Recent Resources for Feminists
Australia: Legislation enacted to halt slaying of men on the streets, but for DV- Print E-mail

related murder of children & women compassion for the killer is the call!!

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 (Australian Edition) ~ Friday 14 February 2014

Deep down, Australia still accepts domestic violence

When young men are killed, legislation is rushed through the courts. Yet when women and children are murdered by their husbands and fathers, we’re asked to show the killers compassion

By Louise Taylor
Read also "Men's street violence distracts from their domestic violence against women & children"
: Locals pay tribute at the Tyabb Football and Cricket Club after the death of 11-year old Luke Batty. (Joe Sabljak/AAP)

When I was a little girl my parents ran a milk bar in a small, close-knit community. People would come to the shop for all sorts of things besides a milkshake. One of my strongest memories of that time is walking into our lounge room to find my mother and our family friend (we called her Aunty) sitting on the lounge in the back of the shop. There was clearly something wrong. There were tears and whispers. I remember distinctly noticing that Aunty had peas in her hair. My mother was picking the peas out. One by one, while Aunty quietly wept.

Her husband had thrown a saucepan of pea and ham soup at her and she had come to our place to give him a some time to cool off. Tea was made. Hands were held and after a little while off she went back home. I recall some whispered conversations about what a “devil” her husband was to live with though otherwise a decent bloke and apart from that it wasn’t dealt with in any other way and really, there was no expectation that it should be. Life went on.

We like to think that as a community and as a society we’ve moved on from that “under the carpet” approach and no doubt, in some areas, we have. Violence against women and children is increasingly spoken about in ways it wasn’t when I was a child. These days it is both criminalised and publicly condemned at the highest levels, and more and more men are joining in the conversation that women have been having about the violence perpetrated against them for decades.

When we get down to it though, there remains a level of acceptance of domestic violence. Men get angry, men get desperate, men get isolated. Men get violent and there is imperceptible shrugging of the shoulders that accompanies it. “Oh, he was mentally ill,” or “she took the kids away from him,” seems explanation enough  certainly if some responses to the case of Greg Anderson, the Melbourne man who killed his 11-year-old son Luke is anything to go by.

And we persist with a narrative that men get “driven“ to violence by the outside factors beyond their control  like a partner leaving them and asserting their parental rights, taking an order out or moving away from them. We still wring our hands and talk about the heartbreak of the victims whilst bemoaning the somewhat inevitability of “things” just happening when emotions are involved. That narrative sees some of those men, who commit the most violent of crimes, dealt with sympathetically by some because well, who could blame them when they were driven to the brink of despair? After all, a man can only take so much.

But there is a problem with this acceptance. It means we never have to engage properly with prevention. And some of these incidents are preventable. Many of us with experience in the area could almost write the script. This is not just about mental health, family law, drugs or alcohol. Sure they might be common factors at play in this type of violence but they are rarely, of their own, the cause.

There are often other common features in the situations with the most dramatic and tragic outcomes  histories of violence; the presence of intervention orders; increasingly concerning behaviour in the lead-up, like failing to engage with supports like doctors or family members; erratic emotional outbreaks or perhaps even unusual calm. Shrugging our shoulders while we commend the courage of victims does little to ensure people are protected into the future. We must examine our responses to victims when they seek help, the resources we direct at those responses, the avenues available to perpetrators to get help and perhaps more long-term education aimed at prevention.

It was quite something to watch the frenzied response to young men tragically dying after assaults on the streets of Sydney. There was understandably a call to arms from the community, assisted by the media, and that call was responded to quicksmart. Young men are dying on our streets and well, that requires action doesn’t it?

When was the last time you heard the National plan to reduce violence and against women and their children spoken of or championed by any leader? Resourcing the aims of this plan, implementing and monitoring some of its recommendations needs drivers and I don’t really see any of our leaders firmly in the driving seat.

Today, when prime minister Abbott was asked whether Luke’s death would result in a change of policy, he replied: “I am sure that everyone in this field will be galvanised to be even more vigilant as a result of this, but I’m not sure every tragedy requires a change of policy or every tragedy requires a new program.’’

What about numerous tragedies with the same script? How many more women and children must die before we see a willingness to confront the systemic, institutional and cultural aspects to this scourge honestly and holistically? We need to talk about power. We need to talk about control. We need to talk about responses, supports and systemic failings.


The unions are apparently deserving of such an approach  so why not the lives, the very survival, of women and children? Because wearing a white ribbon ain’t cutting it.

