Category Archives: violence against women


Nigeria: Chibok, A Living Nightmare, Find our Daughters

Relatives of Kidnapped Girls [Source:]
Relatives of Kidnapped Girls [Source:]
 Women across Nigeria are protesting the abduction of 234 schoolgirls from Chibok, in north east Nigeria, which took place on Monday April
the 14th. Starting from Wednesday the 30th of April, protests and rallies are planned in Abuja, Ibadan, Maiduguri, Kano, Lagos, Kaduna,

A Living Nightmare, Find our Daughters – Statement by Women of Peace And Justice


Since Monday 14th April 2014 when over 200 young female students from the Government Girls Secondary School Chibok, Borno State were abducted by heavily armed men, millions around the world have been unable to come to terms with the loss and the implications of this loss. Today, millions of Nigerian women and men call on the Federal Government and the security agencies to find and bring back these girls currently living in captivity.

These young girls are daughters, sisters, nieces; tomorrow’s women and mothers. Those directly affected grieve, and we as Nigerians and human beings, join them in their anguish and distress. We want them back. Safe in their homes where they belong.

The trend of conflicting information about the exact number of girls who are still missing and even the operations are regrettable. The fact that as yet, no credible claim of responsibility for the abduction of these girls has been made is equally disturbing. This makes it an imperative for all Nigerians to amplify and demand of those with the responsibility for the safety of all Nigerians to ACT and CONSTRUCTIVELY engage to find and return these girls to their parents.

As citizens it is our right and responsibility to ask the following questions which have been on the lips and on the minds of millions around the world. This is even as we wait, with baited breath, to be informed about the fate of these young girls whose only crime is striving for an education:

How is it possible in the age of drones, Google Maps, and aerial surveillance that over 200 girls will vanish without a trace? Is this suggestive of the weaknesses of security operations covering soft targets such as schools even after clear indications of their vulnerability?
Why was protection for our children in schools in the N.E not intensified even after the devastation and pain of the 59 innocent children murdered in FGC Buni Yadi on February 25 2014?
How is it that security is not upgraded around institutions even when warnings of potential threat or imminent aggressions are issued? The warning after Buni Yadi that girls would be targeted or that Giwa Baracks in Madiguri are two cases in point.
What is the rational explanation that in a location (Borno State) under a state of emergency; 4 trucks and numerous motor bikes can deploy, move in convoy, unleash terror on the school at Chibok and then flee with over 200 girls to a location yet to be determined by Nigeria’s security institutions?
Where are or what has happened to the much mentioned assistance to the Federal Government or collaboration with friendly governments ?
Why, despite the massive increase in security spending, (up to N1trillion in 2013 and N845 Billion in 2014), are Nigerians not safer; while our security and military personnel are said to be under equipped and ill prepared to face the ever growing security challenges confronting Nigeria?
What support plans are being made to cater for the emotional needs and management of the trauma the parents of these girls must be going through?
The Chibok incidence is CRITICAL as well as a stark reality of the vulnerability of all Nigerians but most especially innocent children seeking to actualize their right to education towards a potential improvement of quality life. There is a need to scale up security efforts and sustain vigilance until ALL the girls are found. They cannot be abandoned and all Nigerians must share in their agony and in the anguish of their immediate families. The media must step up its act especially in reporting and constructive investigative journalism.

We recognize the complexities and dangers in security and military operations, however it is our firm belief that these institutions hold in high esteem the value of Nigerian lives as well our sovereignty being their primary mandate. The reading from Chibok is WE, ALL, including the military and security personnel are at great RISK of being consumed by the aggression of those in ambush of our peace and prosperity. Extra measures that remain within the legal limits of operations and counter insurgency/terrorism must be employed. Citizens must remain vigilant and supportive of the institutions of security at all times.

We speak out today and will do so every day until these girls are ALL accounted for. As mothers, fathers and siblings we call for the urgent and complete end to the politicization of the insecurity in Nigeria. OUR pain and solution are collective.

Updates on twitter at #BringBackOur Girls and #FreeOurGirls

Policing our Sexuality: The Conservatives War Arsenal Grows {Uganda, Anti-Pornography Act}

 “Policing our Sexuality: The Conservatives War Arsenal Grows” by Happy Mwende Kinyili for the Queer African Network

The recently passed bills in Nigeria, the Same-Sex Prohibition Act, and in Uganda, the Anti-Homosexuality Act and the Anti-Pornography Act, have raised the furore of activists around the world. In particular, organising around the Same-Sex Prohibition Act and the Anti-Homosexuality Act has been loud and concerted around the world, with some leaders on the one hand cautioning the passing of these Acts, while other leaders have lauded the passing of these Acts as shining examples of the upholding of African values.

While it may not have garnered as much attention, the Ugandan Anti-Pornography Act presents an enormous challenge to significant gains made on the legal front around ensuring the freedom to inhabit one’s body and enjoy one’s sexuality free from government and patriarchal oversight. Media houses have dubbed this the ‘mini-skirt ban law’, indicating that the passing of this bill bans the wearing of mini-skirts. However, a reading of the Act does not include any such stipulation, as there is no part that talks about the dress code of women. The Act addresses many other aspects that are serious violations of freedoms, but this – the supposed mini-skirt ban – is not the force of the act, contrary to news reports. Unfortunately, the erroneous reading and reporting of this Act has led to several women and men in Uganda being stripped by mobs for wearing mini-skirt and low-slung trousers.

The fixation on the “mini-skirt ban law” had diverted attention away from the truly problematic portions of this Act. The Act places limitations on sexual freedoms by using vague language to open the door for mischievous interpretations of the Act. The definition of pornography in the Act “any representation through publication, exhibition, cinematograpy, indecent show, information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or stimulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement” is extremely broad and just about anything could be interpreted as pornography. This is particularly so as the definition of ‘sexual’ is left open in the Act and the naming of anything as pornography is to be done by the Pornography Control Committee.

This Pornography Control Committee is open to individuals from the legal profession, media industry, publishing houses, arts and entertainment industry, education professionals, health professional, religious leaders and cultural leaders, who demonstrate high moral character and proven integrity. The assumption that only individuals from these formally recognised industries are in a position to define pornography and sexual is presumptive, and leaves huge segment of society ineligible to participate in defining these terms. Further, the determination of high moral character and integrity is again left open to the interpretation.

A significant caveat on the functioning of this committee is buried deep in the Act, in part 5, section 21. The functioning of this committee is contingent on funds that will be approved by both Parliament and other monies donated for the performance of functions of the Committee. This avenue makes for an extremely powerful Committee that can be swayed by a well placed donation, as it leaves open the possibility of donations from individuals and organisations who are seeking interpretations of pornography that would benefit their political, financial or social aims and causes.

Other aspects of the Act that are particularly heinous are the provisions that require Ugandan ISP providers to enforce the recommendations of the Committee to ensure the suppression of pornography. In the event that the ISP provider fails to control and suppress the passage of pornography through their services, they could face the suspension of their business. Furthermore, through this Act, there shall also, be the creation and maintenance of a Register of Pornography Offenders. Hence, any person who is convicted of an offence under this Act shall have their name entered into the registry. The Act fails to mention the use of this register other than declaring that it shall be created. This leaves yet more avenues for mischievous actions aimed at controlling the actions of individuals.

While people’s views on pornography and its use and access are varied, this Act leaves too many avenues open for abuse and harassment. For example, two women who appeared in court over a breach of contract case were jailed for three hours and their case hearing postponed because they appeared in court wearing mini-skirts. The judge presiding over their case declared that the wearing of their mini-skirts was disruptive to the session since the two women had attracted attention of people around the court who declared that their dress code was in violation of the recently passed Anti-Pornography Act. The mischief has already begun. Clearly, the ambiguity in the Act leaves it open that anything and everything can be deemed to be pornography…or go by the old adage; you know its pornography by looking at it.

