Archive for April 4th, 2008

Sheila Rowbotham Staying on at Manchester.

Last autumn I asked the Head of Social Science if I could stay on after I am due to retire in September 2008. In Britain the retirement age is 65 though European law now has raised questions about this. But in academia it is quite common for people to come back after retiring doing part of their former job. I asked to do a third -undergraduate and graduate teaching- for a further three years, partly because I enjoy teaching and partly because my pension will be very small as I entered university work late in life. He said no because Manchester has under the new President/Vice-Chancellor, Alan Gilbert got into financial difficulties.

62 academics (from sociology, anthropology, economics, geography, history, drama, English and even medicine) signed an email asking him to reconsider mentioning that I have a book out soon on Edward Carpenter and another manuscript almost finished but he still said no. I decided (based on my experience) that it was not worth appealing. However I did want to register that I had wished to stay on and when I wrote saying this to Busola Phillips from human resources she said I must go and see him again with a trade union representative. I have since learned this is the formal procedure if you want to appeal. Our initial meeting was postponed and I am now going to go on April 10th.

A friend in English, Prof Janet Wolff, had meanwhile been told by her head of school and the dean Alastair Ulph that she could stay on for half her job. But Prof Terry Eagleton, who also wished to stay was told he could not.

Terry Eagleton has been in a debate in the media with Martin Amis (one of the ‘iconics’ appointed to raise the profile of the university). In an interview he mentioned that he was one of three professors. The Guardian education correspondent, Polly Curtis, worked out through friends we have in common that one was me. She rang me under the impression that a mass McCarthyite witch hunt was afoot at Manchester University. I explained it was just that I had asked to stay on for a third of my job and been told no.

It was the undergraduates who decided it was unfair that I could not teach a course they like ‘Sociology of the Counter Culture’ next year. My courses are options which attract large numbers of students. One has gone up to 100 some years. ‘Sociology of the Counter Culture’ is over 60 and people were evidently turned away because the room allocated was not big enough. Some third and second year students combined to put a ‘Save Sheila Rowbotham’ campaign on Facebook. Several hundred people (mainly young as oldies like me don’t know how to do Facebook much) have signed up. From Facebook the news reached human rights and women’s networks and people have been writing to the President/Vice Chancellor, the Dean and the Head of Social Science from India, Europe, the US and Latin America.

I am rather overwhelmed. I had Repetitive Strain Injury badly several years ago and it flairs up under stress. I try and cut down on typing. I don’t think I have good stamina for battling with institutions. Campaigning for others is what I am accustomed to! I also think in terms of the terrible suffering so many people endure in the world my own case is not high priority.

I have received tremendous support from the union UCU who have issued a press release and put information on their web site. There has been coverage in Times Higher Education (THE), the Sunday Times, Manchester Evening News and Red Pepper. I have realised how what seemed like a personal issue has wider implications. Other academics who wish to carry on working have contacted me, women who entered other forms of work late have also connected to my request. While supporting peoples’ right to retire, there is clearly a need for rethinking about the right to choose to go on working too.

What happened to me is also part of a wider context. At Manchester like many other universities we have been experiencing a restructuring of working practices which developed organically over time . They have been replaced by a top down centralised management system, which has combined with financial stringency to make the practical everyday conditions of work very difficult. It is not efficient and it is inclined to make short term choices based on a narrow form of accounting rather than weighing up the social consequences. In restructuring the importance of human relating and the satisfaction people get from helping one another cooperatively have not been valued. This has resulted in unhappiness among many academics, administrative staff and students.

I am moved and very grateful. It is an honour to receive support from so many different people. I feel great respect for the students who are beginning to question the values embodied within the management structures. It is lovely to see how rebellion fires up students to be interested in ideas and reading more generally- just as it did my generation in the 1960s. They have made me feel that the university could be so much more alive and exciting if that energy and creativity could be fostered more. I have believed this in my life, most of which has been engaged in various kinds of education – schools, adult education, further education as well as universities. But over the last few years I have not been able to see how what has been imposed on us could be countered. Up till now I have just groaned with colleagues. This is forcing me to look around and think in a more concerted way about what would be better in terms of work and education. Whatever happens to my particular case it feels as if it has helped to create an opening for resistance. And I am on a steep learning curve!

Thank you very much for your time and for your concern.


For details of where to write letters etc., see original story “Save Sheila Rowbotham International Camapaign” at


In July, the final batch of UK undergraduates in women’s studies will graduate – all 12 of them – from London Metropolitan University.

A course that was fashionable for many years in the wake of the 1960s’ feminist movement and available at many universities, will disappear off the academic map.

It was a discipline that the sisterhood fought long and hard to have created in the first place, and demand for places peaked in the 1980s and early ’90s. Since then, interest in obtaining a BA in Women’s Studies has dwindled, although small numbers of students still take up postgraduate studies.

Who will mourn the loss? Critics say first degree courses in women’s studies failed to move with the times, staying trapped in the ideology of ’60s and ’70s’ feminism, and the ethos of “male-bashing”, a notion that young women today – the natural constituency of women’s studies – simply don’t buy.

Christina Hoff Sommers, the American academic and author of Who Stole Feminism? calls women’s studies “predictable, tiresome and dreary…” She adds: “British and American societies are no longer patriarchal and oppressive… But most women’s studies departments are predicated on the assumption that women in the West are under siege. What nonsense.”

Some academics think the time has passed when matters of gender and feminist critique need to be given a separate niche; such strands of study are best approached via the mainstream, integrated into other subject areas like history, literature and politics.

Could it simply be that young women have been staying away not because they think women’s studies are irrelevant to life today and or that the issues less lively than they were, but simply out of financial imperatives arising from the expense of university education?

They perhaps feel the need to study something that is perceived as more “practical” and lead to a well-paid job, as many will leave university with a great burden of debt.

