Covid-19 and the Heightened Risks in Human Trafficking

Covid-19 and the Heightened Risks in Human Trafficking

Today, July 30th 2020, marks the United Nations’ World Day against Trafficking in Persons, established to raise awareness about the plight of victims and to promote and protect their rights. Experts have warned that the Covid-19 crisis has put human trafficking victims at risk of further exploitation.

Straddling the Line Between Party and Protest

Straddling the Line Between Party and Protest

STAND spoke to Evgeny Shtorn, Russian LGBTQ+ and direct provision activist, scholar and poet, and Rayann, community organiser, advocate for black queer folk in Ireland and poet. Both agreed that while Pride had accomplished so much, but was and still is, first and foremost, a protest.

Hate Crime Legislation in Ireland

Hate Crime Legislation in Ireland

With the recently formed government setting out its new legislative programme, the current legislation for hate speech, the Incitement to Hatred Act of 1989, is also set for an update. How is hate crime in Ireland currently not legislated for and where is it most sorely needed?

Pride in Ireland: Continuing the Fight for Equality

Pride in Ireland: Continuing the Fight for Equality

As we celebrate Pride Month, it is important to honour the pioneering achievements of early LGBT+ activists in Ireland. During the late 1970s and early 80s, a dark period marred by poverty, unemployment and the criminalisation of same-sex activity in Ireland, members of the LBGT+ community carried out several acts of resistance and defiance which would forever alter the social and political fabric of our nation.

Reflecting on the Rwanda Genocide

Reflecting on the Rwanda Genocide

This week, on 7 April, the world marked the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda. In Rwanda itself, the country celebrated a national holiday. What happened during those 100 days in 1994, and what is the political legacy of the genocide today?

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

In recent years the Greek island of Lesbos has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny.

Let’s Talk About Coronavirus And Women

Let’s Talk About Coronavirus And Women

Like most things in life, coronavirus has a gendered impact. Previous experience with viruses like Ebola and Zika has shown how these crises tend to have particularly harmful effects on women and girls and reinforce gender inequality. Now we can see similar patterns emerging regarding the coronavirus – including within Ireland.

FGM: An Ever-Lasting Fight?

FGM: An Ever-Lasting Fight?

FGM is the perfect example of the inequality many women and girls still have to suffer in today’s world. It stands for Female Genital Mutilation. The procedure entails the cutting and damaging of the female genitals and is also known as female circumcision. Although there haven’t been many cases of FGM in Ireland, it is still an issue here.

The Challenges of Coming Out Later in Life

The Challenges of Coming Out Later in Life

Ireland has experienced the AIDS epidemic, witnessed the Fairview Park murders and has seen same-sex marriage passed into law by popular vote. While these historical events have brought the idea of the existence of LGBT people into everyday conversation, are the resources out there benefitting all members of the community?

#GE2020: A Final Manifesto Rundown

#GE2020: A Final Manifesto Rundown

We have seen the final debates, been enveloped in canvassing and leaflets and passed by the posters and flyers distributed around the country. As polls indicate a possible change in direction for the Irish government; it is important to recap on each party’s promises before casting our votes. Each party has a full manifesto available online, but here is a brief summary of various stances and responses on key human rights issues.

Yet Again, Love Island Is Failing Us On Diversity

Yet Again, Love Island Is Failing Us On Diversity

The January blues may be in full swing but over on ITV2, love is in the air with the arrival of the very first winter season of Love Island. Although you cannot fault the extremely popular reality show on its entertainment value, it has come under scrutiny time and time again for its lack of body diversity, lack of racial representation and heteronormativity – this season is no exception.

Weinstein New York Trial Begins

Weinstein New York Trial Begins

The New York trial of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein commenced in the past week and is estimated to last two months. Weinstein is charged with five sex crime charges. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and denies all allegations of nonconsensual sexual encounters. If convicted of these acts, he will likely face the rest of his life behind bars.

Book Review: New York Times Journalists Take On Weinstein in ‘She Said’

Book Review: New York Times Journalists Take On Weinstein in ‘She Said’

New York Times journalists, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the story about Harvey Weinstein in October 2017. The publication of the first piece on Weinstein led to an influx of messages into Kantor and Twohey’s inboxes from women who had also experienced sexual harassment or assault. In She Said, they explain the process behind their investigative journalism.

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

STAND Women: 2019 in Review

Women make up roughly 50% of our global population but still face significant human rights challenges, including some which are less visible but equally damaging such as gender bias in institutions like the media. Cassie, our Women’s Section Editor, reminds us of the women’s rights issues that were important to us in 2019.

FemFest 2019: Women’s inequality should come with a mental health warning

FemFest 2019: Women’s inequality should come with a mental health warning

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) hosted their fifth annual FemFest on Saturday, November 30th in Dublin’s City Centre. Women between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five were invited to freely participate and unite in various workshops, panel discussions and listen to guest speakers. The event succeeded in empowering the future voices of our society, to continue pushing to implement change across all fields of adversity.

Witches – a History of Misogyny

Witches – a History of Misogyny

On this All-Hallows Eve, witches will be painting the town black. But while witches continue to fascinate as feminist symbols, the history of the witch is also bound up with a history of misogyny that still persists today.

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Women still first victims of sexual violence in conflicts

Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls”. Ahead of the annual International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflicts, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative highlighted that although the scourge of sexual violence does not spare men and boys, women and girls remain the major targets of sexual violence in conflicts worldwide.

The United Nation’s landmark Resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000) called on member states and parties to armed conflict to “take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, and all other forms of violence in situations of armed conflict”.

But almost twenty years later, much progress is still needed to prevent and reduce cases of sexual violence in conflicts. A new resolution adopted earlier this year, Resolution 2467, introduces a new survivor-centered approach to help combat this type of violence.

The terms of the resolution include guaranteed justice for survivors and their children and the ending of impunity for perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. In this resolution, the UN also called for “greater attention to the physical and economic security of survivors, which includes mental, physical, and sexual health.”

However, the United States vetoed part of the draft language contained in the resolution – which had said that wartime rape victims should have access to sexual and reproductive health services – on the basis that this implied access to abortion. The resolution was ultimately adopted without this language. Amanda Klasing, acting women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch said that the veto can be seen as a threat to women’s rights: “The Trump administration’s extreme position on sexual and reproductive health and rights is pervading all aspects of its foreign policy in ways that escalates a global erosion of women’s human rights.

Sexual violence against women and girls has been under the spotlight in recent years as a widespread critical issue that needs to be addressed. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 to activists Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, who work on ending violence against women in conflict situations, was a testament to that. More broadly, the different forms of violence against women and girls were also brought into sharp focus through the recent #MeToo campaign.

More than a third of women living today have experienced either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives and there is evidence that conflict situations increase women’s vulnerability to violence.

It is imperative not to become complacent about these issues or to assume that things will only get better for women – the recent negotiations over the language of Resolution 2467 highlight the need to remain vigilant. International Days like this one are important tools for fostering awareness and mobilising political will. As such, it is very important that these days are marked and that we, as global citizens, stand in solidarity with victims of sexual violence everywhere.




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Image courtesy of UN Photo/Staton Winter via United Nations Photo

Bolsonaro’s attack on environmental strategies

Bolsonaro’s attack on environmental strategies

At the end of 2018, Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro as their new President. The Guardian’s Jonathan Watts, has described Bolsonaro as “a racist, sexist, homophobic advocate of torture”. His campaign included promoting production on rather than protection of Brazil’s rainforests. Since gaining office, he has come under scrutiny for these increasingly populist environmental policies.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest – sixty percent of which lies in Brazil, covering forty percent of the country. Known as “the lungs of the world”, the ecosystem absorbs a huge amount of the world’s carbon dioxide as well as regulating weather systems and homing countless of species.

Last month, Bolsonaro announced support for plans to reopen commercial mining in a large Amazonian reserve in Brazil’s northern states – an area of 46,100 square kilometres, which is larger than Denmark. The Renca reserve has been closed since 1984 due to environmental protests.

Further fears for the Amazon stem from Bolsonaro’s planned merging of environment and agricultural ministries, directly targeting the reserve land areas of the Amazon for Brazil’s indigenous people. On 24 April this year, thousands of indigenous people rallied in Brazil’s capital Brasília to protest Bolsonaro’s assault on their territories.

Bolsonaro has suggested changing Brazil’s constitution, which currently does not allow commercial farming or mining on indigenous reserved lands without the communities’ consent and congress approval – this could lead to indigenous tribes losing their agency and land to capitalist ventures.  

Bolsonaro’s previous dismissive comments concerning Brazil’s compliance with the Paris climate agreement, are disturbing. Furthermore, he backed out Brazil’s offer to host the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference.

Currently, the Amazon’s deforestation rate stands at approx 52,000 square kilometres per year. Should this increase, the global implications would be felt everywhere. Brazil (and the rest of the world) must rally against such populist rhetoric, and dictatorship principles, to reverse climate change and maintain indigenous lands for future generations.



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Image courtesy of Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images via Vox

Violence against children in Zambia

Violence against children in Zambia


Zambia is not known for high rates of violence – on the contrary, it is a country that hosts many refugees from conflicts in neighbouring countries. Reports on the humanitarian situation in Zambia, therefore, frequently focus on the situation of displaced persons in the country, rather than the situation of Zambians themselves. What is overlooked even more easily is the situation of children: yet a recent report released by UNICEF reveals how prevalent violence against children is in Zambia today. Based on the 2014 Violence Against Children Survey, conducted by the Zambian government, UNICEF’s report details data involving violence faced by children, and offers potential solutions and steps going forward.

The UNICEF report investigated the exposure of children to physical, sexual and emotional violence, with half of those questioned for the survey stating that they experienced at least one type of violence before they were eighteen. According to UNICEF findings, not surprisingly sexual abuse is more likely to affect girls, with perpetrators most frequently being spouses, romantic partners or friends. Boys are somewhat more affected by physical violence, yet a total of one third of females and two fifths of males were exposed to this kind of violence as children. Perpetrators of physical violence are most commonly parents or adult relatives. Emotional violence is less prevalent, yet a fifth of females and a sixth of males were exposed to it, a number that is still highly worrying.

Primary respondents of the survey came from a random group of the ages 13 to 24 years, being questioned about their experience before their eighteenth birthday. Alarming as the numbers are by themselves, awareness of how and where to seek help, also to cope after the violence has stopped, was low among the respondents. Consequently, UNICEF calls for concerted efforts by the government as well as international partners to take action to protect children from violence and to assist survivors of abuse.

Check out this infographic by UNICEF detailing the numbers related to violence against children in Zambia.





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Image courtesy of SuSanA Secretariat via Flickr

Jane Bond and the Pros and Cons of gender-swapping

Jane Bond and the Pros and Cons of gender-swapping


In 2017, it was announced that a female actor would, for the first time, take up the role of The Doctor in BBC’s seminal TV series Doctor Who. At the time, Peter Davidson – the actor behind the fifth instantiation of the famous Time Lord – commented that the switch amounted to “the loss of a role model for boys”. Later, in 2018, executive producer of the James Bond films, Barbara Broccoli, confirmed to The Guardian that the iconic British super spy would never undergo such a swap, saying: “Bond is male… He was written as a male and I think he’ll probably stay as a male.”

Gender-swapping – the act of reimagining a character of one sex (usually male) as another (usually female) – has as many arguments in its favour as it has going against it. In deciding whether Jane Bond would be a win for female representation, it is useful to consider the arguments on both sides of the field, and to evaluate their implicit stances on gender and representation.

In Favour of Jane

Proponents of gender-swapping often cite the potential for the swap to challenge viewers’ preconceived notions about what it is that a person – usually a woman – can do. The decision to cast Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor, for example, was an important milestone as it offered viewers a female character who could be taken seriously while still making them laugh – something even Marvel has yet to do. Further, building on a pre-established and popular character meant Whittaker’s performance was viewed by considerably more people than it would have been otherwise.

Swaps like this are also a useful way to recalibrate gender balances in seminal pop culture, where most ‘iconic’ characters are masculine or male-bodied (at the risk of excessively critiquing Marvel, consider the gender spread of their collection of heroes). Bringing new, original female characters to equivalent heights in the cultural consciousness is a time-consuming and high-risk endeavour, while reimagining already famous male characters as women offers a comparatively expeditious route. Even the potential controversy that follows gender-swapped casts can be of benefit to the project, insofar as it garners more media attention – as was the case for 2016’s all-female Ghostbusters.

In Opposition to Jane

Those against gender-swapping occupy a variety of political leanings. An individual of a more conservative stance might appeal to the essential nature of a character’s original gender identity, arguing for its intrinsic role in the character’s established persona. A more left-leaning individual might, in a similar vein, ask whether it is disingenuous to the realities of lived, gendered experience to suppose that one can flip a person’s outward sex without altering their personality or social positioning. In other words, would one need to account for Jane Bond’s ability to scale the hierarchies of the male-dominated MI6, or would such an attempt nourish a harmful stereotype? The answer to this question would go a long way in illuminating whether gender-swapping holds at its core an inherently flawed proposition: namely, that lived, gendered experience is an expendable influence on one’s identity.

Perhaps the most readily adopted argument against gender-swapping is its reliance on male tropes of character-building to provide meaningful female representation, rather than on creating (or resurrecting) original female characters who could offer a specifically female viewpoint. Proponents of this argument might appeal to the ‘authenticity’ of such characters over-and-above ‘repurposed’ male ones – though, importantly, such a stance must necessarily consider the creator of the character and query the extent to which persons of different genders can accurately appropriate another’s experiences. Related to this critique is a mindfulness of those who fall outside the gender binary and who may therefore be excluded by the paradigm that gender-swapping perpetuates.

The Future of Jane

A big-budget Jane Bond would certainly be an interesting viewing experience. But the opportunity to expediate a change in gender balances and audience perceptions should not come at the cost of meaningful representation and a mindfulness about what it means to live and be a woman in contemporary society.

“We don’t have to turn male characters into women,” Broccoli says. “Let’s just create more female characters.”

The debate goes on.





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Image courtesy of Filip Patock via Flickr


The need for a funny future in female-led superhero films

The need for a funny future in female-led superhero films


Captain Marvel is a force to be reckoned with. With a global gross of over $900 million at the time of writing, it’s already surpassed DC’s Wonder Woman (which accumulated $822 million in all), though it will likely remain runner-up to Black Panther’s staggering $1.3 billion. The movie itself has garnered favourable reviews, most notably clocking in an impressive 78% on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s also been hailed by critics as another win for on-screen superhero diversity.

But let’s not become complacent in our efforts for a more representative heroic Hollywood just yet. For while both Carol Danvers and her DC counterpart are awe-inducing in their undiminishing resolve, there is one thing neither of their movies do in any great abundance: make us laugh.

First, consider the diversity of the male superheroes proffered by the MCU: the wry, intelligent Tony Stark, the honourable T’Challa, the loveably inept Star-Lord. The latter is especially interesting given his ability to be both an admirable superhero as well as a spirited jester: his legitimacy as a hero isn’t undermined by his cracking jokes – if anything, it makes him more compelling.

Within the limited range of prominent, on-screen female superheroes, there exists no Peter-Quill equivalent. The stoic, tough-as-the-boys female superhero represents the single dominant archetype open to would-be female heroes, and from this position it threatens to become as limiting as its predecessors. Why? In short, any proclivity to confine a group of persons within a specific paradigm tends to be a bad idea. People are diverse and multi-faceted and capable of acting in ways that neither their gender, race or anything else could neatly predict. When we are encouraged by pervasive and repetitive representation to cordon off a ‘safe-zone’ for what it is a certain kind of person in a given genre can do or say, then we undermine the potential for difference or individuality, instead encouraging restrictive stereotypes. This can be true even if the archetype is not inherently negative.

Making funny female superheroes would be a great opportunity to broaden the definition of what it means to be a female hero. A fun, goofy woman superhero to look up to would be a pleasant reminder that you don’t have to be a deathly serious, all-work-no-play female to acquire your own movie or to be taken seriously by those around you. This kind of game-changing characterisation is something Marvel would be especially suited to given its ready adoption of the use of humour in recent films, influenced no doubt by its origins in comic books.

Of course, if female-led superhero films have yet to broach a comedic approach, it probably has a lot to do with their troubled Hollywood past: prior to Wonder Woman, female superheroes tended to be little more than vapid, over-sexualised ass-kickers with no meaningful moral compass or any real propensity for power (Tank Girl, anyone?). The goal of the Captain Marvels of today is surely to right this wrong, to ensure the next generation of women know that they, too, can be powerful, loyal and admirable heroes – but, going forward, we shouldn’t dismiss the potential of the ‘chill’ ‘everywoman’ hero in iterating this point, too.

For while it’s early days yet in the genesis of the ‘Watchable Female-Led Superhero Film’, if the output continues at the rate it’s been running so far, it may not be long before fans are crying out for more variety – and more laughs.





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Image courtesy of AntMan3001 via Flickr


Japan’s Gender Identity Disorder Law

Japan’s Gender Identity Disorder Law


Under the current Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act (GID) in Japan, transgender citizens must undergo forced sterilization for their gender identity to be legally recognized.

A report by Human Rights Watch titled “A Really High Hurdle: Japan’s Abusive Transgender Legal Recognition Process” examined the human rights violations perpetuated under GID, based on interviews with 48 transgender Japanese citizens, as well as lawyers, health providers and academics from 14 districts in Japan.

The GID has been criticized internationally for coercing invasive and largely unwanted surgeries, justified by an outdated law that classifies being transgender as a mental health condition. The procedure involves a mandatory psychological diagnosis – with lengthy waits for clinic appointments and subsequent transferals that can take up to a year – and subsequent irreversible medical procedures.

Citizens struggle in the education system and finding employment, which like Spain and Turkey that have similar laws, classifies people under strict binaries. This puts pressure on transgender people to follow the procedures before entering the workforce while suffering ever-present barriers to inclusion within society. This forces people to come out to their parents before they are ready, as the procedures often require applicants to use their family’s health insurance.

Further rules under GID mean eligible applicants must be single and without underage children (under 20-years-old), rules which further violate UN Human Rights like the right to have a family, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom of expression.

Most notably, the law violates the right to equality and freedom from discrimination, while the required medical procedures violate the right to freedom from degrading treatment or punishment.

Japan’s Supreme Court argues for sterilization as transgender males becoming pregnant would cause “confusion” in society, in effect maintaining homogeneity in a largely conservative society. Polls suggest, however, that citizens should be legally recognized.

The GID came into force in 2004, but changes have come about since then in terms of taking steps to recognize transgender people, both in Japan and internationally.

The World Health Organization published its new International Classification of Diseases (ICD), which will be presented to member states in May this year. The revised edition moves being transgender from a mental illness to ‘gender incongruence’, under conditions related to sexual health – meaning the term ‘gender identity disorder’ no longer exists internationally. Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association revised the terms in 2012.

In 2016, the Japanese Education Ministry issued a Guidebook for Teachers on how to treat LGBT students in schools. In 2017, the Ministry announced that it had revised the national bullying prevention policy to include LGBT students.

In 2018, in anticipation of hosting the 2020 Olympics, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government passed a law that disallows the city government, citizens, and enterprises from discriminating based on gender identity or sexual orientation. The county has also voted for two UN Human Rights Council resolutions which aim to end violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2018 a UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity also recommended in his address to the UN General Assembly to eliminate abusive requirements in the legal process to change gender in Japan. He further recommended that a revised version of the law ensure legal recognition in all aspects of people’s lives, whether it be in education, employment, or personal matters.

These changes and recommendations provide Japan with a prerequisite to alter its law. A revision of Japan’s current law would bring the broadly unheard-of topic to the limelight and educate people on what it means to be transgender. Citizens could escape marginalization from society and humiliating, irreversible procedures.





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Image courtesy of Tim Mossholder on Unsplash



Calling all student artists, photographers, designers and writers! As well as the chance to win over €1,000 in prizes, STAND is giving 10 talented students the opportunity to have their art shown as part of our nationwide outdoor exhibition this autumn! STAND needs...
Opinion: Is selling morals, moral?

Opinion: Is selling morals, moral?


I’ve recently got into a habit of shutting my eyes when advertisements pop up on my screen. The idea of the pro-Brexit campaign’s success being widely attributed to the influence of advertising on normal, educated people, has disturbed my former (potentially ignorant) belief that I was immune to advertisements. The belief that no colourful picture could influence me into wanting something I didn’t already desire. But this is indubitably what advertising does, and it does it well.

In the 1960s, Tipalet marketed cigarettes with the enticingly sexist slogan: “Blow in her face and she’ll follow you anywhere” – just one example of the huge campaign to keep people smoking and spending despite the then proven health risks. Possibly as a response to this advertisement, the 1960s saw Philip Larkin write Essential Beauty, denouncing the dangerous but tempting illusions created by the advertising industry. Abstract, unrealistic, manipulative, and with the intent to conceal: these are the words that spring to mind when reading Larkin’s description of the billboards that loom over the real world, where, funnily enough, cigarettes never attract any women.

Cigarette ads have now been banned in many countries across the world. Alcohol ads come with warnings, and increasingly, ads come with ethical instructions as to how we should live our lives. This seems like progress, and one might believe that advertising is beginning to use its influence for the greater good. The big smiles, with their pristine teeth, still soar above us – untouchable on their billboards – but when it comes to the things that might harm more than our perception of reality, advertising seems to have gained a conscience.

Two ads have been widely discussed recently: the infamous Gillette ad, and Iceland’s Christmas ad, which was banned from UK television. Both of these sell us morals, but with different effects. Primarily, they are designed to manipulate us into buying products, and this goal is not separate from the morals that they preach. Despite this warning sign, we might wonder whether the ads are having a positive impact on society in general. I would argue that it depends.

The Gillette ad has been criticised for preaching to an already converted choir. In an almost 2 minute long video depicting first, sexual harassment, bullying, catcalling and blatant sexism, followed by encouraging clips of men helping one another, and respecting women. In this way Gillette have strategically aligned themselves with the successful #MeToo movement, and are thriving off this alliance. Their charitable donations to the movement could be read as Gillette buying their share of the glory.

