Archive for September, 2008

In an attack claimed by the Taliban, two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Afghanistan’s most high-profile female police officer on Sunday as she prepared to leave for work in the southern city of Kandahar. The police in the city said she died instantly from gunshot wounds to her head. Her 18-year-old son, driving her car, was seriously wounded and taken to the hospital.

The police officer, Malalai Kakar, who was in her mid-40s with six children, was an iconic figure among women’s groups in Afghanistan and abroad. Often profiled in the Afghan and foreign news media, she was one of the leading totems for the wider freedoms gained by women when the Taliban, with their repressive policies toward women, were ousted from power by an American-led coalition in 2001.

The attack was the latest in a wave of attacks on women across Afghanistan for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility. After scattering in the wake of the 2001 offensive, the Islamic militants have regrouped over the past two years, mounting a new offensive across wide areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan. Attacks on women, girls’ schools and organizations working for women’s advancement have become increasingly common.

“We killed Malalai Kakar,” a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, told the news service Agence France-Presse in a telephone call. “She was our target, and we successfully eliminated our target.”

Kakar, with the rank of captain, was head of Kandahar’s department of crimes against women, leading about 10 female officers, and spent her working life tackling theft, domestic violence and murders. She joined the police in the city in 1982, following in the footsteps of her father and brothers, but was forced out after the Taliban captured Kandahar in the mid-1990s and barred all women from working.

She was the first female police officer in the country to return to work after the Taliban were ousted. Her commitment was particularly notable for the fact that it took place in Kandahar, which became the headquarters for the Taliban soon after the movement was formed in the early 1990s. It was there that Taliban leaders first proclaimed the harsh policies that they imposed across wide areas of the country in the years that followed.

Kakar’s killing prompted a wave of tributes. President Hamid Karzai, on a trip to the United States, issued a statement calling the attack “an act of cowardice” committed by “enemies of peace and welfare and reconstruction of Afghanistan.”

The Interior Ministry in Kabul, responsible for the country’s 80,000-strong police, about 700 of them women, called Kakar “a brave hero among women and loyal to her profession,” and said she had been “cowardly martyred.”

The police commander in Kandahar, General Matiullah Qati, said Kakar had continued working despite repeated death threats. “She took a big risk by continuing to work in the current serious situation, and her death will undoubtedly have a negative impact on other women who may have wanted to join the police but now may not dare to,” he said.

The European Union’s mission in Kabul said it was “appalled by the brutal targeting” of the police officer, and added: “Any murder of a police officer is to be condemned, but the killing of a female officer whose service was not only to her country, but to Afghan women, to whom Kakar served as an example, is particularly abhorrent.”

Kakar was not the first female official of prominence in Kandahar to be killed. Two years ago, the head of the province’s women’s affairs department was killed in a similar attack by gunmen. In June, a female police officer was shot and killed by gunmen in the western province of Herat, the first fatal attack on a policewoman since the Taliban were toppled.

In another attack in the same region of the country on Sunday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed seven people, including himself, when he attacked two border police vehicles in the main bazaar in Spinbaldak, on the Pakistan border about 80 miles southeast of Kandahar.

Colonel Abdul Razaq, the border police commander in Kandahar, said the blast had killed three policemen and three civilians in the marketplace, and wounded 15 others.

“This is the work of Afghanistan’s enemies, who think nothing of attacking civilians in the holy month of Ramadan,” he said. Noting that the attack came toward dusk, as people were shopping for the food to be eaten at the iftar dinner, which Muslims eat after sunset during Ramadan, he added: “This was an un-Islamic act.”

See also: Afghan Police trained in Gender Issues

The United States has revoked the travel visa of a Pakistani human rights defender ahead of her trip to Washington, human rights group Amnesty International said Saturday.

Amina Janjua, founder of Defence of Human Rights, was scheduled to highlight the plight of hundreds of missing compatriots allegedly rounded up as part of the ‘war on terror’. She was about to board a flight from Geneva to Washington on Saturday when she was informed by a US diplomat over telephone that the visa issued to her had been cancelled, an Amnesty official said.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the US revoked her visa,” Amnesty’s Washington-based Asia-Pacific director for advocacy T Kumar told AFP. “We hope they will reconsider the decision,” said Kumar, who was also informed by the US diplomat about the visa’s cancellation.

Amnesty had arranged Janjua’s week-long US trip and had confirmed her meetings with senior State Department officials and congressional staff, Kumar said. US officials were not immediately available for comment.

See also: Protest launches tour against enforced disappearance in Pakistan

Years of war have left many Iraqi women widowed, illiterate and desperate, and their deteriorating status has made them ripe for exploitation by militants, Iraq’s minister for women’s affairs said.

Nawal al-Samarraie warned of a “disaster” if more was not done to assert women’s rights, also eroded by a rising tide of fundamentalism and sectarianism that has rolled back many of the freedoms Iraqi women once enjoyed.

“This deteriorating status threatens us with disaster unless we find some avenue for besieged women through the rapid education of society,” Samarraie, from the minority Sunni Arab political bloc, said in an interview on Monday.

She spoke just hours before another female suicide bomber blew herself up, killing 22 people north of Baghdad.

There have been more than two dozen female suicide bombings this year, something Samarraie said highlighted the desperation of women and their vulnerability to exploitation by militants.

Rehabilitation programmes, education about women’s rights and literacy campaigns are among the means she wants to use to improve the situation.

According to the minister, there are more than 1.5 million divorced women, 2 million widows and around 4 million illiterate women in Iraq. Divorcees and widows, once reliant on their partner’s income, often struggle alone.

Poverty, illiteracy and displacement are not problems exclusive to Iraq’s women, but their diminishing status within even their own homes has compounded their plight.

Women’s rights peaked in Iraq in the 1980s, when they were broadly comparable with the West. Since then, war and sanctions have confined many women to the home. The U.S.-led invasion in 2003 ushered in the steepest decline in women’s fortunes.

“Women are suffering from marginalisation and exclusion, from oppression,” Samarraie said. They were considered “a minor thing in the family”.

The minister said she knew of one case in Diyala province where a family sold their daughter for money to become a suicide bomber. In other cases, women may want revenge after seeing family members killed, or after having been attacked themselves.

“The woman who commits a suicide (attack) is either desperate or forced by the husband or the parents…She does not have an opinion,” Samarraie said.

The U.S. military says Sunni Islamist al Qaeda militants like to use female bombers because they can escape detection by police reluctant to search women. A 15-year old girl who gave herself up before conducting a suicide attack last month said she may have been drugged by relatives.

Such women should be treated with sympathy, Samarraie said, and placed in rehabilitation centres.

As well as such centres, facilities for women’s training and safe houses should be founded, and society in general should be educated about women’s rights, Samarraie added.

The government aims to start a five-year nationwide campaign next year to eradicate illiteracy, she said.

“The solution will not be rapid but we should start now as we are already too late … We need at least 10 years to change the status of Iraqi women,” she said.

More than half a million women still die each year in pregnancy and childbirth, often bleeding to death because no emergency obstetrical care is available, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

Despite modest progress, particularly in Asia, the global maternal mortality toll remains stubbornly stable due to a lack of financial resources and political will, it said.

More than 99 percent of the estimated 536,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2005 occurred in developing countries, half of them in sub-Saharan Africa, it said in a report entitled “Progress for Children: A Report Card on Maternal Maternity”.

