Archive for January 18th, 2009

Violence against women in South Sumatra rose dramatically in 2008, from 396 cases in 2007 to 568 cases, a year-end report from the Palembang chapter of the Women’s Crisis Center (WCC) has revealed.

WCC Executive Director Yeni Roslaini Izi said on Wednesday that cases of domestic violence topped the list, with 210 incidence (39 percent), compared to 201 in 2007; followed by sexual harassment with 100 cases (18 percent, up from 24 cases in 2007); child molestation with 69 cases (12 percent); rape with 61 cases (11 percent) and 47 sundry cases.

Reports of human trafficking, however, dropped to 81 cases (14 percent) from 89 in 2007.

Of the 210 domestic violence cases, abuse against housewives topped the list with 169 cases, followed by 20 cases involving housemaids, 14 cases involving children and seven incest cases.

The data was derived from reports filed at the WCC as well as from references from other institutions, such as hospitals, legal aid institutes and police stations.

However, only 60 percent of the cases were brought to justice and resolved psychologically; of these, domestic violence and trafficking cases were the least prosecuted.

“We have received an increasing number of complaints from the public,” Yeni told The Jakarta Post.

She added that only a small number of the cases were brought to court thanks to her group’s role as mediator and facilitator. Generally, victims are less eager to bring the cases to court, especially those which took place years ago.

“They consider it taboo and shameful if the cases are brought to court because they would be exposed to the public. In trafficking cases, usually pimps and middlemen are sent for trial,” she said.

She added that the drop in human trafficking reports did not indicate that cases of trafficking had dropped but more likely that victims were reluctant to report the cases or had fallen under the radar of her organization.

Trafficking cases in South Sumatra did not only take place transnationally but also domestically, between regencies and provinces, she said.

Among the underlying factors are poverty and desire for consumer items among teenage girls, which makes them easy targets for pimps and middlemen.

“Parents should not be easily lured into allowing their daughters to work in cities. They must be sure about the agency or company recruiting their daughters,” she said.

Yeni also cited lax supervision of recruitment procedures for migrant workers among relevant agencies in South Sumatra and the malfunction of state-run training centers as problems that lead to the exploitation of migrant workers.

“The training centers tend to only carry out their obligations without ensuring quality. Many training programs do not comply with the types of work they would engage in at their countries of destination,” Yeni said.

Yeni urged the provincial administration and legislature to take strong measures and ensure the immediate passage of an ordinance on violence against women next year, so various approaches on resolving the cases could be achieved due to the allocation of funds for the purpose from the government.

“Such matters are included in the law, but can be facilitated by the provincial administration by setting aside funds through a local ordinance,” she said.

South Sumatra legislator Fatimah Djaiz affirmed the ordinance would be approved by August 2009 at the latest.

The legislature is currently deliberating on the draft bylaw and by involving related parties, such as non-governmental women’s groups, to discuss the draft ordinance.

“We will fully support the passage of the bylaw,” said Fatimah.

Women’s groups and the Iraqi government agree on the need to help the huge number of widows in Iraq — but they disagree on how to proceed.

A women’s rights activist and a Baghdad government official agree that the government needs to take action to help the huge number of widows in Iraq — but they disagree on how to proceed.

“Iraqi widows, especially internally displaced widows in camps, are having a tough time. Most have more than one child and are finding it very hard to feed them,” said Mazin al-Shihan, head of Baghdad’s Displacement Committee.

“We have reports that some … are being harassed and blackmailed by government officials … More attention must be focused on this segment of the Iraqi people before it is too late,” al-Shihan told IRIN.

Citing figures and estimates from government bodies and NGOs, al-Shihan said Iraq had about one million widows, including those whose husbands had died of natural causes, but a further breakdown was not available.

“Such vast numbers of widows could tax any society,” he said, expressing the fear that unless something is done, some of these widows or their children could drift into crime or join the insurgency.

Al-Shihan said his committee was drawing up a plan to encourage Iraqi men who lacked the necessary funds for marriage — to apply for government funding if they wanted to marry a widow.

“In this project, we propose offering 10 million Iraqi dinars [about US$8,500] to men in their late 30s or 40s who can’t get married due to soaring prices, if they marry a widow,” he said.

Women’s activist Hanaa Adwar, who heads al-Amal, a Baghdad-based NGO, rejected the project out of hand, saying it smacked of “cruelty as the widow must get married to another man to get the government help”.

“What we need is to rehabilitate this segment [of the population] to be independent and productive elements of society — getting them to be more self-reliant in terms of feeding their children. The government should ensure there are adequate social and health programs [for the widows],” she said.

“Their dignity is violated when they have to stand in long queues to get small sums of government aid which will last for a few days, or when they have to depend solely on their extended families,” she said.

After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, an Iraqi social welfare programe was created. It provides widows, divorced women, orphans, disabled people and the unemployed with a monthly allowance of 50,000-75,000 Iraqi dinars (US$50-70). However, many aid experts say the money is insufficient.

