Archive for June 27th, 2010
The worst part of the whole ordeal was the place where her kidnappers had chosen to imprison her. That they abducted her was terrifying. That they raped her, repeatedly, was too horrendous to absorb just yet.
But making her crawl on her stomach beneath a collapsed slab into a destroyed house where they hid her in a pocket of rubble? That was torture, she said.
“Since I had not slept under any roof since the earthquake, I was so scared I could not breathe,” said the woman who requested that her full name be withheld.
The kidnappers told her brother-in-law, who delivered the ransom of about $2,000, that they would kill her if she talked. She had no intention of doing so. But police investigators showed up at the family house in the Delmas 33 neighborhood shortly after her release, and a reporter from The New York Times happened upon the scene, later accompanying Rose to a women’s health clinic at the family’s request.
Being present when Rose and her family were grappling with the horror of her ordeal offered a firsthand glimpse inside the vulnerability that many Haitians, and particularly women, feel right now. Sleeping in camps, on the street and in yards, many feel themselves at the mercy not only of the elements but of those who prey on others’ misery.
So many cases of rape go unrecorded here that statistics tell only a piece of the story. But existing numbers, from the police or women’s groups, indicate that violence against women has escalated in the months after the Jan. 12 earthquake. Kidnappings are rare, but they, too, have increased, and “the threat is constant,” said Antoine Lerbours, a spokesman for the Haitian National Police.
Malya Villard, director of Kofaviv, a grass-roots organization that supports rape victims, said that the presence of thousands of prisoners who escaped during the earthquake aggravated an environment where insecurity and despair feed on each other.
Ms. Villard said that Kofaviv’s two dozen case workers, in Port-au-Prince, had counseled 264 victims since the earthquake, triple the number in an equivalent period last year. Arrests for rape are fewer — 169 countrywide through May, but more arrests have been made in the last few months than during the same period last year.
Since the earthquake, international relief groups have expressed concerns about violence against women, especially in the camps under their watch. Poor or nonexistent lighting, unlockable latrines, adjacent men’s and women’s showers and inadequate police protection have all been problems.
Recently, security in eight big camps has improved, with joint Haitian-United Nations police posts or patrols; about 100 Bangladeshi policewomen arrived late last month to deal with gender-based violence at three of them. But there are about 1,200 encampments throughout Haiti, and this city’s battered neighborhoods are largely left to their own defenses, too.
Read the full story at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/24/world/americas/24haiti.html
Girls’ safety hinges on families’ willingness to speak out about sexual violence, researchers in Senegal’s southern Casamance region said at the release of a study that reveals widespread violence against girls aged 10 to 13.
The study, by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the University of Ziguinchor, found that in Kolda, Sédhiou and Ziguinchor, family, social and cultural pressures bred silence and impunity.
Having heard of many cases of early pregnancy and violence in and around schools in 2008 and 2009, UNICEF funded and conducted the study for a more detailed picture of the nature, extent and causes, Christina de Bruin, head of the agency in Ziguinchor, told IRIN.
“It is urgent that the taboo surrounding sexual violence be lifted in society and above all in the family,” the report states.
For Diatta Yadicone Sané, a state education worker in Sédhiou region, family honour is an important factor. “In this culture the family’s honour is first and foremost,” she told IRIN. “The first consideration is saving face among the adults; [people] do not think of the young girl who is the victim of something that carries inconceivable consequences.”
Researchers found that social pressures “disarm” families in the face of rape. “Even if parents want to react, more often than not they opt to settle the matter within the family or ask a traditional local leader to mediate,” the report says.
Moreover, families do not want to talk about these arrangements between the family members and the perpetrator, Mohamed Azzedine Salah, UNICEF deputy regional director, told IRIN. “This makes it difficult to have open discussions in the community about the problem and its impact.
“Silence is one of the principal causes of this violence.”
Some local experts and residents said it was mostly because of a family’s fear of social stigma that rape cases were not pursued in court.
“A girl is destined for marriage,” Sané said. “So the family does not want her to be singled out and marginalised.”
In many cases, she added, the assailant is a family member, which makes it all the more unlikely legal recourse will be sought.
“When a girl is raped or beaten by a family member or someone close to the family, people try to find a compromise within the circle because this society looks down upon someone who would bring a close friend or relation to court,” a resident of Casamance’s department of Bignona, Moussa Sané, said.
