A Not So Sweet Situation - Cocoa and Cote d'Ivoire

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -  This past month Americans celebrated a holiday, originally of pagan origin, but which has been adopted by popular culture as a day for people to celebrate their love for each other. It is also a day when emotions run high. Men feel compelled to demonstrate their affection by purchasing flowers, chocolate, or other gifts. Women on the other hand, have become expectant of these affirmations, and are often upset if their partners do not deliver one of these market driven tokens of love.

While to some people a Valentine's Day without chocolate would be seen as undesirable, some cocoa producers in the Ivory Coast experienced the exact opposite problem. After an unrealized premonition by cocoa exporters in the Ivory Coast that led to them defaulting on their export contracts, cocoa growers have been left without paychecks while tons of beans have been left to rot or sit at ports along the coast awaiting shipment. Unfortunately for many, the implications of this could have a long-term effect as many producers have been left indebted and unable to prepare their next round of crops.

Perhaps ironically, the Ivory Coast's market system was designed to rely on forward sales in which a minimum market price was set for farmers in hopes of encouraging them to reinvest in their plantations. According to interviews conducted by Reuters, many farmers have not purchased fertilizer or other material for next seasons crops because of the uncertain future and their current state of financial insecurity due to the default. Additionally, this issue has surpassed cocoa farmers and reached shops selling fertilizer and pesticides, many of which have closed as a result of the excruciatingly minimal demand for their products.

While businesses have shut down and many farmers have truncated their plantation cycles, some individuals have refused to be disheartened and have decided to sell their crops for less than the government dictated market price of 1,100 CFA francs ($1.79). Still yet, others have gotten a little more crafty. Although the default has proved harrowing for many, some people have outsmarted the system and began smuggling cocoa across the border to neighboring Ghana and Guinea where they can sell it to make a larger profit than in their homeland.

Even though this has provided temporary relief for some, there does not exist a long term solution. As a result, many have taken to the streets in a cry for help for government assistance during this time of need. Likely fueling the protests is the fact that the Ivory Coast has not used either its stabilization fund or the Reserve Fund to support cocoa sales or otherwise mollify the situation.

Although the future remains uncertain for the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast, it is almost certain that there will be global ramifications as a result of this situation. The Ivory Coast is the worlds largest cocoa producer, producing an average of 1.65 million tons a year and providing cocoa to companies to companies such as Cadbury, Hershey's, and Nestle. With this in mind, it is perhaps in more peoples best interest than just the cocoa growers that a solution is discovered for this issue, and fast.

India Struggles with a “Silent Killer”: Depression

OLD MAN IN PUSHKAR, PHOTO BY GERBEN OF THE LAKE

OLD MAN IN PUSHKAR, PHOTO BY GERBEN OF THE LAKE

INDIA - India is the world's second most populous nation with some 1.4 billion people.  But the ex-British colony that once spawned transformational figures like Mahatma Gandhi has also gained global notoriety for a host of glaring social problems, including poverty and air pollution.

 Less well known is India’s dubious honor as the country with the highest percentage of citizens suffering from depression.

International agencies and the government's own national mental health care body estimate that 10% of India’s population -- or 140 million people -- suffer from moderate-to-severe depression, including 2% that suffer from depression severe enough to require hospitalization.  

But those figures probably underestimate the actual size and scale of the problem because studies show that millions of Indians, especially in rural areas, have never been diagnosed and may not even know that they suffer from mental illness.  

Some analysts estimate that as much as 36% of India suffers from a mental disorder.

India, with its plethora of traditional ethnic, religious and linguistic groups, shares with many other countries a deep resistance to modern psychiatry which has helped reinforce a deep social stigma about mental illness.   

Many families are still ashamed to admit that their parents, children or siblings have a debilitating psychiatric disorder, and may try to hide or disguise it, fearing that it suggests a weakness in their lineage or care practices.  

There is also a pervasive belief, especially in rural areas, that mental illness constitutes a curse or a form of karma that only supernatural intervention can "cure.”

In central and southern India lower-caste Indians still make pilgrimages to Hindu "healing temples" to beseech their favorite deities to assist their mentally ill loved ones.  Some also bring their relatives to local exorcists in the hopes to freeing them of “demon possession."   

Mental health officials that try to discourage these practices – even sending teams of psychologists to the temples -- have often been met with fierce resistance.

Many scholars believe that the real fault for India’s ongoing depression problem lies with the national government which has failed to develop a comprehensive mental health care system and whose medical establishment suffers from the same depression sigma afflicting the general populace.

In 1983, the government established a National Mental Health Program (NMHP) with headquarters in Bangalore.  It soon pledged to devote significant diagnostic and treatment resources to depression and a host of other mental disorders, including schizophrenia.                       

But despite steady increases in annual funding, the NMHP has largely failed to integrate mental health services into India’s primary care system, studies show.  For example, more than 60 per cent of people with mental disorders still access specialized care at poorly funded district hospitals.  In addition, there are extreme regional disparities in the government’s mental healthcare infrastructure. 

India has 443 public mental hospitals, but six states, mainly in the northern and eastern regions with a combined population of 56 million people – a third of the country -- are without a single mental hospital.

Demographic disparities are also wide – and growing.  A 2015 study among 1,000 hospitalized mental health patients found that mental illness and depression rates were much higher among the nation’s poor.  Elderly Indians are especially subject to depression and depression stigma, as are women, especially pregnant women and those suffering from HIV/AIDS.  Some scholars believe female depression rates – and their comparatively high suicide rates – are linked to domestic violence, conflict with relationship partners, and confining social roles.                                          

Some notable bright spots exist in India's approach to depression and mental illness in specific locales and among some social groups.  Sikhs in the northern Punjabi region have long viewed depression as a “natural” part of daily life and prescribe meditation, yoga and other practices to help relieve it.  Muslim Sufis have also approached depression with a greater spirit of acceptance than other groups, analysts say.