Umm Amina, a 34-year-old mother of two in northern Baghdad, lost her husband in a mortar attack in one of Baghdad’s markets in August 2007.

She lives with her two young daughters in a room in the house she and her husband used to share with her brother-in-law and his family. She has applied unsuccessfully for several jobs in government offices, and thought about working as a cleaner even though she has good educational qualifications. She said the government welfare assistance only lasted “a few days.”

Every day we read in the newspapers about new proposals hatched up by Sweden’s neo-liberal government. One day brings cut downs in social funds. Another day it is tax deductions for domestic services, making it cheaper for the well-off to employ a maid or a nanny (this is known as pigavdrag – “maid deductions”), or a new child care allowance for people who stay home and take care of their children (vårdnadsbidrag – care support). We know that these schemes, that seem to bring us back to the 1950s, are bad and that we need to stop them, but often we fail to discern how each proposal paves the way for further proposals to be implemented.

Feminism is part of the class struggle by Kvinnopolitiskt forum The bulletin of the The libertarian alternative to the ESF, Malmo, Sweden

In this article we seek to summarize the situation of women in Sweden. We offer an analysis of why we haven’t progressed farther and why we need to keep up the struggle. Many examples used are specific to Sweden, yet typical of the ongoing love affair between capitalism and patriarchy, in Europe as well as globally.

Every day we read in the newspapers about new proposals hatched up by Sweden’s neo-liberal government. One day brings cut downs in social funds. Another day it is tax deductions for domestic services, making it cheaper for the well-off to employ a maid or a nanny (this is known as pigavdrag – “maid deductions”), or a new child care allowance for people who stay home and take care of their children (vårdnadsbidrag – care support). We know that these schemes, that seem to bring us back to the 1950s, are bad and that we need to stop them, but often we fail to discern how each proposal paves the way for further proposals to be implemented.

Lacking such an analysis, we risk once again ending up viewing issues as separated from each other. A feminist and/or leftist movement with no insight into the way issues are interrelated is doomed to fail.

Groups pitted against each other

Conservatives and liberals know this, and they are clever enough to divide us, playing one group against the other. As a result, we witness how senior citizens are led to believe that their well-being depends on closing the country’s borders, or how federations within the trade unions compete to get the biggest piece of the little cake. Government officials talk with a straight face about “normal people” profiting from reduced social funds. “Normal people” are apparently understood to be young, healthy, employed people who don’t need any help from the social system.

The trade unions refuse to help undocumented immigrants, out of fear of wage-dumping. An historical precedent for this is the male trade unionists who, based on the same fear, opposed the employment of women. The idea of struggling for an equal pay for men and women never entered the heads of these men. After all, it was quite convenient if the wife had all day to clean, wash, and cook. Unpaid household work was, and still remains, the historical plight of women.

A new market is created in the households

Socio-geographical mobility is severely restrained by a privatized, deregulated real estate market, and certain living areas come to be consolidated as low-income areas. On the opposite side of town we find the gated ghettos of the rich, where poor people come every day to work as maids. This is made possible on a bigger scale than before by the recent tax deductions (pigavdrag), a way to use tax money to feed capitalism’s need to create new markets, this time in the domestic sphere. Thus, class and ethnicity conflicts enter the households of the wealthy, and sweep gender conflicts under the rug. One woman replaces another, the man is exonerated from responsibility, and the conflict of the sexes remains unresolved. Meanwhile, the maid still has to clean her own house when she gets home since she can’t afford to hire someone else, but the government is obviously not concerned about her predicament.

How to produce new and cheaper workers

After the pigavdrag was introduced in July 2007, a meeting was held between government representatives and staffing company managers. The staffing companies complained about the troubles they had in finding people for the maid jobs. One of the solutions presented was to shorten the free language courses for immigrants, since “anyway, the best place to learn Swedish is at work”.

This suggestion hasn’t been implemented yet, but is frequently discussed. This is a very clear example of how the neo-liberals in government fuse together several types of oppression to maintain control. Capitalism, to stay vital, must depend on a reserve of unemployed labour and a divided working class. A desperate worker is always preferable, which means women and immigrants are consistently targeted.

Women become more dependent

Vårdnadsbidraget delivers the final blow meant to send women back into the household. After the long struggle to free women from their homes, women are now offered 3000 Swedish crowns (ca 320 ) per month to stay at home with their children. This is obviously not an offer aimed at single mothers: it is impossible to survive on this sum in Sweden. Those lucky women who have a real man who brings home a big salary, however, can contentedly stay at home and accept the pocket money. And so women are again made financially dependent on men.

The pigavdrag and the vårdnadsbidrag are both solutions only for the upper classes, who don’t want to pay the real price for a maid or send their children to a kindergarten. They represent the government’s mobilization of several types of oppression, which they have the guts to call a new “gender equality politics”.

