...I'm okay with being REALITY-based.

Monday, March 08, 2004
      ( 10:43 AM )
Celebrating Women Who Stand

Today is International Women's Day. Being a woman, I am very pleased to celebrate it. There are some great reads around the Internet today about the state of women's rights and the conditions women must endure (still) around the world. MADRE is running many of them:

Women's Rights in "Liberated" Iraq:

Iraqi women cite a breakdown in security and public
order as the number one problem in Iraq since the
invasion. A sharp rise in abduction, rape and sexual
slavery has made women afraid to leave their homes.
Girls are being kept out of school and many women
are now forbidden by their families to be in public
without a male escort.

Women attribute the rise in violence to social
disintegration triggered by the overthrow of the Ba'ath
regime; the rise of Islamic fundamentalism; and ongoing
fighting between US and Iraqi forces.

It is estimated that more than 400 Iraqi women were
abducted and raped within the first four months of US
occupation. The rapes have triggered an increase in
"honor killings," in which male relatives murder rape
survivors because the attack has "shamed" the family.

Women trying to survive in Haiti - this situation continues to evolve, but it has always been tenous there as well.

In Afghanistan, self-immolation among women is on the rise. One year after thousands of Afghani women celebrated International Women's Day, they are now finding themselves back in the same old fearful conditions. RAWA is still keeping us informed on the women of Afghanistan:

Afghan officials say poverty, forced marriages, and lack
of access to education are the main reasons for suicide
among women in Herat. Domestic violence is also

"A lot of women are saying that their husbands don't
allow them to go and visit their families. There are severe
restrictions on their movement, and also there is violence
towards them -- both physical and psychological -- and
intimidation and isolation," Virdee said.

During the five-year rule of the Taliban militia, women
were not allowed to work or study. They could not leave
their homes without a male escort and were forced to
wear the all-encompassing burqa.

Since the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, women have
once again been given the right to study and work. But
activists say women in many parts of Afghanistan --
including Herat, which is ruled with an iron fist by provincial
governor and warlord Ismail Khan -- still face repression
and harassment.

Virdee says the continued crackdown on women's rights
is contributing to the rise in self-immolation cases.

"The institutional repression of the women's movement is
also a big factor because women are not allowed to go on
their own in taxi cars, they are sort of socially policed if
they are talking to other men, they have to be in the burqa,
they have restriction on freedom to work. Just recently in
Herat a women's shop which was employing a lot of women
was closed. The driving school for women was also closed,"
Virdee said.

Ahmad Bassir is a Herat-based correspondent for Radio Free
Afghanistan. He says women see no difference between their
lives now and under the Taliban, and that desperation drives
them to attempt suicide.

Women in many parts of Africa and the rest of the world are suffering the most brutal treatment, many as a result of senseless wars and conflicts. Human Rights Watch has a report on the condition of women around the world and it's not pretty. It's horrific to know that our fellow human beings can treat each other so cruelly. (This doesn't even mention how the children are treated).

Combatants and their sympathizers in conflicts, such as
those in Sierra Leone, Kosovo, the Democratic Republic of
Congo, Afghanistan, and Rwanda, have raped women as a
weapon of war with near complete impunity. Men in Pakistan,
South Africa, Peru, Russia, and Uzbekistan beat women in
the home at astounding rates, while these governments
alternatively refuse to intervene to protect women and punish
their batterers or do so haphazardly and in ways that make
women feel culpable for the violence. As a direct result of
inequalities found in their countries of origin, women from
Ukraine, Moldova, Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Burma,
and Thailand are bought and sold, trafficked to work in forced
prostitution, with insufficient government attention to protect
their rights and punish the traffickers. In Guatemala, South
Africa, and Mexico, women's ability to enter and remain in the
work force is obstructed by private employers who use women's
reproductive status to exclude them from work and by
discriminatory employment laws or discriminatory enforcement of
the law. In the U.S., students discriminate against and attack
girls in school who are lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered, or
do not conform to male standards of female behavior. Women
in Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia face government-
sponsored discrimination that renders them unequal before the
law - including discriminatory family codes that take away
women's legal authority and place it in the hands of male family
members - and restricts women's participation in public life.