And there have been sporadic experiments in mental health outreach led by non-governmental organizations and specially-trained “lay counselors” that have demonstrated what committed professionals can achieve, with sufficient resources, even in the most forbidding of environments. 

But the number of mental health clinicians in India continues to lag far behind most of the world’s nations, including other countries in the developing world.   For example, the median number of psychiatrists in India is only 0.2 per 100,000 population compared to a global median of 1.2 per 100,000 population.

The median figures for psychologists, social workers and nurses working in mental health in India are almost as severe, according to figures compiled by the World health Organization (WHO).

While the national government, egged on by the WHO, continues to debate new grassroots policy initiatives, depression sufferers have begun receiving support from an unlikely source:  Bollywood.

Last October, after several of the nation's top film actors went public with their struggles against depression, a coalition of health advocacy groups, including two of India’s leading psychiatric associations, joined with them to launch the country’s first nationwide mental health awareness campaign

The Bollywood initiative has spawned a separate campaign by Indian college students and their counterparts at American universities to raise depression awareness among adolescents and youth.  Photographs of students holding placards with depression awareness messages are disseminated through Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites.

Many scholars believe it’s long overdue that India embraced social marketing techniques of the kind that have proven successful in the West in reducing stigma toward HIV/AIDS and other taboo illnesses, including mental disorders.

But time is running out.   Depression-related suicides are skyrocketing in rural areas, with the highest rates recorded among younger Indians who often lack the family and community supports their parents had.  Without an extraordinary social intervention, coupled with institutional reform experts fear that India’s debilitating depression syndrome could get even worse in the years ahead.

Women in Bahrain: Living and Working in this Part of the Middle East

BAHRAIN - It has always been believed that Bahrain is different from its other Gulf counterparts. It is true especially when it comes to women and their participation towards the economic growth of the country. According to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Bahrain is counted amongst the fastest growing economies of the Middle East. This is due to the country’s emphasis on offering more opportunities for education and providing more rights to women.

The best example to support this statement is the Bahrain Economic Development Board that was established in the year 2000. Since its inception, the board has made significant strides in building capabilities of women including Bahrain’s increased investment in education, skills as well as labor market development that was introduced with an aim to increase the participation of the readily available domestic labor. Thus, the contribution of women to Bahrain’s economy can best be explained by the fact that 15% of Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry membership is represented by business women. Moreover, out of total Bahrainis employed with various financial institutions, 37% are women.

Outline of the Bahraini Society

Bahrain takes pride in being a progressive and open society of refined people who give due importance to education and employment for playing a significant role in the personal development of its people. The island kingdom has been considered a leader in the entire Gulf region in the education sector for being the first to form a public education system in 1919. Education is mandatory for children between the age group of 6 to 14 years. To further promote education, the Ministry of Education encourages improvements in the education system from time to time and offers free textbooks to the Bahraini citizens in the public schools.

The island country of Bahrain can be best explained as a satisfactory blend of modern infrastructure and typical Gulf nation. Even though Islam is the widely followed religion in the country, people show respect towards different religions also. The country expects the women to wear traditional clothes such as ‘hijab’ but is still very liberal as compared to other Gulf nations.

The Role of Women in the Bahraini Economy

Here are some interesting facts concerning the role women play in the development of the country’s economy:

  • According to the Economic Development Board, the contribution of women in the Bahraini economy is expected to increase by 5% annually until 2020. This means that by 2020, the percentage of women’s contribution to Bahrain’s GDP will comprise almost 45.6%.
  • It was also observed that the number of Bahraini women employed in the private sector in the year 2010 had gone up to more than 25,000 women as compared to what it was in the year 2002. The percentage increase is 73.5% in this particular area.
  • The increase in the women’s contribution in the private sector was much higher than their contribution in the public sector which was 45% in the same year.

Things are looking good in terms of wages for Bahraini women. The average wages increased to BD 457 in 2011 from BD 317 in 2006. They still have a long way to go as the difference between the average wages of men and women in the private sector was 30%. The gap must have improved slightly in 2016.

By the contrary, women’s wages are 10% more than the wages given to men in the public sector. The figures also suggest a positive increase in the number of women going in for academic certification after high school which is 17.1%. The percentage of men going in for higher education was 14.4%.

Unemployment rates among women also dropped drastically from 12% in 2002 to 3% in 2012.  If we talk about the share of Bahraini women employed in the financial sector, the same increased to 38.2% in 2016 from 37.4% in 2015. The total Bahraini workforce employed in the financial sector constitutes 70%.

These figures suggest a rise in the employment opportunities in Bahrain for women and will continue to rise even beyond the country’s vision towards 2020. The strides that the country has been making in the employment sector are instilling a feeling of immense confidence among the people, especially women and they are all hopeful of a better future.

A Vision for the Future - China to Construct Housing in Rwanda

President of the Senate Hon. Bernard Makuza receives Chairman of the Chinese Congress H.E Zhang Dejiang, Photo by Rwanda Ministry of Foreign Affairs    

President of the Senate Hon. Bernard Makuza receives Chairman of the Chinese Congress H.E Zhang Dejiang, Photo by Rwanda Ministry of Foreign Affairs    

KIGALI, Rwanda - It is not uncommon for cities in the developing world to experience an influx of rural-urban migration because of economic development, and thus heightened opportunities in urban areas. While at times this occurs on a scale so large that new buildings and infrastructure must be constructed to accommodate the newly enlarged population. In the case of Rwanda an entirely new microcosm of a city had to be built to mollify the citizens adversely impacted by the this issue. Befitting the optimistic prognostications for the future, the new development is called Vision City, and will eventually provide 4,500 new homes to Rwandans in 2024, its scheduled completion.

