Tag Archives: women

Equality or discrimination?

Flickr: HBarrison

The University of Copenhagen wants to attract more female applicants to research positions. A gender action plan has been set in motion, and is to be implemented by the end of 2014. Tinuke Maria Iyore investigates what Danish student media are writing about the plan.  

COPENHAGEN UNIVERSITY HAS presented a new action plan for gender balance. One of the proposals is that both genders have to be represented in the applicants for research positions.

The proposal has received a lot of attention in Danish media and was recently up for debate at a Copenhagen University board meeting, where several board members expressed their concern about this requirement. Certain members of the Danish Parliament have even called the proposal discriminating.

However a close look at the pile of applications shows that the university might be facing an even bigger problem. The pile is simply too small.

Gender vs. Qualifications

According to the rector of Copenhagen University’s Ralf Hemmingsen, the proposal is not gender-discriminating. “We’re testing the proposal, because we find that there are too few female professors. I don’t think it is discriminating to make sure that we have at least one female and one male applicant.

“I would like to emphasize that qualifications remain the determining factor,” he says to the Danish newspaper Berlingske.

At the most recent board meeting, members agreed that the main goal of the action plan should be to attract more qualified applicants. Some board members believed emphasis should be put solely on qualifications, while others thought that the main focus should be attracting more qualified female applicants, due to the notion that this minority within academia holds a great deal of talent.

Danish Equality Laws

The minister for gender equality, Manu Sareen of the Social Liberal Party, welcomes the proposal. “I think it is important that the universities work towards a more equal gender composition. It’s about making the most of all talents”, he says to Berlingske.

He also states that it is equally important that the university stays within the Danish equality laws. The University of Copenhagen has previously obtained a waiver from this law with their 2008 action plan; ‘Diversity – more women in management’.

Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl, who is Research Spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, is sceptical of the proposal. He calls it  “very discriminating” and thinks it diverts attention from simply hiring the most qualified applicant.

The Bigger Problem

The lack of applicants seems to be a problem that goes beyond gender. The board of Copenhagen University is concerned that every third research position receives only one application – thus granting no certainty that the most qualified researcher is actually the one who gets the job.

This might actually pose a larger problem than the lack of female applicants. “The universities should concentrate on attracting highly skilled employees. Not by making special proposals for women, but by creating a more attractive work environment, so more qualified applicants – both men and women – apply for the university’s research positions,” says Merete Riisager, spokeswoman on gender equality for the Liberal Alliance party, to Berlingske.

– – –

Do you think the University of Copenhagen is engaging in positive discrimination?  Is this an appropriate response to uneven employment figures?  Where should the university’s priorities lie regarding top reseach jobs?  Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Photo credit: HBarrison [Flickr]

Based on the following articles from Universitetsavisen:





Violence against Women is a hidden EU problem

European Parliament

European Parliament

A shocking report from the EU has laid out the scale of the problem of violence against women in its member countries. As Zuzana Brezinova examines, the numbers reported are only half of the story. 

“About one third of women in the EU have experienced physical or sexual abuse since the age of 15, which corresponds to 62 million women in total” says the latest report released by the European Union´s Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on Wednesday 5 March.

The FRA report, the first of its kind at the EU level, could become a turning point in European legislation wherein legally binding directives addressing violence against women, either physical or sexual, are practically absent. The results of the survey, however striking as they are, reveal the real extent and severity of the problem within the EU-28 and overthrow the stereotypical mindsets of Europeans influenced by the media coverage of the issue who have long considered violence against women as confined to the Middle Eastern or developing societies.

“Violence against women, and specifically gender-based violence that disproportionately affects women, is an extensive human rights abuse that the EU cannot afford to overlook. What emerges is a picture of extensive abuse that affects many women’s lives, but is systematically under-reported to the authorities,” explained Morten Kjaerum director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.

“This report presents the first results from the most comprehensive survey to date at the level of the EU on women’s diverse experiences of violence. It is hoped that the report’s findings are taken up by those women and men who can advocate and initiate change to address violence against women,” added Kjaerum in his foreword to the survey.

