Archive for April 25th, 2008
* The economic rule of supply and demand drives the market for everything from toothpaste to sports cars. It also drives the sexual exploitation of minors.
* If adults weren’t interested in paying $120 or $200 to have sex with a child or teenager, girls and boys would not be peddled on the street by pimps.
“It’s basic supply and demand,” said Norma Hotaling, founder and executive director of San Francisco-based SAGE, or Standing Against Global Exploitation. Sexual exploitation is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide, she said, “paid one dollar at a time by men who have decided to use their money, use their family’s income, to buy a human being.
“They use these girls like sewers.”
Girls as young as 11 or 12 are increasingly being sold for sex on Oakland streets in what one law enforcement officer called “an epidemic.”
Sexual assault of a minor is a felony, punishable by long prison sentences. Hotaling said most of the johns she sees seem surprised to learn that buying sex from a minor is sexual assault.
Under contract with the San Francisco Police Department, SAGE runs a class for men arrested on a first offense of soliciting prostitution, from minors or adults. Police call it the “john school.”
“I teach a class of about 60 men every other month,” Hotaling said. “I look out at that class and see men of all types.”
They are rich and not so rich, in distinguished professions and in manual labor, young and old, from the suburbs and the city.
That experience is echoed by young girls who formerly worked the streets. Three sexually exploited girls now in Alameda County juvenile hall said their customers ran the gamut.
“Rich dudes,” said one 16-year-old. Another said she had a customer who was a judge. Both mentioned businessmen and lawyers as customers, and said some johns drive from the suburbs into Oakland.
The sheer number of men who come through Hotaling’s class is startling. Add it up, and she sees 360 men a year who have been arrested in San Francisco on first-time prostitution charges. That number does not include men who police determine are ineligible for the one-day class that is offered as a substitute for prosecution.
Hotaling teaches her students about the potential legal consequences of paying for sex with a minor.
“When I tell them what they are doing could be charged as a felony, that sexual assault of a minor is a felony, that really has an impact,” Hotaling said. “Their faces turn ashen.”
She also teaches the men about the damage they inflict on the young girls, how it ruins their lives and traumatizes them for decades to come. And she teaches them about sexually transmitted diseases.
John schools are now offered in 40 cities across the country. Oakland does not have a john school program in place.
The National Institute of Justice studied the effectiveness of the classes for a report released earlier this month. By studying the behavior and arrest record of 198 men who had taken the classes, the report found that participation reduced the number of men who reoffended by 35 percent.
“The study adds to the rapidly mounting evidence that prostitution and sex trafficking can be successfully fought by focusing on the demand for commercial sex,” the study concluded.
Michael Shivery, senior Associate of the Center on Crime, Drugs and Justice at Cambridge, Mass.-based Abt Associates, which conducted the study for the Institute, said the johns cite several reasons for turning to prostitution. The most common is that they have not found successful intimate relationships through “normal channels,” he said.
Some, however, are merely risk-takers, drawn by the illegal status of prostitution, he said.
U.S. ‘sex culture’ driving child prostitution
A former federal prosecutor says the easy availability of online pornography is contributing to another, much more dangerous problem.
A handful of high-profile rape cases is spurring Congress to examine whether the government is adequately protecting military service members and contractors who allege sexual assault.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Centerville, is researching how best to respond to a list of 29 answers the Marine Corps gave him regarding the slaying of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach. The 20-year-old Vandalia native was discovered Jan. 11, buried beneath the fire pit in fellow Marine Cpl. Cesar Armando Laurean’s backyard near Camp Lejeune. He has been charged with murder.
Lauterbach, eight months pregnant at the time of her death, told military authorities Laurean raped her in April 2007, prompting lawmakers to question whether the Marines did enough to prevent her slaying.
Turner is concerned that the Marines’ reaction to her rape accusation lacked urgency, and said they twice let Lauterbach’s military protective order — the military equivalent of a restraining order — expire, once for a day in June, once for several days in late December after she disappeared.
“There is a belief that the culture in the military does not adequately protect women or take this issue seriously,” he said.
Turner said the Marines should have taken more seriously Lauterbach’s reports that a stranger punched her in the face and that her car was vandalized after she accused Laurean of rape. And he said he believes the Marines slowed their rape investigation to wait for Lauterbach’s baby to be born, to see if the baby was Laurean’s.
“We need to discern — was this a failure in judgment, or was this a failure in the process?” he asked.
But Lt. Gen. R.S. Kramlich, Marine Crops staff director, defended the Marines’ handling of the rape in a letter to Turner dated March 31.
“The command has consistently acted to preserve and protect the rights of both Marines, taking appropriate steps to investigate fully serious allegations of rape,” he wrote.
Turner is not the only lawmaker concerned about the way violent crime victims — service and civilian — are being treated in Iraq, Afghanistan and military bases here.
A Senate Foreign Relations Committee panel headed by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., recently held a hearing on closing the legal loopholes for prosecuting violent crimes committed by Americans in combat operations.
One of the cases that prompted the hearing was that of Jamie Leigh Jones, 22, of Texas. She alleges she was drugged and gang raped by fellow contract workers in July 2005 while working for defense contractor Halliburton/KBR at Camp Hope in Baghdad.
After the alleged assault, Jones was “held against her will in a storage container,” Nelson said. “And yet her assailant remains free.”
There are some 180,000 contractors working in Iraq alongside the military.
While the Defense Department has an Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office for members of the armed services, representatives of that office told Nelson they do not know what procedures the military criminal investigative services would follow if they encountered a civilian sexual assault or harassment case, other than referring the victim for medical treatment.
Nelson is concerned that the victims who are contractors end up in “legal limbo.”
The Lauterbach case is different from the Jones case because the victim is in the military — and the uniform code of military justice applies without question — and the crime occurred in North Carolina rather than in Iraq.
There were 2,947 reports of sexual assaults in the military in 2006, an increase of 24 percent over 2005, according to the Department of Defense.
In Lauterbach’s case, Congress recently changed the Uniform Code of Military Justice to broaden the definition of rape. The definition has been changed from an act of sexual intercourse “by force and without consent” to one that can includes causing a person to engage in sex by using force, causing bodily harm, invoking fear of death, harm or kidnapping, rendering unconscious or administering drugs or intoxicants to impair a victim’s conduct.
