Monday, May 16, 2016

Goldman Prize Winner: 'I Will Never Be Defeated By The Mining Companies' !

Environmental activism may not have been what Maxima Acuña de Chaupe had in mind when in 2011 she refused to sell her 60-acre plot of land to the biggest gold-mining project in South America.
She did not belong to any movement or organisation but she doggedly held on to her land in spite of her claims of beatings, death threats, intimidation and court proceedings, becoming a symbol of resistance in her native Peru and above all its northern region of Cajamarca which rejected the $4.8bn Conga gold mine after five demonstrators were killed in clashes with the police in 2012.
In 2011, the Peruvian government granted a 7,400-acre mining concession for the Conga Mine to US-firm Newmont Mining, the majority shareholder, and Peruvian mining company Buenaventura. The plan was to mine two freshwater lakes for gold and copper while draining two more to use as dumps for toxic mining tailings.
But Maxima Acuña - and the farm where she grows potatoes and rears guinea pigs - stood in the way.
The Goldman prize – the world’s most prestigious environmental award - is in recognition of the courage she has shown in so far preventing the mine from destroying the two highland lagoons, her farm, and the supply of fresh water for thousands more people.
“In Cajamarca, we know what mines can do. In no time it would have poisoned the trout and the livestock. If we don’t have water we don’t have a life or a future,” she told the Guardian. Since refusing to sell her home she claims she has been constantly spied on by Peruvian police working as security contractors for the mine; she and her daughter have twice been beaten unconscious and her home twice demolished.
She recalls the first time: “I was grabbed my six police men, three on each arm grabbed me from behind and they beat with their batons, they threw me to the ground then beat my son, who was taking photos, on the arms and chest and took away his cell phone.
“The special forces police hit my daughter in the head with the butt of the machine gun. Four of them cornered my youngest son and pointed their machine guns at him, warning him not to shout, not to call out, not to try and run,” she said.
In a bid to evict her, Newmont took Acuña to court in 2012 accusing her of illegally squatting on the land which it claims to have bought. The local court ruled in Newmont’s favour, giving Acuña and her family a suspended prison sentence of almost three years and a fine of nearly $2,000 - a large sum for a subsistence farmer in Peru.
Acuña appealed the decision in 2014, arguing that they had owned the land since 1994. A higher court lifted the criminal charges against Acuña and Newmont was ordered to stop its eviction proceedings.
But, the issue of land ownership was not settled and Acuña continues to be summoned to a local court accused of illegally squatting on the mine’s land, says her lawyer Mirtha Vasquez, of local NGO Grufides. Mine security personnel intimidate bus drivers not to allow her or any of her family onto their buses, forcing them to walk for up to eight hours to nearest town, she claimed.
As recently as February this year she says thugs raided her home, destroying her crops and slitting her dog’s throat. It survived after emergency veterinary treatment. She says that after living with intimidation and harassment for more than five years she says she feel “energised and encouraged to know there are people standing beside me”.
“I never had the chance to go the school, I never had to chance to learn even a letter but I know how to resist, to fight and that’s why I will never be defeated by the mining companies,” she said.
A spokesperson for Newmont said that it no longer anticipates developing the mine in the foreseeable future, and that several of the allegations made against it are “just factually incorrect and unsubstantiated.”
In a series of documents, it said that the dog appeared to have been injured by barbed wire and not by company personnel, the company had removed potatoes from its property but not the family’s land, and it says it has acted lawfully, in the presence of Peruvian police, removing illegal structures from its land.
It said it was not monitoring the family with a video camera it had installed as it was not facing their building, but it was monitoring company property following a number of incidents of vandalism and theft. Newmont said that it had acted in good faith showing respect to neighbouring communities and there is no evidence of violence having been used against the Chaupe family.
“Regretfully, despite repeated direct and indirect attempts, we have not succeeded in securing agreement from the Chaupe family or civil society organisations to establish a dialogue to reach a resolution. However, we will continue to seek ways to establish good-faith dialogue,” the company says in the documents.
At least 61 activists have been killed in Peru over the last decade, with almost 80% of deaths related to mining, according to human rights NGO Global Witness, making the country the fifth most dangerous place to be an environmental activist.
Peru recently weakened its environmental laws in order to boost mining investment. It also made it easier for the police and army to get away with killings by reducing their criminal responsibility if they cause injury or death on duty.
“The miners are taking the gold from Cajamarca but that gold is bathed in blood, so many tears have been shed by poor people here, people have been killed for defending the water and the land. The miners don’t assume their responsibility for that,” Acuña said.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Stunning Images Of A Bulgarian Muslim Bride Reviving Old Traditions...