Stopped from two directions

All the collective systems that we have today, like public kindergartens and well-functioning women’s shelters and support groups, have one thing in common: they are the result of political struggles. As the present right-wing government smashes all this to pieces in the name of “gender equality,” it simultaneously pushes the everyday problems faced by women back to the personal level. Women’s struggles for collective solutions are not merely a fight against the Right, but have often involved fighting the men of the labour movement. Just as the capitalists have tried to stop any reform that would diminish their power, working-class men have done exactly the same thing when it comes to women’s auto- nomy.

Even so, women have always supported the struggles of working men, because they rightly regarded these struggles as their own.

Solidarity – but only in one direction

A telling example is the 1899 bookbinder conflict in Stockholm, where women played a leading role. The workers, half of them women, went on strike demanding higher wages. The employer agreed to raise the wages for the women but not for the men. The women wouldn’t accept the bid, but instead continued the strike until the employer caved in and raised the men’s wages as well.

Unfortunately, men didn’t show the same level of perceptiveness when the situation was reversed. In the early 20th century, the Swedish government wanted to prohibit women from working at night. This affected women who worked as bookbinders, seamstresses, and typographers. Women in the Social Democratic party and in the trade unions demanded that the worker’s movement should fight for women’s right to work under the same conditions as men. The men responded by accusing the women of running the conservatives’ errands.

As a result, these jobs, with pay slightly above average, were no longer available to women. The prohibition of female night work did not, of course, include badly paid jobs, which women were still allowed to perform. The law was not repealed until 1962.

Capital is gender neutral

To understand why working-class men have colluded with capitalism, we must understand the logic of patriarchy. Men gain from the subordination of women, in the first place through the division of labour between men and women, but also in terms of the big share of unsalaried household work carried out by women, and in terms of the sexual subordination that women are subjected to. Despite all this, we claim that men also lose something when they choose to participate in patriarchal society.

The working class can never really move forward if those who find themselves on its lowest rungs are forgotten. Capitalism wants the greatest possible amount of work carried out at the lowest possible cost. This is facilitated by a white, male and Eurocentric labour movement which fails to practice solidarity with, for example, women and undocumented immigrants. Capitalism, in and of itself, is gender-neutral. It doesn’t matter if a man, woman, or undocumented immigrant does the work as long as someone is exploited. However, capitalism makes use of existing structures to legitimize the exploitation, divide the working class, and render certain forms of struggle illegitimate.

The personal is political

One of the main slogans of the women’s movement of the 70s was that “the personal is political.” This parole put many “new” questions on the agenda. The personal experiences of women were lifted to a collective level, which made it possible for these experiences to be articulated into demands. The main point was to make clear that women’s personal subordination had nothing to do with personal failings, but was instead the product of structural inequality. The relationship between men and women wasn’t given by natural laws, but rather created and organized by society. To realize that this relation was not a biological fact was to realize that it was possible to change it.

We mustn’t forget how it is all connected

The autonomous Left in Sweden has, in its eagerness to throw out identity politics and sectarian tendencies, also thrown out a deeper understanding of how things are connected. We have thereby lost the capacity to understand that solidarity is more than an empty word. Solidarity implies supporting groups that you aren’t a part of and fighting for questions that at first glance seem not to concern you, because you understand that doing so accords with your long-term interests. We are never stronger than the weakest link, and if we struggle to advance the positions of the most oppressed, we will all move forward. We can only win if we see how things are connected and work together. Attack is the best defence!

In the Soviet Union feminism was elevated to the status of official state policy and ultimately was destroyed as an ideology and a social movement. The dominant concept was one of a general, global equality; as a result, a separate movement for the rights of women simply could not exist. The feminist reference points of Soviet social policy took the form of a set of rights for women: employment in the workforce on an equal basis with men; political rights; equality before the law, and so forth. The gaining of formal rights, however, resulted in the restricting of particular, specific rights of women, which in practice proved very difficult to realise.

The reproductive rights of women were recognised in actual social policy only in the 1970s, when extended maternity leave was introduced, and later when women were granted child-raising leave of up to one and a half years with pay and three years without. It was only quite recently, however, that the equal obligations and rights of parents in child-care matters were spelt out in detail in legislation. While these rights had been recognised long since in the formal sense, exercising them in practice had been almost impossible. Fathers were unable to take paid leave in the same way as mothers to look after sick or newborn children. Rights of both women and men were denied in the case of divorce. The divorce laws did not allow spouses to resolve in adequate fashion questions such as access to children and the fair division of property. Nor were there adequate provisions for securing justice in this regard. In other words, even bourgeois family law did not operate fully, and neither was there any guarantee that the justice possible within its bounds could be obtained. Despite the official ideology, discrimination against women in the areas of work and politics remained in the USSR.

In post-Soviet Russia, this discrimination has strengthened as a result of the universal violation of labour laws and social entitlements. The dictatorship of the employer that operates in present-day Russia allows him or her to stipulate that newly hired workers will not give birth during a certain period, or will not take paid time off to look after a sick child. In the new labour code all the provisions intended to help women combine careers and motherhood are subject to the discretion of the employer, and are no longer obligatory. Workplace discrimination is evident in the fact that women are invariably forced into the lowest-paid job categories.

