Archive for February 16th, 2008

Dear friends

Women Living Under Muslim Laws is deeply concerned that “Zanan” magazine, a reform-minded feminist publication which has been active in promoting women’s rights for the last 16 years, has recently been closed down by the Iranian government. Authorities revoked its license and friends in Tehran are concerned there will be no avenue for appeal.

Due to a swift response from within Iran and around the world, a petition has been drafted addressed to the Iranian authorities and the United Nations protesting the closure of Zanan and determining this as a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The letter has so far been signed by over 100 academics, activists and concerned citizens, including Nobel Laureates, professors, and renowned feminist scholars.

Please circulate this call widely, and kindly inform us of any action taken at this address:

In solidarity
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Coordination Office

You can find out more, read the letter and sign here:
* Iran: Protest the closure of Zanan women’s magazine
12/02/2008: Zanan Magazine, a reform-minded feminist magazine has been active in promoting women’s rights for the last 16 years. Authorities revoked its license and friends in Tehran worry there’s will be no avenue for appeal. Read the petition and sign on![156]=i-156-560371

See also:
* Influential Women’s Magazine Silenced in Iran
* Zanan (Women) has been at the forefront in debates on women and gender within the framework of an egalitarian interpretation of Islam and for examining women’s experience in Iran and their contribution to society. From the start Zanan has had a dual existence: in Iran and in the world. Zanan ‘s news and views spun around cyberspace so fast it was clear it was onto something: gender equality and gender justice within Islam– exactly where much of the world thought it was missing. Now Zanan has been summarily shut down by authorities in Iran.


The prevalence of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Niger fell dramatically between 1998 and 2006, according to a recent government survey.

The practice, which involves removing and sewing-up parts of the female genitalia, occurred in only 2.2 percent of women in Niger in 2006 compared to 5.8 percent of women in 1998, the survey by the Nigerien national statistics agency stated.

The advance in Niger is “remarkable” according to UN children’s agency (UNICEF) Niger representative Akhil Iyer. Niger could become the first country in the West Africa region to completely eradicate the practice, the representative said.

FGM/C has been illegal in Niger since June 2003. Practitioners face between 6 months and 20 years in jail if found guilty.

“The law is extremely persuasive in getting people to stop,” said Maïga Amsou, president of the Nigerien Committee on Traditional Practices, a non-governmental organisation (NGO).

Niger’s minister of women and child protection, Bibata Barry, said various NGOs have been “instrumental” in the fight against FGM/C, which she said is “unacceptable in a civilised society”. NGOs lobbied the government to pass the law in 2003 and then worked to educate people about the health risks associated with the practice.

Still, FGM/C remains prevalent amongst the Gourmantché and Peulhs ethnic groups in the Tillaberi, Niamey and Diffa regions of the country, Barry said.

People working in the vast humanitarian operation in Sudan’s western region of Darfur are more than willing to talk about rebel attacks and the need for civilian protection, but when asked specifically about sexual violence against girls and women – reported to be rife – they fall silent.

On condition of anonymity, the employees of many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in El Fasher, capital of North Darfur State, said sexual and gender-based violence was extremely common; one humanitarian worker said it was possibly “the most serious security issue affecting women here”. In April 2007, after attacks by Sudanese government forces and allied militia, in which at least 15 cases of sexual assault, including rape, had occurred, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, called for investigations into widespread sexual violence.

Women and girls in Darfur usually have to walk long distances, often unaccompanied, to fetch firewood, thatch or water for their families, which is when most attacks occur. The perpetrators are mostly described only as ‘uniformed forces’, which could mean government troops and police or any of the several rebel factions and militias active in the region. On the rare occasions when NGOs have dared to raise the issue of sexual attacks, and have even catalogued them, the government has usually denied that the incidents ever happened.

“The government officials usually ask us to name the alleged victims, which of course we cannot do, so they say we have failed to provide evidence and continue with the denials,” said one UN protection officer in Khartoum, the national capital. It is not in the culture of Sudan or the culture of Darfur to rape – it does not exist,” President Omar el Bashir said in an interview with the US-based news network, NBC, in May 2007.

The various rebel groups operating in Darfur have also denied allegations that their soldiers were involved in sexual attacks on girls and women, and have blamed the government-allied militia, the Janjawid, for using rape as a weapon of war in Darfur.

No NGO in El Fasher is prepared to discuss the issue openly; sexual attacks are dealt with at hospitals and clinics and never reported to the authorities. There is a clear sense that people working in the field of sexual violence are, as one UN employee put it, “terrified to death” of talking about it. “You never know what is going to spark a reaction from the authorities; it’s better to be quiet and carry on working than to speak out of turn and be thrown out of here,” she said.

