Archive for March 7th, 2008

Women’s position has improved since 1997
Fathers still 31% better off 12 months after separation

Mothers who separate from their partners are recovering faster from the collapse in income that many women experience after a marital split, research reveals today. The Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University found the financial effects of separation used to be catastrophic for mothers and children.

Between 1991 and 1997, the average decline in a mother’s income was 30% after splitting from a partner, comparing spending power in the years before and after the break-up. But between 1998 and 2004, the figure was 12%. The researchers measured the income of the mother’s household after adjusting for the number of adults and children living in it.

Prof Stephen Jenkins, the institute’s director and the study’s author, said separating mothers and their children are still experiencing far worse financial circumstances than their departing partners. Between 1991 and 1997 the separating fathers enjoyed a 36% rise in net income in the year after the split. Between 1998 and 2004 this declined slightly to 31%. But the mothers are recovering faster from financial meltdown as they are more likely to get a job and are more likely to qualify for support from the state to make the job worth doing.

Separating mothers were helped by rising rates of employment for women during the 1990s and early 2000s, said Jenkins. “These were given a particular stimulus by the introduction of the working families tax credit in 1998, which both increased the incentives for those in workless families to find a job and helped to make work pay.”

The study, based on annual interviews with 5,500 households, found most women with children never totally recovered from the financial effects of the split. Five years on, their incomes were on average still 10% below pre-split levels.

Those who had a job in the year after the split and kept it for the next five years came close to restoring their income to pre-split levels. Those who did not have a job and did not find a new partner remained much worse off.

Jenkins said the mothers’ financial recovery might be regarded as good news, but added: “There remain large gaps on average between the short-term income losses of separating husbands and of separating women. This is despite the improvement in the circumstances of women with children.

“The average short-term income loss for childless separating women has remained fairly constant over the last 15 years. Gender remains a good predictor of whether an adult’s income rises or falls after experiencing a marital split.”

Dr Paul Dornan, the head of policy and research for the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Some have argued the tax credit system somehow incentivises parents to live apart, but that argument is hollow – mothers are worse off after relationship breakdown.”,,2262214,00.html

Talents and qualifications wasted in lesser roles
Professional women forced down the career ladder to spend time with their family

For decades mothers of young children have complained about not being taken seriously in the workplace, but research published today reveals for the first time the extent to which professional women are forced to slide down the career ladder to find jobs that allow them to spend time with their family.

Women managers wanting to work part-time after a baby are seeing their talents and qualifications wasted because they can only find employment well below their skill levels, according to the most comprehensive UK study of the impact of motherhood on careers.

Almost half of women professionals who downgrade to lower skilled part-time roles move to jobs where the average employee does not have A-levels, leaving three years or more of higher level education and training underused, according to academics at Oxford University and University of East Anglia.

“The ‘one-and-a-half breadwinner’ model is not doing well by the more highly-qualified among Britain’s mothers,” they conclude. “At present the low quality of many part-time jobs means that women are paying the price of reconciling work and family.”

The study, published in the Economic Journal, the journal of the Royal Economic Society, is the first to quantify the extent of the so-called “hidden brain drain” for professional and managerial women who become mothers.

It found that a third of female corporate managers moved down the career ladder after having a child. Two-thirds of that number took clerical positions and the rest moved into other lower skill jobs.

Women managers of shops, salons and restaurants were more seriously affected by occupational downgrading. Almost half gave up their managerial responsibilities to become sales assistants, hairdressers or similar roles when they sought part-time jobs after motherhood.

Teaching and nursing were the most favourable careers for supporting moves to part-time hours while continuing within the same profession, the study found, but even there, nearly one in 10 quit for lower skill jobs.

The research used two national databases: the New Earnings Survey, an annual survey of employment details of a random sample of employees including 70,000 women and the British Household Panel survey covering a representative sample of 5,500 households providing details of women’s employment from 1991 to 2001.

It highlighted the continuing problem of the frequently lowly status of part-time work, which is linked to lower pay and, because part-time work is female-dominated, a big contributor to the UK’s entrenched gender pay gap. It showed that despite government moves to allow parents of children under six to request flexible working, highly-qualified women still traded job status and responsibility for the hours many felt their family needed.

Mary Gregory, an economist at Oxford University and co-author of the report with Sara Connolly of the University of East Anglia, said: “This loss of career status with part-time work is a stark failure among otherwise encouraging trends for women’s advancement. Girls and young women are outperforming males at all educational levels. They are moving into an expanding range of occupations, and building successful careers. The gender pay gap is narrowing. But for many all this comes to an abrupt halt when childcare claims part of the working week.”

