Monday, January 30, 2012

Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces

FAMOUS CANADIAN women abound. But while many people know the names Roberta Bondar, Alexa McDonough and Hayley Wickenheiser, fewer probably recognize Eliza M. Jones, Elizabeth Smellie and Kathleen Parlow.

The leader in agriculture, first female colonel in the Canadian Army and world-renowned violinist are three of the women featured in Merna Forster’s 100 More Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces (Dundurn, $24.99).

The followup to her first collection in 2004 features women from across the country who are noteworthy for reasons that vary from scientific discoveries, the arts and sports to prospecting at a time when women weren’t known for looking for the lucky strike.

Forster says that when she launched the first collection she already had plenty of names of potential profiles for the second book. But while promoting it, people would send dozens of potential names and see her at speaking engagements to share suggestions. Other names came from her travels and her work as a naturalist with Parks Canada.

By the time she was ready to start working on the second book, she had plenty of potential subjects but wanted to make sure she included a wide variety of women from different areas of the country, time periods, ethnic origins and types of achievement.

Canada - Honour Killing

An Afghan immigrant couple and their son have been found guilty in a Canadian court of first degree murder over the "honour killings" of four female family members, and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The Shafia family had come to Canada in 2007, after living in Australia, Pakistan and Dubai over the previous 15 years.

The jury in Kingston, Ontario, deliberated for two days before pronouncing a guilty sentence against Mohammad Shafia, 58, his 42-year-old wife Tooba Mahommad Yahya and their 21-year-old son Hamed.

Their defence lawyers said on Sunday they would appeal the convictions.

Judge Robert Maranger called the crimes "heinous" as he sentenced the accused to 25 years in prison, and said the evidence clearly supported the charges.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Egypt: Attacks on Women Continue

From albawaba:
Two articles that tell of the continued distress of badly-treated women in Tahrir, including foreign Arab American who was stripped of clothes and assaulted in Egypt's Tahrir Square.

Article One:
Heather still doesn’t know how she made it home on Wednesday night after being in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. The Arab-American arrived back at her Cairo flat without pants, having had them torn off downtown. She and her two roommates were victims of a mob attack by people in the iconic square on Wednesday, as protesters demonstrated against the military junta.

According to Heather, an Arab-American living in the Egyptian capital, she and her Swedish and Spanish roommates took to Tahrir as thousands were converging there to mark one-year since the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Article Two:
Thousands took to the streets in Egypt to protest against the military junta. By late Wednesday night, the conversation had turned away from the military council and on to Egypt’s most pressing social problem: sexual violence against women.

At least four women have been reported to have had their clothes ripped from their bodies, assault and groped endlessly by mobs of men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Certainly more reports of assaults will flood editors’ email in the coming days. It seems whenever there is a mass protest in Egypt it is accompanied by attacks against women.

Bizarre History of the Pregnancy test

From i09:
Nowadays, finding out if you're pregnant is relatively easy — but it wasn't always that way. Over the centuries, people have come up with downright strange and sometimes revolting tests to figure out whether or not a person is knocked up. Some of them were useless, some required being a chemist in the bathroom, and some caused major ecological disasters.

The thing about pregnancy, as a condition, is most people eventually figure out their status on their own. Pregnancy tests, for much of history, have seemed unnecessary.

Still, people have always tried to find ways to peek inside themselves. Some people want to make an early announcement to family. Some need to put their names on a six-year-long waiting list for a private kindergarten, and hope that a year's worth of kids drop out of the running. Some just wish to experience the sheer joy of peeing on something scientific. Whatever the reason, all those who grab a stick and run to the ladies' room are participating in a long, occasionally-destructive, and sometimes outright loony march of scientific progress.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bangladeshi Women & Dowries

From IOL News:
Farzana Yasmin sought a divorce just hours after her wedding when her new husband's family demanded dowry payments.

Despite the stigma of divorce in Bangladesh, she is not worried about her future.

She wants other women to be brave enough to maintain their dignity in the face of dowry demands that have destroyed the happiness of millions of women in the Muslim-majority South Asian country, and led to numerous deaths.

