Archive for May, 2008
A Malaysian MP told parliament that there would be fewer marital problems and a lower divorce rate if Muslim women were taught to accept polygamy, news reports said today.
Ibrahim Ali, an independent parliamentarian, proposed moves to address the issue in response to complaints that women were always blamed for marital issues.
“Such problems happen because women cannot accept polygamy. From a preventive point of view, what about doing a big campaign so that women can accept polygamy?” Ibrahim was quoted saying in the Star daily.
The ethnic Malay Muslim lawmaker said women who are pregnant or who have “problems” when they hit their 50s do not understand that men still want to “have fun”.
Fuziah Salleh, an opposition politician, had earlier questioned the qualifications of Islamic sharia court counsellors as she had received complaints from women that they were forced to take the blame for most marital problems.
“They are not counselled but given ‘advice’. And every time, they are told that the woman is to be blamed. If it is a family problem, they must be patient. If they are beaten up, they must also be patient,” she said.
Muslim men in Malaysia are allowed up to four wives. Activists and women’s groups say polygamy is cruel and has deviated from its original purpose in Islam, which was to protect widows and orphans.
Islam is the official religion of Malaysia, where more than 60 per cent of its 27 million people are Muslim Malays. Polygamy is illegal for non-Muslims.
The position of women in Iraqi society has deteriorated dramatically since the start of the occupation – and the daily results are deadly. A dark pool of dried blood and a fallen red scarf mark the place where Ronak, who had fled to a woman’s shelter in the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah when she was accused of adultery by her husband, was shot three times by a man hiding on the roof of a nearby building.
Ronak was wounded by bullets in the neck, side and leg and only survived after a four-hour operation. She was the latest victim of a huge increase across Iraq in the number of “honour” killings of women for alleged immorality by their own families.
Many are burnt to death by having petrol or paraffin poured over them and set ablaze. Others are shot or strangled. The United Nations estimates that at least 255 women died in honour-related killings in Kurdistan, home to one fifth of Iraqis, in the first six months of 2007 alone.
The murder of women who are deemed to have disobeyed traditional codes of morality is even more common in the rest of Iraq where government authority has broken down since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
A surprising reason explaining the massive increase in the number of honour killings is the availability of cheap mobile phones able to take pictures. Men photograph themselves making love to their girlfriends and pass the pictures to their friends. This often turns out to be a lethal act of bravado in a society where premarital or extra-marital sex justifies killing.
The first known case of sex recorded on a mobile leading to murder was in 2004. Film of a boy making love with a 17-year-old girl circulated in the Kurdish capital, Arbil. Two days later she was killed by her family and a week later he was murdered by his.
Since then there has been a sharp increase in the number of women suffering violence –- it is almost always the women rather than the men who suffer retribution – as a result of some aspect of their love life being pictured on mobile phones.
In 2007, at least 350 women, double the figure for the previous year, suffered violence as a result of mobile phone “evidence”, according to Amanj Khalil of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, citing figures compiled by women’s organizations and the police directorate in Sulaymaniyah.
The true figure is probably much higher. Bodies are buried in the mountains. Violence is concealed. Whole extended families and clans feel a genuine sense of shame because of some supposed act of immorality.
Often retribution is carefully planned. In the case of Ronak, whose real name has to be concealed, her would-be killer carefully chose his firing point in an empty office building beside the shelter and may have waited for her for a long time. Ronak, who has three children, came from the ramshackle town of Chamchamal on the road between Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk. Accused of adultery by her husband and fearing an honour killing, she fled her house and took refuge first with the police who passed her on in March this year to the Asuda shelter in Sulaymaniyah, one of six shelters in Kurdistan for women who are victims of violence or threatened with honour killing.
She must have thought herself safe. Along with four other women, she was living on the first floor which can only be reached by a narrow staircase closed off by a locked inner door. The police gave a measure of protection. But members of her husband’s family may have pursued her from Chamchamal. “When we went to court [with Ronak, who was seeking a divorce] we thought we were being followed,” says Khanum Raheem Lateef, the manager of Asuda.
The windows in the shelter are mostly masked by curtains, but the one in the kitchen area leading to the bathroom had been taken down. At 11pm last Sunday Ronak went to the bathroom and as she came back into the kitchen a gunman lying on a roof 20ft away shot her three times.
The position of women in Iraqi society has deteriorated dramatically since the start of the occupation. Despite the horrific number of honour killings, their status may be improving only in Kurdistan, where the government is secular, in contrast to Baghdad where the religious parties hold power. The Kurdish police and courts are also more sympathetic than elsewhere in Iraq to women whose lives have been threatened. There are no shelters for women in Baghdad or Basra.
Vulnerability to violence is not the only area in which the equal status of women in Iraq has been eroded. A woman can only get a new passport if she is accompanied by a male relative. One woman, whose father was too ill to attend the passport office, had to take her 14-year-old brother with her to vouch for her before officials would give her a new passport.
Many women escape from miserable marriages, often arranged by their families, not by flight but by suicide. In 2007, some 600 women and girls in Kurdistan killed themselves, mostly by burning themselves, or by drowning or shooting themselves, according to the Health Ministry of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
“Women may feel there is genuinely no hope for them to escape subjection,” says Sherizaan Minwalla, a lawyer with the Heartland Alliance in Sulaymaniyah, who represents many victims of domestic violence. “Suicide may seem a rational choice and even a form of protest.”
The Women of Solomon Islands need to be protected from continuous domestic and sexual violence that is taking place in many of the communities through out the country.
Domestic violence in this sense refers to acts of violence perpetrated within domestic sphere such as “battering, incest, marital rape”.
Sexual assault refers to RAPE, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work and other violent acts occurring within the general community.
Harmful practices such as trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of buying and selling of women and children for commercial sexual purpose has been practised.
However, there is need for many of our communities to acknowledge and recognise that such practice existed.
Many women young and old continue to experience violence in the hands of male perpetrators, however nothing much has been done.