From the 42,000 women aged 18-74 years interviewed in the 28 EU countries (1,500 women per member state on average) an estimated 13 million have experienced physical violence in the course of the 12 months before the survey interviews, which corresponds to 7 % of all women within the indicated age group. Approximately 2 % of EU women, which is about 3.7 million in real figures, have been victims of sexual assault. One in twenty has been raped since the age of 15 and at least 18 % of all women have experience stalking. About 21 million women reported an experience of some sort of sexual abuse or incident by an adult since the age of 15. Last, but not least, over a half of all women indicated that they avoid certain situations or places for fear of being physically or sexually assaulted compared to far fewer men according to existing surveys on crime victimisation and fear of crime.

The highest number of cases was reported in Denmark (52 %), Finland (47 %) and Sweden (46 %), followed by France and the UK. The lowest incidence of violence against women was registered in Poland (19 %), which is surprising especially in relation to the first triad of Scandinavian countries. All of them are liberal welfare states with strong social democratic parties, praised for their gender equality and emphasis on family values.

Worryingly, all the reported figures are in fact believed to be even higher. According to FRA approximately 67 % of women didn´t report the most serious incidents of domestic violence to the police or a support organisation, within the last 12 months.  Reasons for this silent suffering are varied. In some countries, as the Agency for Fundamental Rights indicates, it is culturally unacceptable to talk about experiences of violence, in others gender equality plays an important role. The abuse of women is more likely to be addressed in countries that promote gender equality, than in more patriarchal societies. Often the women are faced with a difficult choice to either hold their tongues or be expelled from the community.

Existence of legally binding directive is yet another important factor that has to be accounted for in relation to the real extent of the problem. Here the EU could be seen as at the same level as countries like Russia, Lebanon or Saudi Arabia. It was not until 2011 when the Council of Europe proposed what would become the first legally binding document to combat violence against women. The Istanbul Convention, the document´s official title, addresses women’s abuse as a gender-based violence and classifies it as a form of structural violence, which is “even more obvious if we look at the patchy attempts of the police, courts and social services to help women victims,” says the text. The only imperfection it has, is that it has not yet been enacted as the ratification of at least ten member states is needed. Meanwhile in the EU there is a gap in laws which needs to be filled.

Salmond, Phone Hacking and The Church: UK Fast News

Sougata Ghosh

Sougata Ghosh

 Blair advised Brooks in hacking case

It emerged this week that the former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair advised Rebekah Brooks at the height of the phone hacking scandal last year.

Blair reportedly told Brooks to “tough up” as the crisis would pass and that she should launch a “Hutton style” report into the scandal. He also said he would act as an “unofficial advisor” during the scandal to Brooks and Murdoch.

The scandal erupted about 18 months ago when it emerged that the News of the World had been involved with phone-hacking. It led to the arrest of Brooks and the Prime Minister’s former head of communications Andy Coulson. It also resulted in Rupert and James Murdoch being quizzed by a parliamentary group of MPs.

Scottish Independence

The Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond this week rejected claims made last week by the major UK parties that Scotland could not share a currency with the UK. The Scottish National Party (SNP), who are the governing party in the devolved Scottish parliament, have accused the rest of the UK of ‘bullying’ the Scottish people into voting to stay part of the UK.

This week the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said that Scotland could have borrowing rights. This would allow Scotland to borrow money on the international markets – while the SNP welcomed this they dismissed claims that an independent Scotland would suffer high rates when borrowing as they are a newly sovereign nation. They have also claimed a currency union would be best for the whole of the UK in the event of Scottish independence.

Religion and Inequality

In an article for King’s College London’s Roar Nik Jovčič-Sas argues that the views held by Archbishop Carey are not religious. Carey has been criticised for opposing gay marriage in the UK after he called for a “Coalition for Marriage” which he said was needed to counter a move towards gay-marriage in the UK. Carey claimed that society could be harmed by same-sex marriage. Jovčič-Sas argues that these views are not an example of Christian teaching but instead “the bigoted views of a bitter man.”



Meanwhile, in the Durham-based Palatinate Edward Stroud argues that the Church should do more to encourage the participation and influence of women in the church. He says that the recent failure to approve women bishops in the Anglican Church as well as dealing with issues of inequality in the Catholic Church. Stroud argues that this is “not just an issue which should concern only women, it is a human issue.”  

Who’s afraid of vaginas?


Gender Equality and Women’s Rights were top of the agenda last week. Aarhus, Denmark was just one of the cities on the map in the #1billionrising campaign. Pandeia curates an article from before the event, by Zoe Robertson, for Jutland Station.