Six million women – 40% of those in work – are in part-time jobs, a number that includes the majority of mothers. Occupational downgrading is not happening because mothers want less demanding jobs, but because part-time opportunities in higher-level jobs are restricted, according to the study.

Researchers found women were most able to avoid downgrading if they could reduce their hours with their current employer.

Gregory said the findings placed a question mark over part-time work as a solution for professional women seeking to juggle career and motherhood. The government should make flexible working a right for parents of young children unless an employer could prove a case against, she said.

Another study in the Economic Journal revealed how close the link is between motherhood and part-time work. The research by Gillian Paull of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, based on data from some 84,000 interviews from the British Household Panel survey since 1991, revealed the birth of the first child was the single most important event in women moving to part-time work.

Before having children, more than four-fifths of working women are in full-time employment, but once they become mothers only a third of those who have pre-school children and work were employed full time. For fathers, the pattern went the other way, with 91% of working men employed full time prior to having children, while 96% of working fathers with a pre-school child are full time.

Part-time working is also entrenching a pay divide between different groups of women. Women working part-time have hourly earnings that are on average 26% lower than women working full time.

Socking numbers of teenage girls are still missing from Bradford schools despite extensive efforts to find them, MPs investigating forced marriages were told yesterday.

Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan said the local council had lost track of 33 female pupils who were no longer in the city’s secondary schools.

And he told a Home Affairs Select Committee examining the issue of forced marriages that there were another 14 areas of the country with high rates of so-called honour violence.

Mr Brennan said officials were inquiring into the number of under-16s missing from school rolls in those areas.

The committee’s chairman, Keith Vaz MP, said the number of girls from Bradford schools whose whereabouts was not known was shocking.

Earlier this year the Government claimed that 250 school girls aged between 13 and 16 had been taken off school rolls in the city after failing to return from trips abroad last year.

That figure was disputed by education chiefs in Bradford who said the latest figures showed 205 girls were initially not accounted for but that 172 had been traced – meaning 33 remained missing.

Confirming these figures, Mr Brennan said: “It is a serious concern when any child – any single child – becomes unaccounted for.

“And what we need to try to do is seek an explanation of what has happened.”

Asked by MPs whether the police were looking for them, he added: “They should be.”

Mr Vaz, a Labour former Minister, said: “We are genuinely very concerned because these are very, very serious matters.”

“The figures you have given us quite frankly have shocked members of this committee just in relation to Bradford.

“There are 14 other areas where there are missing children. This is totally unsatisfactory.”

The Home Affairs Committee is carrying out an investigation into domestic abuse, forced marriage and honour crimes. It warned last week that the official figures on forced marriage were only the tip of the iceberg.

Scottish Law Commission proposals do not go far enough, claims Elish Angiolini

The Lord Advocate has called for a radical reform of Scotland’s rape laws in order to change the country’s historically low conviction rates.

Speaking at a Rape Crisis Scotland conference, Elish Angiolini said law reforms need to go further than those proposed by the Scottish Law Commission. Ms Angiolini has challenged the requirement for corroboration, amending which she says would improve the situation.

The Scottish Law Commission’s recommendations are likely to be included in the forthcoming Sexual Offences Bill, which will result in a clear definition of consent in rape cases.

Ms Angiolini wants the law to go further to tackle Scotland’s conviction rates – currently at about 4% of reported rape cases. She said Scotland’s rape laws were among the most restrictive in the western world and that the definition of rape varied wildly from country to country.

The requirement for corroboration is a fundamental principle of the Scottish legal system. The Lord Advocate said this needs to be looked at if the bid to reform rape laws is to be taken seriously. She thought the Commission’s proposals at present would not make much difference to rape conviction rates.

However, she said she was encouraged that the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill had asked the Commission to look at the law of evidence, as reforms of both the law of evidence and substantive law could help make changes.

Ms Angiolini added that she thought the “Moorov doctrine”, which enables a pattern of offending to be proved even though each individual offence is only spoken to by one witness, should be extended to help prosecutors prove more sex crimes. This would work in cases where an offender had abused younger siblings, gone on to abuse their own children and eventually their own grandchildren. Currently, courts will only apply the Moorov rule where offences have taken place within a period of a few years.

