Tag Archives: Gender equality

Sheema gi

On this International Women’s day, I want to introduce you to an amazing woman that I am honored to call my friend.

Sheema Kermani, dancer, theatre director and activist from Karachi, Pakistan.

wm_20151109_Pakistan_DSC_4446zw

She lives in a country where women’s rights still have a long way to go. Where some laws might be changing slowly in favor of equal rights, but where implementing these laws is not really happening yet.

She lives in a place where people still look down upon the art of dancing, deemed as unislamic and improper.

All that doesn’t stop Sheema, who is a true force of energy, which is needed to keep motivated in advocating change that isn’t effecting in immediate results. She teaches the Indian classical dance art like Bharatanatyam and Odissi to young women and uses theatre to bring messages of equal rights, violence against women, rape etc to villages all over Pakistan where the majority of the people can’t even read or write.

In an interview with her she also says this: ‘The arts and the women of Pakistan have been the two major victims of Zia’s policies. The state introduced legal and social forms of control over women as part of its campaign of suppression and made women’s sexuality their business. State forces were preoccupied with women’s dress, their movements, their sexuality and their very presence in public spaces. In the name of religion, laws like the “Hudood Ordinances”, “Qisas”, “Diyat” and “Blasphemy Laws” were introduced and are prime examples of laws that devalue women, arts and humanity. The very first programme that was banned on PTV by Gen. Zia ul Haq was ‘Payal,’ a dance programme. But as it happens with anything that is banned, people always find a way to circumvent it. We do not announce our institution as a dance academy. We offer training in dance but call it movement classes. I run Tehrik-e-Niswan and we use dance as a movement for theatre of protest.’

Women like Sheema are an inspiration to me. They breathe energy and power. The power of women.

So… happy women’s day Sheema. Thank you for being a beautiful part of my life.

 

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The favored daughter

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

 

Last week a wonderful package arrived in my mailbox. In it were a few copies of the audiobook ‘The Favored Daughter’ by Afghan parliament member Fawzia Koofi published by Tantor Audiobooks.

The cover photo of this audiobook is a portrait I took of Fawzia when I met her in Belgium during a book conference. We immediately had an amazing conversation and talked about  maternal mortality and life for women in Afghanistan. This talk led up to me getting on a plane to Kabul a little over a year later and actually visiting her and traveling to her home province of Badakshan in the North-Eastern part of the country. An incredibly beautiful place where the mountains rise up in full glory, but at the same time make life hard and rough.

Fawzia withdrew as a presidential candidate for the upcoming elections in 2014, but remains nonetheless an outspoken politician and human rights activist. She invests a lot of her time in trying to raise education levels, especially for girls who during the Taliban regime were not allowed to go to school at all. It’s wonderful to see how she inspires countless young women to study, work hard and aspire to a promising life .

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

 

I just started reading the book written by Malalai Yousafzai (cowritten with Christina Lamb), another girl who is fighting for the right to go to school in Pakistan. Shot in the face by Taliban when she was just 15 years old, because she voiced this right to an education for girls too loudly.

She survived wondrously and is now even more outspoken then before. What is sad to read though is that now in Pakistan, her book is banned in private schools and people are gearing up against her, feeling she is too pro- western and even call her anti-islamic. I’ve heard the same things happen to a rape victim I met while I was in Karachi and working on my story ‘Because I’m a girl’ on rape in Pakistan.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

In 2002, Mukhtar Mai, a rural Pakistani woman from a remote part of the Punjab, was gang-raped by order of her tribal council as punishment for her younger brother’s alleged relationship with a woman from another clan. Instead of committing suicide or living in shame, Mukhtar spoke out, fighting for justice in the Pakistani courts.
Further defying custom, she started two schools for girls in her village and a crisis center for abused women.
She wrote her own memoir, “In the Name of Honor” and her story was included in the bestseller “Half the Sky” by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. But all this made people turn against her… I heard and read commentaries that she must have done this on purpose and that she got raped to get money or to try to get a visa to go the West. How else is her advocacy to be explained?

