Archive for November 1st, 2008

The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! (SKSW) strongly condemns the stoning to death of Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow, a 23 year old Somali woman who was publically tortured and murdered Monday 27 October, 2008 in the local square in Kismayu, Somalia.

Accused of adultery, Asha Ibrahim Dhuhulow was buried up to her neck in front of hundreds of people while stones were hurled at her head. She was dragged out of the hole three times to see if she was dead.

Somali Islamist insurgents captured the southern port of Kismayu in August of this year. Witnesses to the stoning said the militants, known as al-Shabaab, accused the woman of adultery and extracted a confession. Although all standard interpretations of “sharia” (or collections of various Muslim laws and their interpretations) dictate that adultery must be proven by four eye witnesses in a court of law, the Somali Concern Group reported that the killing was extra-judicial, and that the woman did not receive a trial.

Stoning is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran and is considered by many respected Muslim scholars to be un-Islamic. Many Muslim states such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Tunisia, Algeria and others have banned death by stoning. Despite calls for abolition from around the globe, stoning still occurs in several countries, either under law or by the community.

Members of al-Shabaab apparently publicized the execution, killing the woman in front of hundreds of people at the town square. When a relative and others pushed forward to rescue the victim, guards opened fire, killing a child. Islamist leaders have reportedly apologized for killing the child, but offered no such repentance for the stoning of Dhuhulow.

Stoning is a grave and serious violation of International Human Rights Law. Stoning breeches the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (1966). Somalia acceded to the convention in 1990.

Article 6 of the ICCPR states that “in countries which have not abolished the death penalty, sentence of death may be imposed only for the most serious crimes”, of which adultery is not.

Article 7 of the ICCPR states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. This last injunction is reinforced in the 1985 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) to which Somalia acceded in 1990.

Although the killing was carried out by non-state insurgents, Article 2 of the CAT states that “each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

We urge the state of Somalia to ensure a prompt and impartial investigation into this grave case. Members of al-Shabaab as well as every individual who took part in the stoning must be brought to justice, and the Somali state should take due diligence in taking every possible measure in order to prevent any such violation of women’s human rights from reoccurring.

Furthermore, the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! urges all militias, insurgents, independent armies and other non-state actors in Somalia to respect the human rights of civilians in their communities and unequivocally condemn the practice of stoning.

Press Release: 29 October 2008

For more information, please go to


Islamic parties said the law was needed to protect women and children against exploitation and to curb increasing immorality in Indonesian society.

The law would ban images, gestures or talk deemed to be pornographic.

Artists, women’s groups and non-Muslim minorities said they could be victimised under the law and that traditional practices could be banned.

The law has prompted protests across Indonesia, but particularly on the predominantly Hindu island of Bali – a favourite destination for tourists.

But there have also been demonstrations in favour of the bill by people alarmed at what they see as moral degeneration in Indonesia.

The law has been backed by hardline Islamic groups, says the BBC’s Lucy Williamson in Jakarta, but many moderate Muslims also back greater controls on pornographic materials.

About 90% of Indonesia’s 235 million people are Muslim, but there are Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and other minorities.

An original version of the bill would have banned skimpy clothing at tourist resorts.

Despite a lengthy and exhaustive revision process which watered down the bill, more than 100 legislators walked out of parliament before the vote.

They said the bill’s definition of pornography was too broad and that it went against Indonesia’s tradition of diversity.

Critics also do not like a provision in the bill that would allow members of the public to participate in preventing the spread of obscenity.

“We’re worried it will be used by hard-liners who say they want to control morality,” Baby Jim Aditya, a women’s rights activist, told Associated Press news agency.

“It could be used to divide communities.”

Supporters of the bill said it still leaves room for legitimate artistic expression and that it does not target non-Muslims.

“This law will ensure that Islam is preserved and guaranteed,” said Hakim Sori Muda Borhan, a member of parliament from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party.

“It is also not in the interest of any specific religion. The law is also meant to preserve arts and culture and not destroy them.”

The bill must be signed by the president before it comes into effect.

