Gender & Human Rights

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Want less poverty in the world? Empower women.

 

A new book explains why gender equality is key to economic prosperity.

The single greatest antidote to poverty and social stagnation is the emancipation of women. Wherever this has been tried, wherever women have been empowered to do as they wish, the economy and the culture have been radically improved.

A new book by Augusto Lopez-Claros, a senior fellow at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, an Iranian writer and novelist, is among the first to comprehensively test this proposition by surveying data from 189 countries. Titled Equality for Women = Prosperity for All, the book shows how gender inequalities — in education, income, law, employment, and wages — lead to instability and chaos at almost every level of society.

I called Lopez-Claros to talk about the links between gender inequality and political instability, how discriminatory laws hold women back, and what we can do to push societies toward more gender equality.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

What happens to a society when women are deprived of their rights?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

One useful starting point to answer your question is to look at how discriminations are embedded in countries around the world — in constitutions, civil codes, family law, tax codes, labor codes, and every legal instrument that you can imagine having an impact on how the law treats women compared to men.

The World Bank did this for 189 countries, accounting for 98 percent of the global economic output, and we discovered that, as you might expect, discriminatory laws lead to highly unequal societies, especially in terms of income and employment and property ownership. They also discourage women from joining the labor force and from engaging in civil society, so you get not only unequal societies but also huge gaps in participation rates — in the job market, in politics, in education — of women relative to men.

This is terrible for social progress and for the economy, but one of the worst things this does is poison the future, because you get fewer women in school relative to boys and the effects of that spill into the next generation, and so you end up in this spiral of poverty and dysfunction that is hard to escape.

Sean Illing

Can you give me a sense of some of the more common forms of discrimination you found?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Access to the labor market is huge. Many occupations are simply forbidden to women precisely because they’re women. In many places, you find that women have to obtain authorization from their husbands to obtain a bank account or even to travel. And then there’s the issue of property rights. Often the law treats women and men fundamentally different in terms of what they’re entitled to and on what basis.

Does the tax system provide benefits to men that it doesn’t provide to women? What about access to credit? In some countries, for instance, the law gives control of household assets to the man, and this very much restricts the ability of women to use the property as collateral to access the financial system.

These are the sorts of things we looked at, and we wanted to know how they impacted the societies in which we found them.

Sean Illing

Let’s talk about that. What is the direct link between gender inequality and political instability?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

The biggest impact of gender inequality is on income inequality. We have data that shows that countries that make it more difficult for women to access the labor market have higher levels of income inequality. And if you think about the intuition behind this, it makes sense. If you’re discriminating against half the population, how can that not worsen income inequality?

Political scientists have long understood how corrosive income inequality can be to political stability. There is pretty clear evidence that democracies with large gaps in income have a much higher probability of breakdown than those with a more egalitarian income distribution. So this gender inequality feeds directly into political instability.

Sean Illing

Does the data show that gender disparities disappear as societies become wealthier? Or that societies become wealthier as gender disparities disappear?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

The data suggests overwhelmingly that gender equalities lead to more wealth and less poverty, and of course, equal access to education is a huge component of that. More education leads to lower birthrates because women have more knowledge about family planning and more opportunities to enter the labor force and earn money.

Lower fertility levels help reduce child mortality, and they expand the range of educational opportunities that are available to the next generation. All of these factors combine to boost economic growth and higher income per capita.

On the other hand, to address the other half of your question, we have several examples of high-income countries, especially in the Middle East, that have very high levels of discrimination against women. So it doesn’t automatically follow that as countries become richer, all of a sudden, gender equality improves.

Sean Illing

When you look around the world, is the gender gap shrinking, however slowly?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

If you look at the whole world, there are something like 30 countries with 10 or more such discriminations embedded in their laws, in their national legislation. And most of these are located in the Middle East and North Africa region and, to a lesser extent, in sub-Saharan Africa.

A couple of years ago, the World Bank did a 50-year comparison of the laws for 100 countries (from 1960 to 2010) to get a sense of the progress made, and they found that there was progress made pretty much everywhere except in the regions I just mentioned above. And in some countries, like Iran, women were actually worse off in 2010 than they had been in 1960.

Sean Illing

And fundamentally this is about a lack of political power, right?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Absolutely. In each case, you find that women have not been politically empowered. That’s what keeps these restrictions in place. The voices of women simply are not heard in many of these countries. The men in these societies have largely appropriated for themselves the making of the rules and the content of the laws. They are the ones who sit in parliamentary committees, who are finance ministers, who are governors, and so on.

Just consider this incredibly revealing statistic: We have nine female heads of government in the world among 193 members of the United Nations. That’s astonishing, and really puts the problem in perspective.

Sean Illing

Part of the solution to this, as you argue in the book, is to establish quotas for women on corporate boards and in parliaments. What’s the case for this policy?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

First of all, quotas are becoming more and more popular. Something like 40 percent of the countries in the world have introduced some kind of quota for women in terms of participation in national parliaments and local government.

There are also attempts underway to increase the participation of women in corporate boards, largely because a number of studies have found a positive correlation between companies with women on their boards and their financial success.

There was actually a very interesting study in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago looking at the gender composition of company boards that showed that companies with greater female participation on their boards were less likely to be hit by corporate governance scandals involving bribery, fraud, and other factors, which can depress business confidence and therefore hinder economic growth.

Now, having said that, there is a lot of very encouraging evidence when you compare countries that have quotas with countries that don’t. Let me give you two or three examples, which I think illustrate this very nicely.

One of them is that those countries that have introduced quotas for women in parliament show higher levels of participation of women in the labor force. So the presence of women in parliament seems to encourage women to strive and to enter the job market, probably because they feel like the playing field is more leveled.

Quotas also seem to have an effect on government spending priorities. A number of studies have shown that where quotas exist, either at the level of parliament or at a lower government level, there is more spending going to social services and the kinds of infrastructures that are more helpful for women — and you can see this across the world.

So there’s a growing body of evidence showing that having greater participation of women is not just a victory for human rights; it’s actually a big boost to the economy.

Sean Illing

Apart from the policies you just laid out, are there other reliable ways to push societies toward more gender equality?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

One of the problems we face is that we have deeply ingrained prejudices that have led many people in many parts of the world to essentially pass on to succeeding generations beliefs about gender roles that are no longer in keeping with empirical evidence or the kind of 21st-century world we live in.

There was a great, interesting book written a couple hundred years ago called A Vindication of the Rights of Women, by Mary Wollstonecraft, which we quote in the book. She made a very clear and simple point: Women are not inferior, and their apparent lack of accomplishment has nothing to do with intrinsic inferior capacities but has everything to do with lack of opportunity and access.

So it seems to me that one of the challenges we face is how do we change deeply ingrained attitudes and create a more open, tolerant, and just world?

