Recent Resources for Feminists
Monday May 2, 2016
‘Women farmers need a fair deal’Staff Reporter
V. Rukmini Rao, founder of Gramya Resource Centre for Women, addresses a meeting of women farmers at Yerpedu near Tirupati on Sunday. (SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT)
Though the population of women on the earth is roughly 50 per cent, the fact is that they still have little access to their own landholding. When farmers are finding it hard to eke out a living, the plight of the women among them is even more disturbing. It is unfortunate that women are still treated as aliens in the agricultural market yards.
“The market committees are filled with men and market yard premises do not have even toilets. Such factors turn women away from farming,” says V. Rukmini Rao, Director of Gramya Resource Centre for Women, Secunderabad.
In an interview to The Hindu , Ms. Rao lamented at the fate of women farm labourers who continue to work up to the last days of pregnancy. These women attend to their domestic chores and also don their role as a farmer thus working for extended hours. In sharp contrast, women in the government sector get twelve-week maternity leave at the State level and six months at the national level, she noted.
Ms. Rao was here to participate in the two-day district-level consultation programme held under the aegis of Forum for Women Farmers’ Rights -- Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (Makaam)and Rythu Swaraj Vedika (RSY), in association with SV University’s Centre for Women’s Studies. The meet concluded on Sunday after taking stock of the situation of farmers, analysing the impact of government policies and the State’s response to the facts gathered at the ground level.
“We strongly suggest the use of local inputs such as initiatives to support women to have their own seed production and storage facility to bring down the input cost,” she said.
Stressing the need for support to landless women, she also suggested formation of a gender desk as is in vogue in Gujarat, a single window system to address women’s issues.
SVU professor D. Usha Rani, Uma Shankari of RSV, Women’s Initiatives (WINS) director R. Meera suggested gender sensitisation in government departments, besides recruiting women at key levels in the agricultural and extension wings to address to the issues of the women.
Consultation programme under the aegis of Forum for Women Farmers’ Rights ends
Monday May 2, 2016
Women avoid pro-life protesters for the first time in decades
By Beau Donelly
Police question a man outside the East Melbourne fertility clinic on Monday. (Penny Stephens)
Police have questioned an elderly man who flouted new laws aimed at stopping protesters from harassing women outside abortion clinics.
The man was spoken to by two police officers after reports he was praying outside the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne about 4pm.
Laws passed last year making it illegal to harass people within 150-metres of abortion providers came into effect on Monday.
Leader of the Austrlaian Sex Party Fiona Patten outside the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne. (Penny Stephens)
For the first time in 25 years, the group of anti-abortion protesters who have picketed the Wellington Parade abortion clinic six days a week were absent and women were able to enter the building without first being forced to run the gauntlet.
"Usually we have patients coming in who are crying, we may have partners who are angry, we might have children who are upset," clinical psychologist Susie Allanson said on Monday. "Today has been delightfully uneventful."
But shortly after speaking to The Age, police were called to the clinic after reports a man was praying outside. A Victoria Police spokesman said officers explained the new legislation to the man and that he left voluntarily.
Women seeking help from the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne have in the past had to walk past chanting anti-abortion protesters. (Rebecca Hallas)
The man, believed to be a founding member of the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, spoke to police for about half an hour.
Dr Allanson has previously reported that protesters from the Helpers of God's Precious Infants have followed, threatened and intimidated women and their partners outside the clinic. She said the group, who carry pamphlets and graphic images of dismembered fetuses, had also in the past verbally abused, stalked and intimidated her staff.
In 2001, the centre's security guard Steven Rogers was shot dead by a pro-life protester.
A bill introduced by Sex Party MP Fiona Patten last year made it illegal for anti-abortion protesters to harass or film people coming or going from abortion clinics, with heavy penalties for those who break the law.
"I went to the clinic today and was very pleasantly surprised that people were adhering to the new regulations," Ms Patten said. "I saw patients accessing and exiting the clinic freely and without being morally judged by protesters. It's very pleasing to see the law working and that finally the rights of the patients will be respected."
Ms Patten said she and a handful of pro-choice supporters would stand alongside the ant-abortion group on Tuesday morning, where they recently started protesting on sitting days, to support their right to protest. "If you want to change the abortion laws in this state the place you campaign for that is at the Parliament House," she said.
In a statement, the Helpers of God's Precious Infants said its members were peaceful and that the new law imposed "draconian fines and possible jail term for merely being present or offering a pamphlet to those who wish to receive it".