Supporters and teachers of women’s studies say there is as great a need to promote the discipline as ever. Things may not be as unequal for women as they were 40 or 100 years ago, but that’s not to say every frontier has been completely breached.

Is dwindling interest in women’s studies emblematic of an acceptance that the status quo in our society is okay? An acceptance that, in many cases, men are still paid more than women for the same job, that women do more domestic work than men, that almost all the power brokers in our society are male, and that lower status jobs generally have a higher concentration of women?

According to Baroness Haleh Afshar, professor of politics and women’s studies at York University, where the Centre for Women’s Studies is a highly popular choice by postgraduate students, if dedicated courses die out and the vital issues they embrace are simply sucked into mainstream studies, they will be marginalised.

“I’m sorry, but the mainstream is male and highly unlikely to include us. One of things we, as an area of study, have always fought for is the idea that we are equal but different, not an add-on to something else.”

The 10 postgraduate women’s studies students at York are currently pursuing research that covers areas as diverse as violence to women in Iran, micro-finance among minority women in Bolivia, women and the political process in India, and a comparison between Muslim and non-Muslim working-class women in British tertiary education.

The work of these and other such students down the decades has often resonated right across the academic world, and put women at the centre of many different agendas, says Prof Afshar, who caused uproar some years ago with her hypothesis that Islam and feminism were compatible. Today the idea is not considered oxymoronic.

“The way we do research has changed how academic research is done generally, and a lot of what we do does have practical uses. However, maybe an 18-20-year-old young woman, the age of the average undergraduate, is actually unlikely to appreciate that.

“Many of our postgraduate students study something else, spend a few years in the workplace and discover certain problems such as the glass ceiling. They then come to do women’s studies as postgrads, very much aware of how tough things can still be for women in society.”

She cites the experience of her own daughter, a school teacher and head of department. “I am a third generation feminist who got married and had children. My daughter used to say to me, ‘Mother, it’s all been done, there are no more battles to be won.’ Then she got married, had a baby and took a year off to be with the child.

“She suddenly realised she didn’t want to be head of department, and that if she went back, she would therefore get all the rubbish jobs to do. This shouldn’t be the case in the 21st century. She’s finally realised I’m not that stupid after all.”

Prof Afshar says the world will go backwards without people who are dedicated to the study of women and their relationship to the world. “I know feminism has been seen for a long time as synonymous with dishevelled women burning bras, but many smartly-dressed young women do our courses and see what we are doing as worthwhile.

“It’s only a small elite group of Anglophone women who are making assumptions that we have it all. We truly don’t.”

Sheffield Fems ( are organising a challenge to Hooters’ proposal to open a restaurant in Sheffield and they’ve set up this petition.

We object to the opening of a Hooters Bar/Restaurant in Sheffield.

We believe not only is this bar sexist but that it is tacky and a terrible development for the new Leopold Square.

We believe that there is no place for Hooters in our contemporary and cultural city.

“Say NO! to Hooters in Sheffield” at

Student organises petition against Hooters in Southend


Hooters have applied for a licence to open a restaurant at the former site of the MVC music store, 42-44 London Road, Southend. Hooters of America Inc. offer an explicitly sexualised form of entertainment, the presence of an all-female waiting staff wearing ‘The Hooters Girl uniform… of orange shorts and a white tank top’ being the principal selling-point of the franchise. The brand uses images of women that verge on the pornographic in their promotional material (see:

The only other branch in the country, in Nottingham, hosts bikini competitons as well as other events which make it little different from a strip club (see This is utterly unsuitable in an area directly adjacent to the South East Essex College buildings, near several large restaurants and the Odeon cinema, all frequented by children, young people and families.

The site is near to both the taxi rank and bus station, and this raises issues of personal safety for women in Southend, the link between a rise in sexual violence against women and the presence of adult entertainment venues nearby having been suggested by a number of recent studies. Sixty-eight percent of Hooters’ customers are male, aged between 25-54 – these are not family restaurants. The establishment will bring stag parties and other large groups of young men into the area with the intention of consuming large quantities of alcohol and this has obvious implications for crime and disorder and the causing of public nuisance. Sign the petition and say ‘No!’ to Hooters in Southend!


The deadline for making a formal objection against the licence application has now passed, but several objections have been received and the case will now go to a hearing – your signatures will show the level of opposition in the town, so please keep signing!

See the web resources to the right below for further information on the mounting campaign against Hooters in the UK – 40 branches are planned across the country over the next 4 years. Don’t let Southend be used as a guinea pig for the larger roll out.

To sign the petition go to

The BNP has withdrawn one of its London Assembly candidates after he reportedly wrote that it was a “myth” that rape was a serious crime.

Nicholas Eriksen was reportedly behind a blog which suggested women were more troubled by handbag theft than by rape.

On Wednesday London Elects, which is overseeing the election, confirmed he had been withdrawn as a candidate.

Mr Eriksen was condemned in the Commons when Tory MP Charles Walker said he was not “fit to run for public office”.

Deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, standing in for Gordon Brown at prime minister’s questions, replied: “I strongly support your comments and I thank you for bringing this matter to the House.”

She added: “The best way to avoid a BNP member being elected to the London Assembly is to make sure that as many people as possible vote for all the other parties.”

Mr Eriksen had been the second of the BNP’s candidates for the London-wide list, which allocates 11 seats on the basis of proportional representation.

London Elects said that, following his withdrawal, other BNP candidates had moved up on the party’s list.

Robert Bailey is now the BNP’s second choice, after Richard Barnbrook, who is also running for mayor.

The Evening Standard reported that Mr Eriksen was the author of a far-right blog on which he had written: “Rape is simply sex. Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible ordeal.

“To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting that force-feeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence.

“A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched.”