Formal rights

The changes enacted under socialism, in other words, gave women a whole set of formal political and social rights, but at the same time the actual policies that were implemented failed to ensure women their specific rights, especially those associated with their particular role in the reproductive process. Discussion of women’s problems was forced onto the margins, becoming the province of specific women’s movements that were totally subject to the official ideology. There was no broad consideration of such questions as the division of gender roles within the family, the equal responsibility of fathers for looking after children, the consequences of sexual freedom for women, the need to create a new culture of sexual relations, and so forth.

Moreover, traditional and even patriarchal approaches to these questions gradually became established. Along with economic difficulties, the contradictory nature of social policy in the USSR presented an obstacle to the exercising by women of their rights in all areas of social life. The official ideology also evolved gradually in the direction of the traditional understanding of “femininity” and “masculinity”. In one way and another, these stereotypes were supported and developed by the system of child rearing and education. In the schools, training for work remained segregated, with girls learning housekeeping while boys were taught trades. It was also mainly girls who were involved in tidying up at school and performing domestic tasks at home.

Nevertheless, the social and economic changes that had led to the emancipation of women and to their participation in the social sphere of production proved irreversible. Women had been educated, had obtained qualifications, had acquired career ambitions and were exercising their sexual freedom. But while society was ready to make use of women’s professional knowledge and skills, it was not fully prepared to recognise their equal rights with men in all areas. Society did not accept women in leadership roles, and a woman’s standing was linked not only to her professional and intellectual attributes, but also to her family status.

Gender discrimination existed on the level of stereotypes in the areas of the workplace and professional life. In the areas of family and intimate personal relationships, extremely free and modern forms and rules of behaviour became combined with traditional stereotypes of the division of roles and responsibilities, in a manner extremely disadvantageous to women. In other words, men were ready to accept materially independent and sexually liberated women, but were not prepared to change their own behaviour in the family and in intimate relationships.

The reasons for this cultural renaissance of patriarchal gender ideas were the following. In the first place was the rejection of state-enforced stereotypes, which, moreover, were in continual contradiction with women’s real dilemmas — the material problems of the family, arduous work and the unbearable “double shift” of hired work and domestic labour. The problems of the consumer market in the USSR drained the strength of women above all. In addition, there were two more reasons for the rebirth of patriarchal ideas: the disproportion in the numerical relationship of the sexes that resulted from the Second World War, and the extremely harsh socioeconomic conditions in which the emancipation occurred. Russian women simply had no choice; they found themselves not even consciously desiring freedom, when that freedom was imposed on them and turned into hard labour, in many cases accompanied by loneliness.

Post-Soviet Russia exacerbates discrimination

The shift to market mechanisms did not relieve the problems of Russian women, but exacerbated them. Occupational and economic discrimination grew stronger with the problems with the economy, with the fall in the number of jobs that were well paid (or which even paid more than the subsistence minimum), and with increased competition between workers in the labour market. The sharp reduction in the financing of social welfare brought increases in the cost of health care and education at all levels, affecting women most of all. It also turned out that the years of occupational emancipation of women had not made men completely equal partners in marriage; instead, men had been freed of moral responsibility for the material and social wellbeing of their families.

In post-Soviet Russia, the poverty and disempowerment of state-sector workers has been mainly a problem of women. In the USSR education, health care, social services and culture had already been extensively feminised. The marked decline of earnings and job prestige in these sectors thus affected women above all. It is perfectly justified to talk of economic discrimination against women in Russia. Statistical and sociological data show that in Russia, poverty is mainly a problem of women. Meanwhile, in 40 per cent of Russian families women are the main or sole breadwinners.

Many researchers in Russia have identified a crisis of the family. This crisis has appeared statistically in the growing divorce rate, declining number of marriages, huge numbers of abortions and falling birth rate. Sociologists testify that women are disillusioned with the patriarchal family. As early as the mid-1990s sociological studies were finding that for most women family and career were values of equal significance. The family has not lost its importance, but work and the chance of professional development have become vitally important to women. When combined with the super-exploitation of labour in modern-day Russia, where simply ensuring survival and satisfying the most elementary physical, mental and social needs demands a huge work effort, the persistence in society of near-traditional attitudes toward the rights and obligations of women and men in the areas of family and work has driven women into a dead end.

Women are forced to dash continually between work and family, while in order to achieve and maintain their professional status, they are compelled to work twice or three times as hard as their male colleagues. Meanwhile, sociological research shows that working women who are married with children constantly feel guilty toward their families. In the prevailing social consciousness, for a woman to neglect her family and parental responsibilities, even for the sake of work and a career, is almost criminal. For a man it is almost a mark of honour, or at least is considered natural. This is the case even though women are now the main or sole breadwinners in 40 per cent of Russian families.

Ideological pressure

During the period of market reforms, the ideological pressure imposed by society on Russian women has increased rather than diminishing. Surveys thus show that women experience professional and career discrimination, along with growing anxiety at the burden of combined family and occupational responsibilities. The fact that the status of women as “second-rank” workers is vanishing into the past has brought few changes to the gender structure of employment, especially at points higher up the scale. The areas of the economy that are most “feminised” are those in which the need for high qualifications is combined with relatively low wages — education, culture, health care and social welfare. Even in these spheres, however, the top posts are usually held by men.