Emilia Pechinkova, a 24-year-old Bulgarian Pomak bride poses for a photograph following a face painting ceremony in the village of Draginovo, southeast of the capital Sofia on April 22, 2016.
Love is one of the most common human emotions. But it’s celebrated in extraordinarily different ways around the world.
In the remote village of Draginovo, Bulgaria, Muslim brides are returning to the old tradition of gelina, or face painting, to mark their transition into married life. 
Emilia Pechinkova is one of those young Muslim brides. The 24-year-old is a Slavic Muslim, part of a group often referred to as Pomaks. The elaborate wedding rituals of the Pomaks were suppressed while the country was under communist rule. 
In an effort to recapture their forefathers’ customs, Pechinkova and her fianceTsanko Perchinkov celebrated their love during a traditional three-day wedding ceremony, according to Getty. The festivities were captured by photographer Nikolay Doychinov on April 22 and 23. 
During the gelina, Pomak brides are painted over with a thick cosmetic creme mask called belilo. An expert make-up artist spends up to two hours applying the mask and embellishing it with sequins arranged in floral patterns. Then, the artistapplies lipstick and darkens the bride’s eyebrows. According to CNN, the face painting process is a symbol of the bride’s purity.
The gelina face painting ritual can take up to two hours.
In order to keep the mask intact for the next several hours, the bride usually keeps her face very still. After an imam says a blessing, she is escorted by her family members out of her childhood home and to her groom’s house, where her husband will take off her makeup.
Although these rituals have been part of Pomak culture for years, they were suppressed during the time that Bulgaria was a satellite state of the Soviet Union. According to Reuters, the regime at that time tried to force Muslims to adapt the traditions of the country’s majority Christian Orthodox population. The traditional Pomak wedding ceremony was reportedly banned and was onlyresumed after the end of the communist era.  
Today, Muslims are the largest minority religion in Bulgaria, making up about 8 percent of the population. 
Scroll down to see images of this fascinating wedding ritual.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • A Bulgarian Pomak bride, 24-year-old Emilia Pechinkova, poses in the village of Draginovo, Bulgaria. 
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Friends and family gather for Emilia’s wedding to fiance Tsanko Perchinkov in the village of Draginovo, about 60 miles southeast of the capital city Sofia on April 23, 2016.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Dressed in traditional clothing, Emilia is escorted by relatives and friends during her ceremony.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Emilia dances with her father, Mili Perchikov.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • The bride’s family publicly displays her dowry on April 22, 2016.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Female guests and family members help Emilia get ready. 
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Emilia’s face is painted in preparation for her wedding ceremony. This ritual painting is called ‘gelina.”
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • The last touches are put on Emilia’s bridal dress by female guests and family members.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • The gelina can take up to two hours. 
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • The bride completes her look with a veil of silver tinsel.
  • NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV via Getty Images
  • Emilia poses with her fiance Tsanko Perchinkov following the ‘gelina’ or face painting ceremony.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ma Lkit...

Emel Mathlouthi is a Tunisian musician who often sings for freedom, thus the cause of Palestine became close to her heart. This song, Ma Lkit, “I could not find a single word,” was written and performed after the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, which killed over 2,200 Palestinians including 531 children.
 “I could not find a place to close my eyes
I could not find a friend who will answer me
I could not find a wave to take me away
I could not find a single word to express my fears
I could not find a single melody to uproot hatred in people
I could not find my people, my family, my happiness, my way
I couldn’t find it
an spark to ignite my feelings
I could not find it ..”

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Search Here is What Happens When You Report Sexual Violence in Kashmir...

