Archive for July 3rd, 2008

Toronto’s homeless women are living in life-threatening conditions, with one in five being sexually assaulted in the past year, according to a report.

A survey of 97 homeless Toronto women released jointly by non-profit community agencies Street Health and Sistering, both of Toronto, found that 37 percent have been physically assaulted in the past year.

Twenty-one percent reported being sexually assaulted in the same time period.

“If you’re locked out of a shelter and you have nowhere to sleep, where do you go?” study coordinator Kate Mason, of Street Health, said in an interview.

“These women are at risk of being exploited. They’re extremely vulnerable,” she said.

Homelessness among women is often overlooked because women are more likely than men to find temporary living arrangements, such as sleeping on a friend’s couch, Mason said.

But 50 percent said they have not been able to access a shelter bed at least once in the part year, leaving them vulnerable to attacks that will likely go unreported.

“By the time women are homeless, they’re often at a point where they don’t want to go to police about a crime,” Mason said.

What’s more, victims often don’t want to approach police for fear of being charged with illegal activities, such as panhandling, or fear of further assault. Earlier research had found that one in 10 homeless people have been assaulted by a police officer in the past year, Mason said.

“They don’t want to risk getting a ticket, or they’re afraid,” she explained.

Eighty-four percent reported having at least one serious physical health condition, including heart disease, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and diabetes.

“A lot of these conditions are life-threatening on their own, and even more so for the homeless. These chronic conditions often go unmanaged,” Mason said.

Mental health issues were also prevalent with 29 percent reporting bouts of depression and 19 percent suffering from anxiety.

The women in the study were homeless for an average of three years. Forty-two percent said they lived on C$2,400 or less per year. ($1=$1.02 Canadian)


Transition House reps say government is playing politics

The failure of the Nova Scotia government to call Bill 81, the Domestic Violence Elimination Act, has left representatives of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS) very disappointed.

“The government is back-peddling,” said Rhonda Fraser of Chrysalis House in Kentville. “They know they have a problem and, yes, they are going to form a committee. But that’s not how this started out.”

Bill 81 would have created a collaborative government/community committee, responsible to the Legislature, to address prevention of intimate partner violence.

On May 26, the Law Amendments Committee had agreed unanimously to send Bill 81 to the Committee of the Whole for Third Reading. The following day Justice Minister Cecil Clarke chose not to call Bill 81 for third and final reading.

Bill 81, a private member’s bill, was first introduced by Liberal Diana Whelan two years ago. It was reintroduced Dec. 6, 2007, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Recently, when the bill was called for Second Reading, it was sent to the Law Amendments Committee on the unanimous vote of the Legislature.

“What happened last month appears to have little to do with the capacity of Bill 81 to address the issue of violence against women and much more to do with a partisan disagreement on another bill,” said Pamela Harrison, provincial transition house coordinator.

Bill 81 was shelved in response to the defeat of a government bill on scrap metal by the Opposition May 25. “We don’t know if this means Bill 81 is essentially dead, or if the bill may be called in the fall session of the legislature.

“We do know, however, that cases of violence against women will not wait until the government begins to judge each bill on its own merit, and not as a vehicle to punish recalcitrant opposition members,” said Fraser, who co-chairs the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia (THANS).

“It is indeed unfortunate that in a year when Justice struck a task force for Safer Streets and Communities, of which THANS was a part, and just recently released their Strategy to Reduce and Prevent Crime, that the Minister of Justice postpones a bill that would provide another tool to address violence against women,” Fraser said.

“We wonder how abused women in Nova Scotia will feel, being equated in importance to the theft of scrap metal. Scrap metal can be replaced. Lives lost to violence cannot.”

Fraser noted that the new government committee announced May 30 by Clarke arose from “public humiliation.” She added that THANS members will not forget in a hurry how the committee came into being.

“It’s frustrating. For every two steps forward, we take one back. That has been a constant. At the end of the day, what concerns me is equating scrap metal with domestic violence. Why would anyone consider that an appropriate trade-off in the first place?”

Fraser said the law in Nova Scotia treats crimes against property more seriously than crimes against people.

“If you steal $50,000 you’d be prosecuted more stringently than if you assaulted your girlfriend on Friday night,” she said.

Taiwan’s domestic violence prevention network is fragile even though a groundbreaking act preventing domestic violence has been in effect for nearly 10 years, the Taiwan Coalition Against Violence said at a news conference yesterday.

