Archive for April 21st, 2008
A Summer Institute/Training for Educators, Students, Human Service Professionals, Activists and Parents
July 8-11 2008 at Wheelock College, Boston.
For the 14th consecutive year, Wheelock College is offering a very popular summer institute on the role that the media (television, magazines, advertising, pornography, video games and music videos) plays in shaping our gender identity, our intimate relationships, our children’s lives, and ultimately our culture. The institute is taught by Dr Gail Dines, author of Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality, and Dr. Diane Levin, author of the forthcoming So Sexy So Soon.
Participants will learn:
o How media violence affects behavior and contributes to violence in society
o How media images perpetuate and legitimize sexism, racism, consumerism and economic inequality
o How political and economic forces shape the media
o How media affects children’s ideas about sexual behavior and relationships with others
o How to critically deconstruct media images and develop media literacy skills
o How to become active in advocacy, community building and grass roots organizing
As a way to accommodate the needs of the participants, this year two days of the institute will be split into the following tracks:
1. Fighting the porn culture: how to think about and organize against the increasing pornification of our society. Led by Dr. Gail Dines, with guest lectures by feminist educators and activists
2. Combating the hazards of media culture: how to work with children and teachers in a classroom setting.
o Price for non-credit institute: $475 (special rate for organizations sending more than one person)
o Price for three graduate credits: $2,025
o Price for single dorm room at Wheelock: $35 per night/double is $45 per room
o The institute runs from 9am-5pm, Tuesday through Friday, with optional evening events
For fee-paying applicants only, please go to: http://www.wheelock.edu/professional/prof_institutes_desc.asp
If you need to apply for a scholarship(*) to cover cost of the institute/training, don’t click on the link above. Instead, please write a one-paragraph application that includes the following:
o History of your involvement with these issues, if any
o Reasons you want to attend the institute/training
o What you hope to do in the future with the information
Please email your application to email@example.com by May 15.
We will contact you with an answer by May 20th.
For everyone who needs a dorm room at the college, please tell us so we can reserve one for you.
(* Please note we have contacted SPC and they have confirmed that scholarship applications are open to those outside of the US, if you are interested in applying.)
The Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (IPJ) in San Diego, California, is currently accepting applications for its Women PeaceMakers Program (WPM).
Application Deadline: May 23, 2008
The WPM program is designed for leaders from conflict-affected countries around the world who are transforming conflict and assuring gender-inclusion in post conflict recovery through in human rights advocacy and peace building efforts they lead. These are women whose stories and best practices will be shared internationally; they are women who will have a respite from the frontlines work they do.
Four Women PeaceMakers are selected each year to spend two months in residence at the Institute. They will receive a small stipend while having their unique peacemaking stories documented, through both film and narratives that will be available to inspire others around the world. Women PeaceMakers in residence will have the opportunity to engage with the community through a series of public panels and to meet with other activists and leaders involved in human rights, political action and peacemaking efforts.
The institute is also accepting applications for Peace Writers. Peace Writers document the stories of Women PeaceMakers for publication. Writers will interview the Women and engage in extensive research to become familiar with the histories of their conflicts and peacemaking efforts.
For more information about the program and an application please visit the IPJ web site at http://peace.sandiego.edu or contact Erika Lopez, Women PeaceMakers Program Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org
New Report Points to Gaping Holes in Recovery and Calls for Action
“They tried deliberately to separate our children from us. I was one that fought for my child. . . . I told [the National Guard] he may as well take that rifle and start putting bullet holes in my head cause I’m getting off this truck and getting my baby.”
These words come from one of dozens of women interviewed for a new report exposing the nightmarish experiences of women during and after New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina. It makes a shocking tale of more than two years of hard times at the hands of nature and the bureaucracy.
Women in the Wake of the Storm: Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast was released at the 2008 Economic Justice Summit in Atlanta GA today. It was issued by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and funded by Soroptimist International of the Americas, Inc., a women’s organization devoted to improving economic and social conditions for women and girls.
“The women of New Orleans have been abandoned, not only in the immediate aftermath of the storm, but still today, over two years later, by the dearth of adequate policy response to their lingering severe needs,” according to the report author, Dr. Avis A. Jones-DeWeever, Director of the Research, Public Policy and Information Center, National Council of Negro Women.
“The women of New Orleans deserve a chance to rebuild their homes and their lives, to live in a place free of the constant threat of physical or sexual abuse, and have fair and equal access to jobs that offer decent wages,” Jones-DeWeever said.
Right now, that is not a likelihood, according to the report, which sees continuing patterns of unfairness and discriminatory policy, disadvantaging women, children, the elderly and the poor.
Her report is based on interviews with 38 women who lived through Katrina, ranging in age from 19 to 66, from diverse ethnicities, including Black, White, Latina and Creole. All have contributed to their community as volunteers, activists, organizers or public service professionals.
The report documents the way that “recovery” efforts are being used to actually worsen life for many vulnerable victims. The affordable housing issue is one such instance. Katrina severely damaged or completely destroyed 142,000 housing units, of which about 80 per cent were affordable-to-low income housing. But the city and federal governments are now destroying 4,500 public housing units that survived the storm, and replacing them with only 744 units of low-income housing and more housing for those who can afford more expensive units.
Meanwhile, fair market rents have risen 46 per cent since recovery began, reflecting limited availability of rental housing.
The report also documents how the housing shortage has dramatically increased sexual assaults on women and children, as extended families are forced to share smaller quarters and battered wives are forced by the housing shortage to return to their abusers for shelter.
Only one domestic violence shelter survived the storm and it is filled to capacity.
The report also notes that though individual houses may be rebuilt, it’s not the same thing as rebuilding whole neighborhoods, which would restore the community. So, many survivors, especially among the elderly, may never regain their sense of “being back home.”
Jones-DeWeever also documents failures in the restoration of health services, especially for the poor and those whose health or mental health were compromised by the trauma of the storm.
The women’s words draw a powerful picture:
“The same people who were left behind during the storm have been left behind in rebuilding it. The elderly, the young, single mothers.”
“Since Katrina sexual assault has gone sky high. Because you have more women staying with relatives, more sexual assaults happen.”
“Kids are living with seventeen different cousins and sharing bedrooms, and uncle so-and-so is in the trailer. It’s very upsetting to me that sexual abuse is becoming part of the Katrina experience for children. The more that the government fails to provide housing, the longer this goes on.”
“This disaster caused a lot of women who had been separated from their batterers to go back to them because they lost their homes.”
“I was a teacher for 25 and a half years and was arbitrarily fired because they fired all Orleans Parish School Board employees right after Katrina. So now I’m an unemployed school teacher with no health benefits, living in a house where I’m paying more rent than I was paying for my house note.”