On February 14th, the Women’s Museum in Aarhus, Kvindemuseet, will host its first V-Day event, part of a global initiative to end violence against women and girls. The event, coordinated by an international group of journalism students from Aarhus University, is one of many taking place internationally in an effort to fundraise and increase awareness for women’s rights and gender equality.

V-Day, a worldwide activist movement that aims to end violence against women and girls, was created by Eve Ensler, who was inspired by the reaction to her 1994 play The Vagina Monologues. The organization has steadily amassed a global following and now holds upward of 5000 events across the world annually, most organized by local grassroots leaders and college students in conjunction with their campuses. Last year, V-Day launched the One Billion Rising for Justice campaign, a call for communities to gather on Valentine’s Day to participate in events that raise awareness and challenge violence against women.

Friday’s V-Day event program features an interactive afternoon followed up by evening performances. Hosted in the Women’s Museum café area, the day will open with photography exhibits, and interactive and multimedia displays including, for the daring, a photo booth specially designed for participants to privately photograph (and instantly print) their body parts for display in the museum. The evening program will feature a documentary screening and discussion, followed by poetry and book-excerpt readings, drama, and a musical performance. All program events are centered on raising awareness and increasing dialogue about womens’ and girls’ rights.

“People kind of assume that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what we think about gender equality and violence against women, but…there’s a lot of differences in how people feel.”

Ellie Sellwood, a student from the U.K., is coordinating performances for V-Day in Aarhus. It’s all centered around the idea of home and being comfortable and how violence is like a violation of your home. It doesn’t matter what sort of violence it is, it damages your property and how you feel.” Pascale Müller, another of the event organizers, from Germany, describes how, in many of the performances, “people are talking about their personal experience. We want people to engage with the topics.”

The event, backed by the V-Day organization but arranged individually by local communities, is intrinsically collaborative by nature. While most V-Day events will traditionally see at least some performance, either of The Vagina Monologues or other scripts that focus on women, community organizers are encouraged to create inclusive, interactive programs that incorporate additional forms of activism.

This collaborative spirit translates to nearly all facets of the event’s organization and production. Lotte Kamphuis, from the Netherlands, and Sofia Lotto Persio, from Italy, are also part of the team of coordinators of Friday’s event. “Everybody is doing so much,” says Kamphuis. “There’s this feeling of community, of people having the same goals and wishes,” agrees Lotto Persio.

Sellwood stresses the advantage of a multinational organizational and performance team, and the benefit it has for the event. “Actually performing this event in a different country has been really interesting, gathering perspectives from Danes and fellow international students who all have a different take on it.” Kamphuis agrees, noting the diversity of material that results from a global group. “It’s really nice that it’s such an international group. It’s content from all over the world.”

Perhaps the most fitting collaboration taking place during V-Day is that of the organization and the venue. The Women’s Museum in Aarhus, touted as one of the only of its kind, will host V-Day for the first time. Julie Rokkjær Birch, who is responsible for audience engagement at the museum, considered it an appropriate partnership. “It was very easy to say yes,” she said of being approached to host the event at the museum. “I think it’s important that this museum is always up-to-date about what is happening when you discuss gender and women.”

It is likewise appealing for the event organizers. “For me it was rather exciting to host V-Day in one of the few women’s Museums in the world,” says Müller. “I think they should step out a little bit more and be a little bit vocal about what they want to do, also towards the audience here in Aarhus, and I think V-Day is a great event to do so.” In addition to the ideological linkage, she explains that the venue is physically accommodating too. “It’s a very unique place, not only the Women’s Museum as an institution but also the place itself. It has a really intimate atmosphere, so I think it will transport the performance very well.”

The movement behind V-Day also speaks to the initiatives of the Women’s Museum. As Rokkjær Birch put it “We’re not just a museum. We are also taking responsibility for women in need. We have a guidance centre here, where women who have been abused can go talk to a counsellor. We have a bigger perspective than just being a museum.”

Promoting V-Day has already involved breaking taboos. Kamphuis and Lotto Persio, who worked together to create a video for display at the event, recorded men answering two simple questions: What do you think of when you hear the word Vagina? and What does the word vagina mean to you? While the teaser for their video is, at face value, humorous (many of their subjects cringe and shift awkwardly when put on-the-spot), there is an underlying intent, and Kamphuis emphasizes, that the video “is not there to make fun of them. It’s funny, because it’s a word that they don’t use that much, and they have to think about it there and it’s very spontaneous.” Lotto Persio describes their intention of using humour as a way to navigate or break taboos surrounding female sexuality. “I think this helps going a little bit underneath the surface of the usual sexual jokes you would have. This is much more straight-on, you’re not using euphemism, you’re not using different words, you’re going straight to the point, and I think that’s a good way.”

