Archive for the ‘Government’ Category
Sudanese police arrested dozens of women protesting last month against laws they say humiliate women after a video of a woman being flogged in public appeared on the Internet.
Floggings carried out under Islamic are almost a daily punishment in Sudan for crimes ranging from drinking alcohol to adultery.
But vague laws on women’s dress and behaviour are implemented inconsistently. One case sparked international furore when Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese U.N. official, invited journalists to her public flogging for wearing trousers.
The video, which was removed by YouTube, showed a crying Sudanese woman being lashed by two policemen in front of onlookers in a public place. She was made to kneel and the police laughed during the punishment.
“Humiliating your women is humiliating all your people,” the women shouted as they were being arrested on Tuesday.
Around 50 women sat down outside the justice ministry holding banners and surrounded by riot police telling them to move.
Three plain-clothed security men threw the BBC correspondent to the ground, confiscating his equipment.
All the women were arrested and taken to a nearby police station. Their lawyers were prevented from entering, but senior opposition politicians were allowed to go inside.
The women said they had tried to get permission for the protest but had been refused. The police declined to comment.
“The authorities here take the law into their own hands. No one knows what happens inside these police stations,” said one of their lawyers, Mona el-Tijani. “This video was just one example of what happens all the time.”
Sudan’s justice ministry said it would investigate whether the punishment was administered properly.
It was not clear what offence the woman being lashed had committed. Officials from the ruling National Congress Party offered conflicting explanations in the local press.
When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote a year-end op-ed piece for an Australian newspaper, he talked about the future of a world body facing a new generation of threats: climate change, poverty, nuclear disarmament and human rights.
But, wittingly or unwittingly, he left out one of the biggest political success stories of the world body: the creation of a separate body, UN Women, to promote gender empowerment worldwide.
The new U.N. agency, armed with a projected 500-million- dollar annual budget and headed by Under-Secretary-General Michelle Bachelet, began functioning at the beginning of the New Year.
But there has been no fanfare or political celebration inside the world body – even as the secretary-general is being accused of bypassing the importance of the landmark event.
“It would have been a tremendous opportunity to draw attention to UN Women … after all, the creation of an entirely new agency devoted to half the world’s population is something to be noted and celebrated,” said Paula Donovan, a co-director of AIDS-Free World, one of the early active campaigners for the new agency.
“But there’s not a word on UN Women,” she complained in a letter to Bachelet, jointly authored with Stephen Lewis, a former deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF. “And that’s only the half of it. The other half provokes disbelief,” says the letter.
The agency was inaugurated on the first working day of 2011 at the U.N. since Monday was a New Year holiday.
In a paragraph that summarises the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the secretary‑general lists seven of the eight goals. “The only one left out is, astonishingly, the goal on gender equality and the empowerment of women. How is that possible?” the letter notes.
The creation of UN Women was hailed as a phenomenal success judging by the decades-old negotiations.
Asked to respond to the criticism, deputy U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told IPS: “The secretary‑general has made clear his commitment to women’s issues, and he pushed strongly for the establishment of UN Women.” His commitment to UN Women can be seen through his efforts to win approval for that entity and his search for a strong leader for UN Women, which he found in Michelle Bachelet, said Haq. “He has spoken extensively on women’s issues, and its absence from one op-ed does not imply any lessening of his commitment on this crucial issue,” he declared.
In the op-ed piece, which was published in the Sydney Morning Herald Dec. 31, Ban says the United Nations today leads what seems at times like a double life.
“Pundits criticise it for not solving all the world’s ills, yet people around the world are asking it to do more, in more places, than ever before ‑ a trend that will continue in 2011. It is not hard to see why,” he wrote. “The conventional wisdom will tell you that the MDG targets ‑ reducing poverty and hunger, improving the health of mothers and children, combating HIV/AIDS, increasing access to education, protecting the environment, and forging a global partnership for development ‑ are simply unattainable. In fact, we are controlling disease ‑ polio, malaria and AIDS ‑ better than ever, and making big, new investments in women’s and children’s health ‑ the key to progress in many other areas,” the article reads.
In her letter to Bachelet, Donovan says the greatest challenges for women will come from within. “And that was demonstrated, right at the outset of your tenure, by a classic act of unthinking negligence on the part of the secretary‑general himself. Alas, it is all too typical. Dr. Bachelet, you have your work cut out for you. And your work starts at the top,” says the letter, which carries the heading: “Can we help with your biggest challenge: educating the secretary‑general?”
Asked whether Ban was paying lip service to the cause of gender empowerment, Donovan told IPS: “I wish it were a fluke, but sadly, it’s been a pattern since he took office. I really wonder whether he believes that he’s ticking off the gender box when he makes a passing reference to maternal health – as though that were the sum total of women’s rights,” she added.
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Civil society has warned of adverse social and health consequences after the Egyptian government ordered the removal of content related to male and female anatomy, reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) from the school curriculum last November.
“We know most of this material wasn’t being taught, but removing it from the curriculum is a big step backwards,” says Noha Roushdy, researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Egypt’s education ministry has instructed schools not to teach lessons on “reproduction and propagation methods”, “pollination and fertilisation” genetics, and anatomical illustrations of the male and female reproductive systems. Teachers were ordered to disregard chapters on these subjects in existing biology textbooks, and new textbooks have been printed that omit the lessons.
The revisions, according to the independent weekly Al-Youm Al-Sabaa, affect students between the ages of 12 and 17. The paper quoted a ministry source as saying the deleted materials would be replaced by teacher-led classroom discussions that “incorporate the latest information on the subject from sources other than school textbooks.”
Lessons on reproductive health were first added to the Egyptian curriculum following the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo in 1994. The conference asserted the right of all men and women to receive comprehensive information pertaining to reproductive health, and recommended including lessons on the subject in school textbooks.
The government’s decision to remove these lessons from the official curriculum could be the biggest setback in nearly two decades for civil society organisations working to improve public knowledge on reproductive health.
“Definitely there will be social and health consequences,” says Dr. Amal Abdel Hadi, an outspoken advocate of reproductive health rights. “There will be more misconceptions about sex, marital disharmony and sexual harassment… and the prevalence of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) will increase.”
Sex has always been a sensitive topic in Egypt, and society’s discomfort with discussing matters related to sexuality has impeded efforts to address health issues and control spiralling population growth. Abdel Hadi is particularly disturbed by what she sees as a growing conservative and religious trend that is putting piety and propriety ahead of people’s health and rights.
“In the 1960s and 1970s, when people discussed sexuality the focus was on good and bad relationships,” she told IPS. “Now it is only about what is halal (permissible) or haram (sinful), which moves the whole issue into the religious realm.”
Egyptian religious authorities have rejected the idea of educating school students about safe sex and STDs. When this came up for debate five years ago, one influential Islamic cleric insisted that students should learn about sex “in a way that doesn’t stir instincts, or offend public morality.”
Translated, that means sex should only be taught in a way that reinforces the morally accepted behaviour of abstinence until marriage and fidelity. In practice, when sex is discussed in the classroom at all, it is presented in a religious or biological context without ever exploring its social and psychological dimensions.
Surveys have shown that Egyptians, particularly young women, are poorly informed when it comes to reproductive health and safe sex practices. Most lack basic knowledge on anatomy, reproductive functions and STDs.
A public awareness study of HIV/AIDS conducted in 2008 revealed that less than two percent of women among the poorest fifth of Egyptians, and about 16 percent among the richest, knew the basic facts of the disease. Men were better informed, but less than a third of males in the wealthiest group were aware that a person could be HIV-positive yet still appear healthy.