Violence related to dowries has resulted in the deaths of more than 2 000 women in Bangladesh in the last decade.

The government outlawed the practice over 30 years ago, but it persists and is still taking a heavy toll.

In the first nine months of 2011, dowry-related violence caused the deaths of 268 women compared to 137 the previous year, according to Bangladesh Mahila Parishad women's rights organisation, based on monitoring of media reports.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wanted Women - Martyr & She-Devil

From Salon:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Aafia Siddiqui
Deborah Scroggins’ engrossing new book, “Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui,” is the story of a martyr and a she-devil. Or the story of a she-devil and a martyr, depending on your perspective. However, the author (a prizewinning international journalist) subscribes to neither view. By juxtaposing the lives of two (in)famous women involved with the so-called War on Terror — a celebrated critic of Islam and the only woman included on the FBI’s most-wanted list of al Qaida-linked international terrorists — Scroggins aims to show how “women like Ayaan and Aafia became symbols in battles that were really about other things.”

Although Hirsi Ali and Siddiqui have never met, and Scroggins wasn’t able to interview either one of them for “Wanted Women,” although there is no obvious connection between the two, the book works astonishingly well. Cutting back and forth between the two stories fosters a considerable amount of narrative suspense, and the juxtaposition of two similar personalities with two very different ideological positions keeps prompting the reader to look beyond easy or knee-jerk assumptions. Scroggins ultimately concludes that both women were “useful to the real drivers of conflict in their countries” because their stories provided political cover. Hirsi Ali’s talk of women’s oppression justified “Westerners who want to keep the Muslim world under Western rule,” and Siddiqui’s visible crusade against Western dominance masked the fact that jihadi were (at least in part) “fighting to maintain their control over women.”

Columbian Women & Politics

Unlike U.S. women, Colombian women have made great strides in the political arena in a short period of time, says Barbara Frechette in the book "Sharing Power." In this excerpt, she compares this progression to the one in the United States.

In Latin America, conservative Colombia was next to last-place Paraguay in granting voting rights to women. But Colombian women made up for their late start by taking only 41 years of peaceful power sharing to field two highly qualified female candidates in their 1998 presidential election.

Colombian women's remarkable achievement in such a short time led me to question why women in the United States took more time, encountered more bumps, attained a more contentious male-female power relationship and launched only one candidate in our 2008 presidential primaries.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

50 Women We Admire

From today's Herald Sun Weekend:
On our list, there are some obvious choices: such as the trio of incredibly courageous women who shared last year's Nobel Peace Prize, including Yemeni activist Tawakel Karman, a true force behind last year's Arab Spring. And Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world's most respected women after more than two decades of fighting for freedom in her country.

And, finally, there are inclusions that may make you wonder. Lady Gaga? Well, she's one of the most powerful women in the entertainment world, whether you like her fashion sense or not. And our own Brynne Edelsten? Read on, and see why we reckon the Melbourne socialite deserves not just a break but a pat on the back.

So, here, in no particular order, are 50 women from Australia and abroad who we (the women of Weekend) reckon are pretty amazing. You will have heard of many of them. And, of course, for everyone on this list, there are hundreds of other champion females we could name, including our mums.

Book: The Origins of Sex

We believe in sexual freedom. We take it for granted that consenting men and women have the right to do what they like with their bodies. Sex is everywhere in our culture. We love to think and talk about it; we devour news about celebrities' affairs; we produce and consume pornography on an unprecedented scale. We think it wrong that in other cultures its discussion is censured, people suffer for their sexual orientation, women are treated as second-class citizens, or adulterers are put to death.

Yet a few centuries ago, our own society was like this too. In the 1600s people were still being executed for adultery in England, Scotland and north America, and across Europe. Everywhere in the west, sex outside marriage was illegal, and the church, the state and ordinary people devoted huge efforts to hunting it down and punishing it. This was a central feature of Christian society, one that had grown steadily in importance since late antiquity. So how and when did our culture change so strikingly? Where does our current outlook come from? The answers lie in one of the great untold stories about the creation of our modern condition.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Saudi Women Target Guardianship Laws

It’s the law of the land. A woman must carry around a permission slip from a man to function in Saudi society.