Ultimately, the organisers hope to create an accessible and inviting environment for participants to engage in community activism and develop awareness of the cause. “For me, it’s about raising awareness and switching something in people’s heads,” says Lotto Persio. And even for first-time participants, the event is easily appealing. Says Müller, “I feel V-Day has an easy entrance into the topic of feminism. You can do a lot of dance or poetry, things that are really accessible to the audience. So I think this is why there is a great diversity in the people who come and attend it because they feel they can do something and relate to it.”

Sellwood agrees that “it’s a great conversation starter, and it’s opening up the conversation about equality. A lot of people kind of assume that everyone’s on the same page in terms of what we think about gender equality and violence against women, but I think actually there’s a lot of differences in how people feel.”

And, for those who plan to spend the day with a significant other, the organizers encourage a visit to the Women’s Museum. “I think it might be a very unique opportunity for a nice Valentine’s Day,” says Kamphuis. But, adds Lotto Persio, “It would be really nice if you just looked at this day, not really as Valentine’s Day, but just as another Friday and a Friday on which you can learn something more about female rights and gender rights and equality.” The event is designed, above all, to be fun, concludes Lotto Persio. “You can have fun with vaginas, but that, I think is something that everyone knows.”

Entry is a 20 DKK donation to Kvindemuseet. The event begins at 1pm, with the evening program and performances starting at 5pm. Visit https://www.facebook.com/events/286670538152322/ or kvindemuseet.dk for more information.

An Uprising of 1 Billion – Were You With Them?

On Friday the 14th, One billion people across the world rose up against gender inequality. Svanlaug Arnadottir took a look at what went on in Europe for Pandeia.

 Vagina Monologues: London

To promote V-Day’s ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE campaign, a special one-off performance of the Vagina Monologues 107474587_d00cbdcfa5_oby its creator Eve Ensler  took place last Friday. The play hailed by critics as “funny, poignant and a theatrical tour de force” has been running on and off for more than 16 years. Ensler’s work gives much thought to the mystery, humor, pain, power, wisdom, outrage and excitement buried in women’s experiences, through her interviews with over 200 women.

What is seen as her liberation of one word has become a movement of empowerment for women. V-Day’s campaign was a global call for women survivors of violence and their loved ones to gather safely in in places where they are entitled to justice. They create works of art that unshackle their stories and promote tolerance and diversity. V-Day in London was, as promised, a powerful experience.

Rise, Release and Dance in Reykjavík

Last year in Reykjavík over 2100 people came together in Harpa Music Hall in Reykjavik to rise up against violence against women, demanded justice and danced in unity for a better world. This year, the Icelandic Committee of UN Women raised the bar even further and gathered over 3000 people together to dance for justice. In cooperation with Lunch Beat Reykjavík and Sonar Music Festival the event took place in Harpa Music Hall at 12 pm –  Dj Margeir  made sure you could rise, release and dance with your heart and joy against violence against women.

Martial Arts in Oslo                                            

In Oslo, Norway citizens gathered and rose together at the Norsk Taiji Senter for a session of Tai Chi and afterwards moved to the streets of Kvadraturen.








Sexual Violence: A Weapon of War?

Conflict has changed dramatically since the turn of the 21st Century but as Tessel Stabel explores, one recent resolution of the United Nations Security Council could just be another empty gesture in a sea of disillusion 

‘As many here are aware, for years there has been a debate about whether or not sexual violence against women is a security issue for this body [United Nations Security Council] to address. I am proud today we can respond to that lingering question with a resounding ‘yes’. This world body now acknowledges that sexual violence in conflict zones is, indeed, a security concern’.

Condoleezza Rice


With these words, then Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice opened the day-long ministerial-level debate on Women, Peace and Security: sexual violence in situations of armed conflict on the 19th of June 2008. The session resulted in the UN Security Council defining sexual violence as a threat to international peace in the unanimously adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1820.

Some say the resolution signed that day is a historic milestone, since sexual violence is now recognized as a weapon, a substantial threat and from that point became punishable. A lot of this kind of violence even continued in post-conflict resulting in a  setback on sustainable peace on the long(er) term. UNSCR 1820 especially addressed the sexual violence committed by men on the bodies of women and girls: the first follow-up resolution after UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) signed in 2000.