Senior Met officer blames scepticism and inertia for low conviction rate

Police are contributing to the “appalling” conviction rate in rape cases because officers too often fail to take alleged victims seriously enough and settle for mediocrity in their inquiries, the senior policeman responsible for raising standards in rape investigations has told the Guardian.

The Metropolitan Police’s assistant commissioner John Yates said detectives don’t apply the same professionalism to rape as they do to other serious crimes. He blamed police for too often greeting complainants with scepticism and inertia, and said officers “must absolutely accept the victim’s version of events unless there are very substantial reasons to do otherwise”.

He added: “If you’ve just been through the horror of a rape and you’ve plucked up the courage to see the cops and the body language is sceptical, the voice is sceptical, what is that saying to you?

“First impressions count: is this person going to care for me; does the officer believe me?

Yates, who leads on rape for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and conducted the loans-for-peerages investigation, said: “We’ve got to get a better understanding of how victims react: don’t expect consistency, don’t expect victims to report right away, and don’t expect victims to scream and shout.”

Yates is trying to raise the professionalism of rape investigations to the same level as that in murder cases amid a strong concern about low levels of rape convictions that has prompted ministers to pledge to introduce reforms.

Proposals from the ministry of justice and the solicitor general, Vera Baird, include giving juries information to dispel rape “myths”.

Juries will be told that victims are often slow to report the attack to police and may appear surprisingly unemotional while in the witness box. Victims will also be allowed to substitute a videotaped interview with police for their initial evidence in court.

However, while these reforms concentrate on the court process, Yates has been urging improvements in investigations and police techniques.

He told the Guardian that standards had changed in murder and child protection cases in the light of the Stephen Lawrence and Victoria Climbié cases, but it should not take a tragic case to produce the same result for rape inquiries. “I can’t imagine anything more serious than this,” he said.

The investigation of murder cases had become specialised and officers were specially trained in CCTV, forensic recovery, family liaison and exhibit handling. “But in spite of some excellent advances in some police areas, rape is still seen in some areas as an omnicompetence to which you can turn your hand because you’re a detective.”

Police had made “enormous advances” in investigating rape. “But it’s still not good enough”, he said. “There are pockets of excellence but in many areas we have been satisfied with mediocrity. Victims absolutely deserve the proper professional caring service which is available in some parts of the country.”

Only 5.7% of rape cases reported to police lead to a conviction and research shows that attrition – or cases dropping out – happens at every stage from initial complaint to trial. But Yates said the biggest attrition rate was with the initial police investigation.

If inertia followed a complaint, “what was always going to be a difficult case can often become an impossible one”, he added. There was a “golden hour” after which key evidence would be lost if action was not taken quickly. “Most of the attrition and the best evidential opportunities occur in the first 48 hours, even the first hour.”

“There doesn’t have to be such an appalling conviction rate. We can do something about it,” Yates said. But it would take “energy, passion, commitment”.

A 2006 review of the handling of investigations by the police and Crown Prosecution Service inspectorates found that frontline officers had received “very little training in responding to rape offences” and few officers, including some specialists, were aware of ACPO guidance on recording early complaints from victims.

The inspectorates also found that early-evidence kits, for taking urine samples and mouth swabs before a medical examination takes place, were used on just over one-third of the occasions they could have been deployed.

He said every force in the country had had two visits from his team. “You’ve got to drive it down from the top to the bottom. It is a leadership issue. We need to have ambition around it. We need to up the game. We have a window at the moment when people appear to be suddenly ‘getting it’.

“We’re looking at every possibility to push the boundaries back. However, let’s concentrate and get the basics right. Cases are often lost when the first steps are not done properly, when the victim thinks the police didn’t believe her or inadequate attention is given to forensics.”

He said it was not possible at present in every area to come up to the standard set by the 20 sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) such as St Mary’s in Manchester or the Haven in London, which provide a holistic service for rape victims along with forensic excellence.

But every area could be encouraged to provide the basic necessities: to do all the medical tests and take all the samples needed, to provide female doctors and to arrange for an examination place where the forensics would be secure.

See also:
* The low conviction rate for rape
* Question of consent makes rape by a friend or boyfriend harder to prove

Help is just a call away for victims of domestic abuse.
This is the message from Sefton police officers.

In the past month there has been a slight increase in reports of domestic abuse in Litherland and Netherton – police believe this may be the result of a campaign run over the festive period to tackle under-reporting of the crime.

A continuing feature of the campaign is the use of two experienced domestic violence officers using a dedicated vehicle to attend reports of all incidents.

