Archive for April, 2009

Another curious reversal in moralizing

Imagine a substance that is relatively new in the public square, but by now so ubiquitous in your society that a great many people find its presence unremarkable. Day in and day out, your own encounters with this substance, whether direct or indirect, are legion. Your exposure is so constant that it rarely even occurs to you to wonder what life might be like without it.

In fact, so common is this substance that you take the status quo for granted, though you’re aware that certain people disagree. A noisy minority of Americans firmly opposes its consumption, and these neo-Puritans try routinely to alert the public to what they claim to be its dangers and risks. Despite this occasional resistance, however, you — like many other people of your time — continue to regard this substance with relative equanimity. You may or may not consume the thing yourself, but even if you don’t, you can’t much see the point of interfering with anyone else’s doing it. Why bother? After all, that particular genie’s out of the bottle.

The scenario sketched in these paragraphs captures two very different moments in recent American history. One is the early 1960s, exactly the moment when tobacco is ubiquitous, roundly defended by interested parties, and widely accepted as an inevitable social fact — and is about to be propelled over the cliff of respectability and down the other side by the surgeon general’s famous 1964 “Report on Smoking and Health.” The resulting social turnaround, though taking decades and unfolding still, has nevertheless been nothing short of remarkable. In 1950, almost half the adult American population smoked; by 2004, just over a fifth did. Though still in common use and still legally available, cigarettes somehow went from being widely consumed and accepted throughout the Western world to nearly universally discouraged and stigmatized — all in the course of a few decades.

Pornography is the single most searched-for item on the internet and also the most profitable.

The other moment in time captured by the opening description is our own, except that the substance under discussion this time around is not tobacco, but pornography — especially internet pornography, which today is just about as ubiquitous, as roundly defended by interested parties, and as widely accepted as an inevitable social fact as smoking was 50-odd years ago.

The ubiquity is plain. Pornography is the single most searched-for item on the internet and also the most profitable. It is referred to knowingly, whether explicitly or with a wink and a nod, in more public venues than one can possibly enumerate — including on phones and in video games and popular music, in comic books and on skateboards, among other areas of juvenile culture. Even the more “serious” quarters of the internet, those devoted to news and politics and general-interest blogs, are riddled with knowing references to pornography. As the protagonist of the recently chic movie Zack and Miri Make a Porno comments, “It’s all mainstream now.”

Today’s prevailing social consensus about pornography is practically identical to the social consensus about tobacco in 1963: i.e., it is characterized by widespread tolerance, tinged with resignation about the notion that things could ever be otherwise. After all, many people reason, pornography’s not going to go away any time soon. Serious people, including experts, either endorse its use or deny its harms or both. Also, it is widely seen as cool, especially among younger people, and this coveted social status further reduces the already low incentive for making a public issue of it. In addition, many people also say that consumers have a “right” to pornography — possibly even a constitutional right. No wonder so many are laissez-faire about this substance. Given the social and political circumstances arrayed in its favor, what would be the point of objecting?

Such is the apparent consensus of the times, and apart from a minority of opponents it appears very nearly bulletproof — every bit as bulletproof, in fact, as the prevailing laissez-faire public view of smoking did in 1963. In fact, just substitute the word “smoking” for that of “pornography” in the paragraph above, and the result works just as well.

And that is exactly the point of our opening thought experiment. Many people today share the notion that today’s unprecedented levels of pornography consumption are somehow fixed, immutable, a natural expression of (largely but not entirely male) human nature. Even people who deplore pornography seem resigned to its exponentially expanded presence in the culture. This is one genie, most people agree, that is out of the bottle for good.1

But this widely held belief, while understandable, overlooks a critical and perhaps potent fact. The example of tobacco shows that one can indeed take a substance to which many people are powerfully drawn and sharply reduce its consumption via a successful revival of social stigma. What might this transformation imply for today’s unprecedented rates of pornography consumption? Perhaps a great deal. For in one realm after another — as a habit, as an industry, as a battleground for competing ideas of the public good — internet pornography today resembles nothing so much as tobacco circa a half-century ago. Let us begin to count the ways.

Introduction to much longer article by Mary Eberstadt – to read go to

Stop Porn Culture is planning our next training on how to present our feminist anti-pornography slideshow.

The training will be held at Wheelock College in Boston on June 5-7, 2009. We are asking for a $50 donation to cover our costs, but this can be waived for those who need it. Limited scholarships for travel and expenses are available (see below). The training will start at 5PM on Friday with a pizza and finger food dinner. We’ll finish up at 1PM on Sunday.

Come and get the experience, knowledge, and confidence to talk publicly against pornography in your community. The training will include some in-depth presentations on topics such as:
-background on the economic industry that is pornography
-First Amendment and other free speech issues
-women in the industry
-the question of “alternate” images

We will also have a long session of practicing Q & As in small groups. The training will end with a session on self-care for presenters and activists since, as many of you know, this work can be grueling.

We may have access to the dorms at Wheelock, which would offer an inexpensive lodging option. If you’d be interested in that, we’ll send you further notification when we hear back from the college.

For more information and a registration form email

* Scholorships

Due to the generosity of an anonymous donor, we are able to offer some scholarship money to participants who otherwise might not be able to come.

We are offering scholarships up to $100, which each participant will be free to apply to whatever expenses (transportation, lodging, etc) she chooses.

Sadly, there will of course be more applicants than scholarships. We are asking applicants to provide the following information so that the registration committee can decide how best to award the scholarships. Please don’t be nervous about grammar and prose; commitment and vision are much more important.

· A history of your activism.
· A list of affiliations and organizations to which you belong.
· A brief statement of what you hope to do with the information gathered at the training.
· The amount you are requesting (up to $100).

Deadline for applications is May 1, 2009. You can expect to hear from us soon after that.

This year, at the United Nations 53rd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the GEAR Campaign launched a global petition (for individuals) calling on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Member States of the General Assembly to create a new, stronger women’s agency that:
* is led by an Under Secretary-General in order to have the status and authority to be a driver on gender issues;
* combines policy making and country level operations to effectively deliver on women’s rights on the ground;
* ensures meaningful involvement of civil society, especially women’s organizations, at all levels.

As a GEAR Campaign signatory, we are calling on you to help us expand our global outreach and make women’s voices heard. Please help us achieve our goal of 10,000 signatures and disseminate this petition to your networks.

Please sign the GEAR Campaign petition by following this link: (link corrected 13th May)

To read the text of the petition in English, French and Spanish, see below.


Civil society, especially women’s organizations, has played an important agenda setting and policy role at the United Nations, assisting the UN and Member States to recognize and address global challenges relating to gender equality and women’s empowerment. Women’s organizations bring years of experience working with women in countries and communities as well as regionally and internationally to advance women’s rights and to improve women’s daily lives. It is critical to build on these experiences by systematically bringing diverse women’s voices into all aspects of the new women’s entity at every level in order to deliver effective results for women on the ground. Therefore, we call on the Secretary-General and Member States to:

(1) Establish a strong, consolidated and ambitiously funded UN entity for women led by an Under Secretary-General that combines policy making and country level operations to effectively deliver on women’s rights on the ground.

(2) Ensure meaningful involvement of civil society, especially women’s organizations, at all levels – global, regional, national and local. At the global level, at least five representatives (one from each region) should be included on the Governing Board of the new women’s entity.