The problem; however, they plan to construct luxury, but pedestrian styled homes ranging in price from $172,00 to $560,000. At these prices the population that most requires housing is unable to afford it because the average per capita income is just $700 a year. A study in 2012 by the City of Kigali, the Ministry of Infrastructure, and the European Union revealed that by 2020 a housing deficit of upwards of 344,000 homes could prove to be problematic for Rwanda’s already populous and centrally located capital city. Just a year after the study came out, ground broke on Vision City, Rwanda’s largest housing project to date.

The project is set to be completed in four phases with phase one offering an initial five hundred housing units sometime early this month to help alleviate the housing deficiency. In addition to offering accommodations, Vision City will also provide supermarkets, schools, and a new network of public transportation, thus making the housing project truly a city within a city. While Vision City has been funded by the Rwandan Social Security Board, construction is being led by China Civil Engineering, and is utilizing a prolific quantity of imported materials which may account for the steep price of the housing units. Due to this, it seems that many Rwandans will not be able to afford to live in Vision City which could prove to be problematic especially as its very construction is part of a plan to appease the housing deficit due to migrant workers pouring into the city in search of work.

Furthermore, the project may exacerbate Rwanda’s already prominent level of income inequality especially as its construction displaced approximately three thousand people who owned more moderately valued property on the land which Vision City is currently being erected. Vision City’s location on the periphery of Kigali is of paramount importance in understanding its role in explaining and perhaps heightening income inequality in Rwanda. When there is an inundation of people migrating into economically important cities it is frequently the case that many end up settling on the outskirts as that is where they can afford to live even if they must commute to jobs that are more centrally located.

This has proved to be the case in many Brazilian cities regarding the construction of favelas (shantytowns) on the periphery of city centers as well as Kibera in Nairobi, which has evolved into the largest slum in Africa. While Vision City seeks to provide housing for this eventual overflow of migrant workers, the prices of the units do not reflect its final goal and might merely expand the perimeter of the city while encouraging the construction of slums on its outskirts. The result of this is that it will become even more difficult for migrant workers to find affordable accommodations and have easy access to jobs.

Of course, this is assuming that Vision City achieves full occupancy. Apart from the obvious problem that they are too expensive for the average Rwandan, it is quite possible that people will not want to move there because everything is too cookie-cutter and planned, which was the case in Brazil’s construction of Brasilia in 1960 as well as a similar development in Angola that finished in 2012 but remains largely unoccupied.

Nevertheless, there is a potential certainty that population in Rwanda that wants and can afford to live in luxury style homes with imported granite, but it is unlikely that this is feasible and in some cases even appealing to the general population. Ultimately, it seems that while Rwanda has poured $110 million dollars into this project, its vision for the future might be a little too optimistic and may even exclude the very people it is trying to help.

Are We There Yet? Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton SNL Video

UNITED STATES - It has been a hellish and interminable 2016 presidential election cycle, best described by the immortal words of Charles Dickens from the opening salvo of his historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,

Written over 150-years-ago, the themes of the elite versus the populace, the concentration of immense wealth in the hands of a few while the common people suffer could not have been more prescient of the class struggles we face today as a nation. Donald Trump emerged from this miasmic discontent as an extremely flawed leader of America's version of the French Revolution.

On the converse, Hillary Clinton can be compared to Madame Defarge, the central female antagonist in the novel. Though she too was on the side of the revolutionaries, Defarge was reluctantly embraced by them as a necessary agent for change. Like Clinton she is viewed as "cold," "dreadful," and "frightfully grand," her inscrutable machinations belying her hidden past. She is smart, but ruthless, and accomplishes her dark deeds in support of the revolution through a veil of secrecy and deceit.

Though the revolution was justified neither side emerged from the war unsoiled. So, it is with the two opponents of this presidential battle. Some have suggested reforming the election process to shorten its duration, something many welcome in light of this particularly onerous season. Thus, the most enduring and perhaps memorable moments of the past 18-months will have been the political sketches presented by the cast of the Saturday Night Live (SNL) comedy show.

Every four years the SNL writers pens sketches in a trademark style pillorying politician and presidential hopefuls alike. Well known actors and comedians portray with uncanny accuracy and sardonic humor the foibles and idiosyncrasies of wannabe senators, congressmen, and most notably White House aspirants. In the words of Wally Schirra, "Levity is the lubricant of a crisis. We resort to jokes, pranks and good natured kidding to relieve tension, stress and boredom," and in this contentious competition SNL has more than delivered.

With less than two weeks left early voting has commenced. News outlets are reporting that 5 million Americans across 35 states have already voted, including 3 million people who have voted in 'Battle Ground' states. These states are must wins in order for either candidate to secure the 270 electoral votes necessary to become the next president of the United States. Hillary is well on her way to breaking the highest glass ceiling in the nation, to become the first female to occupy the Oval Office, and once this happens, "it will be the end of the world as we know it."

Credit: DonkeyHoyte created this caricature of Hillary Clinton was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the East Asia and Pacific Media's Flickr photostream. The body was adapted from a photo in the public domain from the U.S. Department of State's Flickr photostream. This caricature of Donald Trump was adapted from Creative Commons licensed images from Max Goldberg's flickr photostream.

