Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Last Of The Tattooed Women Of The Tharu Tribe...

Wonderful and unusual people can be found all over the globe. Many diverse civilizations have already vanished as a result of globalization and many are on the verge of extinction, their culture becoming forever lost.
Acknowledging the sadness of this loss, and recognizing the importance of such cultures–becoming ever rarer–photographers are traveling the globe and documented those they meet. It is thanks to those encounters that we can come to learn more and broaden our perspectives beyond the familiar. One such photographer is Omar Reda, the man who, through his passion, has given the world a number of fascinating images.

One of the last tattooed Tharu tribe women. Photo Credit

Omar Reda is a Lebanese creative director at the Genesis Riyadh consulting agency, where he has worked since 2013, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He began his career in 2005 working for Y&R/Riyadh, after graduating in graphic design from the Notre Dame University. He has had a fortunate career path, having worked for some of the biggest companies in the world. Omar’s other passion, alongside graphic design, is photography. With his camera in hand, he travels extensively. One of the places he has visited was Nepal, where he documented the tattooed women of the Tharu tribe, practicing a tradition that may be ending.

Tattooed Hand Photo Credit

The Tharu peoples are an indigenous ethnic group that live in the southern foothills of the Himalayas. In 2011, the estimated population of the Tharu was approximately 1.7 million, with the majority living in Nepal. Most of these forest people, as they refer to themselves, are Hindu by religion, and survive on agriculture and hunting. They are a people who’ve thrived in isolation. and many varieties of their endemic language still exist.

The belief is that the tattoos will beautify them once they rise to their heaven. Photo Credit

A lot can be found in the Chitwan District of Nepal, where Omar Reda met them and took his intriguing photos. On his visit to Nepal, Omar discovered that the women of the Tharu tribe would have, in the past, all be covered in tattoos. It is not rare for indigenous nations to practice the art of tattooing, but the reasons behind the tattoos of the Tharu women shocked the adventurous photographer.

The last tattooed women of the Tharu tribe. Photo Credit

There were three different stories that Omar learned about the tattoos. The first, and most shocking one, tells of how the beautiful girls of the Tharu people were taken as sex slaves by the royal family that ruled the Kingdom of Nepal. Chitwan was the area where the members of the royal family once spent their summers. The constant abduction of the Tharu beauties made the women put tattoos on their bodies, so that they would look ugly to the royal men.

The last tattooed women of the Tharu tribe. Photo Credit

The second story explains that the tattooing was mandatory for teenage girls. If the girl did not have these tattoos, then she would be expelled from the community, as well as from her family. Non-tattooed women were not allowed to marry or even talk to other people.

The last tattooed women of the Tharu tribe. Photo Credit

The Tharu went so far as to forbid people from taking anything that a woman without a tattoo had previously touched. So, in order to be accepted by their people, the Tharu girls had to cover their bodies with ink.

Tattooed hand, Photo Credit

The third story is the least shocking one. It says that the tattoos were done in order to enhance the beauty of the women so that when they die, they will go to heaven in the most beautiful form. It is not certain which of the three stories is true. It may be none, or it might be all; however, it is certain that the art of tattooing played a very important role among these people.

It is said that they used to do tattoos in order to avoid becoming chosen as sex slaves by the Royal Nepalese family who would spend their summers in the area. Photo Credit

Nepal is not the only place where Omar Reda has taken photos. Many of his incredible images can be found on his personal website or Instagram account; photos from Turkey, Tanzania, India, and many other beautiful countries where Omar has captured some of the rich and unique cultures still remaining around the world.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Begum Rokeya: The Writer Who Introduced Us To Feminist Sci-Fi | #IndianWomenInHistory

Born in 1880, at the peak of British colonisation of India, Begum Rokeya lived a short, yet meaningful life. A Bengali writer and activist, she has often been touted as the pioneer feminist of Bengal. A fierce advocate of gender equality, Rokeya wrote many short stories, novels, poems, satire and essays, calling for women to be treated equally as men. She held the lack of education to be responsible for women lagging behind men in her writings.

Image Credit: MediaBangladesh.net

She has long represented the face of Muslim feminism in Bengal. She pushed for an equal society through her writings and activism, as well as her actions and strategy. She also founded a girls’ school, and an NGO named Anjuman-e-Khawatin-e-Islam (Islamic Women’s Association). Despite facing several obstacles and criticism, Rokeya went door-to-door, encouraging men to send their daughters to school, and continued the campaigning till her death.
Some of her major literary works include Abarodhbasini, in which she attacked the extreme forms of veils and purdah, which she claimed was bad for women, and stopped them from thinking and working independently. Begum Rokeya also wrote a science fiction novella, Sultana’s Dream, in which she lives in a feminist utopian world ruled by women.

