Category Archives: Women

Lipstick to learning: Canada’s indigenous women using businesses to end violence

Screenshot_2020-01-23 Lipstick to learning Canada's indigenous women using businesses to end violence
Jenn Harper, founder of the indigenous women’s social enterprise ‘Cheekbone Beauty’, poses for a photo in Toronto, Canada on 16 January 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Belinda Goldsmith

TORONTO, – When Jenn Harper dreamed of a young native Canadian girl in lip gloss she knew she had found a way to help her community.

The dream in 2015 prompted her to set up Cheekbone Beauty from her kitchen, a cosmetics brand with products named after successful North American indigenous women that gives 10% of profits to a fund to help educate children on reserves.

Harper is one of a rising number of indigenous women in Canada setting up businesses that aim to have a positive social impact, with many focused on aboriginal women who have faced shocking levels of violence for decades.

She said she set out to build a social enterprise that would inspire aboriginal youth, particularly girls, among whom suicide rates are up to six times higher than non-indigenous youth.

“I am using lipstick as a platform to raise awareness about what is still happening to indigenous young people,” Harper, 43, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview, wearing a hot pink lipstick from her Warrior Women range.

“We want to change indigenous youth by showing them they are worthy and (should) not feel shame about their history.”

Harper said her drive was personal. Her grandmother Emily Paul was one of about 150,000 indigenous children taken from their families between the 1840s and 1990s and put in residential schools to assimilate them in Euro-Canadian culture.

She described how her family, like many others, had never dealt with the impact of the government policy that ripped apart families, causing addiction and abuse issues, which in turn led to trans-generational trauma.

Harper said she ended up battling alcohol problems for years until she finally became sober in 2014. Her brother killed himself at the age of 32 about four years ago.

HOPE FOR YOUTH

She said her brother’s support for her setting up a business to provide hope to indigenous youth gave her to courage to quit her job in sales last year to focus on Cheekbone Beauty that she runs from a home office, ensuring all products are Eco-friendly.

Last year she appeared on “Dragon’s Den”, the national TV show where entrepreneurs pitch to investors, and in 2018 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited her to join a round table of female entrepreneurs.

“Getting sober and setting up my business I realised how important it was to share my story with other indigenous women and help others transform,” said Harper, a mother of two from St Catharines in the Niagara region of the province of Ontario.

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200117141752-jubir/

Women step forward in push to nurture African climate scientists

Screenshot_2020-01-14 Women step forward in push to nurture African climate scientists
Women farmers tend their fields at the Tjankwa Irrigation Scheme in Plumtree District, 100km west of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, September 18, 2014. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Busani Bafana

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, As a child, Kenyan meteorologist Saumu Shaka helped out on her parents’ small farm growing maize and pigeon pea – and learned how the weather can hold food producers hostage.

“Looking back, the yield has declined over the years,” said Shaka, 28, who works with the Kenya Meteorological Department.

A decade ago, her parents would get 25 sacks of maize from their six hectares in Taita Taveta County, southeast of Nairobi.

Today that has dwindled to five bags at most, because of erratic rainfall that can also spur crop-destroying pests.

As climate change fuels extreme weather and threatens harvests, Africa needs more scientific expertise to help small-scale farmers adapt, especially women who tend to be hit worst, said Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, director of Nairobi-based group African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women represent nearly half of farmers in Africa and produce up to 80% of basic food crops.

They are also largely responsible for preparing, storing and processing food.

But in many cases, the FAO says, they have limited rights, mobility and access to resources, information and decision-making power, making them more vulnerable and less able to adapt to climate change impacts than men.

“This means women’s continued under-representation in climate change research is no longer acceptable,” said Kamau-Rutenberg, noting that few have opportunities in science education.

AWARD is leading the One Planet Fellowship, a new initiative that will train 630 African and European scientists to use a gender lens to help African smallholders adapt to climate shifts, unusually offering Africans the opportunity to serve as mentors.

Under-investment in African scientific research capacity means “we still don’t even know the specific ways climate change will manifest … in Africa,” said Kamau-Rutenberg.

