HOME : We will explore if misogyny is religiously sanctioned or men took it upon themselves to make it work for them, and in the process made a villain out of God and religion. One sentence that I have been repeating lately is "for every Muslim ass, there is a Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh or other ass" add hole if you need to.You cannot single out or blame any one religion or tradition, the representatives of religions make us decide about religion. We need to rise about stereotyping. We should not relish in putting down others. Finding the truth is our own responsiblity. Mike Ghouse

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Your Vagina Is Terrific

I am blessed to feel, act, think and believe in equality.  The following sentence caught my attention, "Women deferring to men about most things is infuriating enough, but about their most intimate body parts?" Dr. Gunter's article is classic to understand Gender Equality or Gender Pluralism. 

New York Times 

CreditCreditIllustration by Claire Milbrath
By Jen Gunter
Dec. 21, 2018

Illustration by Claire Milbrath

When I was in my 20s and already a doctor, I still let my sexual partners believe they were the experts in female anatomy, despite the fact that I was studying to be an OB/GYN. These men would tell me things that were untrue and I would count ceiling tiles while they fumbled around in the wrong ZIP code, if you know what I mean.

Instead of correcting them, I just nodded and faked my share of orgasms because I prioritized men feeling comfortable over my own sexual pleasure.

It’s enraging that faking orgasms to satisfy a man’s sexual script has not been confined to the trash heap of bad history. Studies tell us that up to 67 percent of women who have experienced penile-vaginal intercourse have faked orgasms. All for reasons painfully familiar to me: not wanting to hurt my male partner’s feelings, knowing I won’t be listened to, feeding his ego or simply wanting the sex to end.

We rarely talk openly about what’s required for a woman to have a good sexual experience, and so many heterosexual women learn the mechanics of sex and female orgasms from movies (most of which are written, directed and produced by ... men). What I like to call the three-strokes-of-penetration-bite-your-lip-arch-the-back-and-moan routine.

As if.

The other place women learn the mechanics of heterosexual sex? From the least educated person — a male partner who, statistically speaking, likely induced many fake orgasms.

Read Dr. Gunter’s first column
My Vagina Is Terrific. Your Opinion About It Is Not.Nov. 16, 2017

More than once I’ve had a male partner ask to have his female partner’s clitoris pointed out during a gynecological exam. While it’s great that he’s interested, I also think, “Come on, dude, you’ve been together for 10 years and you’re asking me?”

So I smile, give him an anatomy lesson and point out that he was with the local expert all along. It’s no wonder that the joke about men being unable to ask for directions never gets old for women.

Women deferring to men about most things is infuriating enough, but about their most intimate body parts?

We need the patriarchy out of the bedroom as much as we need it out of the boardroom.

Many years ago I decided to take back my body and claim my confidence. This was about both owning my years of education and accepting only a worthy male partner. A man truly interested in learning what I like.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Gender Pluralism and Misogyny

At the Center for Pluralism, we will explore if misogyny is religiously sanctioned or men took it upon themselves to make things to work for them. The unintended consequence of such acts was making a villain out of God and religion.

A few Men tend to be insecure about their own worth compared to women and devise ways to feel secure by causing women to be vulnerable. I am not talking about the Taliban in a distant land, but our own Taliban mindset here in America who deny women the right to choose what she does with her body, rejecting her equal pay, and expect her to defer her to her husband.

"A woman should behave like a woman" "Her place is home" echo the insecure religious men from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other traditions.

Women have put up with this crap from men far too long, and it's time we feel, act, talk and behave like equals. The silence of the right people is considered an endorsement to the right-wing views on women. The majority needs to speak up continuously. 

An excellent functional society strives to be just to every citizen when justness becomes a norm in every aspect of life - be it between spouses, family members, members of the community, town, state, and the nation, then people trust each other and mind their own business and let others be free from tensions.

Don't look to any one group to blame, look at yourselves first. A sentence that I have been repeating lately is "for every Muslim ass; there is a Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh or other ass" add hole if you want to.

Eventually, we need to realize that individuals must be held accountable for their wrongdoing, and not their religion.

I believe everything on the earth is created to seek its balance, whether it is matter or individual, family or a nation. Everyone struggles to have that elusive equilibrium which goes off balance as regularly as it is desired to be in balance.

For years, Islam has been at the forefront of receiving the accusations, but when I study Islam, it is not the religion, it is the men. The Christians find it convenient to blame the Old Testament, instead of doing the research and seeing what God meant.

Prophet Muhammad had time and again said, "Justice:" among people, within the family, among nations and tribe is the key to building a prosperous, cohesive society where no one has to live in fear of the other.

