Archive for February 14th, 2009

What is the Pink Chaddi Campaign?

The Pink Chaddi Campaign kicked off on 5 February 2009 to oppose the Sri Ram Sena. The campaign is growing exponentially (31,888 members at this point in the life of our Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women) and that is not surprising. Most women in this country have enough curbs on their lives without a whole new franchise cashing in with their bully-boy tactics. Of course, a lot of men have joined the group as well.

Here is we want to do with the Pink Chaddi Campaign. Join in. Be imaginative, have fun and fight back!

What can you do?

Step 1: It does not matter that many of us have not thought about Valentine’s Day since we were 13. If ever. This year let us send the Sri Ram Sena some love. Let us send them some PINK CHADDIS.

Look in your closet or buy them cheap. Dirt-cheap. Make sure they are PINK. Send them off to the Sena.

The address to send the package is:

From: The Pink Chaddi Campaign,

To: Pramod Muthalik,
Sri Rama Sene Office
No. 11, Behind New Bus Stand,
Gokhul road,
Lakshmi park,
PIN 580030

If you don’t want to mail it yourself, you can drop it off at the Chaddi Collection Points. We will be collecting across the country through this week and sending the packages on February 12. More information about Chaddi Collectors in your city soon on our blog:

Step 2: Send the Pink Chaddi Campaign a photograph of the package.

Tell us how many chaddis you are sending out and inspire other women in other cities. You can either mail the information to freelancehabba (at) gmail (dot) com or you can mail it at our facebook address.

Step 3: On Valentine’s Day we do a Pub Bharo action. Go to a pub wherever you are. From Kabul to Chennai to Guwahati to Singapore to LA women have signed up. It does not matter if you are actually not a pub-goer or not even much of a drinker. Let us raise a toast (it can be juice) to Indian women. Take a photo or video. We will put it together (more on how later) and send this as well to the Sri Ram Sena.

What happens after Valentine’s Day?

After Valentine’s Day we should get some of our elected leaders to agree that beating up women is ummm… AGAINST INDIAN CULTURE.

For right now, ask not what Dr VS Acharya, Home Minister of Karnataka can do for you. Ask what you can do for him. Here is his blog. Send him some love.

Nisha Susan
For the Pink Chaddi Campaign

See also and previous post

India is in the throes of a violent spasm of moral angst about the rights of women and ‘decadent’ western culture.

What began with a group of youths attacking young women drinking in a bar in Mangalore in the south has escalated into a full blown national convulsion with Ashok Gehlot, chief minister of Rajasthan, decrying pubs and bars and “the shopping mall culture where couples walk around hand in hand”.

Gehlot also said his government would have a strict liquor policy limiting the opening of bars and pubs, especially those near temples and parks.

But he sparked off a heated debate. The outcry from liberals and women’s groups forced Gehlot to backtrack.

“I can perform operations, fly a plane, go into space, and run multi-nationals but I can’t have a drink with a friend. This is about basic women’s rights, my right to decide how to live my life,” said New Delhi history student Pushpa Tiwari.

Television and newspapers are debating the definition of “pub culture”. Does it denote dancing, taking drugs, and promiscuity? Or does it simply mean relaxing with friends over a drink?

The current debate on “moral policing” symbolises a country in flux, struggling to hold on to tradition while embracing modernity and coping with lifestyles and social conduct that were unthinkable a generation ago.

Young Indian women embody the contradictions thrown up by this social churning. A television news channel spoke to several Mumbai women who vigorously defended their right to visit bars, wear jeans and skirts, and mix freely with men.

But they refused to speak on camera lest their parents see them. The clash between the ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ India was starkly highlighted in the reactions to a gang rape of a young woman last month.

The attack happened as the woman sat in a parked car with her boyfriend in Noida, just outside Delhi.

While ‘new’ India was horrified at the rape, the nearby village, on the outskirts of Noida, where the alleged rapists lived, defended their ‘boys’.

Any woman found sitting in a car with a man who was unrelated to her was asking for trouble, they told reporters.

Yet, on occasion, the ambiguities of this rapid social change also creates grey areas where the opposing camps meet. For example, Gehlot has shut down 800 liquor shops saying women need to be protected against violent drunken men.

This enjoys the support of some women’s groups. “We see the family misery caused by poor men squandering their income on alcohol while their wives and children go hungry,” said Karima Singh, a women’s activist in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

“Liquor shops are opening next to villages so that men can buy a bottle on their way home.”

Popular with foreign tourists, Rajasthan has acted in the past against ‘PDA’ (Public Displays of Affection) to avoid conflict between foreigners and local people.

Prompted by a Finnish woman swimming naked in a sacred lake at Pushkar, the state government issued a list of do’s and don’ts for foreigners.