Sean Illing

As you know, there are some people who push back against arguments like yours, and say that different cultures have different values and we should not impose our values on them. What’s your response to this?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

Our response to this is simple: Who is speaking for whom in these places where women are being repressed? Is it men or women? Because what you often find is that men have appropriated for themselves the right to speak on behalf of women.

Did anyone in Afghanistan, for example, ask the 11 million Afghan women whether they wanted to be able to work or to send their daughters to school? Or was it the Taliban who imposed this on them?

So basically our argument is about spokesmanship — who speaks on behalf of whom, and what is asserted on the basis of force rather than freely granted popular support. When leaders hold on to power at the cost of the rights and freedoms of others, their legitimacy is most likely to be self-serving and less likely to be freely given. So that’s essentially the argument that we make.

Sean Illing

As you look around the world at this moment, what forces or institutions pose the greatest challenge to the empowerment of women?

Augusto Lopez-Claros

We live in a world in which, at the moment, we have roughly 800 million people who live on less than a $1.90 a day. That’s the poverty line that is used at the World Bank for extreme poverty. We have close to 800 million people who are illiterate, who can’t read and write; in other words, they don’t have access to the most important tool in the 21st century for coming out of poverty. And then we have roughly another 800 million or so children who are malnourished.

Women are overwhelmingly represented in each of these three groups. In most cases, they account for two-thirds of these populations. So there is a huge scope here to allocate scarce resources more efficiently and to improve the quality of governance.

I think there is also a role for international organizations, such as the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank to consider using the great leverage they have, especially in the developing countries where many of these restrictions are located, to press countries to be more proactive in the elimination of these kinds of discriminations, which continually hold women back.

We believe that eliminating these restrictions is actually a win-win for everybody. There is no downside for the international community pressing governments where there are widespread discriminations against women, or ethnic minorities, or religious minorities. This is an unambiguous good for human beings and for the international economy, and we should fight for these changes.

 

 

By : Sean Illing
Date : November 5, 2018
Spurce “ Vox
https://www.vox.com/2018/11/5/18037688/gender-equality-poverty-human-rights

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Gender-based violence: Most prevalent human rights violation

 

Gender-based violence and violence against women and girls is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world.

It knows no social, economic or national boundaries.

Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime.

Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.

Victims of violence can suffer sexual and reproductive health consequences, including forced and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, traumatic fistula, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and even death.

The Chief Director of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, Dr Afisah Zakariah, buttressed these statements at a workshop in Accra when she described gender-based violence as a grave violation of the fundamental human rights and freedoms of its victims, mostly women and girls.

She said despite leaving victims with traumatising effects, gender-based violence had been internalised by societies in such a manner that it was considered a private matter that should not be discussed outside the home.

That, she said, led to the protection of perpetrators who got away with such criminal acts, warning that gender-based violence was criminal and should be handled as such.

The chief director made the statement at a workshop organised by the Domestic Violence Secretariat of the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection in Accra to sensitise religious leaders and heads of schools to sexual and gender-based violence.

Statistics

Dr Zakariah said gender-based violence still persisted, with cases of rape, defilement, domestic violence and assault on the rise.

Statistics from the Domestic Violence and Victims’ Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service indicate that reported rape cases reduced from 316 in 2015 to 236 in 2016, but increased to 311 in 2017.

Defilement cases also reduced from 1,198 in 2015 to 722 in 2016 but increased to 793 in 2017, while cases of assault also reduced from 5,494 in 2015 to 4,190 in 2016, but increased to 5,019 in 2017.

“Resource DOVVSU”

In his presentation, a clinical psychologist, Mr Adolf Awuku Bekoe, said cultural beliefs and values in some communities that discriminated against women and girls was a leading cause of sexual and gender-based violence.

Mr Bekoe, who is also the National Coordinator of the Coalition on Domestic Violence Legislation, said the enforcement of the patriarchal arrangement in the Ghanaian society gave males inherent superiority in the home, with the misinterpretation of some religious beliefs also compounding the problems, “making men more powerful than women”.

Consequently, Mr Bekoe, who is also a lecturer at the Methodist University College, said considering the fact that gender- based violence had serious implications on an individual that could ruin one’s life, there was the need for people to make personal commitment to stop the act, adding that “do not be a perpetrator or a victim”.

While society also had the responsibility to eschew domestic violence, Mr Bekoe said the State also needed to take the issue seriously by providing the needed resources for the Police Service to enforce the laws against domestic violence.

“The Domestic Violence and Victims’ Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Police Service which deals with domestic violence issues is 20 years and they still do the basic things they used to do.

The unit is understaffed and doesn’t even have shelter to keep a mother and her children who are being abused,” he lamented.

 

 

By : Salomey Appiah-Adjei
Date : November 7, 2018
Source : Graphic Online
https://www.graphic.com.gh/news/general-news/gender-based-violence-most-prevalent-human-rights-violation.html

 

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Misogynist Apartheid — Saudi Arabia’s Original Human Rights Sin

 

The murderous brutality of the Saudi regime is rightly condemned for the killing and dismembering of courageous dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the merciless Saudi war in Yemen. Many observers correctly call for the U.S. to reform or even end its alliance with the Saudi government unless there is accountability and justice for Khashoggi’s murder and an end to the Yemen conflict that is causing one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes. Yet the Saudi crime with the greatest number of victims — the state-sanctioned repression of more than 15 million Saudi women and girls — is almost never included in the list of Saudi human rights atrocities that must end. All too often, the suffocation of women’s rights is treated as an issue that may be important enough to mention but not important enough to be stopped.

How bad is it? Saudi women are not free to go where they want to go and do what they want to do without permission from a male. Saudi male “guardianship” laws for women require that every woman have a male guardian, and that women get permission from men (or boys, because male children can be guardians) for everyday activities — college, work, travel, marriage. A divorced or widowed woman can be ruled by a son who can refuse to let her remarry.

The U.S. State Department concluded that the Saudi system caused “violence and official discrimination against women” and that courts are “occasionally upholding a guardian’s right to obedience from his female dependents.” A woman can go to jail for disobeying a man, and a man can report a woman if she ventures out without permission. This stifles political dissent as well as women’s freedom — a women’s rights activist was imprisoned in 2017 for three months for leaving her house without her male guardian’s approval.

There are no women judges in Saudi Arabia, of course, and Saudi law requires judges to give women’s testimony half the weight of men. The 22 percent of Saudi women who work is among the world’s lowest (placing the country just above war-torn nations like Syria and Yemen). That so few Saudi women work is unsurprising given how much permission they need for daily activities.

Saudi sexism leads to physical violence, too. Human rights groups and the U.S. State Department agree that Saudi women are inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. A United Nations report blamed violence against women on male guardianship and gender segregation, which limit women’s ability to escape or report violence.

Saudi women are equal to men in one terrible way — the regime will kill them or throw them in prison when they have the courage to speak out for human rights. Israa al-Ghomghan, a female activist, is sentenced to beheading for protesting in marches and on social media. Many Saudi women who led the successful campaign for the right to drive—and who call for more sweeping reform to give women full equality – are themselves jailed.

