Wednesday, 1 October 2014
Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Monday, 29 September 2014
Low literacy rates. High rates of sexual violence. Maternal mortality. Domestic abuse. Forced marriage. Afghanistan has long been one of the most difficult places to be a woman, and despite great progress since the days of Taliban domination, legislation designed to protect women and give them civil rights has been fought at every turn by some who claim it is “un-Islamic.”
One small group of Afghan women, however, is finding freedom and self-determination through the mastery of a simple machine: the bicycle.
The Women’s National Cycling Team of Afghanistan is only a few years old. Its 10 members, most between the ages of 17 and 22, have yet to finish a race. But they are determined to persevere in their chosen sport despite multiple barriers, and are aiming to ride in the 2020 Olympics.
Men driving by insult them. Boys along the road throw rocks at them. Sometimes they don’t have enough money to buy adequate food to fuel their rides. Every day, they are reminded that it is taboo in Afghan society for a woman to get on a bicycle. And still they ride.
“They tell us that it is not our right to ride our bikes in the streets and such,” says Marjan Sidiqqi, one of the young women on the team. “We tell them that this is our right and that they are taking our right away. Then we speed off.”
Sidiqqi is featured in Afghan Cycles, a film in production about the team, slated to be completed next year. One of the producers of the film is Shannon Galpin, an activist and National Geographic Adventurer who has been working in Afghanistan trying to promote women’s rights since 2006.
Galpin, who is also a mountain biker, says that when she first started riding in the country in 2009, she wasn’t aware of any Afghan women who dared to break the biking taboo. It was only in 2012 that she found out that a few women had formed the national team, with the support of their families and of the coach of the men’s team.
“He’s amazing,” says Galpin, whose memoir, Mountain to Mountain, comes out later this month from St. Martin’s Press. “It’s a country where men are the gatekeepers, and you meet these men who are breaking the mold. They are making this revolution happen by facilitating this opportunity.”
Galpin says that for the generation of girls coming of age in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, bicycling is another manifestation of the freedom to be an educated person in the society. “Young women who are in university and high school, young women who are educated, their families have promoted that and helped that happen,” she says. “These young women look at it very cut and dry: ‘My brother can ride a bike, why can’t I?’ They’re cognizant that they have this right.”
Through her nonprofit, Mountain2Mountain, Galpin has been helping to raise funds and get sponsorships for the team. She’s also been connecting with a couple of other small groups of girls and women in more remote areas around the country who have been learning to ride for transportation. If women were allowed to ride bikes, Galpin points out, it would open up educational and health care opportunities, especially in rural areas.
The taboo, however, remains strong, with women on bikes being told that they dishonor their families. Galpin points out that those same types of insults were leveled at women in the United States and Europe at the dawn of the bicycling age, when two-wheelers were embraced by many in the nascent women’s rights movement. “They were called immoral or promiscuous,” she says. “It’s essentially the same insult in a completely different culture.”
There is real risk involved for the Afghan women riders of today, acknowledges Galpin, and she worries about the potential for harm coming to team members. She knows, however, that this is a challenge they have gone into without any illusions.
Fawzia Koofi, the most prominent female politician in Afghanistan, talked to Galpin about the dangers the team faces. “One of the things she said about risk is that whoever’s on the front lines is stepping up to assume that risk,” says Galpin. “She said, Afghans know that risk much better than you do. They live it daily. These girls take those risks going to school. They know it, they live it, they’re making the conscious choice.”
Galpin says her group is trying to help mitigate the risks by providing opportunities to train on roads in safer areas. The team might even take a trip to ride in Europe at some point, hoping to get closer to their Olympic goal. Reaching that milestone would be a source of national pride, and might change the way women’s cycling is viewed in the nation as a whole.
“A winner is a person who can make Afghanistan proud and be a hero here,” says one young woman in the film’s trailer. “We cannot become a hero by sitting at home.”
“Biking with fear and trembling doesn’t work,” Siddiqi adds with a smile. “When getting on a bike, one must throw these feelings to the wind.”
Sunday, 28 September 2014
A women's rights group named Ultraviolet plans to fly anti-Roger Goodell banners over three NFL stadiums on Sunday.
Per Bloomberg, the women's rights group will fly banners saying "@Ultraviolet: #GoodellMustGo."
Those banners will fly over MetLife Stadium in New Jersey before the Giants and Cardinalsplay, as well as above the Saints-Browns game in Cleveland and the 49ers-Bears game on Sunday night in San Francisco.
