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A Canadian Woman Lured Over the Internet to the ISIS Caliphate

New Age Islam News Bureau

1 Apr 2020

• A Canadian Woman Lured Over the Internet to the ISIS Caliphate

• U.S. Embassy Reacts to Death of Senior Female Afghan Intelligence Official in Kabul

• 'A Big Wake-Up Call': Survey Shows Work Still to Be Done on Women's Sexual Rights

• A Global Day of Action! International Working Women’s Day

• How To Close The Inequality Wealth Gap According To 5 Black Women In Finance?

• How ‘Unorthodox’ Captured One Woman’s Flight from Hasidic Brooklyn

• Why the Women’s Ministry Needs A Spanking

• Malaysian Ministry Tells Women to Stop Nagging and Wear Makeup During Lockdown

• Strained Hospitals and Isolation: How Coronavirus Made Giving Birth Even Harder

Compiled By New Age Islam News Bureau



A Canadian Woman Lured Over the Internet to the ISIS Caliphate

March 31, 2020

Western women had all sorts of reasons for joining ISIS, from seeking romance, falling in love, wanting an adventure, following a man, or escaping a bad family situation, to rejecting Western society where they felt rejected themselves (i.e. discriminated against and marginalized, often for Islamic dress), to seeking purpose, relationship, significance, dignity, and a life that they believed would be lived by Islamic ideals. Most of these women were sorely disappointed by the reality. Kimberly Pullman, dual Canadian and American citizen, was no different.

I interviewed Kimberly in the Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] administered detention Camp Roj, Syria in late August of 2019. In speaking to Kimberly it became quickly apparent that she had left Canada in overwhelming psychic pain, running from it and believing she could bring her nursing skills to bear in helping Syrians less materially fortunate than herself who were suffering from wartime atrocities.

“I met him on Twitter,” Kimberly recalls of her exposure to her ISIS recruiter, a man she ultimately married over the Internet and later followed into ISIS. While many experts doubt that Internet recruitment alone can be enough of a radicalizing influence to move an individual to join a terrorist group,[1] much less travel across continents to do so, our research at the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) has found that not to be true.

Of my in-depth interviews of 239 ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners, 20.2% of men and 23.7% of women joined ISIS after Internet contact only (including in some cases, with people they already knew). When we exclude local ISIS members who were already living in Iraq and Syria when they joined, those numbers go to 31.2% of men and 28.6% of women, responding to the group or its propaganda messaging, completely lacking any direct face-to-face contact with known or unknown recruiters. While these results are comparable among men and women, we did find that women were generally talking to family members or spouses or unknown men, while men were generally talking to friends. Kimberly was talking to a man who later became her spouse.

We have learned now that the Internet can provide a very strong forum for terrorist recruitment, with it playing the sole role in one fifth of the cases in our sample. During the time ISIS and other rebel and militant groups is Syria were recruiting the over 40,000 foreign fighters from 110 countries who ultimately traveled to Syria and Iraq, most to join ISIS, the ability to conduct an intimate relationship over the Internet was already well developed with video chat, online phone and text messaging, and email. Indeed, many potential ISIS recruits recall their conversations with ISIS recruiters as intimate relationships with a significant influence in their lives. Canadian researcher Amarnath Amarasingham echoes our results writing about his online interviews with ISIS devotees on the messaging app KIK. Amarasingham describes how strong these relationships became, noting that,

“Especially when talking to the ISIS support network around the world, was that they loved each other, knew each other on a deep and personal level, and took immense risks for each other. They checked in on each other when they were sick, they encouraged each other when it was exam season at their universities, and some even got married over Skype to people they would probably never meet in real life. They called themselves the baqiya (Arabic for “remaining”) family.”

Similarly, in the 239 cases of those ISIS members I in-depth interviewed in person, for those who were lured solely over the Internet, the relationship became strong enough to enable them to travel long distances, even crossing continents, to join the group.

In Kimberly’s case, she joined at a time when her life was crashing around her. Her father, who had become addicted to amphetamines in medical school, got sick with leukemia when she was only 14 and died when she was 19, even asking her to help him in an assisted suicide. “Addiction is very brutal on the entire family,” Kimberly recalls.

Robbed of much of her innocence in childhood, Kimberly fell into troubled relationships and was raped more than once. By age 20, she was the unwed mother of three small children. Trying to find her way in life and terrified of falling into substance abuse like her father, she was drawn to the conservative nature of Islam and what looked to her as the “safety” and close-knit warmth of Islamic communities. Knowing she would more likely avoid substance abuse in these communities and thereby protect her children from her childhood traumas, Kimberly converted to Islam.

However, seeking safety among Muslims didn’t turn out as she hoped. Kimberly married a Kuwaiti man who took her and her children overseas and subjected them to violence. After escaping from him and divorcing, Kimberly sought help at home from a Canadian imam. “The imam started counseling me and my children,” Kimberly recalls, while her “family blamed me for taking the kids overseas and for what happened.”

“They are all practicing Christians and think this religious is Satanic,” Kimberly recalls. By contrast, the imam seemed so supportive. “He invited me for picnics with his wife and children. He was so nice and friendly and he could take over talking with my husband, so I wouldn’t have to.” Then one day on her way to meet him, “I got lost and he came and got me,” Kimberly recounts. “I followed him and he led me into a forest. Nine hours later that day I left the community.” The imam also raped Kimberly, becoming the final straw in an endless cycle of trauma.

“He’s been convicted now,” Kimberly recalls. “It turned out he’d been a serial rapist,” and was taken to court. “When I didn’t show up for therapy, [my therapist] asked me what happened. They brought in a rape specialist [who] advised me not to testify because of who he was and who I was, better to focus on healing. I think he did get convicted. This happened maybe a year before I left.” Kimberly recounts.

The advice not to testify turned out to be less protective than hoped, as the trial received mass media coverage and Kimberly was exposed anyway, without being empowered to speak against him in court in any manner that mattered. Like many rape survivors facing the trial of their rapist, Kimberly found herself descending into a spiral of post-traumatic stress, “I started failing at a university when his trial began. I had a hard time focusing, stopped sleeping, nightmares from my ex-husband.” Speaking of the flashbacks she recalls, “It was like a DVD that wouldn’t shut off. I couldn’t make it stop.” It was during this time that Kimberly fell into the hands of an ISIS recruiter.

Kimberly recalls the turning point with the man to whom she ultimately went to join in ISIS. “He asked me, ‘You are not really the kind of woman who divorces. Why did you?’” Thinking back to all the horrific violence, self-blame and shame in her life, Kimberly recalls, “It’s not the subject you want to discuss with anyone. It’s what you want to forget. It will never get easier. I always feel guilty. I will always hate myself.” Speaking of the many times she was raped, Kimberly states, “Sometimes I think I have a ‘FU’ on my back.”

In sharing with him her reasons for fleeing her violent marriage, Kimberly was amazed by her ISIS lover’s answer. “When it’s back in actual Muslim hands,” he said, speaking about Kuwait, where her ex-husband lives, “We will go and restore you, and your children’s honor.” Kimberly recalls, “That is something I haven’t had. Giving back a purity that was taken away was something I wanted so badly. That is something that he didn’t hold against me, and then that pulled me in.”

Added to his promise to restore her honor, Kimberly also faced his impatience for his wife to join him in Syria, “Later he threatened to divorce me because I wouldn’t come.”

Kimberly was already known to Canadian security services (CSIS) due to her Internet chatting with extremists, and the government had tried to restrain her from traveling to Syria. “My passport was being held,” Kimberly recalls. “CSIS had seen me in PalChat talking to someone else.” Now, with hindsight, she wishes she had talked with CSIS, sought their advice.

