At a conference last month at the Hilton hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, women mingled with men, took questions at corporate booths and forsook the head-to-toe black abayas that Saudi women traditionally wear in public. In March, the country’s largest bank in Jeddah appointed a woman as the chief executive of its investment banking unit and a month earlier, Somayya Jabarti became the first woman to run a major newspaper in the kingdom. Female unemployment has declined and women can now practice law. Despite these changes, “Saudi women are largely denied the right to be treated as full legal adults like their male counterparts. Sex segregation and the ban on women driving relegate them to second-class status,” says Human Rights Watch.
"In the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia, a unique community has evolved based on egalitarian principles. Zumra Nuru, who founded Awra Amba in 1972, explains how he realised his childhood vision of creating a democratic, self-sustaining society where men and women are equals, while a young couple explain how they have benefited from his vision."
Ameerah Al-Taweel was just 18 when she met Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, one of the 30 richest men in the world, at an interview for her school paper. She became a princess when the two wed nine months later. But the story didn’t end there. “I didn’t want to be that girl who’s not doing anything,” she says. “I wanted to make an impact.”
Al-Taweel has worked with everyone from former President Bill Clinton to Jordan’s Queen Rania and the British royal family to advance the rights of women in the Middle East. Although she and the prince divorced last year, Al-Taweel continues to advocate for Saudi women’s rights, including the right to drive, inherit equally, and retain custody of children after divorce. “I want to be the one women look to when they tell their daughters, ‘Look, she got a divorce and see what she’s doing now? She’s an independent woman. She’s doing something good for her country. She’s a role model.’”
"If you don’t respect your women in peacetime, you cannot protect them in conflict," says Zainab Hawa Bangura, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict.
According to a U.N. report released Wednesday, more than 3,600 women, children and men were subjected to rape and other sexual violence in Congo over a four-year period. About half of the attacks were by rebel groups and half by government forces. The victims ranged in age from 2 to 80 years old, and 73 percent were women, 25 percent were children and two percent were men.
"I love Rwanda, it is my mother country. History happened, but now we have to do what we can for it. We have a president who loves us, and he plans a lot for us young people. In 20 years’ time, I think Rwanda will be a paradise."
So says Claude, who was born through rape, but whose optimism about his country — which just 20 years ago suffered genocide — is an inspiration to all. Read more about Claude and five other young Rwandans born from rape via The Guardian.
Forced into marriage at the age of 15, Berivan Elif Kilic seems to be an unlikely candidate for politics. But the former child bride is now the newly elected mayor of Kocakoy, a farming town of 17,000 people in southeastern Turkey.
Until five years ago, Kilic suffered daily beatings by the man she was forced to marry. She divorced him at 28 and now is determined to fight for women’s rights. As mayor, she plans to organize workshops to inform women about their rights and to give some basic education to town women.“People believe me when I talk about domestic violence,” Kilic said. “I was beaten up myself; I don’t have my knowledge from books.”
In 1873, Harvard gynecologist Edward H. Clarke wrote that women who went to college risked “neuralgia, uterine disease, hysteria, and other derangements of the nervous system.” In his words, a woman’s “system never does two things well at the same time.”
Meet Anandibai Joshi, Keiko Okami and Sabat Islambouli, three women who defied gender norms and became the first licensed female doctors in their respective countries: India, Japan and Syria. They graduated from the first women’s medical college in the world — the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania — at a time when women in America couldn’t vote. Joshi, the best known of the three, was married off at the age of nine, to a 20-year-old man. After losing her 10-day-old baby at the age of 14, she decided to pursue a career in medicine to “render to my poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician.”
Sixteen-year-old Chandni is the editor of a newspaper, Balaknama (Children’s Voice) written by and for street kids. Chandni herself has lived on the streets since she was born. She currently shares a makeshift tent with her mother and four siblings on the outskirts of Delhi in India; her father died years ago. When she was 10, workers from the charity Badhte Kadam approached her on the street and helped her go to school.
In a survey released last week, more than 90 percent of Indian voters see combating of violence against women as a priority, second only to corruption. The gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old student on a moving bus in New Delhi in December 2012 spurred a nationwide debate on rights abuses, forcing politicians to confront the increasing violence against women.
The three main parties in India’s elections have all pledged to make women’s rights front and center on their party agenda. Dissatisfied with the government’s handling of women’s rights violations, activists have been pushing for the parties to adopt a six-point plan, the “Womanifesto,” that outlines what needs to be done in the next five years to improve conditions for women and girls.
"Poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings." -Nelson Mandela
The last two decades have been the most successful in history in the fight against poverty: the share of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half worldwide, from 43 percent in 1990 to under 20 percent today.
Children in Iraq could be legally married before the age of nine under newly proposed legislation. Known as the Jaafari law, the legislation introduces new religious restrictions on women and girls. Currently, the legal age for marriage without parental consent is 18, though girls as young as 15 can marry with a guardian’s approval. The draft law also legalizes marital rape."The passage of the Jaafari law sets the ground for legalised inequality," says women’s rights activist, Basma al-Khateeb.
"My name is Soheila. I ran away with the man I love and I lived with him for three and a half years. When my father found me, he had me arrested. I’m sentenced to six years in prison. My son was born here in prison."
Thousands of Afghan women have been jailed for fleeing forced marriages. Others have fled to safe houses to escape abusive homes. Filmmaker Zohreh Soleimani teams up with The Center for Investigative Reporting to direct, “To Kill a Sparrow,” a documentary that sheds light on women who are imprisoned for running away from forced marriages and domestic violence.
“Sir, they can eliminate me. For God’s sake, protect me from the beasts,” cried 20-year-old Zunaira Muhammed, an aspiring software engineer and sex trafficking survivor from Pakistan who is currently in hiding. She was 15 when a neighbor convinced Zunaira’s mother to let her daughter live with her. In exchange for some housework, the neighbor promised to finance Zunaira’s education. Instead, the young girl was lured to work in Dubai and then sold to prostitution for five years. Her story is not unusual.
An estimated 2 million people are reported to be enslaved in Pakistan. According to experts, police corruption, disregard for women’s rights and lack of government accountability facilitate the trafficking of girls from Pakistan to Dubai. After escaping the ring with the help of her brother-in-law, Zunaira was attacked and shot at her family home. Though she now lives in fear, her dream of becoming an engineer hasn’t diminished. She is planning to enroll in college soon.
Passed in January, Egypt’s new constitution appeared to be a major step forward for women’s rights. The constitution enshrined equality between the sexes and women’s rights to education, work and high political office. It criminalized violence against women and discrimination on any basis, including gender. But now there are concerns as to whether these rights will ever be implemented.
Violence against women is on the rise and women are still locked out of the decision-making process. Activists believe that very little is little being done to bring equality between the sexes. According to Mervat Tallawy, head of the National Council for Women, “the mentality of the decision-makers in the current government and the future government as well” is the main obstacle to the carrying out the promises of the constitution.