Some months ago we ran a series of articles on cases where women reported sexual violence to the police. The indifference, the contempt, the violence and other amazing things that they encountered while reporting a crime. It was a difficult series and led to some unexpected events.
We were thinking of that series this morning while reading a press release from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society. What does it mean to report sexual violence when you are living in a battlezone surrounded by armed forces?
On April 12 in the town of Handwara (69km from Srinagar), a 16-year-old schoolgirl was attacked by a soldier when she was using a public loo, according to most reports. Almost as soon as the news broke out in the town so did violent protests. The army is said to have shot and killed three young civilians including one recording the protests on his cellphone.
In the midst of all this tragedy what happened to the young girl who reported assault, you may wonder. Several mind-numbingly cruel things.
One, she, the victim, has been in police custody for the last three days. The family has not been allowed to meet her or speak to her.
Two, a video was recorded by the police/army with what appears to be the young victim exonerating the armed forces of sexual violence. This has been widely circulated, revealing her name and identity. Let’s repeat that. A 16-year-old schoolgirl attacked by a man in uniform, forced to see her town go up in flames when she spoke of the violence, is made by men in uniform to make a video saying that they didn’t do anything to her and that it was ‘local boys’ instead. A high-tech version of the victim-shaming that happened to Delta Meghwal two weeks ago in Rajasthan before her death under extremely suspicious circumstances.
Three. According to the press release, at 1am on April 14, the police summoned the victim’s father to the police station. Let’s stop at that sentence too. At 1am because no other time is appropriate for intimidating an already terrified family. Since that midnight summons the victim’s father and uncle who accompanied him are now missing too.
So yes, we’ve been thinking of what it means to talk about empowering women to report and talk about sexual violence. Our series showed us that it’s just barely possible to report rape  if you are a remarkably thick-skinned, middle-class person who had been attacked by a preferably less affluent stranger in the daytime. Can sexual violence be reported and create upset in the hearts of our compatriots only if you are not living under AFSPA, if you are not a Dalit, if you weren’t attacked by an influential man (preferably also not your husband), if you are not an Adivasi and if you are not a schoolgirl walking home with your friend in your Kashmiri hometown?
Update: The latest press releases from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society state that their legal team was told by the police that they cannot meet (forget the victim) even the mother of the victim. They then tried to hold a press conference this morning (16 April)  but “a police team led by DSP Fahad Tak laid siege around the JKCCS office and banned the press conference.”
This is also the second day of complete mobile internet blockade in Kashmir.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

She Of The Tents...

Tin-Hinan or Tamnugalt as she is called by the native Amazigh in Azawad and surrounding regions (Mali, Nigeria, Libya and Algeria) means in Tamazight “she of the tents” and “president”  She was considered the spiritual mother of the Touareg tribes. Thus, the name Tin-Hinan is interpreted as “mother of the tribe” or “queen of the camp.” She played a great role in protecting her tribes as she was always considered the symbol of social, political, and spiritual stability of Touareg tribes. The body of the queen Tin-Hinan is currently in the Bardo Museum in Algiers.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bangladesh's Female Motorbike Mechanics...

In countries like Bangladesh, young people face lots of challenges. Millions of kids have been denied a good education, and the basic literacy and numeracy skills that are needed for most well paid jobs are out of reach. It's even tougher for girls, who are excluded from some lines of work, and the opportunity to fully participate in the economy.
But innovative solutions are something that Bangladesh is definitely capable of. After all, Muhammad Yunus is from Bangladesh, and he pioneered the idea of microfinance loans for low income entrepreneurs, which has connected millions of entrepreneurs (particularly women) to business opportunities that have changed lives for the better.
So here's another great story.
In the video above, we get to meet some groundbreaking Bangladeshi girls. A partnership between the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Bangladeshi Government, and the European Union has created a new way for girls to overcome educational disadvantages, and enter a line of work that was previously not a genuine option. That's right, they're training to be motorcycle mechanics!
The program combines basic literacy and numeracy skills with practical training, and is producing a new generation of skilled women. One of the trainees, Khadija, explains that "When we first joined, people used to doubt if girls like us can do this", but the girls are proving that they're up to it. It's not just a school for girls; there are boys there too, and they're working together. Khadija goes on to say "We started working and slowly we became able to provide good service. When customers saw that we could service motorcycles as well as do other things, they stopped doubting us".
This is a fantastic step forward, and it's trailblazers like these who are building societies where women can build skills and succeed in their fields of choice. It's what we all deserve!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Morocco’s Indigenous Amazigh Women Unite Against Islamists And Arab Elites