It is not only in rape cases that culture has a negative impact on girls, child welfare experts and educators told IRIN, naming several other practices they said constitute violence – forced early marriage, early pregnancy and female genital mutilation/cutting.
“When certain rites are practised as part of religious or traditional beliefs it is not easy to eradicate them from one day to the next,” Oumar Diatta, education specialist in Kolda, told IRIN. He said a reluctance to speak out played a role here as well.
“The fact that these practices are deep-seated in the society and culture [means] there is a reticence to denounce them. This blocks understanding of the reality, of the potential harm. It’s a delicate situation.”
In their report UNICEF and the University of Ziguinchor say health, education and social services institutions must work together to combat all forms of violence against children.
As part of their recommendations they call for reinforcing education – for children and adults – about sexual violence and children’s rights, providing legal assistance to victims and strengthening social services for girls traumatised by violence.
Women in Russia’s volatile Muslim Chechnya region said on Friday that police had targeted them with paintball pellets for not wearing headscarves, outraging rights activists.
The attacks highlight tension over efforts by Chechnya’s firebrand Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to enforce Muslim-inspired rules that in some cases violate Russia’s constitution.
“A car carrying men in military uniform slowed down to approach us, one started filming on his mobile phone, and when they sped away we noticed paint all over our clothes,” a woman in the Chechen capital Grozny said on condition of anonymity.
Several witnesses told Reuters that men in camouflage, which is worn by many Chechen police and security officers, had fired paintball guns at women from cars with tinted windows in multiple incidents this month. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which handles the police force, declined to comment on Friday about the reports.
Critics say that in return for keeping relative calm in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s, the Kremlin allows Kadyrov to run it like a personal fiefdom and lets him impose his vision of Islam.
The ex-rebel turned Kremlin loyalist has amassed thousands of personal militia, who enforce his decrees such as periodic bans of alcohol and making women cover their heads in state buildings. “This paintballing is an obvious Kadyrov rule just used to strengthen and tighten his grip over his tiny republic,” prominent human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, told Reuters.
Russian rights group Memorial, citing witnesses, said in a statement it believed police were behind the attacks that fired the paint at women’s faces and necks. Local media said there were around 12 such attacks.
This week, fliers from the self-proclaimed paintballers appeared in the city of Gudermes, site of Kadyrov’s opulent residence, warning women that if they did not cover their heads the attackers will be “forced to resort to tougher measures”.
“Isn’t it nasty for you, while dressed defiantly, with your head uncovered, to hear various obscene ‘compliments’ and proposals? Think again!” it read, according to a copy posted on Internet news agency Caucasus Knot.
Police also declines to comment on the fliers, some of which were posted on state buildings and bus stops.
The rising number of honour killings in the capital reflects the “Talibanisation” of society, say women’s rights groups, adding that the central government should enact a law to put down the pernicious practice.
“This is absolutely inhuman treatment for any society. This is not honour killing…it is caste killing. Moreover, whose honour are they talking about? Killing your own sons and daughters in the name of honour is wrong. This is Talibanisation, if you defy the so-called rules you are killed,” Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research (CSR), told IANS.
The organisation has started an online signature campaign requesting President Pratibha Patil to ban such extremist justice.
“India cannot afford to have a parallel justice system, which undoes all the good that was ushered in by its founding fathers. Also, the tyranny unleashed by khap panchayats on the pretext of safeguarding tradition needs to be quelled under threat of severe punishment,” the petition said.
“We were already worried after the Khap panchayat’s diktat because we were afraid that others will follow. These people should be punished severely. But the sad reality is that this hierarchical caste mindset is present even in our law agencies,” she said.
The national capital has reported two honour killing cases within a week’s time.
A 19-year-old girl and her boyfriend were tortured to death by the girl’s uncle and father in north Delhi’s Swaroop Nagar area June 14.
On Monday, a man and woman who were married four years ago against the wishes of the girl’s parents were found murdered in north Delhi’s Ashok Vihar amid speculation that it might be a honour killing.
Several honour killing cases were recently reported from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana as well.
The “Sarv Khap Mahapanchayat” (all community council congregation) in Haryana is demanding amendment in the Hindu Marriage Act to ban same-gotra (sub-caste) marriages.
“These incidents are shocking and a big blot on any respectable society. The government should not accept the demand of khap panchayat to amend the Hindu Marriage Act. It should be on the individual (girl or boy) to decide about their partners,” said Kanta Singh, senior programme officer with WomenPowerConnect.
