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Sunday April 1 2006
HEALTH [Read MORE]
Some Doctors Voice Worry Over Abortion Pills' Safety By GARDINER HARRIS
Abortion rights advocates once hoped that RU-486 would prove at least as safe as surgical abortions and largely end the abortion wars by making access widely available and very private.
But in the wake of reports in March that two more women had died after taking abortion pills, some doctors say they are increasingly uneasy about prescribing them.
"None of these women should be dying; it's shocking," said Dr. Peter Bours, an abortion provider in Portland, Ore., who is rethinking whether to offer pill-based, or medical, abortions.
Dr. Warren Hern, a provider in Denver, said the latest reports demonstrated that abortions by RU-486, or Mifeprex, were far riskier than surgical ones. "I think surgery should be the procedure of choice," Dr. Hern said. Pills, he said, "are a lousy way to perform an abortion."
When followed up by another drug, misoprostol, Mifeprex induces a miscarriage that generally occurs within two weeks. To some women, this process seems more natural than surgery, and the expulsion of the fetus often takes place at home, which some also prefer.
But the number of women who have died in the United States after taking Mifeprex has now reached six, according to reports received by the Food and Drug Administration; another has died in Canada.
The drug has been used in more than 560,000 abortions in this country, so the reported risk of death is a bit more than one in 100,000. Some deaths may have gone unreported, meaning the real risk may be even higher.
By contrast, the reported risk of death associated with surgical abortion is one in a million, according to studies one-tenth as high.
Quite apart from death, women who undergo medical abortions suffer an increase in complications, some doctors say. A 1999 study of 377 women found that those who took the pills suffered significantly higher levels of pain, nausea, vomiting and worrisome bleeding than those who underwent surgical abortions.
Pill-based abortions are also 5 to 10 times as likely to fail as surgical ones, and those that do fail require a follow-up surgical procedure in women whose pregnancies by then may have advanced significantly. Generally, the later a woman undergoes an abortion, the greater the risks.
The causes of the two most recent deaths are unknown, but all five previous fatalities resulted from infections with an unusually virulent bacterium called Clostridium sordellii.
F.D.A. officials said that there was neither a definitive link between the infections and RU-486 nor any concrete evidence that the drug increased the risk of infection beyond that found in women who underwent surgical abortions, suffered natural miscarriages or gave birth.
Dr. Cynthia Summers, a spokeswoman for Mifeprex's manufacturer, Danco Laboratories, said a comparison of the risks of medical and surgical abortion was unfair because, she said, reports of problems with surgical procedures were poorly collected.
And Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation's largest abortion provider, said, "Both surgical and medication abortion are extremely safe and effective procedures."
The two kinds of abortion "have comparable risks with the exception of what we have recently seen as it relates to septic fatalities," Dr. Cullins said.
Experts debate whether the method of administration has played a role in the deaths. When the F.D.A. approved Mifeprex in 2000, officials instructed doctors to give it and misoprostol orally. But Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers soon started instructing women to insert misoprostol vaginally at home two to three days after taking Mifeprex. This method allowed women to take lower doses of misoprostol and meant fewer office visits for abortion providers.
All five women who died of infections had inserted misoprostol vaginally, Dr. Cullins said. In France, where no deaths have been reported, the oral method of administration is still standard. Planned Parenthood announced on March 17 that it would go back to giving misoprostol orally.
Opponents of abortion have long argued that RU-486 is not safe and should be withdrawn. Some abortion rights advocates now concede that their counterparts are somewhat right.
"The complications associated with RU-486 far exceed the complications of surgical abortion," said Dr. Damon Stutes, a provider in Reno, Nev., who refuses to offer pill-based abortions. Dr. Stutes, whose clinic has been bombed, said he was uneasy about agreeing with abortion opponents on anything.
"But the truth is the truth," he said.
Still, Dr. Stutes and some other physicians interviewed did not call for Mifeprex's removal from the market, since the drug may be the only option available to women in some rural areas. But women who have a choice should be steered toward surgical abortions, these doctors said.
"One needs to tell patients that the medical procedure, even though it seems more natural, may be more likely to result in death," said Dr. Phillip G. Stubblefield, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University.
