Archive for October, 2008

Never mind the drugs and booze that go hand-in-hand with the sex trade – prostitution itself is an addiction. So says Lauren Casey, a Victoria, B.C., researcher, advocate and former prostitute.

She says there must be specialized rehab for people addicted to a lifestyle that’s built around fast, easy money, living on the edge and the heady rush of power over others.

Casey is talking to local cops, social workers and health-care professionals about the Sex Workers Addressing Treatment program, which she developed with B.C. social worker Barbara Smith.

“We need to focus on sex-work-specific issues,” she said at a seminar at the Alberta Avenue community hall earlier this month.

SWAT, she explained, is intended to explode the myths about the sex trade and help people trapped in the habit-forming cycle of prostitution. It’s the first of its kind in Canada, with test programs launched at rehab centres in Kelowna and Victoria.

The program is designed to recognize “the distinct culture of sex work and the impact that it has on the people who work in the industry.”

Myths about the sex trade persist, she explained, because most research into the sex trade has been conducted solely on street prostitution, which represents only 10% to 20% of the industry. The rest is “inside,” in escort agencies, massage parlours and on the Internet.

It’s a common misconception, she said, that the vast majority of women go into the sex trade to pay for their drug and alcohol addictions.

In fact, Casey said, only a “tiny minority” who get into it are already addicts. While drug addiction is rampant in the sex trade, most prostitutes develop drug addictions after they go into the business.

Her research found that, by far, most women go into it for the fast money, and it’s that easy cash that becomes the most addictive part.

But often they turn to drugs as the business grinds them down emotionally and spiritually.

People in the sex trade routinely lose their sense of identity, partly because of the need to keep parts of their lives secret.

“I was four different people,” Casey said.

To some she was a sex worker, to others she was a heavy crack-cocaine user and party girl, to others she was a struggling university student and to the rest she was a member of mainstream society.

“I’ve been out of it for eight years and I’m just starting to know who I am,” she said.

Casey also found that one of the biggest reasons people go back to the sex trade after leaving is boredom.

The struggle of living on a budget, without the adrenalin rush and excitement that goes with the business, can lead them to relapse.

SWAT, she said, is designed to address issues that traditional addiction treatment methods can’t.

One former prostitute and recovering crack-cocaine addict, who had to go into rehab six times before she was able to stay clean and sober, said a program like SWAT would have saved her years of misery.

“If I had gone through this I would have recovered 10 years earlier,” she said.

Dawn Hodgins of the Prostitution Awareness and Action Coalition of Edmonton, which brought Casey to the city, said the organization wants to see addictions treatment centres in Alberta adopt the program.

Some prefectures tackling problem, but police finding crackdown difficult elsewhere

Cases of child prostitution involving dating-service cafes have been increasing sharply, prompting some local governments to take measures such as banning people under 18 from entering such establishments.

Inside the cafes, men choose women from among the female clientele and try to secure dates with them. The system has triggered many cases of prostitution involving minors.

In a sizable number of such cases, minors who entered the cafes purely out of curiosity have been targeted.

The local governments, including the Kanagawa and Kyoto prefectural governments, revised their local ordinances to ban under 18s from entering such cafes.

One such facility near JR Yokohama Station displays a sign saying, “Coffee shop with manga library–no entrance fee for women.” The floor is separated into two areas by a one-way mirror with the height of the floor in the men’s area about 50 centimeters lower than that of the women’s.

Male customers, some wearing business suits, gaze at young women sitting on sofas through the one-way mirror.

Female customers cannot see the men.

The cafe displays a notice saying girls aged 16 or older are welcome. The women included girls in school uniforms. Clerks tell the male customers, “If you see a girl you like, feel free to name her.”

The cafe is open from 9 a.m. to midnight and about 200 people–both male and female–visit each day.

If a female customer is chosen, she chats with the man for about 10 minutes. If she agrees to a date outside the cafe, the man pays her “transportation expenses.”

The man also pays the cafe an admission fee, a naming fee and a fee if he manages to arrange a date, totaling about 8,000 yen.

Women do not have to pay for anything.

According to the National Police Agency, the number of such dating-service cafes began increasing around 2006. As of the end of 2007, there were 77 such facilities in Tokyo and 14 other prefectures.

With 27, Tokyo has the highest number of such establishments, followed by 11 in Aichi Prefecture, nine in Osaka Prefecture, and seven each in Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures. The cafes tend to be concentrated in big cities.

Though 22 of the 77 cafes display signs banning under 18s, an NPA official said, “It’s impossible to confirm whether the cafes are actually checking customers’ ages.”

Some cafes display signs saying that under 18s are welcome.

According to the NPA’s data, the first cases of child prostitution and sexual abuse involving the dating-service cafes surfaced in 2007, with 26 such incidents reported.

This year, there had been 22 such cases as of the end of August, including incidents involving two middle school students. This reflects a trend in which the ages of female customers is dropping.

A 15-year-old third year middle school student said she was initially invited by a friend to visit a dating-service cafe in Yokohama. She said she was plied with alcohol outside the cafe and sexually abused.

Investigators of the Kanagawa prefectural police quoted her as saying: “I treated it all very lightly as I thought I’d be able to dine for free. I never thought I’d be taken to a hotel. I regret it now.”

A senior official of the prefectural police said: “Many girls hear rumors that they’ll be able to dine at a man’s expense, and visit such cafes just for curiosity or in the hope of getting money. Though this is no different from brokering child prostitution, the current laws can’t cover these cases.”

A law for regulating entertainment businesses prohibits people under 18 from entering or working in certain businesses, such as telephone-dating establishments and cabaret clubs.

But the law cannot cover the dating-service cafes and similar cases as the females involved are not employed by the business operators.

The manager of one such cafe involved in a prostitution case said: “I just offer opportunities for people to meet. I can’t be held responsible for what happens outside my cafe.”