U.S. Mandatory Prison Sentences, For Everyone Except Rapists

Former U.S. Senator Todd Akin, Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Chris

Former U.S. Senator Todd Akin, Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Chris

UNITED STATES - Americans tend to view the social deficits of other countries from a position of superiority. This precedence of acting as a moral arbiter sitting in judgment of rest of the world has become so prevalent as to seem deflective. A means to hide the necessity of dealing with systemic racism, sexism, and pedophilia which are a scourge upon our nation. However, these ills are not as obvious as abuses like China’s One Child Policy which officially ended earlier this year, but has not changed entrenched cultural norms which encouraged the killing of female children to make room for a possible male birth.

Or the practice of Leblouh (force feeding girls to make them obese) in Mauritania because men will not marry a skinny woman. Then, perhaps the greatest assault against a woman’s control of her body and sexuality, female genital mutilation (FGM). Because each of these practices are heinous it is easy to point to these abuses when judging those societies. In essence, the obvious barbarism of these practices overshadows the more pervasive, but pernicious abuse of women and girls in America through what has come to be known as 'rape culture.'

The 2016 presidential election has brought the systemic violation of women and girls to the nation’s and world’s attention. The sexism and misogyny of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate was unequivocally exposed in an Access Hollywood show in which he was captured on tape vulgarly describing how he grabbed women by their genitals. He also described forcibly kissing women, trying to seduce a married woman, and lauding his ability to assault women because of his celebrity status.

On August 19, 2012, then Missouri U.S. Rep. Todd Akin who is a Republican, expressed an erroneous but entrenched belief about rape during an interview in which he was discussing abortion. He claimed among other things that doctors told him if a rape is 'legitimate' then the woman will rarely become pregnant. His comments revealed a deep well of victim blaming and shaming, while casting aspersions on the truthfulness of some rape accusers.

"Well, you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. It it's legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child." (KTVI)

In addition to being victimized by her attacker, in Akin's world a woman would be forced to bear the child of her rapist should she conceive. In essence, she will be victimized numerous times while trying to seek justice -- first by the rapists, then the justice system, the media, the medical community, and politicians.

This kind of ignorance and anti-feminist sentiment has manifested in repeated attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade as well as defund programs like Planned Parenthood which provides free or reduced services to millions of women who would not otherwise have access to HIV testing, mammograms, contraceptives, and other types of preventative screenings. This inherent sexism and bias has permeated our national awareness and elevated the discussion of women's rights, but in practical terms, has not resulted in any real change.

Trumps insult - “nasty woman” - hurled at Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate during a debate best sums up what American women and girls have been increasingly subjected to these past few years. Increased levels and frequency of being verbally abused, sexually harassed and assaulted. Even Mrs. Clinton is delegitimatized on a daily basis by both the media and her opponent's surrogates by stating that if she had been running against anyone except Trump, she would have been soundly defeated.

On a macrocosmic level the attacks against Mrs. Clinton's stamina, looks, capabilities, sexuality, and domestic troubles, are equivalent to the treacherous waters through which average American women try to navigate on a daily basis. Women walk the delicate balance of trying not to appear aggressive despite being competent, of dressing down to avoid being perceived as provocative, and sometimes sublimating their intelligence in order to spare the ego of an insecure coworker or manager. 

At a microcosmic level, the rise of prosecutors refusing to bring charges against rapists, male judges belittling women and girls, casting aspersions on their testimony, and eventually dismissing the charges is alarming. In some of the more egregious cases women and the families of young girls who have been raped watch in horror as their rapists were not sentenced to prison terms as prescribed by the U.S.’s ‘mandatory minimum sentencing’ laws.

In fact, these violators, rapist, and pedophiles receive less time if any, than the mandatory minimum sentencing of Black and Latino men who have committed petty offenses such as selling minuscule amounts of drugs, or have been convicted of other non-violent crimes, but receive life-sentences.  Ava DuVernay’s documentary “13TH” brilliantly illuminates the injustice of mass incarceration within the context of race and poverty, and the economic incentive the enforcement of mandatory minimums on this demographic group has created.

The disparity between the prison sentences handed down against the aforementioned group, versus those given to sexual predators, many of whom are white and male, is inequitable in the extreme. Trump, is the most high-profile sexual predatory, who despite being captured on tape discussing how he sexually assaulted women, has largely been exonerated by his supporters, while the women who have accused him of assault have been excoriated.

The double standard is the primary reason why so few sexual assaults are reported. Women who know that their lives will be examined with a fine-toothed comb, and that their lifestyles, mode of dress, career choice, and sexual history will be used to discredit them.

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), referenced the Criminal Justice Systems Statistics, which determined that out of the 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.  The American Prosecutors Research Institute, created a comprehensive document which listed the minimum and maximum sentences for all classes of rape. To understand the gravity of the human rights abuses females in America are facing, three cases are presented below, but they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Delaware state statute requires a sentence of “Life in prison [without] probation or parole if: the victim under 16 and is seriously injured.” This sentencing however, was not applied in the case of the wealthy du Pont heir.

"Robert H. Richards IV was convicted of rape, the wealthy heir to the du Pont family fortune was spared prison by a Delaware court in 2009. [.....] Richards is a great-grandson of the chemical magnate Irenee du Pont. He received an eight-year prison sentence [...] for raping his toddler daughter, but the sentencing order signed by a Delaware judge said "defendant will not fare well" in prison and the eight years were suspended." (Source: CNN)

Texas state statute requires a sentence for “Aggravated Sexual Assault in the 1st degree to serve from 5-99 years; $10,000 fine.” That you can violently rape someone and spend less than 5 years in jail or pay a $10,000 fine is reprehensible, but the latitude of the interpretation of this sentencing structure by the prosecutor worked in favor of the man who raped a 2-year-old girl.