Compensation is one way of punishing individuals who take advantage of women, however it is not enough.
Compensation must not be considered as the only effective means of punishment in many of our communities.
The increase of Domestic violence in all its form in many villages poses a real challenge for the Solomon Islands Community and its government.
Women, young and old, can no longer protect themselves from the hands of their perpetrators.
Some occurred in the villages and places women called “HOME.”
In many cases sexual encounters happened between people that victims knew.
Increase cases of women being raped, a reported in the local media, is an indication that women have to be very careful wherever they are living in their local communities or in town.
Solomon Islands must not be content if such revelation appears in the media every week.
The local media has provided information on horrific cases such as the rape of a three year old girl and the rape of a 37-year-old intellectually impaired woman in the Western Province.
There are many more rape cases that are happening in other provinces, but went unreported.
Traditional communities can no longer protect women from any form of abuse except the law of this country.
The way the Law of this country protects women all kinds of abuse is not clear.
The local Media is taking a fundamental stand in its daily reports on “Violence against Women.”
The potential power of media and communications is to spotlight pressing issues of violence against women, changing attitudes, providing critical information and ultimately encouraging action to remove such violence from our homes and our neighbour hoods.
Media organisations must be helped in order to transform strategies to reach mass audience to have helped break the stigma and change of quite acceptance surrounding Domestic violence.
Media can help by touching the heart as well as the mind and can have a greater impact on people in profound ways and support and empower them to create change.
The government must consider the idea of investing in women and girls as a priority area in its policy.
The issue of gender development is a focal area to highlight among other government priority areas such as Infrastructure, Tourism, Agriculture, the Business Sector and logging.
The role of any government is to empower national women’s machineries to have the capacity to work on these issues.
It needs political will and commitment to effectively address domestic violence in all its form.
For the government to prioritise gender development in its policy shows that it has recognised the contributions of women to the economic development of this country.
The government needs to understand the needs and the issues of women by empowering gender based organisations in Solomon Islands so that work can reach the women population living in the rural area.
The government has the resources and as part of its role it must strengthen the existing establishments to implement the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that was signed in 2002.
The responsibility of the government is to ensure that CEDAW is implemented.
Thousands people marched to parliament to present a memorandum to the safety and security ministry on gender-based violence.
The march was led by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and supported by, among others, the Sonke Gender Justice Network and Aids Law Project.
According to the TAC, the Women’s Health and Rights Campaign highlights the scourge of violence against women and the spread of HIV in the communities in which it worked, how the justice system is failing women, and how the laws targeted at women’s empowerment are not taken seriously.
The TAC and its allies called for, among other things, an end to victimisation of rape survivors by police and court officials, more rape crisis centres along the Simelela and Thuthuzela model, the roll-out of Sexual Offences Courts to be speeded up, and improved access to antiretroviral treatment (ARV) post-exposure prophylaxis for rape survivors.
Other demands included scaling up programs empowering rape survivors and improving community awareness, sensitising police to barriers faced by women reporting cases, and improving investigations, especially forensic evidence collection, of rape cases.
More resources had to be given to the court system so that prosecutions could be speeded up and carried out more efficiently, and more human and financial resources had to be given to the police, including victim empowerment centres.
The TAC further demanded that long sentences for rape and murder offenders be ensured, resources for criminal rehabilitation services be increased, criminals be identified and arrested more speedily, and sex work be decriminalised and police stop harassing sex workers.
“We call on all stakeholders, including government, to work together to achieve these objectives.
“We want to work in partnership with the SAPS and other elements of the law enforcement and criminal justice systems to achieve these objectives,” the TAC said.
There was a 25 per cent increase in domestic violence cases that reached the courtrooms in 2007, compared to the year before.
Furthermore, a five per cent increase was noted in the amount of people who came forward and reported a domestic violence crime.
The data was submitted by the police to the House Gender Equality Committee yesterday.
Costas Veis, the head of the Domestic Violence Office of the police, said there were 1,053 reported cases in 2007, compared to the previous year’s 1,016.
Of these cases, 79.18 per cent had to do with physical abuse, 18.86 per cent psychological and 1.96 per cent were sexual.
The vast majority of victims were women (72 per cent), men followed with 16.8 per cent and children with 11.3 per cent (6.4 per cent were female and 4.9 per cent were male).
Over 80 per cent of culprits were men, 16.4 per cent were women and 1.6 per cent were children.
Deputies pointed out that the increase in reported cases could be seen as a positive thing, as the crime of domestic violence is no longer taking place behind closed doors and more people are coming forward.
Committee Chairman Dina Akkelidou of AKEL said the increase in cases was disappointing and worrying, but it was also encouraging that domestic violence was being revealed, whereas it had in the past been hidden due to shame.
Antigoni Papadopoulou of DIKO said that unfortunately the law was not being implemented , while Roulla Mavronicola of EDEK referred to a 2008 survey, which showed that there were 400 new cases in the first months of the year.
Finally, Stella Kyriakidou of DISY said that domestic violence led to other social problems, such as drug abuse and football hooliganism, and that the best way to deal with the situation was to concentrate on prevention.
An ABC investigation has found that the public housing shortage is forcing women in relationships involving severe domestic violence to wait as long as two years for permanent accommodation.
The South Australian Women’s Housing Association has more than 500 women and their children on a public housing waiting list.
Last month the Domestic Violence Crisis Centre received 196 calls from women in need of emergency accommodation.
With Adelaide’s women’s shelters at capacity, more than 160 of them could not be offered a place.
Gilian Cordell from the Crisis Service says the situation is critical.
“We don’t know where to advise clients now, we’ve got to a point where we feel desperate,” she said.
Housing SA provides financial assistance for up to six nights emergency hotel accommodation, but domestic violence services say after that many women are being left with nowhere to go.
The State Government says it is trialing a family safety program to ensure adequate services for people in domestic violence are being provided.