Organising and protests around these three bills have been loud and concerted around the globe. Activists in the two countries have warned that the respective governments have used the passing of these bills to distract the general populace from agitating for change following significant failures by the governments to provide their citizens with essential services as well as divert public attention away from disclosed cases of corruption and mismanagement of funds by government officials. While there is significant evidence to demonstrate that distraction may be one of the reasons the governments have passed these bills, it is also important to remember that these Acts are direct attacks on gains made against patriarchal policing and control of our sexuality. Sex is used to distract attention because it can distract attention. These Acts are additional arsenal in the war chest of those who are struggling to uphold the patriarchal policing of sexuality. The passing of these bills into law are very deliberately curtailing and controlling sexuality and ensuring that the state’s gaze can at any moment be turned on you and your sexuality should you step out from the prescribed rules and regulations in any way.

5. Jjingo,. M. “Women get three-hour jail term for wearing miniskirts,” Daily Monitor March 7, 2014

Uganda Anti Pornography Act of 2014


Odi Massacre & Origins of Militancy in Ijawland

Kaiama – December 1998

Kaiama is a small town in Western Ijaw, about half an hour’s drive from Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State. Historically Kaiama is famous for being the birth place of Major Isaac Adaka Boro, an Ijaw nationalist who in 1966 proclaimed “the Niger Delta Peoples Republic.”  In December 1998 5,000 Ijaw men and women re presenting over 40 Ijaw clans, chose the historic town of Kaiama to articulate their aspirations for the Ijaw people, and to demand an end to 40 years of environmental damage and underdevelopment in the region.

On the 11th December, 1998, they assembly presented the Kaiama Declaration.  What followed is a series of military attacks which provide an historical context and  understanding  to the present day militancy in Ijawland which has also contributed to the violence against women.  In some instances whole villages have been abandoned by women due to fear of militants and gangs.

On the 1st of January 1999 the Nigerian Military Government declared war on the Ijaw people. Following the Yenagoa massacre, the army invaded Kaiama on the 2nd January.  On the 4th January, soldiers using Chevron helicopters and sea trucks invaded Ikiyan and Opia towns.  Other towns, Odi, Sabama, Patani, Aven, Bomadi were all occupied by military. The mayhem continued unabated throughout January and February.  These communities were ransacked and looted, men and young boys were murdered, tortured and beaten.  Women were molested, harassed, beaten and raped.  Many people are still missing almost 18 months later.  The Nigerian army and Mobile Police engaged themselves in a blood bath which left over 200 dead and thousands wounded.  Once control of the area had been established by the military they settled down to occupy Ijawland and continue up to the present time to terrorise communities of mostly women, children and the elderly and commit endless.

Invasion.of Kaiama




In Kaiama and across the region, many women and girls were raped and forced into prostitution by the Nigerian army.  They also suffered bereavement and were further impoverished through the death or disappearance of family members.

 “I stay in my house at that time, soldiers were everywhere.  Three of them came to my house and broke the door down. They take my son and I have not seen him since that day. I have no money as my son used to look after me.  Before I used to farm but I no fit farm now, I am weak. I no feel to do anything I just wait make I die, I no fit eat, every day I worry what will happen now.”

” My husband dey [was in] Yenagoa with his wife.  When he hear what happen in Kaiama he come see for himself.  Since that day when the soldier came and take him I have not seen him.  I stay in Yenagoa but they I hear say they kill people and start to worry for my husband.  Sometime those who have wounds they bring them to Yenagoa but I check and did not see my husband.  After I come hear that they kill my husband at the Motor park. (the Chief was one of many townsmen that were taken to a nearby army camp and tortured after which he was murdered).
Helen, Widow – On the day the soldiers came I ran with my 3 children to the bush. At that time I was pregnant.  My husband lock the house then follow me run.  I think that he is at my back but I am hearing gun shot.  After I come and see my husband is shot by the soldier when he is running.  They steal all my property and break everything.  Now I have no money, I can only collect firewood to sell and some small farming.  Some time the church help me.  Now my heart is cut.”

” At  that time when the soldiers came I was at home with my husband.  The soldiers came and arrested my husband and took him to the motor park.  When there he was beaten and tortured with the others. His face was cut, nose broken, lips swollen and wounded everywhere.  He had be cut on his head with an axe.  When they took my husband I ran with my children to Opukoma (nearby village) to my father’s house until after 2 days I came back to Kaiama.  At that time there was no one in the town, no medicines. After my husband went to Yenagoa but by that time it was too late for him to recover.  My husband died three months ago from the wounds he received”

Odi Town Massacre.

In the early hours of the morning of the 20th November, 1999, 27 trucks carrying over 2000 soldiers plus 4 armored personnel carriers mounted with machine guns drove into Odi Town in Bayelsa State. Between 2pm that afternoon and 6pm the following day, the town was bombarded with artillery fire. By the end of the two days, practically every building in the town was flattened, set on fire and/or looted. In all 2,483 persons – mainly women, children and the elderly were massacred in 24 hours. Thousands more fled in canoes or on foot to the forests where they hid, some up to a week with no food or shelter.

The order to invade and destroy Odi town was given by the then head of state, President Olusegun Obasanjo. The reason given for the attack at the time was that two weeks before, 9 policemen had been kidnapped and killed in the town by a criminal gang.

Odi was not the only town in the Niger Delta where people were massacred and property destroyed during the Obasanjo years. Kaiama just a few miles from Odi was attacked January and later Oleh Town, in Delta State and Erema in Rivers State were also invaded to name a few. Then there was the terrible rape that took place in Choba, Rivers state where Nigerian army soldiers were photographed raping women. No one has ever been held to account for these past and present crimes against women and other civilians.

Odi Town November 1999



“My 15 year old son is missing. I came back and couldn’t see him. I could not see my son even his corpse I cannot see him even till now – 15 yrs – we were all in this house but when we heard the gun shots everyone take on his heels. My son ran to a different direction to myself and others.  I ran to the bush, there was no food to eat there was nothing.  I stayed in the bush for 12 days as the hunger was so much we started plucking leaves to chew and water to drink – my husband ran on his own too. We were scattered. When the soldiers left I came back and  I saw my husband.  He is looking for our son but we cannot see him.”
” You know you could not stand on the ground, the ground was shaking even the houses were shaking as if they want to fall down.  So I started running down with that fear – I heard the army shooting, even the ground was shaking from the noise of the guns, the houses too.  I had no canoe.  Everything was burnt – books, my properties, my things for teacher’s college, NCE and University of Port Harcourt certificates, everything.”

“Other people ran into the bush. Those who could not get boats ran into the nearby bushes, they were all here most of them were just right inside.  You know that time was a flood period and water everywhere, the whole of the bush was covered with water and some of them were standing on top of trees, hanging like that for days.”

Displaced women from Gbaramatu – May 2009



On May 14, 2009 at about noon, Gbaramatu Kingdom,Delta State, was in a festive mood. There had been an influx of guests into the community from far and near. They all came to witness the presentation of the Staff of Office to the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, His Royal Majesty Ogie the third. The palace located in Oporoza was filled with well- wishers as the day also marked the King’s one year anniversary. Suddenly, three low flying helicopters were seen approaching the Kindgom. The community people initially thought they were flying dignitaries to the ceremony or that they were part of the glamour for the ceremony. They were wrong. Dead wrong!

 “ Most“Most of the students like me who tried to escape during the deadly incident are dead. Some in the streets, forests …they were killed by the bombs. I lost my mother and six of my brothers in the incidence. Two of my three sisters are still trapped in the forest. The place is too dangerous for them to come out now. They can’t cross with boat and they can’t risk swimming. The JTF people have blockedhave blocked the waterways. One of my sisters has been missing.

Nobody seems to know her whereaboutwhereabouts. The military people were using their helicopter chopper to destroy everything we have ever had. I saw war with my naked eyes. I saw my mum’s dead body. I saw my brothers lying helpless on the ground (here she started sobbing). Everyone was running without direction. It is a bitter experience.

They are wicked people. They are heartless. I don’t have any family member as militants. We used to survive with fishing. It was through fishing business that my mum pays our school fees. Why will the FG send military men to kill us, to destroy our community? We don’t have anywhere else to go now. No home, no place to go. My OND certificate, my only hope for a better tomorrow has been destroyed”. Miss Peres Popo, 21, ,21 from, from Okporoza .

