Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Strengthen accountability and oversight mechanisms for gender equality 3/6

RECOMMENDS that Adherents strengthen accountability and oversight mechanisms for
gender equality and mainstreaming initiatives across and within government bodies. To this effect,
Adherents should:

1. Consider establishing or strengthening capacity of independent institutions (such as Independent
Commissions, Supreme Audit Institutions, Ombuds Offices), and advisory bodies (e.g., Government councils) to monitor the implementation of gender equality strategies, integrate gender issues in policy-making, and facilitate regular reporting, audits and measurement. To be effective, such oversight should be undertaken in a balanced manner and avoid prescriptive approaches to foster continuous improvement while enabling to track progress in gender equality.

2. Strengthen the evidence base and systematically measure progress towards gender equality performance, based on gender impact indicators and measurable outcomes, by:
i) developing and implementing evaluation, measurement and accountability frameworks and indicators and collecting data to regularly assess and report on performance of gender equality and mainstreaming strategies, initiatives, public policies and programmes at appropriate levels of government. Consider building capacity of public institutions based on these evaluations;
ii) actively promoting data dissemination and ensuring affordable, effective and timely access to performance information on gender equality and mainstreaming, that allows for tracking results against targets, monitoring progress towards socio-economic development and for comparison with international and other benchmarks; and
iii) increasing co-ordination among data collecting and producing bodies and collaboration with
relevant stakeholders with a view to developing better gender impact indicators.

3. Encourage greater role of parliaments and parliamentary committees to support progress in gender
equality, for example, by integrating gender perspectives in parliamentary practices, legislation and budgets, by promoting legislative initiatives focusing on gender equality and by providing oversight of the implementation of gender equality and mainstreaming strategies and initiatives.

4. Establish or maintain effective, independent, impartial and efficient complaint and appeal mechanisms to protect rights for gender equality and consider complaints in an efficient, competent and impartial manner.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Mainstream gender equality in the design, development, implementation and evaluation of relevant public policies and budgets 2/6

I. RECOMMENDS that Members and non-Members having adhered to the Recommendation
(hereafter the “Adherents”) mainstream gender equality in the design, development, implementation
and evaluation of relevant public policies and budgets. To this effect, Adherents should:

1. Secure leadership and commit at the highest political level, at the appropriate level of government,
to the development and implementation of a whole-of government strategy for effective gender equality and mainstreaming, which would enable:
i) setting a rationale, action plans, priorities, timelines, objectives, expected outcomes and/or targets, and effective policy planning across public institutions for promoting gender equality. These measures should be accompanied by information and awareness campaigns, media strategies and regular reviews;
ii) engaging relevant governmental and non-governmental stakeholders with a view to ensuring an inclusive and comprehensive coverage of gender equality issues; and
iii) adopting a dual approach to narrowing equality gaps through both gender mainstreaming and specific targeted actions to promote gender equality.

2. Establish an institutional framework to ensure the effective implementation, co-ordination and sustainability of the gender equality and mainstreaming strategy, by:
i) establishing clear roles, responsibilities, mandates and lines of accountability of key governmental and oversight bodies in implementing gender equality and mainstreaming initiatives;
ii) bolstering the capacities and resources of gender equality institutions to facilitate a consistent response at appropriate levels of government and to develop, implement and monitor gender-sensitive programmes and policies throughout the government, based on gender-disaggregated statistics and indicators. Effectiveness of gender equality institutions can also be strengthened by placing them at the highest possible level in the government (see also recommendations II.2 and III.2);
iii) ensuring the capacity and resources of public institutions to integrate gender equality perspectives in their activities, for example, by identifying gender equality focal points across governmental bodies, by investing resources in training and promoting collaborative approaches with knowledge centres to produce gender-sensitive knowledge, leadership and communication, by ensuring the collection of gender and gender-disaggregated statistics in their areas of responsibility and by providing clear guidelines, tools, communication and expectations to public institutions in this area (see also recommendations II.2 and III.2); and
iv) strengthening vertical and horizontal co-ordination mechanisms for policy coherence across governmental bodies and levels of government that involve relevant non-governmental stakeholders to ensure synergies and effective implementation of gender equality initiatives.

3. Integrate evidence-based assessments of gender impacts and considerations into various dimensions of public governance (for example, public procurement, public consultation and service delivery management) and at early stages of all phases of the policy cycle (for example, by aligning ex ante assessments of gender impacts with broader government-wide policy development processes, such as regulatory impact assessment), as appropriate.

4. Consider integration of the gender perspective in all phases of the budget cycle, as appropriate, so
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Friday, February 24, 2017

Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life 1/6

There is growing awareness among the global community that gender equality is a cornerstone of inclusive growth. Gender-balanced leadership and gender-responsive policy making are more likely to ensure that the benefits of growth are shared equally. Women’s full involvement in decision-making and agenda-setting are crucial for adequately reflecting the priorities and needs of all members of society. It also contributes to generate greater trust of citizens in public institutions. 

