Recent Resources for Feminists
NI 516 - November, 2018
Keeping women in their place As 25 November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Joni Seager maps the stark reality faced by women in every corner of the world - from Belarus to Brazil.
Women are 'kept in their place' in myriad ways - by economic discrimination, by legal structures that treat women as lesser beings, by denying them reproductive rights. However, it is violence, or the credible threat of it, that is by far the bluntest instrument deployed by men to control women.
Murder is the extreme culmination of the ubiquitous violence that women face every day in every part of the world. Despite its shocking ordinariness, the murder of women by men also has distinctive manifestations: femicide clusters in Argentina, Mexico, South Africa and Russia; dowry murders in India and Pakistan; 'honour' killings in Syria and Afghanistan. Indigenous women are at particular risk in Canada and Australia; sex workers are more vulnerable to all types of violence; and in the US, a society saturated with guns, women are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than in other high-income countries.
Margaret Atwood is widely credited for the wry observation that 'men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them'. So, while men are murdered too, often in greater numbers, women are killed because they are women.
For millions of women, violence starts at home. Far from being a place of safety, the family is often a cradle of violence. Domestic violence is the most ubiquitous constant in women's lives around the world. Violence from a partner often escalates if a woman tries to leave the relationship - which is when men are most likely to turn to murder.
Statistics on domestic violence are notoriously unreliable. To some extent that's because violence against women is often ignored or even condoned by the state on the grounds that it is a 'private' matter. However, a rough global estimate from the World Health Organization indicates that about one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. For the majority of women, the abuse is repetitive. This may build up over time to murder. Typically, fewer than half of women who experience violence seek help, and only a small proportion of those seek help from police or through 'official' channels.
Anti-violence and feminist human rights activists are slowly shifting the structures and institutions of law, policy and government that have for centuries enabled male violence. Legal protections for women, legal sanctions against violent men, networks of women's shelters and safe houses, Take Back the Night rallies, and a stubborn insistence in calling out violence and talking about it in public have brought violence out of the shadows. But for the hundreds of thousands of women killed each year, these are insufficient defences against systemic misogyny.
Joni Seager is Professor of Global Studies at Bentley University in Boston, a geographer and global policy expert. She is consultant to the UN on gender and environmental policy. Her latest title, (Myriad).
Monday October 15, 2018
Helping the invisible hands of agriculture Seema Bathla and Ravi Kiran
With the ‘feminisation of agriculture’ picking up pace, the challenges women farmers face can no longer be ignored
October 15 is observed, respectively, as International Day of Rural Women by the United Nations, and National Women’s Farmer’s Day (Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas) in India. In 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare decided to take the lead in celebrating the event, duly recognising the multidimensional role of women at every stage in agriculture from sowing to planting, drainage, irrigation, fertilizer, plant protection, harvesting, weeding, and storage.
This year, the Ministry has proposed deliberations to discuss the challenges that women farmers face in crop cultivation, animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries. The aim is to work towards an action plan using better access to credit, skill development and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Data and reality
Yet, paying lip service to them is not going to alleviate their drudgery and hardships in the fields. According to Oxfam India, women are responsible for about 60-80% of food and 90% of dairy production, respectively. The work by women farmers, in crop cultivation, livestock management or at home, often goes unnoticed. Attempts by the government to impart them training in poultry, apiculture and rural handicrafts is trivial given their large numbers. In order to sustain women’s interest in farming and also their uplift, there must be a vision backed by an appropriate policy and doable action plans.
The Agriculture Census (2010-11) shows that out of an estimated 118.7 million cultivators, 30.3% were females. Similarly, out of an estimated 144.3 million agricultural labourers, 42.6% were females. In terms of ownership of operational holdings, the latest Agriculture Census (2015-16) is startling. Out of a total 146 million operational holdings, the percentage share of female operational holders is 13.87% (20.25 million), a nearly one percentage increase over five years. While the “feminisation of agriculture” is taking place at a fast pace, the government has yet to gear up to address the challenges that women farmers and labourers face.