"It must be the first law of its kind in Victoria to criminalise peaceful activities", the group's spokeswoman, Tanya O'Brien, said.
"It is arrogant for the Victorian Parliament to join with the abortion industry in passing an unconstitutional law to deny pregnant women any knowledge of the type of assistance that is available to them from the Helpers."
The group, which also maintains a presence at clinics in Carlton, Richmond and St Alban, said it aimed to expand its activities in the future.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy said last year that women accessing legal abortions had had their privacy invaded and been subjected to verbal and psychological abuse for too long.
"This abuse has included yelling, holding up images of fetuses, physical intimidation and, on occasions, violence," Ms Hennessy said. "This abuse is designed to humiliate and shame women who are accessing a legal and legitimate medical procedure."
Friday April 29 2016
Australian aid worker kidnapped in AfghanistanTranscript
MATT WORDSWORTH, PRESENTER: For the past 20 years, an unsung Australian hero, Kerry Jane Wilson, has been dedicated to the most dangerous of missions, empowering women to make their own way in life in war-torn Afghanistan in direct opposition to the edicts of the Taliban.
Yesterday the 60 year old aid worker was kidnapped from her work compound in Afghanistan's east amidst an escalating security crisis in the country.
Local authorities are questioning Kerry Jane Wilson's employees about their involvement. The fear is she could be transported to Pakistan, where hostages are often held for years for ransom or used as leverage for a prisoner exchange.
Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop reports.
PROMOTIONAL VIDEO: Zardozi trains Afghan women and sells their fabulous products here in Kabul. With the money, refugee women send their children to school and feed their families.
BRIAN WILSON, FATHER: For the past 20 years, she's been running her own NGO, which empowers women. It tries to get women out of the home, virtually incognito, as it were, and to get outside and to learn to do business. This means getting the husbands online, showing them how exactly to handle money, to bargain with men, and to carry out small business. This, of course, is not very popular with Taliban, which doesn't see the role of women doing that sort of thing.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP, REPORTER: Kerry Jane Wilson has earned a reputation in Afghanistan as a fearless and humble local hero. Her dedication landed her in deep strife yesterday on a visit to her offices in Jalalabad in Afghanistan's troubled east.
TONY LOUGHRAN, SECURITY CONSULTANT: She was operating within her own particular compound. A group of people came in dressed in military garb, combats, which is not unusual for Afghanistan. And they literally walked in there as if they were military, and allegedly took her.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Kerry Jane Wilson was due to leave Afghanistan today to visit her father in Perth. Instead, he got the call he'd always feared.
BRIAN WILSON: The Department of Foreign Affairs phoned me up and told me, and said they'd keep me in touch. But they knew no more than I did. All they knew was that she'd been kidnapped. I presume that, if she's going to be a hostage that it would be in a bargain, as it were, for something rather going to happen. We don't yet know what their demand will be, but presumably you don't harm a hostage, because a dead one is no good at all.
REPORTER I: Do you know about her welfare?
JULIE BISHOP, FOREIGN MINISTER: That is our priority to ensure that she is well, that she's being treated well, and so that's what we're focusing our efforts upon, working with the local authorities and our embassy in Kabul, of course, is deeply involved in this matter.
REPORTER II: Do you categorically rule out paying a ransom?
JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government does not, as a matter of policy, pay ransoms for kidnappers.
TONY LOUGHRAN: You can't rule out the possibility of money being demanded. Obviously money talks in certain places like that.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Last week, a Taliban attack on a high-security intelligence compound in Kabul, one of the deadliest in their 15 year insurgency, stoked fears of a deteriorating security situation.
Crisis consultant Tony Loughran, who regularly works in Afghanistan, believes the Taliban or local criminals are behind the kidnapping of Kerry Jane Wilson.
TONY LOUGHRAN: The groups that could be behind the kidnapping, OK, are regional kind of crime consortiums. They're actually in it themselves; they can move people around quite quickly. They know for a fact they can get money from individuals.
It is an increasing business within Kabul, and within Afghanistan in particular. So these are the things that we need to kind of safeguard against. Again, you've also got the actual Taliban element as well, that would see this as a great opportunity for not only a PR stunt, as well to see where they can get saturated media coverage, but also for the actual ransom itself if there is a payment being made.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Only a year ago, Kerry Jane Wilson made a plea for money to help the women of Afghanistan.
KERRY JANE WILSON (PROMOTIONAL VIDEO): We need your help. For the trade fairs, for training more women, and to buy a vehicle that doesn't use so much oil and doesn't break down in the middle of the road.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Kerry Jane Wilson's 4th is now calling on her to maintain the resilience she's become known for.