As violent protests roil through the Middle East with ruling monarchies facing uncompromising demands from its citizens for a greater voice, women’s rights is emerging as Saudi Arabia’s own Arab Spring, albeit in a less demonstrative manner. Emboldened by the role women played in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, Saudi women are beginning to challenge the core of the kingdom’s interpretation of guardianship in Islam. A male family member supervising all aspects of a woman’s life is a belief among Saudis who view guardianship as a sacred duty.

It is also perhaps the most abused tenet of Islam. The Qur’an is clear on the issue of employment of women: Islam permits women to work with some conditions. Women can work as long as the job does not interfere with being a wife and mother. The job should also not force women to mix with men. Women should also have special skills, such as in teaching or medicine. Islamic scholars generally agree that women seeking employment do not need a guardian’s permission. Nor does a government have the authority to demand that a woman receive such permission.

Women's Education Society of Ceylon

The genesis of Buddhist women's education in modern Sri Lanka goes back to March 24, 1889, when a group of women gathered at the Colombo headquarters of the Buddhist Theosophical Society. The BTS had been formed nine years before at the behest of Madame Helena Petrovna and Colonel Henry Steele Olcott.

It was unprecedented in the colony for women to gather in this manner, like men, to discuss matters of import - which in this case was the furtherance of education for Sinhalese women. The initiative seems to have been taken by Ms O. L. G. A. Weerakoon, who by all accounts was a livewire.

A week later, on March 30, an expanded group met again at the same location, and formed the Women's Education Society of Ceylon (Nari-shiksa-dhana Samagama), to promote the education of Buddhist women.

Author & Historian Kate Williams

Could historian Kate Williams be the next Doctor Who? She can build her own Tardis, after all. Sitting in the Edwardian elegance of her north London house, the academic and novelist confides: "When I was a child one of my first games was a time machine which I made for my brother – a big box covered in silver and bits of cellophane. I'd close him up in it and joggle him and say, 'We're in Victorian times now... and now we're in Egyptian times and I can see all these pyramids and pharaohs.' He was like, 'Let me out.'"

These days her methods are more "bluestocking" than Blue Peter, as she puts it. Williams studies overlooked or crassly simplified women and reveals their complexity, intelligence and significance to history. Her first book, England's Mistress, was about Emma Hamilton, who became the mistress of Lord Nelson and was, as Williams says, "from nowhere, the poorest strata of society, intended for nothing more than being a ballast to the industrial revolution." When Williams discovered a letter by her "it was as if a whole heart had been betrayed on to the page."

The next, Becoming Queen, was about the youth of Queen Victoria, and soon, Williams will release Young Elizabeth, a biography of the present queen.

Ancient Egyptian Female Singer

A team of archaeologists from Egypt and Switzerland unearthed the 3100 year-old tomb of a female singer in the valley of the kings – a woman not related to the ancient Egyptian royal families ever found there.

Image by David Khalil
This was published on numerous sites with faulty information, reporting that the tomb was 1100 years old (like this article from the Independent), but that’s wrong, displaying yet again how badly science reporters sometimes treat their data. The body found was buried in 1100 BC, as in 1100 years before the year 0.

The singer’s name was Nehmes Bastet, which means she believed she was protected by the feline deity called Bastet, and her coffin was incredibly intact. It was actually found by accident, as archaeologists weren’t even looking for new tombs. What’s even more interesting is that the tomb wasn’t built originally for her, but 400 years earlier, it was built for someone else, though scientists can’t say for whom.

History - Elizabeth Arden

Skincare, cosmetics and fragrance brand Elizabeth Arden is one of the oldest around. Starting in New York in 1910 with a salon on New York's Fifth Avenue, Miss Elizabeth Arden grew her company at an impressive rate and became one of the wealthiest women in the world. Now, over 100 years after its conception, Elizabeth Arden products are sold in more than a hundred countries and, at the last count, the company was estimated to be worth $1.3bn.

