Saturday, 19 August 2017

The struggles of being a feminist in the Middle East

Earlier this month, women across the world celebrated after the Jordanian and Tunisian parliaments repealed a clause in its penal code that allowed a rapist to avoid punishment if they married their victim.

Victims of rape in Lebanon have now won the same victory, with the Lebanese parliament following suit and repealing a similar law from their penal code.

Women's rights activists are rightly hailed and recognised for their contribution as victories on this level are achieved. They are upheld and congratulated on matters which have long been taboo, but are now being viewed in a more humanitarian light.

Sometimes, depending on the magnitude of the victory, the activists are even seen as national heroes and a source of pride for the collective Arab identity.

But such praise doesn't always last long. Women often quickly return to being shamed and marginalised when addressing other issues deemed ayb - or culturally inappropriate - until they break yet more barriers.

"Being a women's rights activist in the Middle East is not easy," says Palestinian feminist Suad Abu Dayyeh. She is a Middle East and North Africa expert for Equality Now and campaigned to abolish the clause to free rapists from punishment if they married their victims.

"Doing what I do makes it difficult in many ways. Over the years, I had to break many barriers, both professionally and socially. I also had to deal with my family and their traditional mind-set," she told The New Arab.

A recent UN report showed that only 26 percent of men aged 18 to 59 in the Middle East believe in gender equality. The report also found that up to 52 percent of women showed active symptoms of depression.

Questioning traditions
In the Arab world, many traditions are seen as unshakable foundations of society. Much of the time, these traditions set high restrictions on gender roles, which actively infantilise girls and women and strip them of their autonomy, while being lenient on boys and men.

"The society I grew up around tried to force me to be submissive in more than one way, but living under systematic patriarchy made it all the worse"

"I experienced this myself," Suad said. "I began questioning our traditional gender roles when I was sent to boarding school, whereas my brothers were sent to private schools. It seemed unfair to me. I would always question why my mum would treat us differently based on our genders."

Growing up in Palestine, her identity had also been stigmatised not just because of her gender, but by her race - living the realties of life under the Israeli military occupation. "I had to break barriers brought by both patriarchy and occupation," she explained.

"The society I grew up around tried to force me to be submissive in more than one way, but living under systematic patriarchy made it all the worse."

Despite asking questions from a young age, Suad's feminism took shape at the age of 25 when she moved to the Netherlands to study a Masters degree.

'They said I ran a prostitution ring'
Ever since, Suad has dedicated her life to breaking down barriers of patriarchy for herself and others. She began working for Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLA) in the occupied Palestinian territories, where she faced the bleak reality of more extreme cases of women's suffering under patriarchy.

"We had to deal with cases of domestic abuse, help women who had run away from home and even focus on abortion cases. It was risky," she said.

Because her job involved a brand of women's rights that did not conform to what society deemed acceptable, many people attempted to undermine her personally:

"One of the rumours that spread about me - people started to say that I was running a prostitution ring in the centre because I was helping out with abortions and helping women in ways that were seen as unconventional to Arab customs. I was also sexually harassed."

In societies across the Arab world, women are emotionally blackmailed with the concept of breaking certain customs, despite the fact that thesew customs have always changed through time.

Suad's case of being shamed and harassed is not an isolated one. Statistics on sexual harassment vary from country to country across the Middle Eastern and North African region, but numbers can reach as high as 99.3 percent of women being sexually harassed, such as in Egypt.

Women are often stuck living in a paradox in which their personal autonomy is suppressed, yet their bodies are objects for men to prey on. The state and household environment commonly hold women accountable for their own "purity", yet hold women responsible for actions of men who make unsolicited sexual advances on them.

Breaking 'faux feminism'
Another challenge faced by feminists in the Middle East is breaking faux feminist standards. The word "feminist" is often thrown around, as though identifying as such automatically emancipates women and upholds the so-called respect a "feminist man" has for women, regardless of problematic notions they may sustain.

"It isn't just men who take advantage of feminism for their own personal gain, it's women too," Suad explains.

"A man doing it is bad, but there are women who would bring their own personal morals and bias on topics like sex outside marriage and abortion and will treat these topics as a red line. This is not real feminism."

This issue refers back to women constraining their activism to what is safe. It is easy to jump on a bandwagon that has already picked up momentum after taboos have already been broken and discussion has reached the public sphere.

What isn't easy is dealing with the consequences of breaking taboos to allow topics to reach the public sphere for the greater good of all women, even if you may not personally agree with the principle being discussed.