“I was sleeping but suddenly I woke up due to the endless sound of gunshot. It was after twelve in the afternoon. I was confused. When I peeped through my window, I saw people running and screaming. It was a hot afternoon. I slept with only my pants on. I had to run without even knowing that I was naked I was not conscious of my nakedness. It was when I managed to find my way to Warri town that I was able to clothe myself with the help of a relative. I am afraid I have still not seen my younger sister. Her name is Mary. We started running together from the house but at a point Ipoint I was ahead of her. After some time, I didn’t notice her again. I pray she is alive. She is my only sister.
- Mrs. Vero Idolo ,27, mother of two.

“They bombed everywhere and everything. They don’t have feelings at all. I was lucky to have my children and husband alive. My neighbour lost his pregnant wife in the incidence. She was my friend too.” – Evelyn Emmanuel.

“We were warming up for the king’s party. All of a sudden we started seeing helicopters roving in the air. The next thing something was dropping from it and it was landing as fire and exploding and burning and killing. I was scared stiff . I have never seen this kind of thing in my life.
-Timi Tonfawei

The attack on Gbaramatu  brought a huge humanitarian crisis to the region. Besides, an estimated 20, 000 persons believed to be trapped in the forests and swamps.   Those who managed to reach Warri were eventually given shelter in a disused clinic.  Most of the displaced have now returned to their villages.

Gas flaring has been continuous for 40 years.  Gas flaring is the process used in the Niger Delta to separate petroleum from the by product, natural gas.   The process wastes a potentially useful product as well as fills the atmosphere with carbon monoxide, smoke and soot.  The gas flares are right in the middle of farmland and villages burning 24 hours a day every day.  Some of the flares are on the ground in pits, spewing out huge flames and soot and leaving the ground unusable for farming for years to come.   People literally live in fire and oil.

Gas flares





Battle Between the Stone & the Tree: Sharia & Women in Nigeria

From Women’s E News, an excerpt from  “Your Fatwa Doesn’t Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism by Karima Bennoune.  In this excerpt Bennoune explains how externally imposed economic policies  have fueled fundamentalism and the use of Sharia law which is often applied selectively in gendered and class inequalities.

Ayesha Imam and the women she worked with for years in the Nigerian organization BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights possess those very traits. The group, founded in 1996, fights to protect women’s rights in the maze of the Nigerian legal system, with its overlapping religious, secular and customary laws and courts.


Imam tells me they use tools from whichever system can “recuperate rights,” believing it is often possible to arrive at similar conclusions by working through Muslim discourses or international human rights. “My issue,” she underscores, “is not where you come from, but where you arrive at.”

With her colleagues, she tried to “deconstruct what is Sharia (Muslim laws). How does it get to be Sharia? Is it divine or is it merely religious?” In the ’80s and early ’90s, some of the Sharia courts in Nigeria had come up with “what we may call progressive” interpretations, “as opposed to following somebody’s idea of how it should have worked in 13th-century Arabia.” Imam’s efforts to support women living under these Muslim laws brought her, inevitably, to work on fundamentalism.

“Fundamentalism hit us in Nigeria so it was absolutely necessary, because otherwise fundamentalism was going to close us all down, close all the dreams down, close all the hope down,” she says.

The backdrop for this, a resurgence of communalism, was sparked in part by the harsh impact of structural adjustment and ensuing battles for resources. Structural adjustment–economic reforms imposed on Nigeria by international financial institutions–also meant there were many unemployed, uneducated young men looking for something to do. For them, “this was an opportunity to have power and assert themselves,” as Imam sees it. “They told women in taxis and buses that they had to sit in the back seats.” There was “general intimidation.”

Mixed Response

This in turn led to greater emphasis on Sharia in Muslim majority segments of the population in the late ’90s in the north of Nigeria, and then to enactment of new legislation in the early 2000s. “The reaction among the Muslim community was really mixed. Human rights workers and those who identify strongly as democrats argued that we need secular law. The laws being brought in under the guise of Muslim laws are conservative, and detract from human rights.” Even some religious conservatives opposed Sharianization, Imam recalls, on the grounds that you could not have Sharia before you have economic development so that people can actually live good lives.

According to their worldview, “You can’t cut off people’s hands for theft if they have no other means of gaining a livelihood.”

Any such opponents, however, became targets of “vigilante responses.” Death threats, beatings, threats of being burned. In one state where the governor delayed enacting a Sharia Act and set up a committee to study the matter, there were even threats to his family. Imam recalls attending a meeting in Abuja with the governor who started Sharianization. Young men throughout the hall were telling women where they could and could not sit. “Every time a woman got up to speak, they were yelling and drowning her out. It didn’t matter if you were wearing a hijab or not.” This was new, Imam underlines. When she was a younger feminist, “You didn’t get shouted down. You were not in fear of being physically attacked, or being burned or harassed. You’d go to public meetings and people would get up and argue with you and they might laugh.”

As fundamentalism began to transform Nigerian lives, Imam and BAOBAB became involved in the cases of women who were facing sentences of stoning. One of the first, that of Fatima Usman, ensued when the woman’s father took the man who fathered her baby to court to get child support. “He had no idea he was going to set up his own daughter for the possibility of being stoned to death.” (Today Usman remains technically out on bail, as the case has never been finally resolved. Nor, thankfully, has the sentence been carried out.) Most such cases began with vigilante groups forcing the police to prosecute and ended in “lots of people convicted of Zina [unlawful sexual relations] and whipped because they were not married.” If people do not appeal, they are taken out and whipped right away, Imam laments. “It was really important to establish the principle that you can appeal. It’s your right.

“It’s not anti-God to appeal.”

Continue reading “Fighting Back” on Women’s E News


Venus Noire – A film about Saartjie Baartman

Via Shadow and Act – The story of Saartjie Baartman [Parts 1 & 2]The film is in French with subtitles but unfortunately I havent had much success in watching it.   I would love to hear from anyone who has seen the film meanwhile a review by Tamara Obenson is published below. The comments on the original post are interesting and express some of my concerns – ie three hours later how angry will I feel? Is this yet another exploitation of Saartjie Baartman?

So there I was waiting for the subway train after my screening of Venus Noire (Black Venus), and what did I see plastered almost all over one of those ubiquitous tunnel newsstands? Covers for various magazines, many unabashedly featuring the barely covered-up plump bottoms of predominantly black women in seductive poses – 2 dimensional images of voiceless bodies, objectified, exotified, envied, denigrated, and more; depending on the viewer.

And with that picture, Obvious Guy asks, so, really, has much changed in the 200 years since Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman found herself victim of the same kind of mixed gaze? Of course, there’s the perceived independence, and even false sense of power and control some might claim those in the present-day wield over their spectators (an illusory brand of feminism as I’ve heard others suggest), and they aren’t introduced in cages by a man carrying a whip (well, actually, some are), and Saartjie’s experiences were more direct and literal; but, frankly, the similarities can’t be ignored. I even considered that Saartjie’s torment was strictly race-based, and a result of its time; but I was able to dismiss that notion in realizing that there still certainly exists a racial “otherness” that precedes and influences the various gazes I mentioned above. For example, I still (unfortunately) hear stories about enthralled white women asking black women if they can touch their hair, ignorant of the sensation the request itself provokes.

The film opens in 1815, France, some time after Saartjie’s death, as a French academic, addressing what look like his peers, with a physical mold of Saartjie’s body on display, makes his scientific and historic case for why her “species” is inferior to theirs. The lengthy opening lecture is met with applause from his audience of all white men. The matter-of-fact nature of the entire sequence is revelatory in that it shows just how ignorant, yet assured of themselves these leaders of the world were, and helps explain their callous treatment of their perceived inferiors – a trend that continued long after they themselves perished.

Following that opening sequence, we travel back in time, 5 years, to 1810, London, some time after Baartman had been taken from Cape Town, with promises of wealth, via exhibition, in Europe. And so the tragic tale of the “freak show attraction” known as the Hottentot Venus began…

Like those women on the magazine covers, Saartjie is mostly mute throughout the film, her body language representative of her thoughts, and clearly, she isn’t exactly cherishing the spectacle that’s being made of her physical self – much of it some will find difficult to watch, as it should be. Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche makes sure of that, with numerous scenes running quite lengthy – possibly 10 minutes or more in some cases.