BRIAN WILSON: Jane, do your level best and come back safe and sound.
MATT WORDSWORTH: Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop reporting.
Friday April 29 2016
8 suspects detained for abduction of foreign womanBy Zeerak Fahim
JALALABAD (Pajhwok): Eight men were arrested by police on charge of their involvement in the kidnapping of an Australian female employee of a Non-governmental Organization (NGO), in eastern Nangarhar province, an official said on Friday.
Attaullah Khogyani, the governor’s spokesman, had told Pajhwok Afghan News the abducted employee had come from Kabul to Jalalabad, the provincial capital, and stayed at Spinghar Hotel. The woman was abducted on Thursday morning from the local office in the 4th municipality district of Jalalabad.
Eight employees of the tailoring and embroidery office were held by police on charge of being involved in the abduction of the Australian lady, Khogyani said adding police have been interrogating from the detainees.
Sunday April 17th, 2016
Health: The state’s misogyny
By Moniza Inam
Horrifying stories abound in the media, about the widespread death toll of children in Thar; unbearable images of malnourished and stunted children in incubators and hospital wards have been displayed on our TV screens, day in and day out. According to press reports, 398 children died in 2015, and based on anecdotal evidence, this year shall once again see such a high mortality rate.
As more of these breaking stories are highlighted in sensational headlines, the government continues to vehemently deny responsibility for the crisis, claiming that these deaths are normal and occur every year.
There was a lot of hue and cry in the national media when the advisor to the chief minister on information, Maula Bux Chandio, said that children are dying in Thar because of the carelessness of their mothers, and underage marriages while another minister blamed a Thari mother for not practising family planning, and having a large family.
The government states that malnourishment and death of Thari children is business as usual, and has resorted to woman blaming tropes in their statements, but health experts counter that it isn’t the norm nor should it be
What these unfounded allegations sweep under the carpet is the failure of the state to provide awareness about, and access to, healthy eating practices and family planning. Another glaring oversight by the government is the lack of initiative in combating famine, prevalent in Thar due to years of drought in the region.
Interviews with doctors, paramedical staff, Lady Health Workers (LHWs), the district health officer, NGOs and a tour to the District Hospital Mithi, indicate that while factors contributing to the Thar health crisis are numerous, they are also, for the most part, preventable; such as access to basic health facilities, and programmes aimed at decreasing malnourishment.
Clinics, clinics everywhere but not a doctor in sight
Most mothers present at District Hospital Mithi displayed symptoms of chronic malnourishment. Unfortunately, such women often live in far-flung areas of the desert, and transport facilities are few and far between, so seeking medical intervention is beyond their reach.
While on paper there are 250 dispensaries in the district, only 160 are functional. In addition, since a majority of Tharis reside in remote villages, accessing basic medical services is difficult. The solution to have these services closer to where Tharis live is proving elusive due to a shortage of medical staff, partly due to the government’s inability to hire doctors at low salaries.
Kathau Jani, a journalist working in the area, claims that part of the reason demand hasn’t met supply is due to the authorities’ haphazard hiring practices: “As appointment through the Sindh Public Service Commission was taking time, there were some ad-hoc appointments, and 70 doctors were appointed on contract. After their contracts ended they were not renewed, and these doctors are very upset about it”.
The doctors in Thar also have their own list of grievances, stating that they are severely overworked, as no new appointments have been made, even though hundreds of positions are currently available. As Dr Arjun Kumar, District Health Officer Mithi, points out, “There is a growing need for lady doctors, resident doctors, LHWs, staff nurses, etc but 300 doctors’ posts are lying vacant”.
In addition, Shaikh Tanveer Ahmed, chief executive of the NGO Hands, points out that 20pc of health facilities are non-functional.
Even as many clinics remain devoid of staff, the government has plans to open more; something Ahmed says shall be of no use unless they can attract health professionals to work at such sites. “Two new nutrition centres in Chachro and Nagar Parkar [are to open], but no one is willing to serve there. There should be additional compensation for doctors and paramedical staff to work in such areas,” he claims.
In addition to improving its hiring practices, and providing incentives for healthcare practitioners to work in such remote areas, other innovative solutions such as mobile clinics and dispensaries could also be explored.
For instance, Javaid Nisar Syed, the patron-in-chief of Medibank, an organisation that supplies free medicines for patients across Pakistan, points out that they successfully “initiated a mobile dispensary to reach people residing in inaccessible areas”.
