The Most Important Human Rights Issue: Women

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

Sometimes an idea hits me leading to an epiphany. Epiphanies for me usually take the shape of the realization that a Woman_Montage_(1)belief I’ve held for a long time, is actually more important in the scheme of things than I had previously thought about. This happened with me some few years ago when the opposition to gay marriage defeated a voter initiative. I had been a believer in the need for equality for Gay men and women since I was a teenager. After all the bullies who were beating me up kept calling me a “fag, or “queer” and while I wasn’t, I got insight into what it must be like to be homosexual. In life you have the choice of identifying with the bully, or those who are bullied. I’ve always chosen the latter. So as a young adult I cried tears of joy when “Stonewall” happened and the police found that Gays would no longer be easy targets. Working for NYC’s Human Rights Administration and then living in Manhattan gave me the privilege of meeting and befriending Gay people of both sexes. When AIDS hit the scene I had many friends die and I worked to help the Division of Aids Services as a Budget Director. Yet while I always completely supported LGBT rights, for a while I believed the focus on Gay Marriage, shouldn’t be in the forefront of the movement. The argument over Proposition 8 in California  gave me an epiphany that led me to see that not only was the right to marriage an essential part of ensuring the Constitutional Rights of Gay people, but it was the key element. Being unable to assist in the health care choices of long term partners, in some cases even being barred from the funerals, or participating in ones’ partners Health Plan are important Constitutional issues and the essence of the battle.

Last night my wife and I saw and were very moved by Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln”. There was a scene in it during a congressional debate where one congressman said in effect “If we grant Blacks freedom, then we’ll have to give them the right to vote……and if we give them the right to vote we will have to give women the right to vote. In truth it was another six decades before this country bestowed upon its’ women the basic Constitutional Right of voting as my wife pointed out to me. Later in the evening we watched the Bill Maher Show and during the discussion reference was made to the frequency of abuse and murder of women throughout the world and suddenly my epiphany. While I’ve always supported women’s rights, it is so easy in a world where so many wrong things occur daily to not place the abuse and murder of women particularly at the top of an agenda decrying unjust war, drone attacks, racism, economic disparity and torture, to name a few. As it became clear to me last night, the murder, rape, bondage and the degradation of women is part and parcel of all these issues of evil and not merely one aspect of them. Considering that women comprise at least half of humanity, the mistreatment of women worldwide is actually the most important issue humanity faces. We must solve this before we can even hope to solve any other great issue. Because I’m not really a great thinker, many of my “epiphanies” are ones that are obvious to many. However, when they do occur I am willing to reconsider the hierarchy of my beliefs. Unlike my other guest blogs I will not tire you with the evidence of what to me is self-evident. Do you agree, or do you have other world problem solving priorities?

184 thoughts on “The Most Important Human Rights Issue: Women”

  1. Tony,

    I knew what you meant which is why I used the term “lukewarm” for my example … the message got lost in the “cuteness” of the phrase. Nobody thought Wendy’s when they heard the phrase so the campaign was a huge success and huge failure. The same could be said of the “we are the 99%”.

    To counter your assertion concerning Elizabeth Warren and the OWS influence I first must admit that your point of view as expressed in your earlier post before I mentioned Ms Warren is supported by several analysts who I respect. Basically that OWS was a failure that accomplished little.

    I, on the other hand, see the influence of OWS on the mindset of the country where Ms. Warren was concerned as quite influential and thus am at odds with those with whom I usually agree.

    Wall Street was totally against her and sunk millions into the effort to defeat her. Although she did fill a couple of government positions, Obama denied her the big one due to Wall Street’s objections. It was then that many of us worked to convince her to run for public office. Neither party wanted her and her chances of winning were viewed as slight. Then along came OWS. Donations to her campaign began flooding in from all over the country and the Republicans foolishly started tying her to the “OWS rabble”. Donations increased.

    She was an excellent communicator but an inexperienced campaigner who, in the end, squeaked out a victory. I put it to you that without the OWS of 2011, the majority of the country would have been unaware of Ms. Warren’s campaign and contributions would not have been forthcoming and she would have lost in 2012.

    Which came first; the chicken or the egg? That is a different discussion.

    I also am of the opinion that OWS was a shot across the bow … a polite practice run, if you will. I’m not talking conspiracy … I’m talking history. Much will depend on those who are in charge of righting the wrongs OWS fought to expose. If accountability is not forthcoming it is only a matter of time before the streets are once again jammed with protesters.

