North Carolina - The State Where No Doesn't Really Mean No.

For some, this may just be another case of sexual misconduct in the US. But when I read about the North Carolinian law that essentially states that women cannot change their consent to sex once intercourse has begun, I was utterly, entirely gobsmacked. 

I go to university in North Carolina, so reading about this legal loophole struck a personal chord with me. 

I just couldn't get my head around it. My closest associations with the state are with that of my forward thinking open minded peers, not a misogynistic legal system so outdated that you think it would be from a 16th century archive on legislation. 

The law has come to light after 19 year old Aaliyah Palmer reported to law enforcement in Fayetteville, North Carolina, that she had been raped. She explained how things had begun OK, but when the man began tearing out her hair she demanded he stop. He didn't. 

And the person who committed the act? Not arrested. Nor charged. Palmer speculates that this is because it is difficult to prove that he penetrated her multiple times after her repeatedly saying no. 

Fayetteville Police have now confirmed these findings - that there is insufficient evidence to for this to substantiate as a rape case. 

And as if this treatment wasn't horrific enough for Palmer to endure, it has now emerged that four men filmed the attack on their phones and posted it online. Palmer says she now faces the reality that some of her own classmates may have seen the video, especially as it was circulated on Snapchat over a short period. 

This trauma has lead to Palmer becoming depressed and anxious, meaning she cannot attend class out of fear of what others might think or say on the incident, so much so that she withdrew from her university this Spring. 

The aggravating thing is that such an outdated law is having such serious implications in legal cases right now. Besides Palmer, another woman, Amy Guy, who was raped by her husband in a violent attack, could not have him prosecuted for his crimes because of the law. Legal situations like these show that change in societal discourse on rape, sex and consent mean nothing without a legal backbone to enforce them. We can comment on and discuss things like this until the cows come home, but until there are serious legislative repercussions for this kind of behaviour, no changes will be made.  

So there it is, North Carolina; the only state where no doesn't really mean no. 

But, victims like Palmer are being fought for by Senator Jeff Jackson, who recently introduced a bill that would allow consent for vaginal intercourse to be withdrawn at any time during the act. The bill has been stuck in committee waiting to be voted on since 2015, yet Jackson applauds those raising awareness on the issue who have made it a main issue in national coverage. 

Palmer's encounter shows that still there are so many lessons to be learnt about how legislation and societal discourse on rape, sex and consent must mirror one another to ensure that no case like hers can be undermined again. 

Here at EHV, we applaud and support Palmer for being brave enough to  name herself publicly to raise awareness of this issue. We stand with her, and Senator Jackson, as they fight for a change that should have happened years ago. 

Let us know your thoughts on this in comments below, or submit your own story in our dashboard.

Written by Phoebe O'Hara

Rape and Reconciliation

Like many of us out there, I am a sucker for a good TED talk. Coupled with my addiction to podcasts, this means that TED podcasts have become my recent drug of choice. 

I usually leave a TED podcast with an incredibly heightened sense of optimism about my day - I feel as if I can conquer the world equipped with my tool-box of TED talk tips. 

The podcast for this week however, really made me think. And not in a satisfying way; this episode was not a soothing cure, or explanation that would satisfy a personal irk. Everything about the story was uncomfortable, unfamiliar.  

The talk featured Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger, and is entitled 'Our story of rape and reconciliation'. (link here

I can't adequately reproduce the story or the emotion behind it, so I encourage you to watch the video to get the full experience. However in short, it features a rape victim and her rapist on stage explaining their reconciliation of events years after it took place. 

What I find so potent is the manner in which they both talk about their meeting; both emphasise what they learnt from the experience, about themselves and one another, and sexual violence as a global pandemic. 

This was no black and white case of attributing blame and moving on, it was an entire process demanding honesty, vulnerability and acceptance. This reminded me that ultimately this issue is a human one, and on a personal intimate level has to be solved as such. Thordis explains that such an experience is unique and shouldn't be prescribed as the solution across the board. Her words, shown below, about the over simplification of the issue, really impacted me for the remainder of the day;

'Given the nature of our story, I know the words that inevitably accompany it — victim, rapist — and labels are a way to organize concepts, but they can also be dehumanizing in their connotations. Once someone's been deemed a victim, it's that much easier to file them away as someone damaged,dishonored, less than. And likewise, once someone has been branded a rapist, it's that much easier to call him a monster — inhuman. But how will we understand what it is in human societies that produces violence if we refuse to recognize the humanity of those who commit it?' 

