan
Alexander von Humboldt, 1769-1859 by Nicolaas A. Rupke
William Wordsworth, 1770–1850 by W. John Coletta
John Clare, 1793–1864by W John Coletta
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803–82 by Holmes Rolston III
Charles Darwin, 1809–82 by Alan Holland
Henry David Thoreau, 1817–62 by Laura Dassow Walls
Karl Marx, 1818–83 by Richard Smith
John Ruskin, 1819–1900 by Richard Smith
Frederick Law Olmsted, 1822–1903 by R. Terry Schnadelbach
John Muir, 1838–1914 by Peter Blaze Corcoran
Anna Botsford Comstock, 1854–1930 by Peter Blaze Corcoran
Rabindranath Tagore, 1861–1941 by Kalyan Sen Gupta
Black Elk, 1862–1950 by J. Baird Callicott
Jacob von Uexküll, 1864-1944 by Carlo Brentari
Frank Lloyd Wright, 1867–1959 by Robert McCarter
Mahatma Gandhi, 1869–1948 by Purushottama Bilimoria
Albert Schweitzer, 1875–1965 by Ara Barsam and Andrew Linzey
Aldo Leopold, 1887–1948 by J. Baird Callicott
Robinson Jeffers, 1887–1962 by Michael McDowell
Martin Heidegger, 1889–1976 by Simon P. James
Eve Balfour, 1898-1990 by Erin Gill
Rachel Carson, 1907–64 by Peter Blaze Corcoran
Lynn White, Jr, 1907–87 by Michael P. Nelson
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1908-61 by Bryan E. Bannon
E.F. Schumacher, 1911–77 by Satish Kumar
John Cage, 1912-92 by Peter Jaeger
Arne Naess, 1912–2009 by David E. Cooper
John Passmore, 1914–2004 by David E. Cooper
Judith Wright, 1915-2000 by Nicholas Birns
Barry Commoner, 1917-2012 by Peter Dreier
James Lovelock, 1919- by Michael Allaby
Mary Midgley, 1919- by Elizabeth McKinnell
Murray Bookchin, 1921–2006 by John Barry
Thich Nhat Hanh, 1926- by Elli Weisbaum
Edward Osborne Wilson, 1929– by Phillip J. Gates
Yi-Fu Tuan, 1930- by Paul C. Adams
Paul Ehrlich, 1932– by Ian G Simmons
Holmes Rolston III, 1932– by Jack Weir
Seyyed Hossein Nasr 1933- by Sarah Robinson-Bertoni
Wendell Berry, 1934- by Jason Peters
Jane Goodall, 1934- by Marc Bekoff
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India: SC rules sex with minor bride is rape, but marital rape still non-ctiminal for wives aged 18+ Print E-mail

 Friday October 13, 2017


It is rape

Sex with minor bride a crime

THE Supreme Court on Wednesday plugged a loophole in law that so far allowed a married man to have sex with a girl even if she is under 18, the age of consent. While the criminal code protects a child by prohibiting anyone from having sex with anyone below 18 years, the law provided an exception for married couples. The exception says that sexual intercourse with a minor wife above the age of 15 would not qualify as rape. This meant that while you could be charged with rape for having consensual intercourse with a girl below 18, non-consensual sex with a minor bride would be legal. By striking off the clause in response to a public interest lawsuit, the court has aligned the millions of married minors with their unmarried minor peers regarding sexual assault laws. Perhaps, now we will have fewer underage girls being married off to much older filthy rich men.

The new legal regime is a huge step forward for the child brides ­ UNICEF-2016 report says that 47 per cent of girls are married off before they are 18 in India ­ considering that successive governments have fought shy of invalidating the regressive rule, all in the name of tradition and socio-economic realities. But while criminalising rape empowers girls to have sexual autonomy and a say over their bodies, for the law to be effective, the government ­ and society ­ need to first strictly prohibit child marriages. Rather than cooking and cleaning for their husbands and becoming mothers at a young age and suffering from consequential health issues, girls must be encouraged to go to school.

The Supreme Court’s ruling reflects a shift in social mores. The Indian society is no longer happy being chained to medieval rites and traditions. And, it is incumbent upon the judiciary to nudge the society towards progressive practices and laws. Earlier in August, the Supreme Court had boldly protected the rights of Muslims women by declaring instant triple talaq unconstitutional. Next on the progressive agenda should be protection and autonomy to married women above 18, notwithstanding the government’s specious plea against criminalising marital rape in the name of protecting the institution of marriage.


 Saturday October 14, 2017

The legal message

By Gulika Reddy
Removing the current marital exception to rape will also have an important signalling effect

In the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday, criminalising sex between a man and his minor wife, while the court refrained from adjudicating on the larger issue of marital rape, its judgment made reference to the Justice J.S. Verma committee recommendations that explained why the exemption of marital rape must be removed, and that a marital or other relationship is not a defence or justification for a lower sentence.