Detective Inspector Pauline Trubshaw, of Sefton’s Family Crimes Unit, said: “We can all make a difference. Perhaps you have a relative or friend who you know is suffering and you want to find the best way to help them address what is an extremely distressing issue.

“We are just one call away. Our Domestic Violence Unit officers have a great deal of experience and are committed to making a difference for those who suffer from domestic violence in our neighbourhoods. If you don’t want to speak to the police, there are other services you can access for help and advice.”

Merseyside Police will work with statutory and voluntary agencies to provide victims with support and advice. This includes working closely with the recently appointed Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVA).

This service is independent of any of the statutory agencies including the council and the police and provides practical and emotional help for victims.

They can also help with health concerns and act as a link to other domestic violence information and legal services .

Detective Inspector Trubshaw added “I would like to remind both the victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse that positive action will be taken against domestic violence. We know reporting a domestic abuse crime can be difficult and stressful for victims – especially when the offender, usually a partner or close family member, is to be put through the criminal justice system. But I would encourage victims to report offenders either to the police or other agencies as we can offer them confidential advice and support whether they are going through the criminal justice system or just looking for help with their particular situation. Remember, help is available 24 hours a day.”

For help, call the 24-hour confidential Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

In an emergency, always dial 999

The IDVA service is contactable through the specialist domestic abuse officers based in Marsh Lane Police Station, call 709 6010.

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, and to raise awareness of this important day, I shall be volunteering to go to jail on behalf of a very worthy cause: Cardiff Women’s Aid. (Marlene Shalton, Western Mail)

You may wonder why I should subject myself to such an “experience”, but the fact that I will be held captive until sufficient funds have been raised to release me means that I will not only be raising money for this worthwhile cause but saving tax for some of the donors too.

Cardiff Women’s Aid provides specialist support for women and their children who are survivors of domestic abuse in a professional, confidential and safe environment. They provide independent information and support, emergency temporary accommodation (refuge), outreach support and counselling.

Domestic abuse is a crime and many victims are unable to escape from their perpetrators due to lack of funding and emotional support. Cardiff Women’s Aid provides these specialist support services for women and children.

Gift Aid

If you pay tax in the UK, then Gift Aid is a simple way to increase the value of your gift to a charity. Making your donation using Gift Aid will enable the charity to reclaim the basic rate tax on your gift to them. This means that if you give £10 to charity using Gift Aid, that gift is worth £12.82 to the charity. You can make payments by cash, cheque, postal order, direct debit, standing order, debit or credit card or even in a foreign currency.

If you are a higher rate taxpayer, you can claim relief on the difference between the basic rate and higher rate of tax. If you do not pay tax, you should not use Gift Aid. You can still give the money to charity and not complete a Gift Aid declaration.


During the tax year you give a total of £400 to various charities. With the basic rate at 22%, the amount of tax the charities can reclaim is £112.82. If you have paid tax totalling £112.82 or more then you can make the donations using Gift Aid, making your donation worth £512.82.

One declaration to HM Revenue & Customs will cover all the gifts you make to a charity for whatever period you wish. For example, it can cover gifts you might already have made to a particular charity since April 6, 2000 or it can cover the gifts you make in the future.

Gifts made jointly can also be declared, but you must tell the charity how much is from each of you and you will both need to give declarations. In addition, those who may be entitled to Age Allowance can also reduce their tax by gifting. The gross amount of any Gift Aid donations reduces the level of income when calculating any entitlement to the age-related personal allowance or married couple’s allowance. If you are aged over 65, or (for the married couple’s allowance) you or your spouse were born before 6 April 1935, it is important that you enter details of your Gift Aid payments on your tax return.

It is not too late to make donations before the end of the financial year and claim tax for 2007/08.

For those who wish to see me released from jail, so I can continue with my column, please send cheques, payable to “Cardiff Women’s Aid” to Chambers Morgan James, Freepost SWC4705, Cardiff, CF5 2GY.

More women are now coming forward to report domestic violence.

Last year, 21 Portuguese women were killed by their husbands, ex-husbands or partners, while domestic violence reports made to the police rose by 12 per cent according to a study presented on February 20.

This study, entitled Observatório das Mulheres Assassinadas (A study into murdered women), was carried out by the national feminist group União de Mulheres Alternativa e Resposta (UMAR), and presented in Porto.

“The study was based on news in the press, which we tried to cross reference with official data from the PSP, the PJ and the Legal Medical Institute,” said UMAR spokeswoman, Maria José Magalhães. “All of the women in the study were killed by being shot, stabbed or beaten with sticks.”