Violators face up to 12 years in prison and hefty fines.

Incessant violence in the eastern province of the Democratic Republic of Congo could trigger a humanitarian crisis as efforts to deliver assistance to people already in dire need are hampered and more people flee into Goma from the war fronts with rebel forces, ActionAid is warning.

“Gunshots were heard all over Goma last night and looting was reported in many houses, shops and supermarkets,” Alpha Sankoh, ActionAid’s Director based in Goma says.

“ActionAid has had to cancel its distribution of emergency supplies to 12,000 families today in Masisi camp in North Kivu province.

The organisation was also due to distribute 3,000 jerry cans for storing water to displaced people in Mugunga camp 1 outside Goma town,” Sankoh added.

The humanitarian situation is deteriorating further as international humanitarian agencies are forced to suspend their ongoing relief operations.

General Nkunda, the leader of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) has declared a unilateral ceasefire but the situation remains tense.

International aid workers are still held up at the UN camp at the border with Rwanda while all national workers remain at home.

People have flocked to Goma in tens of thousands fearing rampant and indiscriminate use of violence, but humanitarian assistance is still being hampered.

To address the crisis, ActionAid is calling for:

An immediate and internationally enforced ceasefire and disarmament of warring factions.

Guaranteed safe passage for humanitarian workers and assistance to those in need of help.

The International community to make available material and financial resources to take care of more than 800,000 persons displaced by the conflict and deploy more forces to enforce peace in the province.

The African Union should call for an extraordinary summit and agree on clear time-bound milestones for returning eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to peace. These should guarantee enforcement of the Amani programme of action by the Congolese State and the warring factions.

The UN Security Council and the African Union must jointly commit to protect women from recurrent, indiscriminate and pervasive rape and sexual abuse and ensure perpetrators are held accountable.

ActionAid works in the DR Congo to promote the rights of women and others displaced by conflict and those affected by HIV and Aids through livelihood alternatives. The organisation also runs programmes to help people reduce their vulnerability to disasters, deal with trauma and promote education.

See: ActionAid Press Release UN and African Union must protect women from rape in DRC – 31 October 2008

While exploring Rwanda’s alternative experience of women’s emancipation, Grace Kwinjeh outlines the potential conflict between nationalism and social liberation within many post-colonial African nations. Though post-colonial nationalisms have often amounted to the reinforcing of patriarchal systems of governance and the subordination of women, in Rwanda, the author argues, women’s experience of political representation in a post-genocide society has been more complicated, an experience essentially revealing the role of political systems in determining the levels of freedom and democracy that countries’ citizens enjoy.

For some time now it has been argued that the failure of the nationalist movements to effectively accord women their rights leading to their full emancipation has been because the nationalist model is rooted in patriarchal notions of power and liberation. Post-colonial regimes adopted governance systems that were based on the double pillars of militarism and repression. They did not have an agenda for the total liberation of their citizens but instead sought to fit into the colonial masters’ shoes, creating a new black elite at the bidding of the former colonial power. What for example Zimbabwean cynics would say of the country’s liberation, and of Robert Mugabe in particular, is that the country simply moved from a ‘white Smith’ to a ‘black Smith’. Or better still the relationship that existed between the former Rwandan government of Juvénal Habyarimana and the French administration.

Fulfilling Frantz Fanon’s prophecy: ‘In its beginnings, the national bourgeoisie of the colonial country identifies itself with the decadence of the West. We need not think that it is jumping ahead; it is in fact beginning at the end.’

What academic Horace Campbell goes on to describe as the exhausted patriarchal model of liberation: ‘Instead of liberation becoming the foundation of a new social order, the militarist and masculinist leadership turned the victory of the people into a never ending nightmare of direct and structural violence.’ A nightmare for Rwanda that led to the slaughter in 1994 of over a million of her people.

It is in this context that I would like to link the gains made by Rwandan women and men in the last parliamentary elections vis-à-vis women’s emancipation, and their promotion to positions of power and decision-making against the country’s post-colonial history of repression and exclusion in an attempt to substantiate the nexus between a political system in place, governance and women’s emancipation. These are interlinked; an anti-democratic system will not allow popular participation, in most instances women are left out. Consequently, one can risk the argument that it is the political system that determines the mode of governance and ultimately women’s emancipation.