Anita Sanchez of The Miles Foundation said the new definition might make it easier for a rape victim to file successful rape charges against an acquaintance. But Lauterbach made her accusation before that fiscal year 2006 law was implemented. The new definition didn’t become formal until October 2007. Timing, Sanchez said, put Lauterbach in a “legal limbo.”
More than 50 leaders representing 25 grassroots and indigenous organizations concluded a three day experience sharing workshop entitled “The Role and Power of Grassroots and Indigenous Women’s Groups in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR)” by launching a regional networking platform to publicize women’s good practices and ensure public representation in disaster related policy and local decision making. Collectively representing more than 30,000 citizens living in disaster prone communities, the women’s groups from 10 Latin American and Caribbean countries1 issued recommendations after harvesting their five to twenty-five years of experience working in disaster-prone communities in the workshop. GROOTS International, supported by the Pro-Vention Consortium, convened and facilitated these local experts in a ‘pre forum’ workshop to draw upon and amplify the knowledge and skills they have gained from coping with the short and long-term impacts of floods, droughts, hurricanes, tropical storms, frosts, earthquakes, and erosion of natural resources as the result of climate change.
Fundacion Guatemala organized Guatemalan grassroots leaders to participate, managed local logistics, and arranged the Spanish International Cooperation Agency’s Antigua regional training centre for the meeting.
The consultation brought together women living in diverse situations—spanning rural or coastal communities that are isolated and/or marginalized from government by geography and cultural/ethnic identity, to urban and semi urban communities, who live in informal settlements with limited basic services. Explaining and debating their approaches for recovering or reducing their vulnerability to damage from natural disaster, environmental degradation and climate change, participants demonstrated a wealth of knowledge and experience including:
Immediate response, recovery, and reconstruction practices such as:
• running community kitchens & emergency food distribution programs and distributing emergency supplies,
• disseminating information on entitlements and other government programs (via community radio and public meetings), and
• taking the lead on constructing affordable disaster resistant housing,. to long-term mitigation,resilience building and community development.
Community-led preparedness and resilience building practices where:
• women undertake risk and asset mapping and surveys, raise community awareness of the issues and lead in establishing community contingency plans,
• community vulnerability to disaster is reduced via: rain water harvesting, reinforcing river embankments, promoting food security through organic agriculture and systematic crop rotation, safeguarding indigenous seeds, scaling up community tool and seed banks in indigenous communities, and community monitoring of environmental changes.
Cutting across the practice sharing was the clear reality that most participants represented communities living in poverty, reinforcing the need for development approaches that foster women’s public (not household) participation as well as sustainable, risk reducing approaches to housing, agriculture, infrastructure and other investments. The predominance of indigenous and Afro-descendant women’s groups in the practice sharing also concretized and underscored the importance of respecting and resourcing cultural knowledge and value systems as a cornerstone of community appropriate risk reduction and resilience building programs. In so doing, experience sharing established guidelines that move gender equality and cultural inclusive mandates beyond rhetoric into real implementation.
Fostering Community-Government Links
Institutional representatives and community leaders also came together during the workshop to examine the policy frameworks mandating integrated locally managed disaster risk reduction approaches (including the Hyogo Framework in 2005 and the Guatemala Declaration of 1999 and the establishment of CEPREDENAC in the region). In their opening remarks, Angel Marcos, Spanish Cooperation and Alejandro Maldonado, Director of CONRED acknowledged the strategic importance of involving large numbers of women-led community based organizations in implementing these priorities in a gender and culturally inclusive manner and re-enforced the importance of local governments partnering with civil society actors.
“Any conscious effort to reduce risk and manage disasters must be participatory…. I am very glad to see such a large participation of women in this issue. Throughout history women have been the engine of development in their communities, therefore it is important to show the role of women in disaster risk management. These types of events are crucial because it allows us to share experiences and solutions and take them back to our communities. The challenge is [to ensure] the things discussed here are implemented.” – Alejandro Maldonado, Director CONRED
Action Points to Scale Up & Link Institutional
Grassroots and Indigenous Women’s Groups in Disaster Risk Management Grassroots women leaders, riveted by policy information previously unavailable to them, used their discussions to pin-point the knowledge, skills and constituencies they could pledge to assist governments in responding to and reducing the risk and impact of disasters. They saw enormous potential in their ability to use their organized groups and social networks as a platform for information collection, dissemination and planning associated with disaster risk reduction. While noting they would need to develop certain capacities to strengthen their involvement (hazard mapping, contingency planning, etc), participants underscored how playing these roles could publicly legitimate women’s groups and promote gender and cultural equity by reducing their subordination in male led decision making processes.
In the spirit of mainstreaming their involvement in disaster reduction work, grassroots participants called for development and mitigation programs and investments that would:
1. Support the transfer and strengthening of indigenous knowledge and practices – community banks, indigenous seed banks, soil conservation, rainwater harvesting and reading nature’s early warning signals – that have been critical to the survival of at risk communities.
2. Rapidly disseminate effective practices by implementing grassroots led training programs that allow advanced women’s groups to transfer their skills and knowledge.
3. Directly resource grassroots women’s networks to undertake community research, surveys, and risk mapping to identify and prioritize risks and create resource directories to assist them to collaborate with key actors to reduce risk in their communities.
4. Create community and culturally accessible communication systems – such as community radio networks – that reach out to rural and indigenous groups in indigenous languages.
To foster government-community partnerships that can protect and secure vulnerable communities by establishing coordinated responses and contingency plans for disasters, community access to public information on resources, entitlements and decision making and citizens acting for public accountability, participants suggested the following concrete actions to promote equitable representation and participation in disaster risk reduction decision-making making (local-national, regional-global):
1. Formal acknowledgement by government officials and policymakers of:
a) the diverse and sizeable constituencies represented by grassroots and indigenous women’s organizations and the range of contributions and public roles these groups play (and can play) in responding to disasters and reducing disaster risk in their communities;
b) the importance of establishing (and adhering to) gender and culturally inclusive/equitable standards in DRR policy and practice and implementing them via community-driven, development programming.
2. Creation and implementation of public policy mandates and decision making mechanisms that facilitate grassroots and indigenous women’s organizations and networks participation in public decision making processes associated with designing, operationalizing and monitoring disaster response and risk reduction programs.