  2. “Urging people to rise up, she said: “I am rising for (the Delhi rape victim) and women like her. I am rising with the amazing women of my country. I am rising for the child in me, who I don’t think will ever forgive and recover from what happened to her. So, join me, let’s rise, let’s dance. Dance has the power to heal, to transform. So let’s transform ourselves and this world. Let’s rise together,” she said”

    -Anoushka Shankar, composer and daughter of the late sitar maestro Ravi Shankar

  3. In the old days I was an organizer/activist. Takes a lot of energy. I remember speaking to a group in the capital of a state where I was trying to organize a march on the Supreme Court. I realized the people there were really not in it for the content of the protest so much as they were in it to try to make themselves feel good. But this was not going to come out with any “feel good” results. We were going to lose and the protesters were going to have spent time and money and energy on the protest and some would even feel that we, as organizers, were guilty of improperly rallying them to a lost cause. I said all this to them. I ended the little speech with:

    “If you’re doing this because you really care about this case and what it has to say about our rights in this state and all other states, win or lose, come with us and put your heart and soul and VOICE into it. If you are doing all this because you want to FEEL GOOD, stay home and masturbate; this will NOT make you feel good. This will, in fact, probably end up making you feel very bad, discouraged, distressed, demoralized, outraged. If you can stand that and want to stand up anyway, join. If not, thank you for your time today and have a good life.”

    We got about half of them. One of my colleagues was angry with me for not “whipping up their enthusiasm.” I don’t know which I should have done: what I did or what she would have preferred. In retrospect, it doesn’t matter.

  4. Mike: Our opinions differ, I think you are moving the goal posts. A movement demanding X is not a “success” unless it gets some measure of “X.” If I set out to get banksters prosecuted, and produce a clever poem instead, I failed in my attempt to get banksters prosecuted.

  5. AP: For every protester, there are many thousands of people not protesting.

    When protesters look like they are having a fun party (laughing, singing, dancing, smokin’, wreaking destruction) the vast majority of the non-protesters presume the point of the protest is to have some selfish fun, and collaterally, that the protesters are there for that benefit, not because they care deeply about an issue.

    That presumption is quashed if the protesters appear to be serious.

    There is room in the world for both fun and seriousness, but fun is indeed antagonistic to a protest being taken seriously. If a protest is organized to be fun, everybody else assumes the organizer made it that way because they couldn’t get enough participants otherwise, so most of the people in it are really in it to have a party, not to seriously protest an injustice.

    A protest has to look like work, or suffering, or a sacrifice in order to gain traction with non-protesters. The more fun it is, the less of a sacrifice it is.

  6. Iran’s War On Fun

    By Golnaz Esfandiari

    October 02, 2011

    “A woman in the Iranian city of Mashhad has become the latest victim of Iran’s longest-standing and most unconventional war — the war against fun.

    The young woman, whose name and age has not been disclosed, jumped to her death over the weekend of September 24-25 from the sixth floor of a building. The apparent reason? — escape from a raid being conducted by security forces against a mixed-gender party she was attending. Fun mixed with fear of arrest and charges proved to be a deadly cocktail.

    Hadi Ghaemi from the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran believes Iranian authorities are to blame for her death. “These raids by security forces and police to people’s homes are clear human rights violations and attacks into people’s private lives,” he says.

    Sadly, the Mashhad woman’s fate is not unique.

    Precise figures are unavailable, but Ghaemi says there have been numerous cases of young people who have been killed while trying to escape police forces at party raids.

    Lashed For Mingling

    There’s also been scores of Iranians who have been detained, fined, and lashed because of their appearance, for attending parties, for mingling with members of the opposite sex, for drinking alcohol, for participating in water-gun fights, or other activities that are being taken for granted in many other countries.

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    It is part of the war against fun being waged by the authorities since the establishment of the Islamic republic some 32 years ago. Religion is most often cited as the main reason for the repressive measures. Some observers, however, say the crackdown has more to do with the authoritarian nature of the clerical establishment.

    Asef Bayat, a professor of sociology and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Illinois, says fun allows individuals to break free from the everyday discipline of life and from structures of power.

    Having fun, Bayat says, offers temporary liberation and an outlet for individuality and spontaneity — and this is something that authoritarian regimes don’t like. “They feel that fun somewhat diminishes individuals’ discipline and obligations to the big cause; the cause that, by and large, is defined by the regime,” he says.

    Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic, made clear that in his eyes fun was not compatible with Islam.

    “There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam,” Khomeini, who never laughed or smiled in public, was once quoted as saying. “There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.”

    Authorities have since worked hard to banish laughter, playfulness, or other such behavior from public life through warnings, but also through punishments.

    Laughter has been described as disrespectful to the values of the revolution and the blood of the martyrs. In its place, somber moods, mourning, and sadness have become the norm at public appearances and official events.

