Archive for March 13th, 2008

A First Nations-led campaign to stop Canada’s first official brothel is “kind of pathetic”, according to the woman behind the safe house, sex-worker advocate Sue Davis.

The No 2010 Brothels campaign, organized by the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN), is spearheaded by Fay Blaney, executive member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, poverty-law advocate Carrie Humchitt, and elder Brenda Wesley, among others. The No 2010 Brothels campaign kicked off next to the Olympic clock on February 11, with AWAN member Carol Martin reading: “We refuse to…offer up our sisters and daughters as disposable objects for sex tourists.”

Humchitt later told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview: “There was an assumption that all sex-trade workers were going to be supportive of a cooperative brothel. They [Davis’s organization, the West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP)] said they consulted with aboriginal women, but they didn’t consult with us.”

Since its 1996 founding, AWAN has also fought against restorative justice in cases of family violence—a measure that was supposed to be empowering but that AWAN said instead entrenches aboriginal women’s victimization.

Meanwhile, WCCSIP is in the process of applying to the federal government for a two-year exemption from laws prohibiting brothels, so it can try it out. The safe house, Davis said, will feature a cooperative catering service, an art and publishing collective, and other activities to help build members’ résumés and offer an exit strategy to those who want one. Plus, she said, it’s impossible for Vancouver’s sex-work conditions to be worse than they are right now.

“Those women [AWAN members] don’t work on the street,” Davis said in a phone interview with the Straight. “They’re wealthy, privileged, and they don’t understand their actions. This is not carte blanche on brothels. This is one limited opportunity to bring the East Side sex trade inside. Residents tell us that they don’t want the condom mess; they don’t want to look out their windows and see a woman giving a blow job. And the girls want the opportunity to wash themselves between customers.”

These two opposing positions are nothing new. Is sex work a choice or a tragedy? Will decriminalization lead to empowerment or further marginalization? This year’s Canadian International Women’s Day Web page notes that “a woman’s place in society marks the level of civilization of that society.” For those women involved in sex work, both AWAN and WCCSIP would agree, the current level of civilization is pretty low. Davis noted that she’d “like one year in this city where a sex worker doesn’t die”. Everyone knows things need to change. But to what?

Internationally, the shape of the sex trade is fluctuating and presents few obvious solutions to Canada’s situation. Two of the world’s most famous decriminalized jurisdictions experienced major criticisms in 2007.

In December, Amsterdam’s council voted to clean up the city’s red-light districts. Eight years after legalizing sex work as a business (although prostitution had been technically legal in the Netherlands since 1830), the municipality is buying up brothels, conducting audits, and introducing zoning codes to crack down on two problems legalization did not fix: human trafficking and organized crime.

Similarly, after researching brothel-friendly Nevada, sex-trade researcher Melissa Farley published a book last year titled Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections. In it she argues that sex workers there—even in the “protected” ranch system—frequently experience abuse and are still usually under the control of pimps and traffickers. It echoes research she published in the June 2005 issue of Transcultural Psychiatry. Farley and her coauthors interviewed 100 Vancouver sex workers; 52 were members of First Nations, 82 were sexually abused as children (by an average of four different people), 72 were physically abused as children, and 95 reported that they wanted to leave the trade.

“Just as wife-beating was historically viewed as having been provoked by the victim,” Farley, Jacqueline Lynne, and Ann Cotton wrote in Prostitution in Vancouver: Violence and the Colonization of First Nations Women, “prostitution is still viewed by some as a job choice.”

In the midst of the debate, Vancouver East MP Libby Davies said citizens shouldn’t look to the trio of upcoming elections for a solution to Vancouver’s sex-trade dilemma. Davies told the Straight that because regulating the sex trade is probably never going to be an election issue, and the solutions are a political minefield, most politicians are afraid to address it.

“It gets sensationalized,” she said. “So we need leadership from the federal, provincial, and municipal governments to allow the issues to be worked out. To me, it’s an issue of great urgency.”

According to Davies, AWAN versus WCCSIP is a false division. Everyone, she said, is really fighting for the same thing: the end of the survival sex trade, distinguished by its workers who are vulnerable because of drug addiction, a history of abuse, and no other choice. But getting commitments to better addiction services and poverty-alleviation strategies during an election campaign, she said, is the challenge.

48% of black teen-age girls are infected
20% of white teen-age girls are infected
20% of Mexican American teen-age girls are infected

More than one in four U.S. teen girls is infected with at least one sexually transmitted disease, and the rate is highest among blacks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.

An estimated 3.2 million U.S. girls ages 14 and 19 — about 26 percent of that age group — have a sexually transmitted infection such as the human papillomavirus or HPV, chlamydia, genital herpes or trichomoniasis, the CDC said.

Forty-eight percent of black teen-age girls were infected, compared to 20 percent of whites and 20 percent of Mexican American girls. The report did not give data on the broader U.S. Hispanic population.

“What we found is alarming,” the CDC’s Dr. Sara Forhan, who led the study, told reporters. “This means that far too many young women are at risk for the serious health effects of untreated STDs, including infertility and cervical cancer.”

Dr. John Douglas, director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said a complex mix of factors is to blame for the higher rates among black girls, including the overall higher presence of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, in the broader black community.

“Therefore, for any given sex act with any given partner, a person who’s not infected has a greater risk of coming into contact with infection and getting infected,” Douglas said.

The CDC said the rate of STD infection among U.S. teen girls might be higher than the study indicates because it did not look at syphilis, gonorrhea or HIV infection, but said these generally are uncommon in girls this age.

The CDC said the report, released at a meeting in Chicago, was the first to gauge combined rates of common STDs in female adolescents, giving the best data to date.


Among girls who had an STD, 15 percent had more than one. About half reported ever having had sex, and among those girls, 40 percent had at least one STD. Of girls who had just one lifetime sexual partner, 20 percent had at least one STD.

HPV, which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer, was the most common infection, seen in 18 percent of the girls. The CDC said this indicates teen girls, even those with few lifetime sexual partners, are at high risk for HPV infection.

CDC officials urge girls and women ages 11 to 26 who have not been vaccinated against HPV or who have not completed the full series of shots be fully vaccinated against the virus.