Egypt is one of only five Arab countries to have included reproductive health in the public school curriculum. Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Bahrain teach basic sex education to secondary school students. In Lebanon, only private secular schools provide any instruction.
Dr. Mamdouh Wahba, chairman of the Egyptian Society for Family Health (ESFH), warns that removing lessons on reproductive health from school textbooks will perpetuate commonly held misconceptions about sex and undermine efforts to control STDs. He says in the absence of authoritative explanations of sex and reproduction, inquisitive youth will seek information from unscientific sources.
“They’ll end up learning about sex from their peers, the Internet and (pornography),” he says.
Egyptian media is playing an increasingly important role in educating the public on reproductive health, and the information stream is richer than it was just five years ago. Television programmes and radio talk shows frequently discuss sex-related issues, including previously taboo topics such as condom use, oral sex and masturbation.
The problem, says Wahba, is that poorly educated audiences are often unable to discern the quality of the information being presented. Facts and sound advice about sex-related issues are lost among the scores of programmes in which unqualified doctors and religious clerics dispense subjective or fallacious opinions.
Wahba says the ICPD established 16 years ago that it is the right of all youth to receive objective, scientific instruction on reproductive health and life skills.
“This could be done through extracurricular activities, but we need to reach all students, and in order to do that you must either make these activities obligatory or put them into the school curriculum,” he says. (END)
An opposition party push to amend the prostitution law, so providing more equality for women, has been rejected by the two ruling parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan government, who claim prostitution is not a big enough problem to discuss in parliament.
“Prostitution is not a phenomenon in Kurdistan,” said Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) lawmaker Dilshad Shehab. “If we said it was, it would be an injustice against Kurdistan.”
Opposition parties requested the discussion of a bill amending the prostitution law, but the Kurdish parliament rejected it. This follows the parliament’s 2009 rejection of another bill, designed to clamp down on prostitution, before it even got to the discussion stage.
Although there is general consensus among government officials, rights groups and the general populace in Iraqi Kurdistan that prostitution is not as widespread here as in other Middle Eastern countries, some say Iraqi Kurds have swept the issue under the carpet, often dismissing it as “an Arab problem.”
There are few statistics on prostitution in Iraqi Kurdistan available but, because of the high incidence of honor killing in Kurdish society, prostitution is a particularly high-risk occupation for women in Iraqi Kurdistan, and so, officials and observers say, the role is more often taken up by Arab and other foreign women.
However, Bilal Sulaiman, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG, known locally as Komal) – the party that drafted the amendment bill – told Rudaw that, through reading Kurdish author Khandan Hama Jaza’s 2007 book, “An Ocean of Crimes,” he had only recently become aware of the large number of prostitutes in Kurdistan and their “terrible” situation.
“We want to confront prostitution in Kurdistan,” said Sulaiman. “There is a shyness in Kurdistan around prostitution, but that is no reason not to discuss it.”
Ms. Hama Jaza, who had to flee Iraqi Kurdistan to live in Germany because of numerous threats to her safety, had revealed in her book the involvement of Kurdish officials and police in the country’s prostitution trade.
Sulaiman said the existing Iraqi government law, passed in 1988, had “some shortcomings” which needed to be amended, adding that any amendments would only apply to the semiautonomous Kurdish region.
“The law only talks about women,” he said. “We have proposed to include punishment for both women and men, which would include people selling prostitutes and their customers.”
However, the KDP’s Shehab said that, because the existing law “banned prostitution entirely,” no one of either sex was permitted to be involved in it.
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) lawmaker Gasha Dara Hafid – head of parliament’s Committee to Protect Women’s Rights – said there were legal gaps in the Iraqi law, as it only dealt with women and homosexual men and failed to make customers accountable.
“If you want to eradicate prostitution you must deal with both sides,” said Ms. Hafid, who, contrary to most PUK lawmakers, voted to discuss the bill. “If there is no body buyer, there will be no body seller.”
She said there was no legal justification for rejecting the discussion of the bill in parliament, and that the chief opponents to the bill – the ruling PUK and KDP – claimed the issue of men and customers involved with prostitution was covered by other existing laws.
“The bill only has a few amendments and will make no difference, so we don’t need it,” said the KDP’s Shehab. “There is not such a big problem with the existing law.”
However, Ms. Hafid pointed to Iraqi Kurdistan’s need to guarantee more equality between males and females, which the law amendments would have addressed.
“We need to make both women and men accountable,” she said. “Women’s souls should not be bought and sold. If the law had been amended it would have decreased prostitution.”
Both Ms. Hafid and the KIG’s Sulaiman stressed that the original law and its proposed amendments were chiefly about reform and the solving of social problems, rather than punishment and retribution.
“We want to reeducate [prostitutes] and teach them how to live normally again,” said Sulaiman. “We want to oblige the government to assist them.”
He said there were both social and religious reasons for the law amendment proposal.
“Prostitution exists because we have so many social problems in Kurdistan,” Sulaiman said. “According to Sharia law, prostitution is a crime, but Sharia is conditional on social problems…Our government should put money into solving these problems.”
Sulaiman said the amendment bill made a distinction between women who were forced into prostitution, whether physically or through poverty, and those who were “willing” to practice it.
“There are women who are rich and just want to be prostitutes,” he said.
However, author Ms. Hama Jaza said in October that, according to her own research interviewing over 1,300 Kurdish prostitutes, 98 percent of them were “victims,” who were forced into the profession.
Sherizaan Minwalla, country director of Heartland Alliance, a United States-based human rights group that is setting up Iraq’s first ever shelter devoted to human trafficking victims in Iraqi Kurdistan, also said people in Kurdistan often did not realize the coercive nature of prostitution.
“They view prostitutes as criminals, [or] think that women do this because they like it,” said Ms. Minwalla, adding that she had seen Iraqi Kurdish girls as young as 14 who had been forced into prostitution.
“There are some cases [in Iraqi Kurdistan] of husbands or fathers forcing their wives and daughters into prostitution,” said Ms Minwalla. “It is almost impossible to reintegrate these women back into the family in Kurdish society.”
Ms. Minwalla stressed that, because of the social importance of the Kurdish family unit, a lone female forced out of the care of her family was extremely vulnerable to human trafficking.
“There’s nowhere to go,” said Ms. Minwalla. “She might even say she wasn’t forced [into prostitution], but was she sexually abused and then had to run away from her family?”
The PUK’s Ms. Hafid agreed that most Kurdish people did not have compassion for prostitutes.
“If a man in this society goes to a prostitute, he doesn’t think of himself as bad; he just looks down on the woman,” she said. “Kurdish society in general, including women, contributes to this looking down on prostitutes. Men are not held accountable for prostitution because there is no law holding them accountable, but in Islam it is clearly stated that both male and females are accountable.”
The KIG’s Sulaiman said he believed there were political goals for the ruling parties rejecting the bill’s discussion.
“All the opposition parties supported it,” he said. “Maybe there are other political reasons too, but that is only my opinion.”
But the KDP’s Shehab denied any political agenda behind the bill’s rejection.
“Some KDP lawmakers voted for the bill,” he said. “There was only a two-vote majority, which is a good indication that there was no political motivation behind it.”
Ms. Hafid said a further attempt to discuss the bill in parliament would be made after some adjustments to the bill had been completed.
The government has proposed a cash-incentive plan to encourage families to have girls.
As India’s middle class grows, more families are using modern technology to ensure they have a boy, according to gender and population experts. Confronted with a decrease in the number of girls born, the state of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, has decided to crack down on the illegal practice of so-called female feticide.
India outlawed the practice of doctors using technologies like ultrasounds to tell patients the sex of their unborn child in 1994. Abortion based on certain grounds is legal, but having one based on sex is not.
