Tag Archives: Democracy

Closing the Gap: Spark News Digest

An internet gender gap, gender wage gap, human right’s gap and a cabinate- appointment diversity gap. Spark news digest is here to help fill in the gap, plus discussion on a new approach to film making.


Women wearing colourful Saris Rajasthan India Photo: ALAMY

Women wearing colourful Saris Rajasthan India Photo: ALAMY

GLOBAL: Fifth of women in India and Egypt think internet use is ‘inappropriate’

Can you imagine feeling guilty and ashamed by your family for connecting to the digital world? A new Intel report stated that one in five women in Egypt and India feel the internet is not appropriate for them to use, increasing an internet gender gap.  However, if these women were empowered to connect, they could move mountains. It is estimated that the transformative power of the web in business and educational opportunities for women could increase GDP by billions in 144 developing countries.

Read the full story 


LOCAL: Equal Education, Unequal Pay. The Gender Wage Gap in the USA

This beautifully designed infographic illustrates that while women are paying the same for tuition, doing equally as good or even better than their male counterparts in college, the gender wage gap post graduation is still very present in the good ‘ol USA. Similar to the internet gender gap, if women’s salaries matched men’s, the GDP would increase by billions of dollars. That’s the kind of math that really adds up.

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GLOBAL: North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses Have ‘No Parallel’

While the attention on North Korea recently has been on stopping their development of nuclear weapons and missiles, human abuses have been overlooked. Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Right stated that  “torture, summary executions, rape, slave labor, and forms of collective punishment that may amount to crimes against humanity” are affecting almost the entire population of North Korea, in and out of prison camps.

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LOCAL: Obama’s Women Problem Is a Problem of His Own Making

A debate has been sparked by the lack of women appointments, to date, in Obama’s second-term cabinate. Given the criticism the President has received around roles of senior women within his circle, let’s see what’s to come.

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FILM: A New Approach to Making Films That Matter

Films are one of the most powerful mediums of our time. The number of documentary films have grown rapidly within the last few years while funding has increased at a pace less than half the rate of production. Funders want to understand the investment’s social impact in a more direct way. To help, social scientists are looking at ways of compiling data to understand how the framing of social issues spreads within social networks and potentially shifts public discourse. While this approach is new, it has the potential to give film makers and funders the data necessary to create stories that influence, educate and engage the intended audience.

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WOZA Update

The six WOZA members—arrested on May 18th for alleged malicious damage to property—have been released on bail ($100 each) with conditions. They were represented by human rights lawyers Kossam Ncube and Godfrey Nyoni. The lawyers confirmed in the court record what we reported on our blog last week–the accused were denied food. Additionally, police officers threatened them with death and disappearance. The police verbally abused the accused calling them prostitutes. Under this duress, five members admitted to the charge. This took place in the absence of their lawyers.

Over the weekend two homes were raided without a search warrant. At the time, no arrests were made. Then, on Tuesday, eight more WOZA members were arrested including a mother and her 3-month-old baby. Lawyers have been deployed.

Yesterday (May 25th, 2011) was Africa Day in Zimbabwe. The electricity was cut for 6-18 hours.

Calling for WOZA

Photo Credit: Sokwanele-Zimbabwe

On Wednesday, May 18th, six WOZA members were arrested for a peaceful protest in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. They have been accused of painting messages on the road—messages that read- “power to poor people,” “no lengthy load shedding” and “prepaid meters now!”

For the last five years, WOZA members employed an organizing strategy to end price gouging and corruption by the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC). Extended blackouts and overbilling greatly impact the quality of life of Zimbabweans.

WOZA fears that these six members are being tortured. Their fear is merited. In March 2011, fourteen WOZA members were tortured while in custody. This morning these six women were denied food and access to their lawyers.

WOZA has asked us for help. They would like us to call the Western Commonage police station +263 9 403996 and request to speak with Assistant Inspector Purazeni, the officer-in-charge. The Standard Time difference is GMT +2 hours. When you speak with him ask him to abide by international standards of detention. WOZA has also suggested that we call the Law and Order Department at +263 9 72515 and implore their protection of the basic human rights of these activists.

