Palestinian women protest recent cases of domestic violence

Palestinians-protest
RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Four recent cases of women slain allegedly at the hand of either a husband or father have prompted women and human rights groups to demand tougher Palestinian laws against domestic violence.

Several female activists marched through the streets of Bethlehem on Thursday demanding justice for women in a patriarchal and traditional society. They also demanded severe punishment for men who kill or batter a female family member.

Women carried placards saying: “No to murder, yes to life” and “Shame on us Palestinians who kill our women.”

The march, following previous protests this week, was prompted by a slaying Monday on a busy street in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. A 28-year-old woman was stabbed several times in the chest and her throat was slashed while people stood by and watched. She later died in a hospital.

Her 33-year-old husband is in custody, and police say they expect to file murder charges against him.

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Saudi judo athlete can't wear head scarf in Olympic competition

Wodjan Shahrkhani, Saudi judo Olympian

A Saudi woman vying for Olympic glory cannot wear her head scarf during judo competitions, the International Judo Federation said Thursday, a decision bound to stir up alarm in her country.

Covering the head could be a risk to safety as judokas grapple on the mat, judo officials say. "She will fight according to the principle and spirit of judo, so without a hijab," International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer told Agence France-Presse.

Wodjan Shahrkhani is one of two women competing for Saudi Arabia in the Games, the first time the strictly religious country has ever sent female athletes. Shahrkhani and runner Sarah Attar were ushered into the Games after a lengthy back-and-forth with the International Olympic Committee and a public push from activists against Saudi women being shut out of sports.

Saudi Arabia has insisted that its female Olympians dress modesty, steer clear of mixing with men, stay with a male guardian and not contradict Islamic law.

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Bomb kills provincial women's affairs chief in Afghanistan

Afghanistan-bombing

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Fueling fears over the growing dangers faced by Afghan women, a bomb attached to the car belonging to a provincial women’s affairs chief killed her and seriously injured her husband on Friday, Afghan officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the assassination of Hanifa Safi, who headed the department of women’s affairs in Laghman province, east of Kabul. But a spokesman for the provincial government, Sarhadi Zewak, blamed “enemies of the people” -- the term Afghan officials customarily use to describe the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

The killing comes against a backdrop of high-profile attacks against women in recent months, including the public execution of a woman in a province only an hour’s drive from Kabul, which was captured on video.

With the Western combat role in Afghanistan set to end in 2014, many women here are worried about a sharp erosion of gains made in the 11 years since the toppling of the Taliban movement. Some women’s groups have said that billions of dollars in development aid earmarked for Afghanistan at an international conference in Tokyo earlier this month should have been more tightly conditioned on the protection of women’s rights.

Many women fear that the government of President Hamid Karzai, which desperately wants to reach a political settlement with the Taliban, would be willing to trade away their hard-won freedoms in order to come to an accord with the fundamentalist Islamist movement.

Ministers serving with the central government in Kabul travel with substantial security, but many provincial officials move about virtually unguarded, leaving them vulnerable to attack. The bomb attached to Safi’s car exploded as the couple was driving in a busy area of the provincial capital, Mehtarlam, Zewak said, and 10 bystanders were injured in the powerful blast.

The Taliban and other insurgents make frequent threats against women in public life, and sometimes carry them out. Safi’s assassination came six years after another provincial women’s affairs chief, Safia Amajan, who held the post in volatile Kandahar province, was gunned down outside her home. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that killing.

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-- Laura King. Special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi contributed.

Photo: Men wounded in the bomb blast that killed Hanifa Safi are treated at a hospital in Laghman, Afghanistan. Credit: Abdul Mueed / European Pressphoto Agency


An Olympic first: Female athletes competing for every country

For the first time in Olympic history, every country will have a woman competing on its team, including longtime holdout Saudi Arabia, the International Olympic Committee announced Thursday. Brunei and Qatar will also send female athletes to the London Games for the first time.