Despite the law as well as gains in girls’ education and employment opportunities across India, the practice has continued and even grown as more people have access to ultrasounds. The child sex ratio, the number of girls to every 1,000 boys in the 0 to 6 years age group, dropped from 945 girls in 1991 to 927 girls in 2001, according to data from the United Nations Population Fund based on the census. When just looking at the sex ratio at birth , for the period 2006-08, the ratio drops to 904 girls per 1,000 boys.
Sex determination leads to a missing 500,000 to 700,000 girls across India each year, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
The state government has since announced a proposal to encourage families to have girls  by providing cash incentives. On the birth of a girl child, 5,000 rupees ($114) will be deposited into a bank account under her name, according to local media reports. Once the family ensures the girl completes her schooling and does not marry before the age of 18, she will have access to the money. The finance department has not yet approved the program, which would initially be for families living below the poverty line, according to the Times of India.
Cash incentives have similarly been used in India to encourage women to give birth in hospitals or other medical institutions and have been credited with an increase in institutional deliveries.
However, social activists in Mumbai question the effectiveness of providing cash incentives to encourage women to have a girl child when the families that need to be targeted are not the poor but rather the middle class and affluent.
Poor families ensure they have a boy by having large families, whereas the middle and upper classes now want fewer children and therefore resort to sex determination, according to Sayeed Unisa, a professor with the International Institute for Population Sciences, a Mumbai-based training and research center in the area of population studies.
There is a long-held belief in many Indian communities that at least one boy is needed to support the parents when they can no longer work and to light their funeral pyre. Girls, on the other hand, can be viewed as a burden given the rising costs of dowries and weddings.
Social activists say the skewed sex ratio shows how little girls and women are valued in many segments of Indian society. Many families still invest less in girls, affecting everything from their nutrition to their education and employment opportunities.
Discrimination occurs throughout a girl’s life in India, and sex determination represents the worst form of it, said A.L. Sharada, program director of Population First, a Mumbai-based non-governmental organization working on population and health issues.
Studies have shown that female feticide is not a result of families being against having a girl child, but more that they feel they must have at least one boy. Birth order therefore has a deep impact on female feticide as the sex ratio becomes more skewed when a family already has one or two girls and is trying for a final boy child.
A study by the Christian Medical Association of India found that if a family already had two girls, the chance the third child would be a girl reduced to 219 girls for every 1,000 boys. The study was based on births at a public hospital in Delhi for the year 2000-2001.
The skewed sex ratio has become so bad in certain communities that families have resorted to buying wives from poorer areas. A young bride was bought for less than $25 in Haryana, one of India’s worst affected states, according to a recent report in London’s Daily Telegraph.
Such trafficking for marriage is becoming more common as sex ratios worsen. Some families, she added, can only afford one bride and share her among multiple family members.
To combat female feticide, social activists say there must be more monitoring of clinics and implementing the law against sex determination, the judiciary and medical professionals need to be sensitized to the issue, and an environment must be created where people can come forward to complain about non-compliance with the law. In addition, there must be more spaces and opportunities in communities to question gender stereotypes.
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The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on 18th December 2010 to name and shame individuals and parties to armed conflict that are “credibly suspected” of committing rape or other forms of sexual violence.
The council said it intends to use the list, to be compiled by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “for more focused United Nations engagement with those parties,” including imposing targeted sanctions.
The resolution adopted by the council reiterates deep concern that despite its repeated condemnation, rapes and attacks on women and children caught in conflict continue to occur “and in some situations have become systematic and widespread, reaching appalling levels of brutality.”
The council action follows the rape of 303 civilians — 235 women, 13 men, 52 girls and 3 boys — in 13 villages in eastern Congo between July 30 and Aug. 2. Even in the conflict-wracked region, where rape has become a daily hazard and some women have been sexually assaulted repeatedly over the years, the numbers released by the U.N. were shocking.
Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. envoy trying to combat sexual violence in conflict, welcomed the adoption of the resolution, saying the new system of monitoring and accountability should “shatter the vicious cycle of impunity for wartime sexual violence.”
She stressed that the naming and shaming “must apply equally whether the victim is an eight-year-old girl or an 80-year-old grandmother.”
“Today’s resolution will help ensure that mass rape is never again met with mass impunity,” she said. “Instead of serving as a cheap, silent and effective tactic of war, sexual violence will be a liability for armed groups. It will expose their superiors to increased international scrutiny, seal off the corridors of power and close all exits to those who commit, command or condone such acts.”
The International Criminal Court has added rape and sexual violence to the list of war crimes. Congo’s former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba is currently on trial at the court in The Hague, Netherlands, for murder, rape and pillage committed by members of his private militia in Central African Republic in 2002-2003. Wallstrom said the number of alleged rapes exceeds the number of killings.
Last month, she said there should be more prosecutions for rape during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Only 12 cases have been prosecuted out of an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 victims in Bosnia, which shows “the magnitude of the problem,” she said.
Human Rights Watch called the council’s decision to publish an annual list of alleged perpetrators “a tremendous step toward ending this horrendous practice.”
“Today is a big day for women worldwide,” Marianne Mollmann, the organization’s women’s rights advocacy director, said in a statement.
The new resolution will provide the international community “with an additional tool to offer justice to thousands of victims of wartime rape,” she said.
The resolution reiterated the council’s demand “for the complete cessation with immediate effect by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence” and called on parties to armed conflict “to make and implement specific and time-bound commitments to combat sexual violence.”
“Women are not dying because of diseases we cannot treat. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” — Mahmoud Fathalla, Former President of the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 1997
Researchers at the World Health Organization have recently documented a substantial 48% decrease in the numbers of unsafe abortion deaths. In 2008, 47,000 women a year lost their lives from complications of unsafe abortion, compared to 70,000 in 2003. But the bad news is that unsafe abortions have not decreased and are still the predominant way that women end pregnancies in developing countries. Abortions appear to a bit less unsafe because more women are turning to safer medical abortion pills to induce their own abortion.
Unsafe abortion deaths are a direct consequence of antiquated and cruel laws against abortion. About 21.6 million unsafe abortions occurred worldwide in 2008, almost all in developing countries where abortion is illegal. (This compares to 19.7 million in 2003, with the rise due to the increasing number of women of childbearing age in the world.) Among women who survive unsafe abortion, an estimated 8.5 million suffer complications, with 1 in 4 needing medical attention.
In contrast, death from unsafe abortion has been virtually eliminated in western industrialized countries that have legalized abortion, and the complication rate is extremely low. When abortion is legalized in a country, there is typically a dramatic decline in maternal deaths and complications due to abortion. This pattern has been repeated numerous times since the 1950’s when abortion was first legalized in former Eastern Bloc countries.
Legal abortion saves women’s lives and improves their health because without it, women risk their safety by resorting to unsafe illegal abortion. The right to abortion also advances women’s equality, liberty, and other human rights, freeing women to pursue an education and career and to participate fully in public life. Access to abortion allows women to better plan and provide for their families, which benefits the entire community and society. Unplanned births of unwanted children can be very crippling to women and families, leading to higher rates of poverty and dysfunction, including child abuse. These factors make the provision of safe and legal abortion a vital public health interest that negates any justification for criminalizing the procedure.
Yet here we are, one decade into the 21st century, and almost every developing country in the world continues to enforce a near-total criminal ban on abortion. Abortion is illegal primarily in Africa, Latin America, and some parts of Asia, as well as a tiny handful of developed countries like Poland and Ireland. However, all countries with more liberal abortion laws still retain abortion as a criminal offence with exceptions, or have enacted further legal restrictions that make it difficult to access.
