gender, media, stereotyping, violence against women, Women's rights

Bad Ads

It seems like lately there are more and more incidences of advertisements ‘going wrong’ in objectifying ways. Take a look at these two recent examples —

Bud Light thought this was a good advertising catchphrase:

bud light

‘the perfect beer for removing “no” from your vocabulary for the night’ #upforwhatever

And recently a public transport authority in Wales came out with this winner:

ride me

‘Ride me all day long for 3 pounds’

You have to wonder at the approval process for these ads, and why didn’t anyone say at some point ‘hold on, this might be a horrible thing to say’.

Although these adverts are awful, the negative reaction it drew from audiences who were quick to mobilize against these brands are a reason to celebrate. From the flood of emails and tweets aimed at NAT, which prompted them to remove this ad from all their buses, to the John Oliver segment on Last Week Tonight literally ‘taking the piss’ out of Bud Light.

This leaves me optimistic. The general public knows objectification and sexual violence innuendo when it sees it, and we’re not afraid to call people out on this. Advertising executives are being a held to a higher standard, and brands are now acutely aware of the cost of these sorts of faux pas.

Let’s hope they learn from each other’s mistakes.

gender, gender based violence, girls rights, human rights, violence, violence against women, Women's rights

Killing in the name

A woman called Busaina Abu-Ganem was shot to death in Israel this week in an alleged “honor killing” case.  She’s the tenth woman in the horrible Abu-Ganem family to be murdered since the year 2000. The reason for this heinous act is yet unclear. what we do know is that she and her husband recently separated, leaving her with their six children. In an act of courage, Busaina decided to go back to school and get her diploma. a week after she completed her studies, she was murdered.

other women who have been brutally murdered by Abu-Ganem male family members include:

Rim Abu-Ganem who was murdered by her brothers for refusing to marry a man they were forcing her to wed. after they killed her they drowned her body.

Sherihan Abu-Ganem was 16 when her brother murdered her because of ‘jealousy’

Hamda Abu-Ganem was killed by her brothers who were indicted for the murder based on a female cousin’s testimony. this female cousin ‘disappeared’ after the trial, and it’s believed her body is buried in the West Bank, in an area outside the jurisdiction of Israeli authorities.

These women are victims twice over. first they were victims of a family that sees females as chattel with little value beyond that of a reproductive agent. secondly, they were victims of a discriminatory society that ‘others’  Muslim minorities and ultimately discourages the Jewish authorities from seeking justice.

gender based violence is pervasive. it’s important to remember that women are abused to the point of death everyday across the globe; that this isn’t tied to one religion, race of region. but regardless of location, violence against women and girls stems from very similar origins – unequal power relations. simply put – men use violence or the threat of violence to maintain their sense of power / control over women. this is not to say that all men are violent or oppose the equality of women. not at all. however, some men pick up on social and cultural cues that tell them women are not as valuable or as important as men, they can and should be hurt in order to maintain male authority, and that their existence is merely a reflection of a man’s achievement.

these are the kinds of messages that must be tackled through behavior change communications, awareness raising campaigns, legislative and policy reforms, community outreach and a strong coordinated and functional social protection system. in the absence of honest determination, leadership and political support, the root causes of ‘honor killings’ will never be fully addressed. and because this is seen so much as a ‘woman’s issue’ to be discussed about and exclaimed over by feminist organizations, but never to be acknowledged as a hard-line concern such as terrorism, security and border control, it will probably never rally enough interest and support to truly be eradicated. any progress we make, will always be incremental, and hard to measure. but the chance of stopping another senseless murder before it is carried out must motivate us to continue the good fight.

For more resources on gender based violence go to:

Support the International Violence Against Women Act (USA):

Take action on Global Orange Day:

Support the White Ribbon Campaign in your country:

Check out some of the leading global initiatives to end violence against women:

16 days, body image, gender, media, violence, Women's rights

How the media failed women

The media has never been kind towards women. They are ultimately trying to sell us something and as agents of the beauty industry have good reason to keep us dissatisfied with ourselves and obsessed with images of airbrushed women. We are stereotyped in movies, advertisements and glossy magazines, and are made to believe we can only digest the evening news if it’s presented by a very pretty woman.

We are aware of this. Men and women who find these images appalling and oppressive, speak out where possible. Yet the industry remains undisturbed; and every once in a while they come up with things like this:


Let’s break down this image shall we? A woman is held down by force by a man while thrusting her pelvise suggestively at another three men who are standing around awaiting their turn and watching. Four men and one woman? Where have i heard this story before?

oh, that’s right. Delhi, India, December 2012. A young woman is gang raped by six men and subsequently dies from the assault. This sort of violence seems completely at odds with this glossy shot, and yet the imagery obviously suggests that dominating women en mass is cool, sexy and acceptable.

