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Where’s the Social Web Revolution for Abused Women and Starving Children? (Boiling Frog Syndrome)

It's worth noting that with all this triumphant talk about the Twitter revolution in Iran - especially when it's about a lesser-of-two-evils candidate - we can't summon a fraction of the energy and passion to save abused, raped and battered women across the globe. Nor can we muster the same attention and will to deal with the plight of children who are dying of hunger, deprived of the bare necessities of life.

Here are the brutal facts:

* There are four million new hungry people every week, over a billion total. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes - one child every five seconds.

* Millions of women and girls (our mothers, sisters and daughters) endure one or more of the following: intimate partner violence; sexual abuse by non-intimate partners; trafficking, forced prostitution, exploitation, debt bondage, sex selective abortion, female infanticide, and rape.

Perhaps it's boiling frog syndrome, the fact that global hunger and women's rights are ongoing tragedies/travesties without sudden spikes of interest. Or perhaps it's the futility of confronting these intractable issues, a sense that we're powerless to change such pervasive problems.

That's not to say that there aren't many courageous and dedicated people working to alleviate hunger and protect women's rights. There are. But where is the massive outrage, the worldwide focus, the grainy images, the Twitter-mania, the color-coded avatars? Most importantly, where is the urgency, the immediacy?

Clearly, something is happening in Iran with technology that signals a new era in global activism. This is the first period in human history when so many individuals, friends and strangers, can speak to one another simultaneously, on equal footing; there's never been a time when ten million people could converse at once, on the same topic, using the same platform.

That also means they can shout and raise the alarm about injustice together. And as we're seeing with CNN, those millions of impassioned people can pressure the media to get on board, further increasing the level of attention.

So why isn't this happening for oppressed and abused women or hungry and starving children, when their aggregate pain and suffering is far greater and the threat to them more severe than to the (brave) Iranian demonstrators? Where's the intense coverage, the excitement over the potential of Twitter and Facebook to alter the course of history?

I'm not calling for less focus on Iran, but more, much more, on the mortal threat so many women and children face.

I'll conclude with a clip from Channel 4 News in the UK, where I was asked to comment on Gordon Brown's statement that because of the Internet, there will be no more Rwandas. My answer: what about Darfur?

Cross-posted on CTN

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Gang Rape as a Form of Male Bonding

Forget athletics, endurance tests, etc...

One in four South African men questioned in a survey said they had raped someone, and nearly half of them admitted more than one attack.

The study, by the country's Medical Research Council, also found three out of four who admitted rape had attacked for the first time during their teens.

It said practices such as gang rape were common because they were considered a form of male bonding.

Is it any wonder I expected a more forceful defense of women's rights in President Obama's Cairo speech - granted it was delivered to the Mideast, but the audience was intended to be global.

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Human trafficking is a worldwide problem

From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's op-ed in The New York Times today:
Around the world, millions of people are living in bondage. They labor in fields and factories under threat of violence if they try to escape. They work in homes for families that keep them virtually imprisoned. They are forced to work as prostitutes or to beg in the streets. Women, men and children of all ages are often held far from home with no money, no connections and no way to ask for help. They discover too late that they've entered a trap of forced labor, sexual exploitation and brutal violence. The United Nations estimates that at least 12 million people worldwide are victims of trafficking. Because they often live and work out of sight, that number is almost certainly too low. More than half of all victims of forced labor are women and girls, compelled into servitude as domestics or sweatshop workers or...forced into prostitution. They face not only the loss of their freedom but also sexual assaults and physical abuses.To some, human trafficking may seem like a problem limited to other parts of the world. In fact, it occurs in every country, including the United States, and we have a responsibility to fight it just as others do. The destructive effects of trafficking have an impact on all of us. Trafficking weakens legitimate economies, breaks up families, fuels violence, threatens public health and safety, and shreds the social fabric that is necessary for progress. It undermines our long-term efforts to promote peace and prosperity worldwide. And it is an affront to our values and our commitment to human rights. [emphasis mine]
Clinton also makes the point that trafficking is especially prevalent in economic downturns, as the incentive to turn to exploitation only increases. With seemingly every other op-ed in the world opining on the Iranian elections, it's comforting to see that the U.S. State Department still focuses on priorities (beyond ensuring that Iranians can still use Twitter) that fewer people are paying attention to.
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New U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues sworn in. But what will she do?

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton swore in Melanne Verveer, a longtime friend and former chief of staff to First Lady Hillary Clinton, to be Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues.  I've known people who have worked with Verveer and they have nothing but great things to say about her.  But I find this Daily Beast profile of Verveer deeply unsatisfying for the fact that it never actually describes what it is she will be doing at the state department.

Ambassador at Large for Global Women's Issues is a brand-new position.  The first person to hold this office will necessarily shape its agenda and its role in American diplomacy. To that end, I think it's fairly significant that the position went to someone who built a career as a confidante to the Clintons. (This is opposed to, say, the Ambassadors at Large for War Crimes Issues, who have all been more-or-less technical experts.)  The fact that someone who is so close to the Secretary of State is heading this new office suggests that it will not languish in the backwaters of Foggy Bottom.  But what it is this office will actually do is still very much in the air.

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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)