Archive for June 8th, 2009

Has the move toward online resources had an effect on source material for the study of black feminist theory? The last forty years have witnessed a critical mass of literary and theoretical writings on the black feminist movement. This article evaluates the coverage of writings by a select group of forty “second wave” (1963–75) and pre– “third wave” (1976–90) black feminists in twelve major electronic-literary and women’s-studies indexing and abstracting services. Most of the twelve resources studied provide materials on the black feminist movement; however, Gender Studies Database, Black Studies Center, and Periodical Index Online, respectively, were identified as offering the best overall coverage of black feminist writers. Each of the twelve databases studied are discussed in detail, offering some useful hints for black feminist studies researchers interested in finding the most comprehensive materials in the field. The survey investigates the breadth of coverage of writings authored by these black feminists and determines that there is a critical need to either update current thesauri or develop a new comprehensive tool for indexing and abstracting black feminist writings. Finally, the results of this study will assist libraries and librarians in making decisions about purchasing the most relevant resources for research on the writings of the feminist movement in general and black feminists in particular.

Since the mid-1990s, there has been an explosion of indexing and abstracting databases incorporating previously print-only resources with newer, more comprehensive, full-text services. Although there are a plethora of print indexes considered invaluable to researchers, the movement within the library field to replace print with electronic access to online databases has seen a marked increase. How has this move toward online resources affected access to source material for the study of black feminist theory? The last forty years have witnessed a critical mass of literary and theoretical writings on the black feminist movement. This article will evaluate the coverage of writings by a select group of “second wave” (1963–75) and pre–“third wave” (1976–90) black feminists in twelve indexing and abstracting services. Are the writings of these black feminists indexed in the major electronic literary and women’s studies database resources available for researchers? What services provide ease of use combined with multiple levels of search strategies that include searching by author, subject, title, and publication date simultaneously for retrieval of information? The survey will answer these questions and identify the availability of these writings as full text or abstracts. The survey investigates the breadth of coverage and determines that there is a critical need to develop a comprehensive tool for indexing and abstracting black feminist writings. The study will, more importantly, show what databases provide access to scholarly, peer-reviewed articles that legitimize a subject matter. Providing access to these resources encourages critical analysis of black feminist theory, thus furthering the diversity and scope of research. The results will assist researchers in choosing the most relevant resources for their research on the writings of the feminist movement in general and black feminists in particular. In this era of shrinking budgets, the data will provide guidance for librarians seeking to purchase electronic resources in the area of black women’s studies.

The black feminist writers chosen are consistently listed in major research about and writings on the feminist movement, including Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment; the voluminous Pioneer Feminists Project out of Harvard University and its first major publication, Feminists Who Changed America, edited by Barbara Love in 2006; Barbara Christian’s seminal 1985 work Black Feminist Criticism: Perspectives on Black Women Writers; and the more recent two-volume set, Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers, edited by Yolanda Williams Page in 2007. Two comprehensive websites were also consulted during formation of the list of black feminist writers in this survey: Sherri L. Barnes’s Black American Feminisms: A Multidisciplinary Bibliography from the University of California– Santa Barbaraand the University of Minnesota’s Voices from the Gaps.1

In searching library literature using the terms women, women’s studies, and indexing in a variety of combinations, five articles were retrieved: “Table of Contents Services: Retrieving Women’s Studies Periodical Literature” by Loretta P. Koch and Barbara G. Preece (1995); “Women’s Studies Periodical Indexes: An In-depth Comparison” by Linda A. Krikos (1994);“An Evaluation of Indexing Services for Women’s Studies Periodical Literature” by Deborah Mesplay and Loretta Koch; “Indexing Adequacy and Interdisciplinary Journals: The Case of Women’s Studies” by K. H. Gerhard et al. (1993); and “Indexing of Feminist Periodicals” by May Alice Sanguinetti (1984).2 The Koch and Preece article surveyed table of contents services and not the coverage of individual writers. The articles by Mesplay and Koch and by J. A. Gerhard surveyed the general coverage of women’s studies journal literature but not the writings of individual black women writers that represent an important subset of feminist writers in the United States. Mesplay and Koch concluded that “of the indexing and abstracting services examined, ‘Women Studies Abstracts’ provides the overall best coverage.”3 Krikos’s article was a follow-up to the Mesplay and Koch article with the inclusion of the “Women’s Studies Index.”