“If I could redo it, I would run to CSIS and told them what he was doing. But the problem was I had been taught these are non-Muslims. You can’t trust them—the us and them. I did ask in my own community. I talked to two different sheiks. One refused to answer, ‘My husband is going to ISIS and demanding I go with him, what should I do?’ I even went to him and said I’m the one that wrote that question and I want an answer. He replied, ‘I’m not going to answer it.’”

Thus, Kimberly was left to her own devices at a time when she was losing her abilities to think clearly due to severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We are taught in Islam that your husband is the emir of your life, the protector,” Kimberly continues, explaining why she followed a man she had only met over the Internet into ISIS. To encourage her to come, he said, “Come where you are loved. Your children don’t even see you. You have skills. You shouldn’t be alone.” Kimberly recalls how she hid her emotional suffering from him. “He didn’t know, but I was actively suicidal. I was on medication from a psychiatrist. It was just sleep medication and it made me groggy. I asked for actual help, [but the psychiatrist] said, ‘It’s $700 per hour.’ That was more than [I could afford.]”

Aside from the time when she was married to the Kuwaiti man, Kimberly had been living in social housing, raising her children since she left home, while also trying to pursue her education. She was pursuing a nursing degree when the stress caught up to her, “I got really sick. The diagnosis was Lupus initially. I had multiple infections. It made me stop life actually.”

Kimberly recalls that, like many Muslims who believe in the “ummah,” or the global family of Muslims, she was also at that time being overwhelmed by the suffering of her Muslim “brothers and sisters” around the world. Indeed, the Internet has made interconnectedness in real-time possible, and the ability to view images and videos from around the world can make ignoring suffering almost impossible. Kimberly recalls, “My Facebook was being flooded with Syrian and Palestinian children. It was getting worse and worse. I couldn’t deal with it.” The suffering and guilt led Kimberly right into the hands of ISIS. “I felt guilty that I was living a good life, so I followed a link on Facebook to Twitter,” she recounts. “I had never had a Twitter account. It was there I met him.  After a year of marriage, after he came to Syria, I remember what he said. I remember they were defining moments for me,” Kimberly states of how he promised to restore her honor.

Faced with the suffering of others that she had skills to help, and with one of the main supporters in her life urging her to come, while promising to restore her honor and also threatening to leave her if she did not, Kimberly finally succumbed and flew to Antalya, Turkey. “I was brought into Raqqa,” she recounts. According to her claims, Kimberly didn’t plan to stay. “He was injured in training camp,” she explains. “I thought I’ll take care of him, find him another wife, and then come back.” Meanwhile, he continued to target and manipulate her in the most emotionally needy areas of her life. “He said, ‘I know what’s wrong with you. I’ll teach you and fix you.’” Kimberly badly wanted to be fixed.  She also wanted to forget her own troubles and throw herself into helping others, so she ignored all the warning signals.

Unsurprisingly to those on the outside, her husband didn’t turn out to be the good guy he made himself out to be. “He is narcissistic through and through,” she explains. “I was very weak and vulnerable. He was from Somalia. He had never been out of Africa. He had been in al Shabaab. He had been in the Nairobi mall attack,” Kimberly learned. He was violent as well but she was such a victim that “he didn’t need to hit me. He told someone he didn’t need to because I’ve been [abused before].”  When the marriage didn’t work out, “He takfired me,” Kimberly explains, meaning he called her an apostate and put her in the madhafa, or women’s guesthouse where unmarried women are held until ISIS finds a husband or other use for them.

“I was told in the madhafa,” Kimberly recalls, “They came with a paper with big stamps. ‘You can go to work or to go prison.’” As a nurse, she chose work. “If I was going to be locked in this place and couldn’t leave, it was better,” she explains. “I was very glad to get out of there. It was a crazy place with all those children screaming. There was a stabbing that night between Syrians and muhajareen [foreign women].”

“I worked with Western doctors,” Kimberly recalls of her time working in the Watani Hospital in Raqqa. “That came with its own trauma. I worked underground. It was all about patients, resuscitating children, in the ICU.” Despite being sheltered from the noise of bombardments, Kimberly recalls, “I knew when bombings were happening by the amount of blood on the ground.”

Kimberly didn’t like what she was seeing and, adhering to her original plan, didn’t want to stay in ISIS, but once in, she found she could not just leave. “I tried to escape about six months after I was in madhafa,” she recalls, but having no money meant she could not hire a smuggler to help her. “The second time I tried to get out, in 2016. I got married. Then they threw me in prison for inquiring about how to leave. [I was] raped again in prison,” Kimberly recounts. Listening to her, I begin to wonder how she keeps her sanity at all. This detention camp is not a whole lot easier than life in ISIS was.

“The first night they pulled me out and you could hear the screams down the hallway, and they made me watch [torture]. They said if I didn’t start giving information this was going to happen to me to. They brought me upstairs. There was a chain. I could see men all in different stress positions, in chamises, blood all over the floor, trying not to step in it and I remember thinking, ‘If I actually live through this, it’s going to be a bit of a miracle.’”

Kimberly remembers her cell and counting the “4222 tiles on the wall. There were 9 women [in my cell]. Three were marked for death. One had been tortured. In prison they cut my thumb and I had to read out a statement they would apply the hokum [Islamic law] on me. When I asked what that meant, they showed me, slitting my throat. I signed in blood. They like blood.”

“I got interrogated in front of 8 of them,” Kimberly continues. “I asked them, ‘How is this Islamic? 8 guys alone in a room with me?’ I came out with a massive concussion,” Kimberly shares. “I had a hard time focusing when I got home. I couldn’t walk a straight line. My husband took me to hospital after the third day.” Kimberly didn’t share with him that she’d been raped. “My husband doesn’t know what happened in there. I didn’t tell him all the details. Muslim men have ideas about that. A month later I woke up screaming and he was angry and asked, ‘When is this going to end?’”

After being released from prison, Kimberly ended up with the masses of ISIS families fleeing bombings in Raqqa and Mayideen, moving down the Euphrates river from town to town, finally ending in Baghouz. “By the time we were in Garnish, my family knew I was trying to get out from all the Whatsapp conversations,” Kimberly explains. But her husband was afraid to try to escape. “He knew if we were caught they would execute me. Maybe they thought I knew too much, but what did I know?”

“You couldn’t get out since Kishma, since Sousa,” Kimberly recalls of the women’s efforts to pool money to hire smugglers. But it was very difficult for non-Arab women to be smuggled out, as they were clearly foreigners, likely coming from ISIS. “Every night we kept trying to get on the trucks,” Kimberly recalls of Baghouz, where she finally decided to risk being killed while walking out. “One of the children had really bad allergies. Her mother had been killed. The Iraqis were really angry and had a power struggle with the Westerners.” Despite her husband’s warnings that she would be executed if caught, Kimberly recalls, “I didn’t care. We had children who would die.”

“[The coalition] dropped flyers,” Kimberly explains about the instructions for safe passageways out, “but didn’t tell us where the corridors were. I didn’t care if I lived or died anymore, but I did care if a child did,” Kimberly recalls of her decision to simply walk away, carrying a child in her arms. “My husband said, ‘Drop down!’ Daesh was firing directly on their own people while they were trying to leave! It shouldn’t have surprised me. We had innocent children and pregnant women with us. It came to the point where we were willing to try anything.”