La société civile, en particulier les organisations de femmes, joue un rôle important aux Nations Unies, affectant les décisions politiques et encourageant l’ONU et les pays membres à reconnaître et à répondre aux défis globaux liés à l’égalité des genres et à l’autonomisation des femmes. Les organisations de femmes apportent des années d’expérience professionnelle dans une multitude de pays et de communautés, travaillant avec des femmes au niveau local, ainsi qu’aux niveaux régional et international pour promouvoir les droits des femmes et améliorer leurs vies au quotidien. Il est essentiel de tirer parti de ces expériences en incluant systématiquement diverses perspectives de femmes dans tous les aspects de la nouvelle entité et à tous les niveaux afin de produire des résultats efficaces pour les femmes y compris au niveau local. Par conséquent, nous demandons au Secrétaire Général de l’ONU et aux états membres de:

(1) Créer une entité consolidée au sein de l’ONU consacrée aux femmes. Cette entité devra être dirigée par un-e Secrétaire général-e adjoint-e, qui, en vertu de son rang, aura l’autorité requise pour la représenter et prendre des décisions aux niveaux les plus élevés de l’élaboration des politiques et de l’exécution des programmes. La nouvelle entité devra également disposer de ressources substantielles et être dotée d’une politique et d’un programme dynamiques afin de produire des résultats efficaces pour les femmes y compris au niveau local.

(2) Assurer une participation systématique et transparente de la société civile, en particulier des organisations de femmes, à la création et au suivi de la nouvelle entité créée. Cette participation devra se faire à tous les niveaux – global, régional, national et local. Au niveau global, au moins cinq représentant-e-s (un-e de chaque région) devront participer au sein de l’instance de gouvernance de la nouvelle entité consacrée aux femmes.


La sociedad civil, en particular las organizaciones de mujeres, juega un rol importante en las Naciones Unidas, afectando a las decisiones políticas e impulsando a la ONU y a los países miembros a reconocer y a responder a los desafíos globales en relación a la igualdad de género y al empoderamiento de las mujeres. Las organizaciones de mujeres aportan años de experiencia profesional en muchos países y comunidades, trabajando con las mujeres a nivel local así como a nivel regional e internacional promoviendo los derechos de las mujeres y mejorando la calidad de vida en el cotidiano. Es esencial aprovechar estas experiencias incluyendo sistemáticamente diversas perspectivas de mujeres en todos los aspectos del nuevo organismo y en todos los niveles afín de de recoger resultados eficaces para las mujeres incluso a nivel local. En consecuencia, solicitamos al Secretario General de Naciones Unidas y a los Estados miembro:

(1) Crear un organismo consolidado en el seno de la ONU dedicado a las mujeres. Este organismo deberá ser dirigido por un/a secretaria/o general adjunta/o quien, en virtud de su rango, tendrá la autoridad requerida para representarlo y tomar las decisiones pertinentes en los niveles más elevados de la elaboración de las políticas y de la ejecución de programas. El nuevo organismo deberá igualmente disponer de los recursos sustanciales y estar dotado de una política y un programa dinámicos con el fin de conseguir resultados eficaces para las mujeres incluso a nivel local.

(2) Asegurar una participación sistemática y transparente de la sociedad civil, en particular de las organizaciones de mujeres, en la creación y seguimiento de este organismo. Esta participación deberá efectuarse a todos los niveles – global, regional, nacional y local. En el nivel global, al menos cinco representantes (una/o por cada región) deberán participar en el seno de la instancia de gobierno de este nuevo organismo dedicado a las mujeres.

Please sign and circulate the GEAR Campaign’s petition to build a United Nations that really works for all women!

See also:
* Women Living Under Muslim Laws Demands the UN Resolution on Combating Defamation of Religions be Revoked

A Palestinian woman fleeing her abusive husband in Gaza several weeks ago was stabbed to death by her enraged husband as the terrified woman sought shelter in her parents home.

The unidentified victim was one of the rare statistics which made the headlines and where the police got involved.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the cases don’t go reported for a number of reasons,” Mashoor Basissy, the director of The Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) in the central West Bank city of Ramallah, told IPS.

Dima Nashashibi, the deputy-director of the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) in Ramallah which helps domestic violence victims added, “The subject of domestic violence in Palestinian society is largely repressed and not openly discussed.”

“Furthermore, there is a lack of accountability partly because of the legal system here which is primed against the women from the start,” Nashashibi told IPS.

There are no laws against domestic violence, but only general assault laws. Rape within marriage is not considered a crime and so-called honour killings carry the maximum sentence of six months in the very few cases where perpetrators are apprehended and brought to justice.

“Not only is there a lot of shame involved but there is basically very little societal support for these women should they try to take the matter further,” Nashashibi told IPS.

The situation is particularly dire in the Gaza Strip where there are no shelters for battered women. Furthermore, according to a recent report by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Gaza, various NGOs and experts in the field, domestic violence perpetrated against Palestinian women has risen rapidly this year.

Manal Awad, director of the women’s empowerment project at the Gaza Community Health Programme (GCHP) stated that reports of domestic violence had spiked since the Israeli military assault earlier this year.

“The occupation and the siege are major factors,” Awad told IPS. “Men in our patriarchal society are regarded as the heads of the household.

“Because many men who used to be employed in Israel lost their jobs they feel emasculated and frustrated, and the easiest way to take out their anger and frustration is on women, who are the weakest part of our society.”

The true figures of domestic violence are hard to ascertain as the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics (PBS) has not been able to carry out a comprehensive follow-up survey since its last survey figures were released in early 2007 before Hamas took control of Gaza by force.

The Islamic resistance organisation Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, while the more secular and western-backed PA, affiliated with the Fatah movement, controls the West Bank.

According to PBS figures 24 percent of women in the West Bank had experienced physical abuse while 12 percent were subjected to sexual abuse. For the Gaza Strip the figures were 23 percent and 10 percent respectively

According to WCLAC, 48 Palestinian women and girls fell victim to honour killings between 2004 and 2006. The youngest victim was 12 and the oldest 85. Basissy said many more women have been seriously injured and hospitalised.

WCLAC was established in 1991 in Jerusalem. “We started off by providing women with counselling and legal advice only… It was apparent to us that change needed to be effected at the legal and political levels to make a real difference. We began by making amendments to the gender-based discriminatory laws which were put into a draft and presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC),” Nashashibi told IPS.

“Due to the political upheaval here the PLC has ceased operations until the situation becomes more stable. In the interim we are focusing our efforts on lobbying and advocacy,” said Nashashibi.

WCLAC wants a number of laws changed. Honour killings should be regarded as murder, abortions should be legal or at the very least be available in cases of rape and incest. Improved protection laws and apprehended violence orders are also imperative, added Nashashibi.

Documenting violence against women from social and political perspectives is also part of WCLAC’s agenda. A sub-category of this includes harassment of Palestinian women by Israeli soldiers.

“We are currently undertaking several surveys of women in both Gaza and the West Bank in relation to the Israeli invasion and the occupation and how they think this has effected them,” explained Nashashibi.

After the surveys are completed WCLAC plans to hand them over to various NGOs and UN committees dealing with violence against women as a basis for implementing further changes which empower women.

Apart from running an emergency shelter for battered women, WCLAC also holds courses regularly for the Palestinian police making them more sensitive to domestic violence issues. The police are also provided with procedure and policy guide lines.

“Their response has been overwhelmingly positive… Now many understand that violence against women is unacceptable. They also understand why some women kill their abusers. In fact they are now turning to us for advice on dealing with other female prisoners too,” Nashashibi said.

See also:
* In Gaza Policewomen Get Back to Starting Out
* ‘Women Are Not Equals in Our Society’ interview with the Director of the Palestinian Authority

The UN Inter-Agency Gender Task Force (IAGTF), a mechanism for integrating gender concerns into UN policies and programmes, on 23 April published the results of a household survey on the needs and perceptions of men and women in the aftermath of Israel’s recent 23-day military offensive in Gaza.

The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews with 1,100 adult men and women across the Gaza Strip in the first week of March 2009. IAGTF is led by the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Psychological trauma was consistently rated as a main concern by respondents regardless of gender, region, or social group, and psychosocial services were deemed to be a critical need, like food and water, according to the survey.

