global feminism

Global Lessons from the UN Study on Violence Against Women in Asia

Cover of UN Report "Why do some men use violence against women and how can we prevent it?"by Jarrah Hodge

A new study on violence against women in Southeast Asian countries, by UN Joint Programme Partners for Prevention, is making headlines around the world.

Although the study also has interesting findings on non-sexual, physical violence against women, the findings that seem to have shocked most people were the high numbers of men admitting to rape.

Just under a quarter of men interviewed in the study countries (Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, China, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Sri Lanka) admitted to raping a woman or girl. It’s important to note the percentage varied widely between countries, from a low but still troubling 11% in Bangladesh to over 60% in Papua New Guinea. More than half the men said they committed their first assault between the ages of 15 and 19 and nearly half had raped repeatedly.

It’s safe to assume one of the reasons men were so open to admitting assault was that the questions never used the word “rape”. Instead, researchers asked if men had ever: “forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex,” or “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it.”

About 10 per cent said they have had “non-consensual sex” with a woman who was not their partner, but another 14 per cent admitted it when partners were included in the question.

Less than one quarter served jail time.

So here’s how not to respond to this, white Westerners (with examples from news site comments):

-      ” the study was only done in some of the most backward places on Earth. So it says absolutely nothing about the male of the species.”

-       “and yet we keep letting them come to America on H1B work visas, where the later prey on children.”

-      “Typical Asians, bout time the media reports on these deviants.”

-      ” Dont compare the West to Asia. Ever wondered why all the Asians (Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Pakkis, Koreans etc) are trying to immigrate desperately to the West & not vice-versa ?”

First of all, you can’t make those kind of blanket statements about the region from this (and not just because it’s super racist). The study doesn’t cover all of Southeast Asia, stats varied between countries, and only in Cambodia does the report claim there was balanced geographic representation in the sample.

Second, though there are different issues between and within various countries, there are some common themes that we see happening here. And that means we can’t get on our high, white horse. Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism Leave a comment

Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea Flagby Matilda Branson

I currently have the pleasure to be working with two amazing Women Human Rights Defenders from Papua New Guinea (PNG), Mary Kini, founder of Kup Women for Peace, and Monica Paulus, founder of a community organisation defending women accused of sorcery and who are victims of discrimination and violence. Sponsored by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), Monica and Mary are visiting Nepal for three months, to strengthen their capacity in monitoring and documenting human rights violations with the women’s NGO I work with.

Each woman has her share of both inspiring and often horrifying stories of their work in the highlands of PNG. Which is…where?

PNG is a small country, situated in the south-western Pacific Ocean, next to Indonesia and above Australia. A former member of the British Commonwealth, PNG gained its independence from Australia in 1975. It has a population of about 6.2 million, over 800 different languages, and more than 80% of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas surviving on subsistence agricultural practices. A third of people live in extreme poverty. Much to my shame as an Australian, and a neighbour of PNG, I didn’t know any of this until I met Mary and Monica upon their arrival in Nepal.

This shame has only increased upon learning the abysmal situation for women in PNG. I don’t often use the word abysmal – it’s a strong term, with a lot laden onto it – but the situation for women is exactly that. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism 2 Comments

Abortion Worldwide

Guttmacher Institute Statsby Jarrah Hodge

This new video from the Guttmacher Institute gives us a picture of abortion rates around the globe. It reminds us of the toll lack of access to safe, legal abortion takes on women. It also points out that making abortion illegal or harder to get isn’t the way to reduce abortion rates.

As the video points out:

The best way to reduce the need for abortion is not by denying women access to safe and legal procedures, but by giving them the power to control their fertility and prevent unintended pregnancy. Today, 222 million women in the developing world want to avoid pregnancy but are not using a modern contraceptive.

The Harper government should take note: access to contraception and safe, legal abortions in Canada and around the world saves women’s lives.

The video is also available in Spanish and en français and you can read a transcript of the video here.

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Nepal’s 1st National Netball Team – After the Game

by Matilda Branson

Just a quick update on Nepal’s National Netball Team, which I wrote about in August. A quick word with the coaches revealed it was a crazy, fun-packed, intense, sporty and amazing week spent in Sri Lanka at the 8th Asian Netball Championship.

Some of the highlights included:

The girls seeing new things for the first time – including taking photos of vending machines in Delhi Airport on the way to Sri Lanka, seeing trains for the first time (and apparently a few close calls, as there was the assumption made by the girls, as with most traffic in Kathmandu, that the traffic, including trains, would go round them), going to the beach and seeing the sea, having McDonalds and having a good shop along the way. Remember – these were all firsts – seeing the sea for the first time, let alone everything else. Definite sensory overload.

After an Opening Ceremony attended in both sari and blazer, the games began. The games, they were tough. Remember, these girls went from zero, learning about netball, to becoming as professional as possible in six weeks and were in Sri Lanka playing the best in Asia. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism 1 Comment

Short Film Attempts to Raise Awareness of Honour Killings

by Jarrah Hodge

Cameroonian-born Canadian actress and independent filmmaker Dorothy A. Atabong has found there are some things you just can’t stay silent about. So when she read in the newspaper about a 16-year-old Toronto girl being murdered by her father in the name of “honour” after refusing to wear the hijab, Atabong felt she needed to do something:

“One could describe it as a growing epidermic. I began asking people randomly if they had heard of honor killings and many were unaware of the subject. This is what propelled me to picked up a pencil and write what was the first of many drafts of Sound of Tears. To raise awareness and send out a large message to millions of people. The United Nations estimates that 5,000 women are killed each year in the claim of having dishonored their families. Many cases remain unheard of, as they are never reported. In the UK alone last year, the police reported 2,823 so-called honor crimes. That’s nearly eight a day.”