In September, the three-year career development programme welcomed its first cohort of 45 fellows from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Benin, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo, Mali, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso – over half of them female.

The aim is to “set an example and dispel the myth that there are no African women scientists ready to step into leadership”, Kamau-Rutenberg added.

AWARD collaborates on the initiative, worth nearly $20 million, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, France’s BNP Paribas Foundation and Agropolis Fondation, the European Union and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

‘FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE’

As one of the inaugural fellows, Shaka is seeking home-grown solutions to the challenges faced by farmers like her parents, who are battling to grow enough food on a warming planet.

Her research focuses on cost-effective “climate-smart” agribusiness techniques to help young people boost jobs and food security, which she will promote on social media platforms.

African scientists “have firsthand experience and solutions that are practical and applicable to their societal set-ups within their individual countries”, she said.

Women scientists, moreover, are better able to understand the specific challenges in designing community-tailored solutions to help fellow women, said the senior meteorologist.

Droughts and floods, for example, impose a health burden on women, who have to walk long distances in search of water and stay alert to the risk of waterborne diseases, she noted.

Pamela Afokpe, 27, an AWARD fellow from Benin, said “in-continent” experts could relate to the needs of African farmers more easily.

Afokpe, a vegetable breeder with East-West Seed International, is working to get more farmers growing indigenous leafy vegetables in West and Central Africa by helping them access high-yielding varieties resistant to pests and diseases.

Up to now, a limited number of African experts have contributed to the landmark scientific assessments published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which synthesises research and guides policymakers.

Out of 91 lead authors of the 2018 IPCC special report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, only eight were from Africa, as were just a tenth of the 783 contributing authors.

South Africa’s Debra Roberts, co-chair of a working group for the IPCC ongoing sixth scientific assessment report and the first female co-chair from Africa, said the panel’s work showed tackling climate change required all of society to respond.

“Women have different lived experiences and views on the problems and solutions,” she said.

“We need to hear those voices if we are to be able to identify context-relevant solutions from the scientific literature. There is no one-size-fits-all,” she added.

Over the IPCC’s three decades of operation, there have only been three female co-chairs, two of them on the current report, she noted. “We have a long way to go still,” Roberts told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

ENERGY PRIORITIES

Women also need to be involved in the practical design of climate solutions, such as expanding off-grid solar power and clean cooking, which can reduce drudgery and minimise health issues linked pollution, said agricultural experts.

As forest loss and climate change make resources scarcer, women have to go longer distances to gather fuel-wood, which puts additional pressure on their time, health and personal security, said Katrin Glatzel, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Dakar, Senegal.

In Mali, a public-private partnership has provided 1.6 million people with more efficient stoves, reducing pollution by half compared to a traditional three-stone fire, she noted.

Glatzel said it was important to include and empower female scientists and farmers in the switch to cleaner, modern energy, so that their concerns could be addressed.

A 2019 survey by charity Practical Action in rural Togo found women prioritised energy for pumping drinking water and processing crops, while men favoured mobile-phone charging and heating water for washing, she noted.

In northern Benin, meanwhile, a solar-powered drip irrigation system means a cooperative of 45 women now fetches water one or twice a week rather than daily, she added.

Bringing women on board with technological innovation for rural energy services is key “to ensure that end products meet their needs and those of their families”, she said.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200113072646-hrp53/

Bangladeshi women recount stories of abuse in Saudi Arabia

94551B09-5E65-4CDB-88F7-8CB32E9D716DAccording to Bangladeshi authorities, nearly 50,000 female workers went to Saudi Arabia until the end of September this year [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Shirina Begum was no stranger to sleeping on an empty stomach. For days on end, she had to consume “bhater mar” (the starchy water poured off cooked rice) to quell her hunger after feeding her two children and ailing husband.

Growing up in the small Bangladeshi village of Namorikari in Lalmonirhat, which often faces seasonal famines, 29-year-old Begum struggled to make ends meet.