While governments are increasingly implementing gender equality initiatives, the pace of progress is slow and varies across countries and levels of government. Women’s participation has been increasing in middle/senior management levels in many OECD countries. However, the disparities between men and women increase as one climbs the organizational ladder. Women still lag behind men in access to decision-making and leadership positions, while men continue to be underrepresented in caring professions such as nursing. While gender considerations are embedded in social sector initiatives, such goals are barely articulated when it comes to other sectors, such as transport, urban infrastructure or energy. 

Governments also continue to face challenges in designing inclusive and gender-sensitive public policies, and in ensuring that gender equality initiatives are effectively implemented. These remaining gaps not only undermine the well-being of societies, but represent missed opportunities for achieving economic growth that benefits all. To be successful, governments need effective governance mechanisms, and sound public sector capacities to ensure effective implementation of gender equality initiatives.

 In the framework of the OECD Gender Initiative, the path-breaking 2015 OECD Recommendation of the Council on Gender Equality in Public Life complements the 2013 OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship by focusing on the implementation mechanisms to ensure the policy impact. The 2015 Recommendation promotes a government-wide strategy for gender equality reform, sound mechanisms to ensure accountability and sustainability of gender initiatives, and tools and evidence to inform inclusive policy decisions. It also promotes a “whole-of-society” approach to reducing gender stereotypes, encouraging women to participate in politics and removing implicit and explicit barriers to gender equality. 

This Recommendation is unique, as it provides not only governments, but also parliaments and judiciaries, with clear, timely and actionable guidelines for effectively implementing gender equality and gender mainstreaming initiatives, and for improving equal access to public leadership for women and men from diverse backgrounds. 

This Recommendation was developed by the OECD Public Governance Committee, in cooperation with the OECD Employment, Labour and Social Affairs Committee, as a critical part of the Organisation’s Inclusive Growth Initiative. This work builds on the extensive expertise developed by the Public Governance Committee and its policy communities, including the 2014 report Women, Government and Policy-Making in OECD Countries: Fostering Diversity for Inclusive Growth.

 This Recommendation was developed through a global stakeholder consultation process with OECD Committees, government officials, parliamentarians, representatives of the judiciary, experts and civil society organisations. It represents the political will of OECD member countries to promote gender equality to achieve inclusive growth. I encourage adherents to use this Recommendation actively, and implement it to achieve fairer societies and foster inclusive economic growth.
Angel Gurría
OECD Secretary-General

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Burundian women’s voices

It took almost four years for Burundian women’s voices to be heard in the peace process. In the first round of the negotiations, women were absent. Eventually, women were allowed in as observers but with no right to take part in the talks. However, when the negotiations began, women were prevented from entering the negotiating room. A breakthrough was reached when UNIFEM and the Mwalimu Nyerere Foundation sponsored the All-Party Burundi’s women peace conference held 17–20 July 2000 in Arusha, Tanzania.

As requested, each of the 19 Burundi organisations represented at the peace negotiation sent two women delegates. More than 50 Burundi women and observers participated in the event. The women’s proposals were presented at a meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela, who was designated to replace the late Mwalimu Nyerere as facilitator for the Burundi peace negotiations. Among the steps of action requested were:

  •  a women’s charter to be included in the constitution 
  •  elimination of all laws that discriminated against women 
  •  special measures for women’s security l women’s right to land and inheritance 
  •  equal access to education for women and girls 
  •  an end to impunity for gender based war crimes, including domestic violence. 

All the women’s recommendations were accepted by the 19 parties and were integrated into the final peace accord, with the exception of a clause requesting a 30% quota to promote women’s representation at all decision making levels.
 Source: Rehn and Johnson Sirleaf (2002)

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation

A film by Jennifer Lee

Structured as a personal journey of rediscovery by filmmaker Jennifer Lee, this documentary brings the momentous first decade of secondwave feminism vividly to life. Its trajectory starts with the earliest stirrings in 1963 and ends with the movement’s full blossoming in 1970—from the Presidential Commission’s report on widespread discrimination against women and publication of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique up through radical feminists’ takeover of the Statue of Liberty and Friedan’s calls for a women’s strike for equality. A wealth of period footage captures landmark events and the pivotal roles of the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Equal employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Redstockings, and other organizations. Thirty-five diverse interviewees, including rank-and-file activists along with well-known feminists Betty Friedan, Frances M. Beale, Gloria Steinem, Robin Morgan, Ti-Grace Atkinson, and others, share memories of the period as well as issues and challenges that still resonate today. A great introduction to Women’s Studies and critical viewing for historians and academics interested in feminism, activism and the Women’s Movement.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Caste and Prostitution in India. Conclusion 7/7