Spain: Most restrictive abortion draft law in nation's history sparks country-wide fury Print E-mail
Volume 383, Issue 9917, Page 587, 15 February 2014

Protests grow against Spain's draft abortion law

By Olaya Astudillo

The most restrictive abortion draft law in the history of Spain, backed by the Spanish Conservative Government, has caused fury among the population (Andres Kudacki /Associated Press) 

At an agitated lunch in Asturias, a mountainous region of northern Spain, Begoña Piñero and her friends came up with the idea of the Freedom Train, a train journey from Gijón to Madrid to protest against the approval of a new restrictive abortion draft bill by the Council of Ministers on Dec 20, 2013. None of them expected the dimension their project would take. A surge of public support saw demonstrations taking place on Feb 1, 2014, not only all over Spain, but also in Paris, London, Italy, and even Latin America. Piñero, spokesperson for the Freedom Train, describes the emotional journey: “Crowds of people were supporting us at every stop, opening the path for us. When we arrived in Madrid, and we saw so many people, we thought ‘this is the tangible proof that we've had enough’, women should have the right to choose.”

In the legal history of Spain, abortion was long considered a crime. In 1985, through a reform of the penal code proposed by the ruling Socialist party, abortion, although still a crime, was decriminalised in three situations: serious physical or psychological risk to the mother, rape, and serious fetal anomalies. A dramatic change happened a quarter of a century later, when the law was liberalised in 2010 under the Socialist government: women could terminate pregnancy freely until the 14th week, and up to the 22nd week in case of serious health risk to the mother and serious deformities or life-incompatible pathologies of the fetus.

Now the Popular Party, in power since 2011, aims to revert to the 1985 law, albeit with more limitative criteria for decriminalisation. Abortion is decriminalised in two situations: in case of rape up to the 12th week, and when the mother's life or mental or physical health is at serious risk up to the 22nd week. Fetal deformities would have to be incompatible with life to be accepted as a reason for abortion. The new draft law also increases red tape: two specialists are now required to confirm the maternal health criterion (compared with one in 1985), and an interview with a social worker becomes mandatory.

Francisca García Gallego, president of the Association of Accredited Abortion Clinics, which represents more than 90% of Spain's abortion clinics, is concerned that if approved by the Spanish Parliament, this reform would gravely affect the health of Spanish women. She explains that of the 112 390 women who had an abortion in Spain in 2012, about 100 000 did it for reasons that would not be valid anymore under the draft law. “What worries us is that this draft law turns its back to the reality of most women who have an abortion in our country, and is therefore condemning them to either act clandestinely, have a forced pregnancy, or travel to another country to have a safe abortion”, García Gallego points out.

Restrictive laws decrease access to safe abortions and therefore increase maternal mortality. They can also have a differential impact among women. “In many countries…we know the incidence of unintended pregnancy is higher among poor women and immigrant women”, points out Gilda Sedgh from the Guttmacher Institute, USA. “These are women who will have less access to cross-border abortions, which are the resources that would help them terminate pregnancy safely.”

Many Spaniards wonder why this change in law is happening now. According to a poll done by Spanish polling agency Metroscopia in January this year, 86% of the respondents believe that every pregnant woman should have the right to freely choose whether to have a termination. Another 75% believe that the reform is not necessary. “There was no social demand, the abortion rate was among the lowest in Europe”, says García Gallego, so why now? “This law change only responds to ideological motives to satisfy the most conservative sectors of the Popular Party.”

However, Sedgh explains that this is not the tendency identified elsewhere: “Worldwide, the trend in the past two decades has been towards broadening the grounds under which abortion is legal and accessible. So in that context, Spain is among the exceptions, as is the US in terms of our state-level restrictions.”

The Spanish Parliament is not expected to debate the draft bill before the European elections of May 25. Until then, the pro-choice campaigners will not give up the fight. “We want this draft law to never get approved, that's our objective”, García Gallego says. “We will continue to organise demonstrations, debates, get all social sectors involved, and put into evidence that what they're doing is not in response to a social necessity.”

India: Patriachal practices & policies perpetrated by masculinised sex ratio within the electorate Print E-mail


 Monday February 10, 2014

India’s missing women

By Mudit Kapoor and Shamika Ravi

Even though fair elections are held at regular intervals for State Assemblies and Parliament, they do not reflect the true consent of the people because a large number of women are missing from the electorate

On her arrival in India recently, the words of Gloria Steinem, American feminist and leader of the women’s liberation movement, sounded like bells tolling for all women in today’s modern Indian society. “I came [to India] and what was here a half-a-century ago is still here… and yet there is everything else.” Studying data on the sex ratio in India over 60 years supports her grim observation [Scroll down to read report of Gloria Steinem's comments and also report that "Madhya Pradesh worst in voters sex ratio" ]. In this essay we provide a political economy explanation for the persistence of gender inequality in Indian society over the long run.

The much debated Women’s Reservation Bill proposes to reserve a third of all legislature seats for women, at national and State levels in India. If passed, this Bill would uplift the general mood of the nation which has been engulfed by a heightened sense of gender inequality over the last year. Following the brutal rape and murder of a 23-year-old student of physiotherapy in Delhi last year, there was massive and prolonged outpouring of public anger across the nation. India has never looked more unsafe for women. The Bill is going to assuage a hurt population. It is, however, unlikely to solve the fundamental problem that Indian women suffer from.