For over 25 years I have worked in Australia and overseas to prevent the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. One of the most horrendous developments that we have experienced in the last 15 years is the dramatic explosion in the global trade of child sexual abuse images on the internet.

Critics have argued that ISP filtering will be costly and slow down the internet but based on overseas experience this is not the case, says Child Wise CEO Bernadette McMenamin

The world was relatively unprepared to deal with this unprecedented phenomenon and it took some years for governments, law enforcers and child protection organisations to not only understand the nature of this issue but also how we should combat this trans-national problem.

Understanding why people in their hundreds of thousands around the world want to view images of children being raped is beyond belief to most people; however understanding the demand factor is critical and still a work in progress.

There are many complex reasons why people view child sexual abuse images on the internet. Not all viewers are child sex offenders. Some view these images out of curiosity or because it is taboo. Others seem to believe they will not be caught or do not believe they are harming a child by simply viewing these images. Others are serious child sex offenders who offend against children and use these images to share, trade and justify their abuse and beliefs.

While research is growing in this area, one thing is certain. Viewing child sexual abuse images on the internet can lead to direct contact offences against children. We as a nation must do all we possibly can to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation whether they be Australian children or children from overseas.

This is why I and most other child protection advocates and practitioners support the Federal government’s ISP filtering proposal. I also believe that the majority of Australians given the correct information on what the ISP filtering proposal involves would also agree.

In late 2006 Child Wise commissioned AC Neilson to conduct a survey of 1497 Australian internet users over the age of 18. The key outcomes of the survey were that 83 per cent believe that ISP’s should block all child pornography, 76 per cent would change to an ISP that blocked child pornography and 64 per cent are not confident that home based internet filters are effective.

Surprisingly Child Wise has also received calls from child sex offenders who support mandatory ISP filtering stating that this blocking mechanism would have reduced their desire to abuse children as their access to child sexual abuse images actually facilitated their offending.

The Federal Government’s proposal to block child sexual abuse images at the ISP level is only one strategy amongst many others that should be employed. Clearly we need to provide education to families and children to keep them safe on the internet. Law enforcement and education are also key strategies and prominent in the Federal Government’s Safe internet Policy.

Hundreds of millions of dollars is already being spent on law enforcement which is commendable but this only addresses the problem after the abuse has occurred. Millions of dollars is being spent on internet safety education and this is a critical strategy to keep children safe on the internet to prevent them from viewing illegal and harmful material as well as preventing them from being groomed by online sex offenders.

However ISP filtering of child pornography images would strengthen these current endeavors by blocking child pornography at the internet server level.

Critics of this new scheme have argued that ISP filtering of child sexual abuse images simply will not work. However these filters are actually working very effectively in Scandinavian countries and in the UK as well as in recent trials in New Zealand.

Critics have also argued that ISP filtering will be costly and slow down the internet. Again based on overseas experience this is not the case. The recent NZ study where filters were used to block child sexual abuse images on the internet found that the average cost increase per user would be approximately 4 cents per year.

Critics have also stated that ISP filtering of child sexual abuse images is censorship.

My argument is that how can blocking illegal material (which should not be produced or stored in the first place) be censorship?

Viewing child pornography should not even be considered as freedom of speech.

Another argument against ISP filtering is that most child sex offenders share images of children being sexually abused through networks such as peer to peer and newsgroups which will not be blocked through this new ISP filtering scheme. Out of all the critics’ arguments this is the one I agree with. No, not all images of children being sexually abused on the internet will be blocked but a certain number of these images will be. No one really knows whether the amount of images that will be blocked will be 20, 30, 50+ per cent but surely a reduction in any amount is worth the effort.

Currently the Federal government is conducting a trial into ISP filtering to ensure that it is effective to prevent access to child sexual abuse images. Again I would like to reiterate this is only one strategy amongst a suite of other strategies to prevent the sexual abuse of children on the internet. This trial will last a number of weeks and then after that verdict the results will be independently assessed to decide whether ISP filtering will work.

I believe it can and I hope that the trials will prove that blocking child sexual abuse images can work effectively and efficiently.

Having said that I remain open minded as I hope the critics of the scheme will wait until the trials have been independently conducted to decide on whether Australia should take this leap into ISP filtering.

If these trials do not work then I will accept the results – end of story. I just hope the critics, whatever their beliefs and motivations may be, will take the same attitude and not attempt to derail the trials if at the end ISP filtering of child sexual abuse images will protect the children of the world.,24897,25010836-5013046,00.html

‘…what is most appalling is the PNG government’s lax attitude to the repeated abuse of women in its society. Despite women activists staging protests, demonstrations and walkouts in the country’s parliament, all the country’s leaders have done is pay lip service to the problems’

At a time when a nation is emerging at the top of the heap in the region in several economic indicators and also growing in profile as a regional conciliator of note under the elder statesman-like leadership of its most prominent leader, its own internal affairs are proving to be more than a shameful drag on its long road towards positive achievement.

