News & Current Affairs

July 20, 2009

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Enduring allure of Egyptian belly dance

Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dance festival

The Ahlan Wa Sahlan festival has been a big hit this year

Hundreds of women of all nationalities sway their hips and twirl in time to the beat of a drum in a hotel ballroom by the pyramids in Cairo.

Belly dancing is said to have been practised in Egypt since Pharaonic times and now it has caught on around the globe.

It is well-established in Europe and the US and has recently spread to Asia. This year dozens of dancers travelled from China for the Ahlan Wa Sahlan belly dancing festival.

“Because this is the land of dance, women have to come!” declares Raqia Hassan, the festival organiser.

“When she comes she can meet famous dancers and musicians. She can see the pyramids. Anyone who comes to Egypt one time, she cannot stop coming back.”

Japanese belly dance fan

Safa Bakr’s shop attracts women from all over the world

Raqia, who has taught many belly dancing celebrities, leads her large class through the basic moves of the dance putting together a routine.

“It’s fun and you can do this at any age,” says Ewa Horsfield from London. “You can express your own personality. It’s an individual dance. You just listen and respond to the music.”

Many speak of the fitness benefits of belly dancing.

“In China all ladies like for their health,” says Angel from Shanghai.

“This kind of dance began here. Here teachers [are] very, very good so all Chinese ladies want to come.”

Contradictions

Belly dancing is big business in Egypt thanks to the global market.

Designer, Safaa Yasser Bakr, runs a belly dancing costume shop in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar.

She helps a Brazilian woman try on a sky-blue sequinned bra and a matching skirt with a split up one side.

“In one show big stars change costume many times,” she tells her. “You need maybe five different pieces.”

Nowadays Safaa sells most of her alluring outfits to foreigners.

Safa Yasser Bakr

Safa sells her wares in Khan el-Khalili – Cairo’s Islamic heart

“I see people coming from France, Italy, United States, Argentina, Spain, Japan,” she says.

But in Egypt at large, many experts fear the dance is losing its appeal.

Society has become more religious and conservative over the past generation and belly dancing is not considered a respectable profession.

“I don’t like belly dancing. I don’t like to see a woman half-naked dancing and moving her body like that,” says one man on the street in central Cairo.

“It has a kind of sexual movement. That’s why I don’t like to watch it,” adds his friend.

An older passer-by remembers the famous dancers of the 1960s with affection but says he would not let his wife or daughters dance in public today.

“I liked the old belly dancer because you could not see a lot of her body,” he remarks. “They were very respectable – not like the new ones now.”

Enduring art

Dance historian, Mo Geddawi, accepts belly dancing is facing a challenging time in Egypt but says this must be seen in perspective.

“Forget about different governments and religion,” he says. “When Christianity and then Islam came the dance was taboo, but people continued to dance.”

“Sometimes in public it is less but the dance never died.”

For now though international devotees help to ensure the dance goes on.

Diana Esposito from New York came to Cairo on a scholarship to study the social and economic reasons for its decline but has become an accomplished belly dancer herself.

“The first time I saw it I thought the movements were so sensual,” she says. “I decided to try something new and it became an addiction.”

“I don’t see the dance being done properly anywhere else in the world. That’s why everyone flocks here – this is the capital of belly dance.”

Advertisements

July 5, 2009

MI6 chief’s Facebook details cut

Filed under: Business News, Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 7:44 am

MI6 chief’s Facebook details cut

Sir John Sawers

Sir John Sawers is currently the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations

Details about the personal life of the next head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, have been removed from Facebook.

The Mail on Sunday says his wife, Lady Shelley Sawers, put details about their children and the location of their flat on the social networking site.

The details, which also included holiday photographs, were removed after the paper contacted the Foreign Office.

MP Patrick Mercer, counter-terrorism sub-committee chairman, said he was disappointed by the couple’s actions.

‘Distressing and worrying’

He said: “Sir John and his family have been at the heart of the intelligence community for several decades now.

“It’s distressing and worrying therefore that these sorts of details should be appearing in the public domain. I would have hoped these sort of mistakes would not have been made by people like that.”

And the Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesman, Edward Davey, tells the paper he wants Gordon Brown to launch an inquiry into whether the disclosures have compromised Sir John’s ability to take up his MI6 post.

Sir John is currently the UK’s ambassador to the United Nations and will take up his new post in November.

