2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,900 times in 2010. That’s about 9 full 747s.


In 2010, there were 16 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 54 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 68mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was August 9th with 86 views. The most popular post that day was Women, Memory and Truth.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, peacexpeace.org, mail.live.com, mail.yahoo.com, and mepeace.org.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for sarajevo, sarajevo war, sarajevo roses, siege of sarajevo, and in women’s hands.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Women, Memory and Truth August 2010


The Rose of Sarajevo July 2010


From Anger to Action: The Women of Srebrenica Organize August 2010


About In Women’s Hands July 2010


Red Carpet Premiere: Anne Marie Codur September 2010

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Behind the Hijab: A Girl and a Rebel

What is it about seeing a woman in a hijab that makes us feel uncomfortable, fearful, or sometimes threatened? Does it represent a radical expression of religion, absolute subjugation to men, or that women are dismissing Western social structures and establishing new gender politics?  Whatever it is, the hijab makes people afraid.  We fear the thing we don’t understand, but sometimes we fear the thing the media and politicians are subtly (or overtly) telling us we should be afraid of.

On one hand, we realize that there are oppressive systems and governments that restrict what both women and men can wear. Often, these restrictions are framed around religion, values, morality, society and family norms, cultural traditions – and almost always it is a combination of all these frames. On the other hand, it is sometimes these frames that force, or inspire, a woman to choose what she herself will wear and project to her family and her society. As women, we know full well that even in the most ‘free’ societies, women are forced to choose how modest or free they want the world to perceive them. It is a deeply personal choice, and a lot of our choices have to do with our level of courage and our spirit of resistance. Like women’s career choices, we decide how much we will push societal norms – whether we will stay within traditional roles, or whether we have the inner strength to rock the boat and go against tradition.  Muslim women face these choices in a more defined, visual way.  Sometimes they are rocking the boat when they wear a particular type of hijab or abaya, and sometimes they are choosing to conform on the outside so they can rock the boat in other areas of their lives — at school, at work, through an unconventional hobby, or an economic endeavor.

It is fascinating to consider that these are many of the same choices women activists around the world face. “Will I stand up against this conflict?” she might ask, or “Will I rise up and organize people for equal rights, or for my land, or for a better future for my children?” And equally, whether a Muslim woman chooses to wear the hijab and fights for the right to wear it at her office or school, or whether a Muslim woman wears the hijab and organizes to fight against being imposed to wear it – it’s a fight that Muslim women undertake each and every day. These are complicated choices that they must navigate, and often we, as outsiders, get lost in the policy discussions around perceived fear and threats directed at us.

We asked Muslim women in Palestine about their choices, and whether traditional wardrobe is a form of oppression, freedom of expression, or simply a kind of traditional social custom that publicly affirms a women’s commitment to her religion and her family. The following is an honest and revealing video clip of our conversation with a Palestinian woman in Bethlehem, Abeer Qasim.

Upon watching Abeer express herself on wearing the hijab, we are reminded of the universal experience of women. Abeer speaks about the hijab in two ways; its symbolic representation for showing respect, and its weight, which women carry as a visual symbol of what is “best” for women. Who decides what is “best” for woman? At the policy level, often it is men. At the personal level, it is often women. At the provincial level, it is often male family members, neighbors, and the village busy-bodies!

For women around the world, the choices around dress are common. As in so many societies, men and older women enforce beliefs that if women are ‘free,’ meaning, if they don’t cover up and hide or ‘protect’ their bodies, then they are ‘unsuitable for marriage.’  Certainly, this pressure coming from different directions serves as a strong incentive not to rebel against gender customs. But, let’s consider that sometimes making that choice is a Muslim woman’s carefully thought out strategy. If she chooses a path of least resistance in one area, then she can push the boundaries in other areas — for her job, university, for activism and political work. The hijab is in some ways a physical representation of the deeper, underlying struggles that all women face — the desire to intellectually express oneself in the company of men, and to be truly accepted and respected by society while trying to be yourself and participate to your fullest potential.

We couldn’t resist comparing Abeer’s experience to that of women in the United States. Today, young women are assured that they can express themselves, even in the same way as a man, because in America ‘we are all equal.’ Most women know this is not true, and the evidence lies in the continued disparity between men and women in wages, in the lack of female political, financial, judicial, business, and media leadership, and even in the advanced educational sphere where women hold few senior roles. Could it be then that women limit their sexual and professional choices in part because of the societal implications they might face if they choose to express themselves, — to be ‘free’ and participate as openly as men?  Will it make us the ‘marrying kind’ if we choose a particular career field, or dress this way or that, or stand up and fight for our rights and organize our community?  We begin navigating these choices at a young age, just like Muslim women do. Women’s dress and what society dictates they wear is a universal way of keeping them in confined roles. Should women cover their bodies because we are implicitly sexual, at risk, and because it’s more acceptable, or should women find ways to see our bodies as a tool of expression and a container of power? Can we do this best by being covered, or uncovered?