If the intent behind banning abortions is to stop or reduce them, it’s been a total failure. In 2007, the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute found that overall abortion rates around the world are similar, regardless of whether or not abortion is illegal in a country. This is because countries with strict anti-abortion laws have well-developed black markets for abortion. The global average abortion rate for women of childbearing age (15-44) was 29 per 1,000 women in 2003, with the highest number of abortions occurring in countries where it’s highly restricted and in countries with poor access to contraception. Eastern Africa’s rate was 39 per 1,000 women, while South America’s rate was 33.
In countries with fewer restrictions where legal abortion is widely available, the rates are generally much lower, plus we see a decline in abortion rates as contraception use rises. Canada is the only democratic nation in the world with no abortion law or restrictions, but it has a low abortion rate of 14.1 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That compares favourably to western Europe’s rate of 12, the lowest abortion rate in the world and the region with the most liberal abortion laws. In contrast, the American rate is 19.4 (for 2005) and U.S. women must navigate through a thicket of abortion restrictions. There isn’t a shred of evidence that such restrictions are effective or helpful for women or society; instead, they create arbitrary obstacles and delays for women seeking abortion care.
Who should we blame for this global travesty of injustice and for the continuing suffering and deaths of women? The obvious culprits, of course, are the Vatican, conservative countries, various Catholic and fundamentalist religious organizations, and right-wing politicians. But perhaps a better question is: Why does the world allow these entities to inflict such a terrible toll on women’s lives and health, year after year? The most obvious culprit in this case would appear to be sexism and patriarchy, which are very much alive and well in our modern age, and still socially acceptable compared to racism. Traditional views on women’s motherhood role are the main reason that women’s rights and equality still lag far behind the rights of minorities and other vulnerable groups. Much of the world still clings to the deeply-held assumption that women’s dignity and humanity is tied to being a mother, even though this subordinates women to a biological function. Moreover, our male-dominated patriarchal societies still try to guarantee paternity by controlling women’s sexual and reproductive behaviour at the expense of their freedom and human rights.
The United Nations’ position on abortion reflects the world’s hostile attitude towards safe abortion as an essential part of women’s reproductive rights and the cornerstone of women’s health and survival. Although the UN’s purpose is in part to promote and encourage “respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion,” the UN has essentially abandoned women who need abortions by caving to pressure from right-wing forces.
Aid agencies and donors are failing to take into account the relief and security needs of women displaced by disasters and conflicts, according to Elisabeth Rasmusson, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
For example, in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkwa province, cultural practices mean Pashtun women cannot be seen by men who are not family members. So when the worst floods in the country’s history devastated their homes in July, they faced serious problems.
Unless the aid agencies on the ground had female assessment teams and other staff in place, these women were “invisible” and could not even visit the toilets during the day, Rasmusson told AlertNet in an interview.
The assistance they received – including clean water, food, sanitation and access to maternity care – was limited, she said.
“Worse, during Ramadan, women were fasting from sunset to sunrise, but they were also looking after the kids so the kids didn’t have food or drinks for 12 hours. Many babies and small children were totally dehydrated,” recalled Rasmusson, who visited the region in August.
This is just one example where women’s humanitarian needs have been overlooked, said the head of the NRC, an organisation that promotes and protects the rights of people who have been forced to flee their homes.
Around the world, millions of women uprooted by war live in fear of abuse and discrimination, aid workers say.
There are more than 43 million people displaced by conflict, three quarters of them estimated to be women and children, according to NRC. Some have fled to another part of their own country and others have crossed borders.
“Women are exposed to assault and injustice in all kinds of environments, and by anyone from a military soldier to family members,” Rasmusson said. “And often perpetrators go free, so there is little risk in abusing, raping, kidnapping or killing women.”
A binding Security Council resolution, passed 10 years ago, calls for women and girls in conflicts to be protected from rape, but only around 20 countries have implemented it. A recent U.N. report said sexual violence is an increasingly common weapon of war.
Simple measures such as making sure camps for the displaced are well-lit, building toilets within compounds, and letting civilians – instead of armed troops – run the camps can help provide safety for women, Rasmusson said.
But displaced women’s voices are not being heard, often because of “a total lack of understanding of the situation on the ground”, she added.
Donor indifference also means funding for activities to protect women from violence and discrimination has been decreasing.
With Pakistan’s flood response, for example, only 13 percent of the money needed to protect women has been provided, and in Zimbabwe, only 10 percent of this work is funded.
“Few donors are willing to fund protection activities because they’re not visible. The food, the shelter, the water, the health – all visible, tangible, concrete,” Rasmusson said.
One factor hampering displaced women’s security is the increased militarisation of protection, which is seen as the job of armed personnel even though it encompasses physical and mental safety as well as human rights, Rasmusson said.
She cited Democratic Republic of Congo as an example, saying U.N. peacekeepers there have a “contradictory mandate”. Although protecting civilians is part of their mission, they were involved in military operations last year with the Congolese army “which is one of the main perpetrators” of sexual violence against women, the top refugee official said.
“What kind of signal is that sending when you have people who are supposed to protect you supporting those who are violating your rights?” she asked.
From March to December 2009, U.N. troops backed the DRC military in an operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels in Congo’s east. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, accused the army (link:
) of widespread rape and brutal killings during that time.
The rising trend of displacement in urban settings, like Kabul and Mogadishu, also leaves women and children more exposed, because of higher crime levels in cities and difficulty of access for aid agencies.
Protecting women more effectively requires a deeper understanding of the role of men in conflict, Rasmusson said, as they change from providers to warriors once they take up arms. And that aggressive role may well continue even after conflict has ended, leading to a rise in domestic violence.
Rasmusson urged peace negotiators to make more effort to seek and incorporate displaced women’s voices and needs into peace agreements and other post-conflict processes.
“We have seen time and time again (that) only women can communicate their own needs – not the men, not the foreigners, not all the international experts negotiating these peace agreements,” she said.
Reactions to the steady stream of headlines about unwanted babies have ranged from an expansion of sex education in schools to calls for stiffer penalties and the opening of the country’s first “baby hatch,” where infants can be left to be cared for by others. One state government has offered financial support for younger teenagers to marry, angering women’s groups that have been campaigning against child marriage.
Under the Shariah, or Islamic, law that applies to the Muslims who make up 60 percent of Malaysia’s population, premarital sex is forbidden, with penalties including up to three years in prison, a fine of up to 5,000 ringgit, about $1,600, or six strokes of the cane. Premarital sex is not punishable for non-Muslims, but it remains socially taboo.
Abortion is illegal unless the woman’s physical or mental health is endangered. Anyone who abandons a child under 12 faces up to seven years imprisonment, a fine, or both.
Despite recent news media attention to the issue, the number of babies being abandoned in Malaysia has not shown a significant spike this year. The police have recorded 76 cases from the beginning of this year through Oct. 1, compared with 79 cases in 2009 and 102 in 2008.
But in August, the cabinet asked the attorney general’s office to look more closely into cases where babies died after being abandoned, to determine whether those responsible should be charged with murder, a crime that carries the death penalty in Malaysia.
Taking another approach, Mohamad Ali Rustam, chief minister of Malacca State, south of Kuala Lumpur, recently announced plans to give 500 ringgit to couples under the age of 18 if they marry.
In Malaysia, Muslim girls under 16 and boys under 18 may marry with permission from a Shariah court. Non-Muslims must be at least 18, unless they have permission from their state’s chief minister, in which case they may be as young as 16.
From 2000 through 2008, 1,654 marriages were registered involving girls aged 16 and 17, although women’s rights advocates believe the incidence of child marriage may be higher.