In a statement on the BNP website, the party said Mr Eriksen had “taken responsibility and unlike other politicians faced with similar circumstances has acted swiftly and honourably to resolve this matter”.

It said: “It was felt that no matter how much Nick Eriksen’s blog comments, written back in 2005, had been distorted and taken out of the context of a blog which reflected our tough stance on all sorts of crime, they could still be perceived as trivialising the issue in a manner that many women in particular could have found extremely offensive.”

It added: “Whilst this party remains committed to free speech it should be understood that with that freedom comes responsibility.”

There are 14 constituency seats on the London Assembly, elected through the first-past-the-post system. The London-wide list of 11 seats are divided according to the percentage of votes each party has won.

Any party that gets 5% of first choice votes is in with a chance of an assembly seat under the system.

At the last London elections the BNP got 4.8% of the vote and the party is confident it will get at least one seat this May.

See original article “Women more troubled by bag theft than rape, BNP candidate claims” at,+BNP+candidate+claims/

European Funding of Gender Selective Abortions Must End

Last week in Strasbourg, the political establishment of the European Union was shocked by an unexpected rebellion from an unexpected quarter, one that could proceed to fundamentally alter the West’s promotion of abortion in the developing world.

The cause of this key battle was the relatively innocuous sounding report on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development Cooperation by the German Green MEP Feleknas Uca.

The Guardian, the leading leftwing British newspaper, reported that the revolt “sought to cut funding for maternal health in developing nations.” In fact, the Conservatives tried to amend the report to prioritise reproductive health towards “issues such as obstetric and traumatic fistula,” and “the presence of skilled birth attendants;” which according to the UNFPA are the most important means for reducing maternal mortality (Millennium Development Goal 5).

The left-wing groups in the Parliament, which together form a majority, voted against these amendments. What they voted for was sexual & reproductive health rights (SRHR), which is interpreted by various NGOs and international bodies as ‘access to abortion.’

Why should one oppose SRHR? Because it is being used as a means of population control in the third world. Furthermore, via SRHR programs, the European taxpayer is funding especially in China and India the practice of gender-selected abortions.

UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon, in his opening address to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women in New York, said: “Through the practice of prenatal sex selection, countless [women] are denied the right even to exist.”

Furthermore, according to the UNFPA’s State of the World Population Report last year, there is a global deficit of 60 million women in the world — that is the same as the total population of the UK — and that these ‘missing’ females have been pre-natally sex-selected, aborted, and infanticized out of existence.

How is it, that a report of the European Parliament on Gender Equality can be silent on the deliberate murder of unborn persons on the basis of gender? Where is the gender equality in that?

We tabled an amendment to this report demanding a gender analysis on all abortions performed in the world, and for the European Parliament to be regularly informed of the results. To their absolute shame and utter disgrace the European Parliament’s leftist groups all voted against this amendment both in Committee, and again when it was re-tabled for the final plenary votes last week. All MEPs who voted against this amendment knew exactly what they were doing when they voted against it.

This report squandered a valuable opportunity to remove the most significant cause of injustice against women in the world today — their basic right to life — and instead insisted on perpetuating, through championing the so-called ‘rights’(ie abortion) of sexual and reproductive health, the very cause of this injustice.

MEPs disgusted at the practice of gender-selected abortions, and the EU’s funding of them, were urged to vote with the Conservatives on this report. Amazingly, as a bloc, Europe’s leftwing groups, consisting of the finest delegations of professional feminists in the world, voted against this amendment.

Yet again, it can be clearly seen that an authentic understanding of feminism is not in safe hands when it is considered the preserve of those who spend the most time talking about it. Those MEPs, who in US terms would be labelled “conservatives” of some stripe, had the courage and the conviction to seek the removal of this form of discrimination against women, while the political left was too wedded to abortion on demand; and these 60 million women terminated because of their gender merely collateral damage in the pursuit of this greater cause.

Shame on them.

The fact that socialist, liberal, communist and Green MEPs voted against an amendment that would have informed the Parliament (and therefore them themselves) of the precise influence of gender in abortions that the EU itself is funding, is of fundamental importance to the future direction of this debate.

Why would they not only not want to know — but to prevent anyone else from knowing? The answer is because the radical-militant left knows interference to prevent gender-selected abortions is a de facto undermining of a woman’s right to choose. These personalities also know that that there are many who voted with them out of a belief that the left represents feminism; whereas the right represents reaction. But this dynamic will now change with the terrible consequences of ‘pro-choice’ lies being exposed.

One could sense in the European Chamber that when Deputies concentrated their speeches on the 60 million women killed because of their gender, many feminists were visibly and deeply disturbed. If we remain united in our principles and loyal to our convictions, then as Frank Pavone of Priests for Life asserts, the day is far closer at hand than many believe when this evil will be opposed by a majority on both sides of the political spectrum. The consequences are simply too visible and too unpalatable to ignore.

We are now putting together a campaign in the European Parliament for the EU to monitor the extent to which it is funding gender-selected abortions in the developing world. After this is in place, we will move on to the UN. We are expecting ferocious opposition.

The Bill will decriminalise and regulate brothels and aims to provide sex workers with basic industrial rights such as workers compensation and superannuation.

Some minor amendments recommended by the Upper House are likely to be passed by the Legislative Assembly today.

The Opposition’s police and justice spokesman, Rob Johnson, says the laws will lead to large numbers of sex workers operating in suburban areas.

“What you will see now is a massive escalation of what I would call “mini brothels” operating in residential streets,” he said.

“You could see one opening up next door to you in a very short space of time.”

Perth madam Beverley Clarke agrees the laws may lead to a proliferation of sex workers operating from suburban houses.

She says she is also struggling to find an insurance company to cover workers compensation claims.

“When I sat in Parliament watching them debate this legislation a couple of weeks ago, they didn’t seem to think that would be a problem,” she said.

“If it becomes an issue it’s up to them to solve it.”