The debate never ends, and women, not policy makers, must lead it.  And women, both in the West and among Muslim societies, must lead the discussion around dress and fear, dress and freedom, and dress and equal opportunities. Muslim women must lead the fight around dress, if they feel a fight should be waged. They certainly do not need Western powers leading wars against their nations in order to protect women’s ‘freedom’ while leaving them worse off — widowed, displaced, homeless and without security or infrastructure. Why not invite Muslim women into the discussion, into negotiations and post-conflict decision making, especially at the highest levels?

The next time you see a woman in the hijab, consider the activist that lies behind it. Is she fighting quietly, blending into society and forcing her way into other social and political spheres, masked as a conformist? Is she wearing the hijab in defiance of her government’s rules that impose secularism, or is she fighting to be seen as an intellectual rather than a sexual being?  Behind the veil, we often see women like us – nonviolent strategists, rebellious visionaries, and women in resistance. And always, we’re looking at an extraordinarily normal girl.

Vanessa Ortiz and Rachel Lynch

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Fear As A Political Tactic

A Google search of “the politics of fear” turns up hundreds of articles, books, blogs, video, and mainstream media entries. How does one begin to really gain an understanding of this issue? The global enthusiasm for the Rally to Restore Sanity and the accompanying Rally to Keep Fear Alive held in Washington, DC this weekend, coupled with recent candid conversations with Palestinian women from the West Bank, has me convinced that fear is an extraordinarily effective political tactic, especially when used alongside the victim narrative.

It is obvious that fear can work as a mobilizing force. A direct, immediate threat to a nation can unite a population around a cause that would otherwise be debated. A perceived existential threat to a population can join even the most conservative and liberal members of a society. And a threat to the status quo, or “our way of life,” can mobilize somewhat like-minded groups as they join to identify the source of that threat. It is these survival dynamics that provide a source of power for interest groups and leaders who realize an easy strategy by riding on society’s emotions. Just as terrorists rely on fear in order to disrupt society’s comforts and way of life, so do legitimate political representatives in order to more easily carry out decisions and policies on the basis of the protection of the nation – fear helps politicians secure people’s support.

One can see, then, that fear as a political tactic can also be activated to pit groups against each other, often for political gain, and sometimes with very evil consequences (Nazi Germany, the Rwandan genocide, and the Balkan wars of the 1990s). At more regional or local levels, groups of citizens unite under a perceived fear of the other – the other who is homosexual, or the other who is Muslim, or the other who is an immigrant or foreigner.

Abeer Qasim of Bethlehem, offers her candid explanation about how leaders in both Israel and Palestine want each side to keep hating the other, to “be afraid.”

“The leaders, they want us, the Israelis and the Palestinians, to just keep this hating, hating, hating . . . to be afraid.”

Now, it would be naive of me to think that one woman’s view or opinion represents everyone in her society. But I do believe that one young woman’s opinion, when articulated to a stranger so candidly, is representative of some or many elements in society. Or, as my Iraqi friend artfully expressed it during a recent conversation,

“One opinion doesn’t represent no one.”

So, since we know the mainstream media often reflexively portrays most if not all Palestinians as supporters of Hamas, if not Hamas itself, — keeping fear alive — then why would we not strive to find average voices within Palestinian society, especially of women, and offer them, at a minimum, a modest platform to provide a very local, honest view? That’s what In Women’s Hands is striving to do.

Our next feature will address the issue of Islamic dress, since it is an easy tool in political fear tactics in the West. The debate often seems to be around whether a Muslim woman’s “garb” is imposed by men, or whether it’s a woman’s self-expression of her modesty. One cannot or should not rely on Google for the answer to such complex and intimate questions. So, we asked Muslim women directly about their choices, and whether traditional wardrobe is a form of oppression, freedom of expression, or simply a kind of traditional social custom that publicly affirms a women’s commitment to her religion and her family.


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Rejecting Victimhood: The Women of Occupied Palestine Rise Up

Victim is one of my least favorite words. It symbolizes the weakened and oppressed, it summons pity, and it unconsciously undermines individual power. The word, however, can draw attention to a personal or social plight. But the problem with this, as noble as it may seem, is that the individual herself has lost control and is dependent on another – a person, a group or organization, or a larger institution or government – to rescue her. In this state of victimhood, women in particular begin to believe that they must be taken care of.  This state of mind slowly deteriorates individual power . . . the power within.

Anne Marie Codur (left) and Vanessa Ortiz (right) visit Bethlehem during olive harvest, when Palestinians and internationals support olive picking activities.

