Archive for September, 2010
Nine American mothers whose children died fighting in Iraq were embraced last week by dozens of Iraqi women who lost their own children during decades of war and violence in a meeting participants said brought them a measure of peace. The gathering in Iraq’s mostly peaceful northern Kurdish region was far from the sites of the roadside bombings or battlefields that accounted for the vast majority of the more than 4,400 U.S. military deaths since the 2003 invasion, but it was still a powerful experience for some mothers to even step foot in Iraq.
Some kissed the ground during their arrival Saturday.
“I was overwhelmed at touch down. We were really on the ground in Iraq. I was almost in disbelief that it was real. This is where my son spent the last days of his life, and now, I was there,” said a blog entry by Amy Galvez of Salt Lake City, whose son, Cpl. Adam Galvez, was killed in 2006.
In another web post she said she would return home a “different person.”
“I will be in the country where my son spent the last days of his life,” she wrote. “I’ll have visited the land where a piece of my heart will remain forever.”
The beginning of the Americans’ three-day trip — organized by a Virginia-based women’s aid group, Families United Toward Universal Respect — was attended by officials from State Department and Kurdish regional government.
Nawal Akhil, deputy chief of the group’s Baghdad office, said the goal was to “talk about their suffering to find a way to ease it.”
“We share the same ordeals and suffering — the American mothers who lost their children and the Iraqi mothers who lost their loved ones during the Saddam Hussein-era and in the violence since 2003,” said Akhil.
Elaine Johnson, of Cordova, South Carolina, said the trip allowed her to come to terms with the loss of her son, Spc. Darius Jennings, killed in November 2003 in Fallujah as the insurgency that went on to rip the country apart gained strength.
“Before making this trip, I was angry for my child’s death,” she said. “But after making this trip, I feel peace, peace, peace.”
The dozens of Iraqi mothers included Kurds whose family members were killed in Saddam’s 1980s scorched-earth campaign to wipe out a Kurdish rebellion in the north that claimed at least 100,000 lives, including thousands in poison gas attacks.
“When I hugged an American woman we couldn’t express ourselves in words, but what helped us to express our feelings and understand each other were our tears. We found them as a true expression to our grief and suffering,” said Peroz Nasser, a 55-year-old Kurdish woman who lost her parents and two brothers and two sisters during Saddam’s attacks.
Part of a longer report at http://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/iraqi-women-embrace-american-633055.html
A group of women on delivered to the Nicaraguan government thousands of signatures collected in Europe by Amnesty International to demand the restoration of therapeutic abortion in this Central American country.
The signatures were turned over at the offices of the governing Sandinista party by leaders of the Strategic Group for the Decriminalization of Therapeutic Abortion and accepted by a representative of President Daniel Ortega.
The group of women handed over a sample of the 37,000 signatures and also another sample of 6,000 postcards sent in by AI activists acting in solidarity with Nicaragua.
“We hope that President Ortega takes measures … to comply with the recommendations of international entities that have ordered the Nicaraguan state to adjust legislation regarding abortion to be able to save women’s lives,” one of the group’s leaders, Wendy Flores, told Efe.
Flores said that in Nicaragua women had died because “abortion (is) prohibited, (and) by being denied access to health services” and she accused the government of not releasing data about such deaths.
“We hope that the government, with its spirit of solidarity and respecting Christian (behavior), as it says it does, decriminalizes therapeutic abortion to save the lives of a lot of women and so that more children are not orphaned,” Mayte Ochoa, also a leader of the group, told Efe.
Amid the 2006 electoral campaign, which Ortega won, the Nicaraguan Congress heard the petitions of the local Catholic and Protestant churches and prohibited therapeutic abortion, which had been permitted under the Penal Code for more than a century in cases where the mother’s life was in danger.
That decision was criticized by the physicians’ association of Nicaragua, women’s groups, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and the European Union, which demanded a broader discussion of the matter.
Nicaragua’s Supreme Court has yet to rule on a 2007 legal challenge to the constitutionality of the abortion ban. EFE
A global campaign that aims to save the lives of 16 million mothers and children over the next five years was being launched by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday with as much as $40 billion in commitments from world governments and private aid groups.
The so-called Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health was being announced at the end of a three-day summit to review efforts to implement anti-poverty goals adopted at a summit in 2000. These include cutting extreme poverty by half, ensuring universal primary education, halting and reversing the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and cutting child and maternal mortality.
“Women and children play a crucial role in development,” Ban said in a statement prepared for the event that was released by his office. “Investing in their health is not only the right thing to do — it also builds stable, peaceful and productive societies. “
Ban has made the reduction of maternal and child deaths a personal campaign, and it has been a key topic during the summit. Worldwide every year, an estimated 8 million children die before reaching their 5th birthday, and about 350,000 women die during pregnancy or childbirth.
Even before the details were announced, the international aid organization Oxfam expressed skepticism about how much money was truly new, and how the program would be administered and held accountable.
“That kind of money would go a long way toward reaching the child and maternal health goals, but we have a big concern,” said Oxfam spokeswoman Emma Seery. “Where will that money come from?
“Half of the donors cut their aid last year” amid the global economic crisis, she said. “We’re just nervous that it will be governments bringing together a lot of previous commitments, and that won’t mean much for poor people.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected at the afternoon “Every Woman, Every Child” event, along with world leaders including Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and the prime ministers of Ethiopia, Norway, and Tanzania. Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was also on the advance roster of speakers.
“When we first started talking about this five years ago, there didn’t seem to be any interest, very little commitment,” said Dr. Flavia Bustreo, a pediatrician who heads the World Health Organization’s Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Geneva, Switzerland.
“But with the help of many, and the leadership of the Secretary General, this week is like a dream come true,” said Bustreo, whose organization has worked with Ban’s office on the strategy in recent months.