The next most common infection was chlamydia, caused by a bacterium that can damage a woman’s reproductive organs. It was seen in 4 percent of the girls. Untreated infection can spread into the uterus or fallopian tubes and cause pelvic inflammatory disease. It also raises risk for infertility.

The CDC urges yearly chlamydia screening for sexually active women under age of 25.

Trichomoniasis, caused by a single-celled parasite, was seen in about 3 percent of the girls. Women with trichomoniasis have vaginal itching and discharge.

About 2 percent of girls were infected with herpes simplex virus type 2, which causes most cases of genital herpes.

The findings were based on data from 838 girls who took part in a nationally representative health survey in 2003 and 2004. They were tested for various STDs.

Two babies and several gaunt women are the only patients in the gloomy wards of the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital in Freetown.

The hospital is supposed to be the main training and referrals unit for obstetrics in the country but its handful of staff were mostly found in backrooms, drinking tea with their feet resting on the surgical tables as they wile away their days in the eerily slow-moving wards.

“This hospital is a place of last resort for patients and staff,” said Sister Kanu, a nurse, who reckons conditions for mothers and hospital staff have “barely improved” since the end of Sierra Leone’s 11 year long civil war which devastated government and social infrastructure.

“By the time women get here it’s too late and the most we can do is to save the mother,” she said. “That’s why you see so few babies.”

Medical officials in Sierra Leone estimate 80 percent of women give birth at home without ever consulting a medical official or midwife.

The majority of births in Sierra Leone are supervised by untrained “traditional birthing attendants”, miles away from even the most basic medical facilities that can intervene in case of complications, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Sierra Leone.

The biggest cause of death is women simply bleeding to death after giving birth. Others suffer hours or days of obstructed labour.

Those who survive will join what UNFPA said is a growing number of women in Sierra Leone living with fistulas – a tearing of the tissue that develops when blood supply to the tissues of the vagina and bladder and/or rectum is cut off during prolonged obstructed labour. When the tissue dies a hole forms through which urine and faeces pass uncontrollably.

“When the formal [health] system collapsed during the war, people turned to the informal system of using traditional birthing assistants and they have not yet come back to the formal system,” said Dr Jarrie Kabba, a programme officer at UNFPA in Freetown.

Even when women do make it to the country’s rudimentary health facilities they must pay for and provide all their own drugs and even blood before they will be treated.

Sister Rugiatu Kanu, a midwife in Freetown, said just giving birth costs 50,000 leones (US$17) in a country where the minimum wage is US$14 a month and many of the 8 million population live on considerably less.

Sierra Leone now has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, perhaps losing more mothers in child birth than anywhere else in the world, according to the UN children’s fund (UNICEF).

Sierra Leone’s government says improving conditions for pregnant women and infants is a priority. On 29 February it launched a long-awaited maternal mortality “strategic plan” which focused mostly on eradicating overlaps and redundancies from the various government agencies involved in reproductive and child health, while promoting preventative activities like immunisation and women’s rights generally.

The strategy has the backing of the UK Department for International Development (DfID) which is the country’s main foreign donor.

International aid agency UNICEF has also promised to help improve care for pregnant women and infants, although the organisation has identified cultural factors such as early marriage, female genital mutilation, poor nutrition and lack of breastfeeding as the main obstacles to reducing the number of deaths among mothers and children.

Health official Dr Ibrahim Thorlie, Chief of Obstetrics at the Princess Christian Maternal Health hospital in Freetown, said he is sceptical about about the government’s new strategy as well as UNICEF’s emphasis on cultural factors.

“We need a new health system not a new strategy,” Thorlie said. “Only education combined with a health system that actually provides results can change things,” he said.

The main problem Sierra Leone’s mothers face is not awareness about what they should do but trained staff to give them the assistance they need, Thorlie said.

“What use is having more drugs and equipment if we don’t have people to administer them?” he asked. “Should patients start treating themselves?”

UNFPA agrees, having calculated that there are just six obstetricians for country of 5 million people: Five in Freetown and the sixth in the town of Bo, 200 km east of the capital.

“At the end of the day it’s about human resources,” said Bobo Yabi, head of the UNFPA in Sierra Leone, the UN agency supporting the government in its reforms.

“The strategy can be there, but if there is no-one to implement it, it will be just hanging in the air.”

A high powered Ghanaian delegation from the Upper East Region led by Agnes Asangalisa Chigabatia, Deputy Regional Minister visited Tinkurugu, the regional capital of the Eastern Province of Burkina Faso to mark the country’s International Women’s Day at the weekend.

The visit was aimed at strengthening the long standing relations between the two countries.

Addressing about one hundred women on parade at the durbar grounds, Chantal Campaore, First Lady of Burkina-Faso called for a global involvement in the fight against the vulnerability of women and the girl-child in HIV/AIDS.

She explained that placing much value on women and children affairs, particularly the girl-child will play a significant role towards eradicating HIV/AIDS in the Sub-Saharan region to advance the cause of women in Africa.

Mrs Campaore thus commended leaders all over the world especially African leaders for allowing issues concerning women and children to always take a centre stage at international conferences and urged them to expand their scope to brighten their future aspirations.

Speaking on the theme of the celebration dubbed, “Investing in Women: Investing in Girls,” Mrs Chigabatia appealed to leaders of the two countries to enact and strictly enforce laws criminalising Female Genital Mutilation and other practices that are hindering the progress of women.

This, the Deputy Upper East Regional Minister said will enhance their human, social and economic rights to liberate them from oppression to make Africa become more creative, industrious and productive.

Bangladesh’s military-backed government has backed down from a policy to ensure equal property rights to women amid angry protests by Muslim clerics that the move would override Islamic law.

The country’s law minister Hasan Arif said the government “does not have any plan to enact any laws that goes against the Koran and the traditions of Prophet Mohammad,” a government statement said.

Arif gave the assurance to top Islamic clerics and scholars late on Tuesday, after Islamic groups warned of nationwide protests, saying they would not tolerate any law that went against sharia, the Islamic law code.