There exist an intimate relationship between caste, culture and prostitution that reinforces the structured and hierarchic powerrelations which are the reflections of caste system in India. The logic of poverty as being the primary driver for compelling woman to engage into this profession of prostitution is perhaps misplaced and half - baked truth. The poverty argument misses the link that Dalits are not Dalits because they poor but they are poor because they are Dalits. Quite visibly, caste forms the bedrock for the act of prostitution as the hard facts and cultural ways of subjugation points out this. Why is this so that majority of prostitutes are from lower-caste category, this is not merely accidental but schematic of caste system which excludes some from having equal opportunity and considers the lower caste as a category who must live their life according to normative Hindu way. The burden of Shame is put on those women in such a way that their feeling of belongingness to a community and perception about selfvanishes. This intimate link is one of the essential features of caste based power-relations. In order to understand the dynamics of cultural traditions that seek to dominate and subjugate women one must need to explore the link with caste system. Poverty is of course a reason, but not the principle reason as such.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

We Applaud Ireland for Law Targeting Buyers of Sex Survivors of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Lead Groundbreaking Campaign

International Human Rights Group Applauds Ireland for Law Targeting Buyers of Sex
Survivors of Prostitution and Sex Trafficking Lead Groundbreaking Campaign

New York, Feb. 15, 2017 - The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) commends the Republic of Ireland for the historic passage of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which decriminalizes prostituted people and penalizes the purchase of sex. After years of intense efforts, the bill passed Ireland's lower house, Dáil Éireann, on Feb. 7 and was approved in the upper house, Seanad Éireann, on Feb. 14.

The new Irish law will help efforts to end demand by holding sex buyers accountable and will also ensure that prostituted individuals and survivors can access comprehensive support services. In addition, it strengthens national laws against sexual grooming, child pornography and sexual harassment in the Republic of Ireland.

Rachel Moran, founder and executive director of SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment), was a key Irish abolitionist activist who advocated for the law as part of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign, a coalition of direct service providers, survivor-led groups, women's rights organizations, labor unions, medical providers and other groups in Ireland.

"It's been six years almost to the day since I first spoke publicly in Dublin about the harm and damage of prostitution and the need for our government to do something about it," said Moran, also the author of "Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution." "With great relief, our government has formally responded to the Turn Off the Red Light campaign and voted overwhelmingly to criminalize the demand for paid sexual access to human beings. Ireland is now a hostile territory for pimps and traffickers, and a place where men can no longer legally use women's desperation to buy their way inside our bodies. This is a historic day that sends a message of hope."

The Republic of Ireland follows the example of Sweden, the first country to legally recognize prostitution as a form of violence and discrimination against women in 1999. Norway, Iceland, Canada (with exceptions), Northern Ireland and, most recently, France have also enacted demand-focused, abolitionist laws to combat the multi-billion dollar sex trade and its economic engine, sex trafficking. This legal framework is known as the Swedish or Nordic model.

In enacting the new law, the Irish government upholds its international obligations under the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Palermo Protocol). Respectively, these international conventions call on state parties to enact national legislation and policies that address the exploitation of prostitution of others and the demand that fosters the sex trade and sex trafficking, among other human rights violations.

"Passage of the Irish law is a testament to the survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking who tell us with immense courage about the unspeakable horrors they've endured at the hands of sex buyers, traffickers and pimps," said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of CATW. "This victory belongs to them. Millions, mostly women and girls, continue to be exploited in the sex trade worldwide with unacceptable impunity, but today we applaud Ireland for honoring the tireless campaigners and for showcasing its vision of human rights and equality for all."
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) is one of the oldest non-governmental organizations working to end human trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) of women and girls worldwide. CATW engages in advocacy, education and prevention programs, and services for victims of trafficking and CSE in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

A feminist critique to Dalit interpretation 6/7

Interestingly, the non-brahman and Dalit movements are discredited not only for contributing to the decline of much-celebrated economic independence, cultural significance and sexual autonomy of the devdasis. The antagonism of men from the devdasi communities has been located in the internal divisions within the community in terms of family structures and performance traditions, and the men’s envy for the fame, wealth and honor of devdasis (Srinivasan 1985).

Feminists argue that, Dalit interpretation have shown an important aspect of discrmination and exploitation. However, it oversimplifies a complex situation because the way Dalit thinkers say that these women should come out of the profession and live a life of self-respect is itself based on Brahmanic norms. They tend to impose the Brahmanic norms of normative married life in which women is supposed to be an object bearing Chastity. This creates a contradiction within the dalit discourse on prostitution. Had been the case that dalit women who were forced to be in this profession would have been accepted by their families then these women would not have to go into the brothels.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Resistance to the shame and exclusion: voices from dalit movements 5/7

Some of the international bodies like Human Rights Watch have also acknowledged prostitution as a form of oppressive caste-based labour, along with scavenging and bondage. However, this voice has the complication of leading to marginalization and stigmatization of particular castes, instead of highlighting its exploitative underpinnings.

