Dec 09
Her eye on the news
Army of daughters

As Iraq struggles to deal with ongoing complications from invasions from the United States and ISIS, the country’s women are continuing to face troubling levels of violence — most of it perpetrated by their own spouses and family. As the government largely turns a blind eye to the problem, women activists have quietly constructed a system of 52 secret shelters throughout the country that provide refuge to women fleeing honor killings, sex trafficking, and other forms of violence. Speaking to BBC News as part of the broadcaster’s 100 Women project, Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a charity that runs 10 underground women’s shelters, said that the “the number of women requesting to be sheltered has started rising so fast we are unable to [keep up].” Over the past 15 years, she said, her organization alone had helped almost one thousand victims

“It’s a very dangerous task. The family would kill before letting you get to their daughters,” said Mohammed, noting that the women’s families were most often the ones responsible for their abuse. They had to take serious security measures, she added, to keep families and Iraq’s government from tracking down the women and the secret shelters in which they remain safe and hidden.

“Some of the officials called us brothels,” Mohammed said. “That’s how dangerous they are to such a project of sheltering.”

After taking steps to ensure that they wouldn’t be followed or accidentally give away details that they could compromise the secretive network, BBC reporters were allowed to visit a shelter where eight women were being housed. The woman running the shelter told the BBC that she herself escaped an honor killing seven years ago.

“Yes, of course I get scared,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat here. But that’s why I help them, because they’re going through what I’ve gone through. If my family finds me, they’ll kill me. That could also happen to many of the women here. I’m always worried about police raids. They’ll contact the women’s families, and in many cases they’re the exact people that they’re running away from.”

One of the women helped by the Organization of Women’s Freedom, Salwa, said that she had been suicidal for years before she found asylum in a shelter.

“My mother left me in the first house. I remember I was 6 years old and they would sexually abuse me mercifully. I just lay there and couldn’t say anything,” she recalled. “To be honest, I didn’t think about running away at first. I wanted to kill myself. You reach a point where you can’t take being treated like an animal anymore.”

Now married with two young daughters, Salwa is working to give them the kind of childhood she would have wanted for herself.

“I feel like the old Salwa has been erased,” she said. “Now there’s a new Salwa. I’ve become strong and able to defend myself. I even go to protests. I can’t be silenced anymore.”

According to the U.N. Population fund, nearly half of all women living in Iraq have been exposed to violence by a relative or spouse. But despite the bleak reality, Mohammed says that she and others are still optimistic for the future.

“When I see this home of ours has an army of young daughters who can change Iraq, I am not only hopeful,” she told the BBC. “I am so happy.”

Watch The BBC’s interviews with the women below.


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Opportunity abounds

In the socially conservative country of Qatar, women are increasingly pursuing careers as filmmakers in the nation’s burgeoning cinema industry — and winning awards for their efforts. At this year’s Ajyal Film Festival in the capital city, Doha, women directors such as Aisha al-Shammakh, Nouf al-Sulaiti, and rising star Amal al-Muftah all took center stage with films that defied convention. Around 60 percent of all emerging Qatari filmmakers are women, according to a 2016 study from Northwestern University in Doha.

One short film on display at the festival, Gubgub (Crab), by Sulaiti, follows a fishing family as they go out to hunt crabs. The heart of the film revolves around the family’s young daughter and her desire to prove that she’s as suited as her elder brother to undertake the traditionally male pursuit.

“I want that little girl to believe that she can achieve whatever (she wants). I want little girls to see that,” said Sulaiti. “In the past, we got an education, we got married and we stayed at home with our husband. I think slowly [Qatari] girls are seeing we can do whatever our brothers can do.”

The film industry, she noted, provided women with a unique opportunity to elevate their voices into the public space.

“I feel like it gives us a platform where we can express ourselves,” she explained. “I don’t think we had that platform or opportunity before.”

Muftah, the director of Sh’hab (Shooting Star), a film about a girl who chooses to follow her father and brother to sea to pursue her dreams, said that the film’s story came from a tale passed down to her by her own grandmother.

“The community of women in Doha — especially in this society — are very private,” she said. “And I just feel like as women filmmakers we have access to that community and to so many different stories.”

Watch AFP’s interview with Muftah below.

Read the full story at Yahoo News.


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‘Dirty Computers’

The nominations for the 61st Grammy Awards were announced on Friday morning, with women notably leading the way for many of the top awards — including album of the year. This year’s nominations came as satisfying surprise to many after last year when, seemingly inexplicably, women found themselves largely shut out from every major category at the Grammys — and were subsequently told by the Recording Academy’s president that the reason why so few women were nominated was because they had failed to “step up.”

This year, the best new artist category was largely dominated by young women, while five women and three men are in competition for album of the year. Among the nominees for best album was Janelle Monáe, whose decision to come out as pansexual earlier this year was hailed by activists for helping encourage acceptance and improving visibility for stigmatized and misunderstood LGBTQ groups. Speaking to CBS This Morning, Monae said she was dedicating her album Dirty Computer to all “marginalized voices” or “dirty computers” who have historically been overlooked and silenced by society.

