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Let Women Wear the Hijab: The Emptiness of Obama’s Cairo Speech

I know many will gush over President Obama's Cairo speech and I'm likely swimming against the tide of the media and my fellow Democrats and progressives. But reading the transcript, I was struck by two things:

1. Aside from a few platitudes, it is disappointingly weak on human rights and specifically women's rights.

2. It betrays a naiveté, perhaps feigned, about how the Arab world works.

I sometimes preface my posts by explaining that my Mideast perspective is that of an American-Lebanese-Christian-Jew who grew up in Muslim West Beirut at the height (or should I say depth) of the Lebanese civil war. The tumultuous and bloody intersection of religions and geopolitical interests is painfully real to me.

Yes, Obama is targeting the Arab 'street' and global public opinion - but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing. Repression and suppression will go on uninterrupted. And to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama's words will be seen as empty and hypocritical.

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For Darfuri Women, Nowhere to Hide

A distressing report from PHR and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative:

The report -- titled "Nowhere To Turn: Failure To Protect, Support and Assure Justice for Darfuri Women" -- is based on interviews with 88 female refugees living in Chad's Farchana refugee camp.

"Many Darfuri women refugees live in a nightmare of memories of past trauma compounded by the constant threat of sexual violence around the camps now," said Susannah Sirkin, the physician group's deputy director.

"Women who report being raped are stigmatized, and remain trapped in places of perpetual insecurity. There's no one to stop the rapes, no one to turn to for justice for past or ongoing crimes, and little psycho-social support to address their prolonged and unimaginable traumas."

Imagine escaping one conflict zone to then be targeted again. "Perpetual insecurity" doesn't capture the horror that these women endure.

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Why Rwanda is doing so well — maybe

First I read this:

The physical safety of women in a given country is a better predictor of its peacefulness than wealth, level of Islamic influence, or even strength of democracy. Violence against women (including female infanticide and sex-selective abortion) may account for more deaths than all the wars of the 20th century. This kind of cultural aggression likely sparks increased nationalism and, eventually, warfare.

Then I read this:

[Rwanda Defence Forces] has been encouraging the deployment of women in peacekeeping and has been providing training and educational opportunities for women. Since last year, RDF has worked with local governments, police and civil society organizations to create more than 400 local anti-sexual and gender-based violence clubs across the country and has trained more than 6000 people for peacekeeping missions.

Then I remembered that Rwanda also has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the entire world. Causation doesn't equal correlation, for sure, but it's worth thinking about the role that curbing violence against women has had in the country's evolution since the 1994 genocide (in which the murder, maiming, and raping of women reached a terrifying peak). Improving technology is certainly helping Rwanda, but improving the position of women is not only a human rights imperative; it is also contributing to the country's peacefulness.

(image of Rwandan women, from flickr user Women for Women under a Creative Commons license)

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Congo/Women in DC

Washington, DC looks at the plight of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, in the form of a hearing tomorrow that will be held by women's rights advocate Senator Barbara Boxer.  The panels feature State Department reps, playwright and V-Day founder Eve Ensler, and Enough's John Prendergast, among others, and is aimed at addressing the staggering problems of rape and sexual violence in both DRC and Sudan.

Washingtonians can also literally see the situation faced by Congolese women in a photo exhibit on display this week called Congo/Women, featuring these stunning images of life and women in Congo.  Be sure to check it out if you're in the District.

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Scores of Afghan Schoolgirls Ill in Poison Gas Attack

Once again, young girls pay the price simply for being born female:

Five young girls slipped briefly into comas and nearly 100 were taken to hospital after a gas attack on their school on Tuesday, the third in a series of such incidents north of Kabul, Afghan officials said.

The early morning mass-poisoning at Qazaaq school was likely the work of Taliban sympathizers hostile to girls' education, the head of security for Kapisa province told Reuters.


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Calling all midwives

We need more of you.

The number of midwives worldwide would have to more than double to meet Millennium Development Goals of reducing maternal and infant deaths by 2015, according to the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and World Health Organization on International Day of the Midwife.

Maternal mortality is the “highest health inequity in the world with more than 99 percent of deaths [in pregnancy and childbirth] occurring in the developing world,” World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said in a joint statement. In 2008 the agencies pledged to work with governments to fill the “urgent need for skilled health workers, particularly midwives”, the statement says.

WHO estimates that for the annual 160 million births worldwide it would take an additional 350,000 midwives to ensure that at least 95 percent of births were attended by trained health workers, thereby helping meet MDGs.

(image of midwives in Gambia, from flickr user mknobil under a Creative Commons license)