"Thomas Boden, 29 raped his then girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in front of her 4-year-old sister in 2015. The crime was discovered when the mother came home to discover her baby crying and screaming that he had cut her private parts, and when she examined her diaper it was full of blood. Despite Boden confessing to the rape, the hospital confirmation that the child had been violently raped, and the DNA evidence supporting the assault, the prosecutor offered Boden, and “he accepted a plea deal of 10 years probation.”

Which meant that he did not have to spend any time in jail,” and was ordered not to have contact with the victim. As part of the deal, Boden will not be required to register as a sex offender.”  (Raw Story)

Montana state statute sentencing requirements for perpetrators who have raped a “victim [who] is less than 16 and actor is 3+ years older or bodily injury results, then 2-100 years and fine of up to $50,000”

On 4 October 2016 "Prosecutors recommended that a 40-year-old unnamed Glasgow, Montana man who confessed to repeatedly raping his 12-year-old daughter be sentenced to 25-years imprisonment.

Instead, it was reported that Judge John McKeon sentenced the perpetrator to 60-days in prison, “plus a 30-year suspended prison term […] as part of a plea deal with prosecutors. The man also was ordered to complete community-based sex-offender treatment and register as a sex offender.

Amidst severe criticism and a Change.org petition signed by 14,000 people demanding McKeon’s impeachment, he defended his decision by asserting that a psychosexual evaluation finds that psychiatric treatment “affords a better opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender and for the ultimate protection of the victim and society.” (CBS News)

A discussion about the efficacy of treatment options for pedophiles has been demonstrated to be ineffective. According to Harvard Medical School, “Pedophilia, the sexual attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty, remains a vexing challenge for clinicians and public officials. Classified as a paraphilia, an abnormal sexual behavior, researchers have found no effective treatment. Like other sexual orientations, pedophilia is unlikely to change.”

In all three cases, the justification given to support the ridiculously lenient sentences were in some fashion related to the judges' belief that they knew what was best for these victims, and this did not include punishing their attackers. These paternalistic rulings have become a major contributing factor in the larger problem of the ‘rape culture’ assailing our nation today.

A mother or father deserves justice when their child has been raped and they should not have to fight with the courts to have the perpetrator sentenced as prescribed by the law. A single-mother should not be judged as somehow complicit in her child’s sexual abuse simply because she finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to work outside of the home to support her family.

A woman who is raped should not have to justify her life choices, her sexual history, her mode of dress, or anything else that lawyers of the defendants use to discredit them. We cannot expect that the election of Hillary Clinton to the presidency will result in a reduction in sexism, misogyny, gender bias, sexual assault or abuse, but her elevation will help to keep the issues of women's rights front and center.

A problem unrevealed will fester, but a problem uncovered is well on its way to potential resolution.

Murder Disguised as Honor: The Issue of Honor Killings in Pakistan (Qandeel Baloch)

Qandeel Baloch, from her official Facebook Page: "As women we must stand up for ourselves....As women we must stand up for each other....As women we must stand up for justice."

Qandeel Baloch, from her official Facebook Page: "As women we must stand up for ourselves....As women we must stand up for each other....As women we must stand up for justice."

LAHORE, Pakistan - Tasleem was a good Muslim girl living in the slums of Lahore, Pakistan, until she was seen with a Christian man. A young girl who behaves outside of the strict code of conduct placed on women in Pakistan brings great dishonor to her family, enough dishonor that family members often believe that the only option is death. According to her brother, Rajhu, she had brought dishonor to her family, but mostly to him, and because he had such thin skin and was unable to withstand the constant teasing at work, he decided the only course of action was to commit a barbaric killing.

He was not the only one at fault, because it was revealed that co-workers encouraged him to kill his sister for "being disobedient" and the only way to preserve his manhood was to take her life.  So, on  August 14 , 2016 Rajhu shot his sister in the head.

Tasleem tragic fate is not unique, since approximately 1,000 Pakistani women are murdered by members of their family in so called “honor killings” every year. Many experts believe that this is an under estimation because these killings are often unreported. Honor killing murders are widely accepted and encouraged to keep women from being disobedient. Women who bring dishonor to their family by having relations with men outside of her religion or doing anything outside of the enforced designated role of a woman are no longer deemed valuable to her family.

The biggest issue with these murders is that historically the killers face little to no punishment, and this has led to the systemic belief by families and many in society that this type of murder is acceptable. In the cases that are reported there are few legal ramifications because of loopholes in Islamic law, including Qisaas and Diyah. These two remedies allow for a family member of the victim to 'kill the killer,' or accept Diyah, 'blood money' as recompense in lieu of judicial punishment.

The practice of Diyah further dehumanizes women and diminishes their role and worth in society. As such, they become little more than chattel to be abused, sold, or otherwise disposed of as the owner desires.

In an article by Dr. Mohammed Rateb Nabuls, title “Islam and equality between men and women,” he clearly articulates with supporting exegesis the equality of women and men in Qur'an.

The texts which follows are Dr. Nabuls' words and interpretations and should not be considered our opinion.

"Women are human exactly like men, and the Prophet PBUH said in this respect:"

Women are twin halves of men.

"And He [the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)] said also:"

Every new-born child is born in a state of fitrah (innate). Then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian or a Magian, just as an animal is born intact. Do you observe any among them that are maimed (at birth)?

[Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmizi, Nasaee, Abu Dawood, Ahmad, and Malek]

"This new-born indicates male and female. Any inferior look at the woman as less human than man is a Jahilyya (pre-Islamic) consideration that is not admitted in Islam. Better yet, Islam came to fight such consideration as a form of discrimination."

