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.
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
Amateur historian Catherine Corless honoured with Human Rights Award for Tuam Mothers and Baby work
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.”
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 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.
Key Thinkers on the Environment [Edited by Joy A. Palmer Cooper and David E. Cooper]
Description 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 Preface Chapters:
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 Rudolf Bahro, 1935–97 by John Barry Roderick Nash, 1939- by Gregory Graves Val Plumwood, 1939–2008 by Nicholas Griffin Patriarch Bartholomew, 1940- by John Chryssavgis and Frederick W. Krueger Wangari Maathai, 1940-2011 by Mia MacDonald J. Baird Callicott, 1941– by Michael P. Nelson Bob Hunter, 1941-2005 by Thomas E. Hart Susan Griffin, 1943– by Cheryll Glotfelty Chico Mendes, 1944–88 by Joy A. Palmer Cooper Barry Lopez, 1945- by Diane Warner Peter Singer, 1946– by Paula Casal Al Gore, 1948- by Thomas E. Hart Vandana Shiva, 1952– by Lynette J. Dumble Bill McKibben, 1960- by Thomas E. Hart Pavan Sukhdev, 1960- by Paul Knights and Stijn Neuteleers
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.
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
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
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
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 ( http://bit.ly/17fGw2O): “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 ( > http://bit.ly/1n9ub6H) posed questions to over 80,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49, on sexual violence by husbands and other men ( > http://bit.ly/1KmUmjh). 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 ( http://bit.ly/1e0pIA0), 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.
Thursday 5th of October 2017 To mark the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder on 7th October 2006, and to honour Anna and other women like her in the world, RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) annually presents the Anna Politkovskaya Award to a woman human rights defender from a conflict zone who, like Anna, stands up for the victims of conflict, often at great personal risk. Anna lived a life of courage and truth-telling in the face of grave danger, just like her friend and the first recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award, Natalia Estemirova, who was murdered on 15 July 2009.
Gulalai Ismail (Pakistan) 2017: Co-Recipient of the Anna Politkovskaya Award
On Thursday 5th of October 2017 RAW in WAR honours Gulalai Ismail, a courageous Pashtun human rights activist from Swabi, Pakistan. At the age of 16 in 2002, Gulalai founded Aware Girls with her sister Saba Ismail, aiming to challenge the culture of violence and the oppression of women in the rural Khyber Pakhtunkhwa area in the north west of Pakistan. Driven by a passion to challenge the inequality, intolerance and extremism, they began running workshops to provide girls and young women with leadership skills to challenge oppression and fight for their rights to an education and equal opportunities. Malala Yousafzai was an attendee of Aware Girls programmes in 2011.
On Gulalai Ismail receiving the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award, Malala Yousafzai, student, activist, Malala Fund co-founder and 2013 Award winner, said:
“I am proud to support my sister Gulalai Ismail, a fearless advocate for girls’ education and equality in Pakistan. ThroughAware Girls, Gulalai is training young women to advocate for their rights. Her work is fostering the next generation of female leaders in our country. Despite discrimination and danger, Gulalai is continuing her fight to see every girl to go to school. She has been my friend for many years and I wish her congratulations on this distinguished honour.”
Gulalai has been repeatedly threatened for her activism. Aware Girls was listed as one of five “agents of the CIA” in Pakistan. On May 16, 2014, four armed gunmen attempted to force their way into the family home, shouting and looking for Gulalai Ismail who had been delayed by lost baggage at the airport, which saved her life. Social media campaigns called Gulalai a foreign agent, “Western puppet,” and atheist after her international recognition as a youth leader, which ignited threats of violence and hatred against her. Despite the threats and danger faced by her and her family as a result of her activities, Gulalai continues her work in Pakistan.
In 2010, Gulalai set up the Youth Peace Network, which works to strengthen the capacity of young people as peace activists in their communities. The Youth Peace Network was a response to what Gulalai saw as the increased ‘Talibanisation’ of young men and women and the vulnerability of young people to militants in the North-West of Pakistan. In 2013 she set up the Marastyal Helpline to give advice and assistance to women at risk from, and victims of, gender based violence. The service gives advice on legal and medical aid as well as emergency ambulance information and emotional counselling and operates from Peshawar.