Sociologists also note the so-called “guilt before society” felt by single and childless women. The mass media and mass culture put about the image of women as sex objects and commodities. There is also the counterposed tendency to extol the “natural” destiny of women to be mothers. At the same time, no real initiatives are being taken in social policy, and the efforts to stimulate the birth rate are having, and will have, contradictory social consequences. Quietly being circulated in the press are discussions of the moral significance of abortion, and of the possibility of banning it or of equating it with murder — that is, of once again outlawing it.

Meanwhile, it is essential to note that we are now losing even those gains in the area of support for mothers and children that were made earlier. In light of the standards of contraceptive and sexual behaviour that have become established among us (and of the prices of contraceptives) such trends in social policy, or even simply in public opinion, can result in the harsh exploitation of women’s reproductive function.

Social change needed

In Russia, the economic pressure of the market is thus combined in dramatic fashion with patriarchal (and at times simply barbaric) cultural stereotypes. Nevertheless, the need which our women have for feminist theory is an objective reality. Women in Russia are energetic, educated and capable of independence. If women in this country show a certain reluctance to accept feminism, this is in the first place a reaction to the distortion that feminism suffered during the socialist period. Second, it stems from the weight of the social and economic problems that women often find unbearable, and that force them to rely on support from their families and from men. Also of importance are feelings of emotional powerlessness in the face of social traditions and stereotypes.

It should be noted that because of their greater social vulnerability — which is objectively determined — and because of their status and role in the economy (including in the sphere of unpaid reproductive labour), women also have an even greater objective need than men for radical social change. As a result of their role in the reproductive process; of the historically established gender disproportions in the assigning of social roles, power and resources; and of the existing gender structure of employment, women may be subject to dual or even triple exploitation compared to men. This, however, does not in any way turn men and women into enemies. What it does is to make the majority of women objectively the enemies of capitalism and of capitalist exploitation. In politics, and on the left, it is still less true that men and women are enemies. Here too, one must look to the gender distribution of roles and status in all areas of social life, and to the existing stereotypes of social behaviour.

Feminist theory requires renewing, so that it can become adequate to the needs of women and of all of Russian society. The theory must take into account both the social changes that have occurred and the objective necessities which have manifested themselves. The feminist movement must develop not as a separate movement of women campaigning for specific rights, not as a movement aimed against men in the name of an abstract concept of freedom, but as an organic part of a social movement striving for full-blooded social welfare policies and for transformations of a socialist nature.

Specific women’s movements are inevitably limited in their social effectiveness. As local social movements, they cannot make a political impact, since they are unable to advance a clear and rounded political program. Women already possess a full range of formal rights. Social projects aimed at ensuring real rights for women can only be implemented within a context of broad social change. Partial and limited initiatives in this case turn into a caricature of the very concept of sexual equality, discrediting feminism as an idea and as a project.

Problems of the Russian left

The problem of the left in Russia lies in an organic failure to accept feminism in any form. There is an almost complete failure to conceive of gender problems within the context of the left movement and of the tasks of social change. For the most part, the left limits itself to declarations on equal rights, the rights of women, and so on. This cultural peculiarity of the Russian left has the result that questions of gender, and acute social problems linked with gender disproportions and contradictions, are not discussed at all at the source of left politics. Consequently, the official interpretation of these questions often remains the only one, while the initiatives of the authorities in the field of so-called demographic policy rate as the sole constructive proposals, despite their one-sidedness and the complete lack of any sign that they are socially effective.

An authentic equality of the sexes is possible only through realising the specific needs of men and women as natural and inviolable human requirements. Engels understood the movement for the rights of women not as a “special women’s movement”, but as “the women’s side of the workers’ movement…” Hence the task of the left in the first instance is to discuss the problems of women as questions of universal significance. Abortion, violence within the family and questions of child-rearing are not specific problems of women, and require a thorough reorienting of social policy if they are to be adequately dealt with.

It is essential that women be drawn into political activity as partners with equal rights. Their problems must be addressed as general ones, and their occupational, social and sexual rights must be defended within the context of realising the universal rights of human beings.

By Anna Ochkina, translated from Russian for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal by Renfrey Clarke. Anna Ochkina is a Russian feminist and academic. She is a research associate of the Institute of Globalisation Studies and Social Movements, and deputy editor of the journal Levaya Politika (Left Politics).

Billboards in Ankara and 18 other major cities have recently been featuring an absolutely enormous and somewhat unusual photograph. The photograph has the chiefs of the three main political parties facing the people with wide smiles on their faces and the text “We agree. ” Deniz Baykal of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Devlet Bahçeli of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), in opposition, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), have hardly been seen to agree on anything of substance.
In the picture, Erdoğan is embracing his two rivals, who look like age-old buddies, all wearing lilac-colored ties in support of women’s causes and seeming to have agreed to open the doors to greater participation for women while, in reality, the opposite is true. So what was this all about? Soon it was revealed that the Association for Supporting and Training Women Candidates (KADER), an NGO that works to get more women elected to Parliament and other offices, had had these posters printed to drive the point home that 50 percent of candidates should be women in the upcoming elections. This is indeed what women want because they form just 1 percent of local government representation.