This week, we are visiting the bastion of victimhood – Israel and occupied Palestine. Each side’s governmental leadership claims to represent the ultimate victims. Many people buy into this state of mind. The historical ceremonies, dramatized stories and ritualized memorials serve as constant reminders of the ultimate injustice that each side faces. The default defense mechanism of the ultimate victim is to rely on protection, usually in one of two forms: the state as a militarized, well-armed entity to protect the victim population; or, the “international community” as foreign defender and funder.  Both these forms of defense slowly and silently disempower individuals and civil society – chipping away at grassroots mechanisms that so often offer creative alternatives and new ideas.

Here is an observation we’d like to share as civil resistance pupils/educators and as women who have become quite connected to nonviolent resistance movements and campaigns around the world.  It is this:  the narrative of victim so blatantly seen in Israel — dependence on the militarized state as protector; and in occupied Palestine –dependence on international funding, representation, and mythical martyrdom images — has created a kind of social paralysis. Social paralysis causes society to exist day after day with eyes, ears, mouth and sometimes heart closed.  This paralysis absolutely benefits the defenders (protectors of the victims), especially the militarized nation-state. It transfers power from individual citizens to institutions (national and international), offering these power-holders the excuse to militarize or to receive international aid and the baggage that comes with it. The grassroots community voice diminishes gradually until it is no longer represented. This is especially the case for the voice of women.

Keep Fear Alive — Create Social Distance

What has been interesting to observe this week during our visit is both the lack of information and understanding about the ‘other.’ There is a lot of anger in Palestinian villages throughout the West Bank .  . . understandably so. Agricultural livelihoods are being robbed, traditional village life has been assaulted, and freedom of movement between villages, in some cases just to visit family members, is no longer possible. The rationale that has been provided for decades – security precautions, biblical rights, fear of losing religious “national” identity – has been so overused and exploited, that it’s seen as manipulative rhetoric to local villagers.

A view of the separation wall in Bethlehem. The wall is called a "security fence" in Israel, while in occupied Palestine, it is called the separation or "apartheid wall."

The easiest way to keep fear alive is to keep people apart, and the “security” wall is a great tool for such a strategy. Separation tactics have been used throughout history to perpetuate misunderstandings and outright lies about the other side. This was done effectively for decades during the long U.S. history of institutionalized racial discrimination against African Americans, and in apartheid South Africa, and also during and after the war in the Balkans in the early 1990’s which for over five years engulfed Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia in nationalistic rhetoric to inspire fear of the other.

Separation and fear politics are used by governments to gain official positions based on nationalist politics and security of the state. What is baffling is how citizens around the world fall for fear rhetoric over and over again. These political tactics pave the way for and invite corruption. Who benefits from the protective, fear-based state? Government and defense officials, defense contractors and weapons suppliers, and corporations, among others. Who loses? Indigenous populations, traditional systems, agriculture, the environment, communities and families. Women often lose the most.

 Creating Links, Eliminating Social Distance

What we observed in both Israel and occupied Palestine is that within liberal sectors of society, people are breaking out of social paralysis. Palestinians are digging into their nonviolent history and resisting, increasingly acting together with Israelis and foreigners. Joint action is emerging and becoming more visible.

The courageous work of individuals and organizations here, and their widening reach across borders, is inspiring. Last month in Washington, DC, I attended a private film screening of the film Little Town of Bethlehem, a story of three men of three different faiths and their lives in Israel and Palestine. The story explores each man’s choice of nonviolent action.  At the screening, I met not only one of the film’s protagonist who works for Holy Land Trust in Jerusalem, but also a young man from the organization Combatants for Peace.  This is a group composed of Israelis and Palestinians “who had taken an active part in the cycle of violence in Israel and Palestine.” They seek to tell their stories publicly – of their past violence, of the transformation in their understanding of the conflict and of the “enemy”, and of their current commitment to finding mutually acceptable solutions to their peoples’ aspirations through nonviolent means.

A kind yet strong Budrus elder explains the significance and tradition of the olive harvest for Palestinians.

In occupied Palestine, we visited Budrus, a small village in the West Bank which is featured in a documentary film produced by the organization, Just Vision. The film, titled after a small village, is an inspiring story of the local villagers who struggle together to save their olive trees under threat by the construction of the separation wall. The wall would divide farmers from their land, cutting into the fabric of this community and family-oriented village. The film shows how villagers, joined by Israeli and international activists, actively engaged in unified nonviolent demonstrations against wall construction and Israeli Defense Forces.  Villagers exerted enough pressure to have the wall rerouted. Anne Marie and I had the great pleasure to talk face-to-face with some of the women involved in this struggle, some whom were either pregnant or had just given birth when the village massively mobilized for nonviolent direct action. These women are fearless. They recognize the manipulation by national and international leaders who claim to represent their interests. They were at the front lines along with their husbands, brothers and sons in the struggle to save their land. Such resistance is closing the social distance that their leaders have imposed on them for too long.

