The Activist Legacy of Emily Hobhouse

By Eleanor Hobhouse*

As family legend would have it, at the beginning of the 20th century, one of my ancestors (a maiden aunt, affectionately referred to as “that bloody women”) travelled to South Africa and caused a scene. On her death, the South African authorities supposedly requested that she be buried on Table Mountain. According to folklore passed down the generations, in response, my great grandmother allegedly sent her heart. When I decided to trade my summer months for a South African winter, I vowed to fill in the gaping holes in this mysterious narrative. Emily Hobhouse’s story indeed turned out to be quite compelling.

Emily HobhouseA stranger to South Africa, on hearing, in 1900, of the plight of the Boer women, as a result of the Anglo-military campaign in the country, Emily left England and, in her own words, “came…in obedience to the solidarity of our Womanhood…For when Society is shaken to its foundations, then deep calleth unto deep, the underlying oneness of our nature appears, we learn that ‘all the world is kin.” Continue reading

A Revolution, a Fetish and a Box

By Amal Elmohandes, NAZRA, Egypt

Characterized as the Egyptian Revolution’s 3rd Wave, the protests on June 30 in Egypt followed the collection of more than 22 million signatories calling for the resignation of President Muhammad Morsi by the Tamarud (Rebel) Campaign.

Since the removal of President Morsi on July 3, people around the world have become preoccupied with the ‘whether it was a coup or not’ issue, to the extent that a blind eye has been turned to the 186 women who were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square and its vicinity, some brutally raped, between June 28 – July 7, 2013.

The masses stood both united and divided, in preparation for June 30, and as has sadly become the norm with most uprisings, lives were lost, victories were celebrated and the repercussions are being endured. The severe polarization between the Islamist groups supporting Morsi, and the cluster of ideologically and politically oriented groups who support a secular state continues to make the atmosphere on the streets tense. Violence has spread like wild fire, with attacks carried out on churches, shops owned by Copts, and on Copts themselves in several Egyptian governorates, including Minia, Assuit, Luxor and Sinai. Several clashes have also taken place in different parts of Cairo including the violent killings of residents in Ben ElSarayat, ElManial and Mokattam districts, along with the massacre at the Republic Guard, where it is estimated that 50 to 80 Morsi supporters died at the hands of the Republican Guard and the Military. Continue reading

Egypt’s Super Women

You would more likely expect a chat on metal knickers and spiked bras to be about Lady Gaga or a fashion shoot for Vogue than a discussion on ideas for protest outfits. But unfortunately, you would be wrong. I learnt this first-hand from a group of twenty-something women in Cairo last week, as we chatted about what they will wear for protection to the mass protests taking place across Egypt on Sunday, 30 June.

Protests against Morsi's Policies  - Talaat Harb square

30 June Protestor against Morsi’s Policies by bora25 on Flickr

They were actually half joking about measures to make themselves seem no longer human to the touch, to frighten away the wandering hands of men seeking to invade female clothing and assault girls at protests. As discontent grows against Mohammed Morsi, the winner of Egypt’s first free Presidential elections held a year ago, many Egyptian women will be attending these protests calling for his resignation. President Morsi has sought to consolidate his power and abuse the rights for which the revolution was fought, and these women want their voices heard.

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Stop! Mind the gender gap in development discourses

At a time when the United Nations, governments, development partners and civil society are vigorously having consultations on a post-2015 development framework, the issue of gender equality seems to have lost its resonance in discourses on development especially within the African continent. Lessons from experiences in implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) show that countries can experience different levels of economic growth but still suffer from massive social and economic inequalities.

I recently attended a gender forum organised by the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Tunis, Tunisia which brought together government ministers, representatives from civil society, international organisations, the private sector and development practitioners. The aim of the forum was to bring together key stakeholders from the continent to map out strategies needed to redress the challenge of gender inequality in Africa. The theme of the meeting was “changing the state of gender equality in Africa.”

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Canada: Selling out civil society too?

Last week’s stunning announcement by the National Research Council that it will only perform research that has “social or economic gain” prompted prominent astronomer and author Phil Phait to claim that Canada is selling out science.

A new report on the conditions for civil society across the world shows that Canada is selling out civil society too.

Often considered a bastion of liberal democracy and progressive values, Canada regularly ranks highly on indexes on development and human rights. The most recent editions of the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index, the State of World Liberty Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index place Canada fourth, third and eighth respectively.

However, the State of Civil Society 2013 published by CIVICUS, the global alliance, tells a different story, one that highlights the fact that over the past six years the conditions for civil society have steadily deteriorated in Canada. Continue reading

Africa’s liberators should embrace civil society as an ally

Governments across Africa are clamping down on dissent, hiding their secrets and attacking the funding base of their critics. And it seems that those who fought hardest for freedom, are now those least convinced by the virtue of freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Despite numerous international commitments to protect civic space, evidence from around the world suggests that conditions are getting worse for civil society. Our annual stocktake, The State of Civil Society 2013, published by CIVICUS,catalogues a litany of threats to civil society: from outright violence against civic leaders, to legal restrictions on civil society organisations and dramatic funding cuts.