“We have to help ourselves recover from the images and memories of the war,” said Iptihal, (she declined to giver her family name), aged 24, a public relations officer for a heritage organisation in Gaza City. “Counselling is not readily available; we only have one psychiatric hospital, and it is not socially acceptable to seek psychological treatment.”

Iptihal said she was most affected by her inability to help others near her who had suffered and died.

With increased stress and limited access to psycho-social services, one emerging problem is self-medication with unsupervised pharmaceutical therapies, the survey said.

Medical professionals and pharmacists in Gaza reported an increase in self-medication with behaviour control substances during and post-conflict in Gaza.

Relief efforts in Gaza have intensified post-conflict, although 85 percent of men and 88 percent of women surveyed reported that they had not been involved in any consultation on the planning or design of humanitarian assistance in their community.

Women involved in planning relief overwhelmingly reported it was a male-dominated effort.

UNIFEM believes the survey could be used as a tool for implementing gender-responsive aid programmes.

Some 60 percent of respondents said they had received food aid since the end of the war, although about half of the recipients expressed dissatisfaction with the assistance, stating it was insufficient or inappropriate to their needs.

About 20 percent of households said boys’ needs were prioritised when there was a food shortage, and elderly men and women were most at risk of not getting adequate food.

The Israeli offensive – ostensibly in retaliation for continued Hamas rocket-fire from Gaza into Israel – began on 27 December 2008 and ended on 18 January.

Interview with Yifat Susskind, communications director with MADRE, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Afghan women, long excluded from any public role, have become more visible in recent days. Legislation regulating family life for the nation’s Shiite minority was passed by the Afghan legislature and signed into law by President Hamid Karzai, even though critics — both Afghan women and foreign heads of state — said the law essentially legalized rape within marriage. Karzai has for the moment blocked implementation of the law. To emphasize their opposition, hundreds of women marched in Kabul in mid-April — standing up to insults and physical attacks from outraged Afghan men.

Last month, a group of Afghan women organized several thousand of their sisters to publicly mark International Women’s Day on March 8 with a nationwide strike. However, a key women’s rights activist, Sitara Achakzai, a member of Kandahar’s provincial council, was murdered on April 12. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Yifat Susskind, communications director with the U.S.-based women’s rights organization, MADRE, which is about to launch a campaign to protect the rights of Afghan women activists. She discusses MADRE’s opposition to President Barack Obama’s deployment of an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and MADRE’s views on negotiating with the Taliban.

Contact MADRE by calling (212) 627-0444 or visit their website at

Listen via RealAudio:

See also:
* New Law Threatens Women’s Freedom in Afghanistan
* Five million children not in school in Afghanistan

Yesterday was a day to go down in history. It was the day that Hillary Clinton broke the political sound barrier.

It was the day that someone, finally, after many years of dissembling by so many, stood up to the perpetual hot air balloon that is Congressman Chris Smith and revealed that he has no more power in the face of facts than did the fabled Emperor with no clothes.

It was the day Clinton spoke the truth and thereby shattered the myth that has existed for so long that we could talk about family planning, reproductive health, women’s rights, women’s health or even human rights, and not say the word “abortion.” It was a day in which the issue of safe abortion services as a fundamental component of women’s health and rights was put back on the US foreign policy table.

To Smith’s question as to whether the Obama Administration would be seeking to “overturn pro-life laws” in Africa and Latin America, Clinton replied firmly and without apology:

We have a very fundamental disagreement and it is my strongly held view that you are entitled to advocate and everyone who agrees with you should be free to do so anywhere in the world, and so are we.

We [the Obama Administration] happen[s] to think that family planning is an important part of women’s health and reproductive health includes access to abortion, that I believe should be safe, legal and rare.

Clinton’s statement was certainly the most courageous a Secretary of State–or any Administration official–has ever made on reproductive rights and one of the most courageous statements made by a Secretary of State of any kind, on any issue, ever, because it was made in the face of over 20 years of political silence on the issue. And it was made about an issue made increasingly taboo by the very stigma and silence that people like Smith have worked so hard to perpetuate.

For longer than I personally can remember, a highly vocal but small minority of far right wingers have used McCarthy-esque tactics to silence an entire conversation about women, women’s rights, and their health, to marginalize the issue of safe abortion, and to use misinformation about abortion to smear the basic services that would reduce the unintended pregnancies that lead so many women to seek an abortion in the first place. The very bloviation practiced by the far right wing and the complicity in the media that failed to examine their claims and campaigns made them seem more powerful–in fact made them more powerful–than they really were in any sense of numbers. And they twisted the very concept of “pro-life” to mean anything but saving the lives of women.

Smith, the leader of the bully pack on this issue has throughout his career used the abortion issue as a wedge whenever he could, to limit access to family planning services and to limit access to life-saving prevention services under US global AIDS policy.

And during that time, in the face of the far right juggernaut-that-was-not, the reproductive health community was increasingly silent about abortion in international policy. Some even sought to play down the inclusion of access to safe abortion as a primary aspect of reproductive health care and women’s rights as part of a political strategy, even when consistent losses in funding for services not including abortion showed that playing down this issue was not going to bring us any closer to universal access to basic family planning services. This further empowered people like Smith, as did the failure by AIDS advocates to stand up to his bullying tactics on prevention of sexual transmission of HIV and AIDS. Remember the Wizard of Oz was only “all-powerful” until someone finally drew back the curtain.

Yesterday, Clinton swung it wide open, and made the exclusion of abortion as an issue a moot point, hopefully for all time. This leads us well beyond the lifting of the global gag rule because it makes possible a conversation about the various restrictions within US policy that restrict women’s rights to access safe abortion services and it puts back on the table how those restrictions actually increase, rather than reduce the number of abortions worldwide.

In taking on the bully in the schoolyard, Clinton revealed once again that a bully is only as powerful as we allow him to be.

She spoke truth to power. And in doing so, she gave voice to those who have none in this debate. Each year, more than 600,000 women, according to what can only be described as conservative estimates, die of causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Each year, more than 75,000 of those deaths, according to those same conservative estimates, are caused by complications of unsafe abortion. Each year, countless children are left without mothers due to maternal mortality. Each year, women seek desperately to avoid a pregnancy they can not afford and have been left without basic services. Each year an increasing number of women become infected by HIV through unprotected sex that could be prevented by effective programming.

Secretary Clinton spoke for all of them and more.

Now, and going forward, thanks to Secretary Clinton, the real conversation can be had, and the real work to secure the rights of women and families to determine their own fate can be carried out.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and hopefully for years to come as Secretary of State, Clinton is and will be a heroine to women throughout the world and a path-breaking leader in an Administration that continues to make history.

See also: US Shows the World it is a New Day in its Support for Universal Access to Sexual and Reproductive Health/Rights

A bias in favor of male offspring has left China with 32 million more boys under the age of 20 than girls, creating “an imminent generation of excess men,” according to a study released last week.

For the next 20 years, China will have increasingly more men than women of reproductive age, according to the paper, which was published online by the British Medical Journal. “Nothing can be done now to prevent this,” the researchers said.

Chinese government planners have long known that the urge of couples to have sons was skewing the gender balance of the population. But the study, by two Chinese university professors and a London researcher, provides some of the first hard data on the extent of the disparity and the factors contributing to it.

In 2005 , they found, births of boys in China exceeded births of girls by more than 1.1 million. There were 120 boys born for every 100 girls.

This disparity seems to surpass that of any other country, they said — a finding, they wrote, that was perhaps unsurprising in light of China’s one-child policy.

They attributed the imbalance almost entirely to couples’ decisions to abort female fetuses.

The trend toward more male than female children intensified steadily after 1986, they said, as ultrasound tests and abortion became more available. “Sex-selective abortion accounts for almost all the excess males,” the paper said.