Papua New Guinea is undoubtedly the Pacific Islands region’s best economic performer that has continuously registered over five percent growth over the past several years mainly on the back of the mineral and mining boom propelled by robust investment from overseas—especially Australia.

The opening up of possibilities of undersea mining in its exclusive economic zone brings to it unlimited potential for the future except that the bull run of the past few years will slow down for as long as the global financial downturn lasts. But that will be a temporary hiatus and undersea mining activity will bounce back in the next few years.

The country’s profile as a regional economic leader has been matched by the profile of its long serving Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, widely accepted by the region’s leadership as the elder statesman as seen from his most recent role in taking the initiative to host an extraordinary Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Port Moresby to find a sensible and time bound way forward for Fiji.

But through all those impressive achievements, Papua New Guinea has not been able to shake off the image of poverty, poor achievement of development indices especially in comparison with other islands nations, a runaway crime rate that by all perceptions only seems to be getting worse by the month, widespread corruption in its government and administration, and a poor and worsening human rights record.

Every once in a while a story of unbelievable violence against defenceless women pops up on the news wire from Papua New Guinea. This year began with the shocking news of a young woman in Mt Hagen who was burnt to death by villagers on such purported charges as having extra marital affairs, engaging in sorcery and spreading the HIV/AIDS virus to one of the men. The woman, probably still in her late teens, had logs strapped to her abdomen and back, her hands tied and mouth gagged with rags before she was set alight.

Media reports of the incident sent shock waves throughout the region and beyond. The pristine and primitive features of Papua New Guinea’s culture have been a great draw card for attracting tourists, academics, international television channels and documentary makers alike. But incidents such as these expose the flip side of that culture—one that unfortunately and in a most demeaning manner seems to be alive and well.

So entrenched is the subjugation of women in Papua New Guinean society, that women down dozens of generations have simply accepted it as a fait accompli.

According to Papua New Guinea author Christina Kewa, it is common for educated women even in this day and age to turn up to work with black eyes and facial bruises shrugging it off as just another altercation with their husbands or partners. It’s as if their modern education has made no difference to their subconsciously blind acceptance of women as objects of hate.

Kewa, who was also born and raised in Mt Hagen, blames the centuries old, unchanging traditional attitudes to women for such state of affairs. “The girl child is still seen as a commodity that will one day be sold. And having purchased a woman for a bride price, her owner feels free to treat her as he deems fit,” she said recently.

“It is impossible for a woman’s family to prevent her abuse or complain about it after she is married away because she is now somebody else’s property. It is therefore no surprise that gang rapes have been increasing and so have been cases of HIV/ AIDS. It is almost like it is OK to commit rape.”

Gender equality and women’s rights are two areas that continue to suffer in many parts of the world, including the Pacific—but most glaringly in Papua New Guinea.

Generations of women have suffered in silence while their menfolk have abused them and often relegated them to the existence of speechless animals citing convenient misinterpretations of both societal and religious sanction.

Superstition, hearsay, misconception and bigotry are powerful tools men use to give women a bad name and deal with them in any manner that pleases them—more often than not with violent brutality as in the case of the Mt Hagen woman, whose case, is one of the many that has come to light.

But what is most appalling is the PNG government’s lax attitude to the repeated abuse of women in its society. Despite women activists staging protests, demonstrations and walkouts in the country’s parliament, all the country’s leaders have done is pay lip service to the problems. The country continues to be poorly represented by women, what with just a single woman MP after so many years since the country gained independence from colonial rule. That is the extent to which women find themselves out of the political mainstream: self-rule has simply failed to bring women and their issues into the focus of national discourse.

And it comes as little surprise, too, that the media reported recently—much to the chagrin of local authorities—that Port Moresby is competing for the top spot as the world’s murder capital.

The news story about the unfortunate Mt Hagen woman was picked up all over the region and beyond, But the absence of analytical pieces in the media also betrayed either the lack of interest in—or the large scale indifference to—the larger socio-cultural context behind that particular incident in particular, and the lot of long suffering womanhood in the country.

The media certainly has a far more important and larger role to play in changing society than merely cataloguing and reporting facts. It must hold up a mirror to society and show its true face, warts and all. It must stir debate in a way that would bring about a change in attitude at both the political and social levels.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) Women and Children Protection Center reported an “alarming” increase in the incidence of domestic violence in 2008, its director, Chief Superintendent Yolanda Tanigue, said on Friday.

The Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA) said domestic violence is one of the major factors in the development of sexual offenders.

“A major cause, one of the major causes, is domestic violence. So for us to address sexual abuse [we need] to address domestic violence. And very interestingly, based on PNP statistics, there are very common parallelisms between the abuse of women and children,” said CPTCSA chairperson Hope Abella in a press conference at Camp Crame.