Despite the above admonitions to not define women as less than human, Pakistanis and others continue to do so. Then, when the male, and sometimes female members of the woman’s family murder her in an honor killing, instead of seeking justice, these perpetrators are quickly forgiven and given money. Rarely, if ever, does anyone call for the ultimate penalty of 'killing the killer' as one of the three remedies for murder in Islamic law.

Compounding the issue, everyone in the community, including her family feels justified in their actions of killing a human being who has done nothing other than being born female. This abhorrent practice of honor killing cloaked in the guise of Islam is absolutely misogynistic, and has been codified into traditional practice versus righteous behavior.

In the case of economic gain, the killing is also contrary to Islam. This is particularly true if it is deemed that imprisonment of a brother or father for an honor killing would result in their inability to earn income or support their family. This further incentives the community not to punish them . Yet, the killing of a woman due to poverty or simply because she is female is considered sin. Again, according to Dr. Mohammed Rateb Nabuls:

 "The Prophet PBUH was asked once:"

 What is the worst sin in the sight of Allah?........He said: “And to kill your children for fear of poverty.” [Agreed upon]

 "And Allah says in the noble Quran:"

 (And when the female (infant) buried alive (as the pagan Arabs used to do) shall be questioned. For what sin she was killed?)     [Al Takweer, 8-9]

"Man and woman are created so as to know by innate nature what is wrong and what is right, and to know when they do wrong and when they do right.

This is the real Islam according to its origins and resources. It is not what Muslims do nowadays; it is rather the great principles established by the noble prophet (PBUH)."

 Allah says:

(Indeed he succeeds who purifies his ownself (i.e. obeys and performs all that Allah ordered, by following the true Faith of Islamic Monotheism and by doing righteous good deeds). And indeed he fails who corrupts his ownself (i.e. disobeys what Allah has ordered by rejecting the true Faith of Islamic Monotheism or by following polytheism, etc. or by doing every kind of evil wicked deeds))     [As-shams, 9-10]

"This Ayah addresses both men and women. Saving one’s life is like saving all mankind, and killing one person is like killing all mankind.

Dear brothers, woman is equal to man as a human being, and as a person who has the ability to transcend, sublime, excel, and to be looked up to." (Dr. Mohammed Rateb Nabuls)

Unfortunately, Dr. Nabuls' voice of moderation is drowned out by the preponderance of ideologies espoused by those who refuse to learn, feel disenfranchised and powerless, or simply like to murder women who they feel have aggrieved them. Pakistani women from all walks of life continue to be murdered, and even fame does not protect them. In countries around the world, even in the United States, aberrant interpretations of Islam have radicalized uneducated people who then chose to follow the fallacious teachings of ‘man,' and perpetrate all manner of violence.

In the case of women, men who ascribe to these teachings and beliefs subjugate the females in their inner circle, their communities, and under these conditions women’s rights are minimal and dependent upon their obedience to men. Specifically, women in Pakistan are unable to do anything about their situation because as soon as they speak out against their oppression they are immediately in risk of death.

Activist groups have stepped in as a voice for voiceless, and Pakistani female activists have been advocating for stricter punishments for those who commit honor killings. Finally, on 6 October 2016 their voices were heard, largely as a result of the media coverage given to the murder of Fouzia Azeem (فوزیہ عظیم‎;) who was also known as Qandeel Baloch, (قندیل بلوچ‎)‎.

According to news reports, Baloch was a Pakistani model, actress, feminist activist and social media celebrity. She was only 26-years-old when her brother murdered her on 15 July 2016 in an honor killing. Her death was the impetus needed to finally push forward legislation to eradicate this practice and reform Pakistan's Penal Code. The bill unanimously passed through Pakistan’s parliament, and closes the qisaas loophole by no longer allowing perpetrators of honor killings to be set free because they have been granted forgiveness from the family.

Additionally, those accused of honor killing will be given a minimum of 25 years in prison. This amendment is meant to change the culture of honor killings in Pakistan by showing that honor killings, no matter the circumstances or reason behind it, is now punishable in secular court.  The bill is the first step to enacting a long list of reforms that need to occur before the oppression of women stops.

Passing these laws will not result in an immediate change in the long tradition of female oppression, but it does send the message that the government is finally willing to reform Pakistan's laws to protect women from their own families.

As the Pakistan's prime minister, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif said, there is no honor in honor killing.

Globalization Express: Ethiopia's Chinese Railway

Light Railway System Built by the Chinese, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Photo by Etsutaro Tanaka

Light Railway System Built by the Chinese, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Photo by Etsutaro Tanaka

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Traveling through Ethiopia's capital city one may notice bustling sidewalks filled with young professionals, construction sites looming with delicately built scaffolding, and street signs written in a language that is not Amharic as one might expect, but Mandarin Chinese.

While it is not unusual for African countries to have a heavy influence of non-native cultures and languages due to colonialism, China has never been one of these. When one thinks of Africa and the historic problems which currently beset it, many of these problems are inextricably connected to 19th century European colonialism during which Britain, France, Portugal, Germany, and Belgium to name a few, used military aggression to implement imperial agendas.

Most African nations and governments resisted colonization, but were crushed in the ensuing effort due to a lack of military prowess or weaponry. Other liberation efforts were undermined by leaders who colluded with the imperialists for their personal aggrandizement and that of their cohorts. They became willing participants and puppet governments facilitating the theft of natural resources such as gold, diamonds, timber, oil and gas, etc. African countries with the most abundant and coveted resources continue to struggle against foreign influences and manipulation which foment continuous instability devised to advance neocolonialists agendas.