Dr. Stubblefield speculated that women who had inserted misoprostol vaginally might have accidentally dragged the pill across the skin near the anus, inserting bacteria that then flourished. But Dr. Mitchell Creinin, director of the division of gynecologic specialties at the University of Pittsburgh, said the method of drug administration had nothing to do with the deaths. Miscarriages, both induced and natural, can lead to infections, he said.
DifferenTakes is an investigative series of issue papers, published by the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College, providing alternative information and analysis on a wide range of reproductive rights, population, environment and social justice issues.
We are pleased to send you our latest issue, "Population-Environment Programs: Problematic Assumptions and Contradictory Approaches" by James Oldham. This issue looks at how assumptions about the connection between population growth and environmental degradation can lead to the creation of programs that pose potential risks to the needs of local communities as well as women's health and autonomy.
This issue was based on a larger study titled, "Rethinking the Link: A Critical Review of Population-Environment Programs." To read the full study, please go to http://popdev.hampshire.edu/news.php.
- Betsy Hartmann and Amy Oliver
* Available in pdf FORMAT
Population-Environment Programs: Problematic Assumptions and Contradictory Approachesby James Oldham
A Publication of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College • No.39 • Spring 2006
Over the last ten to fifteen years a new type of integrated conservation project has evolved that links reproductive health and family planning services with natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. Such programs represent a small but significant trend in both the conservation and the population fields.
Although integrated approaches for addressing population and environment issues date back at least to the 1960s, the promotion of pre-planned Population-Environment (PE) projects is newer. PE linkages are being promoted by leading actors in the population field such as Population Action International and Population Reference Bureau. PE programs are being implemented by major conservation organizations including Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Conservation International (CI). Funding has come in large part from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and a few private foundations. The presence of funders committed to this specific form of integrated conservation and development work has led to the creation of projects explicitly designed around theories of natural linkages between these two sectors.
PE projects are promoted as an opportunity to provide reproductive health services to isolated rural populations and as a people-friendly approach to conservationan alternative to a “fences and fines” approach that excludes local people from the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend. Integration of family planning with natural resource conservation activities is said to produce synergies that will increase programs’ effectiveness and sustainability both because “environmental factors and health consequences overlap directly” and because the linking of population and environmental work “provide[s] economies of scale and scope.” Other advantages claimed for integrated PE projects include facilitated entry into communities, opportunities to address a range of needs of hard-to-reach populations, increased involvement of men in reproductive health and of women in natural resource management, improvements to women’s overall condition, reduced costs, and possibilities for reducing population pressures on the environment.
Although the goal of extended access to reproductive health care and family planning and the goal of making conservation projects address human needs are both important, the current attempt to link the two in community-based projects raises important concerns. First, the assumptions made to justify these links tend to blame environmental degradation on poor communities and specifically on poor women’s fertility. Second, the narrow focus on reproductive health tends to obscure the broader health needs of rural populations in the global south.
Much of the PE literature tries to emphasize the social and human health benefits of integrated programs rather than focusing on environmental justifications. Yet many of the same authors and organizations also disseminate a vision of population threats to the environment on a global scale where the emphasis is on high and fast growing populations in and around biodiversity hotspots of the global south. Most organizations carrying out community-based PE programs also acknowledge that one important objective is to reduce population pressure on the environment. For example, CI describes a global problem of population threatening key areas of ecological concern: “The regions of the planet undergoing the most severe environmental degradation are the same as those experiencing the most rapid human population growth.” This concern is then addressed locally: “Since 2001, Conservation International (CI) has been working in the Selva Lacandona of Mexicoone of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the worldto reduce human population pressure on natural resources.”
These generalized assumptions about population impacts on the natural environment are too simplistic. A significant body of research demonstrates that human populations can actually enrich biodiversity and ecological complexity through their interactions with the environment. In one example, banning local people from a bird sanctuary in Bharatpur, India led to the decline in populations of key bird species. Studies in parts of Kenya and Java have documented that growing populations have increased capacity for environmental remediation, resulting in enhanced biodiversity. Similar trends have been found in countries as diverse as Nepal, Guinea, and China. Although such outcomes depend on many variables, these examples highlight the unreliability of broad generalizations about linkages between population and environment.