WHO will chair the global strategy, with a progress report delivered annually to the U.N. General Assembly, she said.
Bustreo said some money could be used to pay for simple, inexpensive tools and practices that could save millions of the world’s children each year.
She said the 1 million newborns who die each year through aspiration — literally drowning from fluid in the breathing passage — could have been saved with a tool that has a bulb like a turkey baster that uses suction to clear away liquids.
The lives of older children can be saved with re-hydration liquids to combat diarrhea, immunizations for childhood diseases like measles, and vitamin supplements to fight malnutrition, she said.
Improving maternal health is more difficult — and costly. Bustreo said half of all maternal deaths are caused by complications of delivery, such as obstructive labor, that require surgery.
In 2000, the U.N. set “Millennium Development Goals” that included reducing child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015.
The US Senate should quickly approve a bipartisan bill that sets out a new strategy for US engagement in the struggle to end violence against women worldwide, Human Rights Watch said today. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Wednesday, September 29, 2010.
The draft International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) would require the State Department to adopt a five-year plan to reduce violence against women in up to 20 target countries. The approach calls for increased legal and judicial protections against violence against women, strengthened health services to respond to such violence, increased educational and economic opportunities for women, and changes to social norms that perpetuate violence against women. Special attention is given to responding to violence against women in the context of humanitarian disasters and armed conflict situations.
“Violence against women is a complex problem, but we can be smarter in fighting it – and that’s what this bill is about,” said Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Senate bill has real potential for lasting positive impact to the lives of women and girls around the globe.”
The bill has 33 cosponsors in the Senate. Lead sponsors in the Senate are John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California; and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Republicans of Maine. The House of Representatives version of the bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Armed Services, has 123 cosponsors. Lead sponsors in the House are Bill Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts; Ted Poe, Republican of Texas; and Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois.
The United Nations estimates that one of every three women in the world has been a victim of violence. Human Rights Watch reports have documented rampant violence against women, both in armed conflicts and in homes and workplaces throughout the world. Much of the violence goes unpunished, especially where insufficient legal protections are compounded by poor enforcement. Recent Human Rights Watch investigations exposed degrading forensic examinations conducted on rape survivors by medical personnel in India and the frequent abuse of women with disabilities in northern Uganda.
“The persistence of violence against women around the world is not only a challenge to our consciences, but a major impediment to economic, political, and social development,” Rhoad said. “It is a problem that we literally cannot afford to fail to solve.”
There is mounting evidence of the debilitating effect of violence against women on economic development. In some countries, violence and sexual harassment in schools prevent women from obtaining an education and contributing fully to their communities. The health care costs and workplace absenteeism associated with injuries from domestic violence also take a significant financial toll.
The Senate bill would complement the Violence Against Women Act, which addresses these issues within the United States. Similar legislation was introduced, but not voted on, in the last Congress.
Human Rights Watch repeated its call for the US Senate to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The US is only one of seven countries in the world not to have ratified the major global women’s rights treaty.
A disturbing number of police departments across the country are routinely downgrading or dismissing rape cases, according to testimony at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing.
Chaired by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the subcommittee session focused on what it said was “The chronic failure (of police departments) to report and investigate rape cases.”
In his testimony, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, formerly the Police commissioner of Washington, D.C., also characterized the situation as a “pervasive failure” on the part of law enforcement.
Witnesses from the legal, law enforcement, medical and social services fields told the panel 20 million women — or 18 percent of all females in the country — have been victims of rape and that only 18 percent of rapes are even reported to police.
Speakers emphasized that the victimized individuals who make up that 18 percent often don’t have an easy time of it as their stories are dismissed as “unfounded” and their cases are downgraded from felonies to misdemeanors.
The Philadelphia-based Women’s Law Project executive director Carol Tracy said newspaper investigations and reports from St. Louis, New Orleans, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland and Ohio documented officers misclassifying or “unfounding” a large percentage of all rape complaints they received.
“When 45 cities with populations over 100,000 have unfounded rates of rape over 20 percent, there’s something very wrong,” she said.
“The statistics are staggering,” said Specter.
Two sexual assault victims testified at the hearing; their contrasting stories highlighted the importance of law enforcement agencies providing appropriately sensitive support to such traumatized individuals.
Julie Weil of Florida was treated for her physical and mental health following her rape, and investigators stayed on her case until her attacker was brought to justice. Sara Reedy of Pennsylvania said she was further victimized by a local detective who arrested her for theft and filing a false police report. She said she was cleared soon after when her attacker was caught and confessed to a series of rape incidents including her own.
This disparity, said Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, demonstrates why is important to have a new national sex crime reporting system that can help to police the way police departments handle rape cases.
“One of the most important functions of the Senate is to provide oversight,” he said. “Whether the laws are being enforced, whether agencies are pursuing the cases, whether victims are being properly acknowledged. That’s why we’re having this hearing, to make sure the system is working right.”
In Cardin’s home base of Baltimore, a recent newspaper investigation found that a full third of reported rape cases were dismissed – the highest rate of dismissals of any city in the country.
“The Baltimore Sun put a spotlight on this and as a result there was action,” Cardin said. “But we want to make sure this is a priority in every jurisdiction around the country.”
Investigative reporting also served to shed light on the problem in Philadelphia, where a series by the Philadelphia Inquirer resulted in changes in personnel and procedures.
Police Commissioner Ramsey told the hearing he does see improvement. Of the many changes he made to address the Philadelphia crisis, he says the most effective was working with the Women’s Law Project and other women’s groups.
“I firmly believe that partnerships between law enforcement agencies and victim advocacy counterparts are absolutely essential in addressing some of the most pressing issues that confront us,” he said.
Now, groups like the Women’s Law Project can audit Pennsylvania police records and request the reopening of cases that have been deemed “unfounded.”
But Tracy sees much more work to be done.