Issue of land ownership
The biggest challenge is the powerlessness of women in terms of claiming ownership of the land they have been cultivating. In Census 2015, almost 86% of women farmers are devoid of this property right in land perhaps on account of the patriarchal set up in our society. Notably, a lack of ownership of land does not allow women farmers to approach banks for institutional loans as banks usually consider land as collateral.
Research worldwide shows that women with access to secure land, formal credit and access to market have greater propensity in making investments in improving harvest, increasing productivity, and improving household food security and nutrition. Provision of credit without collateral under the micro-finance initiative of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development should be encouraged. Better access to credit, technology, and provision of entrepreneurship abilities will further boost women’s confidence and help them gain recognition as farmers. As of now, women farmers have hardly any representation in society and are nowhere discernible in farmers’ organisations or in occasional protests. They are the invisible workers without which the agricultural economy is hard to grow.
Second, land holdings have doubled over the years with the result that the average size of farms has shrunk. Therefore, a majority of farmers fall under the small and marginal category, having less than 2 ha of land a category that, undisputedly, includes women farmers. A declining size of land holdings may act as a deterrent due to lower net returns earned and technology adoption. The possibility of collective farming can be encouraged to make women self-reliant. Training and skills imparted to women as has been done by some self-help groups and cooperative-based dairy activities (Saras in Rajasthan and Amul in Gujarat). These can be explored further through farmer producer organisations. Moreover, government flagship schemes such as the National Food Security Mission, Sub-mission on Seed and Planting Material and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana must include women-centric strategies and dedicated expenditure.
Third, female cultivators and labourers generally perform labour-intensive tasks (hoeing, grass cutting, weeding, picking, cotton stick collection, looking after livestock). In addition to working on the farm, they have household and familial responsibilities. Despite more work (paid and unpaid) for longer hours when compared to male farmers, women farmers can neither make any claim on output nor ask for a higher wage rate. An increased work burden with lower compensation is a key factor responsible for their marginalisation. It is important to have gender-friendly tools and machinery for various farm operations. Most farm machinery is difficult for women to operate. Manufacturers should be incentivised to come up with better solutions. Farm machinery banks and custom hiring centres promoted by many State governments can be roped in to provide subsidised rental services to women farmers.
Last, when compared to men, women generally have less access to resources and modern inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) to make farming more productive. The Food and Agriculture Organisation says that equalising access to productive resources for female and male farmers could increase agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 2.5% to 4%. Krishi Vigyan Kendras in every district can be assigned an additional task to educate and train women farmers about innovative technology along with extension services.
As more women are getting into farming, the foremost task for their sustenance is to assign property rights in land. Once women farmers are listed as primary earners and owners of land assets, acceptance will ensue and their activities will expand to acquiring loans, deciding the crops to be grown using appropriate technology and machines, and disposing of produce to village traders or in wholesale markets, thus elevating their place as real and visible farmers.
Seema Bathla and Ravi Kiran are Professor and research scholar, respectively, at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
October 7 2018
Nun so powerful
By Mini Muringatheri
Sister act: Sr. Lucy Kalappura in Kozhikode; and (top) nuns in Thiruvananthapuram.(S.Ramesh Kurup & S.Gopakumar)
Can the Bishop Mulakkal case force the powerful and patriarchal Catholic church to change its ways?
Nestled between coconut, yam and tapioca groves on one side and a rubber estate on the other, the convent at Karakkamala, in the high ranges of Wayanad, looks straight out of a picture postcard. Emerging from the spartan building, Sr. Lucy Kalappura instantly puts you at ease with her genial mien and smile. But behind the affable exterior is a woman of iron will, which becomes evident the moment she begins to speak about the church and about society.
The seventh of 11 children of a well-to-do farmer family in Karikkottakkari, Sr. Lucy is bold, articulate and does not mince her words; qualities that have put her in direct conflict with the authorities of her church. She became a nun under the Franciscan Clarist Congregation in 1985 and has since waged a battle against congregation and church on various points of principle. “I do what I strongly believe is right,” she says.
