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Mar 12
Her eye on the news
Writing for justice

Ten Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists who have been held in jail without charge since May reportedly stood trial for the first time on Wednesday. Now, three of them have been honored with the prestigious PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, which is given to writers who have been imprisoned for their work.

The three recipients are Nouf Abdulaziz, Loujain al-Hathloul, and Eman al-Nafjan. Confined to a jail in Saudi Arabia, they likely have no idea they’ve won the award.

“These gutsy women have challenged one of the world’s most notoriously misogynist governments, inspiring the world with their demand to drive, to govern their own lives, and to liberate all Saudi women from a form of medieval bondage that has no place in the 21st century,” said Suzanne Nossel, head of PEN America, the literary organization that grants the award.

The three are among a group of defendants that appeared before the Criminal Court in Riyadh last week. According to court president Ibrahim al-Sayari, the women were finally presented with charges in the courtroom. But the kingdom’s public prosecutors are still refusing to publicize the actual charges against them. And according to al-Hathloul’s brother, her case was moved from the criminal court to the Specialized Criminal Court — which was ostensibly created to try terrorism cases.

Last week, 36 countries — including all 28 members of the European Union — signed a statement calling on Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman to release the activists. An independent British panel has found that at least 8 of more than a dozen women’s rights activist imprisoned last spring had suffered solitary confinement, assault, sexual harassment, and sleep deprivation while in prison. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said that all the imprisoned women have been denied access to lawyers, and that at least three suffered torture and sexual assault.

The family of al-Hathloul, one of the country’s most famous women’s rights activists, said that she has been “whipped, beaten, electrocuted, and harassed on a frequent basis.” Al-Hathloul, 29, had previously been arrested by Saudi authorities for protesting the country’s driving ban by driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. She was arrested again in summer 2017 without being charged and was released only to be imprisoned again in the crackdown last spring.

Read the full story at Al Jazeera.

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Shameful

In a shocking display of misogyny, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at attendees at a ceremony honoring women in law enforcement in Manila on Monday. Speaking as the guest of honor before a crowd of female police officers and military service members, Duterte referred to women as “bitches” and said he hoped his words brought his female critics “to the limits of despair.”

Addressing the women in the crowd as “crazy women” and “puta,” which translates as “bitch,” the hardline and often volatile leader ranted that he was exercising “my freedom to express myself.”

The outburst came in the wake of criticism over his recent claim that women should stay away from priests or face the risk of being sexually assaulted by them.

“The women should refrain from going near the priests because when you are near him, he will just smell the scent of your body,” said Duterte on March 8. “And if he corners you in the church, patay ka (you’re dead), he will court you. Do you know why? It’s because he is a man.”

Since becoming president of the Philippines, Duterte has been unapologetic about his misogynistic rhetoric. In February, he incited outrage by claiming that he was ordering soldiers to shoot women rebels in the vagina. In January, he brazenly confessed to sexually assaulting his housemaid while she slept when he was teenager. And those incendiary comments only scratch the surface.

Watch video of his remarks below.

Read the full story at Rappler.

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Disturbing data

A database containing personal information about more than 1.8 million Chinese women — including whether or not they are “BreedReady” — has some activists worried about the lengths China’s government will go to combat the country’s declining birth rates.

Dutch technology expert Victor Gevers, who discovered the open database, said that it included fields labeled in English that listed each woman’s age, education, marital status, and something called their “BreedReady” status. Other fields were labeled “political” and “hasvideo,” and contained links to what appeared to be Facebook pages — odd, considering that Facebook is officially banned in China.

While the average age of the women in the database was 32, it included girls as young as 15 years old. Ninety percent of the women listed were single, Gevers said, and 82 percent were described as Beijing residents.

According to observers, the “BreedReady” tag appears to be a translation of Chinese terms relating to whether a woman has children or is of childbearing age. In one discussion thread of the database on Douban, a Chinese social networking website, users questioned whether they were living in “the prologue to The Handmaid’s Tale.” In that story, women are forced by the government to have children because of a fertility crisis. Others speculated that the data might merely contain information leaked from a Chinese dating website.

“This kind of database is very indicative and frightening,” wrote one user. “I’m a pessimist and the fact that stories like The Handmaid’s Tale exist means the signs are already there.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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‘Radical acknowledgment’

As climate change becomes increasingly impossible to ignore, some women have decided that bringing children into the world at this point is a choice they’re not willing to make.

A group called BirthStrike has crystalized this reluctance. Made up of people who have pledged to forgo having children out of concern for forthcoming “climate breakdown and civilization collapse,” it has attracted 140 members in just two weeks. “I realized that even though I wanted to have a family at that point, I couldn’t really bring myself to do it,” said BirthStrike founder Blythe Pepino, a climate activist and musician, recalling telling her partner of her decision. “I had to say to him: ‘I don’t know if I can do this, considering what we know — if there isn’t a political will to fix this, we really don’t stand much of a chance.’”

The decision to not have children because of climate change is part political protest, part moral vow, and part practical calculation. Scientists warn that the planet will be a far less habitable place by the end of this century, with more severe weather, mass extinctions, and coastlines inundated by rising seas. “I’m just so terrified of what my child will be facing when they are my age,” says BirthStrike member Alice Brown, adding that she worries that children born today will eventually live “in survival mode.”

Many BirthStrikers say their decision is informed by the failure of the world’s leaders to give the problem of climate change the urgent attention it deserves. The co-author of a bill dubbed the Green New Deal, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez acknowledged last month that many women feel increasingly pessimistic about the future. “It does lead young people to have a legitimate question: is it okay still to have children?” she said.

But the BirthStrike movement, said Pepino, isn’t about discouraging people from having children or judging those who do. The goal, she said, is “radical acknowledgment” of how climate change is already “altering the way we imagine our future.”

“We are hurtling towards disaster, and if I can bring awareness to the situation by sharing this personal choice that I’ve made, I’m willing to do it,” said her co-member Brown. “It is sort of desperation.”

Read the full story at The Guardian.

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Red handed

As more audio clips emerged on Tuesday of Tucker Carlson making racist, misogynistic and anti-gay comments, the Fox News host cast himself as the victim of a “mob.”

“The left’s main goal, in case you haven’t noticed, is controlling what you think,” he said on his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight. “But we will never bow to the mob — ever. No matter what.”

The audio clips were unearthed by progressive nonprofit Media Matters for America and released over the course of several days. In his comments, Carlson describes women as “extremely primitive, they’re basic,” and Iraq as “a crappy place filled with a bunch of, you know, semiliterate primitive monkeys.” He also uses homophobic slurs, questions Barack Obama’s race, makes disturbing comments about underage girls, and credits white men with “creating civilization.”

For now, Fox News appears to be standing by their host, but that may change if an advertiser exodus ensues. That’s what happened in December, when Carlson said on air that immigrants make America “poorer and dirtier and more divided” and 14 companies pulled their ads in response. Variety noted that Monday’s episode was already light on advertising, with few national commercials and a lot of promotional spots for other Fox programs.

Despite this, Carlson has expressed confidence that the network will continue to have his back.  “Fox News is behind us, as they have been since the very first day,” he said. “Toughness is a rare quality in a TV network, and we are grateful for that.” Meanwhile, Media Matters has announced that it has many more hours of clips and will release them soon.

Learn more at CNN.

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03.12.19

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