Following a spurt in honour killing incidents, the Supreme Court on Monday issued notices to the central government and some states on the risisng incidents being reported across the country.
“Earlier such incidents were limited to Haryana and now its in Delhi. I think it is the responsibility of the state governments to curb such events,” said Moushumi Basu of the People’s Union for Democratic Rights.
Kurdistan Regional Government Should Outlaw the Practice
A significant number of girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan suffer female genital mutilation (FGM) and its destructive after-effects, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report. The Kurdistan Regional Government should take immediate action to end FGM and develop a long term plan for its eradication, including passing a law to ban the practice, Human Rights Watch said.
The 73-page report, “‘They Took Me and Told Me Nothing’: Female Genital Mutilation in Iraqi Kurdistan” (download from http://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/06/16/they-took-me-and-told-me-nothing-0 ) documents the experiences of young girls and women who undergo FGM against a backdrop of conflicting messages from some religious leaders and healthcare professionals about the practice’s legitimacy and safety. The report describes the pain and fear that girls and young women experience when they are cut, and the terrible toll that it takes on their physical and emotional health. It says the regional government has been unwilling to prohibit FGM, despite its readiness to address other forms of gender-based violence, including domestic violence and so-called honor killings.
“FGM violates women’s and children’s rights, including their rights to life, health, and bodily integrity,” said Nadya Khalife, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time for the regional government to step up to the plate and take concrete actions to eliminate this harmful practice because it simply won’t go away on its own.”
Human Rights Watch researchers conducted interviews during May and June 2009, with 31 girls and women in four villages of northern Iraq and in the town of Halabja. Researchers also interviewed Muslim clerics, midwives, healthcare workers, and government officials. Local nongovernmental organizations say that FGM may also be practiced among other communities in the rest of Iraq, but there are no data on its prevalence outside the Kurdish region.
The prevalence of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan is not fully known as the government does not routinely collect information on the practice. However, research conducted by local organizations indicates that the practice is widespread and affects a significant number of girls and women.
The evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch suggests that for many girls and women in Iraqi Kurdistan, FGM is an unavoidable procedure that they undergo sometimes between the ages of 3 and 12. In some cases documented by Human Rights Watch, societal pressures also led adult women to undergo the procedure, sometimes as a precondition of marriage.
Human Rights Watch met Gola, a 17-year-old student from the village of Plangan. Gola told Human Rights Watch, “I remember my mother and her sister-in-law took us two girls, and there were four other girls. We went to Sarkapkan for the procedure. They put us in the bathroom, held our legs open, and cut something. They did it one by one with no anesthetics. I was afraid, but endured the pain. I have lots of pain in this specific area they cut when I menstruate.”
Young girls and women described how their mothers had taken them to the home of the village midwife, a non-licensed practitioner. They were almost never told in advance what was going to happen to them. When they arrived, the midwife, sometimes with the help of the mother, spread the girl’s legs and cut her clitoris with a razor blade. Often, the midwife used the same razor to cut several girls in succession.
Doctors in Iraqi Kurdistan told Human Rights Watch that the most common type of FGM believed to be practiced there is partial or total removal of the clitoris and/or prepuce, also known as clitoridectomy. Health care workers said that an even more invasive procedure was sometimes performed on adult women in hospitals. The practice serves no medical purpose and can lead to serious physical and emotional consequences.
The previous regional government took some steps to address FGM, including a 2007 Justice Ministry decree, supposedly binding on all police precincts, that perpetrators of FGM should be arrested and punished. However, the existence of the decree is not widely known, and Human Rights Watch found no evidence that it has ever been enforced.
In 2008, the majority of members of the Kurdistan National Assembly (KNA) supported the introduction of a law banning FGM, but the bill was never enacted into law and its status is unknown. In early 2009, the Health Ministry developed a comprehensive anti-FGM strategy in collaboration with a nongovernmental organization. But the ministry later withdrew its support and halted efforts to combat FGM. A public awareness campaign about FGM and its consequences has also been inexplicably delayed.
The new government, elected in July 2009, has taken no steps to eradicate the practice.
The origins of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan are unclear. Some girls and women interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they were told that it is rooted in a belief that anything they touch is haram, or unclean, until they go through this painful procedure, while others said that FGM was a traditional custom. Most women referred to FGM as an Islamic sunnah, an action taken to strengthen one’s religion that is not obligatory.