The kind of demographic Gillette are selling to, is one that, for the main part, already agrees with their message. They are taking no risks. Their lack of subtlety has had the effect of drawing a greater divide between people, who, feeling attacked, have clung even more strongly to their former opinions. Arguably, Gillette have actually damaged the #MeToo movement for personal profit. Gillette have pandered to the image of being progressive and liberal for the sake of marketing, while behind the scenes it has been hinted that they treat their employees with a very different mentality.

A New York Times article published in 2005 denounced the horrors faced by a thousand of Gillette’s underpaid workers (although things have changed since then), and in 2016 the Boston Business Journal awarded Gillette a prize for being healthy employers. This is an odd title however, for a company with two times more men than women on the board of directors, which charges more for women’s razors than for men’s. Gillette’s actions do not reflect their words, and they have had no impact on society beyond their personal sales.

The Iceland ad, however, does have a positive impact. The charming, sad video of a homeless orangutan is emotionally manipulative – but in a good way. Iceland’s move to save the rainforest and discontinue the use of palm oil in their own brand products, has implemented a tangible change for the better – one that Larkin would have approved of. Their morals are no illusion, they have set an example and benefited society, and at personal cost – their ad was not permitted to air.

As with most things, when it comes to advertising we need to keep our eyes open and our judgement critical. Ads are manipulative, but sometimes manipulation can make important changes.




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Image courtesy of Joshua Earle via Unsplash


‘Opening the politics of abuse’: A Review of Boy Erased

‘Opening the politics of abuse’: A Review of Boy Erased


Too often, when thinking about nations home to mass scale intolerance, countries that are seen to be less developed, or removed from Western narratives, come to mind. In a nation such as the United States, which prides itself so fervently on its guiding laws of freedom and self-determination, the systematic discrimination that takes place can often be swept under the rug. The higher abstract values and rhetoric have little to do with the actual experience of many of its citizens. The continuing practise of gay conversion therapy in America is a prime example of this hypocrisy. To date, 700,000 minors have undergone this “therapy”, also known as “reparative therapy”, in a procedure which is still legal in 36 out of its 50 states. Garrard Conley’s film memoir Boy Erased is monumental in shedding light on the pervasive shadows of this abusive custom, and exposing its methods to the world.

After his parents receive a distressing phone call from a man claiming to be a counsellor at the university, 18 year old Jared Eamons, played by Lucas Hedges, comes out as gay to his devout Christian parents. His father, the local preacher, vows to help his son change, and the teenager is sent to a conversion therapy centre.

In this centre, a small group of males and females, ranging from young teenagers to middle aged men are confronted with psychologically abusive exercises which purport to incite rage at their own homosexuality. Victor Sykes, the loathsome head of the programme, aims to wipe out ‘sinful’ homosexual thoughts, and covert inmates to heterosexuality. No one is permitted to speak about therapy outside of it, and any physical contact between any patients is barred outright.

Conley’s memoir is complex, compassionate, and never strays into dogmatism. His portrayal of drastically different characters is one which is empathetic and human, with their own internal battles shining through, independent of his own. Conley’s parents, played outstandingly by Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, are characters which initially come across as dubiously one dimensional. As the story progresses however, their development into distinct and, at times, antagonistic individuals forces the narrative into something which is much greater.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is its portrayal of contemporary institutions, and the insidious power they hold over the individual. The politics of conversion centres, the church, and even the family are all shown as the interconnected institutions they are, which work together to shame, abuse, devastate an innocent, struggling young man. The generational gap in trust of these organisations is apparent in the film, which is hugely prevalent in our world today. Eamons’ parents, along with all characters of the previous generation, place an enormous amount of faith in these institutions, which ultimately cause great harm.

Given Ireland’s history of institutionalised abuse, this film hits scarily close to home. Courageously lifting the secrecy from some of the most hushed elements of domestic and public life, Conley’s story plays a significant part in opening our eyes to atrocities – ones that are happening where we might least expect them. Although still legal, and prevalent, a bill was taken to the Seanad to ban conversion therapy in Ireland in May 2018. One hopes that the US and UK will follow suit, and that this film will work as a catalyst in ending the abhorrent practise worldwide. Honest, rounded, and searingly touching, Boy Erased is as beautiful as it is important.




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Image courtesy of Jeremy Yap on Unsplash


Global Gag Rule constrains necessary services worldwide

Global Gag Rule constrains necessary services worldwide



In just two years, President Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the anti-choice global gag rule has done serious damage to the health of women and families in some of the world’s most in need communities. The Trump-Pence administration enacted and expanded the global gag rule. This has caused a vast amount of suffering and death for females.

“The #GlobalGagRule that Trump signed into policy two years ago is closing clinics around the world, putting real lives at risk,” the women’s advocacy group UltraViolet tweeted. “We support…all efforts to repeal this disgraceful policy.”

The rule has already effected other countries, not only on the availability of abortion services, but on the ability of international aid organisations to provide other services, such as prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and malaria, as well as support for maternal health. Some of the best established health care organisations working in developing countries have lost U.S. funding and were forced to pledge never to speak of abortion in order to obtain US government funding.

The Guardian reported on one health clinic in the Rufunsa district of Zambia, where staff recorded twice as many teen pregnancies in 2018 as they did in 2017. They lost funding for HIV testing, contraceptive counselling, and condom distribution, which Planned Parenthood of Zambia had provided before November 2017. The group lost half its $3.8 million operating budget.

The health clinic is now able to employ just two staff members to administer HIV tests to a population of 3,270 people. The hardest impact will be on women, young people, people living with HIV, LGBTQ people, and sex workers.

“The impact of this policy goes beyond reproductive health and family planning,” Serra Sippel, president of CHANGE said. “It’s impacting HIV prevention services at a time when we’re at a critical stage in the global AIDS fight.”

President Ronald Reagan first established the rule in 1984. Over the last 35 years the rule was rescinded by President Bill Clinton, reinstated by President George W. Bush in 2001, and rescinded again by President Barack Obama in 2009. President Donald J. Trump reinstated the global gag rule in 2017.

Many of the centres offered HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, maternal health, and counselling on sexual violence like rape and female genital mutilation and in just two years, health care workers say the policy has had disastrous effect. As expected, clinics have been shutting down, unsafe abortions have risen, and families have been losing critical services across the globe.

While no death count has been directly linked to the policy, providers do have estimates of how many life-saving procedures could have been offered by the funding that is now denied. “Women are basically stranded,” Amos Simpano, the director of clinical services for Family Health Options Kenya said.

The International Planned Parenthood Federation, which operates in more than 150 countries, have had many setbacks not only in family planning but also in HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis services for both men and women.

IPPF says that for $100 million in lost funding, the organisation could have prevented 20,000 maternal deaths in 29 countries affected by the ban. Marie Stopes International, a London-based abortion and contraception provider that operates in 37 countries, estimated that more than 2 million women it serves will lose their access to contraception which could lead to a further 6,900 maternal deaths.

Arizona State University student members of Fight for Her Arizona protested about the global gag rule at the Memorial Union in Tempe on the 23rd of January 2019. The event was part of the #Fight4HER campaign by Population Connection Action Fund, an activist attempt that emerged following Trumps inauguration. The group’s mission is to act against the gag rule and to gather support for the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights Act which could reverse it.

John Kircher, the political director for #Fight4HERAZ, said that the gag rule “kills millions of women around the world” every year not only by denying them access to abortions, but by taking funding from organisations that even discuss the procedure as an option. The protest was spirited, with participants chanting “my body, my choice,” “fight for her” and other phrases while encouraging bystanders to sign a petition supporting the bill.



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Image courtesy of Andrew F. Scott via Flickr

2019 Global Humanitarian Overview: Part 1

2019 Global Humanitarian Overview: Part 1

On 4 December 2018, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released the 2019 Global Humanitarian Overview (GHO). The document intends to outline the outcome of 2018 global humanitarian efforts and put forward goals and financial expectations for the upcoming year. The full document can be found here.

The overall sentiment towards humanitarian aid in 2018 has been a positive one. Global humanitarian funding has reached a new high of $22 billion, surpassing the $21.5 billion raised in 2017.

Between 2008 and 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell from 1.2 billion to 736 million, a marked difference showing that despite conflict and continuing need for assistance, there are achievements being made to combat global suffering.

“Despite the challenges, the humanitarian system is more effective and impactful than it has ever been. We are better at identifying different groups’ specific needs in crises and quicker to respond when disasters strike. Response plans are more inclusive, comprehensive, innovative and prioritized. We have a better picture of needs and vulnerabilities. And we have dedicated networks in more than 20 countries to protect people from sexual exploitation and abuse. All of these factors allow us to design effective responses that save lives and protect livelihoods.” –United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock

In 2018 it became apparent that crises are lasting longer on average than ever before, with the average crisis being measured at 9.3 years. Crises are also becoming more diverse in cause, with a multitude of factors interacting as we saw in 2018. A combination of natural hazards, armed conflict and human vulnerability prove to be the main drivers of global humanitarian crises today.

Populations in conflict areas are also younger than ever, and rapid growth to urban density can amplify the impacts of disasters and conflicts. Climate-related disasters (floods, storms, droughts) now account for more than 90% of the world’s disasters and affect the greatest number of people.

Food insecurity continues to be a growing issue for humanitarian aid organizations. Countries with the highest levels of undernourishment tend to be those recently or currently experiencing violent conflict, which disrupts food production and undermines agricultural development. From 2017 to 2018, the combination of conflict, drought and acute food insecurity left more than 20 million people facing or on the brink of famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Attacks on aid workers remain an ongoing issue that prevents aid from being delivered to areas critically requiring humanitarian assistance. Between 2014 and 2017 there were 660 attacks recorded, with nearly 90% of victims national aid workers. Attacks are also becoming more violent, with an increased number resulting in death.

In 2018, 1 in every 70 people was impacted by ongoing crises, and will require humanitarian aid heading into the 2019 year. The 2019 GHO data shows us that the humanitarian community is continuing to deliver where needs are highest, reaching tens of millions of people in 41 countries in 2018. These needs will not subside into 2019. Catch Part 2 of this article for a summary of humanitarian aid plans in 2019 as outlined by the year’s Global Humanitarian Overview.


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Photo courtesy of UNHCR/F. Noy via Flickr


The Philippines: new law to battle the country’s on-going HIV epidemic

The Philippines: new law to battle the country’s on-going HIV epidemic

On May 21, 2018 the Philippine Senate approved a bill that seeks to replace the country’s 20 year-old AIDS Prevention and Control Act.

An epidemic that emerged in the country in the 1990s primarily among commercial sex workers has seen a 174% increase in numbers since 2010, making it the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the Asia-Pacific region. Although Philippines received international praise for its policies at the time, current numbers are a clear indication of the inadequacy of the existing laws.

Low condom use has been identified as the main reason for the explosion of numbers in the last decade, with the highest numbers among men who have sex with men, and transgender women who have sex with men. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report found the government’s failure to conduct national campaigns to promote condom use as the main reason for the influx. The report also mentions that government policies create obstacles for condom access and HIV testing, and the lack of proper sex education in schools can be seen as a reflection of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the region.

The new bill proposes an increase in resources for the government’s policy-making body on HIV/AIDS; lowering the age young people can be tested for HIV without parental consent from 18 to 15; prohibiting discrimination against people with HIV in the workplace; and making age-appropriate sex education in schools compulsory. Senator Risa Hontiveros, who co-authored the bill with Senator JV Ejercito, said the bill would “introduce newer evidence-based, human rights-informed, and gender-transformative strategies to prevent and treat the epidemic.” However, just like its predecessor, the proposed law fails to include provisions to direct the government in promoting condom use, reflecting the continuing influence of the Catholic Church over proper public health practice.

Following that, a partnership agreement has been signed between the League of Cities of the Philippines and UNAIDS (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS) in July 2018 aimed at advocating condom use and comprehensive sex education to battle the HIV epidemic by convincing the government to break down barriers to these presented by the Church and conservative political leaders and lawmakers. “Phillipines has a small window of opportunity to act fast and stop a major HIV epidemic from taking hold” said Eamonn Murphy, UNAIDS Regional Director for the Asia and the Pacific.

The prevalence of HIV is highest amongst Filipinos aged 15-24, especially among men who have sex with men and transgender women who have sex with men. The discrimination and stigma because of their sexuality, and the lack of safe sex education makes them extremely vulnerable. Unless the government heeds UNAIDS’ advice, this epidemic is very likely to intensify.

The proposed law has been ratified by the House of Representatives as of October 10, 2018 and will be sent to the President for his signature once it is ratified by the Senate.


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LGBTQ+ under fire in Tanzania

LGBTQ+ under fire in Tanzania



Close your eyes and imagine for a second. Imagine that you are living in a country where the very fabric of who you are puts you at risk of persecution. Imagine that you are living in a country where an inherent part of your being is the reason you are being targeted for a life sentence. Imagine that you are living in a country where you are forced to try and hide a part of yourself that you cannot control.

Right now as I write, and as you read, this is the reality for hundreds of LGBTQ+ individuals in Tanzania. These people have been forced to flee or go into hiding after a senior official commenced a taskforce with the sole aim of identifying and punishing gay people. Paul Makonda, the head of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, announced in late October that he had put together a team of officials and police that would intensify persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, who would face lengthy prison sentences if arrested. Makonda is a devout Christian who has stated that homosexuality “tramples on the moral values of Tanzanians” and that he would prefer to anger Western liberal countries than to anger God. Makonda subsequently released an interview on YouTube, calling for Tanzanians to report gay people to the authorities, an action with an unmistakable whiff of Nazi Germany surrounding it.

The Guardian spoke to LGBTQ+ activists who told stories of their houses being raided and people fleeing the cities for the countryside, describing the situation hauntingly as “open season on gay people”. The activists stated that lists of names had been published on social media in order to “out” people. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, responded to the worrying situation in Tanzania by releasing a statement warning that, “this could turn into a witch-hunt and could be interpreted as a licence to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT.”

While the Tanzanian foreign ministry has not explicitly endorsed Makonda’s actions, the office has been a supporter of several homophobic measures since 2015. The government has reacted to the creation of the “task force” by saying that the action is the personal position of Paul Makonda and not of the official government.  Tanzania’s colonial constitution and laws prohibit same-sex relations and in October 2017, 13 health and human rights activists were arrested and detained for promoting “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”, an offence which can lead to 30 years or more in a jail cell. Furthermore, in October 2016, the Minister of Health imposed a directive which suspended the provision of HIV/AIDS services and ordered the closure of clinics supporting LGBTQ+ individuals.

On November 6, 10 men were arrested on the island of Zanzibar after police were tipped off about a possible same-sex marriage ceremony. Amnesty International officials expressed fear that the individuals would be subjected to forced anal examinations, the government’s method of choice for finding “proof” of homosexual activity among men.

Since the introduction of the barbarian persecution team, Denmark, Tanzania’s second biggest aid donor, has decided to suspend 9.8 million dollars of pledged aid money, while the World Bank has stated that it will not go through with a plan to loan Tanzania 300 million dollars.

It is absolutely chilling to think that such hatred and intolerance still exists in such an open atmosphere and it is even more chilling to think that these ideas are being spread under the guise of “religious beliefs” and “morality”. While it may seem like such heinous persecution exists only in another world and another time, the reality is that this fear is just daily life for hundreds of individuals in Tanzania.



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Kavanaugh and #MeToo

Kavanaugh and #MeToo



On October 6th, the US Senate Judiciary committee voted to elect Brett Kavanaugh to a seat on the US Supreme Court. The appointment of Kavanaugh is one of the most contentious that the US has seen in over twenty years. Kavanaugh was always going to have a tough ride to the Supreme Court due to his strong conservative ideas on social issues such as LGBTQ rights and abortion rights, but his candidacy became particularly contentious when a woman from his past came forward with accusations of sexual assault.

On the 12th of September, rumours began to circulate that there were accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh, dating back to his high school years. Within a few days the story dominated the US media. Dr Ford, his accuser, went public with her story with an article in the Washington Post. Days later, another woman came forward with a story accusing Kavanaugh of misconduct. Soon after Dr Ford was summoned to a public hearing where she recalled to the Senate Judiciary committee the night when Kavanaugh allegedly assaulted her.

Dr Christine Blasey Ford is an American professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. Dr Ford initially come forward with allegations against Kavanaugh in the summer of 1982 in Bethesda, Maryland.

Dr Ford’s testimony gripped national and international attention and drew on the growing #MeToo movement, a movement against sexual harassment and assault, which has swept America in the past year. The professor’s testimony proved to be just as powerful as it started a new movement, #WhyIDidntReport, with victims of sexual assault, harassment and rape giving reasons as to why they never told anyone of their attack. Actresses Ashley Judd and Daryl Hannah were two of the thousands of people to use the hashtag.

This movement came into the public sphere after President Trump published a Tweet asking why Dr Ford did not come forward with the allegation of assault back in 1982. The President’s tweet stated that “if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents. I ask that she bring those filings forward so that we can learn date, time, and place!”

After Judge Kavanaugh and Dr Ford gave their emotional testimonies, the committee was called to vote on whether or not to extend the Senate vote. It appeared as though Judge Kavanaugh was to sail through to a seat on the highest court in the land until two civilians corned Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator, pleading with him to stall Kavanaugh’s nomination. The protestors cries were seemingly heard as the Senate voted for a week-long FBI investigation into the accusations against Kavanugh before voting on his nomination.

Despite the efforts of many, the Senate voted Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme on October 6th. The aftermath of this nomination has left the United States even more polarised. This was one of the most contentious SCOTUS nominations since the appointment of Judge Clarence Thomas in 1991. But the US has changed since 1991. Instead of dusting the problem under the rug, the #MeToo movement has galvanised support and sparked national protest, with women from all across the country participating. The #MeToo movement has ignited a spark within protestors across the country demanding that their representatives take action. The #MeToo movement is no longer a cultural protest that will be remembered as a brief and short moment in history. If the past several weeks have shown anything, it is that #MeToo is here to stay and is here to enable change.




Image courtesy of R4vi at Flickr

Political crisis and conflict in Burundi

Political crisis and conflict in Burundi



What countries do we think of when we hear the word “war” in a modern context? Most of us could probably list Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, and for good reason. These three countries have experienced devastation and destruction as a result of wars that have ravaged their landscapes and terrorised their populations. The international media have widely covered these conflicts, and in so doing their names have become synonymous with our notion of modern warfare. But, these nations are not the only countries that face war and devastation. This article examines the current situation in Burundi, a country whose war has been overshadowed by those in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst others.



Burundi has a long history of ethnic conflict between Tutsi and Hutu populations, a conflict which brew to a boil in 1993 when the Hutu president was assassinated during a failed coup led by Tutsi soldiers. This attack led to a bitter civil war between the ethnicities which saw over 300,000 people killed in less than 10 years. In an attempt to avoid such events recurring in the future, a new constitution was created which included a provision that limited the run of a president to two terms and mandated an ethnic rotation of power every 18 months.


Current Situation

In April 2015, the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, announced that he was running for a third term as president, in direct violation of the country’s constitution. The day after his announcement, thousands of protestors took to the streets. The police responded to these protests by shooting live ammunition into the crowds, killing six, injuring several and charging over 60 with participation in an insurrection movement. Nkurunziza subsequently made a public announcment threatening anyone who dared question the validity of his presidential candidacy.

In May 2015, the Constitutional Court ruled that Nkurunzia could run for a third term without violating the Constitution. The Vice-President of the Court fled the country the day after, having been the only member of the court to vote against the candidacy. He stated that he had received several threats and feared for his life should he remain in Burundi. Nkurunzia was re-elected in July 2015, warning that if the opposition did not put down their arms he would instruct law enforcement services to use “all possible means” to quash the opposition.

The events that followed in Burundi resulted in over 130 murders and 90 cases of torture over the course of six months, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. On December 11 of that year, following attacks from an armed opposition militia, around 300 young men were taken from their homes and arrested by Government forces. The following day over 150 of the detainees were found dead, their bodies scattered around their villages. The government has also shut down all of the country’s independent media and has subsequently shut down all independent media.


International Involvement

In 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. The Court, however, has ruled that the withdrawal of the country does not affect the jurisdiction of the court to investigate crimes that occurred while the country was still a member. Similarly, in 2017, a UN Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council. The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity had been committed in Burundi since April 2015, including extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence. The majority of the violence has been attributed to government intelligence, police and youth forces although a small amount of the violence has been connected to opposition forces. Amnesty International have backed these assertions and warn that the current situation is the beginning of a countrywide genocide.


Burundi Today

As it stands, the events in Burundi deserve our full attention. We must not allow the coverage of one war to detract from another. Violence of inhuman proportions is ravaging a nation that is still recovering from a devastating civil war. Men, women and children are facing the unthinkable: forced to choose between risking their lives or fleeing their homes. It is a situation that we must never become immune to and a news story we must never become comfortable with.




Image courtesy of Christine Vaufrey at Flickr

The woman and the man in Ainu culture and spirituality

The woman and the man in Ainu culture and spirituality

This week, Claudia Nussbaumer continues her series, ‘Gender roles in indigenous communities,’ by turning her attention to the idyllic countryside of northern Japan and the Ainu community who continue to reside there. 



The Ainu are an indigenous people, living in northern Japan and on the east coast of Russia. The official number of Ainu is 25,000, yet unofficially, due to the assimilation of Ainu into mainstream society, the number is estimated to be much higher- around 200,000.

Only in 2008, did Japan formally recognise the Ainu as an indigenous group, issuing a statement officially accepting the states past involvement in discrimination and forced poverty of the Ainu people. To this day, Ainu communities in Russia lack legal recognition.

Historically, the Ainu people were hunter-gatherers, living in small villages located near river basins and seashores. Men were generally in charge of farming, hunting, fishing and going to war. They were also involved in politics, such as the village council. Before marriage, women were deemed capable of doing all such ‘male’ activities. However, once married it became a woman’s duty to cook, weave, take care of the children, as well as educating them.

