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Global Roundup: Amnesty Urges End to Prosecution of Egyptian Feminist, Singapore Issues White Paper to Spur Women's Rights, Ugandan Artists Fight Patriarchy in Exhibit
Curated by FG intern Jana Kortam
Rasha Azab via Amnesty International
Amnesty International has called on Egyptian authorities to immediately put an end to the prosecution of Rasha Azab, a journalist and writer, who is on trial for her outspoken support for survivors of sexual violence.
Rasha Azab is on trial for charges of “insult,” defamation” and “deliberately disturbing [the plaintiff]”, in relation to Tweets in which she publicly expressed solidarity with survivors of sexual violence who published anonymous testimonies accusing film director Islam Azazi of committing multiple sexual assaults and used curse words to express her dismay at the impunity he enjoys. If convicted, Azab could face up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to EGP 50,000 (US$3200).
Rasha Azab is a well-known political activist and defender of women’s rights in Egypt. Prosecuting her for expressing solidarity with survivors of sexual violence sends a chilling message that women should suffer in silence and refrain from seeking justice and redress for rape and sexual violence…It is the state’s responsibility to prevent and investigate sexual and gender-based violence, yet Egypt has repeatedly opted to instead punish those who speak out against it - Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director
In December 2020, Daftar Hekayat, a feminist blog published six anonymous testimonies accusing film director Islam Azazi of sexual violence, including one allegation of rape. According to women’s rights activists, survivors chose to post on this blog anonymously given their lack of trust in the judicial system.
Consistent with patterns of entrenched impunity for sexual violence, the Egyptian authorities have made no efforts to work with women’s rights organizations and activists to encourage the survivors who shared their testimonies to report the abuses to State bodies by guaranteeing their confidentiality and safety.
Between December 2020 and November 2021, Rasha Azab tweeted multiple times expressing public support for the women behind the allegations. In January, Islam Azazi submitted a complaint against Rasha Azab and film director Aida el-Kashef, who also expressed her support for the survivors on her Facebook account, accusing them of defamation. Days later, the prosecution decided to move the case against Rasha Azab to court, instead of addressing the sexual assaults of Islam Azazi.
Amnesty International’s research shows that Egyptian authorities continuously fails to acknowledge let alone address the nationwide violence against women and girls in Egypt. However, the authorities have threatened, arbitrarily detained, and prosecuted survivors, witnesses, and activists who report or campaign against sexual violence.
In January 2022, the Court of Cassation upheld the conviction against Amal Fathy, a women’s rights defender who criticized the Egyptian authorities’ failure to protect women from sexual harassment, and sentenced her to a year in prison.
In May 2020, social media influencer Menna Abdelaziz appeared in a video with a bruised face, saying that she had been raped, beaten and filmed without her consent. Within days, security forces arrested her, and she spent four months in arbitrary detention pending investigations into accusations of “inciting debauchery” and “violating family principles and values,” with prosecutors basing their case on statements by those Menna Abdelaziz accused of the attack.
In 2020, authorities arbitrarily detained, and opened criminal investigations against four people who came forward as witnesses in connection to reported gang rape at the Fairmont Nile City Hotel in Cairo in 2014, over charges related to “morality” and “misuse of social media”, among others. At least two witnesses reported being pressured by security agents to change their testimonies, while held in conditions amounting to enforced disappearance.
Office workers at Raffles Place in Singapore. (PHOTO: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images) via Yahoo! News
The Singapore government has release a White Paper on Women’s Development, which outlines plans to improve the lives of women, with proposals for 25 action plans in five key areas. These 25 action plans are to be implemented over the next 10 years, and a mid-point review to be conducted in 2027.
Among the plans is a proposal to allow women aged 21 to 35 to freeze their eggs regardless of marital status. However, only legally-married couples will then be able to use the frozen eggs for procreation.
This is still a huge step since egg freezing in Singapore was only permitted only for medical reasons, such as conditions where the treatment is known to affect fertility, or when they require the removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes.
The Government supports and encourages Singaporeans to pursue their marriage and parenthood aspirations as early as possible…But we recognise through the conversations that there are women who worry that they are not able to find a suitable partner when they are young, but they wish to have the chance to conceive and to start a family when they marry later. - Sun Xueling, Minister of State for Social and Family Development.
Elective egg freezing will be implemented with the introduction of the Assisted Reproduction Services Regulations under the Healthcare Services Act in early 2023
Other key proposals in the White Paper include: enshrining the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices in law, introducing new set of Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangements by 2024, and doubling the Home Caregiving Grant for beneficiaries from lower-income households.
The government noted in the White Paper that 13 per cent of Singaporean companies were lead by a female chief executive officer in 2021, and more women have been taking on more leadership roles.
Yet despite this trend, many women still face disadvantages, and Singapore should strengthen its laws to address unfair employment practices. The White Paper also proposes that the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices which protects victims of sexual assault in the workplace to be enshrined into the law. It will protect the confidentiality of those who come forward and protect them from retaliation, and require workplaces to put in place grievance handling processes.
The government also aims to create a workplace environment in where employees feel that it is acceptable to request flexible work arrangements, while maintaining the employers’ prerogative to accept or reject requests based on their business needs.
The White Paper also seeks to recognise the contributions of caregivers and support their efforts. It is proposing that the Home Caregiving Grant should be doubled from $200 to $400 for lower-income households.
Lillian Mary Nabulime’s “Mortar and the Pestle” via The East African
Eight Ugandan artists are holding a month-long art exhibition titled "Njabala: This is not How" at the Makerere Art Gallery in Kampala. The art exhibition shines a light on the patriarchal Ugandan society that defines a woman’s body through virginity and infertility.
Lilian Mary Nabulime’s work "Mortar and Pestle (2002-2004)" is metaphorical, as a sculpture made of wood and copper with concave and convex copper objects symbolizing male and female genitalia to enhance the composition.
The artworks reflects on the themes of memory, love, womanhood, and activism.
Pamela Enyonu’s "Stella’s Goat (of Hymen Husbandry and Such)" is a tongue-in-cheek critique of patriarchy’s obsession with virginity. It shows a young boy with a goat lying on the seat behind him.
Among the Baganda, when the bride is proved to be a virgin, her brother is gifted a goat as a token of appreciation for preserving her virginity. Both virginity and a goat are referred to by the same word “embuzi”.
Andreu Immaculate Mali is exhibiting two works that complement each other, "Lord", a mixed-media installation, and "Silence in Dance", a five-minute video.
Lord is a wooden bed with razor blades inserted through a mattress, imagining the pain of sexual abuse, often experienced in silence.
The story of Njabala is a perfect illustration of how Ugandan society has and continues to use myth and storytelling to reinforce toxic culture, especially where women are concerned. - Martha Kazungu
The exhibition, which was curated by Martha Kazungu and funded by the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) Global Challenges Research Fund, will run until April 9.
Newcastle University (England) and Makerere University are the project partners.
Jana Kortam (she/they) is a sociology and feminist and gender studies student at the University of Ottawa. They are experienced at advocating against gender-based inequality especially in the SWANA community. They are actively engaging with intersectional feminist ideologies in order to radically smash the patriarchal supremacist society.
She believes that in order to be able to achieve justice, we must offer a microphone for minority voices unheard rather than narrate their stories for them.