The association of FGM with Islam has been rejected by many Muslim scholars and theologians, who say that FGM is not prescribed in the Quran and is contradictory to the teachings of Islam. Women and girls interviewed said they had received mixed messages from clerics about whether it was a religious obligation. Clerics interviewed said that when any practice interpreted as sunnah endangers people’s lives, it is the duty of the clerics to stop it.
Health care workers interviewed gave mixed responses both about their concerns about the harm FGM causes and about their obligation to raise awareness about the dangers of FGM.
Two studies have been conducted recently to try to determine the prevalence of the practice. In January 2009, the former Human Rights Ministry conducted a study in the Chamchamal district with a sample of 521 students ages 11 to 24. It found that 40.7 percent of the sample had undergone the procedure – 23 percent of girls under age13, and 45 percent of those ages 14 and older.
In 2010, the Association for Crisis Assistance and Development Co-operation (WADI), a German-Iraqi human rights nongovernmental organization, published the results of a study conducted between September 2007 and May 2008 in the provinces of Arbil and Sulaimaniya, and the Germian/Kirkuk region. Interviews with 1,408 women and girls ages 14 and over found that 72.7 percent had undergone the procedure – 77.9 percent in Sulaimaniya, 81.2 percent in Germian, and 63 percent in Arbil.
The wider age range of girls and women interviewed may account in part for the higher overall percentages. The percentage was 57 percent for those ages 14 to 18 in this study.
Human Rights Watch called on the regional authorities to develop a long-term plan that involves government, health care workers, clerics, and communities in efforts to eradicate the practice. The strategy should include a law to ban FGM for children and non-consenting adult women; awareness raising programs on the health consequences of FGM; and the mainstreaming of FGM prevention into policies and programs for reproductive health, education, and literacy development.
The government also should work closely with communities and people of influence in those communities to encourage debate about the practice among men, women, and children, including awareness and understanding of the human rights of girls and women, Human Rights Watch said.
“The government not only needs to take action to end this practice, but to work for public affirmation of a new standard – not mutilating their girls,” Khalife said.
“FGM is a complex issue, but its harm to girls and women is clear,” Khalife said. “Eradicating it in Iraqi Kurdistan will require strong and dedicated leadership on the part of the regional government, including a clear message that FGM will no longer be tolerated.”
Much to the frustration of gender activists, Swaziland’s Supreme Court has reversed a February 2010 High Court ruling that allowed a married woman to register property in their own name.
After centuries of being classified and treated as minors, the new Swazi Constitution granted women equal status in 2005. Activist Mary-Joyce Doo Aphane wished to register a house in her own name and challenged the country’s 1968 Deeds Registry Act. She was granted a High Court order declaring the section unconstitutional.
Yet a mere three months later, “The Supreme Court suppressed the High Court judgment granting women the immediate right to register property in their own names. From a legal and constitutional point of view, this is a big deal,” Tenille Brown, legal advisor to the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), told IRIN.
Although the Constitution grants men and women equal rights, in practice the old laws on the statute books still define gender relations in a country ruled by sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III.
The second-class status of women had long denied them their inheritance rights, and hobbled their progress as entrepreneurs and traders. Observers blame a lack of political will for the slow progress in replacing laws in conflict with the Constitution.
“The Constitution is clear that any law on the books that is counter to rights guaranteed in the Constitution must fall away, but in the face of government inaction, who is to do this?” an attorney who declined to be named told IRIN.
“We welcome the fact that Parliament has been directed that they have one year to amend the law, so that women married in community of property can hold property individually and with their husbands. However, we must remember that the constitution is now five years old. It is SWAGAA’s position that Parliament has taken too long to ensure that the laws of Swaziland provide protection for women,” SWAGAA said in a statement.
“People need to be aware that the inability of women to equally control the property they own with their husbands leads to situations of dependency and possible cases of abuse. We see many women who are not able to leave abusive husbands because it would mean they have nowhere to live, no money, and no family support.”
Most gender activists are sceptical that the deadline set by the Supreme Court will be met by parliament: “Given the amount of time that has gone by since the Constitution was enacted, we are not very hopeful,” Brown said.
The Attorney General’s office, which drafts legislation for parliamentary consideration, would not comment on its timeframe for revising the property law.
