Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Where in the World are Women not Allowed!

Are there many places in the world today where women are not allowed to enter? 

Stories and Images of Taleban men enforcing their strictness on women are familiar to all. What about the EU in 2008? 

Are there still Gentlemen's clubs in the UK, where women are not allowed, as members?

Yes, White's Club is an example of such a place. There are female dancers and other professionals there but no female members.

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The Only Woman Who Has Been on Mount Athos, Greece

One place strictly banning women is Mount Athos, Greece. This ban on women extends also to females of animal species and dates back to a decree banning women entering the Eastern Orthodox monastic peninsula issued by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Monomachos in 1060. Four Moldovan women trying to sneak into the EU recently tested this ban. News reports say that they were forgiven and not imprisoned. 

55 years ago, Times reported how Aliki Diplarakou, Miss Greece of 1929, had dressed up in men's clothes and smuggled herself into the monks' sanctuary on Mount Athos to see with her own eyes what a place without women would be like. 

Professions Where Women Are Not Allowed

The priesthood in the Catholic Church is still off-limits for women. The Vatican teaches that women cannot be ordained and has barred further discussion of the issue. 

Women are also not allowed to elect a Pope. There is no legal ban but the only people allowed to take part are Cardinals below the age of 80, and since Canon Law forbids women from being ordained as priest, there are no women Cardinals and thus no woman can elect a Pope.

Men’s football, that bastion of male machismo is officially off-limits for women too.  A Mexican woman footballer was banned from playing for a professional men's club according to a FIFA Football's world governing body ruling

The US Armed Services does not allow women in full combat roles. There has been some attempts to relax this ban but they have not been successful. "Women in the infantry: Forget about it!" is still the current line in the US Armed Forces. The official website sums it up as:

“Women have served in the United States Army since 1775. They nursed the ill and wounded, laundered and mended clothing, and cooked for the troops in camp on campaign; services that did not exist among the uniformed personnel within the Army until the 20th Century.”

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Women are not allowed to ride bicycles in the North Korean capital city of Pyonyang. According to the Hub of North Korea News Kim Jong Il saw a woman riding a bicycle wearing pants in 1996. Kim Jong Il then ordered:
“It looks horrible. Do not let women ride bicycles.”

p.s. Women are allowed to ride bicycles in North Korea from August 2012 in a change of policy announcement.

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In Malawi, women were not allowed by law to wear trousers from 1965 to 1994, under President Kamuzu Banda's rule.

In Saudi Arabia, the highest religious authorities have issued Fatwas (bans) against women working in 'mixed' environments e.g. shop checkouts. Many employers still defy this ban and the Saudi Labour Ministry has reinstated women fired from their jobs.

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Women in Saudi Arabia are not supposed to drive motor vehicles. There is no law against this, but it is a social convention against Saudi women though Beduin women in the desert areas do drive around.

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Thursday, 22 May 2008

Lesson in Statesmanship from the Dalai Lama!

Recently HH the Dalai Lama in an interview gave a masterly demonstration of statesmanship. 

He gave the Beijing government very positive feedback on their excellent handling of the relief efforts of the earthquake in China. 

As an example, he reproached the Burmese junta for wilfully mishandling the equally severe natural catastrophe in Burma. 

By praising the Beijing leaders and linking their praiseworthy efforts as being a signal of change within China, he also slips in criticism of their handling of the Tibet issue. 

Then he also shows the amount of dissent among the Tibetans about responding to Beijing with peaceful means. This is a cloaked message that when the Dalai Lama is no more, no one may be able to keep these angry young people in check.

By raising the Beijing leaders on a pedestal, he requires them to behave in a more elevated manner. Spiritual Noblesse oblige through mutual recognition and compassion – this is a very different vision from the ‘destroy through violence, those who are different’ policy used by those engaged in armed conflicts in different parts of the world. 

China's Leaders Praise the Dalai Lama

This has never happened. 

The only time praise is connected to the Dalai Lama in a Chinese government statement is e.g. a foreign government leader who gives in to Chinese government pressure and refuses to meet the Dalai Lama. Some examples are: the Australian PM Julia Gillard and the Finnish government in 1996 and 1998.

There have been some allegations that certain interests within the Chinese government have even trained Tibetan women to assassinate the Dalai Lama - praise indeed! HH the Dalai Lama revealed this plot in an interview with the Telegraph UK.

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Dalai Lama, Mao Zedong and Communism

I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist!

The Dalai Lama says this in his book Beyond Dogma: The Challenge of the Modern World, Souvenir Press, 1996.

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"It was only when I went to China in 1954-55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned the history of the Chinese revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member." 
This is what the Dalai Lama says in a Time magazine interview on October 4th, 1999.

So, there is hope that people can change their opinions and attitudes after reading and understanding. One fine day, we might hear of such change in Chinese leaders.

Everyday Statesmanship Lesson From Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, in a speech, referred to the Southerners as fellow human beings who were in error

An elderly lady chastised him for not calling them irreconcilable enemies that should be destroyed. 
Why madam,” Lincoln replied, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

The 'One country Two Systems' seems to be working fine in Hong Kong. Among other books, they even sell the Dalai Lama's books at bookshops there. 

So there is hope that a solution can be found for Tibet as well. China is trying so hard to stage a glorious and successful Olympic Games 2008 and success in Tibet would add to China's international prestige.

"We must all live harmoniously with our neighbours. Your happiness depends on it." 

This saying of the Dalai Lama is more true than ever in a globalising world. More and more Chinese people are opening up to the world and accepting diversity and allowing the rest of the world to enjoy the fascinating richness of Chinese culture. 