Within a democratic system, policies are implemented by a government that is formed “by the consent of the governed.” In India, even though fair elections are held at regular intervals for State Assemblies and the National Parliament, they do not reflect the true consent of the people because a large number of women voters are “missing” from the electorate. We estimate that more than 65 million women (approximately 20 per cent of the female electorate) are missing and, therefore, these elections reveal the preferences (or the will) of a population that is artificially skewed against women.

Worsening sex ratio
The phrase “missing women” was coined by Amartya Sen when he showed that in parts of the developing world, the ratio of women to men in the population is suspiciously low. The worsening sex ratio (number of females per 1,000 males) in countries such as India and China reflected the gross neglect of women. He estimated that more than 100 million women were missing due to gender discrimination. It was commonly believed that “boy preference” at birth and the mistreatment of young girls were the main reasons. Some careful and subsequent data work by Anderson and Ray showed that excess female mortality is a more universal phenomenon which holds for all age groups in these countries. They provided detailed decomposition of the missing women by age and cause of death and a particularly sinister observation was that the number of excess female deaths from “intentional injuries” or reported violence was disturbingly high in India.

There is unanimous agreement among experts that this phenomenon is one of the most momentous problems faced by the developing world in modern times. The general sense is that it can be corrected by political action and public policy. It is in that regard that we explore the role of democracy in solving the missing women’s problem. We analyse Indian electorate data over 50 years and study whether solutions to this dangerous trend can emerge from within such a political system.

Using Dr. Sen’s methodology, we compute the sex ratio in the electorate across all the States in India over 50 years. The electorate includes all the people who are registered to vote in elections. In the next step, we use Kerala, the State with the best sex ratio in the electorate, as a reference for all the States to compute the number of missing women. This simple analysis throws up three shocking facts.

First, in the last 50 years of Indian democracy, the absolute number of missing women has increased fourfold from 15 million to 68 million. This is not merely a reflection of the growth in the overall population, but, rather, of the fact that this dangerous trend has worsened with time. As a percentage of the female electorate, missing women have gone up significantly ­ from 13 per cent to approximately 20 per cent.

Second, the adverse sex ratio of the electorate in India has not changed significantly over the last 50 years. In fact, when we look at different States, we see that it has become worse for most of the large backward States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. This disappointing trend means that there are many more missing women voters in the population. Hence, fewer female voters will voice their opinions through elections. Political decisions which are based on election outcomes therefore underrepresent the female population. They are not a true reflection of the female policy preferences.

Third, with the exception of a very few States such as Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, the sex ratio in the electorate is far worse than the general sex ratio in the population. This means that not all the women who are eligible to vote in Indian elections are registered to vote and, therefore, they are missing from the electoral list. In backward States like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, this difference is as high as 9.3 and 5.7 percentage points which translated into millions in absolute numbers.

The worsening sex ratio of the Indian electorate has deep and long lasting consequences given the democratic system of governance. Within a democracy, politicians compete to get elected and though it is well recognised that men and women differ in their policy preferences, the adverse sex ratio of the electorate will make it unlikely that the preferences of women get significant attention.

Competitive electoral politics

In fact, because of the missing women, the competitive electoral process will perpetuate gender-biased policies in India. The problem here is that the politicians respond to the preferences of the existing electorate in the population and not to the counterfactual.

If the 65 million missing women were present within the electorate, they would have an important influence in shaping government policies. What is troubling in a democratic system of governance is that even if a politician is not biased against women in his policy preferences, the electoral competition will ensure that he chooses policies in favour of his average electorate which is increasingly male-dominated in India. This is why gender-biased practices and policies will be perpetuated over the long run in a democratic system like India’s unless there is an exogenous shock to this system.

This problem is akin to a market failure for democracy. Indeed, this could potentially explain why the existing political framework is inadequately equipped to address this pressing concern and why gender bias has persisted in Indian society. It is also not surprising that even though India has had a very good track record of holding regular elections and a democratic form of government, it remains one of worst performers in the Gender Inequality Index (GII) of the World Bank. The GII captures the loss in achievement within a country due to gender inequality and is based on measures of health, labour force participation and empowerment. In the Human Development Report, 2012, India performs more poorly than neighbouring Pakistan in the GII despite having a higher per capita income and a democratic government. More strikingly, it is ranked 133rd out of 146 countries and even lags behind war-torn countries such as Iraq and Sudan.

Mixed results
To what extent, then, can women’s reservation in Parliament and the State Assemblies address the gender bias problem in India? In our opinion, this will have a very limited impact. The underlying assumption with the Women’s Reservation Bill is that women as policymakers are more sensitive to women-related issues. However, it is crucial to note that India has experimented with women’s reservation at the level of the panchayat or village councils since the mid-1990s. This has generated very interesting research on whether women’s reservation has had any impact on the allocation of resources towards women. So far, the evidence from this experiment is mixed ­ some find evidence in favour of a positive impact while others do not find any impact of this reservation.