Here is how some victims of Saudi apartheid described it to the New York Times:

“My experience as a female is very sad. I cannot go out of the house unless my older brother gives me permission, as if I were a prisoner.”

“I am subjected to violence and beatings and am denied the most basic rights, including the ability to go to a hospital. I have been insulted and cursed in ways that are anathema to Islam.

“I have been denied the opportunity to study or work. I am forced to wear the black abaya and to cover my face and eyes. I am forced to remain inside the house. I am prevented from going out even to buy my essential needs.”

“Only in this room I am allowed to do what I want to do . . . My father owns me.”

“I don’t remember the last time that I saw the light of the outside world. I am giving myself one year. If life doesn’t change, there is no solution except suicide, as many other girls have done.”

To call this gender apartheid is too polite. The Saudi system is misogynist apartheid. Yet there is an inexplicable silence about Saudi suffocation of women’s rights. For example, over two days in the Washington Post, a U.S. Senator, an academic foreign policy expert, and a former senior Bush administration official rightly demanded accountability and action against the Saudi government for human rights atrocities — without a single mention of its state-sanctioned second-class citizenship for women. A prominent foreign policy commentator, while alluding to  the arrests of women’s activists in a link, failed to include in his list of Saudi wrongs the nationwide discrimination and violence against women that the activists were protesting. To be fair, a Washington Post op-ed included discrimination against women among the reasons for ending American deference to Saudi human rights violations.

The Trump administration will not demand equal rights for women in Saudi Arabia. Trump considers arms trade with the Saudi regime a higher priority than keeping the regime from killing people or suffocating their lives. Awful as this is, Trump is not the first American to value Saudi money and oil above human life and moral principle.

Leaving Trump aside, other Americans — Congress, human rights groups, and citizens — should demand that the Saudi regime honor women’s rights and aspirations. This would benefit Saudi society as much as the women who live in it by tapping their enormous talent and potential.

Some might favor restraint in challenging Saudi repression of women by noting that some Saudi women prefer restrictions on rights and dress. Others may characterize demands for reform and gender equality as colonial-style imposition of Western norms that risk destabilizing a society in which restrictions on women reflect deeply held religious and cultural traditions.

But there is nothing about guaranteeing equality that would stop women from dressing conservatively, living restrictively, or even following the direction of men, if some women choose to do so to express their religious or social preferences. There are women wearing the hijab in the trendiest neighborhoods in London and others who live very conservative lives all over the world. Equal rights would simply afford women the freedom to make other choices.

As to cultural-relativist arguments to delay or stop reform completely, these arguments have been made about racial equality in South Africa, democracy in South America, even capitalism in China. Indeed, opponents of civil rights for African Americans criticized the movement for going too fast. All of these countries managed societal transition that was broad and deep, and so would the Saudis if they had allies at home and abroad in promoting women’s rights.

More than that, it is the right thing to do. Women and girls should not live in a state-constructed prison. The brutal suppression of half the human beings in Saudi Arabia is not a peripheral issue to be put on the back burner. Human rights violations on this scale aren’t usually compartmentalized. It is not surprising that a regime that denies basic human rights to half its citizens will also kill dissident journalists or innocent civilians caught in the crosshairs of its wars.

In the fleeting time when there was hope that Khashoggi had not been killed, one expert rightly wrote, “It is impossible to look away from Khashoggi’s disappearance.”  But for decades it has been all too possible for America to look away from the Saudi regime’s marginalization and abuse of women.

Not everyone ignores the plight of Saudi women. One observer in America spoke the truth plainly: “Women today should have the same rights as men.” The writer was Jamal Khashoggi. In September 2017, he wrote, “I can speak when so many cannot.” Now that his brave voice has been horrifically silenced, the rest of us should speak for him and for the rights of Saudi women.

 

By : Charlie Martel
Date : November 13, 2018
Source : Just Security

Misogynist Apartheid — Saudi Arabia’s Original Human Rights Sin

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How sex and gender influence how we vote

 

Leading up to the recent midterm elections in the United States, pundits predicted women voters and candidates would alter the race.

There were, in fact, historic changes as more women than ever gained seats in U.S. Congress, breaking the 100-seat barrier. The winners included two Muslim women and a Native American woman, both historic firsts.

However, as we unpack and explain voting patterns, the narrative must move beyond stereotypical and biologically grounded explanations that focus on men and women as voting blocs. Instead, we must ask how gender orientations condition men’s and women’s politics.

Several lessons from our ongoing research are instructive: First, gender strongly conditions the impact of sex on the vote. By “gender,” we mean the extent to which men and women identify with masculinity and femininity as sets of roles, traits and ideals.

The impact of gender on the vote differs from the effect of sex alone, in part because sex does not determine where you place yourself on a masculinity/femininity continuum.

Why some men are more liberal

Our work on measuring sex and gender in survey research, published last year in Political Behavior, shows that men who do not strongly identify with hypermasculinity are equally or more liberal than women on various issues, from same-sex marriage to social spending.

This implies that moderately masculine men, so to speak, are not in the Republican orbit because they do not share the party’s positions on the issues that defined the 2018 midterms: Immigration, gun rights, Brett Kavanaugh and the backlash against so-called “identity politics.”

In fact, all respondents whose gender self-placement veers from the most masculine or feminine endpoints of the scale tend to be more politically moderate than the hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine identifiers.

This means that highly feminine women — those who possess very traditional gender identities — are more conservative on some issues, including workplace discrimination, and are indeed open to the Republican platform.

The general message here is not novel in its recognition of multiple and cross-cutting identities and their importance to voting. Race, socioeconomic status and religion, for example, are other important influences on the vote.

What is novel about our research is that it identifies the patterns from an overlooked aspect of identity — gender. Sex and gender tend to be treated as synonymous both in “real life” and in research. Disentangling them is revealing the ways that our biology affects our behaviour less than previously thought.

Gender not a factor for some

The second big message coming from our research is that we must stop automatically treating gender as a “first-order” or “meta” identity that eclipses all other identities. For some voters, gender is not a strong pull on the vote or on political attitudes. Our research published last year in the Canadian Journal of Political Science finds that there are few male-female gaps in attitudes, and presumably voting, among people for whom gender is not important.

It’s only among those for whom gender is highly salient (and this is the case for a lot of people) that sex and gender have the potential to create gaps in attitudes and votes, producing a chasm in the electorate.

In the context of the 2018 midterms, a key observation is that sex and gender are more prominent in some campaigns than others.

Sometimes gender-based issues are at the top of the agenda, or high proportions of women candidates run. This can cue voters to think about gender issues when making their vote choices, a process called priming.

This helps explain the large partisan gaps between men and women and the unprecedented showing of women candidates in 2018. A record number of women candidates ran and won, and media, think tanks, researchers and political parties spent a lot of time discussing the anticipated “pink wave.”