Rooted in outdated notions
Consider this: 2.6 billion women live in countries, including India, where marital rape is not a crime. Millions of others live in countries including the U.S., where marital rape is treated differently from other forms of rape. The unjust treatment of marital rape as an exemption stems from three common law notions: marriage constitutes a contract, which includes the woman’s irrevocable consent to sex; a woman is the property of her husband, and rape is a violation of a man’s property rather than a crime against women; and after marriage, a woman’s identity becomes part of her husband’s. Despite the outdated, problematic origins of this exception, the Indian government has consistently resisted a change in the law.

The gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi in 2012 resulted in an amendment to the criminal legislation in India, including the definition and punishment of rape. However, the exemption of marital rape was retained, despite recommendations by the Justice Verma committee. Lawmakers reacted to its recommendation arguing: “If marital rape is brought under the law, the entire family system will be under great stress.” A few years later, we face the same debate as the Delhi High Court hears a petition seeking the inclusion of marital rape under the existing rape law. This inclusion too is being rejected by the government. Counterintuitively, it is also being rejected by some women’s rights activists, for completely different reasons. The government thinks it will be used as a tool to harass men, and that it will affect the institution of marriage ­ an argument that places greater significance on marriage than women’s rights.

Ignores realities
Women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes has other objections. She does not “believe in placing rape on a pedestal within the hierarchy of crimes within a marriage. For a woman who is facing domestic violence, it is equally violating if her skull is fractured, her spine is broken, her cornea is damaged, liver is injured, or her vagina is penetrated forcefully. What women object to is the violence involved.” She also explains that while sexual violence is “very common, it is never in isolation”, and that “those who isolate penetrative sexual violence within marriage, and place it on a pedestal, are oblivious of the women’s social realities.” Feminist researcher Sahla Aroussi made a similar critique in a recent publication where she examines sexual violence in conflict and argues that a narrow focus on sexual violence ignores the multiplicity of suffering faced by women and can result in inadequate attention being paid to their other needs.

Ms. Agnes and Ms. Aroussi are right that we need to ensure that law and policy interventions do not inadvertently trivialise non-sexual violence and that steps are taken to strengthen compliance and implementation of laws relating to all forms of violence. But we must also recognise that removing the current marital exception, if nothing else, has an important signalling effect. In order to prove effective, such a change needs to be accompanied by a deliberate attempt to shift attitudes that normalise violence in the home. Currently, even in cases of non-marital rape, judges have suggested that rape victims marry their rapist for a “happy conclusion”, which highlights the notion that forced sex does not amount to rape if it takes place within a marriage.

The challenge of sticky socio-cultural norms is not unique to India. The experience in countries such as the U.S. where marital rape is criminalised shows that despite changes in the law, the patriarchal notion that marriage overrides the legal and sexual autonomy of a woman still exists. In 2015, U.S. President Donald Trump’s counsel Michael Cohen expressed his ignorance about the legal possibility of a man raping his wife. “You cannot rape your spouse,” he said. “There’s very clear case law.” He later corrected himself, but his comment has sparked conversation about why he made this error. Although all 50 states had enacted laws against marital rape by 1993, almost half the States still treat it differently from rape outside of marriage. In some states, marital rape is a chargeable offence only if the perpetrator uses or threatens to use physical force. In others, proof of marriage is often an easy way to reduce or mitigate the consequences of the offence. These kinds of legal distinctions legitimise the perception among law-enforcement agencies that cases of marital rape should be treated as less serious than rape outside of marriage.

Towards justice, prevention

These perceptions among law-enforcement agencies suggest that while it is important to work towards facilitating access to justice for victims, it is crucial to simultaneously focus on preventive measures. This view was reflected in a UN multi-country study on violence in Asia-Pacific which recommended that strategies must focus on structural factors that prevent the incidence of rape, rather than focussing only on strengthening response mechanisms. Since gender socialisation begins young, the study also speaks of the need to focus interventions on children and adolescents. This socialisation is reinforced through family and societal institutions, popular culture and media. Social learning psychologists have found that a disrupted home environment contributes to violent, anti-social behaviour of a child. Therefore, in addition to sensitising law enforcement authorities whose attitudes are merely symptomatic of widely-held beliefs about women and gender roles, we need to work with children, parents and the larger community to ensure marital rape is condemned, not condoned.

Gulika Reddy, a human rights lawyer and Founder & Director of Schools of Equality, is a Dubin Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School


 Saturday October 14, 2017

Dev 360: End child marriages to build a real ‘new India’

Now the Supreme Court has rightly taken away the fig leaf of tradition to conceal a barbaric practice.