The Mail on Sunday says the information included the couple’s friendships with senior diplomats and well-known actors including Moir Leslie from BBC Radio 4’s The Archers.

Lady Sawers revealed the location of the London flat used by the couple and the whereabouts of their three grown-up children and of Sir John’s parents, the paper added.

Diplomatic postings

Sir John is due to replace Sir John Scarlett as head of the overseas Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

He has been the UK’s Permanent Representative to the UN since 2007.

Before that he was political director at the Foreign Office, an envoy in Baghdad and a foreign affairs adviser to former prime minister Tony Blair.

In that post from 1999 to 2001 he was involved in the Kosovo conflict and Northern Ireland peace process.

Elsewhere overseas he worked in the British embassy in Washington, as an ambassador to Cairo and in South Africa from 1988 and 1991 when apartheid was ending.

June 20, 2009

Schwarzenegger in LA plane drama

Schwarzenegger in LA plane drama

Arnold Schwarzenegger, file image

The governor seemed unfazed by the landing

A plane carrying California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has made an emergency landing in Los Angeles because of smoke in the cockpit.

No-one was hurt after a “quick, steep, but safe” landing, his office said.

The former film star was so calm about the incident that he immediately logged on to social networking website Twitter to share his experience.

“A little adventure just now when my plane made an emergency landing. All’s ok, though,” his message said.

The pilot diverted the jet to the Van Nuys airport 10 minutes before it was due to land at Santa Monica, spokesman Aaron McLear said in a statement.

Fire crews met the jet on the runway.

“Upon landing the governor exited the jet and travelled to his house,” Mr McLear said.

He added that the crew had done an “outstanding job” and that “everyone aboard landed safely and unharmed”.

September 10, 2008

Narrow UK class gap, urges Harman

Narrow UK class gap, urges Harman

The class gap must be narrowed in an effort to improve people’s life chances, Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman has said.

She told the TUC annual conference that “equality matters more than ever” and “is necessary for individuals, a peaceful society and a strong economy”.

Ms Harman called for more “clarity of evidence” to suggest the government was making progress on the issue.

But the Conservatives accused her of re-opening the “class war”.

Union criticism

Ms Harman’s comments come after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in an interview with Monitor magazine that “social mobility has not improved in Britain as we would have wanted”.

They will be seen by many as an attempt by the government to rally the unions to Labour, after widespread criticism over the level of public sector pay and demands for a windfall tax on energy firms’ profits.

Ms Harman, who is also Commons leader and minister for women and equality, told delegates at the TUC conference in Brighton: “Equality matters more than ever and it is necessary for individuals, a peaceful society and a strong economy.

“We have made great progress on tackling inequality but we know that inequality doesn’t just come from your gender, race, sexual orientation or disability. What overarches all of these is where you live, your family background, your wealth and social class.

“While we have helped millions of people over the last ten years through policies like Sure Start, tax credits and the national minimum wage, we want to do more.

“To advance equality through our public policy, we need clarity of evidence and focus on the gaps in society and how they have changed over the last 10 years.”

Ms Harman announced that the government’s National Equality Unit would be headed by Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics.

She said: “The robust evidence base that the panel will produce will help us properly target measures to address persisting equality gaps and build on the good work that we have already done.”

‘Sidling up’

Ms Harman accused the Conservatives of being “false friends of equality” and of “sidling up to the unions”.

For the Conservatives, shadow leader of the Commons Theresa May said: “I am astounded that Harriet Harman is dismissing the equality issues around race and gender.”

She added: “I also find it surprising that she should raise issues of social equality when she’s part of government that has been in power for over 11 years, presiding over a 900,000 growth in the number of people living in severe poverty and over a country that has the lowest social mobility in the developed world.

“Labour has made poverty more entrenched and returning to the class warfare rhetoric of 20 years ago is neither helpful nor realistic.”


Do you agree with Harriet Harman? Has your child suffered due to a class gap? Has your family benefited through policies like Sure Start or tax credits?

Send your comments

September 3, 2008

Palin case highlights teenage pregnancy

Palin case highlights teenage pregnancy

The Expressyoureself Blog looks at the problem of teenage pregnancy in the US after the revelation that the 17-year-old daughter of Alaska Governor and new Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin is pregnant.