Sr. Lucy hit the headlines when she stood in solidarity with the protest held by the Missionaries of Jesus nuns in Kochi, demanding the arrest of Bishop Franco Mulakkal, who was accused of raping a nun from his order. The historic protest has challenged not just the authority of the Catholic church, but also its deep-rooted patriarchal values. At no point in the history of the Syro-Malabar Catholic faith in the country, which claims the apostolic legacy of St. Thomas, have nuns taken to the streets seeking justice, never mind in as disturbing a case as that of an alleged rape committed by a bishop. The office-bearers of the church, the nuns and priests are brought up on the canon of ‘Infallibility of the Church’ - the Church is never wrong.
“I consider my presence in the agitation very important. No one from the 50,000-strong nun community came to support them. They knocked on every door of the church. The powerful patriarchy used every power to silence them. Even their congregation openly stood with Bishop Mulakkal,” says Sr. Lucy.
Sr. Lucy works as a high school teacher at Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School in Dwaraka, Wayanad. When she came home to her convent in Karakkamala, her Mother Superior said she could not be part of the religious services at St. Mary’s Church, to which the convent is attached. “She said there had been an oral direction from the vicar, Fr. Stephan Kottakkal, to bar me from religious service,” says Sr. Lucy. But the ban was lifted when the parishioners, most of them poor settler farmers for whom Sr. Lucy is like a family member, protested. But on social media, Sr. Lucy continues to be trolled. “Each attack only strengthens me,” she says.
Pray and serve
Both Catholic nuns and priests take three vows: poverty, chastity and obedience. In practice, however, these vows are enforced far more strictly on nuns than on priests. Gender discrimination in the Catholic church is extraordinary, and begins right from the training stage. Priests are trained to be administrators, orators and managers, and given full charge of parishes; while nuns are taught to be obedient and service-oriented: ‘pray and serve’ is their motto.
Priests become doctors, lawyers, bishops and professors, while 90% of nuns become either nurses or teachers or serve in organisations under the Church. In the Catholic system, nuns are the “unpaid labourers,” says George Pulikuthiyil, a former Catholic priest, lawyer and founder of the Thrissur-based Jananeethi, an organisation that provides free legal support to the poor.
Most nuns work in hospitals or schools run by the Church, with no formal appointment, salary, pension, retirement age or working hours. “Even the little they earn roughly Rs. 2,000 a month must be given to the superiors. They then have to ask for money even for minor needs,” says Pulikuthiyil.
In a smaller diocese like Missionaries of Jesus, which was founded by the accused Bishop Mulakkal, nuns get Rs. 500 a month. Only those who work in government schools or hospitals can hope to make more money, even though they too have to give their salaries to their superiors. “Nuns are entirely dependent on the church. It’s this that leads to harassment,” says Pulikuthiyil.
In contrast, priests not only get allowances, they are allowed to manage establishments that generate revenue. Priests wear robes during mass but can wear street clothes at other times; nuns must wear their habit at all times. Some convents restrict nuns from television and newspapers. None of this applies to priests.
Sr. Lucy tells the amusing tale of a nun who, persuaded by her family to watch a film, ran into a priest at the theatre. When they returned, the priest complained about the nun, who was punished with two days of rigorous prayer and penance. Nothing happened to the priest.
Sr. Mary Rosarita, a former principal of St. Joseph’s Anglo Indian Girls Higher Secondary School, Kozhikode, strongly refutes these charges. “In the 150-year-old history of our congregation, I have never heard complaints of exploitation,” she says. As for financial freedom, Sr. Rosarita says, “We have taken the vow of poverty. I have never felt the need to accumulate personal assets.”
According to Pulikuthiyil, the three vows are redundant. “Compulsory celibacy has been violated rampantly,” he says. Sexual violence in the Church goes largely unreported “because the patriarchal hegemony is very strong and nuns fear ostracism. They have been trained to be silent and obedient,” he says.
The problem might lie in how nuns and priests are ordained. Earlier, taking orders was strictly voluntary; nobody could be asked to do it. But for some three decades now, the Church has faced a severe shortage of nuns and priests. So, at the awareness classes for Class X and XII students that the Church conducts during vacations, students are strongly motivated to join the church. Any student showing the slightest interest is then chased by practically every congregation. This means that boys and girls aged 16 to 20 enter the order.