Violence against women isn’t created in a vacuum. It’s cultivated, sustained, sanctioned and disseminated in subtle ways, online and offline, through images and words.

In a video by Dove’s “campaign for real beauty” (which is just another consumer ploy, let’s be honest, from the same company which produces racist products such as Fair and Lovely. puke.) a girl is bombarded with images reminiscent of the famous scene from ‘Clockwork Orange’ and finally the words flashing across the screen advise mothers to educate their daughters before the beauty industry does.

In this instance, the self-hate propagated by these images can lead to self-harm, another form of violence, which girls inflict upon themselves in despair once they realize (at the age of 10) that they will never look like any of the young women they see on screen and in magazines. and apparently it’s your fault, mother, for not shielding your daughter from such images. hello? maybe Unilever would like to step up and take responsibility for the stick-figure, scantily clad women they use in their ads?

pot noodle unilever

Comparing a woman to pot noodle? Really Unilever?

how about this:


Turning women into objects is the first step towards justifying violence against women. In other words – they’re not really people, so it’s okay to beat the crap out of them. Kate Moss is simply a prop, much like a tripod in fact, for holding up a desirable camera.

whatever sells, right?

How else has media failed women in 2013? a short recap in this video by Miss Representation.

Just when you thought it was safe to be a conscious feminist, the media does it again. and again. and again.

Tomorrow is the last day of the 16 days of activism to end violence against women. it’s important to talk about these issues, and write about them, and nag about them, all year round. Because they are here all the time, and they are not confined to news reports of rape in third world countries. Violence is spoon fed to us all the time by those who would keep us powerless, occupied with thinking about our looks, instead of thinking about equality.

Don’t let them win.

Commission on the Status of Women, gender, girls rights, United Nations, violence

57th Commission on the Status of Women – should we care?

Since joining the women’s empowerment sector, i have had the opportunity to attend and lead delegations to a couple CSW meetings in NY. I was initially quite excited by the idea of a high level summit of women’s organizations all committed to feminist ideals coming together at the United Nations to establish new policies, present innovative ideas and breath new life into stagnant discussions around age old problems. Although the side panels are always interesting, and a great place to network and meet like minded dedicated individuals, I have always felt that the CSW was more style than substance.

From an advocacy perspective these meetings are a dud. The ‘Agreed Conclusions‘ document that is adopted at the end of the two week meetings have no teeth, no accountability mechanisms and rarely (if ever) get translated into government level policies. In fact  the few General Assembly discussions i have had the misfortune to attend were dull affairs where countries of the world, in alphabetical order, regaled a dozing audience with stories of what they do to help/protect/promote/mention women. At certain points this becomes an almost comic affair as countries who are well known for their complete disregard to women’s rights and countries that have been chosen multiple times as ‘the worst place to be a woman’ or some such, stand up and give a 10 minute brief on their dedication to the issue.

So why do third sector organizations with stretched budgets keep spending good money to attend these meetings? granted, there is some press and media attention to be had. But it’s rather marginal, and I wonder who besides those that are already interested (you policy wonks know who you are!) actually follow things like #CSW57 and other hashtags?

During the two week meeting the big INGO’s get together with the UN agencies who bring an OECD mission along so they can all hug each other on a panel discussion. So the well known allies of women’s groups get together and celebrate themselves, while certain governments work in advance to create a blocking vote that derails any attempt at passing more action oriented conclusions.

the best example of CSW impotence is the fact that in my many travels to ‘the field’, no one has ever heard of this meeting. sorry, but its true. the only interested folks, are those who are attending, have attended, or might attend one of the meetings in future.

seriously though, wouldn’t it be great if women’s organizations got together (what a pipe dream huh?) and boycotted the whole thing? or held an alternative CSW, like the World Social Forum, but for women and girls? then we would spend two weeks naming and shaming governments, creating real alliances based on a feminist political consciousness that didn’t shy away from challenging the old power bases and spoke about girls rights in terms other than ‘what a great investment’ (read – more consumers for our free market systems).

I guess we’ll call that radical idea ‘Plan B’.

In the meantime, I’m taking this CSW with a grain of salt. With the lofty intention of ‘eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls’ there is more riding on the outcomes of these meetings than ever before.  Women and girls are suffering from violence and abuse right now. there has never been a more urgent call to action, nor is there a more pervasive widespread issue that touches every women and every girl in the world. So what will the CSW actually manage to achieve  Will we see a limp set of innocuous ‘agreed conclusions’ that will have no impact what so ever? or will we see funding allocations and policy changes?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see. But I’m not holding my breath.


gender, girls rights, United Nations, violence

violence against women and girls happens only once a year

Today the world marks the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women. This important day gives us, men and women, girls and boys, an opportunity to stop and consider the ways in which violence is ‘gendered’. That is – that women and girls are more likely to suffer from violence than men and boys.