The impact of the reservation, I believe, will depend on the exact nature of the reservation policy. For example, if seats are reserved on a quick rotation basis then there might be no long-term policies favouring women and thereby having minimal impact. On the other hand, if seats are reserved for a certain number of election rounds then the impact would depend on the basis of the reservation at the constituency level. Here, we are inclined to propose a reservation policy based on the gender ratio in the constituency ­ reserve those seats where the gender ratio of women to men is the worst. The fundamental reason for this is that an adverse gender ratio is a measure of neglect of women in that society. So, if the objective of women’s reservation is “compensatory justice” then it should start with those constituencies where the neglect is the highest.

The competitive electoral process, however, is likely to undo the impact of any women’s reservation policy. The logic of this is that if both men and women have equal rights to vote, then even in reserved constituencies where there are fewer women compared to men, women political candidates who compete with each other to get themselves elected might choose policies which favour men. Once again, the competitive electoral process even in the presence of women’s reservation, might perpetuate gender-biased policies.

In a nutshell, the competitive electoral process in Indian democracy with or without women’s reservation will fail to deliver policies that are not gender-biased. In the presence of missing women, whose consent cannot be taken into account in the electoral process, democracy will fail to deliver policies that promote women’s welfare (especially in those situations where there is a divergence in opinion between men and women). India can begin to address this disaster by first recognising that an adverse gender ratio is a human rights problem which is an outcome of the sustained, gross neglect of women. And the solution for this lies outside the competitive democratic system.

(The writers are professors at the Indian School of Business. Shamika Ravi is also a Visiting Fellow, Brookings Institution, India Center, New Delhi.)
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 Sunday, February 9, 2014


“Patriarchy is just five per cent of human history”

Gloria Steinem says for the first time in human history, women do not constitute half the human race

By Vandana Shukla

Gloria Steinem, the writer-activist, who participated in the Jaipur Literature Festival, traced the evolution of feminism in her lecture

W hen Gloria Steinem says, "Worldwide there is a daughter deficit and son surplus," the world listens. Especially in India, where the daughter deficit has touched dangerous proportions.

Steinem, 79, recognised as feminism’s most influential voice, is not new to India. Aged 22, she came to India to escape marriage. Instead, she found herself involved with Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan movement and with M N Roy’s Radical Humanists, for which she worked as a volunteer in Tamil Nadu’s riot-affected areas, travelling in third–class compartments of the Indian Railways. Her interest in tribal cultures of India grew and later her association with Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay influenced her feminist ideology.

Founder of Ms magazine, Women’s Action Alliance and a range of other organisations, including the latest Women’s Media Centre, Steinem struggled as a freelance writer in New York, finding a footing with the "girl reporter’s assignment" of profiling celebrities. She had to go through the arduous grind of organisational work, before she was able to break gender-related stereotypes through her writings and organisations.

She recently participated in Zee Jaipur Literature Festival. Apart from being a well-known feminist, activist Steinem has authored several best-selling books, including Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. For the first time in human history, she says, women do not constitute half the human race. The world sex ratio has dwindled to 100 women for 101.3 men due to different forms of femicide. More girls have been killed in the last 50 years because they were girls than men have been killed in all the battles of the 20th century combined. The violence that one witnesses in the battlefields is bred in homes, where gender violence is normalised through cultural sanction. Excerpts from an interview:

Gender inequality is cultural
Oppression of women also dehumanises men in their limited roles. Men didn’t invent violence against women, they inherited it as a cultural legacy. That is why it is hard to fight domestic violence which has come to be associated with masculinity. Since violence against women enjoys cultural acceptance against nations, races and castes it becomes more desirable. A man has often not seen a woman in authority beyond the age of eight. This man feels baffled seeing a woman in authority, and takes it as an encroachment of his space. In most cases, gender inequality is experienced first as children at home among people we love, that’s why, we’ll accept it anywhere. We have begun to raise our daughters as sons, but we don’t raise our sons as daughters, which inadvertently re-affirms the same old gender notions.

Violence and oppression
If you add up the women who’ve been murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in America since 9/11­ and then add up all the Americans killed in 9/11, in Iraq and in Afghanistan combined, more women have lost their lives to domestic terrorism. And this is happening in a country the world views to be liberal to its women. Sex and World Peace - a 2012 book by Valerie Hudson and three other scholars has documented current rates of violence against females in 100 countries. They believe the best predictor of violence within a country and also a country’s willingness to use violence against another country is none of the usual suspects of poverty, natural resources, religion or democracy. If the society has norms of violence rooted in gender inequality, it is more likely to use force when in a conflict situation rather than states that foster gender equality through laws and enforce those laws.

