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Henry Sapiecha



sharia woman in berka being flogged image

Sharia law … A woman is caned in Aceh for selling food during Ramadan in October. A woman and a man will soon be caned publicly for adultery. Photo: AFP


Sharia police in the Indonesian province of Aceh will publicly flog a young woman for adultery after she was turned in by eight vigilantes who had already gang-raped her as punishment.


The woman, a 25-year-old widow, and her alleged partner, a married 40-year old man, were caught inside her home last Thursday by a group of eight who were intent on enforcing the sharia prohibition on sex outside marriage, local media reports say.


The eight, who included a 13-year-old boy, tied up and beat the man and repeatedly raped the woman before dousing both in raw sewage.


They then marched the couple to the office of the local sharia police.


Ibrahim Latif, the head of the sharia police, or Wilayatul Hisbah in the town of Langsa, in Aceh’s far south-east, was quoted in The Jakarta Globe saying: “We want the couple caned because they violated the religious bylaw on sexual relations”.


Under the sharia law, which is peculiar to Aceh, each of the couple faces nine strokes of the cane in a public place.


The woman’s ordeal at the hands of her accusers would not be taken into account in delivering the sentence, Mr Ibrahim said.


“They have to be [caned] as a form of justice … they’ve confessed to having sex several times before, even though the man is married and has five children”.


The Jakarta Globe newspaper reported that Teungku Faisal Ali, the head of the Aceh chapter of the country’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama had backed the caning.


The organisation is usually considered part of Indonesia’s moderate muslim maintream.


However, Mr Faisal said the alleged rapists themselves should be treated more harshly than the couple, because they had “set back efforts to uphold sharia in Aceh”.


He said vigilantes should not act directly, but report offences to the sharia police.


Three of the alleged rapists including the boy are in police custody, and police have appealed for the families of the other five to give them up.


They are facing investigation and conviction by the ordinary criminal courts.


Aceh is the only province of Indonesia which enforces sharia law, after the central government in Jakarta granted its religious leaders the right to impose it in 2001 to try to quell separatist sentiment.


A recent bylaw in the province extended its provisions to all residents and visitors, including non-Muslims.


The law is enforced patchily, but Langsa is known to be strict. In nearby Lhokseumawe, women are prohibited from wearing tight jeans and riding astride motor scooters — they are required to go side saddle. Women are also expected to cover their hair, and young unmarried couples are not allowed to sit together in public in case sexual feelings emerge.


The law has often been abused by vigilantes and overzealous officials.


In one tragic case in 2012, a 16-year old girl was at a concert with friends in Langsa when the sharia police harangued her as a prostitute. When local media picked up the story the next day, repeated the accusation and published her full name, the girl hanged herself.


In 2010, three sharia policemen raped a 20-year-old university student after they found her riding a motorcycle with her boyfriend.

Henry Sapiecha


Boosting women’s participation in political life throughout the Pacific region has been launched by a new program.

Story: Emma O’Sullivan

At a recent meeting of women politicians in Sydney, Rhoda Sikilabu from the Solomon Islands was keen to share her story. It was one of self-sacrifice and dedication to her community. It was her journey into politics.


“I just did it the Solomon way,” she explained. “I left high school as a very young woman and I worked for 11 years and I had this passion to be a politician. I left my work. I denied my children of a good education. I went back and lived in the village for 15 years. I think that is a long, hard and painful journey of an election campaign.”

In 2006 Ms Sikilabu’s efforts were rewarded when she gained a seat in the country’s provincial assembly for the Isabel province.

“There were no political parties. In my campaign I just had to make the voters aware that men and women are equal, they run as equal people in the government,” she said.

Spurred on by her success, she decided to run in the 2010 general election. Her election campaign saw her swimming across flooded rivers, camping in the bush and trekking over mountains in order to speak with voters in the most remote villages.

“That was the hardest campaign that I did,” she said. Ms Sikilabu came second, a result she believes proves women candidates are making progress. She is likely to try again next time.

Her story illustrates some of the obstacles – economic, cultural and institutional – faced by Pacific Island women who have decided to enter an arena which, in their region, is almost completely dominated by men.

But Ms Sikilabu and around 40 other parliamentarians from the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand who were gathered in the room that day are determined to create an easier path for those who follow them.

This was their reason for attending the first forum of the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships project, which was co-hosted by the Australian parliament and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians group. It was a very rare opportunity for the women to meet in person so they could share their experiences and build relationships.