“The government must make 21 years the minimum age for ordainment of nuns and priests, so that they can make an informed decision,” says Sr. Lucy. Equally, they must be allowed to give up their robes without any difficulty. Today, it is practically impossible for nuns to leave the order, although it is easier for priests to do so.
Maria, an advocate and women’s rights activist from Wayanad, says nuns are afraid to leave the order despite adversities. “Except for a few in government jobs, nuns don’t have financial security. They don’t have property rights at home. Social stigma against a woman who leaves a convent is high. It forces them to stay.”
A third change should be in the training, suggests Pulikuthiyil. “It needs a total revamp. Outdated concepts like “the world, the flesh and the devil” traditionally described as enemies of the soul and sources of temptation should be changed. The religious training should empower nuns and priests to survive in the contemporary world.”
The Bishop Mulakkal case has opened up a can of worms, but it could be the beginning of change. It has been a long haul to bring charges against a bishop in Kerala, where 18% of the population is Christian, where the Church holds considerable socio-political and economic power, and where the Catholic church is a citadel of patriarchy. But the nuns at the forefront of the agitation believe that this case could initiate reform in the role and dignity of women in the Church as well as in society.
- Priests are trained to be administrators, orators and managers; while nuns are taught to be obedient and service-oriented
- The government must make 21 years the minimum age for ordainment of nuns and priests, says Sr. Lucy
Issue 1411, (27 September - 3 October 2018)
Despite a decline in the number of Egyptian females undergoing circumcision, those doing it under the supervision of a doctor or nurse is on the riseBy Nada Zaki
“I remember every single detail as if it were yesterday. The phantom pain that shivered down my spine, the floor whose colour you could not see because of the blood stains, and my tied hands and opened legs. They said it is a must; every girl has to be circumcised. It’s the only way to save her virtue.” Sixty-year-old Hanaa Mansour was relating her Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) experience, which she underwent a little less than 50 years ago.
Mansour is like millions of other Egyptian women who were forced to undergo FGM at a young age. Nonetheless, statistics reveal that her fate will not be shared by thousands of other young girls. Recently released figures indicate that the number of girls below 17 who are still being circumcised is currently less than ever before in Egypt. But the majority of those who did it unlike their ancestors have undergone the surgery at the hands of a doctor or nurse.
According to the latest research conducted by the Population Council, circumcised girls aged 13-17 dropped to 72 per cent in 2018.
The research, released two weeks ago, revealed the number of FGM operations in Egypt had sharply decreased, as 92 per cent of married women aged 15-49 have been circumcised, while 85 per cent of women aged 20-25 have undergone FGM.
However, the research raises a red flag. There is a significant increase in the number of circumcision surgeries by doctors on young girls. It revealed that the percentage of girls being circumcised by healthcare providers has reached 65 per cent among the 13-17 age group, compared to 31 per cent among married women between 15-49 years old.
The results are from two studies: the Population Council in cooperation with Egypt’s Ministry of Health; and the National Population Council. The first study focused on how to eliminate FGM while the other researched implementing more effective social marketing campaigns to end FGM in Egypt.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM is defined as “any operation involving partial or total removal of female genitalia”.
At 12, Mansour was one of the oldest girls in her small rural village who had not undergone FGM. “They usually start circumcising from six to eight years old,” she said.
She explained that it was well known in her village that the older a girl gets the higher the surgery risks, so most families decide to have their daughters undergo FGM at that age.
Like all of the girls in her village, Mansour was circumcised by the town’s only barber.
“They told me to lie down so that the weird smelling man could take a look at my vagina, so I did. A few minutes later, both my hands and legs were tied. I felt nothing but the pain,” Mansour said, shedding tears.
From where Mansour comes, a girl has to be circumcised in order to get married, “otherwise, she gets the reputation of being ill-mannered.” If left uncircumcised, “she will probably not be able to control her desires and will have sex with any man.” It’s not certain whether this is what Mansour sincerely believes or whether this is what she was told to believe.
Dr Amr Hassan, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cairo University, explained that in underprivileged areas, people undergo FGM under the banner of religion, which he added, is interpreted wrongly most of the time.