This resonated with me so strongly; in my own personal life, I have been so quick to judge the perpetrator that I forget that they are all human. There was something that stimulated them to do this, they have their own story and a whole vessel of experiences that have moulded this mindset/  This has made me recognise that I find it difficult to conceive that someone who can commit such an act is as humane as myself, but that is exactly where I fall into the trap of reducing the situation and limiting its potency. 

It is exactly this humanity that must be grabbed onto and used as a tool, on both the small and large scale. Listening to Tom's evocative words on what this experience was for him personally shows that reconciliation is very much a jointed and mutual experience, providing space for both parties to learn and heal. 

The final piece they raise awareness of is something that we at EHV are wholly committed to; making female empowerment both a women's and a mans prerogative. I will leave you with their resounding end to their talk;

"It's about time that we stop treating sexual violence as a women's issue. A majority of sexual violence against women and men is perpetrated by men. And yet their voices are sorely underrepresented in this discussion. But all of us are needed here. Just imagine all the suffering we could alleviate if we dared to face this issue together"

By Phoebe O'Hara

Brazil Gang Rape Victim Gives TV Interview; My Reaction

Chilling.

That was my initial feeling as I read the Sky News report on the 16 year-old who was raped by dozens of men in Rio de Janeiro in May.

The actions of these 30 men sound utterly bestial, like a feeding frenzy. The way she describes their laughter makes it so real, so disturbingly terrifying. (Read article here)

Although the girls' commentary on the lack of legal and political reaction to her case depresses me, the social reaction gives me hope. As the video of the attack became viral, so too did social media backlash and city protests. Rio protestors hung banners and clothing splattered red with 'We are all bleeding' around the city. Photos of the protestors capture their passion and anger. Their blood coloured face paintis especially haunting and tribal, but incredibly effective in reminding us of the brutality of such an act. However, this dark imagery makes me smile, because it gives me hope. Such unity, passion, disgust reminds me that ultimately, no matter the location or race, rape remains an unacceptable act in today's global society.

Another aspect I found interesting was the location in which this crime took place. Favela's in Rio are notoriously deemed too dangerous even for the armed police of Rio de Janeiro to enter. Such a lack of jurisdiction, and the complex social relations that come with gang controlled areas, gives some insight into the lack of female rights present in these favelas.

Further research into the position of women in these societies revealed some shocking statistics. According to the Rio Times, “rape indices went from 1.3 to 4.8 and domestic violence shot up from 27 to 84.6” between 2006 and 2011. Ignacio Cano, head of the Laboratory for the Analysis of Violence at UERJ argues that this could be the result of two things: as the favelas have faced a change in leadership, it could be that residents are more inclined to report crimes to the police. The other option is that now that the drug lords are not present to maintain social order (otherwise known as the “law of the ghetto”), non-lethal crime has gone up. 

How can the position of the female ever be secured without legal support or representation in such a society? The total lack of urban planning and basic public security services place women at an incredible risk. What tools can women be given to empower them in such unfamiliar networks?

One answer has been provided by UN Women, UNICEF and UN-Habitat. They have launched an online website which also works as a smartphone app that brings together information on support services for women and girls who are survivors of violence. I was surprised that the majority of favela populations heavily use mobile technology and computers; with such poor infrastructure I couldn’t imagine technology would be such a norm. Happily thought it is, and it seems to be an effective initiative for a youthful age group.

This has been a great take away for me in terms of our aims and initiatives; digital is an area that we have not yet explored, and perhaps with an app or service EHV could bring female empowerment to a greater and global audience. 

Phoebe 

Rape Culture in British Universities

A great article written in the Guardian entitled "Ingrained sexism and lad banter: Why rape culture is still alive at British universities" by Radhika Sanghani. 

At EHV, we recognise the recent improvements made by university campuses directly tackling and creating conversations about rape culture. Clearly however, there is still much more to be done. What this article tells us is that attitudes are already engrained in adolescents in this environment. It is evident that education must begin at a younger age to prevent this culture from thriving. 

Read the article and let us know your thoughts. 

‘Don’t worry darling. It’s rape.’ These words were allegedly spoken by Louis Richardson, the former secretary of Durham Union Society’s debating club, who has been accused of raping and sexually assaulting two students.

His alleged rape victim told a court that he pushed her against a wall and tried to kiss her, before making the ‘rape joke’ when she said she didn’t want to. She said he then raped her at a later date, when she was too drunk to consent.

Richardson, 21, is charged with raping and sexually assaulting her, as well as sexually assaulting another woman twice. He has denied all four charges and his trial, which began this week at Durham Crown Court, continues.

The facts remain in dispute - and are for the jury to decide on - but the case does bring up the recurring issue of rape culture on British university campuses.

Back in 2010, a study by the National Union of Students found that one in seven women experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student. The world was, quite rightly, shocked and the topic of sexual harassment and assault on campuses hit the mainstream.