From this moment, the United Nations Security Council acknowledged the changing nature of warfare – especially affecting civilians and women to be excluded from peace building processes. It addressed the impact of war on women and the key role of women in conflict management, conflict resolution and sustainable peace. It was seen as a landmark  in the international legal framework addressing the need of the participation of women in conflict management.

However, ‘UNSCR 1820’ was the first  to be adopted as a response to the weak sections concerning sexual violence prevention: the first to frame conflict related sexual violence as a matter of international security, a threat to international peace and to acknowledge the need for a specific security response to protect women and girls during and post conflict.

On paper, UNSCR 1820 indeed seems a historic milestone within conflict management. However, civilians and especially women and girls have been victims of sexual violence during and post armed conflict through history – Reality did not particularly change. If else, it did around the atrocities in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda when the world was confronted with rape camps and ethnic cleansing-rape.  The framing, however, did change in 2008. This was a start.

But then why did the Security Council decide at this particular time and place to securitize the specific framing of sexual violence as a threat to international security?

Since the establishment of the United Nations Security Council’s agenda through the adoption of UNSCR 1325, the Security Council gathered to celebrate its anniversary every October. In March 2008, the Security Council broke this pattern and released a Presidential Statement on the occasion of International Women’s Day. From here, A resolution on the Intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of sexual violence against women was adopted and in April the first UN-wide Organization UN Action against Sexual Violence in Conflict was established.

In 2008 dynamics eventually really sped up. In February, another resolution called for eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all their manifestations, including in conflict and related situations. A month later UN entities set up UNITE to End Violence against Women to eliminate violence against women and girls in conflict and in times of peace. In May 2008, the UN Security Council started an investigation on the alleged ongoing  sexual exploitation of children in the Democratic Republic of Congo by UN Peacekeepers. Media all over the world accused the Security Council of running behind the facts and being too bureaucratic and passive on the matter. Thereafter, the conference Women Targeted or Affected by Armed Conflict: What role for Military Peacekeepers? was held. Here it was decided that the Security Council’s agenda for June 19 2008 would be set on the matter. For the first time since 2000 a WPS official Security Council meeting was to be held apart from the anniversary meetings. The draft-resolution was adopted anonymously although several states emphasized that sexual violence is not a matter of international peace but rather of domestic politics. However, the meeting on the occasion of the (openly disputed) future of peace operations in Africa the day before seemed to have changed their minds.

Hence, the final punch to UNSCR 1820’s adoption, after a radio-silence of nearly 8 years, seems to have been the (future) of the openly criticized UN peace operations combined with the prominence of the atrocities in the DRC. UNSCR 1325 & 1820 got 4 more WPS UNSCRs. Despite of their unanimous adoptions only a limited number of UN member states, major UNs agencies and departments have prompted action. Taking into account the circumstances UNSCR 1820 got adopted one can only hope, not only for the sake of women and girls in war torn countries but for the credibility of the UN (Security Council) itself, that these were no empty gestures.




Freedom behind the steering wheel

The Saudi movement ‘Woman2Drive’ has recently taken to social media as intensely as they will hit the roads on the 28th of December. The upcoming protest against the Saudi authority’s female driving ban, protests for women’s rights to drive. Ana Escaso Moreno translates Andreyna Valera’s article assessing the movement’s achievements alongside other struggles of Saudi Arabian women.

Worldwide, activists are supporting them; they are presented on social networks and internet in many different ways; they are even the reason Bob Marley’s song No woman no cry became No woman no drive – a viral video by a group of students seen more than 11 million times. The movement ‘Women2Drive’ went out sitting behind the steering wheel around the streets of Riyadh last October, violating unique Saudi law of female driving ban in the world. Saudi women filmed themselves while they were driving and posted their videos on Youtube afterwards. Those who were stopped by the police were kept in their cars until some male familiar arrived to ‘rescue’ them.


This is the on-going struggle that Saudi women face bravely. In 1990,  A precedent event saw forty-seven businesswomen and professors taking over Riyadh with their cars. Last year, ‘Women2Drive’ first came to prominence in the Saudi political sphere by uploading numerous videos of women driving.

The movement proved to be controversial. Religious adviser Majlis Al Ifta Al Aala responded to the campaign with claims that if women would be allowed to drive, there will be ‘no virgin women’ any more –  encouraging prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that driving might cause ovary damages and infertility.

