Archive for February 4th, 2009

Putting lipstick on a feminist is not the same as a vision.

Feminist Utopias have become personal spaces – spaces for lipstick or not; high heels or not; glamour; children, and dreams small enough to be accomplished by shopping, exercising or getting the right man or the right sperm.

According to Ellie The Noughtie Girls Guide to Feminism, “In the past, you had to subscribe to a whole set of beliefs to be a feminist, including how you should look and behave. But Noughties women have made it their own. It’s like a pick and mix feminism, where you can choose what you care about yourself.”

Ahh, the pleasure of the power of choice in a cafeteria of issue feminism where one works on what makes one happy – issues that are “relevant” to her. But the question remains: To what end do we empower ourselves and others? And, if, indeed, we have any “power as a woman,” what exactly is that to be used for? …

What is feminism and what is the feminist vision?

At the very least, any feminist vision depends on critical judgments of oneself and society. It means the creation of a collectively-imagined country, if you will, that we all want to land on — one in which immigration is not limited to those in high heels. If, in this Utopia, all discrimination against women is abolished, we might be forced to think of the good of the whole instead of the one, and accept the reality that power will change hands, minimizing or abolishing altogether male privilege and entitlements.

But we need visionaries who must hold us to those higher standards and take the longer view than what is immediately available or possible. We must learn to want to do the impossible. The visionary is one who dreams of the world that “should be,” mapping the landscapes and focusing our sights. We also may make a crash landing — but we have to get off the ground first.

Extract from an article in the winter issue of “On The Issues Magazine” which also includes:

From the Publisher: Revolution Lite – by Merle Hoffman
– Putting lipstick on a feminist is not the same as a vision.

Wanted: A Revolution in Critical Thinking – by Susan Jacoby
– Junk thought is an equal-opportunity affliction that endangers our future.

Beyond politics and one god – by Frances Kissling
– Women need a religious revolution that ends anti-women mythology.

Twisted Treaty Shafts U.S. Women – by Janet Benshoof
– Americans should demand gender equality and reject a watered-down CEDAW.

End Torture, End Domestic Violence – by Rhonda Copelon
– Stop the degradation of domestic abuse by declaring the truth: it’s torture.

Female Avatars Hail ‘Second Life’ – by Sharon Collingwood
-A raft of possibilities exist for women to organize for change in virtual worlds.

Ending the Male Patina in Biology – by Mahin Hassibi
– From Darwin to DNA, men have colored biology. This should change.

Ramping Up Democracy in the U.S. – by Pam Wilmot
– A national popular vote is needed to end the Electoral College, born in slavery and anti-female sentiment.

The Greatest Casualty of the Feminist Revolution May be the Feminist Vision Itself the Art Perspective – Curated by Linda Stein
– Art Editor Linda Stein features artist and pacifist, Joyce Kozloff, an originating figure of the Pattern and Decorative movement.

The Poet’s Eye – From Poetry Co-Editor Judith Arcana
– Four poets imagine escapes to better worlds; works by Diane Lockward, Lois Rosen, Marge Piercy and Annie Finch. • Art by Stephanie Brody-Lederman

MILK and Recruiting for Rights – by Eleanor J. Bader
– Harvey Milk didn’t shrink from seeking power to secure change.

Theater Arts: A Menace to Society by Alexis Greene
– With the controversial Bill Baird as a subject, dramatists put birth control down center.

Our Architecture Ourselves – by Leslie Kanes Weisman
– Better environments mix feminist values with bricks and mortar.

Putting Money Where Our Causes Are – by Marion Banzhaf
– In a crashing economy, radical activists need help.

An Animal Lawyer Makes a Manifesto – by Barbara J. Gislason
– A pioneering lawyer ponders the role of animals and the pursuit of justice.

Health Care ‘Reform’ Is Not Enough – by Susan Yanow
– Five ways to lock in health services for all women.
• Art by Barbara Rachko

Advocates for women’s equality have sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and opposition leaders, urging them to consider measures that affect women in the upcoming budget.

“Women are half the population of Canada and they cannot afford to ignore us,” said Aalya Ahmad of the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights. “Currently, women are less able to access EI, and are more likely to be in precarious work and to be penalized in the job market when child care is not available.”

“Women are going to bear the brunt of this economic crisis, particularly marginalized women,” said Jane Warren of Feminists for Just & Equitable Public Policy. “Disabled women, for example, are likely to suffer further marginalization, with increased barriers to education, resources, employment and opportunities, even over and above the barriers faced by able-bodied women.”

The coalition is calling for spending on social infrastructure projects in addition to traditional infrastructure spending; for example, a national child care program that would support Canadian parents’ participation in paid employment as well as creating jobs in a traditionally female-dominated sector. “It’s shovel-ready and a sound long-term investment,” said Emily King of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada. “Good quality child care has been proven to return substantive benefits to society on a number of levels.”

Many organizations are concerned that the Conservative government, with its track record of opposition to women’s equality, will use the economic crisis to push for more regressive measures.

