Today’s stories explore the diplomatic ripple effects of the Soleimani assassination, the implications of President Donald Trump’s unilateralist approach, a search for solutions in California’s housing crisis, efforts to quantify femicide in Kenya, and a foray into ethical fashion design.
We’re keeping a close eye on the bushfires ravaging Australia and plan to have Martin Kuz on scene by week’s end. In the meantime, here’s a look at one little girl’s quest to help animals threatened by the fires.
Lucia Stewart is on a mission. At just 8 years old, she spends much of her time rescuing and rehabilitating local wildlife. She currently cares for 53 animals at her home in South Waikato, New Zealand, including rabbits, ducklings, chickens – and her dog Rex. But she plans to devote the next several weeks to animals farther afield.
Like many around the world, Lucia has been devastated by bushfires ravaging Australia and the estimated 1 billion animals that have been killed.
“She’s watched the news, seen the photos and videos on social media, and has shed tears over it,” her mom, Megan Stewart, explains in a Facebook Messenger chat. “The numbers of recorded wildlife that are gone has totally touched her heart.”
So for the next several weeks, Lucia is joining crafters around the world in a global effort to produce snuggly gear for animals rescued from the flames. Ms. Stewart, who is a seamstress and homeschools Lucia, taught her daughter how to sew five years ago during another spate of bushfires. Together the team made 200 pairs of mittens for koalas with burned paws.
This time, Lucia has full command of the sewing machine. Just a few days in, she and her mom have already stitched several dozen wraps and hanging pouches for joeys, bats, and wallabies.
“I want the world to know how special each and every animal is, especially native wildlife who don’t have owners to care for them and who cannot stand up for themselves,” Lucia says. “Every little life matters.”
1.Iran crisis: Why Gulf Arabs increasingly see US as a liability
Allies value dependability and transparency. Which is why President Trump's clash with Iran, which blindsided America's Gulf Arab allies, strengthened their sense that the United States is becoming a liability.
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Under other circumstances, Arab states would have been happy to see last Friday’s drone missile strike on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
But in ordering the attack, President Donald Trump also upended the Gulf’s nascent diplomacy with Iran. At the time of the assassination, General Soleimani was carrying Tehran’s official response to Saudi Arabia’s invitation to talks, according to the Iraqi government and diplomatic sources.
Now, blindsided Gulf leaders are flying around the world to try to prevent a conflict they once sought, but now fear. And they face an even larger challenge: What to do about an ally like America?
Amid what they see as D.C.’s erratic policies, internal chaos, and broken promises, many conclude that America is becoming a “liability.” The Gulf’s dramatic turnabout with Iran was partially fueled by the Trump administration’s perceived unwillingness to protect Arab states from Iranian attacks.
“What the Gulf countries are really afraid of now is that the U.S. will start a war with Iran and walk away,” says Kenneth Pollack, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “They are absolutely terrified that Trump has stirred up the hornets’ nest, the Iranians will retaliate, and he will leave them holding the bag.”
Blindsided. Exposed. Anxious. Exasperated.
Such are Gulf Arab leaders as they fly to Washington, Tehran, and European capitals to contain the fallout from the U.S. assassination of an Iranian general they saw as their mortal enemy but whose killing was a red line they could not afford to cross.
Having traveled a policy journey from saber-rattling to mediation, Gulf Arabs are finding themselves racing to prevent a conflict they once sought but now fear.
But as they scramble to prevent a U.S. response to Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes Wednesday, the Sunni Gulf states are facing an even larger challenge: What to do about an ally like America?
Amid rising frustration over what they see as Washington’s erratic policies, internal chaos, and broken promises, many are arriving at the conclusion that after years of policy mishaps, America is becoming a “liability.”
“Our most important ally, a world power who is here on the pretense of stabilizing the region, is destabilizing the region and taking all of us with them without a second thought,” says one Gulf diplomatic source, who did not wish his name or country to be identified.
Although under other circumstances Arab states would have been happy to see the Iranian general gone, last Friday’s drone missile strike on Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani ordered by President Donald Trump effectively torpedoed Gulf diplomacy with Iran.
When the U.S. hit General Soleimani’s vehicle outside Baghdad International Airport, the feared general was carrying with him Iran’s official response to Saudi Arabia’s invitation to talks and a regional cease-fire, according to the Iraqi government and diplomatic sources.
The Iran-Gulf de-escalation was the work of months of painstaking, quiet diplomacy by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who once clamored for Washington to take military action to deter Iran and its proxies.
With the assassination, Gulf countries worry the Trump administration has also obliterated efforts to bring an end to the five-year war in Yemen, where Riyadh has been working toward a political settlement to end hostilities with Tehran and its Houthi allies.
Gulf’s turn to diplomacy
The Gulf’s dramatic turnabout and push for diplomacy with Iran was fueled in part by what it perceived as the “unreliability” of the Trump administration and Washington’s unwillingness to protect Arab states from repeated Iranian attacks.
In the wake of last summer’s sabotage of Gulf tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, a UAE delegation went to Tehran and signed a pact to monitor the shipping lanes to prevent conflict, while Saudi Arabia quietly reached out to Iranian proxies in Yemen, Iraq, and Syria.
September’s attacks on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia, which badly damaged the kingdom’s oil infrastructure and went without an overt U.S. response, reinforced the notion that the Gulf stands alone.