Achievements from the Saudi female fight

In the last few years, Saudi women have gained some progress. There is now women’s suffrage and the possibility of being elected in the municipal elections. Women will also now take part in the Majlis a-Shoura, an institution where the new laws of the kingdom are approved. Other achievements are that women are allowed to sell female lingerie – a job exercised by men until now, and the participation of two women in the Olympic Games of 2012. As the director of global initiatives at Human Right Watch, Minky Worden, said “the race for gender equality in Saudi Arabia cannot be won until the millions of women and girls who are now deprived of athletic opportunities can also exercise their right to practice sports.”

However, the restrictions placed on gender which remain are stark and, in some cases, tragic. In 2002, a fire destroyed a female school in Mecca, killing 50 girls. Mutawa, the religious police of Saudi Arabia, prohibited the rescue service’s entry into the school to save the girls, due to the fact that the children were not wearing the proper clothes- making it potentially ‘sinful’ to interact with them. This scandalous event generated changes in the educational system that women have been claiming for a long time.

The nightmare of new technologies

The life of Saudi women within the 21st century is quite similar to the world described by George Orwell in 1984. The richer and more powerful the country is, the bigger the step-back of Saudi women in terms of their human rights. Proof of this is in the latest initiatives proposed by the Saudi kingdom: when a woman is going to leave the country an SMS can be sent to any ‘representative’ of a woman to notify them of her departure. Before they travel the woman must have a document signed by their ‘supervisor’ –husband, father, brother or sons, in this order- to travel by themselves. The government’s argument is that authorising the new system is going to ‘accelerate’ the process in the airports.

This, of course, is related to the broader ethical debate of who has the right to track another human like a pet with a chip in its neck? The geopolitical hegemonic argument is also brought into question: namely, why the United States is so vehemently in support of similar demonstrations in the Ukraine and yet so silent on the tracking of women in the country with the largest oil reserves in the world? Obviously, economic interests come first and ethical ones come later. Questions have been raised as to why the US — the supposed world leader on human rights — is not able to stand up and speak out about the precarious situation of the Saudi women and the ‘golden cage’ that confines them.


Gender in the land of the Pharaohs

Having been ranked as the worst country for women’s rights in the Arab world, Egyptian women are certainly not having the time of their lives, especially in the post-revolution period. Shorouk El Hariry showcases a few illustrations and photographs from Egypt that actively capture the status quo.

Egypt is a country where a girl on a bicycle is considered inappropriate and unladylike, where getting catcalled is the nicest thing an Abaya-wearing female can hear on Cairo’s streets, where it’s more common to hear of mob-raping in Tahrir Square than of the cabinet’s plans to rebuild the nation.

A chant for justice

Women Holding Flags


The revolution was built upon the shoulders of its women. If we follow the trail of mass protests, from January 25th, 2011, to June 30th, 2013, the female scream for justice was the loudest. Yet sadly, the scream for justice transformed into shrieks for help that go unheard on a daily basis.


With the groping hands of men, there is zero safety

Esraa Mohamed


Esraa Mohamed, the average Egyptian young Cairene, was sexually harassed in broad daylight. Her derrière was chemically burnt by an unidentified corrosive substance, disfiguring her body. And what is being done about it? So little; not to undermine the efforts of the strong women behind these initiatives, but to say that the society is rather irresponsive.


HarassMap: Creating an Egypt free of harassment?

harassmap logoRebecca Chiao has lived in Egypt for around ten years. What she witnessed everyday in Cairo’s streets was that women were being increasingly annoyed, whether by catcalls, comments, facial expressions, indecent exposure of male genitals, comments, ogling, harassing phone calls, sexual invites, touching, stalking or following, all the way to being raped, amounting to 98% of Egyptian women admitting to have been harassed by any of the forms above. Using the Ushahidi mapping technology, Chiao cofounded HarassMap.org, a tool for anyone who has been harassed or assaulted and for witnesses to harassment and assault all over Egypt to anonymously share and report their experiences.


Being forced to take virginity tests is okay, but a willingly nude woman isn’t 

Aliaa El Mahdy


Samira Ibrahim: 35 years old. She was forcefully stripped off of her clothing and was tested for her virginity before police and military officers. Refusing to not stand up for her dignity, she filed a lawsuit in Egyptian criminal courts. No media attention, no public support, and absolute silence.