"We must liberate ourselves first and foremost before trying to help others"

Even with matters less controversial than abortion, many activists restrict their activism according to their personal comforts.

There are many women who are comfortable with being domesticated, for example. Though, in Jordan, Suad says she has seen a school curriculum which teach children as young as the age of six that the "home life" is the only option for girls.

Some women who refuse to campaign against conditioning children to conform to such gender roles will still call themselves a feminist, despite her putting her experience before the needs of others.

There are also some women who find talking about sex and the feminine anatomy uncomfortable for the same reason. This becomes a problem when women stay silent, or even oppose educating girls about sex at school.

"At the end of the day, no one is asking anyone else to give up their own personal morals, but what we as individuals may believe should not skew our activism to match our own moral compasses," Suad said.

'Liberate yourself first'
Despite years of struggling, and an outlook that's less than positive for the near future, Suad refuses to give up.

"The situation across the region has deteriorated and women are more likely to be subjected because of the political uncertainty around us," Suad said. "But this is not an excuse for us to give up. We must liberate ourselves first and foremost before trying to help others."

For Suad, the solution lies in putting self-emancipation first. Women ridding themselves of the internalised misogyny they have been conditioned to carry since childhood is paramount to the feminist cause.

"Only when we achieve this will we achieve a genuine feminist movement. We don't have a feminist movement in the Middle East. We only have women's rights organisations. The only way we can bolster a movement is if we deconstruct and work for the good of the collective, not for the personal ego."

(Source: The New Arab)

Friday, 18 August 2017

Indians taught me programming and my first IT job was at Wipro: Sarahah creator

You have seen Sarahah screenshots. You have heard of it. You have also probably used it. But do you know who created this app, which has become an overnight sensation. Well, that is ZainAlabdin Tawfiq, a Saudi national. He created the app because he wants people to have "honest" and involve in frank conversation.

We don't know right now whether Sarahah is a force for good, something that would one day be as big as WhatsApp if not bigger, or if it is just a fad. But Tawfiq, in an exclusive interview with the India Today Group, tells us that he has big plans for it. In a way, he hints that this is just a start. Excerpts from our conversation with ZainAlabdin Tawfiq, the Sarahah creator.

Sarahah surely is viral right now. But what is next for it?
There's good thing about Sarahah... yes, it is viral. But how can I keep the hype? Our objective is clear, its self-development through constructive feedback. I think that can help us a lot. However I know the challenges of this project in general and I have planned for lots of features. We have lot in plan.

Do you think you can take on WhatsApp?
Sarahah is different so the objective here is different. WhatsApp is a general communication platform, Sarhaha is a constructive feedback platform. So whatsapp or other messaging apps are not our competitors.

Why did you create Sarahah?
When I graduated from college and joined corporate life I noticed that there is a need for constructive feedback. Since there are barriers (to communication) like position or age, the best thing is to have anonymous feedback.

So I thought what are the solutions, may be place suggestions box on the desk.  But then I am a computer scientist and I thought there should be a way to automate this, so I created sarahah. And even before releasing sarahah I thought why limit this to corporate why not let friends and family be frank and honest with each other.

People are worried about their privacy. Some believe that this app is going to reveal the identity of senders one day.

We do have the strict privacy policy. In the privacy policy it says, that we will never reveal the identity of the sender unless we get his consent to do so. You can see also the terms and conditions on privacy policy regarding disclosure of information about revealing the identity in certain circumstances where there is a violation. But if someone is following the rules everything is good we do have this commitment not to reveal the identity unless we get his consent.

How block feature works?
We will not give the details of blocking feature. If we reveal details it will make abusers or misuse of the app easier.

Sarahah is very simple right now. Do you plan to some features to it, and what they could be?
We have good surprises and we hope that the customers will love them. Regarding new features as you see recently had a big expansion globally. Our focus now is on Sarahah scalability, after that we will bring new features.

Sarahah is also an app that doesn't seem to have any possible revenue model. How do you plan to make money?
There are many revenue models. But right now we are using advertising only for revenue.

Sarahah is now popular in India. Do you have something to say to Indian users?
I am really proud that Sarahah has reached India. The first company that I worked for, actually the only IT company that I ever worked for, was Wipro. And I am very proud and happy to see Indians coming to Sarahah.

Indians have taught me programming in university, Indians have taught me programming in the company. I had Indian colleagues and I also have Indian friends.