“It should not be the responsibility of investigative reporters to look at this,” she said. “The [Uniform Crime Reporting Program of the FBI] is not exercising their audit responsibility.”
In her testimony she called on Congress to require a regular FBI audit of police practices to ensure rape cases are being properly reported and investigated, and to update and broaden the legal definition of rape that has been on the books since 1927.
Specter said focusing on the terminology was a good first step.
“The definition of rape which is being used by the FBI is antiquated, not inclusive, as to where it ought to be,” he said.
He promised that his Judiciary Subcommittee would communicate with the FBI about the issue.
The United Nations is launching a campaign to combat the rape of Haitian earthquake victims living in camps for the homeless, the U.N.’s top official in the country has said.
Edmund Mulet, who heads the U.N. stabilization mission in the country, told the 15-member Security Council that police and soldiers in the U.N.’s peacekeeping force are being trained how to handle rape and other sexual violence at the camps, and to ensure medical care for victims. He said a public relations campaign is under way to teach people how to prevent and respond to rape and other sexual attacks.
“I remain concerned by the situation in the camps where vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence,” Mulet said, describing actions taken since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote a report on Haiti last month.
Mulet said that a 200-member U.N. police force keeps a permanent presence in six especially high-risk camps housing 135,000 people, but that it’s impossible to regularly patrol all the camps.
More than 1.3 million Haitians were displaced by the January quake, and many remain homeless, living in camps where women and children are vulnerable to attack.
Mulet also said that the Nov. 28 presidential and legislative elections must be “credible and legitimate” to ensure security in the still-fragile Caribbean nation.
“Institutional weakness, combined with the displaced persons’ camps, the resurgence of gang activity and the characteristic instability of the Haitian electoral season, contribute to creating a volatile security environment,” he said.
Sexual attacks at the camps have been a concern since shortly after the magnitude-7 temblor ravaged the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished and least developed country, and killed an estimated 230,000 to 300,000 people.
The U.N. peacekeeping force known as MINUSTAH, with nearly 12,000 soldiers and police deployed nationwide, is charged with maintaining stability and security in Haiti during reconstruction. The force has been in Haiti since mid-2004 after then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid widespread unrest.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said the United States remains concerned about vulnerable people in the camps and said that efforts to stop sexual and gender-based violence “must be part of a wider effort to empower women throughout the reconstruction process.”
Rice called the U.N.’s progress toward preparing security for the November elections “positive” and said “peaceful and credible elections and the transfer of power to a new government will be key milestones of Haiti’s progress.”
Britain’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Philip Parham also praised peacekeepers’ efforts to ensure electoral security, and said it was critical that the Haitian National Police be involved.
The U.N. force “must continue to do its utmost to aid the development of local policing capabilities” so that the Haitian police force no longer relies on U.N. troops “as the main providers of security” in the country.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced the appointment of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to head a new U.N. body that will seek to improve the lives of women and girls around the world.
The body will be known officially as the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, but officials say it will be referred to as U.N. Women.
The General Assembly voted in July, after years of difficult negotiations, to set up the entity, which will merge four separate U.N. divisions now dealing with women’s and gender issues.
“Ms. Bachelet brings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, highly honed political skills and uncommon ability to create consensus,” Ban said in a statement to media. I am confident that under her strong leadership we can improves the lives of millions of women and girls throughout the world.”
Bachelet, 58, headed a center-left administration in Chile from 2006 until March of this year, when she was replaced by conservative Sebastian Pinera. Last year, Forbes magazine rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world.
Bachelet, who attended two years of high school in the United States, was arrested in Chile in 1975 along with her mother by the rightist military junta that took over the country in a 1973 coup. Exiled to Australia, she later moved to former East Germany before returning in 1979 to Chile where she studied medicine, specializing in pediatrics.
Ban told reporters that 26 candidates had been considered to head the women’s entity, but diplomats said Bachelet had been a front-runner from the start.
Ban has often spoken of his policy of promoting women’s causes and the selection of Bachelet follows his appointment earlier this year of Margot Wallstrom of Sweden as his first-ever special representative on sexual violence in conflict.
U.N. diplomats said four years of negotiations on the new women’s entity between Western developed nations and developing countries had been tough because of varying views on women’s rights and gender equality.
U.N. Women will focus on supporting inter-government bodies like the Commission on the Status of Women and ensuring that all U.N. agencies and organizations live up to their commitments to gender equality, the United Nations says.
U.N. Women will become fully operational on Jan. 1, 2011.
Michelle Bachelet New Head of UN Women: Where There Is Poverty ‘the State Cannot Be Neutral’
The choice of Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, to develop and then head a new and potentially powerful United Nations agency for women may well be the most important and smartest appointment Ban Ki-moon makes in his tenure as UN secretary-general.
The fight against human trafficking in Latin America is ineffective and has led to the emergence of intra-regional markets for the trade, according to experts and activists meeting in the Mexican city Puebla.
450 academics and activists took part in the Second Latin American Conference on Smuggling and Trafficking of Human Beings, under the theme “Migrations, Gender and Human Rights”, Sept. 21-24 in Puebla, 129 kilometres south of Mexico City.
In Mexico some 20,000 people a year fall victim to the modern-day slave trade, according to the Centre for Studies and Research on Social Development and Assistance (CEIDAS), which monitors the issue.
The total number of victims in Latin America amounts to 250,000 a year, yielding a profit of 1.35 billion dollars for the traffickers, according to statistics from the Mexican Ministry of Public Security. But the data vary widely. Whatever the case, the United Nations warns that human trafficking has steadily grown over the past decade.
Organisations like the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC) estimate that over five million girls and women have been trapped by these criminal networks in the region, and another 10 million are in danger of falling into their hands.
The United Nations today defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
Smuggling of persons, again according to the U.N., is limited to “the procurement of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.”