The women of Budrus, like so many Palestinian women struggling, as well as the Israelis struggling side by side with them, don’t want to be pitied.  Nor do the women we met at the Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. And they’re not looking for protection either. Very generally, they want equal rights and to live in peace, they want a just solution to their status, and they want a say, as well as to participate, in their local and national politics. They realize their power, and they’re not afraid to use it.

We will tell you over the next couple of postings about some of the great women engaged in resistance in Budrus, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.  Some are young, some are seasoned revolutionaries, many are mothers, and all are strong. They know that something must change in this decades-long conflict and agree that women must play a leading role.


Vanessa Ortiz and Anne Marie Codur traveled together to interview, photograph and videotape several women activists in the West Bank over several days as part of the storytelling work of In Women’s Hands. These Palestinian women welcomed us into their homes or offices and allowed us an intimate look into their lives in struggle. For their hospitality and generosity, we are eternally grateful and inspired.

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Red Carpet Premiere: Arielle Emmett

Arielle Emmett: journalist, educator, PhD candidate, and mother

My first recollection of nonviolent struggle came when I was about six years old. My father, a New York City actor who also was an advertising genius, was standing in a Long Island supermarket handing out candy canes and pamphlets about CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, to which he and my Mom belonged. I stood with him there as he spoke quietly to people going in and out of the market with their groceries loaded up in shopping carts, the pneumatic doors whooshing open and closed on thin carpets of air.

I didn’t know it at the time, but in February 1960, in Greensville, North Carolina, four well-dressed black students, trained in the nonviolent resistance techniques of Gandhi, had already staged their first lunch counter sit-in. Within a few days, a group of Negro students in Nashville staged another round of sit ins; this time James Lawson, a nonviolent activist and teacher from Vanderbilt University, had trained them. Television cameras captured tough white people pouring soup all over the protesters, knocking them off their seats and bashing their heads with soup bowls and fists. In March 1960 a Houston man named Felton Turner was beaten and hanged upside down from a tree, the initials KKK* carved on his chest. Martin Luther King Jr. was indicted in Alabama for tax evasion and later went to jail with 50 others for staging a sit-in at an Atlanta department store.

Fast forward to 1979: I am a career journalist working for The Detroit Free Press as a features reporter. I am a white woman living in a black and white city. My beat is to cover mostly positive social movements for change and improvement to education and health care in the city, especially among children. I have come to Detroit right after the riots, after President John F. Kennedy’s death, before Martin Luther King’s and Robert Kennedy’s death. I recall my high school speech teacher proudly boasting that he kept several rifles at his bedroom window poised to fire on any Negro who crossed Detroit’s 8 mile road.

In Detroit for many years, I have nurtured a love of journalism as a way to speak. I have read newspapers (and books and periodicals) for signs of wisdom. Somehow I came to believe that words — speech — photographs — film — media — can help reach people and (maybe) transform lives. I remember, as my father died painfully at age 40, the words he used to describe his own nonviolent resistance to social injustice and disease: “I shall fight with speech and treasure the grossness of the human condition,” he wrote from his hospital bed. “I shall go on…a day, a week, a decade or more. I’ll take all [the life] that I can get.”

A decade after he died, I had a dream under a full moon and violet sky in Detroit that I had killed my father. In my dream I discovered a cache of guns in my basement and a coffin with the face of John F. Kennedy on it. Was it my father I  murdered, or was it Kennedy, or Martin Luther King? I’m not sure. Perhaps I borrowed from the memories of the riots, or the whiff of death and violence and guilt one feels being comparatively privileged in Detroit. But as a young woman reporter in Detroit, I felt orphaned. I lived in a city of bullets in a post-apocalyptic time. My heroes, with the exception of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Toni Morrison, and my mother, a political activist since the 1930s, had been men.  What, I asked myself, does this city, this country — any country on earth — do now? How can we apply the lessons of civil resistance to the enormous, crushing tasks at hand?

How do I find my own strength as a woman, and as a woman journalist, when the violence and deprecations, insidious corporate backbiting, unspent racial heat, oppressive regimes, and my own struggles to gain self-confidence as a writer and woman, conspired to defeat me?

For the past four decades I have tried to answer these questions.  I’ve gotten stronger.  When I falter, I try to remember my father’s words. “I will fight with speech and treasure the grossness of the human condition. I’ll take all that I can get.”

"...we need good journalism as never before."