Swazi women are watching and waiting. “Thousands of Swazi women are trapped in abusive situations that are endangering their lives and mental health because no one wants to challenge the old patriarchal authority,” said Thab’sile Ndlovu, a secretary in Manzini, Swaziland’s commercial hub. “What use is the constitution?”
Domestic workers fighting for rights and recognition through binding international standards won a crucial first round victory at the this year’s International Labour Conference at the ILO in Geneva. On June 4, 61 governments voted in favour of a Convention supplemented by a Recommendation, against 14 voting for a Recommendation only.
This first victory for the hundreds of millions of domestic workers around the world was followed by ten days of tough negotiations around proposed amendments, particularly from the Employers’ Group seeking to considerably weaken the scope and content of future standards. While claiming to recognize the important economic contribution of domestic workers, the employers characteristically argued that high standards would reduce employment opportunities for this group of workers – a contention challenged by government representatives from countries including Brazil, Uruguay, and South Africa, where domestic workers are covered under national legislation and collective agreements exist.
The Workers’ Group and the African, Australian, Latin American and US governments in particular managed not only to maintain the important clauses in the draft conclusions but to introduce several amendments further strengthening protection in key areas, including minimum working age/child labour and the liabilities and responsibilities of private employment agencies.
Despite the substantial progress made at this first discussion, a number of challenges remain for the second and final discussion in 2011. The principle of equal treatment with respect to social protection, working time, health and safety and labour inspection between domestic workers and workers in other sectors is far from established – including in some of the richest countries in the world including the members of the European Union
To prepare for next year’s discussion, the International Domestic Workers’ Network (IDWN) will have to mobilize strong support from relevant national and regional authorities around these issues. It will also be necessary to intensify the documentation of and awareness raising around domestic workers’ working and living conditions and the ways and means to improve these.
Workers’ Group spokesperson Halimah Yacob in her introductory remarks told the ILO tripartite Committee on Domestic Workers that their historic task was to take “decent work for all” from a slogan to a reality for all domestic workers. The IDWN and its members will return to next year’s negotiations better prepared than ever to fight for equal rights for all.
The full report and the conclusions from the ILO tripartite Committee on Domestic Workers are available here http://cms.iuf.org/sites/cms.iuf.org/files/Committee%20on%20Domestic%20Workers-e.pdf.
For more information and regular updates from domestic workers’ organizations around the world see the Respect and Rights for Domestic Workers website http://www.domesticworkerrights.org/
See also on ILO website: Decent Work for Domestic Workers in Asia-Pacific
Anne Slater, National Organizer of Radical Women, issued the following statement on President Obama’s nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Radical Women opposes the potential seating of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Kagan has shown herself to be a calculating seeker of power and no ally of the oppressed or the Constitution. We do not support using reproductive rights as a bargaining chip as Kagan did in advising President Clinton to outlaw late-term abortion. We are outraged that Kagan defends the constitutionality of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. She has had nothing to say about the atrocious legislative and judicial assaults on civil liberties during the Bush and Obama administrations. In fact, in her confirmation hearings as Obama’s solicitor general, she agreed with issues such as indefinite detention of those suspected of terrorist activities. In her tenure as dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan filled 32 teaching positions- but hired only seven women and one person of color. She is lauded for increasing Harvard’s diversity by hiring conservatives.”
“Our priority is advancing the rights of women, workers, people of color, immigrants and queers. Giving a lifetime appointment to a female judge who is on the opposite side on all these issues is not progress.”
“One reason many people supported a Democrat for President was that they hoped it would prevent the nomination of far-right Supreme Court justices. Instead, President Obama has nominated a female candidate whose sole criteria is her relative inoffensiveness to the right. This is no advance for women. We need justices willing to uphold human rights.”
* Egypt, Qatar, Sudan among those opposing the group
* Britain, U.S. advocate accrediting gay-lesbian NGO
A United Nations committee that decides which nongovernmental organizations can be accredited to the world body moved on Thursday to keep out the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
The group, which had applied for “consultative status” at the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) three years ago, is an international NGO and advocacy group focusing on protecting the rights of homosexuals and lesbians worldwide.
Diplomats from Western nations that support gay rights complained that Egypt and other developing states that have been criticized by rights groups for discriminating against gays and lesbians prevented the committee from voting on whether to accredit the group, thereby leaving it in limbo.
“IGLHRC is disappointed by the vote of the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations to block action on our application,” Cary Alan Johnson, head of the New York-based group, said in a statement to Reuters.