A Unaids report released this year showed that 7,176 Muslim girls and 2,029 Muslim boys aged 19 and below underwent H.I.V. screening in 2009, which is compulsory in most states for Malaysian Muslims who are applying to marry.
Mr. Mohamad said he hoped that providing teenage couples with money to help pay for a wedding ceremony would discourage premarital sex and thus reduce the abandonment of children born out of wedlock.
Groups that advocate raising the marriage age to 18 for all Malaysians, regardless of gender or religion, have condemned Mr. Mohamad’s move.
Ivy Josiah, executive director of the Women’s Aid Organization, a nongovernmental group, said that allowing those under 18 to marry contravened Malaysia’s obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child and the country’s own legislation. “Child marriage is against every right of the child,” she said.
Both the U.N. convention and Malaysia’s Child Act define a child as anyone under the age of 18.
The Ministry for Women, Family and Community Development is investigating reports that a 14-year-old girl was recently given permission to marry by the Shariah court, but there are no plans to raise the marriage age to 18 for Muslim girls.
“We hope that the Shariah judges will continue to exercise their discretion judiciously,” said Heng Seai Kie, deputy minister for Women, Family and Community Development.
Other efforts are focused on education and logistical support.
The number of teenage pregnancies, regardless of marital status, has risen slightly in Malaysia in recent years, with 16,207 live births registered in 2007, compared with 15,752 in 2005.
Nongovernmental organizations have long called for schools to provide students with more knowledge about sex and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Currently, students learn only the basics of anatomy and reproduction in biology and physical education classes, and abstinence outside marriage is promoted.
Starting next year, however, primary school students will spend 30 minutes a week and high school students will spend 40 minutes twice a month in “Reproductive Health and Social Education” classes.
The lessons will continue to emphasize abstinence before marriage, but secondary students will also learn about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.
Ms. Heng, the deputy women’s minister, said that while the government wanted to discourage premarital sex, it did provide support for unwed women and girls who became pregnant. It operates four shelters for unmarried girls under 18, and two for pregnant women 18 and older, at which free food and accommodation are provided. She said the country also maintained up to 60 welfare centers that offered assistance to unwed mothers and their babies.
The government’s response has failed to impress advocates like Ms. Josiah of the Women’s Aid Organization. While she welcomed the greater focus on sex education, she deplored the attempts to encourage young teenagers to marry and said punitive measures, like charging people with murder if the baby they abandoned died, would not help address the problem of child abandonment.
“If the message is that you might get caned for having sex outside marriage, or you might even be executed because you have abandoned a baby and the baby dies, or we will force you to get married — never mind if you are under 18 — if these are the messages that are going out, then certainly no one is going to come forward,” she said.
To increase the chances of survival for abandoned babies, Malaysia’s first “baby hatch,” a place where mothers can leave their unwanted babies, opened in May. Fifteen babies have been left so far.
The hatch, based on a design already in use in Germany and Japan, features an alarm that is activated when a baby is placed inside. It is located on the premises of Orphan Care, a nongovernmental organization that arranges for the babies to be placed in children’s homes or adopted.
Orphan Care is hoping to open another baby hatch in Kuala Lumpur and a third at a government hospital on the outskirts of the capital. “I think if more hatches open, if they are more accessible and in different cities, we can save a few more lives,” said Adnan Mohammad Tahir, the organization’s president.
Part of a longer article at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/09/world/asia/09malay.html?_r=1&src=twrhp
Democrat MP for Rayong Sathit Pitutecha has proposed that a bill on “consensual and necessary abortion” be drafted to give women more options when dealing with unwanted pregnancies.
Mr Sathit said he would begin drafting the bill and campaign for support in the hope of submitting it to the House during the next parliamentary session starting in February.
The proposed bill would call for the setting up of a committee to consider an abortion request from a pregnant woman or her guardians. An applicant with “necessary qualifications” would be allowed to end her pregnancy, he said.
The law permits an abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if it endangers the mother’s life.
The Democrat MP said the law should be broadened to include other cases including pregnancy among minors or pregnancies among women who have insufficient mental capacity to rear the baby.
Only registered clinics would be allowed to perform the abortions, Mr Sathit said.
Democrat leader and Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has insisted that there is no need for a change in the law to solve illegal abortions, as the law is based on Medical Council regulations which, in his view, are “good enough”.
Mr Sathit said he was trying to convince the prime minister that relaxing the law would reduce fatalities and accidents among pregnant women who undertake unsafe illegal abortions.
It would also put an end to the illegal abortion business and reduce family problems.
“Let me make it clear that legalising abortion is not liberising abortion,” Mr Sathit said. “The bill will not make it easier for a mother to end her pregnancy. Each case must be considered carefully by a committee of experts and social workers.”
Maytinee Bhongsvej, of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW), said social workers and women’s aid groups had been pushing for an abortion law for more than two decades. Ms Maytinee does not think the discovery of foetuses at Wat Phai Ngern Chotanaram will be a turning point.
“People’s attitudes are the major obstacle. For Thai society, abortion is a sin,” she said. “But as a person working in this area, I think the bill will give mothers more options to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancy.”
The sensitivity of abortion law has resulted in the exclusion of clauses that set criteria for legal abortions from a bill on reproductive health which has gone to public hearings, she said.
The APSW-run emergency home for women receives an average of 140 women with unwanted pregnancies every year, she said.
The APSW and 44 other state and non-governmental organisations working on women’s issues on Saturday issued a statement calling on the government to provide safe abortions for women to prevent them from using unsafe services at unhygienic, illegal premises.
“Abortion should be permitted if the woman has been raped, is younger than 15, and could be mentally and physically affected if the pregnancy is continued,” they said.
Kanrawee Daoruang, coordinator of the Choice Group which helps women with unwanted pregnancies, said a 2005 Medical Council regulation on ending pregnancies allows doctors to perform abortions under certain conditions.
However, no doctor dares perform them under this regulation because they fear criminal action.
She said the government should provide facilities to care for women with unwanted pregnancies. “If a woman knows that she still has somewhere to go and someone to help take care of her and the baby, she might choose options other than aborting the baby.”
Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil said 14 was too young, and someone that age would not be able to live up to the expectations of such an institution.
“A marriage is not just about having a wedding. It is more than that. At 14, one is too young to understand what marriage is all about. There is responsibility and a lifetime of commitment, as a wife, and later on as a parent. The syariah court must be more cautious when granting approvals in such cases,” she said when contacted.
The New Sunday Times had front-paged the picture of 14-year-old Siti Marham Mahmod, and husband Abdul Manan Othman, who participated in a 1Malaysia wedding celebration at the Federal Territory Mosque on Satueday.
The couple had tied the knot in July after getting the consent of the Syariah Court.
The couple’s union has also sparked concern among women’s organisations who have called on the government to address irregularities in the Child Act 2001 and the civil and Islamic family laws if it was serious in preventing child marriages.
Women’s Aid Organisation executive director Ivy Josiah said the government should amend both the civil and Islamic family laws and set the minimum age for marriageability at 18 years for both genders. “There must be no exceptions,” said Josiah.
Under civil law, girls between 16 and 18 years old can marry, but it must be endorsed by the menteri besar or chief minister.
The minimum age under the Islamic Family Laws is 18 for men and 16 for women. However, the law also allows those younger to marry but with permission from the syariah judge under special circumstances.
“The Child Act 2001 defines that anyone under 18 years old is a child. We must stop using culture or religion as an excuse if the government is serious about protecting children from child marriages,” she said.