Nationalist models promoted a two stage approach to liberation, the first being to gain political power, usually by men, then everything else which included women’s liberation would follow. A model that has been challenged by Rwanda.

Feminist Patricia Chogugudza writes of liberation movements after independence: ‘Yet feminist critics argue that at the end of the struggle, women’s status actually fell as nationalist leaders and nationalist-oriented societies, in the quest of preserving tradition, expected women to be guardians of culture and respectability, or mistresses of the emerging ruling elites, or wives and mothers, recruiters for political parties, and labourers for the new market economy, while men were engaged in competition for political power in the state and the accumulation of wealth.’

Rwanda’s liberation model, from the struggle for democracy, leading to the phase of the post genocide reconstruction efforts was instead based on equal participation of the sexes, in combat and the eventual power sharing with a clear visibility of women at the helm different sectors of society. Women who carried the gun such as retired Lieutenant Colonel Rose Kabuya and others did not evaporate into political oblivion as their other struggling ex-combatant sisters did; instead they have been there at the helm, the success of which can be counted in the recent parliamentary election results.

In response to the election result in which Rwandan women now constitute 56.25% of the lower chamber of parliament, some critics claim the ascent of Rwandan women is through the coincidental misfortune of more men having died during the genocide, therefore women dominate in the country’s demographics.

I would not want to go into statistics of female or male casualties during Africa’s liberation struggle, though it can be argued with certainty that there were more male than female casualties, perhaps skewering the demographics in favour of women, but that did not change the prevailing context of power relations based on male dominance. To date in most countries women have higher populations than men but will come out in droves to vote for men, remain marginalised and under represented in decision-making positions all as a result of the patriarchal nature of the societies they operate under; the result of political systems that will not allow fundamental changes to the status quo of power underpinning male privilege.

Chogugudza continues: ‘Zimbabwean women, like their counterparts in Mozambique, Angola, and Guinea-Bissau, joined the armed struggle. Their hope was that with the revolution, gender equality would be certain.’

Taking me back to my earlier argument that the magic potion for women is in the political system in place. For the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), a liberation movement taking over power from a black government in a world that hardly understands black on black violence, the biggest challenge was to start building a system based on basic human values. That included an overhaul of the political culture of one party dominance; for instance all parties that contest elections are represented in government, fostering a spirit of multi-party democracy.

The RPF had to distinguish itself from the politics of the past despotism and apartheid as illustrated in Andrew Wallis’s Silent Accomplice: The Untold Story of France’s Role in the Rwandan Genocide: ‘The Rwandan president, the Hutu Juvénal Habyarimana, who had seized power back in 1973, had continued an ‘apartheid’ system that all but banned Tutsis from working in the army, civil service and professional jobs.’ The relationship between Habyarimana and the French government explained in the book makes but an apt fulfillment of Fanon’s prophesy: ‘It is already senile before it has come to know the petulance, the fearlessness, or the will to succeed of youth.’

A political senility quite apparent in gender relations based on a system that viewed women as second class citizens; they had no access to education or proper health care (a preserve of the elite women), they could not own land and inheritance was through a male member of the family. All this through fundamental legislative changes is a thing of the past. Women now queue up for land title deeds! Thus, my argument that a political system in place will by and large determine the role and positioning of women. The more democratic and open a system the more gains for women in that society; only a system that works for total liberation can achieve this.

* Grace Kwinjeh is the managing editor of The New Times.

* Please send comments to or comment online at

From the 10 to the 13th of October was held the first pan-Canadian young feminist gathering, called “Waves of Resistance”. It was more than 500 young women who invaded the classrooms of UQAM for those 3 days to reaffirm the pertinence of feminism and to act collectively about issues like feminization of poverty, hypersexualization and racism, to name a few. The young feminists have even been invited to experiment radical cheerleading!