Given the style in which the film is made, it felt almost like a documentary. Kechiche does little to distract from the narrative; the performances from the entire cast are realistic (you believe them), including Yahima Torres (as Baartman), Andre Jacobs, Olivier Gourmet, Elina Lowensohn, Francois Marthouret, Michel Gionti, and Jean-Christophe Bouvet; there’s virtually no soundtrack (any music heard occurs naturally within the scene); the mostly hand-held camera moves but, oddly, you forget that it’s there – partly due to the stark nature of the physical settings, and also of the subject matter itself; you may feel guilty enough to look away, but you can’t.

In reading some early reviews of the film before I saw it, I expected to be turned off by what some seemed to suggest would be gratuitous on the part of the director. But I didn’t feel what they felt, and I do wonder if the reactions to Venus Noire will be similar to a film like Precious (a story about a character whose physical self was also arguably a character in its own right), in that they will be separated along color lines. I could certainly make sense of a white film critic being made uncomfortable by the inhumane treatment Saartjie endured; her captors are white. And as I’ve already suggested, one can’t help but see connections to the present-day race- and sex-based prejudices that still exist. There’s a reason (amongst many) that films that center on whites-as-saviors-of-”others” continue to be produced. They like to see themselves in that light. Rarely do we see stories told that detail the inhumanities whites have dished out intently and indiscriminately on the darker-skinned “others” across the world, without retribution. In a way, it’s like a revision of history.

But no one comes to save Saartjie here; she lives a brutal life, and dies just as punishingly, with the film not necessarily making it clear who we are supposed to point our fingers to, for blame.
Continue reading here

Via – Liberator Magazine

Nompumelelo: Decomposed Bitterly

From HOLAAFrica – Nompumelelo’s current research focused on women who are killed and their bodies merely lie ‘Decomposed Bitterly’ (a reference to the concept of Human Traffic).

img_0038_resize-1 img_0071

She says:  ‘I use my body as subject matter. In the images shown I dig my own grave, and die for all women that are killed. This is an ongoing series. Hope my work conveys the bitterness within sharp tools men use to kill, hurt, destroy and rip souls!’

This Exhibition is about women and their art and embracing womanhood in art.

This is done by documenting the art movements of today’s contemporary modern styles and techniques whilst also focusing on a lesbian artist. This exhibition speaks to contemporary academic history of women artists in South Africa, and promotes a learning curve which hopefully leads to new female master artists, and new value and admiration for art by women….. Full photos on HOLAAfrica

Queer interventions – When victories in America’s culture wars become imperial policy

It is nearly  two months since the Nigerian Senate passed the Same Sex Marriage Bill [SSMB 2013]  yet the Bill is still awaiting presidential approval.  It’s not clear why Goodluck Jonathan is dithering over a decision but possibly because of pressure from the European Union, Britain and the US or maybe  its just not a priority.  Maybe the fracas  over the constitutional amendment to remove the  section 29 clauses 4(b) which states that” any woman that is married in Nigeria is of full age” which would include underage girl children who have been forcibly married at age 13.

Thus in Nigeria the forced marriage and rape of children is legal and socially acceptable whilst consensual loving relationships between two adults of the same sex is illegal and morally unacceptable.   Unfortunately the noise on social media on the former has yet to make the connection with the latter.  There are no threats of withdrawing AID over child marriage, no loud noises from Mr Cameron or President Obama or Madam Clinton.   No international lobby against rape of children -well there is an international against violence against women but there too there is silence despite statements of protest by a consortium of  Nigerian women’s groups, The Gender and Constitution Reform Network (GECORN)

Recently the US appointed it’s first ‘openly gay’ ambassador to the Dominican Republic [one of five gay recent appointees] a country used to American interventions.  There has been some protest from the usual suspects – the church and the political right but the DR is a small island nation and like its island neighbour Haiti,  has little realistic autonomy.     In ‘Freedom Gained or Freedom Imposed?’ Emma Rosenberg and Mario Alejandro Ariza consider what happens when a civil victory in the US becomes an interventionist policy underpinned by unequal imperial relationships.  I began to wonder what would happen if the US or the UK, Nigeria’s former ? colonial power intervened by appointing an openly gay, lesbian or transgender person as ambassador.  How would the government and the people respond.  I am sure there would be outrage with screams of cultural and sexual imperialism. Probably the nation would galvanize and millions would march on the streets quoting biblical texts and engage in the burning of flags and effigies of western leaders.  Unlike the DR, same sex relationships are illegal in Nigeria even without the passage of the SSMB, but an ambassador has diplomatic immunity so she or he could not be arrested.

Of course such an appointment would never happen and even though I would be personally conflicted between Nigeria’s right as an independent nation state to self-determination and the rights of LGBTIQ  to full citizenship, it would at least force a public debate which hopefully would include the rights of children not to be forced into marriage.


Sentencing of the Oxford rapists: – Women protest both rape and racism

Police and social workers also trashed victims — will they be prosecuted?


Old Bailey, London, 26 June 2013, 10-12 noon
Women Against Rape

Seven men will be sentenced for 43 offences — ranging from rape and conspiracy to rape to supplying Class A drugs to using an instrument to procure a miscarriage — against six underage girls. But what about the police officers and social workers whose refusal to act enabled these rapes? Will they be prosecuted for aiding and abetting rape? Were they involved in other ways? Is that why they didn’t act against rape? Or is it their bias against working class children and against rape victims generally?

For 8 years police and social services allowed girls between the ages of 11 and 15 to be systematically raped. They even threatened to arrest some of the girls when they reported. As with Savile, with the care homes in Jersey and Wales, with Rochdale and many other cases, those responsible for the children’s protection refused to ensure their safety and welfare, and protected the children’s’ rapists instead. They blamed the children, even labeling child victims ‘trash’ and the rapes they were suffering a ‘lifestyle choice’. That is just what the rapists did. How are they different?

But because the men in the Oxford and Rochdale cases are Muslim and the girls we know about so far are white, media racism has let the authorities off the hook, calling rape a “cultural problem”. Instead of pressing the authorities for an answer, much of the media is feeding the EDL and other racists looking for excuses to attack people of colour, women and men. Yet we know, and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner Kate Berelowitz has emphasized, that teenagers all over the UK are being raped by adult men who are mostly white. Her 2012 report said: “The evidence is clear that perpetrators come from all ethnic groups and so do their victims — contrary to what some may wish to believe.” The report also suggested that the proportion of Asian perpetrators in the official figures may be higher because the police were targeting non-whites. In other words, white rapists are even more likely to get away with it.

Reported facts in the Oxford case — do they not amount to criminal neglect by the authorities?

v Girl C’s adoptive mother begged Oxford social services for help in 2004. She contacted them a further 80 times.

v Victims contacted Thames Valley Police at least six times but investigations were halted when they withdrew. One was even threatened with arrest for wasting police time over her repeated absences from a children’s home.

v Girl A reported to police in 2006 being held against her will and forced to snort cocaine, leaving her unconscious. No charges followed.

v Later in 2006, Girl B called police to report rape. When they attended she was in a house with 11 men, having run away from a children’s home. No charges followed.

v A few months later, Girl A’s rape report was investigated. A man was questioned but denied it. No charges followed. He abused girls for another five years.

v Police were called by a guest at the Nanford Guest House who heard crying and responses to pain in a nearby room. No charges followed.

v Girl D reported Karrar twice, in 2005 and 2007. No charges followed.

v Karrar and the two Dogar brothers were arrested in 2006. No charges followed.

v One of the girls in care went missing 126 times, and it was the “general consensus” among staff at the home that she was being sexually groomed by older men in 2007-2008. They reported this to police. No charges followed.

v In 2011 a determined police investigation into sexual abuse of children finally began, and a number of men were eventually charged and some of them prosecuted.

v Two of the children’s homes were closed down. Three successive Ofsted inspections in the year ending May 2008 had found them lacking a safety strategy.

v When Girls A and B returned to the home in a taxi, a care home manager refused to pay the fare and the driver took Girl A, aged 14, back to Oxford where she was raped again the next day. The carer was later sacked and the privately run home where girls were placed by Oxford County Council was closed down.

v Girl C was resuscitated by an ambulance man who told her she had had a massive overdose of heroine.

v The mother of one victim said the authorities had treated her daughter like “white trash”.

v The six girls were further tortured in court during the trial. One girl was aggressively cross-examined by seven barristers over three weeks. They were called liars, had their integrity and lifestyle questioned, and were branded “naughty girls” and unreliable witnesses.