The other word for Islam would be Justice that is not what you see in the world today. Neither do you see Jesus's teachings practiced by Christians or Jews follow Torah or Bhagavad Gita by Hindus?

To me all religions are equally beautiful and divine; no religion is superior or inferior to any. If any on claims superiority, he or she does not understand the nature of his or her faith. Religion is not about arrogance which kills relationships and balance in the society, but it is about humility, that which builds bridges between people.

Dr. Mike Ghouse is committed to building a cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. His new book, the “American Muslim Agenda” is about everything you wanted to know about Muslims. The book is available at Xlibris and Amazon. Mike is a public speaker, author, interfaith wedding officiant, and the executive director of the Center for Pluralism in Washington, DC. More about him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikeghouse/

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Padmavat - a film is Reduced to a Vagina

The following article in the letter format boldly takes on misogyny expressed in the film Padmavat. It is a good article questioning the misogyny, but the writer is not clear about the atrocities committed during the partition (of India and Pakistan), she sets out writing about Gender Pluralism, but left blanks and biases without clarifying the occurrences and reinforces prejudice against the people of other religion. If you see differently, please share your comment.

Mike Ghouse

Courtesy: The Wire, India 

‘At The End of Your Magnum Opus… I Felt Reduced to a Vagina – Only’

Dear Mr. Bhansali,
At the outset Sir, congratulations on finally being able to release your magnum opus ‘Padmaavat’ – minus the ‘i’, minus the gorgeous Deepika Padukone’s uncovered slender waist, minus 70 shots you apparently had to cut out.. but heyyyy! You managed to have it released with everyone’s heads still on their shoulders and noses still intact. And in this ‘tolerant’ India of today, where people are being murdered over meat, and school children are targets for avenging some archaic notion of male pride, that your film even managed a release – that is I guess commendable, and so again, congratulations.
Congratulations also on the stunning performances all around by your entire cast — primary and supporting.  And, of course, the film was a stunning visual treat. But then all of this is to be expected from a brilliant auteur like yourself, a man who leaves his stamp on everything he touches.
By the way Sir, we know each other, after a fashion. I don’t know if you remember, but I played a tiny role in your film Guzaarish. A two-scene -long role, to be precise.  I remember having a brief chat with you about my lines, and you asking me what I thought about the lines. I remember feeling proud for a whole month that Sanjay Leela Bhansali had asked me my opinion. I watched you agitatedly explaining to junior artists in one scene, and to the jimmy jib operator in the second scene; some minutiae of the particular shot you were taking. And I remember thinking to myself, “Wow! This man really cares about every little detail in his film.” I was impressed with you Sir.
An avid watcher of your films, I marveled at how you pushed boundaries with every film you made and how stars turned into fierce and deep performers under your able direction. You moulded my idea of what epic love must be like and I fantasised about the day I will be directed by you in a protagonist part. I was and remain a fan.
And I want you to know, I really fought for your film when it was still called Padmavati. I grant you, I fought on Twitter timelines –not on the battlefield, and I sparred with trolls not raving manic Muslims; but still I fought for you. I said to TV cameras the things I thought you were not being able to say because your Rs 185 crore were on the line.
Here’s proof:
And I genuinely believed what I said. I genuinely believed and still believe that you and every other person in this country has the right to say the story they want to say, the way they want to say it, showing how much ever stomach of the protagonist they want to show; without having their sets burnt, their selves assaulted, their limbs severed or their lives lost.
Also, in general, people should be able to make and release films and children should be able to get to school safely.  And I want you to know that I really wished that your film turn out to be a stupendous success, a blockbuster breaking box office records, whose collections itself would be a slap in the faces of the Karni Sena terrorists and their ilk. And so it was with great excitement and the zeal of a believer that I booked first day, first show tickets for Padmaavat, and took my whole family and our cook to watch the film.
Perhaps it is because of this attachment and concern that I had for the film that I am SO stunned having watched it. And perhaps that is why I take the liberty and have the temerity to write to you. I will try and be concise and direct though there is much to say.
  • Women have the right to live, despite being raped sir.
  • Women have the right to live, despite the death of their husbands, male ‘protectors’, ‘owners’, ‘controllers of their sexuality’.. whatever you understand the men to be.
  • Women have the right to live — independent of whether men are living or not.