Today, I remain a writer and mother of grown children. I am divorced and finishing my doctoral degree. Although I have seen my beloved newspaper industry begin its fast devolution from primacy as a “watchdog” and independent monitor of American and international power to a more confused, diluted state as just one of many forms of digital expression worldwide, I still believe in the power of journalism.

Words are a democratic thing, and the press is still essentially about democracy: seeking truth, above all, verifying facts, giving voice to the voiceless, serving as an independent monitor of power, providing loyalty, first and foremost, in stories written for and by citizens. Words and images are instruments to measure desire; they reflect our need to make sense of actions and behaviors that make no sense most of the time. We will never stop needing people to practice journalism in all its forms; if anything, given the current state of the planet, we need good journalism as never before.

Citizen journalism, in particular, is a tool that digital democracy gives all of us to capture and reflect back for the world we see. I believe that no matter what the struggle, people who write well, who ask penetrating questions, who carefully verify facts, who photograph and film with unrelenting creativity and vision — especially those citizens who serve as journalists of a conflict, violent or otherwise, and have the background and knowledge to help contextualize for viewing audiences exactly what they see — these people are desperately needed.

Mainstream media can no longer accommodate the huge demand for accurate, thoughtful, incisive journalism necessary to cover the depth and breadth of civil resistance around the world. From the West Bank to Zimbabwe, from South Africa’s Black Sash movement to the Women in Black movement in the United States and other countries, we need a new and highly personal form of multimedia journalism that maintains the best of the old practice with the jewels of the new. By jewels, I mean the freedom to practice ‘parachute’ journalism in territory that is rarely explored.

We need to unearth stories that are hardly, if ever, told. There is a wealth of material out there, in both desolation and abundance, and I believe that women journalists, in particular, are uniquely equipped to document these stories in a way that transgresses conventional journalistic boundaries.

Although we live in a world of dwindling news holes, two-minute broadcast stories and sound bites, what we really require is depth. Depth means reporting that is more truthful to real-world experience. Women journalists, whether “professional” or citizen journalists who are women, must step forward to articulate a journalism of real life that does not count on continuous exposes of violence to keep it alive. The men, especially male leaders (if not male publishers and network presidents) have largely blown it.

As a woman journalist, my goal today is to explore a new language of citizen expression — photography, writing, film, multimedia — that is neither dryly “objective,” purely subjective, nor stridently political. I want to know, with accuracy and nuance, how to create journalistic reportage that shows us the best and worst of this condition we call “humanity.”

Most important, I want to see citizen journalists cover democracy movements and civil resistance in ways that produce viewer surprise, delight, and anger at the truth. This is a form of advocacy journalism that produces results.

I call on all women to join me.


Arielle Emmett is a journalism professor at University of Maryland, and runs Arielle Emmett and Associates, a digital imagination company. http://www.arielleemmett.com/

*KKK, or the Ku Klux Klan, is a white supremacist organization that currently advocates for white nationalism, anti immigration, and anti communism. It is considered to be a hate group.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan

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Red Carpet Premiere: Rachel Lynch

Rachel Lynch, anthropologist, intern, and part-time waitress

I come from the first U.S. generation that has only known the world through the eyes of the internet — a generation that is continually questioning institutional norms, that extends adolescence well into the late twenties, and refuses to follow in the footsteps of those who’ve come before them. I can’t help but wonder: With all of our access, knowledge and time, why have the voices of today’s and yesterday’s women been pushed aside or forgotten? They are heard, but not truly listened to.

Can my generation continue to be complacent with just skimming the Wikipedia pages of the many women who have helped to change the world, but not able to really tell you about their struggles, or tell you what their organizing efforts have changed?

To challenge such complacency is why I joined In Women’s Hands. I want to help build better sources and networks to access or preserve the historic and contemporary struggles and stories of women in nonviolent action. As an anthropologist by degree and an aspiring journalist at heart, I believe that using civil resistance to create social change is the most profound tool of people — and actually, the least talked about and understood tool of the people. Women inherently have the ability to be great organizers and continue to be the face of many social movements around the world. From the reciprocal exchanges of commodities within the !Kung Bushmen Women in the Kalahari Desert to the CO-MADRES social movement of El Salvador in the 1980’s to the Women’s Federation operating under the restraints of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China, women have consistently organized well.

Ready to jump in Latin America!

It has taken me the past five years to come to the point where I feel I have something to say and share. In 2005, I moved to Washington, DC to attend the George Washington University as an Anthropology major. Now looking back, it wasn’t until my junior that I began to really see anthropologists as advocates for the subjects of their research. I met two inspiring professors, one working as a linguistic anthropologist in Brazil and the other working as a socio-anthropologist with sex workers in Mexico, and they helped me realize that becoming an anthropologist is not just about academics. It is also about becoming a community activist.

