This blog is a project of the Global Gender Program (GGP) of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The GGC will be on vacation until September 2016.
The Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) was founded in 1986. In 2001, FWRM drafted a constitution and registered it under relevant Fiji legislation. The multiethnic and multicultural FWRM’s purpose is to “work toward the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, promote the equality of women, and support democracy and human rights in all areas of life in Fiji and the Pacific Island region”.
FWRM is a non-governmental organization that works through institutional reforms and attitudinal changes in order to remove discrimination against women. FWRM promotes feminism, democracy, the rule of law, good governance, and human rights, while striving for ways to provide leadership opportunities for women in Fiji.
Objectives of FWRM are:
To publicly address all issues affecting women’s human rights, status and opportunity within Fiji including cultural, domestic, legal, social, health, economic, employment, religious and political situations
To advocate improved policy and legislation on issues affecting women’s rights
To promote equal access to services by women and equal opportunity through appropriate enabling actions
To ensure the Movement remains a well managed and sustainable organization, giving leadership opportunities to women, networking and sharing experiences with others in the Pacific, regionally and internationally
In 2011, FWRM released Herstory: Celebrating 25 Years of Balancing the Scales, a chronicle of the most significant moments of the Movement’s history. Herstory begins with by describing how a group of 56 women gathered to discuss how change could be made in order to combat the patriarchy. Milestones, such as the Family Law Act of 2003, illustrate the continued perseverance that the organization displays in order to see action taken. The report ends with quotations from those who believe in the Movement.
FWRM looks forward to their next quarter century of operation. They believe in their continued ability to make a difference, because of their past ability to make positive progress during coups and even despite being persecuted by the military.
The heading of this blog post is taken from the title of an autobiography of Nujood Ali from Yemen, who was Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year in 2008. Imagining a married, let alone divorced ten year old, is hard in most countries, yet still child marriage is a reality in much of the world.
Child marriage has received heightened attention in recent years (ICRW 2011) but continues to be a problem in Yemen and worldwide. A study on early marriage carried out in 2008 by the Gender Development Research and Studies Centre at Sana’a University in Yemen found that 52.1 percent of girls are under 18 when they were married, compared with 6.7 percent of boys. As a 2011 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report points out, this phenomenon is not unique to Yemen. Worldwide, more than 51 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married. A 2012 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) provides evidence that nearly one in every four girls aged 15 to 19 years in the developing world (excluding China) is currently married or in union.
Child marriage brings with it many problems but the most acute is perhaps childbearing. During pregnancy, a young mother competes with her baby for essential nutrients. Malnutrition is a common problem in Yemen and child pregnancy exacerbates the situation, ultimately depriving both the mother and child. Pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for women ages 15 to 19, according to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).
Julia Gillard, prime minister of Australia, has spoken out vigorously against the leader of the opposition in Parliament on grounds of sexism, misogyny, double standards, and political game playing. If there were a Nobel Prize for Women’s Equality and Rights, I vote for Julia Gillard.
The Economist highlighted the film Saving Face, directed by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid, which won an Oscar for short documentary. It is about acid attacks against women in Pakistan and follows a Pakistani-British plastic surgeon who works on repairing the face of a victim whose husband threw battery acid at her. Half of her face was destroyed, yet she still lives with her attacker as she has no other choice. The doctor works to repair women’s damaged faces. Many of the women victims are working to change the law to send attackers to jail.
The Association for Feminist Anthropology welcomes sessions to be considered for inclusion in AFA’s programming for the 111th AAA Annual Meeting. The AAA meeting theme this year is “Borders,” so AFA particularly welcomes panels that take up “borders” from a feminist anthropological perspective.
Television and other mainstream media frequently target women in their commercials. Far less frequently are women asked about what they think about commercials. Sigal Barak Brandes, of the School of Communication in the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon LeZion, Israel, is contributing to the important areas of feminist reception studies with her cutting-edge research on TV commercials in Israel about feminine hygiene products.
Dr. Barak Brandes pursued this topic for her doctoral dissertation which explored different “interpretive communities” in the diverse population of Israeli women as they face modern advertising and age-old taboos against menstruating women. Her study is the first to examine the content of reception of television (or other) commercials about feminine hygiene products in Israel.
“I would prefer it if a friend told me…” comments one of the participants in her study (quoted from Observatorio 2011). Women of all ages who described themselves as religious said that ads about menstruation made them uncomfortable and embarrassed, and some found them disgusting. Only a small number of participants spoke favorably of the ads in which a woman addresses them directly.
To learn more about this study and the author, I contacted Sigal Barak Brandes. My email interview with her follows.
Q: What is your background in terms of academic training?
My B.A. was in Anthropology and Sociology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. My M.A. in Communication Studies was also from that University. My M.A. thesis was about the way the Israeli press treats the social problem known as “wife abuse.” My Ph.D. was also in Communication, but this time from Tel-Aviv University. My dissertation was a feminist reception study about the ways Israeli women interpret images of women and femininity in television advertisements. My mentor was Professor Dafna Lemish. Now I am a lecturer in the School of Communication, The College of Management Academic Studies, Israel.
Q: What does it mean to you to be a feminist scholar in your field?
A feminist communication scholar should always look for issues of inequality in media images, to research topics which give voice to women (such as different audiences of women, girls’ media products, women reporters, representations of motherhood and such) or other minorities.
Q: What courses do you teach and what are the students’ reactions?
I teach one course which examines the feminine audience, a course about images of motherhood in media and popular culture, and a course about images of teenagers (representations of girlhood). I also teach a course about research methods while researching children and youth. As you can see most of them are feminist courses, and I really see myself as having a feminist mission — to help my students (most of them are females, not surprisingly) to learn how to be critical regarding images of women and teenagers in the media.
Many of these students say that the course they took just “opened their eyes.” When that happens, I always hope that is also true and not just trying to be kind and nice to me.
Q: How did you pick such an interesting research topic as Israeli women’s reactions to feminine hygiene product commercials?
My Ph.D. was an extensive feminist reception study that examined, for the first time, how women in Israel interpret images of women and femininity in TV commercials. Many of the interviewees were found to be extremely critical of the use of the female body and bodily functions in a manner which exposes to public view issues that are meant to be private and intimate. That included especially advertisements related to female hygiene products. In addition, they were both critical and scornful of the customary advertising strategies that are employed systematically in these commercials. So this finding was the base for my article. I also have to admit that as a woman myself I do tend to feel a bit uncomfortable to watch these ads in front of my children, so I felt a true “connection” to these critiques.
Q: How did the women react to your project and your questions?
Given that the investigation sought to understand how Israeli women watch advertisements on a daily basis, the examination of individuals’ subjective perspective was essential. I wanted to enable participants to use their own terms and not to limit them in advance to experiences that may be too narrow or biased. Accordingly, in-depth interviewing was selected as a primary research method applied.
Hence all interviews were guided by some basic questions regarding their attitude towards ads in general, then I asked about images of women in ads, about the interviewee’s ability to identify with such images, what did she think was the effect of such images on others, etc. I also used a recall test of advertisements in order to see which ads were more meaningful and why, and the interview ended via viewing five advertisements broadcast on Israeli television and asking some questions in regard. So, interestingly, the issue of feminine hygiene ads just emerged, naturally, from the interviewees statements, and was not initiated by me during the interviews. This is why I thought it was a very interesting finding.