Monday, March 28, 2011

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women’s Voice & Courage

8 March 2011

International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women’s Voice & Courage

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, ARTICLE 19 celebrates the achievements of women - past, present and future - who strive for equality and empowerment through their work as journalists, human rights defenders and political activists.

Often at the forefront of the recent wave of protests that have gripped the Middle East and North Africa and captured the imagination of the international community, women are an inspiration to us all on International Women’s Day and for generations to come. Originating from diverse backgrounds, the women who continue to take to the streets are unified by their call for change, for a better life, for equality, and for human rights - for themselves and their communities.

The vast majority of these women are not renowned political activists, human rights defenders or cyber activists, but ordinary women, young and not so young, educated and non-educated, literate and illiterate, who have come together to march: chanting, raging, and relentlessly demanding and speaking out against oppression, censorship and inequality.

ARTICLE 19 dedicates 2011 International Women’s Day to courageous women from across the regions – Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and the Americas – who have spoken out against oppression and inequality, and called for human dignity and human rights.

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of international women’s day, ARTICLE 19 calls on governments around the world to take measurable and time-bound steps to ensure women have equal access to information, media, and communication technologies.

ARTICLE 19 also calls on the media and the media regulatory and self-regulatory bodies around the world to take active measures towards establishing equal opportunities for female media professionals, addressing existing discrimination against female representation in the media professions and ensuring that effective ethical and self-regulatory codes of conduct are put in place. The measures should include fostering a gender-sensitive approach to media work and a gender-sensitive understanding of what content is in the public interest.

We call on women’s and press freedom organisations to continue to raise awareness about sexism and gender-based censorship in the media and to work to combat it. We call for stronger dialogue and debate between women’s and feminist organisations and broadcasters, and encourage the development of women’s and feminist press globally, including in online publishing.

In Bangladesh

"The opportunity has encouraged us to believe in ourselves and to think, write and speak independently." (ARTICLE 19 Fellow Ismet Marjida)

The twelve women who received the 2010 ARTICLE 19 Grassroots Women Journalists’ Fellowships in Bangladesh investigated and unearthed stories of human rights violations, discrimination, deprivation and marginalisation caused by extreme poverty. They reported on the lack of access to information, education and public services. Many of their articles caught the attention of policy makers, local authorities, government representatives and community leaders, resulting in some cases to active interventions to resolve the issue and improve poor people’s lives, particularly in the fields of health and education.

Selina Sheuli, who, while investigating the negative effects of brick fields in the district of Bogura for a news story, found that carbon emissions from creating bricks had a devastating effect on nearby communities. Selina’s article highlighted amongst other things that the brick fields were operating in violation of the Environment Act. As a result, local communities organised themselves to bring the owners to the negotiating table to agree concrete steps. The Directorate of Environment also become involved to ensure factory owners complied with the regulations.

When Imrana Ahmed’s article revealed that there was no information desk at the capital’s largest hospital, Dhaka Medical College, it created a furore amongst doctors and the hospital’s administration. In the article, Imrana highlighted the sufferings and exploitation of patients seeking treatment in hospitals, in particular poor patients who unwittingly became the victims of professional dalals, middlemen or agents, who exploit patients’ lack of accurate information relating to the services offered by the hospital, the costs involved and the availability of doctors. Since the publication of Imrana’s article, the authorities are discussing putting out a comprehensive citizen’s charter at the main entrance of the hospital, and in other appropriate parts of the hospital, to inform people of their rights.

Ismet Marzina’s article on labour practices in the Chittagong’s ship-breaking industries revealed that children working there were put at huge health and safety risks because of the long working hours – with no breaks – and their exposure to lethal levels of asbestos poisoning. Ismet’s article forced industry owners to engage with workers and their unions to come up with solutions for ensuring child workers’ safety.

Shamsunnahar Nure Elahi exposed the reasons behind the collapse of the Sirajganj embankment, which was built to protect the town and its people from floods but collapsed within a few years of construction. The article investigated allegations of corruption and bad management in the construction and maintenance of the embankment. The findings of the article led to demands from the local communities and civil society for a formal investigation into the collapse of the construction.

Smriti Chakraborty took a bold step when she wrote a story exposing the many forms of discrimination faced by Hindu women due to the lack of civil registration of Hindu marriages. Smriti’s article caused a huge stir in the Hindu community, with both positive and negative responses. But it also led to the recognition that efforts must be made to raise awareness of the benefits of government registering or recognising Hindu marriages and that the results of her study should be widely shared.

In India

Harinder Baweja, editor of investigation at the highly regarded Tehelka weekly magazine, was charged in 2011 with defamation for an article, 'In the words of a zealot’. The article featured the confession of a member of the religious nationalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and his involvement in anti-Muslim plots, including the 2007 bombing of the India-Pakistan Samjhauta Express train, that killed 68 people.

Harinder has a history of risking her life to tell a story. In 2003, she reported from Iraq during the US invasion and she is the only foreign female journalist to have reported from the headquarters of Pakistan's Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, an organisation classified as terrorist by many states. She has also investigated and written books on the Mumbai bombings in 2008 and the Gujarat mass killings in 2002.