Sharia is based on the teachings of the Koran, prescribing both religious and secular duties, from prayer to alms-giving, as well as penalties for law-breaking. There are many interpretations of the sharia.

The clerics’ complaints followed a new government policy announced last week which stated women should have equal property rights.

Bangladesh, whose population is 90 percent Muslim, has a secular legal system but in matters related to inheritance and marriage Muslims follow sharia law.

Sharia practised in Bangladesh’s inheritance law generally stipulates that a girl would inherit half of what her brother gets. Women groups have long protested against the disparity and demanded equal rights.

The minister’s comments came after Islamist parties and top clerics called protests across the country this Friday against what they called “laws against Islam.”

The leader of the group Mufti Fazlul Haq Amini said that despite the government’s assurances they would go ahead with protests until the “anti-sharia” provisions were officially dropped.

“The new government policy has mentioned there would be equal property rights for women which is directly against Islam and the holy Koran. We will not tolerate anything that goes against the sharia,” he told AFP on Wednesday.

The government had shown “scant regard” for the country’s Muslims, he said.

But Shirin Akhter, head of one of the largest women’s groups in the country, said she hoped the government would ignore the criticism.

“The policy spells out clearly that women should have equal rights to property, which includes inheritance. Our hope is that the government does not get distracted by any so-called religious group,” Akhter, president of Working Women, said.

Shahina Imran, 30, describes her marriage as “happy”. She said she “remains busy” all day with household chores, cooking for her husband and two children and doing other domestic tasks at her home in Shahdra, on the outskirts of Lahore. She does not see herself as a victim of domestic abuse.

Like so many other women in a society in which few are aware of their rights, she accepts the regular slaps, kicks and severe verbal abuse meted out to her by her husband, Javed Imran, a plumber, as “what can be expected in married life”.

This attitude is not surprising, given that Shahina’s two elder sisters, and many of the other women she meets at the grocery store or near her house, face a similar fate.

Domestic violence is endemic in Pakistan. The New York-based Human Rights Watch, in one of the most detailed reports on domestic violence in the country published in 1999, found that up to 90 percent of women in Pakistan were subject to verbal, sexual, emotional or physical abuse, within their own homes.

Sadly, there is little evidence that the situation has improved dramatically eight years on. Asma Jahangir, a leading lawyer and rights activist, said: “Domestic violence is very widespread. It is tied in to the lack of empowerment of women in our society.”

Women’s rights activists have long argued that the issue is linked to the “second class” status of women in society.

This is a reality reinforced by laws that discriminate against them in terms of the right to inherit property, the amount of blood money given as compensation for physical hurt, and by the failure to eradicate traditions such as ‘vani’, under which a woman is handed over in marriage to an aggrieved party to settle a dispute, usually after a murder.

Over the past decade, however, awareness of the issue has risen.

Since 2006 the Pakistan Ministry of Women’s Development has been running at least 10 crisis centres in major cities, where victims of domestic abuse or other violence receive legal, financial and psychological support, and counselling regarding their options.

Domestic violence has also been discussed in both Pakistan’s provincial and national assemblies. A draft Protection Against Domestic Violence of Women and Children Act was drawn up by the Federal Law Ministry early in 2007, but has not yet been passed.

These efforts also appear to have had some positive impact on police efforts to curb domestic violence. In a high profile case in January 2007, Karachi police arrested a national sporting hero, Moin Khan, a former captain of Pakistan’s cricket team, after his wife complained of being beaten by him.

He was later released on bail, but the case focused public attention on the issue and underscored that assault on wives was a crime under Pakistani law. Yet despite these developments, violence remains widespread.

A study published in June 2006 in the Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association, based on interviews with 300 women admitted to hospital for childbirth, said 80 percent reported being subjected to some kind of abuse within marriage.

At times, the violence inflicted on women takes on truly horrendous forms. The Islamabad-based Progressive Women’s Association (PWA), headed by Shahnaz Bukhari, believes up to 4,000 women are burnt each year, almost always by husbands or in-laws, often as “punishment” for minor “offences” or for failure to bring in a sufficient dowry.

The PWA said it had collected details of nearly 8,000 such victims from March 1994 to March 2007, from three hospitals in the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area alone.

Just recently in Karachi, Ameena Ali, 22, addressed a press conference at which she said her husband, Muhammad Ali, had splashed acid on her face, causing severe disfigurement and damage to her eye-sight.

Ameena, a mother of two small girls, who sought help from Madadgar, a non-governmental organisation dedicated in assisting abused women and children in Pakistan, said her husband suspected her of having extra-marital relations.

“He threw acid on her face and fled,” wept Ameena’s distraught mother, Kaneez Fatima. Her husband is currently in police custody, but Ameena is concerned he may attack her and his two daughters if he is released.

“Such cases are not unusual in our society,” I.A. Rehman, director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told IRIN.

A lack of safe shelters for women victims of domestic violence, limited awareness of the issue and the absence of specific legislation all compound the problem.

The result is that thousands of women are victims of severe violence within their homes, with most cases going unreported and the culprits consequently escaping any punishment for their crime.

Corrective rape, where a male pupil rapes a female lesbian pupil to “make her heterosexual”, was a growing phenomenon in schools, the SA Human Rights Commission said in a report released today.

A gay and lesbian rights group told the commission during public hearings that homosexual pupils experienced “high levels of prejudice” at school resulting in “exclusion, marginalisation and victimisation”.

“There is a growing phenomenon of corrective rape. This refers to an instance where a male learner rapes a lesbian female learner in the belief that after such a sexual attack the learner will no longer be lesbian,” the report said.

It said heterosexism and homophobia fuelled discrimination against gay and lesbian pupils in South African schools.

“Within the school environment there is a clear need to place the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] issues within a human rights framework and to engage religious values.”

OUT, a gay and lesbian rights NGO, was involved in training programmes and policy development to curb violence against homosexual pupils.

The organisation told the commission there were high drop-out rates among LGBT pupils and discrimination against them often led to suicide and substance abuse.

During public hearings the commission was informed that xenophobia also contributed toward violent incidents in South African schools.

