Monthly Archives: February 2011

Don’t forget Egypt’s women

Don’t forget Egypt’s women

They fueled the revolution, should shape future

By Rachel Newcomb

“I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square and I will stand alone.” With these words, Asmaa Mahfouz put out a call on YouTube that went viral, helping to ignite Egypt’s revolution. A 26-year-old business management graduate, Mahfouz helped rally Egyptians for the initial Jan. 25 protest, to “say no to corruption, no to this regime.” But Mahfouz’s activism had its roots in another protest led by another woman.

In April 2008, Esraa Abdel Fattah Ahmed Rashid helped start a Facebook group urging Egyptian support for striking textile workers in the town of Mahalla. She was subsequently imprisoned, but her actions planted the seeds for the events we just witnessed.

That’s right. Two women helped bring down Hosni Mubarak. Much of the U.S. media analysis of the daily demonstrations in Tahrir Square has not gone far beyond marveling that women were present at all. But coverage needs to move beyond the superficial to understanding the challenges Egyptian women face as the country begins the next phase in developing a post-Mubarak government.

Women have long played prominent roles in the Egyptian quest for self-governance, only to have their aspirations undercut by authoritarian rulers. The question today is: How can we keep this from happening again?

Egyptian women aren’t starting from scratch. In fact, they make up more than 30% of the workforce and, in some fields, such as medicine, women graduate from universities in equal numbers to men. Even so, 45% are illiterate. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report ranks Egypt 120 out of 128 countries in gender equality.

As the recipient of generous World Bank loans in the 1990s, Egypt agreed to privatize government enterprise and cut social services and expenditures. Wages fell dramatically, especially hurting women. Labor unions and many women’s organizations were banned. Female activists were often imprisoned. And the recent announcement that CBS correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted and beaten on the day Mubarak stepped down brought to light another issue Egyptian women face every day: the prevalence of sexual harassment in the public sphere.

Even so, Egyptian women have a long history of activism. Sixty years ago, Doria Shafik led 1,500 women into parliament, demanding the right to vote, equal pay and marriage law reforms. Their protest gained international attention but also landed Shafik in court, where her female lawyer mounted a successful defense. Over the next several years, Shafik staged hunger strikes and led other high-profile protests. President Gamal Nasser placed her under permanent house arrest and banned her name from appearing in the press. Shafik committed suicide in 1975, her name effectively scrubbed from the histories of Egypt.

Shafik once wrote that “no one will deliver freedom to women, except (the) woman herself.”

What do Egyptian women want for their country? After Mubarak stepped down, President Obama said that America stands “ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary … to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.” As the U.S. considers its annual $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt, the administration should insist the funds be contingent upon a truly free civil society, one in which women are allowed to take full part in the remaking of the country.

This will be challenging given the entrenched hierarchies of the military and political elite. Yet models abound, not only in countries such as South Africa, whose post-apartheid transformation included new roles and rights for women, but also in majority-Muslim democracies where women have been elected, such as in Turkey or Bangladesh.

As the dust of discontent begins to settle, the world should not lose sight of the fact that a “credible transition to democracy” depends on Egyptian men � and women � determining an equitable vision for their society.

Rachel Newcomb is associate professor of anthropology at Rollins College and the author of Women of Fes: Ambiguities of Urban Life in Morocco.

original article on USA Today.

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The Sound of Freedom

A solidarity protest song titled Sout al Horeya, ‘the sound of freedom’, by Moustafa Fahmy, Mohamed Khalifa, and Mohamed Shaker.

Battambang Women Gearing Up for Elections

2012 commune elections present another opportunity for Cambodian women to share power with men in local governance.

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With 14 months to go, the Women’s Wing of the Sam Rainsy Party is actively embarking in its training activities that will see SRP women candidates preparing themselves for public speaking, building networks and building their self-confidence as first time candidates or seeking re-election.

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Mu Sochua, Chair of the SRP Women’s Wing takes part in the two-day training of 99 candidates and getting support from men to accept their women colleagues to pull votes for SRP in the 96 communes in the province.

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“From this day on, you must be aware of your opponents. Know your commune. Be visible. Get the message out early”, says Mu Sochua to the candidates.

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LICADHO Condemns Censorship of Web Sites Critical of Government

Politiktoons #144

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February 16, 2011. By LICADHO.

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) condemns the ongoing censorship of the Internet in Cambodia, which has targeted news and opinion sites critical of the government. 

“Until now, Cambodia’s Internet environment had been noticeably freer than in neighboring countries,” said LICADHO President Pung Chhiv Kek. “More importantly, the Internet was the only audio or visual media not fully controlled by the government. The censoring of controversial Web sites marks a significant milestone in the march toward a more oppressive media environment.”

The ongoing disruption of certain Web sites began for some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) on January 19, 2011, with the blockage of the controversial Web site KI-Media (and initiall all blogs hosted by the domain Blogspot). The problem affected ISPs Ezecom, Metfone, WiCAM and possibly others. 

The day of the outage, customer service representatives at Ezecom, one of Cambodia’

s largest ISPs, told several of its clients that the sites had been blocked on the request of the Ministry of Interior. Ezecom management later denied in writing that it received a directive from the government. Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith also denied involvement. Over the following days, service was restored for all providers except Metfone.

In early February a new wave of outages hit, affecting KI-Media and two other sites, Khmerization, a citizen-journalist blog often critical of the government, and the blog of Khmer political cartoonist Sacrava. The affected ISPs included Online, WiCam, Metfone and Ezecom. 