Although Krikos’s article also reviewed indexes rather than the coverage of individual writers, it is an important resource because of its comparison of the three major resources at that time, “Women’s Studies Index,” “Studies on Women Abstracts,” and “Women Studies Abstracts.” The article is also important for its development of the following standards for comparing indexes: scope; depth of indexing; currency, time-lag, and cost; publisher and editor; format and arrangement; and vocabulary and subject headings.4 Two of these standards will be used in this study: scope, which Krikos describes as “the number and type of materials indexed (meaning articles, book chapters, books, dissertations, pamphlets) and overlaps and gaps in coverage,” and format, defined as “considering the usefulness of the overall arrangement of the service and the content of the citations.”5 Krikos concluded that “‘Women’s Studies Index’ actually indexes the most comprehensive combination and greatest number of women’s studies journals.”6 Krikos also concluded that “Women Studies Abstracts” “is essential to research collections.”7

Sanguenetti’s article surveyed the coverage of women’s studies and feminist journals in the leading paper indexing services available at that time and, again, “Women Studies Abstracts” was found to offer the best coverage, albeit in paper format. Some of the indexes surveyed by Sanguenetti are included in this survey: “Alternative Press Index,” “Essay and General Literature,” and “Women Studies Abstracts” (now a part of the much larger Gender Studies Database). Although the articles mentioned did not survey coverage of individual writers, they provided a set of criteria to assist in reviewing the databases. This study will also test some of the conclusions of these earlier articles and determine whether “Women Studies Abstracts,” which was found to have the best coverage of women’s and gender studies in earlier reviews, offers the best coverage of black feminists writers.

The study covers forty black feminist writers: fifteen Second Wave (SW) and twenty-five pre–Third Wave (pTW). The SW arguably dates either from 1963–75, according to Barbara Love and Harvard’s Pioneer Feminists Project, or from 1965–75, according to Darlene Clark Hine, African American historian and scholar. Love states, “we honor changemakers in the Second Wave movement beginning in 1963, when Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, was published and spurred countless women into action … some historians say the true Second Wave movement began in 1966 when the National Organization for Women was founded … 1963–1975 were the years of involvement by the greatest number of feminists.”8 All of the selected writers were known activists in the feminist movement. This SW period relates to the founding of the modern feminist movement that grew out of the larger civil rights era, a time when America was coming to grips with those people unwilling to be classified as “second class citizens.” The feminist movement saw the larger movement as not addressing issues of sexism, unequal pay, and the leadership role of women. Black women long involved in civil rights activism came to a similar conclusion, but the sensitive issue of women’s rights was often subsumed into the larger struggle of achieving equality as black people. With the achievement of some of the goals of the civil rights movement, such as the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, black women felt it was time to turn their attention to the rampant sexism and chauvinistic tendencies in many of the black civil rights movement leaders. The Combahee River Collective, a group of black feminists that have met since 1974, state in their discussion of the genesis of contemporary black feminism that:

many of us were active in those movements (civil rights, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers), and all of our lives were greatly affected and changed by their ideology, their goals, and the tactics used… . It was our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements … that led to the need to develop a politics that was antiracist, unlike those of white women, and antisexist, unlike those of Black and white men.9

Many within the black feminist movement viewed the early white feminist movement as focusing primarily on issues of gender equity while ignoring issues of racism and classism that were the everyday experience for women of color. Benita Roth, in Separate Roads to Feminism, sums up the feelings of many black feminists: “They were wary of joining white women’s liberation groups that paid insufficient attention to the links between gender, racial, and especially class oppression. Critical of the middle-class bias of liberation movements, Black and white, Black feminists therefore found themselves maneuvering in the interstices between the two.” 10

The writers in this study represent those who worked within and outside the women’s movement, and produced scholarship that reflected the issues and concerns of black women who faced discrimination that was both similar to and different from the discrimination faced by the women represented by the dominant white feminists’ movement. According to Joy James, the women chosen generated a wealth of materials to address these issues “not in an attempt to diminish feminist struggle but to enrich, to share in the work of making a liberatory ideology and liberatory movement.”11 The SW writers established an unprecedented body of scholarship, which is now being studied and analyzed by scholars the world over.