With no cultivable land at her disposal and living in a house made of straw, she seemed destined to live her life on subsistence.

Then one day, she heard that one of her neighbours was going to Saudi Arabiato work as a housemaid.

“I was told that she would make around 20,000 taka ($235) a month and only needed to spend 40,000 taka ($471) to go to Saudi Arabia,” she told Al Jazeera.

“I decided to borrow money from a local moneylender and go to Saudi Arabia to work there,” she said.

In May this year, she started her journey, leaving behind her family. Her agent told her that she would only need to cook for a family of four in the city of Al-Kharj.

She later found out that the family had six members and her duties also included cleaning, washing and other household chores.

“It was a tough job for $235 a month. I needed to work for 14-15 hours straight. It was hard for me to understand their language [Arabic]. I also couldn’t cook to their taste. I didn’t have any access to a phone, so I couldn’t talk to my family back home,” she said.

“They also beat me with a stick sometimes.”

Begum said she was also sexually assaulted by the eldest son of the family, which spurred her to run away.

“I was sleeping in the kitchen. Suddenly I realised someone was trying to get on the top of me. I screamed loud but he shut my mouth with his hand. Then he molested me. At one point, I applied all my force and he was compelled to leave me,” she said.

The next day, she mustered the courage and fled to the nearest police station. As she did not have proper immigration papers, she spent nearly four weeks in prison until she was able to return to Bangladesh with 20 others in late October with the help of Bangladeshi embassy in Saudi Arabia.

“I was treated like an animal inside the prison,” she said.

“I was able to work for only four months and I got salary of just two months. Now I am in debt as I can’t pay back to my loan sharks.”

Begum is among the nearly 50,000 women who went to the Gulf country for work until the end of September this year.

According to government figures, more than 300,000 female workers have travelled to Saudi Arabia since 1991, but many of them return with stories of abuse and exploitation.

In the last four years, at least 66 Bangladeshi female workers died in Saudi Arabia, 52 of them committing suicide.

Attempted suicide

The story of Dalia Akhter, another migrant who worked in Saudi Arabia, ended with a broken limb.

Akhter, a resident of Gendaria outside the capital Dhaka, was told she would be taking care of an elderly woman in the town Ad-Dilum in Saudi Arabia in exchange for $266 a month.

However, she woke up to the harsh reality when she reached there in July 2018. Long working hours, rude behaviour and physical abuse were everyday experiences.

“I had to work from 5am to 10pm every day without a break,” she said.

“The Malkin (her female employer) used to beat me with a stick when I could not understand her instructions. I felt helpless and trapped,” she said.

After she refused to continue working for the family, she was “sold” to another family, Akter says. Under the Saudi “kafala” – or visa sponsorship – system, a migrant worker’s residency permit is tied to the “sponsoring” employers whose written consent is required for the worker to change employers or leave the country under normal circumstances.

Akter’s working conditions got worse. The new family was even harsher on her than the previous one, she says. She jumped from the roof of the three-storey house in an attempted suicide and broke her leg, after which her employer left her with the Bangladeshi embassy in the capital, Riyadh.

After living in a safe house in Riyadh run by the Bangladeshi embassy for three weeks, Akhter was sent back to Bangladesh this September, her leg permanently incapable of healing.

“Before going to Saudi Arabia, I used to work in garment sector. Now with a broken leg, I have become a burden to my family,” said Akhter.

Bangladesh’s garment sector, the South Asian nation’s biggest export earner, employs millions of women.

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/bangladeshi-women-recount-stories-abuse-saudi-arabia-191107111307106.html

The South Asian women trafficked to Kenya’s Bollywood-style bars

DanceLatest figures from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission showed 43 women and girls were repatriated from dance bars in Kenya [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

Nepali beautician Sheela* did not think twice about ditching her salon job when she received a call offering seven times her salary to work as a cultural dancer at a nightclub in Kenya.

It did not matter that the 23-year-old woman from a village in the Himalayan foothills had never heard of the East African nation.