The seeds of this gathering were planted in 2012 at the annual Pacific Islands Forum. The only woman among 15 leaders present, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced Australia would provide $320 million over 10 years to improve Pacific women’s economic and leadership prospects and to keep them free from violence.

By the forum’s end, Pacific Island leaders had made a detailed gender equality declaration. The statement put on the record their deep concern that violence against women was too high, political participation too low and economic opportunities limited. It also outlined measures for each nation to implement and committed them to providing yearly progress reports.

Australia’s $320 million spend – the ‘Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development’ initiative – is being administered by AusAID, which has provided almost $3 million for the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships project.

AusAID deputy director-general James Batley has spent many years working as a diplomat in a number of Pacific countries including Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and he was present at the forum to give an overview of the initiative.

“It’s a matter of people’s rights, it’s a matter of fairness, but it’s also a matter of addressing entrenched poverty in these countries,” he said.

“There’s plenty of evidence now from right around the world that involving women in decision making, empowering them to take part in the decision making processes of communities and countries leads to better outcomes.”

In Pacific Island parliaments, women hold just five per cent of seats, and progress on increasing that number is slow. One positive development last year saw the number of women in Papua New Guinea’s national parliament triple from one to three.

However, out of the parliamentary chambers in the world recorded by the Inter-Parliamentary Union as having no women members, three are in the Pacific region. They are in Nauru, the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu.

Perhaps one of the first obstacles a woman must overcome when she begins campaigning for election is the heavily entrenched view that Pacific women do not belong in politics.

Recently-elected Cook Islands MP Selina Napa grew up in a family familiar with politics, with her father having been an MP. Because of this she was also reasonably well-known in her community. But she was still challenged by some, who questioned her credentials simply because she was a woman.

“I had to put it out to them that a woman is just as capable of doing things as men are whether it be in the home, in workplaces, that women are just as capable of doing it,” she said.

Chair of the Australia-Pacific Parliamentary Group and federal MP Amanda Rishworth said unfortunately politics often seems to be seen as men’s business in the Pacific. This was highlighted on a parliamentary trip to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea where Ms Rishworth met many women who she believed were capable of holding political office.

“One of the concerning things for me was when I asked some of the bright young women that I met, ‘maybe you should think about going into politics’, it didn’t seem like it was an option for them,” she said.

This attitude, that politics is men’s business, is often explained as being part of a cultural tradition. But House of Representatives Speaker Anna Burke, who attended the forum, said this justification is “ridiculous”.

“We need to say, ‘no it’s not cultural’. It’s about attitudes towards women that we need to overcome,” she said.

But it also seems some of the attitudes working against women come from women themselves. Several forum participants, including Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands, said women are reluctant to vote for other women.

“Women are not as independent voters as I think men are and they tend to follow husband’s votes or uncles or brothers,” she said.

But veteran Australian MP Bronwyn Bishop urged women at the forum not to buy into that argument.

“I think that’s an excuse men will use to say we can’t have you because women won’t support you when in fact that’s their way of saying, ‘I don’t want the competition’,” she said. “If you’re strong and you’re giving leadership women will respond to that so it’s something you need to push aside.”

Anna Burke believes part of the solution is to ensure candidates have good campaign skills.

“It’s about the candidate presenting themselves as a credible candidate. It’s about the policies they bring,” she said.

While changing people’s attitudes is one challenge women are beginning to grapple with, changing rules, systems and institutions to improve gender equality is something entirely different.

The search for solutions is further complicated for a region in which modern political systems have only been in place for around half a century, since nations began to gain independence from European rule.

According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), it will take another 50 years to achieve gender equality in Asia-Pacific parliaments if the increase in women’s participation in parliaments remains at the current pace.

Harvard University Professor Pippa Norris has identified six areas that can be targeted to fast-track women into politics, one of which is change to Pacific electoral systems.

“This is a real barrier in the Pacific,” she explained. “If you have the British system, which was first past the post, single member districts, which is now so common in the Pacific region, then you get far fewer women elected to parliament than if you have any sort of proportional or mixed system.”

Professor Norris said women should grab the opportunity to debate electoral reform if it arises in their country.

“And you don’t have to make the argument necessarily that this is about gender quotas which can be difficult in some cultures,” she said.

“You’re saying basically we need a fairer electoral system. You can make coalitions with parties, you can make coalitions with civic society groups and other minorities will also benefit.”