The planes are set to fly for two hours ahead of the security restrictions (one hour before kickoff) are imposed on aircraft over NFL stadiums.
Ultraviolet, along with the National Organization of Women, called for Roger Goodell to resign in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal that erupted following the release of graphic video on Monday and the NFL's decision to suspend Rice indefinitely.
Saturday, 27 September 2014
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women's rights activists have accused the professional body representing lawyers in England and Wales of endorsing discrimination against women by refusing to withdraw its guidance on sharia wills.
The Law Society issued its guidance on ensuring that wills drawn up for Muslims comply with sharia in March, drawing criticism in the local press that it was effectively enshrining Islamic law in the British legal system for the first time.
In an open letter published on Thursday campaigners said the guidance, "a source of immense concern," encourages legal services "to accommodate highly gender discriminatory religious laws that are being increasingly defined by religious fundamentalists in our society".
The guidance informs lawyers that in general, under sharia, male heirs inherit twice the amount a female heir will receive and that illegitimate children are not heirs.
The letter said the Law Society's failure to withdraw the guidance amounted to a "a gross derogation of duty".
"Are we to assume that when the Law Society refers to equality, it does not include minority women's right to equality?" the letter said.
"Are we to assume that minority women are only to be recognised as different but not equal, and that equality and diversity are mutually exclusive? Are we to assume that the Law Society does not consider minority women as members of the public whose rights and interests the Law Society must also promote through the legal profession?"
According to media reports, the solicitors' watchdog deleted from its website references to professional guidance on drawing up sharia compliant wills in July.
Law Society officials were not immediately available for comment.
One of the campaigners who signed the letter said many women and girls from the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan - now living in Britain - had fled countries where sharia is practised. Sharia is based on the teachings of the Koran and the practices of the Prophet Mohammed.
"They too have experienced firsthand the discrimination of Sharia law. They have come to the UK in search of safety and to live in a country where women and men are treated as equals," said Diana Nammi, the executive director of the Iranian & Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO), at a protest outside the Law Society in April.
"Money is being put before women's rights. There is a lot of money to be made by lawyers from drafting Sharia compliant wills. We cannot allow for women's rights to be sacrificed so that lawyers can cash in," she told protesters.
The last census in 2011 showed that Muslims made up the second largest religious group in Britain with 2.7 million people - compared with the 33.2 million Christians that account for 59 percent of the population of 63.2 million.
(Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, covers underreported humanitarian, human rights, corruption and climate change issues. Visit www.trust.org)
Friday, 26 September 2014
Seeking to pressure lawmakers into fulfilling the campaign promises they make, and to mobilize female voters to support his re-election, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Thursday called on state legislative candidates to sign a pledge endorsing his 10-point Women’s Equality Act, which would bolster laws against sexual harassment, domestic violence and salary discrimination.
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, pushed for the legislation in 2013, at one point visiting Seneca Falls, the scene of the first women’s rights convention, to promote it. Though many of the proposals enjoyed wide, bipartisan support, the package also includes a more divisive provision designed to strengthen abortion-rights language in state law. In the end, the legislation was defeated even after the governor dropped his all-or-nothing strategy in hopes of seeing the other nine provisions pass.
The pledge introduced on Thursday was the creation of the Women’s Equality Party, which was formed by Mr. Cuomo’s allies and has obtained a ballot line for the election in November. The governor and his running mate for lieutenant governor, former Representative Kathy Hochul, signed it at a “Women for Cuomo” luncheon at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.
Afterward, Mr. Cuomo sounded uncompromising and said the pledge could help prevent legislators from flip-flopping on issues of importance to women.
“I can’t tell you how many elected officials there were who would say one thing to the women of this state and then do something different when it came time to vote,” he said. “The Women’s Equality Party says we deserve the right to know your position.”
Mr. Cuomo said the pledge was not aimed at his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, who opposes abortion rights.
Asked about an exchange of negative advertisements this week with Mr. Astorino, whose newest commercial satirically labels Mr. Cuomo a “unicorn killer” in an effort to undercut what Mr. Astorino asserts are misleading attacks by the governor, Mr. Cuomo said he had not seen the ad.
“Also, I have not murdered any unicorns,” he said, adding that perhaps he would add an 11th point to the equality legislation: “Even women, all women, are against murdering unicorns.”
Thursday, 25 September 2014
“We’re unfortunately known for that. In this state, we have fewer than 20 shelters for domestic violence victims,” Berry said.