Madagascar and the Philippines provide two important examples of the role Malthusian narratives play in the promotion of linked PE projects and of the limitations and dangers of such narratives. Conservationists value Madagascar for its biodiversity, unusual ecosystems, and large numbers of endemic animals and plants. It is the site of a number of PE programs due to the perception of close links between population growth, agricultural practices and deforestation. Advocates for population programs link the tripling of Madagascar’s population in the second half of the 20th century to the current environmental situation where the country’s forests are less than 20 percent of their original size. They describe a rapidly multiplying population of poor farmers who are burning Madagascar’s tropical forests and threatening the biodiversity that the forests support.
Although both population growth and agricultural practices are implicated in the deforestation of Madagascar, the omission of other key facts contributes to a tendency to blame the growing numbers, and the behaviors, of poor subsistence farmers for forest loss. The major period of deforestation in Madagascar began with colonization at the end of the 19th century. Forest loss in the first half of 20th century was equal to or higher than that during the latter half of the century, yet it took place when population density was low and population growth limited by malnutrition and famine, disease, and labor conscription. In fact, government policies and economic and political inequalities, rather than human fertility, were the major causes of forest destruction, through the promotion of coffee and other export crops; colonial tax policies that stimulated migration and land clearing; and privatization of common lands for extractive concessions.
The Philippines, another island nation with rapid population growth and internationally recognized biodiversity hotspots, is also held up as an example of the challenges human populations pose for environmental and natural resource management. Save the Children’s PESCO-Dev project and PATH Foundation Philippines’ IPOPCORM initiative are PE initiatives that combine reproductive health with coastal management. Both projects began with the premise that population growth is an important cause of environmental degradation, so they have emphasized family planning as a complement to natural resource management. In contrast, the Center for Empowerment and Resource Development (CERD)’s coastal management efforts began not with a particular vision of the links between population and environment, but rather a commitment to coastal communities’ “control, use and management of the sea and its resources.”
CERD’s research highlighted a series of complex, interlocking issues influencing both environmental and human health. These included the privatization of public lands and eviction of fishing communities; illegal quarrying of coral and sand; the cutting of mangroves to make way for private resorts and fishponds; the intrusion of large corporate fishing vessels into areas previously reserved for subsistence fishing; and the lack of political and economic power of subsistence fisherfolk. This rights-based approach gives a fuller understanding of the interlocking environmental and social challenges and provides local people more options for addressing them. It also frees women to make reproductive health and family planning decisions solely on the basis of personal health and individual needs rather than as part of a conservation strategy.
Advocates for linking family planning services to conservation or development projects make the argument that such linkages are developed in response to community health needs. It is not clear, however, that the majority of current projects are really responding to locally perceived needs. Whereas earlier conservation projects incorporated health care as a motivator to engage communities, now PE projects are being initiated according to a vision that prioritizes reproductive health and family planning from the outset.
When NGOs arrive with predetermined agendas, the danger is that these will be imposed on local communities, irrespective of local interest. An example of this is a PE project carried out in Manicoré, Brazil by Management Sciences for Health, where reproductive health classes, rather than responding to local demand, were actually a requirement for participation in a handicraft project aimed at women’s economic empowerment.
Although the Manicoré example may be an exception, as long as Malthusian narratives are part of program visions they are likely to be communicated to, and potentially imposed upon, target communities. PE programs frequently use “information, education, and communication” (IEC) campaigns and “social marketing” practices that have the potential to create pressures within the target community for individuals to participate in family planning and other activities. One example is the “Champion Community Voahary Salama competition” in Madagascar, where communities identify goals for vaccination, family planning, and the adoption of agricultural techniques and “participatory monitoring” is used to determine whether a community has reached “champion status.” CI and other NGOs have also adopted this model, described as “community target setting, monitoring and celebration.” This mix of externally supplied education and information with “community” goal setting for, and monitoring of, individual behaviors, raises important questions about the nature of participatory PE programs and even the concept of voluntary family planning.
A related concern regarding PE projects in remote rural areas is that the implementing organizations’ population agenda, combined with limited resources, may lead to services being offered based on what’s doable and effective rather than on what’s most appropriate for women’s health. Evidence from some projects suggests that the drive to get some family planning services to remote areas has indeed led to choices regarding birth control technologies based on logistical and budgetary factors rather than on the needs, desires, and medical situation of the women and men involved.