The belief settled in Arab capitals that for this transactional president, the political cost was too high and personal benefits too few to justify any retaliation. Feeling abandoned, Gulf countries concluded that diplomacy was their only way forward with Iran.
Until all that was upended on Friday.
“In an instant, we saw a sudden shift in the U.S. from being passive and non-interventionist vis-à-vis Iran to being extremely confrontational and taking out its top commander,” says Riad Kahwaji, director of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA).
“It is from one extreme to another with a complete disregard to the disastrous consequences for U.S. allies in the Gulf and regional security.”
In perhaps an ironic twist, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are now pursuing diplomacy to ease tensions in Washington and Tehran and walk the U.S. back from the precipice of war.
Hours after the assassination, Saudi Arabia preached “self-restraint” to the U.S., and the UAE foreign minister called for “wisdom.” The Qatari foreign minister was in Tehran 24 hours after the strike.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent his own brother, Khalid bin Salman, deputy defense minister, to Washington, where he is currently urging the Trump administration to exercise restraint, while Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim Al Thani discussed de-escalation with Mr. Trump by phone Tuesday.
Exasperation with U.S.
These words of “caution” and “restraint” were repeated Wednesday, hours after Iranian missiles struck the U.S.-led coalition’s Ain al-Asad airbase in Iraq.
Yet beneath the diplomacy is a simmering exasperation and anger over what officials and analysts describe as the U.S. administration’s “carelessness.”
Gulf officials are worried that should Iran subsequently target U.S. bases or citizens on Gulf soil, Arab states will be forced to respond themselves, dragging the entire region toward war.
The costs of any U.S.-Iran conflict in the Persian Gulf are clear and many.
American military bases and facilities in Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, and Saudi Arabia total some 50,00 to 65,000 U.S. troops, several warships, and air operation command centers. American companies and commercial interests are numerous, as are multimillion-dollar oil and natural gas installations across the Gulf.
These bases, along with Arab cities, are easily in reach of Iran’s ballistic missiles and its proxies in Yemen, Iraq, and beyond.
According to one private estimation by Gulf analysts, a single destructive missile attack on Dubai – which Iran surrogates threatened to hit should the U.S. respond to Wednesday’s missile strikes – could cost the Gulf billions of dollars.
“The Gulf is the most militarized place on earth, and despite that we have not seen security or stability,” says Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, an Emirati political science professor close to decision-makers in Abu Dhabi.
“The more you militarize, the less secure the region becomes. This is between the U.S. and Iran, and both the U.S. and Iran need to stop this vicious cycle.”
But an even deeper fear is gripping Gulf leaders.
“What the Gulf countries are really afraid of now is that the U.S. will start a war with Iran and walk away,” says Kenneth Pollack, a Middle East expert at the American Enterprise Institute and former CIA analyst. “They are absolutely terrified that Trump has stirred up the hornets’ nest, the Iranians will retaliate, and he will leave them holding the bag.”
The crisis represents a breakdown in relations and trust with Washington and the administration that has deteriorated for months after initially looking like a happy marriage.
It comes after a series of broken promises, including the troop pullout from Syria and refusal to back the Saudi- and UAE-led blockade of Gulf rival Qatar.
Trust has reportedly been broken between Arab states and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, once seen as an “independent thinker” who could steer President Trump’s policies and prevent rash decision-making.
Now the secretary is viewed in Gulf circles as a “yes man” after repeatedly selling the administration’s knee-jerk decisions to a skeptical Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, often on the fly.
“We are promised one decision from the Trump administration before Pompeo leaves Washington. By the time his flight lands, Trump will have Tweeted and the secretary will tell us a completely different decision than what we agreed to,” says the Gulf diplomatic source.
“There is a lot of dysfunction, conflict, and confusion in Washington. You have the most unpredictable president in America’s history and elections approaching,” says Mr. Abdulla.
“We hear conflicting messages from the State Department, the Pentagon, the CIA, and Congress, and we have to ask ourselves: Who really speaks for the American people?”
With the Iran crisis, decision-makers and citizens in the Gulf too are rethinking their alliance with the U.S. and the fundamental quid pro quo of military protection in return for securing a vital resource, oil.
“People here are asking: What is the purpose of the U.S. military presence? What is the point if they are not able to provide the protection it is supposed to and now may be drawing us into a regional war?” says Mr. Kahwaji at INEGMA.
“The security framework established in the region has failed miserably, and now the U.S. itself has become a liability.”
2.In Iran, a test for a go-it-alone president
What happens when a president makes decisions without consulting allies, or even many domestic advisers? The killing of General Soleimani was fodder for U.S. adversaries and left many friends wondering what comes next.
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President Donald Trump’s decision last week to order the airstrike that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani infuriated Iraq, on whose territory it took place. It also unsettled U.S. allies that had deployed forces alongside U.S. troops in Iraq and forced political leaders, once again, to weigh the risks of working with a U.S. president who shoots inconsistently from the hip.
Allies in the Middle East are also asking if Mr. Trump is signaling a retreat or a renewed commitment to their region, given his hostility to Iran’s rulers. Some may take comfort from his reiteration Wednesday of longstanding U.S. policy to deny Iran a nuclear weapon.
