Society & Culture
June 2016 News Roundup
First up this month, the United States held its first-ever United State of Women summit, which aimed to rally together advocates of gender equality and highlight what the country has achieved, identify challenges that remain, and chart the course for addressing those challenges. Over 5,000 women participated in the summit, which focused on economic empowerment, health and wellness, education, violence against women, entrepreneurship and innovation, and civic engagement. Highlights included a talk by Mikaila Ulmer, the 11-year-old CEO of Bee Sweet Lemonade, who encouraged attendees to “dream like a kid.” Marley Dias, the 11-year-old founder of hashtag 1000 Black Girl Books movement, was also present, discussing how diversity is a necessary step to achieving gender equality. Way to go to all the incredible speakers and girls present, and we look forward to the amazing steps they will take for women in the US.
Also this month, the Education Cannot Wait fund has committed nearly 4 billion dollars to help 75 million children living in conflict and crisis around the world return to school. The fund was announced at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May, and “represents a tremendous shift in thinking about how to protect and respond in crisis, how to take the long view, and how to understand the impact of lost opportunities on children and youth.” Currently, less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid for emergencies is spent on education, and refugee girls have a 90 percent chance of dropping out of school. These girls become more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, often becoming victims of gender-based violence, forced labor, and early marriage. The new fund will use lessons learned from recent crises - such as the Ebola epidemic - to inform how funds will be spent and where programs are most needed. So far, it has been announced that the fund will have five key functions focused on inspiring political commitment, planning joint responses, building funds, strengthening capacity, and improving accountability.
And in the United States, the Metropolitan Museum of Art has one more female artist on display! This month, 18-year-old Cliffannie Forrester’s oil painting titled, “Uganda,” was put on display at the Met after winning a scholarship competition in New York City. The painting was inspired by a mission trip she took to Uganda with her church. It will be on view until October 23, 2016 at the museum.
In the United Kingdom, domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid - in partnership with Welsh Women’s Aid - has launched a new scheme called “Ask Me” to combat domestic abuse. The scheme calls for people to become ambassadors and reach out to those being victimized, training them in the warning signs of domestic abuse and providing resources for victims. The scheme is being piloted in three areas across England and Wales, with the aim of extending nationally, and is funded through the Comic Relief and tampon tax.
Also in the UK, three 12-year-old girls were hospitalized this month after taking “teddy tablets” - which turned out to be the drug ecstasy. Police are unsure how the girls obtained the pills, but they were found at a shopping center in Manchester. Last month, a 17-year-old girl died after taking ecstasy in the form of a “mastercard” tablet, and several other teenagers have been found unconscious or dead after taking similar tablets. A spokesperson for Salford Royal NHS foundation trust confirmed the girls were treated and either released or transferred to the appropriate specialist hospital for ongoing care.
In perhaps the worst news of the month, we learned in early June that 19 Yazidi girls were burned alive by ISIS militants after refusing to become sex slaves of their captors. Reports indicate the burning was carried out publicly in Mosul in front of a crowd of hundreds. The Yazidi girls were among the thousands of girls taken captive since 2014, when Mosul fell into ISIS control. They practice the Yazidi religion, an ancient Mesopotamian religion independent of other religious systems in the Middle East and almost exclusively practiced by ethnic Kurds. Many, if not all, of the girls captured are forced to become their captors’ sex slaves, according to the spoils of warfare provisions set forth in ISIS’s extremist doctrine. Recently, more attention has been focused on the human trafficking resulting from ISIS’s doctrines, as escaped girls recount the horrors of their time in captivity and ISIS sex slaves are being sold online. The Human Rights Watch noted, “Many of the abuses, including torture, sexual slavery, and arbitrary detention, would be war crimes if committed in the context of the armed conflict, or crimes against humanity if they were part of ISIS policy during a systematic or widespread attack on the civilian population. The abuses against Yazidi women and girls...including the practice of abducting women and girls and forcibly converting them to Islam and/or forcibly marrying them to ISIS members, may be part of a genocide against Yazidis.”
It didn’t take long for the United Nations to follow with their own statement, declaring that the ISIS enslavement, murder, and torture of Yazidis is a genocide. This declaration is a huge step forward in getting justice for former victims and for justifying armed action against ISIS. It also means that ISIS can be charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in the International Criminal Court. The declaration is based on reports from UN investigators who interviewed dozens of Yazidi survivors, and outlines the horrors that captives face at the hands of ISIS as well as a legal analysis of ISIS’s intent to eliminate the Yazidi population. Today, more than 3,200 women and girls are estimated to be current captive victims of sexual slavery held by ISIS - and that doesn’t count the hundreds, if not thousands, who have already died at the hands of ISIS. Men taken captive are forced to become ISIS fighters and convert to Islam, or be killed. Girls as young as nine years old are being sold into slavery online, having been repeatedly raped by multiple ISIS fighters.
Additionally, international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney has agreed to represent Nadia Murad, who has been speaking out against ISIS and recounting the horrors of her captivity, and the Yazidi people when the time comes for ISIS to be brought to trial. It is our fervent hope that such a time will come soon - and that this genocide will end.
In other tragic news, an Egyptian teenager has died as a result of complications from undergoing female genital mutilation. The procedure was performed by a registered doctor, despite the practice being illegal in Egypt. The hospital where the procedure was performed has been shut down by authorities, and the case is being investigated by state prosecutors. In Egypt, 92 percent of married women have undergone FGM. The practice has been illegal since 2008.