“One of the critical bottlenecks has always been access to highly skilled health workers required to deliver emergency obstetrical care, particularly caesarian sections,” Peter Salama UNICEF’s chief of health, told a news briefing.

Around 50 million births in the developing world, or about 4 in 10 of all births worldwide, are not attended by trained personnel, according to the report.

Haemorrhaging is the leading cause of maternal death in Africa and Asia, causing one in three deaths, it said. Infections, hypertensive disorders, complications of abortion, obstructed labour or HIV/AIDS are other causes.

Such complications can be easily treated in a health system whose facilities are staffed with skilled personnel to handle emergencies around the clock, but disparities persist, it said.

“The lifetime risk of maternal death in the developing world as a whole is 1 in 76, compared with 1 in 8,000 in the industrialised world,” UNICEF said.

The riskiest place to give birth is Niger, where the risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth over the course of a woman’s lifetime is one in seven, it said. In Sierra Leone it is 1 in 8.

But developing countries including Sri Lanka and Mozambique have succeeded in reducing maternal mortality rates, it said.

A combination of family planning, training skilled birth attendants, emergency obstetrical care and post-natal care is the key to reducing maternal mortality, according to the agency.

At the current average reduction rate of less than one per cent a year, the world will miss the goal of reducing maternal mortality rates by 75 percent between 1990 and 2015, to less than 150,000, one of the Millennium Development Goals, it said.

“The time is right. We now know exactly what to do for maternal mortality reduction to make this one of the next big issues in global health,” Salama said.

Programmes to combat three major epidemics — HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria — now receive the required international attention and billions in funding, he said.

“But maternal mortaility and child mortality do not yet receive the attention that the scale of the problem deserves,” he said. An additional $10 billion would be needed each year to combat both child and maternal mortality, according to Salama.

UNICEF said last week that more than 9 million children died before their fifth birthday in 2007, down slightly from a year before, but a huge gap remains between rich and poor countries.

Women’s rights are dwindling across Europe, anti-globalisation activists warned, blaming growing religious extremism and neo-liberalism.

The trend has been observed across the continent and even in Sweden, a country normally seen as a pioneer in gender equality issues, Maria Hagberg, a Swedish member of the European Feminist Initiative (EFI) network, told AFP.

“We have seen a backlash in recent years in Europe and also in Sweden, which is known as the most egalitarian country in the world, but that is only on the surface,” Hagberg said last week on the sidelines of the European Social Forum being held in the southern Swedish city of Malmoe.

The decline of women’s rights is a phenomenon taking place across Europe, said Soad Bekkouche, a representative of the French group Laicite (Secularity).

“We see it clearly in everyday life,” Bekkouche said.

Hagberg said that in Sweden earlier strides were now being threatened due to politics and legislation, and pointed to a rise in violence against women.

Five years ago, 20,000 acts of violence against women were reported, a number that has since grown to 30,000, she said.

The growing inequality affects immigrant women in particular, said Soleyman Ghasemiani, a social worker originally from Iran and now living in Sweden’s second-biggest city Gothenburg.

Paradoxically, authorities’ desire to display tolerance and respect of immigrants’ religions and culture could be accentuating the phenomenon.

“The Swedish authorities and politicians have a lot of respect for religions and traditions and they think it’s not possible to criticise Islam,” he told AFP, adding that in so doing they were playing into the hands of religious fundamentalists who want to suppress women’s rights.

He linked the decline in women’s rights in Sweden in part to the centre-right government’s arrival in power in 2006.

“The conservatives have more power now. There are more religious schools than five or 10 years ago (and) they get (state) subsidies. I am worried because I see a backlash on the ground,” said Ghasemiani, who has lived in Sweden for 24 years.

“You have people who are teaching their daughters that to be a good daughter is to stay at home,” he said.

Bekkouche said that across Europe, both “immigrant women and local women face the same problems amid the rise of religious extremism and neo-liberalism.”

She cited the case of Polish women who could previously get legal abortions in their country, which is no longer the case. In the former eastern bloc country, contraception was now “virtually inexistant”, she lamented.

“When we see the criminalisation (of abortion) in Ireland and Malta, the battle is not won,” she said, adding that there was “a need to be vigilant all the time.”

She also expressed concern over growing poverty among women, in particular single mothers.

Bekkouche stressed that legislation aimed at creating parity between the sexes did not automatically improve women’s rights.

“Legislators want us to believe that women are making strides in European countries by adopting laws on parity. … These are minor laws,” she insisted.

Some 20,000 activists and 850 associations, non-governmental organisations, unions and other networks are taking part in 250 seminars and hundreds of cultural events being held in Malmoe through Sunday, based on the theme “Making another Europe possible.”

Much more needs to be done to improve the status of women in Yemen, the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, in line with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), officials said.

The call came during a roundtable in Sanaa, the capital, last week. CEDAW presented 60 recommendations in July after reviewing Yemen’s sixth periodic report for 2006 on the extent of implementation, which was prepared by the National Women’s Committee (NWC), a government body.

Pratibha Mehta, UN Resident Coordinator in Yemen, said the 2007 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index, which measures women’s economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment vis-à-vis men, ranked Yemen last out of 128 countries.

“Women constitute only 30 percent of the workforce and 70 percent of women in Yemen are illiterate,” Mehta said.

She said the gap between men and women was very wide in terms of political empowerment and economic participation, but narrow in terms of primary education enrolment, with 63 percent of school age girls enrolled compared with 87 percent of boys.

“Yemen is on track to achieving only one of the eight Millennium Development Goals and that is MDG 2 on universal primary education by 2015,” Mehta said.

Mehta added that a greater effort was needed to inculcate the values of gender equity among the society that too often viewed the women’s rights agenda as “a western import”.

Yemen signed CEDAW in May 1984 and presented two national reports on the level of implementation at an exceptional UN assembly in August 2002.

CEDAW said Yemen’s constitution did not enshrine the principle of equality between women and men in all spheres and its legislation did not contain an explicit definition of the principle of equality between the two sexes.

It urged Yemen to implement a comprehensive law on gender equality binding on both public and private sectors and inform women of their rights under such legislation. It recommended Yemen address stereotypical attitudes about the roles and responsibilities of women and men that perpetuate direct and indirect discrimination against women and girls in all areas.

It further said several provisions of the Penal Code discriminated against women and urged Yemen to repeal any such discriminatory provisions in the Code.

Participants said there were various social, religious and political factors responsible for women’s low status. Discriminatory legislature was seen as a major hindrance to the improvement of women’s status.

Horiah Mash-hor, deputy head of the NWC, said her committee had amended many discriminatory laws and referred them to the parliament, which had ratified nine amended items of various laws between 2003 and 2008. “But there are still 61 amended items that need to be agreed by the parliament,” she said.

Jamila al-Raebi, deputy health minister in charge of population, said her ministry had asked to withdraw the Safe Motherhood Law from the Parliament’s Islamic Sharia Codification Committee as it refused to agree on the law, which included provisions prohibiting female genital mutation, early marriage and included pre-marriage consultation.

“Early pregnancy is responsible for 30 percent of maternal deaths,” she said.

She said it was necessary to highlight health implications when talking about issues such as early marriage or FGM. “People can be convinced if the health risks are brought out instead of highlighting the cultural and religious side,” she said.

