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A sequence of human rights films last week at the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival Yangon  brought together my past life in Egypt and my current one in Burma.

A Myanmar film about a whistle campaign to prevent harassment against women in the Myanmar buses. The audience howled with laughter as men picked up whistles, desperate to also receive a free gift. One women said harassment was much better now, because of the whistle, we wondered?

“No” she replies, “because now I am old the men no longer want to harass me.”

“The men want to touch everyone”, says another woman , “so I am grateful for this campaign.”

The film seemed to go full circle as while in Egypt last year the grassroots campaign against sexual harassment by Harassmap and others was going strong. Myanmar has not had the same bad press as Egypt for its sexual harassment and violation of women’s rights, but there is an underlying problem here and dealing with sexual harassment will just be the first hurdle. (For more posts on sexual harassment see here and here).

The other film Back to the Square, brought us to the streets of Cairo themselves through the lens of Petr Lom. An in-depth and interesting documentary which explores the abuses of the Egyptian military authorities since 2011 through the stories of 5 different Egyptians. The film shows the continued corruption and abuse of authorities by the military and police through individual cases, highlighting current injustices but also the energy, defiance and humour which marks the Egyptian character.

Egypt might seem very far in distance and culture from the streets of Yangon, but the Burmese audience reacted audibly to the images of Egypt. They laughed out loud as the police officers spoke of the fairness of their system and gasped at the images of torture, manipulation and abuse. Whilst laughing as a police officer attempted to charm the camera with his version of good practice and justice, my neighbour excitedly whispered to me:

“It is just like our country.”

This moment highlighted the human nature of justice and the common understanding of abuse by authorities as wrong. Though they are worlds apart these people are tied by similar experiences and similar anger at their powerless in the face of such abuse. We so often debate the cultural nature of human rights, yet human moments like these remind us that justice its is broadest sense is something that we all hold strongly within us, whatever our cultural background.


A new month, a new round-up of rights news from around the world. In addition as I am just starting a new job in South East Asia the regional focus will expand a little to reflect interesting new resources I discover here in the course of my work.

Firstly, an interesting short piece in the IHT on the situation of women in Myanmar. The author Didi Kirsten Tatlow highlights some of the major issues being addressed in terms of gender. She reports on “very active” women’s groups taking advantage of the new political liberalisation. She highlights legislative need such as the preparation of a law on domestic violence. Also interestingly she highlights a role for women as peace-keepers in the communities affected by war, such as the current violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities. She also states that a more general survey of women in the country to understand better there status and role in this society. I look forward to seeing the results of some of these interesting ideas.

Secondly, a piece in 500 Words Magazine, a magazine publishing essays on Sudan through the words of the Sudanese Youth. I particularly like this piece
Why Breakfast should be banned in Sudan which recounts in an amusing way the problem of inefficiency in Sudan’s working culture. Another nice piece is What we used to be and what we are now which reflects on the changes in Sudan since his childhood and discusses the responsibilities of the youth of today in addressing development.

Finally, a compelling look at sexual harrassment and sexual violence around the world by the Fair Observer. These selection f articles compare and contrast the issue of assuring safety for women in their day to day lives in a number of different contexts, from implementing laws in post-conflict DRC to combatting traditional values in post-revolution Egypt, to creating safe public spaces in Latin America. to the difference class can make in protecting women from violence in India. All the articles highlight a common idea of women being perceived a certain way by society, requiring certain special treatments or being required to limit themselves to certain feminine behaviour or actions.

The origins of these ideas are very nicely highlighted by the South African contribution, an interview with Bernadette Muthien. She states:

(l)et’s just try to understand how the violence works: Gender based violence obviously occurs based on gender and the root cause of all violence we would argue is patriarchy. It precedes all the economic systems we know today … And patriarchy has been around for thousands of years … What patriarchy does is it uses violence in general to control people and gender based violence specifically to control people. This can be seen by looking at child rape and child sexual abuse. When a child is raped, then that person is marked by that rape for the rest of their lives. Sometimes they themselves become perpetrators. In other words, if you rape a child, you have that person incapacitated for almost the rest of their lives. It can become an incredibly powerful source of control, and then you have an automatic cyclic existence of rape: generation after generation gets raped. I become a parent, I rape my child – it perpetuates itself and the mechanisms of control become almost unconscious. It is a system to maintain control over people, and women in particular.