Aliaa El Mahdy: 21 years old. She willingly modeled, naked, and posted it on her personal blog. Her nudity gathered public attention like mosquitoes over blood, with over 3 million views on her blog post, around fifty news articles and numerous television talk shows with her as the topic.

The situation speaks for itself.

And what’s even worse…


Women circulating ads that reinforce sexual harassment

lollipop ad


The scariest and most complex side of this is justification. A large percent of Egyptian women themselves justify sexual violence against their own gender, blaming it on the girls’ attires, rather than the sick attitudes of psychologically-challenged men who give their hands the rights to touch what is not theirs. With lollipops being the girls, the flies being the men, these women find that covering up a lot more is the answer.

The truth is nothing like that. I personally recall hearing a teenager stalking a woman in a burka down the street, audibly saying “I wish to see what’s beneath that”.

Egyptian women are locked beneath the ruins of a patriarchal society, one that neither defends them nor lets them be. Perhaps there is a lot to be fixed about the Egyptian society, before the revolutionaries actually start reaping benefits.

(Images Courtesy of Ahmed Hayman, Las Vegas Guardian Express, Wikimedia Commons and HarassMap.org)



Breasts are worth a thousand words

Using the female body as a symbol of protest is an ongoing debate among feminists worldwide. The controversial case of Femen, an exhibitionist feminist protest group, brings into question the impact of provoking society using topless practices. 

Ana Escaso Moreno translates Andreyna Valera’s work on this case from Spain’s La Huella Digital for Pandeia.

Femen was set up in 2008 in Ukraine. Its founder — and the leader of the movement until few months ago — is, surprisingly, a man who stated in a documentary he chose ‘the most beautiful and docile’ women to take part in this feminist movement.

Several feminist groups have criticised this practice. They argue mostly that the girls that integrate Femen and act in its performances represent the stereotype of beauty imposed by society nowadays. For centuries, the female body has been associated with some kind of sexual drive. Women were considered as objects for men’s entertainment and thus they consider these ways of protesting as unhelpful in disassociating from this sexual drive. For Femen, on the other hand, it is just a way to use women’s bodies objectified by patriarchy to spread their message.

Femen’s first appearance in Tunisia was lead by Amina in March 2013. It was the first time the movement went to a Muslim country. Amina, a local woman, was driving the protest and she became the focus of all restraints and critics of her society. She was very confident about taking her clothes off writing on her body everything she wanted to express in front of her patriarchal society. The very first words seen by the public were a direct message against women’s oppression in some Muslim countries (Not Safe For Work link), who bear the brunt of their entire family honour on their bodies: ‘A woman’s body is hers and nobody else’s’. Immediately afterwards, a woman claiming to be her aunt said in a youtube video that ‘Amina had embarrassed her family, her father can’t stop mourning and she is not longer considered one of us’. Later her father belied this statement to the press and declared to be proud of her daughter and her compromise with her ideas even if they were a little excessive in his eyes.

The importance of a picture

Tunisia and Egypt have the oldest and most active feminist groups in the Middle East. Nevertheless, women are still under men’s authority to be seen as ‘proper women’ within society. Amina’s photo showing her breasts gives her some sort of power:  there is a certain experience of freedom and vigour within it. For her it was easier to get out there and express herself in the same way the Femen followers do in the West, through social networks. This was the beginning to claim for Tunisian womens liberty.

Femen is an example of a very original way of protest. They know that their ‘renewal action repertoires and advertising tactics are required to increase efficiency’. Amina was alone in Tunisia; some other women posted topless pictures on social media but they didn’t have as much impact as Amina had. She knew that the worldwide coverage that Femen usually obtain, safeguarded her. The feeling of belonging to a large group makes people do things they would not normally do if they feel they are alone with the consequences of their actions.

A few days after her first topless photo shoot, Amina was arrested by the Tunisian authorities. Her Femen fellow organised demonstrations worldwide calling for the release of Amina. Indeed, several feminist groups declared April 4 as the “day of the hijab and topless” to show the government that if they are forced to cover their faces, they will continue showing their breasts, in support of Amina’s release. While her trial was held, a group of people demonstrated calling for an end to this wave of toplessness in Tunisia arguing that this practice did not represent Tunisian women. Once again, Femen stoked passions for and against.

It could be said that Femen use the ‘performing arts’ as a tool. Sometimes they protest wearing flower crowns on their heads as Renaissance female gods coming out from Botticelli’s paintings. Their acting repertoire is quite unconventional and there is a political and ideological background to it.