In January, the NPA instructed prefectural police headquarters across the nation to check potentially unlawful acts conducted by dating-service cafe operators. But so far, only one cafe has been investigated over child prostitution.

In that case, the Metropolitan Police Department applied a clause of an ordinance regulating dating clubs that prohibits minors from entering the premises and limits areas where such facilities can operate, against a manager and employees of a dating-service cafe in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo on suspicion that they allowed a 16-year-old high school girl, who later became involved in prostitution, to enter the cafe.

The MPD regarded the operators of the cafe as brokers in paid sexual services. However, only Tokyo has such a local ordinance.

The Saitama prefectural police detained the manager and employees of a dating-service cafe on suspicion of brokering prostitution services involving adult women.

In the case, the manager paid “waiting fees” to female customers. The prefectural police thus regarded they had an employer-employee relationship.

But in cases in which dating-service cafe operators do not pay or offer other benefits to women, finding ways of cracking down on them is difficult.

Kanagawa prefectural police and some other police forces investigated several such cafes on suspicion of brokering child prostitution services, but no arrests were made.

Police have had to use other techniques, such as applying the Trademark Law, to investigate the cafes.

Yukio Akatsuka, a social affairs commentator, said, “Girls are using these cafes in the same way they use manga or Internet cafes.”

“Such cafes are more risky than telephone dating clubs in that the girls could be caught up in child prostitution while they think they are just having fun. The business operators are irresponsible,” he added.

Child prostitution has reached alarmingly high levels in Congo, a local NGO reported after conducting a state-sponsored, UN funded investigation.

“Prostitution increasingly affects underage girls who sometimes do not use protection. They have no money,” said Elie Sosthene Nganga, the head of Attac 3 – an NGO set up to fight drugs, prostitution and HIV or Aids.

“Prostitution has increased during the different cycles of (civil) war, which have divided families and provoked a change in children’s behaviour to engage in sexual promiscuity to survive,” she added.

Attac 3 interviewed almost 400 minors during its probe in three main districts of Congo’s capital Brazzaville.

Child prostitution is parlicularly rife in Bacongo, one of Brazzaville’s oldest districts, according to the study that also conducted a census of female prostitutes in four countries: Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal and Benin.

Congo’s ministry in charge of promoting female development ordered the research, funded by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

“We have to increase awareness in order to change this behaviour,” said Jeanne Francoise Lekomba Loumeto, the minister responsible for female integration.

A 2003 World Bank-backed study found that 120 000 people suffered from HIV or Aids in Congo, a seroprevalence rate of 4,2 percent.

Congo has experienced a number of civil wars in recent years, notably between 1998 and 2003 in the south of the country.

The UN chief has urged world leaders to follow through on their commitment to poverty elimination

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said poverty in sub-Saharan Africa had increased between 1990 and 2005, and women and girls are most affected by bias and neglect. He was addressing the 63rd annual UN General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in New York.

“Women and girls suffer persistent bias and neglect, evidenced by disturbing gender gaps in health, education, employment and empowerment,” said Ban. He added that the current financial crisis in the US and other countries is threatening the well-being of billions of people, especially the ‘poorest of the poor’. This, he said, only compounds the damage being caused by much higher prices of food and fuel.

“We are the first generation to possess the resources, knowledge and skills to eliminate poverty. Experience shows that where there is strong political resolve, we see progress. And where there is partnership, there are gains,” said the UN chief.

He has appealed to world leaders and delegates to rise to the challenge and ‘inject new energy’ into the global partnership for development.

Ban is pleased with the MDGs achievements so far. “We are on the way to cutting extreme poverty and hunger in half by 2015,” he said.

The MDGs were adopted in September 2000 by presidents and prime ministers of 189 countries. The aim is to find ways to improve the well-being of the poorest of the poor by 2015.

Qualifying the successes, Ban said: “Measles vaccinations have prevented 7.5 million deaths. Inroads have been made against Aids. There is surging school enrolment in several African countries, following the abolition of school fees and millions of poor households have risen out of extreme poverty, not just in China and India, but in many countries, including some of the poorest.”

He added that while they’re moving in the right direction, they’re not moving quickly enough. “Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds. Yet, much faster than anyone expected, we are close to containing this scourge,” he said. An optimistic Ban reaffirmed, however, that all is on track to end malaria deaths by 2015.

He urged the leaders to live up to their responsibilities. “I ask you to be bold in your commitments. I ask you to be generous.” Ban also proposed that a formal summit be held in 2010 in order to take stock of the MDG goals.,2172,177462,00.html

Rape Crisis, a non-governmental organisation which has helped survivors of rape and sexual violence in Cape Town since 1976, warned it was facing a “very serious” financial crisis which could force it to close its doors.

“In the last two years, two core funders ended their relationship with Rape Crisis, one of them leaving the country and the other feeling it was time to move on after 10 years of support.

“A number of international funders have also ended their trade agreements and have moved out of the country, while local (South African) funders choose to move into impoverished communities and not the Western Cape, which is seen as having more resources,” Rape Crisis director Chantel Cooper told the Cape Argus.

While the National Lottery Board has also not supported the organisation since 2006, expenses have soared and currently stand at R300 000 a month.

Transport, which is provided to all victims, was one of the biggest factors contributing to the rise in expenses, while other costs included the volunteer stipend, salaries, rental, phone bills, electricity and water.

“We are just not able to make ends meet,” Cooper said.

“The demand for our services is increasing, but we are not able to meet the demand because of a lack of resources.”

Rape Crisis provides four core services aimed at prevention of violence against women, providing counselling and support to victims, lobbying and advocacy, and volunteer recruitment and development.

The organisation has three area offices in Observatory, Khayelitsha and Athlone, a 24-hour counselling hotline, and a 24-hour trauma centre at the GF Jooste Hospital where police take rape survivors for counselling and medical attention.

