Gender & Human Rights

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Millions of Women Take A Long Walk With A 40-Pound Water Can


A few years back, while working in Benin, environmental health specialist Jay Graham saw an elderly woman in line at a pump to get water. She looked far too old to carry the water home herself, so he was relieved to see other people helping her — until he realized they were just making sure she had successfully balanced the 40-pound can on her head.

In parts of the world without running water, people must rely on an alternative: walking [to] water.

It’s a physically demanding, time-consuming responsibility and one that almost always falls to females, according to Graham. He and his colleagues from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University have published a new study in PLOS ONE looking at data from 24 sub-Saharan African countries. They found that in all of the countries, in households where a family member had to spend more than 30 minutes to collect water, the primary collectors were women, ranging from 46 percent in Liberia to 90 percent in Cote d’Ivoire. When the chore is a kid’s job, there’s still a major gender gap: 62 percent for girls versus 38 percent for boys.

The research uncovered that in these countries, there are an estimated 13.54 million women (and 3.36 million children) who are responsible for water collection trips that take 30 minutes or longer.

That so many people, particularly children, shoulder this burden is what distresses Graham. “The scale of the problem really sinks in,” he says.

And it highlights the fact that it’s not just the quality of water that’s at issue. The Millennium Development Goal to boost the population with access to safe drinking water was met in 2012. But focusing on safety wasn’t enough, Graham says. “You also can’t be spending crazy amounts of time collecting this water,” he says.

It all starts with who is doing the job. “That’s typically an adult woman, above 15,” Graham says. Because of widespread gender inequality, he explains, females are saddled with most of the unpaid chores.

To collect the water, she likely carries a jerry can, a bright yellow plastic container that was originally filled with cooking oil. It’s been cleaned out and then repurposed for water storage. If it’s full, it holds 5 gallons and weighs about 40 pounds, Graham explains. In many places in sub-Saharan Africa, the woman is probably just holding the can and not using a wheelbarrow or a barrel that could be rolled home.

People ask Graham why more women collecting water don’t simply pick one of these less taxing methods. It’s because they can’t, he explains. “It’s usually uneven terrain” with obstacles along the way, he notes.

The path to the water source may change frequently, adds Ben Crow, a sociology professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, who has researched the intricacies of water collection in Kenya. For one study, he placed GPS units on jerry cans to learn where and how far from home women traveled.

Before setting off, a woman must figure out which pump she can visit to actually acquire water on that particular day, Crow says. There are seasonal shortages and rations that may complicate this decision — and lengthen the trip. “In times of scarcity, the journey time can be quite long. They may spend half an hour coming there and another half hour back,” he says.

Once a woman gets to a water source, she can expect to spend even more time waiting in line. When there’s just a single hand pump, progress is slow. It’s common to leave a jerry can to hold your spot, says Graham, who has seen rows of them stretching out for many feet. If the woman lives close enough, she may return home to do domestic chores. If not, she may just hang out.

Then comes the hard part: taking the water home.

Crow picked up a full jerry can once. “I could just about get it on my head,” he says. “Could I walk with it? No.”

As for Graham, he has lifted a few cans to feel the weight, but that’s it. “It’s hard work,” he says. “If I go backpacking, I can’t go very far with 40 pounds.” And, he adds, he’s a full-grown man who has never gone hungry. Many of the women and girls who regularly carry water are living in poverty.

Long walks with such a heavy load take their toll, notes Jo-Anne Geere, a lecturer at the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia. She has also never hauled a jerry can. As a physiotherapist, she treats neck and back problems, “so I don’t fancy creating my own,” she says.

In her work examining the health implications of water collection in South Africa, Geere has found that carrying these heavy loads on one’s head is associated with a particular pain pattern, with discomfort in the upper back and hands and an increased risk of headaches. (She’s still studying why, although she suspects it’s because of the compression of discs in the neck.) In one survey she collected data from six villages; 69 percent of participants reported spinal pain, and 38 percent complained of back pain.

It’s not necessarily a single trip for water each day that’s causing these consequences. Depending on the size of the family and the household’s needs — like laundry, for instance — women may make this trip multiple times on the same day. If water is available only during a certain window, “they rush, and can’t pace,” Geere says.

Even if a woman finishes her water collection duties without aches and pains, there’s a good chance she’s exhausted, Crow adds. And there are still plenty of other domestic tasks on her to-do list. There usually isn’t enough time to finish it all by bedtime, he says, which is why women often sleep less than men. “There is evidence that women may sleep fewer hours than men in response to the time demands of their various tasks,” he says.

He notes that reducing the time required for water collection has been found to boost women’s economic activity. (One told him that after she had a tap in her home, she was freed up to go to job interviews.)

What Graham hopes people take away from his analysis is that these lengthy water collection times have real impacts on individual lives — typically, the lives of women and girls — and it’s important that they’re considered when measuring progress in access to safe water.