Since then many more studies have proved that rape culture is alive  and well on many uni campuses. I've written articles, on numerous occasions, exposing uncomfortable truths at prestigious British universities.

But, over the last couple of years, dozens of consent classes and workshops have sprung up around the UK.

Oxford and Cambridge became the first universities to run compulsory consent classes for undergraduates in 2014; in 2015 freshers at Bristol were given a consent quiz when they arrived; and independent organisations, such as the Good Lad Workshop, have grown - holding 150 workshops in 2014.

Has rape culture diminished?

There’s definitely a greater sense of awareness around campus rape culture and the rising number of consent classes is clearly a positive step.

But has anything actually changed? Have these workshops led to safer universities for women, or is this a case of too much talk and not enough action?

"There’s a bit of a postcode lottery if you end up at a university that does a lot of this or absolutely nothing.” Nicole Westmarland

“There’s way more awareness, a lot more people are engaging pro-actively and productively with the issue,” says Dave Llewellyn, founder of the Good Lad Workshop. “But we shouldn’t we resting on our laurels thinking the issue is over. There’s still a lot more to do.”

Statistics suggest just that. A 2015 Telegraph study  - one of the most recent to look at sexual harassment at universities - found one in three UK female students have been victims of sexual assault or unwanted advances, with one per cent of all students saying they had been raped while at university.

Professor Nicole Westmarland, co-director of Durham University's Centre for Research into Violence, thinks the biggest problem with the current drive towards awareness-raising and consent classes is a lack of cohesion:

“It’s not being done at the moment in a strategic way. It’s universities picking and choosing, and there’s a bit of a postcode lottery if you end up at a university that does a lot of this or absolutely nothing.”

Natalie James, women’s officer at UCLU (the University College London Union), agrees: “It depends what uni you go to. In London universities there’s a lot of activism around this but that’s not always the case.”

While some universities have publically spoken out about their efforts, others have been criticised for their silence over handling rape complaints.

One of the biggest criticisms students have had is the way that sexual assault victims are treated by universities. Eleanor Muffitt, who was sexually assaulted as a student, previously told the Telegraph: “Staff at the University of Manchester refused to deal with my case unless I went to the police, and rejected my pleas to find out if my assailant was still at the university. Their poor handling of my case worsened my post-traumatic stress disorder and left me suicidal; eventually I dropped out, which I know I wouldn't have done if I had been properly supported.”

Like her, other students who have reported rapes by other students have found that little action has been taken by their uni – to the point where they still have to live in the same halls of residence as their alleged attacker or attend the same tutorials.

“I think universities want to be sympathetic and take action in theory, but in practice they often don’t know what to do especially if both the complainant and alleged perpetrator are students,” explains Westmarland.

“They don’t know what to do, so they often don’t take bold enough action. That inaction is felt by students as not taking sexual assault seriously, not believing them and not keeping them safe.”

Lad banter and rape jokes

She thinks the next step is for universities to implement policies on how to handle such situations.

But this isn’t the only issue with rape culture on campuses. Almost every student I speak to tells me that while there may be fewer overt examples of sexism and inappropriate sexual harassment now - such as humiliating and sexual society initiation ceremonies - insidious versions of 'rape banter' still exist.

"Rape jokes still take place, but instead of people making them in person, they’ve now moved online."

“I think the casual everyday sexism is still very prevalent,” says James. “There’s a lot of laddish banter about picking up freshers because they’re young and easier to take home. You still have club nights with names like ‘f*** a fresher’. I think people still don’t realise how harmful that can be.”

She tells me that the most common examples are men unknowingly perpetuating sexual harassment by persistently hitting on women who aren’t interested, or making them uncomfortable with repeated compliments and comments on their appearance.

Women have spoken to her about drinking too much on nights out and finding fellow students groping them or trying to take them home. Rape jokes still take place, but instead of people making them in person, they’ve now moved online.

“Students find and share them online from websites or social media,” explains James. “There are still ‘lad’ websites that do this and you get Facebook groups like ‘Spotted at the library’ where people write comments like, ‘to the sexy brunette at the desk across from me.’”

What's the solution?

This sort of ingrained sexism is generally accepted as the norm by students. Though it isn’t always harmful in itself, it adds to a campus culture where sexual harassment, unwanted advances – and even sexual assault – are increasingly normalised.

Universities still have a huge part to play in combatting this culture, and creating a safe space for students to report assaults and harassment. But the answer to ending sexism lies with the students themselves.

Male and female students need to be able to call out rape jokes, ‘banter’ and inappropriate behaviour – the problem is that they don’t always feel able to do so.