Now in Camp Roj, the safest of the detention camps for ISIS women and children, Kimberly is still afraid of ISIS. She, along with other women who have denounced ISIS, some even having stopped wearing the veil, have been put on a death list by the ISIS enforcers still loyal to the group, cruel women who still try to rule the camp. “I am frightened of them,” Kimberly explains.

Kimberly joined the Islamic State trying to flee her mental health demons. Of course, it didn’t work. Being a nurse and helping others had its rewards, but living under a tyrannical regime, being tortured and made a victim of physical and sexual violence once again has only made her emotional health worse. In addition to her Lupus, Kimberly has low thyroid functioning and she has recurrent bouts of hepatitis that she picked up in Syria. “I won’t have a liver when I get home. It keeps coming back every 4 to 6 months.” In Canada, Kimberly was on psychotropic medication to help her sleep and was under the care of mental health workers. Now, she has no care whatsoever. She doesn’t even have glasses with which to read.

“I didn’t believe in the Calipha,” Kimberly says of the ISIS Caliphate. “I didn’t think the conditions had been met,” she explains about the rules in Islam for declaring a Caliphate, “and that was a dangerous opinion to have.” Kimberly has no desire to ever return to ISIS. “We never ever want to return to the Middle East ever,” she says of the women she has befriended in the camp—all having denounced ISIS. “I had never seen a weapon before I came here. I’d like to return back to that,” she states.

In regard to ISIS’s slick manipulations, Kimberly admits, “I believe that they figured out a way of using words and a world situation in various parts of the world to manipulate for an end goal that I’m guessing is for the select few.” She reasons, “It has to be about power and money. Who is funding it and its objective, I don’t understand?” In response, she tries not to give into hatred toward those who tricked her into coming. “I was once taught it’s wrong to hate. Anger takes a lot of energy.” Yet, she admits it’s a struggle, “It’s very difficult to not hate people who cause so much damage to so many people and continue to do so.” Referring to the camp ISIS enforcers who pass information still coming out of ISIS, Kimberly states, “They have threatened to come and rescue us, to our horror!”

“I would like to go home,” Kimberly says wistfully. She has not been visited by Canadian authorities, who have avoided interviewing their ISIS detainees held by the SDF due to concerns from a major lawsuit the Canadian government lost over their handling of a Guantanamo detainee. The FBI, however, has interviewed her. “FBI told me that I don’t have charges,” Kimberly states. Yet, like Hoda Muthana’s family, Kimberly’s family has been warned not to send her assistance. “My family is not allowed to send money for anything. [They were] warned by RCMP [Canadian police] and FBI.”

Kimberly appears very honest in her desire to help now that she has escaped ISIS, but she is also frustrated to be stuck in the camp and not brought back to face justice at home, “Whatever you want to do to me can’t be worse that what’s already been done.” Yet, she suffers realizing that no one feels much pity for her, “I think what I am most afraid of that people don’t believe that it wasn’t your choice to be there. I’m backed into a corner in my own mind,” she continues. “When I realize that the countries aren’t coming and aren’t doing anything I got confused. I’m not sure where home is anymore. I feel very abandoned by the Canadian government.”

Kimberly wants now to become a helper in the fight against ISIS. “On my good days [when not deeply depressed], I want to help. I tried to file everything in my mind to help, to shed light on what was going on,” she says. As an insider, she believes she has a voice that could turn others away from violent extremism. “A lot of people won’t be willing to talk to the [authorities]. Some younger will say we are traitors [to ISIS] and I can answer that. We can discuss that Islamically,” she explains. “They should be using some of the people here who can speak,” Kimberly says, echoing the logic behind ICSVE’s Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project in which we use ISIS member video interviews to cut short video clips of ISIS insiders denouncing the group as un-Islamic, corrupt and overly brutal. ICSVE researchers use these videos to campaign on Facebook to prevent and disrupt ISIS’s online and face-to-face recruitment. Kimberly’s video interview with ICSVE has resulted in                                   

two such videos that can be viewed ere and here.

“If I had seen a group of women who had come back who were talking actively about their life, talking really openly, both the positives and negatives,” Kimberly explains excitedly about her desire to help. “You can’t give them all negatives. They will never believe you,” she adds, again echoing the reason why ICSVE videos always start with what attracted the person into ISIS. “For us, as young people, if there was a group of women talking about their own personal [stories], some of the funny, stupid and what propaganda worked on us,” it might have convinced them to avoid and disbelieve the false claims of ISIS.

At the same time, Kimberly admits it wasn’t ISIS propaganda that propelled her into the group and that, given her desperate situation, she might not have listened to a testimony like her own. “I would listen to a little and say she’s a traitor. I never watched anything. I was thinking I will come work in a hospital. I had my husband here.” Indeed, Kimberly’s situation was much more complex than many.

Referring to the seductive power of ISIS’s online presence, Kimberly advises youth, “Don’t try to handle this on your own! Get off Twitter, Facebook and go and talk to the people you’ve been told not to. We are too afraid to speak [to authorities]. We were taught we are not allowed to.” She advises, “Treat it like you’re on fire. Stop, drop and roll. Stop thinking. Go directly to the authorities and go to the authorities you are not allowed to talk to. You are not thinking correctly. You need to know what they know and they are not your enemy.” She adds a dire warning, “People here know how to lie, and way better than you.”

Kimberly and the others with her in the camp, many of whom I have also interviewed, appear totally sincere in their complete disillusionment with ISIS. They want to help, but they are also afraid. “I have a lot of time on my hands here too, sitting immobile, but things are so dangerous,” Kimberly explains. “I survived ISIS, so can I survive this too,” she says, then adds, but, “They will kill me.”

While Kimberly understands that if she goes home, she will need to face a justice system, she also wants to be put to work to fight ISIS. “Why our governments don’t use some of the people sitting here?” she asks. “If you combine, all the years of our experience, we know what Qur’anic verses were twisted. There are four different profiles among our group of nine,” she explains of the group of women in her small group who have denounced ISIS. “We are on board,” she says of being used to counter message against ISIS, although she would prefer to do it from safety, rather than in a camp where her and the other names are on an ISIS death list, to be killed first should ISIS managed to overrun the camp to free the true believers. “We could have a website where we blog, articles where we have written, education packets, messages to young people. But how do you do that from here? I can’t even contact a lawyer from here.” Indeed, even if Kimberly was going to try to read a legal brief,                                  

she would need her glasses to do so.

“It’s shocking to me to be in detention this long and not see anyone, how dangerous that can be,” Kimberly says of her frustration with the Canadian government leaving her abandoned in the detention camp. While she will not return to ISIS, she recognizes that others might, explaining astutely, “If you leave people stateless, you create the problem you are trying to solve. If you back people in a corner, it’s human nature. We left one terrorist organization. We were headed to our embassies.”

Now trying to endure her time in the camp, Kimberly says, “It is challenging to face day by day.”  Following her interview, I informed the FBI that Kimberly’s physical health situation is dire, as is her emotional well-being. While she chose to travel to ISIS, being a victim of multiple rapes, domestic violence and actively suicidal might make some consider bringing her home to offer her another chance.


U.S. Embassy reacts to death of senior female Afghan intelligence official in Kabul

01 Apr 2020

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul reacted to the death of senior female official of the Afghan Intelligence, National Directorate of Security.

“Today, we mourn the death of NDS Gen. Sharmila Frough & offer our condolences to her family. For 30 years, she served #Afghanistan. She was a role model, a founding member of the women’s security shura, & a true patriot. We thank her & all those serving their country,” the U.S. Embassy said in a Twitter post.

Gen. Sharmila, the director of the gender department of the National Directorate of Security, succumbed to injuries she had sustained in a bomb explosion.

