Saturday, March 30, 2013

Stories of courage: Father of Mangroves

Mangroves are one of the most adaptive and amazing plants that nature has ever created. It has not just provided space and livelihood to people but it has also provide a filtering system to our ecosystem which is consistently consuming and destroying our resources. 

I know almost every year esp. in Karachi, there is a likelihood of a tornado or tropical hurricane but we have never been hit by one in the last 2 decades as far as my knowledge goes, so the reason we are not hit by storms is because Mangroves are the storm buffers!!!

 

Fun Facts about Mangroves

* Mangroves are tropical plants that are adapted to loose, wet soils, salt water, and being periodically submerged by tides

* Mangroves provide physical habitat and nursery grounds for a wide variety of marine organisms, many of which have important recreational or commercial value
 
* Mangroves serve as roosting and nesting sites for many of our birds

* Mangroves serve as storm buffers by reducing wind and wave action in shallow shoreline areas

* Mangroves assist in protecting water quality and clarity by filtering runoff and trapping sediments and debris from adjacent uplands

* Mangroves provide one of the basic food chain resources for marine organisms

* Four major factors appear to limit the distribution of mangroves: climate, salt water, tidal fluctuation and soil type

* Mangroves trap and cycle various organic materials, chemical elements, and important nutrients in the coastal ecosystem

* There are more than 50 species of mangroves found throughout the world. Three species of mangroves are native to Florida: Red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), Black mangrove (Avicennia germinans) and White mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa)

If you want to learn more check out The Amazing Mangroves and do say hi to those trees next time you visit them near Karachi shore!

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So today we will be publishing the story of a person who is called "Father of Mangroves" Tahir Qureshi by Hasan Mansoor. The story was published in AFP in 2011, its very important as its still relevant today.

KARACHI — It was a brutal kidnap that turned him into an eco-warrior, and 27 years later Pakistan’s “Father of the Mangroves” still lets nothing get in the way of fighting against timber “mafia” and deforestation.

“This is my life. I am very happy with it. The cause is worth living such a life,” Tahir Qureshi told AFP, walking around the sanctuary that he set up in his spare time when he still worked full-time with the forestry commission.

He was captured by a kidnap-for-ransom gang in 1984 while working in the southern district of Dadu, now devastated by floods for two consecutive years.

“They kept me for a couple of days in captivity. But when they knew I was a forest officer they released me without further argument. That inspired me to dedicate my whole life for the rehabilitation of our ecosystem,” he said.

“The robbers released me as they respect those who respect forests. Trees provide them best hideouts.
“Besides, they are among many people who consider chopping trees as a sin because trees provide us livelihood and help better the environment.”

For years, it was a lonely if mighty cause, for apart from Afghanistan, in the grip of a 10-year war between Taliban insurgents and American troops, no other country in Asia suffers from a faster rate of deforestation than Pakistan.

In 2010, it was declared a forest-deficient country because just 2.2 percent or about 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of its land mass is forested.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Pakistan lost an average of 42,000 hectares of forest a year between 1990 and 2010.

At the current rate, Pakistan could lose half its remaining forest cover over the next decade or so, says the FAO. The trend has been exacerbated by recent floods, the worst in the country’s history in 2010 and a repeated bout this monsoon season.

Qureshi has helped rehabilitate 30,000 hectares of mangrove along the southern coast on the Arabian Sea, including in Baluchistan, one of Pakistan’s most violent and inhospitable areas, home to Taliban militants and a separatist uprising.

Today he is a senior advisor on coastal ecosystems with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

He starts almost every day with a visit to the mangroves, which he calls his kids, on Karachi’s Sandspit Beach. Wearing a khaki shirt and trousers, he wades into the swamp up to his waist to see how they’re getting on.

“We are historically a forestry-deficient country, but with the course of time the ratio has reduced alarmingly,” said the 65-year-old Qureshi.

So who is to blame? There are the timber “mafia” who hack away at mangroves and trees, trucking wood off to market by donkey and vehicle to sell as fuel, while the military and government officials are also accused of involvement.

“The current rate of deforestation is very alarming. We could lose our timber completely in two to three decades if not effectively checked,” an environment ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Hussain Bux Bhagat, a conservationist associated with the Sindh provincial wildlife department, says wildlife in the riverine forest, including birds, reptiles and mammals, also suffered severely because of deforestation.

“Particularly high numbers of grey partridge, which nest on trees and don’t leave its habitat have died because of continuing deforestation and last year’s floods,” Bhagat told AFP.