The energy emanating from those young feminists was worth the travel! The adoption of the pan-Canadian young feminists’ manifesto was the climax of the Gathering, this manifesto compiling and declaring their hopes, what they give and take of the actual system and what they propose to perpetuate the struggle to obtain equality between men and women. The manifesto is available on this website and will be used as a political tool for all the young feminists in their communities. For all those who think feminism is dead, the young feminists are far from silent!

Manifesto of the Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering

We are the young RebELLEs who have answered a feminist call and we are proud to call ourselves feminists. We recognize that there are multiple interpretations of feminism and we celebrate and integrate this diversity. We are committed to the continual expansion of the plurality of our voices. We are committed to an ongoing process of critical self-reflection to inform and transform our movement. We acknowledge the historical exclusion of “Othered” women by the majority Western feminist movement. We strive to learn from the past, honour the struggles of our foremothers and continue to dream for the future. We value the allies of feminism who support us in our fight for equity and justice.

We are women of diverse abilities, ethnicities, origins, sexualities, identities, class backgrounds, ages and races. Among us are employed, underemployed and unemployed women, mothers, students, dropouts, artists, musicians and women in the sex trade. We state that transfolks, two-spirited and intersexed people are integral to our movement and recognize and respect gender fluidity and support the right to self-identify. Our women-only spaces include everyone who self-identifies and lives as a woman in society.

We are told that feminism is over and outdated. If this were true then we wouldn’t need to denounce the fact that:

In reality, many of the demands of our feminist mothers and grandmothers remain unmet. Women continue to be the victims of sexual violence. Our communities are haunted by the silence that follows these assaults. Throughout Canada, in spite of our right to it, access to abortion services remains insufficient. Across Canada as well, colonized, marginalized, racialized and disabled women are coerced and/or forced to undergo unwanted or uninformed abortions, forced to use contraception and are subjected to forced sterilization. The hyper-sexualization of women in the media has taught us to view women as sexual objects rather than complete human beings. Getting off, lesbianism and being queer are taboo and a women’s choice to seek sexual pleasure is seen as negative. Our identities are eroded as we are taught, from the time we are children, and through television and magazines, that how we should look, dress, and act is determined by our sex. Violence is normalized, sexual abuse eroticized. Our sexual health education is inadequate and our reproductive rights are disrespected. Our needs are not being met.

In reality, women still represent the majority of the underprivileged. Our government steals children from poor and Aboriginal women. Capitalism exploits working-class women and confines middle- and upper-class women to “consumer” roles. We are told that equality has been achieved, but still the wage gap persists. Immigrant women are denied acknowledgment of their academic credentials and are forced to endure intolerable work environments in order to stay on Canadian soil. We lack affordable and accessible childcare. Women remain underpaid, underappreciated, and undervalued in the work force. We have gained the right to vote, yet gender-based discrimination keeps women virtually unrepresented in political office.

In this globalized world, we must construct international feminist solidarity. The actions of Canadian political and economic elites harm women around the world, and in a way that is specifically gender-related. War, genocide and militarization are characterized by the use of rape as a war weapon, femicide, and the sexual exploitation of thousands of our sisters. Free trade contributes to women’s increasing social, economic and cultural insecurity. In response to Canadian imperialism, we will globalize our feminist solidarity.

In this so-called post-feminist world, our roles in society are still defined by traditional views on gender. Religious and political forces aimed at maintaining the pillars of power in our society silence us from voicing our rights. We denounce the current rise of right-wing ideology in Canadian society and the steps backward in women’s rights that this has caused. We are being stripped of rights for which those who came before us fought hard. Geography marginalizes women, with remote, northern and rural women lacking access to basic services. Showing solidarity with our sisters means trying to understand all of the issues we face – including race, class and gender – and standing together against oppression.

Finally, we denounce the dismissal of the feminist movement as redundant. Our struggle is not over. We will be post-feminists when we have post-patriarchy.

Feminists Unite!