Early Life and Work

Rokeya Begum was born in Pairabondh village of Rangpour. Her father, a local landlord, married 4 times, and imposed a strict veiling upon the women of his family. No formal education was allowed for women in his house, and only Arabic was taught informally, so they could recite the Quran and perform Islamic religious rites.
However, defying the rules laid out by her father, Rokeya, along with her sister Karimunesa insisted upon learning Bangla – the local language – much to their father’s disdain. The Bengali Muslims preferred using Arabic or Persian as a language to produce media. However, their brother Ibrahim Saber decided to teach them.
Rokeya married the Deputy Magistrate of Baghalpur, Sakhwat Hussain, who was then a divorced 39-year old. Having studied in England, Hussain was a liberal person, who encouraged his wife to learn both Bengali and English. During the lifetime of her husband, she started her literary career and launched books like Motichur and Sultana’s Dream.
Rokeya led a hard life, full of personal losses and tragedies. She didn’t get her mother’s love and attention, her husband passed away early in their married life and she lost two daughters in their infancy.
She faced severe resistance from the society for her writings and activism to change its attitude towards women. She attempted to inform them of the world outside of their homes, kitchens, of things other than clothes and jewellery. She inspired the Bengali Muslim women to wake up from the patriarchal slumber and accept their individualities and created a slogan, “Jago Go Bhogini” (Wake Up Sisters).

Career as a Writer and Activist

At the peak of her career, Rokeya had learnt Bangla, Urdu, English, Persian and Arabic. However, much of her literary work is in Bangla, excluding a few stories in English. One of her first novellas, Sultana’s Dream was also in English, in which she reversed the gender roles and portrayed women as dominant gender. Although she started writing about reforming the society in as early as 1903, a two-volume compilation of which was published in 1908 and 1921 respectively. She published a novel, Padmaraga in 1924, and another, Oborodhbashini in 1928.

Image Credit: Livemint

Rokeya started off her school, Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ School in the memory of her late husband. In 1911, when the foundation was laid in Kolkata, there were only 8 students. However, the strength increased to 84 by 1915, and it became a high school in 1930. Among the many subjects taught at the school, the most prominent ones were nursing, sewing, home economics, Bangla and English. She believed it was very important for women to be strong physically, so she focused more on physical activity in her school. Through practical training, Rokeya aimed at enabling women to be economically independent, whenever needed.

Image Credit: wbsed.gov.in

Having faced the issues being a woman herself, Rokeya decided to launch Anjuman-e-Khawanteen-e-Islam (Islamic Women’s Association) in 1916. Much of the organisation’s work focused on helping women coming from poorer backgrounds. Along with offering financial help, the organisation also provided shelter to women in need. She also launched a program to help women living in slums learn reading, writing and child care.
Her profile by The Daily Star noted, “Begum Rokeya believed that men and women were created differently, but equally… the subjugated position of women was not due to Allah’s will, but due to men’s immorality.”
It also pointed out her use of logic to resist the idea that women were created inferior to men. “Had God Himself intended women to be inferior, He would have ordained it so that mothers would have given birth to daughters at the end of the fifth month of pregnancy. The supply of mother’s milk would naturally have been half of that in case of a son. But that is not the case. How can it be? Is not God just and most merciful?” it read.
Eliza Binte Elahi of The Asian Age writes, “Rokeya believed that men deliberately refuse women equal opportunities to cultivate their minds with the purpose of sustaining women’s dependence on men and further perpetuating women’s dependence on their own inferior status. Rokeya used examples of women who earn more than their husbands, but still submit to the men folk at home to point out that the framework of women’s subjugation exceeds economic parameters.”
Rokeya died on December 8, 1932, while working on an article titled Narir Odhikar.

Famous Publications

Begum Rokeya’s work has a distinctive style, in which she inculcates logic, creativity and humour. She started her career writing for a magazine called Nabanoor, and throughout her career, she asked women to stand up for their rights and protest the injustice they face and encouraged them to break the barriers holding them back from progress. Some of her famous writings are as follows:
  • Motichur (Two volumes, first published in 1904, second in ’22)
  • Sultana’s Dream
  • Pipasha (Thirst)
  • Padmarag (Essence of the Lotus, published in 1924)
  • God Gives, Man Robs (Published in 1927)
  • Boligarto (story)


Her death anniversary is commemorated as Rokeya Day on December 9 in Bangladesh. A state-run public university named Begum Rokeya University was launched by the government in 2008.

