Archive for April, 2009

Kenyan Lysistrata

Just say no

Just say no

Today, the BBC reports on a Lysistrata-like plan – a seven day sex ban – on the part of some Kenyan women to protest the government infighting that, they fear, will result in widespread violence like that following the 2007 elections if not curtailed.

“The campaign is being backed by several other lobby groups, including the Caucus for Women’s Leadership and Maendeleo ya Wanawake – a nationwide network of women’s groups in rural Kenya.

Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga agreed to share power last year to end post-election violence, which had left some 1,500 people dead and forced 300,000 from their homes.”

While I always enjoy seeing women take part in politics, and am impressed by the suggestion that prostitutes might be paid to participate in the plan, I wonder at the possible efficacy of such action.

In Lysistrata (a comedy by Aristophanes), the motivation for the sex embargo is the Peloponnesian War, caused and maintained by the Greek menfolk. It should be pointed out that the success of Lysistrata’s plan also involves taking over the treasury, and refusing sex until peace is officially made. In this case the action is meant to encourage the continuation of peaceful power-sharing, without allowing rising political tensions to devolve into civil unrest.

If anything, the ban is simply a way of drawing attention to a cause, enforced celibacy makes for a sexy headline, and if it doesn’t actually affect various political tensions, it may at least serve as a reminder of the costs of civil violence. I doubt it will “force the squabbling rivals to make up.”

I’d rather see women in governing bodies making decisions and policies based on the concern for peace that’s behind the ban. Women in Kenya were heavily involved in resolving post-election conflict last year. If there were more of such women in political positions, the peace they helped create might prove more lasting and durable.

As in Lysistrata – perhaps war should be women’s business from now on.

image from the guardian

Quick Afghanistan Update

According to Ms., Afghanistan’s President Karzai is reviewing that spousal rape/paedophiliac law for Shiites. Apparently he signed it without reading the whole thing.

Yeah. That must be it.

More Tragedy for Afghan Women

As I noted in an earlier post, women in Afghanistan don’t have it easy right now.

In April, there were protests against the horrific laws pertaining to Shiite women – laws designed to garner votes with the conservative religious (male, obviously) population.

In the Sunday Times Magazine this weekend, Christina Lamb has an in-depth piece on the continuing injustice Afghani women face. In interviews with women she met and seven years earlier, the discrimination and violence they face is made painfully clear.

That women can still be forced into abusive and sometimes fatal marriages because of religious or cultural forces, that those women who struggle to continue with education, work, and basic personal freedom, often face consternation, threats, abuse, and death, that the humanitarian workers and organizations can’t seem to do enough to protect, let alone assist in the liberation of, these women, is all profoundly sad, and intensely distressing. Because what can one do?

Reading the story, I felt an urge to rush to Afghanistan and start up a women’s army – training these brilliant, defiant, intelligent ladies like Marines, giving them physical strength to face their adversaries. But really, the trouble is more insidious, more entrenched; ideology cannot be warred against.

How do you educate a nation of men who have been trained, indoctrinated, to regard women as property? As inhuman? As infidels or dangerous upstarts should they balk at marrying or staying at home or generally acting as if they have a mind of their own? Not just that, but to believe that violence against them is not the same calibre as violence against another man, or even an animal; that violence they feel the need to enact is somehow their god-given right?

The Civil Rights Movement needs to begin in earnest in Afghanistan. But it is daunting to look into the past, to see the cost of such movements – fear, injury, death – before change can be felt.

image from news.xinhuanet.com

BMI Airlines Muslim Dress Code

Do I look inferior in this plane?

Do I look inferior in this plane?

I have just sent a very angry letter to bmi.

I was appalled to read in the Sunday Times that bmi sacked a stewardess for refusing to adhere to frankly misogynistic requirements for the service to Saudi Arabia. She (and all female employees on the service) was to wear an abaya (black robe) and follow behind all male employees – the fact that they felt the need to add “regardless of rank” seems additionally ridiculous.

It is one thing to show respect for culture, it is quite another to ask employees to obey the tenets of a religion not their own (or any religion), particularly when the practices in question are based on the supposition that women are inferior and their bodies capable of inciting aggressive behaviour in men.

