Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Afghanistan: young woman killed in front of 300 - Stop Violence against Women

Members of Afghan activist group Young Women for Change/copyright AP

Enough!  Stop violence against women in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has been called the most dangerous place to be born a girl. Violence against girls and women is endemic.   From beatings behind closed doors to targeted attacks on brave women human rights defenders speaking out in public, anything goes. The majority of these crimes go unpunished. Instead, victims are often punished for committing 'moral crimes' like running from abusive relationships, attempting to protect their children from a violent father.

"I work mostly on cases where women have been accused of 'moral crimes', like running away from home after being abused, or where women want to free their children from an abusive father…,” says Masiha Faiz of Medica Mondiale.  “The police and courts don’t want us to defend these victims. They will hide the cases and try to send the women back without investigating. A woman’s word isn’t worth anything to them." 

The killing of a young Afghan woman by her father in front of a large crowd last week - on the grounds that she had “dishonoured” the family - is yet another example of the shocking violence against women and further proof that the authorities are failing to tackle it. 

The woman, who has two children, was shot dead last Monday (22 April) by her father in front of a crowd of about 300 people in the village of Kookchaheel, in the Aabkamari district of Badghis province in north-western Afghanistan, according to an Amnesty International report issued today.

The woman, named Halima, who was believed to be between 18 and 20 years old, was accused of running away with a cousin while her husband was in Iran. Her cousin returned Halima to her relatives ten days after running away with her. His whereabouts are unknown.

The killing came after three of the village’s religious leaders, allegedly linked to the Taliban, issued a fatwa (religious edict) that Halima should be killed publicly, after her father sought their advice about his daughter’s elopement. Halima’s father and the three religious council members who issued the fatwa have reportedly gone into hiding. The local police say they are investigating the case, but no one has yet been arrested in connection with the killing.

Amnesty International’s Afghanistan researcher Horia Mosadiq said:  “The deeply shocking practice of women being subjected to violent ‘punishments’, including killing, publicly or privately, must end. The authorities across Afghanistan must ensure that perpetrators of violence against women are brought to justice."
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) documented more than 4,000 cases of violence against women in a six-month period last year (21 March-21 October 2012) - a rise of 28% compared with the same period in the previous year. The AIHRC has also criticised the Afghan police in Baghdis for recruiting suspected perpetrators of such violence, including a Taliban commander and his 20 men implicated in the stoning to death of 45-year-old widow Bibi Sanuber for alleged adultery in 2010.

In August 2009, Afghanistan passed the Elimination of Violence againstWomen Law, which criminalises forced marriage, rape, beatings and other acts of violence against women.

“Afghanistan’s law for the elimination of violence against women is a very positive step, but it will not be useful unless it is properly enforced - something we haven’t seen so far,” said AI's Mosadiq.
Amnesty is calling for people to ask their MPs to stand up with women in Afghanistan and pressure the UK Government to support practical steps to tackle the abuse – steps like supporting women’s shelters or facilitating specially trained domestic abuse representatives in the police force. 

With international troops leaving next year, peace negotiations with the Taliban and upcoming Presidential elections, it is a critical time for Afghanistan. “We need our Government to act now to ensure gains made since the fall of the Taliban are not lost, and that women are protected from violence in all its forms,” says Amnesty.

Sign the petition here.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Video Games: real racism in a virtual world

A fascinating new study in the current issue of the New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia uncovers blatant racism in video games.

I hadn’t thought of race in gaming, but considering video games’ widespread use and impact, it's an issue well worth addressing. And we should look at sexism in gaming, as well.

Researcher Kishonna L. Gray writes that in video-game culture, the default gamer is a white male. Those outside that privileged group are often marginalised, labelled ‘deviant’ and punished for their ‘deviance’. Women, ethnic minorities and people of colour are portrayed in a stereotypical manner, reinforcing notions of whiteness, blackness, racial hierarchies, masculinity and sexuality. 