Latin America is a source and destination region for human trafficking, a crime that especially affects the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Colombia.
The conference host, David Fernández Dávalos, president of the Ibero-American University of Puebla (UIA-Puebla), said in his inaugural speech that human trafficking is a modern and particularly malignant version of slavery, only under better cover and disguises.
On Aug. 31, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged member states to implement a Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, because it is “among the worst human rights violations,” constituting “slavery in the modern age,” and preying mostly on “women and children.”
The congress coincides with the International Day Against the Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women and Children on Thursday, instituted in 1999 by the World Conference of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW).
Government authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Mexico concur that criminal mafias in this country have been proved to combine trafficking in persons with drug trafficking, along both the northern and southern land borders (with the United States and with Guatemala, respectively).
Most Latin American countries have established laws against human trafficking, and have ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, in force since Sept. 29, 2003.
In Mexico, a federal Law to Prevent and Punish Trafficking in Persons has been on the books since 2007, but the government has yet to create a national programme to implement it, although this is stipulated in the law itself.
The Puebla Congress, which follows the first such conference held in Buenos Aires in 2008, is meeting one month after the massacre of 72 undocumented migrants in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, which exemplified the connection between drug trafficking and trafficking in persons, and drew International attention to the dangers faced by migrants in Mexico.
IOM investigations and research have found that Nicaraguan women are trafficked into Guatemala and Costa Rica, and Honduran women are trafficked into Guatemala and Mexico.
Women from Colombia and Peru have been forced into prostitution in the southern Ecuadorean province of El Oro, according to a two-year investigation by Martha Ruiz, a consultant responsible for updating and redrafting Ecuador’s National Plan against Human Trafficking.
Out of the 32 Mexican states, eight make no reference to human trafficking in their state laws. Mario Fuentes, head of CEIDAS, wrote this week in the newspaper Excélsior that the country is labouring under “severe backwardness and challenges in this field, because it lacks a national programme to deal with the problem, as well as a system of statistics.”
Part of a longer article at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52940
Heartened by the passage of a same-sex marriage law in Argentina, women’s organisations in this South American country stepped up their demands for the legalisation of abortion, on the Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Some 1,000 members of the Juana Azurduy Women’s Collective, better known as Las Juanas, filed a “collective and preventive” writ of habeas corpus at different courtrooms around the country, demanding that the criminalisation of abortion be declared unconstitutional.
They also asked the courts to press the legislature to bring the law that penalises abortion into line with international norms that recognise a woman’s right to make decisions about her body.
In Argentina, abortion is a crime punishable by prison, except in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape, the expectant mother’s life is in danger or she is mentally ill or disabled.
But every year some 460,000 to 600,000 women resort to abortion in this country of 40 million people, according to the report “Estimate of the Extent of the Practice of Induced Abortion in Argentina”, prepared by experts from the University of Buenos Aires and the Centre for Population Studies.
In Latin America, abortion is only legal in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Mexico City. With the exception of Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua, where abortion is illegal under any circumstances, in the rest of the countries in the region “therapeutic” abortion is legal in certain cases, such as rape, incest, fetal malformation or risk to the mother’s life.
Nevertheless, more than four million illegal abortions a year are practiced in the region, according to different sources, and 13 percent of maternal deaths are caused by abortion-related complications.
In Argentina, unsafe abortions are the main cause of maternal mortality, the Juana Azurduy Women’s Collective reports.
Against that backdrop, Las Juanas presented their legal action on Tuesday Sept. 28, observed as the Day for the Decriminalisation of Abortion by the women’s movement in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1990.
For years, women’s groups in Argentina have been campaigning for the decriminalisation of abortion, but have continually run up against the fierce resistance of the powerful Catholic Church and other conservative sectors of society.
However, this year the situation looks more favourable. Since March, the lower house of Congress has been studying a draft law that would decriminalise abortion, which has the backing of around 50 lawmakers from different parties.
The bill, which may be debated in October, was introduced by Cecilia Merchán, a legislator with the left-wing movement Libres del Sur, and would legalise first-trimester abortion on demand, similar to the law in effect in the Federal District of Mexico City.
None of the nearly 20 earlier bills on abortion introduced in the Argentine legislature over the years progressed. But the current draft law has already made it through several committees and is on its way to a full session debate in the lower house.
However, while the legislators are preparing their offensive in the lower house, another bill has been presented in the Senate, which would merely expand the circumstances under which therapeutic abortion is legal.
The idea underlying the initiative by several women senators is that legal abortion would also be made available to women facing risks to their health, a concept that would be broadly defined as physical and mental health.
The women’s organisations do not have the support of President Cristina Fernández, who has spoken out against the legalisation of abortion. But Merchán is confident that the president’s position will not impose itself in the legislative debate. (END)
Part of a longer article at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52989
Judges and other judicial officers in Argentina have begun to receive training on gender equality and women’s rights, as part of a broad programme that could serve as a model for similar initiatives in the rest of Latin America.
The plan, launched last week, will train facilitators to raise awareness on gender questions and promote the incorporation of a gender perspective among judges, prosecutors, court officers and administrative employees of the justice system.
Carmen Argibay, the first woman named to the country’s Supreme Court, said they found instances of discriminatory treatment of women victims as well as trials and sentences that failed to take into account the disadvantages suffered by many women because they live in a “sexist, patriarchal system.”
As an example of a discriminatory sentence she cited a judge’s decision this year that forced a woman to obtain permission from her spouse to get her tubes tied.
But there are also judges who have begun to adopt a gender perspective, based on legal instruments that are available to everyone but have not yet been applied consistently and across-the-board.
For instance, in a ruling this year, six doctors were sentenced for refusing to provide chemotherapy to a 20-year-old woman with cancer because she was pregnant. Her request for a therapeutic abortion was also denied. The young woman died without receiving treatment, and the baby also died.