Madhu Kishwar, editor of the top women’s magazine Manushi, is a symbol of women’s empowerment in India. In its 30 years history, the magazine has exposed atrocities and discrimination against women, discussed the impacts of Indian traditions on women, and reported on the plight of the landless poor. The magazine played a significant role in bringing national attention to the chronic problems of domestic violence and the practice of dowry abuse that has made women's lives vulnerable. Manushi also provides legal aid, runs human rights campaigns and publishes books. “I believe your politics has to be pro people, pro women — and you have to demonstrate this concretely,” she once said in an interview.

In Iran

Since September 2010, Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer accused of defending opposition activists, politicians and juvenile prisoners, has been imprisoned in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran. On 4 September 2010, Nasrin was arrested on charges of spreading propaganda against the regime and jeopardising state security. Initially, she went on a one-month hunger strike while she was in prison because she had been denied the right to have visits and phone calls from her family. Nasrin then went on a second hunger strike to protest against her detention and ill treatment.

On 9 January 2011, Nasrin was sentenced to 11 years in prison in addition to being banned from practicing law and leaving the country for 20 years. Some of her renowned cases before the ban included Isa Saharkhiz, Heshmat Tabarzadi, Parvin Ardalan, Omid Memarian and Roya Tolouie. She is closely associated with Nobel Prize winner Shirin Ebadi who has openly condemned the treatment and sentencing of Nasrin Sotoudeh several times.

A number of women’s freedom rallies will be taking place on the 8 March 2011 across Iran to support brave women in prison, including Nasrin Sotoudeh, defend women’s freedom and women’s rights in Iran and to show solidarity with mothers whose children have been killed in the post-election protests.

In Mexico

Rosa Isela Perez, a reporter based in Ciudad Juarez, was forced to flee the country along with her family after reporting on gender-based violence in the city for a local newspaper and becoming a key witness in the procedures in the Inter American Court of Human Rights.
Ever since Rosa started writing about violence against women, she has uncovered irregularities in police investigations and denounced the climate of impunity associated with the cases. Rosa has also exposed the links between gender-based crimes and the authorities, including the involvement of high-profile businessmen and organised crime. Her articles, which featured more information than official reports on the incidents, attract national and international attention and have caused the international community to raise their concerns over these crimes. As a result of her activities, Rosa received death threats and was harassed by authorities and unknown assailants. In addition, as part of the Mexican government’s attempts to cover and minimize the information on gender-based crimes or so called “feminicidio” in Ciudad Juárez, the authorities publicly accused Rosa of being an unprofessional journalist. Due to the authorities’ pressure, Rosa’s work was subjected to censorship and in 2005 she was dismissed from the newspaper. ARTICLE 19 Central America assisted Rosa and her family to flee the country and seek asylum in Spain. Their requests for asylum were granted a few months ago.
In Gambia

Ndey Tapha Sosseh is a Gambian Journalist, the President of the Gambian Press Union and coordinator of the West African Journalists Association-Capacity Building Project. As the first woman to lead the Union of Gambian Journalists, Ndey has consistently challenged the countries’ culture of impunity, called for an independent investigation into the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara and the disappearance of journalist Ebrima Manneh. Ndey has repeatedly spoken out against violations of the right to freedom of expression in the country and has become a major target of the government. Ndey now lives in Mali and cannot safely return to Gambia because of her journalistic activities. Ndey’s courage and determination to fight injustices and defend press freedom in the Gambia is in inspiration for women across Africa.

In Tunisia

“The fear is gone, the people have put away their fear, and I’ve been waiting 20 years for that day,” said Sana Ben Achour, a celebrated Tunisian socio-political activist and president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (l''Association tunisienne des femmes démocrates - ATFD) who contributed to rallying trade union representatives and women’s rights activists in the lead up to the ousting of former President Ben Ali, on 14 January 2011. Following Ben Ali’s departure, Sana led a thousand-strong protest in Tunis to highlight the need to respect women’s rights during these transition.

Over many years, and along with renowned Tunisian human right activists, Sihem Bensedrine, Neziha Rejiba and Radhia Nasraoui, Sana was the subject of threats and harassment, as well as a defamation campaign in the press because of her active engagement in the promotion of equality and citizenship.

Recognised for her struggle to achieve gender equality in Tunisia and confront religious extremism and authoritarian policies that threaten women’s rights, Sana has campaigned for many years against different types of discrimination, including inheritance laws. Amongst numerous other issues, Sana has tirelessly campaigned to address the economic insecurity faced by women in Tunisia and in the region, highlighting attacks on the economic and social rights of women as a causal factor behind violence perpetrated against them.


• For more information please contact: Mona Samari, +44 20 7324 2500
• In the above image, Tahseena Sadeque is receiving the certificate of ARTICLE 19 women journalist fellowship from human rights activist, Dr. Hameeda Hossain and Tahmina Rahman, country director of ARTICLE 19 Bangladesh.

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