The age a young Ainu is considered fit to wed is also the age they enter adulthood. For men, it is 17 to 18 years old. For women, it is 15 to 16 years old, when the tattoos on the lips, hands, and arms are complete. While arranged marriages are common, it is also standard etiquette that once a girl reaches ‘marriageable’ age she enter a tunpu- a small room attached to the family home. A husband is then chosen from the boys/men who visit this tunpu. When a man wants to propose, he performs a ceremony of sorts. First, he will eat half a bowl of rice and offer the remainder of the meal to the woman he wishes to be betrothed. If the woman eats the other half of the offering, she accepts the marriage proposal. Once engaged, gifts are exchanged.

Numerous rituals are held during a woman’s pregnancy. Newborn babies are given temporary names such as ‘Ayay’ (a baby’s crying), ‘Shipo’ or ‘Poyshi’ (small excrement), or ‘Shion’ (old excrement). These names are used to ward off evil spirits. Around the age of three, permanent names are given to children. A child’s behaviour or habits inform a child’s name, or, alternatively, a name is a parent’s wish for their child. These names are genderless and unique to the individual.

In Ainu culture, the traditional idea of gender is symbolically expressed by deities in the myths of the people. Gods embody plants, animals, the sky and inanimate objects. All are characterised according to their gender. Deities, whose role in the universe involves controlling a particular area of life are generally male and hold an animal shape, like a bear. Deities useful for Ainu subsistence are usually female like fire, a tree or water. In Ainu mythology, gods behave as human men and women do.

Academics suggest that Ainu men are responsible for performing religious rituals and act as representatives for the community as a whole when communicating with spirits.

Some deities identify as a pair: consisting of a male and female deity, symbolising the unity and harmony of the male and female gender.

Despite the division of labour between the sexes, Ainu women are, for the most part, regarded as equal to their male counterparts within society at large. The idea within the collective is that both genders have their roles to play, but being equal and self-reliant is fundamental.

Gender roles in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Gender roles in Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Claudia Nussbaumer continues her 8-part series exploring gender relations in indigenous communities, this week turning her attention to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of Australia.



Australia’s Indigenous population is divided into two distinct cultural groups – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, within this group – as with most Indigenous communities – is a great diversity. This diversity is exemplified by the over 250 different language groups spread across the nation. Further to this, gender relations and roles are varied and subject to change in each community. When investigating indigenous gender relations from literature dated prior to 1970, it is clear that a distinct bias informed the work of European scientists and the way in which they conducted their studies, often only focusing on the male population.


Unfortunately, there are few records from the period before colonisation, as Aboriginal history was passed on verbally from one generation to another and was imperiled by missionary activity and government policies of assimilation. Scientists have tried to re-evaluate the position of Australian Indigenous women by comparing data from similar evolutionary level societies and filtering any empirically obtained information through the universal theories of sexual selection, maternal instincts and physical differences of the sexes. The absence of direct conclusions should be taken into account when looking at an analysis of the social position of Aboriginal women.


The insubstantial data that is available on Aboriginal communities tells us that female and male children have long been raised equally. Children were nurtured and protected by their parents, mainly their mother, until reaching adulthood. The mother was responsible for providing food, security and early education. As children grew up, they were encouraged to play games according to their gender. There is evidence for sex-specific religious ceremonies. The role of women in pre-colonial times was a contradiction. On the one hand, they held a vital role in their society and had responsibility for essential tasks, yet on the other side, there was abuse and repression of women’s choices when it came to marriage and choosing their role in the community.


In post-colonial times and to this day, there is a rise in gender inequality and with that, domestic violence. This stems largely from contemporary issues and marginalisation that Indigenous Australians face. One area of which is anglicisation, the repression of Indigenous Identity through missionary work and forced removal of Indigenous children- ‘the Stolen Generations.’ These processes took their toll on the Indigenous population as one might imagine. Generations of repression and discrimination at the hands of colonial overlords have continued to this day, resulting in a poor quality of life for modern-day indigenous communities in Australia: affecting housing, education, employment, and health.


The 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey, found that 1 in 4 Indigenous Australians, aged 15 years or over, reported being a victim of physical or threatening violence in the twelve months prior to the survey. The age-standardised rate for being a victim of physical or threatening violence among the Indigenous population was over twice the rate of the non-Indigenous population.


The growing movement calling for the rights of intersex people

The growing movement calling for the rights of intersex people


Intersex is a term that refers to a range of medical conditions whereby the genetic makeup of an individual is different from their sex organs. For example, a person who is genetically female may have testes instead of ovaries or a genetic male may not have a penis. These medical conditions affect around 1.7% of the world’s population, an almost equal amount of people across the world as there are redheads, and yet it is a fairly hidden condition, unknown to most.


Intersex Surgery on Children
In 2017 Belgian model, Hanne Gaby Odiele, made headlines with a public announcement that she was intersex. In the video, she called for an end to “traumatising” surgeries which are performed on young children and infants in order to conform them to the binary conception of gender. She describes the traumatic process of countless surgeries that she underwent as a child in an attempt to “normalise” her, resulting in recurring physical ailments as well as psychological distress. Since the mid-60s doctors across the world have been routinely performing such “normalising” surgeries on children, long before they are capable of deciding for themselves whether they want these procedures.


The idea behind these surgeries is based on the work of Dr. John Money, an American doctor who specialised in gender identity and advocated that gender was a socially malleable construct. He was made famous by the tragic case of David Reimer. David Reimer underwent a botched circumcision as a child, destroying his penis. Dr. Money advised that the child undergo surgery to change his genitalia from male to female, his name be changed to Brenda, and he be raised as female. Brenda had many mental health issues as a child and was eventually told of her gender reassignment at 14. She transitioned back to her original gender and became known as David, once again. David continued to suffer from mental illnesses and eventually took his own life at age 38. Despite this tragic outcome, the surgery was hailed by Dr. Money as proof that gender could be socially constructed, a sort-of nurture triumphs nature viewpoint.


In May 2018, California became the first US state to condemn unnecessary surgery on intersex children. The state recognised that while certain surgeries on intersex children can sometimes be necessary from a medical point of view, cosmetic surgery can be “unnecessary, irreversible, often traumatising and carries a risk of lifelong harm” according to Human Rights Watch. Such surgeries have been condemned by the WHO, Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International, the UN, the FRA and the Council of Europe, Malta, Australia and many other countries and organisations. The practice is often likened to Female Genital Mutilation and there is a growing body of medical research which shows that such early, unnecessary surgeries can lead to physical and psychological harm or trauma for intersex people, including the risk of assigning the wrong sex. There also exists insufficient evidence demonstrating that a failure to have such surgeries leads to the individual struggling in society.


In Ireland, births and sex must be registered within three months. In exceptional cases, consent may be obtained by the Registrar for a period up to a year. Ireland is one of 21 European countries where “normalising” surgeries continue to be performed, although their frequency is decreasing. Consent is required once the individual is of a certain age with adequate cognitive abilities and the ability to decide, usually around 15, but this does not apply in the case of young children. There lacks any formal medical protocol when dealing with intersex children in Ireland.


What needs to change?
The Council of Europe and the Fundamental Rights Agency, alongside several other NGOs and lobby groups, have called for an end to “normalising” surgeries without the informed consent of the intersex individual. They also call for the establishment of international medical protocols for surgeons and medical staff when dealing with intersex patients. From a legal perspective, rights groups have called for the prohibition of such surgeries and, in Ireland, are currently lobbying for legal recognition of a third, non-binary gender under the Gender Recognition Act 2015.




Image courtesy of Claire Anderson at Unsplash

Book Review: My Thoughts Exactly

Book Review: My Thoughts Exactly


Lily Allen is brutally honest, both as a songwriter and author. In her recently published memoir, “My Thoughts Exactly,” she lays bare the dark side of fame and the music industry, as well as revealing celebrity affairs that a tabloid editor could only dream of. Almost no detail from her life is deemed too personal as she reveals all from her dysfunctional childhood and rise to fame, to her mental health problems and failed marriage.

At times the book is quite a harrowing read. She writes candidly about the guilt she felt after the miscarriage of her son and the post-natal depression that followed the birth of her daughter. Her addiction, narcissism and co-dependency problems are continually examined. She goes into excruciating detail about her psychotic episode in 2016, following the end of her marriage and the break-in to her home by her stalker. She also reveals her sexual assault at the hands of an industry insider and examines the music industry as a whole, in light of the Me Too era. Her diagnosis is bleak.

Despite the nature of most of the memoir, this book does not make for miserable reading. Lily Allen is a fantastic storyteller. Her recollections of her hedonistic early days of pop stardom, feuding with the likes of Cheryl Cole, can be quite humorous. Her sarcastic reactions to her tabloid caricature, “Cartoon Lily” are also very enjoyable to read.

The one place where the memoir fails is when it comes to Allen discussing her background. She insists that she made her career “in spite” of her famous parents ( her mother is a film producer, her father a comedian) but goes on to recall anecdotes of film premiers with Princess Diana, working with Cate Blanchett at fourteen, and her family friend, the artist Damien Hirst. While Allen claims she is an outsider, she is very much one on the inside.


Image courtesy of Raph_PH at Flickr

Gender and sex: An introduction

Gender and sex: An introduction

Claudia Nussbaumer begins her 8 part series, ‘Gender roles in indigenous communities,’ by breaking down gender and sex in society today.



When talking about gender roles, it is important to firstly establish what gender is and what makes it different to sex. What is commonly referred to as sex, is the biological distinction between female and male, in other words what type of biological characteristics a person has. Gender is the social aspect of difference and hierarchy between men and women; the social meaning of masculinity and femininity. The different ways in which we are ‘doing gender’ and acting out our societies perception of what it means to be a ‘woman’ and a ‘man’ is referred to as ‘gender performance’. It reinforces the ‘naturalness’ of gender roles and gender differentiation. So gender is something we are doing, rather than something we are.

Gender performance brings with it some problems. Most of all, it is limiting; you have to conform in order to be accepted, you’re not given the choice to simply ‘opt-out’. We are socialised into what we can and cannot do, what it looks like to be a girl or a boy and what characteristics are expected of us.

Under the umbrella of gender performance lies the concept of hegemonic gender. Part of sociologist, Raewyn Connell’s gender order theory is the term ‘hegemonic masculinity’, a practice trying to legitimise men’s dominant role and women’s subordination in society.  This model of gender; as something set in stone, defined by nature and something we have to obey to, is another aspect of gender negatively affecting society and especially non-conforming folks. Sexism, #metoo, the gender pay gap: these are all aspects of how the social construct of gender have manifested into toxic behaviour between men and women.

All of these terms, theories and concepts are part of the ‘western world’s’ perception of gender. When we come to our article series’s focus, Indigenous communities, we will see a spectrum of gender roles and gender identities. Some of them are very close to the ‘West’s’ idea, though, they are not as limiting. It is very often a case of ‘what is this person capable of doing’, therefore gender is mostly understood in terms of labour and who is able to bear children. It is generally not so important in other aspects such as appearance (clothing, hair, make-up) and behaviour.

We can learn a lot about gender, it’s fluidness and limits when looking at other cultures before they were socialised and introduced to the ‘western way of life’. Our series will look at cultures from all around the globe, in order to find similarities but also to underline the differences and contrast it with the hegemonic set of beliefs.

Career Knowhow: Martha Whyte, the Outhouse

Career Knowhow: Martha Whyte, the Outhouse

Every Month, STAND brings you a quick fire Q&A from people who work in NGOs, with government or in community projects. This month we speak to Martha Whyte, who is Manager of the Outhouse, an LGBT Community Resource Centre in Dublin. The space houses a café, a theatre and a library.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do?
I am the manager of Outhouse, a community and resource centre owned by and operating on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) community.  Our mission is to provide a safe space which facilitates and encourages the growth of services and supports to the LGBT community. The Centre provides a ‘safe space’ for people to meet, build friendships, and develop support networks and interest groups within a stated and practiced ethos of respect.  

What do you love most about your job?
Knowing that the Centre makes a real difference to people lives.  I am proud that after 21 years in operation we have maintained a safe and welcoming environment that caters to all ages, sexes, gender identities, sexual orientations, social and educational backgrounds and ethnicities.

What do you dislike most?
That the Centre is not fully accessible and the never ending struggle to fund the services that we provide.

How did you get into this area?
Initially I worked in corporate banking and later fund banking however after a few years I became disillusioned with the banking sector in general.  I took a cut in salary to start off in an administrative role in Outhouse, gained on the job experience and went back to complete a Masters in Leadership and Management in the Community and Voluntary Sector.

What advice would you give to students who want to work in this area?
Volunteer with different organisations within the Voluntary and Community sector to gain experience.  There is no greater asset than on the job experience. People often don’t realise that there are a large range of skills required in the sector.

To learn more about volunteering with the Outhouse, see here for more information.
Photo courtesy of the Outhouse.


To read the previous instalment in this series, click here. 

Why we need to celebrate diversity on campus

Why we need to celebrate diversity on campus

There is inequality across our campuses and the only way forward is to accept that diversity, argues Leon Diop.

In Ireland today, we have a more diverse and multicultural society than ever before. Our third level campuses have members of every walk of life, of all ethnicities, sexualities and nationalities. Our island is becoming more open and diverse.

Some would find it bizarre to think that homosexuality was decriminalized in Ireland less than ten years before most current day students were born. Only 30 years ago it would be rare to see a black person in Ireland. We have many challenges to overcome, not only as students, but as a society, to make our world a more welcoming place. Recent political occurrences such as the election of Trump and Brexit have been seen more division than bridge building between different groups. There is less acceptance of diversity and I believe the main issue of inequality among students on our campuses is the acceptance of that diversity.   

I am a mixed race man, part Irish, part Senegalese. Growing up, I faced many experiences of racism even though I was born in Ireland. I played GAA for my local club, I spoke Irish and I even went to the Gaeltacht. I am Irish in every way except my skin tone. That is the only thing that makes me different to the typical Irish person. But is being Irish defined only by the colour of our skin?

I am not the only one who has faced issues of discrimination over my skin colour. Issues that I have faced in the past are still affecting students in third level education. From talking to fellow SU presidents around the country, the same issues reoccur in most colleges. Non-white students tend to stick to themselves and seem to struggle integrating into the rest of the student body.

They face discrimination when seeking accommodation as their last name is not a typical Irish name. We have all received complaints that non-white students in libraries are asked to be quiet more often than groups of white students. Engagement from non-white students is low in terms of clubs, societies and the Students’ Union. There is little diversity among positions that represent students, which does not reflect our overall population.

To tackle all of these problems, we must not only promote diversity but also diversity in leadership. People of different backgrounds must see themselves reflected in leadership, to encourage them to interact and integrate. We must promote these students to run for roles which will give them direct input into their union and institution. The unions must also make special efforts to ensure these positions are created and filled. While the academic benefits of third level education are huge, the social impacts of college are also significant. Gaining greater social knowledge is understanding people better and accepting all differences.

“Ní neart go cur le chéile” means “together we are stronger”. I don’t think this sentence has ever been more true, both on our campuses and in our society.


Leon Diop is President of Maynooth University Students’ Union.

“An outrageous amount of money”

“An outrageous amount of money”

Ahead of the Pope’s visit to Ireland this weekend, Cáit Caden speaks to young people about their views on the visit.

The Ireland that Pope Francis will visit this weekend is very different from the one his predecessor, Pope John Paul II visited in 1979. In 1992, an estimated 78 percent of Catholics attended mass, but by 2016 this figure had dropped to 36 percent. According to the last Census, Irish people with no religion make up 10 percent of the population while the number of Catholics decreased by almost six per cent between the Census in 2011 and the one in 2016.

High expense
It appears young people in particular have stopped going to mass. But as young people face difficulties in housing and accommodation for college, are we spending too much money on an out of date figure?

“Let him come but its an outrageous amount of money”, said 20 year old Craig Shaaban. The cost of the visit is currently estimated at €32 million.

Mikey Walsh, 22 years old, agrees. “I think the Pope coming is a bit of a joke because of the amount of money being spent on the visit.” Walsh believes the money is needed elsewhere in Irish society as “there’s thousands if not millions of taxpayers that really would like to see that money spent on more important and pressing matters”.

While Walsh accepted that some people believed it was important to see him, he believes the church has a lot to apologise for.

Family Values
The present incarnation of Head of the Catholic Church is seen to be the most ‘modern’ Pope the world has seen yet. However, Pope Francis still oversees an organisation that seems out of touch with most young people, as it opposes abortion in all circumstances and does not recognise LGBTI+ families.

Despite this, “family tradition in Ireland” was a leading reason why the Pope chose Ireland to host the World Meeting of Families (WMoF) according to Brenda Drumm, Media and Communications Manager for the event. Drumm explained “it’s no coincidence” the Pope specifically chose Ireland to host this event which takes place three months after the vote of legalising abortion here and that “he could have come to Ireland at any time”.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland and survivor of sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, is organising the main protest called ‘’Stand4Truth’’ which will take place in Dublin’s Garden of Remembrance at the same time as the Pope will say Mass in Phoenix Park.

Photo via Flickr

For the love of blue

For the love of blue

Emily Daly reviews Bluets by Maggie Nelson (2009), featured in the STAND Book Club this week.

Composed in 240 fragments or reflections, Bluets by Maggie Nelson is an ode to the colour blue. A beautiful blend of poetry and scholarship which ultimately defies genre, Nelson’s work is a celebration of her love affair with blue as well as an exploration of the history of the colour. There is a great sense of equality to her reflections. While her work is bursting with references to the great philosophers and writers, she also records song lyrics and the insights of her quadriplegic friend. All contain their own unique wisdom which is powerful, important and true.

Although the colour blue is the central character of Nelson’s work, Bluets is an all- encompassing exploration of theology, morality, female sexuality, and above all heartbreak. Throughout Bluets, Nelson is particularly drawn to the writer Goethe and philosopher Wittgenstein, both of whom wrote theoretical works on the concept of colour during periods of deep personal pain. Nelson joins their ranks with this work which was composed in the aftermath of a relationship with a man whom she refers to as the “prince of blue”.

Flashes of heartache recur across the pages of Bluets. In a deeply personal fragment, Nelson wonders if her grief will last forever: “But though I have learned / to act as if I feel differently, the truth is that my feelings / haven’t really changed”. She is equally truthful and open about her loneliness. In one fragment she writes, “I have been trying, for some time now, to find dignity / in my loneliness. I have been finding this hard to do”. The simple language in which she describes her pain is achingly poignant.

However, Bluets is not a book of hopelessness. While Nelson can think of many times when “blue has made (her) feel suddenly hopeful”, she can not remember any examples of when the colour has made her despair. Moreover, Nelson has that wonderful ability to experience the extraordinary in the everyday. For example, she is deeply grateful for the “turquoise ocean”, which by its very existence makes her life “a remarkable one”. Although sadness is inescapable there are moments when the light gets in.

Nelson once referred to the poetry of her contemporary, Eileen Myles as “necessary”, perhaps the greatest compliment a writer can receive. The same should be said about her own work.


Photo by Kate Eburg via Flickr.

Profile of an Activist: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

Profile of an Activist: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez

The US mid-term elections are swiftly approaching, and selection votes are taking place all across the United States. One of the biggest surprises was the win in a Democratic primary in the New York 14th District. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez won the 14th District with 57.4 percent against 10 term incumbent Joe Crowley. This sent shock waves through the US politics, and signified a shift in the structure of the Democratic party not only in diversity but in policy.

Shock selection
Greg Johnson, chairman of democrats abroad Ireland, said this was a huge surprise for the Democratic party as Joe Crowley had been elected to congress since 1998. Joe Crowley was the third most powerful member of the democratic party and set to take the leadership from current minority leader of the house Nancy Pelosi.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez was a relative unknown in the Democratic party or the US political scene. Cortez was first brought into the limelight of US politics when she worked as an organiser for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Presidential campaign. Cortez grew up in the Bronx and worked as a waitress while she was getting her BA in Economic and International Relations from Boston University. Cortez is among the many political candidates within the Democratic party now emerging as Social Democrats, the new frontier of the democratic party.

Rise of democratic socialism
Johnson believes that it is because of Bernie Sanders that democratic socialism is becoming more prominent among voters. “This success hasn’t translated into major gains for democratic socialists or progressives within party leadership as of yet. We won’t know for sure how prominent this group of voters is until after the midterm elections in November”.

Johnson goes on to say that “Cortez is very likeable, and she is running on an exciting progressive platform that inspires optimism about the future. If she continues to campaign hard, I think she will do very well on election day.”

The emergence of democratic socialism has ignited a need for change in the party. Johnson comments on how there is a big need for diversity within the party. “Beyond the need for more diversity regarding race, gender, and sexual orientation, it’s important we see more young people and people from non-wealthy backgrounds running for office and taking positions in party leadership”.


Above photo: Cortez (right) in an interview. Via Wikicommons. 

The importance of female photographers

The importance of female photographers

In this competitive world no platform is left untouched from sexism. To provide female photographers with a platform, photographer Daniella Zalcman launched a website that promotes the work of 400 women from more than 67 different countries.

Through this website Zalcman values female photographers and their importance in the professional world. According to her, there is something different about female photographers that makes their work unique.

Why are female photographers important?
Good journalism is about sharing stories, stories coming from different people from different parts of the world that every individual has his or her own vision of capturing. Similarly, every female photographer holds her own genre of writing and story telling. They should be given equal opportunity.

How is a female photographer’s perspective different from others?
Women tend to be more sensitive and dedicated to long- form personal narration. They fill stories with emotions and build strong bonds with the subject. Nevertheless, there are incredible male social documentary photography and amazing female war photographers, it’s hard to differentiate and highlight what exactly female photographers are strong in.

Is there sexism in photojournalism?
The comparison between men and women photographers is too much when it comes to the photography world. Men believe they need to impart wisdom onto female photographers. There are also explicit acts of sexual harassment that occurs on regular basis which make female photographers change their decision and interest.

How can this change?
Efforts are needed in order to understand people and their stories. It’s important to give equal opportunities and share as many stories as possible. It is not about male and female but about information, story telling, reaching out to people. We need to improve our thought process.