A controversy had arisen over a UNICEF – supported study, which was conducted by Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission about caste-based prostitution. This study is seen to have degraded and stigmatized particular caste and their women. This has been challenged for the social contempt it breeds against the women of these castes making it impossible for them to lead respectable lives. Further, the study marks the men of these communities as essentially criminals and condemns them for forcing women into prostitution. The study noted that girls were forced into this profession by their own relative. This view tends to ignore the realities of caste system which reinforces its will on the lower caste women. These studies put the burden on the individual family and easily escape from the underlying cause of this act [6].

The caste tag has become an anathema for the young people of theses caste communities. This creates the conditions in which one has to accept this profession even when they know the repercussions of it.

The Dalit movement argues that not only devdasis life bound within patriarchal framework, but the system was a caste-based one which allowed the high-caste men free and religiously sanctioned sexual access to the Dalit women which could not be mistaken for the freedom assigned to them as being sexually free. Significant movement to contend and resist this practice came from various Dalit movements. Dalit literatures, especially of Namdev dhasal’s poetry and baburao bagul’s stories have been centered on Mumbai’s red light area, located in settlements of Dalit workers and labourers and have underlined the humiliation, exploitation and pain of the prostitute as symbolizing the caste oppression. The controversy over dhasal’s Golpitha was significant in erupting Dalit movement.

Durgabai Bhagwat, a well-known Marathi literary, had reiterated the conventional patriarchal argument that the prostitutes should be respected for performing necessary function for society. This came to be vehemently attacked by Raja Dhale. Dhale commented that if the downtrodden were to be uplifted by giving them honor in this way, then why this occupation has not been taken up by Durgabai herself, thus hitting the caste underpinning of the prostitution [7].

The Dalit movement has articulated its critique and the challenge to prostitution as caste based exploitation. It recognizes that not only the majority of women in prostitution are located in lower-caste material life and in poverty, but that prostitution was the sexual exploitation of the lower caste-women, and it served to destroy the self-respect of these castes, to subjugate them and keep them underprivileged. These movement thus correctly highlights that how lower-caste women were engaged in cultural and sexual labour for gratification of largely uppercaste men. Dr. Ambedkar saw prostitution and the devdasis practices as stigma to the caste and appealed to these women to leave their condemned life that degrades their social status and challenge the brahmanical norms (Pawar and Moon 1989).

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Caste and ritualized prostitution 4/7

Devdasi is an established practice in South India where a girl is dedicated to serve the god at the very early age. Originally, these women were associated with the singing and dancing, however, with the disintegration of feudal empire they lost their traditional patrons. This made them vulnerable and they were forced to indulge in the prostitution. Traditionally, they enjoyed high social status as being servant of God; however, with the change in social moralities and social conditions these women too were stigmatized and marginalized.

Devdasi tradition has been outlawed by the government but it is still prevalent in many parts of India with different names and manifestations. One such is the Jogini tradition of Andhra Pradesh, which is the contemporary form of Devdasi. However, one of the distinctive feature of Jogini tradition is that by norm lower caste women can become a jogin which was not the norm in case of devdasi. Interestingly, jogins tradition ensures the dominance of upper caste males. Eventually, reinforces the caste hierarchies. Once the women of lower caste become jogin she has to do sexual intercourse not only with the upper caste males but with the males of their own community. These women lose belongingness from particular community and even the lower caste males of their own community sexually exploit jogins. This creates the identical interest between lower caste males and upper caste males and they want this system to prevail. This shows the interface of caste hierarchies and gendered discrimination.

Politics of Shame and of Exclusion

The cultural values and norms of society produce marginalization sometimes directly and reproduce marginalization indirectly through ‘victimization’. The cultural codes generated through structures of patriarchy reinforces particular norms for women and thus, creates gender essentialism which subtly but strongly influences the perception of these women about their own SELF. These women in prostitution therefore perceive themselves to be indulged in some sort of immoral practice which they might not think wrong in their individual judgment. But socially constructed meaning to this act robs off their own construction of SELF and reduces them to be a victim. Eventually, cultural codes regulates and controls the body and sexuality of the women There are multiple forms of marginalities attached to it where social marginalization and victimization also reinforces political marginalization as well because these women are driven out of the Public Space.

It is stated earlier that the association of prostitution with the religion has been the age old phenomenon, so in many parts of the country we can find the female dancers and singers attached to temples are generally referred to by the term ‘Devdasi, which literally means: ‘female slaves of the deity. The cult of dedicating girls to temple is prevailing all over India in different forms and names, such as Devdasi in Karnataka state, Maharis in Kerala state, Natis in Assam state and so on. As centuries passed, their services shifted from gods to earthly lords. Also, rural child prostitution is rooted in the continued exploitation of the scheduled castes and the position of girls is the most oppressed within these historically oppressed groups (Shankar 1990). Many a times young girls of low caste, even before the onset of puberty are singled out by the rich or powerful people of the community or by parents themselves.