Empower Malaysia’s executive director Maria Chin Abdullah said permitting child marriages contravened the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which the government had an obligation to uphold.
“Why be a part of the CRC or CEDAW if we are going to do things differently? Marriage is too big a commitment for a 14-year-old,” she said.
Maria said an early marriage would force the child to go straight into adulthood and enter a union, depriving him or her of a complete intellectual and emotional development.
Women in Action Malacca (WIM) president Rachel Samuel said it was unlikely a child understood what a marriage entailed when even adults needed time to adjust to being married.
“Those who are married and studying in universities, for example, see how different their lifestyles are compared to their single peers. It will be very tough for a child to juggle between being a wife and having to attend school, and later becoming a mother at an early age,” she said.
Samuel was all for raising the minimum age to 18, to enable a child to get the basic education and some experiences which will better prepare him or her for married life.
Justice Susan Himel issued a ruling on Sept. 28 that declared several laws surrounding prostitution to be unconstitutional.
While prostitution itself is legal in Canada, keeping a common bawdy house or communicating for the purposes of prostitution are illegal. Translation, no brothels in the suburbs and no chatting up hookers on street corners.
Himel ruled that those laws put prostitutes at risk and violated their rights under the charter.
The ruling was stayed to give governments time to respond. The Harper government launched an appeal but that appeal could not be heard before the stay lapsed. On Thursday the Ontario Court of Appeal stayed the ruling until the full appeal is heard.
Terry Bedford, the dominatrix who fought and won in Himel’s court was disappointed with this latest court decision.
Bedford accused the Harper government of hiding behind the courts and said Harper should “be a man” and bring in a new law that works for prostitutes.
Speaking in Mississauga, Ont., Prime Minister Stephen Minister Harper told reporters he’s never been called upon to respond to a dominatrix before but defended the appeal.
“We believe that the prostitution trade is bad for society. That’s a strong view held by our government and I think by most Canadians,” Harper said.
In Ottawa, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said he’s confident the government’s view will prevail before the courts.
“It is the position of the Government of Canada that these provisions are constitutionally sound,” Nicholson said.
New Democrat MP Libby Davies said the government is hiding from the issue.
“The government has refused to recognize how harmful these laws are for sex workers,” Davies told QMI Agency.
Davies called for full debate on prostitution in Parliament.
Legislators call for parliamentary inquiry as data shows a significant increase in sex crimes within families.
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI) called on the government to create a national program for tackling the increasing levels of sexual violence in Israeli society, especially cases of incest and sexual molestation within the family.
Presenting to the Knesset its semiannual report, which showed a sharp increase in sexually violent crimes and rape, ARCCI executive director Michal Rozin declared that “it is time for everyone to join forces and build a national program, which will include all government ministries, to eradicate sexual violence in Israel completely.”
Rozin added that not only had sexual violence in the country increased, but “the scope and variety of the abuse and attacks has intensified, too.”
During the meeting, which included the Knesset committees for Labor, Welfare and Health; the Status of Women; and the Rights of the Child, legislators said they would call on Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to establish a parliamentary inquiry to look into the growing cases of domestic violence and child molestation.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog said at the hearing that despite improvements in recent years in treating children and youth at risk, he would find a way to increase the budget for centers providing assistance and treatment to victims of rape and sexual assault.
According to the report, which reflects data collected by ARCCI’s rape crisis hot line and information reported by its affiliated centers around the country, during the first half of this year there was a rise of 13 percent in the number of new calls for help, going from 3,773 in 2009 to 4,245 so far this year.
Among the calls received by the hot line, 1,359 callers reported being victims of rape or attempted rape, a 13% increase from the previous year; 166 said they’d been subjected to a gang rape or a group sexual assault, a rise of 23% over the previous year; and there were 10 reports of statutory rape.
In addition, 254 people reported either ongoing sexual harassment at work or a one-time experience of sexual harassment, a 14.5% increase from 2009, while 275 said they had been victims of sexual assault.
Out of those who called the hot line, the group reported that 66.5% had been under the age of 18, and 40% of those reporting incest or sexual abuses in the family had been under 18.
Overall, sexual abuse within the family increased by 11% in the first half of 2010, with most of the reports involving incest perpetrated by fathers, brothers, uncles and other relatives. Mothers and sisters were also found to have committed these crimes, the report noted.
“Last year the media reported numerous cases of gang rape, incest, sexual abuse of minors by family members and sexual assault by teens against their own peers,” Rozin pointed out.
“These cases and many more unreported cases only serve to back up our data that there has been an alarming increase in the number of people reporting such crimes.”
Three years ago, the government, then under the leadership of Ehud Olmert, committed to investing some NIS 30 million to build a special program for victims of rape and other sexual attacks. However, ARCCI has pointed out that little has progressed since then, and today there are simply not enough services and treatment centers available to cope with this increase in cases.
At the meeting, Herzog said his ministry’s budget for treating victims of rape and sexual abuse was more than NIS 4.5m. a year for 10 centers and that he was committed to increasing that amount in the future.
Women fleeing domestic violence will be able to use shelters in the GTA without worry of being targeted by immigration officers, a Toronto activist group says.
The Greater Toronto Enforcement Centre, a branch of the Canada Border Services Agency, will issue a directive barring officers from entering or waiting outside facilities serving women surviving violence, says Fariah Chowdhury, a spokeswoman for NoOneIsIllegal.
Chowdhury said rape crisis centres, women’s shelters or any community organization helping survivors of violence will now be off limits.
“For us, this is one small step in part of a broader campaign to make the city safe for women and for people with precarious status,” said Chowdhury. “It’s a long overdue victory because immigration officers should never have been arresting, deporting or detaining women who are so vulnerable in the first place.”
Chowdhury added that the directive will be released Thursday, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
It comes after two years of grassroots campaigning from a coalition of more than 120 organizations demanding shelters be considered a “safe space.”
Feminists and activists were concerned earlier this year when enforcement officers entered the Beatrice House shelter in Toronto looking for a woman from Ghana, identified only as Jane.
Jane, who said she grew up in a “voodoo” home and was sexually abused before arriving in Canada, missed the arrest because she and her 3-year-old daughter had just moved to another shelter.
“We have received numerous reports of immigration officials going into women’s shelters in the middle of the night and taking women and children out,” said Chowdhury.
“More and more people became afraid to access the services.”
While the directive is a “step in the right direction,” much more work must be done for undocumented people who aren’t able to go to university, access welfare or subsidized housing, said Chowdhury.
“These are essential support services that are really required for people’s survival.”
She added that talks about whether the directive will be applied on a national level will take place in coming weeks.
A nationwide campaign against domestic violence dubbed “1 in 3” was launched Thursday by the Maldivian Network on Violence Against Women, a loose coalition of NGOs and individuals who came together to advocate for pioneering legislation on domestic violence (DV) currently before parliament.
The campaign title reflects the findings of a milestone 2007 study on Women’s Health and Life Experiences, which found that 1 in 3 women aged 15 to 49 experience either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, including childhood sexual abuse.
While a draft for domestic violence legislation had existed for several years, the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP’s) women’s wing announced the development of a bill to be submitted to parliament earlier this year.
The announcement was welcomed by President Mohamed Nasheed, who argued that a bipartisan effort to pass the legislation was more likely to succeed.
The DV bill, supported and facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), aims to “make DV illegal, to prevent DV from occurring in our society, to provide justice to survivors of domestic violence and abuse as well as to ensure state responsibility in providing services to address DV-related crimes in society,” reads a press statement by the NGO Network.
The network was formed in October when a group of 30 advocates came together in Bandos to plan support for the bill.
On November 22, the bill was accepted by MPs and sent to committee for further review.