“I went in for the blood work, did all the prep work, and the woman came in, ‘I know that you’re scheduled for surgery in two days, but you have no insurance.’ The insurance company said that they weren’t paid during Katrina.”
“It’s not that we just don’t have health services, we don’t have public schools, we don’t have daycare.”
“The biggest thing, don’t forget about us.”
The report’s author reports that many New Orleans women felt that their voices went unheard “both in the initial chaos” and throughout the recovery period.
Jones-DeWeever proposes a “gender-informed disaster relief strategy” that includes making affordable housing a top priority; the use of both non-traditional job training and enforcement of laws against job discrimination to help incorporate women in the rebuilding economy; increased availability of quality child care and schools; and targeting medical and mental health services to the needy.
The report also calls for a broad representation of women on decision-making bodies that address disaster recovery, and any future bodies formed for pre-disaster planning.
Women in the Wake of the Storm: Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is available online at http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/D481.pdf
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women, promote public dialogue, and strengthen families, communities, and societies. IWPR focuses on issues of poverty and welfare, employment and earnings, work and family, health and safety, and women’s civic and political participation.
Soroptimist, headquartered in Philadelphia, works to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities and throughout the world. The organization funded the IWPR study to shed light on the disproportionate effects of natural disasters on women and girls. For more information, visit http://www.soroptimist.org.
Institute For Women’s Policy Research, 1707 L Street, N.W., Suite 750, Washington, DC 20036 (202) 785-5100 – Press Release http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/D481release.pdf
Examining the Post-Katrina Realities of the Women of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast – the full report can be downloaded from http://www.iwpr.org/pdf/D481.pdf
UN-INSTRAW is establishing a Community of Practice on Gender Training with the objective of:
* bringing together practitioners/experts in the field of gender training for dialogue and exchange of experiences;
* carry out a series of virtual dialogues on gender training, in particular identifying challenges and ways to move forward;
* building on UN-INSTRAW’s Gender Training Wiki http://www.uninstraw.org/wiki/training/index.php/Main_Page and other existing resources, set up a virtual clearinghouse and support platform of information on gender training, including an “ask the expert” feature;
* establish a compendium of good practices in gender training.
UN-INSTRAW seeks qualified candidates to establish the Community of Practice on Gender Training. The deadline for the submission of applications is 30 April 2008.
From UN-INSTRAW News – E-letter March 2008
Maryland’s highest court said yesterday that a woman who agrees to have sex can change her mind after intercourse has begun, and that a man who refuses to stop can be charged with rape.
The holding by the Court of Appeals overturned a ruling by the state’s lower appeals court, which in 2006 cited court precedent in finding that consent, once given, cannot be withdrawn.
The 2006 decision, which drew wide attention, “was certainly startling,” said Tracy Brown, the executive director of the Women’s Law Center in Towson.
Brown welcomed yesterday’s reversal, which, she said, “reflects current standards regarding the rights of women for sexual self-determination and the right for women to withdraw consent.”
Despite its holding on the issue of consent, a majority of the court overturned first-degree rape and other convictions that Montgomery County prosecutors secured in 2004 against Maouloud Baby.
The case centered on a 2003 encounter in which Baby, then 16, was accused of fondling an 18-year-old and holding her arms while a friend of his sexually assaulted her in a parked car. Later, the woman testified, Baby told her, “It’s my turn now.”
“He was, like, ‘So are you going to let me hit it?’ ” the woman said. “And I didn’t really say anything, and he was, like, ‘I don’t want to rape you.’ ”
She said she told Baby they could have sex as long as he agreed to stop if she told him to. Soon, she said, she told him to stop. He continued for “five or so seconds” after she made the request, she testified.
The defense argued that Baby was not present when his friend had sex with the woman, and that she and Baby had consensual sex.
During deliberations, the jury twice asked Circuit Court Judge Louise G. Scrivener whether a rape has occurred if a woman who agrees to have sex changes her mind after intercourse has begun. Scrivener replied that that was “a question that you, as a jury, must decide.”
The Court of Appeals, like the lower appeals court, held that the judge erred in not answering the jury’s question — but the appeals courts took opposite positions on what the judge’s response should have been. The Court of Appeals held yesterday that the judge should have answered that rape can occur after someone initially consents to sex.
James F. Shalleck, Baby’s attorney, said that if prosecutors retry the case, he will again argue that the sex was consensual. “When told to stop, my client, as fast as humanly possible, stopped,” Shalleck said.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Alex Foster, who prosecuted the Baby case, said the holding brings Maryland in line with the “overwhelming majority” of states that have considered the issue of whether consent can be withdrawn.
“We lost the battle,” he said, referring to the overturning of the convictions, “but I think we won a war.”
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said that, although no decision has been made, “we are in a great position to retry this case.”
A longer version of this story “Definition of rape widened – Consent can be revoked in mid-act judges rule” can be read at http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/crime/bal-te.md.rape17apr17,0,5827288,full.story
Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs
Rapporteur: Mrs Christine McCAFFERTY, United Kingdom, Socialist Group
I. Committee Conclusions
1. The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee thanks the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and its rapporteur, for its excellent report, which highlights the significant challenges that Europe faces, in providing access to safe and legal abortions, for women.
2. The committee recognises that a number of countries within Europe, are making ongoing improvements, to some aspects of reproductive health services and urges all member states to work to improve access to all family planning methods, thereby improving maternal health, reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions, in Europe.
3. The committee fully endorses the recommendations made and underlines the public health impact of criminalisation of abortion; unsafe abortion; unmet need of contraception and the lack of proper information and education on sexual and reproductive health.
II. Explanatory memorandum by Mrs McCafferty, rapporteur
4. Europe has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. Abortion rates are lowest, in Western Europe and fairly low in Northern and Southern Europe. In these geographical areas, most abortions are legal and the incidence of abortions has been low for decades2. The committee stresses, that the best way to reduce the need for an abortion, is to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies, in the first place.
5. In Europe the estimated number of unsafe abortions varies from 500,000 to 800,000 annually3. The reasons behind these high numbers are a lack of access to information, education and services and restrictive abortion laws.
6. Eastern European countries have a high incidence of both safe and unsafe abortions. The fairly restrictive abortion legislation and a lack of access to safe abortion services have led to high maternal mortality.
7. In the Republic of Moldova in 2003, 50% per cent of maternal deaths were caused by unsafe abortions and between 1990-2002, 30% of all maternal deaths were related to abortions. In Ukraine in 1998, 35% of maternal deaths were due to unsafe abortions, in 2002 this reduced to 23% and in 2003 there were no registered maternal deaths due to unsafe abortions.