The situation in many African countries is particularly acute, especially where political movements that once fought for freedom and prosperity, having assumed power are now undermining both aims by trying to clampdown on civil society. What they ignore at their peril is that, while solidarity and unity are crucial during liberation struggles, debate and dissent are vital to promote both vibrant democracies and economic prosperity. Continue reading

Make your voice heard in 2013!

As we conclude another fruitful year of work advancing citizen action and strengthening civil society, I would like to thank you – CIVICUS’ colleagues, members, supporters and friends – for your participation in various CIVICUS activities and for taking part in our ambitious vision of achieving a worldwide community of informed, inspired, committed citizens engaged in confronting the challenges facing humanity.

Organisationally, CIVICUS was able to inscribe several key milestones in 2012. As our five-year strategy for 2008-2012 was coming to an end, we set out on a broad and in-depth consultation process with members, partners and key stakeholders to agree on a new five-year strategy for 2013-2017. Due to the diversity of our constituents, as well as the fast-moving and often crisis-led global situation affecting civil society, it was a challenge to prioritise and de-prioritise many of the issues that are related to day-to-day struggles of our members and others. In the end, the CIVICUS Board was able to crystallise the focus of the alliance in the next five years into the CIVICUS Strategic Priorities 2013-2017 with the three key themes of 1) influence, 2) connect and 3) enable, as introduced and endorsed at the members’ meeting during the CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal in September. Continue reading

Sex happens…

“…if not, none of us would be here.”, concluded Kate Gilmore, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director Programme of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) at an event on 24 October in Berlin, Germany. The very brilliant Kate Gilmore was one of the keynote speakers of the 10th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development, an event I had the opportunity to attend as a representative of CIVICUS. It was a mind-blowing experience, I must say.

I thought it would be all about population control, planet limitations and controversies about reproductive rights. But it was all about rights and progressive people-centred policies! I measured the gap between demographers and population dynamics specialists and all of us. Actually, I learned a lot and the famous economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) and his followers would not feel at ease in these discussions, notably because of the truly multi-stakeholder nature of the conversation.

The truly multi-stakeholder nature of the 10th International Dialogue on Population and Sustainable Development

10 years ago, a private organization obtained funding from the Shering Corporation to hold an international dialogue on population issues. Since then, Shering was bought by Bayer AG, the German government got on board and the Berlin dialogues are happening every year. Attendees include German development cooperation officials, CSO partners from the Global South, United Nations delegates, private sector representatives, etc. Which is appropriate, talking about population issues requires this type of multi-stakeholder participation. I was very impressed by a group of courageous Pakistani women from Peshawar who, against all odds, advocate for and counsel women and girls about their sexual and reproductive rights in this violence-torn country. Continue reading

At the eye of the storm: South African women in governance

Women’s month in South Africa is a time to reflect on the long road that South African women have travelled from the painful apartheid era to today. It has not been an easy journey for the emancipation of women and there is still a lot to be achieved, especially considering that 2015 is the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, and the deadline for the achievement of the 28 targets set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) protocol on gender is just around the corner.

Women in South Africa had to live within a discriminatory environment of apartheid and gender inequality for decades. As the hunger for justice and racial equality topped the agenda before 1994, many women endured torture, imprisonment and exile. However, these struggles were compounded by the struggle for gender equality by women in South Africa and all over the world. The desire for women to have decent work, to participate actively in governance and to break the glass ceiling of the patriarchal society accelerated in the 20th century.

As early as 1912, long before organised movements for women, women in South Africa were already playing a major role against the apartheid regime. This is an indicator of the ability of South African women to organise themselves even in restrictive environments and fight for justice. Women such as Charlotte Maxeke and Helen Joseph stood up and refused to let the apartheid system thrive. They realised the injustices in the mining sector, restrictive citizenship laws, such as the pass laws, and the limited opportunities for women’s economic empowerment. The march to the Union buildings in 1956 was a symbol of the power of women to create a unified voice against the apartheid regime. Continue reading

Reflections from the Open Forum: money, power and sex in Africa

CIVICUS participated in the Open Forum, a conference on the paradox of unequal growth in Africa organised jointly by the four Open Society Africa Foundations from 22 to 24 May in Cape Town, South Africa. The event was of signal importance as it brought together leading intellectuals, civil society members and social activists to discuss key challenges facing the continent.

Organised under the themes of ‘Money, Power and Sex’ all of which are relevant to the persistent inequalities, democratic deficit and suppression of individual sexuality in Africa, the Open Forum provided opportunities to debate solutions to contentious and often divisive issues for all those who live in or have an interest in the continent.

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