Will Pakistan’s Prime Minister let Malala down?

On 9 December, the world once again turned its eyes to Malala Yousafzai as she received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. But one of her most prominent countrymen failed to appear as politicians, celebrities and UN representatives celebrated the young prize laureate. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawas Sharif did not come to Oslo. He promised, however, according to Pakistani Radio, to realize Malala’s vision of safe and sound educational facilities for every Pakistani child. If he intends to keep his promise, he has a heavy workload ahead.

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Yet another murder

On May 27 Farzana Parveen was beaten to death in broad daylight as she was about to enter the gate of the heavily guarded Lahore High Court. She had come to challenge a case of abduction filed by her father against her husband. Her father and brothers batter her with bricks and police and security personnel posted near the court failed to intervene before it was too late.

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Impunity and the conflation of rape and adultery in Sudan’s Criminal Act

Under Sudan’s Criminal Act (1991), rape is defined as zina (adultery and fornication) without consent. This constitutes a serious legal obstacle for rape victims in the country.

Hudud (singular, hadd, meaning limit, restriction, or prohibition) are regarded as the ordinances of Allah, and they have fixed punishments derived from Islam. Among the offenses for which hudud penalties are prescribed is zina which is defined as sexual intercourse between a man and woman outside a valid marriage contract and must be proved by confession before the court, the testimony of four adult men, and pregnancy if the woman is unmarried. The punishment is stoning to death for married offenders and 100 lashes for unmarried offenders. Continue reading

Complex realities and astute actors: Sudanese women’s activism and UN Security Council Resolution 1325

Sudanese women activists do not use United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325 to claim rights. During my eight years of engagement with women’s activist from diverse backgrounds in the country I have hardly heard the resolution mentioned, except in the context of the Darfur conflict. It is understood narrowly by local actors to pertain to protection against gender-based violence, specifically sexual violence. In a Sudanese context, where the sitting president is facing an arrest order from the International Criminal Court for the systematic use of sexual violence in the Darfur conflict, needless to say the resolution is politicised and considered too “sensitive” to be dealt with. Nine years after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended Africa’s longest running civil war, no national strategy exists in Sudan to implement Resolution 1325, because “there is no political will” to do so.

This post is based on an expert analysis published by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre.

“The fight for our children’s right to education is our Jihad” – school girls at risk in Pakistan

The attempted killing of Malala Yousufzai on her way home from school last October is a graphic illustration of the terror thousands of girls and female teacher in the north-western region of Pakistan have to face to attend class. The attempted target killing of Malala is an extreme case but more than half a million children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remain out of school because of the on-going fight between the Pakistan military forces and the Therik-e Taliban Pakistan TTP – an illustration of the scale of everyday threats against school girls that embodies how girls’ education has become (literally) a struggle for life in Pakistan these days.

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Women fighting back in the wake of the Arab Spring

Hopes were high that the uprisings that began in 2011 across the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) would bring not just democratization, but greater gender equality. Rather than safeguarding women’s equal rights, these revolutions have so far reinforced patriarchy in many states rocked by the uprisings. But Arab women are fighting back.

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Access to contraception is only one element of reproductive health

On May 29 2013, during the Women Deliver Conference, global leaders made a call for Accelerated Progress on Family Planning.   This important initiative certainly deserves attention.  Not only because it aims to improve access to contraception, also because initiatives as this one, aimed to improve opportunities for family planning, must take sexual and reproductive rights into account.  Almost 20 years after the adoption of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action, it is still necessary to stress that reproductive health is more than counselling and care related to reproduction and sexually transmitted diseases. It implies a constellation of methods, techniques and services that contribute to reproductive health and well-being by preventing and solving reproductive health problems, which includes a recognition of people’s right to be free to decide if they want to reproduce, as well as when and how often.  This requires the recognition of the right to information, and to access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning; as well as the right to have access to appropriate health care services during pregnancy, childbirth and after birth.

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Iran’s women in the 2013 election: the portrait of a housewife

Since the last Iranian election, women’s rights activists in exile have largely monopolized depictions of the women’s movement in Iran. The 2013 presidential electoral debates have brought forth new domestic women’s activists who have been previously excluded. In a debate planned at the Alzahra University in Tehran, these women were representing the different presidential candidates in a discussion of the key question: “What is the main women’s issue in today’s Iran?” However, the presidential candidates’ debates on TV portrayed women as housewives and mothers. This positioning towards women’s rights has created debates among Iranian women’s rights activists. Many discuss the representation of women as mothers in relation to the candidates’ political background. Here I will draw the attention towards the need to understand women’s representation in the 2013 debates in relation to national and international “threats” that have been claimed by the presidential candidates in the debates.

As Peyghabarzadeh (2013), an Iranian women’s rights activist, states candidates’ viewpoints on women’s roles in Iranian society are a nationalistic view which seeks to represent women as the symbol of national identity for the interests of the nation. “These viewpoints are not looking after women’s interests, but rather following what many nationalists would call national interest … women’s duty as being the symbol of national identity or producing the next generation …” (my translation).[1]

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Islamist women in Sudan demanding an end to child marriages

There are rumblings of discontent within the Sudanese state; among those critical voices are Islamist women. They want an end to child marriages. 37% of girls in Sudan were married before they reached 18, showed a 2006 health survey. 12,5% were married before they celebrated their 15th birthday. Islamist women demand a legal reform of the Muslim Family Law.

With the Islamist coup d’etat in 1989, Sudanese women assumed a central place in the Islamic national building project, a project which in some areas opened up new possibilities for women and in others severely restricted them. Women are now in majority at the country’s universities. A 25% gender quota in the national and local legislative assemblies are put in place by this government and in the 2010 elections a woman ran as a candidate for the Presidency for the first time in Sudanese history. Yet, the Islamist takeover also took away important rights. For example, in 1991, the regime codified the Muslim Family Law. The 1991 family law, which regulates women’s rights within marriage, custody, divorce and inheritance, has emerged as a contested piece of legislation; among the debated elements are child marriages. According to the 1991 law, a judge can affirm a marriage for a girl who shows signs of puberty, often interpreted as the age of 10. The 1991 law revoked a judicial circular stating that the legal age of marriage age is18.

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Cairo 20 years later – the challenges in Latin America

The 1994´s scenario in Latin America, when the “IV International Conference on Population and Development” in Cairo took place, no longer exists. This conference showed the need to fully respect women’s rights for the purpose of development.  In those days, several Latin American countries had incipient democracies, faced the emergence of serious corruption, as well as violation of human rights cases,  and a very deep economical crisis, so deep that it made us fear it would impossible to recover from it.

Twenty years have passed and the scenario seems to be quite different. The region shows encouraging macroeconomic figures. According to the Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean – ECLAC data, 54% of the population was poor in 1994.  By 2012, this figure was down to 28%. North-South and East-West trade agreements have been established and most Latin American countries are no longer destinations considered just for adventure trips.  Now the region has fancy hotels and a range of tourist destinations to choose from.


Photo: Alex E. Proimos on Flickr

Nevertheless, some things never change, especially when we talk about marginalized groups, not touched by the economic growth. This has caused the region to be considered as one of the most inequitable. In fact, Latin America still has a lingering poor cluster, and it is the same as it was back in the nineties: indigenous and rural people, whose delay in development goes back about four decades and whose prospects of improvement are not promising at all.  Their basic needs, such as education and health, that should be covered by the state, do not seem to be fulfilled, condemning them to unending poverty.

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