In 1912, Arden participated in the suffrage movement and played her part by supplying red lipstick to the suffragettes. The striking shade became part of standard rally uniform and something of a symbol of female emancipation. Later, the brand not only survived the depression but actually blossomed. In the 1930s, the company employed more than a thousand people and grossed more than $4m a year.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dr. Salma Maqbool

Dr. Salma Maqbool was the voice of the disabled in this country. After she was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa — an incurable genetic disorder leading to blindness — she took it upon herself to elevate her individual struggle to a bigger sphere. From there started a journey that left an indelible mark on history of social welfare in Pakistan. A young visually impaired female doctor would go on to single handedly establish ‘Darakhshan’, a Vocational Rehabilitation Centre for Women with Disability, develop the National Policy on Disability for the Ministry of Social Welfare, chair the Committee on the Status of Blind Women of the World Blind Union and manage the Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness in the capacity of Chairperson. Her proudest achievement however remained the induction of visually impaired in the Civil Services of Pakistan, a first in the 60-year history of Federal Public Service Commission. 

Sexual History of London

When it comes to sex, London has always had a bit of a reputation. One scrap of manuscript, dating from 1058, shows a young woman of Southwark, seated on a clapped-out mule, her hair falling over her shoulders. She is exciting the attention of travellers on the highways by means of her indiscreet clothing, and holding a little gilt rod in her hand, to indicate her profession. This is the first picture of a prostitute actively soliciting on the streets of London, and it gives some indication of the state of affairs even then. Of course, this early version of the permissive society had its critics.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Inventions of Frances Hugle

Frances Hugle was a gifted female scientist and engineer who developed many processes and pieces of equipment under secret military contract while at Baldwin in the fifties. She went on to become a Silicon Valley pioneer including co-founding Siliconix as its first Director of Research.

Frances Hugle died in May of 1968 only a couple of months before Intel was formed. Following her death, her work was plundered and no company ever paid any royalties on any of her patents (or the use of her other intellectual properties) including her Tab invention which alone generates more than a billion dollars each year in revenue.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Remembering the Women of the ANC

From the Mail & Guardian:
As we reflect on 100 years of the ANC, we must also reflect on the years that preceded its formation and honour, acknowledge, celebrate and critique the heritage bequeathed to us.

In 1956 despite a strong ANC "recommendation" to the contrary, women led by the federation undertook their most risky operation -- the march to Pretoria to protest against the extension of pass laws to African women. The exchanges between women such as Lillian Ngoyi and the ANC's male leadership reveal a complex but mutually respectful relationship and sharp ideological contestations among equals.

In the decades between then and now much has changed in the ANC and in the country. Much too has changed in the manner in which women locate and use their political agency within the ANC.

The longest surviving liberation movement in Africa celebrates it's centenary confronted by major and fundamental contestations within its ranks and sometimes publicly displayed acrimonious differences within its leadership.

Someone Else's War

Someone Else's War blends documentary evidence with imagination in bringing Stambolis to life, but even without the fictional darning the facts of her story are extraordinary enough. Born illegitimate in 1904, she was reared by an independent-minded seamstress who served the Greek royal family. Despite a good education and hopes for university, at 17 she married Michael, 15 years her senior and living in Australia. Coming with him to his fish shop in Sydney's Pyrmont she gave birth to a succession of children including Kafcaloudes's mother, Nellie.

But the relationship proved problematic, partly because of personal tragedies and partly because of a frustration within Olga, who craved a broader, more vivid canvas than the deep-fat fryer existence she had bought into through marriage. For reasons that are revealed later in the book, Olga left her family in 1936 and moved to Athens.