In, addition, there are judges who are in the vanguard on gender issues and set legal precedents with sentences that help promote specific laws to expand rights to marginalised groups.
One illustration of this phenomenon are the judges who ordered civil registry offices to register gay marriages. The sentences, which were upheld, were backed up this year by a law on same-sex marriage.
In 2004, Argibay became the first woman justice on the Supreme Court. She was joined that same year by Elena Highton, who is currently vice president of the seven-member Court.
Highton was behind the establishment in 2009 of the Supreme Court Women’s Office, which is tasked with training and research on gender issues, and of the Office on Domestic Violence, which provides attention around the clock every day of the year.
As part of the work of the Women’s Office, Argibay presented the start of a series of workshops this month to train gender facilitators within the judicial system, an initiative that has United Nations support.
The participants receive a manual on how to hold their own workshops on justice with a gender perspective, with different training modules involving both theory and practice, which were designed with the participation of experts on justice and gender.
United Nations resident coordinator in Argentina Martín Santiago told IPS that the programme has everything necessary “to become a best practice for replication in all judicial systems in the region.
Taking part in the launch of the workshops were representatives of the Women’s Office as well as Argibay and Highton themselves, in order to underscore the support the programme has at the highest levels of the judiciary. The facilitator training workshops will be held in Buenos Aires.
According to the Supreme Court magistrate, the international conventions and other commitments that enshrine the rights of women, which have been signed by the Argentine state, are not sufficient to guarantee enforcement of these rights.
In the workshops, the future facilitators review the tools and instruments offered by the right to equality before the law and the rights of women, and engage in exercises that allow them to reflect on how gender-based social and labour roles are assigned. They also analyse sexist language and discuss how to avoid discriminatory terms.
“Violence against women is a consequence of seeing the world from an absolutely machista point-of-view,” Judge María Laura Garrigós, one of the women selected to be a gender facilitator, told IPS.
“The judiciary has not yet incorporated that perspective, it’s something we still have to accomplish — a shift in paradigm that will enable us to see crimes in that context,” she said.
Part of a longer story at http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=52930
More than 70 gay rights activists were detained in the Nepali capital earlier this month in a crackdown on a rally to demand government identification papers for transgender people, police and activists said.
Nepali men and women who identify themselves as transgender are seeking citizenship certificates with their gender marked as “third sex” instead of male or female.
Sunil Babu Pant, lawmaker and founder of the Blue Diamond Society, a gay rights group, said more than 70 people were detained near the prime minister’s office and parliament.
“We are running out of patience and are demanding our rights,” Pant told Reuters from a detention centre.
“Without the citizenship papers, the sexual minorities are unable to get a job, enrol in schools or colleges, seek treatment in hospitals and travel,” he said. “They cannot even inherit parental property.”
In 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the government to amend laws to end discrimination against homosexuals, and give them the same rights as other citizens.
Government officials were not immediately available for comment.
Kathmandu police chief Ramesh Kharel said the activists were detained for “violating the norms” by gathering at a place where demonstrations were not allowed.
Hindu-majority Nepal has become more gay-friendly over the last few years, but homosexuality still remains taboo for many people in this conservative Himalyan nation.
Same-sex marriages have taken place in public and gay beauty contests are held.
A travel agency run by gay people is offering to organise same-sex weddings at Mount Everest in a move to promote the scenic mountainous nation as a gay-friendly tourist destination.
The Polish minister for equality has been accused of homophobia for outing a gay man on television and saying Catholic schools should have the right to sack gay teachers.
Elżbieta Radziszewska made the remarks about gay teachers to Catholic newspaper Gosc Niedzielny. She said that Catholic schools should be allowed to sack or refuse to employ gay or lesbian teachers, although she later said she would defend a teacher sacked from a state school for his or her sexual orientation.
She appeared on a breakfast show on TVN24 but provoked further anger when she apparently outed Krzysztof Śmiszek, the deputy president of the Polish Society of Anti-Discrimination Law (PSAL).
The pair were arguing about her remarks on gay teachers when Ms Radziszewska used Mr Śmiszek as an example of why cases should be treated individually.
According to the Warsaw Business Journal, she said: “If, for example, Mr Śmiszek, in a situation when we know that he is a member of the homosexual society and an activist for the Campaign Against Homophobia and it’s no secret who his partner is…”
Ms Radziszewska was asked by the programme’s presenters whether she should be on the other side of the argument but she apparently said that was the way she saw it. She later apologised but said Mr Mr Śmiszek’s sexual orientation could easily be discovered on the internet.
Mr Śmiszek has reacted furiously to her comments and intends to sue.
“This is pure homophobia,” he told daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Tuesday. “In no other EU country would such a person still hold their post. I do not hide my sexual orientation, but it’s my private business. My personal rights have been violated.”
Several members of Ms Radziszewska’s Civic Platform colleages in the coalition government have criticised her, although others on the right claim she is the victim of a witch-hunt.
She has also been criticised by women’s groups, who accused her of not doing enough for women’s equality.
Homosexuality is legal in Poland but couples cannot adopt children and there is no legal recognition of their relationships. The Polish capital Warsaw hosted EuroPride this year.
Chechen women said the holiday, established by the region’s Kremlin-backed leader Ramzan Kadyrov a year ago, was marred by rules he had previously imposed, restricting their rights by enforcing traditional Muslim customs in the volatile region.
Dark-haired women in floor-length satin gowns, their faces framed by white hijabs, were given prizes for motherhood and awarded medals for sons lost to war in a concert hall decorated with Chechen flags in the republic’s capital Grozny.
Outside the building a group of bareheaded women, prevented by guards from entering, tried to catch a glimpse of the Chechen folk dances inside while pink fireworks illuminated the Grozny skyline.