I don’t make a habit of fawning over judges but in the case of former Court of Appeal judge Ted Thomas, I could almost make an exception. (*)
Once more he has spoken out in the New Zealand Law Journal about the problems women face when they bring charges of rape and sexual abuse. The last time was 14 years ago, when he made just as much sense as he did last week, though the legal profession seems as slow on the uptake now as it was then.
I will be blunt. I’d never look to the legal profession in general for compassion, truth, empathy, respect or honest good manners. There are wonderful exceptions Thomas is one but I suspect he’s outnumbered by swaggering, conceited, smug, overpaid oafs who think winning is more important than truth and who work in a system that justifies that cynical view.
This judge wrote, all those years ago, and in the same journal, that he believed many rape complainants left the courtroom feeling they’d been raped a second time. “I do not believe that it is an exaggeration to describe the experience which rape victims undergo as being brutal and barbaric.” It was an outdated error, he went on, to persist with the claim that the adversarial system got at the truth. “A criminal trial is not directed at ascertaining truth. Its overt objective is to determine whether the Crown has established the charge beyond reasonable doubt. Yet is the victim of a personally destructive crime such as rape not entitled to claim that the objective should be truth?”
I like this man. He put his finger there on the key issue, the downgrading of truth in the elaborate game trial lawyers play. It’s undignified for everyone involved and doesn’t fit with what justice should be about. For one thing, it’s not entertainment. For another, get a chess set to play with if you care so little about real people.
What prompted the judge 14 years ago may have been the notorious case he referred to of an accused man who chose to defend himself, and conducted a gruelling five-hour cross-examination of his victim that Thomas described as “insensitive, cruel and inhumane”. This time, he seems to be backing Auckland forensic psychologist Suzanne Blackwell, who prefers an inquisitorial approach to sex crimes. In her study of child sex trials, published in April this year, she noted how defence lawyers bullied young witnesses, that most accused them of lying, and that only 6% of such prosecutions were ever successful. She referred to “an unequal game between a scared, court-naive complainant and a practised defence lawyer”. That would no doubt apply equally to many adult rape complainants.
Last week Thomas laid it on the line: “Whether the lack of regard for the dignity and humanity of complainants in sexual cases results from an unconscious misogyny, covert sexism, male chauvinism, a deep-rooted conservatism, an uncompromising formalism, a lack of empathy for the victims of sexual crimes or an incomplete sense of justice is beyond the purview of this paper. But some reform is necessary.”
The editorial in the same journal drew back from wholly supporting him, while agreeing that change was needed. A certain loftiness crept in with the remark that “Blackwell seems to assume that the criminal process is intended to pursue victims’ rights.” If criminal law isn’t about that, what the hell is it about? Are victims merely a nuisance?
The editorial said complaints about the criminal justice system by interest groups such as women’s groups and anti-business groups “simply mirror the complaints made by almost all who become ensnared in the system as witnesses, complainants, victims or whatever. The difference is that in these cases they are organised, get funding from the Law Foundation and the press listens. Everyone else who makes these sort of complaints [sic] is labelled a `redneck’.”
What a shame we can’t all be men, and businessmen at that.
What smugness there is in the implication that only insiders (who do not include women and “anti-business” groups) really understand the law and that if nobody forced to engage with it thinks well of it, so what? But what really irked me was this: “Making special cases out of certain offences is fraught with difficulty. It invites political pressure and the suspicion that offences are selected for special treatment as a result of organised and successful agitation.”
Well, how about that? Didn’t such agitation lead to every law reform you can name? The repeal of capital punishment and homosexual law reform, for example, didn’t happen because lawyers spontaneously saw the justice in them and agitated for them in an excess of moral purity. They happened because lowly outsiders possibly even women and anti-business people believe the law exists to serve our needs and beliefs, not the other way round.
(*) Opinion email@example.com
Two sexual assault cases against the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines were dismissed summarily, spurring critics to say ‘old boy’ networks trump the rule of law.
Rape allegations against Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves have divided this idyllic archipelago beloved by honeymooners, mariners and hikers, with one side decrying what it sees as a culture of indifference toward sexual violence and the other insisting that the charges are politically motivated.
A member of Gonsalves’ security detail has told police that the 61-year-old leader raped her Jan. 3 at his Old Montrose mansion, where she was on patrol, stifling her protests and warning her to be quiet because his wife and children were upstairs sleeping.
Gonsalves has denied the accusation, and the district attorney, the prime minister’s former law colleague, has dismissed the complaint lodged in Magistrates Court by Constable Michele Andrews. She turned to the court because her police superiors had declined to pursue criminal action against Gonsalves.
Human rights activists and local business leaders allege that Gonsalves has a history of sexual aggression, and women’s advocates across the Caribbean have begun organizing support for Andrews, 36, whose identity was disclosed by Gonsalves.
At least four other women claiming to have been sexually assaulted by Gonsalves have come forward since Andrews made her accusation.
The scandal has shed light on political, legal and security networks in the region’s fledgling democracies, where loyalties to old school chums and political allies can, critics say, trump the rule of law.
Emery Robertson, one of the four local lawyers who have taken up Andrews’ case, says the Caribbean judicial system is lacking in sufficient checks on power. In St. Vincent, for instance, the prime minister also heads the ministries of finance, national security, economic planning and legal affairs, with the civil servants in each beholden to him and his party for their jobs.
“All the stakeholders owe some allegiance to the prime minister,” said Sharon Morris-Cummings, another of Andrews’ lawyers.
The four lawyers have appealed the dismissal of her case and a second one brought to a regional court by a Canadian alleging another attack. They vow to take the cases, if necessary, to the London Privy Council, which remains the court of last resort for the former British colony.
Human rights and feminist groups have demanded that Gonsalves be prosecuted to send a signal that no one is above the law.
“People are afraid to come forward. The message he’s sending is, ‘We will discredit you,’ ” said Peggy Antrobus, a Vincentian living in Barbados who for decades has been at the fore of the Caribbean’s tiny women’s movement.