Another possibility for change lies in the use of reserved seats, an area which is subject to ongoing debate in the Pacific region.

The autonomous region of Bougainville has only had a parliament since 2005, following the resolution of an almost decade-long conflict. Its constitution provides for three reserved seats for women, one of which is held by Elizabeth Burain who was elected under the system in 2010.

“We have a matrilineal society where women own land,” she said. “We also have women represent the clan as chiefs and in the government – we had to make it work.

“I must stress here that the three reserved seats came about because during the peace arrangement the community, especially women, really worked hard to bring the peace into Bougainville.

“Now that we are discussing how more women can get into the parliament you will find that there’s differences in supporting temporary special measures. I believe if a country wants to make women prove themselves to be leaders, if they cannot have more women they must use temporary special measures.”

Bougainville’s long-term future, including its constitution, is set to be reviewed after 10 years, which means the reserved seats system may also be under consideration. In the meantime, Ms Burain says women like her, who are already in parliament, need to set a strong example and encourage more women to contest both reserved and open seats.

“I think the way forward is when a woman is elected into the parliament she must remember that she is a role model. And we need to network. Because you will find that we really need each other to convince the community that yes, women can also make a difference.”

Ms Bishop agrees: “There’s an obligation on those of us who arrive into the parliamentary arena to ensure that we don’t muck it up for other women.”

After two days of discussions at the forum the group agreed to 12 key outcomes, the first of which was to foster mentoring relationships between Australian, New Zealand and Pacific parliamentarians.

Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians deputy chair Christine Fyffe from Victoria said it is crucial that Pacific MPs know they have a support network.

“Being able to talk to people who understand how you’re going and what is happening to you is very important,” she said.

“I really see it narrowing down as we develop an affinity for each other. You’ll find that certain people will have a better relationship with others and I’m hoping that then there will be a natural flow on – that we will work with these people, with the country or the individuals.”

The women MPs at the forum also identified the need to create an online networking platform for MPs and staff to facilitate discussion, requests for data and information sharing.

MP exchanges will also take place this year which will give Australian and Pacific women parliamentarians the opportunity to learn more about each other and each other’s work.

Ms Fyffe said the evolution of the program very much depends on what the Pacific Island women want.

“They will be telling us what they need, what involvement they want from us and how much they want to do themselves,” she said.

“Because it’s not just for women members of parliament, it’s also for people who work within parliaments and women who are aspirational to become members of parliament.”

For more information on the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships project visit:

Henry Sapiecha


A love of adventure drew Philippa Strickland to the ancient island of Lamu, off the Kenyan coast. It was beautiful and captivating but, as she discovered, even paradise has a dark side.

Philippa Strickland on hiking trip image

He seized me with his left arm while his right hand brandished a knife at my throat. I tried to grab it, but the blade sliced across my fingers. I’d first noticed this man moments earlier staring at me as I left a nearby restaurant after breakfast. We were alone on this path. Before I could think or act, everything went black.

When I could see again, I was on the floor and he was straddling me as he adjusted a balaclava on his head. His build was unimposing but, in his right hand, he still held the knife and now pointed the tip of it down at my chest. I wasn’t so much scared as dazed by what I saw, convinced it was a delusion I just had to wait out.

What’s happening?” I asked. Hearing my own voice, I realised this was no dream. The sounds were too clear, the colours too vivid and the smells too intense: the stench of human excrement filled my nostrils. I looked around. I was lying underneath an overturned wooden boat that had been propped against a wall to create a makeshift public toilet. How did I get here?

Confusion and panic overwhelmed me, stunning me into submission. “What do you want from me?” He put his face close to mine. “I only want one thing,” he replied and his eyes darted down to my hips. My heart began to thump, my terror palpable in this closed-off world. I started to plead with him, “Please don’t do this to me.”

He pressed his hand heavily over my mouth and looked piercingly into my eyes: “I have two men out there watching for me. If you make any noise, I will tell them to come here. Do you want one man raping you or three?”

Philippa Strickland with a local woman in east Africa-image

I’d arrived on Lamu Island, off the north-east coast of Kenya, the previous afternoon, September 4, after travelling 24 hours from Nairobi on overcrowded buses along dusty, potholed, dirt roads and, finally, by boat. I was exhausted, but captivated by the beauty of Lamu Town as we entered its port. Described on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa”, the crumbling architecture lining many of Lamu’s cramped laneways dates back to the 14th century, when the town was established along a major Arab trading route.