India is not the rape capital of the world
The rate of sexual assault is not higher in India compared to the other developed countries like the US and the UK, which report a much higher rate of sexual violence against women. In India, women have now started to report sexual assault. You have to keep the cultural context in mind, as Churchill said, "A Dalit woman can’t be raped," the social factors need to be looked at with sensitivity. Some progress has been made in making the victimiser accountable rather than the victim under the new rape laws. The Nirbhaya case changed the entire viewpoint because the girl was absolutely blameless, so it became the match for the dry tinder which was already there. Empathy for such crimes is hard to come by from men, except in such rare cases. I came across a rape convict in Nevada state who was sexually assaulted in jail. He told me, "Now I understand what physical violation is all about". We need to humanise the masculine role to humanise this world.

Indian roots of feminism
In India, the feminist movement has been far more strong and has been linked to grass- root level work. The perception that feminism came from the West is a result of the colonial mindset. I learnt my first lessons from Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay, founder of All-India Women’s Conference, who believed feminism was not separable from socialism. Ela Bhatt, should have been given the Nobel. She pioneered micro-financing and offered employment to 1.9 million women through SEWA. In India, feminism moves in cycles ­ it comes and goes. Traditional history doesn’t tell us the role played by women. Women fought against Sati and child marriage, people were already radicalised, thanks to these million small movements in the hinterland when the legal reforms came about. Apne Aap Women’s collective has 80 thousand women-commissioned work. Whatever happens to men is political what happens to women is cultural. So, it doesn’t make news. Also, women’s economic movement remained confined to feminist academics, but India has experienced a lot more change than being documented in academia. Political empowerment has come through Panchayati Raj institutions. Women got many benefits, thanks to the silent work of these feminists ­ abortions were legalised and family planning was first introduced in India, you had political leadership from a woman prime minister. I wonder if Indira Gandhi had a brother, could she be the PM?

Because of their fertility, women were divided into two groups ­ a section of them was to be kept ‘pure’ for the purpose of protecting caste and race, the other section was to be used for sex, as prostitutes, or to produce slaves. Both can change only when women have more options. In the first case, there is complete right over fertility and in the second, more openings for work, other options for economic activity.

Existence of matrlineal cultures
When no gender is deprived of realising full potential of human quality. The closest humanity came to realising this was in the matrilineal societies, not matriarchal because that would be reversing the patriarchal. In the US, among the Native Americans, 500 or so matrilineal cultures existed where women participated in decision making. Treaties to give up their lands to the Europeans were signed by clan mothers. These were the cultures of balance where the paradigm was the circle. In India, matrilineal cultures existed from Kerala to Himalayas before colonialism and Christianity arrived. Patriarchy arrived between 500 to 5,000 years back. Patriarchy makes only five per cent of the human history. And it has caused tremendous damage to the balance of nature.


Other voices of dissent

Three women writers ­ Namita Gokhale, an Indian writer of English, Zeruya Shalev, Hebrew writer from Israel and Salma, a Muslim Tamil poet, talked about. "Burdens of identity" at the Jaipur Literary Festival on how the process of writing made them shed the burden of gender identity first and later of caste, race and religion.@@Namita Gokhale: "I come from a Kumaoni Brahmin family, the burden of pride for the Brahmins, because they were poor, was overwhelming. I was married to a Marathi, and the comfort of the middle class ­ not a recognisable terror but terror all the same ­ of conformity had to be challenged, which I dared to do through my writing in Paro, and ever since I was stamped as ‘bold.’ @@Zeruya Shalev, writer of novels like Love Life, Husband and Wife, Late Family found herself resisting the walls between the sexes rather than the walls between the countries ­ Palestine and Israel. Hated for writing erotic novels in a politically charged atmosphere, she refused to acknowledge the violent attack which incapacitated her for six months. She says, "It felt like a victory to resist political situation and its tragic consequences, defying imposed expectations by refusing to admit its very existence." Salma, her pen name, wrote poems and short stories, now translated into several languages, in a toilet when her husband went off to sleep. They were published to her surprise. She wrote about a woman’s erotic desires and dreams, unacceptable to her society. @@She was ostracised, but it turned in her favour and made her famous. Now, she no more dons a burqa.
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 November 15, 201 3

  Madhya Pradesh worst in voters sex ratio

 

By Rageshri Ganguly,TNN

BHOPAL: Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan may be the favourite 'mama' for the 'ladlis' with his government's campaign against feticide and gender bias, but in reality Madhya Pradesh is among the worst performers in voter sex ratio too. With a skewed male-female voter sex ratio, MP fares at the bottom of the charts with Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

With an average sex ratio of voters at 804 in 2000s, MP is among the worst performers in the country as per a survey of electoral data of 16 major states from 1962 to 2012 carried out by Mudit Kapoor and Shamika Ravi, assistant professors at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

Average sex ratio of voters is the number of women voters for every 1,000 men voters. While it has improved from 558 in the 1960s, it's still a cause for concern. Haryana and Gujarat are among the other worse performers in the list.

Among the BIMARU states, Rajasthan had the best voter sex ratio, 861 in 2000s while Uttar Pradesh had worst voter sex ratio, 761 in 2000s overall. Bihar on the other hand was marginally better than UP with the sex ratio of voters being 783 in 2000s.