By Rebecca Hankins – Continues online at

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See also:
* Can we please stop talking about feminism as if it is mothers and daughters fighting about clothes? Second wave: you’re going out in that? Third wave: just drink your herbal tea and leave me alone! Media commentators love to reduce everything about women to catfights about sex, so it’s not surprising that this belittling and historically inaccurate way of looking at the women’s movement–angry prudes versus drunken sluts–has recently taken on new life, including among feminists.
* Blame it on globalization but does a saucy tattoo on the arm of a young Indian woman mean she is standing up for her rights and those of the sisterhood? Yes, say India’s New Age feminists, who see the tattoo as proof of rebellion against a society that insists women be demure. But it is a superficial badge for a superficial ideological struggle, laments Anuradha Marwah, who has written three novels on gender equations.”This new movement of pop feminism feeds into liberalism but unfortunately, is, itself contained by it. Just because a group of women feel empowered through tokens of fashion and sex, the world isn’t going to change at large”.

President Barack Obama addressed global women’s rights in a speech he gave in Cairo last week. The speech (see PDF), entitled A New Beginning, focused on the tensions between the United States and Muslims in relation to a number of areas including violent extremism, the Israeli-Palistinian conflict, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, and economic development.

The following statement on women’s rights is excerpted from Obama’s remarks:

“I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now let me be clear: issues of women’s equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia, we have seen Muslim majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women’s equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

Our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons, and our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity – men and women – to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. That is why the United States will partner with any Muslim majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.”

Dr George Tiller’s murder underlines there is no common ground with anti-abortion zealots – Sara Paretsky

As of 30 May, ­abortion providers in America had experienced 15,124 acts of ­violence. On 31 May, the number rose to 15,125. Dr George Tiller was murdered at church in Wichita, Kansas. His wife, who was singing in the choir, was a witness. Tiller had been shot in 1993. His clinic has often been the target of violence and vandalism as one of only three places in the US where women could get late-term ­abortions, and he refused to turn his back on his patients.

The National Council of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life Committee, Operation Rescue, and other groups opposed to women’s reproductive health and privacy are almost all headed by men. In the 36 years since the supreme court decided Roe, followers of these and other groups have performed acts ranging from murder and attempted murder (26), acid attacks (108), bombings (41) and arson (175). Relatives are threatened and support staff attacked.

The head of Operation Rescue issued a statement after Tiller’s murder. “He was one of the most evil men on the planet … He deserved … a legal execution.” The organisation also compared Tiller to the Nazis.

In Barack Obama’s commencement speech at Notre Dame – preceded by protests from Roman Catholic bishops because he is pro-choice – the president urged pro-choicers to find common ground with anti-abortion zealots. I do not know how you find common ground with someone who says you deserve to die. For such people, women are not as deserving of rights as the foetuses they may carry. Supreme court Justice Anthony Kennedy made that clear: he ruled that one recent law did not need to provide an exception to protect the health of the pregnant woman. This law also allows the partners or parents of a woman who terminates a pregnancy to sue the doctor for emotional damage to themselves. It says, in essence, that a pregnant woman is the property of her parents or male partner.

The 14th amendment of the US constitution says “No state shall … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A series of laws passed over the last decade have expanded foetal rights and diminished women’s. Among these are providing federal healthcare dollars to foetuses but none to pregnant women; allowing states to block poor women from receiving public aid to terminate pregnancies; preventing insurance plans for women on the federal payroll covering abortion; allowing states to criminalise an adult who drives a teen across a state line to receive an abortion – since the campaign of violence has terrorised abortion providers it is often necessary to travel across several states to find a clinic.