With beautiful, white-sand beaches fringing the warm Indian Ocean, car-free streets heaving with life, the aroma of grilled fish drifting along the esplanade and the call to prayer permeating every crevice of its dilapidated buildings, the town made me feel as if I’d been transported back in time. This was everything that excited me about travelling. I dumped my bags at the hotel, grabbed my camera and went out to explore the foreshore as the sun began to set. It was humming with activity: veiled women with children in tow bustled purposefully among the shops, and donkeys lugged loads of cement from boats to building sites as the menfolk ambled from their evening prayers.

I knew this paradise had its dark side, however. In 2011, Somali pirates kidnapped a disabled French woman, Marie Dedieu, from her home on the small island of Manda just west of Lamu; both islands are part of an archipelago lying 100 kilometres south of the Kenya-Somali border. They refused her her daily medications for cancer and heart problems, which resulted in her death, and then attempted to sell her body. Two weeks earlier, a British couple had been abducted further up the coast in Kiwayu. Judith Tebbutt was held for six months before being released for a $1 million ransom; her husband, David, received a fatal shot to the chest as he tried to wrestle with one of the gunmen.

These events had had a significant impact on Lamu’s tourism industry, and although people were gradually starting to return to the island, the restaurants along the foreshore were empty. I was the only guest in my hotel, which my 2010 guide book described as “often full both in and out of season”: it was multi-storeyed with eight rooms sprawled haphazardly over three floors. Run by a friendly local family, it had an open terrace on the roof that overlooked the mosque next door.


As a tall, blonde, 31-year-old white woman, I didn’t go unnoticed in Lamu. In the narrow streets, young men sat in groups drinking tea or playing board games, gesturing for me to join them. Having spent the past nine months in Africa, I’d grown used to the attention and chose to ignore it.

The freedom to explore the world like this was infectious. As a keen photographer, I could be wherever I wanted to be, whenever I wanted to be, just to catch the best light; I could change my plans on a whim. Other travellers would ignite my interest in new destinations or alternative routes, and the friendships I’d made on the road were enduring. Every day was new and exciting and my perspective on the world and my own life had been challenged immeasurably.

Travel had equipped and enriched me in a way my formal education never had. I had backpacked like this for the past 10 years, spending eight or nine months overseas, then returning home to Adelaide to work in order to fund the next trip. Nothing bad had happened to me – yet.

I stared at the knife wedged into the sand next to my head, unable to look at the man looming over me who was now rocking rhythmically back and forth. It was the same sort of knife I used to chop vegetables at home. There was blood pouring from the cut on my hand: it was no toy. Dread collided with confusion, which fused with a constant wish to deny the reality of this situation. This wasn’t me lying here, it was someone else, and I wanted her to know what to do because I didn’t.

I thought about grabbing the knife, but then what? And if he overpowered me? All rational thought was stifled by fear of his every movement. Without the knife in his hand, he had become perversely gentle in his actions. When he saw the blood on my hand, he interrupted his awful rhythm to wipe it with my underwear and apologised for hurting me. His attempts to convince himself that this was something other than what it was infuriated me, yet I decided to act on this fleeting glimpse of humanity. Despite being unmarried, I tried to reason with him, saying, “My husband will kill me if he finds out”, and struggling under his weight.

He clasped one hand over my mouth and pressed the other down on my neck, tightening his grasp until I could scarcely breathe. The aggressor in him left me powerless. He looked around, checking for passers-by or signals from accomplices. I tilted my head to follow his gaze – I wanted to know if there really were other men on lookout – but he yanked it back sharply. Angered, he pulled the knife from the sand and motioned to stab me in the chest with it. “I will kill you,” he whispered menacingly, his eyes threatening through the holes in the balaclava.


Panic and fear enveloped me once again. Nothing had prepared me for this disarray of thoughts, resulting from a deprivation of basic rights or alternatives. I didn’t want to submit to this, but what was I risking otherwise?

Abruptly, he stopped, listened. Was somebody coming? I held my breath and strained to listen through the accelerated beating of my heart thudding in my ears. He yanked up his shorts, snatched the knife and my bag from the sand, crawled out from beneath the boat and was gone. My instinct was to chase him. He had my wallet, camera and lenses – I didn’t want him to get away with any more than he already had. I scrambled out into the path and ran after him. I saw him 100 metres away and then he disappeared, consumed by the sand dunes and vegetation that lay beyond the restaurant. I stopped. What was I doing? This man had a knife. Defeated, I stood in anguish, screaming.