Shortly after, I studied abroad in Costa Rica with the Centro Internacional para el Desarollo Humano to learn the foundations of human rights and sustainability. Living in San Jose was the first time I was able to understand the universalism of women’s experiences. I witnessed the struggle of my host mother, a woman facing many of the same problems faced by women I knew growing up.

While San Jose and Washington, DC are not exactly worlds apart, they are two distinct cultures operating under different social norms and traditions. The fact that I could sit down and connect with this woman while barely speaking the same language, and really understand her struggles simply because we are women with shared experiences was something I couldn’t shake. The power of the universalism of women’s experiences – similarities and differences — is an extremely empowering force that can be used as a pillar for successful organizing.

I plan to contribute to In Women’s Hands through the telling of women’s struggles, past and present, from my travels in South America in the coming year.  I want to help build a larger network of women organizers to connect, understand, and support each other. And then, maybe someday soon, my generation will stop searching Wikipedia pages for enlightenment and turn directly to the organizing hands of the women around them.

— Rachel

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Red Carpet Premiere: Anne Marie Codur

La femme est l’avenir de l’homme…Woman is the future of mankind.

Anne Marie Codur, economist, artist and activist

I remember this line from a famous song by Jean Ferrat, one of the most celebrated French poets and songwriters of the last half-century who passed away earlier this year and who was also one of the most politically engaged, giving his voice and support to all the oppressed of the world. In the wave of political feminism of the early 70s, his song almost became a symbol of the French Women’s Lib movement. Those were the years when Simone Veil, a French politician and Minister of Health of the time (unrelated to the other Simone Weil, the philosopher) courageously defended the first law legalizing abortion and providing social security support to women who needed to undergo this procedure. Despite all the political turmoil this debate created, the law was passed.

In retrospect, I realize that growing up in Paris in those years of post-68 “revolution” had an impact on me, even if I was too young at the time to realize it. By the time I was old enough to become politically engaged, the world had turned its back to the exaltation of the 60s and resolutely entered the Reagan/Thatcher era of conservatism, laissez-faire, and celebration of free trade and unregulated capitalism which was to mark the economics and politics of the next 30 years. The new preoccupation of the young generation was to make money, and since we were living in a material world, there was nothing else left than being a “material girl” as Madonna sang in those years. So much for the future of mankind…

I was not going to follow the flow, however. One thing was certain: I would not go to business school like so many of my peers. I would either become a famous opera singer, a great scholar or maybe a politician who would contribute to solving the great problems of the world. I studied economics and political sciences at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques while I was trained as a classical singer at the Conservatory. Eventually I had to choose and I opted for a doctorate in economics.

The Rio Summit on the environment and sustainable development had just been held in 1992, and I decided to devote my research and efforts to this fascinating field – the question of the century – and to examine the relationships between population, development and the environment. But I was certainly not going to be duped and bought in by the system just for a luxurious position in one of the temples of the world economic “order”… the World Bank. Rather, I looked to academia. Here I was, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University, another temple of the world “intellectual” order and very much connected with the economic one! But this is how I realized that you could live your whole life in an ivory tower, in this charming little village that is Cambridge, Massachusetts, without having any clue of what the real world is all about. I needed to feel more useful than writing papers that would be read at best by ten graduate students scattered around the world. I needed more action. And this is how, slowly and timidly at first, I embarked on my journey of questioning, discovery, and resistance, in the spirit of contestation of my dear French poets and revolutionaries.

Ten years on, and one child and one divorce later, where am I? My own personal ordeal of a very difficult divorce and custodial battle, of being a single mom removed from my family and cultural support, has helped me realize at a very deep, basic level what it means not to be in control of your life and to have decisions imposed on you that are not your own. This oppressive experience has instinctively connected me emotionally with people – individual and groups – that are subjected on a daily basis to injustices and to the dispossession of their lives and fates.

Anne Marie with peace activist Ibrahim Abu El Hawa in Jerusalem

My work with civic organizations involved in peace building between Israelis and Arabs, and between Jews, Christians and Muslims, has taught me that the problems don’t stem from the individual level. Conflicts result not from “existential” hatred supposedly fuelled by incompatible values causing “clashes of civilizations,” but from the dispossession of the ones by the others – dispossession of key resources whose control is determinant in the shaping and strengthening of structures of power.

I believe that one of the blind driving forces behind most of these processes of dispossession and power is a fear of loss — a fear that is tempered with and dealt with by developing an insatiable desire of the ego to protect itself and to display predatory strategies towards others for self preservation. This hypertrophied ego is in majority male in essence, although many women have embraced the “male egotism” archetype and can be as predatory as the males they are in competition with, especially in power structures such as the corporate and financial world and politics. Such dynamics can also be found in the Middle East, where at the core of the conflict lies the excesses of hyper-male dominant cultures of both the Israelis and Palestinians. I believe that in order to durably solve this conflict, the values of compassion and empathy – traditionally considered as more “feminine” and mother-like in essence – must prevail.