On the issue of women’s empowerment, Amal al-Basha, chairwoman of the Sisters Arab Forum, a local NGO, said some mosques had become platforms against the rights of women, although they could play a greater role in advocating women’s issues. “There are extremist preachers who stand against women’s issues … They accuse the civil society organisations that advocate for women’s issues of being agents of the West and standing against Islam and Islamic Sharia,” she said.

She further noted that religion must not be used to “silence us on speaking about our rights”.

Huda al-Yafyei, an official at the Ministry of Endowments and Guidance, said the problem did not lie in Islam, mosques or laws, but rather in illiteracy, which is very high. “Women are unaware of their rights,” she said.

She has said there were 75,000 mosques in the country that could be centres of enlightenment.

“We are also about to hold a series of workshops to promote women’s rights guaranteed in Islam,” she added.

Rwanda is the first nation in the world where women outnumber men in parliament after legislative elections Sept. 18. Women now account for at least 55 percent of the lower chamber in Rwanda, according to provisional results. Previously, they held 48 percent of seats.

“The role of the elected females is double: They must on the one hand concern themselves with the implementation of government decisions, and on the other be a voice for the grassroots,” said Bellancilla Nyonawankusi, a Kigali election official.

Female lawmakers earned 20 seats in direct elections, Reuters reported. Another 24 were already secured in an indirect vote. Rwanda now has a higher number of female lawmakers than Sweden, where 47 percent of parliamentarians are women.

This is the second election since the 1994 genocide that cost 800,000 lives. Women have staked a strong role in rebuilding the country under President Paul Kagame’s leadership and represent 55 percent of the 4.7 million registered voters.

Women’s groups have hailed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s victory in the Kadima primary as a sign of progress for women, saying it indicated that the Israeli public is ready to work towards gender equality in all spheres of society.

“This is a huge step forward for women,” said Talia Livni, president of the women’s rights organization Na’amat (and no relation to the foreign minister) on Thursday. “It’s about time we see some tangible successes achieved in gender equality and not just mere talk about it.”

She said that Livni’s election success showed that Israelis are ready for a female prime minister.

Rina Bar-Tal, chairperson of the Israel Women’s Network (IWN), called the victory “a big day for the citizens of Israel in general and for women in particular.

“I truly believe that she [Livni] will become a role model for other women who want to serve in politics,” she continued. “It shows that if you want something bad enough and if you push hard enough, despite the odds, it can be achieved.”

Both Bar-Tal and Talia Livni said they were not surprised by the victory but agreed that Livni most likely does not see herself as a role model or a champion of women’s rights, even though she is the first woman to be in the running for the premiership since Golda Meir, who led the country from 1969-74.

“I don’t know if Tzipi Livni sees herself as a representative of all Israeli women,” observed Na’amat’s Livni. “However, just the fact that she is in this position will help other women realize their dreams.”

She added: “Of course, I believe that any woman who gets to such a top position should continue to show her solidarity with other women, but even if she doesn’t that does not stop her from becoming a figurehead or empowering others to do the same.”

Bar-Tal said that Livni’s leadership highlighted a new era for Israeli politics and is reflective of a worldwide trend. She referred to US Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate, Alaska’s Governor Sarah Palin, and to several other influential women in Israel, such as Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzhik and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch.

Despite these high-profile women’s positive impact on gender equality in Israeli politics and society in general, a study published earlier this year by the IWN show that Israeli women have a relatively weak representation in government and legislature.

In an international study conducted by the Interparliamentary Union in April 2008, Israel was ranked 79th in the percentage of women holding parliament seats. Women here hold only 17 out of 120 seats in the Knesset (14.2 percent), putting Israel behind countries such as Afghanistan, where women hold 27.7% of the seats, and Iraq, where women hold 25.5%.

In addition, IWN research noted that only 11 women had ever held ministerial positions, including Golda Meir, Shulamit Aloni, Limor Livnat, Dalia Itzik and the three current female cabinet members, Ruchama Avraham-Balila, Yuli Tamir and Livni.

The IWN insists that the only way to address this inequality is to pass legislation assuring that women hold a representative number of legislative seats, similar to laws in some Scandinavian countries where between 40%-50% of parliamentarians are women.

“On 30 November 1981, the United Nations General Assembly, in resolution A/RES/36/67, declared an international day of peace. This resolution recognized that “the promotion of peace, both at an international and a national level, is among the main purposes of the United Nations, in conformity with its Charter”. Since 1915, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has worked to promote peace by non-violent means, promoting political, economic and social justice for all.

World military expenditures are estimated to have been USD 1,339 billion in 2007, or about 202 spent for every person on earth.[1] Article 26 of the UN Charter obliges the UN Security Council to “promote the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security with the least division for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources”, and the Security Council has failed to meet this obligation. You get what you pay for, and when governments of the world decide to prioritize peace building through education, health care, strengthening public infrastructures, and sustainable development over the purchase of arms, then these governments will begin walking down the path towards peace and break the military spending- poverty cycle.

WILPF calls on all governments to allocate one day of their military expenditures USD 3,668,493,151 towards addressing a real security threat such as catastrophic climate change. We must have a paradigm shift in resource allocation. We can meet this challenge, but only if we are prepared to face the fact that bombs, guns, cluster bombs and landmines will not deter or remove the threat of a Tsunami, a hurricane, a flood, a virus, or a water shortage. WILPF rejects the idea that the military industry and the weapons trade bring jobs, prosperity or security. The arms trade has turned people into mercenaries and parts of our planet into cemeteries.

Misusing words such as ‘safety’ and ‘protection’, military security concepts and weapons profiteers develop machines that threaten and violate the human right to life and freedom. This year, 2008 marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in order that all peoples enjoy all human rights military and national security concepts that rely on weaponization and militarization must shift towards a holistic human security concept that recognizes people not profits, sustainability not strife, multilateralism not militarism.

In the name of ‘democracy’, powerful actors make profits at the expense of our planet its finite resources and the rights of future generations to exist. In the name of ‘increasing women’s role in peace and security’, more women are militarized and sent to war zones, which is a distorted application of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. WILPF believes that the concepts of safety and security must shift so that they include the full enjoyment of all human rights for all away from military and national security concepts.

Peace is more than the absence of war. On this International Day of Peace, WILPF calls for the peoples of the world to lay down their arms and raise their voices for peace and freedom, for there cannot be one without the other.

21 September 2008


The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) is the oldest women’s peace organization in the world, established in 1915 to oppose the war raging in Europe. It has been working ever since to study, make known, and abolish the causes of war, and to support human rights and general and complete disarmament.

Radical Women’s “The Persistent Power of Socialist Feminism” conference will take place on October 3-6, 2008 at the Women’s Building. Featuring activists and scholars from Central America, Australia, China and the U.S., and panels and workshops on topics like multi-racial organizing in a society divided by racism, the dynamic leadership of youth and queers, a labor revival ignited by immigrants and women of color, and the need for an independent grassroots feminist movement.
In today’s tumultuous climate, we hope this event will produce concrete plans to energize and focus the women’s movement on the many issues that affect us all. The event is open to all genders.

Optimistic rebels from all walks of life are invited to participate in a national Radical Women conference, “The Persistent Power of Socialist Feminism,” to be held at the San Francisco Women’s Building, October 3-6, 2008. The major goal of the four-day public event is to produce a concrete education and action plan to focus and strengthen the feminist movement. Speakers include activists and scholars from Central America, China, Australia and the U.S.