Or that she had no experience as a dancer, had never met the owner of the club and was not shown an employment contract.

With elderly parents to care for and medical bills to clear after her brother suffered a motorcycle accident, the offer of a monthly salary of $600, with food, housing and transport costs all covered, was a no-brainer for Sheela.

“[But] it was not what I expected,” said Sheela, who was rescued with 11 other Nepali women from a nightclub in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa in April where she danced on stage from 9pm to 4am getting tips from male clients.

“I was told that being escorted everywhere by the driver, not leaving the flat except for work, and not having my passport or phone, was for my safety,” added Sheela, who did not want to give her real name, at a safe house in Mombasa’s Shanzu suburb.

An increasing number of women and girls are leaving South Asian nations such as Nepal, India and Pakistan to work in Bollywood-style dance bars in Kenya’s adult entertainment industry – many illegally – according to anti-trafficking activists and police.

There is no official data on the numbers but the results of police raids, combined with figures on the repatriation of rescued women, suggest scores of women and underage girls are victims of organised human trafficking from South Asia to Kenya.

Latest figures from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) showed 43 women and girls were repatriated from dance bars in Kenya and neighbouring Tanzania in 2016-2017.

Spotlight on rising trend

The owner of the Mombasa club, Asif Amirali Alibhai Jetha, was charged with three counts of human trafficking, accused of harbouring victims for the purpose of deception, using premises to promote trafficking and confiscation of passports.

The Canadian-British national denied the charges in court, pleading not guilty, saying the women were in Kenya of their own consent and legally employed as cultural dancers at a business with no erotic dancing or sexual exploitation.

He is currently on bail awaiting the next court hearing.

The so-called mujra dance bars are common in India. Here, young women dance to Bollywood music for money from male patrons. These bars have mushroomed in cities including Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, where there are countless Kenyans of South Asian descent.

Police and anti-trafficking groups have repeatedly voiced concerns that some of these private clubs are used as a front to ensnare women and girls, some in sex slavery, with women forced to pay off loans by erotic dancing or having sex with clients.

Sheela and the other women rescued from the Mombasa club told the Thomson Reuters Foundation they were not forced to have sex with customers.

In Kenya, many local women and girls are promised good jobs only to be enslaved in domestic servitude or forced into prostitution – often in the sex tourism industry.

Kenya is home to about 328,000 modern-day slaves – about one in 143 of its population – according to the Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation, an Australia-based rights group.

Police raids

In recent years, police raids on mujra bars uncovered organised human trafficking from South Asia to Kenya, a trend highlighted by the United States in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

“The raids have helped us understand the modus operandi of traffickers in Kenya who have agents overseas to recruit women for them,” an official from Kenya’s Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) said on condition of anonymity.

“They are offered jobs as cultural dancers and given around one month’s salary in advance. But when they arrive, their movements are restricted and they have to do erotic and sexually explicit dancing – and often have to have sex with clients.”

Such victims enter Kenya either on a three-month tourist visa on arrival for South Asians or on a special temporary work permit for cultural performers, according to the DCI official.

Sheela and the other 11 women rescued in Mombasa said they came to Kenya separately over the past nine months on flights through India and Ethiopia arranged by the club owner.

In court testimonies, the women, aged 16 to 34, said they were told to carry hand luggage only and tell immigration officials they were visiting friends or family in Kenya.

The women worked every night, were given stage names, and were expected to earn about $4,000 each a month in tips.

“We didn’t get the tips as they were for the boss,” said Meena*, 20, who did not want to give her real name.

“But the top performing girls would get bonuses of 20,000 shillings [$200], 30,000 [$300], and 50,000 [$500] if they met their targets.”

The women told the court their passports were taken and they did not know the location of the club or their accommodation. They were repatriated to Nepal in July.

“This whole thing has been terrible,” said Sonia*, 24, who did not want to give her real name, the day before she left. “I should never have come – it was a mistake. All I want to do is go home. I never come to Kenya again.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/south-asian-women-trafficked-kenya-bollywood-style-bars-190808085054217.html

 

The brave women fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria

womanPeople gather at the scene of a suicide car bomb blast in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria [Jossy Ola/AP]

Maiduguri, Nigeria – Boko Haram killed the two most important people in Komi Kaje’s life within two days.