In her keynote speech at the campaign launch, former DRP MP Aneesa Ahmed surveyed the history of government efforts against domestic violence.
As recently as the turn of the century, said Aneesa, domestic violence was a taboo subject in Maldivian society.
“It was not spoken about,” she said. “[People] didn’t want to speak about it. Perhaps because of the immensity of the problem, nobody wanted to talk about it; or because nobody wanted to believe how much it had spread in our society.”
She added that the hesitancy to openly acknowledge the problem was probably borne “out of fear.”
The former Women’s Minister revealed that a pilot survey planned by an NGO with support from the government was scuttled when it encountered resistance from societal attitudes, which held that the government should not “enter into family matters.”
“So we couldn’t carry out that survey,” she said. “The NGO I mentioned was very disappointed and we were very disappointed, but we did not give up.”
While the former government then attempted to foster public dialogue through workshops aimed at different groups of society, Aneesa said that she was “very encouraged” to see a campaign launched by a network of NGOs with high youth participation.
A video testimonial of a DV victim was also presented at the function, featuring a harrowing story of a woman who came to Male’ seeking a divorce but was refused by the judge who counseled reconciliation with her abusive spouse.
“I thought how am I going to make peace?” she asked. “I am finding it hard to endure. They didn’t consider in the least the abuse I was getting.”
The testimonial ended with a plea to MPs “to save women from abusive husbands.”
Aneesa said that while the passage of the DV bill, with recommendations from the NGO network, would be “a beginning” to tackling gender based violence, she cautioned that the campaign “will not be easy” as the small size of close-knit communities “could be an impediment.”
However, she urged the NGO network and its affiliated advocates not to become discouraged and to continue their efforts.
Aneesa is a founding member of the ‘Hope for Women’ NGO which aims to “eradicate sexual violence against women and girls.”
President Nasheed meanwhile dedicated his weekly radio address yesterday to the subject of domestic violence, noting that “some women don’t even speak about it with their closest friends and family members” and consequently do not report abuse to the authorities.
Men taking advantage of physical superiority to abuse or subjugate women “amounts to the rule of the jungle,” he said.
As women make up half the country’s population, said Nasheed, greater participation of women in the workforce and in national affairs was crucial to ensure economic development and progress.
He added that sexual harassment in the workplace, “even subtle forms of harassment that we may otherwise think are trivial, should be deplored,” adding that “such things should never happen in the workplace.”
President Nasheed expressed gratitude for members of the DRP involved in the drafting of the legislation and pledged the government’s full support for the bill.
Statistics from the Family Protection Unit (FPU) reveal that since 2006 the unit has attended to an average of 145 patients per year – 87 per cent of whom were women – with a noticeable upward trend in the number of cases reported each month.
While sexual abuse was the most common form of abuse suffered by FPU patients, in 83 per cent of cases the perpetrator was a friend or family member, and was known to the victim.
Half of abuse victims reported that the perpetrator was a boyfriend or husband.
The “1 in 3″ campaign – launched to coincide with the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, the beginning of the annual global event supported by the UN: ’16 Days of Activism Against Violence’ – aims to raise awareness of the issue through a sustained media campaign over the next two weeks.
At the ceremony, which was attended by Health Minister Aminath Jameel and UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox, the campaign was officially launched by Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Lieutenant Colonel Hamid Shafeeq with the unveiling of the campaign song “Geveshi Hiyaa”.
The United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) today launched its annual global Call for Propoosals for programmes that support country-level efforts to end violence against women and girls. The criteria, eligibility requirements and application guidelines are available at
The deadline for application is 20 January 2011.
Civil society organizations, governments, and UN Country Teams (working in partnerships with governments and civil society) are invited to submit applications for grants of a minimum of US$100,000 up to a maximum of US$1 million for a period of two to three years.
As one of his UNiTE campaign benchmarks, the UN Secretary-General has set a target of raising a minimum of US$100 million for the UN Trust Fund by 2015, in order to realize existing commitments to ending violence against women and girls.
Established in 1996 by the UN General Assembly, the UN Trust Fund is managed by UNIFEM (part of UN Women) on behalf of the UN system. Today, the UN Trust Fund is an essential source of support and a hub of knowledge for promising approaches to address violence against women and girls. In 2009, the UN Trust Fund received a total of 1,643 proposals and awarded US$20.5 million to 26 initiatives in 33 countries and territories.
The UN Trust Fund relies on the support from governments. In 2009-2010, its donors included the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States of America.
The UN Trust Fund has also received vital support of its partners in the private sector and nonprofit organizations, including Avon and Avon Foundation for Women; Johnson & Johnson; the United Nations Foundation; UNIFEM (part of UN Women) National Committees in Austria, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom; and Zonta International and Zonta International Foundation.
UNIFEM (part of UN Women) is the women’s fund at the United Nations. It provides financial and technical assistance to innovative programmes and strategies to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality. Placing the advancement of women’s human rights at the centre of all of its efforts, UNIFEM focuses its activities on reducing feminized poverty; ending violence against women; reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS among women and girls; and achieving gender equality in democratic governance in times of peace as well as war. For more information, visit
UNIFEM, 304 East 45th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10017.
Tel: +1 212 906-6400.
Fax: +1 212 906-6705.
Abortion will be tackled anew by the National Human Rights Commission (Korea), putting the most ethically-controversial “fetus removal” issue under the spotlight once again.
The human rights watchdog will hold public hearings, discussions and conduct media monitoring next year before it decides whether or not to advise the government to revise a pertinent law which imprisons women who get abortions.
If so, the administration may have to revise its policy, which they believe will help address the low birthrate.
According to the commission, the decision was made in response to a petition filed by Korean Womenlink that the law violates the rights of women and their freedom of choice. Currently, except for several restricted circumstances, women who get an abortion are subject to up to one-year imprisonment or up to a 2 million won fine. Doctors who perform the practice are also subject to prosecution.
The petition reads, “The current law shows no understanding of the circumstances of women who are forced to abort. Penalization is the last thing a government should consider because it could drive women to receive the practice in the dark. The regulation violates not only the rights of women to choose but also the right to live a healthy life.”
The commission explained that the United Nations also advises governments with such laws to make a revision. “It is true that the law does not reflect the social, economic and individual conditions of a pregnant woman. Some women go abroad for the practice, which could risk their lives,” an official of the commission said. “On the other hand, we need to have discussions to look into the rights of a fetus to live. It is a tricky issue.”
Indeed, abortion is a difficult and thorny issue in Korea as in the rest of the world. In the latest report by gynecologists here, there were reportedly 342,233 cases of abortion in 2005 while the number of births stood at 476,000 in the same year. Some birth experts said the actual number of abortions could be double or treble the reported figure.
The administration, which has been extremely concerned about the falling birthrate, set out to regulate abortions. The regulation was part of its plan to boost the birthrate, which marked 1.18 in 2008, one of the lowest in the world. Some doctors joined in by revealing the names of gynecologists and the clinics performing the illegal practice.
But some experts refuted that the prohibition has adversely created a black market, allowing incompetent doctors to perform operations that could put women’s lives at risk and charge them rather inflated prices.
In a seminar held to discuss the possible legalization of abortion, Prof. Kim Hae-jung of Korea University said some countries with looser regulations such as Japan, Australia and Canada have a lower rate of abortion than Korea, meaning that legalization does not lead to an increase in abortion. “Education on contraception should also be included as a measure,” he said.