“We’re watching this budget very carefully,” said Johanne Perron of the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity. In the November economic statement, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty proposed to make pay equity a bargaining chip between employers and unions. “To date, the government has not yet rescinded this proposal,” said Perron. “That worries a lot of women.”

“The equality of women is non-negotiable, especially in tough economic times.”

See the full text of the open letter to Mr. Harper, opposition leaders and Status of Women Minister and critics below.

Dear Mr. Harper,

In anticipation of the upcoming budget, the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights would like to call your attention to budgetary measures that would strengthen our economy by strengthening the equality of women in Canada.

Women across the country are extremely concerned about Mr. Flaherty’s proposal in the November economic statement to make pay equity a bargaining chip between employers and unions. To date, the government has not yet rescinded this proposal.

The Ad Hoc Coalition urges you to oppose any such proposal in the upcoming budget. In the 21st century, women’s equality is not, and should never be, a bargaining chip. It is irresponsible to continue to impose discriminatory wages upon half the population by ignoring the remedy, particularly in a time of economic crisis. Equal pay for work of equal value is one of the “fundamentals” of a healthy economy. This can be attained by implementing a pro-active pay equity law, as the 2004 federal Task Force recommends.

Canadian parents need a national child care program that meets the “QUAD” principles (Quality, Universal, Accessible, and Developmental). A faltering economy can only benefit from improving people’s access to the labour market, which would be greatly facilitated by having dependable child care services. Currently, soaring child care costs and lack of spaces keep many women who choose to work unemployed or underemployed.

A monthly handout cannot substitute for a child care program that allows real choice. We can and should do better for our families. The Ad Hoc Coalition urges you to consider the long-term stability of the economy in supporting a quality child care and early childhood education program that meets our children’s developmental needs.

Women are particularly vulnerable in the current economic crisis as we do not have adequate access to Employment Insurance and what access there is cannot sustain us through a period of unemployment. Although women pay into EI, most women don’t qualify for benefits. 70% of part-time workers are women and almost two thirds of minimum wage earners in Canada are women. With wages far below the poverty line already, many women can’t live on 55% of their salary, even for a short period of time. To stimulate the economy and prevent poverty, improve access to EI and increase the level of benefits for part-time, contract and self-employed workers in the upcoming budget.

Finally, the Ad Hoc Coalition strongly encourages you to ensure that the stimulus package includes investment in social infrastructure. Social infrastructure investments stimulate the real economy, not the speculative economy, by creating jobs, not giving CEOs bonuses or across-the-board tax cuts. Social infrastructure can provide affordable housing and anti-poverty programs, support green technologies and environmental incentives, and improve conditions for First Nations in their territories and Aboriginal people across the country, in particular Aboriginal women, who disproportionately suffer from poverty and violence. Any stimulus package that does not take social infrastructure into account is short-sighted and short-changes Canadian taxpayers. Social infrastructure creates jobs and strengthens economies, not only during this period of financial crisis, but for the future.

On behalf of the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights, thank you for your consideration,

Aalya Ahmad

C.C. Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe, Elizabeth May, Helena Guergis, Maria Minna, Nicole Demers, Irene Mathyssen

For further information: Aalya Ahmad, co-coordinator of the Ad Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights, (819)-503-6969

Other Press Releases from the Coalition:

December 3, 2008:
* Conservatives wrong to call for protest against coalition government on day to end violence against women, say women’s groups 10:45 ET

November 18, 2008:
* Representatives of women’s organizations across the country want to send a message to the new Parliament which opens today – women are watching 10:37 ET

November 7, 2008:
* “This Award Wasn’t Designed for Him”: Women’s Groups Concerned that Status of Women Canada awarded Historic Feminist Honour to Male Fashion Entrepreneur 17:10 ET

October 2, 2008:
* Leaders debate must address women’s concerns 11:23 ET

February 24, 2008:
* The Ad-Hoc Coalition for Women’s Equality and Human Rights – Pre-2008 Budget – Women Call For New Budget Priorities

A new statue called Aspiration, depicting two women, one young and one older, mounting stairs was unveiled as a tribute to the work and struggles of the women of Cayman and to the future generations of women.

During a 90–minute ceremony, to the background sound of flags and bunting flapping noisily in the breeze, 15 women who had helped shape Cayman and who have served as inspiration for young women today were honoured with Spirit of Excellence Awards. Several of the awards were made posthumously and accepted by the awardees’ family members or descendents.

Those who received the Spirit of Excellence Awards were: Mary Genevieve Bodden, Olive Miller, Mary Lawrence, Adriannie Webb, Islay Leonie Conolly, Mary Isabel Powell, Beulah McLaughlin, Almeria Tomlinson, Dr. Margaret Leonie Hesla, Sybil Joyce Hylton, Clara Dicia Brown, Leila Ross–Shier, Vernice Zeta Hawkins, Mary Evelyn Wood, and Annie Huldah Bodden

Olympian sprinter Cydonie Mothersill, who reached the finals of the 200 metre sprint in the Olympic Games in Beijing last year, was awarded Sports Person of the Year, which was accepted on her behalf by her mother, Angela Whittaker.