Also in 2013 Gulalai joined the Youth Advocacy Team of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, to advocate for a global policy framework which recognises the role of young people as peacebuilders. This led to the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 “Youth, Peace and Security.” Gulalai is now working in Pakistan on the implementation of the UNSC Resolution so that young people’s voices become part of all decisions and policies regarding peacebuilding and countering extremism.
Despite the dangers she is facing, in 2016, along with partners, Gulalai set up “Pak-Afghan Women Peace Network” which is a network of women peacebuilders from Afghanistan and Pakistan working towards countering radicalisation. The network is bringing together women peacebuilders from both countries working towards lasting peace in the region. Gulalai Ismail continues her work in Pakistan through “Aware Girls” and the Youth Peace network bringing peace activists together to promote peaceful resistance to the Taliban and encouraging more women into politics, as well as investigating the psychological impact of terrorism on children and families.
On accepting the award, Gulalai Ismail said:
“I am honoured to receive the Anna Politkovskaya Award, an award dedicated to Anna; a woman of great courage and bravery. A woman who refused to be silenced. I am accepting this award because just like Anna, I am also refusing to be silenced by adversity, violence and extremism. Speaking out for our rights and speaking out against religious extremism is our fundamental right, no one should have to choose between the right to Speak and the right to life. While I receive this award wars, gun violence, and genocides continue in many parts of the world. Refugee camps are becoming homes to millions of people. People are getting denied their right to self-determination. New brands of religious extremist organisations keep on emerging, with every new brand beholding much more severity of violence. The world seems to be in its darkest period, but I want to tell you that no matter how dark the world is, there is HOPE as well. Hope in the form of Jamalida Begum from Myanmar, who is a brave survivor of rape by the Myanmar security forces, and despite threats to her life she Spoke up and refused to be silenced. If there are conflicts, there are brave women too and this award is not only my recognition as a person, but a recognition of all those brave women who have spoken out, even if the cost was intimidation, threats and murder. Thank you to RAW in WAR for letting me share this award with another incredible woman from India, Gauri Lankesh who just like Anna, was killed for speaking truth to power. While I receive this award, India and Pakistan complete 70 years of their separation, and you are reminding to the world again that even today we have similar hopes, aspirations and struggles. That love is greater than divides.“
On Gulalai Ismail and Gauri Lankesh receiving the 2017 Anna Politkovskaya Award, as well as the special tribute to Jamalida Begum, Baron Judd of Portsea, a member of the 2017 Award Nominations Committee, said:
“Amidst all the disturbing violence and repression, not least of journalists, which is increasingly prevalent, Anna Politkovskaya remains a heroic example of courage and integrity. I am glad to salute Gulalai Ismail and the late Gauri Lankesh together with Jamilida Begum as brave champions of Anna’s cause. In doing this I also salute the countless individuals who are victims of oppression, tyranny, torture, sexual abuse and disappearances, wherever this occurs.”
The awards will be presented to the winners in March 2018 in London at RAW in WAR’s ‘Refusing to be Silenced’ event, part of the 2018 Women of the World (WOW) Festival at the London’s Southbank Centre ~~~~~~~~~~~~ Pakistan ~ October 05, 2017
KP rights activist wins Anna Politkovskaya Award
Gulalai Ismail, a Pashtun women's rights activist from Swabi, was awarded thed Reach all Women in War (RAW) Anna Politkovskaya Awar on Thursday alongside senior Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh, according to a report by RAW.
Gulalai co-founded a non-governmental organisation, Aware Girls, with her sister Saba Ismail in 2002. The organisation aims to strengthen the leadership skills of young people, especially women and girls, enabling them to act as agents of change for women empowerment and peace building and to fight for their rights.
"Speaking out for our rights and speaking out against religious extremism is our fundamental right," Gulalai said as she accepted the award.
"While I receive this award, wars, gun violence, and genocides continue in many parts of the world. Refugee camps are becoming homes to millions of people. People are getting denied their right to self-determination. New brands of religious extremist organisations keep on emerging, with every new brand beholding much more severity of violence," Gulalai added.
"No matter how dark the world is, there is hope as well," she said.
"Gauri Lankesh... was killed for speaking truth to power," Gulalai said about an Indian journalist who was posthumously given the Anna Politkovskaya Award along with Gulalai.
