Three members of the Ukrainian activist group Femen caused significant disruption during Christmas worship services at the Vatican on Monday when they staged a protest against what they believe to be the systematic oppression of women by the Roman Catholic Patriarchy. Founded in 2008, Femen is well-known for using topless protests as a means of dissent and to garner media attention for their messages.
According to Reuters, the Vatican police apprehended Alisa Vinogradova during an attempt to steal the statue of the baby Jesus from the Nativity in St. Peter’s Square. With the words “God is Woman” painted on her bare torso in English, it took several officers to subdue the Ukrainian “sextremist” before Pope Francis began his Christmas mass. Two additional Femen activists with the phrases “#MeToo” and “Assaulted by church” written on their bodies had previously been detained while attempting to break into the Nativity scene on Christmas Eve.
Inna Shevchenko, the Ukrainian activist who leads Femen, applauded the women’s efforts to bring a greater consciousness to the practice of sexual assault perpetrated against women by the patriarchy. “As feminists, FEMEN considers organized religions with their institutions and leadership to be one of the historical oppressors of women,” Shevchenko wrote in an email to the Huffington Post, describing the activists as modern ‘Virgin Marys’; a nod to one of the central figures to the institution of Catholicism.
“Despite her significant role,” she continued, “Mary represents chastity, maternity and passiveness-all that is expected from women in patriarchal society. The passiveness and silence of Mary is still often expected from women across the world as they get assaulted and attacked. As the #MeToo campaign has shown, many women kept silence about their horrible experiences for years often under pressure, out of fear and insecurity.”
In addition to expressing their solidarity for the #MeToo movement, Shevchenko explained that Femen aims to criticize the patriarchal traditions of all organized religions. “We oppose religious scripture which often [portrays] women as inferior and weak creatures, their bodies as dirty and shameful, their souls as guilty.” For Shevchenko, the “Marys” that participated in the protest this year exist in stark contrast to the patriarchy as the pinnacle of female sexuality: unashamed and in control of their bodies.
Read the full story at HuffPost.
On Wednesday, Japanese Foreign minister Taro Kono addressed the South Korean government’s recent statements regarding the “comfort women” deal the two countries reached two years ago, warning that any attempts to amend the agreement could complicate diplomatic relations between the two nations. The controversial 2015 settlement, which required Japan to pay more than $8.8 million dollars in compensation to so-called “comfort women” — thousands of Korean women and girls who were forced to work in wartime brothels — has recently come under scrutiny as a South Korean investigation concluded that the Japanese had failed to meet victim’s demands for compensation.
“If (South Korea) tries to revise the agreement that is already being implemented, that would make Japan’s ties with South Korea unmanageable and it would be unacceptable,” Kono said in an official response. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha apologized Wednesday for the deal, describing it as something that gave “wounds of the heart to the victims, their families, civil society that support them and all other people because the agreement failed to sufficiently reflect a victim-oriented approach, which is the universal standard in resolving human rights issues.”
The issue has been a longstanding point of contention between Japan and its neighbors, including China and North Korea. In 2014, the U.N. Human Rights Committee officially requested that Tokyo refrain from using the “comfort women” euphemism, calling for those who ended up as a part of practice to be officially acknowledged as “forced sex slaves.” The South Korean government revealed its plan to review the investigation and consult victim groups before translating it into policy.
Read the full story at Reuters.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counselor of Myanmar, refused to earnestly discuss reports of Rohingya women and girls being systematically raped by the country’s security forces, according to an exclusive story published The Guardian.
The publication reviewed an internal memo from a meeting between Suu Kyi and Pramila Patten, a senior U.N. envoy on sexual violence in conflict. In a letter to U.N. secretary-general Antonio Guterres, Patten wrote that the “meeting with the state counselor was a cordial courtesy call of approximately 45 minutes that was, unfortunately, not substantive in nature.”
Patten said that Suu Kyi instead promised her she would attend “a number of good meetings” with senior Myanmar officials, who in turn said that claims of rape had been wildly exaggerated.
“Moreover, a belief was expressed that those who fled did so due to an affiliation with terrorist groups, and did so to evade law enforcement,” Patten wrote.