Geere often thinks about one woman she encountered during her research in South Africa. They met at a spring, and Geere asked if she could accompany her — and three kids, ages 9, 8 and 4 — home. The 20-minute walk “was very steep and slippery,” recalls Geere, who was surprised when they were greeted by the woman’s husband and a 3-month-old baby. As the woman explained that she was nursing, another two babies appeared.

“This woman had triplets and was trying to fetch water for her whole family,” Geere says. “She was managing it, but she said, ‘I get incredibly tired.’ I said, ‘Of course you do.’”


By            :               Vicky Hallett

Date         :               July 9, 2016

Source     :               WPSU Penn State



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Beyond Orlando Shooting: Homicides of LGBT And HIV-Affected People Rose 20% In 2015, Study Finds


After the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend, many have noted that it was one of the worst mass shootings in American history and have called for stronger gun control and counterterrorism efforts. But as horrific as this incident was, it’s just the latest in a rising tide of killings of LGBT people.

Killings of LGBT and HIV-affected people in the United States have risen 20 percent since 2014, according to a report released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs this week. The study found 24 reported hate violence homicides in 2015, making last year the deadliest since 2012.

In Orlando, 49 people were killed and 53 wounded before dawn Sunday morning. Even if no other attacks on LGBT people take place this year, the tragedy would make the 2016 figures 100 percent higher than those in 2015, as the Guardian noted.

Identity played a large part in who was targeted, according to the report. People of color, transgender and gender-nonconforming people made up a majority of the victims of hate violence. Of the 24 reported homicides, 62 percent were people of color and 67 percent were transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals.

The most vulnerable group was transgender women of color, who made up 54 percent of the homicides. While transgender people have become more visible in mainstream media and pop culture in the past few years with figures like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, they have also experienced a sharp increase in violence. Last fall, the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group, released a report showing that more transgender people were killed in 2015 than any other year on record.

Among people who survived hate violence, the NCAVP report found that people of color were twice as likely to experience physical violence as their white peers, and undocumented immigrant survivors were four times more likely than other survivors to experience physical violence.

The report likely represents a low estimate of the violence against LGBT people across the country. The NCAVP collected its data from 13 member organizations in 12 states and used information from public sources or directly from survivors.

FBI hate crime statistics can show a larger number of incidents based on prejudice, the Guardian reported. In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, 1,248 people in the U.S. — or 18.6 percent of all hate crime victims — were targeted because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, the NCAVP report also notes that low reporting rates can affect the reliability of any hate crime statistics. Just 41 percent of LGBT and HIV-affected people who experienced hate violence reported the incident to law enforcement in 2015, down from 54 percent in 2014. Overall, the trends in the report show that the U.S. has not made progress in stopping anti-LGBT violence over time. The number of homicides has fluctuated over the years, but in 2006, the number of killings was 10 — less than half of what it was last year.


By            :               Abigail Abrams

Date         :               June 15, 2016

Source     :               International Business Times



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Rings fall apart


Official statistics vastly understate Nigeria’s divorce rate

JOSEPH ADUWO reckons he is well shot of his spouse. “My wife…fought with nine persons in a day on our street, wearing only bra and underpants. She is a shameless streetfighter,” he told a Lagos court. It duly dissolved their union.

Official statistics suggest that divorce is exceedingly uncommon in Nigeria. Just 0.2% of men and 0.3% of women have legally untied the knot, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. And well under 1% of couples admit to being separated. Yet such counts exclude the vast majority of Nigerians, whose traditional marriage ceremonies are not governed by modern law, says Chief Robert Clarke, a barrister.

In the mostly Muslim north of the country, men may take up to four wives (so long as they obey the Koranic injunction to treat all equally). Often the younger wives are not yet 18. When a husband wants to trade one of his spouses for a younger model, he need only repeat the words “I divorce you” three times to be freed. In 2008 one pensioner split from 82 of his 86 partners to put himself back on the right side of Islamic law.

Regardless of what the Koran says, politicians in Kano, the north’s biggest city, think divorce is breeding “vices in society”. One former governor came up with an innovative solution. In 2013 he married off 1,111 widows and divorcees in a public ceremony costing just under $1m. Another 2,000 brides were lined up by the state government for marriage late last year.

Couples also marry young farther south, but women there tend to be a little more empowered. Olayinka Akanle, a professor of sociology at the University of Ibadan, reckons that when things fall apart they demand separations more readily than in the north. For instance, one Lagos wife had her marriage dissolved on the basis that her drunken husband confused their cooking pots with the toilet. Another woman complained that her banker spouse spent too long stuck in traffic (hardly his fault, he might reasonably claim; Lagos jams are awful).

Other deal-breakers include a wife’s failure to bring cooking utensils from her father’s house. “How will a woman get married without a grinding stone?” her husband lamented. One woman filed for divorce having found her husband to be rather too well endowed. And a trader complained that his wife was not as buxom as he had thought. “I detest those small-size boobs,” he said after a disappointing three months. “It is better to end the marriage.”


