Archive for July 19th, 2008

Is this month’s podcast from the International Museum of Women (IMOW)

Masum Momaya speaks with the Egyptian women’s rights activist about the complexities of being a devout Muslim and a Feminist.

What does religion have to do with it?

Throughout history, religion has had a lot to do with women’s personal and political lives. Religious women make change happen, whether seeking peace or inciting war. Belief can inspire social justice, or block a woman’s access to freedom or equality. Join us this month as we explore how faith makes or breaks political women around the world.

Follow women’s spiritual path to art and action. Discover how the veil can celebrate devotion while dividing worlds. Learn how one woman raised an army in God’s name. Explore how women protest codes and control with song or their bodies. Listen to the hopes of a new generation: a future unburdened by fundamentalism.

About Women, Power, and Politics

Welcome to a world where women rule!

A world where the untold stories of women claiming and exercising their power around the world and throughout history come alive in I.M.O.W.’s global online exhibition Women, Power and Politics.

From March 8 to December 31, 2008, Women, Power and Politics is available to audiences worldwide in Arabic, English, French and Spanish. We will focus on one provocative new topic each month and ask the questions no one is asking. Like never before, women and men are focusing on issues of substance concerning women’s political participation, speaking to one another about the issues that matter to them, learning the tools to promote powerful women, and acting to create change.

To start your journey through a world of Women, Power and Politics, watch our welcome video by Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, read a letter from the curator, Masum Momaya, or get straight to the issues by exploring the topics in focus.

Monthly Submission Categories

How Have Women Brought About Democracy? August 2008
This month, we shift our focus to more formal politics, examining the processes of democracy. We’ll meet with women warriors, revolutionaries and peacemakers, discussing democracy and women’s role in it.
Submit before July 15, 2008 to be considered for a featured story. General submissions welcome until December 31, 2008.

Why is Voting Important? September 2008
We will examine the process of earning the right to vote around the world. Why will some women risk their lives for the right to vote, while others who already have that right choose not to exercise the privilege?
Submit before August 1, 2008 to be considered for a featured story. General submissions welcome until December 31, 2008.

Women Running for Office October 2008
We will be looking at the many ways women candidates experience campaigns and elections. What’s it like to campaign? What does it take to win elections?
Submit before September 1, 2008 to be considered for a featured story. General submissions welcome until December 31, 2008.

Women Working Together Across Borders November 2008
How do women coming together share strategies and issues? What happens when they return home? This month, the Women, Power and Politics exhibition takes to the road. We’ll be reporting live from the Association for Women in Development Conference in South Africa.
Submit before October 1, 2008 to be considered for a featured story. General submissions welcome until December 31, 2008.

Reflections December 2008
The final month of our exhibition is devoted to reflections on Women, Power and Politics.


Men who buy sex, most of them from the “mainstream” society, are the single most powerful driving force in Asia’s HIV epidemic and constitute the largest infected population group, according to a report by an independent body on HIV/AIDS.

Since most men who buy sex are married or are about to get married, significantly ostensibly “low-risk” women who only have sex with their husbands are exposed to HIV, the report by the Commission on AIDS in Asia submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday said.

Pooling recent calculations from various Asian countries, the Commission estimates that upto 10 million Asian women sell sex and at least 75 million men buy it regularly.

Male-male sex and drug injecting add another 20 million or so to the number of men at high risk of HIV infection once the virus enters those network.

Unprotected paid sex, sharing of contaminated needles and syringes by injecting drug users and sex between men and men are thus the most important causes of spread of AIDS in Asian countries, the report said.

A portion of those men, particularly injectors, may also pass HIV on to the women with whom they have regular sex, which means that several more women are at risk.

The report ‘Redefining AIDS in Asia’ goes on to say that because relatively few women in Asia have sex with more than one partner, the chain of HIV infection tends to end once the wives and girlfriends among them become infected.

Some, however, might transmit HIV to their unborn or newborn infants. But the probability of those women passing HIV to another man is generally very small..

A KwaZulu-Natal clinical psychologist has put South Africa on the world map by demonstrating a link between rape and its impact on the immune system.

Prishika Pillay presented the research recently in Wisconsin, United States, at a conference on psychoneuroimmunology, which studies the impact of psychological stress on the immune system, central nervous system and endocrine system.

Pillay, from Pietermaritzburg, discussed her research on rape survivor stress with medical researchers from around the world.

No other research to date has focused on the impact of the traumatic stress of rape on the immune system.

“I have been passionate about this area of research for many years. Presenting at the conference was an opportunity of a lifetime, which will undoubtedly open many avenues for me and for our country in terms of research.

“Very few perpetrators of rape use a condom, so when someone’s immune system is suppressed, already it makes a person more vulnerable to being infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases,” she said.

She added that, in addition to psychological and physiological stress, emotional stress could leave the immune system of a rape survivor vulnerable to disease, which could manifest as depression and post-dramatic stress disorder.

Pillay said the conference offered a rare opportunity to forge relationships with others in the field. “The people I met were so willing and excited to share their information and techniques in the field.”

She said many delegates at the conference had been touched by the rape crisis in South Africa.

“The rape statistics, trauma and physiological and psychological consequences brought tears to the world’s eyes. We should not be living in such an amoral and valueless society.”

Pillay has been involved in rape crisis for 13 years and has fought for the rights of survivors.