Dorothy A. Atabong

Atabong has already put together her creative team for the short, fictional film. It includes cinematographer Ben Lichty and editor Jonathan Egan. Atabong feels the timing for the project is good, as there has been some movement at the federal level to develop policy on this issue:

“The UK is ahead of us and has hotlines. Forced marriage is a criminal offence and there is a police force and shelter in place trained to assist victims of such crimes. Karma Nirvana is a hotline for victims in the UK and I will be meeting with its founder next month.

Our government is on the verge of creating a platform for this issue. We are happy to say we have Dr. Amin Muhammad of Memorial University of Newfoundland as our supporter (author of the report for the federal government on honour killings. He has done extensive research, written several books and articles, appeared on TV shows discussing this topic).”

Despite this, Atabong and her team have had trouble getting funding from traditional sources. They’re turning instead to Indiegogo to raise the $25,000 needed to complete the film, hopefully with ACTRA actors and a professional crew. Atabong hopes that completing the project will lead to real change:

“The film will be submitted to film festivals all over the world and also made available to libraries and institutions. We hope to reach millions of people with the message “help stop honor killings”. We also will make available in the film and at festival screenings, pamphlets and other useful information about this issue so we can all engage in dialogue. It would also give anyone in such a conflict situation or who might know such a person, a place to go.”

If you’re interested in helping with the project, you can:


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism Leave a comment

“Corrective Rape” of Lesbians and the Anti-Rape Condom

by Matilda Branson

South Africa. I was there last November and found it to be a most beautiful country, both in terms of its people and landscape. Home of the legendary Mandela. Cool animals and beaches. Shakira sang there during the World Cup (awesome).

After Apartheid, its new constitution was one of the more liberal ones (on paper) in the world, with gay rights enshrined within it. In 2006 same-sex marriage was legalised. I assumed, somewhat naively, that things were ticking along ok there for LGBT rights, until I heard of the phenomenon of what has been coined “corrective rape”. What that refers to is the rape of lesbians by men who believe it will change their sexual orientation and “cure” them back to heterosexuality.

Whilst the issue garnered attention within the global media last year, largely in part to a report released by Human Rights Watch in 2011 (“We’ll Show You You’re a Woman”), I was shocked by the widespread nature of the rapes.

According to Luleki Sizwe, an NGO working with rape victims in the Western Cape, 10 lesbians per week are being raped or gang-raped in Cape Town alone. As with many cases of rape, it is difficult to pinpoint numbers due to difficulties in reporting to and the documenting of cases by authorities, but do even the basic math and the numbers for corrective rape cases look scary, let alone the stats for rape generally (The Guardian UK in 2010 quoted that women in South Africa are more likely to be raped than literate – I’m always cynical of such claims, but I’m inclined to believe that one).

So I was thinking about what to do if rape, “corrective” or otherwise, is so prevalent? South African medical technician Sonette Ehlers already beat me to it, in 2005. Behold, Rape-aXe, a female condom with teeth lining its inside angled so that they allow penetration – but when the penis comes out, ouch – the pain being so intense for the rapist that the woman has time to escape, and the man must go to a hospital to have the device surgically removed. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism, Politics 5 Comments

Sexual Violence as Torture

UN Poster for the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Art by Octavio Roth.

by Matilda Branson

(trigger warning for discussion of sexual violence)

June 26, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, commemorating the day the Convention against Torture came into force 11 years ago, prompted me to have a bit of a think on torture – more specifically on sexual violence as torture and how this impacts women in conflict zones. Pretty light stuff. If it’s morning where you are and you’re sitting there with your coffee, maybe postpone reading this until the afternoon. I write this, though, because despite it being a bit of a conversation killer, I realised I’ve put rape and sexual violence at the back of my mind of late, because actually it’s easier not to think about it, to pretend that wide-scale atrocities are not occurring, now, as I write, across the world. So if I’ve forgotten, maybe you have too. Read on.

The main elements of torture are:

  • Severe pain or suffering
  • It is inflicted intentionally and for a purpose
  • The pain or suffering of someone is inflicted by, at the instigation of, with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or any person acting in an official capacity


Within these definitions, sexual violence comes under the umbrella of torture. As perpetrators, armed groups fall under this definition too; it’s not always your average Government Joe in a fancy uniform. I think what bugs me is that this sexual violence, this torture occurs, and we do nothing. We hear of atrocities and we do nothing. We draft a few fancy regulations and Conventions but practically, on the ground, little is achieved. No justice is served.

Not long ago I did some work on resiliency strategies of victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). And we are talking resilience on a massive scale, on a whole new level that is almost impossible to contemplate. In one region of northern DRC, a favourite tactic of terror of soldiers was to force fathers at gunpoint to rape their own daughters, with the whole family watching. To refuse meant death to the entire family. The resiliency strategy employed by locals? As sexual violence committed by armed groups was seen as inevitable in that region, neighbours would swap daughters, so that at least when the fathers were forced to rape, they would not be raping their own daughters, but someone else’s. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism, Politics 2 Comments