This website by Daniella Zalcman is a stage where female photographers tell stories through a photo journalistic approach. It not only showcase their talent but also empowers them.

Photo by Ari He on Unsplash


5 Presidential Moments

5 Presidential Moments

The President of Ireland is largely a ceremonial position with little power over governing the State. However, the role creates a symbol of modern Ireland both at home and abroad, reflecting our history.
Here we recount 5 examples of when Irish Presidents used their position to bring attention to a wider issue.  

Mary McAleese’s letter to the New York Times
After the Berkeley tragedy where 6 Irish J1 students died because a balcony they were standing on collapsed, the New York Times wrote a piece on the tragedy. They implied the Irish students should be blamed for the incident as over the years j1 students became a “source of embarrassment for Ireland, marked by a series of high-profile episodes involving drunken partying and the wrecking of apartments.”

McAleese responded with a letter to The New York times stating “the New York Times should be hanging its head in shame at how outrageously and without the remotest evidence it has rushed to judgment on those deaths.” McAleese signed the letter of with: “Mary McAleese, ex-President of Ireland, 1997-2011; J-1 visa student in San Francisco summer of 1971.” Though not serving as President at the time, the letter carried so much weight because she once held the position.

Michael D. Higgins’s subtle comments
The last number of years have been marked by an ever growing refugee crisis, met with apathy internationally. However, many leaders, such as our current President, have spoken out about being more welcoming.

“We can open a dialogue with the ‘cos muintir’ of the world, the excluded, the disappointed, the angry. Above all, we cannot abandon the excluded, the confused, to the predatory abuse of those who seek the exploitation of difference, of race, ethnicity, culture or gender. There can be no room for such abuse. We have in Europe and elsewhere experienced the consequences already,” said Michael D. Higgins.

While visiting New York, Higgins also spoke about the sexism which exist in the world and how “in Ireland, as across the world, the exclusion of women led to the impoverishment of our public policy and our body politic”.

Mary Robinson and controversial Bills
A record breaking President, Mary Robinson became the first female elected head of state in Ireland. At a time when Ireland was still relatively conservative, she broke the mould. Mary Robinson was also at the helm when signing Bills which she had fought for during her political career and prior to her Presidency. These included decriminalising homosexuality, providing an equal age of consent and liberalising the law on contraception.

She also shook up the Presidency, showing how beneficial it could be. Robinson did her first interview as President with puppets Zig and Zag on the children’s programme: The Den. She would later go on to become the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights.

A friendly visit
In 2011, for the first time ever, the Irish President hosted a British monarch, when Mary McAleese welcomed Queen Elizabeth II. Their visit to Croke Park stadium was controversial, as in 1920 the British army officers including those in the Auxiliary Division and the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) open fired on innocent people on the grounds during a GAA match. This event later became known as Bloody Sunday.

While giving a speech, the Queen began in Irish with “A Uachtaráin agus a chairde” (Translated from Irish: President and friends) which was met with applause, started by McAleese. The visit and welcome showed how it was possible to begin to heal after a conflict.

Michael D. Higgins’ way with words
Our current President, being a poet has a way with words. He once told the European Union leaders they need a “radical rethink” on how they’re handling the economic crisis. He also called for more rental accommodation to be made available in Ireland and called the housing situation a crisis. The most memorable moment of Higgins’ outspoken presidency so far could be his comments during the campaign for repealing the 8th Amendment which criminalised abortion in Ireland.

When speaking about the death of Savita Halappanvar who died from a septic miscarriage in Ireland in 2012 because she could not access abortion, Michael D Higgins said he: “expressed my sympathy to her husband and her extended family and I was joining the thousands of Irish people in the streets saying the same thing.”

Photo by Irish Defence Forces via Flickr.

Human Rights Injustices: Women in Saudi Arabia

Human Rights Injustices: Women in Saudi Arabia

In the fifth instalment in our human rights series, Lynn Rickard looks at women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

In 2018 we celebrate 100 years since Irish women were awarded the right to vote. In recognising our progress as a nation, we must also recognise nations who are not afforded the same women’s rights.

In today’s instalment we take a look at Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; focusing in on Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia, how far they have come and how far they have left to endure.

Though women in Saudi Arabia recently won the right to drive, according to Amnesty International gender based discrimination remains prominent across the MENA region “notably in matters of marriage and divorce, inheritance and child custody”. As it stands, women in Saudi Arabia require a male guardian’s consent in order to travel abroad, obtain a passport or marry. Amnesty International notes that some women experiencing “gender based violence” are also forced into early marriage.

The Amnesty International Report 2011 noted the case of a 12-year-old girl whose father had forcibly married her to an 80-year-old man for money. Amnesty says local human rights activists highlighted the case and resulted in the girl obtaining a divorce in February 2012.

Limited opportunities
A 2010 Report by Freedom House explains that gender inequality is built into Saudi Arabia’s governmental and social structures, and is “integral to the country’s state supported interpretation of Islam, which is derived from a literal reading of the Koran and Sunna”. As a result work opportunities for women remain limited with women being employed in single-sex institutions such as education or health care.

Although discrimination against women and girls in Saudi Arabia is prevalent slight changes “in accordance with Islamic law standards” provide a beacon of hope for all women and girls within this region. In a report, Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry announced in July a change in Saudi girls’ public schools.  The announcement outlined that from the beginning of fall 2017 certain schools will offer a physical education program during their school term. However, it is not known whether the girls have to get parental permission to enrol.

It may seem that Saudi women and girls’ rights are improving ever so slightly but radical results are yet to be observed as heavy gender based and religious restrictions prevail.


Photo by Majid Korang beheshti on Unsplash

Fighting stereotypes

Fighting stereotypes

Earlier this month almost 10,000 young people from across Europe were hosted at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, for YoFest and the third annual European Youth Event, that debates issues affecting youth people. In this series, Ellen Butler explains the key issues that came up.

Amandine Gay spoke about the damaging stereotypes that are used casually, citing the example of ‘the angry black woman’. Activists are often criticised for being angry and hot headed, when they are not deliberately being provocative, but are genuinely frustrated by the injustices they are trying to highlight and rectify.

Gay also suggested people from privileged backgrounds should “stop, step back, and look at who you surround yourself with”. She recommended finding and interacting with people of different backgrounds and ways of life, who have alternative perspectives, opinions and struggles to those you and your peers have.

She called for codes of conduct in work places and mandatory training for MEPs to directly address the inclusion of people from diverse backgrounds and sexualities.

For more on this conference, see here.

Photo by Ramón Salinero on Unsplash

Celebrating the power of youth

Celebrating the power of youth

Earlier this month almost 10,000 young people from across Europe were hosted at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, for YoFest and the third annual European Youth Event, that debates issues affecting youth people. In this series, Ellen Butler explains the key issues that came up.

Global Citizenship
The event focused on how society can mobilise to become more inclusive of all genders, sexualities and ethnicities. One panel was organised by the European Youth Forum, with appearances from the European Women’s Lobby and Seyi Akiwowo, a councillor from East London and speaker on active citizenship, soft skills, social integration and sustainable development.

The discussion included ways to challenge traditional behaviour towards sexuality, race and interpersonal relationships. Institutional racism is so ingrained in our lives and the way we operate that it often goes unnoticed – except, of course, to those who endure it. For example, the feeling of isolation when you are the only member of a minority group in the workplace, or feeling that you are making a fuss or being difficult by having different needs to your colleagues.  

There was also discussion on the language we use when speaking about minority groups and the role that plays in reinforcing stereotypes. Seyi Akiwowo suggested simply asking someone how they describe themselves, for example black or a person of colour, rather than making assumptions. She urges us to “be each other’s microphones”, by retweeting and sharing, and openly promoting and discussing social issues, to bring them to the forefront of our conversations.

For more on this conference, see here.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Human Rights Injustices: Asia Pacific

Human Rights Injustices: Asia Pacific

This is the third instalment of a series looking at human rights around the world. This week Lynn Rickard looks at the LGBT rights in South East Asia.

Amnesty International Annual Report 2017 notes that LGBTI people suffered discrimination in Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Singapore but to name a few. It reports hate speech against members of Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and questioning (LGBTIQ) community has increased, despite “newly introduced penalties”. Among these injustices in this region Indonesia’s Aceh province saw two men publicly caned 83 times each for consensual same-sex sexual activity.

As it stands gay marriage is illegal in all nations of The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The nations included in that heading are as follows: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam. The ban against same sex intercourse remains in Singapore, Malaysia and Myanmar. According to the Huffington Post homosexuality remains criminalised in countries such as Brunei and is currently punishable by whipping, imprisonment, or even stoning to death.

LGBT activist Jean Chong based in Singapore accounts for her personal experience on the matter saying: “If you look at Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, and also Laos, it’s very backward when it comes to LGBT rights … but even in the other, more ‘progressive’ countries, there are problems. Butch women are being killed in rural areas in Thailand, trans women are being targeted in the Philippines”.

To understand this human right injustice fully we must take into consideration people in positions of authority and the influence of their outlook on society. In 2015, the Deputy Mayor of Banda Aceh, the capital of Indonesia, described homosexuality as “a social disease that should be eradicated”. In saying this it must be recognised that this is the tip of the iceberg regarding the discrimination of certain social and ethnic groups. According to a 2014 December Reuters report, the LGBT community has been forced “into hiding” there.

In January 2016 agitation began when Indonesia’s Higher Education Minister Mohammed Nasir tweeted that he wanted to ban all LGBT student groups from university campuses. In the following two months, many public officials added to a cascade of anti-LGBT hostility. Shortly after he contradicted his comments about LGBT student groups on Twitter, saying LGBT people deserve “equal treatment in the eyes of the law.”

While the Australian Parliament passed legislation to create marriage equality in December the postal survey process chosen by the government failed to acknowledge that marriage equality is a human right and generated divisive and damaging public debate, says Amnesty.

Although there is increased awareness surrounding LGBT rights throughout Asia Pacific, the struggles and abuses remain.

To read the previous instalment in our series on human rights, see here
Photo by @chuttersnap on Unsplash

Activism in art

Activism in art

Before their upcoming installation, STAND spoke to the BANBHA Theatre company about how all art is political.

What is BANBHA?
BANBHA is a theatre company founded in 2015 by Cara Brophy-Browne and Tara Louise Morrison. Susie Birmingham is the company’s composer and sound designer.

As a company we aim to create politically motivated theatre which relies heavily on a collaborative ensemble driven process. By beginning every project with extensive theoretical and practical research and maintaining comprehensive archives throughout the process, BANBHA hopes to blur the lines between activism and art, politics and performance, and theory and theatre.

What role do you think the arts play in social activism?
BANBHA are primarily theatre makers. We deal with performance and believe differentiation between art and social activism does not exist. Every march, protest, or canvass, is a performance, every time an actor questions the status quo from a position on stage it is a piece of activism. The art we make hopes to blur the supposed line between art and activism until it can no longer be drawn.

With the recent removal of Maser’s artwork on the Project Arts Centre, what do you think that says about the relationship between politics and art?
We believe that all art is political, whether there is a recognisable icon or not. The power of the message remains in the glimpsed bottom of the Repeal heart and represents the power of art to interrogate what is not seen as much as what is seen. The space outside The Project has been politicised, like so many people in Ireland recently have, no amount of paint can depoliticise that space.

What is your recent installation about?
Our installation, THE RE//PRESENTATION ROOMS, is broadly a presentation of an archive of audio and video material BANBHA gathered last year while working with a group of queer refugees in Athens. While we knew the stories we heard last year in Greece needed to be shared, we struggled with finding an ethical a way to present them.

We asked ourselves how we could share these stories, told through a disparate collection of interviews and videos in such a way that would not impose any new narratives and would not force our own interpretations upon them. Bearing this in mind we decided that the most ethical and political way for that meaning to be made was by the individual audience member. As an audience member walks through the installation, each one may have a different experience with each taking meaning in their own way.

As a frame for this, each one of the rooms should pose questions for the spectator; do gender binaries have a relationship with geographical borders? What is the connection between a European media institution and a Syrian asylum interview? And importantly, where and how do sexuality and political meet?

Why is it important to showcase this work?
Ireland accepts only 3 percent of asylum applicants, migrants get attacked and abused on the streets of Europe daily, and queer Muslims internationally struggle to find a space of safety and solidarity. You have to hope these problems come from a place of ignorance, not evil, and as artists showcasing this work we hope to be one small part of a collective effort the lesson that ignorance.


If you want to see more from BANBHA, head along to their upcoming installation on May 5th and 6th. Funds raised will go to LGBTQI+ Refugees in Greece.

Photo courtesy of BANBHA.

Rage against the system

Rage against the system

Last month, a Belfast jury unanimously decided that four men: Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison were to be acquitted of all charges connected to the alleged sexual assault of a 19 year old woman.

The verdict led to an explosion of anger, with people coming out in support of the victim and the campaign #IBelieveHer dominated the social media feed for days. However, the verdict stands that all four men were acquitted. But with the case causing such public outrage, what does this actually mean for victims of rape and sexual assault?

Noeline Blackwell, CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis centre, spoke to STAND about how this verdict could affect future victims of rape or sexual assault. Within days of the verdict, Ms Blackwell said, large numbers of people who contacted the centre expressed a reluctance to come forward. She explained that one caller was in fact relieved the Gardaí did not have enough evidence to pursue their case.

However, Ms Blackwell said that the Belfast trial has unleashed a determination in victims and survivors alike. With a current system that “is not fit for purpose”, it’s clear that both sides need equal representation.

Rape is the second most heinous crime under Irish law, yet few cases are brought to court. Trials always take place in the Central Criminal Court and there is always a jury to decide the verdict. However, the conviction rate of rape cases is thought to be only 8 per cent. And this is not a problem exclusive to Ireland.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) in the United States, a shocking 6 out of 1000 rape cases see the perpetrator incarcerated. Statistics show that 2 out of every 3 cases are reported to the police. Furthermore 20 per cent of victims refuse to come forward in fear of retaliation.

With such strong public uproar, the government has been pushed to introduce new legislation that will help the complainant in their defence but also educate the public on consent.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, expressed his intentions to review the legal process for the complainant, so that they can choose legal representation. Currently, complainants are represented by the State’s prosecution.

Minister for Education, Richard Bruton, has also outlined the idea of introducing a more comprehensive curriculum that teaches students consent. With the talk of new legislation possibly being implanted, this gives a shred of hope to survivors and victims of rape.

It is clear following the Belfast trial there is a change in the way society views rape. The high profile case led to a flood of anger at the system, forcing the government to listen. Hopefully the marches that followed the verdict are only the tip of iceberg in how society views rape and justice.


For information and support you can contact the DRCC.

Photo by Christian Spies on Unsplash

One Giant Leap

One Giant Leap

Although the Belfast Rape Trial has led to increased focus on sexual violence, this is a worldwide problem that is not going away.
The UN estimates that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence from a partner. 750 million girls today were married before their 18th birthday.

We spoke to Jordan Campbell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, what one thing she would change tomorrow for victims of sexual assault. This was what she had to say. 

A: I would want anyone that experienced sexual violence of any form, if it’s historic or if its recent, to know that however they respond is ok. That it’s unique to the person and there’s a lot of different ways that people react to it.
But to know where they can go to get support and to give themselves permission to reach out for help, either from a professional service like the Rape Crisis Centre, like counselling, if they need it. Or also if they feel they don’t need it to know that that’s fine too.

Imagine a society free from sexual violence

Imagine a society free from sexual violence

Above: Volunteers with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Photo courtesy of the DRCC. 


In 2016 the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre:

  • Received 12,388 calls
  • Had 99 active volunteers
  • Performed 262 accompaniments with survivors


We sat down with Jordan Campbell to talk about the work they do, how to volunteer with them and what needs to change for sexual assault victims.

Q:What does the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre do?
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre was set up in 1979, initially as a counselling service. We’ve expanded since then and now our mission is to prevent the harm and heal the trauma of sexual violence. We do that in a number of ways. In terms of services, we have the national 24-hour helpline. We would also work with around 500 people a year for face to face counselling.

A third service we provide is what we call an accompaniment service. Court in particular can be a bit traumatising for people all over again, because you’re rehashing the details and often questions come up about how much you have to drink. There’s a lot of victim blaming. People struggle to deal with that with their family members present and they may not want to involve them but they want some support there.

Q:Who do you work with?
We work with both male and female survivors. Everyone tends to think of us as a women’s organisation, but to our helpline – it varies from year to year – generally 15-20% of the contacts are male. Our view is it’s always good when people report or when people talk about it.

Q: Apart from counselling and accompanying, what other work do you do?
We’ve expanded beyond the services in recent years to look at actually preventing sexual violence. We’re saying that when it happens we want to make sure that whatever a person needs can be put in place for them but ultimately wouldn’t it be great if it didn’t happen at all? We want a society in which sexual violence does not occur and in which its not tolerated.

The work we do includes education and training work. We run a program called body rights, which is a train the trainer model. So if you’re a teacher, or a school guidance counsellor, or a chaplain or a youth worker, you might decide to do body right to incorporate that into some of the work you’re already doing with teens.

It’s about setting boundaries, respecting yourself, respecting your partner and being able to say no but also being able to say yes. We’ve trained about 500 people over 10 years but we’re really trying to get into more schools to say actually this approach is really working because it stays with young people well after that time.

Q: How can people volunteer with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre?
We have a formal volunteer program for people that are 25 and over. We don’t want anybody that’s too young, that might be overwhelmed by some of the issues that would come up. People can apply two times a year and they go through an intensive training program, that includes a visit to SATU (Sexual Assault Treatment Unit). Some of them would then go on to be telephone counsellors overnight and some of them would be on rota to cover the rotunda for the SATU unit if somebody calls in. Volunteers generally that go through that program generally stay with us for 2 years and would commit to a certain number of hours per week.

Q: If there was one thing you could change tomorrow, for sexual assault victims what would it be?
I would want anyone that experienced sexual violence of any form, if it’s historic or if its recent, to know that however they respond is ok. That it’s unique to the person and there’s a lot of different ways that people react to it. But to know where they can go to get support and to give themselves permission to reach out for help, either from a professional service like the Rape Crisis Centre, like counselling, if they need it. Or also if they feel they don’t need it to know that that’s fine too.


The resilience and courage of these women is humbling

The resilience and courage of these women is humbling

Emma O’Brien is currently volunteering with Samos Volunteers at a refugee camp near Vathy in Greece. This is the second in a series of pieces about her experience within the camp.

In addition to the inadequate shelter, lack of hygiene facilities, and basic hardships of life in a refugee camp, women face additional challenges.

The domestic burden of looking after a family involves a huge amount of time and effort. The majority of women are used to the machines and appliances associated with modern living, but here simple domestic tasks become ordeals which can occupy the entire day. Washing clothes, for example, is done by hand. The women must then wait with their clothes while they hang to dry on the barbed wire which surrounds the camp to prevent them being stolen. When you take into account the torrential rain, west-of-Ireland wind, and frequent thunderstorms, simply ensuring children have relatively clean clothes becomes a constant struggle.

The prevalence of alcohol and drug abuse in the camp means violence – including sexual assault and rape – is common. It is unsafe for women to venture anywhere alone, particularly after dark. One of the “stops” on the “camp tour” for new volunteers highlights the reality of the danger: a toilet facility in the extended area of camp has been decorated with feminine designs in bright colours in an effort to deter men from using the women’s facilities because of the rate of sexual assault. A lock which only women know the code to has been added for additional security but it is not enough. As we passed the facilities, we saw a woman escorting her young daughter to the toilet. Going alone is simply too much of a risk.

Although women make up 20-25% of the camp’s population, cultural norms mean Samos Volunteers’ Alpha Centre has become a largely male-dominated area and it is rare to see women enjoying the space or attending classes. To tackle this, Samos runs women-only English classes every morning in the basement. Every afternoon the basement provides a space for women to knit, crochet, and chat. Wool donated from all over the world is transformed into the most beautiful and innovative creations, including children’s clothes, baby blankets and nappy bags.

On Saturday afternoons, the centre is closed to men for Women’s Alpha. While the children are entertained in the basement, women enjoy activities such as baking, jewellery-making and make-up sessions. The highlight of Women’s Alpha is often a multicultural dancing session, with different groups of women vying for control of the speakers to play their dance music of choice.

I have met such interesting and inspiring women here, including the incredible Majida Ali, a former refugee who was awarded the Women’s Refugee Commission Voices of Courage Award 2018 just last week. The resilience and courage of these women is humbling, and with every story I hear I am more frustrated and ashamed by the EU’s reluctance to confront this crisis head-on.

To find out more about SV or to donate or volunteer, please go to You can read Emma’s previous update from Greece here

Justice spotlight: The Innocence Project

Justice spotlight: The Innocence Project

What is it?
The Innocence Project was founded by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld in 1992 at the Cardozo School of Law in New York, with the aim of exonerating those who have been wrongly convicted through the use of modern science. The project also attempts to reform the criminal justice system in order to prevent future injustice.

What difference has it made?
Prior to the introduction of the Innocence Project the idea that criminal justice systems can make mistakes was not a popular opinion. The dedicated work and incredible success stories of the Innocence Project have helped build greater acceptance of the fact that all criminal justice systems are fallible and can be reformed. The project has exonerated more than 300 innocent people in the US.

The Innocence Project has identified trends that contribute to wrongful convictions such as coerced confessions, misapplication of forensic evidence, eyewitness misidentification and attempts to ensure that all investigations are based on the best science and highest standards. Following the success of the Innocence Project, 32 States have introduced over 100 wrongful conviction compensation laws and laws to prevent wrongful conviction. Today the innocence project is a growing organisation, spanning across 11 different departments. The project is currently working on a campaign to end America’s guilty plea problem.