A spate of recent attacks on Chechen women for not wearing headscarves, which rights groups and assailants alike said were orchestrated by authorities, led to accusations that the celebrations were laced with hypocrisy.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rely on Kadyrov to maintain order in Chechnya, where separatists were driven from power a decade ago after two devastating wars with government forces.
Analysts say Kadyrov has tried, sometimes contrary to Russian law, to impose an increasingly radical vision of Islam in Chechnya, where alcohol sales are highly restricted and authorities encourage polygamy.
Many women said that during the holy month of Ramadan, which ended on Sept. 10, they had been harassed by men for not wearing headscarves, in street raids that some of the assailants said were ordered by religious authorities.
Kadyrov, a devout Sufi Muslim, had previously praised such activism, telling state TV he was grateful to men who shot women with paintball pellets in June for going bareheaded.
Analysts say that while 90 percent of Chechnya’s 1.1 million people are Muslim and the majority identify themselves as believers, applying Islamic rules by force could raise tension.
Part of a longer article at http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE68J1QE.htm
A Jewish widow ran into an unexpected snag when she was planning to remarry. A rabbi said that according to ancient law, she would need to marry her brother-in-law unless he freed her in a ceremony known as halitza.
In order to marry, the couple, who are not particularly religious, had to register at the stringently religious Rabbinate, the sole government agency with the authority to grant Jewish marriage permits. No civil marriage exists in Israel and non-Orthodox marriages performed in the country are not recognized by the state.
When the widow presented the registrar with her late husband’s death certificate, he asked if her deceased husband had any children. When she said no, he asked whether her late husband had any brothers. When she said yes she was told she needed to do the halitza ceremony otherwise she wouldn’t be able to marry, ever.
According to the Torah, if a man dies without leaving children, his brother must marry his widow in a ceremony called yibbum. To prevent such forced marriages–which reportedly still occur, though very rarely, in highly traditional Sephardic Jewish communities–most rabbis strongly encourage halitza, in which a man’s brother relinquishes all claims to his sister-in-law.
In the ceremony, which is meant to be public, the woman kneels before her brother-in-law and removes a special handmade shoe from his foot. She is then required to spit on the ground next to him and recite several verses.
The plight of agunot–women whose husbands cannot or will not grant them a “get,” a Jewish divorce–is fairly well known because it affects thousands of women.
Halitza impacts far fewer. Each year halitza only affects about one or two Jewish women in the United States and between 15 and 20 in Israel, estimates the Rabbinate.
Although Jewish law requires all widows in this position to do halitza, some cases fall through the cracks and the ceremony isn’t performed, said Rivka Lubitch, a rabbinical court advocate whose articles often challenge the rabbinic status quo.
Rare as it is, halitza continues to evoke feelings of helplessness in the women it touches.
Lubitch, who also works at the Center for Women’s Justice in Jerusalem, said that marrying a brother-in-law protected some women in the old days. But she said the commandment became a practice that could be used against women by forcing them to marry against their will.
The custom also creates opportunities for abuse. Although less common than in the past, there continue to be stories of men who have no intention of marrying their brothers’ widows but extort money from them in return for their freedom.
Even in cases of goodwill, halitza is fraught with anxiety.
Lubitch, who is an Orthodox Jew, has urged influential rabbis to find ways to free both men and women from the burden of halitza.
Part of a longer article at http://www.womensenews.org/story/religion/100921/remarry-jewish-widow-first-kneels-custom
Hamas police ordered a Gaza hotel restaurant closed on Wednesday for allowing a woman to smoke a water pipe on its premises, one of its owners said.
It was believed to be the first time that Hamas Islamists who run the Gaza Strip have enforced their ban, announced in July, on women smoking the traditional tobacco-infused pipes in public.
“They acted as if they caught her red-handed committing a crime,” the hotel’s co-owner said of the encounter between Hamas police and the woman.
The man, who asked not to be identified, said the police “accused us of violating tradition and Islamic values” and ordered the hotel closed for three days. The order was later amended to cover only its restaurant.
A Hamas police spokesman denied the closure stemmed from a violation of the water pipe ban but said the hotels’ owners “committed some violations”, which he did not detail.
The water pipe ban has drawn criticism from human rights groups, which have accused Hamas of limiting public freedoms. Hamas leaders have denied any intention to impose Islamic law in the territory. (Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi)
Closing of tourist places in Gaza for non-compliance with Islamic customs
The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is gravely concerned over the unjustified intervention of the Ministry of Interior into public freedoms, closing a number of tourist places in Gaza City, imposing restrictions on their work and arresting one of these places’ owners under the pretext of gender mixture and non-compliance with the Islamic customs. PCHR calls upon the government in Gaza to take all necessary measures to ensure and respect public freedoms which are constitutionally guaranteed under relevant international standards.
Israeli and West Bank women risk jail for day at the beach
The day starts early, at a petrol station alongside a roaring Jerusalem road. The mood among the 15 Israeli women is a little tense, but it’s hardly surprising – they’re about to break the law and with it one of the country’s taboos. They plan to drive into the occupied West Bank, pick up Palestinian women and children and take them on a day trip to Tel Aviv.Today’s is the second such trip – another group of women went public with a similar action last month. It is hoped that these will become regular outings, designed to create awareness of the laws that govern movement for Palestinians, and to challenge the fears that Israelis have about travelling into the West Bank.
Afghanistan’s army got its first female officers in decades last week when 29 women graduated in a class of new recruits who hope to help take the lead role in national security from foreign forces by 2014.
President Hamid Karzai, NATO and the United States have been pushing to expand and train Afghanistan’s army, police and other security forces to allow them to take over during a planned drawdown of foreign troops.
The United States has said it will start its withdrawal in July 2011, although the process may take years.
“I am fully committed to serving my country, the same way as my Afghan brothers currently serving in the army. That is why I decided to join,” said female officer Mari Sharifi after the graduation ceremony at the Kabul Army Training Centre.
