People's Stories Women's Rights

Prominent advocates for women’s rights jailed
by Amnesty International, agencies
Iran, Saudi Arabia
13 June 2018
Leading Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh arrested
A prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, who had defended women protesting against having to wear the Islamic headscarf, has been detained and told she will serve five years in prison, according to her family.
Nasrin Sotoudeh was taken from her home in Tehran on Wednesday, according to her husband, Reza Khandan, who said she managed to call him after she was detained. He said she was told she would be serving a five-year sentence at Evin prison, Tehran, after being convicted in absentia. “I have no idea what the sentence was related to,” said Khandan.
Sotoudeh is an outspoken critic of the country’s judiciary, which is dominated by hardliners. She had recently objected to its decision to limit the number of lawyers allowed to defend clients in in ''so-called'' security-related cases, calling the move a “farewell” to the right of defence.
The judiciary had released a list of only 20 lawyers, out of 60,000 licensed attorneys, who would be allowed to defend such cases. After widespread objections, the judiciary said it would expand the list.
Sotoudeh, mother to two children, has also worked as a lawyer for women detained for refusing to cover their hair in public. Since December 2017, dozens of women have been violently attacked and arrested for peacefully protesting against compulsory veiling. She has represented prominent opposition activists, and previously served a three-year prison term, from 2010 to 2013, after being convicted on security-related charges. She was awarded the prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the EU in 2012.
25 May 2018
The driving ban and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia
Women and girls face entrenched discrimination in law and practice in Saudi Arabia. The ban on driving is only one example of the many areas of life where women in Saudi Arabia have their human rights denied. Women are still unable to travel, engage in paid work or higher education, or marry without the permission of a male guardian.
Women in Saudi Arabia have publicly campaigned to lift the ban on them driving since 1990, when around 40 women drove their cars down a main street in Riyadh, the capital. They were stopped by police and a number of them were suspended from work.
Since then, these protests have been sustained. In 2007, campaigners sent a petition to the late King Abdullah, while the following year campaigner Wajeha al-Huwaider filmed herself driving and posted the video on YouTube to mark International Women''s Day.
Saudi women again used YouTube to post videos of themselves behind the wheel to protest against the ban in 2011. Some were arrested and others were forced to sign pledges to desist from driving. At least one woman was tried and sentenced to 10 lashes.
In 2013, women’s rights activists launched a similar initiative in an attempt to overturn the ban on 26 October 2013. One of the activists, Loujain al-Hathloul, officially announced the launch of the campaign in a video posted online. Soon after the announcement, some of the women activists received repeated threats from the authorities to pressure them to stop the campaign. On 24 October, the Ministry of Interior said that it would respond “firmly and with force” should the campaign take place, and on 25 October, the campaign’s website was hacked.
Despite the threats and the intimidation, scores of women filmed themselves as they drove their cars and posted the videos online. Some were arrested, most of whom were released after a short period of time.
Following last year''s royal decree to lift the driving ban, women who had campaigned against the ban reported receiving telephone calls warning them against publicly commenting on the news.
This latest crackdown on women’s rights activists, which has seen at least five activists detained in the past week, comes despite Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman presenting himself as a ''reformer''.
His international public relations campaign contrasts sharply with an intensifying crackdown on dissenting voices, including those campaigning for equal rights for women.
On 19 May, the Saudi Arabian authorities and government-aligned media launched a public smear campaign to try to discredit five prominent detained women’s rights defenders as “traitors” following their arrest.
Official statements in state media accused the activists and other individuals of forming a “cell” and posing a threat to state security for their “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric”.
The names of the three prominent female and two male human rights defenders have not been publicly announced by state media, but local state-affiliated media outlets revealed their names the following day in a chilling smear campaign, labelling them as "traitors". Among them is Loujain al-Hathloul, the well known campaigner against the ban on women drivers.
Al-Hathloul has been the victim of long-term persecution. She was detained for 73 days after she famously defied the ban by trying to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates on 30 November 2014. Security officers in al-Batha, a border city in eastern Saudi Arabia, confiscated her passport and forced her to stay overnight in her car.
Al-Hathloul filmed her attempt to cross the border, with a YouTube video of her experiences viewed hundreds of thousands of times. She also documented her experience on Twitter, where her name trended internationally.
She went on to stand for election in November 2015, the first time women were allowed to vote and stand in elections in the country’s consultative Shura Council. Despite being recognized as a candidate, her name was never added to the ballot. She was arrested again in June 2017 and denied access to lawyers and her family. She was eventually released four days later. The conditions of her release remained unknown.
Others imprisoned this month include Iman al-Nafjan, a human rights defender and blogger; Aziza al-Yousef, a fellow campaigner for the right to drive; Dr Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, a lawyer and women''s rights advocate and youth activist Mohammad al-Rabea.
The ban on women driving is due to be lifted in June with licences being issued from 24 June. Amnesty International has welcomed the move as a "long overdue small step in the right direction". Amnesty international is also calling for an end to all forms of discrimination against women, including the guardianship system.