Case Study 1: Timothy Bridges
Timothy Bridges was wrongfully convicted of rape and burglary based on incorrect testimony given by an FBI-trained state hair analyst. Bridges served 25 years in prison before the Innocence Project intervened to show that the evidence used to convict Bridges was scientifically invalid. In 2013, Bridges was released after serving 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Case Study 2: Stephen Avery
The Innocence Project was also famously involved in the original wrongful conviction of Stephen Avery for sexual assault, false imprisonment and attempted murder which became a high-profile case in the media following the success of the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer. Despite providing 16 alibi witnesses at trial, Avery was convicted of sexual assault based almost exclusively on an eyewitness account. Following intervention by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, DNA evidence was used to exonerate Avery and subsequently identify the real perpetrator, Gregory Allen. Avery served 18 years for this crime. He was subsequently convicted of a separate murder and sentenced to life in prison, the accuracy of which is questioned in the Netflix documentary.

Pictured are Innocence Project founders Barry Scheck (back left) and Peter Neufeld (front right), executive director Madeline deLone, and board chair Senator Rodney Ellis (Photo by Lisa Ross via Wikimedia Commons)

Find out more at



New funding announced for gender based research

New funding announced for gender based research

The Irish Research Council has announced a contribution of €600,000 to support international gender research. The contribution is part of an international gender research fund, Gender-Net plus, which is supported by the European Union. A part of the Horizon 2020 project, it offers support to researchers across 10 different EU countries as well as Norway, Canada and Israel,

The funding encourages researchers to work on transnational research with funding available for up to €1m per project. The total amount of funding for all projects is €10.6m from 16 different organisations including the Irish Research Council.  

Gender-Net Plus seeks to encourage greater integration of sex and gender analysis in international research funding. Researchers are invited to submit proposals on a number of different areas affecting gender up to Thursday 1st March 2018.

Submissions can be made under the following areas:

Gender Based Violence

Sex, Gender and Ageing.

Sex, Gender and Health.

Gender and New Technologies.

Gender in Entrepreneurship and in the Innovation System.

Gender Dimension in Climate Behaviour and Decision Making


To find out more about the fund or how to apply see here:

Celebrate women in film at The Dublin feminist film festival

Celebrate women in film at The Dublin feminist film festival

Next weekend Dublin’s feminist Film Festival will be happening from November 16th-November 18th in The New Theatre, 43 Essex St, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 to help counteract the mis/under-representation of women in film.


Now in its fourth year, the Dublin Feminist Film Festival has established firm roots on Dublin’s cultural calendar, shining a spotlight on women in film. The DFFF promotes and celebrates female filmmakers, hoping to inspire and empower others to get involved in filmmaking.

This involves considering women on-screen, but also behind the camera, through the dual-aspect of celebrating and showcasing fantastic female filmmaking, as well as demonstrating that women make compelling and complex characters and subjects. The DFFF weekend is a celebratory couple of days and our commitment to inclusive art is reflected in the programme each year, showcasing a range of work, from documentary to drama, short form to feature, films from different places and representing different perspectives, as well as work by women-of-colour.



The theme for #DFFF2017 is FeministFutures. Our programme this year foregrounds topics such as science and the universe, magical realism, technology and the digital world, contemporary feminist issues and movements, sci-fi, dystopia, and the future female. We’re asking questions about future generations of women – what challenges we will continue to face; how female filmmakers are shaping stories about our existence as human beings in a vast universe; how humour and beauty can be harnessed for illuminating serious issues, what makes something subversive; what makes us laugh? Under the spotlight are the roles that activism, tech, art, geography, reproductive (in)justice, youth culture, gender violence, or science might play in our FeministFutures… as well as the shockingly overlooked subject-matters of lesbian space-aliens and kitsch witches!

This year we want to showcase contemporary FeministFutures work, so every feature film is under five years old and we are proudly screening four Irish premieres. Each year we also screen a selection of Irish and international shorts – and award a ‘Best Short’ prize. We’re hosting a lecture dealing with intersections of new media, technologies, women’s bodies, sex and sexuality, in addition to a ‘Make a Movie with your Phone’ workshop for teenage girls – the future is theirs, after all.


Jen Carey, creater of new board game Rampunctious, talks entrepreneurship and sexism in the gaming industry

Jen Carey, creater of new board game Rampunctious, talks entrepreneurship and sexism in the gaming industry

Jen Carey has always been interested in games, ever since she got a Playstation One as a child. Jen went on to study game development in college, and after working in games companies and games middleware, Jen has switched the screens for boards with her new board game creation Rampunctious. Jen had time to chat with us recently about her entrepreneurial venture and what it’s like as a woman in the gaming industry.


1. Hi Jen. So tell us, what is Rampunctious?
Rampunctious is the game of terrible puns. Rampunctious came about from wanting to make a game that I’d like to play. I’ve always enjoyed making bad jokes and I’m that friend who loves to make a bad pun, so I decided to come up with a way to inflict that on as many people as possible. It’s a party game for four or more players and whoever makes the best, most or worst puns wins. If someone makes a pun so bad that people physically cringe (and are tempted to disown them) they can be awarded a Cringe card, which is an extra point and a shameful honour. The first person to get 10 points wins.




2. What was your favourite part of creating Rampunctious? 
My favourite part happened after a few scheduled playtests. I went to some game dev events, and people were asking if I’d brought Rampunctious with me and when they could play it again. It’s a really great feeling to find you’ve made something that people enjoy playing and were trying to play again.


3. What’s next for you? Any future projects?
My next game is already in the works and it’s called Bragging Rites. We’re at the early playtest stages of creation. The idea is everyone plays as a criminal and they try to come up with the best story possible to claim bragging rights for a crime. The catch is they have to explain the evidence that’s left at the scene, which is revealed piece by piece. This means they have to keep changing their stories to explain how a block of cheese or a bowl of sequins was left there.


4. What is it like being a female in the gaming industry?
Being a woman in a male dominated industry is always going to be a bit of a trial, I won’t lie, but there are so many amazing, creative and supportive people here that you can usually avoid the horrible ones. There are a huge amount of people who are working to make the industry better and more inclusive for everyone. The main thing I’ve found is that you need to get comfortable with calling out behaviour. A lot of people don’t recognise that they’ve said something offensive or they think that everyone feels the same way they do. I’ve found it helps to be able to challenge them when it happens. It also feels like you’ve done everything possible in a situation.


5. What advice would you give to any young aspiring female innovators?
Creative career choices often have a lot of skepticism associated with them. Some people have the idea that only a certain kind of person is allowed to be creative and that’s simply not true. If you want to make new things, whether it’s games or something completely different, go for it. Someone has to do it, why not you? Often the people making the most interesting advances or products are the ones who look at the topic differently. Everyone’s struggling to find something new and something can’t be new if you only look at it from the same view point and interests as everyone else.


Rampunctious is officially launching in October. There will be a launch party in The Square Ball on 24th October, check out the Facebook event page here. At the launch you can grab a copy of the game, or you can order it from the website The game costs €20 excluding postage. We don’t know about you, but we’ll be practising our puns for the next few weeks!
How can we inspire future female leaders?

How can we inspire future female leaders?

November 8th, 2016 will forever be remembered as the day America chose to elect the least qualified presidential candidate in history. While there were many reasons the American electorate turned from Hilary Clinton to Donald Trump, it is undeniable that gender played in role in Clinton’s defeat.

Although it’s easy to shake our heads and tut at America’s lack of progress, let’s examine women’s political leadership in Ireland. Like America, Ireland has never had a female Taoiseach. As it stands, 32 women were elected to the Dail in 2016, a new record. However in July 2017, out of these representatives, only three women were chosen as Ministers for a Cabinet consisting of 19.

In a world that is strikingly unequal and unfair, how do we encourage and prepare young girls to overcome the barriers and take on leadership roles?


From an early age, we need to encourage young girls to be confident and to not shy away from hobbies or activities that ‘are for boys’. Subjects in school like engineering, coding, and science that are historically male-dominated should be inclusive to any young girl who has a passion and interest in them. Make it clear to them that education and careers are just as important as relationships. When it comes to sport, encourage them not to give up as they enter teenage years. Partaking in sports can teach girls leadership skills, provide them with the ability to work as a team and boost their mental health. More than anything, we need to teach young women that they deserve to take up the same amount of space as men.

Embracing Feminism and Intersectionality

Feminism has gotten a bad rap the last decade. Conservatives and traditionalists label modern feminism or ‘third-wave’ feminists as ‘man-haters’ and angry women. While the message of feminism may have gotten muddled with the rise of ‘white feminism’ and ‘feminist lite’, the essence of feminism lies in its definition: the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. Feminism is a champion of both sexes and encourages people to eschew traditional roles and be their most authentic selves. But a valid criticism in recent years has been that feminism is exclusively for white, middle-class women who fail to recognise the discrimination of women of colour, LGBT women, working-class women and women with disabilities. To truly reach gender equality, we need to ensure everyone has a share of the pot and to do this, intersectionality must be embraced and spread far and wide. The most common definition of intersectionality is; ‘The view that women experience oppression in varying configurations and in varying degrees of intensity. Cultural patterns of oppression are not only interrelated but are bound together and influenced by the intersectional systems of society. Examples of this include race, gender, class, ability, and ethnicity.” We must continue to listen to voices from every background to ensure that our workplaces are not just full of women who fit the mold of ‘privilaged white girl’.


While diversity is the buzz word for the media and organisation’s, the real sign of progress is representation. In a 2016 study, Fortune report revealed that out of 1,000 companies in America, only 7% had female Chief Executives. This points to the harsh reality: women are underrepresented in levels of leadership. For example, If women do not have a say in political decisions; it means that the voices of 51% of the population are not being heard. This results in several socio-economic problems being ignored by male leaders and branded as ‘women’s issues’. To combat this; many global companies and governments have introduced gender quotas. While these quotas have been met with apprehension, from both men and women, they have proven successful in accelerating women’s progression in the corporate and political world. To enforce that women are represented at the top level, countries such as Norway have introduced sanctions for any company that doesn’t meet its quota requirements. In an article about gender quotas in the Scandinavian country, researcher Siri Terjesen explains that ‘if a company breaks the gender quota rules in Norway it will be denied registration as a business enterprise in the Brønnøysund Register Centre and be subject to forced dissolution by the courts. So far, no company has been sanctioned.’

Tackling online harassment

Statistically, females receive more abuse than males on social media. A 2016 Guardian study tracked 70 million user’s comments on its website over the course of 10 years. The results were unsurprising; out of the 10 writers who received the most abuse, eight were women. The 10 writers who received the least abuse were all men. News articles and opinion pieces aren’t the only breeding ground for online vitriol. Social media sites like Twitter have become a stomping ground for online trolls to harass women with messages of hate and threats of violence. Twitter has been slow to tackle this sort of abuse; at times they have failed to block users or ban their accounts, resulting in many female users abandoning the site altogether. One recent case acts as an example of how lawmakers did punish two online trolls who targeted a feminist campaigner. In 2014, two people were sentenced to jail for sending death and rape threats on Twitter to Caroline Criado-Perez, a writer campaigning for a woman to be featured on the £10 note, and to Labour MP Stella Creasy, who voiced her support of Criado-Perez. While it is promising to see individuals reprimanded for such acts, it’s worth noting that the pair were allowed to send multiple threats without the website suspending their accounts.

Raising Boys Differently

To inspire future female leaders, we must also change how we bring up young men. Similar to girls, we must encourage them to explore their true selves instead of forcing them into a small box of masculinity for the rest of their lives. Encourage them to see women as their equals in their personal lives and professional lives. This can start by ending gender segregation in primary and secondary school. Single-sex classrooms limit both girls and boys. In a 2011 article from, it argued that single-sex classes are ‘deeply misguided’ and that ‘There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.” Additionally, we need to raise young men to believe that sharing parenting duties is the norm so that it means that a woman does not automatically give her up a career or take a step back from a career to raise children. Even if paternity leave becomes widely available, culture and attitudes need to change towards shared parental responsibilities. Figures released by the Department of Social Protection revealed that since the introduced changes in Ireland’s paternity leave set-up, only one in fours fathers took the two-week leave. If women are expected to climb the career ladder, men should be expected to do their best to ensure it happens.

For too long women have had no role models to guide them to the top. Men have had the luxury of mentors in every possible sector to help them get to the top of their field. Going back to the 2016 US elections, it wasn’t just Hilary Clinton who lost out. This was a defeat for every woman who deserved to see a woman finally get the opportunity to smash that glass ceiling to pieces.


Emily is a journalism graduate from DCU. Her work has appeared in the Irish Independent, Sunday World Online and Hot Press Magazine. She is passionate about equality and a fair society for all citizens.

Regulating prostitution: is criminalising the buyer the answer?

Regulating prostitution: is criminalising the buyer the answer?

Ariane Allex explores the Swedish model for regulating prostitution and considers arguments both for and against it.

In the 21st century, an increase in migration and the changes in labour markets have created the conditions for an increase of individuals turning to sex work. As a consequence, many countries have begun to change or at least consider changing their regulations regarding sex work.

There are three main models of prostitution legislation: abolitionist, where the aim is to eliminate prostitution from society completely, regulatory, where selling and buying sex itself might not be illegal, but the activities around it are regulated, and legalisation, where prostitution is decriminalised. In 1999, Sweden adopted an abolitionist model but with a unique approach: it is illegal to buy sexual services, but not to sell them. Since then, many countries have adopted similar models, including Norway, Iceland, France and soon Ireland.

Currently in Ireland, prostitution is legal and follows a regulatory model. However, most activities surrounding it, such as curb-crawling, soliciting in public, loitering in public places, brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings, are not.

Turn off the red light

Since the 2011 elections, many discussions and debates emerged on the potential of a law reform. More than 70 organisations have come together and started a campaign called “Turn Off the Red Light”. The campaign declares that: “Trafficking women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a modern, global form of slavery. We believe that the best way to combat this is to tackle the demand for prostitution by criminalising the purchase of sex.”

Turn off the Red Light has been advocating for an abolitionist model where the government would aim to eradicate prostitution by making the purchase of sex illegal. In September 2015 the new “Sexual Offences” bill outlined provisions which criminalise the payment for sexual activity, while the person offering sexual acts would not be guilty of a criminal offence.

The Swedish model was first implemented in 1999. It made purchasing sexual services a criminal offence, which is punished with a fine and/or up to one year of imprisonment. Although to this date, no imprisonment has been made. Special groups in the Swedish social services were set up, called KAST, to motivate potential and active sex buyers to change their behaviour and never to purchase sex. It also set up programmes and services to provide free healthcare and counselling to prostitutes, financed by the fines collected from the committed sex buyers.

Turn off the blue light

While the Swedish model continues to get more praise, there are still important criticisms and opposition by various groups in Ireland, in particular Sex Workers Alliance Ireland (SWAI). A counter-campaign to “Turn off the Red Light” was set up called “Turn off the Blue Light” but received less traction. In 2015, Amnesty International decided to advocate for the decriminalisation of prostitution, despite much criticism.

Is the Swedish Model a step towards the right direction, or a step backwards?

It can often be difficult to answer this question when articles and research reports on the subject tend to contradict each other. The debates around the Swedish model are often based on various reports supported by different organisations with different agendas.Researching sex work can also be very difficult due to its sensitive nature.

Impact for sex workers

Many countries are considering the Swedish model for the potential effect it has on human trafficking. Criminalising the buyer and enforcing tough laws on traffickers have led to the decrease of human trafficking in Sweden. This claim has been supported by the majority of reports. However, other reports argue that the model has just pushed its human trafficking market onto its neighbours: Norway and Denmark.

In Sweden, prostitution in the streets, argued by many as the most dangerous environment for sex workers, has significantly reduced. The Swedish Institute reported that danger of violence has decreased overall as the sex workers, who are not criminalised, are now free to contact the police and seek help. Critics of the model however, argue that while visible prostitution may have decreased, underground markets and internet prostitution has increased in Sweden. They further argue that by criminalising prostitution, sex workers are pressured to stay hidden, which puts them in further danger of violence.

A similar point can be said of the healthcare of sex workers. While the overall well-being of sex workers is reported to have increased since the 1999 Act, it is difficult to tell if the healthcare of sex workers in hidden markets has improved or worsened.

Pye Jakobsson, a Swedish sex worker, has spoken many times of her and other sex workers’ experience of the Swedish model. She is convinced that the law is ineffective as it drives prostitution in Sweden more underground and because it strips women of their agency and their rights to do with their body as they wish to. She currently campaigns for decriminalisation in Sweden.

Excluded voices

The most important criticism of the model is that often, the government putting in place the legislation did not consult the main persons affected by it: the sex workers themselves. The UNAIDS 2010 report states that the policies and programmes which aim to reduce the demand for sex work, and which ignore the voices of sex workers, often result in unintended harms including an increased risk of vulnerability of HIV for sex workers and their clients.

In “The laws that sex workers really want” Ted Talk, sex worker Toni Mac outlines this issue. Before implementing a legislative model for prostitution, governments rarely consult the individuals most directly affected by it, which can often lead to unwanted, sometimes disastrous, consequences for them.

SWAI campaigns for their voice to be heard: “SWAI believes sex workers themselves should be at the centre of the development of policy which directly impacts upon their lives.” Campaigns including Turn off the Red Light often portray a very negative dimension of sex work, while others can have a very different message. SWAI declares: “SWAI supports a human rights and harm reduction approach to policy and laws around sex work. We believe sex work should be decriminalised and that sex workers be allowed to work in safety without fear, judgment or stigma.”

In Ireland, the change of legislation is now well on its way, and soon sex buyers will be criminalised. It is crucial that the effects of its implementation are reviewed and carefully researched in a non-biased way in order to identify whether the model is an improvement for society, but most importantly whether it improves the lives of sex workers.

Author: Ariane Allex

Photo credit: Red light district, Stoha, Creative Commons License.

Ariane Allex currently works as a Governance specialist in the Institute of Public Administration. She previously volunteered with Tallaght Drugs Task Force and St Vincent De Paul. Ariane recently graduated with a Master in Public Policy from UCD specialised in Drugs, Health and Community policy. Causes she cares about also include economic empowerment and the Environment.

Jolie appointment blurs lines between academics, aid workers and celebrities

Jolie appointment blurs lines between academics, aid workers and celebrities

Andrea Wickham explores LSE’s appointment of Angelina Jolie as a visiting professor.

Last week, the London School of Economics (LSE) and Political Science announced the appointment of Angelina Jolie Pitt as a Visiting Professor in Practice on one of their Masters’ courses.

Movie stars and musicians have long been used by aid organisations to use their star power to draw the spotlight to causes or crises, and to promote aid work to wider audiences. This dates back to the appointments of actors Danny Kaye, Peter Ustinov and Audrey Hepburn as UNICEF ambassadors the 1950s and 1960s.

On the same day that Angelina Jolie Pitt’s professorship was announced, the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul featured a gathering of global political and aid leaders, augmented with celebrity participation from Daniel Craig, Forest Whittaker and Sean Penn among others. Whether or not celebrities are effective in these roles, and who is best served by such arrangements, is a topic for a separate discussion.

Aid worker, academic or celebrity?

At a time when celebrities are used more and more by United Nations agencies and aid organisations as spokespeople and ambassadors, is Ms Jolie Pitt’s appointment a natural progression for movie stars? Or is it a sign that the lines between aid workers, academics and celebrities have been increasingly blurred?

Angelina Jolie Pitt has a history of engagement in humanitarian issues, and has long been an advocate for women in conflict situations. Following visits to refugee camps in Cambodia during the filming of Tomb Raider, she was appointed a goodwill ambassador for UNHCR (the UN’s refugee agency) in 2001.

Having made over 50 field visits with the agency, she was appointed a Special Envoy to the organisation in 2012. The role allows her to represent UNHCR and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at a senior diplomatic level and her advocacy focuses on major crises that cause mass displacement of people.

“Many have viewed these appointments as a cynical move – ‘a cheap publicity stunt’”

In a press release on May 23rd, LSE announced the appointment of Ms Jolie Pitt as a visiting Professor in Practice on the university’s new MSc in Women, Peace and Security – the first course of its kind internationally.

Angelina Jolie Pitt was one of four such visiting Professors appointed for the programme.  William Hague (Lord Hague of Richmond), former British Foreign Secretary is a co-founder of the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative with Angelina Jolie Pitt and will also be a Visiting Professor on the MSc programme.

The other two Visiting Professors will be Jane Connors, Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International Geneva and Madeleine Rees OBE, Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Visiting Professor role

What will the role of Ms Jolie Pitt and the other Visiting Professors be? According to the LSE’s own statement:

LSE confers the title of Visiting Professor in Practice on persons who have appropriate distinction within their area of (non-academic) practice. It includes individuals who have achieved prominence in public service, or who have attained distinction in their profession and through their practical experience.

While Angelina Jolie Pitt has visited numerous humanitarian projects with UNHCR and other agencies over the past decade, do these visits qualify her for such a role? I do not believe that this meets the requisite ‘practical experience’ needed for such a professorship. While her work as a Goodwill Ambassador and now Special Envoy have provided her with valuable insights, would she be better employed as a guest speaker or workshop panellist?

The LSE has also pointed out that the Visiting Professorships in the Centre for Women, Peace and Security are unpaid. At a time when university fees in the UK are rising, in particular at postgraduate level, many have viewed these appointments as a cynical move – ‘a cheap publicity stunt’ as the  chair of the LSE Labour Society put it – to boost interest and enrolment in their postgraduate courses, at no additional cost to the university.

Meeting student needs

As a former postgraduate student on a similar course, I can imagine how I would have benefitted from hearing the experiences of a Visiting Professor in Practice – a seasoned aid worker or development professional, who could articulate the challenges of the work I was hoping to pursue, and also provide insights into viable career paths within the sector. Prospective students of the MSc in Women, Peace and Security might really benefit from the experiences of Jane Connors and Madeleine Rees, and even William Hague, for those students interested in pursuing careers in public service.

But Angelina Jolie Pitt’s experience as a humanitarian activist has largely come as a result of her career as a Hollywood actor. Is this a path available to any of the students likely to be sitting in her lectures come September? What can she teach them that they might be able to replicate in their own careers? I believe that there are professionals working in the areas of Women, Peace and Security who have more professional experience than Ms Jolie Pitt, and whom the students could learn more from, in terms of the development of their own careers.