The researchers, who analyzed data from a 2005 census, said the disparity was widest among children ages 1 to 4, a sign that the greatest imbalances among the adult population lie ahead. They also found more distortion in provinces that allow rural couples a second child if the first is a girl, or in cases of hardship.

Those couples were determined to ensure they had at least one son, the researchers noted. Among children born second, there were 143 boys for 100 girls, the data showed.

The Chinese government is openly concerned “about the consequences of large numbers of excess men for social stability and security,” the researchers said.

But “although some imaginative and extreme solutions have been suggested,” they wrote, China will have too many men for a generation to come.

They said enforcing the ban against sex-selective abortions could normalize the sex ratio in the future.

The study was conducted by Wei Xingzhu, a Zhejiang Normal University professor; Li Lu, a Zhejiang University professor; and Therese Hesketh, a University College London lecturer.

* Report: China’s Excess Males, Sex Selective Abortion and One Child Policy (pdf from

In Sierra Leone village chiefs, community members and women who perform female genital cutting have signed an agreement stating that girls in northern Kambia district will not undergo genital mutilation – or ‘cutting’ – before age 18.

The number of girls being cut during the December 2008-January 2009 initiation season in Kambia dropped drastically, according to Finda Fraser, advocacy coordinator at local non-profit Advocacy Movement Network (AMNet), which runs a ‘Say No to Child Bondo’ campaign in the district.

Most Sierra Leonean girls – the World Health Organization estimates 94 percent – are initiated at puberty into ‘Bondo’, also known as the Sande Secret Society. As part of the rite, a woman known as a ‘sowei’ in the Mende language cuts the clitoris and prepares the girl for adulthood through singing, dancing and teaching domestic skills. For the initiation girls spend up to three months in the bush.

Anti-FGM/C campaigner John Marah, chairman of NaMEP, a network of Sierra Leone-based NGOs, told IRIN: “We are against just the cutting, not the training. You can still have a rite of passage. It’s just a change of mentality.”

Given how deeply embedded genital cutting is in Sierra Leonean culture, many activists say banning the rite would not be feasible in the country. But they say raising the age of cutting and giving girls a choice could reduce the numbers.

While there is no law against FGM/C in Sierra Leone, the 2007 child rights law forbids any practice that “dehumanises or is injurious to the physical and mental welfare of a child”; many activists see FMG/C as falling within that definition.

Amnesty International in Bombali district in the east and the non-profit Amazonian Initiative Movement (AIM) in Port Loko in the north are also working with communities to raise the age for cutting and so giving girls a choice.

Putting off the initiation ritual could also reduce early marriage and pregnancy, said Thomas Karu, chairman of the school management committee in Makuma village, Bombali district, 130km from the capital Freetown. Once initiated, girls are considered fully grown women, so they often fall pregnant or marry and inevitably drop out of school.

“Before we had early marriages and child pregnancies,” said Karu. “Now children are waiting until they are 18 to be initiated and marry, and even then [they do it only] if they are willing…We are happy because now they complete their studies.”

Many girls fall pregnant after being cut, and teenage pregnancy is the leading cause of school drop-outs among Sierra Leonean girls in some districts, says Ramatu Kanu, deputy director of education for Bombali district.

Persuading villagers to put off initiation takes a lot of time and a lot of talk, says AMNet’s Fraser. And such talk is unusual given that the Bondo society has traditionally been highly secretive.

“The number of girls being initiated is not down yet across the country but it is positive that there is discussion now, which allows people who have doubts about FGM/C to speak out,” Rosina Conteh, UNICEF child protection officer, told IRIN. UNICEF supports a number of organisations fighting FGM/C in the country.

But these discussions will work only if community leaders do not feel judged or condemned says Gloria Bella, gender and child rights manager at the government’s Human Rights Commission.

“Community leaders feel that [initiation] is their culture, they feel offended by lobbyists, and don’t listen…We need to listen to their fears and try to allay them, and make sure they know we are not coming in to challenge traditional authority.”

Discussion is most effective when it centres on how children’s lives could be improved because their mothers are being empowered, says Bella.

Raising the initiation age to 18 might be a way of eliminating FGM/C, according to Karu, who says by that age many young women will choose not to be initiated. He says this would also save communities money. Initiation costs around US$100 per girl, says AIM’s Rugiatu Neneh Turay, in a country where the UN Development Programme estimates the average salary is US$2 per day.

Makuma families saved money in the last initiation season. “Instead we used the money to buy seeds and fertilizers for our market garden,” said Karu.

However, soweis risk losing their livelihoods. AIM has offered to retrain 1,500 soweis in other trades in Port Loko once it has raised enough money for the training. So far the group has persuaded 55 women in Port Loko to stop cutting.

France launched a new campaign to warn potential victims of forced marriages and female genital mutilation with stark posters and booklets showing a wedding ring made of barbed wire.

France is home to an estimated 55,000 victims of female genital mutilation, mostly of African origin, and some 70,000 young women who are at risk of being forced into marriage, government officials said at a news conference.

“In both cases, neither tradition nor custom can justify calling into question fundamental rights,” Solidarity Minister Valerie Letard said.

In a struggle to protect human rights while respecting the values of immigrant communities, European governments have ramped up efforts to protect young women of Asian, Middle Eastern or African descent who are lured abroad and married off.

Victims of genital mutilation are often children of primary school age, who are subjected to the ordeal during family holidays, activists told the news conference.

France’s government plans to distribute more than 100,000 booklets providing legal and medical advice and contacts for victims as well as doctors, teachers and social workers.

A booklet with a crossed-out red razor blade warned of the potentially lethal impact of genital mutilation, during which the clitoris and other parts of the vagina are removed.

“The booklets are useful for people who can read and write, but the majority of parents I talk to are illiterate,” Khady Koita, head of the European network against female genital mutilation, told Reuters.

Koita uses videos and drawings to show parents the dangers of the operation, which is meant to ensure a woman’s chastity and improve her chances of finding a husband.

“Over the past few years, their reaction has become more positive. Many parents now say, ‘I don’t do it anymore, but my problem is that when I go back to Africa there is a lot of social pressure’,” Koita said.

Other activists urged the government to provide secure shelters for women who flee forced marriages. They said it should be mandatory for women’s rights to be taught in schools, adding the issue is often avoided for fear of offending France’s ethnic minorities.

In France, forced marriages are illegal and can be annulled even if they were registered abroad. Registrars are encouraged to look for signs a marriage is not consensual and stop the ceremony if they suspect the bride was forced into it.

Campaigners in Romania have very effectively used the media to break the public silence around the issue of domestic violence against women, and lobby for changes in laws.

Over many weeks, public interest ads featuring celebrities, both male and female, from the world of music and the electronic media, with artificial bruises and scars, have been telecast on many TV channels and discussed in the press and on blogs.

The images, created to shock audiences into understanding that this aggression is not “normal”, were from a photo exhibition that opened in Bucharest on Mar. 25 and closed on Apr. 8. The main organiser was Foundation Sensiblu, a charity.

In another well-publicised effort, the Center for Independent Journalism in Bucharest, with financial help from private companies and charities, organised public debates on domestic violence.

“The campaigns against domestic violence run by civil society and the public sector have been going on for longer but they only became visible to the public recently,” remarks Cristina Horia, executive director of the Sensiblu Foundation.

In an interview with IPS, she explains: “What is happening now is the media has started to pay attention to the campaigns, and this is partly because activist organisations have refined their techniques to attract coverage and raise awareness.”

“Unfortunately, the involvement of state institutions with these campaigns remains limited,” she adds. “They play the role of either supporters or partners, but do not really initiate campaigns.”

In many Romanian families, violence against women is still seen as “normal”.

A study conducted last year in spring by the Centre for Urban and Regional Sociology (CURS), in Bucharest, revealed that over 21 percent of women have faced assault, either in their current relationships or in the past.