“Women are dismissed when they say they don’t like being touched or hearing rape jokes,” says James. “There are a lot of people on board with saying serious sexual harassment is bad, but there’s a lot of resistance when it comes to challenging the smaller things.”

Llewellyn says male students can feel the same way: “I think the real issue for the majority of guys is the subtle sexism and jokes. They don’t feel equipped to challenge them because it’s not cool or whatever. Guys think ‘it’s not my job, I’m not a rapist’ - but they can do a huge amount by having these conversations and challenging those jokes when they hear them.”

It brings to mind the recent case of student George Lawlor being trolled online for saying he didn’t want to attend consent classes at the University of Warwick because he ‘wasn’t a rapist’. His argument was that he wasn’t guilty of sexual harassment, so hew shouldn't have to sit through a lecture. 

But, as Llewellyn points out, consent classes don’t just help deter potential perpetrators – they spread awareness and encourage all students to challenge the rape culture around them. Only when every part of that culture is recognised and defied will it cease it exist.

 

The Indian women who keep silent about sexual violence

Article from BBC News about sexual violence towards women in India. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-31313550

Murshidabad in rural West Bengal is in many ways a typical rural Indian district: a dusty, remote place dotted with villages that have little access to healthcare or infrastructure. 

Writer Sudhiti Naskar ensconced herself in this community to find out more about the daily lives of women and she discovered that many women did not report rape or acts of sexual violence.

Here she explains why, even though West Bengal has the third highest rate of crimes against women in India, these women chose to remain silent.

1. The girl needs to be married off

I heard a story in the village, about a teenage girl who was raped here four years ago. She was attacked when she went to defecate in the open, a way of life for most of these villagers. 

Her parents did not press any charges even though they knew who did it. In fact many villagers told me he had been accused of another rape in the village. 

Raising girls in such remote and rural areas means families are frequently confronted with entrenched attitudes towards women

"The girl needs to be married off in a few years", one of her relatives said. 

Finding a suitable groom would be hard if her rape was made public, virginity being an essential criteria for marriage in such rural societies. 

The girl and her parents - who don't want to be identified - have found solace in anonymity and the sympathy they get from their relations and friends. 

Even with all that support, they have not been able to confront the rapist. Apparently, bringing the culprit to justice would mean going public. 

It isn't worth the pain for them. The girl who now studies in a college wants to move on and heal while keeping quiet. 

2. Fear of getting a 'bad name'

Bandana Bagdi, a low-caste woman and a landless farmer's wife, says she was accosted in the same village. 

"I could have been raped, but I ran away", she says, in her ramshackle hut by a pond. 

Bandana Bagdi says she was turned away by villagers when attempted to confront a man who tried to attack her

When, along with her husband and brothers, she went to confront the culprit she was turned away by the villagers. 

"They said I was a bad woman after a good man", she says. Traditional rural societies, such as here, are swift to put the blame on the victim. 

3. The attacker is more powerful

In remote Kelai village, Golechera Bewa, 60, feels helpless. Her youngest daughter Ajida Khatun, 19, was coming home at dusk past a deserted stretch when a man tried to drag her in a corner. Ajida ran to save herself.

Golechera Bewa said going to the police was too much trouble for a woman like her

Going to the police would be "too much [of a] trouble" for an "illiterate, poor old woman", she said. The village council was an option, but going there would give the girl a "bad name". 

Ms Bewa says: "Honour is the only thing that we have. Without that we can't live in these villages". 

Some of her hesitation comes from the fact that the perpetrator is well-off, making her feel powerless. With men going to the Middle East for manual labour, there has been an influx of money and that has changed power dynamics in the area. 

In these rural communities, many women feel like they are at the bottom of the pecking order

The "new money" has caused arrogance, says Rajib Lochan Roy, a lawyer in the area who has represented several rape victims. 

"There's a tendency to justify the bad behaviour through money and power", he says.

He says it is like the old times, when "the feudal lords would assert their will on the women belonging to the economically weaker sections". 

Often, such cases are privately settled with money, never making it to the police record. 

4. The honour of a village

Like individual honour, the honour of a village is also a reason rapes are not reported. Villages here are connected by marriages and bloodlines through generations.

If a case is filed, the reputation of a whole community might be at stake. 

Villages are connected by marriages and bloodlines through generations

This creates pressure from within the community to hush up the incidents; if it is kept silent there will be no public controversy and the peace will be kept. 

5. Are the police under political pressure?

The case of Bapi Das's wife was a disturbing one. The police recorded it as a case of consensual sex followed by murder. 

But the post-mortem report contradicted this, saying it was a case of forced sex. Bapi Das is now pursuing a petition with the Human Rights Commission in Delhi and Calcutta seeking justice. 