This is how cultural norms exploits and subjugates women and creates multiple marginalizations when it exploits women of low caste because they are most vulnerable to be exploited easily. The lower caste girls are earmarked to join this profession sometimes through some constructed ritual and sometimes through social force. Perhaps I have a poor understanding of a different community’s traditions but I ask, whose tradition is this? Is it an individual girl’s tradition? What about culture- who made the culture? To whose advantage and disadvantage is it? I feel as though many practices are conveniently played off as “cultural,” thus assigning some sort of reason for why they exist when our intuition tells us otherwise.

The act certainly has implication for the caste system. The act in Indian society is considered to be shameful act which subsequently mean that the one who would indulge in it would be marginalized and excluded because of the shame and stigma attached to it. Why has been the case that lower caste women be inducted into this kind of culture. The logic is simple, caste hierarchies and power-relations debars the upper caste to practice such a degrading profession and it is because of their caste based world-view in which the women of upper caste is nurtured. Why this tradition is prevalent amongst the lower caste communities? This practice of earmarking the profession for lower caste is a feature of caste system which creates room for brahmanic organization of culture in such a way that lower caste automatically become excluded. The culture of shame in a way is a necessary element for the caste system. It is perhaps because this ensures the continuation of culture of caste system and hierarchies. Caste system's ideological foundation rest on purity/impurity which means impure works are to be performed by those who are lower in caste category. This closed system considers the act of prostitution outside traditional bramanic norms of marriage was attached with lower caste and therefore became shameful and vice-versa.

Thousands of Dalit girls are forced into prostitution every year. The link between caste and forced prostitution is apparent in the Devadasi and Jogini systems practiced in India. In India, the Devadasi and Jogini systems are a form of religiously sanctioned sexual abuse. Originally a sacred, religious practice, the Devadasi dedication of girls to temples has turned into a systematic abuse of young Dalit girls serving as prostitutes for dominant caste community members [5]. Most girls and women in India’s urban brothels come from Dalit, lower-caste, tribal, or minority communities. In 2007, Anti-Slavery International published a study on the practice of ritual sexual slavery or forced religious ‘marriage’. It found that 93% of Devadasi were from Scheduled Castes and tribes.

Ravinder Kumar, an unemployed graduate, says, "The moment they (employers) see the Bedia name, they set aside our job applications." Kumar says no person from the village has been able to get a job with the Rajasthan government. Bedia children are taunted and discriminated against in schools.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Caste and forced prostitution: A study of Bedia tribes 3/7

While India’s loathing of daughters leads to more than a million female feticides each year, and the killing of thousands of new born girls, the Bediais are one community that wants girls. But do they want girls because they have a sense of equality? Certainly not.

When a woman is pregnant, the family hopes it will be a girl. Not a boy.

What makes the Bedia’s stance on girls different from that of the rest of India?

It is their old tradition of inducting their daughters into sex-work.

For long, women have served as the lifeline of the Bedia community. There is a ceremonial initiation of girls soon after puberty in a ritual called ‘Nath Utrai.’ Because of the normalcy of this practice, it is not viewed as “prostitution,” but as a time-honored tradition [4].

The Bedia women who get married may discontinue the work. However that would mean a loss of revenue for the family and community. Probably to discourage that, the norm has been for Bedia men to pay a large bride-price for a Bedia bride. Hence, Bedia men usually marry women from outside communities.

Prior to India’s independence the Bedia women would serve wealthy land-owners and feudal lords, and be handsomely rewarded with cash and jewelry. Anuja Agarwal, author of Chaste Wives, and Prostitute Sisters: Patriarchy and Prostitution among the Bedias, who has spent much time getting to know the Bedia, says that many migrate to cities and urban red-light districts in search of work, and can have very high earnings, up to Rs.30,000/- a month (60 times India’s poverty level income).

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Caste and forced prostitution: A case of Nat community 2/7

Caste as a principle determinant of the forced prostitution is most visible in case of Nat communities, Bedia and Bachra tribes of North India. Nat community, the lowest in the traditional caste system were associated with the acts of performing folk arts. During the Monarchy days the women of this caste assumed the role of entertainers. But with the colonial encounter and subsequent weakening of the feudal empire these communities lost their traditional feudal patrons. In some regions, the women of these communities had to accept the prostitution as their profession since they belonged to the lower caste communities lacking opportunities at that time. Brahmins and upper caste lords saw this as an opportunity to do counter-revolution in order to strengthen their hold on the lower caste communities. The social morality of Shame which is attached to this profession was an instrument for the continuation of the culture of caste system. Women of nat community chose it in struggle for livelihood eventually complled to practice an intergenerational profession because women of these caste do not get opportunity to get out of it. [3].

In Punjab Nat claim to be by origin of Brahmin of Marwar, whose duty was supply of funeral pyres, on a particular occasion, as the community was transporting the funeral pyre, a member of the party died. This was seen as a bad omen, and the communities were outcasts. They therefore, took the occupation of dancing. Not very surprisingly, the Nat who claim to be by origin of Brahmin still don’t practice intergenerational prostitution. This shows the entrenchment of caste hierarchies.