Health concerns are raised by an emphasis in some PE projects on long-acting contraceptives. As a description of one project explains, “Depo-Provera is offered as a simple, secure, long-term, easily reversible, culturally acceptable method of family planning.” However, the health risks of long-acting contraceptives such as Depo-Provera, and the need for proper screening and follow-up of users, raise questions about the appropriateness of these contraceptives in remote rural areas.
Finally, although “healthy communities” and “healthy families” are part of the titles and language of many PE projects, contributions to health care frequently are limited to narrow family planning services. For example, although an objective of the CI project in Mexico’s Lacandona Forest included the provision of “information and training to improve maternal and child health, and reduce associated mortality rates,” activities carried out under this heading appear to have been much more limited: classes for medical workers in reproductive health and family planning, and provision of contraceptives. Voahary Salama’s integrated PHE program in Madagascar has addressed a wider range of health issues including family planning, immunization, maternal and child nutrition, diarrheal disease prevention, and prevention of malaria and other infectious diseases in conjunction with work to promote reforestation and introduce new agricultural techniques. Yet even this broader focus emphasizes health of mothers and children under five rather than all members of a community.
While integrated approaches to conservation offer real opportunities to treat local people as partners and meet human needs and conservation goals simultaneously, the specific and narrow focus on links between population and environment undercuts many of the benefits of the integrated approach and creates its own problems. PE programs promote the idea that strengthening and empowering local communities are key to both improving lives and meeting conservation goals, yet this urge to take a pro-human approach is undermined by the Malthusian narratives that underpin PE projects. The provision of reproductive health and family planning services in remote rural areas needs to be rights-based, not justified through dubious linkages between population and environmental degradation.
One of the justifications for PE projects is that they respond to the needs of women in the communities being served. However, a priori assumptions can lead to narrow interpretations of local health needs and a bias in favor of particular interventions. Local health needs will only be met if projects are guided by genuine participatory processes not limited by the population or conservation agendas of funders or implementing organizations.
This issue of DifferenTakes is based on a larger study titled “Rethinking the Link: A Critical Review of Population-Environment Programs,” which can be found at
James Oldham is founder and director of Las Lianas Resource Center, an organization that partners with indigenous communities in the Amazon region of South America in work for cultural autonomy and environmental protection.
 Vogel, C.G., and Engelman, R. (1999). Forging the Link: Emerging accounts of population and environment work in communities. Washington, DC: Population Action International. p.22.
 Zinn, F. and MacKie-Mason, J. (1999, Fall). “University of Michigan Population Fellows Programs.” PECS News. 1(1), 4-5. (Woodrow Wilson Center, Environmental Change and Security Project).
 Kleinau, E. and Talbot, J. (2003, Spring). “When the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: Integrated indicators for population-environment programs.” PECS News. Issue 8. (Woodrow Wilson Center, Environmental Change and Security Project). p.10.
 Vogel and Engelman. op. cit. pp.5-6.
 See, for example, Cincotta, R. P. and Engelman, R. (2000). Nature’s Place. Washington, DC: Population Action International.
 Conservation International (CI). (2005). Conservation programs: Population and environment. Retrieved 11 September, 2005, from http://www.conservation.org/xp/CIWEB/programs/population/.
 Conservation International (CI). (2005). Meeting population and conservation needs in Mexico’s Selva Lacandona: Interim report to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Grant #2003-25653. May 1- December 31, 2004. p.1.
 Guha, R. (1997). “The authoritarian biologist and the arrogance of anti-humanism: wildlife conservation in the Third World.” The Ecologist 27(1), 14-20.
 Tiffen, M., Mortimore, M., and Gichuki, F. (1993). More people, less erosion: environmental recovery in Kenya. Chichester: John Wiley.
 Sayer, J.A. (1995). Science and international nature conservation. Jakarta: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Occasional Paper No. 4.
 Cincotta and Engelman. op. cit. p.66.
 Jarosz, L. (1993). “Defining and explaining tropical deforestation: shifting cultivation and population growth in colonial Madagascar (1896-1940).” Economic Geography. 69 (4), 366-379.
 Layng, R. (2002/2003, Winter). “Strengthening formative environmental research through the inclusion of population variables.” Population-Environment Fellows Newsletter. (Population-Environment Fellows Program, University of Michigan.)
 Path Foundation Philippines, Inc. (2005). Integrated population and coastal resource management (IPOPCORM). Retrieved 11 September, 2005, from http://www.pfpi.org/ipopcorm.html.