Sarahah users are complaining of locked accounts. How can they to unlock the locked accounts?
If a user finds his or her account locked, he or she should wait for 12 hours. It will automatically get unlocked. An account gets locked when there are too many attempts to log into it using wrong password. We are working on measure to fix this issue.

(Source: India Today)

Women in a Goa village make eco-friendly sanitary pads that decompose in 8 days

We are all well aware about the issues related to waste management in our country. With rapid urbanisation we are consuming lot of disposal items which can’t be recycled or reused. One such item is the sanitary pad. These one-time use pads are made of plastic and hence are non-biodegradable. This menstrual waste lands in our landfills or worse in our water bodies, thus polluting our ecology.

According to a 2011 survey, only 12 per cent women in India use sanitary napkins which still makes for at least 9,000 tonnes of garbage and India produces over 1 billion non-compostable sanitary pads every month. And with modernisation this number is continuously increasing.

“Society in India still being largely conservative and patriarchal in nature, menstrual hygiene management has still not been planned well and women face issues in disposing sanitary pads in an appropriate manner,” says Sumit Singh, governance expert on Swachh Bharat Mission, Urban Development Department, Government of Goa. He further adds, “Sanitary pads are generally disposed with mixed waste or in dry waste bin category of door-to-door waste collection if the facility is available. This again poses problems to sanitation staff while segregating waste at processing plants. If the waste is simply dumped at a landfill site, it poses health hazards to waste pickers. In some of the progressive cities, municipal authorities raise awareness about wrapping the pad in old newspaper and marking it with a red cross before disposing it in dry waste bin. Some of the housing societies and girls schools have also started installing small incinerators to dispose sanitary pads. However, initiatives like this cover a miniscule portion of the population and all of the women living in urban and rural areas have to face the issue every month.”

However now there are few initiatives by individuals and groups to manufacture eco-friendly pads.

In collaboration with Aakar Innovations, The Better India is setting up a sanitary pad manufacturing unit in Ajmer, Rajasthan, that will not only produce eco-friendly or biodegradable sanitary pads, but will also employ women from rural communities around the area.

The Self Help Group (SHG) named Saheli in Pilgao village in Bicholim taluka of Goa is the first SHG in Goa to manufacture and sell eco-friendly sanitary pads.

Jayshree Parwar, with the help of three other women, has started this initiative around two years ago. These pads are manufactured at Jayshree’s home where utmost care is taken regarding hygiene and sanitation. Till now they have sold 1000 pads and they manufacture 50 packets in a day. One packet consists of eight pads and its retail cost is Rs 40. They sell it under the brand name ‘Sakhi’ bio-degradable sanitary pads. “We get all our raw material from Tamil Nadu. The main component of it is the pine wood paper. This pad when buried in mud gets degraded within eight days,” says Jayshree who has taken this initiative of making and selling these pads.

She was trained by Dr Subbu Nayak and is now confident of this product and has trained other women—Naseeen Shaikh, Sulaksha Tari and Revati Parwar, who hail from the same village of Pilgao.

Jayshree was the first who showed confidence in accepting this challenge of installing and running a unit for manufacturing sanitary pads in her house. “When the company, Teerathan Enterprises, had approached a federation of 48 SHGs in the Panchayat with the offer of installing the unit free of cost, most of the SHGs shied away from accepting the offer mainly out of a feeling of shame. Jayshree accepted the challenge and has been running the unit for the last two years,” says Singh.

These sanitary pads consist of pine wood paper, silicon paper, butter paper, non-woven paper and cotton. They are UV light radiated which helps kills germs.

“Sanitary napkins made from artificial fibres cause allergies and irritation to the delicate skin in the vaginal area.

These napkins made from pine fibre, as they are natural, will help prevent these,” says Dr Anita Dudhane, allergist and clinical immunologist, practicing in Goa.

Jayshree further informs that eco-friendly pads are a good option for village women. Most of them use cloth pads which may not be a hygienic option and those who use sanitary pads tend to burn them by making a hole in the ground. But this practice produces hazardous gases like dioxins.