The women will not be sent to the frontline of the fight against the insurgency, which is raging at its strongest since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government, and instead will largely be doing administrative work.
Women served in the army of Afghanistan’s communist-backed regime in the 1980s but retreated from military service during the civil war and hardline Taliban rule that followed the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan in 1989.
The British officer who oversaw their training said all the new recruits were good and enthusiastic soldiers.
“(They are) all keen as mustard to join the Afghan National Army, and I think you will have seen today a very professional display — and that is the bottom line,” said General David Peterson, Commander of the Army Training Centre.
Afghanistan’s armed forces and police number roughly 300,000, serving alongside about 150,000 foreign troops.
A group of women’s rights activists delivered a petition with five thousand signatures to the Iranian parliament urging the legislative body to “bar polygamy.” ILNA reports that the petition was delivered by 40 women who called on the parliament to halt al efforts in “promoting temporary marriages and polygamy.”
One of the activists announced that their efforts in the past week to meet with the parliament’s Legal and Judicial Commission had failed but the secretariat of the parliament had finally accepted the petition.
According to this report, efforts to collect more signatures continue and other women’s groups will deliver them to the parliamentary office in the coming days.
The Legal and Judicial Commission of the parliament is set to review the controversial articles of the Family Protection Bill regarding temporary marriages, polygamy and lump-sum alimony (mehrieh) on Tuesday.
Women’s activists along with a group of former women parliamentarians pushed the parliament to review these articles last month.
Women’s rights websites also published a letter signed by over 330 “men defending equal rights.”
The signatories state that the articles of this bill are discriminatory and “while they degrade women, they are also an insult to men because the proposed law presumes that men are only motivated by their sexual desires.”
The statement goes on to add that they believe men must struggle alongside women for equal gender rights.
The Family Protection Bill was introduced into the parliament three years ago at which time protests from women’s groups forced the lawmakers to shelve it. However, in the past months, Iranian hardliners have managed to re-introduce it into the parliament and re-ignite the controversy.
Libya’s new nationality law granting women married to foreign spouses the right to pass their own nationality to their children is a significant move forward for women’s rights, Human Rights Watch said earlier this month. But the law still contains some contradictory provisions that could be interpreted to perpetuate discrimination, Human Rights Watch said.
The General People’s Committee (GPC) – the executive arm of Libya’s government – made public in July Law no. 24 of 2010 on the Provisions of Libyan Nationality, which it had adopted on January 28. Article 11 of the new law extends Libyan nationality to children born to Libyan mothers and foreign fathers, but leaves the interpretation of the provision to implementing regulations that the committee has not yet issued.
However, article 3 of the law appears to contradict article 11, and to perpetuate gender discrimination. Article 3 continues to define a Libyan as one who is born to a Libyan father or to a Libyan mother and a father who is stateless or whose nationality is unknown. There is no mention in article 3 of children born to a Libyan mother who is married to a man who has a nationality other than Libyan.
“The new nationality law will make it easier for some Libyan women married to men with other nationalities to pass on their citizenship to their children,” said Nadya Khalife, Middle East and North Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But whether women gain full equality is going to depend on how fairly the new law is carried out.”
Officials should make sure that forthcoming regulations to implement the changes in nationality rights make clear that there is no difference between the rights of women and those of men to pass on their nationality, Human Rights Watch said.
The previous nationality law, Law no. 18 of 1980 on the Provisions of the Nationality Act and its Amendments, allowed Libyan women married to non-Libyans to retain their own nationality but not to pass it on to their children. Families in this situation found themselves denied the official documentation they needed to obtain some state services, such as medical care and subsidized food. They were also ineligible for the payments the state makes to families following the birth of a child.
In 2007 the government issued a decree ruling that children born to Libyan mothers and fathers of different nationalities were required to pay 800 dinars (around US$654) per year for their children to attend public schools. The GPC later ruled that fees could be waived for families that could not afford them.
In its first annual report on human rights for 2009, the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, an international non-governmental organization chaired by Saif al Islam al Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s leader, called for giving Libyan women married to men of various nationalities the right to pass on their nationality to their children. The report cited the issue as one of the country’s main human rights concerns.
Libya ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1970 with no reservations relevant to nationality or gender. The UN expert body that monitors implementation of the ICCPR has stated that to fulfil its treaty obligations, a government must ensure that women and men have equal capacity to transmit to children the parent’s nationality.
Libya has also ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), but filed formal reservations to exempt itself from an obligation to comply with several provisions.Â It registered reservations to articles 2, on combating discrimination in all its forms, and 16, on equality in the family.
The UN expert body that monitors the convention says, however, that reservations to these articles are not permitted under the treaty. Â When the expert group reviewed Libya’s compliance with the treaty in 2009, it urged Libya to grant equal citizenship rights to men and women, including by amending the nationality law.
Libya is the only country in North Africa that has ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, which affirms equal rights for men and women with regard to the nationality of their children.
Numerous other countries in the Middle East and North Africa have nationality laws that continue to discriminate against women. These include Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.
“Authorities should amend Article 3 of the nationality law so that all Libyan women – just like all Libyan men – can pass on their nationality to their children, regardless of the nationality of their spouse,” Khalife said. “The forthcoming implementing regulations of the law should also guarantee identical rights for Libyan men and women in all nationality matters – with no exceptions.
The authors of a new book, Half the Sky, say the slavery and abuse of women is the greatest moral outrage of our century
In it, they argue that the world is in the grip of a massive moral outrage no less egregious in scale or in the intensity of despair than the African slave trade of the 18th and 19th centuries or the genocides of the 20th. They believe this outrage is a key factor behind many of the most pressing economic and political issues today, from famine in Africa to Islamist terrorism and climate change. Yet they say the phenomenon is largely hidden, invisible to most of us and passing relatively unreported. At worst it is actively tolerated; at best it is ignored.