3. Inclusion of grassroots and indigenous women’s networks in regional and national DRR coordination platforms such as CEPREDENAC and CONRED (Guatemala)
A delegation of Honduran, Guatemalan, Nicaraguan and Jamaican representatives of the consultation were appointed to represent the insights and recommendations at the April ProVention 2008 Consortium Forum in Panama City April 8-10 focusing on People-Centered Disaster Risk Reduction.
Chilean judges, siding with the Vatican, have dealt a major blow to the Bachelet government by ending free emergency contraception in public clinics. A women’s rights group is organizing a mass renunciation of Catholicism to express their outrage.
Hundreds of Chileans are planning to renounce their membership in the Roman Catholic Church on April 29 as an outcry against a major blow to the government’s push for expanded access to contraception.
On April 18 Chile’s Constitutional Court outlawed distribution of emergency contraception in public health clinics to women 14 and older, a policy implemented in September 2006 by the government of President Michelle Bachelet to lower teen pregnancy rates in a country where 15 percent of births are to women 18 or younger. Emergency contraception remains available in the nation’s private pharmacies.
Over 10,000 people also marched in evening demonstrations to protest the court’s decision Tuesday.
Mujeres Publicas, or Public Women, a women’s rights group in Santiago, has used e-mail to organize the “massive apostasy,” that is, an active rejection of the Catholic faith. Group members say that roughly 500 people have signed up to participate so far and they expect the figure to reach 1,000.
Participants are being asked to sign a letter requesting the Catholic Church remove their names from all records and then deliver the document to their nearest archdiocese. Women from each of Chile’s 15 regions have committed to the abandonment of their faith.
“We wanted to do something other than convoking marches that would protest the church’s public health policies,” said organization spokesperson Lorena Etchberry. “We are not against any religion or any church in specific, but rather we are protesting the fact that the church is interfering in matters of the Chilean government. We have the right to decide what to do with our bodies, and we also want poor women to have the right to decide.”
Following the court’s ruling, Health Minister Soledad Barria said that publicly available emergency contraception redresses socioeconomic inequalities in family planning. In comments to the press, she said in Santiago’s low-income district of La Pintana 20 percent of all births are to women aged 15 to 19, while in wealthier boroughs it drops as low as 2 percent.
Barria said access to the pill lowers the number of deaths due to clandestine abortions. Although no statistics are available, health officials estimate the annual number of illegal abortions in Chile at 150,000. Chile has a population of about 16 million and has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, criminalizing the procedure in all cases.
The Catholic Church has staunchly opposed governmental distribution of free emergency contraception. Church officials lambasted the government in 2001 when it was first made available by prescription. After Bachelet’s 2006 policy change, church officials said the pill was abortive and would promote promiscuity.
Church officials have expressed their satisfaction with the Constitutional Court, which sided with 36 legislators who brought a case arguing that emergency contraception could be abortive in nature and consequently violates the right to life enshrined in Chile’s constitution.
The ruling also criminalized the Yuzpe regimen, which inhibits egg fertilization through the consumption of synthetic progesterone and estrogen hormones, and is an earlier method of emergency contraception. Current regimens like Plan B use progestin only and is sold in Chile under the brand name Postinor 2.
The ruling did not affect the availability of intrauterine devices–also under consideration in the case–and it upheld laws permitting emergency contraception for minors without a parent’s consent.
Anti-pill lawmakers say they are considering bringing another case aimed at banning it nationwide.
The Constitutional Court makes final rulings in all matters relating to constitutional law, which means the decision cannot be overturned without a constitutional reform.
Emergency contraception, taken orally up to 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent pregnancy, will still be sold at pharmacies for roughly $25, but some chains have previously resisted stocking it.
“This ruling represents a huge step backwards in terms of equal (access to the pill),” Bachelet told reporters shortly after the ruling was disclosed, referring to the cost barrier posed for many in a country where 80 percent of families earn less than $800 per month.
Maria Angelica Cristi, a legislator of the opposition Independent Democratic Union and a case signer, also worries about access to emergency contraception, but in the opposite way: Too many women still have too much.
“With respect to equality, which has been harped on so much, we wanted the pill banned from the public and the private sector,” Cristi said. “Obviously its effects are the same for women of all socioeconomic classes. If we had our way, we would have never allowed for such hateful discrimination.”
Encouraged by the victory, Alejandro Garcia-Huidobro, a legislator who supported the case, hopes Chile will have a complete ban on emergency contraception someday. “This country’s constitution guarantees the right to life from the moment of conception,” Garcia-Huidobro said. “If the pill is outlawed in pharmacies, then it should be outlawed nationwide. It cannot be constitutional in one part and not so in another.”
The 36 legislators who presented the case belong to the opposition Independent Democratic Union and National Renovation parties, both of which identify with “Christian principles.”
Health Ministry officials have insisted there is no scientific data to indicate the pill is abortive. Chile’s Doctors’ Association has advocated the prescription of the emergency contraception since 2002 and has been vocal in its opposition to the ruling.
In the legislators’ court arguments, however, lawyer Jorge Reyes cited a summary of three clinical studies on the effects of emergency contraception.
Reyes said the studies–compiled by four biology professors at Santiago’s Catholic University and signed by the university rector–indicated the pill could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the uterus wall. Consequently, it could also endanger a recently fertilized egg, the brief argued.
In their 5-4 decision the Constitutional Court said that scientific evidence “cannot definitively exclude the possibility” that emergency contraception does not affect the implantation of an embryo “considered to be human beings.” The only woman on the court, Marisol Pena Torres, was part of the majority.
Catholic University law professor Marco Antonio Navarro Galaz said the court’s reasoning is grounded in Chilean law. ” Judges–when asked by any person or organization–will do all that is necessary in order to protect the existence of a human being that has not yet been born.’”
Local station Radio Cooperativa broke news of the ruling earlier this month, ahead of last week’s legal decision issued by the judges.
In outrage, pro-choice advocates quickly turned to e-mail, blogs and social-networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube to spread the news and organize a variety of protests.
On April 22 the Confederation of Municipal Health Workers and the labor unions National Public Employees Union and Central Workers Union carried out a work stoppage in eight Chilean cities including Santiago, the capital. The three groups said thousands of their members took part.
For more information:
Chile’s Morning-After Pill Hits Access Battle http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/3476
Chile Teens’ Sexual Health Sparks Storm http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/2895
A coalition of Indonesian women’s groups is calling on the Government to change the nation’s marriage laws and abolish polygamy.