Interestingly, it was not only in the expediency of the caste system but British colonial rule also wanted this to be continued. Whatever they may say about modern ideals at surface level, British government too was not interested as such to abolish such practice. However, colonial rule outlawed devdasi system but did not ensure its implementation. British colonial rule wanted some prostitutes to satiate the sexual desire of their army personnel and they knew it well that upper caste women would not take up to this profession. Therefore, these kinds of traditions perpetuated and forced prostitution became a need of British rule. This attitude of colonial rule transformed this tradition into one of organized/intergenerational prostitution.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Caste and Prostitution in India 1/7

Changing Forms and Realities: An Introduction
Prostitution in simple terms means ‘selling sexual services for material/commercial/economic gains. This profession has existed in India since many ages. The ancient roots of it may be found in many historical accounts of Buddhist literature, Kautilyan Arthashastra, Vedas, Puranas, Mahabharta etc. The Purana states that very sight of prostitutes brings good luck. The women prostitutes in those times were classified into three categories, namely, Kumbhadasis, Rupajivikas and Ganikas. The act had religious and cultural sanction and these women enjoyed considerable respect within social hierarchy as the courtesans of king. Shailendra Nath writes in Ancient Indian History (1999) “courtesans or prostitutes (in mauryan period) enjoyed a social status not accorded to them anywhere in the world” [1]. There was no such intimate link between caste and prostitution. No Hindu religious text associates the act of prostitution with caste hierarchies.
Prostitution in ancient India was largely regulated by state institutions and not considered as an act having loss of dignity but a profession that was adjusted with the social institutions in an otherwise male dominated society. Abdur Razzak, the Persian ambassador to prosperous kingdom of Vijaynagar wrote in 1443: “Prostitution was permitted, regulated and turned into royal revenue”. In medieval India, inspite of the fact that most of Mughal ruler did not like the act but though regulated it through institutions and the women enjoyed a status within society as being a part of the society at large. The oxford history of India says: “Akbar greatest of the moguls had nothing like it and yet it may be doubted if any of the ancient Greek city were better organized it”.
Devdasi (handmaiden of God) system of dedicating unmarried young girls to Gods in Hindu Temples, which often made them objects of sexual pleasure to temple priests and pilgrims, was an established custom in India in 300AD. There are reasonably good records of Prostitution in large Indian cities in different times from ancient to medieval and British colonial India; prostitution was not considered as a degrading profession in that period as it was in the second – half of the 19th century. Beginning in the 1850s, perceptions regarding the morality of prostitution changed, leading to an increased criminalization of the practice [2]. Simultaneously British saw prostitution as an evil necessary to satiate the “natural sexual- desire” of their troops and sought to control the practice by ordering that Indian women be available in the cantonments for soldiers, thus giving birth to Brothel-system and Red Light Area districts in urban Indian society.
With the changing political economy of colonial India, these different groups of women lost their customary rights and privilages – such as inheritance rights or spaces to perform at elite gatherings –and were increasingly pushed to engage only in sexual labour for which they came to be condemned. The state sought to homogenize the category of prostitute by branding many women operating ouside the marital framework –such as courtesans or devdasis or popular cultural performers –as immoral and as prostitutes, so that these women could be made available for the white soldiers and could be directly regulated for curbing the spread of veneral disease among soldiers. The highlighting of the immoral practices among the colonizers would mark the natives as licentious, barbaric and backward, and consequently legitimize colonial rule. From this emerged legal measures and social campaigns attempting to regulate and eliminate ‘immoral’ practices such as devdasis. However, the inclusion of devdasis and courtesans in the category of prostitutes came to be opposed by the nationalists in the name of culture as autonomous domain. This act, however, was not a benevolent nationalist act but an act that sought to preserve and promote the caste system and its practices.
But one of the fundamental question which needs to be asked is when and why caste became a determining feature for women to choose this profession. Perhaps, the situation changed with the colonial encounter and with weakening of the feudal power-relations. It was because of resistance from the lower caste communities and the modern ideas challenging the legitimacy of caste system which compelled the feudal elites and upper caste people to (re)construct such a tradition of caste based prostitution. In a way, this caste based prostitution can instrumentally be used against the Dalits.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Combating violence against women in the framework of European Union – Egypt cooperation

Violence against women is a priority for the EU, as demonstrated by the fact that there are specific EU human rights guidelines on violence against women. Therefore, the EU-Egypt Action Plan of 2007 (still in force), which was negotiated between the EU and the Egyptian government, includes several commitments relating to VAW, including the commitment to eradicate FGM through legislation and public awareness raising, to fight trafficking of women and to ensure women’s access to health. It also mentions that the EU’s support for Egypt’s efforts to promote gender equality and combatgender-based violence. It further emphasizes the importance of strengthening the support for the National Council for Women, including its periodic review of relevant legislations and recommendations for new legislation. VAW is also a thematic priority in the EU country strategy for human rights in Egypt. On this basis, the EU funds civil society working on these issues. However, the weakness of these EU-Egypt instruments stems from the lack of clear objectives and indicators to assess Egypt’s progress.