She goes on to conclude with a vision which takes sexual abuse and harassment out of the box of gender issues and women’s issues. She highlights a wider aspiration which includes aspiration for a new form of masculinity and an idea of feminism which is cooperative rather than competitive. A difficult goal perhaps, but one which could really make a difference.

In her words:

I would like to continue to have hope. We must try and find hope for what we do and it would be good if we could continue to do the work we do – To find more and more people using cooperation rather than competition, and if more and more men come along and say “We have to construct better models of masculinity, better ways to relate to one another”; more and more women saying, “I do not want to be a victim. I want to take my own agency and power but I don’t want to be like Margaret Thatcher either. I want to be a woman who is not patriarchal.” and women coming together, working with one another, that could be very wonderful.

A new regular post highlighting a few special rights stories. I will post at the beginning of each month. I hope to share some of the best articles, reports, videos, photos which I’ve come across in the past month which discuss or shed some new light on human rights and development issues across the globe.

So onto the very first Rights Round Up :

1. Aljazeera‘s article: In pictures: Cairo’s rich-poor standoff by Mosa’ab Elshamy.

A compelling photo essay which highlights some of the contradictory aspects of the right to decent housing in Cairo. The pictures are of the Boulaq slum area of Cairo, situated near to the Nile Towers luxury shopping centre. Mosa’ab Elshamy states:

” While opulence is the towers’ signature, Ramlet Boulaq is without sewage, electricity or running water. “

The images highlight the derelict state of residents houses and the sub-standard living conditions in which they survive, by placing these alongside the suited clients of the Nile Towers complex. The right to housing is a much spoken of problem in Cairo, yet images like these go to highlight how much still needs to be done to assure a basic right to housing for city dwellers.

2. Throwing Stones at the Moon (extract) in Granta.

The haunting story of María Victoria Jiménez, told beautifully in her own words. A medical intern who was attacked and disfigured for exposing corruption at a hospital, her tale is similar to too many in Columbia and other Latin American countries where violence rules over truth. Her strength and honesty makes inspiring but hard reading which demonstrates what defending rights has comes to mean for Maria Victoria.

“I don’t want to move to another part of the country because that would be quitting. And if I quit, everyone will do the same, and we won’t get anywhere. The fact is that if people stay silent, what future will my nephews have, and what future will their children have?

I continue to move around from house to house in Bello. I go to work and then I go straight home. I don’t have a life. I stay in my room by myself and I sleep with a kitchen knife, pepper spray, and a bulletproof vest next to my bed. Outside of work, my life is four walls. Sometimes I think that maybe it would have been better to have died.”

3. Une Justice Qui Fait Honte au Pays! in Courrier International.

One for the French Speakers. An impassioned critique of the Tunisian justice system for bringing charges against a woman who was raped by police officers. An article which highlights once again the struggle in the Middle East and North Africa for a system and society which respects and assures equal treatment for women.

4. Women’s Rights Demands

A lovely short (and optimistic) video on women’s rights demands in Egypt, created by CEWLA (The Centre for Egyptian Legal Assistance), but expressed by the women themselves. So often we writers, organisations and commentators speak for women. Here they are speaking in their own words, saying what is important for them in Egypt’s future. Demands include assuring criminalisation of FGM in the Constitution, rights for housewives, universities in Upper Egypt and higher representation for women in political bodies.

5. Amnesty International : Rule of Law Elusive – Two Report on Violence against Protesters in Egypt

For months I have been hoping Amnesty International’s comment on violence in protests in Egypt, after following and reporting on this topic during the Abbaseya clashes. Amnesty don’t disappoint  issuing two reports. The first focuses on abuses carried out by the military, including torture and killing with impunity. The second focuses on police violence during protests and clashes. Attacks by the authorities on protesters seemed to characterise Egypt’s transition period, undermining the very freedom of expression and assembly which was fought for during the revolution. The reports call for President Morsi to reform the police and security institutions and ask for accountability and justice for past abuses.




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