In 1947, when Pakistan was created from the ashes of British colonialism, riverine forests lined the banks of the Indus River.

They were the first line of defence against floods that have deluged the plains annually for thousands of years, as well as against shoreline erosion. Instead, the deforested areas are prone to flooding and landslides.

But riverine and mangrove forest represent only 20 percent of the forest cover in Pakistan — the rest is concentrated in the mountains of the northern provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit and Baltistan and Kashmir.

There, officials, aid workers and residents accuse the authorities and the Taliban of being hand in glove with mafias cutting down trees.

The Swat valley was once the most popular tourist destination of the country before a Taliban insurgency began in 2007. After a major operation, the army declared the area back under control in July 2009.

But conservationists say tens of thousands of pine trees have been cut down, both during the Taliban years and under the military.

A former Forest Development Corporation (FDC) official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said timber felling was one of the main causes of the devastation witnessed in Swat during the floods of 2010.

“Three kinds of actors participated in that: the FDC working for timber mafia, local people and the Taliban, who cut a lot to buy weapons,” he said.

“There are two kinds of timber mafias: the big ones, with a licence, and the local ones, people with no licence who bribe guards.

Numerous local residents said army trucks are seen transporting timber, but army spokesman Colonel Arif Mehmood in Swat told AFP he was “not aware” of the practice.

Others say the rate of deforestation has improved since the army restored control over the valley in July 2009. No department can provide statistics.

The Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a think tank, has also pointed to links between the timber mafia and Islamist militancy.

“Being shrewd investors, the timber mafia is believed to have spent part of its dividends to sponsor militancy. Huge sums are involved in the business, which has expanded to the hills bordering Afghanistan,” it said in a 2009 report.

“They invest money and energy in Talibanisation, that is how they protect their illegal businesses at the expense of the state’s writ.”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Elite Feminism: When women rights are for sale to highest bidder

A re-blog from from Global Legal Law Forum

Selling feminism for a living

Mullahs of all kinds have done it since time immemorial. Sell religion for their own petty gains. You have a property dispute, accuse your opponent of blasphemy. You want to become the Emperor of India, accuse Dara Shikoh of heresy... can't win electorally, declare a kafir-e-azam here, a kafiristan there. Maulana Maududi and Majlis-e-Ahrar did it unsuccessfully at first but then succeeded mightily after 1947. Such is the nature of power politics in religious societies.

Unfortunately some of our latter day secular minded Pakistanis have also deployed this tactic to their advantage. We are all aware of LUBP's persecution of liberal and secular activists. Well now we have a self styled "Pakistan feminist collective" that has resorted to libel and slander of the worst kind.

Basically everyone is fair game for this group, even people like me who have always been most respectful to women and who is known as someone who has never even said a single harassing word to a female co-worker. This is a reputation I cherish and since this "collective" has sullied this reputation by writing all kinds of hogwash, I have decided to take some of them to court.

I am and will always be a supporter of women's rights. Not only is it an ideological position but a matter of necessity. First and foremost however I stand for women's rights because I believe compartmentalizing humanity on the basis of biology is wrong. It is wrong when Mullahs do it. It is wrong when anyone else does it as well.

So let me state this again. Stop conflating your personal egos with the feminist collective. Stop selling feminism for your personal interests. Stop profiting from it. Take everything on merit. And get a life. All of you need it.

And if you are bothered by your social and material conditions so much take on those who actually pose a threat  to feminism instead of using feminism as a stick to beat innocent parties with, to libel and slander individuals. People will cease to take you seriously.  I know I have.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Jock Culture - Culture of Abuse

I guess Steubenville was not enough that we are getting more morons out of the woodwork who think they can beat women up and can feel great about it. Duane Cotton is another high school example!



I am urging everyone to report the case of physical abuse along with potential threats to the victim
http://pkbpolice.com/wp/home

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lest We Forget: Parveen Rehman

We have guest post by Andaleeb Rizvi, as a memoir to her mentor and colleague, Parveen Rehman, who was assassinated on March 13th, 2013. 

My father says a lot that whats the point of mourning and remembering people when we do not care for them or their work in their life. The reason I am stating this as I saw numerous messages from political organizations sending their condolences on the news of her death. I just dont understand the point of even condolences when you are just waiting for another person to drop dead.

She worked for the under-privleged and one of the biggest slums of Asia, there are more than million people who benefited from the work she placed into Orangi Pilot Project, for rehabilitation of people and finding the home for forgotten children of God.

She worked against some of the most dangerous land grabbing mafias who occupy lands illegally and then end up creating homelessness and in short slums which are a hub of crime and poverty.