In Rochdale and in Oxford, girls from working class backgrounds were raped for years despite repeatedly reporting to police and social services. Police claimed they didn’t arrest the men because they were worried they would be accused of racism. Yet they have no qualms carrying out thousands of stop and search on men of colour who haven’t been accused of anything. Police are 28 times more likely to stop men of colour than white people; 10 times more likely to stop Asian Britons than white people. (Equality & Human Rights Commission, Vikram Dodd, Guardian 12 June 2012)

The chief constable of Thames Valley Police, Sara Thornton, and the chief executive of Oxfordshire county council, Joanna Simons, said they would stay in their posts despite criticism over the scandal.

The head of Rochdale Council resigned without facing charges. A damning independent report found that the council’s former chief executive Roger Ellis “did not appear to be interested in children’s social care issues” and said there was no evidence that he had any intention of investigating the events that led to the jailing of nine men in May last year for offences including trafficking, rape and sexual assault.

Karin Ward, one of Jimmy Savile’s victims and a former resident at Duncroft school for girls, where Savile was allowed to roam, said that she sensed, “That’s what we were for.” (Panorama 22 October 2012) Duncroft’s retired head Margaret Jones dismissed the claims of her former pupils as “wild allegations by well-known delinquents”.

Years of ignoring reports of child abuse from Jersey to North Wales prove that the priority was not to stop rape, but to shield the criminal and in some cases their connections in high places so as not to disturb the status quo. None of the wealthy chauffeur-driven regular visitors to North Wales children’s homes or other big shots have been prosecuted.

A whistleblower revealed that police spied on Stephen Lawrence’s family to get ‘dirt’ on them so they could undermine their campaign for justice. Rape victims are routinely undermined by police who seem more anxious to discredit us than to arrest the men who have raped us. In the Oxford case child victims were blamed for what violent adults did to them. Other rape victims have even been prosecuted: Gail Sherwood, a mother of three, and Layla Ibrahim, a pregnant young woman, were both jailed while their rapists are still at large.

We now know that working class children with the least social power are treated by police and social services as sexually available and disposable. The government shows no interest that their cuts undermine women’s and children’s ability to escape rape. Is that part of the austerity policy’s attraction? With the welfare cap and cuts limiting child benefits, and thousands of families being moved out of London, many more women and children are already experiencing destitution, lack of food for their children, loss of safety and support networks making it impossible to leave violent relationships. More children will be taken into care or foster homes and become rape victims. Legal aid cuts are limiting even further our access to justice and protection. Only the rich can afford to use the law.

Getting justice for victims and stopping cuts that increase our vulnerability could begin to stop this rape cancer. It would encourage those police and social workers who want to act against rape rather than those who cover up for rapists.

The only way “lessons will be learnt” is if those in power who rape or collaborate with rapists are arrested, prosecuted and convicted. Without justice the only lesson ever learnt is how to get away with rape, of children and adults.

Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape - Tel 020 7482 2496


Haiti – Feminist Series 4, In conversation with Flaurantin Marie Enise

Looking up into Jalouzi

Jalouzi is a hillside neighborhood of about 200,000 people overlooking lower Petion-Ville.  It is accessible from two roads, one at the top and one below.  The view from the top is stunning. From here you can see  Port-au-Prince looking east to the sea and north to the mountains.  The only way to travel is by foot through a series of alley ways and narrow paths of gravel, stones or the occasional step, and for those like myself who are challenged by gravel and stones on sloppy paths, difficult to negotiate. Flaurantin lives midway where in addition to her home she has a small meeting room and clinic for dispensing over the counter medication.  She also runs a small kiosk on the lower Jalouzi road.  The following are excerpts from conversations over the past 6 weeks between myself and Flaurantin and which are published with her permission.   Originally from Jacmel she began her community work in 1990.

I started working in the community in 1990  working with women.  We had a small school and mobile clinic where we would offer support and medicines to families.  Sadly I had to leave to come to Port-au-Prince 15 years ago with my husband and children.  I would love to return to Jacmel and even now there are women waiting for me to return but unfortunately my house was destroyed so it is not possible.  The community of Jalouzi is extremely poor with some of the most vulnerable women and children.  In 1999 I  decided to start the organization Le Phare [meaning Light] so I could participate in my community by  providing support and education to women and children and yes everybody who needs my help.  [FME]

Flaurantin Marie Enise

Le Phare is now part of the SOPUDEP community and the micro-credit project, Fanm SOPUDEP en Aksyon [FASA].   FASA began in March 2010 after the earthquake.  Rea Dol of SOPUDEP had been using donations to buy and distribute food and supplies to women however she saw that this was just not sustainable.  The next money she received she called a meeting with a group of women and explained they had a choice. Buy food with the money or try something more long term and sustainable such as a micro-finance scheme.  Everyone agreed on the latter and FASA cooperative was born.  Le Phare then became part of the  SOPUDEP  and FASA family.  Flaurantin is the Jalouzi sector coordinator which has  75 active members.  It is also in Jalouzi that  FASA recently opened a store for the programme.  They buy food in bulk and each week the women collect supplies to sell in the market.  Recently police have been driving street traders off the streets of Petion-Ville where all of the Jalouzi women sell their market.

More than 20 of our members were affected by these raids. They lost all their market, everything.   If they cannot sell on the streets in Petion-Ville what are they supposed to do?   Now each day the women go on the streets to try and sell but it is hard as they have to hide all the time from the police. It is too much stress but there is no other way to feed themselves.

As well as the micro-credit programme we now have cooking and sewing classes for young women and we hope this will help the women find ways to generate income once they have completed their training. [FME]

Women of FACE

Jalouzi was miraculously not affected by the January 2010 earthquake but nonetheless the residents like in other PAP neighbourhoods, face major challenges such as lack of access to healthcare, food insecurity, unemployment, lack of water and gender based violence.  Although there are some 100 matwons [midwives] in the neighborhood, community leaders like Flaurantin find themselves attending to various health crisis, intervening and supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence and generally helping those living in extreme poverty.

I delivered a baby at the weekend and the mother did not even have anything to cover where she was sleeping, it was terrible.     The women prefer to deliver their babies at home  but there are often problems such as breech birth and  pre-eclampsia is a very big for the women as they cannot attend pre natal clinics so those with high blood pressure end up very ill.  They are the ones who need emergency treatment but the nearest emergency  [free] hospital is the MSF in Delmas 33 which is far from here. There are a lot of women with HIV and recently gonorrhea has become a problem, which if the woman is pregnant can also be passed to the child. [FME]

Whilst many of victims of gender based violence including rape,  in the the post earthquake camps, have benefited from interventions by local and international NGOs, neighbourhoods such as Cite Soleil and Jalouzi seem to be off the NGO radar and as Flaurantin remarked “The NGOs dont come here. We see them driving up and down in their cars but they never stop”.

We try to give the support for women who have been raped or beaten by their husbands but it is not easy as we do not have any resources only ourselves.   There is a lot of domestic violence but rape is not too much. The most difficult thing is getting women to make police reports even where children are the victims and this has happened in our community even recently.    We try to educate and it is important to give support and to participate [in the community] to know what is happening. That is all we can do keep talking about the problem.  Another problem more often than rape is forced sex in marriage and the women end up getting pregnant over and over which, with the poverty leads to women always being sick.   We do advise the women on birth control and there is ‘depo provera’ and one injection lasts for three months.  We also have female condoms but these are more expensive than male condoms. One of the forgotten groups of women is the elderly. Of course many are cared for by their families but many either have no family or their families are too poor to care for them.  These are probably the most vulnerable with street children –  many also live on the streets.  It is important that we include them in our work.   [FME]

The levels of poverty in neighbourhoods like Jalouzi are massive.  The people who live here  the cost and consequences of global capitalism and as Mahmood Mamdani states the actions of brutal regimes all over the global south break the backs of the poor in the interest of their imperial masters and capital.  And it is poor  women who are criminalized, disenfranchised further pushed to the margins of margins having to deal with multiple acts of violences.