According to the book “Gender Trouble” by Judith Butler, we can deduce that Femen uses the female body as a means of subversion, “the category of sex is neither unchangeable nor natural; it is a specifically political use of the category of nature that obeys the purposes of reproductive sexuality. In other words, there is no reason to classify human bodies in male and female sexes except that this classification is useful for the economic needs of heterosexuality and to provide a naturalist shine to this institution.”

Femen use femininity that has been imposed on women since they were kids to hand their message through the “female model” created by society, this makes their message more shocking.

The dark side of the story

It is important to mention how Amina’s story ended. There are many incoherencies in the story that allow people to think she succumbed to Ennahda’s regime threats.

While she was imprisoned, all cells of Femen worldwide mobilized to demand her release. One of these performances was particularly striking. It wasn’t ‘the usual’: showing bare breasts against mosques, churches or government buildings. In this case they went a little further and imitated the way of Muslim prays, who at the beginning of the prayer repeated “Allah akbar” while they repeated “Amina Akbar” again and again. The majority considered this performance as heretical.

Weeks later, Amina posted her last picture as a member of Femen in her twitter account typed on her body ‘we do not need your democracy’ (NSFW Link), in concurrence with the feminist movement’s philosophy. After her trial was held and to everyone’s surprise, Amina left Femen calling them Islamophobic in relation to some acts they committed: to repeat her name during Muslim prays; to burn a flag with the shahada (the faith profession for Muslims); and she also claimed to doubt the sources of funding used by Femen. Days later, a Tunisian newspaper published that Amina had declared via Skype she had been mistreated by her family, who thought she had a mental illness. She also accused  her family, particularly her cousin, of stealing her mobile and keeping her locked up until she criticised the organisation in public. She was forced to read the Koran despite being an atheist and when she refused to read it, her family took her in front of an Iman who, with his hand on Amina’s head, forced her to read the Koran, the act of an exorcism!

Amina’s story is not over. This young controversial activist has now given us more to talk about and will test the government of her country once again.

Image credit: Altruisto


Gender Equality: Let us not forget about the men

Oslo University is spending more money on gender equality – but the money, as Ingunn Dorholtis investigates, is not always being spent the right way.

Let us rewind to 2004: For the first time women are dominating higher education in Norway. It has been 89 years since women got the right to vote. The same year the University of Oslo makes a two-year plan of action for gender equality, and specifies that a substantial part of their budget will be spent on projects promoting gender equality. The University of Oslo will be “the world’s first gender-equalised University” by 2011. The University’s director for equality at the time, Long Litt Woon, is happy that there is finally a plan of action for equality, but is worried that the money is not going to be spent according to the plan of action.

The plan of action for gender equality at The University of Oslo forgot about one factor, argues Helle Gannestad, in an article for Universitas: time. To become the world’s most gender-equal university you need the gender ratio amongst the University’s employees to be 50/50. A report from the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) in 2006, showed signs that this was an unattainable goal by the end of 2011. In 2004, 78,4% of the employed were men. To achieve the goal of a 50/50 ratio of men and women,  99% of all new employees would have to be women until the year of  2011, and that would mean that the University would have to discriminate against men significantly, in order to achieve gender equality.

According to the head of the department at the equality and discrimination commission, Arnfinn Andersen, it would actually be a breach of the Norwegian Gender Equality law, and EU legislation. So, the University simply had to continue their hiring process where they are weighing the qualifications of the applicants,higher than their gender.

Now, fast forward to 2013: The money has been spent according to the laws and another 3 million kroner is placed in the budget for 2013, a number that will increase with 400,000 kroner next year.  At the Institute of Informatics (IFI) men are the dominating gender, while the number of women is decreasing. The institute has opened a new room that can be used for an extra day of teaching – for women only. But can it be true, that the original purpose of this extra money was to see them being spent on rooms for women only? It is unlikely.

 Giving the female students their own room to stop the development of a decreasing number of female students might be the right thing to do, if the social environment is not good for them. But money that is supposed to secure gender equality should not be spent on projects that are pushing the genders further apart – it is not the right place to focus. One thing is certain; Oslo will not have the world’s most gender-equalised university by opening pink rooms that smell of tea and girls perfume. To give special treatment to one of the sexes means upholding the differences in academia and if the goal is gender equality, the University should not forget about its male students.

Original article written by Helle Gannestad