Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Criticism of the Media Giving Legitimacy to Sexist Tripe...

Australia's The Age has a great article about how news outlets cover the ridiculousness that is Maxism's recent poll of the World's Five 'Unsexiest Women'. Because women's sexiness or unsexiness is obviously their defining feature. And their can't possibly be anything to women besides whether they are considered 'Do-able' by young Maxim men...

According to the editors at Maxim, Spears scraped in at number five because she carried excess "pudge" following the birth of her two sons. Madonna featured following her "rapid post-nuptial deterioration" and appearances in "pharmacy menopause aisles". Sandra Oh, star of the TV drama Grey's Anatomy, made the list for her "cold" manner and "boyish figure". British singer Amy Winehouse sported "translucent skin" and a "rat's nest mane".

Former Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker must be thrilled to discover that she topped the poll. The magazine editors thought her a clear winner, whose presence in a show with sex in the title was apparently inexplicable given the fact that she has a head like a horse.

So this is how I see it. Giving birth is not sexy. If you used to be sexy, but now carry a bit of healthy post-pregnancy weight, you're also out of favour. If you don't strut around with your breasts on display or are an otherwise prickly character (which means, I think, unwilling to get said breasts out for the boys at Maxim), you're a sure bet for the list. Best of all, if you display the natural signs of ageing or are experiencing natural bodily processes like menopause, then you're fair game.

Perhaps buoyed by the knowledge that celebrity sells, the results of the Maxim poll have done the circuit as a news item — yes, a news item — over the past week. I saw the list on at least one commercial network's nightly news bulletin and it has been news in India, the United States and Britain. It even made its way onto The Age website, which is where I first read about it. All this comes on the back of a recent Esquire poll ranking the sexiest women alive. That too, it seems, was newsworthy.

In calling this kind of vicious, sexist rubbish "news", the poll is given a smidgen of legitimacy. The media implicitly support the notion that it is OK to scrutinise and rank women on the basis of the most superficial and degrading of all criteria — their appearance.

In the past three decades, as women have made advances in public life and steps have been made towards greater equality between the sexes, the scrutiny of women's bodies seems to have gathered pace. Take politics as an example. In Media Tarts, Julia Baird's excellent book examining the media's treatment of Australian female politicians, Baird argues that women in politics are rarely judged on their merits. Media commentators are far more interested in women's hairstyles (Bronwyn Bishop, Julia Gillard), sexual histories (Cheryl Kernot), polka-dot dresses (Joan Kirner), sexiness (Julie Bishop, Natasha Stott Despoja) or unsexiness and weight (Amanda Vanstone) than their policy stances or the contributions they might make to the fabric of our nation.

Indeed, in many respects, women are still seen as less the sum of their parts and more the sum of their "bits".

I can hear the naysayers: if you don't like lists like these, don't read them. And I agree. But even if — like me — you don't actively seek out polls like these, assessments of women permeate every aspect of our culture. Ask any woman and she'll tell you that such images are the reason she spends hours in front of the bathroom mirror, worrying about her every blemish or ripple of cellulite.

Media outlets need to be much more reflective about the role they play in fostering this kind of self-scrutiny among women. They must abandon the practice of uncritically promoting sexist material about women, of the kind we see in the Maxim poll. Because, as a woman, I can only do so much to avoid such harmful nonsense.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chile's Bachelet Institutes 'Quotas' for Women in Politics

Chile's Michelle Bachelet is working to help women achieve equal political power in her country according to this article by the Santiago Times. She's just signed a bill that aims to double the current number of women participating in politics by doubling the number of female candidates in the general elections. It has specific percentages of women and men that must be run in the next election and that must be part of the political leadership of parties. The bill still needs to be debated but I think it's wonderful that Bachelet is taking steps to address the underrepresentation of women in her country's legislatures.

Although quotas are a controversial step, I think that there are some real advantages to them. It changes the political climate for women. Women know that they are welcome in that realm and that it will not be a struggle against sexism to put themselves forward and run. It allows women of real quality to be appreciated for that quality. Anyone who thinks that quotas simply allows unqualified women to lead, has a very low opinion of women and their leadership. As someone who engages with female leaders, in and outside of politics, I must say there is so much incredible talent and passion that countries need to make use of.

The bill also gives new responsibilities to political parties. According to the proposed legislation, party leadership must not be more than 70 percent male or female, and the same rule will apply to the lists of candidates that parties turn in before general elections. There will also be economic incentives favoring female candidates, in order to better support women who get elected.

These incentives will be available to parties that incorporate more female members and candidates than the legal minimum. “We are creating a law that will promote equal political participation by men and women,” said Bachelet. “We are taking another step to guarantee and strengthen the rights and opportunities of women in civic, political and institutional life, and in public service.”Party for Democracy (PPD) members expressed support for the initiative. Deputies Ximena Vidal and Laura Soto said Monday that the percentage requirements in the bill will help enact “changes to strengthen democracy that we need so badly.”

The Christian Democratic Party (DC) and the National Renovation Party (RN) also backed the bill. Members from both parties were especially pleased with the measures involving percentage requirements and economic incentives. “The President’s promotion of incentives to motivate political parties to involve and promote women that are elected is a RN proposal, so we absolutely support all of those parts of the bill,” said the party’s general secretary Lily Pérez.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Argentina's Next President?

An Article in the Globe and Mail discusses the impending victory of Argentina's Christina Fernandez de Kirchner in the presidential race.

Kirchner is the wife of outgoing president Nestor Kirchner, and she also served as his chief advisor during his four year mandate as president. Kirchner is credited with pulling Argentina out of a dramatic economic slump, and renewing the country's job stability.

Kirchner is leading her opponent by a ten percent margin. Interestingly, her chief rival is also a woman, Eliso Carrio.

If the official tally confirms that Ms. Fernandez has more than 45 per cent of the vote, or 40 per cent with a 10 percentage point lead over Ms. Carrio, she will win the presidency without facing a runoff election next month.

Ms. Fernandez, 54, ran on the record of her husband, leftist President Nestor Kirchner, and she would take over from him in a highly unusual transfer of power between democratically elected spouses.

Many Argentines credit Mr. Kirchner with pulling the country out of a dramatic economic crisis in 2001-02 and using growth of 8 per cent a year to create jobs, raise salaries and expand pension benefits.

Kirchner's victory, however, is marred with questions. A virtual non-entity in the debates, and less than explicit about her policy plans, she may be riding on her husband's success (which she arguably engineered anyway). While Kirchner is the second female political leader to be elected president in the last two years (after Chile's Michelle Bachelet), I am curious what exactly lead to her election.

Her campaign seemed effortless. Handpicked by her husband and chosen by a faction of the Peronist party without a primary, Ms. Fernandez avoided debates and was vague on policy.

Rivals have criticized the Mr. Kirchners as being authoritarian and treating the election as the beginning of a political dynasty to tighten their grip on the presidency and Congress.