Lankesh a known critic of right-wing groups in India was fatally shot by unidentified attackers in the Indian city of Bengaluru in September.
Before her death, the senior journalist had been found responsible in a defamation case by a lawmaker of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for her writing about Hindu nationalists.
"While I receive this award, India and Pakistan complete 70 years of their separation, and you are reminding the world again that even today we have similar hopes, aspirations and struggles," Gulalai said as she completed her acceptance speech.
Pakistan's teenage Nobel laureate, Malala Yuousafzai, who won the award in 2013, said about Gulalai's work: "Through Aware Girls, Gulalai is training young women to advocate for their rights. Her work is fostering the next generation of female leaders in our country." ~~~~~~~~~~~ London ~ Tuesday 13 October 2015
The Peshawar women fighting the Taliban: 'We cannot trust anyone'
The work of the remarkable women known as Aware Girls to counter the extremism of the Taliban would be dangerous even if they weren’t based in Peshawar, a city that feels as if it’s under siege
Saba Ismail, co-founder of Aware Girls with sister Gulalai, addresses women at a community event in Mardan. (Angela Catlin)
By Billy Briggs in Peshawar, Pakistan
In a hotel room in Peshawar, in secret, Gulalai Ismail is giving a lecture to a group of men and women on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 29-year-old wears a black leather jacket, rather than the customary burqa, and uses a flipchart as she explains the Declaration’s clauses on freedom of expression and the right to a fair trial. The 30 delegates in the room have travelled here from as far afield as Chitral, South Waziristan and Afghanistan. When Ismail has finished, they take turns to talk about the human rights abuses that they’ve witnessed: acts of mob justice and lynchings, or summary executions by Islamist extremists. Four people act out the killing of a journalist by the Taliban.
They also share ideas for promoting peace. One man explains how he persuaded shopkeepers to stop selling toy guns to children in a bazaar. A young woman describes her successful campaign at the University of Malakand for female students to be allowed to wear colourful headscarves, instead of just black.
These brave young people belong to a network of about 300 activists from across northern Pakistan who peacefully oppose the Taliban. Peshawar is their headquarters, the safest place for them to meet and attend workshops on human rights. Gulalai leads many of the sessions. A determined and fearless Pashtun woman, she heads the organisation that makes all this happen: Aware Girls. Aware Girls attendee Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban at just 15 years old
Peshawar, Pakistan, a city of 3.3 million people that has been deeply affected by terrorism. (Angela Catlin)
Aware Girls was founded in 2002 and operates in the face of severe violence, not just in Peshawar but also in Pakistan’s tribal areas and other troubled parts of the country. It trains young women on their rights – and, through its Youth Peace Network, makes efforts to encourage more women into politics – who then try to stop their peers being radicalised, leaving Peshawar for villages and towns where they try to dissuade others from joining extremist groups.
In Peshawar, this is highly dangerous work – not least because Aware Girls is run mainly by women. One of its attendees in 2011 was Malala Yousafzai, whose own efforts on behalf of women’s education earned her a bullet to the head from the Taliban at the age of 15. She survived and went on to win the Nobel peace prize. Gulalai says her friend is now a symbol of honour for the organisation. “Violent attacks are happening to many women in Pakistan, so I was happy Malala was able to highlight the issue.”
Peshawar is a dangerous place at the best of times. A sprawling, dusty metropolis of around 3.3 million people, it is the capital of the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, bordering Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass. Everyone here has been affected by terrorism. The city feels as if it’s under siege. Armed soldiers nervously man checkpoints on main roads, while government buildings resemble fortresses, protected by guns and razor wire.
The city is regularly rocked by suicide bomb attacks and the security situation remains desperate. Last December, one atrocity particularly appalled the world, when the group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan murdered 132 children and 18 adults in a school. It was the worst terrorist act in Pakistan’s history, but there have been several other mass killings. Aware Girls estimates that around 4,000 people in the province have been murdered or maimed by terrorists since 2010.
The group believes the best way to combat terrorism is with education. Gulalai and her sister, Saba, founded it in 2002 when they were still teenagers, their initial goal to advance women’s rights in a city where many females suffer appalling discrimination. The sisters began campaigning against domestic violence, acid attacks, honour killings and exploitative labour.