To President Obama’s credit, he has overturned the pernicious, so-called global gag rule, which prohibited health clinics overseas from receiving US aid if they even mentioned abortion – a policy causing millions of women to die or suffer devastating health impairment. But Obama has not tried to address the myriad other laws that block access to reproductive care at home.

I hope George Tiller’s death begins a real search for common ground. I hope his murder galvanises people into thinking that women deserve equal protection under the law as that accorded to their unborn children. This didn’t happen in the wake of Dr David Gunn’s murder in Pensacola, nor Dr Barnett Slepian’s murder in Buffalo. It didn’t happen when protesters at a Cleveland clinic poured petrol on a nurse and set fire to her. It is time we stopped pandering to terrorists just because they claim to be speaking in the name of Jesus. I’m not optimistic, but change in this respect is way overdue in America.

See: George Tiller, MD, was assassinated at his church in Wichita, Kansas. Dr. George Tiller, medical director of the Women’s Health Care Services clinic in Wichita, Kansas, was one of the few late-term abortion providers in the country.

The United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) described the criminalisation of abortion under any circumstances in Nicaragua as a violation of human rights.

At its 42nd session in Geneva, the CAT expressed its profound concern about Nicaragua’s strict ban on abortion, urging the government to repeal the 2006 law that banned therapeutic abortion and to make its legislation on abortion more flexible, especially in cases of rape or incest.

In October 2006, the Nicaraguan parliament approved a draft law to revoke article 165 of the criminal code, which had permitted abortion for medical reasons since 1893.

Under that law, therapeutic abortion had been legal in cases where the mother’s life was in danger, the foetus was deformed, or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. It required certification by at least three doctors, and authorisation by the pregnant woman or her family.

Nicaragua thus became one of the few countries in the world where abortion is illegal even under such circumstances, joining Chile, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic in Latin America, and Malta and the Philippines in the rest of the world.

In its May 14 report on Nicaragua, the CAT said the ban on abortion for rape and incest victims condemns them to constant exposure to the violations they have suffered and subjects them to serious traumatic stress and the risk of prolonged psychological problems like anxiety or depression.

The ban on therapeutic abortion was passed by Congress with the support of the two leading parties, the leftwing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) and the then governing rightwing Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), in the midst of the 2006 election campaign in which current President Daniel Ortega returned to office again.

Women’s rights organisations say the veteran Sandinista leader forged a pact with the Catholic Church and evangelical groups to back the strict ban on abortion for the purpose of gaining votes.

Analysts concur that Ortega’s return to power was facilitated by a political-religious pact with Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, who has chaired a government commission on reconciliation, peace and justice since retiring as archbishop of Managua.

Ortega governed Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, first as a member of the ruling junta established by the Sandinista guerrillas after the revolution that toppled the Somoza family dictatorship, and after 1985, as democratically elected president. During that period, Obando y Bravo was a leading opponent of the Sandinista government.

In its report, the CAT urged Nicaragua to decriminalise therapeutic abortion, as recommended by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. More specifically, it asked the country to study the possibility of allowing exceptions to the general ban on abortion in cases of risk to the mother’s life and pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) directives.

The Health Ministry, the Office of the Prosecutor for the Defence of Human Rights, the Nicaraguan Women’s Institute, and the Communication and Citizenship Council (CCC) headed by First Lady Rosario Murillo declined to respond to IPS requests for comment on the CAT report.

For its part, the archbishop’s office in Managua told IPS that the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion is immovable.

The Autonomous Women’s Movement, a local NGO that has played a leading role in the struggle to decriminalise therapeutic abortion, said the CAT report amounts to an “international condemnation of Nicaragua.”

“The Committee has stated that the penalisation of abortion under all circumstances, without exception, violates the legal status of women by not allowing them to save their own lives or reduce the risk to their physical or psychological health,” Juana Jiménez, the head of the Movement, commented to IPS.