Two young men ran towards me. While my words were lost in translation, my distress was understood and I collapsed on the sand. “We call police,” they said. “Wait.” One of them disappeared around the corner, returning with the couple who owned the restaurant where I’d had breakfast a short time earlier.

“What has happened to you?” questioned the woman, obviously shocked at my appearance: hair tangled with sand and excrement and blood staining the cream shirt and long skirt I was wearing. “He stole everything … and he raped me,” I replied. She covered her mouth in disbelief before stepping forward to embrace me. “The police are on their way,” she said. “We will take you to hospital.”

The Lamu Hospital, serving the island’s 100,000 residents, was a cluster of buildings surrounding an open-air courtyard on the edge of town. I sat in the surgery feeling numb. Had all this really happened?

The young Muslim doctor who treated me was warm, compassionate and worked with a professionalism and focus that contrasted significantly with the modus operandi of the police, who repeatedly knocked on the door, interrupting her examination, to ask me basic questions that they’d forgotten during their initial, muddled interview. They appeared listless and confused.


The doctor’s assessment was methodical and thorough. She carried out blood tests, took swabs and explained in detail how the USAid antiretroviral drugs she was prescribing would work to reduce the risk of infection. While the man’s HIV status was unknown, the prevalence of the virus in Africa, and the devastation it has wrought across the continent, are only too well known. I couldn’t even contemplate what this could mean for me. While I had an Implanon rod inserted under the skin of my upper arm to prevent unwanted pregnancy, I had no control over HIV.

For the next month I would need to take five tablets a day, taken in different combinations, plus a course of antibiotics. Like many drugs, the antiretrovirals are not 100 per cent effective and, after three months, I would need to be tested for HIV. I have yet to undergo this blood test. I choose not to think about the possibility of an unwelcome outcome: I’m not preparing myself for that, for the simple reason that I don’t know how to.

The doctor also addressed my psychological state. “Maybe you are still in shock and this will not hit you until later,” she said. “But remember, this is not your fault and, no matter what happens, you will be okay.” While I wanted to believe her, sitting in a hospital full of strangers, 10,000 kilometres from home, I wasn’t so sure. “Is this common?” I asked.

“For white women, no. But for local women, particularly young girls, yes. I see too many cases.”

The drop in Lamu’s tourist numbers following the events of 2011, and the subsequent rise in unemployment, had apparently taken its toll on this small community. As I sat in the hospital courtyard waiting for the results of blood tests for sexually transmitted diseases, an elderly man approached me. “I’m so sorry this has happened to you,” he said with sincerity. It seemed that news had spread fast. “This is because of the drug problems. This never would have happened before. Lamu is a peaceful place. But do not expect anything from these police.” He lowered his voice, before adding, “They are all involved.”

I was taken back to my hotel to shower and change. In an attempt to steady my nerves, I drank the last of a bottle of red wine I’d bought two days earlier. I returned to the police station later that afternoon feeling calmer and more rational, but infinitely exhausted. The officer who’d been appointed to my case asked the same question posed earlier by his colleagues: “Would you be able to identify this man?” I repeated that, since his face had been covered, this would be difficult. “Well, there is not so much we can do,” he sighed. “But we will try our best.”

He then asked a young officer to chaperone me to the hotel of a friend on the other side of Lamu Town. “I just walked from there,” came the young officer’s lethargic reply. I was too drained to argue or care, so I left alone.


I spent that night with an English friend in her hotel. She’d informed me the previous week that she’d be holidaying on the island, but until now we hadn’t met up. She listened in disbelief as I related my day of horror, which was in sharp contrast to her experience of Lamu – she’d spent days alternately wandering through the town and sunbaking on the beach.

Sitting on her balcony talking, I felt vastly disconnected from the person who’d been lying under the boat only hours before. My ability to relay the incident without emotion or distress was disconcerting to us both, and finally attributed to shock. I slept restlessly next to her, waking frequently to check she was still there and questioning myself about the reality of it all. This was something that happened to other people, not to me.

My friend was visiting the island with a group of former colleagues, one of whom was a journalist now working in Nairobi. He contacted the Kenyan police in the city, and they arranged a meeting that would take place the following morning at the local police station. All chiefs of police and government officials on the island would be there. Although I was sceptical about the efficacy of such a meeting, I agreed to go with the journalist.

