Category Archives: meet

Meet Margherita Hack

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Born at the corner of via Cento Stelle (hundred stars) in Florence, Margherita Hack was the first woman to lead an astronomical observatory in Italy. She is the most known Italian astrophysicist.

You have just turned 89. What is the biggest satisfaction you have had until now?
I don’t know what to say since I have had so many satisfactions with my job. Maybe when I won the chair of astronomy at the University of Trieste (1964). But then I have received many prizes and acknowledgments and right now I could not tell which one has given me the highest satisfaction. What I would say is that I have had many acknowledgments.

In your youth you have been long and high jump champion and afterwards you studied physics, activities both considered, especially then, not suitable for women.
No, it is not true. At the university we were five women and five men students. As far as sport is concerned, there was fascism then and under dictatorships sport is one of the things that are used the most for manoeuvring, for training young people, for making them more accommodating let’s say. Nevertheless the good thing is that sport was done at large scale, also in schools.

As for your physics studies, did you feel then that you were supported or rather hindered by the people around you?
My parents told me I had to do what I felt like the most and since I liked physics better than the other subjects it was natural for me to choose to do what I felt I was better at.

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Meet Mauro Cabral

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Argentinian historian and philosopher and trans and intersex activist. Mauro Cabral is co-director of GATE (Global Action for Trans Equality) and member of the Latin American Consortium on Intersex Issues (Consorcio Latinoamericano de Trabajo sobre Intersexualidad).

Statistically, situations related to intersexuality have place in one over 2,500 births. Every time a child whose sexual and reproductive anatomy varies from both male and female bodily standards is born, his o her body is forced into surgical and hormonal treatments aimed to ‘normalize’ the appearance of his or her genitals. Among the international frameworks on Human Rights, at present only the not binding Yogyakarta Principles make a specific call for States “to ensure that no child’s body is irreversibly altered by medical procedures in an attempt to impose a gender identity without the full, free and informed consent of the child in accordance with the age and maturity of the child and guided by the principle that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration”. in their article 18 on “Protection from Medical Abuses”

In what sense is intersex children’s genital mutilation a feminizing procedure?

The majority of the different interventions done to normalize intersex children’s bodies are addressed to create female genitals because from a medical point of view they are technologically easier to make than male genitals.

Is it also a political issue?

In medicine it is basically a technical issue which, from the intersex activism is remitted also to the running of stereotypes that have to do with the fact that sexuality and the male gender are intrinsically dependent on the existence of a functional penis and that it is therefore easier to become a woman than a man if there is not a male body sustaining such masculinity. However, the issue could be seen the other way around and think that masculinity is more fragile because it has more requirements… These are activist interpretations on decisions doctors make without them appearing in an explicit way.

According to the International intersex Organization (oii) the correct definition should not be children’s genital mutilation but non-consensual normalization treatment, a term that also includes hormonal therapy and virilising surgery. How do you see it?

They are rhetorical choices. Talking of mutilation has a stronger ethical political impact and allows connecting this intervention with other practices such as female genital mutilation.  Mutilation refers to something that cuts not only each person’s possibilities but also the possibilities that each culture has to recognize the body diversity of its members.

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On sexual and reproductive rights, Meet Jacqueline Sharpe

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Jacqueline Sharpe is a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist from Trinidad and Tobago and the president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a global service provider and a leading advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights working in 150 countries. Its areas of action include abortion, access, adolescents, advocacy and AIDS/HIV.

Although there is an area of over-lap between them, sexual and reproductive rights are two separate issues.

Sexual rights include the right of all people to make free and responsible decisions about all aspects of their own sexuality, including deciding to be sexually active or not and protecting and promoting their reproductive and sexual health; The right to be free from discrimination, coercion and violence in one’s sexual life, and when making sexual decisions; The right to expect and demand equality, full consent, mutual respect and shared responsibility in all sexual relationships and to pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.

On the other side reproductive rights include the rights of couples and individuals to freely and responsibly decide the number, spacing and timing of their children; The right to have the information, education and means to make the above decisions; The right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health and the right to make decisions free from discrimination, coercion and violence.

Sexual and reproductive rights are included in international conventions such as CEDAW (see blogroll), the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action, and the Plan of Action which emerged from the International Conference on Population and Development (El Cairo, 1994).

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Meet Maria Lai

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“We exist in as much as the others interpret us”

In spite of having always been in poor health Maria Lai, at almost one hundred years of age, keeps writing and producing works of art.

When I get to the house in the heart of Sardinia where she lives with her sister, I have a very high curiosity to ask her what her secret is. But it is enough for me to see her curious eyes and how she bends her own body to laugh, just like a child, that I understand it myself. Maria Lai is a child for whom life is a big play that, if she could, would play over again, “better  though”, for another century.

“Everybody asks me ‘at your age, why don’t you give up working?’ and I answer ‘why don’t you give up breathing?’ I am really lucky for having always played and keep doing it. All my plays have been a thrust to daydream, to tell lies. Only afterwards did I realize they called it art”.

She informs me right away that she doesn’t like to be interviewed “because I’m not important and in the end it’s always about gossiping”. I ask her how we can do it to avoid it. “First of all let us forget it is an interview”. We try it, sitting at the wooden table of the big house looking at the mountains where she has spent most of her childhood until the war, when she left the island to study art, first in Rome and then at the academy of art in Venice.