8. In the former Soviet Union countries, the efforts of international donors and governmental agencies, has resulted in improved access to family planning information and commodities4.
9. These findings confirm the need for continued improvements and expansion of family planning information and services. They also confirm that there is no correlation between the fertility rate and an access to abortion, as fertility rates have remained constant while the abortion rate has decreased.
10. The committee has concerns that restrictive abortion legislation, causes many women to travel abroad to access safe abortion services – the phenomena called “abortion tourism”. In Ireland abortion is illegal. According to the statistics of the Irish Family Planning Association, in 2006, 5042 Irish women travelled to the United Kingdom for an abortion5.
11. In Poland where abortion is illegal, abortion tourism is also a problem. However many private clinics, in Poland, offer women safe abortions which ensures low maternal mortality. This appears to be unofficially condoned by both Church and State.
12. Restrictive abortion legislation does not reduce the incidence of abortions; instead it leads to either ‘abortion tourism’, illegal abortions in private clinics, or unsafe abortions and subsequent high maternal mortality.
13. Restricting access to abortion services does not result in fewer abortions, but only in fewer options for women. These in turn delay unnecessarily the timing of an abortion.
14. In addition, the committee notes, that when abortion is illegal and women resort to unsafe abortions, there is often a need for obstetric emergency care. Obstetric emergency care places an enormous human and financial strain on existing health systems.
15. Decriminalising abortion will ultimately preserve life, reduce cost to existing health systems and adapt better to the real needs of women.
16. The committee further notes that according to national statistics, unsafe and safe abortions largely correlate with illegal and legal abortions6. Findings indicate that liberal abortion laws are not associated with a higher incidence of abortions and equally, highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with a lower incidence of abortions7.
17. Similarly, there is a strong correlation between access and uptake of affordable, appropriate and acceptable family planning and a reduced incidence of abortions. Abortion incidence declines as family planning use increases. An analysis of trends in Eastern Europe confirms this pattern.
18. A crucial ingredient is age-appropriate, gender-sensitive sexuality education in schools and access to counselling and services that are non-judgmental and affordable – this ensures avoidance of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortion.
19. The Netherlands is a prime example. The Netherlands has very liberal abortion laws, good age-specific sexuality education in schools, outstanding family planning information and services and consequently, the lowest incidence of abortions in Europe.
20. The committee congratulates the rapporteur on the recommendations to decriminalise abortion; to guarantee women’s choice and reproductive right to an abortion; and adopting appropriate sexual and reproductive health strategies and policies, including access to affordable, appropriate and acceptable family planning information, education and services, with specific reference to the introduction of compulsory age-appropriate sexuality education for young people.
21. The committee recommends that the principles, set out at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action in Cairo, where 179 countries agreed8
“… to strengthen their commitment to women’s health, to deal with the health impact of unsafe abortion9 as a major public health concern and to reduce the recourse to abortion through expanded and improved family-planning services. Prevention of unwanted pregnancies must always be given the highest priority and every attempt should be made to eliminate the need for abortion. Women who have unwanted pregnancies should have ready access to reliable information and compassionate counselling […] In all cases, women should have access to quality services for the management of complications arising from abortion. Post-abortion counselling, education and family-planning services should be offered promptly, which will also help to avoid repeat abortions,” be adhered to.
III. Proposed amendments to the draft resolution (words to be added to the draft resolution are in bold and deletions are in […]).
2. In most of the Council of Europe members states the law permits abortion in order to save the woman’s life. Abortion is permitted in the majority of other European countries for a number of reasons including to preserve physical and mental health, rape and incest, foetal impairment, economic and social reasons and in some countries on request. [Although abortion is legal in the vast majority of the Council of Europe members states]. The Assembly is however concerned that in many of these states, numerous conditions are imposed and restrict the effective access to safe, affordable, acceptable and appropriate abortion services. These restrictions have discriminatory effects, since women who are well-informed and possess adequate financial means can often obtain legal and safe abortions more easily.
3. The Assembly also notes that, in member states where abortion is permitted for a number of reasons [legal], conditions are not always such as to guarantee women effective access to this right: the lack of local health care facilities, the lack of doctors willing to carry out abortions, the repeated medical consultations required, the time allowed for changing one’s mind and the waiting time for the abortion all have the potential to make access to safe, affordable, acceptable and appropriate abortion services more difficult, or even impossible in practice.
4. The Assembly takes the view that abortion should not be banned. A ban on abortions does not result in fewer abortions, but mainly leads to clandestine abortions, which are more traumatic and increase maternal mortality [more dangerous] and/or lead to abortion “tourism” which is costly and delays the timing of an abortion and results in social inequities. The lawfulness of abortion does not have an effect on a woman’s need for an abortion, but only on her access to a safe abortion.
5. At the same time, evidence shows [the Assembly is convinced] that appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights strategies and policies, including compulsory age-appropriate, gender-sensitive sex and relationships [and sex] education for young people, results in [contribute to] less recourse to abortion. Non-judgemental universal sex and relationships information and education and accessible family planning services, reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions. A
7.2 guarantee women’s effective exercise of their right to health, including their right to a safe abortion.
7.5. adopt evidence based appropriate sexual and reproductive health and rights strategies and policies [based on sound and reliable data], ensuring continued improvements and expansion of non-judgemental sex and relationships information and education and contraceptive services [provision] by increased investments from the national budgets into improving health systems, reproductive health supplies and information [provision].
7.7. introduce compulsory age-appropriate, gender-sensitive sex and relationships [and sex] education for young people (inter alia, in schools), [so as] to avoid [as many] unwanted pregnancies (and therefore abortions) [as possible].
For the related tables and footnotes go to http://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?Link=/documents/workingdocs/doc08/edoc11576.htm
See earlier story “European report calls for Irish abortion law change”
Abortion and Censorship: A Slippery Slope
Call it censored, call it buried, call it lost — the search term “abortion” was all of the above for approximately a month on POPLINE — a publicly-funded database that its administrators describe as “Your connection to the world’s reproductive health literature.”
Full article at http://www.alternet.org/reproductivejustice/82237/
The Norwegian government proposed on Friday to fine or jail clients of prostitutes for up to six months in a bid to stamp out human trafficking, and said the law would also apply to its citizens abroad.
Norway signalled in mid-2007 that it would make it a criminal offence to buy services from prostitutes, following the example of Scandinavian neighbour Sweden which introduced a similar ban in 1999.
The amendment will now be put to parliament for approval and if passed will take effect in January 2008, officials said.