Kao Feng-hsien, the president of the coalition and also a judge who promoted passage of the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, said the law raised public awareness of domestic violence, but society and the government were not well prepared to protect domestic violence victims.

Taiwan passed the act in 1998, and implemented it in 1999, becoming the first Asian country to provide legal protections to victims of domestic violence.

Citing statistics compiled by the Judicial Yuan, Kao said 40 percent of restraining order applications have been rejected since 1999, and the 33.87 days it has taken on average to approve a request has cast doubt on the efficiency of the restraining orders to begin with.

Chou Ching-yu, an executive at the Commission on Women’s Rights Promotion under the Executive Yuan, said insufficient manpower has hampered efforts to prevent domestic violence, with the number of people involved in the field not growing quickly enough to meet a rapidly rising case load.

In 2006, for example, 456 social workers recruited by the government handled 66,000 cases, or a ratio of 146 cases per employee, she said.

Chou called on police departments and social workers to set up teams to deal exclusively with domestic violence cases, ideally with one staff handling 30 cases to guarantee better quality in providing counseling and assistance.

She also urged the government to provide a more stable income for individuals in the field so they can work without disturbances and worries.

Lai Mei-huei, former president of the Awakening Foundation, called on the government to budget NT$3 billion (US$98.75 million) over the next 10 years for domestic violence prevention.

She pointed out that domestic violence victims only received assistance equal to NT$2,700 last year, which was not enough to cover the cost of their medical care, counseling, and rehabilitation.

Lin Ming-chieh, an assistant professor at National Chung Cheng University, suggested that the Ministry of Justice set up a section in charge of monitoring domestic violence assailants, and Wang Ling-huei, secretary-general of the Taiwan Provincial Education Association, said an inter administerial section is necessary to help integrate resources in domestic violence prevention and control.


10th anniversary of Domestic Violence Prevention Law in Taiwan

Taiwan celebrated the 10th anniversary of its Domestic Violence Prevention Law on Monday. Taiwan is the first country in Asia to enact a law against domestic violence. In most Asian cultures, family violence is considered a private matter. But Taiwan’s law has enabled the government to get involved to protect family abuse victims. There are now 113 hotlines in Taiwan where victims can get help.

Activists say that while the past decade has seen progress, the government still needs to pour more resources into helping victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence will not be tolerated since it goes against government’s position on advancing protection of women and children, says Justice and Constitutional Development Minister, Brigitte Mabandla.

Minister Mabandla was speaking at the official launch of the Guidelines, which will assist magistrates on how to deal with cases involving victims of domestic violence.

“This is another step forward in ensuring that the rights of victims of domestic violence are affirmed and protected,” she said.

The guidelines will improve services to the majority of people who had their right to dignity, freedom and security striped away by perpetrators.

“The guidelines will provide a better and more reliable analysis of the domestic violence act of 1998 from the perspective of independence of the magistrates.”

The minister confirmed that she was approached by the Promotion of the Right of Vulnerable Groups to approve the development of guidelines by members of the Lower Court Management Committee (LCMC).

Minister Mabandla further urged magistrates to do everything to ensure a therapeutic and holistic service.

“These guidelines offer you to have ease of cross referencing their application of the domestic violence against guidelines developed by your peers.

“This is an indication of the commitment and dedication to servicing communities with certainty of application of the law,” she said.

Chair of the Family and Gender Service Committee, Renuka Subban said: “We are of the view that this guide will be a handy reference material and will be widely used.”

She said while the majority of people in rural areas might not be aware of the legislation, others are aware, but are reluctant to ask for help because they are scared of losing the perpetrator, who is also the breadwinner.

“We hope that appropriate training for magistrates, peer learning as well as our guide will ensure that victims of domestic violence are afforded protection as guaranteed by our Constitution,” Ms Subban said.

The guidelines will help implement the principles contained in various policy documents in relation to victims of crime which have been developed and launched such as the Minimum Standards for Victims of crime.

The guidelines are a joint effort between the department and the LCMC, a forum comprising of all Regional Courts Presidents and Chief Magistrates in South Africa.

According to People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA), in Gauteng alone, one in every six women who dies in the province was killed by an intimate partner.

The Institute of Security Studies conducted a research project in 1999, and they found that 90 percent of the women interviewed had experienced emotional abuse.

