Thursday, October 30, 2014

Women should know and assert their rights -- like men

A lot of work has gone into empowering women and exposing them to basic freedoms and liberties that they were once denied. But there're people, including some women who still think women shouldn't know or assert their rights.

There's a video blog circulating on Facebook that ridicules women's rights, and suggests amongst other things that men marry women [in Africa] out of pity.

The video, titled: "I know my rights issue... married women watch out!!!" slams women who start asserting their rights the moment they are taken abroad by their husbands. According to the author of the video -- who happens to be a woman -- women who claim "I know my rights" will get in trouble. She slams women who refuse to do strenuous work, refuse to give birth to children or clean the house. The author goes on to encourage men to take such women back to their country of origin and seize their passports.


The video blog has been widely shared on Facebook, and the views expressed in it seem to have a lot of support from men and women alike, mostly Africans. But, with due respect to the author, I dissent from the majority.

In my view, the video is insulting to women, and represents a setback in the struggle for women's empowerment. The massive thumbs up it enjoys is an indication that there's still a lot of work to be done in the fight against the subjugation of women.

It's socially irresponsible to condemn women who claim their rights. Even more irresponsible is advocating something as illegal as the seizure of women's passports by men. Passport seizure is a sinister tactic employed by perpetrators of despicable international crimes such as human trafficking. It shouldn't be advocated. It's designed to abuse and control victims by violating their right to free movement. No man has the legal authority to take his wife for "vacation" abroad, and seize her passport in order to stop her from returning.

No woman, in my view, should be forced to answer "yes sir" to a man and spend the rest of her life in subjugation simply because he helped her move to Europe or the United States. In the same vein, no man should be subjugated for the same reason.

Women's rights is considered a foreign issue in many so-called developing communities, especially among men. This, in my view, explains why many African men support the views expressed in the video in question. Although many men commonly point to culture to justify the treatment of women, the simply truth is that men kick against women's rights because it's in their interest to do so. Culture is just a cover story. Many cultures that diminish the status of women, including cultures that promulgate acts like Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are hinged on patriarchal customary practices that place men above women. Such cultures, in my perspective, are repugnant and worthy of repeal.

Some progress has been made in the battle for women's rights and gender equality. But there's still a lot of work to be done. There're still too many people (women included) who think, erroneously, that a woman shouldn't have a say, a woman must clean the house and a woman must have babies --  because that's what the man wants.

There're still communities where women are denied basic rights such as the right to education. Boys are sent to school while girls stay at home and take care of domestic chores. Women in some areas can't inherit property of their parents. According to the Wall Street Journal, for instance, the government of India amended the Asian country's Inheritance Laws in 2005 to allow women inherit their parent's property, but the law seems to be having little impact -- as a survey found that just one in eight women whose parents own land inherit any of it.

Women should know, and assert their rights. We -- men on our part need to man up and stop seeing women who know their rights as threats to the delusional authority bestowed on us by society -- simply because we're men. Women are not a threat. They're just like us who know our rights and privileges, and assert them - sometimes even more forcefully - if need be.

It was Nelson Mandela who said, "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another." Although Mandela spoke in relation to racial discrimination, his aforementioned words are relevant in the battle against all forms of discrimination and oppression, including inequality faced by women and girls.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Texas Liberian Ebola patient wasn't left to die

Many Africans are suspicious, sometimes understandably so, of western action, inaction or insufficient action -- perceived or real. But suggesting that an African diagnosed with Ebola was left for death in a hospital in Texas is, in my perspective, unfounded and, patently absurd. Here's why.

Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola, according to BBC News, died in a hospital in Texas on 8 October 2014. Duncan, 42, reportedly contracted the deadly virus in his native country Liberia before traveling to the U.S. -- where he tested positive 10 days after he arrived from Liberia's capital Monrovia.

The death of Thomas Duncan sparked outrage and criticism among Africans on social media and elsewhere. Many criticized the way Duncan's case was handled by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, and expressed suspicion of U.S. policy in relation to the Ebola virus. On Facebook, some people claimed, amongst other things, that Thomas Duncan was "left to die" of Ebola. Someone speculated that Duncan was "an index case" that had to be "eradicated". Another suggested that the U.S was sending a message to discourage Africans from traveling to the U.S. to receive treatment for Ebola. Others suggested that racism had something to do with his death.

In fact, there seems to be consensus among good number of Africans online that Thomas Eric Duncan was left for death, and that enough wasn't done to save his life -- whereas enough was done to save the lives of American aid workers who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia.

In my view, it doesn't make sense to claim -- without evidence or enough data to support the claim -- that Thomas Duncan was left for death. The fact that he's the first casualty of Ebola on U.S. soil is insufficient grounds to arrive at such a bizarre conclusion.

Ebola has no proven cure as of the time of this writing. Hence anything can happen to anyone -- black or white, African or American -- who contracts the virus. It's true that the two American aid workers who survived in a hospital in Atlanta received an experimental drug called ZMapp, but Duncan wasn't given the drug. However, it's also true that ZMapp isn't a medical breakthrough -- as evidenced by the fact that ZMapp was, according to Reuters, given to three other Ebola patients who later died, including a Spanish priest.