Suu Kyi has been widely criticized for failing to speak out against the persecution of minority Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state — a campaign of violence that has prompted more than 650,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. Media reports have revealed that Myanmar’s security forces are brutally and systematically raping women and girls as a “calculated tool of terror.”
After an internal investigation into allegations of violence, Myanmar’s military cleared itself of any blame. But like many other activists and experts, Patten cast doubt on the results of the investigation.
“The military investigation, which consisted of armed men in uniform ‘interrogating’ civilians in large group settings, often on camera, and then presenting rations to communities following their testimony and cooperation, clearly occurred under coercive circumstances, where the incentive structure was not to lodge complaints,” Patten wrote. “Accordingly, over 800 interviews yielded zero reports of sexual or other violence against civilians by the armed and security forces.”
The wave of criticism Suu Kyi continues to face has been tremendous. The Nobel Prize laureate has come under fire from some of the world’s most famous people, including Malala Yousafzai, Angelina Jolie, titans of the music industry, and she’s had her prestigious Freedom of Oxford honor withdrawn due to her silence over the issue. And now, everyday parents are demanding that Suu Kyi be removed from a popular children’s book in which she’s featured. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls has been one of the most popular books of the year, and it features stories about some of the world’s most accomplished women, including Hillary Clinton, Serena Williams and Aung San Suu Kyi. Parents who have purchased the book, which is meant for children as young as 6 years of age, have begun posting their outrage at her inclusion in the text and their demands that she be dropped from it on the Facebook page used to promote the book, The Guardian reported.
“As much as 99 per cent of book is inspiring, I found it absolutely disgusting that you have included someone suspected of genocide in the book. Aung San Suu Kyi has no place between those women,” one mother wrote, according to The Guardian. “Someone who does nothing and perhaps is directly involved in massacres, rapes, burning of kids alive … I am speechless she is in the book.”
Read the full story at The Guardian.
In an interview on Sky One’s The Russell Howard Hour last week, comedian John Oliver spoke briefly about his tense interview moderating a special 20th anniversary screening of Wag the Dog at New York’s 92nd Street Y. Oliver — who had warned event organizers that if Hoffman agreed to make an appearance he would feel compelled to address the accusations of sexual harassment against the veteran actor — told Howard that he was less than pleased with the interview’s outcome.
“The questions were not particularly remarkable, but his answers were kind of not great. That was the point of it.” Oliver commented to Howard, “But it didn’t really go anywhere constructive, so the whole thing just made me feel sad.” Moderating a panel of guests that included (in addition to Hoffman) fellow Wag the Dog actors Robert de Niro, Jane Rosenthal and the film’s director Barry Levinson, Oliver warned the participants that his questions would likely be the “tensest part of the evening.”
Some 20 minutes into the 45-minute interview, Oliver said he would “go around the room” to assess panelists’ thoughts on the current climate surrounding sexual harassment in show business. What proceed from there was an uneasy 30 minutes of terse back and forth between the veteran Last Week Tonight host and Hoffman that in Oliver’s opinion, reached no real resolution.
Addressing Hoffman directly, Oliver found the Academy Award-winner to be overly dismissive: “First of all, it didn’t happen the way she reported,” a defiant Hoffman shot back in a response that seemed to immediately raise Oliver’s hackles. “It’s that part of the response to this stuff that pisses me off,” Oliver continued. “It feels like a cop-out to say, ‘Well, this isn’t me.’” Hoffman, who despite being in the hot seat, appeared to remain relatively nonplussed despite the direct line of questioning. Eventually, Hoffmann accused Oliver of “indicting” him on accusations he knew nothing about.
Despite support for Oliver’s decision to confront Hoffman, the comedian told Howard the interview was more depressing than anything. “I did try,” Oliver reflected. “I tried and I failed.”
Watch the entire clip from the 92nd Street Y interview here:
A British woman has been sentenced to three years in an Egyptian prison after being found guilty of drug smuggling. Laura Plummer, 33, was arrested at Hurghada International Airport in early October, but has maintained she was simply trying to transport medication to her husband, who reportedly suffers from back pain.