The novel-based-on-fact path is never a totally felicitous one as most people are doggedly devoted to distinguishing truth from fiction. Kafcaloudes manages this obstacle-strewn journey admirably in most instances, signalling direct quotations from the diary clearly and embroidering soberly in a tone that blends well with the older voice. While the truth within these highly dramatic and heart-stopping fragments may not always be verifiable from other sources, they form a narrative that Olga was determined to record for an unknown posterity.

The "Real" Iron Ladies

A group of women who were the 'Real Iron Ladies' during the Miner's strike have taken part in a protest outside Chesterfield Cineworld this lunchtime - rallying against what they say is the misrepresentation of former PM Margaret Thatcher by scriptwriters in the newly released film 'The Iron Lady'

However Margaret Thatcher's time in power is not remembered so fondly locally and around 30 'Women’s Action group' ex-activists led the protest this morning, and received support from politicians and council leaders who were also in attendance.

"Hollywood is not the place to sentimentalise what is a difficult period in Britain's history. The women here today are the real Iron Ladies, who stood by and supported their men during the strike."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh. Remembering 1971

From the Express Tribune:
“War destroys the vulnerable and unfortunately the individual sufferings of non combatants are seldom highlighted,” Dr Yasmin Saikia, author of Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh. Remembering 1971, said at the launch of her book on Tuesday. The book was launched at Forman Christian College.

Dr Saika, a professor of history at the Arizona State University, explained that the book is about families with memories of violence and trauma, “missing in the archives of history of the war.”

The book records the sufferings of Bengali and Bihari women, some of them raped and tortured during the 1971 war. The author said she had interviewed 250 families over 10 years. Those interviewed included those directly affected by the war. Some of them were perpetrators of sexual violence.

Dr Saikia said she wanted to focus on the war as traumatised women’s experience and not as a War of Liberation, as widely accepted by the Bangladeshi public. She said from the day that she had started writing the book, she had consciously tried to avoid avoided writing a particular type of history. “I tried to persuade these women to speak up about their personal experiences, including the war babies,” she said. She said some of the women had lost their citizenship and for some writers their credibility.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Historical Fiction With Mansoureh Mir-fatah

Talking about history novels, researcher of Iran's history Mansoureh Mir-fatah said:" The novel's historical figures shouldn’t turn into legends and myths, although Iran enjoys folklores and it is famed as the land of legends but historical figures shouldn’t turn into legends and myths.

IBNA: Talking about history novels, Mansoureh Mir-fatah told IBNA that during the previous year while I was researching for my book "Women in Iran", I had to go through some history books either research ones or novels.

She added:" During my studies and research I learned that several books were released about ancient Iranian women particularly women who lived during the Achaemenid era which encompassed imaginary pictures and hyperbole. For instance history novels hold many exaggerations about Pantea, a woman who lived during Cyrus while she had precious thoughts which could flourish throughout the history."

Books for 2012

In The Wicked Wives by Gus Pelagatti, we are given the opportunity to look into the lives of a group of both women and men that were responsible for the murders of the women's husbands in the 1930s. The story is based on a true set of crimes, and the strange and unethical reasons understate how little it takes for someone to cross over to the side of murder. During this time in Philadelphia, the scandal resulted in seventeen wives being arrested for murdering their husbands. It would take one man to stand up for the victims and uncover the acts that would bring justice.

Medical historian Louise Foxcroft explains in her new book, Calories and Corsets: A History of Dieting over 2,000 Years. Foxcroft fixed on the topic of weight-loss schemes after speaking to a friend who's a medic. "She said that whenever she gives talks, as soon as she mentions diet drugs, everybody in the audience perks up. I thought that was so interesting, so I decided to see if I could use the history of dieting to throw light on the assumptions we make about our health."

A Train in Winter is the story of brave women hailing from villages and cities of France united in their hatred and defiance against their Nazi occupiers. The book is based on interviews with these women, their families and brings to surface the historical archives and documents held by World War II resistance organisations covering this darkest chapter of human history. When Moorehead began writing this book, seven of the women were still alive and she talked to the ones whose health allowed them to. Moorehead has heavy relied upon interviews with survivors and their relatives giving this overlooked corner of history a new urgency and meaning.