Women in STEM: Dr Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space

Close up of Valentine Tereshkova's face in a space helmet

This past week we’ve celebrated the 50 year anniversary of Dr Valentina Tereshkova’s historic flight as the first woman in space. This is a good time to remember how far the sciences in general have come in terms of gender equality, and how far we still have to go. A few news sites have been celebrating the fact that women now make up around half of all American astronauts. A great article by +National Geographic (NG) gives some insight into the gender disparity that persisted in space missions well into the 1980s. Up until that time, the media largely focused on women astronauts’ looks, making disparaging jokes about their femininity getting in the way of their missions. Thus they ignored the mental and physical stamina required to go into this field, not to mention the high level of education demanded of astronauts! The general public continues to be fascinated with the novelty of space travel, not always recognising that these space voyagers are qualified scientists. Tereshkova has a PhD in engineering.

Continue reading Women in STEM: Dr Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space

Putin Set to Win Russian Presidency by 66% Majority

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Despite the thousands of people who have protested against Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s run in Sunday’s upcoming Russian election, Sky News reports that Putin is set to win the Presidency. In an election where 110 million people are eligible to vote, Putin is likely to win 66% of the majority. Political analysts believe that Putin’s win is assured due to his popularity amongst working-class Russians who see Putin as representing national stability. If successful, this will make Putin an unprecedented leader. Having already ruled Russia for eight years as President, and serving as Prime Minister since 2008, this election will assure him another six years at the helm of one of the world’s most powerful nations. Thousands of protesters are likely to take to the streets should Putin take leadership. Sky News Moscow correspondent Amanda Walker writes:

How protesters react to a Putin victory will be a test of their strength.

How he responds in turn will be a test of how he intends to run his country when votes no longer matter.

Image and information: Sky News.

To read more about the protests, see my post from December 2011.

Syria in Political Crisis

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Syria in political crisis:

The image above is taken from a video posted by homsYT on YouTube, which reportedly shows neighbourhoods devastated in the Syrian city of Homs after the Syrian Government set buildings ablaze. (Link provided by Al Jazeera Syria Liveblog.)

Syria, 4 February 02:01 GMT: The BBC reports that 200 people were killed on Friday when the Syrian government forces “shelled” civilian building blocks in Homs and then set buildings on fire. The information comes from the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The BBC notes this information is yet to be independently verified but this is being reported throughout the international media. Al Jazeera further reports that Syrian forces have conducted similar attacks in other key cities and towns, such as the historically significant town of Hama.

The state attacks in Homs come after thousands of Syrians marched in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the 1982 Hama massacre led by former President Hafez al-Assad, who is the current President, Bashar al-Assad’s, father. Up to 40,000 Syrians are believed to have marched in these demonstrations across the country, in remembrance of the thousands of people who were killed (at least 10,000 and up to 40,000 people are estimated to have been killed in 1982). The photo below by The Telegraph shows that the protesters also displayed solidarity in calling for the removal of the Syrian President.

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(Telegraph: Demonstrators protest against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Qudsaya, near Damascus Photo: REUTERS)

The BBC reports that the United Nations Security Council are preparing to vote on a resolution to back the Arab League’s plan to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power. Up to now Russia has been the biggest obstacle for international intervention. Russia opposes the wording of the UN’s resolution because it reads that the signatories “fully support” the Arab League proposal. Reuters reports that because Russia did not file an alternative wording to the UN resolution, Russia can either file an abstention, which would still mean the resolution will pass (albeit registering Russia’s opposition), or Russia may otherwise be forced to back international action in Syria.

Russia and its allies (China, India and Pakistan) have thus far refused to back the United Nations Security Council on sanctioning Syria. Russia says its objection is because other international interventions in the Middle East have not been successful, citing the poor results in Libya, where conflict and human rights abuses persist under the transitional government despite the NATO action taken to remove Moamar Gaddafi from power. Political commentators note that Russia’s objections are more likely to be influenced by the fact that Russia and Syria have a long-standing arms trading relationship via the capital city of Damascus, an allegiance which may be threatened if the regime changes. Russia is also concerned about providing further international power to the Arab League. Reuters notes that the current draft resolution is ‘vague’ about what sanctions the international community will take if the Syrian President does not back down from office.

As I noted a couple of days a go, the United Nations reports that at least 5,400 people have been killed by Syrian forces over recent months. The currently reported death toll overnight brings the number of deaths closer to 6,000 people.

It is difficult to fully gauge the severity of the conflict in Syria as few international journalists are allowed into the country. In the video I’ve posted above Al Jazeera reports on the work of British-Syrian “citizen journalists” who have set up a make-shift media centre in Homs in order to document the government violence against ordinary civilians. Such activists play an important role in relaying the human rights abuses in Syria to the rest of the world. The number of protests across Syria is rising, and they include all levels of Syrian society, young and old, as the photo below shows. As these protests rise, so too does the level of state sanctioned violence against civilians, as reflected in the events unfolding in Homs.

Image below via Al Jazeera: Girls demonstrated against the government in Idlib on Wednesday [AFP/LCC]

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Stay up to date with the events as they unfold via Al Jazeera’s Live Blog. For more background on Russia’s relationship with Syria, see The Political Notebook on Tumblr.

Election Protests Grow in Russia

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…St. Petersburg, on December 10, 2011. The sticker reads “No voice (vote)”. (Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk. Via The Atlantic)

Russians from different social and political backgrounds have been protesting for several days over fraudulent parliamentary election results that have seen Vladimir Putin marginally reinstated as President. The largest demonstration so far was publicised on Facebook and it was held in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square. Continue reading Election Protests Grow in Russia