Barring some exceptions, the ranking remains fairly unchanged. Bihar, with the most adverse voter sex ratio in the 1960s, was the second worst state in the 2000s. Kerala heads the list with the most equitable gender ratio among voters, right through the last 50 years. Overall, Kerala and Himachal Pradesh had the best voter sex ratio at 1046 and 1029 respectively.

The paper titled "Women Voters in Indian Democracy: A Silent Revolution" was published in June this year. It states that while male turnout remains unchanged over time, there has been a dramatic increase in women participation in the elections since the 1990s.

The professors also found evidence that women voters are agents of change, they vote differently from men and affect re-election prospects significantly. Also, the decline in the gender bias is also due to the fact that there has been an improvement in the sex ratio in the states.

"The fact that more women are voluntarily exercising their right to franchise across all states in India is testimony to the rise of self-empowerment of women, This is an extraordinary achievement in the world's largest democracy with 717 million voters of which 342 million voters are women," said Prof Ravi.

Chairperson for MP state women's commission (MPSWC) Upma Rai said, "The problem with MP is that sex ratio itself is highly skewed. That is bound to reflect the voting population. Besides, in villages and backward areas, the 'purdah pratha' is still prevalent making it difficult for women to venture out. Still, women are increasingly casting their vote which is a heartening trend," she said.

According to Election Commission of India (ECI), in Raisen, Guna, Vidisha and Rajgarh districts of MP, women voters showed less inclination to cast their vote during the last assembly polls. Worried over it, ECI took innovative steps to increase voter turnout in these districts under its systematic voters' education and electoral participation (SVEEP) programme.

The difference between female and male voter turnout was maximum during 2008 assembly polls in these districts, according to Sanjay Singh Baghel state-level nodal officer for SVEEP in Madhya Pradesh.

In the last parliamentary elections a similar trend was noticed in 24 districts of the state.

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Average sex ratio of female voters per thousand male

 State                                       1980s     1990s    2000s
Gujarat                                   799    824         853
Haryana                                 806     815        810
Madhya Pradesh                677     730          804
Bihar                                        625     701         783
Uttar Pradesh                      660     671         761

 

Senegal: “Tall as the Baobab Tree”, a film adding voice to the struggle against child marriage Print E-mail

 5 February 2014

Tall as the Baobab Tree: Talking Child Marriage in Senegal

A sensitive and powerful new film, which blurs reality and fiction, adds an important voice to the struggle against child marriage.

By Stephanie Le Lievre

Coumba sits thinking in a scene from Tall as the Baobab Tree.

Leaning against a dusty well in a rural village in western Senegal, a mother is talking to her teenage daughter, trying to reassure her about the marriage that has been arranged for her 11-year-old sister, Debo.

“You know I don’t want to give my daughter away," she says. "You know, I got married when I was little, but you see it didn’t make me a worse person. What any woman would want, I have. I have enough to make any person happy."

This particular exchange is a fictional scene from the new film Tall as the Baobab Tree, but the premise of the conversation is by no means fantasy. In fact, Mboural Dia, the actress playing the part of the mother, was herself a child bride, and in Senegal as a whole, an estimated 33% of girls are married before they reach their 18th birthday.

The practice is even more widespread in some other countries in Malawi the figure is closer to 50%, and in Niger it's around 75% and according to Lakshmi Sundaram, Global Coordinator at Girls Not Brides, child marriage “holds girls back.” It is an infringement of girls’ rights, can threaten their health, and makes them more likely to drop out of school, contributing not just to their personal underdevelopment but that of the whole community.

Despite this, however, the practice has proven highly resistant to change in many areas and is intricately bound up with dynamics related to poverty and underdevelopment as well as tradition, culture and modernity.

It is this complexity that Jeremy Teicher aims to confront in Tall as the Baobab Tree, a film which dances entrancingly on the border of fiction and reality, and which approaches the issue with empathy and respect.

Tall as the Baobab Tree focuses on two sisters, Coumba and Debo, who are torn between their traditional background and their dreams for the future. They are among the first in their village to go to school, but after their brother falls and breaks his leg, a marriage is planned for Debo, in the hope her dowry or bride price can pay for her brother's medical treatment.

The plot for Tall as the Baobab Tree was devised by Teicher along with students from Sinthiou Mbadane and is based on stories from their own lives. The film is acted by students and members of their community speaking in the local language of Pulaar and was shot in the village. Often the cast improvised, drawing on their own experiences.

The result is a remarkable and sensitive film which blurs the line between fiction and reality, a tension which is beautifully captured in what Teicher describes as one of his favourite moments. Out in a field, two characters one of whom is soon to go to university are talking. "Don’t forget about me", says the one destined to stay in the village. For Teicher, this was “very powerful to the film, because earlier, that older brother is explaining that it would have been him who went to school if it were built just a few years earlier. And that’s true: that guy [playing the brother] is in his mid-twenties. He missed the boat on education. That conversation...of course it was sort of staged, but it was also true. I didn’t tell him to say ‘don’t forget about me’.”