The U.N. NGO committee has 19 members, among them the United States and Britain, who supported the NGO. Among those who voted against it were Egypt, Sudan, Qatar, Pakistan, China, Russia, Angola, Burundi and Sudan. Turkey abstained.
Johnson said it was “a clear case of discrimination against an organization because it defends the human rights of LGBT people around the world and promotes non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
LGBT refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.
The U.S. delegation defended the work of IGLHRC (http://www.iglhrc.org).
“This NGO is committed to combating discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” the U.S. statement said. “It has contributed to valuable research on HIV/AIDs and its work is well known to this committee.”
A Western diplomat told Reuters that “unfortunately we didn’t have the votes” on the committee to overcome opposition from countries like Egypt, Qatar, Sudan and others. The diplomat added that IGLHRC clearly fulfills all the criteria for U.N. accreditation.
The British delegation issued a statement expressing its “deep regret” for the decision to reject a U.S. proposal to take action on IGLHRC’s application for a U.N. accreditation. The British statement said the move not to accredit the group was proposed by Egypt on behalf of African countries.
“This act of simple discrimination runs contrary to the principles of the U.N., of ECOSOC and of the NGO Committee,” it said.
One envoy told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the United States and Europeans would push for the U.N. Economic and Social Council itself to move to accredit the group, a strategy that he said would have a better chance of success.
The US justice department has confirmed that federal laws giving protection against domestic violence also apply to gays and lesbians.
A memo posted yesterday by the department said prosecutors should enforce criminal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act in cases involving gay and lesbian relationships.
These provisions include those related to domestic violence, stalking and protection order violations.
The Defence of Marriage Act says that federal law can only consider the words “spouse” and “marriage” to relate to opposite-sex couples.
But David J Barron, the acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, said that domestic violence laws also contain phrases such as “dating partner” and “intimate partner.”
“The text, relevant case law and legislative history all support the conclusion” that the law’s criminal provisions “apply when the offender and the victim are the same sex,” Mr. Barron wrote.
Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said: “Today’s memorandum by the Department of Justice is one step forward in ensuring that LGBT people are protected by our federal domestic violence laws.
“Some of our families, like all Americans, experience domestic violence and those impacted by such violence should enjoy equal protections, and equal dignity, when they seek assistance from law enforcement. We thank the Department of Justice for releasing this important interpretation.”
A 2010 report by the National Centre for Victims of Crime and the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programmes found that gay couples are just as likely to be affected by domestic violence as heterosexual couples.
We the concerned citizens of Africa reiterate that Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the world’s shared development agenda to reduce major aspects of human poverty.
We recall that in September 2000, world leaders met at the United Nations Millennium Summit and committed that by 2015, extreme poverty and hunger will be cut by half; gender inequality will be addressed, women and youth will have access to employment; environmental degradation will be halted; slums will be upgraded and all people will have access to good drinking water; HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis will be contained; all children of school going age will be in school and the gap between boys and girls will be eliminated; and cut child and maternal mortality. These will be ensured through a new global partnership for development which have come to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
We acknowledge that these goals are derived from more far-reaching international declarations, protocols and conventions such as the universal declaration of human rights, including the protocol on social and economic rights; education for all, health for all; reproductive rights for all; the Convention on the Rights of People Living with Disabilities and the Convention on the Rights of Indigenous people among others. These have been translated into equivalent protocols and conventions by African leaders.
We are encouraged by the fact that in the last decade, Africa has made significant progress in combating extreme poverty, improving school enrolment, reducing child mortality, expanding access to clean water and containing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
However, we note with concern that progress remains slow in many of the MDGs in many countries in the continent, in particular the areas of hunger, maternal and child mortality, gender equality especially political representation of women, and employment. Without decisive and sustained action by governments, Africa risks missing out on many of the targets and with the appropriate policies and programmes, supported by appropriate levels of investment, most African countries can achieve or, even surpass the MDGs.
We further note that with the recent financial, food and energy crisis, the need for African governments to effectively mobilise domestic resources and prioritise MDGs in the allocation of such resources, as well as the rich countries to fulfilling their side of the bargain to provide additional resources, make trade just and contain climate change, is even more urgent.
To achieve the MDGs we call on Governments to:
• Re-affirm their commitments to the achievement of the MDGs by 2015
• Work with their citizens, parliaments and local governments to develop and implement break-through action plans.
• Address inequality, discrimination and marginalization of specific social groups including people with disabilities, women, youth as integral part of the breakthrough plans.