“… [in] particularly those schools that attract non-national learners. In these schools, discrimination on the grounds of ethnic, racial or social origin may well be a contributing factor to the violence.”

The risk of rape and sexual abuse remains high for thousands of young girls and women displaced by Kenya’s post-election crisis in January and February, an assessment by three agencies has found.

Detailing the findings of the rapid assessment of gender-based violence (GBV) suffered in camps, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF), said the women had repeatedly expressed fears of sexual violence because of makeshift sleeping arrangements, where men and women were forced to sleep under one tent or out in the open.

“They also voiced concerns about lack of regulations in the camps allowing men from the outside to enter unchecked by camp officials and, in Nairobi in particular, women reported fears about sexual victimisation linked to camp design and services, including lighting, water/sanitation facilities, and availability of firewood,” the agencies stated in a report on 10 March.

The post-election crisis led to the deaths of at least 1,500 people and the displacement of 300,000 others.

The assessment was conducted in North Rift Valley, South Rift Valley, the Coastal Region, Nairobi and Central Province. It examined the nature and scope of sexual violence during flight, as well as within the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and alternative settlements.

The assessment also evaluated the capacity of both community and camp-based programmes to prevent and respond to cases of sexual violence.

The agencies said the exact number of cases of sexual assault in IDP camps was difficult to ascertain, not only because the camps lacked standardised reporting mechanisms, “but also because of challenges associated with acknowledging victimisation, including availability of services, the level of awareness about the value of medical assistance, the degree of trust in police and other security-related issues, as well as the cultural acceptability of disclosing rape”.

They said: “The preliminary findings of this assessment confirm initial reports from Nairobi-based hospitals that sexual violence has increased during the post-election crisis that began on 30 December. Evidence suggests that perpetrators are exploiting the conflict by committing sexual violence with impunity, and efforts to protect or respond to the needs of women and girls are remarkably insufficient.”

Noting that sexual violence not only occurred as a by-product of the collapse in social order during the post-election period, they said it was being used as a tool to “terrorise individuals and families and precipitate their expulsion from the communities in which they live”.

The agencies made several recommendations aimed at protecting young girls and women from GBV. “Camp-based” and “community-based” measures, they noted, would help deliver minimum interventions to prevent and respond to sexual violence during emergency response. They would also shift humanitarian interventions to national government and non-government structures to facilitate the move from humanitarian to development actions as IDPs move to transitional settlements in some areas and home in others.

The recommendations include: providing support to the relevant government ministries and institutions to integrate prevention of GBV and gender equality concerns into their emergency plans of action and improve their capacity to address the problem of sexual violence; introducing coordination mechanisms for prevention and response programming at the provincial and district levels; training camp-based staff in GBV prevention and response standards; ensuring sufficient police presence in the camps, including female police, and allocation of technical and financial resources to security personnel to address violence against women and girls.

The agencies also recommended the improvement of multi-sectoral prevention and response to GBV at the community level, through sustained support to sectors such as health, legal/justice, security, and psychosocial, with a special focus on gaps such as availability of forensic examiners, legal aid services and judicial response.

Also among the recommended measures was the conducting of widespread community education aimed at prevention and ensuring survivors know how and where to access services.

“In recognition of the new peace agreement and the hope that most Kenyans will be able to return to their homes, mechanisms to protect returnees must be institutionalised,” the agencies said.

A one-day consultation “Draft J&K Domestic Violence Act” was organized by Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), a Delhi based NGO, to study the need for having an Act in the state on domestic violence.

About 55 participants, including Prof S M Afzal Qadri, former head of department of Law, Kashmir University; Dr Sheikh Showkat, lecturer law department; Ms Qurat Ul Ain Women’s rights activist; Advocate AR Hanjura, social activist; Advocates Showkat Thakur and Masooda; members of NGO’s; and many lawyers from Pulwama and Kupwara participated in the consultation.

Advocate Faisal Qadri said the “Domestic Violence Act” is an attempt to recognize domestic abuse as a punishable offence. “The existing penal laws are not effective because tiresome procedures are involved, and ultimately the victim is left at the mercy of the abuser,” he said.

Advocate Aliya, gave a description of the Central Domestic Violence act and highlighted the positive and negative aspects of the Act. She said that there were loopholes in the Central Act need to be plugged while framing the J&K act.

Advocate Narjees Nawab Qadri presented a need assessment on the issue and stressed on the need for enacting the Act in J&K. She highlighted various cases of Domestic Violence dealt by her during past few months and said that in all such cases the victim is not in a position to assert her rights.

The participants in seminar asserted that there is a need of enacting the domestic violence act in J&K state but with some amendments which are made keeping in view the social, political, cultural and religious set-up of the state of J&K. Legal Expert, Prof. Afzal Qadri, said that, “Domestic Violence is violence which happens within the four walls of the house.”

Participants also observed that there has been a rise in domestic violence particularly in families that are economically deprived. Prominent women rights activist, Ms. Qurat-ul-ain, while commenting on a need of a domestic violence act said, “It is a male dominated society and there are every chances of suppression so there is a need of domestic violence Act.”

Many participants also observed that while there has been a increase in the number of cases reported to police, no special redress mechanism has been devised which will help in quick disposal of such kind of cases.

Additional SP Kupwara, Aijaz Ahmed Bhat, citied a number of cases to highlight the amount of violence women face at the hands of spouses and in laws.

Dr Sheikh Showkat advocated for sensitization of women folk about their rights so that they can assert them. He said that, “Women should not compromise and should put various conditions in the Nikah Nama so that in case of breach of such conditions, the Shariah law can come to their rescue.”

He further added that “we should enact the law keeping in view the social and religious conditions.”

The participants unanimously concluded that a Report will be prepared about the deliberations in today’s consultation, and will be circulated amongst the participants. It was also decided that a core group comprising of lawyers, women’s activist, academics, and media persons would be formed and they would prepare a draft Act and submit the same to the government.

Mayor Eleni Mavrou was among those who pinned a white ribbon to the black female symbol set up in Eleftheria Square, Nicosia.

The symbolic demonstration – organised by the Municipality and the Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family – was held to raise public awareness over violence against women.