(See Prostitution in Australia according to wikipedia

Domestic violence reports climbed by 30% last year, but police say that does not mean family violence is rising.

Instead it shows publicity campaigns are prompting more people to come forward.

“Over the last 10, 20 years I think there’s been a searchlight put on family violence as opposed to a torchlight, the doors of the home have been opened and family violence is being exposed,” says Grant Nicholls, the Assistant Police Commissioner.

Women’s Refuge though worries there is still not enough resources to help.

“It’s certainly major under funding and it’s one of the things we’ve been quite outspoken about,” says Heather Henare from Women’s Refuge.

King says she is encouraged that women are now reporting incidents of domestic violence in greater numbers.

“It is becoming clearer that women now have sufficient confidence in the police to report incidents of domestic violence.”

The increased number of violent offences is almost entirely driven by recorded family violence with 5,810 out of 6,252 extra offences being family-related, King says.

Extract from a longer article at

The high STI rates among incarcerated people illustrate how social justice movements overlap. Now it’s time for activists to talk to each other.

In the last few weeks, two studies came out: The first about the rate of incarceration in the United States and the second about the rate of STD cases in teenage girls. Activists and organizers recognize the complexities of the issues and campaigns we work on. In order to build stronger movements we have to talk between sectors and build alliances that further push our theories of change and our collective agenda.

Sounds like idealistic talk for those that are not part of the movement for social change, but as someone who spends day in and day out working with people on these issues, I see how talking each other about our differences is sometimes the only way to make connections between our issues. Specifically, the feminist movement and the anti-incarceration movement need to be talking to each other. Thanks to a reader, who saw my article on STDs and on prisons, I was sent a study that came out years ago on the connections between rate of STD cases and the rate of incarceration. The conclusion? Women in communities with higher rates of incarceration are more susceptible to high rates of STD exposure, even when they are engaging in low risk behavior.

An op-ed in the Washington Post titled, “An Epidemic No One wants to Talk About,” elaborates,

A decade ago, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine published a landmark report, “The Hidden Epidemic,” examining sexually transmitted diseases in the United States. In 1995, the report noted, STDs accounted for 87 percent of cases of the 10 most frequently reported diseases in the nation. Despite the huge costs that such infections imposed on our health-care system, awareness of their importance was all but absent from the public consciousness. We fear that this latest study will have its 15 minutes in the spotlight and also fade from view.

Sadly, our national silence may be related to our difficulty in discussing the roles that race and poverty play in these trends. In 2005, for example, the rate of gonorrhea (a curable STD) among African Americans was 18 times greater than the rate among whites. The contrast in rates for HIV-AIDS, syphilis and chlamydial infection among blacks and whites is only slightly less dramatic. These diseases cost tens of billions of dollars each year, but with the exception of HIV infection, STDs remain the elephant in the room when it comes to the national conversation about health and health care.

One obvious reason is that conversations about sexual behavior, race and sexually transmitted infections remain taboo. Another is that the incidence of many STDs, particularly HIV, is concentrated in poor, segregated neighborhoods that are characterized by high rates of incarceration. Inner-city populations of African Americans and Latinos account for almost two-thirds of the 2.2 million Americans in prison nationwide, and two disturbing trends are increasingly present in these communities.

To take this even further, STDs are also spread in prisons where rape is prevalent and health needs are neglected, well beyond the usual problems of distribution of condoms. The shame functions on two levels, the first is homophobia leading high risk behaviors underground and the shame of being sexually assaulted and the questions that brings up around masculinity, again creating a wall of silence as to the actual conditions for incarcerated populations and rape. Finally, the op-ed concludes that concurrent sexual partnerships are one of the main factors fueling the spread of STDs.

One is the shift in the patterns of marriage and courtship that result when so many men are removed from a community. The other is an increase in the number of “multiple concurrent sexual partnerships,” in which individuals are engaged in sexual relationships with more than one person at a time. In many communities, when one sexual partner is imprisoned, the person left behind chooses another partner. When widespread, this behavior creates an efficient, effective pattern for introducing and maintaining an STD through a network of sexual relationships.

Concurrent sexual partnerships, our research indicates, are a more effective engine for transmitting STDs than sequential partnerships. In the latter case, an infected individual is more likely to be diagnosed before a new partner is infected. In the former, an individual infected by one partner can immediately pass the infection on to another, potentially spreading it quickly through the network. As people move in and out of relationships and in and out of communities, such infections become almost impossible to treat efficiently. Movement in and out of prison aggravates these trends.

While this is true, given that the rate of incarceration for men is much higher, this finding potentially blames this high-risk behavior on women that are being left behind by their male partners who are being incarcerated. Obviously, the op-ed doesn’t say that, but I will say that it is a variety of factors that lead to the spreading of STDs and men are more often carriers than women.

High rates of incarceration has such deleterious side effects that we have only begun to understand. Beyond dismantling and shaming entire communities, the onslaught of emasculating practices via police has created greater threats to masculinity, which backfire in the form of unsafe sexual practices, multiple partners and in its extreme form, rape.

Rate of incarceration and the prison industrial complex is a feminist issue whether it appears to be on the surface or not. Prisons serve to denigrate men of color through violence and rape, along with breaking the family, hurting mental and physical health, destroying livelihoods and creating loss of hope. Furthermore, the rate of incarceration for women is increasing at a staggering rate which is having the same consequences, only sometimes worse, as women prisoners are given even less attention. The police state and prison system function to render communities powerless in the face of the legal system.

In order to effectively address this situation, we have to not only break the silence, but realize that this issue is not just for certain activists and lawyers. The prison industrial complex is part of a larger culture of violence, misogyny and militarization that is funded by tax dollars and as a result effects every single one of us.

