Archive for November, 2008

25 Nov International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
01 Dec World AIDS Day
06 Dec Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre
10 Dec International Human Rights Day

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – 25th November

November 25 was declared International Day Against Violence Against Women at the first Feminist Encuentro for Latin America and the Caribbean held in Bogota, Colombia, July 18-21, 1981. At that Encuentro women systematically denounced gender violence from domestic battery, to rape and sexual harassment, to state violence including torture and abuses of women political prisoners. November 25 was chosen to commemorate the violent assassination of the Mirabal sisters (Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa) on November 25, 1960 by the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. In 1999, the United Nations officially recognized November 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

The “feminist encuentros” are conferences of feminists from Latin America who come together every 2-3 years in a different Latin American country in order to exchange experiences and to reflect upon the state of the women’s movement. Sexuality and violence in their wide ranging forms and contexts have always been included in the wide ranging themes of these gatherings. These encounters have stimulated the creation of regional networks, workshops, video and radio programs, women’s studies curricula, and a growing number of women’s documentation centers throughout the region which are dedicated to collecting and making available information about the history and priorities of the women’s movement. They have also provided a space for formulating and discussing the focus of a growing number of women’s magazines and newsletters, which contain articles, analysis and reports of the wide ranging actions being undertaken by women throughout the region.

Patria, Minerva, Maria Teresa and Dedé, were born in Ojo de Agua near the city of Salcedo, in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic to Enrique Mirabal and Maria Mercedes Reyes. The Mirabal sisters – “Las Mariposas (the Butterflies)” – were political activists and highly visible symbols of resistance to Trujillo’s dictatorship. They were repeatedly jailed, along with their husbands, for their revolutionary activities toward democracy and justice. On November 25, 1960 three of the Mirabal sisters, Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa were murdered along with Rufino de la Cruz by members of Trujillo’s secret police. The three women were being driven by Rufino to Puerto Plata to visit their imprisoned husbands. The bodies of the three sisters were found at the bottom of a precipe broken and strangled. The news of their murders shocked and outraged the nation. The brutal assassination of the Mirabal sisters was one of the events that helped propel the anti-Trujillo movement. Trujillo was assassinated on May 30, 1961 and his regime fell soon after.

The sisters have become symbols of both popular and feminist resistance. In the years since their deaths, the Mirabal sisters have been commemorated in poems, songs and books. An exhibition of their belongings has been mounted at the National Museum of History and Geography, a stamp in their memory has been issued and a private foundation is raising money to renovate a family museum in their hometown. On March 8, 1997, International Women’s Day, a mural was unveiled on the 137-foot obelisk (that Trujillo had erected in his honor) in Santo Domingo. It depicts the images of the four sisters. The painting on the obelisk is entitled “Un Canto a la Libertad” (A Song to Liberty).

For more information see Julia Alvarez’s fictional account of the Mirabal sisters in her 1994 novel, “In the Time of the Butterflies;” Bernard Diederich’s book “Trujillo: The Death of the Dictator;” and “The Mirabal Sisters,” in Connexions, an International Women’s Quarterly, No. 39, 1992.

World Aids Day – 1st December

World AIDS Day is observed every year on December 1. This day marks the beginning of an annual campaign designed to encourage public support for and development of programs to prevent the spread of HIV infection and provide education and promote awareness of issues surrounding HIV/AIDS. It was first observed in 1988 after a summit of health ministers from around the world called for a spirit of social tolerance and a greater exchange of information on HIV/AIDS. World AIDS Day serves to strengthen the global effort to face the challenges of the AIDS pandemic.

Anniversary of the Montreal Massacre – 6th December

On Wednesday, December 6, 1989 a 25 year-old man, Marc Lepine, walked into the University of Montreal’s School of Engineering Building at about five in the afternoon, with a .223 calibre semi-automatic rifle. He began a shooting spree during which he murdered fourteen women and injured thirteen others: nine women and four men. Marc Lepine believed it was because of women students that he was not accepted to the engineering school. Before killing himself, he left an explanatory letter behind which contained a tirade against feminists as well as a list of nineteen prominent women, whom he particularly despised.

The fourteen women who were murdered in the massacre were: Anne-Marie Edward, Anne-Marie Lemay, Annie St. Arneault, Annie Turcotte, Barbara Daigneault, Barbara Maria Klueznick, Genevieve Bergeron, Helen Colgan, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Michele Richard, Natalie Croteau and Sonia Pelletier.

These women became symbols, tragic representatives, of the injustice against women. Women’s groups across the country organized vigils, marches and memorials. There was an increase in support for educational programs and resources to reduce violence against women. Both federal and provincial governments made commitments to end violence against women. In 1991, the Canadian government proclaimed December 6th National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. In 1993, an organization calling itself the Dec. 6 Coalition set up a revolving fund for women leaving violent situations to establish themselves and their children in a safer, more secure environment. Also in 1993 a campaign called Zero Tolerance was launched offering men the opportunity to show solidarity with women against violence against women. As a direct result of the massacre, several mothers of the victims began groups to restrict gun laws and promote awareness of the continued violence against women.

International Human Rights Day – 10th December

On December 10 peoples and states the world over celebrate the adoption, in 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this landmark date in contemporary history, the nations of the world joined together to try and bury, once and for all, the spectre of genocide raised by the Second World War. This document was one of the first major achievements of the United Nations and provided the basic philosophy for many legally binding international instruments to follow. Resolution 217A (III) by the General Assembly, proclaims the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms…” Organizations and individuals use Human Rights Day as an opportunity to both commemorate the signing of this historical document and to promote the principles which are enumerated throughout the document. Human Rights Day, according to High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, is “an occasion to demonstrate that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not theoretical or abstract.”

From Glasgow Violence Against Women Partnership

From November 25 to December 10th, the Women’s International Network of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC-WIN) will highlight the 16 days of activism against gender violence with an Internet campaign to Denounce Gender violence in the media and transform media into a catalyst to end violence against women.

The campaign will be broadcast at

This years’ international theme of the campaign is “Media and Violence Against Women”. The campaign seeks to denounce gender violence in the media and will cover 3 dimensions:
(a) Media as an instrument in combating violence against women.
(b) Violence against women as projected in the media which “normalizes” violence.
(c) Violence committed against women media practitioners.

The 16 days campaign starts on November 25th with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women; it continues on November 29th with the International Women’s Human Rights Defenders Day; followed by December 1: World AIDS Day; December 6: Commemoration day of the Montreal (Canada) Massacre in 1989 and ends with the December 10th: International Human rights Day. The campaign will be broadcast at

Community radio producers from Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Africa, Europe, North America and Latin America and the Caribbean will dedicate these 16 days to highlight the effort of women and men working to put an end to gender violence. The programs featured will include documentaries, interviews, debates, poetry, music and much more. This multilingual broadcast campaign mobilizes community radios around a global issue and encourages them to use new communication technologies such as the Internet to extend the reach of their voices. Radio stations around the globe are invited to download the audio files from the AMARC-WIN 16 days website and broadcast them in their radio stations.

The coordination of the 16 days campaign at the international level will be ensured by the International Secretariat of AMARC, contact Flor Maria Balbin secretariat(at)si(dot)amarc(point)org. Regionally, the campaign will be coordinated by the regional AMARC WIN representatives in conjunction with AMARC regional offices.

Asia-Pacific: Bianca Miglioretto a bianca(at)isiswomen(dot)org;
West and Central Africa, Zara Yacoub myzara(at)intnet(dot)td;
East and Southern Africa, Doreen Rukaria: rukdoreen(at)yahoo(dot)com;
Europe, Lucia Ruiz at lucia.ruiz(at)radiovallekas(dot)org;
Latin America and the Caribbean, Maru Chavez a mechf(at)hotmail(dot)com ;
MENA: Tamara Aqrabawe at aqrabawe(@)yahoo(dot)com(dot)au ;
North America Sophie Toupin at sophie(underscore)toupin(at)hotmail(dot)com.