If her campaign was so "effortless," as this reporter describes, then why is she farther ahead of her female rival? Is the Argentinian public aware of her role in her husband's success, or are they simply voting on a "sure thing?" And why hasn't someone discussed Carrio's plans? Is she further left than Kirchner--might that account for her realtive unpopularity? Or is she simply 'unbolstered' by a male counterpart? All very interesting questions to me--any answers?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Conservatives' Plan to Get Rid of Women's Groups?

Upon reading this article on, I almost expected to hear the Conservative Party laughing evilly amidst the smoke of cigars. Tom Flanagan had this to say about the Conservative's cuts to Status of Women...

Tom Flanagan, one of Stephen Harper’s closest advisors and three-time national campaign manager, is currently doing publicity for his new “insider’s” book on Harper’s government and rise to power.

If equality-seeking groups are paying any attention to Flanagan, it is unlikely they are doing so for political advice. Yet recently Flanagan, on CBC Radio’s The House, provided such groups, including progressive women’s organizations, with some of the most useful insights on how to advance an equality agenda and a women’s agenda under the Harper government.

Flanagan calls funding cuts to Status of Women Canada and the elimination of the Court Challenges Program a “nice step,” asserting without equivocation that Conservatives will “defund” all equality-seeking groups – with feminists at the top of the list. He goes further, clarifying that Conservatives also plan to choke-off these groups’ supposedly privileged access to government by, for example, denying “meetings with ministers.” But for strategic reasons, Flanagan notes, this will all happen incrementally. To avoid the perception of mean-spirited retribution, he says, “incrementalism is the way to go.”

Given 'Canada's New Government's' track record on women, I am not surprised that this is potentially the game plan.

For example, the Conservatives decisively eliminated the budget for NAWL (National Association of Women and the Law) and with this move eliminated its effective and focused policy-based campaigns for such issues as pay equity, legal aid, and economic rights. Yet groups that may be perceived to have a more nebulous or international focus remain funded (for now) in the government's Status of Women budgets. Groups like this need to interrogate their own role in facilitating the death by a thousand cuts that Harper is perpetrating on equality-seeking groups – those of us that Flanagan calls client organizations or "Liberal outrider organizations."

Equality advocates have a distinct choice to make here between being incremental and being oppositional, which in the current context means being effective. To make this choice wisely, women’s organizations should take a further cue from Flanagan by playing strategically. Stop being the nice guy, so to speak.

The article has a lot more details about the authors suggestions for how women's groups need to combat Harper's strategies. Read it!

P.S. After publishing this post I realized that there was something that I forgot to add. Ah, yes.... They can take away our funding but they can't take away our feminisms! (and the political pie will wind up on their face!). That was my idea of a war cry. Let it reverberate through the blog0sphere!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Antigone at Media Democracy Fair on Friday!

Antigone is going to be at the Media Democracy Fair this Friday and we encourage you to drop by! It's going to be a lot of fun and a great opportunity to support your favourite independent media!

Media Democracy Fair:

Come to the FREE Media Democracy Fair and meet representatives from your favorite local independent media outlets. 4:30pm – 7pm Friday October 26th at the Concourse in SFU Vancouver (Harbour Centre) 515 West Hastings Street.

The Media Democracy Fair is FREE. Admission is open for everyone. Bring your friends and family to the Media Democracy Fair and stay for the discussions.

To stay in the loop join the local media democracy Announcement Mailing List

If you represent a local media group and would like table space at the MDD please email (

For press information please email (


Who can you find at the Media Democracy Fair?

Amnesty International
Antigone Magazine
Beyond Robson
Canadians for Democratic Media
Community Media Education Society (C.M.E.S.)
COA News
Columbia Journal
Common Ground
Co-Op Radio
CJSF 90.1fm
DOXA Documentary Film Festival
Epoch Times
FreeGeek Vancouver
Only Magazine
Our Paper
People's Voice Newspaper
Straight Goods
The Tyee
The Vancouver Community Television Association (VCTA)
Vancouver's Anti-Poverty Committee
Vancouver Observer
VIVO Media Arts Centre
Work Less Party
Xtra West

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Provincial Internship Oppurtunity

This is a great oppurtunity to learn more about government and how it works. Check out this link sent to us by Kristen Myers for more information.

Corinne Maier: La mort de la Merdeuf?

Sorry this should have been yesterday's blog.

However, I've been meaning to write something about Mrs. Maier for a while now. In September the Globe and Mail ran a column on her in their focus section. Maier is a french writer--who lives in a self-imposed exile in Belgium.
The phrase of choice from her article is: "I really regret it, I really regret having children."

It is a combination of tart sisterly advice ("What hope is there of having a fulfilling sex life when a woman is forced to turn into a fat, deformed animal decked out in sack-like dresses?") with shock-tactic social analysis ("More murders and child abuse happen within families than outside them. Every family is a nest of vipers - all the reason not to add to your own").

Maier's sentiments are shockingly progressive for a French society consumed with what she calls "baby mania." However, Maier's antagonism is that of the overburdened French woman who carries the weight of the nation on her back--a vestige of imperialism if ever there was one. In France, the maintenance of the idea of 'nation' and certainly, then, the ideals which sustain that Nation depend entirely on a high birth rate in order to maintain the 'purity' of French blood. If motherhood didn't already include enough burdens of care for the woman, in the French formulation it carries the weight of not only childcare, but of National identity itself. Maier has certainly made her burden audible.

There's a loud and expensive national crusade to have as many children as possible and valorize motherhood. It is a nation where the winner of the President's motherhood medal (what other country has those?) makes the cover of Paris-Match, a place where people follow the fertility rate the way Americans follow the Dow Jones Industrial Average and where a national celebration with distinctly racist overtones erupted last year when that fertility rate reached the stable-population point of 2.1 children per mother, making France the continental European leader in fecundity. Upon the loins of the Frenchwoman, the weight of a nation.

o counter this, Ms. Maier has used her little book to place a new word in the French vocabulary, a word that has entered the popular lingo in much the same way that "soccer mom" entered North American English in 1993 - and for the same reason, because it defines a new category of person who is instantly identifiable.

The word is merdeuf. French speakers recognize it instantly as a contraction of mère de famille, the traditional phrase for a full-time mother, a housewife, a woman who makes mothering her career. But the contraction turns it into something that sounds like a combination of merde and oeuf, carrying the implication that these patriotic mega-moms are "egg-shitters."

She explains: "It means, 'a woman who has children, so she no longer cares about anything else.' " With this word, the French image of the full-busted Baby-Bjorn soldier is transformed from Marianne, the patriotic ideal, into something more tragicomic, a victim of that patriotism.

The merdeuf has become a symbol for what Maier calls a France of "infantophilism." And the women in France carry the weight of a nation obsessed by its own maternalism. Maier's point is that women are not, and should not be, defined by their ability to have children. To contextualize this one needn't look any farther than French political rhetoric. Examining the last french election campaigns retrospectively, French politics did not seem to have any other understanding of women except as the crudely apt "egg-shitters" for a nation.