“People are not merchandise, and criminalising the purchase of sexual services will make it less attractive for human traffickers to look to Norway,” Justice Minister Knut Storberget said in a statement.
Prostitution is allowed in Norway although procuring, or “pimping,” is illegal. A rise in street prostitution in the capital, Oslo, in recent years has triggered calls for a ban.
Proponents of the measure say it makes sense to try to stop prostitution by punishing those who use the service rather than the women themselves, who are often poor, young immigrants.
“The goal is that the ban should contribute to … reducing demand and thereby give a lesser market for human trafficking,” Storberget said.
Opponents of the ban say it will jeopardise women in the trade by driving prostitution underground where they will be even more vulnerable.
“Criminalisation shall not lead to a worse situation for the prostitutes,” Storberget said, adding that the government had taken other steps to get prostitutes out of the business.
The justice ministry said the punishment could be fines on rising scale according to the offender’s financial means or a jail term of up to six months, or both.
Jail sentences of a year could be imposed in aggravated cases involving adult prostitution and of up to three years where child prostitutes are involved, the ministry said. (Reporting by John Acher; Editing by Catherine Evans)
HIV prevention programs must be based on more expansive views of sexuality – particularly when it comes to sex work.
Many points have already been raised about the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) that focused on how the funding initiative misses out on key issues: the vulnerability of girls and how marriage is not a guarantee of protection from HIV infection. PEPFAR’s unabashed funding requirements attached to abstinence, faithfulness programs, as well as the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath,” makes it an obvious target of criticism, mainly because countless studies worldwide (and in the U.S.) have shown the ineffectiveness of such strategies.
Getting to the heart of the matter, a series of forums organized at the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto from April 1-2, 2008, offered an opportunity to tackle the core of the conundrum: sex and our ways of viewing sexuality. Oishik Sircar, Women’s Rights Fellow of the International Sexual and Reproductive Health Program of the Faculty of Law and lead organizer of the forum aptly entitled, “Confusing Conflations,” invited the participants to explore the issues of sex and trafficking and how, despite their constant overlap and connection, they are hardly identical issues.
The first day included a screening of “Tales of the Night Fairies,” by acclaimed Director, Shohini Ghosh. The film featured women from the DMSC (Durbar Mahila Samanyay Committee or the Durbar Women’s Collaborative Committee), that stemmed from The Shonagachi HIV/AIDS Intervention Project (SHIP). By featuring the lives of women in sex work, the feature grapples with the complex issues around consent, agency and exploitation in prostitution. On their own terms and in their own voice, the real women (and one male sex worker) featured in the film challenge the usual “images” of prostitutes (especially women) as one-dimensional characters, helpless victims in need of “rescue.”
Prof. Kamala Kempadoo, of York University Toronto, pointed out how there are now a myriad of recognized views about sex and sexuality that challenge the traditional binary of “good” and “bad” sex so that the “acceptability” of sexual relations is no longer solely framed as an issue of whether it happens within or outside marital relations.
In the case of prostitution, one position which has gained prominence is the struggle for the recognition of “sex workers’ rights.” Coining the position of collectives of sex workers as “rights” has led to profound interrogations of the subject of rights, women as well as specific classes of women, having for a long time been excluded from the realm of rights claiming.
Yet Prof. Kempadoo also acknowledged that the category of “rights” (especially legal rights) has its built-in limitations and doesn’t preclude questions about serious issues of alienation which has often been pointed out as more heightened in sex work, because of the place sexuality occupies in many societies. Because many societies attach a gamut of beliefs around identity, relationships and at the same time, stigma around the sexual, “sex workers rights” isn’t really a comprehensive articulation of the issue of prostitution in as much as it is a strategic claim.
Prof. Ashwini Tambe, of the Women and Gender Studies Institute and Department of History, University of Toronto meanwhile challenged the participants to question prevalent thinking about prostitution and trafficking in absolutist terms. The usual way of representing the positions vis-a-vis trafficking and prostitution has not only led to conflating one with the other but also tends to reinforce the discourse as solely about being anti/pro legalization, anti/pro prostitution/trafficking.
Within social movements, while many feminists still stand divided about the legal questions about prostitution and trafficking, there is still admittedly a huge difference between the position of “traditional” and religious-based positions on prostitution and feminist ones.
One more question which emerged from the discussion was whether a big part of the debates within social movements has to do with unquestioned notions about the law, particularly the use of criminal law to “solve” social problems. As useful as penal law strategies have proven in making that initial step towards the recognition of “Violence against Women” (VAW) as wrongdoing, what is the net effect of exclusively invoking the coercive (police) power of the state in the context of rights protection?
For the participants of the forum, many of whom were law students, the discussion that followed proved to be a valuable source of insights about the limitations of legal categories and strategies as well as the many paradoxes of legal theory and practice, in relation to the construction of harm in the context of and alongside sexual acts. Law students were ready to admit how their concern for trafficked women in prostitution usually arises out of an idea and image of “victimhood” that is somehow constructed and reinforced by law.
Indeed, while the notion of a “victim” in law structures liability, in practice it also plays out as the requisite of “legitimacy” when women seek and claim protection. In other words, law shapes what women should be (as victims) worthy of protection.
This whole idea of “worthiness” (in making claims and seeking protection and assistance) also plays out in familiar schisms between some “child rights” and “women’s rights,” positions. This is also seen in the context of anti-trafficking campaigns which privilege “child trafficking” and ends up serving as the dominant image to represent all experiences (including women’s experiences) in trafficking and prostitution.
PEPFAR, in accordance with its worldview of sex, divides up the rest of the world’s civil society groups doing anti-trafficking work into the pro/anti prostitution. Often compared to the “Global Gag Rule” or the Mexico Policy which precludes USAID funded organizations doing family planning work to from having anything to do with addressing abortion, PEPFAR’s far reaching consequences goes beyond the selective distribution of funding in HIV/AIDS programs.
In the short feature, Taking the Pledge by the Network for Sex Work Projects, groups working on massive education and empowerment campaigns within sex workers networks from Thailand, Cambodia, India, and Brazil spoke about the adverse impacts of the U.S. “Anti-Prostitution Pledge” embedded in PEPFAR. In each case, groups offering services which were most accessible to sex workers were eventually denied funding because their position on prostitution was not up to PEPFAR’s standards.
