Sunday, September 27, 2015

This Kiss ...

                                   Photograph taken by Esteban Ignacio in a protest in Chile in 2011 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female...

Shieldmaidens are not a myth! A recent archaeological discovery has shattered the stereotype of exclusively male Viking warriors sailing out to war while their long-suffering wives wait at home with baby Vikings. (We knew it! We always knew it.) Plus, some other findings are challenging that whole “rape and pillage” thing, too. 

Researchers at the University of Western Australia decided to revamp the way they studied Viking remains. Previously, researchers had misidentified skeletons as male simply because they were buried with their swords and shields. (Female remains were identified by their oval brooches, and not much else.) By studying osteological signs of gender within the bones themselves, researchers discovered that approximately half of the remains were actually female warriors, given a proper burial with their weapons.

It’s been so difficult for people to envision women’s historical contributions as solely getting married and dying in childbirth, but you can’t argue with numbers—and fifty/fifty is pretty damn good. The presence of female warriors also has researchers now wondering just how accurate the stereotypes of raping and pillaging actually are:
Women may have accompanied male Vikings in those early invasions of England, in much greater numbers than scholars earlier supposed, (Researcher) McLeod concludes. Rather than the ravaging rovers of legend, the Vikings arrived as marriage-minded colonists.

In many ways, this discovery is well-timed with the recent uproar over Thor becoming a title for both sexes instead of an exclusively male name. Fingers crossed this means that pop culture could start including more female warriors than just Sif and Lagertha (from The History Channel’s Vikings, above). Just so long as they’re not wearing boob plate armor.

Because, as we're always re-learning, women have always fought.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Haratine Woman from Ahel Tissint...

Mauritania is consistently ranked as the worst place in the world for slavery, with tens of thousands still trapped in total servitude across the country. This practice, despite officially being criminalized, continues to be sustained by the systematic marginalization of Mauritania's large Haratine population. The situation is especially precarious for Haratine women, who are discriminated against on account of both their gender and ethnicity.

Friday, September 11, 2015


no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it's not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn't be going back.
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough
go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i've become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.
-Warsan Shire

Sunday, September 6, 2015

There Are 21 Million In Need Of Humanitarian Aid In Yemen – Please Listen

Night after night in Yemen’s beleaguered capital, Sana’a, I hear the continuous clack-clack-clack of anti-aircraft fire and the low hum of fighter jets overhead. I’m writing this sat in the corner of my bathroom, the “safe” space farthest from the window. It’s almost midnight and the electricity has cut again, leaving the glow of my laptop screen as the only light.
My thoughts turn to my colleagues and friends, who are almost certainly awake as well with their families. This perpetual state of fear is nothing new. It’s been going on since the conflict started over five months ago and people are terrified that things could be about to get even worse.

This war has left Yemen, already the poorest country in the region, mired in a humanitarian crisis. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia have been conducting a bombing campaign to try to force out rebels from the Houthi sect, who overran the country in March, and restore the previous government. Conflict has since spread to 20 of Yemen’s 22 provinces. Ordinary people have paid the price for the violence – 21 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance now, more than anywhere in the world, including Syria. The UN estimates that some 2,000 people have been killed so far, nearly a quarter of them children.
The crisis has been compounded by the fact that getting aid into Yemen and transporting it around the country is very limited. Aid agencies like Save the Children are frantically trying to scale up our response, but it’s almost impossible when we can’t get relief supplies into the country. The recent bombing of Hodeida port – the key entry point for supplies to the hungry people in the north and centre of the country – was the last straw, putting the aid effort in jeopardy at a time when people are running out of food, water and medicine.
Now rumours are rife that an escalation of attacks on the capital by Saudi-led coalition forces is imminent, in an attempt to drive out the Houthi opposition. If that happens, aid agencies could be forced to pull out altogether or to order their staff to stay indoors. The impact on one of the world’s most vulnerable populations would be devastating.
People are already desperate – I met a mother yesterday who had sold her family’s last mattress to buy her three-year-old son medicine. Now she and her children sleep on the cold, hard ground. She has nothing left to sell.