Date         :               July 9, 2016

Source     :               The Economist


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U.N. council creates watchdog for LGBT rights


The top human rights body of the United Nations voted on Thursday to appoint an independent monitor to help protect gay and transgender people around the world from violence and discrimination.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, creates an “independent expert” charged with identifying the root causes of violence and discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and then talking with governments about ways to protect them.

The resolution that passed was the United Nations’ most overt expression of gay rights as human rights, and is considered a milestone.

The vote on the 47-member council passed only narrowly, with 23 nations in favor, primarily from Europe and Latin America. Though that was not a majority, six countries abstained, including India, South Africa and the Philippines. The 18 votes against it came from Russia, Africa and most of the Muslim countries on the panel. Albania was the only member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to favor creating an envoy for LGBT issues. The seats periodically rotate, and the United States currently does not sit on the council.

In a bow to the sensitivities of those countries where homosexuality is widely frowned upon, the resolution had a last-minute amendment added noting that “the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind.” Nevertheless, it adds, “It is the duty of States, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Randy Berry, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, called the decision historic, but expressed disappointment that opponents had succeeded in adding wording suggesting LGBI rights may be a cultural imposition.

“It diminishes very slightly something extraordinary that happened,” he said in an interview. “As we look at what motivates that kind of objection, it’s a misplaced fear that the intent of creating an independent expert is to condemn or criticize. All along, it was clear the dialogue is to be informative, a resource for all countries, including our own, to get better on LGBTI issues.”

The resolution was put forward not by the United States but by several countries in Latin America — Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay. Latin America has some of the world’s most advanced legal protections for gay and transgender people.

Though the resolution was being prepared before the June 12 massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, some human rights activists said they thought the mass shooting played a role in propelling the Human Rights Council resolution forward.

The U.N.Security Council condemned the Orlando shooting in a statement that made headlines because for the first time the body had specifically mentioned sexual orientation as a factor, saying 49 victims they had been targeted because of who they are.

“Orlando became part of the conversation around the resolution,” said Jessica Stern, executive director for Outright Action International, a U.S.-based human rights group. “I think it caused some governments on the fence to stop and take their decision much more seriously. You can’t keep your head in the sand after what happened at the Pulse nightclub.”

Under the resolution that passed, all the members of the United Nations are expected to cooperate with the expert, like the experts who already exist to investigate human rights abuses in countries or around themes. The countries are asked to facilitate the expert’s visits, and consider any recommendations that are made.

Shawn Gaylord, an advocacy counsel with Human Rights First, said the position has symbolic and practical value.

“It makes clear that LGBT rights are human rights,” he said. “That’s an essential part of the U.N. moving forward. On a practical level, there are resources that will flow and more staffing for LGBT issues to be researched, reviewed and recommendations made.”

Gaylord said an expert can find room for common ground, even in countries where gay and transgender people face social ostracism.

“If you’re talking about whether LGBT people should be protected from violence, a lot of countries would speak up for that,” he said. “Some countries are more challenging than others. But there’s always room for debate.”

Homosexual activities are illegal in 70 countries, 10 of which treat it as a capital offense.


By            :               Carol Morello

Date         :               June 30, 2016

Source     :               The Washington Post

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How Men Can Pay a High Price for Taking a Part-Time Job


For unemployed men, taking a part-time job may be nearly as damaging to their future career prospects as simply staying home.

David Pedulla, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, sent out thousands of fake resumes to test how gender and work history affected callbacks by potential employers looking to interview the simulated job candidates. He found that women in part-time jobs were more than twice as likely to get a callback as were men in part-time jobs. In fact, part-time male workers fared only a little better than unemployed men.

When it comes to part-time work, there appear to be “penalties for men that are as strong as the penalty for unemployment, while for women we see no penalty,” Mr. Pedulla said.

An estimated one in six U.S. workers lost a job during the recession years of 2007, 2008 and 2009, and unemployment remained stubbornly high even years into the economic recovery. A growing body of research indicates that the financial and psychological damage from a period of joblessness can be significant and long-lasting, especially for people who remain out of work for an extended period.

The health of the U.S. labor market has improved in recent years. But there are more variables involved in finding a job than just the unemployment rate.

Mr. Pedulla’s research, published this spring in the American Sociological Review, involved a field experiment: 2,420 applications submitted to 1,210 job openings in five U.S. cities between November 2012 and June 2013. The resumes described male and female job candidates who had graduated from large public universities in the Midwest and had similar work histories until 12 months earlier. At that point, they were assigned one of five different experiences: a full-time job, a part-time job, a job through a temporary employment agency, a job below their skill level (a sales associate at a retail store), or unemployment.

Among both men and women with a full-time job, 10.4% got a callback from a potential employer. Workers in the low-skill job saw much lower callback rates: 4.7% for men and 5.2% for women.