We live in a world in which women do not have basic
control over what happens to their bodies. Millions of
women and girls are forced to marry and have sex with
men they do not desire. Women are unable to depend
on the government to protect them from physical violence
in the home, with sometimes fatal consequences, including
increased risk of HIV/AIDS infection. Women in state
custody face sexual assault by their jailers. Women are
punished for having sex outside of marriage or with a person
of their choosing (rather than of their family's choosing).
Husbands and other male family members obstruct or
dictate women's access to reproductive health care. Doctors
and government officials disproportionately target women
from disadvantaged or marginalized communities for coercive
family planning policies.

But women continue to fight. In honor of this day, I would like to celebrate the lives of two women I hold in high esteem, two women who are my heros and always will be, two women who died because they believed in freedom for all mankind. They both died at the same time of year, and only days after International Women's Day.

The first is Rachel Corrie. I did not know her, but she came from my part of the world (Olympia, WA). She was only 23 last March 16 when she tried to nonviolently prevent the destruction of a Palestinian family's home in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Defense Forces drove a tank over her, even though she could be clearly seen and they had even signaled to her. There has still been no justice for her murder, and the family and friends of Rachel Corrie are calling for a National Day of Remembrance for her this coming week, along with help in getting the Rachel Corrie Resolution passed in Congress.

H.Con.Res. 111 calls upon the "United States government
to undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation
into the death of Rachel Corrie." This investigation is
necessary because of contradictions between the results
of an IDF investigation and eyewitness accounts of her death.

Rachel Corrie was an American citizen killed by a foreign
army and a U.S. investigation is necessary to determine
the circumstances of her death and ensure that this type
of incident does not happen again.

Rachel Corrie believed that all people should be free of oppression, discrimination and occupation. At such a young age, she turned that belief into action and ended up giving her life to protect a family's home from destruction. Rachel embodies what so many more of us wish to achieve: the will to put ourselves where it really counts. I appreciate and honor her for doing that.

My second hero is Rosemary Nelson. Rosemary was a civil rights solicitor in Northern Ireland, and my honor was to have not only known her but to have worked for her and with her. She was assasinated by protestant loyalist elements assisted by the Northern Ireland Police (then known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary - RUC). She had for many years defended those who the occupied state of the six northern counties of Ireland would not recognize: Irish Republicans. But she also defended and represented unionists and loyalists and she did not discriminate in the amount of effort she expended on her clients. She received ongoing death threats and despite her high-profile work with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (at the time) and being internationally known for her civil rights work (she had just recently testified before the US House International Relations Committee), the British government chose not to investigate the threats or provide any protection. Ten years early, another civil rights attorney, Pat Finucane had been assasinated with help from British intelligence agents.

On March 15, 1999 Rosemary got in her car to drive to her law office in the small town of Lurgan. Her car exploded, having been armed with a mercury-switch bomb - a sophisticated instrument that could only have been provided by security forces in the area. The bomb exploded within earshot of her young daughter who was in school at the time. Rosemary did not die immediately, but suffered tremendously until she finally passed hours later. The security forces never did launch a genuine investigation into her assasination and even the FBI, called in as consultants, declined to help, citing the corruption in the security forces in Northern Ireland.

Rosemary Nelson's legacy was that she worked tirelessly for the rights of her clients and her countrymen and women. She is beloved for standing up to a state system that denied equal rights to a huge segment of the society, and who condoned and often participated in the abuse of those citizens. I loved her and considered her my hero when I worked for her, and even more so now. She taught me so many important things (including watch what you say on the telephone), but one always stands out to me: She told me as I accompanied her to her Congressional Testimony in September 1998 that sometimes it takes a woman to make change happen because we aren't afraid of bitching too loudly about what matters.

These two women, though different ages, different lives, different countries, have much in common, not the least of which is that their brutal murders were aided and abetted by two of our closest allied nations, and there has been no justice in either case. These women would have been even more effective in their work had they been allowed to live. But they weren't.

In their memory today and next week on the anniversaries of their deaths, I will honor not only what they stood (and died) for, but for the inspiration they will always be to me.

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