international feminism

DOXA Festival Ticket Giveaway: Casablanca Calling

Still from Casablanca Calling, showing a Morchidat teaching a class of students

by Jarrah Hodge

Rosa Rogers’ new documentary Casablanca Calling takes viewers to mosques, schools and prisons across Morocco, where a “quiet revolution” is occurring as approximately 400 women have started to work as Muslim leaders or Morchidats for the first time. Their goal is “to liberate women by sharing the true teaching of Islam, freed from misogynist interpretations.”

The film follows three Morchidats as they travel around Morocco, actively campaigning against arranged marriage, domestic abuse, financial exploitation, and female suicide.

Casablanca Calling is just one of many awesome movies that will be screening at Vancouver’s DOXA Festival, coming up from May 2-11, 2014. If you’re in town I highly recommend checking out their full program, especially the films related to women’s rights.

Gender Focus is very pleased to be the community partner for the screening of Casablanca Calling.

To enter to win a set of two tickets to the screening of Casablanca Calling at Sunday, May 11 at 6 p.m. at the Vancity Theatre (up to two entries per person):

  • Comment below or on the Gender Focus Facebook page and tell us your favourite movie of all time.
  • Tweet “I entered to win tickets to Casablanca Calling from @jarrahpenguin and @doxafestival” 

I will randomly select a winner next Wednesday, April 23. Good luck and hope to see you at a DOXA screening in a few weeks!

For more information on DOXA, check out the interview I did last year with Director of Programming Dorothy Woodend.

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism 3 Comments

Sister: An Unflinching Look at Maternal Health Worldwide

Title still for Sister, showing the word "Sister" over a world mapby Roxanna Bennett

“Pregnancy is a normal physiological event,” states Goitom Berhane, a health officer in residency at a rural hospital in Ethiopia. “This is not a disease. It is only that society is not organized enough to handle it, to appreciate its risks. It has risks whether it’s in Europe or Africa. Wherever you are, pregnancy is always a challenge.”

An unflinching look at the stark and bloody reality of infant and maternal mortality, the new documentary Sister follows maternal health care workers in Ethiopia, Haiti and Cambodia. Beautifully shot, Sister captures both agonizing and ecstatic moments in birth and delivery. from a woman whose fetus is dead inside of her, to a successful emergency Caesarian operation.

In the U.S., one in 4,800 women die from childbirth-related causes. The statistics in other parts of the world are staggering. In Haiti, one in 48 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Cambodia, one in 44 women will die of childbirth related causes. In Ethiopia, one in 27 women will die of childbirth related causes – that’s 55 every day. Sister is the story behind the statistics, putting a human face on the very real suffering and death of women and infants across the planet.

Photo of Madam Bwa, maternal health worker in Haiti

Madam Bwa, photo by Alexandra Swati Guild

Madam Bwa, a 65 year old TBA (Traditional Birth Attendant), living in Haiti, started delivering babies when she was 12 years old.

“I have delivered about 12, 000 babies,” she boasts. While she has no formal medical training, she provides the the majority of primary maternal and prenatal health care and education in her community.

“God blessed me to serve the people in this community,” she says, “Mostly to prevent them from dying during delivery.”

“Shada is the most miserable part of the city,” Madam Bwa says as she navigates the narrow alleyways between rickety shelters, “It’s badly built. If you have to transport a sick or pregnant person there are no roads in Shada.” Read more

Posted on by Roxanna Bennett in Feminism Leave a comment

No More Child Brides

Image of girl in Indian wedding outfit with caption

Image from Indian NGO working to keep girls in school

by Matilda Branson

(Trigger warning: discussion of child sexual abuse)

When I was eight years old, I had three main interests in life:

  1. Building cubby houses in trees.
  2. The trampoline.
  3. Salt and vinegar flavoured chips.

And I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up, a stylish incarnation of the Famous Five-meets-Indiana Jones. I had few worries in life.

A few weeks ago an eight-year-old Yemeni girl died from internal bleeding from a ruptured uterus, caused by sex with her 40-year-old husband, not long after marriage.

It is not ok for an eight-year-old girl to be married to anyone.

It is not ok for an eight-year-old girl to die from sex with her 40-year-old husband.

It is fundamentally wrong, wrong, wrong.

You can feel it, no? That slightly sick feeling? It’s not fair, it’s not right – it is wrong. 11-year-old Nada al-Ahdal captures the issues and fears for child brides, as she talks about escaping her arranged marriage, in this video from earlier this year.

Child marriage. Early marriage.Forced marriage. Whatever it’s called, it’s a serious abuse of child rights. It threatens young girls’ lives, their health, and their futures (UNFPA, 2012).  It exposes girls to early pregnancy (the complications which may arise during childbirth when young being the main cause of death among 15-19 year old girls in developing countries), to HIV and STIs. Young girls are more at risk of domestic violence and sexual abuse (marital rape, a hidden form of gender-based violence, is frequently  ignored in the public sphere, left out of policies and legislation), as well as psychological and emotional harm including depression, feelings of hopelessness, and trauma among others.

Girls’ educations (formal and vocational) and their ability to attend school, and to consequently access employment opportunities and to have futures, are irretrievably lost on the day they are married.

Choice for a girl – to have the opportunity to find out what she wants, to choose what she would like to be – is stolen.

Child Marriage hot spots throughout the world:


Country Name

% girls married before 18








Central African Republic















Burkina Faso



South Sudan


















Sierra Leone






Dominican Republic











* Child marriage prevalence is defined as the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before age 18.