Experimental drugs like ZMapp are therefore no guarantee. By the way, Thomas Duncan was given an experimental drug called brincidofovir.

I share the view that anti-Ebola protocols weren't respected in the onset of the Thomas Duncan case. It's inconceivable that the deceased was sent home with antibiotics after going to the hospital a few days after he arrived in the U.S. Someone in the hospital was negligent. The initial negligent response warrants an investigation to make sure it doesn't happen again.

However, I don't think hospital staff willingly sent an infected Ebola patient back into the streets in the U.S. I don't belong to the category of people who think Duncan was left for death.

Conspiracy theories related to Ebola or any other pandemic disease are counter productive, and endanger the lives of health workers and infected people in affect communities. Eight Ebola workers were killed in Guinea. Why? According to Time, an angry mob in a remote village thought the workers came to spread the disease. In my mind, conspiracy theories incited the violent attack.

The simple truth in my perspective is that the world is yet to get a grasp of Ebola. And even the most medically advanced countries are vulnerable, including the U.S. and European countries like Spain, that are reportedly well-equipped to contain the Ebola virus. If the "usual suspect" - the West - had a secret treatment or vaccine for Ebola, I think westerners like the two Catholic missionaries who died of Ebola in Madrid would've been saved. Authorities in Spain killed a dog belonging to a nurse infected with Ebola. Frantic efforts are employed to contain the Ebola virus.

Allegations that Eric Duncan was treated differently on grounds of nationality or race would've made sense to me if there was a clear way to treat Ebola, and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital didn't follow the tested and proven medical protocol. Unfortunately there's no known treatment at the moment hence hospitals attempt to deal with the virus in different ways -- yielding different results.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Criminal damage of Finns Party's Helsinki office

The right to hold and express opinions without interference is a fundamental human right enshrined in international human rights standards, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although international covenants bind states parties not individuals, the latter could learn a thing or two from the covenants -- many of which are incorporated into national laws. Vandalizing public or private property of political opponents or people who hold dissenting political views amounts to unlawful interference, and threatens civil and political freedom.

Vandals targeted the Helsinki office of the Perussuomalaiset (PS) political party. According to Yle, members of the party arrived at their office on 18 September to find windows shattered. An anonymous party claimed responsibility for the vandalism in a manifesto posted on an informal news site.

In the manifesto (in Finnish) which seeks to rationalize the vandalism, it is stated, amongst other things, that the economic recession has given impetus to right-wing populists and neo-Nazis across Europe, and the PS is one of those parties that take advantage of the economic uncertainty and offer naive solutions to society's problems -- by scapegoating immigrants, non-heterosexuals and feminists. And that the PS seeks to create a society that doesn't have room for everyone; a society modeled on the "white heterosexual man" and a "hierarchical nuclear family" as a basic social unit, under a "totalitarian government".

Furthermore, the strong-worded manifesto asserts that the PS has hard-line fascists in its ranks and that the party has made racism and hate speech acceptable. The manifesto calls for equality and for a society where everyone has equal power to make decisions on their lives and on the organization of society. According to the manifesto, the architects of the attack want to make things difficult for the PS in "concrete ways" and would use "direct actions" against the party and "other fascists".

In my view, the PS is, without a doubt, hostile to minorities, including immigrants, refugees, Muslims and homosexuals. High level members of the party, including its Members of Parliament and councillors make no secret of what they think of minority groups. Evidence to support this claim abound:
  • PS councillors in the city of Lieksa once demanded a Somali-free meeting room.
  • PS councillors in the same city blocked a proposal to accept nine refugee minors from Syria.
  • A councillor of the party once donated a clock with Nazi insignia to a right-wing extremist group in Vaasa.
  • Teuvo Hakkarainen, a Member of Parliament representing the party used the N-word to describe black Africans on his first day in parliament. He got away with it.
  • A parliamentary aide of the party suggested that minorities in Finland should be forced to wear armbands so that they could be easily identified by the police.
  • A PS councillor described refugees and asylum seekers as welfare leaches and rapists
  • Two MPs of the party, Jussi Halla-aho and James Hirvisaari (now expelled by the party) were convicted of ethnic agitation by Finnish courts.
 The list of misdeeds by PS members is long and inexhaustible.

However, I believe criminal damage of the party's office is an unacceptable act which amounts to assault on civil and political rights. The way I see it, the criminal act is counter productive since, in my view, it projects the PS as a victim of "political persecution" rather than portray it as what it is: a party that threatens equality -- a core value in Finnish and Nordic societies. Acts of vandalism targeting the party or its members, I believe, could help rather than hurt the PS in the polls thereby undermining the objective of the perpetrators as per the manifesto posted online.

Although I subscribe to the view that the PS scapegoats minorities and doesn't do enough to stamp out racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia from its ranks, or rein in its numerous members who fan flames of hate, I oppose unlawful acts against the party.

Violence begets more violence. Imagine a situation where PS members also start vandalizing property of opponents. Finland, I feel, would descend into chaos. It's on this premise that I oppose vandalism and any other unlawful act against the PS or any other legally recognized political party that operates within the ambit of Finnish law.

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