This is a prime example of direct action work which is defined as the backbone of the grassroots. She was important as there are not many people who did such confrontational work against the political and social tirade. This is why Parveen Rehman was important!

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Picture taken by one of her students on her last class on March 12th 2013

I live in Karachi, not a city of lights any more, but violence. Where crime stories are referred to as routine and the number of dead-bodies becomes important, when the count is more than a dozen. The city of Karachi lost yet another soul, who was a mentor, teacher, educator for hundreds of students at Visual Studies Department, University of Karachi; NED University; Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture; and Dawood College of Engineering and Technology. She left in her legacy students who know the difference between a slum area and a squatter settlement.

Today we mourn the loss of Parveen Rehman, one of the best teachers I had a chance to interact with. She taught me how ‘not to hate the poor’; not to refer to ‘katchi-abadis’ as slums and instead ‘squatter settlements’, for she said in her sweet melodious voice, “Slums mean poverty, crime, hopelessness, while ‘squatter settlements’ are a hub of hope, cultural diversity, will to make things better. Don’t you think so too? I feel we should not say ‘slums’. It sounds so wrong.” She asked if I knew that people in squatter settlements take care of each other more. ‘They stand up to support their neighbor if there is a problem’.

If I am aware of these nuances today, it is because of Parveen. If I disagree with the popular discourse that this country has gone to the dogs, it is because of teachers like her. People like her, who chose not to runaway in the face of threats, fears of losing loved ones and being left alone to deal with problems.... Problems of sectarian violence, of Tehreek-e-Taliban, of land grabbers, tanker mafia and in all this, the political 'gamers'. The ones who love playing the blame game as they please, who say its a foreign Jewish, Indian conspiracy when Shia are killed, but are jumping the gun this time by saying the Taliban killed her.

To the politically linked land-mafia.... we haven't forgotten Nisar Baloch, who worked for saving the Gutter Baghicha. And we won't forget Parveen Rehman. We lost an educator, who shaped a generation of socially responsible architects, planners, teachers and activists. She left a legacy and you cannot take that away!

PS: Also found out today about how they killed Abdul Ghani for Kakapir Mangrove Project. And still morons want to claim it was the Taliban.

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Andaleeb Rizvi blogs at andaleeb-rizvi.blogspot.com/ and tweets at @AndaleebRizvi

Saturday, March 9, 2013

IWD 2013 - KARO KARI IN SINDH

We have another guest post by ABBAS KASSAR from Hyderabad, who is a grassroots local rights activist in the community

Every year, this day is observed as Women Rights Day, declared as such by UNO. In many Asian countries, the status and the safety of women are still largely affected by gender based violence and discrimination, and Pakistan still ranks among the countries in Asia, and in the world, with one of the worst human rights records which affects the condition of women significantly.

Pakistani women are subjected to physical and verbal offenses, psychological and sexual abuse, rape (including marital rape), assaults, forced conversions and forced marriages, honour killings. In the majority of cases, perpetrators are male family members. This is a result of the extremely conservative and patriarchal mindset embedded in society and which cuts across social classes. Abuses such as battery and murder occur among upper middle-class families as well as among working class people. Even a comparison between the trend in urban and rural areas, proves that numbers are not that different in big cities. The reasons behind the perpetuation of discrimination and violence against women of any   age are to be found in the religious fundamentalism, in the conservative sexist mindset pervading even urban areas, in the very feeble rule of law and in the widespread corruption within the civil policing system.

Pakistan has been termed as worst with reference to every aspect of human rights record. If we talk of women, there has been no highlight of murders of women and men in Sindh under the pretext of Karo Kari (honor killing) and domestic violence. During the year 2012 as many as 714 persons including 571 women and 143 men were killed across the province.

A report released by Research and Development for Human Resources says that during the year 2012, 257 women were killed under Karo Kari, 112 under domestic violence while 52 were killed under mysterious circumstances and 150 in various incidents.

According to detailed report of ,52 women and 14 men were killed under Karo Kari in January 2012, 53 women and 10 men in February, 50 women and 8 men in March, 48 and 7 in April, 52 and 17 in May, 52 and 17 in June, 63 and 12 in July, 52 and 14 in August, 46 and 14 in September, 35 and 12 in October, 41 and 14 in November and 37 women and 8 men were killed in December 2012.