Highlights on Friday, Oct. 3 include a 9:30am keynote address by Nellie Wong on “Women and revolution—alive and inseparable.” Wong is an acclaimed Chinese American poet, whose works include Stolen Moments, The Death of Long Steam Lady, and Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park. A former Senior Analyst of Affirmative Action, she is also a founding member of Unbound Feet, an Asian American writers group. Afterwards, Laura Mannen will present proposals and spearhead a discussion on how to build a strong, independent, grassroots U.S. feminist movement. Mannen is a bilingual teacher, mother of two and seasoned antiwar organizer from Portland, Oregon. The afternoon will feature a roundtable of female unionists on “Standing our ground on labor’s frontlines.”

At 7:30pm Friday evening, Lynne Stewart will address “Radical dissent: The righteous response to an unjust system.” Stewart, embattled human rights attorney, was convicted in 2005 of providing support for terrorism by delivering a handwritten press release to Reuters from a client. Though prosecutors sought a 30-year prison term, Stewart was sentenced to serve 28 months. The shorter sentence, the judge said, was in recognition of her “service to the nation” as a representative of the poor and unpopular. The government is appealing her shorter sentence. Stewart is appealing the conviction.

“Magnificent warriors: female leadership in the global freedom struggle,” a panel presentation on Saturday, October 4 at 9:00am, will include Debbie Brennan, workplace delegate for the Australian Services Union and Melbourne RW president; Dr. Raya Fidel, an Israeli-American feminist and supporter of Palestinian rights; Patricia Ramos, a Costa Rican labor lawyer and leading organizer against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA); and Wang Zheng, a University of Michigan Women’s Studies professor and co-chair of the U.S.-based Chinese Society for Women’s Studies.

Christina López, Chicana-Apache advocate for reproductive justice and frontrunner in the battle for rights for undocumented workers, will present her paper “Estamos en la lucha: Immigrant women light the fires of resistance” at 11:30am.

Interactive workshops in the afternoon include Challenging the Minutemen; ABC’s of Marxist feminism; Women’s stake in the struggle for union democracy; Federally funded childcare NOW; End the war on women—in Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S.; On the barricades for reproductive justice; Confronting movement sexism; Free trade is a feminist issue; and Young queer radical—what are we fighting for?

Sunday, Oct. 5 begins at 9:00am with a panel on “The galvanizing impact of multiracial organizing in a society divided by racism.” Sharing first-hand experiences will be author Christina López of Seattle, reproductive rights activist Toni Mendicino of San Francisco, and campus organizer Emily Woo Yamasaki of New York City.

The remainder of Sunday will be devoted to issues and skills workshops. Topics include Power to the poor!; Radical campus organizing; For affirmative action not “civil wrongs”; Alternative feminist radio; Radical youth and rebel elders; Disabled rights activists on RX for toxic healthcare. There will also be sessions on getting media attention, confident speaking and writing, knowing your rights as a worker, and producing effective fliers and banners.

The conference concludes on Monday, Oct 6, 10:00am with a National Organizer’s report and action plan presented by Anne Slater, veteran campaigner for queer rights, the environment and women’s equality.

All sessions will be held at the Women’s Building, 3543 18th St., in the Mission District, near the 16th Street BART stop. Wheelchair accessible. Registration is $15 per day; students and low income $7.50 per day. Register at For more information, phone 206-722-6057 or 415-864-1278.

Interview with Ruth Anne Koenick director of Rutgers’ Department of Sexual Assault Services and Crime Victim Assistance by Robert Jensen

I met Ruth Anne Koenick at a dinner before my talk on the feminist critique of pornography at Rutgers University in 1997. I had been doing public presentations on that issue for several years, but that was the first time an institution had paid my plane fare to give a lecture. As a young professor, I was a bit nervous but also was feeling pretty self-important.

Koenick was seated next to me, and when I introduced myself she said, “I’ve seen a lot of men who’ve figured out how to make money off of women’s pain. Are you one of them?”

I admit that I was taken aback, but the question was important and appropriate. I was getting a modest honorarium for the talk, but as a full-time academic who is paid a reasonable salary by my university, I could live without it. Independent writers and artists typically need the support that comes from speaking fees to survive, but I can easily donate that money to activist groups. So, I asked if she thought it would be appropriate for me to sign over the speaking fee to her center, and Koenick accepted.

I will forever be indebted to her for that in-your-face comment. In my first attempt at being an “expert,” Koenick reminded me of all the wrong ways I could use my privilege as a white guy with a university position to put myself above the feminist anti-violence movement, from which I had learned most of what I knew. Koenick later told me she regretted being inappropriately rude, but I suggested it wasn’t necessary to apologize for asking the right question.

Ever since that night I have stayed in touch with Koenick, continuing to be impressed by (1) the great work she and her staff were doing, and (2) how little she seemed to recognize her own accomplishments. As we have talked about her experience in the feminist anti-violence movement — and as the dominant culture increasingly has pretended to be “post-feminist” — I began to nag her about putting her insights down on paper. Each time she insisted that her life wasn’t interesting enough and that she didn’t have anything insightful to say. Eventually I wore her down, persuading her that women like her from the “second wave” of feminism should not stay silent, and we finally conducted an interview.

The term second-wave feminism is used to mark the U.S. women’s movement that emerged in the 1960s, distinct from the women’s suffrage movement — the first wave — that won the vote in 1920. In the 1990s, the idea of third-wave feminism became popular, though it has never been clear why the crucial insights of the second wave had become irrelevant or why the political work that second-wavers had initiated was somehow magically over. Nowhere is this clearer than in the public-health crisis of epidemic levels of men’s violence against women, where the brutality of patriarchy is so obvious and the analysis and activism of second-wave feminists remains more needed than ever.

The stories of women such as Koenick are more important than ever for all of us — women and men — to hear.


Robert Jensen: Can you recall the first time you understood what feminism meant and identified as a feminist yourself?

Ruth Anne Koenick: I am not sure I can define a specific time and, in truth, I am not sure that I totally understand it now. I am the youngest of four children and I was lucky to be raised to be an independent thinker by both my parents. They taught me to question things and that I could be anything I wanted to be, that there were no barriers — I was as good as anyone else, male or female. Although there were some specific expectations — go to college, get married and have children — I was encouraged to have a career and to make decisions for myself; I never really felt constricted. My mother was an independent woman and, although she did some very traditional things, she also clearly had a mind of her own and was in control of her life in a way that was unique for someone born at the turn of the 20th century. I think some of this came from my father, an immigrant from Russia in 1920 who lived through the revolution, WWI, the pogroms — he really was a hippie before there were hippies. He had overcome a lot to make it in this country, and nothing was going to keep him or his family second class.

RJ: Was there a defining moment as you got older?

RAK: When I was actively involved in the anti-war movement of the 1960s, I had an awakening, almost like the old “click” that feminists talk about, when it became clear to me that issues pertaining to women were so intricately intertwined in what we were doing. It was also clear that the men “in charge” gave only lip service to anything that was of importance to women, that we were always at the bottom of the food chain. Like others, I got tired of “making coffee and not policy” and began to look at that movement, my surroundings, and my life in a very different way.