Rape Crisis also runs support services at four courts – Wynberg, Khayelitsha, Parow and Cape Town magistrate’s courts – providing support throughout the secondary trauma experienced during the court process.

It operates with 13 fulltime staff, up to 10 court supporters, eight counsellors at the hospital and about 40 volunteers.

Cooper said: “If we had core funding it would be much easier, but our core funding used to come in euros, pounds and dollars once we lost that, we had to cut back on a lot of the services we provided.”

She said Rape Crisis offered a crucial service not only to survivors of rape and sexual violence but also to entire communities where there are prevention programmes aimed at creating safer environments for women.

“The need for our services has grown, and yet the expenses often exceed what we would like to offer,” said Cooper, adding that apart from financial support, donations of time, skill and expertise were also urgently needed.

At least 300 women are victims of sexual violence every year in Bamako, according to local police records, but the actual figure is much higher said the president of the Bamako-based non-profit, Women in Law and Development in Africa.

“Victims and their families rarely denounce rapists in order to preserve the family’s dignity and honour,” said the group’s president Sidibe Djenba Diop, “Rape cases are on the rise, yet neither the [Malian] culture nor its laws recognise, yet, that rape is an act of violence against women.”

The group recently released results from a year-long study on women’s vulnerability to sexual violence. Based on police reports, the study noted at least one reported case of rape every four days, with the police launching a new investigation every week. But these inquiries rarely lead to any punishment, said Diop.

“Lack of understanding about this phenomenon, erroneous perceptions, indifference, and at worst, society’s tolerance worsens impunity.”

According to Bamako police inspector Boubacar Maiga, six people were sentenced to prison for sexual violence thus far in 2008, three of them for a period of six months, and the others for two years.

In 2007, Maiga told IRIN two people were sentenced to six months of prison time, and about US$40 each in fines to the victims’ families. Two people were found guilty as accomplices, and each served six months’ jail time.

President of a women’s legal clinic in Bamako, Dourte Djeneba Dembele, told IRIN laws that do not protect women become culprits in the spread of violence, “The non-application of the law [banning sexual violence] is a serious form of violence in that it [impunity] motivates rapists. Harmful traditions like female genital mutilation [FGM] and levirat, when a widow is required to marry her deceased husband’s brother, are also acts of violence.”

Malian sociologist Alou Badara Macalou said since certain traditions have become socially acceptable, women do not question violence toward them, or fight back. “Are these women aware or take part in movements to protect their rights? They remain largely untouched by efforts to change the status quo because they have yielded to the pressure of tradition.” Macalou said their silence has allowed violence to increase against them unfettered and unchallenged.

Bouare Bintou, the coordinator of the Program for the Enforcement of Male-Female Equity which financed the study, told IRIN the study focused on Bamako because of the heightened danger women face there. “Urbanisation and population growth have crowded people into the capital, changing neighbourhoods, lifestyles and relations between residents.”

The violence against women study coordinator Diop told IRIN it will take civil society, professionals, doctors, public workers, police, judges- and most importantly, the women themselves- to help all women and young girls fight back and assert their rights.

Oumou Ahmar Traore, a director in the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children and Families, told IRIN the government is drafting a new law that will expand the definition of violence against women beyond rape to include FGM and levirat.

“I am sure,” said Traore, “that rigorous application of this law will finally put an end to violence against women.” He said prison time will remain the same, and fines will increase, without specifying by how much.

When asked how the ministry can enforce this law when the existing one protecting women from sexual violence is often un-enforced, Traore replied enforcement is handled by the Ministry of Justice.

Mariam Diarra, 26, told IRIN she was raped by her uncle when she was 15 years old. “I still relive those difficult moments,” she said.

When asked how best to protect women, she held back her tears before they spilled forth in sobs, “May God protect all women from this fire.”

A Netherlands-funded project is aiming to provide better protection for women and children exposed to violence and sexual abuse.

Sisters Arab Forum (SAF), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), will implement the US$700,000 project – the first of its kind in Yemen. All 21 governorates will be covered in the four-year project.

Amal al-Basha, chairwoman of SAF, said the scheme would include training courses, capacity building activities and a review of current laws. “There will be 20 lawyers to legally handle violence cases,” she told IRIN.

She said a telephone hotline would be set up to receive complaints from women and children exposed to sexual harassment. “We will cooperate with the Ministry of Interior regarding reported cases. The project will monitor violence incidents reported by the media.”

According to al-Basha, a shelter will be set up (18 months after the start of the project) in Sanaa city to provide round-the-clock support for women and children who are victims of violence.

Legal and gender experts would conduct a study of the causes of violence against women and children, and ministry officials and local NGOs would monitor the project closely, she said.

Al-Basha said there were no accurate data on sexual violence cases, and that one of the aims was to create a database of sexual violence incidents. “During the first year of the programme, we will be able to assess the gravity of the phenomenon of sexual violence against women and children.”

A May 2008 report on the status of Yemeni women in 2007 [available only in Arabic].

According to the report, domestic violence against women was only very rarely reported to the police.

In 2007, there were 33 rape cases, including 18 cases against juvenile girls, the report said, adding that a 2003 health survey indicated that 5 percent of married women were exposed to domestic violence, including beating mostly by their husbands, and 21.5 percent of these apparently without any reason.

High illiteracy rates, lack of respect for the law, difficult living conditions and income disparities were among the factors responsible for violence against women, the report said.

In June 2008 Interior Ministry statistics revealed 2,694 cases of violence against women in 2007, with cases ranging from killing to harassment; 130 women died as a result, 88 of whom were intentionally killed. Across the 2,694 cases, the violence caused 970 injuries.