In November 2015, Komi Akaji, her 46-year-old brother, was shot dead by Boko Haram fighters.

“There were seven students killed. When I got there, I saw he was shot twice in the head,” Kaje said.

The days of mourning followed according to tradition. Kaje was broken but Peter Adam, her 35-year-old boyfriend, provided some relief. On a Saturday afternoon, Adam observed mourning rites with Kaje’s family and shared lunch with her.

But Boko Haram attacked again, turning a visit of solace into sorrow.

“They shot him in his chest and head and he fell inside a ditch. The bullet touched his brain,” said Kaje, her eyes in tears.

Kaje has tried hard to forget the killings but military sirens, the sound of gunfire, and constant exposure to the areas where her loved ones were shot dead were enough to provoke new trauma.

If she moved to a new city, her parents thought, it might help her heal. Kaje relocated to Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, to spend some recovery time.

But Kaje realised the solution wasn’t to run, “because Boko Haram was everywhere”.

Maybe, Kaje thought, if she could play a role in defeating the fighters some healing would come. At the time, the armed group held many towns and villages captive as part of a so-called “Islamic caliphate”.

Boko Haram since 2009 has killed more than 27,000 people and forced another two million out of their homes.

Fighting Boko Haram

When Kaje introduced the idea of joining the fight against the rebellion to her friends and family, it was received with mockery and indifference. “How can a woman fight Boko Haram?” she was told.

However, other women aside from Kaje, such as 45-year-old Idris Fati, shared her ambition to flush the fighters out of Maiduguri.

Kaje and Fati joined the Civilian Joint Taskforce (C-JTF) – a civilian militia drawn from communities affected by Boko Haram – that partners with and supports the military in its operations.

C-JTF had been an all-male force but there were tasks best-suited for women.

For one, Boko Haram favoured using girls and women in the group’s operations, especially as suicide bombers attacking markets, hospitals, mosques, churches and other public places.

“Boko Haram were using many women and girls to fight the war. Women were needed to counter that strategy,” Kaje told Al Jazeera.

Between 2011-17, Boko Haram used female suicide bombers in at least 244 of its 338 attacks, according to the United States-based Combating Terrorism Center. In 2018, 38 out of 48 children used by Boko Haram as suicide assailants were girls.

Nigerian soldiers, for religious and cultural reasons, are restricted from searching women and girls in most cases – an opening exploited by Boko Haram to blow up its targets.

Since then the women, from dawn to twilight, search other females at security checkpoints leading to Maiduguri’s markets, hospitals, schools, and other public sites vulnerable to attacks.

Many suicide bombers have been exposed and arrested and their murderous assaults foiled.

In some cases, the military involves the women in intelligence-gathering on the armed group’s activities. This has helped reveal operations by the armed group, earning them the nickname “Gossipers of Boko Haram”.

When the military receives intelligence that Boko Haram will target a particular location, it deploys the women to detect and expose female suicide bombers who might mingle in the crowd.

In rare, but far more dangerous cases, the Gossipers are involved in military operations targeting notorious female Boko Haram members.

Death threats

But not everyone is happy with what the Nigerian women are doing.

“My neighbours are always insulting me. They say that one day Boko Haram will kill me. But whenever I am involved in saving people’s lives, the joy of it is above all insults,” said Fati.

Boko Haram sends warning messages through emissaries, threatening to kill those working security.

“Boko Haram has threatened me so many times,” Fati said. “They warn me to quit the job or risk being killed. They say our work hurts and exposes their operations. But I won’t stop because I am fighting not just for my life, but for the future of my children.”

During the peak of Boko Haram’s violence, the military was accused of arresting, jailing, and killing innocent citizens on suspicion of being collaborators.

Discerning who was involved with Boko Haram was difficult for the military because of a lack of information about the communities.