"I just say that when you are a woman, the fact of having children doesn't provide the meaning of your existence," she says. "So you can have a meaningful existence not having children. And of course you can have a meaningful existence having children."

It is, she says, a means of shattering a national delusion, one that is damaging the lives of women, preventing them from progressing in their careers, keeping them from being creative and intelligent. It is a feminist argument, though one also aimed at the "essentialist" feminists who believe that femininity and motherhood are the essential distinguishing characteristics of women.

Ms. Maier tends to agree with those French feminists who see the country's generous maternity-leave provisions (16 weeks at full-time pay) and its healthy cash payments for additional children (1,000 euros a month for each child after No. 2) as tools of oppression: By rewarding motherhood, the state is preventing the success of women, keeping them out of the work force, trapping them in a prison of domesticity. And allowing women to believe that children are the answer.

While I don't agree that maternity leave is a tool of oppression or that children destroy the liberty of the woman, I do agree that the ability to have children does not define a woman. As a woman whose father speaks of her legacy to him as if she were a womb alone, I think I understand Corinne's frustration. What Corinne misses is that it is a nation consumed by a patriarchy that supports capitalist notions of progress and feminine identity, which gives her her woes. I'm sure were she able to balance her desires with the needs of her children, she might paint a different picture-- though perhaps not. But, until the French nation is no longer a vestige of patriarchal notions of progress, and women cease to be the economic trump cards of a nation consumed by racism and sexism, I will not discredit her. Who wants to be an egg-shitter, or even the English equivalent a soccer mom? Blech. Not me.

I leave you with Mrs. Maier's verdict on children, which is eerily similar to one pronounced by one of my professors: "The child is a kind of vicious dwarf, of an innate cruelty."
Hmmm I don't like the future of reproduction--do you?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The F Word - Vancouver's Feminist Radio Show

Congratulations to Nicole and Alana from the Vancouver Feminist Action Project, who launched their new radio program 'The F Word' this Saturday! These fabulous radio hosts are going to be on Vancouver's Coop Radio 107.2 FM every week talking about feminist issues, playing great music by female artists and talking about feminist happenings around Vancouver.

The two were absolutely fabulous this weekend on their debut show and I should know! I was honoured to be their first guest and interview! What a great opportunity to take part in such a wonderful show and to also promote Antigone Magazine and CONNECT: A Woman's Networking Lunch on Friday, November 9th from 11:30-1:30 in UBC's SUB Ballroom. Thanks to the F-Word girls for the opportunity

Tune in here for more details about the day and time of their weekly radio show! These girls rock!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Women of Vancouver Unite!

I'm doing an interview with the lovely girls from the F-Word radio program today (a new initiative from the Vancouver feminist action project) on Vancouver Co-op Radio 102.7FM. For those who hear about CONNECT or Antigone Magazine from that appearance - here's some details about the lunch! We hope to see you there!
CONNECT: A Woman's Networking Lunch!
Friday, November 9th, 2007
UBC's Student Union Building Ballroom
Free to UBC student - $7 for the general public
to reserve your tickets today!

It's hard to believe that it's already been a year since Antigone first officially launched it's magazine... but indeed it has! Which means we need to celebrate and further our mandate of connecting young women with other women, women's groups and politicians who work for women's causes. That's why we're holding CONNECT: A Woman's Networking Lunch!

The lunch will bring together women and men of all ages who support women's causes. Primarily we will be targetting women's groups from across Vancouver, UBC students and politicians who support women's causes. We believe that it is crucially important to bring these groups together to help encourage collaboration and faciliatate the work that they are doing.

We still need tons of help with the event - so feel free to sign up to volunteer during the event, or help promote it!

Please forward this info on to any other people you might think would be interested in this great event!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Feminists Have More Fun... and More Stable Relationships.

For years people have been declaring that feminists are simply ugly women who can't get a date. Or they don't have any fun. Or 'insert negative stereotype of feminists here' This article in LiveScience tells us that feminists are actually more fun and more desirable. Read it and weep anti-feminists (Thanks to Jennifer for the link!):

Feminism boosts sexual satisfaction for both men and women, a new study suggests.
Busting stereotypes that peg feminists as men-haters, a new study shows that having a feminist partner is linked with healthier, more romantic heterosexual relationships.

The study, published online this week in the journal Sex Roles, relied on surveys of both college students and older adults, finding that women with egalitarian attitudes do find mates and men do find them attractive. In fact, results reveal they are having a good time, maybe a better time than the non-feminists.

Both men and women are prone to holding negative views of feminists, the authors say. Along with the sexually unattractive stereotype, some women also view feminism as a movement for victims, or for women who aren't competent enough to achieve success on their own merit, according to the Rutgers University researchers.
Psychologists Laurie Rudman and Julie Phelan carried out a laboratory survey of 242 Rutgers undergraduates and conducted an online survey of 289 older adults who had an average age of 26 and typically had been in their current relationship about four years.

Older adults have more life experience "and thus may be more likely to show an incompatibility between feminism and romantic relationships," Rudman and Phelan write. While younger females likely grew up with the attitude that "women can have it all," the researchers note older women may have come of age in the era following U.S. women's suffrage (1919) or during the women's movement that emerged in the 1960s.

The researchers looked at people's perception of their own feminism, their partner's feminism and whether they had positive views of feminists and career women. Other survey measures included overall relationship quality, agreement about gender equality, relationship stability and sexual satisfaction.

For example, relationship quality was measured with questions such as: How often do you and your partner laugh together? And how often do you and your partner quarrel? For stability measures, participants answered how often they considered terminating the relationship, as well as how often they thought their romantic relationship had a good future.

Among the findings:

College-age women who reported having feminist male partners also reported higher quality relationships that were more stable than couples involving non-feminist male partners.

College guys who were themselves feminists and had feminist partners reported more equality in their relationships.

Older women who perceived their male partners as feminists reported greater relationship health and sexual satisfaction.

Older men with feminist partners said they had more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction.

Overall, feminism and romance do go hand in hand, the scientists say.

While they aren't sure how feminism works to enhance relationship health, the researchers have some ideas. Feminist men might be more supportive of their female partner's ambitions than are traditionalists. Men with feminist partners may enjoy the extra breadwinner to share the economic burden of maintaining a household.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"We've come a long way, we've a long way to go"

In today's editorial of the Vancouver Sun, Shari Graydon reminds us that although women's causes have advanced greatly since the early 20th century, there is still a need for feminism. It is easy, for women as well as men, to take for granted the rights and possibilities afforded to women living under Western privilege. Graydon writes that perhaps, because of these privileges, we are "the kind of [women] who people point to as evidence that the women's movement is no longer necessary."

On paper, in law, women's equality has come a long way. But many women have yet to realize the same opportunities afforded me, and many inequities remain.