Cases of domestic violence between recently separated couples are also on the increase. “Shortly after separation, is the time when all control is lost and intervention measures must be swift,” said criminal public prosecutor Carlos Figueira to daily national newspaper Correio da Manhã. “Motivated by jealousy or anger, the aggressors begin stalking and terrorising their ex-partners.”

The number of domestic violence incidents reported to the police are also on the increase in Portugal, with the PSP having registered 13,050 cases in 2007 compared with 11,638 in 2006. The majority of these cases are towards women, however, domestic violence towards the elderly and children is also on the increase.

A spokesperson for the Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima (APAV), the national victim support organisation, said that it is possible to see this in a positive light, where more aggressors are being punished for their crimes and more victims are brave enough to come forward (also read ‘Domestic abuse figures rise’ in The Resident of March 16 2007).

If you are a victim of domestic violence, please ring the Associação Portuguesa de Apoio à Vítima (APAV), on 707 200 077 (English spoken). For more information about APAV, please visit (in Portuguese only). For more information about UMAR, please visit the website, in Portuguese only, at

Domestic violence in Lebanon is a sad fact which has been neglected by the public and the judiciary, participants at the launch of a campaign to enact legislation protecting women from abuse in the home said on Wednesday. To raise awareness of the lack of a legal framework for protecting women from family violence, the non-governmental organization KAFA (Enough Violence and Exploitation) and the Afkar 2 Project inaugurated the campaign at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Hamra. The campaign is funded by the EU.

The ceremony prominently displayed red silhouettes symbolizing women who were killed by the hand of family members in Lebanon. These “Silent Witnesses” – the name under which KAFA launched the project in 2006 – were intended to remind the Lebanese of the domestic violence ongoing here.

Lebanese need to realize this violence represents a significant social issue, because this insidious yet most-common form of violence is considered a “family matter” and therefore not on the public agenda, said Jussi Narvi, chief of the EU Cooperation Section.

“The taboo-ization of family violence leads to a very low level of public awareness of this problem,” he added.

Even though the Lebanese Constitution pledges to adhere to the International Human Rights Declaration, women are still fighting for their rights to be implemented thoroughly, many of the conference speakers said.

A legal framework to protect women from domestic violence would force the country’s judicial authorities to take women’s complaints seriously and to ensure women a decent and honorable life, said KAFA in their material promoting the legislation. Moreover, such laws could protect women from domestic violence through pre-emptive measures and support them financially in order to escape the violence, the document added.

A new law for the protection from family violence has been drafted and submitted to Parliament, which will have to decide on its implementation, although the legislature has not met for more than a year.

Judge Johnny Azzi, Judge Helen Eskandar, Judge Joelle Khoury and Internal Security Forces (ISF) senior official Eli Asmar received awards during the conference for their achievements in developing the legislative initiative.

There is a strong case for the implementation of this new law, which is especially adapted to the protection of women from domestic violence, said KAFA lawyer Leila Awada. The law is needed in order to classify acts of domestic violence as a criminal offense that can be brought to court, she added.

It would serve as a protective measure from male violence within the family, and it would force male perpetrators to offer female victims an alternative place to stay, Awada said.

Furthermore, it not only aims at establishing a special family court where secret trials can be held in order to protect the victims, but also at establishing a special ISF department for cases of family violence, she added.

KAFA is a nonprofit, non-sectarian civil society organization that seeks to mitigate the causes and results of violence and exploitation of women and children through advocacy and lobbying, raising awareness and by offering social and legal services to vulnerable cases.

When women activists lash out against gender discrimination, one of their longstanding complaints is also directed at the U.N. Secretariat, where senior level posts are still largely a virtual monopoly of men.

Despite a 1997 General Assembly resolution calling for 50:50 gender parity in decision-making jobs by 2000, the elusive goal is long past that deadline.

A coalition of some 600 women’s groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is now complaining that the pervasive gender discrimination in the U.N. system may also be responsible for the lack of an executive director at a key body dealing with women’s issues: the U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Since its former executive director Noeleen Heyzer was appointed executive secretary of the Bangkok-based U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) last September, UNIFEM has remained headless, but functions under an acting executive director, Joanne Sandler.

“We need an appointment now,” says Ana Agostino, coordinator of the Feminist Task Force of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), who points out that the six-month-long delay is unacceptable.

She said that women’s groups were expecting an announcement during the current two-week session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which concludes Friday. But there are no indications it will happen.