Jiménez said the position expressed by the CAT supported the women’s groups in Nicaragua who have protested the total ban on abortion as a politically motivated measure that “runs counter to conventions on human rights and the rights of women.”

The Autonomous Women’s Movement was one of the civil society organisations that drafted a document delivered to the CAT expressing their concerns and arguing that the ban on therapeutic abortion “contains all of the elements of torture as specified in article 1 of the Convention against Torture.”

Dozens of women’s rights groups, doctors’ associations and human rights organisations have demanded that the Supreme Court declare the strict ban on abortion unconstitutional.

But the groups that have brought legal action complain that the case is stalled in the Supreme Court.

In April, the vice president of the Supreme Court, Justice Rafael Solís, announced that a draft ruling existed to decriminalise therapeutic abortion, in response to the dozens of lawsuits brought by civil society groups.

The announcement apparently formed part of a shift in Ortega’s relations with the Catholic Church leadership, with which he was at loggerheads because the Church joined its voice to accusations that the FSLN committed fraud in the November 2008 municipal elections.

But this month, Solís said there had been a change, and that the issue would not be resolved at this time. The judge said relations between the Ortega administration and the Church had improved.

Supreme Court magistrate Sergio Cuarezma, who has close ties to the rightwing opposition, told IPS that there is no draft ruling favourable to repealing the ban on therapeutic abortion. But he did not comment on the CAT report.

Since Ortega took office in January 2007, he has clashed with local women’s rights groups and other NGOs, which he accuses of being “agents of the empire” (the United States) and of conspiring against his government.

Women’s rights activist Jiménez said the authorities should urgently adopt the recommendations of the CAT, “because to be singled out for committing torture against women, who represent more than half of the population of Nicaragua, brings a risk of being classified internationally as a state that violates human rights.”

The Convention on which the CAT is based defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

“The law against therapeutic abortion amounts to torture,” said Jiménez. “It causes pain and suffering, was imposed for a specific reason, is intended to intimidate or coerce women and doctors, attempts to impose a religious belief at the cost of health – even though the country is secular according to the constitution – and is imposed as a state policy,” she argued.

A hotline that will give Chilean women information they need to self-terminate a pregnancy was launched yesterday by a network of feminist organizations. According to Women on Waves, the hotline will give women information about Misoprostol, a drug available in Chile by prescription to treat gastric ulcers, to safely and effectively induce abortion.

Supporters at the hotline’s launching, chanted “Contraception – so we don’t need abortions. Safe abortions – so we don’t die,” reported the Valparaiso Times. Spokesperson Gloria Maira of the Women’s Health Network of Chile said “We consider the right to a safe abortion a health issue.”

Abortion has been illegal in Chile since 1989. There are no exceptions in the law to account for rape, incest, or the life and health of the woman. Despite this, Chile has one of the highest abortion rates in Latin America, with about a third of pregnancies ending in abortion. Hundreds of women die each year from botched abortions in the country.

Most Spaniards, including those who normally vote for the ruling Socialists, are against a government proposal to let 16-year-old women have an abortion without their parents’ permission, polls showed on Monday.

A total of 64 percent of those surveyed by Metroscopia for the left-leaning newspaper El Pais said they did not agree with the Socialist government’s plan, part of a wider move to legalise terminations in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

The surveys could make concerning reading for the Socialist government ahead of European elections on Sunday, for which polls already suggest the opposition conservatives have a lead.

With the economy set to sink by more than 3 percent this year and unemployment passing 17 percent, Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has concentrated his European campaign on his liberalising social agenda, including abortion.

But legal abortion for women as young as 16 seems to be a step too far in the minds of voters, with 56 percent of Socialist supporters found in the Metroscopia poll to be against it, compared to only 40 percent in favour.

Spanish law currently only allows abortions in cases of rape, if a foetus is damaged or if the pregnancy could endanger the physical or mental health of the mother.