#MeToo movement in play

What’s more, voters went to the polls soon after a Supreme Court confirmation process fought nearly exclusively over allegations that nominee Brett Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted several women. And this came after a year of intensive public action by the #MeToo movement, which has illuminated the widespread sexual violence and harassment faced by women.

It’s clear the electoral environment contributes to the politicization of social divisions. When campaigns focus on other issues or other types of candidates, different electoral divides define the vote, and sex and gender may take a back seat to partisanship, race or religion.

Traditionally, we talk about women voters as if they are unique and act as a bloc. But not all women vote the same, and women don’t uniformly feel the same about issues, parties or candidates over time.

Context matters. It activates identities in the minds of voters, and campaigns provide cues for the types of considerations that will influence voters at the ballot box. The 2018 midterm election campaign activated sex, but it also activated gender, and the strength of a voter’s masculinity and femininity no doubt had a discernible impact on how they cast their ballots.

 

 

Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, Associate Professor, Political Studies; Director, Queen’s Institute of Intergovernmental Relations; Director, Canadian Opinion Research Archive, Queen’s University, Ontario

Amanda Bittner, Associate Professor, Memorial University of Newfoundland

 

By : Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant and Amanda Bittner
Date : November 14, 2018
Source : The Conversation
https://theconversation.com/how-sex-and-gender-influence-how-we-vote-106676

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Why Latin America Should Recognize Venezuelans as Refugees

 

Latin America has one of the world’s most advanced approaches to refugees, yet it is reluctant to apply it to Venezuelans. Expert Luisa Feline Freier argues that the Venezuelan displacement crisis is a crucial test for the Cartagena Declaration

An estimated 3 million Venezuelans have fled their country in recent years. According to their refugee laws, most Latin American countries ought to recognize these Venezuelan migrants as refugees. Yet they have been reluctant to do so.

The region developed one of the world’s most advanced approaches to refugees in a 1984 declaration in Cartagena, Colombia. Going beyond the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, the Cartagena Declaration defines refugees as people who flee their country “because their lives, security or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.”

The Cartagena definition, then, not only focuses on the well-founded fear of being individually persecuted but also includes adverse circumstances that a country may go through that would cause large groups of people to flee.

Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay have all included the Cartagena refugee definition in their national refugee legislation.

In private conversations, many officials and representatives of international organizations share the assessment that the forced displacement of Venezuelans falls under the Cartagena definition. Yet the political cost of being the first and potentially only country to recognize this publicly is high. Governments fear this could lead to a further influx of Venezuelans to their countries, putting more stress on already underperforming public services and stirring xenophobic sentiment.

There thus exists an official consensus in the region that Cartagena does not apply to the Venezuelan displacement crisis. “The situation in Venezuela is not as bad yet,” a high-ranking official of Peru’s refugee department declared at an event in Lima on World Refugee Day on June 20.

Somewhat surprisingly, only a small fraction of Venezuelans have filed asylum claims. Many do not know that they can apply for asylum, while others do not want to be recognized as refugees because they feel it comes with a stigma attached.

Even so, asylum applications by Venezuelans have almost tripled each year since 2014. Numbers worldwide rose from 3,975 in 2014 to 113,428 in 2017. In 2018, 126,998 Venezuelans had applied for asylum in Peru by mid-June, 72,722 in the U.S. by the end of June and 57,575 in Brazil by the end of July, according to the latest data compiled by UNHCR.

However, Latin American governments are processing only a small number of applications. For example, from 2014 to 2017, Peru decided only 971 cases, accepting 239 and rejecting 548. The large number of claims left pending – whether through lack of capacity, deliberate policy or both – leaves Venezuelans without adequate protection.

The low levels of refugee recognition come despite Venezuela’s socioeconomic, political and humanitarian crisis meeting three of the Cartagena criteria: generalized violence, massive violation of human rights and other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order.

Regarding generalized violence, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), Venezuela is the second most violent country in the world, with a homicide rate of 89 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017. While the Venezuelan government did not release any official figures on crime for 2017, unofficial statistics indicate that most categories of crime increased that year.

The government’s countermeasures of militarizing public security and the increasing participation of civilians in armed groups and “colectivos” have worsened the situation. According to the Committee of Relatives of Victims (COFAVIC), the number of extrajudicial executions grew by 37 percent in 2015 and by 70 percent in 2016. According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the deployment of the military and armed civilian militias seriously compromised the state’s duty to ensure its citizens’ security and safeguard their human rights.

Concerning the massive violation of human rights, the government led by President Nicolas Maduro represses any form of opposition. Those who disagree with the government run the risk of reprisals, including arrest and dismissal from public office. IACHR has declared that Venezuela’s practice of requiring authorization for any public demonstration is incompatible with inter-American standards, violating the right to protest and freedom of expression.

Thousands of people have been arrested without a warrant based on the mere suspicion that they are supporters of the opposition. Protesters have been prosecuted under military criminal jurisdiction and prisoners have become victims of torture and sexual violence. The right to freedom of expression is further curtailed by censorship and the shutdown of media outlets, harassment of journalists and criminalization of information opposing the regime.

Finally, regarding other circumstances that have seriously disturbed public order, as referred to in the Cartagena Declaration, Venezuela is going through a severe humanitarian crisis. At the end of 2017, 87 percent of the population in Venezuela lived in poverty, with 80 percent affected by food insecurity. In December, aid group Caritas said there were close to 300,000 malnourished children at risk of starving, with six dying every week in the Venezuelan capital Caracas alone. Ninety percent of households could not afford children’s daily meals, and 33 percent of children showed irreversible mental and physical developmental delays, according to the charity.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan health system has collapsed, with a severe lack of medicine and materials for medical treatment. Venezuela’s education system has also been compromised by the lack of teachers and materials.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the IACHR consider that the broad circumstances leading to the outflow of Venezuelans fall within the definition of Cartagena and see its application as a potential solution to the Venezuelan displacement crisis.

Given the potentially high cost of being the first or only country to apply Cartagena, regional cooperation is essential to reach a joint response and adhere to the spirit of Cartagena.

This would be the first time that Cartagena is applied as a definition to groups of people prima facie and would significantly strengthen the region’s progressive protection framework. If countries continue to resist applying Cartagena, they run the risk of reducing their heralded legislation to mere words and window dressing.

 

Luisa Feline Freier is assistant professor of social and political sciences at the Universidad del Pacifico in Peru. She holds a PhD in government from the London School of Economics. Her research focuses on immigration and refugee policies in Latin America.

 

By            :               Luisa Feline Freier

Date         :               September 28, 2018

Source     :               NewsDeeply

https://www.newsdeeply.com/refugees/community/2018/09/28/why-latin-america-should-recognize-venezuelans-as-refugees

 

 

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Are women the last line of defence against Brazil’s authoritarian shift?