An old ball and chain
Education can be central to the development of rural communities and to eradicating child marriage. In the film, the girls' father explains that he will not marry off his elder daughter Coumba because she is "too far along in school."And as Sundaram explains, “education not only allows girls to grow intellectually and mature into their own person, but it offers greater opportunities to make a living and contribute economically to their families and communities."

Education can thus offer a disincentive for early marriage, which is often driven by economic concerns. In Senegal, as in other countries where early marriage is prevalent, household wealth is closely associated with the practice; girls from the poorest 20% of families are more than five times as likely to be married before 18 as girls from the richest families, especially in rural areas.

Indeed, in Tall as the Baobab Tree, it is the injury to the girls' brother that compels the family to arrange a marriage; marrying off a daughter can be a way to reduce the number of mouths a family has to feed, and may be a way of generating income through a bride price or dowry. However, while that may be the short-term effect, Sundaram points out that “we know that when girls are married off young, they and their families tend to stay poor.”

Addressing poverty and underdevelopment is a central part of eradicating child marriage, but Sundaram argues that starting dialogue and raising awareness of the self-propelling cycle of child marriage is also key. She highlights some of the work done by the organisation Tostan, for example, which is focused on spearheading dialogue at the local level, and suggest Tall as the Baobab Tree could have a similar effect.

"Child marriage is traditionally a taboo subject," she says, "and films like this, which are not particularly prescriptive, start conversations between girls, their families and community leaders. And this leads to social change.” In fact, she explains, they’ve seen precisely this effect on the ground in Senegal, where the film has been shown in over 60 schools and is sparking conversation. “I think one of the things which the film does, which is actually quite rare, is it puts the girls front and centre," she adds. "It’s their story."

Teicher points out that he never set out to create a traditional advocacy film, but that may have in fact enhanced its power as one. "The goal of the project was to capture a slice of life, and let the reality speak for itself, rather than trying to make a more traditional advocacy film," he says. "I think that’s why the film ultimately is a very effective advocacy tool, because it doesn’t feel like it’s an advocacy film...When we show it in Africa it’s very effective because it feels respectful to everybody.”

From West African to Yemeni audiences, people can empathise with the situation of the characters in the film, caught between the old world and the new. “That’s been really great, to see that impact, which is people finally feeling that they have a film that speaks to them, that’s not some tear-jerking, propaganda film.”

One step forward
As effective a film such as Tall as the Baobab Tree can be in sparking dialogue, however, it also highlights perhaps inadvertently and all the more tragically for it the difficulty of changing practices.

Soon after filming ended, Oumoul Kâ, who played Debo, was pulled out of school and had a marriage arranged for her. However, she ran away from her husband-to-be to continue her education. Her elder sister Dior, who played Coumba, meanwhile dropped out of school during her senior year and married a man from M’bour. She had a baby soon after, and she says she wants to return to school once her child is older.

“Not everyone finished school that I thought might have finished school”, Teicher explains, though many are still in education, and a couple of members of the original class are going on to university. “I would have liked everyone to finish school, but it speaks to the reality that we captured in the film, which is that change is one step forward and two steps back and it doesn’t happen overnight.”

 

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Afghanistan: Challenges & Options for halting the marriage of girl children Print E-mail
 January 15, 2014

CHILD BRIDES IN AFGHANISTAN:

Overview of Situation, Challenges and Options

By Dr. Massouda Jalal, Founding President of Jalal Foundation and former Minister of Women, Afghanistan

Betrothal of girls is pervasive in Afghanistan. According to the Ministry of Public Health’s Mortality Survey that was conducted in all provinces of the country in 2010, 53 percent of all women in the 25 to 49 age group were married by age 18, and 21 percent were married by age 15[2]. A report on Child Marriage in Southern Asia conducted by the International Center for Research on Women, Australian Aid and UNFPA states that 57 percent of Afghan girls are married before they turn 16 and 60 to 80 percent of them were forced into such unions by their families[3].

Marriage of girl children seriously impedes the full development of Afghan girls’ potentials. They are forced to stop schooling, take care of their husband, children and aging in-laws, and assume multiple domestic responsibilities which are particularly onerous in Afghanistan because the supply of water, power, and other living amenities are nearly non-existent in most rural areas. The alarmingly high incidence of maternal mortality in Afghanistan is also an aftermath of girl marriages. Many teen mothers perish due to underdeveloped reproductive system, poor health awareness, inaccessible health services, and lack of female health practitioners that are needed in a society which does not allow female patients to be treated by male physicians. A 2010 report reveals that maternal mortality in the country is ten times higher than civilian deaths caused by armed conflict. On top of these, girl wives are constantly victimized by violence perpetrated by their husband and in-laws. Aside from domestic slavery, they may also be forced to provide sexual services to other men, coerced into untimely and frequent pregnancy, and denied of fundamental rights such as proper food, shelter, access to education and health, mobility and decision making.

