Is the way the media reports Islamic State’s treatment of women making things worse?

Is the way the media reports Islamic State’s treatment of women making things worse?.

On the margins: a look at race, culture, and world affairs


Is the way the media reports Islamic State’s treatment of women making things worse?

As in any war, the “rape crisis” in Syria and Iraq is complicated, and the way it is reported shapes the false assumptions and stigma women face.


A Syrian refugee waits to cross the border into Turkey. Photo: Uygar Onder Simsek/AFP/Getty Images
A Syrian refugee waits to cross the border into Turkey. Photo: Uygar Onder Simsek/AFP/Getty Images

Anyone who has been following coverage of the conflict in Syria and Iraq will know that the region has seen a major rape crisis. Much of the media coverage has focused obsessively on the horrendous violence against Yazidi women and girls escaping from Isis captivity, with details sometimes bordering on the salacious about slave markets, forced marriage, and multiple rapes. Is it possible that this is doing more harm than good?

A group of scholars argued last year in the Washington Post that the coverage risks being counterproductive: “To scholars of sexual violence, these media narratives look typical in three related ways: They are selective and sensationalist; they obscure deeper understandings about patterns of wartime sexual violence; and they are laden with false assumptions about the causes of conflict rape.”

The violence against Yazidi women is unarguably horrific, an exceptionally extreme example of sexual violence. But this is not the whole story. As in any war, the “rape crisis” is complicated: it is not perpetrated by any one group. In Syria, regime forces have been using rape as a weapon of war since the conflict began in 2011. Islamist groups and rebels have also been responsible for violations. Women displaced by conflict, often left widowed or without a male guardian, face exploitation and abuse at refugee camps or in host countries.

Mandana Hendessi, the regional director for the Middle East for the NGO, Women for Women International, objects to the way that women have often been portrayed as victims. “With the Yazidi women, to some degree, I felt that their experiences were sensationalised,” she says. “In none of those articles have I read anything about how they resisted. There’s no mention of women trying to take things in their control. The very fact they ran away the moment they had the opportunity – that shows incredible resilience. Some self-harmed with corrosive substances on their faces to protect themselves from the men, and some shaved their eyebrows and eyelashes. But the way it has been portrayed in the media, it looks like these women had no power. Stripping them of agency removes their dignity.”

A recent article published by the Daily Beast argued that western journalists covering the violence against Yazidi women have sometimes been insensitive in their search for shocking details. “Does the public’s interest in knowing explicit details of sexual violence outweigh these victims’ urgent need for safety and privacy? I don’t think so and there are indications that victims would agree,” wrote Sherizaan Minwalla.

Hendessi notes that there is a risk of women being stigmatised. “Yazidi men are now the obstacle to women’s progress. They are not allowing the women to go anywhere as there is this fear that the women might be kidnapped again. To the community, it feels like a tremendous shame has fallen up on them.”

Of course, it is incredibly important that sexual violence is reported on, and that the issue is discussed widely in order to effect the kind of practical changes that can protect women. But it is also important that this reporting is done responsibly and in a sensitive manner, particularly given the shame and stigma associated with rape. “Refugee camps take away your individual dignity, and you are exposed to all sorts of professionals – doctors, lawyers, journalists,” says Hendessi. “There can be a lack of respect for women’s privacy.”

The Washington Post article argued that “reports of Islamic State imprisonment and rape of Yazidi women have effectively erased more common and complex patterns”. These more complex patterns include the exploitation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan by landlords and employers; the trafficking of women from official refugee camps. There is a full range of issues, from abuse by regime forces, to the rape of men, to the extreme poverty of refugee populations, that are common to many conflicts around the world. These issues deserve attention too.

The steps that need to be taken to protect women are not particularly headline-grabbing initiatives: the proper policing of refugee camps, extensive psychosocial support for women who have been victims of sexual violence, and economic empowerment for women displaced by conflict. But only by understanding the complicated nature of the problem can effective long and short term solutions be put in place.

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Ranjana Kumari: Sufferings of Iranian women must end

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Text of speech by Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director and co-Founder of India’s Centre for Social Research and President and Founder of Women Power Connect at the gathering of Iranian Resistance in Villepinte, north of Paris on June 13, 2015:

Madam Rajavi, global leaders and dear people of Iran. I am here from India and I bring you greetings from Indian people especially from Indian women. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all of you especially the global world leaders who are here and thank all of you from across the globe who are supporting the struggle, the fight, and the desire of people of Iran to get democracy in their country, to get freedom and to get liberty. I’m extremely pleased to be sharing this platform with you all and express my solidarity for women who have been working tirelessly for equality and democracy.

When I hear the thousand women leaders are on your committee who are really leading under the leadership of Maryam Rajavi then I feel very proud. That strong women leadership will lead you to victory, will lead you to success, I can tell you that. I stand here and urge you all to support Mrs. Rajavi who has been fighting against the fundamentalist regime of Hassan Rouhani and Mullahs. We are fully aware of the horrendous brutality that is being inflicted on women in Iran under his regime.

Women in Iran have been protesting against the oppressive measures of the Mullahs and against the discrimination they have been burdened with in the state of Iran. Human rights especially for women have always been sidelined in Iran despite being in the public view the atrocities on women have continued for years. The Iranian regime is absolutely unacceptable as it is damaging the lives of women continuously over the years. We should not ignore the fact that Iran has been witnessing maximum execution under the present regime of Iran. When I took the book presented to me by Madam Rajavi with 12000 murders and killings and went to show it to people of India it was shocked all over.

