Friday, 26 February 2010

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Women in Space Program

A few months ago I came across this article (via Wired):
I don't know whether the physiology is interesting in the context of that scientific discipline (I certainly don't find it particularly surprising that women were just as qualified as men for even a very physical job), or if this is considered a quirky historical story. Nor is it especially surprising that women were preventing from taking part in this high profile, prestigious and dangerous work at a time when women were unable to take active service in the military in most countries (not that this is something one should necessarily aspire to, but it's one of the most discriminating employers even today).

What I did find interesting (if not unusual) was the way that even when this particular group of women, the Mercury 13, had been allowed to take the tests, and had proved themselves as individuals, and had shown that in many categories (especially tolerance to sensory deprivation and claustrophobia) they were categorically superior to males in the same category, excuses were made to deny them the right to participate in the space program. From the unproven (menstruation will interfere with their ability) to the Catch 22 (only experienced test pilots, a career from which women are already barred, may qualify); men set the goalposts to get the results they wanted in the first place. Plus ça change...

Anyway, if you're a bit of a space geek like I am, this is a cool story.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Feminist Science Fiction

This month's issue of the speculative fiction magazine The Future Fire (which I co-edit) is a Feminist Science Fiction themed edition, featuring five stories that focus on sex and gender, women's issues, strong female protagonists and other socially aware literary themes. TFF is a free online magazine that focuses on social, political and speculative fiction, and also runs a Reviews Blog.

The Feminist Science Fiction themed issue was advertised in early 2009 and called for stories that focus on "gender, sexual identity and sexuality; stories that take the "radical idea" [that women are human beings] and do something about it; stories that can engage, empower, educate, and inspire men and women alike." As always, only the most excellent stories, that were both useful and beautiful, would be published. In the end there were so many great stories submitted that the "feminist science fiction" issue was split into two parts: in January this year we published the first issue focused on sex and gender, women's issues and strong female protagonists. In March we shall publish the follow-up, with several stories focused on sexuality and gender identity, GLBT issues; the "Queer Science Fiction" themed issue, if you will.

All of the stories in this issue are wonderful, I can say without hesitation. They are also beautifully illustrated. If you read them, we'd love your feedback and comments--all of the authors and artists deserve your support.

Related links:

What do Muslim women want?

The question is rather disingenuous, since the category 'Muslim women' contains many different groups of women, whose opinions (and dress) vary as much as 'Christian women'.

But Salma Yacoob, a Muslim woman and Birmingham city councillor explores some of the issues in this article in today's New Statesman.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Afghan Women's Writing Project

About a month ago I came across the Afghan Women's Writing Project, a website designed to give a voice and an international platform to women writing in Afghanistan, which is even now one of the most difficult countries for women to live in. The blog posts one or two pieces of writing a day, from creative writing or poetry to personal stories and accounts, and I find a lot of the writing simultaneously moving, heartbreaking or horrifying, and surprising, warm and hopeful. Alongside the testaments to abuse and repression and lack of freedoms are stories of hope, of women supported and encouraged by both male and female relatives, of people simply keeping hope and education alive even under the Taliban.

The story that first brought my attention to this site was "I am for sale, who will buy me?" via calls to try and save this young teacher of English from being sold to an abusive relative by her Talib brothers. But this same piece contains the story of the father who taught his daughter at home when it was illegal for her to go to school, who bought her books and encouraged her to learn and, later, to teach.

Others stories shared on AWWP include a profile of a female karate instructor, a girl whose letter to her parents persuaded them not to marry her off at 14 but allow her to enter higher education, a harrowing tale of escape from vengeful Taliban, and many other stories. As I say, both sobering atrocities and simple hope populate my news feeds in the morning thanks to this site. It's an excellent, eye-opening project.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Global Health blog by Sarah Boseley

The title here links to this Guardian blog, started 25 January 2010. It has a story today about money going towards developing a microbicide to protect women against HIV caught from heterosexual intercourse. Not there yet, but it may be a more practical way for some women to protect themselves, rather than asking their partner to wear a condom.

IMF works toward cancelling debt in Haiti

From Johann Hari in today's Independent

... something new and startling happened this month. For the first time, the IMF was stopped from shafting a poor country – by a rebellion here in the rich world. Hours after the quake, a Facebook group called "No Shock Doctrine For Haiti" had tens of thousands of members, and orchestrated a petition to the IMF of over 150,000 signatures demanding the loan become a no-strings grant. After Naomi Klein's mega-selling exposé, there was a vigilant public who wanted to see that the money they were donating to charity was not going to be cancelled out by the IMF.

And it worked. The IMF backed down. It publicly renounced its conditions – and even said it would work to cancel Haiti's entire debt. This is the first sign that exposing and opposing the IMF's agenda works. Klein says it is "unprecedented in my experience, and shows that public pressure in moments of disaster can seriously subvert shock doctrine tactics." Of course, the IMF needs to be watched vigilantly. Already it seems to be rolling back some of its panicked initial rhetoric and saying that "beyond the emergency phase" it may go back to business as usual. Very powerful interests want the IMF to continue to dance to their tune.

Not specific to women - but see post by Djibril below:

Thursday, 4 February 2010

European Women's Forum in Cadiz

This opened in Cadiz on Feb 3 2010, concentrating on combatting Violence against women. Calling itself Beijing +15. Co-hosted by Harriet Harman and Spanish Minister for Equality, Bibiana Aido, and also proposing regular meetings, and measures to encourage high-level participation by women.

I can't find a reference in normal UK press, so -

Otherwise I found it on Canal Sur info page:

It's a pre-forum for the UN meeting on 1 - 15 March 2010.

Roller derby - a woman's sport

Alas, not one I'll be taking up now, but it looks fun -

Wednesday, 3 February 2010