Friday, March 26, 2010

Iceland: 'Women Are Not For Sale'

Johanna Sigurdardottir, prime minister of Iceland.
Photograph: Bob Strong/REUTERS

ICELAND -- Iceland is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.

While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. And forget hiring a topless waitress in an attempt to get around the bar: the law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.

Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: "It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold." When I asked her if she thinks Iceland has become the greatest feminist country in the world, she replied: "It is certainly up there. Mainly as a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society."

The news is a real boost to feminists around the world, showing us that when an entire country unites behind an idea anything can happen. And it is bound to give a shot in the arm to the feminist campaign in the UK against an industry that is both a cause and a consequence of gaping inequality between men and women.

According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not. Supporters of the bill say that some of the clubs are a front for prostitution – and that many of the women work there because of drug abuse and poverty rather than free choice. I have visited a strip club in Reykjavik and observed the women. None of them looked happy in their work.

So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women's movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April). "Once you break past the glass ceiling and have more than one third of female politicians," says Halldórsdóttir, "something changes. Feminist energy seems to permeate everything."

Johanna Sigurðardottir is Iceland's first female and the world's first openly lesbian head of state. Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation based in Reykjavik that campaigns against sexual violence, says she has enjoyed the support of Sigurðardottir for their campaigns against rape and domestic violence: "Johanna is a great feminist in that she challenges the men in her party and refuses to let them oppress her."

Then there is the fact that feminists in Iceland appear to be entirely united in opposition to prostitution, unlike the UK where heated debates rage over whether prostitution and lapdancing are empowering or degrading to women. There is also public support: the ban on commercial sexual activity is not only supported by feminists but also much of the population. A 2007 poll found that 82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.

Jónsdóttir says the ban could mean the death of the sex industry. "Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women's equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale."

Strip club owners are, not surprisingly, furious about the new law. One gave an interview to a local newspaper in which he likened Iceland's approach to that of a country such as Saudi Arabia, where it is not permitted to see any part of a woman's body in public. "I have reached the age where I'm not sure whether I want to bother with this hassle any more," he said.

Janice Raymond, a director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, hopes that all sex industry profiteers feel the same way, and believes the new law will pave the way for governments in other countries to follow suit. "What a victory, not only for the Icelanders but for everyone worldwide who repudiates the sexual exploitation of women," she says.

Jónsdóttir is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. "I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale."

READ THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE AT Guardian.co.uk

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Understanding Islamic Feminism: A Fascinating Interview

We came upon this interview on the Madrasa Reforms in India blog. It's a bit long, but a very interesting insight into the modern Feminist movement in Islamic nations. The intro is below followed by the link to continue reading the Q and A.

Born in Iran and now based in London, Ziba Mir Hosseini, an anthropologist by training, is one of the most well-known scholars of Islamic Feminism. She is the author of numerous books on the subject, including Marriage on Trial: A Study of Family Law in Iran and Morrocco (l.B.Tauris, 1993) and Islam and Gender, the Religious Debate in Contemporary Islam (Princeton, 1999). She is presently associated with the Centre for Islamic and Middle Eastern Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.

In this interview with Yoginder Sikand she talks about the origins and prospects of Islamic feminism as an emancipatory project for Muslim women and as a new, contextually-relevant way of understanding Islam...

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW AT MadrasaReforms.Blogspot.com

Asia: WWII "Comfort Women" Were Victims of Sexual Slavery


Former “comfort woman” Lee Yong-Soo (L) stands beside her supporters holding portraits of Philippine, South Korean and Chinese comfort women who were sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II, at a protest held in front of the Japanese parliament in Tokyo. Japan on 27 June 2007 brushed aside calls from US lawmakers for a fresh apology to wartime sex slaves, even as the former “comfort women” renewed their demands for Tokyo to acknowledge their plight. Japan said the US move to pass a resolution calling for an “unambiguous” apology from Japan for the coercion of women into army brothels during World War II would not damage relations between the two allies. Inset: Recruitment advertisements for comfort women in the Japanese Imperial Army.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AND VIEW MORE PHOTOS AT WorldCulturePictoral.com

US: Florida Modern Day Slavery Museum on Tour

The Florida Modern Day Slavery Museum is touring throughout the state of Florida until April 15. Check their schedule to learn when it will be in a town near you.

The Florida Modern-Day Slavery Museum consists of a cargo truck outfitted as a replica of the trucks involved in a recent slavery operation (U.S. v. Navarrete, 2008), accompanied by displays on the history and evolution of slavery in Florida.

The museum's central focus is on the phenomenon of modern-day slavery -- its roots, the reasons it persists, and its solutions. The exhibits were developed in consultation with workers who have escaped from forced labor operations as well as leading academic authorities on slavery and labor history in Florida.

For more information about a specific tour stop, contact the person listed as the contact in the table below.

For an excellent preview of the museum, check out this Ft. Myers News-Press article (2/28/10):

"Modern slavery in spotlight: Immokalee coalition debuts mobile museum"

Click here to visit the Slavery Museum News Page for all the latest news from the road

Schedule: Click here to see the museum tour itinerary

Click here to download the museum's accompanying booklet (PDF)

Click here for the museum press advisory