But, as Graydon also points out, it is crucial to remember that much of a woman's experience becoming a woman is still inherently dominated by exploitation and oppression; for example, the sexualization of young girls, violent crimes and the underrepresentation of women in politics. Obviously, I'm taking a very homogenized, Western view of women. This kind of a perspective is also indicative of the need for feminist analysis and discourse today -- we have to take into account women outside of Western feminist political discourse who may not be as privileged and incorporate their and our understanding of what it means to be a woman or political or a feminist (and at the same time allow these women their own political and historical agency). But for now, Graydon makes some good points about the sort of changes Canada still needs to consider. The anniversary of the Persons case in Canada celebrates the historical advancement of women's rights in North America but also serves as a reminder of what still needs to be done.

We'd like the picture of Canadian power to look more like us, in all our diversity...When women are educated, given genuine choice around child rearing and employment, treated with respect, paid fairly and protected from violence, the entire society benefits. We all have a vested interest in making it happen.

Trump knows beauty when he sees it.... on stage of his corporate owned beauty pageant

Donald Trump has caught entertainment headlines today by claiming that George Clooney is "short" and Angelina Jolie is "no great beauty." Although I'm sure there are those out there willing to disagree (especially Brad Pitt) this statement was not what caught my feminist eye. What took me aback was not the assertions he made, but the rationale he uses to justify them. Rather than rely on the explanation of subjective opinion (which 99.9% of the population uses) he states the following:

"I do own Miss Universe. I do own Miss USA. I mean I own a lot of different things. I do understand beauty, and she's [Angelina Jolie's] not."

Thanks for explaining that, Mr. Trump. I may have confused 'understanding' with previous knowledge, intelligence or careful thought. However, Mr. Trump is quite explicit in equating understanding with ownership. And ownership of one of the most derogatory programs on TV today. Mr. Trump himself is not present at these pageants, he does not judge the 'beauties' and he does not set the criteria for qualification into the pageant in the first place. But he (or at least his giant corporation) owns the pageant, and therefore that makes him an expert on beauty.

I understand that this is most likely a drumming of a publicity for the flailing Miss. America and Miss. USA 'scholarship competitions'. However, at the end of the day, a man like Mr. Trump can stand up and declare beauty to be his realm (and a narrow, white, tall realm it is) due to the money he possesses; the money that entitles him the 'ownership' to these women's bodies and beauty.

Women Honoured by Governor General for Carrying on Work of Famous Five....

Six women are being honoured today by Governor General Michaelle Jean for carrying on the work that the 'Famous Five' did to make 'persons' in Canada.The governor-general's awards commemorate the Persons Case of 1929, in which five Alberta women - Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Nellie McClung - won the right for women to be recognized as persons and, from then on, eligible to sit in the Senate. Here's the info from the GG's press release...

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada, will present the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case to six women during a ceremony to be held at Rideau Hall, on Wednesday, October 17, 2007, at 10 a.m.

These awards salute the contribution of Canadian women to the advancement of women's equality and celebrate Canada's evolution as an inclusive society. With the support of former Governor General Edward Schreyer, the awards were instituted by the Government of Canada in 1979 to honour the 50th anniversary of the Persons Case and the five Albertan women whose determination led to a landmark victory in the struggle of Canadian women for equality.

The 2007 recipients are:

Mildred Burns, Montreal, Quebec

Shari Graydon, Kingston, Ontario

Elaine Hemond, Quebec, Quebec

Wendy Robbins, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Muriel Smith, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Viviana Astudillo-Clavijo (Youth Award) Toronto, Ontario


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Antigone Magazine Awards an 'In Need of Enlightenment' Award to NDP Candidate...

I'm excited to announce that Antigone Magazine's inaugural 'In Need of Enlightenment' Award will be going to NDP candidate Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, featured yesterday on the blog for his sexist remarks about women and politics! The award, sponsored by Ayesha Laher, will include a one-year subscription to Antigone Magazine's print publication.

The award is not meant to embarrass any of the recipients, but rather to be a suggestion to them that perhaps they do not entirely understand the struggles that women, and particularly women in politics, are going through. By providing the recipients with a subscription to Antigone Magazine we are encouraging them to inform themselves about women's issues and to work with us to help make a difference for women in the future.

We encourage nominations for future 'In Need of Enlightenment' Awards to be sent to We also encourage you to support the program by sponsoring subscriptions. Subscriptions to the magazine are $12 and cheques can be sent to:

Antigone Magazine
Box 61
6138 SUB Boulevard
Vancouver, BC
V6T 1Z1

Please be sure to specify that they are for the 'In Need of Enlightenment' program.

Monday, October 15, 2007

NDP Candidate Makes Sexist Remarks about Women in Politics...

When I finished reading this article written by Abbottsford's NDP candidate, Jeffrey Hansen-Carlson, I had to take a moment to breathe. It surprises me how much some people just don't get it. It equally surprises me how willing such people are to put their ignorance into print - especially when they seem quite interested in entering the political realm - under the banner of the women-friendly NDP no less!

But let me put aside discussion about the political viability of Hansen-Carlson's move and analyze what he actually said. He doesn't start off well....

Feminists do more than confuse me - they tick me off.

I am a white male with blonde hair and blue eyes; I suppose it is possible that I could not even begin to understand where feminists are coming from.

But it is sure clear where they want to go.

Apparently, Hansen-Carlson is far more versed in feminist ideologies and desires than I am, because last I checked all feminists didn't want the same thing, nor could they be lumped into one mass movement.

But then what do I know... I'm just an ardent feminist who has been working for women's causes for over 5 years, who founded a magazine about women and politics and who has actually interviewed and talked with women who have been involved in politics (Anne McLellan included). Perhaps he is right when he says that as a white male he doesn't understand 'feminists' at all?

Anne McLellan, a previous Liberal MP, came to Abbotsford last week to breath new life into the Abbotsford Liberal organization. She is an accomplished politician by any measure and this is not because she is a woman.

A fact of the matter is that 52 per cent of Canadians are women while only 21 percent of parliamentarians are female. Sure, a little off-balance, but not warranting a feminist outcry with a man-hating undertone, if you were to ask me.

I can't help but be struck by Hansen-Carlson's emphasis on the need to 'breathe new life' into the Abbotsford Liberal organization. If one recalls the last election, one will note that it was Hansen-Carlson who decimated the Liberal candidate's David Oliver's chances by accusing him of election fraud, a claim which Elections Canada later rejected, prompting both the NDP and Hansen-Carlson to issue this apology and Oliver to file a defamation suit.

But this is besides the point - let's look at his comments about Anne McLellan. Are we to assume that Anne McLellan being a woman had nothing to do with her success as a politician? What I mean is, did Ms. McLellan magically discard her gender when entering office and displace everything that growing up and living as a woman taught her? Isn't 'Anne McLellan' the politician and person inextricably tied up with her identity as a female - so that if she succeeds it is necessarily, at least in some part, because she's a woman?

But Hansen-Carlsen is not trying to get into a metaphysical debate about the nature of identity - what he means is that Anne didn't succeed 'just' because she's female! Because we all know that most women who succeed do so, not because they have the qualifications for the job, but because someone is trying to fill a 'woman' quota.