But there’s little doubt that the Trump administration feels unbound by allies’ demands to be read into decisions like the airstrike in Baghdad. The president “is the only decision-maker,” says Heather Conley, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Our closest allies can’t deal with the surprise and the unpredictability and the lack in so many cases of anything that looks like a plan,” she adds. “And so one consequence is that they are increasingly unwilling to contribute to U.S. operations and missions.”
America’s allies had a hard enough time dealing with the go-it-alone policies of the George W. Bush administration, epitomized by the Iraq invasion of 2003.
But now those same allies, first and foremost in Europe and the Middle East, find themselves challenged by a go-it-alone American president in Donald Trump, who is often about as unpredictable with and independent of his own senior aides’ counsel as he is toward America’s oldest and closest friends.
That uncomfortable new world struck again like a two-by-four between the eyes when Mr. Trump ordered the killing by drone strike last week of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani – considered second only to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in terms of power and prestige in Iran – after his arrival at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.
The deadly strike, which reportedly divided the president’s national security staff and Pentagon officials, stunned allies and was seized upon by adversaries relishing any opportunity to highlight a “rogue” United States.
“It is obvious,” a smiling Ma Zhaoxu, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, told U.N. journalists Tuesday, “that this unilateral action by the United States violated the basic norms of international relations.”
The strike infuriated Iraq, which deemed it a violation of its national sovereignty. It left unconsulted European allies scrambling to protect forces deployed to Iraq to help train Iraqi military forces and fight ISIS.
And it left them wondering if they have on their hands an American president who feels unbound by international law and the rules of warfare described in the Geneva Convention – especially while Mr. Trump was threatening to bomb Iranian cultural sites if Tehran retaliated over General Soleimani’s death.
Iran did retaliate early Wednesday, sending at least a dozen ballistic missiles from its territory crashing down on two Iraqi bases housing some of the 5,500 U.S. troops in Iraq. No casualties were reported, and there was some indication – for example, the use of guided ballistic missiles, which are less erratic than rockets – that Iran intended its retaliatory strike as a warning and a matter of pride for domestic consumption, and sought to avoid any American deaths that would increase the likelihood of additional hostilities with the U.S.
President Trump addressed the nation from the White House Wednesday morning, saying no American or Iraqi casualties resulted from Iran’s missile strikes, and stating that he would not order any further military action in response at this time.
However he did announce new sanctions on Iran – signaling a return to his preferred means of pressuring what he repeatedly referred to as the Iranian “regime” – and he called on America’s NATO allies to become more deeply engaged in the Middle East.
Beyond Europe, the Soleimani strike left befuddled Mideast allies wondering if Mr. Trump had carried out another of his one-off actions – albeit a more spectacular and potentially consequential one – or if the U.S. is signaling a renewed commitment to the region for them to rely on.
“This order to take out Soleimani reinforces with potentially disastrous consequences that this president is the only decision-maker, and that actions that matter very much not just to the United States but to the world are taken with complete unpredictability and aren’t in any way channeled through a normal interagency process or any consultation of allies,” says Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“Our closest allies can’t deal with the surprise and the unpredictability and the lack in so many cases of anything that looks like a plan,” she adds. “And so one consequence is that they are increasingly unwilling to contribute to U.S. operations and missions.”
Mr. Trump’s call Wednesday for NATO to put more skin in the game in the Middle East seems likely to fall on deaf ears.
Ms. Conley points to an existing reluctance among allies to join the U.S. in the region – for example last year as part of an effort to protect oil tankers that were being targeted in the Strait of Hormuz. The British finally came aboard the operation, she adds, but they later hinted at a disconcerting confusion around the effort and a lack of clarity over just what the mission was.
On Tuesday Germany, Canada, Croatia, and other NATO allies of the U.S. began moving troops out of Iraq that have been deployed there to assist in training Iraqi forces to fight ISIS. In addition, NATO announced that it was temporarily suspending the counter-ISIS training mission, with European allies warning that the Islamic State would be the only winner if rising U.S.-Iran tensions diverted attention from counterterrorism efforts.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday he was dispatching Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale to Brussels this week to consult with European partners, but some viewed the move as too little, too late.
“It’s something, but this is where the gravity of the situation requires the secretary of state or the secretary of defense,” says Ms. Conley. “Our allies want to know where this is going, but right now no one does,” she adds. “I assume even [Pompeo] doesn’t know where the president will be taking this.”
On the other hand, some analysts found that Mr. Trump’s statement Wednesday, with heavy use of the word “regime” to describe the Iranian government, was only shades removed from an articulation of a regime-change policy – and had Secretary Pompeo written all over it.
What’s his next step?
Still, the lack of any reliable sense of where Mr. Trump is going with regards to Iran has left regional allies to guess what might be coming next and to pursue new initiatives of their own – including efforts to reach out to Iran and secure some regional accommodation based on a U.S. disengagement from the region.
“After the Soleimani strike, we’re standing at an interesting fork in the road,” says Ilan Berman, a Middle East specialist and vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington. “Our allies in the region are watching very closely: Does this turn out to be just a one-off where the president will take what we’re hearing from the Iraqis [about demanding the departure of all foreign troops from Iraq] and pick up our marbles and go home,” he says.