Women's movement is restricted and rests in hands of her male family members. They are treated as commodity the fate of which is to be decided by her father, brother and other male members.
Their opinion is of no one's interest or concern, and the integrity of their body is out of their control. Rape is a customary practice not only to satisfy male instincts, but also to regulate tribal disputes: by violating the enemies' daughters, sisters and wives, tribes "teach" their opponents a lesson. In female chastity lies the honour of a family and raping a woman is a powerful tool of offence and revenge. When the concept of honour is taken to its extreme and it is combined with the custom of blaming the victim, non consensual sexual intercourse is considered paradoxically the same as pre-marital or non-marital sex, and this further compromises the safety of women.

The observance of basic human rights (right to life, right to safety, freedom, equality, health, etc) continues to be systematically violated in Pakistan. The mentality of blame to the detriment of the victim, together with the pervading inequality and discrimination, permeate though all spheres of societies, from the private life to the public level. The protection of women from unequal treatment and the prevention of violence are successful when forces from the top and from the bottom meet at the middle ground of justice, fairness and tolerance. In Pakistan, none of these fundamental principles seems to inspire equality either in personal relationships, or in public relations.In remote areas women when fell ill are not taken to doctors out of fear lest male staff of hospital can see her which means they are kept in hiding from the outside world.

Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996. Later on, the Government issued the Protection of Women Act in 2006 and the Criminal Law Act in 2009. The Acid Crime Prevention Bill, and the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, are still pending in Parliament. These acts are all supposed to be efficient legislative tools to protect women from assault, rape, discrimination in the work place and other forms of violence.But like other laws these legislations are not implemented.
During last 5 years women have been facing kidnapping, rape and conversion especially the trend is on rise in Sindh.

There are cases where even 6 year old girl Vijenti Meghwar was raped in Umerkot district on December 2, 2012, but  no arrest of accused has been made so far.

In India when a 23 year old girl was raped in bus whole India rather whole world stood up in one voice but in Pakistan when Rinkel Kumari, Sita and other girls were kidnapped and raped even so called civil society failed to raise effective voice. Dhani Bheel, a minority married woman was kidnapped and married to a Muslim man after conversion no one from civil society was present at Khipro town where judge handed her to new husband without consideration of getting Talaq (divorce) from previous husband.  The girls in  Sindh are not allowed to marry on their own and if any girl tries to do so or leaves her parent home after attaining adolescence,  the victims and their families are left on mercy of Waderas ( landlords) of the area who hold their illegal courts called Jirgas (tribal tribunal) and issue edict to  kill both girl and boy as marrying on one's wish is treated as honor crimes and the minor sisters of men are ordered to be given in exchange and married to any old male member from girl's family as compensation. These Jirgas, though banned by Sindh High Court are held regularly, also put fine of lacs of rupees on boy the amount of which when received is pocketed by the Wadera (feudal) himself.

A violence-free world is an utopia in Pakistan society of which was still lingering in 16th century. The main reason of violation of rights of every individual including women in Pakistan is the bad government due to perpetrators of crime are always elected to assemblies to form governments and cabinets. However, circumstances can be sensibly improved if tolerance, understanding, acceptance, innovation and open mindedness accompany people in their private spheres, and governments in their mandates. But until the country is ruled by feudal lords, Jagirdars (land owners), terrorists there is no hope of change in human rights situation especially rights of women.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Fallacy of "good men"

A few weeks ago I had a very interesting conversation where I was asked of what I will be looking for in a partner and I was specifically asked if I preferred if the person was active in social justice work.

At that moment, I didnt know what to say and be more diplomatic that there are no "good" people out there.

I was argued that "good thoughts" of "good men" count. Most probably they do when there are other people who are actively calling bullshit out on the streets but does it count when the whole society at large is just silent at all the atrocities.

Does that not mean that "good men" who mostly or never speak up cos they declare themselves to be "pacifist" or say that how "its a waste of time and not worth it" are completely complicit?

To have the courage to challenge oppressive behaviour in their own daily lives and confronting it, should it not be something that "good men" should do or are all conversations "being intellectually brilliant" are about showing off just to please their possible love interest in their lives...

And I came across this piece by Sam Ambreen and it really hit me that how "good men" don't actually exist or at least such men should not call themselves "good men" cos their actions only speak of complicity.

I was told by this person that how he prefers to be "sexist" with "unintelligent women" cos they "deserve it" and he just doesn't do it with me cos I am "different" than the "average" woman. [in Urdu we say, salay nai meri sehat per ehsan kiya hai -_-]

How fucking patronizing!