I woke up in pain, my muscles remembering the struggle of the day before. The gathering began with an outpouring of condolences and assurances that absolutely everything would be done to find this man and prosecute him. Unfortunately, with few leads to work with, it soon deteriorated into a search for a scapegoat, the finger of blame wandering back and forth between me, for travelling alone, and the restaurant owners; according to the police, they should have employed a guard to monitor the 50-metre public path where the assault had taken place, despite no previous concerns regarding safety in the area.

Once again, I was infuriated. This family had responded to my screams, alerted the police and accompanied me to the hospital. I didn’t want to hear them accused of anything. Enough was enough. I excused myself.

It was time to contact my family and book a flight home to Adelaide. First, I stopped to thank the owners of the restaurant for their kindnesses the day before. “Today it is you,” said the woman with emotion. “Maybe tomorrow it is me.”

I walked back to the hotel with apprehension. What would this predominantly Muslim community think about an uncovered white woman being attacked like this? I needn’t have worried. In an incredible show of solidarity, women I didn’t know stopped to embrace me or to say simply, “We are sorry this has happened to you.”

As the plane took off the next morning, I looked down at the waters of the Indian Ocean, the white sands of the archipelago and the ancient town of Lamu. Its beauty was stunning, but I was relieved to be leaving it behind – for now. I knew I’d be back, though. I loved Africa: its landscapes, its cultures, its people.

As I watched the villages becoming specks in the vast mosaic of Africa, I thought of the women I’d seen in my travels here: the loads they carried, their relentless chores and the children they bore in harsh conditions. What other, unspoken perils did they endure? While I could get on a plane and fly away, they had no option but to stay.

Philippa Strickland-image www.goodgirlsgo (2)

On September 21, after I returned home to Adelaide, insurgents from the Somali militant group al-Shabaab stormed Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, killing more than 60 civilians. I feared the impact this event would have on Kenya’s tourism and the people of Lamu. In regions of the country that relied so heavily on foreign visitors for economic stability, what further knock-on effects would these communities experience?

The gang-rape of a 16-year-old Kenyan schoolgirl in June sparked widespread protest when it was revealed last month that the police response to the violent attack had been to force three of her attackers to cut the grass around the station before releasing them. The police had also urged that the mother “clean her up”, thereby destroying all forensic evidence.

At the end of October, I was told a man had attempted to rape a schoolgirl on Lamu. His build and knife fitted the description I gave. Angry locals caught and beat the man with the intention of lynching him before police intervened. He was taken to hospital under police surveillance. I wasn’t surprised to learn that later, while in their custody, he escaped through a bathroom window.


Henry Sapiecha


Some 40 models, most of them women, have staged a topless protest in Rio de Janeiro against the low presence of Afro-Brazilians on fashion catwalks.


‘‘What strikes you, your racism or me?’’ one of the female demonstrators wrote on her chest during the protest late Wednesday timed to coincide with Rio Fashion Week.

The demonstration also coincided with the signing of a deal between the Fashion Week organisers and the Rio ombudsman’s office setting a 10 per cent quota for black models in fashion shows, the G1 news website reported.

‘‘This agreement crowns a joint initiative that can open a space that does not yet exist,’’ said Moises Alcuna, a spokesman for Educafro, a civil rights group championing the labour and educational rights of blacks and indigenous people.


More than half of Brazil’s 200 million people are of African descent, the world’s second largest black population after that of Nigeria.But Afro-Brazilians complain of widespread racial inequality.

‘‘If we are buying clothes, why can’t we parade in the (fashion) shows,’’ asked a 15-year-old model taking part in the protest. ‘‘Does that mean that only white women can sell and the rest of us can only buy?’’

‘‘Claiming to showcase Brazilian fashion without the real Brazilians amounts to showing Brazilian fashion (only) with white models,’’ said Jose Flores, a 25-year-old former model who now works in advertising.

After 13 years of debate, President Dilma Rousseff last year signed a controversial law that reserves half of seats in federal universities to public school students, with priority given to Afro-Brazilians and indigenous people.

In June 2009, the Sao Paulo Fashion Week (SPFW) – Latin America’s premier fashion event – for the first time imposed quotas requiring at least 10 per cent of the models to be black or indigenous.

Previously, only a handful of black models featured among the 350 or so that sashayed down the catwalk – usually less than three per cent.

But in 2010, the 10 per cent quota was removed, after a conservative prosecutor deemed it unconstitutional.



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