Margaret Parsons, a Canadian human rights lawyer of Vincentian descent, charged in her complaint against Gonsalves that she was attacked in January 2003 when she had an appointment with him to discuss plans for constitutional reform in the region. A few minutes into their discussion, she says, he lunged at her, groped her, ripped her blouse and attempted to rape her on his office couch before she was able to break away and flee.
“I remember coming out of the building with my heart pumping. I was enraged. I couldn’t believe this happened to me,” Parsons recalled in a telephone interview from Toronto. “I didn’t know who to turn to. I didn’t know who would listen to me.”
She returned to Canada, and says she “suffered in silence” — until Andrews’ case shamed and emboldened her to file a complaint in Magistrates Court.
“This is a prime minister, for Pete’s sake! He can’t continue to act with impunity in such egregious acts,” Parsons said. “We’re not talking about a parking ticket or a traffic violation; we’re talking about the violation of women’s bodies.”
As happened to Andrews’ case, Parsons’ complaint was taken over by the director of public prosecutions, R. Colin Williams, a longtime friend of Gonsalves who discontinued the proceedings, a power granted the district attorney-like office but rarely used on such serious allegations.
Williams is a tall, high-spirited man with a thunderous laugh. He defended his decisions to halt the cases against Gonsalves.
“Ralph is a victim of his personality. He has a very informal style,” Williams said. “Here they call him Huggingson Kissinger, because he’ll greet you with a hug and a kiss.”
He said the five incidents to which women have sworn statements were either old or unsubstantiated by physical evidence.
Andrews did not submit a written statement when she told the police superintendent about the alleged attack on the morning of the incident, nor when she contacted the police commissioner the next day, he said. Andrews says that both told her to go home and calm down, and that she was assured they would investigate and contact her when they needed information.
To the allegations of a 43-year-old woman who testified that she was raped by Gonsalves when she was an 18-year-old job applicant at his office, Williams bellowed with amusement, “That was more than 20 years ago, man!”
As for Parsons’ complaint, Williams said it couldn’t be trusted because “she’s a human rights lawyer!”
Andrews, who is now walking a beat along the colonial edifices around Kingstown Harbor, said she wanted to kill herself in the days after the attack. She recalled tearfully the hours that she spent cowering in a police station bunk after flushing her underwear down a toilet and showering for half an hour, before deciding to turn to her police superiors.
Hearing nothing from them in four weeks despite further appeals, Andrews registered a private criminal complaint in the Magistrates Court on Jan. 31, and an order was issued for Gonsalves to appear three weeks later. The order was nullified when Williams intervened four days later.
Within hours of the filing, Police Commissioner Keith Miller informed Andrews’ attorneys that he had “had the matter investigated and those investigations did not reveal any evidence of wrongdoing by the honorable prime minister.”
Gonsalves appeared at a news conference the next day to declare his innocence and accuse political opponents of trying to force him to resign.
“This is an attempt to damage me politically and to discredit me in the eyes of the people,” Gonsalves said, with his wife, Eloise, and Cabinet officials at his side.
He proclaimed himself “cleared” by Miller and identified Andrews as his accuser, setting off weeks of public badgering of the policewoman during the daily radio call-in show hosted by Gonsalves’ press secretary, Hans King.
“I will not be bulldozed by unfounded allegations of which I am wholly innocent,” he said, adding that he was contemplating legal action against Andrews and her lawyers.
Gonsalves hasn’t commented on Parsons’ more recent complaint or on Williams’ April 4 decision to dismiss it. But one of the prime minister’s lawyers, Grahame Bollers, deemed her claims “criminal libel” in demanding an apology and $500,000 in compensation from Nice Radio, which aired an interview with Parsons three times in late April.
Lawyer Kay Bacchus-Browne, who is representing the radio station’s director as well as Gonsalves’ accusers, informed Bollers that they were rejecting the demands because Parsons’ words “are true.”
Inquiries from The Times were referred to another of the prime minister’s lawyers, Parnell Campbell, who did not return phone calls. Police officials did not respond to requests for interviews.
Letters to the editors of local papers and the Caribbean Net News agency have denounced the legal maneuvering to shield Gonsalves from prosecution and reminded readers that all citizens are supposed to be equal before the law. The island’s politically attuned calypso artists have also weighed in on the scandal with a derisive ballad titled “Hip, Hip, Who Rape?”
“We’ve noticed a number of worrisome incidents in which the rule of law seems to be in doubt,” said a U.S. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, who paid a visit here in April to inquire about the cases.
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which has been asked to review Williams’ actions, is expected to rule soon and could endorse the dismissals or send the cases to trial.
That court is composed of justices appointed by the prime ministers of participating states, and attorney Bacchus-Browne said she had “a little vestige of hope” that the regional court would put politics aside and send the cases to trial. Although if that happens, she said, Gonsalves probably would appeal.
“It’s probably going to have to go to the Privy Council if we’re to see justice,” she said.
The Dutch cabinet said it wanted to crack down harder on the country’s sex industry, in particular unlicensed sex operators, as part of efforts to combat human trafficking.
“That is why the cabinet wants to make it an offence to use the services of a sex operator without a licence or a non-registered independent prostitute,” the government said in a statement.
Prostitutes have plied their trade in the narrow alleys of the old centre of Amsterdam for centuries. While they used to attract sailors and merchants in the city’s heyday as the heart of a global trading empire, they are now a huge tourist draw.
The Dutch cabinet officially legalised prostitution in 2000.
The Czech Republic lacks a law that would regulate prostitution and it is unlikely that such a law will be passed in the near future, Czech Human Rights and Minorities Minister Dzamila Stehlikova (junior government Green Party, SZ) told journalists.
The City of Prague is drafting its own bill regulating prostitution and most Czech municipalities support it, Stehlikova said after a meeting of a working group that discusses the regulation of prostitution.