Recommendations to the Egyptian government:

Intensify efforts to promote gender equality and combat violence against women in the public and private spheres;
Reform the penal code to punish all forms of violence against women and ensure its implementation to ensure women’s access to justice;
Revise the national strategy on combatting violence against women from June 2015 to include the legislative changes needed to combat VaW;
Investigate sexual violence committed against women since November 2012 and prosecute those responsible; especially, during demonstrations and protests since November 2012 as only once perpetrators were held accountable for such crimes despite the consistency and repetitiveness of these crimes;
Enact legislation to mandate the regular collection of statistical data and research to ensure an adequate knowledge base for effective implementation and monitoring;
Act in accordance with the standards of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and introduce national legislation to protect them from state and non-state actors, to recognize and enable their work;
Create a women’s human rights defender focal point in the relevant ministries, the National Council for Women and the National Council for Human Rights that would address the concerns and violations committed against women human rights defenders and facilitate their work;
Ensure full protection for survivors of all forms of violence against women through shelters and other protection mechanisms, such as hotlines and protection of women in situations of immediate danger;
Provide independent oversight for protection mechanisms as well as rehabilitation and empowerment programs to protect survivors of VAW.

Recommendations to the EU:
Ensure the implementation of its Egypt’s Action Plan, particularly with regard to supporting Egypt’s efforts to promote gender equality and reinforce the fight against discrimination and gender-based violence;
Ensure the implementation of the EU guidelines on Violence against women and girls in its relation with Egypt;
Support measures that comprehensively combat VAW in Egypt, including legislative changes and the work of the Egyptian National Council for Women;
Continue its support to civil society in the fight against VAW, while showing understanding for the challenges on the ground and acknowledging the importance of local initiatives to combat VAW;
Ensure the development of a comprehensives gender profile on Egypt, including on the issue of Violence against Women.
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Saturday, February 4, 2017


Understanding that transparency and integrity are feminist principles, within the first 100 days, announce system-wide reforms to increase transparency within the UN and to reinforce public trust in the UN system. Announce that, in the next year, the UN will: Š

  • Institute universal Gender SWAPs (UN Systemwide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women) for all UN agencies and bodies, including the 5th Committee, and make that data publicly available on a central platform. Systemwide, televise meetings and open them to civil society participation, especially feminist groups, for in-person as well as via skype or other technological mechanisms. Š 
  • Request that meetings between governments and UN country teams be made publicly available, including the workshops and conferences where country programmes are negotiated. Š
  •  Institute a system-wide Freedom of Information Policy that would allow civil society to request sex-disaggregated information on UN budgets and hiring, SWAP reports, and archived recordings of open meetings.
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Day 304 #FreeNazanin - Letter to my daughter

1 DE FEB. DE 2017 — There is much for me to update you on – news of Nazanin’s life in the general cells, what happened at her appeal, that false ransom demand. There is a lot to say. 

But the first words I wanted to be from Nazanin. Last week Nazanin managed to write a letter in Farsi to Gabriella, or Gisou as is her Farsi name.
It was published by an Iranian human rights organisation, who notified me just before it went up.

I am grateful to them for giving her a voice – her first in this whole saga – written a couple of days after her sentence was confirmed. I am glad she still has the poetry in her soul.

The letter can be found here: http://www.humanrights-ir.org/?p=1689 For those of you (like me) who can’t read Farsi, a friend has translated Nazanin’s words: 

My Gisou, my sweet daughter, 
Forgive me for the distance and for all the moments of loneliness that both of us, or rather, the three of us endured. Forgive me for all the nights I was not by your side to hold your warm, little hand till you fall asleep. Forgive me for all those moments you missed the bosom of your mother, for all those teething fever nights that I was not there for you; forgive me. 

My golden Gisou, forgive me for that first week of our separation, when neither of us knew what was happening, and when you were burning in fever as your way of protesting separation from your mother’s bosom. Forgive me for they took you away not just from your mother, but from your father too. 

Believe me, I could never imagine you would experience such anguish in a country where your mother came into this world and grew. Had I known, I would never have hurried to pack our suitcase for that two week trip to Tehran last March. That moment of farewell to your father at Gatwick, that cold day of reluctant spring, when you sweetly and naughtily gave him a hug and a kiss on his check, how could I even imagine destiny would strike us separate so long? 

The day they, unfairly and unjustly, took you away from my bosom, when I’d been breastfeeding you until only a few days before. That day they promised freedom the following morning. I did not know or imagine in what faith or school of ethics, such injustice to a mother and her little child is acceptable. That day that morning hope of freedom was nothing but a lie. 

My sweet girl, the sound of your laughter, has been ringing in my ears these past months, becoming one with me. Caressing your hair and listening to your velvety voice have been denied to me for many days become months. As those moments piled up, they have turned into giant black clouds pouring every night and every day like Monsoon rain, constantly with no power in me to stop. 