Mavrou promised that in two years’ time, her Municipality would be ready to implement its programme for dealing with inequalities against women.

Calling on the state to realise that it is responsible for combating the social stigma of violence against women, Mavrou said there was no chance of dealing with the phenomenon if everyone continued to turn a blind eye.

The problem, she added, was very serious and Cypriot society should finally admit to it and take measures to resolve it.

“We want to send out the message that violence against women is not women’s problem; the problem concerns all of us and society itself,” said the Mayor.

“With these efforts we would like, on one hand to call on women to stop suffering in silence and stand up to the violence they are subjected to, and on the other hand we want the rest of society to deal with the problem, recognise it exists and take the necessary measures,” Mavrou added.

She pointed out that unlike yesterday’s symbolic demonstration, domestic violence is a daily phenomenon in tens and hundreds of homes. “It is time we dealt with it.”

Nicosia Municipality has signed the European Map for the Equality of the two sexes, which entails a complete programme of policies that promote gender equality.

“We are estimating that this time next year we will be ready to announce it,” Mavrou concluded.

The Head of the Association, Aliki Hadjigeorgiou, said the demonstration aimed to send the message that women continue to be abused, discriminated against and treated unequally.

“With the black symbol we would like to underline the black life that some women live and the white ribbons being pinned to it are to transform it into white, sending the message that we are trying to rid women of these problems,” she said.

“We are calling on the public to work and contribute to efforts to give women the respect and appreciation they deserve,” Hadjigeorgiou added.

She expressed her deep concern over the fact that the incidents of violence against women that the association was called to deal with this year had doubled compared to last year.

On one day a little while ago, the association’s hotline received 61 calls in the space of an hour.

“I’m estimating that the number of domestic violence cases is much higher than the calls for help we receive; there are people who won’t even dare ask for help or complain about what is happening to them,” Hadjigeorgiou pointed out.

Registered cases of physical violence against women and girls in Afghanistan have increased by about 40 percent since March 2007.

UN agencies involved in women’s development efforts in Afghanistan say a dramatic increase in the number of reported cases of violence against women does not necessarily imply that gender-based violence has increased.

“There is an increased awareness among the law enforcement authorities, so it is not [necessarily] an increasing trend of violence – that has always been there, perhaps it is declining – but what is happening is that there are more people coming forward to report; nobody talked about this when it happened within the four walls of a house,” said Ramesh Penumaka, representative of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Afghanistan.

However, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said worsening insecurity in large swaths of the country, a growing culture of criminal impunity, weak law enforcement institutions, poverty and many other factors had contributed to increasing violence against women, such as rape and torture – and oppression whereby, for example, they are often forced into marriages against their will.

AIHRC’s concerns were echoed in a recent report by Womankind Worldwide, a UK charity, which said 80 percent of Afghan women are affected by domestic violence; over 60 percent of marriages are forced; and half of all girls are married before the age of 16.

“Seven years after the US and the UK ‘freed’ Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, our report proves that life is just as bad for most, and worse in some cases,” said the report Afghanistan Women and Girls Seven Years On released on 25 February.

Gender violence has reached “shocking and worrying” levels in Afghanistan and efforts must be redoubled to tackle it, the country’s human rights watchdog and civil society organisations said. “Our findings clearly indicate that despite over six years of international rhetoric about Afghan women’s emancipation and development, a real and tangible change has not touched the lives of millions of women in this country,” Suraya Subhrang, a commissioner on the rights of women at AIHRC, said.

The number of women attempting suicide in the past year was 626, of whom 130 died. Suicide methods included self-immolation, the slashing of veins and taking lethal doses of drugs, according to the AIHRC.

Cases of rape and self-immolation appeared to be going up: “In 2006 we recorded 1,545 cases of violence against [or severe psychological oppression of] women, which included 98 cases of self-immolation and 34 cases of rape, while in 2007 we listed 2,374 cases of violence, which constitute 165 self-immolations and 51 cases of rape,” Subhrang told IRIN in Kabul.

Not only are Afghan women victims of gender-based violence, thousands of them are also dying and suffering due to a lack of health services in the war-torn country.

Afghanistan is second only to Sierra Leone in the world in terms of maternal mortality ranking with 1,600-1,900 out of every 100,000 women dying in childbirth, according to UNFPA and the Ministry of Public Health.

Every year at least 24,000 Afghan women die due to diseases and during childbirth – 25 times the number of people dying of security-related violence in the country – of which 87 percent are preventable, UNFPA’s Penumaka said.

The UNFPA findings indicate that up to 70 percent of pregnant women do not receive medical attention, 40 percent do not have access to emergency obstetric care, and 48 percent suffer from iron deficiency.

In his message on International Women’s Day, 8 March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments and international organisations to increase meaningful investments in women and girls, particularly in their education, health and empowerment.

By 2020 Afghanistan is committed to eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education, promoting gender equality, empowering women, giving everyone access to justice, and reducing the maternal mortality rate by 75 percent, according to the country’s third and fifth national Millennium Development Goals (nMDGs).

The AIHRC and some aid agencies are concerned that Afghanistan will not achieve its nMDGs unless strong measures are implemented urgently to reduce widespread violence towards women and improve their access to health, education and other services.

“Only by investing in the world’s women and girls can we expect to reach our destination [MDGs],” said Ban Ki-moon’s message.

Iraqi women on 8 March, International Woman’s Day, called for an end to violence against women nationwide and for equal status with men, especially in top jobs, including ministries and embassies.

“Iraqi women are now crying out: stop killing, stop violence,” said Nariman Othman, minister of women’s rights, who led a delegation to the head of Iraq’s parliament. She bore a list of women’s rights issues which they wanted to discuss.

“We demand protection from killing and intimidating women in the cities of Basra, Diyala, Mosul and other Iraqi cities, and consider the anti-women violence a crime against humanity,” Nariman said.

“A bigger role must be given to qualified women in political decision-making positions and other governmental posts such as ministries… and embassies,” she said.

Nariman also asked for more help from the government to meet the needs of the increasing number of widows, and find solutions to their problems, which include unemployment.