According to figures from KADER, there is a single female provincial capital mayor, compared to 80 male mayors elected in the 2004 local elections. Among the existing 3,207 mayors nationwide, only 18 are women. Of the 33,678 municipal council members, those that are women number 799. Of the 3,152 members of provincial councils, there are 56 female council members.

In short, a group which makes up half of our population sees its members filling just 1 percent of seats and it is this discrepancy that makes Turkish women very unhappy. KADER representatives claim that candidacy is based on money and women lack the finances to back their attempts to stand. Furthermore, the decision makers are men and they prefer their own kind. This is why women’s names do not appear on the candidate lists of political parties.

It is this stark truth that led them to adopt the maximal target: They want a quota of 50 percent from political parties. Can they get it? Hardly, but they are still determined to make a point and be counted.

Islamic feminists

There is yet another current among women that are seeking their rights. We could call them “Islamic feminists.” Throughout the Islamic world, more educated women are trying to teach their counterparts about their rights, which is compatible with the human rights agenda of the West. They are enthusiastic about pointing out that their efforts are based on Islamic teachings.

Islamic feminism claims to reveal and to disseminate the egalitarian spirit of the Quran and the Hadiths. Islamic feminists have a much more limited but sounder target than classical or Western feminists, wanting gender equality to be adopted and observed within a family structure. They believe that if the family supports gender equality, they will stand firm in society to claim what is due to them by the male-dominated, traditional social culture. They want to secure the home ground first.

They make abundant references to the Quran and the Hadiths to demonstrate that Islam does not inherently discriminate against women. Their diligent work has revealed that the Islamic scriptures grant women more rights to inheritance and divorce than what is practiced today, as well as respectful treatment by a spouse and even choosing a husband of their own will. They even find evidence to support a woman’s professional career outside of the family.

What is most interesting and challenging for male scholars is that when Quranic verses appear to discriminate against women, Muslim feminist scholars stress the need to read the Quran within the socio-historical context of seventh-century Arab tribal society. This is indeed revolutionary, for what they press for is to make the distinction between God’s will and intent that would, undoubtedly, be just and equalitarian, and the values, mores and habits of an underdeveloped tribal society 13 centuries before ours. There is a potent message in this movement that is the harbinger of enormous change to come. Women are coming!

No longer will Michigan’s rape victims be handed medical bills as they leave emergency care. New laws passed in Lansing in December prohibit health-care providers such as hospital emergency rooms from billing sexual-assault survivors. Instead, providers can seek reimbursement from the state’s crime victims fund.

Other new laws will support and expand a statewide network of independent clinics that give free care to rape victims. Funding will come from a $7.50 fine tacked onto penalties assessed at the sentencing of anyone in Michigan who commits a serious criminal offense, starting this month.

News of the bills’ passage brought cheers from leaders of women’s groups, including Sue Coats, executive director of Turning Point, a nonprofit that serves Macomb County.

“We’re so grateful that Michigan is finally joining other states” in requiring that exams be free and in funding the free emergency clinics staffed by specially trained nurses called nurse examiners, Coats said.

Turning Point opened southeast Michigan’s first such clinic in 1999. It costs $160,000 annually to operate the clinic in Clinton Township that aids about 200 rape victims a year, she said.

Before it opened, police sent rape victims to hospitals, where they often were among the last patients seen by emergency doctors “because you’re not bleeding or having a heart attack,” Coats said.

“Afterward, they’d get a bill for anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000,” she said.

The nonprofit clinics offering free care — in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, as well as about 15 other Michigan counties — have depended on unpredictable grants and donations, forcing dozens of Michigan counties to do without them, said Beth Morrison, executive director of HAVEN in Oakland County.

“This is going to help us continue, but it will enable others to start up,” Morrison said.

That pleases police and prosecutors because nurse examiners provide superior evidence, leading to more convictions, said newly elected Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca, who for 10 years headed the Oakland County Prosecutor’s sexual-assault unit.

“These clinics are essential if we want to send a message” through convictions that deters would-be rapists, Gorcyca said.

The higher conviction rate was proven by new findings last month from Michigan State University.

Two days before state lawmakers approved the nurse-examiner funding bills Dec. 19, professor of psychology Rebecca Campbell presented results of a 12-year MSU study in Macomb County. Before the nurse-examiner program, 24% of sexual-assault cases ended with a guilty plea or conviction, rising to 29% after the nurse-examiner program began, Campbell said.

“That 5% jump may not seem like a lot, but it’s statistically significant,” she said.

The study reviewed 156 rape cases in the five years before the program started in 1999, and then 137 highly similar rape cases in the seven years afterward, said Campbell, the principal investigator.