“The IOC has been striving to ensure a greater gender balance at the Olympic Games, and today’s news can be seen as an encouraging evolution,” President Jacques Rogge said in a statement. Fifteen years ago, 26 countries had not sent women; four years ago, that number had dwindled to three.

The historic announcement hinged on Saudi Arabia, which said last month it would allow female Olympians after months of talks with the International Olympic Committee.

But news quickly spread that the prime candidate rumored to compete for the country, equestrian show jumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas, wouldn't go because her horse had been injured, raising fears that no female athletes would represent Saudi Arabia despite its announcement.

Saudi pundits complained that the nation was being punished just because there were no Saudi sportswomen up to Olympic standards, something beyond the country's control. In an ongoing campaign, Human Rights Watch countered that so few women were eligible because Saudi Arabia still effectively bans women from playing sports; Malhas trained outside of Saudi Arabia for much of her life.

The nation later announced that two other women would compete for Saudi Arabia: runner Sarah Attar and judo athlete Wodjan Shahrkhani. Attar, now training in San Diego, was quoted by the IOC as saying she hoped the honor could “make some big strides for women over there to get more involved in sport.”

Bringing women into the games is a step toward better inclusion of women in Saudi sports -- but only a step, Human Rights Watch cautioned. Researcher Christoph Wilcke urged the International Olympic Committee to push for systemic change within the nation to nurture more female athletes.

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Egyptian women worry about rights under new Islamist president

MorsiCAIRO — As fireworks lit the sky after Egypt elected its first Islamist president last month, Nadeen Gamil, who had endured years of sexual harassment, knew that the battle for women’s rights had taken an ominous turn.

While thousands celebrated in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s revolution, women were intimidated and rhetoric intensified that President Mohamed Morsi’s victory would herald an increase in piousness and hijabs: “Tomorrow, Morsi will cover you all up, your days are over.”

Gamil said she “felt torn between my happiness for the people and my personal cause.” The 21-year-old university student and advocate for the Women for Egypt campaign added: “A couple of months ago in Tahrir, men mocked me after I struck a man who groped me from behind. I slapped him in the face but he didn’t even look me in the eye.”

As women of the revolution battle the patriarchal and rigid politics of Egypt's military and rising Islamists, they are also pushing for a social reawakening and an acceptance of women's freedoms. Women make up at least 52% of Egyptian society and 33% of them are considered the sole breadwinners in their households. However, the state, even after the Arab Spring uprising, has largely failed to protect them from sexual assault and domestic violence.

The role of women has been further complicated by Najla Mahmoud, Morsi’s wife and Egypt’s first lady, who wears long headscarves and traditional dresses. Liberals and Twitter activists have complained that her appearance and style do not reflect a modern Arab woman for a new state. But most Egyptian women wear headscarves and dress modestly.

“She is not an alien, she represents many Egyptian women you see everywhere in the subway or in the streets, many can relate to her,” said Gamil.

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Girly science ad gets European Commission grief [Video]

The European Commission is getting grief over a flashy ad meant to get girls excited about science that looks more like a lipstick commercial. The teaser video, "Science: It’s a girl thing!" is pegged to a European Commission campaign to bring more women into the field, which skews heavily toward men.

But for many galled viewers, the feminist goal was drowned out by the stereotypically girly images of women giggling and strutting in skirts, jumbled in with bubbling flasks.

The perky video bounces between shots of nail polish and petri dishes, sunglasses and goggles over a techno beat; it even swaps out the "i" in "science" with a tube of lipstick. Appalled scientists said the video was a sexist bit of advertising based on the idea that only fashion could get girls interested in test tubes.

"It's as if Disney channel male execs do ‘science Barbie,'" geologist and blogger Sharon Hill tweeted in disgust. "Terrible."

Ben Goldacre, author of the Guardian's "Bad Science" column, joked, "The EU have funded a campaign to make women in science wear shorter skirts."