The “anti-prostitution” oath not only tends to push the agenda of prohibition vis-a-vis prostitution, but also favors strategies that are categorically “law focused” (the passage of anti-trafficking and sex trafficking law) and penal in character, criminal prosecution over health based interventions that reach out to educate sex workers. While addressing any harm logically entails penal law, the construction of “harm” in this case, goes well beyond listing what “trafficking” entails alongside stringent penalties. PEPFAR also foists upon its aid recipients, a categorization of the worthy and unworthy. As “U.S. foreign” policy, it adds another whole dimension to local politics in the South around trafficking and prostitution. The end result of course is the exclusion of sex workers from the South from the recipient list of program interventions. Within PEPFAR’s framework, sex workers from the South are clearly the undeserving and unworthy.
Funding should be based on what works, not on what fits a conservative world-view(*)
The US government’s increased funding for HIV and Aids is positive (US House votes to spend $50bn fighting Aids and helping orphans in developing countries, April 4). However, we would question your article’s assertion that “the campaign against Aids could stand out as one of the most successful foreign policy initiatives of his [Bush's] presidency”.
While “channelling funds to help those with Aids and children left orphaned by the disease” is laudable, the effectiveness of this money is undermined by clauses that are based on American conservative moral considerations rather than hard facts about how to prevent HIV infections.
Despite consistent evidence that abstinence and faithfulness programmes alone are not effective, the new bill still embraces what you report as the “hallowed principles of Bush and social conservatives that abstinence programmes be at the forefront of the fight against Aids”. Reports to Congress are required for countries spending less than 50% of HIV prevention funds on these programmes.
VSO staff around the world report that this simply does not work. Our partners have found it more effective to deliver comprehensive sexuality and life-skills education alongside the provision of condoms and family planning services. In Zambia we have had considerable success in communicating HIV prevention and behaviour-change messages to young people, encouraging them to access voluntary counselling, testing and comprehensive sexual and reproductive-health services. Such interventions are not favoured by US policy, despite research from the US itself which shows that young people who have received abstinence-only education are actually more likely to experience unwanted pregnancies and higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
Channelling funds towards “micro credit to women who are widowed by the disease” is a step in the right direction. However, women’s rights organisations are right to push for “more funds to be devoted to family planning programmes”. The President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar) requires family planning services to comply with the infamous Mexico City Policy, which stipulates that US family planning assistance cannot be provided to foreign NGOs that use funding from any other source to perform abortions or to lobby to make abortion more accessible. Furthermore, those that receive funds must sign a clause opposing sex work. Yet our work in China, Mozambique and Vietnam has shown that working with people who sell sex is essential to halting HIV transmission.
It is true that Pepfar “has paid for Aids testing, counselling and treatment with [anti-retroviral] drugs for more than 1.4 million people”. VSO does not accept Pepfar funding, however, because we believe the full range of HIV prevention options must be provided. But the desperate need for funds to save lives, and huge scale of the epidemic, mean that some cash-strapped NGOs are forced to compromise. George Bush might yet be able to legitimately claim that Pepfar is “the most successful foreign aid programme since the Marshall plan” – but only if he removes the illogical restrictions upon it.
(*) comment by Nina O’Farrell, an HIV and Aids policy adviser for VSO email@example.com
A decline in international funding for reproductive health and family planning services is threatening efforts to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which include improving maternal and infant health, according to a United Nations report released last week at a conference, Inter Press Service reports.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a significant decline in funding is “especially evident” for family planning services, “where absolute dollar amounts are lower than they were in 1995.” He added if this trend is not reversed, it will have “serious implications for the ability of countries to address the unmet need for such services and could undermine efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce maternal and infant mortality.” UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid — while addressing the weeklong meeting of the U.N. Commission on Population and Development that ended Friday — said funding for family planning as a percentage of all population assistance has decreased from 55% in 1995 to 7% in 2005. She added that there are about 200 million women in developing countries with unmet needs for effective contraception, the highest being in Africa.
The International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 estimated that about 8% of total population assistance would be used to fight STIs, including HIV/AIDS. However, actual spending in 2005 for STIs increased to 72%, while funding for family planning services declined to 7% and reproductive health services declined to 17%. Funding for research and analysis increased to 4% during the same time, Inter Press Service reports. The report predicted that funding for HIV/AIDS-related activities will continue to increase.
“The victims of this funding gap are poor women in poor countries who cannot exercise their reproductive rights and plan their families,” Obaid said. She added, “The result is increasing numbers of unwanted pregnancies, rising rates of unsafe abortion and increased risks to the lives of women and children.” Obaid said, “Sexual and reproductive health is essential to women’s empowerment and gender equality. And family planning is key to maternal and child health.”
The report noted that “[t]here are fears that the larger share of funding that goes to AIDS activities might distract the attention for the necessary funding for the other three elements of the population package.” It added that although the HIV/AIDS crisis is far worse than anticipated, infant, child and maternal mortality “remain unacceptably high” in many countries. In addition, health care costs have increased substantially since 1994, the report said. As a result, it is “essential that all governments, of both donor and developing countries, recommit themselves to implementing the objectives of the  conference and mobilizing the resources required to meet these objective[s], given current needs,” the report said. It concluded that without a firm commitment to population, reproductive health and gender issues, “it is unlikely that the goals and targets of the conference, and the millennium summit will be met” (Deen, Inter Press Service, 4/11).
Pregnancy is a “death sentence” for as many as one in six women in developing countries, and the “dangerously low and declining” funding in reproductive health worldwide “jeopardizes the achievement” of “critical” U.N. goals, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) writes in an opinion piece for The Hill. Low-income and minority women in developed countries also are at “disproportionate risk” of maternal health problems, Capps writes, noting that the U.S. ranks 41st worldwide in maternal morality.
Leaders meeting at the World Bank later this month to evaluate priorities and consider which programs to fund to meet MDGs hopefully will “address the challenging, but solvable, problem of maternal mortality,” Capps writes. She adds that “Congress can also play an important role in addressing this crisis by passing the U.S. Commitment to Global Child Survival Act,” which would increase the U.S. contribution to reduce maternal and infant mortality worldwide. Congress also should provide the necessary resources to CDC to improve data collection and analysis, Capps writes.
World leaders must “heed this clarion call” and “dramatically increase investments” for reproductive health care, Capps writes, concluding, “Let us all do our part to ensure every woman’s most basic right — to live through pregnancy and childbirth so she can nurture her children and contribute to the well-being of her family, community and nation” (Capps, The Hill, 4/15).
Reprinted with kind permission from http://www.nationalpartnership.org. You can view the entire Daily Women’s Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery here. The Daily Women’s Health Policy Report is a free service of the National Partnership for Women & Families, published by The Advisory Board Company.
When the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held a special high-level meeting to discuss the new challenges facing the international community, the focus was largely on the credit crisis, rising commodity prices, declining development aid and the devastating impact of climate change on developing nations.