You know what the sad part is, the sad part is that, its something that I have heard from almost 90% of men I have ever had any kind of interaction, and its pretty much the same story with most of the women I know.... so either I am moving in the wrong circles or the world is just filled with douchebags who are waking up from slumber and trying to be "nice guys".

I thought this piece really deserved a re-blog "From an angry feminist to men-upto-no-good"

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It’s a simple world where the good man dwells. He has ideas about the role he plays in society and he works hard to maintain the way he is perceived. He loves his children and brings breakfast to his wife’s bed. He talks to other men about their balls because men don’t talk enough about their balls so he seeks to redress this, and for all his endeavours, he expects a pat on the head. What’s the point in being so damn good if nobody notices it?

The Good Men Project falls short at its name. We all know a ‘good man’ or a ‘nice guy’ who is keen to point out their goodness and niceness from the first time they speak to you. They’re so good, EVERYONE takes advantage and they always finish last. They’re just waiting for the right woman to come along and it will have all been worth it. But the reality being what it is, she doesn’t exist to please him (and why the hell should she)? This is when good men go bad. Much like teh menz over at The Good Men Project, good men have an idea of what they need in their lives to enable the good man to flourish from within.

Good men like a good woman. Don’t be angry now wimminz, good men don’t like it when wimminz shout. Or have an opinion for that matter. Actually, a good woman is allowed an opinion because ‘naturally’ that opinion will echo that of the good man. In this way, the good man is free to work out his biceps whilst the good woman is happy to play wifey to her man. It’s not like it’s his fault 1 billion women across the world are experiencing violence or oppression because of their sex. And just because there are billions of men beating and humiliating those other women, doesn’t mean we have to be angry at the other billions of men who are not abusive, we just need to be better at seeking the good ones out. Oh wait, which ones were the good ones again?

To paraphrase: “I was really angry right, cos some men sexually abused me once but I got over that cos these other men do these lovely things for me”. Nondescript men, or decent people, do nice things for other people cos it’s being human. Many men have been nice to me but I tell you what, they didn’t make the pain of being violated more bearable.

Oh, thank you for my perfect birthday weekend nice man, it really made up for that time the mosque teacher slid his hand up my 9 year old thigh. All better now.

Gosh, those flowers are amazing! I don’t think I’m ever gonna think about the time I was gang raped EVER AGAIN. I can stop being angry now; I know not all men are the same. I love all teh menz!

Are you fucking kidding me?

The Good Men Project published this piece in all seriousness. As if sexual violence was the only thing spurring on billions of women to fight against the oppression they face, they found a poor soul with an all too familiar story and a warped sense of her role in a patriarchy, so much so she believes these minor gestures of love and affection (that are her RIGHT and a bare minimum of human decency) are somehow to be commended, and ran with it as their answer to the angry feminist threatening their male goodness.

Feminism exists for more reasons than a good man can fathom, evidently. As feminists we are fighting for bodily autonomy. We are angry for the demands put on our bodies, from puberty through to pregnancy we are controlled by the patriarchy. Our breasts aren’t big enough or they’re so big we tempt strange abusive men into having a go. Pubic hair is more often than not groomed to please the eye of the beholder; we have very little choice over how we look down there. Teh menz invented labiaplasty for those whose vulvas resemble that of a grown woman. I’m not a big fan of porn (ahem) but in the interests of research, I’ve seen the patriarchal ideal shift. Women’s bodies have changed drastically from the 70s to present day, in appearance and also the ways in which they are used.

Newspapers and magazines bombard us with images of ridiculously tall white cis gendered wimminz with tans in ridiculous suggestive poses (legs akimbo/shaking a tail feather) and anyone falling short of this ideal just isn’t worthy. We are constantly fighting the battle for the right to choose what happens to our pregnant bodies. Some of cannot be pregnant, some of us will be forcibly impregnated and many more will break their backs working right up to the birth for fear they will lose their jobs in this patriarchal man’s world. And before Junior cracks his first smile, we’ll be leaking breast milk at work, crying in a toilet cubicle, torn between needing to be with our young and needing to work in order to survive. But wait, patriarchy has an answer! You need a manz to provide! He’ll be earning more than you for a start. Even if he beats you, cheats, uses your body at will. Know your place woman; pregnancy is vulnerability and teh menz like the sound of that. Good Men will even do the hoovering, cos they’re good like that. Just keep your gold stars handy and they might even do it again.

“I certainly had a lot of reasons to be angry. I was sexually assaulted”. That’s one reason, Good Men Project writer. Where were your words regarding the systematic control of women in the workplace, the streets and at home?