Ironically, Hansen-Carlson demonstrates in this paragraph why women like McLellan want some sort of quota for women in politics in the first place. After all, no matter how hard women work there will always be those people who think that women are just being promoted as tokens or who believe that one only needs token women in politics.

Indeed, Hansen-Carlson's 52-21 statistics hides the problem. And the fact that 79% (!) of our politicians are men is a bit of a problem. But that's just a 'little off-balance' so it's nothing for 'man-hating' feminists like myself to worry about, is it? I'm so impressed how Hansen-Carlson can simultaneously discount the gender imbalance in politics and perpetuate the very off base idea that feminists hate men. But I guess I should just take another deep breath and move on:

I appreciate the historical struggles that women have overcome. Male leaders in Ottawa are keen to carry out life alongside educated, powerful, influential and visionary women, like Anne McLellan. But what they are not keen to do is to pretend that, by virtue of sex, women are educated, powerful, influential, and visionary.

Wow. There's just so much in this paragraph to chew on... and it all tastes awful. First, let's emphasize Hansen-Carlson's reference to women's struggles as 'historical' and his use of past tense when he talks about women overcoming these struggles. Because, of course, a woman living in our 'enlightened' modern age has no barriers or struggles. Women are liberated so what are the feminists complaining about? I'm so glad that men like Hansen-Carlson who have such a firm grasp on what it's like to be a woman today are running for office so that they can represent our concerns and issues.

I'm also glad that Hansen-Carlson points out that male leaders in Ottawa are 'keen' to work with 'educated, powerful, influential and visionary' women. How kind of these men to be so keen as to 'allow' women to work with them! Too bad some of them define educated, powerful, influential and visionary in a male-centered way that excludes many very accomplished and talented women who would make wonderful politicians. But then isn't there only one definition of these traits? Well, Hansen-Carlson seems to think so.

I would also like to challenge Hansen-Carlson's idea that politics is a realm in which the most 'talented' candidate should win. I don't mean to suggest that one should elect a candidate who is talentless but what I want to emphasize is that our politicians shape the policies of our country and these policies are applied to people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. In order to properly represent the interests of these diverse populations... don't you think one should actually give these populations a voice?

What I mean by this is that, try as we might, there are certain ways in which a white man like Hansen-Carlson or a white woman like myself cannot entirely understand the interests and experiences of a Muslim immigrant in Canada. Neither of us have lived that person's experience and although a good politicians attempts to speak for all of their constituents, there are some facets of one's constituents' experience that one will never truly be able to understand or speak for.

I'm sure a Muslim immigrant to Canada might feel just as alienated as many of the women I have spoken with did when watching a bunch of white men debate abortion in the House of Commons. But this alienation is besides the point in Hansen-Carlson's parliament. After all, he is the type of person who would write something like this:

One per cent of the Canadian population describes themselves as homosexual; 25 per cent are non-white, 55 per cent own dogs and 17 per cent smoke dope. Do we need to draft policy to ensure these quotas in the House of Commons are full, too?

I am certain our quota of homosexual, non-white, dog-owning and dope-smoking politicians is full, but the underlying lack of common sense remains unchanged.

It will never stop.

Because being a woman, living as a woman and experiencing discrimination as a woman is comparable to the experience of owning a dog or smoking dope. And yes, I do happen to think that a parliament SHOULD have homosexuals in it in order to represent their voices and their issues. Perhaps a truly equitable parliament should also have transgender or transsexual... or even intersex people in it (whom Hansen-Carlson calls by the outdated term 'hermaphrodites')? But then... who cares about them, right? Definitely not people like Hansen-Carlson. Shouldn't we all be so glad that educated, powerful, influential and visionary people like him are running for political office!?

Each [party] has stopped short of something that would resemble Ann McLellan's ambition.

Each party provides equal opportunity, an environment where a capable woman is given all the options available to a capable man.

This is enough.

Anyone - male or female - that wades into this debate beyond agreeing we need good politicians is missing the point.


We have no need for a fulfilled quota of women in the House of Commons if the only thing that brought them there was politically motivated cowgirl.

Here is where the women who are promoting the quota system disagree with Hansen-Carlson entirely. Indeed, to claim that each party provides equal opportunity to capable men and women is to miss the point. If you look at research into women and politics, men are asked by parties to run more than women are... and because of the way in which women are raised and socialized, women actually usually need to be asked to run more times than men do before they will agree to do it.

Why is that? Well, it's definitely not because they aren't 'qualified' for the position. It's because of a lot of things... because women in our society are expected to take on more of the burden of care for children and the elderly, because women aren't taught to take leadership positions or to be comfortable in them, because women have more difficulty in raising campaign funds, because women see the way the media treats female politicians and do not want to be treated in that way, and the list goes on...

But Hansen-Carlson isn't concerned about any of these things. He apparently lives in a vacuum in which society has no bearing on women's lives or decisions and where if women were only 'capable' enough there would be more of them in the House of Commons!

Silly 'cowgirls' like Anne McLellan should just accept the fact that others of her gender are inherently 'incapable' and that she just happens to be a 'capable' exception to the 'women' rule. After all, the motivation behind instituting quotas isn't to have more competent women included in the political discussion who are currently being unjustly excluded... but rather just to get more women in parliament who just can't otherwise cut it against their more capable male peers.

Now, none of this is to say that I even agree with a quota system. However, I must say the more I read about people like Hansen-Carlson, the more I realize where women who advocate for quotas are coming from. There are, after all, some people who refuse to believe that, with the exception of a few stand-outs, women are qualified for politics.

All I know is that if I were a woman in Abbottsford, I would refuse to vote for or work on the campaign of a man like the lovely Hansen-Carlson unless he changed his tune entirely and issued an apology for the trash that he has written. But then... I'm probably one of those 'man-hating feminists' so I'm sure my opinion isn't very valuable.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Pakistan tries to get more women involved in politics...

Pakistan has been making and effort to try to get women involved in politics. They will be holding a two-day national convention on the 'Role of women in politics'. Unfortunately, this takes place after the general election and so will not help more women get elected this time out. It is however always good when a country recognizes that women are important to the success of their legislatures.

Ministry of Women’s Development (MoWD) is planning to hold a two-day national convention on ‘Role of women in politics’ after the general elections to increase women participation in the political system of the country.

An official of the ministry while talking to Daily Times said women were lagging behind in almost every field of life and their increased representation in politics would help them empower at every level. We are planning to invite women representatives from all over the country to guide them to strengthen their role in politics, he said.

He said in current political situation role of every strata of society was evident except the women.“Women’s representation in the parliament should not be only a formality but they should have a role in decision-making,” said the official. He said five to 10 representatives of women from each province and some from the federal area would be invited to the convention and successful women would deliver lectures to them

He said, “The convention is aimed at making the women aware that they are more than 50 percent of the population and have an equal right to participate in politics.” The official said the convention was scheduled for this month but was delayed due to the current political turmoil in the country.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ontario Elects Record Number of Women....