There were other things, such as hassles my husband and I faced because I didn’t take his last name. A married couple with different names is not unusual today, but in 1973 it presented real challenges — banks not giving us credit or not printing both names on a card, a newspaper printing only his name and not mine in my father-in-law’s obituary. That was all part of a process that got me to look at the broader picture of how our culture encourages and rewards the subordination of women.

RJ: So, in 1970 you were a student at the University of Maryland with this emerging feminist worldview, and you helped start a rape crisis center on campus. How did that come about?

RAK: I was an undergraduate working for residence life, on the cusp of trying to decide what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was living on campus when a student on my floor was abducted and raped. I went to meet her at the police station and then to the hospital, and I felt totally inept, but I knew enough to know that she wasn’t getting what she needed. I wasn’t allowed to talk to her, and we were kept in separate rooms. She was all alone and no matter what I did, I couldn’t talk to her. I realized the system wasn’t working for victims.

Sometime later, there was a series of abductions and rapes that overwhelmed the university, not because people didn’t want to help but because we didn’t know how. It hit the front pages of the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post, and it became an even bigger issue. I teamed up with two friends who also worked for residence life and were in grad school, Chris Courtois and Debby Watts, and worked with folks in student affairs to open a campus rape crisis center. It operated on the beg-borrow-and-steal budget, but we got support from Dan Bratton, the Vice President for Student Affairs, and others in leadership positions, partially because he made them do this and partially because some of them knew it was the right thing to do.

We really didn’t know much but quickly discovered that we knew more than others, and when we started to talk about this publicly, women came out from the woodwork to tell us what had happened to them. Eventually we got space in the health center, developed training, took overnight shifts, and responded to crisis calls. We developed a really good relationship with the university police and, in retrospect, worked as a team. This was 1973-74, just before the first Burgess and Holmstrom book (Rape: Victims of Crisis) came out in 1975 and people began to use the term rape-trauma syndrome.

RJ: Can you remember how you came to a feminist consciousness about the gender politics of this specific issue, of rape? What was that process by which you and your colleagues deepened your understanding of sexual assault?

RAK: I am one of those people teaching in women and gender studies who has never taken a women’s studies course, and I’m still not all that well-read in academic feminist theory. When I was in college, there weren’t any women’s studies courses, although I do vividly remember demonstrating on campus to get them. Most of my knowledge is rooted in experience. In the beginning almost everything I learned came from survivors — their feelings, thoughts, beliefs.

Once we started looking at the issue, it was clear most men don’t rape but, of course, almost all rapists are men. As we started to understand sexism throughout society, we couldn’t help but see the reality of rape and sexism. Over the years I have learned a lot from colleagues and some key writers — (Andrea) Dworkin, (Susan) Brownmiller, (Ann Wolbert) Holmstrom and (Lynda Lytle) Burgess — but really it has been mostly my clients who have helped me understand what they need. When I don’t have a clue, they have helped me help them.

RJ: You pretty consistently underplay what you know and what you’ve done. It doesn’t strike me as just false modesty. Why do you do that?

RAK: As I look back over 38 years, probably like most people in my age group who do this work, we went on our instincts and learned by trial and error, and the research and writings confirmed our inner feelings. My dear friend Chris Courtois was just honored as a distinguished alumni from the University of Maryland, and I just received the Wynona M. Lipman Leadership Award for the state of New Jersey. Chris and I recognized that what we’ve accomplished was born of our passion long before we had any technical knowledge. I like what Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, said: “One of the things that I think characterizes my generation…is that I’ve always been surprised by how my life turned out.” I am continuously surprised that I do what I do and that people see me as having done something special. I think what is special is the people who taught me what to do and how to be helpful, and that has been a process, not a moment in time. I also need to credit my parents who taught me that with privilege comes obligation and that I had an obligation to help “repair the world” and to be actively engaged in my community.

RJ: What have been the costs and rewards for you in this work?

RAK: In retrospect, the rewards have been far more than can fit in this interview — my experiences have helped shape me as a person, a woman, a wife and mother, and a friend. It has shaped how I see the world and how I see myself, and most of the time I feel really good about who I am. But the sacrifices have been many. A crisis isn’t scheduled, and being on call, running a one-person office in the early years, having a commitment to help survivors begin their recovery no matter when that happens — all affected my ability to have more time with my children and husband, led to shorter (if any) vacations, and were a general interruption into my daily life. I remember moving in with my mother during the last days of her life and taking phone calls from work about people in need. It may have been the first time I told people that I had no more to give, that I couldn’t help them while I was experiencing this excruciatingly raw and tragic loss.

At another level, hearing so many painful stories helps me keep my life in perspective, to see my own problems in the bigger scheme of things. But some days, I must admit that I think I can’t bear to hear one more story about abuse and violence without breaking. Many years ago I worked with a young woman who had AIDS and was then raped. Everything I knew about helping someone recover went out the window because she had no sense of future. She was saying, “All I want to do is live to be 25.” Every time she would leave I would close the door and cry. I have moments when I say I can’t do this one more minute, and I weep.

RJ: As you look back at where the feminist movement to confront men’s violence started, and then reflect on where we are today, are you optimistic? Hopeful? Have we made progress or lost ground?

RAK: Answering this almost depends on the day, perhaps hour or even minute that you catch me. I have such mixed feelings about where we are, have been, and need to go. Most days I feel like we are fighting many of the same battles we fought almost 40 years ago: no dependable funding, poorly paid advocates, a culture that is judgmental and victim blaming, a profound fear of the dreaded “f” word as a descriptive term of our values, and an increasing — yes, increasing — acceptability of the desecration and degradation of people in general and women in particular. For example, people who willingly expose their vulnerabilities for a few moments of canned fame, and those who exploit those people for a few dollars, send a clear message about how little we value each other. The increased degradation of women and overt racism in pornography in the past couple of decades is another example.

I think there are some things that are better, but only at a certain level. Yes, there are rape care programs, and there is state and federal funding for a small piece of those programs. Maybe the prosecutor and I know each other well enough to chat and have lunch, but does that mean that the criminal-justice system is any more likely to treat a survivor well, to take her seriously today than years ago? The language has changed — we can say “rape” out loud and teach about it in courses — but has that changed the underlying belief system? People don’t come out of the womb wanting to be rapists nor believing that they are to blame when they are victims, but that’s where so many end up. What does that say about the culture’s belief systems?

Here’s just one example: I watched a youtube piece about the sexism directed at Hillary Clinton, click here and no matter who a person supports for president, this is a reminder of how far we haven’t come. I have to say that, in those moments, I don’t feel very hopeful. I still care about the work, which motivates me to sit through countless boring meetings that come with that work. I also am surrounded by wonderful colleagues, friends and family who make it easier to get through the day. I’m grateful for what I get to do, and at the same time I’m counting the days until retirement.

RJ: Is it possible that all these things are true? We have made enormous strides in forcing the culture to recognize that, after thousands of years of patriarchy, contempt for women is woven deeply into the fabric of the society and that violence against women is a huge public-health problem. And, at the same time, large segments of the population don’t want to face that and so minimize or deny the problem. In that sense, is it the case that the women of your generation pushed the society forward and as a result we see how far we have to go? Could we say the same about racism? Is that just our fate at this point in history?