Fifty-seven percent of Spaniards surveyed for conservative newspaper ABC rejected the freedom to choose for 16 to 18-year-olds, as did 71 percent in a poll commissioned for Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia.

The abortion reform has become a controversial issue in Catholic Spain and has not just been criticised by those on the right.

Equality Minister Bibiana Aido has defended the proposals, pointing out that 16-year-olds can currently choose to have other operations such as open heart surgery or breast enlargements without seeking their parents’ permission.

However, even members of her own party have said while they agree with the overall reform, they think parental permission should be required for under 18s.

See also:
* Spain moves to ease abortion law
* Spain to dispense morning-after pill in pharmacies

The Swedish Liberal party has launched a new initiative to give the women of Europe the right to choose an abortion and establish abortion as a human right.

The “Make Noise for Free Choice” campaign is timed to coincide with the EU parliamentary elections in June and has been initiated by Liberal Women – a group within Sweden’s Liberal party and headed by Birgitta Ohlsson.

“Our aim is to have one million signatures by October 2010,” Ohlsson told The Local.

The initiative is supported by Baroness Sarah Ludford, Liberal democrat Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for London, Wanda Nowicka, President of the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning and Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP.

“When a state denies a woman the right to her own body, integrity and health, it is a violation of her human rights,” according to a statement on the campaign’s homepage.

The initiative argues that the freedom to choose to have an abortion should be enshrined with the other established human rights as a criterion for EU membership and no longer be considered a mere health issue, sorted under the principle of subsidiarity.

“When there are safe abortion methods no woman in the EU should have to go to a quacksalver to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. It is a scandal that this still occurs in Europe in 2009,” Birgitta Ohlsson writes.

“Women who lack the access to free, legal and safe abortions in the EU-countries such as Ireland, Malta and Poland, can no longer be ignored.”

Ohlsson told The Local she was expecting to face opposition from certain quarters, including the Catholic church.

“There has been a conservative backlash in recent years. In Poland, for example, abortion used to be legal. What I find is that we often have the majority of people behind us but the conservative leaders have become more aggressive,” she said.

See: Make Noise for Free Choice campaign website

A three-year-old girl has died after being raped by a rebel fighter in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where armed forces are committing increasing numbers of sexual attacks, a United Nations spokeswoman said on Friday.

Three of the infant victim’s sisters, aged 12, 14 and 17, were also raped by combatants in the South Kivu region, said Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“This case represents the barbarity and the horror which is taking place in South Kivu, and is only increasing,” Byrs told a news conference in Geneva, also describing acute risks to aid workers in the area where Congolese and rebel forces are at war.

The top U.N. human rights official, High Commissioner Navi Pillay, said this week that fighting in the eastern region near Rwanda was having “tragic consequences” on civilian bystanders.

She also raised concerns about “horrific levels of sexual attacks” that continue on the sidelines of that conflict between the military and Democratic Forces of the Liberation of Rwanda, whose ranks including leaders of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

See also: Rape cases soar in DRC’s South Kivu

Talk openly about rape. That is the gist of a new campaign in Cameroon, where according to a study an estimated 432,000 women and girls have been raped in the past 20 years.

Some 200 rape survivors gathered on 28 May in the capital Yaoundé, several of the women and girls telling their stories during the campaign’s opening ceremony.

“From now on we are going to speak publicly about rape so it will no longer be a taboo subject in our society,” said Olivia Bikoe of RENATA (Réseau National des Associations de Tantines), a local NGO that supports young mothers and one of the campaign’s organizers.

Madeleine, 24, told IRIN she was raped for five years from the age of eight by a neighbour in his 20s. Like many of the women and girls at the ceremony, she said for years she thought she was guilty of something; only in time and by discussing the issue did she realize otherwise.

As part of the campaign – led by the German development organization GTZ – women and girls who have been raped will be encouraged to talk about it in schools and in the media.

Organizers said the campaign is aimed in part at calling society’s attention to rape and incest, which they say are on the rise in Cameroon.

Nearly one-fifth of the some 432,000 people raped were raped by a family member, according to the report by GTZ and the Health Ministry, based on interviews with 37,719 women across the country.