Ontario has a newly elected provincial parliament and it turns out that they have elected more women than ever before. In the new legislature, there will be 30 women politicians out of 107 seats. That means women represent 28% of politicians in the legislature. Okay, so it's still pretty sad that we can't even get to 30% in Ontario... but we must celebrate even the small victories that women make because they are the result of a lot of work!

TORONTO - More women than ever were elected to Ontario's legislature Wednesday, but female politicians and advocates say there are still plenty of obstacles left to equality of the sexes in politics.

In the last legislative session, 26 of the 103 seats were held by women, but after Wednesday's vote, at least three more females will be headed for the legislature - putting the total at 30 of 107 seats.

"I think it's just wonderful," said Rosemary Speirs, past chairwoman of Equal Voice, a lobby group dedicated to expanding the number of women in politics.

"I think it means that our challenge to the party leaders to nominate more women seems to have worked."

Each of the three major parties ran more female candidates during this campaign, with the Liberal party registering the largest increase - 38 compared to 23 in 2003.

The Progressive Conservatives ran 24 female candidates this year, three more than it did in 2003, while 42 women ran for the NDP compared with 34 in the previous election campaign.

There is now at least 28 per cent female representation in the legislature, however that percentage is lower than the national parliaments of Rwanda, Peru and Macedonia, but higher than Canada's federal Parliament.

"I'd like to see one-third as a starting point," Speirs said.

"One-third is generally considered the critical mass, where women's voices really have to be heard and headed. We were hoping to reach that this time."

Women in politics admit their jobs are demanding, but insist a few tweaks to the traditional domestic lifestyle make it possible to balance the job they love with family life.

"It is really fulfilling," said Andrea Horwath, the NDP candidate for Hamilton Centre who has represented her riding since her byelection win in 2004.

"My three years at the legislature have really shown me that it's extremely important to have the voices of the women there.

"I'm not saying we're better than our male counterparts but we certainly bring a perspective and a way of doing things that's different."

Women, Politics and the Internet

I thought it would be a good idea to post about this article about women, politics and the internet in the New York Times... if only because this blog contradicts the idea that women are not involved in talking about politics on the internet. So, what did the article say? And do you believe that it's true?

As we all know, for the first time in the nation’s history, a woman, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, has a real shot at becoming president. She is banking on the idea that women will come out for her in droves. And like most of this year’s presidential candidates, she’s putting time and money into an Internet strategy.

But those two things aren’t necessarily connected. That is, she’s going after women in several ways (house parties, for example). But her Internet strategy is more about having an aggressive, up-to-the-minute, informative Web site, building a presence on YouTube and MySpace, and keeping a hand in the comments sections of mainstream political blogs.

We know that women slightly outnumber men online. But at least anecdotally, it seems as if more men are on the political blogs, writing specifically about politics, reading about politics and putting in their two cents in the comments sections. Did you notice how many more men compared to women submitted videos for the Democratic YouTube debate in July? The pool of videos for the upcoming Republican YouTube debate is similarly stocked with more men.

If the campaigns are trying to reach women-- and they all should be, since more women than men vote and they could determine who gets elected -- are they looking for them in the right ways, in the right places?

I asked our readers if they thought more men were engaged online in politics than women, and if so, why.

Many said yes, guessing that perhaps twice as many men as women, maybe even three times as many men are involved, at least on the traditional politics-oriented sites.

First, I think that women engage in politics online in different ways. Many read activist blogs that highlight certain subjects that are of concern to them, instead of reading partisan political blogs. Here's what the Times readers thought...

As for why, readers offered lots of reasons, including this newsflash: women are just too busy, often with the household chores that men choose to ignore in favor of going on the computer.

I especially liked this post from Joyce, who described herself as someone who thinks seriously about politics, reads editorials and watches the televised debates:

“More men spend time on computers arguing when there is no football or other organized mayhem to watch on T.V. while the ‘little woman’ is looking after the children, preparing dinner, getting her clothes ready to go to work tomorrow, etc.”

She added: “Women realize posting doesn’t change a thing, so we spend our time more usefully.” Besides, she said of posting, “nobody really bothers to read to the bottom of the posts” and the posts are often redundant.

(Don’t despair, Joyce; we’re reading.)

Other thoughts from readers:
* For men, elections are like sports and they love the horse race. C Ray (gender unknown) put it this way: “I think men are more interested in the competitive nature of the election. It’s like a sport — who will win or lose, who has the best strategy, who is on offense, who is on defense? Men are interested more in the minutiae of the game.” He/she added: “I think women could care less and are more focused on the big picture.”

* Men “like to show off more, like to force quasi-muscular opinions more on the unseen multitudes that they think are eager to hear them, want recognition more,” wrote another reader.

* Many readers note, sadly, that if a woman makes her opinion known, she opens herself up to abuse, thanks to the anonymity and rancor of the blogosphere. One poster who said she is a woman said she posts under fake male names because women “are routinely attacked.” (Along these lines, Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University and a blogger, reminded us about the recent coming out of Digby, a highly respected progressive political blogger whom many had assumed was a man but turned out to be a woman.)

* Abe asked this: “Is it women who aren’t interested in politics or politics that isn’t interested in women?”

* Men and women communicate differently. Sarah writes: “This is a generalization, of course, but much has been written about how men tend toward more problem-solving and direct point-to-point repartee whereas women like to sit down and discuss more details and come to consensus.”

* Do yourself a favor and take a look at post #34 (so good it was duplicated as #41) from “a woman on the inside.” She says that men are not online more than women, they are just louder and more likely link to one another “and build up an echo chamber that reinforces their dominance.” Women tend to work more behind the scenes, she says, and she urges us “to look beyond the incestuous political blogosphere” to local blogs and the so-called mommy blogs. She refers to a number of sites with female voices.

“Woman on the inside” is exactly right. When we started out trying to measure the degree to which women were visible in online politics, we were looking in the wrong places.

For further guidance, I contacted a couple of noted female bloggers _ Morra Aarons, the political director for, and Emily McKhann, a highly respected blogger who is a co-founder of The Motherhood and who was recently credentialed to cover former President Bill Clinton’s Global Climate Initiative.

They echoed what some of our posters said _ mainly that women were re-defining politics online, away from conventional male-dominated sites that were obsessed with the horse race and toward sites that wove politics into the fabric of women’s lives. This is an important distinction, and you have to wonder if the campaigns, most of whose Internet strategies are driven by men, get it.

“Campaigns approach women bloggers on the soft issues, like health care,” Ms. Aarons said. “Let them bring the foreign policy debate to the big mommy blogs, which get tons of traffic.”

Standard political blogs are “in-the-weeds stuff, for political junkies,” she said. Women are more comfortable when they can share mutual interests, which is why parenting networks and mommy blogs are so popular. Many are filled with politics, just not in the same old way.