According to informed security sources, Gen. Sharmila sustained the injuries after a magnetic bomb, planted in her vehicle, went off on Monday in Kabul city.


'A big wake-up call': survey shows work still to be done on women's sexual rights

1 Apr 2020

Almost half of women and girls living in more than 50 countries around the world are not able to make their own decisions about their reproductive rights, with up to a quarter saying they are unable to say no to sex, a new survey has found.

The findings, published by the UN population fund (UNFPA) on Wednesday, have been described as a “big wake-up call” in global efforts to achieve gender equality by 2030.

Only 55% of women and girls in the 57 countries surveyed said they could make autonomous decisions about accessing healthcare, whether to use contraceptives and whether to have sex.

Across regions, 76% of women surveyed in east and south-east Asia and 74% in Latin America and the Caribbean said they had autonomy over their sexual and reproductive health and rights, while in sub-Saharan Africa and central and southern Asia, the figures fell to 48% and 43% respectively. In Mali, Niger and Senegal, fewer than 10% of women said they could make decisions regarding their reproductive health.

The figures showed that– overall – older, more educated women living in urban areas were more likely to be able to make their own decisions.

The findings are based on demographic and health surveys conducted among girls and women aged 15 to 49 who were married or in a relationship.

For the first time, the survey results have been used to help calculate progress towards achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, which is a target in the UN sustainable development goals.

“It’s a big wake-up call,” said Emilie Filmer-Wilson, UNFPA’s human rights adviser. “In UNFPA it’s opening doors to having discussions looking at what it is that we need to do more of, and better.”

Filmer-Wilson said previous measures of women’s reproductive health and rights have tended to focus on the services available, rather than looking at whether women were able to access them.

“We need to look at both sides of the coin. The demand and supply. The demand side is not being addressed as much as it should be, and we are seeing a risk of us going backwards.”

The past few years have seen a rise in conservative movements and governments, across the world, including in the US, which are attempting to roll back women’s rights. The pushback largely centres on abortion laws, but has had a knock-on effect on other healthcare services.

UNFPA also looked at how many countries had laws and policies that guarantee full and equal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare and education.

Gathering data from 107 countries, which are home to 75% of the world’s population, researchers found that more than 90% had laws guaranteeing rights to maternity care, abortion, contraceptive services and voluntary access to HIV counselling and testing.

But only 62% had laws or national policies making sex education mandatory in the school curriculum. Just 76% had laws ensuring access to post-abortion care, and 28% of countries where abortion was legal required a husband to consent to the procedure.

“We had a strong feeling that women were not empowered in this area [sexual and reproductive health and rights] but we’ve not had the data to back that up. Now we have.”


A global day of action! International Working Women’s Day

By Kathy Durkin

March 31, 2020

Over the years, women have marched for jobs, higher wages, better working conditions and benefits, unions and equal rights in all political, social and economic spheres. They have protested racism and xenophobia. Agricultural workers have occupied land. Migrant workers have protested abuse and racism; they and their allies have demanded open borders and an end to family separations. LGBTQ2+ communities have protested bigotry. Sex workers have called for their rights. Seniors, youth and people with disabilities have participated.

Globally coordinated IWWD demonstrations have opposed imperialist wars and occupations. National liberation movements and other revolutionaries, socialists and communists have commemorated this day with anticolonial and anticapitalist demonstrations. On many continents, women workers and workers of all genders, nationalities and ages have militantly opposed the super-exploitation of globalized capitalism.

This year women in many countries decried sexist violence, calling out murderous femicides, as they condemned the patriarchal ideology that underlies the attacks. Women’s inequality, along with misogyny, racism, hostility to immigrants, homophobia and transphobia, are all promulgated by the capitalist class, which seeks to keep the world’s multinational working class divided within countries and across borders.

Building class and global solidarity were goals of the day’s socialist founders — and today, with the capitalist class brutally exploiting workers and oppressed people around the world — this solidarity is needed more than ever.

Women and people of all genders filled the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, in a huge march organized by the Minister for Women and Gender Equality. Members of women’s organizations, the National Bolivarian Militia, state workers, people from rural areas and many others gathered at the Plaza Morelos and recognized the commitment of the Bolivarian government to ensure women’s rights.

They expressed loyalty to President Nicolas Maduro against U.S.-led plots to oust him and pledged to maintain their country’s independence and sovereignty. Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said they were defending “the future of Venezuelans and the sovereignty of the world’s peoples.”

In other Latin American countries, millions of women and their allies marched in opposition to gender-based violence and oppression and waved green scarves and banners, symbolizing the movement for legal abortions.

In what has been called the “largest International Working Women’s Day protest in Mexico’s history,” hundreds of thousands of people assembled across the country, with the largest march in Mexico City and 30,000 in Guadalajara. Demonstrators called for an end to precarious work, layoffs, government austerity policies, inequality and gender-based abuse. They also called for legal abortion — available in Mexico City and Oaxaca — to be accessible throughout the country.

Calls for “Justicia!” (Justice) for the victims of femicides rang out loudly in Mexico City on March 8 and 9. On March 8, the names of 3,000 slain women and girls were painted on the city’s Zocalo, the main square. Rates of femicides have increased; in 2019, 10 women and girls were murdered each day. On March 9, tens of thousands of women stayed home from work to demand the government take action to stop misogynist violence, particularly the brutal, sadistic murders that officials have mostly ignored.

With the motto, “Women in the Struggle: Sowing Resistance,” 3,500 rural women from around Brazil occupied Brasilia, the capital, March 5-9 during the first National Landless Women’s Meeting. The occupation culminated in an IWWD march calling for gender equality. In Sao Paulo, women held banners denouncing right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

At least a million people demanded women’s rights and protested police repression across Chile. In the capital, Santiago, marchers defied tear gas and defended themselves with rocks as police aimed water cannons at them. Leaders of trans and lesbian rights organizations, anti-police repression groups, migrants experiencing bigotry and sex workers headed up the march. Many marchers wore green scarves in solidarity with their sisters in Argentina who are fighting for legal abortion.

Large demonstrations took place in many other Chilean cities. The people in the streets were united in condemning police violence, including sexual assault, against activists in the people’s movement. These attacks began last October when protests were launched against President Sebastian Pinera’s reactionary administration. Women have been in the leadership of the antigovernment mobilization, calling for equality and an end to state repression and sexist violence. They are demanding a new constitution guaranteeing women’s equality.

Marches, rallies and work stoppages continued on Monday, March 9, in response to the call for a women’s strike. Participants included labor union members and women of all ages.

An anthem decrying sexual violence, “A Rapist in Your Path” (“Un violador en tu camino”), which originated in the Chilean women’s collective, Las Tesis, went viral in the fall. Since then, it has been used in protests in over 50 countries. The anthem was chanted at many Women’s Day actions in Latin America and beyond.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched on March 9 throughout Argentina for legal abortion, the separation of church and state, and against gender-based violence. A group of demonstrators blocked a road in solidarity with education workers, mostly women, who are fighting for better wages and working conditions in small cities.

Some 300,000 protesters marched through Montevideo, Uruguay, against the right-wing government and the real threat of losing the rights to legal abortion and same-sex marriage. Police threatened the crowd with water cannons and riot gear.

In socialist Cuba, Teresa Amarelles Boue, secretary-general of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), led the island’s main rally in Cabaiguan, in Sancti Spiritus province, on March 6. She recognized the superb performance of the province’s FMC branch and emphasized that despite the difficult conditions imposed on Cuba by the U.S. blockade, nothing will break the resistance and resilience of Cuban women.