 Melgar, M & Rodriguez, M. (1995) Formation of CRM council for the CBCRM of Pagapas Bay, Western Batangas. Rome: UN FAO. Retrieved 11 September, 2005, from http://www.geocities.com/cbcrm_rc/CBCRMLibrary/CaseStudies/melgar.htm.
 Vogel and Engelman. op. cit. p.9.
 Margoluis, R., Myers, S., Allen, J., Roca, J., Melnyk, M., & Swanson, J. (2001). An ounce of prevention: Making the link between health and conservation. Washington, DC: Biodiversity Support Program. p.6.
 Feldacker, C. (2004, Spring). “Serving the stewards: Improving reproductive health and protecting the Amazon rainforest.” PECS News. Issue 9. (Woodrow Wilson Center, Environmental Change and Security Project).
 Kleinau and Talbot. op. cit. p.12.
 Kleinau, E., Randriamananjara, O., & Rosensweig, F. (2005). Healthy people in a healthy environment: Impact of an integrated population, health, environment program in Madagascar. Final Report (Draft). p.36.
 Conservation International (CI). (2004). Healthy families, healthy forests: Combining reproductive health with biodiversity protection for effective programming. Year 2 (FY04) annual results report. Associate Grant No. GPH-G-00-02 under Leader Associates Cooperative Agreement No. LAG-A-00-00-00046-00. p.14.
 Kleinau et al. op. cit. p.7.
 Population Action International (PAI). (2005). Community-based population and environment: CBPE Projects Database. Retrieved 7 April, 2005, from http://www.populationaction.org/resources/data_and_graphs/cbpe/index.php
 For an overview of the health risks of Depo-Provera see Oliver, A. & Dukhanova, D. (2005, Spring). “Depo-Provera: Old concerns, new risks.” DifferenTakes 38. (Population and Development Program, Hampshire College). http://popdev.hampshire.edu/projects/dt/dt32.php.
 Conservation International (CI). (2004a). Meeting population and conservation needs in Mexico’s Selva Lacandona: Final report to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Grant #2000-13045.
 Kleinau et al. op. cit.df
February 26 2006
Published on Sunday, February 26, 2006 by the Sunday Times /UK
Atwar Bahjat: Death of a Fighter for Truth
by Hala Jaber
As one of Iraq’s most gifted journalists, Atwar Bahjat covered many funerals, capturing the grief, indignation and fury of countless mourners struggling to comprehend their country’s descent into sectarian conflict.
Yesterday her own funeral made news when the procession through Baghdad was attacked, first by a gunman and then by a bomber. Three people died, all members of the security forces, compounding the anguish and bewilderment of Atwar’s family and friends at her killing last Wednesday.
The only solace for those of us who knew her came from our memories of a brave woman who fought a fierce battle for something she believed in: the truth.
I last saw Atwar a few weeks ago in Iraq. She was her usual smiling self, beautifully dressed in one of the colourful headscarves that she loved to wear. Her brow furrowed only when she talked about the disintegration of Iraq. Chronicling its collapse for the al-Arabiya news channel had become her mission in life.
She invited me to lunch, as she always did. As ever, I declined. Iraq has become such a dangerous place for journalists from the western media that I could not justify the risk of driving to her home. To die covering a story would be one thing. To die — or even to be kidnapped — on my way to lunch just would not be acceptable.
I first met Atwar in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. We were the only two Arab women journalists there and immediately struck up a friendship. Her contacts book was placed at my disposal.
We giggled about how the clerics ordered her to shroud herself in black and remove any sign of make-up when in Najaf’s holy shrine.
Atwar refused to accept their strictures, arguing that the colour in her scarf should not matter as long as she was decently covered. Her argument prevailed and she earned the respect of those who until then had seen her only on television.
Atwar’s was a famous face in the Arab world. Her modern Islamic attire in pale pinks, blues and greens became her hallmark and her celebrity drew viewers. She did not just report the news; her reporting went to the core of the issues that have convulsed Iraq and confronted the extremists with the results of their actions.
Not everyone liked what they saw. Death threats drove Atwar away to Qatar but she could not settle. She believed that her place was in Iraq.
She returned to a new home in a different district where she believed the risks would be lower. She convinced herself that being an Iraqi Muslim woman working for an Arab organisation conferred some immunity from danger.