For Ms. Aarons, this raises an age-old question: Can women be taken seriously as analysts if they are not part of the boys’ club? If their own club is separate, can it be equal? held a conference this summer with guest speaker Elizabeth Edwards, a revered figure in the blogosphere. But it drew almost no attention from the mainstream media, much of which later gathered for the better known (male-dominated) YearlyKos convention (which also attracted almost all the Democratic candidates).

For Ms. McKhann, what is happening in the bifurcated blogosphere simply underscores the old saw, “the personal is the political.” The smartest candidates, she said, are those who take seriously the “kitchen-table politics” that “unfold every day on the mom blogs and Web sites.”

“If we’re talking about car pool, what’s for dinner and the war in Iraq all in the same breath, it’s still politics on the blogs and across the Web,” she wrote by e-mail.
Obviously this topic is rich. We have to leave it for now, but you can continue to add your thoughts here. Tell us the sites where you pick up political chatter, even _ especially _ if that site is not devoted to such. When we next appear in this space in a couple of weeks, we’ll look at this subject from the perspective of some of the presidential campaigns.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Rape as a Tactic of War in the Congo

Jeffery Gettlemen with the New York Times has a great article that probes into the problem of rape being used as a tactic of war in the Congo and how this has left women in the reason physically and psychologically devastated. It has also apparently had a negative impact on how women are treated in general. The whole story is enough to bring you to tears. I don't think I need to say anything else.

BUKAVU, Congo — Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore.

Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.

“We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”

Eastern Congo is going through another one of its convulsions of violence, and this time it seems that women are being systematically attacked on a scale never before seen here. According to the United Nations, 27,000 sexual assaults were reported in 2006 in South Kivu Province alone, and that may be just a fraction of the total number across the country.

“The sexual violence in Congo is the worst in the world,” said John Holmes, the United Nations under secretary general for humanitarian affairs. “The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity — it’s appalling.”

The days of chaos in Congo were supposed to be over. Last year, this country of 66 million people held a historic election that cost $500 million and was intended to end Congo’s various wars and rebellions and its tradition of epically bad government.

But the elections have not unified the country or significantly strengthened the Congolese government’s hand to deal with renegade forces, many of them from outside the country. The justice system and the military still barely function, and United Nations officials say Congolese government troops are among the worst offenders when it comes to rape. Large swaths of the country, especially in the east, remain authority-free zones where civilians are at the mercy of heavily armed groups who have made warfare a livelihood and survive by raiding villages and abducting women for ransom.

According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way.
United Nations officials said the so-called Rastas were once part of the Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994, but now it seems they have split off on their own and specialize in freelance cruelty.

Honorata Barinjibanwa, an 18-year-old woman with high cheekbones and downcast eyes, said she was kidnapped from a village that the Rastas raided in April and kept as a sex slave until August. Most of that time she was tied to a tree, and she still has rope marks ringing her delicate neck. The men would untie her for a few hours each day to gang-rape her, she said.

“I’m weak, I’m angry, and I don’t know how to restart my life,” she said from Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, where she was taken after her captors freed her.
She is also pregnant.

While rape has always been a weapon of war, researchers say they fear that Congo’s problem has metastasized into a wider social phenomenon.

“It’s gone beyond the conflict,” said Alexandra Bilak, who has studied various armed groups around Bukavu, on the shores of Lake Kivu. She said that the number of women abused and even killed by their husbands seemed to be going up and that brutality toward women had become “almost normal.”

Malteser International, a European aid organization that runs health clinics in eastern Congo, estimates that it will treat 8,000 sexual violence cases this year, compared with 6,338 last year. The organization said that in one town, Shabunda, 70 percent of the women reported being sexually brutalized.

At Panzi Hospital, where Dr. Mukwege performs as many as six rape-related surgeries a day, bed after bed is filled with women lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling, with colostomy bags hanging next to them because of all the internal damage.
“I still have pain and feel chills,” said Kasindi Wabulasa, a patient who was raped in February by five men. The men held an AK-47 rifle to her husband’s chest and made him watch, telling him that if he closed his eyes, they would shoot him. When they were finished, Ms. Wabulasa said, they shot him anyway.

In almost all the reported cases, the culprits are described as young men with guns, and in the deceptively beautiful hills here, there is no shortage of them: poorly paid and often mutinous government soldiers; homegrown militias called the Mai-Mai who slick themselves with oil before marching into battle; members of paramilitary groups originally from Uganda and Rwanda who have destabilized this area over the past 10 years in a quest for gold and all the other riches that can be extracted from Congo’s exploited soil.

The attacks go on despite the presence of the largest United Nations peacekeeping force in the world, with more than 17,000 troops.
Few seem to be spared. Dr. Mukwege said his oldest patient was 75, his youngest 3.

“Some of these girls whose insides have been destroyed are so young that they don’t understand what happened to them,” Dr. Mukwege said. “They ask me if they will ever be able to have children, and it’s hard to look into their eyes.”
No one — doctors, aid workers, Congolese and Western researchers — can explain exactly why this is happening.

“That is the question,” said André Bourque, a Canadian consultant who works with aid groups in eastern Congo. “Sexual violence in Congo reaches a level never reached anywhere else. It is even worse than in Rwanda during the genocide.”
Impunity may be a contributing factor, Mr. Bourque added, saying that very few of the culprits are punished.

Many Congolese aid workers denied that the problem was cultural and insisted that the widespread rapes were not the product of something ingrained in the way men treated women in Congolese society. “If that were the case, this would have showed up long ago,” said Wilhelmine Ntakebuka, who coordinates a sexual violence program in Bukavu.

Instead, she said, the epidemic of rapes seems to have started in the mid-1990s. That coincides with the waves of Hutu militiamen who escaped into Congo’s forests after exterminating 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during Rwanda’s genocide 13 years ago.

Mr. Holmes said that while government troops might have raped thousands of women, the most vicious attacks had been carried out by Hutu militias.

“These are people who were involved with the genocide and have been psychologically destroyed by it,” he said.

Mr. Bourque called this phenomenon “reversed values” and said it could develop in heavily traumatized areas that had been steeped in conflict for many years, like eastern Congo.

This place, one of the greenest, hilliest and most scenic slices of central Africa, continues to reverberate from the aftershocks of the genocide next door. Take the recent fighting near Bukavu between the Congolese Army and Laurent Nkunda, a dissident general who commands a formidable rebel force. Mr. Nkunda is a Congolese Tutsi who has accused the Congolese Army of supporting Hutu militias, which the army denies. Mr. Nkunda says his rebel force is simply protecting Tutsi civilians from being victimized again.

But his men may be no better.

Willermine Mulihano said she was raped twice — first by Hutu militiamen two years ago and then by Nkunda soldiers in July. Two soldiers held her legs apart, while three others took turns violating her.

“When I think about what happened,” she said, “I feel anxious and brokenhearted.”
She is also lonely. Her husband divorced her after the first rape, saying she was diseased.