“For both male and female workers, taking a job below their skill level really results in severe penalties in terms of the job opportunities that are available to them,” Mr. Pedulla said.

Temp work, on the other hand, generated a 7.1% callback rate for men –the highest in the study outside of a full-time job — and an 8.3% callback rate for women.

Employers didn’t seem to see a part-time job as a barrier to hiring women, with a callback rate of 10.9%. But for men, a part-time job translated into a 4.8% callback rate – little better than the 4.2% callback rate for unemployed men. (Unemployed women had a callback rate of 7.5%.)

Why the gender gap? Mr. Pedulla said in an interview that it’s difficult to disentangle underlying causes. Based on a separate survey of hiring managers, he said, “it appears that men are penalized for part-time work in part because of employers’ perception of their commitment.” A part-time job, on the other hand, didn’t seem to raise questions about the commitment of female job applicants.

“While there are certainly good reasons that people take any job they can find — specifically in cases where economic hardship is imminent—the experimental data presented here raise questions about whether all types of jobs actually open up new labor market opportunities for workers,” Mr. Pedulla wrote in the paper. “Indeed, certain types of employment positions appear to send negative signals to future employers about workers’ competence and commitment, penalizing them in similar ways to remaining unemployed.”

Some of his findings echoed research released last year by Princeton University economist Henry Farber, Arizona State University economist Dan Silverman and University of California, Los Angeles economist Till von Wachter. The economists, like Mr. Pedulla, sent out resumes to track callbacks from potential employers, though their fake job candidates were all unemployed women. They, too, found that taking a “low-level interim job,” such as retail cashier, greatly reduced the likelihood of a callback for a job interview.

“It appears that an unemployed worker is better off remaining unemployed and searching for work rather than being employed in a low-level job while searching,” the researchers wrote in their working paper. “Alternatively, if an applicant has taken a low-level interim job, they may be better off not listing this job on their resume.”

Messrs. Farber, Silverman and von Wachter also found that workers age 50 and older were less likely to receive a callback than younger applicants. They did find no relationship between callbacks and how long someone was unemployed, a finding that they noted was at odds with other recent research that has found indications of discrimination against the long-term unemployed.


By            :               Ben Leubsdorf

Date         :               May 31, 2016

Source     :               The Wall Street Journal

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Professor Ruth Rubio Marin has a vision of a gender equal Europe


Europe today is struggling with the social implications brought on by the protracted economic crisis. It is also dealing with a rising tide of intolerance and discrimination that has accompanied the increasing numbers of refugees arriving in Europe. All these challenges could detract attention from Europe´s commitment to gender equality”states Professor Ruth Rubio Marin from the European University Institute.

Professor Rubio Marin gave the keynote speech at this year’s State of the Union conference, with “Women in Europe and the World” as the central theme. Over three days, gender equality was front and centre of discussions, showing that it is still an unresolved and important matter for Europe.

To address the current challenges, Professor Rubio Marin puts forward a new emancipatory framework for Europe, one that brings together gender equality, democracy and social justice.

“This new model for development would challenge gender stereotypes and predefined gender roles. It would also involve the equal representation of women in every site of decision making. It would mean bringing a gender perspective to macro-economic policy and gender budgeting. Work/life balance policies would be seen as good for everyone, not just women”.

She has a very clear vision of the changes needed for this to happen.

“This vision for gender equality would require affordable quality childcare, after school care and care for other dependents, including the elderly and the differently abled persons. It would require flexible working arrangements, such as job-sharing, working from home, flexitime and innovative measures to promote equal sharing of work and care”.

With this scenario, Europe can aspire to close the current gender gaps. As it stands today, the EU’s average score for gender equality as measured by EIGE’s Gender Equality Index is 52.9 out of 100, proving that Europe still has a long way to go before it achieves full gender equality.


Date         :               May 31, 2016

Source     :               European Institute For Gender Equality


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Book Review: Religion, Gender and Citizenship: Women of Faith, Gender Equality and Feminism


Authors                 :              Line Nyhagen and B. Halsaa

Date                       :              2016

Publisher              :               Palgrave Macmillan UK

Reviewed by         :                Haje Keli


While many books about religion and faith discuss theology or focus on the opinions of those who are viewed as spokespersons for their respective faiths, in Religion, Gender and Citizenship: Women of Faith, Gender Equality and Feminism the authors Line Nyhagen and Beatrice Halsaa have chosen to speak to women who identify as Christian (Catholic, Lutheran and Pentecostal) and Muslim (Sunni and Shi’a). This approach is both necessary and rare for a variety of reasons. The spokespersons representing faiths are most often men, and they tend to rely heavily on written sources that say little about religious peoples’ everyday lives.