It is not as an economist, statistician, and demographer that I intend to address this issue, as I believe that all the data in the world about the importance of girls’ education are not enough to change the world.

It is not enough to educate more girls and women if the tools that are given to them do not allow them to significantly challenge the social, economic and political order as it is, and as it produces and reproduces abuses of power, often to the detriment of women.

Women need to liberate themselves and the world from those abusive structures of power that are enslaving us all in a continuous cycle of dispossession, violence, power and conflict. The issue is not only quantitative – it is very much qualitative. What type of education, and what tools?

Through my journey as a scholar, then as an activist, I have found once more my voice as an artist, and music has been a powerful healer and vehicle of personal empowerment in my life. Art provides one of the means, if not the most important means, to empower people to find who they truly are and how much strength and power of conviction they have. The arts often address issues of injustice and oppression through tools that are both nonviolent and efficient, as they touch the heart first rather than the mind. Arguments of the mind can go in circles forever without finding any resolution, but if you touch the heart and soul of people, you win them for real and for good.

I have recently contemplated getting back into opera (perhaps a bit too late for that!) or at least singing for the causes I believe in and as an act of resistance. It took me many years to embark on my own into this journey of resistance, and reconnect with the spirit of contestation that had shaken the world in the years of my early childhood. But now at last, I am ready to sing, like Jean Ferrat used to, when I was just a little girl, “Le poète a toujours raison, qui voit plus haut que l’horizon, et le futur est son royaume… Face à notre génération, je proclame avec Aragon, la femme est l’avenir de l’homme…”(*)

Anne Marie

(*) “The poet is always right, who sees further than the horizon, and future is his kingdom…Facing our generation, I claim with Aragon, woman is the future of mankind.”

Aragon was a French poet – the quote “Woman is the future of mankind” is attributed to him.

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Red Carpet Premiere: Lu Ortiz

Mexico City, Mexico — In Women’s Hands was created at a moment when we digital women activists galvanized around two simple questions: Will the Internet be a fairer, freer and more balanced means to participate nonviolently in the social struggles that are dear to us? Will we have access to more bandwidth to voice our concerns and advance toward achieving better societies for women and girls around the globe?

Luisa Ortiz, digital strategist

From Mexico City, where I am based, I see a future where women have more access to digital means of communications. The use of cell phone and SMS technologies is bringing women closer to their families, inserting them in the job market, and making them more independent and reachable at all times.

However, the costs of being connected are high and present a problem for many women, however, I have witnessed incredible creativity from Mexican women to breach the digital divide and get online! The use of the Internet and social media is increasing and for one comment on Twitter made by a man in Mexico, women make 2.5! Are we taking over the twittersphere? Perhaps we are.

I believe that our calling as female digital activists is to make technology work for us, in favor of our causes. My role at In Women’s Hands is to help other women find their digital voices, using a variety of channels and creative means to bypass the digital divide and any financial constraints that prevent us from getting on line. Women of all economic strata should benefit from the masses of information that so many of us have access to.

My goal at In Women’s Hands is as determined as my commitment to women’s nonviolent activism.

Lu Ortiz

Luisa Ortiz, PhD, is Founder and CEO of NOVA-México Digital Solutions.   http://nova-digital.blogspot.com/

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Red Carpet Premieres

We want to be happy for women’s political leadership…we really, really do. But when one sees a rise in women who attract their supporters through metaphors that liken women to the second largest land carnivore in the U.S. or to swine in lipstick, then female power is reduced to marketing gimmicks and simplistic clichés.  What we are witnessing, in the United States anyway, is a proliferation of cute and sassy female politicians (or their daughters) that on the surface, to the very naive, appear to be the stars of a women’s-power movement show. But on a deeper level, to thoughtful and determined female organizers, this actually feels like an attempt to reduce women to empty-headed objects whose understanding of power politics and international affairs can only ever be skin deep.

And so, it is time to shift our energy, disappointment and shock from female grizzlies and sorceresses to the very real women around the world who are quietly working to create change and disrupt entrenched system in their communities, villages, and countries. The next series of blog articles will introduce the real women behind In Women’s Hands.

We are educators, journalists, writers, trainers, acrobats, researchers, artists, and singers. We come from Latin America, Africa, Europe, and the U.S. We are committed to the idea that nonviolent action is the smartest and most effective way to fight injustice and repression – that violence is a way of conforming to the status quo, and it simply proliferates and supports the very war and corporate machines many movements are fighting against. And we believe that women are, have, could and should lead the way in nonviolent campaigns and movements.