Over the past fifteen years Angelina Jolie Pitt has proven herself to be a passionate and committed advocate for refugees and women in crises situations through her work with UNHCR, the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative and numerous other initiatives and philanthropic endeavours. But does this experience make her a suitable Visiting Professor in Practice for future LSE students? I am not so sure.

Author: Andrea Wickham

Andrea is currently working as an independent consultant in the areas of Humanitarian Policy and Communications. She has worked for a number of aid agencies as a Humanitarian Funding Adviser in Chad, Kenya, Iraq and Ethiopia. She studied History and Political Science in Trinity College and a Masters in International Communications and Development at City University London. Andrea was a volunteer on the Suas Volunteer Programme in Calcutta in 2006 and a Coordinator in Delhi in 2008. Follow her on Twitter at @adwickham.

Photo credit: Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy to the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, at the launch of the UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, 29 May 2012, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Creative Commons license.

Recounting a year of change on International Day of Happiness

Recounting a year of change on International Day of Happiness

On International Day of Happiness we look at some highlights for social and environmental justice in the last year. We’ve captured just a handful of big and small wins across the world that made us happy and inspired us. We’d really like to hear you additions too! 

Gay rights

Gay pride, Dublin

Marriage equality was the first answer everyone gave when we asked what moments of change made you happy in the last year. This was a momentous social justice win in Ireland when we became the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage by popular vote.

Meanwhile Mozambique decriminalised homosexuality. The revised penal code drops the mention of ‘vices against nature’, a clause dating back to Portuguese colonial rule. Twenty-one African countries have now either decriminalised homosexuality, or do not legislate against it.

A smaller win for diversity came with the introduction of more diverse emojis, including same-sex relationships and multiple skin tones that over 2 billions smartphone users can now choose from.


The COP21 climate talks in Paris saw the world’s governments commit to limiting global temperature increases to below 2 degrees, while aiming to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. The Global Climate March saw over 2,300 events take place in 175 countries involving 785,000 people in the run up to the talks, sending a clear message for climate justice. Public pressure was key in achieving this agreement and will remain critical to ensure a fossil free future.


Solar cells near cargo terminal, Cochin Airport.

For for 285 days in 2015 Costa Rica powered its grid using only renewable sources. This has cut household bills by 12% in the country, showing that renewable energy doesn’t have to be more expensive. Costa Rica is aiming to become carbon neutral by 2021. 

Cochin Airport in the southern Indian state of Kerala, using over 46,000 solar panels, became the first solar powered airport in the world.


Refugees welcomed
Refugees welcome Cian Doherty

Refugees welcome protest, Dublin

In a wave of solidarity and goodwill countering racist undercurrents in Europe, volunteer efforts in Greece, Germany and Austria welcomed refugees on arrival, providing food and clothes to the newcomers.

An app similar to Airbnb called Refugees Welcome developed by a German couple to facilitate flat sharing for refugees has housed 577 refugees so far.

Meanwhile in Ireland, thousands of people joined protests calling on the government to do more and succeeded in increasing the amount of refugees we’ve committed to receive from 1,100 to 4,000.


2015 saw some inspiring grassroots feminist movements including a significant and moving success when former child brides succeeded in getting child marriage outlawed in Zimbabwe. They made the case that the minimum age to marry for girls of 16 year was discriminatory. It has now been changed to 18 years, the same age as for boys.

At home we saw the largest number of women ever elected to the Dáil last month. Smaller successes included the Waking the Feminist movement leading to a series of meetings with theatres and the Arts Council about making gender equality a reality in the arts through both policies and programming.

People power
tomorrow we disappear

Kathputli Colony, Delhi, India

Ongoing campaigns include the creative community of 3,000 people including puppeteers and artists in Kathputli Colony in Delhi who are resisting being moved of their land to make way for developers to build a shopping centre and offices. The community fear that their unique skills and talents will be lost if they are moved from their land.  

Communities across Europe are also mobilising and resisting. A campaign opposing TTIP and CETA, damaging free trade deals with the EU, US and Canada that threaten our food standards, our democracy and the environment is gathering pace. Communities and municipalities are creating TTIP free zones to show their opposition to these deals. Earlier this year Clare became Ireland’s first TTIP free zone.

What moment of change made you happiest in the last year? Add them to the comments section below or Tweet @stand_ie.

Author: Deirdre Kelly

Photo credits: Gay Pride Dublin, Iker Merodio, Solar cell near cargo terminal, Cochin Airport, Binu JayakrishnanRefugees welcome, Dublin protest, Cian Doherty, Tomorrow we Disappear, Joshua Cogan.

Missing Women

Missing Women

On this, the UN Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women Thainara Santos looks at the phenomenon of missing women.

“The numbers of ‘missing women’ in relation to the numbers that could be expected if men and women received similar care in health, medicine, and nutrition, are remarkably large. A great many more than a hundred million women are simply not there because women are neglected compared with men. If this situation is to be corrected by political action and public policy, the reasons why there are so many “missing” women must first be better understood.” (Amartya Sen, 1990)

The denomination “missing” is given for women who are not alive or who are not recognised  due to family neglect and discrimination. Not be recognized by your society means not being properly registered at birth, not having official documents and as a result access to basic rights are refused.

Analysing women’s social conditions in some countries, we are faced with evidence of considerable levels of discrimination and human rights violations. Amartya Sen, an Indian economist who won the Nobel Prize in 1988, estimates that 100 million women are missing  from society. Why and how is this case?

Respectively, China and India are the two most populous countries on the planet, and among this population there is a very large number of women who can be classified as “missing”. Likewise, Taiwan and Indonesia, are often criticised for their treatment of women, particularly in relation to inequality of rights, women’s disproportionally high mortality rates and selective abortion.

Isabelle Attané, demographer and researcher at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, highlights China as one of the countries with increased inequality, and Attané emphasises economic modernisation as one of the prime causative factors of this situation. On a global level, there is a higher population of women than men, whereas in China and India women are in the minority. This is especially true in the last five decades. Infant mortality between birth and the fifth year of life is 28% higher for Chinese girls and 7% higher for Indian girls compared to their male counterparts.

The Chinese “one child policy”, imposed since 1978 (though recently changed), has doubled the numbers of girls’ deaths. In 1994, in order to avoid discriminatory abortions, the identification of the sex of a fetus was forbidden in China, however, this practice still occurs under the guise of efforts to discover abnormalities in the fetus. The Chinese government imposed fines on families with more than one child and families started avoiding registering their daughters and as a result they ceased to exist in society. The unintended consequence of this has been that it has become increasingly difficult for these girls to benefit from any basic rights owing to a lack of documentation.

Such situations are also influenced by enormous social inequality between rural and large urban manufacturing centers. The unequal distribution of income makes the family face the birth of a child as an injury, such as the payment of a dowry the groom is due to obtain through marriage. In this instance, boys are always considered more productive. In the Indian case, for example, the constitution grants women equal rights to men, but in many societal parts women are considered not capable of earning money and they are just responsible for house and family duties. The dowry tradition, known as a transfer of parental property at the marriage of a daughter, means that until the marriage the girl belongs to the father and after that she belongs to her husband, is a clear example of female submission.

The “one child policy” in China, as another example, seems to be linked with one of the ways to prejudice a woman’s life: the selective abortion, owing to the fact that if you have more than one child, the second one would not have access to public services, such as education and health system, and the parents would be fined. Consequently, the country had a huge increase in the number of abortions, and accordingly  to Nicholas Eberstadt’s research, by the year of 2000, by far the majority of fetuses aborted in China were female, due to as well a traditional preference for the male gender.

It will be interesting to see if the legal change in the one child policy results in a more balanced population regarding gender and if the masculinisation of China’s population reverses.

Nu Ethical

Nu Ethical

Clothes, we love them. We love having loads of them. They are the skin we choose, they show our personality, they are our identity. They make us look good, they make us feel good. We love new clothes, we love keeping up with the latest trend. We love deals, we love sales, we love bargains. So we love our clothes for a while, but we don’t mind too much when they’re no longer in fashion, or get worn-out, or are fit for the bin.

However, behind the glossy magazines, the internet shopping, the “must-have” items and whatever is the “new black”, our clothes are doing an awful lot of unnecessary harm. It is precisely our love of constantly changing, disposable, cheap fashion that is creating and supporting a system that is polluting our planet, denying millions of workers their human dignity and locking them into poverty. There is nothing sexy about fast-fashion.

 Fast-fashion is a relatively new phenomenon which has escalated over the past 30 years. In the past clothes were an investment, trends lasted longer and quality was the paramount consideration. Now clothes are so cheap that it is often easier to buy a new dress for a night out than to get it cleaned. And facebook and instagram creates the idea that once photographed you can never repeat an outfit. Fast-fashion stores release new trends almost weekly.

Globalisation has led to outsourcing production to developing economies. Big brands have disproportionately benefitted from the low cost of labour and minimal levels of regulation in these states. Indeed, the governments of these states are often themselves powerless in the face of these multinationals, frequently engaging in a “race to the bottom” in terms of regulation and safety standards to attract more foreign direct investment. The terrible conditions of the factories was most recently exposed in the Rana Plaza disaster factory collapsed, killing 1,129 garment workers and injuring hundreds of others. The terrible and shocking reality is that our cheap clothes are subsidised by these workers lives. Despite regulatory reform in some states, problems persist with the implementation and enforcement mechanisms. Many factories engage in outsourcing to avoid scrutiny of their practices, this often means child labour.

Next there’s the environmental cost. Take a cotton t-shirt for example. To make one this will require 600 gallons of water, that’s 22 bathtubs, and 6 lbs of carbon dioxide, that’s like driving a car seven miles. So that’s how clothes are made, and yes, it’s awful, but it doesn’t stop there.

 High street brands are clever, and to make the profits they make they need us buying a lot, so they make it cheap, and they make it change so we think we can and need to buy more. So as we buy more we throw out what we already have, and that ends up in landfill. Tonnes and tonnes of clothes landfill every year! So we have a situation where one piece of clothing is made for one person to wear a couple of times, then it ends up in a dump. Where is the sense in that? Who came up with that idea and thought, ‘yeah, this system won’t impact the world irreversibly’? The other option is to give clothes to charity shops, but were still stuck in a vicious cycle, because not all of those clothes will be sold and many of them are sent back to developing countries where they are sold at a knockdown price, undercutting the local garment economy… and eventually once again ending up in landfill.

So what’s the alternative? Ethical fashion brands are a step in the right direction, but we’ve found they are few and far between and tend to be too expensive for a student budget! Fast-fashion has changed the way we approach clothes for ever. The super cheap, super convenient and super stylish fast-fashion brands have revolutionised fashion. So we decided to try and come up with a new system that allows consumers to look great, have an affordable and constantly changing wardrobe – without the environmental and social costs.

After months of brainstorming and talking to people in fashion we came up with Nu. We are an ethical fashion community that rejects fast-fashion but refuses to compromise on style. We aim to facilitate clothes swapping and sharing to reduce consumption and use every item to its full potential. When you’re done with clothes you can give them away to others in the nu. community. They won’t get worn in landfill! We run creative and fun events in Dublin to raise awareness and show alternatives, like swap-shops, upcycling and repair workshops. In the future we will be helping our members shop ethically by allowing the cost of the clothes to be spread throughout the community. We are creating a “public wardrobe” of exclusively ethical brands from which our members can rent items, meaning that you still get a changing wardrobe without having to dispose of clothes. We are currently developing our website and app but in the meantime we’d love if you’d like to get involved.

Find out more: Sign up to our mailing list at (stay tuned for the release of our ethical E-zine)

Take action: bop along to the nu. launch event in Workmans, Dublin 2 at 5:30pm on November 22nd:

Authors: Ali Kelly and Aisling Byrne
Ali and Aisling are two recent Trinity graduates trying to reinvent the way we shop encouraging people to move away from the fast-fashion model by creating a more ethical and sustainable way to shop. Our aim is to create a system whereby it is as profitable to treat all involved in the fashion cycle right as it is to exploit people. Gone will be the days where one piece of clothing is made unethically for one person to wear a limited number of times before it is thrown into landfill. The future is in sharing high quality ethical clothing, we’re going to make that easy so you can have a changing wardrobe for a cheap price without having to dispose of clothes.

Working towards women’s empowerment in Africa

Working towards women’s empowerment in Africa

Cian Doherty looks at perceptions of African women during the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.

The African Union (AU) is marking 2015 as the ‘Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063’. It’s quite a mouthful. But that should not detract from the importance of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in the developing world.

The 2015 designation is one part of the plan for Agenda 2063: an  ambitious continental framework governing the AU’s development activities for the next half-century. The time period could be better understood in the context of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the original AU.

Activities on the theme for the year included a large stakeholders meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January. Dialogue and consensus were created on topics such as women and girls empowerment, as well as sexual violence and discrimination. A call was also put out for papers on progress achieved in these areas.

MDGs to SDGs

In Africa, women in particular remain at the bottom of the social hierarchy, with poor access to land, credit, health and education.  It is hoped the sustainable development goals (SDGs) which replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from September 2015 help rectify this situation.

SDG5 follows on from MDG3 on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The new goal is more proactive in its methods, calling on governments to achieve, rather than just promote, these objectives.

With the year that was in it, and the new SDGs approaching fast, I thought it would be fitting to canvas some perceptions on African women from the attendees at Africa Day 2015 at Farmleigh Estate in Phoenix Park.

Joanne compressed 2

Joanne Randriamampionona with husband, Hyacinth (from Madagascar) and son, Orin

What 3 things come to mind when you think of African women?

Strength resilience and camaraderie. (Joanne Randriamampionona)

They’re generally put down behind men in African society. If they do get into the media, it’s usually the horror stories, so genital mutilation springs to mind; the story of Boko Haram and the female students getting kidnapped – it’s usually horror stories. (James Jameson, Australia)

Hard-working, strong and fashionable. (Bianca Simari, Zimbabwe)

Hard working, getting up early in the morning and going to bed late at night. I think they are the back-bone of African society. (Christine Sambe, Kenya)

Beauty, trying to develop themselves and taking action (Rose Nkhoma & Susan Dimba, Malawi)


What are the differences in how women are treated in Ireland and in Africa?

Equality. (Eamonn O’Sullivan, Ireland)

In Africa men are treated as superior to women, that’s what they believe.  Here everyone is treated equally. (Rose Nkhoma & Susan Dimba, Malawi)

There is a huge difference. In Ireland women can say something back to a man. In Africa there is no such thing. The man is always higher; there is a big respect and the man always controls you in everything you do. (Cidonia Berzinskiene, Lithuania)

In Africa they’re still more traditional views on the role of women whereas in Europe those traditional roles are less pronounced. Women feel freer to do what they want to do while in Africa, for a lot of women it might be more difficult to step out of those roles. (Seline Meijer, Netherlands)

Can you name a well-known African woman?
Rose Nkhoma and Susan Dimba (from Malawi) with Aisling and Bianca Nndu

Rose Nkhoma and Susan Dimba (from Malawi) with Aisling and Bianca Nndu

Winnie Mandela . (Fran Whelan)

Tiwa Savage, a Nigerian singer. (Bianca Simari, Zimbabwe)

Deolinda Rodriguez  – from angola; she was very important in the Angolan fight for independence. (Thais Muniz, Brazil)

My president – Joyce banda (the first female president of Malawi) (Mphatso Georgeaipi, Malawi)

Wanngari Maathai – a Kenyan woman who promoted a green revolution in tree planting mainly among young women in Kenya (in 2004, she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize) (Eithne Lynch, Seline Meijer (Netherlands), Ruth and Baby Anna Ludgate)

Towards equality

It must be borne in mind that women’s status and their treatment cannot really be generalised across the whole continent; from the predominantly Muslim north to the mostly Christian south. Though equality – or the lack thereof – did feature prominently.

Despite this apparent lack of equality, respondents also highlighted the way a lot of African women have gone on to do become icons and leaders in fields like politics, activism and the arts. Maybe this has something to do with the perceived hard-working and resilient character.

The MDGs have done a lot to counter gender disparity in Africa, particularly in education where many countries are making fast progress on increasing the number of girls attending primary school. Though there is still a long way to go in many other areas. We will have to see if initiatives like the SDGs bring full parity between the sexes – in Africa and elsewhere.

Author: Cian Doherty

Cian is a Dubliner working for GOAL as a Donations Officer. He studied Arts in UCD and completed an MA in International Relations in DCU. Cian has worked overseas with UNAIDS in Malawi and has volunteered in Mexico and Mozambique.

Photo credits: Cian Doherty

The meaning of motherhood

The meaning of motherhood

On UN Global Day of Parents, Nicola Leddy profiles the Mothers of the Disappeared campaign. Nicola visited Buenos Aires last January to see the weekly demonstrations first-hand.

“We will not forget, we will not forgive”. These are the words of the Mothers of the Disappeared (Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo) during their weekly demonstration in Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires. Global Day of Parents is a timely reminder of the struggles these women have gone through in the search of their missing children.

The Disappearance

The Junta (Argentinian military) intended to carry out its aim of “purifying Argentina” during their dictatorship without compromising its image abroad. To do this, they invented the deadly policy: The Disappearance.

“The fear and silence imposed by those in power produced a paralysis which led many sectors of the population into a tragic passivity”

The Dirty War, also known as the Process of National Reorganization, was the name used by the Argentine Military Government for a period of state terrorism in Argentina from roughly 1976 to 1983. During this time the military hunted down anyone believed to be a threat to their regime.

Task forces were created to capture and interrogate all members of suspect organisations, their sympathisers, associates and anyone else who might oppose the government. Indiscriminate violence was inflicted upon political parties, the press, universities, legal professions and unions.

Plainclothes police would show up in broad daylight, hold families at gunpoint, search the houses and claim they found items that could have been used to make bombs such as ties, irons, and cords.

Silenced by fear

The stage was set for one of the worst periods of terror and violation of human rights in Latin American history.

“The Mothers were the first to walk in protest to the military government”

Evel Aztarbe de Petrini remembers that her sons were dragged out onto the patio by men who appeared at her house one night.

They held them at gunpoint while they searched the house, pillaging for ties, belts and cords used to mend trousers. The men claimed the chords were used to make bombs and took Evel’s sons away, never to be seen again.

Mothers of the Disappeared Scholar Marguerite Guzman Bouvard wrote, “When the abducted arrived in detention centres, they were subjected to torture that continued for days. They were methodically, sadistically and sexually abused, not to extract information- for few had any to give- but to break their spirits as well as their bodies….The fear and silence imposed by those in power produced a paralysis which led many sectors of the population into a tragic passivity.”

The military claimed that the Disappeared were terrorists who had gone underground without telling their relatives, or who had gone abroad to spread their campaign of subversion.

Plaza de Mayo demonstrations

The Argentine Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo appeared on the political scene, fueled by anger at the disappearance of their children. This group of middle-aged women developed a political organisation to demonstrate in Buenos Aires before the presidential palace in the Plaza de Mayo, the square where Argentina first declared its independence.

Protest Buenas Aires

It started as a small group of women who dared to brave the security police, at a time when even friends and family members of people suspected to be opponents of the military regime were being disappeared. What brought these strong individuals together was their determination and political convictions that live on today.

The Mothers were the first to walk in protest to the military government. Since then, other groups of women throughout the country have mobilised to form their own chapters of the organisation.

The Mothers  are still fighting to find information on their missing children and have been able to recover 115 children whose parents were disappeared by members of the dictatorship. Children born in detention were taken from their parents and given another identity.

“They have defied the stereotype of women and motherhood in Latin America”

They have successfully spread awareness of the events that were taking place in the country and inspired mothers and other women to come together and fight for a common cause.

They have defied the stereotype of women and motherhood in Latin America, expanding their activism to include human rights violations against indigenous people, law and policy-making, and gaining representation and respect in societies.

The Mothers were the first responders to the human rights violations committed during the Dirty War and have been able to make the violations known on a local and global scale.

Argentina remembers

There is said to be 30,000 disappeared persons from that era. Some detainees were hidden in the basement of the factories, radio stations, or in residential neighbourhoods. I visited a memorial in Cordoba where pictures of the Disappeared were displayed for everyone to reflect on. Inside the building where some detainees were held and tortured, there were hundreds of letters, books and pictures in memory of the thousands who were ripped from their homes.

Disappeared photos

Scarf murals in plazas across Argentina can be seen in recognition and respect of the Mothers’ efforts. The Mothers all donned white shawls which became a symbol for strength. They have been demonstrating in Plaza de Mayo for 38 years every Thursday without fail.

It was an overwhelming experience to witness the resilience of these women and their supporters. In doing this, they practice a basic human right and demonstrate for the memory of their children. Their agony and passion for justice is palpable.

Many mothers struggling with poverty and ill health arrive in a mini-bus and are welcomed with huge cheers. The atmosphere was full of emotion and solidarity. The sense of presence and the pain of absence, overwhelming.

Author: Nicola Leddy

Nicola studied BA Communications in DCU and subsequently went on to complete a Higher Diploma in Television Production in WIT. Nicola was involved in the promotion of the 8×8 film festival in DCU during her position as Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator with DCU Students’ Union in 2014. She has also volunteered teaching English in Vietnam and travelled to Ghana with DCU Global Brigades to make a documentary.

Photo credit: Nicola Leddy

Marriage equality around the world

Marriage equality around the world

Aidan O’Sullivan looks at the impact of  marriage equality legislation around the world, ahead of Ireland’s upcoming referendum.

As the marriage referendum draws closer and the campaigns for both pick up the pace, the divide between “yes” and “no” sides has appeared to deepen.  Ireland is the first country in the world to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage and examples from around the world suggest that we should expect a positive reaction if vote “yes” on 22nd.

Early adopters – the Netherlands and Belgium

The two earliest adopter of legalising gay marriage was The Netherlands, in 2001, with Belgium, following in 2003. Traditionally recognised as liberal countries, both passed and approved bills on same-sex marriage with relative ease, the only political resistance in arose from parties with religious backgrounds.

The public greeted the legalisation positively, the only notable resistance arising in The Netherlands, where in particularly religious areas some civil servants refused to carry out gay weddings. In June 2014 the Dutch Parliament’s upper house passed legislation that prevents municipalities from hiring civil servants that refuse to carry out gay ceremonies.