This is one of the things which makes Ethiopia unique. Starting in the 1880s Italy tried to annex Ethiopia, which was then known as Abyssinia, but was repeatedly thwarted. Then, on 3 October 1935, the fascist leader Benito Mussolini ‘ordered a new invasion and on 9 May of the following year [Ethiopia] was annexed.” But, unlike other African nations, Ethiopians never accepted the yoke of tyranny and on 5 May 1941, Ethiopian regained its sovereignty under Emperor Haile Selassie.

During all of this, China had yet to expand its imperialistic aspirations beyond the Asia, however, in the latter part of the 20th century this changed when the government initiated a long-term strategy to increase its business and land holdings in Africa. China's influence in Ethiopia can be attributed in part to globalization, though it is also possible that this term is just a euphemistic cover for more nefarious motives. No matter the intention, China's influence in Ethiopia has led to several developments, most recently the construction of a 460-mile railway connecting Ethiopia to the Republic of Djibouti.

The train terminates in the capital, Djibouti City which is on the coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura, strategically located and which provides access to both the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. While the primary purpose of this railway is to decrease the amount of time required to transport products and people to and from this important port, when viewed within the larger context, it is yet another mechanism by in program by China and other nations to engage in 'land grabs.' Unlike the overt appropriation of land by European colonialists, China and other neocolonialists are subtler in their acquisition strategies by promising equitable compensation.

Instead of force, they bring gifts, or rather the promise of economic prosperity, which the government benefits from, but the local and indigenous people who are most affected are the least rewarded. China is Ethiopia's largest importer and the African continent's biggest trade partner. While this is great for China, as it has formed amicable relationships with many countries that have abundant natural resources, these benefits are not reciprocal. In Ethiopia, China benefits by being able to purchase large swaths of land, however, forcing the relocation of the Oromo and Amara among others.

Additionally, the displaced citizens are not trained for non-agrarian or non-rural job opportunities, leaving many of them to retreat to Addis Ababa where they live on the absolute fringes of society. Also, the Ethiopian government has failed to enforce any types of quotas on the Chinese which would cause them to hire local people. Thus, many jobs related to China’ expansion into the country are being worked by Chinese immigrants, which further exacerbates the issue of high-employment.

Furthermore, many of local goods such as clothing, housewares, shoes, etc. are now being imported from China at such an inexpensive cost that it has all but decimated the local economy. For example, if you go to an Ethiopian market and look at the tags on traditional Ethiopian dresses, many will read 'Made in China.' This is extraordinarily strange as the clothing is "traditional" to Ethiopia and thus one would assume would or could only be made locally, using age old techniques, and customary fabrics.

Thus, the railway to all outward appearances is a good thing, a progressive indicator which signals Ethiopia’s ascendancy in the global arena. And, were the Ethiopian government in complete control or even the majority shareholder in these economic endeavors, this could portend the possibility of remaining independent. But, this is not the case, and regarding the railway which is a vital tool in an economic arsenal, this is most evident by the fact only Chinese workers are employed to work back-end as technicians, and in forward facing positions such as conductors, with the vague promise that Ethiopians will be trained in the future to take over these roles.

Furthermore, the railway, which cost upwards of $475 million, was constructed and funded in full by China. Meng Fengchao, the board chairman of China Railway Construction Corp, the company that built the railway, stated that the train system is the first railway built outside of China, which was constructed in accordance with the strict rules, guidelines, and standards for railway construction in China. This successful completion and launch of this railway is a big deal for China especially because it accomplished this feat in Ethiopia, a country in the Horn of Africa which many in the West have only known historically as a place of famine and war.

China’s willingness to negotiate with governments which do not view Communism with the same abhorrence as Western nations, provides it with additional opportunities to expand its geopolitical footprint while simultaneously, but quietly annexing more land. Some speculate that China is becoming increasingly smitten with African countries because it plans to move large numbers of its citizenry to the Continent as part of a long-term effort to reduce its current overpopulation. However, empirically it could also be surmised by the number of Chinese workers who still live in Ethiopia post-construction, as well as the estimated 20,000 who live and work in other capital cities like Lusaka, Zambia, that the unchecked immigration of Chinese laborers is a calculated program in their neocolonialist push.

Speculation aside, China's influence in Ethiopia and its subsequent construction of the railway is monumental for Ethiopia. The country's nascent connection to the sea through this railway is a historic milestone as Ethiopia has been landlocked since Eritrea’s succession in 1991. As with all advances, there are winners and losers, and in the immediate, Ethiopia’s infrastructure is being improved, and in the long-term -- perhaps one day these railways may cut across the Continent transporting goods and services, reuniting people and cultures torn asunder by European colonialism, and connect African countries each to the other in a way that can prognosticate a fully realized African Union.

Until then, Ethiopians and immigrants are happy to be able to have access to a safe, modern, and well-constructed railway system which now expands their living space and horizons. Though train stops and other announcements are now spoken in English, Amharic, and Chinese, in its purity it is wondrous evidence that people from every nation are becoming less isolated and participating more fully as global citizens.

How an Olympic Race Became Political: Feyisa Lilesa's Homage to the Oromo Nationalist Movement

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso Carneiro

ETHIOPIA -  While many Olympic runners raise their arms as they approach the finish line, few do so as a demonstration of political protest. Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa joined this elite group of politically charged Olympic athletes such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos when he crossed his arms at the end of the Men’s Marathon during the Rio Olympics. While Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the awards ceremony, Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms at the end of the race to demonstrate his allegiance with the Oromo people as they continue a centuries long clash with the Ethiopian government. What looked like a stretch to many Olympic observers was really a powerful demonstration that resulted from many years of unrest and political strife.