The International Solidarity Network, Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) is deeply shocked that a court in Nankana Sahib, Pakistan, has sentenced a 45-year-old Christian woman, Asia Bibi, to death on the charge of having committed “blasphemy”. Although illiterate, she has been accused of denying the institution of prophet-hood by citing copious examples from the key texts of Islam. We join local human rights organizations, international women’s groups and religious minorities in calling for Pakistan to urgently repeal its Blasphemy Laws. We also appeal to the authorities to guarantee the safety of Asia Bibi and her family from the rage of local extremists, as well as investigate the violent persecution of the Christian community in the Punjab.
Asia Bibi is a farm worker in a village of Ittanwali in Nankana, about 75 kilometres west of Lahore. By Asia Bibi’s own account, her women co-workers tried to force her to embrace Islam on 8 June, 2009. This led to a discussion on the religious beliefs of the two communities and following a heated exchange between her and three Muslim women, the complainant Qari Muhammad Sallam, with the testimonies of these women, lodged a First Information Report (FIR) on June 19, 2009, under sections 295-B and C of the Pakistan Penal Code. Both sections state punishment by life imprisonment or capital punishment. Following the judicial process, Asia Bibi was sentenced to death by an additional sessions court in Nankana district. Mrs Bibi was also ordered to pay a fine of 300,000 Pakistani rupees (£2,180). Now the family is appealing against the judgment in the Lahore High Court. SK Shahid, Asia Bibi’s counsel, said that he has filed an appeal with the Lahore High Court against the lower court’s judgment. “How can we expect from a non-Muslim to follow beliefs of the Muslims?” he asked. Various human rights groups are also likely to become party to the appeal, calling for the repeal of the judgment.
Mrs Bibi said that during the investigation held by Special Prosecutor Muhammad Amin Bokhari, she begged for pardon as she had never heard of the crime of blasphemy before. Mrs Bibi explained that she has not had access to a lawyer in jail and even on the day of her final verdict she was not accompanied by a lawyer. In court she was made to put a thumb print on the papers she was unable to read.
The Blasphemy laws have not only curtailed citizens’ freedom of expression, but have also been misused by violent religious extremists to commit grave acts of violence against others and to spread religious intolerance. In several cases the law has been used to settle personal scores and rivalries. Incidents of mob violence against non-Muslims, especially Christians, have also increased in this part of Punjab over the last few years, engineered by local extremists groups to give impetus to their religious and political base.
Blasphemy Laws in their present form were promulgated arbitrarily by the military dictator, Zia al-Huq, more than twenty years ago. Those who have worked to overturn false charges of blasphemy have themselves become the target of violence. A former Lahore High Court judge, Justice Arif Hussain Bhatti, was murdered by a religious extremist in 1996, reportedly because he acquitted a blasphemy case. A number of lawyers and journalists have also been harassed for defending people accused of blasphemy and campaigning against the Blasphemy Laws.
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The Violence is Not our Culture Campaign (VNC) and Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) are gravely concerned over the recent announcement made by the official Iranian television channel on alleged self-incriminating statements by Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani and several others on state TV last 15 November. We join the rest of the international community in denouncing this latest move by the Iranian authorities which adds more injustice to the case of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani.
In her third TV appearance to be stage-managed by the Iranian official media, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani described herself as “a sinner”, and described her supporters abroad as “defending me without any reason. I do not even know these people.” Her son, Sajjad Qaderzadeh, was also shown confessing to lying about his mother’s treatment in prison. Her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kiyan, in an audio narration also ‘confessed’ to having told Sajjad to lie about the case. Both Sajjad and Javid have yet to be seen or visited by their families and lawyers since their arrest.
The two German journalists who were also arrested with Sajjad and Javid have allegedly also admitted, through a Persian voiceover, that they had been deceived by Mina Ahadi, a Germany-based Iranian woman campaigning on Sakineh’s case, who instigated their trip to Iran.
The journalists are currently detained in Tabriz and are facing charges of espionage.
Our human rights concerns
The following are our specific concerns on this latest development on the case of Sakineh in addition to what we have already stated in our previous statement issued last 12 November.
1. We are convinced that these ‘confessions’ shown on Iranian TV were made under duress and should not be accepted as evidence in court against Sakineh and others implicated in her case. Non-admission of evidence taken under duress is in accordance with Article 14(g) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Iran is a state party.
2. We affirm that peaceful means of exercising the rights to freedom of expression and association, such as campaigning for the freedom and right to life of prisoners like Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, are to be upheld. Those who were implicated in the case of Sakineh and detained by the Iranian authorities without reasonable charge should be released immediately and unconditionally. If they have committed a criminal offence under Iranian law they should be tried promptly and fairly and in a manner consistent with the standards set forth by the ICCPR. They should be granted immediate access to lawyers of their choice and to their families.
3. We reiterate our call for the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to ensure that best practices of due process and the rights to a fair trial are protected in all cases, and especially those punishable by the death penalty. We also call for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s death sentence to be dropped on humanitarian grounds, and for the government of Iran to consider implementing a moratorium on the death penalty for adultery cases.
We urge our allies and supporters to continue their actions by telephoning, emailing and/or sending a letter to the Iranian authorities as described in our previous Call to Action: UPDATE: Iran: Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani case: another test of Iran’s flawed justice system.
Female Prisoners Get Less Time Out of Cells; Family Visits Restricted
Syria’s prison authorities should immediately transfer women detained in the predominantly male `Adra prison to a facility for women, Human Rights Watch said last week. The authorities are holding at least 12 women among an estimated 7,000 men.
Syrian rights activists in touch with families of some of the detained women told Human Rights Watch that the women are held in a section of the prison under the control of Political Security, one of Syria’s multiple security agencies. They are only allowed out of their cell twice a week and family visits are subject to the approval of Political Security. Two female guards reportedly supervise the women directly, but male guards for the other prisoners have verbally harassed the women, the activists said. Male prisoners are allowed out of their cells for at least two hours twice a day and can receive weekly visits without Political Security review, male former prisoners told Human Rights Watch.
“We don’t know why Syria is keeping these women in `Adra prison, but we do know that their situation is precarious and they are being treated worse than their male counterparts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The United Nations-issued Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners say that, “Men and women shall so far as possible be detained in separate institutions,” and, “No male member of the staff shall enter the part of the institution set aside for women unless accompanied by a woman officer.” Syria has prisons for women, including a main facility in Douma, located in the suburbs of Damascus. Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine why some women are in `Adra prison.
Among the women in `Adra is Tuhama Ma`ruf, 46, a dentist detained there since February 10, 2010, to serve the remaining part of a sentence issued by the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) in 1995 for membership in the unlicensed Party for Communist Action (PCA). Syria’s security services detained Ma`ruf in 1992 as part of a crackdown against the PCA, which no longer exists. Authorities released her on bail in 1993, but the SSSC sentenced her in 1995 to six years for “membership in an illegal organization.” At the time, Human Rights Watch criticized the trials against PCA members for due process violations and for criminalizing peaceful political activity.
Ma`ruf did not turn herself in after the sentence was issued in 1995 and lived clandestinely for the next 15 years. Security forces arrested her on February 6 and placed her in `Adra to serve the remaining five years of the sentence. Ma`ruf’s lawyers petitioned for her freedom, arguing that her sentence should be commuted because of the passage of time, but the SSSC prosecutor’s office rejected her request.
“Ma`ruf was sentenced to prison solely for her peaceful political activism, which is protected under international human rights treaties that Syria has ratified,” Whitson said. “The authorities should release her.”
The Syrian activists said that other female detainees in `Adra whose identities they know include Yusra al-Hassan, detained since January without any formal accusation or judicial referral. Her husband is being held by the United States in Guantanamo. Other female detainees in `Adra reportedly include members of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) as well as women convicted on drug or prostitution-related charges.