Category Archives: gender studies

Meet Haleh Esfandiari

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Haleh Esfandiari is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. She is an expert on women’s issues and democracy in the Middle East, as well as contemporary Iranian politics, and she has also worked as a journalist. A dual citizen of Iran and the United States, in 2007 she spent 105 days in Tehran’s Evin Prison, accused by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence with espionage and “endangering national security through propaganda against the system.” In My Prison, My Home: One Women’s Story of Captivity in Iran (2009, Ecco Press), Esfandiari recounts her experience while setting it within the context of Iran’s recent history.

What is it that you think you’ll never forget about those months in prison?
Prison leaves its marks forever and little things keep triggering your memory. For example, if I see the moon I always remember that the third time I saw it from the bars of my cell I knew that I had been in jail for three months or every time I see a butterfly I remember that one day, when I was walking on the small terrace of the women’s ward, I saw a white butterfly and I thought to myself ‘I am stuck here, what are you doing here?’ I will never forget being blindfolded during my interrogation for days and weeks and months, I will never forget being interrogated for eight, nine hours a day, I will never forget the day I was released, I will never forget the day my mother passed away and I wasn’t there.

Why didn’t you go back to Iran for your mother’s funeral?
Given what has happened since my incarceration, I don’t feel safe or comfortable in Iran anymore. I am sure I wouldn’t have problems getting in the country but I might have problems leaving Iran.

I often read about how Muslim women and men are adopting progressive interpretations of Islam to support women’s rights in a growing movement of Islamic feminism. Where is this actually happening and in which way?
For the last four decades there have been new interpretations of Islamic law when it comes to family law and they have been pushed by women. For example, the One Million Signatures campaign in the early nineties in Morocco led to an overall reform of the family law in the country. In Iran there is an ongoing campaign by women activists to collect a million signatures for equality under the law. There is this effort but it’s not easy.

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The gender of the news

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On 10 November 2009, an ‘ordinary’ day of almost one year ago, teams of volunteers belonging to universities, media research centers and civil society organizations in 108 countries around the world monitored 1,365 newspapers, radio and television newscasts and internet news websites with the objective to find out what was the world portrayed in the media from a gender perspective point of view. They analyzed 17,795 news stories and 38,253 people in those stories.

“The idea of the Global Media Monitoring Project was mooted at the conference ‘Women empowering communication’ the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) organized in Bangkok in 1994 in collaboration with the International Women’s Tribune Centre (based in New York) and Isis-Manila conference”, remembers Sarah Macharia, Programme Manager for Media and Gender Justice at WACC. “Several months after the first Gender Media Monitoring Project (February 1995), coordinated by the Canadian NGO Media Watch, media monitoring was officially recognized as a tool for change towards gender equality in the Beijing Platform for Action. WACC took up the challenge to coordinate all subsequent GMMPs, which fall well within the organisation’s overall goal to promote communication rights, in particular the rights of marginalized groups”.

The 2010 GMMP, which covered 55% of the world’s countries with 82% of the world’s population and whose results were published recently, shows that only 24% of news subjects – people who are interviewed or whom the news is about – in the traditional media are women. In the internet news, monitored as a pilot basis in what was the forth edition of the project, females turn out to be even less present (23%).

Three out of four of the people in the news are therefore males.

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Love power or the power of love

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“When we talk about love between people we call it romantic love, but I would rather call it sexual love, since I conceptualize it not primarily as an idea but as something we do, a human power and practice that has consequences”, Anna Jónasdóttír explains.

Professor of Gender Studies at the Centre for Feminist Social Studies, Örebro University (Sweden) and co-director of GEXcel (see blogroll) Jónasdóttír is now leading for the latter the research theme “Love in our time – A question for feminism”, aiming to investigate the apparently growing interest in love as a “serious subject”.

She is a pioneer on the issue. Her interest towards love, in fact, began in 1980 when attempting to explain why patriarchy still dominates contemporary western societies that are characterized by formal gender equality and women’s relative economic independence.

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Meet Raewyn Connell

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Raewyn Connell (1944), born Robert William Connell, is the most influential Australian sociologist. Her research fields go from large-scale class dynamics, poverty and education, sociology of knowledge, sexuality and AIDS prevention to social change and gender relations. Her book “Masculinities” (1995) was one of the founders of this research field. She is currently university professor at the University of Sydney.

In the ILGA Trans Secretariat’s web page it’s written that it’s a paradox that the most important intellectual of masculinity is now a woman. First of all do you feel you are a woman?

No, I don’t feel I’m a woman.  I know it.  I don’t think that’s very different from the kind of knowledge other women have (and men too, about being men).  For transsexual women, of course, the knowledge has definite complexities; yet there are gender complexities at some level in almost everyone’s life.

Do you feel you are a man?

For large parts of my life I tried to live as a man, but always with the underlying contradiction. That is the situation many transsexual women find themselves in. There is no simple resolution of that contradiction, and no outcome without serious costs – including costs to other people in our lives.  It’s not a glamorous situation and should not be romanticised.

Do you think it is necessary to belong either to one gender or the other?

No, it is not necessary for everyone to be subjectively either a man or a woman.  There are some people who try consistently to live without gender commitments.  For instance, they live in de-gendered households, have emotional or sexual relations not determined by gender, present themselves with a mixture of gender symbolism, and demand that the state not classify them in gender terms.  This is a brave project and these people have my admiration.  But their project is incredibly difficult, because gender is a massive social reality, embedded in institutions as well as personal life.   For the great majority of people, having a definite place in the gender order is a routine condition of life, a ground of everyday action.

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