Or, he adds, “does the U.S. show a little patience, wait for the outrage [over the Soleimani strike] to abate, and then undertake some serious conversations with Beirut and Baghdad … that remove any doubt and confirm that America is not going anywhere?”
For some analysts, the Soleimani strike as well as Mr. Trump’s statement Wednesday suggesting an enduring commitment to the region – among other things, his reiteration of longtime U.S. policy to deny Iran a nuclear weapon – may reassure allies about U.S. involvement. Yet some anticipate regional allies in turn making demands of the U.S. that end up pushing all of Mr. Trump’s ungrateful-allies buttons.
“The president is going to hear the complaints and what regional allies need, and he’s going to get tired of hearing ask, ask, ask, and not more of what [allies] plan to contribute,” says Kirsten Fontenrose, former senior director for Gulf affairs at the National Security Council, and now director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Security Initiative.
Still, she says she expects to see more from the U.S. – everything from stepped up diplomacy to more materiel and counter-cyberattack cooperation – “heading out to the region.”
“What kind of ally would we be,” Ms. Fontenrose says, “if we didn’t plan for the possible?”
3.Search for answers to ‘the moral question of our day’ in California
As the state seeks solutions to homelessness and affordable housing, Assemblyman David Chiu has emerged as a key figure. “We have to think differently,” he says.
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Nearly a quarter of the U.S. homeless population lives in California. Assemblyman David Chiu has emerged as a central player in the state’s search for solutions to the related dilemmas of homelessness and affordable housing. Three bills authored by the Democrat from San Francisco went into effect Jan. 1 and bolster California’s efforts to build more affordable housing and protect tenants.
“We have a challenge that cuts across all of our borders, and we have to take a holistic approach to addressing it,” he says.
In an interview with the Monitor, Mr. Chiu discusses the need for a regional model for affordable housing, the struggle to counter “not in my backyard” sentiments, and Silicon Valley’s obligations to low-income residents.
“Homelessness is not just an economic or public policy conundrum,” he says. “It represents the moral question of our day.”
Recent polls show that a rise in homelessness ranks as the most pressing concern for residents of California, where almost a quarter of the country’s homeless population lives. At the same time, efforts to build more affordable housing face strong headwinds in the form of high construction costs, byzantine building regulations, restrictive zoning laws, and local resistance to low-income housing.
Assemblyman David Chiu has emerged as a central player in the state’s search for solutions to those related dilemmas. During last year’s legislative session, the Democrat from San Francisco authored two bills that could help shrink the state’s affordable housing gap of 1.5 million units, and a third measure that enhances tenant protections against rent-gouging and unjust evictions.
With the legislation taking effect Jan. 1, the Monitor speaks with Mr. Chiu, who served as president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before his election to the assembly in 2014. He discusses the need for a regional model for affordable housing, the struggle to counter “not in my backyard” sentiments, and Silicon Valley’s obligations to low-income residents. This interview has been edited and condensed.
One of your bills creates a housing finance agency for the San Francisco Bay Area that will have the authority to raise funding for affordable housing through regional ballot measures. Why devise a broader strategy to address the shortage?
The Bay Area has been an epicenter of our state’s housing crisis, and it’s clear that a piecemeal approach for trying to solve it city by city has failed. We need a much more coordinated approach. We need all 101 cities and nine counties in the Bay Area to be rowing hard in the same direction, and we can help by giving them the tools to raise funding for desperately needed housing.
Raising funding is one thing. But how do you overcome NIMBYism and generate public support for low-income housing developments?
Homelessness is not just an economic or public policy conundrum. It represents the moral question of our day. Are we content with letting tens of thousands of our neighbors to be forced out onto the cold streets of California?
So our ask to the public is to come together and put yourself in the shoes or the sleeping bag of the person on the streets and say, “If you were that person, how would you want to be treated?”
The U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed a lower court ruling to stand that protects the rights of people to sleep on sidewalks or in parks when they can’t find other shelter. Residents often complain about homeless encampments in public spaces yet they also don’t want more affordable housing built in their neighborhoods. So how do you end that logjam?
That’s the intense political conundrum we are grappling with as policymakers. On the one hand, the public is clamoring for solutions to homelessness. On the other hand, every time we propose building housing in specific [areas], we receive intense local opposition. We’re not going to make headway if we don’t break through this conundrum. And I think that requires every city and county to step up to build permanent affordable housing, supportive housing, navigation centers, and shelters to finally put a roof over people’s heads.
Another of your bills provides incentives to developers to build housing in which all of the units are affordable. Under that law, they can build complexes that are taller and have more units than a market-rate housing development. Can you explain the rationale behind that?
What we’re grappling with is the reality that affordable housing is very expensive to build and funding is always in short supply. [Editor’s note: The cost of building a single unit of subsidized housing in California runs to $425,000, almost twice the national average.] Our new law will stretch those scarce dollars further by allowing affordable housing developments to be built more densely and taller so that we can build more units for exactly the same amount of money.
What’s your response to critics who say those kinds of bigger buildings will tear the fabric of the community that attracted them in the first place?
We have to think differently. I believe we can do this without upending the character of our cities and neighborhoods that we love. We’re not talking about building skyscrapers on every inch of every city. But we are telling communities you’re going to have to do more, you’re going to have to build more.