The passage of such a law would mean that prostitution would be considered a method of legal business activity. If the bill drafted by the Prague Town Hall experts is approved by the Prague authority it could be submitted to the parliament this year.
“I view the process of the legalisation of prostitution as a very complicated from the political point of view. I am afraid that it is a long-distance run, a question of two to three years before such a bill is submitted to the parliament,” Stehlikova said.
She said she had distributed a questionnaire among the authorities of 80 Czech municipalities, beginning with the smallest and ending with large cities, asking them to express their position on the regulated prostitution.
Stehlikova said that 89 percent of them supported the bill and 83 percent approved of prostitution as a method of business activity.
Three years ago, the Czech government approved a bill on prostitution drafted by the Interior Ministry and submitted it to the Chamber of Deputies.
However, the deputies rejected the government’s proposal to abrogate the international Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and Abuse of Prostitution that was the condition for the parliament to pass the law regulating prostitution.
The Czech Republic at present does not have any legal norm regulating prostitution.
Mayor of the north Bohemian town of Dubi notorious of large number of prostitutes complained that at present “the municipality does not have any means to regulate prostitution.”
“Many citizens have become victims of this activity,” he said.
“The advantage of such a law would be that it would introduce the general ban on the provision of sexual services in municipalities, but would allow the authorities to define spaces where prostitutes would be able to offer their services,” Stehlikova said.
The bill on prostitution is also aimed to curb involuntary prostitution and organised crime and protect prostitutes and their clients against the risk of HIV virus, Stehlikova said.
According to analyses, there are 75 facilities in Prague offering sexual services in which 3000 people work.
In the whole of the Czech Republic, up to 13,000 people offer sexual services, according to estimates.
Sex workers in India now have the option of taking out life insurance cover – a move they hope will speed up their bid to legalise the profession, a charity said today.
“Sex workers approached Life Insurance Corporation of India, which agreed to provide insurance coverage,” said Smarajit Jana, chief adviser to Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (Committee for Indomitable Women), a group representing 65,000 sex workers.
“We have started by signing up 199 sex workers in Sonagachi, one of Asia’s largest red light districts, housing over 10,000 women involved in the business,” he said.
Prostitution is illegal in India where, according to the National AIDS Control Organisation, there are 1.2 million sex workers.
“Our target is to bring 50 per cent of the sex workers of the country under the insurance coverage by 2008,” Mr Jana said.
An official of the state-run Life Insurance Corporation of India, Gita Chatterjee, said the company is ready to sell the concept Jevan Madhur plan as a micro insurance policy specially designed for sex workers.
“The policy will not cover accidental deaths or disability due to intentional self-injury, suicide, insanity or immorality under the influence of drugs, liquor or narcotics,” she said.
“As life risk is covered, the only condition set by LIC is a routine medical check-up for these women since they are at a high risk of HIV/AIDS,” she said.
“Sex worker Swapna Gayen hailed the move as a victory for sex workers.’
“It would put our campaign a step forward to legalise our profession,” Ms Gayen said.
When 19-year-old Fatima returned to her home in northern Afghanistan after years as a refugee in Iran, she struggled desperately to earn a living.
She briefly found work with an NGO, before being let go, and then spent two months learning how to weave carpets, before the factory shut down and she was again out on the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif.
Determined to support her mother, two sisters and young brother, she turned to a profession that has long been practised the world over but remains deeply suppressed in conservative Afghanistan — prostitution.
“I had no other way but prostitution,” says the pretty teenager, dressed in tight blue jeans with a black veil pulled loosely over her head.
“I get up early in the morning and wander around the city,” she said, at first reluctant to discuss her work. “My customers stop me and give me a lift and then we talk about the price,” she explains, her face coated in make-up.
Sometimes charging $50 a time, her work is illegal and would bring shame on her family if discovered, but it provides a lifeline she otherwise could not have imagined.
And there is anecdotal evidence, supported by doctors concerned about the potential for the spread of HIV and AIDS, that more and more young women across northern regions of Afghanistan are turning to sex work to escape grinding poverty.
Mohammad Khalid, a doctor who runs an AIDS awareness clinic in Mazar-i-Sharif, says he has seen a rise in infections, although from a very low base, and fears that women working in prostitution are reluctant to come forward to be tested.
“Unfortunately the public is not aware of the risk of HIV infection,” he says. “It is very dangerous and these prostitutes will be a major factor in spreading it.”
Nasrin, a stylish 24-year-old dressed in a white burqa but wearing fashionable jeans underneath, works as a prostitute in Kunduz, to the east of Mazar-i-Sharif.
She says she was urged by her mother to take up the work as there was no other way for the family to earn a living.
“My father died in the civil war, my mum was a widow and I did not know what she did for work,” Nasrin explained. “Later I understood she was a prostitute. One day she encouraged me to have sex with a man who came to our house.”
Nasrin said she was ashamed, but felt she had no choice. “I really wanted to be a good lady and live with my husband, but now everyone sees me as a prostitute,” she said. “My life is spoiled,” she sobbed.
Others are more satisfied with their work, even if they acknowledge it means a normal life is out of the question.
“I am happy with what I am doing,” says Nazanin, 23, a long-time prostitute in Mazar-i-Sharif who charges $15 a time.
“On the other hand, I have had enough of this. I really want to live like the others do. But who will marry me?” she asked. While Afghanistan’s strict Islamic law forbids prostitution, there are signs the work is taking formal root, with brothels operating in some cities and pimps managing prostitutes. Bribes take care of unwanted police attention.
“I have had my brothel for at least five years,” explained a pimp in one northern provincial city, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I have 10 girls here and my customers are trustworthy.”
Asked how he operates under Islamic law, he replied: “My brothel is not in the open. It is something only my customers know about. Once police took notice of what I was doing but I paid them a bribe.”
For clients, paying for sex gives them easy access to women that they otherwise would not be able to meet or could only have contact with if they were married — a costly exercise in itself.