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Chronicles from Juárez

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For Ciudad Juárez 2010 ended with more than 3,000 violent deaths. The rate of murders in the city, adjoining with the United States, raised considerably during the last years until being one of the highest in the world since it became the scenario of brutal confrontations between drug cartel gangs of Juárez and the close Sinaloa.

More than 28,000 people have died in Mexico during the last four years since president Felipe Calderón began an offensive against the drug cartels in December 2006 by sending to the city 10 thousand soldiers with the objective of closing the door to the 90 percent of the cocaine towards the United States with the use of military force. According to many, militarization would be responsible of the increase of violence.

Among the main targets the opposing cartels members, police officers, social activists (the last one Susana Chávez, 36 years old, poet fighting for the clearing up of the well-known female homicides in that border, killed and mutilated of one hand last week) and journalists.

Besides the war among the cartels, corruption (with police officers who round off their starvation wages protecting the bosses), perverted effect of delocalization and an urban extremely degraded area with one high school for 500 thousand inhabitants, reign in the city.

This is where Sandra Rodríguez and Luz del Carmen Sosa work as reporters at El Diario de Juárez. In 2010 they were awarded with the Reporteros del Mundo prize (in memory of Julio Fuentes and Julio Anguita, correspondents of the Spanish awarding newspaper El Mundo and who were killed in Afghanistan and Irak respectively) for “having shown an extraordinary courage in every sense, signing their chronicles in spite of knowing that they put their lives at a risk” and for being “firm defenders of the freedom of expression in their country, denouncing the fight among cartels for the control of drug, the indiscriminate murders of women and the general atmosphere of violence going on in the streets of Mexico”.

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Meet Nadia Ghulam

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Farmer, stock-breeder, wells builders, water seller, owner of a bicycle’s repair-shop, Mullah’s assistant and occasional religious police, even cook for one day for a group of Talibans. All this was Nadia Ghulam during the ten years she was a boy. The happy little girl with her long circling skirt she had been had left the day a bomb had hit her house in Kabul burning the 60 percent of her body. She was eight years old then, or at least that’s what she guesses. Nadia doesn’t remember very well those two years she spends her time half inside and half outside the hospital. “But I do remember Mujahideen bursting into the houses taking us in –and even into the hospital- and forcing us to leave, the pain of my wounds, the fact of being homeless and always starving and the voice of the bombs”.

While her mother is always with her two younger sisters, her elder brother and her father live with an aunt of theirs or they sort out their lives. When they have no house and Nadia is out of the hospital, they go to people’s houses, first families, then strangers, or sleep in shelters. “It is curious, and also a little sad”, she says between bites of melanzane (aubergines) alla parmigiana I then find out not to be only an Italian but also an Afghan typical dish (the latter use goose cheese instead of mozzarella and parmesan). “Here in Spain I read Anne Frank’s diary. She explained how it was I don’t know whose birthday, that they had made a cake and then had it…I kept thinking: unbelievable. Because during war there are no cakes”, she says. “She also explained they used to have vegetables and we never did”.

Nadia is around ten years old. Her father tells her and her mother that her teenage brother, Zelmai, was shot in the streets and is not working in Pakistan as they had been thinking for more than a year. “I then understood why my father had little by little stopped living. He was his pride”. Almost simultaneously Soraya, her doctor’s assistant, tells her that with the arrival of the Taliban women won’t be able to work. “I thought, so what am I going to do? If my father is ill, my brother isn’t here and my mother is like that, what are we going to eat? I have always been a person who relieves in her own things and who doesn’t like other people’s help. I say, if this person works and has his things, why can’t I have mine? I cannot be waiting for the others, you know?”

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Meet Tamara Adrián

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Lawyer and professor of commercial law at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello (UCAB) and at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), in 2004 Adrián was the first Venezuelan citizen appealing to the Constitutional Assembly for the recognition of her identity. In spite of having a gender reassignment surgery in 2002 in Thailand she still legally has a male’s name, the name she was born with. Until today she has not received any answer on her petition yet. On 18 October 2010 Adrián postulated as judge of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice with the side objective of also “claiming transsexuals’ rights and testing the tolerance of a country with homophobic institutions”. The resolution on her postulation (she has already passed the first selection phase) will probably be public by the end of the year. She is a lesbian, a feminist, a member of the Latin American and Caribbean Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA-LAC board) and the founder of the DIVERLEX association (Difference and Equality through the Law) working for the implementation of legal measures protecting sex and gender related human rights.

From a legal point of view what is the situation of transsexuals and transgender in Venezuela?

We simply don’t exist. There exist no public politics for the recognition of one’s identity, nor for medical treatment or protection against discrimination in all fields: labour, studies, etc.

You underwent sex-reassignment surgery in 2002 but your ID still says you have a male’s name. What does this mean in your daily life?

For some day-to-day activities, like the gym or the grocery store, I use a fake ID, always letting civil servants know it is and that they can denounce me if they want to, which until now no one has. Anyway, my transsexuality is not visible so also when using my real ID people generally think that there is some mistake behind the name they see. At the same time I am a well known person in my country and that makes everything easier. But for the majority of the transsexuals in Venezuela daily life is not easy at all, that is why I am carrying out this struggle, for civil responsibility and for the respect of human rights, so other people in the future can achieve their constitutional right to the ‘self-determination’ more easily.

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