She said the coalition of over 600 signatories plan to submit a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking him to expedite the appointment.

“UNIFEM is the only agency that cares for women,” Agostino told IPS. “And it’s the only agency that relates to women on the ground.”

Besides the petition to the secretary-general, she said, the coalition has also launched an online campaign. “At the United Nations, women demand gender justice. Women demand accountability,” she added.

The coalition includes the Association of Women’s Rights in Development, Centre for Productive Rights, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, International Coalition for Development Action, Women’s Environment and Development Organisation, South Asia Women’s Watch, Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice and Caribbean Policy Development Centre.

In a letter to the secretary-general, the signatories also say they are supporting the candidature of Dr. Gita Sen, an advocate of women’s rights and an adjunct professor of population and international health at Harvard University. Sen is reportedly on a short list of candidates for the job.

The letter notes that women’s groups have been “following the recruitment process closely since last August and understand that she is the leading candidate based on her competence, experience and credibility.”

Asked for comment, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told IPS: “We are still working on the appointment.”

Adrienne Germain, president of the New York-based International Women’s Health Coalition, said a thorough recruitment process “has identified a lead candidate of unprecedented strength.”

“Her appointment now will demonstrate Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s commitment to the integrity of established U.N. recruitment processes,” she added.

It will also provide an exceptionally skilled champion for women in what is clearly going to be a long debate on a future framework for the U.N.’s work on gender equality, she added.

“The world’s girls and women deserve outstanding UNIFEM leadership and we need it now, not two or three years from now,” Germain told IPS.

Meanwhile, Rachel Mayanja, special adviser to the secretary general on gender issues, told the CSW last week that as of December 2006, the representation of women in the U.N. secretariat at professional and higher categories remained virtually the same as in the previous year.

Both in 2006 and 2007, the number of women appointed as directors (D-1 and D-2s), assistant-secretaries-general (ASG) and under-secretaries general (USG) remained at 24.7 percent, while it was higher (37.7 percent) in the professional categories.

The U.N. ranking system moves up: from general service, the lowest rung, to professionals, directors, ASGs and USGs. Ranking ahead of them are the secretary-general and the deputy secretary-general.

“At the current rate of progress — increasing 1.13 percent on average between 1998 and 2006 — gender balance would be reached in 2027 at the D-1 level,” Mayanja said.

However, she pointed out that 50:50 gender balance has already been achieved in the U.N. Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), and the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).

Additionally, she said, 47 percent of both the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF and the International Civil Service Commission were staffed with women.

Mayanja also took a passing shot at the 192 member states when she said that a cursory review last January of some U.N. intergovernmental bodies revealed that women were without exception underrepresented.

Of the General Assembly’s six main committees, whose office bearers are elected by member states, only the Economic and Financial Committee was headed by a woman.

There are signs that Egyptians are challenging the political inertia that has gripped the country for so long. Workers are protesting poor wages and potential lay-offs, the Muslim Brotherhood is campaigning despite government crackdowns, university students are protesting frequently, and even property tax collectors are camping out with their families to protest meager wages. So where is the Egyptian women’s movement, which has historically been considered the mother of all women’s movements in the Arab world?

The lack of a unified and visible women’s movement in Egypt is not due to the lack of a need for it, or even to a lack of accomplishments. There have been advancements in women’s legal rights in recent years. Women have gained the right to divorce unilaterally on condition of foregoing some financial rights and to confer citizenship on their children, even if the father is not Egyptian. Family courts have cut down on the red tape that made accessing rights a nightmare in the past. In 2003, Tahany al-Gabaly was appointed to the Constitutional Court as Egypt’s first female judge, and last year 30 women judges were appointed to various courts, allowing them for the first time to preside over civil and criminal cases.

At the same time, these legal advances are eclipsed by an edifice of economic, religious, and political obstacles. In a country where over 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 per day, according to the World Bank, the limited work opportunities available for women whose families made financial sacrifices to educate them are now causing many poor parents to reconsider the rewards of sending their girls to school.

Increasing religious conservatism also has taken its toll. While the growing role of religion has opened some avenues for participation in activities based in mosques and charities, it has also meant that women’s traditional gender roles as wife and mother are reinforced more than ever before, for Muslim and Coptic Christian women alike. Fewer women were elected to Parliament in 2005 than in earlier decades. The recent resignation of an active female parliamentarian, Shahinaz al-Naggar, after marrying a business tycoon was another blow to those who have lobbied for women’s greater political activism.