Government denials are not the only reason the lid is kept on sexual violence; it is a cultural taboo to discuss rape, and the victims are often shamed by their families when they report it. But silence has its price. Women and girls in Darfur are so reluctant to report rape that unless serious injuries are sustained they would rather not even seek medical help; it also means they are unable to access post-exposure prophylactics (PEP) that could prevent possible infection with the HI virus. Despite this, organisations in the area are finding new ways to reach out to them.

“Our job is to treat patients who come in. We have learnt that it is not in our best interests, or the interests of the victims, to report the numbers of victims,” one local doctor told IRIN/PlusNews. “We counsel the patients and advise them of their rights under the law, we treat their injuries and we send them home – the rest is up to them.” Various NGOs and UN agencies are active in the field of sexual and gender-based violence. Relief International (RI), a non-profit humanitarian agency providing emergency relief aid, and the International Rescue Committee, a non-profit organisation that works with refugees and victims of armed conflict, have several primary healthcare centres in North Darfur State.

Each RI-trained midwife is taught clinical management of gender-based violence and is able to suture cuts and administer PEP kits, mainly provided by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). RI has also simplified and translated into Arabic the UN World Health Organisation’s clinical protocols for the management of gender-based violence, making them more easily accessible to local midwives. The UN’s civilian police ensure that RI leaflets with basic information on the steps a woman should take in case of a sexual attack are widely distributed.

The African Union Mission in Sudan, based in Darfur, has a sexual and gender-based violence unit that educates local police in how to handle cases of rape, including legal measures that women can take under Sudanese law. Few women opt to take the perpetrators to court, but the hope is that a culture of reporting will slowly become part of the local culture.

A number of organisations, including the US-based Cooperative Housing Foundation (CHF International) and RI, are teaching women to make and use fuel-efficient stoves that not only benefit the environment, but also reduce the number of trips they need to make to fetch firewood, hence reducing their exposure to attacks.

Although the organisations are having some success in treating and preventing such attacks, health workers in the region say there is a clear need for government acknowledgement of the problem of sexual violence if it is to be dealt with effectively.

Looting, arson and murder have become hallmarks of Kenya’s conflict over a disputed presidential election. Another, less talked about tactic in the violence that has degenerated into ethnic clashes: rape.

Dr. Joseph Osoo, who runs a tin-roofed, two-room clinic in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, said he was overwhelmed by the number of women and girls who came for treatment and by the brutality of their ordeals. “During the days immediately after the election I was treating up to 45 rape victims a day,” he said. Usually, he treats one rape victim a week.

One 10-year-old girl suffered a ruptured cervix as the result of her attack, another woman was cleaved across the top of her thighs with a machete and left to bleed to death, he said. “What is unusual is that most cases are gang rapes, which I have never seen before,” he said.

Lucy Kiama, who heads the Gender Violence Recovery Center at Nairobi Women’s Hospital, said she also has seen “a huge increase in incidences of sexual violence in the postelection period.” The hospital treated 135 sexually assaulted women and children — one just 2 years old — in the three weeks after the Dec. 27 election that the opposition accuses the president of stealing. Kiama said the numbers may be even higher. The general violence and lack of transport during skirmishes mean many victims never make it to the hospital to report rape, she said.

More than 1,000 people have died and some 600,000 have fled their homes in the violence that has followed the disputed election. Much of the upheaval has pitted ethnic groups linked to politicians against one another, including members of President Mwai Kibaki’s Kikuyu tribe, long resented for their prominence in Kenya’s politics and business. High-level talks may soon offer a solution to the dispute between Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga over the election. But the consequences of the turmoil are likely to be far-reaching in a country long seen as one of Africa’s most stable.

Many of the thousands of Kenyans displaced by ethnic violence may never return home, meaning the tribal map of the country has been altered and stability undermined. The rapes, too, are likely to weigh on the social and family life of Kenya for years to come and could even set back the fight against AIDS. “The perpetrators target females from other tribes to hurt their dignity,” Kiama said. “Life will never be the same for a woman who has been raped, the stigmatization is there and her marriage may break down.”

One Kikuyu widow said she received a cell phone text message: “They are coming to get you. Get out.” When the anonymous sender failed to answer her calls, she dismissed it as a hoax. But two hours later, the woman was gang-raped in front of her 4-year-old son — just hours after the election results were announced. Luo attackers “shouted no Raila, no peace,” she recalled, twisting a handkerchief in her hands. “This attack was tribal, because we are Kikuyu. We even knew some of them, they pass us on the street,” she said. She shares a house with four other Kikuyu women in the Mathare slum, an area which has seen some of the worst urban violence since the election result was announced. All five were raped and beaten for three hours, she said. Since the night of the attack, the widow, her son and her friends have lived in a makeshift Red Cross displacement camp in Mathare. She says they take turns keeping watch at night.