Jamal al-Shami, chairman of the Democracy School, a local NGO working with children, said sexual abuse against children was on the rise. “There are many violence cases in Yemen. Children are beaten at home but such cases are not reported. The law does not envisage punishment for parents who practice violence against their children,” he told IRIN.

Furthermore, parents did not educate their children on sexual abuse, which resulted in a lack of awareness, al-Shami said, adding that his organisation was planning to train a number of local NGOs on how to raise awareness.

Yemen is ranked bottom among the 128 countries listed in the Global Gender Gap Report issued in 2007 by the World Economic Forum.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says a big rise in recorded domestic violence offences is because the issue has been brought “out from under the carpet”.

Annual crime statistics released on 1st October showed a small drop in the crime rate for the year ended June 30, but a surge in reported family violence offences which pushed overall violent crime up 11 per cent.

The family violence sub-category rose by 29 per cent.

Miss Clark said violent crime was an ongoing concern, but the rise in today’s figures was driven by increased reporting of domestic violence due to the high-profile “It’s not OK” campaign.

“The fact is we are working to bring that serious issue out from under the carpet so it can be dealt with openly,” she told reporters.

“So it may not be that there is any more violence in the homes, but that we are getting to know about it and can then do something about it.”

The figures showed 107 more offences were recorded in the year than in the June 2007 year. Adjusted for the population increase in the same period, it was a 1 per cent decrease, police said.

Miss Clark welcomed the overall drop in the crime rate, while Police Minister Annette King praised police for an increase in the proportion of cases they solved.

Police resolved 9685 more offences in the year, increasing the resolution rate to 47 per cent from 44.7 per cent in the previous period.

“I believe that shows that the way police are working alongside their communities is paying off,” Ms King said.

She said the rise in domestic violence was entirely responsible for 11 per cent rise in violent offending and New Zealand’s streets were no more dangerous than in previous years.

As well as the “It’s not OK” campaign all frontline police had now undertaken mandatory training in family violence investigation and risk assessment.

She said that had raised people’s trust that if they made a complaint it would be dealt with appropriately.

From a longer article at

The Chinese government has ordered police to respond at the scene to all complaints of domestic violence in a new regulation to protect the rights of women.

The regulation, issued by seven ministries, including the ministries of public security, justice and health, requires police to be dispatched whenever they receive a 110 emergency call regarding household violence.

Chen Xiourong, vice president of the All-China Women’s Federation, said that the regulation would reinforce the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women, which was amended in 2005 to include articles on domestic abuse. Twenty-five provinces had also enacted regulations to prevent violence against women.

Women’s federations across China, together with public security departments, had set up domestic-abuse centers, shelters, complaint hotlines and legal aid websites, said Chen.

“All the measures have helped greatly to protect women from domestic violence,” she said.

The federation received 40,000 to 50,000 complaints of domestic violence annually, and the number of cases had been increasing.

In the past, victims lacked legislative support and were afraid or ashamed to speak out, said Chen.

The Tenth National Women’s Congress will be held from Oct. 28 to 31, and more than 1,200 delegates representing the country’s 650 million women will attend.

The Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development has set up a temporary task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse against Penan women and girls in Sarawak.

Its minister Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen said the ministry would be working closely with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) and Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), and the Sarawak government and police to address the issue.

“When we investigate, our task force will be talking directly with the tribal heads to get more information and to let them know that the federal government is a responsible government.

“We in the ministry will make every effort to protect the Penan women and girls,” she told a press conference.

Dr Ng said the task force would hold its first meeting tomorrow and she might go to Sarawak at the end of this month to look into the matter.

Three weeks ago, a media release by non-governmental organisation Bruno Manser Foundation (BMF) brought to light a long-held concern over sexual abuse of Penan women by timber camp workers in the Baram district.

The Switzerland-based organisation charged that workers from two timber companies were preying on Penan women in the various settlements within the companies operational areas, and targeting female students who relied on the companies transportation service to get to school.

The report also claimed that there had been several incidents of pregnancy among the Penan women and girls due to the abuses, while the logging workers were also behaving like thugs and carrying arms to intimidate the community.

“We have to find out why this is happening. If they say they have no transport, we have to look into their transport needs,” Dr Ng said.

She said the ministry had also received a faxed statement from Sarawak’s Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu on Oct 3, condemning any form of violence, including sexual abuse of women and children.

“Jabu wants the police to investigate the reports of alleged sexual abuse and if found to be true the suspects must be dealt with severely,” she said.

Dr Ng also said that logging companies must be responsible for the behaviour of their workers.

“We need to take this matter very seriously and make it an example to all others because we cannot allow any means of exploitation of the minorities,” she said.

Nepali HIV-infected women have complained that the present policies and programs of the government have failed to address their problems and claimed for free treatment a state-run newspaper The Rising Nepal reported earlier this month.

At a press conference in the Nepali capital of Kathmandu, organized by Shakti Milan Samaj, a social organization working for HIV infected women, they said though they had heard that a great amount was received in aid for the HIV/ AIDS sector from donors, their problems could not be addressed in the government’s policies and programs, according to the report.

Similarly, expressing regret that the perception of the society towards them has not changed yet, they demanded the government to guarantee for free treatment, care, resettlement, social security and jobs, and announce a special program for them to eke out livings.

“The government should make arrangements for free education to our children and announce legal action against all violence against us regarding it as a crime against the state,” they further demanded.

Around 55 HIV infected women were provided with a skill development training whereas 65 children were provided with support in education so far by the Samaj organization, informed its Chairperson Goma Rai.

Likewise, stating that the women had to suffer from HIV infection due to the cultural, economic and domestic violence against them, Program Coordinator of the Samaj, Mamata KC shared her bitter experiences from the society and urged all to save her life as how to live is the foremost problem.

Women are increasingly clamouring for their sexual rights in a social environment that is often discriminatory and outright demeaning.