Tanigue said from 6,647 incidents of violence against women in 2007, the PNP WCPC reported 7,864 cases in 2008.

Incidents involving violation of Republic Act 9262 (Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004) increased from 2,387 cases in 2007 to 3,599 cases in 2008.

Tanigue also reported an increase in crimes against children, from 6,688 in 2007 to 8,588 in 2008.

Of these cases, 2,981 cases involved rape.

Abella noted that rape significantly affects the self-esteem of the child and his ability to trust others.

“What appears in our data from counseling, their number one issue is self-esteem. There are many issues we need to respond to, fear, betrayal, because the difficult thing about child rape, most are victims of incest … At a very early age in life, the child who is trusting an adult, it is the adult who hurts the child. One of the basic things that is destroyed early on is trust,” she said.

The PNP-WCPC also reported 1,450 physical injuries committed against children; 876 acts of lasciviousness; and 229 incestuous rapes.

But Tanigue also said victims are now more willing to file a complaint with the police because of the Women’s and Children’s Desks set up in all police stations.

“They have learned to report and when we launched our information campaign, we have been telling them of police visibility, especially how our policewomen are now out in the streets. They are no longer afraid to report. They are with us now,” she added.

However, Abella said eradicating domestic violence and child abuse involves changing the perception of society towards women as the “weaker sex.”

She said this was one of the reasons for “double victimization,” in which women victimized by violence are often blamed for their fate.–PNP

Although Rwanda is striving to become a gender-equal nation, gender-based domestic violence is still widespread. A theater group has embarked on a crusade against the scourge.

Charlotte Nyiraneza, the president of Umurinzi-a group that is fighting to stop gender-based violence (GBV) through theatre-was doing research on women in 2005, when she started to realize that one the greatest problems that women were facing was domestic violence. This inspired her to start fighting the practice, and she decided to set up a theater group to do so.

“75% of women are victims of domestic violence, according to my research. I also found that the problem is the biggest in Mutara and Ruhengeri,” Nyiraneza says.

The Umurinzi president, who has already made movies such as Is it you, my child? and Life which deal with the subject, adds that the main causes of the problem are culture and ignorance.

“You see, most husbands, especially in Mutara, still follow traditional cultural practices, which often cause domestic violence. For instance, they believe that women are not supposed to know their secrets, and if they do they are in trouble,” Nyiraneza explains.

She also points out that many men still think that women are supposed to work like donkeys in their homes.

“When you visit some of these families in Mutara, most of the women who are victims of domestic violence will tell you that they do everything-fetching water, cooking, looking after the kids. Their man is just waiting to be served,” Nyiraneza remarks.

And she adds that this mentality is not only prevalent among the lowly educated. “There was a family that I visited, in which the husband was a university graduate; but what his wife told me was shocking. I could at first not believe that she was a victim of domestic violence,” Charlotte Nyiraneza says.

The president of Umurinzi points out that the problem is aggravated by the fact that most victims don’t want to talk about it, and become traumatized. Therefore, the theater group always has a debate with the audience after the performance.

“After every theater show we have an open discussion with the audience. They always tell us what they have learnt, and this has helped many victims to have the courage of speaking out,” Nyiraneza, says.

Christophe Mushinzimana, one of the actors in the group, remarks that the problem of domestic violence affects all people in society, so it should become everyone’s concern to stop it.

“Many people are doing it ignorantly, and therefore government and non-government organizations, the Church as well as local leaders should help and sensitize the general public, because our effort cannot reach the whole country,” Mushinzimana explains.

The actor also points out that the victims should learn to speak out so that they are helped, if not they will continue to suffer. He also thinks that men who are found guilty of the vice should not be put into prison but instead educated so that they realize that what they are doing is wrong.

One of his colleagues, Clement Nzigirigena, admits that although he loves acting, he hates to play the role of a violent husband.

“I always wonder: why should a man beat his beloved one? Why would I beat someone to whom I at one time said that I loved her?” Nzigirigena asks. “Some men are really not serious. For instance, why would I not wash the dishes or help the woman I call my love? Men should stop thinking that women are there to do everything in the house.

“And if I have a problem, why shouldn’t I share it with my wife? People should learn to be open to each other.”

Western countries called on Saudi Arabia last week to halt floggings and amputations, allow religious freedom and abolish a system of male guardianship sharply limiting women’s rights.

Britain, Canada, Switzerland and Israel challenged Riyadh on issues including its high number of executions. Saudi Arabia executes murderers, rapists and drug traffickers, usually by public beheading, and judges sometimes give the death sentence to armed robbers and those convicted of “sorcery” or desecrating the Koran.