“The truth is that most men are not rapists.” That is not what my male friends tell me. But then I guess this depends on your definition of rape. Do you mean rape or ‘bad sexual etiquette’?

“Of course, I had a right to be angry at the men who hurt me. But I didn’t have a right to hold all men everywhere responsible for what happened to me. And by being angry, I was shutting down the possibility of love”. I have every right to hold patriarchy responsible for the ways in which it controls women. Unfortunately the patriarchy is mostly made up of men. I am angry but there is love in my life. It surrounds me and supports me. Anger at the patriarchy is one of my redeemable features and shock horror; there are men that get why! And totally dig it.

“For example, my brother steadfastly believed what happened to me and validated..” STOP. Were your experiences more or less validated because he is a man?

“And so did the mac and cheese he made me when I was sad, and the hours of Nintendo-playing we did when I was too down to do anything else.” This is why I love my girlfriends. I don’t need to thank them for providing me with distractions; it’s just how we roll. All of the time, and mostly with little significance.

“He turns up the heat when it’s cold. He walks the dog when I don’t want to go outside. He puts gas in the car.” He basically functions as humans do. Respect.

“Men love survivors of sexual violence every single day” Can you believe it? Have they no shame..? I’m sorry, but what exactly does this line mean?

“Most men are horrified by sexual violence and its impact on those they love.” Unless you’re asleep and it’s the second insertion of the day, you’ve already given consent and it can’t be violent if there weren’t any bruises.

“They want to help, but feel powerless – and afraid to say or do the wrong thing.” They feel this way because they are aware of how big patriarchy is and they know they can’t battle it alone. They stay silent because it’s too risky.

“If we want men to join the movement to end rape and sexual violence, we have to stop talking about all the things men do wrong, and start talking about all the things that men do right.” I know a few honest men who deserve genuine praise. Generally they read, retweet and shut the fuck up. They don’t dare to presume what women need in order to achieve equality. They are there to support us, not take over (take note you fucking good men). They have an appreciation of what thousands of years of subjugation has done to womankind. As our allies, they are happy for us to take the floor.
Unlike the good men and the nice guys who, under threat that the wimminz might take over (we’re a few hundred years off that sonny jim), use every vulnerable/disillusioned woman (who may or may not have listened to angry feminist folk music..)  they can find to undermine our crucial movement.
Feminism isn’t fun and sexy, it’s angry. Fighting oppression and for our basic rights does this to us.
May your anger over floweth and the good man/nice guy fadeth away. A-wo-men.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Of white saviours and colonial complexes

I was ranting about how most movements have turned extremely white wash, when I was introduced to this article in HuffPost; "why Arab world needs new wave of feminism and who could lead it"

I was honestly on board with the whole idea when I hit the last two paragraphs where they suggested "Hilary Clinton" to be the savior for coloured women >_> obviously because that is the solution to world problems.

So after reading that, I have decided to re-plug Nasreen's and mine article from August 2012, "Towards a Recognition of Multiple feminism: The Voice of Muslim Women"



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Feminist movement was emerged from lived experiences of women with an aim to understand nature of gender inequity and women's role in society and the achievement of gender equality as a basic request for social living.

First and second wave feminisms came under heavy criticism for taking account only white, middle class and privileged perspectives of women. Though the mainstream feminism and feminist have tried to incorporate a lot of things to address those concerns, there are still huge gaps and concerns in terms of understand and making up for them.

This is one of the main reasons, women of colour, third world feminists, black feminists etc. doesn't recognize themselves with mainstream white feminism. The issue is that mainstream feminism views everything from a single lens perspective. They view themselves to be white saviours who can move ahead and fix the situation of women around the world, even if it means lack of understanding and respect of others' culture, religion and identity.

The same trend has been witnessed by the rise of Islamophobia in West especially after the incident on September 11, 2001. We do recognize that patriarchy exists in our cultures and there are some serious issues around women and their access to basic rights, but we are not in favour of the fact that western white women, can come up and speak on our behalf. We are more than capable of speaking up for ourselves. This act of taking space and leadership by white women on issues of women of colour and Muslim women, de-legitimatizes and reduces the impact of our work. This places women of colour and esp. Muslim women in a difficult position where they are fighting patriarchy in their spaces but they also have to ask 'white women' to back off.

In this day and age, when women all around the world are fighting for their space, in terms of the right to access education, health and basic services, mainstream white feminists have only done harm than good by being disrespectful of our cultural and religious values.