UNICEF has reported a rise in child rapes in Kenya and warned that escalating sexual violence would eventually show up in the country’s HIV statistics. Even in the relative safety of displacement camps preliminary U.N. reports show that girls and women are forced to trade sex for food and protection. Opportunistic attacks occur during the night on the way to the latrine. In its annual global appeal for funding released Tuesday, UNICEF noted women and children in conflict zones around the world were increasingly victims of rape and sexual violence, creating treatment, counseling and other needs humanitarian agencies needed to address.

“We must make sure that children and women are protected as much as possible from these atrocities, and that those responsible for these crimes are eventually brought to justice,” Hilde Johnson, UNICEF’s deputy executive director, said at a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday.

Ms Anna Bossman, Acting Commissioner of the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) on Thursday asked political parties to consider women as more capable of becoming flag bearers instead of assigning them the supportive role as running mates. She said parties must fully support women by implementing affirmative action and removing structural barriers in the political system that impeded their initiative to vie for the presidential slot.

Speaking at a two-day workshop on Gender Mainstreaming organized by CHRAJ for its officers in Accra, Ms Bossman said opting for women as running mates instead of the Presidency was evident of lack of gender mainstreaming in the country’s political system. The workshop was aimed at sensitizing CHRAJ officers in the regional and district offices to be more gender sensitive in handling complaints.

The Commissioner also expressed regret that after several years of democracy in Ghana, the country was not doing so well on gender mainstreaming issues and most policies and societal concepts were still not responsive to disparity. “We must as country stop the habit of comparing ourselves to the worse countries, We should rather strive to improve our gender issues and compare our performance to the best”, she added.

She bemoaned misconceptions of the concept “Gender” which was often associated to feminism or sex in terms of male and female, saying that gender was rather defined as roles society assigned to a particular sex. She explained that a particular society’s definition of the weakness and strengths of the male or female would determine the roles either sex would perform, hence gender implications vary from culture to culture but it ought not to be discriminatory. Ms Bossman said the Commission would push for the implementation of affirmative action at all levels.

Professor Ken Attafuah, Executive Director of the Justice Human Rights Institute and facilitator of the workshop said gender was culturally constructed, hence the need for a collective effort to address its negative effects on human rights. GNA

  • In a landmark development, Parliament on Friday passed the Domestic Violence Bill presented by the MP for Kweneng South, Gladys Kokorwe as a private member.
  • This is the first time that a private member’s bill has been passed by Parliament.

The proposed law is aimed at giving protection to people who are abused at home. The proposed law received overwhelming support from MPs, including men, since it is seen as being ‘gender neutral’. Kokorwe applauded the MPs for supporting the bill. She said abuse affects everyone. She concurred with one of her colleagues who said ‘domestic violence can also contribute to the spread of HIV infection’.

She said the upbringing of children is crucial. She warned that children who are brought up in abusive families end up being abusers when they grow up. She said once the bill is gazetted into a law, there will be a need to educate members of the public about it.

“I agree there are laws like the marital law there but members of the public are not aware of them. We should teach members of the public about these laws,” said the legislator. Kokorwe said she would like to see her bill being enacted soon and enforced. Before tabling the Bill, Kokorwe consulted widely and lobbied other MPs. Once the bill becomes law, a police officer can accompany an abused person to his or her home to take his or her clothing to seek refuge elsewhere.

Part of the proposed law deals with orders. An applicant may make an application in court for an interim or restraining order. According to provisions of the proposed act, the court may issue an interim order ex parte where it is satisfied that domestic violence has occurred. It can also be issued when there is serious risk of harm to the applicant or the order will ensure the immediate protection of the applicant.

An interim order may direct a police officer or deputy sheriff to remove the applicant from the residence. The order could also prohibit the respondent from committing an act of domestic violence or entering specific parts of the residence. It could also restrain the respondent from entering the applicant’s work place or communicating with the complainant. The court may authorise the issuing of a warrant of arrest of the respondent where it is satisfied that the applicant or child is under imminent danger from the respondent.

An interim order shall be served personally upon the respondent and shall provide for a return date upon which he or she may be heard. The court can also issue a tenancy or occupation order. According to the provisions of the bill, an occupation order shall grant the applicant or child the exclusive right to live in the resident occupied or belonging to the applicant or respondent.

A tenancy order shall grant the applicant or child the exclusive or non-exclusive tenancy of the residence with such order as to payment of rental or mortgage as shall be just. Where a lease agreement to a residence is in the name of the respondent and the applicant, who is not party to the agreement is granted an occupation or tenancy order, the landlord shall not evict the applicant on the basis that the applicant is not party to such lease agreement.

Unless the court directs otherwise, where an order is granted and the respondent was responsible for the payment of mortgage or the rent, he or she shall continue to be so responsible. The penalty for contravening the court order is a fine, not exceeding P5,000 or imprisonment term not exceeding two years or both.