Three other Caymanians – Andy Martin, Wanda Tatum and Diana Whittaker, were also given their Certificates and Badges of Honour. They had been named in the Queen’s Honours List and chose to receive their awards on Monday.

Governor Stuart Jack paid tribute to “the strong women of the Cayman Islands” who had played a major role in the country’s progress.

He pointed out that a higher proportion of women in Cayman hold more senior positions in public service than their counterparts in the UK.

He remembered the late Estella Scott–Roberts in his speech, saying Cayman had “lost a young and energetic advocate for equal treatment for women”.

Special mention was made by the governor and by Angela Martins. who officiated the ceremony, to Julia Hydes, who celebrated her 100th birthday this week.

On the other side of the age spectrum, John Gray Year 11 student Ginger Ebanks showed that young females in Cayman are not wasting their talents. She wowed the audience with her crystal–clear singing voice in her rendition of the Cayman National Song, accompanied by the Brass Band of Battle Creek, and later with The Wind Beneath My Wings, with fellow student Chevis Dilbert on saxophone.

While women have come a long way since the days of looking after their families while their husbands were away at sea, still more needs to be done to protect and enhance their rights, according to Health and Human Services Minister Anthony Eden.

Mr. Eden announced that the government is working toward introducing two new pieces of legislation, an anti–discrimination bill and a revised domestic violence bill.

A change in law 50 years ago brought women in Cayman the right to vote and stand for election. Monday’s ceremony celebrated that day.

Alongside the Aspiration monument, the names of all but eight of the 358 women who signed a petition demanding the equal right to vote on 29 May 1957 have been inscribed on a wall. The names of eight on the petition were lost when the document was damaged in a fire in Government House in 1972.

Descendants and relations of the women’s whose names are on the walls were invited to lay flowers immediately after the Heroes Day ceremony and scores of Caymanians ran their fingers over the wall, trying to find the names of mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters.

The Aspiration monument features the younger woman holding the world in her hands, with countries inlaid with caymanite.

The monument was made in just five months at the American Bronze Foundry in Sanford, Florida. It was shipped to Cayman last week and erected in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Among those at Monday’s ceremony were Roxie Bodden and Georgette Hurlston–Ebanks, both of whom signed the women’s voting rights petition. National Hero Sybil McLaughlin and women who had served as members of the Legislative Assembly over the years were also in attendance.

Minister Alden McLaughlin, who was instrumental in bringing about the day that celebrated the achievements of women said: “This day has been a long time coming… Too long. But this day, this National Heroes Day 2009, we raise our voice in praise of our women. This day we pay homage to the lives of those who have gone before and who inspired the next generation.”

In the Gaza Strip, women gave first-person accounts of the ordeals they suffered in the 22-day war that ended Jan. 17. One woman’s baby was born to the sounds of missiles.

There may be a ceasefire here, but no there’s no cessation to the suffering of women who survived this month’s 22-day war.

“We’ve seen horror movies before but nothing looked more real than this one,” Kawther Abed Rabo, who lives in the northern city of Ezbet Abed Rabo, said shortly before the end of the war.

Rabo is the mother of three young girls, two of whom she says are now dead, killed by Israeli soldiers.

She spoke to Women’s eNews near the rubble of her destroyed house.

She says that when the Israeli land operation started, she and her husband and mother-in-law were in their house, looking for a safe room in which to take cover.

Then a voice on a loud speaker coming from a tank outside ordered them to evacuate.

“They asked us to line up in front of the doorstep. I was helping my mother-in-law to walk while Khaled was holding the girls’ hands: Amal, 2 years old; Sua’ad, 7 years old; and Samar, 4 years old.”

She said two soldiers were staring at them eating chips and chocolate. “Suddenly a third one got out of the tank with an M16 and began shooting my girls. Sua’ad and Amal fell dead immediately. I didn’t know about Samar so I just grabbed her and Amal and went back to the house. Khaled was supposed to get Sua’ad but his mother got injured. It was madness and I really can’t understand what happened. What did I do to get my angels killed in front of my eyes? Khaled lost his mind and went back out asking them to shoot him but they didn’t.”

Khadra Abed Rabo, Kawther’s neighbor, confirms the account, saying she witnessed the shootings from her balcony window.

On Jan. 23 the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza called for an independent international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both sides during the war.

International rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have called for an independent investigation for possible war crimes of both Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip. The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights and B’tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, have also called for investigations.

On Wednesday, Richard Falk, an independent investigator with the United Nations, announced that he believed there was evidence of war crimes committed by Israeli troops during the 22-day siege on Gaza and called for additional inquiry.

Israel has appointed a team of international-law experts to defend its soldiers against any war-crime charges.

The women interviewed for this article did not seem aware of any such investigations. They appeared to be suffering from shock.

They were all interviewed during the last week of the war and the week following the Jan. 17 ceasefire, while Women’s eNews traveled to various parts of the country with a group of photographers. Most of those interviewed had taken shelter in U.N. schools. But some spoke as they stood beside houses that had been reduced to rubble.