Source: UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2013 – data from UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and other national surveys, and refers to the most recent year available during the period 2002-2011. Source: United Nations 

Horrified at the stats?  I was- no, I am, hence the blog post. Not enough is being done. What is scary is that if current trends continue, worldwide, 142 million girls will be married in the next decade alone (UNFPA, 2012). Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism Leave a comment

FFFF: It’s Your Fault!

Funny Feminist Friday Film square logo

Bollywood actor Kalki Koechlin and video jockey/model Juhi Pande star in this movie by Indian comedy collective All-India Backchod (backtalk), using satire to critique victim-blaming, rape culture and the suggestions and comments made to women in the wake of the Delhi gang rape trial. The YouTube page states:

Every sexual assault case in India inspires a string of stupid and hateful remarks against women. This is our response to those remarks.

Trigger Warning: discussion of and depictions of violence against women and sexual assault.

Transcript (after the jump):

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in FFFF Leave a comment

The Revolution in the Square and at Home: The Continuing Struggle of Women in Egypt

Photo of protesters in Tahrir Square, 2011by Nina Verfaillie

In the two years since the onset of the Egyptian Revolution we have witnessed the struggle of Egyptian women as they have actively participated in the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. They have stood next to their male counterparts as primary actors in the revolution and have fought for rights in the following reformation of governance, law, and order.

The subsequent democratic election of new leadership, which was the first in Egypt’s history, saw the historical participation of women en masse from all walks of life. It was also punctuated by their public disenfranchisement through humiliating sexual assaults in the public and revolutionary spheres. This encroachment on basic human rights and security in the reformation of government and power resulted in women losing many protections and rights that were previously afforded to them.

Even though women were key participants in the successful coup, they have experienced a loss in rights and political representation, while sexual violence against women has become an ongoing theme in the revolution. This past summer brought even more change and upheaval with the July ousting of Mohammad Morsi, and it was followed by another series of violent sexual attacks against women in the public sphere. It is time for a serious look at the continuing struggle of women in the revolution, and the role feminism has played in providing access and narrative to their fight.

For many, the plight of Egyptian women following the revolution has been a disappointment. Initially they were welcomed members of the revolution and their images of protest became central to the overall identity of the movement. The early protests were noted for their lack of sexual harassment and the sheer number of women involved and publically engaged. They went to the same protests, took the same risks of participation, and fought for the same cause.

The tone of the revolution shifted, and public assaults and rapes somehow became part of the protests. Female revolutionaries were then subjected to “virginity tests” and further rape and assault at the hands of riot police. Their exploitation now included their brothers in the revolution and ordinary citizens.

Although public sexual harassment in Egypt is an oft discussed topic in western media, the voice of women in Egyptian revolutions is not. Previous generations held famed Arabic singer Uum Kulthum as the voice of their revolutions and wars, and still hold her songs as the nation’s sobbing lament for a fallen president and his movement. As much as the revolution would not have been truly successful without all of the women who participated in it, they have also seen themselves used as political tools for parties and politicians who wish to use their disenfranchisement to solidify support and project religious legitimacy and do not see their equal participation as a cause for concern. Mubarak may be gone, but the oppression and exploitation of women still remains, in government and in Egyptian daily life. Read more

Posted on by Nina Verfaillie in Feminism Leave a comment

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

Empowerment Through Swimming

swimmingby Matilda Branson

Every year, 175,000 children throughout the world die from drowning. This makes drowning the second of the top five causes of injury death in children worldwide, second only to road crashes.  But where does this fit in with, say, gender or development? Bear with me, dear friends.

Coming from Australia, learning to swim and surf were an inherent part of growing up. Most children are dragged through insurmountable survival swim classes from the age of four onwards. They learn to tread water, swim kilometres in pools fully clothed imagining: “If I fell off a boat, what would I do?” scenarios, chucking ropes and any flotation devices (read: plastic milk bottles, buckets, kickboards, anything at hand) at each other, handling currents and learning to conserve energy, not to panic and how to save both yourself and others in risky water situations.

Even growing up in a rural farming area in inland Australia far from the sea, we learned the four survival strokes and complex dives – which to use when there is an oil spill in the ocean and which to use when there may be sharp rocks beneath you leaping from a fast-moving speedboat. If James Bond can do it, apparently kids from rural Australia whose closest water source is a cattle trough should be able to as well. Just in case.

As a girl, learning to swim taught me many other things: I learned that baring my body in bathers in front of boys I liked didn’t result in my melting into a puddle like the Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, and it also showed me we all kind of look similar under all the various fashions we wore. The sheer usefulness of tampons instead of sanitary pads was most obvious when I had to swim on my period. I could hold my breath for longer than anyone – even longer than the jock boys – which equalled immediate schoolyard respect. The positive unintended lessons learned from swimming lessons just go on and on.

In Nepal last week I competed in a triathlon through the Himalayas, where I needed to swim 1.5km across a mountain lake, Lake Begnas. A few days later, in this same lake, three people died and another three people are missing after a fishing boat capsized. I swam across that lake using a curious combination of survival backstroke, breaststroke and sidestroke. I could swim across Lake Begnas because I was a lucky Australian kid from a water-crazy island whose parents took me to swim lessons for many years. Those three people died because they didn’t know how to swim, because there was never the opportunity to learn.

I’ve recently been mulling over the potential benefits of swimming lessons and education for young boys and girls in the context of international development. More and more I believe that learning to swim – especially if you live in an environment surrounded by or in constant contact with rivers, lakes or oceans – is a fundamental human right. It fits snugly under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ principles, such as the right to live in safety or the right to opportunities to develop one’s skills. Read more

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism 1 Comment