 

In a matter of days, 2.5 million Brazilian women had gathered on Facebook to discuss how to best present their case against Bolsonaro and how to take their action offline and organise themselves locally.

In the world’s most celebrated footballing nation – where ‘the beautiful game’ is akin to religion – it’s almost no surprise that this week’s general elections have looked more like a football match than a democratic process that will shape the future of Latin America’s largest country.

A sizeable number of Brazilians are behaving more like football fans, following the polls as if they were league scoreboards and supporting or opposing candidates out of passion rather than reasoned analysis of policy positions. One important distinction, however, stands out: while football and politics are both male-dominated games in Brazil – only two out of the thirteen presidential candidates are female – the outcome of this particular match may very well be in the hands of women.

On October 7, in a “celebration of democracy” – a commonly used expression in Brazil that serves as a reminder of the country’s not-so-distant dictatorial past (1964-1985) – voters will cast ballots for the presidency and the House and Senate as well as state leadership. If no candidate wins 50% of votes cast, runoff elections for president and state governors will be held on October 28.

The current political environment provides a textbook example of a fertile breeding ground for far-right populists taking advantage of dissatisfaction and despair to propose deceivingly simple solutions to very difficult problems. In 2016, following a traumatic presidential impeachment process, the Workers’ Party’s (PT) Dilma Rousseff was succeeded by Michel Temer, a very unpopular president whose aggressive austerity and pro-market measures left a staggering 13 million Brazilians unemployed, including 30% of youths.

Although the corruption investigations that sealed the fate of the previous administration are still ongoing, distrust in politics and institutions have only grown among a citizenry that overwhelmingly believes that the machinery of corruption benefitting parties and politicians of all stripes, will not be dismantled. Neoconservatives have been quick to seize the opportunity.

For several months, the polls were consistently led by former president Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, PT’s then-presidential candidate, despite the fact that he was in prison following a politically motivated corruption trial. Given that Lula’s conviction could still be overturned following appeals, the UN Human Rights Committee had urged the government to guarantee his right to run for president, a call echoed by the Coordination Bureau of National NGO Associations and Networks of Latin America, among many others.

In record time, however, Brazil’s Supreme Court decided that the UN request could be in conflict with national legislation and on September 11, PT had to replace Lula with the largely unknown former mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad.

Enter Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right candidate who has been both decried and hailed as the Brazilian version of Donald Trump. Now leading the polls with close to 30%, Bolsonaro’s racist, sexist and homophobic views have set the tone of the election campaign. The 27-year Congress veteran has advocated for Brazil to leave the UN, the Paris climate agreement and any international human rights mechanism that could be deemed a nuisance. A defender of torture and military rule, his running mate is an Army general who said a new constitution could be drafted without popular participation, if the new president so decides.

Worryingly, the view that repression might be required to get the country back on track is becoming widespread. Since President Temer took office in August 2016, Army officers have been increasingly vocal about their preparedness to seize power if necessary – a stark contrast with neighbouring Uruguay, where a military officer was recently served with an arrest order for making political comments publicly.

Equally worryingly, ‘fake news’ has effectively spread the anti-rights views held by Bolsonaro and his circle, which appear to have resonated with about one third of voters, according to polls. In Brazil, as in the US, these tactics have led to the relative normalisation of the idea of violence as a means for conflict resolution and change.

Amid the incendiary rhetoric, policy discussion has taken a backseat. Besides the two successive PT candidates, only Guilherme Boulos and Vera Lucia, a couple of left-wing presidential nominees with no prospects of election, have taken a progressive stance on issues such as the criminalisation of human rights defenders, the use of the controversial Antiterrorism Law against civil society, and the need to shift the debate on migration from security to human rights.

Boulos, Haddad and Marina Silva, an environmentalist with also little chance of winning, are the only candidates that mention the need for protection measures to counter the increasing violence and human rights violations that make Brazil the most dangerous country in the world for indigenous, land rights and environmental rights defenders.

With hopes looking slim for progressive contenders in a climate of regressive, reactionary campaigning, a fiery challenge to Bolsonaro has unexpectedly come from a demographic well under-represented in Brazilian politics. While they account for 52% of the country’s population, women currently make up only 30% of all candidates to elected positions.

Brazil holds the worst record in South America for female congressional representation, with only 10% in the House and 16% in the Senate. No election campaign has put women at the center – unless misogynistic attacks count. But if something has shaped the climate more than anything, it has been Bolsonaro’s violent discourse, frequently targeting women. His and his supporters’ attacks have been instrumental in sparking a loud feminist response.

Building on Brazil’s recent Feminism Spring – powerful national campaigns that saw millions of women publicly protest gender-based violence, harassment and discrimination – an online feminist movement has mushroomed, overflowing the web and out onto the streets. Using the hashtag #EleNao (#NotHim), Brazilian women are urging other women, and men, to vote for anyone but Bolsonaro.

In a matter of days, 2.5 million Brazilian women had gathered on Facebook to discuss how to best present their case against Bolsonaro and how to take their action offline and organise themselves locally. When, a week later, their online group was hacked and renamed in support of Bolsonaro, some three million angry women harnessed public support against the cyberattack, amplified their voices with the backing of several well-known artists and celebrities, and summoned a massive day of protest in late September. Dozens of events were planned abroad to accompany the hundreds taking place throughout Brazil.

Will this be enough to swing the vote against Brazil’s Trump? It’s unclear – any prediction on the election’s results is premature. But what is certain is that women will play a key role in it. If anything can stop Bolsonaro, it is the higher-than-average proportion of women that outright reject his candidacy – more than half of those polled.

When there is no other choice than to resist, women have raised their voices. For them, there is no going back to the obscurity of home or second-class citizenship, regardless of who the next president will be.

A day will come when these elections are remembered for the role played by women against hate and for democracy. In a game in which they’ve been forced to sit on the bench for so long, Brazilian women are scoring goals that count, regardless of what the final score turns out to be.

 

 

By            :               Ana Cernov and Inés M. Pousadela

Date         :               October 6, 2018

Source     :               OpenDemocracy

https://www.opendemocracy.net/democraciaabierta/are-women-last-line-of-defence-against-brazil-s-authoritarian-shift

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Tokyo: New Law Bars LGBT Discrimination

 

Olympics-Inspired Act Should Spur Japanese National Legislation

(Tokyo) – The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has passed a bill that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Human Rights Watch said. The act, enacted on October 5, 2018, also commits the city government to conducting public education about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights.

Tokyo authorities were inspired to draft the bill in advance of the city hosting the 2020 Summer Olympics, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Tokyo metropolitan government has enshrined in law its commitment to hosting an inclusive and rights-respecting Olympic games,” said Kanae Doi, Japan director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities now need to put the policy into action and end anti-LGBT discrimination in schools, workplaces, and the wider society.”