Everywhere I go people talk about food, or rather the lack of it. The spectre of famine is stalking large areas of the country. Yemen is slowly being strangled by a de facto blockade that prevents enough food and medicine getting to the families who need them most. If we don’t act soon, thousands of children will die from hunger-related causes before the year is out.
Across the country civilian infrastructure, including health facilities, markets, shops and schools, has been damaged and destroyed by airstrikes and ground war. For too long all parties to this conflict have been allowed by the international community to show an unashamed contempt for human life. More than 1,000 children have been killed or injured – a number that rises every day.
Many of the families I’ve met here have asked me why Yemen has been abandoned to its fate. The truth is I am often left wondering the same thing myself. I cannot tell them that Yemen is not popular with opinion-formers and leaders, not a cause célebre. What keeps me awake at night, besides the unnerving hum of fighter jets and crackle of artillery fire, is the fear that the world won’t understand the tragedy that is unfolding here until it’s too late.
Mark Kaye

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Truth About Islam and Sex Slavery History Is More Complicated Than You Think...

New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi recently outlined the Islamic State's systematic, logistically complex program of sex trafficking of captured Yazidi women and girls. Her narrative is chilling; the survivors' testimonies are horrifying. It is obvious that ISIS soldiers (and leaders) commit terrible abuses, including widespread rape. In addition to adding specific charges to the year-long trickle of information about ISIS sexual offenses, Callimachi's story makes a bold pronouncement: the Islamic State espouses a "theology of rape."
According to the people Callimachi spoke to for the story, ISIS soldiers justify rape of captives as not only religiously licit, but also spiritually praiseworthy. Her observations dovetail with the centrality of enslavement to ISIS propaganda: enslaving captives demonstrates its prowess. ISIS taunts Western opponents butreserves its deepest scorn for Muslims who reject slavery and all it entails. Its English-language magazine Dabiq contains arguments that enslaving disbelievers is "a firmly established aspect of the Sharia that if one were to deny or mock, he would be ... thereby apostatizing from Islam."
Though ISIS soldiers attribute religious merit to enslavement of Yazidi girls and women, many other Muslims, like those ISIS criticizes in its propaganda, oppose its actions and categorically reject the possibility of contemporary slavery. Callimachi suggests that "Scholars of Islamic theology disagree ... on the divisive question of whether Islam actually sanctions slavery." She quotes me expressing the position that "sexual relationships with unfree women" were "widespread" in the seventh century, and not "a particular religious institution." Princeton theology researcher Cole Bunzel, her opposing voice, disagrees. He points out, reasonably, that repeated scriptural and jurisprudential references to slaveholding (which include the permissibility of sex with "those your right hands possess") exist. While he notes that "you can argue that it is no longer relevant and has fallen into abeyance, ISIS would argue that these institutions need to be revived." This is a fair representation of ISIS's position. Yet this does not mean, as critics of Islam would have it, that the Islamic State's position on the legitimacy of owning -- and having sex with -- slaves is unquestionable. (For premodern Muslim jurists, as well as for those marginal figures who believe that the permission still holds, the category "rape" doesn't apply: ownership makes sex lawful; consent is irrelevant.)
Others scholars point out that just because the Quran acknowledges slavery and early Muslims, including the Prophet, practiced it doesn't mean Muslims must always do so; indeed, the fact that slavery is illegal and no longer practiced in nearly all majority-Muslim societies would seem to settle the point. It is one thing for committed religious thinkers to insist that scripture must always and everywhere apply literally, but it is ludicrous for purportedly objective scholars to do so. Anyone making that argument about biblical slavery would be ridiculed.
Slavery was pervasive in the late antique world in which the Quran arose. Early Muslims were part of societies in which various unfree statuses existed, including capture, purchase, inherited slave status and debt peonage. Thus, it is no surprise that the Quran, the Prophet's normative practice and Islamic jurisprudence acceptedslavery. What is known of Muhammad's life is disputed, but his biographies uniformly report that slaves and freed slaves were part of his household. One was Mariyya the Copt. A gift from the Byzantine governor of Alexandria, she reportedly bore Muhammad a son; he freed her. Whatever the factual accuracy of this tale, its presence attests to a shared presumption that one leader could send another an enslaved female for sexual use.
Like their earlier counterparts in Greece and Rome, jurists formulating Islamic law in the eighth to 10th centuries took slavery as a given. They formalized certain protections for slaves, including eventual freedom for women like Mariyya who bore children to their masters; such children were free and legitimate. Jurists sought to circumscribe slavery, prohibiting the enslavement of foundlings and prescribing automatic manumission for slaves beaten too harshly. But the idea that some people should dominate others was central to their conceptual world; they used slavery-related concepts to structure their increasingly hierarchical norms for marriage.