That isn’t to say that men and boys don’t fall victim to violence – of course they do. Except that we live in a world of unequal power relations, which means the strong can hurt the weak and get away with it. and men are stronger – both physically and socially.

Let’s take a look at some numbers for illustration –

A (somewhat dated, but still valid) World Health Organization study found that up to 70% of women across the globe suffer from physical and or sexual violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives.

In the United States, one-third of women that are murdered each year are killed by intimate partners.

An estimated 150 million girls under 18 suffered some form of sexual violence in 2002 alone.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo over 1,500 women are raped every – that is 48 women an hour.

But it’s important to note – it’s not only about the magnitude of this pandemic (and make no mistake, violence against women and girls is a social disease) but about the type of violence women and girls are suffering from on a daily basis. Violence against women and girls is personal. It’s not drive by shootings or missile attacks. It’s acts of humiliation, violation and degradation. and that also means that it happens in private spaces, mostly between intimate partners and family members.

Last January I wrote a blog post questioning the ability of a mobile application to protect women from violence. the mobile app was aimed at providing women in India with a feeling of protection as they walked down the busy streets of their urban environment by allowing them to send a panic signal. However, my argument was that most violence women face is at home, not on the street from total strangers, but from their husbands and their extended families. This is an important point as it also explains why it’s so hard to find statistics and hard data on the prevalence of violence. In many senses the phenomena is hidden from prying eyes behind the closed doors of the private sphere, and yet the main avenue for reducing violence is by operating in the public sphere of (mobile apps?) human rights, legislation and policies. and herein lies the problem.

There’s an undeniable chasm between formal legislation that prohibits violence in various forms (where it exists) and The State’s ability to enforce this law. Violence between married couples is still largely regarded as a ‘domestic’ (issue) which doesn’t require the involvement of The State and its representatives, the police and judiciary. In fact, certain types of violence that happen in the private sphere, such as rape, are treated with impunity and are rarely seen as worth prosecuting. The term ‘unrapeable’ refers to women who cannot claim they did not consent – e.g prostitutes. But this term has also been used to refer to spousal or marital rape, as many view marriage as a social contract that implicitly assumes consent. As Senator Bob Wilson, a Democrat from California famously said in 1979: “But if you can’t rape your wife, who can you rape?”

It is well known that the instruments at our disposal – legislation, policy, human rights standards, state agents – are flawed tools incapable of adequately responding to violence which happens outside their purview, i.e. at home. not only that, these instruments still reflect a patriarchal worldview which shies away from protecting women and girls from the people most likely to hurt them. It’s interesting to note that sexual violence perpetrated against women during conflict (mostly by enemy troops) is considered a weapon of war and in some instances (of widespread and systematic practice) could be deemed a crime against humanity. But this distinction comes, in my opinion, from a male perspective and from their fear of being subject to rape in situations of conflict. Surely every woman knows in her bones that sexual violence is always a weapon, regardless of who does it and where it happens.

We are left to wonder – what can put an end to violence against women and girls? well, marking the 25th of November by raising the issue is a good start. Awareness raising is important as it ensures women and girls are made aware of their rights and freedoms, and communities are mobilized in support of legislative measures that protect women and girls. However, unequal power relations mean that working with women and girls is not enough. They can protect themselves or mitigate situations of violence to a certain extent, but they require the support and partnership of men and boys.

Plan’s 2011 report – So,what about boys? – provides insight into the important role that men play in preventing violence against women. It is important on this day to remember that preventing violence is up to everyone, including those who have traditionally been cast in the roles of the villains. Whilst I encourage my fellow feminists to point to the egregious forms of violence being perpetrated against women in staggering numbers every day, i would also caution against alienating those who could ally with us to help put an end to this global crisis. Bring men and boys on board!

check out the campaign at

The other important learning from this day (at least for me) is that there’s a sense of ceremony and formality about this day that de-politicizes violence against women and reduces its sense of urgency. By ghettoizing violence against women into one day the United Nations has effectively provided governments with a chance to ignore the issue the rest of the year. Moreover, the fact that violence is discussed en mass only once a year gives the impression that its not as urgent as say – climate change or the financial crisis in Greece. But violence against women and girls is so widespread, it’s literally immeasurable. Surely such an acute problem warrants a global outcry of condemnation and a global response that goes beyond annual statements, twibbons and Facebook pages?