A Saudi delegation defended its record at the United Nations Human Rights Council, saying the country was cracking down on domestic violence by men who abused their roles as guardians and beat their wives and children.

Zaid Al-Hussein, vice president of the state-affiliated Saudi Human Rights Commission, told the forum much remained to be done to ensure that individual followers of Islam uphold human rights standards, as required by sharia law.

“Consequently, we do not claim to be perfect, nor do we reject criticism, which is welcome provided it is objective and intended to preserve human rights and dignity,” he said.

The 47 member-state Council began regular reviews of all U.N. members last June in a bid to avoid charges of selectivity.

Hussein said non-Muslims could follow their faiths in private in the kingdom, but it would be difficult to allow non-Muslim houses of worship as “Islam is the final religion”.

The oil-exporting Gulf country, a major U.S. ally, has paid $100 million compensation to people detained in terrorist cases who were later found to be innocent, he said.

Israel accused Saudi Arabia of “severe discrimination against women and minorities, corporal punishment, torture, forced labour, and the sexual exploitation of children”.

It should “abolish corporal punishment, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in general, and public floggings, eye-gouging, flogging of schoolchildren, and amputation of limbs in particular,” Israeli ambassador Aharon Leshno Yaar said.

British envoy Peter Gooderham urged the kingdom to “abolish the guardianship system which severely limits the rights of women to act as autonomous and equal members of Saudi society”.

A U.N. women’s rights watchdog said last year the system severely limited freedoms guaranteed by international law. It restricts women’s rights in marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, property ownership and decision-making in the family, and choice of residency, education and jobs.

Canada recommended that Saudi Arabia “cease application of torture” and other cruel treatment.

The United States did not take the floor in the three-hour debate. The Obama administration is reviewing its policy towards the Council, which the Bush administration had essentially boycotted since last June citing its “rather pathetic record”.

Iraq’s minister of women’s affairs resigned last week in protest at a lack of resources to cope with “an army of widows, unemployed, oppressed and detained women” after years of sectarian warfare.

Nawal al-Samarai said her status as a secretary of state and not a full minister reflected the low emphasis given by the government to the plight of women in Iraq, once one of the most progressive countries in the Middle East for women’s rights.

“This ministry with its current title cannot cope with the needs of Iraqi women,” said Samarai, who was appointed in July.

“We have many problems related to Iraqi women. We have an army of widows, unemployed, oppressed and detained women. I feel like I am sitting in a minister’s chair enjoying the privileges of a minister but I cannot act as one,” she told Reuters.

Years of sectarian slaughter between Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority and Sunni Arabs, who dominated the country before U.S. forces ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, have put heavy strains on families.

Women’s rights suffered in areas where Sunni Islamist militants held sway at the height of the insurgency, and in other areas when religious parties came to dominate Iraq after Saddam’s fall.

The religious parties were largely given a drubbing in provincial elections on January 31, but it was too early to tell how many women would end up with seats on regional councils or what their political clout might be.

Women’s groups have complained the new system used in this year’s polls could mean women win fewer seats than in the last local polls in 2005.

Samarai said her department had only been assigned a single office in the heavily protected Green Zone in Baghdad where many government offices and foreign embassies are located. She had no offices in the provinces where the needs of women were greatest.

“Because there is not a single office in any province, how can any Iraqi woman reach me or send me her complaints?” she said.

Hundreds of Chinese women have left their children behind in the hope of finding work in Paris, only to end up turning to street prostitution, a humanitarian group has said .

A report by Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World) said the women, mostly in their forties and sharing small rooms, are often victims of rape and violence, and are highly exposed to sexually-transmitted disease.

The group runs a mobile clinic in immigrant districts in the French capital to reach out to the 500 women, many of whom are from China’s northeastern Dongbei region which has been hard-hit by unemployment.

Their situation is alarming, said Melanie Quetier, who works at the clinic known as the Lotus bus which opened in 2002.

“They have neglected their health for a long time and many discover too late that they are suffering from diabetes, cancer or heart trouble,” she said.

Women go to the agency’s Lotus Bus for condoms but the Chinese-speaking staff tries to convince them to go for testing for sexually-transmitted diseases or consult a gynecologist.

A survey of 93 women by the Lotus Bus team found that many had paid between 7,000 and 15,000 euros (9,000 to 19,000 dollars) to travel to France after losing their jobs in China.

More than 65 percent of them are over forty and 90 percent said they had left at least one child in China.

“These vulnerable women who do not speak French come up against non-Chinese customers who think they can do anything to them,” said Quetier.

The Chinese women are considered “cheap prostitutes”, charging as little as five euros for sex, she said.

More than a third of the women questioned said they had been treated for a sexually-transmitted disease and 45 percent said they had not been tested for HIV, according to the report.