Could the ad be "a fiendish ploy to highlight the stereotyping of women and scientists?" University of Bristol climate scientist Tamsin Edwards quizzed the campaign through Twitter.

The "Commission doesn't really do irony," European Commission spokesman for science Michael Jennings replied. "Hope was to get young people onto site. That seems to be happening!"

Quite. Though the outpouring of attention may have brought more attention to the campaign, the girly video caused such an outcry that the European Commission eventually pulled it from YouTube -- only to find that Internet users had already copied it elsewhere.

"An epic fail, and waste of public money," one YouTube viewer commented. "Pity, really."

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: A YouTube copy of the European Commission teaser ad, "Science: It's a girl thing!"


Future in electoral politics for Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo?

Camila vallejo student chile afpMEXICO CITY -- Camila Vallejo broke into the international limelight in May 2011 as the beautiful revolutionary who led hundreds of thousands of student demonstrators in a call for education reform in Chile, toppling government ministers in the process.

She was, on the surface, an unlikely leader.

Just 23 at the time, the geography student dazzled the public early on with her statuesque features, shiny nose ring, and her soft, soothing manner of speaking. More alluringly, Vallejo was often inaccessible to the press, surrounded by student bodyguards.

Underneath the image, she was clearly exhibiting sharp political skills, both on the street among the droves of students and workers who managed to frequently shut down the capital of Santiago, and also in negotiations with the government of President Sebastian Piñera.

A year later, the students' demands for a freer, more equitable education system have made some progress against Piñera's initial response that higher education in economically prosperous Chile was "a consumer good."

But overall, the movement appears to be in a state of transition, if not stalemate.

Vallejo, now 24, has also reached a point at which she must decide what her next political role might be. Could a next step be toward the electoral arena in Chile? 

Last week, Vallejo visited Mexico for the first time, to speak at a conference on higher education at a Mexico City university. The visit had been planned since late last year, explained a spokesman at the Metropolitan Autonomous University (known as UAM for its initials in Spanish), but by now Vallejo's presence in Mexico had acquired politically significant overtones.

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Saudi women urged again to flout driving ban [Video]

Women are being urged to get behind the wheel Sunday in Saudi Arabia to defy its driving ban. The protesters plan to hit the road more than a year after a Saudi woman sparked an uproar by sharing a video of herself driving online, leading to her arrest and a flood of condemnation.

"The struggle is not about driving a car, the struggle is about being in the driver’s seat of our own destiny, about being free not just to dream but free to live," Manal Sharif told the Oslo Freedom Forum last month, describing the attacks she had weathered since the video of her driving hit the Internet.

Saudi women took the wheel the same day last year -- June 17, 2011 -- in protest. This year, more than 700 people have signed a petition to King Abdullah asking for women to be allowed to drive. The Women2Drive campaign is also urging women who hold driver's licenses from abroad to take cars for a spin Sunday, and those who don't to flood the government with applications for licenses. Feminists outside of Saudi Arabia plan to drive to Saudi embassies and consulates and honk their horns.

There is no law against women driving in Saudi Arabia, but Saudi officials have declared it is banned. Driving has remained forbidden even as Saudi women have gained the right to vote and run for local office. Some women get around with the help of paid chauffeurs; others rely on male relatives for rides.

The rape of a Saudi woman, reportedly by her driver, stepped up the calls last summer to allow women to drive themselves. But so far, women are still stopped in Saudi Arabia for doing so.

Human rights activists say women who have tested the ban have been forced to sign pledges promising not to drive again. Sharif faced calls for her to be publicly flogged; another defiant driver, Sheima Jastaniah, was sentenced to 10 lashes last year, a punishment that was ultimately overturned.

"We merely request that any woman who needs to go about her daily business and does not have a man to help her be allowed to help herself," the Women2Drive petition says.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: Manal Sharif drives through Saudi Arabia and talks about problems caused by the ban on women driving. The video was first posted online in May 2011.