The fodder of this latterday trade in human suffering is not African people, but women. Which is why they call it “gendercide”. If the supreme moral challenge of the 19th century was slavery, and of the 20th century the fight against totalitarianism, then, they write, “in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality in the developing world”.
The contention is as startling as the idea of a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist buying up prostitutes. I put it to them that, to some people, the claim will seem overblown. After all, you don’t go lightly comparing the plight of women in developing countries today with slavery or, by implication, the Holocaust.
“This idea is a couple of decades in gestation,” Kristof says. “Over those years, we reluctantly came to the conclusion that this really is the greatest moral challenge of this century.”
“When you hear that 60 to 100 million females are missing in the current population, we thought that number compares in the scope and size. And then you compare the slave trade at its peek in the 1780s, when there were 80,000 slaves transported from Africa to the New World, and you see there are now 10 times that amount of women trafficked across international borders, so you start to think you are talking about comparable weight.”
Yet this huge injustice was going on under their noses, largely unreported, dismissed as “women’s issues” by the mainstream media. “We’ve thought a lot about the failure to see this,” says WuDunn. “Partly, it’s because the news is defined by what happens on a particular day, and a lot of the most important things in the world don’t happen on a particular day . . .”
“And it’s partly that our definition of what constitutes news is a legacy of the perspective of middle-aged men,” adds Kristof. “It may well be that one major reason why high-school girls drop out of school around the world is that they have trouble managing menstruation, and probably one reason nobody has cottoned on to this is that people who run aid organisations and write about it have never menstruated.”
At the end of the book, in similar vein, they give a list of action points that readers can take within 10 minutes to make a difference. And they set us a personal challenge: will we join a historical movement to eradicate sex slavery, honour killings and acid attacks, or are we content to remain detached bystanders? It is the 21st-century equivalent of that ultimately probing 20th-century question: “What did you do in the war, Daddy?”
Part of a longer article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/aug/19/women-slavery-half-the-sky
It is a tragedy, a horror, a crime against humanity. The details of the murders – of the women beheaded, burned to death, stoned to death, stabbed, electrocuted, strangled and buried alive for the “honour” of their families – are as barbaric as they are shameful. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and South-west Asia suspect the victims are at least four times the United Nations’ latest world figure of around 5,000 deaths a year. Most of the victims are young, many are teenagers, slaughtered under a vile tradition that goes back hundreds of years but which now spans half the globe.
A 10-month investigation by The Independent in Jordan, Pakistan, Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank has unearthed terrifying details of murder most foul. Men are also killed for “honour” and, despite its identification by journalists as a largely Muslim practice, Christian and Hindu communities have stooped to the same crimes. Indeed, the “honour” (or ird) of families, communities and tribes transcends religion and human mercy. But voluntary women’s groups, human rights organisations, Amnesty International and news archives suggest that the slaughter of the innocent for “dishonouring” their families is increasing by the year.
Iraqi Kurds, Palestinians in Jordan, Pakistan and Turkey appear to be the worst offenders but media freedoms in these countries may over-compensate for the secrecy which surrounds “honour” killings in Egypt – which untruthfully claims there are none – and other Middle East nations in the Gulf and the Levant. But honour crimes long ago spread to Britain, Belgium, Russia and Canada and many other nations. Security authorities and courts across much of the Middle East have connived in reducing or abrogating prison sentences for the family murder of women, often classifying them as suicides to prevent prosecutions.
Over 10 years ago, Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission was recording “honour” killings at the rate of a thousand a year. But if Pakistan seems to have the worst track record of “honour” crimes – and we must remember that many countries falsely claim to have none – Turkey might run a close second. According to police figures between 2000 and 2006, a reported 480 women – 20 per cent of them between the ages of 19 and 25 – were killed in “honour” crimes and feuds. Other Turkish statistics, drawn up more than five years ago by women’s groups, suggest that at least 200 girls and women are murdered every year for “honour”. These figures are now regarded as a vast underestimate. Many took place in Kurdish areas of the country; an opinion poll found that 37 per cent of Diyabakir’s citizens approved of killing a woman for an extramarital affair. Medine Mehmi, the girl who was buried alive, lived in the Kurdish town of Kahta.
British Kurdish Iraqi campaigner Aso Kamal, of the Doaa Network Against Violence, believes that between 1991 and 2007, 12,500 women were murdered for reasons of “honour” in the three Kurdish provinces of Iraq alone – 350 of them in the first seven months of 2007, for which there were only five convictions. Many women are ordered by their families to commit suicide by burning themselves with cooking oil. In Sulimaniya hospital in 2007, surgeons were treating many women for critical burns which could never have been caused by cooking “accidents” as the women claimed. In 2000, Kurdish authorities in Sulimaniya had decreed that “the killing or abuse of women under the pretext of cleansing ‘shame’ is not considered to be a mitigating excuse”. The courts, they said, could not apply an old 1969 law “to reduce the penalty of the perpetrator”. The new law, of course, made no difference.
In Jordan, women’s organisations say that per capita, the Christian minority in this country of just over five million people are involved in more “honour” killings than Muslims – often because Christian women want to marry Muslim men. But the Christian community is loath to discuss its crimes and the majority of known cases of murder are committed by Muslims.
And, of course, we should perhaps end this catalogue of crime in Britain, where only in the past few years have we ourselves woken to the reality of “honour” crimes.
Scotland Yard long ago admitted it would have to review over a hundred deaths, some going back more than a decade, which now appear to have been “honour” killings.
This is part of a series of articles in UK newspaper the Independent:
* One woman’s nightmare, and a crime against humanity
* Relatives with blood on their hands
* The lie behind mass ‘suicides’ of Egypt’s young women
* A place of refuge from fear and guilt
* The truth about ‘honour’ killings