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Minutes of PIWWC meeting at Dnister Hotel in Lviv

18 September 2017

In the chair: Elizabeth Nordgren

Below is a list of all those who signed the attendance sheet. Not everyone was present for all of the day-long meetings.

Sarah Lawson (English), Lucina Kathmann (San Miguel), Mariana Gorczyca (Romanian) Elena Chizhova (St. Petersburg), Iman Humaydan (Lebanon), Nael Georges (International office), Jennifer Clement (International President), Nina George (German), Katlin Kaldemaa (International Secretary), Ifigenija Simonovic (Slovenia), Anneli Andre-Barrett (Canada) Rebeca Rodríguez (Melbourne), Judith Rodríguez (Melbourne), Tienchi Martin-Liao (Independent Chinese), Dragana Zivancevic (Sydney) Clara Franceschetti Cancline (Swiss Romand), Nadia Azhgilhina (Free Word, Russia), Gemma Rodriguez (Catalan), Aicha Mohamed Robleh (Afar-Speaking PEN, Somalia), Margie Orford (Board of International PEN), Hege Newth (Norwegian), Nadia Davids (South Africa), Josie O'Reilly (International Secretariat), Zeynep Oral (Turkey), Elisabeth Eide (Norway), Magda Carneci (Romania), Zoe Rodríguez (Sydney), Eric Lax (USA), Marjan Strojan (Slovenia), Antonio Della Rocca (Trieste), Sylvestre Clancier (France), Larry Siems (USA), Sara Mannheimer (Sweden), Caroline Stockford (Wales), Vonne van der Meer (Netherlands), Anders Heger (Norway), Carles Torner (International Secretariat), Eugene Scholgin (Norway), Carlos Collado Seidel (German), Kavitha Muralidharan (South India [proposed])

Jennifer Clement on the Women's Manifesto: There has been a good response from other centers. Human rights take precedence over culture, tradition, religion, etc. It can be a great tool for outreach. Jennifer is to go to African countries next year to present the Manifesto. It must be translated into as many languages as possible.

The Manifesto focuses on specific women, repression and misogyny, especially now. Margie Orford comments that "the universal can sometimes flatten out the specific. Types of persecution need to be named." Nina George assured us that the Women's Manifesto will be important in Germany, where there is now a big discussion about sexism.

Jennifer added that in 2019 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of PEN in England, there will be a conference at St. Hugh's College, Oxford.

Iman Humaydan (Lebanon PEN) reports that the whole board of Lebanon PEN is composed of women. In her experience women writers are more committed to PEN work. On October 7 there will be a Poetry Event and the establishment of the first junior PEN Club. PEN already collaborates in reading projects. Other plans include the first book fair in the Arab world and a proposal to make Beirut an ICORN City of Refuge, to create a haven in the Arab world.

Elena Chizova (of the proposed St. Petersburg Center) described how her center was formed in the early 1990s; she has been the Director since 1999. She reports that there is no problem for women writers at least in the cities. Women's position vis-a-vis the Russian Orthodox Church is another matter! In St. Petersburg PEN men and women are equally active. This center protested against the Pussy Riot arrests. Whereas the Moscow PEN Center supported the Russian annexation of Crimea, the St. Petersburg club signed a protest letter against annexation.

Nina George (PEN Germany) tells us that PEN Germany has a new woman president in Regula Venske, and the board is 50/50. They have held a discussion with the Minister of Culture about sexism and book prizes. In Germany there is a serious imbalance, as men win ten times more prizes that women writers. Nina George has founded a group of women publishers, writers, directors, etc. to address the problem. At the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair there will be panels discussing the responsibility of publishers.

Nina has also gathered a team of four other women to examine gender imbalance in payment from editors and publishers.

The situation in Estonia, says Katlin Kaldmaa, is much worse. No one dares to speak out about gender imbalance. Women poets give men as role models.

Nael Georges (International PEN office) adds that in Arab countries there is general discrimination against women. For example, men can marry anyone, but women aren't allowed to marry non-Muslims.

Judith Rodriguez (Melbourne) reports that the Perth PEN Center, disbanded twenty or more years ago, is to be started again. The poet Robert Wood is hoping to get it up and running and ready to be presented at the next International Congress. In the Pacific region, Fijian writers seem more interested in the Pacific Writers' Forum than in PEN. As a candidate for International Vice-President, Judith would like to make contact with Indonesia and discuss starting a PEN center there; she feels that the Indonesian government shouldn't object to this proposal. She hopes to add an Australian presence to the make-up of International PEN, and encourage writers and publications in places like New Caledonia.

Anneli Andre-Barrett (Canadian PEN) says that in Toronto now there is a recent disturbing fad for young men to grab the microphone out of the hands of female reporters who are speaking live at sports events; the men use insulting and sexist language. (We all think there should be a word for this behavior.)