  • Women have the right to live. Period.
It’s actually pretty basic.
Some more basic points:
  • Women are not only walking talking vaginas.
  • Yes, women have vaginas, but they have more to them as well. So their whole life need not be focused on the vagina, and controlling it, protecting it, maintaining it’s purity. (Maybe in the 13th century that was the case, but in the 21st century we do not need to subscribe to these limiting ideas. We certainly do not need to glorify them. )
  • It would be nice if the vaginas are respected; but in the unfortunate case that they are not, a woman can continue to live. She need not be punished with death, because another person disrespected her vagina without her consent.
  • There is life outside the vagina, and so there can be life after rape. (I know I repeat, but this point can never be stressed enough.)
  • In general there is more to life than the vagina.
You may be wondering why the hell I am going on and on thus about vaginas. Because Sir, that’s what I felt like at the end of your magnum opus. I felt like a vagina. I felt reduced to a vagina–only. I felt like all the ‘minor’ achievements that women and women’s movements have made over the years– like the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to education, equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, the Vishakha judgement, the right to adopt children…… all of it was pointless; because we were back to basics.
We were back to the basic question — of right to life. Your film, it felt, had brought us back to that question from the Dark Ages – do women – widowed, raped, young, old, pregnant, pre-pubescent… do they have the right to live?
I understand that Jauhar and Sati are a part of our social history. These happened. I understand that they are sensational, shocking dramatic occurrences that lend themselves to splendid, stark and stunning visual representation; especially in the hands of a consummate maker like yourself — but then so were the lynchings of blacks by murderous white mobs in the 19th century in the US – sensational, shocking dramatic social occurrences. Does that mean one should make a film about it with no perspective on racism? Or, without a comment on racial hatred? Worse, should one make a film glorifying lynchings as a sign of some warped notion of hot-bloodedness, purity, bravery – I don’t know, I have no idea how possibly one could glorify such a heinous hate crime.
Surely Sir, you agree that Sati, and Jauhar are not practices to be glorified. Surely, you agree that notwithstanding whatever archaic idea of honour, sacrifice, purity propels women and men to participate in and condone such practices; that basically Sati and Jauhar, like the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Honour Killings, are steeped in deeply patriarchal, misogynist and problematic ideas.  A mentality that believes that the worth of women lies in their vaginas, that female lives are worthless if the women are no longer controlled by male owners or if their bodies have been ‘desecrated’ by the touch of ; or even the gaze of a male who doesn’t by social sanction ‘own’ or ‘control’ the female.
Practices like Sati, Jauhar, FGM, Honour Killings should not be glorified because they don’t merely deny women equality, they deny women personhood. They deny women humanity. They deny women the right to life. And that is wrong. One would have assumed that in 2018, this is not a point that even needs to be made; but apparently, it does. Surely, you wouldn’t consider making a film glorifying FGM or Honour Killings!
Sir, you will say to me that I am over-reacting and that I must see the film in its context. That it’s a story about people in the 13th Century. And in the 13th century that’s what life was– polygamy was accepted,  Muslims were beasts who devoured meat and women alike, and honourable Hindu women happily jumped into their husbands funeral pyre, and if they couldn’t make it to the funeral, they built a pyre and rushed into it — in fact, they liked the idea of collective suicide so much that they gleefully discussed it over their daily beautification rituals. “Verisimilitude” you will say to me.
No Sir; Rajasthan in the 13th century with its cruel practices is merely the historical setting of the ballad you have adapted into the film Padmaavat. The context of your film is India in the 21st century; where five years ago, a girl was gang-raped brutally in the country’s capital inside a moving bus. She didn’t commit suicide because her honour had been desecrated, Sir. She fought her six rapists. She fought them so hard that one of those monsters shoved an iron rod up her vagina. She was found on the road with her intestines spilling out. Apologies for the graphic details, Sir, but this is the real ‘context’ of your film.
A week before your film released, a 15-year-old Dalit girl was brutally gang-raped in Jind in Haryana; a crime bearing sinister similarities to the rape of Nirbhaya.
You do know that acts like Sati and raping women are two sides of the same mindset. A rapist attempts to violate and attack a woman in her genital area, penetrate it forcibly, mutilate it in an effort to control the woman, dominate her or annihilate her. A Sati- Jauhar apologist or supporter attempts to annihilate  the woman altogether if the genitals have been violated or if her genitals are no longer in the control of a ‘rightful’ male owner. In both cases the attempt and idea is to reduce women to a sum total of their genitals.