Image Credit: Begum Rokeya University

The Bangladeshi government also launched a national honour titled Begum Rokeya Padak for her contributions towards the literature and betterment of women in Bengal. The Padak has been given to 39 women till now for their exceptional work to promote women rights.

Image Credit: The New Nation

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Yemen's food crisis: 'We die either from the bombing or the hunger'...

Conflict has driven Yemen to the brink of famine. Few areas have been hit harder than al-Hudaydah, where many people are now bereft of hope

Ghaleb Mashn holds her 11-month-old son, Radad, in al-Hajb village, Yemen
‘Everything has changed. Our life has become a hell’: Ghaleb Mashn holds her 11-month-old son, Radad, in al-Hajb village, Yemen. Photograph: Abdullkareem Alayashy
Broom-maker Taie al-Nahari is kneeling on the sand, shirtless, outside his thatched hut in al-Qaza village in Yemen’s al-Hudaydah governorate. His bones show through his skin.
Before the conflict began in 2015, the 53-year-old was a fisherman. Now he makes two brooms a day, which earns him a daily income of $1. “The boats that we were working on were bombed [by Saudi jets]. Now my family and I don’t have enough to eat,” he says.
The conflict is the primary driver of a hunger crisis that the UN has warnedcould turn to famine this year if nothing is done.

On Wednesday, the UN launched a $2.1bn (£1.6bn) appeal to prevent famine in the Arab world’s poorest nation, where nearly 3.3 million people – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished. The humanitarian appeal is the largest launched for Yemen and aims to provide life-saving assistance to 12 million people this year.
Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said: “The situation in Yemen is catastrophic and rapidly deteriorating”. At least 10,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict. 
Al-Nahari lives in the area of Yemen worst hit by the crisis. He says even those fishermen whose boats have remained intact do not dare to sail for fear of being bombed by the Saudi jets that frequently bomb targets within the country. The attacks are to counter the advances of the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who control the capital, Sana’a, and have spread out across Yemen. “The war killed our only income, which was [me] working as a fisherman, and now we are jobless and hopeless,” he says. 
Al-Nahari did not earn much as a fisherman, but it was enough to buy flour and some basic food. “We are broken, we don’t have enough money, no food, nothing to eat, nothing to work with,” he says.
Fatima takes care of her two grandsons in al-Hudaydah’s al-Mujelis village. Ali is 11 and Mohammed four. They both suffer from thalassemia and their condition has been exacerbated by the lack of rich food. “We have no money to treat my grandsons or to feed ourselves. Since we lost our jobs, we have no income and we have nothing to eat,” she says.

Yemen’s al-Hudaydah governorate and the surrounding area

The children’s family used to worked in a Mango farm before the bombings. “These days, we sell brooms and buy ourselves some flour and then eat it with water,” she says. “Either we die from the bombing or from the hunger. My grandson needs treatment and also on the top of all that he needs to eat a healthy food, my grandson doesn’t know what the milk tastes like.”
She says the world was turning a blind eye to the Saudi bombings, which have prompted criticism of the UK, which exports weapons to Saudi Arabia. “I also blame the whole world for watching us dying and for their silence against [the] Saudi-led coalition,” she says.
Ashwaq Ahmad Moharram, an obstetrician and gynaecologist volunteering in al-Hudaydah, says the humanitarian situation there is believed to be the worst among Yemen’s 22 governorates.

“The situation in al-Hudaydah was bad before and now it has become even worse; if they were poor before, now they are poorer,” she says. 
“When I visit homes here, I have not found even the simplest daily life supports: there is no daily food, most of people eat only fish and sell what is left, but now after fishing boats are targeted by Saudi-led coalition, they have nothing left to make income from.”
Saeeda, a 60-year-old woman living in al-Hajb village in the al-Almansoriah district of al-Hudaydah, is disabled. In the past, she was financially supported by her only son, who worked in a Mango farm. 
“When the war started, he lost his job; my grandson looks for what is left from [our] neighbour’s food. Saudi jets scare me all the time and when I hear their sound in the air, I cannot even run away from my thatched hut [because] I’m disabled,” she says.
“Before the war, we were eating breakfast and lunch, we had $3 a day, the situation was safe, but now we don’t have anything, my son is jobless, our life was difficult but now it’s more difficult than it was, sometimes I wish I was not born in this life.” 
She adds: “Farms have been bombed, fishing boats too and diseases have become widespread; fever kills a lot of children.”

