#27 2018

PEN International Women’s Manifesto

“For women to have free speech, the right to read, the right to write, they need to have the right to roam physically, socially and intellectually.”

On International Women’s Day, 8th March 2018, PEN International launched a historical women’s manifesto as a part of PEN’s effort to combat the silencing of female authors. The manifesto was unanimously agreed at PEN’s international congress in 2017. The manifesto is published below.

A work from sorrow: The PEN International Women’s Manifesto

The Mexican-American author Jennifer Clement was elected to PEN International’s first ever female President in 94 years in 2015. Clement talks about how PEN’s historical women’s manifesto was developed and how it was

Go back to your house

The author, publisher and critic Fereshteh Ahmadi’s states in her essay that “vagueness” is a keyword for the understanding of contemporary stories by Iranian female authors. What is the situation for literature in today’s Iran?

Silent siege

Suzanne Ibrahim is a well-known Syrian poet, author and journalist. The everyday life and rights of women have dominated her writing and journalistic work. She left Syria in 2018 after having been threatened and attacked by both

Letter to my niece

There are rights in Hong Kong that don’t exist in China, but these have been more and more eroded in later years. Tammy Ho Lai-ming, poet, editor and vice chairperson of PEN Hong Kong gives in a letter some advice to her niece in

Role of women in Iranian science fiction and fantasy

Over the last two decades, the publication and sale of science fiction and fantasy literature has increased significantly in Iran. For a long time, these books have more or less only involved a male reading circle in the

Gazing at an empty mirror

Sahar Mousa is a Palestinian poet and writer. She published on Facebook during the wars in Gaza in 2008 and 2012, a series of articles that received attention. The articles led to death threats from local ISIS groups and

Less free as a transgender in Sweden than in Iran

The author and film director Ramesh Safavi was born as a boy in Iran. She lives in Stockholm after having undergone sex reassignment therapy. The author and critic Lina Kalmteg has interviewed her about writing and being

When I entered a poetry competition

“In 1988, a curse fell on my family when I was born: I was a female in a traditional family that was very religious and had Bedouin origins.” This is how the architect and poet Doaa Abou Shaghibeh describes herself. She was born

When we become silent

In later years, violations of citizens’ and political rights have escalated dramatically in Bangladesh. Media is increasingly under pressure and the authorities fail in the protection of minorities, bloggers, intellectuals and LGBT

One year with the PEN International Women’s Manifesto

The PEN International Women’s Manifesto is now a year old. It has during this year been circulated round the world. The important message has been welcomed by literature and publishing circles and has so far been translated into 28 world languages.  Author Tanja Tuma from

Gender-based censorship’s various disguises

“But, you may say, we asked you to write about women and fiction—what has that got to do with a room of one’s own?” So begins Virginia Woolf’s timeless and classical essay A Room of One’s Own (1929). Woolf’s question has persisted at the back of my mind while compiling this issue on women writers conditions and experiences all around the world. In her essay Woolf uses the room as a metaphor, but also as a practical pre-condition for womens writing and shows why, throughout history, it has been so hard for women to find the right conditions in which to write and to subsequently reach success as writers. To be able to write freely there is a need of a physical room but also of a mental room. Woolf throws light on the fact that even in those cases where the physical conditions are conducive to writing, there may be inherent societal structures that make it almost impossible for a woman writer to be treated according to the same measures as a male writer. 

Much has happened concerning the rights of women since the publication of A Room of One’s Own, but the question in Woolf’s essay is still alarmingly current. Even today there are novels, poetry, essays, articles and reportage that do not see the light of day since women are not allowed to write—or do not dare to write. Even if a woman’s status in society in many places has risen radically since the writing of A Room of One’s Own, many women in many parts of the world are still being silenced and censured mainly due to their sex—so-called gender-based censorship. In some places women may also be imprisoned or killed for their writings. In totalitarian states where women are seen as second-grade citizens and lack the same rights as men, a woman who writes and reads becomes a major threat—because words are an active deed and action makes a difference. On the Internet there is a meme in circulation that “women who read are dangerous”. We can laugh at it in Sweden, but in certain countries it is a reality—a woman who both reads and writes is a major threat to the status quo in society.