Egyptian women have not retreated from activism altogether. Women workers were the first to strike and female students have been just as active and defiant as their male counterparts. A significant proportion of the property tax workers participating in the sit-ins were women; even the bedouin women of Sinai have risen to demand freedom for their family members incarcerated after terrorist bombings in 2004.

But women have been less active on behalf of explicitly feminist causes. A protest against sexual harassment in 2006, which followed the harassment of women en masse during Eid al-Adha in downtown Cairo (many incidents captured on camera), attracted a modest number of men and women, but this was the exception rather than the rule.

Social reasons for the decline in feminist consciousness in Egypt may include general political apathy and the increasing prevalence of religious norms. However, there are also more direct causes. The emergence of state feminism, manifested in a series of semi-governmental institutions such as the National Council for Women (whose offices are co-located with those of the ruling National Democratic Party in downtown Cairo) has played an important role. The National Council has co-opted previously independent women activists and positions itself as “the” representative voice for Egyptian women. It adopts an essentially apolitical approach to controversial violations of women’s rights – for example the non-enforcement of laws against doctors performing female genital mutilation – especially in situations where the government is an accomplice or perpetrator.

Another factor in the marginalization of feminist activism was the rise of NGOs dealing with some aspect of women’s issues in the 1990s. As scholar Islah Jad has shown, the proliferation of women’s NGOs that depend on foreign funding has made these organizations less responsive to the needs at the grassroots level. Not all women’s NGOs are donor-driven, but in the aggregate they are influenced by the fads and inconsistencies of foreign donors. In any case, the increasing number of women’s NGOs does not reflect a thriving feminist movement.

There is also a gap between the older generation of feminists and young women in Egypt, as elsewhere. Political parties and women’s NGOs have resisted promoting young women to positions of leadership, leading some to seek alternative avenues of female activism. Through blogging, for example, young women are contesting social mores that inhibit women’s rights and questioning patriarchal and narrow interpretations of women’s rights, whether in government, the opposition Muslim Brotherhood movement, or the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The pressing question is whether the many forms of women’s activism will eventually coalesce into a movement. Diversity is certainly healthy, but without some sort of unity women activists’ efforts will be too scattered to effect change.

Commentary by Mariz Tadros, an assistant professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.

Women’s rights activists are lobbying Nigeria’s National Assembly to formalize women’s rights in the constitution. They want the assembly to incorporate the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, or CEDAW. Their effort comes in advance of International Women’s Day (March 8, 2008) Voice of America English to Africa Service Reporter Isiyaku Ahmed in Abuja says at Nigeria’s National Assembly, women’s rights activists have come to lobby about an issue that is dear to their hearts: passage of the Convention.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted CEDAW in 1979, but it has not yet been made law in Nigeria.

Some legislators object to parts of the convention, like articles 10, 12 and 14. They urge an end to discrimination against women in health care and family services and include a provision making information on birth control available to those who want it. Critics of the women’s rights convention, CEDAW, cite those and other articles, which refer to protecting a woman’s “bodily integrity.” They say the concept could lead to the legalization of abortion.

Muslims say the convention reflects Western views of women’s rights, which violate Islam. Some Muslim leaders do not like references to equality for women. Many believe men and women have different roles in society, including in work, and don’t want to see those roles change.

Supporters of CEDAW disagree. They say the political and economic rights of women of all religions should be protected and that the convention does not encourage abortion rights. Nigerian women already have access to family planning, which supporters say helps avoid abortions. But over 54,000 women die in Nigeria every year during pregnancy or childbirth because of inadequate access to health care.

Charity Ibeawuchi is a senior program advisor on reproductive health issues with the NGO called Enabling HIV/AIDS and Social Sector Environment, or ENHANSE. The organization helps the federal government develop legislation and policies. CEDAW is one of the bills supported by ENHANSE that has been introduced to the National Assembly.

Ibeawuchi says women activists are doing a lot of lobbying for it, “The agenda now which I know is being driven by government is towards developing appropriate strategies that will impact on the well being of women and children.”

The bill in support of CEDAW includes a national gender policy describing how government and businesses should treat women.

Ibeawuchi says because CEDAW can not be accepted by legislators as it is written, women activists are working to introduce parts of it that apply, for example, to improving health of women and children. She says those protections are included in a separate piece of legislation, called The Health Bill, “The bill proposes free medical care for pregnant women at delivery and post delivery and for children up to the age of five years. So that bill is an important legislation for the well being of women and children.”