Aware Girls estimates that around 4,000 people in the province have been murdered or maimed by terrorists since 2010 Taheer and Irum Aneez Malik, pictured here with their 12-year-old daughter Kashuf and 10-year-old nephew Hashir, mourn the loss of their 14-year-old son Hammad who was shot dead at school. (Angela Catlin)
Since 2010, Aware Girls has also focused on its growing peace network, which stretches out from its Peshawar base to rural Taliban strongholds. Last year, 223 activists reached almost 4,000 “at risk” young people. At the last national elections, in 2013, Aware Girls led all-female teams of polling station monitors, to ensure women were allowed to vote freely and without intimidation.
One of Saba’s projects has been to investigate the psychological impact of terrorism on the city of Peshawar. According to her study, 84% of survivors of bombings said they were too frightened to leave their homes, while 66% of families reported suffering psychological problems. Children were too scared to attend school due to constant suicide attacks. Domestic violence was rising because men who’d lost their homes or jobs were assaulting their wives and daughters. Peshawar’s economy has suffered greatly over the years, and many women – who often suffer disproportionately due to their second-class status in Pakistani society – said they were living hand to mouth.
“Terrorism has destroyed houses, properties, businesses and livelihoods. Children are frightened and weep. Women have lost hope,” says Saba.
But while terrorism casts a dark shadow over Peshawar, there remains hope that education and dialogue can, over time, change entrenched attitudes. Jawad Ullahkhan, 21, has been involved with Aware Girls for two years. He is from Mingora, the largest city in Swat district, and the place where he saw his first decapitated corpse.
Aware Girls led all-female teams of polling station monitors to ensure women were allowed to vote without intimidation
Jamia Gasmia, a militant religious school in Dhodhdr, has pledged allegiance to political party Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam, which has links to the Taliban. (Angela Catlin)
“The Taliban would bring their victims to a place we called Blood Choke [Green Square] and behead them. They would leave them there for days. The first time I saw a body strung up, I could not believe it. I remember I was walking towards Blood Choke listening to music. I had my hood up so nobody would see my earphones, as the Taliban had banned music. I was in shock for days as I had never seen such things. It was so cruel. I can still smell the blood.”
As he relates the story, Ullahkhan’s eyes widen as if he’s back in the moment. But since attending meetings in Peshawar, he has recruited 15 people to promote peace in Mingora: they try to prevent radicalisation through theatre, and engage with students from extremist madrasas in order to challenge stereotypes and bigotry.
It’s difficult to get anything done in a city as risky as Peshawar. Aware Girls work in schools and mosques, and offer one-to-one counselling that can last for weeks in the hope that a young person changes their views – but they are forced to hold their community meetings by invitation only, in hotel rooms protected by armed guards, where they know the owners and staff. Delegates suspect they are being monitored by ISI, Pakistan’s secret police. Last spring, Gulalai had a lucky escape when lost luggage after a flight meant she wasn’t at home in Peshawar when four armed men turned up at her door.
“They claimed to be security officers who had come to search our home,” Gulalai says. “They tried to enter forcefully but my father refused to open the door. They were shouting and making threats. They started shooting guns into the air. I thought that sooner or later I’d be attacked, but I never thought it would happen to my family.”
We want women to have equal rights to justice, legal support, financial resources and access to education - Saba Ismail
She doesn’t know who the gunmen were: Taliban, Pakistan’s security services, or even a criminal gang trying to kidnap her for ransom. “We cannot trust anyone,” she says.
Nevertheless, as a city that offers at least a modicum of anonymity, Peshawar remains their best bet to fight the Taliban by sowing the seeds of education – work that has won Gulalai the 2014 International Humanist of the Year award and the Commonwealth Youth Award for Asia, and Saba the 2013 Democracy award of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); both women were named that year in Foreign Policy’s list of “leading global thinkers”.
“There were so many human rights violations, such as rape and murder, happening to women in our community, but no platforms for women to raise their voices,” Saba says. “We want women to have equal rights to justice, legal support, financial resources and access to education and other social services.”
Listen to a BBC Radio 4 appeal about the work of Aware Girls and their funder Peace Direct HERE