Did they not hear long nightly whimpers of a mother? - those who issued a guilty verdict and to achieve their ends accused me, reproached me and locked me up in solitary confinement? The calls that have reached the ears of thousands and thousands of people throughout the world have not been heard here, in the country where I was born. 

It is a story that people, far beyond borders that surround us, listened to, cried over and protested at the injustice we have been put through. Yet silence is the response of those who rule in my country. 

My beautiful girl, on that warm day in June 2014, when you opened your eyes to this world for the first time, I could not know you, so young, would soon be subjected to a big lesson, a lesson of pain and suffering. Humans are born with pain and life is not what we always expect it to be. Yet patience is a legacy passed on from one generation. Ours never runs out. 

Throughout the past ten months, I woke up every morning with the hope of returning home and holding you to my heart. I went to sleep every night with the dream of freedom in the morning. Still there is a flame in me that fires every night with hope of inhaling your warm breath and fades every morning in the hope of seeing and embracing you. 

The day that I passed you on to the loving arms of my parents, you were too young and unable to comprehend dark reality of separation. You still don’t. Who does understand a reality that would separate you, me and your father from one another for months, maybe years. 

My darling, with every new tooth you grew, every new word you learned, every step your climbed without help, every centimeter you grew, and the day you put on your dress by yourself, ate your meal without help, learned your first poem, drew your first drawing, learned colours in two languages, I was happy. But I also cried. My heart burned in this injustice. I had missed days that would not return and I was powerless as they went. I had to accept and surrender to reality as it was. 

My Gisou, forgive me for not being with you on your second birthday, for not being granted a brief phone call. But I know although you were denied my warm hug, your father arranged a big birthday party for you there with our friends and family. A celebration that neither of your parents could join with you, but I’m happy that at least your grandfather, grandmother, aunts and uncle in Tehran tried to fill for you the empty places of your father and me. 

I will wait more, a little more. But one day you must listen to all I have to say. One day I will tell you the story of all these lonely days, the story of pain and separation. There will come a day when we will throw away all these bitter and old memories, all that is decayable and only keep the lessons we learned from them. You, I and your father will never succumb to this hurricane of fate. The love we share knows no boundaries and walls. It is our life. There will come a day that we will be able to live fresh all the days of our lives. Life can be separated into tiny pieces, each being life by itself, living again going to the park, drawing, making shapes with play dough, reading a story, eating ice cream, even laughing out loud from the top of a slide…

There will come a day when I will learn if strawberries and blueberries are still your favourite fruit, if orange is still your favourite colour. Maybe they are no longer. 

My darling, do not sulk at separation. As happiness is not forever, sorrow and separation do not last either. Nader Ebrahimi says in A Gentle Love Song: Good and bad are moral values, not historical ones. We get all our senses - of good and evil, tyranny or justice, decadence or piety, hate or love toward other humans, not from history, but from the spring of our moral beliefs, conceived before history records. 

My daughter, never think about passage of time. Only the defeated lament at the cruel plunder of time. We will defeat time, faith and hope are a sword in its stone heart. 

My Gisou, there will come a day that we will be together again and tenderly hold one another’s loving hands. If time has deprived us of these days of togetherness and denied your father and me these days of your childhood, we do not fear. They can’t take away from us our memories. They can’t take our dreams for future. 

Injustice will not remain unaccounted. But it is love that kept us together in these most difficult times, and love will bring us together again. 

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Evin Prison, 24 January 2017

 Please ask Free Nazanin Ratcliffe:
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The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is at once the symbol of all that is possible for feminism at the UN and emblematic of all that is wrong with the system as it currently stands. It, and UN Women, should be a platform for civil society activists to access the UN, petition for their states to act, and to work in coalition to meet common goals. Both have been a shrinking space for civil society and marked by an increasing influence by the private sector—corporations and private foundations-- including through direct committee dialogue with the agency’s leadership. 

  • Š Reform annual meetings of CSW to increase intentional spaces for civil society dialogue. For starters, declare that negotiations will not take place in advance of the actual meeting, effectively shutting out civil society voices, 
  • Š Announce at CSW61 that the 2018 CSW will take place outside of New York City, and in a developing country, alternating between New York and UN regions thereafter. This will allow for those who may not be able to obtain visas or funding to get to CSW access this important platform, and discourage the domination of elite voices. 
  • Empower gender ministers to negotiate the outcome documents, and encourage a narrower focus on specific women’s rights and gender equality issues that foster specific commitments by dutybearers.
  • Š Convene a plural advisory council that allows for rotating representatives of civil society, unions, and the private sector to engage directly with UN Women and each other in support of UN Women´s mandate.
  • The International Labour Organization implemented a tripartite model of shared leadership by UN,corporations and workers in order to afford equal opportunity for private, public and worker voices which could be used as a model. 


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