Being humiliated in front of others was most commonly reported.

Ninety percent had also experienced physical abuse such as being pushed or shoved and being slapped or hit.

A further 71 percent had experienced sexual abuse, which not only includes forced sexual intercourse, but attempts to kiss or touch too.

The report found that 58 percent of the women experienced economic abuse with most reporting that money had been taken without their consent.

Of the group which were surveyed, 42.5 percent of women had experienced all forms of abuse and 60 percent of all cases of abuse were committed by partners, lovers or spouses.

See also Domestic abuse guidelines for courts

The existence of weak laws is partly to blame for the rising cases of domestic violence in the country global campaigners against violence against women said yesterday.

The WE CAN campaigners under Oxfam, a non-governmental organisation at the fore of the fight against domestic violence, decried the level of violence against women and girls and called for tougher laws to curb the vice.

It is necessary, they said, that the government urgently passes into law the shelved Domestic Relations Bill so as to protect the lives of women and girls against abuse.

“Parliament needs to urgently pass the Domestic Relations Bill so that the offenders can be brought to book,” said Savio Carvalho Oxfam GB–Uganda, Country Director at the imperial Botanical Beach Hotel on Friday.

While domestic violence is on the increase, there was no specific law in the country on domestic violence, Susan Akajo, the gender-based violence programme manager noted.

Uganda shelves domestic violence bill

And now… it is unbelievable but true. The Domestic Relations Bill has been shelved for over 40 years! This is according to reports in the media, following a petition to Parliament by women activists demanding that the government passes all pending bills that address violence against women and girls early this week.

It is saddening to know that despite the chronic and widespread nature of domestic violence in Uganda, there are no specific laws that provide Ugandan women with any meaningful protection against it, yet as reported in the media, the Domestic Relations Bill, has gathered dust in Parliament for more than a decade!

Every other day, gruesome cases are reported resulting from domestic violence. One morning in 1997, the country woke up to the gruesome murder where Kooky Sharma, a Kampala businessman, murdered his wife Renu Joshi by inflicting electric burns all over her body. Sharma was sentenced to death in 2001 and on April 15, 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict.

Headlines in the media like ‘Man burns to death his children and wife’; ‘Man beheads wife, slits the wife’s throat’, among others, are the order of the day in this country. And many more are never reported!

The Domestic Relations Bill and other related Bills have become more than a necessity in society today because without laws against domestic violence, we shall continue loosing lives of innocent citizens especially women and girls.

The Domestic Relations Bill should be given top priority and treated like all such other important Bills. Isn’t there anyone in Parliament who sees the need to have this and all other related Bills passed?

I vividly remember when HIV/Aids was just beginning to bite, and despite the government’s positive commitment to confront the crisis then, there were people, some of them decision makers, who ignored the fact that people living with HIV/Aids were being stigmatised.

But before anyone would realise, HIV/Aids was knocking at everyone’s door. Children, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers, grandparents, friends, neighbours etc were all being affected by the disease and it was then that it became everyone’s concern!

Just like HIV/Aids manifested itself over the years, the failure to pass the Domestic Relations Bill and other related Bills will lead to increased manifestation of violence across the country.

The result will be many deaths and by the time we wake up, it will be costly to start changing people’s perceptions about the violence.

It is cheaper for everyone to start fighting domestic violence than leave it to get entrenched in people’s mind such that before they know its gravity, it will have affected everyone.

On Heroes Day celebrations recently, President Yoweri Museveni reportedly re-affirmed his commitment to seeing Parliament pass the Land Bill. Mr President Sir, also re-affirm your commitment to having the Domestic Relations Bill and other violence-related bills passed as well.

Though the government has been widely credited for emphasising girls and women empowerment in policy-making, many customary and statutory laws still discriminate against them.

My understanding is that the government is supposed to protect all citizens. But by failing to limit the impunity with which domestic violence occurs, it appears that the state is implicitly condoning it.

The government should enact domestic violence legislation that, at a minimum, provides for punitive measures with a view to curbing domestic violence.

It is high time legislators took the problem of domestic violence seriously. If the lawmakers do not pass the Domestic Relations Bill now, more and more lives are will be lost.

And this is an issue that should not be left to the women legislators alone, it is a matter that all legislators should accord the seriousness it deserves.

Opinion Olivia Lumonya