Each case came from one of the five largest law-enforcement agencies in the county, and all were 1st- through-3rd-degree criminal sexual assaults — crimes of physical penetration that involve force or threat of force, Campbell said. She expects the study to be published by the National Institute of Justice and be distributed to law-enforcement groups.

The laws supporting nurse-examiner clinics passed the state Legislature at 4 a.m. on the last day of the 2008 session, after five years of legislative maneuvering, said State Rep. Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak, the main sponsor.

“It’s just such a relief to get these things passed,” said Donigan, who lives a mile from the nurse-examiner clinic run by HAVEN in Royal Oak. The new laws are projected to provide about $1.6 million a year for the special clinics across Michigan, she said.

Sexual-assault nurse examiners are on call 24 hours a day, ready to give medical and psychological care to a victim soon after an assault while collecting such evidence as semen, DNA, skin samples, hair samples and photographs of injuries, said Diane Zalecki, supervisor of the clinic in Royal Oak, which serves Oakland County.

The clinic is in an unmarked house owned by the City of Royal Oak and rented to HAVEN for $1 a year, Zalecki said.

“We see people at pretty much the lowest point in their lives,” she said.

In Japan, rape is often kept hush-hush. But the high-profile case of one rape victim is challenging the silent treatment and raising questions about police practices. ‘Jane,’ as the victim is known, is suing police who required her to re-enact the crime.

An Australian woman who was raped by a U.S. Navy sailor in Japan in 2002 has settled the score, at least for the time being, with her assailant.

“Jane” as she calls herself, filed a civil suit against her assailant, a Wisconsin man named Bloke Deans, after the police here failed to bring criminal charges against him. In November 2004, she was awarded $49,555 in compensation from Japan’s Ministry of Defense.

Now she’s focused on what she calls her second rape by police officers at the nearby station where she sought help after the attack. The police didn’t literally rape her, but they asked her to re-enact the crime in a way that she says left her feeling doubly assaulted.

She is seeking $182,000 in compensation.

She also says she’s pressing the case to change a culture that prevents many women from bringing charges. “It is a silent culture where nobody says anything. But things are changing as more women begin to speak out,” she told Women’s eNews.

Although Jane has kept her real name out of news coverage, she has nonetheless become famous in Japan for talking about the taboo topic of her rape.

She sued the Kanagawa police for mistreatment and last week a judge dismissed her case in Tokyo’s High Court.

Jane’s lawyer, Mami Nakano, criticized the ruling. “If this kind of idea is tolerated in society, it would hinder rape victims from reporting their cases to police,” she said.

In statements to the courts, the Kanagawa police have argued they are not obligated to provide rape victims with underwear or showers and it is an unreasonable request that investigations require the participation of a female officer. The police also said that because rape victims do not need urgent medical treatment they are not required to take them to emergency rooms and they do not believe Jane’s assertion that she was too depressed by the crime to return to the scene. Taking re-enactment photos is normal protocol.

On Dec. 22 she appealed to Japan’s Supreme Court. Jane says more than 40 lawyers from Kanagawa, Tokyo and Yokohama have offered to represent her appeal for free.

In the port city of Yokosuka, Jane was raped six years ago in her van in a parking lot after she left a bar in the early hours.

She says Deans, who was discharged from the USS Kitty Hawk in November 2002, has been allowed to avoid punishment by an unresponsive U.S. government despite her requests to learn how his case would be handled.

“I have been asking since the day I was raped,” she says. “I even wrote letters to President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. military and government officials. They still have not gotten back to me.”

Jane alleges that after the rape, she went to the police who then kept her in custody for 12 hours. She was afraid they would arrest her if she left and says she was in shock. The police moved her from a small room, then to the scene of the crime, then back to the station in a large room with other people.

She claims she was not fed, allowed to see a doctor, or given fresh underwear.

“I went to the Japanese police to seek help, sadly they didn’t believe me,” said Jane, who made her standard request for anonymity to protect the privacy of her three sons. “They interrogated me for several hours and the entire time I begged them to take me to the hospital. But they said I wasn’t hurt enough and, if I was, then I had to show them where. I was told that on-duty doctors are for urgent patients and rape victims were not urgent.”

The worst offence, she says, occurred two months later, when the Kanagawa police asked her to return to the station to help investigators take re-enactment photographs. The photographer asked her to assume the various positions that the rape entailed. Incapable of doing so, Jane gave instructions to male and female officers so the photos could be taken.

“I was forced to become the director of my own rape,” Jane says. “Re-enactment photographs must be banned. No human being should have to go through that. The police treated me without compassion or dignity.”

Michael O’Connell, commissioner for Victim’s Rights Australia, a government advocacy group, calls it one of the worst cases of police re-victimization that he has ever encountered.

“On hearing about Jane’s plight, I was appalled that a victim of sexual assault would be treated with so little respect and dignity,” he said in an e-mail to Women’s eNews. “Internationally, the most progressive police know that their responsibilities to victims include protecting the victim, collecting and preserving evidence, and supporting the victim.”