The context of art, any art is the time and place when it was created and consumed. And that’s why this gang-rape infested India, this rape condoning mindset, this victim blaming society is the actual context of your film, Sir. Surely in this context, you could have offered some sort of a critique of Sati and Jauhar in your film?
You will say that you put out a disclaimer at the beginning of the film claiming that the film did not support Sati orJauhar. Sure Sir, but you followed that up with a two-hour-45-minute-long paean on Rajput honour, and the bravery of honourable Rajput women who chose happily to sacrifice their lives in raging flames, than to be touched by enemy men who were not their husbands but were incidentally Muslim.
Swara Bhasker. Courtesy: Swara Bhasker
Swara Bhasker. Courtesy: Swara Bhasker
There were more than three instances of the ‘good’ characters of your story speaking of Sati/Jauhar as the honourable choice, your female protagonist – epitome of both beauty, brains and virtue sought permission from her husband to commit Jauhar, because she could not even die without his permission; soon after she delivered a long speech about the war between Satya and Asatya, Dharm and Adharm and presented collective Sati to be the path of Truth and Dharm.
 Then in the climax, breathtakingly shot of course – hundreds of women bedecked in red like Goddess Durga as bride rushed into the Jauhar fire while a raving Muslim psychopathic villain loomed over them and a pulsating musical track – that had the power of an anthem; seduced the audience into being awestruck and admiring of this act. Sir, if this is not glorification and support of Sati andJauhar, I really do not know what is.
I felt very uncomfortable watching your climax, watching that pregnant woman and little girl walk into the fire. I felt my existence was illegitimate because God forbid anything untoward happened to me, I would do everything in my power to sneak out of that fiery pit– even if that meant being enslaved to a monster like Khilji forever. I felt in that moment that it was wrong of me to choose life over death. It was wrong to have the desire to live. This Sir, is the power of cinema.
Your cinema particularly is inspiring, evocative and powerful. It can move audiences to emotional highs and lows. It can influence thinking and that, Sir, is why you must be responsible as to what it is you are doing and saying in your film.
It was with great difficulty that a group of reform-minded Indians, and the provincial British Colonial governments and Princely States in India abolished and criminalised Sati in a series of judgments between 1829 and 1861. In independent India, The Indian Sati Prevention Act (1988) further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting, and glorifying of Sati. Your act of thoughtlessly glorifying this misogynistic criminal practice is something you ought to answer for, Sir. As your ticket- buying audience, I have the right to ask you how and why you did this.
You must be aware that modern Indian history has recorded some more recent Jauhar– like acts. During India and Pakistan’s bloody Partition some 75,000 women were raped, kidnapped, abducted, forcibly impregnated by men of the ‘other’ religion. There were numerous instances of voluntary and assisted suicides by women, in some cases husbands and fathers themselves beheaded their wives and daughters before men of the ‘other’ religion could touch them.
Bir Bahadur Singh, survivor of the riots in Thoa Khalsa in Punjab, described a scene of women jumping into the village well to commit suicide. In about half an hour, he recalled, the well was full. The women on top survived. His mother was a survivor. Singh, recalls author Urvashi Butalia in her 1998 book The Other Side Of Silence, was ashamed of his mother for living for the remainder of her life. This is among the darkest periods of Indian history and ought to be remembered with shame, horror, sadness, reflection, empathy, nuance; not with thoughtless sensational glorification. These sad tales of the Partition, too, are a less obvious context of your film Padmaavat.
Mr. Bhansali, I will end in peace; wishing that you make many more films the way you want to, and are allowed to shoot and release them in peace; that you, your actors, your producers, your studio and your audiences remain safe from threats and vandalism. I promise to fight trolls and television commentators for your freedom to express; but I also promise to ask you questions about the art you make for public consumption. Meanwhile, let’s hope that no zealot member of any Karni Sena or some Marni Sena gets the idea to demand decriminalisation of the practice of Sati!
Swara Bhasker
Desirous of Life
Swara Bhasker is an award winning actress in the Hindi film industry whose filmography includes the critically acclaimed Anaarkali Of Aarah (2017), the critical-commercial success Nil Battey Sannata (2016);  superhit blockbuster films Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo (2015),  Tanu Weds Manu Returns (2015), Raanjhanaa (2013) and Tanu Weds Manu (2011).
She is also an occasional writer and columnist and her short stories and articles have appeared in The Little Magazine, Seminar, The Himal Southasian, The Hindu and the Indian Express.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sexual harassment in the Jewish community and Solutions