… Horrible…

The responses to Mamala’s story feel the same as Mukhtar’s, and it’s a shame that these women are inspiring countless people all over the world but still can’t seem to be respected in their own country. There is still a long road ahead for sure and it’ only shows the need for more education of both boys and girls. Because education is key and can change things in the long run.

 

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International day of the girl child

Today marks the second International day of the Girl Child with a special focus on educating girls.

Not so long ago I did a post on girl’s education on Malala Yousafzai day  and just now Malala won The EU Shacharov prize for freedom of thought. And boy does she have a freethinking mind… What an advocate for girl’s education if there ever was one. So eloquent, outspoken, smart and honest. An inspirational girl to say the least.

An interview with Christiana Amanpour will be aired soon I think and a there are lots of incredible interviews and speeches by her to be found online.  Christina Lamb helped write her book ‘I am Malala’ which I look forward to reading soon as well.

Girls in many countries are still unable to attend school and complete their education. And  even when girls are in school, the quality of their education is often poor. There are no expectations for them to use their diploma if they ever finish school to get one and often their household responsibilities will keep them from attending their classes regularly …

Yet, education is key.  Educate girls and women and you’ll better a whole society.

During all my travels this is exactly what I found and heard people say over and over again. It helps in reducing maternal mortality, it helps reduce poverty, …

To finish, I just want to share a couple of images of some of the amazing girls I met along my travels in the past few years. Sparkly, smart, funny, beautiful,  moving and at times heartbreaking.  All of them wonderful and each one touching my heart.

Happy international girls day everyone!

Mehmooda bites her hand. Karachi, Pakistan, 2010   © Wendy Marijnissen

Mehmooda bites her hand. Karachi, Pakistan, 2010
© Wendy Marijnissen

Girls running and playing in the backyard of the Arushi Shelter. New Delhi, India, 2009 © Wendy Marijnissen

Girls running and playing in the backyard of the Arushi Shelter. New Delhi, India, 2009
© Wendy Marijnissen

Shabana (not her real name) leans against her mothers' back.  Raped by her brother-in-law when she was 4 years old, she is both emotionally and physically scarred.  Afraid of the stigma involved surrounding rape victims, the family settled out of court and the rapist didn't go to jail. Around 15% of survivors of sexual abuse in Pakistan are between the ages of 6 and 11 years old.  Over 55% of the survivors are younger then 18 years old. Pakistan, 2011 © Wendy Marijnissen

Shabana (not her real name) leans against her mothers’ back.
Raped by her brother-in-law when she was 4 years old, she is both emotionally and physically scarred. Afraid of the stigma involved surrounding rape victims, the family settled out of court and the rapist didn’t go to jail.
Around 15% of survivors of sexual abuse in Pakistan are between the ages of 6 and 11 years old.
Over 55% of the survivors are younger then 18 years old. Pakistan, 2011
© Wendy Marijnissen

A girl cries after a fight over water in the tent camp for flood victims in Kamari town.  Shortage of food and water often causes tension among the people living in the camps as they fight over goods for the survival of their families. Karachi, Pakistan, 2010 © Wendy Marijnissen

A girl cries after a fight over water in the tent camp for flood victims in Kamari town.
Shortage of food and water often causes tension among the people living in the camps as they fight over goods for the survival of their families. Karachi, Pakistan, 2010
© Wendy Marijnissen

MP Ms. Fawzia Koofi plays with a child in between meetings held in her family home in Faizabad. Badakshan, Afghanistan, 2012 © Wendy Marijnissen

MP Ms. Fawzia Koofi plays with a child in between meetings held in her family home in Faizabad. Badakshan, Afghanistan, 2012
© Wendy Marijnissen

'My troubles started the year my father died. I was six years old'. Rehan (not her real name) ran away from home after her uncle tried to force her to marry his son. After an initial mediation session and the promise the engagement was off, she returned home and was locked up and beaten and about to married of to her cousin yet again. She was able to escape, annule the engagement and now lives in a safehouse run by human rights organization Women for Afghan Women that help in situations like hers. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2012. © Wendy Marijnissen