The AMARC Women’s International Network is a large assembly of women communicators working to ensure women’s rights to communicate through and within the community radio movement. AMARC is an international non-governmental organization serving the community radio movement, and linking more than 4,000 community radios in over 110 countries. AMARC aims to support, defend and promote the interests of community broadcasters through solidarity and international cooperation.

For further info

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November 2008 called on all people to speak out in against act of violence against women in families, workplaces and communities.

“Across the world, in countries rich and poor, women are being beaten, trafficked, raped and killed. These human rights violations do more than harm individuals; they undermine the development, peace and security of entire societies,” Ban said, according to UN Information Center in Tehran .

“Women everywhere are at risk, but those living in societies experiencing armed conflict face even graver danger. As conflicts have become more complex, the pattern of sexual violence has evolved. Women are no longer in jeopardy only during periods of actual fighting; they are just as likely to be assaulted when there is calm, by armies, militias, rebels, criminal gangs or even police.

“We do not know the true number of victims, but we do know that there are far more crimes than ever get reported, and far fewer lead to arrests. In too many places, rape still carries a stigma that forces women to avoid the courts that should exist to protect them. In some countries, victims are brutalized twice: first during the crime itself, and then by the justice system, where they may face trumped-up charges of “adultery” and the possibility of subsequent punishment.

“Even when perpetrators are identified, they often go unpunished, especially if they are working in the police or military. At times, these crimes are particularly shocking. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s troubled North Kivu province, where some 350 rape cases are reported every month, victims are also sometimes subjected to genital mutilation.

“Even more disturbing is the age of many victims. In certain violent areas of Haiti, fifty per cent of the young women have been raped or sexually assaulted. Of the handful of courageous victims who do seek justice, one in three is under thirteen. During one particularly violent month earlier this year in Liberia, the majority of reported rapes were committed against girls under the age of twelve, some of whom were not even five years old.

“These examples come from countries where the United Nations has a peacekeeping presence. Thanks to the Security Council’s
groundbreaking resolution 1820, adopted in June, the use of sexual violence as a tactic of warfare is now recognized as a matter of international peace and security. According to the resolution, peacekeeping missions, in particular those with mandates to protect civilians, must now include the protection of women and children from all forms of violence in their reporting on conflict situations.

Resolution 1820 also requested stronger efforts to implement the vital zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation by UN personnel, and urged troop and police contributing countries to ensure full accountability in cases of misconduct.

“The adoption of resolution 1820 is part of a growing global trend to address this scourge. This past February’s Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking, and the continued leadership of the General Assembly, are additional signs of international momentum.

“At the national level, more and more countries are meeting their obligations to protect women through comprehensive legislation, better services for victims, stronger partnerships and increased efforts to engage men and boys in addressing the problem.

“This progress is welcome, but there are still gaps. We need to do more to enforce laws and counter impunity. We need to combat attitudes and behaviour that condone, tolerate, excuse or ignore violence committed against women. And we need to increase funding for services for victims and survivors.

“I am determined to strengthen these efforts, including through my global campaign “UNITE to end violence against women”, which aims to raise public awareness, increase political will and resources and create a supportive environment to make good on existing policy commitments.

“All of us – men and women, soldiers and peacekeepers, citizens and leaders – have a responsibility to help end violence against women.

States must honour their commitments to prevent violence, bring perpetrators to justice and provide redress to victims. And each of us must speak out in our families, workplaces and communities, so that acts of violence against women cease.” –IRNA

The “16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence” campaign runs from November 25 to December 10, 2008. The dates are not accidental: November 25 is the International Day Against Violence Against Women, and December 10 is International Human Rights Day.

These 16 days are a bridge between thinking of gender violence as a “women’s issue” and understanding it as a human rights concern that touches us all.

Deadly discrimination cuts short women’s lives in every country and stalks us at every point in our life-cycle: from before birth, in sex-selective abortion and infanticide; to childhood death from neglect in food and medicine; to genital mutilation; so-called “honor” killings; dowry deaths; sex trafficking; rape; systematic mass rape and torture in war zones; inadequate maternal health care; and socially-sanctioned impoverishment of widows. Taken together, around the globe, one in three women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. In some regions of the world, that figure rises to 70 per cent.

Across diverse cultures and societies, one element unifies this savagery: the willingness to dehumanise women.

These sixteen days affirm women’s rights in the world not in terms of what we do for our husbands or families, but simply in terms of who we are: human beings. Humans, who deserve dignity, and the ability to go about our lives free from violence and fear.

For too many women, the place where we ought to feel the most safe is in fact the most dangerous. Women are more at risk of experiencing violence in intimate relationships than in any other aspect of our lives.

Domestic violence happens behind closed doors, making it easy to dismiss as a private issue or a tragedy of interest only to the affected family. However, the consequences of violence in the home radiate outward and upward, affecting communities and entire nations. In the US alone, the economic cost of domestic violence exceeds $5.8billion per year in health care services and lost productivity.

A 2004 study in the UK that computed both direct and indirect costs of domestic violence arrived at a figure of £23billion per year, or £440 per citizen. Regardless of the society in which it takes place, domestic violence ruptures families. It breeds poverty, inequality, instability, and affects the standing of governments in the eyes of the world: the greatness of nations is always measured by how they treat their most at-risk citizens.

Most countries have laws that criminalise the assault component of domestic violence, but, according to a 2006 UN study, only 89 recognise the special combination of physical and emotional brutality – the particular circumstances brought about by the unique personal bonds between perpetrator and victim – that characterise domestic violence. Those laws are urgently needed.

We need partnerships between NGOs and legislative bodies, so their expertise and experience can inform the laws. And we need more thorough data collection, so that policies can be targeted and effective.

But laws and policies are empty gestures without stringent implementation and enforcement. Enforcement must recognise that domestic violence offences have been separated from assault categories because their characteristics are different, and not because the crimes are any less serious.

We need consistent guidelines and training for police and social workers. We need courtroom procedures that allow privacy and confidentiality for victims – which can be as simple as allowing video testimony, or restricting courtroom access. We need expansion of the proven success of “one-stop centres” that offer interagency health and legal services for victims.

But most of all, we need political will from governments to adhere to international standards and norms. We need leaders who will insist – loudly, frequently, and persistently – that women have equal worth, equal value, and deserve equal protection and respect.

A scant sixteen days will not accomplish these goals. But sixteen days are a start – a good start, if they can serve as the fuse that inspires us to examine our attitudes and take action all the other 349 days of the year.

Andrea Bottner is the Director of the State Department’s Office of International Women’s Issues. For more information on International Women’s Issues, visit

1. Introduction
2. Psychological Approaches to Working with Political Rape
3. Women Who Are Raped
4. Men as Perpetrators and Victims
5. When the Future Has Been Spoilt: the Impact of Politically Motivated Rape on Children and Adolescents
6. Rape and Mental Health: the Psychiatric Sequelae of Violation as an Abuse of Human Rights
7. Impact of Rape on the Family
8. Physical Consequences of Rape of Women
9. Sexually Transmitted Infections as a Consequence of Rape
A Legal Analysis of Rape as Torture: Introduction
10. A legal analysis of rape as torture in the international and regional (non-European) fora
11. A legal analysis of rape as torture: Article 3 ECHR and the treatment of rape within the European system
Legal Analysis: Conclusions and closing remarks
12. Conclusions


Torture: myths and facts

Many rape victims have escaped to Jordan but still don’t have access to treatment and counselling.

As though recoiling from her own memories, Khalida shrank deeper into her faded armchair with each sentence she told: of how gunmen apparently working for Iraq’s Interior Ministry kidnapped her, beat and raped her; of how they discarded her on a Baghdad sidewalk.

But her suffering did not end when she fled Iraq and became a refugee in Jordan’s capital, Amman. When Khalida’s husband learned that she had been raped, he abandoned her and their two young sons.

Rumors spread fast in Amman; soon, everyone on her block knew that she was without a man in the house. Last month, her Jordanian neighbor barged into her apartment and attempted to rape her.

Khalida never reported the incident. Like tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, she does not have a permit to live or work here, and she is afraid that if she turns to authorities for help she will get deported. So instead of seeking punishment for her assailant, she latched the flimsy metal door of her apartment and stopped going outside.

Her story sheds light on a problem that is little researched, poorly understood, and largely ignored: Iraqi rape victims who now live in Jordan illegally and without protection. Sexual assault is heavily stigmatized in the Middle East, and victims are often afraid to talk about it to anyone, fearing that their families will abandon them. And their shaky status in Jordan leaves them afraid to seek help and vulnerable to new assaults and abuse. They fear persecution by Jordanian immigration authorities almost as much as they fear returning to Iraq.

“The lack of legal status does lead to these sorts of protection issues [and] puts them in very exploitative situations,” says Imran Riza, who heads the mission in Jordan of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the main international agency that assists Iraqis in Jordan. Women like Khalida, he says, “are certainly vulnerable, and much more vulnerable than others.”

Rape is a common weapon of any war; no one knows how many Iraqi women have been raped since the war began in 2003. Most crimes against women “are not reported because of stigma, fear of retaliation, or lack of confidence in the police,” MADRE, an international women’s rights group, wrote in its 2007 report about violence against women in Iraq. Some women, like Khalida, are raped by Iraqi security forces. A 2005 report published by the Iraqi National Association for Human Rights found that women held in Interior Ministry detention centers endure “systematic rape by the investigators.”

A handful of organizations are working to help rape victims in Iraq. MADRE, together with the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, operates several shelters and safe houses in Baghdad for Iraqi rape victims, where the women have access to healthcare and counseling.

But militias often target women’s rights advocates in Iraq, so these facilities are “a clandestine network,” operated by “mostly somebody who at a great risk to themselves has opened a room for these victims,” says Yifat Susskind, MADRE’s communications director. The shelters have helped several thousand Iraqi women since 2003. Most rape victims learn about the shelters from other women.

Documenting sexual assault in Iraq by international researchers remains complicated because of widespread violence. “There’s been a security issue, so we haven’t been able to get people on the ground to look at the issue for a long time,” says Marianne Mollmann, who leads women’s rights advocacy at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, which published its last report about rape in Iraq in 2003.

Similarly, no one has tried to estimate how many Iraqi refugees have been raped while in Iraq or in Jordan, says Mohamad Habashneh, a Jordanian psychiatrist who works with Iraqi rape victims.

Mr. Habashneh has treated approximately 40 Iraqi rape victims for clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But he estimates that they are just a fraction of Iraqi refugees who had been raped.

Psychiatrists like Habashneh charge between $25 and $40 per visit, too expensive for most Iraqi refugees, who, like Khalida, live hand-to-mouth on monthly handouts of about $100 from international agencies.

Many victims are afraid to go outside or travel to a clinic out of fear of being detained by Jordanian authorities.

To help these women, women’s rights organizations in Jordan must coordinate with larger agencies, such as UNHCR, to provide care and programs that would help the victims earn money “because rape survivors are alienated from their family and therefore have no way to sustain themselves,” Ms. Susskind says.

But so far, these resources are not available for most Iraqi rape victims in Jordan. There are no support groups, no counselors, no hot lines, an no one to soothe Khalida when she has flashbacks that make her relive the day when assailants dressed in police uniforms arrived at the Oil Ministry where she worked and said they were taking her in for questioning.

She did not tell her husband that she had been raped but he figured it out. Now, Khalida does not blame him for going away, or for leaving her so vulnerable to men who wish to prey on her.

“I have his phone number,” she says, sobbing quietly. “I dial it sometimes for the kids to talk to their father. Sometimes, because I love him, I like to hear his voice. But when I say ‘hello’ he hangs up.”

Women and girls in eastern Congo’s North Kivu province are once again suffering increasing levels of sexual violence amid renewed conflict, instability and widespread displacement of civilians. An International Rescue Committee team conducted a three-day assessment of conditions in Kibati Camp, north of Goma, where roughly 55,000 people have settled. The team found that women and girls are being raped both in and around the camp.

“Women and girls are forced to leave the camp in search of additional firewood, food, and income for their families and these daily chores expose them to sexual violence,” says Sarah Spencer, who oversees IRC programs for rape survivors in eastern Congo.

Two women told the IRC team that they had gone to search for potatoes in fields near the frontline when they were attacked and raped. “Our men will be killed or recruited if they leave the camp,” another woman told the IRC. “What choice do we have?”

Spencer says that rape is also occurring while women are sleeping in camps where they have taken refuge.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war throughout eastern Congo for years. Based on IRC’s experience in the region, women and girls are at much greater risk of violence and exploitation during times of heightened military conflict, displacement and in unstable and unprotected settings.

Kibati Camp is extremely congested and shelter for most is only a plastic tarpaulin. Many of the displaced women and children are now separated from trusted family and neighbors, and are living next to strangers in the camp. The absence of protective walls and traditional support from their communities increases the threat of violence and exploitation. After attacks occur, women have very limited access to medical and psychological services.

IRC experts are working with key partners in displaced settlements north of Goma to help survivors gain access to essential health and psychological care and address safety concerns for women and girls. IRC is also distributing firewood to families in camps so that women and girls don’t have to leave settlements to search for it.

But Spencer says the international community is only scratching the surface of what’s needed to aid rape survivors in North Kivu. She says much more needs to be done now and in the long-term to expand services and improve the safety and well-being of women and girls in the region.

“The health and psychological needs of rape survivors in Congo will continue long after the fighting stops,” says Spencer. “Addressing their needs must become a priority for the international community.”

Emily Meehan (Goma) +243 998 795415,
Gina Bramucci (Kinshasa) +243 813 679604,
Melissa Winkler (New York) + 1 646 734 0305,
Sam Duerden (London) +44 (0)7505 752990,

Women marched through the Southern Sudanese town of Bor recently to highlight an important message: “Treat women with respect”.

“Bring an end to violence against women, and let women contribute to develop the nation,” said some 100 women parading through the capital of the vast and swampy eastern Jonglei state.

The march was a rare message of hope for women in South Sudan – a severely underdeveloped region slowly recovering from a 21-year war that ended with the 2005 peace deal.

About 90 percent of the people in the region live on less than US$1 a day, but it is especially tough for women.

Decades of violence, coupled with traditional cultures where women are often treated as property, mean Southern Sudan has some of the worst development indicators in the world.

One in 50 women dies in childbirth and female literacy rates remain extremely low at an estimated 2 percent, while some 17 percent of girls will be married off before they reach 15, according to a 2006 government survey.

Now efforts are being made to try to tackle the problem. This month, representatives of women’s groups and government ministries gathered in Bor for a five-day workshop on gender-based violence.

“We want women to be involved in decision-making, and to show people that women are equal to men,” said John Chuol Mamuth, director of the Upper Nile Youth Mobilisation for Peace and Development Agency, which organised the meeting.

“That is why we are working to spread this message: there are many challenges but if peace will continue, the situation will change.”

Women in Southern Sudan face a wide range of problems. With some 60 percent of households headed by women, many face daily sexual harassment and unequal treatment.

“Gender based violence includes underage marriage and domestic violence,” said Silje Heitmann, gender officer for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in Southern Sudan, which helped fund the conference.

“It hinders [the] economic and social development of Southern Sudan.”

Many cases of violence against women are settled by traditional courts, but these are male-dominated and closely tied to traditional values, which rarely promote the best interests of women.

“The poor situation of women … and marginalisation are caused by our customary law and culture, where the power in society is the men,” said Rachael Nyadek Paul, Jonglei state minister for social development.

“But these laws are man-made things: we can decide on something new for a law.”

Any change is a major challenge, but is backed by the southern leadership. The semi-autonomous region’s interim constitution guarantees that at least a quarter of posts in office will be held by women.

“Understand, when I talk of women’s employment, do not think I mean just the ladies who make your tea or carry your documents from office to office, or of the pretty girl who sits at your reception desk,” Southern President Salva Kiir told political leaders this month.

“No, we must promote able, educated and mature women to positions of responsibility and influence if we are to ensure that we will meet the needs of the mothers and sisters and daughters in our community.”

“In the past women were treated like property, [with] less value than cows,” said demonstrator Akerwo Bol. “Today, because of this government, women are to come out and do what men do. They are equal.”

But in a region where men must pay large numbers of cattle as part of a marriage deal – the traditional basis of the economy – others were not so impressed.

“If you pay cows for a woman, then of course you can beat her,” said Akoch John, an elder. “If you want to give me your daughter for free, maybe we can talk.”

Irene Khan, Amnesty International writes about the links between violence against women and poverty to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

As women around the world come together to celebrate the start of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, violence against women remains endemic in many forms, in all societies.

Just last month, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was stoned to death by a group of 50 men in Somalia. The thirteen year-old was accused of adultery, though according to her father she was raped and had tried to report it. None of those accused of her rape nor murder have been arrested.

Violence against women and girls is a priority concern for Amnesty International and in 2004 a global campaign to Stop Violence against Women was launched. So far the campaign has contributed to successes that have brought a number of legislative and policy changes at national levels, as well as supported efforts in the international arena for the adoption of Resolutions 1325 and 1820 by the United Nations Security Council.

These resolutions on Women Peace and Security aim to ensure women’s equal participation in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict peacebuilding and to increase the human rights protection of women and girls in conflict situations.

Despite these advances, violence against women and girls remains widespread across the globe. Recent research in Afghanistan, Armenia, Canada, Cote D’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Jamaica, Haiti, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Venezuela, and the USA has shown that this violence is not only a human rights violation but also a key factor in obstructing the realization of women’s and girls’ rights to security, adequate housing, health, food, education and participation. Millions of women find themselves locked in cycles of poverty and violence, cycles which fuel and perpetuate one another.

Poverty is characterised by the daily experience of human rights abuses that lead people into deprivation, insecurity, exclusion and voicelessness. Poverty is an affront to human dignity and the worst human rights crisis in the world. It exists in all countries and affects women disproportionately – 70% of the world’s poor are women.

Neither violence against women nor poverty are inevitable, though they combine to restrict women’s choices and put women at risk from violence. While all girls have the right to education, which is vital in allowing them to choose their futures, this right is often curtailed by violence and poverty. In countries such as Haiti, girls may have little choice but to grant sexual favours in order that they can pay their school fees.

Others who go in search of a public place with lighting by which to do their homework because their home has no electricity, are attacked by groups of men. As a result of the abuse, it is likely that girls’ education will be disrupted or discontinued.

Violence against women is a human rights abuse for which states are responsible. Amnesty International will continue to demand accountability from both national and international actors for these violations. It will continue to call upon states and the international community to ensure equal access to rights and services for women and girls.

This includes systemically incorporating the analysis of the impact on the enjoyment of women and girls’ human rights into all strategies, programs and reporting related to poverty reduction and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

This must also include progress made in the elimination of gender-based violence. Human rights violations cannot be stopped, poverty ended, nor development achieved without the active participation of the people affected by these abuses, in particular women and girls.

Many Nations Have Failed to Stem Mental, Physical, Sexual Abuse

Governments need to punish abusive employers through the justice system, and to prevent violence by reforming labor and immigration policies that leave these workers at their employer’s mercy.

Many migrant and domestic workers still face abuse and exploitation in Middle Eastern and Asian countries because governments have failed to adopt measures needed to protect them, Human Rights Watch said today ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

Few domestic workers have access to the justice system in the countries where they work, and even those who are able to make complaints of physical or sexual violence rarely receive redress, Human Rights Watch said.

“There are countless cases of employers threatening, humiliating, beating, raping, and sometimes killing domestic workers,” said Nisha Varia, deputy director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch. “Governments need to punish abusive employers through the justice system, and prevent violence by reforming labor and immigration policies that leave these workers at their employers’ mercy.”

Millions of women from countries including Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Nepal are domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Singapore, Malaysia, and other countries throughout the Middle East and Asia. Most countries exclude domestic workers from protection under their labor laws, leaving domestic workers little remedy against exploitative work conditions.

Domestic workers are also at heightened risk of abuse because of restrictive immigration-sponsorship policies that link their visas to their employers. Employers control a worker’s immigration status and ability to change jobs, and sometimes whether the worker can return home. Many employers exploit this power to confine domestic workers to the house, withhold pay, and commit other abuses.

Authorities receive thousands of complaints of labor exploitation or abuse each year. While most involve unpaid wages, food deprivation, and long working hours with no rest, a significant number allege verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. But many cases are never officially reported, due to domestic workers’ confinement in private homes, lack of information about their rights, and employers’ ability to deport them before they can seek help.

Some law enforcement authorities have begun to prosecute and punish abusive employers, although to varying degrees. In 2008 in Singapore, several employers have been convicted of beating domestic workers, receiving sentences ranging from three weeks to 16 years in prison. In mid-November, a man was sentenced in Malaysia to 32 years in prison for raping a domestic worker, and his wife received six years for abetting the crime.

But criminal justice systems often continue to expose abused domestic workers to further victimization and give them no – or only severely delayed – redress:

In May 2008, a Riyadh court dropped charges against a Saudi employer who abused Nour Miyati, an Indonesian domestic worker, ignoring both the employer’s confession and compelling physical evidence. Nour Miyati suffered daily beatings and was abused so badly that her toes and fingers were amputated after developing gangrene. During the three years of legal proceedings, she remained stuck in an overcrowded embassy shelter unable to work or return to her family in Indonesia. At one point, she also was sentenced 79 lashes for changing her testimony, though the sentence was later reversed.

On November 27, 2008, a Malaysian judge is to announce the verdict in the four-year case against Yim Pek Ha, the employer of an Indonesian domestic worker, Nirmala Bonat. In 2004, images of Bonat’s badly burned and injured body shocked Malaysians. Bonat also had to stay in an overcrowded embassy shelter for years without being allowed to work and had to defend herself from charges of inflicting the abuse herself.

“2008 marked a year of missed opportunities,” Varia said. “While most governments have started to think about some level of reform, many of these discussions have stalled. Providing comprehensive support services to victims of violence, prosecuting abusers, and providing civil remedies are reforms that just can’t wait.”

Human Rights Watch recommends that, in order to curtail all forms of violence against migrant domestic workers, governments should:
* Abolish or reform immigration-sponsorship policies so that domestic workers’ visas are no longer tied to their employers;
* Develop protocols and train law enforcement officials on how to respond to domestic workers’ complaints appropriately, and how to investigate and collect evidence in such cases;
* Prosecute perpetrators of psychological, physical, and sexual violence;
* Expedite criminal cases involving migrant domestic workers, who must often wait for a resolution for several months or years while confined in a shelter, and ensure they have legal permission to work during the interim period;
* Create and widely disseminate contacts for confidential, fully staffed and toll-free hotlines to receive reports of abuses against domestic workers;
* Create comprehensive referral and support services, including health care, counselling, shelter, consular services, and legal aid.

A recent Internet survey has found that domestic violence is more common in Taiwan than previously thought as 42.6 percent of respondents said they have female relative or friend who has been hurt in violence incidents.

Chi Huei-jung, chief executive officer of the Garden of Hope Foundation, said that the survey, which the foundation commissioned Yahoo Kimo News to conduct from Nov. 11-14, also found that 38.5 percent of the respondents said they were not aware whether anyone they knew was a victim of domestic violence.

The survey received 8,338 valid responses.

Up to 72.4 percent of the respondents said they are willing to “take action” to help women who are suffering from violence, while some 2.2 percent said they will not offer help, the survey also showed.

Chi believes public awareness about domestic violence is still inadequate. She pointed out that domestic violence is a violation of human rights, and society should not ask victims to keep silent about their sufferings, as some families expect the victims to do.

Nor should society ask victims to forgive perpetrators before justice is upheld, Chi said.

According to the survey, 61 percent of respondents viewed marrital violence as the most serious form of violence against women, Chi said.

Of the respondents, 20.8 percent said they considered sexual assault to be the most serious form of violence against women, followed by 12.7 percent of respondents who identified violence at couples’ break up as the most serious and 4.6 percent who cited incest behavior as the worst.

Chi said the foundation released the survey results a day before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Nov. 25, to raise society’s attention to women’s safety and to spark a public assessment of whether the Domestic Violence Prevention Act implemented by Taiwan a decade ago is adequate.

Nov. 25 was designated by the United Nations in 1999 to promote global awareness of gender violence.

Chi reminded the public to dial 110 to report violence against women or help women suffering from violence seek legal counselling, finding shelters, social welfare resources and medical treatment by dialing 113.

Two years after the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act was introduced, Delhi has earned the dubious distinction of having the maximum number of cases registered. About 3,534 cases have been registered under the Act in Delhi, closely followed by Kerala and Maharashtra.

A disappointing factor is that only 13 states have so far allocated adequate budget for the implementation of the legislation.

These assessments are part of `Staying Alive’, a monitoring and evaluation report on the Act by the Lawyers Collective and supported by UNIFEM South Asia office.

Delhi recorded 3,534 cases between October 2006 to August 2008, while Kerala had 3,287 cases and Maharashtra 2,751. In Andhra Pradesh, 1,625 cases were recorded between July 2007 and October 2008.

While there is an increasing awareness of the legislation, there are several obstacles in its implementation. Inadequate budgetary allocation is a challenge with only 13 states including Assam, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, having allocated specific budgets for the implementation of the law. Of these, Andhra Pradesh has allocated the highest amount of Rs 100 million, Indira Jaisingh, Lawyers Collective director, said.

Girija Vyas of the National Commission of Women (NCW) said that delay in the judicial process also acted as a dampener to the spirit of the law. “Ideally, justice should be delivered to the victim within three months but in many places, including the role model state Andhra Pradesh, cases drag on for more than six months,” Vyas said.

Twenty-two judgments under the domestic violence Act have been delivered by High Courts in different states, indicating that there is a greater degree of familiarity of the law amongst women and judges now, the report said.

Highlighting some of the challenges in the smooth implementation of the law, Jaisingh said that while protection officers, who are the link between the woman and the court, have been appointed at the district level in most of the states, only 10 states have appointed them at the sub-district level — a necessary step required to ensure that maximum women can take help of the law.

As Côte d’Ivoire focuses on restoring stability and holding presidential elections, women’s organisations say stopping violence against women and girls must be an urgent priority. They are appealing to the international community for help in the fight.

“There is a lot of work to be done and it’s urgent,” Nicole Doué, vice-president of the Association for the Defence of Women’s Rights, told IRIN.

While violence against women has always existed, women advocates told IRIN, it worsened – particularly rape – during the conflict following the 2002 coup attempt that left the north under rebel control.

“Women’s bodies have been used throughout the crisis by all sides,” Doué said.

Women’s groups plan to launch a national campaign in November, including radio spots in local languages and a nationwide tour to talk to communities and provide support to victims.

“We want to go around the country and show our sisters that they are not alone in this fight,” Ladji Wangué Gueye Nicole, campaign coordinator, told IRIN from the commercial capital Abidjan. “This should help them speak up. We must expose those who assault women. But without funds we cannot do what is needed.”

In addition to a nationwide awareness campaign, women’s advocates want to set up or rehabilitate help centres for victims, train local authorities and establish legal mechanisms for combating violence against women. Heads of women’s organisations met on 4 November with representatives of the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and foreign embassies.

“For now we don’t have the funds, the human resources or the equipment we need,” said Fanta Coulibaly, director of the fight against violence on women in the Ministry of Family, Women’s and Social Affairs. Simple things would go a long way, she said. “A simple microphone would help us.” She said microphones or radios in marketplaces and bus stations would be ideal for reaching women, particularly those who are illiterate.

Even if women know their rights and choose to exercise them, Coulibaly said, the lack of a functioning judicial system in much of the country is feeding impunity.

Twenty months after the signing of a peace deal that called for restoring government authority in the north, the administration is not yet functioning throughout the country.

“The fact that the justice system is not effective throughout Côte d’Ivoire poses a serious problem in this fight,” she said. “Defence and security forces cannot take the place of magistrates.”

An October report by international and national human rights groups said until magistrates are deployed in the north, “no independent justice is available in the zone controlled by the Force Nouvelles [rebels]”.

The former buffer zone between the north and government-controlled south was for years overseen by international forces, but they have pulled out as part of the 2007 peace deal. Violent crime – including rape – is rampant in the area, and observers say law enforcement is weak and citizens are at the mercy of criminals.

Doué of the women’s rights association said: “They lifted this buffer zone without planning how to ensure women’s security… This is because of the absence of women in the peace process… From Lomé to Ouagadougou [reference to the numerous peace deals signed over the past five years] women have been shut out.”

Female MPs speak out as conditions worsen and Islamists gain respectability

They were walking to school in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, a group of teenage girls discussing a test they had coming up, when two men on a motorcycle sprayed them with a strange liquid. Within seconds a painful tingling began, and there was an unusual smell as the skin of 16-year-old Atifa Biba began to burn.

Her friend rushed over to help her, struggling to wipe the liquid away, when she too was showered with acid. She covered her face, crying out for help as they sprayed her again, trying to aim the acid into her face. The weapon was a water bottle containing battery acid; the result was at least one girl blinded and two others permanently disfigured. Their only crime was attending school.

It was not an isolated incident. For women and girls across Afghanistan, conditions are worsening – and those women who dare to publicly oppose the traditional order now live in fear for their lives.

The Afghan MP Shukria Barakzai receives regular death threats for speaking out on women’s issues. Talking at her home in central Kabul, she closed the living room door as her three young daughters played in the hall. “You can’t imagine what it feels like as a mother to leave the house each day and not know if you will come back again,” she said, her eyes welling up as she spoke.

“But there is no choice. I would rather die for the dignity of women than die for nothing. Should I stop my work because there is a chance I might be killed? I must go on, and if it happens it happens.”

Barakzai receives frequent but cryptic warnings about planned suicide attacks on her car, but no help from the government. Officials advise her to stay at home and not go to work, but offer nothing in the way of security assistance, despite her requests. She said warlords in parliament who received similar threats were immediately provided with armoured vehicles, armed guards and a safe house by the government.

Afghan women are feeling increasingly vulnerable as the security situation worsens and a growing number of western and Afghan officials call for the Taliban to join the government.

“We are very worried that, now the government is talking with the Taliban, our rights will be compromised,” said Shinkai Karokhail, an outspoken MP for Kabul. “We must not be the sacrifice by which peace with the Taliban is made.”

Under Taliban rule, up until 2001, women were not allowed to work and were forbidden from venturing outside the home without a male escort.

Afghan women who defy traditional gender roles and speak out against the oppression of women are routinely subject to threats, intimidation and assassination. An increasingly powerful Taliban regularly attacks projects, schools and businesses run by women.

Six weeks ago, Lieutenant-Colonel Malalai Kakar was assassinated in her car on her way to work in Kandahar. She was Afghanistan’s highest-ranking female police officer and a fierce defender of women’s rights. Only five feet tall, she was known to have beaten men she found to be abusing their wives. Another senior female police officer was killed in the province of Herat in June.

Talking to the Guardian at a safe house on the outskirts of Kabul, Mullah Zubiallah Akhond, a Taliban commander from the southern province of Uruzgan, said the group’s attacks on women were always political and not based on any desire to target or punish women specifically.

He condemned the acid attack on the group of schoolgirls in Kandahar, and insisted the Taliban were not involved. “We support the education of girls, but separate from boys. We would not attack schoolgirls. We only target those working with the government.”

The Taliban’s regional commands have varying attitudes toward women, but all those fighting under the Taliban banner are committed to enforcing their interpretation of sharia law, which forbids women from working or leaving the house without a male escort.

The Islamist group is just one of the many threats facing Afghanistan’s few outspoken female MPs. “Our parliament is a collection of lords,” said Barakzai. “Warlords, drug lords, crime lords.”

In parliament, she says, she is often greeted with screams of “kill her” when she stands up to speak, and she has had no shortage of personal threats from fellow MPs.

They visit her privately to tell her she will be killed if she continues to speak out on such issues as the right of a woman to have a personal passport (separate from the standard “family passport”) or against compulsory virginity tests for young women, and the right of a man to have custody of a child at two years old. It is not only men who oppose women in parliament – both Barakzai and Karokhail have faced obstruction from other female MPs on key women’s issues.

Karokhail said that, of the 68 women in the 249-strong parliament, only five were vocal on women’s issues. The majority of women in parliament vote in favour of more traditional legislation that often rules against women’s rights.

Some women now fear the parliament is becoming more conservative towards women. “Talibani ideas are natural among our people, particularly their vision about women,” said Barakzai.

According to Afghan commentators, President Hamid Karzai, desperate to win next year’s elections, has been bringing former mujahideen commanders into parliament in the hope they will support him at election time.

Most of these former jihadi commanders share the Taliban’s ideas about women and are expected to support legislation that will once again limit women’s freedom. In addition, according to the Taliban commander, the group has a growing number of MPs in parliament lobbying for their policies.

In much of the country, especially rural areas, women remain subservient to the men in their family and rarely venture out of their homes. Even in the relatively liberal capital, Kabul, it is common to see women robed in blue burkas trailing five paces behind their husbands.

It is difficult to gauge how the worsening situation in the country is affecting women, but according to a recent study by the UN, some 87% of them suffer abuse in the home. Afghan human rights groups are documenting cases of “honour” killings, forced abortions and rape, and a database is now being constructed by the UN.

Najla Zewari, who works for the UN’s gender and justice unit, believes violence against women is increasing, fuelled by growing frustrations caused by the economic crisis and lack of security. She said there had also been a sharp increase in rapes by men who claimed they could not afford to pay the dowry needed to marry. After the public shame of an attack, the victim is usually outcast and the rapist is then the only man who will have the woman as his wife.

It is crimes like this that make many Afghans nostalgic for the harsh justice of Taliban rule. Barakzai countered: “Women were safe, in one sense, under the Taliban – but they were kept as slaves, they were not allowed to do what they wanted even in their own home.”

As the Taliban strengthen, the future for women in Afghanistan looks bleaker. Barakzai said women’s rights, once heralded as the great success of post-invasion Afghanistan, had been sidelined and might suffer more in the struggle to find a solution to the fighting.

Last week, a council of 400 women politicians met in Kabul to discuss this possibility and prepare ways to counter it. Karokhail said: “Our biggest fear at the moment is that the return of Talibani ideas to government will wind back the gains we have made in these last years.”

See also:
* Afghan woman rights campaigner wins courage award
* Women’s rights in conflict situations – Malalai Joya & Natalia Estemirova

Over the past 20 years in India, 10 million female babies have been aborted. The pressure to have sons is terrifying – mothers who bear daughters are beaten or cast aside by husbands and in-laws desperate to escape the financial burden of a girl’s dowry. Now mothers are being urged to ‘save the girl child’ as the country tries to end decades of tragic abuse

The birth of Rekha’s second daughter should have been one of the happiest days of her life. Instead, she lay on the bed of her home on the outskirts of Delhi, the newborn child on the floor, screaming in terror as her mother-in-law poured paraffin over her.

This was her punishment, the older woman said, preparing to strike a match: Rekha had failed again to deliver a son and it would be better for everyone if she were dead. Suddenly the door burst open and her neighbours rushed in, roused by the frantic screaming. They bundled Rekha and her daughter out of the house, never to return.

In a country where boys remain prized and having a daughter is considered by many to be a curse, they were lucky. Many are not so fortunate. India has banned pre-natal scanning to determine the sex of a baby and made aborting a child as a result of such a scan punishable with five years in prison. Poster campaigns urge Indians to ‘save the girl child’.

Yet the latest birth figures tell a story. In the state of Punjab, only 798 girls were born for every 1,000 boys. Haryana was next up the list with 819, followed by Chandigarh with 845 and Delhi, the national capital, came in fourth with 868. The Delhi-based Centre for Social Research, which recently surveyed the worst-affected parts of Delhi, estimates that 10 million girls have been lost to female foeticide in India over the past 20 years.

Most alarming for those monitoring the figures is the fact that the gap appears to be widening. Today the national average for births is 933 girls to 1,000 boys; in 1991 it was 945. ‘The low numbers in a state like Delhi tells us the enormity of the situation,’ said Anju Dubey Panbey, of the Centre for Social Research. ‘In India today, if you are blessed with a son you are almost revered, and if you are the mother of daughters you are made to feel guilty and your status in your family goes down. It is very, very disturbing.’

Despite every effort to change perceptions, she said, many Indians simply do not want daughters, who are still seen as a financial burden because of the matrimonial dowry demanded by a groom’s family. ‘People don’t want girls, because they have to worry about their safety and security and they have to pay to get them married off. People say bringing up a daughter is like watering a neighbour’s plant,’ she said.

The answer, for many, is to turn to the ultrasound clinics which display large notices warning that they are prohibited by law from carrying out scans to determine the sex of a baby – but which will do it if the price is right.

The Observer spoke to a number of medical practitioners and women who had attended such clinics. They revealed that one common trick involves using the form which the law requires to be signed to affirm that no sex determination has taken place. If the scan shows the foetus is male, the form will be signed in blue; if it is a girl the signature will be in red. Other clinics hand the family a blue sweet for a boy, a pink one for a girl. They can then arrange a quick abortion.

A scan costs about 2,000 rupees (£30). Those who cannot afford those prices turn to the unqualified midwives who proliferate in the poorer areas and who rely on less scientific methods. Some use crystals, others claim to be able to discern the sex from the way the baby is lying in the womb: a boy if the left side of the stomach is larger, a girl for the right.

There are plenty of such midwives in the industrial squalor of Bawana in Haryana state, on the north-western fringes of Delhi. Most of the residents were resettled there five years ago after being forced out of an illegal slum in the capital; many still spend a significant proportion of their income travelling back into Delhi every day to work as domestic staff. The area is pitifully poor and few feel they can afford the luxury of daughters. It is easier to pay the 500 rupees the midwives demand for a makeshift abortion.