When Jenni Williams, the co-founder of WOZA, spoke to Spark earlier this year, she told us that flooding the police station with calls is one of the few strategies that can protect her members from certain beatings and torture. A clogged phone line becomes a nuisance and the police release their detainees with greater expediency to avoid the hassle.

Please join Spark in being a nuisance. Tell us how your calls are going and we will continue to provide updates.

Let’s speak up for the women of WOZA.

Egypt Update: Women’s Rights After The Revolution

BY SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow

As the protests made headline news, we hoped that they would bode well for women involved in the revolution. So far this is not the case. Women are being excluded from an important and exciting moment in shaping Egypt’s future—drafting the country’s new constitution.

Image: © Ramy Raoof

The news took me by surprise. Women’s strong participation in Egypt’s protests against the Mubarak government alluded to a certain degree of political equality. Yet just weeks later, nearly 300 women marching in Tahrir Square on International Women’s Day were beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob. This incident highlights the crucial importance of protecting women’s rights in Egypt, and the recent exclusion of women in the drafting a new constitution underlines the magnitude of this issue.

These recent events may hinder the ongoing progress towards improving women’s political rights in the country. Back in 1957 Egypt became the first Arab country to elect a woman to parliament. In 2010, the Mubarak government secured 64 parliament seats for women. With the omission of women’s input in drafting the new constitution and the harassment of marchers supporting women’s rights and equality, I fear that women’s rights might be jeopardized in the post-revolutionary Egypt. Of particular concern is maintaining the 64 seats in parliament. Since this legislation was enacted under President Mubarak, it is unclear whether or not the new constitution will preserve this right.

In a region where women’s rights are restricted, the broader implications of these political events are very important. While I watch the future of Egypt unfold, I hope that women are able to preserve their existing political presence and continue to fight for equal rights.

Progress Interupted

BY SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow

Two weeks ago, Amnesty International requested that Spark remove the name of an upcoming speaker from searchable websites and databases. The speaker is from Zimbabwe, and due to the recent police harassment of political dissidents, her advocacy for human rights has made her a potential target. Spark immediately removed her name and that of her organization from our website, but as Spark members and women around the world unite and participate in various International Women’s Day celebrations, events in Zimbabwe remind us that there is still significant progress to be made.

Here is what happened yesterday in Zimbabwe:

In Bulawayo, police interrupted meetings and marches celebrating International Women’s Day. They detained 16 members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, despite a court order permitting their peaceful demonstration, and a speaker at the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights’ meeting in the suburbs of the city.  Although the Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khuphe reprimanded police for these actions, contentious arrests like these have populated Zimbabwean headlines for weeks.

In late February, President Robert Mugabe’s police forces interrupted an International Socialist Organization meeting and arrested 45 students, trade unionists and activists for watching BBC and Al Jazeera reports on the protests in Egypt and Tunisia.  The individuals (11 female and 34 male) were arrested on the suspicion of plotting to overthrow the Mugabe government. 39 were released on Monday, but the remaining 6 (1 female and 5 male) now face treason charges in the High Court, a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The New York Times reports: “As Mr. Mugabe’s party pushes for elections this year in a drive to reclaim sole power, human rights groups have warned that the police and youth militia aligned with Mr. Mugabe’s party have intensified harassment, beatings and arrests of Mr. Mugabe’s political opponents”.

Such police behavior is alarming and generates particular concern for Zimbabwean women. Women’s Enews reported yesterday on a study outlining the treatment of Zimbabwean women protesters that 78% reported political threats, 64% reported degrading treatment, 42% reported torture and sexual abuse and 33% reported torture.

As we observe International Women’s Day throughout the month of March, we cannot ignore the potential implications of these detentions and must continue to fight for and protect women’s rights – including the basic human right to peaceful demonstration.

Please join Spark in an intimate discussion related to these recent events at its upcoming Speaker Series on March 19, 2011. Our speaker is the founder of a non-violent human rights movement in Zimbabwe and is at the forefront of the struggle for peace and human rights for women and all Zimbabweans.

Egypt: What Does This Mean for Women?

What I know for certain is that this uprising will forever alter the position of women in Egypt.  What I don’t know is how.  Political unrest impacts disempowered communities differently—both positively and negatively.