On February 14, 2011, the Phnom Penh Post reported that WiCam customers who attempted attempting to access KI-Media instead saw a message stating that the site had been “blocked as ordered by the Ministry of Post an Telecommunications of Cambodia.” An unnamed WiCam employee told the newspaper that the ministry ordered KI-Media blocked because it “impacts the government.”
Ezecom CEO Paul Blanche-Horgan, meanwhile, was quoted in the same publication denying that the government had ordered his company to block any Web sites. He went on to say that the only “two or three people” had complained about the outage and implied that the problem was “on their end.”
LICADHO and media organizations have confirmed that the problem extends far beyond “two or three people.”

The outage of certain sites continues to this day, and appears to affect the entire customer base of at least four ISPs. 

LICADHO sent repeated requests to Ezecom management beginning February 10, 2011, when staff became unable to access certain sites at our office. Ezecom management replied by stating that they were “currently working on … technical issues and will respond as soon as possible.”

LICADHO then requested an estimate for when the problem would be fixed. As of yesterday, LICADHO received no further explanation, and the problem has not yet been resolved. 

On February 15, 2011, the Phnom Penh Post reported that So Khun, minister of posts and telecommunications, denied that the government had “ordered”

ISPs to block opposition-aligned Web sites. A simple review of Cambodian news over the past two months indicates that this claim rings hollow. 

On December 16, 2010, Chairman of Cambodia-Vietnam Joint Border Commission Var Kim Hong told Radio Free Asia that the government would shut down KI-Media by December 31, 2010. The statement came days after the site published articles critical of him and other Cambodian leaders. Just days later, World Food Program staff member Seng Kunnaka was arrested and convicted of incitement after printing out and distributing material from KI-Media. 

Moreover, the Phnom Penh Post reported on February 15 that So Khun presided over a meeting on February 10 where he asked mobile phone operators to “cooperate” in blocking certain Web sites “that affect Khmer morality and tradition and the government.”

 The request was published in the official minutes of the meeting. 

Although the situation is far from transparent, a clearer picture is emerging. The government clearly has it out for a handful of controversial Web sites, and official government records show that a high-ranking minister asked for “cooperation”

from the business community in censoring the Internet. 

It is difficult to say just how firm the government’s “request” was, but some businesses have complied with it. Some have not. Still others have apparently complied and feigned ignorance, blaming end-users and “technical problems.”
“It’s time for ISPs to take responsibility in being honest towards its clients,” said Naly Pilorge, Director of LICADHO. “They can play with words all they want, but at the end of the day, this still amounts to censorship. Their charade is not fooling anyone.”

Did the government order providers to block certain sites? If so, the government should immediately rescind the order and make it clear to ISPs that it supports a free and open Internet. Censorship of Web sites critical of the government has no place in a democratic society. Censorship of the Internet places Cambodia in the company of countries such as Burma, Vietnam and China. 

Did the government simply make a “request” that ISP providers block certain sites? If so, ISPs owe their customers an honest explanation as to why they have chosen to comply. Hiding behind excuses simply makes them complicit in the censorship campaign. Concerned customers should call their ISPs and demand a legitimate explanation for the ongoing outage of political opposition Web sites. Better yet, all ISPs should decline the government’

s request and restore full Internet access immediately. 

“Customers deserve to know whether they are giving their money to a company that is helping to enable a government censorship campaign,”

Pilorge said. 

For more information, please contact:
LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge (English, French), 012 803 650
LICADHO President Pung Chhiv Kek (English, French, Khmer), 012 802 506

Photography Exhibition on Mu Sochua

Philip Skoczkowski, a second-year media student at the University of Toronto came to Cambodia last summer to photograph Sochua during her defamation lawsuit. Recently, his work was exhibited at The International Development and Culture Week at University of Toronto.

The three-day exhibition aims to raise awareness of global development issues. The photography contest also included Philip’s work from his previous summer here in Cambodia. Many other photographers from around the world exhibited their work on international problems.

“My booth is focused on Mu Sochua’s activities in Cambodia,” said Philip Skoczkowski, a second-year media student. “Not many people know about (Cambodia) — and I was there. It’s an interesting story.”

Read the full article here.

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Philip showing one his photos of Sochua

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Photo by Philip Skoczkowski

 

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Photo by Philip Skoczkowski

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Photo by Philip Skoczkowski

Egypt: Women in Demonstrations 2

By News Desk  GlobalPost Editors.
February 9, 2011 in Middle East.

These photos capture the faces of Egypt’s women who have been participating in the week-long demonstrations gripping the nation.

A woman shouts as she blocks the entry of army tanks to Tahrir Square on January 30, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

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Aung San Suu Kyi- Part 2

The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats Visit to Burma:

We were briefed throughouly on the political situation in Burma prior to our visit and the meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. I was worried about my feelings and emotions. The invitation to Burma and to meet the woman who represent Democracy and Justice came out of nowhere. The day arrived and the face to face with my heroine was not what I had anticipated.

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She came out of an opposite room as we were taking off our shoes. She warmly invited us to the meeting table where Burmese sweets and tea were already prepared for the ten of us. The atmosphere was totally relaxed, as if we had known each other for years. We exchanged ideas, we asked for her wishes.

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She spoke of nothing but justice, freedom and democracy. She spoke of the dignity of her people. She spoke of her hope and her vision. She let out no anger, no bitterness, no revenge. She said no words of her years of emprisonment and house arrest.

We spoke of our experience in Cambodia. I could no longer hold my tears and emotions. The determination of her party leaders and supporters whom we met prior to meeting her moved me so immensely as we, members of the lead of opposition party in Cambodia are struggling without our leader in Cambodia. He is sentenced to 12 years by the political Courts of Cambodia.

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Democracy building is up to each and everyone of us. The West may be able to help but at the end of the day, it is our own struggle. We may expect our Western friends to lend a hand but we must be aware of their own interests. If there is any change for our people, that change must come from our living without fear.

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Meeting Daw Aung San suu Kyi makes me understand the meaning of living without fear.