This is where Rekha still lives. Dressed in a cheap blue-and-white sari, she sits nursing the one son she managed to bear before she was driven out. She talks about the beatings, how her mother-in-law asked her to kill her first daughter after she was born. ‘They used to say they would throw me out and get another girl who could have more sons,’ she said. Her story is extreme, but the pressure placed on her is not unusual. Munni, a neighbour in her early thirties, said she had already had one daughter and two sons when she found out she was pregnant a month ago. She and her husband, an electrician, could not afford a daughter, she said.

‘I was afraid that it would be a girl child. I went for a lab test and they were asking 5,000 rupees, and I could not afford that, but the doctors said it looked as if I was carrying a girl, so I had an abortion. I went to one of the clinics near here to have it done. For any mother a daughter is not a burden, but for the family it is,’ she said.

Another neighbour, Sheila Devi, said she was also worried after her first daughter was born. When she became pregnant again, she paid for a scan and was told that she was carrying a girl, so she went to a clinic a little way away and had an abortion. She now has three daughters, the youngest three months old, and one son. ‘We wanted a boy, which is why we kept trying, but we ended up with three girls,’ she said. ‘My in-laws were creating a lot of problems because I had so many girls. They said it is my fault because I’m the one having girls all the time.’ With demand apparently rising, those clinics prepared to flout the law are doing brisk business. The Centre for Social Research study found that more than 400 breaches of India’s Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act had been reported, and a maximum fine of 40,000 rupees did not appear to be proving much of a deterrent.

The Observer visited a number in the Burari area of Delhi which are facing prosecution. The area is littered with small clinics offering scans. The Nanak Hospital displays a board outside warning that sex selection is prohibited, but the man who runs it, Dr Harkiran Singh, is facing prosecution for carrying out an illegal abortion.

The hospital is a grubby building by the side of the road, with a reception area crammed with women and children. In his tiny consulting room, Singh insisted he was resolutely opposed to sex selection – ‘for me it is a strict no, it shouldn’t even be in your mind’ – but was unable to explain why he had been arrested and bailed. ‘I think it was bad luck,’ he said.

But he had heard of other clinics that were doing it. ‘Whoever is desperate will go from pillar to post to find it and there may be places that will do it,’ he said. ‘My friends say that they are getting these inquiries. In the cities it is more difficult, but elsewhere it is not so hard to find.’

It is not just the backstreet clinics that stand accused. The large and modern Jaipur Golden Hospital in Rohini, Delhi, has been named in a case brought by a paediatrician, Dr Mitu Khurana, who claims she was taken there by her in-laws and scanned against her will. Once they discovered she was carrying a girl, they tried to make her have an abortion. She has lodged an action against her husband, his family and the hospital.

Dr Ashish Chandra, a senior administrator at the hospital, admitted that the hospital had destroyed the paperwork relating to the case but denied any wrongdoing. Instead he complained that the authorities were going after the wrong people. ‘The law is well-intentioned, but the problem is in the implementation. The big hospitals like this follow the rules scrupulously, but what about the outside areas, where there is no regulation? There is an unregulated market,’ he said. ‘The authorities should be following up the people who are doing the ultrasounds, the one-man bands, because it is easier for them to do it.’

Earlier this year, India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, condemned female foeticide as ‘inhuman, uncivilised and reprehensible’. Yet the sheer scale of the problem appears to be thwarting the government’s stated intention to tackle it. The High Court in Delhi recently took Google and other internet firms to task for running ads for sex selective abortion. But no sooner does one door shut than another one opens. Before scans were widely available, unwanted girls tended to be killed shortly after birth. With the arrival of scans, the focus switched to abortions.

Now those with enough money can go one step further by using IVF treatment to ensure that they get a male child. Fertility expert Dr Shivani Sachdev Gour, of Delhi’s Phoenix Hospital, said she was regularly approached by wealthy families who offered 500,000 rupees or more to ensure that their next child was a boy. ‘They put tremendous pressure on you for sex selection for embryos. They want you to implant a male child. It is illegal to select embryos on the basis of sex, but they are determined to get it done and money is not a problem for them. People are blatant. I tell them it is illegal, but they say [they] know that.’

She said that although her own hospital rejected such approaches others did not. ‘I know there are clinics in Delhi that do this. I know of a few places where the charges are five or 10 times what a normal scan would cost, but still people are doing it and there is a market for it. I just don’t know what to say about my doctor colleagues who are doing it. I just don’t know what to say.’

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“The increasing number of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) raises the risk of domestic violence and its consequences on families and children in communities across the United States,” says Monica Matthieu, Ph.D., an expert on veteran mental health and an assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Treatments for domestic violence are very different than those for PTSD. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has mental health services and treatments for PTSD, yet these services need to be combined with the specialized domestic violence intervention programs offered by community agencies for those veterans engaging in battering behavior against intimate partners and families.”

Matthieu and Peter Hovmand, Ph.D., domestic violence expert and assistant professor of social work at Washington University, are merging their research interests and are working to design community prevention strategies to address this emerging public health problem.

“The increasing prevalence of traumatic brain injury and substance use disorders along with PTSD among veterans poses some unique challenges to existing community responses to domestic violence” says Hovmand.

“Community responses to domestic violence must be adapted to respond to the increasing number of veterans with PTSD. This includes veterans with young families and older veterans with chronic mental health issues.”

Even as the demographic of the veteran population changes as World War II veterans reach their 80s and 90s and young veterans completing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers of living veterans who have served in the United States military is staggering. Current estimates indicate that there are 23,816,000 veterans.

Matthieu says there are evidence-based psychological treatment programs that can be a great resource for clinicians to learn how to identify and treat PTSD symptoms. However, identifying battering behaviors among veterans with active PTSD symptoms may be difficult and may require consultation and referral to domestic violence experts.

Research in the VA shows that male veterans with PTSD are two to three times more likely than veterans without PTSD to engage in intimate partner violence and more likely to be involved in the legal system.

“Community violence prevention agencies and services need to be included in a veteran’s treatment plan to address the battering behaviors,” says Hovmand.

“Veterans need to have multiple providers coordinating the care that is available to them, with each provider working on one treatment goal. Coordinated community response efforts such as this bring together law enforcement, the courts, social service agencies, community activists and advocates for women to address the problem of domestic violence. These efforts increase victim safety and offender accountability by encouraging interorganizational exchanges and communication.

“Veterans Day is an excellent reminder that we need to coordinate the services offered by the VA and in the community to ensure that our veterans and their families get the services they need when they need it,” Matthieu and Hovmand say.

No More Silence: The Coalition Against Violence said communities cannot simply turn a blind eye to violence within families, but should rather report it

“There is no place for domestic violence and sexual harassment in a civilized country like ours.” – Lin Join-sane, Deputy Minister of the Interior

In an effort to expand neighborhood networks to combat domestic violence and support victims of violence, the Taiwan Coalition Against Violence held a ceremony to welcome its first volunteers in a new campaign to educate communities.

Anyone willing to act as the alliance’s “eyes” and report domestic violence, participate in victim support programs and help raise awareness of domestic violence is welcome to contact the alliance to learn more about becoming a “friend” of the coalition.

“Domestic violence not only hurts the victims — women in most cases — the victims’ children suffer and society and the state pay high prices for such crimes as well,” coalition chairwoman Chou Ching-yu (周清玉) said at a ceremony to present certificates to the first nine people to join the drive.

Chou said that in the past, the public felt that whatever happens within a family, including violence, is a personal family matter.

“But that’s not how it works,” Chou said.