In contrast, Religion, Gender and Citizenship brings women, both Muslim and Christian, to the forefront of discussions on faith and citizenship, which is highly necessary in times of heightened xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe. Some might claim that religious women are closed off and retreat into their own communities, but in this book we see that women of faith eagerly engage with the researchers and open up about their daily lives and engagements with religion. Nyhagen and Halsaa perceive the lack of representation for women of faith and seek to tackle this by interviewing 61 women of Muslim and Christian faith from the UK (Leicester), Spain (Madrid) and Norway (Oslo).

This book not only allows women to share their own narratives in their own words, but also helpfully focuses on women’s lived religion through enquiring about their multi-layered identities and how they view citizenship within their contexts (see Chapter Four). Since the book goes ‘to the source’ by speaking to religious women directly, the reader is presented with new meanings of citizenship and of what it means to be a religious citizen in the respective countries. The book complements these empirical findings in Chapters One and Two, which describe the histories of Christianity and Islam in the UK, Spain and Norway in relation to immigration and citizenship.

Throughout the book there is a critique of mainstream feminist writing, as the authors feel this has failed to engage with religious women; they affirm that women of faith need to be included in dialogues about women’s position in society. The book advises against accusing religious women of ‘false consciousness’ (223) and shows that, for the women interviewed, religion also serves as a helpful factor in their lives. In Chapter Three, ‘Religious Identities and Meaning Making’, the authors recount how the participants feel that their faith has given them direction at difficult times and has offered them guidance and lucidity in their busy lives (105).

Chapter Six gives an indication of how much of a gap there can be between religious women and secular women, as only one of the participants identified as a feminist (201). The authors present what they refer to as the dominant discourse among the participants, a discourse of ‘anti-feminism’, as the women characterised feminism to be extreme, excessive and immoderate. The participants feel that feminism is ‘man-hating’ and is driven by the aims of promoting gay rights, abortion, divorce and domination over men (202). This particular chapter could be beneficial for feminist scholars as it is telling of how ‘feminist messages’ can be misinterpreted; perhaps a continued dialogue across secular and religious lines could remedy these misunderstandings. However, while the women did not self-identify as feminist, many supported women’s rights and women’s struggles against inequality (204).

Apart from the critique of current feminist scholarship, the book carries another important thread – the marginalisation and experienced ‘otherness’ of the Muslim participants. The authors note that Muslim women, when interviewed, often felt the need to ‘explain’ Islam and were ready to correct or defend any potential misconceptions (27-28). On the other hand, the Christian women often took for granted that the researchers had pre-existing knowledge of their faith and doctrines, and treated the researchers like insiders. The authors discuss the insider-outsider position as they recognise that the research process is informed by the researchers’ own positionalities. The authors state that all the researchers were from Christian backgrounds and were more familiar with Christian practices rather than Islamic ones. Five of the six researchers were from a white non-migrant background, while the sixth was a black woman from a migrant background. Methodologically, this openness is crucial as it informs readers of how the researchers read the field and how the participants were reading them.

The Muslim women’s experiences of exclusion are juxtaposed with the responses of Christian women, who happen to be predominantly white European. The Christian women do not bring up their ethnicity or nationality as important markers of identity. This is highly interesting and relevant as, like the authors state, it indicates that questions of identity and belonging have not been ‘pushed on’ these women as has occurred with Muslim women of migrant backgrounds (78-79). This theme flows throughout the book as a reminder that citizenship and identity for women is fluid, situational and can be contingent on one’s religion and ethnicity.

It is somewhat disappointing that the book did not utilise an intersectional analysis of the material to a greater extent. It is not sufficient to merely write that one is going to make use of intersectionality as a tool: there has to actually be a thorough analysis using an intersectional lens to view women’s privileges and disadvantages. The authors could have written more about the social categories that lie at the base of intersectional analysis, and discussed at what times certain categories come to the forefront while others are pushed back. Each social category could have been further elucidated to explain the intersections of subjugation and privilege. There could have, for instance, been separate paragraphs about gender, class, social status, ethnicity and language proficiency, and a further analysis of how these different categories intersect and to what degree. There could also have been more engagement with the variances and consistencies between the two groups of women, as the authors tend to discuss the Christian women separately from the Muslim women. Ideally, a more holistic view of all the religious women’s views could have been presented. Indeed, when the book does engage with both Muslim and Christian women’s standpoints and looks at their lives comparatively, it adds interesting nuance to the material.

In summary, Religion, Gender and Citizenship is an important intervention in the topic of religious women and their everyday lives. It does not rely on religious texts or rituals to reach conclusions, but rather takes an honest look at religious woman from three European countries and how they identify with faith, how they utilise it and how they position themselves with regards to feminism and gender equality. The book does an excellent job of demonstrating how women negotiate citizenship, belonging, faith and the issue of how to relate to both women of different faiths and secular women. The book begins by clarifying how women identify themselves, and ends with how religious and non-religious women can find common ground through constructive dialogue, all the while being conscious of the imbalance between the status of Muslim women from migrant backgrounds and Christian women from white non-migrant backgrounds.