Sexual harassment is rampant in every group of people with no exception. The uncivil men among men feel entitled to women, every woman that they see.  The #Metoo movement is a good beginning to end such harassment and treat every man and woman as equal and respecting the sanctity of each individual. This news is the same for Muslims, just have to switch the names - Mosque instead of Synagogue, Muslim in place of Jews.

A few Muslims are arrogant that Islam protects women, yes it does, but Muslims are men. One of the sentences in the following article is a perfect descriptor, "
Despite our moral code, however, sexual misconduct in the Jewish community too often goes unaddressed."  Replace Jewish with Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Sikh or the other. 

Mike Ghouse

Courtesy: JTA.org, January 16, 2018

6 ways to address sexual harassment in the Jewish community

(JTA) — #MeToo. #GamAni. The stories are numerous and painful. They span decades and reach every corner of the Jewish community. Enough is enough. The time is now for us to finally and fully address sexual harassment in Jewish institutional life.
When it comes to sexual harassment, Jewish teachings are unequivocal: We are obligated to put an end to the behavior for the sake of the victim, the perpetrator and the community as a whole. Despite our moral code, however, sexual misconduct in the Jewish community too often goes unaddressed. As Hollywood, media and government offices grapple with their ethical challenges, it is clear we need a reckoning of our own.
When the Good People Fund surveyed Jewish professionals in 2017, it found that sexual harassment is perceived by respondents to be tolerated in Jewish organizations. Female CEOs, fundraisers and rabbis frequently report problems in their interactions with donors and lay leaders. Female employees report feeling some level of harassment is inevitable, and most believe — and some have left the field as a result — that their organizations are ineffective at preventing or addressing it.
Indeed, the recent Leading Edge study found that only two-thirds of employees of Jewish organizations report that they are aware of their organization’s sexual harassment policies, and only about one-third know what to do or where to go if they experience harassment.
The time is now to end this reality. The time is now to move from talk to action. The time is now for us to commit to acting individually and collectively to build safer, more respectful and equitable places to work. We must come together across political, denominational and gender lines to address the power dynamics and structural inequalities that allow harassment and abuse to take root. We must raise the bar of fairness and equality in our workplaces, institutions and the spaces in between.
To succeed, we need to advance cultural and practical change. We at the Schusterman Foundation are joining with other foundations and organizations to explore how we can help create systemic change in Jewish communal life on both fronts.
Here are five crucial areas in which we can and must act:
Ensure accountability
To eliminate harassment in our community, all of us — funders, nonprofit professionals and lay leaders — must hold ourselves and our organizations accountable. I envision a pledge, akin to the Child Safety Pledge, committing us to uphold safety and respect in and around the Jewish workplace as an important step forward. A common pledge — backed by tangible resources and collective action — could ensure that organizations walk their talk and actively pursue today’s best practices for preventing and responding to sexual harassment.
Exhibit leadership
Committed, engaged organizational and philanthropic leaders are critical to changing the status quo. Thanks to the outstanding work of Commissioners Chai Feldblum and Victoria Lipnic, who led the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace, we know that “the cornerstone of a successful harassment prevention strategy is the consistent and demonstrated commitment of senior leaders to create and maintain a culture in which harassment is not tolerated.”
Those in leadership positions must start by refraining from and putting an end to adverse behavior. Jewish leaders need to show they will not stand for or accept sexual harassment and take proactive steps to promote a safe, respectful Jewish organizational culture. Funders, too, must commit to this work — not just for the organizations we support, but also to help equalize the relationship between donors and Jewish professionals, and to strengthen our own internal cultures.
Refresh policies and procedures
In the wake of #MeToo, every Jewish organization must have in place the modern infrastructure of a safe workplace, including transparent policies, consistent training and protected reporting methods. The EEOC recommendations are clear on this front as well. Healthy work environments need “strong and comprehensive harassment policies; trusted and accessible complaint procedures; and regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization.”
In addition to updating our own policies and procedures, those who serve as funders can request anti-harassment and discrimination policies in our grant applications, share sample templates and best practices with grantees, and refer them to expert resources.
Train staff and boards
Annual, ideally in-person training of staff and boards are vital and can be customized to the fields and organizations they serve. They can transcend the harasser-victim dichotomy and focus on more effective methods, such as empowering bystanders and helping employees understand how they can advocate for one another. For models, we can look to the Respect in the Workplace training currently offered by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York or to those Keshet provides on tolerance and inclusion.
Facilitate reporting

Every employee in the Jewish sector should know and trust their organization’s reporting structure. One of the most common refrains is that employees do not know who to turn to if they experience or witness harassment. This is equally true at foundations and all other kinds of nonprofits.
It is incumbent upon us as Jews that our reporting structures allow for fair consideration and due process for both the accuser and the accused. To that end, it is worth considering external reporting structures like those suggested by Yehuda Kurtzer and Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who have called for the creation of a neutral platform for those seeking redress without fear of retribution. We may also consider the use of ombudsmen or new tools like AllVoices, an app-based reporting service under development.
Equal opportunity