Samhita is a 29 year old writer and activist based in San Francisco. She is the Training and Technology Coordinator at Youth Media Council. She has a Bachelors degree in Sociology and Women’s Studies from SUNY Albany and a Masters in Women’s Studies from San Francisco State. She is on the advisory board at Wiretap Magazine. She has worked as a blog consultant for New American Media, Wiretap and Colorlines. She also currently blogs at Colorlines’ blog, Racewire.

Women’s Rights are human rights – The right to adequate health care

Many women and girls in Jamaica who are infected with HIV face discrimination. Some children living with HIV/AIDS report that they cannot trust caregivers for fear that their personal information will be revealed to others.
Some 20,000 children in Jamaica are affected by HIV/AIDS and young women in the Caribbean between 15 and 24 are up to six times more likely to be infected with HIV than men.

CEDAW recommends that the Jamaican Government target adolescents to combat HIV/AIDS, adopt measures or get rid of discrimination against women and girls infected with HIV, and raise awareness of issues related to women’s health, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The August 2006 report on Jamaica of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women noted that while the Government of Jamaica was to be commended on its work on HIV and AIDS prevention and improvement of women’s sexual health and reproductive rights, the Committee noted, with concern, the increasingly high rates of HIV/AIDS infection in adolescent girls.

The committee called on the Jamaican Government to monitor, systematically, women’s access to health care, including primary and secondary health-care services, and to desegregate such data by urban and rural areas, and by age, and use such data as a basis for planning health-care delivery.

Noting that abortion is one of the five leading causes of maternal mortality, and noting the existence of the 1975 Ministry of Health policy on abortion, the committee expressed concern that the policy is not widely known or implemented, and services for the provision of safe abortions may not be available.

The committee also requested that the state adopt measures to eliminate discrimination against women and girls infected with HIV/AIDS.

Excerpted from ‘CEDAW for Jamaicans’, produced by the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre, Kingston, and the August 2006 report on Jamaica of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women 36th session.


The Bangladesh government is pushing ahead with a new National Women’s Development Policy (NWDP), despite criticism from a section of Muslim clerics and some Islamic political parties.

The latter groups say equal rights for women in terms of earned property would violate Sharia law on inheritance, which stipulates that a woman should inherit only half of what her brother would get.

However, Rasheda Choudhury, an adviser to the country’s Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, said such criticism was misplaced: The new policy ensured equal rights of women only with regard to property they had earned themselves, not with regard to what they inherited.

Legal experts had to consider not only Muslim women but also those of other religions, Choudhury said.

“The policy has been designed to ensure equal rights for women in all spheres of national life and also to ensure safety and security for women in the national, social and family environment,” the country’s chief adviser (with the status of a prime minister) Fakhruddin Ahmed, said at the launch of the NWDP on International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Key features of the policy include reserving one-third of parliamentary seats for women and their direct election, as well as new laws to ensure equal opportunity of women in terms of control of their earned property.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2007 [], women make up only 15 percent of parliament and have 8 percent of ministerial positions.

The NWPD envisages the empowerment of women in all political, social, administrative and economic spheres.

In February, the Election Commission (EC) set 2020 as the deadline for all political parties to have women in at least one-third of all party committee posts. Most of Bangladesh’s political parties agreed to the proposal, but suggested gradual implementation, while Islamic political groups objected.

“The issues of disparity between men and women in society would be abolished by giving proper importance to socio-economic contributions of the women and giving equal opportunities to women and girl child,” the new policy stated.

The government would take measures to meet the needs of destitute women. It would also ensure the social security of widows, abandoned and unmarried women, and women having no children or no one to take care of them, the NWDP said.

“Special attention with budgetary allocations should be given for communication, sanitation, rest room, day-care centre and health care facilities at places where a large number of women and girls are engaged in work,” the policy document explained.

It also said the quota for women in entry level jobs in both government and private organisations would be increased.

“As laid out in the NWDP, the government will initiate a process to abolish all laws that discriminate against women,” Choudhury said.

Bangladesh’s estimated over 150 million inhabitants are 90 percent Muslim. The country has a secular legal system, though on issues of inheritance and marriage, Muslims follow Sharia law.

“To bring changes to the narrow political culture, 33 percent women’s representation must be ensured by any means,” said Ayesha Khanam, president of the National Women’s Association.

According to Sultana Kamal, a former adviser to the government and now head of the Centre for Law and Arbitration, a legal aid non-governmental organisation (NGO), the NWDP failed to mention anything about the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women [], the uniform family code, or the equal right of women to inherit property.

“Women in different religions get different shares of properties – equal in some religions and less in others. Our demand was to formulate a uniform family code giving women equal rights. The issue was not made clear in the policy,” Kamal said.

Farida Akhter, a leading women’s rights activist and head of Nari Grantho Probortona, a national NGO, however, cautiously welcomed the new policy saying: “We will wait to see how and when the government and the political parties implement the policy.”

“We will immediately initiate implementation of the short-term steps while the next government will have to take strong measures to implement the long-term policies,” said Choudhury.

The short-term programmes include raising maternity leave from four months to five months, ensuring the appointment of equally qualified women to public positions, taking steps to stop the suffering of women working abroad, as well as launching special programmes to help women in distress, like the disabled.

According to the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report for 2006, Bangladesh ranks 137 among 177 countries on its Gender Development Index; and 67 out of 75 countries on the Gender Empowerment Measure, a measure of gender inequality in economic and political terms. The Global Gender Gap Index 2007 [] ranks Bangladesh 100 out of 128 countries in terms of gender equality.

Bangladesh’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper [] says of all the inequalities in Bangladesh, discrimination against women is the most blatant form of injustice.

The Monam group of rape survivors in the northern town of Bossangoa in the Central African Republic (CAR) does what it can to keep going, but morale is low and money tight.