Haje Keli is a PhD candidate at SOAS, University of London. Her topics of interest are feminist theory, gender theory and religious studies. Her research is on gender-based violence in Iraqi Kurdistan, with a focus on female genital cutting and other forms of violence against women due to familial, social and state involvement.


Source    :       LSE Review of Books

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Tinder Has an In-House Sociologist and Her Job Is to Figure Out What You Want


Jessica Carbino studies the vexing question of what factors into that left or right swipe 

“Kismet” is the word Jessica Carbino likes to use. She joined Tinder in October 2013, about a year after it launched in Los Angeles. Carbino was 27 and “looking.” She was also a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at UCLA, writing her thesis on online dating. An undergraduate student had tipped her off about the free app, explaining how it pulls up an endless scroll of photos of people around you, displaying minimal, if any, biographical details about them. If you “like” someone, she was told, you swipe right; if you don’t, go left. A chat box appears only when both parties are into each other.

Her interest piqued, Carbino gave the app a spin. One of the photos she swiped right on was of a twentysomething with short dark hair and a stare intense enough to knock down walls. He swiped right on her, too. The guy, it turned out, was the company CEO, Sean Rad. Instead of a date, Carbino landed a job as the start-up’s in-house sociologist.

Close to three years later she’s leading me through Tinder’s headquarters several stories above the Sunset Strip. Tinder moved here last October, and the space still has a just-out-of-the-box vibe. The building belongs to Barry Diller’s IAC, a media conglomerate that owns four dozen dating sites, including OkCupid,, and PlentyOfFish as well as a controlling stake in Tinder. Yet those holdings constitute only a tiny fraction of the nearly 4,000 sites that make up the $2.2 billion online dating market. You can bet more will be emerging. Because as much as computers and smartphones have changed the dating game, what hasn’t changed is the central challenge everyone contends with: how to lock in a better match.

To a large degree the sector has staked its success on algorithms—proprietary math formulas that use a combination of profile information and online behaviors—to come up with the answers. For end users, though, providing the data to feed those algorithms can feel like a drag, what with the tedious profiles, the Psych 101 personality tests, and the interminable questionnaires (eHarmony’s has more than 150 questions). The payoff isn’t always there, either. “Chemistry [needs to] kick in, and that’s the toughest area—how to know someone’s going to have a good pheromones effect,” says Mark Brooks, president of New York-based Courtland Brooks, a consulting firm that has worked with many dating sites.

With Tinder, Rad has seemingly bypassed all that stuff and focused on one underlying premise: Attraction, at least with that initial spark, might really only be skin deep. Four years and 10 billion right swipes later, more than three-quarters of the app’s users are between 18 and 34 years old, a traditionally elusive demographic for the dating industry. Now Tinder is pushing for growth and revenue by adding extra features. It launched a tiered subscription service early last year, charging those over 30 a $20 monthly fee (and those younger, $10) for the privilege of undoing an accidental left swipe and the ability to search for prospects in other cities. In November the app started allowing users to include their employment and education information to provide a slightly more complete, as in more right-swipable, snapshot of themselves.

That’s where Carbino’s work comes in: to find out what users want and what they don’t know they want. “I think Tinder is far more complex than simply physical attractiveness,” she says. “With photos, people are not simply looking at whether someone has a nice smile or a nice face per se. They are looking at other factors related to that individual’s attributes—like socioenomic status, whether they think they are kind, nice, or mean.” We’re standing at her workstation by the marketing department, which at 10:30 a.m. (early by tech standards) has yet to clock in. Her portion of the cubicle consists of a chair, a desk, and a PC. That’s all the hardware Carbino, a petite and fast-talking 30-year-old brunet, needs to do her job, which entails running focus groups, creating surveys for Tinder and non-Tinder users, and filtering loads of data through the lens of social behaviors.

One project she spent seven months on involved poring over 12,000 images of Tinder users in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and New York, cataloging in minute detail the visual qualities users deem “attractive” and taking the definition beyond hot or not. The analysis draws on a long-established concept in psychology called “thin slicing,” which has to do with the vast amount of nonverbal cues first impressions can give us about a stranger. For instance, men with a softer jawline are generally perceived by women as kinder than, say, a guy with a Christian Bale thing going on. Carbino has also found that the selfie is the most common type of photo on the app, that women with makeup tend to get swiped right more by men, that a group shot should never be someone’s first photo, and that men in L.A. are more clean-shaven than those in other cities. There’s also this: About 80 percent of Tinder users are seeking long-term relationships, according to Carbino’s research.

All of her findings make their way into marketing pitches and tip sheets for users, but they are being used as well to refine the “product,” including its algorithm. Yes, even Tinder uses one. Called “Elo,” a chess reference, the formula assigns an undisclosed rating to each profile based on the frequency of right swipes. It’s one variable the app uses to determine which profiles someone sees (not that people at Tinder will say anything else about it).