Still, early Muslim slavery (like early Muslim marriage) wasn't particularly a religious institution, and jurists' ideas about the superiority of free over slave (and male over female) were widely shared across religious boundaries. To say this is not to present an apologetic defense of Islam; to the contrary, effective Muslim ethical thinking requires honesty and transparency about the lasting impact on Muslim thought on slavery and non-consensual sex. However, singling out slavery or rules governing marriage or punishments for a handful of crimes as constituting the enactment of "authentic" Islamic law surely reflects a distorted notion of a Muslim polity.
The Islamic State's attempt to create an imagined pristine community relies on a superficial and selective enactment of certain provisions from scripture and law, an extreme case of a wider phenomenon. Religious studies scholars, of course, must analyze their doctrines. What beliefs do they express? How do they formulate them? What one mustn't do is take them at face value, as the legitimate expression of a timeless Islamic truth. In fact, the stress they put on the errors of their Muslim opponents, who actively dispute their interpretations of many things including slavery, makes very clear that there is no one self-evident interpretation of Islam on these points.
Muslim history reflects a wide variety of historically specific patterns of enslavement, slaveholding, manumission and abolition. Muslims in numerous countries spread across different continents lived as slaveholders and slaves for more than a millennium. Generations of jurists formulated rules that put social practice into conversation with revealed texts as well as customary law, but canonical texts did not always determine behavior. Across and even within societies, slavery encompassed a wide range of practices. "Islamic slavery" included conscript-convert Janissary troops, cooks, nannies, Mamluk military rulers, salt miners, pearl divers, craftsmen allowed to keep part of their wages, mothers of Ottoman sultans and the drudges who cleaned the royal harem quarters. Slavery was hierarchical and slaves were, in some times and places, assigned specific work based on ethnic origins. Slavery was not entirely racialized, however, and slaves were captured or bought from Europe, Asia and the Caucasus as well as Africa.
In the thousand-plus years in which Muslims and non-Muslims, including Christians, actively engaged in slaving, they cooperated and competed, enslaving and being enslaved, buying, selling and setting free. This complex history, which has generated scores of publications on Muslims and slavery in European languages alone, cannot be reduced to a simplistic proclamation of religious doctrine. The fact that the Islamic State must preface its collections of rulings for slaveholding by defining terms such as captive and concubine illustrates that it is drawing on archaic terms and rules, ones that no longer reflect anything like the current reality of the world. By focusing on religious doctrine as an explanation for rape, Americans ignore the presence of sexual abuse and torture in Saddam Hussein's Iraq and in Assad's Syria by the regime andother factions in its vicious ongoing war. None of this is to deny the horror of the systematic rapes Callimachi reports or the revolting nature of the theology she describes. It is to point out that there are reasons why the story of enslaved Yazidis is one that captures the front page of the New York Times: it fits into familiar narratives of Muslim barbarity.
In focusing on current abuses in the Middle East, perpetrated by those claiming the mantle of Islam, Americans -- whose Constitution continues to permit enslavement as punishment for crime -- deflect attention from partial U.S. responsibility for the current crisis in Iraq. Sanctions followed by military invasion and its brutal aftermath laid the groundwork for the situation Callimachi describes. Moral high ground is in short supply. The core idea animating enslavement is that some lives matter more than others. As any American who has been paying attention knows, this idea has not perished from the earth.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Comfort Women...