“We’ve been left to fend for ourselves. We get little help from outside. Many of our members have died,” the group’s chairwoman, Pelagie Ndokoyanga, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Monam, which means “common good” in the Sango language, was set up in 2006 to bring together female survivors of sexual violence committed in 2001 and 2002 amid the mayhem leading up to the most recent of CAR’s numerous coups d’etat that brought Francois Bozize to power in March 2003.

As well as providing a forum for solidarity, revenue-generation and wellbeing for women who have suffered gender-based violence (GBV), Monam also aims to combat such abuse, identify its perpetrators and fight against the stigmatisation of women in general and rape survivors in particular. According to Ndokoyanga, several members of the group were abandoned by their husbands after they were raped.

When an HIV testing and counselling centre was set up in Bossangoa in 2005, many of the first HIV-positive cases were the result of rape.

Among them is Nkokoyanga, who also works with the Bossangoa Association of People Living with HIV.

“It’s normal to tell relatives when one is infected, it’s not a sin,” she said when several dozen members of the association met IRIN/PlusNews. “But they are the first to spread the news.”

“Nobody has a job here. I have all my certificates but I never get a job because people know I am HIV-positive,” she added.

Both organisations would like to enhance their incoming-generating activities such as market trading, but lack of the necessary capital makes it hard to get such projects off the ground.

With UNAIDS estimating CAR’s HIV prevalence at 10 percent, with just three percent of HIV-positive adults on life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy, there is a clear and urgent need to scale up HIV education, testing and treatment, but continued armed conflict and insecurity have made this difficult in many areas of the country.

Many rapes, little data

Accurate, detailed statistics about the number of women who suffer GBV in CAR are unavailable. This is partly because of the stigma attached to such attacks, but also because the government barely functions outside the capital and international humanitarian actors have only recently begun working in the country in significant numbers.

In late February 2007, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that “sexual and gender-based violence strikes well over 15 percent of women and girls” in northern CAR.

Such attacks increased during the pre-coup unrest and during rebel clashes in early 2006 and early 2007.

One of the main areas of investigation opened in May 2007 by the International Criminal Court (ICC), following a request by the CAR government, is the “many allegations of rape and other aspects of sexual violence perpetrated against hundreds of reported victims…during a peak of violence in 2002/03”, according to an ICC statement.

The court’s prosecutor is also closely monitoring reported incidences of GBV committed after 2005, when two rebellions emerged in the north.

“[Following a failed coup attempt in late 2002] there emerged a pattern of massive rapes and sexual violence perpetrated by armed individuals. Sexual violence appears to have been a central feature of the conflict,” the ICC statement said, adding that at least 600 victims of GBV had been identified over the course of just five months.

Those targeted included elderly women, young girls and men, the ICC said.

“There were often aggravating aspects of cruelty such as rapes committed by multiple perpetrators, in front of third persons, sometimes with relatives forced to participate,” the statement added, noting that the social impact of such crimes “appears devastating”.

Programmes slowly getting off the ground

For now, there is little outside help for those directly affected by GBV. Clients of the Organisation pour la compassion et le développement des familles en détresse (OCODEFAD), a domestic NGO, have given testimony about sexual attacks against them to the Bangui office of the ICC prosecutor.

OCODEFAD was founded by Bernadette Sayo, a secondary school teacher whose husband was killed in front of her in 2002 by DRC rebels allied to CAR’s then president Ange-Félix Patassé amid a coup attempt. The gunmen subsequently raped her.

OCODEFAD registered hundreds of women and dozens of men, as well as young children and elderly people, sexually abused during this period of unrest. It was largely thanks to pressure from this organisation and international rights groups that the government in Bangui called on the ICC to open its investigation.

In terms of foreign assistance, one NGO, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), set up a GBV programme in the northern town of Kaga-Bandoro in May 2007, providing free medical care and psycho-social counselling for its clients, raising awareness about GBV in nearby communities and holding discussions with various military groups.

Language, as well as stigma, was an obstacle in the beginning. “It took us a month to get a definition of rape. There’s no word for it in Sango,” Catherine Poulton, IRC GBV coordinator in CAR, told IRIN/PlusNews.

Since it began, the IRC’s programme – which covers households along a 50km stretch of road – has handled 1,040 cases of GBV, dealing with associated problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, trauma and rejection by families.

Another seven GBV programmes are in the pipeline for 2008, involving agencies such as the UN World Health Organization, UNICEF, the UN Population Fund and Comité d’Aide Medicale.

In the case of CAR, where the data is so limited, donors may need to break with the tradition of seeking detailed assessments of a problem before signing their cheques. According to some analysts, one has to assume widespread prevalence; in IRC’s experience the data emerged from the programme, rather than vice versa.

Marie Moudjougoto, a community activist who has helped organise hundreds of women into associations based on their home villages, professions or religious faith, used the occasion of a huge International Women’s Day [8 March] parade in the northern town of Paoua to highlight how women have borne the brunt of violence in CAR and to promote the role women ought to play as the country begins to rebuild itself.

“What we want is security…let our cursed sisters who were raped, brutalised, traumatised and bereaved have peace of mind and the hope of being women, mothers, and grandmothers,” said Moujougoto after some 1,500 women, grouped into their various associations, had paraded down the main street of Paoua.

Some carried printed placards or flags identifying their association, others simple blackboards with chalked inscriptions such as ‘Karé Simbal Associaton for the Fight Against Poverty’.

Many of the women carried the fruits of their business – ground cereals, vegetables, even bricks – on their heads as they marched to the beat of three drummers.

“We want women with a capital ‘W’ to be heard, in the home, in the market place, in the office, even in the field in the churches and mosques…we want to live in peace with the hope of having brought, through this day, in the name of women, a hope for life, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Moudjougoto added.

Many of those who took part, such as Bertille, a teacher, had walked for a whole day from their villages to attend the ceremony. “We came to show people we are suffering,” she told IRIN/PlusNews.