This year’s IWWD was dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the FMC, the 90th anniversary of the birth of its founder Vilma Espín, and other young revolutionary women and farmers whose organizations are represented in Congress. Espín proudly defended socialist principles, without which, she said, women remain invisible in history.

The African National Congress Women’s League celebrated Women’s Day by opening up the Albertina Sisulu School of Leadership for women in Tweeling, Free State, South Africa. Its purpose is to “raise awareness and resources for the struggle for women’s emancipation and the fight against violence on women and children.”

Albertina Sisulu, a leader of the anti-apartheid resistance, was a key organizer of the historic march on Aug. 9, 1956, of 20,000 women in Pretoria against the racist identity pass requirement for Black women. When this hero died at 92, she was the longest-serving ANC member and leader of the ANC Women’s League. Her spouse was ANC leader Walter Sisulu, imprisoned for 25 years at Robben Island.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union of South Africa celebrated the day with an event, “The role of working-class women in the class struggle,” in Johannesburg. Women union leaders from nine provinces were among the participants.

The South African Communist Party celebrated the “struggles against capitalism and all forms of oppression” in Zamdela, Free State province. Joyce Moloi-Moropa, national secretary of the party, spoke in front of a stage banner reading “Stop Gender-Based Violence.”

Demonstrations were held across Europe on IWWD. In England, March for Women organized a large action in London, which was joined by climate justice activists. Sisters not Strangers, led by refugees and asylum-seeking women, held an activity in Manchester to welcome immigrants.

Huge marches took place across Spain demanding equal rights on the job, legal abortion and an end to sexist violence. A lead banner in the capital, Madrid, read, “With rights, without barriers. Feminists without frontiers!”

Tens of thousands of women marched for equality through Paris, France, including members of the General Confederation of Labor. Activists with the Femen organization denounced the patriarchy. Protesters decried the epidemic of domestic violence and demanded shelters and other services for victims and survivors.

Police in Istanbul, Turkey, fired tear gas on thousands of demonstrators who were trying to march along the city’s main street to reach historic Taksim Square. Their demands: equal rights in the workplace and in education, and an end to sexist violence and the patriarchy. Women bravely tried to break through police barricades, as they consistently do whenever their marches are blocked.

Khalida Jarrar, 57 years old, is an internationally known political leader, member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestine Legislative Council, and advocate for Palestinian political prisoners. She has been jailed by the Israeli state four times.

After being imprisoned for 20 months, often in solitary confinement, without charges or a trial, Jarrar was released in February 2019. Eight months later, she was re-arrested and charged with “holding a position in a prohibited organization,” the PFLP. Freed a week before IWWD, Jarrar asserted she will not stop protesting Israel’s oppression of her people. This strong, steadfast fighter emphasizes “the age of freedom will come.”

Women from throughout India joined their sisters in the Shaheen Bagh neighborhood in Delhi on March 8 in a show of solidarity. For three months, women of all ages courageously carried out an occupation there to protest the anti-Muslim Citizen Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens, promoted by reactionary Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These women have inspired the world, say their supporters, and started a “revolution.”

The All India Progressive Women’s Association organized protest marches and other events around the country on IWWD, calling for Modi’s government to scrap the CAA and NRC. They recognized the leading role of women in the fight against these unjust policies from Shaheen Bagh to Jawaharlal Nehru University-Jamia. Women workers and students joined these actions to also demand the government ensure jobs, decent wages and dignity for women and to provide justice for victims of gender-based violence.

Garment workers, organized and unorganized, marched for their rights in Bangladesh. Eighty percent of the 4 million workers there who produce clothing — and super-profits — for global brands are women who work in unsafe factories for poverty-level wages.

South Korea, normally the site of huge protests of women workers on March 8, is battling the coronavirus and did not have an annual rally. Instead, health care workers were honored that day.

An effigy of Philippines President Roberto Duterte was burned on IWWD in Manila, the capital, as thousands of women and people of all genders and ages, including industrial and agrarian workers, demonstrated against his autocratic rule, political repression and virulent sexism.

The National Network for Agrarian Reform Advocates Youth Sector broadcast about the daily harassment faced by women agricultural workers who want gender equality at work. Banners and signs called for an end to crimes against women and the people, harassment of health care workers and farmers, and attacks on Indigenous communities and militant groups. One banner read, “Rural women resist. Oust Duterte!” Other slogans demanded freedom for all political prisoners. Some protesters’ signs asserted: “Stop U.S. military exercises in the Philippines!”

Gabriela, the National Alliance of Philippine Women, denounced misogynist in chief Duterte for his threats of violence against women political activists and vile slurs against women and for encouraging the growing epidemic of domestic abuse, sexual harassment and rape. Many of their signs raised issues affecting women workers, such as contract labor and job security.

In Jakarta, Indonesia, hundreds of people of all genders, along with members of many organizations and labor unions, marched to insist the government act to stop sexist violence, overturn discriminatory laws on gender and pass legislation guaranteeing women’s rights and protection for migrant workers. Demonstrators adamantly called for recognition of gender diversity.


How To Close The Inequality Wealth Gap According To 5 Black Women In Finance

Mar 31, 2020

The United States has long been seen as a land of economic opportunity. And the numbers suggest that’s true. Nowhere in the world is home to more millionaires than America, with more than 18 million people boasting a seven-figure net worth as of October 2019. But while that figure reflects America’s considerable wealth, other statistics paint a less positive financial picture.

For example, in 2018, families whose household wealth fell between the 50th and 90th percentiles accounted for just 1% of America’s total wealth. But wealth—the value of a person’s total assets minus the value of their total liabilities—isn’t just divided by class but by race and gender as well. In 2016, black families, on average, had a net worth of 10 cents to the dollar of the typical white family, while women owned 32 cents on the dollar when compared to men. The intersection of those two gaps sees black women bearing the brunt of wealth inequality. That wealth inequality is made worse by a pay gap in which Black women earn 61 cents for each dollar their white male counterparts do.

These statistics are disheartening, but there are many black women actively working to improve them. These women are working at some of the top investment banks in the world, generating and offering capital to women-owned businesses, leading financial literacy initiatives for minority communities, and breaking ground in the finance industry with their innovative businesses. I spoke with five of these women about what drives them and their advice for minorities and women pursuing financial freedom.

As a Black woman, in my work and life, I think about access to capital and wealth accumulation for black people and women. There is no simple solution to closing the racial wealth gap. It persists in this country and is a remnant of slavery, Jim Crow, and institutionalized racism. Despite making up 13% of the US population, Black people constitute less than 3% of the wealth in this country.

What we do have is culture. We are the purveyors of American culture when you think about what we eat, how we dress, the music we listen to, the sports we dominate, and even how we style our hair. We have to make sure that in the chain of value creation, we are owning and continuing the support and patronize institutions in our communities. The ideas and the value are there. Now, we just have to make sure that we are the ones capturing it.

I think that one of the most important skills is the ability to self-advocate. Raise your hand. Ask why. The idea that you can keep your head down, do great work, and that the work will speak for itself suggests that we live in a world where every opportunity is given equally. We’ve got to assert ourselves for opportunities and know the worth of our work and our ideas.

Finding the right mentor is essential. I call my mom my chief strategy officer. I have had to make tough decisions with respect to my career and to have someone to bounce ideas off of is so important. As important as it is to have a mentor, it’s also crucial to have a sponsor, someone who is in a position to advocate for you to get the opportunity.