Manal Al Samoni, 39, lives in Al Zaiton, an area in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip. She spoke with Women’s eNews three days after the truce, while checking on her family’s damaged house. She said she gave birth on Jan. 8, two months early, while listening to tank fire and missiles exploding.

She said her mother–who lived with a son a few houses away–left her home to come to her daughter’s after she told her she was going into early labor. “My daughter-in-law Sana’a kept calling the hospital to send us an ambulance, but no ambulances could make it to our area since it was too dangerous and the Israeli army was opening fire on everything moving.”

Sana’a Al Samoni, Manal’s daughter-in-law, confirmed the account. She said the premature baby wound up being delivered in a large room in the house with dozens of other family members crammed in, all of them trapped inside the house.

“We were forced to deliver the baby, depending on our poor skills in these issues,” said Sana’a Al Samoni. “About 60 men and women were trapped with us in the same room where Manal was having her baby. We covered her with a blanket and began urging her to push. At last, when we succeeded to deliver the baby, Manal started to get cold and so did her newborn daughter. The battery of the cell phone ran out and I couldn’t know what to do other than pray. I remember my hands shaking when I had to cut the umbilical cord.”

Not far from Sana’a sat the new mother’s own mother, Majeda Al Samoni, 67. She was mourning over a wide spot of blood left by the body of a son, with whom she lived. She said he had been brought there by another son who found him shot to death in their living room, killed by tank fire. She had been with him hours earlier, when he was still alive.

“He is really gone! If I knew they would shoot my only son while I’m helping my daughter to deliver I swear I would never have left him. I thought he ran away with his family not knowing he was bleeding for four hours screaming for help . . . Oh, my beloved son!”

Medical workers from the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City confirmed on Jan. 18 that he bled to death after he was injured by a tank bullet in different parts of his body.

In one of the U.N. schools serving as a temporary shelter in the Al Atatra area of Jabalia, in the northern Gaza Strip, Sieda Al-Atar spoke to Women’s eNews on Jan. 19, describing how she and her family fled their home on Jan. 7 as rocket fire from a tank began hitting the house.

She was carrying her newborn baby. Her brother was shot and was bleeding but she kept running, leaving him behind.

“It had been 20 days but I still remember it as it was yesterday. I couldn’t turn my head back in fear that I might get shot or my baby will. I only took a look back for a second and was shocked to see my brother Omar lying there, motionless and bleeding. It took me a minute to realize that I can’t go back to rescue him. So I just continued running in tears for hours till I found myself in the middle of the city near one of the hospitals.”

Sieda Al-Atar said she waited at the hospital for hours to see if any ambulance would come from the north with her brother’s body. “I waited till night in the E.R. for my brother to come, but he didn’t. I still wake up at night, hearing his cries for me to help him. I couldn’t breastfeed my baby anymore. My health and hers aren’t good, but it all seems meaningless now anyway.”

Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at

See also:
* 170 British MPs criticise BBC’s Gaza appeal ban

UNICEF’s 2009 Humanitarian Action Report (HAR) highlights the plight of children and women around the globe in humanitarian emergencies.

The Humanitarian Action Report is UNICEF’s annual funding appeal for protracted emergencies and is seeking just over $1 billion to assist children and women in 36 countries. The amount sought is some 17 per cent higher than UNICEF’s 2008 appeal, largely because of increased needs in eastern and southern Africa.

“Many countries featured in the report are silent or forgotten emergencies,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman. “Women and children are dying every day due to disease, poverty and hunger, but sadly their deaths go largely unnoticed.”

The report notes that over half the funds are to continue UNICEF support to victims of the five largest global humanitarian operations: in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

“I have recently returned from Zimbabwe where the economy is crumbling and the cholera outbreak is not yet controlled,” said Veneman, the first head of a UN agency to visit the country in over two years. “Over half the population is receiving food aid and basic social services are collapsing.”

In recent decades, the number and severity of natural disasters has increased significantly. The emergencies included in the Humanitarian Action Report represent only a small fraction of UNICEF’s emergency response activities. Between 2005 and 2007, UNICEF responded to an annual average of 276 emergencies in 92 countries. Over 50 per cent were caused by disasters, 30 per cent were a result of conflict, and health-related emergencies, like epidemics, accounted for 19 per cent of UNICEF’s emergency response.

The report also notes that higher food prices and climate change have negatively affected most of the countries for which emergency aid is sought. UNICEF has initiatives in place to address nutrition insecurity, but more resources are required to ensure the response meets urgent 2009 needs.

The UNICEF report cites recent studies which find the risk of hunger could increase for some 50 million people worldwide by 2010 as a result of climate change.

Some experts have estimated that in the next decade children and women will represent 65 per cent of all those affected by climate-related disasters. If these predictions prove correct, some 175 million victims of climate change will be children.

UNICEF is present in more than 150 countries and is often among the first responders to crises.

“These funds will help UNICEF respond effectively and efficiently to the needs of children affected by emergencies,” said Veneman. “As a result the lives of many will be saved.”


UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

Ethiopia’s First Lady Azeb Mesfin called for greater political power for women to prop their influence in the war against the triple threat of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis on the continent.

