Monday, October 29, 2012

Girls' Voices Around the World

Femen by Joseph Paris
Women around the world are expressing themselves.

And paying the ultimate price. 

When freedom isn't free, women of all ages face social persecution, imprisonment, or death as punishment for living as outspoken feminists. October has brought media attention to incidents in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia and the Ukraine where religion, culture, and gender norms continue to stand in the way of women's equality.

Pakistani Teen Triumphs Over Taliban

 Just 10 days after her attempted assassination, Malala Yousafzai showed the world she could stand again. The 15-year-old, an advocate for young women's access to education, was shot in the head by Taliban members who boarded her school bus earlier this month.

She had been on their hit list since 2011 for promoting secularism and idolizing President Obama.



Once his target was identified, the gunman fired a total of four times, wounding Yousafzai and two other girls. CNN reported a near-fatal bullet entered above the back of her left eye and traveled through her jaw and shoulder before lodging in the tissue above her left shoulder blade.  

Giving a first-hand account of life in the Swat Valley, Yousafzai kept an anti-extremist blog for the BBC under the pseudonym Gul Makai.

Some feel the West used her (rather carelessly) as a pawn. Asif Ezdi, a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service, condemned this selfishness in Pakistan's publication the News International:
Malala Yousafzai was a child soldier who was sent unarmed and alone into battle against the Taliban on the propaganda front of what used to be called the “global war on terror”. She was placed in a role similar to that of the teenage suicide bombers of the Taliban and her chances of survival were a little better. It is nothing short of a miracle that she is still with us.
Yousafzai was reunited with her family on Friday. Doctors determined she will need skull reconstruction, but suffered no brain damage. While the heroic young girl recovers in a hospital in England, the Taliban promised they will attempt to murder her again.

Lady Rapper Blazes Trails in Afghanistan

The same week Yousafzai paid the ultimate price for her academic activism, Sosan Firooz was gaining momentum as Afghanistan's first female rapper. She, too, has an anti-Taliban message and a creative platform for her criticism.

Making history while making music, the 23-year-old's single "Our Neighbors" just dropped exclusively on YouTube:



Aware of the dangers facing outspoken women, Firooz's father quit his job to be her full-time escort. After living as a refugees in Iran and Pakistan, the Firooz family returned to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan seven years ago.

According to the Daily Mail the up-and-coming artist is releasing her songs with very limited resources: 
She lives with her family in a mud brick house in a poor neighborhood in north Kabul. She uses an old desktop computer to write music and was given an electronic keyboard as a gift from one of her supporters. She does not have the money to make CDs or a more elaborate music video, but she is determined to keep going.
But low production quality doesn't make her any less controversial. Firooz is taking risks just to dress the part. As Hip Hop Wired reported:
She defies many traditions, taking photos without her hair wrapped, wearing bandanas and other fashion not usually seen amongst Afghan women. A budding actress as well, some of Firooz's family has cut ties with her because she's breaking the old rules. Violence against women who don't follow the traditional ways is not uncommon, and [the] young rapper's life could be in danger.
While her rap identity is problematic, Firooz believes it is "the best way to tell her story." And she isn't the only woman making political statements with music.

Members of Pussy Riot Imprisoned in Russia

Back in the (former) U.S.S.R. women are using punk rock to protest. And after their notorious demonstration cost them dearly, the band Pussy Riot is as well-known in the United States as Bikini Kill

In February, three masked members were arrested and charged with hooliganism for this performance:



Their actual crime? Criticizing the government.

Pussy Riot's punk prayer in the Russian Orthodox church asked the Virgin Mary to rid their country of President Vladimir Putin. Instead, Putin attempted to rid Russia of Pussy Riot.

Media favorite Yekaterina Samutsevich was released earlier this month. With her sentence suspended, Samutsevich filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.

Fellow members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Maria Alyokhina, 24, were given two years in jail. The New York Times reported Tolokustonnikova and Alyokhina were sent to Mordovi and Perm respectively; the harshest possible facilities. Located in desolate regions, these institutions echo the Stalin-era prison camps. 

Both women are mothers to small children and asked to suspend their sentences as well. Untouched by their maternal pleas, the judge decided to "correct them" with immediate isolation from society. 

Pussy Riot, accustomed to anonymity, must adapt now that several of their identities have been revealed. Following her release, Samutsevich told the Atlantic:
Yes, unfortunately, the criminal case exposed our faces -- the faces of the three defendants from the group. But that happened against our will and, naturally, now we are recognized. This is the new situation and we are just going to have to work with it. But there are other members of the group and they remain anonymous. 
Known to speak out behind ski masks, Pussy Riot shares tactics with the Guerrilla Girls of the United States. Self-described as "a bunch of anonymous females who take the names of dead women artists as pseudonyms and appear in public wearing gorilla masks," they wreak havoc in museums-- and elsewhere 

But not all feminists like to hide. In fact, some prefer full exposure.

And when it comes to being heard, Pussy Riots biggest fans depend on it.

Femen Goes Topless in the Ukraine

Inna Shevchenko, leader of the notorious group Femen, protested the Pussy Riot arrests by sawing down an Orthodox Christian cross in August. After showing solidarity with her Russian sisters in Kyiv, she fled to France.  

Shevchenko called the country providing her asylum "the center of feminism" and has made herself quite comfortable.

After opening their international headquarters in Paris, Femen launched a training camp for activists protesting in high-risk areas. In the city of love, their topless troops are preparing for "sextremism":




Most recently members of Femen were spotted at an Ikea in France, protesting the removal of women from catalouges sent to Saudi Arabia. 

Shevchenko told NPR she's been demonstrating for years, but only after the girls removed their shirts did people start paying attention. She said:
In a protest like that I see a great potential of women's nudity [being used] as a weapon. And I understand every time, more and more, that it works. That it is a peaceful way.
Despite Femen's commitment to peace, their adversaries often react with violence. Caught by the KGB after mocking President Alexander Lukashenko, "they were hooded and driven into a forest, stripped and covered in oil, menaced with knives, and told they would never make it out of the woods."

Started in 2008 to combat the sexual exploitation of women, as well as patriarchy in religion and dictatorships, the BBC reported the group now works with 40 members in the Ukraine and 100 abroad.

Femen shares notions of "new feminism" with the women who participate in Slut Walks. Hard to ignore, the overtly sexual tone refutes any claims of living post-feminist and may be indicative of yet another wave-- on a much larger scale.

Women Going to War

Whether with words, music, or a physical demonstration, women are protesting inequality across the globe. And they're suffering the consequences in hospitals, prisons, or constant fear.

But these incidents are anything but isolated. What the United States understands as "the War on Women" cannot be contained. It transcends borders, and though it may look different, the demands are essentially the same.



Women are struggling for their rights on every continent. So this November, remember to protect yours.

And when you vote, do it for all the women fighting the same war on fronts far more dangerous than our own.     

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