Sarah Lawson (English PEN) gives a brief report of the meeting last May in Bled, Slovenia. This is a meeting of the Women Writer's Committee between the meetings at the International PEN Congresses. Major points were our support of the new wording in the PEN Charter and the resolution on hate speech. We discussed the role of the WWCs in PEN and agreed that it was an important forum for women writers to discuss their concerns and it would be necessary as long as women anywhere are discriminated against and silenced.

Tienchi Martin (Independent Chinese PEN) tells us about the worrying situation in China. Liu Xiaobo, she says, was allowed to die. He was sentenced to eleven years in 2009 but had been in prison since 2008. He was terminally ill with liver cancer and died in July 2013, and that was the signal to the world that the Chinese regime could do anything in spite of appeals from foreign governments. Writers feel their protests have no effect. There are still eight PEN members in prison. "We will not give up," says Tienchi. However, the situation inside prisons is better because of outside protests. Liu Xiaobo's wife, who is a poet, is suffering severe depression and has no outside contact; she would like to go to Germany. There may possibly be some development after the Communist Party Congress in October. The best time to send letters of protest is between November and February.

Iman Humaydantells us that the Jordanian writer Zulaikha abou Risha, aged 75, was attacked on her way to the airport. She was in a group of intellectuals at the time. She has been harassed because of an article in a newspaper to uncover "the scientific basis of the Koran". There is a blog against her. In Jordan the Islamists are gaining power and intimidating people.

Alicia Quiñones (Mexico and International office) describes the situation of journalists in Mexico. In Mexico most human rights fighters are women, and a large minority of murdered journalists are women. There must be a review of security protocols for women journalists, as they face different dangers from those of male journalists. There are more magazines and papers, and so more dangers; women are discriminated against if they are pregnant or have children. (In Russia 80% of journalists are women.)

Margie Orford (South Africa PEN) is a candidate for a second term on the International Board. She set out her intentions for a further term: misogyny is now clear; it is easy to show what women face. Margie would like to continue to work to the centenary of PEN (2021) and focus on the social media and anti-woman trolling. The crucial question is how to protect people without jeopardizing free speech.

Zeynap Oral (Turkish PEN): in Turkey women journalists are imprisoned as an example to others. There is no law, no justice, no logic. Some journalists write the same thing but only a few are arrested. For women there are extra threats, and they are always sexual.

Incest is common but taboo. Now it is discussed because there is a case of high society scandal. Villages are full of it. A woman journalist wrote about it: according to scientific research two years ago 40% of the population is involved in incest.

Now there are 175 journalists in prison, including a sizeable number of women. There are more men than women journalists, but that has created a new category of suffering for women, because the wives of those male prisoners must deal with authorities and the problems of visiting hours. Women lawyers are sometimes detained for defending their clients.

Turkey was formerly the only secular Muslim state, but it is now becoming Islamist. The Western world never understood how important secularity is. Edogan has always been open about the inferiority of women. The West preferred a "moderate Muslim" and encouraged him.

Turkey has changed laws. There is a new education system. Girls stop their schooling after four years. In the rest of the curriculum there is no Darwinian theory of evolution; history is changed and the notion of jihad is introduced. "Jihad" is all the same-there are no harmless versions. There is no comparative religion, but only Sunni Islam. European values and intellectual achievements are denigrated and ignored.

The PIWWC needs a new member of its board to replace Judith Buckrich (Melbourne), who is stepping down. Tanja Tuma (Slovene PEN) is elected by acclaim to take her place.

Teresa Cadete (Portuguese PEN) is standing for a second term on the International Board. She tells us about her concerns: she would seek compromise and balance between various extremes. International PEN should be more flexible; the annual Congresses could be made smaller and cheaper. The committees should have more connection and collaboration with each other. A particular concern was the hosting of refugees. Portugal is a model for hosting refugees because of its experience with the influx of refugees from its former African colonies.

Aden Hassan Aden (Somali-Speaking PEN) tells us about the situation in Somalia, where there are two PEN centers, one speaking Italian and the other English, one in the north and one in the south, but Somali and Arabic are also spoken. There has been a PEN presence in Somalia for forty-three years. Boys have always been prepared for a life outside the home, the life of a man, but now girls and boys get the same education, and with education women can work outside the home. Men tend to confuse tradition and religion.

Berivan Dosky (Kurdish PEN) says that Kurdish PEN has a successful project to help Yazidi women who have been held captive: fifteen young writers in a workshop to "own their stories". The city of Dohuk welcomed displaced persons in spite of limited resources. Kurdish PEN has held two conferences, and half the attenders were women. The situation for men and women is getting better all the time.

This is a summary of the main points of the discussions and reports in the morning and afternoon sessions of the Women Writers Committee in Lviv on 18 September 2017.

Sarah Lawson
(Acting Secretary)