“I have sex at least once a week with one of these prostitutes,” said Zilgy, a 25-year-old visiting a brothel in Mazar-i-Sharif. “I am their regular customer now. I have their telephone numbers and invite them to many places.”
Ahmad Jamshid, aged 27, says he has sex with prostitutes because he cannot afford a wife.
“I am a shopkeeper. If I want to marry a girl, I must have at least $20,000 to marry her. Having sex with a prostitute is the only way that can I meet my expectations,” he said.
Women’s rights workers are concerned about what they see as a rising tide in sex work but believe it will inevitably continue unless the government does something to tackle poverty.
Malalai Usmani, head of Balkh, a women’s rights organization, says more awareness in the public is needed.
“Because of poverty, women are doing this,” she said. “It is all because of poverty. The government and other organizations should launch awareness programmes to let these women know about the harm caused by prostitution.”
Security chiefs and religious leaders are also keen to show that they are clamping down on the world’s oldest profession, but they lay the blame squarely on the sex worker, not the customers.
“Prostitution is completely illegal in Islam,” said Qari Aziz, a prayer leader in Mazar-i-Sharif. “Those practicing it must be punished very harshly so that they will never do it again.”
Sex tourism and US troops in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas may be fuelling a demand for human trafficking there.
An organisation helping victims of human trafficking says it has seen a rise in the numbers of victims seeking help from 36 last year to 54 this year.
The Karidat Social Services says most women come from China and the Phillippines with many forced into prostitution or work as exotic dancers.
The manager of the Guma Esperansa Shelter for Battered Women, Laurie Okomoro, says the Marianas is a hotspot for human trafficking because of its proximity to many Asian countries as well as the ongoing demand for sex workers.
There’s a sex tourism industry here that no-one really wants to admit, there’s also businesses gear up for the US military ships to arrive and so they have lots of karioke and dance shows involving nude dancers and that feeds the trafficking industry.
An international study on human trafficking which covers the CNMI will be presented by the organisation Shared Hope in August.
Save the Children UK calls for new global watchdog
A new report released by Save the Children UK shows that children living in conflict-affected countries fear to report sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeeping troops and humanitarian aid workers.
Despite recent political commitments by governments and international organisations to tackle this problem, the report exposes the chronic under-reporting of such abuse, which leaves many children around the world suffering in silence.
Children told Save the Children UK that they were too afraid to report the abuse, frightened that if they did the abuser might come back and hurt them, that aid agencies might stop helping them, or that they might be stigmatised by their family and community, or even punished by them. This suggests that for every case of abuse that is identified, there are likely to be many more that go unreported.
Save the Children UK’s research in Ivory Coast, Southern Sudan and Haiti shows that children as young as six are being abused by adults working for the international community. The children interviewed highlighted many different types of abuse, including trading food for sex, rape, child prostitution, pornography, indecent sexual assault and trafficking of children for sex.
“People don’t report it because they are worried that the agency will stop working here, and we need them”, explained a teenage boy in Southern Sudan.
To combat the problem, Save the Children UK makes three recommendations that are under discussion with the UN Task Force on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse:
Effective local complaints mechanisms to be set up by the UN in the countries in which there is a significant international presence, so that children and/or their parents are able to report abuses carried out by those acting on behalf of the international community and get decisive action taken against the perpetrators.
The establishment of a new global watchdog to monitor and evaluate the efforts of international agencies to tackle this abuse and to champion more effective responses
Increased investment in tackling the underlying causes of sexual abuse, for example support for legal reforms, public education and awareness raising, and the development of national child protection systems.
Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children UK, said: “This research exposes the despicable actions of a small number of perpetrators who are sexually abusing some of the most vulnerable children in the world, the very children they are meant to protect. It is hard to imagine a more grotesque abuse of authority or flagrant violation of children’s rights.
“In recent years, some important commitments have been made by the UN, the wider international community and by humanitarian and aid agencies to act on this problem. But welcome as these are, in most cases statements of principle and good intent have yet to be converted into really decisive and concerted international action.”
The report reveals that the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children can be found in every type of humanitarian, peace and security organisation, at every grade of staff, and among both locally recruited and international staff.
Whitbread continued: “Obviously the vast majority of aid workers are not involved in any form of abuse or exploitation, but in life-saving essential humanitarian work. However all humanitarian and peacekeeping agencies working in emergency situations, including Save the Children UK, must own up to the fact that they are vulnerable to this problem and tackle it head on.”
For this research, Save the Children UK conducted 38 focus groups in three countries – Ivory Coast, Southern Sudan and Haiti.
Save the Children UK’s global Safeguarding Children System deals every year with a small number of cases where staff and other representatives associated with us have failed to adhere to the standards of behaviour expected within our Code of Conduct and the Child Safeguarding Policy. From July 2006 to July 2007 we received eight complaints against staff members. After independent investigations, three were proven and led to dismissal.
Save the Children is the world’s independent children’s charity. We’re outraged that millions of children are still denied proper healthcare, food, education and protection. We’re working flat out to get every child their rights and we’re determined to make further, faster changes. How many? How fast? It’s up to you.
Some other reports of abuse by peace keeping troops
* Pressure the Sudanese government to resolve the Darfur conflict and monitor United Nations troops for sexual offences, a delegation of Sudanese women told leaders at the African Union (AU) Summit here
Following feedback from users we set up the blog womensgrid to focus on information by and about women from around the UK and Ireland (and any European items that seem relevant).
So to see the latest UK and Ireland posting go to http://womensgrid.freecharity.org.uk
(see original annoucement at http://womensphere.wordpress.com/2008/05/09/womensgrid-blog-for-local-womens-news-and-information/)
Women’s groups are hoping for a quick return to democracy so their voices can continue to be heard by the country’s leaders.
Fiji Women’s Rights Movement executive Virisila Buadromo said as long as there was a Parliament women’s issues would have a place in society.
The movement, the secretariat for Fiji’s non government organisations for women for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), is holding a three-day workshop to draw up a shadow report for Fiji.