In her inaugural address as the newly-elected president of the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), Mesfin said here that marginalisation of women in mainstream politics denied them the clout they needed to influence important decisions on social and economic development of African women.

“Women must have access to power. If we want to win the war against the poverty, we must empower them also to fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” she said.

The Ethiopian first Lady takes over from Mrs Maureen Mwanawasa, wife of the late former Zambia President Levy Mwanawasa, who collapsed during the last African Union’s summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, and died in a French hospital two months later.

“African women must be free to make choices to reduce HIV/AIDS. We deserve to be in a world free of violence, where safety is real and where opportunities are boundless,” she said, in reference to rising incidence of sexual violence against women, including rape.

At a time when global economy is in recession, she said, the role of the African First Ladies had become more critical in championing the rights and privileges of their gender.

“OAFLA’s role becomes more urgent in the face of global recession because women are the most vulnerable segment of society. OAFLA therefore wants to play a greater role in the fight against HIV/AIDS inn Africa,” she said.

The conference was also addressed by Dr Meskerem Gunitzy Bekele, UNAIDS Ethiopia country director.

Dr Meskerem painted a gloomy outlook of the pandemic’s spread on the continent, saying 60 per cent of the infected and affected are women and children.

Although the epi-centre of the disease is sub-Saharan Africa, she put the number of patients who had access to anti-retroviral drugs at two million, calling the number ‘paltry’ considering that Africa’s population of people living with HIV is about 40 million.

“As high profile advocates, OAFLA must contribute to effective response to the pandemic,” she said.

There is a simple way to help rejuvenate many of the world’s economies: invest in the education of girls and make sure they don’t become victims of the global financial meltdown, Nike’s chief executive, the head of UNICEF and Melinda Gates agreed.

For the first time, the World Economic Forum devoted one of its marquee sessions to the impact of educating girls in developing countries, an event four years in the planning that ended up coinciding with the world’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Nike CEO Mark Parker called girls “the most neglected, at risk, unsupported part of the world’s population.”

By providing girls with education and economic-based opportunities, he said, there is “a very direct connection to shaping the post-crisis world in many ways” because they will then help transform their families, their villages and ultimately their countries.

“This isn’t necessarily a question of adding more funds. It’s a question of directing some of the funds that are already out there to a place that would give us higher return and give us higher impact,” said Parker, whose company, the world’s biggest maker of athletic equipment and apparel, is one of the major supporters of girls’ education.

Gates, who co-chairs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, agreed that nobody has been focusing on girls, so their needs have not been addressed by foundations and non-governmental organizations.

There needs to be “a mind shift” to track what is happening with their education and legal rights and ensure that their needs are addressed in all programs, she said.

“When I think about girls,” Gates said, “I think about how do we invest, taking the generation today … and make sure that they invest, and that they have the money, to send their girls – and their boys – to school.”

UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said keeping girls in school is “so critical.”

She called for stepped up efforts to address the issues that keep girls out of school – fetching water, working in fields, a lack of separate toilet facilities, and sexual exploitation.

“Girls are subject to sexual violence at a very early age in so many parts of the world with absolute impunity and this has to stop,” Veneman said. “They are the ones getting HIV/AIDS at higher risk than even males today, and part of this has to do with the sexual violence of teenagers.”

She said girls are also being sexually exploited and trafficked “for commercial gain,” and sometimes they agree to this exploitation because they need cash, clothes or a grade in school.

Several members of the audience expressed concern that the financial crisis would increase trafficking and drive more adolescent women into prostitution because of the need for money.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, said the bank is very concerned about the effects of the financial crisis on girls and women, and wants to ensure that measures are taken to assist them.

“We know that in many places women are the first to be thrown out of work or the first to be impacted,” she said.

She urged support for a $20-million public-private partnership to educate and train girls in post-conflict countries such as Liberia and southern Sudan.

More than two decades of research has shown that investing in women is smart economics, Okonjo-Iweala said.

“If investing in women is smart economics, then investing in girls … is even smarter economics,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala said 70 per cent of the 130 million children out of school today are girls.

“If you invest in girls, if you educate girls, if you get girls into jobs, you solve many problems,” she said, because educated girls have fewer children and they will be aware of measures to tackle climate change.

Indonesia’s Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said the financial meltdown has already seen more women than men lose jobs in her country in the last few months.

In tackling the financial crisis, she said, stimulus packages should include measures to help jobless women and girls who will be pulled out of school by their families if they do not have money.

Pangestu said she and Indonesia’s finance minister, also a woman, are looking at ways to ensure that girls remain in school.

She cited a Mexican program that provides cash grants to mothers only if the mother sends both boys and girls to school.

* For the First Time in History Girls Were All Over Davos

The new law supporting the right to equal pay is a major step forward for women, but dropping funds for contraceptives from the economic stimulus package will impede women’s rights and cost more in the long run, Human Rights Watch has said.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, the first bill President Obama signed, expands the time period for filing pay-discrimination claims. The victims, many of them women, were previously limited by a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said they could only file claims against their employer within 180 days of their first unfair paycheck, even if they did not learn of the problem until years later. Under the new law, claims can be filed within 180 days of receiving any discriminatory paycheck.