Spain passed legislation in 2005, becoming the 3rd country to do so. There was widespread celebration and support of the legalisation, however opposition was much more significant than in the Netherlands or Belgium. The Catholic Church, still a considerable force in Spain, and the country’s conservative establishment were both highly vocal in their opposition.

The People’s Party, a prominent conservative party, rejected the bill in Senate, forcing the lower house to pass it. However when the People’s Party were voted into power they reneged on earlier promises to reverse the law when faced with polls showing the Spanish public overwhelmingly supported gay marriage.

South Africa

South Africa became the first country in the Southern Hemisphere to legalise same-sex marriage when the National Assembly passed the bill with a landslide vote of 230 to 41 in 2006, despite pressure from sections of some political parties. The bill was signed into law two weeks later and was greeted by LGBT activists as another move away from the country’s apartheid past.


In the case of Argentina, opposition was led by the Catholic Church and Jorge Bergoglio, now known as Pope Francis, whose stern and at times uncompromising resistance arguably worked against them. Same-sex marriage was passed into law on July 22nd 2010 and granted the same rights to adoption as different-sex couples. Within the first four years of coming into law just under ten thousand marriages were performed.


France passed gay marriage into law in May 2013, following two years of heated debate and a failed bill. Upon it’s passing, up to 150,000 protesters converged on Paris in opposition to the bill. Clashes broke out between particularly right-wing members of the protests and riot police, resulting in close to one hundred arrests.

Despite the seemingly severe reaction to the legalisation France had over 7000 same-sex marriages by the end of 2013. Polls show that the majority of French people are in favour of same-sex marriage and are particularly against any sort of repeal of the bill in the future.


Considering Ireland appears to have a strong “yes” side so far it seems safe to assume that if gay marriage is voted in that the public’s reaction would be an overwhelmingly positive one. The cases of Belgium and the Netherlands have shown that where support for marriage equality has been solid prior to legalisation that support remains strong and only develops further after passing into law.

With the opportunity to become the first country to legalise same-sex marriage through popular vote Ireland has the chance to further emphasise its belief in equality through both voting and in its reaction to the result.

Author: Aidan O’Sullivan

Aidan graduated from Maynooth University in 2013 with a BA in English and History. He has spent time abroad teaching English and is currently preparing to undertake an MSc in Marketing in September. View Aidan’s profile on LinkedIn.

Image credit: Freedom to Marry

Less, no more: opportunities presented by marriage equality referendum

Less, no more: opportunities presented by marriage equality referendum

Gareth Walsh looks at the opportunities presented by a yes vote in the marriage equality referendum.

‘I have spread my dreams under your feet, Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” WB Yeats

With the May 2015 Irish marriage equality referendum fast approaching, it is the long denied rights of a minority group that have been spread out before the general voting public for deliberation. In the debate and the vote that will follow the Irish public should tread softly, because you tread on our rights.

“It is highly unusual that minority rights should be decided by a public vote”

The vindication of the fundamental human right to marry of Ireland’s LGBT minority population lies in the hands of Ireland’s heterosexual majority.

For many, including this writer, it is quite unsettling that this long-denied minority right has been served up for public deliberation, a gift to be given to us by those who currently hold the right.

Unusual referendum

It is highly unusual that minority rights should be decided by a public vote, rather than in parliament, in developed democracies.

The concept of 50% plus 1 vote lends itself to the idea of a ‘tyranny by the majority;’ whereby a bare majority can deny the rights of a minority. A sophisticated and effective democracy entails recognition and protection of minorities, particularly given they cannot command a majority of any vote in an election.

The Irish government opted to hold the referendum on the issue rather than legislating, despite conflicting legal views on whether a referendum was constitutionally necessary.

The quality of our love, the legitimacy of our relationships, and our ability to form a committed and equally valid family unit in society are all the subject of a broad national debate. Such personal and intimate qualities will be measured and weighed up by the straight majority, and each individual will come to a conclusion as to whether LBGT relationships are worthy of equal status, or not.


Yet, despite the risk of denying minority rights by public decree as this vote entails, the referendum does represent an historic opportunity.

Ireland is the first country in the world to hold a referendum on marriage equality and so the referendum should be seized as an opportunity to achieve a resounding win for tolerance and inclusion. A strong Yes vote in May wouldn’t just by a hugely important step for LGBT rights in what was once staunchly Catholic Ireland.

It would be highly symbolic globally – Ireland would be the first country to achieve marriage equality by means of popular vote – a general population embracing their LGBT citizens as equals, and sending that powerful message around the world.

“That today every major Irish political party is in favour of marriage equality is proof of the remarkable achievements of the LGBT movement in Ireland”

Long road to rights

The campaign for LGBT rights in Ireland, as all over the world, has been a long and arduous one. Homosexual activity between men was only decriminalised in 1993.

Homosexuality between women was never criminalised, not because of some uncharacteristically progressive policy towards lesbians in Ireland, but because the law criminalising homosexuality stemmed from the British Victorian era in which those in power doubted the existence of gay women.

The Irish Supreme Court in 1983 upheld the law against ‘buggery,’ for which the maximum sentence was penal servitude for life. Decriminalisation in Ireland resulted from the Norris case, taken at the European Court of Human Rights in 1988. The Irish government fought against decriminalisation at every stage of the Irish judicial process.

That today every major Irish political party is in favour of marriage equality is proof of the remarkable achievements of the LGBT movement in Ireland, and the transformation of Ireland more generally on social issues. The majority of Irish people today are tolerant, open and celebratory of diversity.

Church waning influence

The marriage equality referendum for many will represent more than just a milestone in the gay rights movement, should it pass it would also demonstrate the now marginal influence of the Catholic Church in Ireland, once an almighty and pervasive presence in all aspects of Irish public and private life.

“The Church’s sordid past has left it with a broken moral compass, leaving the Irish public free to finally pursue a progressive path and direction”

The dominance of the Catholic Church in Irish society and political discourse from the foundation of the State until the 1990s can be difficult to comprehend for people not from Ireland.

Gone are the days of the ‘condom trains’ from Belfast to Dublin in the early 1970s or the requirement of prescriptions from a GP to obtain a condom following the legalisation of the sale of contraception to married couples in 1979. These are now viewed as quaint examples of the Church’s power over sexual and relationship matters in Ireland that we look back at incredulously.

There are of course much more malign examples of Church influence on the Irish State. Cases include the horrifying incarceration of ‘fallen women’ in Magdalene laundries, the deeply repressive sexual teaching by the Church in Irish schools, the torturous and endemic sexual, physical and mental abuse of children in industrial schools and pain and mental health issues suffered by survivors of institutional Church abuse.

Less well documented are the years and even entire lives of depression lived by many Irish people whose sexual orientation marked them out, if they were ‘out’ at all, as queer, odd, ‘not right in the head’, or ‘intrinsically disordered.’


Ours is a country that voted against introducing divorce in 1986, and only voted for it with the slimmest margin (50.28%) in 1995, and is a country where a husband could legally rape his wife until 1990. The marriage equality vote can be a watershed moment in which the Irish public firmly rejects Church influence over civic policies, and votes for inclusion and recognition of all citizens, equally.

The Church’s sordid past has left it with a broken moral compass, leaving the Irish public free to finally pursue a progressive path and direction.

Many LGBT people will acknowledge that we are lucky to live in Ireland, a much more tolerant society than in many parts of the world. But as a community being simply tolerated is not enough, we should be celebrated, and have a right to celebrate our love. Full and equal status will send the message to young gay people who might be struggling with their sexuality that you are no less than any of the other people around you.

Nothing to prove

When I was in a state run secondary school in the mid to late 00s, the topic of homosexuality was almost never mentioned by any member of the teaching staff. My one distinct memory of anything vaguely LGBT related being brought up by a member of staff is less than encouraging. My year-head was jokingly described as gay by a student because he was wearing a pink shirt. Rather than taking that opportunity to say that there is nothing wrong with being gay, my year-head said that he was the only person in the room who had ‘proved’ he wasn’t gay because he was married and had kids.

“Full and equal status will send the message to young gay people who might be struggling with their sexuality that you are no less than any of the other people around you”

The message sent to impressionable young people – the race is on to prove your heterosexuality, to dispel any suspicion of homosexuality as soon as possible. Marriage was held up as being the ultimate mark of heterosexuality.

Full marriage equality will send the very opposite message to young gay people – you have nothing to disprove or prove about yourself – just be yourself.

Marriage equality is the civil rights issue of this generation, and the determination and bravery of LGBT campaigners that has brought us to the cusp of equality is nothing short of heroic. Other countries have introduced marriage equality through legislation, but since Ireland is having its public vote in May 2015, it is paramount that we vote in favour of extending this important human right to its LGBT minority and let the message echo around the world.

Marriage equality sends the message that our relationships are less, no more.

Marriage equality tells us that our love is less, no more.

With marriage equality, we are less, no more.

Author: Gareth Walsh

Gareth Walsh volunteered on the Suas volunteer programme 2014 in Kolkata. He has just completed a degree in Law and Political Science from Trinity College Dublin, and is now undertaking a Masters in Human Rights at the London School of Economics. In the past he was chairperson of the Voluntary Tuition Programme in Trinity College Dublin, which provides free one-to-one tuition by Trinity students and activities clubs for children and teenagers from disadvantaged areas in Dublin’s inner city around Trinity. He is also involved in St. Vincent De Paul’s Sunshine House, and hopes to continue volunteering in the field of education whilst in London.

Photo credit: Mr and Mr marriage equality, Purple Sherbet Photography, Creative Commons license

Obama and the dreamers: a review of ‘The Golden Dream’

Obama and the dreamers: a review of ‘The Golden Dream’

 In light of Obama’s Executive Order on immigration, Cian Doherty looks back on the Mexican film, ‘The Golden Dream’ and considers the dangerous journey made by those seeking out a better life.

President Obama caused a fuss stateside recently. His Executive Order announced sweeping plans to reform US immigration policy, shielding nearly five million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The majority of these – about 4 million – are undocumented parents of US-born citizen children or legal permanent residents. Republicans are still seething at the news and doing everything in their power to overturn the act. They voted to block the measure, but the Senate refused to pass the veto.

The ‘Dreamers’

The move also extended a measure introduced in 2012 allowing migrants who were brought to the US illegally as children – or the ‘Dreamers’, as they are better known – to remain in the country. On hearing this, I was reminded of the Spanish-language film, ‘The Golden Dream’. I had just seen a showing of it in the Pavilion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire, part of the Monday night series that brings excellent ‘IFI-type’ films to the seaside suburb.

“The country accepts their illegal cheap labour, without allowing them the proper residency papers needed to rise above the faceless servant class.”

The ‘Golden Dream’ is about a group of teenagers from a squalid Guatemalan barrio attempting to make their way to the US for a better life. It is a common enough scenario in this part of the world. The Mexico-based film-maker Diego Quemada-Díez distilled the screenplay from real-life recollections of hundreds of illegal immigrants thereby adding authenticity to the action.

Given their undocumented nature, it is difficult to get an exact number of immigrants attempting this type of passage. Though it is telling that in 2013 alone there were 662,483 apprehensions by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Social Realism

Quemada-Díez cut his teeth working with Ken Loach. The British director’s influence is evident in the film’s raw realism and its committed social concerns. As the youngsters hop boxcars and ride the rails up through Mexico, they have harrowing run-ins with corrupt cops and predatory criminals. Perils like this seem to be inevitable for anyone making this kind of journey north.

“It seems servitude behind those golden bars may be around for a while longer”

The grittiness is somewhat balanced  by the warm coming of age teen-drama that sees the group bond and flirt.The young cast are are also exceptional and thoroughly deserved their award for best ensemble at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.

Karen Martínez is especially strong as Sara/Osvaldo. In an attempt to hide her gender, the character has to tape down her breasts and cut her hair so as to avoid the risk of sexual attack.

Golden Cage

The Golden Dream’s original Spanish title is Jaula de Oro (The Golden Cage), and comes from a Mexican folk ballad of the same name. The song is about the despair of those Mexicans who make it to America but find it is a ‘golden cage’. The country accepts their illegal cheap labour, without allowing them the proper residency papers needed to rise above the faceless servant class.

Obama’s new immigration policy changes these circumstances, especially for those already living in the US who qualify. This in itself must be welcomed. His recent State of the Union address copper-fastened the situation, promising to veto any Republican bills “refighting past battles on immigration”.

That said a reprieve from deportation and active citizenship are two very different things. The Executive Order may confirm an immigrant’s legal status in the US for now, but the next president could  issue an Executive Order of their own, repealing Obama’s. Plus, having the correct documents is no guarantee of getting the right kind of work. Either way, it seems servitude behind those golden bars may be around for a while longer.

Worth the Shot?

So you have to wonder whether a chance at the American myths of  wealth and prosperity are really worth it. A few years ago I took a reverse route to the film’s, travelling down from a summer job in California to a volunteer project in the idyllic highlands town of San Cristobal De La Casas in Chiapas, Mexico. Nowhere during my time in California did I see civic initiatives like those I saw in Chiapas.

You may say that in a society as rich as the US there is no need for it. But it goes beyond economics. Opportunity is all very well, but the American emphasis on individual success at all costs surely comes at a price. Community-minded solidarity may be one such casualty.

Despite, this, the US will continue to be a magnet for impoverished Latin American ’Dreamers’ for many years to come. ‘The Golden Dream’, with all its heartbreak and grim reality, is worth watching for anyone thinking of making a similar journey. As it is for anyone with an interest in Latin America, immigration or just plain, good film-making.

Author: Cian Doherty

Cian is a Dubliner working for GOAL as a Donations Officer. He studied Arts in UCD and completed an MA in International Relations in DCU. Cian has worked overseas with UNAIDS in Malawi and has volunteered in Mexico and Mozambique.

What does feminism mean to you?

What does feminism mean to you?

On International Women’s Day, Suzanne Cooper looks at how the term feminism has become a contentious one. We’d love to hear your thoughts on this too. Do you consider yourself a feminist?

International Women’s Day is being celebrated all over the world today. It is to honour the achievements of women so far in the advancement of their rights, but also promotes the continued struggle that our gender faces to gain equal rights in many areas such as positions of power and equal pay.

Feminism has taken massive strides forward over the last hundred years. Major wins in Ireland include the suffragette movement gaining all women over the age of 21 the right to vote in 1922, the marriage bar preventing married women from working in the public service being dismantled in 1973, and contraception being made available in 1985 .

“While only 20% surveyed identified as feminists, the majority of people’s views actually matched the definition of feminism”

This leads me onto a burning question; what does feminism mean today in the 21st century?

A contentious term

Feminism was a huge point of discussion in 2014, with many prominent stars such as Emma Watson and Beyoncé identifying as feminists, with others like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga rejecting the term. There was also a heated debate sparked over social media, with feminists and anti-feminists at loggerheads. It seems to me through following this debate that the issue was not over the ideals of feminism, but rather over the term itself.

A Huffington Post survey found that while only 20% surveyed identified as feminists, the majority of people’s views actually matched the definition of feminism.

While a Women Against Feminism contributor claimed, “I don’t need feminism because I am not a delusional, disgusting, hypocritical man-hater!”, the Irish Feminist Network told me that they fight for feminism because it is, “a movement for gender equality which embraces the principles of equality, solidarity, intersectionality and inclusiveness”.

Clearly the term means very different things to different people; while it started out as women fighting for equal rights, some people now associate it with women hating men.

Biases against men

Those against feminism have voiced their concern that feminism focuses on biases against women and completely ignores those faced by men. Problems for men include not receiving custody of their children, with sole guardianship automatically going to the mother for unmarried couples.  A recent increase in domestic violence against men has also been brought to light by Irish group Amen.

While gender equality issues certainly do affect men, and feminism recognises this, it cannot be denied that women continue to be disproportionately affected.

Still needed

Significant gaps in areas such as pay and positions of power illustrate how the feminist movement is still much-needed. The gender pay gap in Ireland has increased from 13.9% in 2010 to 14.4% in 2012, while the average for the EU is 16%. Just 10.5% of Irish company board members and 16% of TDs in Dáil Éireann are women. At the same time one in five women have been abused by their partner.

What does feminism mean to me?

I proudly identify as a feminist. I want to be seen as equal to a man, and that does not translate into me hating men. I want to see not just gender equality, but equality for every single person regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or any other factors. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter what form it takes.

Feminism to me means that I want to walk down the street without being verbally harassed. It means that I want equal pay for equal work. It means that I want to be respected. While we have made unbelievable progress over the last century in regards to women’s rights, we still have a long way to go.

What does feminism mean to you? Comment below to share your thoughts.

Author: Suzanne Cooper

Suzanne Cooper is a recent graduate of Journalism in DCU. She is passionate about animal rights, the environment, gender equality and human rights. Suzanne hopes that by being involved in Stand she can do something positive and contribute to change.

Photo credit: Jay Morrisson, Feminism, Creative Commons License

Review: Nirbhaya

Review: Nirbhaya

Nirbhaya is a play describing the events surrounding the rape and death of a student in Delhi but it is also more than that. The actors share their own heartbreaking stories of abuse. It is both harrowing and impressive. When asked to write a review for Nirbhaya, I didn’t know where to begin. It raised many emotions in me. The actors mingled with the audience after the performance but at the time, all I could say was how very brave they were to speak about their experiences before rushing outside for fresh air. It took me a few minutes alone outside the Pavillion Theatre to check the flow of tears. Nirbhaya was very difficult to watch but absolutely worth it. In fact, I heard many state as they left the theatre that they felt everyone should see it and hear its message.

“Nirbhaya is a stark reminder of the abuse women suffer all around the world today”

Centering on the rape of a student in Delhi and the personal stories of the actors involved, Nirbhaya is a stark reminder of the abuse women suffer all around the world today. The stories told by the actors make it clear that such abuse is not limited to the Global South, areas of extreme poverty or low education. It illustrates that such abuse can equally be found in places in the Global North, and in middle class homes. Here in Ireland we are very familiar in Ireland with the stories of abuse in the home, both of women and men. Indeed, one study found that one in three women in Europe say they have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

No more

A line repeatedly used was that the affected women were always expected to get up and carry on, no matter what they had suffered. In this, women are also culpable in seeing violent or aggressive behaviour as acceptable or something to be put up with, instead of something to be reviled. The play highlighted the fact that Nirbhaya’s bravery in fighting her attackers gave women who have suffered assault the strength to stand up and say ‘no more’.

Initially, it was hard to fathom that women who had come together as actors in a play could all have suffered occasions of such violence. However, then I considered the various minor incidents mentioned to me over the years by friends here in Ireland; being felt up on holidays abroad; having your bottom pinched or crotch groped in various nightclubs or pubs in Dublin; being aggressively spoken to or insulted as frigid or lesbian if a chat up line was turned down. While nowhere near as violent or terrifying as the assaults discussed in Nirbhaya, they are symptomatic of women being viewed as being of lesser standing than men or worse, there for the amusement of men.

A Dirty Word?

It strikes me that feminism is seen as a dirty word, particularly, and sadly, by younger generations. It is somehow misunderstood as being anti-male, or overly aggressive and unequal. There are anti-feminist movements online such as the Facebook group ‘Women Against Feminism’, as discussed in the Huffington Post recently. I have no problem telling people I am a feminist. However, I think it’s a shame the concept still need be discussed in this day and age. Equality does not mean we are all the same but that we should be given equal rights and respect.

If women experience poor behaviour from men, they are either deemed to have ‘asked for it’ or they are expected to just deal with it and get on with things. If a woman makes a charge of rape against a man, her clothes, appearance, previous behaviour and so on will all make part of the defence where it should have no relevance at all. They might face the double violation of potentially being disbelieved because the perpetrator is in a position of power or because her story is judged not credible by society. In 2013 alone, juries in Ireland convicted fractionally over 17% of those tried for rape and acquitted 76.6%.

A balanced portrayal

I was also heartened to hear mention of the men who came out and protested in India against the treatment of women, and to hear Nirbhaya’s male friend’s behaviour and bravery was lauded in the play. To me, it would have weakened the message of the play to have only given mention to the suffering of women without mentioning the men who are horrified by the treatment of women. Not to show this would have made it seem a criticism of all men. This is where the balance lies.

Nirbhaya’s message should never be lost; women and men need to stand up to all incidents of harassment on every occasion, be they a sexist comment in the pub by a male or female friend, or the observation of poor behaviour on the street, in the workplace, at home or in the pub. We need to support victims of abuse/assault so that they do not feel in some way responsible for their trauma.

“This was strangely a very positive play for me as it marked the possibility of change”

As upset as I was immediately after the play, the strongest emotion I felt was that of awe; at the strength of the performers, awe at the strength and bravery of Nirbhaya’s male friend on that night in Delhi, at the determination of Nirbhaya’s family that her story would be told and at the protesters who wanted to make sure such a thing would never happen again. This was strangely a very positive play for me as it marked the possibility of change. I came away thinking that I can’t accept things as they are anymore and that I have a role to play if I want things to be different. There is no doubt that the journey will be a long one but the need for change cannot be ignored any longer by anyone.

To find out more about the play see

Author: Jane Malone

Jane Malone is a primary teacher also currently completing a Masters in Higher Education at Trinity and volunteering for the Suas Volunteer Programme.
Photo credit: Nirbhaya the Play
Dangers of aid work on the rise

Dangers of aid work on the rise

As World Humanitarian Day takes place today, Andrea Wickham highlights some of the dangers of aid work.

World Humanitarian Day, marked annually on August 19th, commemorates the attack on the UN offices in Baghdad on August 19th 2003 which killed 22 people. In the years since, there has been increased attention paid to the risks that aid workers take on when conducting humanitarian and relief work.

The Facts and Figures

The Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), established in 2005, records major incidents of violence against aid workers. The types of attacks registered on the database include kidnappings, ‘carjackings’, attacks on individuals or compounds, bodily or sexual assaults. It is the foremost source of information that records the changing security environment for aid operations.