I was watching the news with my dad, and there was a story that came up about women making 70% of what men make. That was about 20 years ago, and it’s funny how much those statistics haven’t changed much. This was a pivotal moment for me because I learned at an early age that my experience as a woman in business would likely be very different from my male counterparts. I began to understand that my different perspective and life experiences as a woman were a unique advantage and part of my superpower. It’s important for both women and people of color to have a strong sense of self worth in business and know their value as not to settle for anything less than what they deserve.

Gingerbread Capital was created with the intention of investing in female founders leading high growth businesses. We are vocal advocates for this community because we believe in the power of diversity to achieve optimal outcomes. Research has shown repeatedly that investing in teams with at least one female founder tends to produce larger returns so we focus on investing in talented founders with big vision and the ability to execute. Investing in underrepresented founders is undoubtedly a key component of closing the wealth gap for current and future generations.

Business environments across all sectors can be tough to navigate for underrepresented communities largely because leadership is often not reflective of these communities. However, regardless of what your workplace environment looks like, the single biggest factor to building wealth lies within you. Double down on investing in your mindset and things that nourish you so that you are equipped to show up as the best version of yourself in all environments. It doesn’t matter how much you save or how much you invest if you fundamentally don’t believe that you are capable of building wealth. The reality is that inequality exists in many places – we know the stats. But how you respond is completely within your control. Some people will be discouraged and consume themselves with fear and what people think of them while others will push forward in spite of and remain focused on their goals. It was once said that “The person that believes they can and the person that believes they can’t are both right.” People are much more powerful in shaping their outcomes than they may think. Believe in you. Mindset is key.

Wealth, to me, means that there are no limits to the possibilities in your life. Through the women that I serve every day and through my podcast, I generate these conversations where I talk candidly about how you can start wealth building habits today. There’s such a misconception that wealth is an endpoint, but wealth really begins with the small actions you take today so that your future self can reap the benefits. Discipline is, hands down, the most underrated skill a woman of colour needs to succeed financially. Every day, small actions compound dramatically.

It took me going through difficult life lessons to handle my finances better. I did a complete career change to a financial strategist for this very reason. I serve from a lens that completely empathizes with those who grew up without any financial education or guidance. I’ve created my lane in the business finance world with a mission to facilitate what wealth looks like in the lives of women of color. The first step is to change the language from ‘being bad with money’ to saying, ‘this is a challenge I’m working through and I’m worthy of overcoming.’

I believe we empower the next generation by showcasing this new mindset around wealth building. If the next generation witnesses a genuine belief that we are worthy of wealth, there will be a ripple effect. Doing this can do what I call ‘creating new sets of DNA’ to overcome generational poverty. For example, I didn’t have access to financial management education, but I’m already equipping my six-year-old on how to build wealth through play.

When I first started building a franchise system, I felt like this sector was overlooked due to the extensive amount of research, development, and time required to create a business model of this magnitude. So, with that being said, to become the first Black-woman-owned tax franchise system in the country was not only a historical moment for the company but also for the people within the community that had never believed that filling this space as possible. I have single-handedly assisted over 50 black women to become tax business owners and entrepreneurs through my company.

I know there is a lot of discrimination within the industry, definitely when it comes to banking. The people who are on the inside loaning out the money and giving these opportunities, they don’t look like black women. I have experienced discrimination as a black female entrepreneur especially in the banking industry. It took learning and building relationships inside and outside of the bank. When I started to do that things changed for me. Before then, I self funded my projects.

Although systematic biases do exist, you can’t let that detour you when you have a vision to fulfill. You have to get educated on credit, debt, interest rates, savings, retirement accounts, real estate and the stock market. It’s a lot of discipline. Things that have helped me in terms of getting organized financially are staying on top of my credit and bills, making sure I’m within my budget, making sure I’m putting money away to save, and investments.

While I am conscious about being a double minority in a minority community, my goal is always to be upfront about entrepreneurship with all of my clients. Being in business as a minority is not easy. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of harsh criticism about minority-owned businesses that surface nearly daily.

The only way to protect the wealth we attain in our community is to share our experiences that will provide growth and opportunities for change. This is what real support looks like. It is allowing the imperfections of business to become better through constructive feedback. So, we need to move away from being heavily concerned with who has wealth, who gets wealthy and how, and who ‘deserves’ it. That way of thinking further deteriorates a culture that has been systematically set up to fail.

[For personal wealth,] it is important to foster relationships and network with a community of like minds willing to exchange critical and thought-provoking information about wealth and how to not only build it but sustain it. Personally, I have learned so much about wealth from other women, and it has given me context to think differently during moments of insanity. Building wealth is about community. It is about authenticity. It is not a solo project from start to finish. We need one another to be great.

But let me say this: when it comes to finding a mentor or champion, “business” does not have a color. Careers do not have a color. It is also not about finding the right mentor/champion, it is about finding many. Building a business or career is about versatility, diversity, and growth. It is about being able to engage the right people during different phases of development and sustainment.


How ‘Unorthodox’ Captured One Woman’s Flight From Hasidic Brooklyn

By Marisa Mazria-Katz

March 31, 2020

The writer Deborah Feldman’s pantry was already stocked for the apocalypse. That’s how her Hasidic Holocaust survivor grandparents raised her. They “believed in the end of the world, had seen the end of the world and always prepared me to live through the end of the world,” she said by telephone from her Berlin apartment. The day before, Chancellor Angela Merkel told Germans to self-isolate in hopes of slowing the spread of coronavirus. And while many were out panic shopping, she hadn’t been to the market once.

Anyone who’s read Feldman’s best-selling 2012 memoir, “Unorthodox” — now the basis of a four-part Netflix series, which debuted last week — is likely to understand. The book is a stirring account of her struggles with and ultimate rejection of her Satmar community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — an insular society of ultra-Orthodox Jews that rose in New York from the ashes of World War II. Culturally conservative and religiously strict, its members believe that their piety and refusal to assimilate will shield them from a repeat cataclysm.

The new Netflix series, also called “Unorthodox,” was created by Anna Winger (“Deutschland 83” and “Deutschland 86”) and Alexa Karolinski (“Oma and Bella”). In their version, much of which is in Feldman’s native Yiddish, we see a young woman, Esther Shapiro (Shira Haas), flee an arranged marriage that sours as she struggles to consummate the relationship and produce a baby. Esty heads to Berlin with little more than a passport and some cash, and she makes fast friends with a cohort of student musicians from around the world.

Back in Brooklyn, Esty’s family erupts in disbelief when they hear she is in Germany, of all places. They enact a plan to send her husband (Amit Rahav) and his mercurial cousin (Jeff Wilbusch) to track her down and force her return.

Feldman talked about seeing her story come to life and what it’s like to envy your on-screen counterpart. These are edited excerpts from conversations in Berlin and by phone.

Feldman in Berlin. “It’s scary to give someone your story for the screen because you can’t control it,” she said.Credit...Alexa Vachon

The TV series is not an exact portrayal of your life, but it still hews to the original plot lines of the book, namely during the Brooklyn flashbacks. Given how personal the story is, was it unnerving for you to see it onscreen?

The last two episodes were very hard for me. I thought I was prepared. I had experienced, written and talked about it for years, but these were other people — not me — interpreting it, putting it into images, playing the parts, and cutting the scenes. For the first time, I was able to see how others would interpret, or receive, the experience, based on the images fed back to me. It’s kind of like if you talked to a therapist for years, and at the end of it all, she presented a book with all your experiences. You’d read them and struggle to recognize them because they’ve been given back to you from a foreign perspective.