He adds that they are taking a multipronged approach in Thar; and are also working on providing water distillation services, and a deworming campaign, for children.
Last in line
In patriarchal Thar, women’s low standing in the social hierarchy also means that they have little say in family planning, when they get married, and are less likely to access nutritious food.
Dr Sikandar Raza Hanjano, a paediatrician working in District Hospital Mithi, says, “These girls are married off at an early age, have repeated pregnancies, and don’t have a nutritious and balanced diet, which results in underweight and weak babies, who die from preventable diseases.”
Endorsing his views, Dr Bhawan Rap, who is also a paediatrician working at District Hospital Mithi, says, “If the mother is weak, then the child will also be weak and will be [born] prematurely.”
But Dr Kumar argues that Thari women’s malnourishment stems from the diet they follow due to religious beliefs, and customary practices. “Most women follow a diet rich in vegetables but poor in proteins, and are therefore not able to get the calories they need,” he adds.
However, one can argue that it shouldn’t be too difficult for the government to work with local doctors to come up with guidelines for a vegetarian diet that meets the daily protein requirement.
Knowledge is power
In addition to working towards improving access to healthier food, experts argue that better family planning services, and teaching women to be more creative in providing nutritious diets for their newborns, could go a long way towards mitigating the health crisis in the long-term. The key, according to health experts and the government, is creating more awareness.
“There is an urgent need to educate and synthesise the communities about hygiene, balanced diet and nutritious food, especially the nutritional needs of babies after the age of six months, when mothers should give them semi-solid foods to meet their growing needs,” states Dr Hanjano.
Dr Rap also explained that most babies are malnourished as mothers usually feed them a diet which is inappropriate for their child’s age. “They should be taught about the food requirements after six months, as they should feed the [child] cow or goat milk, fruits, vegetables, pulses, etc,” he adds.
In addition to providing children with a nutritious diet, health experts point out that better family planning should lead to improved health for women and their babies.
Lewanti Bai, 45, who works as an assistant district coordinator for the National Programme for Family Planning and Healthcare, a government-run initiative that trains women to provide healthcare services at a community level, said that the major reason for the high infant mortality rate are large family sizes and a lack of birth spacing. While they are working on increasing awareness about family planning, it’s proving to be an uphill task: “Only 40pc of the district is covered by LHWs, and there is one LHW for 1,000 people,” she adds.
In addition to increasing the number of LHWs, many experts, including Dr Sono Khangharani, chief executive officer of Hisaar Foundation, point out that dais (traditional birth attendants) should also be trained, and that the medical facilities and equipment at District Hospital Mithi need to be improved.
Dr Deesha Kumari, a gynaecologist working in District Hospital Mithi, says, that they are also working towards ensuring better family planning practices among Thari women, through more frequent medical follow ups: “When women deliver a child we ask them to come back after every six weeks for family planning, and if they fail to come we do not take their case in this hospital.”
Not that there is much resistance from society the older generation of Thari women seem very supportive of family planning. For instance, Sukhio, a resident of a remote village, and a grandmother, says that she “gave birth to 13 children out of which only eight survived, but advises [her] daughters and daughters-in-law to practice family planning and have fewer kids”.
Deputy Commissioner Mithi, Nisar Ahmed Memon, points out that cases such as Sukio’s aren’t isolated ones, and that the government has seen a wider trend of Tharis adopting ‘modern’ medical treatments. According to him, people are going for immunisation, polio drops and child birth in hospitals.
“All these factors signify change in their thinking and attitude, though at a very slow pace,” he says. He adds that the government “is trying to strengthen the institution of LHWs [through] refresher courses”.
Sunday Magazine April 17, 2016
Feminism over chai
By Anuradha Sengupta
Girls at Dhabas' aims to encourage women in Pakistan to reclaim the ownership of public spaces. (Special Arrangement():
When Sadia Khatri Instagrammed a picture of herself and her friends at a dhaba, she had no idea #girlsatdhabas would become a thing in Pakistan
A Tumblr blog from Pakistan has been making waves and trending on social media around the world. The blog, ‘Girls at Dhabas’, features photos of women hanging out at dhabas, drinking chai, eating, reading, and just being as an act of liberation. It all began when Karachi-based Sadia Khatri posted on Instagram a photograph of her hanging out with some friends at a dhaba, drinking chai, with the hashtag #girlsatdhabas. It was soon trending. Some suggested that Khatri turn it into a series. A Tumblr account was started and soon women from all over Pakistan began sending photographs of themselves in tea shops and other public places, engaged in activities traditionally considered ‘male’, like riding motorcycles, cycling, playing cricket or driving rickshaws. The idea was for women to reappear on streets. In an interview, Khatri speaks about mobility, unlearning gender identities, and drawing inspiration from feminists in India. Excerpts:
What is the idea behind selfies at dhabas?