Flavien Ndonko, anthropologist and head of GTZ’s HIV/AIDS programme, told IRIN rape has increased sharply over the years. “In the 1970s cases of rape were extremely rare – 0.1 percent of women and girls. But since the 1980s we are seeing an explosion of sexual attacks, targeting adolescents in particular.” The study showed the average age of those raped is 15 years.

Ndonko said it will be important to further examine the phenomenon to understand why the increase.

In Cameroon rape is a crime punishable by up to life in prison but only about one in 20 rapists is convicted, largely because rape is trivialized in society, Ndonko said.

Influx is straining resources far beyond capacity.

For about six months now, the number of women fleeing abusive boyfriends and husbands has been swelling Anchorage’s only shelter for battered women beyond its capacity.

Since the problem surfaced months ago, the overcrowding is still overwhelming staff at the Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, or AWAIC, shelter.

Shelter workers don’t have an answer on how to relieve the problem and are looking to others in Anchorage for answers. But with no solution in sight, the crisis is deepening.

Last week, the shelter was 65 percent over capacity, with beds for 52 people but 86 sleeping there. The fire marshal has told staff they can’t go past 90. Seven women and their children seeking refuge from abusers were on the waiting list.

Not since it began tracking in 1978 has the downtown shelter seen such high numbers, said executive director Judy Cordell. The numbers have remained steadily high since January, she said.

No one knows for sure why so many women are showing up asking for help. They come with broken bones. They come with infants in their bruised arms. Some come to the shelter before they go to the hospital — because their abuser can’t follow them past the building’s rigid security of double locked doors and razor-wire fence.

To accommodate the influx, staff have brought in cots, converted playrooms into bedrooms, and told victims to be patient during their stays, which average 16 days.

“It’s crowded in the bedrooms, the bathroom, the laundry room, kitchen, parking lot, at the front desk,” said one shelter resident who didn’t want to be named because she is still scared of her abuser. “There’s no more room.”

When she first got to the shelter 10 weeks ago, she and her three children slept on cots in the computer room.

It’s not just dealing with less room that is making things difficult, the woman said.

“There are so many different women, so many different backgrounds and cultures,” she said. “We all do things differently. And we’re all women so we think we’re always right.”

Cooking is different. Children’s bedtimes are different. Disciplining is different.

Tensions can escalate, she said.

“AWAIC needs another AWAIC,” she said. “Just like there’s a McDonald’s over here. And there’s a McDonald’s over there. There needs to be AWAICs all over the place.”

Maybe it’s the economy, Cordell says. Maybe more families are moving up from the Lower 48 because they hear Alaska’s economy is still doing well. Maybe people are moving in from the Bush.

Victim advocate Amanda Matthews, who’s worked at the shelter for nine years, likes to think that more women are seeking help because there is more awareness about domestic violence and how it shouldn’t be tolerated — meaning there aren’t more cases now than before, but rather women are choosing to get out of abusive relationships. But she believes that’s wishful thinking.

More realistically, she thinks, it’s that in the past maybe these women could have afforded a flight out of state or had friends to financially support then but now those resources are tighter.

Cordell said, “It’s not like this snuck up on us. We are all challenged with it and we’ve been working on it for months.”

This past week, Cordell sent an e-mail out to a long list of recipients, including at least one legislator, asking them about how to handle turning away women, something which she says is very dangerous. “I am searching for any feedback or thoughts anyone might have re effective ways to approach the turn away challenge.”

Other shelters around town were reporting increased numbers earlier this year — such as the Brother Francis Shelter and Clare House — and people blamed the economy, even though Anchorage’s unemployment rate has remained relatively stable. But at least a few shelters said on Sunday that with the good weather, their numbers are down again.

AWAIC administrators say they don’t know what the solution is. Throwing money at the problem won’t necessarily fix it, they say. “At this point, we are asking the community, are there any more options?” Matthews said.

“I don’t have the answers. We’ve never been faced with this,” she said.