The challenge Tinder faces is how to retain its photocentric simplicity while adapting to an ever-evolving marketplace. Pleasing those on the hunt for one-night stands is easy (like Grindr, the gay hookup app, Tinder gets flak for encouraging promiscuity—despite the fact that Carbino’s research shows otherwise). But it’s considerably harder to sell users who are interested in something longer term on looks alone. One competitor, the League, follows the tried-and-true route of exclusivity by focusing on ambitious professionals. (“You’ll never have to wonder if that Harvard hottie is too good to be true on The League” is one of its pitch lines.) With another app, the Bumble, women have to make the first move to connect.

“Photos are very important but very limited,” says Brooks, the dating industry consultant. “Character is not being communicated there. I think Tinder will prompt us to think differently about how to match-make behind the scenes. And that’s important because that’s the evolution required for the industry to really reach its potential.”

Brooks’s expertise is tech-based dating, but what he’s pointing to are the limitations that Katie Chen capitalizes on. “Everyone online looks kind of similar, especially in the L.A. metro area. Everyone’s going to dress nice, they all work out, they all hike, they all love dining, love having good friends and traveling,” says Chen, who cofounded the Pico-Robertson-based Catch Matchmaking, which offers what Tinder doesn’t: personalized service. “You would think that online dating and matchmaking would grow in different directions, almost like if online dating is popular, matchmaking would go away,” she says. But the opposite is true. Too many choices can overwhelm a shopper. Catch’s clients are “busy professionals” in their late twenties through seventies, who are willing to shell out for a more tailor-made experience that includes pointers on how to dress and how to take a better photo. Sometimes they even get an honest talking-to about attitude and expectation. “They really are sick of online dating and app dating,” says Chen. “They’re like, ‘I’ll just hire you because if one more girl shows up and she doesn’t look like her photo…’ or ‘I’m not good at writing my profile’ or ‘I am not good at texting.’ They’d rather outsource it.”

Of course a matchmaker can cost thousands, which is partly why online dating cropped up in the first place. About 15 percent of American adults have used a dating site or app, according to a Pew study conducted earlier this year. The scholarly view of online dating is that it emerged because of socioeconomic forces: As people move around for jobs and school, they leave behind the network of family and friends that has traditionally helped them meet their other half. With those connections far away, the Internet became the most viable option.

It’s a phenomenon ripe for examination. Carbino certainly isn’t the first academic to be lured by the dating industry. Anthropologist Helen Fisher, who works for Match, famously created a personality test for, another IAC property. And the now-defunct was built on an algorithm developed by sociologist Pepper Schwartz. But every generation needs its interpreters. “I am a young sociologist, and it’s a young company,” Carbino says. “I think that’s my unique standpoint in the field.”

She became intrigued by online dating after starting her graduate program at UCLA, where she knew “not a soul.” Carbino figured that joining JDate, the Jewish singles site, was her best bet for meeting someone. “I went on one good date and saw the person on and off for a while,” she says. “I also went on many bad dates.” She quickly moved on to Ok-Cupid,, Jswipe, Hinge, and Coffee Meets Bagel. The more she browsed, the more curious she became. “The thing that was interesting to me is how people presented themselves. No one was studying that at the time,” she says.

As for her personal relationship with online dating, she called it quits long ago. A month after she started at Tinder the company, she met her boyfriend on Tinder the app. The couple have lived together for nearly two years with a pair of Maltipoos they rescued as puppies. Their names are Bonnie and Clyde.


By            :               Fiona Ng

Date         :               May 25, 2016

Source     :               LA Magazine

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Internet, Latest Post | Leave a comment

Khadija Ismayilova’s victory for human rights


AFTER SPENDING 537 days in jail, persecuted unjustly in Azerbaijan for exposing corruption in the family of its president, journalist Khadija Ismayilova stepped into the sunshine and made an astonishing declaration. “I’m going to continue my investigations,” she said. “I’m so eager to start working on the Panama Papers. It’s the job I like.”

In so doing, Ms. Ismayilova reaffirms the resilience and power of liberty. Authoritarian rulers can deny their people freedom, but they never really take it away. Television and radio stations can go silent, newspapers can be shuttered, the Internet switched off, journalists imprisoned and fear loosed on the streets, but what can’t be extinguished is the courage and determination of one individual. Ms. Ismayilova is a beacon of hope to all who share this conviction.

After her release, Ms. Ismayilova said that the Azerbaijani government had clearly hoped to frighten reporters and others from investigating high-level corruption and cronyism, but “this didn’t happen.” Instead of fewer reports, there were more. The Panama Papers, a trove of thousands of documents on hidden financial dealings revealed by a coalition of journalists and activists, confirmed the truth of her earlier published account of offshore companies used by the family of President Ilham Aliyev to hold their interest in a gold mine.