DOWN WITH the colonial legacy of genocide and assimilation of Aboriginal peoples, particularly of Aboriginal women
DOWN WITH the sexism and racism of the Indian Act
DOWN WITH dishonoured treaties
DOWN WITH assimilation
DOWN WITH racial profiling
DOWN WITH Canada’s fake multicultural policy
DOWN WITH warmongers & military power
DOWN WITH racist child welfare policies
DOWN WITH stereotypes in the media
DOWN WITH genocide and femicide
DOWN WITH stealing women and children

RebELLEs AGAINST banks for hijacking the world
RebELLEs AGAINST drug companies for institutionalizing women’s health
RebELLEs AGAINST public spaces that don’t accommodate all bodies
RebELLEs AGAINST development that destroys nature
RebELLEs AGAINST the class system that keeps us impoverished and deprives us of safe, affordable housing
RebELLEs AGAINST the state that forces other countries to adopt the capitalist system
RebELLEs AGAINST the devaluation of women’s paid and unpaid work
RebELLEs AGAINST corporations for making money off our backs
RebELLEs AGAINST the advertisers who destroy our self- esteem and then sell it back to us

RISE AGAINST the industries that cause us to hate our bodies and our sexuality
RISE AGAINST heterosexism that makes it seem that there is only one way of living, loving and being sexual
RISE AGAINST the socialization of children in gender binaries, race categories and colonial erasures
RISE AGAINST the education that reinforces the heteronormative nuclear family
RISE AGAINST the religious Right and its influence on State policy and legislation
RISE AGAINST rape and violence against women
RISE AGAINST the objectification and control of women’s bodies
RISE AGAINST all anti-choice bills, laws and strategies
RISE AGAINST the sexual division of labour
RISE AGAINST poverty and women’s economic disadvantage and dependency
RISE AGAINST income support programs based on family status instead of individual status
RISE AGAINST masculinists, their false claims and demagogic arguments
RISE AGAINST sexual exploitation

We envision communities committed to:
-> Eradicating all forms of violence – including sexual, institutional, emotional, economic, physical, cultural, racial, colonial, ageist and ableist
-> Challenging all forms of oppression, power and privilege
-> Recognizing that others’ struggles against oppression cannot be separated from one’s own, because all people are intrinsically linked; and being conscious of how one fits into the different structures of oppression while fighting to eliminate them all
-> Freeing our children and ourselves from the gender binary
-> Building institutions and structures that promote the principles of Justice, Peace & Equality
-> Eliminating economic inequality
-> Funding and supporting affordable, accessible childcare, and the economic freedom to mother in the way we choose
-> Learning and teaching true herstory and histories of our victories and struggles, especially those of women of colour and Aboriginal women
-> Fighting the stigma and shame of mental health and psychiatric survivors and supporting their struggles

We will: Change our attitude: get pissed off, refuse, resist, walk out, speak up!
We will: Transform our daily lives and relationships: actions can take place in small interactions
We will: Encourage people to learn about, care for and love themselves and their bodies
We will: Support safe and accessible space for individuals to define and express themselves without fear of judgement
We will: Create alternatives, write poetry, articles, letters, make art
We will: Join with others, find common ground, build community, create feminist spaces and gatherings, raise awareness, educate, spread the word
We will: Believe that a better world is possible and work to achieve it

We will: Organize and struggle: build alliances with existing feminist groups and create new ones, fight together in solidarity, be seen and be heard, disrupt, trouble, destabilize established powers, become culture jammers
We will: Build solidarity based on the commonality of our diverse struggles and perspectives
We will: Value people rather than profits
We will: Demand massive State reinvestment in social programs and the end of privatization
We will: Organize pan-Canadian decentralized days of feminist action against the rise of the Right
We will: Protest and resist sexist bills and laws that threaten our reproductive rights, racist immigration laws, war, free trade, repression, the criminalization of political movements, corporate exploitation and plunder of the earth, and violence against women
We will: Champion safety, respect, justice, freedom, equality and SOLIDARITY!

This manifesto was adopted at the Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering Toujours RebELLEs / Waves of Resistance, Montreal, October 13, 2008.