A local citizens' human rights group that helped Mr Das to file the petitions feels that the police are under political pressure to undercount cases of rapes.

Is fashion ready to walk its feminist talk? - piece on iD

Find original article here

This week Celine released their spring/summer '15 campaign with a subdued and powerful Juergen Teller shot of author, activist, feminist icon, and current internet hero Joan Didion. Didion has had something of a cultural renaissance on the crest of the neo-feminist wave that crashed dramatically over 2014. As think pieces reflecting on the Year of the Feminist continue to punctuate pages and screens, it's little wonder that a brand as forward thinking and intelligent as Celine played their hand so perfectly this campaign season.

After all, the brand has a stellar record of beautiful, thought provoking campaign images. And since Phoebe Philo took over in 2008 the house has evolved into the quintessential thinking woman's sartorial treasure. In short, who else would the great Didion even consider to partner with?

But it would be naive to think that the appearance of a feminist icon in a multi million dollar campaign was purely intellectual, the reality is that in the past 12-months feminism has been big business. Its cross into the mainstream was clear in the endless accolades and retweets bestowed upon the likes of Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, Tavi Gevinson, and Petra Collins. For the first time since the Spice Girls, Girl Power was a marketing sweet spot. 

If we choose to put our cynicism aside, we can view the reflection of this in fashion as more than economic. After all, fashion always has been a mirror of our daily lives. What we experience, think, and talk about influences how we dress and the work of all great designers. 

So the fashion world was never going to be left behind, and made sure we knew they were thinking about feminism just as much as we were blogging about it. This raises an important question though, has the industry earned the right to call itself feminist? 

Issues of body image, racial diversity, and gender conformity will always be able to be used as arguments for why the industry isn't breaking ground on social change. But recently we have seen interesting demonstrations of major brands trying to push boundaries and exceed expectation.

Both Rick Owens and Marc Jacobs have used Fashion Weeks to dislocate body and beauty standards with real women and bare faces. And Miuccia Prada showed why she's Phoebe Philo's equal when we think about dynamic and powerful women in the industry with Prada's celebration of Diego Rivera's female portraits for Spring/Summer 2014. But it was Chanel's spring/summer 15 show, always strikingly literal, that forced fashion's relationship with feminism into the spotlight. Karl Lagerfeld's protest was undeniably a hit, but it was also the breaking point where we were forced to ask, wait is this a movement or a trend?

Responses were mixed, with some arguing that any discussion around the issue was positive, and the publicity was immeasurable. But it was also the point where the discussion deviated so far away from the topic it slipped into pastiche. On her blog Susie Lau asked, "Whatever Lagerfeld's true stance on feminism is, it is difficult to believe the conviction of a uniform cast of women, held up to an unrealistic standard of beauty, waving such banners, whilst wearing clothes that are prohibitively expensive. Why go there, Karl? To court controversy? To get more Instagram likes? I suspect it's a combination of both."

Lau vocalised the biggest worry that feminists have over the appropriation of the cause. When something shouts so loud people stop listening, details get lost, corners are rubbed off. At Chanel fashionable feminism hit critical mass and the message was suddenly lost, despite it being carried on so many colourful signs. 

It was the moment the movement was reflected back to us as its most heady interpretation, as a trend. And as fashion knows more than anyone, trends are never here forever. 

Now on in the morning light of 2015 we're waiting with baited breath to see if the movement will hold fast, if its message—delivered and digested to a new generation—will be made their own, or will it be cast aside like yesterday's clothes. Didion's appearance is galvanising, it's an early hint that the sentiment has penetrated the industry and allowed lifelong feminists the audience to continue to push a more positive, rounded message. But it's still just one example, so lets not congratulate ourselves too loudly. 

After all, the other fashion story of the week was Victoria's Secret's latest video. And while the brand's staple of beautiful women writhing half naked in the sand is more popular with teenage girls than salivating men, don't let the dichotomy get lost on you. 

Obviously it's not like 2014 was a ray of light in a century of oppression—the world has been producing Coco Chanels, Vivienne Westwoods, Grace Jones, and Madonnas for as long as it's been creating women. And it will continue to do so, but the hope is that whole houses, publications, and media outlets will continue to follow suit and not allow feminism to become another look to pass out of style.

For now, still in the moment, speculation is futile. After all you always think you'll love what's fresh forever, no one ever commits to a trend imagining to cast it aside. So if it's a trend or a revolution, do as you always do when you fall in love, hold feminism close and hope that some style is perennial. 

Indian sisters filmed fighting back against alleged harassers

Article from The Guardian.