Housing is a problem for them, with many banding together to rent out small rooms for between 100 and 150 euros a month.

Now in her fifties, Yanyan arrived two years ago in Paris after losing her job in a textile factory and found work as a nanny in a Chinese immigrant family that exploited her.

To earn extra money, she turned to prostitution a year ago in the streets in the Belleville district of Paris, with its lively East Asian quarter.

“Fortunately, my family doesn’t know about this,” said Yanyan, who has since divorced her Chinese husband and hopes to marry in France.

One in five European women has been the victim of domestic violence.
Most societies prohibit violence against women. But too often it is covered up or tacitly condoned and so the violence continues unabated in every continent, country and culture. The European Parliament should help break this silence.

EU support would help put the spotlight on the problem. Our written declaration in the Parliament aims to accomplish this – its adoption would give the full backing of the Parliament for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) in its effort to stop violence against women.

Nicole Kidman, a Unifem goodwill ambassador, urges all members of the Parliament to sign the written declaration on the ‘Say no to violence against women’ campaign because it can help change policies and bring services and resources to survivors.

For women aged 15-44, violence is a major cause of death and disability. A 1994 study based on World Bank data shows that for these women, rape and domestic violence is a higher risk factor than cancer, road accidents, war and malaria.

Figures for Europe show that at least one in five women has been the victim of male violence in intimate relationships.

Violence against women impoverishes individuals, families and communities, reducing the economic development of every nation. According to the UK Government Equalities Office, the cost of domestic violence alone amounts in the UK to €6.9 billion each year.

Women have a right to a life free of violence. Many people agree with us: five million individuals have already signed up to the Unifem campaign.


Inés Alberdi, Executive director, Unifem
Eva-Britt Svensson MEP
Myria Vassiliadou, Secretary-general, European Women’s Lobby

As deputies discuss the formation of a “Women and Men Equal Opportunities Commission” in Parliament, women’s groups have bombarded them with faxes demanding that the long-awaited commission’s name should be changed to focus on gender equality instead of equal opportunities.

Several women’s groups issued a press release yesterday explaining their complaint. They stated that a commission with the name “Women and Men Equal Opportunities Commission” would be a step backward on the road to equality.

“Because ‘equal opportunity’ does not aim to eliminate already present inequalities but prescribes ‘equal treatment’ policies to all sides, it protects present inequalities,” said the statement released by Women for Women’s Human Rights-New Ways (WWHR), which is based in İstanbul.

The WWHR emphasized that women have been struggling since 1998 for the formation of a gender equality commission in Parliament, and as a result, the Constitutional Commission approved their demand on Jan. 29, as all political parties supported it. However, through the initiative of a few deputies on Feb. 10, the name of the commission has been changed to “Women and Men Equal Opportunities Commission” from the initially suggested “Commission on Equality between Women and Men.”

Stressing that the term “equal opportunities,” which has been widely used in many European countries for the provision of equal opportunities in the field of employment, has fallen short of ensuring equality for women in most countries, the WWHR stated that there are attempts to go beyond the concept of “equal opportunities” in order to focus on the understanding of “equality of results,” as apparent in the legislation of the European Union.

“We also would like to strongly emphasize the fact that the commission established for the realization of gender equality in the European Union is entitled the European Parliamentary Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality,” they stated.

State Minister Nimet Çubukçu recently garnered the support of all political parties in Parliament for the commission, and the proposal was finally accepted by the Constitutional Commission. The proposal was prepared in accordance with the standards of the European Union and the European Human Rights Commission.

However, a few female deputies, led by Selma Aliye Kavaf from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), found the initially proposed name objectionable on the grounds that the term used in the international literature was “equal opportunity.”

Not all of Bernie Madoff’s victims are rich, jet-set investors.

Madoff’s alleged Ponzi plot, combined with a battered economy and government cuts, adds up to the perfect storm for groups working for a good cause – especially causes that benefit women.

“People don’t think about the fact that when people do things like the Ponzi scheme, the people it’s going to impact are sometimes the most voiceless people of all. The face is really homeless children and moms,” said Nancy Owens Hess, co-executive director of the Elizabeth Stone House, a group that helps women cope with mental illness, domestic violence and homelessness. Though they didn’t directly invest with Madoff, the group was slated to receive $30,000 from the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation of Boston, which had $145 million of its $324 million in assets lost by Madoff.

The Shapiro foundation, which mostly supports causes in Boston and Florida, intends to fulfill all of its current obligations. It donated $27 million last year to the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston.

Since the Shapiro group has vowed to keep up commitments, that money headed for Elizabeth Stone House is secure. But that doesn’t mean the center isn’t taking a good, hard look at its financial future.

“That’s sort of a cloud that hangs over all of us – to balance that funding so we can withstand government cuts,” Hess explained. “What the economic crisis does is impact us at every single point along the way.”