Beyond these five areas, the most important way to create sustainable change in our community is to ensure that women are treated equitably and have opportunities to advance to top leadership roles.
Starting today, we must help elevate women’s voices in Jewish life. We must advocate for pay equity for comparable roles. We must include more women on CEO search committees and candidate interview lists. We must mentor and sponsor women in advancing in their careers. We must, as Advancing Women Professionalshas taught us, make the choice not to serve on or support panels, committees and initiatives where women are not represented. When we raise up women, we raise up everyone — especially those of diverse, underrepresented backgrounds.
Indeed, we can make an inclusive, safe and respectful environment a key element of great Jewish workplaces. In doing so, we will create spaces free from harassment, gender disparagement and bias; make our offices models of what a modern workplace should be; and usher in a new era of leadership that better reflects and supports the people and communities we serve.
Let’s make 2018 the year we live up to the steadfast ethics of our people and put an end to sexual harassment in the Jewish community once and for all. Let’s join together to create a culture in which nobody ever again has to say #MeToo or #GamAni.
(Lisa Eisen is the vice president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, a global organization committed to igniting the passion and unleashing the power in young people to create positive change; www.schusterman.org.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

Gender Pluralism:: Ending the gender binary


As a humanitarian and a social scientist, I welcome this decision by the supreme court of India to include Transgender in "all men are created equal". We have ways to go, but this is a moment of celebration, celebrating the right to be who you are.

Mike Ghouse
# # #

Gender Pluralism:: Ending the gender binary
Courtesy of THE HINDU newspaper.

Chapal Mehra

BROAD DEFINITION: With the Supreme Court's verdict, gender has come to mean individual choice and experience rather than what is socially acceptable.

— Photo: Meeta Ahlawat BROAD DEFINITION: With the Supreme Court's verdict, gender has come to mean individual choice and experience rather than what is socially acceptable. 
 Challenging the dominant view

With this judgment, the Court has challenged the dominant view of gender identity. In a society that has focused on a binary, this is revolutionary. In this judgment, the court recognises that “individual experience” of gender is one of the most fundamental aspects of “self-determination, dignity and freedom.” Further the judgment relates the right to freedom of expression to one’s right to express one’s self-identified gender. Thus, the idea of gender is transformed from social acceptability to individual choice and experience.

The judgment is significant in many other ways as well. By ending the gender binary, the Court has opened the discussion on the rights of marriage, adoption and inheritance for the transgender community. The judgment also recognises the community’s position as a socially and economically backward category, and directs the state for appropriate affirmative action. More specifically, it directs the state to provide the community access to health services and even separate toilets.

For India’s transgender community, it is their first encounter with equality in a democratic framework. At the same time, this thoughtful, inclusive judgment is significant for all Indians, especially minorities. It comes at a time when India’s political parties are engaged in a vitriolic confrontation over minorities and their rights. The Court’s interpretation — of justice, equality, freedom and dignity and the role of the state — should remind our political class that the rights of Indian citizens, irrespective of gender or sexual orientation, are safeguarded by the Constitution. The judges quote Aristotle, Kant, Rawls and Amartya Sen to create a broader narrative on justice — something extremely relevant to this election.

Despite the euphoria, the judgement is not without problems. A broad sweep of identities neglects many identities. Also, the procedures for implementation lie with the States and the Centre. Interestingly, it also evades extensive comment on Section 377 which criminalises sex between homosexuals, which the judges term as a “colonial legacy.” It remains to be seen how this judgment will interact with the petition on Section 377, to be considered soon. Rationally, it will be difficult to give citizens the right to choose their gender but not the right to choose who they love. The Court’s decision on Section 377 will tell us whether the highest court in the land can live with deeply contradictory ideas of justice, freedom, and equality.

Yet, the process of change will now be irreversible. Just as law can manufacture intolerance, it can also create gradual social acceptance. Social attitudes may not transform overnight but Indian society only needs to look at its own history of inclusiveness. The transgender community was, until the advent of colonialism, a respected section of society. The Hindu Right should note that transgenders are mentioned in the Ramayana, and that it is Ram who gives them the power to bless important occasions such as childbirth and marriage. Also, Shiva’s Ardhanarishwar form is well-known and widely worshipped.

The role of the British

The tradition is not limited to Hinduism alone. Islamic, Jain and other cultures have also included the transgender community and other sexual minorities. The famous Sufi saint, Bulle Shah, dressed as a woman to please his master and often danced with eunuchs. Yet all this changed when India was colonised. The Indian Penal Code enacted by the British recognised only two genders, creating a binary that never existed.

Over time, these constructs were absorbed in Indian society. The community has since faced extreme forms of violence for not conforming to socially dictated gender identities. This violence often happens within families and communities, where transgenders face abuse, discrimination, disinheritance and abandonment. This judgment will hopefully begin to alter this in some measure.

Despite its many flaws and the incremental nature of this change, this is a moment of celebration not just for India’s transgender community or its sexual minorities but for all minorities. In a deeply fractured democracy, the Court has safeguarded the right to individual choice and freedom. It is reassuring for every Indian that despite our debasing politics, justice, equality and individual liberty — ideas that define India — will be safeguarded, and the right to choose our identity will go beyond the binary.

