News Briefs for the Week of July 19, 2017

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Check out the latest news from around the world!

New Boy Muppet in Afghanistan Promotes Gender Equality

(AP) Last year, Afghanistan's version of "Sesame Street" introduced a little girl character aimed at inspiring girls in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. Now a new Muppet is joining the cast: her brother, who will show boys the importance of respecting women.

Zeerak, whose name means "Smart" in Afghanistan's two official languages, is a 4-year-old boy who enjoys studying and learning. He joins 6-year-old sister Zari, whose name means "Shimmering," on Afghanistan's version of the show, "Baghch-e-SimSim," or "Sesame Garden."

Both Muppets wear traditional Afghan clothing - the baggy trousers and long embroidered shirt known as a shalwar kameez for him and colorful native dresses and a cream-colored hijab, or headscarf, for her. They join the rest of "Sesame Street's" multi-cultural line-up, which includes Muppets specially created for local versions of the program in Bangladesh, Egypt and India.

Massood Sanjer, the head of TOLO TV, which broadcasts the program in Afghanistan, said that after the overwhelmingly positive response to Zari from both parents and children, the goal was to create a boy character to emphasize the importance of gender equality and education in a country where the vast majority of girls don't go to school and the literacy rate for women is among the lowest in the world.

"In a male-dominant country like Afghanistan, I think you have to do some lessons for the males to respect the females. So by bringing a male character to the show who respects a female character, you teach the Afghan men that you have to respect your sister the same way as you do your brother," Sanjer said.

 

Gay Irish Novelist Wins Ohio Literary Peace Award

(AP) Irish novelist, journalist and essayist Colm Toibin is this year's winner of a lifetime achievement award that celebrates the power of literature to foster peace, social justice and global understanding, organizers announced Thursday.

Dayton Literary Peace Prize officials named Toibin, whose wide range of work has drawn from his native Ireland, his life as a gay man and his travels as an international journalist, for the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. It's named for the late U.S. diplomat who brokered the 1995 Bosnia peace accords reached in Ohio.

Among his novels are "The Master," depicting the life of the famed writer Henry James; "Brooklyn," a coming-of-age story about an Irish immigrant later made into an Oscar-nominated film, and the recent "House of Names," his reimagining of a Greek tragedy.

Dayton Literary Peace Prize Foundation co-chair Sharon Rab said Toibin's writings "remind us of shared humanity and the possibility of reconciliation or simply of understanding, which are the first steps to making peace."

"Our (writers') aim is to reach the reader's imagination, have an effect on the nervous systems of other people," Toibin, 62, said in a statement in response to winning the award.

"Good sentences offer us a way to imagine life in all its strangeness and ambiguity and possibility, alert us to the power of the imagination to transform and transcend our nature, offer us a blueprint not only for who we are but for who we might be, who we might become," he said.

Previous winners include Studs Terkel, Taylor Branch, Gloria Steinem, and Elie Wiesel.

The award carries a $10,000 cash prize. Finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction and nonfiction will be announced Sept. 13.

 

Gay Man Wins UK Court Battle for Equal Pension Rights

(AP) A gay British retiree has won a legal battle to secure the same occupational pension rights for his husband that a wife would enjoy.

Five judges at the Supreme Court, Britain's highest court, ruled that if John Walker died, his husband would be entitled to a spouse's pension, provided they stay married.

The 66-year-old launched a discrimination lawsuit when the company he worked for said it would not pay out spouse benefits because his pension plan predated 2005, when gay civil partnerships became legally recognized.

The Court of Appeal ruled against Walker in 2015, but the Supreme Court overturned that decision Wednesday. The decision means that Walker's partner will be entitled to spousal benefits of around 45,000 pounds ($57,800) a year - instead of about 1,000 pounds a year.


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