“This event will be the first of a series of activities we will conduct as preparation begins towards compiling Fiji’s NGO-led CEDAW parallel report,” Ms Buadromo said.
“The government is due to send in its official state CEDAW report this year, We will then need to send in a parallel or shadow report next year.”
“Climate change is harder on women in poor countries, where mothers stay in areas hit by drought, deforestation or crop failure as men move to literally greener pastures.”
“Many destructive activities against the environment disproportionately affect women, because most women in the world, and especially in the developing world, are very dependent on primary natural resources: land, forests, waters,” said Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai of Kenya.
“Women are very immediately affected, and usually women and children can’t run away,” said Maathai, who won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on sustainable development.
“Men can trek and go looking for greener pastures in other areas in other countries … but for women, they’re usually left on site to face the consequences,” she said. “So when there is deforestation, when there is drought, when there is crop failure, it is the women and children who are the most adversely affected.”
Maathai was in Washington with 1997 Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams, who got the award for her work in creating an international treaty to ban landmines, and both spoke to reporters at a briefing.
Williams said she saw climate change as a threat to security, and said desertification of former agricultural land fueled the conflict in Darfur.
In that case, she said, women forced to move for political and environmental reasons were more at risk than men.
As the leader of a United Nations mission on Darfur, Williams said she visited a vast refugee camp in neighboring Chad where water was scarce and women and girls were dispatched to get water from outside the camp.
“Why did the women have to go?” Williams asked. “Because if the men went, they’d be killed. If the women go, the only — only! — thing they have to face is rape.”
“If you don’t deal with development and climate, you will have an increasingly insecure world,” Williams said. “But if you’re going to deal with it, you need to deal with it in terms of climate justice.”
That meant rich countries, including the United States, must cut their own pollution and greenhouse emissions — not just offer aid for environmentally sound development.
Maathai, who founded the Green Belt Movement that started as a tree-planting program and grew into an international human rights and environmental organization, said the United States has taken a “back seat” on global environmental leadership.
“As long as the United States of America doesn’t take its leadership position, the rest of the world hides behind her and wants to say, ‘she is the greatest polluter, she isn’t doing anything, why should I do something?’” Maathai said.
As women’s groups and political activists intensify their global campaign for gender empowerment, there is a growing trend towards “gender budgeting” both among developed and developing nations.
Rawwida Baksh, team leader of Women’s Rights and Citizenship at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada, told IPS the concept of “gender-responsive budgeting” has been in currency since the mid-1980s.
The Australian government was the first to introduce gender budgeting in 1984, followed by Canada in 1993 and South Africa in 1994. Since then, some 50 countries worldwide have adopted some form of gender-responsive budgeting, she said.
According to some estimates, the figure may be over 60 to 70 countries which have specifically earmarked gender-related funds in their respective national budgets.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon points out that “governments are increasingly creating an enabling environment for investing in women.”
“More than 50 countries have introduced gender-sensitive budgeting,” he said, on International Women’s Day last March.
He said many member states “are abolishing laws that prohibit women’s access to land, property ownership, credits and markets.”
But women’s groups and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are now seeking concrete commitments on gender budgeting.
“The United Nations can help by making a strong declaration in favour of gender budgeting that requires all (192) member states to take clear steps,” says the Women’s National Commission, a non-governmental organisation with consultative status with the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Although many countries have put in place the “good practice” of gender budgeting, says the WNC, all member states must now be required to report progress regularly.
“This will identify where the money and resources are being spent, which is key to reversing the current gender bias in all the world’s economies,” the group says.
One of the issues that will come up at the international conference on Financing for Development (FfD) in Qatar in late November will be increased funding for gender empowerment, including gender budgeting.
In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action (that followed an international women’s conference in the Chinese capital that year) and the 2002 Monterrey Consensus (that followed the first FfD conference in Mexico) urged member states to recognise gender equality as an essential element of good governance and women’s empowerment as a key factor in economic development.
“And yet, we still have a long way to say,” says Ban, because “women are still severely hampered by discrimination and gender-based violence; lack resources and economic opportunities; and have limited access to decision-making.”
Baksh of IDRC said a national budget is a crucial instrument “in shaping women’s living standards and their prospects for economic empowerment”.
She listed several countries, both in the developed and developing world, which have embraced the concept of gender budgeting.
In Africa, they include: Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In the Americas, they include: Barbados, Canada, Chile, El Salvador, Mexico, and the United States. In Asia: Bangladesh, India, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam. In Europe, they include: Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, and Britain. In the Middle East and North Africa: Israel, Lebanon, Morocco. And in the Pacific: Australia, Fiji Islands.
According to “Gender Budgets Make Cents” published in 2002 by the London-based Commonwealth Secretariat, national budgets can worsen or improve the living standards of different groups of women and contribute to narrowing or widening gender gaps in incomes, health, education, nutrition, and other areas.
Baksh said national budgets can use a number of measures to promote gender equality including: specific expenditure to promote women’s empowerment, e.g., women’s health programmes, special education initiatives for girls; and government departments can promote equal employment opportunities for women and men, e.g., provision of creche facilities, parental leave provisions.
At the same time, sector budgets can promote equality between women and men, through asking about the impact of expenditure, e.g., who are the users of hospital services? Who receives agricultural support services?
A number of publications and tools on the “how to” and case study experiences of gender-responsive budgeting have been published by the Commonwealth Secretariat, IDRC, the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and other agencies, she added.
Agencies which have assisted in piloting gender-responsive budgeting in developing countries also include the U.N. Development Programme (UND) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.
Asked to cite any concrete examples of countries earmarking funds in their budgets purely for gender empowerment, Baksh said that South Africa was a good example of a developing country that has promoted gender-responsive budgeting.
She said it was initiated in 1994 by women parliamentarians elected to the first post-apartheid parliament, and is closely linked to the end of apartheid and the introduction of a new Constitution and era which sought to tackle race and gender discrimination.