We’ll each start coming out of the woodwork one by one, telling you who we are and what we do.  And we will slowly begin to introduce some real ‘stars of the show,’ women from Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Colombia, the Maldives, Palestine who are leading the way in nonviolent conflicts for rights, against corruption, against occupation, for democratic elections, for indigenous women’s participation.

First up, a fabulous Mexican lady who could spin circles around any grizzly bear.

Hasta manana!


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The Hopelessness and Hopefulness of Women’s Equality Day

Today is Women’s Equality Day, and it somehow makes me sad. When I reflect on the past week’s news – how over 150 women were raped in Banangiri in Eastern Congo just last month by armed gunman, http://www.worldpress.org/africa/1561.cfm how only 40 years ago, several U.S. states still had not yet ratified the 19th Amendment  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/25/opinion/25stansell.html?_r=1 , and  reading about violence against women with disabilities in Uganda. http://womennewsnetwork.net/breaking-news-portal/ What is there to recognize or celebrate on Women’s Equality Day?

In this country, I sometimes have a sense that women are quietly accepting the status quo. As U.S. President Obama so eloquently stated in his proclamation today,

“Women comprise less than one-fifth of our Congress and account for a mere fraction of the chief executives at the helm of our biggest companies.  Women hold only 27 percent of jobs in science and engineering, which are critical to our economic growth in a 21st-century economy. And, almost 50 years after the Equal Pay Act was enacted, American women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn.  This gap increases among minority women and those living with disabilities. “

With these statistics, it is easy to feel that women’s accomplishments are too few, and that a future of equal rights is dismal.

But one must look to history and individual women’s achievements — those which incrementally led to community gains and the growth of larger, national movements — to recognize what has been accomplished over the centuries, not just in the U.S., but around the world.  When I reflect on the women I’ve met over the past 4 years in the field of civil resistance, I realize that each one of them is incrementally creating change in their societies.

Very often, the activist who is in the struggle day after day can become enveloped in a feeling of hopelessness. But once you step back and review the small achievements, those “mini-victories,” you realize that so much has been accomplished, and that you’ve helped pave the path for the next generation of activists. As my Burmese friend and nonviolent activist says, “our past failures are leading to better failures, and eventually we will win.”  Better failures…it doesn’t sound promising, does it?

I think what he means is that a struggle is an endless process, there is simply no finite ending. And so the real challenges are in maintaining steadfastness and persistence, mastering strategic thinking and understanding mechanisms of nonviolent action, and striking the balance between resilience and mobilization – retaining movement leaders while always refreshing the movement with new members and new energy.

In the past year, I have followed the work of women in the Maldives, who after their stubborn participation in a successful nonviolent struggle which finally helped dislodge a 30-year dictator, are now fighting for judicial reform and women-friendly policies. I have also met a determined West Papuan leader who is persistently working to train and educate both men and women in strategic nonviolent action in their struggle for rights and equality. The Bosnian women that I spent time with this summer have been struggling for 15 years for justice and truth on missing loved ones. It was easy for me, as an outsider, to see their monumental achievements over time. But I think they realize that their work will probably never end. I also met a young woman from Colombia who works with indigenous women and very proudly declares,

They are strong, and they are organized. Even the violent groups respect them.

I’ve listened to the challenges facing women in Zimbabwe, whose activism is dismissed as “manliness” and who are often branded as lesbians or prostitutes because they are willing to openly challenge the government through nonviolent protest. And I’ve watched the nonviolent actions of women in Budrus, a small village in the West Bank, through a new documentary film http://www.justvision.org/budrus , and also observed from afar the courage of the film’s director and producer, both of whom are women.

When I think about those women, and so many others around the world as well as here in the U.S., I feel hopeful for women’s rights around the world. And the world is taking notice. Last year, the UN established a new agency to deal with the rights of women. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=32066&Cr=women&Cr1 There is also a proliferation of women’s organizations, websites, and blogs promoting women’s rights issues, providing women with tools and resources – including strategic and tactical thinking and nonviolent theory or training – and there are grants, fellowships, and advocacy networks that women can access to advance their struggle. I have listed some of these below.

So, with Women’s Equality Day now coming to a close, and perhaps without much notice from the world, I recognize, congratulate, and stand in solidarity with my sisters around the world who fight everyday for social justice causes which ultimately, and hopefully, encompass equal rights for all. For many women, even the act of resisting is pursuing women’s rights. They do this work at great risk, and their efforts and achievements are slowly, incrementally making this world a better, safer place.

I will end on a hopeful note, because hope, like anger, is an impetus for change. Our work has not ended, and the current status quo regarding women’s equal rights around the world, including in my country, is simply not acceptable. The struggle continues . . .









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