Bristol Palin, 17, holds her brother Trig during a Republican campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, on 29 August 2008

Bristol Palin’s pregnancy was announced on Monday

The US is said to have one of the worst annual rates of teenage pregnancies in the developed world.

According to a report by Population Action International, published at the end of last year, there were 44 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in the US for 2000-2005.

This compares with figures in the UK – itself said to be the country with the worst teenage pregnancy rate in Europe – of 27 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19.

Put differently, America is estimated to have some 750,000 teenage pregnancies a year.

Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialised nations
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

According to America’s leading health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “About one-third of girls in the United States get pregnant before age 20.”

More than 80% of births in this group “were unintended, meaning they occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted at any time”, the CDC said.

Separately, in a report on 2002 data, the CDC said: “Despite the continuous declines, the US teenage pregnancy rate is still among the highest among industrialized nations. The costs of teenage childbearing in the United States are substantial.

“The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy recently estimated that $9.1bn in public funding was expended on teenage childbearing in 2004. These costs include public assistance, healthcare, child welfare and other expenses.”

Abstinence education

There is a debate state-side as to the reason for this high pregnancy rate.

The US offers government funding for health education programmes that promote sexual abstinence until marriage, although US lawmakers were investigating earlier this year whether to cut the funding.

State governments receive federal money they must match to fund abstinence programs.

Opponents of abstinence education say the approach ignores the fact that teenagers are sexually active and fails to give them accurate medical information or advice on safer sex.

Governor Palin herself has said she opposes funding sexual-education programs in Alaska and has supported abstinence programs in schools.

“The explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support,” she wrote in a 2006 questionnaire distributed among gubernatorial candidates, the Associated Press reports.

A social conservative who is opposed to abortion, she said in a statement her daughter Bristol would keep the child and was to get married.

And in 2005, presidential candidate John McCain, who picked Mrs Palin as his running mate, opposed a Senate Democratic proposal that would have spent tens of millions of dollars to pay for pregnancy prevention programmes other than abstinence-only education, including education on emergency contraception such as the morning-after pill, AP reports.

August 20, 2008

Struggling with India’s gender bias

Struggling with India’s gender bias

The number of female foetuses being aborted in India is rising, as ultrasound is increasingly used to predict the sex of babies.

What would you do if your husband’s family did not want you to have daughters – and insisted you took steps to make sure it did not happen?

Would you walk out or would you stay on and take a chance?

What if the bias against girls is reflected across society? Would that mean you could not make it on your own?

Vaijanti is an Indian woman who says she faces this dilemma.

She lives in the city of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, perhaps the world’s most famous monument to a woman, the wife of a Mughal emperor.

“I had a lot of dreams in my heart,” Vaijanti says, “just like in the movies… but now I think of love as a betrayal.”

Vaijanti has taken her husband to court, saying he and his family insisted that she have an abortion because a scan showed she was expecting a girl.

Having already had one daughter, she says the pressure to abort the second child was intense.

So Vaijanti moved out of the marital home and now lives apart from her husband – with her two girls.

Gender skew

Testing and aborting for gender selection are illegal in India and Vaijanti’s husband and in-laws deny the charges against them.

Despite the obvious bitterness between her and her husband’s family, reconciliation is still possible.

Girl child

Girls still face discrimination in modern Indian society

But Vaijanti was unsure of what to do next. We wanted to find out if she thought India really is a country biased against young girls.

Despite the law, some Indians clearly are using ultrasound techniques to scan for female foetuses, in order to abort them.

Figures suggest as many as a million such foetuses could be aborted every year in India.

It is unlikely nature alone accounts for this gender skew – in Delhi, for instance, only 821 girls are born for every 1,000 boys.

Many Indian families regard daughters as a liability.

Expensive dowries must be arranged for their weddings and they frequently move into their husband’s households – making it less likely they will support ageing parents.

As Vaijanti had never travelled beyond Agra, director Nupur Basu took her on a whistle-stop tour of India.

In Rajasthan, she meets Jasbir Kaur, who left her husband after facing a similar predicament.

Told she should abort her girl triplets, she decided to go ahead and have them anyway.

She is a potential role model for Vaijanti, telling her: “You must educate your girls. Don’t lose courage. Don’t feel alone.”

Although millions of Indian girls are still left out of formal education, Jasbir Kaur’s three girls are doing fine in the local school.

Icon of globalization

In Delhi, there is good and bad news. Vaijanti meets women who have come into Delhi filled with hope, but end up begging on the streets.