Many of our Chinese brothers and sisters have truly expanded their horizons to become valuable members of the global community.

Let us hope that a change in the attitude of China's leaders is apparent soon.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Sell More by Sharing on Peer to Peer Networks - Yes it is true!

They say that piracy on the Internet decreases sales. Everywhere you hear figures in hundreds of millions dollars/euros of revenues lost by sellers of music, movies, software and books.

Is it really true? Can you have a different take on sales by sharing? Here is a different story.

Paulo Coelho, author of 30 books such as “The Alchemist” and “The Witch of Portobello”, sold over 100 million books last year. 

Being one of the most widely read living authors, many people want to know the secrets of his success.
"Success is falling down 7 times, but getting up 8." is one of his most quoted quips.

He puts this success down to BitTorrent, as he saw a huge increase in sales when his books appeared on sites such as The Pirate Bay.

Does this mean that anyone who wants to become a bestselling author, should begin by distributing free on a peer-to-peer network? But, the question of how to attract readers still remains.

Software, movies and music are essentially different from books. They can be consumed and used electronically very easily. But people still prefer to read paper books. So a ‘taster’ on pirate sites actually pushes sales up. Would this phenomenon also work for software, music and films? 

Software companies freely distribute downloadable time-limited and function-limited versions on their own sites. 

Would software companies release 'taster' versions of their programs on 'pirate' sites - hardly? 

It would be difficult to picture Microsoft releasing mini-taster versions of Office software like Word, Excel and PowerPoint on these sites.

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However, should the music and movie industries learn something here rather than moan?

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Are Finns Ethnocentric?

Recently on a visit to India, some people who regularly deal with Finns asked me to explain why Finns are ethnocentric. 
"You live in Finland and should be able to give us some insight
This question was put to me. This is tough! Now, having lived in Finland more than 25 years, I have no desire to badmouth Finland and still need to find an intelligent insight.

Historically small nations tend to be ethnocentric. But is ethnocentrism still valid in a modern context? The term ethnocentrism is often based on the premise of racial superiority over other races/ethnicities.
Are Finns Ethnocentric and Isolated?
In the old days, Finns mostly kept to themselves as you can expect from a people living on the edge of Europe in a mostly harsh climate. But today, Finland has become a rapidly evolving society embracing many diverse cultures and on the way to becoming global.

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The facts are a bit problematic in describing ethnic diversity. In 2010: 

  • 2.7% of Finland's residents were foreign citizens (EU average 6.4%). 
  • In Iceland, 7.6% of the population were born abroad. 
  • The majority of foreign-born people come to Finland from neighbouring Estonia (18.6%), Russia (16.2%) and Sweden (4.6%). The Estonians are working in Finland and going back home while Russians settle in and get citizenship five times more often.
'Finnish ethnocentrism' is actually a misnomer and ethnocentrism is highly misleading in the context of Finns in these days. The choice of deciding to remain strictly on their own as a socio-economic-political policy has become a minority opinion in Finland. 

The majority of Finns have actually the opposite sentiment as they feel that they are tucked away in a tiny sparsely populated country far away from the centre stage of the world. There is a fervent desire to catch up and not be seen as a peripherial culture. Many a Finn would quip 
We don’t have much culture, we just came out of the woods recently”.

Now this is not meant to be taken literally, but should be understood as self-irony, which characterises Finnish humour

A Finn and a Norwegian would joke that in spite of very different languages and cultures, they have at least one thing in common; a challenging neighbour to the east. 

You can actually discover people of Finnish origin almost anywhere on the globe. Whether they learn Hindi and Marathi and blend in downtown Mumbai or live in Patagonia, Argentina as sheep farmers, you can recognize them, if not from anything else, from their names at least. Typically Finns are also rather self-effacing and try to be modest yet friendly, but there are some exceptions. 

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One does run into an arrogant and high-nosed Finn occasionally, of both gender and among all age groups. 

In Finland, there is even a right-wing political party called Perussuomalaiset. This party is anti-immigration, anti-EU though they are not as extreme as the neo-Nazis. This party is probably going to get stronger over the years and become a decisive factor in politics one day.

Finns are unique people because of their geography, history and challenging climate and especially how all these have shaped their character.
Challenges Foreigners Experience with Finns

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People having interactions with Finns report that the following are the challenges plaguing foreigners’ attempts to have smooth dealings or settle down to a “lived happily ever after” life in Finland.
  • Scant communication, where silence is no embarrassment but a virtue
  • Finns prefer to communicate by e-mail or sms messaging. People divorce and are even fired in Finland by sms messages
  • Difficulty in making friends with Finns – it might take years as Finns are slow to warm up to new people and show emotions
  • Seemingly linear way of thinking. Almost always you have agendas at meetings, start at the beginning with no chit chat at all and finish at the end
  • Management by ‘Perkele’ – a very distinct and dogged no-nonsense result oriented management style which ruffles feathers easily
  • Challenging climate for most of the year – excepting the short summer, either too wet or too cold and damp or getting a lot of what the British railways called “the wrong kind of snow” in 1991, to explain the occasional slight delays
  • There is almost no communal ritual moaning at the workplace so vital and essentially British and also found in most other cultures. The ritual of going out with colleagues and engaging in boss-bashing tongue wagging with a beer is hardly practised in Finland. Finns make up for this at the once yearly Pikkujoulut or Christmas party where scandals to last the whole year might take place.
  • Things tend to run quiet and smooth so restless foreigners either get bored or depressed feeling “Nothing ever happens here”. 

So, the answer is 'it depends!' - the Finns are ethnocentric in some contexts while being very global and eager to mix in other contexts.