It is an extremely sad state to see that even the legal system in Iran fails to protect the rights of women and goes overboard with inhuman impositions like the compulsion to wear chador. Even in the soaring temperature women have to wear it taking it to another level there were women who were targeted and burned with acid as they weren’t wearing the veil properly this is unacceptable. The women’s movement across the world feels disturbed and shattered with such an attitude towards women. We urge upon the global community to intervene immediately and to protect the lives and dignity of women of Iran inside Iran under the regime of Mullah.

The struggling Iranian women demand justice and seek our support from the global community who believe that peace shall prevail everywhere and for everyone. Let me tell you friends history will not forgive us if we will not fight standing by you to win this battle for justice, equality and democracy in Iran. May that be women in the political sphere of sports women have been suppressed in Iran and they continue to be ill-treated by the law and the society. The unconcealed discrimination needs to be eradicated so that the sufferings of Iranian women under the rule of the Mullah can be put to an end forever.

On this occasion I would request the worldwide community to form and extended network of women who believe in peace and equality. Let me tell you we have already started the initiative to build a global network for peace and that’s what is going to be the future where the global women network is going to support your struggle and we stand by you in your struggle. This network should be then utilized to seek support from across the world and extend its women leader like Maryam Rajavi.

I just came back from the United States where I was conferred the Lotus Leadership Award, it’s a very prestigious global award but what I’m more proud of that where the global community reaffirmed their pledge to work towards the advancement of women’s rights. I appeal to them to extend their support to Madam Maryam Rajavi and her movement to establish a truly democratic Iran. You will, you shall and you should win your democratic struggle.

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Posted: 06/20/2015 10:12 am EDT Updated: 06/20/2015 10:59 am EDT

Most eye-grabbing headlines in the art world seem to revolve around the economics of art. Whether it’s a Picasso nabbing a record-breaking offer at auction or a priceless piece vanishing from a museum in a daring heist, the monetary value of artworks fascinates us.

Some criticize the massive prices paid out for rare works as obscenely decadent. It’s easy to forget, in a world where a painting can represent an investment of millions, the more idealistic side of art, where beauty and ideas reign supreme.

girl in desert“Butterfly,” Shae Detar. Painted photo, 18″ x 25.6″

Curators for a Cause, a new organization co-founded by Monica Watkins, Jaci Berkopec and Erica Simone, is doing its part to counteract the wealth obsession of the art world. “We created CFAC for the purpose of utilizing art through various media and business efforts in order to create positive social change, while developing funds for our philanthropic platforms and partner charity organizations,” Simone told The Huffington Post via email. Curators for a Cause makes use of its co-founders’ artistic and curatorial skills to curate and sell art to benefit their charitable partners.

“The three of us are all deeply inspired by the arts and driven to giving back to society in general — more specifically to supply children from underserved communities around the world with various educational, creative and therapeutic platforms,” explained Simone. Curators for a Cause partners with nonprofits such as Housing Works and Beauty for Freedom.

white desert“White Desert,” Erica Simone. Archival photographic print, 28″ x 24″

Though CFAC is not a registered nonprofit itself, Simone told us, “With each profitable endeavor, proceeds are attributed to our various platforms and non-profit partners … More times than others, we have allocated 100 percent of the profits to charity.” There’s no percentage or set minimum of proceeds designated for charity after each sale, at least as of now. “As long as we cover costs and are able to pay staff, we are happy to allocate most of the remaining funds to our organizations in need,” she said.

CFAC also offers a platform to artists, especially those interested in using their talents for the greater good. “As an artist I have always been involved with charity foundations,” artist Marco Gallotta told HuffPost via email. Gallotta donated all of the work he featured in CFAC projects, but also emphasized that they “realize that the artists involved in the projects play an important role.” Artists who don’t choose to donate do receive compensation for their work. “I have always felt supported by the organization,” said Gallotta.

blue water“Mendenhall,” Anastasiia Sapon. Digital C print, 16″ x 20″

The organization currently has several major projects in the works, including a trip to lead workshops on photography and music in the Dominican Republic in partnership with the Foundation for Art in Motion and an Art for Awareness billboard project set to feature social justice art (artists can submit their work for consideration until Aug. 1, 2015).

Though the cofounders of CFAC aren’t new to the world of art philanthropy, this organization is still in its infancy. Still, said Simone, they’ve found that “all that really matters is that our hearts are in the right place … our genuine love for children, humanity, teaching and giving back, coupled with our immense passion for the arts has graced us with amazing and fulfilling opportunities.” It’s at least allowed them to build a project that celebrates the joy of creating and being surrounded by art, instead of the potential financial rewards, and that’s an attitude the art world can benefit from.

green cutout“Boy With Machete,” Marco Gallotta and Erica Simone. Digital C-print with paper cutting process, 12″ x 18″

girl in water“Heavy Like Rain,” Michael David Adams. Black and white archival giclée print, 20″ x 16″

abstract“Lightnings,” Anastasia Samoylova. Archival pigment print, 24″ x 36″


“Galaxy Trees,” Jaci Berkopec. Metallic digital C-print, 17″ x 11″

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