Their ancestors in ancient Carthage worshipped goddesses and venerated female warriors, queens, prophetesses and poets, but today the indigenous women of North Africa’s Amazigh or ‘Berber’ people say their matriarchal traditions and native language are under threat from Arab elites and burgeoning Islamism.
In Morocco, home to the largest population descended from the region’s original inhabitants, activists blame the dominant contemporary Arabic culture as well as imported religious extremism and ideologies aligned with Islamic State. “Women’s groups always speak of ‘the Arab woman’ but we are not Arab women — we have an Amazigh culture, language and identity which has nothing to do with the Arab woman from the Middle East,” Amina Zioual, President of The Voice of the Amazigh Woman told Women in the World.
Feminist activists — Amazigh means free men or “freeborn” — argue they are “doubly oppressed” for being female and indigenous, and are usually ignored by Arab feminists. So they have banded together to fight for recognition of their rights in the face of “Arabization” — official government policy since independence from France more than half a century ago — political Islamism, persistent polygamy, underage marriage, and impunity for perpetrators of domestic violence.
Morocco’s first official Amazigh women’s association is pushing for access to justice, health and education. It says Berber women are members of an ethnic majority — there are no official figures but some estimates put the Amazigh population as high as 70 percent — yet are treated as a minority by a political regime privileging the Arabic language and conservative Islam.
“We created our group because the Amazigh woman — who typically speaks her native Tamazight, not French or Arabic — is not listened to and is even marginalized by the system in Morocco,” says Zioual.
“We have been in all the countries of North Africa for 3,000 years. We are oppressed by our government. They are always talking about Arabs but we are fighting to rewrite the history of Morocco.”
Outside of the southern Mediterranean, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya are typically assumed to be homogenous Arab-Muslim majority nations, where French is often also spoken because of the colonial past.
However, Amazigh groups insist there are around 25 million Berbers in North Africa, including two-thirds of Moroccans because they are descended from original inhabitants who predated the Romans, the Arab Muslim conquests beginning in the 7th century and later French colonizers.
“We want to debunk the common myth that Morocco is an exclusively Arab country and challenge our forced assimilation,” says The Voice of the Amazigh Woman on its online platform, highlighting its official United Nations’ recognition as an indigenous people.
“The government wants to classify us as a minority people. We are more than 67 per cent of the population but there is a political program of ‘Arabizing’ the population so that Arabic is the predominant mother tongue.”
Even if most Berbers have been Muslim for many centuries, Amazigh women want secularism, tolerance and religious diversity to be accepted too. “We are not all Islamic or Arab — we are also Jews and Christians and non-believers and we want a Morocco that is multi-cultural and where everybody can feel at home,” says Zioual.
The Voice of the Amazigh Woman prioritizes servicing poor indigenous women living in remote areas outside the big cities. These vulnerable groups are excluded because they are overwhelmingly illiterate (more than 70 percent of Moroccan women in country areas cannot read or write and the figures are much higher for Amazigh women) and they don’t speak Arabic or French. “Amazigh women are at the receiving end of all the violence Moroccan woman in general suffer,” says Zioual. “But then they are further marginalized because they cannot communicate in their language with government agencies, hospitals and the justice system where Arabic is almost compulsory.”
Following a sustained campaign, the Amazigh succeeded in 2011 in forcing the government to recognize their mother tongue Tamazight as the second national language. “Unfortunately the reality is that this has not been put into practice,” explains Zioual.
Profiled in a new book Feminists of the Arab World, by French journalist Charlotte Bienaime, The Voice of the Amazigh Woman counts secular and religious, veiled women, Muslims and non-believers among its supporters.
Despite most Amazigh women today being Muslims, feminists claim their culture’s traditional interpretation of the religion of the “invaders” did not involve men having multiple wives or women being considered as their chattels.