RAK: One of my favorite people once said, “Rape is illegal, but the sexual ethic that underlies rape is woven into the fabric of our culture.” I just re-read the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions written in 1848, and I think that great strides have been made, that women have a greater control over their lives and their bodies. When I really think about it, at least at an intellectual level, I know life has changed in countless ways. But in my heart and perhaps in my daily life, I don’t see much progress. Maybe it is because of the world I work in or because I’m so aware of how contempt for women infiltrates so much that we do in this culture. When I was once accused of not having a sense of humor, I responded that I have a great sense of humor about things that are funny. But when people in public life laugh at comedians who refer to women in degrading terms, it demonstrates how little women are valued. When men in leadership positions say they are concerned about equality for women because they have daughters, I say shame on you — how could you be so selfish? Why aren’t you concerned because it is just wrong? The same thing applies to issues of race and sexual orientation — discrimination and degradation are wrong no matter who is in your family, no matter how it affects you personally.

Believing that this is all just our fate and can’t really be changed is a bit on the depressing side. So, I have to find ways to feel good about getting out of bed in the morning, and I do. I find ways to not be brought down by how our culture devalues a majority of the population. It’s a struggle, but I find ways.

RJ’s last word: Koenick’s first reaction to my interest in writing about her work had been disbelief. She asked, “What’s so special about me?” My answer was, “Nothing, and everything.” Koenick is one of thousands of women who have built and sustained the anti-rape movement, which has helped millions of victims and tried to educate the culture. In a time of backlash, when even some women mock feminism, understanding the lives of women such as like Koenick — remembering the history and not turning away from the present struggle — is crucial. Her story reminds us that change is possible, even against deeply rooted systems of oppression, and that the people who propel forward progressive social change are profoundly ordinary and extraordinarily remarkable, all at the same time.


Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. His latest book, All My Bones Shake: Radical Politics in the Prophetic Voice, will be published in 2009 by Soft Skull Press. He also is the author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity (South End Press, 2007); The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism and White Privilege (City Lights, 2005); Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity (City Lights, 2004); and Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream (Peter Lang, 2002). Jensen’s articles can be found online at

Related Pornography contributing to atrocities against women in the Congo say GAD

We saw with painful shock a cartoon in The New Vision(*) issue of September 10, captioned ‘Now Rock Bar will never fall short of supplies again.’

It made us wonder about the editor’s moral standing. That he would need to ‘import’ a whole lot of Rwandan women in exchange for ‘oil’!

We are dismayed! Firstly, by his perverted ignorance as an editor working for what we would dare to want to believe is a ‘credible’ national paper, whose objective is to report fairly with responsibility, on matters social, political and economic.

A misogynistic attitude that goes against the fact that journalism ethics in our modest profession, have since been rescued from the throes of a gutter press, that feeds on the sexualisation of women in our society.

Gone are the days when legs and breasts sold news! The woman and the African woman in particular has gained her place of respectability in our society.

Women are no longer just helpless pawns of insatiable male sexual appetites. Mr. Editor, women are no longer sex objects. Women have legs, breasts and dare I name what else? And so do you have ears, legs and rest of the body anatomy that qualifies you to be a man. Let us not practice journalism that rewards sick minds.

Sick minds that rape minors; are we not the same journalists who report on the rape of helpless little seven-year old girls?

Or the sodomy of helpless little boys? These sick minds know no boundaries. Sadly, your kind of gutter journalism applauds them on, in promoting this kind of sexual violence against women.

You violate fundamental ethos of our profession, to advocate, educate and inform our societies in a manner that fosters positive change, by positively influencing our day to day behavior.

A child’s mind is very impressionable. Its development is affected by many things. Imagine the confusion a child goes through when they see, ‘naked’ women in your paper!

In that respect, we shall not be afraid or let me say Rwandan woman will not be abused into fearing to show her gazelle-like legs, or her dazzling beauty, just because some editor like you will gleefully and wantonly feast on it.

Giving the go ahead for such a cartoon to run leaves no option but such a scenario of you to be conjured up in one’s mind.

Mr. Editor, you have chosen to attack the wrong country or dare I say the wrong woman? The ‘Munyarwandakazi’ has pushed the women’s liberation cause to other heights; she is not seen as a sex object or subject for that.

Heights that even the so called established democracies in our world struggle to match, 49 percent Parliamentary female representation is no easy feat!

The ‘Munyarwandakazi’ has survived rape, torture and murder. Notwithstanding that her victories at representing the dignified face of the African woman; is one which your cartoon insults today.

We will not go into her many achievements in breaking traditional barriers to female success; in what have been traditionally believed to be male domains in both her private and public life. She certainly is not a sex object. We take exception!

Mr. Editor, rather than juxtaposing oil tankers entering Rwanda from Uganda and Rwandan women leaving their country as ‘export’ merchandise, I would rather you used a cartoon of Ugandan ‘men’ seeking Rwandan women.

Not just for past times, as Rwandan women are too proud and way above that, but to seek their hand in marriage! It will only take a real man to accept the law that a woman has a right to land and property.

A Rwandan woman will not tolerate a man who expects to just be a ‘man’ and order her around. It’s no wonder that Rwanda is getting so many accolades, both men and women are working at an equal footing with the aim of uplifting their families and society.

I would like to dare sisters, fellow journalists, not just in Rwanda but the African community too, to come in condemnation of your most distasteful portrayal of a woman who otherwise deserves better.

Let our children not grow up with the wrong mentality picked up from what should be credible national papers, papers that disrespect the girl child and women.

Grace Kwinjeh is a senior journalist who writes in her personal capacity.

(*) The New Vision in Uganda

The media are awash with news of defilement. Defilers traumatise and predispose their victims to the risk of HIV infection. Last year 12,230 defilement cases were reported to the Police, while in 2006, 15,385 cases were reported. Many more cases go unreported for fear of shame.

Much as the Government should be applauded for the Presidential Initiative for AIDS Strategy Communication to Youth programme which has expanded HIV prevention education to primary schools, more needs to be done to eliminate defilement in schools and other predisposing factors like exposure to pornography.

It is cynical that a nation whose motto is For God and my country has its print media flooded with tabloids. Furthermore, the advertising media industry has exposed the nation to unprecedented levels of pornography and obscenity.

Pornography refers to any graphic (pictorial) or any other forms of communication that is intended to incite sexual feelings. It has spread to schools, universities and offices.

In rural areas, video shacks operating battery-controlled equipment show pornographic movies.

With the advent of multichannel television, children have access to this material at the click of a remote button.

Pornography also seems to be the central business on which Internet cafés are thriving. However, the consequences are dire.

Studies indicate that children exposed to pornography are vulnerable and can be affected for life.

The influx of pornography has created a class of people who believe they are ‘sex animals’ and young children have fallen prey to them.

Steven Langa, in his book Pornography in Uganda; The naked truth details some of the devastating consequences of pornography on society.

The book contains many personal testimonies ranging from deviant sexual behaviour, sex orgies in school, rape, and defilement to masturbation and its role in the spread of HIV. The victims suffer fear, guilt and shame for life if they do not get counselling.

Similarly, a survey done in the US revealed that 35% of men who were exposed to pornography on regular basis confessed willingness to rape a woman “If they can get away with it.” This is a lot easier in Africa where a number of women have low self esteem. This could become a breeding ground for rapists.

The majority of Uganda’s population structure is dominated by the youth, many of whom do not have strong moral values. They are, therefore, bound to be influenced by emerging negative moral trends.