Under Indonesia’s marital laws, a Muslim man can have more than one wife if permission is granted by a local court and the wife gives her consent.
The religious adviser for the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Imam Amin Hady, believes the marriage laws which permit polygamy cannot be abolished as they form part of the Koran.
But he has told Radio Australia’s Connect Asia program that Indonesia’s religious affairs and justice departments work together to ensure people do not abuse their polygamy rights.
“The scholars in Islam say, the general ruling is that man can only marry then one woman,” he said.
“There is an exception where a man can marry more than one woman, with certain conditions, one, two, three, four, and this ruling can be very strict.”
Permission for having more than one wife is only granted if the man’s first wife cannot fulfil her obligations, is disabled, ill, or cannot have children.
But Indonesia’s Rahima Centre for Education and Information on Women’s Rights says many men are providing false information in order to gain permission.
Herb Feith Research professor from Monash University, Dr Greg Barton, says it is understandable women are concerned some men in Indonesia are abusing their right to have a second wife.
“I think most people who look at these things would say it’s scarcely ever a good thing, it’s generally a bad thing and it’s best if it’s discouraged,” he said.
“The question of policy comes back to how best you change practices, so certainly revising laws has got to be part of it, but you’ve got to change attitudes.”
Civil servants in Indonesia are not allowed to practice polygamy and when the Indonesian Government in 2006 proposed to extend this restriction to all public servants, it lead to protests among the country’s Muslim parties.
Women’s groups say they will continue to lobby the Government to change its marriage laws, but acknowledge it will take some time before anything is done, as it is not a priority for legislators.
Bangladesh Naree Mukti Sangsad (Bangladesh Women’s Liberation Council) asked the government Thursday not to delay in implementing the proposed national women’s policy.
BNMS convenor Hazera Sultana said: “The fundamentalist and communal fanatics in the country are whipping up tension and agitation and opposing the women’s policy with a view to diverting the nation’s attention from the issue of war crimes trials.”
“We watched with abhorrence as the government yielded to the fanatics’ hollow intimidations, by constituting a committee of Islamic scholars led by the Khatib of Baitul Mukarram,” she said, speaking of the Ulama Review Committee that submitted a 15-point recommendation to the government.
Five demands for establishing women’s rights through reform of existing laws were presented at the press conference: adhering to the constitution, immediately implementing the women’s policy, making public the government’s commitment to equal rights for men and women in all spheres of life, rejecting the review committee’s recommendations and banning political activity at religious institutions.
“The policy professed to remove all kinds of disparities affecting women’s participation in the socio-political, economic and cultural fields. Who else but the hypocritical religious fanatics upholding outdated medieval dogmas should oppose this?” Hazera said.
“This group of saboteurs have tried always to foil our national campaigns and movements, starting in 1952 through the War of Liberation.”
“Though the women’s policy has not even mentioned the issue of inheritance, they are condemning it on the argument that its recommendations have defied the dictates of the Quran and Islam,” said the women’s rights campaigner.
Samajik Protirodh (Social Resistance) Committee has announced a rally to be held Friday at the Central Shaheed Minar, to call upon concerned quarters to take measures for implementing the women’s policy. Over a hundred organisations including BNMS will take part in the rally.
In a new, large-scale study exploring the link between domestic violence and chronic malnutrition, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that Indian mothers and children experiencing multiple incidents of domestic violence in the previous year are more likely to be anemic and underweight. “This is strong evidence that domestic violence is linked with malnutrition among both mothers and children. In India, the withholding of food is a documented form of abuse and is likely correlated with the perpetration of physical violence,” said S V Subramanian, associate professor of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH, and co-author of the study.*
The study population included 69,072 (aged 15-49 years) women and 14,552 children (12-35 months) from the Indian National Family Health Survey of 1998-99. The participants underwent face-to-face interviews by trained personnel, and the data collected included body measurements, blood samples, and information on women’s and child’s exposure to domestic violence in the previous 12 months.
The researchers found that women who reported more than one instance of domestic violence in the previous year had a 11% increased likelihood of having anemia and a 21% increased likelihood of being underweight, as compared to women with no such history. This difference was not explained by the mother’s demographic information. The associations between domestic violence and nearly all nutritional outcomes were similar for children.
The data suggest a relation between domestic violence and malnutrition among women and children in India. The authors note that preventing domestic violence could be just as effective as a pharmaceutical approach in combating anemia among women. The authors believe that one possible explanation is empowerment, such that perpetrators of domestic violence often use several types of abuse, including physical and psychological, to control the behavior of their family members.
In India, the withholding of food as a type of abuse could be a factor in the link between physical domestic violence and nutrient deficiencies that cause anemia and underweight. Additionally, domestic violence has been strongly associated with a woman’s inability to make decisions for herself and her family, including the choice of types and quantities of food she prepares
The authors’ second explanation is that the link between domestic violence and nutritional deficiencies may also reflect the effects of psychological stress. Women and children who experience domestic violence tend to have higher levels of psychological stress, which has been associated with anemia and being underweight.
The authors believe that reducing domestic violence is clearly important from a moral and intrinsic perspective, and that this study provides a compelling case to also address the problem from the perspective of health effects. “More efforts need to be focused on the ‘non-health’ aspects or ‘social’ conditions that influence health conditions, and domestic violence represents one such adverse social/contextual aspect that we’ve identified in Indian society,” said Subramanian.
The study was supported by National Institutes of Health by the National Institutes of Health Career Development Award.
*Journal reference: “Domestic Violence and Chronic Malnutrition among Women and Children in India,” M. L. K. Ackerson, and S. V. Subramanian1, American Journal of Epidemiology, published online March 26, 2008.
The Government of Canada today announced investments in community projects that will help thousands of women in Montréal and across Quebec better protect themselves from violence and abuse, and gain new skills and training that will improve their economic situation.
The Honourable Josée Verner, Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages, today announced funding to 21 women’s groups for projects that will improve social and economic conditions for women in the Montréal area and in Montérégie, Abitibi and other regions of Quebec.
“The Government of Canada is investing in a series of decisive actions to combat the scourge of violence against women and girls and improve women’s economic situation,” stated Minister Verner. “Women across Quebec will be better able to take control of their lives, improve their living conditions, participate in society and achieve their dreams, which will in turn benefit their family and all of society.”