A staggering 63 percent of women abused at home said the violence took place regularly and in multiple forms, from physical abuse and even sexual violence, to denigration and verbal humiliation.

The study showed that 55 percent of the women who are victims of domestic violence continue to live with their aggressive partners, and the main reason for this is that women consider domestic violence as “normal problems for a family” (the justification given by 26 percent of the women who continue in abusive relationships).

A law to counter domestic violence was passed by Romanian parliament in 2003, but the National Coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations Involved in Programmes Against Domestic Violence is now lobbying to have it amended in several areas.

“The law is there, but it does not help either victims or organisations active in the field too much,” says Horia. “The most serious problem is related to its implementation. Since 2003, we have seen only one case where the provisions of the law were applied fully against the aggressor.”

A serious legal loophole, according to activists, is the lack of a restraining order against abusers. The police, as a result, cannot intervene. They have no authority to enter a home without the approval of its owner, which in most cases in Romania is the abusive man.

According to information provided by Foundation Sensiblu, a proposal to provide for restraining orders was included in the 2003 law, but it was shot down by the legislative, which claimed, “Romanian society is not ready for this”.

Under the law, victims of domestic abuse and their children are entitled to reside in shelters between 7 and 60 days, and, during this time, receive counselling and legal help. Both state and private institutions have run several pilot projects for shelters.

NGOs have been campaigning for more shelters, and that these be located in both rural and urban areas.

Yet another stumbling block is the cumbersome process of obtaining a medical-legal certificate to prove the holder is a victim of domestic abuse. At present, the document costs close to 50 lei, almost 20 euros in a country where average incomes barely go over 300 euros per month.

A survey of 400 female victims of domestic violence, conducted in October 2008 by the National Institute for Legal Medicine Mina Minovici in Bucharest, revealed that only half were willing to admit to abuse; a mere 50 had persevered to complete the necessary formalities to claim shelter and counselling, and just one of the 400 cases had taken legal action against the aggressor.

“The procedure of getting the certificate is (just) the last hurdle …,” family therapist Crenguta Vlas, who works with abused women and their children in Brasov county, says. “The biggest obstacles are psychological … fear of the aggressor and the shame the victim feels,” she told IPS in an interview.

Vlas wants to see a simpler legal process that leaves the victim with more time and energy to deal with the trauma.

Still, activists are hopeful that 2009 may turn out to be a breakthrough year for their struggle. The planned amendments to the 2003 law are coming up for discussion in parliament this year.

In the southern municipality Olt, the local council started last fall to reimburse women for the costs of the medical-legal certificates. With local governments in charge of domestic violence cases under the 2003 law, other municipalities are being urged to replicate the Olt model.

The best news so far: Romanian media has assertively exposed the public to the taboo issue of domestic violence.

The claim has been made by an international human rights group that visited New Zealand last year and compiled a report on how the country deals with domestic violence.

The report*, issued in Wellington by the Leitner Centre for International Law and Justice at New York’s Fordham Law School, considers violence against women in the light of New Zealand’s commitments under international law, and recommends significant changes in policy approaches.

The report, “It’s Not OK”, finds that too often protection orders are not served or enforced. In several cases, it says, offenders have been bailed to the address of a victim who has a protection order against them.

Assistant commissioner Grant Nicholls says, however, that the police are committed to the investigation, attendance and prosecution of family violence, and that they’ve put a lot of effort into upskilling staff to understand the complexities of such situations.

He says specialist family violence coordinators are astounded by claims that some areas refuse to serve protection orders.

While acknowledging the efforts made in recent years to tackle domestic violence, the centre is also critical of a lack of data, having found no figures on the enforcement of protection orders.

The researcher who headed the Leitner Centre’s delegation to New Zealand, Jorge Contesse, says that the way this country deals with domestic violence does not take human rights law into account.

In the light of the report a local group, the Roundtable on Violence Against Women, has called for an integrated plan of action that addresses the links between all forms of violence against women.

“The recommendations support what community groups have been saying for a long time – services are underfunded, more support is needed for Maori to address violence against women and children, and we don’t have enough good evidence about what interventions work best in this country,” says spokesperson Ruth Herbert.

Urging the Government to adopt the recommendations, Ms Herbert says the centre’s report “puts us in the international spotlight regarding our efforts to protect women and children – and clearly there is a lot of room for improvement”.

Listen to Kathryn Ryan’s interview with Jorge Contesse on Nine to Noon

* “It’s not OK”: New Zealand’s Efforts to Eliminate Violence Against Women (PDF download)

It was once widely assumed that children were better off with their mothers, especially after divorce. In part, that was because mothers did most of the child-rearing. They got pregnant, gave birth and did most of the heavy lifting – nappy changes, toilet-training and school pick-ups – as the children got older.

The role played by fathers, for many years, was assumed to be mainly financial: he was the breadwinner and often the person who provided the discipline.

Things have changed. This week, The Australian reported on an extraordinary Family Court decision – in the sense that it was completely out of the ordinary – to remove two children who had been living with their mother in Tasmania since their parents separated in 2005 and send them to live with their father and his girlfriend in Melbourne. There was no suggestion of physical abuse or neglect in the case known as Irish and Michelle (2009).

The facts are this: The couple separated in 2005; the father met a woman and moved to Melbourne to be with her in 2006; his children (a daughter, then aged six, and a son, then four) stayed with their mother in a Tasmanian country town. The mother – known in court documents as Ms Michelle – reorganised her working day so she could spend more time with the children. She had a limited income (less than $500 a week) but the father didn’t earn much more (he works as a firefighter and makes about $50,000 a year, minus child support for two children).

The mother has a house with a front garden and a back yard for the children to play, and they live next door to their grandparents, who help out. Her father is a well-known, successful Tasmanian businessman.

The children’s father – known in court documents as Mr Irish – works shifts: four days on, four days off, and often through the night. He has always had access to his children, but recently the change-overs had become difficult. He would turn up in Tasmania to take the children for holidays, and they would say: “I don’t want to go” or “I don’t have to go”. On one occasion, witnessed by a child psychologist, the girl tried to climb out of his car window rather than go with him for a weekend. The father believed his relationship with the children was being eroded, that his daughter, now nine, was becoming estranged from him, and that their mother was responsible for these problems. He took the case to the Family Court and, to the utter shock and devastation of the mother, who has been the primary carer of the children all their lives, he won.

Justice Robert Benjamin accepted the court-appointed lawyer’s evidence that “both children have consistently maintained that they wish to continue living with their mother”.

“They have a close and intimate relationship with the mother and want to be with her,” the psychologist said. “They identify their mother as their primary emotional support. As much as the children enjoy spending time with their father, both the children verbalised that they become distressed and miss their mother when they are separated from her.”

But he also believed that the girl, in particular, did not understand how important it would be, in later life, to have a relationship with her father.

He said the child, known as B, was becoming emotionally estranged from her father and “either suffered, or was at risk of suffering, serious psychological damage if not psychiatric damage” if the mother didn’t encourage her to have a relationship with her father.

There was nothing in the judgment to suggest the mother had denigrated the father, only that she hadn’t encouraged a good relationship between the children and their father. The girl told her court counsellor that she didn’t like that her father had left the family and now had a new girlfriend, whom she didn’t like either.

But Benjamin made the decision to move the children with amendments to the Family Law Act in mind. These amendments, colloquially known as the “shared parenting” provisions, were introduced by the Howard government in 2006. They say that children “have the right to know and be cared for by both parents, regardless of whether their parents are married, separated, have never been married or have never lived together”.

Children also have a “right to spend time on a regular basis with, and communicate on a regular basis with, both their parents”.

The case of Irish and Michelle suggests that mothers must now encourage their children to have a good relationship with the father; they must facilitate access; and they aren’t allowed to talk down the father. If they do, the children will be removed from their full-time care.