This is made worse by the fact there few resources and experts to deal with some of the consequences of pornography.

Where are the moralists of our times? Fans of pornography should be educated that what goes in determines what comes out. If you spend quality time reading newspapers, you will think and talk about news but if you spend time reading pornography, your mind will be preoccupied with it.

To fight HIV and AIDS effectively, Uganda should fight pornography and other pre-disposing factors.

The Media Council and other relevant authorities that barred the staging of the infamous play, Vagina monologues, could use the same mandate to purge this nation of pornography.

Alternatively, they can gazette places where such materials are sold to protect the rest of the public from viewing such obscenities.

If such radical steps are not taken, Uganda could reverse the gains made in reducing the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate.

By Apophia Agiresaasi
The writer is the SPH – CDC HIV/AIDS fellow at Parliament

As decentralisation reforms move ahead, women’s groups are seizing the chance to press for greater representation

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua gives a speech at a rally after the July 27 election. A coalition of women’s rights groups has requested that the government introduce gender quotas as a means of increasing women’s participation in politics, according to a statement released Monday by Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC).

The statement calls for the creation of gender-based clauses in the Organic Law, passed April 1, which guides the Kingdom’s devolution of decision-making power to the local level.

“Women’s organisations and NGOs are concerned that the Organic Law does not make any provision that guarantees women’s representation in decision-making positions,” it said.

Thida Kus, executive director of local NGO Silaka, is quoted as saying that “all articles of the Organic Law … should clearly require political parties to place women candidates on the top of candidate lists”, which she described as “an effective strategy to bring more women into decision-making positions”.

Among its recommendations, the statement says one woman should be appointed for every two men on local councils, and that if a man is the head of an office, a woman should be appointed as his deputy.

GADC Executive Director Ros Sopheap said the Organic Law had been targeted because of its emphasis on decentralisation. “When we talk about decentralisation, we need to talk about power relations and decision-making,” she said. “We are giving more power to communities … and if [we] don’t highlight women’s needs, [the law] will not provide for women.”

Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Pov Savoeun said that all political parties supported the involvement of women in politics. “No party opposes giving women access to government positions,” she said. “The CPP now has women holding power from the local level to the top, including a deputy prime minister.”

Mu Sochua, deputy secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party, agreed quotas were necessary to secure the advancement of women in Cambodian society, but said party politics could skew the goal of equality.

“The government should make appointments according to the capabilities of the women and not according to their political affiliations,” she said. “That could divide women, and it should be avoided at all costs.”

In response to suggestions a gender quota might replace men with less-qualified women, Ros Sopheap said there were plenty of qualified women.

“It doesn’t mean we need to take out men and put in women. But if we see a man retire, we can replace him with a woman of the same ability and qualifications,” she said.

“We need to think deeper about getting women involved,” Ros Sopheap said. “We need to build from the beginning.”

The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) international solidarity network welcomes the news that Iranian lawmakers have amended a contentious new family law proposal, marking a major victory for Iranian women’s rights activists. (WLUML Networkers)

Various Iranian women’s organizations have campaigned against the law since its introduction in the Parliament last year. Activists say that the proposed legislation contained numerous articles that would reverse past gains made by women’s rights leaders over the last thirty years and significantly harm the status of Iranian women within the family.

The bill was set to a vote last week, before the Parliament adjourned for Ramadan. Before that vote took place, one hundred women’s rights defenders stormed the Parliament building to register their protest to lawmakers. Because mass demonstrations are often considered illegal in Iran, the women entered gradually in groups of three or four until they presented en masse to voice their criticism with the new bill. As a result, the proposed law was sent back to the legal commission for further review, postponing the vote in Parliament.

On Sunday, the spokesman for the Ministry of Justice announced they have amended the law, removing articles 23 and 25, the most contentious among women’s rights activists. The revised law will be sent to the Parliament for vote after Ramadan.

Article 23, one of the most criticized articles in the bill, would make polygamy easier for Iranian men. Currently, an Iranian man needs to obtain the permission of his first wife in order to marry a second. These safeguards would be effectively removed for women in the proposed legislation.

Article 25 would have taxed women’s mehr, a monetary sum given by the groom to the bride, which is often considered a protection for women against arbitrary divorce by their husbands.

Women from various backgrounds, religious and secular, had come together to mobilize against the new family law, initiating a public debate via online journals such as, running a postcard campaign, and encouraging ordinary women from across the country to phone their representative and register their protest against the proposed legislation.

Nevertheless, WLUML is still not satisfied with amended legislation, even without Articles 23 and 25. The bill, which is presented by the government as family law “reform”, does not in fact provide more gender equality according to activists.

WLUML calls upon the Iranian authorities to work directly with women’s rights advocates to pass true family law reform, one that wholly prohibits discrimination against women in all its forms. We urge the Iranian legal and judicial systems to ensure Iranian women enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as men during marriage and at its dissolution, including matters related to inheritance, custody and guardianship of children, and blood price.

Furthermore, we call upon Iranian officials to unequivocally ban polygamy under the law.

Source: WLUML Networkers 10 September 2008

The tool on Police Reform and Gender has been translated into Dari by the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The translated version serves the Afghan community, strengthening the capacity of the police force to understand and address the security needs of men, women, boys and girls from a perspective of gender equality and inclusive security.

“Police Reform and Gender” is part of the Gender and Security Sector Reform Toolkit, published earlier this year by UN-INSTRAW, the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE (ODIHR).

Police officers are responsible for the maintenance of public order and the protection of Afghan men, women, boys and girls.

Incorporating a gender perspective into police reform is essential to ensuring that officers recognize the differential impacts of crime and violence and provide an appropriate and effective response.

Download the Dari version of Police Reform and Gender

Read the Press Release about the Security Sector Reform Toolkit:

From INSTRAW August 2008 e-newsletter

UN-INSTRAW is an Institute devoted to applied research, training and knowledge management in partnership with governments, the United Nations Agencies, civil society and academia to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.


* The number of domestic violence cases decreased by 80 percent during the first ten days of Ramadan, while the level of reconciliation between family members increased.
* The level of domestic violence has increased significantly over the past few years, leading to the establishment of organizations such as the Saudi Family Protection Organisation.

Lafi al Balawi, head of the executive committee for the Saudi Family Protection Organisation based in Jeddah told Asharq Al-Awsat that the number of cases of domestic violence has dropped by 80 percent during the holy month of Ramadan. In the first week of the fasting month, an increase was recorded in the number of cases of reconciliation between family members. Al Balawi attributed this to Ramadan during which there is a tendency to resolve ongoing problems and accomplish good deeds. He highlighted the remarkable role of the reconciliation committee in this regard as well as other parties such as mayors and dignitaries who mediate to solve complicated cases.

The reconciliation committees, which are affiliated to the principalities, play an important role in settling disputes and reuniting families before problems are further exacerbated.

On his part, Dr. Ali al Hanaki, director of the Social Affairs department in Mecca, told Asharq Al Awsat, “The month of Ramadan is a time for worship, reflection and obedience; it is only natural that the level of violence decreases during this month. However, there are people who use Ramadan to cause problems and settle accounts with their spouses.”

According to Lafi al Balawi, his organisation has settled fifteen disputes in the first week of Ramadan alone. Seventy cases remain unsolved.