The total value of the funding for these 21 projects is $5.69 million over three years and is provided by the Women’s Community Fund, a component of the Women’s Program of Status of Women Canada. Projects funded by this program must promote equality for women and their full participation in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada.
The 21 funded projects target a diversity of women – immigrant and senior women, girls and young women, Aboriginal women, women in conflict with the law, sexually exploited women and girls and those at risk of being exploited. All of the projects will provide concrete benefits to women through their structured approach, broad scope, significant expected impact and innovative qualities. They respond to the Government of Canada’s commitment to foster the full participation of women in the life of our country.
The attached List of Funded Projects contains a brief description of each project and the funding awarded.
As announced in Budget 2008, the Government of Canada will develop an Action Plan to advance equality for women by improving their economic and social conditions, and their participation in democratic life.
Status of Women Canada is a federal government agency working to promote the full participation of women in the economic, social and democratic life of Canada.
For more information on Status of Women Canada, visit http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/.
In recognition of Domestic Violence Month, Governor John deJongh, along with the Attorney General’s Office, the Virgin Islands Police Department, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Education, as well as senior members of Government House staff, recently held a first-ever meeting with the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council ( DVSAC).
“I welcome today’s dialogue and look forward to working with DVSAC to identify needed resources within the Executive Branch to support additional training of key personnel and further delivery of needed services. Our partnership with victim advocates is, and has been from the beginning, a priority for this Administration. Considering the increasing amounts of domestic violence cases every year, it is important that we facilitate a greater emphasis on building healthy relationships and setting positive examples for young people and for families territory-wide,” deJongh said.
Governor deJongh held the first Government House meeting with DVSAC team members this week
The meeting was held to address issues of pressing concern in the Territory, including strengthening the partnership between DVSAC and the US Virgin Islands Government; procuring greater funding for key resources and personnel; sharing information on firearms and the 911 territorial system; increasing accessibility to federal resources; building local and federal cooperation; providing for additional preventative programs; improving the effectiveness and reach of current legislation, and developing a more comprehensive and inclusive budget.
The meeting was an important step in further understanding the protections needed for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the territory.
“We must do all that we can to make sure that this important dialogue continues and that the departments and agencies involved, whether as first responders or otherwise, are equipped to protect all victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the territory. As a community, we are charged with working cooperatively to seek solutions to these broad-based and important issues,” deJongh said.
Prior to the meeting with Governor deJongh, the DVSAC forwarded a list of suggestions and recommendations regarding issues of concern and other support requested. The list of action items was discussed in full at the Government House meeting.
The Virgin Islands Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council (DVSAC) is a territory-wide, non-partisan, non-profit membership organization committed to ending domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence.
DVSAC provides education, training, technical assistance and other types of support to domestic violence and sexual assault programs and advocates, and other service providers.
Currently Brunei Darussalam has no legislation specific to domestic violence and a draft of the domestic violence order is still being considered by relevant authorities as the nation has been seeing a steady rise in domestic violence cases year-on-year from 2000 to 2006.
Datin Hjh Adinah bte Hj Othman, Director of Community Development Centre; Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, said this at the Domestic Violence Symposium at the Ministry of Finance building.
Minister of Health, Pehin Orang Kaya Indera Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Awang Haji Suyoi bin Hj Osman, was the guest of honour.
Touching on the steady rise in domestic violence cases, the minister said, “We cannot take comfort in the low number of reported cases. Although the number does not appear to be high, the actual prevalence of domestic violence is difficult to obtain, even in a multinational study because of stigma and fear as many women are reluctant to disclose their suffering.”
Datin Hjh Adinah said domestic violence is one of the three social ills faced by Brunei, the other two being drug abuse and promiscuity. As for the domestic violence order, she said they have been in discussions with the Attorney General’s Chambers for over two years.
However, references to domestic violence can be found in many legislations which include Children’s Order 2000 (superseded by Children and Young Persons Order 2006), Islamic Family Law 1999, Married Women’s Order 1999, Women & Girl Protection Act 1972 and Penal Code chapter 22.
Brunei is also a member of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) —May 2006 (recommendation No19 on gender-based violence).
Speaking on the statistics she had highlighted earlier on domestic violence from 2000 to 2006, it showed a marginal rise every year from 2000. In 2000 it was 81; 2001 it was 102; 2002 it was102; 2003 it was 160; 2004 it was 173; 2005 it went up to 193; and in 2006 it stood at 197.
The statistics on domestic violence include abuses experienced by wives, husbands, ex-wives, ex-husbands, maids and children.
Family related cases recorded by the Department of Community Development or JAPEM from 2004 to 2006 stood at 53, including 21 domestic violence, six child custody, four family conflicts, four housing problems concerning wives, four financial problems, four for begging, two poverty stricken families, two for neglecting the elderly, two cases of alimony and four others.
Child related cases recorded by JAPEM between 2004 and 2006 stood at 105, including 41 child abuse, 36 for youth beyond parental control, 14 for neglecting children, six abandoned babies, six over schooling of children and two others.
Datin Hjh Adinah also elaborated on the Children and Young Person’s Order 2006 (article 28(1)) under which any person is guilty of an offence if he/she abuses, assaults, neglects, abandons or exposes himself to a child in a manner likely to cause him physical or emotional injury or causing or permitting him to be abused, assaulted, neglected, abandoned or exposed or sexually abuses the child or causes him to be so abused.
She cited the types of violence as physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, isolation and economic violence. The consequences of domestic violence, which are physical, sexual and reproductive, psychological and behavioural, lead to fatalities and lasting impact on children.
The challenges they face at the moment are under reporting, stigma, shame and reluctance. Too many people believe domestic violence is a private matter.
Under reporting is due to a wife or the concerned victim who thinks about his/her welfare or the impact it may have on their children if they report to the relevant authorities.
Society and individuals can play a role by having a caring attitude and be a responsible member of society (tegur menegur) by providing support, contacting relevant agencies, calling police, taking action personally when a family member, neighbour, co-worker, or a friend is abused.
She also spoke on the role of medical professionals who can give them (victims) strength, be sensitive, report to the police and JAPEM, look out for “colour codes” or types of bruises which are easily identifiable with abuse. Datin Hjh Adinah also called for a one-stop crisis centre.