“This bill dramatically improves a woman’s chance to fight pay discrimination,” said Meghan Rhoad, researcher in the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. “And it greatly improves the fairness of the system for everyone.”

However, with President Obama’s support, members of Congress removed provisions of the economic stimulus proposal that supported access to contraceptives. Human Rights Watch understands that the provisions, which would have allowed states to expand access to contraceptives under Medicaid, were taken out after protests from some congressional members. However, a 2007 Congressional Budget Office analysis of an almost identical proposal estimated that such funding for contraceptives would save $200 million over five years, including money Medicaid would otherwise have spent on services related to unintended pregnancies.

Access to contraceptives enables women and their families to make considered decisions about the number and spacing of their children. These decisions carry profound financial and other implications for families, and the decision not to expand access to contraception under Medicaid means that fewer families will be able to make those decisions, Human Rights Watch noted.

“Ensuring access to contraception is not only the right thing to do, it makes economic sense,” said Rhoad.

See also:
* The fight for reproductive rights continues say Radical Women
* President Obama succeeded in eliminating four of Bush’s ‘wars’ in his first days in office

Few reporters showed up for the Supreme Court’s hearing of a sexual harassment case involving a kindergartner. But Allison Stevens(*) sat in the front row, to oral arguments by the Supreme Court in the case of Jacqueline Fitzgerald, a kindergartner from Hyannis, Mass., who was sexually harassed as she rode the bus to school.

It was one of the best seats I’ve ever had at a Supreme Court hearing, which are often packed full with reporters when the issues at stake are high-profile ones like affirmative action or abortion rights.

But the court’s Dec. 2 hearing drew no such crowd to hear about the sexual harassment allegations of a 5-year-old girl. And the court’s unanimous ruling in favor of the girl and her parents in January attracted little attention in the news media.

For most news media, sex discrimination cases are a yawn. Media attendance, for example, was fairly sparse at the case involving Lilly Ledbetter, who sued her former employer, a Goodyear Tire and Rubber plant in Alabama, after she learned she had been receiving less pay than lower-qualified males in the same position.

That case only excited national attention months later when the court ruled against Ledbetter and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read a scathing dissent from the bench. At that point news organizations were hard pressed to find a photo of Ledbetter and several wound up buying the one I’d taken for Women’s eNews. Not even the Associated Press had bothered to keep a photograph of Ledbetter on file, I was told.

Last week, of course, U.S. lawmakers passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is designed to counteract the effects of the ruling. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law–his first–on Thursday.

In this more recent case, Fitzgerald v. Barnstable School Committee, a third-grade boy on Fitzgerald’s school bus would regularly force the 5-year-old to lift up her skirt and pull down her underpants, according to news reports.

It’s a horrible story, but at first I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see the media take a pass on this matter of schoolyard justice. The only times it seems to merit attention is when it’s too late, such as with the Columbine school shooting in Colorado in 1999, involving bullying of the non-sexual kind.

Sexual harassment and bullying are common on school grounds, according to Sexual Harassment Supports, an online advocacy site. Some 4 out of 5 children experience some form of sexual harassment or bullying, according to the site.

Indeed, it was an everyday occurrence at my junior high school in a suburb of Chicago. In homeroom, pre-pubescent seventh-grade boys would race around the classroom tackling me and other girls, thrusting their hands up our shirts and feeling our breasts all while our teacher rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “Boys will be boys.”

Outside class, boys would cop a feel as they passed girls in the hallway. And I can only imagine what other kinds of harassment–or assault–happened outside public view.

I suffered no serious damage from the experience, but I do remember feeling embarrassed–and even slightly violated–from those junior high encounters.

Still, it never occurred to me to tell anyone in authority about what was going on, especially because an authority figure–our teacher–watched much of it happen. I cannot fathom having filed a lawsuit back then. Such a move would have been social suicide in the cutthroat hierarchy of junior high, where boys increasingly viewed girls as sexual curiosities rather than rival playmates.

But Fitzgerald, only 5 at the time she was harassed, did tell her parents, and they felt compelled to act. An adult now, I understand why they complained. How could a parent–or a teacher, or any adult, for that matter–allow a girl of any age to be harassed or assaulted? They don’t allow it in the workplace, so why should they allow it in the classroom or on the school bus? And if it’s so ordinary, doesn’t that mean it’s pervasive, and all the more deserving of immediate attention?

The Fitzgeralds seemed to think so. They complained to the school principal, who commenced an investigation and tried to identify the perpetrator and resolve the issue. But according to legal summaries of the case, the principal would not agree to the parents’ request to place an adult monitor on the bus or assign the perpetrator to a different bus.

The Fitzgeralds then sued the school district on two counts: alleged violations of Title IX, the law that guarantees equality for girls and boys in schools that receive federal funding, and the equal protection clause of the Constitution, which is enforced through Section 1983 of the U.S. Federal Code.