A report in late October by the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Japanese police practices in rape cases insufficient under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It also found a shortage of doctors and nurses in Japan trained to handle sexual violence and raised concern about weak-to-nonexistent punishment of sexual violence.

“Japan urgently needs to develop a national network of rape crisis centers and hotlines, linking different professionals to support sexual assault victims,” Dr. Hisako Motoyama, executive director of Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center in Tokyo, said in a recent interview. “We definitely need to reform our out-of-date criminal justice system, including review of the penal code, systemic training of judges and prosecutors, and enforceable guidelines.”

Rape is widely regarded as one of the most shameful experiences in Japan, said Dr. Hisako Watanabe, a child psychiatrist and assistant professor at Keio University in Tokyo who has treated rape victims, including small children, for 35 years. Many victims, she said, suffer the aftermath on their own, without proper medical and mental care or any chances of suing the perpetrator.

In 2006, Japan’s Gender Equality Bureau released a study finding that of 1,578 female respondents around 7 percent said they had been raped, at least once. Of those, only about 5 percent–6 out of 114–reported the crime to the police. Of those who remained silent, nearly 40 percent said they were “embarrassed.”

“The public assumption in Japan continues to be that rape does not exist; therefore there isn’t any need for 24-hour rape crisis centers or support groups,” Watanabe said. “Rape is still considered rare and, even when it happens, the victim could be suspected of having enticed the perpetrator into the act. Such an attitude by people around the victim could be more detrimental than the trauma of rape itself.”

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Norway says the new law targets the clients and not the prostitutes

Norwegian citizens caught paying for prostitutes at home or abroad could face a hefty fine or a six-month prison sentence, authorities say.

The prison sentence could be extended to three years in cases of child prostitution.

The Norwegian authorities say they want to stamp out sex tourism and street prostitution by targeting clients rather than prostitutes.

“We think buying sex is unacceptable because it favours human trafficking and forced prostitution,” deputy Justice Minister Astri Aas-Hansen was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

The tough new measures go further than similar ones introduced by other Nordic countries such as Sweden and Finland.

Norwegian police have been authorised to use wire-tapping devices to gather evidence.

There has already been a visible decrease in women working on the streets of central Oslo, local media report.

Prostitutes will be offered access to free education and health treatment for those with alcohol or drugs problems.

The government had already launched a publicity campaign before the law came into force.

Critics of the new regulations say prostitution will simply be driven underground and will be more difficult to control.

See also: Norway votes to outlaw paying for sex as from 1st January 2009

At least half of the women and girls in Africa are still living in some form of bondage despite the fact that the world marked the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights only about a month ago.

Experts on gender empowerment, poverty reduction and women rights advocacy said women and girls were not free to access and enjoy their basic rights in the homes, families, work places and in many places in the society, contrary to the universal declaration.

The declaration passed in 1948 recognises equality of rights for women and men as a basic principle.

The experts were speaking at a workshop on women empowerment held at the University of Dar es Salaam.

Aziza Abemba, the Executive Director of Women`s Self-Promotion/Women`s Learning Partnership in Zimbabwe together with Joseph Boomenyo, an expert from Tusaidie Watoto na Wanawake wa Africa (Tuwwa), said discriminatory laws and power relations that prevented women from leading and fulfilling their full potentials must be addressed.

“The implication is that more than half of our population is not maximised in addressing problems and challenges facing our (Africa) continent,“ said Abemba.

The workshop brought together 18 delegates from the Tanzania Commission For Human Rights and Governance, Tanzania Women’s Lawyers Association, Tanzania Women Teachers Association, Tanzania Women of Impact Foundation, Kiwota Women`s Health and Development Organisation, Centre for Widows and Children Assistance, Tanzania Media Women Association, Together for Peace and Development and Women Legal Aid Centre, among others.

It was aimed at building the capacity of local women and women`s organisations, with a view to helping them acquire skills and become resource persons in promoting women`s leadership, women?s rights, gender parity and equity.

Initiating practical strategies to stop gender based violence, violence against women and reducing poverty and unemployment among the disadvantaged women and communities living in rural and urban areas, was among the key objectives of the event.

The participants said they were prepared to implement what they learnt from the workshop to effect change of mindset and behaviour of people in their families, working places and communities.

They emphasised and urged women and girls to effect the change they see in others.

They emphasised on the need for decision-makers, religious leaders and other stakeholders to join hands and abolish, streamline and change discriminatory laws, policies and practices that were disadvantageous to other citizens.

“It is important for a young girl to be given freedom to choose own marriage partner without the interference of parents and family members.

Parents and family members should keep their hands off because true love should be based on choice and decision between partners (a man and a woman),“ she said.

“The truth is that most arranged marriages without the willingness and agreement of concerned partners are fuelling divorce, HIV/Aids pandemic leading to the suffering of innocent people, including children.

In order for one to make right choices, a girl needs to be at least 18 years old rather than below 16 years,? she said.

The implementation of this training of trainers` workshop was made possible through the support of Women`s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development and Peace (US).