Village women accompany Chinese former “comfort woman” Hao Juxiang (right) as she poses for a picture outside their houses in Gucheng Town, Shanxi Province, China, July 16, 2015. Hao Juxiang lives in a small community, and many of her neighbors know about her past as a “comfort woman.”

“Comfort women,” translated from the Japanese term ianfu, is a euphemistic name for the prostitutes and sex slaves forced to serve Japanese soldiers during the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). These “women” were mostly young girls from occupied regions, who were held and forced into sexual slavery at “comfort stations” established by the Imperial Japanese Army.

The Japanese established the first “comfort station” in 1932 to serve soldiers stationed in Shanghai leading up to the war. Many more were established as fighting increased in China and spread to South Korea. The stations, according to statements by military officials at the time, were intended to prevent sex crimes against the local population by soldiers, but they were hardly a solution or a force for good. Instead, they systematized rape and torture.

In 1998, the UN released a report suggesting the Japanese government pay compensation to former “comfort women” and prosecute surviving military officials, to which the government did not comply.

Former “comfort women” are shown in China and South Korea today, where they continue to await state compensation as well as the apology of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which they say would help them find peace in their final days. Sadly, time is running out to make amends.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty...

“Say it with me:
Now is not the time to be timid.
Now is not the time to be timid.
Now is not the time to be timid.”

 21 Self Portraits Based on Mark Gonzales Book: In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When Those Meant To Keep The Peace Commit Sexualized Violence...

A young girl walks a short distance to visit her relatives in Haiti. But she doesn’t get far before men start harassing her, asking her to come with them. Their intentions are not even thinly disguised, and this girl is just one of their many targets.

“They do this with all of us young girls,” she says. “I have a few friends that have gone to bed with them. Some of them are asked to give them a lesbian show, and they are paid for that.”  

But what may be surprising is exactly who these men are. The unnamed girl’s quote is from a 2008 reportby the U.K.-based nonprofit organization Save the Children on sexualized violence toward children in conflict zones. The men she mentions are from an international peacekeeping force more than 10,000-strong that has been in her country since 2004: the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Perhaps not surprising is that Haiti is not the only place where such propositions and sexual assaults are taking place. The misconduct of peacekeeping forces in conflict zones has dogged the UN since the inception of the peacekeeping program more than 50 years ago.  

Peacekeeping forces from the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) patrol Darfur’s Abu Shouk internally displaced persons camp.

As the number of missions and peacekeepers has grown, widespread accounts of inappropriate behavior and sexual exploitation by peacekeepers have been reported around the world, notably in Haiti, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Cambodia, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, UN peacekeepers helped support sex trafficking as customers of brothels relying on forced prostitution, according to Amnesty International.  

Save the Children found evidence that UN peacekeepers had raped young girls in the Ivory Coast, southern Sudan, and Haiti. Cornell constitutional law scholar Muna Ndulo recounted cases of UN peacekeepers fathering and subsequently abandoning children at the end of their deployment. Ndulo quotes staggering numbers in his report: that UN peacekeepers have fathered an estimated 24,500 babies in Cambodia and 6,600 in Liberia.
In addition to supporting prostitution and raping women during wartime, UN peacekeepers have been accused of standing by when sexualized violence is used as a war tactic by combatants. In 2010, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Atul Khare reported to the UN Security Council that UN Peacekeeping had “failed” to protect women and children from rapes in eastern DRC. Approximately 300 rapes had been reported in a village near the UN Peacekeeper’s camp in just a four-day period.  

Cases of sexual abuse by peacekeepers over time may have tarnished the organization’s work, but it wasn’t until there was widespread reporting of peacekeeping failures—including numerous reports of rapes and prostitution during the Bosnian war—that the UN sought to change the system. In response, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on a group of experts to evaluate peacekeeping operations and recommend institutional changes to help prevent abuses by peacekeepers.  