(Chapal Mehra in an independent New Delhi-based writer.) 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gender apartheid is real in UK universities. So why aren't more people fighting it?

Its just not UK, this is all over the world. The Jewish women are fighting for this in Israel for a long time, its happening elsewhere.  I have noted in my comments earlier in a similar posting , that separation is not much of a problem in societies with similar culture like India, Pakistan, Arab Nations and elsewhere, where Hindus, Muslim, Christians, Sikhs follow the separation in places of worship and schools, and it is a norm. The problem occurs when it become a legal separation in mixed cultures and one is forced to sit separately - not a cultural norm of the society in UK, US or other western nations. It should be a choice, wherever the girls want to sit.
Mike Ghouse

As 8,000 people sign a petition against gender segregation in British universities, a rally last night attracted only 100 protesters. Who is fighting the good fight, asks Emma Pearce

Campaigners protest against gender segregation in British universities
Campaigners protest against gender segregation in British universities 

University degrees were first offered to women in the UK in 1878, but last night, stood in front of the London headquarters of Universities UK, which claims to be ‘the voice for UK universities’, it appeared that the fight for equality is far from over.
Standing in Tavistock Square on a freezing December night, over 100 campaigners and students gathered to protest against the "shame of gender apartheid" at universities.
Last month, new guidelines from Universities UK suggested institutions could allow gender segregation during lectures given by external speakers, based on the teachings of their religion, as "there does not appear to be any discrimination on gender grounds merely by imposing segregated seating".

The rally last night was purposefully held on International Human Rights Day and on the day of Nelson Mandela's memorial, to expose the fact that gender segregation is widespread.
The protest came after some 8,000 people signed a petition to rescind endorsement of sex segregation at UK Universities.
The rally against gender segregation

Maryam Namazie, a researcher at the University of London and one of the organisers of the event, said that she has noticed a rise of Islamism across UK Universities that is not truly representing the views of most Muslims. She said: “In the UUK’s efforts to be inclusive they are encouraging sexism and endorsing discrimination.

“It's about free speech and its about Islamists imposing their rules and projecting women as symbols of chaos in society."

A whole host of speakers were at the protest that climaxed in the chanting of ‘shame on UUK’ directed at the organisation’s headquarters.

A report in the spring revealed gender segregation, at events run solely by student Islamic

societies or in the interests of Muslims, is widespread.

Student Rights, which carried out the research, found that radical preachers spoke at 180 events at universities including Cardiff and University College London (UCL) between March 2012 and March 2013. Segregated seating for men and women was promoted or implied at more than a quarter of the events, at 21 separate institutions.

“Words cannot fully describe what I feel today,” said Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, a feminist group. “Rage, indignation and sorrow are just some that spring to mind.” And she went on to say “that the assertion of religious political power obliterates the very ideas of liberty and equality that so many people lived for and died for”.

‘Separate but equal’ is not equal at all was the message being spread by protesters. And of course it isn’t. By pursuing the appeasement of these religious fundamentalists anyone is right to question where this might end?

You would also be right to question why splitting people on race or sexuality would cause public outrage but splitting people on gender has received relatively little attention?

Last night's protest echoed much of what Nelson Mandela fought for. Ms Patel likened the two examples by saying that UUK’s justification for its actions was that it was “trying to uphold equalities law [but] this was the same defence they used for racial apartheid in South Africa”.

The protesters seemed very inspired by the legacy of Mandela and felt that much that he supported could be used in their fight for co-education.

Most of us might think that we have come a huge way in equality in education but what the report of the UUK has exposed is that we still have a long way to go.
Does the UK have a problem with co-education between men and women?

Helen Palmer, chair of the Secular Europe Campaign, said last night that Cambridge University offered its first degree to women in 1948 and Oxford is celebrating its 40th anniversary of co-education this year. But she said that St Bennets, a boys only college at Oxford, is only now, in 2013, considering allowing female students.

Two young women at the rally, from Oxbridge, were concerned about the progress of girls in higher education.

 Geetanjali Normande, 20, and Radha Bhatt, 19, at the protest

Radha Bhatt, 19, a student at Cambridge University, said: "I am absolutely shocked and concerned that this segregation is still going on … the idea that Muslim leaders are uncomfortable with men and women sitting together and that UUK is appeasing them shows that they have a problem with co-education.”

Geetanjali Normande, 20, from Oxford University, said: "It scares me that institutions like UUK which exist to represent universities and the student body find that it is acceptable to condone this. It sounds like they are so far removed from what it is to be a student and to be told that you can’t sit where you want to in your lecture.

