Global News Roundup: Morocco, France, Afghanistan, DRC, Japan

This week: Moroccan women banned from Mecca; Carla Bruni called a “prostitute” who “deserves to die”; Afghanistan woman MP’s aides found dead; suspicion of poison gas attacks in Afghanistan girls’ schools confirmed; U.N. denied protection to citizens before DRC mass rape; victim toll of mass rape now at over 240; and a new program for gender equality in Japan.

MOROCCO: Outrage is mounting in Morocco at Saudi Arabia’s decision last month to ban Moroccan women “of a young age” from Mecca. The decision was justified by the statement that these women “may have something else in mind” besides worship, which many commentators took as a barely-veiled reference to underground prostitution. Shocked Moroccan bloggers have come up with an additional suggestion: Why not impose a ban on Saudi Arabian men visiting Morocco, lest they use their tourist visas “for other purposes”?

FRANCE: Carla Bruni, France’s First Lady, was called a “prostitute” by an Iranian newspaper after opposing the death sentence of Sakineh Ashtiani, who is facing capital punishment for alleged adultery. In an open letter to Ashtiani inspired by Bernard-Henri Levy’s letter-writing campaign, Bruni wrote:

Why shed your blood and deprive your children of their mother? Because you have lived, because you have loved, because you’re a woman, and because you’re an Iranian? Everything within me refuses to accept it. 

An Iranian newspaper responded by publishing an editorial titled “French Prostitutes Join The Human Rights Protest”–and saying that Bruni “deserves to die.” A state news website and a state-run TV station soon added their support to these denouncements, arguing that Bruni and her friend, French actress Isabelle Adjani, are helping Ashtiani only to justify their own “immorality.”

AFGHANISTAN: In nearby Afghanistan, five people working for the re-election campaign of Fauzia Galani (one of Afghanistan’s few woman MPs), were found dead on a mountainside this week. They had been kidnapped along with five others by a group of armed men on Wednesday. The Taliban took responsibility for the kidnapping, but not for the murders. Opposed to the elections in general, and to women politicians in particular, the Taliban have been accused of murdering several candidates. Their tactics seem to be working, as many voters outside the city centers are reportedly too afraid to go to the polls on Sep 18.

In other Afghanistan news, it has been confirmed through blood tests that the girls affected by a sudden mass sickness at girls’ schools in Afghanistan over the past two years, including the school we reported on last week, were indeed suffering from poison gas attacks, not mass hysteria. Again, the Taliban are the prime suspects.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: The estimated number of women mass raped by rebels in Congo in early August has now risen to more than 240. Information has emerged that community leaders reportedly “begged UN officials for protection” days before the atrocity, but didn’t receive help until much later. Various sources say they informed the UN of the imminent attacks in late July, and the rapes and lootings in early August. It remains unclear why UN peacekeepers failed to protect the villagers and claimed ignorance of the rapes until Aug 12.

JAPAN: And now for this week’s positive news: The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has stepped up Japan’s painfully slow drive for gender equality by instating the ‘Ikumen’ program, a campaign encouraging men to stay home from work and raise their young children. In a country where currently only 1.7 percent of men take paternity leave–compared to 85 percent of men in Sweden and 55 percent in the U.K.–the program is designed to “change attitudes,” such as the pressure on men to work very long hours at the expense of family time. It’s also designed to elevate Japan’s low birth rate of 1.2 births per woman. Some 550 Japanese fathers have signed the public declaration of their commitment to child-rearing.

Image courtesy of Flickr user omar_chatriwala under Creative Commons 2.0.


Sarah Lohmann is a Ms. magazine intern from Germany via Scotland, where she’s studying for a joint degree in English Literature and Philosophy at the University of St Andrews.