Prevention against domestic violence include primary prevention which are legal, community based efforts such as awareness campaigns, and secondary prevention which are screening services, support for victims such as half way houses, training and welfare benefits.
She also hopes that domestic violence be made a national agenda because it is a multi-agency approach, which needs a holistic legislation and victims need care and more awareness campaigns.
Support services of JAPEM include shelter (Taman Nor hidayah, Darussakinah), personality development programmes, counselling, after care monitoring, welfare benefits, awareness campaigns and a hotline. — Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin
According to surveys, every tenth woman in Mongolia is suffering a violence from her husband, and every second child comes to be a victim of the domestic violence.
Drawing attention to this tragic fact, the National Center for Human Rights is carrying out a targeted project in Dornod, Ovorkhangai, Bayankhongor, Khovd, Tov, Dundgobi, and Selenge aimag in cooperation with the Civil Alliance and the Center of Human Right and Development.
Located in the border area, Selenge province is considered a risky place likely to suffer trans-border human trafficking. In view of this, the largest in Mongolia shelter house has been established in the province.
The project team has conducted training for personnel of the rural network combating violence against women.
Residents of a western Baghdad neighbourhood have said militant groups in the area are hunting down women and killing them, and have appealed to parliament to do something, a member of parliament (MP) said on 22 April.
“Over the past six months 15 women were killed in al-Salam neighbourhood for religious reasons or because they had criticised the militants, or because of their previous affiliation to the Baath Party [disbanded party of ousted President Saddam Hussein],” MP Safia al-Suhail told IRIN.
Al-Suhail, who is also a woman activist, said the latest incident occurred in the past 10 days when gunmen shot dead a woman in front of her house because she had criticised the militants.
The next day, when her husband erected a huge tent near his house to receive mourners, the gunmen ordered the husband not to hold funeral rites, and torched the tent, al-Suhail said.
“We [in parliament] have been receiving such complaints recently. The problem is that these incidents are being registered against unknown persons, and some families are afraid to report them to the police,” she said.
“We call on government security forces to launch a thorough investigation when people report such incidents and arrest the perpetrators. Those who are behind such crimes must be punished,” she said.
Residents of the Shia neighbourhood of al-Salam who spoke on condition of anonymity as they fear reprisals, said Shia militiamen in the Mahdi Army loyal to radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr were behind the killings.
“They accuse them [the women victims] of different things such as prostitution, or of being informants for Iraqi and US forces, or of not wearing a headscarf or wearing Western clothes,” a resident told IRIN.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry refused to comment on the murders in al-Salam neighbourhood.
Government forces, backed by US and British forces, have been fighting the Mahdi Army militia in Basra since 25 March. The fighting has now spread to all southern provinces and Baghdad.
Driving across Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), which lies along the country’s western border with Afghanistan, more and more often, in the bazaars of small towns such as Kohat, Bannu or Tank, ruined buildings stand desolately, resembling a scene of war.
Now such scenes are also becoming more commonplace in Peshawar, NWFP’s provincial capital and a city of over two million people: Most of the affected buildings are shops that once sold music CDs, video or DVD films, or housed tailoring businesses.
All have been targeted by militants who hold “Western entertainment”, or the stitching of women’s clothes by male tailors, a violation of religious principles.
Earlier this month, for example, militants targeted three shops selling CDs on the busy Kohat Road in Peshawar, using homemade explosives to damage them and force their closure. “Fortunately no one was injured this time, but who knows what militants can do next,” Firdaus Ahmed, a nearby shopkeeper, said.
Girls’ schools have also become a target. At least six schools were attacked in the Darra Adam Khel area, about 35km south of Peshawar, in 2008, badly affecting girls’ education, with parents terrified to send their daughters to school.
“These attacks on education are very alarming for people and of course pupils suffer badly,” Iqbal Haider, co-chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN, calling for measures to combat the threat.
Women activists and non-governmental organisations active in the promotion of women’s education, including the Peshawar-based Khwendo Kor, which sets up schools for girls in remote parts of the NWFP, have also been targeted in the past.
A recent bomb attack on a girls’ middle school in the Germany Qila area of Darra Adam Khel on 28 March badly damaged the building. At least five other schools have also been hit in the area, with the blasts timed to avoid loss of life while destroying buildings.
The purpose is to keep female students out of school, local observers said. In some cases letters had been sent to schools telling them to close down, or fliers distributed telling people not to send their daughters to classes.
At a Peshawar bus stop, Uzma Bibi, 45, standing with her college-going daughters as they waited for a bus, said: “These people want to hold back women for ever. All of us must together work to prevent this.”
The party which heads the government is known for its fierce opposition to militancy, and party chief Asfandyar Wali has promised a “changed” NWFP and the combating of extremism. The overwhelming vote in favour of the party is also seen as a verdict against extremism.
Only 35 percent of Afghan schoolchildren are girls and while the number of children going to school is going up, the proportion of girls in education has remained the same, an aid group said on Monday.
The Taliban banned girls from school when they were in power from 1996 to 2001, but there are now more girls in education than there were boys at school under the hardline Islamists.
There are now more Afghan children in school than ever before.
“Great achievements have been made in the education sector in Afghanistan. However, more must be done to ensure that girls are not excluded from education,” CARE International said in a statement.
Thirty-five percent of Afghan children enrolled at schools are girls, CARE said citing Afghan Education Ministry figures, but “despite an overall increase in numbers of enrolled children, the percentage of female students is not increasing”.
The lack of women teachers, only 28 percent of the total, meant parents were often reluctant to send their daughters to be taught by men. Parents were also reluctant to send their girls to schools too far from the home, CARE said.
Nearly 150 students and teachers were killed and around 100 schools burnt down by Taliban militants in the Afghan year that ended in March, the Education Ministry said, but a record 5.7 million children were now in education.
CARE said around a third of state schools were exclusively for boys and the number of girls in education could be increased cost-effectively by alterations to these existing buildings to ensure segregation of the sexes demanded by conservative Afghan culture or by different time-tabling for boys and girls.
Parents also need to be convinced of the value that Islam places on the education of girls, it said.
Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship of women and policies of sex segregation stop women from enjoying their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today (April 21, 2008). Saudi women often must obtain permission from a guardian (a father, husband, or even a son) to work, travel, study, marry, or even access health care. Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship of women and policies of sex segregation stop women from enjoying their basic rights. Saudi women often must obtain permission from a guardian (a father, husband, or even a son) to work, travel, study, marry, or even access health care. In a 50-page report, “Perpetual Minors: Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia” Human Rights Watch draws on more than 100 interviews with Saudi women to document the effects of these discriminatory policies on woman’s most basic rights.