Wayne Butler, president of the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, established in 2002 by fathers frustrated at the perceived bias of the Family Court, says the decision “has given us hope. There’s a feeling now that if you want a substantial amount of contact with your children, you should wait and go to the Family Court because there is a good chance you’ll get it. We strongly believe that children need a relationship with their father. There’s a whole change in society’s view of a father and that’s being reflected in the Family Court.”

That view isn’t being encouraged by Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant, who told The Australian yesterday that Irish and Michelle shouldn’t be read “as a marker for anything”. “I’ve read the judgment closely and it seems to me that the judge took into account what the experts said, which is that the children, especially the girl, were at risk of psychological harm if they stayed with their mother. Some people won’t agree with the decision.” She noted that the mother could appeal within 30 days. Bryant promotes a view of the court as bias-free and transparent. She authorised the release of data on court orders made since the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parenting) Act came into force. The data isn’t comparative – that is, it doesn’t say whether fathers are now likelier to get access than they were before the amendments – but the Shared Parenting Council’s Jim Carter says the data is nevertheless “encouraging for fathers and their children” because it shows that fathers are likelier to get substantial access to their children if they go to the Family Court than if they negotiate directly with their former wives.

“The situation since 2006 is that 17 per cent of fathers were granted primary care of their children and another 15 per cent were granted equal parenting time,” Carter says. “That’s a total of 32 per cent of fathers in litigated cases (getting substantial access).”

Mothers still get the bulk of the orders in their favour – 60 per cent get primary care of their children – but the Shared Parenting Council suggests that fathers who want “substantial access” to their children after divorce go to court because there is a reasonable chance they’ll get it.

At a Senate estimates hearing on February 23, Family First senator Steve Fielding asked the chief executive of the Family Court, Richard Foster, about the amendments and he, too, was told there had been “a change in the orders that impact specifically on fathers”.

Bryant says the data shows that fathers were given residence (or full-time custody) of the children in 19 per cent of litigated cases in 1999-2000, compared with 17 per cent of cases after 2006, “so that’s actually gone down”.

“We can speculate as to why. I think what’s happened is that, rightly or wrongly, there was a prevailing view that orders were likely to favour mothers, and fathers would only litigate when they thought they had a good case,” Bryant says. “It’s possible that view has changed, so more (men) might litigate.”

The number of orders for shared parenting is certainly up, from 6 per cent to 15 per cent, which means fathers get at least equal access in 32 per cent of the cases.

Women’s groups are worried about the perceived new direction of the court. An online petition, started last month, has gathered 2300 signatures, and a coalition of women’s groups will host rallies in all states next month, to highlight the plight of women whose children have been killed by their ex-partners on access visits. Victims of crime will speak, wearing red hoods over their faces, to circumvent laws that make it a crime to identify any party to a Family Court matter. Organiser Barbara Biggs says: “Our speakers have children who were killed after bad Family Court decisions. Some of them are very well known, with the cases all over the media already, but they can’t be identified because that’s a breach of the Family Law Act.”

On publishing the Irish and Michelle story, The Australian received many calls from fathers who intend to try the Family Court system again. One such father, who hasn’t seen his 12-year-old girl for two years, despite there being a Family Court order for access in place, says: “I’m supposed to see her this Easter but the orders were made in her absence. (The mother) doesn’t show up for court. She doesn’t acknowledge the orders. She has changed her telephone number so she can’t be reached.”

The couple separated when the child was five. “For a few years after that, I got good access. That changed when I got remarried. It dwindled away to nothing. When I read that case (Irish and Michelle) I thought: ‘That’s exactly what happened to me.’ My daughter started to say: ‘I don’t want to see you’ and ‘I hate you’, and of course that’s not the case. We had a good relationship. I would try to speak to her on the phone and maybe I’d get her when her mother was in the shower, but she’d say: ‘I can’t talk to you. I’ve got to go.”‘

At the other extreme are women such as Kelly, a mother and a lawyer from Queensland, who was amazed when the court ordered a 50-50 custody arrangement with her ex-partner even though he’d been convicted of assaulting her.

“The lawyers kept saying: ‘It has to be 50-50,”‘ she says. “He assaulted me when I was holding (the baby), but they say that’s not the same as assaulting the baby, so the court says he isn’t hurting the child. They said I had no choice under the new laws to hand the baby over one week on, one week off.”,28124,25275814-17044,00.html

Emanuela Heyninck, pay equity commissioner of Ontario, speaks out against a threatened erosion of wage rights for Canadian women in traditionally female occupations.

Canadians have President Barack Obama to thank for raising awareness about equal pay and gender wage discrimination.

By passing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act early in his administration, Obama extended the period during which an employee may file pay discrimination claims. That should strengthen the anti-discrimination provisions of the Equal Pay Act, which says female workers should be paid the same as male workers for the same work.

In Canada, we have a different wage-justice standard. It’s called pay equity, which is equal pay for work of equal value. Pay equity recognizes that women and men tend to work at different jobs, and that women’s work has historically been undervalued.

However, it is worrisome that Canada’s support for pay equity may be eroding with the introduction of a recent law, just as the United States is doing more for equal pay.

Ontario’s Pay Equity Act, passed in 1987, goes far beyond laws such as the Equal Pay Act in many ways.

It requires that jobs traditionally done by women, such as secretaries, be evaluated and compared to jobs usually done by men, such as service technicians, using a gender-neutral comparison system. If the value of the secretary and the service technician job classes are about the same, the jobs must be paid the same.

There is no federal pay equity law in the United States even though all developed countries are signatories to pay-equity conventions that, since the 1950s, have called it a human right. Gender-equity advocates in the United States are beginning to raise the banner of pay-equity.

But here in Canada, the federal government may be weakening its commitment to female wages with its recent law to “modernize” pay equity for public sector employees.

Several key aspects and mechanisms of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act–part of the government’s 2009 budget implementation bill–fuel our concern.

First, the act never uses the words “pay equity” nor does it talk about systemic discrimination. Instead, it refers to an unknown and undefined concept of “equitable compensation.”

Second, pay equity works by comparing the value of female dominant jobs to male dominant jobs — yet there is no definition of male dominant jobs in the proposed act.

Finally, the bill introduces “market forces” as a basis for job assessment.

From an anti-discrimination point of view, this is not good news. Market forces have tended to undervalue women’s labor force activities. Gender segregation of women in “pink” collar jobs, and the arrangement of paid employment and care-giving work–inside and outside of the market–contribute to this undervaluation. Introducing market forces may reinforce rather than challenge gender-based inequalities that arose from the market in the first place.

Ontario’s Pay Equity Commission is responsible for the enforcement and implementation of one of the most progressive laws on pay equity in the country.

Our law covers all public employers and all private employers with more than 10 employees. In other provinces, only the public sector is covered, or non-legislative approaches are applied. The exception is Quebec, where the pay equity legislation is similar to that of Ontario.

Our office investigates and resolves complaints of alleged contraventions and we routinely monitor businesses for compliance. We also conduct free seminars and provide extensive educational materials for employers, unions and employees. Quebec provides similar functions.

Hopefully, the government’s “modernization” law won’t turn the clocks back on all of this.

Emanuela Heyninck is Ontario’s Pay Equity Commissioner.

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

See also: US Unions Get Family Friendly Online Advice
As union members face growing financial stress, some expect contract negotiators to intensify the push for family-friendly benefits. A Web site launched earlier this month is there to help. …

As the economic crisis continues to worsen, with capitalism unable to stop the spiral towards a global depression that will plunge millions into poverty, women will experience the negative consequences more rapidly and with more severity. While the ruling class — owners of banks, corporations and also governments — search for ways to make workers pay rather than pay with their own profits, women are among the oppressed groups who make the easiest, and therefore primary, target for cutbacks.