By Patralekha Chatterjee

Representational image

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision to strike down a legal clause that permitted men to have non-consensual marital sex with girls as young as 15 is a worthy first step. It has punctured the specious argument that just because something has been part of “tradition”, we must continue to overlook its heinousness and devastating impact on individuals, families and the country at large. The government had earlier defended the controversial exception by saying that although the practice of child marriage is illegal, “it is also a fact that a large section of Indian society, which is living in rural areas, continues to follow such practices as part of their tradition”. This is ingenuous. It is clear as daylight that despite all the pussyfooting and skirting around the issue, there is no argument for child marriage. It is illegal, immoral, ruinous for the child’s education, health, development and bad for any nation. All this should be obvious, but despite being made illegal, the practice of child marriage has continued because the political class and the government chose to be ambiguous in the positions it took. Now the Supreme Court has rightly taken away the fig leaf of tradition to conceal a barbaric practice.

Tradition is not sacrosanct. When it harms the individual and society, it must be junked as has been done with practices like sati. But as is evident, the court order has raised a plethora of new questions, the answers to which will determine the effectiveness of the order. In its ruling, the court noted: “In our opinion sexual intercourse with a girl below 18 is rape regardless of whether she is married or not.” It added: “The exception carved out in the IPC creates an unnecessary and artificial distinction between a married girl child and an unmarried girl child and has no rational nexus with any unclear objective sought to be achieved.” It makes clear that without criminalising sexual intercourse within marriage with a girl below 18, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act can’t be really enforced. This deliberate ambiguity is what has led to a situation where child marriage is rampant in the country. Hearteningly, the ruling scraps the anomalies and exceptions in various laws relating to age of consent. With the court amending the rape law and declaring sex with an underage wife illegal under IPC, the underage wife can file a complaint against her husband within a year of the committed offence. But what does this effectively mean for India’s child brides?

How easy will it be for them to use the verdict? Will the number of child marriages really come down? As in everything else in India, the real challenge will be implementation, specially in states where thousands of child marriages take place every year. As Flavia Agnes, women’s rights lawyer and founder of NGO Majlis, notes, the verdict is a big milestone but can be implemented “only if the wife files a complaint”. The State cannot implement it on its own, without a complaint from a victim. Given this, little will change on the ground unless the political class, across the ideological spectrum, ensures the police and the criminal justice system backs the minor girl who is forcibly married off. Without that, she is most unlikely to have the courage to go to a police station and file a rape complaint against her husband. For a girl to get such backing, a few other things are needed. Child marriages are typically arranged by parents, who are most unlikely to back the girl. Therefore, the brave girls who choose to use the court’s ruling to extricate themselves from their horrific situation need safe refuges and free legal assistance. If the government now has the sense to not challenge the Supreme Court verdict, it must create such support systems. The reality is that a girl opposing child marriage comes under immense mental and even physical pressure from parents, other relatives, neighbours, sometimes friends as well. To whom will she turn? She may have to leave home. Where will a girl in her early teens go? Unless there are practical answers to these questions, child marriages will continue and child brides will continue to be raped.

For the court’s order to be operationalised, several other steps must be taken beyond the legal arena. To empower the girl so that she can speak up, resist and use the law, female literacy has to improve and girls must be enabled to at least complete school. That opens more economic choices and the possibility of empowerment. Only then will she be able to exercise the options available to her under law and say no to child marriage. The stakes are very high; the damage spans more than one generation. Child brides lead to underage mothers. For example, Uttar Pradesh reportedly has the highest number of children born to children ­ around one million. Read that statistic alongside maternal mortality and infant mortality and you will know the savage destructive nature of early marriages. Child marriage is not only a human rights issue, it is equally a human development issue. And states which trail in human development like UP or Rajasthan also typically have a high number of child marriages ­ which lead to low education levels among girls, poor maternal health and higher infant mortality rates. The court order will hopefully deter many parents who marry off their daughters below 18. It should also deter parents of would-be grooms because marrying a minor may now land the young man and them in jail. But the government cannot rest on hope. It must put the support systems in place. The future of India is at stake here. Talk about development and “New India” means little if child marriage continues taking a huge toll on the development of millions of underage girls. As of now, India has the highest number of child brides in the world ­ more than 23 million. Changing this sorry statistic is a must.

Patralekha Chatterjee focuses on development issues in India and emerging economies. She can be reached at

 June 10, 2015

When even rape is legal

Kanika Sharma and Anashish Gupta

SHAME: “If there is legal backing for to marital rape, this means that women who are victims of sexual assault by their husbands have little hope for justice.” Picture shows a protest against the gang rape of a minor girl in Haryana, at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. (SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR)

There is overwhelming evidence to prove that marital rape is the most common form of sexual violence in India. Yet, the government refuses to make it punishable by law

Some debates appear to be timeless. Today’s raging debate on marital rape in India echoes arguments that go back more than 125 years ago to the Phulmani case when a 11-year-old Bengali girl died after being brutally raped by her 35-year-old husband. The colonial government then proposed to increase the age of consent for sexual intercourse for a girl from 10 to 12 years. But some of India’s most prominent leaders opposed the measure, and the Age of Consent Act was passed only in 1891, after much acrimony and argument.