Marketing and sale of eco-friendly pads

As there is no retail outlet of this SHG, they sell it at various cultural fests like Lokotsav (annual art and culture festival organised by Government of Goa in joint collaboration of West Zone Cultural Centre, Udaipur in Panaji, Goa) and also at a café like Saraya Art Café at Sangolda. But, this journey is not easy for Jayshree. “Many a time women are hesitant to talk about this issue. Also sometimes girls are hesitant to look at these products when I put up a stall at these events. At that time I try to convince them that it is not something to be shameful about. We all go through this every month and we need to talk about it,” says Jayshree who has her regular clientele from her village and she also supplies to women customers from Kerala, Mangalore and Kolhapur. She is also positive with the response she is getting from her customers and also from her two daughters. She states that now her daughters are more confident and feel comfortable while using this product.

Now due to this product this SHG has got its unique identity. It has also given confidence to Jayshree to go out and talk about this topic and taboo associated with it. Jayshree informs that till now she has 50-odd women customers who are using this product. Most of these customers are the village women of Pilgao. These women are not only choosing it compared to their cloth pads but at the same time educating young girls about it. This product gives them a sense of confidence and freedom to go out and achieve their goals. One such customer is Afroz Sheikh who is now happy with this product. “Its main advantage is that it is chemical free. Also it is very convenient to use especially when we are travelling. With cloth pads it was quite a hassle as one had to wash it, dry it. But, this is a one-time use and also easy to dispose off. I am now also telling school and college going girls to use it as it is very beneficial to them.”

Another customer Niyati Patre from Mapusa city also opted for this. “The main reason I bought it was because it was eco-friendly. It was nice to know that I am not adding to bio-medical waste as it is biodegradable. The only issue I have is with its size. I wish it could be little bigger so it would be more beneficial especially during heavy flow days,” says Niyati.

Jayshree in future also wants to manufacture eco-friendly diapers as they are also in demand.

Looking at the commitment of Jayshree and the SHG many individuals and organisations are coming forward to help them to market this product.

From left: Sulaksha Tari, Jayshree Parwar and Naseem Shaikh with their product which is manufactured at Jayshree’s house. Photo credit: Arti Das
One is the Goa Institute of Management (GIM).  “Goa Institute of Management, Sakhali with intension to help the helped ones, started an ABHIGYAN “GIVEGOA”. Under this all first year students have to learn more from the community. This year we would like to help this lady from Sakhali with her maiden venture of ‘Sakhi: Green pads’. We would brand them, promote them, and create a market place. As they are cost positive and nature friendly a big market is waiting for them,” says Prof Vithal Sukhathankar of GIM.

Jayshree also spoke and interacted with SHGs and citizens in Bicholim and Valpoi during the city stakeholders meet on Swachh Bharat Mission about this product.

Singh, who will help her marketing, adds, “I am planning to help her connect to the large network of SHGs working in urban areas. It will help Jayashree in getting a broad consumer base for her market without spending on marketing of the product, other SHGs will benefit in getting eco-friendly sanitary pads and it also provides them a potential livelihood opportunity to install and run similar plants.” He is also planning to introduce these eco-friendly sanitary pads to women in colonies selected for Smart Colony – Smart Ward initiative in all municipalities of Goa on pilot basis. He is hopeful that looking at Jayshree more SHGs from Goa will come forward. He has also received confirmation from one SHG to start the same. “If more SHGs start the unit, then raw material of sanitary pads which is currently brought through transport from Chennai can be manufactured by companies in Goa. This will further reduce the cost and make it more accessible in less privileged sections of society,” says Singh.

(Source: The Better India)

35 secret things most women have done on their period but don't talk about

1. Inspected a blood clot on the toilet paper after wiping.

2. And examined a tampon after taking it out.

3. Gotten your pubes stuck to the back of a pad and had to rip it off.

4. Layered up pads to make a “pad nappy” so that you don’t leak in the night.

5. Flushed a toilet multiple times because little streaks of blood were still in the water.

6. Felt a blood clot just plop out while you’re on the toilet.

7. Gotten out of the shower and left little blood spots on the floor before you’ve had a chance to put knickers on.

8. So had to do a mini-run to grab your underwear.

9. Smuggled a pad or tampon up your sleeve on your way to the bathroom.

10. Sat and wondered if you've leaked or if your butt is just sweaty.

11. Crossed your legs while sitting down to try and stop the flow.

12. Stood up and felt the full force of that flow anyway.

13. Pooed way more than normal thanks to those notorious period shits.

14. Or the opposite, and been stopped up for days at a time.

15. Wiped after pooing only to see more blood than poo on the paper.

16. Waddled like a penguin when you woke up because you have a pad full of blood.

17. Asked someone to check the back of your clothes for leaks.

18. Tried to do it yourself in vain.

19. Used toilet paper as an emergency.

20. Not been able to tell the difference between period pains and “I need to shit” pains until the last minute.

21. Worn a pad or tampon a bit longer than you really should.

22. Felt weirdly satisfied by seeing the blood wash away when you’re in the shower.

23. Tried to subtly rearrange your pad but looked like you’re pulling out a wedgie.

24. Had blood move up towards the back of your butt, and wondered how the fuck it got there.

25. Been moved to tears by something slightly inconsequential, like finding out a show you were planning to watch was taken off Netflix.