I know that feeling. But the cruel fate that Atwar met last week showed that we Arabs are in just as much danger.
On Thursday morning when I logged on to the news from Iraq, Atwar’s face was staring out of the screen with details of her murder.
Nothing prepares one for such a moment — for the feelings of despair, helplessness and even guilt for being alive, combined with a terrible fear of dying in a similar way.
For the first few minutes Atwar’s smile flashed in my mind, alternating with visions of body bags, bullet-ridden bodies and beheadings — the nightmares I banish when I am back from Iraq in the safety of my home in London.
For the next hour I read every item I could find about her death, searching in vain for any clue that might explain it. I needed to make sense of it, yet all I could think was that I had declined her invitations to lunch.
The bleak facts were that Atwar had driven to her native Samarra after the destruction of its Shi’ite shrine but found her route blocked by security checkpoints. Wearing a green coat and matching headscarf, she made two live broadcasts from just outside the city.
Her third broadcast, just after 6pm, was her last and her make-up failed to conceal her strain. Not only was she tired; she was telling colleagues she was worried that she could not get into the city, night was falling and she was a long way from home.
A small, hostile crowd gathered. Then two gunmen arrived in a pick-up truck. She appealed to the crowd for help but the gunmen dispersed them by firing into the air.
Soon afterwards more shots were heard. Atwar’s body and those of her camerman and sound man were found next to their van. The green coat was ripped by two bullets in the back. She also took two to the head. She was 30 years old.
Why do journalists like Atwar continue to report from Iraq, where 64 of us have been killed in three years? It is not for money; nor is it for the adrenaline “highs” that so-called war junkies are supposedly hooked on.
For Atwar, covering Iraq had become a moral obligation. Journalists have become the eyes, ears and voices of millions of Iraqis.
Half Sunni and half Shi’ite, Atwar’s dedication to impartial reporting made her enemies on both sides of Iraq’s sectarian divide: she could never satisfy one without infuriating the other.
If only her enemies had paid more heed to the symbol of unity that she always wore around her neck — a golden locket in the shape of Iraq.
© 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Deepa Mehta's 'Water' bags best film honour
Bangkok,AFP: Indian-born director Deepa Mehta was celebrating today after her problem-plagued film "Water" finally found its way to success, winning best film at the Bangkok International Film Festival.
"Water", which focuses on the plight of castigated widows in Gandhi-era India, was nearly abandoned by Mehta after protests by Hindu organisations halted the filming. Then became the centre of a bitter tug-of-war at the festival.
The director received death threats and was forced to shelve the movie in 2000 after Indian authorities shut down filming amid protests by Hindu outfits. She finally shot the film in Sri Lanka five years later.
In Bangkok, organisers said a Thai studio had tried to pull "Water" from the competition as part of a boycott of the festival being staged by the nation's film industry group which claims it was not properly consulted over the event.
But Mehta insisted the film be shown and produced a contract giving her rights to show "Water" at any festival, the event's director Craig Prater said.
A jury led by Australian director Fred Schepisi awarded the prize which Princess Ubol Ratana of Thailand presented to Mehta and Canadian David Hamilton at a star-studded awards ceremony in the capital last night.
"Water" has already proved a smash hit in Canada, where Mehta now lives, having opened five film festivals and grossed almost two million dollars at the Canadian box office since November.
South Korea's Park Chan-Wook won his second successive best director award at the festival for his mystery thriller "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance". He shared the directing prize last year for "Old Boy" which also won him the 2004 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes in 2004.
The Golden Kinnaree awards - named after a half-woman, half-bird mythical Thai creature - are not considered among the most prestigious in the movie world, but last year's big winner, Spanish movie "The Sea Inside", went on to win the Oscar for best foreign-language film the following month.
The only entry in this year's competition to be nominated as best foreign film at next month's Academy Awards is "Tsotsi", which won a best actor award for 21-year-old South African actor Presley Chweneyagae.
DAWN REVIEW -- Pakistan -- March 23, 2006 Thursday Safar 22, 1427
Director Deepa Mehta’s latest effort, Water, comes with a fair share of history and baggage. Already unpopular with the BJP and Hindu fundamentalist crowd in India for the 1996 movie Fire (the first movie in her “Elements” trilogy) because it depicted a lesbian relationship in a conservative Hindu household, Mehta really drew the wrath of her opponents when she embarked on Water, the final instalment in the trilogy (Earth, released in 1998 and based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Ice-Candy Man, is the second).