As part of her research Gray observed, interacted with and interviewed African-American gamers playing Halo Reach®, Gears of War 2®, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2®, and Call of Duty: Black Ops® on Xbox Live over a period of eight months. She uncovered disturbing patterns of behaviour and a space racialised by the profiling of non-white or non-male gamers by their speech. In particular, she found that some gamers picked up on linguistic cues from others that suggested they might be black. The black gamer would then be confronted about his colour and provoked by the use of racist slurs. Other gamers would often join in with the insults. The episode would end with one of the gamers leaving or being kicked out of the game, or the offended gamer retaliating with his own volleys of profanity and racist language.

Most worryingly, such racism appears to be ‘normalised’ in the Xbox Live sessions she observed, with offended users rarely complaining. When Gray confronted the gamers who used racist language, they categorically denied being racist. They further defended themselves by claiming it was ‘just a game’, that the words they used were meaningless or that they would use the same offensive terms to refer to white people.
Gray observes that ‘the overt racism that used to permeate our society has been introduced in this virtual community.’ Although it is difficult to quantify, and may not be the norm across all of Xbox Live, the gamers of colour she interviewed were racially abused daily. They were also adamant that they did not experience similar treatment elsewhere.

Gray concludes that much of this abuse occurs and is allowed to continue because of the mistaken belief that black people, women and minorities are not gamers (in fact, I recently read that 42% of gamers are women); the games themselves continue to be created by and for white males. Until gaming changes considerably, it would appear that only white males can leave their real-world identities behind when they enter the virtual world of Xbox Live.

Black and women game creators, we need you!  Where are you?

Thursday, 4 April 2013

International Roma Day - EU must end discrimination against Roma

A girl stands behind the foundations of a 2m-high wall separating her community from a non-Roma neighbourhood in Horea Street, Baia Mare, Romania, July 201/photo credits:Mugur V─ârzariu

April 8 is International Roma Day – an occasion to celebrate Roma culture, but also to push European governments to guarantee basic rights to Roma.  The estimated six million Roma living in the European Union countries are one of Europe’s largest and most marginalized minorities. Across Europe, they are blatantly discriminated against and are victims of violent attacks while European Union’s governments are turning a blind eye and the EU is not forcing them to protect Roma.

To mark International Roma Day, Amnesty International is releasing a new briefing on discriminationagainst Roma. It says that Roma living in EU countries fall far below the national average on almost all human development indicators: disproportionately at risk of poverty, eviction and violent attack. Education levels are also far below average, only one out of seven young Roma adults has completed upper-secondary education. Education is actually segregated in the Czech Republic, Greece and Slovakia, a practice at odds with both national and EU laws prohibiting racial discrimination.

Forced evictions of Roma communities is regular practice in a range of European countries such as Romania, Italy, and France. Policies promoting or resulting in ethnic segregation of Romani communities have been also pursued.

More than 120 serious violent attacks against Roma occurred in Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria between January 2008 and July 2012, including shootings, stabbings and arson attacks. State authorities, including the police, have in many instances failed to prevent or thoroughly investigate these attacks.

More than a decade ago, in 2000, the EU adopted the Race Equality Directive that prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity in the workplace, in education, and in access to goods and services, housing and health care. As the EU’s executive body, the European Commission is empowered to act against EU member states when they fail to comply with EU law. However, so far this has never happened.

Amnesty’s briefing “Human Rights here. Roma Rights Now. A wake-up call for the European Union" insists that the EU take decisive action to tackle discrimination against Roma in Europe.

 “The EU must implement immediately the considerable measures at its disposal to sanction governments that are failing to tackle discrimination and violence against Roma. Such practices run counter to EU law and the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights it was founded on,” says AI Europe and Central Asia Programme Director John Dalhuisen

 “What we see is the Commission sanctioning countries on technical issues in areas of transport and taxation, for example, but failing to grapple with issues which are of vital importance to millions of people, such as forced evictions, segregation and hate-motivated attacks.

The Nobel Peace Prize winning EU has the power to end discriminatory practices that are rife in many of its member States. It must use these now.”