While CEDAW focuses on the removal of any forms of discrimination against women and girls, the Health Bill provides for the general health of all Nigerians, like free health care services for both men and women.

Ibeawuchi says Nigerian women need both laws, CEDAW and The Health Bill, “The Health Act and CEDAW need to be looked at and considered even if it means removing some of those controversial articles. We need a law that will help to protect the rights and well being of women.”

Ejiro Joyce Otive-Igbuzor is country director at the Center for Development and Population Activities in Nigeria. She says international covenants or treaties can indeed be changed to better reflect a country’s cultural norms and values.

“If people are too afraid of a certain clause in CEDAW, why do we throw away the baby with the bath water? Why don’t we sit down and say, “Okay, we are not comfortable with these particular statements so we (should) domesticate the rest of the document because it protects women against sexual harassment, against abuse, and creates access to education? Why don’t we domesticate [this or that] provision minus X,Y,Z [controversial aspects], and we continue to debate X,Y,Z until we come to an agreement?”

Oyefunso Orenuga is the acting executive director of the Inter-African Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices in Nigeria. She says Nigeria already has many good policies and laws. She favors bringing CEDAW more in line with Nigerian values. But she says the issue is not only to approve CEDAW, but to be sure it and other pro-women laws are actually implemented.

“How do we enforce these legislations? Maybe the law enforcement agents will help us with the answers, but government has to put policy in place and enforce and make sure that these policies are implemented to the letter. Not just putting things on paper. We have a lot of policies, on gender, maternal mortality, even on FGM [Female Genital Mutilation].”

Nigeria has already adopted the National Gender Policy and the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa. For the women activists at the National Assembly, the agenda goes beyond encouraging signing international treaties and making policies. They say they want to be sure that what is signed is carried out so positive changes for women are not just on paper.

The number of callers to the helpline increased five fold after the four domestic violence deaths last Tuesday

The number of people to call the 016 domestic violence helpline in Spain rose five fold after the press last week when four women lost their lives at the hands of their partners last Tuesday.

The following day the helpline received 3,600 calls, when the usual daily number is about 700. There was another busy day last Saturday when 3,500 calls were made.

80% of the calls to the 016 number are made by the victims of domestic violence and only 5% call asking about the services which are on offer. The line has only been in operation for the past six months, and over that time has attended to more than 85,000 calls.

The numbers were given by the special government delegate against domestic violence, Encarnación Orozco, who highlighted the fear felt by the callers to the service.

Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On is set to unveil legislation Tuesday that will potentially ban all media – including promotional pamphlets and “business cards” – from advertising prostitution services and providing possible clients with access to the sex industry.

Gal-On’s introduction of the bill comes less than a week ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8th and coincides with events taking place Tuesday in the Knesset to raise awareness to a wide range of women’s issues.

“The current law [on prostitution] gives legitimization to the advertising of sex clubs and prostitution in all variety of media,” commented Gal-On, who heads the Knesset subcommittee on Trafficking in Women. Her bill has the backing of more than 20 other lawmakers from across the political spectrum.

“Such promotion in newspapers or with pamphlets and business cards are an inseparable part of the trafficking in women chain.”

She continued: “Allowing potential clients to receive information about the sex industry only increases women’s suffering and generates millions of shekels a year for criminals.”

Drafted by the Hotline for Migrant Workers legal adviser Nomi Levenkron, the legislation is intended to widen the existing scope of punishment for those who advertise and promote prostitution; increase jail time from six months to three years for those found guilty of advertising sex services; and up fines meted out.

If passed, even those who place promotional material on cars, distribute provocative business cards or print leaflets advertising sex services will be made liable for prosecution. Newspapers, national and local, could also be found guilty if they run advertisements for brothels and other sex services.

“These new restrictions have been created in order to protect the public sentiment on the basis of moral justice and not to eradicate prostitution completely,” said Gal-On. “The law will not ban prostitution but only makes it criminal to… promote the services.”

Gal-On pointed out that a recent meeting of the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women not only highlighted the clear link between the growing sex industry in Israel and advertising, but also noted that despite a 2004 ruling against the country’s three largest newspapers for advertising sex services, such ads were still regularly published.

“Ten years have passed since the original law banning the advertisement of sex services was implemented and nothing has changed,” finished Gal-On, who recently proposed additional legislation to ban virtual brothels that utilize the Internet.

“The public is constantly bombarded with hundreds of provocative advertisements that boast sex services. It is clear that the current law does not provide a viable solution for slowing down the prostitution industry and trafficking in women.”