Bertille recounted how one Sunday in January 2007, gunfire broke out in her village, located in rebel-controlled territory.

“The army arrived and set fire to 80 houses and burnt our groundnut fields as well as our seed stocks. They said we supported the rebels,” she said.

“After that we stayed in the bush without shelter for three months. We survived on wild manioc. Even now it’s not easy to find food,” she added, explaining that insecurity and fear still prevents many women from going to their fields for fear of attack by bandits.

Mauritania is often held up as a beacon when it comes to the proportion of women elected to political office – a 20 percent minimum quota was instituted in 2006 – but experts told IRIN once in power many women are still sidelined from taking important political decisions.

“While the quota is a major step forward, changing the situation of Mauritanian women is still a slow process because their colleagues discourage them from leading on issues,” Aminettou Mint Ely, head of the local non-governmental organisation (NGO) Association of Women (AFCF), told IRIN.

“As a result, many of these women cannot fight to overturn discriminatory laws in the country… such as those barring working women from claiming a pension, or paying elected women less than men for the same posts,” she said.

In the 2007 municipal council elections, women were voted into 37 percent of seats – or 1,120 out of 3,688 – and 18 percent of parliamentarians are women, but women make up just out of 27 ministers. Even this marks progress – while Mauritania ranks 111 out of 128 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2007 global gender gap index, when it comes to political empowerment its ranking rises to 74 partly because of its efforts to boost women’s presence in government.

Mahnaz Afkhami, president of the Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP), thinks quotas are a good starting point. “Of the 13 countries globally with the highest proportion of women in government, all have implemented quotas,” she told IRIN.

“But they are not the end-goal… Alongside them, we also need to break down cultural stigmas and train these women to become good leaders.”

Kadiata Malick Diallo, deputy in the National Assembly who has been involved in Mauritanian political life for 30 years, said that while the president may endorse the quota, not all male members of parliament are on board.

By way of example, she told IRIN: “People often overlook women when they choose members to form permanent standing committees.”

She continued: “Some [men still] think the quota is anti-democratic and promotes mediocrity. But mediocrity is not the exclusive preserve of women.”

But for Hildegard Schoerry, good governance adviser with German development agency GTZ, the problem also comes down to a skills shortage. “In 2007 most elected women in municipal councils were illiterate… as were many of the men.”

These women were not used to speaking out or making decisions publicly.

To address this, GTZ worked with the Secretariat of State for Women’s Affairs (SECF), the WLP and local NGOs AFCF and FONADH [EXPANSION?] in the southern regions of Hodh el Gharbi and Guidimakha to build up women councillors’ leadership skills.

They trained councillors in how to lobby for change, how to lead a political decision-making process, how government works, and the basic national and international laws concerning women.

As a result, “councillors’ behaviour is starting to shift and they are starting to show determination in fighting for their cause,” said Schoerry.

In both districts where the training has taken place, the 20 percent quota has been surpassed.

The next goal, for Diallo, is to see the quota extended beyond elected office to other influential arenas such as the civil service and the judiciary.

And when these quotas are reached, she hopes the goalposts will shift again. “The 20 percent quota is a milestone, but our ultimate goal is equality,” she told IRIN.

To change things on this scale they will need the endorsement of powerful men across the political and religious spectrum, said Schoerry. They have made some headway on that front – Muslim leaders have already officially endorsed the quota by declaring the Koran does not forbid women from taking political office.

But for WLP’s Afkhami, before they focus on expanding the numbers, they need to make sure the leaders that are in place are up to the job. The next step is to look beyond the numbers, to address the quality of leadership these women adopt.

“We need to train these women to be democratic, principle-based communicative leaders,” she told IRIN, “in order to build what we want – an inclusive democratic process in Mauritania.”

Reports suggest that women’s rights groups and organisations are facing challenges in finding resources for their work, which is central to development.

Traditional sources of funding for this aspect of development is said to be decreasing over the years.

A multi-year action-research initiative in 2005 by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) dubbed, “Where is the Money for Women’s Rights?”, to gain a better understanding of funding trends for women’s rights work and how best to expand the resource base, shows that the challenges of the current funding landscape are many. This includes the support for women’s rights organizations.

AWID emphasizes that without strong, vital and effective women’s organizations and networks all over the world, existing women’s rights achievements could be lost.

AWID is an international membership organization connecting, informing and mobilizing people and organizations committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights.

Its goal is to cause policy, institutional and individual change that will improve the lives of women and girls everywhere.

It has called for an urgent need to increase the amount, quality and access of resources for women’s organizations worldwide, and to transform the way in which women’s organizations and movements relate with the issue of resources, from a logic of scarcity, to see funding and resource mobilization as a critical aspect of their political agendas and key for building strong feminist movements.

The research confirms the general feeling of women’s rights groups and organisations on the field in Ghana. They keep asking about how and where to raise funds.

There seem to be few interested funders, with too little money to support existing women’s rights organizations and initiatives, or is it that donors simply don’t understand the urgency and importance of their work?

As a first step to revive financing trends by bilateral donors and development partners, the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), a grant making organisation set up to provide grants to women’s organisations across the continent, with its regional secretariat in Accra, held a days forum to engage the partners at the national level to find ways to address the issue.

Speaking at the forum, the Executive Director of AWDF, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi said it was necessary to engage their partners to remind them of her organization’s collaboration with women’s groups in Ghana, since it spends a lot of time mobilizing resources at the international level.

According to her, AWDF has since 2001 when it began operations done a lot to support African women structured along three areas.

“These include specific thematic areas, capacity building of the organisations that we support and movement building at national and regional level,” she stated.

She disclosed that the AWDF has through grants of $7.8 million supported 575 women organisations in forty African countries. “Through AWDF’s support African women in various countries including Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, have been able to set up support centres for survivors of gender-based violence, a vocational training centre or ex-Trokosis in Ghana, support for groups of women living with HIV/AIDs and advocacy for disabled women’s rights.”

She added that the success of AWDF is equally the success of the work of its partners in helping poor marginalized women.

Some grantees attributed their successes to the support by AWDF. Dr. Rose Mensah Kutin, of NETRIGHT and Abantu for Development noted that there was a gap in resources to promote the work of gender equality on the development agenda.

She said women’s rights advocates have often turned to other partners for funds since the national budget itself does not make allocation for issues on women’s rights and even when it does through the women ministry it is minimal.

As a result, she said efforts towards mainstream gender considerations has resulted in out stream except the social service sectors which are least funded by development partners.

Ms Joana Foster founder of AWDF appealed to the development partners to look at the long term achievements of women’s rights programmes and not in the short term, since socialization which is an underlying factor to women’s rights especially in Africa, changes gradually.

This is the message the Caraganons want to convey as the Caraga Regional Inter-Agency Committee against Trafficking in Persons – Violence against Women and Children (IACAT-VAWC) implements the roadshow campaign against human trafficking on April 1, 2008 in Butuan City.

Dubbed as the Filipino Initiative against Trafficking in Persons (FIAT), the roadshow campaign will be participated by at least 1,500 government and non-government organizations, local government officials and employees, barangay officials, people’s organizations, church and women’s groups, students and the media from Butuan City and the five provinces of Caraga Region. The participants will march from Rizal Park to Urios Gym to show their support to the national campaign against human trafficking.

The cities of Butuan, Bislig and Cabadbaran and the provinces of of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur and Dinagat Islands have earlier demonstrated their commitment to organize the local inter-agency committee against trafficking in persons (IACATs) in their respective localities. The local IACATs are tasked to coordinate and monitor the implementation of anti-trafficking programs and activities to prevent human trafficking, protect victims and convict human traffickers in their respective areas.

Caraga is a possible source of victims and a strategic transit area considering the airports, seaports and number of bus terminals in the region. Although the exact number of victims is yet unknown, human rights monitor estimate that several thousands of men, women and children are trafficked in the country each year. They are lured by promises of good jobs or marriage, and some are forced into involuntary servitude. There are also parents who see no alternative for breaking the cycle of poverty and often willingly send their children away.

The passage of the Republic Act 9208 known as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 laid the ground for a stringent response of stakeholders against trafficking. The law stipulates provisions of aid to victims of trafficking and the organization of Inter-Agency Councils against Trafficking (IACAT) tasked to monitor the implementation of the law. Since the passage of the law, the country has made modest but significant progress in the fight against trafficking. As a result, the US State Department in 2006 Trafficking in Persons report removed the Philippines from the watch list.

While considerable efforts were made in the area of prevention and protection, frontline agencies and anti-trafficking advocates acknowledge that much work has to be done. The need to focus national and local attention and resources to the problem and develop a more integrated, holistic and rights-based response particularly to trafficking hotspots has to be sustained.

The FIAT national steering committee is composed of the National IACAT, Multi-Sectoral Network Against Trafficking (MSNAT), Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT) and the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP). The IACAT is a government-led, multi-agency body with civil society representatives, while MSNAT, PACT and CATW-AP are groups of non-government organizations, the academe, workers groups and government agencies. The roadshow campaign is supported by the Rule of Law Effectiveness (ROLE) Project of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and The Asia Foundation (TAF). (DSWD-13/PIA-13)

Human rights organisations stress police need to understand law to implement it

Human rights watchdog organisations have said that rape victims are still facing difficulties in registering their cases at police stations and courts despite the implementation of the Women’s Protection Act (WPA) in January 2007.

A provision in the Act calls for a session judge to hear all complaints related to rape. But the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in its recent report, stated that the Act introduced barriers for rape victims who had neither the financial means to pursue their cases nor access to the courts. The commission reported that some police stations would no longer register rape complaints.

NWFP Aurat Foundation Resident Director Rakhshanda Naz told Daily Times that in the NWFP, rape victims, as well as women involved in other cases, were facing great difficulties in registering their cases at police stations.

Need to understand the WPA: According to a recent Aurat Foundation survey, she said that there was no copy of the new law in the provincial police stations. “Even if the police have a copy of the law in police stations but do not understand it, then how can they lodge the first information report of rape victims under the Women’s Protection Act?”

She said that her NGO had started an awareness campaign for the police and had distributed Urdu copies at police stations in six districts. The campaign aims to familiarise the police with the relevant legal framework so that they can register women’s cases under the WPA.

Naz said that she had met NWFP IGP Malik Naveed. She said that with his co-operation, the NGO would impart basic training for the police to deal with the cases under the WPA.

Citing the cases of rape victims, the HRCP reported that on January 10, 2007, four men allegedly raped a 17-year-old girl in Shahdara Town in Lahore. After police reportedly refused to register the family’s complaint, local human rights organisations lodged a complaint with the office of the Punjab chief minister. The chief minister offered financial assistance to the family and ordered that the police station house officer be dismissed. But, by the end of the year, no arrests had been made.

On January 27, 2007, 11 men reportedly gang-raped 16-year-old Nasima Labano and forced her to walk around the village naked in Habib Labano, Sindh. The rape was tribal retribution: Nasima’s male cousin had been seen with a woman from the same tribe as the men who raped Nasima.

Police initially refused to register the case but did so after female legislators and the HRCP intervened. Nasima’s community rejected her after she became pregnant as a result of the gang rape. Police arrested six suspects in March and two others in July. By the end of 2007, the case was being heard before an anti-terrorism court in Hyderabad.

The report said that there were no developments in the 2005 rape case of Shazia Khalid at the Sui Gas field in Balochistan. Baloch nationalists claimed Frontier Corps personnel had raped her; the government claimed that DNA evidence indicated otherwise.