• Address resource leakages and corruption with urgency
• Act urgently to implement the African protocol on women’s rights and similar undertakings in relation to youth, children and people living with disabilities
• Put employment and decent work for women and young people at the centre of economic policies
• Uphold all continental agreements and protocols to budget adequately for the achievement of the MDGs including such targets as 15% to health, 10% to Agriculture, 10% to education
• Put more efforts into mobilising and retaining domestic resources
through fair and efficient taxation, fair sharing of natural resource rents and the prevention of illicit capital flight
• “ENSURE THAT NO WOMAN SHOULD DIE GIVING LIFE”
We commit as citizen groups to engage our governments at various levels in order to hold them to account for these commitments
To add you voice and commitment to this Africa-Wide Petition, please go to: http://www.campaign.yppdatwork.org
World Parliamentarians have pledged to mobilize support for legislative actions to ensure the health, dignity and rights of women and girls through access to reproductive and sexual health in the shortest possible time.
“We are convinced that implementing the commitment made by our governments in the major United Nations conferences and summits, will end the preventable high maternal deaths and disability that constitute the greatest moral, human rights and development challenge of our time”.
This was contained in a communiqué issued at the Parliamentarians Forum during the close of a three-day world conference on “Women Deliver 2010,” which highlighted the achievements in reducing maternal mortality, breakthroughs in reproductive technology, the role of women’s health in development and the remaining obstacles to improving maternal health around the world.
The conference was attended by over 3,000 participants including national health ministers, first ladies, parliamentarians, midwives, the youth, maternal health advocates and celebrities from over 140 countries.
The parliamentarians expressed their determination by creating laws and policies with and for women and girls, giving them their fair share of funding, budget and oversight responsibilities, advocate for a women’s and girls’ agenda everywhere to advance MDG “5″, locally, nationally, regionally and globally as well as speaking out on women and girls to create awareness and knowledge building.
The MPs explained that health solutions for girls and women must be complemented by a conducive political will and legislative environment for long term results and effectiveness.
They, therefore, expressed their commitment in demanding that key issues of women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights were made regular agenda items during relevant bilateral, multilateral and international meetings.
The MPs also committed themselves to generating an institutional memory by mapping legislations that governments have adhered to women and girls health and ensure their implementation, work actively towards enforcing national laws and de facto implement policies to accelerate women and girls economic, social and political rights and reduce gender inequality and gender-based violence.
They expressed concern about the funding and budget allocated to address the health needs of women and girls and called for additional 12 billion dollars a year to be invested in women and girls.
They also pledged to work in partnership with governments, civil society, the private sector and other key stakeholders to meet the 24 billion dollars needed to provide access to family planning and maternal and newborn care to all women in developing countries.
The communiqué called for active work in the establishment of a global funding mechanism for family planning, mothers saying “such a global funding mechanism would reduce maternal mortality by 70 per cent, avert 44 per cent of new born deaths, reduce unsafe abortions by over 70 per cent and further contribute to curb the AIDS and malaria pandemics, which has placed women and girls at greater risk.
“With the up-coming G-8 and G-20 parliamentarians’ conference and the summit of leaders of industrialized nations, the MPs will take the opportunity to review the MDGs.
“Now is the time to amplify our voices to broaden the dialogue on maternal and reproductive health in the global arena and to demonstrate concrete action to achieve MDG “5″, the communiqué added.
It called for parliamentarian’s participation and inclusion in political priority setting on women and girls health at local, national, regional and global levels by establishing a clear monitoring mechanism for each MDG with a clear timeline and format.
The communiqué also called on health ministers to establish realistic and verifiable annual action plans for reaching individual MDG targets with a special emphasis on MDG “5″, which will be presented during the UN High Level Meeting to be held in September 2010.
It said MPs would therefore take a leading role in communicating the societal, economic, political and cultural benefits of investing in women and girls to parliamentary colleagues, governments and other key decision-makers and private investors.
The world parliamentarians, the communiqué said, called on governments to act upon endorsed consensus on maternal, newborn and child health.
The Criminal Court of Abu Dhabi, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, ruled last week that an 18-year-old Emirati woman who accused six men of gang-raping her will herself serve a one-year sentence for consensual sex.
It’s one of in the latest in a scourge of reported rape cases in Dubai, The court proceedings were marred by legal travesties, experts say.