Daily violence, sex abuse in Asian Garment Industry
by Beh Lih Yi, Kieran Guilbert
Thomson Reuters Foundation
June 2018
Fashion giants H&M and Gap Inc vowed on Tuesday to investigate reports that Asian garment workers who supply their high-street stores routinely face sex abuse, harassment and violence.
Based on interviews with some 550 workers in 53 H&M and Gap supplier factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, rights groups said women were at "daily risk" of violence, and faced retaliation if they reported the attacks.
The coalition has investigated the factories for several years as efforts mount to push Western brands into improving safety along their supply chains and render them slave-free.
Clothes stitched by low-paid Asian workers - part of a complex global supply chain - end up on high-priced Western high streets, with some 4,750 H&M stores located in 69 countries and about 3,700 Gap shops operating in about 90 nations.
Sweden''s H&M - the world''s No. 2 clothes group after Zara owner Inditex (ITX.MC) - said it would review the findings of the recent report by the civil society groups and unions.
"We will go through every section of the report and follow up on a factory level with our local teams based in each production country," a company spokesman said in a statement.
"All forms of abuse or harassment are against everything that H&M group stands for."
U.S. retailer Gap said it was "deeply concerned about the troubling allegations raised by this report".
"Our global team is currently conducting our due diligence to investigate and address these issues," a spokeswoman said.
The charities said they had found widespread sex harassment, verbal and physical abuse - such as slapping - and threats of retaliation when women refused sexual advances from bosses.
A separate report published last month by the coalition of rights groups found similar abuse of women at supplier factories in Asia for U.S.-based Walmart, the world''s largest retailer.
Walmart said last month that it was reviewing the "concerning" accounts cited in the report.
The Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a group of trade unions, firms and charities of which both Gap and H&M are members, said it expected the retailers to work with the suppliers to ensure that women have swift access to remedy.
"These allegations are deeply concerning," said Debbie Coulter of the ETI. "Gender-based violence is unacceptable under any circumstances, and brands need to make sure that women working in their supply chain are protected."
Campaigners told the Thomson Reuters Foundation last month that the level of pressure and harassment faced by the workers in the three separate reports was approaching forced labour.
"Any time you have retaliation against workers, and coercion and control ... you are coming close to the line of forced labour," Jennifer Rosenbaum of Global Labor Justice (GLJ), a network of worker and migrant organisations, said last month.
The reports have been published amid meetings hosted by the United Nations'' International Labour Organization (ILO) to work on the first global convention against workplace harassment after the #MeToo campaign thrust the issue into the spotlight.
May 25 2018
Women who work in Asian factories making clothes for the global retail giant Walmart are at "daily risk" of slapping, sexual abuse and other harassment, rights groups said on Friday.
Based on interviews with about 250 workers in 60 Walmart supplier factories in Bangladesh, Cambodia and Indonesia, a coalition of charities said women were "systematically exposed to violence" and faced retaliation if they reported the attacks.
The coalition has investigated the factories for more than six years as efforts mount to push Western brands into cleaning up the workplace and improving safety along their supply chains.
U.S-based Walmart, with at least 11,000 stores in nearly 30 nations, said it was reviewing the findings of the report.
"The accounts by workers is concerning, and we take allegations like this seriously," a Walmart spokeswoman said.
The charities said they found widespread sex harassment, verbal and physical abuse such as slapping and threats of retaliation when women refused sexual advances from bosses.
"This is a very urgent and serious issue," Anannya Bhattacharjee of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, a group which represents garment workers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"All people see are the glittering, fast-moving and affordable fashion. No one has any ideas about the deep-rooted violence against women that is propagated in the supply chains."
The alliance, which probed the abuses with four other groups, said in a 43-page report that the incidents represented the tip of the iceberg. Stigma and the risk of retaliation means that many women keep quiet, according to the rights groups.
"The difficulty is women don''t feel comfortable to report. How can they seek intervention from the unions when the union leaders are mostly men?" said Khun Tharo from the Phnom Penh-based charity Center for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights. "There is no legal mechanism for them to file complaints."
The findings were shared in advance with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a week before the International Labour Organization holds its first meeting on workplace violence and harassment.
Bhattacharjee said Walmart was investigated because of its global footprint and the charities hoped it could become a "trend setter" and put in place a system to stop such abuses.
A woman who worked in a factory in Bangladesh told the rights groups that her employer pressured her to resign after she threatened to report repeated abuses to police.
"He flirted with me, he would touch me on the shoulder or touch me on the head... I thought if I showed no interest, he would stop. It didn''t work," the woman said in the report.
Campaigners said the level of pressure and harassment faced by the workers in the study was approaching forced labour.
"Any time you have retaliation against workers, and coercion and control ... you are coming close to the line of forced labour," said Jennifer Rosenbaum with Global Labor Justice, a trans-national network of worker and migrant organisations.
Asia accounts for more than half of the $443 billion generated from global apparel exports in 2016, with Bangladesh, Vietnam, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Cambodia being the main players.
* Access the charities report to the ILO:
* Ending Violence and Harassment at Work - Human Rights Watch:

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