Taie al-Nahari
 ‘The boats we were working on were bombed. Now my family and I don’t have enough to eat’: broom-maker Taie al-Nahari. Photograph: Abdullkareem Alayashy

Ghaleb Mashn’s 11-month-old son Radad is malnourished and has abdominal swelling. The family lives in al-Hajb village. “My son has a congenital disorder, his condition gets worse when he is starved. I don’t have money to treat him. I went to al-Hudaydah for two days and I couldn’t stay longer to continue his treatment,” says Mashn, who makes brooms and hats and makes $2 a day. “My son needs to be treated, his weight was 3.5kg and after one week in a malnutrition centre it increased to 4.5kg. 
“Everything has changed. Our life has become a hell. Saudi Arabia bombards us and kills our neighbours.”
Gummai Esmail Moshasha’s thatched hut in al-Jah, in the Tihama area of al-Hudaydah, was targeted on 12 January. Moshasha, 54, and one of his sons, Ali, 21, were outside waiting for the breakfast call when the bombings began at about 6am. Inside, however, were Ali’s 18-month son, Ahmad, his wife and his mother. They were instantly killed.
“They were preparing the breakfast at our thatched hat, it was a tea and some biscuits,” Ali says. “Suddenly the rocket hit our thatched hat, I ran to the home to see what happened, I was shocked to see my family members killed and cut into pieces, I hugged [what was] remaining of my wife’s body, I also hugged my mother and my son’s body, I was crying.
“My message to the world is, ‘Please stop the war’, but I think my message is useless, they won’t be able to bring back who I have lost.”

Monday, June 12, 2017

Mass Sexual Violence Leaves Rohingya Women Traumatized and Stateless

The United Nations has documented shocking accounts of sexual violence, including gang rape, against Rohingya women and girls at the hands of Myanmar’s military. News Deeply spoke with a U.N. investigator about what she found when she talked to survivors.
MASS SEXUAL VIOLENCE against the Rohinyga minority in northern Myanmar has been documented in a recent United Nations report.
The spate of violence, which includes gang rape and involves survivors as young as 11 years old, was found to have been perpetrated by Myanmar’s security forces,
On October 9, 2016, the Burmese military entered northern Rakhine state – and over the next four months detained and killed men, women and children. Soldiers burned down houses and raped women and young girls. The U.N. report says these actions amount to possible crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
The military insists this “clearance operation” was a justified counterinsurgency operation following an October 9 attack on security forces near the Bangladesh border, which resulted in the deaths of nine policemen. The violence caused more than 69,000 Rohingya to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh, where they are currently living in eight makeshift camps in Dhaka and Cox Bazar.
Myanmar’s Rohinyga population lives in villages in northern Rakhine state, near the Bangladesh border. They are known as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Their Muslim faith is viewed as a security threat by Buddhist groups in Myanmar, which means they receive limited access to basic services such as education. They are also prohibited from claiming citizenship and moving freely throughout the country.
The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) sent a four-person team, including human rights officer Ilona Alexander, to Bangladesh in early January of this year to investigate these human rights violations. Their investigation included testimony from 101 Rohingya women who experienced violence at the hands of the military: More than half reported being sexually assaulted.
Women & Girls spoke to Ilona Alexander about the evidence she gathered on the sexual violence inflicted on Rohingya women and girls.

Women & Girls: The military indicated that it was conducting “area clearance operations” in the region – what exactly does this mean?

Ilona Alexander: Based on the interviews we conducted, the “area clearance operations” followed this pattern: Large numbers of armed men (often from both the Myanmar Armed Forces and the police, sometimes accompanied by Rakhine villagers) would arrive in the village. As is confirmed by satellite imagery analysis, they would proceed to destroy many houses, mosques, schools and shops.
They would separate the women from the men. Women would be rounded up, and either told to stay inside a school or other building or outside in the burning sun. Many would be raped or would experience others forms of sexual violence, often during strip searches, either during roundups or in homes.

Women & Girls: How did the victims describe the attacks?

Alexander: The vast majority of those interviewed had experienced multiple violations. Families may have had members killed, beaten, raped or taken away to an unknown location, while at the same time their homes were burned and looted. For most interviewees, separation from their families is a major concern.
Many of the men have been detained or killed. This is one of the saddest things, because these women have experienced tremendous sexual violence – but sometimes they broke down even more when they talked about their missing husbands.
For me, the touching thing was hearing stories from the little boys who feel that now that their fathers are gone, they are responsible for protecting their mothers and sisters. But these boys have had to watch their sisters and mothers being beaten and raped, and now they feel like they have failed to protect their mothers.