California’s soaring cost of living is contributing to the rise in homelessness. You authored the Tenant Protection Act, which caps annual rent increases. Why has the state gotten involved in what some people see as a matter of local control?
Housing and rental prices don’t respect jurisdictional boundaries. We have a challenge that cuts across all of our borders, and we have to take a holistic approach to addressing it. We need to come together with a shared commitment to responsibility. And this is why it’s important to have consistent rules to protect tenants from sudden rent hikes and being evicted into homelessness.
The Tenant Protection Act also shields renters from unlawful evictions. Last year, San Francisco became the second city after New York to offer free legal representation to tenants facing eviction. Given how the tech boom has driven up housing costs in the Bay Area, should policymakers be pushing Silicon Valley companies to fund a similar initiative for the entire region or even the state?
I think it’s an entirely appropriate question to ask. We’ve seen in the last year or so several of our major Bay Area tech employers step up with significant commitments to addressing the housing crisis, to the tune of several billion dollars. But the vast majority of these commitments have been around funding to build affordable housing, and I certainly think that helping individuals stay in their homes ought to be at the top of our list as an approach to addressing homelessness.
4.‘Numbers don’t lie’: The team ‘Counting Dead Women’ in Kenya
They say defining the problem is half the solution. Sometimes, that starts with something as simple – but powerful – as counting the problem. Women’s advocates are publicly tallying victims of femicide as a step toward change.
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It’s all too common for men to murder women. But just how common is it? Many countries lack comprehensive national databases about the crime of femicide. Increasingly, however, activists are trying to change that, arguing that measuring the problem is a key step toward solutions.
Leading the charge in Kenya are two friends, Kathomi Gatwiri and Audrey Mugeni. Early last year, they set up Facebook and Twitter pages called “Counting Dead Women – Kenya” where they record every murder reported in the media. By late December, the number had risen above 100.
“When we talk about women issues we’re often accused of being emotional and not relying on facts and figures,” says Dr. Gatwiri. “But these are numbers – and faces and stories – that you cannot argue with.”
Emotionally, it’s a challenging task. But they hope it will inspire awareness – and bigger conversations.
“We have rising levels of unemployment. We have widespread feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. We have a society that has taught men that the only acceptable emotion is anger,” Dr. Gatwiri says. “If we want to fix this problem, we also have to talk about the whole structure of our society that enables it to happen.”
For years, whenever Kathomi Gatwiri complained that violence against women in her home country of Kenya was out of control, she got used to hearing the same response: prove it.
So at the beginning of 2019, the academic and one of her best friends from college, Audrey Mugeni, decided they would do exactly that. They set up Facebook and Twitter pages called “Counting Dead Woman – Kenya” and dedicated themselves to a grim project: creating an online archive.
Since then, the pair have dutifully recorded every woman’s murder that has been reported in Kenyan media.
Lucy, set on fire by her husband for returning home late.
Eunice, a university lecturer stabbed to death in her car.
Helen, killed by her boyfriend for alleged infidelity.
By the end of December, the number of victims in their database had risen above 100.
“This data is important because numbers don’t lie,” Dr. Gatwiri says. “When we talk about women issues we’re often accused of being emotional and not relying on facts and figures. But these are numbers – and faces and stories – that you cannot argue with.”
Their project joins a growing number of movements worldwide dedicated to documenting the murders of women, in hopes that spotlighting the extent of the problem will hold those in power accountable for reducing crimes that often go unpunished.
“It’s not a perfect method, but at least it’s a starting point for tracking what’s going on,” says Sibusiso Mkwananzi, an associate lecturer in demography and population studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “You can’t interrogate the questions of why this keeps happening until you collect and study the data.”
In North America, there is Women Count USA and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women database. France has Féminicide. And both the United Kingdom and Australia also have local Counting Dead Women pages.
In every case, the projects say they are filling gaps in the data around women’s violent deaths around the world. In the United States, Australia, and Kenya, for instance, there is no complete national database of women killed by men, a crime often referred to as femicide. But rarely do these projects stop at the numbers. Counting Dead Women – Kenya, for instance, posts whatever information it can find about the victim and her murder.
“What we are asking for is to put a story to these women so we don’t forget them,” Dr. Gatwiri says. “This was a woman with a name and a family and people who loved her, who is no longer with their community because of a violent act.”
Diana and Stevan, 9 years old and 4 years old, raped and murdered inside their house.
Valerie, 16, killed by a classmate whose advances she had rejected.
Esther, a land rights activist whose body was dumped on a farm near her house.
Dr. Gatwiri and Ms. Mugeni say they scour major newspapers for reports and increasingly collect tips from the project’s supporters. They have no inside information on police investigations or trials. And looking at statistics on domestic violence – which an estimated 40% of Kenyan women experience in their lifetime, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics – they know their data barely scratches the surface.
“We know there are so many stories we will never hear this way,” Dr. Gatwiri says. But they hope their data, however limited, will hammer home how widespread the problem is and inspire the government to collect more complete information.
And projects like this also help tell a new story about violence against women, says Shakila Singh, an associate professor and gender-based violence expert at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa.
“These stories remove the illusion that the danger against women comes from strangers in public places,” she says. “In fact, we see that for women the home is not a safe place. The family is not a safe place. It demystifies some of the ideas we have about who kills women, and who they are not safe around.”