Jalouzi sits next to the elite neighbourhood of Petion-Ville but the distance in the reality of lives is a thousand miles.  Whilst we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day in all manner of ways,  its worth considering the question:  what we mean by  sisterhood, whether global or local.. what does it really mean?  In Haiti the media have gone, many of  the NGOs and UN agencies are gone and those remaining are scaling down.  For them the crisis is over, earthquakes and cholera, stories from yesterday.  Voices like Flaurantin’s, which speak to the many violences of poverty but also to the frontline work of women activists and their  commitment to movement building,  don’t get heard.

A last word from Flaurantin

The levels of poverty are so great [that] sometimes we cannot see our way out, we just survive.   But what is good about our organizing is though there is much misery, there is solidarity amongst us. [FME]


This article was supported in part by the International Reporting Project.


Ova the poetry of Bernedette Muthien

it took a full week
of straitjacketing generations
of genocidal femicidal trauma
for the clay dam wall to explode
and flood me in torrents
of collective grief
a poet with no words
a lifelong activist struck dumb
i choke on love for the dead
thousands of beautiful women and children a year
i puke for my incested cancerous country
and gag grappling for compassion of
perpetrators and the morally blind
in this breathtaking country
so brutally drenched in the blood
of ordinary women and children
i discover anew
that i fail to
my spiritual cadaver
is dragged under by the concrete limbs
of victims perpetrators witnesses
majority blinkered burdens
too busy scrabbling for survival
to fight for justice
as i contemplate the imminent refreshment
of my childhood starvation
my hunger for food agency adventure
leads me to stare the dragon in its ambered eyes
like a mirror of my ever-present shadows
Demon! Patriarchy…
how can I love you to death…?

15 feb 2013
bernedette muthien -

Outrage! & One Billion Rising, Whats the Point? Lessons from GBV movement building in Haiti

From Thought Leader – Talia Meer asks what is the point of  “1 billion Rising” and from Women and Beyond the Global – Wondering about Outrage! beyond personal gratification? Particularly when it is selective, ie where was the outrage when Rape Crisis centers were closed, or are are in the process of being closed?  Where was the outrage when our lesbian sisters and brothers were tortured, raped and murdered? .  The starting point is that for everyone who is outraged there is probably at least one person in their family or circle of friends who is a rapist, woman beater, or engages in  everyday sexual assault.  As Talia Meer states, rape and sexual violence takes place in the home, in the community, in the office, in the school, on the campus.  Sexual assault, misogyny and a great deal of rape take place in these public spaces not in secret.

Taking an hour off to dance is great, it brings the issue to the forefront and we will talk – a kind of banality in itself – then there will be silence until the next rape for which we will have no words other than expressing our outrage.  Stopping rape and ending misogyny can only happen if we are prepared to do the ground work in communities and schools with families and neighbours where these violent acts take place rather than engage in superficial pointless actions that may make us feel good but do little to end sexual violence.   Yes we need to shout about it but thats not where change will occur  unless the accompanying  outrage is channeled in meaningful ways and IS consistent.

Lessons can be learned from  the GBV / sexual violence movement in Haiti which has used a  multifaceted / multiagency approach  over the past two years in order to respond to the increase in rape and gender based violence in the post earthquake period.  Developing movement building with various sexual violence and GBV groups Haitian women were able to apply a range of strategies to address sexual and domestic violence:  outreach in the IDP camps, neighbourhoods and rural areas;  working with members and camp committees including providing “dignity kits” and counseling; forming and working with survivor led groups; advocacy campaigns; working with legal and rights groups; running workshops for police and MINUSTAH personnel; working with the various medical NGOs; assessing the impact of the disaster and crisis on women and girls.

Of course Haiti has it’s own contexts, historical, as well as the crisis of the post-earthquake period and ongoing cholera epidemic nonetheless there is much to be learned from these strategies. For more on this see “Beyond Shock: Charting the Landscape of Sexual Violence in post-quake Haiti” 2012 and “Rape in the Camps” by Amnesty International

From Slut Walk to One Billion Rising: Losing the protest plot

Following her wildly popular Vagina Monologues, Eve Ensler, the American feminist playwright and activist, has a new campaign, a new activism, a new brand. One Billion Rising.

The concept is simple. Motivated by the popular consensus, that one woman in three worldwide – that is one billion – experiences some form of violence in her lifetime, Ensler hopes to reclaim February 14, as V-Day, vagina day. A day where women of every stripe and colour, hopefully one billion of them, take to the streets and … dance.

As Ensler puts it, she is encouraging women and men to “walk off their jobs, walk out of their schools, walk out of their homes and gather in fields, stadiums, churches, blocks, beaches and dance until the violence stops”.

Does this seem a little odd to you?

Let me be clear, gender-based violence (GBV) is the scourge of our society. We should do everything within our power to stop it. Also, I like dancing as much as anyone and I have great respect for the time-honoured tradition of street activism. From the civil-rights movement to the South African anti-apartheid movement, women and men have used protests, marches, toyi-toying to make their grievances known, to make demands, to make a point. And this is where things get a little confusing for me.

What is the point? What are the demands that we are making? Misogyny in our society is so pervasive, so deeply entrenched in the fabric of society, ingrained in our religious texts (or at least most interpretations of them), in literature, and popular culture, in our very record of history. Can we just dance it all away? Or dance it away just a little? We certainly cannot “dance until the violence stops”!

And given the absence of a clear, context- specific list of demands, what can the movement achieve? Who is its audience? It may raise the profile of GBV, however briefly, but what then? In South Africa for instance we already have very progressive GBV legislation in the form of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Acts. So are we dancing for better law enforcement? Or are we dancing for better sex, gender and GBV education for our children? Are we just dancing because — like many others the world over — we want to be part of a flash-mob, a spectacle, a global trend? Or are we dancing because it’s a convenient, contained, dare I say ”fun” response to an issue few of us really want to confront?

Like the contentious Slut Walk, One Billion Rising runs the risk of sensationalising gender-based violence activism. It abstracts the on-going struggle of GBV organisations, individuals and survivors, to a brief, quirky and enjoyable moment. A walk in your knickers or a dance.

What happens afterward? By focusing on public spaces One Billion Rising obscures the fact that GBV happens in private spaces, in our homes, and our beds, and its sensational appeal suggests that its effects will be relatively short-lived. All of the walkers, or dancers, some women, some men, some survivors, will go home. Most will feel relieved that they had a moment, of catharsis, a moment, to feel supported, unconstrained and safe. Some will feel pious that they have done their bit. Most will continue with their daily routine, most will not talk to their sons and daughters about how masculinity, in fact the very idea of a man, is a social construct, a made up thing, one that they can remake, better. Most will not confront the impact of patriarchy, misogyny, able-ism or racism on their lives, how they intersect, and how the process of breaking them down is an on-going, difficult and terrifying battle….Continue on Thought Leader

Haunts: On outrage

I cannot write about Anene BooysenMany others are, and are doing so eloquently. But I do wonder about outrage. The national response to the horrible violence against Anene Booysen has been described as outrage. When does outrage occur?

How many women and girls must suffer violence and abuse to cross the threshold of outrage? How many men must engage in violence and abuse before the horizon of outrage is breached?

I ask this because I don’t recall outrage being expressed when both the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust and the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children faced imminent closure last year. Yes, there were individuals and groups who jumped and organized, but there was no great surge of outrage at what would surely follow the simultaneous closure of the two most successful and most important resources in the Western Cape for those seeking help, support, community in the midst of suffering violence.

Remember, Rape Crisis is the oldest center of its kind in South Africa. In a recent two-year period, it served over 5000 rape survivors. And when it served the survivors, it served their loved and loving ones, their friends, their communities, and their neighborhoods. It served the whole of South Africa, one healing empowering person at a time…..Continue on Women in and Beyond the Global



A crime against humanity

In this modern world of instant information, have we become inured to horror? Every day we are exposed to pictures and films of extreme violence, they flicker through our consciousness, moving on to the newest examples of human propensity for violence. And we forget each previous example as the newest hits the media.

However, one example of this propensity for violence, common to every country in the world, is with us every day, has been going on every day throughout recorded history, and seems hardly to evoke the same concern as war in Syria, Mali, South Sudan, or Somalia. But it is prevalent in every country in the world — WITHOUT EXCEPTION.