In 2005, she successfully challenged a magistrate’s order to provide the court with confidential information of her sessions with a rape victim.

She has also served as chairperson of Rape Crisis in Pietermaritzburg and chairperson of the Pietermaritzburg Psychologists’ Forum.

“I do not take credit for this research, as I am just an instrument in the research process. The true heroes, to whom all credit needs to be directed, are the thousands and thousands of children, men and women who are survivors of rape and sexual assault.”

A researcher on organised crime has warned that the legalisation of prostitution for the 2010 Soccer World Cup could lead to a boom in human trafficking and the commercial sex industry such as that seen in Germany, if it is not regulated.

With the World Cup looming nearer, discussions about the decriminalisation of prostitution have intensified, supported by advocacy groups.

An international conference on prostitution and trafficking, specific to the 2010 Soccer World Cup, is to be held in East London to discuss the problem.

Shanaaz Parker, a researcher for the organised crime and money laundering programme of the Institute of Security Studies, said on Friday the legalisation of prostitution in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands was not a decision taken lightly, but in the case of the latter two countries human trafficking has increased.

Discussions about the legalisation of prostitution have been promoted by advocacy groups such as the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task Force , which believe it would prevent unnecessary arrests of sex workers and improve conditions in the sector.

“The argument is that the World Cup will push up the demand for sex workers and the services they provide, so we should simply decriminalise this form of work and give the sex industry some dignity,” Parker said.

“But even then, if sex work is recognised as a profession, there is no guarantees that the women (or men) engaged in it will be treated with respect and that human trafficking in terms of the commercial sex industry will decrease. On the contrary, Germany and the Netherlands have seen an expansion of human trafficking and commercial sex industries during its legislation.”

The situation is of particular concern as SA had been identified as a transit destination for human trafficking.

Parker said that the Sexual Offences Act and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act are used to combat human trafficking. “New legislation would have to be drawn up very strategically to separate the sex trade from human trafficking,” she said.

Legalisation would also not necessarily help to reduce HIV/AIDS, Parker said.

“In Germany sex workers are able to join unions and access health insurance. However, even after four years of legislation, many sex workers still prefer not to register, fearing stigmatisation,” she said.

Inside a cramped room filled by overstuffed files and two desks at the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU), Public Relations Representative Irene Oppong and Station Manager Whoknows Kwaku Attipoe work diligently to keep up with the steady stream of victims they see in their Accra location.

In a city of millions, the few benches lining the cramped, dim hallways of DOVVSU fill quickly with people and the unit is the only one for the Accra area. Privacy for the victims is minimal. “We see about 38 to 40 people a day here,” says Oppong. The DOVVSU functions to investigate all offenses of domestic violence, handle those cases and prosecute where necessary.

Domestic violence is defined as a family member, a partner or an ex-partner physically or psychologically dominating through economic, sexual or emotional abuses. Domestic violence persists against men, women and children around the world. “Most often we see offenders who are relatives,” adds Oppong.

One of Attipoe’s greatest challenges at his job as Station Manager at DOVVSU is educating the public about the law and helping them understand that domestic violence is not acceptable, and is punishable by law. For defilement (sex with a female under the age of 16), a perpetrator can go to prison for 7-25 years and for rape, a perpetrator can go to prison for 5-25 years.

The Domestic Violence Bill passed in February 2007 mandated financial assistance to fight domestic violence and set up a Victims of Domestic Violence Support Fund supported by voluntary contributions and Parliament. The fund is supposed to provide enough money for the DOVVSU to provide basic support to victims and assist with matters of rehabilitation and reintegration. But the funding has not come a year and a half later. The DOVVSU is understaffed and lacks supplies to effectively deal with all the cases that come its way.

In fact, Attipoe says, the DOVVSU needs photographic evidence of the victim in order to file a lawsuit, but the department does not own a camera. “We ask people to go out and get a photo of themselves for us,” says Attipoe. Not only is this a humiliating process for the victim, they also must pay for the photo themselves, a charge that some cannot afford.

“Many people expect that victims should have free medical care,” says Attipoe. But the hospital charges people for services and then many victims don’t return to DOVVSU to take advantage of their free counseling and legal assistance.

Formerly known as the Women and Juvenile Unit (WAJU), the DOVVSU changed to its present name between 2004 and 2005 and now openly accepts male victims of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Bill is gender-neutral. But, an overwhelming majority of the victims at DOVVSU are females.

In a report from 1999, the Gender Studies and Human Rights Documentation Centre found that one in three women in Ghana experienced physical violence. According to Actionaid Ghana, two in three women do not report experiences of abuse, especially sexual violence, suggesting that reported cases grossly underestimate the prevalence of domestic violence.

In her publication, “Violence against Women in Ghana: An Analysis of Cases Presented in the Print Media,” Susanna Osam offers insight and advice to make progress for female victims. “Women are socialized to be submissive, obedient and conforming,” she writes. “Men are allowed to chastise and discipline women and to assert their authority over them. It will take a great deal of commitment, sustained interest, and adequate allocation of resources for us to make headway to save the lives of millions of women from the brutalities of men.”

When asked if the Domestic Violence Bill has helped operations at DOVVSU, Attipoe said yes and no because the bill is gender neutral so it is there to protect everybody, but without resources like education and money, the office can do little to make a real difference for victims of domestic violence in Ghana. “We have a weapon to fight domestic violence,” says Attipoe, “but we cannot fight without ammunition.”