Sex workers mobilize for their human rights. Photo credit: Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers
Last week, the Supreme Court ruled on the side of human rights. In a six to two ruling, the Court struck down a federal provision that required organizations receiving government funding to pledge that they had adopted a policy “opposing prostitution.”
Commonly known as the “anti-prostitution pledge,” this provision contravened best practices in public health, including evidence-based research showing that supporting sex workers to lead their own community health interventions is an effective way to fight the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The policy also created a chilling effect for sex worker rights organizations, as non-governmental organizations feared they would lose their funding if they engaged with sex workers. Read More
A Ugandan activist holds up a popular tabloid ‘Red Pepper,’ one of several newspapers inciting prejudice and violence against LGBTI people in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBTI people are routinely denied their rights. Photo: Evan Abramson
A new report released last week by the Pew Research Center reveals alarming data about attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities around the world. Here are a few statistics that shine a spotlight on the countries in which AJWS works:
- In El Salvador, 35 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 62 percent do not;
- In Kenya, 8 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 90 percent do not;
- In Uganda, 4 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 96 percent do not.
These attitudes are symptomatic of the oppression LGBTI people face on a regular basis—the loss of their jobs, unequal access to healthcare and limited opportunities for education. LGBTI people are ostracized, rejected, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives.
It gets worse.
One of the things I find most inspiring about studying Torah is that the biblical characters are human. They may be our valorized, mythical ancestors, but they also consistently make mistakes, leaving a record of paradigmatic human foibles from which we can learn. There is one biblical failure, however, that I have always struggled to understand as a useful example. It occurs for the first time in this week’s parashah, as Avram goes to Egypt to avoid the famine in Canaan:
As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. If the Egyptians see you, and think, ‘She is his wife,’ they will kill me and let you live. Please say that you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may remain alive thanks to you.” Read More
We are, by nature, creatures of habit. We find comfort in things that are familiar, carving out routines that give our lives order. But repetition also leads to the curious subduing of awareness that we call “autopilot”—the feeling we get when we arrive at work having absolutely no recollection of the roads or steps we took to get there. Autopilot can free our brains for daydreaming or creative thinking, but when its numbing effect starts to creep into important activities in our daily lives, it can dim our passion for things that once excited or inspired us.
This week, as we begin the familiar refrain of the opening chapters of the Torah in Parashat Breishit for the umpteenth time in Jewish history, it’s so easy to zone out in this way. After all, “In the beginning” is not really the beginning; we’ve heard it before. How often do we sit in synagogue hearing the chant with our ears but thinking other thoughts? Suddenly the Torah is being lifted and tied 30 minutes later and we have no recollection of all of the aliyot in between—let alone any deep thinking about the vital content within them. Read More
Leah Kaplan Robins in Cambodia.
As AJWS’s senior writer and editor, my job is to put AJWS’s complex work—helping marginalized people in the developing world realize their human rights—into words. I tell stories about activists around the globe, trying to bring their lives and challenges alive for AJWS supporters who’ve never met them—or who may have never seen this kind of poverty and injustice themselves.
What may surprise you is that, until just recently, I hadn’t seen it either. For the past four years at AJWS, I have portrayed communities and human rights struggles by hearing stories from colleagues, interviewing our grantees when they visited New York, and pouring over photos from our staff, volunteers and grantees to glean images and feelings that I could convey on the page.
But two weeks ago, AJWS sent me into the field with two of my colleagues—to Cambodia. For the first time, I stood face-to-face with the people whose struggles we’re funding—in their own communities. While this one trip can’t encapsulate the diverse range of places AJWS works, it provided moments of deep connection that I can now share with you, and that will inspire my work for a long time to come. Read More
Around the world, selling sex is as inflammatory an issue as abortion. It’s just as divisive, too—particularly among feminists and in the global human rights community.
At the 2012 AWID Forum—the largest women’s rights gathering in the world—sex workers’ rights took center stage. Panel discussions and plenary sessions featured sex workers from Burma, Thailand and Cambodia, along with myriad organizations—including several AJWS grantees—that protect sex workers from human rights violations. One grantee offered a clever metaphor to capture how sex work is relatively alien to women’s rights conversations. “Imagine you go to a restaurant with a friend,” she said. “You order beef. But your friend explains she is vegetarian, so she orders a plate of rice and vegetables. You look at her plate and think to yourself, ‘This is a bit strange; a little different.’ But it’s a choice on the menu. And it’s a choice she made herself, just like any other choice. That’s sex work—a choice.”
Cambodian activists share their experiences as LGBT, along with delegates from other ASEAN countries, at a forum in Phnom Penh on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Photograph: Joseph Pocs/Phnom Penh Post
Yesterday, May 17th, was International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO). Hundreds of events took place in 95 countries around the world, including countries in Southeast Asia.
In Cambodia, AJWS grantee Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK) focused its IDAHO action on bringing together activists from surrounding countries to develop a regional advocacy strategy.
AJWS grantees in Cambodia, Thailand and Burma have been instrumental in the effort to get Southeast Asian nations and the broader regional association (ASEAN) to recognize and commit to protecting the human rights of LGBTIQ people. Thanks to the work of LGBTIQ activists and their allies, the draft ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights currently recognizes and protects people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. But this protection is in danger of being cut out. So, activists used IDAHO as an opportunity to develop a strategy for safeguarding this landmark declaration. Read More
The 20th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit hosted by Cambodia wrapped up last week. The eyes of the region were on Cambodia offering local NGOs a rare opportunity to voice human rights concerns in Cambodia. Given the current trend of silencing dissent and criticism around contentious issues, the Summit represented a valuable entry for meaningful dialogue to address current issues.
ASEAN’s theme for 2012 is “One Community, One Destiny.” Yet the regional body has not intently listened to nor fully incorporated the voices of a group that has categorically been excluded because of age and lack of “experience”—young people.
Here are eight reasons why ASEAN should glean the wisdom of young people: Read More
Cambodian villagers hold aloft a 230-metre krama during their protest in front of the National Assembly. Photo credit: Pha Lina.
A few weeks ago, Chea Dara, a 33-year-old mother of two jumped off the Chruoy Changva bridge in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Desperate, Chea took her life after she learned of her family’s pending eviction from their Boeung Kak lake home after years of struggling with the government over the land dispute. Chea’s eviction battle with the Cambodian government is not new. Amnesty International recently released a report on women on the frontlines of evictions. Chea’s death caused waves in Cambodia and was a reminder of the scarcity of alternatives available to vulnerable people in Cambodia.
A group of women with disabilities and mothers of children with disabilities in northern Uganda exchange stories with AJWS staff and AJWS's grantee, GUWODU.
Henning Mankell’s December 10th New York Times Op-Ed “The Art of Listening” is a thoughtful examination of the role of storytelling in human nature. In many ways, storytelling, and the authentic listening that accompanies it, is a lost art in our sped-up, Twitterized culture.
At AJWS, authentic listening is at the heart of our approach to grantmaking. We hold the perspective that our grantees are best positioned to know their needs and the needs of the communities they serve. It is our job to listen to them so that we can support them most effectively. Read More