About 20,000 people, including boys as young as nine, were detained without due process, according to rights group Amnesty International. About 1,200 men were reportedly killed.

‘Many have died’

Some locals knew those linked to Boko Haram, but to speak out was to risk death as the fighters retaliated against the families of those who exposed them to the military.

Women helped break the barrier by taking vital information to the military about members of Boko Haram living in their communities.

“Many women have died doing this job,” said Umar Habiba, 38, who coordinates the gatekeepers in Monday Market in Maiduguri.

She said there are more than 100 women currently working in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state – the hotbed of the rebellion. Others have resigned as a result of threats, marriage and pressure from society.

Danger is always present in their work as suicide bombers detonate explosives and kill themselves, along with those attempting to search them.

“If I die doing this work, I know my parents would be proud of me because I died for my state,” said Kaje, who earns $60 a month from the state government – a huge sum for a job she previously did voluntarily.

“Many women, unable to cope with the pressure, have resigned.”

Arizona home helps women rebuild lives after prison

Arizona photo
Credit: Ekkasit Rakrotchit/Shutterstock.

. Women leaving prison can face numerous challenges – from finding housing and employment despite a criminal record to repairing relationships with family members and friends.

At one women’s home in Flagstaff, Arizona, former inmates receive help getting back on their feet. The home, run by Catholic Charities, has seen so much success in its first few years that it is now planning to expand.

Since it opened in 2016, the Juniper House has helped 55 women re-enter society after leaving jail – with a sober environment, manageable rent, and the resources to get their lives on track.

The Juniper House began through a partnership developed between Catholic Charities and the local authorities.

Sandi Flores, Catholic Charities Community Services’ senior programs director for the northern offices, said the project works with the woman who have gone through Exodus, a sobriety program completed during incarceration.

“[It began with] some interest from the local sheriff department and jail folk, who were looking for an alternative for women who were exiting the substance abuse program that was offered at the jail. So we collaborated with them.”

Since women will exit the Exodus program at different times, the Juniper House staff consistently conducts interviews at the jail once a month. The house only holds eight women at a time, so there is growing wait list.

Women who going through the program will set goals, like focusing on jobs, completing their education, or reuniting with family members.

Flores said many of these women will face challenges that hinder these goals and their recovery. A criminal record may make it hard for the individuals to find work, and past friendships may push the women back into substance abuse.

The goal of the Juniper House, she said, is to minimize the stresses these women face as they exit incarceration, giving them the best possible shot at remaining substance free, finding work, and moving forward with their lives.

Residents receive free rent for the first month, followed by discounted rent. This allows them to focus on sobriety and accessing resources, like school or searching for employment.

“It gives them a chance, when they first get out, to be in a sober living environment, focus on recovery, to work at getting a job, learning to budget their funds, build some social support and social connections that don’t involve alcohol or drugs,” said Flores.

Unlike many other halfway homes, Flores said, the Juniper House allows residents a significant amount of freedom. Women who live at the house can take behavioral medication and work late if necessary. They are not removed from the program if they relapse, but instead will be coached alongside a case manager to develop a recover plan. And they are able to move at their own pace, with some staying a house for a few months, and others for up to a year.

Flores said the one of the house’s most beautiful qualities is the accountability that develops among the women. While it can be difficult for people in general to give or receive feedback, she said, the women routinely warn each other about dangerous behavior or motivate each other to find better solutions.

“They empower each other, and they support each other, and they are quick to point out when they are seeing something that is starting to go wrong.”

“We don’t want them to feel accountable to us. That’s not our role. Our role is to provide an opportunity for them and the support and resources to help themselves to permanent stability. Holding them accountable to us is not the message, is not the mission. Letting them be accountable to each other is very strong and powerful.”

According to the Catholic Sun, 50 percent of the residents are expected to gain income within 30 days and 80 percent to gain income within 60 days. Four in ten are working to reunite with their children. Last year alone, the house served 25 women.