Human Rights Watch participated in the government’s open consultation for the act to fulfill the Olympic Charter’s human rights values. The law states: “This act upholds the goal of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to make Tokyo a city that upholds the human rights values of banning any sort of discrimination as stated in the Olympic Charter.”

The Olympics have driven some changes in how governments hosting the games act on LGBT rights issues. This has in part been a rebuke to Russia for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The Russian government’s passage of the discriminatory “gay propaganda” law marred the games, along with other human rights violations such as forced evictions, abuses against migrant workers, and media censorship. In December 2014, as part of its “Olympic Agenda 2020,” the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that all future host city contracts would include a requirement to specifically ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The new Tokyo law states “the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, citizens, and enterprises may not unduly discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation” and pledges that the government will “conduct measures needed to make sure human rights values are rooted in all corners of the city and diversity is respected in the city.”

Japan’s national government has, in recent years, taken positive steps toward recognizing and protecting LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. The Education Ministry issued a “Guidebook for Teachers” in 2016 that outlines how to treat LGBT students in schools. That same year, Japan, along with the United States and the Netherlands, led a UNESCO conference on LGBT student bullying. In March 2017, the ministry announced it had revised the national bullying prevention policy to include LGBT students. Japan has also voted for two United Nations Human Rights Council resolutions to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Despite these promising steps, Japan still has no national legislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples, though more and more local authorities are doing so. It also labels transgender people who request legal recognition as having a “Gender Identity Disorder” and leaves them with no alternative but to undergo unnecessary and invasive medical procedures to secure official documents that reflect their gender identity.

 

Date         :               October 5, 2018

Source     :               Human Rights Watch

https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/10/05/tokyo-new-law-bars-lgbt-discrimination

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Palu quake and tsunami sweeps away key Indonesian human rights activism

 

When the earthquake and tsunami hit the city of Palu, Central Sulawesi, last weekend, they not only brought wreckage and death. The twin disasters also swept away efforts by activists and the municipal administration to support the survivors of Indonesia’s violent anti-communist purges in 1965-1966.

In the rest of the country, such survivors are still very marginalised.

In Palu, a city of some 350,000 inhabitants and the capital of Central Sulawesi province, activists had convinced local government leaders to work with them in helping these survivors.

Palu is the only place in Indonesia where a government leader has made an official apology to the victims of the anti-communist violence in the area. Some nine days after the devastating natural disaster, the fate of some of those activists is still unknown.

Indonesian people lived under Suharto’s New Order authoritarian regime between 1968 and 1998, when the president was forced to resign. From 1965-66, the army, under Suharto, spearheaded anti-communist operations that killed half a million people and led to the detention of hundreds of thousands.

The army blamed Indonesia’s Communist Party (PKI) for the murder of seven army officers on the night of 30 September and in the early hours of 1 October, 1965, by a group calling itself the Thirtieth September Movement. The 53rd anniversary of these events coincided with the terrible disaster in Central Sulawesi.

In 2012, the Palu mayor, Rusdy Mastura, apologised to the victims of the anti-communist violence. He pledged to provide assistance to them and their families in the interests of “equality, openness and humanitarian considerations”.

In his speech, Mastura recalled how, as a boy scout in 1965, he had been tasked with guarding leftist detainees.

Victims of abuses

Mastura was speaking at an event organised by local human rights group, SKP-HAM (Solidaritas Korban Pelanggaran Hak Asasi Manusia, Solidarity with Victims of Human Rights Abuses).

SKP-HAM was founded in 2004. Its best-known leader is the dynamic secretary, Nurlaela Lamasitudju, the daughter of local Islamic cleric, Abdul Karim Lamasitudju.

SKP-HAM is part of the national Coalition for Truth and Justice (Koalisi Pengungkapan Kebenaran dan Keadilan, KKPK).

In 2012, the KKPK held several public events and community “hearings”, dubbed the “Year of Truth Telling”, to pressure the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to rehabilitate the victims of the violence.

In April 2012, Yudhoyono was reported as having expressed his intention to apologise to victims of human rights abuses committed during the Suharto New Order regime.

Yudhoyono’s promised apology never materialised. However, the “Year of Truth Telling” events yielded some important gains in Palu.

Following his apology, the SKP-HAM lobbied Mastura to deliver on his promises by providing healthcare and scholarships. A mayoral regulation and a Regional Action Plan for Human Rights (Rencana Hak Asasi Manusia, Ranham) were promulgated to enable this.

Autonomy laws

These local government instruments have been made possible through Indonesia’s regional autonomy laws.

The mayoral regulation also established a committee to oversee human rights protection and restoration of victims’ rights. On May 20, 2013, Palu was declared a “Human Rights Aware City”.

Each year, the city holds a series of human rights-related events.

In May 2015, the Palu City Regional Planning Body oversaw the process of checking and verifying the identity of victims and their needs, using the information compiled by human rights groups as a base.

A trailblazing city

SKP-HAM had collected 1200 testimonies about the 1965-66 violence from victims in the area. From these testimonies, it had created and uploaded to YouTube short films of survivors’ testimonies.

It had also published a book about the 1965-66 events in Sulawesi, in collaboration with Indonesian author, Putu Oka Sukanta. Mastura wrote the book’s preface.

The group supported weaving cooperatives involving women survivors and ran a café and meeting space, Kedai Fabula, at its office in Palu. In partnership with religious groups and the municipal administration, members of the group organised social activities to involve abuse survivors in the life of the city.

The activities of SKP-HAM Palu is a reminder of what has been lost. It was a trailblazing city whose achievement in human rights advancement provided a model for the rest of the country.

The people of Palu, with a great deal of assistance, will rebuild, but we still wait for more news from the city.

SKP-HAM leader, Lamasitudju, survived the earthquake and tsunami. With a sprained ankle and having lost several family members in the disaster, she is volunteering to collect and provide information regarding the situation in Palu.

Indonesia needs groups like SKP-HAM that campaign for inclusiveness and equal rights to survive into the future.

 

Dr Vannessa Hearman is a lecturer in Indonesian studies at Charles Darwin University in the Northern Territory. She is a member of the Asian Studies Association of Australia Council. Charles Darwin University provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU. Asia Pacific Report republishes this article under a Creative Commons licence.

 

Analysis by             :               Dr Vannessa Hearman

Date                         :               October 8, 2018

Source                     :               Asia Pacific Report

 

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Africa’s Women Belong at the Top

 

Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, cultural, political, and economic biases are conspiring to keep talented women from pursuing leadership positions. To give more young women the opportunity to develop their talents and put their skills to work, today’s leaders must clear a path for the female leaders of tomorrow.

ZOMBA, MALAWI – When I was eight years old, a family friend told my father that he thought I was destined for leadership. My dad never let me forget that heady observation, and as a result of his constant encouragement, I took every opportunity I had to pursue our friend’s prophecy. Today, I owe much of my success to my late father, whose belief in me was unwavering.