A district court judge ruled that the school did not meet the “deliberate indifference” standard required by Title IX because it did take some steps to look into the matter. The district court also said the Fitzgeralds could not launch a competing constitutional equal protection claim. A federal appeals court upheld the decision.

But in an unexpected unanimous decision, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ ruling. Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito said: “We hold that Section 1983 suits based on the equal protection clause remain available to plaintiffs alleging unconstitutional gender discrimination in schools.”

The Fitzgeralds are now free to pursue their suit on constitutional grounds and have laid the groundwork for countless other parents who want to protect their daughters or sons from discrimination in the form of harassment or assault.

If that happens, maybe sexual harassment will become a little less ordinary, and considered a little more newsworthy when a gender discrimination case reaches the Supreme Court.

(* Allison Stevens is Washington bureau chief at Women’s eNews)

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Every day, as they walked to school, Maryam Mansoor and her sister ran a gauntlet of intimidation and harassment by youths armed with knives.

“A lot of my classmates and other female students don’t come to school anymore because they fear the boys’ harassment and kidnappings,” said Maryam, 18, who finally quit school at her worried father’s behest.

From acid attacks, murder, torching of schools and sexual assault, violence against female students is dashing the dreams of thousands of Afghan girls and women who are thirsty for an education that may help rejuvenate the fractured economy and society of their war-torn country.

“I like to go to school and later I want to go to university to be a doctor or someone important in the future, but I don’t want to make my family upset because of my education. Whatever my father has decided is right,” Maryam sighed despairingly.

In villages, and particularly in the deeply conservative south, the Taliban have burnt down schools, killed female students and teachers and attacked schoolgirls by throwing acid in their faces.

In relatively safer and less conservative Kabul, girls are facing abuse, sexual harassment and kidnappings.

“The security situation is worsening everyday. In spite of all the problems, I continued to let them go to school but now I feel like things are getting worse,” said Maryam’s father Mohammad, who owns a fruit shop in Kabul.

“I am not against my girls completing their education, but their safety is more important … I don’t want them to study outside any more,” said Mohammad, who brought his family back to Afghanistan from Iran about two years ago.

Under the Taliban, ousted from Kabul by U.S. and Afghan forces in 2001, women were barred from study and work and were largely unable to leave their homes without a male relative.

The Afghan government has sought to improve access to education for both boys and girls. Some 6.2 million young Afghans, including two million girls now attend school, compared with less than one million, only male students, under the Taliban.

Afghanistan is still a deeply traditional and conservative society. Even without the Taliban, some in Kabul oppose young women attending school.

Many feel that once girls reach puberty, leaving the home, even for school, might cast doubt on their honour. Many of the jeering young men hanging around outside schools and following the girls home clearly believe that too.

“In spite of the police presence near every school, the boys manage to tease girls and even kidnap them and sexually abuse them,” said a school teacher, who asked not to be named.

“Dozens of schoolgirls don’t come to school anymore due to insecurity and intimidation from street boys,” she added.

The government says increased harassment and the threat of kidnapping could leave a generation of young Afghans deprived of an education as they retreat to the safety of the home.

That is on top of the already huge security problems facing education in Afghanistan.

“In the past eight months, around 138 students and teachers have lost their lives and another 172 have been wounded in criminal and terror attacks,” said Asif Nang, a spokesman for the Ministry of Education.

“About 651 schools have become inactive mostly due to insecurity and another 122 school buildings have been blown up or burned down across the country,” said Nang, adding the Ministry of Education was working to improve protection and security for teachers and students across the country.

Some 173,443 students, both men and women, are also unable to go to school or gain an education because security concerns are preventing new schools from being built in the first place, according to Nang.

In November, 15 female students and teachers had acid thrown in their faces by men in the southern province of Kandahar.

While Taliban militants, fighting to overthrow the Western-backed government and expel foreign troops, are behind the attacks in the provinces and the south, those harassing girls in Kabul are usually unemployed young men, Nang said.

The police have at times rounded up the groups of youths, but Nang said many of them “have good connections with some police officials – the boys are released back after detention because they are well connected”.

“We request Afghan and foreign forces including elders to get involved and to take extra measures in providing security for all students and teachers,” Nang added.

Twenty-year-old Sabra Ahmadzai finished her final high school test in Afghanistan, took out a bank loan and then flew to India on the last day of November. She came to look for an Indian army doctor who she said had deceived, married and then abandoned her in Kabul, making her an object of shame and ridicule.

In India, Ahmadzai’s journey has become a rallying point for young women across college campuses who find in her a source of inspiration to question powerful hierarchies of traditional societies. The students in three universities in the capital are trying to set up a “Justice Committee for Sabra” by enlisting eminent lawyers, retired judges, professors and independent activists.

The first thing Ahmadzai did in India was confront her husband in front of his first wife and children. But Ahmadzai did not stop there. She also filed a police complaint and challenged the Indian army, meeting with government officials, women’s groups, human rights organizers and student activists. She says her mission is to see her husband, Maj. Chandrashekhar Pant, punished under Indian law prohibiting bigamy.