People need to understand that Islam is not a single race, it's one of the most multi-racial religions in the world. Muslims come in all colours and they bring their unique cultural identity into it.
This lack of understanding from the part of mainstream feminism of the particularities of Muslim women or Muslim feminists is pretty clear in some statements based on stereotypes provided for Orientalism and new media. Wrongly, white “Universalist” feminism tends to reproduce codes of oppression and Islamophobia, when assuming these fabricated images about Muslim women as the truth. Let’s see some of these statements:

First, the ideological bias that assumes that Islam is the cause of the oppression of women, so that the only way to salvation for females is if they abandon their faith. Thus, it promotes a universal feminist concept which is read singularly as secularization.

Second, a continuing victimization of the "poor submissive Muslim" to which you have to save from submission to the barbarism of fanatical men, without an actual approach to Islamic thought, much less thinking of Muslim women, discarding prior level and the possibility of recognizing them as active persons able to explain themselves.

Third, a belief that is not possible for Muslim women to articulate a feminist discourse by themselves. This idea, promoted by intellectuals such as Wassila Tamzali, is nothing but a sweet trap of patriarchy to get some women to exclude others: deprive them of voice: The legitimate right to freedom of conscience, expression and ultimately usurping the right to be and existence.

Fourth, the idea that feminism doesn't have surnames. It is true that the ends must be shared and is even true because it is absolutely necessary to focus efforts toward a common goal. However, it is also essential to demonstrate the contexts from which the various feminisms are inserted into a larger work. Naming is to give existence and to give existence is to recognize.

This attitude towards Muslim women or others that don’t represent the mainstream are just a patriarchal reproduction form of some women.

If we talk about feminism we must recognize this is first, a process of gaining own awareness and recognition of a gender conscious that start in the self, so no one is entitled to apply any frame of normativity about this process of emancipation, since every woman is different and bring her history, motivation, ideas, concepts, experiences to this act of liberation that means adopting gender conscious that lead finally to the construction of a feminist discourse.

So, who is entitled to say some experiences are better or more feminist than others? That is establishing hierarchy which is exactly what patriarchy does with women as whole!
We, women need to work on recognition of each other as humans, able to explain ourselves a development our own rhetoric about what a woman is and about the theories that explain us. It is also necessary to move forward in respect and inclusion of diverse strategies to build true partnerships, to re-appropriate the common universal that is ultimately only a sum of human diversity around common values, which is suppose Feminism was an expression.

Female identity, "being woman" “being a free woman” is in constantly defining and developing. No one can be left out just because alternative conceptions do not match "mainstream” feminism. The modern world, through its scientific and technological progress is narrowing the gap between human beings like never before. Let us women not be the ones who return us to stagnation.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Stories of courage: Prison & Prisoners

The following is a guest post by Ram Narayan, where he shares his experience on working with prisoners.

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What did the word “prison” in the title bring to your mind? Going by what our movies have you believe, is it images of moustachioed, testosterone-charged men acting on a virtual carte blanche against cowering, stripped prisoners, who may be engaged in arduous labour? A bottomless abyss which scars you for life, from which there is no coming back, or a hope for a second shot at a dignified life? (I got my impressions more from Nelson Mandela’s descriptions in A Long Walk To Freedom, but the import is the same!)

Well, it’s not as bad as it looks, it’s worse. India had 3,26,519 prisoners in 1,140 prisons, as of 2011 (that’s 39.8% over capacity) and some of the conditions could make Mandela’s Robben Island cell look like a palace! What was surprising though was, only around 3.5% are females (even in largely misogynist settings, this big a skew is a surprise!). With society’s attitudes to prison and victims, a jail sentence is a death sentence. Many lose valuable years in the prime of their earning capacity thereby perpetuating further hardship on the rest of their family and little children, not to mention the attitudes towards them after release (if at all!). The less said about female prisoners and their post-release reintegration into society the better.

As part of the social club Make A Difference Foundation of my college IMT, Ghaziabad we realised we could attempt a significant change in the lives of these women prisoners. Our obvious port of call was Dasna Jail, Ghaziabad, the second largest in Northern India. Keeping with our intent of sustainability, we decided to follow up last year’s project on candles with solar lanterns this year. This was made possible due to help from the NGO, All India Womens Conference and Urja Unlimited who will provide the training to 18 selected inmates.