But one of the gender-sensitive issues — the feminization of poverty — was left out in the cold.
“While we are pleased that some governments stated that gender equality must be incorporated into development cooperation strategies, there were no proposals on how this actually would be achieved,” Nadia Johnson, Economic and Social Justice Coordinator at the Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), told IPS.
“Women’s groups are thus concerned that words will continue to be met with little action,” she added.
According to the United Nations, about 70 percent of those who live in extreme poverty are women and children.
The meeting, which took place Monday and was attended by high ranking government officials and senior U.N. staffers, was part of a preparatory process for the upcoming international conference on financing for development (FfD), scheduled to take place in the Qatari capital of Doha in late November.
But the FfD process, which began with the 2002 U.N. conference on financing for development in Monterrey, Mexico, has continued to marginalize or downgrade the gender perspective in development financing, according to women’s groups.
“Today the majority of people living in poverty are women and girls,” Cecilia Alemany of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) told IPS.
“And if the international community does not take a serious political commitment (at the FfD meeting) in Doha to change these trends, we will lose another decade,” she warned.
Johnson of WEDO said that when governments agreed on the ‘Monterrey Consensus’– spelling out the priorities for development financing– at the first FfD conference six years ago, “they made scant commitments to women’s empowerment and gender equality.”
The chapter addressing official development assistance (ODA) did not have a single gender reference or commitment, she said.
“It’s not surprising that since Monterrey little has changed to advance the economic conditions of women worldwide,” Johnson said.
She also pointed out that the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently reported that ODA is actually on the decline: down from 0.31 percent of gross national income (GNI) in 2006 to 0.28 percent in 2007.
In 1970, the U.N. General Assembly set a target of 0.7 percent of GNI as ODA to the world’s poorer nations. But only five countries — Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Sweden and Luxembourg — have either consistently met or surpassed– that target.
And according to a 2005 report by two non-governmental organizations, Eurostep and Social Watch, only 0.1 percent of ODA is actually spent on gender equality.
“It only shows that women are often still an afterthought by governments when crafting economic policy,” said Johnson.
This marginalization of gender comes despite the active participation of the women’s movement in the FfD process; despite common knowledge that women and girls not only comprise the vast majority of the world’s poor but remain the poorest of the poor; and despite the consequent numerous commitments linking gender equality to sustainable development and poverty eradication.
“What is it going to take to get governments to wake up when it comes to women?,” Johnson asked.
Nerea Craviotto of WIDE, a network of women’s organizations based in Europe, said that despite the emphasis in the Monterrey Consensus on environmental sustainability, civil rights and gender awareness, these issues do not constitute the central starting point of that document.
They were simply added, without changing their characteristics, to the main recommendations, whose primary focus is on foreign investments and trade liberalization.
Apart from the introduction and the first chapter (mobilizing domestic financial resources for development), gender issues do not figure or are only marginally dealt with throughout the rest of the Monterrey document.
Asked how this can be rectified at the upcoming FfD Conference in Doha, Craviotto told IPS that in order to implement the principles of sustainability and gender-sensitive development, it is imperative to meticulously analyze the consequences of all economic strategies and policies against the backdrop of the lives of poor women in the global South.
It is also necessary to establish preventive measures, so that their living conditions are not exposed to further deterioration.
At the same time, she argued, the complexity of female roles has to be kept in mind, particularly their productive activities in the formal economy, in the subsistence economy and in the informal sector.
Additionally, the Doha conference should also recognize their reproductive activities and responsibilities regarding the household and the family, and their often intensive involvement in the society/community that is commonly seen as an extension of their reproductive activities.
Another element that must always be included in all plans is the disadvantaged position of women in family and society, their limited access to power, infrastructure and resources.
“Without far-reaching changes in the areas of this context, sustainable development and poverty alleviation is illusory,” Craviotto added.
Alemany of AWID told IPS that if aid is to eradicate poverty and inequalities, it must integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment, and therefore more aid assistance must be directed towards these critical issues.
New aid modalities and mechanisms are frequently dependent on macroeconomic conditionalities that intensify gender inequalities.
“The current aid environment and mechanisms (including the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus) and the Paris Declaration implementation remain gender-blind,” she added.
The Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, adopted at a meeting in the French capital in 2005, is a non-binding declaration endorsed by a group of developed and developing countries, and described as a “road map to improve the quality of aid and its impact on development.”
But the declaration has been criticized by several non-governmental organizations, including the Third World Institute and the European Network on Debt and Development (EURODAD).
Roberto Bissio, director of the Third World Institute, says the Paris Declaration creates a new level of supra-national economic governance, above the World Bank and the regional development banks.
He also says that institutional ownership of the Paris Declaration process remains in the hands of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and the World Bank “where donors and creditors have exclusive majority control, with little or no developing country voice or vote.”
Projecting into the future, Alemany said: “We need a strong political commitment at the highest levels in Doha.’
She also called upon member states, U.N. agencies and international financial institutions:
First, to make a commitment to give aid to eradicate poverty and gender inequalities, and to promote human rights, gender equality, full employment and environmental sustainability as central development goals.
Secondly, to reach and maintain the U.N. target of 0.7 percent GNI in ODA committed by developed countries. A significant share of ODA should be targeted for gender equality and women’s empowerment (10 percent of GNI by 2010 and 20 percent by 2015).
Thirdly, to fully integrate gender equality and women’s empowerment with concrete commitments in Doha, not only as a systemic issue and challenge, but also as a key development goal.
Fourthly, to increase efforts to build a new aid architecture, with a sensitive approach to the realities of those historically bypassed as recipients, and whose participation was absent in the process.
30 Years of Democracy: Riding the Wave? Women’s Political Participation in Latin America
The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has released the report entitled “30 Years of Democracy: Riding the Wave? Women’s Political Participation in Latin America. The report draws data from 18 countries in the Latin American region, exams the progress made in women’s participation in politics, and gives statistics on women’s political representation in areas which were before exclusive to men. The study analyzes the progress achieved by women in certain posts, why some countries have advanced more than others, presents the obstacles encountered by women and offers recommendations for improving women’s situation in public life.
Read more: http://www.idea.int/gender/iwd_2008.cfm
Latin America’s MDG Progress on Gender Equality: Poor Women Still Lag Behind
This is the title of the One Pager published in February 2008 by the International Poverty Center (IPC) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The author, Eduardo Zepeda, recently a senior researcher at IPC, notes that Latin America and the Caribbean have shown notable progress on MDG indicators for gender equality. Moreover, he emphasizes that when national averages are disaggregated, the picture is less impressive, particularly for poor women workers. They are not, in fact, making significant progress in securing decent wage employment in the non-agricultural sector. As the author declares: “access to non-agricultural wage employment, though important, does not necessarily expand significantly the economic opportunities of poor women”.