In Morocco, gender responsive budgeting has been led by the ministry of finance as a flagship action of its strategic programmes.
In the Philippines, gender-responsive budgeting has been combined with community-based poverty monitoring, and is being applied at the local government and municipal levels in Escalante and Bacolod cities.
Asked why some countries are reluctant to embrace this concept, Baksh attributed it to a number of challenges.
“Political will is a key challenge,” she said, while other obstacles include the lack of gender awareness and capacity of staff in finance ministries; the need for collaboration between finance and gender ministries; and the need for strong women’s organisations who can advocate it.
Pinaki Chakraborty, associate professor at the Centre for Development Studies in India, told IPS her country institutionalised gender budgeting at the national level in 2005. The federal budget has allocated specific funds to programmes specifically targeted to women — including on health and economic services.
Imraan Valodia, senior research fellow at the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, said that one good example was South Africa’s decision to remove fuel taxes on kerosene. This was done on the basis that female-headed households spend a large proportion of their income on this fuel and it was a good anti-poverty measure.
South Africa has a number of specific programmes — in trade and industry protection services and social services — that are specifically geared to women, Valodia said.
In Ghana, there is a running joke that they are all becoming Italians – they can’t afford rice anymore and are eating processed pasta from Italy. These are not the poorest of the poor, these are working urban Ghanaians, according to Amrote Abdella, who runs projects to break the hunger cycle in Africa.
In Ethiopia, the price of wheat has trebled in the past year. Across the developing world, the global food crisis is biting higher and higher up the economic food chain as grain prices are driven up by a trifecta of climate change, growing demand for animal fodder and the use of grains for biofuels.
Rural Africans living on less than a dollar a day can do nothing to influence these factors, but there are ways to escape the poverty and chronic hunger trap, said Ms Abdella, an Ethiopian aid worker with the New York-based The Hunger Project, established in 1977.
She is in Australia to raise awareness about the non-government organisation’s microfinance program, which empowers women to break the cycle.
She said 80 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s food is grown by women, but they get access to only 7 per cent of agricultural assistance and 10 per cent of land. “They don’t have ownership rights to land or access to credit,” she said.
The African Woman Food Farmer Initiative is an attempt to shift that balance.
“The goal is to set up a government-recognised rural bank that is owned and led by women,” Ms Abdella said.
“[We believe] women are more careful with their spending, they are more conscious of needing to provide for the family than men.”
Since the women’s initiative started in 1999 in Senegal, the organisation has established 103 rural centres in eight African countries. The women’s bank is part of a wider “epicentre strategy”, in which a cluster of villages work together to meet their basic needs – educational, maternal health and HIV/AIDS care, animal health and agricultural.
Since 2000, 95,326 loans totalling $US5.7 million have been issued. Seventeen communities now have self-reliant government-recognised banks (no longer requiring donor funds) run by women, which fund ongoing community development. Not one of the banks has folded.
The timetable for self-reliance is about five years. “We set the vision for what they want,” she said. “We ask them is poverty and hunger something you feel you can tackle and change?”
Only when the villagers accept the possibility of that change can the project move forward.
Article 25.1 of the Universal Declaration, to which Ghana is signatory states, “Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability “
Accordingly, it is the aim of objective 7 of Ghana’s Disability Policy to ensure access of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) to effective health care and adequate medical rehabilitation service.
But the situation currently on the ground is said to be at variance with these declarations and objectives, according to some 20 women with disabilities who participated in a seminar on “rights to healthcare for women with disabilities.”
The women, drawn from the various associations under the Ghana Federation of the Disabled (GFD), took part in the seminar on Tuesday in Accra. It was organized by the federation with support from the Alliance for Reproductive Health Rights (ARHR).
The participants established, for example, that persons with hearing impairment often do not receive the desired medical attention due to misinterpretation of sign language by doctors. They identified, therefore, the need for government to train more sign language interpreters to be deployed to various health facilities to assist doctors in this regard.
Also, persons with physical disabilities always have difficulty climbing onto medical examination beds because these facilities are too high. In addition, Miss Ruth Odoi of the Ghana Society for the Physically Disabled (GSPD) complained that calipers were too expensive and many of them could not afford.
Ms Nana Yaa Agyeman of Sharecare Ghana lamented that the special condition of people with autoimmune diseases or diseases of the central nervous system had not been factored into the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
Autoimmune diseases arise from an overactive immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the body attacks its own cells. There are over 40 human diseases classified as either definite or probable autoimmune diseases and almost all of them appear without warning or apparent cause. There is as yet no cure for autoimmune diseases, but the symptoms are largely manageable with drugs.
According to Ms Agyeman, the condition of people with this disease is so peculiar that it requires special attention under the NHIS.
She explained that for autoimmune conditions, every breakdown in health worsens the state of disability. The condition, therefore, requires regular medical attention; generally, once every month and medical care is very expensive.
At the end of the day, the women identified the need for government to deal with the limited access to healthcare under the NHIS. They also called for the free registration of unemployed PWDs under the NHIS.
Furthermore, they called on government to address the problem of inadequate health facilities and asked that those facilities be made disability-friendly.
The women also resolved to as often as possible protect themselves against infectious disease like sexually transmitted infections through the use of condoms. They also saw the need to go for regular checkups, breast screening and voluntary HIV/AIDS testing.
Educating the women on the health component of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Mr Sidua Hor, ARHR, said PWDs have the power to change their health conditions by alerting government and demanding their right to health from government.
Mr Charles Appiagyei, Senior Programme Officer, Action on Disability and Development (ADD), wondered whether Ghana was pursuing healthcare delivery in line with the overall goal of the Ghana Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS) II, which is to ensure that every Ghanaian has access to good and quality healthcare.
Referring to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s definition of health, Mr. Appiagyei said “Health is not just the absence of disease but the state of total wellbeing of the person.” Thus, it comprises a person’s physical, social, emotional and economic well-being.