Indeed, in many parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, women are more likely to be killed by their intimate partners than by a stranger. Sixty-nine percent of murders of African women are committed by a family member or romantic partner, a higher rate than any other region in the world. That statistic is accompanied by persistent victim-blaming, Dr. Gatwiri says: Why did she dress that way? Why did she lead him on?
Ivy, a medical student hacked to death by a man she turned down.
Fenny, shot by by her police officer husband after a fight.
Carolyne, her throat slit by her boyfriend after a night out.
Already, Dr. Gatwiri says Counting Dead Women’s statistics are being regularly used by the Kenyan media and advocacy groups to bolster articles about the extent of violence against women in the country. Next, she hopes they will begin tracking what happens after a woman is murdered – is her killer brought to trial? Convicted?
“We know they often disappear into obscurity without facing justice. Why?” she says.
But the project is also a shoestring operation, run largely by Dr. Gatwiri and Ms. Mugeni, both of whom have other, full-time work. Dr. Gatwiri is a senior lecturer teaching social work and social policy at Southern Cross University in Australia, where she has lived for the past eight years, and Ms. Mugeni is a master’s student in gender studies in Nairobi.
“We don’t want to keep doing this – it’s a horrible job to count women like yourself who are being murdered every day,” Dr. Gatwiri says. “The fact that we have normalized the killing of 94 women this year alone [as of early December 2019], the fact that it hasn’t jolted us into action yet, the fact that we are still debating if these women deserved to be murdered tells us a lot about the values we espouse as a country.”
At the same time, however, she sees the violence as a symptom of wider social crises.
“We have rising levels of unemployment, we have widespread feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness. We have a society that has taught men that the only acceptable emotion is anger,” she says. “If we want to fix this problem, we also have to talk about the whole structure of our society that enables it to happen.”
5.Ethical fashion? These women offer a new pattern.
Some critics voice concerns they never act on. When Hoda Katebi couldn’t find the kind of fashion company she wanted to do business with, she created it herself. How is her vision of a humane workplace playing out?
Pinar Istek for Round Earth Media/IWMF
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Outspoken critic Hoda Katebi decided that the best way to change the fashion industry is to become a part of it. Ms. Katebi’s latest project is an immigrant and refugee-run fashion production cooperative on Chicago’s North Side.
Blue Tin Production, named for the ubiquitous Danish cookie tin that kept sewing materials safe for generations of immigrant women, grew out of Ms. Katebi’s search for a company to make her own line of ethically produced and gender-neutral fashion, inspired by Persian architecture and culture.
Blue Tin’s workers include an expert in Nigerian evening wear, and a former garment factory owner and manager from Aleppo, Syria. They are co-owners of the cooperative who had a hand in writing its bylaws. “You don’t see that anywhere, and even less so in manufacturing, when everything is about the bottom line,” says Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, a designer and assistant fashion professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who consults with Blue Tin.
The goal really isn’t to end the fashion industry as it currently exists, Ms. Katebi says. “But we are really, from the ground up, creating a world that we want to see.”
This is not the way Hoda Katebi set out to change the world.
The daughter of Iranian American immigrants has been a fixture – an extremely stylish one – on the community organizing and protest circuit. An often-outspoken social media darling as well, she bills her JooJoo Azad website as an unapologetic “political fashion platform.” She jets around the world to meet with garment workers and union leaders fighting what they see as exploitative practices by companies including H&M and Nike.
The fast-fashion industry, she argues, exploits poor and immigrant women to make cheap clothing meant to be worn a few times and discarded. In that, she is part of a growing movement that criticizes the industry’s frequently abusive working conditions and environmental degradation. Textile production creates more greenhouse gases than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, and emissions are projected to increase by 60% in the next decade, according to the United Nations Climate Change initiative.
But the acerbic critic has decided that the best way to change the industry is to become a part of it. Ms. Katebi’s latest project is an immigrant and refugee-run fashion production cooperative on Chicago’s North Side. Blue Tin Production, named for the ubiquitous Danish cookie tin that kept sewing materials safe for generations of immigrant women, grew out of Ms. Katebi’s search for a company to make her own line of ethically produced and gender-neutral “slow fashion,” inspired by Persian architecture and culture.
It’s a start, and Ms. Katebi freely admits that she has an awful lot to learn. “I cry maybe once a week,” she says. “I have a lot of meltdowns.”
Still in her mid-20s, however, she is savvy enough to have found a few key women with more than 50 years of combined experience in the business. One, an expert in Nigerian evening wear, is a survivor of domestic abuse. Another is a former garment factory owner and manager from Aleppo, Syria, whose husband, son, and many other family members were killed in her country’s civil war.
Blue Tin was launched with a $35,000 grant from Chicago’s Field Foundation, $44,000 in online crowdfunding, the remainder of Ms. Katebi’s college savings fund, and in-kind donations. Ms. Katebi found a sunlit workspace near Lake Michigan and bought industrial sewing machines and irons, drafting tables, and steaming boards. Vogue magazine has taken notice.
Ms. Katebi isn’t producing her own designs. But cooperative members gather now to sew clothing for Chicago and international labels including Almvghty Clothing and Milk Private Label. Ms. Katebi is in the process of bringing two more members into the cooperative, fundraising to buy her own commercial building, and offering free sewing classes in the hope of finding more co-op members to serve a waiting list of designers. She also has a contract pending with a major department store.