“Women should know about their sexual rights; it is very important especially for women in rural areas where men, more often than not, abuse women,” commented Vicky Schimming after a week-long workshop on women’s sexual rights, culture and HIV/AIDS in the capital earlier this month.

The event forms part of a nationwide campaign for sexual rights, launched by the non-governmental organisation, Sister Namibia.

The aim of the campaign that started in 2000 with research on sexual-cultural practices, said Director of Sister Namibia, Liz Fank, is to develop critical thinking and analysis around sexual and cultural practices that violate women’s sexual rights and fuel the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The campaign further aims to gather case studies for a Namibian sexuality resource handbook and build capacity to conduct local workshops on the link between HIV/AIDS, poverty, oppressive cultural practices and sexual violence.

“Everyone talks about the need to change behaviour to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, but there is hardly any discussion on the need to change harmful sexual cultural practices that are often the drivers of the disease,” Frank said.

“Almost 50 percent of women in the Caprivi Region, as a case in point, are HIV-positive, but no one asks why.”

One harmful practice in the Caprivi Region, said Frank, is what is referred to as mulaleka, a practice that condones incest.

This, she said, is a cultural mechanism to make women understand from babyhood that their bodies belong to men.

Another detrimental practice, said Ngondi Ngatjiheue from the Otjozondjupa Region, is that in Otjiherero culture women are not allowed to make their own sexual choices.

“Sex is difficult; you cannot ask to have sex with your husband, and you cannot refuse him when he wants sex,” said Ngatjiheue.

Insistence on the use of condoms, she said, is out of the question.

“If you insist, your husband or partner will accuse you of infidelity. It is only a small percentage of men who will accept the use of condoms,” she said.

The more than 40 women from as far as Gam and Onderombapa felt that the practice of ‘inheriting a widow’ should be changed.

“Widows are not forced per se to be ‘taken over’ by their late husband’s brothers, but they are placed under immense cultural pressure to acquiesce,” said Ngatjiheue.

According to the 2007 National HIV/AIDS policy, traditional leaders should be sensitised on the dangers of customary practices like death cleansing, forced sex for young girls and boys coming of age, and dry sex, which may lead to HIV/AIDS infection.

The policy prescribes that traditional initiation councillors must incorporate sound and appropriate sexual and reproductive health education into traditional and cultural rites of passage.

It further prescribes that such initiation councillors should stop or change unsafe customary practices to stop the spread of HIV, or to promote alternative practices that do not place people at risk of infection.

Independence marks the day the Uganda flag replaced the Union Jack when the British Colonialists let go of Uganda and its resources and left it in the hands of nationals.

Over four decades later, we have lots of achievements rolling off our tongues, written in books by historians and extolled at international gatherings. One area where the country is praised for working so hard at making the lives of its citizens better is the empowerment of women socially, economically and politically.

Today, I want to take a quick look at the real situation on ground in this area and what more needs to be done. I am taking an unusual view at this; national vs individual independence and my focus is on the independence of women in the face of the current HIV epidemic.

Women, not only in Uganda but world over, are the most affected by the HIV epidemic. Estimates show that out of about one million Ugandans living with HIV, more than half are women. It is not that they are the most sexually active, but the one factor that puts them at great risk is their inherent dependence on men and the subsequent vulnerability.

Women in Uganda have no inheritance rights; they are discriminated in education, which limits their opportunities to exploit their potential. This in turn limits their economic muscle and independence, increasing their vulnerability and dependence on men.

The majority of women, especially in the Third World, do not control their sexuality. Decision regarding when and how to have sex are made for them by their partners, the number of children to bear is decided by the partner, how much money to spend on maternal health at household level is made by the partner.

This leaves women no option but to be submissive lest the support is withheld. Speaking in 2000, the then WHO director general, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, brought out the risk of living under this kind of cloud.

He said, “we will not achieve progress against HIV until women gain control over their sexuality.” And I must add that we will not achieve complete independence as a nation until the women gain their body autonomy.

Women’s submissiveness leaves them vulnerable to HIV infection. They cannot negotiate safe sex, they cannot say no to sex, even when they are sure their partner is having sexual relations elsewhere.

With the emergence of HIV discordance among couples, the situation is worse; the women are battered, thrown out of their homes and called irresponsible. In extreme cases, three women have been reported in the local press to have been killed by their spouses in different parts of the country over the last one year.

When they give birth to HIV-positive children, they are blamed like they wished it to happen. Many of them go for HIV tests but they are afraid to share the results with their husbands; the repercussions can be extreme.

This affects their adherence to treatment, in case they are found positive and have to be put on drugs. In some cases, even those testing negative cannot discuss the results because they will be asked why they went for the test. Are they suspicious of their own conduct or do they suspect their husbands? This can easily spark off a conflict which the woman loses in most cases.

According to results of a study released by Action Aid early this year, in Pallisa district, in one year alone, at least 100 out of the 465 women who went for HIV testing experienced violence on declaring their HIV status.

One of the reasons HIV prevalence is highest among married people may be due to this culture of silence; a culture that is nurtured by the male dominance of women; a culture that locks women out of the information dissemination and sharing arena.

So, as we celebrate national independence, we need to focus on independence at the individual level because a nation is made up of an aggregate on individuals. A truly independent nation is a result of the good health of its people, especially the women on whose shoulders most of the production in this country rests. We need to move from macro-level speeches and examine what is happening at the micro.

By Milly Nattimba – is a MUSPH/CDC HIV/AIDS Fellow attached to the school’s department of Health Policy, Planning and Management and The New Vision

The Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Ghana and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF) have condemned the spate of marginalization of Ghanaian women in leadership positions and called for effective affirmative action to address the problem. The two bodies admit there has been an increase in the number of women in leadership positions but note that the gap is still huge considering that more than 50% of women make up the country’s population. This was made known at a Regional Consultative Forum in Bolgatanga organized by FIDA Ghana, WILDAF Ghana, the Hunger Project, Gender Centre and Coalition of Women in Governance.