A video showing two sisters in northern India hitting back at men who allegedly harassed them on a crowded bus has gone viral in a country where many women endure sexual harassment on a daily basis.

The footage, filmed by a passenger and aired on several television channels on Monday, shows the two young women punching their alleged harassers and lashing out with a belt. The women, identified only by their first names, Arati and Pooja, told reporters that the men had made lewd comments and tried to touch them.

“One of the boys started touching my sister and making kissing gestures,” Arati said. “I told him to go away or I would teach him a lesson. Then he called another boy saying that we have to beat up two girls. And then the other boy got on the bus.”

The sisters said that no one on the bus tried to help them.

Press Trust of India reported that the video was shot on Friday as the sisters were on their way to college.

By late Sunday, police in the state of Haryana had arrested three men and were investigating the incident.

As the news of the women’s actions spread, Manohar Lal Khattar, Haryana’s chief minister, praised the two women and said they would be honoured during India’s republic day celebrations in January.

The video drew a massive response on social media, with many Indians applauding the sisters’ bravery, while criticising other passengers for failing to come to their aid.

Sexual violence and harassment of women has been the subject of a heated debate in India since the fatal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi in December 2012.

Hundreds of thousands of Indians took to the streets in protest after that attack. The anger pushed the government to change the law to introduce more stringent measures to deal with attacks against women.

Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FePWT2QavNY

#empowerhervoice

Dr. Nina Ansary: Road to Equality in Iran Paved with Obstacles

Dr. Nina Ansary spoke to Clarion Project ( a news site based on the threat posed by radical Islam) about her research into the feminist movement in Iran and her findings, coming out next year in a new book.

Dr. Nina Ansary is a historian and expert in the women’s movement in Iran and one of the top social influencers on Iran. She is the author of the upcoming book, The Jewels of Allah(Revela Press/July 2015) which shatters the stereotypical assumptions about women in Iran and highlights the accomplishments and the powerful female voices in Iran’s past and present.

Dr. Ansary regularly contributes to the award-winning news website Womens ENews and serves on the Middle East Institute Advisory Board at Columbia University as well as on Columbia University’s Global Leadership Council. She is an active member of several national organizations dedicated to public policy, educational, charitable and gender-related causes. For more information, visit: www.ninaansary.com. She can be found on Twitter @drninaansary or on facebook.com/ninaansary.

She kindly agreed to speak with Clarion Project research fellow Elliot Friedland about the women's movement in Iran and the struggles that it faces.

Clarion Project: Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, once said that gender equality is “one of the biggest mistakes of Western thought.” With an attitude like that coming from the top, how can a women’s rights movement succeed in Iran?

Dr. Nina Ansary: The road to equality for the women’s movement in Iran is one that is undoubtedly paved with tremendous obstacles. However, what is most important is the art of persistence and an ongoing activism demonstrating resilience despite the ongoing systematic and legalized gender discrimination.

For example, over the years, women’s reluctance to conform to the state’s traditional role – that of wife and mother, has manifested in different forms. In the three and a half decades since the Islamic Revolution, there has been an unprecedented surge in female literacy, with women outnumbering men in higher education. Furthermore, according to United Nations data, Iran has experienced a dramatic fertility decline, leading Ayatollah Khamenei to limit access to contraception and consider a ban on vasectomies to boost the birthrate. In this process, the divorce rate has climbed 3.4% over the last year alone. These are some of the tactics used by women as a means of maintaining some degree of autonomy in their lives, and in the process circumventing the regime’s effort to redirect them into the private domain.

Clarion: You have been outside Iran since 1979. How can the Iranian diaspora, combined with Western feminists support the feminist movement in Iran in an effective way? Has the Western feminist movement abandoned their sisters in non-Western countries?

Dr. Ansary: A crucial ingredient in supporting the women’s movement and their overall objectives is for the international community to actively engage in bringing much needed attention to the plight of women in Iran who continue to be handicapped by patriarchal laws. The regime has routinely attempted to silence this movement. Therefore, raising awareness and amassing support on the outside constitute important factors in this ongoing battle. In this scenario, Western feminists could be instrumental in not only giving their sisters in Iran a “voice,” but also in making a concerted effort to rally for support.

Clarion: Your upcoming book 'Jewels of Allah' is about the women’s movement in Iran. What were some of the things that you discovered when you started investigating? What surprised you?