Zioual points the finger at the imposition of harshly patriarchal customs from the Middle East, particularly in recent decades. “The active marginalization and oppression of women has come from Arab countries — it is the Arab male who has this culture,” she says of escalating pressure on women to be heavily veiled, and the enduring practice of ‘repudiation’ (instant male-pronounced divorce), polygamy and an unwillingness to punish men who beat their wives.
“But in our culture the woman is queen,” she said. “We never experienced polygamy until the arrival of Arab culture. And now the problem has been aggravated with the arrival of the Islam of Daesh (Islamic State) which has penetrated regional areas” — a problem Zioual says the Moroccan government too often turns a blind eye to.
Morocco was recently severely criticized in a Human Rights Watch reportfor its abysmal treatment of women victims of domestic violence.
Although Western nations sometimes hail Morocco as an example of “moderate Islam” when it comes to women’s status, around 10 percent of marriages involve girls under 18, and in rural areas they can be as young as 13.
Moroccan law allows a girl’s guardian to ask a judge for an exemption. The penal code also allows rapists to escape prosecution if they marry their victims, leading to horrifying cases of abuse, particularly in conservative country areas where families pressure girls to marry their attackers to avoid the social opprobrium and reduced marriage prospects for those known to no longer be virgins.
The Voice of the Amazigh Woman cites the 2012 case of a 16 year-old girlAmina Filali, who drank rat poison and died after being forced to marry and live for several months with the man who raped her. A woman who wants to divorce her husband meanwhile faces a legal and social minefield, while the procedure is relatively easy for men. “Since 2004 in Morocco, a man is not supposed to repudiate and divorce his wife and take another spouse without her unforced permission. But the reality is most women don’t know they have these rights or can’t exercise them,” says Zioual.
“With this government presided over by an Islamic political party there is always the pressure to put an Islamic reference into all the laws. But as a feminist movement we denounce all these changes to the civil code and the penal and family code.”
For Zioual a pressing problem in today’s Morocco is that “everything is seen through the Islamic prism.”
“Twenty years ago in regional areas you could go out without a veil or a headscarf, and you could wear a skirt or pants. But that doesn’t exist anymore in the provinces — it is either the headscarf or the jellaba that are obligatory.
“This is all imposed by religion but also by the culture in our media, and on the radio. There have been radical changes and they have been pushing this for 50 years since Independence (from France).”
Women are sold the lie that in order to enter paradise they must be veiled and obey men, says Zioual. “Most Moroccan women are illiterate, and don’t have financial resources. They depend on their husband so they tend to obey this culture that tells them not to ask for anything, whether it is schools, hospitals or roads. They are told if they are you are calm and placid they will go to paradise.”
The association’s next project is to lift the voter participation of Amazigh women in local and national elections. It has worked closely with Spain’s Catalan Agency for Development Cooperation in trying to make young girls and women aware of the importance of finishing school and not marrying until the legal age of 18.
Women in regional areas like the Atlas Mountains are educated about their legal rights when it comes to marriage and divorce — and the importance of obtaining official papers when they wed, to avoid being thrown out later by a husband taking the “back door” to polygamy or marriage with an underage girl. “We have a problem in the family legal code which indirectly encourages men to take minor wives,” says Zioual.
“There are some regions where men and women are married by Imams without having official papers. Then when the man doesn’t need his wife anymore she has no proof of the marriage. Men have taken advantage of the practice to remarry with minors or to be polygamous. We are pushing for women to be able to officialize these marriages.”
Asked why she decided to found the association, Zioual, a married banker with a daughter, says she experienced firsthand the sense of exclusion and discrimination in elementary school when she realized she did not speak or understand Arabic like most of her classmates. “Injustice and violence pushed me to work in different human rights and women’s groups, but the particular needs of Amazigh women were never discussed so we were obliged to found our own association,” she said.
“I will always be a feminist because when you live in Morocco and you see everything a woman must submit to, you automatically become feminist.”