The Coordinator of FIDA –Ghana In-Charge of the Upper East Region, David Atinga, said the forum was to collate views and concerns of women that need to be addressed by politicians in the coming elections and afterwards so they could be held accountable after their stewardship. He said that unless the gender gap is bridged to allow women to articulate needs to be addressed, Ghana’s aim of achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will not materialize.

The Upper East Regional Director of the Department of Women, Paulina Abayage, who presented a paper on the “Importance of Women in Decision-Making”, advocated a legislation that allows for 40% quota for women in the decision making process. She said affirmative action should be adopted in line with the constitution and asked for electoral laws to be reviewed to ensure that all political parties present at least 40% of their candidates as female.

Can the stringent and controversial Section 498A, commonly called the ‘dowry law’ last another quarter-century in its present form? Women’s groups say ‘yes’ because when it was inserted into the Indian Penal Code 25 years ago, it gave women a matchless legal shield against violence and cruelty at the hands of the husband and his family. ”No, Section 498A should go,” say about 30 men’s groups, currently meeting in Goa to find a way to dilute the law. So why has Section 498A become the frontline of India’s gender wars? And whose side will the government take? For the moment it appears to be backing the women with no dilution likely in the law any time soon.

Organisations campaigning to amend Section 498A were euphoric earlier this month, when the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry agreed to review it. But women’s groups immediately submitted a memorandum to the WCD expressing concern about any dilution. So did the National Commission for Women (NCW), the statutory body set up to protect and promote women’s interests and advise the government on policy matters affecting women.

Women’s rights campaigners repeat as they have for decades that Section 498A is invaluable because it provides a stronger voice to women than usually heard in Indian society. What gives the law teeth and a terrible bite is that any offence under it is non-bailable and non-compoundable, which means it cannot be privately resolved between the parties concerned. It’s also cognizable, which means it allows police to arrest the accused without investigation or warrants if a woman or close relative alleges cruelty in the marital home.

Those found guilty face a jail term of upto three years. But the unique strength of Section 498A is also seen as a weakness. Many groups of aggrieved husbands say this fearsome law, with its non-bailable and non-compoundable provisions, is being abused by women falsely to implicate the spouse and in-laws and extort money from them.

Organisations that represent men, who claim they are harassed, victimised and abused by Section 498A, insist it must become bailable and thereby, bearable. Swarup Sarkar, coordinator of Save Family Foundation, an organisation that claims to be committed to fight ”all gender-biased law” says, ”For the last three years, we have been trying to make it bailable, but now that the NCW has expressed disapproval, the ministry’s review will amount to little.”

Many other harassed husbands’ groups share Sarkar’s fears. “The announcement is just a sham. They won’t come up with anything,” says Vihan Khera, spokesman of MyNation Foundation, an organisation that also describes itself as “fighting gender bias”. In fact, the Internet is full of men who claim to be victims of this law. There are blogs with names such as, ‘Section 489A’. Their entries vary from earnest to intensely vitriolic.

Mary E John, director of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies, says the Internet is partly responsible for whipping up emotion against 498A. “Anyone can see how vindictive and vicious these groups are,” she says, adding that the Internet has given far too much visibility to self-styled harassed husbands. She and other women’s activists say that amending 498A because a few men claim it is unfair would be tantamount to changing “the Income Tax Act if people evade tax. The law per se is not defective.”

But Khera, campaigner for men’s rights, says it is lop-sided and unfair to women as well. In the last four years, 1,15,000 women mothers-in-law or other female relatives of the husband – are alleged to have been arrested without investigation.

Mary John admits that sometimes, even statistics don’t tell the true story and “there are no figures for false cases.” The only figures about Section 498A are its low rate of conviction, perhaps due to lack of evidence. But John says this still does not mean 498A is a bad law. “Based on the rate of conviction, you cannot change the law, whether it’s rape or dowry,” she says.

The pro-Section 498A lobby points out that it’s not that easy to misuse it because its use is hard enough. They say that it is hard for the average woman even to lodge a case under Section 498A and some times, it could take months. They say that making domestic violence a gender-neutral offence misses the point because it’s women who are generally dependent and vulnerable. ‘Harassed’ husbands would, of course, have a different story to tell. Justice may be blind, but it sure cannot afford to be deaf.

Women’s rights violations in Iran continue to mount, especially where children are given to their fathers after divorce because of legislation based on religious laws.

Sabri Bahman, a women’s rights activist in eastern Kurdistan, said “women in eastern Kurdistan and other parts of Iran are not equal in their rights.” Women’s families in Iran prevent them from making their own decisions; they do not enjoy economic freedom and they are forced to divorce, said Bahman. “Women are not allowed to practice politics and join women’s organizations; working in these fields for them is regarded as a violation of the law.”

However, Bahman, who attended a women’s rights workshop in Duhok on September 15, said activities for women’s liberation by the Kurdish opposition Komala Party continue. “Women have been active in this party since 1978 and have tried several times to publish a newspaper that was closed. They opened Web sites and are filtered now,” said Bahman. Still, she said, women’s conditions have worsened in the last few years.

“Since Ahmadinejad, the pressure increased. Threats were made to women’s organizations, especially Kurdish ones working on human and women’s rights,” said Bahman. She said conditions were better during the reign of Iran’s former president, Muhammad Khatami.

“Nonetheless, women’s activities haven’t stopped. There is currently a campaign to collect signatures to protest the law that gives children to their fathers after divorce and to defend rights of female prisoners. It has collected one million signatures so far.”

Bahman complained about her country’s laws: “Legislation springs from religious legislation, causing violations against women. They are not allowed to become judges; they cannot defend their rights and polygamy continues. Mothers have no rights to their children after divorce and the divorce rate is escalating.”