Here are some trends that I am watching:

Women are key actors in this movement.

Women are protesting side by side with men. Renowned Egyptian feminist and human rights activist Nawal El Saadawi reported from Cairo, “Women and girls are beside boys in the streets…We are calling for justice, freedom and equality, and real democracy and a new constitution, no discrimination between men and women, no discrimination between Muslims and Christians, to change the system… and to have a real democracy.”

Young women, in particular, were instrumental in initiating the protests–inspiring men to speak out.

Asmaa Mahfouz has been credited with sparking the fire with her YouTube video posted several weeks ago calling for a protest to bring down Mubark and his regime.

The secular, rights-based impetus for the protest may not remain central during a political transition.

I am watching the developments and hoping that the spirit of the protests perseveres the volatility of this political process.  Both Scott Atran and  Carrie Rosefsky-Wickham cautioned against the misunderstanding and over-simplification of secular and religious political factions. However, the ascendance of a fundamentalist regime would have a negative impact on women in Egypt and the region.

This has turned into a humanitarian crisis.  When food and other resources are scarce, women and girls loose out.

Gender inequalities are exacerbated during crisis.  This is true of natural disasters, war and political uprisings.

This historic moment in Egypt will change the country and the region.  While I don’t know how this will impact women in Egypt, I do know that attention matters.  We will continue to monitor the situation and report findings from our four Spark members in Cairo and other partners on the ground.

Not Just Another Sunday

On January 9th, Southern Sudanese will vote on whether to secede from the North and form a new country.  This vote was promised in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005, which ended a devastating 22-year civil war that claimed more than two million lives.  Additionally, citizens in the disputed boarder region of Abyei—which is rich in oil reserves—will vote to join either the North or South if secession succeeds.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the situation in the Sudan as a “ticking time bomb”.  There is concern within the international human rights community that Southern Sudan is ripe for mass killings and possible genocide.

Spark does not have grantees in the Sudan, but we partner with organizations that do.  Women for Women International has programs on the ground in Southern Sudan.  Here is what they have to say:

What does the referendum mean for the people of Sudan?

The referendum process has already been fraught with threats of violence and renewed conflict as North and South remain suspicious of one another, fearing that the other side is trying to derail the process

Tension between the two regions is expected, as the referendum has several substantial implications:

  • Mass Displacement — If the South votes for separation—which observers believe it will—both sides must come to agreement about how to treat northern Sudanese living in the south and vice versa, as well as the country’s nomadic groups who travel between the two regions. It is estimated that about 1.5 million southern Sudanese live in the north—all of whom have been threatened with expulsion if the south votes for independence.
  • Oil Crisis — South Sudan is rich in oil; it is estimated that more than 70 percent of the country’s oil reserves and production take place there. However, the oil pipeline that carries the oil to port runs through North Sudan. Oil revenue makes up 98 percent of the government’s budget in South Sudan and 60 percent of Khartoum’s budget. A vote for secession would mean further negotiations on how to define oil production and revenue sharing between the two countries.
  • Fear of Violence — If the vote is seen as unfair, forced or is unpopular with militia groups, there is a major concern that violence could erupt between the two countries, resulting in a return to civil war.

Why is the referendum important?

In addition to fulfilling the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the vote is a democratic means of conflict resolution that will allow southern Sudanese to feel their voices are heard without the destruction, loss and violence of civil war. A peaceful and credible election would be a necessary and important symbol of the possibility for true peace following decades of violence and fear. For the women of Sudan, the vote means an important opportunity to make their voices heard as to the direction of their country and the chance to continue rebuilding their lives and communities in a peaceful environment.

What you can do?

1) Pay Attention

Attention is a powerful agent for change. Below are a few well-respected groups monitoring the elections.  Add them to your Google alerts and RSS feeds.

2)      Speak Out

Spark provides advocacy support for our partners working in the region. We need volunteers to write letters. If you are interested in volunteering, email me – Shannon@sparksf.org

3)      Map It

If you have ever lived in Southern Sudan, The Satellite Sentinel in partnership with Google is looking for volunteers to aid in mapping the region.  Accurate maps will help the international human rights community monitor the situation in Southern Sudan.