“The Saudi government sacrifices basic human rights to maintain male control over women,” said Farida Deif, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch. “Saudi women won’t make any progress until the government ends the abuses that stem from these misguided policies.”
The authorities essentially treat adult women like legal minors who are not entitled to authority over their lives and well-being. Saudi women are similarly denied the legal right to make even trivial decisions for their children. Women cannot open bank accounts for children, enroll them in school, obtain school files, or travel with their children without written permission from the child’s father.
Saudi women are prevented from accessing government agencies that have not established female sections unless they have a male representative. The need to establish separate office spaces for women is a disincentive to hiring female employees, and female students are often relegated to unequal facilities with unequal academic opportunities.
Male guardianship over adult women also contributes to their risk of confronting family violence, making it difficult for survivors of violence to avail themselves of protection or redress. Social workers, physicians, and lawyers told Human Rights Watch about the near impossibility of removing guardianship even from male guardians who are abusive.
And even where permission from a male guardian is not mandatory or stipulated under government guidelines, some officials will ask for it. Despite national regulations to the contrary, some hospitals require a guardian’s permission to allow women to be admitted, agree to medical procedures for themselves or their children, or be discharged.
Officials do not always follow limitations on the power of guardians imposed recently by the government. Despite an Interior Ministry decision allowing women over 45 to travel without permission, airport officials continue to ask all women for written proof their guardian has allowed them to travel. Travel restrictions can also be humiliating for many women.
Fatma A., a 40-year-old Saudi woman living in Riyadh, cannot board a plane without written permission from her son, her legal guardian. “My son is 23 years old and has to come all the way from the Eastern Province to give me permission to leave the country,” she told Human Rights Watch.
A Saudi woman’s access to justice is also severely constrained. Women continue to have trouble filing a court case or even being heard in court without a legal guardian. Women are required to wear a full-face veil (niqab) in court and be accompanied by a male relative able to verify their identity. Saudi Arabia has established no minimum age of criminal responsibility for girls, while the authorities generally decree puberty as the threshold for treating children as adults.
“It’s astonishing that the Saudi government denies adult women the right to make decisions for themselves but holds them criminally responsible for their actions at puberty,” said Deif. “For Saudi women, reaching adulthood brings no rights, only responsibilities.”
By failing to eliminate these discriminatory practices, the Saudi government is failing in its commitment to guarantee women and girls their rights to education, employment, freedom of movement, health, and equality in marriage. In doing so, the Saudi government ignores not only international law but even elements of the Islamic legal tradition that support equality and full legal capacity for women.
Human Rights Watch calls on Saudi Arabia to take immediate action to address the human rights abuses resulting from male guardianship policies. The Saudi government should abide by its international obligations and dismantle this grossly discriminatory system. The king should establish an oversight mechanism to ensure that government agencies no longer request permission from a guardian to allow adult women to work, travel, study, marry, receive health care, or access any public service. The authorities should establish female sections or other accommodations in every government office and courtroom in order to ensure women have equal access to every level of government.
Although affirmative action has gone a long way in providing women with leadership roles, their impact in local councils (LCs) and Parliament is yet to be realised. Affirmative action allows for at least 30% women on any of the LCs.
Up to 1995, women representation was through the Secretary for Women Affairs seat, until the Constitution and later the Local Government Act provided for 30% representation. Today, around 32% of all local leaders in the country are women.
Women have failed to effectively fight for the directly elected seats at all levels. For example, there is only one female district LC5 chairperson in the country – Josephine Kasya, Kanungu district. In Parliament, there are only 16 directly elected women, out of the available 215 seats. There is no female municipality mayor, out of 18 the available seats. In addition, there are only six women district council speakers in the country.
Less than 5% of the chief administrative officers in the country are women, as of 2007. They are Kampala town clerk Ruth Kijjambu, Oliver Nankyanzi (Kalangala), Roselini Adongo (Busia), Loyce Nambozo (Bududa) and Margaret Gimongoi Wanyenze (Namutumba).
“Those in leadership do not have power,” laments Miria Matembe, a former MP and woman activist. She argues that women control hardly anything. The country’s district budget is around sh1 trillion per year. Therefore, Kasya controls around sh10b (about 1% of the budget), leaving the men with over sh1 trillion. The five female CAOs control at least sh100b (about 10% of the total budget), while the men control sh900b (90%).
Makerere University lecturer Josephine Ahikire, author of Localised or Localising Democracy, Gender and Politics of Decentralisation, argues that although women were given at least 30% of the posts, they are still a caged group. “Women have failed to use this advantage (30%) to move to the next level,” she says. This next level is supposed to be where women take on men, for example in direct constituency seats.
However, the state minister for local government, Hope Mwesigye, says: “Affirmative action provided a 50/50 share of political leadership between women and men. The onus is on women leaders to mobilise other women.”
Politics has been largely commercialised, and because women do not have as much money as the men, they tend to lag behind.
Dr. Johnson Nkuuhe, a former legislator, says this gives men an edge over the women.
“About 76% of women earn less than their husbands. Of these, only 55% control their earnings. The rest are controlled by the husbands,” he says.
Culture has also been an impediment to women’s advancement. During campaigns, women rush home to prepare food and look after the home, while men stay behind to meet the electorate.
The other problem is that women lack solidarity for each other. Matembe cites the time when women lost the vice-presidency. “We tried to mobilise ourselves to lobby the President and Parliament to retain the position, but some of our fellow women let us down,” she says. This also happens during LC and parliamentary elections. In Kasya’s case, however, the people of Kanungu district voted for her because of her good track record at the sub-county level.
The Soroti LC5 chairman, Steven Ochola says women do not compete for direct seats because they assume the seats are for men.
Multipartism has also not helped the women’s cause. The only female party leader is Uganda People’s Congress’ Miria Obote.
Although women have been criticised for not effectively using the political affirmative action, no one can advocate its scrapping.
“Political affirmative action has helped many women join national politics,” Matembe says.
Ochola says: “Scrapping political affirmative action is wrong. We should encourage women to seek directly elected offices,” he says.