Instead of a sweatshop, Ms. Katebi aims to envelop skilled women – who have lived through war, loss, and abuse – in a safe place. “There is a lot of trauma in that space,” she says.
Blue Tin is “reimagining fashion production through labor rights and worker rights, while flipping how we understand who should have the power of decision-making in fashion production,” says Tempestt Hazel, an art program officer at the Field Foundation.
That was enough to sell Hallie Borden, owner of the Milk Handmade shop, who recently ordered 200 pieces for the fall-winter line of her Milk Private Label. “It’s a small studio that ensures everyone has fun and is paid,” she says.
Creating what you seek
Blue Tin started coming together a couple of years ago when Ms. Katebi met Jamie Hayes, a designer who runs the Chicago-based slow-fashion company Production Mode. Ms. Katebi asked her to recommend a small-scale manufacturer for an ethically produced fashion line and she couldn’t think of anyone. So Ms. Katebi organized a tryout, recruiting prospective members through refugee resettlement organizations, domestic violence shelters, and community centers. More than 100 women showed up.
The first to arrive was Mercy, who moved to Chicago in 2003 from Lagos, Nigeria, where she had designed and sewed evening wear. In Chicago, her husband controlled every aspect of her life. She eventually walked away from a 30-year relationship.
Mercy, who spoke on condition her family name not be used, is Christian. She says Ms. Katebi, who is Muslim, was divinely inspired to launch Blue Tin. “We all have a calling, and you don’t have to be on the pulpit preaching to do your service,” she says. “For Hoda, helping women make a way for themselves was divinely put in her heart, and she ran with it.”
At the tryout, Mercy put together a “quick little thing,” a short-sleeved crop top, writing her name in blue ink on the gray silk fabric. “Her work was perfect, but what really impressed me was that she wanted to stay and help everyone else,” says Ms. Hayes, who was helping Ms. Katebi that day.
Another applicant came via the Karam Foundation, a nonprofit based in Lake Forest, Illinois, that works with Syrian refugees. In Aleppo, which for years was on the front line of Syria’s civil war, she had run a factory with 35 employees. But much of her family – siblings, mother, husband, and her oldest son, who was 13 – was killed in the war, leaving her to care for four other children.
She spoke about her journey on condition her name not be used. “No work, no food, no light, no water, nothing in Aleppo,” she recalls while steaming a piece of fabric. “So I took the four kids and I went to Jordan.” She tried to open a sewing factory there, but authorities shut it down, she says. In June 2016, she was accepted as a refugee and moved to Chicago.
Blue Tin is her third job, on top of working at a McDonald’s and doing formal wear alterations for Middle Eastern weddings. Her workday starts at 4:30 a.m., seven days a week. But her children are in school and doing well, and she proudly pulls out her phone to share videos of them.
Beyond the bottom line
Abigail Glaum-Lathbury, a designer and assistant fashion professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, says workers at other sewing factories are often contractors without health insurance and other benefits. Blue Tin’s workers are co-owners of the cooperative who had a hand in writing its bylaws. “You don’t see that anywhere, and even less so in manufacturing, when everything is about the bottom line,” says Ms. Glaum-Lathbury, who joins weekly meetings to go over designs and helps evaluate them for production technique and cost.
“Blue Tin helps demystify the product,” she says. “If you go to Forever 21 and see a shirt for $1.99, you’d think that a robot made this. How else could it be made? But it is primarily women who are behind the machines and making these shirts.”
Forever 21 filed for bankruptcy in the fall of 2019 and will close hundreds of stores as it reorganizes, joining other struggling brick-and-mortar retailers. But online, fast fashion is continuing to grow. In a tough business, Ms. Katebi’s smarts, work ethic, and politics are giving her “a fighting start,” says Ms. Hayes. “If anyone could pull this off, it would be Hoda.”
Ms. Katebi says she is learning more than the fashion business. Partners like Mercy are teaching her about life. “Everything from patience to trust in God, and this sort of internal fire and self-determination,” she says. “There is this beautiful way that Mercy holds herself and sees the world that I think is just so inspiring. And she’s so kind.”
Their model upends traditional generational roles and production models. The goal really isn’t to end the fashion industry as it currently exists, Ms. Katebi says. “But we are really, from the ground up, creating a world that we want to see.”
This story was produced in association with the Round Earth Media program of the International Women’s Media Foundation.
The Monitor's View
One cure for escalating US-Iran violence
TWO WAYS TO READ THE STORY
Both the United States and Iran have a multitude of reasons to end their escalation of violence, but one of them may be this: In the country they each use as a proxy battleground – Iraq – a grassroots movement has challenged the ancient tradition of revenge as a justification for violence.
Last October, a movement erupted in a mass protest of young people to end sectarian divisions, which have driven revenge violence as well as led to dysfunctional government. The protesters recognize an end to religious-based violence requires a shift to a higher identity as Iraqi citizens.
For taking this stance, more than 500 protesters have been killed, mainly by Iran-backed militias. Last week, after the U.S. killed Iran’s top general, many protesters took little solace in the killing. They also realized Iran’s responding act of vengeance – shooting missiles on U.S. forces in two Iraqi bases – was yet another example of their country being victim to revenge violence.