Despite enacting changes that improved oversight, abuses continued, most notably in the Congo—where peacekeepers were reportedly paying young girls food for sex in 2005. The UN responded by releasing yet another report that placed a heavier emphasis on pre-deployment conduct and discipline, and making training on preventing sexual exploitation in the field mandatory. (Multiple attempts by Women Under Siege to contact UN Peacekeeping for comment went unanswered.)  

Subsequent reform documents have been released yearly, but the cases continue. While the emphasis on reform has shown UN Peacekeeping’s awareness of its troops’ sexual misconduct, the structure of UN peacekeeping allows abuses to persist. In 2011, the United Nations reported 74 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. While this is down from 357 cases in 2006, the UN is limited in how it can prevent and prosecute these allegations due to the organization’s size and member state-centric operating system.
Much of the problem lies in the basic structure of UN Peacekeeping, which echoes the problematic structure of the UN—the organization’s autonomy is limited as member states provide the mandate for peacekeeping actions as well as contribute personnel for missions. UN peacekeepers come from nearly 120 countries and bring with them their cultures, attitudes, and experiences on assignment. As they are recruited out of their national defense forces, these military personnel are “first and foremost members of their own national armies,” and only contracted to the UN. Currently, UN Peacekeeping is engaged in 16 missionsworldwide, utilizing a force of more than 120,000. Within that force, there is turnover of 300,000 peacekeeping troops annually, contributing to a transient culture with few repercussions for poor conduct,according to activists.  

As peacekeepers are under the control and direct leadership of their home military forces, the United Nations does not actually have that much power to enforce their behavior once they are on the ground.  

While UN Peacekeeping has a zero tolerance clause of sexual abuses within its code of conduct, it is only enforceable if the military command of the member state country taking part in the operation chooses to enforce it. Peacekeepers are protected from prosecution of sexual abuses as troops are traditionally granted jurisdictional immunity through Status of Forces Agreements in the countries where they operate. These agreements give peacekeepers absolute immunity within host countries and give exclusive jurisdiction to the peacekeeper’s nation of origin. If abuses occur, peacekeepers are held accountable to the rules and regulations of their country’s armed forces, not according the to the laws of the land where they serve. Trials are not held in civilian courts, but in military courts most often in the peacekeeper’s home country, not where the abuse occurred. This is a clear path to immunity from punishment, as men are tried by their peers in a context in which impartiality is questionable.

The lack of accountability inherent in this structure has contributed to poor reporting of sexual abuse as well as inconsistent prosecution of peacekeepers taking part in abuse.  

In January, five Uruguayan peacekeepers accused of the 2011 rape of a Haitian teenager were let off on a technicality in a Uruguayan courtroom, despite video evidence of the rape having taken place. In March, two UN peacekeepers from Pakistan were found guilty of raping a 14-year-old boy in Haiti. They were sentenced to just a year of prison in their home country. Overall, efforts at reform have been only Band-Aid fixes to systemic problems. Academics and international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Save the Children have called for greater transparencyimprovements to incident reporting and for the UN and its member states to reevaluate the conditions of jurisdictional immunity for peacekeepers committing human rights abuses in the communities they serve.

Promising developments like the prioritization of diversifying peacekeeping forces, hiring female peacekeepers, and trying abuses in the country in which they are committed are steps forward. But the UN and its member states have much further to go to toward addressing the systemic problems that allow peacekeeping forces to commit and be complicit in sexual abuse in the world’s most vulnerable communities.  

So far this year, the UN has reported 22 allegations of sexual abuse—at least 10 of which were made against military or police personnel—and an unknown number of cases have gone unreported.  

Natalie Novick is pursuing a PhD in Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. Her research examines the outcomes of cultural inequalities influencing women's representation in government, foreign affairs, and peacekeeping. Her work has previously appeared in Broad RecognitionShe is on Twitter at @genderpolitics.