An ambitious project, Water tackles the politics of sexuality, economics and religion, using as a backdrop the burgeoning independence movement against British colonial rule in India in the late 1930s. As a means of exploring these issues, Mehta takes a hard look at the tradition of child marriages (since banned) and the time-honoured Hindu practice of ostracising widows from mainstream society fate.
Mehta originally cast Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das in the main roles (they were also the leads in Fire) and took her cast and crew to start filming in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi (which was also in the news recently because of bomb blasts which took place there on March 06, 2006). However, the film was beset with troubles right from the onset.
Mehta received death threats and the movie set was attacked and damaged, causing the director to halt production. However, Mehta vowed that she would not be cowed down by “pre-production censorship imposed by thugs” and would ultimately complete her film. The director was true to her word. After making two films in the interim (Bollywood/Hollywood and The Republic Of Love), Mehta re-launched Water, opting to shoot the movie in Sri Lanka this time, and re-cast the film with Seema Biswas and Lisa Ray replacing Azmi and Das respectively. She finally, completed and released the movie in 2005.
So does the movie work independent of the controversy and subsequent hype surrounding it? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” The need to make a statement does not overwhelm the movie as it did in Fire, showing Mehta’s growth as both a writer and film-maker. Water is tightly scripted, beautifully shot and wonderfully acted. Biswas (The Bandit Queen) is incredibly effective in an appropriately understated manner and Ray brings the right combination of beauty and vulnerable innocence to her role. Newcomer Sarala as the child-bride Chuyia is endearing and John Abraham also shows his continued growth as an actor demonstrating once again that he’s not just a pretty face –– though it was amusing to witness the palpable excitement that rustled through the women in the audience at the special screening of the movie in Karachi arranged by the Kara Film Society when his name flashed on the screen.
In the ultimate analysis, Water is a provocatively powerful and touching movie. A must see. Khusro Mumtaz
CNN.com Saturday February 4 2006
Betty Friedan, philosopher of modern-day feminism, dies
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Betty Friedan, whose manifesto "The Feminine Mystique" became a best seller in the 1960s and laid the groundwork for the modern feminist movement, died Saturday, her birthday. She was 85.
Friedan died at her home of congestive heart failure, according to a cousin, Emily Bazelon.
Friedan's assertion in her 1963 best seller that having a husband and babies was not everything and that women should aspire to separate identities as individuals, was highly unusual, if not revolutionary, just after the baby and suburban booms of the Eisenhower era. (Watch: The life of an author and activist -- 2:41)
The feminine mystique, she said, was a phony bill of goods society sold to women that left them unfulfilled, suffering from "the problem that has no name" and seeking a solution in tranquilizers and psychoanalysis.
"A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, `Who am I, and what do I want out of life?' She mustn't feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children," Friedan said.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms. magazine and a former president of the National Organization for Women, praised Friedan's legacy.
Friedan, she said, "was a giant for women's rights and a leading catalyst of the 20th century whose work led to profound changes improving the status of women and women's lives" worldwide. "The Feminine Mystique" helped to "define the lesser status of women," she said.
"That book changed women's lives," said Kim Gandy, current president of NOW, which Friedan co-founded. "It opened women's minds to the idea that there actually might be something more. And for the women who secretly harbored such unpopular thoughts, it told them that there were other women out there like them who thought there might be something more to life."
In the racial, political and sexual conflicts of the 1960s and '70s, Friedan's was one of the most commanding voices and recognizable presences in the women's movement.
As the first president of NOW in 1966, she staked out positions that seemed extreme at the time on such issues as abortion, sex-neutral help-wanted ads, equal pay, promotion opportunities and maternity leave.
But at the same time, Friedan insisted that the women's movement had to remain in the American mainstream, that men had to be accepted as allies and that the family should not be rejected.
"Don't get into the bra-burning, anti-man, politics-of-orgasm school," Friedan told a college audience in 1970.
To more radical and lesbian feminists, Friedan was "hopelessly bourgeois," Susan Brownmiller wrote at the time.
Friedan, deeply opposed to "equating feminism with lesbianism," conceded later that she had been "very square" and uncomfortable about homosexuality.