“It is a wrong mainstream thought that Islam orders circumcising women. Despite Al-Azhar’s decision that it has nothing to do with Islam, less educated preachers in underprivileged areas call for it as a means to protect the society from adultery,” Dr Hassan said.
Dr Hassan, founder of Enty Al-Aham (You Are More Important), one of the leading campaigns in fighting FGM, and one of the doctors who debated criminalising the law on FGM in parliament in 2016, believes the decreasing numbers indicate the progress both the government and NGOs are playing in raising people’s awareness regarding the severe harms of FGM.
“The percentage of young girls below 15 that undergoes FGM is the real indicator of the campaign’s efficiency. From what we see, these numbers are continually dropping which clearly states we are on the right track.”
The results of the Health Demographic Survey indicate that the proportion of married women aged 15-49 who have been exposed to FGM dropped from 80 per cent in 2005, to 72 per cent in 2008, to 35 per cent in 2014.
Dr Hassan added that because Egypt started combating FGM as far back as 20 years ago, a noticeable decrease in numbers is being realised every year.
From his experience, direct communication with families has shown to be the most effective method in raising awareness, which Nahla Abdel-Tawab, the Population Council’s country director in Egypt, agrees with.
Abdel-Tawab stated in a press release that research had also shown that “the use of more personal contact has proven to be more effective in changing behaviour to overcome the fear of societal consequences that can result from abandoning circumcision.”
Having a daughter was Mansour’s ultimate nightmare, which eventually came true.
“I knew I did not want her to go through what I did but at the same time I knew I couldn’t protect her from the surrounding mentalities,” she said.
Mansour was forced by her mother-in-law, the child’s grandmother, to circumcise her daughter. Despite her attempts to postpone the surgery for years, she ended up forcibly taking her daughter to a nurse to do the job.
“I thought having a doctor or anyone experienced in medicine would be safer and maybe reduce some of the pain. There was a veteran nurse in our neighbourhood who accepted to do the surgery. But none of the pain, emotional breakdown or psychological effect was erased,” she added.
Heading to a healthcare provider instead of the usual barber is another solution people started turning to, believing it would reduce the harm caused by FGM. The research described it as “medicalising FGM”.
The research showed that medicalising FGM is currently the most widely spread action and, as such, is in need of standing up against, as a way of fighting circumcision.
Asserting that it is one of the most difficult challenges facing them, Abdel-Tawab explained that the information doctors and nurses have about sexual health “is very limited. They are not sufficiently aware of the psychological and health damages caused by circumcision.”
“Although most doctors are aware of the illegality of circumcision, some of them carry out the surgery under other names or suggest other doctors,” she added.
Hassan explained that many underprivileged people head to healthcare units based on the recommendation of local preachers. “They have blind trust in those representing religion, so if somebody says a doctor is experienced enough to circumcise their daughter without causing them any harm, they don’t think twice.”
“It costs between LE100 to LE200 to circumcise a girl in our hometown, depending on her age, health and the size of the to-be-cut part,” Mansour said.
Egyptian law did not criminalise FGM until 2008 after a young girl, Bodour Shaker, died while being circumcised in surgery. Her video went viral on social media. However, the law orders an accused doctor to pay only a maximum LE5,000 fine in order not to be imprisoned or else the doctor faces a minimum six months to two years in jail.
It wasn’t until 2016 when the law considered FGM a felony and increased prison sentences to 15 years.
When Mansour’s daughter married, she already had her mind set on not forcing her daughter into FGM, even if that meant leaving their hometown and moving to Cairo where the chances of her daughter to be socially accepted and get married while uncircumcised is higher.
Said Mansour: “She swore that she will never make her daughter, my grandchild, go through such an experience no matter what she has to do.”
Pakistan ~ Wednesday September 19 2018
Also at: Friday, September 21, 2018
Failing Afghan women – again By Rafia Zakaria
THE war in Afghanistan, the world was smugly told, was to save Afghan women. Laura Bush announced it during a radio address, and Hillary Clinton repeated it ad nauseam. Even as late as 2012, when the war was in its second decade, these mantras were ubiquitous, repeated by nodding interpreters at the Nato summit in Chicago as awards and medals were handed out to those believed to be engaged in making the saving of Afghan women possible.