26. Experienced the full spectrum of human emotions within the space of a few hours.

27. Dreaded the second and third days of your period before they’ve even happened.

28. Panicked that you already have a tampon in when you put in a new one.

29. Double checked every chair after getting up just in case you leaked on it.

30. Sometimes discreetly laid a cardigan or jacket down as protection against this.

31. Adjusted your wardrobe to all dark colours from the waist down.

32. And to anything that accommodates bloating.

34. Felt slightly thrilled when the blood starts going brown because the end must be near.

35. Thought it was over, worn your nice underwear, and then started bleeding again.

(Source: Buzzfeed)

THIS is what the shape of your nose says about your personality

They key element of our face that plays a very important role in determining our overall look, which is evident from our obsession with it — Nose.

Every nose shape is unique and different, and interestingly speaks volumes about our personality. The nose shape reveals fun and quirky insights into our inner selves, and the nose comes in different shapes and sizes which makes it even more fun to analyse what each implies. Try and identify your nose, and see how accurate is your personality analysis!

1. Small Nose

Don't mess too much with that friend of yours who has a typically small nose, just because she is cheerful and affable. That's their nature, but sometimes, they can lose their temper and boy, do they get really mad then! Also, they are quite anal about their privacy.

2. Long Nose

You're the one who is born to be a leader. Equipped with a good sense of business, driving ambition, razor-sharp instincts—you can easily carve our your own road to success. Your biggest problems are often derived from your greatest strengths.

3. Big Nose

The bridge of this nose can either be short, or long. But they have wider tips, with nostrils that are really large. The size of the nose is directly related to the sense of power, drive, leadership, ego, and desire to work independently exuded by the nose-bearer. They have a mind of their own, and find it difficult to work under someone else. Also, they hate small talk.

4. Button Nose

A nose that resembles a button, it is the cutest nose of the lot. Women with button shaped nose are said to be imaginative and are usually proud of the shape of their nose.They are particularly caring, loving, optimistic, nurturing and kind. However, button nosed individuals are also known for their emotional instability. They normally feel threatened by persons of stronger will.

5. Fleshy Nose

Basically, a nose that has a narrow root which gradually expands to craft a rather snub end. People who are quick, they think fast and act even faster! They're street-smart and don't waste much time, which sometimes seems a tad bit too aggressive. But, they make extremely loyal, and caring partners.

6. Greek Nose

The Greek nose is a perfectly straight nose, which has pretty narrow nostrils. People born with the Greek nose are highly skilled, and driven by logic. They are naturally intelligent, and hence dependable. You can totally count on them to have your back, always.

7. Roman Nose

This is the nose which has a bridge that effortlessly pulls your attention towards itself. Probably the reason behind the name of this nose-type, people who have this nose are notably very headstrong, and ambitious in nature. They are able to influence others with their words, and know how to make an impact.Their organisational skills are definitely worth a mention!

8. Nubian Nose

Kinda like the long nose, the Nubian nose is distinguished by its wide base, which practically stands out. A classic example of this nose type, is of the former President of USA—Barrack Obama. These people are known to be emotionally expressive, and curious in general. Attractive and charismatic, they have an open mind, they are great at handling conversations.

9. Celestial Nose

Characterised by a dent in the middle of the bridge of the nose, with an upturned tip, people who have the celestial nose are insanely optimistic in life. Their warm personality makes them fiercely loyal friends, and they would readily take a bullet for their close ones. Note: They are extremely adventurous in bed! ;)

10. Hawk Nose

Think about how the beak of a hawk looks? Its nasal counterpart is quite similar. Slightly bent in the centre, with sharp edges, it's that nose type which can be easily identified. People sporting the hawk nose are oozing with confidence, and don't take sh*t from anybody. They believe in living life on their own terms, and naturally stand out amongst their peers.

(Source: Cosmopolitan)