According to the The Guardian, Plummer was apprehended at the airport in October while on her way to visit her Egyptian husband, Omar Caboo. Customs officials found 290 tramadol tablets — a powerful synthetic opioid — in her luggage. Tramadol is a legal prescription medication in many countries, but it is not legal for an individual to sell the pills in Egypt, CNN reports. Tramadol is said to be the country’s most frequently abused drug.
In addition to arguing that Plummer had brought the drugs to Egypt for her husband, Plummer’s lawyers noted that the U.K. only issued a warning against carrying tramadol to Egypt in November — one month after Plummer was arrested. Plummer’s family members have said that she did not know she was doing anything illegal, and was simply “daft,” according to The Guardian.
Plummer’s lawyer, Mohamed Othman, told Reuters that she was not carrying enough tablets to point to illegal activity. “It is illogical that she was dealing in tramadol,” he said. “Even the plane ticket is almost double the price of those pills.”
Plummer’s case has been hindered multiple times by language barriers. Upon her apprehension by customs officials, she was reportedly coerced into signing a confession document in Arabic, a language that she does not speak. During her trial, court proceedings were postponed after one of her statements was incorrectly translated to the judge as a confession.
In a statement, the British Foreign Office has said that it “will continue to provide assistance to Laura and her family following the court ruling in Egypt, and our embassy is in regular contact with the Egyptian authorities.” Karl Turner, a local Member of Parliament representing Plummer, said that the verdict was a “damning indictment actually of the Egyptian authorities, in the sense that good sense and fairness certainly hasn’t prevailed in this case,” according to CNN.
It has been a particularly perilous time for women — both for tourists, like Plummer, and for natives — in Egypt of late. A popular singer is awaiting trial and faces three years in prison after she told a joke about the Nile River during a live performance, another pop star was sentenced to two years in prison this month for “inciting debauchery” in a suggestive music video, and Cairo, the nation’s capital, was recently named the most dangerous city in the world for women.
After NBC fired longtime Today show host Matt Lauer for alleged sexual misconduct, reports emerged that Lauer’s behavior had been well known to NBC staff and executives. According to The New York Post, the network has now implemented a set of stringent guidelines aimed at cracking down on workplace misconduct and executives at the Peacock Network are calling on employees to tell on colleagues if they witness behavior that violates the new guidelines.
An unnamed source told the Post that employees have been ordered to report any “affairs, romances, inappropriate relationships or behavior in the office,” and that NBC staffers can be fired for failing to do so. The guidelines reportedly also include advice on appropriate workplace hugging (“a quick hug, then an immediate release, and step away to avoid body contact,” according to the source), and instructions to refrain from sharing taxis home.
NBC did not comment on the story, but in early December, the network said that it would require employees to take anti-harassment training.
Read the full story at The New York Post.
Joy Villa, the singer who made headlines and saw her music sales spike after wearing a “Make America Great Again” dress to the Grammys earlier this year, has filed a sexual assault complaint against the president’s former campaign manager.
According to The Associated Press, Villa said Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager, hit her rear end twice during an event at the Trump International Hotel the day after Thanksgiving. She told the AP that he struck her “extremely hard,” although she told him to stop. The incident was “disgusting and shocking and demeaning,” Villa said. The accusations were first reported by Politico, which quoted the 31-year-old singer saying that the incident occurred right after a photo op.
This is the second time that Lewandowski has been accused of aggressive behavior toward a woman. Last year, while Trump was on the campaign trail, Lewandowski was charged with misdemeanor battery after allegedly grabbing a female reporter. Security cameras caught video footage of the incident, but the Palm Beach County prosecutor’s office declined to pursue charges against Lewandowski. He was fired from the campaign in June of that year.
Villa is mulling the possibility of running for a Congressional seat in Florida. She told the AP that fear of backlash made her reluctant to come forward, but she decided to file a formal complaint to authorities on Christmas Eve. She is set to meet with Washington detectives next week.
“I did nothing wrong,” Villa said. “I realized if he’s not going to respond or apologize to me, I think it’s the right thing to do.”
During an interview on Fox News, Lewandoski neither confirmed nor denied Villa’s allegations, saying, “What I’m going to do is let the process play forward,” ABC News reported.
Read the full story at The Associated Press.