In Australia, the cutbacks at the expense of women are only just beginning to come to light. It is now likely that the May federal budget will lack the maternity leave scheme that has been demanded by women and community groups for years. Access to paid maternity leave would mean greater financial independence for women, but is a right that is currently denied to more than half of Australia’s women workers.

An OECD study in 2000 showed that many women who take time off work to raise children remain financially disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. Holding the economic crisis up as a shield, Rudd has swiftly backed away from his statement late last year that the government would implement a universal paid parental leave scheme.

The Australian Trades and Labour Council has also retreated on the issue, hiding behind the economic crisis and suggesting a “compromise” position of phasing in a scheme over a number of years to avoid “sending the budget into deeper deficit”, according to the March 3 Australian.

Ideally, fully funded child care would be an alternative. However, the economic crisis is increasingly being used in government back-pedalling and child care suffered one of the first blows of the crisis. Privately owned super-monopoly, ABC Learning Centres, went into voluntary receivership in November last year, displacing thousands of children. The option now, women will be told, is to take responsibility for child care within the home, at the expense of their working lives.

Unemployment and increasing conditions of poverty will also come down hard on women. Globally, the International Labour Organisation has projected an unemployment rate between 6.3% and 7.1%. Yet the global unemployment rate for women is expected to reach 7.4% (compared to 7% for men) or 22 million women worldwide.

In Australia, ABN chief economist Amro Kieran Davies expects unemployment to climb to 8% by the end of the year. For women — who comprise the majority of low-wage, casual earners with less social protection — the deteriorating economy will mean the disproportionate effect of unemployment soon becomes a reality.

These trends are running parallel with both covert and explicit attacks on women’s rights in the workplace. Howard’s Work Choices and now Rudd’s Fair Work Act — “Work Choices-lite” — mean that women have even less ability to organise for their rights as workers. The pay gap between men and women — where, over a lifetime, women will earn 77 cents of the male dollar — will inevitably increase, as wages and conditions are now harder to fight for. All of these conditions, as they grow worse, will compound into a situation that progressive women and feminists have been fighting against for decades: financial dependency and women becoming trapped in their circumstances. “Women’s lower employment rates, weaker control over property and resources, concentration in informal and vulnerable forms of employment with lower earnings, and less social protection, all place women in a weaker position than men to weather crises”, ILO Bureau for Gender Equality director Jane Hodges said in March.

The reality, she said, is that “women may cope by engaging in working longer hours or by taking multiple low-income jobs but still having to maintain unpaid care commitments”. This is just what happened throughout the Great Depression.

During the Great Depression, women’s workload actually increased. The continuing mantra of “making ends meet” and also “keeping up the family morale” as hard times hit became a burden that rested mostly on women. When the depression plunged one-third of Australian men into unemployment, women were called upon to work harder — as homemakers, guardians and protectors of the family.

The result was a profound strengthening in the ideology of the family and suppression of any chance for women to take advantage of the economic turmoil and see the crisis of the system as a chance to make more permanent change. Now, the same thing is happening. Government leaders and media have already begun to churn through the values and cultural leverage that pressures women into the home. The same thing can be seen universally across the sections of Australia fearing the effects of the crisis: rather than radicalising and seeking to seriously challenge the system, people are being told to put their heads down and “work through the crisis”, putting the burden largely on women to implement this strategy.

Because the system is sexist, when the system begins to fail it is women who will suffer the most. When capitalism needs to cut back, it first hacks away at the victories and gains of mass progressive movements — the attacks on workers is a key example. The wins of second-wave feminism are under attack and will be the first to go. If there is no movement against this, it will continue, driving women further backwards than we can afford.

By the time she was 8, Amanda had been sexually abused by her father’s friend for four years. At 12, she was peddling crack. At 14, she was selling sex on the sidewalk.

Her pimp beat her weekly to keep her working, stitching up her wounds himself to avoid questions at a hospital. Her average earnings of $600 for a 13-hour day of turning tricks bought him a car.

Now 15, Amanda is rebuilding her life. Caught when a cop stopped one of her customers for a broken tail light, she was sent to Children of the Night, a residential program in suburban Los Angeles that rehabilitates teen prostitutes.

“All my life my plate was like overfilled with problems,” she said. “I always asked God to give me something good, and this is it.”

The fact that Amanda was rescued instead of arrested reflects not only a stroke of luck but a decidedly different take on tackling the juvenile sex trade. Courts and law enforcement are increasingly treating young prostitutes as child abuse victims — and their pimps as human traffickers.

“This is an institutional shift,” said Nancy O’Malley, an Alameda County prosecutor who wrote California’s new sexually exploited minors law. “It’s about getting people to shift their attention and judgment from the minor and seeing what’s beyond this criminal behavior.”

New York also has a new law that calls for underage prostitutes to be sent to rehabilitation programs instead of juvenile detention, along with more training for law enforcement in handling the troubled teenagers and taking a harder line on their pimps.

In many other states, prosecutors are charging pimps with human trafficking, or the transportation of people for illicit commercial purposes. Convictions can land traffickers in prison for decades.

The approach comes as pimps are getting increasingly sophisticated and harder to bust. They run loose networks across states lines that distribute girls like drugs and set up Internet sex operations that are tough to infiltrate.

The result: Teen prostitution has spread to towns across the country, said Michael Langeman, who heads the FBI’s Crimes Against Children unit. The FBI’s work is also bolstered by federal trafficking laws to crack down on pimps.

In Nevada, a man was sentenced to life for transporting two girls from that state to cities around California to work as prostitutes in 2006. Last year, three people pleaded guilty to sex trafficking of children in San Diego for running an Internet-advertised sex ring with 14- and 16-year-olds.

“This isn’t like the old days of a slap on the wrist,” said Keith Bolkar, who heads the FBI’s Cybercrimes unit in Los Angeles.

Rescuing the girls is an important part of the equation. In most cases, they’re troubled, often sexually abused, lured into prostitution by “boyfriends” who shower them with the loving attention they lack at home. Gifts and outings, though, turn into violence and emotional manipulation.

That was the case with Samantha, a 15-year-old from Orange County and now at Children of the Night. At 14, she said, she started using drugs and skipping school. She soon met an older man.

“He gave me money, drugs, clothes,” she recalled. “I was having fun. Then he started hitting me.”

The boyfriend took her to Arizona, made her pose for photos in lingerie and have sex with men who responded to Craigslist ads.

“I complained a lot so he gave me drugs,” she said.

She was rescued when another girl was arrested and told police about her.

Children of the Night, which has 24 beds, is one of about four rehab programs for teen prostitutes around the country. The others are in New York City, San Francisco and Atlanta. Two more are planned to open this year in Oakland and Toledo, Ohio.

The dearth of programs means girls from all over the country are sent to Children of the Night.

Gladys, a 17-year-old from a Miami suburb, found herself there after she ran away from home to be with a boyfriend. The boyfriend advertised her as a prostitute on Craigslist and threatened to kill her if she didn’t comply. She was shuffled around motels over a two-month period until one of his other “girlfriends” got arrested.

“I was like ‘thank God. I want to go home. What did I get myself into?'” she said.

Now, she’s completing high school and driver’s instruction and looking for a job.

The Associated Press doesn’t routinely identify the victims of sexual abuse. The names Amanda, Samantha and Gladys are pseudonyms.

Programs that build the girls’ self-esteem, push them to finish high school and heal their trauma are ideal, but funding is always short for a cause that generally doesn’t engender public sympathy, said Lois Lee, a sociologist who founded Children of the Night 30 years ago in her home and runs it on $2 million a year in private donations.

Once a girl becomes involved in prostitution, her prospects are bleak. An arrest usually offers the only hope for escape. Even then, there’s a small chance the girl is offered rehabilitation — and accepts it. Lee said 61 percent of 94 girls at Children of the Night in 2008 completed the program.