Unfortunately, most African girls are not as lucky as I was. While many girls possess leadership qualities, social, political, and economic barriers stymie their potential. This is especially true for girls in rural parts of Africa, where poverty, abuse, and tradition conspire to limit opportunity.

The heartbreaking story of my childhood friend, Chrissie, is illustrative. Chrissie was the star student in the village in Malawi where I grew up. But she dropped out of secondary school because her family could not afford the $6 in monthly fees. Before Chrissie was 18, she was married with a child; she has never left the village where we were born.

Chrissie’s experience is repeated millions of times over in my country, across Africa, and around the world. Today, more than 130 million girls worldwide are out of school through no fault of their own. By the time many African girls turn ten, their fate is already determined. Some are victims of harmful cultural practices, like female genital mutilation and child marriage, while others are unable to escape the poverty that grips their families and communities.

Economic bias is especially damaging to girls. When resources are limited, poor families must choose which children to send to school, and in many regions, boys are viewed as “safer” investments. Girls, meanwhile, are married off, or sent to work in the fields or as domestic helpers. These decisions about the allocation of educational opportunity severely stunt female leadership potential.

One of the objectives of the Joyce Banda Foundation is to strengthen the financial independence of Malawian women, and thereby create the conditions for the development and emergence of young girls as future leaders. Evidence shows that when women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. Furthermore, once women have their own sources of income, they are better able to participate in the political process.

Changing endemic cultural norms about gender and identity – and developing more female leaders – begins in the classroom. School-age girls must be taught to value themselves and one another, and that it is their right to be educated, healthy, and empowered. At the Joyce Banda Foundation School in Blantyre, Malawi, educators have adopted a curriculum based on four building blocks: universal values, global understanding, service to humanity, and excellence.

Parts of Africa are moving in the right direction. Today, nearly a quarter of Sub-Saharan Africa’s lawmakers are women, up from just 10% in 1997. Rwanda, meanwhile, has the highest percentage of female legislators in the world. And throughout Africa, women have been elected to leadership roles at all levels of government.

Still, much work remains. As the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will make clear in its annual Goalkeepers report later this month, governments must recommit to supporting female leaders’ development by investing in the health and education of women and girls. Delivering services to girls under ten years of age, especially in rural areas, is essential if Africa is ever to achieve lasting gender equality.

Over the course of my career in Malawi – first in civil society, then as a Member of Parliament, and finally, as president – I became convinced that the only way to change Africa’s misogynistic narrative is by helping more women reach the highest levels of power. Research from India shows that when governments increase the percentage of women in their ranks, social issues like health care, education, and food security receive higher priority. Having more women in leadership is thus good for everyone.

Leaders are born as well as made, but when they are born in Africa, they are not always recognized. To give more young women the opportunity to develop their talents and put their skills to work, today’s leaders must clear a path for the female leaders of tomorrow.

 

Joyce Banda, a former president of the Republic of Malawi, is the founder of the Joyce Banda Foundation.

 

By : Joyce Banda
Date : September 12, 2018
Source : Project Syndicate
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/political-leadership-gender-equality-in-africa-by-joyce-banda-2018-09

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Living the double life: behind the lies of women’s daily lives in Egypt

 

The consequences of living this sort of double-life go far beyond family disagreements.

25-year-old Sara does not feel secure telling her parents how she feels about myriad things. Having struggled with the concept of religion from a very young age, her proclamation of atheism was not met with much open-mindedness. “They freaked out and insisted I see a family sheikh”, she says. Her father also threatened to cut off funds for her college education. “The whole thing traumatized me which made me—in the end—say that I believe in God,” she adds.

Sara now lies about sexual activity, alcohol consumption, and more. What Sara describes as an ‘off and on switch’ made apparent the restraints fashioned by a conservative, mostly Muslim society. Based on three indices—the Social Progress Index, the Environmental Performance Index and the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Gender Gap report—Egypt comes at number six amongst the 15 least liberal countries in the world.

The Middle Eastern country was first faced with this wave of Islamism and ardent Wahhabism around Islamic theorist and Islamism figurehead Sayyid Qutb’s time in the 1950s and 1960s. Qutb lead the Muslim Brotherhood group and incited violence. The conservative shift was felt by many in society, except women suffered more than men as a result. And, despite Egypt’s uprising in 2011 against Mubarak’s regime and the injustice it inflicted, Egyptian women still experience malignant treatment and regard. To this day, women remain an afterthought on matters of divorce, female genital mutilation (FGM), sexual harassment, and education.

According to a survey conducted by the International Men and Gender Equality Survey, 86.8% of men think women’s highest priorities should be caring for her home and family ahead of life ambitions afforded to men such as holding a career. Meanwhile, 90% believe that women should accept violence from a spouse or partner without leaving as long as the family stays together. For the same parameters, women did not think much differently (76.7 and 70.9, respectively), reflecting a similar thought pattern amongst women themselves.

The lies Sara told and still tells are part deep love for her family and part convenience, except the emotional toll is hefty, and guilt and shame are overpowering. “I can’t even tell them I was raped. I have to deal with paranoia, anxiety and disturbing nightmares,” says Sara who also now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD, panic attacks, and minor depressive episodes. “I feel stuck living under a mask. I believe if they find out, I’ll kill myself,” she says.

Nora shares a similar sentiment, under a harder reality. “Traditions are a whip my parents use against me,” the 28-year-old Ph.D. student laments. “I’d like to be sincere about everything, but every time I envision this I panic over the possibility of violence against me, or worse, alienation. I often resort to [self-harm like] cutting [myself] and trichotillomania (hair-pulling) to relieve my stress,” Nora has even been told by her brother, on a number of occasions, that her bisexuality warrants death. The young professional’s mental and physical well-being is in tatters, with severe migraines and crippling anxiety now a part of her daily life., “Ironically, I pray to the same God, to get me through this or make it all go away somehow.”

Zainab, 32, attributes the differences she has with her parents to their socially conservative worldview. “According to their beliefs, these aspects of my life are not culturally or religiously acceptable and are morally wrong. They also think that I’m jeopardizing my future and putting myself at risk, so in a way, they are concerned,” she says.

This induces Zainab’s anxiety which prompts her to evade their questions rather than lie. “It’s still lying by omission though,” she adds. “It feels like there’s a lot of hostility directed at me and makes it impossible to ever feel completely comfortable. I’m always on edge. I’ve internalized a lot of shame. I’m frustrated a lot, which is tiring,” she adds.

One of the most difficult aspects of Zainab’s double-life is her inability to speak openly about how she feels, even during some of life’s most difficult moments. “I recently went through a difficult break-up, and I had to fake normalcy. Repressing all those feelings took its toll on me, leaving me with more pain to handle as well as exhaustion. My anxiety about it can be severe at times, and this affects my day-to-day decisions. I’m left feeling defensive, irritable, drained, and burned out. I don’t feel financially secure and I feel like my physical safety and health are threatened, which makes me anxious and depressed.”