The Diocese of Phoenix now wants to use the Juniper House as a model for similar homes across the state of Arizona. A diocesan campaign that began two years ago has raised the funds to help the project expand to Maricopa County and Yavapai County, with $1 million going toward the expansion.

Flores expressed hope that the project will continue to grow, providing more women with the opportunity for rehabilitation.

At Catholic Charities, she said, “it is always our mission to serve our community’s most vulnerable. So we are always looking to see what is that vulnerable population that is not being served.”

 

 

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/arizona-home-helps-women-rebuild-lives-after-prison-43714

Two Indian women enter Sabarimala temple in Kerala amid protests

India photo
The temple was briefly shut down for a ‘purification ritual’  following the announcement of the women entering [File: Sivaram V/Reuters]

by Zeenat Saberin

New Delhi, India – Two women in India’s southern Kerala state
have breached a centuries-old ban on entering an ancient Hindu
temple, despite strong protests by right-wing conservative
groups.

Bindu and Kanakadurga, who were in their forties, walked into
the Sabarimala Temple at 3:45am on Wednesday, according to the
ANI news agency.

The temple had been closed off to women of menstruating age
until India’s Supreme Court overturned the ban in September.
However, opponents of the ruling continued to block women
between the ages of 10 and 50 from entering the shrine.

“Today, two women entered Sabarimala Temple. We had issued
standing orders to police to provide all possible protection
to any woman who wants to enter the temple,” Chief Minister
Pinarayi Vijayan told reporters in Kerala’s capital city,
Trivandrum.

A video posted online by ANI showed the two women, clothed in
black, hurriedly walking into the temple. They offered prayers
there, ANI said.

The temple was briefly shut down following the move for a
“purification ritual” by priests.

According to the Sabarimala temple’s website, women of
menstruating age were not allowed to enter the shrine because
its deity, Lord Ayyappa, was celibate.

Since the top court’s verdict, Hindu hardliners, opposed to
the decision, have attacked female pilgrims, threatened
journalists and pelted police with stones.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of women in Kerala formed a 620
-km human chain “in support of gender equality” from Kasargod
in the north to the capital, Trivandrum.

Manithi Selvi, who attempted to enter Sabarimala last month
but had to back down after being hounded by violent
protesters, hailed the two women’s entry to Sabarimala as a
“brave feat”.

“This is a massive victory for the women of India. These two
women have protected India’s constitutional rights and smashed
the walls of patriarchy. But this is only the first step, we
need to guard our rights in the family, in the home, in the
workplace,” Selvi told Al Jazeera.

“Those who have tried to purify the temple today after the
women entered are standing against the constitution of this
country. We have to reject these ideas,” she added.

Bindu, one of the women who entered the temple on Wednesday,
was threatened by right-wing protesters earlier and her house
was vandalised, according to Selvi.

Conservative Hindu groups said they will continue to oppose
women entering the temple.

“The temple has now been closed for cleaning ritual following
this incident where the women forcefully entered the temple.
We will definitely go back to the top court to fight this
battle out. It’s not over yet and we will win,” Rahul Easwar,
president of the Ayyappa Dharma Sena (Ayyappa Religious Army),
that claims to protect the interests of the Lord Ayyappa told
Al Jazeera.

KK Shailaja, minister for social justice in Kerala, said her
government stands for “gender equality”. She had also
participated in the “women’s human wall” on Tuesday.

“We are upholding the top court orders and our government here
will continue to strongly back all women. We stand for gender
equality. Those saying that women are impure should be ashamed
of themselves. How can they say women are impure in front of
God?” Shailaja said.

“There is no logical reason to stop women from entering any
temple,” she said.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has backed
the anti-women protesters despite the court order, in what
critics say is a move to fan Hindu religious sentiment to make
inroads into the region.

Menstruation is rarely discussed openly in India and menstrual
blood is considered impure by many communities.

Across cities and towns, menstruating girls and women are not
allowed to prepare food, enter a temple or touch an idol.

An estimated one million Hindu pilgrims travel to the
Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala annually.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS