Archive for May 17th, 2008

30 Romanian youngsters dressed as brides marched in Bucharest on Thursday, from the Victoriei Plaza to the Unirii Plaza, in order to protest against domestic violence. In Romania, over 200 women died during the past four years, as a result of domestic abuse.

According to the organizers, the Sensiblu Foundation and the Marie-Claire magazine, “33,730 cases of domestic abuse were recorded during the past 4 years in Romania, while 224 women were beaten to death”. Only in Bucharest, 7,430 cases of domestic violence were recorded in 2007, out of which 50 women died.

Cyprus has seen a dramatic 5% increase in incidents of domestic violence and an increase of 25% in criminal cases concerning violence in the family.

The Committee for Equal Opportunities between Men and Women announced the upsurge in violence, recorded during 2007, as part of a campaign aimed to primarily raise awareness about the issue of violence in the family, but also to encourage victims to denounce the perpetrators who commit the crimes.

Chairman of the Committee, Dina Akkelidou said that domestic violence is a hidden form of brutality and can be very difficult to spot.

Emine Yaman lies in bed, her legs rigid, her feet prone to sores and swelling. Paralysed by a bullet her husband fired into her chest, she is the face of domestic violence in a country still struggling to discard long-held cultural practices that denigrate women.

She wears diapers and reaches for a knotted sheet hanging from an overhead bar to shift her upper body. The weak bones in her 40-year-old hips, knees and left arm have broken since the shooting in 1999. Infections induce fevers and she takes antibiotics. A municipal doctor sometimes visits her bare apartment beside a highway in Turkey’s biggest city.

Virtually abandoned by her family, she lives on the kindness of strangers.

Her husband, Ahmet, who did a short stint in jail for shooting her, has filed for divorce, saying she was aggressive. He lives with their teen-age son and daughter in his home province of Giresun on the Black Sea coast.

Emine rarely talks to her children, and gets some consolation from refusing to divorce.

“He left me like this,” she said. “Should I divorce him and make him feel comfortable

Turkish media and activists have cited Emine Yaman’s story as an extreme example of the consequences of domestic violence in the secular state of more than 70 million people, mostly Muslims. The recent murder of an Italian peace activist hitchhiking in a wedding gown renewed debate about the problem. A man was charged with the killing.

Turkey is still grappling with the issue of violence against women in a largely patriarchal society where the old expressions go: “A beating comes from paradise” and “Don’t keep her without a stick on her back and a baby in her belly.” So tolerable is abuse that in the 1990s, a TV comedy show featured a character who was constantly beaten up by her husband.

Last year, a Turkish survey of 1,800 married women found that one in three was a victim of domestic abuse. Some global estimates are similar.

Turkey has struggled to curb “honour killings,” murders of women deemed to have tarnished the reputation of their relatives, sometimes by having a premarital affair or a child out of wedlock.

Pressed by women’s groups and the European Union, which the country hopes to join, Turkey removed many discriminatory laws, made rape within marriage a crime and barred sexual harassment in the workplace in a 2005 penal code. Activists say enforcement is weak and police and judges need training.

Turkey is also educating thousands of police about domestic abuse with tutors and training videos, and backed an awareness campaign on television.

Some women’s activists support the Islamic-oriented government’s efforts to lift curbs on the wearing of Muslim head scarves, which would make it easier for pious women to get state jobs and education. But they say authorities should devote as much time to domestic violence.

Turkish law requires municipalities of more than 50,000 people to open shelters for women, but many cities don’t provide such help. Traditionally, authorities discourage breakups and urge couples to resolve differences, a path that can prolong the abuse.

In 1989, Emine and Ahmet eloped to escape her parents’ disapproval. A wedding photograph shows the couple seated in a municipal office: Ahmet, lean and dapper, signs a registry and Emine looks on, her head bowed slightly beneath her veil, her face pale with makeup.

They lived in Istanbul, where Ahmet was a food caterer.

“During our honeymoon, we saw everything through rose-colored glasses,” Emine said.

Soon, the abuse began. According to Emine, her husband called her a “whore,” slapped her, and once hunted her with a knife. He cheated on her a few times. Emine left him a few times. She always came back, usually after police or family members told them to make peace.

Years later, the family moved to Giresun. A divorce case was pending when Ahmet shot Emine one day in August 1999 after pulling up beside her in a car as she walked with her disabled daughter in her arms.

“He shot at me from inside the vehicle. The bullet passed in front of my face. Then he got out. He gripped me and forced me toward the car, pushing me against it. He placed the gun here and shot once,” said Emine, pointing at her chest. “I fell on the ground. He jumped in the car and went away. I was left in the middle of the street while cars were passing by. Then my son came running. At the time I was thinking: ‘Am I dead, my God?’ The kid was crying near me.

Emine was paralysed from the waist down. She said she told authorities that the shooting was an accident so her husband could leave prison and care for their three children, though her disabled daughter later died.

According to Amnesty International, Ahmet was in pretrial detention for a few months and convicted of negligence resulting in threat to life and the possession of an unlicensed pistol. His punishment was reduced to a US$1,200 (¤770) fine because of good behaviour during trial, the rights group said.

In a 2001 court letter, Ahmet requested a divorce because of what he described as Emine’s wild behaviour, but the case lapsed.

“The defendant locked her children at home and went to unknown places, and did not give the necessary attention to my client or her family, behaving disrespectfully,” reads the letter by Ahmet’s lawyer. “She insulted my client and she could not keep herself from fighting with her neighbours.

Attempts to interview Ahmet Yaman for this story were unsuccessful.

Telephone listings show nine people named Ahmet Yaman in Giresun: six said they had no connection with Emine Yaman, one said there was no one by that name living there, and two numbers rang unanswered. Emine Yaman said she did not know how to reach her husband, and would not release the cellular telephone number of her son, who lives with him.

She said her husband has not paid court-ordered compensation.

“My health problems are piling up,” she said through tears. “How can I forgive that man? Even my God would not forgive him, let alone me.

Emine has appeared on television programs about violence against women, though her son asked her to stop because it embarrasses him. She survives on donations, including alms at the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

One day recently, a neighbour back from a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca visited with a bag of Saudi dates.

A two-day conference on domestic violence ended with participants saying there is no justification in Islam for abuse of women and children. They also came up with a list of demands and recommendations to tackle the problem.

Experts from across the Kingdom participated in five sessions of discussions at the first National Experts Meeting to Fight Domestic Abuse Against Women and Children, with all participants agreeing that Islam does not condone abuse and that the problem should be brought to an end.

“Traditions that allow abuse should be brought to an end,” said Dr. Maha Al-Munief, executive director of the National Family Safety Program (NFSP), which organized the event. “We will start training courses for people who work with abuse victims… We need cooperation from all NGOs,” she said in a press conference held to announce the recommendations.

One of the forum participants, who asked her name not be published, said, “Why do we have to wait until a crime happens and someone dies? Why can’t we interfere early. Privacy is not an excuse for our silence.”

Dr. Hissa Al-Alsheikha, a board member of the NFSP, said there are no proper statistics about the problem and all available figures are inaccurate.

“Although nothing is 100 percent true, one thing is very clear: Abuse has become a phenomenon… if one has an inclination to it, he will find an excuse to abuse someone,” she said.

The recommendations, which comprise 21 articles, included a suggestion for the need to have a clear fatwa about the topic that would serve as a legal basis to approach a court. The fatwa would also serve to disprove misconceptions that Islam sanctions abuse of one’s family members.

“We aim to set up a national strategy to minimize the effects of domestic abuse,” said Al-Munief. “We want NGOs to come forward in support of the program… We want women and children to know their rights and ask for them.”

Dr. Majid Al-Essa, head of the Medical Section at NFSP, said that it is the foremost responsibility of every individual to help change the mindset accepts abuse. “People must realize that they need to change,” she said.

“The language of violence that was claimed to be religion should be corrected,” she said. “We need to criminalize violence and all kinds of abuse… There is nothing on earth that justifies abuse.”

The forum was inaugurated by Princess Adela bint Abdullah on Tuesday. “Abuse of women and children is a real threat to the stability of our society. It is a worrying universal phenomenon, not just a local one,” she said in her opening speech.

Speakers in Tuesday’s session included Sheikh Salman Al-Odah, supervisor of the Islam Today website, and Dr. Suhail Zain Al-Abideen, head of the Women’s Section at the National Society for Human Rights.

The participants stressed the need for enacting clear rules against domestic violence and discussed such varied issues as punishments for perpetrators and agencies responsible for handling complaints.

Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) came under fire when HIV/AIDS activists accused them of squandering money from donors meant for the fight against the disease on non-core areas that do not directly benefit sufferers.

A conference on Namibian Women Leaders on HIV/AIDS heard that many organisations purporting to represent sufferers have mushroomed all over the country, but their key mandate seems to be to cash in on generous funding from foreign donors.

Melao Phillipus and Nelao Martin both HIV/AIDS activists yesterday told participants of the first-ever national female leaders’ conference that few organisations have stuck to their operational mandate of fighting HIV/AIDS.

“We have many NGOs who claim they are doing HIV activities and helping support HIV-positive people but the truth is a lot of HIV-positive people are not benefiting from their (NGOs) services. We only benefit from some and that is maybe only 10 percent,” said Phillipus, who has been living with HIV for the past 11 years.

According to Namibia Network of Aids Service Organisations (NANASO), at present there are 336 organisations active in the area of HIV/AIDS. Of these, 167 are NGOs, 143 being community-based organisations (CBOs) and 44 faith-based organisations (FBOs). Out of the 167 NGOs, 81 work in rural communities of the country.

Activists further alleged that there is a mushrooming of NGOs purporting to have the interests of HIV sufferers at heart but who seem more interested in money making.

“There are so many HIV organisations which are even more than the number of people who are infected. A lot of programmes, thousands of pamphlets and T-shirts printed, and the question remains, are all these effective?” said Martin.

Commenting on the scathing attack on NGOs, the Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, said if there are such organisations in Namibia, activists should report to the ministry in order for the Government to take appropriate action.

At the same event another HIV activist of 22 years from Uganda Noerine Kaleeba urged stakeholders in the HIV/AIDS fight to work towards breaking the wall of silence and stigma. Kaleeba said the two are a cocktail that has for years hindered progress in stopping the spread of the disease.

“Silence at family, community and national levels on the pandemic is one of the bottlenecks in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It needs to be broken,” she emphasised.

Stigmatisation today is not only directed at those infected with the virus but also those fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS.

She added that there is a tendency to demoralise activism, something that Namibia should similarly address.

HIV/AIDS in Namibia, like in many other countries, carries a woman’s face and that has contributed to stigma and discrimination, said Martin.

She associated the stigma to a lack of continuous educational programmes.

Kaleeba said, “Namibia has the key to breaking the silence but that key needs to be supported.”

She urged conference attendants to come up with doable actions, adding that there are too many declarations signed on the continent with little implementation taking place.

HIV/AIDS remains alarming in Namibia, with 19.9 percent standing as the prevalence rate in 2006.

This submission summarizes Human Rights Watch’s key concerns with Zambia’s fulfilment of its human rights obligations and commitments in the context of women’s human rights and HIV/AIDS, and outlines recommendations to Zambia.

For an elaborate analysis, outlining our concerns in detail, please see the Human Rights Watch report Hidden in the Mealie Meal: Gender-based Abuses and Women’s HIV Treatment in Zambia.

Gender-Based Abuses in the Context of HIV

In Zambia, where 17 percent of the adult population is living with HIV/AIDS, women face grave gender-based abuses, in particular domestic violence, which hinder their ability to access or continue using life-saving HIV treatment.

Despite Zambia’s impressive roll-out of HIV treatment, the country’s health system and legal framework fail to address these barriers to women’s HIV treatment and as a result, some women living with HIV miss out on life-saving HIV treatment.

Gender-Based Violence

In Zambia, gender-based violence, and in particular domestic violence at the hands of husbands and intimate partners, and the fear of such violence, has a direct impact on women’s ability to start and continue using HIV treatment. Human Rights Watch’s investigation revealed that women are often beaten, slapped, shouted at, verbally abused, and raped upon discussing HIV testing and treatment, after disclosing their HIV status to their husbands, and as a result of visiting health facilities to collect antiretroviral medicine. Some women feel compelled to hide their HIV treatment, and to make up excuses even for experiencing side effects upon commencing HIV treatment. This obstructs women’s ability to access HIV testing, causes them to miss doses of HIV treatment or to miss clinic appointments to collect their medicine.

Despite high levels of sexual and gender-based violence (hereafter SGBV) in Zambia the country has no specific legislation criminalizing SGBV, and women must rely on the general Penal Code provisions on assault occasioning bodily harm. Zambia’s Penal Code has no provision for marital rape or psychological abuse.

Similarly, Zambia’s healthcare system is ill-equipped to address gender-based violence among women living with HIV/AIDS. Healthcare facilities in Zambia have no systems to detect or address SGBV, and there are no government protocols or training programs on how to address gender-based abuses in HIV treatment programs. The only two shelters in the country are run by a non-governmental organization with little funding from the government.

Although the Zambian government has established the Victim Support Unit (hereafter VSU), a special unit of the police charged with addressing a variety of abuses, including domestic violence and property grabbing (see below), lack of human and other resources undermines this unit’s ability to address gender-based abuses.

Violence against women, including domestic violence, raises a range of human rights abuses that governments have a direct responsibility to address, even where a perpetrator is not a state actor. These abuses include a woman’s rights to dignity, personal freedom, and physical integrity, as well as their right to freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment.

Violation of Women’s Property Rights

Zambian women do not enjoy effective legal protection of their property rights and as a result practices like property grabbing (the unlawful appropriation of marital property upon the death of a spouse by in-laws) and the unequal distribution of marital property according to customary law for women who divorce are widespread. Women who are subjected to these practices often suffer abject poverty and are unable to afford transportation to clinics or even afford food to take along with HIV treatment. They therefore experience increased vulnerability to HIV and a reduction of their capacity to respond to the pandemic. Fear of divorce in a context of discriminatory customary laws and where women are economically dependent on men leads some women to remain in abusive marriages, which in turn can impede treatment. This discrimination is sanctioned by Article 23 of Zambia’s current constitution-currently undergoing review-which gives primacy to customary law in marriage-related matters.

Although Zambia has a law that regulates distribution of inheritance where the deceased did not leave a will (the Intestate Succession Act of 1989, amended 1996), which should help counter property grabbing, this law is ill-enforced.

Zambia’s Obligations under International Human Rights Law

Zambia has ratified many of the international human rights conventions including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Under these treaties and others Zambia has an obligation to ensure women do not experience discrimination in relation to their rights including bodily integrity, health, marriage and equality before the law.

Under the ICESCR Zambia has obligations to take steps to progressively realize the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including the removal of barriers interfering with women’s access to healthcare services, and the protection of women against violence.

CEDAW requires Zambia to accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men, and to take appropriate measures to ensure equal rights and responsibilities in marriage and divorce. It accords the same rights to both spouses in respect of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property. To respect its obligations under CEDAW, Zambia should ensure that no law or custom may grant men a right to a greater share of property at the end of a marriage or de facto relationship, or on the death of a relative. Such a law would be discriminatory and affects a woman’s practical ability to divorce her husband, to support herself or her family and to live in dignity as an independent person.


We hope that the Universal Periodic Review of Zambia will reflect the concerns outlined in our submission, and include the following recommendations in its outcome document:

Urge the Zambian government to facilitate the establishment and implementation of programs in the healthcare system to address gender-based abuses.

Urge Zambia to enact a specific law that criminalizes and remedies sexual and gender-based violence.

Urge the Zambian government to lead a campaign that emphasizes women’s right to decide when, where, and how to seek health services, including access to HIV testing and treatment programs.

Urge Zambia to ensure that provisions on equality before the law regardless of sex, and provisions prohibiting any law, culture, custom, or tradition that undermine the dignity, welfare, interests, or status of women or men (articles 38-40), are retained in the draft constitution, under discussion.

Urge Zambia to ensure the provision of adequate training and resources for the Victim Support Unit, including vehicles, sexual crime kits and stationery.

Urge the Zambian government to ensure better enforcement of the Intestate Succession Act.

“Corrective Rape” at schools in the Western Cape is a growing concern, say non-governmental organisations, some of who have noted an “alarming” level of cases.

Earlier this year, the report by the Human Rights Commission on school violence mentioned the growing crime, where heterosexual male pupils rape lesbian pupils, believing that this will make them heterosexual.

A recent study by the Triangle Project and the University of SA found that schools were still “unsafe places for many lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) learners”.

Marlow Valentine, community engagement and empowerment programme manager at the Triangle Project, said:

“The biggest problem is the silence. We have had a few community speak-outs where we invite LGBT people to attend and some of the stories have been horrific, particularly in the black and rural areas

“The level of cases coming to the fore is alarming … It’s like (heterosexual boys think) if you want to be lesbian, this is your punishment.”

He said in some communities, boys thought if girls ignored their come-ons, they could force themselves on them.

“Heterosexual boys also perceive lesbian women as being competition, so they think: ‘I need to change you’,” he said.

Valentine said there was a lack of support from parents and teachers.

“The Western Cape Education Department does sensitivity training with teachers, but in reality, (teachers) still have to deal with their own prejudices.”

Kholeka Booi, the training and public co-ordinator at the Rape Crisis office in Khayelitsha, confirmed the problem. “If a girl discloses she is lesbian, boys assume (the reason is) the girl does not know anything about boys. There is a lot of peer pressure among boys and kids are afraid to report it (rapes).”

She said they had awareness programmes which were run at schools, but the issue was also linked to a “cultural problem”.

Booi said she could tell that when some girls “generalised” about a rape, they were in fact talking about themselves.

Evelynne Moses, locum co-ordinator for training and public awareness at Rape Crisis in Athlone, said the term “corrective rape” tended to “reinforce the myth that something can be corrected and that lesbianism is a choice”.

“Having sex with a male will not make someone heterosexual,” she said.

Gert Witbooi, spokesperson for Education MEC Cameron Dugmore, said in terms of the learning area in Life Orientation, constitutional values were explored and sexuality was discussed in that context.

“Life Orientation teachers are trained in how to facilitate and negotiate certain questions in a classroom set up,” he said.

See earlier story ‘Corrective rape’ in South African schools

A Medical Research Council (MRC) Gender and Health study released earlier this month said rape/homicide against women over 13 in South Africa is higher than all female homicides in the United States.

Researchers found that rape occurred in roughly 16,3 percent of the cases studied. As a result, they estimated that 3.65 of every 100 000 women over the age of 13 were murdered and raped in 1999.

The study is a follow-up to data collected from research released on female homicides in 2004.

Head of Forensic Pathology at UCT Lorna J Martin, who led the MRC study, said she was surprised the figure wasn’t higher.

A total of 25 mortuaries were selected for the study to represent nationwide conditions. Mortuaries were first broken down based on the number of bodies they received per year and then stratified.

They examined four-year-old homicides to allow police investigations and convictions to finalise.

After selecting the mortuaries, the group reviewed any legal documents about the cases to determine if rape had occurred.

Signs of rape include stab wounds, bite marks and the location of the female victim’s panties, said MRC senior researcher Naeema Abrahams.

But this evidence isn’t always exchanged between police and pathologists, said Martin.

Martin said the National Forensic Pathology Services Committee has been meeting to finalise the protocol for examining female murder victims.

According to Martin, female homicides are largely mishandled because of lack of trained professionals.