It is a call to action!

Find out more, get involved!

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* Manifesto of the Pan-Canadian Young Feminist Gathering.pdf 166.32 KB
* Manifesto FR + EN.pdf 288.14 KB
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New Staff Only One Step to Reducing 7,300-Case Backlog

The approval of 16 additional Los Angeles Police Department crime lab positions today by the City Council is only one step in addressing the backlog of 7,300 cases in which rape evidence has not been tested, Human Rights Watch said. The city needs to prepare and implement a more comprehensive plan to address the problem of untested “rape kits,” the physical evidence, including DNA, collected after a sexual assault.

“The rape-kit backlog is not simply a crime-lab capacity problem,” said Sarah Tofte, researcher with the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “The city needs a plan to improve the entire process of investigating and prosecuting rape cases. That is what will be meaningful to victims.”

On October 28, 2008, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William Bratton, and Councilmember Jack Weiss announced an agreement to increase crime-lab capacity by 30 employees in the next six months. Some City Council members have described this as “the plan” to eliminate the backlog in untested kits.

In previous public comments before the City Council, Human Rights Watch has warned that an approach based solely on increasing crime-lab capacity would not solve the problem.

A comprehensive plan should include:
• A commitment to promptly test the rape-kit evidence in every future case;
• A commitment that the newly approved lab positions will be used to eliminate the backlog;
• A process to ensure that test results are turned into investigative leads;
• A process to notify detectives, prosecutors, or any other branch of law enforcement responsible for investigating sex crimes, when a DNA profile from a rape kit matches a profile in the DNA database (a “cold hit”) occurs on a rape kit profile; and
• A commitment and a process to notify rape victims about the results of their rape kit test.

Several jurisdictions that have tried to eliminate their rape-kit backlogs without a long-term plan have failed to improve their records on rape cases. Illinois tried to eliminate its backlog without a comprehensive plan, and three years later it still lacks the capacity to upload the profiles or create investigative leads from cold hits. New York City, the one jurisdiction that has carried out a comprehensive plan, succeeded in completely clearing its rape kit-backlog. The resulting cold hits have led to at least 200 rape convictions to date.

Timely testing of rape kits can be critical to bringing justice to sexual assault victims. It is often difficult to solve or prosecute a rape case effectively without this forensic evidence. Furthermore, under California law, there is no statute of limitations for bringing a case if the rape kit is tested within two years. But if it is not tested in that time frame, the statute of limitations is 10 years.

“The bottom line is that tackling the backlog is not a goal in itself, but a crucial step for improving and increasing investigations of rape cases, and in appropriate cases, arrests and prosecutions,” Tofte said.

See also:
* LA Police Fail to Use Funds to Test Rape Kits say HRW – Audit Shows LAPD Rape-Kit Backlog Grows Despite $4 Million in Funding
* LA Police Fail to Use Funds to Test Rape Kits

An MSF study reveals insufficient human and physical resources, insufficient supplies and a lack of necessary training to implement comprehensive health care services for victims of sexual violence.

The rate of sexual violence in Colombia is alarming. A recent study carried out by the international humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reveals that 35 percent of their mobile clinic patients and 22 percent of patients in their fixed clinics have suffered an episode of sexual violence at least once in their lives.

A victim of sexual violence needs comprehensive health services including medical and psychological care. Medical care can help prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS and undesired pregnancies, if provided within 72 hours after the act of violence. However few victims seek health care within that time and, when they do, they are confronted with multiple obstacles, including inadequate and insufficient services.

The study “Violencia Sexual en Colombia: Una mirada integral desde los proyectos de ayuda humanitaria en salud de Médicos Sin Fronteras” reveals that, although the Colombian legislation recognizes the need to provide victims of sexual violence with a minimum package of health care services, this same legislation restricts their access to health care.

The first obstacles to hamper the access to health care services for victims are: embarrassment, fear for personal security, the possibility of being re-victimized and doubts about the confidentiality of services. If these obstacles are overcome and the victims choose to seek health care, they may be confronted by the lack of preparation of health care service providers.