Women & Girls: Your investigations found that one girl as young as 11 years old was gang raped by military forces. Can you describe this case?

Alexander: For this girl, she started by describing to me how life was peaceful in her village before … suddenly the military appeared and started killing people [and] abusing women.
She told me how she witnessed a man who was about 40 years old have his throat cut with a cleaver in front of her. After, the military came to her house and badly beat her parents.
After this incident, her father went into hiding from the military and took her two older sisters with him so that they would be safe. He left the girl at home with her mother and two little brothers because he thought the military wouldn’t hurt children.
The military came back to their house twice. The first time, the military came and removed her clothing and kicked her. After the clothing was removed and the girl was beaten, the military suddenly left. The next day they returned with seven soldiers and removed the mother from the house. The soldiers locked themselves in a room with the girl and gang raped her. The girl told me that she doesn’t even know how many of them raped her because she fell unconscious at times and awoke bleeding and injured after.

Women & Girls: Why were some of the women you spoke to targeted for gang rape, while others weren’t?

Alexander: They wanted to terrorize the population, so they took some women into public places like mosques and gang raped them while other women were outside and listening. They wanted the women outside to know what was happening so they were terrorized.
They would have around eight women and 20 men from the military in the mosque, and the men would take a turn with each woman.
I had this one 15-year-old girl tell me that she was only raped by one solider because she was not as beautiful as the girls who were gang raped. When she told me this I thought, “My God, what kind of culture is this where women think they aren’t beautiful enough to be gang raped?”

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Africa Subsidises The Rest Of TheWworld By Over $40 Billion In One Year

Much more wealth is leaving the world’s most impoverished continent than is entering it, according to new research into total financial flows into and out of Africa.  The study finds that African countries receive $161.6 billion in resources such as loans, remittances and aid each year, but lose $203 billion through factors including tax avoidance, debt payments and resource extraction, creating an annual net financial deficit of over $40 billion.

The research shows that according to the most recent figures available in 2015:
  • African countries received around $19 billion in aid but over three times that much ($68 billion) was taken out in capital flight, mainly by multinational companies deliberately misreporting the value of their imports or exports to reduce tax.
  • African governments received $32.8 billion in loans but paid $18 billion in debt interest and principal payments, with the overall level of debt rising rapidly.
  • An estimated $29 billion a year was stolen from Africa in illegal logging, fishing and the trade in wildlife and plants.
Tim Jones, economist from the Jubilee Debt Campaign, said: "The African continent is rich, but the rest of the world profits from its wealth through unjust debt payments, multinational company profits and hiding proceeds from tax avoidance and corruption."

Aisha Dodwell, a campaigner with Global Justice Now said: “There’s such a powerful narrative in Western societies that Africa is poor and that it needs our help. This research shows that what African countries really need is for the rest of the world to stop systematically looting them.  While the form of colonial plunder may have changed over time, its basic nature remains unchanged.”

Martin Drewry, director of Health Poverty Action said:  “To end poverty we need to focus our efforts on preventing the policies and practices that are causing it.  That means we need to stop our tax havens facilitating the theft of billions, clamp down on illegal activities and compensate African countries for the impact of climate change that they did not cause. “

Bernard Adaba, policy analyst with ISODEC in Ghana said: “'Development' is a lost cause in Africa while we are haemorrhaging billions every year to extractive industries, western tax havens and illegal logging and fishing. Some serious structural changes need to be made to promote economic policies that enable African countries to best serve the needs of their people rather than simply being cash cows for Western corporations and governments. The bleeding of Africa must stop!"

The report Honest Accounts 2017: How the world profits from Africa’s wealth, published by a coalition of UK and African organisations, including Global Justice Now, Health Poverty Action and Jubilee Debt Campaign, makes a series of recommendations as to how the system extracting wealth from Africa could be dismantled. These recommendations include promoting economic policies that lead to equitable development, preventing companies with subsidiaries based in tax havens from operating in African countries, and transforming aid into a process that genuinely benefits Africa.

The research covers the 47 countries classified as ‘sub-Saharan Africa’ by the World Bank.
The research was published by Global Justice Now, Health Poverty Action, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Uganda Debt Network, Budget Advocacy Network, Afrika and Friends Networking Open Forum, Integrated Social Development Centre, Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, Groundwork and People’s Health Movement.