In many places, boys are unable to agree to find girls to marry. Because of this, the nation will soon face an unimaginable crisis
Renuka Chowdhury
Minister for women

She also visits a disco for the first time in her life – no den of iniquity but a place where she meets some bright young women with good cheer and strong advice.

In Bangalore, there are also two sides to the picture.

This is the city that is world famous as an icon of globalisation and woman’s empowerment.

It has young girls working in IT, making good careers, and scooting around town on mopeds, listening to their iPods.

But there is another Bangalore – where some families still demand the expensive dowries traditionally given by a bride’s family to the in-laws.

And while Bangalore’s senior managers may encourage women, younger men may still question their qualifications and their right to work.

Finally Nupur also takes Vaijanti to Mahatma Gandhi’s retreat, where she hears that the revered leader was concerned about the bias against women.

Writer Tridip Suhrud says Mahatma Gandhi “would have been deeply perturbed with this entire social surge of… civilization to acquire this hard militant, masculine self-identity”.

He adds: “He would have fought it with femininity.”

‘Grave situation’

We wanted to make this film after a leading development expert, Kevin Watkins, suggested India had a curiously ambivalent role in the globalisation debate.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal was conceived as a monument to an emperor’s wife

Its booming economy is cause for hope, and the government is clearly concerned about both gender and economic inequality.

But if huge swathes of the populace do not share the increasing wealth, the whole Indian model of development may be called into question.

Meantime, Vaijanti’s immediate concern is India’s missing girls – unborn because of the desire to have boys.

Vaijanti and Nupur call on Renuka Chowdhury, the minister for women, who says: “This is a very, very grave situation.”

She adds: “In many places, boys are unable to agree to find girls to marry. Because of this, the nation will soon face an unimaginable crisis.”

When Vaijanti left Agra she was quiet but watchful. At the journey’s end, she is calm and eloquent as she weighs up whether to seek reconciliation with her husband’s family.

“I feel at peace… I will go back to Agra now and think about what I should do for my daughters and myself. I will go back and think about my decision.”


A selection of your comments on this story:

Nowadays females are doing much better in many fields. I think it is time now that men pay a dowry to see how it feels. We as men would not have been here without women. In our family women have studied at a higher level than the men, so where is the difference? I have daughter and son, and as my daughter is older, I have explained to her that she will be the head of the household after us in all aspects.
Ganesh, Vijayawada, India

How very sad and so short-sighted to consider abortion because of gender. Some parts of China already face a serious shortage of women for the very same reason. Why can’t people recognise that both genders are valuable but for very different reasons? As someone who strongly advocates a woman’s right to reproductive choices, it seems to me that the worldwide problem is not gender, but rather overpopulation.
Lisa, United States

The practice of dowry-giving by the bride’s family devalues women in society and is responsible for the widespread practice of aborting female foetuses. The skewing of boys to women born to families represents a social time-bomb. The law in India must be rigorously enforced with immediate effect.
Shouvik Datta, Prague, Czech Republic

I don’t understand why in Indian and European cultures, the tradition of the woman’s family paying a dowry to the man’s came about. In Chinese culture, the dowry or “bride-gold” is paid by the man’s family – which makes a lot more sense considering how much labour and other economic benefits a housewife ends up contributing in an old-fashioned family.
Shi-Hsia Hwa, Penang, Malaysia

This article creates an impression that the cause of all the gender bias in India are males. That is not what I saw when growing up in India. Several of the discriminatory, abusive practices against females are carried on by females themselves. Many times men have no part in this, nor do they have such intentions.
Kamal, Portland, USA

India is definitely a country biased against young girls and I am stating this as a fact, being a girl born in India. It is still a matter of pride to bear a male child and people still express their deep sympathy for a girl child. It sickens and saddens me to see so much hypocrisy in our society where goddesses are worshipped in temples and female babies are aborted and killed at homes.
Anisa Chaudhary, USA

My mother was one of these ladies. She was married at the age of twelve and was pregnant by the age of thirteen and a half. My father found out that I was going to be a girl and ordered my mother to have an abortion. When she refused, he and my grandfather beat her. A tourist saw them and stopped them. My mother married this wonderful stranger who brought her here and accepted me as his daughter.
Nia, Johannesburg, South Africa

Blog at WordPress.com.