There has been a steady increase in the number of attacks on aid workers in recent years, with the number of victims rising from 143 in 2003, to 438 in 2013. A dramatic jump was experienced between 2012 and 2013. In 2014 there have already been a number of high profile attacks on aid workers in Afghanistan and Central African Republic (CAR). Earlier this year in Afghanistan, an attack on a hotel in Kabul killed international election observers and journalists. In CAR, where conflict has engulfed the country since a coup in 2013, three local Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff were among 16 people killed at a hospital in the north of the country in April.

While attacks on international staff tend to garner most attention (in terms of media coverage), victims of violence are increasingly national staff members, whether employed by the UN or large international agencies, or by local NGOs. This can, in part, be explained by the fact that as the composition of relief workers shift, so too do the statistics around aid worker safety and security. Humanitarian agencies increasingly endeavour, where possible, to employ national staff who often have a better understanding of the political and social context in which they are operating.

” International aid workers are proportionally more at risk, although national staff remain the vast majority of victims”

In 2013, roughly 13% of victims (58) were international staff members and 87% (380) were national staff working for either international or national organisations in their own countries. Given that international staff account for roughly 4% of the global aid worker community, the data suggests that international aid workers are proportionally
more at risk, although national staff remain the
vast majority of victims.

What’s driving this increase in violence?

From a historical perspective, traditional warfare between and within states appear to be decreasing . However, the nature of conflict itself is changing with a rise in the number of non-state violent actors – most often rebel or guerrilla groups. This could partly explain the rise in violence against aid workers. As they navigate increasingly complicated operating environments with multiple violent groups, aid workers become a potential target for a number of these factions. This is clear when the countries with the highest incidents of aid worker attacks are noted – Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan; all countries with high levels of violence perpetrated by guerrilla groups.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 15.55.46

What effect does it have?

Are there wider, systemic consequences of this rise in violence? If countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia are notoriously unsafe contexts for aid workers, are agencies less likely to respond to emergencies in these countries? MSF certainly seem to think that this is the case. In a provocatively titled report, ‘Where is Everyone?’, they argue strongly that the aid industry is slow, cumbersome, and increasingly absent from emergency environments                                                                                                            where there are security or logistical challenges.

Humanitarian agencies are increasingly cognisant of risk, and many will look carefully at the potential dangers for their staff and operations before responding to emergencies. With crises tending to repeatedly affect the countries with some of the highest risks to civilian aid workers, a vicious circle is created, leaving the local communities in those countries even more vulnerable and exposed when humanitarian support is withdrawn or never offered in the first place.

However, aid agencies are still there. Humanitarian organisations continue to respond in Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria. The nature of these interventions may have to change in the future, with a greater focus on supporting local responses to emergencies, but until then, international agencies will continue to try to meet the needs of crisis-affected communities.

Author: Andrea Wickham

Andrea is currently working as a Funding Adviser for a Relief Development Agency based in Ireland, having spent two and a half years in Africa. She studied History and Political Science in Trinity College and a Masters in International Communications and Development at City University London. Andrea was a volunteer on the Suas Volunteer Programme in Calcutta in 2006 and a Coordinator in Delhi in 2008. Follow her on Twitter at @adwickham.

Photo credit: Médecins Sans Frontières feeding centre in Central African Republic, Jaume Codina, MSF, creative commons license

An Irish Ramadan

An Irish Ramadan

As Ramadan comes to an end, Fahim Ahmed explains the Islamic fasting month, and the differences between Ramadan in Ireland and Bangladesh. 

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is a special month for all Muslim people around the world.


During Ramadan Muslims fast each day. Fasting is compulsory for people from the age of 12, however exceptions are made for people who are sick, travelling, for women who are pregnant or recovering from childbirth. In these cases people postpone the fast until they are in better condition.

Fasting begins with dawn and ends with sunset. During the day Muslim people not allowed to eat, drink or engage in any kind of sexual activity. After sunset people break their fast by eating dates and drinking water or juice, followed by after sunset prayer. Usually people would have a big meal immediately after prayers.

“Ramadan is not just about fasting; it’s more about spiritual things”

However, Ramadan is not just about fasting; it’s more about spiritual things. We believe that in this month God will wipe all your sins if you do good and please him so people worship more and spend more time in the mosque
reading the Quran during Ramadan.

During Ramadan people try to help the poor people as much as they can. Rich people give Zakat, a levy on the property of the wealthy, to the poor people in the society. If a person is a breadwinner he or she also pays Fitrana, the charity that we pay at the end of Ramadan, to the poor in the society so they can buy something nice for Eid such as clothes or special food. The rich people also distribute food during Ramadan to the poor people in society.

Ramadan in Ireland

In Ireland, 49,000 people took part in Ramadan this year. Ramadan in Ireland is quite different than in Bangladesh because almost everyone would fast during Ramadan there, making the atmosphere quite different, with shorter office hours and schools and colleges closed for much of the month.

“In Ireland, 49,000 people took part in Ramadan this year”

Although the weather is more manageable in Ireland (in Bangladesh temperatures reach 35-40 degrees), the long summer days means the fasting hours are longer here.  In Ireland, Muslim people fast for 19 hours every day, starting at 3am in the morning and finishing at 10pm in the evening. In Bangladesh, people fast from 4am in the morning until the sun sets at around 6pm in the evening.

Eid al-Fitr

At the end of the fasting month, Eid al-Fitr, is celebrated. Eid is the biggest celebration for Muslims. Comparable to Christmas for Christians, people buy new clothes and lots of food, gather for prayers, spend time visiting family and friends and exchange gifts. During Ramadan Muslim people look forward to Eid, but at the same time people feel sad when Ramadan finishes.

Author: Fahim Ahmed 

Fahim is from Bangladesh. He lives Dublin and is a 3rd year Computer Science Student in DIT. Fahim has an interest in most things, but is particularly interested in technology and sports. He also enjoys doing voluntary work.

Photo credit: Clonskeagh Mosque, Tab 59, Creative Commons License

Attaching western strings? The legitimacy of withdrawing aid in light of human rights abuses

Attaching western strings? The legitimacy of withdrawing aid in light of human rights abuses

In this opinion piece Aoife O’Reilly sets out the argument for continuing overseas development aid to Uganda, despite the recent anti-homosexuality law.

The decision of President Yoweri Museveni to sign into law a bill that imposes life imprisonment for homosexual activity has put Uganda under the international spotlight. Many donor states have announced their intention to terminate or review aid ties, while the World Bank has opted to suspend a loan of $90 million earmarked for health care improvements until it can ascertain whether the new law will hamper development objectives. Uganda’s stance was fiercely criticised by US Secretary of State John Kerry who likened it to anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, while Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, in an official statement released prior to the signing of the bill, stated that the move would affect Ireland’s valued relationship with Uganda. Norway and Denmark have already withdrawn financial support, and there have been calls for Ireland to follow suit.

While the efficacy of foreign aid is perpetually debated, Uganda’s anti-homosexual law raises questions about the legitimacy of withdrawing aid because of human rights violations. If we view aid as an international obligation to assist development in the Global South, attaching Western strings to aid may not be appropriate.

Poverty causes human rights deficit

Many argue that more developed countries are obliged to take measures to remedy the deprivation endured by those in developing nations. Thomas Pogge, Director of the Global Justice Program at Yale University, has argued that developed countries are directly responsible for the plight of developing countries through supranational organisations that “foreseeably and avoidably cause at least half of all severe poverty” which in turn is “the greatest contributor to the current global human rights deficit.” Many international human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, require all states to engage in international cooperation in order to be compliant with their human rights obligations. It is certainly arguable that such cooperation necessitates a greater accommodation of those regions that are disadvantaged by the current global economic system.

Aid cuts increase human rights violations

The unfortunate reality is that human rights enforcement is predominately a domestic affair, and outsiders can do little to protect citizens from violations perpetrated by their own governments. The dearth of options open to other countries to respond to human rights abuses makes the use of aid as a negotiating tool appealing, but the long term impact of these threats is questionable and aid reductions are likely to effect the poorest in those societies. Aid suspension conceivably creates its own human rights issues, causing increased poverty and depriving individuals of the basic socioeconomic rights which aid may have secured for them in the past.

Realising rights takes time

The decision of the Ugandan government to publically and deliberately violate human rights creates headaches for donor countries left with an unenviable choice between standing up for civil rights and ensuring that impoverished people attain a basic level of subsistence. Given the progress that has been made on gay rights in many western countries, it is understandable that western donor governments would be unwilling to condone minority persecution of this magnitude in other countries. However the issue with making aid contingent on respect for human rights, and LGBT rights in particular, is that it ignores the evolutionary nature of rights protection. In Ireland homosexuality was decriminalised relatively recently, in 1993. Before this, Ireland defended its own anti-gay legislation, relying on moral and health justifications similar to the ones cited by Uganda today.

Imposing western values

Upholding human rights is essential to development, but donor nations must be culturally sensitive in this regard and avoid imposing western values when making aid human rights-contingent. Decisions to divert aid from Uganda have been labelled as blackmail by Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati who described sanctions as a “price worth paying to protect… moral values.”

The rights of minorities may only improve when the population at large accepts them. Withdrawing aid to developing countries could generate anti-Western sentiment and increased hostility towards the persecuted minorities who may be viewed as responsible for the cessation. It may be preferable to continue to support economic, political, social and cultural development more generally, in the hope that every country will come to the conclusion that minority protection is a hallmark of any equitable society. Cutting ties with such governments can be seen as a shirking of international obligations, and is unlikely to improve conditions for minorities, regardless of the intention.

Author: Aoife O’Reilly

Aoife has just completed a degree in Law and Political Science in Trinity College Dublin. She has an interest in social justice and public policy and has taken part in Suas’s Acceleread Accelewrite Literacy Programme. She was also heavily involved with the Voluntary Tuition Programme, an education initiative catering for Dublin school children, during her time in Trinity College Dublin.

Photo credit: Global Day of Action against Uganda’s anti-gay laws, A. Jones, Creative Commons Licence

Why International Women’s Day is still needed

Why International Women’s Day is still needed

Naomi Pollock, surprised by negative reactions to International Women’s Day, reminds us why it is still relevant and important.

Equality can be a confusing concept. It does not merely entail treating everybody in the same way, but rather treating similar situations similarly, and different situations differently.  International Women’s Day (8th March) was instigated in the early 1900s, to celebrate and emphasise the need for equality between men and women.


In the aftermath of International Women’s Day, I found the amount of negative and at times derogatory sentiment towards the celebration rather alarming. I believe this sentiment highlighted the lack of awareness within our society of the ever prevalent differences between treatment of men and women, on both a global and local scale. The sad reality is that within society the circumstances of many men and women cannot be held to be ‘similar’.

According to the Department of Justice Gender Equality Division, gender equality is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision making, and when the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured. It is highlighted that vast improvements in this respect have been made and are enjoyed by Irish women.

Inequality at home

It is undeniable however, that difference in treatment still exists. The European Commission reported that in 2012, the pay gap between men and women in Ireland constituted 14.4%. Women compose a mere 15% of the current Dail cabinet, which is in fact the best representation females have ever had in Dáil  Éireann. Additionally, the majority of top positions in many career fields are held by men; with fewer than one in ten of the top jobs in local government are held by women.

Inequality overseas

Furthermore, in many parts of the world females are not afforded the possibility to avail of education or certain career opportunities and they also experience many social limitations. Around the world, only about half of working-age women are employed. Women account for the majority of unpaid work, and when they are paid, they are over represented in the informal sector and among the poor.

The United Nations often cites the statistic that women do two thirds of the world’s work, receive ten per cent of the world’s income and own one percent of the means of production. In Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden from driving a car, or riding a bicycle on public roads, while in Tanzania women lack the right to own land. In 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reported that one in every three women is likely to suffer a form of violence or sexual abuse in her lifetime.


International Women’s Day is necessary to highlight that these differences remain in today’s world. It is not enough that is has improved in certain areas. Inequality relating to gender is simply not acceptable.

While the grass is certainly growing in respect of the role of women in Irish society, it still remains greener on the other side, a side dominated by a male majority.

Author: Naomi Pollock

Naomi is a recent law graduate from Trinity College. She is currently a legal trainee in a human rights law firm. Naomi completed the Suas Global Development Course in November 2013.View Naomi’s profile on LinkedIn.

Photo credit: International Women’s Day 2014. UN Women’s HeForShe campaign. “Women’s empowerment works for men, too. Where men and women have equal rights and opportunities, societies prosper. I am He for She.” (Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary-General), Evan Schneider, UN Women. (Creative Commons License)

Survivors speak out about gender-based violence

Survivors speak out about gender-based violence

On International Women’s Day, Claire Gibbons looks at the obstacles faced by survivors of gender-based violence during the Khmer Rouge and its continued relevance in Cambodian society today. 

After over thirty years, the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge are only just coming to light. In 2005, the Khmer Rouge Task Trial was established by the Cambodian government in conjunction with the United Nations, with the intention of punishing war criminals. Gender based violence, with the exception of forced marriages (which made up approximately one third of total marriages during the Khmer Rouge), has been excluded and disregarded as a punishable crime.

Atrocities committed

Cambodia was taken over by the genocidal Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. During this time, almost a quarter of the population, including men, women and children, were killed. Those left behind were scarred with memories of atrocities committed against themselves and their loved ones. During Khmer rule, women were sent out into the ‘Killing Fields’, where they were subjected to torture and rape, with many being killed afterwards and disposed of into open pits.

The Task Trial have justified their decision not to include gender based violence by arguing that rape was not systematically used by the Khmer Rouge as a weapon of war, in that soldiers were not ordered to commit sexual violence. This decision has received great opposition both from within Cambodia and internationally. Human rights advocates argue that official denial of this violence is symptomatic of a society that does not value women.

Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Over $200 million has been spent on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT), with just one conviction being made. Cambodians believe that there is not enough money being made available to pay victims appropriate compensation. The KRT is under increasing pressure to convict two of the remaining prominent members of the Khmer Rouge; Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who have been in custody since 2007.

Continued violence

Doung Savorn, from the Cambodian Defenders Project, believes that until violence of the past has been addressed, Cambodian society will not face present day violence. It is estimated that 25% of Cambodian women have experienced domestic abuse. UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence, Nancee Bright, echoed Savorn by saying that sexual violence in war can no longer be regarded as ‘collateral damage’.

Since 2011, the Cambodian Defenders Project has worked in partnership with the Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation and the Victims Support Section of the KRT, to get gender based violence recognised as a crime. They have also condemned sexual crimes being time-barred under law in domestic courts, meaning that if the incident occurred more than ten years ago, there is no case.

Speaking out

Due to the controversial nature of the decision to exclude sexual violence from KRT proceedings, more women have decided to come forward to share their experiences. Self-help groups and women’s hearings have been set up to hear female experiences of the Khmer Rouge.

Despite the undoubtedly useful and comforting nature of these new groups, it is unacceptable that women have been denied a public voice, or indeed justice for sexual crimes committed against them. As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2014, we must commend, not pity, the women of Cambodia. With official channels failing them and the subsequent setting up of alternative platforms; they send out their own message – we will not be silent. Though the future of the KRT is uncertain, there is hope that with this pressure, former Khmer Rouge soldiers will be forced to face the totality of their crimes.

International Women’s Day (IWD) takes place on 8th March. Action Aid and the Exchange Art Collective are running activities to celebrate IWD on Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th March in Dublin. See for more information. For more on events globally see

Author: Claire Gibbons

Claire is currently studying for a Masters in Gender and Women’s Studies at Trinity College. She completed her undergraduate in History in NUI Maynooth. Claire has previously taken the Suas Global Issues course and volunteered with the Suas literacy support programme.

 Photo credit: A woman at an IWDA / ADRA focus group in Cambodia shares her opinion about barriers to accessing gender-based violence services, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia (Creative Commons license)

Female Genital Mutilation – a change on the horizon?

Female Genital Mutilation – a change on the horizon?

With International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) having taken place on 6th February, Jessica O’Dowd reviews the situation in 2014.

 An estimated 100-140 million women globally are living consequences of FGM, which can be both physical and psychological. A further 3 million girls are at risk, with 6,000 girls undergoing the procedure daily. FGM is described as the human rights violation of our generation. Now in 2014, is there any evidence that this practice is reducing or is it as frequent as it has ever been?

 The procedure

FGM is described as any procedure that alters the female genitalia for non-medical reasons. Most common forms involve removal of the clitoris, labia minora or majora. More severe forms involve infibulation which is closing of the vaginal orifice. FGM causes many complications such as; sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, increased risk during childbirth, infection and psychological issues. It is usually carried out anytime from birth to 16 years.

FGM is deeply rooted in social norms and values. One of the main issues with FGM is that it occurs behind closed doors. This makes gathering data on prevalence and recording change of practice difficult. The criminalisation of FGM across a number of countries, although a vital step in child protection, has been attributed to the practice going further underground. Prevention needs to be the main priority and community engagement is key in this taking place.

FGM is prevalent in Tanzania with a rate of 15%, or 7.9 million women and girls, who have undergone the practice. Studies suggest that only 6% of the population believe that the practice should continue. However in certain regions, including the Mara regions, there is evidence that the practice is actually increasing. This increase is thought to be due to the limited structures and resources in place to address the practice in this region, despite Tanzania having a National Plan of Action for FGM.


Over 420 girls from this Mara region travelled great distances to the Masanga centre, a refuge set up by catholic sisters, during FGM practicing season in December 2013. Many of these girls fled with the permission of their parents who no longer support the practice.  However they feel unable to protect their girls from the social pressure and deeply embedded traditional practice occurring in their local towns. In this refuge the girls are given safe shelter for the duration of the FGM season in addition to the option of an alternative “rite of passage” which does not include FGM.

FGM was made illegal in Tanzania in 1998 and there is a national strategy around abandonment of the practice. However limited resources and structures in place for addressing the practice has led to some regions like the Mara actually increasing in prevalence. Most action is occurring through civil society organisations with support from UN agencies.

Demand for protection

Koshuma Mtengeti, the Executive Director of the local child rights organisation, Children’s Dignity Forum, in an urgent appeal noted that, “the District Commissioner has provided a bag of maize for the girls, but we have over 420 girls and many more are coming and we are not able to feed these girls who will be in the camp for a month”. This centre has protected over 1000 girls since 2008, however its ability to maintain this service is reliant on funding.

The road ahead

The positive that we can take from this is that some parents are starting to lose support for the practice. This emphasises the importance of engagement with communities at all levels and different generations in order to instigate community abandonment of the practice. The road ahead is complex; however we must continue to support the many efforts being made. This can be achieved through generating awareness, advocating for government support for FGM programmes within your own country and by supporting thecivil society organisations who are working tirelessly for abandonment of this practice.


Author: Jessica O’Dowd

Jessica O’Dowd is working as Migrant Women’s Health Officer with the NGO AkiDwA, whose work focuses on tackling the issue of FGM within Ireland and abroad. AkiDwA were instrumental in advocating for the Irish legislation “Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act, 2012”. Jessica is also completing an MSc Global Health in Trinity College Dublin with a special interest in human rights, gender and disability issues.

Photo credit: ‘Peer educating communities to put an end to FGM/C’, Jessica Lea, DFID (UK Department for International Development)

Russia, rights and Stephen Fry

Russia, rights and Stephen Fry

LGBT rights (or the lack of them in many countries) have not only been one of the most prominent news topics in recent times, but also one of the most poignant.

We can welcome some progress, belated as it is. Fifteen countries now recognise same-sex marriage, including Britain, where legislation on the matter was recently pushed through parliament.

We only have to look to Russia and the recent introduction there of revolting and repressive anti-gay legislation and celebrations of progress are quickly extinguished.

Fry stands up against anti-LGBT Putin

In his recent letter to British prime minister David Cameron and the International Olympics Committee (IOC), writer Stephen Fry candidly reflects on the 1936 Berlin Olympics and on the upcoming Winter Olympics in Russia in 2014.

The 1936 games were held under the rule of Adolf Hitler, a tyrant who had persecuted those whose “only crime was the accident of their birth”. As Fry so vehemently states in his letter, “Putin is eerily repeating this insane crime, only this time against LGBT Russians”.

While homosexuality is a much debated and sometimes contested topic, this is not just a time for debate. This is a fundamental human rights issue.

What happened to universal human rights?

Following the devastation of the Second World War, the world hoped  to eradicate any chance of a rebirth of a tyranny that can never be forgotten. The year 1948 saw the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global illustration of rights to which all human beings are  entitled.

Perhaps it is pessimistic to say that today we live in a world that is a far cry from the ideals of the UDHR. However, when we look at the dreadful situation to which Putin has condemned Russia and its people, we can see the world is still a long way away from realising even the simple ideals of inherent dignity, liberty and equality.

Will the IOC live up to Olympic ideals?

Fry appeals to The IOC to put the pressures of money, politics and diplomacy aside, and to “stand up for what the movement is pledged to do”. Among other things, the IOC is committed to:

  • The promotion of peace
  • Acting against any form of discrimination
  • Encouraging and supporting measures to protect the health of athletes
  • Opposing any political or commercial abuse of sport or athletes

When we look at that list, how can we feel comfortable sending gay Olympians to the 2014 Games in Russia, a place where they cannot freely be themselves?

As Fry so fervently states, “It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village”. The mere idea is outrageous and would oppose everything that the IOC strives for.

“It is simply not enough to say that gay Olympians may or may not be safe in their village”.

If we allow the Winter Olympics in Sochi in Russia to go ahead without protest, are we not tolerating another tyrant’s persecution of another minority group?  Just looking at the pictures of violent anti-gay protests and beatings in Russia that have bombarded the global media will compel many to take action, however small.

Our power as global citizens

Today we live in a global community.  We are global citizens and Fry is right. Putin cannot be seen to have the approval of the civilised world. There has been much progress in the fight for human rights across the globe, but there is still much progress to be made.

We have to ask ourselves if we want to live in a world where the fundamental right to express yourself is a punishable crime. Do we want to see history repeating itself? In his letter, Fry quoted the eloquent words of Edmund Burke, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.

There are no words more fitting. It is time for us to stand up and act.

Author: Kate Keohan