Dr. Ansary: When I initially began my research, I was struck by the fact that women in Iran were one of the biggest supporters of Ayatollah Khomeini, and in fact a contributing factor to the collapse of the Pahlavi Monarchy. As an Iranian woman, this piece of information, was in and of itself most puzzling and in many ways counterintuitive, given that the Pahlavis were solely responsible for emancipating the Iranian woman after centuries of oppression. Most surprising, was discovering the myriad of bold, talented, and highly accomplished women in post-revolutionary Iran who despite all obstacles, continue to shine their bright light. The Jewels of Allah not only explores the failed gender ideology of the Islamic Republic, and the accomplishments of Iranian women in both present and past, but also exposes the concealed components leading to a feminist movement within a post-revolutionary patriarchal climate.

Clarion: You have said that the women’s movement is strong and flourishing. How can it flourish given the morality police and other ruthless state security apparatuses?

Dr. Ansary: The term “flourishing” is used as a means of showcasing that despite the barricades, women from all walks of life refuse to conform, and continue to forge ahead with an ongoing battle aimed at reversing the discriminatory laws. Just recently, Shahla Sherkat, one of the leading pioneers of the women’s rights movement in Iran, procured a license to re-launch her feminist publication, shut down by hardliners in 2008 after 16 years in operation. This revival marks a defining moment for the resurgence of women’s rights. In 2013, Faezeh Hashemi, the daughter of Iran’s former President, served a 6 month prison sentence for her relentless criticism of the Islamic Republic’s gender practices. Upon her release, she made it very clear that she will not be deterred from the task at hand.

Many religious women have also resorted to re-interpreting passages in the Koran used by hardliners to justify their inferior position in society. Inarguably, their commitment and resolve remains fully intact. Having said this, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that even some of the most progressive Western nations have yet to achieve full equality. Just recently, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren made it known that “every single Republican in the U.S. Senate voted against equal pay for equal work for women.

Clarion: British-Iranian citizen Ghoncheh Ghavami is currently incarcerated in Evin Prison  for attempting to watch a male volleyball game. Are such forms of civil activism helpful in your opinion as they draw attention to the issue, or just a way for young women to end up arrested and in extreme danger?

Dr. Ansary: Although such forms of activism are undoubtedly dangerous and in some instances have serious consequences, they are crucial in bringing to the forefront the legal ramifications of women who are victimized and continue to pay a high price for the irrational premise of patriarchal laws. Ms. Ghavami’s brother brought much needed attention to his sister’s plight in a public statement made to the UK Foreign Office. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond additionally raised concerns about Ms. Ghavami’s incarceration with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif.

Clarion: During the protests surrounding the ‘Green Movement,’ rape was widely deployed by the Iranian police and Basij militia in order to intimidate and subdue the protests. Given the regime’s willingness to resort to such tactics how can protestors successfully agitate for change?

Dr. Ansary: Given such extreme tactics, it is virtually an uphill struggle to “successfully” bring about complete social change. Aside from the reprehensible acts of violence described above, we also cannot forget the courageous 26 year old Neda Agha Soltan, whose shooting death for peaceful protest during the Green Movement made her an iconic symbol of Iran’s struggle. Such shameful recorded images of human rights violations are undoubtedly ones that the regime would prefer remain behind closed doors. While bringing about social change is a monumental task, violence is never the answer, but it is important for the people of Iran not to surrender nor abandon their courageous stance in the face of adversity.

 

 

The article was taken from http://m.clarionproject.org/analysis/dr-nina-ansary-road-equality-iran-paved-obstacles. 

 

Iranian Journalist Denounced as 'Whore' Amid Women's Rights Campaign

Masih Alinejad accused of "being a whore"

Masih Alinejad accused of "being a whore"

"Though Alinejad, who has her own segment on Voice of America’s “OnTen” program, does not endorse banning the hijab, she does advocate a woman’s right to the most basic of freedoms – the freedom to choose, and the freedom to blow your hair in the breeze."

'Dethroning Queen B' by Hannah Beer

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Hannah writes about why Beyonce should not be considered as the feminist role model she appears to be. Previously published on Savage - full link http://www.savageonline.co.uk/our-journal/dethroning-queen-b/

99% of the world’s population believes that Beyoncé can do no wrong, and as such, hearing anything to the contrary might make them feel uncomfortable. If you consider yourself part of that demographic, then I’m sorry for any upset this article may cause you.

I am part of the (what feels like) the 1% that not only doesn’t really get the hype around Beyoncé, but actually feels pretty angered by it. May I remind you, first of all, that this is the woman who was paid millions in 2009 to sing privately for Gaddafi and only announced two years later, when the rest of the world found out, that she conveniently gave the money to charity. Kinda shady, don’t you think? Queen B (a title that, for me, will always belong to Blair Waldorf in Gossip Girl) is presented as the ultimate independent woman, her songs are the megaphone through which the feminist manifesto is blasted, preaching gender equality and female empowerment to every corner of the world, a reputation I cannot understand.