From the start, Ms. Ismayilova understood the stakes and never wavered. “I am a journalist and my only ‘crime’ was to investigate high-level corruption within the government and family of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev,” she wrote to us in March, after Mr. Aliyev released some other political prisoners but not her. “I am free even now, in jail, and my freedom is not for sale.”

She demanded that President Obama ask Mr. Aliyev “to stop muzzling the independent media and civil society. Ask him to explain the billions of petrodollars wasted on white-elephant projects for the benefit of a few. Ask him when he is going to hold free and fair elections. Ask him when he is going to let all the political prisoners go free. Ask him when fundamental freedoms can become a right, in practice — not a gift that he can give or take away. I asked these questions, and I ended up in jail. These are important questions. They must not go unanswered.”

Now Ms. Ismayilova is out, and the answers are still needed. While Azerbaijan released her, and some others, the regime remains intolerant of dissent and criticism. Ms. Ismayilova called on Azerbaijan to allow U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, where she worked, to reopen its bureau in Baku, which was raided and shuttered by the Azeri authorities in December 2014.

Why Mr. Aliyev is releasing some prisoners now is not clear, but international pressure may have played a role. Ms. Ismayilova observed correctly that such pressure is most effective when brought to bear in the light of day. Tyrants don’t like sunshine. “The fight for human rights must be open and transparent,” she said. “We should not talk about it behind closed doors.”


Date         :               May 31, 2016

Source     :               The Washington Post


Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment

China Pressures Europe to Stay Silent on Human Rights


China’s attempts to export its censorship and authoritarianism raise serious questions for all European countries.

China’s belligerent diplomacy in Europe has been in the spotlight this week after a German lawmaker who chairs the Bundestag’s Human Rights Committee was refused access to China after he criticized rights violations in Tibet. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said he was “not welcome” because of his support for “Tibetan independence.”

German Christian Democrat politician Michael Brand, who had intended to travel with the Parliamentary Committee to Tibet in late May, was robust in his response to the visa ban when he said: “We can’t just accept it when authoritarian regimes like China, Russia or Turkey carry out censorship and oppression, certainly not if they want to export these methods — and to Germany too. When it comes to human rights, pussyfooting around doesn’t pay off. Human rights are not an internal affair of the state of China.”

China’s attempts to export its methods of censorship and authoritarianism raise serious questions for all European countries about whether their approach has contributed to Beijing’s aggressive diplomacy.

When governments adopt a softer approach on human rights and Tibet, their country’s potential for negotiation on important strategic issues becomes more constricted. Going to great lengths to accommodate the Chinese leadership’s sensitivities at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping is presiding over the most eviscerating crackdown on civil society in a generation weakens a country’s leverage instead of strengthening it.

Demands from China to Western democracies, which have included telling prime ministers not to meet the Dalai Lama, or to withdraw criticism, as with this example, are aimed at reducing their negotiating strength, and asserting Beijing’s own agenda for greater gains.

Some countries in Europe, such as the United Kingdom, have acceded to such demands and kowtowed to such a significant degree that they have faced a major public backlash for doing so. In the UK, even those involved in doing business with China expressed concern about the British government’s overly accommodating approach to Xi’s state visit last year. James McGregor, a business consultant with operations in China, said: “If you act like a panting puppy, the object of your attention is going to think they have got you on a leash.”

Sometimes the accommodating approach arises from short-term considerations of political expediency, rather than from an informed position. There is no credible evidence of significant economic loss when governments do risk Chinese wrath and take a position on, for instance, whom they can and cannot meet, whether it is the Dalai Lama or anyone else. For instance, when Norway did not apologize for the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, there was no evidence of any serious economic consequences – indeed, bilateral trade significantly increased, according to an analysis in The Diplomat.

Experienced China hands understand that the Beijing leadership will seek to frame the debate in its own terms, amplifying issues that are less important in order to compel concessions elsewhere. In the case of the row with the Bundestag Committee Chair, the official statement from the Foreign Ministry deliberately blamed his support for “Tibet independence” – although the issue of the status of Tibet has never entered the equation. Virtually all Western governments acknowledge that Tibet is a part of the PRC, and the Dalai Lama’s position is that he is seeking a genuine autonomy for Tibet under the auspices of the PRC.

And yet even so, Chinese diplomats have had some success in pushing governments to adopt specific language on the “Tibet independence” question, perhaps with a view to closing down future possible support for the Tibetan people. The UK, France and Denmark have all caved in this respect, giving the unnecessary addition to their official position that they “do not support Tibetan independence.”

It is nothing new that China attempts to use economic and commercial interests to enforce submission to its agenda, but it is new that in recent years too many European democracies seem willing to cooperate with this process, sometimes even engaging in pre-emptive capitulation and self-censorship before any demands are even made.


Kai Mueller is Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet in Germany and gives regular briefings to UN Committees and Parliamentary Committees in Germany on Tibet and human rights. 

Date:      May 15, 2016

Source: The Diplomat

Posted in Gender and Human Rights, Latest Post | Leave a comment
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