Thousands of miles from where Lilesa made his protest in August, Oromo dissenters had been actively demonstrating against the Ethiopian government since 2014 when a plan was unveiled for the expansion of Addis Ababa. The plan, arguably excellent for the capitals image and perhaps even reminiscent of the rapid improvements made under Haile Selassie in the mid 20th century, also proved reminiscent to the Oromo of how they were kicked off their land when the capital was moved from the north of the country to Addis Ababa in the first place. The new plan involved permeating the capital city into the Oromo occupied outskirts of its current blueprint, displacing members of the already marginalized group in the process. Without previous knowledge of the maltreatment of the Oromo, one might think that protests involving more than one hundred thousand people across Oromia might be drastic, but the government’s plan to expand the city into heavily Oromo occupied territory was perhaps the last straw after centuries of government action taken to improve Ethiopia at the expense of the Oromo.

In 1941 at the end of the Italian occupation the imperial system made strides towards assimilating the Oromo in order to build Ethiopian nationalism at a time when the country was lacking a strong national identity. This assimilation process entailed making Amharic the national language and banning the use of the Oromo language in schools, churches, and public offices. While some Oromo’s ‘Amharised’ in order to achieve upward mobility, it was not long before campaigns such as Macha Tulama and Ethiopian Student Movement formed in opposition to the current political environment and poor treatment of the Oromo identity. While some of the more extreme followers of these movements wanted independence from Ethiopia all together, they at the very least desired equal treatment of the Oromo language, culture, and religion to that of the Amhara. [1]

Unfortunately, not all that much has changed since Oromo nationalist movements began. The Oromo remain the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (and the Horn of Africa for that matter), yet groups such as the Amhara and the Tigray are favored in government just like they have been for decades. Interestingly though, Ethiopia is a country in which a strong sense of fraternity is felt amongst its citizens, which can perhaps be attributed to the historical bond that it is the only country to have fought off colonization. However, it must be noted that fraternity and national identity cannot be confused here because if you ask an Oromo about their national identity it is likely that they will respond “I am Oromo,” not, “I am Ethiopian

With this in mind, it is not surprising that when Oromo athlete Feyisa Lilesa ran for the Ethiopian Olympic team he also took a stand that demonstrated his allegiance to his Oromo identity during a crucial time in their history and relationship with the Ethiopian government. Even though Lilesa won silver in the race, he won gold in the hearts of many Oromo nationalists through his bold demonstration of solidarity and civil disobedience towards a government that has historically mistreated his people.

1. Bulcha, Mekuria. "African Sociological Review/Revue Africaine De Sociologie."African Studies Companion Online 1.1 (1997): 30-65. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.

Failed Military Coup Against President Erdoğan Leaves Dozens Dead in Turkey

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (r) & Gen. Necdet Ozel (l), Source (AP Photo)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, (r) & Gen. Necdet Ozel (l), Source (AP Photo)

TURKEY - A military coup in Turkey was announced by Turkey’s government broadcasting agency, TRT, Turkish Radio and Television, July 15th before midnight, local time. The note read by TRT’s Tijen Karas said “Control of the government is completely seized.” The note was also published in office of commander of chief, which later was removed after the situation was taken largely under control.

Chief of Turkish Military staff, Hulusi Akar was taken hostage by a group of military personnel attempting the coup, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported. His whereabouts is still unknown.

The coup simultaneously took over the control over Ataturk International Airport, and both bridges, Fatih Sultan Mehmet and Boğazici, over Bosphorus. Military tanks were stationed riot police headquarters Istanbul. An email sent to press members from Turkish Military Forces said the control of the government was seized.

President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan initially addressed the nation on CNN Turk via Facetime, where he called people to meet in squares in cities to protest to coup attempt and protect the democracy. The call received a quick reply and and large crowds started their march toward squares despite the martial law, and curfew declared by the coup.

Several of the tanks were taken over by the people and were handed to police. Many civilians were killed during the protests since the coup attacked protesters with tanks and military aircraft. At least 42 was killed in Ankara’s Golbasi district during the attacks by the coup, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported. Though the death toll of the civilians, military, and security forces is unclear, at least 60 people were reported dead in the country.

Following TRT, CNN Turk and Kanal D were raided by the military coup, which had to stop its broadcast coverage of the coup temporarily. Both outlets were liberated by the people protesting and taking over district from the military coup members, and continued their broadcast.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said the situation is largely under control and necessary actions were taken to end the coup attempt. He characterized the Coup attempt 'greatest insult' towards Turkish Republic, Anadolu Agency reported.

Though largely under control according to the government agencies, military attacks which earlier targeted Riot Police Headquarters, General Directorate of Security, as well and the parliament building in Ankara, continues to target civilians who are still on the streets protesting the coup.

President Erdoğan has returned to Istanbul where he talked to press at Atatürk International Airport. Erdoğan wowed to bring the coup plotters to justice Anadolu Agency reported.

''This is a movement of treason and an insurgency. Let me tell you that they will pay a heavy price for this treason,'' Erdoğan told TV networks during a live broadcast from Istanbul's Ataturk Airport.

''There is a government in power and a president in power elected by the people. We are on duty and we will continue to conduct our duty until the very end,'' Erdoğan said, assuring the country that ''the outcome of this will be good.''

The president also warned soldiers participating in the overthrow. ''You are our soldiers. It is impossible for us to accept you pointing your gun at the people, your parents, your brothers and sisters. These weapons have been given to you by the people. If you point these to the people, you will pay a hefty price.''

Arrests in the military would go higher up the ranks, he said.

Contributing Journalist: @ElvanKatmer
LinkedIn: Elvan Katmer