Now, whilst I can’t dispute the quality and the message of Beyoncé/Destiny’s Child classics like ‘Single Ladies’ and ‘Independent Woman’, I can remind you all of Destiny’s Child’s ‘Cater 2 U’ which includes lines like “When you come home late tap me on my shoulder, I’ll roll over/ I’m here to serve you”. These lyrics don’t exactly chime with the message of ‘Independent Woman’, do they? Furthermore, ‘Drunk in Love’, the lead single from the “feminist anthem” that is Beyoncé’s self-titled 5th studio album, is a duet with her husband that glorifies the horrific domestic violence, such as that seen in Ike and Tina Turner’s marriage. When they performed the song at the Grammy’s, Beyoncé mouthed the line “eat the cake, Anna Mae” along with Jay-Z (the line is a reference to a scene in the Tina Turner biopic, in which Ike force feeds his wife cake and then hits her). However, instead of picking up on this, most of the world at the time talked about how great Beyoncé looked on that chair, with only The Guardian questioning her. The aftermath was reminiscent of when the world applauded her for her single ‘Run the World’ and overlooked the fact that it’s on the same album as the song ‘Dance for You’, whose lyrics describe giving a man a lap dance to say thank you for being nice to her, whilst calling him ‘Daddy’.

Beyoncé is the music industry’s ultimate puppet, a true propaganda machine making everyone believe what it wants us to believe. Sure, she sings songs about girls running the world, and when you look at the pop world you’d think that’s true: Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyoncé herself, all female, all dominating the music industry; but it’s a façade. A quick glance at their Wikipedia pages show that they’re all managed by men, sing songs written by men and writhe around in skimpy outfits in videos directed by The Man, Terry Richardson, notorious for publishing photographs of the models he directs giving him head.

What about that ‘feminist essay’ Beyoncé wrote? It was bland and superficial, a very short two and a bit paragraphs of facts and figures dressed up like an argument, written as part of the Beyoncé Inc. feminism-as-a-marketing-device. In it, she reminded us that women ‘make up half the U.S. workforce’ and that ‘we must demand that we receive 100% of the opportunities’. The exceptions, of, of course, are the opportunities she creates; out of the 39 people involved in the production of ‘Beyoncé’ (the album), only 4 of them (except for herself) were women. That’s 10.2% of the company she owns. The emerging pattern is that Beyoncé uses feminism to sell records when it suits her, and the world puts her on a throne and bows down to her (as she instructs us to do) as a result. It’s clever, I can’t deny that, but if she’s going to do it, she should at least do it with some consistency and conviction.

Even if you look past the questionable song content and hyper-sexualised dance moves, you can’t ignore the ‘Mrs Carter World Tour’. How can a woman who claims to be a spokesperson for female empowerment and success independent from men perform under a title that basically attributes her success to the fact that she is ‘Mrs Carter’; i.e. the wife of someone important? It was a move that is totally contrary to the autonomous woman she made the world believe she was, a move that, for me, pulled the curtain up on her whole façade. Yet because the world is so utterly convinced by Beyoncé’s brand of sound bite feminism, it was pretty much swept under the carpet and B’s reign continued.

For as much as she talks about independence, at the end of the day she is still constantly trying to be what is undoubtedly a man’s idea of sexy, because she knows that is what will secure her place at the top; case in point being that she wouldn’t let any unofficial photos of her tour be released, in case they showed her in an unflattering light. When you consider this in contrast to Lady Gaga, who is just as successful as Beyoncé but seen by men the world over as ‘ugly’ and ‘not sexy in the slightest’, it’s clear that Beyoncé is playing everyone, and winning. At the end of the day, Beyoncé wants to be queen. And to be queen, it’s not enough to be nice: as our good friend Regina George taught us in the ever-relevant Mean Girls, the queen is always pretty. Everything Bey does, from her music videos to her philanthropy is geared towards self-promotion. Which is fine, truly. But everyone, especially Beyoncé herself, needs to stop pretending otherwise – she’s a great singer, and she’s enormously talented, but she’s also a Beautiful Liar, and it’s time someone challenged it.

#empowerhervoice

'I am a Feminist' by 'Tofe

I am a feminist.

Sometimes, I feel I am just sexist.

But the world makes me angry,

The fact that people cannot seem to me.

 

They say that we are seeking attention,

That we lack motivation,

That we want to be handed things,

So as not to hurt our girly feelings.

 

They are wrong.

We just refuse to play along,

We refuse to be a part of that masculine game,

We refuse to live a life without aim.

 

I will not be inferior,

I cannot be inferior,

So I therefore become the worst thing a woman can possibly be:

I am a feminist.

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