In some cases, the attacks are on civilians already caught in the cross-fire between warring groups. In one village near Bukavu where 27 women were raped and 18 civilians killed in May, the attackers left behind a note in broken Swahili telling the villagers that the violence would go on as long as government troops were in the area.

The United Nations peacekeepers here seem to be stepping up efforts to protect women.

Recently, they initiated what they call “night flashes,” in which three truckloads of peacekeepers drive into the bush and keep their headlights on all night as a signal to both civilians and armed groups that the peacekeepers are there. Sometimes, when morning comes, 3,000 villagers are curled up on the ground around them.

But the problem seems bigger than the resources currently devoted to it.
Panzi Hospital has 350 beds, and though a new ward is being built specifically for rape victims, the hospital sends women back to their villages before they have fully recovered because it needs space for the never-ending stream of new arrivals.
Dr. Mukwege, 52, said he remembered the days when Bukavu was known for its stunning lake views and nearby national parks, like Kahuzi-Biega.

“There used to be a lot of gorillas in there,” he said. “But now they’ve been replaced by much more savage beasts.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Having Women on Boards of Directors Makes Companies More Profitable has a fabulous article about how companies that have more women on their boards of directors are actually more profitable. Apparently, having a diversity of voices around the table is actually beneficial in improving the performance of the company. Women are still a minority though on boards, holding only 14.6% of board positions of Fortune 500 companies. Perhaps studies like these will help these companies increase their diversity? Once can only hope.

Having women well represented in the corporate boardroom can help improve financial performance, according to a new study by a group that promotes women in executive roles.

Catalyst, a non-profit organization focused on women in the workplace, released a report today showing that big companies with the greatest number of female board members on average have significantly better financial performance than those with fewer women.

The report looked at financial results, such as return on equity, at the 500 largest U.S. corporations. Those with at least three female directors had notably stronger financial performance, on average, the study found.

The results suggest that "diversity, well managed, produces better results" for companies, said Catalyst President Ilene Lang.

"Bringing women on their boards to represent the stakeholders really gives them a better company and better performance," Lang said. The correlation was found throughout an array of industries, she said.

The study looked at three financial measures -- return on equity, return on sales and return on invested capital -- at companies in the Fortune 500 over the 2001-to-2004 period.

Those years were chosen because they were part of a financial recovery period after significant stock-market turmoil.

In return on equity, on average, companies with the highest percentages of female board members outperformed those with the least by 53%, the study found.

In return on sales, the companies with more female board directors outperformed by 42% on average and in return on invested capital, by 66%, Catalyst said.

The group said it chose these three benchmarks, rather than things such as earnings or stock-price movement, to try to best track how a company performed financially.

Because of movement in and out of the Fortune 500, there were 520 companies in the analysis. Several academic experts worked with Catalyst researchers to compile the report.

Females are still a small minority in the boardroom, holding 14.6% of Fortune 500 board seats in 2006, down slightly from 14.7% in 2005, according to earlier research from Catalyst.

If the pace continues, it would take about 73 years for females to be equally represented on boards, the group projects.

Myrtle Potter, a director at (AMZN.O) and FoxHollow Technologies (FOXH.O) who was not involved in the preparation of the new study but reviewed the results, said the data showed women board members can have a major impact.

"I have believed all along that having different voices around the table makes a difference," she said. "It just goes to show that there is still a need for greater diversity on boards at publicly traded companies."

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ottawa was Amazing...

Well, my conference in Ottawa was pretty fantastic! As you can see, my panel was made up of some fascinating and truly accomplished women. From left to right you have political scientist Emmanuelle Hebert, former federal Minister Jean Augustine, and Equal Voice Founder Rosemary Speirs. In the picture below you'll see human rights lawyer Marilou McPhedran, former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and Rosemary again!

The panel was such a fabulous experience. It was great to hear about these women's experiences in politics or the political arena and their ideas about why women are not involved. We talked a lot about how female politicians are treated in the media during the session, and how female candidates often have to be asked more than men to run, but are actually asked less. There was a lot of other interesting territory covered but I'm not going to divulge it just yet!

Being the committed editor that I am, I took my tape recorder with me to Ottawa and managed to interview (or set up times to interview) all of these women. Boy are their stories interesting. Wanna hear about them? Well, you're just going to have to read the next issues of Antigone!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Waiting On Choice

Just a quick note to point you all in the direction of an article today in the Globe and Mail on abortion wait times in Ottawa.

The interesting thing that arises from this article, for me, is the lack of attention given to either side of the debate; it just isn't talked about anymore. Does this mean that abortion is any more 'acceptable' than it was in 1988? I don't think so, no. I do think, however, that the lack of attention is actually a way of counteracting the positive gains made by pro-choice groups to make safe and legal abortions a reality for all women.

The main problem in Ottawa is money and time - specifically, operating room time. Doctors are willing to perform abortions, but the OR schedule is packed and there aren't enough nurses and anesthetists to go around.

The push to reduce wait times overall has actually made things worse, experts say, because the province's priority areas, such as joint replacement and eye surgery, take operating room time away from everything else, including abortion.

"The Ontario government has begun extra funding [for those priorities] but there aren't any more nurses or anesthetists, so that means other things have to be decreased," says the Ottawa abortion provider.

For example, she says, the hospital has cancelled six abortion clinic days per year - which adds up to about 120 abortions - to give more operating room time to orthopedics.

"It's insane that no more funds are given by the provincial government for abortion services," Ms. LaRue says.

The provincial government pointed the finger at local health authorities, noting that overall funding has increased for both the Ottawa Hospital and the Morgentaler clinic in recent years.

The abortion wait time is a local problem, a health ministry spokesman said.

"We do not track wait times for abortions," said A.G. Klei, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Health.

I find it distressing that as funding for other surgical procedures increases nothing is done by the government to counterbalance the resources which are siphoned off from other surgical domains. This applies to surgeries other than abortion. However, that a hospital should need to offload its extra procedures to an already overloaded private clinic does not bode well for the state of abortion funding in Canada.

One rare thing activists on both side of the issue agree on: The Canadian public doesn't think much about abortion any more.

Anti-abortion activists decry the lack of attention to their issues. "Why aren't we looking for a way to support these women and help them in their pregnancies?" asks Joanne Byfield, president of LifeCanada.

Pro-choice supporters, meanwhile, say they're struggling to lessen the stigma of abortion and bring access issues to light. "I have not figured out how to say this so people grasp what is happening and how unfair it is," Ms. Wright says.

For now, abortion wait time is an issue that's confined to the shadows.

Women who need abortions are reluctant to speak out publicly, and few people are willing to stand up for a silent, stigmatized constituency.

"They know women will never complain," Ms. Wright says. "Not about this."

As this journalist observes those who need abortions are not in a place of rhetorical power--indeed they are a marginalized "constituency."
Abortion is one of those things that we cannot wait on; it must be talked about--regardless of your ideological opinions on the issue, ignoring it isn't safe for anyone...