Despite the efforts to reconcile families, the numbers of individuals seeking shelter is continuously on the rise. One of the families seeking shelter comprises of eleven members – a mother, eight daughters and two sons. There is also a 23-year-old girl, who has stayed at the shelter for two years, after her father refused to marry her off, according to Lafi al Balawi.

Gripping her skull to ease a constant pounding headache, Lieu explains how she came to a decision that would have been unthinkable in Vietnam just a few years ago — to divorce her husband.

Speaking in a measured voice, her eyes steady, the 29-year-old from Hanoi recounted two years of living hell, of the abuse, humiliation and physical violence she suffered at the hands of her husband and his family.

Things turned bad soon after they married in 2006, she said, when he would come home, having spent his meagre postman’s salary on alcohol, shout at her and then beat her — sometimes so badly she passed out.

“His punches tore the skin around my eyes,” she told AFP, sitting in a centre providing support to female domestic abuse victims. “Doctors stitched up a four-centimetre (1.6-inch) gash. Later he started to smash my head into walls,” Lieu said, wincing at the pain of what doctors have told her are long-term head injuries. I have suffered enough. I will divorce, and I will raise my daughter alone.”

Lieu’s story is not unusual in Vietnam, which remains a male-dominated society.

But what is new is that women are starting to speak out.

More victims of domestic violence have broken the silence and the social taboo to share their suffering and discover they are not alone.

A flurry of media reports has shocked the public by reporting about women’s often horrific ordeals through mental, physical and sexual violence.

The Gia Dinh Va Xa Hoi (Family and Society) newspaper reported on a Hanoi woman who was forced to have sex with her husband 365 days a year and dared not refuse him even after she was hospitalised with serious internal injuries.

A woman from northern Nam Dinh province has permanent disabilities caused by brain and spinal injuries from her husband’s beatings, the An Ninh Thu Do (Capital Security) newspaper reported.

A joint UN-government family survey this year found that 21.2 percent of married couples had reported instances of domestic violence in their households, including emotional abuse, beatings and rape.

“Men have the right to beat a woman, women are supposed to suffer” —

Many cases of abuse involved men drinking alcohol and arguments about men’s financial decisions, gambling and extramarital affairs.

Some 3.4 percent of men had beaten their wives, according to the joint study by UNICEF and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, an interview-based study that almost certainly underestimated the problem.

Few of the respondents who talked about domestic violence said they had asked for help from their parents, friends or the authorities, citing fears of “blackening the family’s image” or “showing their wounds to strangers”.

Vietnam’s communist government stresses equality for women, who fought alongside men during the war, a role that recalls revered folk heroes such as the Trung sisters, who in the first century AD led an anti-Chinese revolt.

Nonetheless, Vietnam is also a patriarchal society long governed by Confucian values that hold that women must obey their men.

Arguably discrimination against women starts before they are born, because of a long-running preference for male offspring who are expected to support their parents in old age and carry on the family line.

Medical advances such as ultrasound tests have made it easier for many families to abort female fetuses in the first months of pregnancy, skewing the national gender ratio at birth to 110 boys for every 100 girls.

“In our culture and tradition, men always play a higher and dominating position,” said Hoang Thi Kim Thanh, head of a women’s protection centre in Hanoi.

“Men have the right to beat women, and women are supposed to suffer.

“Society considers and accepts this fact as a matter of course,” said Thanh from SAGA, the Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences of Gender, Families, Women and Adolescents.

Women tend to accept the violence because they put their children, parents and other family members ahead of themselves, she said.

Lieu is a case in point. For a long time, she said, she did not even consider divorce because she worried for the future of her two-year-old daughter.

“I knew if we separated, she would be the one that suffers the most,” Lieu said, tears filling her eyes. “When she grows up and gets married, her husband’s family may say that she does not have good values because she comes from a broken home.”

Thanh said women such as Lieu are starting to shed light on the scourge of domestic violence.

“It’s an encouraging sign that many women dare to speak out about their problems,” she said. “Domestic violence is no longer a private family issue. It’s a social concern”

The lack of proper law has given rise to cases of domestic violence against women in the present time.

Nepal has already become a party of 19 international human rights treaties and two regional ones that advocate for the elimination of discrimination against women.

However, the efforts to stop domestic violence against women have gone fruitless because of the lack of proper law, executive director of the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) Sabin Shrestha said

The existing social practices guided by the patriarchal mindset have become a major hindrance to check growing violence against women, he added.

He also said that there were no clear-cut laws to define domestic violence and discrimination against women, and gender equality. “There are several deficiencies in view of gender equality and women rights.”

Human rights activist and lawyer Mandira Sharma said that the campaign to stop violence against women had not become effective, as the existing state mechanism was not heedful to enforce the laws in this regard.

“The violence against women does not mean only physical attack and exploitation against women. Moreover, it includes different types of psychological trauma perpetrated to women, that have been contributing to an increase in the violence against women.”

Advocate Chandra Kant Gyawali underscored that the Social Behaviour Improvement Act 2031 BS should be amended and implemented effectively to stop the growing cases of social malpractice.

Similarly, positive discrimination for women should be executed in education and other sectors besides formulating positive laws to check violence against women, he said.

Among the 7,000 families living in camps for the displaced since the Koshi River – the country’s largest – burst its banks on 18 August, women and girls are most vulnerable, say agencies, as facilities in Sunsari and Saptari districts lack adequate healthcare and protection.

A principal concern is lack of privacy for women treated in health centres, and the dearth of specialised health services for children and female medical workers, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nepal. “There is a lack of separate maternal healthcare and this could risk the health of pregnant women, new mothers and their newborn,” said Hemlalta Chaudhary, a village facilitator from Sabal, a local NGO supported by the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF).

According to the government’s District Public Health Offices (DPHO) in both Saptari and Sunsari districts, there are almost 1,000 pregnant women, with more than half of them in Saptari camps.

More than 15 are said to be about to give birth, the DPHO reports, and officials maintain that provisions for safe deliveries were being made. However, women on the ground remain sceptical. “I hope the government will come to help on time,” Sabitri Mukhia, who is seven months pregnant, said. “This is my first child and I don’t want her to be born in this camp,” she added, concerned by the lack of maternal care facilities almost a month after the camps were established. Her worries were shared by health workers.

To date, no separate site for delivery has been erected, ambulance service remains erratic, and most serious of all, there is a shortage of female healthcare workers, they say. Once the baby is born, it will be forced to live in the tiny and cramped shelters with low ceilings, making it difficult to ward off the scorching heat or get fresh air.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is planning to offer transport to health services away from shelters to ensure pregnancy-related complications are responded to quickly.

Several aid agencies and NGOs working with women and children have requested that the government boost security in the area due to possible risks and reported cases of violence and abuse of women, they told IRIN in Saptari District.

According to UNFPA, women and adolescent girls are highly vulnerable to gender-based violence due to inadequate lighting and security at night. The agency has therefore been advocating for the deployment of female police officers to the shelters for both day and night duty. There have been unverified reports of between five and 11 rape cases in Saptari over the past few days, OCHA said. “Young women and girls are living under vulnerable conditions and the weak security is putting many of them at sexual risk,” said Avha Setu Singh, a rights activist from a local NGO, Setu Community Development and Human Rights Forum.

Although government authorities maintain they have taken this issue on board, women on the ground more than one week later said no serious action had yet been taken.