Reflecting on this debate, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar said in 1943 ( “It is impossible to read the writing of those who supported orthodoxy in their opposition to the Age of Consent Bill, without realising the depth of the degradation to which the so-called leaders of the peoples had fallen… Could any sane man, could any man with a sense of shame, oppose so simple a measure? But it was opposed….” Dr. Ambedkar would have been as appalled by today’s arguments against the criminalisation of marital rape.

A warped defence
According to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines “rape” and “consent”, “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under 15 years of age, is not rape”. Sexual intercourse can take place with or without consent, but because of the above exception, the latter is legalised within marriage by Indian law.

The warped defence for this exception continues in spite of overwhelming evidence that marital rape is the most common form of sexual violence in India. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) in 2005-06 ( > posed questions to over 80,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49, on sexual violence by husbands and other men ( > Sensitive questions such as “did your husband ever physically force you to have sexual intercourse with him even when you did not want to?” are difficult to ask in a survey; hence informed consent for the violence module was obtained twice, and trained interviewers were given strict instructions to ensure complete privacy of the respondents. The answers to these questions are available in the last chapter of the NFHS report. .

Data show that 8.5 per cent of the surveyed women (one in 12) said they had experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. Almost 93 per cent of these women said that they had been sexually abused by their current or former husbands, while only 1 per cent said that they had been sexually abused by a stranger.

In a recent working paper (, we made a comparison of the above data with the reporting of sexual violence to the police, based on National Crime Records Bureau statistics. The analysis found that less than 1 per cent of the incidents of sexual violence by husbands were reported to the police.

If there is legal backing for marital rape, women who are victims of sexual assault by their husbands have little hope for justice. The exception in the law needs to be repealed urgently, as recommended by the Justice Verma Committee in 2013. The committee argued that the “relationship between the accused and the complainant is not relevant to the inquiry into whether the complainant consented to the sexual activity”. The law on rape in India has evolved to place the burden of proof of consent on the accused, and these provisions are even more important for women facing sexual violence within marriage because married women are more likely to face social sanction for reporting violence. Also, Section 498A specifies only mental and physical abuse under its “definition of cruelty by husbands and in-laws”. An amendment would include sexual abuse.

Positions of political parties
Even though there is little hope from the current government, the political class could do more in this respect. The present controversy was stirred when Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi asked the government if it plans to bring an “amending bill to the IPC to remove the exception of marital rape”, to which the Minister of State for Home Affairs Haribhai Parathibhai Chaudhary reply was that the government had no plans to do so, as marriage is a sacred institution in India. It is time to ask the government if it at least accepts its own survey’s data on sexual violence by husbands. The opposition, in a majority in the Rajya Sabha, could pass a private members’ bill amending the IPC. Political parties could put the criminalisation of marital rape on their election manifestos.

While the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 provides civil remedies such as shelter homes, medical facilities and monetary relief to victims of sexual violence by husbands, legal clarification will go a long way towards recognising and reducing the problem.

But we would be fooling ourselves if we believe that the problem can be solved merely by removing the marital rape exception. A much bigger challenge is to change the patriarchal social norms. In the NFHS survey, for instance, when the women were asked if wife beating is justified, 54 per cent said they believed it was. Clearly, the law alone cannot change mindsets.

We realised this when we worked with a minor Adivasi mute girl in Madhya Pradesh who was gang-raped. She was covered by many laws: Section 375 and 376 (rape provisions) of the IPC, Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012, as well as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The local police, however, were reluctant to invoke the SC/ST Act, and did not know about the existence of the POCSO Act. Despite its being banned, the girl was subjected to the “two-finger” test in the medical examination. The law is an important means of enabling social change, but without a wider change in social attitudes,it can be quite ineffective.

In 1943, Ambedkar regretted that “political reform” had taken precedence over “social reform”. Despite this, he continued to seek both legal and social changes to improve the lot of India’s Dalits and women. Today, what is getting priority is economic reform, but we would do well to remember Ambedkar’s words from the same address: “Rights are protected not by law but by the social and moral conscience of society… if fundamental rights are opposed by the community, no Law, no Parliament, no judiciary, can guarantee them in the real sense of the word”.

(Kanika Sharma ( ) is the national organiser with the National Alliance for Peoples Movements (NAPM) and Aashish Gupta ( ) is research fellow at the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics.

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