Available for downloading at: http://www.undp-povertycentre.org/pub/IPCOnePager49.pdf
From UN-INSTRAW News – E-letter March 2008
Women in Brazil’s slums are increasingly caught in the middle of violence between drug gangs and police, with many being lured into the narcotics trade, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
New laws protecting women’s rights in Latin America’s largest country have been undermined by a lack of resources, brutal police tactics and discrimination within the judiciary and prison systems, the human rights group said.
“What we’re hearing time and time again from the state and federal government is that part of problem in Brazil is the breakdown of the family, but their policies are undermining the ability of women to sustain the family,” said Tim Cahill, the report’s author.
Slum areas, or favelas, around Brazil’s major cities have become virtual no-go areas for the state apart from violent police raids targeting drug traffickers that often result in civilian deaths.
The report, based on a series of interviews in six states over the past two years, said women tended to be seen as disposable by criminals and corrupt police officers alike, and were often used as “mules” or as decoys by drug gangs.
“Women often turn to the drug trade as way of supplementing their meager income and end up in the criminal justice system,” Cahill said.
Amnesty said some women told of having their heads shaven for infidelity, and being forced to provide sexual favors for the payment of debts. Growing numbers are ending up in Brazil’s overcrowded prison system, where they are vulnerable to physical and psychological abuse and rape, the report said.
The Justice Ministry said 25,909 women were in Brazil’s prisons in 2007, or 6.2 percent of the inmate population.
Brazil last year expanded the legal rights of women victims of domestic violence, promoting the use of specialized courts, women’s police stations, shelters and medical clinics.
Amnesty said the law was a major step forward but better enforcement and access to services was needed.
Although men don’t run away from the wrath of war and Genocide, women suffer from the effects of war and Genocide in an unusual way. Considering the specific dangers of war and Genocide during and after the Genocide, the Humanitarian law would have a specific way to handle the weak vessels.
Suffering confronting women in wartime and Genocide, whose plight could be improved if the rules of humanitarian law were fully respected. Women face war as well as related resource materials and links to other sites concerning women.
Countless women and girls were raped during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. As if this was not enough, some were pierced through their private parts until they died. The Humanitarian bodies should have a more iron handed way to handle such beast hearted people who did that in the Genocide.
Any woman should be respected for every one has undergone the care of women. Those who were not catered by their mothers, at least they were born by a woman. So it would carry sense if we respected women though weak and edible to some.
Crimes against females spread like wild fires, all over the world; women suffer the trauma of war – as widows or orphans, perhaps displaced from their homes. When it comes to Rwanda and the Tutsi Genocide, it is another abnormal case.
In Rwanda, they were separated from loved ones and became victims of violence and threats. They were threatened by young boys, their fellow women and all categories of male age.
Some Hutu men who tried to rescue them ended abusing them as their concubines.
Others watched their brothers kill their children saying they had produced with a forbidden ethnic group. They were defenseless.
In most cases they are civilians caught in the crossfire, and show astonishing resourcefulness and resilience in coping with the disintegration of their families, the loss of their home and their belongings and the destruction of their lives.
On the other side we should remember that women can also be fighters, and as such should have the same respect as men when wounded or captured. They are also bound by the same rules prohibiting illegal acts against other fighters or civilians.
International humanitarian law, which grants general protection to all war victims, regardless of gender, provides extensive specific protection for women in war. If these rules were better observed, the suffering faced by women in war would be greatly reduced.
Rape and sexual assault were committed on a regular basis by Interahamwe militia in the Genocide. After the Genocide many Genocide survivors have suffered the consequences of the sexual violence. They are victims of trauma and the HIV/AIDS. Some of these crimes go unpunished.
Agnés Mukangolorero was raped immediately after giving birth by interahamwe militia in the 1994 Genocide. Her bones and body were still weak that it has up to now affected her ways of living. She cannot move in normal way because she was shattered.
“He came and found me where I was lying, after one day of birth. He then pulled me and his colleague told him to leave me saying that it would be a curse to rape me after birth, but the man refused and went ahead to do what he wanted,” she narrates with agony.
She says no man can punish such a person in a way worth the crime, but the almighty God will do it.
Mukangolorero says the incidence happened to her when she had not even had anything to eat, so it was adding an injury to an insult. No wonder such people do not live a happy life though think they did what they had longed for, for long.
She says that after the 1994 Genocide she tested HIV positive and the government has helped her to take retroviral drugs. She says she has forgiven the people that killed her husband and family as well as the one who raped her.
Mukangolorero says the 1994 Genocide left her as a helpless lady since she lost all her children and the entire family at once. She also says that she has to nurse the physical and internal wounds.
Presently Rwanda has a number of Genocide widows, of whom some are suffering from trauma and others have no family.
Nonetheless, the government under the ministry of gender has helped poor women to access savings through loans given by banks. It has also helped women to open different associations, co-operations so as to boost their development and run away from isolation.
Update on: Iran: Campaign to free Khadijeh Moghaddam
Khadijeh Moghaddam member of the Mother’s Committee of the One Million Signatures Campaign, and a member of Mothers for Peace, was released on the afternoon of Wednesday April 16, after spending nine days in detention.
Moghaddam was arrested last week after security police forcibly entered her home. She spent seven days in solitary confinement at Vozara detention center. Originally a bail amount of 100 million tomans (roughtly $110,000) was issued for her release. But on Tuesday April 15th, this amount was reduced to a third party guarantee, after which she was transferred to Evin prison.
Moghaddam was originally supposed to be released on April 15th, after her third party guarantor completed all the necessary court documents for her release. Her friends and family members, as well as members of the Campaign, spent the night of April 15th in front of Evin Prison, hoping for her release. Family members had been informed by Khadijeh Moghaddam herself that she had been transferred to Evin prison, when she called home to inform them of her whereabouts. After waiting until 10pm in front of Evin prison, her friends and family finally gave up and returned home, only to start their official inquiries anew the next day. On Wednesday April 16th, upon inquiries, Moghaddam’s family members were told by court officials that the order for her release was not issued in time. As such, she was transferred to Evin’s public ward, where she spent one night and her release was pushed back to April 16th.
In repeated interrogations sessions, the special court investigator of the security branch of the Revolutionary Courts, charged Moghaddam with actions against national security, disruption of public opinion, and propaganda against the state, through the convening of gatherings related to the Campaign in her private home. While it is customary to transfer individuals for whom a temporary arrest order has been issued to Evin’s public ward, Khadijeh Moghaddam spent seven days in temporary custody, under very difficult circumstances in Vozara Detention Center. During this time, she was deprived of access to her lawyers or visits with her family members.