Makerere University don and woman activist Dr. Sylvia Tamale says: “Women should use affirmative action as a stepping stone.”
In the areas where there are women leaders, there has been a positive impact on women affairs.
Women feel that a fellow woman understands their issues better than men, Kasya says.
When Rubaga division had a female LC3 chairperson, the late Winnie Makumbi, it ranked among the areas with some of the most organised women’s groups.
Kampala city is unique, with one of the highest concentrations of women leaders.
The mayor, Nasser Ntege Sebaggala, says he appointed an almost exclusive female executive because he had faith in them.
Ochola agrees: “I have two women on my executive and they have performed well. In 2011, I will mobilise them to take on men.”
Mwesigye believes women have performed better in their roles than men. “I don’t agree that women leaders are a failure,” she says. This, she argues, should be one of the factors that women should build on.
Mwesigye says women can be mobilised to move a step further. “We should not be discouraged. Have you ever seen a priest give up preaching because people did not get saved?”
She says it may take long, but it can be achieved. Kasya is also hopeful. “I think in the next elections, we might have more women standing for LC5,” she says.
* Muslim women in south India have been remarkably successful in fighting for their rights
* They are active in issues such as dowry harassment, spousal abuse, employment opportunities, property rights, entry to mosques
* Better education, literacy levels than in the north helped them achieve their goals
* So has Islamic tradition in the south, influenced by sea-faring merchants, which has a more open mindset
A few weeks ago in the small town of Manjeri, in northern Kerala, P. Khadija won a significant victory when the local court ordered that women should be allowed to pray in the local mosque. Noor Masjid, built by Khadija’s brother-in-law, Neelambra Marikar Haji, in 1997, had originally been open to women until it closed down for renovations three years later. The Haji died before the mosque reopened, and afterwards women found themselves barred from its premises. Incensed, Khadija filed a petition in the munsiff court. Her education, knowledge of the Quran, and association with the founder of the mosque all combined to afford her this sweet victory.
Khadija is only one of many Muslim women in south India who are asserting their rights, and winning. In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the redoubtable Daud Sharifa Khanam has built the STEPS women’s development organisation into a formidable body, with 30,000 members. This month’s meeting celebrated a small victory—that of one of its members, Saubaitha Begum, who successfully organised a Friday prayer meet for 300 women in Thracepuram a few weeks ago, and even persuaded some of the men in the town to support the move. STEPS has also been determinedly tackling problems such as dowry harassment and spousal abuse, which the male-dominated jamaats often overlook. In the last decade alone, they have successfully disposed of 10,000 petitions. Well versed in both theology and law, STEPS members have also taken to the streets when the petitions haven’t been enough, forcing the removal of corrupt policemen and the arrest of violent wife-beaters.
Muslim feminism in south India seems to have come into its own in the last generation, and the story behind its success involves a complex mix of ground realities that reinforce each other. In Andhra Pradesh, the new breed of Muslim women activists draw their inspiration from an earlier generation of feminists. Ayesha Mahmood Farooqui, who teaches Islamic Studies at Osmania University, says, “Hyderabad’s educated young women have examples like Jeelani Bano, the president of the Asmita Resource Centre for Women. She is a feminist first and foremost, but just happens to be a Muslim as well. People like her are role models that these young women look up to. When a new generation comes up that is more conscious of its Muslim identity, it is forced to shape itself in an already existing feminist mould.”
Even organisations such as the Tablighi Jamaat and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, considered bastions of conservatism, have very active women’s wings in south India. Jamaat-e-Islami vice president Siddiq Hassan says, “We have women’s wings all over India, but it is only in south India that women are so active and socially aware. Higher literacy and global influences are the reasons for it.”
In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, it is history, geographical location and social conditions that favoured the development of an Islam that allows for strong women activists. Set in the middle of the vast sea trade route, Islam was brought to Tamil Nadu by merchants and entrepreneurs, with a mindset far removed from the feudal mentality of their north Indian cousins.
Tamil Muslims look east as well as west along the sea route. “There are strong Tamil Muslim communities across Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia,” explains historian and activist V. Geetha. These are countries with strong women leaders, and globalisation forges links between them and Indian Muslims. “Not only that,” she adds, “Tamil Nadu is a land of dargahs where women are always heavily represented, so activist networks are easily built up.”
Apart from an excellent educational system and high literacy levels, globalisation has had a significant influence in Kerala as well. Young Malayalis working in the Gulf have come back with a feminist idea that prevails in the otherwise conservative Arab world—most Arab mosques allow women to pray within their precincts, and this issue has become a rallying point for Kerala’s Muslim women, with which they can put the hidebound clergy in place, as Khadija has just done in the Noor Masjid case.
The rise of new Muslim feminist movements in south India has also been triggered by communal politics. In Hyderabad, the Confederation of Voluntary Organisations (COVA) was founded in the aftermath of communal riots. “We activists first went into the old city in 1991, and then again in 1992, to provide relief after riots,” says Asiya Khatoon, director of the Mahila Sanatkar team at COVA. “The women asked us to provide something beyond relief. They needed jobs, education and help against exploitative in-laws.” COVA found that 85 per cent of girls would drop out of school after the first few years. They were first sent to vocational learning centres just to keep them safe during riots, but they then educated themselves and picked up valuable vocational skills. In March 2002, as Gujarat burned, COVA organised a series of human chains with burqa-clad women standing hand-in-hand with their Hindu and Sikh sisters to prevent communal violence.
The path towards self-sufficiency has not been easy, nor is it complete. Old-style politicians are feared as the stumbling blocks. “The politicians get their votes from the male-dominated jamaats, the same that never deliver for women. When we get the administration to respond, the politicians feel increasingly irrelevant and threatened,” says Sharifa Khanam. The president of the Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, M.H. Jawaharullah, has called Khanam’s women’s jamaat “a fringe group surviving on media hype”. The women’s mosque that Khanam started building in 2004 has only advanced to the foundation stage, and its completion seems far away. But, typically, she and other STEPS members are undaunted.
The self-confidence engendered by this generation of activists has changed the way south Indian Muslim women look at their situation. Asiya Khatoon says, “The first thing that women in the old city now ask from somebody with a political agenda is to get lost. They are self-sufficient now, and have had enough of being used as political pawns.”
By Omair Ahmad with Pushpa Iyengar in Chennai and John Mary in Thiruvananthapuram