Iraq’s constitution reserves 25 percent of the 275 seats in parliament for women, but not all of these have been filled because in some cases female candidates were not available.

In a recent report on the state of Iraqi women since the US-led invasion in 2003, the US-based Women For Women International said it had become a “national crisis”.

The report, released on 6 March, showed that two-thirds of the 1,500 women questioned said violence against them had increased.

“When asked why, respondents most commonly said there was less respect for women’s rights than before, that women were thought of as possessions, and that the economy had got worse,” it said.

A similar survey by the organization in 2004 found that despite the fact that none of the women felt their families’ most basic needs were entirely met, 90.6 percent were optimistic about the future.

But in late 2007, the report said, the nationwide poll of 1,513 Iraqi women found only 26.9 percent continued to be optimistic about the situation in their country.

The report also found that 76 percent of respondents said girls in their families were forbidden from attending school.

On 8 March, the UN special representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, called for more support and help to meet the Iraqi women’s needs “as they are the forgotten and silent victims of the ongoing violence”.

He said 70,000 had been widowed in the past 4-5 years. In the south, over 100 women had been killed, and their bodies mutilated. In the north, at least 300 women and girls were victims of “honour crimes” last year, including being shot, strangled and beaten to death, he said.

In spite of real progress around the globe, the bedrock problems that have dogged women for centuries remain

The image of the 21st century woman is confident, prosperous, glowing with health and beauty. But for many of the 3.3 billion female occupants of our planet, the perks of the cyber age never arrived. As International Women’s Day is celebrated today, they continue to feel the age-old lash of violence, repression, isolation, enforced ignorance and discrimination.

“These things are universal,” says Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of New York-based Equality Now. “There is not one single country where women can feel absolutely safe.”

In spite of real progress in women’s rights around the globe – better laws, political participation, education and income – the bedrock problems that have dogged women for centuries remain. Even in wealthy countries, there are pockets of private pain where women are unprotected and under attack.

Some countries, often the poorest and most conflict-ridden, have a level of violence that makes life unbearable for women. Richer ones may burden them with repressive laws, or sweep the problems of the least advantaged under the carpet. In any country, refugee women are among the most vulnerable.

So widespread are the disadvantages that it’s hard to pinpoint the worst places in the world for women. Some surveys rate their problems by quality of life, others by health indicators. Human rights groups point to countries where violations are so severe that even murder is routine.

Literacy is one of the best indicators of women’s status in their countries. But Amnesty International Canada’s women’s rights campaigner Cheryl Hotchkiss says building schools alone doesn’t solve the problem of equal education.

“There’s a huge range of barriers women face to getting an education,” she says. “It may be free and available, but parents won’t send their daughters out to school if they can be kidnapped and raped.”

Health is another key indicator, including the care of pregnant women, who are sometimes forced into disastrous early marriage and childbearing, as well as infection with HIV/AIDS. But again, statistics fail to show the whole, complex story.

“On a rural lake in Zambia, I met a woman who had not told her husband she was HIV-positive,” says David Morley, CEO of Save the Children Canada. “She was already living on the edge because she had no children. If she told him, she would be kicked off the island and sent alone to the mainland. She felt she had no choice, because she had no power at all.”

Putting power in women’s hands is the biggest challenge for improving their lives in every country, advocates agree. Whether in the poorest countries of Africa, or the most repressive of the Middle East or Asia, lack of control over their own destinies blights women’s lives from early childhood.

Here are 10 of the worst countries in the world to be a woman today:

• Afghanistan: The average Afghan girl will live to only 45 – one year less than an Afghan male. After three decades of war and religion-based repression, an overwhelming number of women are illiterate. More than half of all brides are under 16, and one woman dies in childbirth every half hour. Domestic violence is so common that 87 per cent of women admit to experiencing it. But more than one million widows are on the streets, often forced into prostitution. Afghanistan is the only country in which the female suicide rate is higher than that of males.

• Democratic Republic of Congo: In the eastern DRC, a war that claimed more than 3 million lives has ignited again, with women on the front line. Rapes are so brutal and systematic that UN investigators have called them unprecedented. Many victims die; others are infected with HIV and left to look after children alone. Foraging for food and water exposes women to yet more violence. Without money, transport or connections, they have no way of escape.

• Iraq: The U.S.-led invasion to “liberate” Iraq from Saddam Hussein has imprisoned women in an inferno of sectarian violence that targets women and girls. The literacy rate, once the highest in the Arab world, is now among the lowest as families fear risking kidnapping and rape by sending girls to school. Women who once went out to work stay home. Meanwhile, more than 1 million women have been displaced from their homes, and millions more are unable to earn enough to eat.

• Nepal: Early marriage and childbirth exhaust the country’s malnourished women, and one in 24 will die in pregnancy or childbirth. Daughters who aren’t married off may be sold to traffickers before they reach their teens. Widows face extreme abuse and discrimination if they’re labelled bokshi, meaning witches. A low-level civil war between government and Maoist rebels has forced rural women into guerrilla groups.

• Sudan: While Sudanese women have made strides under reformed laws, the plight of those in Darfur, in western Sudan, has worsened. Abduction, rape or forced displacement have destroyed more than 1 million women’s lives since 2003. The janjaweed militias have used systematic rape as a demographic weapon, but access to justice is almost impossible for the female victims of violence.

• Other countries in which women’s lives are significantly worse than men’s include Guatemala, where an impoverished female underclass faces domestic violence, rape and the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS after sub-Saharan Africa. An epidemic of gruesome unsolved murders has left hundreds of women dead, some of their bodies left with hate messages.

In Mali, one of the world’s poorest countries, few women escape the torture of genital mutilation, many are forced into early marriages, and one in 10 dies in pregnancy or childbirth.

In the tribal border areas of Pakistan, women are gang-raped as punishment for men’s crimes. But honour killing is more widespread, and a renewed wave of religious extremism is targeting female politicians, human rights workers and lawyers.

In oil-rich Saudi Arabia, women are treated as lifelong dependents, under the guardianship of a male relative. Deprived of the right to drive a car or mix with men publicly, they are confined to strictly segregated lives on pain of severe punishment.