To short-circuit their own country’s potential for cycles of violence, they are demanding moderation, restraint, and inclusiveness of their own leaders. Perhaps their cry can be heard in Tehran and Washington.
Both the U.S. and Iran have a multitude of reasons to end their escalation of violence, but one of them may be this: In the country they each use as a proxy battleground – Iraq – a grassroots movement has challenged the ancient tradition of revenge as a justification for violence.
Iraqis know well the needless toll of revenge violence from their own tit-for-tat mass killings, done mainly by Sunnis and Shiites. Such violence erupted after the 2003 American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein. And again during the rise of an Islamic State caliphate in 2014. Yet with the defeat of the caliphate as well as a maturing of Iraqi democracy, both the government and civil society groups made concerted efforts to mediate between Iraq’s religious and ethnic groups to ease communal tensions and prevent acts of revenge. In addition, the country’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has called for no revenge killings.
Last October, this movement toward inclusion erupted in a mass protest of young people to end sectarian divisions, which have driven revenge violence as well as led to dysfunctional government. Under the current constitution, power in Iraq is divvied up by ethnic or religious groups, leading to perverse patronage and mass corruption. The protesters recognize that their prosperity and an end to religious-based violence require a shift to a higher identity as Iraqi citizens.
“Yazidis, Sunnis, Christians, we are all here to just be real Iraqis and support each other for freedom and for a good life,” said one protest organizer. The protests have forced a prime minister to offer his resignation and the parliament to work on reforms.
For taking this stance, more than 500 protesters have been killed, mainly by Iran-backed militias. Last week, after the U.S. killed Iran’s top general behind the militias, Qods Force leader Qassem Soleimani, many protesters in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square took little solace in the killing. They also realized Iran’s responding act of vengeance – shooting missiles on U.S. forces in two Iraqi bases – was yet another example of their country being victim to revenge violence. Iran itself described the attack as revenge.
In conflicts, retaliation can often be a deterrence. Revenge violence, however, is usually based on feelings about honor or dignity, not tactical defense. Like many other countries, Iraqis may be awakening to the dangers of bitter revenge as a motive for killing. To short-circuit their own country’s potential for cycles of violence, they are demanding moderation, restraint, and inclusiveness of their own leaders. Perhaps their cry can be heard in Tehran and Washington.
A Christian Science Perspective
A home we can’t be evicted from
Unexpectedly asked to vacate their flat without a refund, a man and his wife turned to God for a deeper understanding of home as spiritual and permanent. In short order, an unforeseen housing option emerged that perfectly met their need.
At one time, my family lived in a rented apartment in a mini-estate made up of tenement flats, in the beautiful bed town of Kuje in Abuja, Nigeria. One day, while at the office, I received a call from my wife, who said that we had unexpectedly been asked to vacate our home due to a court order that had been served to the estate. The court’s judgment had evidently concluded a few months earlier, but the tenants had not been notified until the eviction day.
I sensed a lot of commotion and fear at the site, but I thought of the opening line of a song I love: “Home is the consciousness of good” (Rosemary C. Cobham, alt., “Christian Science Hymnal: Hymns 430-603,” No. 497). This hymn awakens me to the unbounded degree of comfort and care from God that we can readily find right where we are, when our consciousness is open to God’s goodness.
I felt the added pressure of having been interrupted in my work, as it was a very busy day with an especially urgent assignment. Pausing to seek inspiration, I turned to the Bible and read this passage: “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19).
As I read this, I shook off the fear that was beginning to build. God is the one true Mind, and governs all harmoniously. Thoughts of chaos or helplessness are lifted as we realize that they have no basis in God, good.
This brought me the calm I needed to complete my tasks and hand things over properly to my colleague before leaving work. As I drove back home over the next hour, work calls unexpectedly ceased, leaving me feeling more peaceful and free.
By the time I reached home, the police had concluded moving our belongings out onto the street. My wife and I recognized that they were just doing their job, and we neither insulted nor argued with them. A book called “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, explains: “This material world is even now becoming the arena for conflicting forces. On one side there will be discord and dismay; on the other side there will be Science and peace” (p. 96). We determined to lean on the side of good, affirming God’s care for His children and trusting God’s leading.
We were able to move temporarily into the home of a friend and started searching immediately for a new accommodation, but we did not have any money. (Our remaining rent for the previous flat had not been refunded.)
Science and Health says: “Material sense does not unfold the facts of existence; but spiritual sense lifts human consciousness into eternal Truth” (p. 95). The reality is that none of God’s children, which includes all of us, can be uncared for or without a place. God maintains us in a spiritual state of safety. No matter what the situation may look like, our spiritual home remains untouched. Praying in this manner, we endeavored to found our sense of home “upon a rock” (see Matthew 7:24, 25).
Four days after the eviction, we moved into a beautiful home in a beautiful neighborhood, an opportunity that came about because the former occupants were moving to another country for work. The new house was secure, spacious, and well maintained. A family member lent us the rent, which we were able to repay at the end of that month from a surprising bonus wage package at work.
These lessons and proofs of God’s care continue to be a source of inspiration for me, my family, and our friends.
Sometimes our day does not turn out the way we expected it would. Yet even in such cases it is possible to see that God’s abundant care is indeed right at hand.
Adapted from an article published in the Nov. 11, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.