    As Iranian journalist Hossein Kermani explains, state indoctrination against fun starts early in Iran. “We’ve been told since our childhood, at school, that laughter is bad. We were told it’s vulgar and frivolous to laugh. One has to be serious. We were told it has to do with religion,” he says.

    In September, when young people in Tehran and several other cities engaged in public water fights, they were accused of violating Islamic principles. On social media, participants admitted only to seeking “a bit of fun.”

    One 18-year-old Iranian, who was jailed last year and fined for having a party where boys and girls were mingling together and dancing, told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that having fun in Iran is often accompanied by a feeling of fear.

    “I spent one night in jail for trying to have a good time,” he said. “I didn’t kill anybody or steal anything. I had just invited friends over.”

    While in the early years of the revolution those caught drinking or simply enjoying themselves at parties could expect to be lashed, nowadays money can solve the issue. People either pay a fine or bribe officials.

    “Things have changed,” explained one man who was lashed in the 1980s after being arrested at a party. “If you drink alcohol, for example, you pay money and everything is fine.”

    Going Underground

    As a result of the battle being waged the past three decades, fun has turned into an underground and secretive action. Parties are held in soundproofed homes, or after bribing the police. Those who choose to defy the official ban on alcohol drink at home. There they might listen to banned music and watch banned movies. And there are signs that, despite the obstacles, many young Iranians pay more attention to their physical appearance, fashion, and latest music hits, than values preached by the establishment.

    Fun has created a gap between the establishment and masses of people who through the act of fun have –intentionally or unintentionally– become dissidents.

    “Since in Iran everything that is fun is banned and seen negatively, young people, for example my friends and I, quickly realize that whatever they do to have fun, whether they want or not, is an act that goes against the official view.”

    Professor Bayat says whether having fun is an act of defiance or not doesn’t really matter because in both cases it contradicts the ethics of regimes such as the one in Iran.

    “In fact these regimes often find fun ethics as a competition that can take away people from their support base,” says Bayat. “So, in that way it of course diminishes their power.”

    Roya Boroumand, executive director at the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation that documents human rights abuses in Iran, believes Iran is waging a war it cannot win.

    She says instead of turning into docile citizens who follow the principles dictated by the establishment, Iran’s youth have become more eager to break the rules. “Whatever was banned and was supposed not to happen is happening. It demonstrates that Iran’s policies have [failed],” Boroumand said.

    In one of the latest warnings against potential fun, hard-line Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi said last week that students should spend less time surfing the Internet.

    “If a young student surfs the Internet until late in the night and is not looking for ‘scientific subjects,’ or if he watches movies and forgets his morning prayers, he cannot become a pious man,” the cleric was quoted as saying.”

  7. I think that it was Moliere who first said: “If everyone danced, there would be no war.”

    “Enough fun, children, it is your bedtime and the adults have work to do.” -Tony C.

    Some of us understand that there is room in the world for both. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    “fun is self-indulgent, fun is not serious, fun is for children.” -Tony C.

    Where to begin…

  8. AP: her dictum to dance as a means of protest has not been embraced

    See, I think the Afghanis have it right, even if for cultural reasons. Dancing and singing are fun, and fun is self-indulgent, fun is not serious, fun is for children. Making your protest self-indulgent is just a route to dismissal as a women joining together to have some childish fun.

    “Oh, how cute, you are singing and dancing. Enough fun, children, it is your bedtime and the adults have work to do.”




    The central message of Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising campaign – to bring an end to violence against women – is perhaps nowhere more keenly felt than in Afghanistan, writes Golnar Motevalli. She sends us this.

    Some 100 women and men marched in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, shouting “enough violence, we want peace” and “death to any enemy of women’s rights”.

    Almost as many men as women had joined the crowd, which was heavily guarded by Afghan police, wielding riot shields and kalashnikov rifles. The organisers kept the event closed to the public, in order to reduce any risk of antagonists infiltrating the event and stirring unrest.

    “As an Afghan man, I want to be here to show other Afghan men that violence against women is wrong and it has to end,” 25-year-old Tamim Shamal, an advocacy officer for the Afghan Civil Society Forum said.

    An Afghan woman shouts during a march calling for the end of violence against women in Kabul. Photograph: AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq An Afghan woman shouts during a march calling for the end of violence against women in Kabul. Photograph: AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq Photograph: Musadeq Sadeq/AP

    Whilst Ensler’s message of defiance against violence resonates strongly, her dictum to dance as a means of protest has not been embraced in a conservative, Muslim country where public images and depictions of women performing is frowned upon. References to dancing have been removed from literature and press releases.

    “I admire her feminism, but her work cannot be published here. If you talk about some of the language she uses, we wouldn’t be able to do this in Afghanistan,” Manizha Wafeq, a leading advocate of women’s rights in Afghanistan and one of the main organisers of Thursday’s march said.

