Monday, 8 March 2010

WOMEN: International Women's Day in Saharawi Refugee Camps

There may be debate about whether the the International Women's Day is an anachronism and defies everything that the feminist movement has achieved to date; or if this day is a reminder of said achievement and should therefore be celebrated on a sunny spring day. Whatever side you are leaning to, the International Women's Day certainly gives me the opportunity to contextualise this blog post on the Saharawi women in an internationally relevant way.

The International Women's Day is associated in Western societies with the empowerment of women through the industrialisation of the workforce and the heightened visibility of women through the permeability of domesticity; with the achievements of women for women in terms of political engagement, inclusion, emancipation and "cracking the glass ceiling". However, pay gaps, absence of women in leading positions, gender inequality in schools, courts, media, and throughout society ought to be on our minds while marching the streets and celebrating womanhood.

This is different for Saharawi women.The Saharawi refugee camps are managed by the democratic and representative government-in-exile, Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) since 1975. Promoting education as a means to self-determination and gender equality as a foundational principle, Saharawi women have been known as the powerful pillars of Saharawi life in exile.

According to an old Saharawi saying, "a tent is raised on two poles: a man and a woman", understanding both partners in a relationship as equal leaders. However, during the violent war between the Moroccan occupiers and the liberation movement from 1975 to 1992, male and female Saharawi soldiers were absent, injured or killed. In a time of instability and chaos amongst the hundreds of thousands Saharawi refugees that escaped the war-ridden occupied Western Sahara, Saharawi women took the initiative to secure shelter, provide supplies and protection and physically as well as socially construct those refugee camps that in the 35 years of exile have become home for so many Saharawis.

As so often in societies so violently disrupted by war (think Germany, UK and France during and after World War I), women experienced a new scale of responsibility in their homes and more and more often outside of their homes. Unlike their fellow females from the post-war Europe (by no means diminishing their achievements), Saharawi women remained in charge for the administration of the camps, education and medical care for their people: over half of all medical staff is female (nurses, doctors, surgeons); one third of all parliamentarians are women; one third of the Saharawi representatives in the African parliament are female; local administration units, the Dairas, are predominatenly headed by women.

Today, we are celebrating the women of the world. The Global North and the Global South have made significant, though radically different, accomplishment in legal, political, cultural and personal terms to achieve equal rights and equal opportunities.

Listen to Radio 4's Woman's Hour on Saharawi women (by Danielle Smith & Beatrice Newbery).

UNIFEM United Nations Development Fund for Women. Gender Profile on the Conflict in Western Sahara.
For more information, also see:

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Hacking rude!

Two weeks ago, our website was hacked and has since been down. While our Web Team has managed to delete all "bad code", the problem could not be resolved to this day. Be assured, that they are on it.

Online censorship has been an issue since the world wide web has become more easily available for the public. National governments, multilateral corporations, hate groups and others have been trying to take control and thereby censor what and to what extent content is available online. To a degree, they have been successful, if you consider the restrictions on Google in China, Yahoo in France as well as the political economy of search engines on how users access the Internet. New phenomena, such as cyberterrorism, cyberbullying and trolling, have manifested and need to be addressed in a serious and informed manner.
While there is no evidence who attacked the Sandblast website and for what reasons, they succeeded in leaving us offline for at least two weeks (and counting). Being a British organisation, the UK government has not imposed (yet) any restrictions on our Internet presence. Being a transnational medium of communication, however, information and communication technology, just like the world wide web and social media (e.g. facebook), are subject to abuse and censorship that we may disagree with and contest as much as we can, but are still vulnerable to.

Attacks against organisations such as Sandblast, social movements (in Iran and Egypt), journalists (in Morocco and Tunisia)  and individuals with an opinion (in China) are manifold these days and we would like to draw your attention to organisations that highlight, monitor, and contest these problems:

    •    Global Voices Advocacy: Defending Free Speech Online
    •    Threatened Voices

And those providing a vast amount of information on why it is important for freedom of online speech to be protected:

    •    Net Freedom
    •    Save the Internet [American]
    •    Internet.Artizans

We will keep you posted about the development with the hacked website. Please get in touch with us with any queries and questions via email to, skype to sandblastarts, facebook, twitter...