While the plaintiff was not granted a lawyer, the defendants were. Moreover, the plaintiff could not have any family members present with her during the trial, the court decided. The prosecution also argued that simply because the plaintiff agreed to enter the police officer’s car, this action somehow constituted partial consent to sex, The National reported.
Emirati authorities had kept the plaintiff imprisoned since she made the allegations last month.
Meanwhile, the accused rapists mostly got off lightly. A police officer will serve one year in prison for extramarital sex and two of the other defendants were sentenced to three months for being in the company of a woman not related to them by blood.
Two more defendants must pay a fine of 5,000 dirhams, or $1,361.50, for violating public decency.
The court dropped charges against the sixth defendant.
The case has made headlines in the Persian Gulf.
On May 2, the plaintiff and one of the defendants, a 19-year-old Emirati military police officer, went for a ride in his Nissan Altima in Dubai. The woman announced during the public hearing that she had agreed to his offer of 10,000 dirhams, or $2,722.61, for sex.
The police officer’s friends, four Emiratis and one Iraqi, followed the two in a separate car as he invited them to take turns raping her for hours later that day, it was alleged. The forensics report confirmed that the woman had bruises covering her body from beatings on two separate occasions. The plaintiff first claimed that her brother attacked her after she confided to her family that she was the victim of gang-rape.
On May 24, the plaintiff retracted her charges of rape. Appearing before a public hearing, shackled and clothed in an inmate’s uniform of hunter green and a black headscarf, she rescinded the allegations “to get out of” jail, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. At that point, she was facing a penalty for extramarital sex, which is 100 lashes and a minimum of three years in prison.
Experts are not yet certain if the reported rape cases in 2010 represent a quantitative increase, as no local community associations or government entities maintain statistics on gender-based violence. It may, in fact, reflect a social opening whereby the pervasive threat of rape has finally become a topic for discussion in the Emirates.
Patterns do emerge, with time, as defendants in other cases explain that if a woman consents to sex with them, they then may choose to “share” her with friends, as in yet another recent rape case in Kuwait.
Human Rights Watch’s Middle East North Africa researcher Nadya Khalife told Babylon & Beyond that women often keep silent about sexual crimes. “The majority of women in the UAE do not report rape or other crimes of sexual assault,” she said. “I think that local and international media are now focusing a bit more on violence against women, with more reporting, and this is encouraging people to openly discuss these issues.”
Cultural norms and social dimensions tend to influence the criminalization of rape victims in the UAE, Khalife said. “Women who have been raped fear that they will not be taken seriously, or that they will also be charged with a crime,” she said. “Also, some women are afraid of tarnishing their family’s name if they were raped because in most societies in the Middle East, a woman’s honor is highly valuable. A rape victim may be pressured by her own family to not report a crime or press charges against the perpetrator, or even be forced to marry the same man who raped her.”
Despite the technology and opulence of the United Arab Emirates, debilitating gender stereotypes and assumptions against women in public threaten women’s personal safety. Khalife explained,
“The UAE is still a largely conservative and traditional country where women’s social status is not as high as most would like to think,” she said. “Issues around sexuality are still considered taboo and viewed as matters that are dealt within the family.”
The courts’ posturing against extramarital sex rather than rape is another disadvantage for female victims. “Consensual sex is criminalized,” Khalife said. “This makes it very difficult for women to prove that they were in fact raped because the attention is deflected from rape and assault and the concentration now lies on an act that was committed outside of marriage.”
For victims of rape, the penalties they face may discourage reporting. “The major legal ramification for women who have been raped is that they will most likely be charged with illegal sex or sex outside marriage. Illicit sex carries a harsh sentence of imprisonment and/or flogging.”
At least in some cases, the courts come down firmly on the side of the victim. On June 7, the Abu Dhabi courts upheld the death sentence for 31-year-old Emirati fisherman Rashid Rubaih Al Rashidi, who was convicted by two courts in January and April of raping and killing a 4-year-old Pakistani boy, Moussa Moukhtiar.
In November, Rashidi allegedly offered the young child a gift if he would come with him to the bathroom of a mosque. After luring the boy, Rashidi gagged and raped him and then smashed his head on the bathroom floor, reported Khaleej Times.
Rashidi is the only Emirati national out of the 24 men currently on death row in the UAE. Fifteen are Indian or Pakistani. Death by firing squad, the fate that awaits Rashidi, has not been doled out in the UAE for five years.