We had a lot of discussions about when can you sacrifice accuracy and when not. We agreed you can sacrifice accuracy as long as it doesn’t impact the narrative. And so we could not get real shtreimels [a fur hat worn by many Satmar men] because the real ones are made of mink; they’re expensive, shops wouldn’t have sold it to us, and we just didn’t have the budget. I was constantly in touch with the costume designer to make fake ones that look real.

Making them look real was really hard, and at some point we thought, they’re never going to look 100 percent like the real thing. But the only people who are going to know that are going to be Hasidic Jews. And guess what? It doesn’t change the story if the shtreimels are fake.

I was concerned about the dignity of Esty, which is also one of the things I was concerned about when writing “Unorthodox”; how do you write about the things that are most shameful and painful in a way that retains dignity? I was worried how Shira would manage to juggle the experience of humiliation and the kind of shattering of all hope while still maintaining some sense of dignity as a woman and human being. I was so scared for her the whole time as I watched the episodes. I felt really anxious because I knew that if she failed, then it would be like I had failed, like I would not have dignity anymore in my story. It’s scary to give someone your story for the screen because you can’t control it. On the other hand, I knew I didn’t want a part in controlling it.

In Episode 4, during the Passover scene, the grandfather leads the prayers and tells the story of Exodus. No women participate. Yet, if you look at the actions that move “Unorthodox” forward, almost all are taken by the female characters.

Men tell the story and women make the story real. Women make the story happen. You have the table where the man dictates prayer, belief and narrative, but if you look at the story of Esty, it’s women who are making the decisions. It’s the women she’s interacting with, who are basically the driving force behind community life, the engine behind the story. If you watch the series with this in mind, you realize that the men are actually kind of passive figures carried along by the story. They play the roles in how it’s been told, but it’s the women who make the story go on.

I remember being surprised when I went to Sarah Lawrence, and I took a class on feminist philosophy in which everybody told me, “You left the patriarchy!” I was like: “Well, if I left the patriarchy, where were all the men in this patriarchy? Why were they always bent over books while the people who oppressed me were women? Why was it that the people who hurt me the most were my aunt, mother-in-law, female teachers, the female mikvah attendant, the female Kallah teacher and the female sex therapist? Why was it always the women that I felt hurt and betrayed by?” I had so little interaction with men, and the little I had made me see men as very passive and stuck.

When I married my husband, I just remember being so impressed — in a bad way — by the fact that he was completely in the grips of his mother. It took him a very long time to free himself from that.

In German they have this great saying, “alle über einen Kamm scheren,” which is a way of saying “generalizing about everyone through the prism of one experience.” I think Anna and Alexa were even more concerned and sensitive than I was about this. I’m coming from this world. All I can really tell is my own story and perspective. I’m almost disadvantaged because I have this extremely subjective perspective. But Anna and Alexa have this incredible advantage of not coming from there.

For me, it was more a question of, “Oh my God, how am I ever going to tell my story in a way that people will believe and understand me, and it will reach them.” Whereas Anna and Alexa were like, “How are we going to make the story come across in all of its unique specificity without somehow telling a story about an entire community or tradition?” I think that the solution to this problem is zooming in and staying zoomed in. When you’re watching the series, you don’t really meet anyone far beyond Esty’s family. The community is there in the background, but it never confronts you. You have a rabbi, but you don’t see her in school. You don’t see anyone in the synagogue. It’s not about explaining the world in which the story takes place. It’s just about the story itself.

The scene when Esty explodes in the bedroom with her husband, because it’s the most powerful. She finally says everything that has been going on in her head. She finally lets loose: It’s like a volcano. To me, the series climaxes in this moment. I also felt jealous because I never had a moment like that — I had many small moments where I tried to express myself, and I tried to speak up for myself, but I love how she just lets it all out. It really touched me, and it made me wish I had been the same way. It made me admire her. I hope that other people will see that scene and want to be like her, too.


Why the Women’s Ministry needs a spanking

31 Mar 2020


HERE’S a fact of government: we can always be guaranteed there will be clowns roaming the corridors of power even in the best and most peaceable times. But when they act their silliest, they must clearly be shown the error of their ways, no two ways about it.

So while our new Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is trying his best to show strong and clear-minded leadership, along comes another minister who does something really idiotic and makes us wonder about the quality of the Cabinet members again. (The first was the Health Minister and his advice to drink warm water to flush down the coronavirus, remember?)

Are you for real? Are you perhaps a secret member of the Obedient Wives Club? You know, that outfit that started almost 10 years ago in 2011, to teach women to be good wives and went on to publish the juicy Islamic Sex, a manual to encourage wives to act like "first class whores" to keep their husbands satisfied and from straying.

Your ministry didn’t go that far in its advice to wives on how to behave in order to please their husbands stuck at home during the current movement control order but what was proposed was dreadful enough.

Your Facebook posters aimed at women working from home to “groom as usual” and wives to act cutesy by adopting a “Doraemon-like” tone and girlish giggling – instead nagging to get the hubbies to help out with the chores – is so last, last century.

Who in your ministry came up with this ridiculous idea? Was it your deputy Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff from PAS who already had alarm bells ringing on her appointment because her previous statements?

In the past, she has called for a dress code for women to curb sexual crimes and sexual harassment. More shocking was what she said after MH17 was shot down over Ukraine in 2014: "In light of the possibility of Allah's wrath, Malaysia Airlines should stop serving alcohol and revise the dress code of the female flight attendants, especially so for Muslim females."

With such a mindset, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised this backward thinking regarding women as superficial and servile is now running riot in your ministry.

The FB posters, interestingly enough, seem to address all Malaysian women, not just Muslims. Well, thank you for being so inclusive but here’s why this Malaysian woman still says "no thank you" to your advice, no matter how well meaning.

Admittedly, I am retired so I am not working from home. But even if I were still in the workforce, there are practical reasons for not dressing up to sit in front of my computer.

First, I am not in an air-conditioned environment. I refuse to turn on my air-conditioner to run for hours because that will increase my electricity usage, even if a discount is being offered on our bills.

In the hothouse turned workplace, I am almost constantly sweaty so I wear the coolest clothes possible, and that’s shorts and cotton T-shirts for me. For the same reason, wearing makeup and doing up my hair is meaningless when your face and hair get real oily fast.

And working from home doesn’t mean there are no distractions or other needs that come into play. One could also be a mum who has to cook lunch or attend to her bored and housebound kids in between answering emails, teleconferencing or writing a report. Do all that in office wear? I don’t think so.

If I want to be kind, I could accept that the ministry feels women should not let themselves go while WFH (Working From Home). It could be seen as a kind of discipline to maintain one’s so-called normal routine.

But whether being dressed in work clothes makes you more efficient and productive is yet to be proven. My daughter’s job allowed her to work from home even before the MCO and she did it from her bed and in comfy clothes. She didn’t get any complaints from her bosses or clients on her quality of work.

As for dealing with the forced-to-stay-home husband, the ministry’s advice puts the onus on wives to get the darn man to help with chores.

Okay, no harm if she asks nicely like “Dear/Abang, please take in the laundry before it rains, ” but she shouldn’t be reduced to acting like a cartoon character to get the man to move, especially if he ignores or forgets and she has to run out to save the laundry from getting wet.

Also, the Ministry advises no sarcasm because the men need to be informed on what they can do to help out? Aiyoh, alamak, OMG, let me bite my tongue.

I wonder whether the people who came up with this are married themselves and are in living in the 21st century. Or are they caught in some time warp circa 1950 and watched too many American home appliance commercials showing immaculately dressed and coiffed housewives waiting to welcome the returning husband to a perfectly run house?