Intrigued by the impact of Madoff’s investments on women’s groups, we here at wowOwow recently contacted some of the nation’s female-centric non-profits to get a handle on just how much they’ve been hurt by Madoff’s trickle-down effect.

Many groups doing progressive women’s work received funding from both the Picower Foundation and the JEHT Foundation. The $1 billion Picower Foundation was one of the few major funders of reproductive rights issues, while JEHT supported programs that promoted reform of the criminal and juvenile justice systems, including the Stop Prisoner Rape Project and the Women’s Prison Association’s Institute on Women and Criminal Justice. Both Picower and JEHT were forced to shutter shop after Madoff’s funds went bust.

“The issues the foundation addressed received very limited philanthropic support and the loss of the foundation’s funding and leadership will cause significant pain and disruption of the work for many dedicated people and organizations,” said JEHT President Robert Crane. And he’s right.

With Planned Parenthood groups around the country losing about $734,000 from foundations that invested with Madoff, including Picower, Shapiro Foundation and Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation, mainstay non-profit Planned Parenthood got off relatively easy. The central organization, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, lost about $484,000 through various investment groups. The organization has since laid off 20 percent of its staff, although it does point out that those cuts are also a result of the broader economic dip. Maryana Iskander, COO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told wOw:

As with many other non-profit organizations, Planned Parenthood Federation of America is feeling the effects of the challenging economic times facing our country. However, we want to convey to the millions of women and men who rely on Planned Parenthood as a health-care provider that we are committed to ensuring our ability to deliver care to those in need. Our No. 1 priority will always be to ensure that women looking for affordable cancer screenings or young people searching for reliable information to prevent unintended pregnancies are able to obtain the care they need.

Though Planned Parenthood remains relatively solid, the Center for Reproductive Rights faces far more daunting challenges.
A legal advocacy organization dedicated to promoting and defending women’s reproductive rights worldwide, this New York-based group lost $600,000 in funding from Picower for 2009. With a staff of about 60, including some lawyers abroad, and about half of its funding coming from individuals, the depth of the hit remains unknown.

“We are still absorbing the impact of it,” President Nancy Northup told wOw. “We’re going to fight like heck to try to make up that loss as much as we can but it’s a very substantial setback … We are working so hard to try to minimize impact as much as possible, because we are at a point in history, with the Obama administration in, it’s so critical.” The group is, of course, looking for alternative sources, especially since the Bush administration has tried to reverse so many advances in reproductive rights. Northup hopes other foundations step up to fill the gap left in funding for progressive women’s groups, like and the Open Society Institute with Human Rights Watch and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“Those are terrific organizations but we need that kind of community foundation support for women as well,” she added. CRR’s not the only one in its field that’s feeling the pinch.

According to the website, ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project is out $200,000. “They addressed a real need in the field,” spokeswoman Sarah From told Salon. “Now there will be fewer resources for this work overall, and we’ll have to work harder to convince new funders to take a look at our issues for the first time.” While all of these organizations operate out of the United States, the impact’s not solely domestic. Take, for example, Hadassah.

The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which lost $90 million to Madoff, focuses on health care in Israel and the U.S. and underwrites the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. It’s trying to determine how to proceed with any cuts in its operating budget and other reductions in the turbulent economy.

“Falling victim to this unprecedented fraud will require us to make necessary adjustments, but it has not in the slightest affected our commitment to our core Zionist mission. These are indeed turbulent times, but the key pillars of Hadassah remain as strong as ever,” the organization said in December.

Though these groups – and others – are struggling, Elizabeth Stone House’s experience speaks to the generosity of Americans. The group’s annual appeal, announced in December, just as the economy began its big freeze, surpasses that of last year. “American people know that even when things are bad and your portfolio has hit rock bottom, there are people that are worse off, and you have to take care of them, too,” points out Hess.

Other women’s groups or organizations who were reportedly funded by Madoff-affected foundations include: The Rape Foundation (Santa Monica, CA); Women’s Care Cottage (North Hollywood, CA); The Center for Traumatic Grief and Victim Service (Moorestown, NJ), which has since had to close; Equal Justice Initiative (Montgomery, AL), which received 25 percent of its annual budget from JEHT; Breast Cancer Research Foundation (New York, NY); Casa Myrna Vasquez (Boston, MA); Girls, Inc. (New York, NY); and NARAL Pro-Choice America (Washington, DC).

President Obama attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast and used the opportunity to tout the reconstitution and expansion of George W. Bush’s Office on Faith Based Initiatives. In his remarks the president said he didn’t want to favor one religion over another, or “even religious groups over secular groups.” But in fact, that’s just what he’s doing.

