Wednesday, February 15, 2006

International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day by Tobe Levin

FORWARD our girls
Dr. Tobe Levin, Chair, Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development (FORWARD - Germany) rendered a most insightful talk on female genital mutilation (FGM) at WSRC on February 6, 2006. She spoke as representative of a registered charity whose officers have come to Germany primarily from Somalia. FGM, a complex custom not easily understood by outsiders, is rationalized in many ways. Mistakenly thought to be a religious prerequisite, it is practiced in conjunction with beliefs in family honor, to cement social inclusion, and even, in some cases, to enhance sexual pleasure. According to World Health Organization estimates, about 132 million girls have been subjected to FGM. Most live in African countries or in several practicing cultures in the Middle East and Asia. The present-day African diaspora has exported the tradition to Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. Tobe mentions that ‘not only is FGM normal to those whose ethnicity mandates it as a condition of gender identity and group membership but the result is, where infibulation is concerned, beauty and cleanliness which in turn give the girls a sense of fulfillment, as they have longed for the “event”, that is, to change status and become “women”.’ Depending on the degree of mutilation, FGM can have several short and long term effects such as shock, hemorrhaging, severe uterus and vaginal infections, complications in pregnancy and childbirth, psychological damage and even death. The Inter-African Committee (IAC), an umbrella for 28 national groups, of which 26 are in Africa, voiced their strong concerns and explicitly opposed efforts of countries like the United States to substitute the so-called neutral terms "cutting" or "surgery" for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) when addressing a broad Western audience including opinion- and policy-makers, in order to emphasize the medically unnecessary amputation or maiming of the female organs. For this reason, in 2003, Berhane Ras-Work, IAC president, launched International Zero Tolerance to FGM Day marked by awareness-raising activities on February 6 each year. FORWARD – Germany is an international non-governmental organization that promotes action to stop harmful traditional practices such as FGM and early and forced marriages, which violate the human rights of women and girls and adversely affect their health and well-being. The primary objective is elimination of FGM. It advocates remedial policies be adopted in those countries where harmful traditional practices (such as FGM) have a strongly negative impact on health, including child mortality and reproductive morbidity. Internationally, FORWARD's activities are primarily focused on programmes in Somalia and Ethiopia, working in partnership with local grassroots groups supporting African women's health and economic development. The organization therefore takes a holistic approach to combating FGM and urges changes in health care, education and economic development (income generation). FORWARD-Germany, for instance, continues its efforts to curb FGM with several concrete projects, among them a sponsorship program for Somali girls. School fees are paid in exchange for parental promises not to infibulate. It also sponsors a traveling exhibition of paintings by Nigerian artists devoted to raising awareness and sensitivity toward the topic. View some of the work by the artists at
For more information on FORWARD's efforts visit their website .

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Muqaddisa Mehreen's presentation: Gender and Violence in Pakistan

"Ajrak"- textile print typical to the Sindh region of Pakistan Muqaddisa Mehreen from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University, made a presentation in January ' 06 on Gender and Violence in Pakistan. She focused on the social role of women in South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular. Some visuals were presented that depicted ruthless acts of violence perpetrated against women as also those of women in places of work, from the farms to convention halls. She pointed out that acts of violence commonly known as "honor killings" are culturally propagated in certain regions. The failing support systems for women render their position as those who have brought shame on their families. Prevailing customs like Karo (literally a black man) Kari (literally a black woman) in the Sindh region were sometimes used to end an act of defiance, with the sanction of the communities involved. Please visit the following URL to view some of the slides presented by Muqaddisa.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Louise Lopman's paper on the role of "Gender and International Development"

Under bright lights and intense heat and at a rapid pace to meet excessive quotas, women between the ages of 17 and 25 sew and assemble GAP T-shirts for export to the U.S. for 60 cents an hour, less than one third of the living wage required to provide for a family.
Louise Lopman presented her paper on the role of gender and international development among the women who work in the maquilas (“sweatshops”) in the Free Trade Zones in El Salvador. These women sew and assemble apparel for duty-free export, mostly to U.S. manufacturers. Using phenomenological sociology as her theoretical approach, she focuses on how these women “experience” specifically corporate (neoliberal) globalization, in their every day lives. Louise points out that free trade and privatization represent a minimalist development agenda that does not incorporate or recognize the needs of women. The impact on the culturally acceptable gender roles in families with women entering the workforce and adding on to the surplus pool of workers is completely ignored. As an example she points out that there was no gender-impact assessment of how the free trade agreement, U.S.- Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) would impact the lives and livelihood of women throughout the Americas, let alone in El Salvador – and there certainly were no provisions to improve the living conditions of citizens, both women and men, or to correct the serious human rights violations and abuses of workers’ rights. On a positive note Louise mentions that women and men in El Salvador have been mobilizing and taking action to create an alternative just economic system that recognizes people’s right to self-determination. For more pictures visit