Amanda, now studying for her high school diploma, realized that was her fate if she didn’t accept Children of the Night.

“I said to myself ‘If I go back to the streets, I’m there ’til I die,'” she said. “I knew this was my chance.”

A Taiwan sex workers’ group has urged the government to legalize the sex trade, calling on lawmakers to back a bill aimed at decriminalizing prostitution.

Campaigners believe they are just one parliamentarian short of getting enough signatures to get such a bill started in parliament.

‘We hope we can get backing from 15 lawmakers, the minimum number of lawmakers needed to send the bill to parliament,’ Wang Fang-ping, general-secretary of the Collective of Sex Workers and Supporters (COSWAS), told German Press Agency dpa.

If introduced to parliament, the bill needs to pass three readings and the the Cabinet’s approval to become law.

‘We have been fighting for decriminalization of prostitution for a long time, but I am not very optimistic,’ she said by phone.

Lawmaker Cheng Li-wen said she had gathered signatures from 14 lawmakers to push the bill to decriminalize position, one signature short of the total number required.

‘We are worried because we heard that some of the 14 lawmakers backing the bill have withdrawn their support,’ Wang said.

The bill is aimed at abolishing Clause 80 of the Bill on Maintaining Social Order. According to the clause, a provider of sex faces a maximum three-day imprisonment or a fine of 30,000 Taiwan dollars (888 US dollars) but recipient of the sex service is not punished.

Taiwan in 1957 stopped issuing license to brothels. Currently there are some 100 brothels across the island with nearly 2,000 prostitutes.

While it is legal to practice the trade in the legal brothels, police crack down on the illegal sex trade in motels, clubs and massage parlours.

According to Wang, there are some 700,000 illegal sex workers in Taiwan who face the danger of being arrested by police every day.

‘We think that every one has the right to make a living. Prostitution is only a job like other jobs, so it should be decriminalized,’ Wang said.

However, public opinion remains divided over the issue.

Some women’s groups want brothel visitors, not prostitutes, be punished, while some law enforcement personnel are firmly opposed to legalizing the sex trade.

‘I am against decriminalizing prostitution because prostitution destroys our marriage system which is the basis for social harmony,’ Prosecutor Liu Cheng-wu told reporters.

Iceland plans to introduce legislation criminalising the purchase of sexual services, the operation of strip clubs, and human trafficking, the government said on Wednesday.

“This plan is long overdue,” Icelandic Minister of Social Affairs Asta Ragnheithur Johannesdottir, told AFP. “This has been a fighting issue for the human rights organisations, women’s organisations and many members of parliament for years,” she said.

Parliament is expected to vote on the plan before Iceland’s general elections on April 25, the minister said.

Prostitution was legalised in Iceland in 2007 in order to protect prostitutes and make it easier for them to seek assistance and go to the police without fearing recrimination.

The ban on buying sex is aimed at hitting users of prostitutes.

According to the bill currently being discussed by parliament, anyone who purchases or promises to purchase sexual services can expect fines or up to one year in jail.

If the person they are purchasing sexual services from is under the age of 18, they risk up to two years in prison or fines.

Iceland’s Nordic neighbours Norway and Sweden have already introduced such bans on buying sex.

Gudrun Jonsdottir, a spokeswomen for Stigamot, the Icelandic counselling and information center for survivors of sexual violence, hailed the action plan.

“We have now shown that we understand the connection between pornography, prostitution and human trafficking,” she told AFP.

Strip clubs are as a general rule forbidden in Iceland but are allowed to operate with special permission from local authorities. The new legislation would abolish that exception.

Iceland has been hit by a deep recession after the spectacular collapse of its banking sector six months ago.

The economic crisis made the new legislation even more necessary, Johannesdottir stressed.

“In times of economic downturn, it is even more important to tackle this issue. When there are economic hardships there is an even greater danger of criminal activity, like human trafficking and sexual abuse,” she said.

The Italian Senate on Wednesday approved a law that introduces tough penalties for rape and makes stalking a crime. A total of 262 senators from the ruling conservative coalition and from opposition parties backed the law, while one senator voted against it and three senators from the libertarian Radical party abstained.

The new law makes murder committed after sexual violence, sexual assault and lewd sexual acts against minors, gang rape and stalking all punishable with life in jail.

Stalking is categorised as a ‘persecutory act’ under the law. It imposes a jailterm of between six and 36 months when the stalking occurred repeatedly and caused the victim anxiety or to fear for their personal safety, or forced them to change their usual habits.

If the stalker’s victim is a child, a pregnant women or is disabled, the penalty is a jailterm of one to six years.

The law also imposes mandatory prison sentences for the crime of reducing individuals to slavery, abducting individuals, prostituting minors, child pornography and paedophile tourism.

Individuals convicted of sexual crimes will also find it harder to get work outside prison or prison leave and be sentenced to community service as an alternative to a jailterm.

Local authorities are also authorised by the law to introduce video-surveillance of public places.

The law gained the backing of senators from the anti-immigrant Northern League party after the government pledged to include several controversial security measures in a separate security bill currently being debated in the lower house of parliament.

These measures include local security patrols in Italian towns and cities by ‘concerned citizens’ and the detention of illegal immigrants in identification centres for up to six months.

Another controversial measure seeks to make illegal immigration a crime, and to oblige doctors and other national health service staff to report to police illegal immigrants who seek medical treatment.

The bill has already been approved by the Senate but ran into difficulty in the lower house of parliament after over 100 MPs from the ruling conservative People of Freedom party opposed the move to oblige health service workers to report illegal immigrants. They claimed it breached basic human rights.

Eight women’s groups protested outside the offices of the Times Group — the publishers of The Times of India — accusing the Mumbai Mirror newspaper, also published by the group, of sensationalising the story of a rape victim and violating her right to privacy.

A student at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai was reportedly raped by six men. Following the registration of a case with the local police on Tuesday evening, newspapers in Mumbai have extensively reported on the case, featuring the story on their front pages every day since the story broke.

The Mumbai Mirror published in entirety the statement made by the victim to the local police, detailing her age, her country of origin — she was an international student — and even the course she was enrolled at the TISS, an institute which does not have many international students. The statement also graphically described how the victim was attacked by the alleged offenders.

The eight women’s groups filed a complaint with the police, who registered an FIR against the Mumbai Mirror, the Times Group and its owners Bennett, Coleman and Co. under Section 228 (A) of the Indian Penal Code for disclosing the identity of a rape victim, said Sandhya Gokhale of the Forum against Oppression of Women, one of the groups involved in the protest.

While the newspaper did not reveal her name, women’s groups said that by revealing the other details, the newspaper left no scope for her identity to remain confidential thereby violating her right to privacy. “This isn’t ethical journalism at all, it’s a violation of her privacy,” Ms. Gokhale said.

“Everyone in her college, and elsewhere, knows her identity now. This is irresponsible reporting.”

The Mumbai Mirror carried an apology in its pages after many readers wrote in to complain about the graphic descriptions of the girl’s rape that was contained in her statement.

The women’s groups said this was not enough as the newspaper apologised only for offending the readers’ sensibilities, and not to the victim. “We want the newspaper to apologise to the victim,” Ms. Gokhale said.

The incident has ignited a debate on where boundaries lie in reporting such crimes and when newspapers should refrain from publishing information that may offend the sentiments of victims, or possibly worse, disclose their identity.

Nandita Gandhi, a prominent women’s rights activist with the non-governmental organisation Akshara, said this was in her opinion “the grossest incident of reporting a rape case in recent memory.”

“An FIR may be a public document, but it’s not a document that is meant to titillate or sensationalise,” Ms. Gandhi said. “The competition between newspapers is so vitiated that they are pulling out all the stops. The newspaper can argue they have not named her, but they have otherwise revealed her identity. They may have kept the law, but they violated its spirit.”