    “It’s not in Afghan culture to sing and dance. But we will walk instead. For us, walking in the street is in itself an issue of security,” said Nasima Omari, a 26-year-old executive member of the Afghan Women’s Network.

    Afghan riot policemen stand guard during a march calling for the end of violence against women in Kabul on February 14 2013. ( Photograph: AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq Afghan riot policemen stand guard during a march calling for the end of violence against women in Kabul. Photograph: Musadeq Sadeq/AP)

  10. Thanks for the links, Swarthmore mom. As you said, not only is it going to be ugly, it already is.

  11. Blouise: “Where’s the beef” (lukewarm example of “unnecessary barrier to sales”

    I think I have been misunderstood. A barrier to sales is something that keeps the customer from buying. For example, a contract is a barrier to sales, a security deposit is a barrier to sales, a ‘sold as-is’ condition is a barrier to sales. A weak guarantee, mention of a restocking fee, even a money-back guarantee can be considered a barrier to sales if the customer worries about the conditions around it; if they have to hand you money and trust your promise to return it if they aren’t satisfied, then they have to think about trying your product or service. The genius of Sam Walton was a brave innovation that other discount stores feared greatly: The no questions asked, no receipt necessary, 100% money-back guarantee return for any reason policy. Sam Walton argued, before his death, that this was THE singular edge that made Walmart different than any other discount store, because it removed the number one barrier to sales for discount shoppers: The worry of getting stuck with an inferior product. While he was in charge, he took great glee in presenting crazy returns to his store managers, as examples of what to do: He refunded money on items that had obviously been used for years; he refunded money on (small) items Walmart did not even carry. If a customer brings in a patio umbrella turned inside out and broken by a hurricane: Give them their money back!

    Removing barriers to sales makes customers feel safe. The same thing applies to a movement. Nobody wants to be embarrassed by their associations, whether for being in the movement or just supporting it. MLK insisted on non-violent boycott, protest and refusal to move even in response to violence, because he needed to take away the excuse that the police and white supremacists were just responding to violence against them with violence on blacks. He knew that confusion over who hit who first would be a barrier to support, if there was any question about it. What reporters and TV needed to see was peaceful blacks exercising basic rights and being beaten and imprisoned for it, without fighting back. He mentions that specifically in his “I Have A Dream” speech.

    Blouise: Occupy Wall Street was about progressive tax policy changes and accountability and I give you a most unlikely impact that could never have been achieved, in my opinion, without the Occupy Wall Street crowds … the election of Elizabeth Warren. Nobody in either party wanted her anywhere near actual legislative influence.

    My opinion is different. I think Warren achieved that on her own; she gained fame and credibility for her own legislative ideas, and then translated that into a political platform. She was chair over TARP from 2008 to 2010, she was assistant to the President, advisor on the CFB, and announced her candidacy on September 14, 2011. Although there were many protests against TARP between 2008 and 2011, the actual “Occupy Wall Street” movement began September 17, 2011, three days after Warren officially announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination to oppose Scott Brown.

    Here is a September 5, 2012 article The Estranged Marriage Between Elizabeth Warren and Occupy Wall Street in which a reporter documents Warren’s distancing of her candidacy from OWS, and OWS members in Boston are lukewarm about her candidacy.

    If anything, I think Warren is correct in her claim that her ten years of research proved the intellectual validity of what OWS was complaining about.

    I do not see the causality; OWS did not raise money for Warren, it did not get its members to vote for Warren, it did not endorse Warren. TARP generated its own news and disorganized protests and Warren was already at the center of it and famous for her views before OWS began.

    I think concurrency does not prove causality; in my opinion the outrage over TARP and financial misdeeds spawned two children, the elder child is Elizabeth Warren’s political career, the younger child by three years is OWS. They spring from the same parent, not one from the other.

    1. “MLK insisted on non-violent boycott, protest and refusal to move even in response to violence, because he needed to take away the excuse that the police and white supremacists were just responding to violence against them with violence on blacks. He knew that confusion over who hit who first would be a barrier to support, if there was any question about it.”


      This is exactly so and shows MLK’s true genius. In those terms OWS screwed up by allowing their protest to get muddied. However, they were a great success when it came to finally presenting a meme to counter right wing meme making. That was the 1% vs. 99%. For years I had been trying to think of a meme to counter the right wing tactic of reducing issues to memes. The 1% was just such a meme and that alone make the OWS movement a success.

  12. Smom,

    It has been awhile (years) since I’ve eaten at a Mi Cocina. That’s not a sauce I recall from their menu. They do make tasty grub though.

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