National women’s organizations have been lobbying Obama, who has said he is a feminist, to reopen the White House Office on Women’s Issues. So far the answer is a big fat no – women’s concerns will be under the already swamped Office of Public Liaison. That’s a tiny shop that’s chronically understaffed and overstretched. Even with the best intentions, there’s almost no chance they can interface with women’s advocates in a meaningful way, much less shape policy to overcome the many setbacks we inherited from the Bush years.

In a direct insult to women, George W. Bush closed the Clinton-era White House Office on Women’s Issues in his first week, then ensconced the first-ever church/state liaison office in the same space. For our new president to “keep the faith” with religious groups while short-shrifting women is equally insulting. There is no doubt that women are responsible for his election. Females went for Obama by 56 percent to McCain’s 43 percent, while men split their votes about evenly. The Jesus crowd, on the other hand, voted 60% against the president.

The newly constituted “office for faith-based programs and community partnerships” will be headed by Joshua DuBois, a 26-year-old Pentecostal preacher and Obama confidant, who will preside over a task force of 25 or so religious and community leaders. This group will give DuBois advice, which will presumably be passed on to the president.

To accord this advisory panel so much power, while relegating women to the margins, speaks volumes. Religious groups gained a lot from the Bush years – access to the White House, and millions of dollars in federal money, some of which was used to proselytize. And don’t forget, almost all faiths consider women second class citizens; many actively campaign against affirmative action, the Women’s Equality Amendment, the international human rights treaty for women known as CEDAW, and civil rights for gays and lesbians. Keeping this act going – even if it is broadened to include “community members” – is not the change women voted for.

It’s not too late for President Obama to change his mind and give the majority – women – a place at the table by re-opening the White House Office on Women’s Issues. If he really does support women as he claims, restoring the losses of the last eight years on reproductive rights, enforcement of Title IX, Medicaid funding, and employment protections should be given a higher priority than keeping the religious right happy for what promises to be a very short honeymoon.

Women’s groups are elated that the Texans are finally out of the White House. But if the new president wants their continuing loyalty, he ought to follow some good ol’ Texas advice: Dance with the one that brung ya.

See also: Faith-Based Office To Expand Its Reach; Goals Will Include Reducing Abortion

A woman diagnosed with HIV has filed a complaint against Chile before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an international human rights body, charging that the government failed to protect her from being forcibly sterilized at a state hospital immediately after she gave birth. In a petition submitted by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Chilean-based HIV/AIDS service organization VIVO POSITIVO on her behalf, the 27-year-old Chilean woman F.S. argues that the hospital staff operated on her because of her HIV status, without ever discussing the possibility of performing a surgical sterilization nor asking for her consent.

“Forced sterilization is a violation of a woman’s most basic human rights and is all too often committed against members of vulnerable groups, which deserve special protection, such as women living with HIV,” said Luisa Cabal, director of the international program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s time that the Chilean government respect the human rights of all its citizens and take concrete action to guarantee that a woman living with HIV receives quality reproductive health services and has the ability to make decisions about her own life.”

F.S., who wishes to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with HIV in 2002 soon after learning that she was pregnant. She was referred to Curicó Hospital for HIV treatment during pregnancy. At no time during her admittance did she request sterilization, and she and her husband had plans to have more children. Her case represents a country-wide problem within Chile, according to a 2004 study conducted by VIVO POSITIVO. The study found that, of the women living with HIV who were interviewed who had been sterilized, 29% of them had been pressured by medical staff to do so and 12.9% did not consent to the procedure at all. In addition, the study found that the majority of women had received biased counseling promoting the idea that women with HIV should not become pregnant, irrespective of the fact that, with the appropriate interventions, the risk of transmitting the virus to newborns can be reduced to less than two percent.

“Despite proof to the contrary, neither the Ministry of Health nor the Chilean Courts found that the facts of this case amounted to a violation of F.S.’s human rights. This denial of justice clearly demonstrates the discrimination that people living with HIV/AIDS continue to suffer in Chile,” said Vasili Deliyanis, executive director of VIVO POSITIVO. “The presentation of this case to an international tribunal provides a prime opportunity to reinvigorate the discussion on the rights of HIV-positive women in our country. It also provides an opportunity for the Chilean State to reestablish the rule of law.”

In the complaint, the Center and VIVO POSITIVO argue that the Chilean government has violated F.S.’s right to be free from discrimination, as well as her right to decide the number and spacing of her children, the right to be free from violence, and the right to have access to justice. These rights are guaranteed under the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence against Women. The Inter-American Commission, based in Washington, D.C., monitors state members’ compliance with the Convention. The Center and VIVO POSITIVO are asking that the Commission recommend Chile acknowledge the human rights violation; undo the harm done to F.S. and provide her with monetary compensation; and adopt policies that guarantee women living with HIV the freedom to make reproductive health decisions without coercion.