Women on Cannes red carpet -- but not in directors' chairs

Cannes

This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

Jane Fonda and Alec Baldwin were there on the red carpet. Marilyn Monroe made an appearance -- if only on a poster. There was even an improbable camel.

But one thing was glaringly missing at the Cannes Film Festival as it kicked off Wednesday in a glamorous blitz of tuxedos, ballgowns and the flashing of cameras.

Not a single film competing at the rarefied French festival was directed by a woman -- a fact that French feminists lamented in an open letter published in Le Monde and the Guardian.

“Never let the girls think they can one day have the presumptuousness to make movies or to climb those famous Festival Palace steps, except when attached to the arm of a Prince Charming,” the letter said, sarcastically lauding their “exemplary selection” that relegated women to the festival posters.

Glamorous starlets are a staple of Cannes, as the Marilyn Monroe poster hints, but only one female director has ever won the top prize: Jane Campion, who snagged the Palme d'Or award in 1993 for "The Piano." The all-male lineup is a shift from last year, when four female directors were included.

"Women, mind your spools of thread! And men, as the Lumière Brothers did before you, mind your film reels! And let the Cannes film festival competition forever be a man's world!" the sardonic letter from the feminist group La Barbe concluded.

Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux told the Associated Press that although men are dominating the event, “it's not the fault of Cannes.” A San Diego State University study found that women directed only 5% of the 250 highest-grossing domestic films last year, a drop from two years ago.

“It wouldn't be very nice to select a film because the film is not good but it is directed by a woman,” Fremaux argued to the Associated Press.

In response to his argument, a lengthy list of female writers, directors and producers from around the globe created an online petition calling for Cannes to "commit to transparency and equality in the selection process of these films" and to open up a dialogue about women in cinema.

"Mr. Fremaux is correct in stating that women's rights must be addressed year round," the petition says.

[For the record, 10:38 p.m., May 16: A previous version of this post said Jane Campion won the Palme d'Or for "The Piano Lesson." The title is "The Piano."]

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Actors Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, director Wes Anderson, actors Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis and Edward Norton arrive for the opening ceremony and screening of "Moonrise Kingdom" at Cannes in southern France on Wednesday. Credit: Lionel Cironneau / Associated Press


Mother's Day in Mexico: Tinged with tragedy

Mothers2
MEXICO CITY -- Mexico celebrates Mother’s Day on May 10. But this year several hundred women used the occasion to dramatize their plight -- any mother’s worst nightmare.

Their sons, daughters, husbands or siblings are among the uncounted thousands of people who have vanished amid the raging violence of the Mexican government’s war against drug cartels.

Some of the missing were abducted by traffickers and kidnappers. Others were last seen being taken into custody by military or police troops. Official investigations routinely fall short, and it's often left to anguished relatives to pursue the truth.

The women marched earlier this week from their hometowns, primarily in northern Mexico, and descended on this capital in time for Mother’s Day (link in Spanish). They rallied at Mexico City’s iconic Angel of Independence monument and demanded information on their missing relatives.

“No one hears us, no one listens to us,” one of the women, whose husband and son are missing, told reporters.

The national human rights commission has estimated that about 10,000 people are missing, but everyone agrees the real number could be much larger (link in Spanish). Survivors say that in some ways, a missing loved one takes an even greater toll than a murdered one because of the unending uncertainty.

"There are no words to adequately describe the pain that we mothers feel for the disappearance of a son or daughter, victims of the crime and insecurity that reign," said a Monterrey-based human rights organization dedicated to the missing, one of many supporting the mothers' march (link in Spanish). "It is an agony that does not cease."

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-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: A woman holds a banner showing a picture of a missing relative during a march on behalf of thousands of missing Mexicans, on Mother's Day, May 10, in Mexico City. Credit: Alexandre Meneghini / Associated Press.

 


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