The persistence of child bride practice is fuelled by many factors. A culture of patriarchy that relegates Afghan women to a lifetime of subordination makes their situation one of the worst in the world[4] - generally discriminated in opportunities and allocation of family resources, overburdened by domestic responsibilities, vulnerable to violence inside and outside their homes, and denied of their rights to inheritance, mobility, education, decision making, and participation in public life. It is this debased status of women that legitimizes the authority of parents to marry off girls before reaching the legally mandated age. Girl brides fetch high dowry and girls who refuse face the risk of being murdered by their family members. Moreover, it is considered disgraceful for an Afghan woman to grow old without being offered a marriage proposal.

Likewise, the poor state of Afghan economy reinforces the practice of girl child marriage. The economic base of many Afghan families was eroded by long years of armed conflict. During the war, families used up their savings moving from place to place, often without sources of livelihood and economic support. Earning opportunities vanished along with peoples’ skills and economic capital. Thus, where earnings from agriculture and livestock are inadequate, marriage of girls loomed as a convenient economic alternative. Child brides command a higher dowry because youth is equated with purity, innocence, freshness, and better reproductive capacity. Besides, a child-wife is far easier to subdue, manipulate, exploit and abuse. Parents may also be motivated to marry off their girl daughters to repay debt, settle conflicts, or boost the family’s social standing.

A weak rule of law is another major factor that sustains the practice of girl child marriage. Many years of lawlessness has been making it difficult for government to bring citizens under the rule of law. People have been so used to living the traditional way of life where unlawful acts may be legitimized through complicity of community religious leaders. Lack of awareness of the law, weak implementation mechanisms, and strong influence of fundamentalism continue to make the law useless, leaving girls with little or no protection at all when betrothed by their parents. Afghan civil law provides that a girl cannot marry until she is 16 unless her father chooses her to marry at 15. However, in reality, Afghan girls are married much earlier, even as early as 9 years old. All of these are considered to be under coercion since children do not have the legal capacity to give consent to their own marriage. Although child and forced marriages are prohibited under the decree on the Elimination of Violence against Women, no parent has ever been punished for marrying off their girl daughters and traditions are obviously stronger than the political commitment to implement the law.

With the transformation of the family abode as a main site of violence against women, recourse for victims has been limited. Shelters and services are inaccessible, police and justice systems work against female complainants, and society expects wives to endure in silence the oppression they experience from their husband and relatives. Unfortunately, Afghanistan’s current political climate does not leave much room to be optimistic on the options that could be taken to stop the practice of child marriage. The on-going peace process is bringing back the Taliban whose increasing influence threatens to erode the gains that Afghan women generated during the past 12 years. The international security support is also scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014. People are more pessimistic these days but losing hope is not an option.

To address the situation, women’s groups must persist in championing and monitoring the status of women’s situation in Afghanistan. On the part of the government, the prohibition on underage marriage should be enforced strictly. Authorities who officiate marriages must be sensitized and held accountable, together with parents who prematurely betroth their daughters and sons. To demonstrate the illegal nature of this practice, the government should jail parents and mullahs who legitimize underage marriages. Registration of application for marriages should also be strictly enforced so that authorities could intervene to prevent the child bride practice. Alternative economic opportunities for families must be made available to parents who choose to desist from child bride practice. There should also be college scholarships for young girls that are tied up to a condition that they will not be married until the college education is completed. Women NGOs, government agencies, and human rights bodies must collaborate to pursue a community based rescue program for girls who are forced into marriage by their parents.

People should collectively promote women’s rights in all possible areas of life, especially within families. Families should transform gender dynamics within family members and socialize girls and boys to a culture that is based on mutual respect and support. Classroom lessons and associations of parents and teachers must take up child marriage as a priority issue for collective action. Media should educate the public on the legal prohibitions against child marriage and religious leaders should be targeted as advocates for its prevention.

The international community should continue to follow up closely the events and developments, and oppose all forms of Afghan women’s oppression. All funding support to the peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan should be linked to women’s advancement and help in holding the Afghan government accountable for its continuing failure to protect, fulfill, and promote the rights of women and children. The solution may not happen easily but it could begin now.


[1] Dr. Massouda Jalal is founding President of Jalal Foundation, a non-profit organization with 50 NGOs and women council members throughout Afghanistan that promote the protection of Afghan women’s rights, leadership and participation in politics and public life. A medical doctor, Dr. Jalal is a decorated political activist, non-traditional leader and former Minister of Women and Legislator. She holds the distinction of being the first Afghan woman to run as Presidential candidate.

[2] Afghanistan: Mortality Survey 2010

[3] Child Marriage in Southern Asia: Policy Options for Action

[4] The Government of the Republic of Afghanistan, Philippine Development Plan for the Women of Afghanistan, 2008-2018.

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