Bahman continued: “The nature of the religious system has closed several gates. Another problem is that several other issues proclaimed as religious have worsened the laws and created more social problems.” International organizations must support Iranian women’s organizations and help to defeat such laws in her country, said Bahman.

Women’s groups called for reform of the parliamentary electoral law, including the introduction of a quota system to ensure 30 percent of Parliament members are female, lowering the voting age and an end to the confessional system. Speaking at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) center in Beirut, the coordinator of “The National Conference for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women,” Azza Hor-Mroue, outlined the group’s proposed electoral reforms and stated their objection to the adoption of the 1960 electoral law.

Marie Nassif-Debs, an active member of the National Conference, described the organization as an umbrella body that brought together 60 NGOs, including many involved in women’s issues, trade unions and youth-based organizations.

“We are against a return to the 1960 electoral law, because we see in it a return to civil war as it is confessional and includes nothing about women because all confessions prefer not to have women in the right place,” said Nassif-Debs.

The organization has called for the introduction of a quota to ensure 30 percent of parliamentary delegates elected during the 2009 parliamentary elections are female. The group argued this is in keeping with Article 4 of the UN Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination against Women that encourages states to take “temporary special measures aimed at accelerating de facto equality between men and women.”

“We are appealing to the government to respect its own signature,” said Nassif-Debs, referring to the government decision to sign the CEDAW convention in 1997.

Nassif-Debs said that without such affirmative action, women would continue to be considered as “second class citizens,” who could not pass on their nationality to their children, for example.

“We want to present ourselves as citizens,” she said, adding that a quota would mark the “first step toward equality” for women who make up 53 percept of the Lebanese population.

Nassif-Debs linked the continuation of the confessional political system with ongoing limitations of women’s political rights. “We cannot have citizenship in Lebanon if the confessional system continues to exist, and if Lebanese women are not represented in the places of political decision making,” she said.

The National Conference’s platform also advocates lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years old. Nassif-Debs justified this position, saying, “it is an aberration that young people can marry at 16, but not vote until they are 21.”

The group hopes to meet with parliamentary groups, including Speaker Nabih Berri, and is planning a demonstration to coincide with the next parliamentary session that will discuss electoral reforms.

Nassif-Debs said she remained unsure if the National Conference would be strong enough to achieve their desired reforms prior to the 2009 elections. Electoral reform has emerged as a source of intense debate between the March 14 and March 8 blocs following the signing of the Doha Agreement, which ended weeks of deadly fighting in May.

If they are unable to achieve electoral reform at this stage, National Conference participants intend to continue their campaign during the 2009 parliamentary elections by taking the issue to the ballot box.

“We will put forward one, two or three candidates in the election campaign,” said Nassif-Debs.

“We will continue until we are satisfied,” she concluded.

The controversial Women on Waves foundation is on its way to Spain in order to carry out abortions in the international waters off the coast of Spain.

The foundation’s ‘abortion boat’ is to dock at Valencia harbour on Thursday. Up till next Monday, the organisation intends to help Spanish women who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The boat will sail out to extra territorial waters where the Spanish laws do not apply.

The Women on Waves boat is sailing under the Dutch flag. This means the Dutch law applies on board, which permits abortion under certain circumstances.

Past visits of Women on Waves to Ireland, Poland and Portugal caused quite a stir. In spite of Dutch pressure, Portugal several years ago barred the boat from docking in its harbours. Their visit is also controversial in Spain. “Catholic groups are now trying to make it impossible for us to dock there”, Women on Waves reported.

Women on Waves visits Spain at the invitation of 33 Spanish organisations concerned with a better abortion law. The ship will arrive the 16th of October at 17.00 in the yacht harbor of Valencia (former America’s Cup).

After much debate, mounting pressure from the Catholic Church and attempted legislative amendments, the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Bill was passed unamended by the Victorian Upper House on October 10.

A week earlier, on October 4, more than 200 people had rallied to support the bill, which would finally decriminalise abortion in Victoria. The rally was called to mobilise the strong pro-choice sentiment in Victoria in the lead-up to the bill being tabled in the Upper House on October 7.

Speakers at the rally included Colleen Hartland, Greens MLC, Resistance member Kimberly Yu and representatives from Socialist Alternative and Radical Women.

Hartland expressed the importance of never going back to women being forced into having backyard abortions, which can cause infections, maiming and death, as a result of lack of access due to abortion being a crime.

Hartland said polls suggested 80% of Australians support a woman’s right to choose, and called on representatives in parliament to reflect this.

Yu pointed out that although the current bill would be a step in the right direction in that it removes the act of abortion from the Crimes act, it still places restrictions on a woman’s rights to choose to have an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy. [See Yu’s speech on page 9.]

Other key points raised included the fact that it is often working-class women who may not have access to or be able to afford to have an abortion — but if a woman can’t afford an abortion how can she be expected to afford to raise a child? This highlights the importance of woman having control over their own bodies, including access to safe, free, legal abortion.

In the lead up to the Upper House debate, “pro-life” groups stepped up their public campaign to keep abortion as a crime. They held a 2000-strong rally on October 5, covering the city with posters depicting a foetus at different stages of pregnancy and sending abusive letters and messages to pro-choice MLCs.

The anti-abortion campaign, realising it could no longer stop the bill completely, then turned its attention towards amending the legislation.

Over 70 amendments were proposed in the Upper House, including mandatory counselling, parental consent, and removing the need for doctors with a “conscientious objection” to refer women onto another doctor without such an objection.

In recent weeks, the last amendment had been the focus of much media attention, with the Catholic Church threatening to shut down maternity wards in Catholic hospitals if they were forced to refer women to doctors who could provide them with an abortion.

The amendments were aimed at imposing further restrictions on women’s rights. The fact that the bill was passed unamended is a victory for the campaign for women to have control of their bodies.