“This album is so much bigger than me,” said the eight-time Grammy winner. “It’s not about me, it’s about a community of dirty computers, of marginalized voices. Being a young, black, queer woman in America, there was something I had to say and there was a group of people that I wanted to celebrate. And I just — I’m happy to be representing them. I hope they feel seen, I hope they feel heard and I hope they feel loved.”

Watch video of Monáe reacting to her latest Grammy nomination below.

Read the full story at CBS News.


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Casual cruelty

A woman is suing the New York City Police Department after officers allegedly forced her to give birth while her wrists were handcuffed and her ankles shackled to a hospital bed — despite a 2015 state law that expressly forbids the use of restraints on women during pregnancy or delivery. According to a lawsuit filed on Thursday, doctors at Montefiore Medical Center warned the officers that restraining the woman was not only illegal but posed a danger to her life. But the officers allegedly insisted she be restrained, claiming that their department’s patrol guide required it and that the guide superseded state law. An hour into labor, the woman’s suffering grew so severe that officers relented and allowed some of the restraints to be removed. The woman finished delivering her newborn with her right hand still shackled to the hospital bed.

Speaking anonymously, the woman said she had been deeply traumatized by the experience — to the point that she hadn’t even spoken about what had happened to her family. In her lawsuit, she is seeking damages for the violation of her civil rights and requested that police officially change their policies so that no other woman would endure a similar experience — in New York at least — ever again.

Despite what police allegedly told doctors at the hospital, the patrol guide permits officers to remove restraints at the request of a doctor if they consulted with a patrol supervisor. According to the complaint, the doctors did speak with a sergeant, but the sergeant told them that the woman needed to be shackled.

“I haven’t made sense of it myself and I’m not ready to explain it to my child,” said the mother in an affidavit.

In a statement, the NYPD did not comment directly on the case, saying only that officials were “examining these allegations very carefully.” Eight months before the alleged incident in which the woman was shackled, police settled a similar lawsuit that claimed a Bronx woman, eight months pregnant, was shackled to a bed at Montefiore for three days over a misdemeanor charge that was later dismissed.

Twenty-six states, New York included, have banned the shackling of women in labor, but in 24 states the practice remains legal. Speaking at the Women in the World Summit in April, Topeka Sam spoke up about the harrowing conditions faced by pregnant women in the prison system and pushed for the passage of “dignity bills” that war bar women from being shackled during labor.

Watch video of that discussion below.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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‘A crying fest’

When Genevieve Purinton, now 88, gave birth to a daughter in 1949 in an Indian hospital, the medical staff told her that her baby had died. The baby, very much alive, was secretly taken to an orphanage and later adopted — a scenario that until as recently as 1987 was common in first world countries such as the U.S., Australia, and Spain, where priests, social workers, nurses and doctors sometimes took it into their own hands to determine that unmarried mothers were inherently unfit to take care of their newborn children. This dark history was the backdrop for a heartwarming reunion that took place in Florida this week, one that seems to have defied all odds.

Connie Moultroup, 69, met Purinton, her biological mother, for the first time this week — a reunion that is culmination of an entire lifetime of searching, and a surprise gift from her own loving daughter, Bonnie Chase.

“Because she was an unwed mother, she was told that I had died. She continued with her life not knowing I was still alive,” Moultroup told CNN. When Moultroup was just 5, her adoptive mother died of cancer and her adoptive father remarried a woman whom Moultroup said abused her.

“So the whole time, she just wanted to find her actual mother to rescue her from that horrible situation,” said Chase. At Christmas last year, Chase gave her mother an DNA testing kit. That gift, Moultroup said, turned out to be the best thing she’s ever received.

“It took me a while to use it, but when I finally got the results I went from having only three known relatives (a daughter and two grandchildren), to 1,600 relatives. I was floored,” Moultroup said. She managed to contact a distant cousin who helped her to get in contact with Purinton. On Monday, the two met each other for the first time at Purinton’s home in a retirement community in Tampa, Florida.

“I met my mother and my cousin in person, and we cried. It was just a crying fest,” she recalled. “Not everybody has this kind of outcome when looking for their parents, but I recommend you give it a try, you don’t know what will happen.”

Purinton, nearing the end of her ninth decade on earth, believed she was all alone in the world, Fox 13 in Tampa reports. All eight of her siblings have died and she never gave birth again after that one time in 1949, which she was led to believe ended in tragedy. When the two came face to face for the first time, a meeting that was nearly 70 years in the making, they embraced in a long overdue hug. Purinton, who is frail at her age, seemed like she could hardly believe the surreal moment.

“Are you really not dead?” she asked her long lost daughter, tears in her eyes.

“I’m not dead,” Moultroup replied, prompting some laughter from those looking on.

And just like that, Purinton has a family again as she learned she has a granddaughter and several grandchildren in addition to her newfound daughter.

Watch video of the mother and daughter’s reunion below.

Read the full story at CNN.


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