Pant was stationed at the Indian medical hospital in Kabul and married Ahmadzai two years ago. The ceremony was held 20 days before he returned to India, she said.

He later called Ahmadzai to inform her that he was already married and had two children.

“I had nothing else but anger when I left Kabul. I did not know a single person in India,” said Ahmadzai, her close-set eyes darkening as she recalled her troubles.

She sat in the office of the students union of New Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, under a large poster with the words, “Oppression is your privilege, protest is your right.”

“But now so many Indians see my fight as theirs,” she added. “I want him behind the bars of a jail so that no man ever attempts this again with any other woman in the world. My family trusted him. He not only cheated me, but broke their heart, as well. My family has been ostracized in Kabul because of this shame.”

Pant did not respond to multiple text and telephone messages requesting comment and does not have a lawyer representing him publicly.

Ahmadzai carries her nikaah nama, or marriage certificate, and a compact disc of photographs and video clips of her elaborate Kabul wedding, attended by about 700 people. “She is battling the power structures in both Afghanistan and India. She is an inspiration for all of us here,” said Sucheta De, 25, a geography student who is a counselor at the student union. “What we women regard as our personal struggle is often a political struggle against dominant social structures.”

Ahmadzai worked at the Indian hospital in Kabul as a part-time interpreter for the equivalent of $150 a month, while attending school in the afternoon. She said she had learned Hindi from the popular Bollywood movies in her middle-class home.

Pant, who was her boss, approached her family three times with his marriage proposal, Ahmadzai said. When her mother sent him away because he was not a Muslim, he returned with a priest pledging to convert from Hinduism to Islam, she added.

“I did not love him. He was my boss and twice my age. But the elders and the priest said, ‘We have given our word and cannot take it back,’ ” she recalled. “He had won their hearts by treating sick children of my relatives, too. They liked him. I followed their wishes obediently.”

Pant changed his name to Himmat Khan, and called her “Cat” in Hindi, she said. But after less than three weeks of married life, she said, Pant told her that the army was sending him back to India and that he would return for her. Ahmadzai said she received three calls in six months and the last one, in the middle of 2007, was an “unimaginable blow.” “He said: ‘Sabra, you are young, beautiful; you should remarry. I have a wife and two sons here in India,’ ” she recalled.

Then the taunts began. People in Kabul jeered at her. “If I spoke ill about him, it was like slapping my own face. So I kept quiet,” she said. “Women said that I was a stigma on earth and should take poison and die. The local boys harassed me and shouted that they are ready to marry me for 20 days, too. I decided to come to India to confront him.”

She pledged her uncle’s ancestral land for a bank loan, collected her savings and went to India with her mother. From New Delhi, she took a bus to meet Pant in the Himalayan town of Pithoragarh, where he is stationed.

“I told him to come to Kabul and divorce me in front of everybody,” Ahmadzai said. “It is better to be divorced than abandoned in my society.”

Pant refused to accept her or divorce her, offering her money instead, she said. Enraged, Ahmadzai filed a police complaint. Overnight, her cause was adopted by local activist groups. A signature campaign began. Women and students waved placards and protested in support of her, and blocked traffic for five hours demanding that Pant be punished. Ahmadzai addressed the crowds. The city’s newspapers splashed her story on their front pages. Ahmadzai’s mother fell sick and returned to Kabul, but Ahmadzai came to New Delhi and met the home affairs minister and the National Commission for Women.

Earlier this month, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, the Indian army’s chief of staff, told reporters that army officials are looking into Ahmadzai’s allegations.

Pant could face charges of bigamy and changing his religion without the army’s permission, transgressions that could result in expulsion from military service. Under Indian civil law, Pant could face seven to 10 years in prison for bigamy, if convicted, according to Ravinder Singh Garia, Ahmadzai’s attorney in New Delhi.

Police in Pithoragarh said they have registered Ahmadzai’s complaint but have not filed charges against Pant because the case involves actions allegedly committed abroad and because the army is conducting a probe. “Our inquiry is in progress,” Kapoor said. “If he is found to be at fault, we will not hesitate at any point to take action.”

But, the army chief added, there was a discrepancy in the dates. “She said in her police complaint that her marriage took place in December,” he said. “But as per our records, the major was there in Afghanistan from January to November.”

Ahmadzai said the army interpreted the date incorrectly from the Islamic Afghan calendar date she gave in her police report.

Her supporters say that Pant should be tried in a civilian court.

“The army can punish him, but it cannot give her justice. Only a civil court can,” said Mobeen Alam, 30, a doctoral student and joint secretary of the Jawaharlal Nehru University student union. “If the army is indeed conducting an inquiry, why have they not contacted Sabra to record her version?”

Ahmadzai’s appointments in New Delhi are now managed by the university students in the sprawling campus that is the font of India’s liberal politics. She communicates with her family daily on Google Talk, sits in on films and debates the Israeli war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Ahmadzai now says that if her case drags on, she may try to enroll in an undergraduate course. “I do not know how long my struggle will go on,” she said. “At least I will have a degree while I wait for justice.”