Sociologist and political sociology lecturer at the American University in Cairo, Amro Ali, has spoken out about what he describes as a “societal disruption”. “Unfortunately, a woman tends to be one of the first victims on the frontlines of societal disruption,” he explains. “Egyptian society has been swallowed into the globalization and consumerism vortex, that has been accompanied with neoliberal dehumanization, that ramps up hyper-individualism, fragmenting society and making people feel lonely. I now see women in some form of internal exile,” he adds

“Egypt has inherited the dysfunctions of modernity that makes it a very paradoxical place on the political and social level: we have elections without democracy, a parliament without representation, we sing the merits of citizenship without acknowledging the citizen,” he adds.

Ali points out how the women who attend his public lectures are often forced to act more conservatively in public than they do on the internet where they can behave more freely. “It is not unusual to see women who are self-conscious (of others observing them) when approaching or asking questions at a public talk, as opposed to the much more direct and confident emails and social media messages they would send before or after enquiring about the talk. However, this gap seems to be decreasing in recent years in favor of a woman’s assertive communication in public spaces,” he remarks. Meanwhile, Ali also refers to the dimension of “shame” that steers people to be hyper-aware of the image they project in the Egyptian public sphere.

Egyptians were divided following the release of a video on social media in recent weeks in which a young woman is being sexually harassed while traveling home from work.

The woman in question, Menna Gobran, video-recorded her alleged harasser outside a branch of popular chain store ‘On The Run’ and posted the footage to Facebook prompting people to ridicule her while defending the guy’s lewd actions. “Not only did they cruelly shame her, the victim, but they elevated the harasser to stardom even by some so-called feminists through taking photos next to him,” Ali adds.

He further added that in Egypt, there is an obsession with what other people would say which discourages many women from speaking out. “It’s unmanageable and the latest example is  the “On The Run” sexual harassment case.”

Given how  99.3% of women in Egypt have been sexually harassed, normalization around such a horrific issue is hardly shocking.

Following the 2011 uprising which swept the country’s former autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, from power, there was a brief glimmer of hope for many Egyptian women, both conservative and liberal, who hoped for greater freedoms.

“Mubarak indirectly skewed the approach to religion; by suffocating the political sphere, he forced many people into the religious sphere as a compensatory measure rather than as a choice, and this perhaps peaked in the mid-2000s when we saw a sudden spike, albeit it was already steadily increasing, in religious displays of piety in newer social classes, such as women turning to the hijab,” Ali remarks.

In post-2011, a significant wave of women took off their hijabs in a minor cultural revolution provoking a negative reaction to what could be perceived as a seemingly mundane act.

“It is not uncommon for me to hear from Egyptian women who are experiencing a crisis of faith of sorts, that they want to love God and feel a sense of mercy, but this is severely shaken when they are shamed and reduced to two-dimensional characters who must be straitjacketed into fulfilling a checklist of obligations, for example, the hijab or what a woman should be like in society.  This type of male power-reinforcing and uniform battering ram approach reduces from the complexities of human beings living in extremely complex times, and it is even an injustice to Islamic jurisprudence which has a rich history of mercifully accommodating nuances and showing compassion to changes in the landscape,” Ali says.

“The religious sermons have hit a tone-deaf level. I think the biggest assault on the Egyptian landscape is mediocrity. There is almost a complete lack of imagination to find viable routes to resolve matters,” he adds noting that publics are born every day and that we need to keep hoping that,” he adds.

However, mental health experts believe that the consequences of living this sort of double-life go far beyond family disagreements.

In a 10-week study conducted by the University of Notre Dame, people who lied less experienced reduced mental and physical health complaints. Additionally, respondents who told fewer lies experienced more positive relationships and better social interactions.

Cairo-based psychologist Sherif Othman says that through lying, these women inflict guilt upon themselves even when it’s carried out for self-preservation or noble reasons. “There’s also a lot of mental stress as they’ll have to keep track of all the lies they tell,” Othman says. “For long-term lying, people can just turn into habitual or compulsive liars and lies become uncontrollable and turn pathological.”

Othman goes on to highlight how keeping track of so many falsehoods can develop psychological disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which is a state of being constantly anxious, even when there is no trigger. He also goes on to mention additional stresses which can affect the person physically like lack of sleep due to the pressing feeling of guilt, and anxiety-induced heart conditions and fluctuating blood pressure.

When it comes to social interactions and maintaining personal relationships, Othman says that piling-up lies can easily shatter trusts with loved ones. “Losing people’s trust will alienate those who are lying and usually those who are lying tend to be socially withdrawn because they don’t want to face all the anxieties that come with lying or the fear of getting caught. You’ve got to weigh the pros and cons of lying and make an informed decision he adds.

Othman explains in terms of living in Egypt’s conservative society. “Lying should not be the first option. People should communicate with their parents and voice their mindsets instead of sweeping it all under the rug. The first step to get an idea accepted into a society is through voicing this idea.”

Meanwhile, Othman also recommends compromising on matters that are not accepted by families. “We should try using our negotiation skills to demand more rights, and not everything is [set] in stone, which could be a plan to resort to before lying,” he says.

Othman believes that change is coming and that we do not have to wait for generations for a certain cultural upheaval to happen. “Women are more vocal now, and never underestimate the power of social media. We’re not fed what to be or do as before and women are going strong in claiming their rights. With that trajectory, in a few decades, Egyptian women will be free to do what they want to do,” he believes.

On her end, clinical psychologist, Sharon Perry said that these held information from family should definitely be shared with other individuals so that these women wouldn’t have to carry the brunt of these lies. “Most families are adamant about their own opinions and there’s even denial about what their children might be doing or not doing,” Perry says adding that lying protects the families but eventually harms the person carrying those lies. “[It’s] not just about sex. We need to look at pregnancies, STDs, AIDs, things that young people here don’t seem to be aware of,” she explains.

Perry has a rather positive outlook on what to come: “People are slowly opening up and talking to their kids and even providing assistance. We can’t interfere with cultural norms or advocate lying but we can limit the behaviour itself,” she remarks.

Though a number of women do not agree with Othman and Perry’s hopeful projection, Nora believes her family’s love for her should trump any disaccord between them. “I know I sound naive, but maybe it’s my mind trying to cope with the grim reality of things,” she says.

 

Eman El-Sherbiny is a Nairobi-based freelance journalist and has reported from the MENA region before. She is also a managing editor of TheSwitchers.eu, a platform on green initiatives around the Mediterranean region. She is a former Thompson Reuters investigative journalism fellow (Wealth of Nations programme) and has been published in regional and international outlets, such as Euronews, Lonely Planet, Al-Monitor, Al-Bawaba, and soon, Ozy.

 

By : Eman El-Sherbiny
Date : September 14, 2018
Source : Open Democracy
https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/eman-el-sherbiny/living-double-life-behind-lies-of-womens-daily-lives-in-egyp#comments

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