"I wrote a whole book objecting to the definition of women only in sexual relation to men. I would not exchange that for a definition of women only in sexual relation to women," she said.
Nonetheless she was a seconder for a resolution on protecting lesbian rights at the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977.
"For a great many women, choosing motherhood makes motherhood itself a liberating choice," she told an interviewer two decades later. But she added that this should not be a reason for conflict with "other feminists who are maybe more austere, or choose to seek their partners among other women."
By then in her 70s, Friedan had moved on to the issue of how society views and treats its elderly.
She said that while researching her last book, "The Fountain of Age," published in 1993, she found those who dealt with old people "talk about the aged with the same patronizing, `compassionate' denial of their personhood that was heard when the experts talked about women 20 years ago."
She had not stopped being a feminist, she said, "but women as a special separate interest group are not my concern any more."
Friedan, born February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois, was a high achieving Jewish outsider growing up in middle America. Her father, Harry Goldstein, owned a jewelry store; her mother, Miriam, quit a job as a newspaper women's page editor to become a housewife.
As a girl, Friedan watched her mother "cut down my father because she had no place to channel her terrific energies, a typical female disorder that I call impotent rage," she said.
From high school valedictorian in 1938 to summa cum laude graduate of Smith College in 1942, "I was that girl with all A's and I wanted boys worse than anything," she said.
She won a fellowship in psychology to the University of California, Berkeley, but turned down a bigger fellowship there so as not to outdo a boyfriend.
The romance broke up anyway and Friedan moved to Greenwich Village in New York and became a labor reporter.
She lost one job to a returning World War II veteran but found another before marrying Carl Friedan, a summer-stock producer and later an advertising executive, in 1947. The marriage, which produced three children, ended in divorce 22 years later.
Friedan got a maternity leave to have her first child in 1949, but was fired and replaced by a man when she asked for another leave to have the second child five years later.
The family had moved to a big Victorian house in the suburban Rockland County village of Grandview-on-the-Hudson, New York, where Friedan cranked out freelance magazine articles while bringing up her brood.
Hoping to get a magazine piece out of a Smith College 15-year reunion, Friedan prepared an in-depth survey of her classmates.
What she found was that these well-educated women of the class of 1942, now largely suburban housewives, were asking, in effect, "Is this all?"
Friedan couldn't get the article published in a magazine, but five years of more research and writing turned it into "The Feminine Mystique."
If some women read it as a call to arms, others were outraged, Friedan recalled. Dinner invitations stopped; she was out of the school car pool.
But the first printing of 3,000 eventually grew to 600,000 copies hardcover and more than 2 million in paperback. The book was listed at No. 37 on a 1999 New York University survey of 100 examples of the best journalism of the century.
In 1964, the family moved back to Manhattan in 1964 and Friedan began working to have the federal government enforce the Civil Rights Act as it applied to sex and not only to race, religion and national origin.
Founding NOW was a response to federal inaction. The finale of Friedan's presidency was the national women's strike of August 1970, which brought women out across the country on the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage.
She also was a founder in 1968 of the National Conference for Repeal of Abortion Laws, which became the National Abortion Rights Action League, and of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971.
During the following decade she taught and lectured, and her 1981 book, "The Second Stage," was seen by many as a public break with the feminist leadership that had succeeded her. She said they had pursued "sexual politics that distorted the sense of priorities of the women's movement during the 1970s," and had opened the way for conservatives and reactionaries to occupy the center on family issues.
In "The Second Stage," Friedan also appeared to accept criticism from some women that "The Feminine Mystique" was too dismissive of domestic life. "Our failure was our blind spot about the family," she wrote.
Friedan taught on both coasts, at New York University and the University of Southern California, lecturing widely and traveling to women's conferences around the globe.
She helped persuade the Democratic Party to give women half the delegate strength at its nominating convention and was herself a delegate when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for vice president in 1984.
She lived in New York City and Washington, D.C., and had a summer house in Sag Harbor, New York.
Survivors include her sons, Daniel Friedan of Princeton, New Jersey, and Jonathan Friedan of Philadelphia, and daughter Emily Friedan of Buffalo, New York; nine grandchildren; a sister, Amy Adams of New York; and a brother, Harry Goldstein of Palm Springs, California.
Carl Friedan died in December, according to Bazelon.
She said the funeral will be Monday at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York.
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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