How about shaming the man to get off the sofa and do a bit of washing up? They are home now and can see what needs to be done and by doing their fair share, they set good examples for their children, especially their sons.

It would be more helpful for the Ministry to give practical tips to men on house chores like how to fold clothes and how to amuse and play with the kids. Some encouragement to create a more loving relationship with the wife would be great too, like giving a backrub or making a nice cuppa for her without being asked.


Malaysian ministry tells women to stop nagging and wear makeup during lockdown

April 01, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s Women and Family Development Ministry’s posters with guidelines on household happiness during coronavirus isolation have enraged human rights groups, who say such narratives strengthen stereotypes that lead to domestic violence.

The posters, shared by the ministry on social media on Monday, provided guidance on “building a happy family.” Women are advised to wear makeup at home and “speak with a Doraemon voice” while addressing their husbands.

Doraemon is a character in a popular Japanese cartoon series, who in its Malaysian version speaks with a characteristic high-pitched female voice.

One of the posters shows a picture of a husband and wife hanging clothes. It reads: “If you see your spouse doing something in a way you don’t like, don’t nag at him — use humorous words like ‘this is the way to hang clothes, darling’ (using Doraemon’s voice tone and giggling).”

Rosana Isa, executive director of civil society organization Sisters in Islam, told Arab News the posters were inappropriate — creating the impression that wives must please their husbands and abide by certain rules to maintain household happiness.

“It reinforces negative gender stereotypes against women and men, as it implies that women are the only ones responsible for house chores whereas the burden of housework should be shared by both husband and wife,” Isa said.

She added that the message from the ministry supported the notion of women having to resort to “infantile language and mannerisms.”

As Malaysia has been on partial lockdown since March 18 to contain the further spread of coronavirus, women’s organizations have expressed concerns that domestic violence may rise during the period. Isa said the government should focus more on promoting hotlines and providing shelter for women in abusive relationships rather than harmful stereotypes. 

“These stereotypes are the root of gender inequality and will lead to discrimination and violence against women,” she said.

The ministry was slammed by various women’s and rights groups, with the word “Doraemon” becoming a trending topic on Malaysian Twitter following the backlash.

Women’s Aid Organization, a group that helps domestic abuse victims, said in a Twitter post: “Women should never have to act like Doraemon or childlike to be taken seriously. And even if they want to laugh coyly like Doraemon, it’s their own decision.”

The ministry has removed the posters from its social media accounts and on Monday evening issued a statement apologizing for the “tips” if certain groups found them inappropriate. “We will be more careful in the future,” it said.


Strained hospitals and isolation: how coronavirus made giving birth even harder

1 Apr 2020

Mollie Birney wasn’t planning to give birth at home unless something went wrong. But with coronavirus sweeping the country and the fear of hospitals soon being overrun with patients, things have gone more wrong than she could possibly have imagined. Birney – now in her third trimester – is preparing to deliver in the bedroom of her Los Angeles apartment.

Birney, a clinical coach, had been thinking about using a nearby birthing center as an alternative to hospital when cases of Covid-19 were first reported in the US in January. But she has since switched to a home birth.

“The deciding factor for us is largely the virus,” she said, noting that delivering in a birthing center would mean contact with many more people and potentially greater risk of exposure. “I might be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic here, but if rearranging makes me feel better, then I’ll do it.”

Pregnancy is always hard, even in the best of times. But as hospitals across the country prepare for a surge of coronavirus patients, some in the worst-affected areas are taking extreme precautions to contain the spread of the virus, including barring family and doulas from the delivery room.

Research on pregnancy and the coronavirus is limited given its first appearance in China just months ago, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises pregnant women to follow physical distancing guidelines. So far scientists have found no evidence that mothers who test positive for Covid-19 can transmit it to their fetuses in utero. Pregnancy and childbirth do not seem to aggravate the typical course of symptoms.

Once the baby is born, the CDC recommends a temporary mother-infant separation for mothers who have Covid-19, and offers guidance on breastfeeding precautions.

“Be extra neurotic and extra overprotective and extra hygienic with your hand-washing and face-washing,” said Dr Harvey Karp, a longtime pediatrician and author of several blockbuster parenting books. “You have to plan for all contingencies.”

Ruthie Ackerman, a writer, writing instructor and content strategist in New York, is due to give birth in August. But in the era of coronavirus, she faces an exhausting set of decisions in a city that’s become the center of US cases.

It’s not just a question of whether she should keep going to prenatal appointments, using public transportation to get there. After major New York hospitals, including Ackerman’s, announced that they were completely restricting labor and delivery wards, meaning all visitors including partners would be barred from entering, Ackerman had questioned whether to scrap her birth plan and flee the state entirely.

Others have fewer options. Jennifer Wright, who is 19 weeks pregnant in Winchester, Virginia – a small city in the rural Shenandoah Valley – lost her job at a local small business that sells shampoo and body care products recently when she was deemed non-essential amid the coronavirus shutdown. She had to get on Medicaid to afford her prenatal visits, and while she would love to make a nuanced birth plan weighing the risks presented by coronavirus, right now she has more immediate concerns.

Wright has been quarantining with her three-year-old son. And though her boyfriend still has his job at a nearby restaurant, she’s worried he might lose it any day. “I’m struggling to keep food on the table and diapers and wipes for my son in the house,” she says. “I could really use a financial blessing. I have rent and bills due.”

Jada Shapiro, the New York-based founder of Boober, a platform pairing parents with maternal care providers, and the childbirth education center Birth Day Presence, has had to reinvent her practice practically overnight.

“Covid is definitely making isolation for new parents worse right now, especially when people can’t have their own family members come over and help them,” she said.

Shapiro is trying to help surround them in the only space that’s safe – virtual space – and she has met with a lot of interest. A recent webinar in which she interviewed a top obstetrician had 500 signups within a day of being announced, with people registering from as far away as Hawaii. “The silver lining to this horrible situation is we’re able to help people wherever we are,” Shapiro said.

But Audrey Stewart, a member of Birthmark Doula Collective in New Orleans, whose client base consists mostly of women of color who are lower-income, worries about equity in access when so many of her clients don’t have reliable internet connections or a steady phone plan. “I really do worry about people who are already vulnerable on the margins slipping through the cracks,” she said.

Stewart has also seen a huge rise in interest in home births. “It’s definitely happening several times a day that someone toward the end of their third trimester is calling,” she said.

Louisiana already has one of the highest maternal death rates in the country, and the risk is increased almost fourfold for black women. Given the increased risk of adverse outcomes for Stewart’s clients in particular, many feel it’s too scary to go into the hospital at a time when many are barring all but a single support person.

“Our clients are mostly really aware of the disproportionate risk they face when giving birth, so I think the thought of going into the hospital feels extra scary right now,” Stewart said. “We’re already operating in a state of crisis,” she added of her state’s high maternal mortality rate, “and now we’re layering another major crisis on top of that.”

Stewart seeks to accommodate those seeking home births when possible. But other health authorities have cautioned against making last-minute plans to have a home birth.

“The leading data seems to suggest that there are slightly higher infant mortality risks for home births, and there is a large risk of hospital transfer,” said Emily Oster, the Brown economist and author of parenting books. The risk of hospital transfer is about 30% for first-time moms in the US, according to Oster’s data.

“If you plan a home birth at the last minute, any risks like this are probably larger than they’d be for more advance planning. The Covid risks to pregnant women and infants seem to be small.”

Birney, who is about 10 weeks out from her due date but has a standing relationship with the home birth midwife she would use, says she doesn’t only want to weigh statistics when she makes her choice.




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