“I grew up in a very religious background but my family are extremely supportive of me getting an education.”

So it begs the question do we still need to be fighting for co-education? Should we be encouraging people to move away from gender-apartheid and see people instead as individuals who must be treated equally? The protesters clearly think there is a long way to go and a big battle still to fight.

UUK last night defended its
report. A statement said: “The guidance does not promote gender segregation. It includes a hypothetical case study involving an external speaker talking about his orthodox religious faith who had requested segregated seating areas for men and women.
"The case study considered the facts, the relevant law and the questions that the university should ask, and concluded that if neither women nor men were disadvantaged.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the National Union of Students, which represents students, said it support the rights of groups to self organise how they wish but it would be "concerned about enforced segregation and certainly does not endorse it."

An NUS statement said: "We believe the Universities UK guidance is saying that the university needs to take law into account when making decisions about what can and can’t happen on a campus.

“A university has a legal duty to protect freedom of speech, but also whilst protecting student safety and balancing a competing range of conflicting duties, such as equality, or the right to protest."

Emma Pearce is a second year politics student at the University of Nottingham. Follow her on Twitter @EmmaPearcee

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Jimmy Carter: How religion subjugates women

I have always been a great admirer of President Jimmy Carter, a great humanist. This is a good article to read and reflect. Mike Ghouse

The former president speaks out against doctrine used to promote misogyny and abuse. Are you listening, Obama?

Courtesy: Salon

Topics: Religion, Broadsheet, Life News

“The Words of God Do Not Justify Cruelty to Women“: That’s the title of an Op-Ed that ran in the U.K. Observer earlier this week. It wasn’t written by a feminist theologian like Karen Armstrong or one of the women on President Obama’s faith-based council — but by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

In the article, Carter explains his painful decision to split with the Southern Baptist Church “when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be ‘subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.”

Carter left the Souther Baptists in 2000, when he was 76. He was writing this Op-Ed as one of a dozen world leaders organized two years ago by Nelson Mandela. The Elders, as they call themselves are, well, older and out of public office. They bring their stature and wisdom to the intractable, often unpopular political issues of our time and seek not to solve them but to make them more visible. They are the people many of us have come to love — Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Yunus, Kofi Annan, men with sweet demeanors and nice smiles and real records of changing the world. Some of the world’s strongest and most accomplished women are part of the group, too: Gro Brundtland, Mary Robinson, Aung San Suu Kyi, Graca Machel and Ela Bhatt, who has organized self-employed women workers in India into a powerful force for change.

Now they are taking on religious and traditional practices that harm women. And they chose Jimmy Carter to issue the opening salvo. Carter, it has been said, is a better man than he was president, and he has been proving it since he left office. He’s gotten better with the passage of time. Carter once fired Bella Abzug, whom he had appointed to head his National Advisory Committee on Women. And as a Southern Baptist and Sunday school teacher, he never seemed much interested in women. But 10 years ago, when the Southern Baptist Convention definitively ruled out equality for women and blamed us for original sin, he up and quit the church.
Carter pulls no punches in his Op-Ed. Religious discrimination against women has, he says, “provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries. The male interpretations of religious texts and the way they interact with, and reinforce, traditional practices justify some of the most pervasive, persistent, flagrant and damaging examples of human rights abuses.” He continues: ”The truth is that male religious leaders have had — and still have — an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”

Carter and the Elders are equal-opportunity critics. No country or religion, no practices go uncriticized. Discriminatory religious beliefs are described as “repugnant.” They are used to excuse “slavery, forced prostitution, genital mutilation.” They cost women and girls “control over their own bodies and lives.”

Carter touches on some of the most important aspects of discrimination that have an impact on development and poverty, noting that many women “face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.” The fact that over a half a million women die each year from preventable conditions during pregnancy and childbirth is one of the continuing tragedies of poor international leadership.

Islam does not escape criticism as Carter notes that “In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.”

The U.S. is not let off the hook, either. Carter links the flawed conservative interpretation of scripture to the kind of “discriminatory thinking … behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in Britain and the United States.”

The big question is whether Carter’s message will get much play at the White House. Past efforts by the former president have not had much traction. For Obama, who has indicated a commitment to women’s rights worldwide but who has approached religion with great deference, there is much to ponder in Carter’s message.

Women’s equality cannot be achieved without stepping on the toes of traditional interpretations of women’s lack of rights that permeate the world’s — and Christianity’s — texts. Carter gets it: “I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge.”

His Op-Ed closes with the following words: “We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasise the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share. “

Let’s hope our Obama and his faith-based council are listening.

Frances Kissling is a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice. More Frances Kissling.