Every now and then, a few Afghan women were also invited to speak a few words, with inordinate care being taken to ensure that they were the right sort of Afghan women the ones who would eagerly second the proposition that they were indeed being saved, their words ‘proof’ of the fact that war was not such a terrible thing after all.
In more recent times, the myth of Afghan women’s progress has been roundly debunked. Sharp increases have been reported in incidents of domestic violence and the indicators that show progress in any realm of gender parity signify no visible betterment in their conditions since before the war.
While the State Department and USAID budgets have been cut drastically, a picture showing Afghan women walking on the streets of Kabul in miniskirts in the 1960s has managed to keep the money flowing by convincing President Donald Trump that such a prospect, the return of the Afghan women to a liberated miniskirt-wearing past, is indeed possible even likely.
The targets described in the task orders and grant reports are not always the real goals.
A new report issued by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction threatens to throw a wrench into the scam. Released last week, the report is an audit of sorts of the Promote programme launched by USAID three years ago. The aims of Promote were to improve the status of 75,000 Afghan women at all levels of society. The programme is believed to be USAID’s biggest gender-related programme in the world. However, three years after its initiation, USAID has failed to show any demonstrable progress in the status of the women targeted.
To make themselves look better (rather than improve the programme or zero in on its flaws) USAID set about changing the metrics and resetting the performance indicators. For instance, one component of the programme that was supposed to provide employment for 2,100 women was (even after the change in target indicators) found to have provided better employment for just 58 women.
The failures could be traced to the usual sorts of things. In one instance, the failure to finalise a memorandum of understanding between the Afghanistan Ministry of Women’s Affairs and USAID delayed the implementation of one programme.
In another case, USAID’s failure to approve personnel without inordinate delays led to a high attrition rate amongst programme staff which in turn contributed to the inability of the programme to meet its goals.
In yet another case, the date of a conference was moved up by four weeks which required a redirection of staffers and hence neglect of the programme and its needs. In sum, there were lots of problems within the bureaucracy that ran these programmes and the people who were charged with implementing their goals.
There is, of course, another reason. As many other audits and analyses of aid programmes have shown, the goals and aims stated in the task orders and grant reports are not always the real goal. In this particular case, actually helping Afghan women in a way that would produce long-term improvements in their condition was only tangential to the larger project of promoting an image of the United States as a benevolent hegemon. Whether Afghan women’s lives were ever actually improved, whether they were able to obtain and utilise job training and leadership skills, likely concerned very few people.
In monetary terms, expenditures were likely directed towards favoured contractors who then took their cut and sent the work to their favoured sub-contractors and on and on. The purpose of it all, to oil the wheels of the aid economy such that a whole range of people, from USAID bureaucrats to the many expatriate workers involved in the aid industry to local Afghan participants in the aid economy, all got a bit of the proceeds. If any Afghan woman happened to be married to an interpreter or to a security guard, she would likely have a better chance of getting some of the money than via one of the programmes under Promote.
While the failings of USAID are duly addressed in the report, there are others that deserve attention too. Uplifting the condition of women, particularly via job training, requires the transformation of cultural and social norms such that women, with their newly acquired skills, can actually put them to use by participating in the workforce.
In this sense, the failure of Promote cannot simply be attributed to the gross failings of USAID. Also to blame is the intransigence of Afghan society that has fallen prey to the idea that women’s empowerment has to be rejected because it was the slogan of choice for a war that has ravaged the country and left much of the population maimed and destitute. In allotting so much money to Afghan women’s empowerment, Nato and the United States have only succeeded in popularising the premise that the war really was for something good, the empowerment and improvement of the conditions of Afghan women.
They also, and perhaps inadvertently, succeeded in tainting the very concept of empowerment, making it the derided emblem of Western military intervention. In the follow-up to this report, while USAID may make amendments to Promote, it is unlikely that it will succeed in making empowerment for Afghan women a reality.
The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
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