In the Somali capital, Mogadishu, a vicious civil war has put women, who were the traditional mainstay of the family, under attack. In a society that has broken down, women are exposed daily to rape, dangerously poor health care for pregnancy, and attack by armed gangs.

“While the potential of women is recognized at the international level,” says World Health Organization director-general Margaret Chan, “this potential will not be realized until conditions improve – often dramatically – in countries and communities. Too many complex factors, often rooted in social and cultural norms, continue to hinder the ability of women and girls to achieve their potential and benefit from social advances.”

Best Countries To Be A Woman

Measures of well-being include life expectancy, education, purchasing power and standard of living. Not surprisingly, the top 10 countries are among the world’s wealthiest:
* Iceland
* Norway
* Australia
* Canada
* Ireland
* Sweden
* Switzerland
* Japan
* Netherlands
* France
Source: UNDP Gender-related development index

Income Gaps

Poverty means pain for both men and women, but throughout the world it is women who suffer the most from lack of income.

In these countries, women earn less than 50 per cent of men’s incomes:
* Benin 48 per cent
* Bangladesh 46 per cent
* Sierra Leone 45 per cent
* Equatorial Guinea 43 per cent
* Togo 43 per cent
* Eritrea 39 per cent
* Cape Verde 36 per cent
* Yemen 30 per cent
Source: UNDP Human Development Report

Literacy Gaps

The better a woman’s education, the better chance she and her children have of surviving economically, protecting themselves and leading healthy lives.

In these countries, women’s literacy rate is less than 50 per cent of men’s:
* Mali 49 per cent
* Benin 49 per cent
* Yemen 47 per cent
* Mozambique 46 per cent
* Ethiopia 46 per cent
* Guinea 42 per cent
* Niger 35 per cent
* Chad 31 per cent
* Afghanistan 28 per cent

Countries with women’s literacy rate less than 70 per cent of men’s:
* India 65 per cent
* Morocco 60 per cent
* Pakistan 55 per cent


India will not consider legalising commercial sex or giving licences to brothels, Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury has said.

“I am ready to legalise brothels or red light areas if the sex workers say their decision is informed. In most cases their choice is not informed but is forced due to poverty or other reasons,” Chowdhury said.

“Many sex workers ask me why I am withholding this issue. But I patiently listen to them and, in turn, ask them whether they would allow their daughters to enter the trade. The answer has always been a complete silence – and they drop their demands,” Chowdhury told IANS on the sidelines of a human trafficking conference. The conference was organised by the UN office on Drugs and Crime along with the ministry of women and child development ahead of the International Women’s Day March 8.

The minister said her government has no intention of legalising or licensing brothels, but would remain committed to combating human trafficking, especially of women and children.

Human trafficking means recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people by means of threat, use of force or other forms of coercion like abduction for the purpose of exploitation. According to UN estimates, approximately 150,000 people are trafficked within South Asia annually, with children and young women being lured from their homes with promises of a good job, good marriage or stardom in the entertainment industry. Many are forced into prostitution or slavery where they suffer unspeakable indignities and hardship.

Organisations like the Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha have been demanding the legalisation of commercial sex workers since 1984. Khairati Lal Bhola, president of the Sabha, said: “The government must accept this demand for at least the better health and education of the 5.4 million children of sex workers.”

Bhola said a survey conducted during 1990-96 revealed that there were more than 7.5 million call girls, 2.38 million prostitutes, 1,100 red light areas and 300,000 brothels across the country. Now, more than a decade later, the numbers has gone up manifold and the condition of sex workers is still vulnerable, especially due to the threat of diseases like AIDS.

Pressing for the need to legalise prostitution, he said: “Not only will the government earn a tax on their income, it will help in chucking out agents, middlemen, goons and corrupt police officials who take hafta (protection money) from them. Sex workers can earn more to provide education to their children, who can be prevented from inheriting their mother’s profession.”

Chowdhury, however, said human trafficking of women largely depends on the principle of demand and supply. “My government is planning to bring amendments to the existing Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act and clients visiting brothels would be penalised,” she said. Asked why the government was not directing police to clamp down on red light areas in the country, the minister said: “It is feared that it may spread to residential colonies if we take such measures in the present scenario. After analysing the consequences, we will act accordingly,” she said.

Chowdhury appreciated the 24 percent increase in fund allocation to her ministry by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and said: “The government understands the needs and demands of women and is committed to its promise to empower them.”

Micro-finance schemes that allow women to borrow money from the government to start their own small industries of weaving, knitting, painting and others have yielded tremendous results, she said, adding that now the focus would be on encouraging women to do highly skilled jobs and earn more.

Women scientists, intellectuals and professionals are asking women to oppose a new “clerical assault on women.” They are fighting attempts by centre-right politicians and Catholic doctors associations to limit the current abortion law.

The law, upheld in a 1978 referendum, allows abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and until the 24th week if the mother’s life is at risk or if the foetus is seriously malformed.

Its opponents say the law should be restricted in light of medical advances allowing survival of some foetuses born before 24 weeks.

Debate and demonstrations over the law followed a call by Giuliano Ferrara, conservative newspaper editor and minister in former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right government, for a worldwide moratorium on abortion.

Ferrara said the United Nations should vote for “a moratorium on abortion just as the world body has on the death penalty, to prevent millions of innocents from dying.”

Ferrara announced he will run for Parliament in the Apr. 13-14 election on an anti-abortion ticket, from his own ‘List for Life’ party.

Backing Ferrara’s initiative, Italy’s Catholic Church rejected a national medical association statement that called on doctors last week to support the 30-year-old abortion law while also promoting campaigns for “responsible procreation” that would limit recourse to abortion.

Amedeo Bianco, president of the association, said the aim was not to encourage abortion, but the statement has been strongly condemned by Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference.

Now challenging “the obscene proposal of a moratorium on abortion,” the women’s petition — published by the bimonthly magazine on politics and social issues Micromega — asks political leaders to promote public debate over abortion, and take a clear stand on the issue in their political programmes.

The campaign has gathered more than 54,000 signatures in support of the present law. The women’s appeal is directed particularly to centre-left candidates in the election.