On Sunday of this same week a group of women’s rights activists, including members of the One Million Signatures Campaign, visited with Khadijeh Moghaddam’s family. During this visit, Moghaddam’s family and friends emphasized the illegal nature of her arrest and expressed their solidarity for Moghaddam and her activities in support of women’s rights, and the One Million Signatures Campaign.
Women Living Under Muslim Laws welcomes the news of Khadijeh’s release but continues to deplore the treatment of peaceful human rights defenders in Iran.
See also: Mokarrameh Ebrahimi released from prison!
We are delighted to announce the release of Mokarrameh Ebrahimi and her son Ali from Choobin Prison, in Takistan, Qazvin, in Iran, where she has been awaiting execution by stoning for adultery for the past ten years.
On 17 March 2008 Mokarrameh Ebrahimi and her 4-year-old son were released from prison by the Iranian authorities in Tehran. Mokarrameh was sentenced to be stoned to death ten years ago, along with her partner, Jafar Kiani, who met his death on 5 July 2007. While in prison, she gave birth to their son Ali who remained in custody with his mother.
Mokarrameh’s release was the result of a long and difficult struggle by the Stop Stoning Forever (SSF) campaign in Iran, the commitment of her lawyer, Shadi Sadr, and the increasing pressure put upon the Iranian government by the international community. Another factor in Mokarrameh’s amnesty verdict may have been the fatwas (religious opinions) issued by three significant ayatollahs (clerics) in recent months. These fatwas all stated that stoning Mokarrameh to death would be against the shari’a.
For the time being, Mokarrameh has been discouraged from speaking to the media, but she and her son Ali are safe with her elder son and are staying with family, hoping to build a new, independent life for herself and her two sons.
Humanity United and Ashoka’s Changemakers are launching a global online competition to identify innovative approaches to exposing, confronting and ending modern-day slavery.
Today over 27 million children and adults are in slavery or bonded labor around the world—more than any other period in human history. As one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, slavery remains largely hidden from the public eye and thrives on the rising global demand for inexpensive, unskilled labor and commercial sex.
“Ending Global Slavery: Everyday Heroes Leading the Way” aims to find holistic solutions to modern-day slavery by recognizing individuals and organizations that raise awareness of the issue’s root causes, liberate those in bonded labor, and reintegrate former slaves into their communities.
The competition is hosted on http://www.changemakers.net.
Funding will be awarded for the most innovative policy-level and grassroots models.
Grinding poverty and the escalating war is driving an increasing number of Afghan families to sell their daughters into forced marriages.
Girls as young as six are being married into a life of slavery and rape, often by multiple members of their new relatives. Banned from seeing their own parents or siblings, they are also prohibited from going to school. With little recognition of the illegality of the situation or any effective recourse, many of the victims are driven to self-immolation – burning themselves to death – or severe self-harm.
Six years after the US and Britain “freed” Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, a new report proves that life is just as bad for most, and worse in some cases.
Projects started in the optimistic days of 2002 have begun to wane as the UK and its Nato allies fail to treat women’s rights as a priority, workers in the country insist.
The statistics in the report from Womankind, Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On, make shocking reading. Violent attacks against females, usually domestic, are at epidemic proportions with 87 per cent of females complaining of such abuse – half of it sexual. More than 60 per cent of marriages are forced.
Despite a new law banning the practice, 57 per cent of brides are under the age of 16. The illiteracy rate among women is 88 per cent with just 5 per cent of girls attending secondary school.
Maternal mortality rates – one in nine women dies in childbirth – are the highest in the world alongside Sierra Leone. And 30 years of conflict have left more than one million widows with no enforceable rights, left to beg on the streets alongside an increasing number of orphans. Afghanistan is the only country in the world with a higher suicide rate among women than men.
Campaigners say these are nationwide figures but in war-torn provinces, such as Helmand, the British area of responsibility, oppression is often worse, though the dangers make it impossible for them to monitor it accurately.
The banned practice of offering money for a girl is still rampant – along with exchanging her as restitution for crime, debt or dispute. With the going price for a child bride at £800 to £2,000 – as much as three years salary for a labourer – many grooms are forced to take loans or swap their sisters instead, explained Partawmina Hashemee, the director of the Afghan Women Resource Centre.
Mrs Hashemee, who has fought for the rights of her fellow Afghan women, initially for refugees in Pakistan, for almost 20 years, said: “For me the issue that breaks my heart is the forced marriages because of poverty – even girls as young as eight. They don’t get to go to school or to go out. They are told ‘you are not allowed to visit your family, we paid, now you have to work’.”
In 2007 a law was passed banning marriage under 16, but Mrs Hashemee said: “The majority of people are not even aware of it. Early age marriages are increasing.”
The vast majority of international aid goes directly to the Afghan government rather than non-governmental organisations. Activists are calling on the British to ring-fence some of the funding for human rights issues – such as gender-based projects – and to ensure the money reaches appropriate beneficiaries.
Mrs Hashemee said, in Kabul at least, there had been greater recognition of women’s rights over the past seven years as well as major civil and political gains since the fall of the Taliban. But it remains a dangerous environment and female MPs, activists and journalists still live under constant threat of death.
Womankind is calling for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which says women in conflict zones should be offered protection and recognition of their role in the peace process as well as their human rights. Across Afghanistan women’s organisations, such as Mrs Hashemee’s, are now turning their attention from providing basic needs to empowering females, teaching them their rights and urging them to vote.
Often illiterate women are instructed on how Islam views women as equal. Training is offered to young men in why sexual abuse is wrong. Communities are being “mobilised” to fight for and monitor women’s rights – encouraging mullahs to promote the equality that the Koran teaches.
But there are no women’s rights associations in Helmand. The closest is one courageous group working in another southern province, Kandahar. Yet Mrs Hashemee is positive. She said: “I don’t want to be disappointed. We will struggle on and hopefully the government and international community will help.”
In a report this month the chairman of the International Development Committee, Malcolm Bruce MP, said: “There is a dangerous tendency to accept in Afghanistan practices which would not be countenanced elsewhere, because of ‘cultural’ differences and local traditions.
“We believe that the rights of women should be upheld equally in all countries. The government of Afghanistan has a vital role to play in this by ensuring that the international human rights commitments which it has made are fully honoured and given greater priority.”
Download the report “Afghan Women and Girls Seven Years On” (pdf 2.5mb) from http://www.womankind.org.uk/upload/Taking%20Stock%20Report%2068p.pdf