Indeed as UN Women has pointed out violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions with up to 70 percent of women experiencing physical or sexual violence in their lifetime – perpetrated by husbands, intimate partners or someone the victims know.

Consider the following:

  • In the United States, one-third of women murdered each year are killed by intimate partners.
  • In South Africa, a woman is killed every 6 hours by an intimate partner.
  • In India, 22 women were killed each day in dowry-related murders in 2007.
  • In Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day.
  • Women and girls comprise 80 percent of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked annually, with the majority (79%) trafficked for sexual exploitation.
  • Approximately 100 to 140 million girls and women in the world have experienced female genital mutilation/cutting, with more than 3 million girls in Africa annually at risk of the practice.
  • More than 60 million girls worldwide are child brides, married before the age of 18, primarily in South Asia (31.1 million and Sub-Saharan Africa (14.1 million).
  • An estimated 150 million girls under 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.
  • As many as 1 in 4 women experience physical and/or sexual violence during pregnancy which increases the likelihood of having a miscarriage, still birth and abortion.
  • Approximately 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
  • In Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, at least 200,000 cases of sexual violence, mostly involving women and girls, have been documented since 1996, though the actual numbers are considered to be much higher.
  • In Zimbabwe, 52% of women reported being victims of political violence, with 2% being victims of politically motivated rape, and 3% reporting that a family member had been raped. A startling 16% claimed that they knew of a woman who had been raped.
  • Up to 53% of women physically abused by their intimate partners are being kicked or punched in the abdomen.
  • In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds.
  • Domestic violence alone costs approximately USD 1.16 billion in Canada and USD 5.8 billion in the United States. In Australia, violence against women and children costs an estimated USD 11.38 billion per year.
  • Between 40 and 50% of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.
  • In the United States, 83% of girls aged 12 to 16 experiences some form of sexual harassment in public schools.
  • In Ecuador, adolescent girls reporting sexual violence in school identified teachers as the perpetrator in 37 percent of cases.

So, when it is claimed that 1 000 000 000 women are victims of violence, let us be clear that this is an underestimate. None of us should be thrilled knowing that 70% of half the population suffers abuse. No wonder one billion are rising! But wouldn’t it be wonderful if all seven billion human beings under the sun were rising, and these statistics became a thing of the past.

Maybe we need to see all these violent and discriminatory practices as crimes against humanity, fully one half of humanity. Not merely ordinary crimes, but evidence of deep rooted cultural prejudices, which we should get rid of. Some would ask; how do we get rid of these prejudices? I say; perhaps when patriarchy is seen as a crime against humanity.

This article first appeared on MaDube’s Reflections

The Arrogance or Ignorance of Privilege

The 25th of November to the 10th of December marked the annual 16 days of activism against gender based violence, a period designated by the United Nations for continuous lobbying and advocacy, awareness raising and education to end gender based violence in all its forms including domestic violence, political rape, human trafficking, sexual slavery, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, widow inheritance and many others. Yet some people believe that enough has been said and done to improve women’s human rights, and to fight gender based violence, and  to realise the goal of gender equality characterised by equal chances for all,  equal access to these chances for all and equal respect among all. Could it be forgetfulness and dire ignorance or just an acute sense of arrogance of a privileged few to seriously ask, “What is it that women want?” especially if you are also a woman. But yes some men (and women) ask;

“What is it that women want?”“Don’t they have enough already?”“What more do they want?”“Do they now want us to live in their petticoats?” “Soon we shall be singing ‘majesty’ and curtseying to the end of the world for them, isn’t that where we are headed at this rate.”“If they have food on their tables and roofs over their heads, what more do they want?”“This women’s rights thing is destroying our moral fabric, our culture and our traditions; we have had enough!”

 Delta Milayo Ndou, a fellow blogger and gender activist, in her article “We are in Danger of forgetting”  said something quite striking when she said,

“There is a period between the worst of times and the best of times in which there is a lull…. The relief of having escaped a horrible circumstance tempts us to ease back for a while and eventually the memory of how bad things used to be fades. We start to convince ourselves that things are fine now because we use the worst circumstance as a reference point instead of using the best of circumstances as an aspirational goal to work towards.”

Are women really making unnecessary noise? Are women asking for too much? Should women be grateful for what they have achieved so far and not demand the ultimate desired and aspirational goal that Ndou talks of? What is it that women have achieved that would make some individuals think that they need not ask for more?

A week ago, a young girl was shot in the head in India because she had confronted a man for urinating in front of her gate. In Afghanistan a young girl of 15 had her throat slitbecause her family had refused an offer for marriage. About two months ago, MalalaYousafzai, a 14 year old Pakistani activist was shot in the head in an assassination attempt by the Taliban for demanding the right of every girl-child to an education.

But to bring it closer to home women and girls are raped each day in Zimbabwe.One in every 3 women will experience rape or some other form of sexual violence at least once in her lifetime; that is about 1 billion women and girls. Each day there are several reports of women and girls raped, battered and bruised through domestic violence. We read in the papers: Woman struck by her husband on the head with a brick for singing happy birthday to him while he was still in bedWoman raped by pastor;   Woman assaulted for dishing the wrong piece of chicken to her husband; and Popular radio DJ and theatre performer, Tinopona Katsande assaulted by her boyfriend Brian Munjodzi.and these are just few of many stories in Zimbabwe

The perpetrators, most of the time are not strangers. They are husbands, boyfriends, fiancés, fathers, brothers, uncles, and even some men that women consider to be friends. Yes the occasional stranger takes a chance, but the majority of abusers are close relatives, individuals that the victims trust; individuals that the victims never imagined would abuse them; individuals whose depravity is unimaginable.

Why would anyone ever ask what it is that women want? You either have to be a ‘blind’ fool, walking around with a pair of dark goggles over your eyes not to see the injustices that women face or you would have to be totally ‘deaf’ not to hear the cries that women and girls are constantly making.

In Zimbabwe, the thought of elections sends shivers down many women’s spines; chills of fear because elections symbolise a time of destruction and loss. Loss of women’s dignity as young men force themselves upon women old enough to be their mothers or grandmothers; loss of women’s control over their bodies as they are raped while sticks, butts of guns, ashes, chillies and all sorts of foreign harmful substances and objects are thrust down women’s genitalia; loss of women’s health as they are wilfully infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases; loss of women’s reproductive choices as they are made pregnant, have no access to safe abortions and are forced to give birth and take care of babies whose fathers they do not know.

A cursory look at the legal framework would make it seem as if everything is in order. There is a Domestic Violence Act that prohibits all forms of domestic violence including marital rape and supposedly affords women the opportunity to report their matters to the police. There are supposed to be Victim Friendly Units within the police stations, catering to the needs of victims and attending to their complaints with the requisite sensitivity. There are supposed to be Victim Friendly Courts that allow the victim to tell their story in a safe space without facing a trial as if they were the perpetrator.  There is a Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act that prohibits incest hence one would think a father or uncle would never want to have sex with, let alone force himself upon his daughter or niece or a brother upon his sister.

Yet the reality on the ground is no stranger than fiction. Fathers rape their daughters, brothers- sisters, uncles- nieces, soldiers-civilians.Is there a single soul out there, oblivious to the commission of these horrible atrocities?  If not, then why would anyone think women do not need any more protection than they already have?

But why would anything change when Zimbabwe has a constitution that tells its citizens it is OK to discriminate against women as long as the issues relate to customary law and personal matters such as marriages, custody and guardianship of children, in case of divorce, division of property acquired during marriage, inheritance, access to land and many other instances. Women want to be treated like equals because they are also human beings. Is this too much to ask?

Why would anything change when people still perceive rape as ‘illegitimate sex’-that a woman slept with another man who is not her husband and hence she gets blamed as if she wanted it?-Women want a situation where rape is recognised as a crime, they want perpetrators to be punished in accordance with the severity of their crimes, and not to get a fickle 5 years or to swagger around with total impunity for politically motivated crimes.

Why would anything change when the immediate thought that pops into people’s heads when a woman is battered is  what did she do to deserve it, rather than examining what is wrong with the man to do such a thing to a defenceless woman or often a child? Women want and need a society that recognises that no amount of provocation justifies the use of violence against any woman.