The MSF study reveals insufficient human and physical resources, insufficient supplies and a lack of necessary training to implement comprehensive health care services for victims of sexual violence.

“Our experience shows that many health care workers don’t know the protocols, don’t rely on diagnostic tools and don’t have the drugs to treat patients who are victims of sexual violence,” said Dr Oscar Bernal, MSF Medical Coordinator in Colombia. Logistical and administrative difficulties and the absence of statistical data were also identified as obstacles during the course of the study.

Based on our experience of working with victims of sexual violence and the results of the study, MSF requests that health care providers be better prepared to provide comprehensive health care attention to victims of sexual violence. MSF also asks the Colombian government to clarify the existing regulations that aim to assist sexual violence victims.

“The regulation should indicate who is responsible for the implementation and the existing options for those people who seek health care services in the first 72 hours,” says Piero Gandini, MSF General Coordinator.

MSF has been in Colombia since 1985, providing basic health care, and mental, sexual and reproductive health care to populations affected by conflicts and in regions where people lack access to health services. The MSF teams are present in 13 departments in Colombia, in rural and urban areas, through fixed and mobile clinics. The programs of sexual and reproductive health care include family planning, prenatal checks, psychological support and support to victims of sexual violence.

For a complete selection of MSF news, please visit the MSF International website

Women must be more involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS, a disease increasingly being spread through sex, and men must also be encouraged to respect women more, a senior U.N. official said last month.

Nafis Sadik, U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in the Asia-Pacific region, told a poverty alleviation conference in Beijing that lack of respect for women was helping drive the spread of the virus.

“Gender-based violence and discrimination on grounds of gender drive the HIV and AIDS epidemic among women. Empowerment of women — equipping them with self-esteem, the knowledge, the ability to protect themselves — will be of critical importance in winning the battle,” Sadik said.

“Women suffer doubly. First, from HIV and AIDS itself, and secondly from the stigma associated with the disease. Women are routinely blamed for infecting their husbands, though it is almost always the men who infect their wives,” she said.

In Asia, at least 75 million men regularly buy sex from about 10 million female sex workers, she said.

“The results of male behavior can be seen in changing patterns of infection. Today, about one-third of all people living with HIV in China are women, compared with one in 10 in 1995,” Sadik said.

The human immunodeficiency virus infects 33 million people globally, half of them women, and kills 2 million annually.

In August, U.N officials at a major AIDS conference in Mexico warned that rising food prices around the world were likely to drive poor women to trade sex for basic goods like fish and cooking oil, raising the risk of new AIDS infections.

Sadik said that she hoped China’s predominantly male politicians would get more involved in spreading the safe sex message. About 700,000 people live with HIV/AIDS in China and it is now mainly transmitted through sex.

“China must enlist the support of its male leadership and men generally, encouraging them to adopt consistently responsible sexual behavior, and ensuring that they respect their partners, and all women, as equals,” she said.

Uganda recently joined the rest of the world to celebrate safe motherhood. There are many initiatives in Uganda geared at educating women and men in reproductive health, especially family planning methods.

However, women with disabilities and their partners have been left out of reproductive health programmes, especially family planning and HIV/AIDS. Uganda needs to carry out a health check to fill the gaps and make sure that every section of the population is on board.

We should not underestimate women with disabilities. They have sexual rights and needs and want to be mothers. These are women who are discriminated against either intentionally or unintentionally by their families, communities and society.

This discrimination is evident even in the health sector. Many of them die giving birth in health centres which are not disability friendly and they are exposed to sex-related infections such as HIV/AIDS because they have no power to negotiate for safe sex.

Most women with disabilities are suffering double discrimination. They are disabled and also ignorant of their rights and needs. For example, most of them think it is a favour from a man to have sex.

However, women with disabilities are open to new information, seek knowledge and speak to some people on their needs. The Government should provide them with training and sensitisation programmes on family planning and other health methods.

This will enable women with disabilities make informed decisions. Their partners need to be included in the sensitisation and training programmes on reproductive health.