An important role for coalition “friends” will be to spread information in their communities about domestic violence and make clear that violence within the family is illegal.

“The government has made great efforts to prevent domestic violence, many non-governmental groups are also working on it, but it’s not enough,” Chou continued.

“We need more people to join us to look out for domestic violence in every corner of society and to help raise public awareness,” Chou said.

Tang Mei-yun, a well-known opera singer and the coalition’s first permanent member, said she signed up to volunteer because she wanted to contribute to society.

Deputy Minister of the Interior Lin Join-sane encouraged more people to join.

“There is no place for domestic violence and sexual harassment in a civilized country like ours,” Lin said.

Employers have protested, women’s groups have welcomed the move, but with a caveat. And one expert has suggested making it an occupational safety offence.

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) protested because it feels the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, and the Penal Code are sufficient.

Women’s groups feel there is a greater need for specific legislation that covers sexual harassment in all places and not just at work.

Human resources specialist Maimunah Aminuddin, who co-authored A Guide to the Malaysian Code of Practice on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace with former Labour Department director general Datuk Tengku Omar Tengku Bot, said codifying sexual harassment will not solve the problem.

“When there is a law prohibiting something, evidence would need to be adduced for the wrongdoing to be proven. In sexual harassment cases, it’s usually just one person’s word against the other’s,” said Maimunah.

She said sexual harassment is already a misconduct, like tardiness or an act of betrayal against the company, and case law has shown that courts side with the employer for dismissing an employee for sexual harassment.

Maimunah said she is against incorporating sexual harassment under the Employment Act because “employers may be fined for failure to comply with the Employment Act (EA), but at this point in time at least the EA has no provisions for punishment of individual employees or harassers.”

She feels sexual harassment should be placed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Osha) 1994.

“This would mean that all employees would be covered, unlike placing it under the Employment Act which only applies to the private sector in the peninsula, and only to complainants who earn below RM1,500.

“The ministry can place one section under Osha that requires all employers to adopt and implement the current Code of Practice,” she said.

This, said Maimunah, would allow the Department Of Occupational Safety and Health (Dosh) to ask the company during inspections to produce evidence that it had implemented the code.

“The company can do this by providing training calendars and manuals on sexual harassment, as well as the setting up of a committee made up of those who have been properly trained to investigate such complaints,” she said.

Also, the fines for non-compliance under Osha are much higher than those under the EA. And it will cover third party contractors like consultants and contract workers, she added.

She said both men and women need to be educated on how painful and harmful sexual harassment can be.

“Most people will think there is no harm in dirty jokes, or making comments about another’s body shape, or even what one did with one’s husband the night before. So people have to speak out against this.

“If the point is clearly made that the behaviour is offensive and the harasser continues, the employee should bring it to the attention of the employer. Otherwise, the harasser is under the impression that what he is doing is acceptable.”

She added that sexual harassment is not confined to women.

“When I conduct training, many Muslim men tell me that if a woman wears sexy clothes to work, they feel sexually harassed. They say it is a distraction, they don’t know where to put their eyes and they cannot concentrate on their work. We need to be able to talk about what causes hurt to other people,” she said.

“Employees have to be educated to the fact that they have the right not to be sexually harassed and that they have to complain when it does happen.

“This education has to be at all levels, and the Human Resources Ministry has to play its role by getting other parties to play their role. It should be made mandatory for companies to have a minimum number of hours of training on this every year.”

Lawyer Thavalingam Thavarajah is against codifying sexual harassment because it may result in rigidity, and certain acts may not be included.

“But if it’s already an implied misconduct, then the range is a lot wider. Case law seems to favour this,” he said.

Thavalingam has written about employment law and he is the honorary secretary of MEF.

Like Maimunah, Thavalingam stresses the need for education.

“We need to educate people on their rights. They need to know exactly what sexual harassment is. They don’t read acts of parliament.

“If a guy has a nude picture of a woman on his wall or as a screen saver, that also is sexual harassment. Offending email and pornographic short messages can also amount to sexual harassment, as they outrage a person’s modesty to a certain extent.

“The trouble here is that people look at this lightly or they don’t realise they have an avenue of complaint, or even that they are a victim of sexual harassment.”

Health providers – frequently the first professional a trafficking victim consults for help – are often thrust into the fight against organised crime without adequate preparation, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The agency says there is an urgent need to ensure care for trafficking victims and hopes to fill the gap with its soon-to-be released guidelines for health workers.

Expected by the end of December, the global guidelines are intended to help health providers identify and treat victims of trafficking. A panel of experts in health and human trafficking has been collaborating on ways to instruct health providers about the dangers of treating victims of trafficking – persons who are recruited or transported to work under coercive, abusive conditions, according to the UN.

Cathy Zimmerman, the guidelines’ lead researcher who specialises in health and human trafficking at the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told IRIN that prosecuting traffickers has had a higher priority than treating their victims. “The focus has been on training police [and] immigration officials and lost in the mix has been health care for the victims. There are all sorts of global manuals for law enforcement, but nothing on the basics of care and treatment of trafficking victims.”

Zimmerman said this is a “huge gap” because health providers’ instincts might put them and their patients at danger: “What do you do if you are working in an emergency room setting and a girl comes in because of haemorrhaging? She has had a miscarriage, shows signs of being abused, is under age and you suspect she is being held captive. Your first instinct might be to sneak in the back and call the police. But what if the police are complicit and part of the [smuggling] network? What if it was the police who brought her over the border?”

One of 17 information sheets that make up a draft of the manual is “Actions if you suspect trafficking”; for the above scenario it instructs the provider to talk to the girl and call an aid agency.

Topics covered in the information sheets include health risks and consequences, communication and working with interpreters, physical protection and security, safe referrals, mental health care, urgent care, and interactions with law enforcement.

Trafficking expert Zimmerman said health workers should be cautious about whom they trust when treating trafficking victims: “Someone’s uncle may be translating. The health provider must consider the possibility that he is both the trafficker and the uncle.”

Geneva-based IOM officer Rosilyne Borland told IRIN some patients are brought to the hospital by people who do not have their best interests in mind. “A trafficking victim for sexual exploitation is less profitable for their trafficker if they have a sexually-transmitted infection. The trafficker will bring them in for treatment, which can be a dangerous situation.”

Borland added that even when victims escape and seek care on their own, they may not be out of danger: “Even if they are taken out of immediate danger, there is still the element of organised crime that threatens them. They may be followed. People who say they are officials or the media may seek information. The risks are higher for violating patient confidentiality [than in regular patient care settings]. The impact of disclosure would be disastrous, not just unethical.”

Zimmerman and her expert panel team describe in the soon-to-be-released guidelines how much more difficult it is to pry the truth about someone’s condition when they have been subjected to coercion and physical and psychological abuse.

Abdoulaye Diop, a physician who works with street children in Dakar through the NGO Samusocial Senegal, told IRIN children working in forced labour have learned how to protect themselves: “Children tell the truth, but at first it is their truth, their reality. They are in denial and they fear telling the [real] truth. But if you are patient, the truth will come out one day, but you cannot push them against a wall and force it out.”

ILO estimates more than 12 million people are in forced labour worldwide; around 43 percent of human-trafficking victims are commercial sex workers, while about one-third are exploited in agriculture, private households and sweatshops. Most cases of forced labour involve exploitation by private agents. But researcher Zimmerman warned against getting caught up in the legal definition of trafficking: “How exploited do you have to be to be considered trafficked? Trafficking as a label can be exclusive and cut out people who need help.”

Rather, she said, it is more urgent to restore dignity to patients who have been abused: “When you have been held captive, tortured, you lose control of what happens from one moment to the next. You simply have no idea what happens next. We [health providers] can start restoring that sense of control in the clinic setting.”