In addition to being a public space, dhabas represent a break of sorts from the daily grind without having to necessarily buy the experience. It is like people sitting at streetside coffee shops or in other public spaces simply to hang out have a cup of coffee or chat. Taking a selfie or photograph is important, too, because it implies ownership of the space. Women are frequently told to stay out of, or remain invisible in public spaces. Putting all those prescriptions aside to take your own photo in a space you are traditionally not supposed to be in there is a moment of reclamation there.
‘Girls at Dhabas’ wasn’t necessarily a preconceived idea. Our growth has been very organic. The hashtag found resonance after we started documenting photos at dhabas. The hashtag has now come to symbolise a lot more in terms of the conversation around reimagining public space for women in Pakistan.
We are around 10 girls across Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad who manage the page, plan events in our city and co-ordinate with different groups to raise some noise about women’s participation in public space.
We come from varying socio-economic backgrounds and work across fields. Some of us are working full-time, some are in undergrad or grad school, one is a journalist, another, a filmmaker, teacher, graphic designer, and several work with NGOs and research collectives.
Have you been influenced by parallel movements in India?
We have definitely found a lot of strength from ‘Why Loiter?’, as well as other groups such as BLANK NOISE and ‘Feminism in India’. It’s reassuring to know this work isn’t being done in isolation. It’s particularly encouraging to know that there is a history and context to gender dynamics in public spaces in South Asia that many people are trying to battle. Since starting the group, we have connected with feminists, rights workers, NGOs, anthropologists, designers, businesswomen and social workers. It is incredible and relieving to know there is a bigger support group and resource base than we realised, that so much more can be done when we do it together.
Even in terms of situating ourselves as a group, ‘Why Loiter?’ turned out to be an essential resource. Reading the book, we felt like Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade (members of ‘Why Loiter?’) had taken all of our thoughts and articulated them with logic, reason and relevance. Soon After the hashtag #girlsatdhabas received a lot of attention, they reached out to us and we have been in touch, trying to scheme some cross-border collaborations. In December, we hosted #WhyLoiter simultaneously as the folks organised it in India, both online and offline. Since ‘Why Loiter?’ has been around for a while, it is more instantly recognisable than something like #girlsatdhabas. We are definitely taking a lot of cues from them.
What has been the reaction like so far?
For the most part, it’s been fantastic. Submissions haven’t stopped coming in. Girls and women are very enthusiastic about the page and what it stands for. We are constantly getting more stories and ideas and requests for collaborations which shows that the issue of gender and public space resonates with a lot of women. The best are the messages from women, even young girls in school, thanking us for bringing up issues of everyday misogyny.
“I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels like this,” they say. There is a lack of spaces, online and offline, where feminists can connect with each other. The response we’ve got convinces us that we need to keep the community going, because it is clearly filling a gap.
A few months ago, some postgraduate students emailed us because they were doing a project on urban space in Karachi and wanted some context on how to view street norms from the context of gender. We had some fantastic conversations with them, and their project conversely has given us new food for thought.
Have you been able to involve men?
There have been a few men actively involved with #girlsatdhabas from the beginning a circle of friends that has been supportive by helping us with male allies and being there as a sounding board.
The conversation has to take place among all genders because public spaces affect us in different ways, and our interaction with it affects others’ interactions. Amongst our friends, for example, we have discussions about how men, who are extremely comfortable in public space, might be contributing to creating a hostile environment for women. What are the ways in which they can be conscious of their behaviour? How can men interact with other men and make them more sensitive to issues of gender in public space, and gender norms generally.
Audience wise, men are probably the biggest critics of #girlsatdhabas. There is the popular argument based on religion, where we are told our narrative doesn’t fit into the one Islam has prescribed for women; there is the quick dismissal by elite, progressive and ‘secular’ men who feel threatened and can’t figure out why women want to sit at a dhaba and have chai, why it is even an issue but there’s a long way to go before any of those mindsets can be eradicated or addressed.
We are trying to ‘educate’ by example and personal stories because a series of online and offline arguments have convinced us that getting into a ‘debate ’ takes the conversation nowhere.
Anuradha Sengupta is a freelance journalist whose work focuses on issues affecting women’s issues, youth, environment and urban subcultures.
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