From: Australian News, Green Left Weekly issue #770 15 October 2008.

A bill currently under review by the parliament in Lithuania–which has one of the lowest abortion rates among Baltic nations–would create one of the most restrictive bans in all of Europe.

The bill–formally called the Draft Act of the Republic of Lithuania on the Protection of Human Life in the Prenatal Stage–is currently pending review by the Health Committee, which is expected to wait until after the Oct. 12 parliamentary elections to present its conclusions and recommendations.

Proponents of the ban have kept it low on the political agenda and have successfully avoided making it a major issue during the election campaign.

Women’s rights activists have sought to raise awareness about the bill and its impact as they fear it will be adopted in a rush and without a real and open debate in society if socially conservative parties win the elections.

The draft–strongly backed by the Catholic Church–says “all issues on the protection of life in the prenatal stage should be considered as giving priority to the rights of a child.”

Exceptions to the ban would only apply when a pregnancy endangers the life or health of the woman, when a pregnancy is caused by a criminal act or when the fetus has been diagnosed with a severe disability.

Abortion is currently illegal in three of the 27 European Union countries. In Malta abortion is prohibited in all circumstances; specific provisions allowing an abortion to save the woman’s life were removed from the criminal code in 1981. Abortion has been illegal in Ireland since 1861 and is only permitted to save the life of the woman. Poland first restricted abortion in 1993 following the end of Communist Party rule and reaffirmed its opposition to abortion in 1997.

Soviet Era Abortion Law
Under existing law a Lithuanian woman can choose to legally terminate an unwanted pregnancy for any reason up to the 12th week, as in most Western countries. The current legislation has been inherited from its status as a republic in the former Soviet Union and has not been changed since the country’s independence in 1991.

Among its neighbors, Lithuania has a relatively low abortion rate, spurring the Lithuanian Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which does not support abortion as a pregnancy regulation method, to nonetheless question the purpose of the bill. There were 14 abortions per 1,000 Lithuanian women aged 15 to 45 in 2004, far below neighboring Estonia and Latvia, where the rates, respectively, were 33 and 27 abortions per 1,000 women.

Algimantas Ramonas, chair of the National Families and Parents Association of Lithuania, is one of the bill’s strong supporters.

“Every child has the right to be born and to live,” he told Women’s eNews. “Of course a woman has the right to decide on her sexual life and plan her family, but she also has responsibilities. A pregnant woman has a human being inside her, which is not just another part of her body, and she should be proud of it.”

On the other side of the bill, Esmeralda Kuliestyle, director of the Vilnius-based Family Planning and Sexual Health Association, decries it as a violation of women’s freedom to make their own decisions.

“This is a very dangerous step for Lithuanian women,” says Kuliestyle. “It could lead to serious health complications and even to an increase in the maternal mortality rate because of illegal and unsafe abortions.”

Authors Sit on Review Committees
While earlier versions of the draft legislation were judged unconstitutional by the parliament’s legal affairs committee, the latest draft has been approved by this committee and, last April, also by the human rights committee. Two of the five original authors of the bill sit on these committees.

The authors justify their proposal, saying the bill “reflects the teaching of the Catholic Church and John Paul II.”

Kuliestyle objects to the heavy involvement of the Catholic Church in the matter.

“Priests are everywhere: They appear on television, on the radio, in newspapers and even on the Internet,” she says. “They say that using contraceptive methods is immoral and that abortion is a crime. They have too much influence, particularly on politicians.”

The Catholic Church has traditionally played an important role in Lithuania. During Soviet occupation, the church’s underground activities in support of dissidents were a major asset in the struggle for the country’s independence. Since then, its influence on society has remained high.

The draft law has been criticized for its vagueness, as it does not clearly state which criminal sanctions women and doctors involved with illegal abortions would face. Because the bill seeks to amend the criminal code and would therefore establish a criminal link between abortion and murder, judges would have discretion to sentence violators of the law to several years’ imprisonment.

70 Percent Opposed to Criminalization
A survey conducted by the Family Planning and Sexual Health Association shows that, while most Lithuanians would personally prefer to avoid terminating pregnancies, more than 70 percent of the population regards abortion as matter of individual choice and opposes criminalization.

Authors of the bill take both a moral and practical stance, arguing that abortion indicates a “low moral level of society and a critical demographic situation” in Lithuania. The population in the country has continuously declined–by an average of half a percentage point annually–since the beginning of the 1990s, and the total fertility rate decreased from two children per woman in 1990 to 1.3 children in 2006. Supporters of the bill say an abortion ban would encourage population growth.

Kuliestyle rejects that, arguing that its main effect will be to discriminate against lower-income women. “No matter if abortion is legal or not, women who decide to abort will do it anyway. Those who can afford it will travel to nearby countries where the law isn’t so strict. Others who don’t have money will turn to unsafe underground operations and put their health at risk.”

Since neighboring Poland, a country looked upon by supporters of the legislation in Lithuania, passed its strict abortion ban in 1993, the total fertility rate fell to 1.23 births per woman in 2006 from a higher rate of 2.04 births per woman in 1990. This situation mirrors a general trend in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states.

Earlier this year 110 members of the European Parliament–out of 785–sent a letter to Lithuanian deputies urging them to reject the bill, describing it as a “serious backlash on women’s reproductive health rights in Lithuania.”

Women’s rights advocates worry that the bill will be passed as anti-choice factions gain ground at the expense of progressive women’s rights.

In June the Lithuanian parliament redefined “family” exclusively as a married, heterosexual couple and their children. As a result, single mothers or fathers, unmarried partners and grandparents raising children no longer constitute a family or qualify for the same level of government assistance as a “traditional family.”

By Elisabeth Roy Trudel – a freelance journalist from Montreal, Canada, who frequently writes on human rights and social issues.

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