Italy’s law already gives medical staff the right to refuse pregnancy termination on grounds of conscience. According to official figures, 60 percent of Italy’s gynaecologists have availed themselves of this option at some stage. This provision already places obstacles in the way of abortion, women’s groups say.

“To get an appointment for pregnancy interruption in a public hospital is extremely difficult,” a doctor at a medical advice centre in Rome told IPS. The high number of ‘conscientious objectors’ makes the process quite an odyssey for women, said the doctor, who did not wish to give her name.

With many outpatient departments open only an hour a week, waiting lists can be more than 15 days, she said. A woman may have to face prolonged preliminary discussions with pro-life volunteers, with scarce attention to confidentiality.

Those medical staff who do not object have reported they are marginalised by colleagues, and work in hostile conditions, the doctor said.

Gynaecologist Elisabetta Canitano works at the public Rome hospital Gian Battista Grassi, and is president of Vita di Donna (Woman’s Life), a non-profit association of volunteer women doctors operating at a specialised surgery offering assistance freely to pregnant women.

Canitano told IPS that the current debate on abortion is “the result of patriarchal-bishop thinking that a woman’s body belongs to the community, and that women are not allowed to decide what to do with their body.”

Official figures from the health ministry say that some 130,000 abortions are carried out in Italy annually. “Most of these unexpected pregnancies are due to incorrect contraceptive practices,” says Canitano. “If these groups were honestly against abortion, all they had to do was to talk to people, even through media, and inform them…the truth is that secure contraception is still scarcely known.”

The debate is simply a “cyclical wave of rage against women,” says Canitano. “We should be aware that a woman who is not in a favourable circumstance for having a child — for whatever reason — will find whichever way to abortion, even clandestinely. Nobody seems to remember how many women used to die as a consequence of insecure abortion performed clandestinely in the past. Thanks to the law (regulating abortion), such operations have reduced considerably in the last 30 years.”

People backing the women’s petition are asking for mandatory sex education in the schools, strengthening of public services in support of women, and focused health programmes for immigrant women — who are reportedly more exposed to the risk of clandestine abortion.

More than 125,000 Chinese netizens have submitted their signatures to an on-line campaign against domestic violence, a conference was told in Beijing Thursday.

Their signatures were organized by, a website run by NetEase, and the Anti-Domestic Violence Network of the China Law Society as part of a global effort of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to protect women from physical and mental abuse.

Say No to Violence against Women Campaign is the official name of the UNIFEM drive.

The government is committed to protecting women from physical and mental abuse, UNIFEM national coordinator Guo Ruixiang said, and efforts are on to increase the number of signatories to 200,000.

The UN organization will donate one dollar for every one of the first 100,000 signatures to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.
Most of the signatories agree that victims of domestic violence lack legislative support and are afraid and/or ashamed to speak about it.

A UN press release issued yesterday quotes UNIFEM’s Regional Programme Director for East and Southeast Asia Jean D’Cunha as having said: “Saying no to violence against women is everybody’s business. The tripartite partnership of civil society in China, NetEase, and UNIFEM and the rest of the UN family is a shining example of multi-sector collaboration to end violence against women.”

More than 20 of China’s provinces have passed some regulations to protect women, Guo said, though they are too obscure to be implemented.

“In fact, China has fallen behind in the campaign against domestic violence these years because women are ashamed to speak out, and many of them are victims of the century-old man-superior system,” Guo said.

Anti-Domestic Violence Network representative Lu Pin suggested that a special law be passed to combat domestic violence and strengthen the statistical and monitoring systems.

The campaign will continue across the world till Nov 25, and data from China will be handed over to UNIFEM’s headquarters in New York once a week.

See also:

China sets up centers to receive domestic violence calls

The Government of Senegal, led by President Abdoulaye Wade, has signed on to UNIFEM’s Internet campaign, Say NO to Violence against Women ( Today, during a ceremony in New York, Mrs. Awa Ndiaye, Minister of the Family, Women’s Entrepreneurship and Microfinance, formally handed over the signatures to UNIFEM.

Besides President Wade, Prime Minister Cheikh Hadjibou Soumare and 23 Government Ministers have added their names to the Say NO campaign — a global advocacy effort that invites people sign their names to a virtual book as an expression of public support and a call on decision-makers worldwide to make ending violence against women a top priority. The initiative is designed to feed into and support UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s campaign on the same issue.

“I’m very honoured to officially hand over the signatures of the Senegalese government to UNIFEM,” the minister said. “For the President as well as the Cabinet, it is an official way to say no to violence against women and to show our commitment to UNIFEM’s important campaign,” she added in her speech. The Minister expressed her dedication to partner with UNIFEM to create a society that is committed to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“Ending violence against women requires commitment at the highest decision-making level, and we deeply appreciate this public expression of political will,” said Antonie de Jong, UNIFEM’s Advisor on Outreach and Business Development. “By adding their names to the Say NO campaign, the Government of Senegal sets an example and reaffirms its dedication to put an end to this gross violation of women’s human rights.”

UNIFEM is currently conducting a major study on violence against women in Senegal, in collaboration with UNFPA, to support the Government in designing policies and programmes to fight gender-based violence and help the police, judiciary and health centres better address the matter.

Violence against women is probably the most pervasive human rights violation, affecting as many as one in three women and girls. Since resources are urgently needed, the Say NO campaign calls for support to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women. This UNIFEM-managed Trust Fund awards grants to innovative local initiatives in the developing world. Since its inception in 1997, it has awarded more than US$19 million in grants to 263 projects in 115 countries. UN Trust Fund grantees have worked to stop human trafficking, put an end to honour killings and provide services for survivors. A particular focus lies on supporting the implementation of laws and policies on violence against women. Strategies include advocating for and building awareness of new legislation; working with criminal and civil justice systems to develop procedures for investigation and restraining orders; training judiciaries, law enforcement and health workers; and advocating for adequate budgetary al

The Say No to Violence against Women campaign will run until 25 November 2008. The UN Foundation will donate US$1 for each of the first 100,000 signatures to the UN Trust Fund.

UNIFEM 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