So let those sitting in their high horses of privilege- or maybe halos of ignorance- be they men or women understand that the struggle for women’s emancipation is far from over!

#16Days: AWID Condemns Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill

The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) strongly condemns the repeated efforts, now for the third time, to introduce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda’s Parliament. We stand in solidarity with Ugandans who are calling for their government to withdraw this bill, once and for all, and respect the human rights of everyone.

The latest introduction of the bill, on November 21, 2012 could see the bill discussed and passed before the middle of December 2012. If passed, the bill would represent a grave assault on the human rights of all Ugandans, and in particular, would further sanction discrimination against those who are, or who are believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI). Furthermore, repeated efforts to pass this bill contribute to an environment that heightens stigma, discrimination, and violence targeted towards the LGBTI community, their family, friends, and supporters.

We stand in solidarity with the Ugandan LGBTI community and the tremendous pan-African response against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, including from African LGBTI organizations, feminist, women’s rights and human rights organizations, the HIV and AIDS sector, and religious leaders. As an international women’s rights organization led by and engaging a majority constituency in the global South, we also note that the struggle for human rights for all including LGBTI people is universal. Countries in the global South such as Brazil, India, and South Africa have all taken leadership in the past two decades in legal and policy reform to support and respect LGBTI people’s rights. We urge the government of Uganda to do the same and take positive action in rejecting this bill and in protecting human rights for all.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill seeks to introduce draconian provisions reinforcing Uganda’s existing prohibitions on consensual same-sex relations. According to some reports, the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee appears to have removed the death penalty from the original draft of the bill. Not withstanding these or any other changes, we condemn the bill in its entirety, as well as existing measures which seek to criminalise, stigmatise, persecute, and punish people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

AWID’s research on religious fundamentalisms clearly demonstrates that across regions and religions, sexual orientation and gender identity are lightning rods for fundamentalist forces. As in the case of Uganda, those who do not fit rigid norms as defined by fundamentalists are seen as threatening the social fabric, notions of ‘morality’ and the ‘family’- discourses that are often deployed by such actors to harness power. Although couched in the discourse of protecting family, children, and traditional values, this bill in fact spreads hatred and violence. Far from being about authentic cultural values, the bill has been strongly influenced by resources and hate-speech by Christian Right groups from the United States.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill not only violates multiple protections guaranteed by the Constitution of Uganda, but also contravenes the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, theInternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and other international human rights treaties to which Uganda is a party. The bill also seriously contradicts the strong call made in theJoint Statement to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2011, signed by 84 member states (including Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Africa, and Rwanda), which called for states to take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions, and related human rights violations against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

AWID stands in solidarity with the people of Uganda who are fighting for human rights and justice. We believe that full respect for sexual rights is part of guaranteeing human rights for all, and we therefore call upon the government of Uganda to immediately withdraw the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and uphold the universality of human rights.

For more information and to take action:

No Cause for Celebration 1in9 Campaign disrupts Women’s Day celebration march

Hate Crimes South Africa: 2001 – July 2012

Graphic designed by comrade Katty Vandenberghe in collaboration with Iranti-Org

Zanele Muholi: Raising consciousness through art

Is their a link between the defacement of “The Spear”, the painting of  Jacob Zuma which shows his genitals and the theft of five years of Zanele Muholi’s work?  Is free expression through art or any other medium under attack from the ANC government.  Possibly so.  Many of Zanele’s supporters question whether the theft of her work was politically motivated and or driven by homophobia.  In March 2010, the South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Minister Lulu Xingwana who has publicly expressed transphobic feelings,  criticised an exhibition of Zanele’swork as “Immoral, offensive and going against nation-building,” .  Zanele has been outspoken and outraged over the violence unleashed on the Black lesbian / queer community in South Africa using her photography and film to not only expose beatings, rapes and murders of Black lesbians but to make visible lesbian and queer intimacy,  to make the statement we are here and we love and live.   The South African online newspaper, The Daily Maverick  interviewed Zanele at the Open Forum on her work and the theft.

Muholi, a tiny woman with dreads and big, round brown eyes, sits on the floor in one of the corridors, leaning back against the wall. She is surrounded by friends and young gay women whom she had trained and mentored in documenting their lives.

Muholi’s work and activism have challenged the stereotypes of lesbian life, in an African environment. Her photographs and commentary make many people uncomfortable, even angry. Sexuality in Africa is a thorny topic. For many, gay female love is positively radioactive. It seems to make the more conservative among us incandescent with rage.

The South African traditional leadership body — Contralesa — is lobbying hard to have the Constitution changed to once again disallow gay marriage. They want a referendum, and are sure South Africans will reverse the right of gay folks to a legally binding partnership. That is, marriage.

In this heated atmosphere, Muholi’s images stoke the flames of prejudice among many. Her images of love, some might say forbidden love, really provoke the majority of people.

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Reflections on Charles Taylor and Justice

Much has changed since I covered the first day of Charles Taylor’s trial for Pambazuka News on June 4, 2007. That day, he failed to show up to court, calling the case against him a “farce.” Today, he was in full view, stoic, resolute and somber. As I sat in the public gallery of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon building at The Hague, peering at the man portrayed as the most notorious African warlord in contemporary history, Taylor’s fate was solidified by one word: “GUILTY.”

After nearly nine years in limbo, Taylor was convicted today on all 11 counts of crimes against humanity and violation of international and Sierra Leonean law in that country’s civil war spanning November 1996 to January 2002. Taylor is the first head of state – and the first African – to be convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremburg trials of 1946. The UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) was mandated in 2002 to try those who bear the greatest responsibility for the war that destabilised much of West Africa and stunted economic/political activity. Taylor’s trial is the last one.

Sierra Leone and Liberia have both been touted as post-conflict success stories, following what some would argue is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ externally imposed system of state-building. But while Sierra Leone and Liberia have attempted to emerge from the ashes of civil war, the specter of Charles Taylor has always hung over their fates like an ominous cloud, forever linking the two neighbours beyond their peculiarly similar historical trajectories. Taylor may have wreaked havoc in both countries, but he has languished in a Hague prison for the past five years, facing the full weight of international law for only aiding and abetting rebel factions in Sierra Leone’s civil crisis, privately providing arms and ammunition to the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) while publicly promoting peace as a standing head of state in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

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IWD: We the poor women in this rich world

*I would like to sincerely apologise to those who follow my writings for my long absence. Among other things I have spent the past month focused on lobbying the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, (the CEDAW Committee) to, in its review of the state of Zimbabwe, take on board the issues of the women on the ground as represented by our views to them as Zimbabwean civil society*

 Each year as we commemorate International Women’s Day personally my heart bleeds as I think of all the troubles, injustices and pains that my womenfolk are exposed to. If you can’t get what I mean look at it this way: Somewhere in this world, right now, at this very moment, a woman is getting raped. A mother is dying giving birth. A woman is being abused, verbally or physically by her partner. A woman is going hungry and her heart is breaking as she looks at her children starving yet she has nothing to feed them. A woman is freezing from cold because she can not cover herself adequately. A woman is walking miles to get water, or firewood or to reach a health facility. Yes at this very moment, somewhere in this world, that is happening, believe it or not!

 This year’s theme in commemoration of international women’s day is focused on eradicating poverty among rural women. In my view poverty needs to be eradicated amongst all women not just rural women. Indisputably, our rural women suffer the most as they live in the areas where basic services are the least accessible hence making life much more difficult for them.

 But today my view is that the women of this world, not only rural women, and especially on the African continent do not only suffer from the kind of poverty that is measured by their inability to access basic resources such as food, shelter, clothing, shelter and education. They suffer huge deficits in basic dignity subjected to all forms of degrading, inhuman and humiliating treatment at the hands of their governments, their own families, their male counterparts and society at large. Hence the lives of most women of this world are bankrupt in monetary, emotional and social terms. Not by their own design, of course but as a consequence of the circumstances in which they stumbled upon when they exited their poor mothers’ safe, warm and secure wombs.

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Interview with the cast of Pray the Devil Back to Hell

Pray the Devil Back to Hell” Robtel Pailey interviews the cast and members of the production team. The film is available in full on PBS along with four other films in the series “Women War and Peace“. Listen here