Health workers should also receive training on the needs of women with disabilities. This will help them have safe birth and healthy children. There are many organisations for disabled people in Uganda. These should be the starting point when seeking to reach women with disabilities.

As we plan for safe motherhood for all mothers in Uganda, we should not forget women with disabilities and their partners. They are part of the Millennium Development Goals which concern children and maternal health.

The writer is the Information officer for The National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU)

The warning posters start at the airport in the capital, Antananarivo, informing visitors that Madagascar says “NO to sex tourism” and “Malagasy women are not tourist souvenirs”.

Large billboards notifying arrivals that the authorities will also prosecute those caught having sex with children line the route into the city, and at tourist hotels – along with a colourful “Welcome to Madagasikara – the land of the lemurs” – there is likely to be a sign saying the hotel has a right to check the age of anyone accompanying guests to their rooms.

Madagascar, the vast tropical island off the east coast of Africa, is trying to expunge itself from the sex tourism map, and especially to close its doors to paedophiles shopping for minors.

To underline its commitment, the government has adopted a new law against the sexual exploitation of children that includes punishment of the adult exploiters; several foreigners have been convicted as a result.

But a walk after dark through the streets of Toliara, a thriving tourist town in southern Madagascar, shows that much still needs to be done. Sex workers own the streets, blowing kisses and waving at foreigners, trying to cash in on the tourists who are not visiting this impoverished Indian Ocean island for its unique bio-diversity.

“It’s a very cheap place, women are beautiful, there are few controls on sex tourism. Nobody says anything about this; you can come here and do whatever you want,” said Jose Louis Guirao, who runs projects for Bel Avenir, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) promoting educational, social and health-related initiatives. “The women start when they are 10 to 12; they are very young.”

A report by the US State Department this year said Madagascar was a “source country for women and children trafficked within the country for the purposes of sexual exploitation”, but praised the government for trying to tackle the problem.

The reality is that children, mostly from rural areas, are highly vulnerable to exploitation: they are trafficked for domestic servitude, forced labour and sex work; children often enter the labour market with the approval of their mothers, for whom their income may be the only source of living.

Bruno Maes, the UN children’s fund (UNICEF) representative for Madagascar and the Comoros, is unequivocal in his condemnation of the sexual exploitation of children. “A child who is a victim of sexual abuse may suffer serious and lifelong consequences; this is a crime that is totally unacceptable in all contexts. UNICEF is concerned about its spread in Madagascar,” he told IRIN.

At Bel Avenir’s offices, Aline, a sex worker, is attending a meeting with her colleagues, some of whom have brought their children, to find out more about their rights, future opportunities, and protection.

Aline makes jokes and plays with the condoms distributed by the NGO, but turns serious when she talks about her trade. “We take on every client that there is – we need money. I don’t say no, but the girl who gets the blond client, a French or an American, is the lucky one,” she told IRIN. “Many foreigners come to Toliara and get girls. They like Madagascar, they like the young girls very much.”

The main source countries for child sex tourists are reportedly France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Switzerland, and the neighbouring islands of Mauritius and Reunion. Victims are usually girls, but reports of foreign male tourists seeking sex with underage boys are becoming more frequent.

Advocacy groups say progress is being made in tackling child sex tourism, but controlling it is very difficult because of corruption, and even protests from the children’s parents – prostitution is often an inherited occupation passed down for generations.

Madagascar has so far been much less affected by AIDS than most other countries in continental Africa, but international organisations warn this could change quickly. “The total lack of knowledge about the disease, from what I see here, means that it could soon be much, much worse,” said Bel Avenir’s Guirao.

An economic boom linked to local mining projects has attracted sex workers from across the island to the flourishing new towns, and an outbreak of syphilis in the southeastern mining town of Fort Dauphin in 2007 rang alarm bells: it pointed to the lack of condom use, and sexually transmitted infections also heighten the risk of HIV transmission.

Asked if she used the condoms given out by Bel Avenir, Aline said: “Many clients don’t want that, and they give dollars or euros and I agree no condom. That is my life in Madagascar.”