Selecting the inmates for the training was one of the many significant and revealing experiences. Trawling through list after list of inmates threw up many a sidelight. Brainwashed as we are on media/movie reinforced stereotypes of the impoverished school dropout youngster who goes astray and takes to crime, this was an eye opener. Tucked away among the many names was that of Sarita, a bank manager. She was one of the rare women who did the hard yards and was able to come up, braving a patriarchal system to achieve enough progress in her life to come up to the level of a bank manager, and here she was, cooling her heels in jail for a needless indiscretion driven by greed. There were also countless others whose background was eye-popping. What was surprising was the number of white collar crimes – forgery, cheating, multi-million rupee stamp-paper underwriting and so on. This pointed to relatively high levels of education and advancement that was frittered away so needlessly. Among them, were a few older women who were doing time for dowry related assault and murder, again showing that their own educational advancement even as women was wasted!
Taking in all this while looking to select relatively younger women with about a year to go for release, as a management student I couldn’t help notice the huge human resource and economic potential being wasted! The typical Indian bureaucratic sentiment is to treat them as less than worthy of human dignity, which is why there is very little by way of structured government initiatives towards reintegration with only notable exceptions like Kiran Bedi’s at Tihar, for which she is even reported to have been victimised by higher-ups. What on earth is the purpose of a jail, if not corrective action aimed at giving a new life?! The kind of degrading manual labour including scavenging that prisoners in India are largely subjected to, points to an societal acceptance of their branding as less than deserving of basic human dignity. This does nothing towards their rehabilitation, and only reinforces those very feelings of hatred that made them criminals in the first place. Well-meaning external initiatives by NGOs concerned die a slow death because of the cynicism, disinterest and ulterior motives of officers involved. The constant mental degradation prisoners face also reinforces their cynicism in the system which means they have a deep distrust of any such initiative.

The women, as would be expected, form the neglected section of the jail system, owing both to their lower numbers and to societal attitudes. The surest way to ward off their cynicism is to give them the confidence that they can stand on their own feet, should they need it, once they are out. Most of the women we were introduced to by a senior inmate, were either wary of the “strangers” or just plain disinterested. If they used their education to acquire a skill they could use while in jail, either in practice as income generating activity, or by training fellow inmates, their life would acquire greater meaning. Initiatives like the term-rebate-for-book-reviews scheme in Brazil that concentrate on using prison life constructively show prisons for what it should be – corrective rather than restraining centres. This is where our initiative aims at not only training them to manufacture the solar lanterns, but also to put in place a mechanism for them training other inmates so that the scheme continues in perpetuity.

What left the biggest impression on me was interacting with some of them. Many of them in their orange kurta-pyjamas were milling about as attenders, cleaners, cooks and general oddhands. Casual conversation with them seemed hardly different from those with the blue-collar employees of my own college, which was unnerving considering their dark pasts as murderers, robbers, and what not. While the casual work within the prison, (mainly for the senior prisoners with longer sentences) helps to beat daily drudgery and mental stagnation while also helping them learn new skills, it also negates the need for externally sourced employment for all this. A common criminal from underprivileged circumstances who takes up the carpentry, electric or cooking work in jail has some form of dignified employment to look forward to either upon release or as daily occupation within premises while in jail, while those with sufficient education, and who are in for white collar crimes do not comparatively lack in job-related skills.

All in all this experience was a lesson in humanly possibility. Tanya, one of the “sure-fits” for the training was a soft-spoken, pleasant lady who I found endearingly shy. She seemed pretty amiable, and looking forward to the training. It was astounding to learn that hid a sordid past for this former BPO employee who is serving time for a double murder. Manish has an entire line of paintings on various mythological themes on display there, that make you wonder at the truly meticulous effort that has gone into it, in addition to the skill. And when one learns that the same hands that served such jaw-droppingly awesome ginger chai, have strangled two women, one only has one pained question left at all the disused skills, “why, oh why?”!

But the biggest takeaway from it all? Till now, I was the most vocal supporter you could ever find, of the death-penalty in principle. Sashakt made me rethink. That experience, of meeting people there, hearing of their stories, and looking at the simply unbelievable potential for dignified rehabilitation, is a learning that no classroom lecture by any distinguished professor can ever give.

(Names have been changed to protect certain identities)

Friday, March 1, 2013

Domestic Violence: Apologia Galore

In light of the last guest post which was written in collaboration with four other authors where Qasim Rashid's "Islamic solution to domestic violence" was responded, this is something interesting which we recieved

Muslim moral brigade

Butt Burkha

We have been debating religion, religious people and someone asked the meaning of "fitna" so we had to share the meaning...







And nothing handles everything like a bad highlander  

Moral of the story: If I ever got elected in a position of power, I will be making Butt Burkhas mandatory for men... mmmm

Website last updated 2013