In The Gambia, traditional leaders from across the country have unanimously declared that they will fight to end child marriage in their respective districts. The chiefs also called on parents to allow their children to focus on their education, taking it upon themselves as custodians of the law in support of the First Lady’s initiative to end child marriage. There is now talk of laws that would empower the chiefs to implement initiatives to stop the practice at the community level and in district tribunals.
Another warrior in the fight against child marriage is Rachana Sunar, who spoke at the Oslo Freedom Forum with the poignant question, “Am I a girl, or a mother?” 15-year-old Rachana is from Nepal, where over 40 percent of girls are forced into marriage before the age of 18. Though the legal code states that the minimum age for marriage is 20, cultural norms and traditions in Nepal continue the practice. Rachana was nearly one of the girls - though she escaped by convincing her parents that if she left school early, they would have to pay the scholarship that had covered her tuition. She is actively speaking out against the practice in Nepal, encouraging girls to study and think independently, through her work with Sambad and the Stromme Foundation.
And in Ethiopia, good news as we learned that child marriage is on the decline. The decline is attributed to Ethiopia’s strong policy and legal frameworks, including the National Alliance to End Child Marriage by 2025. While awareness of the law is increasing, millions of Ethiopian girls remain at risk of child marriage, adolescent pregnancy, and gender-based violence -- and activists are calling on the people to view the decline as a sign that strategies are working and child marriage can be eradicated.
In more good news, India is hoping to introduce a much needed law on human trafficking, which will plug loopholes in the existing laws. The Indian Women and Child Development Minister has drafted the law, which will strengthen and consolidate existing laws under several ministries dealing with human trafficking. The new law will have provisions that ensure unpaid wages are reimbursed to victims, seize property belonging to traffickers, and enforce other economic penalties on traffickers. In addition, the act of administering hormone shots to girls in order to accelerate their sexual maturity will be made punishable with up to ten years in jail and a fine. Most importantly, the new law will cease punishing victims as criminals, and instead offer assistance and protection to victims, including establishing new identities, providing rehabilitation services, building more shelters, and setting up fast-track courts to expedite trafficking cases. All agencies that supply domestic help to victims will be under mandatory registration, and a special investigative agency will coordinate the efforts with neighboring countries.
Back in the UK, Parliament recently unveiled a large art installation celebrating women’s struggle for the vote. The six-meter high light sculpture was installed above Westminster Hall’s entrance and is called “New Dawn.” Created by Mary Branson, the work features 168 hand-blown glass scrolls as a nod to the efforts of campaigners who fought for women’s rights. While the artwork was meant to celebrate suffragettes and their work, the installation was soon met with protests.
Sisters Uncut members donned suffragette outfits and chained themselves with black paper-chains to the Houses of Parliament, in an effort to highlight that the fight for women’s rights, safety and independence is far from over. While they celebrate and welcome the art installation itself, the members were protesting the current government, whose violent austerity agenda has negatively affected women’s lives in the UK. Currently, two women a week are murdered by a partner or ex-partner in the UK, and domestic violence services have been in the decline as a result of government funding cuts - leading to two in every three women being denied needed services and safety from abuse. Sisters Uncut activists wore sashes, placards, old-fashioned hats, and long black skirts while holding flares in suffragette colors of green and purple, chanting lines from Emmeline Pankhurst’s “Freedom from Death” speech.
Other protests occurred this month, as well. At the Tate Modern Gallery in London, a group of female and non-binary activists appeared during opening night of the museum’s new wing to protest the gallery’s exclusion of artist Ana Mendieta. Ana was a highly influential women of colour performance artists and sculptor, suspected of being murdered by her partner in 1985. The Tate owns works of both Ana and her partner, but in their new wing, they opted to display the art of her partner and keep Ana’s works in storage. The activists draped a banner reading “Carl Andre Killed Ana Mendieta” over one of Andre’s sculptures, while removing their hoodies to expose red paint on their arms to symbolize Ana’s seminal work, “Body Tracks.” A statement released after the event revealed the protestors are part of the Where is Ana Mendieta movement, which sets out to respond to the glorification of violent men and the erasure of female, non-binary, and PoC figures within the art world.
In Brazil, Copacabana beach was covered with 420 pairs of red and red-stained underwear in a protest against rape culture. In late May, a 16-year-old Brazilian girl was gang raped by 33 men in Rio de Janeiro, and the men then bragged about their attacks on Twitter. The survivor later came public about her experiences, but police have been slow to act in identifying and charging the men with crimes. The case has rocked Brazil, and the beach protest is one of many that have emerged across the country. The Copacabana beach protest was meant to symbolize that Brazil's’ rape rate is 420 rapes every 72 hours - totalling nearly 50,000 women each year.
And finally, in Rio, young women have led the Occupy High School Movement to demand resources for failing state schools. The Occupy movement began in 2015, with students across the country demanding quality education. Middle-class and rich families in Brazil rarely use the public schools - opting instead for private schools, which are the only way students can pass entrance exams to attend free public universities. Students who attend public schools have little chance of getting a full education, and almost no chance at attending college. The Occupy movement has taken over 300 schools so far, and is led primarily by girls.
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