As the story states, it is by no means expected or even suggested that Western women travelling in the country wear anything beyond ‘conservative dress’ or walk behind men. How dare they even consider such debasing requirements? How dare they fire someone for refusing?

Whoever created this policy should be heartily ashamed for creating such asinine and discriminatory rules.

What’s even more upsetting is that an ‘employment tribunal’ reviewing the case decided that “there was no evidence that women would regard BMI’s requirements on wearing the abaya, or walking behind men, as “placing them under any disadvantage”.”

What disadvantage could there be in dressing to be invisible and walking around like an inferior?

This is absolutely horrifying and terribly depressing, that a large company in a secular, liberated country that recognizes equality between the sexes would determine that the opinion of a few hardcore Muslim customers is more important than the dignity of their staff and the basic principles of their own country.

I highly recommend boycotting this airline.

image from flightline.co.uk

UK Budget Headlines

The headlines in response to the new Labour budget from Alistair Darling all seem to claim a rise in taxes – focusing largely on the increased percentage paid in the top bracket – from 45% to 50% on £150,000 and up. Also mentioned are the per unit sales tax of “2p on fuel, 1p on beer, and 7p on cigarettes”.

What confuses me is the comparative absence of attention on the decrease in income tax on the vast majority of earners. Metro has a handy “how will it affect you list”. And the increase in spending focused on getting people back to work. And the investment in green infrastructure and development. These are mentioned, of course, in a bullet-point kind of way, but the headline is about the tax that affects 1% of the population, not the massive work done on behalf of the majority of workers, newly unemployed, and the young.

Instead, people are pointing out the borrowing necessary to maintain the increase in spending (and anticipated tax hikes in coming years to pay back those international loans). Apparently, the debt will be roughly equivalent to £23,000 per person (79% of GDP), before slowing decreasing over the next ten years. Before people start passing out, I think it’s worth noting that the US debt is about $35,500 per person, or about £24,000. Not that a country should be aiming for the same deficit as the US, but it’s worth pointing out that the US has had an increasing deficit for about 9 years now, and, while the economy is in a bad situation, it wasn’t caused by government borrowing.

I understand the strain on people who are business leaders, who would perhaps be better used with tax incentives related to long-term job creation and investment, but by the same token, if you’re earning that kind of dosh, a) your accountant can probably ease the pain and b) even after tax you’re taking home more than 3 times than your average joe. How much do you really need?

Afghanistan’s President Enacts Pro-Rape and Pedophilia Law

Slap this man for me.

Amidst all the modestly reported good news from the G20was word that the Afghan president has ratified laws for the Shia population allowing the marriage of children and spousal rape.

The Times reports that “A leaked copy of the laws obtained by The Times details new strictures for Afghanistan’s Shia minority. Women are banned from leaving the home without permission. A wife has the absolute duty to provide sexual services to her husband, and child marriage is legalised”.

President Karzai claims that he passed the legislation to secure the conservative, Islamist vote in the upcoming elections. The Times points out that the 20% of the population that is Shia is actually fairly moderate, it’s their religious leaders who promote such extremism, and are, apparently, responsible for how their flocks vote.

It’s nauseating that after such a promising beginning freeing women from the torturous strictures and punishments of Taliban rule, that rape, exploitation, and paedophilia are suddenly a worthwhile price to pay for continuing to hold office.

In a surprise moral stand from the conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose presence at the G20 summit was generally ignored (at least in the British papers), he “said he was troubled by the law and would lobby other leaders to support him in seeking to have it repealed. “This is antithetical to our mission in Afghanistan,” and his Trade minister threatened a withdrawal of support if it were not struck down.

Other governments best follow suit. It is one thing to acknowledge that Afghanistan has a conservative culture oppressive to women due to the Taliban rule and years of bizarre religious practice, it is quite another to legitimize such behaviour by creating a law binding women to allow themselves to be raped and imprisoned in their own homes. This is the sort of thing that the society should be moving away from as the government protects women and children so that a more egalitarian society can evolve.

A society where children are allowed to mature before marrying (not to mention having a choice in whether or not to do so, and to whom), where rape isn’t assumed as par for the course in a marriage, and where exploitative and abusive religious practices result in prosecution for the rapist or paedophile, rather than their victim.


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