‘My troubles started the year my father died. I was six years old’. Rehan (not her real name) ran away from home after her uncle tried to force her to marry his son. After an initial mediation session and the promise the engagement was off, she returned home and was locked up and beaten and about to married of to her cousin yet again. She was able to escape, annule the engagement and now lives in a safehouse run by human rights organization Women for Afghan Women that help in situations like hers. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2012.
© Wendy Marijnissen

Children are playing in the backyard of the Edward Said Musical Kindergarten. Besides the normal day care and play, the children already get musical appreciation classes. Ramallah, Palestine, 2006 © Wendy Marijnissen

Children are playing in the backyard of the Edward Said Musical Kindergarten. Besides the normal day care and play, the children already get musical appreciation classes. Ramallah, Palestine, 2006
© Wendy Marijnissen

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Girl Power

Today is Malala Day, in honor of the young and outspoken schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai who addressed the UN  and celebrating her 16th birthday today.

Shot on the left side of her head on October 9th on her way home from school in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, the Taliban and extremists tried to silence her since she became a brave activist for girls education. More than 800 schools in the region have been attacked since 2009, according to government education authorities.

In her speech, she talked about the vicious attack.  “They thought that the bullets would silence us,but they failed.” she said.

‘And then, out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.’

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution.” …

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

In both Pakistan and Afghanistan I’ve seen different sort of schools and even though for most of them the standard is nowhere near ours in the West, it’s always been great to see the young children in schools, especially girls, so eager to learn and get educated.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

All the problems I’ve come across, weather it’s maternal health issues like fistula and maternal mortality, poverty, gender discrimination and sexual violence are all linked and would decrease dramatically if education levels would rise. So let’s support Malalai in her fight and help raise our voices for more education for both girls and boys all around the world.

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Maxi magazine

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

Here’s the tearsheet of one of my images in my first ever German publication (1 page of a 3 page article) in women’s magazine Maxi.

It’s the image on the bottom of the page taken during a demonstration organized by Young Women for Change in Afghanistan and features one of their founders Noorjahan Akbar. One of the most inspiring young women I met during my travels, who fights for equal rights in a country where doing so is very dangerous and literally could cost you your life…

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

The title of the feature article sums it up perfectly and says it all… ‘Her courage is bigger then her fear’.  And that goes for all the men and women who voice their concerns and dream of a country where girls are worth as much as boys.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

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One Billion Rising Antwerp

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

Today is V-Day,  a global activist movement to end violence against women and girls inspired by Eve Ensler, the writer of the Vagina Monologues. The movement founded One Billion Rising, a global protest campaign celebrated in over 200 countries to end violence, and promote justice and gender equality for women.

The campaign, launched on Valentine’s Day 2012, began as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than ONE BILLION WOMEN AND GIRLS.

Also in Belgium women and men came together to express their outrage, strike, dance, and RISE in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women.  Despite the cold and rain, Antwerp joined in with a flashmob of a dance which today will be performed around the world.

© Wendy Marijnissen

© Wendy Marijnissen

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International day of the Girl

Yesterday was the first every International day of the Girl, a day to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. And isn’t that anno 2012 about time…? This year’s theme was all about ending Child marriage.

© Wendy Marijnissen

Every year 10 million girls under the age of 18 become child brides, many girls often even under the age of 16… The girls will be denied to remain children, often stop school and become pregnant very quickly with often disastrous results… In developing countries around 14 million girls between the age of 15-19 give birth, and are twice as likely to die of pregnancy-related complications during childbirth.

© Wendy Marijnissen

At birth a boy is still preferred over a girl. A boy will get better food and a better chance to an education. Girls are taken away from their families after marriage and often fall victim to abuse by their family-in-law. This horrible gender inequality should be stopped and hopefully this Day of the Girl Child will raise awareness.

And even though we in the West often take our rights for granted, we still have a long way to go to equal rights for girls and boys, men and women. Just two days ago a young Pakistani girl named Malala Yousafzai was gunned down by the local Taliban because she spoke up for her right to go to school.

To end off, do check out the incredible work colleague Stephanie Sinclair did on Child brides for National Geographic. For years she has been committed to document this difficult and emotional subject.  The recent video she made about a young child bride Destaye is heartbreaking…Do take a moment to see it.

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